September 07, 2005

Flash, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

This book is set in the same world as Modesitt's earlier book Archform: Beauty (not that you'd know it from anything on the cover), and pleasantly enough it has a more intelligible plot than its its predecessor. It's set in a near future Earth in which genetic experimentation and high-tech are starting to divide the human race into distinct classes (indeed, there are intriguing hints that Modesitt's Adiamante might be set in the far future of this same world, in which case we're seeing the birth of the "cybs"). Beyond that, it's basically a competent thriller.

Although they didn't hinder my enjoyment, there are two things about the book that annoyed me. The first is the maguffin--the Evil Multinational Corporations Are Trying To Take Over The World. It reminded me too much of some of the overheated rhetoric I've seen on the 'Net over the last few years.

The second--and considerably more annoying--is Modesitt's handling of place names. Our hero, for example, lives in the major metropolitan center of "Denv"--the city we know as "Denver". Similarly we have "Minpolis" for "Minneapolis", and "Epaso" for "El Paso".

Now, it's a long-time game of SF authors to have fun with mutating place names over long periods of time. The thing is, there's usually some kind of return to barbarism involved. The names were transmitted orally, and the language and pronunciation shifted over time, and when civilization and writing returned the names were written down as they had come to be spoken. There's no such reversion and regrowth in this case, so far as I can tell--which means that the name changes were a conscious choice on somebody's part, and I just can't see it. In fact, I can't see it either way--I can't see "Denver" mutating into "Denv" through oral tradition, and I can't imagine anyone thinking that "Denv" is a nicer name than "Denver". And why on earth would you choose to go from "El Paso" to "Epaso"? It's not even easier to say, and it looks funny too. Ugh.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 7, 2005 06:52 PM