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Stamping Butterflies
      End of the World Blues
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
      Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Bantam Spectra, 368 pages
      Gollancz, 352 pages

Stamping Butterflies
End of the World Blues
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta, and grew up in Malta, England, the Far East and Norway. He has worked as a publisher and a journalist. His novels include neoAddix, Lucifer's Dragon, reMix and redRobe. He lives in London.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: End of the World Blues
SF Site Review: 9Tail Fox
SF Site Review: Lucifer's Dragon
SF Site Review: Felaheen
SF Site Review: Effendi
SF Site Interview: Jon Courtenay Grimwood
SF Site Excerpt: Effendi
SF Site Excerpt: Pashazade
SF Site Review: Pashazade

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

At first glance, it would seem that Jon Courtenay Grimwood is a believer in the old adage that you can't have too much of a good thing. His latest novels, Stamping Butterflies in North America and End of the World Blues in Great Britain, each feature a connection between a character from our own time and a mysterious figure from the far future. In both stories, the mystery of just what that connection is is hidden within the intimate details of the characters lives, revealed only at last in casually oblique hints and twists of phrase. But even with their similarities in set-up and style, Stamping Butterflies and End of the World Blues are more than distinct enough to lay to rest any criticism of a writer repeating himself. The effect is instead akin to that of a master composer using a memorable melody to craft two separate symphonies, each worthy of standing on its own.

Stamping Butterflies begins on the streets of Paris and Marrakech, as we meet Moz, a young boy, and Johnny Razor, a slumming rock star. The collision of their lives will definitely end tragically for them and possibly so for the President of the United States, target of an assassination attempt. The twist is that the assassin is insane, and his brain may hold the mathematics that would unlock the mysteries of time.

Meanwhile, in the far future, a boy who would become Emperor is convinced that all around him is illusion, staged for his benefit, and that the only way to change it is to die. The boy dreams of a past where an assassin's success or failure could determine the course of history, and watches as his own assassin struggles to reach him.

It's a complicated situation, and in other hands Stamping Butterflies could have been a novel that was mostly about plot complications and solving the clues that tie past, present, and future together. Instead, Grimwood immerses us in the intimate details of his characters lives, the day-to-day events that actually comprise most of human existence. It's through those details, and the hints we learn through the comparisons of such things as one character's past with another character's memories that we learn of the events that lead to madness and death.

If there's a weakness to Stamping Butterflies, it's an ending that struggles a bit to tie up all the loose ends. By refusing the traditional scene where one character explains to all the other characters just what's going on, the author stays true to his narrative structure but runs the risk that the clues are a little too hidden for the reader's own good.

That's not a problem in End of the World Blues. This time all the pieces fit together seamlessly, right down to the final sentence.

End of the World Blues starts off with a bit of mis-direction. A young girl, Neku, hides money in a locker in a Tokyo train station. She runs to a life on the streets, where a man buys her coffee every morning. The man is Kit, a British expatriate who is married to a Japanese artist named Yushio, and owns an Irish pub in Tokyo. End of the World Blues is as much Kit's story as anyone's, and how his life becomes entangled with Neku's after his wife's death provides much of the mystery as Kit's search to find out what happened to his wife leads him to uncover secrets from both his own life and Yushio's.

The mystery comes from our knowledge that Neku is really Lady Neku, a girl who lives with her brothers and mother on an ancient earth nearing the end of the sun's lifetime. Intrigue and betrayal have led to her time-traveling and the events that mixed her life in with Kit's.

The author wraps this story up in prose that is at once smooth and sophisticated, Grimwood's style and approach, while thoroughly rooted in science fiction, have more in common with the latest from Justina Robson or M. John Harrison than the more technologically flashy Charles Stross of Iain M. Banks. All of these writers, though, are working from a set of ideas and speculations ranging from discoveries in cosmology and genetics to observations in economics and information theory. What Grimwood does is make the connections between a future of transformed humanity and unbelievable engineering a highly personal one, End of the World Blues and Stamping Butterflies are both first and foremost about people, filling in the details of their character's lives in ways that also reveal the links between past, present, and future. It's an approach that argues that life on the streets of Tokyo or Marrakech is every bit as meaningful as life in either modern-day offices or future castles, and that the lives of street-punks and bar-owners are just as important in the scheme of things as the lives of Presidents or Emperors.

Copyright © 2007 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson keeps looking for that connection that will link his life with the survival of far-future humanity. one foot firmly on both sides of the fence. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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