In All Those Vanished Engines, Paul Park returns to science fiction after a decade spent on the impressive four-volume A Princess of Roumania fantasy, with an extraordinary, intense, compressed SF novel in three parts, each set in its own alternate-history universe. The sections are all rooted in Virginia and the Battle of the Crater, and are also grounded in the real history of the Park family, from differing points of view. They are all gorgeously imaginative and carefully constructed, and reverberate richly with one another.
The first section is set in the aftermath of the Civil War, in a world in which the Queen of the North has negotiated a two-nation settlement. The second, taking place in northwestern Massachusetts, investigates a secret project during World War II, in a time somewhat like the present. The third is set in the near-future United States, with aliens from history.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
PAUL PARK is the author of A Princess of Roumania, and numerous other novels. He published his first novel in the 1980s and swiftly attracted notice as one of the finest authors on the "humanist" wing of American SF. His powerful, densely written narratives of religious and existential crisis on worlds at once exotic and familiar won him comparisons with Gene Wolfe and Brian Aldiss at their best. He lives in North Adams, Massachusetts.
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All Those Vanished Engines
By Paul Park
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Paul Park
All rights reserved.
Maybe the first part of the story would be called The Bracelet, or else Bracelets would turn out to be the better name. Paulina suspected there were at least two, one an imagined version of the other, but she couldn't tell which was which. How could she know? She herself imagined something made of intertwining strands, modeled on the actual bracelet her cousin had brought back from the island of Ceylon, or so he'd claimed. She'd been very young. She hadn't seen it since. Now, sitting by herself in the stifling dark, she examined it in her imperfect memory: braided gold wire and elephant hair. "A mixture of the contrived and the biologic," he had remarked in his high, precise voice, which nevertheless carried with it an ironical inflection, as if he didn't expect to be taken seriously.
Her father's cousin, actually, was what she had been told. Like all the men in her family he was handsome, with a lean, sensitive, clean-shaven face. His yellow hair was longer than necessary, as Gram often said. But the old lady had not yet closed her doors to him despite his eccentricity. She even treated him with grudging respect, because of his heroism in the old days. Not that Paulina cared about that. She distrusted every vestige of "the woah," fought before her birth. Instead she appreciated his kindness, how he sat her on his knee and called her his little lump-cat, and told her stories about strange jungle beasts — once he had brought her the scooped-out shell of a pangolin. His visits were infrequent, parceled out between trips abroad and to a private sanatorium in Richmond. At forty-five, he'd never married. By the time she began to write The Bracelet in her diary, she hadn't seen him in many years. She pictured his name — Colonel Adolphus Claiborne, CSA — engraved in a circle on the golden clasp. "Imagine giving something like that to a child," her grandmother had said, not bothering to lower her voice. "Even to play with." Then promptly she had stolen it, locked it away, forgotten where it was. When Paulina asked her about it later, she had started to cry. "I'm a lost, 'lorn critter," she said. "Everything goes contrariwise for me."
In times of stress, that's what she often misquoted. The old lady seemed at moments to be losing her mind, part of a process of internal rot that Paulina associated with the summer heat. Once she had watched the workmen break apart a termite-infested beam in the basement of the Marshall Street house. Where was the queen in all that whirling debris?
That year Petersburg had not seen a single flurry of snow. Paulina had once read in a book how after a mild winter, summer would bring a succession of strange plagues, because nothing evil or despairing had grabbed its chance to die. Now in March the household had already suffered through a number of ninety-degree days. Bored and sweltering in St. Paul's Church on the last Sunday before Lent, dressed in black as was required of her, she had listened to a lesson from the Book of Numbers:
And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died ...
Then the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
Paulina imagined the old man twisting the brass serpent and fastening its tail between its jaws, just as her cousin the colonel had wrapped the golden bracelet in a helix pattern on her skinny, bone-white arm. But that wasn't the only reason the text spoke to her. She also loathed that light bread, the disgusting buttered milk-toast that Andrew concocted in the mornings according to her grandmother's instructions. So she sympathized with the people of Israel, whose God had punished them for their unhappiness, and then made them worship the punishment and even find comfort in it, as if the punishment itself could be the source of their salvation.
She guessed this brazenness was what made God so special. An ordinary person would have been ashamed to reveal himself like that, to Moses of all people, let alone permit the story to be written down and read aloud in churches, the words themselves like drops of boring venom.
Yet she was desperate for words, any words. Her grandmother had forbidden her to read anything for weeks, ever since Paulina had come back from visiting her childhood nurse in Walnut Hill, a woman who had lost all five of her own babies, and who — old now, past caring — blamed herself: "It was the milk. I poisoned them. I hated that man so much, it turned my milk to gall."
This also sounded biblical — punishment to comfort, comfort to punishment. At home, when Paulina asked if it were possible to kill a child that way, she'd had to tell her grandmother she'd read about it in a book, which she'd found in the William R. McKenney Library — her grandfather's library — around the corner.
