[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 20 March 2005]
Jack McDevitt’s A Talent for War is an unusual science fiction novel.
In a far future humanity has spread to many stars and encountered an alien race called the Ashiyyur, and after what may or may not have been a vast misunderstanding due to the strange psychological make-up of the Ashiyyur, a great war was fought. Emerging as the leader of humanity in this war was Christopher Sim, a man with an uncanny ability to outthink and outfight the aliens.
A Talent for War takes place several hundred years after the cease-fire with the Ashiyyur, and tells the story of Alex Benedict as he follows his deceased uncle’s last wish to investigate discrepancies in the common tale of Christopher Sim. As a backdrop to Benedict’s search for the truth is the looming threat of a new war with the enigmatic Ashiyyur.
The novel is slow and somewhat ponderous as it follows Benedict’s attempts at sorting out the thread of actual events from the war fought several hundred years ago; there is very little action except for, of course, in the turn of events Benedict uncovers, which is where most of the dramatic tension in the novel resides.
All in all, A Talent for War is a refreshing departure from most science fiction, and raises some interesting questions about history and how it can warp the truth of persons and events that it purports to describe, but does feel a bit academic.