McDevitt, Jack 1935–
McDevitt, Jack 1935–
(John Charles McDevitt)
Born April 14, 1935, in Philadelphia, PA; son of John A. (a refinery worker) and Elizabeth (a homemaker) McDevitt; married Maureen McAdams (a teacher's aide), December 16, 1967; children: one daughter, two sons. Education: LaSalle College, B.A. 1957; Wesleyan University, M.A.L.S., 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Chess, astronomy.
Writer, novelist, short-story writer, and educator. Woodrow Wilson High School, Levittown, PA, theater director and instructor in English and history, 1963-68; Mount St. Charles Academy, Woonsocket, RI, instructor in English, history, and theater, 1968-71; Newfound Memorial High School, Bristol, NH, English department chair, 1971-73; U.S. Customs Service, customs inspector in Pembina, ND, 1975-82, regional training officer in Chicago, IL, 1982-85, supervisor and management trainer specializing in motivational techniques and leadership at Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Glynco, GA, 1985-95; full-time writer, 1995—. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1958-62; served in naval security group; earned commission.
U.S. Chess Federation, Science Fiction Writers of America, Military Officers Association of America.
Locus Award, and Philip K. Dick Special Award, both 1987, both for The Hercules Text; Hugo Award nomination for best short story, 1988, for "The Fort Moxie Branch"; UPC Award, 1992, for novella "Ships in the Night," and 1994, for "Time Travellers Never Die"; Homer Award, 1997, for Time Travellers Never Die; John W. Campbell Award, 2004, for Omega.
SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS
The Hercules Text, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1986.
A Talent for War, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1989.
The Engines of God, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Ancient Shores, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Eternity Road, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Moonfall, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Hello Out There (contains revision of The Hercules Text and A Talent for War), Meisha Merlin Atlantic, 2000.
Infinity Beach, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Deepsix, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Chindi, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Omega, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Polaris, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Seeker, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Odyssey, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor of short stories to magazines, including Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Twilight Zone, and Full Spectrum.
Although one of his childhood ambitions was to become a science fiction writer, Jack McDevitt did not realize his dream until he was in his forties. Prompted by his wife, Maureen, McDevitt wrote a short story, "The Emerson Effect," which was purchased by Twilight Zone magazine. Since then, McDevitt has produced numerous novels, as well as story contributions to periodicals; until 1995, McDevitt did this while working full-time for the U.S. Customs Service. In fact, his job in customs revived his interest in science fiction. While working the night shift as an inspector at his first post in Pembina, North Dakota, McDevitt stayed awake by reading science fiction novels. A town with a population of just six hundred, Pembina appears as Fort Moxie in several of McDevitt's short stories and in his novel Ancient Shores.
McDevitt is considered a "humanist" science fiction writer, as his stories typically place an ordinary person in unusual, sometimes threatening situations which often result from encounters with the unknown. As McDevitt once told CA: "I don't use antagonists (in the sense of villainous characters) in my writing. Each character thinks he/she is doing the right thing. The conflicts arise from differences in perception." McDevitt also makes occasional use of religious themes in his fiction, exposing his characters to circumstances that challenge their belief systems. Said McDevitt: "I have no [religious] affiliation, but I enjoy creating situations in which characters must confront what they say they believe."
McDevitt's first novel, The Hercules Text, finds protagonist Harry Carmichael involved in a race with cold war Soviet scientists to decode information transmitted by extra-galactic aliens from a source in the Hercules constellation. Speculation that the transmission's data could have military applications has caused each government to scramble for the answers. Among the scientists assisting Carmichael in the processing of the information is a scientist and Catholic priest whose involvement with science may have cost him his faith. "The book," wrote Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Writers contributor F. Brett Cox, "is a splendid example of what Algis Budrys has called the ‘science-procedural novel,’ concerning itself with the process of decoding the alien text and the power struggles that ensue as various scientific and governmental factions vie for control of the information contained in the transmission." Although the novel's emphasis "is on problem-solving," Cox stated, "McDevitt does not neglect his characters, giving all the major figures believable lives whose individual quirks and problems are fully integrated into the central problem of the Hercules Text." McDevitt told CA: "In a revised version for the Meisha Merlin omnibus volume Hello Out There, the Cold War is gone, but the concerns with general release of technologically advanced information remain central to the action."
