and Islanders by Steve Cockayne
List Price: £10.99
Paperback - 288 pages (7 February, 2002)
Orbit; ISBN: 1841491209
Review by John Berlyne
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This is a pleasant if curious debut from new British
fantasy writer Steve Cockayne. In Wanderers and Islanders we have
three separate stories running concurrently. It is difficult at first to
see how these three disparate plot strands relate to each other, but
slowly and delicately, Cockayne weaves them together to produce a novel
that is, at times, both entrancing and baffling, comic and
heart-breaking and ultimately feeling rather than thought
The opening story concerns an upstanding retired military man, one
Victor Lazarus who is employed by a mysterious benefactor to oversee the
renovation of a secluded and dilapidated house. Victor sets about his
task with his characteristic officiousness but slowly becomes aware of
an invisible and malevolent presence intent on thwarting his efforts.
In a country village, we follow the growing pains of Rusty Brown, the
small carrot-topped boy who makes friends with a young gypsy girl. She
tells him a secret that he doesn't remember, but that shapes his life
from then on.
At the Great Palace, the eccentric court magician, Leonardo Pegasus
tinkers with his arcane and mysterious Multiple Empathy Engine but is
finding that his science is being replaced by the power of the
Corporation. Scholarly and rather unworldly, he becomes infatuated with
his young and shapely assistant, Alice, and this serves to hasten his
fall from grace.
There is no faulting Cockayne's story telling. His style is direct and
simple, yet very engaging. He seems as equally comfortable writing
pathos and humor as he is at dealing with myths and violence. Likewise
he proves highly versatile in the tone of each individual story. The
house in which Victor Lazarus delegates feels initially very much like
something out of Lovecraft. The young boy's rites of passage are
beautifully observed. There is a solid connection between the reader and
Rusty and we truly feel for him as he falls in love or experiences great
loss. The social ineptitude of the magician Pegasus is both amusing and
painful to witness. All three stories compliment each other.
Cockayne also manages to evoke an intriguing and very British setting.
It certainly isn't at any time called Britain and there are no
direct references, but these stories occur in a world of green fields,
pipe smoking professors and cups up tea with cake. The Great Palace
becomes modernised and thus strangled by its own bureaucracy (a
reflection by Cockayne perhaps on the state of the British Broadcasting
Corporation where he worked for five years?) It is more Colonel
Blimp than, say, Keith Roberts's politically angled Pavane,
and it certainly gives a nod to William Blake. The title refers to the
central philosophy that runs through this book and Cockayne subtly
explores this central tenet making this very much an allegorical rather
than a simple narrative work. Societies are made up of both wanderers
and islanders; those that travel and explore, and those that remain,
their function to maintain what is known lest it be forgotten.
Individuals within society though, perform these functions according to
their circumstances, making each person both wanderer and islander,
sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both. The concept is a
poetic one, romantic rather than epic, and this gentle novel succeeds in
a market generally dominated by novels in which action is driving force.
Sometimes we hanker for a little reflection in our reading, a time to
ponder the universals, to think of higher things Wanderers and
Islanders gives us an opportunity to do just this.