“Gilman’s descriptive powers are as economical as they are vivid, beautifully capturing the spirit of fin de siècle society and literature without grinding it into pastiche….And each item in Gilman’s grab-bag of wonder comes with symbolic resonance; even the book’s title can be read in multiple ways: Philosophical revolutions, astronomical revolutions, and the obvious political kind all overlap as the book’s intricate assembly of elements click together like clockwork.”
Here’s an excerpt from NPR’s post on April 3:
In his previous novels, Felix Gilman presented fantastic, mind-expanding visions of other worlds. His fifth, The Revolutions, sticks a little closer to home — at least at first. For a change, he’s set a book in the real world, albeit a skewed version of it. Gilman reimagines late-19th-century London as a dark and dangerous place; along with all the political, technological, and cultural upheavals of the age, he’s added an insidious dimension to the fashionable occultism that gripped the end of the Victorian Era. Spiritual seekers are determined to explore outer space as well as inner space — only without their bodies leaving their parlors. Call it séance fiction.
For all its heady concepts, The Revolutions launches on a humble note. In London in 1893, a recently unemployed journalist named Arthur Shaw tries his hand at writing detective stories, attempting to pick up where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is about to leave off. It’s one of many allusions to real-world figures that Gilman weaves into the story, including nods to Jack the Ripper, early computer pioneer Charles Babbage, and author Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. But in The Revolutions, the subtle differences between our world and Gilman’s alternate history eventually become striking. The mystical secret societies of London are about to go to war with each other, and Arthur — along with his fiancée Josephine Bradman, a stenographer who records the minutes of one of those societies’ meetings — is drawn into an increasingly dizzying scheme that involves astral projection to other planets. When Josephine participates in a magic ritual to that end, her astral consciousness not only travels beyond Earth, but gets marooned there. Arthur, in no way a magician himself, must find a way to conjure her home — even if it means collaborating with the terrifying occult forces that sent her there.
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