Well, this wasn't quite what I was expecting. I came into this knowing that the book was about the debris left behind by alien visitors to Earth, and that it posed questions around what humankind would do if we couldn't figure its mysteries. What if we found alien technology, and had no idea how to use it or for what purpose it might be used? What if we didn't know how it came to be here, never mind what it all might mean? I was expecting this to be a look at the issues of cross-cultural understanding when neither culture knows anything about the other. I was expecting this to be Ursula LeGuin-esque.While all of those elements are there in the book, they're only there on account of the Foreword written by LeGuin herself, and a conversation between two of the characters about 3/4 of the way through the book. This conversation poses those very questions directly - no subtext, no further thought required. If you removed this single conversation from the book, I really don't think those valuable points would come across very strongly. You might wonder at the characters who devote their lives to trawling through the most dangerous, unpredictable zones in the universe to retrieve objects they can't even fathom, let alone use. You might laugh at the characters who use these amazing light-emitting stones which break all the laws of physics as beaded bracelets, but I don't think you'd be prompted to meditation on what it means to be human unless this single piece of dialogue did it for you. I guess what I'm saying is that the ideas are fascinating. I just wish there had been a more nuanced delivery method.That said, I did really enjoy the Afterword by Boris Strugatsky which gives us a window on what it was like to be a writer in Soviet Russia during the 1970s and 80s. It's also a great example of his writing style - all the warmth and humour and pent up anger that's inherent in the book's main characters, who by the way, are incredibly relatable for those of us outside of Eastern Europe. So I'm torn between a 3 and 4 star review. I'll say 3 stars for any edition which doesn't include this particular Foreword and Afterword, and 4 stars for this edition which has both.