Vampires of Atlantis

Vampires of Atlantis (A Love Story) by Brian Stableford.

Review by Sally Startup.

This novel-length story is about love, life, creativity and vampires.

The narrator, telling his tale years after the events he describes, claims to be an inexperienced novel-writer. He admits the dialogue may not have actually occurred word-for-word as he remembers it. This is just as well, because the style of some of the characters’ reported speech does sometimes appear rather literary. However, readers who are prepared to accept this and stay with the novel all the way to the end will be rewarded.

Those who have read Brian’s short story ‘Sheena’, first published in 2000, will also be able to enjoy some extra layers of meaning.

A Yorkshire lad, with a degree in sociology, falls in love with a goth girl. They meet at work in a Leeds call centre in 1999. The girl is very seriously weird. Yet he is utterly in love and will do anything at all to be with her. It quickly becomes clear that his experience of love must take him far beyond anything he has been taught to expect.

As the love affair develops an increasingly gothic tone, the narrator remains infatuated and tender-hearted. However strongly he is able to maintain his own understanding of reality, he is also open to the existence of other interpretations. It is this gentle lack of dogmatism that allows him to love so deeply. He finds himself able – and willing – to become intimate with another, even when her otherness seems extreme. Whether, in the end, this turns out to be a blessing or a curse, each reader must decide for themselves.

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Echoes of Eternity

Echoes of Eternity by Brian Stableford

Published by Chambrion Books 2016

Review by Sally Startup

Set in Paris in 1830, this is a tale with a complicated weave. It deserves attentive reading. There is much interesting historical detail. There are threads from Brian’s previous work and that of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. And there are some mind-expanding ideas.

On the eve of Quasimodo, five people meet in Notre Dame Cathedral. Victor Hugo, Paul Lacroix and Blaise Thibodeaux are all developing ideas for the books they plan to write. The Byronic violinist, Doctor Prospero, has arrived in Paris only recently and has been searching for the lost sheet music composed by Erich Zann. These four are all interested in the legend of the Quasimodo Peal, and are willing to experiment in order to discover more.

Brother Barnabas, on the other hand, is a Dominican who has been trusted by his superiors with glimpses of forbidden literature. As a child, he heard the Quasimodo Peal, before revolutionaries melted down all but one of the bells for cannon. However, he has no conscious memory of what they sounded like, much to the disappointment of Doctor Prospero. After what happened to the violinist Erich Zann, Barnabas is also well aware of the risk taken by those who go actively looking for evidence of such things as Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos.

Being a keen reader myself, I could not help finding metaphorical connections between the magic of literature and the kind of magic that interests Prospero and Thibodeaux. There are plenty of clues that the author agrees. However, it is through the art of music, its echoes and its effects on the emotions, that these characters wish to test their theories. And thoughts can be infectious, however they are transmitted, especially when they connect with minds already primed to receive them.

There are great many ‘what if?’ ideas mentioned within this story (my personal favourite being, ‘what if artistic creativity were transmitted by invisible organisms?’). The significance of such ideas to physical and metaphorical worlds is likely to depend on one’s point of view. Since the main characters are all conscientious thinkers, their discussions and internal thoughts are described at length. The progression of these theories as they are revealed provides a slowly developing, yet powerful, narrative tension.

When the harmonies of Hell are performed, what effects do they have, whom do they affect, and when? Several characters suggest possible answers. For myself, I found the resultant tale initially chilling, then ultimately reassuring and encouraging.

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Eurydice’s Lament

Eurydice’s Lament by Brian Stableford
Published by Hollywood Comics 2015

Review by Sally Startup

On the fictional island of Mnemosyne lives Axel Rathenius, a spectacularly creative portrait painter. Some people even suspect him of being a sorcerer, although he maintains he is really a skeptic. Axel has been commissioned to paint a triptych illustrating the career of the mythical Orpheus, but is finding it difficult to complete. Gradually, events begin to draw Axel further and further into a mystery. Being an artist of considerable experience, however, he knows when to allow such a work of art to unfold of its own accord, without imposing his own will too forcefully.

This sequel to The Wayward Muse begins with the arrival of some newcomers to the island, where they will meet characters from those earlier stories. Hecate Rain, Vashti Savage, Myrica Mavor and Nicodemus Rham are involved, as is the Mother Superior of the druidic convent of the Sisters of Shalimar. The Duc de Dellacrusca embraces the role of evil mastermind. Axel is an even more compassionate and understanding narrator than before, in spite of claiming to value art above all else.

