Caesar, beware the monotheistic religions of March…


I recently finished reading Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg.  This is an alternate history, asking the question ‘what if Rome never fell?’  Or it purports to ask that question.  The real ‘what if?’ is ‘what if the Exodus never happened?’ – the main effect is that Rome doesn’t fall, and at various points during this alternate history, the theme that a monotheistic religion would be dangerous to the Roman Empire is hammered home with all the subtlety of a herd of elephants walking across bubble wrap.

It’s an absolutely fascinating concept for a book, and it contains oodles of intriguing ideas and situations, but it completely failed to grab hold of my imagination or to excite me, and I’m not entirely sure why.  In the end, the whole thing is just rather dull, falling far short of my expectations.  History is often cyclical, but the repetition of situations and stock characters throughout the ten snapshots from 1500 years of Rome’s history soon becomes tedious.  Ooh, look, here’s another supposedly idle prince who reveals greater depth to his character.  And heavens, is there an old retainer who thinks that Rome is slipping into decadence?  Why, yes, there is!  Yawn.  Civil war, assassination, conquest and romance all blend into an insipid, unsatisfying soup of unfulfilled potential.

I like alternate histories.  Fatherland is a particularly fine example.  And I often like stories based in Rome.  But this just bored me.  Too many ideas and too little execution.  I think the problem is that the author got ever so excited thinking ‘ooh, ooh, ooh, wouldn’t it be exciting if the Romans had trouble conquering the New World’ and forgot to put any excitement in.  Ah, well, never mind.  Hopefully, my next read will redress the balance and exceed expectations.  Fingers crossed…

    • Phil
    • June 28th, 2006

    Sounds like it almost could be interesting. I’ve got an alternate history novel (Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson) sitting on the table at home waiting for me to pick it up. Thing is I’ve just finished a big thick book by the same author and for now want something lighter (better pick up the Neil Gaiman book of short stories instead and get on with it).

  1. Smoke and Mirrors? I must read that at some point! Yes, it was almost interesting, and that almost was a very depressing almost. Years of Rice and Salt looks interesting, too. I hope you don’t experience an ‘almost’ with that one. David

    • Phil
    • July 7th, 2006

    Just starting Smoke and Mirrors for the train trip down south today. Sure does look good from what I’v read so far 🙂

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