The Amphora Project
by William Kotzwinkle
Review by Judy Newton
Grove Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0802118038
Date: 10 October, 2005 List Price $23.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Events hurl past so fast that you don't have much time to question whether everything hangs together. There's a slam-bang save-the-universe-at-the-very-last-moment ending. From the slightly slow beginning, momentum builds until you're wondering how the universe will escape destruction by extra-dimensional nasties. In terms of sheer inventiveness, this book reminded me of Bester's The Stars My Destination; there were more new things to marvel over per chapter than whole volumes might contain.
The eponymous project concerns a promised means of achieving eternal life for the humans and aliens of the planet Immortal, ostensibly based on the lost science of the Ancient Aliens. Instead, a horrible, ever-increasing plague of instant death is loosed on the inhabitants. The cast of characters trying to find the cause and a solution for the results of this folly include an irascible pirate of immense appetites; Link, a hapless, lonely scientist specializing in insects; the beautiful, singing butterfly-descended alien who loves him; several assorted robots; and the entire ruling establishment of the planet, led by the Autonomous Observer, an amoral, cybernetically-enhanced control point for the military and other forces- also, a rather attractive woman.
The action proceeds from one exotic locale to another. The Agricultural Plain where Link studies and communicates with insects gives way to a Star-Wars-bar scene in a watering hole filled with aliens from all over this particular Universe (and if you're looking for even the slightest touch of justification for the evolution of any of them, forget it - but they are fun!) The robotic life forms are just as varied as the biological ones, and as an added benefit they are mix-and-match. When a piece of a robot gets destroyed, it just visits a bazaar to find a replacement. Or a junkyard- a major piece of the action takes place on the Junk Moon, a vast recycling venue and final resting place for any kind of mechanical object imaginable.
Although the denouement was just a touch deus-ex-machina for my taste, it was a satisfying conclusion to a ripping yarn full of colorful incident and packed with intriguing characters (in both senses of the word). It would make a terrific movie.