The Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson (Books 2022, 4–6)

Yes, all I do is reread. Sometimes it seems that way, anyway. Well, it was the end of 2014 when I read this last. Seven and a quarter years seems fair. It’s a lot of fun, which is why I keep returning to it, I guess.

The missing scientists, that I mentioned last time? True, it’s never explicitly explained where they went, but I think it’s clear that they found out how to move into other worlds, and went off to visit next-door universes.

The three volumes are entitled The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat, and The Homing Pigeons, by the way.

I’m still making my way through the mammoth book that I mentioned before, but slowly. It’s The Books of Jacob, by Olga Tokarczuk, and you’ll read about it here eventually.


Pavane by Keith Roberts (Books, 2014, 6)

This is considered to be one of the seminal works of alternative history; often mentioned alongside The Man in the High Castle

Instead of the Axis forces winning the Second World War, as in Dick’s classic, the break point is Queen Elizabeth I being assassinated, which leads to the Spanish invading England (Scotland’s situation is never mentioned) via the Armada, and so the Catholic church becomes the dominant force in the world (at least Europe and the Americas) for centuries.

Most of which is told in a short prologue. The body of the novel (which a I believe is a fix-up, and certainly feels like it) consists of four short stories with some overlapping characters, which tell the tale of how rebellion against the Church comes to England.

I quite enjoyed it, but was put off at the start, because frankly the nuances of the workings of a traction engine running the freight across the country through a frozen winter night, were not all that interesting. In fact, it was downright boring. Would it have been less so if it were about a spaceship, instead of a traction engine? Obviously; anything is more fun with spaceships in it. But that’s not the point.

In fact, the point is largely our old friend “show, don’t tell.” I don’t automatically hold with that myself; there are plenty of examples of good stories working by “telling.” The problem is that if you rely entirely or mainly on telling, it’s easy to lose either or both of the characters and the action. Certainly you can tell us what’s happening; but it’ll have a much stronger impact if you make us feel it.

The second section, for example, starts with a young man bleeding to death in the snow, and then jumps back to his training as a signaller. A much more gripping way to handle things.

The time period appears to be from around the sixties through to the eighties, but the Church’s dead hand has so stifled technological progress that semaphore and steam remain the height of technology.

And there are fairies; old English magic that the Church hasn’t quite managed to wipe out. But they are kind of abandoned after the second (maybe third) story.

Anyway, after that initial hump it was enjoyable enough, but it’s a pleasingly slim book. If it had been the size of a modern novel, I’m not sure it would have held my interest.


The Hidden Family, by Charles Stross (Books 2008, 2)

Volume 2 (or the second half of volume 1, depending on how you look at it) of Charlie's 'Merchant Princes' series.

It continues the story of Miriam Beckstein and her recently-discovered alternative-universe family of ‘world-walkers’. In this one, Miriam discovers that (not surprisingly) there is more than one alternative Earth, and takes advantage of that fact.

Two things bother me about all this, though. One is that at no point, it seems, does she or anyone else do any investigation into the world-walking ability, or the designs of the talismans that make it work. Though I have reason to believe that that point gets addressed in a later book.

The other problem I have is just how capable Miriam is. She’s a can-do hero in the Heinlein – even in the Doc Smith – mold. Which is all very well, and all kudos to Charlie for making such a figure a woman, rather than the ubiquitous men created by those illustrious earlier writers. But those characters were never very believable, and we live in more sophisticated times now, do we not? So it’s hard to believe in someone relatively ordinary who finds themself in another universe, and who just copes. Indeed, not just copes, but prospers.

On the other hand, I’ve said elsewhere that we don’t read SF for the characters, but for the stories (and the ideas, of course). And this is a great story that I sat up late to finish. And you can’t argue with that.