Now Playing: my banjo
Topic: Book Review
I love the archeological stories of Jack McDevitt, even when he's gone to the well many times, as he does in the Omega/Chindi/Engines of God sequence. McDevitt writes either mystery/thrillers with an archeological edge (A TALENT FOR WAR, POLARIS) or xenoarcheology pieces (ENGINES OF GOD, OMEGA, et. al) or a mixture of both. McDevitt used to share a rare honor of being on my "short list".. authors, like Ian Banks, George Fraser, and George Martin, that I usually pick up "keeper copies" of their novels and read more than once. Lately, however, I've found much of what he has written to be increasingly repetitive. That is not to say it's dull-- McDevitt may be a one-trick pony, but that pony can still perform.
POLARIS brings us back to the milieu of McDevitt's greatest book so far, A TALENT FOR WAR. The myth debunking hero of TALENT, Alex Benedict, returns as a secondary character along with the POV character of his lovely assistant Chase Kolpath. It's 60 some-odd years later, and we are presented with a plot similar to the old mystery of the marie celeste-- the ship that was found devoid of crew or passengers floating adrift in 1872.
In POLARIS, the titular ship is preparing to jump out of an solar system during a spectacular stellar event (with a passenger list of celebrities). Nothing happens. The ship is recovered, with no crew or passengers, suits and lifeboat intact. What happened?
Polaris is a great "whatdunit" in the classic McDevitt form, which means a very good read but also a formulaic one for this author. I wish Jack M. might consider branching out one of these days-- I love the archeology theme but he's done it to death. If this had been his first or third book, I might have sang the choir celestial over POLARIS, but as it is his sixth or seventh novel sharing this theme, I can merely shrug and give it a casual thumbs up.
I see by reviewing McDevitt's Bibliography that I've missed two small press books, HELLO OUT THERE and STANDARD CANDLES. The first is a combination of A TALENT FOR WAR and THE HERCULES TEXT, two unrelated novels. The second appears to be short stories. I'll keep an eye out for it!