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7 December 2011

an ‘Alex Benedict’ novel, hardcover, published ACE November 2011. Reviewed by Lyn McConchie.
I don’t think that it’s any secret that I love Jack’s work. I like some of his books more than others, but I’ve never found any of them to be less than very good. The ‘Alex Benedict’ series has been fun, clever, and interesting up to this book, but with this one it’s become seriously involving. The earlier books were adventure, this one has slowed to take a serious look at some of the human interactions behind the adventure, and – fascinatingly – what the loss of someone you care about, without any way of resolving that loss, can mean.
Before Alex’s assistant, Chase Kolpath, joined Alex, she worked for his uncle. He was one of those who (over centuries) boarded a space ship which then vanished and was never seen or heard from again. There seem to be two schools of thought about such events. Either the ships were destroyed, or they weren’t. And if some weren’t then those ships may still be out there, beyond time, the new Flying Dutchmen of the space era.
And that’s the theory of Dr. Christopher Robin, who died in a major quake but not before he’d talked extensively of his theory. His widow has also died and now her sister is selling many of Doctor Robin’s artefacts. She comes to Alex and Chase to discuss that sale, and as they begin negotiations they find out more and more about Robin’s death – which may not have been a death, or if it was, was it accident or murder – because there are wheels within wheels, and some people have an axe to grind.
This books covers a lot of bases, it’s an adventure, a mystery, SF, and an in-depth look at some of the possible aspects humans could face in the future, if or when some SF possibilities come true. Humans don’t change that much. We change things around us, we learn new tricks, but we ourselves aren’t much different from what we were when we first gathered to live in villages. If you took a baby from that era and raised it in our now, that child would be as civilized (or uncovilized) as we are, it would use iphones, computers, and SKYPE to the manner born. And in three or four thousand years when we are spread over a hundred other worlds, and have house AIs, personal spaceships, and vacation casually on other worlds, we might do well to remember that we haven’t really changed. Only our surroundings have altered.
This book makes you consider that point, as well as being a great SF adventure, with characters I’ve come to know and really like in the previous five of this series. How much did I think of it? Enough to go on line as soon as I could and nominate it for the Nebula. Enough to recommend it to anyone who likes SF/adventure/ and something that goes deeper into what makes us people. And enough for it to go on on my bookshelves in the happy knowledge that I can re-read and reread it. I can’t say better than that.

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