Right up front, yes, Dan Thompson is a friend of mine. So it’s a relief to be able to recommend Beneath the Sky to others.
this isn’t the sort of thing I read. I prefer my sci-fi a bit more
swashbucklery, and while Beneath the Sky isn’t exactly hard sci-fi, its
focus on both the tragedies and rewards of a first-contact situation
very much have the feel of a more cerebral read. Which isn’t to say the
book is utterly devoid of derring-do (we even get an attack by space
pirates), but only that the perils and opportunities of the
first-contact situation remain the principal focus.
over a millenium ago, a religious sect called the Masonites set out to
found a colony in a distant solar system. Travelling aboard a
generational colony ship (that is, one in which the colonists live for
multiple generations as they travel to their destination), they expect
to reach their New Providence in another 600 years.
course, things back on Earth haven’t exactly sat still in the meantime.
Humanity has mastered FTL travel and settled many worlds, including
the one chosen by the Masonites to be their New Providence. The
colonists’ co-religionists were principal actors in dramatic historical
events. And neither the greater mass of humanity nor the Masonite
colonists are aware of what’s been happening with the others during most
of that time.
stage is set, then, for a series of dramatic events and accidents when a
survey ship makes contact with the Masonite colonists. What follows is
both tragic and happy, and Thompson does a masterful job of weaving the
two emotional reactions together, creating a surprising tapestry that
is, in the end, both sad and satisfying. He’s also an extremely
efficient writer, almost too much so; while all the important threads
are neatly finished, I wouldn’t have minded lingering a bit on a few of
them at the end.
you enjoy Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta books, or Weber’s Honor Harrington
universe (but wish they included a more “blue collar” point of view)
you’ll like Beneath the Sky. For myself, I certainly won’t wait so long
before reading Dan’s next book.