Review: Fain The Sorcerer / Author: Steve Aylett / Publisher: Scan Garden Press / Release Date: Out Now
By the time I'd finished Fain the Sorcerer I was rather annoyed with myself. The fact that Steve Aylett's work has been out there for something like 18 years and this is the first of his books I've ever read makes me an idiot. Nonetheless, I implore you to heed this idiot’s words.
A funny, poetic, finely crafted read that is both affecting and tremendous fun, Fain is the tale of a Sorcerer who impulsively strangles a Jester in the King's Court and immediately goes on the run, whereupon he stumbles across an old fool in a cave who grants him three wishes. One of those wishes invokes the ability to journey into the past and when Fain travels back in time to be granted yet more wishes, we are propelled breathlessly though an adventure in which Fain's good intentions, proliferating powers, and constant tinkering with the same, conspire to produce more time paradoxes than you can shake a TARDIS at.
However, in case you were thinking that this all sounds a bit Terry Pratchett let me disabuse you of that notion. Aylett’s book is a fantasy (of sorts) but actually has more in common with the post-modernist nightmare of Hell and self-delusion that is Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, only with that novel's dizzying intensity leavened by some wonderful laugh out loud humour. (It also includes some entertainingly gloopy scenes of horror and damnation, and the scene where errant sorcerers are imprisoned inside a sphere, doomed to stand in a soup that conceals the pale, rotting flesh that abounds beneath its surface, may put you off chicken broth for life).
At its best though, Fain is littered with some delightfully poignant observations on human nature, such as the scene where the Sorcerer Drake shows Fain a globe of another world, one where “gutless wonders” move upon its surface and dissipate at his touch. “These are vagues” he explains, “thoughts to do large things but without real intent. Something more than daydreams but far less than acted plans. Look how beautiful these kinds of cities are. A shame.”
On the negative side? It’s much too short.
Ultimately, although Aylett’s humour may evoke echoes of Monty Python, Spike Milligan, and Nacho Vigalondo’s movie Time Crimes, his is fundamentally one of the most unique and original voices I’ve read in SF/ Fantasy fiction in a long time. That I’ve only recently come to this realisation is, as Alan Moore says in his foreword, my loss. So I’m taking this as my opportunity to make amends. I’d urge anyone who is guilty of a similar oversight to do the same.