It was almost inevitable that Alpha Centauri, one of the brightest visible objects in the night sky and home to the nearest stars to our own world outside of the Sun, has featured in numerous works of fiction. Of the three stars of Alpha Centauri, two are reasonably like our own Sun, while for the past month one of these has been definitively known to host a planet. Alpha Centauri has been commonly imagined not only as a destination for explorers but as a potential second home for humanity, a planetary system that--if we're lucky--could support a new Earth to supplement, or replace, the old.
It's the hope of finding a potential second home for humanity that starts off Alpha Centauri. Forty years ago, at the beginning of the 23rd century, the sublight starship Mother Night was launched to explore Alpha Centauri, its crew of ten charged with scouting the trinary system of the title to determine its suitability for colonization. The Solar System, densely colonized by immortals, is now home to three hundred billion people and nearing potentially catastrophic resource shortages, leaving the oligarchy that runs the lot with no option to ensure their survival but to look for homes outside the solar system. As soon as the Mother Night arrives, however, its crew discovers that for hundreds of millions of years, the Alpha Centauri system was populated by a technologically advanced civilization. What happened to them? Is it too late for humanity to learn lessons? Unbeknownst to the investigating crew, however, one of their number belongs to a secret organization devoted to preventing the human cancer from spreading to the stars. Complications ensue.
( Spoilers, and squick.Collapse )
Alpha Centauri could have been a great book had its authors not tried to explore everything and not done so in ways that made me indifferent to the survival of the characters and their civilization. It speaks to the strength of these ideas that I'll rate it "good", with the note that readers should be prepared.