Saturday, February 02, 2013

Book Review: The Cassandra Project

The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this because I'm a big McDevitt fan. I don't think I've read anything by Resnick. I wasn't disappointed, but I wasn't bowled over, either.

The entire book is basically about the idea that NASA may have landed on the far side of the moon before Apollo 11 and then covered it up for 50 years. The book is set in 2019. I think one of the disadvantages of setting a book that close to the present is that it's easier for the reader to feel uneasy when the details are off. (I remember laughing when a government worker in Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain uses a paper Metro farecard.) The ubiquity of paper newspapers makes the authors seem "behind the times", while someone sending a "video e-mail" made me think, "That isn't a thing, and it isn't going to be one in six years."

While in some ways, the book was interesting for being "traditional SF" -- just a good, near-future, hard-SF novel, in other ways it felt dated. The African-American characters were noticeable because they were described as such during their introductions; otherwise, everybody felt like they came from the same backgrounds. I didn't love the eccentric billionaire character either, partially because, as is so often the case, he became a deus-ex-machina and partially because he seemed to serve as a conduit for the authors' (fairly pedestrian) political views. I usually find McDevitt's characterization to have more depth.

But ultimately, in a novel with a central mystery ("Were there secret moon landings? If so, why?"), the question is whether the answer to the mystery is enough of a payoff to make it worth getting there. Minor spoilers follow -- skip the next paragraph if that bothers you.

That's particularly true when the reason for the cover-up is held back until the end of the book, as it is here. First of all, I was grateful that the secret didn't have anything to do with the collision of two astronomical bodies, something I find fairly repetitive in McDevitt's work. But ultimately, the answer was creative enough -- including the way it managed to tie in another famous cover-up of days gone by -- that I am happy to give it four stars.

Don't expect greatness, but it's an enjoyable read.

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