It was published in by Tor Books. Plot summary[ edit ] In , humans make contact with their first extraterrestrials. The signal comes from beyond Neptune and even Pluto , on ZX, a celestial body between comet and planet in size, out in the Kuiper belt at 35 AU from the Sun. Twenty years later they send a scientific team to this small, ice-bound planetoid in the farthest reaches of the solar system in the Oort cloud. This cold, dark planetoid ends up being a strange world indeed.
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A Kuiper Belt object is discovered in , and a space probe is sent past it. Impossibly, there appears to be life on it—and what is more, at least some of it appears to be intelligent!
Another probe is sent and establishes first contact with Merlene, the self-described Wizard of the city of Camalor. Camalor is one of the many cities that the keracks their autonym have established on Ice their name for ZX. Eventually, a manned expedition is sent out to Ice so that the humans may have a more direct interaction with the keracks. The book is an explanation of the science and the sociology of both the keracks and the humans. Trouble crops up because the philistine humans only think they appreciate the alien arts properly.
Advertisement: Bizarre Alien Biology : The fact that each kerack has a "soul" of uranium is just the tip of the iceberg Bizarre Alien Reproduction : Basically, every single form of life on Ice is a variant of the same gene, and they all unknowingly work in concert to construct a freaking nuclear warhead to spread the lifeforms all across outer space.
Blue-and-Orange Morality : Of a sort, though by the end of the book it seems that the humans might be well on their way to converting some or all of the keracks. The Lookman, which is sort of an offline smartphone. Cassandra Truth : Merlene is made aware of the mechanism by which life on Ice makes a big nuclear bomb in the name of species-wide reproduction. Hive Mind : All the keracks in a given city form one. One can even force the creation of a memory and extract such memories from the collective if the person who implanted the memory died.
Wander too far from the city and you lose access until you return. Idiot Ball : The scientists and engineers for the mission seem to have used these as bearings. One of the characters managed to smuggle a cat onboard the spacecraft, and nobody noticed. Info Dump : Dr. Forward explains quite a bit in the main text, to say nothing of the appendices.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! Really Years Old : Discussed by the humans as to how little sense it made for the keracks to all live for so long.
Justifed by the end of the book. Shown Their Work : The author holds a doctorate, and no detail has been spared in the design and description of Ice and its inhabitants. Solid Gold Poop : And solid silver, and solid platinum, et multa cetera Starfish Aliens : The keracks, definitely, being as they are essentially cryogenic mantis shrimp that live on a ball of ice farther from the Sun than Neptune.
Wham Line : Notable for its context, wherein Camalor is about to nuke itself out of existence in an effort to continue the existence of a genetic lineage: Rexart: You have no soul!
What Measure Is a Non-Human? Camalor is a crater, the Hive Mind she was a part of is gone, her friends and relatives are dead, the humans are mostly going back to earth.
For the humans, it is the openness with which the keracks defecate.