Visions of Paradise

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Even the finest sf writers do not write a masterpiece everytime, but they are always entertaining even with their weaker novels. Jack McDevitt is one of my current favorite writers with such superb novels as Infinity Beach and the entire Alex Benedict series (A Talent For War, Polaris, Seeker). His Academy series is one step below that series, although The Engines of God was a worthy first entry, replacing the fascination with history of the Benedict series with archaeology. Deepsix is the second novel in the Academy series, and it is mildly disappointing.

Deepsix is a world which was first explored twenty years ago, but was totally abandoned when the initial survey team met disaster after being attacked by a horde of killer birds. Now the world is about to be destroyed by a rogue gas giant headed directly for it. Teams of spaceships head for Deepsix to observe the unprecedented catastrophe, but two unlikely events occur almost simultaneously: one of those teams lands on the planet and discovers some ancient archaeological ruins which indicate intelligent life had lived on Deepsix millennia ago; and the team becomes stranded due to a rather unlikely series of events.

The basic plot is the attempt to rescue the stranded team before the gas giant destroys Deepsix. Much of the plot has the form of a thriller, along with the leaps of logic associated with that form, and the actual rescue struck me as highly unlikely and complicated. Fortunately, McDevitt has not abandoned his love of the past as the stranded team uncovers more archaeological ruins which gradually build up a view of Deepsix’s lifeforms and past. McDevitt has also created an interesting group of strandees, especially famous journalist MacAleister who has a very acerbic personality which immediately alienates the others, and scientist Randy Nightingale who was a member of the ill-fated expedition twenty years previous, and who was skewered in the press as the culprit for the failure, especially by MacAleister. The growth of these two men’s personalities and their relationship is one of the highlights of the book.

Deepsix should satisfy fans of sf thrillers without alienating those who like more wondrous and thoughtful science fiction. I just hope subsequent novels in the series rise more to the Alex Benedict level.


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