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Gift From The Stars by James E. Gunn
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Gift From The Stars (original 2005; edition 2005)

by James E. Gunn (Author)

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247778,157 (3.19)None
The age-old question about alien existence and human contact is explored in a new way in this collection of six novellas, previously anthologized in Analog magazine. When disillusioned aerospace engineer Adrian Mast buys a book at a remainder sale, the last things he expects to find in its appendix are alien spacecraft designs. With the help of the bookstore owner, Adrian tracks down the author ?only to find him in a mental institution anguishing over the intentions of the aliens who sent the designs to him. By bluffing a bureaucrat intent on thwarting their progress, the two friends continue their quest for the stars and go ahead with the spacecraft designs. Having successfully launched their ship 15 years later, the questions that remain are What were the intentions of the aliens? Is mankind ready to face what's out there?… (more)
Member:pbeagan
Title:Gift From The Stars
Authors:James E. Gunn (Author)
Info:BenBella Books (2005), 154 pages
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Gift from the Stars by James Gunn (2005)

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This is a collection of 5 novellas that are cobbled together to make a short novel. There is not much in the way of character development nor for that matter plot development. The first Novella predates Carl Sagan's Contact an the book is very similar to the plot in contact. The writing is spare; however, the story is interesting and one that I could not put down.

Being a fanatic sci-fi reading I had never read anything by James Gunn. I was interested in his writing after learning of his death. After reading this book I am definitely going to search out his other books. ( )
  BobVTReader | Feb 28, 2021 |
As explained in Gunn’s preface as well as the introduction by Gregory Benford, this novel is part of a feedback loop with SETI research as well as Carl Sagan’s Contact.

Sagan was a great admirer of Gunn’s The Listeners, a set of novelletes turned into a novel which depicts the decades long quest for a signal from an alien intelligence and the effects of receiving one on humanity. Gunn took his ideas from SETI researcher Frank Drake as well as Sagan, and Benford says Gunn’s novel, in turn, influenced the paradigms of SETI efforts
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Sagan’sContact was a response to Gunn’s novel, and Gunn started this novel, another one of his characteristic fix-ups of several shorter works, in response to the movie adaptation of Sagan’s novel. Specifically, Gunn didn’t find the end alien message or its purpose credible.

The result is an upping of scale from section to section. Benford says it puts him in mind of A. E. van Vogt’s famous method of writing 800 word scenes and then introducing a new wrinkle into the narrative. While that led, according to Benford, “gathering incoherence” in van Vogt, it leads to “expanding vistas” in this novel.

I’ve talked about the first, “The Giftie”, before in my review of Human Voices. It introduces our hero and heroine, Adrian Mast and Frances Farmstead.

Adrian’s a would-be astronaut, would-be because his eye-hand coordination is bad. He’s settled into the life of a single man pursuing a career as a consultant in aerospace engineering. He passes the time reading, including ufology books, cynical amusements for his skeptic mind, yet he keeps hoping for “the one text the book gods had intended for him”.

So one day he finds himself in one of his usual haunts, the Book Nook owned and run by Frances. (Now that I think of it, the names are mildly symbolic: “Mast” as in ship as in voyage and travel and “Farmstead” as in farm as in stationary.) On the table, he finds a curious book: Gift from the Stars. It’s full of diagrams and pictures, but, unlike the usual ufo and ancient astronaut dreck, they are not of Mayan inscriptions and Nazca lines or pyramids. They look like modern blueprints like Adrian sees every day.

And, examining the book at home, Adrian is more and more convinced those drawings may not show a “too pat …. science-fiction gadget”. They may really show how to build an interstellar spaceship powered by antimatter – and how to produce that antimatter using solar power. Furthermore, there is the hint that this information is from an alien source.

Adrian goes back to the bookstore to talk to Frances and find more information on the book’s publisher and author.

What then follows is a something of a thriller plot as the two track down the author and publisher while evading pursuit.

It’s conducted with a surprisingly light touch since Gunn is not normally associated with humor. A lot of that comes from Frances, a character Gunn was originally going to dispense with after the novel’s first section, but he grew too fond of her. She’s spent a lot of time reading all kinds of books including spy thrillers and crime novels and constantly mentions how their circumstances resemble plot clichés and comes up with inventive (if not always successful) ways to get out of trouble and to advance their quest. Gunn may have the usual chapter epigraphs he’s fond of, but there are also plenty of references to movies and Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man”.

The first section ends with them discovering the book’s author, Peter Cavendish, now incarcerated in a mental hospital as a schizophrenic, and the government body who has been suppressing Cavendish’s discovery.

The rest of the book will have Frances and Adrian battling Earth’s bureaucracy and go from Earth to orbit around a dead world with alien ruins and discovering the purpose of that message.

Any Gunn fan will want to read this one. Since it’s only 154 pages, it’s not much of a time investment for others, particularly those interested in SETI. To my mind, it could have been shortened even more by cutting or revising “The Rabbit Hole” chapter. I’m not sure that surrealistic section where cause and effect are reversed when a starship goes through a wormhole was strictly necessary though an alien wormhole network is a crucial plot feature.

