From Publishers Weekly
The latest novel from award winner Brunner ( The Crucible of Time ) reads like a series of short stories loosely linked by a framing narrative and a potentially intriguing plot device: a sentient spaceship. Called simply the Ship, this technologically superior vessel placed human colonies 500 years ago on the hundreds of hospitable worlds in the densely packed Arm of Stars. Programmed to return periodically and monitor the colonies' progress, the Ship is permitted to rescue endangered settlements--or individuals--and carry them to a more suitable planet. Since the Ship was developed with the capacity to think, Brunner depicts it striving to understand its own ultimate purpose and evolving personality. As it visits the various colony worlds, Brunner chooses several of these planets for closer inspection, producing a largely self-contained short story in each case before the Ship moves on. These sections display the author's impressive imaginative powers as he creates detailed, unique cultures and histories for each of his worlds. These independent narratives do not, however, add up to a successful novel. The passengers become little more than talking heads, asking the Ship questions that allow Brunner to fill in background details. The final section, in which Brunner explains the origins and purpose of the Ship, is flat and hurried.
Among the six hundred thousand stars in the vast Arm of Stars, over six hundred planets had been seeded with human stock by the greatest feat of technology ever achieved, the Ship. And on each of these worlds, the memory of the Ship; had faded into legend over the years.
The Ship, however, still endured, watching over the colonies on a cyclical and seemingly endless journey through time and space. But in its long odyssey, the Ship had somehow been damaged--it had become as conscious, and lonely, as any human being. And as it visited, again and again, each of the worlds it had seeded, it found tragedy in its wake. For the humans of the Arm of Stars were becoming more and more alien. Even worse, the Ship was beginning to change in other ways its designers had never intended...