In 2060, disgraced Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz is the only survivor left after an expedition to the planet of Rakhat. He’s grievously injured, both physically and mentally, and refuses to speak to the investigators who are desperate to find out what went wrong, far away on the alien planet. Sandoz stands accused of some pretty terrible crimes, and slowly the story of what took place several light years away is revealed.
Proof of extra terrestrial life is discovered in 2019 in a small and fairly insignificant listening post in Puerto Rico. While the United Nations and other global powers are still trying to figure out what to do about the discovery, the Jesuits organise a scientific mission in secret, sending eight people to the newly discovered planet, Rakhat, hoping to establish communication and peaceful relations with the aliens whose heartbreaking songs proved their existence on Earth. Emilio is one of the eight, and at least six of the other members of the exploration crew are close personal friends of his. “They meant no harm” is the final line in the prologue, and it’s such an ominous hint of what’s to come in the rest of the novel.