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Authors: James Gunn

Gift From The Stars

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GIFT FROM THE
STARS

James Gunn

PRAISE FOR
GIFT FROM THE STARS

“A novel with spirited characters who inspire a renewed love of one’s own kind. Highly recommended as adventure and therapy for pessimists.”

G
EORGE
Z
EBROWSKI

Campbell Prize-winning author of
Brute Orbits

“Gift from the Stars
is an imaginative story of First Contact, told from a very human point of view. It begins in an unassuming used bookstore and expands relentlessly outward to encompass some of the most exciting speculations in cosmology.”

R
OBERT
J. S
CHERRER

Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy,
Vanderbilt University

A
LSO BY
J
AMES
G
UNN

The Listeners

The Joy Makers

The Dreamers

The Immortals

Reputation Books.
www.reputationbooksonline.com

GIFT FROM THE STARS. Kindle Edition. Copyright © 2005 by James Gunn. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Reputation Books,
[email protected]
.

Cover Design: Mary C. Moore.

This novel is dedicated to my indispensable advisors on matters scientific and speculative:

Adrian Melott, Philip Baringer and Robert Sherrer

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

“The Giftie” was published in
Analog,
September 1999

“Pow’r” was published in
Analog,
January 2000

“The Abyss” was published in
Analog
, July/August 2000

“The Rabbit Hole” was published in
Analog,
December 2001

“Uncreated Night and Strange Shadows” was published, in somewhat different form, in
Analog,
January/February 2005.

CONTENTS

 

 
Preface
Part One
Giftie
Part Two
P’wer
Part Three
The Abyss
Part Four
The Rabbit Hole
Part Five
Uncreated Night
Part Six
Strange Shadows

PREFACE

IN 1972 SCRIBNERS PUBLISHED A NOVEL of mine called
The Listeners
. Scribners’ promotion director sent out galleys to a number of authors and scientists, and, among others, Carl Sagan was kind enough to read them and offer a quote: “One of the very best fictional portrayals of contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence ever written.” It was used as an above-the-title blurb on every edition published after Sagan became even better known when he created his popular-astronomy television show
Cosmos
in 1980.

The following year Sagan signed a contract with Simon & Schuster to write a science-fiction novel called
Contact
. It was finally published in 1985.

When the film version of
Contact
finally was released in 1997 (delayed even more than the writing of the novel), my reaction was mixed: I enjoyed the film and yet I felt that it was romantic rather than realistic. The novel
Contact
had portrayed working scientists realistically and the film perhaps a bit less so, but the plans transmitted were fantastic and the method and purpose of the space journey, not only fantastic but a letdown (a common fault of sf novels). And the question of why aliens would send the plans was never adequately explored.

That isn’t the way it would happen
, I told myself, and I was “inspired” to write
Gift from the Stars
, a response not only to
Contact
but to every
novel of humans encountering the unknown. I wrote it as a series of novelettes, just as I had written
The Listeners
, and published them over a period of half-a-dozen years in
Analog
, beginning with “The Giftie,” which won the
Analog
readers’ poll for best novelette of the year. I have kept that pattern in the book, even though I planned it from the beginning as a novel exploring “the way it would really be.” It is a novel in six parts instead of a dozen or so chapters.

If aliens sent us plans for a spaceship, the novel suggests, they would arrive without fanfare and their arrival would be greeted not with surprise or joy or gratitude, but with suspicion and resistance. A few space enthusiasts would want to implement them to reach the stars, but the great masses of humanity—and the bureaucrats who make decisions for them—would ignore the plans or want to suppress them. Most of all, why would aliens send us spaceship plans? Are their intentions beneficent or inimical? Damon Knight raised the question in a classic short-short story entitled “To Serve Man,” but
Gift from the Stars
pursues the question in detail and arrives at an answer, like the spaceship the humans construct and name,
Ad Astra

Per Aspera
.” “To the stars through difficulty.”

