Come prepared for this book with a large box of tissues; those who find they don't need them while reading this book aren't really human. Spider and his wife Jeanne have created something here that is quite rare in the realms of science fiction, a true mating of music and dance with a story that could only be told within the non-confines of this field.
Charlie Armstead, former premier dancer who now makes his living as an audio-visual man for dance companies, meets Sharon Drummond, a young lady who has dedicated her life to being the best dancer possible. But Sharon, though incredibly excellent at her craft, can't get accepted by any dance company because she is physically too big. Charlie, seeing her dance, and knowing the problem she faces, tries to help by going independent with her, helping her define her own type of dance and properly filming it, but nothing works.
Here in this early section of the book, however, we are treated to the impossible: a description in words of music and dance that actually makes you see and hear the dance. This may be one of the most difficult feats of writing that I have ever read, to translate art forms from the totally different realm of the audio-visual into such a readable, coherent, mental painting that puts you right in the dance studio. And along the way, the Robinson's characters come to life, to where you can feel the triumphs and disappointments, the sweat and exhaustion, the exhilaration and despair of this pair.
Up to here, the story could have been told as normal fiction, but now comes the first of the elements that transform this from the world of everyday to the world of the future, as Sharon conceives the idea of doing her unique form of dance in free-fall at an orbiting space station. We watch as she adapts to the new environment, and modifies her dance to take advantage of its properties, and slowly we begin to see her creations as message, as a unique channel of communication.
This channel of communication forms one of the lynch-pins of the plot, and the Robinsons do an excellent job of melding their characters with both this item and the very plausible impediments that Sharon and Charlie must overcome. The conclusion to the first section of this book will shatter you; most of your tissue box will be depleted here. But there's much more, a logical yet surprising continuation that allows for a good exposition of the book's theme of the community of not just man, but a community of mind.
Excellent in almost every aspect, the first section of this book deservedly won both the 1977 Nebula and 1978 Hugo Novella awards. In this expansion to full book length it lost none of its power, and allowed for both greater character development and a vision of the future of mankind that speaks to the reader in an impossible to ignore voice. Keep your last tissue for the last line; you'll need it.