cover image Eternity Road

Eternity Road

Jack McDevitt. HarperPrism, $22 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-105208-8

Nearly 800 years have passed since the plague eradicated civilization in the 21st century. Primitive city-states are surrounded by ruins of the ""Roadmakers,"" whose engineering secrets died with them. Part of the trick and charm of McDevitt's (Eternity Road) new novel lies in the protagonists' encounters with objects--aircraft, computers, road signs, etc.--they, but not readers, find mysterious. When an expedition leaves to find the legendary ""Haven,"" a repository of information left by the Roadmakers, only one member returns, alive but dishonored. His son joins the sister of one of the dead crew, a scholar and others to mount a new expedition. McDevitt renders believable the postapocalyptic landscape through which the band travels north from the Mississippi by horseback, boat and, finally, balloon, enduring attacks by vestigial security machines and pirates. Less sure is his handling of emotional matters. Deaths occur with barely a mention of grieving or self-doubt by the survivors, and the narrator remains too aloof from the action. The story is absorbing, but its social and political observations can be facile. Its fundamental conceit, furthermore--that people of the new world are so eager for knowledge of the old, even of its arcane literature, that they will risk their lives for old books--seems borrowed from old SF classics like Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World. (May)