REVIEW: Return to Glory by Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt’s passion for astronomy was recognized in 2008 when the International Astronomical Union put his name on an asteroid. NASA has given him an award for “keeping the science in science fiction.” Stephen King described Jack as the “natural heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.”
Life is full of mysteries. Or at least, Jack’s fiction is. His earliest story, “The Emerson Effect,” shows how a hundred-year-old package that had been lost in the mail turns up at a post office and changes the lives of two clerks. In “The Big Downtown,” why do three people take a sailboat out into the bay when a hurricane is moving in? In “Tau Ceti Said What?” we send an automated mission out to the star, which is twelve light-years away, so far the ship required fifty years to get there, what might it see so unnerving that we’d try to keep secret that there’d even been a message?
In “Riding with the Duke,” Jack shows us how much fun TV may be in the near future. And might we really live in a universe where, somewhere, every possibility occurs? And would that be a good thing? “Standard Candles” asks the question. In “Timely Visitor” we encounter a time traveler from the past who seeks to have her work recognized. “Return to Glory” suggests the possibility that Star Trek may actually give us the Enterprise.
“The Cat’s Pajamas” examines what the crew of a starship may risk to rescue a stranded feline. And a senator’s conversation with an AI that doesn’t do much more than answer phone calls and announce visitors leads to a crisis in “The Wrong Way.”
These and twenty other rides into the unknown await the reader.
Dear Mr. McDevitt,
The cover attracted my attention and the part of the blurb that mentioned a cat got me to request it because anyone who puts saving a cat in a SF story has to be worth reading. I’m sticking to that. I was also looking to try something different and other reviewers mentioned how you tend to hard SF. With that in mind, I began reading.
As with any anthology of short and (a few) longer stories, there will be some that are great and some that are good, and some that I either didn’t like or felt were a let down. But even the stories that didn’t work for me were still well crafted and written. The thumbnail descriptions were honed yet also brought images to mind even with those few words. A book isn’t merely old.
He balanced the volume in his hand. It had the heft and texture that suggested walnut paneling and oak furniture.
The stories range from totally Earthbound to far out in space. Some are about people still yearning and watching for contact with aliens to casual mentions of AI and colonies on Mars. Many are set just decades into our future while others take place centuries from now. Asteroids and what they might do to Earth are frequent subjects. Marriages are often troubled and for some reason most of the female characters are described in terms of their attractiveness (although to be fair these same women are often brilliant and in one case might offer hope for Earthly salvation due to her quick actions with a cellphone). “Moon River” might also save the planet? Well, I do like the song, too.
My favorite explores the agonizing choice that could face scientists who decode an alien transmission and realize the knowledge might be a bounty or enough to destroy us. Another scientist comes to regret discovering an asteroid that she gets to name but which is on a path that will affect all humankind. A female PhD helps perfect a means to allow faster than light space travel but, with all the space junk circling Earth, will it be put into use? In other stories, the protagonists face the idea that we might never have the practical means to leave our planet, much less the solar system. Two lovers discover that they are literally star crossed when they have a failure to communicate.
Are we, as one character thinks, safer if we’re alone in the Universe? What is behind our passion to find “someone” else? If we’re the advanced tech, can we stick to the Prime Directive? And if we’re like the South Sea islanders facing Captain Cook, what are the implications for us? Should we turn over our lives to AI or are they worthy of citizenship? If the world was going to end, do we want to know ahead of time? Would you risk your life trying to save someone knowing that if you (in all likelihood) failed, you’d miss seeing the results of scientific studies? But I’ve got to love a story that acknowledges the importance of Kirk and Mr. Spock. B
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