Literature / Eternity Road

"The Illyrians knew the world was round, though some among the lower classes were skeptical. They knew that infections were caused by tiny creatures they could not see, that the pattern of nights and days resulted from the movement of the world and not of the sun, that the Mississippi rose in a land of gigantic ruins and emptied into a gulf whose waters ran untroubled to the horizon."

Eternity Road is a 1997 Sci-Fi novel by Jack McDevitt.

It's the far future, long After the End. The residents of Illyria live (In what was Memphis, Tennessee), among the ruins of the "Roadmakers", named thus because the most lasting remnants of that great civilization were their roads.

When one citizen sets off on an expedition to find the fabled "Haven", where all the lost books of the roadmakers are stored, written about by the mythical Abraham Polk, he returns alone and empty handed, the rest of the party reportedly dead. Nine years later he commits suicide. Strangely enough he bequeaths an assumed lost Roadmaker book named A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court to the sister of one of the men lost on the trip. This leads some to think that maybe he had found Haven after all - but why didn't he tell anyone about it?

A second expedition is assembled to see what the truth is...

Tropes in this book:

  • After the End: A plague hit our civilization after about 20 Minutes into the Future. The book happens around 1,700 years into the future.
    • Dates dropped in the book by Mike are April 10, 2079 (The plague) and March 3, 2211 (131 years later, when Mike loses contact with the other computers). Later, at the planetary society they learn a space telescope has been offline for 741 years.
  • Anyone Can Die: A trademark of McDevitt. Order of death: Silas, Jon, Avila.
  • Benevolent A.I.: There are several surviving examples of AI among the Roadmaker ruins that do nothing more than what they are supposed to do.
  • Boring Return Journey: The return isn't covered, really. They do get back according to the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The abandoned cars everywhere are called "hojjies" for the man who spent his life trying to figure them out.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Lightning activates a hologram to give Chaka a much-needed pep talk.
  • Darkest Hour: When they're about to give up after losing Avila to Pirates.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Mike knew they had a fire lamp, but didn't think there could be flammable gas buildup in rooms closed for centuries.
  • Future Imperfect: They study the religious monuments of the past — Highways. They must have been of great spiritual significance, because the ancestors built them everywhere. They even call our civilization the "Roadmakers".
  • Hologram: Of Winston Churchill, complete with the smell of his cigar and awareness of his surroundings.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: "Mike", the computer running the ruins of Chicago's Union Station wants to be shut off.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Quait says this after they land the balloon.
  • Lost Common Knowledge: Much, but one example is two characters wondering what a "chamber of commerce" could have been.
  • Never Found the Body: It initially looks like it's heading for an Everybody Lives ending, so this trope is used after the first sudden death during a lighthearted section. The second such death—not so much.
  • Mr. Exposition: Mike, the computer which was operating the Chicago rail transit system is finally able to talk some about the Roadmaker.
  • Pirates: Of the Great Lakes, no less.
  • Pacing Problems: It is a good book, but in order:
    • Prolonged Prologue: A quarter of the book passes describing Illyrian society and the recent political swings before the expedition actually gets underway. This would be great if all that was actually important to the plot later on.
    • Cosmic Deadline: Then as the book nears its end the adventures hit harder and faster as if the author just wanted to tell his stories and get the book over with.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: The AI computer running the city of Chicago is still up and running many, many years after a plague kills off much of humanity, as is "The Dragon" (a tram). Also the automated security system of a bank. The in universe explantion is there are "powersats" still beaming power down, and the Roadmakers built things to last.
    • Lampshaded in a poignant line when a character finds some rotten books and laments that the only thing the roadmakers made that didn't stand up to time was plain old paper.
  • Road Trip Plot: The book follows a second expedition.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: Eternity Road has this in its title—we're remembered as the "Roadmakers," because our highways are just about the only things we left behind.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The last few pages.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: On the tram, they see an advertisement for a car called the Helios, the "best buy for '57", later they learn the trains started running empty in 2079. Either no one updated the ads for 22 years before the plague, or "'57" isn't an abbreviated year number.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Speech given by a hologram of Winston Churchill