07 Jul 2009
by Jeffrey Thomas
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1. THE HARLEQUIN & THE TRAIN has rolled into the station
As I’ve just moved from the tiny studio (former servant quarters in a sprawling Victorian mansion) my wife and I lived in for a year, to a REAL apartment a few streets over — something more practical, with our daughter Jade only a few weeks away from her own premiere — I’ve been a bit behind in discussing my receipt of finished copies of Paul Tremblay’s superb novella, THE HARLEQUIN & THE TRAIN, published by Nick Curtis and myself through our Necropolitan Press. But I don’t know where to begin describing it. It’s a wonderful design — Nick’s — the book cleverly taking the form of a composition book, such as a student would use, right down to the multiplication table on the inside front cover and grammar rules (which integrate the author’s bio!) on the inside back cover, plus duct tape across the outer covers and blurbs affixed with masking tape. Not to mention the sensual slickness of the cover stock…ahh! For a look at the terrific design (though you won’t get to feel the slick covers), and to sample the novella itself, you can check it out at the web site ISSUU.COM:
Jeff VanderMeer just gave the book a mention in a podcast, again remarking on the physical beauty of the book (his comments appear at around 14:34 into the podcast):
Jeff also does a nice job reading an excerpt from the book.
And there’s now a glowing — as in glowing like a supernova — review up at Dark Scribe’s online magazine, here:
Good stuff. But there’s even more! At Shocklines.com’s message board, in a thread about what people are reading now, Ellen Datlow said: “Paul G. Tremblay’s The Harlequin and the Train which I liked a lot. Scary clowns!”
The book appears to be getting the attention it deserves, and I hope the train only continues to gain momentum.
2. THE UNDERPEOPLE, by Cordwainer Smith
I finished reading this novel recently, after having owned it for so long I don’t even recall how I came by it. Used book store? Certainly since my early twenties, if not my teens. The copy itself is from 1968, the year the book first (posthumously) appeared. It wasn’t until I was nearly finished that I looked into Smith — who I was familiar with only by name — and learned the novel is a sequel to 1964′s THE PLANET BUYER, both books later combined as NOSTRILIA. This would explain the feeling that I was jumping into a story that was already well underway, but it wasn’t a bad feeling — it started things off at an engaging pace that the slim novel maintained throughout. It’s an eccentric, delightful work, with a very friendly feel despite taking place in a far, far future where animals have been made into humanoids, ala Dr. Moreau, to serve actual human beings, even as pleasure girls — as in the case of the book’s heroine, the deliciously feline C’Mell. Our protagonist is Rod McBan, who has just become the richest man in history, and as a result has bought the Earth. Rod has been regressed several times to the age of 16, so he has a youthful sense of innocence mixed with bravado and plain awkward confusion, and the errand he is sent on into the underworld the animal-like “Underpeople” inhabit is really more a quest to become a grown-up, to gain true maturity and knowledge, at last. As I say, it’s a charming book, witty without being smug or cutesy, and I wish I had known it was a two-piece story or I’d have read NOSTRILIA instead — but I was already in the mindset to move onto the next book in my reading pile (Dan Simmons’ decidedly longer and grimmer novel, THE TERROR). In its distant future setting, THE UNDERPEOPLE reads almost like science fantasy, even a kind of fable, and indeed by novel’s end Rod has attained a legendary mystique. The book has a lot to say, in its understated way, about prejudice; one can see issues of race at work in the servitude of the Underpeople, who as it turns out — unsurprisingly — are more human than their masters. There is also a related theme of humans distancing themselves from their humanity in their attempts to attain perfection. As a prophet-like bird-man tells another character, “(humans) had all forgotten that humanness is itself imperfection and corruption, that what is perfect is no longer understandable.”
I was actually shocked to read what a fascinating character Smith was himself. Born Paul Linebarger, he was a confidant of Chiang Kai-shek, a military intelligence officer (colonel, ultimately) and author of a noted book on psychological warfare, a professor of Asiatic Studies, an advisor during the Korean War and to JFK, and on and on. I’d certainly love to come back to him later and try some of his short stories, which apparently also relate to the universe of THE UNDERPEOPLE…he had a fantastic imagination and a quirky, enjoyable style.
You can read about Cordwainer Smith at Wikipedia, or at a blog his daughter maintains here:
…and you can order NOSTRILIA, which contains THE UNDERPEOPLE, at Amazon:
BUT WAIT!!!!!!! Since you’re heading to Amazon.com anyway, THE HARLEQUIN & THE TRAIN is available there, now, too! See for yourself, you imperfect human, you: