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Mary Gentle, R D Laing and Lovecraft

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  • Darren
    Denizen of Moo Uria
    • Mar 2004
    • 131

    Mary Gentle, R D Laing and Lovecraft

    Mike, have you read this? If not, why? And when is the film going into production?


    1610: A Sundial In A Grave by Mary Gentle
    pub: Gollancz. 594 page enlarged paperback. Price: آ£12.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-575-07251-2

    check out website:


    Publishers tell us that historical fiction doesn't sell. Crime sells, therefore so does historical crime. Strange. Fantasy sells, so if you put a fantasy twist into your historical setting, no problem. David Gemmel was told that if he wanted to publish his Alexander novels (Lion Of Macedon, etc) as straight historicals, he would have to use another name and accept a greatly reduced advance. They became fantasy.

    Some authors, like Chaz Brenchley (Outremer series) or Guy Gavriel Kay (Sailing To Byzantium) have used episodes of history to create their own personal fantasy worlds that are both otherworld and familiar.

    True alternate worlds look for a hinge point and ask, 'What if this had never happened?', as Robert Silverberg did in his collection Roma Eterna. Others make more subtle changes, as does Freda Warrington in her excellent book The Court Of The Midnight King where she explores a Richard III that might have been.

    Mary Gentle is also no stranger to playing with history. In her White Crow books ( Rats And Gargoyles, The Architecture Of Desire, Left To His Own Devices and Scholars And Soldiers), she has created an alternate history based on the use of Hermetic science, a system postulated in the 17th century which said that the world worked on magical patterns and resonances but predictably, scientifically.

    Ash is another alternate history, set in the fragmented France of the 15th century in North Africa. In common with the current novel, 1610, these volumes have a female lead character who is a very skilled swordswoman and who dresses mostly in male clothing.

    Alternate histories all have a pivot point (a jonbar hinge) where the novel's path deviates from known history. In Roma Eterna, Silverberg has a failure of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt preventing the eventual rise of Christianity. Keith Roberts in Pavane has the assassination of Elizabeth I and the success of the Spanish Armada. Mary Gentle takes the opposite view. Her characters try to prevent the deviation from history as we know it. In 1610, Robert Fludd was a real philosopher and mathematician.

    In Gentle's Stuart London, Fludd has calculated the future history of the world and has come to the conclusion that in 500 years from then, the Earth will be hit by a comet and all live will be utterly destroyed.

    This can be prevented but only if King James I is assassinated and his son, Henry, Prince of Wales, becomes king. If that happens, the people of the future will have developed the technology to prevent the comet's strike. Despite the fact that he will be long dead, Fludd is determined to control events so that the Earth can be saved.

    In the Paris of 1610, the French king, Henri IV is assassinated. According to the narrative of Valentin Rochefort, duellist and spy, he was blackmailed into arranging it by the Queen, Marie de Medici. As a result, Rochefort decided that leaving France would be a good idea. Unfortunately, Dariole, young swordsman who has already bested him in public, waylays him in the stables and again humiliates him.

    But for some reason, Rochefort cannot fathom, Dariole decides to join him in his flight. Rochefort doesn't recognise that his new companion is actually a girl until it is pointed out by the shipwrecked samurai they rescue on the beach. If this turn of events seems like a clichأ© it is worth remembering that people see what they are looking for and although it wasn't unknown for women to occasionally dress as men, it was not how women in Rochefort's world normally behaved. Tanaka Saburo, coming from a different culture was not blinded by European expectations.

    Reaching England, these three are sucked into Fludd's plans. Fludd's calculations put Rochefort in the right position to arrange the assassination of another king and to herd him in the direction he wants him to go. He has spent ten years working out every move, but as with many best laid plans, there is a wild card. Here there are two.

    Is this Science Fiction? Yes, but only marginally. It is also an historical novel of the highest calibre and with the recent TV dramas about Pepys and Charles II, with the right marketing, this could open up Gentle's work to a new audience.

    She deserves it as this is a very fine novel with excellent characterisation, complex plotting and a suburb grasp, not only of history but also of human motivation.

    Pauline Morgan
    The Subject line Mary Gentle, R D Laing and Lovecraft is just to get your attention. But I am intrigued by R D Laing who seems to have been our own Timothy Leary. Particularly relevant for our own times when it appears that Bertie Russell is correct in my misquote that 'the Lunatics have taken over the Asylum'. [/b][/quote]
    \'You know my destiny?\' said Elric eagerly. \'Tell me what it is, Niun Who Knew All.\'
    Niun opened his mouth as if to speak but then firmly shut it again. \'No,\' he said. \'I have forgotten.\'
  • Michael Moorcock
    Site Host
    • Dec 2003
    • 14278

    Well, many of us knew Ronnie Laing, if not particularly well. He seemed to have some brilliant insights in his early career (about the family and how it interacts and how the obvious loony might not be the actual loony and so on) but got a bit crazed towards the end.

    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
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    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
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    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses