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Infinity Beach
Jack McDevitt
HarperPrism, 450 pages

Infinity Beach
Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel, The Hercules Text, and the first UPC prize for his novella, "Ships in the Night." He has been nominated for the Nebula and Hugo. McDevitt has been a taxi driver, a naval officer, an English teacher, a customs officer, and a motivational trainer. Currently, he lives with his wife and three children in Brunswick, GA.

Jack McDevitt Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Reading List: Jack McDevitt
SF Site Review: Moonfall
SF Site Review: Eternity Road
Jack McDevitt Reviews
Engines of God Review
Ancient Shores Review

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Are we alone in the universe? Scientists take both optimistic and pessimistic views. Arguments that life must be common are countered with arguments that our situation is improbable and may very well be unique. In Jack McDevitt's Infinity Beach, human beings have interstellar spaceflight, they have colonized several worlds, and they have found no evidence of other intelligent life in our galaxy. Many people have come to believe that they never will.

Dr. Kimberly Brandywine is in charge of public relations for the Seabright Institute, which is engaged in a spectacular feat of stellar engineering in an attempt to signal hypothetical aliens. Her life begins to change when a phone call from an old teacher causes her to re-examine the circumstances of her sister's death. Emily had disappeared twenty years earlier, shortly after the early return of an exploratory voyage. As Kim starts to investigate, questions arise over what really happened. Was someone on the crew a murderer? Did they find evidence of alien life?

From this point on, the question of whether or not there are aliens becomes slowly secondary to the story of Kim's search for the truth. Indeed, the pace of the plot changes with Kim's state of mind. It starts out slowly, as she is indecisive about whether to proceed. The story gathers momentum as Kim resolves to go ahead, even at the possible risk of her job. Other characters get involved, from Solly Hobbs, an old friend who helps out, to Ben Tripley a corporate magnate and leading candidate for villain, who, in Tolkien's classic phrase "seems fairer and feels fouler" than anyone else in the book.

Infinity Beach is, in the end, a kind of story that Jack McDevitt does very well. There are mysteries to be solved, both personal and scientific, and the background is well thought out, both in the human society depicted and in the astronomical details that play a part in the narrative.

Still, it's hard not to think that McDevitt had a different sort of book in mind when he first started writing Infinity Beach. The opening chapters -- with their portrayal of a society built on exploration that has started to lose its edge, that has started to doubt the worth of it all -- have a different atmosphere than the rest of the novel. There's a world-weariness in the characters here that pervades the opening scenes, and is then pushed aside as Kim's story and the force of her personality take over the book.

That's not a bad thing. Kimberly Brandywine is one of those rarities in science fiction: a character who is believable both as a scientist and as a woman. Infinity Beach is her story and as such it delivers both as a novel of character and as a science fiction novel with interesting speculations, plausible science, and a good adventure story. That it might have been a different sort of book altogether, with a deeper exploration of the culture Kim lives in, suggests that the author has it in him to write more good books, with themes that he has only touched on tangentially until now. Meanwhile, we can enjoy Infinity Beach for what it is, and look forward to the next novel from Jack McDevitt as well.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson especially enjoyed Infinity Beach for its mixture of mystery and horror with a hard science fiction plot. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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