Echo Hardcover – Nov 2 2010
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"Fans of antiquities dealer Alex Benedict will find their expectations fully met by his fifth outing." ---Publishers Weekly --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
About the Author
Jack McDevitt is a former naval officer, taxi driver, customs officer and motivational trainer. He is a multiple Nebula Award finalist who lives in Georgia with his wife Maureen.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Antiquities dealer and well-known historical detective Alex Benedict purchases a stone tablet covered with inscriptions in an unknown language. When he sends his long-time assistant Chase Kolpath to pick it up, she runs into a few problems. As Alex and Chase make repeated attempts to find the artifact, they encounter false leads, attempts on their lives, and the terrified silence of those keeping a thirty-year-old secret. Could Sunset Tuttle, the deceased owner of the tablet, succeeded in his lifelong search for a new alien civilization? If so, why would he keep it quiet...?
This latest Benedict/Kolpath adventure is a good read. There is a mystery to solve, a few clues, a few more false clues, and an end-of-the-book resolution to most of the story's questions. Fans of this series get to see interesting developments in Alex's and Chase's personal lives. And there is the trademark skimmer-in-trouble-over-water scene.
There is the same odd, patchwork view of civilization as in the other books of this series. We see lots of business- and neighborhood-level scenes, and a few descriptions of planetary cultures, but not much at the level of cities or regions. It is as though there is no longer cultural differentiation at this level. Maybe this is intentional, meant to be the result of planet-wide communications and low-cost, high-speed travel. But it feels odd. Consistent, but odd.
The book is a must-read for McDevitt fans. Readers new to this author, or to the Alex Benedict series, should start with A Talent For War.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I picked up all four of the Benedict books and plowed through them, and then read the six Priscilla Hutchins novels for good measure. I am thoroughly hooked on the works of this author. A couple of his standalone works are also top notch.
Alex Benedict is an antiquity dealer who, along with his assistant Chase Kolpath, lives some eight thousand years in the future on a planet called Rimway. With faster-than-light travel a routine matter, and a wealth of planets (including Earth) harboring the ruins of countless ancient human civilizations, there is no shortage of artifacts and memorabilia to buy and sell.
Every now and again, Alex comes across something mysterious which really captures his imagination, and he focuses an intense amount of his, and Chase's, time and energy into pursuing it. It's not about the money, it's more the thrill of the chase, the thirst for knowledge. The pair begin to receive death threats and even become the targets of diabolically clever assassination attempts. While Chase has reservations about the sanity of continuing the quest, Alex is undeterred. After all, if someone is willing to kill to keep a secret, it must be really, really big. The kind of stuff that can rewrite history books or even save huge numbers of lives.
Since all but the first book are narrated in first person by Chase, we can assume that she's going to survive to write about it, but we never know about Alex.
So, when "Echo" came out, I was very eager to dig in. In a brief prologue, we are introduced to two key individuals. The first is Somerset Tuttle, a maverick scientist who has devoted his whole life to finding an alien civilization. True, there is a telepathic race known as the Ashiyyur, nicknamed the Mutes. But they're old hat -- people want to find OTHER aliens. And yet, Tuttle has become the butt of jokes. Real scientists know the galaxy is empty. There are planets with life, but no intelligent life. "Found any little green men yet?" is a common question or maybe taunt hurled at Tuttle.
The second person we meet in the prologue is Rachel Bannister, a spaceship pilot for World's End Tours. She is very upset about something she saw out there, something terrible. But we won't find out what for the rest of the book. It's a bit of a surprise, nothing I would have guessed.
Chapter One picks up 28 years after the prologue. Tuttle has died and Rachel is no longer piloting. Alex and Chase are invited to pick up a peculiar stone tablet from Tuttle's old home. It's been sitting out in the yard, and the new owner doesn't want it. Alex is intrigued by the pictures because of its mysterious writing. It matches nothing known to humanity, and is unlikely to match anything Ashiyyur either.
But, before Alex can examine the stone, Rachel Bannister's relatives snatch it up and proceed to lead Chase and Alex on a merry, but fruitless hunt. Soon, the first assassination attempt takes place. True to form, Alex knows he's on to something big, and won't quit.
The burning question: Did Tuttle find an alien civilization? His old friends think the idea is preposterous. He would have shouted his discovery from the rooftops to prove his ridiculers wrong. But whatever he found, people are willing to kill to cover it up. Rachel clearly knows something, but won't say what.
Soon, both Chase and Rachel will be pushed to the breaking point as the pressure mounts, and the news media begin to have a field day.
I enjoyed "Echo" as much as its predecessors in the series, but noticed an interesting development. The other series, featuring Priscilla Hutchins, is set in the relatively near future, on Earth and nearby star systems. McDevitt extrapolates current environmental and political developments to their logical conclusion, and humanity's prospects look dismal indeed. People are beginning to give up space travel and are looking inward, and history shows that civilizations tend not to survive once they lose a crucial amount of dynamism.
