by John Barnes

Cover image

Publisher: Tor
Copyright: March 1999
Printing: December 1999
ISBN: 0-812-57145-2
Format: Mass market
Pages: 303

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Lyle Peripart is an astronomer, an American ex-pat living in New Zealand in 2062, a descendant of refugees from the American Reich after the Nazi victory during World War II. He leads a fairly boring and unremarkable life with a side interest in a possible third form of logic besides inductive and deductive. But as the book opens, he's interviewed for a job with one of the world's largest corporations, gets the job and a huge raise for mysterious reasons, and then people start attacking him. Even worse, his ship apparently went on an excursion without him, and his memory and his girlfriend's don't agree in some significant ways.

The first half of this book is a nice bit of world-building. Memories and histories become less and less consistent, Barnes introduces us to several alternate pasts which some characters remember and others don't, and the characters begin discovering that there's a mysterious blackout around some place names and any contact with America.

The book feels very similar to Heinlein, with a confused but courageous male and female partnership, weird events that are mostly taken in stride, and a systematic approach to working out what's going on. Barnes also has Heinlein's trick of reasonable pacing and dropping exposition into dialogue in the form of mini-lectures that aren't too hard to swallow. Thankfully, his grasp on male/female relations and dialogue are much better than Heinlein's, and for the first half it compares favorably to one of Heinlein's adventures.

Unfortunately, the second half of the book drops much of the investigation and world analysis of the first part of the story, gathers a group of armed adventurers, and sets out on a painfully extended trip from Mexico to the United States. This drags on for far too long and is frankly boring for much of the trip, destroying the pacing momentum set up in the first half of the book.

It's also here that we get more explanation of causes of events, and my suspension of disbelief suffered the more I learned. Barnes's revelations don't, in my opinion, do an adequate job of explaining previous events. The differing backgrounds and sudden swaps of characters all fit, but the odd censorship of place names (which wasn't only on-line) and the fate of communications with the United States are never adequately explained over the course of the book. That's a shame, since exploring those topics would have been far more interesting than the extended gunfights and funerals we get instead.

I came away feeling like an alternative explanation for the events of the book previously considered and discarded by the characters makes more sense than the one that's supposedly correct, but if so, there's no exploration of it and no hints that this is what the reader is supposed to believe. The final discovery about the United States fits some events and not others, and Iphwin's identity (I still think there's something significant hidden in that choice of name that's never explained) is dismissed with a partial explanation that I found extremely unsatisfying. It also doesn't help that one of my favorite characters from early in the book is replaced by a version that I found much less interesting.

If the story from the first half of this book had kept up through all of it, I'd recommend this as a different and intriguing Heinlein-style adventure. Unfortunately, with the weak second half and lack of explanation, it's like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. Still interesting and more challenging for the lack, but unsatisfying at the end.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-10-26

Last modified and spun 2016-06-15