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Firebird by Jack McDevitt
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Firebird (2011)

by Jack McDevitt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Alex Benedict (6)

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Firebird

Another cool Alex Benedict novel by Jack McDevitt.

Plots and Points:

In this one, McDevitt breaks away from formula for a bit. He has Chase meet a client who has an artifact (yeah, that part of the formula is the same!). She is the sister-in-law of Christopher Robin (no relation to Winnie the Pooh) who is a physicist who mysteriously disappeared years ago. She wants to sell his stuff.

Chase never heard of the guy and wants to blow her off. Alex though has other ideas.

Interesting how the tale leads to other digressions that I thought we did not need for the book to move along:

- an abandoned planet with old technology including old Artificial Intelligences with an orbiting talking satellite that warns people off. Alex and Chase of course have to go down to the planet to investigate it. It’s possible Chris Robin visited!

- a visit to Chris Robin’s wife and Chase walking around his home town, playing tourist and interviewing people at random. Do we know if there was a conspiracy? Did Chris’ wife fool around with the taxi driver who apparently died in an earthquake? (yeah, goes convoluted sometimes).

- a rescue, a plea to recognize AI’s as sentient beings has some merit, but really filled too many pages before we discover what Firebird is, and the aspect of transwarp dimensions.

- disappearing spaceships that reappear for no apparent reason. Was Chris Robin investigating these? What is the connection?

Bottom Line: Interesting connections, some quite convoluted, to see what happened to Chris, the value of artifacts on the universal market, some smattering of dubious physics and more love lost with Chase and her boyfriends. Recommended.


( )
  James_Mourgos | Dec 22, 2016 |
This is the sixth Alex Benedict Novel. I’ve read them all so obviously I find them entertaining. This one is no exception. Chase Kolpath again plays Watson to Alex Benedict’s Holmes. He’s not a detective though. He’s an antiquities dealer. His critics have less kind descriptions for him. He actually seems to be is a seeker of facts with a distinct reluctance to leave unanswered questions. I like him.
When it comes to science fiction, I don’t think I’m hard to please. Present a hopeful and believable future world with likeable characters doing admirable things and chances are I’ll like the story. Unfortunately much of the recent trend, at least in traditionally published science fiction, has been to move to the dark side with apocalyptic tales often featuring vampires, zombies, demons, or angels. Such books seem to try to shock the reader with graphic accounts of violence or sex rather than entertain them or prompt them to think. Fortunately Jack McDevitt does not follow this trend. His stories are more reminiscent of the golden age of science fiction (e.g. Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein).
I won’t try to summarize the plot in this short review, partly because other reviewers have already done so, and partly to avoid spoilers. I’ll just tell you what I especially liked and disliked about the story.
I tend to like works of speculative fiction that explore “big” issues. This book does. The most obvious are: What is sentience? Can artificial intelligences be sentient? Do they have rights? Or to put it in more mystical religious terms, can machines have souls?
I like the characters. They are presented in such a way that they have a “real” feel to them with both strengths and shortcomings. A case in point is the central character. Alex’s critics often accuse him of being a profiteering grave robber and it is not an entirely inaccurate description. But he is also a man of high intelligence and integrity. When he feels something is right, he puts his effort, his money and his reputation on the line to support it.
I also like speculative fiction that steps back and looks at mankind from a “big picture” perspective. You get that with these books. The setting is about 9,000 years in our future and we see that humanity is exploring the galaxy and is thriving. Many of the things we find so meaningful or important today such as nations, politicians, wars, and fashions simply don’t matter anymore. Many have been totally forgotten. From this broad perspective, we can see that these are footnotes to human history, not the drivers of it.
I also like the positive image of mankind in general that it presents. There is one scene in which an AI points out humanity’s flaws, its penchant toward intolerance and violence. Chase silently acknowledges these facts but reminds us that, despite these things, humanity has progressed both technologically and culturally. In another scene when resources are needed to mount a risky rescue mission, Chase has little trouble finding volunteers willing to spend their time and even risk their lives to accomplish it. (Sorry for the lack of details but I want to avoid spoilers.)
So what didn’t I like? Not much really but there is one thing that seems anomalous about the setting. The human culture 9,000 years in the future almost feels old fashioned. There have been obvious technological advances. There are starships capable of superluminal flight. People have much longer life spans. But there is also a mildly sexist attitude exhibited in some of the character interactions. There are also things that are very much like television shows and celebrities that are more reminiscent of the 1950’s than even the social media and on demand content available today. The religious institutions of today are also shown to survive with seemingly little change. One would think that the distant future would be a little more different given how much such things have changed in the previous 9,000 years.
That’s pretty much it. I enjoyed the book. It kept me reading until very late at night. I recommend it with the qualification that you read the other five first.
( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
Not as good as the previous books in the series. Could have done with the part of the plot about the AI's , removed. ( )
  kantr | Jan 18, 2016 |
I love the Alex Benedict series of novels that McDevitt writes (I love almost all of his novels.) And always look forward to the next book. I hope McDevitt lives a long, productive life. ( )
  kp9949 | Oct 19, 2015 |
I've been feeling horrible lately and frankly don't feel well enough to write a normal and thorough review or synopsis, so I apologize. I just felt the need to get a few words down though.

