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The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt

The Cassandra Project (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Jack McDevitt, Mike Resnick

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16812101,298 (3.12)5
Title:The Cassandra Project
Authors:Jack McDevitt
Other authors:Mike Resnick
Info:Ace Hardcover (2012), Edition: Book Club Edition, Hardcover, 400 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt (2012)



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I picked up this book mainly because Jack McDevitt was one of the authors. He’s a nice guy to sit and chat with, if you ever have a chance, and his books often have an old fashion pulp science fiction flavor that I rather like. The Cassandra project does, which is good in some ways, but in this particular case, I think the ending suffers as a result. I’ll try to explain why later without too many spoilers.

The story is set in the U.S.A. in 2019. The world economy is in the doldrums, the rich have gotten richer, and NASA has been underfunded for years. Some people are dismayed by the fact, but no one doubts that the last moon landing was in 1972. However, there are recent rumors that Apollo XI in 1969 may not have been the first. Were there two secret landings before this, and, if so, why?

This is the central mystery of the story. It is told from multiple points of view, but the main character is Jerry Culpepper, who enters the tale as the public affairs director for NASA, and he comes to suspect that there may be some truth to the rumors. The official position he is told to convey is that there is not. He eventually quits because of this. You have to admire his personal integrity.

The other central character is Montgomery “Bucky” Blackstone, Owner of Blackstone Enterprises, Blackstone Development, and Blackstone Innovations. He’s a bit crude and extremely arrogant, but he’s a likeable rogue. Essentially, he’s a grown up kid with a LOT of money. One of the things he wants to do with it is to go to the moon — not for any noble purpose, really, but because he’s always wanted to be an astronaut, and he thinks money can be made in space.

One scene that resonated with me was a not too subtle slap at traditional publishers. In it, Jerry, after leaving NASA and realizing he needs an income, briefly takes a job with a small publisher in Wisconsin. He is given a manuscript, for which he holds no high hopes, and unexpectedly finds that it is fantastic. One of the best things he’s ever read. He tells his new employers, and they tell him to write a nice rejection letter. Why? Because, they explain, they are not in business to publish what’s good. They’re in business to publish what sells. This got a smile from me because I’ve concluded much the same thing, and it’s why more and more of my reading list is comprised of ‘indie’ published books now. That’s all beside the point, I suppose, but I wanted to mention it, and since I’m writing this, I can.

A minor point of annoyance came when Jerry, needing some analysis done, turns to someone at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Why didn’t he contact the Florida Institute of Technology instead? It’s physically closer and probably has stronger ties to NASA than UCF does. This probably would not bother someone outside the area, but it struck me as not making sense. Like I said, just a minor point.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that in the course of the novel, clues are uncovered and the mystery is explained. I found it a bit contrived, and I think a better explanation consistent with all the clues up to this point was possible. When I reached the end, I wondered if the brief scene about Jerry’s experience working for a publisher was a clue about why this particular ending was chosen. I have no evidence of that, of course. It’s just idle speculation.

You may want to stop reading now because the next bit is a sort of spoiler, but I’ll try to keep it vague. At the end, those who can, choose not to reveal the full truth to the world. Instead, they decide to perpetuate a deception originally contrived by the Nixon administration to manipulate the Soviets (although I could not see how this would have worked on them). The deception provides a depressing and cautionary message that seems designed to preserve the status quo. The true account seemed far more hopeful and could encourage human cooperation and progress. After the last sentence, I couldn’t help wondering why they all agreed to perpetuate the lie.

Up until the last chapter, this is an interesting mystery full of secrets and conspiracy. The characters are likeable, the dialogue is believable, and the prose is suitable for the genre. Pulp sci-fi fans who also enjoy a good conspiracy novel may want to pick this up, but if you are looking for something like McDevitt’s highly enjoyable Alex Benedict novels, this isn’t one.
( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
Hmm...okay, well I'm do wish I could go with a half star here -as in 2.5. It's a well-written book but the whole mystery you're reading and waiting to be revealed is too long in coming. If the author's had tightened the book it would be less critical but 340 pages for what is mystery most will figure out before the end is simply asking too much.

Bottom line: Character development is superb and the concept is solid, but the pay-off is too long coming and underwhelming if you guess it ahead of time. ( )
  RalphLagana | Jan 23, 2016 |
More of a mistery than a sci-fi book, somewaht reminding me of a "lighter" version of a Dan Brown novel. Fairly enjoyable, even if light on plausible engineering/science. ( )
  Guide2 | Dec 25, 2015 |
SPOILERS! This is book is set in 2019, in an era where NASA is faltering. The story is told primarily through a man who serves as a NASA Spokesman, and a billionaire who despises NASA and is sending his own mission to the moon. The book is fairly interesting at the start. Mysterious audio recordings show a crew making a non-lunar landing flight talking to Mission Control as if they were about to make a lunar landing. Apparently nobody in NASA has ever heard of this, so they play it off as a joke.

This is the bit that really bothers me. The author has two circumlunar flights occurring in 1969, prior to Apollo 11. The crews are entirely fictional, and the author refuses to number the flights. So, is the crew that actually made the first landing supposed to be Apollo 9? Did the actual flights of Apollo 9 and Apollo 10 not happen in this world? Or are these "secret" missions that involved "secret" flight-worthy vehicles that nobody remembered building, launched by "secret" Saturn V rockets that nobody saw launching? But people in the novel remember these missions, so were they played off as Apollo 0 Prime and Apollo 10 Prime, as if the real missions were unsuccessful and we had to try again? This may not matter to most readers, but it seriously drove me crazy.

I read this pretty quickly, wanting to find out what the big reveal was. This book would have been so much better if the big surprise was something different. How about a secret Soviet lunar base? Chinese? German? But, no. The author has to go with religious connections. Most of the book was pretty good, but the ending was meh. ( )
1 vote LISandKL | Dec 27, 2014 |
I don't really know Mike Resnick, but I like Jack McDevit, so I picked this up. Others have described the plot so I'll keep it simple. It's a few years from now, NASA is a ghost of it's past glories. A rich guy decides it's time to get back into space and plans an audacious trip to the moon. Now if the book was just about that, I think it might have been good. Instead, the story is an endless chase after clues that America had landed an Apollo craft on the moon before Neil Armstrong and had covered up the story all these years. The chase for clues, largely fruitless, and boring, is most of the book. What could the government have possibly been covering up? Well, what do you think? I'll give you a clue, it's not a monolith like in "2001: A Space Odyssey", but pretty close. Granted, there's a twist, but not a very original twist.

The book is so slow moving, that about 50 pages from the end, I was convinced that the secret was not going to be re veiled until a sequel. At least the story came to an end although a sequel looks inevitable. I'll pass. ( )
  capewood | Dec 8, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack McDevittprimary authorall editionscalculated
Resnick, Mikemain authorall editionsconfirmed
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With interest in the space program waning, a public affairs director at NASA reveals a shocking secret about the Apollo 11 mission from fifty years ago.

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