by Jack McDevit
HarperCollins Eos, 2001, 432 pp, $25.00
A book review by Mark L. Olson
I have previously criticized McDevitt for being unable to finish a book without a plot collapse or, at least, committing multiple absurdities. Deepsix is much better than that.
The book is set after perhaps a century of interstellar travel. There is, as yet, no galaxy-spanning civilization, but FTL travel is sufficiently routine that cruise ships take the well-to-do on tour to exotic places.
Deepsix is an older world than Earth and its animal life has evolved to a ferocity far beyond Earthly. The one expedition sent there lost most of its members to attacks by animal life and in the twenty years since, no one has returned.
But a rogue Jovian planet is falling through Deepsix's solar system and is on a collision course to hit Deepsix. An expedition is put together and sent, and a cruise ship is also sent to view the collision. The expedition has no landers onboard because their plan is to observe the collision and not to venture to the perilous surface. But once in the vicinity, the expedition discovers remains of a medieval civilization on the surface.
A couple of small scientific ships are diverted from their missions to do a quick final bit of archeology, attempting a risky landing to gather what information may be saved. (It's unclear to me how the first expedition missed all this.) Naturally, the surface party runs into problems which result in the only two landers in the system being destroyed. They're trapped on the surface of a very hostile planet which is only two weeks from utter destruction.
They happen to remember that the first expedition left behind a lander only a few hundred miles from where they are, and set off on foot to find it.
The story is well done with good tension, some reasonable characters and adventure aplenty. But I have some quibbles!
First of all, McDevitt yet again falls into his standard trap of making the future sound like next week. The story may be set a couple of centuries from now, but the people sound like present-day Americans. I don't think he's making an effort, here.
He has a variety of really neat gadgets -- an FTL drive, a force-field space-suit, water-powered fusion reactors, AI, but they are carefully limited in their effects so that most of the rest of the technology seems hardly advance beyond today's. It's like someone was writing Napoleonic War SF and had the crewmen of a British sail-powered Man-o-War using GPS to navigate and stunners for boarding parties and sails made of Kevlar - but still raised the sails with hemp ropes and drank rum and ate hardtack and rowed from ship to ship. The society just doesn't feel integrated.
He also messes up the effects of the approaching giant planet, showing too much of an effect when it is distant and too little of an effect as it approaches closer. This was necessary to the story, but it was annoying.
All in all, though, this is a good book and might well make my Hugo list.
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