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  • TITLE: Seeker
  • AUTHOR: Jack McDevitt
  • PUBLICATION YEAR: 2005
  • AWARDS: Nebula for Best Novel
  • WEBSITE: www.sfwa.org/members/McDevitt/
  • Locus Mag Cover 10/2005

     

    Seeker jumpdrives in on two jingles of cultural lore:

     

    In a Galaxy far, far away . . .

    and

    Elementary, my dear Watson . . .

     

    It's 10,000 years or so into the future on a colony world called Rimway. Steaming past a prologue which proves rather superfluous, we meet tomb raider extraordinaire Alexander Benedict, presented through the first-person verbiage of his assistant and pilot, Chase Kolpath. Like a Bond movie opening into the climaxing of an unrelated adventure, we're cracking into a cherry abandonment left by the legendary Celians century's past, only to discover it's been raped by unscrupulous graverobbers. This quickly sets our heroes on the right side of the moral issues surrounding pilfering cultural treasures, but, more importantly, McDevitt gets to gleefully stand his sleuth next to Sherlock with:

    Simple enough, Kolpath. Let me explain.

    —Ace HB, ISBN 0441013295, c.2005, p.6

    This is, after all, more who-dun-it-where-is-it than space opera.

    If you haven't read this duo's previous adventures A Talent for War or Polaris, understand they're not Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. “We're not archeologists,” explains Kolpath, “we're strictly business types, matching collectors with merchandise” (p.9), which, of course, is not entirely true. Otherwise, we wouldn't have a rousing story, would we?

    But it might be a little too urbane. Our future is presented from extraordinary tidbit histories of colonization and conquest, from interstellar drives to interdimensional travel. Archeologically, we learn the second-oldest coin in existence is dated 2006, and that “the cheapest stuff lasts longest” (p.31). Social, political, and economic issues are not life-bleeding bellywounds in this future. Armed conflict has been abandoned; murder is rare, as is crime in general. The terminal threat to Earth's civilization—overpopulation--has been eliminated by expansion through space. And the galaxy, as a famous person once said, “has a lot of empty rooms” (p.76). Survey—NASA pretty much re-named—is still plotting around various solar systems, but everyone seems rather nonchalant, content, and settled. The Arts don't come off as a big influence. TV has evolved into VR simulations still ripping-off real-life flashpoints for sit-com drivel. Theater is reviving The Prisoner of Zenda. 3D Avatars living in computers have replaced cyberspace blogs, complete with the predictable, narcissistic baggage. Their real advantage, however, is conversing with electronically re-configured geniuses of the past. Kolpath is too classy to say anything, but did I mention virtual reality porn?

    The fun begins when an artifact from a notorious Lost Colony shows up. Atlantis aside, the draw is that these early explorers were the quintessential malcontents. Like the Pilgrims and such, they refused to live under the theocratic control dominating a troubled Earth. Following the insights of Joseph Margolis who knew “communication technologies lead easily to enslavement” (p.39), Harry Williams —a communication magnate himself—starshipped 5,000 un-patriots to destinations unknown. Author McDevitt bequeaths him a legendary quip—“so far away even God won't be able to find us” (p.43)—slyly reminding us most history is the zingy sound bytes stuck in your brain like stubborn pos-t-notes. No one has heard or seen them in 9,000 years. Benedict immediately gloms it as “the biggest discovery in human history” (p.351), not to mention the most valuable one.

    Seeker progresses in a no-nonsense, straightforward style. It is sparse in symbolism, metaphors, and atmospheric exposition. Reading it is not so much an envelopment as it is a purposeful yet pleasant walk to work. Clues, search, discovery, action, resolvement; it procedurally steps in and out of vignettes that contain enough density to keep you pageturning without the mess of much second-level character development or a running debate of psycho-socially pertinent issues.

    Most scenes are sparkling beads on a string traded to the natives and never seen again. My favorite happens in the human museum on an alien world. Apparently, other intelligent species are rare in the universe. The Ashiyyur—nicknamed Mutes for the same reason we call Native Americans “redskins” or Asians “slant-eyes”—possess two integrants that make them repugnant: they communicate exclusively using telepathy, and they are ugly and scary-looking. Ethically, being truthful is touched on with just enough pressure to understand why it is a sacrosanct belief but not a human trait. For all of her built-in prejudice and trepidation, Kolpath discovers these aliens are just as mundane and blasé as her own kinsmen.

    Ultimately, Seeker journeys about as deep as it needs to get the job done, which, I suspect, is both the mettle and consensus of most readers. This makes it refreshingly un-pretentious, and certainly devoid of that brooding angst found in some younger authors soiling their pants with imported weight. It is mature and professional, fun and clever, while being concisely steered. I read the last half in one sitting.

     

    © copyright 06/05/2007 by Larry Crawford

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