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Jack McDevitt
ISFiC Press, 342 pages

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: Polaris
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 Greg L. Johnson

Jack McDevitt's Outbound is a collection of stories and essays from throughout the author's career. What they reveal is a writer whose work is firmly within and a part of the modern science fiction tradition. The stories also show a concern for events, and their consequences, that are a little closer to the here and now than readers usually find in McDevitt's more future-centered, space-oriented novels.

That's apparent right in the first story, "The Candidate," which offers a twist on the idea of a virtual presidential candidate that's right out of this year's front pages. "Date With Destiny" steps even deeper into politics with it's depiction of a very Moammar Gadhafi-like dictator's confrontation with an american navy and the businessman who gets in the way.

McDevitt is firmly of the opinion that the purpose of a good science fiction is to illustrate an idea. This places him directly in the classic tradition of science fiction story-telling, obviously influenced by such writers as Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford D. Simak, and Larry Niven. Like many authors, McDevitt has a core set of ideas he returns to explore more frequently than others, in McDevitt's case it's the encounter with an artifact from a past or alien civilization, and the attempt to read someone's intentions from what they left behind that seems to most intrigue McDevitt's imagination.

But where a writer like Larry Niven often used this set-up to explore alien technologies, McDevitt's explorers and investigators are much more likely to encounter works of art, and the puzzle becomes to try and understand the artist's motivations and desires. Probably the best known example of this is "Melville On Iapetus," where an alien statue raises just such questions for its finders. In "Ignition" the accidental discovery of a buried statue triggers a revolt against an authoritarian government, and in "In The Tower," a dead artist's disfigurement of his most famous work leads to the uncovering of the horrors that can come with an encounter with the alien.

The last section of Outbound contains essays on the writing of science fiction and its place in the world. Especially useful for aspiring writers of SF is "Blundering Through" a point-by-point guide to the mistakes every writer should avoid, along with some advice about how to do it right. It's a professional seminar in writing condensed into seventeen highly informative pages.

All in all, Outbound is a fine overview of Jack McDevitt, revealing a writer whose approach has been remarkably consistent throughout his career. While this may not make for the greatest in name recognition, it does build a steady audience who knows that while McDevitt's prose style may not go for flash and dazzle, there will always be an interesting idea to puzzle over and a story that entices the reader into caring. By McDevitt's own statements, that's the standard that science fiction demands of its practitioners, and it's one that Jack McDevitt lives up to very very well.

Copyright © 2007 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson often thinks that the ice sculptures of St Paul must have been created by aliens. one foot firmly on both sides of the fence. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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