John Boston & Damien Broderick: Strange Highways: Reading Science Fantasy 1950-1967 (72%, Page 293 of 364, Location 5089 of 7028 in the Kindle edition)
Corfe Gate • novella by Keith Roberts ♥♥♥♥♥
The Oh in Jose • reprint short story by Brian W. Aldiss ♥♥
The White Monument: A Monologue • reprint short story by Peter Redgrove ♥♥♥
The Beautiful Man • short story by Robert Clough ♥♥
Pattern As Set • short story by Douglas R. Mason [as by John Rankine] ♥
A Hot Summer’s Day • short story by John Bell ♥
The Report • short story by Russell Parker
Hurry Down Sunshine • short story by Roger Jones ♥♥
Editorial • by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Critique • essay by Harry Harrison
Keith Roberts contributes another cover and story combination for this issue with the appearance of Corfe Gate, the last story in his Pavane story-cycle. This 25,000 word novella is a very good end to the series and I will discuss it later.
The rest of the fiction is led off by reprints from Brian W. Aldiss and Peter Redgrove, the poet. The Oh in Jose by Brian W. Aldiss (CAD, March 1966) isn’t a SF or fantasy story but probably has the feel of one with its three short tales wrapped up in a longer one. Three men are being led over a mountain by their servant and a local woman, when they come across a massive rock. It has the word ‘Jose’ carved on it and they each tell a story about how it came to be inscribed there. It materialises that the real reason is known to the woman.
The story by Peter Redgrove, The White Monument: A Monologue (first published by broadcast on the Third Programme) is an interesting piece that is the kind of thing that you would have expected the supposedly more experimental New Worlds to publish. It is a surreal, fantastic tale of a feral man living at The White Monument. As he tells his tale, we learn that it was once his home but was blighted by a chimney that created a huge raspberry sound—so loud that the noise was quite debilitating. He eventually fills it with concrete, inadvertently entombing his wife, and starts a fire that makes the concrete glow so hot he can see her image:
The tomb was beginning to glow, and the fierce white light from the pit stretched its shadow along the charred lawn towards me, a shadow that thinned as the tomb took more light into itself. Perched on the white hot grate of rocks as it was, gas fired, it got hotter and hotter, red first, like a cube of cloudy jelly, and gradually I began to perceive shapes and shadows in it, which grew in definition as heat clarified it. Now it glowed like a ruby and I saw the china cabinet, tilted and suspended over the high back of her chair, which grew sharper at first, and then filmy, so that the sight of her shape fell through it. My forearm shielding my face I darted and then sidled round, closer and closer, my clothes smouldering again, my eyes staring, my face darker and darker tanned as I approached the sun in the heart of which my former love sat enthroned, my eyes starting and unblinking as their lids dried and stiffened, fixing my face in this expression of final worship and adulation. p.87
It goes on to an equally combustible end. This is a story that I didn’t care for much the first time around because ‘the style is impenetrable’: I think I wasn’t paying enough attention.
The quality dips with the next story by Roger Clough, The Beautiful Man, although that is only apparent when we get to the end of the story. This tells of three goat-herds from a primitive flint using society who find a cave in the hills after it has been exposed by a landslide. They find several skeletons and a crucifix, the latter having ‘the beautiful man’ on it. Further information we discover about the goat-herds at the very end (spoiler) drops this story into the post nuclear holocaust category (and the crucifix point is also belaboured again) but it was quite a good effort until that point. Roger Clough, like Russell Parker later on, was a ‘one shot wonder’, never seen again in the fiction magazines.
After four very good to average stories in a row (and taking us almost two-thirds of the way through the magazine to p.94) I wasn’t holding my breath for this winning streak to continue and, sure enough, Douglas R. Mason’s story Pattern As Set obliges. This one, like his story in #3, has another protagonist with a case of testosterone poisoning:
Twelve months’ solitary confinement was coming to an end, and in spite of all the training and the ample provision of every kind of substitute to fill the social vacuum, he was good and ready to hear another hum an voice coming across live, and see other human flesh in 3D. Particularly that. Particularly so, since his relief was Dena Holland.
