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New Sunrise Express
      Equinox at Hilltop
      An Introduction to the Mythology
Christopher A. Zackey
      Christopher A. Zackey
      Christopher A. Zackey
Xlibris, 132 pages
      Xlibris, 128 pages
      The Rose and Lily Press, 186 pages, spiral bound

New Sunrise Express
Equinox at Hilltop
Christopher A. Zackey
Christopher A. Zackey (1949- ) has been writing since childhood and, as an adult, has produced a large body of literary fantasy fiction, fantastical or surrealistic poetry, and philosophical non-fiction. He has been published in literary magazines and has self-produced a whole series of fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction chapbooks, including the self-published Chandelier. He is the inventor of a philosophical system called "The Mythology," which attempts to approach a humanities-based "Theory of Everything." He is listed in both Poets & Writers, Inc.'s Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers and the 2002 edition of Who's Who in America.

Born in Brattleboro, Vermont, Mr. Zackey spent his first eighteen years in nearby Guilford. He has lived in places as diverse as Portland and New York City, and holds degrees in English from Brandeis University and Indiana University, Bloomington. A reference librarian, he currently resides with his wife, the artist Martha Zackey, in Clinton, New York.

Author's website
"The Black Hole"
"Forgiving Party"
REVIEWS: The Skyslanders: 1, 2

The Children's Crusade: 1, 2, 3, 4

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Saying that Christopher A. Zackey's fictional writing has the whimsey of a L. Frank Baum, uses language in a manner akin to Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, and carries, like the Narnia books, a subtext of a mythology which originates in Roman Catholicism, but incorporates numerous other philosophical elements doesn't entirely circumscribe why his work is original, appealing and even laugh-out-loud entertaining. Part of what makes Zackey's work interesting is that it is centred around a well thought-out belief system, a kind of spiritual unified field theory, which he attempts to delineate in his An Introduction to the Mythology. Describing the spiritual in words being ultimately impossible, he creates best approximation terms. He defines, for example, seress as the:

"girl/boy endearment force that enables endless romantic love without lust. Seress is blessing rather than pleasure. [...] Seress is not experienceable on earth, but it is the dominant romance mode of the Inner [spiritual rather than physical] Universe. Seress is the nicest experience any being can have."
Much of New Sunrise Express, and to a less explicit extent in Equinox at Hilltop the story is about one or more characters' quest for seress. However, this questing for innocence and 'Christian love'—although not couched in these overtly religious terms, might lead one to believe that beside a few token meanies, the main protagonists are meek, ineffectual, goody-two-shoes, turn-the-other-cheek, wilt at the first challenge idealists, which they aren't—they are vital, human characters who live, laugh and learn within the limitations of the physical world, albeit, at times, a rather weird world, with locust-like invasions of flying bicycles, a Neurosis Museum and motorcycle-mounted train robbers.

Equinox at Hilltop tells of Isoceles and four other 'wizards' hired by Mayor Angstrom of the hilltop village of Hilltop, plagued with yearly worsening attacks of flying bicycles from the moon, not to mention the at times belligerent telephone-bearing trees of the surrounding forest. The wizards include Isoceles, a shy slide-rule wielding mathematician, Andante, a female musician and vision of beauty, Worderhorn Jones a brash boisterous John Waynish man with a car to match ("With me and my car to honk the way, we can have a wham good time here, and mix business with pleasure."), Chrysyphus, the owner of a hot-air balloon whose cabin expands into a multi-dimensional home, and Vindrosen, a haughty rake who vies with Isoceles for Andante's affections. Behind all the humour and oddball people lurks an ancient tragedy, which events bring to the fore. Besides the story, there is the language itself, less overtly referential to Zackey's Mythology, but lovely at times nonetheless:

The moon swam into focus like a dish offering a festival of feasts. The mathematician gasped breath; all around the moon's cratered contours buzzed dark, savage bicycles, like primeval wasps from a giant hive. In and out of craters they flew, as if winged, their agile frames suggesting implicit stingers. Many times the spoked wheels left the surface of the moon in hungry leaps, perhaps anticipatory to later flights they might make to Hilltop

New Sunrise Express is more explicitly linked to Zackey's Mythology than Equinox at Hilltop. Here, in a story which mixes The Polar Express with the Christian myth of the ill-fated 1212 "Children's Crusade" (vs. current historians' views—see links at left) a group of young children board a train which will take them across an alternate United States, and eventually over the Wivern Mountains to the Holy Land. Again there are a number of odd, quirky characters, from Orn Huffer, the big burly but good-hearted engineer, to Mr. Beanbag, the evil conductor and his friend Rast Strichter, the motorcycle-gang leader-cum-train robber. The child characters/passengers are paired off into male-female couples early on, and between episodes of abuse from various nefarious villains, attempt to imparting seress on one another. There are moments when the children's cutesy-cutesy cuddly-wuddly interactions might get a bit too Care-bearish for some:

Trembling, her eyes full of glisten, she encircled him [Jan] with her long arms, and clasped the long-fingered hands so he was locked within her circle.

"Oh Dearling! Dearling!" she whisper cried, "Pick a wishing star, let's and we'll share it to sleep."

Picking a star so bright it could have shone over Bethlehem, they held each other heartbeat close and blended into a beautiful, shared sleep which drank of the wishing star's gold. Jan cried, for he felt as if he were being cradled, gentled, and enfolded to some kind of mooshy forever that was all singing.

When he and she part-hurt the next morning, he ran, smarting terribly from closeless loss, to the bathroom in Car no. 7, where he could look in the mirror. His heart joy-leaped; his hair really had turned the wondrous cornsilk greengold of Willow's.

"Willow, Willow, we match!" he cried, flinging his arms around her and embracing her crazily. "We're one love now, no longer two, and I really am yours, you do own me. Oh Sunwonder, Rainwonder, beautiful summer-haired Willow-wonder!"

but there's enough humour, whimsy and crackpot, off-the-wall situations arising that this can be easily ignored.

An Introduction to the Mythology, available through the author's website, is neither a work of fiction nor the outline of a fantasy world like Middle Earth, Hyperborea or Narnia. Rather it is a series of philosophical essays outlining the author's Mythology, a unified theory of seen and unseen, spiritual and material. While it appears to originate in Roman Catholicism, it encompasses and expands upon the latter and other belief structures. While one might disagree with religiously conservative statements like "girl-boy romance is the root sacredness behind all things..." there is plenty here that a recent prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might not agree with. While, as a materialist, I don't agree with many of Zackey's premises—or by extension, his conclusions—they are lucidly presented and discussed, if at times in stream of conscious manner. Reading An Introduction to the Mythology certainly cleared up a lot of what New Sunrise Express was about

Is Zackey's fiction 'commercial?' or ever likely to outsell the Robert Jordans of the world? Not in the least—it doesn't slavishly follow Tolkienian tropes (though it clearly draws something from L. Frank Baum), it is entertaining, whimsical—something almost entirely absent in today's fantasy—quirky-funny, yet bearing a serious underlying message, and the prose is a quasi-poetry of portmanteau words and quirky images, ably mixing modern American culture with pure fantasy. I highly recommend Equinox at Hilltop and to a slightly lesser extent New Sunrise Express to readers looking for something fresh and original.

Copyright © 2006 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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