In this sequel to last year's well-received Deepsix, McDevitt tells a curiously old-fashioned tale of interstellar adventure. Reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, the story sends veteran space pilot Priscilla «Hutch» Hutchins and a crew of rich, amateur SETI enthusiasts off on a star-hopping jaunt in search of the mysterious aliens who have placed a series of «stealthed» satellites around an unknown number of planets. After visiting several worlds, and losing two of her dilettantes to a murderous group of alien angels, Hutch follows the interstellar trail to a bizarre, obviously artificial planetary system. There, two spectacular gas giants orbit each other closely, partially sharing the same atmosphere, while a large moon circles them in a theoretically impossible circumpolar orbit. The explorers soon discover a number of puzzling alien artifacts, including a gigantic spaceship that fails to respond to their signals. First contact is McDevitt's favorite theme, and he's also good at creating large and rather spectacular astronomical phenomena. Where this novel falls short, however, is in the creation of characters. Hutch, beautiful and supremely competent, is an adequate hero, but virtually everyone else is a cartoon. The book abounds in foolhardy dilettantes, glory-hogging bureaucrats and capable space pilots. Oddly, in a novel set some 200 years in the future, McDevitt's cast is almost exclusively white and Anglo-Saxon. This is a serviceable enough space opera, but it operates far from the genre's cutting edge.
The premise is this: just weeks before the planet Deepsix will be destroyed by a collision with a gas giant, ruins are detected on its surface, suggesting the presence of civilization. The Academy diverts scientists from the nearest spaceship to go down and explore, and they are joined by their century's Ellsworth Toohey: a misogynistic, sanctimonious gadfly who has never before been off of Earth's surface. The party's landers are destroyed in an earthquake induced by the approaching gas giant, so now they must find a way to get off of Deepsix before it is destroyed by the collision. Needless to say, their excavations are placed on the back burner.
The physics describing the space travel and the archeology used to reconstruct the lost culture of Deepsix are interesting and explained well. There is plenty of action and suspense-will the party survive? And the evolving characters and group dynamics are more complex than those usually found in science fiction books, making a worthwhile read.
By the end of the twenty-second century, Earth's ravaged environment has become a time bomb ticking down to global self-destruction. Despite the fortuitous arrival of faster-than-light space travel, the search for a new home has so far located only one candidate-Quraqua, a desolate planet scheduled for terraformation within a few months. For interstellar archaeologist Richard Wald and starship pilot Priscilla Hutchins, the looming renovation threatens critical research on the enigmatic alien ruins on Quraqua and its moon, which include a bizarre false city dubbed Oz. Rousing little interest on Earth and facing an unyielding terraformation committee, Wald and his team undertake a last round of life-threatening expeditions to decipher Oz's secrets before they are swallowed forever by an emerging new world. With plenty of startling plot twists, a heavy dose of intrigue, and an unusual amount of character development for science fiction, McDevitt holds us fast right through to a thrilling finish. The yarn's less pure sf, though, than a rousing archaeological adventure transplanted to another star system.
Jack McDevitt has been a Sherlock Holmes fan since he was a teenager, although he reports that Holmes-style mysteries, whodunits, are not his favorite style. Jack encountered Gilbert Chesterton’s Father Brown tales a few years later and they ultimately became the prime influence in his science fiction. The issue with Father Brown was never a question of who committed the murder, but rather what in heaven’s name is going on here? Why does an astronaut, in “Cathedral,” sacrifice her life to collide with an asteroid that she knows poses no threat to the Earth? Why does a scientist who’s designed an actual working AI in “The Play’s the Thing,” hide what he’s done? How is it that the lives of two people working at Moonbase in “Blinker” depend on a quasar? In “Lucy,” Jack shows us why sending automated vehicles to explore the distant outposts of the solar system may not be a good idea. And in “Searching for Oz,” an alternate history story, how things might have been if SETI had gotten what it was looking for. He describes our reaction in “Listen Up, Nitwits,” when a voice begins speaking to us, apparently from Jupiter, in Greek. And in “The Lost Equation,” a Holmes adventure, we discover who really was first to arrive at e=mc2. Jack also provides two episodes, “Maiden Voyage” and “Waiting At the Altar,” from Priscilla Hutchins’ qualification flight; and an effort by a sixteen-year-old Alex Benedict, in the title story with his uncle Gabe and Chase Kolpath’s mom, Tori, who are trying to understand why a brilliant radio entertainer, lost in the stars when his drive unit suffered a malfunction, never said goodbye. These and thirteen other rides into odd places await the reader.