Learning the World : A Novel of First Contact, Paperback

Learning the World : A Novel of First Contact Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (5 ratings)


The great sunliner 'But the Sky, My Lady! The Sky!' is nearing the end of a four-hundred-year journey.

A ship-born generation is tense with expectation for the new system that is to be their home.

Expecting to find nothing more complex than bacteria and algae, the detection of electronic signals from one of the planets comes as a shock.

In millennia of slow expansion, humanity has never encountered aliens, and yet these new signals cannot be ignored.

They suspect a fast robot probe has overtaken them, and send probes of their own to investigate. On a world called Ground, whose inhabitants are struggling into the age of radio, petroleum and powered flight, a young astronomer searching for distant planets detects an anomaly that he presumes must be a comet.

His friend, a brilliant foreign physicist, calculates the orbit, only to discover an anomaly of his own.

The comet is slowing down ...


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Science fiction
  • ISBN: 9781841493442



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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

This novel was something of a slow burner for me. I enjoyed it, read it fast. But it was after I finished that I realised how the 'human' expectations had been turned upside down. Highly recommended.SPOILER FROM HERE:I really liked the way we were dragged along to believe in human superiority because they were more advanced technologically and didn't know the meaning of 'war' etc but then it turned out that the bat people were more civilised and humane. And humans under pressure, of course, quickly reverted to type.

Review by

Enjoyable and thought-provoking, a really original look at the First Contact theme. One diverting aspect of the novel is that is, at least in part, an epistolary novel, but one in which the writing is effectively a blog, written by a teenager. Macleod has really captured a style of writing here which is full of the half-baked ideas and full-on enthusiasms of teenagers and blog posting, along with the way in which these can be self-critical as the later self re-reads the postings of the earlier self. It's unfortunate, though, that this technique will date the book very quickly, because this is a book that deserves long-lived popularity.

Review by

This book had a promising beginning and an interesting development, but the end felt like a bit of an anti-climax and a let-down.The plot seemed to be building up to a confrontation of sorts between the human colonist and the alien natives, but this was side-stepped.

Review by

Intriguing first contact story told from the contactees' point of view, as the aliens, who call themselves 'humans', arrive in their generation starship. Concepts are thrown in all over the place; I particularly noted Macleod playing with political and economic systems and straying outside his usual socialist comfort zone, without being at all po-faced about his free-market system.

Review by

Not quite as clever as it thinks it is. Lightweight.Book reading is odd sometimes - some themes you hardly ever encounter, and then by chance you come across two at once. I'd just finished LeGuin's short story collection which ends with a Generational Ship tale, and then I picked up this Learning the World, as a change of pace, only to find it too is a generational ship tale. For many years FTL and warp drive were used as a handwavy technique of shrinking the vast interstellar gulf. But for some authors with a more compelling grasp of physics there is another way. Fill your large spaceship up with a decent genepool and send it on it's way sublight. It might take a few hundred years, but it will get there. However societies change in such time, and that's what Learning the World is about. We follow three distinct viewpoints - Atomic, a young coloniser only 14 at the start of the book, born at the end of a voyage just in time to begin the colonisation process; Horrocks a crewman born midjourney and life extended, dedicated to the ship and preserving it's voyage; and Darvin, one of the aliens who manages preIndustrial revolution to discover the incoming spaceship.Weirdly we never get the actual third person voice of Atomic, she's only ever represented as her biolog entries (quite why people are still writing blogs x000 years in the future is never explained). I'm also not too convinced by the atomic (ie fission) power or weapons, these too seem far too old for such a futuristic vessel.As the ship gets closer to the planet they realise that instead of an empty world like all previous encouters there civilisation has colonised, this one contains higher life forms. Darvin's people are evolved from batlike creatures, and still in an almost feudal competitive society. This is contrasted well with the interally complex capitlaistically driven politics of the ship - where the oldest 'original hundredthousand' citizens are still active, and genemodified to speeds and plots beyond the comprehension of their younger shipmates.Surprisingly the jumps in POV and gaps in the timescale work farely well. This style of wrting often leads to disconcerting changes, but careful chapter breaks make it farely clear what is going on. Despite this I wasn't that impressed though. I'm not quite sure why, the aliens were fun, as was that modifications to Horrocks and the elders. Possibly Ken was just trying too hard to make a sociological point, the idealist imperial communist aliens weren't explored as deeply as they could have been, and likewise the details of the ship could have had more explanations. Although the cover blurb sells this as a 'first contact' novel, this theme is barely touched upon amidst the politicing on both sides, and this is a detriment to both. The subtitle also mentions a "scientific romance" there is no romance and precious little science in it.Readable, at time intruiging, but much more could have been made of it.............................................................................................................................If you would like to discuss this review there is a Review Comments <A href="/topic/79119">Thread for it</a>

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