Jack McDevitt,
(Ace, 2003)

Back in 1994, Jack McDevitt published a terrific novel titled The Engines of God, which introduced us to one of his most memorable characters, starship pilot Pricilla Hutchins, better known as "Hutch." The novel took place in a carefully constructed future history that simply demanded further exploration. But at that point in his career McDevitt was not following the path taken by nearly everyone in the SF field; he was writing stand-alone novels. It took seven years, four novels and a short story collection before McDevitt returned to Hutch's story with the release of Deepsix in 2001. Since then the remaining chapters in the series have appeared in rapid succession, with the concluding volume Omega hitting stores in late 2003.

I read and greatly enjoyed Deepsix last year but haven't yet had a chance to delve into the third book in the series, Chindi. So, when I agreed to write a review for the fourth and final book in the series, Omega, I had some concerns about how easily I'd be able to pick up the storyline. Not a problem, as it turned out.

Since being rescued from the doomed planet Maleiva III, a.k.a. Deepsix, Hutch has gotten married, had a daughter and become a bureaucrat at the Academy, trading her pilot's acceleration couch for a seat behind a desk. And although McDevitt has her promoted to director of operations, the woman ultimately responsible for the mission around which the plot in Omega revolves, she is hardly the center of the story. She's stuck in Washington; all the action's light-years away where a lethal "omega" cloud has changed course, angling toward the newly discovered planet Lookout. The omega is threatening to wipe out the planet's pre-industrial civilization; the first significantly advanced alien civilization discovered by humanity.

It's an odd, and not entirely successful, move on McDevitt's part to shuffle Hutch into the wings while others take center stage. Most writers, once they craft a hero who clicks with an audience are content to leave them be, building new story lines around a proven formula. McDevitt, on the other hand, has allowed Hutch to evolve as a character. So while her move up the Academy ladder is a natural progression it leaves McDevitt with the problem of how to anchor his latest narrative.

Rather than attempt to replace Hutch outright, McDevitt has chosen to make Omega a multi-viewpoint novel. Hutch takes the lead in Washington while David Collingdale is the reader's point man aboard the al-Jahani as the starship races toward Lookout to attempt a hastily prepared rescue mission. Meanwhile "Digger" Dunn is the medium through which the reader observes the actions of the on-site team at Lookout as they scramble to learn everything they can about the native population.

To his credit, McDevitt hasn't simply cloned Pricilla Hutchins in creating Collingdale and Dunn. Unfortunately, neither is as engaging a character. And even Hutch's limited involvement in the plot serves to highlight this fact, particularly in the case of the lackluster Collingdale. Omega reads at times as though McDevitt has lost interest in the series, like he's going through the motions. Still, McDevitt going through the motions provides a better read than many authors manage to deliver at peak performance. And perhaps the best news is, with the four-book contract fulfilled, we can look forward to a Jack McDevitt project that is completely fresh. That'll be a real treat.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 15 May 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.