|Submitted by Archren |
(May 04, 2006)
“Omega” by Jack McDevitt is a classic blend of mostly hard science fiction (the only borderline element being a hyperspace-based) FTL method with the examination of Big Ideas. It shares some of the flaws of your classic Big Idea (and Big Dumb Object) SF, including very sketchy characters and some over-simplifications, but overall it is a good and thought-provoking read.
The Omegas (BDOs) are gigantic clouds of some type that travel at sublight speeds through the galaxy. When they encounter planets with evidence of civilization on them, they destroy everything on the surface of that planet. One of them is headed for Earth, but it won’t get there for another 1000 years. They’ve been studied, and it’s been found that the Omegas are triggered by the existence of lots of right angles: streets laid out in grids, rectangular buildings, etc. The sorts of things that civilizations often produce. No one knows how to divert or destroy the clouds.
In the meantime, a new planet has been found. And lo and behold, it is one of those rarest of things (in McDevitt’s universe), a planet with a current civilization. The aliens are pre-industrial, but otherwise civilized. However, the only reason their planet was found was because one of the Omegas had diverted to attack it. After that, the plot follows the race to observe, understand, communicate with and protect this new planet of people, all while trying to observe something like a “Prime Directive” that prohibits advanced peoples from messing with less advanced peoples.
Here we have a theatre in which current issues are transformed into the SF milieu. I found parallels between Earth’s attitude toward the Omegas and our current attitudes towards Global Warming (i.e., “we’ll deal with it later”). One of the major POVs is a high-level administrator within an organization like the NSF, trying to get funding to deal with problems like the Omegas, then of course being in line for political blame when under-funded programs don’t work.
Also, in all the interactions with the new aliens, McDevitt seems to be contributing to a discourse about colonialism and post-colonialism, asking questions about how civilizations interact, and how results that may seem inevitable can be changed by the motives of the players.
There is a lot of simplification in this book: as mentioned before most of the characters are light sketches. Also McDevitt goes out of his way to highlight the similarities between his future and our (Western) present. The aliens are very interesting, but perhaps slightly idealized. And in the end, I think the story may be overly optimistic, but that is largely because its ending is basically a happy one. Our real future may or may not end so well.