Jack McDevitt: The Academy Series

Julie posted her review of The Engines of God a day or so ago; and as I’ve recently read that book and three of its sequels, I thought I’d chime in.

Priscilla Hutchins—”Hutch” to her friends—is a starship pilot for the Academy of Science and Technology, circa 2200 AD. It seems that faster-than-light space travel (“superluminal” travel in the parlance of the book) has caused a revolution in the field of archaeology; intelligent races are scarce in the galaxy, but relics of intelligent races are surprising common. Thus, Hutch spends her time ferrying archaeological teams around and about, here and there, and willy-nilly participating in the grand foolishness they get involved in.

To date, Jack McDevitt has written six books about Hutch and her colleagues, along with some short stories; I’ve read the first four books, which are uniformly entertaining, with lots of gosh-wowness, neat alien tech, ancient alien civilizations, and deadly mysteries in the depth of space.

In The Engines of God, we find out why there are so few advanced civilizations out and about in the galaxy, and that archaeologists won’t leave a promising site until the very last minute, even if it’s likely to get them killed. We also learn that Jack McDevitt has a taste for destruction on the planetary scale, and breathtaking last-minute escapes.

In Deepsix, we learn that about more advanced civilizations that at least used to be around and about the galaxy, and Hutch and her crew are nearly killed investigating archaeological sites on a planet that is about to be destroyed by a rogue star. To be fair, the archaeological team would have loved to be able to leave the site well before the last minute, but were prevented. The final rescue is more convoluted and involved than the denouement of Toy Story 3.

Are you detecting a pattern, here?

In Chindi, the death and destruction are on a somewhat smaller scale, if I’m remembering correctly, which is to say that I don’t think we lose any planets. I could be mistaken about that. Nevertheless, there are still breathtaking last minute escapes, and even a little true love, and archaelogists who won’t leave a promising site until the very last minute. I think I like this one the best of the four.

In Omega, there’s yet another breathtaking last-minute escape, yet again involving an entire planet, and much is learned about why the galaxy is as it is. There’s also a lot of reflection about religion.

So basically, we’re talking here good hard science fiction mind candy. The science is reasonable, the archeology well-done (so far as I can tell), and the plots and situations are both spectacular and completely over the top. Not five stars, consequently; but sufficiently entertaining to keep me coming back for more.

I will say, I find McDevitt’s approach to religion refreshing. The books are not overtly about religion—certainly, I have no idea what McDevitt’s religious views might be, assuming he even has any—but there are religious people in them. This usually comes out at funerals, of which there are an appalling number, where the religion of the deceased is duly noted. And that’s simply right: religion is part of life, and despite the New Athiests people will go on being religious right on into the future. Not all of them—Hutch, herself, expresses a materialist worldview—but some of them. It’s not the main thing, there’s nothing like advocacy here, one way or the other, but it’s present.

These are not kids’ books, either in style or substance; McDevitt is reasonably frank about the presence of sexual relationships and the wide variety of possibilities that can arise when bored travelers are cooped on superluminal starships for months on end. But he’s not graphic either, which is pleasant.

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