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THE NEBULA AWARD IS CRAP                                                              by Lindsay Jamieson

 

Once, this award, awarded by the SFWA (now SFFWA) was a respected award.

It was considered ‘superior’ to the Hugo Award.

This claim can not now be made.

If one looks at the short listed nominees for the past several years you will observe a noticeable absence of the British books that have been the best SF novels in that period.

Instead, you will laughably see some American novels that, with some exceptions, are standard potboilers or even sub-standard.

 

An especially egregious nominee is Jack McDevitt for the novels of his ‘Omega’ series.

Ironically, if one looks at the Hugo finals nominees you will not see Jack McDevitt there – so much for the literary superiority of the Nebula as contrasted with the Hugo – the allegedly low-brow populist award.

Of course, this fails to have the British books prominent, but that is not surprising as most American fans would prefer their local product.

 

McDevitt’s ‘Omega’ books I call ‘Hutchiverse’ books, in reference to the main character, the ‘hero’ of these novels – Priscilla ‘Hutch’ Hutchins.

Below is an abridged version of a critical analysis that I did in 2004 of these novels.

 

NOVELS OF McDEVITT

Idiot plots; ie a story that can only occur because so many characters act in a stupid way or the basic background universe is badly flawed – eg. imagine if had a story set in late 20th century in which mule drawn carts were used for interstate transport [& it wasn’t an alternate world or post-apocalyptic story, but supposed to be an accurate prediction].  Now such a story might barely possibly be written in late 18th century, but not in 20th century.

 

The universe of ‘Hutch’ Hutchins is supposed to be a couple of centuries in future with high tech such as FTL, yet don’t have much basic tech and procedures that we NOW have or will shortly have – so no oxygen recycling or food regeneration, for instance [air regeneration exists on nuclear submarines, and as a former navy officer Jack McDevitt should be aware of this; also as an SF author he should be aware of this.  What is it with so many book authors and TV script writers that they used this hackneyed plot idea of people running out of air?  Also, they have when life support goes down (no backup?) that it gets cold – more likely to have a heat buildup].



DESTRUCTIVE SCORE –

20 PAGES THAT DESTROY THE WORKS OF J. McDEVITT **

 

SF CRITICISM – THE PRISCILLA ‘HUTCH’ HUTCHINS NOVELS OF JACK McDEVITT

[THE OMEGA GALAXY SERIES]

 

It’s a very strange universe that you’ve created Master Jack

No hard feelings if I launch this attack

You’ve written very strange books Master Jack

But we don’t thank you in looking back

 

INTRODUCTION

 

PLANETARY EXPLORATION IN SF

 

There has been through the decades many tales of planetary adventures and exploration; some good, some bad, some dreadful.

In modern times, one would expect writers to be able to get it right, yet many recent novels have had it less right than old-style authors writing in mid- or even early-twentieth century.

An example was a novel by Kevin Randle.  Another was ‘Lifeform’ by Alan Dean Foster (in retrospect, this probably wasn’t too bad).

And now Jack McDevitt – as can be seen from the names, not inexperienced authors, not newbie beginners, but people whom one would expect to have some nous.

 

[These books are the equivalents of the slash horror stories such as Friday the Thirteenth in which a bunch of inexperienced, defenceless high school teenagers go into the bush and get themselves killed one by one by a mad killer.  If any survive, they do not learn from the experience and will die in the next movie in the series].

 

PART ONE   SYNOPSIS OF A TRAGEDY [THE STORY, NOT EVENTS DEPICTED]

 

NOTE: DIRECTLY QUOTED SENTENCES FROM THE NOVEL(s) ARE HERE PUT IN BOLD.

 

Today’s “lesson” is about Jack McDevitt’s ‘Deepsix’ [ironically, I read this just after reading Roger Levy’s ‘Reckless Sleep’, its author’s debut novel, and a much more accomplished read, that also has aspects related to planetary exploration, and does a much better job of it; however, it is a story mainly on Earth in the future].

 

In the 23rd century, one would expect our technology to be much more advanced [provided no penultimate disasters occur], and in this novel that commences with events in the year 2204, they do have FTL space travel, and so one would expect commensurate advanced technology in other areas, and also advanced procedures.

 

In the 10 page prologue to the main story, ‘amateur hour’ prevails – if this prologue had been written by a teenage wannabe SF writer, I would, if I was an editor, reject it as puerile garbage.

 

Let us examine this prologue in detail –

[preliminary note – the prologue deals with the first exploration of a newly discovered, biologically advanced world (ie it has an ecosystem with a variety of lifeforms, including large animals)].

 

It starts with the discovery that 3 members of the expedition have wandered off by themselves, unnoticed temporarily by anyone else – this is poor team discipline.

Apparently this wandering group had encountered some danger, as the remainder of the expedition have a sound recording of shots from stingers (a type of weapon of unspecified nature) and screams of the team members.

 

Questions immediately arise about the technology of this group – don’t they have advanced exploration suit? (one soon learns that they are wearing some sort of designated suit, but it is obviously, as we learn, not very good in its protective rating); what about weapons?, and most importantly communication and surveillance equipment ? [in the 1950s’ movie ‘Forbidden Planet’ they had communication devices that included a visual element; today we have mobile phones with such].  We further learn that their equipment doesn’t even include GPS or any simpler location indicating device or beacon [sure they don’t have a satellite network in orbit for such a network, but they should as a standard operating procedure].

 

The rest of the ‘scientists’ decide to look for the missing three:

“They proceeded cautiously, drawing together again, weapons at the ready.  But these were researchers, not trained military types.  To his knowledge, none had ever fired a stinger in anger.”

 

It would be better, if have a group of people, say three, to have only one armed, who knows how and when to use a weapon, than three armed, none of whom have weapon expertise.  Further, why is it in bad written SF and in so many TV shows that they only have one type of hand weapon when exploring a planet [‘Star Trek’ phaser; ‘Deepsix’ stinger]; one should have different weapons for different purposes, or at the least a multi-purpose weapon.  [Players of RPGs (almost) never make this mistake].

 

[Additional note inserted later: also why is it in bad, modern SF [contrast and compare with classic SF with its scientist-heroes (the written SF of pre-1960s, and movies of 1950s)] that scientists have no paramilitary training, weapons expertise or military experience (of course in the Omega universe no one, not even soldiers, has any military experience – peace rules, man).

Hell, even Mr Spock, the scientist of Star Trek, is a phaser use expert].

 

“Biney Coldfield, the starship’s captain and pilot of the third lander, broke in to inform him she was approaching and would join the search as soon as she was down.”

 

Nightingale [the mission commander] asks the search party, “ “Do we have a woodsman, by any chance?”  They looked at one another.”

 

A mission commander should have full profiles on his crew.  Also they should all be trained in planetary exploration, if that is what is what they are going to do. [Also the ‘lander’ should have a pilot of its own, not the starship captain].

 

“ “Wait a minute,” Sherry said.  “What?” demanded Nightingale.  She raised her hand for quiet.  “There’s something behind us.”  They whirled as one and weapons came up.”

 

You should always have people also looking forward; they have no sort of motion detector or any other device, not even a tricorder or its equivalent in their technology. [say a simple rear view video camera].  Weapons should already be raised.

 

“Then he stepped into a glade and saw them.  All three were lying still.  Their force-field envelopes were filled with blood.  Their faces were frozen in expressions of terror and agony.”

