Customer Reviews: The Cassandra Project
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on November 25, 2012
I'm a big Jack McDevitt fan and couldn't wait to get this book. I read it in one sitting, although it took all day. The book is 387 pages but is an easy read.

It's a few years in the future and NASA is close to being shut down. There is a celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo XI moon landing and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's historic moon landing and moon walk. The celebration is bittersweet as all involved reminisce about old times and what might have been had NASA been supported to a greater degree.

As part of the celebration NASA releases tons of archived material - audio, video, and written material - that dates from the time of the moon landings. One particular audio clip is an attention-grabber: There is an exchange between the Apollo IX (9 not 11) crew and Houston that seems to indicate that the crew is preparing to make a landing. But how can this be? This was several months before Apollo XI and Apollo IX was supposed to be a shakedown of the real moon landing. How could they be preparing to land? It's all initially passed off as just a misunderstanding or a joke between the crew and the ground. But the exchange is unmistakable - the crew clearly stated they were preparing for a landing.

What follows is a mystery as the NASA PR director, the President, and a billionaire entrepreneur (think Donald Trump) all follow separate clues to try and determine if there really was a moon landing much earlier than what history records, and if there was, why.

Pros: The book is a good mystery and has a couple of minor twists at the end you may not see coming. Without spoiling anything, one of the twists you may have had to live through the times to be able to figure out the clues. The second twist you probably won't see until it's right on top of you.

Cons: No character development at all - the book is strictly about the moon landings and the effort to uncover a secret history. The characters involved are somewhat cartoonish they are so one-dimensional. The Donald Trump character may cause you to roll your eyes a couple of times, he's so over-the-top in his disdain for the government and in his ability to get his way by throwing his money around.

The ending of the book presents a sort of question for the reader: Given the circumstances that unfolded in the book, would you make the same decision two presidents did?

You'll have to read the book to see what those two presidents did.

I rated this 3 stars because I like McDevitt and I like a good mystery, but I understand some of the 1 and 2 star ratings.
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on June 16, 2013
I've been reading Sci Fi for more than 30 years...I've got two or three hundred or so novels in my personal library, and have probably read a thousand easily...maybe 2k. I'm rarely bored or disinterested. But this book manages both. It's hard to believe a book with all the ingredients this one has falls so flat. NASA, moon landing conspiracy, Nixon, McDevitt and Resnick. And yet, it does. Let me also say I ma a HUGE fan of both writers. Resnick was part of what made me fall in love and be obsessed with Sci Fi. The Soul Eater was one of my early readings. How it is possible he AND McDevitt are responsible for this novel I don't know.
About The Cassandra Project....all the plot reviews are available, so I won't go into it again. But I will advise you to not buy this book based on the reputations of the writers. The book may be fit for A young reader or Sci Fi it has zero science (soft sci-fi doesn't begin to describe it), very little plot or character development. In fact the characters are bland and lifeless, even the supposed "colorful character" is predictable and cliche. NASA and Titusville are so vague you could get more inside information from the Yellow Pages and an Interstate rest stop brochure.
I love all kinds of Sci-Fi...from the hard complex SF of Vinge to the more human side of Orson Scott Card to the comical side of Douglas Adams. I don't take negativity lightly, but I recommend that you do yourself a favor and avoid this one. There's just nothing here, unless you want a quick mindless unemotional, no-science science fiction.
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on December 4, 2012
This goes along for most of the way like one of McDevitt's Alec Benedict novels, which are usually great fun. A slender thread begins it, leading to another thread, and another, and still more, and finally these tiny threads lead us to the revelation of a great and Earth-shattering result. The Devil's Eye is for me the best, but the others have also been of the same caliber, and quality.
Here you have the beginning threads, and this new one, and that, and lots of anticipation, and finally you get, at the very end, to. . . a dull thud. Both utterly unbelievable and utterly dumb. The history is nonsense, most especially the implied ancient history, and the whole thing falls dead flat. It's like Gertrude Stein said about Oakland--when you get there, there's no there there. And you wind up feeling an idiot for having followed the authors' winding path with such breathless anticipation.
Find somebody who'll at least give you a broad hint about the conclusion. Then decide for yourself if you want to waste good reading time to arrive at this particular destination.
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on March 4, 2013
Its hard to say but, but this book really does pretty much suck, and its sad. McDevitt is a respected name, and this item does him little credit. The back cover blurb unintentionally calls him the heir to Asimov and Clarke, both long dead.

Story-wise, there is an interesting premise - two unacknowledged moon landings come to light inadvertently 50 years after the fact. Not the moon flights, which were public, but the landings, which seemingly were the subject of a massive cover-up, starting with Lyndon Johnson and extending - who knows. A moderate media hoo-haw ensues. But, well what can you say. No one takes the idea seriously, except to think maybe some astronauts went for a joyride (really, yes really). Only a cranky billionaire, a queasy mash-up of Hugh Heffner and Elon Musk jumps on the story and by coincidence uses it to publicize his OWN moon flight, coming up next month, And somehow, all the kings horses and all the kings men and all the federal employees can't seem to come to grips with it or find a hint of it - because it happened 50 years ago!!! They're all DEAD!!! (WWII is even older, and people do, even now, tend to recall it happened, and even vaguely know where, but that is a little too real for this). Even then you could have gotten a story out of it, except the writing is so weighted down with leaden clunkers:
NASA - too bad that funding cuts mean "we" have abandoned space - it was a cry of a lot of old farts early in the Obama administration but get real - the Chinese, seemingly unknown here, are planning their fifth manned mission as this book is published - and beat it to death, this seems to be the main theme to the story, NASA funding (and just for manned missions to the moon) is cut, civilization ends. Boo Hoo
Bucky Blackstone - the cranky billionaire who says to everyone "call me Bucky" - and after literally repeating it over a hundred times in a 300 page book, you want to call him a lot of other things.
Jerry Culpepper - the presumptive hero of the book - who falls by the wayside halfway through, is supposed to be an ace, top notch political PR guy - yet he is caught flummoxed, flat footed and tongue tied at every press conference he has - and, by the way, seems to be one of only four employees left at NASA (now headquartered in Florida). He dines with his honey at Olive Garden (mentioned by name three times)
Food obsessions - I have to say it, you have never read so many bad banquet menus in a book before - no one can eat (and they do pretty often) without listing everything on their menu, including the kind of ice cream for desert???
Federal government - the White House seems to consist of the President, and two staff people - somehow the entire federal government, including the FBI, CIA and the rest, cannot get to the bottom of, or find ANY evidence of not one but two moon landings, BEFORE Aldrin and Armstrong - none of the tens of thousands of military and civilian staff ever noticed them??? or wrote a note??? spent money???
Media - lots of cable media gets trashed, but this book seems to have been written before the internet - all the right words are said - blog, text message, but no one uses them - "Bucky" has to buy time on cable channels to get his message out, as opposed to, say, having a web site, or using social media -and, it has to be said, even for cardboard stereotypes, these people are dumb as rocks - e.g. the two moon landings - no media coverage? no press room? The people who covered it then never noticed?
Technology - for a science fiction book, tech is the name of the game - Bucky, it seems, has built, all on his own, a man rated...something. It has a shuttle thingee at one end, a moon lander in the middle, and, presumably, a refurbed Saturn 5 at the other end to get it off the ground...or something, we can't bother to take time away from banquet menus to actually say, it is described as "gleaming white" and that's it, And by the way has never flown before, so he goes along in it -- and that's it, four people, up up and away, no ground support, mission control or whatever.

Ultimately it is self defeating to go on with the flaws in this work, it is just a tremendous disappointment. Basically every page has a clunker in it and they get too numerous to note after a while - the President needs to have a major press release, and fritters away the night for six or seven hours watching Casablanca, only to write it himself at 2 AM - sure, it could happen, maybe he was busy writing this book too, or ordering ice cream.
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on November 25, 2012
Other reviewers have covered the weak ending, painfully slow development, and uni-dimensional characterization, so I don't need to mention them.

Some random thoughts though:

The billionare character did not show the goal-oriented focus and drive, or for that matter, the intelligence needed to do what he had supposedly done. In fact, none of the characters except (occasionally) the main protagonist sounded like strong, effective individuals.

Unless I missed something (and by then I was in full skim mode,) the spaceship was apparently taken to the moon on its maiden flight; very reminiscent of '30's E.E. Doc Smith. "OK, ship's finished, let's go!"

The interminable banter of the "taking a playful dig at his old chum" Hardy Boys style, that passes for much of the dialogue ranged from tedious to painful.

