Author: Jack McDevitt
Price: $23.95 (HB)
Well, as usual, I go about things backwards. I received a copy of Omega by Jack McDevitt, and said to myself, well, this should be a good read. And it was. Only it is #4 in a series of books about Priscilla Hutchins, "Hutch" to her friends, who is a transport captain for "The Academy". Oh, it's quite okay. Omega reads quite well on its own, and although it refers to past adventures chronicled in previous books, enough information is given to fill in the backstory, but not so much as to slow down the action. And action there is.
McDevitt postulates "omega clouds", semi-sentient clouds of nanomachines who seem to seek out "strange new worlds" and destroy them. There is one heading for Earth right now (here in the 2200s), and we have no idea how to stop it, but it won't arrive for 1000 years. So... Hey, it's somebody else's problem; a problem for the future.
However, an exploration crew finds a world inhabited by intelligent creatures, and they're cute! They have something close to a late 19th century civilization, except in many ways, they are MORE civilized than we. The "Goompahs" so-named because they look like characters from a much loved kiddy-show, can be saved if they head for the hills, but there is a (for all practical purposes) Prime Directive, and what's worse, humans resemble their idea of demons.
How can Hutch, now Operations Director of the Academy, and David Collingsworth, veteran pilot and man on the scene, either stop the omega or convince the Goompahs to leave? This book is really well done, the aliens engage human sympathies, and the only bad guys are the uncaring omega clouds.
I enjoyed it so much I went out and got a copy of Chindi. In this, the previous book in the series, Hutch is stuck ferrying the much-denigrated "Contact Society" out to chase a wild hair, or hare, or goose. They find much evidence of now-non-existent intelligent life, a designed solar system, and the aforementioned "Chindi". Chindi is a "native American" night spirit, and the name seems appropriate for this huge alien vessel traced down by our intrepid explorers. Some reviewers have likened Chindi to Rendezvous With Rama in a negative sense, but I think that's a false comparison.
The descriptive scenes of exploration are really well done, and its obvious that McDevitt is knowledgeable about archeology. I don't know why Hutch has problems exerting her will, as the amateur members of the Contact Society time and again put themselves in harms way and are killed off. That aspect of it was an irritating "teenage girl goes down into the basement alone" monster movie feeling, but the high level of writing and action lifted the majority of the story above that level.
We find out what the "Chindi" is all about, and also that we humans just aren't all that interesting to alien lifeforms. Oh well. Anyway, good book, and good enough that now I have to go read Engines Of God and DeepSix the previous two books in the saga of Priscilla Hutchins. And wait! There could be more coming!!!
Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Wright