A VOICE IN THE NIGHT
by Jack McDevitt
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Although Jack McDevitt may be best known for his novels exploring the vastness of space, he has also published a significant amount of short fiction, previously publishing four collections of his work, beginning with Standard Candles and most recently Cryptic. Unfortunately for McDevitt's fans, all of his collections have been published by small presses. His fifth collection, A Voice in the Night continues this trend, coming out from Subterranean Press, which also published Cryptic in 2009. Because of limited print run and availability from small presses, the best time to purchase this newest collection is now.
While McDevitt's novels have a tendency to play to his comfort zones, McDevitt appears to be more willing to experiment with his short fiction, taking chances to tell different types of stories, although the themes of his novels continue to crop up in his short fiction along with more unique concepts. Just as McDevitt can use the length to experiment, short stories permit readers to sample the full breadth that McDevitt is capable of.
"The Adventure of the Southsea Trunk" is a story based on the publication of the Sherlock Holmes stories not by Arthur Conan Doyle, but nearly a century later. Although there is a murder, it is hardly the most important aspect of the mystery which McDevitt's characters need to resolve and the mystery differs from the type McDevitt so often includes that revolves on the discovery of the natural world.
In "Combinations," Harold Case is trying to create simulations of historical figures in a computer, but discovers they always shave flaws. His friend, Charlie Breslow insists that a perfect recreation based on a person's writing and those who wrote about them is inherently flawed, but suggests that if Case starts with numbers, like the works of a physicist, he may have more luck. Not understanding physics, Case decides to create a simulation of a nineteenth-century chess player and finds himself achieving a modicum of success, although the player's personality began to cause its own problems. McDevitt revisits the same territory in "The Play's the Thing," with a simulation Shakespeare rather than a chess player and offers a different, if similar, take on the concept.
"Blood Will Tell" is a closed loop time travel story co-written with Thomas A. Easton. Andy's morning is interrupted when a stranger interrupts him in a coffee shop claiming to be Andy from a distant future in need of a plasma transfusion. The situation resolves quickly with Andy walking out, ostensibly ignoring his future self, but the seeds have already been planted in his mind even as his actions had already happened in his future-self's history.
Other stories offer more typical McDevitt fare. "Listen Up, Nitwits" is a first contact story in which apparent aliens begin broadcasting messages to Earth in sixty terrestrial languages. When humans can't decide who should be the one speaker to the aliens, SETI researcher Peter Marshak is selected by the aliens. The story used modern news outlets to provide the reader with background information about the transmissions and the situation on Earth, a technique which often features in McDevitt's novels.
"Ships in the Night" introduces Arnold Whitaker, a small town hardware store owner who has found his niche in his home town of Fort Moxie, North Dakota. When strangeness begins to happen to him, in this case a voice from no-where, he takes notice. Despite taking place on earth, "Ships in the Night" most fully captures the spirit and sense of wonder which inhabit so many of McDevitt's novels. His characters are interesting and believable and the situations they find themselves in appear straight out of the golden age of science fiction.
Another typical setting for McDevitt can be seen in "Midnight Clear," which is a Christmas story set on a distant world. Although the humans are alone in the universe, they see evidence that other great civilizations have existed in the towers of Capella. "Maiden Voyage" offers another look at the long lost galactic civilizations with the first flight of McDevitt's stalwart Priscilla Hutchins.
A Voice in the Night provides readers a chance to discover McDevitt's scope as an author while also offering up a selection of his more standard novels. Many of the stories were published in out-of-the-way anthologies and magazines and will be new to McDevitt's fans as well as those who are picking up the book to discover the authors. Fortunately, McDevitt's fiction is filled with ideas and the short stories included in this collection are no different.
|Searching for Oz||Maiden Voyage|
|The Law of Gravity Isn't Working on Rainbow Bridge||Waiting at the Altar|
|The Adventure of the Southsea Trunk||The Play's the Thing|
|It's a Long Way to Alpha Centauri||Good Intentions (with Stanley Schmidt)|
|Listen Up, Nitwits||Ships in the Night|
|Midnight Clear||The Pegasus Project|
|The Lost Equation||Cathedral|
|Blood Will Tell (with Tom Easton)||The Last Dance|
|Friends in High Places||A Voice in the Night|
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