Jack McDevitt

Subterranean Press


588pp/$38/February 2009 

Cover by Lee Moyer

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Cryptic is Jack McDevitt's fourth short story collection, although all of his previous collections are currently out of print.  This means that for his readers who can't get enough of McDevitt's writing style and ideas in his novels, Cryptic is currently the only game in town.  Fortunately for those readers, the table of contents for Cryptic includes many of the stories previously collected in Standard Candles (Tachyon, 1996), Ships in the Night (AAB 2005), and Outbound (ISFiC 2006).  For those readers lucky enough to have all of those collections, Cryptic does include many previously uncollected stories as well.

Among the stories not appearing in the three earlier anthologies are "Sunrise," "Never Despair," "Kaminsky at War," "Fifth Day," "Tweak," "Cool Neighbor," "Welcome to Valhalla," and "Indomitable." "Cool Neighbor," written with Michael Shara, is a sequel to their earlier story, "Lighthouse," set several years later, when Kristi Lang, the graduate student of the earlier work, is now and established and respected astronomer.  

Although McDevitt is most widely known for his stories spanning the vast reaches of space, Cryptic includes many stories which are st much closer to home and tell tales which are not generally associated with McDevitt's style. "Nothing Ever Happens in Rock City" presents the wonders of the universe closer to home and a protagonist who can't see those wonders that are around him. Similarly, the time traveler in "Time's Arrow" can't appreciate the historical events he is able to view with his invention.  These characters, however, are atypical of McDevitt's characters, who generally not only can appreciate the wonders of their surroundings, but actively seek those wonders out and attempt to understand them.

In fact one of the strengths of this collection, aside from collecting thirty-eight of McDevitt's stories in one place (which still leave enough stories, many still not collected, not included to fill another sizable collection) is the fact that it shows McDevitt's breadth as an auther. In "Act of God," he looks at the ethical ramifications of interfering in another culture in an interesting manner.  "The Candidate" takes a look at the political process, a story that is continually timely as elections re continued to be held.

While Cryptic does demonstrate McDevitt's versatility as an author, it also showcases his strengths, from "Meville on Iapetus," which led to his long-running series of novels beginning with The Engines of God, or his Hugo and Nebula-nominated "The Fort Moxie Branch," about an alien-run library. While Cryptic can serve as an introduction to McDevitt's works for those who have never had the chance to read him, or his short fiction, before, it also serves to provide a fuller picture of the author than just reading his novels would.

Cryptic lacks any notes by McDevitt on the stories, allowing them to stand on their own (except in cases such as "Lighthouse" and "Cool Neighbor," which are obviously linked).  While stories can and should be able to stand on their own, one of the bonuses often included in collections are brief notes allowing the author to discuss their work in retrospect, or even just to give the reader a little addition insight into the author's creative process.

With thirty-eight stories, Cryptic is more than twice as large as any of McDevitt's other collections and is significantly longer than any of McDevitt's individual novels.  For readers who are already fans of McDevitt's fiction, it will provide many hours of entertainment and thoughtfulness.  For those who are unfamiliar with McDevitt's work, Cryptic should be the gateway drug of choice, leading the reader to discover his fifteen novels and, if they are lucky, his out of print collections as well.

Cryptic Nebula Nomination Report from the Rear
The Fort Moxie Branch Nebula NominationHugo Nomination Black to Move
Nothing Ever Happens in New Rock City Nebula Nomination The Far Shore
Tweak Sunrise
Melville on Iapetus Kaminsky at War
Lighthouse (with Michael Shara) Fifth Day
Cool Neighbor (with Michael Shara) Deus Tex
Whistle Gus
In the Tower Welcome to Valhalla (with Kathryn Lance)
Ignition Tyger
Indomitable Auld Lang Boom
Last Contact The Candidate
Never Despair Act of God
Windows Ellie
Dutchman Time's Arrow
The Tomb Dead in the Water
Promises to Keep Henry James, This One's for You Nebula Nomination
To Hell with the Stars Time Travelers Never Die Nebula NominationHugo Nomination
The Mission  

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