Wednesday, March 31, 2010

*Seeker, by Jack McDevitt

ISBN: 0441013295
Seeker won the 2006 Nebula Award for best novel. Its competition that year was

1. The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner
2. The Girl in the Glass, by Jeffrey Ford
3. Farthing, by Jo Walton
4. From the Files of the Time Rangers, by Richard Bowes
5. To Crush the Moon, by Wil McCarthy

Of those, only The Girl in the Glass  ever ended up on my shelves because I love Jeffrey Ford's work.

Seeker is a book of speculative fiction that will appeal to you if you're not into hard-core science fiction, and if you are a reader of mysteries. McDevitt has combined both into a story that begins with the discovery of a cup bearing some "English" letters, which antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his partner Chase Kolpath trace back to a long-lost ship called Seeker.  To be very blunt, Benedict and Kolpath plunder what we would consider archaeological sites and sell what relics they come across. Today that's illegal, but somehow in the future, there's no problem with this practice and there's a huge market, although a movement is afoot to stop the plundering.

What's special about this particular cup is that the ship Seeker, thousands of years earlier, took a group of about a thousand people away from earth, destined for a new world, Margolia. Since the ship left, no one ever heard from these people again, and legends began to flourish about the hidden colony -- rising to the level of our own fascination with say, Atlantis. But with the cup found, Alex and Chase now have evidence that someone out there knows something about the Seeker and quite possibly Margolia, and they begin a long journey to discover all they can, with the hope of picking up more relics and making a fortune. Along the way Alex thinks they can also solve the mystery of what happened to the Seeker and its passengers. But there are others out there who don't want Alex and Chase to succeed.

How the judges passed up Ford's Girl in the Glass to give the award to this book is one of those mysteries I'll carry with me into my next life. It's not that it's a bad novel, au contraire.  While parts of the plot and some of the characters (aside from Alex and Chase) are often just so-so, there are some good scenes.  McDevitt's best writing shows itself when Chase ventures off into the home world of the physically repugnant Mutes (The Ashyyur -- a telepathic race with whom humans have a tentative peace), following a lead. McDevitt poses some strong moral questions in this novel while telling a good story.

I think I'll look for the other books in this series now. The combination of sci-fi and mystery appeals to me when I'm in the "I need to relax my brain" mode. I would recommend it to readers of speculative fiction, and for mystery readers who don't mind leaving Earth for the duration of the read.

--off to paperback swap

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