The Quiet Invasion - a thought provoking sci-fi story
After two generations the research colony on Venus has lost most of its funding so the discovery of a possible alien artifact on the planet's surface couldn't come at a better time. It means an influx of money, but also a team of experts and security agents from the United Nations which has ruthlessly controlled the colonies since Mars tried to declare independence. Elsewhere in the galaxy, an alien planet is slowly dying. Their scientists have finally identified a world they can terraform. However, there is another intelligent species in the same solar system who might have a prior claim. There are those on both sides willing to do anything for their survival even if it means xenocide.
While both societies are described in detail, it's the biology, culture, and politics of the People that make this such an interesting read. The People are a truly unique alien race and Zettel deftly provides great depth without boring paragraphs of detail. Their home world is suffering a mysterious environmental collapse and our sympathies are with Ambassador T'sha who represents both her people and the sentient organic city they inhabit. Among the People stealing territory is justification for war and T'sha fears they don't know enough of this other species, humans, and are unable to recognize their territory markers. But most of her people are desperate enough to insist that a lack of familiar claim markers means they can stake their own claim and defend it as necessary.
Dr. Helen Familiar was the one who dreamed of founding a colony in the atmosphere of Venus to not only study the planet but also to provide a haven from the politics of the United Nations which now governs all of Earth. As a scientist she is excited about the possibility of alien visitation to Venus and the colony itself is unaffected by the terraforming that has already begun. Scientists have noticed the odd molecules in the atmosphere but have no idea they are an unnatural phenomenon. Unfortunately, the hoopla over the alien artifact has drawn the U.N.'s attention and they are known to prevent colonies from becoming self-supporting by military means if necessary. They aren't likely to welcome an alien race taking an entire planet of resources even if humans still lack the technology to exploit the hot planet.
It's a classic scenario of cultural misunderstandings and territorial greed surrounding a few reasonable characters who see that their goals are not mutually exclusive. A greedy controlling Earth government is nothing new although establishing a colony and fighting over Venus is unusual enough to be interesting. The People however, are new and different. Explaining them would take far too many words. Despite their alien mindset, or perhaps because of it, Zettel uses the People to examine issues that we humans are facing in the real world. It's thought provoking on a subtle level that doesn't intrude on the story. Its a slower paced book with plenty of science and sociology.
The audiobook version is narrated by Teresa DeBerry.