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Sixty years after the disappearance of the wealthy passengers and crew of the luxury space yacht Polaris, found empty and adrift in space, antiquities dealer Alex Benedict sets out to uncover the truth about the Polaris and to reveal the fate of those aboard the ship.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published November 1, 2004

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About the author

Jack McDevitt

187 books1,263 followers
Jack McDevitt is a former English teacher, naval officer, Philadelphia taxi driver, customs officer and motivational trainer. His work has been on the final ballot for the Nebula Awards for 12 of the past 13 years. His first novel, The Hercules Text, was published in the celebrated Ace Specials series and won the Philip K. Dick Special Award. In 1991, McDevitt won the first $10,000 UPC International Prize for his novella, "Ships in the Night." The Engines of God was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and his novella, "Time Travelers Never Die," was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula awards.

McDevitt lives in Georgia with his wife, Maureen, where he plays chess, reads mysteries and eats lunch regularly with his cronies.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 333 reviews
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
May 4, 2016
The main problem with SF/Mystery crossovers is that you kinda rather need to be a fan of both genres.

Fortunately, I am, and so this book fit like a pretty comfortable glove. And it's not even a traditional mystery, either. Imagine a modern mystery that included a missing crew on an ocean liner from a hundred years in the past. You've got a lot of weird questions and archeology and a lot of research ahead of you, but wait! What if some really weird events keep happening around you, your artifacts, and your friends? What if there's a conspiracy to keep a Big Secret?

Ahhh, so then, keep the smart premise, interesting plot, and weave it in a fully-realized and deep future society with spacecraft, AI's, and lots of settled planets, aliens, and a few other layers of mystery. Still sound interesting? Yeah! That's because it is!

These books are all about managing your expectations. Know what you're getting into and then you won't be disappointed if what you really wanted was a bunch of corporals issuing orders and pew-pewing across the spaceways. :)

I think I liked this book more than the previous. You don't have to read them in order, thankfully, but what I liked most was the female narrator. She's cool, or at least she's a lot cooler than Alex Benedict, himself. The guy is relegated to a supporting role. I thought that was funny as hell. :)

The best part of this series is the deeply thoughtful construction of the plot, the worlds, and the explored implications. It's smart and the author's voice is quite strong. I can't say that these are my absolute favorite SF books of all time, but I do appreciate everything they accomplish and how they build a strong foundation for a beautiful change in the genre. :)
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 47 books128k followers
April 3, 2011
Wellllll parts of this I liked. Interesting world building, I liked the concept of sci-fi mystery, but some things didn't do it for me. Not having read other books in the series, I had a hard time really rooting for the two main leads, and it's told from first person perspective, a woman, but she didn't SEEM like a woman talking. I figured out some of the plot way ahead of the heroes, so I started skimming a bit through the last half. I dunno, it was worth reading and I might pick up more by the author. Wish the characters had been deeper, more personal stakes. Interesting philosophy stuff though, and science details.
Profile Image for Paul Baker.
Author 3 books15 followers
April 5, 2011
Minor Spoiler Alert!

Polaris is second of Jack McDevitt's series of novels about Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath - and it is probably the best of the group.

This is a series of novels that need not be read in order, as there is no real development from one to the next. However, the reader might benefit from reading A Talent for War first as it is the opening book in the series and sets up some of the past influences. It is also the only novel of the group that is told from the point of view of Alex Benedict; the others are all from Chase Kolpath's point of view. All of the novels are written in first person past.

These stories are all mysteries first and science fiction second and that is really what drives them. Set in the far distant future, when the planet of Rimway is the primary seat of power for the current ruling government, the Confederacy (no, not that one), the novels detail the adventures of an antique dealer named Alex Benedict. Descended from good money and raised mostly by his uncle Gabe, Alex lives in a country home well outside the capital city of Andiquar. His business to buy, broker and sell rare artifacts from the history of humankind. Chase Kolpath, a beautiful woman in her early 30's works for him, serving as assistant, broker, lunch partner and most importantly as his pilot. Naturally, they must travel frequently throughout the galaxy and they do so in style with a vessel named the Belle-Marie.

Technological advances include space vessles travel at faster than light speed , small planetary vehicles using anti-gravity called "skimmers", some practical robotics, advanced artificial intelligence and holography.

Socially, there have been very few advances. One of them is that all citizens are now given a stipend to live on and do not have to work. Otherwise, society is much like that of America from about 1940 onwards. Capitalism is the primary monetary system. Democracy is the primary political system. Parts of the novels remind one of the suave patter between Nick and Nora Charles. When dining out, people are entertained by a piano bar or diva, people hold parties and honor themselves and their accomplishments, they attend university, perform in plays, publish, and work in prestigious jobs from realty to dentistry. Men and women still don't really understand each other, but they accept each other - and they have worked out more of the tricky details than we have. It's not actually that much different. For those who think that having a government dole is a bad thing, it works in this society because people still crave money, fame and power, just like they do now. And they are willing to work for it. Work is good for one's feeling of self-worth.

