Time was, everyone knew the rules: fantasies are made worlds, fully realized secondary universes, magisterial acts of subcreation, and the first principle of made worlds is internal consistency -- every elf, tree, and dragon in place, or else a single anomaly might pop the whole bubble. As recently as 1973, Usula K. Le Guin, in a widely cited essay, reminded us that "Elfland is not Poughkeepsie; the voice of the transistor is not heard in that land." But then here comes Michael Swanwick with his afterburner-assisted mechanical dragons, his fantasy Babylon with its Frank Lloyd Wright lounges, palace courtiers checking their Blackberries, saloons with framed pictures of Muhammad Ali, Bowie knives, gas chromatographs, dumpsters, Kawasaki motorcycles, and Mercedes and BMW automobiles, Pepsis, McDonalds, Marlboros, Zippo lighters, Hermes bags (for carrying runes), Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts and Givenchy gowns, animate stone lions who read Faulkner and Tolstoy and wise women who quote Mary McCarthy.
And yes, there's a transistor radio heard in this land: a strange and magical little girl, much older than she at first seems, hauls it out to listen to Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" while on a train speeding to the legendary city of Babel. Babel itself may be a composite version of the mythic city built by the god-king Marduk and dominated by its famous tower, but on the ground it more often looks like Manhattan, with its sugbways, Grand Central Station, Lower East Side, brownstones, and a public library guarded by a pair of stone lions ()one of whom is that Faulkner reader). This is, in short, a fantasy world that pointedly violates most of the received wisdom regarding fantasy worlds, that is as much about fantasy as it is a demonstration case. Hasn't Swanwick learned anything?
Phew! Isn't that a terrific blurb? I'll pull it out of context now:
"Hasn't Swanwick Learned Anything?"
- Gary K. Wolfe, Locus
- Gary K. Wolfe, Locus
Just so it's clear, Wolfe did like the book, which he went on to characterize as "shaggy, crazed, and wonderful" and overlaid with "a kind of celebratory looniness that in the end is nothing less than exhilarating."
Still, what a great blurb! I'm almost certain that Tor won't use it on the paperback, though. Back when I got my best blurb ever, it was nowhere to be found on the Avonova paperback of The Iron Dragon's Daughter, though if it had been up to me, I would have put it on the front cover, smack-dab above the title. Where I am convinced it would have sold many, many additional copies. But even if it hadn't -- who cares?
That blurb, from another Locus review, this one by Faren Miller, immediately followed a thumbnail plot summary and goes:
“Toto, I Don't Think We're On Pern Anymore!”Okay, so I added the exclamation point. You can see why I would.