This will be an apoclyptically review-flavored blog post….
I finished Galveston by Sean Stewart last night, it was an incredible novel about many things, magic, humanity, maturity, power, borders, identity, responsibility, erosion, and slippage. This novel was also co-winner of the 2001 World Fantasy Award. with Tim Powers' Declare.
Some stream-of-consciousness thoughts…
Sean Stewart tells the story of the titular Texas island, Galvestonm and how major floods impacted by the island. A flood of water in 1900, this did happen, and a flood of Magic in 2004. This 2004 flood split the island into a “real” Galveston and a Mardi Gras Galveston, as the Magic Flood occurred during Mardi Gras of 2004. Technology has broken down in the “real” Galveston. The story takes place some two decades later as society has crawled from the disaster and has adjusted and continues to adjust to their new world. The world society is at a juncture of those who lived before the Flood, those young at the flood, and those who know only the After Flood world.
By placing the story in the not too distant future, Stewart gave me, as the reader, a greater sense of relevance, that something of this magnitude could be just around the corner. Our central characters are Joshua Cane, a young man of ill luck and Sloane Gardner, a young woman of ill chosen paths and magic. Joshua is a doctor in the besieged land and Sloan is a rich heiress to the ruling family of what is left of Galveston. Stewart does many clever things in this novel, there is almost a feel of the down trodden rescuing the princess, but not quite as Things Take a Turn for the Very Bad. If it didn’t we wouldn’t have a novel here would we?
I got a very apocalyptic vibe from this novel. Though Stewart doesn’t quite use the traditional war torn landscape of an after-war civilization, he does very effectively portray society struggling to adjust to cataclysmic circumstances. Those adjusting in the real Galveston struggle to hold back the magic and many fear the consequences. Those in the Mardi Gras world have fully embraced the magic, there are minotaurs and cat people and stilt-men walking around in a very commonplace manner.
Stewart set up a “holy trinity” as it were of power at the outset of the novel…the ruling god of Mardi Gras Galveston – the god Momus; the power of humanity in the real Galveston – Jane Gardner; and Odessa, the Recluse, who keeps watch over the border between the Mardi Gras and Real Galvestons. Sloane Gardner is related to all three – Momus is her stepfather, Jane her mom and Odessa, her aunt. Very much at the center of all things and people, Sloane’s character is well drawn.
In the character of Josh Cane, we see a character who longs for things not his own and he also longs for the past when he had a real home and a life prior to the Flood. Stewart did a great job of building up Josh as a sympathetic character.
My only real problem with the novel occurs towards the middle. Josh’s best friend, Ham, has pretty much stuck with Josh since he was a young boy and the two come across as good friends who compliment each other very well. However; in a bind, Ham kind of snaps on Josh and almost belittles Josh for a character flaw I didn’t detect earlier in the novel, at least. Because of this, Josh went through, what I saw, as an unnecessary guilt trip. This was the only aspect of the novel preventing me from giving this novel an A+. As it was, I’d give it an A-, Stewart’s otherwise mastery of prose, character and plot made for a novel worthy of the World Fantasy Award.
Keeping with the apocalyptic fiction theme, Brian K. Vaughan is increasingly becoming one of my favorite current writers. I’ve been sucked into his series, Ex Machina and I recently received the third volume of his astounding Vertigo series – Y: The Last Man. Thus far, Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand are the last surviving males on the planet. Something caused all males on the planet to disappear. Yorick is coveted and many people want to either kill him to make the world completely female or they want to keep him safe as a sperm bank.
In this volume, titled One Small Step, Yorick and his traveling crew (Ampersand, Government Agent 355 and Genetcist Dr. Mann) cross paths with a Russian soldier who has been dispatched to meet with a crew of Astronauts, two of whom are male. Could this be a sign of hope for the planet, two more males returning to Earth? Will they be susceptible to the plague? In a masterstroke Vaughan ends the story with more questions than answers. This volume also contains a two-parter about a traveling band of actresses who are going to put on a play titled, The Last Man. This little story is a great critique of art imitating life and could portend just how the series will end.
And end it will – Vaughan and artist Pia Gurerra have a tight storyline and this series is only going to run 60 issues. Overall the art is solid on this series and there is a wonderful sense of connectivity throughout. Great science fiction storytelling here folks, and each volume is only $12.95 – a great buy for such a compelling, well-told story. My measly little overview didn’t give this nearly enough justice so check out The Fourth Rail for reviews of each issue.