Empress of Eternity—Science Fiction Yet?

By L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

My “original” title for Empress of Eternity was Artifice of Eternity, a direct crib from the poet William Butler Yeats, but that title didn’t last long once the sales department pointed out that my title was far too similar to an earlier title of mine—The Eternity Artifact. While I like the “new” title, it didn’t occur to me immediately that Empress of Eternity carried with it the implication that the book was fantasy.  I later did a quick search and discovered that while there have been a handful of science fiction books published with empress in the title [including Kage Baker’s recent The Empress of Mars], the vast majority of “empress” books are either fantasy, romance, or historical novels, or non-fiction history  books, and it appears that I may be the only male author writing a science fiction novel with a title featuring an empress, a rather dubious distinction.

Writing Empress of Eternity was extremely challenging, and I made the decision, wisely or not, to leave it up to the readers to work out many of the implications of the societies and technologies depicted. I would offer the observation that while what the reader sees through the observations of the characters is accurate, in that the characters are all “reliable,” as with all characters, what they draw from what they see is based on who they are, and a perceptive reader is likely to draw other conclusions than those drawn by the characters. Not one of the societies depicted is either utopia or dystopia, but they do show different possibilities for the far future.

The technologies and technological insights in the book are based on relatively “hard” science, and on how science, myth, and time intertwine, but the novel is just as much, if not more, about people, and how they react to threats to themselves and their societies.  The three societies the protagonists inhabit are separated by hundreds of thousands of years, yet linked by what appears to be an eternal, unchanging—and unchangeable—2,000 mile long canal, a waterway serving comparatively low-tech purposes created by an ancient [to the protagonists] great high-tech civilization whose unseen shadow seems to dwarf these future technological and space-faring societies that follow that of the creators of the canal.

The three teams of scientists tend to reflect their cultures—one aristocratic, one communal, and one more libertarian—but all three seek both higher technology and answers in the one set of seemingly empty chambers of the canal that can be accessed, and all will find that what they find is anything but what they expected.  What they discover about each other, about the universe, and about time, is also not what they expect.  As the characters also discover, sometimes “truths” aren’t, and who pays for what… and how…can also bring a new meaning to question, “Do you really want your heart’s desire?”

Empress of Eternity (978-0-7653-2664-5, $25.99) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr became available November 9, 2010. Visit L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s website to learn more about his work.

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Related link: Read a chapter excerpt on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist