Twelfth Planet Press (2008)
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce, July 2010
I have been a fan of the New Ceres shared world for a long time now. I love the concept – of a world, maybe a few hundred years into our future, where the inhabitants have decided to recreate the eighteenth century, right down to outlawing advanced technology like genetic engineering. Of course, the planet does have a spaceport, but it’s heavily guarded and all incomers have to pass stringent tests before they’re allowed through. And, of course, some people on the planet would quite like to live the Enlightenment lifestyle … with a little of their own technological enlightenment. The Lumoscenti are tasked with policing such technological infringements. Of course, they’re not entirely trusted by the Government, partly because they verge on being a religious order and partly because they don’t always play nicely with said Government. As a result, from what I can tell, the Lady Governor has set up her own cadre: the Proctors. They are tasked with various aspects of the planet’s protection, and Angel Rising is all about one of them – George Gordon.
Gordon got his first outing in “She Walks in Beauty,” in the first issue of the New Ceres zine. In her introduction to this novella, Tansy Rayner Roberts describes him as the bastard child of James Bond and Lord Byron, and that pretty much sums him up. That glorious, dangerous, mixture of the poet-warrior, the very definition of a rake, Gordon is a quixotic character at the best of times. Here, Gordon has been sent to a set of islands where the population is recreating eighteenth century Japan (which, as Gordon himself notes, means recreating the fifteenth), with his manservant Stilton – who, appropriately, is in charge of the cheese. The story itself is a fascinating one, and highly enjoyable, but Gordon himself is the key drawcard. It’s somewhat amazing, but in 51 pages Flinthart manages to sketch Gordon’s character (it’s by no means necessary to read the first story) and also develop it. Through his interactions with various other characters, Gordon’s background is ever so slightly teased out (there is room here for at least one novel, and as soon as Flinthart writes it I will have my money on the counter), along with his current internal conflicts. I would have no desire to rely on Gordon, personally, in the same way that I wouldn’t want to spend time around James Bond, but he makes for awfully good reading.
The story revolves around Gordon having to investigate a strange occurrence: reports of a downed space vessel, the sort of thing that has huge potential to disrupt the society of New Ceres. Of course, given that it’s Flinthart and New Ceres, it’s not a straightforward exercise to investigate it, of course: as Roberts’ introduction notes, there are samurai, and ninja, and nuns mixed up in it as well. She forgot to mention shape-changers and a bewitching amnesiac, but that’s ok. The novella format does not allow for any extraneous fluff, which is perhaps its most appealing factor. As a consequence, the story moves rapidly – from Gordon’s arrival in the Sunrise Isles, to his presence at a nunnery (Gordon! in a nunnery! The very idea makes my eyes water) under attack, and on to further revelations and discovery that occur at a breathtaking, breakneck pace that still manages to convey a sense of place, and of character.
Ultimately, I’m saying that this story could probably have been – well, maybe not ten times as long, but certainly novel length, and I would still have devoured it as quickly as possible. More Gordon! More New Ceres! More more!