Firebird Hardcover – Nov 1 2011
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Praise for Jack McDevitt
“The Alex Benedict series is reminiscent of some of the work of Isaac Asimov.” —SFRevu
“The logical heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.”—Stephen King
“McDevitt hit a grand slam with this one…I’m still shaking my head and wondering how he pulled it off.”—Wired.com
“An intriguing mystery.”—SF Site
“A fast-paced thriller.”—Midwest Book Review
About the Author
Jack McDevitt is a former naval officer, taxi driver, English teacher, customs officer, and motivational trainer, and is now a full- time writer. He lives in Georgia.
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Top Customer Reviews
To establish--and perhaps inflate--the value of items in an estate sale, Alex and Chase investigate the mysterious disappearance of the improbably-named physicist Christopher Robin. Robin had himself been investigating the occasional appearances of unidentified starships at seemingly-random locations among the worlds of the Confederacy. Although these sightings have remained unexplained for hundreds of years, they have provoked little lasting curiosity. Of greater concern are the infrequent disappearances of modern starships. This is seen as an unwanted, but acceptable price for travel through the dangerous depths of space.
As Chase and Alex assemble pieces of this puzzle, readers peer over their shoulders and begin guessing at the outcome. We also learn more about Chase's pre-Alex employment, explore a planet hidden for centuries in a dust cloud, and listen to Alex debate his colleagues and critics about the sentience of the artificial intelligences ("Betas") that perform so many of their society's tasks. One cannot help anticipates the role these themes and events will play in future Benedict adventures.
This is an essential and rewarding read for fans of the Alex Benedict series. Although it connects nicely to events of previous books, it can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone story. The time you spend in it will seem short compared to the faster pace of the universe around you.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Chase Kolpath and Alex Benedict, antiquities dealers of a sort in the far future, come in to the belongings of a scientist that studied fringe topics and disappeared one day shortly before a terrible earthquake. That disappearance lead some to believe a conspiracy surrounds his death/disappearance. Alex decides to stir up the mysteries surrounding the scientist to enhance the value of those items before selling.
As is his MO, Alex needs to find out what really happened. On the way, Chase and Alex find a planet abandoned by humanity but with still functioning AIs, some that have been running since the humans left seven thousand years ago. Alex starts a movement to rescue some of the AIs and reintegrate them into society. As they seek out the answers to what happened to the scientist, they also discover a solution to a problem that was plaguing space travel for millenia.
This installment in the Alex Benedict series is much better than it's predecessor, Echo. Echo was dark, and kind of depressing. Alex and Chase are growing older and their attitudes and sensibilities are changing with them. That theme continues in Firebird, but it's not nearly as dark. Alex continues to be a sort of Don Quixote, frequently finding new causes célèbres that he feels necessary to represent or help promote or help solve. That usually goes well for him in the end, but lately has been causing some strife between Alex and Chase.
It's that strife that made me not really enjoy Echo as much, but seemed to work better in this book. Chase still doesn't like Alex putting his career (and hers) on the line for controversial causes, but she knows that's how Alex leads his life - and so far it's worked for him. They've lost some clients, but more often than not, earn them back in the end. Chase feels an attachment to Alex, she originally worked for his uncle. It seems to be that common thread that keeps them together. They're not lovers, but Chase and Alex are like an old married couple, comfortable in their relationship. Their love for each other is the love of old dear friends.
The planet with the AIs, some running amok, reminded me vaguely of Asimov's Robot City series. And of Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive. Some of the AIs wanted to kill them, others just wanted to be rescued from the monotony of their existence. What's an AI, programmed to serve humanity, to do when humanity has abandoned it yet left it operating for thousands of years? Keep on going, or become resentful and eventually go crazy? On a side note: this plot-line would make a great off-shoot story where these AIs band together, build their own starships, leave the planet and start a war with the humans. Someone should write that. I'd read it!
My only complaint with Firebird is that the prologue teaser didn't get a resolution or a revisit at the end. It gets mentioned in passing a couple of times during the book, mostly just a name on a list; but I would have liked to maybe see a different prologue featured that would have been easier to incorporate into the ending. The ending itself was perfectly executed... in fact, I think the entire novel was just about perfectly executed.
Reading this book, I found myself comparing Alex and Chase with the Boss character in Krisine Kathryn Rusch's Diving the Wreck and City of Ruins. I could see these series taking place in the same universe.(I'd read that too!)
Chase and Alex live in a far flung future, some nine thousand or so years hence. Humanity seems comfortable with itself. Their world seems like a nice place to live. It's definitely a great place to visit - every year in a new adventure!
My rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
Firebird, by Jack McDevitt, was provided to me by the publisher for review.
This review originally appeared at SporadicReviews.com
In this book an answer is discovered which promises to change things for a lot of people. The book held my attention and thoroughly entertained me all the way through.
This is a must have for the McDevitt collector and I recommend it highly!
Set some nine thousand years from now, the Benedict novels follow the exploits of antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his long-time -- and long-suffering -- business associate Chase Kolpath. Alex makes a tidy profit getting buyers and sellers of rare artifacts together. Sometimes he finds, and sells, his own treasures. His detractors, especially the archeologists, call him a tomb robber. In "Firebird", as in the other books, this is an important element of the plot. The name-calling, and attacks on his integrity, can be a little hard to bear, especially when Alex doesn't see that he's doing anything wrong. Chase has more misgivings, but can never quite bring herself to leave him for long.
