First the bad part: Eco-friendly aliens land and start killing people, nuking cities and all that (except for ones with large parks). After that, they get more up-close-and-personal with extermination squads. Once an area is free of human influence, they kill all the human-imported pests and such and bring back the old, nearly-extinct species. Within a few years, humans number in the tens of millions and 3/4 of the Earth is back to looking like it did 4000 or so years ago.
At this point I was about to throw in the towel. It looked like the human race was doomed and I hate such stories. But I hung on, and was glad I did.
Humans, being the stubborn and resourceful lot they are, find a crashed alien space ship and learn the trick of interstellar travel. They start covertly building space ships. Some get nuked while being built, some get obliterated while taking off; but two make it. This is the story of the captain of the second one to make it, the last of the great ships.
The main characters are the captain and the ship's AIs, collectively called the Minds. Much of the story's banter is between these two.
So, one would think there's going to be a happy ending - with tons of people in suspended animation, they go off and find a new home and all is well.
Not quite - this is the hopeful 'up' for the original genocidal 'down'. Turns out there's nothing livable in the direction they've gone off to. And things get worse: all those suspended people start having problems. Seems being suspended while in hyperspace does nasty things to the human psyche - in a nod to H. P. Lovecraft and the like, there's the insinuation that something powerful and malevolent lives out there, beyond angled space, and that contact with it results in insanity - and the Minds tell the captain that the suspended people need to be revived, else they'll suffer brain damage. Before long, the ship is crammed with a large number of people on starvation rations.
The captain faces a choice: Turn around and go home, facing certain death; or kill off 99% of the people so the other 1% will be able to survive. The captain decides to go for the former route. They appear in Earth orbit, and don't get blown up. All the aliens are gone.
So they land and all the people are happy. Except that now the animals all avoid them. Some humans fall neatly back into the old hunting routine, but the animals are too smart. The few that are caught and kept alive as pets deliberately starve to death, staring at their would-be masters the whole time. The Minds start sending out spies who report back that all the world's animals are possessed of intelligence. And that the entire canine subspecies is missing.
(There's a continuity glitch in here where the Minds mention that the wolf population is in the thousands, then a few pages later claim that they found no wolves. It's a minor flaw. Annoying, but minor.)
The captain leaves the human colony and takes the now-empty ship for a trip around the world - something is wrong and he intends to find it. He finds a gutted alien base, and learns some interesting things - first off, the animals are intelligent thanks to the aliens. Second.... Well, that would ruin the story. There's more long-winded but interesting discussions about aliens, animals, and human nature. Then, there's some really great imagery near the end, followed by a really good ending. Highly recommended.
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