At this point in time, mankind has discovered only one other sentient species - a telepathic race which had been quickly dubbed "the Mutes". Fear drove both species into a long and bloody war which was eventually resolved before both sides exhausted their ships and weapons. (Part of that war is the subject of the first Alex Benedict investigaton, A Talent for War.)

Polaris is both the title of the novel and also the name of a rather famous space vessel. Nearly sixty years before the beginning of the book, it was one of the ships that traveled from Rimway to witness the death of the star Delta Karpis as it was smashed through by a white dwarf. The compliment of passengers onboard Polaris consisted of famous scientists and popular personalities, handpicked by Survey (the agency directing space exploration for the Confederacy) for this amazing viewing. Their pilot was a beautiful middle-aged flier who had her own following of lovers and wannabes, a very romantic and heroic figure.

However, once the explosion had passed and the ships were returning to Rimway, Polaris, the last of the group to announce departure, went silent. Once the other ships had returned, Polaris remained silent and unseen. Rescue vessels were sent to find out if something had happened prior to departure and they did find the ship, but it was empty of people. Pilot and all six passengers had simply disappeared and had never been found.

Alex and Chase become involved when Survey decides to hold a public auction of the items that were left behind on Polaris, from uniforms to glasses to books. As a favor to Alex for sharing a valuable past find with them, Survey gives him first choice of artifacts. Following the reception and viewing, the building explodes and the mystery is on. Apparently someone has decided that it is dangerous to have the artifacts out in the public, so they have attempted to destroy them all. Fortunately, for Alex and Chase, they escape the building with his artifacts safe and sound.

Naturally, those artifcats will become important as the mystery unfolds.

It is a very well-told tale that also involves a thoughtful scientific dilemma. The characters are charming and the entire universe of the story is very well-thought out. It contains adventure, mystery and science in sufficient doses to make any SF reader happy.

I only have one issue with the story - and it is something that bothers me in general about writing. There are a few times in the novel when it seems like McDevitt dumbs down his characters in order to allow them to get into a dangerous situation. For example, when one's life has been threatened twice while traveling in a vehicle, would it not behoove an intelligent person to assume that there might be a third attack? And if so, wouldn't it be prudent to have that vehicle checked out before blithely taking off? Especially if there was any indication at all that something might be wrong? It begs credulity.

I think that this kind of problem comes from forcing something into the story that doesn't really belong. The best writers find a way for danger to happen organically, from seeds that are already there in the story, rather than imposing a lapse of thinking upon basically intelligent characters.

However, that said, I loved the book. It was a highly entertaining page-turner and something I would definitely recommend to both science fiction and mystery readers.
Profile Image for Julie Davis.
Author 4 books272 followers
February 14, 2019
In the mood for a little space opera/mystery so I'm rereading with the audiobook which is quite well narrated.


Having really enjoyed McDevitt's Engines of God and read Orson Scott Card's review of the Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath mystery/archeological-treasure-hunt series I turned to the library to see what was around. I was happy to see that they had number 2 in the series and so that's where I'm beginning.

As with Engines of God, this book presents one mystery/cliffhanger after another and then goes about investigating in a very straight forward way. Which is fine with me since McDevitt's storytelling is good and the concept interesting.

The Polaris is the Mary Celeste of its day, found 60 years ago abandoned in space with everyone mysteriously gone but no sign of a struggle. Our intrepid dealer in pricey artifacts manages to pick up a few choice items, only to find that someone is mysteriously tracking them down from all his clients. Presented with a mystery like this, who could resist? Not Alex and Chase.

A really solid mystery and when I was looking through the book again I was impressed with the structure. One tends to forget by the end, because it is rather a long book, how much of it was set up at the beginning as perfectly normal narrative. Quite enjoyable and I'll be looking for the next in the series.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,952 reviews1,295 followers
July 28, 2012
I grabbed Polaris on a whim at the used bookstore. It looked like an interesting mystery set in the future—a future where humanity has spread to other planets, where entire civilizations have risen and fallen over a few millennia. With all this history between Alex Benedict and life back here on Earth, there are bound to be so many cool mysteries to explore. But when Alex and his partner, Chase Kolpath, begin investigating the sixty-year-old disappearance of the entire crew of the Polaris, people start trying to kill them. So they know they’re on to something.

Jack McDevitt elects to have a kind of Holmes/Watson relationship going on here. Though billed “an Alex Benedict novel”, Polaris is narrated by Chase. That’s fine, although I wish she had been mentioned on the back cover—there’s no indication that Chase exists until, after the prologue, the narrative turns first person but starts referring to “Alex”. A number of female reviewers on Goodreads have expressed ambivalence about Chase and her voice. On one hand, she is a strong female protagonist: a capable superluminal pilot who is often the one coming up with plans to get Alex and her out of mortal peril. At the end of the book, Chase is the one who speaks up and tries to change everything. That’s awesome. On the other hand, as those reviewers note and are more qualified to judge, Chase’s voice doesn’t necessarily sound very authentic. I think this is part of a larger problem with McDevitt’s characterization, though.

