Thursday, December 22, 2022

Rosen, Cascade (2022)

Rachel A. Rosen, Cascade: The Sleep of Reason Book 1. Bumblepuppy Press, 2022. Pp. 410. ISBN 978-1-7770944-5-4. $19.95.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Rachel Rosen’s Cascade is the first book of a trilogy, The Sleep of Reason, alluding to Goya’s etching of the same title, in which a young man is sleeping on his desk and swarms of bats, owls, and other denizens of the dark flock towards him—or is it from his dreaming brain? The titular Cascade refers to the major cataclysmic shift that has occurred an indefinite period before the novel’s start, resulting in weird occurrences, like cracks appearing in the surface of the earth, people being transformed into demons, the sprouting of “shriekgrass” to replace edible crops, and the general appearance of magic. As one major character, a wizard, puts it, the question is not what can we do to preserve our way of life, but what does magic want?

Not all are infected by magic in their personal lives; a new category of human is the MAI, or Magic-Affected Individual. One of the most prominent of the MAI is Ian Mallory, an aging gay man initially from Newfoundland, who speaks with an accent apparently characteristic of that northern maritime province and is also used to persecution: “I grew up a skinny gay ginger in a fishing village in Newfoundland. I know how to take a fuckin’ beating, okay?” For most of the early chapters of the novel, Mallory is hired as the court prognosticator for the Prime Minister of The Party, and as such is ultimately a target of The Opposition. This is in Canada, so I am not completely sure of the governmental structure, and when an individual is called a Senator, I must assume an equivalence to the US version, but with some doubt.

The Cascade cataclysm has apparently knocked the United States out of its position of power and dominance, although the SVAR—an acronym for the Silicon Valley Autonomous Region—has sent representatives to negotiate with the Canadian government. The novel constantly uses such acronyms for imaginary (in our world) organizations, and I had to underline them and note the page numbers for later reference. I would love to see a glossary in the next iteration of this novel, and its sequels. SVAR, MAI, the DRM (I still don’t know what that one is), the magically amped-up NDA, etc. Mixed in with such acronyms are more conventional fantasy terms, like geas, which I assume fantasy readers will have no difficulty understanding (an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on someone).

There is a large community of characters that I had difficulty identifying at first, though the plot moved so quickly that I came to recognize the major characters ultimately—most of them before they died or were thrown out of power. Mallory has a distinctive edge to his character as well as vocabulary; his intern, Sujay Krishnamurthy, is another MAI who specializes in throwing a glamor—or is it glamour?—on people, which is why Mallory keeps her as a receptionist and assistant: she constantly keeps him in an appearance of health, looking rosier than his increasingly gray skin. She seems to be having a minor role for much of the novel, until it becomes apparent that the elder wizard has been mentoring her. She will undoubtedly play a much more major role in the second book.

One of the characters uses a bathysphere to go underwater and investigate the sudden appearance of a chasm; the vehicle presents an opportunity for naming: “officially…the Nemo” after Jules Verne’s antisocial submarine commander, while the team “had christened it the Love Craft,” which I naively thought was a reference to TV’s Love Boat, but then I slapped my forehead: (H.P.) Lovecraft, of course!—and, in fact, they encounter an enormous Cthulhu-like monster, or the corpse of one, on their first expedition. Besides the driver and the team’s leader, there is a young psychic girl whose function is to play an eerie melody on a plastic recorder: her “songs were simple, reed-thin and tinny, the broken cry of a dying loon… Woven through the melody was pain too deep to belong to a nine-year-old child.” I’m not sure what function this live music plays in the bathysphere’s operation, but this is one of the many “magitech” details that characterize this alternate post-cataclysmic Canada.

The fact that the novel was written by a Canadian and set in a future Canada has me, as a United States-born and bred reader, constantly off-kilter. There are references that I have collected in my self-annotated copy. For example, “It was an orderly, very Canadian kind of apocalypse.” I’m not sure exactly what this means, but I will accept it. Similarly, I will be sending this quote to a friend who lives in B.C.: “There had been a semi-serious motion before City Council last year to give up on flood mitigation altogether and turn downtown Vancouver into the Venice of the North, navigated by gondolas and kayaks.” How many of these references are in-jokes for those who know certain parts of Canada, or simply add detail and local color to the fantastic narrative?

The political wrangling between the two parties, one of which seems more accepting of magic and the other more inclined to prohibit it, is complicated by emotional and magical dimensions, influencing even form letters and resumé writing: “D’you think ‘communion with eldritch powers’ should go before or after ‘proficiency with Microsoft Excel?’” However, by this part of the novel, where Sujay the intern is preparing for a job search after her party has been knocked from power, the reader has come to, if not identify, at least sympathize with the plights of the various characters, and feel a sense of unexpected relief when a character reappears after an evident demise. I am looking forward to, though not, like Ian Mallory, prognosticating about, the next volume.

No comments: