A Journalist's Archive

Jack McDevitt
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

At times it is necessary to escape the madness of this world. Unfortunately we can’t hop on a spaceship to search for more intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. Ah, but when I picked up a tattered copy of “Seeker” by Jack McDevitt, it delivered the next best option. McDevitt zapped me light-years into the future where jumping from one star system to another is the norm. He masterfully combines science fiction with mystery and throws in a smidgen of sexual tension for entertainment. “Seeker” belongs to a genre of work disingenuously called “space opera,” but I say forget the label; sit back and enjoy the journey.

McDevitt’s smooth writing style puts the reader in the center of the action. I found myself on the bridge of the “Spirit” as Chase Kolpath maneuvered the ship “as close as possible” to a brown dwarf. I trusted Kolpath to prevent the ship from being sucked into the blistering giant because she is the narrator of “Seeker,” which makes her essential to the mission. However, as McDevitt fans already know, not all of his “repeat characters” are assured of making it to the end of the book. So I sat on the edge of my seat during a couple of terrific space battles wondering who would survive.

Kolpath’s boss, Alex Benedict, waits impatiently for the long-range scan to reveal any class-K planets. They are searching for the Margolians, a group of malcontents who set out from earth centuries ago seeking a more humane planet. Actually, finding living Margolians isn’t as important as scooping-up any artifacts they left behind. You see, in the field of astroarcheology Kolpath and Benedict are known as “grave robbers.” But in spite of their nefarious reputation, they lead a far more ethical existence than their government counterparts in the “Survey” department. And let’s face it, what Kolpath says is true, “without astroarcheology for profit” we wouldn’t know anything about 90% of the civilization out here!

Myths began growing about the Margolians soon after they left earth in the Third Millennium without filing a flight plan. Did they find their Eldorado, or were they consumed by an uncharted black hole before reaching their destination? Over the last nine centuries humans never tired of speculating about the fate of the 5,000 people who left earth and never looked back. But not a piece of solid evidence existed to prove the group ever made it to their final destination. At least not until Amy Kolmer walked into Benedict’s office with a plastic cup decorated with an eagle and strange symbols. She wanted to to know if the cup was valuable, and claimed she received it as a gift from her ex-boyfriend. With the help of an assistant, Kolpath quickly discovers the symbols are Mid-American English, an extinct language popular 8000 years ago. A banner on the cup reads “New World Coming.” The symbols IFR171 probably stand for “Interstellar Fleet Registry,” but it was difficult to get an accurate translation for the name of ship. It could be “Searcher,” “Explorer,” or “something along those lines.”

Benedict’s team scours the historic record to discover all they can about the cup. Part of that research includes using historical avatars created from computer-generated images and data collected during a person’s life. It soon becomes apparent the cup came into Kolmer’s possession after it was stolen from the home of Adam and Margaret Wescott, two former Survey employees who died 31 years earlier in an avalanche. Yet in spite of Survey’s extensive records, there’s not one mention of where or when the cup was discovered. Why? The only logical conclusion is that the Westcott’s weren’t ready to share their discovery. But in a giant step forward, the team finally determines the ship’s name is “Seeker;” one of two ships the Margolians boarded centuries ago.

“Seeker” is hardly McDevitt’s first novel. Thirteen of his earlier works were nominated for the Nebula Award, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In 2006, “Seeker” took the prize hands down. On the book’s cover Stephen King states, Jack McDevitt is “the logical heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark.” Now that’s no shallow endorsement; King hit the nail on the head. It takes a scientific education, combined with an overactive imagination and phenomenal writing to create a sci-fi classic. McDevitt mastered the art, and like his predecessors Asimov and Clark, he never fudges one basic truth. No matter how far humans travel, no matter how many millennia into the future an author places them, human nature never changes.

McDevitt’s universe only contains one “intelligent species” other than humanoids. It’s a race of mutes who communicate telepathically. Humanoids can’t stand to be around them, because most humans don’t care to have their thoughts read. Mutes don’t like the encounters either. After all, the first thought they always encounter in humanoids is one of disgust, which creates a barrier to peaceful coexistence. So the two races refrain from interacting as much as possible.

Kolpath makes her first visit to the earth too. Sci-fi authors depict “future earth” in a multitude of ways; McDevitt’s version is kind. He side-stepped the “natural disaster scenarios” other authors employ to reshape the earth. Kolpath lands her ship in San Francisco – somehow I found it reassuring to know that at least one writer thinks the city won’t be swallowed-up by the Pacific Ocean any time soon.

“Seeker” is an escapist’s delight. No, human nature hasn’t changed in the last three million years, so we shouldn’t expect changes in the next 9000 years. But McDevitt’s future gives us so much more room to roam, with numerous worlds to explore, and lots of adventure. And perhaps the best part of human nature is our need for adventure. So McDevitt feeds that need, at least until we have the intelligence to leave this planet and turn science fiction into fact. Join him aboard “Seeker”- for an unforgettable journey into the future.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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