The setting is a fictional world in which Rome has never fallen to the Barbarians. This allows for such delightful touches as a trade agreement between the Empire and the Iroquois Federation; and the likelihood that any number of wars have been prevented by the Empire’s policy of religious tolerance. Nevertheless, there are many points of contact with our own world. Mnemosyne is caught up in a feud between two long-standing ‘secret’ organisations, the Orpheans and the Dionysians. Their enmity has led to the misinterpretation of history by both sides. Resolution may depend on hearing the voices that were excluded, even if such voices can only use the language of sighs.

Axel Rathenius willingly accepts the role of art-mystery sleuth, once again. Through his narration, the novel’s plots and themes become interwoven as he comes to understand what may be happening. He provides enlightening and thought-provoking commentary. Axel’s explorations of the effects of other characters’ beliefs and superstitions are utterly fascinating. He also makes some astute and important judgements about the psychological nature of villainy. His observations of Hecate, Myrica and Vashti, and of the newcomers (the artist Charles Parenot and his unconventional family), provide wonderfully vivid verbal portraits of his subjects’ behaviour and their possible motivation. As he structures and narrates the tale, he is aware that his artistic decisions have important implications, although he does not always consciously direct them.

This novel is not particularly long, but it is densely filled with meaning. A many-layered tale of hope, it deserves reading and re-reading. Set in an imagined world somewhere parallel to our own nineteenth-century, it speaks about future possiblities that could affect anyone.

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Yesterday Never Dies

Yesterday Never Dies: A Romance of Metempsychosis by Brian Stableford Published by Wildside Press 2013

This is a new book in Brian’s series about Auguste Dupin, following on from The Legacy of Erich Zann, Valdemar’s Daughter, The Mad Trist, The Quintessence of August, The Cthulhu Encryption and Journey to the Core of Creation.

The story begins on October 31st 1847. For once, Sam Reynolds starts off by having an adventure of his own while Dupin is unexpectedly needed elsewhere. A ghost informs Sam that “Yesterday never dies, but such is the rhythm of time that one has to grasp its echoes on the wing.” Later on, Sam, Dupin, Pierre Chapelain the physician, Lucian Groix the Prefect of police, the so-called Comte de Saint-Germain, Jana Valdemar and the famous dancer Marie Taglioni all set off on a journey into Broceliande, the forest of the imagination.

They have with them a representation of the magic branch from the dance of the nuns in the opera Robert le Diable. Saint-Germain, president of the Harmonic Society of Paris, thinks he understands what’s going on. He is sure that Robert le Diable is also Oberon the Fay and that the magic branch can bring about the restoration of faerie.

Of course, things are really far more complicated than Saint-Germain imagines. This is not a story that ends with satisfactory explanations for everything, it is a story about remembering that there are always things we cannot understand. In 1847, scientific understanding of the role of microscopic organisms in infectious disease was in its early stages, providing a sense of the interdependent nature of organic life, so much of which has yet to be understood. But even though human understanding can only ever grasp echoes on the wing, it is still worth trying to apply as much artistry as possible when taking part in the dance.

In the end, it falls to Sam the narrator to write down his own perception of events, even though he knows that to his readers, he himself will only be an echo.

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Xeno’s Paradox

Xeno’s Paradox by Brian Stableford

Published by Borgo Press, 2011. Also available as a kindle ebook.

Review by Barbara Godwin

Twenty years before the events in this story, powerful Artificial Intelligences were outlawed so that they hid themselves away in a cyberspace equivalent of Sherwood Forest. They are still feared as rogues by a world order which seeks to control even the production of human progeny. One of their number, named Napoleon, has maintained secret contact with Carly MacLaine, who over the intervening years has built himself a university career in the genetic study of plant-life.

Carly suddenly finds himself the subject of unwelcome attention from the political powers.  A new situation has arisen which demands both his special expertise in Xenogenesis and his connection with Napoleon, which proves to be less secret than he believed. He is swept off to the Marine Biology Unit in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight.

Napoleon has been overlooking humanity, but even he has no knowledge of what is there. Carly is astonished to find that in this world where there is so much ugliness due to misapplied information and science, an amazing and rather beautiful paradox has come quietly into existence.

