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|Carve the Sky
by Alexander Jablokov
Published by William Morrow & Company, 1991
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Recommended by: Elliot Hanowski
Jablokov imagines an elegant 24th century that is something like the Renaissance, or the Baroque era. The people of this future are somewhat reminiscent of Neal Stephenson's Neo-Victorians in The Diamond Age, who have decided that humans must put constraints on themselves. They believe that people must take control of science and economics and use them to shape a society congenial to human flourishing, rather than allowing humans to become enslaved to technology and unrestricted competition. They wish to take a long view of human existence. (Thus, for example, nuclear weapons are banned, since they are "instruments of destruction, not conquest." Likewise, guns and explosives are heavily restricted. There are echoes of Dune here, obviously with the restrictions on technology, but also with aristocrats, court artists and formal duels with swords.)
Of course, not everyone's on board with this the Technics (who live in the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, I believe) are completely enmeshed with their own technology and simply don't understand the desire for a life lived at human speed, surrounded by nature and artistic beauty.
Carve the Sky has quite a number of interesting ideas and images (about society, art, and religion, especially) which are going to stay with me there are splashes of originality throughout the book. One of the central art objects in the story is a small statue of The Dead Christ in his winding sheet, with jewels set in to represent each of his five wounds. Unfortunately, Jablokov's debut novel is a bit like that the bright images and ideas are like jewels set into an otherwise formulaic space opera.
The characters are interesting, but most lack depth (the women are all beautiful, the artists eccentric, the villains ominous and arrogant.) The plot structure is clunky and predictable here comes the love interest, with whom the protagonist will tumble into bed after they've run into each other X number of times here are the five mysterious artifacts that must be assembled by the shadowy cult in order to create an object of unimaginable power here comes a minor character to succintly impart a vital clue and now the villain would like to grandstand and explain his entire plan to you. At times the foreshadowing and clue-dropping goes overboard. And yet, at other times the explanations disappear and suddenly two characters have gone from a vital summit meeting to being naked together, trying to decide if they should have sex how did they get there? We're not sure. Motivations can be hard to discern. Why are you chasing this man across the Solar System? I know the traditional plot structure demands it, but why are these particular characters motivated to do it? That's not clear either.
Jablokov deals respectfully with religious characters and ideas. In keeping with a truly humanistic society (as opposed to a technocratic or materialistic one), religion is everywhere. We meet a Sufi mystic, a Russian Orthodox abbot, and a bunch of mysterious Gnostics, The Dispossessed Brethren of Christ. The Gnostics' temple/headquarters, Jerusalem the Lost, is a cylindrical hollow asteroid, reminiscent of The Whorl in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Long Sun, though smaller. The book is saturated with casual religious references ("You could tear this temple down like Samson" or "We don't deserve love any more than we deserve God's Grace") and complex theological musings. I quite liked the way he connected aesthetic philosophy and theology, since much of the action centers around religious art The Dead Christ, a Repentant Magdalene, Boaz, Jachin, Nehushtan, and the Rod of Aaron. Art clearly has a transcendant power for the characters even simple works such as "Catherine Apthorpes' Blood Bowl." Jablokov is balanced in his treatment of orthodox and heretic alike, and shows a rare appreciation for religious thought and motivation. (July, 2006)
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