The Revelations of Time and Space

The Revelations of Time and Space, by Brian Stableford. Snuggly Books, 2020

Review by Sally Startup

A fascinating work of science fiction, and also a story about love and empathy. This is both a recycling of many previous stories and a completely new extrapolation of ideas.

I found this novel gripping; plausible and scary. It is, after all, a description of the end of my own world. Part one is told from the point of view of Zephaniah Corcoran, who finds conventional social interraction with his own species problematic, yet has a unique gift for empathising with non-human beings. In part two, the viewpoint switches to that of his sister Denise, who has had to live in the shadow of her brother’s fame. Together, they are facing an apocalypse, yet there are still various important personal choices to be made.

The author took my imagination in directions I would never have found on my own. Though filled with some very intricate explanations of invented future technology, the novel is about people. It is also about who, and what, our understanding of people might expand to include. I enjoyed it with relish. It also had the delicious effect of returning into my thoughts many times after I had come to the end of the last sentence.

 

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Living with the Dead

Living With the Dead by Brian Stableford

Published by Black Coat Press 2019

review by Sally Startup

No longer in Paris, Paul Furnuret lives in an isolated mountain cottage near Toulouse. He feels psychically protected. His portraits of Juliette, Jane and his embryonic sister are there to keep him company, as is Madame Louvot, who now acts as his housekeeper. However, Zosima’s all-female cult have taken over an old convent building nearby. There are rumours of conflict within their community. At the same time, various ‘alpinists’ are intent on exploring the Great Cleft, a rock fissure reputed to be bottomless.

It is 1909. Paul has become quite successful as a painter. Even without the aid of hypnosis, he is almost able to enter trance states at will, just by practising his art. And yet, he has more to discover regarding the workings of his talent and his own deeper nature. Both Madame Louvot and Zosima still fear that he is in some danger.

The arrival of the young English inheritors of the legal rights to the mountain, only adds to the atmosphere of impending change. Soon there are a number of unsettling revelations. As Paul learns more of the intricacies of everyone’s psychic and imaginary landscapes, his attitude remains kind. Nevertheless, he cannot help but feel threatened and vulnerable.

Yet Paul is an artist. When he finally learns some of his own deepest truths, he believes himself capable of surviving. He may, however, need the support of all of his friends, including those who are now dead.

In this concluding novel of a trilogy, there are visionary hints of the marvellous and complicated depths to which scientific exploration leads. The novel brings science, superstition, pseudohistory and folklore together. All within the imagination of an artist.

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The Quiet Dead

The Quiet Dead by Brian Stableford

Published by Black Coat Press 2019

review by Sally Startup

In this second novel of the trilogy that begins with The Painter of Spirits, Paul Furneret spends more time with the scandalous author Jane de La Vaudère. The author Brian Stableford (who has translated a number of her novels from French to English) is thus able to speculate about what she might have been like. I very much enjoyed being in Jane’s fictionalised presence.

After living for a while in the Midi with Juliette, Paul has returned to Paris for a brief visit. Both Jane and Juliette have previously seemed very protective of Paul, in spite of having been jealous of one another. Now it falls to Jane to continue trying to protect Paul from the dangers of his own artistic and psychic talents. Even without the influence of hypnosis, Paul sometimes paints without being conscious of what he is doing. He has a whole portfolio of pictures whose meanings are unclear, even to himself. Nevertheless, the Baron de Rochemure is convinced that Paul will be able use his art for the purpose of redemption.

As the hidden story of what happened to the baron and his daughter is gradually revealed, Paul is confronted with confusing and often terrifying imagery. He must remain himself, even while somehow tangled with the imaginations of other people. As Jane de La Vaudère has persistently warned, the process involves great danger.

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The Painter of Spirits

The Painter of Spirits by Brian Stableford

published by Black Coat Press 2019

review by Sally Startup

Set in France at the very start of the twentieth century, this is a novel about occult phenomena and artistic creation. Paul Furneret, a young artist, has previously followed his symbolist training, painting imaginary subjects. Now, in 1901, Symbolism is becoming unfashionable. So, at the instigation of his friend Victor Mauvard, a banker, Paul has rented an apartment in Paris. In a change of artistic direction, he has employed a suitable model and begun work on a painting of Jean d’Arc’s martyrdom. Victor has also arranged for Paul to attempt to paint under hypnosis in a séance at Camille Flammarion’s observatory.

The event turns out to be intriguing, not only to Flammarion, the scientific observer, but to several others. These include Dr Cros, who is something of an expert on the unconscious mind; Jane de La Vaudère the writer of scandalous novels; Madame Zosima the mesmerist, and her medium, Talia. Between them, as these characters meet and converse, they help Paul to develop his own personal theories about what might be happening to him. It seems he can create portraits of the dead while under hypnosis, but some of the subjects are people he has never met. Unfortunately, he has also painted someone he does know, and love. Anguish about what this could mean torments him as he tries to continue work on the canvas of Jean d’Arc.

