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I read this about 15 years back, I think. I think I have the details right, but it's been a while.

It's definitely set in the far future; it feels like it would fit in neatly with Jack McDevitt's Alex Benedict novels, but I don't think it's one of them.

The storyline, as I remember it, involved a deep-space reconnaissance starship coming back to its home base, and the crew have discovered... something out in space. The powers-that-be don't want word of whatever it is getting out, and so arrange a cover-up. (Sadly, I don't recall what they've discovered; that would make figuring this out a little easier.)

The main things that I remember is that the crew of the ship are quickly removed from scrutiny - I think they're "rewarded" with a vacation, but there's an accident arranged for them along the way.

There was, though, one survivor - one of the crew swapped places with her roommate. The crewwoman and her roommate were both redheads, and the story made a point of saying how redheads were so rare that anyone inspecting ID would just see the hair and not look any further; so the two swapped places, so the unlucky roommate could get the free vacation.

Hopefully that's enough that someone else might identify it. I'm just confused enough that I'm not entirely sure I didn't dream the book up...

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    Your feeling may be due to there being some plot overlap between your description and McDevitt's non-Alex Benedict Infinity Beach. Jun 23 at 19:37
  • @DoscoJones - "Coverup of mysterious space anomaly" covers about 90% of McDevitt's bibliography, I think :)
    – andrewsi
    Jun 24 at 18:17

1 Answer 1

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What you're describing is Turtledove's "The Report on Bilbeis IV," (Analog, 1987) which was incorporated into his novel Noninterference (1988).

The redhead who survives is Magda Kodaly; she was on the survey follow-up ship that discovered that Sabium, queen of a primitive society who was treated for cancer 1500 years previously is still alive. This massive interference with a pre-contact society causes the top person in charge of the Survey Service to arrange with her fixer for the crew to be killed. They "win" a vacation, but Magda doesn't want to go because one of the crew is very sexually aggressive, so she sends her (also redhead) roommate along instead. The vacation is a trap and their ship is blown up, killing, as far as the Service knows, everyone who knew about Bilbeis IV.

After their ship is destroyed Magda is found by Stavros Monemvasios, a graduate student who had been given a copy of their survey report to analyze. The Service tracked down all the copies of the report and his prof and girlfriend were both killed but he escaped.

They have to try to publicise the report without getting killed by the Service.

If you read the full novel, it starts with the initial visit to Bilbeis IV by a survey crew including David Ware, who is greatly impressed by Sabium. She has adopted ideas and attitudes hundreds or thousands of years ahead of what would be expected by a barely bronze-age primarily agrarian society. When the survey crew discover she has a malignant tumor, Ware convinces the rest of the crew to treat her, that she can live a normal span of years. They do this, and are cashiered for it.

This portion of the novel is based on "Noninterference" (Analog, 1985). The middle portion of the novel is based on "Second Survey" (Analog, 1986) which describes the discovery of the Survey crew that Magda is a member of of just how much of a mess they are in. Shortly after landing they are captured and transported - all the way across the continent - for a personal audience with Sabium herself, still alive after 1500 (standard) years. In those 1500 years Sabium has gone from the embattled leader of a small kingdom, who had to pretend she was king, to the god-queen of the entire continent, and the society has progressed several times as fast as Earth's history and is on the verge of the industrial revolution.

The novel (and the source novella) end with a second mission to Bilbeis IV to investigate, which has been partially managed by the head of the Service to clean things up. Fortunately, Sabium is too smart and experienced to get caught by normal thugs, and she survives the assassination attempt. The mission returns with Magda and Stavros vindicated/exonerated, the head of the Service disgraced, and Sabium wondering how much longer it will take her to build the technology necessary to go to the stars.

(Actually her thought is more "If it's going to take them 1500 years to come back again, I'm not going to wait for them.")

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    This story - or the full novel, actually - is also incorporated in the collection 3×T. Jun 24 at 15:45
  • Awesome - I remember reading that novel in the way back when, and your description brought it all flooding back. Thank you!
    – andrewsi
    Jun 24 at 18:14

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