In the Ocean of Night/Across the Sea of Suns Analysis

Gregory Benford

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In the Ocean of Night and Across the Sea of Suns present the story of Earth’s contact with several extraterrestrial civilizations. The story is told primarily through the character of astronaut Nigel Walmsley. In the Ocean of Night begins in 1999, with Walmsley heading a mission to the comet Icarus. The purpose is to plant and then set off a nuclear device, thus preventing the comets predicted collision with Earth. Walmsley discovers upon reaching the comet that it is in fact the remains of a ship and refuses to set off the device until further study can be made of the craft.

The book then cuts abruptly to 2014. It is revealed that Icarus was indeed obliterated and that objects removed from the ship have revealed very little about its origins. In the intervening time, another spacecraft has been detected somewhere between Earth and Jupiter. Walmsley struggles against bureaucracy and anti-intellectual religious revivalism to contact this new alien probe, the Snark. Walmsley manages to make contact with the vessel and learns that it is a machine created by other machines, themselves the descendants of organic beings long gone.

Snark is unaware of its age or purpose, knowing only that it responded to a signal given off by Icarus before its destruction. Snark gathers as much information as it can about the peoples of Earth and then leaves the solar system. A second alien craft, wrecked long ago, then is found on the Moon. Walmsley and Nikka Amajhi manage to decode the decayed information in the ships data banks and learn that the craft was destroyed while protecting Earth from some type of attack.

The novel ends in 2019 with a series of supernovas occurring in a small area of the sky. The timing of these, soon after contact with Snark and the recovery of information from the crashed ship, leads Walmsley to suspect that they are a preemptive...

(The entire section is 792 words.)