Another Robert Silverberg related retro review.
This one is from July 23, 2010 …
The joints between these six stories are too loose, too many conflicts and plot points aren’t tied off – perhaps because they were left to attach to a third volume that was never done, and too many logical contradictions exist for this to be considered as a novel or even a particularly coherent series of stories set in the same universe. Rather think of each installment as another permutation of the central conceit: resurrecting a couple of historical personages who never met each other and see if anything interesting happens when you throw them together.
Almost half the book is taken up by Gregory Benford’s “The Eagle and the Cross“. While it’s a sequel to his much worse “The Rose and the Scalpel” from Time Gate, it’s still an uneasy mix of satire on a future nanny state, Benford’s characteristic interest in the conflict between machine and organic intelligences, and a farce featuring J. Edgar Hoover . Benford doesn’t opt for the probably historically inaccurate version of Hoover as a transvestite and homosexual. Here he comes off as more of a sexual sadist who needs to break in his new assistant – Torquemada. These two strident preservers of the orthodox order are charged with hunting down the fugitive Voltaire and Joan of Arc from the earlier story.
Christopher Stasheff’s “The Simulated Golem” has an interesting set up: an industrialist asks a simulacrum of Rabbi Loew to recreate his legendary Golem of Prague. The Rabbi protests more than once that it’s just a story, he did no such thing. Loew refuses to even attempt such a thing despite the arguments of anarchist Bakunin. So far so good, but the motives of Stasheff’s industrialist villain are so clichéd, his anti-Semitism ringing so untrue for modern Christian fundamentalists (or their modestly extrapolated versions in this future), that the story is ruined.
Robert Sheckley’s “The Resurrection Machine”, featuring a Cicero simulacrum, was one of the best stories in the first volume of the series. His “Simul City” is the best story here. A wealthy man thinks he will, upon his death, have himself copied to New Rome, a beautiful simulated city in cyberspace and rule it with his queen, a Cleopatra simulacrum. But Machiavelli, Cicero, and Caesar have other ideas. A very satisfying resolution and well-done characterization – especially of Cleopatra and Cicero. Mark Antony even shows up.
“The Murderer” from Matthew J. Costello actually breaks the series formula. There are no historical personages, only a quest to discover the real identity of Jack the Ripper via a very elaborate, one run only simulation of Victorian London. The ending is unexpected if not entirely satisfying because, like almost all these stories, too much is left to happen offstage at story’s end. Still, it’s the second best story here.
“Pedigreed Stallion” from Anne McCaffrey has Rudyard Kipling and Margaret Thatcher resurrected to serve some vague corporate ends. Kipling is dissatisfied at not actually being able to venture into the world to observe it for himself – even if just to see the response to his new poetry. Thatcher recruits him for some vague cause, and the ever present Bakunin shows up to aid and incite simulacra rebellion.
Karen Haber’s “Simbody to Love” has a French woman, an “economic hostage” trapped in America, falling in love with her creation – a gay Michelangelo. The story is moderately interesting for its theme of imprisonment and an end which uses the possibilities of resurrection as a simulacrum.
With this volume, the whole Time Gate series proves to be another shared world series that doesn’t work despite some good individual pieces. And, on the level of their individual merit, only Sheckley’s story is really worth reading unless the interface of Hoover and Torquemada intrigues you.