Three of speculative fiction’s best-known authors — Connie Willis, Peter S. Beagle and John Crowley — have just published new books.
Three of speculative fiction’s best-known authors have just published new work. These books by Connie Willis, Peter S. Beagle and John Crowley return us to the sources of their imaginative tales.
Connie Willis’ first novel in six years, “Crosstalk,” (Del Rey, 512 pp., $28), begins by addressing the rather woo-woo topic of telepathy, using a battery of scientific tools: surgery, cellphones and gene mapping. As the plot progresses through a series of Katharine Hepburn-worthy bantering encounters and comic missed cues, these communication devices, used by early tech adapters, are supplemented by the nagging of an aunt and the aid of an unlikely looking physical enforcer who lives in his mother’s basement.
Ever alert to change’s human impact, Willis explores the always humorous and sometimes frightening consequences of heroine Briddey Flannigan’s awareness of exactly what those around her think. Willis also provides convincing explanations of telepathy’s advantages and the likelihood of its survival as a genetic trait.
But the novel’s screwball elements, and especially the klutzy-cute interactions between Briddey and maverick nerd C.B. Schwartz, are what charmed me. Rapier wit and sparkling ripostes form the heart of the romantic comedies Willis praises at public appearances, sharing her love for the art form. They’re very much in evidence here.
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Peter S. Beagle has been novel-less for even longer than Willis — 17 years. “Summerlong”(Tachyon, 240 pp., $15.95) probably won’t transform the fantasy field the way his second novel, “The Last Unicorn,” did in 1968. That’s fine. All it needs to do is showcase once again the strange yet familiar delights of enchantment.
From the moment a strange woman named Lioness Lazos appears in the mundane, rundown lives of a pair of aging lovers, magic’s immanence blooms. Lioness teaches the neighbor’s children to transmute armfuls of barren soil into flowers.
Of course not all magic is benign: Every Persephone implies a Hades. With the introduction of Lioness’s pursuing ex, the shadowy Mr. Mardikian, Beagle’s literary affinity for the proto-European myths at the heart of Greek and Norse mythology takes readers deeper and deeper into that ancient wilderness, via the relevant and resonant paths his work has always favored.
The long title of “The Chemical Wedding by Christian Rosencreutz: A Romance in Eight Days by Johann Valentin Andreae, in a New Version” by John Crowley (Small Beer Press, 212 pp., $16) depicts with crystalline clarity the layered vision essential to enjoying the best of the imaginative genre. The original version of the book, published in 1616, shows how indebted modern storytellers are to centuries-old conversations about what lies beyond the world we’re familiar with.
When “The Chemical Wedding” was first published in Germany in 1616 it was attributed to Christian Rosencreutz, though Andreae was the actual author. In his version, Crowley adds an introduction and footnotes designed to increase readers’ pleasures in the fanciful.
Though it’s a foundational text of the occult Rosicrucian Order, “The Chemical Wedding” interests Crowley mostly as an account of “truly bizarre and surprising events.” Wands, brass orreries and hermetic inscriptions abound, along with many other symbols of the mystic traditions Crowley draws on in his acclaimed short stories and novels.