cover image The Veiled Web

The Veiled Web

Catherine Asaro. Spectra Books, $5.99 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-553-58151-5

The latest from veteran science fiction writer Asaro (Primary Inversion) is an uneasy blend of cyber-intrigue, exotic lore and romantic clich . In the summer of 2010, Web-surfing ballerina Lucia del Mar meets Rashid al-Jazari, the sexy inventor of a cutting-edge artificial intelligence system. Lucia and Rashid are kidnapped by international terrorists who covet his invention. While they manage to foil the abductors, in order to keep Lucia safe when they land in Morocco, Rashid arranges a hasty marriage. Cloistered in Rashid's traditional Islamic home, Lucia overcomes her loneliness by befriending Zaki, the uncannily human computer program Rashid has designed. When the terrorists strike again, Rashid's AI system is destroyed, but the unlikely marriage survives. Asaro discourses intelligently on millennial issues but leaves the conspirators and their goal--mind control over the known world--far too vague to generate suspense. Nor does the plot convention of a forced marriage that ends in true love provide much sizzle. The book's strengths, instead, are the sensuous and respectful evocation of Islamic culture and the creation of Zaki, the artificial intelligence who comes to life as the tale's most quirky and moving character. (Dec.)