I read this novella in my lovely hardback version of Godlike Machines. It’s a re-read, since I read it last year for Last Short Story and had to re-read it now to reassure myself that it really was as good as I thought it was in the lead-up to the all-important Voting In The Hugos. And yes, it still really really is.
What’s often awesome about novellas is that they give a certain amount of tantalising world-building, but leave a lot to the reader’s imagination. Reynolds does that here; it’s maybe 40 years from now, set in the Second Soviet of Russia. There’s all sorts of wildly interesting stuff hinted at, about Russia and the rest of the world, but it takes a back seat to the plot. And it’s a marvellous story. A trio of cosmonauts were sent out to rendezvous with a mysterious artefact on its third go-around of a 12-year elliptical orbit… and things proceed. More than ‘just’ a first-contact story (or is it?), though, the story is told some years later as one of the cosmonauts visits an astronomer whose outlandish theories about the artefact – the Matryoshka – had been derided.
So there’s fascinating world-building, a really cool story, and intriguing character development too. I loved this story originally, and I still do.