by Jack McDevitt
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Deepsix is a sequel to Jack McDevitt’s earlier The Engines of God in the sense that it contains the same main character and is set in the same universe. However, twenty years of internal chronology separate the events of the two novels and, while Priscilla Hutchins’s adventures in the earlier book are occasionally referred to, they don’t impact the current novel at all. There is no reason why Deepsix couldn’t be enjoyed by someone who has never had the privilege of reading Jack McDevitt’s work before.
Many of the traditional tropes and themes which McDevitt uses are evident in Deepsix. The plot revolves around a hurried archaeological expedition sent to the title planet only days before the planet is due to be involved in a collision with another planet. In less than two weeks, the team, led by Hutchins, must try to learn whatever it can from the strange ruins discovered on the planet and return to space. Naturally, disaster strikes leaving them stranded on Deepsix without any obvious or easy mode of rescue despite the presence of four interstellar spacecraft in the vicinity.
In addition to the mystery of the vanished civilization, McDevitt incorporates a strong theme of man vs. nature in Deepsix as the small crew must make their way across an alien continent and deal with weather, animal and vegetative perils. Added to the dangers which would naturally occur on Deepsix are the series of tremors and strange weather brought about by the ever shrinking proximity of Morgan’s World, the gas giant which will eventually tear away Deepsix’s atmosphere.
McDevitt’s strength has always been the ideas which he uses in his novels. In Deepsix, he also focuses on building his characters. While not two dimensional, they are also not fully realized. McDevitt provides each characters with a set of identifying characteristics which he demonstrates are not entirely accurate through the course of the novel. However, he never really fleshes out many of the characters or their relationships, reserving most of his energy for Hutchins and Gregory McAllister, an acerbic journalist whose stranding on the planet was the result of short-sightedness. Increased focus on Randy Nightingale, the only member of the original survey team to return to Deepsix, would have been a welcome addition to the story.
Deepsix is a well-paced story of exploration and survival. In addition to focusing his attention on the small party stranded on the planet, McDevitt also examines the reactions and motives of the various people, scientists, tourists and journalists, in orbit above the doomed planet. Rather than depict a completely unified mission to rescue the strandees, McDevitt depicts human nature in all its glory and its disgrace.Deepsix provides a novel which clearly demonstrates McDevitt’s strengths and weaknesses. It can be read apart from The Engines of God without causing the reader to feel as if he has come in to the middle of the story. At the same time, it provides good introduction to McDevitt’s writing style and themes which recur in many of his novels.
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