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Ancient Shores

Ancient Shores

4.2 26
by Jack McDevitt

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It turned up in a North Dakota wheat field: a triangle, like a shark's fin, sticking up from the black loam. Tom Lasker did what any farmer would have done. He dug it up. And discovered a boat, made of a fiberglass-like material with an utterly impossible atomic number. What it was doing buried under a dozen feet of prairie soil two thousand miles from any ocean,


It turned up in a North Dakota wheat field: a triangle, like a shark's fin, sticking up from the black loam. Tom Lasker did what any farmer would have done. He dug it up. And discovered a boat, made of a fiberglass-like material with an utterly impossible atomic number. What it was doing buried under a dozen feet of prairie soil two thousand miles from any ocean, no one knew. True, Tom Lasker's wheat field had once been on the shoreline of a great inland sea, but that was a long time ago -- ten thousand years ago.

A return to science fiction on a grand scale, reminiscent of the best of Heinlein, Simak, and Clarke, Ancient Shores is the most ambitious and exciting SF triumph of the decade, a bold speculative adventure that does not shrink from the big questions -- and the big answers.

Editorial Reviews

New York Daily News
An old-fashioned page turner...filled with breathless plotting...[and] a nail-biting ending.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Early in the next century, outside a North Dakota town, farmer Tom Lasker digs up a boat on his land. Not only is the vessel crafted from an unknown element, but Lasker's farm is on land that has been dry for 10,000 years. A search for further artifacts unearths a building of the same material and age that turns out to be an interdimensional transportation device. The building sits on land owned by the Sioux, who want to use it to regain their old way of life on another world; meanwhile, the U.S. government, fearful of change, wants to destroy the building. Right up to the climax, McDevitt (Engines of God) tells his complex and suspenseful story with meticulous attention to detail, deft characterizations and graceful prose. That climax, though, is another matter, featuring out-of-the-blue heroic intervention in a conflict between the feds and the Indians by, among others, astronaut Walter Schirra, cosmologist Stephen Hawking and SF writers Ursula K. LeGuin, Carl Sagan and Gregory Benford. "If the government wants to kill anyone else, it'll have to start with us," announces Stephen Jay Gould. That absurdity aside, this is the big-vision, large-scale novel McDevitt's readers have been waiting for. (Apr.)
Carl Hays
Hard sf specialist McDevitt explores what happens when an unearthed artifact, in this case a 42-foot yacht, proves to be the offspring of unheard-of technologies. Within weeks of its discovery beneath a North Dakota farm field, the boat becomes a media sensation coveted by prospective buyers and scientists, among them chemist April Cannon, who garners quick fame from analyzing the boat's astonishing components. And where there's a boat, there's a boathouse, which Cannon and company duly uncover on a nearby Sioux reservation and dub the Roundhouse. Soon the national economy verges on collapse because the materials from which the artifacts are made seem to wear forever: obsolescence in goods made from the stuff will be obsolete. So, just as scientists discover that the Roundhouse is the vehicle for instantaneous travel to other worlds, the government plots to desecrate Indian property once again to destroy it. A large cast of colorful characters, a wry overview of society's extreme behavior in the face of the unknown, and a surprise ending make this irresistibly compelling reading, one of McDevitt's best.
Kirkus Reviews
Astonishingly, North Dakota farmer Tom Lasker unearths a perfectly preserved 42-foot sailboat from his wheatfield. More remarkable still, the boat is made of materials unknown to science—and has probably lain buried for ten thousand years, since it last sailed the waters of an ancient glacial lake. While tourists line up to goggle at the boat—its automatic lights still work—Tom's pilot friend Max Collingswood and scientist April Cannon wonder whether there's a boathouse, too. Sure enough, a geophysics survey reveals a mysterious structure buried on the nearby Sioux reservation. Max and April negotiate permission to dig and soon uncover a glassy circular building that contains a transporter device connecting it to another planet hundreds of light-years away. But, clearly, these advanced technologies threaten global economic stability, and the President comes under pressure to secure the building and destroy it (having, apparently, forgotten about the a sailboat, which Tom has already sold). The Sioux resist, however, and just as a dreadful slaughter seems unavoidable, Max ferries in a planeload of luminaries to broadcast the truth of the world.

From familiar components, McDevitt (The Engines of God, 1994, etc.) has fashioned a solidly engrossing tale that, despite some plot wobbles, brims with low-key attractions.

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Ancient Shores

Chapter One

Pretty in amber, to observe the forms
Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms;
The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare,
But wonder how the devil they got there.

-- Alexander Pope, "An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot"

"If that ain't the damnedest thing. " Tom Lasker had to raise his voice to be heard over the wind. Will paused with his spade full of black earth to see what had drawn his father's attention.

