Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Keith Roberts's 1968 novel, Pavane, imagines an alternate 20th century in which England's 16th century split from the Catholic Church had never happened. As a result, all of the Western world is ruled from Rome, whose hierarchy has kept a jealous lid on science and technology. That which is permitted has taken on some pretty baroque forms, such as great steam-powered hauling vehicles and a communication system based on hilltop-mounted semaphors, run by a powerful paramilitary guild.
Such inventions might have been labeled "steampunk" had Pavane been published 30 years later, but that term is too hackneyed to do this book justice. While technology is part of Roberts's vision, it's also a window into a more mystical, pastoral England, where the ancient, primal religion of the past hasn't yet been supplanted by progress, and the supernatural world of Faerie still swirls around the edges of the Christianized one, playing its mischief on hearts and minds. For perhaps the old ways, both pagan and Christian, are meant to guide humanity, but in ways not fully revealed.
Pavane isn't a conventionally plotted novel, but consists of six loosely-connected "movements" that build on each other in layers. Each, centered around a different character, can be read as a self-contained story set in a shared world, but, together, they comprise a meditation on the way change can take hold of a person or society, the themes and actions of the earlier pieces taking on greater significance in the later ones.
A brief summary of the movements:
1. A young steam train driver suffers a broken heart, then is tested by bandits.
2. A semaphor operator in a lonely post is badly injured, but by who or what, we don't know at first. Flashbacks reveal his history and the nature of his guild.
3. An adolescent fisher-girl's transition to womanhood is associated with her encounters with a strange white boat, which the local folk aren't supposed to acknowledge.
4. An artistic monk is broken by a terrible assignment from his superiors, and leads a spiritual rebellion.
5. A significant death and a significant love affair lead to a vision.
6. A noblewoman faced with an unjust demand rebels against Rome. Maybe the most riveting piece.
Coda: the scientific revolution has begun at last, but with a significant difference from our own world.
While some of the stories, taken on their own, are more interesting than others, I loved seeing the connections between them unfold. I found Robert's prose to be lovely and sensory, and his storytelling quite good as well. It's not at all a surprise that Neil Gaiman used his influence to have this one brought into audio form. The major themes of the novel (discipline, change, awakening, the mystery of the unknowable) are more insinuated than spelled out, which might put off readers who require a strong, well-defined plot to hold their attention, but I'm not such a reader.
If, like me, you're drawn to the intersection between science fiction, fantasy, and literature, this book probably deserves a place on your shelf. For me, the wistful mood of Pavane, aided by Steven Crossley's fine, classically rich-voiced audiobook performance, secure it a place among my favorites. Kudos to Gaiman for calling attention to it.
This is a story that unfolds slowly, with no dramatic event(s) at the end of every chapter as is so common in modern pulp fiction. I enjoyed it very much; but then, I enjoy John LeCarre novels - work that some find ploding. It is not Baldacci. (Whose writings I enjoy but would not need or want to reread). The meaning of the word 'pavane' well sums the development of the story.
Pavane is much better characterized as alternative history than science fiction. There are no gizmos that don't exist in today's world. But ... there is a bit of fantasy.
PS I use the term "pulp fiction" in the best sense. Hawthorne and Dafoe were pulp fiction writers of their time.
Listen to this.
In Pavane, Keith Roberts painted in beautiful, bittersweet detail complicated characters in a complex world that could, but mercifully does not, exist.
Eleanor. Kudos to Steven Crossley.
Come now to a place that never was.
Until such time as human struggles are not defined by religious beliefs, this will remain an important, groundbreaking work of fiction.
Increasing my ops tempo by allowing storytellers to whisper in my ear(buds).
This is a series of connected stories set in an alternate universe where the Protestant Reformation never happened. It is a biting critique of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), but has the ring of truth. The excesses and abuse of power , let alone ecclesiastical authority, are well known and this is an extrapolation of actual history. The surprise here is that the characters come alive in your ear. Their actions, motivated by unrequited love or honor, are authentic. This would benefit from multiple listenings. .This novel will help make the case that Science Fiction can deal with grand themes as well as any book I can think of.
Steven Crossley give a fine performance. His portrayal of the many female characters is well played and his tone for the males is always clear; every character getting his own voice, instantly recognizable. His skill is very much evident here.
The mysterious nature of the interwoven stories. The characters.
That it didn't solve everything. I so enjoyed it, I bought it for my father on his Kindle. We can discuss it together.
The semaphore communication system is intriguing. We communicate around the world from our smart phone on twitter.... the semaphores reminded me of what life used to be like. slower, methodical, somewhat limited, somewhat less frenetic.
yes. I ended up saving it at times... telling myself, "you can listen to the book again, after you've done this dreaded thing that you're avoiding." Then I'd hurriedly do the dreaded thing so I could return to the story.
Yet, I wanted to rest between chapters/stories as well. To let their philosophy sink in. To mourn some of the characters, or what I'd learned about the time perios.
So very glad that it's been reissued. I would not have discovered it unless I saw Neil Gaiman Presents' list of his favorite books to re-issue.
I'm a web developer based out of Sacramento, I listen to books while I work, and love audible.
A very interesting classes Sci-Fi/Fantasy short story collection all set in an alternate history. I'm not going to go into the plot as others have already done this.
The stories are all loosely connected in one way or another. And I found some to be a lot better than the others, I personally thought the last story was the best of the lot. They are all well written, it's just that one tends to enjoy some stories over others.
A recommended read for all fans of Sci-Fi.
Not likely. There are just too many books to read.
I felt Roberts created a reasonable, though not necessarily likely alternate future where the Roman Catholic Church was not challenged by the Tudors or Germany. Technology and society grew in different directions which played out through the book.
A series of stories down through the years assuming there was no Reformation in England.
The first 3 chapters were excellent.... I quickly got into the stories. But the last couple of chapters with the older woman who was rebelling was less convincing.
His voice was good and his performance was exceptional.
England with the Reformation....
This is one I have listened to one story at a time. Each takes me into the the alternative world through a different lens, complete in its own framing and development. A thoughtful book which is a counterpoint to action-oriented fantasy/science fiction.
Audio performances are about the only way I can find the time to take in a book, but around the third story I realized the prose was so lush, so magnificent, it demanded I read it myself. It's a dry, dark world Roberts creates, but when he cranks his descriptive engine to full, I sit back in awe. Were I to passively listen I could only take in a fraction of its beauty. Don't get me wrong, the performance is excellent. Just understand, this is the most beloved book from a writer's writer. I started it while driving and eventually turned it off when I realized I couldn't give it the attention it deserved and stay on the highway. Buy this performance, but don't be surprised if you find yourself buying it in print as well. I bought two copies so I could give one as a gift.
I've listened to hundreds of audio books, but this is the first I've heard him read. Gaiman describes this as a book that touched him deeply, and Crossley's performance had to have pleased him. The characters were rendered with care and surprising depth. The man is damned good at his job!
Never read anything like it. Thanks Neil for turning us on to it.