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It was a novel and the non-human nature of the protagonist and their species is revealed only gradually. They're some kind of animate and mobile plant species that reproduces by budding. They're 'trapped' on their planet and a handful are frantically attempting to develop space travel before a recurring catastrophe destroys their civilisation.

The catastrophe was probably an asteroid field or meteor swarm that their planet passed through at regular intervals, a main character was an astronomer who realised that the planet moved deeper into the debris with each cycle and that the next cycle or two would become too severe for their species to survive.

Update: I couldn't say how old the book is but probably written before 1990, it could be as old as golden age scifi but maybe it felt a bit like a 1960s era novel.

I read it over a decade ago, possibly in the '80s. There are no humans in the story, the story is entirely devoted to the plant-like species who are the dominant race on their world. They do eventually escape, or some of them do at any rate. I don't recall the end but I don't think they come to Earth.

  • There you go, answered in the OP. – bp. Feb 24 '17 at 10:37
  • @Otis It does seem to be a duplicate, I had searched for apocalypse, catastrophe and disaster but hadn't thought to search for 'destruction'. – bp. Feb 27 '17 at 1:13
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Pretty sure this is John Brunner's The Crucible of Time, first published 1983. I don't have it to hand but I can check off your points, and it's on google books too:

the non-human nature of the protagonist and their species is revealed only gradually. They're some kind of animate and mobile plant species that reproduces by budding.

They're actually more crustacean-like (edit: wait, am I confusing them with the Cheela from Dragon's Egg? Not sure now), but yes their non-humanity is never clumsily exposition-ed, but reveals itself in their communications and the description of events.

Recurring disaster:

The Foreword explicitly (out-of-universe) states that this is the setup:

"It is becoming more and more widely accepted that Ice Ages coincide with the passage of the Solar System through the spiral arms of our galaxy. It therefore occurred to me to wonder what would become of a species that evolved intelligence just before their planet's transit of a gas-cloud far denser than the one in Orion which the Earth has recently - in cosmic terms - traversed."

They do eventually escape, or some of them do at any rate

The last chapter / section is set on a spaceship; checking, the spaceship-scene is technically a framing device for the whole story.

  • This is definitely it, thank you. – bp. Feb 27 '17 at 1:12

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