March 2, 2017
Saga Press, which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster, doesn't have a release date yet for the new Academy novel, but it will probably arrive in bookstores late this year.
Priscilla Hutchins lives in an age of interstellars with FTL capabilities. Scientists and the media are becoming increasingly concerned about the dangers of alien encounters. For anyone who hasn't been paying attention, there's nothing new about that. Scientists today are warning against the METI Project, Messaging Extra- Terrestrial Intelligence. Voices heard recently pointing out the hazards in attracting attention to ourselves include Stephen Hawking, David Brin, Frank Drake, and Geoff Marcy.
Consequently it's not too big a leap to suspect that if we reach a point where we can actually move among the stars, concerns will grow. After all, there may be civilizations out there that are millions of years old. Their technology would figure to be somewhat advanced beyond ours. And they might see us the way we perceive chickens.
In Priscilla's world, people have become seriously nervous about it. Politicians warn that aside from aliens who'd like to go deer-hunting, we might bring back a lethal disease, disrupt religious views, or maybe even acquire some scientific advances that we're not prepared to live with. Like the capability to reverse the ageing process. Who knows what's out there? So politicians are shutting down interstellar flight.
This occurs just as visual images of a waterfall from a star thousands of light-years away are picked up. A quick effort is put together to launch a research mission before it can be shut down. They bring in Priscilla as pilot and barely get clear before the stop order arrives. But when the ship reaches its target a month or so later, the star has gone missing.
We've jettisoned the working title, which was Dark Star, and replaced it with The Long Sunset.
I've gone back and forth on this issue. I like to think that a civilization far enough advanced to be able to travel between stars will have developed a respect for intelligent life. That they will long ago have acquired an ethical code and a decent level of empathy for other creatures that can think. Maybe I'm wrong. If that's a nearsighted view, the price could be high. But there are other elements in play.
We're probably protected by the sheer distances between us and any relatively nearby place that might have produced life. Our science fiction has given us a distorted view of the universe. Captain Kirk directs Sulu to go to warp six, and a short time later they arrive in the neighborhood of another star. But distances are extreme. The star closest to the solar system, of course, is Alpha Centauri. If someone living in that neighborhood turned on a giant lamp, four years would pass before we could see it. That's a long ride. So we're probably okay regardless of what's out there.
Still, there's a lot to be said for playing it safe.