The novel “The Gentle Giants of Ganymede” by James P. Hogan was published for the first time in 1978. It’s the second book of the Giants series following “Inherit the Stars“: these two novels are also included in the omnibus “The Two Moons”.
The spaceship Shapieron is on a mission in the Iscaris system when the star turns nova. The only choice is to leave as soon as possible but one of the on-board systems doesn’t work. The consequence is that once the interstellar propulsion is activated they’ll take a long time to slow down and in this case a long time means millions of years.
After the extraordinary discoveries obout the Lunarians and the subsequent ones on Ganymede that led to the theories about Minerva and the ancient civilizations who lived there, the research in the solar system continue. Things change radically when the presence of a spaceship that turns out to be Ganymean.
“The Gentle Giants of Ganymede” continues the story begun in “Inherit the Stars” and, after the prologue that starts the adventure of the spaceship Shapieron’s crew, this second novel begins with a summary of the first one. For this reason, in theory you can start reading from here but you’d lose a lot of information on the development of the scientific investigation that starts the Giants series.
“Inherit the Stars” was totally focused on the discovery of the Lunarians and the research conducted to solve the mystery of the existence of human beings who were traveling in space 50,000 years ago. In “The Gentle Giants of Ganymede” the tone is a bit different, meaning that it’s also the story of modern humans’ first contact with an alien species.
The encounter with the aliens called Ganymeans is peculiar because the spaceship Shapieron’s crew aren’t conducting a mission of exploration but are trying to return home. They were part of a scientific mission ended in a disaster with the result that outside of the Shapieron during the journey millions of years have passed.
Arrived in the solar system, the Ganymeans find a situation completely different from the one they knew with the Earth inhabited by a civilization alien to them. There are no traces of their species so they find themselves lost in space and time with a spaceship whose interstellar propulsion is malfunctioning and strange aliens as their only possible help.
On this basis, James P. Hogan builds a story that also aims to continue the one began in “Inherit the Stars”. At the end of the first novel, the scientists investigating the Lunarian mystery managed to find answers for the apparent contradictions among the data collected but there were still many questions waiting for answers.
In “The Gentle Giants of Ganymede” the meeting with the Ganymeans spacship Shapieron allows to get more information on the Earth’s prehistory and the ancient events that affect the solar system. At the same time the new investigation leads to more questions because the Ganymeans don’t know what happened in the last millions years.
From this point of view, “The Gentle Giants of Ganymede” is a variant of the first novel in the sense that the investigation about the Lunarians started thanks to the discovery of a 50,000 year-old skeleton on the moon but continues in the second novel, also including the Ganymeans.
Humans and Ganymeans work together by putting together information and resources to fill the holes in the reconstruction of the last twenty million years of the solar system’s history. However, it’s no longer just about an investigation into the past but also the search for a future by the Shapieron’s crew.
In “Inherit the Stars” the very limited character development wasn’t a problem because the novel was focused on the scientific investigation. In “The Gentle Giants of Ganymede” this flaw is more serious because the characters are more important. If James P. Hogan could’ve adequately described the sense of alienation of the Shapieron’s crew, lost in space and time, I think this novel would’ve been extraordinary. Unfortunately, the author didn’t do it.
Concerning the characters, James P. Hogan focuses on the differences between humans and Ganymeans rather than on individual personalities. In the end, the most developed character seems ZORAC, the spaceship Shapieron’s computer. Today we’d call it an artificial intelligence and its presence is crucial in the novel because it acts as a translator between humans and Ganymeans and gives humans a lot of information about its builders.
The story of the Shapieron’s crew and the interpersonal contacts between humans and Ganymeans give the story a bit of pace, however, it tends to be slow. I think that in the end the archaeological science fiction elements are the best part of “The Gentle Giants of Ganymede” and still make it a good novel. If you liked the first book of the Giants series I think you’ll appreciate this one too.