Five years later, a satellite finally encounters the signal—which is believed to be of extraterrestrial origin by the Contact Society, a wealthy group of enthusiasts who fund research into the existence of alien life. Providing a starship to the Academy to be piloted by Captain Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins, the Contact Society embarks on a mission to find the source of the transmission.
Across a myriad of stars, from world to world, Hutch and her crew follow the signal, but find only puzzles and lethal surprises.
Then, in a planetary system far beyond the bounds of previous exploration, they discover an object. It is immense, ominous, and mysterious. And it may hold the answer not only to the questions of the Contact Society, but to those of every person who has ever looked to the sky and wondered if we were alone...
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People tend to believe that good fortune consists of equal parts talent, hard work, and sheer luck. It's hard to deny the roles of the latter two. As to talent, I would only say it consists primarily in finding the right moment to step in. --Haroun al Monides , REFLECTIONS, 2116
PRISCILLA HUTCHINS WAS not a woman to be swept easily off her feet, but she came very close to developing a terminal passion for Preacher Brawley during the Proteus fiasco. Not because of his good looks, though God knew he was a charmer. And not because of his congeniality. She'd always liked him, for both those reasons. If pressed, though, she would probably have told you it had to do with his timing.
He wasn't really a preacher, of course, but was, according to legend, descended from a long line of Baptist fire breathers. Hutch knew him as an occasional dinner companion, a person she saw occasionally coming in or going out of the Academy. And perhaps most significantly, as a voice from the void on those interminable flights to Serenity and Glory Point and Faraway. He was one of those rare individuals with whom one could be silent, and still feel in good company.
The important thing was that he had been there when she desperately needed him. Not to save her life, mind you. She was never in real danger herself. But he took a terrible decision out of her hands.
The way it happened was this: Hutch was aboard the Academy ship Wildside en route to Renaissance Station, which orbited Proteus, a vast hydrogen cloud that had been contracting for millions of years and would eventually become a star. Its core was burning furiously under the pressuresgenerated by that contraction, but nuclear ignition had not yet taken place. That was why the station was there. To watch, as Lawrence Dimenna liked to say, the process. But there were those who felt Renaissance was vulnerable, that the process was unpredictable, and who'd attempted to close it down and withdraw its personnel. It was not a place Hutch was anxious to visit.
The wind blew all the time inside the cloud. She was about a day away, listening to it howl and claw at her ship. She was trying to concentrate on a light breakfast of toast and fruit when she saw the first sign of what was to come. " It's thrown off a big flare, " said Bill. "Gigantic," he added. "Off the scale."
Unlike his sibling AI on the Benjamin Martin , Hutch's Bill adopted a wide range of appearances, using whatever he felt most likely to please, annoy, or intimidate, as the mood struck him. Theoretically, he was programmed to do so, to provide the captain with a true companion on long flights. She was otherwise alone on the ship.
At the moment, he looked like the uncle that everybody likes but who has a tendency to drink a bit too much and who has an all-too-obvious eye for women.
"You think we're actually going to have to do an evacuation?" she asked.
" I don't have sufficient data to make a decent estimate, " he said. " But I'd think not. I mean, the place has been here a long time. Surely it won't blow up just as we arrive. "
It was an epitaph if she'd ever heard one.
They couldn't see the eruption without sensors, of course. Couldn't see anything without sensors. The glowing mist through which the Wildside moved prevented any visuals much beyond thirty kilometers.
It was hydrogen, illuminated by the fire at the core. On her screens, Proteus was not easily distinguishable from a true star, save for the twin jets that rose out of its poles.
Hutch looked at the display images, at the vast bursts of flame roiling through the clouds, at the inferno rendered somehow more disquieting than that of a true star, perhaps because it had not even the illusion of a definable edge, but rather seemed to fill the universe.
When seen from outside the cloud, the jets formed an elegant vision that would have been worthy of a Sorbanne, beams composed of charged particles, not entirely stable, flashed from a cosmic lighthouse that occasionally changed its position on the rocks. Renaissance Station had been placed in an equatorial orbit to lessen the possibility that a stray blast would take out its electronics.
"When do they expect the nuclear engine to cut in?" she asked.
" Probably not for another thousand years, " said Bill.
"These people must be crazy, sitting out here in this soup."
