Book Review: Jack McDevitt’s Starhawk

Standard

For many years, getting a new McDevitt was kind of like getting a pile of gold. “Gasp! For me? Thank you!” His stories were gripping. His characters were brave, intelligent, competent – damned likeable.

A typical McDevitt had characters embarking on some sort of mission or project only to have something go terribly wrong or to discover something world-changingly significant or both at the same time, like finding evidence of intelligent life on a planet that was about to explode…on which the unfortunate characters had somehow become trapped. The characters would have to figure out an ingenious way of getting out of whatever mess they were in that took every ounce of ingenuity and courage they had. These books were can’t-put-it-down, turn-the-page-faster, action sci-fi brilliance.

In recent years, it seems to me that McDevitt’s books have become…tamer. Still a good read, still books I was interested in buying…but they seemed to have lost something. With the switch from main character Captain Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins to antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his sidekick Chase Kolpath, there was far more talking and going out to dinner than figuring out how to get five people off a planet that was about to explode. Alex and Chase generally had a mystery on their hands and there was often some kind of peril. But it was never anything as harrowing or edge-of-your-seat gripping like the Hutch books or his early non-Hutch books like Moonfall, Eternity Road, and Ancient Shores.

With Starhawk…Hutch…and McDevitt are back. Not perhaps all the way back…but we’re getting close. Starhawk tells an early Hutch story. Before she got her nickname, before she had any of her adventures, before she was even taken seriously by the people who would later count on her for their most difficult missions.

Hutch is a brand new pilot. In fact, she’s on her final testing run to get certified, when something goes wrong. She and her mentor are called upon to divert from their testing flight to rescue a ship full of young girls on a space school trip. This gives us a delicious taste of the old Hutch books with problems that seem to have no solution. The pain and suffering that ensues give an interesting background for what we know from other books are Hutch’s later refusals to give up or sacrifice anyone, even when the odds seem insurmountable.

Once this first experience is under her belt, the book sadly tames up as Hutch looks for a job and experiences her first professional disappointments. While we do learn a lot about Hutch’s early life, we don’t get a lot of adventure. This is not to say that we don’t want to know these things. In fact, McDevitt does a great job of describing what it can be like for a newbie, particularly a female one, making her way through the old-boys network in the dick-swinging world of space pilots. The fact that she’s pretty gets remarked upon with annoying frequency by those (male and female) who she encounters in her job. When young Hutch sticks her neck out to try to do what’s right, she gets labeled as “emotional” by her superior. All too familiar for professional women everywhere and it’s refreshing to see a male author with the ability to describe these things in a way that feels genuine.

While I initially despaired that the rest of the book would remain tame, it turns out that McDevitt was setting us up for a final adventure and we’re treated to another McDevitt nail-biter before the book ends. This was a well-written surprise, but it left me wanting more. It made me long anew for the old McDevitts, full of Hutch in her prime. Her career as a pilot must have held more adventures that we can enjoy. I doubt McDevitt will ever write a bad book, but we know there is so much more to be had. I can only hope that we get more stories like the old ones. Until then I will, of course, buy anything the man writes…but c’mon Jack! We know you’ve got the goods!  Bring us on another adventure!

Advertisements

More Book Reviews – Coming Soon

Standard

I’m going to try something new…ish. I’m still plugging away at writing fiction, but most of my time has been sucked up lately by a big freelance job (read: job that pays the bills and maybe gets us out of debt) so the fiction thing has slowed down considerably. In the meantime, and in an effort to keep this blog from just being me whining, I thought I’d do some book reviews.

Fair warning…if I think a book sucks, I probably won’t review it. If there is one thing I’m learning as I write short stories that other people review, it’s that there will always be people who hate it and there will sometimes be people who love it. And who am I to slam somebody else’s hard work? This isn’t to say that I’ll exclusively gush about every book. In fact, the first review I’m planning to post (Jack McDevitt’s Starhawk) has pluses and minuses, but it’s overall a thumbs up for the book and the author, whose work I happen to love. If I don’t have anything nice to say, I’ll just shut the hell up.

