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An original psychological adventure from the the author of the Philip K. Dick award-winning Burton & Swinburne series.
A tale of Good and Evil, where neither is what it seems! Aiden Fleischer, a bookish priest, finds himself transported to an alien world. With him is Miss Clarissa Stark, a crippled hunchback of exceptional ability, wronged by an aristocrat and cast out from society. On the planet Ptallaya, under two bright yellow suns, they encounter the Yatsill, a race of ...
An original psychological adventure from the the author of the Philip K. Dick award-winning Burton & Swinburne series.
A tale of Good and Evil, where neither is what it seems! Aiden Fleischer, a bookish priest, finds himself transported to an alien world. With him is Miss Clarissa Stark, a crippled hunchback of exceptional ability, wronged by an aristocrat and cast out from society. On the planet Ptallaya, under two bright yellow suns, they encounter the Yatsill, a race of enthusiastic mimics who shape their society after impressions picked up from Clarissa's mind. Creating a faux London, the alien creatures enroll Clarissa in their Council of Magicians and Aiden in the City Guard. But why does the peaceful city require guards? After a day that, in earthly terms, has lasted for months, the answer comes, for on this planet without night, a red sun also rises, and brings with it a destructive evil. The Blood Gods! Hideous creatures, they cause Aiden to confront his own internal darkness while trying to protect his friend and his new home. With a sharp eye for period detail and a rich imagination, Mark Hodder establishes a weirdly twisted version of Victorian London on a convincingly realized alien world, and employs them to tackle a profound psychological and moral question. This book breaks new ground by combining the "Sword & Planet" genre with Victorian steampunk while adding an edgy psychological twist.
"Hodder has crafted a loving homage to the 19th-century novel with the barest tweaks for a 21st-century sensibility, perfectly capturing the device of the narrator's diary (with hand-off to present-day editor), natural-philosophy preoccupations, and the struggle between divine and scientific views of creation. ...[A] fascinating adventure...The pacing is as vintage as the vividly imagined grotesqueries of alien life, but the rewards for acclimating to the style are well worth the effort."
"...features a pair of uncommon-and uncommonly appealing-protagonists and blends the fantastic with elements of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and H.P. Lovecraft. Hodder once again excels in his ability to blend Victorian steampunk, psychological thriller, and "sword and planet" fantasy into an intriguing and entertaining adventure."
Praise for Mark Hodder:
"The usual superlatives for really clever fantasy (imaginative, mind-bending, phantasmagorical) aren't nearly big enough for this debut novel. With this one book, Hodder has put himself on the genre map."
-Booklist, starred review
"Hodder, with an encyclopedic grasp of period detail, tellingly brings these disparate, oddly familiar yet eerily different worlds to fecund life. Enthralling, dizzying, and as impressive as they come."
-Kirkus Reviews, starred review
I didn't intend to drop the crystal there. Even in my own time, it was a busy shipping lane. Now aeroplanes cross the area as well. Two days ago, a United States Navy training flight, comprised of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers and fourteen men, entered the region and has been neither seen nor heard from since. I don't doubt that Flight 19, as it was designated, has gone through the rupture.
I can go home at last. My hand will be restored to me.
The crystal, though, is beyond retrieval. I can only hope that Artellokas, if he still lives, will find a different solution—a way to close the portal before it swallows even more unwitting travellers.
And what of Clarissa? Oh, sweet Heaven, let her still be there.
Wait. My apologies. This is not the way to start. My emotions are spilling onto pages meant only for the cold facts of the matter. I shall begin again. I must complete this account before The Hermes reaches Bermuda. When we dock at Hamilton, I'll entrust it to Captain Powell, who, upon his return to England, will post it to my old vicarage in Theaston Vale. Whoever occupies the position I once held might know what to do with it. I, meanwhile, will steer a motorboat southwestward to a point some two hundred miles north of the Bahamas, there to vanish from this world forever.
A confession: I'm not Peter Edwards. That name belongs to a young Australian soldier, born on the 18th of May 1920, who was shot through the head on the 23rd of July 1942, during the Battle of Port Moresby.