In McDevitt's second novel, A Talent for War, which is set thousands of years in the future, a young man named Alex Benedict quests for the truth about an adored war hero, whom he suspects was a fraud. "The bulk of the novel," Cox explained, "traces Benedict's journey from planet to planet as he investigates the problem; as he pieces the puzzle together, the most important people are not the soldiers who fought the war, as much as the historians and poets who witnessed the events and recorded them." The author's third book, The Engines of God, similarly revolves around a people's search for understanding of seemingly inexplicable events, this time the discovery of a mysterious formation on a moon orbiting a distant world.
The novel Ancient Shores is set in motion by an ordinary man's discovery of a quite remarkable artifact. In the story, a North Dakota wheat farmer, while clearing a field, unearths a sea vessel in perfect condition. Scientific tests reveal that the boat has a carbon number so high that its materials will never decompose. "Within weeks," wrote Carl Hays in Booklist, "the boat becomes a media sensation coveted by prospective buyers and scientists." In a very short time, "the national economy verges on collapse because the materials from which the artifacts are made seem to wear forever: obsolescence in goods made from the stuff will be obsolete," Hays concluded. "Right up to the climax," stated a Publishers Weekly critic, "McDevitt … tells his complex and suspenseful story with meticulous attention to detail, deft characterizations, and graceful prose."
Eternity Road is the story—set in a future world that has been decimated by a viral plague—of an expedition to recover some of the knowledge left behind by the people who built the great road system of North America. "McDevitt redeems the possible overfamiliarity of his quest plot," stated Roland Green in Booklist, "with a large cast of well-handled, original characters, starting with the principal protagonist, silversmith Chaka Milana." Eternity Road, Green concluded, "is eminently readable and a real credit to McDevitt."
"In Infinity Beach," McDevitt explained, "humans have decided that either intelligent species are extremely rare, or that humanity is alone. But a mission that went out twenty years ago may have found something. If so, it's being kept quiet." In the novel, scientist Kim Brandywine is quite familiar with the ill-fated mission of the starship Hunter. She is suspicious that the explorers on the vessel found extraterrestrial life but the discovery is being suppressed for reasons unknown. She also suspects that the Hunter mission is somehow connected to the disappearance of her clone-sister, and that a strange presence appearing on the planet Greenway also has connections to the troubled starship. To answer the questions that haunt her, Brandywine must risk her life, her lover, and her reputation in her determined search for the truth. "Exquisitely timed revelations maximize suspense, and fine characterization and world building also hold the reader's interest," noted Roland Green in a Booklist review. McDevitt has "created a future that is technologically sound and filled with hubristic, foolish people" whose choices are concerned more with image and the opinion of history rather than the actual benefit to society, commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "This is a wonderful mix of science-based fiction, mystery, and romance, with loads of action" and suspense, remarked School Library Journal reviewer Pam Johnson.
In Deepsix, the world of the year 2223 is about to be witness to a spectacular celestial event: the collision of planet Maleiva III, also known as Deepsix, with a rogue gas giant, Morgan's World. A collection of scientists, civilians, tourists, and reporters have gathered to observe the planetary impact. A previous mission to Deepsix, intended to search for intelligent life, was aborted when it was attacked by vicious birds. In the face of the impending collision and destruction, new findings suggest that not only life, but an established civilization exists on the surface of Deepsix. Starship pilot Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins, a trained archaeologist, leads a mission to investigate the landmarks on Deepsix before its destruction. When an earthquake destroys the mission lander, the team is stranded on the world, and faces a harrowing trip across the surface of Deepsix to find a workable lander left by the previous expedition nearly two decades earlier. In the meantime, they must still do all they can to solve the mystery of the world's apparently vanished civilization. "McDevitt's captivating scenario plays out in a surprisingly relaxed, straightforward manner," remarked Booklist critic Bryan Baldus. "McDevitt puts his characters into predictable jeopardies while methodically solving the conundrum of the missing aliens," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. Reviewer Paul Brink, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "the well-rounded characters grow through their adventures, without that growth seeming trite or inevitable." Library Journal critic Jackie Cassada commented favorably on McDevitt's "expert sense of pacing and a knack for cliffhanging suspense."
Chindi, the sequel to Deepsix, finds "Hutch" Hutchins on board for another mission. A brief transmission from the vicinity of a neutron star has attracted the attention of the Contact Society, which believes the broadcast must have come from an intelligent alien source. Hutch is selected to act as pilot and archaeologist for the mission. When the expedition arrives at the neutron star, they confirm the transmission but find no aliens. Instead, three hidden satellites are found to be sending data to an unknown source in a distant star system. As the story unfolds, more of these stealth satellites are discovered orbiting other worlds, including Earth. When a friend of Hutch's snags one of the satellites and takes it on board for inspection, the ship is destroyed by its explosion. Determined to uncover the mystery behind the satellites, Hutch and a group of colleagues set out on a mission where they find a world suffering from the aftermath of nuclear war. Inexplicably, in a far-flung star system, they explore a moon where they find a seemingly normal house containing objects, books, and a grave. Along with these strange findings, they also detect a huge, ominously silent alien spaceship refueling in the vicinity. "First contact is McDevitt's favorite theme, and he's also good at creating large and rather spectacular astronomical phenomena," observed a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Within the novel, "the puzzles wrapped in explanations within mysteries and cliffhanging resolution are well up to McDevitt's previous high standards," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. In his assessment of the novel, Green mused: "This one is really quite splendid." Library Journal reviewer Jackie Cassada called the novel "first-rate sf adventure" characterized by "smooth, well-plotted storytelling."
Omega, set in the same future universe as Deepsix and Chindi, brings Earth and other inhabited worlds into contact with the massively destructive "Omega cloud": huge waves of energy with the power to destroy entire planets and devastate civilizations. An Omega cloud is discovered heading toward Earth, though its arrival is many years distant, giving scientists the opportunity to discover ways to divert it. Meanwhile, another cloud approaches a known populated world inhabited by the Korbikkan, a primitive but intelligent alien species. A desperate and daring expedition sets out from Earth in hopes of saving the endangered world, and also with the intention of finding out enough about the Omega effect to create a workable defense for Earth. McDevitt explores the ethical nature of altruism as the population of Earth wonders if it can spare the resources to save the Korbikkan in the face of its own impending peril. McDevitt "forges out of ethical dilemmas a plot as gripping as any action fan could want," commented Green in Booklist. McDevitt's characters "succeed in imposing their compassion on the void," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Polaris presents "another space mystery for antiquarian sleuths to resolve," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The starship Polaris, populated with a group of scientists, celebrities, and other notables, has traveled to observe the spectacular cosmic event of an ordinary sun being torn apart by a dense neutron star. The ship is later reported to be returning home to Earth by pilot Maddy English, but it never arrives. Later, the Polaris is found adrift, its artificial intelligence systems shut off and all personnel gone. Six decades later, artifacts from the storied ship have turned up for sale. Antiquities dealer Alex Benedict buys a few, but the rest are destroyed in a suspicious explosion. Later, Alex's house is burglarized, with the thief managing to steal a blouse once owned by Maddy English. As the story progresses, Alex realizes that someone has a great interest in artifacts from the Polaris, and is going to great lengths to find and recover them even while carefully concealing his or her identity. As Alex and assistant Chase Kolpath step up their investigation of the fate of the Polaris's passengers, they find their lives in danger. "This SF mystery's smooth and exciting surface makes it difficult to appreciate how exceptionally good it is at combining action and ideas," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Cassada, in a Library Journal review, observed that the novel is characterized by "stellar plotting, engaging characters, and a mastery of storytelling."
