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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The Cthulhu Encryption

The Cthulhu Encryption: A Romance of Piracy, by Brian Stableford

Published by Wildside Press, 2011

This is not a straightforward horror story. It is a complicated, fantastical, intricate and puzzling horror story. It is the fifth in a series about Auguste Dupin, narrated by an American correspondent of Edgar Allan Poe, but the author has taken the trouble to ensure that readers who are not going through the books in order will not miss out.

Since the events described in The Quintessence of August, the unnamed narrator, his friend Dupin, and Pierre Chapelain, a mesmerist, have continued to meet regularly, allowing the narrator to think of them as ‘the three musketeers’. But the Comte de Saint-Germain insists on continually tagging along, even though Dupin still does not trust him.

Chapelain’s work involves the treatment of lunatics at Bicêtre, and the story includes some interesting detail about mid-nineteenth-century European understanding of mental illness. Chapelain is concerned about one of his patients in particular: a woman dying of syphilis. She has suddenly developed a most unusual rash which soon becomes of great interest to Dupin. Her mesmeric fantasy involves the other characters in a journey into the forest of Brocceliande, where they meet a pirate and bibliotaph.

Cthulhu’s presence threatens, and shoggoths appear. And Dupin is in particular danger, even while he is watched over by his formidible concierge, Madame La Cuzon. Entwined with the action and the horror are several strands of ideas that will reward readers who choose to follow them, as the characters approach ‘the farther shores of madness’, and enlightenment.

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The Quintessence of August

The Quintessence of August: A Romance of Possession, by Brian Stableford

published by Wildside Press, 2011.

This is the fourth in the series of novellas that begins with The Legacy of Erich Zann. A continuation of an overarching narrative for those who have read the previous books, but also a complete story in itself for those who haven’t.

The narrator is the American friend of Edgar Allan Poe. His name is not revealed to the reader. In 1846, he endures the unpleasantness of Paris in August, in order to keep another friend company. This Parisian friend is Auguste Dupin, the rationalist. Dupin seems immune to the heat-induced strain suffered by city-dwellers in August, but the narrator is not so robust. He is vulnerable to the effects of the heat and the threat of possession, but he and Dupin are called upon to solve a mystery. The Comte de Saint-Germain’s life has been threatened, seemingly in connection with a strange sealed box and a cello, left as a legacy to the Harmonic Philosophical Society of Paris.

As they investigate, the characters are drawn deeper and deeper into a history of darkness, fear and unhappiness. They become involved with an egregore, an entity even older than The Creeping Terror. In trying to understand what is happening, they explore, and sometimes exemplify, some deep areas of human psychology. As in the previous four stories in this series, one of the mysteries involved is that of magic, and how it works. This time, the magic involves music and possession.

The oppressive, all-pervading heat of Paris in August is woven through this story, making it easy to believe you are actually there with the characters. Even though the story is a journey through some dark regions of the human mind, the effects of the setting on the characters’ physical bodies is always present, always described.

A soirée is planned at the home of the Baron Du Potet, with music performed by Frédéric Chopin, Félix Battanchon and Cornélie Falcon, attended by a host of famous guests. A new composition is to be played, but who actually composed it, and to what purpose? An interesting effect of possession is that it provides an unusual way of seeing the same situation from different points of view. This is a story to consider from a number of different angles, and I found myself continuing to do so long after I had finished reading.

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