Elizabeth Ann Scarborough,
Cleopatra 7.2
(Ace/Berkley, 2004)

Back in 1989, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough won the Science Fiction Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Novel for her book The Healer's War. The novel drew upon Scarborough's traumatic and intensely emotional experiences as an army nurse in Vietnam. Orson Scott Card called it "the finest work of fiction I've seen about the Vietnam War."

It's interesting that while this breakthrough novel is cited in the press release sheet that accompanied the review copy of Cleopatra 7.2, the title is misidentified, leaving out the "The." It's not a terribly important thing, perhaps, but it's sloppy. And so is this new novel. Cleopatra 7.2 is the sequel to Channeling Cleopatra, which reviewer Victoria Strauss referred to as "an enjoyable light read." Talk about damning with faint praise.

Cleopatra 7.2 is certainly no more engaging or weighty. The story opens with the discovery of the secret tomb of Cleopatra Philopater, Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt. The tomb has been located thanks in no small part to the Nile queen herself. She's been brought back to life through a scientific process known as blending, her DNA superimposed on that of forensic anthropologist Leda Hubbard. And now, thanks to a second sample of DNA, gathered from remains found in the newly opened hidden tomb, a second reincarnation of Cleopatra has been revived within the vessel of Egyptologist Gabriella Faruk.

And so we're off and running. The board of directors of the corporation funding the development of the blending technology is plotting to wrest control over the technique from its inventor and their overly cautious chairman. Meanwhile, the newly arisen Cleopatra is single-mindedly focused on finding a sample of Marc Antony's DNA so she can be reunited with her beloved. Stir in a group of terrorists plotting to blow up the museum where Cleopatra's remains are being stored. Add a wealthy and vengeful Saudi amir out to punish Gabriella for her clandestine work rescuing Arab women from their subservient lives behind the veil.

But wait, there's more -- a secret cabal of ultra-wealthy environmentalists who like to dress up as Egyptian gods and goddesses, a recovering alcoholic mercenary with a conscience, a pair of fake Tibetan monks and a dead ex-cop hiding inside a German woman whose husband has been abducted.

In the end, Cleopatra 7.2 struck me as just plain silly. The book is rife with improbable plot conveniences; just when the heroine is in desperate need of a helping hand, a more-than-capable friend miraculously shows up. Considering that blending is a supposedly secret and still experimental technique, everyone in this novel seems to be willing to discuss it with strangers, or knows someone who's housing a famous ghost, or is jumping into line to have the procedure performed. You too can join the throng of ordinary folk with illustrious dead people camped out inside them.

Obviously, this book isn't meant to be taken particularly seriously, but it doesn't manage to conjure up enough humor to function as farce either. It's like a laugh-track bolstered network sitcom, amusing at times, but essentially bland and safe. The relentless pace of the plot may keep the pages turning but it leaves no room for significant character development. Cleopatra 7.2 aims for high intensity but its impact is blunted and glancing because there's very little of substance buried in Scarborough's Egyptian sands.

by Gregg Thurlbeck
24 June 2006

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