"Hutch." Ed Jesperson, up front. A medical researcher. "My understanding is that we know where the omega clouds come from. Is that right?"There was a time when each year's Jack McDevitt book appeared on that year's Nebula shortlist, and just as reliably failed to win (with one exception). This one was beaten by Powers, which I felt was a rather minor Le Guin. Cauldron turns out to be the last in a series none of the rest of which I have read, which maybe accounts for a somewhat elegiac tone. I thought it was competent enough hard sf; in a relatively near future earth, a new space drive is discovered and our protagonists set off on a quest to solve a cosmic mystery, stopping off at several planets along the way (rather brave to make the non-human civilisation a bit dull). If you want a bit more spice in your genre (and I usually do) this doesn't really push the boundaries - what's really striking is how little difference there is between McDevitt's imagined future human society a couple of centuries hence, and the year 2000 - and there were at least three better books on the Nebula shortlist that year. (Little Brother, Brasyl, and Making Money.)
This was my top unread book acquired in 2010. Next on that pile is The Star Rover, by Jack London.