We are alone.
That is the verdict, after centuries of SETI searches and space exploration. The only living things in the Universe are found on the Nine Worlds settled by Earthlings, and the starships that knit them together.
No life has been found. No intelligent aliens, no strange ecologies, no awesome civilizations. Not even an amoeba, a lichen, a germ. The Universe is as sterile as a laboratory that was used only once.
Or so it seems, until Dr. Kimberly Brandywine undertakes to find out what happened to her sister (and clone) Emily, who, after the final, unsuccessful manned SETI expedition, disappeared along with four others—one of them a famous war hero. But they were not the only ones to vanish: so did an entire village, destroyed by a still-unexplained explosion.
Following a few ominous clues (including a model of a starship that never existed) Kim discovers that the log of the ill-fated Hunter was faked. Something happened, out there in the darkness between the stars. Someone was murdered—and something was brought back. Something that still leaves ghostly traces in the night.
Kim is prepared to go to any length to find out the truth, even if it means giving up her career with Beacon, the most colossal—and controversial—of all the SETI projects. Even if it means stealing a starship. Even if it means giving up her only love.
Kim is about to discover the answer to life’s oldest question. And she’s going to like the answer even less than she imagines.
What happens when first contact goes horribly wrong? When that initial meeting between two sentient species leads to utter confusion and misunderstanding, murder and hijacking, and a tight-lipped coverup for years afterward? Jack McDevitt sets this situation up in Infinity Beach, describing humanity at the end of the third millennium as a solitary race, seemingly alone in the cosmos even after colonizing many worlds beyond Earth: “The universe has come to resemble a magnificent but sterile wilderness, an ocean which boasts no friendly coast, no sails, no sign that any have passed this way before.” But a ship in search of life returned years earlier under suspicious circumstances, with two crew members missing, one presumed dead in an unexplained explosion, and the fourth retired into silence. Tales of apparitions, strange lights, and voices near the explosion site persist. No one’s talking, but the scientist sister (and clone) of one of the missing shipmates starts asking questions and finds herself at the heart of a complex and frightening puzzle.
McDevitt, an accomplished storyteller and perennial Nebula runner-up, proves to have an excellent ear for such drama, telling a solid story that exudes mood and atmosphere while still staying tense enough to keep those pages turning. By turns a murder mystery, ghost story, and solid sci-fi thriller, Infinity Beach takes one of the genre’s more prosaic schticks—first contact—and gives it a twist with style and skill: when you do make contact, what you find might scare you. —Paul Hughes