Saturday 20 June 2015

Chindi by Jack McDevitt, and The Lost Fleet: Courageous by Jack Campbell

Chindi is the third in McDevitt's Academy series featuring Hutch (Priscilla Hutchins) a spacecraft pilot with a tendency to get involved with alien archaeology; I have already reviewed The Engines of God and Deepsix on this blog.

The mix is much as before; mystery and drama set in a future in which humanity, having recently discovered faster-than-light travel, is rapidly spreading through the galaxy. Many ruins of dead alien civilisations have been discovered but the only live one has a primitive level of technology.

The key plot element this time is what appears to be an alien message accidentally intercepted by a spacecraft exploring in a remote part of the galaxy.  This prompts the Contact Society, a group of wealthy alien enthusiasts (that is, humans who are interested in aliens!), to fund an expedition to track down the source of the message, and Hutch is recruited to pilot them. What follows is an escalating series of discoveries as the explorers follow the track of the message from system to system, surviving catastrophic threats not without loss, but drawn ever onwards by the lure of encountering another spacefaring race. One dramatic twist follows another as the pace gradually accelerates towards the climax.

The plot is not as intriguing and awe-inspiring as The Engines of God, but it is better than Deepsix which has a relatively mundane mystery. The characterisation is improving, although the author still has a tendency to provide each new character with a sizeable biographical infodump which is not the best way to learn what kind of people they are. All in all, this is a good, exciting adventure story in the best traditions of space opera.


Courageous is the third of Campbell's Lost Fleet series, which is simply one long, continuous story of a running fight between opposing starship fleets as seen through the eyes of John Geary, commander of one of the fleets (see my reviews of the first two volumes, and repeat). Nothing very new happens in this one and the repetition ought to be boring, but every time I pick up one of Campbell's books I am gripped by his storytelling skills and find it hard to put down again. This one finishes on a cliffhanger, but I will try to resist buying any more for a while – too many other books in my reading pile!

Incidentally, in an interview at the end of the book, the author lists his favourite TV series. The one in first place is no great surprise (the original Star Trek), but in second place comes The Prisoner (1960s British mystery) and in third The Avengers (not the comic strip characters, but another 1960s British series). I can't disagree with any of those, and I enthusiastically endorse his comment on The Avengers: "Emma Peel. Best. SF. Female. Character. Ever."


Fred said...


Fascinating title. "In Navajo religious belief, a chindi (Navajo: chʼį́įdii) is the ghost left behind after a person dies, believed to leave the body with the decedent's last breath."

Is there a connection to anything in the story?

Following is the url for the Wiki entry on chindi.

As for his opinions regarding TV series and Emma Peel, I heartily endorse and support everything he said.

Way back when Johnny Carson was the host of the Tonight Show, Patrick Macnee was a guest and said that various "specialty retail establishments" had reported dramatically increased interest in and difficulty in keeping leather clothing items in stock shortly after Emma Peel became a regular.

Anthony G Williams said...

Yes, the meaning of Chindi is explained in the book, as it is very relevant to the story - not literally in terms of ghosts, but in terms of something left behind and still functioning long after the originator was dead.

Fred said...


Ah, so the title is relevant in a way.

dlw said...

I read Chindi last year. I liked it enough to wedge it into the "keep" shelf, but several times I wished McDevitt's editor had told him to cut the word count by 1/4 or 1/3 - it felt like it was originally a tightly-written story expanded by various side tracks and infodumps.

It's not just McDevitt's problem; I've seen a lot of books with similar issues over the last 20 years or so. Possibly the publishers feel their customers think "more is better." I guess eventually mass market paperbacks will become cubical.

Anthony G Williams said...

I've expressed my views on the subject of over-long SF novels in the article The Length of SF Novels (see the links to SFF Articles on the left).