This is one of the most intelligent novels about alien contact I have read. Novels about 'the alien' can tend to be so mundane - the aliens are basically humans with a few changes, or easily recognisable as based on other earth species. McDonald avoids these pitfalls. His 'Chaga', named after the Kenyan tribe who first discover it, is a bizarre, self-replicating, absorbing, learning, mutating substance, being and process all at once. The UN (dominated ny the Americans) treat it like a threat, a disease to be stopped at all costs. This of course becomes another cover for racism against the Africans, but it is the Africans who realise that adpation is the key. By the end of the book this appears to bee shifting the world balance of power to Africa, a trend which continues in the equally wonderful sequel, Kirinya. McDonald's lush descriptive skill and eye for the cultural and natural landscape of Kenya form the base of this book, but his characterisation and plot structuring are equally impressive. Gaby, Faraway, Tembo, Shepherd, Oksana and many others are characters who breathe and demand your attention. The plot is tight, taut and packed with incident, humour, brutality, love - in short, all the things that make us human; nothing is out of place, nothing superfluous. Overall, one of the most human, hopeful and intelligent novels of the near future I have read.