Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, April 30, 2012

1981: Kinship of the White Bird 2 - A Dream of Kinship (Cowper, Richard)

Future history without connections to the past (3/5)

A Dream of Kinship is the sequel to the book The Road to Corlay, the two being the first two parts of the Kinship of The Whitebird trilogy. Cowper wrote a clever little novel with The Road to Corlay, which had two parallel plots: one in 1970 A.D. with researchers into time travel and another in 3000 A.D. with villagers fostering a budding religious cult around a gift lute player. Without the addition of the time traveler, Michael Carver, the novel could stand alone as a period piece from the year 1450, if it didn't happen to be actually be set in the year 3000. My interest in the series is linked to these two parallel plots. At the end of The Road to Corlay, the two never really came together to make any "a-ha!" sense. I was hoping for a revelation in A Dream of Kinship (and god... what an awful cover!).

Rear cover synopsis:
"They came to destroy! The treacherous Falcons, uniformed in the black leather tunics of the fanatic Secular Arm, descended on Corlay to burn and kill. Commanded by Lord Constant, ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, they were determined to crush the religious heresy of Kinship. But a new dream rose from the ashes... When four Kinsmen escaped the carnage of their beloved land, each helped to fulfill the miracle that had been foretold: the coming of the Child of the Bride of Time would user in a New Age. For it was he who would claim the secrets of the stars... whose powers would drive him into battle with the dangerous Lord Constant... whose great courage would forge a new destiny on the wings of... The White Bird of Kinship."

Opening in the year 3019 A.D. in the town of Corlay, the Magpie has traveled to meet Jane, who is carrying the child of the martyr Thomas. Over in the archipelago of the Seven Kingdoms of what used to be England, Lord Constant and his Christian cohorts are scheming on ways to either undermine the Kinship or destroy the foundation of the pagan cult. The military branch of the church, the Falcons, who have a reputation for cold-blooded murder, are sent to Corlay to halt the spread of the Kinship and frighten the queen away from announcing her kingdom a Kinsmen haven. While Corlay is being set afire and its people pierced by arrows, the Magpie and the birthing Jane have escaped to the woods.

After the birth of the Child of the Bride of Time (the son of Thomas and Jane, who is also named Thomas), the plot jumps to the year 3038 A.D. where Thomas is in training to be a Kinsman with his friend David. His lute skills are already legendary under the tutelage of the wanderer Marwys, whose arrival to the village was "huesh-ed" by Jane. Thomas also "huesh-es" his meeting with a girl in the sea, a girl who will become drawn to him and unfortunately also draw him into treacherous regal affairs of the Kingdom.

The gruesome suspected poisoning of Lord Marshal Richard has Thomas, David, the Kinsman Healer Anthony, and his Protégé David concerned for anyone with strained ties with the Kingdom. The suspects Duke Philip and Lord Peter are eyed as the most likely to gain from the death of Richard. How this affair will affect the kingdom and Kinship isn't known, but Thomas knows that heavy-handed Christian church is intolerant of the Kinship and has the urge to spread the word.

Where The Road to Corlay was listed as "science fantasy," A Dream of Kinship is oddly labeled "science fiction"--oddly because the 1970 timeline plot is absent from this novel. Michael Carver is mentioned a few times, but the characters never make the time traveling connection and regard the Carver being as a visiting entity once experienced but now vanished. Taking place during the fourth millennium, there is no exploration of the major English landmarks, no derelict buildings, no skeletons of rusting aircraft or oil tankers--no physical connection with the past. This temporal detachment from its own history bestows a physical detachment from the same world; it's not a believable future history because of this. However, Cowper does write in some history of the Drowning:

"[...] the actual physical causes of the catastrophe had never been contested--the massive build-up of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere leading to drastic modification of the planetary albedo with consequent melting of the polar icecaps" (125)

Cowper also added more about the role the Church played in Europe's rising from the catastrophe of the Drowning:

"For hundreds of years the Secular Arm had both upheld and symbolized the supremacy of the Church throughout the Kingdoms of he west. It had become synonymous with political stability, with the fixed order of human affairs, with degree, with authority, and with fear. Above all with fear. Its historical roots lay back in the decades of turbulent anarchy which followed the Drowning, when by faith, self-discipline, and dedication to a noble ideal the Church Militant had gradually achieved its aim of imposing order upon chaos. [...] Printing, publishing, and all forms of technical innovation had been decreed Church prerogative, infringement of which was to be punished by death. Scholarship, other than that permitted within the strict confines of Orthodoxy, had virtually ceased to exist." (114)

This is a moderately intriguing future history, but the disconnection with our modern world displaces the plot to one of fantasy rather than science fiction. If some relics were exhumed, so monuments visited, or some artifacts commonplace, then the connection between the modern world and the future history of 3038 A.D. could be made real and, hence, placed into the genre of science fiction. The only connection presented are the names of countries which are under the rule of the Church of of the Kinship persuasion: Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, and America. One promising note at the end of A Dream of Kinship is the onset of a voyage to the said countries.

Aside from the disappointing displacement of time, A Dream of Kinship has just too many minor characters with lords, dukes, Kinsmen, bishops, cardinals, brothers, sisters, princes, fathers, mothers, and maids. Besides having names and titles, there's very little to actually distinguish the slew of them part from one another. Just behind the massive front of the lead characters of Thomas, Alice, Witch, Richard, David, the Magpie, Alison, and Francis lay an entire slough of a barely supporting cast--very muddled.

As I peer at the pleasant cover of the third book, A Tapestry of Time, I have two feelings: one heady sense of adventure and the other a loathing. Where Book 1 was "science fantasy" and Book 2 "science fiction," Book 3 is clearly labeled as "fantasy." If this is the case, then my desire to see the 1970 Michael Carver link may be one of trite hope to be burned off by the temporally awkward future history of 3038 A.D. Book Three had better beings its A-game!

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