I make no secret of the fact that I am a big Jack McDevitt fan. Having thoroughly enjoyed the author's space opera novels built upon the character of Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchens, I was more than anxious to sample a different side of McDevitt in Polaris. This ghost ship mystery in space, told from a first-person perspective, is not as weighty or serious as other McDevitt novels I have read, but it is certainly an engaging read that casual science fiction fans will likely quite enjoy. For McDevitt fans, however, Polaris is more of an afternoon matinee than McDevitt's usual prime time special. Attempts on the heroes' lives don't seem all that serious in the context of the narrative, and nothing that takes place here has the potential to revolutionize the very nature of humanity.
Sixty years ago, the Polaris carried a small party of acclaimed scientists to witness firsthand (from a safe distance, of course) a rare cosmic phenomenon, namely the collision of a white dwarf with a star. Contact with the ship was lost following the commander's indication that she was beginning the journey home. A search ship arrived in-system some weeks later and found the Polaris drifting in space, its crew missing. There was no sign of foul play whatsoever; the crew had simply vanished. Naturally, at the time, the news created a firestorm of interest as well as some concern that a hostile alien race had somehow absconded with the passengers.
Sixty years later, a number of artifacts from the ghost ship are set to go up for auction, bringing famed antiquities dealer Alex Benedict (whom McDevitt readers first met in A Talent For War) into the picture.Read more ›
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A tantalizing blend of mystery and philosophyFeb. 6 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Sixty years ago (in a future so distant that space travel is commonplace), the luxury yacht Polaris carried a group of curious, science-minded (and very wealthy) passengers to Delta Karpis, once a typical G class star but now unique and of extraordinary interest as it was about to collide with a dwarf star. Having witnessed this astonishing once in a lifetime stellar event, the Polaris announced its imminent departure for earth and then was never heard from again. Search parties eventually found the Polaris empty and adrift, its passengers clearly having left or vanished with considerable speed - a space-faring celestial Marie Celeste, as it were! When prominent antiquities dealer, Alex Benedict, and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, managed to acquire a number of artifacts from the salvaged Polaris, it became clear that Benedict and Kolpath were targeted for elimination. Someone was desperate to ensure that the truth behind the Polaris story was never revealed to an unsuspecting world.
A diverting, enjoyable, if somewhat predictable mystery, "Polaris" will provide any sci-fi fan with some enjoyable hours of reading ... lots of whiz bang high-tech gadgetry, a dash of celestial mechanics and the science of stellar evolution plus a very provocative series of philosophical divertimenti pondering the potential effects of science's ability to stop or reverse the aging process. "To age or not to age, this is the question", McDevitt puts forward some extremely interesting arguments on both sides as to how the world might react and evolve were it possible to stop aging and prolong life indefinitely. And how does that fit into the mystery plot? Ah ... for that, you're just going to have to pick it up and read it!
The dust jacket publicity blurb styles McDevitt as the heir apparent to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. On the basis of my first reading of his work, I don't think I'm quite ready to accord him that lofty status, but I'm willing and eager to seek out more of his novels and read on.
