Brian Aldiss
The Malacia Tapestry
Jonathan Cape 1977

Perian de Chirolo is a young actor in Malacia, a city state in a strange fantasy Italy. The Turkish armies are in the vicinity, and generally the times are bad for entertainers, so Perian is out of job, spending his days seducing women and trying to get food on his plate without working. But when offered an acting job by the strange foreigner Otto, he takes it - when he finds out one of the co-actors will be the extremely beautiful young noble lady Armida...

It might be late 17th Century, but a very different one. There are two major religions in Malicia, the Natural Religion and the Higher Religion, and of course magic works. There are also strange creatures, like winged men and so called "ancestral animals". And it's ten million years since the end of Hellenism...

Strange, but the reason may be the Original Curse, which makes Malicia always the same. Status quo is the ruling ideology of the city, why the revolutionaries are called "Progressionists". Otto is one of them, trying to make an end of the explotation of the poor. His means are partly technological: a new technology for showing drama, and his rhetoric is often close to classical Marxism. It may sound a strange ingredient of a fantasy novel, but it really is a quite refreshing innovation to the genre.

But I wouldn't say that revolution is the main theme of the book. No, that place the more common themes of love and betrayal, adultery and jealousy. The play Otto has written is about it, and in their real life Perian, Armida and their friends are replaying it. Plus sleeping with almost everyone else of the opposite sex. But for all the main characters' lightheartedness, and more or less careless bed-hopping, it is a dark universe mr Aldiss has created. A world where you cannot trust anyone, and where true emotions only are going to hurt you. I don't believe it is like that in the real world, and it makes me quite uneasy to read about in a book.

Compared to the masterpieces mr Aldiss once in a while creates (like the science fiction novels "Greybeard" and "Hothouse", which once made him one of my favourite authors), this is just a well-written bagatelle. Still, it's filled with originality, with a feeling to it that is much closer to Boccaccio's "Decamerone" than to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I can't say I loved it, but neither can I say I didn't enjoy it. Although it left me with a quite bad aftertaste.

Karl Henriksson

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Henriksson & Henriksson 1996.