A Sword Into Darkness, by Thomas Mays.
Finished reading it this morning.
Before breakfast. Which offers some clue as to how hooked I was.
I'd only bought it because ESR's review was intriguing. Besides, 'twas cheap on Kindle; what had I to lose, apart from four bucks and a bit of my time?
The action commences a decade hence, with a crackpot's warning: the aliens are coming! And they'll be here in only 33 years! We need to take action!
It progresses from there in a manner logically consistent with the author's assumptions about the world of the next few decades and with the needs of the storyline. And the storyline? Worthy of Doc Smith, only a lot better grounded in plausibility.
Following the tale across the decades from the points of view of view of a few key characters is conventional, but it works. And, since none of the characters is privy to key information, they're kept guessing almost as much as the reader. Some of them are larger than life, but none are superhuman.
The mainstream tech of the day is a conservative extrapolation. The advanced tech, driven by the demands of a fanatical wealthy industrialist: fantastic, but not absurd. Imagine throwing money at many of the things that show promise now; keeping it up for several years, weeding out the losers; and merging the winners. Plus one necessary MacGuffin.
There's just the right level of predictability: at various points, Clever People Like Me* will have a very good idea (though not a certainty) what just really happened. But these don't dominate the book.
The aliens' motive for their great journey? No spoilers here. It's not one I would have thought of. Heinlein might have, or George O. Smith. For that matter, it would have been perfect for early-1970s Doctor Who, and yet somehow the writers never came up with this one. And yet: once having been revealed, it makes sense.
Some little items are Nivenesque, one explicitly so**. I expect there are other lurking tributes that I didn't catch.
And that last little twist at the end, well: it opens up vast possibilities. As ESR suggests: sequel hook, for good or ill.
Now for the quibbles.
The book could have used better editing and proofreading. There are various homophone errors scattered around; a glaringly wrong word choice (I'm not sure what the right word would have been; the expression Mays was reaching for may not actually exist in English); and a distance of 100 nautical miles is a mere 100 kilometers a couple of pages later. There's also a subplot that I didn't see wrapped up; though there were pretty good hints dropped, I think the resolution disappeared in all the excitement of first contact.
There's a lot of NAVSPEAK in various places; this presumably conveys information compactly to readers with naval backgrounds, but it leaves civilian readers running to Google.
And the energy budgets... well, I'll assume Mays did the math and then swept it under the rug as a story-killer. It's not as egregious as the Honorverse, let alone the Skylark series, and being wildly optimistic about energy sources is a necessary convention of the genre.
The world of the future looks rather too much like that of today, in my opinion; for one so cynical, Mays seems to be taking the optimistic view that the next few decades will see slow decline on the political and economic fronts, rather than accelerating decline and catastrophic upheaval. Well... I hope he's right.
There seem to have been some changes to South Bay geography. A shipbuilding company in Santa Clara? Dang on-line map doesn't show city boundaries, but: would the ship be launched in Salt Pond A8?
Overall, if you're looking for a well-constructed Ripping Yarn that's imaginative and won't insult your intelligence, this is a good read, and Mays is now firmly on my "watch for his next book" list.
Oh, and if the list of quibbles seems longer than the good part? It's because I can't write much more good stuff about the book without great honkin' spoilers. And the book deserves not to be spoiled.
(Next time I find myself with book-devouring time, I should read Peter Grant's latest. Time to be checking out more of the new authors. 'Cause Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein are all dead, and Niven's not writing that much anymore.)
* Who Talk Loudly In Restaurants.
** Amazingly, one of the characters is a scientist who read sci-fi novels as a kid. This falls somewhere in the not-so-fine line between the world of that Alien prequel (a large group of smart humans, in the not-too-distant future, none of whom have seen Alien) and that of Fallen Angels (no explanations; if you haven't read it...).