Visions of Paradise

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Much as I like Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath (the protagonists in what I consider Jack McDevitt’s best series of novels A Talent For War, Polaris and Seeker), Gregory MacAllister is probably Jack McDevitt’s most interesting character (in the longer Academy series). He is a curmudgeon who edits a weekly magazine called The National whose main purpose seems to be poking holes into popular opinion, especially when that opinion is buttressed by emotions rather than pure logic. Consider him a futurist William F. Buckley, except Mac is not wed to a particular political party; he views all rigid political views with the same degree of skepticism, and is disliked by liberals as well as conservatives.

Because of his belief that social issues on Earth should be the focus of much more public concern and government spending than it is, he has a strong anti-space exploration attitude which serves as a yang to Priscilla Hutchins’ yin in the Academy stories. But Mac is not so rigid as to be totally beyond seriously considering an issue. He accompanied Hutch in the adventures on the planet Deepsix, and in Odyssey he accompanies another Academy pilot Valya on a voyage to seek out moonriders (which are the 22nd century version of UFOs).

By the time of the events in Odyssey, Hutch is no longer a space pilot, but an administrator raising a family on Earth. This works well for the dynamic tension in the novel since Mac and Hutch, having gone through the life-and-death situation on Deepsix, have developed a close friendship which led to their now accepting each other’s ideas without risking their friendship in argument. Valya has no such qualms and serves as a more interesting foil for Mac on the voyage in which the two of them are forced to spend 24/7 together, along with a PR man and the daughter of a powerful senator.

What really makes Odyssey work though was McDevitt’s idea to have MacAllister be the main viewpoint character, since the novel’s main focus is the search for the mysterious moonriders in the vastness of space, and Mac does not believe in their existence at all. He assumes they are either a collective delusion (much as UFO’s are in the 20th-21st centuries) or a deliberate hoax to spark interest in the space program, since much of the Academy’s funding is under attack by powerful forces in the government. So as the reader is faced with increasing evidence of the moonriders’ actual existence, so is Mac.

As usual in a McDevitt novel, what I like best about Odyssey is that it has a tightly-woven plot with lots of forward movement without being either an adventure or “thriller” per se. The characters grow and change although, except for Mac, they are not the story’s main focus. The primary concern of the Academy series is humanity’s interaction with forces beyond our knowledge and comprehension, a more sfnal version of what should have occurred in Star Trek but which was generally lost beneath mundane adventures which were the series’ main concern. If is unfortunate that no television series has ever been written on the same level as McDevitt’s Academy novels.

I recommend Odyssey highly, whether you have read the prior novels in the series or not.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home