By law, nothing can change in Malacia—a teeming, eternal city of dukes, players, wizards, merchants, beggars, ape-men, lizard-boys, and courtesans—but that is of no great consequence to Perian de Chirolo. An out-of-work actor and unabashed rogue, he is well satisfied with his lot as long as there’s coin, eager young women to bed, and the occasional adventure. Perhaps it is this thrill-seeking spirit—or simply the lure of noble beauty—that makes Perian imprudently agree to take part in a mad inventor’s illegal experiments, since such foolishness will never be tolerated in Malacia. But Perian’s rash actions will only lead him on to further indiscretions, winning him first fame and then notoriety, causing him to be hunted, hounded, martyred, and trapped in a fight to the death with a razor-toothed Ancestral Beast on the outskirts of the city. And perhaps most frightening of all, Perian de Chirolo will find himself in love.
Grand Master Brian W. Aldiss, one of science fiction’s most able and ingenious creative artists, performs a truly astonishing feat of alternate-world building, immersing the reader in an unforgettable Medieval fantasy realm rich in color, incident, invention, and peril—and of course, giant lizards. Welcome to Malacia.
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About the Author
Brian W. Aldiss was born in Norfolk, England, in 1925. Over a long and distinguished writing career, he published award-winning science fiction (two Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award); bestselling popular fiction, including the three-volume Horatio Stubbs saga and the four-volume the Squire Quartet; experimental fiction such as Report on Probability A and Barefoot in the Head; and many other iconic and pioneering works, including the Helliconia Trilogy. He edited many successful anthologies and published groundbreaking nonfiction, including a magisterial history of science fiction (Billion Year Spree, later revised and expanded as Trillion Year Spree). Among his many short stories, perhaps the most famous was “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” which was adapted for film by Stanley Kubrick and produced and directed after Kubrick’s death by Steven Spielberg as A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Brian W. Aldiss passed away in 2017 at the age of 92.
Read an Excerpt
The Malacia Tapestry
By Brian W. Aldiss
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Southmoor Serendipity
All rights reserved.
Mountebanks in an Urban Landscape
Smoke was drifting through my high window, obscuring the light.
Something was added to the usual aromas of Stary Most. Among the flavours of fresh-cut timber, spices, cooking, gutters, and the incense from the corner wizard, Throat Dark, floated the smell of wood-smoke. Perhaps the sawdust-seller had set fire to his load again.
Going to my casement, I looked down into the street, which was more crowded than usual for this hour of day. The gongfermors and their carts had disappeared, but the Street of the Wood Carvers was jostling with early traffic, including among its habitual denizens a number of porters, beggars, and general hangers-on; they were doing their best either to impede or to further the progress of six burly orientals, all wearing turbans, all accompanied by lizard-boys bearing canopies over them – the latter intended as much to provide distinction as shade, since the summer sun had little force as yet.
The smoke was rising from the sweepings of an ash-merchant, busily burning the street's rubbish. One good noseful of it and I withdrew my head.
The orientals had probably disembarked from a trireme newly arrived. From my attic, between roofs, its furled sails could be glimpsed alongside Satsuma, only a couple of alleys distant.
I pulled on my blue ankle-boots, made from genuine marshbags skin; the black pair was in pawn and likely to remain so for a while. Then I went to greet the day.
As I went down the creaking stair, I met my friend de Lambant climbing up to meet me, his head lowered as if compulsively counting the steps. We greeted each other.
'Have you eaten, Perian?'
'Why, I've been up for hours doing nothing else,' I said, as we made our way down. 'A veritable banquet at Truna's, with pigeon pie merely one of the attractions.'
'Have you eaten, Perian?'
'Today not, if you refuse to believe in pigeon pie. And you?'
'I found a muffin lying idle on a baker's tray as I made my way here.'
'There's a ship in. Shall we have a look at it on our way to Kemperer's?'
'If you think it holds any advantage. My horoscope isn't profitable today. There's women in it, but not just yet apparently. Saturn is proving difficult, while all the entrails are against me.'
'I'm too hard-up even to get my amulet blessed by Throat Dark.'
'It's marvellous not to be troubled by money.'
We strolled along in good humour. His doublet, I thought, was not a shade of green to be greatly excited about; it made him look too much the player. Yet Guy de Lambant was a handsome fellow enough. He had a dark, quick eye and eyebrows as sharp and witty as his tongue could be. He was sturdily built, and walked with quite a swagger when he remembered to do so. As an actor he was effective, it had to be admitted, although he lacked my dedication. His character was all one could wish for in a friend: amusing, idle, vain and dissolute, ready for any mischief. The two of us were always cheerful when together, as many ladies of Malacia would vouch.
'Kemperer might give us a breakfast snack, even if there's no work.'
'That depends on his temper,' de Lambant said. 'And that depends on La Singla and how she has been behaving herself.'
To which I made no answer. There was some slight jealousy between us concerning Kemperer's wife. Pozzi Kemperer was the great impresario, one of the best in Malacia. Both de Lambant and I had been in his company for the better part of two years; our present lack of employment was nothing new.
On the quayside, a swarm of men were in action, mostly working bare-chested and barefoot, heaving on ropes, tugging winches, hauling boxes. The trireme was being unloaded. Various onlookers were delighted to inform us that the vessel had come up the River Toi from Six Lagoons, trading from the West. The optimists thought it might carry statuary, the pessimists that it might bring plague.
As we arrived, customs officials in tricorne-hats were marching off the vessel. They would have been searching for forbidden goods, in particular any new thing which might upset the mellow flow of existence in Malacia; although I could only approve their mission, they were a poor, mothy collection, despite their hats and uniforms, one man limping, one half-blind, and a third, judging by appearances, lame, blind and drunk into the bargain.
Guy and I had watched such scenes since we were children. Boats arriving from the East were a better spectacle than those from the West, since they often carried exotic animals and black female slaves. As I was turning away, not unprompted by the rumbling of my stomach, I noted a strange old figure hopping up and down on the deck of the trireme.
His body was cut into pieces by the yards, but in a moment he turned and came down the gang-plank, carrying a box under one arm. He was stooped and white of hair, while something about his dress suggested to me that he was a foreigner – though he was not one of the mariners; indeed, I believed I had seen him about Malacia before. He wore a tattered fur jacket, despite the heat of the day. What took me was the mixture of delight and caution on his whiskery countenance; I tried setting my face in the same expression. He made off smartly into Stary Most and was lost to sight. The city brimmed with crazy characters.
Several carriages were drawn up along the Satsuma. As de Lambant and I made off we were hailed from one of them. The carriage door opened, and there was my sister Katarina, smiling a sweet smile of welcome.
We embraced each other warmly. Her carriage was one of the shabbiest there, the Mantegan arms peeling on the coachwork. She had married into a ruined family; yet she herself was as neat as ever, her long, dark hair pinned severely back, the contours of her face soft.
'You're both looking very idle,' she said.
'That's part nature, part artifice,' said de Lambant. 'Our brains are quite active – or mine is.
I can't speak for your poor brother.'
'My stomach's active. What brings you here, Katarina?'
She smiled in a sad fashion and gazed down at the cobblestones.
'Idleness also, you might say. I came to see the captain of the vessel to find out if there was word from Volpato, but he has no letters for me.'
Volpato was her husband – more often absent than present and, when present, generally withdrawn. Both de Lambant and I made consoling noises.
'There will be another ship soon,' I said.
'My soothsayer misled me. So I'm going to the cathedral to pray. Will you join me?'
'Our Maker this morning is Kemperer, sweet sister,' I said. 'And he will make or break us.
Go and act as our Minerva. I'll come and visit you at the castle soon.'
I said it lightly meaning to reassure her.
She returned me a concerned look. 'Don't forget, then. I went to see Father last evening and played chess with him.'
'I wonder he had time for chess, burrowing among his old tomes! A Disquistion on the Convergences – or is it Congruities or Divergencies? – for I never seem to remember –Between the High Religion and the Natural Religion and Mithraism and the Bishop's Nostrils!'
'Don't make fun of your father, Perian,' Katarina said gently, as she climbed back into her carriage. 'His work is quite important.'
I spread my hands eloquently, tilting my head to one side to show pity and resignation.
'I love the old boy, I know his work is important. I'm just tired of being lectured by him.'
