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Starhawk by Jack McDevitt

December 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Starhawk-A-Priscilla-Hutchins-Novel--377176-c8307a43ec60ff1583f8

Starhawk by Jack McDevitt (Ace, 2013) is the seventh novel featuring Priscilla Hutchins whom we last met in Cauldron. In a slightly unusual step, this proves to be a prequel showing us how Hutch first qualified as a pilot and set her foot on the ladder to the success shown in the other novels. Hence, we’re back with the now standard format which is essentially a political thriller set in Earth orbit and outer space now that FTL is up and running. This gives McDevitt the chance to suggest that human nature will essentially remain the same as we progress from now to 2195. For all the trappings of a major space station and the first steps to terraforming a planet in a distant solar system, we will still be parochial and isolationist. Indeed the ordinariness of this future world is continually reflected in aggregated news items as chapter endings. It’s all depressingly familiar.

Thematically, the politics comes down to two issues. The first is the current debate within the GOP between the purists who want small government and the “centrists” who see government as holding the balance between the corporations and the people. In the former camp, there’s no need to increase expenditure on exploring what’s “out there”, when there are so many unsolved problems here on Earth. The priority in the use of a deliberately limited tax revenue should always be the generation of a society in which entrepreneurs can use their muscle to make the world a better place. In the former, there’s an acknowledgement that capitalists tend to be self-interested and will not always take decisions which benefit the people. Government must therefore act as a brake on the pursuit of profit at all costs and force some redistribution of wealth to relieve poverty and provide opportunities for those less well-off. In this case, it might be acceptable to encourage a private corporation to terraform a new world for an overflow of humanity to occupy. This takes pressure off government and provides immense opportunities to people to build new lives for themselves.

Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt

This brings us to the second theme which is the potential of the environmental lobby to engage in terrorism for their cause. If we consider the current actions of groups like PETA which manage to get themselves worked up over the current mistreatment of animals, just how much more angry could groups get if the terraforming of this other world was significantly adjusting the oxygen/nitrogen balance and thereby eliminating many plant and animal species? It might lead to acts against the corporation responsible for the terraforming operations and the starships acting in support.

We start off with Hutchins going through her formal certification flight with Captain Jake Loomis to get her captain’s licence. This requires him to test her with hypothetical problems except, of course, their flight soon gets rather more practical as an emergency message comes in. They are required to divert to save a group of young scientists who have “won” a flight as a prize. Unfortunately one of the terrorists has planted a bomb on the ship and they are now stranded in a decaying orbit around an uninhabited world. The point of this introductory section is to identify the serious deficiencies in the then current system for dealing with emergencies. Today, there are teams of volunteers prepared to run up mountains to rescue those in distress. But if it was first necessary to transport these intrepid individuals a significant number of light years at the public’s expense, questions might be asked on whether this was money well spent. Fortunately, if this is rescuing photogenic school children, politicians might see mileage in voting funds for their rescue. But if this had been a ship owned by a corporation, politicians might think it was the responsibility of the corporations to maintain a fleet of rescue ships on stand-by should problems arise. There are not so any votes in using public funds where capitalists have failed to make their own provision (unless the corporations are too big to fail, that is).

The problem with the book is not so much the introduction of these themes to explore, but the amount of time to devote to that exploration. Since readers expect spaceships to zip around the universe doing exciting things, they prefer less time spent on discussing the practical politics of how these trips are paid for. Yet the less time spent on these discussions, the more superficial the politics. It’s the same when it comes to questions of morality. If a terrorist with an agenda that could have some moral validity plants a bomb not expecting casualties, who’s to blame when the more immediate reason for the casualties is a failure in government to send rescue ships in time? Yes these people would not have been at risk but for the bomb, but they could all have been saved if the rescue had been launched in a timely fashion. Picking the bones out of these knotty questions could keep a passel of philosophers dancing on the head of a pin for many a page, but this would not be considered sufficiently appropriate for a science fiction novel with space opera pretensions. Academic credibility counts for little when there are crises to navigate. So our heroic new captain has a host of dangers to confront as she moves from new star to potential superstar status. In the midst of all this, we’re also invited into the life of Jake Loomis who wrestles with his conscience and tries to find some peace of mind.

