Jack McDevitt,
(Ace, 2011)

Jack McDevitt is an acclaimed and prolific science-fiction writer who has published more than 20 books so far and, in 2006, won the Nebula award for Seeker, the third novel in the Alex Benedict series, of which Firebird is the sixth. I've managed to miss the first five, so McDevitt's Alec Benedict character was new to me. He's an antique dealer-adventurer who trades in rare antiquities from throughout the universe. In this outing, he is hired to auction off the memorabilia of Chris White, a physicist who disappeared long ago. Figuring if he can work up more interest in White's fate, his memorabilia will bring a better price, Benedict sets out to not so much solve as stir up the mystery of Chris White's disappearance.

It seems that over the centuries, lights from ships have been periodically spotted moving through space; off-course ships probably, but ships that behave strangely. For example, they send messages in unfamiliar languages and occasionally they simply fade out and disappear like a light bulb going out very slowly. Oh, and every once in a while, ships that witness this phenomena spot people inside the ships.

Chris White had been working on the mystery of these ships, and Alex Benedict's search for clues to White's fate leads him into the mystery of these ships also.

Firebird is a novel about many things; its theme is the question of responsibility and it deals with the mysteries of black holes and artificial intelligence. An epic, satisfying novel, Firebird builds slowly but inevitably to a conclusion that wraps up its loose ends in an epic struggle -- not necessarily an epic battle but a struggle. It's the sort of book that would make a great J.J. Abrams or Stephen Spielberg movie.

If, like me, this is your first Alex Benedict novel, you'll be happy to know that there are five more already waiting for you.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 January 2012

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