June 17, 2007

BOOKS: Seeker, Jack McDevitt (2005)

This year's winner of the Nebula Award, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

The setting is some 10,000 years or so in the future, and Alex Benedict is an antiquities dealer, traveling through space in search of lost ships and derelicts from which he might gather valuable artifacts. His assistant, Chase Kolpath (she's the narrator of the book), gets a visit from a woman who wonders if there might be any value in an old cup she has.

Alex and Chase are stunned and thrilled to discover that the cup appears to be from the Seeker, a ship that left earth in the 27th century to found a colony called Margolia; neither the ship nor the colony were ever heard from, and over the ensuing millennia, Margolia has become the new Atlantis. The discovery of this artifact sets Alex and Chase on a mission to discover the provenance of the cup, so that they'll know their client has the legal right to sell it, and with any luck, to discover what happened to Margolia.

Seeker is a top-notch mystery, and there's great playfulness in the way that Alex and Chase track down the clues. Mystery and science fiction don't always mix well -- it can be too easy for an author to pull a mysterious gadget out of his pocket in the last chapter -- but McDevitt does a fine job of combining the two here. I was reminded of Isaac Asimov, who also wrote some clever science fiction/mystery hybrids; McDevitt has a similar writing style, very clean and straightforward.

The future that McDevitt creates is strikingly atypical for current science fiction; at a time when authors are generally imagining that in as little as fifty years, we will become more physically integrated with our machines and technology will come to dominate our lives, McDevitt leaps 10,000 into a future where people are still pretty much people, and where there's been some technological advance, but society looks much as it does today.

There are two earlier Benedict/Kolpath novels that I haven't read -- A Talent for War and Polaris -- but they're certainly on my To Be Read list now.

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