Outer space mystery ‘Polaris’ attracts but does not hold attention

August 15, 2012

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 15, 2012

I recently read and raved about Chindi, a 2002 novel by the prolific science fiction author Jack McDevitt. Therefore, it was with great anticipation that I plunged into his 2004 offering, a far-future mystery called Polaris.

I found the setup for this book irresistible. (I purchased both it and Chindi on a recent trip to the new location of Falls River Books in Raleigh, N.C.) Polaris is an interstellar yacht carrying some of the Confederacy’s most celebrated figures on a once-in-a-lifetime junket: They have traveled to an uninhabited solar system to watch its encounter with a disruptive rogue star.

But the captain and her six passengers never return from their voyage. A rescue crew finds an empty Polaris drifting in space. The disappearance of the seven souls she carried is never explained. 

Sixty years later, adventurous antiquities dealers Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath manage to acquire some objects from the Polaris moments before a bomb destroys an exhibition of artifacts from the ship. The pair soon twig to a mysterious conspiracy. Someone is very interested in the surviving items — and may be willing to kill for them.

McDevitt puts some interesting forces into play, and he brings everything to a rousing conclusion. But I had decidedly mixed feelings about this book, which is the second of five novels about Benedict.

After Benedict and Kolpath escape the bomb attack, the book enters a long stretch in which the narrative seemed stalled. And I never really grew invested in any of the characters; Benedict and Kolpath, his assistant and the volume’s narrator, get the most attention, but they never develop much depth.

Polaris had enough appealing elements that I would try another Benedict novel, and I would still like to check out another of his Academy books (of which Chindi was the third). If you’re a big fan of McDevitt, give Polaris a try. If not, you might be better off going with another one of his works.

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