Sunday, February 27, 2022

Review: Where Time Winds Blow, by Robert Holdstock

Review: Where Time Winds Blow, by Robert Holdstock

a review by Rich Horton

Robert Holdstock (1948-2009) is nowadays almost entirely known for his series of fantasy stories and novels beginning with the most famous, Mythago Wood (novella in 1981, novel in 1984.) The novella appeared in F&SF about when I graduated from college, at which time I had let my F&SF subscription lapse. Both novella and novel were huge successes (the novel won the World Fantasy Award) and they were followed by several sequels. But somehow I never got around to reading it, and in the process I missed his other novels as well. He was quite prolific, writing under several names such as Robert Faulcon, Robert Black, Chris Carlsen, and, for collaborations with Angus Wells, Richard Kirk. And while he is now best known for fantasy, his early novels were often SF. (The pseudonym Robert Faulcon is amusing, as Faulcon is the surname of the protagonist of the novel I'm considering here.)

I happened to run across one of those early SF novels, Where Time Winds Blow, at an estate sale, and I snapped it up, motivated in part by the enthusiastic review Joachim Boaz gave it. I read it mostly on the plane to Boston for the Boskone SF convention.

Where Time Winds Blow was published in the UK by Faber and Faber in 1981, and in the US in paperback by Timescape in 1982. I have the SFBC edition, the first (and only) US hardcover, also 1982, with an excellent wraparound cover by Ron Walotsky (erroneously credited as "Ron Walotski" on the cover flap.)

Where Time Winds Blow is an ambitious SF novel, built around some intriguing SFnal ideas which the author is not afraid to reconsider, even upend, in the course of the book. It is set on a world called Kamelios (implying its changing nature) or a more colonialist name, VanderZande's World. The world is fairly inhospitable to humans, who either live in enclosed cities or undergo surgery and genetic modification to become "manchanged". The most unusual aspect, however, is the "time winds", which blow through certain areas as unpredictable times, leaving strange detritus from the past or future.

The story opens with a three person team, led by Lena Talloway, with her other members Leo Faulcon (her on and off lover) and rookie Kris Dojaan. Just as they are planning to head back to their base in Steel City, they encouter a strange time wreck on the shores of an ocean, and the impetuous Kris Dojaan retrieves a strange relic before it disappears again. 

On their return to Steel City fissures appear in the team, despite their discovery gifting them a nice bonus. Leo is uneasy about everything, while Kris is impatient to be allowed to explore the dangerous Kriakta Rift in an "r-suit" (a sort of giant robot operated from within by the explorere), and Lena's mood is turning dark. It becomes clear that Kris is obsessed with his brother, Mark, who disappeared in the time winds some time before -- and Kris thinks Mark may be the Time Phantom, who occasionally appears in the Rift. It also becomes clear that there's a mystery behind all this -- behind Mark Dojaan's disappearance, and the potential involvement of either Leo or of their section leader, Gulio Ensavlion, and behind Ensavlion's obsession with the aliens he believes he has seen in some fleeting visions of past or future times, and who he thinks may control the time winds. 

All this is intriguing enough, and Holdstock keeps upping the ante. It's curious, indeed, how he begins with a plenty cool idea that could have satisfied an entire novel, and keeps throwing in additional fillips. In this case, one example is the symbiotic alien natives of Kamelios, the huge gulgaroth and tiny olgoi, which seem predator and prey but instead are mutually dependent for reproduction. Also, the many moons of Kamelios, and their effect on the natives. And Leo Faulcon's tortured history with Mark Dojaan, who was by no means the hero his brother considers him. At any rate, the middle of the novel climaxes with a disastrous r-suit trip into the rift, when a time wind sweeps in and takes up Kris and Lena, while Leo survives. Kamelios tradition demands that Leo, having lost the rest of his team, surrender himself to the time winds. But for some time he refuses to do so, in the process facing ostracization. He finally leaves Steel City to spend some time with the "manchanged" and to understand thair somewhat fatalistic but natural attitude towards life on Kamelios.

All this is leading to the conclusion, where, inevitably, Leo must face the time winds again, and the Time Phantom, whom he is convinced is his lost lover Lena. Ensavlion will accompany him -- convinced he will finally encounter the aliens he believes control the time winds. But ... the true revelations awaiting them -- Leo especially -- are not at all what he expects -- nor what the reader expects. I found this conclusion very satisfying -- completely out of left field but once you encounter it logical and honest. And quite moving.