So I hope you’ll find these useful and maybe even entertaining…and maybe you’ll learn about an author you hadn’t heard of before. First one coming soon!

If you’re not afraid of the Internet…maybe you should be?

Standard

Dear Medical Science,

We are in need of a new term…or at least I am…but I’m certainly not alone. Surely, I am not the only person developing a persistent and nagging fear, a phobia if you will, of the Internet. Today alone there are two stories circulating of someone making some sort of terrible Internet mistake and being exposed, ridiculed, and mocked before the world.

The first is a young woman who bragged on Facebook about her dad’s confidential settlement with his employer, thereby getting the settlement overturned and I suppose leaving her dad with nothing but his legal bills. The woman is just barely an adult so the news source used her full name and chose a goofy picture that is likely the least flattering one she put out on her Facebook page.

Then we have a Cleveland, Ohio businesswoman who got arrogant about who she would and would not allow to network with her via LinkedIn and whose snarky and unprofessional responses to those she saw as upstarts went viral. Again, full name, profession, previous professional accolades. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know anything more about either of these situations than any other reader. For all I know, these people are assholes of the worst sort who had this coming. Maybe there are people out there who have been hurt by them thinking, “At last…justice!”

On the other hand, I can’t help but see these two people and the many others who have come before them and think, “Oh you poor, stupid bastards.”

I’d bet the Facebook girl thought that picture was hilarious when she posted it, and to her friends and family it probably was. I’m sure she never stopped to think how moronic it would make her look if it accompanied a story that made her out to be a spoiled rich-kid jerk. And it’s possible she felt that her father had been genuinely wronged by his employer and that the employer deserved to be told to “suck it.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if the LinkedIn lady thought she had every right to cast off the young upstarts, trying to get a free and easy ride on her hard won contacts. She may have even thought she was doing them a favor, forcing them to make their own way and build their contacts list themselves.

Again, I am not defending these people. I don’t know them or anything about them. I’m just suggesting possibilities. Considering alternate possibilities makes me wonder…how many of us have tried to get a word with someone higher on the food chain than ourselves only to be ignored or cast off, reminded that we don’t yet sit at the cool kids table? It happens all the time. Just like people celebrate their victories all the time.

People do these things and much worse. Who hasn’t yelled at their children? Who hasn’t been guilty of pride or arrogance? Who hasn’t gossiped or told a “white lie” or acted ungrateful or spoiled?  We do these things, some people more than others, but nobody is free and clear of all bad behavior. Luckily for us, the Internet is almost never there to catch us in our worst moments. The moments we all have when we’re tired, or misinformed, or emotional and we act ugly or stupid or foolish…or all three at once.

I hear these stories and I imagine myself making a bad choice or acting like a jerk and finding that the Internet took that moment, like the god damned Eye of Sauron, to turn my way and expose the very worst of me to the world. It’s chilling. It’s a terrifying concept, and I’m nobody. Imagine how it feels to be out in the public eye, with people chasing after you to catch those embarrassing moments. Unimaginable.

And yeah, yeah…I hear you. “So don’t post stupid pictures on Facebook!” “Don’t be rude in public forums!” “Don’t use social media at all if it scares you that bad!” “Don’t win an Oscar!” All of these are perfectly valid, particularly when so many of these stories are shit people did to themselves. But in the modern world, you could eschew all social media, avoid the Internet, even refuse to carry a smart phone…but almost everybody else has these things. You can draw the ridicule of the entire freaking world just by walking down the street and tripping in a spectacular way.

It makes me just a little afraid of the Internet. It makes me afraid for my kids and my nieces and nephews and every other regular person who might get caught at their worst. Because when the Internet catches those moments, everyone seems to pretend that they’re unusual. People act like nobody else is ever arrogant or stupid, it’s just THAT guy. When in fact we all are sometimes. We all have our terrible moments and we can only hope to learn from them without being exposed to the world.

It makes me wish there were some way to make empathy go viral.