30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
McDevitt is capable of MUCH better than this . . .Jan. 8 2005
Michael K. Smith
- Published on Amazon.com
McDevitt is capable of turning out thoughtful, literate, involving science fiction novels of very high quality indeed. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. This is a not-quite-sequel to his excellent A TALENT FOR WAR, in that it is set in the same future and shares some of the same characters several thousand years from now, in a diverse, dispersed human galactic civilization. A space-going yacht, POLARIS, accompanies a group of scientific research ships to witness and record a rare stellar event. Aboard are half a dozen scientific, philosophical, and political luminaries. And they never return, though the ship itself is found, mysterious empty of life. Sixty years later, the disappearance of the passengers of POLARIS is still one of the great modern mysteries. Alex Benedict, now a prominent antiquities dealer, acquires a number of the personal possessions found on the derelict ship -- just before the rest of the artifacts are destroyed in an explosion. And now someone, or some organization, is trying to kill him off, too. What does he unknowingly possess that could be that important? Well, McDevitt never quite makes it worth the reader's while to want to find out. The minutiae of life in his future are interesting at the beginning and help supply verisimilitude, but it gets a little old to be reading detailed descriptions of the lives of very minor characters when you're three hundred pages into the book. Also, it's an old sf device to casually mention the names of future historical figures in the company of names we would recognize from our own times, but McDevitt does this far, far too often -- and usually without giving any hint of who these great figures are. I'm prepared to believe, I guess, that a civilization that could produce a "quantum drive" (an improvement on mere FTL) still can't extend the human life span beyond 130 or so years, but that out not to have become the centerpiece of the plot. And I'm *not* willing to accept that ordinary people with only a basic education in that future are so conversant with the details of history and everyday life thousands of years in their past when few Americans in 2005 could pass a test on the lives of their ancestors only a few centuries ago. There's some good ideas and good writing here, but ultimately, this book just doesn't work.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Seize the day. Eat the jelly donut.Nov. 28 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
This book is a sequel to "A Talent For War", which McDevitt wrote over 10 years ago. That book was a stirring elegy of a future star spanning mankind at war with an alien race. He imbued that book with a grand backdrop, and invoked timeless qualities of heroism and sacrifice. The book had a typical print run for a paperback and quickly sold out. Even in used bookstores, it was hard to find, and people hung onto their copies. It was reissued about a year ago.
So when I saw this book, I read it eagerly. Hoping for a similarly engaging plot. As a twist, this book is told from the vantage point of the female character, Chase Kolpath, who is the secondary persona in the earlier novel. It expands on her personality, and gives another look at Alex Benedict, who was the main character in Talent.
But, the plot is tepid. Sadly, nothing to match the grandeur of Talent. Also, the plot unfolding contains elements that have been seen in McDevitt's earlier works. Somewhat predictable.
A portion of this book also deals with the topic of aging. His story is set millenia in the future. With faster than light travel and artificial intelligence software as a viable construct. Many futuristic details. But, the human lifespan is still only some 120 years. A marginal improvment over what we already have. This seems very implausible, given the other advances in the book over the postulated time period. It is as though our biology and medicine sputtered to a stop right about now.
But there is one nice item in the book - the quote in my subject line.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A disappointment from this authorNov. 11 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
This review, and my rating, is for those readers of "Deepsix", "Omega" and "Chindi" who, like myself, have been excitedly anticipating the next thrilling tale from this author. Why do so many great Science-Fiction writers seem doomed to this ignoble burn-out? Remember the downward spiraling later efforts of Heinlein, Clarke, Niven? It is so sad to witness this (inevitable?) process. So, here we are again disappointed by such a promising author. Icarus-like, McDevitt took us through absolutely fascinating, thoroughly engrossing and exciting tales in "Deepsix, "Omega" and "Chindi" only to ultimately dash our expectations with this unfortunately pedestrian mystery. Do not expect a dynamic protagonist in the mold of McDevitt's "Hutch" depicted so vividly in the aforementioned books. The main characters in this book are scetchily drawn in comparison and just do not involve us in their adventures. Chase and Alex simply blunder their way through dull and tedious plot details that lead them finally to an archly `profound' resolution that we dreaded so much earlier than we should have. Apparently the authors interest just fizzled out along the way, as does our own while negotiating this sadly boring and needlessly complicated plot-line. The intended profundity of the `resolution'- if it can even be called that, simply collapses with an empty, dry, disappointing thud. We can only hope that Mr M will use his profits from this one to take a vacation and seriously recharge his creative powers.
I found good points and bad points. The good is that I like McDevitt's writing. The quality of his writing is a step above most science fiction writers. Unfortunately that's also part of the bad because the book dragged enought that I was drawn into noticing the technical quality of the writing. More irritating was the repeated use of the same plot technique. Gee, the lights won't turn on. That can't mean that the bad guys are around, so lets go on in. Gee, the computer doesn't seem to be working right. That can't mean that there's something wrong with the space ship, so let's take off. It reminded me of the TV shows where the person says, "I can't tell you the secret information on the phone, but meet me tomorrow, and I'll tell you in person." Guess who's going to die before tomorrow? This flaw really detracted from the book for me because I couldn't get into a story where the two heros were so blind. The story itself is o.k.; I just wish it had been told better.