Slow Train to Arcturus
by Eric Flint & David Freer
Cover Artist: David Mattingly
Review by Harriet Klausner
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781416555858
Date: 07 October 2008 List Price $24.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
When the humongous weird looking vessel entered their solar system, leaders of planet Miren become concerned, having never seen anything remotely like it. They send a ship filled with scientists and other researchers to investigate the encroaching craft with its strange massive bubble-like habitats.
Upon reaching the craft, the crew gets a close-up look at just how weird it is. They cautiously enter one of the bubble-like orbs only to be met by hostile humans inside it. The natives, behaving like insane berserkers, viciously attack the alien visitors from Miren; killing most of the outsiders, who are for the most part, not soldiers.
Miren xenobiologist Kretz escapes the slaughter by entering a different biosphere containing other humans, friendlier but unhelpful as they do not have the means to get him to his vessel. Kretz realizes quickly that to get back to his ship and eventually Miren, he must pass through several of these self-contained circular environments filled with humans at different stages of development; many hostile towards his species, or for that matter he assumes, any outsider. His problem is that he has no way of knowing who will welcome him as a friend and who will try to kill him as an encroaching stranger.
Slow Train to Arcturus is a fast-paced and action-packed outer space opera with some amusing moments to lighten the tension. The story line never slows down from the moment that the Miren observe the odd looking space craft in their sector and never slows down from that initial distant encounter. However, though seemingly a thrill a page occurs, that also takes away from the premise of meeting differing humans in terms of various cultural demeanors when it comes to first contact. Rather than digging deep into the cultures of some of the orbs, the story lines takes the readers through an exciting rapid spin in and out of several of the bubble habitats.
The same holds true for the people of Miren in which the readers learns a little about them mostly by implication by how they react to meeting humans. The plot also implies they are a peaceful race when they conduct a scientific probe rather than military assault of the craft; that is accentuated by their inability to fight back once attacked. Kretz is an interesting protagonist who struggles to survive in somewhat hostile environs. He opens "doors" not knowing whether the lady or the tiger awaits him. His skills as a xenobiologist help somewhat as he interprets the lay of the bubble rather quickly.
This is a fascinating premise with the bubble representing the various people on earth and the Twilight Zone like twist of an alien species first encounter with ET being humans. Fans of outer space opera faster than the speed of light will want to read this fun science fiction but those readers who want to know more about the cultures will need to visit a different solar system.