" Apparently conditions have worsened considerably during the past forty-eight hours. " Bill gazed down at her in his smugly superior mode and produced a noteboard. " It says here they have a comfortable arrangement. Pools, tennis courts, parks. Even a seaside retreat. "
Had Proteus been at the heart of the solar system, the thin haze of its outer extremities would have engulfed Venus. Well, maybe engulfed wasn't quite the right word. Enshrouded, maybe. Eventually, when the pressure reached critical mass, nuclear ignition would occur, the outer veil of hydrogen would be blown away, and Proteus would become a class-G, possibly a bit more massive than the sun.
"Doesn't really matter how many parks they have if that thing has gone unstable."
The AI let her see that he disapproved. " There is no known case of a class-G protostar going unstable. It is subject to occasional storms, and that is what we are seeing now. I think you are unduly worried. "
"Maybe. But if this is normal weather, I wouldn't want to be here when things get rough."
" Nor would I. But if a problem develops while we're there, we should be able to outrun it easily enough."
It was unlikely, the dispatching officer had assured her, that an Event would occur. (He had clearly capitalized the word.) Proteus was just going through a hiccup period. Happens all the time. No reason to worry, Hutchins. You're there simply as a safety factor.
She'd been at Serenity, getting refitted, when the call had come. Lawrence Dimenna, the director of Renaissance Station, the same Dimenna who'd insisted just two months ago that Proteus was perfectly safe, as dependable as the sun, who'd argued to keep the place going against the advice of some of the top people at the Academy, was now asking for insurance. So let's send old Hutchins over to sit on the volcano.
And here she was. With instructions to stand by and hold Dimenna's hand and if there's a problem, see that everyone gets off. But there shouldn't be a problem. I mean, they're the experts on protostars and they say everything's fine. Just taking a precaution.
She'd checked the roster. There were thirty-three crew, staff, and working researchers, including three graduate students.
Accommodations on the Wildside would be a bit tight if they had to run. The ship was designed for thirty-one plus the pilot, but they could double up in a couple of the compartments and there were extra couches around that could be pressed into service during acceleration and jump phases.
It was a temporary assignment, until the Academy could get the Lochran out from Earth. The Lochran was being overhauled--armored, really--to better withstand conditions here and would replace her as the permanent escape vessel within a few weeks.
" Hutch, " said Bill. " We have incoming. From Renaissance. "
She was on the bridge, which was where she spent most of her time when riding an otherwise empty ship. "Patch them through," she said. "About time we got acquainted."
It was a pleasant surprise. She found herself looking at a gorgeous young technician with chestnut hair, luminous eyes, and a smile that lit up when there'd been time for the signal to pass back and forth and he got a look at her. He wore a white form-fitting shirt and Hutch had to smother a sigh. Damn. She'd been alone too long.
" Hello, Wildside , " he said, "welcome to Proteus. "
"Hello, Renaissance." She restrained a smile. The exchange of signals required slightly more than a minute.
" Dr. Harper wants to talk to you. " He gave way to a tall, dark woman who looked accustomed to giving people directions. Hutch recognized Mary Harper from the media reports. She owned a clipped voice and looked at Hutch the way Hutch might have glanced at a kid bringing the lunch in late. Harper had stood shoulder to shoulder with Dimenna during the long battle to prevent the closing of the station.
" Captain Hutchins? We're glad you're here. It'll make everyone feel a bit more secure to know there's a ship standing by. Just in case. "
"Glad to be of service," Hutch said.
She softened a bit. " I understand you were headed home before this came up, and I just wanted you to know that we appreciate your coming out here on short notice. There's probably no need, but we thought it best to be cautious. "
Harper started to say something else but the transmission was blown away by the storm. Bill tried a few alternate channels and found one that worked. " When can we expect you? " she asked.
"Tomorrow morning at about six looks good."
Harper was worried, but she tried to hide it behind that cool smile while she waited for Hutch's response to reach her. When it did she nodded, and Hutch got the distinct impression that back behind her eyes the woman was counting. " Good, " she said with bureaucratic cheerfulness. " We'll see you then. "
We don't get many visitors out this way, Hutch thought.
THE STATION MADE periodic reports to Serenity, recording temperature readings at various levels of the atmosphere, gravity fluctuations, contraction rate estimates, cloud density, and a myriad other details.
