Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In "Star Trek," theoretically, one of the overriding rules governing conduct of the Federation fleet is the Prime Directive. Of course, in many episodes, Kirk and cohorts blatantly ignore this rule for dealing with more primitive cultures. In Jack McDevitt’s Omega, which is a follow-up to The Engines of God, Deepsix, and Chindi, the Protocol serves much the same purpose as the Prime Directive, but the character actually try to live within the letter of the law..
The title of the novel refers to civilization destroying clouds which move throughout the galaxy and humanity’s attempt to save one of the few discovered civilized races which is now in the path of an omega cloud without destroying the Protocol. Although McDevitt’s heroine from the earlier novels, Priscilla Hutchins, is once again a major player in this adventure, she has taken a behind the scenes roll working for the Academy. The troops on the ground include the advance team of Kellie Collier and Digger Dunn, who move among the alien Goompahs gathering information about them, and a follow-up team, led by David Collingdale, whose job it is to attempt to divert the omega cloud.As with many of McDevitt’s novels, Omega is filled with a gosh-wow sensawunder at the things the universe holds for humanity. In this novel, because of the discovery of an extant culture, McDevitt is able to add the Goompah’s civilization to that sensawunder. While built on a variety of human civilizations throughout history, McDevitt is able to provide the Goompah’s with an identity all their own and they are as engaging as any of McDevitt’s characters.
McDevitt's characters show more detail and characterization than those in many of McDevitt's novels, although their interpersonal relationships are still not always the most believable. The relationship between Digger and Kellie, for instance, while between two likable characters, never really seems real enough for the reader to accept. Similarly, Hutch, now married, does not seem to have a relationship with Tor, her husband, he is just there. However, relationships have always taken a back seat in McDevitt's writing in which he focuses on the aspect of science fiction which first appealed to so many readers.
Readers familiar with McDevitt's earlier novels will know that characters, even main characters, can succumb to the vicissitudes of fate and the universe, and Omega is no exception. Furthermore, no matter how much the reader is rooting for the characters to defeat the (natural) galactic menace and save the civilization, success is never assured. This helps keep a level of tension in Omega as McDevitt reveals more and more about the culture of the Goompahs and the humans work harder to save them from the encroaching cloud.
Although Omega does refer back to Hutch's previous exploits, having knowledge of the earlier books is in no way essential for reading, and enjoying, Omega. The background explanations McDevitt provides are entirely adequate to introduce new readers to this universe and, it is hoped, whet their appetite for the earlier books about Priscilla Hutchins. Readers familiar with the earlier novels will find plenty to elicit warm memories of those adventures.
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