The result is a good pace to the first section of the novel. It then gets somewhat prosaic in the middle section, but ends with something of a bang (or perhaps the absence of one). I’m inclined to consider Starhawk a success albeit it’s not quite the best McDevitt can produce.

The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick

January 10, 2013 1 comment

The Cassandra Project

To start us off with The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick (Ace, 2012), I need quickly to remind you about Cassandra. You may remember all that kerfuffle over Troy when that Helen babe was abducted. Well Cassandra was the nut who kept telling everyone this was a really bad idea. She’d fallen out with Apollo and he cursed her with the power of prophesy (which is pretty cool) but ensured no-one would ever believe her (which is deeply frustrating). “No don’t take the wooden horse inside the walls, you twits!” was one of her better lines. All of which erudition bring me to the idea of conspiracy theories. These are the “secret” deals and cover-ups by the politicians, the military and the monied power-brokers. Needless to say, there’s never any real evidence of such back-room deals, but we’re all invited to believe them as true. As examples of such potentially paranoid delusions, think about the mythology surrounding the JFK assassination, whether the moon landing in 1969 was a government hoax, and the idea that George Bush allowed the 9/11 attacks to justify attacking Iraq. Obviously these are not the kind of prophesies Cassandra would have made.

Jack McDevitt still remembering how to salute

Jack McDevitt still remembering how to salute

So this book is about the moon landing program in the 1960s. I remember not going to work so I could watch the television coverage of the Eagle setting down and then that moment recorded indelibly in the memory, “That’s one small step for man. . .” I always wonder how long it took the PR people to come up with that line for Neil Armstrong. It’s a beautifully crafted moment. Coming to this book, we have a perfect example of plausible science fiction — that’s the best kind. It’s the truth ripped from tomorrow’s news headlines. Let’s take Heinlein novels as good and bad examples. Rocket Ship Galileo has our juvenile heroes finding a Nazi base on the moon — seem to remember Iron Sky (2012) rerunning that idea. The Man Who Sold the Moon sees a wealthy businessman invest every last nickel in getting to the moon. The persistence of a lone capitalist opens up “outer space” for commercial exploitation. Who needs government when you have men like Delos David Harriman?

Mike Resnick with his identity confirmed

Mike Resnick with his identity confirmed

At this point, I need to remind you about Recovering Apollo 8 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch which boldly went into alternate history territory with a story about a mission from the Apollo program ending in the death of the crew. Those of you who can remember back to the 1960s will recall all the missions returned safely. It’s a pleasing variation on the “what if” theme, in this case inviting us to speculate whether the moon missions would have continued had there been such a public disaster. This novel is also playing a “what if” game and, although it’s by no means original, it has the virtue of being the first time I’ve seen it tied in with the Apollo program. Put very simply, the authors want us to consider what might have induced the Americans and the Russians to collude in a cover-up. This was more or less at the height of the Cold War with the Cuban Missile Crisis fresh in everyone’s mind. The two superpowers were still effectively on a war footing. Why should they suddenly agree to collaborate? Even more surprisingly, what would the connection be with the Watergate scandal in 1972. History is very clear that the republican President Nixon broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters for political purposes. It’s impossible there could be any connection with the moon landings, isn’t it? Yet this book suggests a different motive for the break-in.

All in all, The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick is a slick and professional job, rewriting history not only to explain the original problem, but also to justify the cover-up — the whole being a genuinely impressive puzzle-solving mystery. Confronted by the same set of facts, I’m not sure I would have made the same decisions as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, but I concede the risks of a major conflict at that time were significant, so a safety-first approach along these lines might have been expedient. As to the politics at the time the action is set in 2019. . . Well, I suppose it’s all plausible given likely continuing tensions in the Middle East and other parts of the world. This might be the time to let the dogs continue their fifty year sleep. So from this, you can see the book is appealingly thoughtful on both the alternate history front and the politics of it all. On the way, there are moments of amusement as the authors take potshots at the PR industry, publishers and other easy targets. It’s a top class read!

For reviews of other books by Jack McDevitt, see:
Cryptic: The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt
The Devil’s Eye
Echo
Firebird
Time Travelers Never Die

For reviews of other books by Mike Resnick, see:
Blasphemy
Cat on a Cold Tin Roof
Dreamwish Beasts and Snarks
The Incarceration of Captain Nebula and Other Lost Futures
Stalking the Vampire
The Trojan Colt.

