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Polaris by Jack McDevitt

01/02/2005. Contributed by Andy Stout

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pub: Ace. 373 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $36.00 (CAN). ISBN: 0-441-01202-7.

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'Polaris' is an amiable addition to the increasingly large McDevitt body of works. It's an old-fashioned detective story essentially. One where the two main characters, Alex Benedict and narrator Chase Kolpath, try to untangle the web of misinformation and red herrings surrounding the book's central mystery. Namely, what happened to the celebrity passengers and pilot of the titular spaceship 'Polaris', who all disappeared into thin air (okay, so this is space, let's say 'harder vacuum') while on an expedition to watch a white dwarf crash into a standard G-class star sixty years previously.

And that, in a nutshell, is it. McDevitt presents us with a futuristic Marie Celeste. Benedict and Kolpath doggedly piece together the clues, the mystery is eventually solved (no real spoiler there) and everyone goes on their way happily afterwards. It's like the froth on a cappuccino: light, almost insubstantial stuff that would probably get a 'U' - contains scenes of mild peril' rating at the cinema at most.

It bumbles along in a chatty, eminently readable manner, however, and McDevitt is too canny a writer not to pop in a few good espresso-strength SF squirts into the coffee underneath. For a start, Benedict and Kolpath run collectible artefact specialists, Rainbow, which allows McDevitt to explore a whole host of cultural goodies and make some wry digs at both collectors and fandom along the way. Then there's an interesting and thought-provoking dialogue on population control running throughout the book between neo-Malthusians on the one hand and those trying to prolong human life on the other.

'Polaris' meanders a bit in the middle and is probably a shade too long. But if you've got any long-haul flights, lengthy train journeys or dull cricket matches coming up and want some gentle, undemanding entertainment along the way, 'Polaris' suits the bill pretty well. The ending's fairly neat, too.

Andy Stout

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