Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Nouveau Haitiah (Donald McEwing)

In the tropical world of Donald McEwing's dazzling science fiction fantasy Nouveau Haitiah, evanescence is the norm. Flashes of intensely colorful life are seen out of the corner of your eye before disappearing:

A flock of yellow and carmine creatures flew low across the palms. They looked like no birds I had ever seen, all wings and legs, but no apparent tails. Overhead, a high purplish-gray overcast filtered a small yet intense sun...

Soon, black smoke rose from the guttering flames into the hazy twilight. The sun went down, and eight-legged lightning bugs rose over the dry fields of spear grass, flashing blue bioluminescent calls to potential hosts.

This world is reminiscent of our world in certain ways, and disorientingly unlike it in many others. The biology and geology are different. Metals are scarce, but "black diamonds" are common. The wild flora and fauna are involved in a dizzying network of parasitic mutualism, and many are quite dangerous to humans (leading to some very memorable scenes). The diamond root plant, associated with the black diamonds, is either a "mild stimulant" or a "wild hallucinogen," depending on who you ask.

The socio-political texture of Nouveau Haitiah draws on the history of the actual Haiti in the 19th Century, and modern upheavals in tropical nations. The array of squabbling and constantly changing guerrilla factions is difficult to get a handle on, as intended. Racial matters figure, but rather subliminally. Various women are pegged as "witches," but their powers all seem to depend on natural Nouveau Haitian substances.

Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu exists in this world and is in fact a wellspring of the story, although whether it exists in the same form as we know it is not entirely clear. In any case, literary modernism provides a strong pulse in Nouveau Haitiah, and in an accompanying series of essays on the book's website, McEwing makes it clear that part of his goal is to wed that modernism with the narrative drive and surface appeal of well-imagined science fiction. He succeeds in that.

The story and the experiences of the protagonist Leon begin in media res, as he emerges from a pool of water with no memories prior to that moment, and immediately finds himself swept up in intrigues.

Nouveau Haitiah is a great example of what the adventurous reader looks for, a highly original experience. I only had occasional flickers of possible influences, the strongest being David Lindsay's 1920 speculative masterpiece, A Voyage to Arcturus. It turns out that this is just an affinity though, because I queried McEwing as to whether he was familiar with Lindsay's novel, and he wasn't - although he has since read it, and responded as positively as I would have predicted.

Nouveau Haitiah

A Voyage to Arcturus

No comments:

Post a Comment