Firebird by Jack McDevitt

January 16, 2012 2 comments

In Firebird, the latest novel going under the label of “An Alex Benedict Novel”, Jack McDevitt has yet again produced a fascinating scientific mystery for us to ponder. On the periphery are a couple of very neat examples of authorial sleight of hand and a crusade. Who could ask for anything more in a story where people move around more than expected and some are rescued?

We have to start with a small note of explanation for those of you not into classical ballet. For some years, the Diaghilev Ballets Russes had recycled the traditional scores with new choreography. But, in 1910, an original score called The Firebird, was commissioned from Igor Stravinski. As they say in showbiz, this was a big hit and the rest is history. The story brings two previously unrelated myths together. The Firebird itself was a Russian version of the phoenix, and it was drawn into the circle of creatures surrounding Koschei the deathless (as in Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente ). The dynamic hook of the story is the willingness of The Firebird to help a human confront Koschei in pursuit of the one he loves. It’s both a classic love story and a metaphorical battle for freedom as a modern man leads a revolt against the immortal magician who has ruled in this garden estate since time began. In its historical context, the ballet was a harbinger of the Russian revolution in which the people rose up and disposed of the Tsarist family that had ruled for centuries.

Returning to the new novel, one of the major themes is the status of AIs. In this version of the future, humanity has long relied on tried and trusted artificial intelligences to run many aspects of their lives. In pursuit of evidence about the past, Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath visit Villanueva, a planet that has been cut off from the rest of the universe, first because the planetary system passed through a dust cloud and then because the AIs decided not to allow humans to trespass on their world. Ah, so here’s the rub (or wub if you like P K Dick). If these machines have asserted territoriality, does that mean they have evolved to a higher level of intelligence? If it does, should they earn a new status more equal with humanity? In a way, this would have remained a purely hypothetical debate, but our dynamic duo rescue one of the AIs that prefers not to follow in the warlike footsteps of its peers. This proves a catalyst for human society to begin the process of deciding what machine rights should be granted to this AI and to any other AIs that might reach appropriate levels of sentience.

Jack McDevitt laughing when someone asks where he hides his pen

In other hands, this might have become a slightly moralistic crusade, but Jack McDevitt uses the issue very skillfully to undermine the credibility of Alex Benedict at a critical time. Had our heroes not started this hare running, their reputations would have been sufficiently strong for them to argue action on the second important issue. But so great is the political backlash when their enemies rubbish the suggestion humanity rescue more machines, their other requests for help are dismissed by officialdom. Alex Benedict becomes too hot to handle and must rely on less conventional channels for aid.

The Prologue introduces the primary issue for Alex Benedict to investigate. Although the manufacturers of the engines and the spacecraft they power want to maintain public confidence in the safety of their wares, it’s a fact that a tiny percentage of spaceships has disappeared. When a client asks Benedict to handle the sale of items belonging to a physicist who made a name for himself as an investigator of fringe science, it rapidly becomes clear that the man might have been interested in this problem. In trying to follow in the scientist’s footsteps, we have Chase Kolpath doing her thing and digging out interesting nuggets of information. As an aside, I always feel Chase should get equal billing in the labelling of these novels. They are, after all, first-person narratives from her point of view. Following the clues she unearths takes the couple to Villanueva and the aforementioned rescue of the AI. They then realise they must find the titular Firebird, a small ship the physicist bought and then “lost” somewhere in space.

So looking back at the Alex Benedict series, this is easily the equal of Echo which was shortlisted for the 2010 Nebula Award. The sheer inventiveness of the scientific mysteries to solve makes these books great fun to read, blending science fiction and the trappings of a detective procedural with seamless grace. I recommend Firebird to anyone interested in thoughtful science fiction. For reviews of other titles by Jack McDevitt, see:

Cryptic: The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt
The Devil’s Eye
Echo
Time Travelers Never Die

This book has been shortlisted for the Nebula Award for Best Novel 2011.

