Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Review: Seeker by Jack McDevitt
Published: Ace Books, 2005
Series: Book 3 of the Alex Benedict Series
Awards Won: Nebula
Awards Nominated: John W. Campbell Award
"Thousands of years after an entire colony mysteriously disappears, antiquities dealer Alex Benedict comes into possession of a cup that seems to be from the Seeker, one of the colony's ships. Investigating the provenance of the cup, Alex and his assistant Chase follow a deadly trail to the Seeker-strangely adrift in a system barren of habitable worlds. But their discovery raises more questions than it answers, drawing Alex and Chase into the very heart of danger." ~barnesandnoble.com
Seeker is the third Alex Benedict novel, but I get the sense that this series is mostly episodic. I haven't read anything by McDevitt before, but I don't believe that any prior reading is required to enjoy Seeker.
Seeker is a treasure-hunt detective story set in a star-spanning far-future human civilization. The two main characters--the brilliant detective Alex Benedict and the narrator, his assistant Chase Kolpath--seemed like sci-fi versions of traditional 'Sherlock' and 'Watson' characters. The book focused mostly on Chase and her legwork in the hunt for the lost colony, but Alex also turned up fairly often. I enjoyed following Chase, as she interviewed disparate people and traveled to exotic locations. However, while the characters Chase came into contact with had very clearly defined personalities, I didn't feel like they had much depth or three-dimensionality. Overall, Seeker is driven much more by the plot concerning the central mystery than by character motivations.
The story felt very formulaic, but that's not to say it wasn't entertaining. I was intrigued by the mystery of the Seeker and the search for what became of the lost colony. The uncovering of the mystery was leisurely-paced and somewhat predictable, but I enjoyed reading about Chase's gradual accumulation of information and her and Alex's developing hypotheses. The major subplot of the novel concerned a mysterious force that seemed determined to stop--or eliminate-- Alex and Chase. I thought this storyline felt a bit forced, as if it were added after the fact to generate more physical conflict. The final resolution of the subplot was underwhelming, and seemed like something I might have expected from a generic thriller or action film.
Given that it was set about 10,000 years in the future, I was also bothered by the similarity of Seeker's human culture to modern America. From slang, to daily habits, to food and drink, to general social and political attitudes, to socio-economic classes, to character archetypes, it all felt a little too familiar. It seems like there would be some major shifts in attitudes and societal structure in that much time. However, I don't mean to imply that the world-building has nothing to offer. There are a few interesting technological developments and an interesting alien race, the Mutes, that briefly intersect the story. All the same, the characters seemed like they would feel at home in the U.S. of 2011, which was a little jarring for such a far-future, deep-space society.
My Rating: 3/5
Seeker doesn't break any molds, but it's still an entertaining novel. The leisurely-paced, intriguing mystery of the lost colony is woven together with a clichéd, thriller-like action subplot. The characters were serviceable for the story, but they weren't ultimately memorable outside of their roles in the investigation. It was sometimes difficult to maintain my suspension of disbelief, since McDevitt's millennia-old space culture was strikingly similar to early 2000s United States. Even with these complaints, I did enjoy Seeker. It may not be groundbreaking, but I think reading a book like Seeker is a pleasant way to spend a lazy afternoon.