This book is a clash of cultures extraordinaire. Nathan and Pournelle in this space opera invent a culture for a group of aliens that is completely driven by their biology and that leads them to have reactions and actions that are extraordinarily different from those of humans. Starting from the almost trivial fact that they have three hands instead of two, and moving to their extraordinary problem with population pressure, and their even more extraordinary ability to breed themselves to accomplish jobs incredibly efficiently, you have a culture that has a millennia-old history of death, and destruction, right on a remarkable scale.
They have developed into a fatalistic culture that believes that this cycle of growth, overpopulation, and destruction is unstoppable. Then they meet up with humans, curious apes who believe there is no problem that is unsolvable. The end result is this book, which is the first in a series that gets progressively less good, but this book is extraordinary. It’s essential reading for anyone who likes to read about aliens with different cultures. I would also argue that it’s a must-read for those who like to think about their own culture and how it affects their own behavior.
But that’s not all this book is. Not by a long shot. The book is also an exploration of human cultures, both by presenting a human culture very different from ours; and then by presenting two different human cultures in the same book. One culture is rich, noble, educated, and eternally optimistic and peaceful. The other is solid, dependable, and eternally vigilant. Amazingly the two cultures work together in the book to produce… well, that would be giving the ending away 🙂
If you like hard, culture-driven, Space Opera, this book is a must-read.