Paul is variously counselled by the other characters, including the world-weary artist’s model and prostitute, Juliette, for whom he has begun to feel responsible. Perhaps he is a true visionary. Perhaps his art portrays the deep workings of his own unconscious mind. Or perhaps his experience is the natural result of talent and dedication to his art. He studiously considers all possibilities without prejudice, which allows the reader to study along with him. As the tale unfolds, he must choose how to act according to the truths of his own art and life.

 

 

 

 

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The Truths of Darkness

The Truths of Darkness by Brian Stableford,

published by Snuggly Books 2019

Review by Sally Startup

A sequel to Spirits of the Vasty Deep and The Insubstantial Pageant, this novel completes the trilogy in a subtly unconventional way, of course.

Simon Cannick is not yet the legal owner of his unexpected legacy, but he is trying to live up to the associated responsibilities, nonetheless. There are squabblings between members of the family he has only recently discovered he had. And the Catholic Church is showing an interest in the Abbey, now that Simon is set to inherit it. An official provides some disturbing revelations concerning the history of the monks of St Madoc. Felicia is ill, and Simon must cope with everything while continuing to suffer the terrifying after-effects of his previous descent into the cave underneath the Abbey.

Human communication involves the use of imagination and the creation of  illusion. We cannot truly read one anothers’ minds, and yet we have to try, in order to communicate. Simon has been a writer for a long time, and is a skilled communicator. He is also very aware of the limitations of that skill. Can he really succeed in facilitating any sort of conversation between mysterious entities that have existed for aeons? And what part can he possibly play in their evolution? Aware of being the ‘chosen one’, Simon refuses to see himself as the  traditional sort of hero.

Throughout all the danger and confusion, Simon Cannick keeps on thinking. Although he is very knowledgeable about the past, he chooses to open up new and different ways of resolving conflict. Sometimes this results in humorous and very satisfying conclusions. More  often, the results are unpredictable.

What this story says about writers is encouraging. Especially to those writers who find themselves writing for very small audiences and for little remuneration. As a reader, I found it perfectly exhilarating.

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The Insubstantial Pageant

The Insubstantial Pageant by Brain Stableford, published by Snuggly Books 2018

Review by Sally Startup

I found this novel to be so clever it made my head spin, but I think I liked it.

The story is a sequel to Spirits of the Vasty Deep. Simon Cannick is continuing to meet relatives he was previously unaware of. He is set to inherit seven million pounds and an ancient abbey, complete with its secret vault, which may, or may not, contain the holy grail.

Being an expert on both folklore and science fiction, as well as having proposed a number of scientific hypotheses about dark matter and the human unconscious mind, Simon appears to be a good choice of translator for seemingly mythical or alien intelligences. He is also very well aware of the possibility that he is being lied to by everyone and everything. In spite of all this, he continues to be kind whenever possible. Kindness seems to come naturally to him, even when he is faced with mortal danger.

Simon, who is also a writer, does his very best for everyone, as far as he is able. And, perhaps for that very reason, he brings out the best in various other characters, both human and inhuman.

I hope this series develops into a trilogy, at the very least. I would very much like to find out what happens to Simon and his associated characters next, however insubstantial they might truly be.

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The Alchemy of Blood

The Alchemy of Blood: a scientific romance by Brian Stableford. Review by Sally Startup.

In this alternate Nineteenth century, doctor Mathieu Galmier is secretly researching an essence of beauty.

Aware that scientific discovery inevitably comes at a price, Mathieu allows others to pay it. He is not noble, or altruistic, or even especially determined. Nevertheless, he does have more of a conscience than his patient, Sir Julian Templeforth. Sir Julian is an aristocrat, raised to exploit those less fortunate than himself. Mathieu, on the other hand, is reflective, questioning the morality of his own actions, even when acting badly. I did not find him likeable, but he certainly comes across as very human.

The scientific knowledge that develops as a result of these characters’ actions is haphazard, containing accidents and mistakes. For this reason, it is also believable. The alternate scientific history uncovers links with mysticism. Mathieu’s explorations pose many questions for which the characters find no definitive answers. Can love make people more beautiful? Is there such a thing as inner beauty? And can scientific exploration by dubious and unethical means ever be justified by positive long-term consequences?

