Pyrotechnicon by Adam Browne is about, as the subtitle indicates, the further adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac among the states and empires of the stars. I’ve got to admit that the sum total of my knowledge of the character of Cyrano de Bergerac comes from watching the 80’s romantic comedy Roxanne starring Steve Martin. Which is based on a play written in the late 1800s. Which bears almost no relationship to the life of the real de Bergerac in the mid 1600s. Who wrote proto-science fiction based on an interesting version of his life story, which apparently involved travelling to the moon and the sun. Of which this book is notionally an extension.
Confused? Bloody hell, I am.
So to go back to my source material: big nosed, highly capable man chasing his love Roxanne. And a vague memory of a whole lot of nose related jokes. Not a lot to go off I admit.
Fortunately this was enough to get me into the story, and I’m glad it did. This was a delightful novel to read and stands amongst my favourites for the year. The plot is absurd. The characters larger than life. The settings bizarre and fantastic in the extreme.
But all this is almost inconsequential to a readers enjoyment, because the writing is a joy to behold. It takes a chapter or so to get into the rhythm of the novel but once you’re there this book rewards a leisurely read, just soaking it all in. It reads as a series of set pieces loosely connected together. The language is full of pith and wit, with a faithfulness to 17th century science which is impressive. I enjoyed seeing a series of long out-dated ideas in science taken to their logical extreme by the narrative. It was also refreshing to read science fiction that makes no attempt to fit with modern ideas of science.
I’ve had a couple of goes at trying to describe some of the plot, but it always comes out sounding much weaker than it should. I’ll try again: de Bergerac’s love Roxanne is captured by the mysterious Master of Secrets and taken to his lair, which happens to be located on Venus. de Bergerac sets off in pursuit in an elephant shaped space craft powered by rocks from Venus. Hijinks ensue.
Told you I wouldn’t do it justice. I’m not going to describe any more, as half the enjoyment from the book comes from the anticipation of absurdities to come. And Browne does a great job of coming up with stuff you just wouldn’t have thought of, even when steeped in the surreal world he has created.
There are not many laugh out loud moments in the book, but it is nonetheless amusing all the way through. Some of the amusement is derived from weird and wacky situations, some from the bizarre science that just shouldn’t work, some from outrageous characters and some just from the sheer wit of the prose.
I read this novel on my Kindle, where Browne’s illustrations also come up beautifully. The only technical issue I had with the book was that the text was tiny on the Kindle, I had to ramp the font size up to almost maximum in order to read it. A minor quibble though for an otherwise excellent publication.
I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.