 

Several times there is mention of them ‘scanning’ but with what is not stated, and whatever it is [something built into their suits?] has little capability – less effective than the Mark One scanner.

 

They also do not appear to have a camera to record the bodies, or any forensic capability, and not even much equipment – no stretcher, no vehicle [and no Star Trek like transporter device to provide some justification for the lack of vehicles].

 

“All the blood was trapped inside the Flickinger fields, so it was difficult to make out details of the wounds.”

 

What is the point of their force-fields if can’t stop anything? [seems just to keep air & body heat in (and of course blood)].

 

Apparently the team of three had been attacked by birdlike creatures [reminiscent of ‘The Birds’]; there was a short ‘battle’ that the birds won!

 

Their suits can’t even protect against bird beaks!!!

Also the behaviour of the birds is abnormal – they also later attack the main group.  Attacking large animals, especially when those animals have some strange form of counterattack [the stingers] is not normal behaviour for small creatures.  Oh sure they’re ‘alien’; but must still have motivation.  These ‘birds’ behave like creatures from a fantasy story world, not an SF world.

 

[Still let us accept it as reasonable, then surely it would be of great scientific interest and human curiosity satisfaction to investigate these ‘birds’ as well as rest of the planet but as we find out, exploration of this planet is abandoned; which becomes even weirder to understand when one learns early in main section of book that twenty two years after the exploration party landed on the planet the planet is due to be destroyed by a rogue planet (and it is known at that earlier time) – one would then think that exploring this planet would be a scientific and social priority, especially when it is one of only a handful of planets discovered to have advanced lifeforms].

 

“She (Biney) arrived with the full complement of her team, two men and a woman, all with weapons drawn.”

 

This statement, “with weapons drawn” is a lazy and inept way to describe the arrival of a ‘military unit’ [or of any group of armed personnel, no matter how inadequate they are in ability or armament].

 

What is happening here?

Biney is the captain of a starship.

Her full ‘military force’ consists of herself and three other ‘soldiers’.

They are armed with laser cutters, which aren’t actual weapons, but a tool.

[as we shortly find out, these are not soldiers, simply more ‘researchers’ and only Biney has a laser cutter].

 

“She directed Tatia and Andi (two of the researchers) to stand guard, and assigned everyone else to construct slings from branches and hanging vines.  When the slings were ready they laid them on the ground, placed the bodies within, and began the cumbersome effort of withdrawal.”

 

Wouldn’t it be better to assign two of the soldiers to guard duty?  [because, it appears that the new people that the captain brought with her apparently aren’t soldiers, but just more ‘researchers’ or perhaps technicians (it isn’t stated what they are)].

They have to construct stretchers [slings as they are called]?!!!

How do they know if it is even safe to cut the tree branches and vines?

Why didn’t the lander bring a jeep to carry the bodies away?

[or even better of course, an APC to take everyone back]

 

SPECIAL NOTE: If say the word ‘researcher(s)’, do it with a sneer [as they are “soft Earthers”].

 

“…, but there’d be no further investigation on this world.”

“He knew that Biney would insist on allowing no one to return to the surface until this incident had been reported to the Academy.  And he knew how the Academy would react.  They’d have no choice, really.  Come home.”

 

This after just three deaths!?, and further these deaths being due to incompetence and unpreparedness in training and equipment of the exploration group.

And even if this ‘Academy’ is so dickless as to no longer wish to explore this new world, you can bet that there would be lots of private groups/companies that would – to their huge advantage.

[example – the search for new pharmaceuticals; to increase bioscience knowledge]

 

What is the redbirds normal food?

 

In the attack against the main group three more die, including Biney.

 

By examining names I have worked out how many people in this main group, as actual number never stated by author

 

Three in original team (all killed) are ‘Cappy’ Capanelli, Al White, an unnamed

 

Other members of original research group are Randall ‘Randy’ Nightingale, Sherry, Cookie (a lander pilot), Tatia, Andi.

 

Also ‘Tess’ [an AI]

 

Biney’s team are Biney, Hal Gilbert, two unnamed [later learn one called ‘Remmy’]

 

The author does a poor job of letting the reader know who is in the exploration party – some of them are unnamed, and they almost all are not ascribed as to what their expertise is supposed to be.

Those whose names I have put in red are ones killed.

 

Also aboard the starship is Wilbur ‘Will’ Keene [ship’s MD].

 

On second last page of prologue it is revealed that Cappy’s group had its own lander [called ‘Tess’; that we were previously told was the name of an AI] and Sherry was apparently one of that lander’s complement.  Nightingale had a (unnamed) lander (and unnamed AI) and a group.

 

So there must have been two groups of four, with each four-group having its own lander:

q       Randall ‘Randy’ Nightingale, Cookie (a lander pilot), Tatia, Andi.

q       Cappy’ Capanelli, Al White, an unnamed, and Sherry [which of four the pilot unknown].

 

It also turns out that Cookie is the surviving member of the ‘command’ crew.

 

Also, Cappy’s lander, a no doubt valuable piece of equipment, is abandoned. [this is part of a setup by the author for the main plot ].

 

The captain of the starship should not go down onto the planet [this is reminiscent of the Sulako in ‘Aliens’; which basically doesn’t seem to have a crew].

Biney’s real name is Sabina.

 

 

MORE ON NOVELS OF McDEVITT

Boring characters waffling on; could be halfway decent if cut size in two.

No way comparable to Asimov or Heinlein – sparse, taut writing by them.

 

Idiot plots; ie a story that can only occur because so many characters act in a stupid way or the basic background universe is badly flawed – eg. imagine if had a story set in late 20th century in which mule drawn carts were used for interstate transport [& it wasn’t an alternate world or post-apocalyptic story, but supposed to be an accurate prediction].  Now such a story might barely possibly be written in late 18th century, but not in 20th century.

The universe of ‘Hutch’ Hutchins is supposed to be a couple of centuries in future with high tech such as FTL, yet don’t have much basic tech and procedures that we NOW have or will shortly have – so no oxygen recycling or food regeneration, for instance [air regeneration exists on nuclear submarines, and as a former navy officer Jack McDevitt should be aware of this; also as an SF author he should be aware of this.  What is it with so many book authors and TV script writers that they used this hackneyed plot idea of people running out of air?]

 

MORE ON DEEPSIX

If sending a limited # of people and supplies to a near-death planet, wouldn’t waste a couple of lander slots on two useless journalists [this and the next item should both be prevented by Space law & Regulations].

If only two landers available – one should have been kept in reserve as an emergency rescue vehicle; not to send inessential journalists to the doomed planet, as if it was a pleasure jaunt – that’s Space Procedure (ie it would be in any sensible universe).

Space travellers should have training in planetary survival.

If have engineering skill, then should be able to adapt a ship to land.

p104 – if (as should be) there is such a Law, then (a) it applies whether Hutch can quote it or not (or reference its code); (b) should have electronic PADD that can provide the info [wrist comp or similar].

 

[NOTE: IN MY GD UNIVERSE – MACHINES RARELY JUST FAIL – NORMALLY IT TAKES A MORE POWERFUL FORCE TO DEFEAT THEM].

 

p135 – even if could break window it would be a stupid thing to do.

p140 – why don’t they have personal transponders?

            If the Boardman loses its lander, then how does Dr Helm expect to get onto Quraqua?

p134 – what sort of primitive tech is the lander, that when an earthquake occurs causing fissuring

under it, instead of floating it falls into the hole?