My real name is Aiden Mortimer Fleischer. I am British, but my rather too Germanic surname would have been viewed with suspicion during the war, which is why I appropriated Edwards' identity. I'm not proud that I did so, but the poor lad had no further use for it and I was in desperate straits. He bore some small resemblance to me and his date of birth was useful, for while I appear to be in my mid-twenties, I was, in fact, born on the 22nd of November 1863. By that measure, I am an old man.
Indeed, my youth feels a long way off. It belongs to far gentler times. The world is not what it used to be. Nor am I.
So, to my history.
My father was an Anglican clergyman. He became my sole parent when puerperal fever took my mother within days of my birth. I was an only child, and as I grew up, I felt her absence keenly. Father, by contrast, survived her loss with his character intact, remaining a kind, content, stable, and outwardly happy man. His faith gave him comfort, and I envied him. I suppose it was inevitable, then, that I spent my early years as he'd spent his, following a meek and scholarly path into the priesthood. I was nineteen when I took my vows. Barely a man! That was in January of 1882. Just a few months later, dear old dad suffered a brain embolism and dropped dead. The Church appointed me as his successor and I took over his role as vicar in my home town, the aforementioned Theaston Vale, in Hampshire.
For the churchgoers, it should have been a smooth transition from one Reverend Fleischer to the next.
My predecessor had been a dynamic sermoniser. He was compassionate, engaging, funny, and popular. I was none of those things. I may have been doing the work of Our Lord, but it was immediately apparent that I wasn't very good at it. Crippled by nerves, I stuttered through each Sunday service while my flock first snored, then strayed.
Nevertheless, I was well-meaning—or so I told myself—and every word of comfort I uttered from the pulpit and, occasionally, in the bedrooms of the sick and the dying, was spoken, if not with true feeling, then at least with due care and attention. I knew the Bible from front to back. I always had an appropriate line of scripture at the ready and I never misquoted.
I was erudite.
They told me I was pedantic.
I was dutiful.
They said I was remote.
I was attentive.
They called me a cold fish.
As my daily failures accrued, I began to realise the truth of Jonathan Swift's dictum: "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."
I admit it. Sometimes I grew close to hating my parishioners! I hated that the men avoided me and appeared to regard me as some other gender—not female but definitely not properly male—as though my education and intellectual demeanour had rendered me an incomprehensible hermaphrodite. I hated that the women regaled me with interminable and pointless gossip, which sounded to me spiteful and uncharitable, but which, to them, was obviously as vital as the oxygen they breathed.
Three years of this passed, and an ever-intensifying resentment seethed in the darker recesses of my mind, for I felt helpless to change, and I was constantly and crushingly lonely.
I despised being a priest.
But what else could I be?
* * *
The first of many alterations in my circumstances knocked at the vicarage door late one morning in August of 1885. It arrived in the form of the most disreputable-looking woman I'd ever seen. It pains me to describe her as she was then, but I must, for it was her deformities that initially bound us together.
She was, at most, five-foot-two, obviously a vagabond, hunchbacked, with crooked legs and swarthy sun-browned skin. Her jet-black hair—with streaks of white growing from the temples—was swept back from a deep widow's peak and fell in waves to her twisted shoulder blades. The dress and jacket she wore might have been fashioned from old potato sacks. However, by far the most remarkable thing about her was that the upper part of her face was concealed behind tight-fitting black-lensed leather-bound goggles.
"Forgive my imposition," she said, and her voice was sweet and mellifluous, surprising me with its cultivated tone. "I've fallen upon hard times, Reverend, and I am starving. If you have anything about the place that needs doing, perhaps you would be kind enough to allow me to work in return for a morsel? I can put my hand to any task you care to name, including labour you would normally assign to a man."
Her grotesque appearance unnerved me, but I managed to stammer, "Quite, quite," and blinked at my reflection in the shiny glass of her eyewear. "I have some shirts that require darning. Can you—um—but no, probably that wouldn't—I'm sorry—"
She smiled and tapped the side of her goggles with a finger. "I'm not blind. I can do needlework. I suffer a condition of the eyes that allows me to see with perfect clarity in darkness but which causes me great pain in daylight or in the presence of gas lamps. I would be entirely incapacitated without these glasses."
"Ah. Good!" I said, before hastily correcting myself. "Er, that you're not blind, I mean! Is it—is it a congenital condition?"
