Review: Echo by Jack McDevitt (4 stars)

I finished reading Echo by Jack McDevitt on Saturday and like the previous books in the series, I totally enjoyed it. I am a science fiction fan at heart, but even within science fiction, there are certain types of stories that I find immensely enjoyable. Science fiction mysteries are among those stories, and Jack McDevitt is a master of the form. Echo is just another example of this.

The story is the fifth involving the antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his sidekick, Chase Kolpath. At Readercon this year, I sat with Jack in a Koffeeklatsch and he said that Chase was his favorite character to write, the one that he enjoyed the most. It shows in this latest mystery, where Chase and Alex come across an artifact written in a language that no one recognizes and which all clues point to the possibility that a third race of intelligent aliens might have been found–and covered up for some reason.  That’s about all I can say about the plot of the story without giving anything away.

As I said in my review of The Devil’s Eye, one thing I love about these books is how the world in which the characters live feels so real, despite taking place 9,000 years in the future. Jack does some things that makes it believable, at least in my eyes. First, there is a clear assumption that not too much in the way of basic human functioning and society changes. There is no Singularity here, which is a welcome relief. People eat in restaurants, they stay in hotels, they own houses, they travel. It’s the little touches like giving the restaurants names that make the world come alive. There are definitely things that place the story in the far future: the AIs, FTL, air taxis, anti-grav units, but it is also clear that these have evolved into the society over time and are not demonstrations to the reader of fantastic technology, but simply more examples of what Chase and Alex are used to.

In this story, we see both Chase and Alex struggling with the mystery they are following–to a breaking point–and we get some additional insight into both characters that we’ve never really gotten before.

Of course, the mystery itself is typical of Jack–and I mean that as a compliment. It starts by seeming virtually impossible and concludes by both surprising the reader, and making perfect, logical sense. I enjoyed the novel immensely and I’m already looking forward to this time next year when the next Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath novel, Firebird, will be released.