I'm looking for a novel I read in the mid-to-late 1990s. It was a science fiction novel about an expedition of scientists sent at sub-light-speed (maybe in cryo-sleep?) to investigate a star system. Once there they set up a permanent scientific outpost.

There was at least one inhabited planet in the system, with a sentient species that communicated telepathically. The aliens' speech was represented with various symbols instead of quotation marks, with each named character having (I think) its own characteristic set of symbols, as in the title of the question. The scientists are eventually able to communicate with these (generally friendly) aliens.

The thing I remember most clearly is the end of the book. This was a one-way trip for the scientists, so gradually they all die off from various causes. When the next-to-last member of the crew dies of old age, the survivor is looking for an epigraph for her funeral, and (ironically, considering my current plight) can't find it in his search of the electronic library. He finally discovers it under "humor" because it's by Mark Twain: "Wherever she was, there was Eden." (This quote, of course, I found immediately in Wikipedia and many other sources; it's from Eve's Diary.)

Other pieces of information I'm less sure of:

  • I don't think the planet was hospitable to humans; it may have been something like a gas giant, with the aliens "swimming" through the gas. I think the scientists stayed in an orbital space station, though they may have made expeditions to the planet in vehicles or protective suits.
  • There may have been a "twin" planet, or a moon in an eccentric orbit, that caused periodic "flares" of some sort on the aliens' planet.
  • There might have been some conflict between the crew early on, maybe because there was a non-scientific (military) commander, or perhaps just because people have conflict.
  • I think the author was of sort of middling fame; respected and known by SF enthusiasts, but not a superstar like Asimov or Clarke. Almost certainly male, and probably with a professional science background.
  • I think the science was fairly authentic, although the first-contact bit was obviously highly speculative.

1 Answer 1


(I have a copy of this book, in paper form - can't cut/paste quotes for illustration, sorry)

You're almost certainly thinking of Rocheworld, by Robert L. Forward (originally published under the title Flight of the Dragonfly). The aliens in question were called Flouwen, and looked like colored jelly blobs. Their speech wasn't telepathic, but sound-based in a liquid environment, perhaps like whalesong. Communication with the humans aboard Dragonfly was via a probe sent down to the surface. While their names to the humans aboard Dragonfly were things like "White Whistler" or "Loud Red", their names among themselves were things like Clear*White*Whistle or Roaring#Hot#Vermillion (where the punctuation was actually dingbats rather than simple punctuation). The planet was a "twin" planet, with one of the two being essentially a rockball, the other being covered in a liquid ammonia ocean, and a common ammonia-based atmosphere around the two. When the two planets were at periapsis, it was possible for a "tidal wave" to cross the gap between them and temporarily flood part of the rockball.

Forward has a background in physics, and his description of the Dragonfly and its laser-based propulsion system are based in known science and technology, and feasible today (if more expensive than any current government would contemplate spending). The physics of the Rocheworld (Barnard's Star) system are also plausible and based in science, including the twin planet and ammonia chemistry, though the life found is purely speculative.

ISFDB References:
Flight of the Dragonfly

  • Yes, that's it! THANK YOU! I did vaguely recall something about a dragonfly, as well, and maybe a light sail, but those recollections were even more nebulous than my others. Incidentally, I am happy to mark this answer as correct now, but is the norm around here to wait a bit?
    – 1006a
    May 18, 2017 at 17:01
  • 1
    @1006a - FWIW, the "light sail" you're remembering is in fact the way the Dragonfly was driven across the interstellar gulf; the laser provided 'light pressure' analogous to wind in a ship's sails; when it came time to decelerate at Barnard, the sail was 'split' into a ring that was allowed to fly free, and a smaller round sail that caught reflected light from the ring portion, and acted to slow the ship down. Rocheworld has an appendix that explained much of this; it was described with less explanation in Flight of the Dragonfly. May 18, 2017 at 18:48

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