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    Review of ISLE OF WOMAN by Piers Anthony (see his website)


    Tor, September 1993

    In the beginning of human pre-history, mankind learned to throw stones use fire, and create vivid pictures with words. Doing so gave him an advantage over other animals, allowed him to spread out of Africa and into the rest of the world. In those earliest beginnings, mankind shared the world with other hominids. Over time, he had only to share it with other humans, but even that proved sometimes difficult.

    Author Piers Anthony (see more reviews of novels by Anthony) envisions a connected lifetime. Two people, Ember and Blaze, are in love back in the beginning of time, but they can never marry as they come from the same tribe. Blaze must leave the tribe and strike out on his own, as all men do. Repeating their lives over and over, in locations around the world as humanity spreads, they see, and take part in both the epic and tiny changes that create history--control of fire, contact with the neandertols, reaching Australia, creation of early civilization in the Tigris/Euphrates basin, Rome, China, the Mongol Empire all play their part and in every case the continuing characters are there. Anthony advances the ages of the characters slightly with each shift (some of which encompass thousands or even millions of years), but allows them a continuous history.

    It's a strange approach to story-telling--Ember and Blaze each have families, grow older, yet keep their fascination with fire and with the cultural advances of the times. The characters keep the same names and (evolving) backstory, yet this isn't an immortal, living through time--it's a lifetime played again and again against a different backdrop--but with that backdrop adding consequence to the decisions they make.

    Anthony ends his story with a bit of a twist, shifting not to the present, but to a near-future where the consequences of many of the decisions that mankind has made play themselves out. The ending is bittersweet, and Anthony adds a hard-hitting author note for anyone who missed the point.

    I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this story and I suspect that few authors have the skill to pull something like this off, or the clout with publishers to persuade them to take a chance on such a radically different form of story. Piers Anthony, however, manages to involve the reader in both the struggles his families must undertake and the playout of history and anthropology as mankind literally conquers and vanquishes the earth. The decade and a half since ISLE OF WOMAN was published bear out some of the most frightening of Anthony's concerns. Still, the fact that authors like Anthony can take a stand like this and write so persuasively is cause for some hope for the earth. I certainly recommend ISLE OF WOMAN to anyone who is uncertain about the tradeoff between 'jobs' and the environment.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 1/11/07

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