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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Polaris, by Jack McDevitt

I recently read Polaris, by Jack McDevitt. (This is McDevitt's web page.) Polaris was published in 2004 by Ace Books, of New York. McDevitt won the Nebula award for Seeker, a book with the same setting, and main characters, but later in time in McDevitt's sub-creation.

I don't usually give away the plots of books, but, in this case, I'm going to.

The Polaris was a spaceship, and it was used for a flight of a few important people. The purpose of the flight was to view the collision of a star with another object, from as close as safely possible. The Polaris was found, after the collision, but no passengers (nor the pilot) were ever found, in spite of a thorough search.

Alex Benedict, dealer in artifacts of various kinds, and his associate, Chase Kolpath (Chase is female) obtain some material from the Polaris, and become interested in what happened, 60 years after the disappearance. To cut to the chase (sorry!) they find out that the people aboard the Polaris are still alive.

There is an important ethical dilemma in this book. More than one, in fact. One is whether people who are convinced that overpopulation is a potential disaster have the right to take drastic action to prevent it. Another is whether, if a way to prolong human life tenfold is found, it is right to withhold that knowledge. Another is whether it is right to punish criminals with a "mindwipe," which involves removing their memories, and most of their personality, as opposed to sentencing them to death, or to life in prison. And the last one, which is raised in this, and two other of McDevitt's books about Alex Benedict (one of them may not have Chase Kolpath) is whether it's right to look for artifacts of the past for profit, as opposed to letting them be. (If there was no profit motive, would anyone ever look? Would any artifacts at all be preserved for the public? Should they be?) The answers to all of these questions are difficult, and McDevitt offers no easy answers.

McDevitt is a good writer. There is some real science in the book, and the characters seem real enough, too (even the avatars -- computer-generated constructs, based on what is known of an absent person, or a dead one). Much of the book is a murder mystery, or an attempted murder mystery. Someone has been trying to kill Benedict and Kolpath. Who is it, and why?

Even though Rimway, the planet Benedict and Kolpath are based on, is distant from earth, and it is a few millenia in our future, there is some minor recognition of God. ("God willing," for example, on page 119)

Thanks for reading.

2 comments:

Maureen said...

If you're looking for artifacts to increase human knowledge, isn't that also doing it for profit? Does profit become somehow morally better, just because the benefit is spread out over the whole human species, or does it just mean you're greedy on others' behalf as well as for yourself?

Martin LaBar said...

Good questions. I don't have the answers in this area (and in few others).

Thanks for commenting.