Neither Alex or Chase really display much in the way of character development. They end the book the same way they start. Alex is the somewhat eccentric but good-natured boss, an intelligent and insightful antiquities collector who isn’t afraid to be hands-on. Chase is the capable pilot and business partner. (We never really get a sense of what either of them does outside work to relax.) And, stubbornly, they refuse to learn throughout this adventure. There comes a point where Alex and Chase have travelled across the galaxy in their personal superluminal craft. Prior to this, vehicles they have been using have been sabotaged on two separate occasions. When they return to their spaceship, neither of them takes any pains to ensure the ship has not been compromised—I’ll let you guess what happens. It doesn’t exactly take a detective to see the pattern here.

As for the mystery of the Polaris … I was hoping for a more sinister explanation than the one we’re given. That’s not McDevitt’s fault, I guess, although the secret behind the mystery starts to look rather flimsy if you stare at its premises long enough. For example, in this universe really efficient superluminal drive technology exists—but there are a handful of superluminal ships, and they mostly accommodate fewer than a hundred people. Humanity has sprawled out and formed a loose Confederacy, but it seems to have stopped there. This doesn’t make much sense, particularly when population pressure is an important issue in the book. So there aren’t enough ships—why not build more ships?

This is an example of a more general malaise that perplexed me about humanity in Polaris. The mandatory incompetent police character, Fenn, spends more time trying to persuade Alex that there’s no real mystery here rather than investigating the very suspicious—and unusual—attempts on Alex and Chase’s lives. Chase remarks that the police on Rimway are unused to investigating crime because the crime rate is so low. If that’s the case, and Alex and Chase have been connected to a string of criminal events starting with the explosion at the reception and stretching onward … why are they not the top news story of that month?

It feels like everyone in Polaris has been switched with a semi-catatonic zombie. Where’s the drive to explore, that urge to innovate that makes us all human? Where is the passion? Chase mentions all the various human societies that have arisen—and fallen—since we expanded into space. Why does the Confederacy feel vaguely like “21st century America—in space!”? Communication is slightly easier, and there are hovercraft and faster-than-light ships … but that’s about it. Despite these utilitarian improvements to science and technology, no one really seems to live very differently from how those of us in the developed world live today. I like that McDevitt did not embrace the complete, nanotechnologically-driven posthuman future—a more embodied, meat-suit future is fine by me, but there has to be some kind of cultural novum for the reader to try to explore. In Polaris there’s nothing.

Writing mysteries, let alone mysteries set in space, can be tricky. As far as the plot goes, Polaris is fairly good. Alex follows a series of clues, dragging Chase along to narrate and rescue them when people try to kill them, and gradually the pieces fall into place. Indeed, it’s enough to mitigate some of my above criticisms—Polaris is flawed, but I still genuinely enjoyed it. If you enjoy laid-back science-fiction mysteries, this novel might work for you. I wish McDevitt had spent as much time on his characters and setting as he did the plot.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Brian Durfee.
Author 6 books1,624 followers
December 13, 2022
the second Alex Benidict Space Opera mystery I have read by McDevitt. This one gets one less star than A Talent For War. While it is a good mystery, I just liked the voice of the narrator (alex) of McDevitt's first novel more so than the narrator (chase) in this one.
Profile Image for Eric.
895 reviews79 followers
July 2, 2012
While I enjoyed this second installment in the Alex Benedict series, as it was a page-turning futuristic mystery, there were a few things that irked me:

- This book was narrated by Alex's side-kick, Chase Kolpath (unlike the first book, which was narrated by Alex himself). I was looking forward to this different perspective when I started reading, but found the narrative voice to be so similar, I was actually confused at points as I thought Alex was still narrating.

- The only differentiation I noticed between the narrative voices was Chase's inability to be in the same room as another male without becoming turned on -- even, on separate occasions, by a known terrorist leader and the person she and Alex are hunting for the Survey bombing.

- There was a fair bit of repetition from the first book. In both books, Alex's house was burglarized, his skimmer was sabotaged, and there were historical societies relating to the obscure ancient events Alex and Chase were hunting down.

- Alex, Chase, and many others fly through the stars on myriad errands at a moments notice, making it seem that interstellar travel is easy and manageable in this universe. However, the following passage, used to make an unrelated point about overpopulation, completely contradicts the characters' ability to travel so readily, as how can hundreds of millions of people live throughout the star system if there are so few ships available to transport them between worlds?
There are currently one thousand sixty-four superluminals in the Confederacy, with an average passenger capacity of twenty-eight people. Three will accommodate more than a hundred; many, as few as four. In fact, if you use the entire fleet, you still don’t have enough capacity to move thirty thousand people.
I am definitely going to give the series a bit of a break, and am undecided if I will continue on in the future, despite my enjoyment of the first two installments.
Profile Image for Mike.
1,138 reviews151 followers
February 29, 2016
The high point...I finished it. 2 Stars When I read scifi, I'm not looking for a mystery novel, especially one with a bumbling protagonist. Alex Benedict is not a heroic figure, that's for sure. The story is from the POV of his female assistant, Chase, but it did not feel like a woman thinking and talking, seemed like a guy. The Polaris is basically a McGuffin but nothing in the plot had to be in space. Didn't much care about anyone in the story. Per McDevitt standard, all the men are stupid, manipulative, lying, or shallow while most of the women are heroic, quick thinkers, selfless, and decisive. There has to be an ulterior motive to these consistent character traits but danged if I can figure it out.
241 reviews3 followers
July 26, 2012
A satisfying scifi mystery.

