Crucible by Nancy Kress
When I first picked up this book and read the inside cover, I thought “I haven’t ever read the first book in this series, so I don’t want to read this one yet.” But something made me pick it up anyway, probably that it was by Nancy Kress who’s Beggars in Spain impressed me deeply in the 90s. It turns out that I had read the first book in the series (Crossfire), but the blurb was so different from my memory of the story that it confused me.
Crucible was a disturbing story for me, especially in the aftermath of the United States 2004 Presidential election. It is the story of a planet of farmers. They came to their new world in a colony ship with four approximately equal groups: Chinese, Arabs, Quakers, and whites. I’m not going to describe their colonization, that’s the subject of a different book and review, but suffice it to say that they lived in veritable peace and harmony for a long time. There was some relative wealth and relative poverty, but in general the society was fair and egalitarian and it seemed to work.
Then the spaceship, The Crucible, arrived from earth. It was carrying, ostensibly, a group of scientists and military who wanted to study the first non-human intelligence that had ever been found and that shared the planet with the colonists. But it turned out to contain a lot more than that.
What was disturbing to me was the similarities I saw between the leader of that ship and the elected leaders of the United States. One in particular fell in love with the planet Greentrees, and so did all in his power to protect her. This amounted to declaring martial law, because there was a possibility that the aliens could come back to the planet and destroy all the humans. Of course, this hadn’t happened in decades, but he was able, by increments to convince the populace that what he was proposing was not only necessary, but right and desirable. And the population went along with him and, in general, loved him for it.
I’m not going to spoil the end for you, but let me just say that the parallels between the U.S. right now and this book were scary to me. And I hope that the parallels stop short of how Kress ended her story.
This is a very strong scifi story with lots of twists and turns. There are aliens and space battles, and even sentient plants. But in the end it is really a story with a commentary about life as we live it today.
And as a hint, don’t read the inside cover blurb. While it is essentially accurate, it is very misleading about the true tone of this book.