The Quiet Invasion by Sarah Zettel
Warner Books / February 2000 / 0-446-52489-1 / cover ill. Steve Youll / review by Ernest Lilley
Dr. Helen Failia is the matriarch of an Venusian habitat with major funding problems. Veneria base is a castle in the clouds, both literally and figuratively, floating in Venus's upper atmosphere. Living with one's head in the clouds appears to be about to reap the usually harvest, and the story begins with her return home and the news that IBM and Andalucent Technologies have pulled their corporate sponsorship threatening the failure of the colony.
Though the corporations and UN intended the habitat as a research station, Helen Failia has planned it as a self sufficient colony from the start, and Veneria's 10,000 inhabitants look to her to make that dream come true. At the start, her dream is in very big trouble.
The only thing that beats a crisis for getting your attention is bigger crisis, and when the head of Survey calls to say there is an artificial structure on the surface...that he doesn't remember putting there...she quickly finds herself in a hardsuit on the surface of Venus walking towards a first contact situation. Contact with aliens would be just the thing to guarantee the base's continued existence.
If it's not a hoax.
There are Aliens in the story. Invaders from a dying world coming to our solar system to take over...Venus? But only if we don't want it. So what's the problem? Well, the alien's treatment of mental illness is kind of extreme...and by their definition, humanity may have a few screws loose.
The alien's world is delightful place of symbiosis on a grand scale. A place where cities are living beings, tended and cared for by the people who live in them, the tapestry of their lives and interactions recorded in its very genetic code. The cities are dying though, and the move to the system of the seventh planet...that would be us...is the only hope for the aliens survival.
Among humans and aliens alike, political struggles erupt. Who owns Venus? Who would want it? Who would fight for it? Pacifist aliens faced with extinction or stubborn humans who could never live on it's hostile surface.
And then there are human secessionists. Ben Goodwin was on Bradbury colony during the revolt. Which failed. Violently and badly. Ben hates the UN, and really really wishes the team they sent would go away. He'd hoped the Venus colony was far enough to go to elude the pale blue uniforms, and he's gotten a new life as a trusted member of the managing board, but when UN observers arrive to research the alien find, he sees an opportunity to force Veneria into rebellion. No matter what the cost to himself, the aliens, or humanity.
Sarah Zettel has been writing excellent stories of environmental impact on the high frontier for a while now with novels like the acclaimed Playing God and her Locus Award winning Reclamation. The Quiet Invasion carries the author's banner onward in her crusade. She is is writing in that dangerous and transient space, about a future close enough to almost taste, and with an understanding of the technologies and planetary conditions that authors of 50 years ago were either spared or denied, depending on how you look at it.
While many authors strive for a Heinleinesque tone, and though a few may actually achieve it, they tend to sound like a hollow echo of the original voice. Sarah Zettel's voice is strong, vibrant, captivating, and at once reminiscent of RAH and possessed of an originality hard come by in contemporary SF. Though the colonists in The Quiet Invasion face the same dilemma that Heinlein posed time and again, the secession of colonies from an controlling Earth, Zettel makes her characters face the realities of politics, economics and civic responsibility, acknowledging that the right choices are often not the easy ones.
It's well written, carefully plotted, and delivers on the promise of golden age SF.