McDevitt breaks the rules

I’m updating this post because I’ve just read an article about the ‘10 writing rules we wish more science fiction and fantasy authors would break‘ As if happens, the articles reverberated with me because I’ve just finished reading a Jack McDevitt novel, ‘Seeker’. He breaks the rules, pretty much all of them.

To start with, he always begins with a prologue. I confess I’m not a lover of prologues. I’d rather just get into the story. You’ll find plenty of people who’ll tell you prologues are not ‘liked’ by agents so best to avoid but if you must have one, make it short. His can take up thousands of words. But I’ve learned that you really must read McDevitt prologues because in them he sets up a mystery which is solved in the rest of the book.

His pace is often leisurely, with a great deal of dialogue as he lovingly peels away the layers of the mystery. He often adds paragraphs of narration, unashamedly stopping to explain to the reader the history of a particular city or planetary despot. He adds colourful asides which do no more than add some depth to the story. He goes off at tangents which are presumably ‘red herrings’. In the vernacular, these are known as ‘info-dumps’.

At times I think you’d be hard pressed to explain how bits and pieces fit into the ‘every word must count’ theory. In many of his books he relates at some length the plot of a movie or sim or book a character is involved with. Then some tiny snippet of that tale is used elsewhere. I love it. It’s exactly how people think.

I’m not saying there’s no action in his novels. In ‘Seeker’, as in all the other Alex Benedict/ Chase Kolpath books, somebody is out to kill them and the author has fun coming up with ingenious ways of getting them out of various predicaments. In fact, in ‘Seeker’ I could have done without the ‘someone’s out to get us’ thread. I found it a little bit implausible. But it didn’t matter. The REAL story is the mystery and the science.

Yes, he has FTL (faster than light travel). In fact, his ships have quantum drive (!!!) Instantaneous transfer – although rendered a little more ‘believable’ because there are certain limitations which extend the duration of travel. No portals, but then, with a quantum drive, who needs ’em?

McDevitt is touted as the ‘logical heir to Asimov and Clarke’ and I wouldn’t be arguing. The science is great, so is the historical grounding of his universe.

This author is a best-seller in hard science fiction. I get the idea he writes the stories he wants to write, the way he wants to write them.

Jack McDevitt is the author of “A Talent for War”, “Polaris”, “Seeker” and “The Devil’s Eye” – all Alex Benedict/Chas Kolpath stories, as well as a bunch of others. Two of my other favourites are “Omega” and “Slow Lightning”. And I’ve just read ‘Odyssey’, which is pretty well written in third person omniscient.

IO9, are you sure McDevitt didn’t write that article?


About Greta van der Rol

I'm an author of fast-paced, action-adventure novels, mainly space opera - although I've been known to write in other genres. I live not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia and enjoy photography and cooking when I'm not bent over the computer. I have a degree in history and a background in building information systems, both of which go a long way toward helping me in my writing endeavours.

Posted on 1 February 2012, in On writing, Reviews, Science fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting. Not a writer I know (but then, I would avoid “the heir to Asimov”). I’m very glad his style finds print, though, and that you like it.

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