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Jeffrey Ford
Avon EOS Books, 240 pages

Jeffrey Ford
Jeffrey Ford's first novel was Vanitas. His second, The Physiognomy, won the World Fantasy Award. He lives in New Jersey.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Physiognomy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Jeffrey Ford's previous novel, The Physiognomy, won the 1998 World Fantasy Award. His new novel, Memoranda, is a sequel. If The Physiognomy is as good as its successor, it's easy to see why it won that award. Memoranda is an extremely impressive novel, at times reminding me of Borges, at other times of John Crowley, and throughout striking and original.

Memoranda opens some time after the events of The Physiognomy.  The narrator is Cley, the former Physiognomist. He and other people freed from the tyranny of Drachton Below, Master of the Well-Built City, are living idyllically in the new village of Wenau. But one day Below returns from the ruins of his former City, and infects many of the inhabitants of Wenau with a sleeping disease. It falls to Cley to seek out Below in the hopes of finding an antidote.

The story takes Cley back to the ruins of his former home city, where he encounters horrifying bile werewolves and flying bird-bombs, and finally a demon from the Beyond. This demon, Misrix, has been adopted by Below and has taken on human intelligence and morality, as well as love for his adoptive father. Cley finds that Below has fallen victim to his own sleeping disease, and the only hope for an antidote is to search the sleeping Below's memory for the formula.

The bulk of the novel takes places in the strange memory palace, or memory island, that Below has constructed. Unlike conventional memory palaces, Below has populated his island with his memories of real people, who have some form of independent life, and who conduct experiments. Thus, in a sense, the memory island is actually thinking for Below. Cley meets these four people, and falls in love with the one remembered woman, Anotine. But the memory island is falling apart as the disease ravages Below's mind, and Cley must enlist the help of the "residents" to try to save Below, and his memory, long enough at least to find the antidote.

This whole landscape is original, and odd, and often beautiful. The form and setting of the novel provoke thought about the nature of memory. Ford also considers the nature of love, and addiction, and how a wholly evil man can still engender good. The plot is interesting enough, and fairly well resolved, but it's a minor source of pleasure. The prose is very fine, with many excellent images. I found the names of drinks and drugs especially memorable: shudder, sheer beauty, Rose's Old Sweet, Tears in The River, and more. Some of the horrific images, such as the Delicate and the Fetch, creatures Below uses to control his memories, are also very memorable. The characters are nicely realized and affecting, particularly the lost demon Misrix.

Even though this is the middle book of a trilogy, it has a self-contained story that is finished in this volume. That said, you will want to read The Physiognomy once you've read this book, and so it would probably be best to read it first, in the order published. And while the central story of this book is concluded, Cley's life story is definitely left hanging at the end, and I for one eagerly anticipate the third volume, The Beyond.

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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