Walking on springy turf across the headland. Sun all the time, burning pictures of Dena into his brain, like the etching fluid on a lithographic plate. Silky, red gold hair, which turned into a dark copper sheath when it was wet, emphasising the modelling of her head with its classically satisfying balance of proportion. p.95
Our protagonist is the only one awake on a deep-space ship that has all the other crew members in suspended animation. He is the process of getting ready to wake up his relief Dena hence all of the previous. Just as I was beginning to tire of this it got interestingly grisly as he starts awakening her. The problem is she and the other suspendees don’t come round:
He had cleared the torso to the waist when it began to collapse. It melted away ; withered away; shrank as a snow figure would disappear in front of a furnace door, until what was left was horrible, obscene, a twisted, atrocious caricature of a human being. p.103
Unfortunately, we soon find that it was all an induced psychological dream experiment used to assess space crew candidates. It then becomes utterly exasperating as the woman he was trying to wake up in the dream—and who he did not know existed, and has never met—turns up from another training facility. I think the technical term for this is ‘idiot plot’. It does have one good line though:
The only good committee was a committee of two, with one kept away by multiple injuries. p.106
A Hot Summer’s Day by John Bell confirms we are now in the middle of ‘typical Bonfiglioli space-filler’ territory. This takes a bad day on the London tube and splices it to this thought…
“But isn’t that the strain we’re living under? The Bomb, the population explosion, the coloured threat, rush hour, the pressure of business, noise, crowds of people everywhere—it isn’t surprising people lash out now and then.” p.116
…and turns it into an overlong story about how miserable London life is. We get ten pages describing over-congested tubes on the way to an unpleasant work place, with background political, colour, temperature, etc. problems, followed by another ten pages of uncontrolled violence, arson, murder, etc., as everyone kicks off. Eventually London becomes a smoking ruin.
The Report by Russell Parker is short squib about a post nuclear war world and an Indian Prime Minister opening a report (spoiler) to find that the first attack on Norfolk was actually a meteor strike. D’oh! as I think they say.
The quality improves slightly with Roger Jones’s second story Hurry Down Sunshine. This satirical and slightly surreal story reminded me of the work of John Sladek. It is about a man in a pointless office job who is made the nation’s official scrapegoat (all crime has been eliminated but this has had an adverse effect). He spends most of the story in a railway coach where the windows have been blacked out. When he arrives at a station it is always foggy due to the fog machines the station staff are ordered to deploy.
You can get a better idea of what this is like from the quote below, which occurs when a woman, Mrs Rose, serves him tea in the railway buffet and then disappears under the counter:
This left him free to concentrate on the problem of Mrs. Rose. He whipped a pencil and notebook from an inner pocket and jotted down a preliminary formulation, thus:
WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD IS THE OLD BAG DOING UNDER THERE?
Reduced to the more conventional symbols of algebraic logic it looked something like this:
It was a fascinating and complex problem as it had both an epistemological and an ethical angle. Properly handled it might take days to solve and soon Smith was absorbed in a fury of calculation, postulation, counter-postulation, hypothecation and inference.
Somewhat to his chagrin he found himself, about five minutes later, confronted by the Answer as represented by the expression:
Which translated out roughly as: “Try cutting the Gordian knot of metaphysical speculation with the sword of point-blank interrogation.”
“I say,” he called. “What are you doing under there?” No answer. “Are you by any chance … knitting?” p.157
There are two pieces of non-fiction in this issue. There is a short editorial from Kyril Bonfiglioli wherein he moans again about having to write editorials:
Science fiction magazines are almost the last survivors of the editor personality and readers’-letters cult which arose forty years ago: another example of the paradoxical old-fashionedness of science fiction. p.2
He introduces Harry Harrison who will contribute an essay instead:
Indeed, this very issue contains his first critique, in which he whirls his great club Castigator about his head to no small purpose. Let it be quite clear that the publishers and I do not necessarily associate ourselves with anything Mr. Harrison writes.