I think the only thing about McDevitt's work I would disagree with is the lack of social change. Society seems pretty much very American-ish 10,000 years in the future. We're told that there have been entire religions and empires that have come and gone but somehow the culture itself seems to lack any huge differences, and I'm sure ten thousand years is enough for humanity to evolve in ways that really would seem completely alien to us.

But assessing the story itself, it's a good ride. I liked book 3 a little bit more. But I like the narration and the series of near death incidents made this story pretty enjoyable. I liked the unraveling final reveal. I especially liked Chase disagreeing with Alex at the end and separating herself from him, giving us some real individuality in the character. Ultimately a fun read.
Profile Image for Sandi.
510 reviews279 followers
March 3, 2008
I liked the plot. I liked the suspense. I hated the first-person narrator. McDevitt would have been wise to tell this story in third person, preferable from a male POV. His female narrator was a very strong, smart, capable woman. But, every time she encountered another female she had to think about her looks compared to the other woman. She also spent too much time reflecting on her effect on men. She was very, very annoying. As a woman, I know darn good and well that most of us don't dwell on how "hot" we are. If anything, we have a tendency to depreciate ourselves.
Profile Image for Tammie.
1,353 reviews159 followers
September 4, 2021
This second book in the series was written 15 years after the first which leads me to believe the author had originally intended for A Talent for War to be a Standalone. Whatever the reason for the long stretch between books, I'm glad McDevitt decided to write more. I enjoyed this book more than the first one. There were a few instances where I thought they could have been a little smarter about things, especially since the same things happened already and maybe they should have seen that coming, but I still enjoyed the mystery solving sprinkled with a bit of adventure. Chase and Alex are likable characters and I like the rapport they have between them.
Profile Image for Tomislav.
1,001 reviews69 followers
June 1, 2021
11 March 2007 - ***. This book is the sequel to McDevitt's A Talent for War. It was written some 15 years later, and McDevitt's writing has changed in that time. Whereas the earlier book was a stand-alone with numerous parallels to historical events, this book is essentially a character-driven mystery novel, that just happens to be set in space. The story is now told from the point of view of Chase Kolpath, pilot and side-kick to the wealthy antiquities dealer Alex Benedict. They become embroiled in the unraveling of the mysterious disappearance of the crew and passengers of the spaceship Polaris some 60 years earlier, as they try to deal in valuable artifacts and mementos. When the mystery is finally revealed, it turns out to be not so mysterious, I think. An OK book, but not great.
Profile Image for Soo.
2,598 reviews265 followers
August 5, 2021

One of the few times that I didn't mind having an author note at the beginning. I thought the story progression was lopsided due to making it about Alex + Chase vs Alex as the MC and Chase as the sidekick. It felt more like dual main characters vs one main character setup.
Profile Image for Maura Heaphy Dutton.
561 reviews12 followers
February 7, 2017
Very satisfying, readable SF mystery. The great strength of the two Alex Benedict novels I have read so far is the interesting background that McDevitt has created for his amateur sleuths Benedict and his "Watson," Chase Kolpath. The thousands of years of history of McDevitt's "Confederacy" of far-flung planets settled by humanity in the distant future is fed to us in dribs and drabs -- hints of war and suffering, triumphs and discoveries, even pop culture references to poets, playwrights and sport obsessions -- and it makes it feel like there is a very rich, detailed and real background to their world. It's a post-scarcity society: the challenge that this sets McDevitt is motivation: when no one needs to work, and the sky is, quite literally, the limit, what would provoke someone to murder? In this, and the previous novel in the series, "A Talent for War," McDevitt rises to the challenge, coming to grips with factors beyond greed that expose the flaws in this would-be paradise.

It isn't a deep read! I felt that there was some padding (in the course of their investigation, Benedict and Kolpath put themselves in a position where they are almost killed =three times=. It stretches the patience just a little to think that either they would be so stupid, or the police would allow them to continue to be so careless.

However, I'm looking forward to the next one in the series -- when I want "good read"!
Profile Image for Chanpheng.
284 reviews13 followers
May 2, 2009
I didn't enjoy this book as much as Seeker, another of the books in the series featuring Alex and Chase, antiquities dealers who get into all sorts of trouble. I did like the opening of the book, where the lost ship Polaris is present at an unique cosmic event - a pulsar going right through another star. Then the book transitions to a who-done-it, with much too much detail about the character's actions. This book is supposed to take place 9,000 years in our future - but everyone acts like the people next door. Maybe there is no evolution.
12 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2008
3 stars seems like a lot for this book... its more along the caliber of Dan Brown. the guy writer writes in the perspective of a female character, but doesnt quite come across. Entertaining though. I remember liking the seeker better. why am i reading this? it was on the library bookshelf.
Profile Image for Jerry.
4,694 reviews62 followers
February 28, 2017
A great blend of sci-fi and mystery. Featuring the Christian faith in a story set centuries into the future is also a big plus.
Profile Image for Dev Null.
319 reviews21 followers
December 12, 2009
I really quite enjoyed this one too, but some of the basic facts that the plot rests upon don't bear too much examination.

McDevitt tells us in this one that there are about a thousand FTL ships in the entire human culture. He also tells us that the population of Earth is up to about 12 billion, and that there is at least one other over-industrialised and over-populated world amongst the known worlds. And we get the impression at least that there are quite a few of these settled worlds. Which, even with conservative estimates for populations, makes owning an FTL ship about the equivalent to their being a grand total of 300 internal combustion engines on earth today, and you owning a private car. Its by no means impossible. Its even justifiable, given that the main characters were instrumental to the (re)discovery of the FTL drive that they're using. But what is impossible is that noone really remarks on it, and most folks don't seem to recognise our heroes. If you were rich and eccentric enough to own one of the 300 internal combustion engines on earth for a private car that mostly sat around idle, I assure you that _everyone_ would know who you were. All of which would just be a trivially miscalculated detail if it weren't for the fact that the entire plot of the book relies on this scarcity of FTL (in a way which I wont explain, to avoid spoilers.)

Then there's the fact that they keep going on about how there is almost no crime in the world, yet crimes happen to the main characters almost daily, apparently. If there were a dozen robberies a year in New York, and 3 of them happened to the same guy, and then he got robbed _again_ a couple of years later, I'm thinking someone would sit up and take a bit of notice. Its nice that McDevitt believes that we have a future in which crime becomes more-or-less unthinkable, but human nature obviously hasn't changed _that_ much or it wouldn't keep happening to the main characters, which makes you wonder why it doesn't happen more often to other people too...

All of which is really nitpicking; as I said at the beginning, I really enjoyed this. Again, the historical tale is really the more interesting, along with the questions it makes you ask.
Profile Image for Reidar.
Author 8 books9 followers
January 17, 2015
McDevitt oskab muhedalt kirjutada. Teist Alex Benedicti sarja romaani lugedes kadestasin, kui mõnusalt on võimalik dialoogi ja karakterite tegemisi kirjeldada. Nagu lõdva randmega mahlakas minimalism, mis sobivalt torkavate iseloomustavate killukestega läbi pikitud. Hoolimata sellest, et lugeja emakeeleks pole English, oli ometi teksti haaramine äärmiselt ladus.

Sisust ainult niipalju, et kosmoselaev Polaris viib äärmiselt auväärse seltskonna inimesi ühe tähe lõppu vaatama. Paraku ei lähe kõik plaani järgi ja teiste laevkondade ning koduse üldsuse suureks šokiks kaob kogu meeskond koos kuulsa kapteniga jäljetult. Laev ise hulbib tühjalt kosmoses edasi. On selle taga mõni uus tulnukarass, kosmiline paranähtus, negatiivne karma või mõni alatu saatuse vingerpuss? Mõistatuse lahendamine seatakse taas kahe peategelase Alexi ja Chase'i õlule.

Pean ütlema, et mulle meeldib McDewitti teine Priscilla Hutchinsi Akadeemia sari siiski rohkem. Võib-olla on asi teadlaslikus lähenemises, ei oska öelda. Antud teose puhul väsitasid pikad ülidetailsed kirjeldused esemetest ja nende ajaloost. Maailm oleks ilma nendetagi piisavalt värvikas olnud ja lugu võinuks kokku suruda lühiromaani mahtu. Mõne retke järgmise tegelase juurde, keda autor lugejale tutvustab, oleks võinud lühemalt kokku võtta või üldse välja jätta, kuna mingit selgust või selle kübetki ei paistnud saabuvat. Ainult Alex paistis arusaavalt noogutavat, sageli Chase'i ja minu meelehärmiks :) Romaani lahendus oli siiski huvitav ja viimases kolmandikus tõuseb tempo märgatavalt. Kuigi, nagu Chase ühes jutukatkes märgib, oleks oodanud, et tegu on pigem... kui tavalise...

Kuna sarja esimene osa oli väga hea, tasub järgmisi veel proovida, sest loetavasti pidada minema aina paremaks.
Profile Image for Doug Armstrong.
18 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2013
The main characters are like a really, really dense version of Sherlock and Holmes, you'll figure out the gist of what happened to the Polaris' crew about 150 pages before they do. You'll also get really angry when they do things straight out of an Austin Powers movie ("A.I. systems never go down, but we'll just get in this vehicle whose A.I. system is mysteriously offline after someone has already tried to kill us once.", "We just disabled our arch enemy, but instead of restrain them we'll go off and explore!").

