Author : Bob Newbell

“The Path Not Taken”
Author: Quintus Caecilius Cordus
Rigel Kentaurus Press, MMDCCLXVI AUC

Reviewed by Domitius Felix Andronicus
Mars Literary Review, Amazonis Planitia

Quintus Caecilius Cordus’ latest book may raise an eyebrow with readers expecting the grand old historian of Rigel Kent to gratify us with another “The Punic Wars Re-Examined” or “The Discovery of New Europa”. In “The Path Not Taken,” Cordus reimagines rather than relates the history of the Empire and thence extrapolates an odd and unfamiliar world both fascinating and frightening.

Cordus begins in the year when Vetus and Nerullinus were consuls (modern calendar: DCCCIII AUC) with the advent of the aeolipile steam engine by Hero of Alexandria. But in the historian’s alternate past, the Greek engineer and mathematician becomes not the father of the Industrial Revolution, but merely a comparatively obscure inventor, both the man and his machine relegated to historical footnotes. It is here that Cordus imagines history diverging into a bizarre parallel world where steam power would remain an undeveloped art for nearly MM years.

The chapters that follow this introduction reveal a strangely static world in which technology advances with agonizing slowness. The Germanic Wars, to take a single example, continue unabated for centuries, leading ultimately to the Empire’s collapse. With frequently poetic prose, Cordus describes a nightmarish world of war without end fought with weapons unchanged from the pre-industrial era. No steam tanks roll across Thrace during the Battle of Philippopolis to defeat the Goths. No airships drop bombs to end the Siege of Mainz. And, needless to say, there is no atom bombing of Germania resulting in the surrender of the Germani and their assimilation into the Empire.

Cordus envisions a millennium-long dark age in Europa after the Empire’s fall with the center of civilization shifting to the south and east. He speculates about a great monotheistic empire originating in the Arabian Peninsula holding sway over much of Asia and extending in Europa as well. But at last, the author postulates Europa waking from her thousand year intellectual slumber as various polities rediscover the heritage of Classical Antiquity. It is this hodgepodge of nation-states, not a unified Roman Empire, that discover and then conquer New Europa.

Somewhat amusingly, Cordus pictures Britannia ultimately rising to Great Power status and even has the island creating a globe-girdling empire of its own as Hero’s steam engine is finally reinvented after MDCC years. This is one of a number of flights of fancy in the book that will undoubtedly prove controversial. This hypothetical Britannic Empire itself is eventually superseded by a New Europan successor state.

Perhaps the oddest speculation in which Cordus indulges is the rise of an obscure messianic sect of Judaism eclipsing the gods of the traditional pantheon with a distinct monotheistic faith. He takes this conjecture to rather ridiculous lengths, going so far as to develop an alternative calendrical system based on the birth of the Jewish Savior. More curious still, he renders these alternative dates parenthetically next to the conventional years using Arabic numerals. Thus, Christophorus Columbus lands in New Europa (rather than, as he actually did, on the surface of Mars) in MMCCXLV AUC (1492). The current year is written equally incomprehensibly as “2013”.

This book will doubtless divide Cordus’ readership with some applauding the historian’s fertile imagination while others long for an examination of the Caesars or a treatise on the Empire’s early interstellar expansion. “The Path Not Taken” is available for quantum entanglement download throughout the Empire via the Imperial Hypernet.

Mars Literary Review. Copyright MMDCCLXVI AUC.

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