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.