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