Many, many years into the future, mankind has emerged on the other side of an apocalyptic Dark Ages – the lights have been switched back on and people are once more established in colonies across the Galaxy. Alex Benedict and his pilot Chase collect antiquities, remnants of the Golden Age of space exploration which is now almost myth having taken place eleven thousand years ago. The 1969 moon landings are as exalted as the pyramids and almost as alien.
When Alex and Chase are handed an item that can only have been recovered from a lost hoard of artefacts, rescued from Earth during its social collapse and environmental disasters so long ago, Alex becomes obsessed with finding the hoard, a quest that will take him and Chase across the solar system and beyond. But it soon becomes clear that they cannot take a step without being watched, and not just by the television film crews that follow Alex, the celebrity treasure hunter, wherever he goes.
This, though, is only half of the tale and it is this second story that fully captures the imagination of the reader, or at least this reader. It has long been known that interstellar vessels disappear with the worst presumed – space travel, after all, is a dangerous activity. But it is now believed that some of these ships are actually trapped in time warps, only appearing spasmodically in linear time. Only a few days may have passed aboard the vessel but many years can have passed outside the bubble. The true significance of this for those once thought lost and for those who once mourned is a powerful force in Coming Home.
The crew and passengers of the Capella believe that they have only been adrift for a few days but those intent on rescuing them know the full truth – the ship has been gone for eleven long years. There is a brief window in which rescues can be made but not all will escape in time. Chase is one of the pilots who becomes a part of the rescue mission. It is personal. Aboard the Capella is Gabe Benedict, Chase’s previous employer and Alex’s uncle, a man that they have both missed and mourned.
Coming Home is above all else a fun space adventure. The relationship between Chase and Alex is loving (and platonic) and relaxed. These are two people who know well how to work together. It amuses me that the series that this belongs to is named after Alex Benedict when the central character is very much his employee Chase. But both are likeable and good to spend time with.
The novel is fast-moving, the setting enhanced by the frequent glimpses into how the media are reporting the matter at hand. Although set thousands of years into the future, this is a recognisable, familiar world. There are AIs, flying cars and projected phonecall images but there’s no fuss surrounding them. They exist and little time is spent describing them. Of more wonder and value in this world are the few novels and plays recovered from the Golden Age, the fragments of ancient space ships, the cities lost beneath the risen seas that can be visited in tourist submarines. It’s all hugely inviting and entertaining.
The rescue of the Capella conjures up some powerful emotions and the whole scenario is frightening, for the reader and for Chase, but, as a whole, Coming Home is an enjoyable and undemanding, even old fashioned, science fiction adventure. Mankind has emerged from his darkest time and now anything is possible.
Coming Home is the seventh Alex Benedict novel but it is my first. Headline has been reissuing the series (and the Academy series) over the last year, making it the perfect time to buy them up, but Coming Home is a new novel and, without doubt, it does very well as a standalone novel. Previously, I have read a couple of the Academy series as well as the standalone novels Moonfall (I hugely recommend this as a perfect spacetime disaster adventure) and, with Mike Resnick, the excellent moon landing conspiracy thriller The Cassandra Project. These books, now backed up by Coming Home, have reminded me of the great pleasure Jack McDevitt’s keen sense of adventure gives me and I will be adding more of his books to my reading pile.
The Cassandra Project