Reserving only the right to change “cracker” to “biscuit” and to expunge four-letter words, we have given him a free hand: no-one who knows him would believe for a moment that he would settle for anything less. p.2-3
Bonfiglioli’s next editorial in SF Impulse #7 would be his last.
Harry Harrison’s first essay in the new series, Critique, does not inspire confidence. It starts off complaining about a TLS review of one of his books and then goes on to surmise that you need to have knowledge of SF to review it. Then he starts a competition for a definition of SF (groan) before finishing off with comments on various biologists’ views about the chances of life out there in the universe. I hope these improve because I think I’d rather listen to Bonfiglioli moaning.
Last, but not least, is Corfe Gate by Keith Roberts, a major novella to end his Pavane sequence, which is set in a parallel world where Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated, the Spanish Armada invaded England and the Catholic church rules supreme.
The reason I am dealing with this story last is that I want to cover it at some length (and this includes multiple spoilers). Partly this is because it is a dense, resonant story that is worth examining in detail; partly it is because the story in the magazine varies considerably from the one that eventually ended up in the book. This is unlikely to be of interest to anyone who isn’t a Roberts completist or in love with the novel Pavane. So if you aren’t one of those people, move along, nothing to see here….
The rebellion against the Catholic Church erupts in this final story, and it gets off to a cracking start with Henry, Lord of Rye, riding to Corfe Gate to force Eleanor, Lady of Corfe, to pay taxes to Rome, taxes that if paid will starve her people. Henry is brutal and does not suffer fools gladly (I wondered if this was supposed to be a version of Henry VIII) and treats not only the local folk but the Signallers harshly on his way to Corfe Castle. Henry eventually arrives at the gates for what I thought was a gripping confrontation after Eleanor still refuses to pay or hand over her weapons:
He shouted again then, waving an arm; at the gesture a soldier spurred forward lifting a bag from the pommel of his saddle. “Then your liege-folk in this isle pay with their homes and their property and their lives,” panted Henry, slashing at the cord that held the canvas closed. “It’ll be blood for iron, My Lady, blood for iron.…” The string came free, the bag was shaken; and down before her dropped the tongues and other parts of men, cut away as was the custom of Henry’s soldiers.
There was a silence that deepened. The colour drained slowly from Eleanor’s face, leaving the skin chalk-pale as the fabric of her dress; indeed the more romantic of the watchers swore afterwards the blue leached from her very eyes, leaving them lambent and dead as the eyes of a corpse. She clenched her hands slowly, slowly relaxed them again; a long time she waited, leaning on the gun, while the rage blurred her sight, rose to a high mad shrilling that seemed to ring inside her brain, receded leaving her utterly cold. She swallowed; and when she spoke again every word seemed freshly chipped from ice. “Why then,” she said. “You must not leave us empty-handed, My Lord of Rye and Deal. Yet I fear my Growler will be a heavy load. Would not your task be lightened if his charge were sent before?” And before any of the people round her could guess her purpose or intervene she had snatched at the firing lanyard, and Growler leaped back pouring smoke while echoes clapped around the waiting hills.
