The Alexander Jablokov series continues.
Raw Feed (1989): “At the Cross-Time Jaunters’ Ball”, Alexander Jablokov, 1987.
Jablokov creates many memorable scenes in the space of a novellette — particularly the monks testing atom bombs on the ruins of Venice and dying artists, poisoned by radiation, creating a sculpture of exquisite beauty.
Jablokov does, to my knowledge, two entirely new things with the parallel worlds/alternate history concept.
First parallel worlds are created in great numbers as an art form.
Second (as with all art forms), critics like the protagonist exist to analyze that art.
There is an underlying tone of callousness and horror as these artists destroy entire worlds or create perverted societies to achieve the desired effects in the Shadow worlds (shades — no pun intended — of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series). The artists regard these worlds as unreal, subjects for aesthetic and intellectual examination not empathy.
The revelation to the narrator and critic, Jacob Landstatter, by his friend and world artist Samos Halicarnassus, that Jacob and his world are a shadow created by Halicarnassus and that the latter’s world is also a Shadow creation creates a snese of unease. There seem to be no “real” worlds. It’s art all the way down.
The horror is that so many “unreal” worlds have suffered at artists’ hands.
The story ends with Landstatter cast adrift on the sea of parallel worlds by Halicarnassus. However, Landstatter picks up his life with Amanda — perhaps the Amanda who betrayed him in adultery or aversion of Amanda from another world. Landstatter must fatalistically accept that nothing is any more real than anything else, but he also must keep hope.
I also liked the gentle, self-deprecating humor of Landstatter and that Salvator Martine trys to kill Landstatter because of bad criticism.
This is a strange, wonderful, inventive story but with muted emotional tones.