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A sky full of the devil's eye
on 16 January 2009
When most people hire you to do something, they tell you what it is and where it's to be done.
But Alex Benedict gets no such easy jobs in "The Devil's Eye," where he gets a mysterious mission from a woman who no longer exists. Jack McDevitt crafts a thoroughly solid sci-fi adventure that gradually blossoms into an intelligent look at tolerance and politics, although the politicking gradually drowns out the more exciting moments.
After escorting a pair of Mutes around Atlantis, Alex receives a message from famed horror writer Vicki Greene. She announces that "they're all dead."
Unfortunately, Vicki has since had her mind wiped. So Alex and Chase head to the last place she had gone: the backwater planet of Salud Afar. They retrace Vicki's steps across Salud Afar and start uncovering some strange, long ago political events as well as a wealth of urban legends. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that someone wants to stop their investigation.
And when Alex and Chase run afoul of the government conspirators, they find the truth that Vicki was unable to tell anyone -- a ghastly, apocalyptic event that will destroy the entire planet. Even worse, there may be no way to save the planet's population from what will befall them -- unless Chase and Alex can overcome a brewing war between two distrustful species.
Aside from the scientific snafus that are a necessary evil in sci-fi, Jack McDevitt tends to create fascinating realistic views of a future humanity. And in "The Devil's Eye," he manages to successfully cobble together a story about politics, diplomacy, some very alien aliens, and deadly stellar phenomena.
The book starts out as a straightforward mystery, with lots of seemingly disparate clues -- an asteroid, a series of bombings, a government conspiracy. Gradually McDevitt draws them all together as he makes the Big Reveal -- and after a very realistic look at how people might react to such a death sentence, he follows Alex and Chase's desperate quest to find someone to help the innocent people.
No magic "scientific" gizmos here. Instead, McDevitt is more interested in in the politics and diplomacy between humans and Mutes, and in the politicians who care more about their image than about condemning billions to a horrible death. And he fleshes out the storyline nicely, with a bittersweet edge in the story of Vicki Greene, as well as a fascinatingly weird race of telepathic bug-people.
If there's a flaw, it's that the mutual Mute/human distrust and revulsion seems to be overcome a bit too quickly, based on the efforts of just a few people.
Alex and Chase make a good pair of heroes -- he's quirky, charming, clever and has a tendency to focus more on Churchill's "History" than an impending crisis, while she is gutsy and down-to-earth. And McDevitt's Mutes are handled carefully and with a bit of humour, since they are able to read human minds without effort -- some of the things they read are quite funny.
"The Devil's Eye" is a solid sci-fi story with some splatters of action, a lot of political commentary, and a nice space-opera feel. Sci-fi that makes you think.