Rosanne Rabinowitz is one of the rising stars of British fantasy/science fiction/genre spanning stuff, and this remarkable themed collection shows why. Resonance & Revolt explores history history in a way that only a well-informed writer can. The author also offers convincing glimpses of possible futures. The theme is always rebellion, in some sense, but there is nothing repetitive about the way Rabinowitz explores what is to be oppressed, to be free, to be human. As Lynda E. Rucker notes in her introduction, the tales offer 'a cyclical sense of the ebb and flow of power and tyranny and resistance'. Heavy stuff, you may think - but these stories are fun to read, as playful and intelligent as anything you will find elsewhere.
The first story, 'In the Pines', is a novelette set in the US in three different historical periods, all linked by the eponymous folk song. Part 1, 'The Longest Train', reminded me of watching 'Casey Jones' on TV as a sprog, as it concerns the wonderful folklore of American railroads. In 1875 in rural Georgia woman grieves for Sam, killed driving a goods train to Tennessee. 'Your head was in the driving wheel, your body was never found.'
Part 2 is 'Jersey Devil', set in New Jersey in 1973. A young woman attends a rock concert in the Vietnam/Watergate era, and hears 'The Longest Train' sung. Linda also learns a harsh lesson about youthful infatuation, and retreats into the woods. There she encounters the actual Jersey Devil (not the spurious, if interesting, one from The X-Files) and discovers that sometimes a monster is easier to deal with than supposedly cool people.
Part 3, 'High Lonesome Frequency', is set in Cornwall in 2015. A famous scientist is interviewed by a middle-aged reporter - it is Linda from the previous chapter. Experiments in music lead to time travel, of a kind, and we discover the Jersey Devil's taste in snack food. There is, perhaps, a nod to Lovecraft's 'From Beyond' in the idea that music can re-tune the mind to experience other realities overlapping with our own.
The second story, 'Return of the Pikart Posse', sees a British teacher in a Czech city doing research on a group of medieval rebels. Evelyn's boyfriend characterises the Pikarts as 'shaggers and pissheads'. Rabinowitz finds time to take a sideswipe at the loathsome Michael Gove, whose comments on the supposed uselessness of medieval history as a subject sums up so much that is wrong with, well, everything these days. Another satisfying read, this one, as Evelyn begins to truly experience life as it was lived by the egalitarian, sexually liberated Pikarts.
'Bells of the Harelle' is set in medieval Prague, this time during the upheavals that involved the famous Defenestration. Again, the reader is immersed in a fascinating and complex period of history, one in which the devastating impact of the Black Death caused (arguably) the Renaissance and social upheavals that influenced the Reformation and the birth of the modern West. Another impressive tale, in which the author demonstrates how the personal is the political, as her protagonist seeks a kind of closure amid the turmoil of an age even more confusing and violent than our own.
'The Matter of Meroz' sees a group of aliens arrive in a Russian Jewish community at the time of the abortive 1905 Revolution. The story first appeared in the wonderfully-titled anthology Jews v. Aliens, and it is a more playful flight of fancy than the setting and subject matter might suggest. And, as with all these stories, I learned something about history - to me this always a plus with a story that has a historical setting. There is nothing more boring than (say) a Victorian tale chock-full of predictable characters and situations.
'Survivor's Guilt' takes us forward in time to London in the late Thirties. Here the first-person narrator is a vampire (I think), some two hundred years old, one for whom the personal is the historical. Mara encounters Gunther, her former lover, who she assumed had been killed by the Frei Korps in Munich during the chaotic post-war period in Bavaria. Gunther is alive, but obviously not the same man she loved. The title refers to Mara's guilt at being able to stand outside human time, and by implication history, as and when she chooses. The true nature of evil is not the vampire, but Moseley's blackshirts gathering outside to disrupt the anti-fascists meeting.
And on that very pertinent note, I end my incomplete review. I hope that, in the near future, I will feel a bit less weary and frazzled, and be able to finish this excellent book. As it is, I recommend it - or at least, the first third of it - to anyone who likes well-written imaginative fiction that has something passionate and thoughtful to say about our human condition, and how we might struggle to improve it.