The View from Entropy Hall (Online Archive) - From Ed Meskys - RR2 Box 63 - 322 Whitter Hwy - Center Harbor NH 03226
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Issue #2

THE VIEW FROM ENTROPY HALL #2 for APA-Q 394, 4 May 1996, from Ed Meskys, RR #2 Box 63, Center Harbor NH 03226-9708, [email protected], 603-253-6207.


Last time I mentioned that I had just started reading Diana Gabaldon's VOYAGER, the third volume in her series on the Scots rising of 1745 and its afternath, and estimated that it would take a week to finish. Well, it took 2.5 weeks as I had many interruptions.

Spoiler warning--I will reveal many plot turns in all three volumes including endings.

Her first book, OUTLANDER (Delacorte, 1991, xii+627 pp., HC, $20, CROSSSTITCH in England), reviewed in detail in "Bumbejimas" in NIEKAS 44, read like a stand-alone book. in the Autumn of 1945 Claire Randall, a former WWII field nurse, falls through a time gate 202 years to 1743, is taken prisoner by a group of Scots and for their safety is forced to marry the leader, Jamie Frazier. She is not a historian but knows that the Rising of '45 will be disasterous and lead to the destruction of most of the Scots highland clans. She and her new husband come to love each other and there is enough trust for her to tell him the truth about her origins, and to do what she can to get him away from the Rising. She uses her medical knowledge to help him and many others recover from various injuries and wounds. When she has an opportunity to return to the 20th century and her original husband she elects to stay with Jamie. When Jack Randall, an ancestor of her first husband, is killed before having children while Claire is helping Jamie escape from his torture chamber she comes to believe that she CAN change the past and prevent the disaster. At the end they escape to France where Jamie's brother is a successful wine merchant and shipper in order to try to prevent Prince Charles from invading England.

The second book, DRAGONFLY IN AMBER (Delacorte 1992, 743 pp., HC, $21.50), is a framed story. It opens in 1968 and Claire is telling her 20-year old daughter, Briana, for the first time what had really happened and that Jamie Frazier, not Frank Randall, was her father. I liked this book very much despite the fact that it is a story line I usually dislike. Claire carries as a luck piece amber with an imbedded dragonfly. As she and Jamie do everything possible to stop the invasion they are defeated. It is the old time-traveler trying unsuccessfully to change the past plot. The title and talisman emphasize the point. She feels like that dragonfly trying vainly to beat its wings against the amber. The people and story line are still very interesting. Jamie and Claire arrange to prevent a ship from arriving whose cargo would have paid for the invasion, but Charles gets other funding. Then she finds that Jack Randall is still alive after all and it is only a short time before Frank's ancestor is supposed to be conceived. Then Jamie emasculates Jack in revenge for the torture and buggary Jack had inflicted on him. Finally Jack's sickly scholarly brother who is a minister gets the mother pregnant and on his deathbed forces Jack to marry her to make the child legitimate. Every time it looks like the past will be changed something happens to undo it. Jamie and Claire return to Scotland to try to save his immediate family from the war by staying clear of it. Charles writes him saying that he forgot to sign Charles' manifesto so he "did him the favor of signing his name for him." Thus Jamie is a traitor in the eyes of the English and has to join the war. Just before the final battle at Culloden his men try to sneak away but are forced back to the battle scene. Jamie knows he is "dead meat" and has no chance of surviving, so he sends the pregnant Claire back to the stone circle to return to her own time. At first her daughter refuses to believe the story, but then comes to accept it. A young historical researcher friend who is with them and who helps Claire prove her story then finds that Jamie didn't die in the battle together with all his relatives there. The book ends on this note.

In the first part of the third book, VOYAGER (Dell, (c) 1994, 1059 pp., PB, $5.99), Claire, Briana, and the young historian search for documents to see whether Jamie survived the intervening 20 years. In alternate chapters we see what actually happened to Jamie. We also learn a bit about her unsatisfactory life with Frank from her return to his death shortly before the opening of the book. He never really believed her, but deluded himself into accepting Briana as his own daughter.

They finally find that Jamie is operating a printing business in Edinburough using two of his middle names as an alias, and she decides to return to him. She acquires antique coins and a period costume (unfortunately with a zipper) and goes through the circle. She had completed med school in the meantime and had been a surgeon. She also packs a small amount of compact medications and instruments which she can hide on her person. Each time she goes through the circle the experience is harder on her, leaving her unconscious and frozen. It is a bit like "going in between" in the Pern books but much worse. She realizes that if she does it one more time it will probably kill her. This precludes her returning to the 20th century every time she needs something.

