I’ve bought and read a few of Tor’s novellas, but though I might look, to use the parlance of my youth, a bit scabby, I feel I’m not quite getting my money’s worth, in that I am paying almost what I would for a longer novel, for something I can read in an afternoon. For instance, I would have liked Caitlin Kiernan’s Black Helicopters and Agents of Dreamland bundled up into one volume, like the “Binary” editions from Millennium from round the turn of the century, bound tête-bêche (thank you Wikipedia), or the old Ace science fiction Double novels. Who am I to tell a successful publisher anything about their business model, when the basis of my reasoning is that I want it like that?
Still, I confess to a reluctance to part with the cold hard. I bought the Kiernan books because of the raves about Black Helicopters (still not convinced, but I will read those two again), and I like Adrian Tchaikovsky and when I saw ‘The Expert System’s Brother’ on sale at Galaxy Bookshop, of course I grabbed it. (And now I see there is ‘The Expert System’s Champion’ coming out, and again, bundle them up, just for me.) Recetnly though I bought ‘Prosper’s Demon’ by KJ Parker on spec as a present for myself, and I am glad I did. I devoured it on the day that it arrived.
It is so much fun. I have been a sucker for diabolical possession ever since an abridged version of The Exorcist was published in a Sydney newspaper when I was a child. (I also read Jaws for the first time the same way – I am pretty sure my parents would not have been happy with me borrowing such books from the library when I was that age, but I am pretty sure that it was sanitised. I don’t think that The Sun or The Mirror would have included Pazuzu’s / Regan’s more extreme utterances, despite their penchant for page 3 bikini girls.) here, we have an exorcist who unlike Fr Karras has no doubts at all, and who is largely untroubled by moral qualms. I think if either Fr Karras or Fr Merrin had awoken to the scene which opens the novella, that it would have been the end of them. For this exorcist, it is a purely practical problem requiring the soaking up of blood, a reproach at himself for spending eight hundred gulden on a “fancy chaise”, and an urgent disappearing act. I don’t know if the excessively fat, completely bald and spectactularly intelligent Prospero is meant to bear a resemblance to St Thomas Aquinas, or at least to an Aquinas who is so affected that he fits the story’s title. I do know that the story is wonderfully grim-dark and that I laughed out loud at at least one of the resolutions of a “moral” qualm. A good deal of the story involves the thought and work behind the creation of a marvellous device, and kept me thinking about where Parker’s (aka Tom Holt) ideas for the tale came from – did the end come first, or the beginning? Did two separate ideas suddenly become one? I certainly could not see the solder marks.
What can I say? I enjoyed it very much. And I enjoyed that the conceit was not bloated and stretched out to novel length, which surely would have been a temptation to other writers. Having said that, it is a world I would like to visit again*.
*And of course I can. There is a related novella. Unbundled. And I could also purchase a collection of shorter works which has been recommended to me, Academic Exercises, but Amazon has it for $1300.00, so not in a rush!