Frühlingsbücher 4: Philip Palmer

Memesis Virtualis today proudly presents:

Three books, by Philip Palmer

philip-palmer-author-of-debatable-space„Three strange worlds that have enchanted me recently are:  the eerie haunted Duma Key, in Florida; the murder-torn Jewish enclave of Alaska; and the far-future worlds of the Universe where humans once upon a time vanquished the Stargazer alien.

There are huge distances between these worlds, in terms of time, and place, and genre. That for me is one of the joys of reading; to enter a parallel universe conjured up in an author’s fevered mind.

The world of Duma Key, by Stephen King, is on the face of it, a real world. It’s a fictional location, but modelled on real places on Florida’s west coast. And the novel tells the story of a bluecollar millionaire Edgar Freemantle, who retires to Duma Key after an accident that has cost him an arm. But whilst there, Edgar is haunted by noises, and visions, a phantom ship, and some very scary ghosts. It’s a chilling novel with one foot in the world, one foot in nightmare, and one phantom fist in the reader’s face. King is a writer who is master of the thrilling evocation of people and place and period, and this 2008 bestseller shows no slackening of his storytelling skills.

And the book contains a shocking, thoughtful, painfully candid portrait of a man maimed in a vehicle accident – in a clear echo of King’s own experiences after a terrible car crash that left him seriously injured. From this shard of truth – a universe of mad imagining is created.

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is also astonishingly evocative. It conjures up the bizarre world of Jewish Alaska, where Yiddish is a second language and for many a first language,  and where shiksas and goyims are rare, and mensches do what mensches have to do. It is an uncanny, confident recreation of a world that never was, but which feels more real than reality.

In one parallel universe – ours! –  the Jews after World War II settled in Palestine, with sobering and long-lasting consequences for the Arab denizens. But in this different parallel universe, the Jews settled in Alaska – this was a real historical possibility, it just never happened – and although the Palestinians were thus spared a world of grief, these Jews of Alaska find that anti-Semitism will always deny them a homeland.

This bizarre, rich, funny, crazy novel is a rather good detective story; and a wonderful rich novel; and a truly great piece of alternative-history writing. I found myself inwardly raging,  ‘This is what so easily could have happened.’ And so the book packs a political punch, but  you have to think and mull a little before the punch lands.

In exhilarating contrast to this mainstream-novel-with-an-SF-conceit, Peter F. Hamilton’s The Dreaming Void is science fiction at its most science-fictiony. It’s a grand space opera, with amazing technology, ultradrive spaceships, post-life human beings living like angels in a computer hard drive, and a vast cast of characters. Hamilton nonchalantly picks up the strands of the story he concluded in his epic Commonwealth saga (Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained) and starts all over again with a brand new tale. Paula Myo features as a character! The Stargazer wars are referenced lovingly. And many loose story-ends are carefully tied up, with the true obsessive’s attention to detail.

And this new story takes us into a world where psychic dreamers are leading their people into a black hole (or is it a trans-dimensional reality?) called the Void – even though this may spell the end of the Universe. This is not a synopsis, it’s just a nod in the direction of the story. But it seems to me that Hamilton, one of the finest and cleverest writers in modern SF, does something magnificent here. He interweaves a host of rich and engrossing stories into a dense tapestry of tale that is closer to fantasy than science fiction in its tone and feel. And yet his mastery of SF concepts and far future technology is exhilarating, and persuasive.

Hamilton’s novel  – the first in a trilogy that will surely make his previous vast epics look like footnotes – blazes a brave trail in modern SFF. It is what I like to call ‘ampersand’ fiction – not SF/F but SF & F.  And his bold concepts, like the Silfen (able to walk between worlds) and the Void, and the Dreamer, and his wonderful evocation of the Void world where telepathy and ‘third hands’ are a matter of course, make his novel into a rich blend of myth, yarn, and rattling good tale.

I hope and pray the story’s eventual third book conclusion is as perfect and heart-stopping as the final page of this, Hamilton’s first in the epic series.“


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