Monday, January 26, 2009

Winterlong - Elizabeth Hand

Postapocalyptic theatrical genetic grotesque festival.

An after-disaster novel of a distinctly different kind to the bands of marauding mutants with clubs, or militas and mail, or even priests and canticles. There are apes, however. The title doesn't refer to a trek through freezing cold, and ice, either, but rather a song. In this case Neil Young's Winterlong, and a similar title in more words by the Strawbs. A song I have never heard, the latter, and I actually like the Pixies cover of the former more, so you can check all those out.

The strangeness here is more of some of the kind that could be found in Logan's World, or discovered by A Boy And His Dog, or even Zardoz, if you want to go that far.

The radiation and bioweapons have turned this particular locale at least into almost a fantasy land, and caused division into Groups, with explicit capitals. Whether by occupation, inclination, or mutation: Ascendants, Curators, Zoologists, Botanist and more, you get the idea.

It also seems to be de rigeur (much like alternate history and WWII) in novels of this type to run into scenes of outlandish performance art - and in this case the theatre - and who else, but Shakespeare.

As the author explains in her informative afterword: "...Winterlong ended up an odd amalgam of everything I loved: Twelfth Night, Pinocchio, punk rock, Neuromancer, ruinous buildings, talking animals, Bertolcht Brett, the theater, hallucinogenic drugs and neurochemistry, Dhalgren, sex, Catholic ritual and Aegean mythology, and most of all, The City Of Trees itself." The Last apparently refers to Washington D. C., according to the back cover.

The novel itself follows the travels of a sister and brother, the former having psionic empath abilities thanks to the current conditions and some experimentation. Crazed mad scientists of course are also a feature of this sort of book. You won't be disappointed in that score.

Plenty of bizarre and baroque encounters to lead up to the end - and here there is a ritual/festival/horror or whatever you want to call it that is also titled Winterlong. Cue any number of elements from Hand's list of favorite things for this final over the top extravaganza.

Or, to quote Mr. Neil Young:

"If things should ever turn out wrong
And all the love we have is gone,
It won't be easy on that day."

3.5 out of 5

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