Across a Billion Years is a first contact novel written by sci fi legend Robert Silverberg back in 1969. It’s interesting how some sci fi holds up well over the years, while other sci fi falls apart. Dune, for example, reads as well to me today as when I first turned a page in it forty plus years ago. It’s setting in a rather fantastical future helps. Sci fi that is more predictive, like Across a Billion Years, can more easily become book wormed with age. Fortunately, Across a Billion Years generally escapes this fate.
The year is 2375. Mankind has fast interstellar propulsion and interstellar communication via telepathy. (Space Sci fi requires both in some form or the author is severely limited.) The protagonist Tom Rice is a newly minted college graduate on an archaeological expedition to dig for artifacts on Highby V relating to The High Ones, who left their mark across the galaxy a billion years earlier.
The discovery of artifacts propels the plot as they attempt to discover the fate of The High Ones’ civilization. A subplot is the internal strains within the team brought on by racial tension between its five humans, five other alien races, and one human android. Another subplot concerns Rice’s romantic interests. Rice is initially quite naïve, and, although he doesn’t realize it, pretty opinionated and bigoted. He shows quite a bit of character development over the course of the novel.
The novel is presented as Rice’s communication to his sister as stored in a memory cube. That wouldn’t be my preference, but it works reasonably well.
The plot and subplots worked for me as did Rice’s character development. However, the book is more contemplative than action-packed. I thought the book floundered some at the end, and found the ending not satisfying. The secondary characters were rather lightly drawn, and more caricatures, than characters. I was particularly disappointed that the androids persona was explored more. Some of the science that was cutting edge in 1969, and that Silverberg spends many words on, is obsolete today, and not of interest to the modern reader.
Overall, the book was a quick read for me at 232 pages and maintained my interest. I rate it four stars considering its vintage. If it were modern, I’d knock it down a star. Personally, I think its regular Kindle price of $7.99 is too high, but I purchased it on sale via BookBub.