Infinity Beach, Jack McDevitt

Avon EOS, 2000, 510 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-06-102005-2

This is not a simple book to review. The easiest commentaries are raves or trashings, because it’s so much fun to be unequivocally of one opinion that you can just keep on writing until you’ve reached your self-imposed word count. On the other hand, books with both good and bad points require a more careful approach, which often results in a more incisive and satisfying review.

There is another category of book, however, that’s nearly impossible to review, and it’s the type of book that arouses no interest whatsoever. Forgotten a week after reading, barely remembered when it’s time to make up best-of lists, or even representative bibliographies, these books basically have no existence outside their own covers.

And Jack McDevitt’s Infinity Beach comes perilously close to being a forgettable book. Much like the author’s body work to date, it contains a few good ideas and a weak execution exacerbated by unneeded padding. Sure, McDevitt’s done some exciting work (The Engines of God), but he’s also responsible for a few stinkers (Eternity’s Road) and many more indifferent novels (A Talent for War, Ancient Shores). His premises are rarely matched by his development, and his characters are, more often that not, strictly perfunctory. But he keeps turning out novels, and given his average level of quality, he’ll stay in the business for a few more years.

But it’s not novels like Infinity Beach that will help him gain new die-hard fans. In theory, it’s supposed to be a story of “second contact”, in which a murder mystery is solved by a victim’s clone-sister who, in doing so, incidentally comes to reveal the truth about a so-called “failed” contact mission.

As mentioned previously, this actually sounds like a decent premise. McDevitt’s usual fascination for future historicals (in which his protagonists uncover historical secrets still quite in our own future) is exhibited once again. The dynamics between victim-sister/clone-investigator were promising.

But the novel starts, after a quasi-meaningless action vignette, with a slow-as-dirt introduction of characters, universe, past events… Our clone protagonist starts investigating, slowly, and -slooowly- discovers various clues that might lead her to uncover the secret. Slowly.

And the pace only seldom improves, losing itself in meaningless side-trips, irritating subplots and a generally frigid pacing. I eventually got the feeling that McDevitt himself wasn’t too interested in what’s happening and that I shouldn’t feel too guilty if I didn’t care either.

Yet I’m not ready to call Infinity Beach a bad book. Looking retrospectively on the content of the novel, there seems to be everything there for me to enjoy. So why didn’t it “take”? Why did I found it boring rather than engrossing? Could it be a random fluke, result of subconscious rumblings somehow affecting a book that, at any other time, wouldn’t be so badly considered?

Alas, I can’t even muster the intention to re-read this book in a year or two. So I’ll compromise and instead state that I will, in any case, try McDevitt’s next. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be one of his good ones!

Note: The UK edition of the book has been re-titled Slow Lightning. No comments.

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