The eighth entry in the medium-future Academy series (Starhawk, 2013, etc.) starring expert spaceship pilot Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins and her expeditions around a galaxy littered with ancient alien artifacts yet now seemingly devoid of intelligent life.
Enthusiasm for space exploration is, however, waning, leaving a now effectively immortal Hutch faced with the dull prospect of making routine trips to known destinations. But then a probe more than 7,000 light-years distant picks up an alien broadcast. This, a video of a waterfall with musical accompaniment, immediately causes bafflement, excitement, and apprehension. Luckily, a new and very speedy spaceship is nearing completion, and Hutch anticipates investigating, along with space scientist Derek Blanchard (an obvious stand-in for Neil deGrasse Tyson). However, other scientists (McDevitt’s scowl at Stephen Hawking and others), politicians, and demonstrators quickly grow more vocal and insistent that it’s dangerous to risk attracting the attention of a possibly hostile advanced race. With the ship complete but untested, Hutch and scientists embark while the politicians order them to desist; they decide to ignore the command despite knowing that their careers are at stake. Once they reach their destination, there’s no sign of the planet where, 7,000 years ago, the broadcast originated. Thus begins a whole set of riddles, as Hutch and company try to learn what’s going on—there seems to be no other way to dispel the obsessive gloom and fearmongering back home. To be sure, this involves some obvious editorializing, with epigraphs aptly illustrating a discussion that McDevitt infuses with real warmth and understanding, bolstered by an unwavering conviction that paranoia is entirely the wrong reaction to a legitimate concern.
Despite a slow-motion first hundred pages pondering whether the expedition should go ahead, a solidly engrossing entry in this agreeable and reliable series.