September 10, 1984 12:00 PM

by Adrian Malone and Steven Talley

Michael Devlin, a moody boy seven feet tall, who may be retarded, accidentally kills three of the bailiff’s men when they come to drive his father off his land. Thus begins this episodic novel, which opens in Ireland in 1865 and winds up in the future. Devlin has a vision of strange light and is helped by a priest to escape to America, where he works on the railroad going west. When he meets a Sioux Indian who is wearing the same good-luck design that is on the back of his inherited watch, Devlin goes off with him into the Dakota territory. There a wise shaman admires his curious penchant for falling down unconscious (during one trance Michael finds himself on a Paris street full of cars in 1968) and guides the white giant to a mountaintop where Devlin meets his “grandfathers,” who turn out to include Jesus and Albert Einstein. He also learns the secret of the title, which neither torture nor bribes will drag from this reviewer. Devlin eventually becomes a whaling captain, marries and dies. His son, John, becomes a world leader, and John’s grandson causes the book to shift into some kind of sci-fi fantasy of global war that seems perfunctory and familiar. Malone, who co-wrote public television’s The Ascent of Man and produced the Carl Sagan series Cosmos, has tried to combine a lot of ancient myths and one rather grand idea into what is basically a conventionally plotted adventure. It’s an ambitious, uneasy, uneven mix. (Houghton Mifflin, $15.95)

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