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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"The Devil's Eye" by Jack McDevitt (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order “The Devil’s EyeHERE

INTRODUCTION: Ever since I read “A Talent for War” fifteen years or more ago, I have been a big-time Jack McDevitt fan, having bought and read all of his books on publication with the aforementioned “A Talent for War” and “Engines of God” being among my top science fiction novels of all time. Mr. McDevitt does not write “big idea” sf, but is a great storyteller and his books suck you in and are impossible to put down. In “Polaris” (2004) he returned to the Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath setting of the magnificent “A Talent for War”, this time using Chase as a narrator, and I enjoyed both that one and its direct sequel “Seeker” (2005, Nebula Award-winner 2007). Both followed in the tradition of the first novel in the series as archaeological/historical mysteries that reverberate into the present and “The Devil's Eye” is no different, except that here Mr. McDevitt takes the series to another level, moving closer to the more epic feeling of both “A Talent for War” and his Academy novels.

SETTING: In a far future that feels similar to our present—with a little extra goodies like air-cars, AI's, avatars and ftl—humanity has expanded throughout the Galaxy and colonized many worlds that are now linked together in a loose Confederation. Some notable human planets are Earth which is preserved as a historical monument as well as being still important; Rimway, a planet at the end of the Confederacy and home to our heroes; Dellaconda which was the leader in the last war against the Mutes that made the current Confederacy more than a paper construct; and Salud Afar, the loneliest and remotest human planet that is not a formal part of the Confederacy but is associated with it. These human worlds of the Confederacy have a long and varied history and there is ample scope for past mysteries, archaeological finds and evocation of a rich, diverse culture.

The other major sentient species is The Ashyyur—known, feared and loathed as Mutes by humanity. The Mutes are telepathic so they do not speak unless they use voice boxes to communicate with the “violent, deceitful, no honor, upstart primates”, and they look similar to huge mantises ready to pounce at a moment on the hapless humans. So despite the long, mostly peaceful history and culture of the Assemblage—as the Ashyyur worlds are known—humanity and the Mutes have either been at war or in preparation for war since first contact. The negative visceral reaction to each other has made peaceful contact very hard to achieve, though in recent years, through efforts of well intentioned people like Alex and Chase, there is a detente between the two sides, although occasional “incidents” between Mute and human warships still occur.

FORMAT/INFO: The arc copy of the book stands at 359 pages divided over forty-three numbered chapters, a Prolog and an Epilog. As with all McDevitt novels, each chapter has a quote relevant to its content, this time from the works of popular, bestselling Rimway horror novelist Vicki Greene whose terrible discovery on a research visit on Salud Afar and subsequent “suicide” bring Alex and Chase to investigate. The narration is first tense via Chase who is in some ways Dr. Watson to Alex's Sherlock Holmes persona, though she is a very resourceful pilot and is becoming such an important part of the series that it may soon become known as the Chase Kolpath novels rather than the Alex Benedict mysteries. The novel is largely self-contained with the references to earlier novels being minor, and the ending is superb bringing all the threads to a close and taking the series to a different level.

November 4, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Devil’s Eye” via
Ace Books. Cover illustration provided by John Harris.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: When she traveled on a Mute world in “Seeker”, Chase made friends with a couple there despite the instinctive visceral mutual fear & loathing and now they are taking a tour of Earth with Alex and herself, while occasioning the same avoid/keep-the-distance reaction from fellow passengers and assorted locals. Not that different from when Chase visited Borkarat, the Mute world home to Selotta and Kassel.

In the meantime, on Alex and Chase’s distant home world of Rimway, a famous horror novelist, Vicki Greene, tries to contact Alex—renowned artifact finder and mystery solver—to help her about something terrible that is obsessing her.

When our heroes come home they find that Vicki has committed psychic suicide by taking a legal mindwipe and starting life again as a blank slate under an assumed name and personality. Discovering that she wired them a very large sum of money just before her mindwipe, Alex and Chase feel bound to investigate and learn that everything seems to be connected with Salud Afar where Vicki took a research tour recently and came back depressed and considerably changed. In her desperate last recorded message to Alex, Vicki Green was saying “God help me, they are all dead”.

Retracing Vicki's path on Salud Afar, Alex and Chase slowly stumble upon a horrifying truth, but at the same time discover a possible opportunity for lasting peace between humanity and the Mutes . . . or vast unimaginable destruction and all out war…

From visitations to haunted places and presumed supernatural events like ghost appearances and people coming out of their graves to mysterious skimmer crashes and the assorted set of regular people that mostly rise to the occasion when the situation requires it, “The Devil's Eye” is full of superb storytelling and will keep you glued to the pages. Myself, I stayed up late and finished the novel as quickly as possible because I just had to know what happened.

Highly, highly recommended, I think “The Devil's Eye” is the best McDevitt novel since “Engines of God” and I am very curious to see where Jack will take the series next since this book will be a tough act to beat in the Alex/Chase universe…


RobB said...

! I just started this yesterday, it's like you know a week or so in advance what I'll be reading and you beat me to the punch with a review.

I like it a lot so far. Having read a good handful of McDevitt novels almost 10 years ago, I'm really glad to jump into another novel from him.

Liviu said...

Actually I've read this maybe a month and a half ago - my records on Goodreads show Sept 11 as finished date - when I received it since this one was a read on receive book as are all McDevitt novels for me.

Though I am flattered that our tastes run similarly to such a large extent


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