Voyagers is a superior first contact novel. It was originally published in 1981, but it holds up extremely well, especially since our space program has not changed all that much in the past 26 years. But the novel's setting is the now that was then, which means the United States and USSR are the two superpowers and the only two countries with space programs.
The book starts off in a similar way to Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama. An alien craft has been detected, and it's in the solar system. Those in the know have no clue what the ship wants - are the aliens hostile or friendly? What does this mean for humanity?
From there the story takes a tack similar to another Clarke novel - 2010: Odyssey Two, but Clarke's book was published a year after Bova's. The United States and the USSR decide to cooperate rather than fight. The underlings (i.e. the folks doing the actual work) are ready and willing to do so, but the politicians spend their time pulling the other way. Other internal arguments include everything from "when should we tell the public" to "who gets to go".
Throughout the novel, Bova takes the time to look around at the world's reaction as they are informed. Rumors fly and some factions of humanity take action based on those rumors. In short, Bova gives us a fascinating and plausible account of the world's reaction to first contact. Widespread panic? Don't think so.
All of this builds up to a truly powerful conclusion. The final two CDs of this audiobook contain the most affecting first contact narrative I've ever heard or read. I couldn't help but to play them both again immediately upon finishing, and I've resolved myself to keeping them on my iPod indefinitely so that I'm sure to have them with me next time I find myself in a quiet moment under a starry sky.
Stefan Rudnicki continues to impress with this narration, in which he performs many different voices with many different accents, all effective. Though Bova's story is Clarke-like, there is much more to work with in the character department than in Clarke's stories, and this allows Rudnicki the opportunity to shine. Also effective in the audiobook are the chapter breaks, each of which is read by a different narrator and each of which contain thought-provoking stuff, from quotes of real-life scientists to news stories that are part of the fiction. I greatly appreciate this kind of thing in an audiobook because it provides a true break as effective as a new chapter in text. All too often, audiobooks don't create this break for the listener, resulting in a few moments of disorientation as the listener mentally moves to a new setting andor POV. No such problem here - the prominent breaks are much appreciated.
Read by Stefan Rudnicki, with afterword by Ben Bova