There’s an entire industry built on turning the music you love into easy listening elevator music. Jack McDevitt‘s books are mostly elevator music versions of older Science Fiction novels. They’re easy to read and they carry a soothing mood along with them that feels like riding in a glass elevator while listening to a completely unrecognizable, but somehow recognizable, easy listening piece of music that once belonged to a great composer.
The Alex Benedict novels are the weakest of Jack McDevitt‘s work. Like the rest of his books they’re set in what feels like a future Canada, where most people have the tastes and attitudes of the 1950’s and 1960’s. But the Benedict novels happen to be set tens of thousands of years in the future, which makes the whole thing less credible than the Academy novels.
Like so many Jack McDevitt novels, Echo is about a quest for something deeply meaningful to the human soul with profound blah blah. In this case, as in so many cases, that’s aliens. The problem is that the last Alex Benedict novel, The Devil’s Eye was about a showdown with a powerful race of aliens who eventually help save an endangered planet. But in Echo, everyone acts like Sunset Tuttle, a researcher who spent his life looking for aliens and then left behind a mysterious artifact, is insane for searching for a third alien race, even though there’s already a major alien race that everyone knows about.
But the artifact catches the attention of Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath who try to hunt down its origin. There are a few attempted assassinations, lots of conversations, a chase scene and eventually a journey to find a mysterious alien world that is more and less and more than it’s supposed to be. If you’ve read these before, then you know what to expect. Jack McDevitt is channeling some classic movies here and the twist is, like the rest of the book, adequate.
Echo is easy listening. It pretends to be about something important, but it’s not. It pretends to make you think, but it doesn’t. All the portentous quotes at the beginning of every chapter, that still sound like Jack McDevitt even though they are meant to be from fictional writers who aren’t him, are just as light as the book.
If you have to take a trip somewhere, Echo is an acceptable companion. It’s junk food dressed up as something classier and more nutritious. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Just don’t expect anything from the science or the ideas. When you encounter aliens who talk, think and look exactly like us, and are also run by a matriarchy which worships a goddess of reason, along with about pages of ponderings on how first encounters change societies, without ever really showing it happen in the book, except with a place called “Alien Pizza”; don’t be too disappointed.
It’s only easy listening.