(Earthlight, £6.99, 420 pages, paperback; published 19 April 2001.)
Eugene Byrne's first book, a collaboration withKim Newman titled Back in the USSA, presented a world in which the Communist revolution occurred in the USA instead of Russia. His second book, the novel Thigmoo, postulated a future in which rebellious artificial intelligences, in a desperate bid to save their lives, engineered a worldwide Communist revolution.
The Communist revolution is absent from his third book, Things Unborn. Instead, the Cuban Missile Crisis turns into the Atom War and history deviates in weird and unpredictable ways.
Things Unborn takes place in the early 21st century, more than forty years after that cataclysmic war. It's ostensibly a detective thriller about a threat to the British government from a group of radical right-wing Christians. At least, that's what propels the plot along.
The strangest thing that happens in the aftermath of the Atom War is that people who died prematurely, from any time period before the war, are being mysteriously resurrected in a random fashion, in perfectly healthy bodies, no less. And that's the peculiar idea that fuels the novel.
Most of the protagonists (and antagonists) are such resurrectees, including Scipio Africanus, a slave in his previous life and now a war hero, celebrity, and police detective; Guy Boswell, a Battle of Britain fighter pilot who is Africanus's latest assistant; and the infamous Richard III, again King of England.
Things Unborn is a fun romp, told in a compelling, off-beat voice. It's spiced with the author's knowledge of history, which he exuberantly twists to his own purposes. Its plot is full of surprises. Its cast, historical and fictional, is fascinating. And it's imbued with that most charming of combinations: it's both intelligent and unpretentious.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 15 September 2001, 12 April 2003