In Seeker, Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath encounter an ancient artifact that leads them to investigate the fate of a vanished, possibly legendary, colony of Earth people from nine millennia in the past. When Alex finds an unusual old cup inscribed with English characters, he believes it is from the Seeker, one of two transport ships that supposedly carried a group of 5,000 colonists away from Earth's religious dictatorship in the twenty-seventh century. Almost ninety centuries later, most believe the Seeker and the colonists' destination, the planet Margolia, to be a myth. However, Alex and Chase uncover information that leads them to believe that the Seeker exists and was discovered by two space survey employees, who concealed their discovery but died in an accident before they could take any further steps. Alex asks the assistance of the telepathic alien Mutes to recover the Seeker's original log. With determined effort, Alex and Chase manage to pinpoint the location of the Seeker, now an ancient derelict adrift with destroyed engines. More intriguing, however, is the fact that the star system where the Seeker drifts also contains a habitable world that may be the mysterious Margolia. "This novel delivers everything it promises—with a galactic wallop," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Commenting on the human and spiritual elements of his stories, McDevitt told a Locus interviewer: "Anything that's intelligent almost by definition is going to want to explain its existence. That gets you into the area of myth, into religious cycles. I would expect that if you could go back far enough with any intelligent species, assuming there are others, you'd find religious systems. The real question might be, what becomes of the religious systems, in time? Maybe you toss those over the side. If science is the new religion, science fiction is maybe the new mythology. I think science fiction is a more noble effort at resolving some of these issues than religion ever was anyhow." Summarizing his attraction to his chosen genre, McDevitt told CA: "I've always enjoyed a good mystery. Science fiction allows considerable space for this technique, not the classic whodunit, but rather a what-could-possibly-have-happened-here?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1991.
Booklist, September 15, 1994, Carl Hayes, review of The Engines of God, p. 118; April 15, 1996, Carl Hays, review of Ancient Shores, p. 1425; May 15, 1997, Roland Green, review of Eternity Road, p. 1567; April, 1998, John Mort, review of Moonfall, p. 1307; January 1, 1999, p. 781; February 15, 2000, Roland Green, review of Infinity Beach, p. 1091; February 15, 2001, Bryan Baldus, review of Deepsix, p. 1122; July, 2002, Roland Green, review of Chindi, p. 1833; October 15, 2003, Roland Green, review of Omega, p. 399; November 1, 2004, Roland Green, review of Polaris, p. 472; November 1, 2005, Roland Green, review of Seeker, p. 32; October 1, 2006, Carl Hays, review of Odyssey, p. 45.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of Chindi, p. 533; September 15, 2004, review of Polaris, p. 896; September 1, 2005, review of Seeker, p. 947; September 15, 2006, review of Odyssey, p. 934.
Library Journal, May 15, 1997, Susan Hamburger, review of Eternity Road, p. 106; April 15, 1998, Jackie Cassada, review of Moonfall, p. 118; February 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of Infinity Beach, p. 201; March 15, 2001, Jackie Cassada, review of Deepsix, p. 110; January, 2002, Rex Klett, Jackie Cassada, and Kristin Ramsdell, review of Deepsix, p. 51; July, 2002, Jackie Cassada, review of Chindi, p. 127; November 15, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of Omega, p. 101; November 15, 2004, Jackie Cassada, review of Polaris, p. 54; October 15, 2005, Jackie Cassada, review of Seeker, p. 50; October 15, 2006, Jackie Cassada, review of Odyssey, p. 54; January 1, 2007, Jackie Cassada, review of Odyssey, p. 50.
Locus, February, 1995, interview with McDevitt, p. 4.
New York Times Book Review, March 7, 2004, Gerald Jonas, review of Omega.
Publishers Weekly, March 25, 1996, review of Ancient Shores, p. 67; April 21, 1997, review of Eternity Road, p. 65; February 23, 1998, review of Moonfall, p. 56; January 31, 2000, review of Infinity Beach, p. 86; February 26, 2001, review of Deepsix; June 24, 2002, review of Chindi, p. 44; October 13, 2003, review of Omega, p. 62; September 20, 2004, review of Polaris, p. 50; September 5, 2005, review of Seeker, p. 39.
School Library Journal, July, 2000, Pam Johnson, review of Infinity Beach, p. 128; August, 2001, Paul Brink, review of Deepsix, p. 209.
Jack McDevitt Home Page,http://www.jackmcdevitt.com (March 10, 2007).