Gift from the Stars
is a more light-hearted look at the issues of alien contact—the plans, for instance, are discovered as an appendix in a book on a UFO remainder table—and I enjoyed writing them and living with the characters: Adrian Mast, Frances Farmstead, Jessica Buehler, and the troubled genius Peter Cavendish. I liked Frances so much I couldn’t bear to let her die from old age before the novel was over, so I invented a rejuvenation process. I hope you enjoy them as much.

J
AMES
G
UNN
Lawrence, Kansas

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

R
OBERT
B
URNS

Part One

THE GIFTIE

IT ALL STARTED AT THE LITTLE BOOKSTORE where Adrian liked to browse when he had the time. Browsing in the chain superstores wasn’t the same. In the superstores you could find almost any kind of book you wanted, and anything you couldn’t find could be located by computer and made available a day or so later. That was assuming you knew what you wanted, or could find it in the current maze of instant literature. But there were so many books that you couldn’t
browse
in an eclectic jumble of old and new. Anyway, the superstores didn’t
smell
right. They smelled like, well, like department stores with air recirculated every thirty seconds. Bookstores should smell like old leather and good paper and printer’s ink and maybe a little dust.

The book was on a table labeled “Remainders—Cults, New Age, UFOs.” The books had once been stacked neatly—the proprietor of the Book Nook, a Mrs. Frances Farmstead of elderly years, but with a youthful devotion to books nourished by some sixty years of reading and handling, liked them arranged so that all the bindings could be read at a glance—but now they were jumbled in a heap as if someone else had already rummaged through them.

That honed Adrian’s edge of irritation over his inability to get any closer to the goal he had been pursuing since childhood, ever since he had looked up at the stars and, like John Carter, had wished him
self among them. The feeling of irritation had been growing in recent months. His ambition to be an astronaut had been grounded by the inarguable fact that he was physically unimposing, and his poor hand-eye coordination had always made him last to be chosen at pick-up games. But he had a nimble and inquiring mind, and he had settled for the next best thing: aerospace engineering.

He had worked his way through university, joined a major aerospace firm after graduation, and resigned after a dozen years of routine assignments that got him no closer to his goal of reaching the stars, through surrogates if not in person. He had set up a consulting business, and was able to pick and choose assignments that appealed to him and seemed to get humanity closer to freedom from Earth’s gravity. But even second-hand space adventuring was hung up on chemical propulsion and obsolete vehicles. His own ambition, like the space program itself, was drifting. Humanity needed something totally new. The irritation had brought him into the Book Nook time and again; browsing had proved, over the years, a treatment if not a cure. But now someone else might have found the one text the book gods had intended for him, for which their mysterious hands had guided him into the store. These remainders were all one of a kind, and once one was removed it was gone forever. Ordinarily he would not have chosen this particular table—he had a skeptic’s fondness for books whose naive pretensions or paranoid conspiracies he could ridicule to his friends or even to himself—but he was not in the mood for such cynical amusements. The jumble attracted him, however, and he worked his way through the pile, restacking them neatly on the table, binding up, in the way Mrs. Farmstead would have done herself.
The UFO Conspiracy
,
UFOs: The Final Answer
,
UFO: The Complete Sightings
, and
Cosmic Voyage
, along with
The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians
,
The Truth in the Light, Psychic Animals
, and other annals of magic and the occult. Adrian could feel Mrs. Farmstead’s approving gaze from the antique wooden desk at the front of the store.

He held a book in his hand, turning it this way and that. The book had lost its dust jacket, if it ever had one, but it had a pleasant feel to it, and the title was catchy:
Gift from the Stars
. Perhaps it was a Von Daniken clone; he always enjoyed their innocent credulity. He opened it. The book had a frontispiece, unusual in a cheap text like this. It showed the vast metal bowl of the radio telescope at Arecibo, with the focusing mechanism held aloft by cables strung from three pylons. The title page listed a publisher he had never heard of, but that wasn’t unusual: fringe publishers were common in the cult field. The copyright page said that the book had been published half a dozen years earlier. Adrian glanced
at the first page. It was the usual stuff: have we been visited? Are there aliens among us?

BOOK: Gift From The Stars
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