THE DOORS OF DEATH AND LIFE
by Brenda Clough
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In How Like a God, Edwin Barbarossa played Enkidu to Rob Lewis's Gilgamesh when Rob found himself blessed and cursed with the power to control men's lives. The novel ended with Rob seeking anonymity in which to come to terms with his strange power and Edwin having gained the secret of immortality which Gilgamesh has spent his life in search of. The Doors of Death and Life is Brenda Clough's sequel in which Edwin Barbarossa plays a larger role as he attempts to live a normal life with the gift of immortality.
Seven years have passed and Rob is now working as an anonymous contractor, keeping his power secret from everyone, including his wife, Julianne. Edwin has shared his secret with his wife, Carina, but no one else. When he is the sole survivor of a space shuttle mission gone awry, his choice is to either announce his immortality to the world or face trumped up murder charges.
While Clough's plot is good, although perhaps a little predictable, the real strength of The Doors of Death and Life is the wide variety of discussion and debate between the various characters on the meaning of the powers Edwin and Rob possess, the manner in which those powers can change their owners' personalities, and, most importantly, their effects on their relationships.
Relationships are key to the entire novel. Julianne does not learn of Rob's powers until the book opens, seven years after his acquisition of the powers. Rob is about to set off on an expedition to Kazakhstan in an attempt to rediscover Gilgamesh, who nearly killed him at their first meeting. When he returns, he is faced with the prospect of regaining Julianne's trust and possibly rebuilding a relationship which is exceedingly important in his life. Recently, Allen Steele pointed out that many science fiction novels tend to avoid family situations. Clough has demonstrated that she can handle the emotional baggage associated with family and still present a coherent novel that does not eclipse the science fictional elements or ideas.
Edwin Barbarossa more fully comes into his own character in The Doors of Death and Life, an important event if Clough continues to write books about him, as she has indicated. Although a major character in How Like a God, Barbarossa was clearly a sidekick and second fiddle to Rob Lewis. In The Doors of Death and Life, he becomes more of a focal character and a partner to his powerful friend. Clough has turned him into a character the reader can care about and want to see how he deals with both his unwanted immortality and the notoriety which will follow him once it is made public.
While the reader will understand more of Rob Lewis's ethical dilemma if he has already read How Like a God, familiarity with the earlier book in the series gives more weight to the issues and dilemmas, let alone the situations, which concern Rob and Edwin. How Like a God was a good book, and Clough has surpassed it with this further examination.
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