And also how fragile is other lander, if quake ‘shakes it to pieces’?

p167/8 – Nightingale should know specs of Tess.

p185/6 – they knew it was a cold world, yet didn’t have winter clothing [nor sleeping bags, space

blankets, etc].

p186 – don’t the spaceships of the future have any way to drop/deliver supplies to someone on a

planet? [it would also be nice to have an ATV].

p192 – has a toothbrush?!!

p206 – blankets, towels ?!?

 

The shuttle mentioned on p188 could drop supplies.

If such a once ever event – should have had more monitoring probes, satellite networks, etc.

Basic physics prevents the cable scheme – apart from material strength, there is velocity differences.

Even if ignore these – how could they climb the rope?

p191 – what happened to Rescue Patrol ships?

 

 

DEEPSIX and CHINDI

 

Very compressed plot summaries of these two novels:

‘Deepsix’ – a group of explorers land on a planet, get attacked by a flock of birds – 6 humans die [now this is only the prologue, but this sets up the events of the rest of the book; ie.if this event hadn’t happened, neither would any of the other events of the novel, so therefore this really is the heart of the plot].

 

‘Chindi’ – a smaller group of explorers land on a planet, get attacked by a bunch of big birds – 2 humans die [sure, this is only a minor incident midway in the book, but it is indicative of the author’s obsession with humans being killed by birds; and like the incident in the previous novel is the result of outrageous stupidity and unpreparedness by key characters].

 

MORE ON JACK McDEVITT

He is no hack writer, he is quite competent; his ‘Infinity Beach’ is an enjoyable novel.

So why has he written ‘Deepsix’ the way he has?  It’s a matter of choosing to write for a particular audience – not your typical SF reading reader, but the denizens of medialand – who love a “good” disaster story with incompetent “heroes”.

The ‘Alien’ movies are enjoyable, but also have idiot plotting [though nowhere near as bad as these novels].

 

MORE ON DEEPSIX/CHINDI

The main characters keep repeating mistakes.  In Deepsix, the characters go onto a planet where they know there are dangerous animals [as result of previous failed expedition featured in the Prologue], with basically no weapons and no protective suits [the e-suit is a vac suit, unarmoured – provides no physical protection see Chindi p           ].

 

Then go down on’Paradise’ without weapons [except Hutch’s laser cutter that is almost as dangerous to user’s companions as to enemies].

[Also make assumptions that because ‘Angels’ are ‘beautiful’, they are therefore harmless].

[Their behaviour in these alien encounters is letting the side down – losing face for the human race]

Next, although one ship already destroyed straight after taking an alien ‘X’ satellite aboard, another ship does the same with naturally the same result.

 

Also, isn’t their tech up to having 12 months food supply on board, &/or food synthesis or recycling?

 

p93 not in human nature not to have weapons.

 

Ever heard of automation? – re: alien burial

 

These novels are the flip side of modern action movies – in which the hero(es) does (do) near impossible things, and is very smart, very cunning, brave and lucky, and often extremely competent – a virtual superman (or superwoman).

The characters in these novels are brave, but stupid & unlucky.

 

Also no instrumentation (heldheld) for analysis.  Hutch is a pilot but is poor on celestial mechanics.

What is point of looking for aliens if you don’t have the experts with you – contact specialists, archaeologists, biologists, scientists, “cameramen”, bodyguards; and the resources.  Be Prepared.

 

The ‘sons of the bird’ in these novels need an art critic, a Jonathan Hoag, to erase them.

 

CHINDI

With all their entering ships and alien bases, why don’t they have portable airlocks ready to use?

 

p256 – “How can somebody be coming?” “We’re in a vacuum.”

Duh!?! – vac suits, vehicle, machine, are possible answers to this very stupid question that one of the characters asks.

 

Also, they don’t have light intensifiers, infrared, microradar, etc. imagers.

Nor cameras to record things for posterity & analysis.

 

p258 – “It was like no creature he’d seen before.”  Cliché

 

Has some interesting encounter ideas.

 

Also don’t have jetpacks, steering jets units.

 

p402 – Loss of retreat Library – massive incompetence – should have had it distributed amongst several ships, and also pissweak technology.

 

Many references to ‘the world’.  What world?  Presumably Earth.  Aren’t there other human occupied worlds?

Doesn’t seem to be any governments or police or big corporations.

 

 

With ‘Deepsix’ and ‘Chindi’ in both a rare archaeological (& general scientific) interest planet is lost – one destroyed by cosmic event (giant rogue planet), the other by (needless and illogical) terraforming.  To lose one is a mistake (carelessness, negligence, dereliction of duty), to lose two is a blunder.

 

If a person with a hammer kills another person – the hammer is the agent or tool, but the person is the killer.  In these novels it is not alien machines or hostile alien creatures that kill the characters; these are simply agents of the real killer – their own stupidity.

 

 

THE ENGINES OF GOD

This is another ‘Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins’ novel, and is set before and also was written before the other two [‘Deepsix’ and ‘Chindi’].  It has some of the same flaws plus many of its own.

 

It, like the others, is set in a ‘delusional’ universe – as there is no system of interstellar governance, and yet a court on Earth believes that it can make a decision relating to another planet (and what’s more, everyone else in the universe goes along with this!!).

Certain governments on our realworld Earth (eg US) have same delusion, but can make it a shared delusion because they have military power (unlike in “Hutch” universe).

 

One armed ship (“Hutch” universe ships are unarmed) could change the balance - & prevent the terraforming of Quraqua [which is a stupid idea anyway because it already has an earthlike ecosystem; terraforming is usually conceived as something to do to non-living worlds].

[There is a paradox also in this – doing the terraforming shows a lack of vision, but undertaking a project that will not produce any viable result for over 60 years requires an extreme long-range viewpoint that requires a lot of vision].

 

In an unknown, potentially hostile universe it is prudent to show some caution & it is wise to be armed.

 

To quote from Poul Anderson’s ‘For Love and Glory’ [Chapter XXIII; p129/130]:

 

““Police need weapons against contumacious lawbreakers.  Indications were that your ship is of a heavily armed type.”

“That is true, madam, but it doesn’t mean that we want to menace anybody or throw our weight around.”  No more than we’ve got to.  “You have had a good look at us.  If your databanks are complete, you’ve recognized the model and know more or less what firepower we carry.  You should also know why.  This vessel is for exploration, where unpredictable demands on her can always come out of nowhere.

 

“You do not need nucleonics against primitive natives, sir, and when have starfarers attacked you?”

“Never, madam.  And we devoutly hope none ever will.  Certainly the owners, the House of Windholm, have no such intention.  But an expedition just might run into, ah, parties willing to violate civilized canons.  Far more likely, of course, nature may suddenly turn hostile.  Antimissile magnetohydrodynamics deflect solar flare particles.  A warhead excavates where a shelter is to be built.  An energy beam drills a hole through ice, for geologists and prospectors to reach the minerals beneath.  Besides work like that, this ship took a large investment.  People protect their investments.””

 

& also  Chapter X, p60 ““Explorers have an old, old saying, that adventure is what happens to the incompetent”.”

 

 

I think that McDevitt, should rewrite these books – chuck out the rubbish, retain the good seed ideas, and refurbish the plots.