Despite those problems, it was actually a fairly entertaining read. If you like Sherlock Holmes or Poirot, this is basically a sci-fi version of those, albeit with dumber characters. You'll figure out the big picture of what happened to the crew about halfway through, but the fun is in following the investigation to find out the details. It's a well-crafted plot that moves fast, never leaving you bored. I only wish he'd edited out a few of the hints that you get earlier in the book, and had the characters figure out an attempt on their life before they fell for it at least once.

I also enjoyed the writing style, the author apparently knows his limitations as it never seemed forced or pretentious. It reminded me of the classic period of sci-fi back in the 60's/70's where authors were all about the story being the most important thing, not the characters, so the emphasis was on moving the narrative forward and exploring the ideas rather than human drama.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,682 reviews345 followers
August 31, 2016
I'm usually a pretty big McDevitt fan, but this one left me cold, and annoyed. I finished it, but barely, and only by skimming the dull parts. A "D+" book, disappointing.

POLARIS is a locked-room mystery (in this case, a locked spaceship), marred by long dull stretches, stupid-character gimmicks, a really stupid denouement, and an astonishingly clumsy twist ending (which is sequel-ready). What's there to like? This is a 15 year-later followup to _A Talent for War_, which I recall as being quite good.

POLARIS has gotten some pretty good notices, such as Ernest Lilley's review at sfrevu.com (Google). It does have a good opening scene, and has flashes of Good McDevitt (space archaeology, cool gadgets). But, overall, it's the weakest McDevitt I've read. Avoid if you're lukewarm on McDevitt, and start with hesitation and low expectations if you're a fan.

If you've never tried McDevitt, I'd start with INFINITY BEACH ,
or the first Priscilla Hutchins book, ENGINES of GOD.

Just don't let POLARIS be your first McDevitt experience!
Profile Image for Rob Hopwood.
147 reviews4 followers
March 9, 2023
Polaris by Jack McDevitt

This is the second of nine books about the far-future antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his assistant Chase Kolpath. Like the first book, A Talent for War, it is a mystery the unraveling of which requires advanced problem-solving skills and unrelenting persistence on the part of the two protagonists.

Sixty years previously the space yacht Polaris failed to return from a scientific research expedition, even though the captain had sent a message saying that she and her passengers would be getting underway imminently. The ship was found, but no trace ever materialized of any of those on board. Alex manages to purchase certain artifacts from the Polaris for his clients, but someone begins to show more than a casual amount of interest in what he has procured, spelling danger for both himself and his pilot Chase.

Polaris has many points in common with A Talent for War, but the narrator this time is Chase Kolpath and not Alex Benedict. Alex seemed a lot more diffident and self-effacing when he narrated his own story in the first book, but Chase describes him as much more confident and capable, with a degree of nonchalance. The author also tells us that more than a decade has passed since the events of A Talent for War, so that may also partly account for the differences in Alex’s personality.

Strong Points:
Flowing narrative style which is easy to read.
Fascinating Mary-Celeste-style mystery which unravels at a gradual but appropriate pace.
Interesting technologies and convincing historical background.

Weaker Points:
Somewhat bland characterizations.
Society feels too much like 21st Century America (except for a crime rate so low that it has rendered the police somewhat incompetent for lack of practice at solving cases, and the continued use of paper notepads) for it to be a realistic depiction of how humans might live ten millennia from now.

In summary, Polaris is a mystery story in a science fiction setting. The strength of this work, and probably the whole series of nine books, lies in the logical processes and attention to detail involved in the detective work which eventually reveals the truth. Readers who enjoy mystery novels and space operas will likely enjoy it, whereas those who prefer more speculative fiction at least partially based on current scientific knowledge might not find it so satisfying.

Here are some quotations from Polaris:

It was odd, living through an event twice. But that was what FTL did for you. When you could outrun light, you could travel in time.

Alex has commented that being dead for a sufficiently long time guarantees your reputation. It won’t matter that you never did anything while you were alive; but if you can arrange things so your name shows up, say, on a broken wall in a desert, or on a slab recounting delivery of a shipment of camels, you are guaranteed instant celebrity. Scholars will talk about you in hushed tones.

History used to be simpler back when there wasn’t so much of it.

History is a collection of a few facts and a substantial assortment of rumors, lies, exaggerations, and self-defense. As time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the various categories. —Anna Greenstein,The Urge to Empire

Antiquities are . . . remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwreck of time.—Francis BaconThe Advancement of Learning

All things, even virtue, are best in moderation.

I began to suspect we were seeing patterns where none existed. There were all kinds of studies that showed people tended to find the things they looked for, even if some imagination was required.

“That’s the way for most of us,” Alex said. “Birth, death, and good riddance. The world takes no note. Unless you’re lucky enough to overturn somebody’s favorite mythology.”

“Hogwash. Chase, you’re babbling. All that is fine when you’re talking in the abstract. Death is acceptable as part of the human condition as long as we mean somebody else. As long as we are only talking statistics and other people. Preferably strangers.”

