All of Jack McDevitt's books contain scenes that bring that sense of viewing a big panorama, something like peering out into the Grand Canyon or up at Niagara Falls, the mix of awe and amazement that leave you going "Wow"! Chindi has all that of that and more, much more.
This book has people, not just characters; Priscilla 'Hutch' Hutchins, the star pilot, was featured in Deepsix, but develops new depths and longings in this book. Her passengers on the historic journey of the Memphis are an odd lot, a collection of extremely successful people who are searching for more to life than just money. They have become leaders in The Contact Society, a future version of The Planetary Society, which is financing the starship and its maiden, exploratory voyage. George and Alyx and Herman and Nick and Tor become friends you know and like, and in some cases, mourn, before this book is done.
And the book has plot: you think, okay, that was exciting and amazing and incredible, so the rest of this book is going to be about the after-effects, right? Wrong; McDevitt has surprise after surprise to keep you turning the pages and going "Wow"!
The Memphis hires Hutch to take them out to explore an anomaly that was reported and pretty much ignored by the regular Academy of Professional explorers: a directed message was observed coming from a totally unlikely spot (a neutron star). Since it is impossible that anyone or anything could live there, the Establishment put this one on the bottom of their 'things to look into' list, but The Contact Society, hungry for any proof that we are not alone, decides to fund an exploration.
The experts were right: nobody lives on a neutron star. What the experts missed: the message is directed to somewhere else, a place where people used to live. And when they get to that place, they discover that the satellite passing messages is linked to another, and yet another, in a network. The discoveries come at a price, a painful price, and yet the remaining passengers overcome Hutch's reluctance and vote to go on.
The network leads from one wonder to another. Hutch is called on to solve one problem after another, to rescue her curious passengers from unforeseen alien consequences. It's not that cliched standby, the alien booby trap that gets them; it's misreading alien technology and failing to understand alien motivations.
And all of this makes Chindi a most satisfying read, a novel that mixes adventure and scientific puzzles and personal interaction, and packs it into what is actually for today a relatively short (400 pages) book. My guess is that this one may finally earn McDevitt his long-deserved Hugo.
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