The Wildside had drifted into the hypercomm data stream between Renaissance and Serenity and was consequently able, for a few minutes, to pick up the transmissions. Hutch watched the numbers rippling across a half dozen screens, mixed with occasional analysis by the Renaissance AI. None of it was intelligible to her. Core temperatures and wind velocities were just weather reports. But there were occasional images of the protostar, embedded at the heart of the cloud.
"How sure are they," she asked Bill, "that ignition won't happen for a thousand years?"
" They're not giving opinions at the moment, " he said. " But as I understand it, there's a possibility the nuclear engine could already have started. In fact, it could have started as much as two hundred years ago. "
"And they wouldn't know it?"
" No. "
"I'd assumed when that happened the protostar would more or less explode."
" What would happen is that over a period of several centuries after its birth, the star would shrink, its color would change to yellow or white, and it would get considerably smaller. It's not a process that just goes boom. "
"Well, that's good to know. So these people aren't really sitting on top of a powder keg."
Bill's uncle image smiled. He was wearing a yellow shirt, open at the neck, navy blue slacks, and slippers. " Not that kind of powder keg, any"
They passed out of the data stream and the signal vanished.
Hutch was bored. It had been six days since she'd left Serenity, and she ached for human company. She rarely rode without passengers, didn't like it, and found herself reassuring Bill, who always knew when she was getting like this, that he shouldn't take it personally. "It's not that you aren't an adequate companion," she said.
His image blinked off, to be replaced by the Wildside logo, an eagle soaring past a full moon. " I know. " He sounded hurt. " I understand. "
It was an act, meant to help. But she sighed and looked out into the mist. She heard the gentle click by which he routinely signaled his departure. Usually it was simply a concession to her privacy. This time it was something else.
She tried reading for an hour, watched an old comedy (listening to the recorded audience laughter and applause echo through the ship), made herself a drink, went back to the gym, worked out, showered, and returned to the bridge.
She asked Bill to come back, and they played a couple of games of chess.
" Do you know anyone at Renaissance? " he asked.
"Not that I'm aware of." A few of the names on the roster were vaguely familiar, probably passengers on other flights. They were astrophysicists, for the most part. A few mathematicians. A couple of data technicians. Some maintenance people. A chef. She wondered which was the young man with the luminous eyes.
They live pretty well, she thought.
A chef. A physician.
She stopped. A teacher ?
"Bill, what possible use would they have for a teacher?"
"I don't know, Hutch. It does seem strange."
A chill worked its way down her spine. "Get Renaissance on the circuit."
A minute later, the technician with the eyes reappeared. He turned the charm on again, but this time she wasn't having any. "You have a Monte DiGrazio at the station. He's listed as a teacher. Would you tell me what he teaches?"
He was gazing wistfully at her while he waited for her transmission to arrive.
" What are you thinking? " asked Bill. He was seated in a leather armchair in a book-lined study. In the background she could hear a fire crackling.
She started to answer but let it trail off.
The technician heard her question and looked puzzled. " He teaches math and science. Why do you care? "
Hutch grumbled at her stupidity. Ask the question right, dummy . "Do you have dependents on board? How many people are there altogether?"
" I think you may be right, " said Bill, cautiously.
She folded her arms and squeezed down as if to make herself a smaller target.
The technician was looking at her with crinkled eyebrows. " Yes. We have twenty-three dependents. Fifty-six people in all. Monte has fifteen students. "
"Thank you," said Hutch. " Wildside out."
Bill's innocuously content features hardSo if an evacuation does become necessary-- "
"We'd have to leave almost half of them behind." Hutch shook her head. "That's good planning."
" Hutch, what do we do? "
Damned if she knew. "Bill, get me a channel to Serenity."
--From Chindi by Jack McDevitt (c) July 2002, Ace Books, used by permission.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In the far distant future, man has learned to travel at FLS (faster than light speed) but has also terraformed other planets so that humans could colonize them. One thing mankind has not found is a sentient species that is their equal or superior. They have found remnants of other civilizations that have long since died when man was crawling out of the caves and they have found a warlike race of beings that have depleted the resources of their planet with their many wars. Priscilla Hutchins, Hitch to her friends, is a very good space pilot in the academy who is nearing burnout and ready to retire. She is asked, on behalf of the academy, to take control of the civilian spaceship the City of Memphis and guide the crew, members of the contact society, into deep space in hopes of meeting intelligent alien life. They discover that someone has left a series of stealth satellites in orbit around space bodies all across the galaxy. Every time they find one of their trackers, they beam something new about this universe and those who have and continue to inhabit it. CHINDI is a space opera with plenty of action and unexpected developments in almost every sense. Jack McDevett has created a realistic space-faring universe mindful of Star Trek that is just waiting to be explored by Hutch, her fellow adventurers, and readers. There are many characters in this novel that deserve to have their own story told. Harriet Klausner
Great read, though a bit long at times
i have read the entire series and enjoyed them all.
