Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dreams are built on dull facts

It has been many an age more since the crowds called for a liar. Mine is a lost art, and I shall be grateful to share it with thee." He turns aside, and lets me pass. We stand back out in the busy street.

"You're a liar?"

"The last liar," he says, slowly, sadly, observing the tower. In the light of day Thyme looks like an artefact recovered from some lost tomb. "Once, dreams were built of my tales. Quests formed by the skill of my words. But now there are only the whispers and rumours, and little room for a liar. Dreams are built on dull facts. Mine," he repeats, "is a lost art. Follow me, Manderlay, and we shall locate thy Sleepwalker." Reluctantly I do as I am told, wondering whether I have made a grave mistake.
Metronome, by Oliver Langmead, is a strange but beautiful dream of a book.

The story opens by introducing the reader to Manderlay. He's aged and living in a retirement home, but with his buddy Valentine, they still get up to some antics. Manderlay was once a violinist, and receives the occasional cheque for 40 pence in royalties whenever someone buys his album. Manderlay is lately troubled by his dreams, and the reader soon leaves the gently nostalgic blanket of the home to inhabit his dreamworld entirely.

The dreaminess is both a strength and a weakness. It allows for some very creative images, actions, and relationships, but it also falls back on dream logic to justify its course.

Manderlay's musical skills are called upon to help navigate the skyship Metronome, with a small group of righteous warriors engaged in an ultimate battle between good and evil.

I don't fully understand how all our dreamworlds intersect with each other. Each dream opens onto a collective unconscious, an evidently vast but common world, night after night.

I just couldn't buy into the workings of the dream logic. There are detailed battle scenes — something I'm simply not a fan of. I would've been happy to follow Manderlay's demise from the comfort of the retirement home, but that it not the book Langmead chose to write. The story also takes a religious turn; while not exactly didactic, I'm not entirely comfortable with the implications. I'm not one to turn away from stories just because they espouse a worldview different from mine, but in this case it posed an obstacle to my buying into the premise of the book.

Still, the scenery is steampunkishly breathtaking.
There are shapes hanging from the tower ahead of us: a tapestry of wooden walkways and scaffolding which make for a kind of peculiar set of docks. I can see the distant silhouettes of dock workers, high in the air, as if we are standing beneath crystal-clear depths of water and looking up at them. And moored at those docks is a singular ship, or mechanism, that defies easy understanding.

It looks as if someone has attempted to build a clock but did not know when to stop. It is a cataclysm of clockwork parts in synchronised motion arranged in the shape of a frigate. The ship has no sails, barely any hull beyond a few lengths of wood along its flanks, and between brass and copper lengths of girders, I can see endless cogs and cables, whirring and winding and ticking in gentle motion. The whole thing just hangs there, impossibly, in the sky.

I realise that I have forgotten to breathe.
Reviews
Andromeda Spaceways
Shoreline of Infinity

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