The second book in the science fiction series.
Publication year: 2003
Running time: 10 hours and 5 minutes
Narrator: Gregory Linington
Three years after the surviving scientists returned from an alien planet which the human-like natives call “the World” (in Probability Moon), another expedition is finally seriously considered. It’s a joint civilian and military mission with hand-picked people and some of those surviving scientists will be returning. However, they know that the Worlders declared humans “unreal” so they’re expecting trouble; being unreal means that the Worlders will not literally see them or have anything to do with them, except to kill them. But the previous team discovered that the World itself has an artifact which could change the balance of war between humans and alien Fallers to the humans’ favor. However, the humans need to study the artifact which is buried in an area of the planet which is sacred to the Worlders. Also, removing the artifact could mean the end of the Worlders’ peaceful way of life.
Tom Capelo is a brilliant scientist but a jerk. His wife was killed by the Fallers and so he hates and loathes them. She was killed on a supposedly safe world so now Capello takes his two young daughters, and their nanny, everywhere with him. Including to an alien planet. He’s also prone to irrational rages and blackouts following the rage.
Major Lyle Kaufman is the military leader of the non-military mission. He doesn’t care for the natives and is focused on his goal.
Ann was on the original mission. She cares about the aliens and is furious about how the humans are going to callously change their lives.
Enli is the native who dealt most with the Terrans last time and now she’s also drawn into this situation even though she doesn’t really want anything to do with humans anymore. But she’s one of the few Worlders who know the Terran language.
The Worlders have decided that humans are real because of the actions of one of the humans left behind in the last book, so the humans get a different welcome than they expected and the Worlders are will to trade with the humans. However, they’re not happy about the humans’ plans to desecrate their holy place.
Another plot line follows a Faller prisoner of war and Marbet Grant. She’s a civilian Sensitive, an empath, and she’s given the task of interrogating the only alive Faller humans have been able to capture. The Faller is kept on the same ship than Kaufman’s team (which I found a bit strange) and Grant does her rather unusual best to do what she can. Considering that humans and Fallers don’t have a common language and that humans don’t know anything about Faller culture, the task isn’t easy.
The science part of the book is probability. The setting has probability bosons called probons. I find them fascinating but I’m not a scientist in any way so I can’t say if they’re made up or not.
In the first book, the Worlders and their civilization were a big part of the story. Now, they’re a back drop and Kress assumes that the reader is familiar with their culture of sheared reality. They’re part of the big moral questions, of course; if humans can or should wreck an entire culture in order to have a chance at winning a war (the other moral question is the treatment of alien prisoners of war). I found the book well written and engaging. The humans seemed quite real with their flaws.
The ending left an opening for the next, and final, book but it gave enough closure that the reader isn’t forced to continue. But I’ll be continuing into the next one soon!