Infinity Beach – Jack McDevitt (2000)
‘We are alone. That is the verdict, after centuries of Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence missions and space exploration. The only living things in the Universe are found on the Nine Worlds settled from Earth, and the starships that knit them together. Or so it’s believed, until Dr. Kimberley Brandywine sets out to find what happened to her clone-sister Emily, who, after the final unsuccessful manned SETI expedition, disappeared along with the rest of her ship’s crew.
Following a few ominous clues, Kim discovers the ship’s log was faked. Something happened out there in the darkness between the stars and she’s prepared to go to any length to find answers. Even if it means giving up her career… stealing a starship… losing her lover. Kim is about to discover the truth about her sister – and about more than she ever dared imagine.’
Blurb from the 2001 Eos paperback edition
In a future where Humanity has expanded out to a handful of settled planets and seems to have culturally stalled, Kim Brandywine is working for an institute still trying to search for Extraterrestrial Life. Kim is haunted by the death of her clone-sister Emily who was on an exploratory voyage and who disappeared, along with another member of the crew, without trace after she returned. The two male survivors of the Hunter Expedition were subsequently involved in a mysterious explosion at Mount Hope on their home planet, an area which has since had sightings of ghostly apparitions.
Emily is contacted by the grandfather of the other missing girl who believes that there is something more to their disappearance than meets the eye.
Initially cynical, Kim begins to uncover small pieces of evidence which leads her to suspect that something is very wrong with the official story of the voyage of the Hunter and, facing opposition from her employers and the families of the now-dead crew, becomes determined to uncover the truth of what happened to her sister.
McDevitt gives us a gripping scientific detective story which combines a first contact situation with brilliantly evocative moments of ghostly horror and an old unsolved murder.
Interestingly, McDevitt succeeds well in realising a planet settled some six hundred years ago which now has experts researching its own history and archaeology. It makes for a very well-rounded society, if a tad Americocentric. The structure is well thought out, although perhaps a little cinematic. It is a bit of a cliche for the hero/ine to be not believed/discredited/fired and then have to solve the mysteries while the authorities are snapping at her heels.
All in all, though, it’s a cracking piece of work. Nothing groundbreaking, just a solid piece of well-written SF with a detective thriller twist.