Sunday, February 10, 2008

Michael Swanwick's "The Dragons of Babel"

Right now one of my favorite writers of speculative fiction is Michael Swanwick. I just finished a novel by him called "The Dragons of Babel." It's a fantasy novel but it's about as far as you can get from the traditional Lord of the Rings "high fantasy" as you can get. The world he has created, and used for a few short stories and one previous novel, is a world of magic and the modern. You will find familiar and unfamiliar fantasy world denizens that can speak in the purple ways of an imaginary past while simultaneously speaking like someone born in 2009. I don't know if I ever read stories like his before. It's like they exist in two worlds at once. The obvious influences are there yet the dichotomy of his world is what makes it unique, rich and very lived in.

These two extremes he combines in setting, character and language he also uses in his storytelling. In "The Dragons of Babel" he takes us from the humblest of villages, to refugees fleeing a massive war, a dirty, but still magical refugee camp and then to the throne room of the most powerful nation in the Land of Faery. Along the way we encounter handsome and cruel elf princes and dog-faced rapists and a ten year old girl with an ancient soul and a troop of randy female centaur soldiers and a city alderman who is a haint and can literally feel the pulse of his city and a metal dragon fighter/bomber who cruelly rules over a small village he crash landed near. All these settings and characters enrich this most realized of fantasy worlds. The novel is a mystery, a comic romp with palace intrigue, a love story that starts during a treasure hunt in giant landfill and a tale of the traditional hero's journey. It's a genius display of an imagination that has been released of all its bonds.

I understand from Swanick's blog that he is working on another book in this world. I can't wait.

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