The heavy charge, fired at point-blank range, blew away the belly of the horse and took both Henry’s feet off at the ankles; animal and rider leaped convulsively and fell with a mingled scream into the dry ditch. As if by common consent the crossbows of the defenders played first on them; within seconds they were still, pierced by a score of shafts. The grapeshot, ploughing on, spread ruin among the soldiers on the bridge, tore furrows from the buildings of the village square beyond. Shrieks sounded, echoing from the close stone walls; the arquebusiers fired into the struggling mass on the path; the Captain rode away, leaning from his horse while his blood ribboned back across the creature’s rump. Then it was finished, dying men whimpering while a thin haze of smoke drifted across the lower bailey toward the Martyr’s Gate. p.16-17
The thread of the story concerning Eleanor then flashes back to her childhood and works forward to the rebellion against the Church. This is enriched by details that bleed across from the other stories, such as her family origins (The Lady Anne/Lords and Ladies):
“Do you remember years ago telling me a story?” she asked. “About how my great uncle Jesse broke his heart when my grandmother wouldn’t marry him, and killed his friend, and how that was somehow the start of everything he did. … It seemed so real, I’m sure that was how it must have been. Well, I can finish it for you now. You can see the Cause and Effect right the whole way through. If we … won, it would be because of grandfather’s money. And the money’s there because of Jesse, and he did it because of the girl. … It’s like Chinese boxes. There’s always a smaller one inside, all the time; until they get so small they’re too small to see but they keep on going down, and down.…” p.52
And then there is the Signaller who arrives at the castle with a message warning them that troops are coming, which must have been sent by radio (The Signaller/The White Boat):
She went pale, but a red anger spot glowed on each cheek. “How can you know this, Captain?” she asked coolly. “London is well over a day away, and the towers have been quiet. Had it been reported, I would have been told.”
He shifted his feet where he stood with legs apart on the carpeting of the dais. “The Guild fears no man,” he said finally. “Our messages are for all who can to read. But there are times, and this is one of them, when words are best not given to the grids. Then there are other, swifter means.”
There was a hush at that, for he meant necromancy; and that was not a subject to be lightly bandied, even in the free air of Eleanor’s hall. p.34
‘The Lady Anne’ locomotive appears for the final time during an attempt to capture Eleanor and is destroyed in an accident:
She burned the rest of the day; it was night before a peasant child crept close enough to the wreck to prise the naveplate from one mighty wheel. He kept it in his cottage, polished bright; and half a lifetime later he would still tell his children the tale, and take the big disc down and fondle it, and say it came from a great road steamer called ‘The Lady Anne’. p.46
And then there are hints about a cyclic structure of time:
“Yes,” she said. “It’s like a … dance somehow, a minuet or a pavane. Something stately and pointless, with all its steps set out. With a beginning, and an end.…” She tucked her legs under her, as she sat beside the fire. “Sir John,” she said, “sometimes I think life’s all a mass of significance, all sorts of strands and threads woven like a tapestry or a brocade. So if you pulled one out or broke it the pattern would alter right back through the cloth. Then I think … it’s all totally pointless, it would make just as much sense backwards as forwards, effects leading to causes and those to more effects … maybe that’s what will happen, when we get to the end of Time. The whole world will shott undone like a spring, and wind itself back to the start.…” p.52
There are also questions raised about the longevity of her seneschal, Sir John Falconer, and who or what he may really be:
“John,” she said, “how many years did you serve my father, Robert?”
He sat his horse impassively and considered before he answered. Then finally, “Many years, My Lady.”
“And his father before him?”
Again the same answer. “Many years.…” p.28
“Tell me, Sir John,” she said, and her voice was lost and tiny, barely stirring the harsh air. “Come to the window here, and tell me what you see.…”
He stood silent a long time. Then, heavily, “I see the night mists moving on the hills, and the watch fires of our enemies.… He made to leave her; but she called him sharply.
He paused, back turned to her; and as he stood she used his proper name, the sound by which he was known among the Old Ones. “I told you once,” she said acidly, “when I required the truth, then you would know. Now I charge you. Come to me again, and tell me what you see.”
She stood close while he thought, head in hand; he could feel the warmth of her in the night, scent the faint presence of her body. “I see an end to everything we know,” he said at last. “The Great Gate broken, [Pope] John’s banners on the walls.”
She pursued him. “And me, Sir John? What for me?”
He didn’t immediately answer and she swallowed, feeling the night encroach, the dark slide into her body. “Is there death?” she said.
“My Lady,” he said gently, “there is death for everyone.…” p.58-59
All of this is woven into a driving narrative that details the growing rebellion that is spreading through the country and the preparations made by Rome to deal with the uprising:
The semaphores seldom stopped. The country was aflame; Londinium was arming, levies from Sussex and Kent were marching toward the West. Then came worse news. From France, from the castles of the Loire, men were streaming to fight in the Holy Crusade while to the south a second Armada was embarking for England. p.53
Eventually King Charles, who had been in the New World, returns and goes to Corfe Castle to establish peace:
He rode forward, ducking his head beneath the iron as it climbed up into the stone; they heard the hooves of his horse on the hard ground inside. He dismounted, going to Eleanor; and only then did the cheering spread, through the village and the soldiers and the ranks of people on the walls, up and away to the tower of the Great Keep. So the place yielded, to its liege-lord and to no other…. p.61
There are further developments concerning Eleanor but I will limit my comments here to saying I was not quite convinced with what eventually happens to her.1
So far so good, and if you are reading the book version then this is the story of Corfe Gate, which is then followed by a 3,000 word Coda explaining that the church had deliberately delayed progress to stop mankind destroying itself as it had in another timeline. Where the magazine version of the story differs—and to its considerable advantage—is that the coda is broken into four sections and inserted into the narrative about Lady Eleanor. And it is not the Coda in the book either, but a longer 5,000 word version that is significantly different.
The first section of the original Coda is inserted after the confrontation with Henry. This describes what appears to be a young nobleman (a member of the Privy Chamber) visiting the ruins of Corfe Castle in the future (he arrives in a Falcon turbine and is informed by laserphone that his sister is delayed). After wandering the castle ruins for some time—and having seen a huge crab symbol—he moves on to the village:
I wandered there a time, enjoying the stares of the local girls; curiously frank they are in their appraisal, as if a son of noble blood were no more to be respected than some local clod raised among ploughs and the feet of horses. At length I reached a churchyard. p.20
There he finds a grave with another crab symbol and the word ‘Eleanor’. He is joined by a stranger. The nobleman identifies himself as Paul, son of the Lord of Bristol and Bath; the man does not identify himself but, seeing Paul’s interest in the crab symbol on the gravestone, admits to carving both it and the one at the castle. This implies that this is Sir John, Lady Eleanor’s seneschal… He goes on to tell Paul of his version of what happened in the Revolt of the Castles, and then continues with the story of Eleanor’s life.
The second of the Coda sections is a very short one just before King Charles’s intervention, explaining that he ended the revolt as his nation could not fight the rest of the world.
In the third section the seneschal explains that the Revolt of the Castles was what led to the downfall of the church some twenty years later. He explains the meaning of the crab symbol:
Then he took from round his neck a medallion […] He turned the disc to me, covering the lower half of the design with his hand. “See,” he said, “two arrows. And again ….” He moved his fingers, concealing the upper part of the circle. “Two more.”
I frowned. “Two arrows point outward; two point in, toward each other. So there is some meaning in the scrawl. What’s it supposed to infer?”
“Progress,” he said, tucking the charm away. “This the Old Ones knew, when they carved it centuries ago. After fission, fusion; this was the progress the Popes fought so hard to halt.” p.62
This is quite a pivotal scene in number of ways. Not only is the meaning of the crab symbol explained but the Old Ones are shown to have a perplexing knowledge of possible future events.
“The ways of the Church were mysterious, her policies never plain. The Popes knew, as the Old Ones knew, that given electricity we would be drawn to the atom. Given fission, we would come to fusion. Because once, beyond our Time, there was a great civilisation. There was a Coming, a Death and Resurrection; a Conquest, a Reformation, an Armada … and a burning, an Armageddon. The Church knew there was no halting progress; but slowing it, giving us time to reach a little higher toward Reason … that was the gift she tried to give the world. And it would have been priceless.” p.62
Paul thinks about what he is told:
I sat frowning ; my imagination refused to grasp at one attempt the ideas he had put before me. The notion of a repeating cycle, and endlessness of destruction and creation broken at last by what the Church had done, was altogether too big for me. But were it true, if the Popes had really achieved such a miracle as he suggested, then … it seemed I would have to return in all seriousness to my books. There was much I had never understood, and much I wished to learn, about this Church.… p.63
This introduces into Pavane an A Canticle for Leibowitz-ian concept of a repeating rise and fall of humanity.
