And I am thankful I am done with this book. It was never bad enough to quit, but it was hard to keep reading. It took almost two weeks to get through, and I still ended up skimming the end.
Pavane is an alternative history set in England, where the Catholic church dominates the world. Published in 1966, it is surely a British response to the American 1959 A Canticle for Saint Leibowitz. Canticle featured three loosely connected stories about post-apocalyptic monks; Pavane has six stories about people living under the tyrannical Pope John.
Three stories feature men: Jesse Strange, heir to a steam engine family, a Signal Guildsman named Rafe Bigland, and a monk. Three feature women: Jesse’s niece, a lobsterman’s daughter named Becky, and Jesse’s granddaughter, Eleanor of Corfe Gate. Only two of these stories appealed to me: Rafe’s story, because he was apart of the fascinating and elaborate windmill signaling system used by a world where science was heresy; and Eleanor’s revolt against the Pope.
The other stories did not hold my interest well, and other than the stated setting, were not science fiction. They read like dull, dry historical stories with convoluted sentences badly mimicking Dickens. (I’m only surmising the last part, since I haven’t read Charles Dickens yet.) It was a shame because every once in a while, there was a stunning idea, paragraph, or characterization. Unfortunately, it was a tedious trip between them. The most positive lesson I can take away from this story is that I want to aim for such lovely paragraphs. Interesting: this story references a Norse mythology – the Tree of Life and the God Yggdrasil. The first time I’d heard about this myth was in the movie The Fountain, which I saw only two days before I started the book.
I’m also thankful for such quirky coincidences.
For me, this book was the flip side of The Female Man. My complaint with Russ’s work is that a concept is not necessarily a story. In this, a story is not necessarily science fiction.