 

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt is a retelling of a novella under the same name that first appeared in 1996, being nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1997. This raises the obvious question of whether I should just pop back and reread the original to remind myself what it was like, or assume I can vaguely remember it and see whether this is a good novel. Remembering all those stories about temporal paradoxes, I eventually decide not to risk meeting myself and passing on the results of the World Cup held in France in 1998. I didn’t do that or else I would have remembered it. Except, if I haven’t done it yet, there’s nothing for me to remember from the past, is there? Ah, now I remember. That’s why writing time travel novels is difficult. Fortunately, Jack McDevitt’s authorial voice puts off his characters from trying this by telling them the co-inventor of the time machine died of a heart attack when she tried a paradox experiment. The guru who invented the relevant device seems to think there’s a kind of natural automatic system to prevent anyone from disturbing the timeline. This may be death or it may just be that the traveller is deflected somewhere off to one side of events and so cannot interfere.

Jack McDevitt contemplates the wild blue yonder

Well, no matter what the supposed truth of this paradox thing, our two time travellers have a handheld device that can whisk them wherever and whenever they want, so most of the book is an extended travelogue. They spend five minutes here, and ten minutes there, each time with someone whose name you know. But with little more significance than that. Normally, a novel is based on a plot that introduces characters and events to advance the story. In this case, McDevitt is simply describing what they do. These two grown men find themselves addicted to the past, hopping from one place to the next with the attention span of butterflies whose wings might start a tornado (or a paradox) with fatal consequences.

In the midst of all this, we have two subplots. One replicates the pleasingly humorous Timescoop by John Brunner in which, first artefacts and then people, are lifted from the past. There’s just problem with the physical things. What should be “old” are actually newly made. Hence everyone thinks they are crude fakes. McDevitt has our heroes bringing lost manuscripts forward except, of course, no reputable scholar can accept them as anything more than clever fakes. The second question to be resolved is whether one of our two travellers is going to be murdered in his bed. If the timeline is set in concrete and cannot be moved, this will bring the novel to an unfortunate ending.

So what we have here is a distinctly lightweight novel. In the hands of someone like Jack Vance, this could have been entertaining. Sly wit would have enlivened proceedings. There would have been a slew of different colours, features, foods and architectural wonders to divert us. But what we actually have is overly serious with our heroes debating with some of these historical heavyweights and avoiding the introduction of modern ideas before their time. There are also escapes from danger that have our heroes simply disappearing from view in the plain view of reliable witnesses. Except none of this disturbs the timeline. These events are presumably passed off as the work of the Devil and not recorded in a way that would reveal their significance. What’s also intriguing is that no-one from the future seems to replicate the invention and meet up with our heroes. They seem to be unique or the future travellers are keeping a very low profile.

So what’s reasonably entertaining at shorter length becomes really dull when expanded. The means of resolving the death problem is fairly obvious from the outset, and the unresolved question of how the librarian might establish the provenance of the Greek literature is left, well, unresolved. Under the circumstances, I am therefore unable to find anything to justify recommending Time Travelers Never Die to anyone other than a true McDevitt fan who will read everything and walk away contended.

For further reviews of Jack McDevitt, see Cryptic, The Devil’s Eye, Echo and Firebird.

Tony Mauro with a self-portrait

Jacket artwork by Tony Mauro.

Echo by Jack McDevitt

February 27, 2011 1 comment

Echo by Jack McDevitt sees us back with the fifth outing in the universe of Chase Kolpath and Alex Benedict, and prompts me to a brief consideration of what makes a good detective/mystery story. I suppose, at its heart, the narrative must be a good puzzle with the author playing fair by allowing us to look over the detective’s shoulder and enjoy the mechanics of working out whodunit. With the benefit of perfect hindsight, we should see all the clues lying in plain sight and understand how the detective made the connections between them that led to the solution. It’s all about salience, i.e. being about to see some facts as more significant than others. In this, the readers should have no special help. This is not a time for an omniscient author to drop hints and vouchsafe important facts withheld from the detective. We should have the same chance as the detective to observe and notice. In this, Jack McDevitt plays the classic card of having the “detective” observed by the loyal sidekick. Except that Chase Kolpath is rather more active than many of the traditional foils whose only function is to make awed noises whenever the great detective offers an insight. As in earlier novels, Chase literally saves Alex from “certain” death.

McDevitt — still hale and hearty

Then we get into matters of style. Some writers go for melodrama with car chases and bullets flying. Others are more calm, seeing real drama in small English villages or other isolated communities. Authors like Adam-Troy Castro, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Jack McDevitt have been transplanting detectives into outer space and transforming the puzzles by having the key facts depend on science or the observed behaviour of aliens. This is a balance between the characterisation, the atmosphere created by the context of the crime and the nature of the problem to be solved. For these purposes, we are not directly interested in judging the criminal. Although it’s always interesting to know what happens after their wrongdoing is exposed, it’s relatively unusual to get into the detail of the trial. We more usually ignore explicit moralising and apply the old Hollywood rule of seeing why crime does not pay.

Echo is a particularly pleasing example of the genre. Set off on the hunt by the curious incident of the “tombstone” that does not fall into the river, we have the obsessive Alex Benedict grow interested in the activities of the equally obsessed “Sunset” Tuttle, a man who spent his life in pursuit of evidence that aliens exist. This makes the novel a full scale version of the anthology Is Anybody Out There. As you will suspect, the “tombstone” may be evidence that we are not alone. However, the more interesting plot hook is why Rachel Bannister, Tuttle’s lover, should be so determined to prevent Alex from investigating. Indeed, what motivates her to commit suicide when Alex persists? The answer is elegant and convincing.

As with The Devil’s Eye, the structure of the book has the first two-thirds lead up to the key discovery. Thereafter we are into a more conventional SF adventure in which we slowly gain information for the big reveal of why Rachel Bannister should have felt so guilty and who has been trying to kill our heroes. Except, this final third is too long and, to be honest, has hackneyed padding elements. Although we do need to continue playing the detective game for a while longer, the book would have benefitted from some serious editorial control, reducing the length to more bare essentials.

Even so, this is a highly enjoyable page-turner and it’s not surprising to see it as one of the 2010 Nebula Awards Nominations. Definitely recommended to those who like a mixture of SF and the classic detective genres.

A preliminary sketch by John Harris

Jack art by John Harris.

For a review of Jack McDevitt’s short fiction, see Cryptic. For a stand-alone novel, see Time Travelers Never Die. For a further book featuring Alex Benedict, see Firebird.

The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt

Recently, I had the misfortune to be bored and, without a reasonable alternative, watched a genuinely awful two-part mini series staring Robert Carlyle, Tom Courtenay, David Suchet and other well-known British TV names who should all have known better than participate in this turkey. Called Flood, it dealt with a tidal surge that overwhelmed the Thames Barrier and inundated London and the surrounding countryside. Not only did it contain every major cliché from disaster movies we have known and loved, but it did so on a TV movie budget. The results were breathtakingly plastic without the redeeming Doctor Who standing in front of the sets to hold them up. As with every such ghastly epic, it also failed to deal with the aftermath. It’s supposedly exciting to see people at risk of being drowned. It’s less glamourous to show people mopping up after the water has receded. In this case, the interest would have been as much political as physical since a fictional expert had predicted the event before the Barrier was built. As ex-President George Bush is only too aware, playing the blame game after a major disaster like Katrina is always a fascinating experience.

Thus, it is something of a relief to come to The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt. It shows an author prepared to follow through on the set-up. Unlike mystery writers who tend to stop with the big reveal of whodunit and not worry about whether the evidence would stand up in court to get a conviction, McDevitt divides the book into roughly two-thirds of mystery and one third of dealing with the consequences of solving the puzzle. He is to be commended for not shying away from the political fall-out when disaster strikes. Does the book avoid clichés? For the most part, yes. I cannot remember another SF novel with the core problem in this form. The presentation is elegantly simple and we are carefully walked through the investigation as in a police procedural so we can see all the clues fairly laid out. Following the big reveal, there are one or two standard situations in the final third but, on the whole, the book is pleasingly original and well constructed. McDevitt’s uncluttered prose keeps the pace of the plot going nicely. There is also a blend of genre elements with an amusingly knowing set of borrowings from the horror/supernatural field adding to the enjoyment. I found myself reading it through to the end in one sitting which is relatively unusual for me these days. Two minor comments: authors always play games with the titles to their books and, in this case, the game is completely fair in retrospect. Secondly, the book is properly considered a part of the Alex Benedict group of novels although this particular episode predominantly features his assistant Chase Kolpath. All in all, this is an enjoyable read and, for those who like a hard science problem in a reasonably well-thought-out political thriller context, this book is for you.

