Book review: Polaris, by Jack McDevitt

12 03 2018

Clearly, I’m on a bit of a McDevitt reading jag at the moment, with this the third of his titles I’ve reviewed in the past week …

Polaris

Polaris is the second in McDevitt’s long-running ‘Alex Benedict’ series (which I always think of as the ‘Chase Kolpath’ series since she’s really the central—and more interesting—character), but because of reading haphazardousness it’s the last one I’ve got to. None of which matters greatly, because the Benedict & Kolpath books are each largely self-contained. As with the others in the series, Polaris is a locked-room mystery / SF piece, doggedly investigated by Alex and Chase. The mystery here concerns the inexplicable disappearance, sixty years earlier, of six VIPs and a seasoned pilot—i.e., the entire complement of passengers and crew—from the vessel Polaris, shortly after completion of a sightseeing jaunt at the scene of a stellar catastrophe. The vessel is recovered, intact, complete with functional lander and all its suits, but no personnel. Alex decides there has to be a rational explanation for this latter-day Mary Celeste, and he and Chase set out to unearth it. But it seems as though others do not wish the puzzle to be solved … and are willing to kill to preserve the Polaris‘s secret.

This is a dependably intriguing series, with high-stakes problem-solving and impressively big-picture SF worldbuilding. McDevitt’s sense of plotting and pacing is exceptional, the characterisation is solid and the SF content is robust. The one element of his fiction that may rub readers wrong is its distinctly ‘whitebread’ feel: McDevitt’s seems a somewhat parochial future with not a lot of population diversity. In this respect, and in others, the books often feel like a callback to Golden Age SF, and Polaris is no exception. If you’re looking for something cutting-edge, confronting, or challenging, Polaris probably won’t satisfy; but nobody else I’ve read does space-based SF/mystery quite as well as this.

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