James P. Blaylock

The Paper Grail by James P. Blabylock

(Ace, 1991)

I picked this one up because of the quotation page, which has bits from John Ruskin, G. K. Chesterton, and Edward Lear; and I'm very glad that I did so.

The hero is going up to northern California to pick up an old drawing which has been offered on loan to the museum he works at. When he gets there, he finds the owner missing, apparently dead, and the sketch gone. There are a lot of other people who want to find it for various reasons of their own.

The story starts out slow and seemingly aimless, but the fascinating characters carry it along until the plot takes shape. The characters are most of them people I would travel a long way to meet... Or, in the case of the villains, travel an even longer way to avoid meeting. For example, Roy Barton (the hero's uncle), enjoying life greatly and ready to risk his life for his friends, and enjoying money when he has it without killing himself trying to get more and more and more of it. His plans for neat ways to make money remind me of a boy breathlessly telling his mom about the lemonade stand he is going to run. Or Heloise Lamey, miserly, power-hungry, nearly dead ("dried-up", like the wicked witches of Oz), and very terrifying.

It develops what happens when the sketch is folded into an origami cup, what the sketch is and why so many people want it, and what it has to do with John Ruskin's bones and Humpty-Dumpty.

The Last Coin by James P. Blaylock

(Ace, 1988)


The Last Coin is about the thirty pieces of silver with which Judas Iscariot was paid. A power-hungry fellow is trying to obtain all thirty of the coins, and as the story begins he has twenty-five of them... It is a very good story, with likable heroes and black-hearted villains; scenes hilariously funny and scenes most terrifying.

Notable is the way that Andrew Vanbergen lies to his wife Rose to protect her from the things he and Beams Pickett are fighting against, and how she sees that he's lying but doesn't know (at first) what is true. This part is very well done.

Also where he notices that Rose left the lid loose on the Surinam toad's aquarium, and decides to be magnanimous and not point it out to her, and then realizes what he is doing and is ashamed of himself, and then proud of being ashamed, and so on... and in the process forgets all about the toad.

I can hardly speak highly enough of it.

The Digging Leviathan by James P. Blaylock

Excellent, very weird. Based partly on Edgar Rice Burroughs's Pellucidar, with a few (or maybe a lot) of scattered references to other neat stories. Good characterization, especially of the pleasantly insane characters (one of Blaylock's great strengths). About as good as The Paper Grail, not quite as good as The Last Coin. (1/95)

All the Bells on Earth by James P. Blaylock

is another of his wonderfully odd fantasies set in northern California. I would judge it to be one of his best yet, though maybe not quite as good as The Last Coin or The Paper Grail. It has all the good qualities that I look for from him: moral depth, humor, convincing characterization, good writing, and bizarre plot. (12/95)

Homunculus by James P. Blaylock

is probably the best representative of the "Steampunk" genre I've read -- Verne/Doyle/Welles pastiches using many of the conventions of modern sf. The story is of the struggles of the Trismegistus Club, seven heroic scientific men working to save England and the world from the machinations of the sinister Ignacio Narbondo. Both are trying to find the Homunculus, a being variously described, which is said to have the power of reversing entropy. There's also a dirigible in a low polar orbit piloted by a skeleton, the aged son of the prophetess Joanna Southcote, lots of carp, and William Ashbless's "Lives of London Scientists". (Ashbless is a fictional 19th century poet mentioned or quoted in most of of Blaylock's books, and those of his friend Tim Powers.) I highly recommend it, but try Blaylock's easier-to-find books first to see if he suits you.

After reading Homunculus, I re-read Lord Kelvin's Machine, its sequel. LKM focuses on a few of the characters from Homunculus, and accomplishes more in the way of characterization -- which is not to say that Homunculus was deficient in that way. Lord Kelvin's Machine is more somber on the whole, though it has light moments and uproariously funny ones. (5/97)

The Elfin Ship, The Disappearing Dwarf and The Stone Giant

by James P. Blaylock are three stories set in the same invented world and dealing with some of the same characters, but not exactly a trilogy; there is not much of a plot thread connecting all three together, and none of them ends in a cliffhanger or expects you to have read one of the others. They aren't as excellent as his later bizarre magic realist fantasies The Digging Leviathan, Land of Dreams, The Paper Grail, and The Last Coin, but relatively weak Blaylock is still better than most modern invented-world fantasies. These books are not remarkable for the consistency or verisimilitude of the invented world, but they are fun and charming. Their strengths are in the characters and dialogue, with scattered bits of brilliance in the world-background. (8/95)

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