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ROMA ETERNA by Robert Silverberg


by Robert Silverberg

Pub Date: June 4th, 2003
ISBN: 0-380-97859-8
Publisher: Eos/HarperCollins

From the veteran author/editor (The Longest Way Home, 2002, etc.), a fix-up consisting of ten stories, 1989–2003, some of which have appeared before in somewhat different form, whose premise is a highly familiar one: What if the Roman Empire never fell? Silverberg's crucial divergence point is the Exodus: here, Moses failed, the Hebrews were re-enslaved, Israel never arose, neither did Christianity, and still-pagan Rome defeated its barbarian foes. By the equivalent of a.d. 450, the Eastern Empire under Justinianus at Constantinople is strong, while the Western Empire is weak and again beset by barbarians. Silverberg replays the stock Shakespearean tale of Falstaff and Prince Hal: suddenly, both the emperor and his heir die, the once-dissolute Prince Maximilianus spurns Faustus, his old companion-in-iniquity, and assumes Caesar's mantle. Less than a century later, Corbulo, exiled to Mecca for offending Caesar, arranges the assassination of the prophet Mohammed. In other episodes, the Mayans rebuff an attempted Roman invasion; the Byzantine Empire attacks and defeats Rome—temporarily; a Roman emperor recapitulates a brutal Spanish voyage of conquest across the Pacific; mad emperors come and go, threatening but never quite toppling the Imperium, as do wars of secession and reunion. Finally, the Republic is bloodily restored, but Rome continues; and a small band of militant Jews attempts to build a starship and found an Israel far off in space.

Works better as individual stories, where Silverberg can bring his scholarship to bear, than as a quasi-novel whose overall justification grows steadily more improbable.