"And is it true that Mars has water on it?" Paulina asked. "Water in the middle of that red desert? Some people think the Martians must be gigantic squid-like creatures, but I don't believe it. I believe they're more like us."
Sooner hung for a sheep as a lamb. That same day, the old lady had told Andrew to lock up the glass-fronted cases in the hall. She was afraid of how the books were affecting her granddaughter. Only she said, "infect" — often, now, she made mistakes of that kind.
So deprived, Paulina set out to concoct a story of her own, set in the North, where freezing temperatures would kill the microbes, cool the blood. Before the atlas was taken away, she'd found another Petersburg in New York State, in the Taughkanic Mountains. Across the ridge, in euphonious Massachusetts, she pictured a village of white clapboard houses among the birches and the pines, the smell of pine sap like a disinfectant. She pictured something far in the future, eighty, ninety years, beyond malice and superstition and the clutch of memory. It would be a glorious age of new machines, of steam engines and airships. You'd be able to see for yourself what Martians looked like.
Gram had already told Andrew to shut the house in the mid-morning, pull down the blinds. Because like many people she prescribed to others the remedies for her own sickness, late in the afternoon she sent Paulina to her room to lie down in the dark. Relaxation had been known to moderate some types of nervousness, others not. Andrew, in his kindness, brought her pen and ink. "Yes, miss," he said, "you sure need something. You'll grow wild in there, cooped up."
Her diary was a small book with marbleized covers. This was the third episode of The Bracelet so far. She wrote the false date of the future solstice (December 21, 1967), when Mars might possibly hang even closer in the sky. She blotted the ink, paused, and then continued in a rush, her pen squeaking on the page:
It snowd again during the nite, more sno than even the old men had ever seen. With what had faln the past month, the sno was ovr the windows in my room and the morning sun pusht thru it making prisms in the glass. That winter the streets were almost tunls, cleard dayly by steam-powrd pangolins becaus the sides tended to colaps. When there was scool I walkt on duk-bords ovr the ice. I had not gone to scool that week.
Sitting up in bed in the darkened room, using her dinner tray as a desk, she could scarcely see the mispelled words:
My mother was making bacon. I coud smel it. For a few hours evrything was going to be all rite, evn tho the enemy was al around the town. They had brot their machines down thru the woods. We spoke via the electrik tube and mother cald me down, first telling me to wake my sister in the next room. But Elly was alredy awake and I coud hear her laffing to herself. I was afraid of disturbing her and braking her mood but she shoud eat somthing, I thot. She had probably bin up since befor dawn working on her books if you coud call them that: leavs of papr cut into smalr squares and then sown together.
I went into the upstairs hal and nokt on her dor but there was no respons of cors. I did not want to disturb her. She was huncht ovr on her bed when I went in. The lite made patrns on the rug. She was working carefully and efishently but had alredy discarded sevrl finisht books.
I pikt one up from the flor. "Brekfast is redy," I said, watching the bracelet slide up and down her rist. The lite pikt out the golden hair along her arm.
She leaned over her tray. She enjoyed writing in first person, inside the mind of a boy whom she called "Matthew." As she wrote, she invented or borrowed the phonetic spelling and simple constructions of the future, when (she imagined) writing might finally serve to communicate thought rather than reinforce social distinctions and bedevil children. But would the world ever really change so much? There also she fumbled in the dark.
In addition, she thought this way of writing might function as a simple code in case her grandmother decided to snoop. The old lady was easy to confuse. "You think it is the same bracelet," Paulina wrote in a new paragraph, "but your rong. They dont evn look the same."
Dissatisfied, she chewed the end of her pen for a moment before crossing out those last two sentences. Then she continued:
Elly was 7. Her memory was perfect. She new evry prime number to 100,000.
On each page she had drawn 2 piktures with a carefl line between them. But the drawings themselves were sloppy and quik, the adventurs of a stik-figure vershun of herself in a landscape of enormous numbrs. In this one, Elly stood at the botm of a clif, preparing to clime up or else to hang a rope-swing from the top. She had grapld hold of the horizontl spike in the midl of a 3, a smalr number between 2 elongated digits. The clif face was 4467313569430909. Above it dark clouds of smalr numbrs hid the sun.
Somtimes I had herd my father discussing these numbrs over the speaking tube with a sientist from Princeton. "Your rong," I'd herd him say. "They ar arangd in desending ordr akording to the faktrs of 2."
She pickt up her dol, a 19th century antique that had belongd to father, musty and evl lookng with a gutta-percha hed. She raised her arm and the bracelet slid away from her rist, winking in the sunlite. It was a valubl pees from our mother's famly. Now I coud see the first of the 4 niello plates, linkt together by simpl hinges. The insised patrn was clearest here. Later it woud be re-etched and redoubld, the blank places fild in.
The movement drew my atenshun to my sisters face, which until that moment had bin hidn in her golden hair. She was grimasing, "crying silently," as she cald it, which ment it was a bad day, a "daynothing" or perhaps evn a "daybump" akording to her complikated lexikon. 4 clouds and 0 dors, meaning no filtr or barier between her and any source of hapines.