When she walks into his print shop and he recognizes her he faints dead away. She finds that he is still a wanted man because of the Jacobite rising but is living two separate identities, openly as a respectible printer and under another name as a wine and brandy smuggler. He is also clandestinely helping write, publish, and distribute subversive literature.

In the middle part of the book they re-establish their relationship and struggle with events around them. Both are still madly in love with each other, which I find really hard to believe. Each is uncertain about the other's feelings and they are both somewhat jealous of the other's relationships during their separation. I was annoyed with the author for her going on in such endless and boring detail about their rutting. Circumstances prevented their mateing for long periods of time, but when they did manage to get privacy the story really dragged.

In the last part Jamie's nephew, Ian, was kidnapped to be an indentured servant or slave in the Carribean and they go after him. After many adventures on shipboard and the islands of Hispaniola and Jamaica they finally rescue Ian and are confident of his return to his family. They must flee and Jamie cannot return to Scotland for the forseeable future for all his identities are known and he, as a six foot four flaming redhead is too conspicuous to reastiblish another secret identity. They are hunted on Jamaica but with the help of a friend in power escape in a small one-masted ship with six of his smugglers and a Jewish naturalist. They are persued but a great storm sinks the man o'war and damages their ship, washing Jamie and Claire overboard. They survive clinging to a piece of wood but have to shed their clothes to prevent drowning. She loses all her instruments and he the photographs of Briana and the mineature portrait of his illegitimate son. They and the wrecked boat with crew are washed up on the shore of Georgia where they will make a new life. It is 1767 and I am sure they will play a part in the American rebellion.

The book wraps things up very neatly, making use of all kinds of seemingly pointless events that occurred earlier. These include a skeleton of a beheaded Caucasian woman found in Haiti in the 20th century under very mysterious circumstances, a Jack-the-Ripper type of harlot killer terrorizing Edinburough, her finding Jamie's grave in Scotland before leaving, etc. There was only one point where the author seems to have slipped. Jamie had become separated from the ship on which they were hunting for Ian, and then the ship was damaged by a storm and had to be beached on Haiti for repairs. Just as they are ready to launch the ship he shows up in the persona of a French commander with a score of soldiers. The soldiers want to steal the ship and cargo but he tricks them into helping launch it and then be imprisoned on board. It is never explained how he got to get the uniform and convince the soldiers that he is an officer. Perhaps this was an error made in over-zealous copy-editing of the very long manuscript. The author often moved the story alonge by skipping the details of a few days and you would wonder how the characters got from point A to point B. It would be explained in passing a few chapters later, except for this one incident. This technique really helped the pacing of the story.

I wonder whether the author will write a fourth book, telling of their life in America. She has yet to explain how they eventually got back to Scotland in order to be buried there, or the origin of the document signed by both which Claire had found while researching for the return trip. Also what about the ancient prophecy that Jamie's line would take a leadership role at some point? Perhaps someone will do another time crossing and Jamie will meet Briana.

Thus while the first two volumes had a few of the trappings of time travel stories, which I as an SF fan concentrated on, they were in reality excellent historical novels of the Rising of '45 viewed from a 20th century perspective. The third was an adventure novel set in the post-rising devistation. However the last third had plenty of fantasy and fantastic speculation for the fan. There was another 20th century woman who used her knowledge to perform magic seeming deeds, and she did engage in real magic too. There was a very exciting seance performed by escaped slaves on Jamaica. And there was very interesting speculation on the nature of the time gates. The normal leap was about 200 yearsThis would explain the stories of fairy mounds where someone entered and woke up 200 years later. There are certain natural spots where these gates occur and the ancient inhabints had marked them with rings of standing stones. Only certain persons have a natural affinity for the gates and it is strongest at certain times like Sandheim. Human sacrifice and the burning of the victims enhance the effect, which is how the "witch" was able to jump 230 years. On return trips an affinity for someone acts something like a magnet to fine tune the jump time. Jewels and burning diamond dust enhance the effect. Finally, some of the gates might be under water and be for far greater lengths of time. Perhaps there is one under Ness Lake and ichtiosaurs occassionally visit. Thus they are glimpsed on rare occassions but are not there when searched for with modern technology.

