The Veils of Azlaroc

by Fred Saberhagen
Reviewed date: 2006 Aug 22
Rating: 3
216 pages
cover art

Azlaroc is a world in a binary system consisting of a black hole and a pulsar. Azlaroc is suitable for human life, but the colonists face an unusual threat. Each year, the pulsar throws off a veil of interstellar space-time-matter that covers all of Azlaroc. Each veil separates that year's colonists from the people of other years. Colonists can see and communicate with other colonists who are only a few veils apart, but people who are separated by more than a few veils can see each other only as shadowy ghosts, and cannot communicate at all. Once a person has been caught in a veil, he can live on Azlaroc but can never leave; he is forever out of sync with the rest of the universe.

The plot of The Veils of Azlaroc has been criticized as unfocused and incomplete. This is true. Saberhagen follows four main plotlines, each of which explores a facet of Azlarocean life. The weakest subplot follows one of the original colonists, who realizes the year's veil will be falling ahead of schedule, and tries to warn the rest of the colonists. Another story follows a settler named Ramachandra, who believes he has found a way to escape the veils and leave Azlaroc. Meanwhile, a deranged poet hires a bounty hunter to retrieve a book of his poems, which he buried with his wife on Azlaroc. And finally, a tourist comes to Azlaroc and contemplates staying, but is wary of the permanence of the decision.

The concept of veils is fascinating, but Saberhagen didn't fully explore their consequences from a science fiction standpoint. The science is preposterous and self-contradictory. The Veils of Azlaroc would have been better written as fantasy. It should also be longer, and focus on one or two viewpoint characters, not four separate stories.

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