Fifteen or so years ago I read through the entire Swann corpus of novels, with some enjoyment and some frustration. I still consider two shorter works, both later expanded into less successful novels, as his best: "Where is the Bird of Fire?" and "The Manor of Roses". The latter in particular is remarkable, and while it's not forgotten it deserves a wider audience.
What follows is a set of very brief capsule reviews I did at the time of reading of several of Swann's books.
|(Cover by Gray Morrow)|
|(Cover by Gray Morrow)|
The only novel I've finished since my last post here is an odd, rare, one, The Goat Without Horns, by Thomas Burnett Swann. This first appeared in the August and September 1970 issues of F&SF, and was later published by Ballantine. I saw those issues at a used book store the other night, and decided to pick them up. The novel is really quite good, the story of a young Englishman in about 1890 who goes to a tiny Caribbean island to tutor a 15 year old girl. He falls for the girl's mother, the owner of the island, but the mysterious Carib who dominates the island, Curk, wants him to impregnate the 15-year old, for his won sinister reasons, which come clear at the end. An odd twist is that the story is told from the viewpoint of a dolphin who befriends the young Englishman. The twist at the end was original, and it surprised me. Pretty good stuff, quite different.
Also I read Thomas Burnett Swann's The Not-World. This story is set in Georgian England, but in a remaining scrap of "forest primeval". A lame Gothic novelist, Deirdre, meets a down-at-his-luck sailor, and they are thrown together when the coach he is driving and she is renting is lost in the forest. They encounter the poet Thomas Chatterton, and after a balloon ride, and further encounters with more or less typical Swann creatures, they win through to consummate their love. OK, but less than great. And I don't think Swann came within light-years of capturing the mindset of people of that era.
My latest Thomas Burnett Swann book was The Minikins of Yam, one of several he published right at the end of his life. (He died in 1976, and apparently published at least 3 novels in '76 and 2 in '77). This one is set in Ancient Egypt, as usual with Swann an alternate ancient history in which some mythological creatures are real, including the title Minikins (small humanoids, of which the female lead is one, and which have customs such as all the females being whores, whore being a term of honor), Rocs, and others. I think this is one of the more enjoyable of the later Swann books. It's light-hearted, as more usual with late Swann, but the light-heartedness doesn't seem as forced as in some of his other books. The basic story is about a child pharaoh who must undo the damage done when his father banished magic from Egypt, and at the same time must fend off a plot against his throne.
It's been a while since I read a Thomas Burnett Swann book. Moondust is from 1968, at his typical length (43,000 words), and very much of his "type". Perhaps it is odd only in being sympathetic to conventional religion (Judaism at the time of Joshua), and (relatedly) being more pro-human than some of his stuff. It's also pretty good, one of his better stories.
It's set in Jericho, just as the Israelites are approaching. The hero is a young man, named Bard, from Crete, exiled since childhood along with his mother in Jericho (Crete having fallen, I can't remember if this is coterminous with the collapse of the Minoan regime). His family have adopted perforce a sort of changeling: a very ugly girl who was switched for their young boy. This girl, called Rahab (a Biblical reference, hence a hint) or Moondust, becomes a dear friend to the hero, . As the time of the main action approaches, she suddenly metamorphoses into a striking beautiful woman with wings. Thus, one of TBS' typical "pre-human" races (though, again typically, interfertile with humans). Bard looks on unhappily as she offers herself to different men, including an Israelite spy (check your Bible for Rahab!), then she disappears. Bard and a friend venture underground to the strange home of Rahab's people, and their odd society: women only (hence the habit of coming to human cities and becoming whores: this is to try to get pregnant), and ruled by intelligent telepathic fennecs. Rahab's love for the hero drives her to an heroic act of resistance to her rulers. As I said, one of Swann's better works, though not one of his very best.