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Empty Cities of the Moon
Howard V. Hendrix
Ace Books, 448 pages

Empty Cities of the Moon
Howard V. Hendrix
Howard V. Hendrix has a BS in biology, and an MA and Ph.D. in English Literature. He has taught college-level English for over 20 years. His short fiction began appearing in 1986. He is the author of such novels Lightpaths, Standing Wave, and Better Angels.

Howard V. Hendrix Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Lightpaths

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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If you like a complex hard SF novel with lots and lots of scientific and philosophical concepts, Howard V. Hendrix is the writer for you. Empty Cities of the Moon is bursting with ideas about biotech, nanotech, artificial intelligence, shamanism, disurbanism, and the nature of consciousness, just to name a few.

There are two plot threads in this novel -- something I had some trouble sorting out at first because of a confusing prologue about alternate universes. Ignore the prologue. All the significant action in the book takes place one universe during two different time periods -- 2032 and 2065.

The events in 2032 follow a number of different characters, many of them scientists, as a new prion disease throws the planet into sudden apocalypse. One of the major players is Cameron Spires, a billionaire whose bioengineering researchers may have inadvertently unleashed this incurable insanity plague.

As technological society collapses into chaos, Spires retreats with a small group of his best people to a Caribbean island that becomes the last outpost of technology in a world radically transformed. The second plot thread follows these survivors and their children in the year 2065 as Spires' granddaughter and her lover make a journey up the east coast of the former United States in a search for answers.

This is not an easy novel to follow. There are a great many characters, and having to switch back and forth between the story threads in two different time periods makes it difficult to keep track. The latter story is more interesting, in part because of the setting -- the ruins of technological civilization returning to nature -- and also because there is a more coherent story line revolving around one group of characters, rather than disjointed snippets of events from all over the world.

This book doesn't have a glossary, but it could almost use one. Be prepared to read slowly and deal with terms like cytomegalovirus, ontogeneticist, and endoplasmic reticulum. Sample descriptive sentence: "Trillia's gaze drifts outward, beyond the gray-tapioca-meets-Brownian-motion of the screen saver jittering pseudorandomly on her 3D view shades"

Like the last Hendrix novel I reviewed (Lightpaths), the biggest weakness of this book is that it is not character-driven or even plot-driven, it is information-driven. Empty Cities of the Moon has more action than Lightpaths, but Hendrix still walks his superficial characters from one lengthy fact-filled conversation to another, never missing a chance to drop in another detail. The closest to a fleshed-out character in the book is Trillia, Spires' granddaughter, but her reactions and motivations are never more than a background to a great deal of concept dumping.

On an idea-per-page basis, Hendrix may be the best money's worth in current hard SF. But if you're just looking for a page-turning good read, go elsewhere.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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