reviews

Book Review – Firebird by Jack McDevitt

Firebird (Alex Benedict, #6)Firebird by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am going to admit, right up front that this is NOT my kind of book. I don’t enjoy mysteries even when they have a sci fi flavor. I read this as part of my personal challenge to read every Nebula nominee for the 2011 awards, otherwise I would have gotten about a 100 pages in and stopped which honestly would have been a mistake. Even though I didn’t really enjoy the majority of the book, the ending was still worth reading.
The story focuses on Alex Benedict and his partner Chase Kolpath, a pair of antique auctioneers/tomb raiders who are offered the opportunity to sell the effects of a celebrity physicist who vanished some time before. They delve into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance in order to stir up interest in the eventual auction and find themselves sucked into a mystery that takes them to a planet abandoned for over 7000 years and beyond. It’s also about whether or not the AI that exist in their time are self aware and deserving of rights and privileges equal to a humans. And it’s about time travel and other dimensions.
How can one book encompass all those myriad different thing? Well…it can’t really. That was my biggest problem, it meanders all over the place and spends 200 pages with Alex going on various talk shows and stirring up interest in said physicist and Chase interviewing people who knew him in efforts to discover if there is a more mundane explanation for his disappearance. They then tear off to an abandoned planet full of murderous abandoned AI and on a merciful whim rescue one of the sane ones at which point the book turns into the something very similar to the episode of Star Trek where Data has to argue for the right to be seen as a self aware, independant being. In the last 70 pages or so they discover where the physicist went and it focuses on rescuing people trapped in the aether of space.
I found it to be too disjointed to be enjoyable, it seemed to lurch from one idea to the next with too much ungainly pondering in between. The characters are interesting but don’t develop or grow throughout the story. There are 5 other books about these characters so perhaps that has been done in previous books?
One of the few things I did find enjoyable were the ideas. The argument about AI deserving recognition as more than just machines or tools and what exactly makes a being self aware? The concept he develops surrounding black holes and time travel was also fascinating to think about. It would have been so much more enjoyable had the book focuses on one of these concepts and revolved the entire story around them as opposed to so much of it being devoted to researching some guy.
For those who enjoy sherlock-style mysteries, this will probably be more enjoyable but sadly for me it fell short. I can still see why it was nominated for the Nebula though.

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