Firebird is the sixth and probably last book in the Alex Benedict series, a series I've largely enjoyed. And I feel like this book is as good or better than any book in the series.

In Firebird, Alex and Chase attempt to do a couple of things, or more accurately, there are two distinct plots in this book. Which makes it doubly interesting. The first involves the late physicist Christopher Robin (I'm not kidding), who tried to understand the time space continuum and ultimately may have found the way in which ships -- and people in them -- can time travel. Eternally. Secondly, AIs have always featured heavily in this series and in this book, McDevitt explores whether they are sentient beings, whether they evolve, whether they even have souls, and if so, should they be given every right a human has. There's a planet called Villanueva which has been deserted for 7,000 years as the population was destroyed by a natural disaster, but the AIs are still functioning after all these years. And virtually every human who has landed on the planet since has been killed by them. Naturally, Alex and Chase go to Villanueva. There, they find some things they are looking for, are attacked (naturally), escape, and are contacted in their ship by an AI who is anxious to be liberated from that planet. After much thought and worry, as well as pleading on his part, they return to the planet to get him, retrieve him and take him back to Rimway. He explains many other AIs also want off the planet. Alex gets publicity out of this and a lot of missions are taken to go rescue the AIs, even though Alex doesn't think it's a good idea. And there are a lot of deaths. For which he's blamed. All of a sudden, he's one of the most hated people on the planet. So it helps that he and Chase are off in space a lot of the time, searching for Robins' lost ships. Do they find them? Possibly. If they do, it's an awesome conclusion to a great series. This could easily be read as a stand alone book, but I still think one should start with the first book and read them in order. Whatever the case, strongly recommended. ( )
  scottcholstad | Oct 8, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
‘Firebird’ by Jack McDevitt starts in much the same way most ‘Alex Benedict’ novels do. Alex and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, come into possession of some artefacts and prepare to sell them. Alex Benedict is no ordinary antiquities dealer, however. He has an insatiable curiosity and he’s a salesman. While investigating the estate of the renowned physicist Chris Robin, Alex stirs up the mystery surrounding the man’s disappearance. This has two predictable effects. One, the price of the modest collection of books and artefacts climbs, which is good for business. Two, Alex gets involved, which is not so good for business. Without Alex Benedict’s propensity for getting involved, however, we’d have nothing to read.

Accompanied by Chase, who again issues warnings regarding his involvement and the danger to himself and his reputation, Alex chases clues in an attempt to unravel the mystery for himself. He and Chase visit Villanueva, a planet occupied only by abandoned and arguably sentient AIs, and rescue one. This act kicks off a chain of events that both demonise and humanise Alex Benedict in the eyes of the public and perhaps the reader. The true sentience of AIs is brought into question and explored from many angles, from cult-like groups bent on proving machine intelligences are real beings and should have all the rights and privileges of humans to the other end of the spectrum, the non-believers. In the midst of this, treasure hunters flock to Villanueva to attempt their own rescues and many of them die at the hands of psychotic AIs.

Separately, the mystery of Chris Robin’s disappearance deepens. The notoriety gained by previous events hinders Alex’s effectiveness, however. Basically, many who previously respected Alex now blame him for the deaths of idiots. They refuse to help him when help is needed and an important mission all but fails. A humanist to the core, Alex is deeply affected by all of this. But he perseveres, because finding Chris Robin might help him find Gabe, his long lost uncle.

Either plot could have carried the book, yet they work better together. Jack McDevitt made each relevant to the other as different aspects of the same mystery. Also, the matter of the AIs affected Alex in a way we’ve not seen before. We see a more driven and emotional Alex Benedict in this novel.

As always, I enjoyed the interplay between Alex and his assistant, Chase. If you’ve never read an ‘Alex Benedict’ novel, the majority of them are written from Chase’s point of view. She’s the perfect foil for Alex and is usually the one to add emotion and drama to a story. It was nice to see more of that from Alex, himself, in ‘Firebird’.

While the plot of ‘Firebird’ is wrapped up neatly, there is a mystery left unsolved at the end which guarantees I will be buying the next book. I would have bought it anyway, I’m a devoted fan. But, I don’t think I’ll be alone in hoping the next entry in the ‘Alex Benedict’ series re-visits the events of the first. I really enjoy his world, characters and his ability to write far-future Science Fiction with awesome scientific concepts in a manner in I can grasp.
added by PLReader | editSF Crowsnest, Kelly Jensen (Jan 4, 2012)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack McDevittprimary authorall editionscalculated
Harris, JohnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Jack McNichol and Joe Chapman.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0441020739, Hardcover)

A new Alex Benedict novel from "a master of describing otherworldly grandeur." (Denver Post)

Forty-one years ago the renowned physicist Chris Robin vanished. Before his disappearance, his fringe science theories about the existence of endless alternate universes had earned him both admirers and enemies.

Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath discover that Robin had several interstellar yachts flown far outside the planetary system where they too vanished. And following Robin's trail into the unknown puts Benedict and Kolpath in danger...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:31 -0400)

Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath discover that a missing renowned physicist had several interstellar yachts flown far outside the planetary system where they vanished. Following the physicist's trail into the unknown puts Benedict and Kolpath in danger.… (more)

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