Carly’s presence becomes more like unofficial detention in custody than consultation and before long he is hidebound by different echelons of officialdom who want to manipulate his AI associate. Nevertheless, he discovers nuggets of the truth and it becomes clear that another outlaw AI, appropriately named Xeno, has produced the paradox, but with what purpose?

How Carly seeks to resolve these various complexities is a provocative adventure in science and forward-thinking . The questions introduced, as always, are what makes Brian Stableford’s work so extraordinary. In this future, all is in a state of flux and evolution, yet humans are seeking to maintain superiority and control – to the extent that they are scheming to eliminate certain genetic conditions, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, which has produced individuals renowned for their brilliance in many fields, in particular, science itself.  In this book, marine, botanical, biological and the artificial life forms have all evolved in their various ways, and whilst humans are attempting to be the Architects of the New Renaissance, they are making a mess of it. When something exquisite emerges outside their control, their lack of acceptance can, if not educated by other life forms, be of such a shallow and small-minded nature that it could inhibit even human evolution.

Yet the book ends with a further debate, that of not attempting to manage our future genes, and the lack of wisdom in simply allowing nature to take its course. We would then have not one iota of control over our future destinies. Who knows how a philosophical debate on this scale would end? The author  wisely leaves the conclusions to the reader.

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Journey to the Core of Creation

Journey to the Core of Creation: A Romance of Evolution by Brian Stableford

Published by Wildside Press, 2011

Another Auguste Dupin story, this time set in 1847, when great change is anticipated by everyone and feared by many.

The first few chapters introduce some revelations. We learn the narrator’s name at last, and he learns the real name of the Comte de Saint Germain. The arrival of a mysterious lady visitor uncovers some intriguing details of Dupin’s past.

All the main characters are familiar with theories of evolution and geology that were still new and controversial in the mid-nineteenth century. The feeling of uncertainty and instability combined with excitement that results from this is very convincing.

Dupin and the narrator must travel to Mont Dragon, named after a mythical sleeping dragon. This mountain is of special interest to Dupin’s old friend Guérande, who is conducting archaeological research, but also – for a variety of reasons – to a bishop, a community of nomadic travellers, and the Prefect of the Parisian Police.

Mount Dragon is due to behave in some spectacular way involving something described in local myth as a flameflower. What eventually occurs is not exactly what anyone expects. Nevertheless, the flameflower’s song cannot ever be quite forgotten, even by listeners whose understanding is limited. The earth’s core turns out to be as enchanting, marvellous, alien and unexplored as the stars beyond our reach. And the appropriate response is simply to listen.

Review by Sally Startup

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Nature’s Shift

Nature’s Shift: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution, by Brian Stableford

Published by Wildside Press, 2011

By carrying our cultural past forward into an imagined future, we can learn about our own present, as this book shows. It takes place after the Crash, which led to the extinction of many species. Complete ecological disaster was only avoided because of the efforts of  exceptional scientists like Roderick Usher. Now that Roderick the Great is dead, his daugher Rosalind heads the Hive of Industry.

Rowland and Magdalen Usher could not help the fact that their family name was the same as some characters in a story by Edgar Allan Poe. And Peter Bell the Third cannot help the fact that his own name reflects a poem by Shelley, as well as the truth of his genetic heritage. However, such correspondences are hard to ignore completely, even when consciously avoided.

Rowland has retreated from Rosalind – whose attitude to her role as his mother is apparently so heartless – to continue his own research in Venezuala. He has created a fabulous organic house for himself, in the wilderness of the regenerated Orinoco delta. It is a very different structure to the Crystal Palaces of Eden and the Great Pyramid, where Rosalind works on her psychotropic flowers. The descriptions of both locations are enchanting, and the hidden depths of Rowland’s futuristic house of Usher are as fascinating as they are disturbing.

The main characers in this story – Peter, the narrator, and Rowland, Magdalen and Rosalind Usher – are all scientists, and they all apprecaite beauty. But the Ushers have attempted to escape from the Romantic imagination. Peter Bell the Third, however, enjoys reading nineteenth century Romantic poetry. He comes to see the danger that the Ushers have failed to appreciate.

At first, I didn’t quite take to this book, but it slowly grew on me. I read it twice, and only at the end of my second reading did I notice there is a pun (or two) in the title.

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