1588: Queen Elizabeth is felled by an assassin's bullet. Within the week, the Spanish Armada had set sail, and its victory changed the course of history. 1968: England is still dominated by the Church of Rome. There are no telephones, no television, no nuclear power. As Catholicism and the Inquisition tighten their grip, rebellion is growing.
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An ever-expanding subgenre of science fiction is devoted to "alternate worlds" or "alternate histories": fiction in which a crucial event goes differently than in the world we know, and history is changed. Keith Roberts's Pavane (1968) is set in a backward 20th century molded by the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I and the triumph of a militantly antiscience Catholic Church. This is a classic alternate history, in the same company as such highly regarded novels as L. Sprague De Camp's seminal Lest Darkness Fall (1941), in which a modern man slips back in time and attempts to avert the Dark Ages; Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee (1953), set after the South wins the U.S. Civil War; and Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (1962), set after the Germans and Japanese win World War II. Lest Darkness Fall and The Man in the High Castle are justly famous; the other two classics, Bring the Jubilee and Pavane, are less well known, and that is a shame.
One reason for Pavane's relative obscurity among American SF readers might be its British setting and author (the Moore and Dick novels are both set in the U.S., and De Camp, Moore, and Dick were all American). Another reason might be that Pavane is a novel created from interrelated but standalone stories (six "measures," or novelettes, and a coda), and the stories are of varying quality. Most are wise, beautifully written, and intensely visualized, especially the opener, "The Lady Margaret," and the closer, "Corfe Gate"; but "Brother John," the story of the monk-artist who witnesses Inquisition tortures and sparks an anti-Church rebellion, is far less detailed, and sometimes even unclear. Another reason for the novel's obscurity may be that some of the stories/chapters have more of a fantasy feel than is typical of more recent alternate history. Also, the nature of the coda's revelations may put off some readers. Nonetheless, Pavane is an intelligent, powerful, and moving work, deserving of a wide readership. --Cynthia WardFrom the Inside Flap:
In the year 1588, Queen Elizabeth of England was assassinated. As a result, when the Spanish Armada attacked, England went down defeated, changing the history of Europe and the New World as we know it.
Now, in the Twentieth Century, the Church of Rome reigns supreme over a world of pastoral beauty, while technology is held back to the level of the steam locomotive and the primitive radio. Yet science cannot be suppressed forever, and its advocates are becoming more daring as each year passes. A revolution is building—one that will rock the foundations of an empire. An acknowledged classic of alternate history fiction, Pavane will continue to inspire writers and readers for generations . . .
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