amazon.com). This is a hard science fiction novel (first printed 1972) in the tradition of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. The author mingles his tale with sciences like physics, logic, evolution and information technology.
Benford tells the story of an encounter with an alien sentiment. This is a space ship from another star system which is only inhabited by an artificial intelligence. Astronauts also discover ancient alien artifacts in our solar system. The book focuses on 20 years in the life of the leading character, who is a scientist and an astronaut for NASA. The novel describes how his personal life changed in response to his experiences and dialogues with the alien machine brain and the artifacts.
"Ocean of Night" plays in a very near future. It isn´t`disturbing that the story already starts in the year 1999 and spans just to the year 2019. Maybe it describes a parallel world. Benford didn´t expect much progress for the human species by the start of the 21st century and designed a somewhat pessimistic view of the near future. He was especially very skeptical about politics and social relationships and constructed a lot of conflicts between the rationally behaving leading character and his NASA employers and his associates. But this makes the story more interesting.
The books doesn`t have a lot of action or spectacular technological accomplishments. Benford is more interested in plausible speculations about how alien life and their technologies might advance in the course of millions of years and in philosophic questions about the role of the human species in the universe.
The logical and scientific style of the book tells that the author started his own career as an astrophysicist and scientist (wikipedia). This is one of the virtues of hard science fiction and makes it more interesting for me. Benford also showed his scientific interest in the sporadic sex scenes, which are an exception from usually prudish science fiction literature which caters mostly young adults. Included is a Ménage à trois, between a man and 2 women, described in the language of an engineer. Hence, the author created a unique form of erotica suitable for this form of literature. "Ocean of the Night" is even worth reading today.