COMING HOME by Jack McDevitt.

Hardcover published ACE November 2014.
The only complaint I have to make about this book is basic. I had to wait a year for it since the author’s last one (Starhawk) was published. Of all his books, I like the Benedict and Kolpath series the most so I’ve been anticipating this book for months and I wasn’t disappointed. To start with it gives a great overview of what earth has become in the twelfth millenium and how our species has spread. Again and again phrases, brief sentences, drop in bits of information about the past like tiny bits of chocolate in a chocolate-chip cookie, this book more so than the earlier volumes where there is less about Earth.
In this seventh volume in the series a client comes to Alex to show him an artifact that her grandfather had hidden in a box at the back of his closet. Her parents found it after the old man died and she wants to know what it is and if it’s valuable. To Alex’s disbelief this is an item from the dawn of Earth’s space age, something that the old man would never have hidden, he’d have paraded his finding of it, and flourished its possession in the teeth of his colleagues’ envy. But such an item is vanishingly rare, hugely valuable, and unknown initially in origin. So where did he get it and why has it been kept secret? Alex and Chase set out to discover answers, and find far more questions. The item is a Corbett transmitter, the breakthrough unit for sending messages through hyperspace. It dates back to the 26th century but stunningly, it was part of a collection of early space age artifacts of great historic significance that vanished during Earth’s second dark ages. Alex and Chase figure that if this item survived, then it’s possible that other artifacts from the priceless collection also survived and they start down the trail.
But laid in parallel with this treasure hunt is another mystery, that of the lost ships. Space ships, some of which vanish for various reasons, but with a number where the reason is known, just currently unpreventable, and with the ships almost always unrecoverable; until now perhaps? Because years ago The Capella, on which Alex’s uncle, and Chase’s original employer, Gabe Benedict, was a passenger was dragged into a temporal anomaly and while only days have passed on the ship, in real time it’s been eleven years. Scientist friends of Alex and Chase believe that they may have a way to return the ship to normal space/time or at least to take off the passengers, and approach Chase to assist as a pilot. So between chasing back and forth from Earth looking for the lost artifact collection, there is the emotional rollercoater of, will they get Gabe back, or could the project fail, cost lives, and if so how many?
And once again the chapter headings highlight the work, quotations from authors ancient and modern, and others yet to come. Nor are the latter anything but convincing and often a fascinating glimpse into our possible future and the commonsense that it may contain. For instance. “Be cautious of a man whose eyes never reflect joy,” by Armand Ti, in his work Illusions written in 7212 C.E. That one struck me as an excellent adage for these days, let alone in the future. And how many professional polititions and high-level businessmen may it not skewer? I loved the Sherlock Holmes comment that the stories were lost for six thousand years before being rediscovered thirty years earlier and that now, on Alex and Chase’s world of Rimway, are enornously popular and that the name had never quite gone from the language, that it had remained synonymous with deductive skills. Then too, I grinned when reading page 294, discovering there a tiny self-reference to a 21st century novel about an earlier pilot named Hutchins.
This is a fast-paced romp through an artifact hunt with alarms, excursions, a shipwreck (a real one, on Earth) in tandem with the much darker theme, that of spaceships going missing, (in time for The Capella,) and the immense emotional difficulties that passengers on such a ship face in returning to real-time. Matched of course, by the legal and emotional complications of those who had given up friends and relatives for dead, and now find that they’re returning, in some cases whole generations younger than those left behind, perhaps demanding the return of inheritances, and what of those who remarried in the belief that their partner was dead? What we face in the future may not be that exact problem, but space travel is bound to throw up disputes of some type, and this suggests that we are going to face something hard to deal with, if not this precise question.
In fact I found that while I really loved the artifact hunt, the discovery of The Capella pushed more buttons, the twin themes were an excellent combination, one provided the light and exciting side, the other the more thoughful one, and I was caught up completely. The book arrived mid-morning on a Monday, and as soon as I could clear the work I was doing I sat down and began to read, so caught up in the story that lunch came and went, and it wasn’t until late afternoon that I finished the book and surfaced to find thirteen chickens, five geese, and the cat, all protesting no dinner as yet, and realized that I too was starving. You can’t get better than that as a recommendation. Buy the book!

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