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May 2016
 

The Bellinghman
Date: 2007-12-07 00:40
Subject: #207 Michael Coney: Celestial Steam Locomotive (The Song of Earth #1)
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Tags:books, reviews
Michael Coney: Celestial Steam Locomotive (The Song of Earth #1)

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Futura Publications (Aug 1986)
ISBN-10: 0708881947
ISBN-13: 978-0708881941
Category(ies): SF

I've been trying to work out how best to describe this book. It's squarely in the middle of Science Fantasy rather than the more purist Science Fiction, being full of far-future strangeness and mythic figures (including the godlike Starquin, and his agents on Earth the Dedos who might as well be angels or djinni).

At one point I found myself considering James Branch Cabell as a sort of analogy. But that's possibly because one of the three main protagonists is named Manuel, and Cabell's Tale of Manuel does resonate. At other times, I was reminded of Cordwainer Smith's work.

Right, to the setting. Well, I think it's the far future, but quite how far is another matter. There's certainly an Earth, and it's presumably ours, and a long time in its past there was star travel, but now there isn't any more. But the problem is, the past of this future isn't our present - it's so far away that we appear to have vanished down a crack. But anyway, Manuel dwells in an Argentinian coastal village (clue gleaned from book 2), where the weather includes such interesting features as winds of un-oxygenated air. And he's one of the ones adapted to this - he has a chest that would make an Andean jealous.

And then, not far away, is one of the Domes that contain the True Humans (Manuel is a Wild Human). Except the True Humans have been in genetic danger for quite a long time now, and are now permanently neotenous, giant babies living their entire lives plugged into a virtual reality. A tiny number of adults look after them, but these guardians are slowly dying out themselves.

And somehow it happens that Manuel, Zozula (a guardian whose wife has recently died) and one of the neotenous creatures (called The Girl) end up on a quest to find a reservoir of true-breeding True Humans, so that some solution can be found to the problem. Their quest leads through love and loss and ... well, a psychical consensus known as the Celestial Locomotive at one point. It's a bit picaresque, but all in all rather wonderful, in an unusual way.
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