Odyssey by Jack McDevitt
This is a "Hutch" novel, but one in which she does not go on a starship. She is now a high-level administrator at the space agency. She is married, has one daughter and has another child on the way.
The first 1/4 to 1/3 of the book is mostly a portrayal of a government space exploration agency being mired by political appointees, budget-cutting by politicians and a lack of public understanding of the issues. From the beginning of the book, there are references to sightings of "Moon Riders" - phenomena that give the impression of being spacecraft from an alien civilization - although it has not been established scientifically. Those who claim to see them are generally treated as cranks or hoaxers. But for a substantial part of the book, that is a secondary part of the events.
One of the agency's starships encounters some sort of problem, forcing them to drop out of hyperspace. Based on their point of origin and travel time, it's estimated they should be 90 light years form Earth. For some reason, they are actually on the outer fringes of the solar system - about 70 billion miles from Earth. The space agency's starships are getting old and unreliable, as they try to continue their projects without funding for new ships. This accident makes it clear it's time to start scaling back flights to use only ships in better condition.
An asteroid large enough to cause catastrophic damage to Earth, just misses Earth - skimming the outer atmosphere. The asteroid was not detected until it was too close to take any action. In a sense, it wasn't surprising that it wasn't detected sooner - budget cuts have eliminated the government program that had once kept track of asteroids. On the other hand, it's an ominous sign.
A space tourism company and the political appointee in charge of the space exploration agency decide it would be in their common interests to have a government space mission that would increase public interest in space. They decide to accomplish this by placing probes at a number of star systems where there have been previous sightings of "Moon Riders". On the one hand, it will be presented as a scientific mission simply to see if there is evidence for some kind of phenomena. On the other hand, they will try to increase public interest by having a celebrity on board the starship. Gregory McAllister, the media figure "Hutch" saved on Deepsix, is maneuvered into coming along. A teenage girl, Amy, also goes on the mission. She is the daughter of a Senator who tends to oppose funding for space exploration.
A Moon Rider is seen doing something on an asteroid in another star system. The asteroid's orbit changes so that in 17 years it will impact a planet with no intelligent life. Another asteroid is detected on a collision course with a space station hotel being constructed in another star system... While staying overnight at an orbiting space museum, Amy believes she sees a person who tells her that "they" are going to destroy the Origins Project (a vast particle accelerator being built in interstellar space).
The story is full of material about the characters. "Hutch" is now a space agency administrator working under a slippery political appointee. There are interesting interactions between her as a scientifically knowledgeable person and a caring person, and her boss being less informed, more concerned with expediency and "political realities". She wants her family, but doesn't get the same joy from administering that she did as a starship pilot.
Gregory McAllister is his usual cynical self, with many events reinforcing his cynicism. But we do see some of his personal side. He hears about a man who was arrested for hitting a fire-and-brimstone preacher who taught the man's Sunday school class years ago. The man felt the preacher has caused him to live in fear of hell all his life. McAllister identifies with this, having had a similar childhood, and hires a big name defense lawyer for him. The book follows the legal case.
We see the interactions between the woman starship pilot, McAllister, Eric (the space agencies PR man) and Amy - in various combinations.
When Amy told others about the warning about the destruction of Origins Project, they didn't tend to believe her. They thought it was a dream or imagination of a girl. They point out that McAllister was also there and would have been a more influential person to contact - everyone else there would have been more influential than Amy. Eventually, Hutch does arrange to have some ships go there to be ready if an evacuation is needed. [The contact only through Amy and apparently no efforts to communicate by radio or other means is a weakness in the story that is never properly explained.]
The Origins Project (or at least the Blueprint experiment) is considered by physicists to have a tiny possibility of causing a "rip in space-time" - resulting in the destruction of the universe. [This is similar to concerns some have expressed about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN which had originally been scheduled to begin operating in 2009.] Earlier in the book, McAllister had been contacted by a scientist who was worried about this experiment. Apparently, the Moon Riders took the threat seriously.
We also have a portrayal of the media as mostly being made of sensationalists, purveyors of infotainment and the like.
The character material is good and I found the story kept my attention. However, I don't find it that memorable after the fact. It didn't have the mystery element of the Alex Benedict series. It didn't have as much adventure as other Hutch series books. There wasn't as much discovery of alien or exotic things or places. As accurate as it may be, the portrayal of politics, media and public opinion hampering science (except for military purposes) may be, it's a discouraging picture that plays a major part throughout the book. The Origins Project (whose issues seem to correspond to today's talk that the Large Hadron Collider at CERN) is made to look like science putting the world at risk.
As they say, "The thing about aliens is they're alien." The aliens in Odyssey don't seem to make any sense. Perhaps that means I should consider them to be a more convincing portrayal than aliens that did make sense to a human perspective. Nevertheless, I didn't come away with that feeling. Somehow, aliens with whom humans have no known relations are aware of one particular experiment which is planned for an interstellar particle collider that is still under construction. For some reason they convey their concerns about this experiment in perfectly good English, but don't say much about their concerns and tell them to a teenage girl when there are more influential and knowledgeable people available. Although they apparently have interstellar ships, they don't make efforts to make contact at Earth or any other human settlement. When a human attempts to communicate with one of their ships, there is no noticeable response. (And since they've shown some ability to understand a human experiment in the planning stages, to project a human image and to communicate when they wish, it isn't that believable they couldn’t figure a way to send a message humans could at least identify as a message even if the humans couldn't determine its meaning.)