Treasure hunter Alex Benedict rides again in Jack McDevitt’s entertaining ‘Seeker’

November 2, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 2, 2014

I had one reservation before purchasing Seeker, Jack McDevitt’s 2005 science fiction novel.

It wasn’t the writer, whose work I’ve enjoyed.

It wasn’t the book’s premise, which sounded great: The incidental discovery of an artifact from a long-lost spaceship sets two treasure hunters on a quest to locate the vessel and the vanished colony that it helped establish millennia ago.

No, it was the book’s characters — or, maybe more to the point, its series. Seeker is the third of six books in McDevitt’s Alex Benedict sequence, which revolve around an incredibly intelligent antiquities dealer from a prosperous colony world called Rimway.

Last year, I read Polaris, the second Alex Benedict novel, and found myself disappointed in its pacing, even though it boasts an intriguing premise (as Seeker does) and a rousing action finale.

Still, I was willing to gives McDevitt another go, and I’m glad I did.

While Seeker lacks the fantastic action of Chindi, it’s better paced than Polaris. This is partly because McDevitt sends his narrator — Chase Kolpath, Benedict’s right-hand woman — on an excursion into the Assemblage about a third of the way through the novel. The Assemblage is a cluster of star systems colonized by the only known currently living intelligent alien species, a race of tall, fanged telepaths called Ashiyyur. (Many humans, who find themselves unnerved by the aliens’ appearance and behavior, refer to them as Mutes.) This interlude provides a welcome break from this novel’s — and Polaris’s — primary setting, the rather bland Rimway.

Seeker is a science fiction mystery that involves a fair amount of astronomy. Part of Benedict’s and Kolpath’s quest involves tracking down the travel records of a superluminal (faster-than-light) starship that was used by a pair of now-dead explorers who evidently discovered Seeker’s location but died before they could deduce the location of the missing colony. That’s what Kolpath is doing in the following passage:

At Alex’s direction, I checked to see which corporate entities were leasing superluminals during the 1390s. The only company then in the business on Rimway was StarDrive. But it had since crashed. I tracked down a former executive of StarDrive, Shao Mae Tonkin, currently with a food distribution firm.

It took the better part of a day to get through to him. He was reluctant to talk to me, too busy, until I told him I was working on a biography of Baker Stills, who had been StarDrive’s CEO. Tonkin was a massive individual. He may have been the biggest human being I’ve ever seen. He had solemn features and small eyes that peered out from under thick lids. His forebears had inhabited a low-gravity world, or maybe an orbital. Or maybe he just ate too much. In any case, he’d probably live longer if he retreated off-world.

“Went down twenty years ago,” he said. His tone was so serious an eavesdropper would have thought the fate of the world hanged on the conversation. “I’m sorry, Ms. Kolpath, but everything other than the financial records were destroyed. Long ago. I can tell you all you need to know about Baker.” He’d been competent, creative, a hard driver. Et cetera. “But I can’t provide much in the way of details on the day-to-day operations. It’s been too long.”

“So there’s no record of any kind where your customers took the ships?”

He seemed to be running about five seconds behind the conversation. He thought my question over while he massaged his neck with his fingertips. “No. None whatever.”

Later, Kolpath tracks down the ship in question, which is what leads to her excursion into the Ashiyyur Assemblage. Meanwhile, her boss, Benedict, makes many leaps of logic in order to analyze irregularities in the dead discoverers’ travel records as well as orbital oddities that may reveal the fate of the lost colony of Margolia.

All in all, Seeker is solid science fiction fun, cleverly devised and well told. I definitely enjoyed this book more than Polaris but not as much as McDevitt’s Chindi; I’d also rank Seeker as a better read than Odyssey, although that’s a closer call.

For those new to McDevitt, Seeker makes for a good first experience. As for me, this won’t be the last volume of his that I’ll be reading.

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