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The Hercules Text by Jack McDevitt
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The Hercules Text (1986)

by Jack McDevitt

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The Hercules Text, by Jack McDevitt.

First Thoughts:

I’ve read several later novels by Jack: Time Travelers Never Die, the whole Alex Benedict series, and so on. All of the forenamed books were exciting tales, great character analysis and exposure, no dropped plot lines and a satisfying if somewhat predictable ending.

Alas, not so with Hercules Text.

Story & Plot Points: (minor spoilers)

We Earth guys and gals (in America only) receive a message from the stars, from a race a million years dead. At first they’re simple arithmetic messages. Later they start revealing philosophy and technology that could spell disaster or survival for Man.

It can also spell global power and dominance to any country who takes advantage of this data.

Great so far. Unfortunately it falls apart and ends in an unsatisfying manner.

Harry is a father of a diabetic boy, and breaks up with his wife Julie. They’re last night of sex, their break-up, is all interesting but has little to do with the story itself nor the main plot.

And the author drops this line completely. Whatever happened to his now ex-wife in all the ensuing activity? Plot point dropped.

He gets a new girlfriend who is also part of the team of translators of the Hercules Text. What happens to this relationship? Plot point dropped.

The American government’s answer? Keep it for ourselves and start developing weapons of mass destruction. But NOTHING is really done with this plotpoint, except some chatting with the Russian premiere.

The Text has moral implications for the Church, but little is discussed about Vatican nor much in the way of the impact of the alien philosophy other than a best seller was written. Ho hum.

Final Thoughts:

Several points are developed then dropped, over and over. No one point is developed but the author leaves them all hanging. This is the author’s first novel that he rewrote a bit to update it.

I’m really glad he got better!

Not recommended except for McDevitt fans who want a complete library.


( )
1 vote James_Mourgos | Dec 22, 2016 |
Just when everyone got convinced that there is noone out there and that we are all alone in the universe, a signal is picked up - from a place that noone expected - the Hercules system. And the signal is weird - it looks as if someone manipulates pulsars - and then it stops. Of course, it is a USA laboratory that picks it up and of course, there is an administrator that needs explanations so the scientists need to explain in a plain language what happened. It is a good way to do that actually - and considering that the novel was written 30 years ago, it is a standard way.

Politicians get involved, careers almost get ruined due to the secrets and it looks like this initial transmission will be the only one. Until it starts again. And the team is assembled to try to understand what they are sending.

Most first contact novels end up with the aliens coming to Earth or humanity bumping into them somewhere among the stars. McDevitt went for the much more likely scenario - we get a transmission that had been sent millions of years ago - that reach us, with no possibility to actually meet them. And while dealing with the message is, the novel deals with how it influences the world - both the people that know what had happened and the ones that can only rely in rumors. I wish he had expanded the focus and looked more at the outer world but that would have made the novel unwieldy. Instead McDevitt uses a Monitor between the chapters - with articles and headlines from the newspapers of the time. It works - it takes a while to start connecting the dots and to get the novel going but once you get used to the style, it is a page turner.

At the end, it is a story of humanity - the Altheans (as they call them) and their message are just showing what we are. The scientists that did not look at a test because they knew what would see so missed to see that this star is not like any other; the president that is more concerned about defense than clean energy; the arrogant scientist that decides to experiment without understanding what he is doing; the pastor that causes a death because he does not realize what it will cause. And the human greed - the pure greed that had caused so many troubles in the past. McDevitt does not leave the church out of it as well - because such a message, the existence of aliens would influence the religions more than anything else. And his portrayal is sincere - both the parts that want to close their eyes and the ones that admit that they cannot do that anymore.

When McDevitt decided to have the book reissued in 2015, he decided to revise it. And that weakened the book - I am not sure how extensive were the changes outside of the political views (past presidents and the big bad of the times) but it is uneven - in parts it reads as a 1986 novel set in the start of the 21st century; in places it reads as a thriller set in the time of writing. And that is annoying. I am not going to track down the old version - it is the same story after all and I did not like it that much - but I suspect that even if it had dated references and motives, it was more coherent. Especially when you expected to read a 1986 novel. ( )
2 vote AnnieMod | May 1, 2016 |
I was looking forward to reading this, as it had been billed as a rational but human story of first contact. I wasn't expecting what I found - almost a novelization of a tv mini-series. That's not to damn with faint praise, because the novel had all the immediacy of something I was watching on a tv screen, with all the pros and cons that come with that experience.

Indeed, if this were made into a tv mini-series, it would be hailed as something interesting and intelligent. It was a very strange feeling to get from reading a book, and to some extent I have kept reading McDevitt just to see if he carries on with the trick. (He does.) ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Nov 23, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack McDevittprimary authorall editionscalculated
Keleny, EarlCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tonkyn, PhilipCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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"From a remote corner of the galaxy a message is being sent. The continuous beats of a pulsar have become odd, irregular...artificial. It can only be a code. Frantically, a research team struggles to decipher the alien communication. And what the scientists discover is destined to shake the foundations of empires around the world--from Wall Street to the Vatican."--… (more)

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