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The Hercules Text

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  498 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
The classic first-contact science fiction novel that launched the career of Jack McDevitt, the national bestselling author of Coming Home.

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 wha
Paperback, 307 pages
Published November 1st 1986 by Ace
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Neil Hepworth
Sep 17, 2015 Neil Hepworth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a magnificent book, and a debut (twenty years ago!), to boot. The vast majority of today’s science fiction debut novels can’t hold a candle to this one.

The Hercules Text is a first-contact story, wherein humanity finally receives signals from another life form, but more importantly, the story is about all the scientific, social, political and religious implications that follow. The alien contact is realistic, however, so there is no two-way communication because the message itself took a mi
Jul 20, 2013 Kathi rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Jack McDevitt's first book, written back in the 80s, is a very engaging story of apparent first contact. The cast of characters offers an interesting mix of scientists, bureaucrats, and politicians, with a few military and security folks thrown in. They are so human, with personality quirks and attributes both likable and not. While some of the plot twists and turns are predictable, many are surprising. And the science is accessible to the average reader.
Alexandru Pănoiu
Sep 03, 2015 Alexandru Pănoiu rated it really liked it
Good but strangely unfinished

One million years ago somebody build themselves a pulsar and used to broadcast an encyclopedia to the universe. As it happens, the transmission reached Earth just as the United States had built a massive astronomic observatory on the Moon; while all the other nations had demolished all radiotelescopes and shot their astronomers, the United States had wisely kept one or two alive. (The author does not explain how this troubling state of affairs came to pass, nor does
Roddy Williams
“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.”

Blurb from the 1986 Ace Science Fiction Special paperback edition.

McDevitt’s Debut novel is almost a text-book examination of the effec
Aug 12, 2015 Rk rated it really liked it
Hercules Text is a first contact story. Many good characters. One is a cosmologist priest I believe was modeled after Georges LeMaitre, the priest who first came up with the idea of the Big Bang. Although this is hard science fiction, McDevitt does make a (usually successful) effort to make his characters human. One main character is unusual in that he is just a mid-level U.S. government bureaucrat with no scientific background. Unusual type of character for this type of novel, but he is a usefu ...more
D.F. Haley
Jun 16, 2015 D.F. Haley rated it really liked it
I love Jack McDevitt, but I had never read this first novel. Most of the action is within the world of ideas and the politics of space exploration. Not much happens, yet the story is compelling and interesting. I can see how some readers might be bored to tears. The same could be said for many of McDevitt's books, yet with a few exceptions, they are among my favorite science fiction novels.

The story has been updated since it was first written, yet it reflects more of the landscape of the early 1
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
This reads as very dated; it has a 50s or 60s feel to it. It's very American. Major discoveries take place in small-town, provincial America - evangelical pronouncements against a comfortable, middle-class background. This is the world of those SF film classics, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or the opening half of George Pal's "War of the Worlds".
We finally pick up a message from space. We are not alone and the senders, long gone, have provided us with an encyclopaedia of information that co
Jonathan Appleton
May 11, 2015 Jonathan Appleton rated it really liked it
This story deals with the possibility that fist contact may come via communication transmission millennia before any physical contact is made. Considering how as a species we do it (sending out signals to deep space), that is probably how it is going to happen.
Most Scifi depends on faster than light drives (or wormholes, gates…). This is understandable given the vastness of space. Given our current constraints this story shows a possible first contact.

What if our first contact is a transmissio
May 07, 2015 Glenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've really enjoyed Jack McDevitt's earlier books, but the later ones - esp. the Alex Benedict series have gotten very formulaic and wooden. Since this is a reprint of his first book (with social and technology updates, since it takes place in the near future), I thought I might enjoy it. Indeed I did, although the characters are still rather flat and the story is kind of depressing (not so of many other novels he has written).

