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Ancients of Days
The Second Book of Confluence

Paul J. McAuley
Victor Gollancz, 320 pages -- Avon EOS, 400 pages

Ancients of Days
Ancients of Days
Paul J. McAuley
Paul J. McAuley was born in England in 1955 and currently lives in Scotland. He worked as a researcher in biology in various universities before going to St. Andrew's University as a lecturer in botany for 6 years. He's chosen to move on to become a full-time writer.

His first novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars, won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award and several subsequent novels have been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, winning one for Fairyland which also won the 1997 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel. His short story, "The Temptation of Dr. Stein," won the British Fantasy Award. Pasquale's Angel won the very first Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) in 1996. McAuley also produces a regular review column for Interzone and contributes reviews to Foundation.

Paul J. McAuley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Reading List: Paul J. McAuley
SF Site Review: The Invisible Country
SF Site Review: Child Of The River
SF Site Review: Fairyland
SF Archive: Paul J. McAuley
Star Makers - Paul J. McAuley
Mark/Space: Paul J.McAuley

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

Sometimes I think McAuley must write with multi-coloured ink. Sometimes I can see -- even taste -- the colours on the page, despite the fact that my copy is only plain old black and white print. The vividness of his writing builds more solid images in the reader's mind than any more visual medium such as painting or film could achieve. Sometimes these images are so outlandish that I think any attempt to render them into a more visual medium might only prove to be a disappointment to the imagination.

Ancients of Days has been out in the UK since last year (1998) from Victor Gollancz. It is scheduled for North American release in July 1999 by Avon. McAuley has assured us that Confluence will be a trilogy (and no more) with the third volume, Shrine of Stars, scheduled for UK publication in September 1999 by Gollancz, and presumably to appear sometime in North America in the year 2000 from Avon.

The idea for Confluence originated from McAuley's novelette, "Recording Angel," which appeared in Greg Bear's 1995 anthology, New Legends, from Legend/Tor. "Recording Angel" was selected as one of the best stories of the year by Gardner Dozois and appeared in The Year's Best SF 13 (1996). In his intro to McAuley's story, Dozois says:

"it comes as close as anything I've seen to effectively capturing at least some of the mood and tone of Cordwainer Smith's best work."
[Editor's note: Dozois is a serious CS fan, so this is rather high praise.]

The Second Book of Confluence assumes you have read the first volume, Child of the River, and I shall assume likewise. (If you haven't, no doubt you will be very confused by Ancients of Days.)

Yama's adventures continue. Relationships forged in the first volume also develop, and new and equally interesting characters -- both friends and enemies -- are introduced. Yama is growing into maturity on two levels: by growing into his psychological adulthood; and by increasing the mastery of his unique ability to manipulate the machines left behind by the Preservers. His quest remains constant: to find out who he really is and to discover his own people, if indeed they still exist. The route to this goal, however, is as convoluted as the River is straight.

Throughout both books, I occasionally found myself wondering what the purpose might be for some of Yama's tangential adventures. Because even more than being a writer of vivid images and fantastic imagination, McAuley is an intelligent writer. He offers insightful comment -- both direct and indirect -- on such basic human issues as books, reading and learning; evolution and stagnation; tradition and innovation; growing old; and, of course, the cornerstone of civilization, bureaucracy. And, whether he actually is, he always at least gives the impression that he is writing with a purpose.

Sometimes Yama's adventures seem to be mere diversions, serving no purpose other than to show us yet more wonders in the artificial world of Confluence. Sometimes during the course of my reading I began to wonder if the author had lost himself in the maze of his own creativity. However, I can't say that I didn't enjoy any of the tangents or that I didn't appreciate any of the wonders, and occasionally the images from an earlier adventure reappear later on with new meaning.

And, after all, it would have been a completely different -- and rather more dull -- story if Odysseus had sailed directly home after the Trojan War, or if Frodo had taken the ring straight to Mordor without incident.

Many questions are finally answered in this second volume of the trilogy. Although a picture begins to form in the reader's mind, during the course of Yama's story, of what kind of a world Confluence actually is, some of that speculation is confirmed in Ancients of Days. And some surprises are revealed. To say more would be to risk spoiling the enjoyment of anyone who has not yet joined this adventure...

Ancients of Days is as colourful, exciting, adventurous and introspective as Child of the River. It offers everything you could wish for in a grand "science fantasy" epic -- except a resolution. For that, we'll have to wait for the third and final volume.

Copyright © 1999 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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