Book: Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg

Good alternate history

Robert Silverberg
Roma Eterna
HarperCollins, 2004 (originally published in 2003)
ISBN: 0-380-81488-9
449 pages

Roma Eterna is an alternate history book. As you might guess from the title, in the world of the book, the Roman empire never fell. The book consists of ten loosely-related stories (plus a prologue) and in each story there's some pivotal event for the long-enduring empire. The prologue takes place in the year 450 (in our calendar) which is shortly before the real Roman empire fell. The first story takes place in 529, shortly after it (really) fell, and the last story takes place in 1970.

As Mr Silverberg has one of his characters explain somewhat laboriously in the prologue, the book's departure from our history is that the Jewish Exodus from Egypt failed. Since Jews never settled in Canaan (which the book's Romans would place in the province of Syria Palestina), Christianity couldn't start near there and, as it happened in the book, didn't start anywhere else. Therefore Christianity couldn't come to undermine Roman society and precipitate the empire's decline and eventual collapse. It seems that at least for the purpose of this book, Mr Silverberg follows the historian Edward Gibbon.

Taken individually, the stories are good or very good and pretty interesting to read. And they're also varied at least in their subjects, if not so much in their tone. They're told from various different points of view and some are first-person narratives and some are third-person. In some of the stories we meet people from our history who are in rather different circumstances in that history. And, naturally, it's Romans who first cross the ocean and meet the inhabitants of the New World.

Since the stories were originally published independently, there's some repetition in the not-always-completely-elegant exposition that they generally begin with, but that's a pretty small thing.

Taken as a whole, the book is even better than the stories are individually. The stories build up a picture of a remarkable empire in which power moves this way and that, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad or random ones, but Rome endures. It's almost as though the gods were looking out for it.

Posted: Sat - June 9, 2007 at 08:05 PM   Main   Category: