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by Jack McDevitt
Ace, $25.95, 407pp
Release Date: November 5, 2013
This is the 7th Priscilla Hutchins story but this one occurs before any of the others.  This is Priscilla’s beginnings.  It begins with Priscilla on her certification flight for becoming an interstellar starship pilot.

The story begins with an exciting find – intelligent and friendly alien contact.  Unfortunately, Priscilla and her instructor, Jake, are too late.  Contact had been made years ago but the humans met with an accident before their information could be shared.  All that was left was a message in a satellite and no aliens.  And before Priscilla’s certification flight is over, she and Jake are involved in a rescue with a tragic end.

She finally does realize her heart’s desire and gets her interstellar pilot’s certification from the World Space Authority.  Her first job offer comes from a corporation responsible for world terra-forming.  Unfortunately, they are at the center of a world-wide rumor when word begins to spread that their terra-forming processes are killing off the indigenous life. Priscilla finds reason to believe the rumors are true and ends up quitting.  That was an unfortunate decision and she finds no open doors anywhere when she tries to get another job.  She finally lands a desk job with the World Space Authority and discovers for herself just what a thankless job the Authority has - responsibility for the life and safety of spacefarers everywhere but no budget to mount effective rescues.

The story also examines Priscilla’s and Jake’s lovelives.  After the tragic rescue, Jake retires to a mountain cabin but, aside from falling in love, has nothing to do.  Priscilla’s new boyfriend is a rather lackluster plotline.  I have nothing against an author writing from the opposite sex’s viewpoint, I just don’t think it usually works.  And, although I greatly admire McDevitt’s stories, he isn’t that good at it, either.  I just didn’t find Priscilla’s character compelling.  This part of the book was too slow for me.

It gets a bit more exciting when Jake accepts a job that takes him to a world where the atmosphere just might be sentient.  And while that has huge ramifications, nothing is proven.  And they just fly off into the sunset.

Then the space station where Priscilla works is threatened by eco-terrorists who want the terra-forming stopped.  There is an interesting interlude where she gets to know a Presidential-hopeful Senator more personally and we are treated to the theory that even politicians can be good people.  Her and Jake’s stories come together when Jake discovers his ship is the threat to the space station.  And, finally, it is Priscilla who understands who is really responsible for the threat and another tragic death. 

Real science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) is always most near and dear to my heart.  And I really like McDevitt’s work but this book left me unsatisfied.  I know why he used the two alien encounters as he did; they were not the focus, only a plot device.  But I’d really have preferred an alien encounter story.  As a Priscilla Hutchins story goes, it was nice to get more backstory to flesh out her character. ~~ Catherine Book

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