Saturday, January 3, 2009
Review: Deepsix by Jack McDevitt
Okay, as promised, here's my first review, of the book Deepsix by Jack McDevitt, copy 2001, published by Eos Books.
A starship full of scientists arrives on location in a star system which is about to undergo a very rare event, a collision between an interloping gas giant planet and a home grown terrestrial planet. They arrive a few weeks ahead of time in order set up equipment to monitor the impending destruction of the terrestrial planet. While in the process of surveying the planet from space, they discover evidence intelligent life.
In McDevitt's future, life is fairly common among the stars, but intelligent life seems to be rare -- humans have visited dozens of worlds and only found one other civilization, one which is centuries behind humanity in technological advancement. A handful of ruins have been found on other planets, so the discovery of even primitive structures is extremely exciting. One problem. The science mission wasn't intending to land on the doomed planet and so did not bring a lander.
A routine shuttle mission is diverted from ferrying passengers between star systems, and an impromptu archeological expedition is put together, lead by the shuttle's pilot (and main character of the series) Priscilla Hutchins (aka Hutch). It's not giving away anything to say that nothing goes as planned, and in short order the planetary explorers lose their ride and need rescuing. But there are still no landing craft close enough to reach the planet before it collides with the gas giant and is destroyed. The scientists who came just to observe the destruction of the planet must now cobble together a rescue plan or observe Hutch and her fellow ersatz archeologists die in the planetary collision.
Great book! It channels very strongly a disaster movie in a sf setting. As a non archeologist, I always find McDevitt's archeological details fascinating. As an astrophysicist I'm a little less impressed with his physics. He does at least give the appearance of plausibility in the details of the plan to rescue the crew stranded on the doomed planet, though it does rely on alien materials that are implausibly strong and light. But I'm not a fanatic about all science in sf being realistic speculations based on current science, so I'm happy to let that slide. I did find the likelihood of a gas giant being ejected from its own star system and encountering another star system to be so remote as to be impossible for all practical purposes, but again, to overanalyze something is to suck all the joy out of it. If it did happen, I suspect it would be much as McDevitt describes it.
I really like McDevitt's characters. Hutch appears in all the books in the "Academy" series and is a great character, as are most of the second tier characters. A few of the "spear carrier" types are one dimensional (above even what you'd expect for someone who only appears on two or three pages. Ian Helm, I'm looking at you!), but they are on stage so briefly that it barely matters.
Great disaster movie action, really good characters, decent science.
I'd read it again, and I probably will some day.
What did other people have to say about Deepsix:
Hank Luttrell at SF Site
Mark L. Olson at NESFA
John Markley at bookspotcentral.com
D. Douglas Fratz at Science Fiction Weekly