Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Talus Slope
by Joseph Green

Who Benefits From War?
by Hayden Trenholm

Those Magnificent Stars
by Clare L. Deming

A Soldier Undreams
by Bret Carter

Eating Disorder
by Len Dawson

My Shaigetz
by Marcy Arlin

Two Timing
by Rik Hunik

To Dance With the Girls of Ios-5
by Ted Blasche


Psychology and Science Fiction
by Ann Gimpel, Ph.D.

Get Up and Go Somewhen
by J. Richard Jacobs

In Time For Evolution
by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Words and Music

ONE MIGHT BE TEMPTED to think that a power rock trio knocking on 40 years of playing together would have run out of things to say long ago. But if you’re talking about Canada’s number one export, Rush, you would be wrong. And what’s more, their latest (and 20th) studio effort, a sonic powered steampunk vision titled “Clockwork Angels,” has inspired an exciting literary collaborationclockwork between science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart.

Of course science fiction and fantasy themes are nothing new to Rush.

From epic pieces such as “The Fountain of Lamneth,” “Cygnus X-1/Hemispheres,” and “2112,” to songs like “The Body Electric,” “Xanadu,” and “The Necromancer,” Rush typically explore themes common to most science fiction fans, musically expressing the awe and wonder (and trepidation) of tomorrow and all of its possibilities that readers of science fiction so passionately feel. Album oriented rock hits like “Red Barchetta” and “Tom Sawyer” encapsulate the angst ridden, anti-heroism in many of our favorite science fiction protagonists, while tunes such as “The Manhattan Project,” “Territories,” “Red Lenses,” and “The Way The Wind Blows” explore the effects of technology, ideology and war on civilization in much the same manner science fiction writers do.

And this science fiction influence is readily apparent on “Clockwork Angels,” a long-awaited concept album which is everything that fans have come to expect over four decades and so much more: Peart’s bombastic yet delicately interwoven rhythm patterns, Alex Lifeson’s eclectic virtuosity on the guitar, and Geddy Lee’s thick and gritty bass lines with their soaring melodies. All combine for a bitches’ brew of hard rock and roll hauntingly narrated by Geddy’s banshee wail. Back again in the producer’s chair is Nick Raskulinecz, who obviously set out once again to push all the limits, break all the barriers, and build on all of the accomplishments of “Snakes and Arrows.”

And he succeeded.

Highlights from the album include the title cut with its sublime and somewhat psychedelic arrangement, “The Anarchist,” “Seven Cities of Gold” and “Headlong Flight” (my personal favorites), and the early releases “Caravan,” and “BU2B” (or “Brought Up to Believe”). This latest album is a must for any fan, old or new. For anyone not familiar with the band and looking for something new and exciting, “Clockwork Angels” fills the bill.

Rush’s canon of work has long been a source of inspiration for science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson, winner of every award worth mentioning and partner of Brian Herbert in the continuation of the “Dune“ series. And now he and Peart have novelized the band’s latest release, creating something that supplements the musical experience of the album as well as being able to stand alone as an ingenious tale of the fantastic.

That’s right—“Clockwork Angels”—the new Rush album—is also a novel.

At this point it should be said that the book itself, from the layout of the text, to the aged quality of the paper, and the beautiful Hugh Syme illustrations in between, all serve to set the mood for the story contained within. The book is a throwback to when craftsmanship mattered in all things, and the artistry involved in the production of this novel deserves at the very least to be noticed.

The adventure begins when Owen Hardy, our angst ridden, anti-hero rebel protagonist, decides that while his life is in many ways idyllic, it is not enough. He wants more: more adventure, more freedom and more of so many things that he can’t even define. By accident or design, Owen finds himself at the rail tracks in the middle of the night, a giant steamliner bearing down on him. A hand extended in the darknesbooks lifts him aboard and carries him away from his tiny village and orderly life to Crown City and all of its wonders, including the Watchmaker and those who deliver his words (and his Will) to humankind, the Clockwork Angels.

Journeying through this landscape of steampunk and alchemy, Owen Hardy answers these questions for himself as he wanders through desert wastelands, battling pirates and discovering lost cities, and taking a chance on love.

For those of us familiar with Rush and the more personal history of the band, we can recognize that, on many levels, “Clockwork Angels” is a deeply personal story. It is not much of a leap in literary criticism to recognize the obvious parallels between the Watchmaker and the sometimes seemingly impersonal nature of the God of Judeo-Christian heritage. Anderson and Peart’s Watchmaker is obviously a representation of Deist thought which holds that God, like a watchmaker, set up the universe and then stood back, letting everything proceed as it may, driven by the intricate machinery of the watch.

