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Cauldron    by Jack McDevitt order for
by Jack McDevitt
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

First, in 2185, Jason Hutchins of the SETI Project participates in an historic moment: a transmission from an apparently intelligent source has been received from 14,000 light years away.

Second, in 2255, the starship Jenkins from the Prometheus Foundation has been studying omegas, the cloud-like phenomena 264 light years away. Then the five-person crew makes an astonishing discovery: a massive, artificially constructed object made of cubes and tubes is apparently adrift and on a collision course with a destructive omega; more significantly, onboard inspection reveals that the object may be 1.2 billion years old.

Third, based on a body of knowledge assembled over the past several decades, a diabolical force seems poised 28,000 light years away from Earth in the Mordecai Zone. Known as the Cauldron and representing what may become the ultimate celestial malice, the force has been the intense focus of anxious scientists, but - unless something radically changes in available technology - everyone on Earth cannot do much more than wait and watch.

Now, however, someone has claimed to have perfected the Locarno drive, a revolutionary propulsion system that will replace the slower Hazeltine drive, and now - if everything, against all odds, works according to theory - long idled star-pilots will be able to finally make the journey to the Mordecai Zone and investigate the Cauldron, one of the great enigmas of the age.

Enter, now, Priscilla 'Hutch' Hutchins, prominent personality in the Prometheus Foundation, former star-pilot, and (not so coincidentally) the daughter of the famous SETI Project scientist. Hutch and an elite crew are preparing to embark on the Phyllis Preston, a superluminal ship that has been retrofitted with the Locarno. Accompanied by a support fleet similarly equipped and if all goes according to plan, the Phyllis Preston will travel to the Cauldron. But what Hutch and her crew will encounter is a phenomenon beyond their imaginations, and all that had gone on before in their experiences (and in the seventy years covered within the pages of Cauldron) has only slightly prepared them for the significance of their encounter.

As a fascinating and highly recommended SF novel, Cauldron succeeds on many levels: as a compelling character study, as an SF interstellar exploration masterpiece, and as author Jack McDevitt's scathing commentary on the urgent need for space exploration (now and in the immediate future and without further delay) in spite of the annoying inertia that has been caused by the debilitating intersection of politics, business, and science. With each new novel, McDevitt persuades me that he has the right stuff. Not since reading Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and a dozen or so SF masters of the 50s, 60s, and 70s have I more thoroughly enjoyed an SF author. Do yourself a favor, get onboard McDevitt's latest adventure ride, and prepare yourself for a most provocative encounter with Cauldron.

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