4 days ago
Sunday, April 19, 2009
This Man Listened to His Wife
I don't read much sci-fi, but in the last year I've read several novels by Jack McDevitt. Specifically, I got hooked on his Academy series, which mainly follows Priscilla Hutchins, a pilot of superluminal vessels. Similar themes and motifs run throughout McDevitt's novels, the main theme being that of first contact with an alien race or the artifacts left behind by them. McDevitt takes what I call a realistic approach to first contact: if there is anyone else out there, surely the odds are against us finding them or them finding us and even more so, the odds are almost nil that both races would be in existence at the same time given the vagaries of the universe, of the creation of life, and of evolution.
McDevitt excels at raising all the big questions one expects in any good science fiction story, and not unlike Dostoevsky, offers multiple views of every philosophical question raised by the narrative. The philosophy also never detracts from the overall sense of adventure in his stories: the universe is an enormous, wonderful, incomprehensible, and oft-terrifying place.
Thanks to wikipedia, I came across this little tidbit on McDevitt. Apparently, he wrote a short story that was well-received while attending LaSalle University. I don't know if at the time McDevitt wanted to write for a living or not, but certainly it must have been a possibility in his mind. Then, however, he read David Copperfield, and Charles Dickens's prose so intimidated him that he gave up his own writing. Some twenty-five years later, his wife encouraged him to try fiction again, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Of the ones I've read, my favorite McDevitt novel is Omega, which I believe works as a stand-alone even though it's technically the middle story in a series.