Today’s cover reveal comes to us once again courtesy of the fine mechanical folks at Angry Robot Books, and it’s definitely one to watch: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show is a debut fantasy with an irresistible premise: an irreputable doctor on the late 19th century carnival circuit hawks a “cure-all” that does far more than what the trumped up claims on the label promises…it’s just, none of it is good.
Check out the full cover, designed by Steven Meyer-Rassow (who created the distinctive art for Ferrett Steinmetz’ ‘Mancer trilogy), following the publisher’s blurb. Then, keep reading for a guest post from the author, who reveals three fantastical novels and one work of non-fiction that revel in the same sense of spectacle as his debut, which you can read in February 2017.
The year is 1878. Dr Alexander Potter, disgraced Civil War surgeon, now snake-oil salesman, travels the Pacific Northwest with a disheartened company of strongmen, fortune-tellers, and musical whores. Under their mysterious and murderous leader they entertain the masses while hawking the Chock-a-saw Sagwa Tonic, a vital elixir touted to cure all ills both physical and spiritual. For a few unfortunate customers, however, the Sagwa offers something much, much worse.
And now, a word from Eric Scott Fischl:
A Few Spectacular Books
Like most people, I’m a sucker for spectacle. It’s human nature, really: who can turn away from something amazing? Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River Canyon. Musclebound Slavic acrobats twisting and leaping at Cirque du Soleil. Penn and Teller doing mind-bending card tricks with sheets of steel and a forklift. As a writer, then, it’s a pleasure to be able to weave a story around the incredible and the spectacular, the bombastic and showy. The character of the American showman holds a particular place in the history of this country, from Barnum forward. Sometimes seedy, perhaps unctuous, with questionable morality and a jaded, hardened – but not quite dead – heart … he’s just a wonderful trope to build a story around.
Here, then, are a few books set in and around that spectacular, showman’s setting which, if they didn’t influence Dr Potter’s Medicine Show directly, I loved and which certainly seasoned and added to whatever cranial brew inspiration draws from.
Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn
Obviously. The biggest elephant in the tent. If you haven’t yet read this book (is there anyone who hasn’t?) go buy it this instant. A finalist for the National Book Award, the story of a carnival family whose patriarch breeds new freaks with radiation and poison. It’s a book about family, really, with characters that will break your heart and make you see beauty in the ugly. A lovely, lovely book. I’m not even sure how many times I’ve read it over the years, but it’s guaranteed that I’ll read it yet again some day.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
I came to this book recently; it received so much attention before and after publication that I was a bit skeptical of over-hype … let me be clear that I was incredibly wrong: it’s beautiful. At a circus that only opens after dark, gorgeous prose tells the story of two rival, ageless magicians and their proxy battle to the death through their young protégées. The story unfolds like a fairy-tale and the circus itself, when open, is a phantasmagorical place of yearning and sweet melancholy, where one is easily lost, hence its name: Le Cirque des Rêves. Go buy this book, too.
Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold
As a history nerd, the list of times/places to which I’d travel, if I had a time machine, is a long, long one, but being able to catch some of the magic shows of the early part of the twentieth century is on that list for a certain. Carter Beats the Devil is another story of a battle between two magicians but, whereas those in The Night Circus are supernatural, these men are simply masters of the illusionist’s craft at the peak of its popularity as a spectacle. Wrapped around this framework is a story of lost love, heartbreak, and redemption that will keep you turning pages. What’s amazing about this book is that the magic shows, which are stunning examples of pageantry and showmanship that seem impossible in scope and execution, are all drawn from the actual shows of the day: Kellar, Thurston, Houdini, Carter the Great himself, many others. What a thing to have seen. Wonderful stuff and, yes, go buy this book.
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
One non-fiction selection here, then, and let’s get this out of the way first: buy this book. Erik Larson is an amazing history writer, who could make his grocery list into a riveting read. The Devil in the White City is about one of the biggest spectacles this country has ever had: the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. This was a time when America was in stunning ascension and roaring through the Gilded Age; the World’s Fair was a symbol, then, a glowing mirror held up to that young, brash country on the rise. Larson brings all this to life as he is so deft at doing, and then intertwines a dark side: the story of H. H. Holmes, one of the most twisted and prolific serial killers you’ll ever read about, who built a large and labyrinthine “murder house” to prey upon victims brought to Chicago to see the wonders of the fair. An almost unbelievable character, really. This is history that reads like a novel.
And there you have it. Some spectacular books for your enjoyment, a list which, in fairness, only scratches the surface. To the spectacle, then: happy reading!