A fast-paced rollercoaster of a novel from Bear which builds inexorably to its inevitable climax. In a theme later to be picked up by Alastair Reynolds and Jack McDevitt, Bear introduces us to the concept of the ‘culling’ of Humanity while painting a portrait of a civilisation faced with its imminent destruction. Like many Bear novels it build slowly, gathers momentum and rushes to a breathtaking climax. It’s a multi-character narrative, revolving around the central figure of Arthur Gordon, cosmologist and scientific advisor to the President. Two spaceships disguised as natural rock formations are simultaneously discovered in the USA and Australia. One carries a dying alien who tells of the Earth’s imminent destruction by machine intelligences, while the Australian ship disgorges three gourd-shaped robots who preach of sharing their scientific knowledge with humanity. President Crockerman, shaken by his meeting with the alien, bestows a religious significance on the events and deduces that Mankind is about to be judged by God. Subsequently, while two black-hole-like neutronium pellets penetrate the Earth, racing toward a violent collision at the core, a second faction of extra-terrestrials makes itself known, able only to save a portion of humanity while fighting the predations of the ‘planet-eaters’. Bear, to be fair, goes out of his way to portray a world beyond the borders of the US. One of the main characters for instance is the British Science Fiction writer, Trevor Hicks, who is shown to be far more level-headed and rational than the President. It’s an interesting First Contact story in that we do not get to discover those with whom contact has been made. The creatures of the arks and the robot spiders only reveal themselves as bronze humanoid avatars, while the nature of the ‘planet eaters’ remains a mystery. Despite its rapid pace and huge ideas (Europa, which disappears at the beginning of the novel, has been dismantled by benign aliens and its ice being used to terraform Mars and Venus) it is a novel about people, well-rounded, three-dimensional, often flawed but fully human, faced with the destruction of everything they know. The denouement is shocking, compelling, transcendent and leaves one wanting more.