Is this a great novel? Not quite. It's a bit of a slow burn, which needn't be a bad thing, but which I'm not sure always works here. There are some, I thought, unnecessary weirdnesses and implausibilities, such as, to name one thing, Kris Dojaan's quasi-telepathic connection with his brother. And some of the novel depends on us buying Leo's love for Lena Talloway, and this aspect, this relationwhip, is not sufficiently well developed, to my mind. 

Still, this is a fine novel, and very original. Definitely worth a look, 40+ years after it appeared. Holdstock, I'd suggest, is an interesting figure in the genre's history, perhaps partly because he died a bit young (or at least so I say, speaking as I am a year or so older than Holdstock was when he died.) He's not at all forgotten -- Mythago Wood at least is still a book to reckon with. But he's not in the forefront of the field's history -- and perhaps he deserves a slightly more prominent place. 

One minor point to add -- one panel I did at Boskone involved highlighting undeservedly forgotten novels. I was ready to mention Where Time Winds Blow as a candidate -- but one audience member trumped me by suggsting another early Holdstock SF novel, Eye Among the Blind (1976). I thought the coincidence delightful, and more evidence that Holdstock may deserve more latter-day attention than he seems to get.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

An Obscure 1960s SF Thriller: The Mind Brothers, by Peter Heath

An Obscure 1960s SF Thriller: The Mind Brothers, by Peter Heath

a review by Rich Horton

I found this book on the free table at the SF convention Boskone. Since it was free, I figured "Why not?" I had never read of Peter Heath, but the book, though kind of in the spy/technothriller subgenre, also obviously had a science fiction element. I had low expectations, and I suppose you could say those were satisfied.

As is often the case, I find, the author's back story was in some ways more interesting than the book. His real name was Peter Heath Fine. I can only find five books by him. The first three are the "Mind Brothers" trilogy, published by Lancer in 1967 and 1968. The book I have is the first, and it was followed by Assassins of Tomorrow (1967) and Men Who Die Twice (1968). His next book was Night Trains, a mystery published as by Peter Heath Fine, from Lippincott in 1979 -- good enough to be shortlisted for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. 1981 saw another Peter Heath Fine mystery, Troubled Waters (plus an Ace Books reprint of Night Trains.) 

And in 1995, Peter Heath Fine died, aged only 59 (or maybe 57, sources differ), under slightly mysterious circumstances -- he was last seen alive on June 1, but not found until June 29. It's intriguing when a mystery writer's death suggests a mystery -- though for all I know in this cases there's no particular mystery -- maybe he was living alone? Maybe he died out hiking or something? I don't known any more. Addendum: I had earlier made a typo, 1985 instead of 1995 for his death. Winter, in the comments, points to an article in Newsday, which had more details of his life and sad death. Thanks for that! Very interesting.

The Mind Brothers opens with Jason Starr, recently recruited from the Rand Corporation to develop a secret weapon for the Air Force, which they believe could quickly end the war in Vietnam, taking off from Saigon to test the weapon, which will drive enemy soldiers crazy but not kill them. However, before Starr can activate the machine, the plane carrying it is shot down, and Starr is apparently dead.

But Starr's life is saved by a man from tens of thousands of years in the future -- a man called Adam Cyber, the only human alive in this future, in which humans have abandoned active life, and robots have essentially destroyed the Earth (by accident.) Adam Cyber and the last remaining AI have determined that an intervention in the 20th Century might fix things, and Jason Starr is just the man. However, when the mysteriously cured Starr returns home, he finds his reputation shattered, for the remains of his weapon recovered from the crash appear to prove him a fraud. Starr's only hope is to fall in with Adam Cyber's plan, which involves foiling the Chinese, who have stolen the real prototype of Starr's weapon, and are on the verge of producing an improved version of it. 

The rest of the story involves Starr and Cyber travelling to India, where the leading Chinese scientist is attending a conference. There they encounter a beautiful Indian dancer who has reason to hate the ex-Nazi controlling the evil Brotherhood, which is supporting the Chinese scientists efforts ... This all, you see, gets a bit wacky. There follows an exciting trip to a secret installation in Tibet; and much derring-do in stopping the Chinese scientist's efforts, and exposing the ex-Nazi. It all climaxes in a thrilling escape through the Himalayas in a creaky old plane ...  Alas, the beautiful Indian dancer is sacrificed (though not before she and Starr share a blissful night together.) and for that matter Starr's other lover is doomed, too, in the way of these novels.

