Coming Home. Book Review

cominghomComing Home by Jack McDevitt
Headline, p/b, 368pp, £14.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby

This is not an average SF book. It’s an intelligent story that’s part crime, part mystery and wholly brilliant.

There are two threads running through the book, one concerning a missing spaceship and one concerning ancient relics from the early days of human space flight. It’s also a book that leaves you wondering about time, history and what we can ever really know about the past, even our own.

A cruise liner, the Capella, has been lost in a timewarp for eleven years because of an accident due to the nature of the jump engines they used. On board is Alex Benedict’s uncle. Together with his associate, Chase, Benedict gets involved in a rescue mission which may well cost the lives of the rescuers and everyone on board.

The more interesting part of this book is the mystery concerning the artifact. Why would an archaeologist hide one so important to understanding humanity’s past? Why would he leave it at the back of a closet for seven years and not tell anyone about it?

Since his uncle had gone missing, Benedict had taken their business is a slightly different direction. He was now selling artifacts to wealthy people, so when he’s approached by the family of the now dead historian, he starts to piece together an intriguing web of lies, deceit and fear.

It turns out to be a Corbett transmitter and is a rare find, a relic of the golden days of space flight. It was one item among hundreds that were lost in the dark ages that followed the collapse of civilisation on Earth several thousand years ago, a museum collection that included patches worm by the Apollo 11 crew.

His and Chase’s investigations lead them to Earth and some people who are hiding a secret, and hiding it well. Benedict and Chase get sent on a couple of wild goose chases before eventually reaching their goal and answering a question that had puzzled historians for nearly 8,000 years: What happened to the pieces from the space museum in Florida?

The answer was a surprise.

This is a well-written book, focusing on the people and the story rather than on the science. As a historian myself, I found it particularly interesting as McDevitt has asked some questions about our perception of the past. What do we really know and how much? Can we ever know what motivated people back then, when we have a different life, different experiences and different fears?

These questions are reinforced with the story of the Capella. After 11 years lost, in the view of the rest of the galaxy but a few hours to those on board, the crew and passengers are going to find the world a different place. Parents will find their children grown up and some will find their old lives gone forever. As the story of the Capella nears an end, he also, via other characters, asks what it would be like to return to a world where you hadn’t aged but everyone you knew was dead, and does so through the eyes of two children lost and returned from a different accident whose ship got lost in a timewarp 75 years before.

In short, the book is a story that examines the past and how the present views it. It’s not a gentle ramble, but nor is it a high-octane, thrill a minute ride. McDevitt leads the reader through interesting questions about life and our place in history.

For those who want thrills, spills and sex, this is a book to avoid. But for those of us who want an intelligent walk through an aspect of our lives, it’s perfect.