Review: Firebird by Jack McDevitt

Title: Firebird, an Alex Benedict Novel
Author: Jack McDevitt
Publisher: Ace Hardware

Cover Blurb:
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…


The stakes have never been higher for Benedict Enterprises when Alex puts his reputation on the line in stubborn pursuit of the mysteries surrounding Chris Robin’s death.

Firebird the newest Alex Benedict novel by Jack McDevitt is a terrific read full of exciting scientific revelations, social intrigues, and fascinating looks into the past from the historical perspective of a man with a talent for finding valuable objects and dangerous answers. Antiquarian Alex Benedict and his assistant Chase Kolpath find themselves in the center of a scientific mystery that has put uncounted lives at risk over thousands of years, bringing them face-to-face with impossible relics from the past.

For diehard Alex Benedict fans, Firebird maintains the elements of suspense, intrigue, history, and exploration that are staples of the series. However, Firebird goes a step further, incorporating topical social and ethical issues that have been lingering on the edge of the previous novels without getting much attention–until now. While Alex may have opened a can of worms for himself in his attempt to raise interest in Robin’s possessions, he has also raised public awareness about the status of AIs in society as well as the  mysterious interstellar ships that have been swept under the proverbial rug for centuries.

Given the intense personal and professional pressure they are under in Firebird, it’s not surprising that Alex and Chase find themselves in situations that reveal (at least to readers) how close these two have become over the years. This development creates potential for their relationship to deepen in the future. They are a natural fit in every sense of the word, and McDevitt deftly creates a subtle sense of expectation in Firebird that will leave readers waiting for Alex and Chase to discover what we already know–they are perfect for each other. The question is, will they ever get together? Whatever happens you can be sure that their relationship will be the spice on top of a superbly told story about a clever antiquarian and his savvy assistant.

With his fiction set thousands of years into the future, McDevitt makes future tech seem like everyday technology. Even better, he never stops the action to admire the fabulous ideas and plots that fill his novels. Firebird is full of intriguing plots about missing spaceships and abandoned planets that will keep readers turning the page to see what happens next. As a non-scientist reading Firebird, I found the physics well explained, leaving out all of the technical jargon and theories that would have bogged down the story in difficult to parse exposition. At no point will you find yourself wishing for more technical detail nor will you find yourself struggling to keep up with Alex and Chase as they sort through the clues and possibilities surrounding each new mystery. Instead, McDevitt keeps us focused on the characters through exciting new twists and turns that take us closer to understanding what Robin was up to and what really happened on the night he disappeared.

One of the most interesting developments in Firebird, if not in the entire series, is the idea that the AIs might be sentient lifeforms. Over the last few books, it has been increasingly apparent that AIs act, respond, and feel like living beings. However, the people living within McDevitt’s world have been unable to acknowledge AIs as a conscious and evolved species. People have become comfortably complacent in their beliefs that AIs are little more than interactive software/holographic programs created or deleted as the pleasure of their human owners. At least that’s the case until Alex and Chase uncover an ancient AI who makes people begin thinking differently about what really “lives” inside of their little black boxes.

Science fiction and mystery fans are sure to love Firebird. It’s not necessary to read the previous novels in the series before reading Firebird. However, I can guarantee you that once you finish Firebird, you will find yourself searching for the earlier books–all of which I highly recommend. McDevitt’s Firebird was a true pleasure to read, and I look forward to the next installment in the series. I just wish it weren’t a year away.

About Erin Underwood

BIO: Erin Underwood is the senior event content producer for MIT Technology Review’s emerging technology events. On the side, she reads, writes, and edits SF.
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4 Responses to Review: Firebird by Jack McDevitt

  1. Haven’t read anything in this series or by this author before, but I may just have to go check it out. I love a good scifi, and for some reason, reading your review made me think of Firefly (the Joss Whedon show), which I LOVED. So if there are any Firefly-esque moments in Firebird, I’m definitely gonna read it!

    Thanks for the rec!


  2. It’s a great series, Lori. It’s interesting both from an exciting and intellectual standpoint. However, it’s not swashbuckling in the same way as Firefly.

    I’m now having a Firefly moment. I may have to go watch the series…again! 🙂

  3. walthe310 says:

    I have just started Firebird today. Looking forward to an enjoyable weekend of reading.

  4. Pingback: Jack McDevitt | Bell Book Candle

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