Any real exploration group would have stopped way earlier...
I have now read 5 of the 6 books in McDevitt's "Academy Novels"; and this one, so far, is my least favorite. It is a good story; it's just not great. I love this series of books. They are written like science fiction was written in the 50's and 60's -- not psychologically overwrought. If you like science fiction that is just a good/great story about searching the universe(s) for life and new worlds, then you will like this series. They are stories that are good old-fashioned sense-of-wonder science fiction. I heartily recommend.
Several friends who recommended this cited similarities to good Clarke or Heinlein. My response would paraphrase Dr. Evil: "How about no!" It does have a writing style similar to that era of science fiction, but I wouldn't go beyond saying that this is a serviceable science fiction story that will pass an afternoon.It starts well. We are presented with what looks like a mysterious first contact story, perhaps even some kind of sinister surveillance of humanity. Unfortunately, by the end of the book, we aren't much farther along than that. The main plot has no resolution and, instead, we simply take a joy ride through the galaxy having minor adventures. I wouldn't have a real problem with this (that's why sequels exist, after all) if these adventures weren't populated with a set of ludicrously stereotypical characters. The only one that seemed vaguely real to me was Priscilla Hutchins, the ship's captain and main character. Otherwise, we have the self-made zillionaire who keeps getting people killed because "nothing can go wrong"; the egotistical scientist who will stop at nothing in the pursuit of his specialty; the incompetent bureaucrats who take all the credit for what goes right and blame others for all failures; the beautiful actress whose intelligence is not recognized because of her physical attributes...well, you get the idea.By the end, I just wanted to get on with real story that, I assume, will come in some later book and wished that a few more of the crew had met stupid deaths so I didn't have to read about them anymore.This book is a loose sequel to Deepsix in that it continues with some of the characters. However, it can easily be started without having read the previous stories. I haven't tried any of the books that follow it and, as I note above, it doesn't stand alone so well on that end¿it needs a sequel to provide any real satisfaction.I don't really recommend this. If you're a hard-core science fiction fan, you'll probably read it anyway but, if you're marginal on the genre, I'd suggest you look elsewhere. I'll probably check out the sequel to see if we get any farther in resolving the very interesting original premise of the book.
Superluminal pilot Hutch is on the move again. It is a book with multiple faces. I enjoyed the description of the Chindi very much, and Retreat was put down very colorful, the words elicited all kinds of beautiful skyscapes in my head. But the main characters kept their distance. Hutch is smart, beautiful but also gloomy, which drips through the lines. The other characters, especially George, are put down too one-dimensional, it's getting hard to believe after a while they make the same mistakes over and over again. But still, in the end I just had to read on an on to the end .. that's a good thing!
(Reviewed December 30, 2008)McDevitt has such cool ideas, but he keeps ruining it by turning everything into a race against time. It's not bad, but it could have been so much more.
The Priscilla Hutchins series gets more exciting with chindi, both action-wise and in the mind-blowing aspects of what it means to come into contact with some ancient alien technology. The discoveries in this book should fundamentally change the human race in this series. Yes, a lot of stupid people put themselves in dangerous situations in this book, repeatedly, similar to The Engines of God and Deepsix. As in the those books, maybe they're doing it for ego, maybe to not seem cowardly, maybe for the good of mankind. McDevitt doesn't answer those questions, and that's okay. I just wish some character spoke up and said, "Hey, there's actually a way to do this where we won't maybe die as a result." In the meantime, at least they're visiting some interesting places and meeting interesting people/things before--and while--they're dying.
Formulaic, predictable, bland and unambitious. (** Some spoilers ahead **) If this was the first "hard" science fiction book I'd read, the thought of a massive self-directing artifact whose job is to collect a pan-galactic zoo and was built by a long-vanished uber-race whose mere detritus exceeds man's tiny grasp might indeed make for "an ambitious, exciting, big-idea hard-SF novel".When we finally do encounter the mother-lode of alien treasure, it turns out to be a summer-home for some rich guy/girl/thing who really just likes to have a sip of hot tea, read a good book and gaze out at the stars. All the build up of trying to second-guess the incomprehensible thought patterns of god-like Others was, perhaps, a bit of a let-down.A book far behind its time, and certainly undeserving of any comparison with "Rendezvous with Rama".
"I don't think we should do this""Well, I think we should.....ooops I'm dead!"And repeat...Some interesting ideas but perhaps it is better to read [Rendezvous with Rama] instead, as it deals with almost exactly the same kind of situation just in a more accomplished manner. Hopefully the next two books in the series are a bit better and cover new ground, or at least read like books that I haven¿t read before.
The book jacket says Chindi is one of the best science fiction novels of the year. I read a lot of other science fiction published in 2002, and this is certainly not one of my picks for that accolade. Slightly above average is the best I would go for this story.According to the author, Jack McDevitt, not much has really changed in the Twenty-third Century. Bureaucrats are still concerned with following regulations, people in command are still more concerned with placing blame than actually leading, award winning scientists are still looking to steal the glory from others and people are still realizing their last failed relationship really was with the right person. That pretty much covers the non-essentials of this plot.What is left over is another ¿we are not alone in the universe¿ story triggered by the reception of an errant signal from outside our solar system to another point still further away. The rest of the book is devoted to trying to trace the signal to its source.Read this as an Action / Adventure story and it is not too bad . . . if you are patient. The good action does not take place until the final quarter, maybe even eighth, of the novel. There are no new sci-fi technologies here and the alien encounters are disappointing. McDevitt¿s style is very readable and he builds a lot of empathy for the protagonists. That is what keeps you reading. Maybe the girl will end up with the right guy after all.Worth reading and very entertaining, Chindi was not the breakout novel the blurbs seem to promise. Still, better than average. If some new technology or new wrinkle to the genre had been added, I would have boosted the rating another half point or so.
Another Library of Babel recommendation; I'd never heard of Jack McDevitt before. The one line review is "Indiana Jones, in space, no Nazis."This is not the first book in this series; it appears that Deepsix chronologically precedes this one. That said, as only passing reference to the first book is made (and if I hadn't noticed it on the shelf at the library when I got this book, I could believe that no book existed), this book stands on its own just fine.The plot follows a small exploration ship that is tracing narrow signals found from something orbiting a neutron star way out in space; this signal is the first indication of a still extant spacefaring alien species, and the ship is owned and crewed by members of a society whose main goal is intelligent alien contact.For lack of a better term (I'm crazy short on sleep) this is a very comfortable book; fun to read, engaging, and overall quite pleasant.
For not having read much science fiction over the last bunch of years, reading this was a pretty good step back in to the genre. Sort of sci-fi, sort of suspense/thriller, it engaged me and I felt compelled to read it more quickly than other books. Good job.
A couple of hundred years from now, a routine survey mission to a neutron star picks up a few seconds of what seems like a transmission of alien origin. The reception wasn¿t long enough to determine where it came from or where it was going. The next step for the neutron star is to turn into a black hole, so there shouldn¿t be anyone or anything in the vicinity. After probes again pick up the signal, a special mission is sent from Earth to investigate.With pilot Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchinson, the crew are not the usual scientist types, but members of the Contact Society, a group of rich people who fund research into extraterrestrial life. This is important because after 200 years of diligent searching for other civilizations, the results have been very disappointing. Following the signal from one star system to another, the humans find the same type of stealth satellites in orbit around various planets. Even by the standards of interstellar distances, this is a huge relay system. Attempts by companion ships to bring one aboard to study end in disaster.The crew encounters a planet inhabited by humanoids with wings, who bear a striking resemblance to angels. Hutch is the only one who thinks that landing and establishing contact with the natives is not such a good idea. The "angels" show themselves to be uninterested in contact when they attack the humans with claws and sharp teeth, killing two of them.Around another planet, the humans find a giant asteroid which is actually an alien spaceship. After much exploration, they determine that it is some sort of automated archaeological survey ship, picking up bits of other cultures from throughout the galaxy. The satellites signal when a culture is sufficiently advanced to warrant a visit.This is a gem of a book. It¿s nice and mind-blowing, the author does a fine job throughout, and the science is kept to reasonable levels.
I love this series!! Hutch is incredible...
Tedious & Improbable. Not worth the price.