by Jack McDevitt
Ace, 2003, ISBN 0-441-01046-6
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
Omega clouds, little-understood phenomena moving slowly through the galaxy, unleash destructive energy on anything that appears to be an artificial construct. In 2230, one of them does a devasting job on the remains of an extinct alien civilization, with an archeological expedition from Earth, led by David Collingdale, recording and salvaging what it can, almost up to the last safe moment. Despite this compelling demonstration of the danger of the omegas, no one is much worried, or much interested in doing a nything about them right now, because the omega most likely to reach Earth will not arrive for another nine hundred years.
Then a Space Academy ship sends word that is has found a planet with a pre-technological civilization (roughly Greek city-state level), only the third living alien civilization found so far. And there's an omega in the neighborhood that has changed course and will reach the planet within a few months. Priscilla Hutchins, with her own eventful past as a Space Academy pilot behind her (Engines of God, Deepsix, Chindi), now Assistant Director of Operations, starts organizing a major effort to divert the omega, or protect the unsuspecting civilization from it, or at the very least record as much information about them as possible before they're destroyed. Collingdale leads an expedition from Earth, the Space Academy ship on the scene turns its own efforts to the task, and the whole thing gets a boost in public support from the improbable coincidence of the aliens closely resembling the charac ters of a children's cartoon, the Goompahs. As the divert-the-cloud part of the effort fails, and those studying the Goompahs get more and more caught up in their subjects, scientific objectivity gives way to an absolute determination to save them, no matter what rules have to be broken. Or, as James Kirk never said, but clearly thought more often than was good for him, what about the times when the Prime Directive is clearly wrong?
Nothing really special, but solid, enjoyable fun nonetheless.