Even his enemies have to respect this about Alex: In tracking down his various finds, he, with the invaluable help of Chase, has solved several major mysteries. Together they've rewritten history books, discovered a lost civilization, done much to promote peace between Humans and another race called the Ashiyyur, discovered a new alien race, and saved the lives of literally billions of people -- a whole planet full of them.
What does a man like that do for an encore? Naturally, he gets back to work dealing in antiquities. It's in his blood. And Chase is right there with him.
According to the old Earth calendar, it's now the year 11,321. A woman named Karen Howard has inherited some items belonging to a famous physicist and songwriter, Christopher Robin. She asks Alex to set up an auction, and he agrees. Now, there's an art to doing this and maximizing the proceeds: Chris Robin disappeared under very mysterious circumstances, so Alex decides to launch an investigation. It's supposed to be mainly just for show, to drum up interest in this 41-year-old case.
Naturally, as Alex and Chase get to work, it isn't just for show any more. Dr. Robin wrote an iconoclastic work of physics called "Multiverse", discussing the possibilities of multiple universes. Maybe a given universe has laws of physics different from our own, or maybe it is just an alternate timeline, where history takes a different course. True, physics pretty much accepts this all as fact, but could it be possible to actually *visit* another universe? Or directly observe one?
Some people -- though not the serious scientists -- think that could be how Dr. Robin vanished. He stepped right out of this universe, right in his bedroom closet. Then again, maybe his wife was just having an affair and offed him, dumping him in the ocean. Everyone has an opinion.
Tied in with this is the matter of vanishing ships. This is not a new idea -- Chase originally worked for Alex's uncle, Gabe, whose ship, the Capella, vanished at the start of the series, presumably leading to Gabe's untimely demise. The prologue of "Firebird" features another ship vanishing, so we know it's going to be an important part of the plot.
It's not just the occasional disappearances that spook people, though. It's the mysterious sightings of ghost ships which, for thousands of years, have appeared, refused to answer any attempts at communication, and then, after a few hours, have faded out. Some witnesses even talk, in hushed tones, about seeing passengers pounding on the windows, desperate to escape. The authorities deny this, of course.
One other theme which becomes important is the nature of AIs, or Artificial Intelligences. These very sophisticated computer programs manage houses, ships and space stations, and are recurring characters as important as Alex and Chase. Some people come to treat AIs as close friends and confidents. It's almost like they're self aware. But, are they? Some people, including a few religious leaders, think so, but others mock the idea.
In the course of following Dr. Robin's trail, Alex will make a discovery which blows the whole debate wide open, and threatens to turn him into (at best) a laughing stock whose customers are abandoning him in droves, and (at worse) a recklessly negligent criminal worthy of having his mind wiped, as people at his prompting embark on a quixotic -- and frequently deadly -- effort to "rescue" AIs from a very dangerous planet.
I found it very hard to put this book down, and plowed through it virtually in one sitting. The ending, contained in an epilogue, particularly moved me. I've been thinking about it all day. I think I'll re-read "Firebird" this weekend.
One more thing I was glad to see: The previous book, "Echo", was somewhat somber, but the mood in "Firebird" is more in line with the earlier books. As always, McDevitt drops us right into the culture of far-away planet Rimway, and assumes a ready familiarity with its culture, history and ecology.
I'm certainly hoping there will be a Book Seven, and it won't be too long a wait.
At the same time, I fear the series is running out of steam. McDevitt uses essentially the same set up every time, including Chase's concern for Alex, public criticism of Alex, Alex going on talk shows, etc. It was good the first time, but by now we've seen this same sequence too many times for it to engage us. The story is still well worth reading, but it's an unusual case of a series book being less interesting for the cognoscenti than for newcomers.
For reasons that are unclear, McDevitt throws in the occasional sexist line and attitude. He's careful not to attribute them to core characters, but they're not important for the story, and I wasn't sure why they were there at all. They seem anachronistic. Similarly, for no visible reason, a key character is called Christopher Robin. There is no connection with Winnie-the-Pooh that I could come up with.
There's also a deus ex machina element in which Alex comes up with missing secondary information from no clear source. One gets the impression McDevitt just couldn't be bother to come up with a reasonable source.
I enjoyed this, and will pick up the next one, but I do think it might be wise for the next book to be the last in the series. McDevitt has set up a way for that to happen, and I hope it does.
In most ways, this is a typical book in the Alex Benedict series, and that's a good thing. I like Alex and Chase as characters, I enjoy the setting and technology of McDevitt's far future, and the the mysteries here are inventive and intriguing, with an appropriate payoff. Yet there are some elements that weren't typical. Firebird has two separate plots, one concerning Christopher Robin and ghost ships, the other concerning AIs, and I didn't feel they were as well integrated as they could have been. Also, the writing was a little perfunctory in places; I didn't really buy the supposed risks to Alex's reputation and some scenes that should have been quite emotional (at least by McDevitt's standards) didn't quite work. This isn't the book to start with if you're new to the series.
So I rate Firebird as better than Echo (An Alex Benedict Novel), which I didn't really enjoy, and not as good as my favourites, Polaris (An Alex Benedict Novel) and Seeker. It's a 3.5 star book for me. But when can we get another book written from Alex's perspective?