The first in an SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2000
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 27 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Gregory Linington

In the far future humans have discovered other planets and aliens. Most of the aliens are very human-like because some previous species have seeded lots of planets with similar species. At least, that’s the most accepted theory. However, humans have also discovered a couple of very different species and one of them are the Fallers. Humans and Fallers are at war and Fallers don’t answer any attempt at communication.

Humans have also discovered gates in space which lead to other planets. The gates were built by a long since dead species, possibly the same seed race, possibly not. Humans don’t know how the gates are built but they use them anyway.

One of the alien planets they’ve discovered have almost human-like species who calls their planet simply “the World”. They’re older than the human race but haven’t even developed steam technology. The reason is their most distinctive difference from humans: they all see only one reality. This is called “shared reality” and any deviation from it causes severe head pain. To avoid it, the Worlders literally stop seeing things or people who differ from their acknowledged reality. Such people are called unreal. This makes things like inventions almost impossible. They don’t have wars, either, because to physically hurt someone is against the shared reality. But stealing is ok. Also, when a child is born who by a rather young age haven’t been able to participate in shared reality, he or she is killed. They also have neck fur instead of hair.

Humans have sent a previous anthropological team to World but they left abruptly. Now, a new team has been sent down. The four people, and two infants, have orders to explore the native culture which is heavily influenced by flowers. However, unknown to the scientists the military ship which brought them there has another mission: one of World’s seven moons is artificial and the military is here to investigate it.

The youngest adult member in anthropological team is David Allen, the son of an admiral. He resents his father, though, and is keenly interested in shared reality because he thinks that it can be adopted by humans which would make humans more peaceful. The other anthropologists don’t share his views.

We also get an alien viewpoint character: Enli who has become unreal. Because the Worlders don’t yet know if humans are real or unreal, government department of Reality and Atonement has sent Enli to spy on the humans. Enli isn’t a very good spy but slowly she becomes more and more acquainted with the humans. We find out the reason Enli is unreal but I won’t spoil it here. Dealing with humans give her almost constant head pain but Reality and Atonement has given her pills which make the pain go away. Enli is very eager to regain her reality and will do almost anything to achieve it.

Syree Johnson is a military physicist and she’s the leader of the military team examining the artificial moon, the Orbital Object number 7. However, she’s not the ship’s captain and so she doesn’t control the whole mission.

I found the book fascinating. The flower culture was especially interesting although it got a bit too much at times when everything was about flowers. Shared reality is also a very interesting concept and I enjoyed it a lot, even though I couldn’t swallow the reason why it was developed. The characters were ok. The book has a few info dumps which aren’t even masked as anything else.

This is a great blend of hard and social SF. Johnson doesn’t deal with the locals at all; she’s focused entirely on the Orbital Object number 7. That’s the hard SF part with quite a lot of technobabble. But the anthropological team’s work takes up more of the book and is focused on the interaction between the humans and the aliens. The local’s flower culture was fascinating; their metaphors are based on flowers and when a person comes into a house, he or she is given a welcome flower. Personally I preferred the anthropological team’s story and the exploration of the natives’ culture.

The end gives closure to the World situation, for now at least, but leaves the other issues open. I’m eager to jump into the next book, Probability Sun.