ARCHFORM: Beauty

L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Author Tor $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7653-0433-9

Best known for his fantasy fiction (the Saga of Recluce), Modesitt has outdone himself in this highly original SF novel, using future technology to satirize and amplify the gulf that separates science from art. In the 24th century, politics remains much the same, with radical, Islamic fundamentalism still posing a threat. The author rapidly introduces five separate narrators, but since he delineates each with the skill of a latter-day Dickens, the reader doesn't feel overwhelmed. Nor does Modesitt overdo the future slang, which is always clear in context (what was once the United States is now "NorAm"). One of the five narrators, Senator Cannon of the Deseret District, insists on sticking to his principles in seeking re-election. Meanwhile, Lt. Eugene Chiang, who shows how little police work has changed, is investigating the "impossible" suicides of a string of concertgoers. Chiang's engaging exchanges with classical music teacher Cornett illuminate the ways technology can undermine an art form. One is reminded of Arthur C. Clarke's tale "The Ultimate Melody," as Cornett battles to make others appreciate music as art instead of as product. Set against a background of biological terrorism, Modesitt's tale explores social issues (only the rich can afford privacy as well as injections of microscopic, medical robots to stay healthy) sure to resonate with many readers. This brilliant novel is as thought provoking as it is entertaining. (July 11)

Reviewed on: 06/10/2002
Release date: 07/01/2002
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