Saturday, May 21, 2016

Phileas Fogg and the Heart of Osra (Joshua Reynolds; Meteor House Press, 2016)

In 1973, Philip Jose Farmer published The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, the "true story" behind Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, reframing the Eighty-Day Affair as the final skirmish in an ongoing conflict between two groups of extraterrestrials on Earth, waged as a proxy war between human agents.  The Eighty-Day Affair brought the war between the Eridaneans and Capellans to a vague conclusion, but Josh Reynolds picked up the threads left behind by Farmer and began extrapolating a series of novellas following Fogg in the aftermath of the Eridanean-Capellan conflict.  The first of these I reviewed last year, Phileas Fogg and the War of Shadows.  The second volume, Phileas Fogg and the Heart of Osra, is forthcoming, but Meteor House was kind enough to put an ARC in my hands.

Following his encounter in Paris, Fogg has continued east into Europe, drawn to the tiny kingdom of Ruritania by a letter, written in an Eridanean cipher, inviting him.  Recalling the Rudolf Rassendyll, the false king placed on the Ruritanian throne during the Zenda Affair, was an Eridanean agent, Fogg suspects a trap but feels compelled to visit the kingdom nonetheless.

He soon finds himself hunted by both the Ruritanian secret police and a fanatical nationalist sect, both of whom accuse Fogg of stealing the legendary crown jewel known as the "Heart of Osra." Aided only by his wits, his Eridanean training, and the saber-swinging wild card known as Rupert of Hentzau, Fogg must find the lost jewel, clear his name, and escape the country - not to mention determine who invited him to Ruritania in the first place.

Josh Reynolds has a fantastic knowledge of Ruritanias - of the piddlingly small principalities and duchies that litter fiction.  I recognized a good many mentioned here, while others escaped me, though I was very pleased to see both Freedonia (from the Marx Brothers' phenomenal DUCK SOUP; the neighboring country of Sylvania is likewise mentioned) and the Duchy of Strackenz (here rendered Strackencz; originating in George Macdonald Frasier's ROYAL FLASH) appear.  Robert E. Howard's sinister "witch-town" of Stregoicavar is likewise on Fogg's itinerary, and I can only presume it's a matter of time before he checks in at the Plateau of Leng.  Ruritania proper, of course, is the creation of Anthony Hope in the novel The Prisoner of Zenda, which I read years ago and really should revisit.

Reynolds furthers the theme he began with his previous novella, as Fogg uncovers more evidence that neither the Eridaneans nor the Capellans were the first extraterrestrials to maintain a presence on Earth, hinting darkly at encounters with entities from the Lovecraft canon in volumes to come.  Here, he crosses psychic paths with a race of "Angels" who call to mind both Lovecraft's Great Race (from The Shadow Out of Time) and H.G. Wells' unearthly observers from "The Crystal Egg." They are presented as wholly alien and inscrutable, which I enjoyed, and the reader is left with more questions than answers regarding these entities, which I feel is as it should be.

Best of all, Reynolds has crafted a wholly believable aftermath to the proxy war fought for centuries, and the toll that peace has taken on the survivors.  While the war between the Eridaneans and the Capellans left a minimum of bombed-out buildings and rubble-strewn streets in its wake, to those in the know all of Europe is like the Vienna of THE THIRD MAN, haunted by human flotsam, cast adrift without a war left to fight.  Fogg's counterpart in Ruritania, the precise Colonel Sapt, has dealt poorly with peace, and convinced himself that there is still a war to fight - and given his recent experiences in Paris, Fogg finds it difficult to disagree.

Reynolds' two novellas so far (with hopefully many more to come, as hinted in the text) are not only wholly satisfying sequels to Farmer's original novels, but richly enjoyable on their own, deepening the back story of Farmer's take on the Eighty-Day Affair, and adding a new level of complexity to the Eridanean-Capellan conflict and its participants.  Phileas Fogg and the Heart of Osra receives a glowing recommendation from me and can be preordered here until June 15th.

3 comments:

  1. See, this here is the kind of review I love to read, Bill. It's the kind that makes me want to read the book RIGHT NOW as you convey your own sense of excitement and enjoyment. I cannot abide those meaningless reviews that go like this: "I don't want to tell you too much about this book because I don't want to spoil it for you!!!! Just go read it!!!!"

    That tells me absolutely nothing about the book. You do your job in telling me something about the characters, the plot and give your own personal impressions/feelings about what you thought/felt about the book. Excellent review.

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    1. Thank you Derrick! That means a lot to me. I saw a terrible review many years ago for a movie which read, "I really enjoyed this film. You might like it too. 4 stars." and I've always kept that in mind as a shining example of what not to do.

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  2. Derrick shared this in his FB group, Usimi Dero. I'm always on the lookout for new book reviewers to contact. I like your style of reviewing and would like to ask if you would review books in my Waves of Darkness series. My author email is viksbelle@comcast.net My Wordpress site has blurbs, excerpts, and character profiles you can look through to see if the books would be a good fit for your blog. If you're interested, email me and I'll happily email .pdf files of the title(s) you'd like to review.
    Sorry for doing this in comments, but I didn't see any kind of contact link to do so privately.

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