Jack McDevitt,
(Ace, 2002)

Chindi is the third book by Jack McDevitt to include Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins, a well-traveled Academy Pilot. While knowledge of Hutch's previous adventures in The Engines of God and Deepsix would help as far as the many references to her past in Chindi are concerned, it is not absolutely necessary in order to enjoy this sci-fi tale. In fact, McDevitt does a pretty good job making this book stand on its own.

Chindi is set just over 200 years in the future. By this time, man has invented faster-than-light travel and is starting to spread out to the stars. So far, it seems humans are pretty much alone. The ancient remains of star-faring races have been found. Primitive, planet-bound races still exist. But we simply cannot find proof of advanced civilizations co-existing with us.

That is until now. An Academy starship performing a survey mission at a distant star picks up a transmission of unknown origin. Further investigation by the Academy is hampered by lack of funds and a series of missions gone bad that has tarnished its reputation. But they can spare Hutch to pilot a group from the Contact Society on their own privately funded expedition to find out if anyone else is out there.

The group first discovers the existence of several stealth satellites that are transmitting from one star system to another and start to follow a trail on what they hope will lead them to the owners. The story is expertly written and draws you in as the team first runs across a civilization that wiped itself out via nuclear war. Continuing on the trail, they run across a race of primitives who are somewhat reminiscent of angels -- they are humanoid with wings. However, looks can be deceiving, as the reader will find out.

Eventually, after several disasters and harrowing adventures, the remaining members of the original team come upon a system with two gas giants that revolve around each other. While in this system, they happen upon the Chindi. "Chindi" is Navajo term that refers to a spirit of the night. In this case, Chindi is a huge, extraterrestrial spaceship shaped like an asteroid. The initial foray into the foreign ship is engrossing and keeps you reading, not wanting to put the book down, just like the previous 200-plus pages.

Unfortunately, the last quarter of this 403-page novel seems to lose focus on discovery and possible contact with advanced beings from another galaxy. Instead, the story turns into a big chase scene. In place of cars, we have spaceships. The abrupt right turn in the middle of the plot totally changes the mood of the novel. You still don't want to put the book down, but now it's because you think you'll get back to the original storyline just as soon as the particular chapter is done. Alas, that isn't the case. The chase continues for more than 10 chapters.

Those of you familiar with some of McDevitt's earlier work might be a little disappointed with the way Chindi ends. For the most part, the story will more than likely delight both old and new fans alike. If I could recommend that you read three quarters of the book, I would. I really enjoyed Chindi until the chase began. Wait for the paperback so that, if you are as disappointed as I was with the ending, at least it won't cost you as much.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 22 February 2003

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