The Genesis Quest
By Donald Moffitt
Del Rey, 1986
The Genesis Quest is a hard science fiction novel set in the far future, with elements of a space opera and a good dose of exploring alien cultures. It has some interesting science fiction elements, but does not have particularly compelling characters.
Hundreds of years ago, an alien race called the Nar intercepted a high-powered broadcast from an unknown source -- a massive data dump of history, culture, technology, and DNA -- that has been in transit for tens of millions of years. After slowly digesting this data, and benefiting no small amount from the technological information, the Nar decide that it is their duty to actualize the DNA... and so they found themselves as curators to a small but lively population of humans.
The humans are interesting... they have very limited communication abilities, being almost completely unable to communicate through cilia (the have none!) and chemical messaging, relying solely on sound and a few simple gestures. They have ridiculously few appendages (initially unexpected, as their math was all in base ten, as would be expected from a sensible decapod form). And they live only a century or two at best. Despite this, they turn out to be quite good at physics, and fairly easy to get along with. So the Nar decide to keep them.
Eventually, our hero, Bram, is born. He is fairly average, his only real skill of note being that he can understand the Nar's language well enough to follow simple conversations. He is, however, quite curious to learn as much as he can of the humans' origins.
Bram, through no fault (or particular desire) of his own, finds himself involved in a number of interesting events -- he is dragged to meetings of human radicals who want to break away from the Nar, he visits massive living space stations the size of planetoids, he finds himself working with DNA too scary for the Nar to touch, and he finds a secret that will completely change human/Nar relations forever...
But he doesn't really do much. This story follows Bram for decades, and it becomes very obvious that he is not going to lead the plot anywhere. He will absolutely follow it anywhere it wants to take him, but the few times that he actually tries to do something, someone manages to derail his plans. And he falls back into the role of observer. Given the events that he is involved in, and his apparent ability to affect them, his inaction becomes very frustrating for the reader.
The novel essentially gives the reader a view of an interesting alien culture and technology, and it does this quite well. It is a fair example of hard science fiction, and a good alien ethnology. As a story of alien/human relations, this is a pretty good book. As the story of a specific human, the story fails... at length. Overall, it not a bad read, as long as you know what you are getting into -- and are interested in that sort of thing.
The sequel to Genesis Quest is Second Genesis.