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Pavane (Del Rey Impact) Paperback – February 27, 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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"Beacon 23"
A network of beacons allows ships to travel across the Milky Way at beyond the speed of light. The beacons are built to be robust. They never fail. At least, they aren't supposed to. Learn more

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An ever-expanding subgenre of science fiction is devoted to "alternate worlds" or "alternate histories": fiction in which a crucial event goes differently than in the world we know, and history is changed. Keith Roberts's Pavane (1968) is set in a backward 20th century molded by the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I and the triumph of a militantly antiscience Catholic Church. This is a classic alternate history, in the same company as such highly regarded novels as L. Sprague De Camp's seminal Lest Darkness Fall (1941), in which a modern man slips back in time and attempts to avert the Dark Ages; Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee (1953), set after the South wins the U.S. Civil War; and Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (1962), set after the Germans and Japanese win World War II. Lest Darkness Fall and The Man in the High Castle are justly famous; the other two classics, Bring the Jubilee and Pavane, are less well known, and that is a shame.

One reason for Pavane's relative obscurity among American SF readers might be its British setting and author (the Moore and Dick novels are both set in the U.S., and De Camp, Moore, and Dick were all American). Another reason might be that Pavane is a novel created from interrelated but standalone stories (six "measures," or novelettes, and a coda), and the stories are of varying quality. Most are wise, beautifully written, and intensely visualized, especially the opener, "The Lady Margaret," and the closer, "Corfe Gate"; but "Brother John," the story of the monk-artist who witnesses Inquisition tortures and sparks an anti-Church rebellion, is far less detailed, and sometimes even unclear. Another reason for the novel's obscurity may be that some of the stories/chapters have more of a fantasy feel than is typical of more recent alternate history. Also, the nature of the coda's revelations may put off some readers. Nonetheless, Pavane is an intelligent, powerful, and moving work, deserving of a wide readership. --Cynthia Ward

From Publishers Weekly

First published in 1968, these intricately linked short stories (broken into six measures and a coda) constitute a pioneering work of alternative history that has influenced many contemporary SF and fantasy writers. In them a twisted Church of Rome rules a modern world where steam locomotives are the primary mode of transportation, semaphores (telegraph signals moved by hand and read via binoculars) are used for communication and the horrors of the Inquisition continue. Why? Because in 1588 Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated, leading to the Spanish Armada's defeat of England and the subsequent suppression of the Protestant Church. But in this stately "dance" of stories, revolution becomes inevitable when society's natural cultural and scientific progress can no longer be contained. Roberts displays intense respect and love for history as he rewrites it with deft abandon. Three measures in particular stand out as profound today, just as they did when originally published: "The Signaller," which allegorically portrays a young guild member who pays a high price for his dedication to communication; "Brother John," a stunning portrayal of a devoted priest's traumatizing encounter with torture and his resultant reaction; and, finally, "The White Boat," another almost mythological piece about a young girl's obsession with a boat that can take her to freedom. All the other stories are excellent, but these are outstanding examples of why revolutions occur. Impact is doing a great service by reprinting this and other classics.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details

  • Series: Del Rey Impact
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; 1st Del Rey Impact ed edition (February 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345440919
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345440914
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,661,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Keith Roberts' great late '60s Alternate History novel, Pavane, towers over the popular contemporary AH novels, with their tendency toward silly games such as "pick the branch point" or "identify the historical figure in a new role". Pavane is based on a history which branched when Queen Elizabeth died early, and the Spanish Armada succeeded in conquering England, paving the way for continued domination of Europe by the Catholic Church. This book is concerned with metaphysical and moral questions such as the nature of history and the value of technology.
It is composed of a brief prologue, indicating the "branch point", followed by six "measures", novelette- or novella- length sections, beginning in 1968 and carrying the story forward several decades. Each measure is a self-contained story, but there are also links between them, particularly three stories which follow three generations of the Strange family. Finally, a Coda serves to cast the entire story in a somewhat different light, for one thing technically removing it from the strict "Alternate History" subgenre, and also commenting on the central conflicts of the story. The mood overall is rather dark, though flashes of brightness and joy light the pages. Roberts' Catholic dominated England, or Angle Land, is rather backwards technologically, as the Church carefully vets all scientific and technological knowledge, rejecting some advances and delaying others. Thus we have steam-driven road-based "trains", and semaphores instead of telephones, in the late 20th Century. Roberts' detailed descriptions of both sorts of old-fashioned technology are intriguing and rather romantic.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book, a largely unknown gem. I picked it up because the steampunk theme intrigued me. I didn't expect the quality of writing I found here.
Pavane is alternate history (also alternate-timeline, though that's subtle.). Queen Elizabeth was assassinated, and the Catholic Church has maintained tyrannical control of Britain and Europe. Only limited technology is allowed, and Roberts' descriptions of the steam trains and the semaphore signalling stations are beautiful.
This is not a book with a linear plot -- the title gives a clue to its structure. Its parts work together to form a gorgeous whole, but we don't follow one character throughout, which may throw some readers. In addition, elements of worldbuilding exist -- the long description of the semaphores, for example -- which don't directly support the plot. Some readers will be bothered by that, but I wasn't. I found the world, the Signallers' Guild and all the rest, fascinating; the sort of world in which multiple wonderful stories could be told.
Though we see each character for a limited period of time, Roberts keeps them sympathetic and interesting. The whole book has a mythic feel. Though written in '66, I found nothing dated about it. The only thing that might perhaps change from a modern standpoint is that I think Roberts intended the end to be entirely happy. From the perspective of 2002, it's bittersweet, with the beauty of what was lost shadowing the bright modernity with a dark counterpoint.
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In case you were wondering, a "pavane" is a stately dance in elaborate clothing, and this book is contructed like such a dance: six measures and a coda, each one a separate, but tenuously connected, story. It's an alternate history of the world in which Queen Elizabeth I is assassinated in 1588, and the Spanish Armada conquers England. For hundreds of years after that date, the Roman Church rules most of the world with a somewhat iron hand, keeping to a minimum the progress of science and inventions. Throughout the book you wonder about the rationale of the Church leaders for this stance, until everything (sort of) is made clear in the Coda. The writing is quite lyrical at times, and even though a reader might wish for more information about the world the author created, enough is given to enable you to understand what is happening, even if you don't quite know what's going on (if that sounds like a contradiction, it certainly is, but you have to read the book to understand what I mean). If you enjoy "alternate history" works, I think you will like this book very much.
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Format: Paperback
This is simply a beautiful work; another gem from Gollancz' Masterworks series, although one which reads more like fantasy or historical fiction than SF.
The novel is told through a series of six 'Measures', vignettes of story and mood focusing on a different character each time. While each works separately, taken together they form a tapestry linking thematic and narrative concerns - producing, ultimately, a beautifully-conceived and wonderfully effective tale of twentieth century England stifled by an all-powerful, anti-progress Catholic Church.
The alternate England is a triumph of understated, economical world-building (something that many of today's fantasy novels could learn from, perhaps). It is filled with enduring images - the Signallers' towers, the steam engines, the land held in winter's icy grasp - made all the more striking and memorable because we are shown them through the eyes of convincing and distinctive characters.
My only criticism would be of the 'Coda', which feels superfluous, and far too neat. Otherwise, this is a moving story of a transforming world, all the more effective for being incompletely explained.
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