Sunday, February 7, 2010

Infinity Beach by Jack McDevitt


I love books by Jack McDevitt. I first discovered his work when I was visiting Derek, where he'd left a copy of Eternity Road in his bathroom and I got hooked into it. Luckily he was kind enough to loan it to me... that or he just didn't want me to take up residence in his bathroom. Either way, I've loved McDevitt's books ever since.

Infinity Beach takes place approximately 1000 years from now. Mankind has reached out for the stars, and successfully colonized eight new worlds, and has sent expeditions to seek out new life and new civilizations...

...and found nothing. Zip. Nada. Bupkiss. No alien civilizations, no ruins of dead alien civilizations, no small fuzzy animals, no insects, no plants, no microbes, no nothing.

And as a result, mankind has gotten bored with the whole process of even looking and is slowly drawing back in to the "Nine Worlds." Humanity has all the room and resources they need. They've become content with what they have, and don't really see the need to keep looking for something new.

Enter our hero, Kim Brandywine, whose sister was on the final deep-space ship that searched for alien life and then disappeared immediately after returning home from it. Kim begins to try and learn what happened to her sister, and the story is off and running.

Well, off and casually strolling, more like. At first it seems like the story is taking a while to really go anywhere, and then I realized, that's the point. Humanity has become so content with what they have that they're in absolutely no hurry to find out anything new. The starships are designed not just like luxury yachts, but like luxury houses, with balconies and "terraces" and plush carpeting and kitchens stocked with wine and cheese... and my God, do people eat a lot of wine and cheese in this book. Need to review some important stolen documents? Okay, let's break out the wine and cheese and get comfortable while we're going over them. Even Kim's main confidant, who supports her and is with her every step of the way, still repeatedly stops and asks her "Are you sure you want to do this? What's the point?" McDevitt does an incredible job of building a world that is slowly decaying but is enjoying themselves so much that they don't even see it. Not out of debauchery, not out of a lack or morality or greed or selfishness... just out of quiet, contented disinterest.

Finally Kim begins to get some answers, and in doing so starts rubbing her society the wrong way, because she's not content to leave things as they are. She wants to know more, and all anyone else is willing to tell her is "let it go." But needing to know what really happened to her sister on that last mission leads her to needing to know what they might have found, and if humanity really is alone after all.

And from there, the book truly is off and running.

I won't get into any more details from there, and if you're interested in reading the book based on what I've written, I recommend you not read the back cover either. It tells you the major plot points from pages 228, 232, and 334 out of a 510 page book. The back cover of a book should never, IMNSHO, never give you specifics about what happens beyond the main premise. As a rule, I'd stick to only describing anything that happens in the first fifth of the book, since that's usually the set-up. But I digress.

Infinity Beach is a great look at humanity, our strengths and our failings, and about what happens when our dreams fall asleep and what it takes to wake them up again. And best of all, it made me think, which is exactly what a great book should do.

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