The Benedict novels, in contrast, are so far in the future that they're completely detached from 21st century Earth's affairs. Human interstellar civilization has gone through two major dark ages, but things are currently pretty vibrant.
At least, they were for the first four books of the series. With "Echo", a certain malaise is starting to creep in, just like the Hutchins books. People are more interested in experiencing the universe virtually than in taking an actual star voyage. Hardly anyone goes exploring any more. What's the point, they ask. People are getting too soft and comfortable.
It will be interesting to see what happens with any future books. I'm hoping a certain amount of optimism remains.
What I really enjoy about McDevitt's writing is his matter-of-fact approach to the technological marvels surrounding the characters. When someone asks how antigravity works, Chase replies: "Push a button, and you lift off." The books don't get bogged down with technobabble.
McDevitt drops you, the reader, right into the local culture, with plenty of offhand remarks about popular writers, singers, restaurants and sports games. He mentions exotic (to us) pets in a casual way, and we get some idea that they're dog- or cat-like from general descriptions.
It looks like the Hutchins series has ended, but I'm certainly hoping there will be a few more Benedict books before McDevitt hangs up his quill.
The novel is really more of a detective story than a sci-fi story - a poorly written detective story. The tablet belongs to a thirty year dead space explorer named Tuttle. Before Chase and Alex can get their hands on it the table disappears.
In hard cover this is a three hundred and seventy page book. For three hundred of those pages McDeivitt delights us with encounter after encounter of people who may know where the tablet is or what it means, but they never do. The great majority of these people do nothing to move the plot along, are about as deep as "Hardy Boys" characters and serve mainly as filler to get the book up to novel length. More witty remarks about this below.
Oddly, even though the novel takes place nine thousand years hence, except for flying cars, AI's and interstellar travel, nothing has changed. People still eat "pot roast sandwiches" and live in condo's and cabins. It is as if McDevitt makes no attempt to create a future world. "It's the year 11,351 so pull up a chair, have a beer and watch the game."
My mother use to make meatloaf a lot when we were kids. We didn't have a lot of money so the meatloaf was usually more bread than meat. This book is a lot like that meatloaf. But unlike this book, my mother's meatloaf, God rest her soul, was good. Jack McDevitt's Echo, not so much. There is not enough real material in this book to make a short novella. Shame on you Ace Books for publishing this. There are lots of young, gifted writers out there that are so much more deserving to be published but are never seen because a publishers like Ace will go with a known author, even if his work is horrible, than someone who is truly deserving. Jack McDevitt has written some of the best SF in the last 25 years - I hope and trust he can get back to form.
But toward the end when you start to see the end of the tunnel, you begin to realize that the author pretty much gave up on being epic scifi and focused solely on a mediocre detective path - with several rigidly placed events and astoundingly dimwitted decisions by many characters.
And for a minor annoyance, I have to agree with the other reviews on the author's way of introducing minor or major characters by starting with "He/she looks good", or how their hair/skin/eyes/smile looked nice, or that they are old but they still look good. They are all the exact wording, which give you the same kind of feeling as when you are playing a video game whose characters look exactly the same with a handful of outfit to switch around to give you the illusion of diversity.
Despite the complaints I still liked most of the book and although the ending was in a hurry but it's acceptable nonetheless. Maybe the next Benedict series will elaborate more on the ending.
Echo follows the usual path of Alex and Chase on the trail of an possible alien civilisation. In truth however Chase is once again the main character with Alex simply in the background a great deal of the time, this is kind of strange as the series is named after him?. I won't spoil the story but to be honest I found the whole thing kind of lame, hopefully the next enstalement, firebird will put some fire back into this series that has sadly become pretty pedestrian.
All of these tales (including Echo) are a kind of historical mystery. They're not tracking down artifacts from our history, but rather from our distant future. They frequently start with some object or event that stands out as an enigma. Often it's a relic of some kind, but there's something odd about it. Maybe it's a tea cup or a jacket, but there's something about it that just can't be explained. Before long, Alex and Chase are digging deep into events from 20 to 9000 years before, struggling to find the root of this little mystery, and like most mysteries, there's usually someone who doesn't want you to solve it.
In Echo, it starts with an old stone tablet at the house of a man who had spent his life unsuccessfully searching for aliens. He retired decades ago and died shortly thereafter. But what does the tablet's inscription mean? Does anyone even recognize the letters or language? And what was this old kook doing with it?
I liked Echo, and I tore through it faster than usual. I confess there was a slow patch in the middle, but that was more because bad things were happening, and I just didn't want to see the bad things happening. I think that was more indicative of how much the story was getting to me rather than any hint of poor writing. While the previous book had played out on a vast scale, this one was much more personally visceral. I saw it in the way it affected the characters' lives as well as in how it affected my emotions. While I have always cared about how the story played out, I think this time more than anything I cared about what was happening to characters I had grown attached to.
So, I highly recommend it, but do read all the previous ones first. It's not that the books aren't stand-alone tales. It's just that you'll appreciate the characters and the world that much more, seeing the background.