LORD SOHO, by Richard Calder
Earthlight, 2002, Paperback, 378pp, 6.99
ISBN 1-7434-0896-9

See also my reviews of Malignos and Impakto

No doubt about it, Richard Calder is ploughing his own lonely furrow in the sf world. All his works use the same ornate and occasionally impenetrable language to evoke a world that is as skewed and perverse as his characters are decadent and untrustworthy. I personally like it, for the most part, but could fully understand if others did not - not meaning to brag but I managed to wade through some of William Hope Hodgson's extraordinary prose without expiring, and Calder's style is dissimilar mainly in it's utter lack of soppy romance.

Calder's novum in this series is that in the late 21st century "fallout" from the catastrophic demise of a neighbouring parallel universe leaked between the dimensions to wreak havoc upon our own, creating all manner of weird, incredible and unpleasant mutations, and almost entirely destroying civilisation. Lord Soho is called "A Time Opera" presumably because it traces the fortunes of the Pike family across the generations - specifically its first-born sons, all named after Richard Pike, the first of the Lord of Soho who appeared in Calder's excellent earlier novel Malignos - and also since the Grand Guignol elements and mannered language evoke the spectacle and finery of the opera.

This "Time Opera" is a linear series of short stories about the procession of the Pikes: beginning with the third of this unpleasant and disagreeable line, one who promptly loses his title and is cast into the badlands outside a millennia-distant London. The Pikes are then somehow always at the centre of the revolutions, renaissances, crusades, etc, that continue to convulse this strange world.

However, a morbid sense of repetition surrounds all of these, emanating not least from those who oppose the archaeology of the past (or, roughly, our own time) in favour of embracing the "perverse" - those changes wrought by the fallout from the dead universe. The Pikes, whose bloodline was "contaminated" when Richard Pike I married a "perverse" girl, have a unique but always shifting connection to it, alternately cursing and revelling in it, but never quite comprehending its meaning.

If you didn't like Malignos you won't like Lord Soho either. To fully enjoy Lord Soho you need to be in quite an alert frame of mind, since both the language and story don't lend themselves to lazy reading. Fortunately Calder avoids the meandering excesses of Impakto, his previous novel, and gives just enough pale and decadent excess to please.

Buy it from Amazon.co.uk