The scene ends with the Seneschal’s identity all but confirmed:
“And what about her seneschal?” [Paul] asked. “I’ve gathered through your story he was more than a little attracted to her; did she ever see him again?”
He nodded. “He found her, alone of all her people. She had taken the dress and the patterned nylons of a serving-wench, but he knew her for his mistress. He the Fairy.…
I laughed, pleased at so charming an ending to the legend. “Why then,” I said, “I suppose he had his way with her. When she was no longer a great lady there would have been no barrier of rank.”
He clenched his hands at that, and looked so queer and black I reached for the gun at my belt again; but the mood was past in an instant. “He served her till she died,” he said quietly. “She was the Lady Eleanor, and he her seneschal.” p.64
The final half page section is a great ending to the novella, and has a transcendent last line:
The minstrel fell silent once more; and I own I was deeply disturbed by the strange things I had heard. To hide my confusion I began to part the grasses by the grave, there in that sunny place under the warm sky. I came on the Sign again, stamped over and over in the stone, and the symbols of Eleanor’s house, the leopards passant and the Flower of Lys; and I was startled too, for as I touched the grass some bird burst from it and rushed into the sky, was lost in the brightness of the zenith before I could properly make out its shape or size. Also I saw, coiled round and round the stone, what I had not noticed before, sprays and leaves of briar. I drew back startled, then collected myself; for necromancy died with the breaking of the Old Church, ours is the Age of Reason.
I made to speak to the storyteller, but could not. It seemed some heaviness had touched my limbs, so that though I heard the monorail call and the voices from the village street I could neither speak nor move. And he himself seemed vague, as though seen across a great space of air; though that was absurd, for he sat so close I could have touched the hem of his cloak with my hand. Also the stones on the hill glowed suddenly above his head, but no longer ragged; they shone white and proud and foursquare against the blue. In time the fantasy vanished; and then I think I dozed. I must have dozed; for how may a man turn to a golden glamour, and melt into a restless sea of glass, unless one sleeps and dreams? p.68
For some reason, both Roberts and Bonfiglioli felt that this version was problematic and in the book version of Pavane the coda parts of Corfe Gate were stripped out and rewritten to become a separate section although the Lady Eleanor narrative was left largely untouched.2
I think this was a mistake. As I hope the extracts above show, the material in the original Coda sections reinforces and amplifies and in some cases explains matters from the Lady Eleanor narrative, e.g. the cyclical time motif, the politics behind the rebellion, Sir John’s longevity, etc. It also partially shifts the the centre of gravity of the story from Eleanor to John the seneschal, which has the effect of tying the story to the Fairy/Old Ones motif that runs through the series. Further, it lets the story telescope backwards and forwards in time giving it an almost four dimensional reality, and, finally, the original Coda has a natural narrative arc which the revised one does not.
Perhaps the best way of describing the damage done by cutting the coda sections is by quoting a sentence from the tapestry metaphor extract from p.52: ‘So if you pulled one [thread] out or broke it the pattern would alter right back through the cloth.’ I think this is essentially what happened to Corfe Gate on revision: a number of threads were removed from the story resulting in a less detailed, less complex and less impressive work.
If you love Pavane, and haven’t read the magazine version of the story, I strongly recommend you do so.3
A highly recommended issue.
- In the book there is a line that is not in the magazine version (emphasis mine): “From Charles Eleanor got an open door, the sleepiness of a sentry. A horse at the postern, these things can be arranged. Money was provided, and advice. She ignored both. She fled back to what had been her home.”
- The Eleanor thread in the revised version of Corfe Gate has an extra 500 words inserted at the end of the King Charles section (p.259 Gollancz Masterworks edition of Pavane) and before the section starting on the October day. There are some minor changes in the remaining material.
