RogerBW's Blog

Starhawk, Jack McDevitt 09 March 2015

2013 SF, seventh in the Academy series and a prequel. Priscilla Hutchins is just completing interstellar pilot training, but already demand for pilots is dropping. And terrorists are threatening the terraforming project. Spoilers.

McDevitt's tended, in recent books in this series, to put in heavy-handed parallels to present-day concerns. Here he's got an assumed viewpoint that being in space is Good and anyone opposed to that is therefore Bad; it's a view with which I have some sympathy, but no argument looks good when all the good guys are on one side and the other is stock nasties.

There's also a company that's going ahead with a terraforming project even at the risk of wiping out all the target world's native life, opposed by evil terrorists who are setting off bombs and otherwise attacking space infrastructure. (We never meet an opponent of terraforming who isn't a terrorist.)

Characters are fairly simple, as usual for McDevitt. This has been less of a problem in books in which more stuff happened. But what we have here is mostly routine for him by now, a couple of emergency situations (including a Cold Equations-style setup so blatant I was almost surprised that story didn't get a name-check, which completely fails to consider several of the possible solutions apparently because the plot needs it to go a particular way), some big talk, and, well, that's it. We know the big promises of alien contact aren't going to come to anything, because we've read the other Academy books. There are small bonuses for fans of the series, like Hutchins getting the nickname by which she's universally known in later books, but that's about it. A romantic subplot feels adolescent, isn't really consistent with the Hutchins we know from later books, and trails off without any resolution.

This felt like storytelling by the numbers: erect a plot framework, insert characters, spackle with tech. McDevitt has written much better than this (my particular favourite is A Talent for War but the first four or so books of this series were also much more to my taste). Strictly for the completist. Given how much he's gone downhill in the last few years, unless I hear really positive reviews from somewhere else, this is likely to be the last new McDevitt I read.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 02:00pm on 09 March 2015

    I tend to agree with your assessment. I feel that going back and filling in past stuff was the main problem here, and everything else you said is as a result of this choice. However, as I haven't yet bought and read "Coming Home", I still intend to get it.

    However, given his age I think we're past peak McDevitt, and I agree "A Talent for War" as being my favourite too.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:10pm on 09 March 2015

    I'll be interested to find out what you think of Coming Home; I'm afraid I felt burned enough by this one that I shan't be in any hurry to read it.

    A Talent for War did the unheard-of: a heroic-engineer story where historical, rather than scientific, research holds the solution to the plot. Lots of SF neglects the poems, the songs, the novels, the plays, and so on that people have produced ever since they became people and will probably continue to produce until they aren't any more. But this ten-thousand-years-into-the-future setting is feeling more and more like nearly-contemporary America as more of it gets explored; the long expeditions into the unknown did a better job of not making that obvious than the civilised travel and interviews that have been more important in the later books.

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