The human race was expanding through the galaxy... and so, they knew, were the Aliens. When two expanding empires meet... war is inevitable. Or is it...?
Diane strained her ears for possible re-transmission of the Niccola's signals, which would indicate the Plumie's willingness to try conversation. But she suddenly raised her hand and pointed to the radar-graph instrument. It repeated the positioning of dots which were stray meteoric matter in the space between worlds in this system. What had been a spot--the Plumie ship--was now a line of dots. Baird pressed the button.
"Radar reporting!" he said curtly. "The Plumie ship is heading for us. I'll have relative velocity in ten seconds."
He heard the skipper swear. Ten seconds later the Doppler measurement became possible. It said the Plumie plunged toward the Niccola at miles per second. In half a minute it was tens of miles per second. There was no re-transmission of signals. The Plumie ship had found itself discovered. Apparently it considered itself attacked. It flung itself into a headlong dash for the Niccola.
* * * * *
Human civilisation is expanding across stellar systems. In some planets are found cairns, left by a hitherto unknown civilisation that humans nickname "Plumy". Some cairns are centuries old, others seem recent. Nothing else is known. The Niccola is one of several ships commissioned for exploring unknown systems. She makes first contact with a Plumy ship. The development of events suits the author's fancy, but the reactions of human characters are realistically depicted: boldness and caution, the temerarious fanatic is checked by balanced thinkers. The negative point is presenting the aliens as anthropomorphic. They strongly resemble humans, with only minor anatomical differences. This anthropocentric view devaluates the story. Science agrees that forms of life evolving in other planets will not be similar to any living thing known in Earth, even at biochemical level, let alone a copy of Homo sapiens. See the disciplines of Astrobiology, Exobiology and Xenobiology at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exobiology
The Plumies have been leaving cairns on oxygen-atmosphere worlds, though no one had ever encountered the aliens so far. The earthlings have been searing for the Plumie homeworld and quite by accident they encounter one of their ships in interplanetary space.
A realistic depiction of human knee-jerk jumping to conclusions and a pleasingly optimistic ending. There are women crewpeople, who actually do useful work, and the love story doesn't intrude much at all.
Although slightly dated, I found this to be an easy read about military thinking in a first-contact situation. The characters are quite good, with some humour, and though I miss the high-tech weaponry of other sci-fi books, this keeps if vague enough that your imagination allow you to get into the story.
Interesting study in first-contact scenarios, where things could and do go wrong. I bumped it down one star due to the awkward romance, which the story doesn't really need.
First rate story from one of the greats.
Well-written first-contact novella. Will the aliens be friendly, hostile, or just cautious? How will the humans respond?