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Park, Paul

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1954-    ) US author, educated in the land of his birth, peripatetic for most of the 1980s, but resident again in the USA at about the time he began publishing sf with Soldiers of Paradise (1987), the first volume of The Starbridge Chronicles, which continues with Sugar Rain (1989) – assembled with the first volume as The Sugar Festival (omni 1989) – and is completed by The Cult of Loving Kindness (1991). It is the sort of sequence whose composition seems possible only in the later years of a genre, when the literary atmosphere is saturated with memories of previous work and a sense of antiquity attaches naturally to some of the sf instruments used in new stories. Religion dominates every page of The Starbridge Chronicles, which is set, aeons hence, in a Dying Earth venue where history endlessly recycles, tied to the return of the generations-long seasons of a Great Year. (Park has denied being influenced by Brian W Aldiss's Helliconia sequence: the idea of a Great Year may be one which comes naturally to mind in the late maturity of a genre.)

As in most dying-Earth tales (see Far Future), metal is now scarce, technologies of radically varying complexity co-exist, human and humanlike species intermingle, and nothing new can happen. The Great-Year cycle owes its existence to the influence of a visiting planet (Park's astronomy is, perhaps intentionally, vague on its exact nature) called Paradise, which the religion dominant during the terrible Winter conceives to be the habitat of those who have not yet died and been sent to Earth. The delineation of this faith in Soldiers of Paradise – a faith marked by bloodiness, erotic complexities, totalitarian control over the predestined lives of the damned, dementedly intense worship of the dog-god Angkhdt, melancholia and a strange rightness – is the major creative achievement of the sequence. In that first novel, as Winter begins to end, the Starbridge clan, which has dominated the great province whose capital is Charn, begins in foreordained ways to panic: Abu Starbridge is martyred, and will become the avatar of a Summer faith; and Thanakar Starbridge, a doctor who blasphemously heals those low in the social order, escapes crumbling Charn with his lover. Sugar Rain deals in gravely slow terms with the meteorological and social phenomena which signal Spring, as well as continuing the Thanakar love story. The Cult of Loving Kindness, set in Summer, depicts the slow rebirth of the cult of Angkhdt. The contemplative and tocsin richness of the sequence demonstrates the continuing imaginative power of latter-day sf.

Coelestis (1993; rev vt Celestis 1995) is a singleton and reads, at first glance, like an extended vignette: a morose administrator from Earth, trapped by time dilation and a failed career on a decrepit colony planet (see Colonization of Other Worlds), falls in love with a wealthy native Alien, who has been cosmetically modifying herself so as to resemble human stock more closely; and she falls in love with him; and the romance ends tragically, as do most romances that mix Exogamy and Imperialism. The quietly savage density of the prose, the inexorability of the telling, and the tragedy of the continuing excruciation at human hands of the complex alien culture, all add again to a demonstration of late twentieth-century sf at its most responsible, and least conciliatory. It is one of the central texts of the last century in which cultures reminiscent of First World empires on Earth are seen (as it were) from a Third World standpoint.

From this point in his career, Park began to focus on novels which, however urgent with a sense of the fantastic, could not properly be called sf. The Gospel of Corax (1996) treats as a legend out of Theosophy some aspects of the missing years of Jesus, and Three Marys (2003) vividly examines the intense period after his death. Some of the tales assembled in If Lions Could Speak; And Other Stories (coll 2002) are sf, though No Traveller Returns (2004 chap) is fantasy, as is the climactic work of his maturity, the Roumania sequence comprising A Princess of Roumania (2005), The Tourmaline (2006), The White Tyger (2007) and The Hidden World (2008). Though the Cosmology here expounded is conveyed with a rigour unusual in fantasy, Earth is in the end revealed to be an ontologically-tenuous Pocket Universe governed by the words of a magic book written down in the real world that Great Roumania rules, a universe conceived, and held together, by magic. Forgotten Realms: The Rose of Sarifal (2012) as by Paulina Claiborne is a Tie to the Dungeons and Dragons: Forgotten Realms universe. Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance: The Parke Family Scrapbook Number IV (January/February 2010 F&SF; exp 2013 chap) is a Near Future tale involving Time Travel to the past, where an Alien visitor is encountered; autobiographical elements are interwoven into this text. The tale serves as part three of All Those Vanished Engines (fixup 2014), which – like Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus (fixup 1972) – could only be misleadingly described as a collection of linked stories. The book as a whole is an intense portrait of more than one Alternate History vision of America, as well as of the author's own complex family. [JC]

see also: Ansible; Gods and Demons; Planetary Romance.

Paul Claiborne Park

born North Adams, Massachusetts: 1 October 1954



The Starbridge Chronicles


individual titles

  • Coelestis (London: HarperCollins, 1993) [hb/Peter Elson]
    • Celestis (New York: Tor, 1995) [rev vt of the above: hb/Peter Elson]
  • The Gospel of Corax (New York: Soho, 1996) [hb/Gerald T Counihan]
  • Forgotten Realms: The Rose of Sarifal (Renton, Washington: Wizards of the Coast/D&G, 2012) as by Paulina Claiborne [tie to the Dungeons and Dragons: Forgotten Realms universe: pb/Aleksi Briclot]
  • All Those Vanished Engines (New York: Tor, 2014) [fixup: containing Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance: The Parke Family Scrapbook Number IV below: hb/Trevillion Images/Base Art Co]

collections and stories


previous versions of this entry

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