by Jack McDevitt

Saga Press


452pp/$27.99/April 2018

The Long Sunset

Cover by John Harris

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The Long Sunset, the the latest of Jack McDevitt's series about Academy pilot Priscilla Hutchins and also one of the books that reveals the most about Hutch's personal life. At the same time, McDevitt provides a look at some of the mysteries of his universe and expands Hutch's experiences. McDevitt also uses the novel as a chance to comment on modern political discourse.

At the time McDevitt's story opens, the Academy, where Hutch has been employed, is in disarray, not only from a lack of funding, but because the powers-that-be don't feel that scientific funding is an essential place to spend money. When a chance radio signal seems to indicate a world with a technologically advanced culture, the Academy sees it as a chance to launch a mission, not only to make first contact, but also to rescue the space program. With Hutch as the pilot against the advice and wishes of her family and friends, a hastily assembled team is sent off into space moments before legal maneuvers mean to stop them go into effect.

Upon arriving at the planet, they find only empty space and a black hole relatively close to their location. Further exploration brings them into contact with another race, but also strands them on an alien world. McDevitt details this unexpected first contact, complete with attempts at communication and the crew's plans to return to Earth, even as they hope to continue exploring the worlds in that sector of space.

A lot of the exploration in McDevitt's universe seems a little too easy and reliant on coincidences. The crew of the may not have found what they set out to discover, but they found themselves in exactly the right place at the right time to accomplish much of note. Of course, coincidences and lucky timing do happen. In our own solar system, Pluto's moon Charon, was discovered shortly before a series of eclipses that helped us learn more about both the planet and the moon and which only occur ever 120 years. If Charon has been discovered a decade later, we would not have had that opportunity, however, what happens in real life tends to set off alarms when it happens in fiction.

McDevitt's fiction always manages to bring out the sense of wonder that the best golden age science fiction brings out and The Long Sunset is no exception. His words paint pictures of the galaxy that allow th reader to see its wonders and his explorers, no matter how much they see are not jaded by the wonders. At the same time, he grounds his fiction in the realities of political, religious, cultural, and financial concerns of the world. His future is one where scientific exploration much justify itself even as the world can see the wonders that are outside our solar system. Although McDevitt uses many of the trappings of hard science fiction, his novel is firmly rooted in human (or human-alien) interactions.

McDevitt's universe may be uncaring, but it is filled with people who do care, no matter what their species. The alien races he depicts want to work together to build a better future, not only for themselves, but for their visitors from different worlds. In future books, McDevitt may allow the various points of view from his Earth to permeate into these other races, but for the time being, he has provided an almost edenic situation for his races to start building their alliances.

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