by Jack McDevitt



360pp/$24.95/November 2006 

Cover by Larry Price

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Jack McDevitt's fiction has always focused on strong female characters.  In Odyssey, he not only revisits, Priscilla Hutchinson, one of his favorites from The Engines of God, Deepsix, Chindi, and Omega, but he also adds pilot Valentina Kouros, who appears to be following in Hutch's footsteps, and fifteen-year-old Amy Taylor, the daughter of a Senator who shows every sign she's a force to be reckoned with.

As with many of his novels, McDevitt throws a variety of balls into the air and chooses to follow certain ones more closely and letting others drift away.  This technique works much better in Odyssey than in some of his earlier works. The events he depicts have a more realistic nature since not everything ties together and some things which seem important aren't as important as they initially seem.  Some of these plotlines include the appearance of strange objects (Moonriders) near spaceships, a lawsuit against Henry Beemer, who attacked a preacher in a bookstore, and the establishment of an enormous super-collider in interstellar space.

The tie that binds the disparate plot threads together is McDevitt's curmudgeon, Gregory MacAllister, a latter day H.L. Mencken, who first appeared in Deepsix.  MacAllister has become unlikely friends with Hutch, even while he calls for the decrease of funding to the space projects she holds dear as well as the dismantling of the administration she now heads.  His first meeting with Kouros is when the two appear together on a tabloid talk show debating opposite sides of the issue.  In addition, he finds himself paying for Henry Beemer's defense as a Scopes Monkey Trial situation arises around Beemer's assault charges.

While McDevitt's characters generally are likable and act in reasonable ways, and his depiction of their relationships with each other is more natural than in many of his previous book, the focus of the book in many ways is on the big ideas.   While McDevitt's novels often feel like a tour of the wonders of the universe, Odyssey actually provides one as Kouros ferries MacAllister, Amy, and Eric Samuel, a spokeman for the Academy, through several star systems in an attempt to prove the Moonriders really exist.  While this could easily have turned into a laundry list of places, McDevitt successfully brings the wonder of the universe to the pages of Odyssey painting virtual Hubble images with his descriptions.

With is many threads, Odyssey satisfies, although McDevitt doesn't fully tie the various stories together. Although in many books this would leave a feeling of incompleteness, McDevitt successfully manages to leave the reader feeling as if the important events have been wrapped up while the world itself continues in a natural manner. Although the book builds on McDevitt's previous novels, knowledge of those books isn't necessary for enjoyment of Odyssey, although it is certainly recommended.

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