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Things Unborn
Eugene Byrne
Earthlight, 421 pages

Things Unborn
Eugene Byrne
Eugene Byrne is a freelance journalist and Deputy Editor of Venue, the what's on magazine of Bristol. He has had stories published in Interzone and many magazines and anthologies. He lives in Bristol, UK, with his wife and two children.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

UK author Eugene Byrne has postulated a world in which an atomic war in 1962 has caused the decline in population and civilization in much of the Western World. Rather than a post-apocalyptic tale, however, Things Unborn tells the story of an England which is rebuilding its position in the world, aided by a strange phenomenon which Byrne never attempts to explain. In his post-nuclear world, those who have been killed before their time (and before the war) are being re-born in seemingly random circumstances.

Byrne focuses his attention on Guy Boswell, an RAF flyer killed during World War II. Boswell's recent rebirth allows Byrne and his characters to explain the history of his new world to both Boswell and the reader without seeming to dump excessive data. Byrne's remaining characters are made up of both retreads, as the re-born are called, and natives. Chief among the retreads is Scipio Africanus, not the Roman general, but a Black English slave who is now a police inspector and Boswell's mentor. For the native point of view, Byrne relies on another officer, Jenny Pearson.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Things Unborn is the manner in which Byrne integrates his retreads into society. Staging areas rush to the assistance of retreads and attempt to unite them with ancestors and descendants who have already appeared to form a support group. Once they are acclimatized to their situation, they are allowed to build a life of their own as they and/or their relatives see fit. While Guy manages to adjust to this situation with ease, the plot of Things Unborn is driven by those who are unable to fit into the new society.

With his main characters as members of the police force, Byrne is set up to create a mystery/police procedural, which he does with the assistance of his villains, a groups calling themselves the Sons of John Bull. Made up mostly of malcontents who lived in the 17th and subsequent centuries, the Sons of John Bull have looked around and decided that England needs to be saved from the horrible Papists, Jews and other vile creatures who do not fit their reasonably Puritanical, if not hypocritical, view of life. Chief among their complaints is the constitution under which England is ruled by a retread Richard III, depicted with enormous humour.

If Things Unborn has a failing, it is that despite the Sons of John Bull, individuals from a wide variety of eras seem to incorporate the modern point of view a little too easily. Byrne has populated London with the reincarnations of people ranging from pre-Celts to 20th-century flyers. None of them seem to have a problem with the technological advances, and even those who have a problem with the social structure have their difficulties within the same framework as each other.

Although it is clear who the good guys and the bad guys are in Byrne's novel, the crime the villains are committing is the mystery which drives the book. Caught up in a seemingly minor murder investigation, Pearson, Boswell and Africanus quickly realize that there is a major plot underway. Eluding them is not so much the villains, as their purpose and their source of information within the police department.

Things Unborn is a fun visit to an intriguing world. Byrne's plot is tight and his characters are realistic, permitting the reader to overlook the few flaws in the society he has set up. His world is rich enough to support several more stories, either about Scipio Africanus and his group, or about unrelated characters and events. His second solo novel, Things Unborn supports the contention that Eugene Byrne is an author to watch for intriguing ideas.

Copyright © 2001 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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