"Quite so, Reverend. I was born with it." She made a gesture that indicated her entire body. "As for the rest, a childhood accident is to blame—a chance occurrence, or perhaps it was the will of God, or maybe I was responsible for some misdeed in a past life and am now suffering a natural retribution. I suppose I must have done something very bad to have been thus punished!"
Startled by this statement, I replied, "You refer to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, and in reaping what you sow over the course of multiple lifetimes?"
She nodded. "They call it karma. But I was merely being facetious. I don't really believe in it—I'm a strictly practical sort. Supernatural and theological explanations for the world and our existence in it interest me only in so far as they might give hints of forgotten scientific knowledge. I mean no offence."
"None taken! I'm not so dyed in the wool that I would deny a person the right to question the veracity or usefulness of the Christian faith—or any other creed, for that matter. I was simply taken aback that you know of Buddhist beliefs, that is all."
"Because I appear a down-and-out, and you therefore presumed me ill-informed about such matters?"
I hesitated, feeling rather disoriented by the strange conversation that had come out of nowhere to interrupt my morning studies. "Forgive my forthrightness," I said, "but yes, you do have the air of a beggar about you, and I've never heard a man or woman of that unfortunate class speak as you do."
"Class! It is not a class, sir! It is misfortune and adverse circumstances that cause a person to fall to this state, not inherited qualities of character!"
I shifted from one foot to the other, a vicar made awkward and embarrassed by a vagrant, and stuttered, "Of c-course. Forgive me. It was a bad choice of—of—of words. I meant nothing by it. I appear to have jumped to conclusions about you on sight and now find that all of them are wrong. You are obviously not at all what I took you to be. May I—may I ask your name?"
"I am Clarissa Stark."
"Would you care to come in, Miss Stark? I'm moved to hear your story, and I have a thick vegetable soup on the stove. It won't take long to heat up. We'll forego the needlework. The people of this town are used to seeing me in frayed shirts. They'd be confused if I presented them with otherwise."
"Thank you, Reverend—?"
I ushered her through to my small kitchen and she sat at the table while I put a flame under the soup and set some water to boil. Later, if I could do so without sounding impolite, I'd offer her the opportunity to wash.
"Are you from the North, Miss Stark? I hear the vaguest trace of a Scottish burr in your voice."
"Have you heard of Hufferton Hall?"
"The one near Edinburgh? Of course. It once housed a famous Museum of Mechanical Marvels."
"I was born there."
I turned and looked at her, my eyebrows raised. She smiled and shook her shaggy head. "No, no, I'm not one of the eccentric Huffertons. My mother was their cook, my father their groundsman." She saw my expression and went on, "Ah! You're surprised a child of servants is educated. The explanation is connected with the sorry state of my back and legs. When I was five years old, Lord Hufferton's eldest son, Rupert, who was then in his thirteenth year, took his father's autocarriage without permission and—"
"Autocarriage? What's that?" I interjected.
"A conveyance that moves without need of a horse."
I considered her reply while I ladled soup into bowls, set one before her, and put bread and a glass of water beside it.
"You mean like Étienne Lenoir's Hippomobile?"
I remember that Miss Stark directed her face at me, and her eye lenses reflected the light from the kitchen window. I can still see every detail of that scene, as if it was preserved in amber. I don't know why I recall it with such clarity. Maybe because it was the first moment she considered me with obvious respect.
"I'm astounded!" she exclaimed. "You've heard of Étienne Lenoir?"
I sat down opposite her and broke my bread. "I'm a reader, Miss Stark, and not merely in theology. I'm interested in where the human race is going, both spiritually and materially. I keep up with the latest inventions."
She took a spoonful of soup, and it suddenly became apparent just how hungry she was, for our conversation was temporarily halted as she applied herself to the meal with an enthusiasm that was sad to witness.
I had led a very sheltered life in Theaston Vale. The only cities I'd ever visited were Southampton and Winchester. I'd yet to experience the teeming masses of London's poor and had never seen starvation before. It shocked and humbled me.
Silently, I served the young woman a second bowl, cut her another chunk of bread, then crossed to a cupboard and took from it a bottle of red wine. After pouring her a generous glass, I finished my own meal before transferring the now boiled water from the stovetop to a tin bathtub in the scullery. I refilled the pan and set it back on the flame, then, without a word, left the kitchen and went to the church storeroom. There were bundles of clothes in it, all clean, all contributed by the charitable. I took up as many as I could carry and transported them back to the scullery.