Anyway, this novel is, as they say, a product of its time. It is as racist and sexist as you might expect. The writing is pretty careless, but actually it's not hopeless -- I think it show signs that Peter Heath Fine had some talent, and if he was aiming at a better market than Lancer, and if he took a bit more time, the prose could have been pretty decent. The plot is a mess, but the action scenes are not too bad. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect -- at least for me -- is that the SF element (lame as it may have been) was essentially dropped, and Adam Cyber becomes nothing more than a sort of super-powered sidekick for Jason Starr. 

I have no interest in reading the other two novels. One apparently involves foiling the assassination of Kennedy. I don't know if they further address changing history so that the humans won't cede responsibility to robots in the far future ...

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Two Novels by Russell Hoban

Two Novels by Russell Hoban: The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz; and Fremder

a review by Rich Horton

A couple of years ago my book club read Russell Hoban's most famous novel, Riddley Walker, and that nudged me to finally address one of my guilty non-reads -- I've known of Riddley Walker for decades, but had never read it. And when I did, I was extremely impressed. It's a brilliant brilliant novel. I knew also that Hoban had written some other fantastical or SFnal novels, but I didn't immediately jump to buy them. I was finally prodded in that direction by the excellent blogger/reviewer Joachim Boaz, who is an admirer of Hoban's work, and who in fact took his blogger name in part from one of Hoban's novels, The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz. Thus prodded, I recently bought copies of that novel; and of his 1996 novel Fremder.

(Joachim Boaz' site, highly recommended, can be found here: Science Fiction Ruminations. Therein he reviews pre-1985 SF, with some persistent themes: among them stories about future media, stories about astronauts (Fremder might qualify, though it's too late for Joachim!), and generation ship stories.)

The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz
came out in 1973. It was his first novel for adults -- he had previously been best known for a series of picture books about a badger named Frances, and one longer children's book, The Mouse and His Child. Hoban was born in Pennsylvania in 1925, and he had moved to London in 1969 with his wife and children, expecting the move to be temporary. Instead, he and his wife divorced, she returning to the US with the children, and he stayed in England the rest of his life, remarrying and having three more children. This seems to have spurred a change in focus, as all but a couple of his subsequent books were for adults. He died in 2011. 

Hoban is still best-known for Riddley Walker, which is certainly science fiction, set in a post-apocalyptic England. What seems less well remembered is that most of his novels have significant fantastical elements. Only one other one is true science fiction (that is Fremder) but most of the rest range somewhere between magical realism and out and out fantasy. (Turtle Diary, Kleinzeit, and Mr. Rinyo-Clacton's Offer seem perhaps more completely realist, though as I haven't read them I can't say for sure.) 

To get back to The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz -- this novel sits somewhere on the magical realism end of the spectrum. Jachin-Boaz is a map seller (and mapmaker) in a town in what seems vaguely mid-to-late 20th Century, vaguely near the Mediterranean, perhaps in something like Israel (Jachin-Boaz is clearly Jewish). He has a teen-aged son, Boaz-Jachin, and a wife; but he is discontented -- going through a midlife crisis, in essence. So one day he just leaves, abandons his wife and son and their shop, takes the remarkably detailed map he had intended as a gift for his son.

The son, Boaz-Jachin, is soon also discontented -- he never wanted to inherit the shop, he has no particular interest in or ability in maps. He has a girlfriend, but even so he decides to try to track down his father, and also the map his father took. At this time he also visits an old museum, of the ancient past, and takes a particular interest in a sculpture/mural/bas relief of a king on a lion hunt. Lions are now extinct, and it comes to seem to him that the king killed the last lion, Boaz-Jachin makes a drawing of the lion. And soon he is on the road again.

Jachin-Boaz, meanwhile, has settled down in a town in a nearby country -- somewhere in Europe, anyway. (One review I read identified it as London -- but to me somewhere in Germany made more sense, especially as there is a line in the book from Jachin-Boaz to his new lover saying something like "Your people killed six million of my people.") He works in a bookshop, and he has a much younger lover. He seems to be rejuvenated (the young lover being key to that, it might seem!) -- but then he starts having visitations from a lion -- a lion that no one else can see. He begins to feed the lion -- but the lion is not tame, and at times claws Jachin-Boaz -- injuries that are hard to explain. Boaz-Jachin fares further afield, even crossing the sea, and has a variety of adventures -- encounters with several women, a couple of sea journeys, one of which ends in shipwreck, all the time trying to find his father, or more than that to work out his relationship with his father. 

