Polaris

Recently, I had the great good fortune to pick up a book at a thrift store in Whitefish, Montana for a dollar.  A hardcover science fiction book by an author that I had not heard of before in mint condition, Polaris written by Jack McDevitt.  I was intrigued by the cover art.  (I know that you are not supposed to judge a book by the cover, see previous blog post on that subject here: Judging a Book by it’s Cover)  Once I read the description, I was hooked.

The description of the book from the inside of the jacket cover is as follows:

“The luxury space yacht Polaris carried an elite group of the wealthy and curious thousands of light-years from Earth to witness a spectacular stellar phenomenon.  It never returned.  The search party sent to investigate found the Polaris empty and adrift in space, the fate of its pilot and passengers a mystery.

Sixty years later, the question of what happened aboard the Polaris continues to capture the popular imagination, especially as the anniversary of the event approaches.  A major new book is planned, as is an auction of the things found on the ship – including personal effects of the missing.

Prominent antiquities dealer Alex Benedict manages to secure some of the artifacts before the auction.  But then an explosion destroys most of the collection, and an attempt is made on his life.  Convinced that someone is taking drastic measures to hide the truth about the Polaris, Alex is determined to uncover the truth – no matter how far he must travel across the stars, no matter the risk….”  – Polaris book cover

Jack McDevitt wields an interesting tale.  In this future time of space exploration and colonization, why does the captain and crew come up missing from the space ship Polaris?  This tale could have been told a variety of ways.  McDevitt’s writing is clever in balancing clues to they mystery, building relate-able characters, describing fictional places and keeping the reader intrigued.

All of the characters are interesting.  To me, the ship itself feels like a character as much as the passengers who disappeared.  And in the end part of the ship provides a very important clue that helps solve the case.  There is the story of Alex Benedict who secures and sells artifacts along with Chase Kolpath, Benedict’s employee, pilot and I would also say friend.  Chase’s voice narrates the story and I think that it is a creative choice that makes sense.  It becomes very important in sequences involving flight and space travel.  Because Chase is a pilot, she can describe the events in a way that is plausible and believable.

McDevitt has a talent for weaving humor into his descriptions of fictional creatures.  The following is a description of an evening on a planet that Alex and Chase were visiting and their experience with a yoho.

“It became an interesting evening.  The snowstorm renewed itself and turned into a howling blizzard, there was an earthquake warning at about the time we were going to bed, and a few hours later they evacuated the hotel because a yoho got into the building.

The yohos, it turned out, were arthropodic creatures with a taste for people.  Fortunately, they only showed up five days out of the year, which coincided with there breeding season, and on those occasions they rarely left the beach.  After an hour of standing in the snow, we were informed by management that the yoho had gone, everything was okay, and we could go back in.  When we got to our suite, we inspected it carefully and locked the doors.”  –Polaris, page 265.

The following is the description of a planet that Chase and Alex fly by during their investigation of the disappearances of the captain and crew of the Polaris.

“Markop III was hardly worth a visit.  But we went anyhow, because Alex insisted on being thorough.

It was an attractive world, lots of blue water, fleecy white clouds, herds of big shaggy creatures that made great targets if you were into hunting.  The weather through the temperate zones was almost balmy.

If it was inviting, however, it was also potentially lethal.  Unlike the vast majority of living worlds, its viruses and disease germs loved homo sapiens.” –Polaris, page 317.

My overall take on the book is that it is an interesting story that has a satisfying ending.  It was fun to read from beginning to end, with the mystery keeping me guessing throughout the novel.  If you enjoy a good mystery with your science fiction, I would highly recommend this novel.  If you have read the novel and would like to talk about it, please leave a comment or write to me through my contact me page.

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