This is a sadly realistic exposition of what might happen if a detail
Jul 14, 2015 Tomislav rated it liked it
I'm not sure what the goodreads conventions are regarding re-reads, since the system seems capable of only one entry per book per user - and that entry has a single review and single finish date. So, my personal convention is to enter the most recent finish date, and mention prior reads in the single review.

4/2/88 - first read - at the recommendation of my wife

7/6/15 - second read - I recently rescued this book from my wife's donation pile, as I have since become a Jack McDevitt fan, and this wa
Zantaeus Glom
Dec 09, 2014 Zantaeus Glom rated it liked it
An enthralling first contact yarn that holds up well due to strong characterization and viable, easily digestible science. 'The Hercules Text'is very readable sf that could also be enjoyed by those who might usually avoid science fiction. I preferred the gradual reveal of the esoteric alien culture's singular modus operandi, and the exhilarating decryption of their world altering technologies far more than the leaden cold war tropisms. Written in the 80's 'The Hercules Text' may engender an extr ...more
I rate "The Hercules Text" a little better than OK. The author revised the book to more up-to-date problems but the over all narrative was 1980s. The author is a good writer, and I own a number of his books, but the writing style of this scifi novel remains 1980s. Since I'm a guy from the 1980s, that's OK.

The Story: A transmission is picked up from space and this transmission carries so much information it threatens the national security of the United States and the world.

Any problems with the
Nov 16, 2015 James rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-hated
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. A
Aug 23, 2015 Eric rated it it was ok
I would have given the book 3/5 stars. Overall the book is a decent take on alien first contact. Yes, it's a bit flat. But overall it's a decent story, more so because this was his first book.

However...I downgraded it to 2/5. Why? Because the author decided to go back and revise/rewrite the book a decade or more after it was published. First, I hate this tendency for authors to go back and rewrite a book they feel isn't good enough or "dated". That's their prerogative, but I think It's a bit co
Mårten Ericson
More like 2.5. Without doubt the weakest book of McDevitt that I've read. It's not so much a SciFi novel as a rather tiresome debate about how the White house would handle an alien message. The book works ok for the 200 pages or so but after that the story becomes more and more fragmented. Sagans (I'm not surprised) "Contact" is far better in every apsect. Also the main chrachters status or place in the story is - even in the end - quite unclear to me. Thankfully McDevitt has come a long way as ...more
Bob Rust
Jun 20, 2016 Bob Rust rated it it was amazing
The Hercules Text (1986) Despite the occasional descent into Cliché in his plotting and his politics McDevitt manages in this tale to concentrate very effectively on the human dimensions of the conundrum posed by the existence of a Communication whose contents when deciphered might well devastate human civilization from the shock of this First Contact; and the Roman Catholic viewpoint of one of the Scientists involved in decoding the message is presented with an obvious sympathy that does not h ...more
Steven Bragg
Nov 06, 2015 Steven Bragg rated it really liked it
This is a very solid effort to model what would happen on Earth if a much more advanced civilization were to send it a massive amount of information about - everything. Some of it would clearly be beneficial, and other parts of it would not, to the point where misuse could destroy the world. How is the information to be handled? Is it spread everywhere, or destroyed, or is there an in-between solution? It is interesting to watch the characters work their way through the dilemma. However (spoiler ...more
Jack McDevitt has written several books which flat out blow my mind. Unfortunately his first novel, The Hercules Text, isn't one of them. I felt the pacing was slow, the characters were thin, and most of the plot was reaction rather than action. I gave up after 110 pages.

The Hercules Text was originally published in the '80s. The author updated it to take place in the 2010s but the book still feels dated. There are too many '50s names (Harry, Frank, Ed, etc.), people drive Plymouths even though
Jun 26, 2016 Chris rated it it was ok
Written in a time when people were somehow less optimistic than today and it shows. Receiving a transmission from aliens never made you roll your eyes at governments and bureaucrats so much.

It all feels very accurate in a sad sort of way, and that doesn't really make this a fun read. Recommended for McDevitt completionists but otherwise I would skip it.

