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Along the Rim of Time
Lillian Stewart Carl
Writers Club Press, 221 pages

Along the Rim of Time
Lillian Stewart Carl
Lillian Stewart Carl lives in the Dallas area. She has written such novels as Sabazel, The Winter King, Shadow Dancers, Wings Of Power, Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust and Garden Of Thorns.

Lillian Stewart Carl Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

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I've long been a fan of Lillian Stewart Carl, an underappreciated writer if ever there was one. Her stylish, historically-rooted fantasies hooked me early on -- Sabazel is the definitive Amazon warrior novel -- and her progression of novels from mythic adventure to supernatural mystery was engrossing and entertaining. Like many genre authors, Carl perfected her craft at the short fiction level, publishing an array of fun and fascinating tales in the usual magazines and anthologies. Naturally, these stories grew more and more obscure with time, so I was delighted to find Carl's most important stories collected here for the first time in Along the Rim of Time.

Of the 11 stories contained here, all have some sort of underlying mythic/historical theme, which is Carl's forté. Whether the story is fantasy or science fiction makes no difference, as Carl deftly juxtaposes Greek legend among the red Martian sands, reincarnated Chinese princesses among modern American tourists. There's a thoughtful, rational quality present in each story that gives each one that elusive oh-so-plausible air.

Perhaps the most ambitious story here is "From the Labyrinth of Night." A Martian exploration setup is developed nicely with rich allusions to the Minotaur legends of ancient Crete, culminating in the "sacrifice" demanded by the beast in the maze. The interpersonal relationships are the real driving force to the narrative, as by this point, the astronauts' explorations are mechanical efforts done out of habit more than enthusiasm. That the female-form android accompanying the two male astronauts had been designed by one's ex-wife (with an unsettling habit of displaying her mannerisms as well) leads to some ironic, and insightful thoughts on the human condition. "Pleasure Palace," a loose followup to "Labyrinth," takes place some generations later when the stylish androids have been perfected and are anatomically indistinguishable from humans. Naturally, they've become (among other things) a class of servitors specializing in sexual recreation. In this commerce-driven future, miners on the lucrative yet hellish mines on Io are forced to take regular leave-time to maintain physical and emotional well-being. Varina doesn't go willingly, and is contemptuous of the artificial love and intimacy cultivated in the "Pleasure Palace." Nevertheless, she develops an uneasy relationship with one called Adan that promises all the pitfalls she'd feared, and then some. A finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, this one has some faint Tiptree-esque echoes in it.

Three more stories -- "The King Under the Water," "Out of Darkness" and "Upon this Shoal of Time" -- deal with the author's self-declared fascination with Scotland. The first, "King Under the Water," is a surreal fantasy in which a young survivor of the disastrous Battle of Culloden, one James Cameron, stumbles his way into the realm of the fey folk and an even greater struggle between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Between uncertain love and uncertain victory, Cameron achieves some measure of solace when he's allowed to revisit his beloved Scotland many years later to learn her fate -- and encounters the British Queen in a sly cameo. "Out of Darkness" has a more contemporary focus, with an emotionally troubled woman dealing simultaneously with dark feelings, a crumbling relationship and the dark waters of Loch Ness as an unwilling member of an elaborate expedition to obtain conclusive evidence of the famous water beast. For all the heavy emotional baggage, this is at heart a lighthearted story, and Carl has the requisite fun tossing out half-clues and ambiguous evidence to her intrepid monster-hunters. The payoff is appropriate and satisfying, if obvious. On the other hand, "Upon this Shoal of Time" is another ambitious science fiction story cloaked in the trappings of mythology. This time, Carl takes the reader to a far-future archaeological dig, where real science is dependent upon the financial sponsorship of media conglomerates hopeful of unearthing exclusive rights to digs that capture the public fancy, King Tut-style. After unearthing an intact Pictish skull from a Scottish burial site in Cawdor, Dr. James Henderson subjects it to a series of elaborate processes, each one designed to unlock lost memories from the subject at the sub-atomic level. His experiment is far more successful than he'd ever dreamed. At turns disturbing and impressive, with MacBethian overtones, Carl crafts a moving tale around the strength and impact memories can have on a person. One of the strongest stories presented here -- the fuzzy science of the premise is presented smoothly and logically, detracting nothing from the narrative.

"The Borders of Sabazel" is of note because this short story, steeped in Greek mythology and legends of Alexander the Great, served as the genesis of Carl's grand Amazonian novel, and as adventure fantasy, compares favourably to that of Fritz Lieber. "Blood of the Lamb" gives a decidedly different take on the antagonistic relationship between vampires and religion, or at least the Christian ideal of "do unto others." The quiet tone carries the story well, and is both unsettling and uplifting, a breed apart from most vampire fare of the day. "Wild Honey," original to this collection, revisits the some of the themes and tropes of "King Under the Water," melding them with Mother Goddess and Catholic mythos and the Norman/Germanic struggle over Sicily during the Middle Ages. The surreal, fey aspect is used to full effect here once again, and an almost Arthurian knightly ideal is portrayed amidst all the political scheming -- along with the Arthurian tradition of divine intervention, or rather, divine directive.

Endnotes provide a nice accompaniment to these stories, giving a sliver of insight into the creative process involved at the time of the writing, without getting too academic. The "about the author" section dragged on perhaps a bit too long, with an excessively informal tone. But that's a minor quibble at most. What's important is that Carl's stories are now back in circulation, giving new readers the chance to discover this unique voice.

Copyright © 2000 by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy short fiction and has several in-progress novels lying around in various stages of decay. His non-fiction articles and interviews have seen publication in the U.S., Britain and Australia. His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html


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