This time around, we get to look at the young and somewhat naïve beginning of the storied career of Priscilla Hutchins, the famous interstellar pilot who appears in the previous Academy books from McDevitt: The Engines of God (1994), Deepsix (2001), Chindi (2002), Omega (2003), Odyssey (2006), and Cauldron (2007). Starhawk from Ace Books (The Berkley Publishing Group division of Penguin) was released in the US in November 2013.
In typical McDevitt form, Starhawk has many concurrent elements that intertwine, leaving the reader with a sense of understanding via multiple perspectives and opening one’s eyes to complex issues. Sure this story is one account of a far future, but the theme and ideas are applicable today.
In the early years of superluminal (FTL) space flight, the bugs and glitches were still being worked out. It was a confusing time when technology and morality collided. The desire to expand man’s presence in the galaxy often exceeded the safety of physical abilities and pushed the ethical limits under the guise of civilization’s advancement.
Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins is a raw pilot fresh from the Academy with a certification from the World Space Authority. She is searching for her own identity as she seeks out that first job. But the controversial process of terraforming becomes a political nightmare as alien life forms are being destroyed in order to change a planet’s ecosystem more favorable to human existence. When extreme activists begin to fight corporate power – lives are put in danger – both human and alien. And it is within these dangers we discover the expectations and limitations required to become a true hero.
It sounds complex, but McDevitt makes it work smoothly. One of the most influential elements he uses often is his clever window into these stories through fictional social network. At the end of each chapter, the reader is left with a pilot’s journal log or snippets from the day’s blog entries and news headlines from around the globe. Sure the body of the novel is strong, but the subtle hints of concurrent events allows the reader to accept the dangerous future as a truth and brings credibility to the rest of the plot.
As an example, the editorial from fictional journalist and often pompous critic Gregory MacAllister (a recurring character in other books, most notably in Deepsix) sums up most of the issues at hand in Starhawk. This following passage found at the end of Chapter 13 could have been printed on the back of the books dust jacket as a plot summary:
“After all these years, it’s difficult to see what possible benefit can come out of space exploration, with its enormous costs and assorted risks. We’ve known for a long time that there are other intelligences in the universe although after more than thirty years of looking around, we’ve yet to find anyone we can talk to, other than the barbarians on Inakademeri. And we clearly have nothing to learn from them.
Our explorers have gone out more than sixty light-years. We’ve seen some ruins, and we’ve discovered the Great Monuments, probably the one serious benefit we’ve gotten from all this. But the reality is that we’ve had better sculptors at home though no one wants to admit it.
We live on a crowded planet, beset by widespread famine and plagued by the environmental meltdown caused by ancestors who ignored the problem until it got out of control. And we are still charging around bombing each other.
There is no intent here to belittle the accomplishment of those who gave us the means to reach out and conquer the vast distances that separate us from other worlds. But the hard reality is that the resources being used to send vehicles to the stars are desperately needed at home. Let’s take care of our own world before we go looking for others. Let’s not repeat old mistakes.
— Gregory MacAllister, Baltimore Sun – November 26, 2195”
Faced with politically influenced employers, sabotage from unlikely sources, terrorism on the space station and the discovering alien life forms beyond anything we’ve imagined before in the genre, readers will grow with Priscilla in her first adventure and leave with a better understanding of who and why she is. Oh, and most importantly, we (fans of the Academy books) get to learn how the name “Hutch” was first established.
If there could be one complaint about the book, it might be with the title name Starhawk. The relevance to the story seemed somewhat forced. A saving grace would be a future novel with a return of Priscilla Hutchins and the Starhawk where the ship will have a more prevalent role. (This is my subtle nudge-nudge wink-wink to Mr. McDevitt – because we fans can never get enough of this universe.)
Starhawk by Jack McDevitt will not disappoint. It is a good starting point for new fans who might have an interest in the author’s other works and it will satisfy the loyal fans who have come to expect good story writing by one of the genre’s masters.