REVIEW SUMMARY: And this was nominated for a Nebula because…?
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A group of space enthusiasts follow the point-to-point trail of an alien signal.
PROS: Several new worlds are explored.
CONS: World exploration is too brief; bland characterizations; unbelievable motivations; not very engaging.
BOTTOM LINE: A mediocre sf story
Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins is a space pilot for a corporate space conglomerate. She is hired by the Contact Society, a group of wealthy space enthusiasts who share the common interest of establishing contact with an alien species, to follow the trail of an extra-terrestrial signal detected in the far reaches of space. The group follows the signal from one undiscovered planet to another in an attempt to answer the questions of the aliens’ identity and origins and, hopefully, contact. The search eventually leads to a huge alien artifact dubbed “Chindi”, named after an American-Indian spirit. The crew hopes that the artifact will provide some answers.
And so will the readers because, sadly, there is not a whole lot to engage the reader.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not a bad book. Exploring new worlds was fun. But, because of the decision to follow the signal from point A to point Z, the glimpses were fleeting and therefore unsatisfying. It’s like sense of wonder with only half the calories. It seemed as if the point-to-point signal path was just an excuse to say “Look here! Another alien world!”
This was made worse by the rather bland characterizations. I mean, these are a bunch of amateurs, wannabe space explorers who just happen to have the money to hire a superluminal spaceship. Somehow the idea of these newbie “astronauts” jaunting around space and being the first to explore these newly-discovered worlds seems irresponsible.
That is not to say that they are not qualified. But since you ask, they aren’t. One is an actress. Imagine Julia Roberts traipsing around space and running for her life when beautiful, but ferocious, bird creatures finally make there predatory intentions known. Also on the crew members’ resumes are experience in funeral directing and art. Yeah, these are the guys I want exploring new planets. Was Richard Simmons not available?
And the circumstances under which they persevere (from the acceptable boredom to I-can’t-believe-they’re-not-bee-lining-back-to-Earth death) get increasingly ridiculous. Captain “Hutch” (I still can’t get David Soul‘s image out of my head) just doesn’t know when to say “no”. After one mishap, she’s ready to take them home without question. After the next, she convinces herself that she “owes it” to the team/fallen to go on. Yeah, OK. Ultimately, the most entertaining character was Bill, the ship’s artificial intelligence.
This is the third book in a series set in the same universe as The Engines of God and Deepsix, neither of which I have read. I liked McDevitt’s writing style (sometimes dry but always clear) and reputation enough to give them a go. Events from these other books are repeatedly referenced throughout Chindi, although, I think and hope, not spoiled.
Slamming is fun in a review, but like I said, this is not a bad book; just mediocre. And, to be fair, after the slow first half, the book picked up somewhat – the action sequences were more frequent.
Chindi is on the shortlist for the 2003 Nebula Awards. This would not be my choice for a Nebula.