In the past I have liked SciFi author Jack McDevitt enough to keep on the alert for his new books, but this one was a disappointment.
There are two main plots intertwining in this episode of what I call “The Amazing Adventures of the Renowned Antiquities Expert Alex Benedict and His Assistant, The Girl Wonder (and Navigator) Chase Kolpath.” One plot concerns the suspicion and hostility between the humans and the other major sentient species in the Universe: The Ashyyur, or Mutes as they are called by humans. The Mutes, great big insect-resembling creatures, are telepathic and so have no need to speak. They are able to communicate with humans by using voice boxes but it is an imperfect system. Moreover, humans resent the invasion of their private thoughts by Mutes, and their ability to know other humans far better than humans could ever know each other.
This particular plot line had a lot of possibilities, but was largely glossed over. [For a terrific look at the repercussions when one group can read minds and one group can’t, I recommend The Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness, which includes The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and The Answer, and Monsters of Men.]
The second plot line is the investigation into the mysterious message left for Alex by horror writer Vicki Greene, right after she left Alex a large sum of money, and right before she had her memory wiped, virtually ending her life as Vicki Greene. To get to the bottom of the message, Alex and Chase travel to the far off world of Salud Afar, Vicki’s last known location. On this planet, there are few stars at night, except for the hazy rim of the Milky Way; the far off planet Sophora; and the bright but vastly distant supergiant Callistra, also known as The Devil’s Eye. The Devil’s Eye has great symbolic importance on Salud Afar.
While trying to solve the mystery, Alex and Chase have their lives endangered and become involved in a political can of worms when they discover Vicki’s secret and why all her memories were erased.
Unlike the first plot line, this second plot line wasn’t neglected, except by the Editor. It dragged on interminably, and seemed full of extraneous political machinations of the kind that Asimov or Herbert knew how to make relevant but McDevitt hasn’t mastered. I was ready to be done with this book long before the author.
Evaluation: This book is okay, but probably more interesting for those who are already fans of the Alex and Chase series than for new readers.
Published by Ace Hardcover, 2008