Future history without connections to the past (3/5)
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."
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.
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.
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
"[...] 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:
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
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!