 

The internal evidence from ‘TeoG’ & its sequels, is a universe with only a small # of spaceships, only several handfulls of researchers on other planets, no space habitats in Solar System, and an inward-looking, doomed society.

And yet on p49/50 there is an ‘Editorial’ of ‘The Boston Globe’ of May 22, 2202 [showing that even in early 23rd century TBG still getting it wrong as in late 20th century, just like ‘The Baltimore Sun’].

This ‘Editorial’states that Earth has ‘18,000 researchers in extrasolar stations’.

Of course, this ‘editorial’ is an almost direct crib from 20th century anti-space newspaper articles (that make stupid, false claims).

However, it also insults India, Pakistan and China, by claiming that they will be a burden on rest of world over the next 200 years, unable to look after their own people and solve their own problems,

They are now working on solving their problems (and succeeding), but what is US doing?  US is the real worry for the future with its ‘Federation Prime Directive” ST type attitudes to the real world (& also its risk of becoming an Iranlike theocracy), eg. the troubles of Srebenicza and Rwanda occurred because in 1990’s UN was controlled by the US & its airy-fairy foreign policy – non-interference where strong action needed; interference where it should have minded its own business.

 

The major problems facing the future are the intransigence and defiance of Law of the US and Israel, and the occupation of West Papua by Indonesia [incidentally, any al-Quaeda claim to be freedom fighters is demolished by their support of the US puppet government in Indonesia vs freedom movements of indigenous peoples].

 

There are written languages on Earth, where we have samples of the writing but that is all, and we don’t know what they mean.

Yet in TeoG they are translating an alien language(s).

You know the childhood books – ‘A is for apple’ and there is a picture of an apple?

If one had one of these one could know the English alphabet and the names of 26 objects in that language.  BUT that would be all – cannot know what a 27th word means that isn’t shown in book; cannot know any verbs, proper names, abstract concepts; nor even how the letters and words are pronounced.

 

Also there is mentioned in TeoG of a handweapon that is apparently quite common, general issue type, called a ‘pulser’, that seems to have disappeared when later novels written [note that although ‘Deepsix’ written later, the prologue that had ‘stingers’ in it would be relating to events prior to the present of TeoG, and therefore possibly before ‘pulsers’ existed (but I wouldn’t bet on it), and this doesn’t explain why no ‘pulsers’ in main parts of the other two novels].

 

Also, in ‘Deepsix’, shuttles can only go between ships [landers needed to go to and from planets]; yet in TeoC, shuttles can land on planets (ie perform role of landers).

It is hard to lose heat from a spaceship.  Only 6 people on an exploratory expedition – small ships in this universe. [although later a ship turns up that is carrying 100 people?!!]

If had spacesuits, could wear them to keep warm  -or use shuttle heaters to warm air. 

Machinery has to have a reason to fail. [and when it does, one should have a crewmember who knows how to repair small equipment failures, and a workshop to enable repairing, and materials and tools to perform repairs].

 

TeoG repeats the concept of a spaceship running short of air.

 

p297 – to solve this problem [““The space station,” she said.  “How stable is its orbit? How long would you say it’s been here?””] – take readings, feed into an astrogational computer, ask the question – out pops the answer.

 

TeoG is too “old-fashioned” storytelling, but without the virtues of such.

 

p309-10  This suicide theme also reused in ‘Chindi’ with the serpentlike aliens.

 

p317 – NAU military ?!?!         (1)  what about other nations?

(2)    what military? – there doesn’t seem to be a military in this universe.

 

p322-324  More insanely hostile lifeforms, ala ‘Deepsix’.

p324 – travois?!!  - also reminiscent of ‘Deepsix’.

p332 – no remote control summoner? [re: getting to shuttle when on ground]

p335  -or at least a homing device. [ditto]

 

p344 “well-armed” !?  Bosh !!  ill-equipped, inapplicable weaponry, no armor, no planet exploration suit.

 

p345 – why didn’t the ‘crabs’ attack the “heavily  armed (sic) landing party”?  (my italics).

 

Microorganisms are a more realistic and deadlier danger; but they take no precautions against these [not that their ‘protective measures’ against large lifeforms is any good].

 

Real drama does not require people to foolishly die [nor to constantly act stupid, and repeat fatal mistakes].

 

These ‘crabs’ are like the ‘birds’ of the other two novels cited, in that they launch insanely suicidal attacks (which reminds me that some ‘bats’ in one of the novels did a similar thing).  The behaviour of these creatures is consistently unEarthly and also unnatural.  [During the 1980’s and 1990’s my friends and I played the ‘Stormbringer/Elric’ RPG, and sometimes when starting an adventure with new characters they would be attacked by Clakars or Baboons or Dharzi Dogs or some other pack creature, and these also attacked powerful human adventurer parties with suicidal frenzy (on rare occasions as with the ‘bats’ in McDevitt’s novel some survivors might flee).

 

Clakars are winged, flying apelike creatures, Dharzi Dogs are doglike creatures with birdlike heads, the Baboons are more intelligent versions of Earthly baboons.  These are fantasy creatures, and sometimes their behaviour is fantastical as well (or their actions are initiated or controlled by an intelligent being, a sorcerer); however, in an SF setting where Natural Law is supposed to prevail, then unless one can provide a very good reason, then natural creatures should behave naturally [no matter what planet they are on – but if very Earthlike creatures on a very Earthlike world, then they better behave like Earthly creatures unless one can provide a rationale for their behaving radically differently – note that actual Earth creatures do not behave in a manner that is ‘Earthly’ simply due to being on Earth, but because they are behaving as appropriate to their evolution and environment

(note that many Earth creatures behave differently to each other, but not to what nature imposes on them)].

 

Note that in Poul Anderson’s novel ‘For Love and Glory’ that the characters (especially the main character – Lissa Davysdaughter Windholm) are involved in similar activities to those of ‘Hutch’ – planetary exploration, finding new things and investigation of space anomalies.  But are much more competent.

 

‘Hutch’ (and her fellows) are the most incompetent bunch of explorers to ever be unleashed on any universe.  And this isn’t even a comedy like say ‘Red Dwarf’ [in which the characters are actually better prepared and equipped, as have the most powerful exploration weapon of all – brains (truly one can say of the ‘Hutchiverse’ residents that “a mind is a terrible thing (to waste)”].

 

Imagine if any of the parties in the ‘Hutchiverse’ landed on David Drake’s and Karl Edward Wagner’s planet Zuyla [from their novel ‘Killer’] – they wander around aimlessly in their usual fashion – they would quickly all die.

In contrast, if Zuyla was in my GD universe it would be a proscribed planet (as it obviously would also be in ‘Killer’ though that is not specifically stated, but heavily implied; but in ‘Hutchiverse’ it would be simply an unknown world as they have little exploration done) with monitors guarding it, etc.  [Note that I have deliberately put ‘done’ after ‘exploration’ instead of before ‘little’].

 

However, imagine in GD that it is an undiscovered planet and then one of  the races finds it – they wouldn’t go down on the surface – they would observe – and once they saw how deadly life on the planet is – ala Harry Harrison’s ‘Deathworld’ – they would report back to their bosses, would not land on planet.

However, if an expedition was sent down to the planet – they would be at the least an MI squad, or preferably ‘Ogres’ {Terran} or other-race nearest equivalent to ‘ogre’, ‘werewolf’ or  ‘troll’ squad.  Whatever was sent down to the planet would be a group of highly disciplined, well protected, ‘well-heeled’, personnel with a specific mission.

