The Revolutions

by Felix Gilman

The Revolutions

Hardcover, 413 pages, St Martins Pr, List Price: $26.99 | purchase

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The Revolutions
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Felix Gilman

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NPR Summary

Taking a suspiciously well-paying job from a fashionable occult society after a devastating storm in 1893 London, young journalist Asa Shaw interrupts a séance and accidentally strands his fiancée's consciousness on Mars. By the award-winning author of The Half-Made World duology.

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Chapter Two

In a quiet Mayfair drawing- room, a man and a woman sat stiffly upright, eyes closed and hands outstretched across a white table-cloth. The curtains were drawn. A single candle on a rococo mantelpiece illuminated a circle of midnight- blue wallpaper, a row of photographs, and a rather hideous painting of the titan Saturn devouring his children. There was a faint scent of incense.


The woman was middle-aged. She wore high-collared black and silver, and an expression of fierce resolution. The man was young and handsome, fair and blue-eyed, and faintly smiling. He was the subject of most of the photographs on the mantelpiece, posing stiffly, dressed for tennis or mountaineering or camel-riding.

On the table there was a large white card with a red sphere painted on it; the man and the woman each rested their fingers on its corners. They sat all evening in silence, hardly even breathing, until at the same moment they each opened their eyes in alarm, jerking back their hands so violently that they sent the card spinning off the table into the dark. The man swore, got to his feet, and went in search of it. The woman clutched her necklace. "Mercury — what happened?"

He went by the name Mercury when they met. She went by Jupiter. "A rude interruption."

"Rudeness! I call it an assault. They struck us."
"I suppose they did. Yes. Where did it go, do you suppose?"
"We were further than ever before. I saw the gate open before me — the ring turning — did you see it too?"
"Perhaps."

"Then a terrible discord. And shaking, as if the spheres themselves halted in their motions — how?" She took a deep breath, collected herself, and stood.
The man dropped to a crouch. "Aha. It slid under the wardrobe — and that hasn't moved since my father's day. Bloody nuisance."
"They struck at us, though we were far out."
"They did, didn't they? Troubling. I thought we had more time."
She glared at him. "Your father's friends, Atwood?"
Martin Atwood was his real name, and this was his house. He stood.
"Well, don't blame me."
"No? Then who should I blame?"
"I expect we'll find out soon enough. I wonder how they did it? I wonder what they did? Something dreadful, no doubt. Wouldn't that be just like them?" He lit a lamp, and snuffed the candle. "If only we knew who they were," he said. There was the sound of rain at the window, first a whisper, then a clattering, thrashing din. "Aha," he said. "See? Something dreadful." Over the noise of the storm there was the shrill insistent ring of the telephone across the hall. Atwood poured himself a drink before answering.

The storm smashed a fortune in window glass. It uprooted century old trees. It sank boats and toppled cranes. It washed up things from the bottom of the river, rusted and rotten stuff, yesterday's rubbish and artifacts older than the Romans. It vandalized the docks at St. Katharine's. It flooded streets and houses and cellars and the Underground. It deposited chimneys on unfamiliar roofs, laundry in other peoples' gardens, dead dogs where they weren't wanted. It cracked the dome of the Reading Room and let in the rain. It coated the fine marble facades of Whitehall with river muck. Lightning struck Nelson's Column, scattering the few dozen unfortunate souls who slept at its foot like so many wet leaves. The lights along the Embankment whipped free and floated downriver. The London Electric Supply Corporation's central station at Deptford flooded and went dark. Barometers everywhere were caught unawares. Omnibuses slewed like storm- tossed ships, and horses broke their legs.

Men died venturing out after stalls, carts, pigeons, and other items of vanishing property. Arthur Archibald Shaw staggered and slid from shelter to shelter. An abandoned bus in the middle of Southampton Row gave him protection from the wind. God only knew what had become of the horses. An advertisement on the side for something called KOKO FOR HAIR took on a fearful pagan quality. What dreadful god of the storm was Koko? He stumbled on, clutching at lampposts, and turned the street-corner (by now quite lost) just as lightning flashed and snapped a tree in two. He stopped in a doorway and watched leaves and roof tiles whip past someone's house.

