James Blish is my favourite author from the "Golden Age" of science fiction. This could be because I haven't read much by the other authors of the era since adulthood or it could be because he's more interesting to me than most of them, which is why I carried on reading him into adulthood...this means that I've read most of his ouvre and if I want to read something new to me by him it has to be something not terribly well known...like VOR.
The CAP unit (Civil Air Patrol?) based in part of the lower Michigan pine forest are a fairly competent bunch who help with rescues, forest fire watch and reconnaisance and fire fighting support. One of the most competent among them is a WWII vet with a fear of flying and a rival for his wife amongst his colleagues.
One otherwise routine day a crash and subsequent forest fire is reported. The CAP fly and report a severe fire blazing away from the site of a downed aircraft. Photos reveal that the aircraft is actually a spacecraft. Soon after, the vehicle's pilot steps out and our veteran protagonist is dragged into dealing with first and subsequent contact.
Blish then takes us through an unusual variation of the first contact theme. (According to the dedication the idea came from Damon Knight who collaborated with Blish on Torrent of Faces.)
Strangely, this book inverts the usual strengths and weaknesses associated with Blish: He is known for pouring more ideas into a 50,000 word novel than many another author can manage in a life's work, but this book has few other than the central McGuffin. He is usually accused of weak characterisation, particularly of women. This book's great strength is the "arc" the protagonist goes through, even if it is obvious where it will lead from the outset. (There are red herrings as to how he's going to reach the obvious end point however.) Blish recognised female characterisation as a weakness for him and generally dealt with it by relegating women to supporting parts only. The short story How Beautiful with Banners is an exception and, it transpires, so is VOR: the only female character is drawn very sparsely and yet her character comes through loud and clear as a church bell - and she is vile!
Much of the book is predictable in general terms but not in detail and one mighty strength of Blish's, the shock/surprise final sentence appears here. This one makes the reader want to start over at the beginning in order to completely re-evaluate one of the key relationships between characters....
A middling work from Blish that shows capabilities he is not often credited as having and of interest to any Blish fan for that and the final sentence, at the very least.