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3.5 out of 5 stars
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3.5 out of 5 stars


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VINE VOICEon 10 January 2005
Omega is the 4th in McDevitt's "Hutchins" series, a set of tales about interstellar archaeology featuring one Priscilla Hutchins as a main character. While this sounds like an interesting premise (and on a couple of occasions, it is), McDevitt has managed to write a series of deeply formulaic stories which differ only marginally from each other. To wit :
-Archaeologists discover Something Big on an alien world.
(Despite claims that intelligent life is rare, it seems to be all over the place in McDevitt's books)
-A mission is mounted to uncover What It Is.
-Mission goes horribly wrong, People Die.
-There Is No Resolution.
If you're buying Omega to find out what the Omega clouds actually are (they're first mentioned in The Engines of God), I wouldn't bother because really, you don't find out beyond a mild supposition one of the characters has. That's it - regardless of what it says on the flyleaf, you don't actually, definitely find out what they are.
If you must read this, treat it like A.N. Other sci-fi novel - a standalone story - McDevitt is, wisely, careful not to alienate new readers by giving a little backstory to previously mentioned plot elements from other novels. You won't be totally lost.
I bought this together with McDevitt's much earlier novel, A Talent For War, and his earlier work is enormously better. Talent For War is actually rather thought-provoking and moving in places, and this is at a time when I'm only 60 pages in. Had I known, I wouldn't have bothered with Omega first.
To re-iterate, if you're looking for something different and interesting, read A Talent For War instead. Past this point, McDevitt takes the same theme and beats it to death with minor variations.
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on 21 October 2005
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If you have read other books by McDevitt, such as Chindi, Deepsix, etc, you might have been expecting our favourite heroine, Priscilla Hutchins, to be running a "just-in-time" rescue somewhere in the universe, again. Well, you might be in for a shock to find Hutch desk bound now.
A rescue is still required though!
A remote planet appears to be drawing one of the feared Omega clouds. On investigation, it shows to be populated by a low tech. civilisation of a previously unknown species. With just a few months before the cloud hits the planet and causes the typical mass extinction that Omega clouds are good at, Hutch hobbles together a rescue package which involves despatching a ship of experts and goods and redirecting other vessels in the vicinity of space, to prepare for the rescue.
The basic plans involve luring the Omega cloud away from the planet, camouflaging the city structures that attract the clouds in the first place and evacuating the population and helping them to survive the aftermath.
There are, of course, a whole number of things to impede the plan and many problems to overcome along the way. Not least of these is the law that prevents the humans from making their presence known to the newly discovered aliens.
This is a surprisingly gripping book. There are many well developed characters and Hutch quickly becomes a minor, background one.
There are a few points where you say to yourself "well, that's not going to work" or "why on earth did they do that?" and some of the science is a bit shaky (like assuming the Omega clouds "see" on the same wavelengths we do), but on the whole it is a satisfying tale.
What is very good is the approach to gathering data and studying the aliens and their culture. Particularly good is the linguist team cracking the alien language.
All in all, a good read. This is a stand-alone book, so those not yet familiar with McDevitts works should also find this a good read.
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Some readers don't seem to grok Jack McDevitt, but he remains one of my all-time favorite writers of science fiction - and Omega did not disappoint this fan. He may take technological shortcuts at times, but McDevitt is a master at creating exceedingly human characters and seeing what they will do in futuristic sociological situations. In Omega, the story revolves around a newly discovered, intelligent alien race - one that unknowingly lies in the path of imminent destruction.
McDevitt's readers have followed Patricia "Hutch" Hutchinson through some wonderfully exciting adventures (in The Engines of God, Deepsix, and Chindi). In what looks to be the final Hutch novel, the focus shifts considerably. The intrepid hero of past jaunts now finds herself behind a desk, serving as the Director of Operations at the Academy, when word comes in that intelligent life has been discovered on a distant planet. Mankind had come close before, finding two exceedingly primitive alien societies, turning up lost artifacts on a number of worlds left by the mysterious Monument-Makers, and discovering a gigantic ship that served effectively as a museum of past interstellar races. Overshadowing everything was the discovery of omega clouds, wholly mysterious entities roaming the universe and destroying life-bearing planets. One of these omega clouds is headed for Earth, but governments and scientists have put little money into research efforts because the cloud is not due for another 900 years. The newly-discovered inhabitants of the planet unceremoniously dubbed Lookout, however, have a mere nine months before seemingly inevitable destruction.
