I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… if you’re a science fiction fan and you’re not reading Jack McDevitt, you’re missing out. It’s been over twenty years (20!) since I first discovered his 1994 novel, The Engines of God, and I’ve kept McDevitt on my radar ever since. With two series (three if you consider the book I’ll be reviewing shortly) and a number of stand-alone tales, McDevitt consistently provides fans with some of the best storytelling and characters you’ll ever find.
Back in 1996, I picked up the latest McDevitt novel titled Ancient Shores. The premise was simple–a farmer digging on his land out in North Dakota makes a stunning discovery. Buried for over 10,000 years, a sailboat is found on what was once an ancient lake that has long since disappeared. From this point forward, the story is both a tale of exploration and of basic human responses to the unknown. If you’ve not read Ancient Shores, the remainder of this review will reveal some major spoilers for that novel as well as some minor spoilers for the new sequel, Thunderbird. Proceed with caution.
Ancient Shores, ultimately, was not about the sailboat. And it wasn’t about the gateway/boathouse also found nearby that provided a method of instantaneous travel to three different (and mysterious) locations outside of our solar system. Instead, the book was all about us. About how humans would react to not just the fact that we aren’t alone, but also how we would respond to the life changes an advanced technology would bring. It didn’t take long for political pressure to mount on the President to shut it down… maybe even destroy it. On one side are the corporations and politicians worried how instant travel will affect oil prices and the sale of vehicles and even clothing (given that the sail material is almost indestructible and stain proof!). On the other hand, you have scientists wanting immediate access to all the wonders the gateways offer. Religious leaders are taking sides, and even the Native American tribe that owns the land the gateway sits on is split between those who want to head over to Eden (the name given to an Earth-like planet that’s the first destination from the gateway) and those who want to stay and reap the profits that the gateway is bringing to the small town. Ancient Shores ends with a few mysteries (including a possible alien visitor that may or may not have crossed over from one of the other two destinations) and the big question in the reader’s mind of whether or not a discovery like this would be beneficial to the human race.
Now… jump forward almost 20 years, and McDevitt is returning to South Dakota with Thunderbird. The novel picks up right where Ancient Shores ends, with a few new destinations available from the gateway on Eden (and the other locales) and continued bickering over the gateway’s value versus risk.
As with the first book, Thunderbird splits its time evenly between following the human desire to explore and our tendency to disagree and worry and make threats when change is forced upon us. While explorers make an amazing discovery on Eden, politicians and military leaders look for ways to shut it all down. Front and center is the Sioux Chairman, James Walker, who finds himself in the middle of so many debates and requests from politicians, business leaders, scientists, and the media. And when a discovery is made that confirms the gateways can be used by a non-human to gain access to Earth, Walker has the weight of the world on his shoulders as he must make the final decision about the gateway.
Thunderbird is an outstanding sequel to Ancient Shores, and it shines a light on the human race that reveals both good and bad. As I read the story, I couldn’t help but pause frequently and ponder just how I would truly react to a discovery like this one. And don’t think you automatically know the answer, either. I actually found myself on both sides of the fence at times as the story progressed–that’s just how good a job McDevitt has done in setting up events that aren’t always black or white.
Note: If you’re already a McDevitt fan, you won’t need convincing on this one. As with every one of his books, I finished Thunderbird and then found myself anxious for the next McDevitt tale. (And wondering–will it be possibly an Alex Benedict story or a Priscilla Hutchins tale? Or will it be a stand-alone?) Those of you who haven’t yet read a McDevitt story, you’ve got a LOT of catching up to do, but it’s not difficult or joyless reading, either.
Thunderbird will be available on December 1, 2015. I was provided with a review copy.