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Literature / Alex Benedict

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The Alex Benedict series consists of a number of science-fiction novels written by Jack McDevitt.

The main characters are Alex Benedict, an antiquities dealer, and Chase Kolpath, an interstellar pilot. They run a company called Rainbow Enterprises which specializes in the finding and selling of ancient historical artifacts. The novels follow their adventures as they solve historical mysteries and find long-lost artifacts, usually while facing opposition from some form of conspiracy.

The series consists of A Talent For War, Polaris, Seeker, The Devil's Eye, Echo, and Firebird. A seventh novel, Coming Home, is scheduled for 2014.


This series provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens:
    • Subverted by the Ashiyyur. Humanity has been in contact with them so long that they don't really consider them really "aliens" for purposes of debate of whether there's anyone else out there.
    • The question of whether this trope applies is central to the plot of Echo.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Alex is the sci-fi version of this trope.
  • The Ageless: The crew of the Polaris.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: When the colony of Villanueva died, the artificial intelligences continued running for the next seven thousand years. Being abandoned for so long caused some of them to go insane.
  • Apocalypse How: Features in several stories, often as a critical element to the mystery.
    • The Devil's Eye is about an imminent Planetary Class 4, the cover up since it's nigh-impossible to save everyone, and how everyone reacts once it's discovered.
    • Echo features an accidental Planetary Class 2-3 via Colony Drop against a pre-space culture. Note that this is a culture which had already been through another collapse of civilization in their ancient past sometime after landing a base on another planet in their system.
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    • In Firebird, we have Villanueva, a Ghost Planet which went through a Class 3-4 thanks to drifting into a light-blocking nebula that froze the planet to death, leaving only the AIs intact — something everyone saw coming centuries in advance but put off doing something about until it was far, far too late.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In A Talent For War, a number of discrepancies regarding exactly where the Corsarius fought lead Alex to ask an Ashiyyur about what they think of it. The discrepancies turns out to be foreshadowing for the Corsarius' secret — that it had a revolutionary star-drive operating on different principles than the standard Armstrong drive — while the Ashiyyur consulted shows up again in the climax of the story.
  • Classical Tongue: Modern English went out of usage in the third millennium, and modern French disappeared sometime around 7000 years ago. People don't even know what French sounded like anymore thanks to no surviving recordings. Also, the symbols of one of the lost ships in Firebird is a forgotten human language.
  • Death of Personality: The local police chief was originally a serial killer who had had his memory overwritten. It's a Red Herring, by the way: the apparent Chekhov's Gun never goes off.
  • Distant Finale: The end of Firebird takes place 67 years in the future.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: A Talent For War is told from Alex's point of view, since he doesn't hire Chase on as an assistant until a fair bit into the novel. All subsequent novels take place from her POV.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Polaris reveals that Chase's first name, as printed on her pilot license, is Agnes.
  • Flying Dutchman: Numerous ships in Firebird thanks to drive malfunctions that keep them jumping uncontrollably through space and time. One ship over 7000 years old (two weeks in their frame of reference) is recovered at the end of the book.
  • Frazetta Man: An Ashiyyur museum dedicated to humans leads off with a hulking Neanderthal brute, a not-so-subtle dig at humanity as "unevolved" savages, which is their racist stereotype of us.
  • Ghost Ship: The Polaris. The entire crew vanished, but the lander and spacesuits were still there.
  • Golden Age: Modern times are considered part of the "Golden Age of Scientific Discovery" before we essentially ran out of new physics to explore, leaving science to revert to cataloging (i.e. biology and astronomy) and engineering to refine what we already have.
  • Government Conspiracy: The villains of The Devil's Eye.
  • Humans Are Flawed: The general feeling of the Mutes regarding humanity (though Chase is quick to point out that the Mutes themselves don't exactly have a spotless record).
  • Immortality Immorality: One of the concerns about life-extension that occurs to Chase in Polaris is that people who live forever might cease to care about other humans.