Hutch coordinates the rushed effort to get people out there to do what they can to save lives. Because of their resemblance to a popular children's cartoon character, the inhabitants there are dubbed Goompahs - and the people of earth fall in love with them (which raises all sorts of issues in and of itself). The first Academy personnel to reach the planet surreptitiously stash recording devices all over the place, allowing scientists and linguists to begin trying to interpret the language and understand the culture based on recorded conversations, debates, plays, etc. The Goompahs are unusual in that they live comparatively simple lives seemingly free of war and full of play; their cities all cluster around a central isthmus, and they seem to have no desire to expand across their seas. They are, in essence, many a scientist's dream come true - but they will all be dead within the year unless mankind can figure out a way to save them (and to do so in such a way that they are not alerted to mankind's presence).
An intensive effort is made to destroy or divert the deadly cloud - and to camouflage the Goompah cities in the event the cloud does hit. As disaster draws nigh, brilliant minds try to figure out a way to warn the Goompahs of the coming cataclysm and evacuate them to higher ground - Protocol or no Protocol. Everyone involved becomes fascinated by these noble innocents and their simple yet enlightened Goompah philosophy of life. This is the equivalent of a sociological study of an alien culture - and McDevitt works his way through all sorts of ethical dilemmas and provocative questions in his typically deft, insightful manner. As the cloud closes in, the pace of the story goes into overdrive, and true heroes emerge on both sides of the alien divide. It feels strange not to have Hutch out there making more of her patented miracles happen, but the scientists on the frontlines of this unprecedented effort grow into well-developed characters capable of producing some on-the-fly magic of their own.
Omega does have a few small faults, however. Technology such as light-benders (allowing for invisibility) makes things far too easy for the scientists, a couple of human dimensions of the story (especially the early death of one of the project leaders due to another person's moment of utter stupidity) don't have the lasting impact they should have, and the ultimate explanation of the omega clouds themselves is rather disappointing. Still, McDevitt never fails to sweep me up in the events he describes, and I enjoyed this novel just as much as the author's earlier works in the Hutch series.
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on 26 January 2005
This is the only McDevitt I've read so I can't comment on the similarities to his other books.
Having said that, this is an entertaining read. It has the same scope and feel as space opera but defies that genre by leaving out ray-guns, warring empires and epic battles. It does however provide the tension and drama in much more human ways.
His characters aren't infallible, they get it wrong but in ways the reader can sympathise with, there's no dummies or exposition spouting cut-outs here. Intelligent compassionate humans who are basically just trying to do "the right thing". For the most part they're well drawn and make good companions for this adventure.
There are a couple of niggles though. There's a big cast list here and it gets a little hard keeping track of who some of the supporting characters are, this is made more difficult by the fact that some of them share the same first names.
Finally, I don't think much of McDevitt's use of technology. The characters face technological limitations that would've been permissable if this was written in the 1970s but some of their "challenges" could be beaten with today's technology....
Not a bad page turner, I'll keep an eye out for his other stuff
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on 30 May 2009
The story evolves against the biggest mystery of Priscilla Hutchins novel series; Omega clouds, one of which is headed for a civilized world. This world "Lookout" is inhabited by cute-looking creatures which the scientist unwillingly call "Goompahs". And Priscilla is heading the efforts to save them.

The book has familiar McDevitt characteristics:
- slow story build-up followed by short but fast-paced action towards the end of the book,
- clash between religion and reason,
- Murphy's law; similar to other books whenever there is the chance, something in the action goes wrong and there are casualties

All in all, it is still a good book but the author could have been more imaginative on the Lookout and its inhabitants rather than just mimicking Earth and her species. But then he is basing this new world on his assumption that all life, no matter where it has started, will follow similar path e.g., intelligent species will be on two legs, will build houses, libraries, temples and so on.

3 stars rather than my usual 5 because of the point above and the general pace of the book
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on 19 August 2011
I bought this book because the cover indicated some resolution to the question of what the omega clouds are. I love a science based mystery, and was interested by what possible explanation there might be. If you are like me, you'll be disappointed. There is speculation from one character right at the end as to an explanation, but there is no real evidence for the idea and it isn't convincing.

The rest of the novel is a "rescue from disaster" tale which is quite entertaining, but if you like something more solid this book is unsatisfying.
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on 1 February 2016
Delivery arrived early. Book in pristine condition. I love the Prescilla Hutchins series. Sci Fi action and exploration from the first to last page!
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on 2 December 2012
Only half way through at present, it's an ok read but a little slow going and not enough gripping action for my liking.
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