Tag Archives: Jack McDevitt

Review of Starhawk – Prequel to The Academy series by Jack McDevitt

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While I was still struggling with a horrendous cold, my day suddenly became a whole lot brighter when I unearthed this gem from my teetering TBR pile…

starhawkPriscilla ‘Hutch’ Hutchins has completed a nerve-bending qualification flight for an interstellar pilot’s license. But her career may be over before it has begun. Faster-than-light travel has only recently become a reality and the World Space Authority is all too aware of how dangerous it can be. To make matters worse, efforts to prepare two planets for colonisation are killing off native species, outraging people on Earth. So pilots are not exactly in demand.

If you are a fan of space opera, and you haven’t yet tracked down this entertaining series, featuring Priscilla aka Hutch, I recommend it. In fact, I’m scratching my head as to why I haven’t written any reviews on the likes of Chindi or Deepsix, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. This book is a prequel, charting Hutch’s adventures while qualifying and around the time just after.

McDevitt manages to convey the political and social pressure on his near future world without pages of exposition, which has a direct impact on Hutch’s aspirations. I confidently expected to find after her initial difficulties, that Hutch would get started and all would roll out smoothly for her. But it doesn’t pan out that way, which I really enjoyed. I also liked the fact the dramatic incident at the beginning of the book leaves a major character traumatised throughout most of story. It felt pleasingly realistic that The World Space Authority had to scratch around for backup ships and personnel once something went wrong – and the administrator at the helm waited to follow protocol, rather than immediately launch a rescue.

The eco-terrorism also felt all too real, right along with the shocking consequences. Unlike Deepsix or Chindi, there isn’t a single major problem that powers this novel but rather, a series of events that involves Hutch and come together in the denouement at the end. This has divided McDevitt fans. Some have found the more fragmented nature of the novel disappointing, but I really enjoyed the sense I wasn’t sure where he was taking this next.

Hutch has always been an enjoyable protagonist, and I liked seeing her a little more inexperienced, making rookie mistakes she later doesn’t commit. I quickly became immersed in the world and the adventure, which drew me in. I even managed to forget the bleeping cold for a while…

Any grizzles? While I enjoy McDevitt’s plotting and worldbuilding, dialogue isn’t his strong suit and at times it plain clunks. But there is too much right with this enjoyable space opera for this to be a dealbreaker and if you are considering diving into a long-running near-future science fiction series, give this introductory novel a whirl.
8/10

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Review of Polaris – Book 2 of the Alex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt

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After reading top quality Fantasy books by the likes of Sharon Lee, Tanya Huff and Melanie Rawn, I occasionally wonder why I choose to mainly write science fiction. And then a book like this one pops up – and I know why this genre is my spiritual home…

PolarisThe luxury space yacht Polaris carried an elite group of the wealthy and curious thousands of light years from Earth to witness a spectacular stellar phenomenon. It never returned. The search party sent to investigate found the Polaris empty and adrift in space, the face of its pilot and passengers a mystery. Sixty years later, Alex Benedict is determined to find the truth about Polaris – no matter how far he must travel across the stars, no matter the risk.

I’ve read a couple of McDevitt’s books and thoroughly enjoyed them, see my review of Slow Lightning here. So when I got the opportunity to scoop another offering off the shelves, I didn’t hesitate. Would I enjoy it as much? Oh yes. As ever, McDevitt takes his time to set the scene. There is a fairly long prologue where we are in third person pov, which swings around from passenger to passenger as they witness the death of a star. And even when the first person narrator, Chase Kolpath, takes up the story, you needn’t start bracing yourself for full-on action any time soon. Alex Benedict, Chase’s boss, is primarily a dealt in ancient artefacts and his increasing interest in the disappearance of the Polaris is a gradual affair. In the meantime, we get plenty of slices of Chase’s everyday life and her attitude and approach to her job and her boss.

She is a confident, outgoing woman who thoroughly enjoys her adventurous life – most of the time. I find her an engaging protagonist who manages to be involved in all the main events without coming across as an adrenaline junkie. It was also a refreshing change that there is no romantic relationship between Alex and Chase, so we don’t have to wade through any burning looks or longings in amongst the sleuthing. This adventure is where Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone meets Sherlock Holmes… McDevitt gives us plenty of routine, everyday details about Alex and Chase, which isn’t as mundane as it sounds, given that it’s set in the far future – and yet as the narrator is the junior partner and Alex tends to be the one who comes up with the brilliant insights, there is more than a touch of Sherlock thrown into the mix.

For a while in the middle, I began to wonder if the story would ever truly take off as they visited yet another character on the edge of this mystery about vanished passengers. As they were all celebrities in a variety of fields, Chase and Alex had plenty of dead ends to run down and red herrings to lay to rest. But I needn’t have worried – once they became close enough to the solution for the perpetrators to feel threatened, and they are suddenly under attack, the whole atmosphere changes and becomes charged with tension. I stayed up far later than I should to discover what happens next.

A slow-burn mystery like this has to have a really solid, satisfactory ending – and McDevitt absolutely achieves this. I didn’t see the denouement coming and yet it made perfect sense – I even backtracked, looking for the relevant clues that I’d originally missed, which for me is always the sign of a cracking conclusion.

And the icing on the cake, is that entwined in the mystery is a major moral question that we will be shortly having to face in reality – not in such an extreme way, but nevertheless we should be considering how we tackle such an issue, given that Earth’s population is growing at an increasing rate. Which is why I particularly love science fiction – the very best story encapsulates pure escapism, alongside a highly pertinent ongoing social issue that our increasing technological capabilities will sharpen into a moral or social dilemma. Great stuff!
8/10

Review of “Slow Lightning” by Jack McDevitt

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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.

slowlightningKim 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….

10/10