The book version of the Coda section is completely different. Most importantly it has been stripped from Corfe Gate and is now a stand-alone section. It consists of three parts. The first has a short ‘tourist guide’ introduction before a man arrives at Corfe Castle and explores the area. The intensely atmospheric writing makes it clear to us that he is more than a tourist:
He reached the great grassy prow of the mound. The road wound by it, up into the village square. He followed it. Or rather he was borne without volition on some strange earth-tide of memory. A memory not of the brain, but of the blood and bones. He shook his head, half angry at himself, half amused. He asked himself, how could a man come home, to a place he’d never seen? p.271
He moved on slowly. Through broken archways, past spurs and shattered groins of stone, up to where he could feel again the fresh wind from the heath. Sat in the shadow of the Great Keep, feeling the stone cool against his flesh. From that height the reactors of Poole Power Station were visible, gleaming silver in the sun. Far out in the purplish haze of the sea white dots showed where the hovercraft boomed over the waters of the Channel.
He became aware, by slow degrees, of the Mark. It hung there frozen on the stone, deep-carved, level nearly with his face. The voices of the tourists below seemed momentarily to fade; he moved forward to it in a cold dream. Touched the carving, fingers tracing over and again its smoothness. Big it was, a full yard across; the symbol, enigmatic and proud, the circle enclosing a crab-network of triangles and crossing lines. Over it the cloud shadows moved, birds flapped and cawed in the sky above; its outline echoed the shapes of the reactors, its configuration stirred deepest roots of memory. His lips moved, soundless; one hand went unconsciously to his throat, touched the thin gold chain, the medallion beneath his shirt. The symbol he had always worn, the tiny copy of the thing there on the wall. p.271-2
In the second part he reads a letter and we find out that the man is called John. It tells of the Church losing its New World colonies ten years after the breaking of Corfe Castle’s walls. It more clearly explains the Mark:
Two arrows point outward ran the letter. Two point in, toward each other. This is the end of all Progress; this we knew when we first carved the mark many centuries ago. After fission, fusion; this was the Progress the Popes fought so bitterly to halt.The ways of the Church were mysterious, her policies never plain. The Popes knew, as we knew, that given electricity men would be drawn to the atom. That given fission, they would come to fusion. p.275
The letter also explains the Church’s actions in restricting science and technology:Because once, beyond our Time, beyond all the memories of men, there was a great civilisation. There was a Coming, a Death, and Resurrection; a Conquest, a Reformation, an Armada. And a burning, an Armageddon. There too in that old world we were known; as the Old Ones, the Fairies, the People of the Hills. But our knowledge was not lost. The Church knew there was no halting Progress; but slowing it, slowing it even by half a century, giving man time to reach a little higher toward true Reason; that was the gift she gave this world. And it was priceless. Did she oppress? Did she hang and burn? A little, yes. But there was no Belsen, No Buchenwald. No Passchendaele. p.275
This holds closer to Roberts’ stated intent that the concept was supposed to be one of a dual timeline, and not the cyclic one partially suggested in the original.
The final scene has him being disturbed after several hours by a young woman. In this rather aimless scene she eventually departs to see if she can organise accommodation in her father’s pub. This seems to referencing Anne/Margaret from the very first story which would again hint at the cyclic view of history in the original version.
After she has left him he reads the final paragraph of the letter:
As all things, in all Times, have their place and season, so we are gone for now. But if you are my son, then you are the son of this place too; of its rocks and soil, its sunlight and wind and trees. These people, in whatever garb or guise, are yours. I know you, John, so well. I know your heart, its sorrows and its joys. You have seen death in this old place, and an anger that perhaps will not die. Accept it. Feel sorrow for the passing of old things, but cleave to and build for the new. Do not fall into heresy; do not grieve, for the deaths of stones.
John Falconer, Seneschal. p.278
I never thought the Coda was a satisfactory end to the original novel version. I have already mentioned its poor structure above. Also, in the book version, it reads like an unnecessary and clunky deux ex machina that alters your impression of everything read to that point.
- If you can’t find a copy of Impulse #5 (or a scan on Archive.org), the original story can be found in Perchance to Wake: Yet More Selected Stories from Science Fantasy by Damien Broderick & John Boston, which is a ‘Best Stories from Science Fantasy/Impulse’ volume.