Polaris Hardcover – Nov 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This SF mystery's smooth and exciting surface makes it difficult to appreciate how exceptionally good it is at combining action and ideas. After a string of well-developed space operas, McDevitt returns to the lead characters of his second novel, A Talent for War (1988): antiquarian entrepreneur Alex Benedict (think Indiana Jones with an eye for profit) and his beautiful assistant, Chase Kolpath (think smart, sexy Dr. Watson). Decades earlier, in a future version of the Marie Celeste incident, the spaceship Polaris was discovered drifting and empty, its captain and passengers apparently vanished in an instant. Now, Alex and Chase realize that someone is tracking down relics of the Polaris and is willing to kill anyone who gets in the way. Alex is first of all a businessman, but he becomes stubbornly fascinated with the impossible puzzle. While Chase saves Alex's neck from increasingly ingenious attacks, he untangles a complex plot. The real problem turns out to be not how the mass disappearance was done but the tangled motives behind it. McDevitt does a fine job of creating different worlds for Alex and Chase to explore as they hunt clues. Through Chase's wry narration, the novel also succeeds in presenting characters who may be concealing important facets of themselves. That's appropriate in an SF mystery novel, but especially in one that turns out to have a surprisingly serious human core.
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A mystery surrounds the starship Polaris, whose crew vanished while observing a stellar collision. Some 60 years later, two freelance archaeologists discover a good many artifacts that belonged to the vanished crew, the appearance of which attracts much attention--frivolous, festive, larcenous, and even outright homicidal. The archaeologists set out to track down whoever is out to get them and to recover the stolen artifacts, if possible, and at least protect the surviving ones. They lead a merry chase, involving both interstellar voyages and 14-hour train trips (McDevitt sees railroads in any civilized future) and revealing a good many carefully guarded secrets about both VIPs and ordinary citizens. The traveling affords readers a panoramic view of humanity 2,000 years hence, and that at book's end only part of the mystery has been revealed bodes strongly of a sequel, which would be no bad thing at all, at all. Another highly intelligent, absorbing portrayal of the far future from a leading creator of such tales. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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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 ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.