In short, “Clockwork Angels” is a story of faith and of faith being tested; of questioning the purpose of order in a chaotic universe; of pain and of healing. It is a story of two artists expressing their bewilderment that in spite of what most of us were brought up to believe, very bad things still happen to really good people. And the truth of that statement can be very painful. Consider this stanza from “The Anarchist”:

The lenses inside of me that paint the world black
The pools of poison, the scarlet mist, that spill over into rage
The things I’ve always been denied
An early promise that somehow died
A missing part of me that grows around me like a cage.

It is a story about the element of chance, and the fact that in spite of all of the pain that callous randomness can bring, just maybe it is the element of chance that makes life worth living. Owen Hardy’s story is the story of everyone who looked to the horizon and wondered what lay beyond, of anyone who has suffered loss, and anyone trying to make their way through a disorderly world.

A point of trivia for Rush fans: On the album and novel cover, a clock of runes is showing the time as 9:12, which in military time is 2112! (Rush, Audio CD, Roadrunner Records) 4 stars(The Novel, by Kevin J. Anderson, from a story and lyrics by Neil Peart, ECW Press) 4 stars—Daniel C. Smith


A Too Crowded Book

“A ONCE CROWDED SKY,” a novel by Tom King, a former CIA operations officer, is brilliant but lacks cohesion. This is not a difficult read, but it’s not easily understood either. There’s a story here, but it’s difficult to learn that story. Not Borges difficult—derisory difficult—there is an obfuscation drawn over the characters and their behaviors.

After an incident with “The Blue” strips all other heroes in Arcadia City of their powers, PenUltimate, the former sidekick of Ultimate and the protagonist of the novel is the only superhero left with powers. Unfortunately, most former superheroes think Pen is a coward and this does not bode well for a world that needs to be saved regularly.

Like any good literary protagonist, Pen is flawed, but he has redeemable qualities. He loves his wife, he saves people when he can. He even risks his life on occasion to save others. But he’s haunted by the past, present crowded and future of superherodom.

While parts of the story with PenUltimate comes through as tragedy, much of this novel is confusing. At the beginning, Pen’s thoughts include reading the bubble text above the heads of villains (parts of the novel are comic book pages), but later, those comic elements disappear. Several flashbacks occur simultaneously within a present situation with nothing distinguishing one flashback from another.

With a blending of science fiction, fantasy, and drama, along with a bit of mystery, It appears as if the author is attempting to use the metaphor of pushing back against the chaos of the universe through PenUltimate’s solving the mysteries therein.

The story of PenUltimate, by itself could be easily understood and enjoyed. But the author does not leave it at that. Instead, we have vaguely drawn mixed metaphors, heroes who are villains and villains who are all supposed to be dead. The addition of episodic labeling, comic panels at the end of each chapter, and quotes by Dante Alighieri only serve to make it more confusing, because we attempt to understand the referents. The novel attempts to be deeply literary and comically tragic, but fails both.

If the purpose of a novel is to entertain, as this one seems to be, then let it be that. But being a semi-graphic and textual representation of superheroes of various ilk, gets too confusing when all these elements combine into one story; especially when there is no obvious purpose for particular elements—like the labeling—except to make it appear more like a graphic novel.

Some characters are brilliantly drawn: for more than a hundred years, The Soldier of Freedom has fought for the sake of freedom and justice. He uses two guns at his hips, Carolina and California. Though older and wiser, nowadays he sometimes forgets what he’s fighting for. “But that’s all right. Lots of times he couldn’t remember what he was fighting for. Go that way and win. When you win, stay there until someone tells you to go some other way. If someone’s shooting at you, shoot back. Wasn’t much more to it than that ...”

After the build up of this character, we learn to care for him. But we find through a great reveal the characterization was a falsehood. We have been lied to because the Soldier is not what we have been led to believe.

And here is where it gets really confusing. The novel is just as much about the Soldier of Freedom as it is PenUltimate. But wait, there’s more. We also have Star Knight, Prophetier and the ultimate superhero, who is now dead, Ultimate.

As readers, there are some things we rely on from authors. The reader won’t find that reliability here. Not in this story. This author is much too clever for that. He has fooled us. He has turned the world we became acquainted with upside down. He is so clever, he has thrust us from the page to wonder what the hell happened.

Through several great reveals, in which the reader believes he or she has learned all there is to learn about the characters, we finally learn there’s not much we have learned.

It is tragic, because this is an entertaining read, if you can get past the confusion and the fact that you have been lied to. Muddling through the reasons of particular elements of this novel will get you nowhere, because the answers we seek the questions to are not available.

If you do choose to read “A Once Crowded Sky,” prepare for puzzlement, without much fulfillment. (By Tom King with comic illustrations by Tom Fowler, Simon & Schuster.) 3 stars— Carla R. Herrera

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