December 30th, 2013


The House of Rumour, by Jake Arnott

I already indicated I was really enjoying this novel. One of the central conceits is that it is told in chapters named after (in order) the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Occasionally this means shoehorning some sort of reference into the story a bit hamfistedly, but not too distractingly. The chapters skip around in space and time, but interlinked stories and characters pull you through from the beginnings of WWII and LASFS through the Sixties, Jonestown, the fall of Communism, and on to the modern day. Arnott does a great job of juxtaposing historical details. Once certainly wonders, what did go through Rudolf Hess' mind, when (from behind the bars of Spandau prison) he got the news that Kurt Waldheim became President of Austria? And, as Arnott points out, due to his earlier job as Secretary General of the UN, some of Waldheim's words were placed on the golden record carried into infinity by Voyager. That scene in Contact where the aliens beam Hitler back at us seems just a little stranger, knowing that an (ex-)Nazi intelligence officer really is one of our emissaries. And of course, Voyager gets us directly back to JPL and Jack Parsons and L Ron Hubbard and Aleister Crowley and the Mañana Literary Society. Sure, it seems awfully unlikely that Ian Fleming and Aleister Crowley conspired with Jack Parsons to use magick to lure Hess into his quixotic attempt to fly to Scotland and make peace between Germany and England, preparatory to Germany attacking the Soviet Union. But on the other hand, it's certainly true that, in the wake of this bizarre plot, the Nazis carried out Aktion Hess, arresting astrologers and fortune-tellers. Certainly if (somehow, improbably) Hess' mission was successful, that would have been quite a Jonbar Hinge. Rather than make use of that, and write something like the Man in the High Castle, Arnott has written something more like The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel about a universe much closer to our own.