A light in the window. He could expect no Christian charity on a night like this. A horse ran down the street before him, wide-eyed and panicking. He shivered, wrapped his arms around himself, stamped his feet. He was young, and he was big — running to fat, his friend Waugh liked to say. Well, thank God for every pound and ounce. Skinny little Waugh would have been airborne half a mile ago. The storm appeared to have engulfed all of London. Lightning overhead flashed signals, directing coal- black hurrying clouds to their business in all quarters of the city. His fear was mostly gone; what had taken its place was excitement, accompanied by a nagging anxiety over the cost of replacing his hat and umbrella. He wondered if he might defray the expense by selling an account of the storm to the Mammoth — he was already thinking of it as The Storm of '93 — or, better yet, the New York periodicals: Our correspondent in London. Monsoon in Bloomsbury. Typhoon on the Thames.

An Odyssey, across the city, or at least across the mile between the Museum and home. They'd like the panicked horse — it would make a good picture. He peered back south in the direction the horse had fled. Behind the rooftops and out over the river there was something like a black pillar of cloud. It resembled a gigantic screw bolting London to the heavens, turning tighter and tighter, bringing the sky down. Behind it there was an unpleasant reddish light.

From The Revolutions, by Felix Gilman. Copyright 2014 by Felix Gilman. Reproduced with permission from Tom Doherty Associates.

