Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review: The Engines of God

I was up late last night finishing "The Engines of God" by Jack McDevitt. This is very different from "The God Engines" by John Scalzi which is also a good book.

You may have heard that Borders has been having financial issues. I looted one of their places a little while back and discovered Jack McDevitt's books. They pretty consistently had descriptions of the stories that sounded interesting. One of the recurring characters is Priscilla Hutchins and the first of the books she appears in is this one. I have several books on my to-be-read shelf that are third in the series and I'm still looking for the first two before I read what I have. I was happy to be able to start with the first one in this series.

The book reads like two books back to back. The first book tells about a planet that once housed a now extinct civilization. A team of archaeologists is trying to explore a city that has slid into the ocean while a team of terraformers is trying to get them off so they can blast the planet and start making it more comfortable for humans. This annoys me because the planet, while a bit cold, has liquid water, plant and animal life, and an active biosphere. If you're so desperate for housing for the overcrowded Earthlings then move them in here, don't blast and wait 50 years.

But that's beside the point. The first half of the book talks about the rush to get anything of value out of the ruins and off the planet. They're rushed and held up by the terraformers who "accidentally" drop an ice asteroid into the ocean a few hundred kilometers from the site and cause as tsunami. Then a power grab between a couple of the terraformers causes all the planted nukes to go off and really screw things up.

What they were looking for was evidence of a race they call The Monument Makers. An ancient race that built giant artificial cities on moons and huge orbiting cubes. The strange thing is that these monuments and areas of a couple of inhabited alien planets show signs of collapsing civilization and burn marks at about the same times. They have samples of the alien languages, but they're trying to get more samples from the ruins on the planet that's about to be terraformed.

Having retrieved a bunch of stuff from the terraformed planet they make some discoveries that lead the team to a star system that may house the Monument Makers. Once there they promptly crash into a huge round thing only millimeters thick and have their ship disabled. They spend awhile trying to make life support last long enough for rescue. Once rescued they check out the big round thing and a habitable planet in the system that has it's own ruins. And some rather nasty surprises.

From there they're able to form a hypothesis about what caused the scorch marks and civilization falls they keep seeing. This leads them to another star system where they find out just what the Monument Makers were trying to do.

The book is kind of like a mystery. I found myself coming up with my own hypotheses about what the monuments were for. I was wrong, but so was everyone in the book.

Each of the two major story arcs in the book start kind of slow and are hard to get into, but after a chapter or two it really starts to move and the book goes from hard to pick up to hard to put down.

I'm looking forward to reading the next book.

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