You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Infinity Beach

Jack McDevitt's Infinity Beach is a first contact novel set centuries in the future when humanity has spread to nine worlds and has begun to accept that there is no other life in the universe. Life is easy for most people, and they only have to work if they want more than the minimum support. Dr. Kimberly Brandywine is a trained astrophysicist working as a public relations spokesperson for the Seabright Institute, an organization devoted to promoting science and discovery.

After an old professor sparks her curiosity, Kim begins delving into the case of her clone sister, who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years earlier. Emily and her crew mate Yoshi vanished after returning from an aborted mission to search for life in a distant area of the galaxy. Both of the other members of the crew are dead, one of them also mysteriously. Kim goes with her friend Solly to visit the abandoned home of one of the missing crew members and is spooked by something she thinks she sees there.

Kim does some more snooping; apparently her former professor has opened up a secret desire in her to find the truth. She speaks to the son of one of the crew and discovers he has in his office a strange model of a starship which used to be his father's. She sneaks into the archives to steal the mission logs and deduces that the logs have been faked. Then she dives into the lake that flooded the last crew member's house and discovers two things: a mural that he drew of Emily holding the same starship that Kim saw as a model, and a strange creature made of mist.

After finding Yoshi's body in the lake, Kim and Solly steal a starship and fly it to the star system where they suspect the failed mission actually found an alien presence. They find evidence of contact with an alien ship, and then a probe flies at them and attaches to their ship. They pry off the probe, but then on the way home they encounter strange things, and Kim becomes convinced that some sort of mist creature like she encountered at the lake has taken control of the ship. When they reach their home planet, Solly has Kim escape in the lander while he scuttles the ship to keep the creature from sending home their location.

Amazingly, Kim manages to keep her job. With some more investigation and some more intrigue, she convinces some of her coworkers to borrow a ship to go back to the planet. She takes the model ship, which is in fact a real alien vessel, and takes it back to the aliens. This opens up a dialog with aliens.

This book takes some weird turns. Kim takes a nugget of doubt and turns it into a mission. She turns out to have a lot of skills and learns a lot about herself along the way. Some of it seems like she's on autopilot, with barely a thread of motivation. But the mystery keeps building, and she keeps unraveling it.

The plot does seem a bit realistic. I can buy the basic setup of the culture that is laid back and blase about the possibility of alien life, and basically satisfied with its safe existence. In this way, this is a good story of breaking through the ennui of a culture and making a historic discovery. But what bothers me is that many of Kim's exploits seem too easy. There's little security in any of her targets. It's ridiculously easy to steal the ship. She explores abandoned ruins and lakes, and there's no press coverage about the decades-old mystery she's solving, nor any police investigation into the events. A truly advanced civilization would have an advanced security force, not to mention military. Sometimes things seem too easy for Kim. And what were the original crew thinking? When the last crew realizes they may meet an alien intelligence, we see lots of thinking about what the first crew should have considered, how to communicate, how to deal with their culture. The first expedition just seemed poorly planned and executed.

Even with these plot holes it is an entertaining book. Kim's perseverance drives the whole story, and leads to negative as well as positive results. The ending is satisfying, if a bit unrealistic. B


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