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Jack McDevitt

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  space opera, mystery  
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Jack McDevitt is a Georgia author who writes classic space opera. That is to say, his novels are set in the far future, where the average human has access to technology that we would think miraculous, and the characters travel through space seeing wonders and exploring. McDevitt does a great job with capturing a sense of wonder at the hugeness of reality while at the same time a sense of boredom with human culture.

This is the sixth novel that follows the adventures of antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his pilot / narrator Chase Kolpath. I have been following this series for a while now, and to me Alex and Chase are like old friends. However, each novel is also sort of stand alone, i think. That is, things that happened in the previous novels are referenced, but i don't think you had to read them in order for it all to make sense. And, true confession, i actually came in during book 3 and then read backwards, then have kept up since then. It all made sense. The novels are self-contained enough to be enjoyable even if you don't want to go read them all.

In Firebird Chase and Alex are chasing the disappearance of a famous physicist, and have to travel to strange worlds and into deep space looking for him.

The most fascinating part, to me, was that Alex and Chase were suddenly confronted with a group of AIs who claimed to be intelligent and self-aware. The series has always featured AI characters -- the butler at Alex's house, the computer that runs their spaceship -- and never once has any human ever thought of them as anything more than just a tool. And here, suddenly, six books into exploring this world he has created, McDevitt springs on us that these computers might be more like peers and less like, say, a hammer.

Alex and Chase spend time wrestling with this concept, and there is no real resolution. Yet. I trust that McDevitt will re-visit this in further novels. This whole issue is part of the ever-evolving world that he has created.

This novel is a mystery, so i don't want to go into the plot and give anything away. The AIs as self-aware part i just mentioned is more of a sub-plot, so no spoilers there. I will say this: moreso than any other Alex Benedict Mystery, Firebird kept me guessing right up until the end. The last third of the book is full of suspense and action.

I find McDevitt's work easy to read, and i can get through one of his books in a few days. Personally, i highly recommend this whole series. And Firebird is a good place to start.

I would also to like to point out that i like the cover by John Harris, which is very much in the spirit of Chris Foss, whose sci-fi images filled my childhood.

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