This posting continues the Poe celebration and also features a favorite author I’ve reviewed too seldom.
It’s not a review, retro or otherwise.
It’s my reactions upon reading the book. It’s not ordered. It’s not spoiler free. It’s not focused. It’s not always coherent.
Let’s call it a raw feed of the notes I often use for reviews.
And, for probably the first and last time, I’m taking a vote on whether you find this kind of thing useful — ’cause I’ve got lots of them, way more than my reviews.
This novel, like Harness’ “The Picture of Dora Gray”, combines many diverse elements including literary mysteries (in the story it was the inspiration for Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, in the novel the exact turning point in Edgar Allan Poe’s life when he took the literary path and not the military/aristocratic one) into exciting stories. Other elements are an alternate history/time travel/out-of-body subplot; a fanatical, would-be son of the Confederacy who wants to change history by making sure Brigadier General Edgar Allan Poe does the right thing and lead his men to sure death in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg; a satire on the triviality, narrow mindedness, and sexual harassment of academia and graduate studies; and such a relentlessly Freudian interpretation of Poe’s works that it’s almost convincing.
Harnesses’ characters are well-delineated and all fanatical. William Reynolds, narrator, is utterly obsessed with getting a doctorate as is his girlfriend Alix Schell, a woman who, while a Freudian obsessed, symbol-mongering psych major, is blind to Reynolds’ faults. Reynolds desperation is well-conveyed along with his ambition. The Colonel is obsessed with the South as victor in the Civil War. The various academics are symbols of much that is wrong in academia.
The book has flaws, though. Out-of-body experiences, including traveling back in time, appear to be widely documented and studied in this worlds as are other psychic powers. Society seems to have changed little as a result (casinos have psi-screens but that’s the only mention). There is incredibly sophisticated computer technology which also seems to have altered society little. There are the improbable (in terms of actual programming) what if games where you try to affect the most historical change in a simulation with the least drastic alteration), but this has created little effects. And why isn’t Alix Schell, ace what-if programmer, making money that way instead of being a poor-student? The explanations the Colonel gives as to what will happen to Reynolds and Schell and their world if his plan works are pure gobbleygook. The relentless, amazingly detailed, almost convincing Freudian interpretations of Poe’s life through his literature would have been another great jab at academia except that it actually turned out to work.
The best thing in this book is Harness’ amazing knowledge of Poe and his works. And the character of time-hopping Edgar Allan Poe who chooses the literary path even though he knows the despair, poverty, obscurity, and anguish which lie at its end is very memorable — the ultimate distillation of the artist who gives all, knowingly, for his art. This dedication and poignancy is echoed by the Colonel words at the revised Battle of Gettysburg (his art in a way). Like most of Harnesses’ work I’ve read, time paradoxes are rife here, and here he shows as wide a familiarity with literature as other of his works show for science and history.