When science fiction writer Jack McDevitt wrote his 1994 sci-fi novel The Engines Of God, he intended it to be a stand-alone story. But twenty-four years, seven more novels, and a bunch of short stories later, he’s still giving us new adventures for space pilot and xeno-archeologist Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins. In the following email interview, he discusses her latest outing, The Long Sunset (hardcover, Kindle), as well as his upcoming short story collection, A Voice In The Night (hardcover).
To start, what is The Long Sunset about, and how does it connect, both chronologically and narratively, to the other novels in your Academy series, The Engines Of God, Deepsix, Chindi, Omega, Odyssey, Cauldron, and Starhawk?
Scientists have been suggesting that FTL vehicles are dangerous because we can never be sure what might come home with one of them. You’ll remember back in the old days when we used to worry about radio signals revealing our presence. During the 23rd century, we pick up a transmission that seems to have originated near a star 7000 light-years away. The transmission carries an image of a waterfall, and also conveys soft music. A mission is put together to take a journey to the source — they have FTL — and see what’s going on. But a movement is underway to block the mission. Priscilla Hutchins is selected to pilot the ship. And they barely get clear before a stop order arrives.
There’s been some tension in the earlier novels about FTL missions. It more or less comes to a head in this one.
The Long Sunset has been called a science fiction mystery. Do you agree with this, or do you think there’s a better way to describe it?
When Hutch and her team arrive, the star is missing. But they don’t take too long to figure out what happened. My description of the book would lean more toward the role of intelligent creatures being to assist one another. To demonstrate their intelligence by cooperating. They live in a potentially lethal universe. Let’s not make it any worse.
It’s why the sword has a prominent place in front of the black hole on the cover.
Are there any writers, or specific novels, that were a big influence on The Long Sunset, but not on your other novels?
No, not that I can think of.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on The Long Sunset?
None that come to mind. This is a fairly straightforward plotline: One intelligent species steps in to help Priscilla’s team. But they themselves are in extreme danger. Their religious/philosophical view of the universe: “We’re all in it together.”
Now, as I said, The Long Sunset is part of your Academy series. But does someone need to read the previous Academy novels to understand what’s going on in The Long Sunset?
The Long Sunset is essentially a stand-alone novel. It features a continuing character, and there’s a reference to a scene fromThe Engines Of God. But the background a reader might need is filled in. The ideal place to start the series would be either Starhawk, which takes Hutch through her training flight, or The Engines Of God, which introduces an alien force whose presence is also an influence in The Long Sunset.
But, on the flipside, I assume that there is an advantage to reading the other Academybooks before The Long Sunset, right?
Readers have shown a tendency to develop an empathy for Hutch. So yes, they would probably enjoy seeing her function throughout the series. And they’d also acquire a sense of the kind of universe Hutch lives in, which is one in which intelligent races seem not to survive long.
Now, along with The Long Sunset, you also have a short story collection called A Voice In The Night coming out in August. Are any of those stories connected to The Long Sunset or the Academyseries?
Hutch, on her training run, appears twice in the collection with her pilot Jake Loomis. In “Maiden Voyage,” she and Jake discover a statue on a distant moon. It was obviously erected by the long-gone race known only as the Monument Makers, and it provides her with a chance to establish her reputation. But there’s an aspect to the discovery that leads her to persuade Jake that they should say nothing. In “Waiting at the Altar,” she and Jake track down a vehicle in which a celebrated actor met his death. And discover that a historic meeting did not happen as planned. But still might….
As for the non-Academystories in A Voice In The Night, are the rest in the same vein as the Academy ones, sci-fi stories?
There is an alternative history story in which we discover what might have happened had SETI picked up signals in the 1960s. And a story that’s more or less alternative theology, based on how things might have gone if God had changed His mind and the battle of Actium had gone differently. There are a couple of stories with Sherlock Holmes connections, and others that might not be perceived as straight sci-fi.
It’s been my experience that short story collections are a good way to introduce yourself to a writer. Do you think A Voice In The Night is a good representation of your style, and thus a good place to start with your work?
A Voice In The Night should constitute a good intro. Another collection that would probably work is Cryptic. Both are published by Subterranean.
Going back to The Long Sunset and the Academy series, has there been any interest in turning them into a movie, TV show, or video game?
There’s been some interest but nobody as yet has actually tried to purchase rights for Hutch or the series.
Do you have a preference?
I can’t really say why because I don’t want to give too much away, but my preference would be a movie of The Long Sunset.I could easily imagine people leaving the theater after the closing scene with tears in their eyes.
If The Long Sunsetwas made into a movie, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I was a longtime fan of JAG. I’d be delighted to see Catherine Bell step in and play Hutch. She portrayed a seriously believable Marine colonel in JAG. And Morgan Freeman would be a good fit as Derek Blanchard. He’s a natural as a physicist.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Long Sunset, they should obviously read the other Academy books. But once they do, what other novel or short story collection of yours would you suggest they read next
I’d recommend A Talent For War. It’s not a military novel, but rather an historical mystery confronted by the future antiquities dealer, Alex Benedict. It’s the first in a series.