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Sunday, August 5, 2012

"The Tyrant" by Michael Cisco (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

"Ella is a 15-yeal old girl crippled by polio, a genius taking graduate courses in biology and demonstrating a strong talent for working with ectoplasm. She journeys beyond death in Michael Cisco's visionary novel 'The Tyrant'. Taken as an assistant to the famed Dr. Belhoria, she'll be helping Doctor Belhoria in her study of a talented young epileptic man as he descends into a trance which will take him to the Underworld"

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As noted in the post linked above, I have recently started reading seriously Michael Cisco's work. I read a little from all the 5 novels I had at the time  - The Tyrant, The Traitor, The Narrator, The Great Lover, Celebrant - and Tyrant really absorbed me and while it took a few days of reading, I could not really read anything new in the meantime, while for good measure I got his earlier two novels collected together in the San Veneficio Canon and from now on I plan to have a review of one of the above books once every two-three months. 

Here is a picture quote that gives a first view of the author's style:

The Tyrant follows the saga of Ella, a precocious 15 year old girl, whose legs are not functional due to polio, but who is an almost genius level researcher in "bio-aetherics" - what the book calls "ectoplasm" and is a sort of manifestation of the soul, the interface between the living and the dead.

Note that despite the familiar trappings that the novel presents from the first page - trains, phones, subways, cars, TV, newspapers - we are in a sff-nal world from the start.

Getting her application to study under famous Dr. Belhoria, "the" expert in her field, Ella starts living at her mansion/research house and becomes involved in the observation, interaction and care of an unnamed patient - later becoming the title character of course - who hovers in-between the living and the dead world and whose vitality is so extraordinary that it allows him to straddle both worlds - at a price.

Here is another picture quote detailing the Tyrant's fanciful descriptions of himself to Ella when the two start interacting through the "magic" of technology:

While the novel seems to have a somewhat passive viewpoint for a while, there is an abrupt change of pace and things starts happening both in the "real", living world and in the world glimpsed through the consciousness of the patient.
And in another change of focus we start following Ella on a journey - which again combines the mundane and the fantastic as she has to manage to get grant money, get a driver/helper etc in addition to the fantastika part - that is just as engrossing and imaginative as I've ever read such.

The prose is mesmeric and while it takes a while to start understanding its rhythms, once you do I think there is no stopping in reading the novel to the end.

With its blend of real and fantastic and with a great character in Ella, The Tyrant is a masterpiece of fantasy and also a very good place to start exploring the author's work as it is probably his "most accessible" book to date - I tend to dislike this last formulation but I think it is appropriate here as his other books tend to plunge you into the "deep end" from the start or are a little drier as in The Traitor's case, so some familiarity with M. Cisco's style helps there.


Craig Snider said...

I also love Cisco's work.

I happened upon a short review of The Tyrant some time back in Realms of Fantasy magazine. At first blush, the story seemed very straight forward, and I rushed to find a copy (which was difficult to do).

Cisco's work is not for the light reader. His prose is dense, poetic, and deeply mesmerizing. I would not categorize his work as straight fantasy. It has more in common with Magical Realism. But, the payoff is exhilarating.

I agree, The Tyrant begins at a slow pace, but by the end of the book, I couldn't put it down. I hadn't read anything quite like it before.

Since then, I've read The Tyrant three times, and I've read The Divinity Student (which I highly recommend), and The Traitor. I completely agree that The Traitor is a much drier and more difficult read.

Thank you so much for brining Mr. Cisco's work to light. I think he is truly a wonderful artist that brings a lot of new life to the world of fiction.

Liviu said...

Thank you for the comment. I agree about the mesmerizing quality of M. Cisco's work - I read a few pages from all his novels to date and I actually read even more from The Narrator and Celebrant and I know those will be the next two novels by him I finish though also The Traitor may get there as I've read on and off from it and it is much shorter.

I also love how the books look on a shelf - while these days I prefer ebooks for various reasons, M. Cisco's novels stand out in design too, especially the newer ones


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