Sunday, May 1, 2011

Echo, by Jack McDevitt

Whenever I decide to pick up a series, especially in trying to cover award nominees, I am faced with the dilemma of where to start it.  Do I choose the award nominated book at the end, or go to the beginning, or what?  Echo is the fifth book in McDevitt's Alex Benedict series.  In this case, I decided to pick up the latest one and see how it went.

Well, it went OK I guess.  The cover of the library book I borrowed has Stephen King saying he is the "logical successor" to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov.  Lofty company.  I have enjoyed some McDevitt stories, but that's a lot to put on.  I can see the analogy, though, since McDevitt is a matter-of-fact writer who lets the science and the storyline drive the book.

Not so sure it worked well this time, and it may have to do with the point of view.  This installment in the series is written from the perspective of Chase Kolpath, his young, attractive and talented assistant.  He is at some pains to depict her in a non-exploitative way, which ends up making her a somewhat cardboard character.  And since we see Alex only through her eyes, he ends up that way too.

The plot matches these somewhat thin characters pretty well.  Benedict is an antique dealer, and they get a line on a tablet with some inscriptions in an unknown language on them.  Sunset Tuttle, the one-time owner, was on a quest to find intelligent life in the universe--in all man's travels there has been only one other race.  They pursue the mystery doggedly and in places miserably.  The ending could be rather spectacular, but ends up rather understated.  This kind of old-fashioned work has its place, but I think I'd want the science to be edgier and more forward to carry this book.  It's just FTL ships and far-flung colonies, and the personalities are supposed to move the load.  They are not quite up to it.  3 stars, but only just.

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