 

Of course, the limited character lifespan also applies to similar ‘exploration groups’ in other universes to those of the ‘Hutchiverse’.

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SPECIAL INTRUSIVE NOTE on ‘Mother of Demons’ [novel by Eric Flint]

 

This is okay – the human characters aren’t total idiots – however, as a plot device it uses the common assumption in many stories that if a starship of earth colonists goes to a planet and an accident befalls their starship, leaving them stranded on the planet without access to its resources, that the only knowledge they will have is that that the characters retain in their memories, and would therefore lose all knowledge of and use of technology.

 

As it is an essential part of the plot that an historian character be important I am prepared to be ‘lenient’ as it creates an interesting story.

 

However, this (the general concept underlying this and similar novels) ignores possibility of books, teaching machines, portable computers (solar-powered), and also that in next 100 years before we develop starships (ie in 21st century) that we should and therefore would develop an area of scholarship concerned with the concept of  tech retention in unusual circumstances.

 

Indeed, one could have a novel where characters are stranded who happen to have embedded information ie their brains have a  memory/skill chip that is coded to provide information in circumstances where the person is cut off from society by such an accident/event, and turns the group of survivors into a bunch of well-informed, skilled experts.

 

 

ADDITIONAL NOTE  MORE SUPPORTIVE EVIDENCE ABOUT SHIP ARMAMENT

From Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove.  Page 70.

“The Admiral Peary was armed.  A ship that went to strange places had to be.”
PART TWO   WHAT SHOULD REALLY HAPPEN

 

SECTION ONE   AN INVESTIGATION OF AN UNKNOWN WORLD

 

To make this seem more ‘relevent’, let us assume someone has arrived at the Solar System 10 million years ago.  Let us call these beings the Extrovians.

 

When the Extrovian ship was beyond the orbit of Pluto it launched a probe satellite; this assumed orbit of the sun at a distance similar to that of Pluto; its purpose was to check for radio signals, any sign of spacefaring in the alien stellar system, and to do a general survey of the system.

A week later, its upload of data having been analysed, and no sign of EEI [extra-extrovian intelligence] having been detected, phase III of the exploratory protocol was enacted, and several probes were launched to explore nearer to the alien sun, whilst the ship advanced towards the inner asteroid field.  One probe went into orbit of Mars, another of Earth and a third of Venus.

 

When the probes reported the inhospitability of Venus and Mars, and the primitiveness of Earth, the next Phase went into full swing.  Specialists in the exploration of Mars-like worlds went to that planet, whilst the major exploration group, whose interest was Extrovianlike worlds such as Earth had that assignment.

Two smaller ships left the mother ship, which stayed in the asteroid field.  One proceeded to Mars, the other to Earth.

 

The Mars ship had one exploration group [21 specialists] and one military caste sub-unit [12 soldiers] and the ship’s crew [9].  Its equipment included an exploration shuttle, a spare exploration shuttle, a military shuttle and two fighters; two sets of communication/observation satellite arrays; various ground and air transport vehicles [all lightly armed and armoured].

The ship itself had heavy armour, force screens and weapons.  All personnel were highly trained for their specific tasks, and in addition all personnel had cross-training, which included military training for ALL personnel.

The mission protocol directives included that the ship’s crew did not leave the ship.

 

The Earth ship was bigger, and had more and/or bigger of everything, than the Mars ship.

It had six exploration groups [each with 42 specialists], eight military caste units [each 24 soldiers] and the ship’s crew [36].  It had 12 big exploration shuttles, 16 military shuttles, 12 fighters; 6 sets of communication/observation satellites; many ground, air and sea craft.

 

One exploration ship landed in Northern Africa, one in North America, one in Australia, one in central Asia, one in South America and one in Western Europe.

 

Robots came out of the ships and set up base stockades for the specialists, surrounded by sensor networks.  Meanwhile satellites in orbit maintained a constant stream of information to the main ship, which was at geostationary orbit position and to the three bases and exploration ships.  these reports had meteorological, seismological, etc data and also monitored all movement near the bases.

 

When the specialists were ready to do the actual field work, after full atmospheric and soil analysis had been done near where they were stockaded; they proceeded in their vehicles, each accompanied by a demi-unit [6] of soldiers.

 

The soldiers had a large array of lethal and non-lethal weaponry, and the specialists themselves each had the specific weapons in which they had trained and been found most competent to use.

 

One exploration party [9 specialists and 6 soldiers] and their vehicle found an area that they considered would make a good site for further exploration, and so a stockade was setup there.

Then the specialists went into foot mode – sub-groups of three specialists, 2 soldiers and a guardian robot would seek out what interested them most – whether it be rocks, plants, animals, etc.

Each “field foot group” had its own small vehicle that they could use to travel around, and also to safely store samples in each day prior to returning to the stockade.

 

As well as four field groups, each exploration group had a lab section of 6 specialists who analysed all samples in advanced equipment – analysing viruses, bacteria, gases, etc, etc.

 

One field foot group was attacked by a large group of stinging insects – these couldn’t penetrate their explorer suits tough material, but just to be on the safe side a soldier with a gas gun sprayed the area that included the group with a non-lethal sleeping gas – they themselves were unaffected as could instantly switch to internal air supply for the few minutes required for the gas to subside.

 

 

SECTION TWO  A  PROBABLE FIRST CONTACT SITUATION

 

It is the year 2005.  An Extrovian ship arrives beyond the Solar System; it detects much radio wave activity.  Two ships leave it, one goes further out – this is a observation/relay ship –its task is to observe if anything happens to the mothership and report it to the second ship, which goes even further out and is a fast, stealthy courier – ready to take a warning and data back to an outpost of the Extrovian Extent.

 

Much of the rest of what happens is similar to above – launch of some satellites; what is different is the approach to Earth.  Contact specialists and diplomats are sent.

 

[Note that scenario two involves the concept of ‘extrovians’ that are contemporaneous with humans; NOT that the Extrovians have a civilisation 10 million plus years old – ie. this is a different species of explorers that have given same generic name].

 

SUMMARY

 

As one can see by the comparison of what happens in the novels – contrived ‘excitement’ due to unbelievable idiocy [which robs the story of reader interest and ability to relate to the story and the characters within it], and the ‘thought experiment’, there is a huge gap in credibility between a probable scenario and the novel ‘Deepsix’ [incidentally, the title of the novel has little relevence either – maybe the author was ‘inspired’ by the movie ‘Deepstar Six’!!!]

 

Afterthought: Deepsix, though the ‘name’ of the planet, may be meant to be a self-referential reference to the number of explorers stranded on the doomed world.

Will have to check how many people in the group – from memory it seems more than six [maybe this is the number that survived; in which case the characters would wish the planet was called Deepten instead].

{One thing is certain about the name ‘Deepsix’ – it does not refer to the intellectual calibre of the group – this is no ‘deep’ ‘six’ (‘mentally advanced’ ‘group of six persons’)].

 

 


COMMENTS ON BLURBS ON THE NOVELS’ DUST JACKETS

 

‘DEEPSIX’

“A spellbinding epic adventure of discovery, catastrophe, and survival from one of the most masterful storytellers in speculative fiction.”

Whoever wrote that should be done for false advertising, hyperbole and various crimes against reality.  The catastophe is the novel itself.  Survival is what the reader has done when he puts the book down.  Discovery is of how woeful this novel is.

