by Jack McDevitt



360pp/$24.95/November 2005 

Cover by John Harris

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

When Jack McDevitt wrote Polaris, he found a mixture of space opera and mystery which worked extremely well for him.  When he wrote Seeker, he used the same mixture and demonstrated that the success of Polaris was not a fluke.  In this follow-up novel, which completely stands on its own, as all of McDevitt's works do, Chase Kolpath and her boss, antiquities dealer Alex Benedict, are trying to track the provenance of a strange cup which may have ties to the Earth of nine millennia earlier.

In Seeker, McDevitt presents multiple mysteries.  The first is how the cup came to its owner.  The solution to that mystery leads to another and so one.  However, the questions raised for Kolpath and Benedict to resolve are not merely in serial.  As they begin their quest for the Seeker, a long lost ship, and the colony of Margolia, another mystery rears its ugly head as attempts are made on Kolpath and Benedict's lives.

Benedict and Kolpath have been featured in three of McDevitt's novels, Seeker, Polaris, and the much earlier A Talent for War.  McDevitt uses the characters to focus attention of astroarchaeology.  In the two earlier books, there was little discussion of the morality of their activities, although Chase's friend "Windy" Yashevik, who works for the  Survey, expressed some displeasure at their activities in Polaris.  The idea of Kolpath and Benedict as grave robbers is brought home by the character of Casmir Kolchevsky, an archaeologist with nothing by contempt for Benedict and his colleagues.

As with many of McDevitt's novels, Seeker is one of big ideas...lost spaceships and colonies and catastrophes on a stellar scale.  At the same time, he focuses much attention on the individual characters and the technology they make use of.  Chase Kolpath probably spends more time watching vids than most characters in space opera.  Similarly the use of avatars, in this case a computer generated reincarnation of the leader of the Margolians from 9,000 years earlier, is a sign of large technology on a personal level.

The slow unraveling of the story of the Margolians and their fate is interesting and well structured, with each revelation organically leading into the next stage of the mystery.  The story of the attempts on Kolpath and Benedicts lives, however, doesn't flow as well.  The characters seem less than concerned about it, and when McDevitt eventually reveals what is happening, the denouement doesn't quite ring true.

McDevitt brings a scientific and literary mind to the ideas of classic space opera as created by Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, and others of an earlier generation.  Circumventing the sometimes purple prose of those earlier practitioners, he is able, as Seeker demonstrates, of bringing what might be considered a trite and clichéd subgenre to the printed page.

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