And that's what the novel is, really -- a story of fathers and sons. The lion -- who is both real and not real -- is important. The women -- Boaz-Jachin's various lovers, Jachin-Boaz's new young lover, and his wife, who is quite bitter -- are treated somewhat casually -- it's a very male centric novel, very male gaze centric really, as well. The climax, of course, involves Boaz-Jachin finally reaching Jachin-Boaz's new home, and Jachin-Boaz having a last encounter with the lion. It's a nice novel, well written -- very much so, different, but it didn't really fully engage me. 

Fremder is quite different. It is set mostly in 2052. Fremder Gorn is an astronaut, working what seem routine routes between the several galaxies humans can reach. But then one trip goes terribly wrong -- Fremder's crewmates are all lost, but Fremder is recovered, floating in empty space, without a spacesuit, but somehow alive. Fremder not surprisingly becomes the focus of a concerted effort by the authorities to understand how he could have survived.

His treatment, I might note, involves a lot of sex, first with Caroline Lovecraft (a name chosen with purpose), his doctor at the original treatment centre in space; and later with Katya Mazur, a nurse in a facility in London. In both cases the object is to learn if possible what happened when Fremder's ship "flickered" -- the term uses for going in and out of reality during space flight. But Fremder is resistant to revealing what happened, largely because he doesn't know. The treatment in London is actually facilitated by an AI called Pythia, which takes on a feminine persona.

Throughout all this we are getting hints of Fremder's back story -- he was born from an artificial womb after his mother Helen committed suicide while seven months pregnant. Helen, it turns out, was the leading researcher, along with her brother, on the project that eventually led to the development of the "flicker" drive. Helen's suicidal nature is attributed, to some extent, to her rape and her brother's crippling at the hands of a gang in London, while they were still teens. These gangs are part and parcel of a completely decayed social order on Earth, a persistent part of the background to this story. Fremder was raised in a fairly privileged-seeming orphanage, and became an astronaut.

The central concerns of the story, then, are family, sex, and death, or so it seems to me. The flicker drive seems to suggest, in its flickering, a constant death and rebirth. Fremder's resentment of his mother's abandonment of him before his birth, and of the fact he does not even know who his father is, is central to his character. His sexual relationships -- a bit obsessive on his part -- are perhaps partly an attempt to create a family, or even a substitute mother. All of this seems a bit gothic, really -- and I dare say it is. But Hoban pulls it off. The narrative is consistently involving, and stuffed with references to music, classical and pop alike. And the conclusion has some shocking (but plausible) revelations that really work. It's a striking novel, and quite original. (It also reads, to me, like a product of the '70s (and not in a bad way) instead of the '90s when it actually came out.)

I will undoubtedly continue to make my way through Hoban's oeuvre.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Review: The Unraveling, by Benjamin Rosenbaum

 The Unraveling, by Benjamin Rosenbaum

a review by Rich Horton

I'll begin with the meat -- this is the best SF novel I've read from 2021, by some margin -- my favorite novel since Piranesi, indeed. It succeeds on multiple axes. It is absolutely pure quill science fiction, set in the far distant future, on (or in) a world hundreds of light years from Earth. It features characters who are recognizably human but very strange -- they have multiple bodies, for instance, and are very long-lived. It both displays and interrogates a significantly different economy (essentially reputation based, complete with betting pools.) It is deeply interested in a radically different family structure. Perhaps most noticeably, this is a story of a highly gendered society -- and the genders are quite different from those in traditional contemporary societies. 

The Unraveling is, plotwise, several different entities at once. It is a bildungsroman, following its main character from early childhood to early adulthood. It is a romance, and a powerfully affecting one. It is in a curious way a traditional sort of YA novel, about characters who are not quite adults rebelling (to a degree) against their parents' expectations, and against what they perceive (unwillingly?) as their society's faults. It speculates intriguingly about a different model of family. It is about a near utopia, and about that apparent utopia's faults -- and in so doing confronts the age-old questions about utopias (are they too boring? too static?) In a way, the book sometimes seems to be about social media, even! And it is also about what I think SF's most achingly central theme -- exploration. And it's about literature's most achingly central theme -- what is the purpose of human life, either as individuals, or as a community?