 

There are several quotes from other SF authors [Stephen King, Michael Swanwick and Robert J. Sawyer] on back, in relation to Jack McDevitt’s previous novel ‘Infinity Beach’.  If the comments by these authors are accurate, then McDevitt’s writing has gone a lot downhill since writing ‘Infinity Beach’.

 

‘CHINDI’

“One of the most satisfying writers in the field.” – Charles Sheffield

“You should definitely read Jack McDevitt.” – Gregory Benford

 

On back cover:

 

‘Praise for Jack McDevitt’s previous novels

 

Deepsix

“A bold journey across a fascinating landscape.” – The Denver Post

 

Infinity Beach

“Will hold readers in thrall.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

Moonfall

“Care with characterization, careful research, and an irresistible story line take Moonfall out of the thriller genre into classical territory.” -  Booklist (starred review)

 

The Engines of God

“Not since Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama has discovery of artifacts of alien intelligence been treated so skillfully.” – The Baltimore Sun

 

 

Some comments about these quotes:

 

If the novel is so good why does it need these praises for previous novels of the author?

The Baltimore Sun – wow, that’s a real major SF criticism source!!!!!

Apropos novels about alien artifacts – there have been a number of good ones since RWR

Some of these novels may be actually good or quite good – which begs the question of why these more recent ones are so dreadful.

 

Another question is why it hasn’t been noticed by the editing department of the publisher how bad they are – perhaps they don’t care – so long as they have a book to publish, by an established author.  This is a general sin of publishers – published authors are let get away with writing rubbish because the publishers allow it (they mightn’t realise how bad it is as they lack expertise in book analysis).  [Pocket Books with their Star Trek books are the major offender in this regard.  Contrast this with the superior Star Wars books].

 

 

On a personal note – the universe depicted in the ‘Hutch’ Hutchins novels is vastly inferior to that of my gaming and proposed novels series universe of ‘Galactic Domination’.

 

SLOW LIGHTNING

This is a British publishing retitling of the novel Infinity Beach [and which on the public library’s computer network is listed as Omega IV]

 

The back cover has a long, glowingly praising blurb by Stephen King:

“Jack McDevitt is that splendid rarity, a writer who is a storyteller first and a science fiction writer second. In his ability to absolutely rivet the reader, it seems to me that he is the logical heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.  If you’ve never read McDevitt before, you couldn’t find a better book to start with than SLOW LIGHTNING, a nail-biting neo-Gothic tale that blends mystery, horror, and a fascinating look at how first contact with an utterly alien species might happen.

I simply couldn’t put it down – I was up until long past midnight and loving every minute of it.

Kim Brandywine is one of McDevitt’s most engaging characters, both real and appealing.  Snatch this baby up, all right? You’re going to love it even if you think you don’t like science fiction.

You might even want to drop me a thank –you note for the tip before racing out to your local bookstore to pick up the Jack McDevitt backlist.”

 

And on the pre-title page is something said that is incredible –

“He is widely considered by his peers to be one of the finest science fiction writers in the USA.”

 

COMMENTS ON THE ABOVE TWO STATEMENTS

How come Stephen King’s praise refers to the book by the UK title?  Editing.

a “ splendid rarity”?! there are many writers who are good storytellers, and a lot who aren’t.

“ a science fiction writer second” – rather 4th, and a storyteller 3rd.

“logical heir” – ““Illogical, Captain”, says Spock”.

Clarke and Asimov are writers and SF authors.

If you do like science fiction you won’t like McDevitt’s novels much.

“a thank-you note”?! nay, rather a curse.

don’t race, crawl; better yet, get the book free from your public library, you’ll then get your money’s worth.

 

what peers are these – his family?

“one of the finest science fiction writers” – not by a long shot, not even “in the USA”.

 

I have a theory – Charles Sheffield, Gregory Benford, Stephen King – they have all been hypnotised by evil aliens – it’s about the only thing that makes sense in regard to their pronouncements on McDevitt’s novels.

 


Omega

 

– the fifth Omega series novel.

A story of the Omega clouds

 

It is a very strange universe JM has made.  Every planet that humans discover that has or had intelligent life (usually with a civilization of varying tech level), suffers a huge extinction event shortly before or after human explorers arrive.

Moonlight in Omega has both – an extinction catastrophe before, and an Omega cloud attack after.

 

In McDevitt’s universe, space travel is controlled by the American Congress [Omega  p17] – this doesn’t make sense.  There are about 200 nations in the world.  In the 23rd century either space travel will be common, which means most nations will have it, or it will be rare – in which case UN would have substantial control.  No one nation would be allowed to have a monopoly – as a matter of justice and for their own protection/preservation: because if they did attempt to have such a monopoly, then a bioplague would wipe them out (an inevitable result of such a policy).

 

Omega – a universe of dumb people [one possible exception is the Omega Society].

The clouds are reminiscent of Piers Anthony’s destroyers in Macroscope [however, as we find at end of novel – nowhere near as noble an endeavour].

 

Jack makes an attempt in this book to explain away some of the flaws of this and previous novels in the series, by suddenly positing that it is not the NAU [North American Union] and the Academy controlling space travel and exploration, but a ‘just created for this novel’ World Council, for which the Academy acts as agent. [p79 – “Any world shown to have sentient life automatically came under the purview of the World Council, but its agent in such matters was the Academy.”].

One of few references (none detailed), (others are p21, 42) to this body (World Council) in the novel].

 

Also on p142 again tries to justify the spaceships being unarmed [this is clearly and unequivocably refuted by the previously quoted Poul Anderson book reference that I quoted earlier]:

“Sky had grown up with the notion that evil inevitably equated to stupidity.  The symbol of that idea was embodied in the fact that superluminals were not armed, that no one (other than fiction writers) had ever thought of mounting a deck gun on an interstellar vessel.

It was a nice piece of mythology.  But mythology was all it was.”

 

If evil = stupidity, then the people of the Hutchiverse are very evil.

Not simply in having unarmed spaceships [despite experience showing the necessity with their having frequent hostile encounters], but also having such small, ill-equipped and unprepared crews.

[Where do they recruit their space personnel from – Dummies ‘R’ Us ?!]

 

p150 “ … some of the biggest egos on the planet.” – what planet is that?  In the Hutchiverse, despite interstellar travel being fairly common, there are no human (permanent) settlements other than on Earth.

 

One cannot decipher a language by simply listening to it – hearing language samples [admittedly they later tie it to visual data; this is more realistic; but the smart thing to do is spy on school lessons, and to copy books (or scrolls in case of this society) from the library – a dictionary or encyclopedia would be handy, but if they don’t have those, any illustrated scrolls and anything that can indicate what their written alphabet is, and its correlation to the spoken word].

Such sources are of course ignored by the “intrepid” explorers of ‘Omega’ (until later in the novel).

 

Contact (on Nox or Lookout) should be done by professionals, subject to discipline.

They send a spaceship the furthest humans have ever gone and it only has 4 people on board, no specialists of any sort.  Should use a big ship with a big crew for such a long-range mission (or even their shorter ones) [such as the cargo ship that is later shown to exist, despite lack of any concept of commercial space travel in any of the previous novels in the series].

All these ships with crews of just 2, 3 or 4 people; what universe is this – something from 1930s/ 1940s ?

