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Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt

     Author

LibertyCon 20 Author Guest of Honor (2007)

US writer who began publishing sf with "The Emerson Effect" for Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine in December 1981, coming to prominence with "Cryptic" (April 1983 Asimov's), a tale whose theme - First Contact between humans and the Alien races who are sending messages across space - was elaborated in his first novel, The Hercules Text (1986), which won a Locus Award. Despite the occasional descent into cliche in his plotting and his politics (even as early as 1986 the vision of the USA coming close to war with the USSR over ownership of the information in the signals lacked extrapolative vigour), McDevitt manages in this tale to concentrate very effectively on the human dimensions of the conundrum posed by the existence of a Communication whose contents, when deciphered, might well devastate human civilization from the shock of this First Contact; and the Roman Catholic viewpoint of one of the Scientists involved in decoding the message is presented with an obvious sympathy which does not hamper the storytelling, which involves threats of violent skulduggery. The sequence which evolved from this tale - the Alex Benedict series, which also comprises A Talent for War (1989), assembled with a revised version of The Hercules Text as Hello, Out There (omni 2000); plus Polaris (2004), Seeker (2005), which won the Nebula award in 2006, and The Devil's Eye (2008) - moves into a galactic venue nine thousand years hence. In A Talent for War, which is similarly set within a religious frame, the young Alex Benedict must thread his way through the unsettled hinterlands dividing human and Alien space in his search for the secret that may retroactively destroy the reputation of a human who had been a hero in the recent wars. In later volumes, Benedict becomes a highly convincing representative of the noirish detective hero whose traversals of the archaeologies of Western America (or, in this case, of the inhabited galaxy aeons hence) lead not only to a solving of crimes or other mysteries but also, and more importantly, to a recuperation of lost worlds (> Ruins and Futurity). This is perhaps most evident in Seeker, the best organized tale of the sequence, where Benedict's hunt for the long-hidden underlying causes of the disappearance millennia earlier of the lost colony of Margolia (> Time Abyss) becomes a lesson in the impossibility of acquiring any comprehensive narrative of the past in the kind of expanded future we might imagine: for it is not only that the past becomes Mythology in many ambitious Space Opera universes, but that the past is inherently beyond our tools of understanding. Despite the easy old-boy style of the tale, the final lesson of Seeker is that the human species - there is no hint of the Singularity in McDevitt's moderately distant future - is not designed to comprehend itself or the universe it inhabits. McDevitt's second sequence - the Academy/Priscilla Hutchins series comprising The Engines of God (1994), Deepsix (2001), Chindi (2002), Omega (2003), Odyssey (2006) and Cauldron (2007) - is perhaps rather more easy on the reader during the movement of its narrative arc from Near Future near space into a galaxy full of solvable conundrums (Thought Experiment); the lead protagonist, Priscilla Hutchins, is in this case literally an archaeologist, and in the final volume of the sequence is privy to the solution of a number of problems left previously unresolved, rather damaging to the Sense of Wonder evoked by the taxing marvels described in the earlier instalments. Omega won a John W Campbell Memorial Award. The latest Academy novel, Starhawk, was released in 2013. Several individual novels are notable as well. Ancient Shores (1996) traces the Discovery of a buried ancient civilization, including relics of a highly advance Technology, imperishable metals (a familiar Icon from 1950s sf), and Matter Transmission via Stargates. Eternity Road (1997) is set in a genuinely beguiling Ruined Earth America, a millennia after the holocaust; duly, a Keep containing scientific secrets is found far up the Mississippi River, and lessons are learned about the deep past, though the new world continues. Moonfall (1998) is a complicated Disaster tale involving the destruction of the eponymous Moon. Infinity Beach (2000; vt Slow Lightning 2000) is a tale of Entropy: spread among the stars, the human race has clearly become as marginal to the long narratives of history as is the protagonist of the tale to most of its action; only when she becomes, as so often in McDevitt's work, a kind of detective spelunking the gnomic backstory of the race, does the book take fire. But it is clearly McDevitt's intention to cast doubt on the fire. He composes ostensibly positivist tales in clear for readers looking for release, as demonstrated in his light-fingered ease with Time Paradoxes in Time Travelers Never Die (2009); but the contemplative reticence underlying his work should never be ignored. He is perhaps the most adult of all writers of adventure sf. [JC] (From Mr. McDevitt's page at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction)
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