Recently, it has come to my attention that many speculative fiction readers are unaware of the marvelous prose stylings of Rikki Ducornet. I know I’ve mentioned this fabulous author a couple times on this blog, and while out and about. I know her work is beginning to appear in anthologies edited by “genre” editors, like Jeff VanderMeer’s CheekyFrawg eBook Imprint. But, for many in genre circles, she’s an unknown.
How unfortunate for us.
Phosphor in Dreamland is a book about an artist and inventor. It is also a book about the human relationship to the world of the sublime. It is also a book about the extinction of the native people and cultures facing the brunt of colonialist arrogance. It is also a book about beautiful imagery, and grotesque characters behaving badly and strangely.
There’s a bird in this book. This should come as no surprise on the island of Birdland where this book is set. However, what makes this island a “Birdland” is that there is a native bird, reminiscent of the dodo, but one famous for how human it seems when it is begging for its life. This peaceful bird rummages for shellfish and lives in harmony with its native surroundings. Humans have, even before the arrival of colonial expansion, killed the bird for its beak alone. The hunted creature begs and begs, and all for nothing. The colonial settlers does not help the extinct bird. The last of the Auk is killed in this book, and it is a harrowing thing to read.
I mention grotesque. the main thrust of the narrative is the discovery of a kind of photography by a young artist, poet, and inventor — the Phosphor of the title — who is taken in by a local rich man that sees in this invention an opportunity to own the whole island, photograph everything in it, and make images of beauty, lust, and possession of everything around him. How colonial of him, no? The artist and dreamer is appropriated by this wealthy maniac and led on an expedition into the wild heart of the island, with a spiritual adviser in tow that is so lost in his hideous pontifications that it is all that holds his soul and skin together. There’s more, of course.
I read this book a few weeks ago. I have considered many things to say about it here. I have landed upon this: What is magical is often taken for granted, and what is factual is often misrepresented as magical, and what is beautiful is often taken as a sign of human weakness and frailty, and what is a human failing is often taken as a sign of an individual’s strength or prowess. The best thing we can do about all of this is to make love.