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WesternSFA
Starhawk: A Priscilla Hutchins Novel
by Jack McDevitt
Ace Books, $25.95, 407pp
Release Date: November 5, 2013
Ahhh—my favorite SF writer…

McDevitt has written six other novels with star pilot Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins as the main character. This is the novel about her beginnings as a pilot.

Her first voyage out with seasoned pilot Jake Loomis which started out well, goes to hell in a handbasket when a ship full of teenagers runs into problems and Priscila and Jake are the closest ship to rescue them. But because there is simply not enough oxygen on either ship, the pilot of the crippled ship makes a hard decision.

Jake and Priscilla return to Earth heroes, but both of them are profoundly changed by the events.

In the meantime, a corporation named Kosmik is spearheading a terraforming effort on a planet called Selika. The planet doesn’t have enough oxygen so they’re sending algae to reproduce in the planet’s oceans in hopes of raising the gas’s levels. But this change is affecting the flora and fauna of the planet and creatures are beginning to die off.

A small minority is vociferous and angry at the terraforming and want it stopped. No planet’s life forms should be sacrificed to support an Earth colony.

This becomes a political issue and even more importantly, a terrorist issue.

It turns out the ship of teenagers was sabotaged by those opposed to the terraforming.

But here is where the novel slows down for me. After being sent to pick up a researcher from Selika, Priscilla has second thoughts about the terraforming. Because of the incident with the crippled ship and Priscilla’s awareness and tacit support of the terraforming issues; she is the last pilot picked and usually because no one else is available, so, she doesn’t fly much and is reduced to being a backup pilot on the Wheel where interstellar travel leaves Earth miles above the planet. Jake decides to retire after the botched rescue as well.

There are chapters of inactivity for Priscilla and she’s reduced to leading tours of the space wheel because no one really wants to hire her and Jake goes land-bound and retires to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia where he has a cabin. Both characters get half-heartedly involved in dating. And Jake actually finds a woman he loves. We get some back story here but the book seems to swirl in small eddies. We don’t get much more space action until much closer to the end when Priscilla and Jake once more go into space but not on the same mission.

While all this is going on, Earth’s powers-that-are, especially the NAU (North American Union) wants to cancel the space program because it is too expensive and the Earth itself has too many problems of its own that need solving; which ties in nicely with the anti-terraforming terrorists.

So, Priscilla is sent out to ferry a politician running for president of the NAU to a moon of Jupiter and Jake takes a scientific mission to the wandering planet Orfano to confirm the planet might have an intelligent atmosphere….While they are away, a threat to blow up the Wheel is discovered and Jake and his crew don’t find out until they are returning to the solar system. Being closer in, on Jupiter’s moon, Priscilla is also called back to help evacuate the space station, after dropping off her politico.

BUT….I just wish this tale had been a bit tighter. The middle period of the story has the characters at idle which didn’t propel the story along quite as well as usual, to me, anyway.

Nevertheless, the novel ends with a great twist in both Priscilla and Jake’s interstellar journeys and the ending is really powerful. ~~ Sue Martin

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