discussion questions

Note: several of these questions are explored in the Author Notes. However, I don’t think the author’s intent is the last word on any of these topics–part of the magic of a book is that it grows in the telling, due to the experience and perspective that the reader brings…

  1. How does the theme of communication and miscommunication recur in the story? What examples of miscommunication are prominent? What are their consequences? What examples of good communication occur?
  2. What are some aspect of Rafa and Julie’s marriage that are healthy? Unhealthy?
  3. Are Abbott and Chen and Rafa true friends to one another? What makes you think so?
  4. Rafa reasons more than once that a particular environment ought to have certain kinds of creatures, since the equivalent habitat on earth does. Is this likely to be true?
  5. How is astronomy used as symbolism in the story? Consider the binary star system, the planetary rings, flashing meteors… How are names used as symbols?
  6. Why do pufferbellies identify each other by prime numbers? How does this relate to principles of cryptography, and why might this be relevant to the way they hear Rafa’s transmissions?
  7. How is the story arc between Rafa and Julie similar to and different from a prototypical romance?
  8. How do you feel about Chen as a character? How much do you sympathize with her personal tragedy? Does she redeem herself in any way? How about Abbott?
  9. How would our society react if we had the vicarious reality technology that Julie uses to experience everything seen/heard/felt by her husband? Do you think Hollywood would put such technology to use? Reference is made to people paying to experience a vicarious high from drugs without any side effects. Would such a thing be possible?
  10. How is the theme of addiction (to drugs, pornography, dysfunctional relationships, crime) explored in the book? Do you find the treatment realistic?
  11. The science fiction milieu in Viking is a bit unusual. Julie visits her parents at a Wisconsin farm house that could fit in the 1970s as easily as in the future; it has tractors, a rambling barn, linoleum floors. The FBI is pretty similar to the institution we know today. Computers still need programmers and debuggers. Yet this is a world that has faster-than-light travel and communication, skimmers, force fields, and high-tech implants capable of decoding and relaying brain waves. Is this mixture of the familiar and the futuristic more or less realistic than other sci-fi worlds you’ve encountered in fiction or movies?
  12. The pufferbellies eat fish and earthbound “crunchies.” Yet they also derive energy from photosynthesis. Are there any examples of terrestrial organisms that derive energy from the food chain like plants and animals at the same time?

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