Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Fri Mar 13 15:10:13 EST 1992

Raymond's Reviews #192

%T Carve the Sky
%A Alexander Jablokov
%I Avon
%D April 1992
%O paperback, US$4.99
%P 342
%G ISBN 0-380-71521-X

I remarked in a recent review (RR#190) that first-class SF novels that also fulfill all the criteria of "literary merit" are rare --- and, as if arranged by a perverse fate, here's the second I've seen in a month. Jablokov's first novel isn't quite the amazing tour-de-force Swanwick's Stations Of The Tide was, but it's damned fine stuff.

In the 24th century, a beautiful and disturbing artifact throws power groups all over a balkanized Solar Systems into conflict. The artifact is a statue of the Dead Christ, with jewels in the form of eyes set into his wounds --- and the eyes show signs of having been worked from the largest deposit yet found of ngomite, an extremely rare and strategically valuable substance critical for the manufacture of fusion engines.

The Union of Terra is an inward-looking empire, still recovering from the centuries of war and turmoil following the end of the `Modern Era' and the fall of the world-girdling Russian Orthodox Empire. It's obsessed by its own history, perhaps beginning to slide into decadence. A large part of the book's charm is in its allusions to the history of Earth stretching back to our own time; there's an almost Vancian delight in travelogue and the telling detail.

Opposed to Terra is the Technic Alliance , an aggressive technocratic culture centered in the moons of Jupiter. The Technics have deliberately turned their back on the past and despise the deliberate archaism in which much of the mother planet is maintained by fiat. They aim to seize Earth and reshape it into a utopia of metallic dreams.

Caught between are the Martians, a culture of proud warrior-aesthetes, and the vast ambiguous borderlands of the Asteroid Belt. Behind the scenes, cults and secret societies and fringe cultures without number intrigue. The solar system, it seems, has become too small; the uneasy equilibrium of recent times is crumbling, and a devastating Second Solar War may be imminent.

Anton Lindgren is the seneschal of Lord Monboddo, Interrogator of Boston; an aesthete and Terran intelligence agent with old ties to the Martians. He seeks the ngomite, but is even more concerned with finding the statuette's maker. Karl Ozaki was the greatest artist of his time, and long believed dead after an explosion in his studio on the Moon. Lindgren uncovers evidence that Ozaki is still alive, and perhaps working with a bizarre and fanatical cult called the Disposessed Brethren of Christ. But Ozaki was a notably irreligious man; what do the Brethren have that he wants, and vice-versa? And where does the lode of ngomite fit in?

I think the flavor, sweep and theme of this novel owes something to Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. Like Stars, it overflows with energy and surprising, arresting images. Jablokov's special gift is his ability to communicate what it is about art and the history of art that makes it fascinating to connoisseurs. He has interwoven this with a plot that has all the action and story values one could wish for, and the result is one of the most satisfying SF novels I've read in a long time.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Fri Mar 13 15:10:13 EST 1992

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>