In the future, many worlds have been colonized, but no alien life has ever been discovered. The starship Hunter was one of many that set out into space on a search for intelligent life. With its trip cut short by an engine malfunction, the crew returned home and sadly announced the failure of the mission. Then two of the crew members vanished off the face of the earth, and a third was killed in a massive, unexplainable explosion that also wiped out an entire village.
Years later, Kimberly Brandywine — sister to Emily Brandywine, one of the mysteriously vanished Hunter crew members — discovers evidence that all is not what it seems. Why did the Hunter send a message announcing "We struck gold" before returning to announce failure? What still haunts the site of the explosion, leading to whispers of ghostly shapes and disembodied eyes floating in the night? With all of the original Hunter crew dead or missing, Kim's search for the truth about what happened to her sister won't be an easy one. But she will not stop until she uncovers the real story of the Hunter... because something happened out there, in the blackness between stars, and something was brought back.
Provides examples of:
- Absent Aliens: At the start of the novel despite the many worlds explored, not so much as a microbe of alien life has been found.
- Anti Matter: Presumed to be the cause of the mysterious Mt. Hope explosion. The survivors have to put up with conspiracy theorists implying they were involved in something criminal.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: How Kim and Solly steal a starship.
- Designer Babies: Cloning is commonplace
- End of an Age: Discussed at various points.People always believed they lived in a crumbling world. They themselves were of course okay, but everybody around them was dead downhill.
- Fictional Document: Like many of Jack McDevitt's works, each chapter starts with a quote. Some are from real works, and some are from fictional documents.
- First Contact Faux Pas: The aliens were much smaller than humans, and panicked and opened fire when they thought they were being trapped. The mistake was then covered up by the crew, and later the authorities who were worried about how the aliens might react to the news that humans had killed their kind.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Solly staying behind to blow up the Hammersmith.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: Both the original Hunter logs and the Valiant
- It's for a Book: Kim uses this as an excuse to question Tripley's ex-wife.
- Just Think of the Potential!The interest was generated not by the reason for the experiment, but by the fact that we've demonstrated we could trigger a nova. Consequently, the Institute's public information group decided to concentrate on that aspect of the story, and the benefits the human race might eventually derive from the capability. Unfortunately, no one could think of any.
- Priceless Paperweight: Turns out the 'model' of a spacecraft is an actual spacecraft, because the aliens are so small.
- Microwave Misuse: A microwave with the safety features deactivated is used as an Improvised Weapon against the Severin Shroud.
- Saw It in a Movie Once: Solly's explanation for his idea of blowing the Shroud out the airlock.
- Sham Ceremony: Kimberly has the job of fundraising for her agency. She comes up with the idea of inventing an award to present to a generous benefactor so he'll stay friendly. Later after escaping First Contact with an apparently hostile alien species that the government wants to keep quiet about, she's rewarded with an award that she can't remember having heard of before...
- Signature Style: A decades-old mystery revolving around someone suddenly acting in a way contrary their entire life's work (in this case, the Hunter crew falsely reporting failure despite previously wanting more than anything to find life)? Classic McDevitt.
- Subspace or Hyperspace: Hyperspace is used for FTL travel and communication
- Thrown Out the Airlock: Attempted against the Shroud. Doesn't work.
- Title Drop: Both of "infinity beach" and of the novel's original title, "slow lightning".
- Virtual Ghost: One of the applications of AI.