Albert Cowdrey, Author . Tor $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-1037-8

Earth in the 25th century has been resettled by its space colonies after the 2091-2093 Time of Troubles nearly devastated humanity's home planet in Cowdrey's dark SF debut. From Ulanor, "the capital of the human race," Colonel Yamashita's fearsome KGB-style Security Service controls hundreds of inhabited worlds in an effort to prevent such a disaster from happening again—even if it means liquidating most of the population. When "some idiots at the University" in Ulanor build a wormhole generator called "the Crux," a subversive gaggle of Old Believers, do-gooders and other agitators use it to send an agent back in time to block events that ignited the Time of Troubles. With four attempts to change the past by dizzyingly shifting combinations of conspirators, the narration becomes chronologically dyspeptic. Characters melt frenetically from "good" to "bad" and back again, and even Cowdrey's flattish protagonist, Hastings Maks, loses definition. Cowdrey evidently intended Alspeke, a mishmash of Earth's old tongues and now humanity's common language, to give an exotic as well as Orwellian flavor, but its heavy Russian component necessitates momentum-damping translations. A few tragi-ludicrous sexual situations, like the all-powerful near-mummified Controller Xian's lust for young men, help lighten the novel's otherwise oppressive atmosphere. (Dec. 16)

Reviewed on: 11/15/2004
Release date: 12/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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