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James P. Blaylock

Front cover and interior illustrations by Phil Parks

Photographs by Vicki Blaylock

Airtight Seals Allied Production

US Hardcover Limited Edition

57 pages; $50.00



Fantasy, Horror


James P. Blaylock

Illustrated by Ferret

Morrigan Publications

UK Hardcover Limited Edition

ISBN 1-870338-40-5

244 pages; £11.95


Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror

Lord Kelvin's Machine

James P. Blaylock

Illustrated by J. K. Potter

Arkham House

US Trade Hardcover

ISBN 0-87054-163-3

263 pages; $19.95


Science Fiction, Fantasy

All Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002

With the recent release of his latest novel "All the Bells on Earth", James P. Blaylock has proved himself to be among the front-running authors working in speculative fiction. The interest in his work has prompted the re-release of some of his earlier works, and some new works, in deluxe, illustrated editions. For the Blaylock reader, these three books are extremely well-produced, beautifully illustrated and well worth the various premium prices you're likely to have to pay after you've managed to hunt them down. Yes, the packages are wonderful; but it's the content that matters, and the content in these books most certainly lives up to the deluxe packaging.

In "Doughnuts", Blaylock offers us another glimpse at Walt, the main character of "All the Bells on Earth", and into the heart of obsession, compulsion and release. It's a small story, barely filling up the 58 pages, even when padded with an introduction by Lewis Shiner, an appreciation by Lucius Shepard and an afterword by Tim Powers. But it's a great Blaylock story, filled with the same tiny observations and bits of humor that make his other work so unique. In this story he eschews the supernatural and weird in favor of the mundane and commonplace, with excellent results. The other contributor's offer insights into this and other work, while the illustrations, which are simply pasted-in photos by the author's wife, are perfectly evocative of the kind of shenanigans in which Blaylock specializes. Phil Park's cover is literally the icing on the cake, in this case, a cake doughnut.

"Homunculus" and "Lord Kelvin's Machine" offer glimpses into Blaylock's earliest work, and are substantially different from any other novels he has written. The wry sense of humor and the delight in small human foibles are perfectly in place, but the stories are both pure steampunk, "Homunculus" being the beginning and "Lord Kelvin's Machine" the continuation of the adventures of Langdon St. Ives, a Victorian pseudo-scientist, explorer and adventurer. "Homunculus" introduces St. Ives, his companions Bill Kraken, Jack Owlesby and Captain Powers, and his nemesis, the evil hunchback Doctor Narbondo. "Homunculus", which won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1988, is a dense, mysterious novel set in an apocalyptically-inclined London, where Nardondo has succeeded in bringing the dead back to life to serve as free sweatshop labor, while a street preacher waits for a dirigible piloted by a skeleton to land on Hampstead Heath. The line-drawing illustrations by Ferret are perfectly suited to the subject, and thoroughly enjoyable, contributing the perfect air of Victoriana to the proceedings.

"Lord Kelvin's Machine" follows three further novella-length adventures of St. Ives as he tries to prevent Narbondo from destroying the world, travels in time and fights a Dickensian cast of killers in London. This book is illustrated by J. K. Potter, whose photo-collages, though the polar opposite of Ferret's line drawings, are also uniquely suited to Blaylock's steampunk style.

Neither "Homunculus" or "Lord Kelvin's Machine" is a traditional Blaylock novel, since they're not set in contemporary Orange County, California. But despite the steampunk setting, Blaylock's peculiar sensibilities are full intact. His unique blend of weird characters and nearly supernatural events are exaggerated in the Victorian setting. In "Homunculus" and "Lord Kelvin's Machine", Blaylock is fully determined that both he and the reader are just going to have fun. Even without all this deluxe packaging, that would be the case; but if you're going to have fun, why not go all the way? That's the kind of question that Blaylock himself might ask, and these three books are an excellent answer to that question.