Reaching for the Stars A Lot of Careers and a Lot of Years Have Gone by, but Brunswick's Jack McDevitt Knew, Someday, Science Fiction Would Take Him Where He Wanted to Go
Hyman, Ann, The Florida Times Union
BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- Jack McDevitt, 62, got hooked on science
When he was a kid growing up in Philadelphia, and couldn't
even read yet, his dad took him to the movies to see the Flash
Gordon serials -- primitive cinema, special effects from a
movie-maker's basement workbench.
But, McDevitt was wide-eyed at the rocket ships, even if some
could see the wires.
"I remember we came out of the theater one night, there was a
full moon over the rooftops of South Philly that night, and I
asked my dad if we would ever go to the moon. 'Not going to
happen, kid,' he told me. 'Lemme tell you why. Rockets don't work
in outer space, you can't steer the ships.' "
That was the conventional wisdom of the day. It was revised.
The little boy grew up to be a novelist, an award-winning
science fiction novelist. He's written five novels, dozens of
short stories and novellas. His novella, Time Travelers Never
Die, has been nominated for the prestigious Hugo award, to be
announced in August.
It began with Flash Gorden and the hours McDevitt spent
reading H.G. Welles, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the
pulp adventures in outer space from the garish sci-fi magazines
of the day.
"I read science fiction up until I was about 17, up until the
time I went to college," he said.
After college, there were five years in the Navy as a
communications specialist, 10 years as a high school English
teacher, a brief stint as a journalist and finally a 20-year
career with the U.S. Customs Service.
For years, the McDevitts -- Jack, his wife, Maureen, and three
children were stationed at the Canadian border at Pembina, N.D.,
on the Red River.
"It's a town of 600," he said. "Winters, it's 40 degrees below
zero, the wind 50 miles per hour, the wind chill 100 below zero."
The McDevitts thrived in the deep freeze.
"What I really liked about it, it was a fair amount of
solitude. It was just a nice place where the snow fell and you
could read. There was no television to speak of, and three channels,
one of which was French. There was a much better social life than
anything I've seen anywhere else. People spent time together. It
was a great place to raise kids," he said.
From Pembina, the McDevitts moved to Chicago. Finally, 12
years ago, they came to Brunswick, where McDevitt worked as a
motivational trainer for 10 years at the Federal Law Enforcement
All those years, McDevitt had a hungry feeling that he wanted
to write. But, he didn't write because he didn't think he could
It was Maureen McDevitt who finally got him going. She told
him, "Do it or quit talking about it."
He wrote a short story called The Emerson Effect, the title
drawn from Ralph Waldo Emerson's notion that you can do anything,
if you set your mind to it.
He sent it out twice, and it was returned twice. Third time
was the charm. The Emerson Effect was published in December, 1981
in Twilight Zone magazine.
It was a breakthrough, but McDevitt kept his day job.
The new author was in very respectable literary company as a
customs inspector by day and a writer of fiction by night --
Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville blazed that trail in the
McDevitt retired from the Customs Service two years ago. …