In Hugo and Nebula winner Silverberg's epic alternative history, as grandly sweeping and imaginative as his celebrated Majipoor Cycle Lord Valentine's Castle , etc. Starting with a scholar's recollection of a failed Hebrew exodus from Egypt centuries earlier, this unusually moving novel depicts 10 crucial historical moments, each centering on the personality of a fictional emperor seen through the eyes of an engaging lesser figure, like an imperial bureaucrat, a luscious and wealthy widow, a brave legionary commander, a conscientious architect, a hunky son of a Celtic chieftain, or even barbarian children who unwittingly bring down the last emperor. Silverberg seamlessly interpolates glimpses of Rome's real history in this handsomely crafted fiction, whether looking back to the ideals of the ancient Republic—duty, honor, country—or inventing a captivating cast of might-have-beens. He unifies his narrative with unusual but convincing historical theory: that Roma's vaunted religious tolerance, in turning the sacred into a mere instrument of governance, had sown the seeds of revolution—a spiritual and intellectual upheaval that here leads the children of Israel to a second and glorious trek to the stars. Guided by the sure hand of an old master, these many roads lead to a fascinating city of multitudinous souls.
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One thing I love about science fiction is that, every time I think I have it pegged down, it'll spin around and kick me in the gut. Now, while this may not be an agreeable sensation in other aspects of life, in reading it is a pleasure unto itself. When I picked up Roma Eterna for review, I had the passing thought, "Oh, no, another alternate history. I suppose some type of explanation is in order as to what I don't like about alternate histories and why this novel stands out as different, but first the basics: Roma Eterna follows a tradition set forth by Asimov's Foundation and other novels whereby a series of short stories is strung together to comprise a long history in this case, a speculation based on the question: What if Rome never fell?
As in all story collections, there are shining moments, dark stories, and subtler pieces that fill in the gaps, and as in all quality story collections there are no stories that fall apart here. In this book, Silverberg journeys us through thousands of years under Roman rule, through plots against the Emperor, through civil unrest and civil war, through madness and perversity, through love and lust, through outsiders and insiders, and thus paints a broad picture of an enormous empire struggling under its own weight.
See, while I certainly recognize the impact which authors such as Harry Turtledove and S. Stirling have had upon this subgenre, I also recognize their novels' shortcomings. Check out my earlier infinity plus reviews of their work in the reviews archive. The general reaction I have is positive at points yet always is disenchanted with the way they break from the story to recite a faux-history lecture.
Now I realize that the faux-history lecture portion of an alternate-history novel may be the very thing some fans enjoy most, but I object to its blatant placing within the context of a story.
It is a clear and present use of infodump, arguably one of the major no-nos in science fiction today. Silverberg handles all of the change in history the way it should be handled -- as part of the story.
Anything unrelated to what the story is about is tossed aside. Now, I'm sure some picky reader could point out specific instances where this is not true. There is most likely even a moment or two of infodump. However, Silverberg writes us through those instances so that we never notice them. It is the conflicts and the characters that I remember, not the nifty changes in our history. An alternate history is meant to be a backdrop for a unique story, not the story itself, and that is exactly what Silverberg delivers.
Roma Eterna has a smooth flow, a logical progression, and a satisfying conclusion. Each story is ripe with engaging characters, intriguing plots, and entertaining ideas. All this, and it's an alternate history! So much to enjoy for one book, and, for those who have yet to read Silverberg's plethora of works, a charming way to be introduced to a legendary author.
Review by Stuart Jaffe One thing I love about science fiction is that, every time I think I have it pegged down, it'll spin around and kick me in the gut. And does it work?
You betcha. Elsewhere in infinity plus : non-fiction - more reviews of Robert Silverberg's work including another review of Roma Eterna. Let us know what you think of infinity plus - e-mail us at: sf infinityplus.
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Added by 1 of our members. Roma Eterna A novel by Robert Silverberg. The Roman Empire never fell. Driven by political ambition and internal dissent, thrown into turmoil by rebellion and civil war, it changed and adapted, but it never fell.