"Woud you like som brekfast?" I askt.
"Mother woud like you to com down."
"No." She was studying the bracelet on her rist as if it ment somthing. Somtimes I imagind the hole world was a book to her, somthing to be red, evry detail loaded with signifikans. Of cors she had no time for ordinary books, evn ones she had made herself.
"All rite," I said. "I'l bring you somthing on a tray."
Latr, downstairs, I made my report. "She woudnt com. She was looking at her bracelet."
Mother, a shy womn with a mole on her nose, sat down acros from me. "Its the only prety thing that evr came out of my grandmother's house. My cosn used to bounse me on his knee and call me his litl lump-cat.
Evryone thot he was exentrik but he was always kind to me. He was an old man, the only Confederate veteran I remember. Long white hair."
Becos her parents life was so disorganized after her fathers court-marshal, she had had to liv with her mothers mother in Petersburg. This was during the 1920s and early 1930s. "Gram had an unlucky combinashun of senility and stubornes," she said. "I usd to help her plant flowrs on Jefferson Davis's birthday — she was president of the Virginia UDC. Lisning to her, you nevr woud hav guest the South had lost the war. She talkt about 'the caus' but nevr told you what it was. But it sure wasnt anything about slavery. She usd to talk about the Batl of the Crater — weve got our own siege now. Her mother was a Confederate spy."
Becos the windows were snowd in, the kitchen was dark, lit only with electrik candls. Fire crackld on the harth. "She had platinum spectakls and her hair was puld back from her face, tite enuf to smooth out the lines. She nevr smiled becaus of her fals teeth. She usd to balans her chekbook with one hand while she was driving the 'motorcar'— it drove me crazy. She said I was the same as her becos I had her name — Clara Justine. 'Your a lost, lorn critter, same as me,'" my mother quoted in a quavring voice.
Normaly she was careful to expunj all traces of the South from the way she spoke: "But I usd to tel myself I was like the ugly duckling or els a chanjling from another famly. It terified me to think I mite be like her, part of her blood. Insted I was always a lost princess from a foren country, Serbia, or East Rumelia, or somplace like that in the Balkans, or els even somplace more majical, somplace underground — you no, Goblinland, tho Rumelia mite have been Mars as far as I knu.
She pausd. "Ellys like a chanjling now, of cours. My God it was hot. And dark. In the sumr she usd to tel Andrew to close up the house. He'd bring me the horible milk-toast around ten — I thot evrything she did was to spite me. The solipsism of youth. At eleven he'd rol the blinds down to the floor and close the curtans."
"Who was Andrew?"
She shrugd. "Evryone had servnts in those days. It seems stupid to say, but I thot he was my friend."
We sat on stools at the round tabl with the lion feet, pickng at the bacon and fryd bred. Father had already left the hous. My older sister was alredy gon, carying bukets of watr to the ice baricades. I was on the later shift sins I was only 14. My mother had an exemshn becos of Elinor, tho that was likely to chanje.
Now she got up to tend the electrik stove, and she was pakng som food into a basket. She rapped som warm bred in a towl. "My grate-grandmother was arestd with a basket of food for her brother in the Washington Artillery. But then when they serchd her, they found dispaches in her underpants. She dyed of tuberculosis, contracted in prison. Ive made som sandwichs, but I'm not sending any letrs. You take these to your sister. Shes on the dyk south of Weston Field where they play that game with the clubs and flags and the litl white bals. Then you come strate home. Its not safe to lingr."
I puld on my rubr boots and butnd my wool coat with the woodn butns. My mother ajustd my wool cap and rapped a scarf around my mouth, like I was a litl boy. Then she pushd me out the door into the sno, into the cleft Father had cut to the kerb that he folowd to the largr kasm down the midl of Hoxey Street. Underfoot the ice was stird and broken by the horses hooves. The basket in my mitnd hands, I strugld down the street, the sno up to my shoulders in som places. It was a cloudles morning and the sun beat down. I past som of the men from the brik colej bildings in their make-shift uniforms, marching with their automatik muskets and electrik shovls — my fathers students, relesed for the durashun. For a few months there had been lektures in the evenings. But evryone was too tired now.
At the pond at the botm of Spring Street the men were cutting bloks of ice and I herd the chunk of the dynamo. Professor Rosnhime was there with his bushy beard that always lookt fake. Som of the boys had com to watch, and there I saw my frend. She waved and then came running. "Where are you going?"
Excerpted from All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park. Copyright © 2014 Paul Park. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Bracelets,
2. The First Hinge,
3. The Second Hinge,
4. The Third Hinge,
5. The Gold Cartouche,
Part Two: Three Visits to a Nursing Home,
1. Right Now,
2. The Limit of His Hearing,
3. The Ghost in the Airstream,
Part Three: Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance,
2. The Glass House,
3. The Battle of the Crater,
4. A UFO in Preston,
5. A Detour,
6. Andromeda Yoo,
7. Second Life,
8. In Quantico,
9. Ember Days,
Also by Paul Park,
About the Author,