by Jack McDevitt



338pp/$22.00/May 1997

Eternity Road

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Many of Jack McDevitt's novels have dealt with archeological themes and the discovery of the past. Eternity Road is no different. Although the archeology may be lacking, the discovery of the past is the impetus for the entire novel.

The Mississippian civilization of Illyria exists in a post-apocalyptic world in which civilization is just beginning to raise its head. Although Illyrian society is not fully described by McDevitt, its most salient point for the purposes of the novel is the existence of the Imperium, a Medieval style college which tries to understand the artefacts left behind by the previous "Roadmaker" civilization. Along with the idea of the Roadmakers is the belief in a lost Edenesque community, Haven, somewhere in the far Northeast. As the novel opens, Karik Endine returns, the sole survivor of a failed attempt to discover Haven.

When Karik dies ten years later, the discovery of a copy of the Roadmaker book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, along with a series of sketches, causes some Illyrians to believe that Karik may indeed have discovered Haven, a small band of six set off in search of the mythical city.

For the most part, McDevitt's story and style flow well. Both are interrupted occasionally by the intrusion of the narrators voice, either as a parenthetical aside or, once, in the form of a footnote. Had McDevitt written the entire book as an history of the second Haven expedition, or left these intrusions out entirely, the book would have fit together better. On the other hand, there are certain points in the quest where McDevitt's descriptions and situations are evocative of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." Most notably when the band leaves the Crooked Man, a tavern at the edge of Illyrian society, and when the group must try to cross a tributary of the Wabash River.

McDevitt's nomenclature is also a little weak. Nearly all place names are either kept in the modern form (Chicago, Memphis, etc.) or are completely new creations. The only place name which seems to have simply undergone a transformation is "Nyagra." Perhaps using more of these transformations would have made McDevitt's use of names a little more believable.

McDevitt's characters are somewhat two dimensional, although some of them are still interesting. It is obvious that McDevitt considers Chaka, the woman who instigates the expedition to be most interesting, but I found the scholar Silas Glote and the ex-priestess Avila to show much more potential.

In the semi-literate society, books hold a strange place. Even those who can't read seem to understand their importance to society and rebuilding. Although this is admirable, it does not seem highly likely. While I can believe that everyone would hold the remnants of Roadmaker towns and roads in awe, those who are illiterate should look upon books as curiosities, nothing more.

Eternity Road is one of those sad books which seems to show a lot of potential, but whose execution does not fulfill that potential. Instead of being an examination of today's society or a look at the past, it comes across as something of a standard quest novel. In the past, McDevitt has shown himself capable of better.

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