Paul's Reviews > Firebird

Firebird by Jack McDevitt
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's review
Feb 26, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: science-fiction
Read from February 21 to 25, 2012

I've been looking at other Goodreads user reviews, and I'm afraid I have to cast a dissenting vote on Jack McDevitt's Firebird. I thought, based on the jacket blurb, this novel would deliver some hard science fiction, but the science wasn't there and the fiction was below average.

Firebird opens with an interstellar ship inexplicably failing to arrive at its destination, then introduces the mysterious disappearance of a physicist who had been researching the disappearance of other interstellar ships and who may have found a way to move between long-suspected alternate universes. The action occurs in a far distant future, some 15,000 or more years from now, when mankind inhabits several planets. It's a promising start.

But then the science fiction fizzles out. Disappointingly, nothing about the society of the distant future is in any way different from today. Male/female relationships and roles are the same. Popular media, astoundingly, apparently hasn't advanced beyond television, with the same familiar hosts and talk show formats. Government, politics, military, religion, and commerce are those of any current western democracy. People live in communities we'd find familiar and comfortable. Science and knowledge ... the pursuit of a unified field theory, attempts to prove the existence of parallel universes, the science of quantum physics and black holes ... has advanced not one inch from today. Nothing has changed in 15,000 plus years except for the unexplained development of hyperspace drives, anti-gravity, and artificial intelligence. The story itself is pop detective fiction, more concerned with making us like the antiquities dealer cum detective Alex and his female space pilot sidekick Chase. Reading Firebird is like watching an episode of The Rockford Files filmed on the bridge of the USS Enterprise.

So forget the science fiction, which in this book is nothing more than a backdrop. How's the detective story? It's okay, but unnecessarily padded and plodding, taking way too long to get to the point and drifting off into sub-plots that don't directly bear on the main plot and are generally unresolved. And the characterization? Jack McDevitt's characters are as undeveloped as, and indistinguishable from, the various AI systems they talk to in their homes, offices, and spacecraft. There are several human and AI characters in the novel, but it's hard to keep them straight because they're all pretty much the same, with few distinguishing mannerisms. When it comes to the two main characters, Alex and Chase, I never came to know them at all. I can't even conjure up a mental image of what they might have looked like.

Firebird pretends to be science fiction, but really it's comfort food, undemanding and familiar. I suppose there's an audience for this sort of thing, but I am not among their number.
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