cover image The Centurian's Empire

The Centurian's Empire

Sean McMullen / Author, Sean McCullen / Author Tor Books $24.9

McMullen (Voices in the Light), a three-time winner of the Aurealis Award, has crafted a novel that's both historical and futuristic, with much to recommend it. The story begins in A.D. 71, when Vitellan Bavalius is a simple sailor. Due to a series of fortunate accidents, Vitellan is made a centurion and handed a secret formula that was created by a group of Romans known as the Temporians. When used in combination with ice chambers, the formula induces a state of cryogenic suspension from which a person can be successfully resuscitated. Vitellan uses the formula to travel forward in time. He is revived at various turning points in history by his hereditary Icekeepers, who guard his ""immortal"" status. Each time Vitellan awakens, he finds his life complicated by previous and current love affairs. In this novel, women have long memories and they pass on their grudges (as well as their loyalties) to their offspring. Although his story occasionally lapses into tedious technical description, McMullen handles his characters and historical action scenes with zest. He is even more inventive with the sequences set in the 21st century; these are thrilling and allow more leeway for his wry sense of humor. Whether peeling off a false face or discussing the realities of the world shortly after Christ's death, Vitellan is an appealing protagonist. His fictional advent, worthy of a sequel, should enthrall fans of both history and hard SF. (July)