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Fire Update and Hal Duncan Promises Fires of the Apocalypse in Vellum · 24 October 2007

Picture of the Witch Fire of 2007 in San Diego County At Night - By Vissago

“A burning map. Every epic,” my friend Jack used to say, “should start with a burning map. Like in the movies. Fucking flames burning the world away; that’s the best thing about all those old films,” he said, “when you see this old parchment map just . . . getting darker and darker in the center, crisping, crinkling until suddenly it just . . . fwoom.” – From Vellum, The Book of All Hours

I continue to be impressed with the amount of information that the private news services are providing. All local stations are reporting on the fire and making sure that information on locations, shelters, insurance resources, and medical support are broadcast. For the first 48 hours, even the major networks were entirely commercial free (at least on the web). For this cynic, who actively spends time thinking of what I’d do in end-of-the-world scenarios, the response to the natural disaster has been quite heartening.

Yesterday additional mandatory evacuations were called, up to 513,000 residents from the 250,000 reported Monday. Today has been a mix of people being allowed to go back to their homes (mine included, huzzah!) and new people being evacuated, so I’m not sure where the numbers stand now.

I’ve been spending my time waffling between being glued to the webcasts and trying to get a minimum amount of productive work in. I had started reading Vellum: The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan last week but despite the good news that my home will probably be safe, I wasn’t really in the mood to finish a story that seems headed for gloom and doom and the fiery apocalypse. I’m about halfway through the book, and since I’m still displaced and away from my usual compliment of blogging resources, I’ll offer a partial review here of Vellum.

Picture of the Witch Fire of 2007 in San Diego County Near Homes - By Vissago

The book starts with a treasure hunt, oddly reminiscent of the one from the movie National Treasure complete with generations of batty members of the Carter family searching for the lost Book of All Hours.

However, the apparent protagonist, Reynard Carter, disappears off the face of our earth and into a lost and lonely alternate reality quite early on in the story. Therein begins the meat of the book, as Duncan merges and mixes characters, telling the tale of the coming of a war between “good” and “evil” (yes, without capital letters and in quotes).

Duncan has taken his characters and turned them into archetypes in a deliberate manner. There are books in which characters have little personality and become mouthpieces for the themes that the authors are trying to get across. Most of the time this effect comes across as a cheap trick, a way to get themes into a story without the effort of creating a believable vessel for the them.

In contrast, Duncan has created a handful of characters that have more personality than seems possible for one soul or one body. He ties their lives, past, present, and future, together with the unifying concept of their “mark,” a distinguishing feature that causes these beings to behave similarly over time, and seems to doom them to repeat their mistakes over the millennia.

At the beginning of the book, myth and reality seem quite separate, but as the story progresses, they are merged together so that it seems that myth creates reality, which begets more myth. I’m sure this is all building up to some climactic showdown between the organized forces, but I’m really not sure what part the main characters are going to play in it. In a way, it’s very refreshing to read a book and not have a clue how it’s going to end.

Duncan has an amazing way with description and even though there are some sections in which I still have no idea what he’s talking about, it’s a great read, especially if you’re willing to take each segment as a myth or story unto its own. I’m really looking forward to finishing this one when my frame of mind shifts a bit. Until then, I’m vegging out with the remake of FFIII for the DS. The super cutesy characters are just the kind of entertainment that I’m looking for to keep San Diego’s smokey reality at bay.

Photographs of the San Diego Witch Fire are courtesy of vissago on Flickr via the creative commons license.

˜ Kim


Add and View Comments

Dark Orpheus · 24 October 2007, 22:19

At least you can go home now – that’s one piece of good news, yes?

Kim · 25 October 2007, 23:57

It is good news.

The firefighting teams made great progress on containing the various fires today. Most of the ones still burning are now no longer threatening homes.

I’m officially home as of tonight and back to work tomorrow. Thanks all for the kind words and thoughts this week.

Nymeth · 26 October 2007, 13:58

I’m glad to hear your home is safe and you can return to it now.

This is such a terrible situation. Not really being able to read is completely understandable.

jean pierre · 27 October 2007, 05:59

i’m really glad you’ve been able to return home…

heather (errantdreams) · 2 November 2007, 06:07

I’m glad to hear you guys are okay. My cousin and her husband are caught in this too.

jean pierre · 22 November 2007, 10:04

hope everything is still all right!

Nymeth · 27 November 2007, 12:33

Hey Kim. It’s been a while since you last posted, so I was wondering if all was well with you. Hopefully you’re just busy and all. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that you are missed!

Chris · 28 November 2007, 13:20

Hey Kim. I’m with Nymeth, missing you over here. Hope everything’s ok!

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