Of Tangible Ghosts

L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Author Tor Books $22.95 (381p) ISBN 978-0-312-85720-2

Modesitt's writerly tics, so obtrusive in his Recluce fantasy series (The Magic Engineer), seem less annoying than usual in this routine SF novel set in an alternative universe in which the Dutch, not the British, controlled the American colonies. Narrator Johan Eschbach's preachy tone makes the author's frequent infodumps more palatable than in other works, for example, though no less arrhythmic. While Eschbach, a college professor, pads the narrative with his lectures and the presentation of his academic life, his former profession as a government operative comes directly into play as he uncovers a conspiracy. In this world, where unnaturally dead souls remain visible, a plot is afoot in the highest levels of government to capture these ``tangible'' souls using ``difference engines'' (i.e., computers). Meanwhile, after a music teacher named Miranda is killed, her ghost spurs Eschbach to find her murderer-though the killer's identity isn't as veiled as Modesitt probably wishes, and Eschbach's technological solutions to the novel's mysteries won't hold most readers' interest (the most engrossing moments here involve a Shakespeare-quoting shade; again there is a link to The Tempest, as in the McKillip review above). Moreover, the overly familiar plot and its complications aren't saved by the author's presenting Eschbach's personal relationship with a singer named Llysette as little more than a plot complication. (Oct.)