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17 January 2016

Hardcover, published by ACE, December 2015.
Many of Jack’s books have been a mad romp through space, but this one has a thread of seriousness running under the surface right throughout the book. The romp is there, but the book made me think hard about a few things too.
In the Sioux Reservation of Spirit Lake an ancient teleportation facility has been excavated. It leads directly to three worlds to which modern human explorers have travelled at least once. There is the world they call Riverwalk, the world of the Maze, and Eden, a beautiful world that appears unspoiled and uninhabited. But two of these worlds are going to provide surprises, as is the Space Station which, initially not completely accessible, will open up a very large can of worms once the closed portion is opened.
And that is where the underlying thread comes in. Eden is temptation, to behave as badly as humans can or do, to take advantage, and seize unlawfully, and to assume that might is right. But there is a greater danger, which put simply is that each world or destination has new places for which they provide a jumping-off place. And what happens if the place that is found is deadly? If an explorer brings back something they can’t prevent or control? Something already has come back from the world of the Maze, it was returned, but did it stay returned? And it appeared to be benign, but will it remain so, and even if of goodwill, how much can alien goodwill be guaranteed to align with our definition of that?
The space station views have shown something that is alarming, entities have come from the Maze, and with Eden under threat, is this facility too dangerous to allow people continued access? I found that I was asking myself that as I read. What would I do? What would my decision be if it were up to me? I believe in progress, but I acknowledge that any form of progress brings a downside. Cars speed up our lives while continuing to kill and maim large numbers of us. The internet is useful, but trolling has caused the suicides of too many of those bullied.
And there is my own bugbear. The Large Hadron Collider. Yes, it is bringing new scientific knowledge, but how much use will that be to us all if the outcome at some stage is a doomsday scenario. A number of scientists have denied this possibility, and no doubt they were telling the truth as they saw it. They said that the chances of this happening were one in 50 million. Ah guys, the chances for someone to win the recent one and a half billion dollar lottery were a lot higher, and guess what, three people won. The law of chance is merciless. Sooner or later, the coin lands wrong side up and you lose. All of which makes me wonder just how safe we are from the Large Hadron Collider and a doomsday event. Which is the reason behind the main character’s decision in Thunderbird. In many ways I would protest it in real life however in real life too I would also understand and even agree.
And that’s what makes this book such a good read. There’s the excitement of looking at new worlds, the discoveries, the explorations, and the chance of something really wonderful. Then there’s the other side, in which you see the motivations of many involved and the dangers of pushing ahead too fast, and you wonder if that happened here which side would you come down on? In the end I couldn’t be certain, but I know about the Collider, If asked I wouldn’t have agreed to it, and that’s makes it possible I’d have done as Thunderbird’s character did in the end.
Still the decision was so finely balanced throughout the book that you don’t know what it will be until the final pages, and I still can’t be sure I’d agree, not quite. So I guess I’ll be reading this book every few years for the next thirty trying to decide. In the other words, yup, it’s twenty-second great Jack McDevitt. Go and buy it, see if you’d make the same decision, and remember, one chance in fifty million, still means there’s a chance!

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