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Imperium Without End, Book I

Lisa Mason
Bantam Spectra Books, 400 pages

Imperium Without End, Pangaea, Book I
Lisa Mason
Lisa Mason practiced law in San Francisco before turning to a full-time career as a writer. Her novels include Summer of Love, Arachne, Cyberweb, and The Golden Nineties. She lives in Sausalito, California.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Cyberweb
Lisa Mason Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

Pangaea considers itself a civilized world which thrives on order, reined in and stabilized over the millennia by the laws of the all-powerful Imperium. Society is divided into rigid castes denoted by genetic purity. At the bottom of the pyramid are the lowly druds charged with society's grunt work: sanitation, farm and factory labour. Those less impure form the merchant class, technicians trained to handle the harvesting and care of "Imperial materia," sperm and ova harvested from each citizen at the onset of puberty and stored in secure laboratories. There they stay in absolute pure safety, until the day of holy sharelock, the lawful joining of a couple in mind and spirit, after which they may petition to have children -- which are, of course, duly conceived in vitro and lab-raised for the nine months before actual birth.

The pures are the most educated, wealthiest, most powerful members of Pangaea's society -- second only to the rare, solitary Angels, those whose crystalline purity and skillful "sharemind" abilities allow them to project the wonderful dreams which entertain and titillate those lesser members of society. As far as the pures are concerned, the only instability within Pangaea is the random, dangerous quaking of the earth, a threat which top scientists work to predict and someday hope to alleviate, or even prevent.

This may sound like a lot of information and world-building to drop on the unwary reader, but Mason does it skillfully, chaining through the points-of-view of a group of characters whose lives will become connected by the most dangerous of threads: rebellion against the all-powerful Imperium.

The novel opens with Lucyd, an angel and one of the most beloved dreamers in the land, who's barely begun to mourn the loss of his sharemate/wife Danti, recently murdered by a terrorist explosion. In the midst of his sorrow (as well as disquiet over the dark symbols of his latest dream), comes the ringing of the great Bell, warning of an impending earthquake.

From there we jump to Plaia, a researcher of quakes and resonance theory, in the thick of the geologic upheaval. Plaia's role is to play cymbals in accompaniment to the other musicians/scientists on her team. Their music, theory says, if correctly played, will quell the quake -- and this time it seems to work, for the shaking stops and the area suffers minimal damage.

Returning home to celebrate, Plaia briefly makes eye contact with a sexy young guy on the street. That young man is Dubban, a technician in one of the natalries where babies are made on Pangaea, and he doesn't forget Plaia's face either, as he suffers through the next work day. His job is to prune "bad threads" from developing embryos, removing genes which could cause disease or deformity. Knowing that just touching the beautiful woman he saw would be a crime against purity seems even more unfair. The last straw is having Horan Zehar, the local qut dealer, show up asking for the money Dubban owes him.

Zehar links us to Tahliq, the licensed erotician who owns the prosperous Salon of Shame, where her secret skill at sharemind -- the same mental link the very best dreamers use to transmit their fantasies to the masses -- makes her extra-good at her job. If only she dared reveal that secret to her favourite customer, the vigile (beat cop) Regim Deuceman, who visits her regularly to handle those bestial urges the purest never suffer from -- but now it's too late, for Deuceman is to enter sharelock with another woman of higher purity and a very rich and powerful family, Dame Clere Twine.

Which brings us to the final link in the chain: Horan Zehar's 16-year-old daughter Salit, born and raised on the edicts of the Manifesto of the Apocalypse, the document which the rebels use to break the Imperium's stranglehold on society. When Horan is killed during the rebels' assassination of Dame Twine right after her sharelock with Deuceman is completed, Salit assumes his mantle, physically and emotionally.

Despite the large cast of characters, Mason balances the plotlines with skill. The world is intriguing and the characters are well-drawn. One question, though: Is Pangaea that very same enormous landmass that was Earth's first continent, or is this world merely modelled on it? Is the novel alternate history or metaphoric science fiction? The answer isn't entirely clear here; but that's really only a nitpick. Readers should be warned, however, that this book doesn't even try to reach closure. We'll just have to wait for the next installment in what looks to be a lengthy series. Still, Mason's previous books (the revisionist 60s fantasy novel Summer of Love and the lively fin de siècle The Golden Nineties) are enough reason to give the next in the series a try.

Copyright © 1999 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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