In the domed city of Atlanta, after the breakup of the United States, a young writer named Julian Cawthorn is in trouble. Because he insulted the daughter of a public official, Cawthorn is out of work, and virtually unemployable. He begs a temporary job on the city newspaper and finds himself assigned to cover the first public appearance of the aliens Cygnusians, travelers from outer space who have been living in seclusion in Atlanta while visiting Earth.
A Christian revivalist dictatorship rules Atlanta; church services are as much social as they are religious events. When one of the aliens chooses to appear at a church service, Julian watches as the first alien from space stands up and is "saved". The alien's voluntary salvation is taken as a sign that the state religion is indeed the one true religion, and minority groups, previously tolerated, are attacked by gangs, leaving Atlanta in turmoil.
The service is a turning point in Julian's life. He is hired by Fiona Bitler, hostess to and protector of the aliens; at her invitation he goes to work in the secret alien enclave. In this environment Julian comes to know the fascinating aliens. He is mystified by the aliens' interest in his personal life and cannot understand how they have acquired so many oddly human characteristics in their brief period on Earth.
Michael Bishop (1945 - )
Michael Bishop was born in 1945 in Lincoln, Nebraska. After receiving an MA in English from the University of Georgia, Bishop taught at the USAF Academy Preparatory School in Colorado, but soon began placing his short stories with the likes of Galaxy Science Fiction, If and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. His first novel, A Funeral For The Eyes Of Fire, brought comparisons with Ursula Le Guin and James Tiptree, Jr and received a Nebula nomination. It was followed by a number of critically acclaimed works including BSFA Award-nominated Transfigurations, Arthur C. Clarke Award-nominated Ancient Of Days, and No Enemy But Time, for which he won the Nebula Award for Best Novel. Michael Bishop lives in Georgia, where he is writer-in-residence at LaGrange College.