Saturday, July 28, 2007

Jack McDevitt - Engines of God

"Archaeologists in Space" would be a fairly accurate title for this neat little science fiction novel. In Jack McDevitt's 1996 novel we encounter an Earth wrecked by global warming and war; and a humankind struggling for a future. The universe that they hope to escape into though is surprisingly devoid of very much intelligent life. Which is surprising because the galaxy is littered with the artifacts and remains of long dead civilisations.

In an effort to understand this future archaeologists explore in much the same way that archaeologists today examine artifacts, the remains, cities and monuments of these long dead civilisations.

Principle amongst the extinct aliens are the "monument makers" who have left gigantic monuments amongst the stars, often near the remains of other civilisations. These monuments appear to serve no purpose and the future scientists scratch their heads and speculate about the meaning of the inscriptions and buildings in the same way that their fore-fathers did standing on the Giza plateau.

Of course archaeology rarely makes for exciting space based drama. We're offered some of this as the scientists race to understand a vital new clue before the planet it is on is destroyed by other scientists trying to terraform the planet for future habitation by humans fleeing the dying Earth.

Further excitement is provided as the scientists gradually start to work out that all the civilisations appear to have suffered destructive events in the past with surprising patterns and they get marooned in space in a solar system filled with planet sized radio telescopes.

McDevitt has produced a rather exciting vision of the future, interestingly grasping the nettle of climate change and environmental catastrophe before it was popular for SF writers. To combine that with space ships and archaeology makes this book almost to exciting to read for this particular reviewer.

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