I have a feeling that Diana Gabaldon developed some of these concepts while working on the second and especially third volumes. I think that like Lewis writing THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, she simply had an idea or scene. Later she came to rationalize its origins the way Lewis did in THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW.

While Sandy and I were in Scotland for Worldcon we spent three days in Inverness ("location at the mouth of the river Ness") We visited the state museum at the site of the Culloden battlefield and found the film and exhibits extremely informative. In one room they had a "great kilt" on open display which you could try on. (The modern kilt is a Victorian invention.) The instructions said you had to spread it on the ground, lay down, and roll into it. None of us tried it. The gift shop had copies of the first Gabaldon book on sale. There was also an unofficial guided tour of the battlefield by a private individual which was regularly announced on the PA system. It was excellent! He wore a period costume and carried (and let me handle) a period battle sword. We completely circled the field as he explained what happened where and what errors of command had been made. The worst was that Bonnie Twit Charlie (thanks, Jim Reynolds!) took the command away from his very successful leader and gave it to a political cronie who made many terrible moves. Still Charles blaned the deposed leader for his defeat to the end of his days, and even late in life would not "forgive" him or grant him an audience.

After the battle the British soldiers went on a killing frenzy, murdering all wounded and captured Scots, something like the American Marines in Mailai in Vietnam. Later this was regarded so disgraceful that no regement which participated in the battle may have a emblem of it on its banner or uniform.

Many victims of the battle were buried in mass graves by clan, but many were unidentified and buried in a separate section. Kilts were no help in identifying clans because the tartans are a romantic invention of the Victorian era. (Here Gabaldon made a minor mistake in the third volume when the British commander recognizes the clan of an contraband piece of tartan.) Most kilts of the period were the same muddy red.

Only a few miles from Culloden are the Clava Cairns, a set of three burial rock piles with a few isolated standing stones. The only way to see them was to hire a taxi but it was worth it. Archaelogists were working the site and the leader of the dig was there explaining the significance of the site to the owner. We were very glad to listen in, and were able to ask a few questions. I asked whether there had ever been a ring of the standing stones there, or anywhere else in the Inverness area. There weren't so it looks like Gabaldon incorporated this site into her story but invented the associated circle.

There is a circle bus route used by local residents which stops, among other places, at Culloden and two castles open to the public. The bus runs every two hours and you can get off and back on at will. The first of the two castles, Cawdor, is very well worth touring. We visited it twice. It has been in the family for over 500 years and was lived in the whole time. The owner still lives there during non-tourist season. He has a wonderful wit as demonstrated by the signs and the guide book which he wrote himself. "The original hangings on this bed descended from a joke to a disgrace and had to be replaced." The many acres of wooded grounds and formal gardens also were very enjoyable. The other castle, Stuard, was not worth the time or admission fee. We passed Frazier Castle but it isn't open to the public. (Sorry, Todd.)



BLACK MANGE: Thanks for including the Lunacon flyer & newsletters. My questions are answered.

QUAINT STUFF. I too love alternate history stories, which is one reason the plot (but not the book) of DRAGONFLY IN AMBER disappointed me. I think I will look for HAMmER AND CROSS but not for TANGIBLE GHOST.

In discussing LEIBOWITZ I assume that the other popular series about dark ages after the fall of an empire which you referred to was Asimov's FOUNDATION. I think LEIBOWITZ was the first novel to win a Hugo award on the basis of a hard cover edition. People then pointed out that the three separate parts in F&SF didn't have thhe impact of the whole. It took, until then, magazine serialization or paperback publication to get enough exposure to win the rocket. The next hardcover book to do so was STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. Because of the perceived difficulty for a few years the Hugo rules were modified to allow continued eligibility on second publication. This made the paperback publication of LORD OF THE RINGS eligible and the feeling was that it would get it. For that reason the concom added the oneshot category of "Best All Time Series" with a minimum of three stories, plainly intended for LotR. I refused to vote for LotR because it wasn't three stories but one published in three volumes. Apparently enough felt that way for FOUNDATION to win the award.

DAGON. It wasn't only war vets who could vote in STARSHIP TROOPERS, but anyone who laid his life on the line for his society. It was mentioned that if a deaf-blind paraplegic wanted to earn the right to vote the state HAD to find a way for him to do it. The military was the easiest but not the only road.

Thanks for finding the copy of Ginzberg's LEGENDS FROM THE BIBLE for me. A Jewish friend had recommended it to me as a good sourse of background on legends used in fantasy.

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