Pushing IceBook - 2005
First Contact with extraordinary aliens, glittering technologies that could destroy the universe in a nanosecond, huge sweeping space operas: Alastair Reynolds is back!
From the critics
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This is an epic story spanning thousands of years of time!
The basic plot is that Janus, a moon of Saturn, starts moving away from the planet, and it turns out to be an alien ship or artifact of some kind.
It is found that the nearest starship to Janus is a comet mining ship called Rockhopper. She has a centrifuge to provide artificial gravity while cruising, and her primary means of propulsion and power generation is a fusion rocket.
In any case, the Rockhopper approaches the alien spacecraft, and eventually becomes trapped in the wake of its exotic propulsion system. This where the book deviates from Hard SF; the alien craft has a means of propulsion that can accelerate them to near the speed of light (0.98 * c) without subjecting its occupants to the force of this acceleration.
The crew of the Rockhopper then faces a choice: they can accelerate to leave the bubble, but they would become stranded in space, awaiting rescue from Earth, since it would use most of their fuel; alternatively, they can land on the alien spacecraft and try to survive until it reaches its destination, which will take about 13 years on the ship, but 200+ years will pass on Earth, due to time dilation, since the craft is going so close to the speed of light.
Revealing more of the plot could spoil your enjoyment of the book, but what follows is an epic story. The time dilation effect is a major aspect of the story.
But, as I said, if you are looking for Hard SF, it does deviate from that in a few ways, but most of the time it seems realistic (from this layman's perspective). The author of Pushing Ice has a doctorate in astronomy, and was a researcher with the ESA at one point, so he knows what he's doing as far as physics.
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