Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Vellum - Hal Duncan

At last years World Fantasy Convention, I walked by Hal Duncan and randomly commented that I had loved Vellum and thought it should win the Hugo award next (this) year.

His reaction was somewhere between a chuckle and "who let this wanker out of the psyche ward?" What he really said was "thank you," but I could tell he disagreed. I think he turned to Jeff VanderMeer and made a joke. I'm pretty sure someone then hit me with a spitball. I cried all night.

Turns out he was right about the Hugo's. Vellum wasn't even nominated. Seems there's no accounting for taste sometimes. I'm actually hoping that it will still be eligible and get a nod next year, as it is still unpublished in the US. (It comes out later this month.)

So. The book.

Vellum is not for the meek. Do not bring this book to the beach. I've tried lable it as both Ballard-like and Delany-esque, but neither label is apropriate. Leave all labels at the door, please, and forget what you know, because it plays no part here.

The Book of all Hours is where God takes notes. It is the book of all names that have been and will be. It lists sins to be read out at the time of God's judgement, and holds all possible worlds within it. It is all this and far, far more.

Hell will battle heaven, and points of view will collide, mesh, and become unnacountably entrancing.

I gotta be honest here: I didn't get all of it at first. Duncan has a vision, and he tells the story at breakneck pace which forces the reader to catch up or be left behind. It's one of those rare gems that becomes a lot more lucid, and indeed better on a second reading. That's not say the first time through was not rewarding; it was undeniably so.

However, I can not reccomend this book to all readers. Even readers who love a literate challenge need to be in the mood for this work. As I stated before -- Vellum is not for the meek.

But if dense prose and honest-to-god new vision and ideas are not off-putting, I can not reccomend Vellum highly enough. This book is important and genre-altering in the manner that Dangerous Visions and Dhalgren were important; in the manner that Perdido Street Station and The Physiognomy are important. Duncan trumpets a new sound, audible even in a genre famous for new ideas.

9.5/10

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