The wealthy and the ruling classes will benefit from the work of scientists like Mathieu, along with other experimenters like the Rosicrucians. Some positive changes will result, just as there are some positive changes in the lives of Mathieu’s accomplices and victims in this book. Those characters who are allowed a long enough life span, are able to share and learn, and grow and develop. Yet it is not a comfortable tale. I am looking forward to re-reading some of Brian’s other novels about emortality in the light of this one.

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The Pool of Mnemosyne

The Pool of Mnemosyne by Brian Stableford, published by Hollywood Comics 2018, review by Sally Startup

This is a most satisfying conclusion to the series of books which began with The Wayward Muse. The previous stories are elaborated on, and the various threads within them are drawn together into a greater construction.

Axel Rathenius has lived for a very long time. His knowledge and his art are built on a great many memories. On the island of Dionysus, he has learned much that is new to him. He now enjoys a pleasant relationship with Mariette. However, he is dissatisfied with his painting, and his subject, Elise is not happy with her music. It is not long before they are both recalled to Mnemosyne. Axel has received a very worrying message from Hecate Rain.

On Mnemosyne, characters reappear from the earlier books in the series. A surprise connection is revealed between the Dellacrusca twins and Eirene Magdalena, the morpheomorphist. Axel begins to acknowledge his true responsibilities. He continues to work on a painting inspired by Hecate’s poem about fallen petals in the pool of Mnemosyne, to which he has decided to add a portrayal of  the goddess Ananke. Meanwhile, as hierophant of the cult of Dionysus, he expects to stand against the Marquise de Mesmay, who has taken on the leadership of the cult of Orpheus.

Such things as steamships, seismographs and telegraph apparatuses are now becoming increasingly common across the Empire. The leader of the cult of Dionysus, usually known as Madame, is well aware that all such instruments may have both magical and scientific uses. Yet it falls to Axel Rathenius to attempt to protect the people of Mnemosyne when danger threatens. His art, sorcery and wisdom eventually conspire to create an ending which is both truthful and inspirational.

 

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Spirits of the Vasty Deep

Spirits of the Vasty Deep by Brian Stableford Published by Snuggly Books  March 2017

Review by Sally Startup

What happens in this novel could be taken entirely metaphorically, or as serious and enlightening science fiction. There is also an element of contemporary fantasy based on historical folklore. I am not particularly concerned about categories of genre, so I read it in all of those ways, and more.

Simon Cannick, an eccentric writer, moves to North Wales and discovers a previously unknown personal history. Simon has always felt himself to be unusual. He also seems to have a propensity to be kind. Being kind can be hard, courageous work, requiring purposeful effort.

Simon’s new community do not exactly welcome outsiders, in spite of the fact that most of the local properties are let as holiday homes. However, with the assistance of the Reverend Alexander Usher; a lady of ill repute called Megan; and a raven named Lenore, he soon discovers that the strangest residents of all may not even be human. He becomes quite intimate with some extremely elderly women, and he converses with a ghost.

As a writer, Simon is familiar with that which is normally hidden. Some of his work has explored this in detail. He now finds himself in a situation that seems to come straight out of Welsh folklore. It also parallels much that he already knows from his own studies of French folklore. Feeling himself to be inside a story he could almost have written himself, Simon begins to fear that he has actually entered the world of an entirely alien author. As he considers all this, his thoughts provide some fascinating exposition about the processes of reading and writing.

Simon may lack confidence in his own writing ability, but his story contains layers and layers of intrigue for serious readers to dive into. Encompassing Simon’s experience is a far wider story concerning what humans know, and cannot know, about the ecosystems of the Earth.

 

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Further Beyond

Further Beyond, by Brian Stableford. Published by Wildside, 2017

Review by Sally Startup

In a novel that takes places shortly after the events of H. P. Lovecraft’s story, ‘From Beyond’, another chilling tale develops.

Crawford Tillinghast’s house and its contents have been left to his estranged widow, Rachel. Tillinghast’s friend, who was also the narrator of Lovecraft’s tale, tells the reader more about himself in this one.

The police have given up searching for Tillinghast’s missing servants, and have accepted that David, the narrator, did not murder his best friend. David would prefer not to return to the scene of the tragedy, yet finds himself unable to refuse Rachel’s request for his help.

It turns out that the damaged remains of Tillinghast’s terrifyingly uncanny machine are of huge interest to other scientific and occult investigators. In order to protect Rachel from the unscrupulous attentions of three such men, David agrees to return to the house. There, after enduring an apparent attack of migraine while trying to understand Tillinghast’s previous researches, and in fear of what could happen if the machine were to fall into the wrong hands, David takes an incredible risk.

Out beyond the known boundaries of scientific knowledge, our actions might easily have consequences too terrible for most of us to contemplate. Through his own exploration of knowledge, David reaches a position in which he has to make a horrifying choice. The result is hauntingly poignant.

 

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