A triangular plate, not unlike a shark's fin, stuck out of the ground. it was tough. Metal, apparently, but not corroded.

They were on the low ridge that bordered the west side of the farm, working late under a string of lightbulbs, trying to put in a system that would pump water uphill from the well. Lasker played his flashlight over the object, and Will pushed at it with the tip of his boot. The night smelled of approaching winter. A cold wind chopped across the rise and shook the lights. Lasker knelt and brushed the soil away with gloved fingers. The object was bright red. Smooth and hard. When he pulled, it had no give.

The house was about a quarter-mile away, a two-story frame building set back in a thick growth of trees. Its lights were warm and cheerful.

The fin was attached to a rod of the same color and texture, all of a piece. It angled down into the soil at thirty degrees. Will wedged his spade under it, and they tried to lever it up. it wobbled but wouldn't come loose. "On three," said Lasker.

He did the count, and they yanked together, lost their balance, and fell laughing over each other. "That'senough for tonight, Pop," said Will. "Let's go eat."

The Pembina Escarpment was visible through the bedroom windows of Tom Lasker's house. The escarpment consisted of a line of rounded hills and ridges and jutting rocks, a fairly impressive feature on land that was otherwise pool-table flat. Ten thousand years ago it had been the western shore of an inland sea that covered large areas of the Dakotas, Minnesota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The spot where the house now stood would have been several hundred feet underwater.

Lasker was a big man: awkward, with thinning brown hair and wide shoulders. His features were sharp, raw-edged, carved by too many unforgiving winters. He'd lived his entire life in the Fort Moxie area. He thought of himself as basically uninteresting, just a farmer who worked hard, didn't socialize too much, and took care of his family. He was happily married, his two sons seemed to be developing into reasonable adults, and he enjoyed flying. Like many of the local farmers, he had a pilot's license, and he owned a Katana DV-20. He also owned a World War II-era Navy Avenger and was a member of the Confederate Air Force -- a group of enthusiasts dedicated to restoring antique warbirds.

Shortly after dawn on the morning following the find, he and Will were back atop the slope. October on the northern plains tends to be bleak and cold. This day was typical. Lasker was half buried in his down jacket, not having yet worked up enough sweat to shed it.

The fin stuck several inches out of the ground, mounted on a support pole about two inches thick. Lasker was thinking about the damage it might have done had he run a tractor over it.

Will sank his spade into the earth. "Well," he said, "let's get rid of it." He turned the soil over, and even this late in the season it was heavy and sweet.

The air was still. A blue jay sat on a fence rail, watching, and Lasker felt good about the world. The shark fin interested him. Hard to imagine what it was or how it had come to be buried on land his family had owned for sixty years. More important, it provided a temporary puzzle that bound him a little closer to his son.

How deep did the pole go? He measured off a few feet in a straight line from its point of entry and began throwing up soil in his methodical way. Will joined in, and after a while they struck metal. The pole was at least six feet long. They continued digging until Will had to leave for school. Then Lasker went into the house, had some coffee and toast, and came back for another go. He was still working on it when Ginny called him for lunch.

She came back with him afterward to see what the fuss was about. Ginny was tall, clever, a product of Chicago who had come to North Dakota as a customs inspector, with the primary objective of getting away from urban life. She'd fallen in love quickly with this guy, who in turn had started making trips to Canada, hoping she would clear him when he returned. Sometimes he'd even bought things, stuff he could pay duty on. She remembered the first time he'd tried that approach: He'd spent thirty dollars in a Winnipeg bookstore for a history of Canadian aviation and had clearly been disappointed when she'd waved him through because books were free of duty.

His friends had tried to warn him away from Ginny. She'll get tired of the harsh winters, they'd said. And small-town life. Eventually she'll go back to Chicago. They'd talked about Chicago more or less in the tone they'd have used for Pluto. But twenty years had passed, and she was still here. And she and Tom thrived on snowy nights and roaring fires.

"Is it creating a problem?" she asked, puzzled, standing over the trench that Lasker had dug around the thing. It was about six feet deep, and a ladder stuck out of it.

"Not really."

Ancient Shores. Copyright © by Jack McDevitt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Jack McDevitt is the author of A Talent for War, The Engines of God, Ancient Shores, Eternity Road, Moonfall, and numerous prize-winning short stories. He has served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, taught English and literature, and worked for the U.S. Customs Service in North Dakota and Georgia.

