Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, December 25, 2011

2002: Chindi (McDevitt, Jack)

Annoying details contrast amazing discoveries (3/5)

While Part Three (Chindi) is much better than Part Two (Deepsix), Chindi is still stubbornly laden with flaws; most are inane but when taken collectively, they're very annoying. If you've read more than two Jack McDevitt novels before reading Chindi, you kind of know what to expect: his writing is based on Golden Age sci-fi with starpilots, searches for aliens, and discovery/catastrophe always abreast... but bloated to the point where it's painfully obvious when the author is trying to stuff material in the pages to meet his word count quota. Chindi is bloated indeed, but also holds the magical Golden Age sensation of discovery.

With the discovery of stealth satellites circling a neutron star, sending data off to other star systems. When a crew, piloted by Hutch, track the signal, they make earth-shattering discoveries while throwing caution to wind in order to become personally acquainted with their discoveries. I guess the crew never heard of the proverb "curiosity killed the cat" or the phrase "disasters come in threes". The crew just do not learn from their mistakes, that they are in alien territory, that behind every corner is something inhuman, that they have NO relation to anything they find. You may find yourself covering your eyes as the cast metaphorically attempt to stick their figure back into the electrical outlet.

Some have said that the first quarter of the book has a great pace, but I found it absolutely littered with superfluous details: names of suburbs and street names, show titles and song titles (with lyrics), names of lighting directors and show synopses, and finally the inclusion of specific food and drink orders of every meal (a blue giraffe and melted cheese). Add to this quotes (both real and fabricated) which precede each chapter and you begin to get the feel that words were being chucked in in order to stuff the pages to a bloated 511 pages. The quotes aren't as bad as the prosthelytizing of Gregory MacAllister in Deepsix, as if McDevitt write himself into the novel (and yes, he does make a guest appearance and has a few quotes).

Then there are the "suspend your belief" portions of the book. (1) Aliens inhabiting a moon in orbit between twin gas giants own armchairs, a pantry, have pictures on the wall, and even park their spaceship next to their house. (2) The ship AI Bill manages to snap a photo of a ship traveling at a quarter of light-speed, three hundred kilometers away, and still manage to capture a human figure on the surface of the rock. What kind of shutter speed is that? One-quintillionth of a second? (3) Hypothesizing that each alien species uses exactly the same technology that humans use. McDevitt is know for his xeno-archeology but when the exhuming begins, the characters always begin to make anthropomorphic assumptions.

For all the flaws McDevitt enjoys penning into this novel, the sense of discovery and wonder takes precedence. Stealth satellites observe budding civilizations and unique stellar formations, an starship houses passageways with thousands of rooms where scenes of alien moment occasions are displayed, and the secrets of early human FTL travel comes to light - these are the secrets which propel me to read the next book: Omega (which is mentioned at the end of Chindi).

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