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I am looking for a novel I read when I was in elementary school. I would guess that I read it around 1988 or 1989, but it seems to me the story was probably quite a bit older than that when I read it. At the time, I was checking out pulps from my small public library and going through them quite quickly. Alas, I was not paying attention to authors or titles at that point, which is why I need help.


Humans had begun spreading out into the habitable planets around our solar system. Up to that point, they had not discovered any alien life. Unbeknownst to most of humanity, that had recently changed. As humans were scouting for new planets, an alien race had been discovered. (I think they had discovered them with very powerful telescopes, but I don't remember for sure.)

The story opens as a crew of people are flying in a starship to the planet inhabited by aliens. I remember that the starship was flying close to or faster than light, because the book talked about how they were flying at such great speed that they were either blind or practically blind. They had to fly on a very precise pre-computed path, or they could get lost in the vastness of space. It would be a very serious thing to get lost.

Most of the rest of humanity could teleport from world to world instantaneously. For that to work, though, they had to have the appropriate machinery set up on both ends of the transport. To explore a new world with no teleporter set up, someone had to travel there.

The main character was a man whose wife had died in a teleporter accident. She had stepped into a teleporter and never come out anywhere. The teleport network operators said that was a very rare accident. He had held out hope that she had actually traveled somewhere very far away and was just unable to return, but the teleport operators said the logs showed that due to a glitch, she had vanished on one end but never reappeared on the other. Because of the teleporters, waiting is something human beings had sort of forgotten how to do. The prospect of a weeks- or months-long journey in a starship was daunting.

The crew had five to ten scientists aboard, all of whom were chosen due to specialties. For example, one was a language expert whose job would be to establish communication with the aliens. I forget the others.

But I do positively remember one of the character's names! His name was Stone. More on why in a moment.

Once they reach the aliens, they get out and go to meet the natives. It turns out the aliens live in a caste system. The castes can be distinguished by the color of their skin. There are at least three castes. The first are the workers. They do heavy manual labor. The second seems to be a managerial class. They tell the workers what to do. The workers and the managers are green and blue skinned, but I can't remember which color went with which caste. The final caste is the leaders. They were purple skinned.

The first aliens the humans encounter are of the worker class. When they meet each other, it becomes clear pretty quickly that the aliens will have to learn the humans language, because the aliens are capable of making a much wider range of sounds including popping and clicking that the humans can't make. So the humans set out to teach the aliens English.

During the language learning, the aliens become confused that "stone" means rock, but it is also the name of one of the crew members. Once the confusion is sorted out, they start calling the man "label-Stone". This is how I remember that one of the characters was named Stone.

The worker aliens learn English fairly quickly -- in several hours they have learned enough to know they need to involve the managers. When the manager aliens show up, they are able to pick up English about 10x faster than the workers were. They retrieve the leaders in turn, and the leaders learn the language even faster. The book comments that the aliens appear to have established the caste system around the various aliens' intelligence levels; they each appear to be doing the work they are most suited for.

The humans goal is to divide the galaxy. They want to work out some sort of a treaty that says, Humans can expand here, Aliens can expand there. But the aliens don't see why they should agree to this. They tell the humans they are welcome to keep the planets they have already expanded into. The rest of the galaxy will be for the aliens. Despite humans best attempts, this is the most the aliens are willing to do, and they seem to think they are being generous at that. The humans get back in their starship and being the long trek home, dejected.

On the way home, something goes wrong and the crew find their ship has gone off course. At first the crew is in a panic, because they are very unlikely to be able to find their way back to the humans territory. But gradually it becomes clear that something is pulling on the ship and guiding it. They are worried about this, but they find that they can't do anything about it.

Eventually, the ship is guided into the area of a superintelligence. If I remember right, they have also collected the caste aliens, and they put them down together and basically tell them to stop their fighting or the superintelligence will intervene. The superintelligence says it has been watching both of them, and will continue to keep an eye on them. It basically warns them to work out their differences. Then it sends both species back home.

And that is pretty much how the book ends. The humans observe that their government isn't going to like this one bit -- they had been uncomfortable enough just finding one other race of comparable technology as us. Now we knew there was at least one more that was far, far more technologically advanced.


So, does anyone know the title and author of this book? I'd love the chance to read it again and see how my impressions of it have held up after these many years.

UPDATE

It could be Collision Course by Robert Silverberg. The description has striking similarities, but also lots of details I don't remember. The word "transmat" for the teleporter sounds right. Also, the character name Bernard sounds familiar. I'm going to see what I can do about getting a copy and reading through it. If this is the right book, I'll update this as an answer.

  • It sounds really damn interesting, I'll give you that. I'd offer kwatloons for the answer myself, but Melllvar took them all. – James Sheridan Apr 3 '14 at 2:52
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    @Charlie Kilian. You are correct. This is Collision Course by Robert Silverberg. Your description is very accurate and easy to recognize. Nicely done! – beichst Apr 3 '14 at 4:47
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    @belchst, I've confirmed it. If you'll post it as an answer, I'll upvote and accept. – Charlie Kilian Apr 7 '14 at 12:29
  • @beichst - would you care to post that as an answer? if not I'll post it as Community Wiki – Robotnik Jun 4 '14 at 14:41
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The book is Collision Course by Robert Silverberg. If @beichst cares to post this as an answer, I'll move the Accepted Answer to them.

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