I’ve written many times in the past about my fascination and love for the works of Jack McDevitt. Steven King called him “the logical heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke,” and I repeat this comparison only for those of you who have not yet discovered McDevitt. In a nutshell, if you love science fiction and well-designed worlds and characters who are identifiable and allow you to gently forget you’re reading fiction and fall into the story easily, well… you’ve got some great reading ahead of you.
McDevitt’s latest novel is out now, and it’s called Octavia Gone. But before I give you a little review of the book, I need to catch you up on a few things:
- McDevitt has a LOT of science fiction out there, novels, novellas, and short stories. His two most popular series, however, are often referred to as the Alex Benedict novels and his Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins novels. Octavia Gone is part of the Alex Benedict series.
- The Alex Benedict series (now) consists of eight novels. The first was A Talent for War, followed by Polaris, Seeker, The Devil’s Eye, Echo, Firebird, Coming Home, and Octavia Gone.
- The series takes place almost 9000 years from now, with humans having expanded into the galaxy. Civilizations have risen and fallen. The expansion began at sub-light speeds but it didn’t take long for faster travel to be developed, and numerous technologies have continued to improve on, allowing fast and safe travel between planets. While evidence of alien lifeforms have been found, only one technologically advanced race, the Ashyrean (aka The Mutes), are still around. After some fighting, a peace exists, although the mind-reading race continues to make humans uncomfortable with their mental ability as well as their bug-like appearance.
- All of the novels EXCEPT for A Talent for War are narrated by Chase Kolpath—that first novel is narrated by Alex Benedict. Alex is an antiques dealer. He hunts down relics from early human civilizations and puts them up for sale. This isn’t popular with many in the academic and archaeological circles, but Alex doesn’t let that get to him. Chase is his pilot and helps with many of the day-to-day activities of his business.
- Alex and Chase frequently find themselves having to hunt down clues and follow leads to find long-lost antiques and solve mysteries. To say any more would ruin much of the surprises of the eight novels.
If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson stories (and I am!), you’re really in for a treat. If you’re not a fan of the Victorian-era investigator, it doesn’t matter. The reason I tell you this is that Jack McDevitt is a master of the science fiction mystery novel. In many sci-fi worlds and novels where artificial intelligences and non-stop surveillance exists, where investigative organizations and technologies can make crime almost non-existent or extremely difficult to get away with… it’s hard to find believable mysteries. But McDevitt delivers. He hooked me over a decade ago when I first discovered Polaris, a Nebula Award nominee. A ship filled with celebrity scientists out to observe a cosmic event is found floating and empty. When Alex and Chase begin to look into more antiques related the ship, their lives are put in danger as they realize someone doesn’t want them digging into the mystery. I think I read the book in two days flat… and that followed with my hunting down and reading A Talent for War as well as Seeker that had just been released. Since then, I’ve eagerly awaited EVERY Alex Benedict novel as they’ve been released. The mysteries never get any easier, and I race to finish each book to discover the big reveal. (And in between Alex Benedict novels, I went back and got caught up with the Priscilla Hutchins novels which are absolute gems and focus more on investigation and travel and high-speed action than the Alex Benedict mysteries; the two different story-telling styles and settings are, for me, what makes Jack McDevitt’s writing so impressive and something to recommend to sci-fi fans.)
With Octavia Gone, McDevitt provides another mystery, the disappearance of a science station near a black hole that is investigating the use of worm holes to gain access to other universes. The clues point to a mix of possibilities: alien attack, dragged into the black hole, a trip to another universe… what happened to the four crew members? And without giving away anything—the answer will introduce a second story that I never saw coming but is pure McDevitt.
Across all of McDevitt’s Benedict stories, there has been a progression of character development that has brought Alex and Chase closer together (but not in a relationship that has killed many a sci-fi television show) and made them people I care about. And that’s not always the case for me with other sci-fi series. And now, McDevitt has dropped in a major character, Gabe, to shake things up a bit. (Catch up with the Alex Benedict novels and you’ll learn who Gabe is and his relationship to Alex and Chase.) Gabe brings a complication to Alex and Chase’s work life, and since much of their work involves hunting down and solving mysteries… this tale races to a conclusion that had me grinning ear-to-ear.
One final suggestion: while you can read Octavia Gone without having read any of the previous books, I encourage you to start at the beginning with Polaris. Wait, what about A Talent for War? While I love that first book in the series, it is narrated by Alex and offers a great story but it lacks the build-up that the stories narrated by Chase who always knows a little bit less than Alex (hints of Sherlock Holmes). Read it later, but start with Polaris. It is an exceptional sci-fi story and mystery, and I think you’ll be hooked.
Note: I was provided with an advanced review copy of Octavia Gone.