Customer Reviews of The Engines of God
Thought-provoking, intelligent fiction.
In an age of predictable fiction (enough with the Noah's-Ark-we-have-to-live-on-this-ship-for-generations already!), Jack McDevitt proves that science fiction can still explore the future... and tell a pretty good yarn at the same time. In this novel, the Earth is dying, and habitable worlds are hard to find. The only evidence of a non-human race capable of space flight is odd monuments strewn across the galaxy, including a bizarre ice-statue left on one of the moons of Saturn. So we're not alone, but where the hell is everybody? The planet Quraqua had two advanced civilizations, but both literally vanished overnight. Interestingly, the Quraquans seemed to know exactly when this catastrophe would occur. And if it weren't for the fact that Quraqua is slated for planetary re-shaping (a minor inconvenience involving deliberate "snowballing", or lobbing ice asteroids at the planet's poles), humankind might have time to figure out what is going on. This novel is one surprise after the other, and the characters are perfectly human, driven by fascination, revenge, greed, and sheer stubbornness. And if you are interested in archaeology, or have ever dreamt about sifting through the ruins of an alien culture, this book is a must-have. Do yourself a favor. Throw out that latest hack-installment of "hero with a zap gun" and snap up "The Engines of God". Your brain will thank you for it.
The Engines of God (1994) is the first SF novel in the Hutch series. Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins is a superluminal pilot contracted to the Academy of Science and Technology. She has known Richard Wald for several years, once taking him to Iapetus to see the First Monument. The sight of that alien ice statue became one of the most memorable moments in her life.
In this novel, the Academy crew on Quraqua has been excavating the Temple of the Winds in its underwater site near the shoreline. The Temple was located on a major crossroads and was an important military and religious center for millennia. The Lower Temple was the original installation, a military outpost with a chapel, and over time the structure had been expanded, partially demolished, replaced and modified.
Quraqua's moon has a stone construct imitating a town, with right angles galore, but built with solid blocks having no interior spaces. The only relief from the rectangularity is two circular towers at opposite ends of the construct. One of the circular towers has an untranslated inscription in Casumel Linear C. Since the inhabitants of Quraqua seem to have never achieved space travel, the Oz construct is unexplained.
Project Hope had received permission to terraform the planet Quraqua for terrestrial inhabitation. The Academy had fought Project Hope to the last moment, yet only notified the Temple of the Winds team of the coming move after the final legal defeat. Now the Academy crew has to rush to get off the planet within a court mandated timeframe.
Casumel Linear C was used during the era that the Lower Temple was constructed. Since the eviction notice was received, the team has been concentrating on that portion of the Temple. Maggie Tufu, the exophilologist, needs as many samples as she can get to translate the Oz inscription.
When the Academy crew discovers a frieze in the Lower Temple depicting one of the Monument-Makers, Henry Jacobi, the team leader, sends Ward a facsimile of the frieze. Hutch is taking the Johann Winckelmann to Quraqua to evacuate the crew prior to the nuking of the icecaps, so Ward wrangles a ride with her to see the artwork. Upon entering the system, Ward asks Hutch to take him to Quraqua's moon to see Oz. There they find square and rectangular blocks arranged into a false image of a city. The construct has been significantly damaged, more so than the surrounding area. Ward, Hutch and Frank Carson, the project administrator, speculate that Oz was built by the Monument-Makers.
When the team finds a printing press on a lower floor in the Temple, they concentrate their efforts on removing it. It may contain the longest single sample of Casumel Linear C that they have found. By itself, the set type may be enough to achieve a breakthrough with the language.
Unfortunately, the Kosmik team working on Project Hope decides to give the Academy crew a little nudge and drops an iceberg from orbit into the sea far from where they are excavating the Temple. The resulting tsunamis are fairly small compared to those that will the raised during the nuking to the icecap, but are still disruptive. Then the northern icecap project engineer decides that further delays will not be tolerated.
