Slow Train to Arcturus – Eric Flint & David Freer

Howard is a farmer in a deeply religious, backward society. One day an alien lands in his tomato plants. This starts his journey to discover that his world is actually one of several enormous spherical colony habitats strung like beads on a string. Each habitat contains a different society, all seemingly extreme in some way. Howard is more or less forced to help the alien, who is an explorer from a nearby star that this slowtrain of habitats is passing.

This combination adventure and pilgrimage tale reminded me a lot of early Niven. There’s the Big Dumb Object, the little explorer in a world he cannot control, the unexpectedly cosmic scale of the whole thing. The novel has some issues, for example many events are a bit too good to be true. Also the middle part seems a bit rudderless, but the ending explains things. Much can be forgiven, however, when there is good adventure to be had and lots of humor to go with it. Not to mention a rather unexpected ending and a valuable message about modern “nanny society” delivered with at least a little subtlety.

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