As de Lambant and I walked along the quay in the direction of the Bucintoro, he said, 'Your sister in her dove-grey dress – really quite fetching in a sober way ... I must visit her in her lonely castle one of these fine evenings, though you are disinclined to do so. Her husband similarly, it appears.'
'Keep your filthy thoughts off my sister.' We talked instead about de Lambant's sister, Smarana, whose wedding day, determined by a useful conjunction of constellations, was little more than five weeks away. The thought of three days of family celebration cheered us, not least because the two families involved, the de Lambants and the Orinis, had engaged Kemperer's company to play on the second day. We should have work then, at least.
'We'll perform such a comedy as all will remember ever after. I'm even prepared to fall down the stairs again for the sake of an extra laugh.'
He dug me in the ribs. 'Pray that we eat before that date, or I can see us treading the boards in the Shadow World. Here's the market – let's run different ways!'
The fruit market stood at the end of the Stary Most district. At this time of morning it was crammed with customers and buzzing with argument, gossip, and wasps the size of thumbs. De Lambant and I slipped among the stalls at a trot, bouncing off customers, swerving round posts, to arrive together at the other end laughing, with a good muster of peaches and apricots between us.
'A day's work in itself,' de Lambant said, as we munched. 'Why bother to go to Kemperer's? He has nothing for us. Let's make for Truna's and drink. Portinari will probably be there.'
'Oh, let's go and see the old boy anyway, show him we're alive and thin for want of parts.'
He struck me in the chest. 'I don't want for parts. Speak for yourself.'
'I certainly wouldn't want to speak for what is doubtless unspeakable. How the women put up with those disgusting parts of yours is beyond credit.'
At the corner of a certain scrivener's stair stood an ancient magician called All-People. All-People stood at the scrivener's stair whenever the omens were propitious, and had done so since the days when I was taken to market on piggy-back. His face was as caprine as that of the billy goat tethered to the post beside him, his eyes as yellow, his chin as hairy. On his iron altar a dried snake burned, the elements sprinkled on it giving off that typical whiff of the Natural Religion which my priest, Mandaro, referred to contemptuously as 'the stench of Malacia'.
Standing in the shade of the scrivener's porch consulting All-People was a stooped man in a fur jacket. Something in his stance, or the emphatic way he clutched a box under his arm, caught my attention. He looked as if he was about to make off faster than his legs could carry him. Always watching for gestures to copy, I recognized him immediately as the man who had come smartly off the trireme.
Several people stood about waiting to consult All-People. As we were passing them, the magician threw something into the hot ash of his altar, so that it momentarily burnt bright yellow. My attention caught by the flame, I was trapped also by All-People's amber gaze. He raised an arm and beckoned me with a finger, red and twisted as an entrail.
I nudged de Lambant. 'He wants you.'
He nudged me harder. 'It's you, young hero. Forward for your fate!'
As I stepped towards the altar, its pungent perfumes caught me in the throat, so that I coughed and scarcely heard All-People's single declaration to me: 'If you stand still enough, you can act effectively.'
'Thanks, sire,' I said, and turned after de Lambant, who was already hurrying on. I had not a denario to give, though advice carries a high value in Malacia.
'Guy, what do you think that means, if anything, "Stand still, act effectively"? Typical warning against change, I suppose. How I do hate both religions.'
He bit deeply into his peach, letting it slobber luxuriously down his chin, and said in an affected scholarly voice, 'Highly typical of the misoneism of our age, my dear de Chirolo – one of the perils of living in a gerontocracy, to my mind ... No, you turnip, you know well what the old goat's on about. He's a better critic of the drama than you suspect, and hopes by his advice to cure you of your habit of prancing about the stage stealing the limelight.'
We were falling into a scuffle when my sleeve was clutched. I turned, ready for pickpockets, and there stood the old man with the fur jacket and the box. He was panting, his mouth open, so that I had a view of his broken teeth and chops; yet his general expression was alert and helped by blue eyes, which is a colour rarely met with in Malacia.
'Forgive me, gentlemen, for the intrusion. You are young Perian de Chirolo, I believe?'
He spoke with an accent of some sort. I admitted my identity and presumed that he had possibly derived some enjoyment from my performances.
