Jack McDevitt: The Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath Series

Julie recently reviewed Jack McDevitt’s Polaris; I’ve been working through that series as well, and here’s my take on it.

The Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath series has a very different feel than the Academy series. It also concerns archaeology, but as it is set 9,000 years in our future, and other intelligent species are scarce, it pretty much all has to do with traces of past human societies.

Alex Benedict, the narrator of A Talent for War, is not, in fact, an archaeologist; rather, he’s an antiquities dealer, the sort of person that makes Indiana Jones scream, “That belongs in a museum!” However, he does spend a certain amount of time following leads and tracking down finds; the easiest way to make a lot of money in the antiquities business is to obtain your own supply of antiquities. He hires a pilot, the beautiful Chase Kolpath, to help him hunt down a mystery that his uncle had been chasing when he died, and that other people clearly want him to give up on.

In the subsequent books (I’ve read PolarisSeeker, and The Devil’s Eye, but there are two more I’ve not gotten to yet), Chase is the narrator. She’s become Benedict’s assistant and sometime pilot, and makes a fine Watson, thank you very much. And that’s important, because every single one of the books is a mystery, and the fun is in watching Alex and Chase track down the clues while managing not to get killed by the bad guys. There are plenty of chases and narrow escapes—Alex and Chase have had to cope with sabotaged air cars on at least two occasions, and I might be forgetting one—but in general the entire series is much more human scale than theAcademy books, and I find I like it better. Not that planetary catastrophes are unknown; but they are handled rather differently.

I’ve noted McDevitt’s even-handedness with respect to religion before; I’ll note that the first book, A Talent for War, opens in a Catholic monastery. Catholics don’t seem to be all that common, mind you, but it’s delightful to see the Church as a going concern 9,000 years down the road. (It’s what I’d expect to happen, of course…but one doesn’t expect science fiction authors to see it that way.)

Anyway, good stuff; and I expect that I’ll read the two remaining books in the series before too much time goes by.

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  • http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/ Todd Flowerday

    Good summary. I would agree with you on this. Mr McDevitt is an excellent mystery writer, and his science ideas are pretty cool. The plotting of his novels excels.

    My only hangup with his books is that they read like today’s western culture transplanted thousands of years in the future. A little more wonder on the sociological front, less tv talk show stuff at the margins.

    • willduquette

      Yeah, you’re right about the culture. But it’s a lot more jarring in historical novels or medieval fantasy than it is here.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/happycatholicbookshelf/ Julie D.

    I just finished Seeker and based solely on those two books versus Engines of God, have to agree that the Alex Benedict books are more fun. For one thing they are more personal and Chase is a really delightful character. Plus the mysteries are intriguing. I haven’t been able to find A Talent for War through the library but am hopeful that Paperback Swap will be able to provide it for me. In the meantime, on to #4!