I don’t know quite how it’s happened – but this is the first Jack McDevitt book I’ve read. This seems a great big black hole in my book list. Worse – I encountered him by accident. However, after wandering around the house with a mile-wide grin on my face after completing Slow Lightning, I’m not about to forget him.
Kim Brandywine, sister and clone of dead Emily, cannot let go of her sister’s ideals. Despite a thousand years of intensive searching, Space seems dead – other than humankind. But Emily didn’t believe it, convinced that other intelligent species were out there. Right up to her final mission, which ended in disaster and disgrace for the returning survivors. Kim has always suspected that the official version didn’t tell the whole story; and twenty-six years later, finally determines to get to the bottom of what really happened. Maybe, if she’d realised what a trail of death and damage she was unleashing, she would have never started this quest. But by the time she is counting the cost, events are out of her control…
This sci-fi thriller is a fascinating take on how we might just blunder into another space-travelling civilisation. McDevitt also examines the idea of loss and grief in a time when the bereaved can summon up images of their loved ones and talk to them. His main protagonist never recovers from the death of her charismatic sister – and Kim’s investigation into what exactly happened on that last, mysterious mission, is as much an attempt to deal with her feelings about Emily.
McDevitt’s narrative sweeps Kim along into a morass of cover-ups, lies and sheer happenstance that I found compelling and believable. The world is beautifully depicted, with flashes of wry humour that give the moments of horror an extra dimension. The layers of futuristic detail were a joy to read – placing the story solidly in the McDevitt’s world without slowing the narrative or impeding a very tightly plotted storyline. It takes a confident writer very sure of his ability to pull off the steady build-up of suspense that characterises the first half of the book. There is action aplenty for the reader – but you have to work for it. McDevitt isn’t in the business of gun-toting heroes blasting away at one-dimensional villains three lines into the first chapter. Told in third person POV, we are nevertheless right inside Kim’s head as she tries to piece together the fragments of fact from an event that happened over a quarter of a century earlier.
There are a lot of science fiction books on the shelves boasting that this author is ‘the logical heir to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov’. This one is no exception. However, I think – for once – that boast is justified. McDevitt writes every bit as well as those giants – and in the same classical tradition. If you’ve been tempted in the last few years to shake your head while declaiming that science fiction novels aren’t what they used to be – go and read Slow Lightning. And while you’re doing that, I’m hunting down every other McDevitt title I can get my hands on….