Dale Cozort is an interesting guy. He’s a hard-working writer, and he’s a friend of mine. Among the Kansas Bunch, Dale’s the guy who gets things done.
At summer camp in Kansas this year, during the book signing event, I picked up Dale’s latest work and gave it to him to sign. We chatted a bit and he hesitated over the page, and wrote his name. No personal message, no ready quip. (In contrast, Kevin Anderson wrote “faster than light!” in my copy of Tau Ceti, a generic message in what turned out to be a generic story.) Dale hesitated and just wrote his name in functional cursive. It made me laugh. That’s Dale.
I am biased in favor of Mr. Cozort, but I will never say I liked something I didn’t, just because the writer is my pal. If I didn’t like it, I’d just say nothing. I liked All Timelines Lead to Rome.
I’ve seen early drafts of some of his other stories and they’re problematic, as are the early drafts of every story. Seeing those drafts colors my expectations, even as people who read my drafts form their own conclusions. But Dale’s a hard-working writer, and an intelligent man, and he’s not afraid of a rewrite. Even if he doesn’t agree with a particular criticism, he will use his defense of it to improve the story. What comes out in the end is a solid tale.
Dale loves to mash cultures together. I think he spends his idle time just pondering things like “what would a pre-columbian Apache think of Beethoven?” It’s what Dale does. (My own thought: what would Beethoven do with electric guitars?) This time, we have discovered that with an adequate application of energy, we can cross to an alternate Earth where the Romans are still in control after all this time. But two thousand years later, they still haven’t sailed across the Atlantic. Technological advancement has stopped over in Europe. In America, the Indians are entering the bronze age.
The reason the Romans have maintained their power yet have ceased any technological advancement is a fascinating one. Without the intervention of our timeline, I imagine Indians in Pennsylvania learning steel and kicking Europe’s ass.
There’s nothing like that in the book, but it’s a credit to Dale’s idea that one is tempted to spin new what-ifs against the original conceit. It’s fun that way.
And while Dale loves to mash cultures together, his main guy in this story is devoted to keeping them apart. He’s on a team to limit the harm done to both worlds by free interaction. An impossible job. Around him are people drooling over the oil fields in alternate Texas, coveting the real estate in the alternate Montana, and smuggling sweet (and potentially plague-bearing) artifacts from alternate Rome.
Perhaps the best idea in the story is the realization that what has caused alternate Rome to stagnate is contageous (in a social sense of the word, not a biological one). Once alternate Rome’s secret comes over to our world, technology might stagnate here, too. There are some really tricky ethical questions that come along for the ride. There’s a government cover-up, and at first I thought it was silly, and not a strength of the story. Even the current US Government wouldn’t blindly try to cover up something like this, right? Oh, wait, I take that back.
For all the good ideas, there are some rough edges to the book. Some gripes, intentionally left vague:
I just don’t buy the spunky cop/street gang thing. It just doesn’t make sense; gangs aren’t that patient. Too big an investment with no specific reward. The stretch would be easier to take if resulting events weren’t so central to the plot. And then there’s the personal history between two of the other characters that seems, well, convenient. And the resource-endowed member of that pair would probably have played things differently. Then there is a decision by the good guys that puts our hero in the right place, but it doesn’t hold up well under the spotlight, protect-both-worlds-wise.
None of those things stopped me from reading the story, and enjoying it. Sometimes you just have to turn off the damn spotlight.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to like this story as much as I did. (Sorry, Dale.) You see enough early versions by a writer and it colors your perception. But as I mentioned before Dale’s a hard worker, and we all start with crappy drafts. Best thing: the real strength of this tale is not any of the stuff I’ve mentioned so far. It’s the people. While I must be careful not to spoil things, not everyone is who they seem to be. Loyalty is the highest virtue and it shows up in surprising places. The crisis that foments the action comes from someone acting on the highest ideals.
And there are people with serious personal issues whom you like anyway. As a reader I found some of their bruises tougher to buy than others, but none of the main people is entirely whole. Everyone’s a little bit broken, and that makes a good story.
Generally I’m not hesitant to throw out spoilers, but this time I’m being coy, because I’d like you to read the story. I’m a little worried I’m overselling it; it’s not perfect, but I had a genuine good time reading this. Maybe you will too.
Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Judith Leiber Nabila Crocodile Exotic Shoulder Bag), I get a kickback.