The Engines of God by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My review which ran at SFFaudio.
Climate change has Earth on the brink of disaster. The only viable solution is terraforming other planets to ensure survival. For a small group of archaeologists, however, terraforming is the worst possible solution. The only suitable planet is also the one planet with the most promising artifacts of an unknown alien race. Known as the Monument Makers, the aliens’ buildings feature a seemingly uncrackable code on them. The team is looking for the alien equivalent of the Rosetta Stone and must race against time to finish excavations before terraforming begins.
Despite the fact that the book begins by talking about climate change, which always gives me a sinking feeling, that is just the pretext for launching readers into a mystery. The team’s quest takes them to outer space, other planets, and into extreme danger as they follow the Monument Makers’ trail to discover their whereabouts and why every alien civilization has been abandoned.
This book reads as if it were a series of four novellas strung together with the common thread of tracking the Monument Makers. Each of the completed stories gives Jack McDevitt the opportunity to take the reader a bit further into archaeological mysteries while also examining different planets, space travel, and alien beings. Transitions between “novellas” are minimal at best and character development is weak. Still McDevitt wove a mystery that kept me listening at a red-hot pace. This is surprising because the author revealed his story in a very straight forward manner with plenty of foreshadowing. In McDevitt’s case, however, the telling itself was so compelling that I was fascinated to hear what would happen next.
In short, I enjoyed this very much, although at the end the story suddenly threw off narrative and resorted to bullet points to finish things off. “In audio, it was an abrupt ending that startled me, however, that didn’t spoil it as the story itself was done. In fact, I didn’t care about the “[insert name here] went on to do this” summary and it could have been left out without hurting anything.
Tom Weiner did a fine job of narrating the book. His reading was not something that stood out for any reason but which carried the story along very well. It left me with the memory of story rather than reader, which is surely what good narration should accomplish.
McDevitt tells a very good mystery that gives answers to some questions and leaves others to the readers’ speculation. Engines of God is ultimately a satisfying adventure which introduces us to a universe that he went on to write other novels about and which I will be seeking out.