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    Review of EMPRESS OF ETERNITY by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


    Tor, November 2010

    In three different ages, pairs of scientists examine a mysterious artifact. Although human civilizations have risen and fallen, the mysterious "canal" remains. Stretching across an entire continent, the canal seems almost independent of the environment around it. Millions of years of sandstorm haven't touched the surface of its white walls. Even laser and asteroid impact cannot phase it. Yet it seems to have no gravitational anomolies. Stranger still, portions of the canal wall respond... but only to human touch.

    As the three pair of scientists investigate, their worlds are collapsing around them. In every case, extremists, looking for easy answers rather than the truth, are on the verge of overthrowing the governments. Environmental destruction (in one case, global warming, in another a new ice age) weaken the legitimacy of the existing government at at time when they can least afford it. In every case, the extremists see the canal as a source of power and are intent on claiming it for their own. In every case, only the scientists can stand against them, but what can they do when the "stone" of the canal responds to the attackers as easily as it does the defenders?

    Only by unlocking the secrets of the canal can any of the scientists hope to avert disaster, save their own lives, or even avert the early destruction of the entire universe. But the canal has guarded its secrets for tens of thousands of years and time is running out.

    Author L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see more reviews of speculative fiction by Modesitt) has bitten off a lot in this story. Three pair of characters living in worlds that hold many parallels but are centuries (perhaps many centuries) apart are forced to confront not only the mysteries of the canal, but those of time itself. In each case, only a violent solution is possible, but in each case, successful resistance, let alone a strong counter-attack seems impossible.

    I found the story to be slow-going at first. The frequent flips among the three eras kept me from identifying with individual characters, the parallels between the worlds adding to my confusion about who was doing what to whom. In the final third of the book, Modesitt brought the stories together, continuing the parallels but also introducing interaction between the three worlds. There was some good action here, as well as some relevant food for thought that can be taken away in the 21st century. Despite its flaws and my occasional inability to keep straight which world I was in at the moment, I found EMPRESS OF ETERNITY well worth the read.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 9/08/11

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