Wednesday, July 20, 2022

35. Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt

Finished this one on of the most beautiful spots in the world, leaning on some driftwood at Comber's Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  I can't remember where I got the recommendation, perhaps Ken Hite (again), but it was solid.  It takes a while to get moving but once the journey starts, this is a very good addition to the PA genre.  It stands out by being kind of chill and not filled with dread and fear.  One could almost call it a "cozy" PA book.

It takes place thousands of years after the collapse of our own civilization, seemingly from a sudden plague.  Society is very low-tech and achieving some level of political stability after a period of warring regions has led to an alliance.  With the constant reminder of the failed "Roadbuilders" most people are not really into  exploring the past and consider the ruins to be dangerous and even haunted.  There is enough wealth and stability now for there to be learning centers and Eternity Road begins with a scholar returning from a failed attempt to find "Haven", a rumoured place where the Roadbuilders have still survived and maintained their knowledge.  This is all really the prologue as when the scholar dies, he triggers a new gang to head out and trace his path by leaving a single copy of a Mark Twain book to the sister of one of the vicitms of the original party.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that it takes its story and narrative drive from the quest and the interplay of characters.  There are so many possibilities where you could have a strong antagonist (small-minded locals trying to stop the journey; bad characters joining the party to undermine, etc.) and it just doesn't happen.  Everybody in the party is a real person, well-rounded and there for various reasons that don't always jibe but there is none of this unnecessary artificial conflict of one guy spazzing out or stupid power conflicts.  The journey is the pleasure for the reader.  There are real dangers and bad stuff happens, but it never made me feel anxious.  I just really enjoyed the depiction of the world, the clues about what happened to the past and some really cool interactions with ancient/modern tech (the bank robbery was a particularly neat  and clever scene).

I did have a couple of minor quibbles.  It felt like the language and shared awareness seemed to expand in the latter half of the book, where characters talked about things too easily that they didn't even understand before.  I also didn't quite get the behaviour of the survivor of the original journey to Haven.  I understand why he was bitter, but to deprive everybody else of so much knowledge because of his accident seemed a bit extreme.  But I guess without it we wouldn't have had this book, which was quite enjoyable and satisfying.

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