Is it perfect? Of course not. "Nobody's perfect," said Joe E. Brown, in perhaps the most perfect movie comedy of all time. At times the YA-ish aspects of the plot seem a bit too pat. Our heroes perhaps a bit too -- not perfect, but "good". But really this is not badly handled, and perhaps it's unavoidable. The society is so excellently different from ours that I felt at times that the narrative shied away just a bit from allowing that difference to overwhelm us,It's understandable -- you don't want to end up with a Murder in Millennium VI situation (this a reference to Curme Gray's 1951 novel, widely regarded as incomprehensible, though Damon Knight praised it.) But the book does sag just a bit towards the middle, after the first major climax, by when we understand the society and its strains fairly well, but it regains its footing later and finishes powerfully. The bottom line remains -- this is a lovely book, a thoughtful book, a powerful book ... and it sticks its landing.

Benjamin Rosenbaum has been one of the most original and intriguing SF writers, one of my favorites, really, since his debut in 2001. He has mostly published short fiction. I've reprinted a few of his stories in my anthologies, most notably, for our purposes, "Fift and Shria", from the 2014 original anthology Solaris 3. Fift and Shria are the main characters of The Unraveling, and the story "Fift and Shria" is a slighly different version of an episode in the novel. Rosenbaum was born in the US, but has lived for some time in Switzerland, and (perhaps as a result) this novel was first published in German translation in 2018, as Die Auflösung. The English version was published by the very intriguing new imprint Erewhon Books in 2021, and I have that edition, and I also got the audio edition, read by Fred Berman. 

The novel centers on Fift, a "Staid", one of the two genders of the humans living in his polity -- the other gender being "Vail". The other main character is Shria, who is of course a Vail. Rosenbaum presented the short story "Fift and Shria" as a rendering in contemporary English, and as such he rendered the pronouns of the two genders ("Staid" and "Bail" at that time) as "she" and "he", while cautioning that those genders don't cleanly map to "female" and "male". In the novel, the pronouns are "ze" and "ve", and this change is essential and very well handled. Staid and Vail have nothing to do with genitalia (indeed, different genitalia can be adopted at different times in this world) -- instead, they represent, essentially, emotional states -- Staids are the "still center", and Vails are more flamboyant, more expressive, more violent, more sexual. And these genders are assigned, in early childhood, by the somewhat mysterious Midwives, who live apart from the rest of this polity.

Their world is a terraformed planet hundreds of light years from Earth. The humans live inside it, with the rarely visited surface devoted to nature. There are several "nations" on the inside, and these nations are further subdivided into habitation. We meet Fift as a young child (nearly 5,) as Staid, ready to be introduced to the Long Conversation, in the company of his nine parents ... one Mother, eight fathers, two Staids, seven Vails. (Later we learn that the cohorts that raise children can come in almost any permutation of genders.)  Fift (and Shria) live in the nation of Fullbelly, and the habitation of Foo. They become friends on a field trip to the surface, at age 9 or so; and by the age of 15 they are feeling romantic attraction to each other, which is quite taboo, at that age, between Staids and Vails. And then they get tickets to the Cirque, a presentation of the Clowns. And there they meet Thavé, an ancient human, something of an historian mainly ... and Thavé makes some observations about their world and civilization that seem to question its central values. And shortly later things are temporarily plunged into chaos, as a revolutionary group of Vails cuts the "Feed" and urges people -- Vails, at least -- to abandon the cultural limits placed on them. And, somehow, Fift and Shria become, entirely involuntarily, celebrities, and symbols of this "revolution" -- though they are by no means sure they support it.

I don't want to say much more -- I think I'm garbling things a bit, and I think the wonders of this novel are best revealed by reading it. My expectations kept changing as my understanding grew. I was surprised again and again. Sometimes I wanted to argue. I was challenged too -- in particular by my default (and often false) genderized assumptions about Staids and Vails, because they so beautifully don't match "male" and "female", and also don't match contemporary non-binary expectations. I was moved to wonder -- by things like the Long Conversation of the Staids, which we only barely begin to comprehend; or by the polysomatic identity of these people, for by Thavé's half-million year perspective on human civilization(s). And I was emotionally moved, by Fift's yearnings, and by Shria's, and even Thavé's. Two short lines, each close to the end of the novel, brought me to tears: "Oh: It was joy." and "Be alive, Siob. You have to be alive." 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Review: Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

a review by Rich Horton

Susanna Clarke's first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, from 2004, was a sensation. It won the Hugo for Best Novel, and eventually became a TV series. It deserved all the accolades it received -- and for me, it is the best fantasy novel of the 21st Century (well, now -- one of the best two!) Naturally, readers wanted more from Clarke -- but aside from an excellent story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, nothing was forthcoming. The reasons are wholly understandable -- Clarke has had considerable health challenges. But, finally, in 2020 her second novel appeared. (And a third is reportedly soon to follow.) This second novel is Piranesi -- and it is as different to her first novel as any novel also describable as fantasy might be. It is also, in its own way, quite as good.

As a side issue, I will note that this was the first book I ever "read" by listening to an audio recording. The book was read by the first rate screen actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. Perhaps I was a bit spoiled by this -- I think he did an exceptional job. I should say, however, that most of the audiobook readers I have encountered since then have been just fine, and none have been bad. (As with almost all the audiobooks I've read, I also got the physical book -- for one thing, it's hard to write about a book without the text to check! (If for no other reason than getting character names right!))

Piranesi bears almost no resemblance to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It is far shorter, It is set in what seems roughly the present day, not an alternate Regency. It is almost claustrophobic in setting (though strangely manages to not feel claustrophobic despite being mostly set in a single building) and for much of the novel the main character is completely alone. For all that, it is as good as its predecessor.

I read the novel over a year ago, and for a variety of reasons have not yet written about it. So what I write may be a little briefer than usual. I dare say that may be a feature, not a bug!

Piranesi is primarily set in a single House, which is also for all practical matters the World. It is of indefinite size, though there is a visible outside. At the time of this narrative it is occupied by only one person, the narrator, who is called Piranesi by the only other person he knows, whom he calls the Other, and who shows up at irregular intervals. Piranesi knows of 13 other people who have lived in the World -- all skeletons that he has found. The story is mostly told through entries in Piranesi's diary, which records his attempts to catalog things he finds in the House, and to discuss his relationship with the Other.

The Other, who is somewhat older than Piranesi (who believes himself to be in his mid-30s) is in search of the Great and Secret Knowledge he believes can be found in the House. Piranesi is allowed to assist the Other in this pursuit. We soon gather that their relationship is unequal and indeed abusive, though Piranesi does not seem to realize this. And so the plotty center of the story (though truly this is not a novel of plot, even though the plot is important) concerns the unraveling of the secret of why Piranesi is confined in this House, and who Piranesi and the Other really are, and what is their history, and who are the other people who have lived (and died) in the House. A fulcrum is the appearance of another person, a woman, whom Piranesi calls 16.

All this is effectively revealed to us over time, and it's a deeply sad story that I won't detail. Best by far to have it come slowly clear while reading the novel. The conclusion is honest, and moving -- nothing is truly restored but what small justice can be done is done. Piranesi's fate, even after he learns his original identity, is ... appropriate. 

But what remains after we learn all this is beauty, and mystery. As the novel's closing sentence reads: "The Beauty of the House is immeasurable, its Kindness infinite." Piranesi's existence is extremely confined throughout the events of the book, but he learns to see in the House its loveliness. And Clarke manages to show us this. The statues of the house -- The Statue of a Woman Carrying a Beehive, The Statue of a Shepherdess, The Body of the Attacking Centaur, etc, and other things like The Biscuit-Box Man, or Piranesi's fishnets, or the birds he finds in some of the chambers, or the varying water levels, or the maps of the stars ... all these seem truly wonderful. Piranesi's own innocence and wonder are contagious (if also in some way sad.) Ultimately the House is truly a fantastical place; and the knowledge the Other is pursuing is quite mysterious, if by no means what the Other expects. 

Great novels often bring tears to my eyes independent of tragic events ... it is wonder and beauty that truly make me cry. Piranesi works on me in this way, even as I write this review. Perhaps in an odd way I am reminded of an otherwise wholly different novel, John Crowley's Little, Big. Susanna Clarke's career output is small, but it is remarkable, and she must be counted as one of the great English fantasists.