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Polaris (Alex Benedict) Mass Market Paperback – 1 Nov 2005

3.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 385 pages
  • Publisher: Ace Books; Reissue edition (1 Nov. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441012531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441012534
  • Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 2.5 x 17 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,296,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Jack McDevitt is a former naval officer, taxi driver, customs officer and motivational trainer. He is a multiple Nebula Award finalist who lives in Georgia with his wife Maureen.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I make no secret of the fact that I am a big Jack McDevitt fan. Having thoroughly enjoyed the author's space opera novels built upon the character of Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchens, I was more than anxious to sample a different side of McDevitt in Polaris. This ghost ship mystery in space, told from a first-person perspective, is not as weighty or serious as other McDevitt novels I have read, but it is certainly an engaging read that casual science fiction fans will likely quite enjoy. For McDevitt fans, however, Polaris is more of an afternoon matinee than McDevitt's usual prime time special. Attempts on the heroes' lives don't seem all that serious in the context of the narrative, and nothing that takes place here has the potential to revolutionize the very nature of humanity.
Sixty years ago, the Polaris carried a small party of acclaimed scientists to witness firsthand (from a safe distance, of course) a rare cosmic phenomenon, namely the collision of a white dwarf with a star. Contact with the ship was lost following the commander's indication that she was beginning the journey home. A search ship arrived in-system some weeks later and found the Polaris drifting in space, its crew missing. There was no sign of foul play whatsoever; the crew had simply vanished. Naturally, at the time, the news created a firestorm of interest as well as some concern that a hostile alien race had somehow absconded with the passengers.
Sixty years later, a number of artifacts from the ghost ship are set to go up for auction, bringing famed antiquities dealer Alex Benedict (whom McDevitt readers first met in A Talent For War) into the picture.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The existing review from dark genius adequately summarises the plot of this book and it would serve no point for me to add to it.

In this novel Jack McDevitt returns to the universe of his second, and very definitely his best, novel, A Talent for War. It is worth pausing to consider the singular excellence of that work. It must be amongst the finest works of science-fiction ever written. On the cover of Polaris a quote from Stephen King puts forward McDevitt as the successor to Asimov and Clarke; yet Asimov never wrote anything as good as Talent, and of Clarke's work only City and the Stars and Childhood's End compete (I am talking here of literary merit). Mr McDevitt's more frequent works in more recent years have shown some falling away. The first of the Hutchins books was very good, but there was a tendency to become obsessed with the Big Dumb Objects theme and also with thriller style writing, even when the thrills were achieved by way of unlikely rescues in space.

Polaris still has a good deal of this kind of action, but there is an excellent problem (though the reader spots at least part of the solution annoyingly earlier than the narrator). Though there is perhaps a little too much action, in that it takes away from the problem, the problem is the central point of this novel -- this is definitely an example of the old Amis definition of science-fiction as "the plot as hero". It is a good piece of science-fiction with a detective theme; moreover it plays fair with the reader. The solution is one that the reader could have guessed at on the information given in the book.

If anyone has not yet read Talent for War (and those reading my comments will realise that I strongly recommend that they do), they really should read it before reading this novel, as, though the references to the conclusion of the earlier book are in passing, it would definitely reduce the pleasure of first reading of Talent to have read this first.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm fond of Jack McDevitt's work without really feeling that he rates among the greats. What sets him apart from most other SF writers is his tendency to approach his subject via the historical sciences - archaeology in the "Hutch" books and history/antiquarianism in the Alex Benedict books, of which this is one. It's an interesting angle, though it does require him to populate his galaxy with an unreasonable number of extinct alien civilisations!

This book is a sequel to "A Talent for War", and I agree with a previous reviewer in feeling that the earlier book is better. This is mostly because it's got a noticeably better plot: McDevitt's stories are very plot-driven - mostly they are puzzles ("here is an odd situation - how did it happen/how can it be resolved?"), and an inferior puzzle leads to a less satisfactory book.

The plot of "Polaris" has been well summarised by previous reviewers so I don't feel there's much point in repeating it. The detective-story element is "fair", in the sense that the reader can solve the problem from the clues given - in fact, I think most reasonably awake readers will solve the problem significantly earlier than McDevitt allows his characters to. This is one of the issues that I have with the plotting, the other being that (in common with a fair number of non-SF detective novels) the perpetrators actually have no need to commit the crimes, and would have done far better to leave well alone (making several clumsy but clearly serious attempts to steal specific items, and later to kill one of the owners of the said items, is a good way of alerting the victim that Something Funny Is Going On - which is a bit daft if your aim is to disguise the fact that something funny is going on!).
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