Saturday, May 21, 2011

Here There Be Dragons: A Review of Jack McDevitt's The Engines of God

Title: The Engines of God 
Author: Jack McDevitt
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Ace Books (1995)
Pages: 419
How I Came By This Book: About a year ago I was looking for new sci-fi books at Borders and the cover of this one caught my eye.
Challenges: Read Your Own Books Challenge, GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: Humans call them the Monument-Makers. An unknown race, they left stunning alien statues on distant planets in the galaxy. Each relic is different. Each inscription defies translation. Yet all are heartbreakingly beautiful. And for planet Earth, on the brink of disaster, they may hold the only key in survival for the entire human race.

Review: So yesterday I posted this, my first impressions of this book. I was less than flattering and I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong. And I was wrong.

This book ended up being an exciting and dramatic romp through space. It took a while to get into, yes, but once I was into it I didn't want to put it down.

The basic storyline (and it's a bit confusing so I'll try to leave the unimportant bits out) is that there's a team of archaeologists doing a survey of a planet in the far reaches of the galaxy. They are running out of time, as there is a team of people waiting for them to clear out so that they can blow the ice caps sky high in order to begin terraforming it so that humans can move onto its surface in about fifty years. Earth itself is experiencing the effects of climate change and may possibly already be at the point of no return. So with time running out for the people of Earth, who cares about an archaeological dig?

But then Richard Wald, eminent archaeologist, discovers a clue as to why there are several sites in the galaxy that have signs of uncharacteristically advanced technology. These seemingly unconnected societies, all of which have experienced unexplained cataclysms in the past, suddenly emerge as a pattern of destruction. What follows is a series of events that lead Priscilla Hutchins, Academy pilot, and a group of archaeologists into a dangerous but enlightening adventure.

Priscilla herself, as I'd said yesterday, seemed to be superfluous at first. As the story progressed, however, she developed into a strong, intelligent woman who learned from her mistakes and become well-fleshed out. She and the other characters, like George, Janet, Maggie, and Carson, became very close during the course of the novel and the reader got to experience their bonding, which was very interesting. It reminded me a little of Stargate Universe or Battlestar Galactica, science fiction that really focuses on character development instead of gadgets and aliens.

The plot which had seemed confusing at first came together towards the middle and flowed seamlessly through to the end. Questions that had been raised early on in the book were answered, if not satisfactorily, then at least enough to end the book on a resolute note. There are slower parts of the novel, but these are actually quite enjoyable as this is where a lot of the character development happens. The rest of the time there's action, a lot of it up against an invisible clock of sorts, and all of it keeps you wanting more.

I still feel as if McDevitt tried to do too much. There were times when I didn't quite understand what was going on and it wasn't because he used jargon or anything. Even the small bit of physics, chemistry, and math that were used in the novel were understandable by the scientific layman. No, instead, it seemed as if McDevitt forgot from time-to-time that the reader isn't in these characters heads like he is. Even when something that was confusing was explained later on, it wasn't always fully graspable. It's a small complaint, but one that I think takes away from the novel somewhat.

Jack McDevitt

Other than that, McDevitt is a great science-fiction writer, one who has the Nebula Awards to prove it. He mingles history, archaeology, politics, religion, personal relationships, and science together to create plots with real depth. His world-building is great as well. His world isn't so overly constructed that it takes away from the plot, a huge pet peeve of mine, but neither is it so underdeveloped that it's hard to imagine what's going on. A little more character description would have been nice but the reader is able to piece together an image of the characters through things that aren't related to hair color or height. McDevitt uses actions, dialogue, and other devices to build his characters. The result is rather impressive.

The dialogue never seemed to be too cliche or dull. In fact, it seemed rather natural, even when talking about things like aliens and spaceships. Each character had a unique voice and no one seemed fake or unrealistic. This was a nice change after the last book that I read. Sometimes McDevitt overuses fragment sentences, but after a while the reader doesn't notice. It feels like somewhere around the middle of the book he found his rhythm.

The dragons mentioned in the title of this post aren't real dragons and I can't talk about them without giving anything away, but I will say that the ending of this novel was exciting but also kind of strange. Not in a bad way, just in a way that makes you go "hmm...." I thoroughly enjoyed it along with the rest of the book.

The Engines of God is the first book in a series that revolves around the character of Priscilla Hutchins and I intend to read them all...eventually. I've become rather intrigued by what happens to her next, especially since throughout the book there are little hints. McDevitt seeds his audience's interest in future novels at the same time that he's drawing them into the plot of the present one, which is, I believe, indicative of masterful writing.

I'm giving The Engines of God 4 out of 5 Gabriels. It's not my favorite book I've ever read but I really liked it and would probably reread it, especially once I get my hands on the other novels in the series.



  1. OOOO, I really like the new template. Very nice.

    Did you know that Here There Be Dragons is a book??? Maybe you did and that's why you're putting it up like that...this could be a blonde moment for me. And I'm sorry if it is because every time I have one they're pretty bad and I feel bad when people have to witness it :]

  2. Also, I commented back on my other blog. I think Jane was trying to answer part of it as well.

  3. Thanks Nonners! I decided I was sick of the brown but wanted to keep a brown "theme" going. This is one of the more masculine templates that I could find. :)

    I didn't know that it was a book, but a friend of mine has a bumper sticker that says it. It's so hard to think of titles for these posts, but thankfully this one just popped out at me.

    I won't judge you for your blonde moments. LOL

    I'll have to go check it out after I finishing answering all of these comments. I've been a bit remiss.

  4. Wow, FINISH answering. So tired.

  5. You answered back??? Because my blog says you didn't. I didn't even get an email notification. Oh boy. That must be mortifying...finding out everything you just type is GONE. Sorry. But type it again!!! I want to know what you said.

  6. Just posted. It took me awhile to finish typing it all. We tend to write books on each other's posts. :)

  7. Yes. But you said you were finished so naturally I would assume you really were finished commenting :]

  8. Now I really am finished and am awaiting a response. Unless of course you have more questions, and then of course I'd love to answer them! My comment is more like an extra short novel this time. I fear that yours won't be :]

  9. I meant when I was finished answering the comments on my blog I would go check what you had written on your blog. :)