PARK, Paul (Claiborne)


PARK, Paul (Claiborne)
(1954-)
   US writer, 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 comprises also Sugar Rain (1989) -assembled with the first volume as The Sugar Festival (omni 1991) - and is completed with 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, eons hence, in a dying-Earth venuewhere history endlessly recycles, tied to the return of the generations-long seasons of a Great Year. (PP 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 (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 (PP'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 - with its bloodiness, its erotic complexities, its totalitarian control over the predestined lives of the damned, its worship of the dog-god Angkhdt, its melancholia and its 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 to panic in foreordained ways; 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 a crumbling Charn with his lover. Sugar Rain deals in gravely slow terms with themeteorological 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 contemplativeand tocsin richness of the sequence demonstrates the continuing imaginative power of latter-day sf.Coelestis (1993 UK; rev vt Celestis 1995 US) is a singleton and reads, at first glance, like an extendedvignette: a morose administrator from Earth, trapped by time dilation and a failed career on a decrepit colony planet, 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 seemed inevitable from the start. But the quietly savage density of the prose, the inexorability of the telling, and the more profound tragedy of the continuing destruction at human hands of the complex alien culture, all add again to a demonstration of late 20th century sf at its most responsible, and least conciliatory.
   JC

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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