And, while the novel’s end is in good faith and a serious philosophical statement, it’s an idea I’ve come across before and dismiss as “cheap spirituality” in its attempt to find purpose in a godless universe. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | May 29, 2018 |
This is what sci-fi is about, thought provoking stories steeped in plausibility. In “Gift from the Stars”, James Gunn, the author, put together a story that left me contemplating the plausibility of the events. After reading the book description on Amazon, I wasn’t sure how well six short stories would fit together. It was perfect and the right way to handle this discovery journey to an alien star system. Each subsequent short story took place a short time after the previous short story ended. This had the effect of making the whole story believable as space is vast with the result that in system travel times would be long.

The main characters were an engineer, a book store matron, a young attractive female investigator, and a schizophrenic computer programmer. As different as these characters are, Gunn orchestrated them into the story in a symbiotic way. From the characters’ backgrounds, you can see that the main characters have the skills for space ship construction, research, intrigue dealing, and imagination. All of these skills came into play in the story creating a nonlinear story line. Nonlinearity is part of the reason for the story’s plausibility. The road to the successful accomplishment of space flight will not be a straight line. Major engineering endeavors like this are steeped in politics, financing, and scientific obstacles.

This was an engrossing read. But, to be overly critical, the ending was a letdown. After a dramatic debate among the main characters as to whether they should stay with the aliens to learn more about the universe, the last sentence merely said that they went home, back to earth. Well, I need to know what happened when they got there; where they well received; was the knowledge made available to the public or was it suppressed by the government?

This book carries itself as a standalone book but would be a great foundation for a sequel. ( )
  ronploude | Aug 7, 2017 |
First Contact with an alien species can happen in a grand moment of scientific discovery, like in the film "Contact." It can also happen in a much more mundane and accidental manner.

Adrian Mast is an aeronautical engineer (and frustrated astronaut). Browsing in a local bookstore, he picks up a remaindered book on UFOs. In the Appendix, Adrian finds what look like a legitimate set of plans for an interstellar spaceship. With help from Frances Farmstead, the bookstore's owner, Adrian tracks down the publisher, who nrevously denies that they ever published the book, even though their name is on it. Peter Cavendish, the author, is in a mental hospital in the Midwest, afraid that the government, or the aliens, is out to get him. Somone has gone to a lot of trouble to suppress the book. Adrian and Frances get the plans spread out to the scientific community, before someone "suppresses" them.

The alien machines built from the plans radically change Earth, bringing about an era of really free energy. Adrian and Frances put together a group of people to build a spaceship based on the plans. They get permission from the Energy Board. Cannibalizing an old space station, the ship is finally ready for launch. Mankind still has no idea who the aliens are, where they are or why they sent the spaceship plans. On its maiden voyage, the ship suddenly starts traveling in a very different direction. Before he left the ship, back at Earth, Peter Cavendish programmed the ship's computer to take the ship to the aliens.

The ship enters a wormhole, where the laws of time and space are turned upside down. There is no way to tell how long the wormhole is, or if the ship is even moving. The crew remembers events that haven't yet happened. The ship eventually leaves the wormhole, and reaches a planet with hundreds of spaceships in orbit, of all shapes and sizes. Evidently, humanity was not the only civilization to hear from the aliens. After months of waiting for a reception committee, which never happens, members of the crew land on the surface, find their way into underground tunnels, and get some answers to their questions.

This one is very plausible and rational, and it has believable characters. It is interesting from start to finish, and is very much worth the time. ( )
  plappen | Oct 16, 2011 |
Gift from the Stars by James Gunn, was written as a series of short science fiction stories published over a number of years in Analog. Each of the stories follows the premise that aliens sent the design for a spaceship to Earth. The nerd hero Adrian finds a book in a bookstore managed by the very helpful Mrs. Frances Farmstead. The two set off on a quest to find out more of the origins of the book and to build the space ship. In the process of dealing with this gift, the hero and heroine have to deal with resistance from government bodies that want to protect the world from alien influence. They also have to face up to the implications of what such a document means about our connection to aliens -- have they come to earth, why would they help us, would they still be around when we actually got around to making contact given the distance and duration of a space voyage.

Read more :
http://www.sfreader.com/read_review.asp?book=1011 ( )
  sfharper | Feb 28, 2008 |
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The age-old question about alien existence and human contact is explored in a new way in this collection of six novellas, previously anthologized in Analog magazine. When disillusioned aerospace engineer Adrian Mast buys a book at a remainder sale, the last things he expects to find in its appendix are alien spacecraft designs. With the help of the bookstore owner, Adrian tracks down the author ?only to find him in a mental institution anguishing over the intentions of the aliens who sent the designs to him. By bluffing a bureaucrat intent on thwarting their progress, the two friends continue their quest for the stars and go ahead with the spacecraft designs. Having successfully launched their ship 15 years later, the questions that remain are What were the intentions of the aliens? Is mankind ready to face what's out there?

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