Visions of Paradise

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Galveston

Sean Stewart is one of my very favorite writers, and his recent novel Perfect Circle is on my summer reading list, perhaps the next book I will read. In the meantime, I thought this would be a good time to recommend one of his outstanding previous novels. Galveston is a typical Stewart novel in outline: Galveston Island in the mid-twenty-first century hovers precariously between a rational “real” world struggling on the remnants of the Twentieth Century’s lost technology and an irrational “magical” world dominated by the evil god Momus. The magic is segregated in a carnival area called Mardi Gras, where most people who enter it are trapped to spend their days endlessly in mirth and gaming–which doesn’t sound too bad until thinking about year after year after year of walking the midway. Occasionally the magic leaks over into the “rational” world, usually as harmlessly as the ghost of the hero’s mother warning him about roads he is taking in his own life, but occasionally in stranger, more dire ways.

The main plot concerns two people who were brief friends as children until the family of one of them is forced out of the circle of the powerful on Galveston Island when the father gambles away his property and they drift into genteel poverty instead. Josh–the son–spends his life as a pseudo-witch doctor struggling to be a pharmacist, while Sloane is the daughter and heir of the ruler of the island who indulges herself in wild nights at the Mardi Gras. Until Josh’s friend rescues Sloane from an attempted rape and brings her to Josh for healing, whereby they become reacquainted until she disappears and Josh is arrested by a seedy bunch of cops for her murder.

That event unleashes a fast series of events which sees Josh and his lifelong friend marooned off the island in cannibal land, a gale force hurricane sweeps the island and opens the way for the escape of the entrapped magic, and the struggles of all the main characters come to a climax. The novel is simultaneously fascinating and thoughtful, with characters both exotic and realistic. Overall the novel is successful in all it attempts to be. My only complaint–and it is not a major one–is that an important element of the novel is how the people of Galveston view Josh, yet I was unable to view him that way myself, although I am not sure if that is my own bullheadedness or Stewart’s failure to portray him accurately enough.

If you’ve never read a Sean Stewart novel, Galveston is an excellent starting point, and a strong sample from a major writer's output.

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