Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Jack Vance; Charles De Lint – The Dreaming Place, Christopher Evans – Aztec Century, Fritz Leiber – “Try and Change the Past;” “Damnation Morning; “The Oldest Soldier”

Posted by Mike on December 14, 2007

It’s a happy day getting my first look at one of the Jack Vance Integral Edition books, a project I’ve had to admire from afar before the library system made it possible to borrow them. The first volume is basically the first Dying Earth book, now called Mazirian the Magician, which was the first Vance book I read (and like many, fell in love with). So I started with IE2, “The World Thinker and Other Stories” only to realize I’d read all of this as well. At first I’d been concerned that a good majority of the IE versions might be significantly, textually different, but in comparing some versions with others in different collections, I didn’t find any major differences. I’m sure some corrections exist, but at least I won’t feel the need to have to reread anything. Now I’m working on volume 3, Gadget Stories, which contains the Magnus Ridolph stories, which I believe are the only early stories I haven’t had a chance to look at it (so far I’ve read “Hard Luck Diggings” and “Sanatoris Short Cut, both of which Vance wrote in a weekend and isn’t very fond of). And I’m really looking forward to #4 with his three earliest novels, all of which look to be in their best forms in the Integral Edition. To me, even early pulp Vance, obviously inferior to his later work, is entertaining, although it does make you wonder why the Dying Earth stories, his earliest written, are so superior.

I started Charles De Lint’s Newford series about a decade ago with the recommended starter collection Dreams Underfoot. At the time I hadn’t realized there were three Newford novels released around the same time as the DU stories were, so I’d been wanting to get around to those. The first of these is a young adult novel called “The Dreaming Place.” My personal philosophical paradigm was a lot different ten years ago, and I was amazed within a few pages that one of De Lint’s characters comes across a rare book of esoteric essays written by people like Israel Regardie and Dion Fortune and pleased. Ten years ago I remember that the Newford stories felt like the melodrama was cranked up pretty high, but I do remember by the end of the volume, stories like “Paperjack” and “Tallulah” were really good.

“The Dreaming Place” is about two cousins, Nina and Ash. Ash’s mother died and her father abandoned her, leaving her to live with her cousin’s family, who she, unsurprisingly, feels alienated from. Early on, Nina, who is more or less portrayed as a well adjusted young teenager, starts to have weird dreams that send her into the bodies of animals with a feeling she’s being stalked by a weird entity. Meanwhile, Ash runs across an older friend, Cassie, who I believe was probably in a story or two in DU, a tarot reader and mystic type whose partner turns out to be something of a shaman. Like a lot of De Lint, Newford is a world that borders on the faerie and it’s not long before her friends and her become aware of Nina’s problem and Ash’s connection to it. As Ash’s friends are homeless and living in abandoned buildings, they’re forced to move to the “Dreaming Place” to avoid a police raid, which brings Ash in confrontation with a mysterious figure.

Overall it was a quick little read, I wasn’t expecting too much, so I found it enjoyable and it’s always nice to read anything occult related that isn’t negative.

Christopher Evans’ alternate history Aztec Century may be the best novel I’ve read in quite some time. It won the British Science Fiction Award some years ago, but hasn’t, as far as I know, been printed in the US and appears to be out of print, which is a shame. Definitely where a library linking system comes in handy. This earth is different due to the decision of (I think) Cortes to side with the Aztecs rather than the Spanish, leading to a growing worldwide Aztec empire that has just occupied Britian. The story is from the oldest princess, Catherine, of the royal family who is quickly captured by the Aztecs and becomes part of the political environment, trying to help her country while resisting being overcome by Aztec interests. Of course, what hangs over the whole story are those rumors of the Aztecs’ violent original religion and sacrifices and certain encounters with unknown Aztec technology exacerbate Catherine’s fears that this religion still survives, even if the Aztecs are also nominally Catholic. Catherine’s situation is complicated by her relationship with one of the emperor’s sons who is the commander in Britain and who she becomes fond of, even as she resists propositions of marriage. The story does not stay in Britain and not only is one brought to the brink of war but to the capital of the empire, and as Catherine’s suspicions come to a head, she finds out a secret about her exiled sister that leads to the climax. I loved the ending, which solidly brings the story into the science fiction camp and casts questions backwards upon the whole story.

The Fritz Leiber titles are basically the first three Change War stories, not including the Hugo winning novel “The Big Time” which I read some time back. There’s been some confusion as to what constitutes the Change War stories as the collections of them include stories related more by theme than by universe, but there appear to only be five other than “The Big Time.” All three of these stories in the title heading are more peripheral to the central “Big Time” arc than the last two and are basically short and sweet, dealing with episodes in the eternal war between the Snakes and Spiders who are constantly interfering with history to change it to their desires. This arc really isn’t my favorite one, but having read some of the Kage Baker Company series that probably owes a little to the Change War sequence, it may be just a little too familiar.

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