For further reviews of Jack McDevitt, see Cryptic, Time Travelers Never Die, Echo and Firebird.

Jacket artwork by John Harris.

Cryptic. The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt

And so it was on a bright shining morning in early Spring that the Lord Accountant did glance from the window in the high tower above the estate he so lovingly tended. He smiled for what he saw was good. Below, on display, were the serried ranks of books. The latest volumes to issue from the mighty printing presses that churned endlessly and ensured a constant supply of text to satisfy the cravings of the masses. “More pages for the dollar. A bigger bang for your buck,” he crooned happily to himself, having been brought up by a grandma whose proverbial wisdom came down to, “Never mind the quality, feel the width.” In the distance, he spied a new 600-page behemoth and knew life was good.

In all the wide world of publishing, the collection is a curious beast. Since all the stories are by the same author, there can be a certain monotony about the writing itself and the themes explored. For better or for worse, authors tend to have their own interests and obsessions, and these show through what they choose to write about. But, the truth is we buy collections because we like the way the author writes. We are seduced by the hope there will be a transcendence in the content to get us through any sense of repetitiveness. In a collection like Cryptic. The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt, the challenge is even greater. There are some 587 pages of fiction in the same volume and, because it is a “best of”, a proportion of the stories are drawn from earlier collections. There are thirty-eight stories to hand. My copies of the three previous collections are in storage, but I think only about ten of these stories are uncollected. None of the stories are original and appear for the first time in print. Reading through the work is therefore a mixture of remembering what happens next and occasionally making new friends.

Writing the review also becomes more challenging. The main reason I was faintly unhappy was so many of the stories were familiar. I wish I could hold my hand up in solemn form and declare reading each story faithfully to the end. Actually, I confess skipping through those I remembered. I cannot conveniently unremember and read “as if for the first time”. So this is a volume for those with poor memories or who come to McDevitt for the first time. In this surging 600-page heavyweight, you will find everything from short, short stories that demonstrate a wry sense of humour to longer works that explore issues of morality or the paradoxes of time. There’s a moderately consistent theme: how do scientists relate to the world, or vice versa.

Having been engaged in research efforts as a younger man, I have struggled with the problems of reconciling the scientific method with the reality of the subjective observer. We all have our cherished beliefs and view the world through the lens of what we take to be self-evident. Even if you make those beliefs explicit at the outset, there can be a continuing subconscious distortion of what we see and choose to report. This is not to decry the scientific method in any way but, simply, to argue its limitations. It may work well in some contexts but, in what we choose to research and the actual methodologies we adopt, religious, political and other considerations will always have roles to play. So, what would the inventor of a time machine say to a pastor who found his faith threatened? And, if you could go back to establish the reality of the past, what would you go to observe and would you report it? And, even if you made the greatest discovery in the scientific world, who else would care? People have their lives to live regardless. Ironically, this can place burdens of responsibility on those who make discoveries. That you might be one of the few to realise the danger in what you have found means you have to deal with it. No-one else is going to understand or care until they are directly threatened by which time it may be too late.

This is not to say that the collection is bogged down with high-minded debate. McDevitt is never anything but accessible in the writing style and exploration of ideas. But there is a tendency to pick targets and take aim. With a title like “Cryptic”, you would expect meanings to be concealed to some extent. Sometimes the results hit the bull’s eye. The set-up and storytelling combine into a singularly pleasing whole, often capped with a “twist in the tale” ending that provokes thought and/or a smile. I will not play the game of picking favourites. There’s much to like here and, with the wide variations in the taste and sensibility of you, the readers, I leave it to you to find your own “best”. With thirty-eight stories from one of the top writers in the science fiction field (three of the stories are collaborations), there’s a lot of good to excellent material to explore and some interesting aliens to meet, albeit sometimes only in the carved form.

For further reviews of Jack McDevitt, see Time Travelers Never Die, The Devil’s Eye, Echo and Firebird.

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