Saturday 13 December 2014

Deepsix by Jack McDevitt

Set in the same universe as The Engines of God (reviewed here last January ) but twenty years later, Deepsix has only one character from the earlier story; spacecraft pilot Priscilla Hutchins (Hutch). Despite this the focus is not particularly on her, with various people acting as viewpoint characters as the book progresses. The plots of the two novels are unconnected but similar in that both feature apocalyptic events with system-wide effects; in this case, a wandering gas giant on a collision course with an Earth-type planet dubbed Deepsix. The planet, in the middle of an ice age, had scarcely been explored following a disastrous first visit a couple of decades earlier when the exploration team suffered heavy casualties from hostile wildlife. Spaceships with both scientists and tourists gather in the system to observe the gigantic collision, only for closer inspection of the planet to reveal previously unsuspected evidence of a former civilisation, prompting visits to the surface in a last-ditch attempt to collect information.

This is, of course, where things start to go wrong, with people becoming trapped on the planet and time running out. The discovery of a startling alien artifact in the system, far more advanced than the remains on the planet, adds yet more complexity and the tension ratchets up steadily as the inescapable deadline looms ever-closer.

As I observed in my previous review, McDevitt isn't the most stylish of writers and has each new character being accompanied by his or her own biographical infodump. Even so I found myself getting confused between which ships' captains were in charge of which ships and what role they had to play; a little reinforcement from time to time would have been helpful. McDevitt also seems rather obsessed with the nastiness of coordinated attacks by lots of small, vicious animals. Such an attack took place in TEoG in an unnecessary scene that did not advance the plot, and Deepsix begins with a similar event.

Despite these gripes, this is an intriguing read from the start and becomes unputdownable as the tension mounts; the author has a wide-screen imagination and can certainly tell a story. This one didn't appeal to me quite as much as the earlier book which had a galactic-scale mystery to be solved, but it is still an entertaining if undemanding read.


Dan said...

This is one I've always wanted to see turned into a film.

Anthony G Williams said...

I agree, with modern CGI this could look fantastic and the basic story is straightforward enough to suit a film.