IMPAKTO, by Richard Calder
Earthlight, 2001, Paperback, 442pp, 6.99
ISBN 0-7434-0895-0

See also my reviews of Malignos and Lord Soho

Raul Riviera is returning by aeroplane to his home in the Philippines when the man next to him reveals that he not only survived his own abortion (the technical term for which is an 'impakto'), but that he also harbours demons and most of his body is mechanical. This man then proceeds to possess everyone on board the plane and crash it into the mountains, but not before transforming himself into a sickly, protective cocoon for Riviera.

Riviera, the only survivor of the crash, is contacted upon awakening by the inhabitants of the other-dimensional demon city of Ur. One of them, the beautiful artificer Maximillia, grafts a 'bionic' claw in place of his right hand and enhances his body in various other, deadly ways so that he can cross over to Ur and revitalise it by aiding other revolutionary demons there in killing the ancient King and Queen - this so that the revolutionaries can then defend the city against a newly-created, retroactively evangelical and genuinely Old Testament God, who is set to convert everyone, everywhere, to His way (Catholicism, apparently), by launching an invasion force towards the new Heaven in a gigantic spaceship (the design of which owes no small debt to those of the Golden Age of sf) that has been buried in the royal palace of Ur since time immemorial.

The first few chapters of this story first appeared as a short story in Interzone in December 1999. Reading Impakto is a little like reading William Hope-Hodgson, HP Lovecraft or even William Blake, so relentlessly, crazily, just-possibly-brilliant can it seem. Like all of Calder's previous work the language is as thick and sometimes impenetrable as the densest, most dangerous jungle (with a very good dictionary serving as the sharp machete), and he never ever uses a single, one-syllable word when an entire page of twisted, tangled verbiage can do the job.

The problem is that the plot, a roller coaster of potentially Milton-esque proportions, doesn't really warrant or truly benefit from such semantic lianas. It's (as my own inadequate synopsis shows) a long mad ramble through some potentially very interesting territory, but the potential is unfortunately stifled by the over-proliferation of similes and a surfeit of archaic terms. This style worked splendidly in previous works like Malignos, precisely because they were set in a milieu that was beautifully evoked through the decadent and excessive language.

Impakto, however, is done no service by this over-elaboration, and the eccentric plot and any deeper meaning is lost, sadly, somewhere amidst the corpulent folds of the language.