cover image Probability Moon

Probability Moon

Nancy Kress. Tor Books, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-312-87406-3

Best known for novels that carefully extrapolate near-future medical and social trends, Kress (Stinger) here tells a tale of interplanetary adventure centered in anthropology and physics. Humanity has begun to explore the stars using ""space tunnels"" created by an unknown alien race. Life turns out to be common on other planets, but surprisingly, most of it is related to us, the products of an experiment carried out by the race that built the tunnels. Only one truly alien species, the Fallers, has been discovered, and they are implacably hostile to humanity. As the novel opens, Earth has sent a starship to a planet whose inhabitants call it World. The expedition's ostensible purpose is anthropological, to study the natives' unique psychic ""shared reality,"" a complex net of mutual understandings that makes lying and large-scale violence virtually impossible. In actuality, however, the expedition has a darker purpose. Earth's military forces have discovered that one of World's moons is an artifact apparently left by the creators of the tunnels, and they think it may be a powerful weapon to use against the Fallers. As the military probe the artifact, the anthropologists on the planet begin to realize the trouble they'll be in if they can't convince the usually peaceful natives that both groups share the same reality. Kress does a good job of working out the ramifications of her shared-reality society, but her human characters lack the depth of those in her best work, the Beggars trilogy; her military figures in particular are thinly drawn. And the physics, although interesting, is introduced in large, sometimes indigestible chunks that slow the plot to a crawl. This is solid SF, but Kress has written better. (July)