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Ancient Shores 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book starts with a strong SF premise. The early chapters are riveting as the protagonists discover just how extraordinary is the boat unearthed on a North Dakota farm. Unfortunately, the book lets us down; at least it didn't live up to my expectations. It's fine to describe the diverse reactions of Americans to this sensational discovery, but that's almost all that goes on here. We long to encounter the aliens who left this artifact, or at least gets some glimpse of their purpose. We yearn to explore the new world opened by the Roundhouse. Alas, none of that ever happens. This becomes merely a study of human sociology. Maybe that's the only story the author wants to tell. On the other hand, if he has devoted a whole volume to setting up a sequel, it's too late for me. He's lost me as a reader.
iowashort More than 1 year ago
As are all of Jack McDevitt's books, this is well written. He is not one of my favorite authors, but for someone who enjoys SciFi as opposed to Fantasy this would be a good book. It is a little off the wall and I prefer my SciFi to be more believeable.
Cirrus More than 1 year ago
Looking for hard sci-fi? This isn't it. It takes too long for anything interesting to develop, then once something interesting does develop, rather than exploring it McDevitt spends the rest of the novel introducing us to an endless string of completely unimportant characters for one page each, tells us how they feel about things, then abandons them. Right when the book starts to get interesting, it goes off track and never comes close to recovering. I'm a big McDevitt fan (love the Omega cloud series), but this novel was an utter waste of time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
McDevitt is the new Clarke. Each novel a new pace of sci-fi adventure. My favorite are the Benedict series - especially his avatar encountders. Enjoy. mark
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wakes up and sees his love. Oh darling he jokes. When is breakfast! He prtends to be holding a fork an knife.
prospectorBW More than 1 year ago
Well thought out and executed,hard to put down! Covered many implications which I wouldn't have thought of but were logical and nessary to the fullness of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw some of the plot twists developing but more often than not I slapped my forehead and said "I never saw THAT coming!" Intriguing, unique premise that I do not remember seeing in 50 years of reading Sci-Fi.
Scotman55 More than 1 year ago
First Impressions: I’ve read Jack’s “The Odyssey” and was mildly entertained. With that, I decided to explore his earlier novels including the stand-alone book Ancient Shores. A decent tale, but goes off on too many tangents to follow. Ending seemed rushed. Story & Plot: I enjoyed the build-up of the character Max, a man who was good with antique airplanes, had a military family history but shunned that route, deciding instead to restore old aircraft. The book makes a big deal of a horror accident where he could have saved but did not save a girl in a plane that exploded on a runway as a hapless man attempted to save her. From this we get that Max is not one to take chances or risks that would endanger himself. Later in the book this takes the form of his not defending the “Roundhouse” (an alien artifact that turns out to be a transporter to other worlds) from the USA which wants to destroy it in order to save the economy (a roundabout way of building that plot!). April, the Black scientist, who thought it sad that her retiring collegue got recognized for his work and then faded out, wanted fame and fortune and saw the sailboat found on a farm in North Dakota her ticket to ride. It’s a story of “be careful what you wish for.” And the author’s tendency to give the reader the complete rundown of each main character’s love life was a bit much and did not add to the overall plot. The book tends to go off on several tangents, telling stories of minor characters who are affected by the discovery of alien technology – some find religion, some radio minister makes money off it (not sure what the point of that was) and some want to blow the Roundhouse up (an odd account of a man who has a radio-controlled bomb in his truck and drives by someone who just happens to have the same frequency for his garage door opener – really?). There are some interesting points that are immediately dropped – who is this invisible alien who comes onto Earth? What happened to him? And the subplot of the Native American plot of land and how they’re repeating history by defending their land against the government was a fine opinion of exploitation and political ranting & raving, but highly unlikely. Bottom Line: As other reviewers have found, the book seemed to have a hard time finding its way until the end, where we finally get some closure – but a disappointing ending where we’re still left to wonder what about the other worlds out there – would the discovery of super-human technology actually crash the economy? I recommend reading his Nebula and Hugo award-winning tales instead. Ancient Shores, like Odyssey, are cute one-time novels that make a point of the human condition but leave the reader unsatisfied at the end.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book leaves you on the edge of your seat wnating to learn about the numerous secrets that are intwined carefully throughout this novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is indeed a fascinating subject, and McDevitt slowly (but not too slowly!) and carefully reveals more and more about the artifact that is found. McDevitt keeps the reader in suspense, right up to the end of the book where, frustratingly, the reader is left hanging. However, this book is ripe for at least one sequel and I hope Mr. McDevitt complies. The only problem I have with this book is that once again, McDevitt's main characters are irresponsible or inexperienced archaeologists who take no precautions and jump into things before thinking, naturally provoking mishaps and tragedies -- this makes the book difficult to read as I was constantly disgusted buy the impulsive, and at times juvenile, behavior of the main characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
4 mice, 5 voles, and 7 squirrels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
7mice and foxes plzz at seiji second result.