Youth is an illusion, Chase. We are none of us young. We are born old. If a century seems like a long time to someone like you, let me assure you that the annual round of seasons and holidays becomes a blur as the years pass.”

The problem the police have is that there are almost no crimes. So when one happens, they’re more or less at a loss.

But in a broader context, we can argue that all the workings of the cosmos seem designed to produce a conscious entity. To produce something that can detach itself from the rest of the universe, stand back, and appreciate the vault of stars. Birds and reptiles are not impressed by majesty. If we were not here, the great sweep of the heavens would be of no consequence.

Alex wrote something in a paper notebook.

We imagine that we have some control over events. But in fact we are all adrift in currents and eddies that sweep us about, carrying some downstream to sunlit banks, and others onto the rocks.—Tulisofala, Mountain Passes (Translated by Leisha Tanner)

The power of illusion derives primarily from the fact that people are inclined to see what they expect to see. If an event is open to more than a single interpretation, be assured the audience will draw its conclusion ready-made from its collective pocket. This is the simple truth at the heart of stage magic. And also of politics, religion, and ordinary human intercourse.—The Great Mannheim

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end.—William Shakespeare

Profile Image for Ian.
125 reviews490 followers
June 17, 2011
Polaris is essentially a murder-mystery set in the far future. As long as you don't take it too seriously, and aren't looking for profound or challenging writing, you can have some fun reading it.

I'm not a big McDevitt fan, but I like the Alex Benedict novels. They're reasonably well crafted, if a little trite in places. Just think of this book as a little "roughage" for your mind.
Profile Image for Jeff Koeppen.
561 reviews37 followers
May 2, 2021
This is McDevitt's second Alex Benedict science fiction mystery novel, again featuring Benedict, an antiquities dealer, and Agnes "Chase" Kolpath, his only employee who is an interstellar pilot and the science brain of the partnership. The Benedict novels are set 2,000 years in the future. Alex's company, Rainbow Enterprises, is in the business of finding and selling of ancient historical artifacts.

In Polaris the Alex and Chase come across some artifacts from the starship Polaris which found abandoned and drifting sixty years ago, and whose captain and dozen passengers were never found or heard from again. An investigation in to the incident found nothing and the mystery was never solved. When strange goings-on start up around the artifacts, Alex starts to look in to the backgrounds of the missing and pilot and passengers and he gradually starts to unravel the mystery.

Unlike the first book, A Talent for War, this one is told through Chase's point of view which I liked better as I found her to be a much more interesting character being a starship pilot with a deep knowledge of science. Alex is a genius in his own right, but more in historical artifacts and history as a whole.

Similar to the first book, Polaris is full of cool technology, detailed world building, and a good smattering of, but not too much action. The number of characters are hard to keep track of at times, and it would've been nice to have a listing with a little background of each at the beginning of the book, especially for the captain and passengers of the Polaris who were described in detail in the opening chapter and then referred to regularly throughout the rest of the book.

This felt like a three-star book to me as it was a page-turner and the mystery was really intriguing, but there were a few moments where a character's actions didn't make sense to me and it took me out of the story a bit. The ending was really good and mysterious, right up until the final sentence of the prologue, so for that reason I'm giving it four stars.

I own the next three Alex Benedict / Agnes Kolpath novels (there are eight total so far) so I'm looking forward to seeing what the two of them are up to next.
Profile Image for Daniel Bratell.
720 reviews9 followers
August 7, 2017
This is the second book about Alex Benedict, the antiquity dealer some 9000 years into the future. Humanity is spread out across the galaxy and but the interest for useless old objects remain. Alex Benedict is more than a dealer though. He also researches stories to find new objects and this book starts when objects from the space ship Polaris is exhibited.

The space ship Polaris is the center for a mystery, where 60 years years earlier the whole crew just disappeared while watching two stars collide.

While the first story in the series was told by Alex Benedict, this one is told by Chase Kolpath, his assistant. I would actually say Alex Benedict plays a secondary role, but it doesn't matter because they are similar enough that they are somewhat interchangeable. Not that they are identical but they sound and feel the same.

There are some things that I don't agree with in the future. Things that feel somewhat old already, but who knows what paths the development will take.
Profile Image for Charlie.
200 reviews
January 18, 2020
This is a well-done mystery set in the far future (more mystery than sci-fi).
153 reviews8 followers
July 31, 2017
I had mixed feelings reading this book, even though on the whole I enjoyed it and would mostly recommend it.

On the plus side, it was I think a better done adventure story in the present than its predecessor, A Talent for War, which derived its interest almost entirely from the mystery about the past (for me, at least; the adventures there in the present did not seem as compelling). In Polaris, Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath go investigating another historical anomaly, and *someone* is trying to stop them.

This time the story is told from Chase's point of view. Some reviewers suggested this was an improvement; I did not find that it mattered much. Neither of them, unfortunately, is incredibly interesting as a character. The interest of the story does not lie so much with the character but with the mystery, and the adventures. And the adventures were, I thought, more compelling in this story than in the last.

