Metareview: Infinity Beach (UK title: Slow Lightning) by Jack McDevitt
(Harper-Collins Eos, US$7, 528 pages, paperback; this edition February 2001; ISBN: 0061020052.)
Rating: solid A; A+ for creepy aliens. A polished hard-SF mystery-thriller first-contact story. Many think this is his best novel yet. Amazon score: 3.6 of 5 stars, range 1 to 5 stars, 14 readers. Other reviews seen: average B+, range A to C.
Near the end of the Third Millenium, on the terraformed planet Greenway,
...Kimberly Brandywine lives in a world of comfort and prosperity. The problems are all solved: War, crime, poverty, and discrimination in all their forms have been eradicated. The human family stands, finally, united. There are no birth defects. Everybody looks good. Humans are all, in the manner of Lake Wobegone, well above average.
Kim's civilization enjoys faster-than-light travel. It has terraformed and settled eight worlds beyond Earth. Life is good. But star travel has become routine. People go out to look at Aldebaran, pop by the Pleiades, turn left at Rigel, swing by Polaris. Scientific surveys provide details about the myriad worlds... And while researchers collate the information on whatever passes for computer disks, everyone else has retired to a kind of galactic front porch.
Something is missing.
Just as happened in the 1960's, the human race has left its beachhead and taken a long look around. And it hasn't liked what it sees. So it's returning home. It's lost heart, and some recognize the nature of the problem. "We are coming back at last to Earth," writes one commentator. "To the forests of our innocence.... Farewell, Centaurus. Farewell to all we might have been."
Will we one day need to find those canals that did not turn up on Mars? I suspect we will. So I sent Kim Brandywine looking for them.
Infinity Beach stands out for its polished, adult prose, and for its complex, conflicted characters, muddling through life. McDevitt's writing is clean and mature. The plot is twisty, genre-bending, romantic, recomplicated. Experienced readers will have seen all of his plot-elements before, but McDevitt plants enough red herrings to keep you guessing (me, anyway). This is a world-class novelist writing at the height of his powers. A Nebula award nominee, and not to be missed.
Infinity Beach features some of the creepiest aliens since, well, Alien. At least three times, I felt the hair rise up on the back of my neck.... it's been awhile since that's happened. I liked this book a lot. A definite keeper.
"Infinity Beach showcases world-building at its best. McDevitt constructs a believable society, with some of the better extrapolations into the far future I've read... McDevitt layers in the science with a light touch, using an expertise that will satisfy most hard SF readers while remaining unobtrusive to those with little interest in such aspects..."
"Jack McDevitt is that splendid rarity, a writer who is a storyteller first and a science fiction writer second... If you've never read McDevitt before, you couldn't find a better book to start with than Infinity Beach, a nail-biting neo-Gothic tale that blends mystery, horror, and a fascinating look at how first contact with an utterly alien species might happen. I simply couldn't put it down - I was up until long past midnight and loving every minute of it. Kim Brandywine is one of McDevitt's most engaging characters, both real and appealing. Snatch this baby up, all right? You're going to love it even if you think you don't like science fiction. You might even want to drop me a thank-you note for the tip before racing out to your local bookstore to pick up the Jack McDevitt backlist."
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© Peter D Tillman 2 June 2001