'I'm not, young sir, a giant one for performances, although it occurs I have myself written a play, which –'
'In that case, sir, whatever your name is, I can be of no help. I'm a player, not an impresario, so –'
'Excuse me, I was not about to ask for favours but to offer one.' He pulled the jacket about him with dignity, cuddling his box for greater comfort. 'My name, young sir, is called Otto Bengtsohn. I am not from Malacia but from Tolkhorm at the north, from which particular adversities what afflict the poor and make their lives a curse have drove me since some years. My belief is that only the poor will help the poor. Accordingly, I wish for to offer you work, if you are free.'
'Work? What kind of work?'
His expression became very severe; he was suddenly a different man. He regarded me as if he believed himself to have made a mistake.
'Your kind of work, of course. Playing.' His lips came together as if stitched. 'If you are free, I offer you work with my zahnoscope.'
Looking down on him, I formulated the resolve, not for the first time, never to become old.
'Have you work also for my good friend here, Guy de Lambant, almost as famous, almost as young, almost as poor, almost as skilful as I, old Bengtsohn from Tolkhorm?'
And de Lambant asked, 'Do the poor help only one poor or two poor?'
To him the old man said, 'I can afford only one poor for my modest design. All-People, as well as my personal astrologer, indicated that the one should be Master Perian de Chirolo, according to the presentiments.'
I asked what on earth his zahnoscope was. Was it a theatre?
'I have no theatre, Master.' His voice became confidential. Picking at one of my buttons for security, he edged his way between de Lambant and me. 'I do not wish talking in the street. I have enemies and the State has eyes. Come at my miserable place and see for yourself what thing I am offering. It is something more than of the moment passing, that I will say. I stay not far from here, on the other side of St Marco's, into a court off Exhibition Street, at the Sign of the Dark Eye. Come and see, conform to the forecasts.'
A gilded berlin, lumbering too close, gave me the chance to move away from him without forfeiting my button.
'Go back to your dark eye and your dark court, my venerable friend. We have other business, nothing to do with you or the stars.'
He stood there with his box gripped firmly under his arm, his mouth stitched again, his face blank. No disappointment or anger. Just a disconcerting look as if he had me summed in a neat ledger kept in his head. He was indifferent to the people who jostled past him, going this way and that.
'You ought to see what he has to offer. Never miss a chance for advancement, de Chirolo,' said de Lambant, as we went on our way. 'He's bedraggled enough to be a wealthy miser. Perhaps he came away from Tolkhorm with the city treasure.'
I imitated the old man's Northern accent. '"I have enemies and the State has eyes ..." He's probably a Progressive or something equally shady. I'm a fair judge of character, Guy.
Take it from me that that old eccentric has nothing to offer except a certain scarcity value.'
'You could be right.'
'I've never heard you concede that before.'
He spat a peach-stone into the gutter. 'I'm a pretty fair judge of character too, and my judgment is that Pozzi Kemperer will offer us nothing but the point of his buckskin boots if we manifest our faces at his house this morning. I'll keep to my original intention and go to Truna's. Portinari should be there, if his father spares him. And Caylus, if the bulls have spared him. I grow increasingly friendly with Caylus, bless me. Come with me.'
'You agreed to come to Kemperer's.'
He pulled an impudent face. 'Now I disagree. I know you only want to see Kemperer's little wife. She favours you more than me, being a myopic little hussy. We'll see each other at Truna's this evening probably.'
'What has Caylus to offer so suddenly?' Caylus Nortolini was a lordly young man with numerous sword-wounds and maidenheads to his credit; his scornful airs were not to everyone's taste.
Excerpted from The Malacia Tapestry by Brian W. Aldiss. Copyright © 1976 Southmoor Serendipity. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Mountebanks in an Urban Landscape,
A Balloon over the Bucintoro,
A Feast Unearned,
Woman with Mandoline in Sunlight,
A Young Soldier's Horoscope,
The Ancestral Hunt,
Castle Interior with Penitents,
Wedding Cups and Naked Guests,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of the best sf novels I've ever read. It takes place in Malacia, a city that is an alternate 18th-century Italy where most inhabitants feel protected by their rulers' rejection of social and political change. The story follows Perian, a broke actor, as he cuts across all levels of society as part of a company that is presenting a play using a new process, mercurization, aka photography. This is sf's Candide and a neglected classic. If that isn't enough for you, there is also a dinosaur hunt.