 

The Protocol that is constantly talked about – what is its legal authority – seems like just an idea of some people without binding power.

 

An example of the dumbness of the characters:

One of the crewmen encounter a native who panics, shouts ‘Morghani’, and runs like hell chasing after them.  Morghani is obviously ‘demon’ or similar, but they don’t figure it out.

When later a black-robed figure comes to the spot he is obviously a priest there to do an exorcism, but only one of them (partly) figures it out and he is very slow on the uptake; the others put up ridiculous theories.

 

 

One note of praise – the idea of the clouds and the hedgehogs is reasonably creative.

[Incidentally, the aliens might be a bit pissed that their handiwork is being sabotaged by humans, who are prematurely exploding the clouds before they reach their positions].

 

Priscilla’s full name is Priscilla Maureen Hutchins [and in this novel she is married to the artist Tor, whom she encountered in a previous novel].

 

The information on the lightbenders is contradictory – it is said they make the wearer invisible, but contradicts this by saying that their eyes are visible – which is right?

Anyhow, there is a way around this difficulty – use cameras for vision, then can be totally invisible.

Incidentally, the lightbender tech, the superfast intragalactic radio and some of their other tech is beyond that of their everyday space travel tech and way beyond what their everyday abilities [viz incompetence] are.

How does a guy die from being jostled in a crowd? – again the e-suits are useless [also can not even keep out an insect bite].

 

Compared to the Hutchiverse, the Star Trek universe consists of ‘super-competent’ people who realistically travel in exploration ships that have 00’s of personnel (of course, there are also a number of similarities – internal security sucks in both universes, but at least the Star Trek ships and personnel make a token effort to be armed and trained].

 

‘Omega’ if one ignores its typical Hutchiverse faults is not too bad a read.

 

CHRONOLOGY

 

THE ENGINES OF GOD                               (OMEGA I)     Prologue 2197              Main body 2202

DEEPSIX                                                        (OMEGA II)    Prologue 2204              Main body 2223

CHINDI                                                          (OMEGA III)   Prologue                       Main body

INFINITY BEACH  [SLOW LIGHTNING]   (OMEGA IV)  Prologue 2983              Main body 3009

OMEGA                                                          (OMEGA V)    Prologue 2230              Main body 2234


A flaw of both the Omega universe and Star Trek is that the characters use hand torches to see in dark.

Have you ever watched any of the nature documentaries where spying on baboons or lions and they use small infrared light (thermal) cameras, or where characters such as in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ use light intensifiers [current tech, yet in 23rd century don’t have; and even if stuck with using torches wouldn’t it be better to have them shoulder mounted (like a “predator’s” energy gun) rather than losing use of one hand?]

 

 

Some speculative ‘plot proposals’ of my own, for your amusement:

 

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HUTCH AND CO

Landing in their lander on a new planet Hutch and her three companions exit their lander, enclosed in their e-suits, and not carrying anything.

As they pass near a screen of bushes something lashes through the air, then quickly withdraws, leaving one of their number dead, with a red slash mark on their face.

They are shocked by this, and mill around.  Then another of them goes down, and a third, leaving only Hutch alive.  She rapidly runs back to the lander and takes off – another failed mission to report to the Academy – another planet, that despite its otherwise perfect potential as a human colony site, must now be off-limits.  The triffids now own this planet.

 

THE NEWER ADVENTURES OF HUTCH AND CO

Select any planet from classic SF ventures of the 20th century, where intrepid explorers from Earth arrive and explore – all of these missions would be too dangerous and fatal for those from the Hutchiverse, as McDevitt’s characters are too unprepared in every way – small in numbers, undertrained, ill-equipped, unsuitable personalities to be planetary explorers.

For them stobor would be everywhere and they would be unable to compete against it.

 

Also, if Hutch and co faced not alien creatures and monsters, but simply humans from many other universes they would be in danger.

 

ADDENDUM:

In ‘Promised the Moon: The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race’ (Author Stephanie Nolen) on page 3 is the following:

“Harris knew the pair, and he introduced Jerrie to them: Donald Flickinger and Randy Lovelace.

Every pilot in the country in 1959 probably knew those names – these were two of the most important men in aerospace medicine.    And she knew Flickinger was an air force brigadier general, a pioneer in aviation medicine who had led the tests that told the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that a human might survive spaceflight.”

 

And on page 87:

“Flickinger, an air force general and flight surgeon, was best known for a series of jumps he made in the Pacific theater in World War II, when he was parachuted in to tend to survivors from plane crashes and then lead them out to safety.  In 1951, his friend Randy Lovelace recommended him for the job of chief of Human Factors (official speak for pilots) in the Air Research and development Command (ARDC), the experimental branch of the air force.  “Flick”, as the doctor was known, was an innovator in aerospace medicine, and he rose rapidly through the ranks at ARDC.”

 

There you have it – Flickinger is the name of a very competent man, who with his friend Dr Randolph Lovelace II, was responsible for a series of stringent, rigorous tests of fitness and competence for space travel, and he gets his name attached to and associated with a flimsy suit worn by incompetent space travellers.  What an honour, NOT.

 

Also note that Flickinger told NASA “that a human might survive spaceflight” – not in the Hutchiverse – chances are you will die a stupid death [except for the title character; she who always emerges safe whilst almost all (or some anyway) around her die].

Also note that “Flickinger … then lead them out to safety” – but if wearing a ‘Flickinger suit’ then you are pretty unsafe, as it provides little in the way of protection – safer in medieval chain mail, or a motorcyclist’s leather clothing.

 

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY ON THE ‘UNARMED SHIPS’ POLICY OF THE HUTCHIVERSE:

Space and space exploration aren’t for the fainthearted; even Star Trek (which in its manifestation as ST:TNG was a bit namby-pamby) recognises the need to ‘walk softly and carry a big stick’.

It is ‘political correctness’, soft unrealism, to have unarmed explorer ships (if they are unarmed should have armed escorts, and at least some internal defences).

 

Another reason, of course, to be armed is that weapons can also function as a tool – for example to save a ship if it is buried under a rockfall or to avoid collision with a wandering space rock.

The classic example of this is an inversion – the fusion torch ships of Larry Niven’s ‘Man-Kzin’

universe used a tool as a (defensive) weapon.

 

This is another important point to understand – being armed doesn’t mean you are an aggressor; it can be for defensive only intent.

 

It is ironic that in a nation like USA where ill-educated citizens with no self-control are allowed to have handguns and even military grade weapons, that the idea of unarmed explorer ships should be advocated.

 

The lesson of history, and also of science fiction literature, is that one must make an effort to be prepared for a hostile universe – hope for the best, expect the worse.

 

Another thing – the negative depiction of scientists as incapable of properly being able to use a hand weapon.  In Star Trek, and in a sensible future universe, cross-training is the norm – scientists/engineers will also have training in exploration protocols and weapon handling.

The real astronauts weren’t simply pilot jocks – they also all had science or engineering degrees.

 

 

FINAL COMMENT

 

In football, the aim is to attack the ball, not the man [but of course sometimes one has to attack the man to get the ball].

My aim has not been to attack Jack McDevitt, but rather his performance – it is like a coach who tells the player he has underachieved – not performed to his potential.  We are all guilty of this failure, but with an author it is more visible.

 

Jack McDevitt has a vision – of a universe without weapons – it is a noble vision, but until the bastards that the universe always throws up are deleted it is not realistic.

