Saturday, December 19, 2009

Review: Cryptic by Jack McDevitt

Cryptic by Jack McDevitt
Subterranean Press trade 592 pages HC 450 pages

Career spanning collection of 38 short stories, with a forward by Robert J. Sawyer.

Sorry for getting this review out a bit late, however when I started reading Cryptic I knew that nothing but reading the complete volume would do it justice. I know I could have reviewed it just on the merits of the stories I had already used, but how pleasant to find out that those few were hardly a good cross section of the talent between the covers.

Fans of Beam Me Up podcast will be very familiar with portions of this book. Mr. McDevitt had been a great supporter of the audio venue of science fiction so we had the great good luck to read a few of the stories that would later find their way into this excellent book. One of the first stories I read of Jack's was the beautiful and emotionally charged story, Promises to Keep. As with many ofMcDevitt's works, they are written straight from the heart and honed to a fine edge. Promises to Keep is an excellent example to start from. The characters live and breathe for you and writing in the first person, you can not help but become emotionally invested and at the end the sacrifice is enough to leave you stunned. Easily one of the best stories in the book. But hardly the only one.

Another story was Reports from the Rear. Jack's version of wag the dog but you can practically taste the despair! Short fast read belies just how powerful this story is.

Tyger was the first time I had read a story about pocket universes and their ilk. Oh I had read articles on the theory but it was so convoluted that I could not see how someone could write an easily understandable piece. Jack did it with easy and makes it such a personal heart wrenching tale. I really enjoyed reading this one on the podcast. The imagery was so easy to transport into an audio format plus the sense of hopelessness and loss....powerful stuff.

Henry James, This one's for You was a real interesting departure. So unlike the other stories. maybe because the scope is smaller and more personal. Instead of whole universes, or deepness of space, it's one man's acute sense of loss when his own loss is his one true love is brought low, but a most common of means. But where the other stories were bleak and you could almost wear the despair - Henry James is black humor at it's most subtle and then finally laugh out loud but at a totally inappropriate time. And maybe it isn't really funny, but you find yourself in total agreement with the main character and his motivation.

So, those are the stories that appeared on Beam Me Up but I can assure you are not the only stories in Cryptic that are worthy. The balance of the stories are every bit as good and in most cases better than the ones I read for the podcast. It's stories like Ellie a quiet lonely tale, where one is left watching one man deal with a situation that at first blush seems so totally unfair but where honor wins, but mostly it'sMcDevitt's apt handling of the human condition that really makes this an inspired story.

It's the story chosen to close the book that is the most telling. "Time Travelers Never Die" is a truly masterful time travel story. Wonderfully convoluted and quite literally spread across the ages. The real difference with McDevitt's time travel can be explained in one sentence. He never breaks his own time travel rules. Many authors play fast and loose but Jack will say, you know how that comes out that is why you can't go back and change what you just changed. But then he builds one of the biggest paradoxes I have seen and how the main characters react, handle the problem and some of the events that happen along the way are just brilliant.

All in all, this is a book worthy of anyone's library and more-so if you are a Jack McDevitt fan.

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