Margaret (pling) wrote,

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"Ghosts of Columbia" by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

I read "Ghosts of Columbia" by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. over the last couple of days - it's an omnibus edition of two novels set in an alternate universe where ghosts are real. If someone dies suddenly & knows what's happening then they leave behind a ghost that haunts the place where they died, for a while. Modesitt extrapolates out from this to postulate a world with a smaller population (all those ghosts of women who died in childbirth are rather inhibiting for subsequent wives), and with some different history (conquest is harder when the land you've conquered is full of the ghosts of those you slew wailing at you all the time). The book is set in roughly modern times, but due to the US being a patchwork of smaller nations who are not necessarily at peace there's more emphasis on energy efficient & environmentally concious solutions to modern technology - no one nation has the oil & other fuel reserves that the US currently has. My knowledge of how all this worked out in the real world is more than a little shaky, so as with a lot of US based alternate history I took it pretty much on trust. I did wonder about the middle east oil fields, but may have missed where they were discussed & dismissed while I was paying more attention to the story.

The story itself is almost Clancy-esque - Johan Eschbach is a former member of the Spazi (CIA equivalent) and a former member of the government who is now teaching Environmental Politics at a University in a backwater town. I suspect if I had more knowledge of East Coast US towns I'd recognise this one - it has that feel of 'look how this is just off kilter'. Eschbach is trying to get on with his life now he's left his governmental (and other) work behind, but when another Professor at the university is murdered he gets drawn back in against his will.

Overall I did like this, and enjoyed reading it - but it didn't quite gel for me. I found the alternate universe extrapolations distracted from the story at times (even though ghosts were integral to the plot), and I didn't entirely agree with them - I think because he'd kept too many of the names the same. If the population growth has been totally different over the whole of human history why would there still have been a Babbage at roughly the right period of history? And why would this Babbage still have invented a difference engine? Why given all the differences in the history in the American nations would there still have been a Roosevelt in power at roughly the right time? I can see that using those names kept it closer to the real world, and gave it that alternate history feeling, but it made it seem more contrived to me. And made it seem a bit more like the plot & device were both conceived to carry the message of eco-friendliness that a lot Modesitt's science fiction seems to carry. And I'm not that keen on having Message beaten over my head.
Tags: books
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