Excerpt: The Revolutions

The Revolutions

Chapter One


It was the evening of what would later be called the Great Storm of '93, and Arthur Archibald Shaw sat at his usual desk in the Reading Room of the British Museum, yawning and toying with his pen. Soft rain pattered on the dome. Lamps overhead shone through a haze of golden dust. Arthur yawned. There was a snorer at the desk opposite, head back and mouth open. Two women nearby whispered to each other in French. Carts creaked down the aisle, the faint tremors of their passing threatening to topple the tower of books on Arthur's desk, which concerned explosives, and poisons, and exotic methods of murder.
He was writing a detective story. This was something of an experiment. Not knowing quite how to start, he'd begun at the end, which went:
That night the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral broke through London's black clouds as if it were the white head of Leviathan rising from the ocean. The spire and the cross shone in a cold and quite un-Christian moonlight, and diabolical laughter echoed through the night. The detective and his quarry stood atop the dome, beneath the spire, each man ragged from the exertion of their chase.
"Stop there, Vane," the detective called; but Professor Vane only laughed again, and began to climb the spire. And so Dr Syme pursued.
Which was not all bad, in Arthur's opinion. The important thing was to move quickly. It was only that month that Dr Conan Doyle had sent his famous detective off into the great beyond—chucking him unceremoniously from a waterfall in Switzerland—and the news that there would be no more stories of the Baker Street genius had thrown London's publishing world into something of a panic. In fact, there were nearly riots, and some disturbed individuals had threatened to torch the offices of theStrand Magazine. The hero's death left a gap in the firmament. The fellow who was first to fill it might make a fortune. It was probably already too late.
For the past two and a half years Arthur had been employed by The Monthly Mammoth to write on the subject of the Very Latest Scientific Advances. He wasn't any kind of scientist himself, but nobody seemed to mind. He wrote about dinosaurs, and steam engines, and rubber, and the laying of transatlantic telegraph cables; or how telephones worked; or the new American elevators at the Savoy; or whether there was air on the moon; or where precisely in South America to observe the perturbations of Venus; or whether the crooked lines astronomers saw on the fourth planet might be canals, or railroads, or other signs of civilization—and so on. Not a bad job, in its way—there were certainly worse—but theMammoth paid little, and late, and there was no prospect of advancement there. Therefore he'd invented Dr Cephias Syme: detective, astronomer, mountain-climber, world-traveller, occasional swordsman,et cetera.
Vane dangled by one hand from the golden cross, laughing, his white hair blowing in the wind. With the other hand he produced a pistol from his coat and pointed it at Syme.
"What brought you here, Syme?"
The Professor appeared to expect an answer. Since Dr Syme saw no place to take shelter, he began to explain the whole story—the process by which, according to his usual method, he had tackled each part of Vane's wild scheme—how he had ascended that mountain of horrors—from the poisoning at the Café de L'Europe, to the cipher in the newspaper advertisements that led to the uncovering of the anarchists in Deptford, which in turn led to the something or other by some means, and so on, and thus to the discovery of the bomb beneath Her Highness's coach, and thus inevitably here, to the Cathedral.
Arthur sketched absent-mindedly on his blotting paper: a dome, a cross, inky scudding clouds.
The notion of the struggle on the dome had come to him in a dream, just two nights ago; it had impressed itself upon him with the intensity of a lightning flash. Unfortunately, all else remained dark. How did his detective get there? How precisely had they ascended the dome (was it possible?). And above all: what happened next?
Nothing, perhaps. In his dream, Dr Syme fell, toppling from the dome into black fog, nothing but hard London streets below. Not the best way to start a detective's adventures. Something would have to be done about that. Perhaps he could have poor Syme solve his subsequent cases from the afterlife, through the aid of a medium.
Dr Syme lunged, knocking the pistol from the Professor's grip, but his enemy swung away, laughing, and drew from his coat a new weapon: a watch.
"We have time," the Professor said. "Dr Syme, I confess I have arranged events so that we might have time and solitude to speak. I have always felt that you, as a man of science, might see the urgent need for reform—for certain sacrifices to be made—"
Arthur's neighbour began to pack his day's writings into his briefcase. This fellow—name unknown—was stand-offish, thin, spectacled. Judging from the pile of books on his desk, on which words likeclairvoyance and Osiris were among the most intelligible, his interests tended to the occult. He closed his briefcase, stood, swayed, then sat back with a thump and lowered his head to his desk. Arthur sympathised. The dread hour and its inexorable approach! Soon the warders would come around, waking up the sleepers, emptying out the room, driving Arthur, and Arthur's neighbour, and the French women, and all the scholars and idlers alike out to face the night, and the rain, and the wind that rattled the glass overhead.
Midnight! The Professor waited, as if listening for some news to erupt from the befogged city below.
"Well," Syme said. "I dare say I know your habits after all this time. I know how you like to do things in twos. I knew there would be a second bomb. At the nave, was it, or the altar? I expect Inspector Wright's boys found it quick enough—"
A terrible change came across the Professor's face. All trace of civilization vanished, and savagery took its place—or, rather, not savagery, but that pure malignancy that only the refined intellect is capable of.
Howling, the Professor let go of the cross and flung himself onto Dr Syme.
Pens scratching away. Rain drumming on the glass, loudly now. A row of women industriously translating Russian into English, or English into Sanskrit, Italian into French. Arthur's neighbour appeared to have fallen asleep.
Arm in arm, locked together in deathly struggle, the two men fell—rolling down the side of the dome—toward
Toward what, indeed!
"By God," said Inspector Wright, hearing the terrible crash. He came running out into the street, to see, side by side, dead, upon the ground—
Arthur put down his pen, and scratched thoughtfully at his beard.
His neighbour moaned slightly, as if something were causing him pain. Concerned, Arthur poked his shoulder.
The man jumped to his feet, staring about in wild-eyed confusion; then he snatched up his briefcase and left in such a hurry that scholars all along the rows of the Reading Room looked up and tut-tutted at him.
* * *
Rain sluiced noisily down the glass. Lamps swayed in mid-air. Thunder reverberated under the dome as the Reading Room emptied out.
Arthur'd thought he might try to bring out his friend Heath for dinner, or possibly Waugh, but neither was likely to venture out in that weather. Bad timing and bloody awful luck.
He collected his hat, coat, and umbrella. These items were just barely up to the Reading Room's standards of respectability, and he doubted that they were equal to the challenge of the weather outside. Certainly the manuscript ofDr Syme's First Case was not—he'd left it folded into the pages of a treatise on poisons.
Outside a small band of scholars, idlers, and policemen sheltered beneath the colonnade. Beyond the colossal white columns, the courtyard was dark and the rain swirled almost sideways. In amongst it were stones, mud, leaves, tiles, newspapers, and flower-pots. Some unfortunate fellow's sandwich-board toppled end-over-end across the yard, caught flight, and vanished in the thrashing air. Arthur's hat went after it. It was like nothing he'd ever seen. A tropical monsoon, or whirlwind, or some such thing.
He was suddenly quite unaccountably afraid. It was what one might call an animal instinct, or an intuition. Later—much later—the members of the Company of the Spheres would tell him that he wassensitive, and he'd think back to the night of the Great Storm and wonder if he'd sensed, even then, what was behind it. Perhaps. On the other hand, anyone can be spooked by lightning.
He was out past the gates, into the street, and leaning forward into the wind, homewards down Great Russell Street, before he'd quite noticed that he'd left the safety of the colonnade. When he turned back to get his bearings, the rain was so thick he could hardly see a thing. The Museum was a faint haze of light under a black dome; its columns were distant white giants, lumbering off into the sea. The familiar scene was rendered utterly alien; for all he could tell, he might not have been in London any more, but whisked away to the Moon.
His umbrella tore free of his grip and took flight. He watched it follow his hat away over the rooftops, flapping like some awful black pterodactyl between craggy, suddenly lightning-lit chimneys, then off who-knows-where across London.

Copyright © 2014 by Felix Gilman


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