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Polaris
Jack McDevitt
Ace, 384 pages

Polaris
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 Review: Chindi
SF Site Review: Moonfall
SF Site Review: Deepsix
SF Site Reading List: Jack McDevitt
SF Site Review: Infinity Beach
SF Site Review: Infinity Beach
SF Site Review: Moonfall
SF Site Review: Eternity Road

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven Sawicki

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With Polaris, Jack McDevitt returns to the universe inhabited by Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath, last seen in A Talent For War (1988). Benedict is a seller of antiquarian artifacts mostly having to do with space travel and he's got a current crop from the spaceship Polaris. Decades earlier, the Polaris ran into trouble, sent out an SOS but when help arrived, was found adrift and empty. The Polaris had been chartered to take a mixed group of individuals to witness the death of a far-off solar system. Benedict's interest is piqued when someone apparently wants these artifacts destroyed, along with anyone who gets in the way. The mystery is multi-layered, wrapped around the original circumstances surrounding the Polaris and brought forward to present day with the artifacts serving as link to everything. While Benedict investigates, Kolpath intercedes to save his skin a few times as the two of them begin to attract unwanted attention.

McDevitt seems to have a talent for developing unusual characters for his hard science fiction novels. Reporters, Media members, and the odd wealthy celebrity have starred in previous novels. Benedict first appeared in McDevitt's second novel, along with Kolpath, and returns here. This is not the first crossing of the who-done-it with science fiction but I'm not sure anyone has done it as well as McDevitt does it here. There are multiple possibilities presented throughout the book and while the ultimate end fits the circumstances, it is not contrived or easily arrived at.

It is difficult to maintain this kind of suspense when you are presenting a future full of new technology, especially when the driving event occurred in the past. It can also be difficult to maintain plotting since you don't want the reader to have the sense that there's a path that the characters are simply following to get to the end of the book. A good mystery gives the idea that options are open and the reader discovers along with the protagonist each piece of the puzzle, whether it fits or not. But to do all of this in the trappings of science fiction is taking things a step even further beyond.

I've enjoyed reading Jack McDevitt for a number of years and I have to say that this could be considered one of his best books yet. The writing is sharp, the characters engaging, the story interesting and you simply don't want to put it down until everything has been discovered. The story is told, first person, from Chase's point of view, which creates a sense of immediacy and also almost demands that the reader come to grips with the idea that characters may be hiding important details about things that would create problems in a third person narrative. Simply put, the book is enjoyable on any number of different levels.

Copyright © 2005 by Steven Sawicki

Born and raised in Connecticut on a dark and stormy night, Steven Sawicki has moved steadily West with the sense that by the year 2124 he would be in Eastern New York. He has, however, been forced East and therefore doesn't anticipate New York until sometime after 2150 now.


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