Reminds me a bit of, say, Bear, with the way the scope of the thing keeps jumping – and it starts pretty large anyway. There’s something of Robinson’s Red Mars with the focus on interpersonal relationships and the consequent political implications, and Kress deals pretty competently with the social elements: this is not a bunch of faceless marines, or sheep following the hero – several people have their own histories and agendas. But it’s not just a play with an SF background – technology and xenobiology are foregrounded here and there – even moreso in the latter half when (to dump yet another comparison) Kress goes all Wells on us with our intrepid group having to save the world from malevolent aliens.
I enjoyed the ride, and liked that there was some awareness that a solution wasn’t morally obvious – even with malevolent aliens. Several things larger than life, although the confused mess of first contact does resonate with accounts I’ve read (for example Cook’s journal on meeting indigenous Austalians – thinking a Tahitian could translate, and that gestures will mean the same across cultures – ending in spears being thrown and shots fired). Kress doesn’t seem to be so intent in forcing home a particular moral, rather is just playing with scenarios. You can decide for yourself who you think is right or wrong, stupid or smart.