This novel involves first contact (actually second contact) and negotiations with an alien race (kyo) of star travelers. Bren Cameron, human representative of atevi (another alien race who have allowed humans to share their planet), arrives at the space station Alpha to communicate with the approaching kyo. Bren is translator and the bridge between, the atevi, the kyo, and three distinct groups of humans—each with their own language, culture, and social norms. His task is to learn why the kyo are contacting them, to learn the kyo’s language and customs, and come to a peaceful agreement between all.
The intricate plot involves understanding why the kyo are seeking out the human/atevi civilization. Ten years earlier, they attacked another space station, Reunion. One of the human groups currently residing in Alpha Station are refugees from Reunion. Hopefully Bren can prevent another confrontation. But he doesn’t know what actions or motivations caused the attack.
I hadn’t read any Cherryh novels in a few years. At the beginning of this story, I found it difficult to get into her very detailed writing. She follows her characters comprehensive thoughts—observations, calculations, anxieties, pleasures, planning, random thoughts, etc. But the book grabbed me when I got into it and kept me reading until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.
Cherryh’s approach to science fiction is at the human (or alien) level.