On the minus side, this is basically the *same* story, point by point--even down to the detail to the detail of having a lunatic convention devoted to Polaris, instead of a lunatic convention devoted to the Sims. The author found a winning formula, and basically changed the names and a few details. But because of that, probably, it wasn't too hard for me to see where this was going well before the end. (I sure didn't see where A Talent for War was going until the end.)

Also, a side rant: I have a certain skepticism about any story that relies on some scientific discovery years and years ago that somehow got irretrievably lost, because (at least the way we do science now) that's not going to happen. If one researcher doesn't discover it, another lab is hot on their heels, and at worst there will be only a few years' delay, not centuries. Science is done by a community, not by isolated one-of-a-kind geniuses, and nobody is that far behind anybody else. So that part (in both this story and the last) was hard to stomach.

That's all the bad stuff. But the good part was that even though I was pretty sure what the solution to the mystery was going to be, it was a good read watching it unfold. Though it was following the same formula, it's a pretty good formula. Chase and Alex have to get out of a number of sticky situations, and I thought that was better done in this novel than in the last.
Profile Image for James Mourgos.
281 reviews20 followers
September 10, 2014

This was a cool Alex Benedict novel, the third I’ve read, though I’m reading them out of sequence. But I digress….

Years ago the Polaris, a starship, was with a group of other starships witnessing the collision of a dwarf star with a planet (Jack McDevitt uses this dwarf star theory further in the novel, Seeker). For some mysterious reason, everyone disappears off the ship. No one can find them. Years, then decades go by. Polaris conventions pop up. Wild theories are proposed. Even a cult following!

But what really happened? And how and why do Alex and his lovely assistant Chase get involved?

Similar to the other Benedict novels I’ve read, we get narrated by Chase, who relates her fears and goals and though supporting her boss, is not all that thrilled to get the ship’s mystery solved.

A museum explosion, apparently an assassination attempt on a dictator (who Chase thought charming) wipes out the majority of Polaris artifacts. Alex is suspicious and takes nothing on face value. We the reader and Chase wonder why we’re sent across half the galaxy to find clues as to what happened to the Polaris.

The ending is thought-provoking and ends on a mysterious note in itself.

Our first clue: A scientist discovers the secret to immortality. A group rallies against this as a very bad idea. Part of the group protests were also part of the crew of the Polaris. Yikes!

Love the long-forgotten outposts in space. Love the several murder attempts. Love the science that can mold mens’ minds but cannot always breed out the murder gene.

Exciting, at times tedious, and occasionally drags, McDevitt keeps you going and maintains your interest.


Profile Image for Kerry Nietz.
Author 38 books162 followers
August 11, 2016
I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, “A Talent for War,” so I knew it was only a matter of time before I got to the second book. At this point Jack McDevitt is a consistent go-to storyteller for me. If I’m in the mood for a good sci-fi story and there’s nothing else that sparks my interest, I’ll see what book of Jack’s I haven’t read yet. Some stories are better than others, but he rarely disappoints.

At first I was surprised by “Polaris.” The narrator was Alex Benedict’s assistant, Chase. I was sure that it was Alex in the first book so I had to check—sure enough, it was. Not sure why the author felt the need to make that change, but it works since she seems to be the more action-oriented of the two. (And apparently, she is the narrator for the rest of the books.) Frankly, she’s almost a daredevil.

But action isn’t what drives this story. Like the first book, “Polaris” is all about solving the mystery of a lost crew. As a mystery set in a science fiction universe, I think it works fairly well. It wasn’t a quick read for me—I read it over the course of weeks—but it was an easy book to drop back into after an absence. I would’ve liked a bit more tension on the characters earlier in the narrative. The mystery is interesting, but there is no pressing reason it needs to be solved. It has presumably been a mystery for decades. Only the characters’ curiosity (and our own) keeps the pages turning.

That said, I liked the resolution quite a bit. I thought the last forty pages or so were worth the lead up. This one touches on deeper issues than the first book--ponderable questions—and I liked that.
Is it my favorite McDevitt book? No. But it is worth the price of admission. A solid addition to his library.
Profile Image for Andrea.
465 reviews9 followers
May 3, 2018
Just like his first book, A Talent for War, this novel plays out as a slow burn of a mystery than a true science fiction novel. While set in the future with flying cars and interstellar drives, it's really a whodunit detective story. It's slowly paced and not too much action happens. The action that does happen is fairly predictable and not too exciting. Their lack of concern for their own well being is a little out there. Alex has an incessant need to follow through with any problem that comes his way until the end (despite his own personal safety), and Chase is his reluctant partner. I was happy with Chase's choice at the end of the novel (and a little disappointed with how Alex wanted to leave things) which shows some grit of character.

Favorite Quote:
People seem to be hardwired to get things wrong. They confuse opinion with fact, they tend to believe what everyone around them believes, and they are ready to die for the truth or whichever version of it they have clasped to their breasts.
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