The Veiled Web
by Catherine Asaro, futuristic (1999)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58151-1

The reason why I turned from much sneered-at genre of science fiction and fantasy to the sneered-at-just-as-much genre of romance (you can always say I'ma fan of the underdogs) is that sci-fi/fantasy seems to be losing much of the humanity that make up their very core. Catherine Asaro's The Veiled Web, however, is a wonderful throwback to the very books that got me hooked on the sci-fi genre in the first place: wonderful, wonderful characters. The pace can be sluggish at times, and the relationship between Lucia del Mar and Rashid al-Jazari can be tighter, but The Veiled Web is essentially a wonderful story.

It's 2010, and life are much more fun. Virtual reality is no problem anymore (can I have that fantasy about me and Brendan Fraser - circa 1999 version - please?) and browsers talk to us. And Rashid has created Zaki, a computer that puts R2D2 to shame. Our heroine Lucia is a ballerina specializing in flamenco/ballet hybrids and she encounters Rashid in a royal dinner in Spain. She discovers that he invented her favorite web browser, and he discovers that she puts Catherine Zeta-Jones to shame.

Their paths cross thanks to a bungled kidnap job, and soon they find themselves married to each other. Ho ho. And I, the reader, is plunged into a rich, colorful world where Islam, dance, artificial intelligence, and technology co-exists in an uneasy equilibrium.

I love The Veiled Web - reading it is akin to tickling my bare feet in warm grass. Nice, fun, and it leaves the warm feeling in my heart that usually happens after a book has succeeded in transporting me into a world far away. And I like Lucia and Rashid. Sure, Lucia can be somewhat dull and unadventurous - in Morocco, I would surely go wandering and seeing some sights instead of talking to a computer like Lucia did. And Rashid can be obnoxiously arrogant at times (2010, 1920 - men never change, eh?).

Still, when they are together, sparks do fly and their repartee and interaction are fun. But I love The Veiled Web not as a romance, but as a wonderful window into another world rich in intriguingly new things to see and hear and feel. It is as if I were in this story, using Websparks (Rashid's breakthrough browser) to glimpse the wonders of a new, brave world of Ms Asaro's creation. And I love the experience, utterly.

And most of all, The Veiled Web retains a heart and soul despite the technology that forms the core of the story. A love story amidst the bytes and bandwidth, if you will. And for a fascinating teleportation into a wonderful, colorful, electrifying adventure with romance and danger, The Veiled Web more than satisfies.

Rating: 90

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