I read the updated version with more 21th century news items (nice to see an author being that consistent in style!)
Clayton Yuen
May 01, 2015 Clayton Yuen rated it liked it
I think this was one of Jack McDevitt's first novels. It showed a lot of promise with the exciting and unusual premise of first (and only) contact with an alien species. The novel had a great beginning and built upon the story.... then, unfortunately, it began to drag and go on and come around and go on some more.

I give this adventure 3 stars, and wonder how the author would have ended it if he wrote it today. What I mean is that Jack McDevitt is so skilled at developing a vast adventure, that h
Jul 08, 2015 Michelle rated it really liked it
I read the recently updated 2015 edition and you can see why they updated it. Very good book, dealing with how the control of life-altering information looks. You can see the same political games played out in our own day with less stellar stuff; how would we do if placed in the position of the characters in the book? Very good. More of a philosophical book than I anticipated but still very enjoyable. McDevitt is one of my favorite authors.
Sep 01, 2015 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a rumination on the responsibilities of science and sharing information with species of lesser development, it offers ideas worth considering.

As fiction it's sometimes amusing, but mostly tedious. And while this edition updates the science and the political context, the portrayal of women remains stuck in the past. It wasn't all that great back then, either.
Irina Paley
Dec 30, 2015 Irina Paley rated it liked it
If you like cerebral science fiction that consists mostly of people sitting in rooms and discussing deep, philosophical ideas, this book may be your cup of tea. It's a solid first contact story, but don't hold your breath for fight scenes or edge of your seat action. Not quite of Foundation caliber, but a solid three stars nevertheless.
Aug 10, 2015 James rated it liked it
Just finished the recently revised/updated version never having read the original so I can't judge how it compares.
Hard SF as you would expect from McDevitt, it's not a fast paced read, rather a more deliberate examination of the effects on the people involved in the reception of this alien message.
It's not thrilling, but it is interesting to think about what would happen, would civilization go to the extremes or fall somewhere in between, and how are the characters going to develop in the mean
Mike O'Brien
Nov 16, 2015 Mike O'Brien rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the start of an interesting career and an updated novel. The novel is a different take on the First Contact idea. The characters are well rounded, human, and have their faults and virtues. It is not an action, space opera, or military SF novel. Its intellectual, in a good way. It's about ideas.
Walt Pilcher
Mar 23, 2016 Walt Pilcher rated it really liked it
Good book, excellent premise, well written. I like McDevitt (a fellow Wesleyan alum, but younger than I), but I feel his books are too long. Too much detail about characters and places impedes the action for me although all of the detail stuff is very well written too.
Feb 21, 2016 MARK DOBY rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good read.

I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy the book, but it was from one of my favorite authors so I read it. It's an earlier work and quite a bit different from what I've read in his other books but I enjoyed it
Rachel L
Feb 04, 2016 Rachel L rated it liked it
As usual McDevitt created a set of memorable characters and a story I wanted to keep reading. In the end it was more the story of religious and philosophical/ethical questions than sci-fi. Not bad overall but I liked his others better.
Steven Cunningham

I've read a lot of mediocre sci-fi books lately and, this one is definitely top notch. The science is good which makes the fiction plausible. It reminds me of my old favorites ( Niven, Poul, Brin Bear).
Jun 12, 2015 Dotty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great story. Another version of Contact

Interesting premise. Leaves you wanting to know much more about the alien race. Great every man protagonist. Other characters are similarly well rounded and relatable.
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Jack McDevitt is a former English teacher, naval officer, Philadelphia taxi driver, customs officer and motivational trainer. His work has been on the final ballot for the Nebula Awards for 12 of the past 13 years. His first novel, The Hercules Text, was published in the celebrated Ace Specials series and won the Philip K. Dick Special Award. In 1991, McDevitt won the first $10,000 UPC Internation ...more
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