Thursday, January 9, 2020

Book Reviews Reloaded: Thunderbird

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on January 12, 2016. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

Thunderbird -- Jack McDevitt
Ace Publishing
370 Pages

I’ve stated in several earlier reviews that I love science fiction. Jack McDevitt has been one of my favorite authors of that genre, so when I saw a new book by him on the shelf, I immediately grabbed it. Even better? The book was a long-awaited sequel to the book Ancient Shores. That was easily one of my top two novels by this author. It was a no-brainer that Thunderbird was coming home with me.

A quick recap of the early novel will be necessary. In Ancient Shores, Tom Lasker discovers what appears to be an ancient sailboat hull on his farm, perfectly preserved and constructed of a material far beyond what we know of today. Further archaeological investigation reveals an old lake shore in North Dakota along with a device that transports people across the galaxy. It is much like the ring in the Stargate movie and television series.

While found on private property, Federal law demanded that the artifacts were legally the property of the Sioux Tribe. Because of this, the operation of the gate was under the control of the tribe. They controlled who went through to the three destinations available from the North Dakota gate -- a space station, a maze of unknown passageways, and a garden world dubbed Eden. So far, teams have seen no aliens or natives of any of the areas, and as far as anyone knows, nothing has come back through.

Thunderbird opens with a handicapped girl wandering off only to be saved by a mysterious whirlwind. At the same time, teams keep heading to Eden to investigate the idyllic world. When a bridge is discovered with footprints to unknown bipeds. Further investigation reveals a cabin with a gorilla-like intelligent species. Subsequent visits work to decipher the language of the beings.

Meanwhile, pressure from the US government threatens to shut down the whole operation. Influential lobbyists, namely the oil industry, believe that the technological advances due to the gate may jeopardize the national economy. Eventually, Sioux chairman, James Walker, takes drastic action to preserve the tribe, their freedoms, and the overall safety of the planet.

McDevitt describes the political atmosphere that would surround a discovery of this magnitude with great aplomb. Walker is torn between duty to his tribe and duty to the United States. Factions in the general population take sides in the operation of the gate. There’s even an attempt to destroy the artifact by zealots. The author captures the spirit of the discord that would surround an actual discovery such as the one in North Dakota.

Unfortunately, that is about the only positive I found in this novel. The narrative really goes nowhere. Just as the team of scientists start making progress on the language of the Eden natives, the program ends and we’re left hanging with no answers. This novel had great potential to explore the origins of the artifact and civilizations elsewhere in the universe. Instead, we’re given tiny teasers that only frustrate the reader once they realize that the story is over.

I sincerely wish that Thunderbird is the first step in continuing the story that began in Ancient Shores. Perhaps McDevitt was using this novel as a means to re-familiarize himself with the universe he created before he continued the story. The ending, however, tends to lean toward a finality. I was quite disappointed with the effort.

Jack McDevitt is a fantastic science-fiction author. The first book of this duo was a fantastic story that grabbed the reader’s attention and opened up a universe with limitless possibilities. The result that we got with Thunderbird was quite limited. I will eagerly await a follow-up that will answer the questions raised back in Ancient Shores and left unanswered in this book.

Craig Bacon is a sci-fi nut. Some people think he’s just a nut.