June 06, 2003

Archform: Beauty, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Modesitt writes two kinds of novels: those that follow his normal formula, and experiments. I usually like the former, though I confess the formula's beginning to get old; I usually like the latter as well, but, alas, not in this case.

Archform: Beauty is set a couple of centuries in the future. Most consumer goods, and even most food, is assembled by nanomachine. The big thing is "resonance": the use of sound engineered to produces specific responses. "Rez" is used in pop music and in advertising; non-rez music is a dying art.

The book is something of a mystery novel, mostly involving a power grab by an organized crime family. The family is mostly organized as a bunch of corporations, and almost everything the family does is above board. The rest is the kicker.

I've got a number of complaints about this book. To begin with, it's got too many viewpoint characters: a music teacher, a reporter, a senator, a crime boss, and a detective, and maybe a couple of others I'm not thinking of at the moment. Each character has his or her own distinct voice and concerns, none of which really overlap in any obvious way as the book begins. Consequently, you have to get quite a ways into the book before you find out what it's all about.

And that's my next complaint. The book doesn't know what it's about. It ought to be about "rez", and the tension between the "rez" and real music; it's clearly supposed to be about the importance of beauty. And these things are discussed to some extent, but the plot doesn't hinge on them. You could pull "rez" and the music teacher out the book with little effect on the story.

On the whole, I was disappointed. Usually, a Modesitt novel grabs me and won't let go until I'm done. This one I had to push to get through.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 6, 2003 05:05 PM