"That was delicious," Miss Stark said as I rejoined her. "Thank you very much. It's been longer than I care to remember since my appetite was properly assuaged."
I didn't know how to offer her the opportunity to wash without sounding indelicate, so I opted for blatancy and hurriedly said, "When a couple more pans have boiled, you'll be able to—to—to bathe. I've placed clean clothing beside the tub. Please take whatever you need."
I felt my face glowing red.
"You are very kind," she responded softly.
I topped up her glass and decided also to indulge. As I sat back down, she took a sip and muttered, "Bordeaux. From the Pomerol vineyards, I should say."
"Great heavens!" I blurted.
She chuckled. "It's not a claret I'd expect to find in the vicarage of a sleepy little Hampshire town. Are you a connoisseur?"
"It's a hobby of mine," I admitted. "How is it that you possess a knowledge of wines?"
"Reverend Fleischer, I'm happy to tell you my story in its entirety, and you must reveal to me how you know of the inventor Étienne Lenoir, but would you mind if we wait until after I've bathed? It is surely bad enough that I've intruded upon your day, but to do so with the odour of the road upon me, and to then remain and enjoy your hospitality without first correcting the problem, would be nothing short of uncivilised."
I acceded her point, and an hour later we reconvened in my sitting room, which, as she observed, more resembled an overstocked and chaotic library.
Much to my surprise and confusion, Miss Stark not only appeared considerably younger—perhaps a couple of years my junior—now the grime was scrubbed from her, but had also dressed herself as a man, in trousers and white shirt, waistcoat and a light jacket. I'd heard of "bloomerism," of course—it was much discussed in newspaper articles about female suffrage—but I'd never witnessed it "in the flesh," so to speak.
"The bloomerists wear trousers as a protest against the inconveniences of women's attire," my guest explained as she painfully manoeuvred her twisted form into an armchair by the fireplace. "For if a lady fails to hold up her skirts while out walking, the hems are soon soaked in all manner of foul substances. Yet they are made from such heavy linen that, after hoisting them up for half an hour, one's wrist cramps and aches abominably. But this is beside the point. I'm no bloomerist. I chose this attire simply because it better suits the life I have been forced to lead."
I also sat. "Let us begin again, Miss Stark. You were telling me about it—your life—and that you came by your education in relation to a thing called an autocarriage."
"Yes, a conveyance invented by the late Lord Hufferton—Sir Philip—and, as you correctly supposed, similar to Étienne Lenoir's Hippomobile."
"Powered by a combustion engine, then?"
"No. The Lenoir engine consumes fuel inefficiently, is exceedingly noisy, and is forever overheating and seizing up. Sir Philip employed a steam engine instead. Have you heard of Thomas Rickett?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Of Buckingham. He invented a steam plough some twenty years ago, which inspired the Marquess of Stafford to commission a steam carriage from him. The machine Rickett constructed was a three-wheeler, with a rear-mounted coal-fired boiler and a two-cylinder engine. Power was transmitted via a chain connected to the right-hand rear wheel. Sir Philip employed a very similar design, but introduced into it a horizontal double-acting steampowered beam engine, gave the vehicle four wheels, and connected the chain to the middle of the rear axle. The front seat could hold three passengers, the one in the middle steering with a tiller, accelerating by means of a regulator lever, and braking via a foot pedal."
"Fascinating! My goodness, Miss Stark, you appear to have a firm grasp of mechanical design, though I suppose that's to be expected of anyone brought up in Hufferton's orbit. But, I say, while I knew he collected such wonders for his museum, I had no idea he'd designed one himself. So this is the carriage his son took?"
I'd supplied my guest with a fresh glass of wine. She imbibed a little, nodded, and said, "Rupert was a dreadfully disobedient child, forever getting into trouble. In 1870, he was thirteen and I was five. My parents and I lived in a tiny cottage on the estate. I used to stay with my mother in the manor's kitchen until it was too dark for my father to be working outside. He'd then come to fetch me home. One evening, as he and I were crossing the grounds, the autocarriage came careening toward us, out of control, with Rupert at the tiller. It hit us square on, killing my father outright and breaking my back and legs."
Excerpted from A Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder Copyright © 2012 by Mark Hodder. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 5, 2013
No text was provided for this review.