  • Immortality Seeker: Dunnager of Polaris, who made it his life's mission to find a way to stop aging.
  • Insistent Terminology: AIs from Villanueva prefer to call themselves "Betas."
  • Killer Robot: The autonomous machines on Villanueva make it a Death World.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Mind wipes are widely used in place of the death penalty, though there are some who argue that there is essentially no difference between the two. Kicks off the plot of The Devil's Eye.
  • Last Stand: The Administrator uses a famous Churchill quote in one of his speeches in The Devil's Eye; only Alex recognizes that he is cribbing, and from who.
  • Libertarians IN SPACE!: Heavily featured in Seeker's backstory. Seeker was a colony ship manned by a faction known as the "Margolians" who were fleeing the then-oppressive society of Earth in hopes of establishing a free world.
  • Lost Colony: Margolia in Seeker.
  • The Milky Way Is the Only Way: One book mentions offhand that the current faster-than-light drive is fast enough to reach the Andromeda Galaxy in about a year. Nobody's tried it because there's really no need at the moment. Compare with A Talent For War, where one of the aspects of the Corsarius-type FTL drive highlighted is that it suddenly makes an extragalactic exploration journey to Andromeda possible in practice.
  • Modern Stasis:
    • Despite being thousands of years in the future, long enough for entire human empires to rise and fall across space and leave behind ruins and artifacts to explore and trade, technology and society aren't really that much different from modern day America.
    • The Ashiyyur were a space-faring culture before homo sapiens even evolved, but they are around the same level of technological advancement as humanity. Then again, they pride spiritual rather than material advancement as an index of civilization and are up against the same wall of scientific exploration as humanity.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: The closest thing in the setting are Avatars, digital copies of dead people. It's not clear the process by which they are made, but they are often programmed by the deceased to cast them in the best light.
  • Once per Episode:
    • The opening chapter will show a flashback to an event later referred to in the story.
    • Someone, usually an assassin of some sort, will try to kill Alex and Chase.
    • There will be an aerial action sequence that shows off Chase's piloting skills. Usually this is due to sabotage to their air car.
    • Chase will break up with a boyfriend, often over how much she travels for her job.
  • Only in It for the Money: Chase's opinion of Alex at the beginning of Polaris, though she's revised her opinion of him by The Devil's Eye. Most academic archaeologists think this trope is in effect and consider Rainbow Enterprises to be little more than looters with an unjustified good reputation.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mutes have to make up nicknames for humans to refer to them by, since their own language doesn't have a phonetic component.
  • Psychic Static: After his first encounter with the psychic Mutes leads to them stealing some important information from his mind, Alex learns to do this.
  • Ramming Always Works: Used by the villain in Polaris. Backfires big-time.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Polaris kicks off with a bombing intended to destroy evidence of something — evidence which, it turns out, was never actually there to begin with. No one would've even suspected there was anything to hide if someone wasn't clearly trying to hide something (though it took other attempted cover-ups for people to connect the dots — the bombing was cleverly timed to look like a perfectly plausible, even likely assassination attempt: had it stopped at the bombing no-one would have been the wiser).
  • Ship Tease: Alex and Chase. They are implied to have hooked up a couple of times, but always deny that they are dating and are usually seeing other people during the stories in the novels.
  • Telepathic Spacemen: The Mutes.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Vicki Greene at the beginning of The Devil's Eye, via mind-wipe.
  • Virtual Ghost: Many people maintain avatars, artificial intelligences programmed with their memories, that people can talk to after their deaths. Though, as Chase notes, one cannot be guaranteed of perfect accuracy, since the people creating the avatars tend to emphasize their good points and leave out the negative traits.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: A number of them show up throughout the series as villains.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The artificial intelligences in the series are not considered sentient, and no one cares much when they are destroyed — though Chase does have a pang of conscience when she sends the AI Gabe on a suicide mission in Polaris. This eventually becomes a central issue in Firebird.
  • What Year Is This?: Asked by Dot Garber in Firebird.

Alternative Title(s): A Talent For War