In this story, the terraforming crew gets away with murder, but the archaeologists retrieve the type chases and Maggie translates the Oz inscription. This leads to other discoveries and further voyages. Ultimately, Hutch and friends discover the nature of the Engines of God.
Highly recommended for McDevitt fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of high adventure, archaeological discovery and astronomical calculations.
-Arthur W. Jordin
This is possibly one of McDevitt's most important work in terms of what it portends. He introduces the soulful, enticing, and always interesting "Hutch", the discovery of the Omega clouds and the presence of other sentient beings - First Contact twice removed one might say. Some have criticized the series (and his books in general) for their elusiveness, the almost ephemeral quality of the "encounters", the lack of action (quote unquote) and the timidity and rationality of the characters.
It is for those precise qualities that I value the works of Jack McDevitt. His sagas of alien encouters are more valid from a scientific point of view than most. It is doubtful that two intelligent cultures will exist at near the same technological level at the same time. Our best hopes are discovering life in its infancy or civilizations long disappeared. After all, our planet has sustained near-extinction events at least five times that we are aware. Furthermore, unless we do venture into space as an exploring / colonizing species there is a good chance that life could be exterminated on our own planet by either local or external means.
The adventure on Quraqua was near perfect with its mix of human emotions, scientific endeavors and near-catastrophic ending. Once again, the clues planted in this story are explored and expanded in the following sections (and books). Hutch is such a great character. I almost think of her as a "real" person. She has a spunk and sense of humor in this book that is missing in others, but the reflection on herself and her follies. Also present are the inner reveries in which she contemplates mankind's place among the stars, the past and the future.
Only a few cons - too many minor characters. If the character does not figure in the story use "the captain" or "the guy that loaded boxes" rather than a name and biographical information. The reader is left waiting for something to happen.introduce. The headlines, while understandable, are a distraction from the main story to this reader. Also, who really thinks it easier to terraform another world rather than change your own...but these are quibblings compared to the slow, steady surge of the story as it moves inexorably toward its conclusion. I wish this had been the FIRST Hutch story I read instead of the last. And although this is another superb effort by a great writer I am still waiting for that magnum opus, that DUNE or 1984, that will not only satisfy the reader but also stagger the imagination. Come on, Jack, hit the books!
In the Engines of God, Jack McDevitt weaves together a series of familiar science fiction motifs to create a mystery novel on a grand scale. Like Arthur C. Clarke's classic Rendezvous with Rama, the story of a vast alien spacecraft that enters our solar system that enters our solar system, providing astronaughts with a brief glipse of otherworldly splendor before departing, McDevitt's novel is concerned with the potential wonders of interstellar anthropology.
The success of McDevitt's novel is in his strong depiction of the alien culture of Quaraqua, as seen through its artifacts and texts. His depictions of the translated fragments of their writings, and their artwork, ring with a poetic authenticity that is at once beautiful and mysterious.
I buy a fair number of books, and many of them I struggle to finish, and ultimately get bored and put it on the shelf for another day. I never did finish "Cryptonomicon", or any of Neal Stephenson's books for that matter, even after reading hundreds of pages.
But for some reason Jack McDevitt is able to weave an interesting sci-fi story that can really keep my attention. His books focus on a single character and you are always working your way toward the conclusion of the book. You feel like you're making progress.
Engines of God is no different. There's a constant, logical progression as the characters weave their way through discoveries and ultimately wind up at finding a conclusion that you speculated about, but weren't quite sure. You really want to skip to the end and figure it out, but you don't want to wreck a really good read.
Frankly, I'd like to see a sequel to this book written about 900-1000 years in the future to see what happens.
My first McDevitt book was "Infinity Beach", then "Eternity Road", and now this. All were excellent and interesting.
If I have a complaint about McDevitt, it's that technology in his books isn't all that advanced, even 1,000 years in the future. I guess that helps with the readability, as he doesn't get carried away with tons of technobabble as most authors do.