An Essay from Jack McDevitt, author of the 2012 Nebula Award nomination for best novel, Firebird
About Alex Benedict, by Jack McDevitt
I can't remember a time when I wasn't a Sherlock Holmes fan. Greatest detective stories ever. I started with Basil Rathbone when I was about six, and graduated to Conan Doyle a few years later. By the time I arrived in eighth grade there was nothing I loved as much as a good mystery. Was that really a supernatural hound running loose at Henry Baskerville's place? What was the secret behind the Dancing Men? And I'll never forget the shock that came when Holmes went over that waterfall.
The mysteries were so engrossing that there was no way they could not affect my science fiction. A Talent for War introduced Alex Benedict, an antiquities specialist living in the twelfth millennium, and Chase Kolpath, a female pilot who becomes his Watson. Not the half-witted Watson of many of the early films, but Doyle's Watson, cool, quiet, not always happy with the situations that Alex gets her into.
Because of his profession, Alex occasionally finds himself confronting historical mysteries. In Talent, an interstellar scientific mission has seen something odd, something that has scared the authorities, who run a cover-up. The discovery seems to have a connection with a war fought and settled two centuries earlier between humans and the only known alien race, the Mutes. But what could they be hiding?
The pair return in Polaris. Six decades earlier, three interstellars had gone to watch a white dwarf collide with a sun. The sun exploded. When it was over, two of the vehicles started back. The third, the in Polaris, sent a message: 'Departure imminent.'
When nothing more was heard, a rescue mission returned and found the in Polaris empty and adrift. And undamaged. The lander was still on board, as were the pressure suits. The crew and passengers could not have left the ship. In any case, there was no place they could have gone. Holmes, I thought, would have been intrigued. Certainly, Alex was.
Chase and Alex are back in Seeker, a ship that carried people from 27th-century Earth, which had become nightmarish, to "a place so far that even God won't be able to find us." Seeker was never heard from again. Until one of its drinking cups showed up on Alex's inventory. Seeker, by the way, won the Nebula. I'd once hoped to play shortstop for the Phillies. This was better.
In The Devil's Eye, a celebrated horror writer pleads for help. "They're all dead," she says, before having her mind wiped to erase, apparently, an experience she can't live with. But nobody's dead or injured. And there's no visible problem. She'd been on the equivalent of a signing tour to a world on the edge of the Milky Way, but everything was quiet there too.
Alex's fifth outing is recounted in Echo. An archeologist who has spent his life looking for alien civilizations, and been laughed at by his colleagues, dies in a boating accident. Twenty-eight years later, evidence surfaces that he may have found what he was looking for. But if so, why did he tell no one?
Alex and Chase are of course back in Firebird. The critical clue to lost ships is found in Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite."
The book has been nominated for a Nebula Award, and I'm thrilled, of course. But win or lose, I can guarantee that the adventures of Alex and Chase are far from over!
The 2012 Nebula Award Nominee for best novel
Discover the other books in the series