Both authors have done much, much better. An unfortunate case of the whole being a good deal less than the sum of its parts.
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on November 19, 2012
What if Neil Armstrong wasn't the first guy on the moon? What if the first guys were carrying out a secret mission so big that even the Soviets would have had to be in on it? Fun twists, good characters, and no bad guys -- just all well-intentioned people with different perspectives. Resnick almost always delivers, and this time is no exception.
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on December 10, 2012
The best part about this novel was that it read like a Jack McDevitt "Academy" series / Priscilla Hutchins novel. It has that same theme of a beleaguered, overlooked space agency looking back at a former exploration to find something that was missed, or covered up. There was the familiar hunt to locate people who were around at the time to help recover the lost secret. Except this time, the NASA is the beleaguered agency.

Like many others, I was disappointed by the ending. Without going into spoilers, I would have liked to have seen more details. It almost felt like the co-authors could not agree on an ending, and they were up against a deadline. I've read every other Jack McDevitt novel, and I don't think I've ever been disappointed by an ending until now.

All in all, I would rather have much rather have had another "Academy" or "Alex Bennedict" novel.
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on August 21, 2015
Very, very disappointing. If you are going to read this because it is a McDevitt book, you are going to find yourself very let down (as I was). It does not at ALL feel like a McDevitt book. And I don't get it--they claim to have updated it to make it more relevant to today, but you still have 1980s style computing, with people burning things on CD-ROMs for better space storage. Seriously? And the plot in this is SO. BORING. I am a fan of McDevitt, and until now he could do no wrong...but man this one bombs.

It also hit upon one of my absolutely least-favorite parts of science fiction. As a guy who LOVES when sci-fi discusses religion well (I think the futurist vs. ancientist dynamic is fascinating), it is unfortunately an all-too-common cliche to have a priest or preacher in a book who argues against the main character...and argues very poorly. What I mean is not that the arguments are poor--you can definitely have some very good debates between Christians and atheists: go watch say John Lennox, for example. But when the author has their seminary-educated priest in a debate, that priest SHOULD AT LEAST KNOW the basics of a Freshman-level seminary class. Every religious character in this book says things that NO ONE with a basic seminary knowledge would say, and are stumped by questions that anyone with access to Google can see how Christians respond. It is baffling to me that someone who wants to write good sci-fi and spends so much time researching the physics of things wouldn't spend 20 minutes with Google to make their religious characters at least make the same arguments that a Christian teenager fresh from youth camp could make.
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on December 29, 2012
I read the short story version of the Cassandra Project a couple of years back and quite enjoyed it. When I heard Mc Devitt was doing a full length version I thought, hmmm he will need to expand the story a fair bit to make it work. Well the sad reality was that he didn't. He simply kept the same basic story and then padded it with a lot of lame conversations between people who don't know anything or can't remember what happened back at NASA more than 50 years ago, funny about that. We end up with wooden characters, lame dialogue and an ending that was hardly worth the effort of getting there.
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on November 12, 2012
First things first - I am a huge fan of Mike Resnick, and have read almost everything that he has written. Some great, some excellent, a few just very good or good. So I did not start reading this novel without great hopes. My anticipation was somewhat tempered by this being a collaboration with Jack McDevitt. I've also read many of his books, but have found almost all of them to be disappointing. Good ideas and setting, but one dimensional characters and boring story construction and writing.

So, what happens when you mix great and mediocre? You get a mixture that does doesn't settle well.

As I read this, I was constantly trying to guess which of the authors had contributed which parts, and ultimately I have to conclude that McDevitt wrote most of this, and that Resnick helped out with the dialogue. If I had known that up front, I'm not sure if I would have looked forward to reading this. Nonetheless, I did find it exciting to read and I literally had trouble putting it down at 2 AM. The central mystery in the book is quite intriguing, and although it requires some suspension of disbelief to believe that a conspiracy like this could have been kept secret for many decades, I still found myself drawn in. When I put the book down at 2 AM I was about 75% through it, and could not for the life of me figure out what the answer to the mystery was going to be. (I had a lot of driving to do the next morning, and common sense won out over curiosity). I thought about it all night, came up with a few weak guesses, and even discussed it with some friends to see if anyone else could come up with a satisfactory answer. I couldn't come up with anything that really held together, and neither could anyone else.

Unfortunately, neither could the authors. The final unfolding of events and the ultimate secret were extremely disappointing and unsatisfying. It's as though they wrote a fantastic joke, but couldn't come up with a good punch line.

To use a metaphor: I really enjoyed the ride, but ultimately find that I don't like the destination.
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