Picks and Pans Review: The Last Legends of Earth

updated 12/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by A.A. Attanasio

There is good news and bad news for the future of mankind in Attanasio's latest sci-fi epic. Two billion years after our planet and the whole galaxy have flamed out in a supernova, the human race still muddles on. The downside is that we exist merely as bait in a bitter battle for survival between two other species.

A creature known as Rimstalker has regenerated man from fossilized DNA strands and placed these reconstituted humans in a machine-created solar system. There, our kind serves as fodder for zotl, sapient, winged spiders who sustain themselves on the excruciating pain they inflict on victims such as us. Rimstalker has revived our species only to lure in the zotl so that she may destroy them.

Actually, we're a marked-down replacement series. The original creatures used as bait were too intelligent and enlightened, so Rimstalker ordered her helpers: "Find me another species, a more cruel, more selfish species, whose suffering will not empty our hearts." Even in this bleak existence, man still creates myths and evinces a need to believe in a benevolent grand scheme of things.

In this future, space and time are often fractured, and the characters, both alien and human, jump through the seven millennia and 15 planets of this cosmic roach motel as if engaged in a deadly game of Chutes and Ladders. All this presents a megabig canvas for Attanasio to work on, but he has created out of it, as he did in the excellent Radix, a wonderfully realized, richly-detailed and cohesive novel. (Doubleday/Foundation,$18.95)

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