The Alexander Jablokov series continues.
Raw Feed (1991): Carve the Sky, Alexander Jablokov, 1991.
I was first puzzled by this book’s title. It turns out to be a metaphor and allusion to the central theme of the book: that all of us carve and create — if we are truly to be alive — the reality we want, be it an act of artistic creation or a political creation. We are all, the book seems to say, artists to one extent or another
This is a very literary — and good — sf novel where a theme is played out in a number of variations in plot and character
The central theme is expressed in the metaphor of the Dispossessed Brethren of Christ, one of the best and most interesting features of the book. They are warrior-monks reminiscent of the Knights Templar (right down to building a Jerusalem Lost) with a strong gnostic streak. To them the world is evil and God is imprisoned in it, awaiting the art of sculpting to free him from the world as Christ’s divinity was revealed on the cross when his divinity was revealed in death administered by the sculpting tools of hammer, nail, and lance.
I don’t know how much of their fascinating theology is a Jablokov invention, but a look through the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry [yes, I do have a copy] showed that three of the four named elements in their spacedrive — Jochin, Boaz (which are the principle pillars in Solomon’s temple), and Aaron’s Rod — are associated with Royal Arch Masonry.
Karl Ozaki and fellow artist John Addison are obvious examples of the act of creation.
However, Theonare de Borga of the Technic Alliance, Lord Mondobbo and Anton Lindgren of the Union of States and Nationalities, and Nahum Torkot of the Academica Sapientiae all are manipulating events to create the political order they want.
This book works in sf terms despite Jablokov’s vagueness on many details.
The descriptions of artwork are well done and as detailed as necessary given that no written description can adequately describe a piece of visual art. Some artworks of this future, particularly The Nuremberg Trial, are compelling even in description (what a great morbid touch — the artist’s frozen body standing in for Herrman Goering) and the best fictional artworks I’ve encountered in sf. As Orson Scott Card said in his review of the novel, Jablokov parts company with most authors who portray art of the future. They seem to think the abstract art forms of the twentieth century will entirely replace the longer lived realist tradition in the future. (I definitely sense Jablokov is a man who knows and deeply loves art.) Jablokov’s future features just the opposite. Abstract forms seem to have been a transient style, the future thoroughly embracing the realist tradition.
However, the exact politics and culture of the future are sometimes vague.
The search for a large chunk of ngomite is presumably important for geopolitical reasons. What exactly the Technic Alliance wants for Earth is unclear. They seem — á la a sort of reactive/MTV generation way [that’s bit of jargon from William Strauss’ and Neill Howe’s Generations which I may post a review of someday] — to feel the weight of Earth’s history and culture and have the deep need for constant stimulation via fashion, flickering, ever present video feeds, and lots of technology.
For its part, the Academic Sapientiae seems to be engaged in fascinating cultural engineering — including having its members live and experience the cultures of the past and the interesting proposition that by curtailing travel, technology will preserve cultural diversity and hardiness. But its exact ends are even vagueier than the Technic Alliance.
The relationship between the Gensekretarial Court and the Union of States and Nationalities is never really explicated.
In stylistic terms, Ed Bryant’s blurb is correct in citing echoes of Alfred Bester — particularly the quest for valuable PyrE in The Stars My Destination — and Roger Zelazny.
Brother Theophanos struggles with the lure of art and creation in a one-man replay of the Byzantine iconoclasm struggle. Karl Ozaki is a victim of Lindgren and Monboddo’s political creation just as their beloved Blood Bowl is destroyed in a feint directed against the Technic Alliance. Martian Plauger is a victim of Miriam Kostal, his lover’s political ambitions.
Love is an act of creation as Lindgren finds out with the well-developed, credible love story with Vanessa Karageorge. Her ordeal at the hands of the Dispossessed Brethren of Christ forcibly brings the metaphor of creation home: she must carve and create her way out of a crushing death.
All the characterization in this book is good.
Lord Monboddo, absentminded art connoisseur, transforms into hard Colonel George Harvey Westerkamp of External Security. Lindgren is an intelligent man rekindling his love of life. Vanessa is a zestful, intriguing heroine. Theonare de Borga is an arrogant spy much less competent than his subordinate who pays attention to details de Borga disdains. John Addison, a brilliant, sensitive, but rather stupid, silly, moody artist. Robiah umm-Kultham is a Sufi mystic, and Islamic judge and External security agent.
The settings are just as baroque like the hunt on the moon, Ozaki’s asteroid garden, and the mountain fortress of the Academic Sapientiae.
I liked this book though it wasn’t exactly what I expected with less action but just as baroque as other Jablokov I’ve read.
It certainly had all of his themes: death, art, and religion.