Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2006: Odyssey (McDevitt, Jack)

Overdrawn at the Idea Bank since Day One (2/5)

The fifth book in the Academy series is just as bad as the previous four. I initially liked The Engines of God when I read it four years ago, but I bet if I were to pick it up now, I'd find exactly the same faults as I did with the rest of the series: painful word repetition, inane details throughout, padding the pages for word count, and high-handed proselytizing ala Christopher Hutchins. Tack onto this an abrupt knee-jerk reaction to start the novel with a useless sub-plot and, wah-lah, you have yourself a typical McDevitt novel.

Following the incident of stranded space craft, the trustworthiness of Academy's fleet is questioned by Priscilla. The craft should have been lost round Betelgeuse IV but was actually found to be within our own solar system, an engine failure which could have resulted in the death of crew members. The aging fleet is put on hold at the same time when reports of mysterious black orbs, called Moonriders, have been flying past stations of humanity across the stars. Silently investigative in nature, there have been no threats or warnings given by the orbs.

A numerous political moves, Priscilla and director Michael Asquith decide to provide one more mission to track and witness the Moonriders, to prove whether they are projections of idle minds or alien entities policing human activity. Considered to be a routine drop-and-go mission, PR director Eric Samuels decides to take a risk in his humdrum life and tag along with the sultry Greek pilot Valya Kouros, the wide-eyed teen-aged daughter of Senator Taylor, and the loud-mouthed firebrand Gregory MacAllister of Deepsix infamy.

When a giant asteroid is found to be directly aimed at an orbiting construction of a hotel owned by Orion Tours, the finger-pointing at the Moonriders becomes priority and calls for space armament are rampant through world congress. The benevolent actions of Orion Tour's selfless duty of diverting another asteroid and their awkward stance in the middle of its hotel destruction has them under the eye of the ever-vigilant MacAllister.

Somewhere in all of this is Priscilla, who, like in Omega, takes a backseat role in the plot. She's stuck behind her administrative desk directing ships to distant ports, calling in favors from orbital friends, and ordering coffee and jelly-smeared bagels. She and the Academy as a whole should have come out spotless after the rescue of the Goompahs under the attack of the Omega cloud in Omega. But just a few years later and the interest in the space program is waning; funds are being diverted from space exploration to earth conservation. If the Goompahs were so hugely popular (there's even merchandising of Moonriders like the Goompahs in Omega), then why has the interest waned to much?

I mentioned above one irksome quality of McDevitt's novels: word repetition. I've been mentioning in my other McDevitt reviews of his bizarre fascination for describing the height of every character in the novel. In Omega along, I counted the adjective "tall" exactly seventeen times when describing stature. All the other adjectives don't even come close. EXACTLY the same here in Odyssey. "Short" and "little" are both used once, "big" is written twice, "average" is used three times, "small" is used five times... and "tall" is written SIXTEEN times (pages 15, 30, 33, 39, 43, 56, 89, 116, 143, 258, 291, 314, 331, 388, 391, and 392). What the hell is Jack's affinity for describing everyone as "tall"? What's worse than that? How about using "of course" about 90 times... aggravating! Where's the editor?

Other annoyances are his overuse of naming fictional book titles that the characters are reading, specifying every food and drink order, and quoting Gregory MacAllister ad nauseam (McDevitt writing himself in the book?). I hated MacAllister in Deepsix and was thankful when that loathsome character took a far, far backseat in Chindi and Omega. Unfortunately, MacAllister makes a grand reappearance in Odyssey, where his (McDevitt's?) firebrand thoughts are not only heading each chapter, but he also orchestrates an unrelated sub-plot revolving around one man, Henry Beemer, who hit Reverend Pullman over the head with book. Beemer insists that the fire-smoldering hell preached by Pullman has made him neurotic and attempts to frame organized religion as hate-loving idiots.

With one book in the series left on my shelf, Cauldron, I've set the goal to complete the series because my father gave them all to me. I hope either Priscilla bites the dust or the entire Milky Way galaxy is wiped of the human race. One of these two conclusions will energize me enough to give it av3-star rating even with the foreseen annoyances McDevitt has laden like landmines. And the like th previous Academy books, this one is flying off my shelf and going to the second-hand bookstore, where I exchange it for something decent.

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