This is the story of a 15-year-old girl Ai who was born with a rare gift that will enable her to pilot faster-than-light ships after suitable training. Unfortunately, she has a recurrent blindness problem for which she must get help from a family friend. (Where is her family?) We follow her off the planet on which she has lived for many years, on her interesting journey to get help.
This is one independent kid, and a funny one. On the way we meet wonderful, unusual, caring people, characters that shine off the page. It is a whimsical book, with wonderful insight into the adult perspective on the world of young people such as Ai. Young people will love the book because of Ai, but adults will love the book too, because of how G.G. can remind us of young folks we know whose beauty and eccentricities seem distilled into Ai so perfectly. The single-mindedness and tunnel-vision, the romanticism, the warm-heartedness and the generosity and surprising protectiveness that Ai shows, the resilience, the excitement, all this reminds us of the best that youth has to offer.
There are wonderful descriptions of life forms very strange to us, that inhabit a world that is stranger than most. There are characters that anyone who lived through the sixties would recognize, even in the distant future! Then, too there are incredibly comic episodes that describe telepaths struggling to understand regular people--just let me say, don't try to read this one while you're proctoring a test :) To top it all, there is a cameo appearance of the author as well. However whimsical it is, though, it is a satisfying, action-filled story.
This is a delightful book that stands alone. [Added 2008/9/26: this book is a sequel to The Alchemists, and we learn that Ai is in fact a child created by some of the central characters in that book, and brought up by some others, also in that book.]