 

Jack – here is my challenge – do the unthinkable, and revise your books.

 


POSTSCRIPT

Humans have been exploring Earth for thousands of years in huge numbers, and yet there is much about our planet and its life that we still don’t know (some that we may never know).  During the past couple of centuries this exploration has often been done by trained scientists with the latest technology available at time it was done.

 

And yet in so many SF stories a small number of semi-qualified people, poorly equipped, and only spending a little time, and with a poor exploration strategy, and no preliminary inspection and analysis, arrive at a completely alien planet and wander around on it and call this exploration.

Imagine these people were exploring an island on Earth, they wouldn’t find out much, and there one is dealing with a place that has so much in common with the rest of Earth.  What makes an alien planet alien is that it is not Earth and we know little about it – the other planets of our Solar system are semi-alien – we have spent a relatively long time studying them remotely.

 

An alien planet, that one has no previous knowledge of, is full of surprises, as are the other bodies in our Solar system and even unknown lands on Earth.

It requires systematic approach to explore other planets – preparation of personnel, a plan of exploration, proper equipment, advanced prior surveillance, etc.

It is alright for characters in a movie or TV show, where the aim is suspense and adventure and entertainment of the audience, to go cackhanded onto an alien planet.

 

It is not suitable for a serious SF novel.  Consider what a qualified Antarctic explorer must do; or what about David Attenborough – he has a film crew with him, and must spend months prior to each nature series he does planning the activities.  They monitor via various instruments for months or even years a habitat and its occupants.  Also the people in ‘Big Cat Diary’ do this.

But what about excitement and adventure and thrills?

There are thrills enough in an alien environment even for a well prepared large group, if the author has the wit and imagination.

 

Some of my favourite space exploration adventures are those of Eric Frank Russell with his Jay Score stories [‘Men, Martians and Machines’], and A.E. van Vogt with his ‘The Voyage of the Space Beagle’ story compilation/fix-up novel.  In both of these a well prepared, trained crew of specialists (and well armed) in an excellent spaceship do exploration.

The Beagle also has a Nexialist, and the Flattner (?) has Martian crew also, as well as the robot Jay Score.

Others I like are the Bob Shaw ‘Ship of Strangers’, and the  xxxxx of xxxxxxx, also Brian Stableford’s ecology explorers.

 

Of course I also like Chandler’s Captain Grimes series, but that is set in a universe that has already been basically explored, so requirements are different [if travelling around a country on Earth one doesn’t need what would need on an alien planet – no protective suit, no weapons, etc (but often do first need certain injections); naturally I am excluding war zones or pirate or brigand infested areas – enter at own risk].

 


There are 8 “conditions” I put forward as exemplifying a proper exploration series, and each of the above would fulfill about 70 - 80% - a ‘distinction’ pass mark.

Even Star Trek [which I extensively criticise and mock elsewhere] fulfills most objectives.  What are these:

 

1.      A nice big exploration ship with adequate subsystems such as labs, armory, etc.

2.      A nice big crew of trained professionals.

3.      Armed and well trained security types.

4.      Auxiliary vessels (air and ground) for planetary exploration.

5.      Adequate equipment – ship system and personal – for recording events and encounters.

6.      Adequate internal monitoring.

7.      When on a planet wear suitable gear, be properly armed and equipped.

8.      That the ship be armed (or if not armed have good protective field/armor).

 

NOTE: Several of the ships above are not armed – but this is due to the nature of the universe that they are in – where prior exploration over a long period has shown that they are in a universe that has no space travelling hostiles.

It is true that the crew of the Flattner(?) are captured on planets, etc. but recall that their ship was an experimental vessel that accidentally went on a journey of exploration.

 

Star Trek (the Original series) fulfills conditions 1, 2, 5, 8, and partially fulfills conditions 3, 4,6,7.

The ‘Beagle’ fulfills conditions 1, 2, 3, 4 (?), 5, 6, 7, and though not armed has good screens.

In the movie ‘Forbidden Planet’ [the original Star Trek movie] their expedition fulfills conditions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and in addition they have Robbie the robot (and though not armed, good screens).

 

Dr Who doesn’t fulfill most of these conditions but has special attributes instead – fate on his side, luck, genius.  The Tardis does have suitable scientific analysis equipment, and is indestructible.

 

The concern in Babylon 5 is not exploration but political intrigue, but the B5 station does fulfill all the conditions.

 

Blake’s Seven is also not an exploration ship series, per se, but fulfills conditions 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, and considering the types of places they visit (human colonised planets and bases/stations) also 7, with 2 and 4 not being necessary.  It also has the bonuses of Zen and Orac (and later Slave), the Teleport bracelets, and a crew that though it is small each is a specialist in the top of their league:

The Original Seven (note that Zen is the seventh):

Blake – leadership

Avon – computer systems, security cracking

Vila – thievery, security system breaking

Gan – strongman, ethics

Cally – telepathy

Jenna – piloting

 

The Replacements:

Tarrant – piloting

Dayna – weapons

Soolin - gunslinger

 

Avon,Tarrant, Dayna and Soolin are very good gunmen.

 

Stargate SG1 fulfills most of the conditions generally, though of course most of their travel is by stargates not ships.


Since writing all of the above I have been reading Peter F. Hamilton’s ‘Pandora’s Star’ [an excellent novel that I recommend, first in a duology].

Just over a fifth of the way through this book an investigation of a new stellar system is initiated [via wormhole exploration technique, but the actual transport system used is not of relevence to this discussion (p170-179)].  An Earthlike world they name Chelva is checked by the explorers.  The caution, comprehensiveness and large scale resource allocation used is similar to the approach that I have outlined above.  It is well justified, as the planet’s life is much more deadly than that on any of those encountered by Hutch and co, as it is widespread plantlife of various types that kill animals by use of highly corrosive acids.  They do not lose any human life in finding this out.

 

Also in ‘Pandora’s Star’, on page 369, is the following (referring to a starship that is going to investigate a system):

“ ‘I understand you’re taking a lot of weapons on your flight,’ Thompson Burnelli said.

‘The great debate,’ Wilson said, not quite mocking. ‘Do we shock culturally superior species with our primitive warlike behaviour, or do we go into the unknown with sensible protection that any smart alien will understand.’

‘Given what they’re facing, a degree of self-defence is appropriate,’ Nigel said.

‘Huh,’ Thompson snorted. ‘What do you believe, Captain? Is the barrier a defence against some psychopathic race armed with superweapons?’

‘We’ll find out when we get there,’ Wilson said mildly. ‘But I’m not taking a crew anywhere unless I stand a chance of bringing them back alive.’ ”

 

Peter F. Hamilton has adopted the same approach on these issues as I advocate – caution with boldness backed by strong protective and offensive deterrents.

Caution in that you do not simply charge in unprepared and ill-equipped and ignorantly.

Boldness in that one one attempts to achieve the mission objectives by taking some well-considered risks.

 

 

 

 

 

**  this is an ‘in-joke’; it refers to the publishing of a review of an A.E. van Vogt story by Damon Knight (this review can be found in Damon Knight’s amusing book ‘Anatomy of Wonder’ (am I recalling this title correctly??)).  This allegedly ‘destroyed’ A.E.van Vogt (of course it did nothing of the kind).  Despite his faults A.E.van Vogt is ten times the author/storyteller that Jack McDevitt is.