Space Ramblings

Odyssey by Jack McDevitt book review

Odyssey, like all of Jack McDevitt’s Academy novels takes place in some morbidly depressed futuristic version of the 50’s, in which Jack McDevitt  Odysseymankind has an interstellar drive, forcefields and AI’s, but doesn’t do anything but participate in retro musicals and read loud newspaper headlines from around the world.

Odyssey is really no different, except McDevitt doesn’t bother writing a plot that makes any kind of sense (or including an actual odyssey in it despite the title). In Odyssey, space travel is once again endangered because no one likes or cares about it. The Academy is struggling, and you can see why, because the spaceships are flown by AI’s and the pilots do nothing. And to prove it, the space expedition on Odyssey has everyone playing board games and talking for the entire trip, while the AI flies the ship. The expedition includes a 15 year old girl, Gordon McAllister an obnoxious magazine editor, Eric, the PR director, and Valya, a pilot who doesn’t really pilot, and at the end actually puts Eric in command.

The plot of Odyssey focuses around Moonriders, UFO like ships. But mostly the plot is really about Gordon McAllister, the kind of bad Mencken imitation that could only be played by Dabney Coleman in the movie version. McAllister’s main function is to make sarcastic remarks about everything and serve as the author’s voice. He also exposes the conspiracy behind the moonriders, which turns out to be a plot by space companies to trick the government into spending more money on space (boo! hiss! who wants to spend more money on space). Except then the moonriders actually do show up and blow up an outer space version of CERN.

This plot development makes no sense, because the moonriders launching an attack at the same time as the corporations were creating fake moonrider attacks is a completely improbable coincidence, that even a lazy author should try to explain somehow. But McDevitt doesn’t bother. And then McDevitt has the moonriders warn of the attack in a message to that 15 year old girl, whom of course no one believes. There’s no reason for her to get the message, rather than anyone on SpaceCERN, except to complicate the plot.

And just to make Odyssey an even worse mess, McDevitt seems to base the attack on SpaceCERN around September 11, complete with two towers being bombed, and then a giant fireball and smoke coming out. Except SpaceCERN is in outer space. Yes that’s how good the science in Odyssey is. That it has structures exploding in fireballs in outer space.

Finally since when McDevitt can’t think of what to do with the plot next, he has someone die tragically, that’s exactly what happens next. Dabney Coleman presides over a new Scopes trial. The 15 year old girl is still 15. Hutch once again goes off in a funk. And there you have it, another Academy novel.

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  • Mike Richards August 23, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    This series of books is getting increasingly depressing. not because of anything that happens in the books – because as you say – nothing happens in the books. It’s depressing because it all started so well; but hasn’t really gone anywhere in the goodness knows how many books since.

    And I’m glad it’s not just me who wonders how McDevitt’s society actually works. It’s almost like he was writing in the 1950s rather than today; I’m kind of surprised Hutch is allowed to have a job in this world, shouldn’t she be at home sinking synthetic gin and popping ersatz Valium between Martian Tupperware parties.

  • O_Deus August 24, 2010 at 12:37 am

    Hutch ends or begins a lot of the novels by retiring and getting domestic. So more 50’s.

    McDevitt getting compared to Asimov or Heinlein is a joke. They actually tried to reach forward. He keeps pushing back.

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