A love story serves as backdrop for The Map of the Sky when New York socialite Emma Harlow agrees to marry millionaire Montgomery Gilmore, but only if he accepts her audacious challenge: to reproduce the extraterrestrial invasion featured in Wells’s War of the Worlds. What follows are three brilliantly interconnected plots to create a breathtaking tale of time travel and mystery, replete with cameos by a young Edgar Allan Poe, and Captain Shackleton and Charles Winslow from The Map of Time.
I finally got to read the second novel of the Victorian trilogy by Félix J. Palma. If you have been following this blog, by now you know that I love Palma's fiction: I've reviewed The Map of Time and an untranslated short story collection, The Private Matters, and plan on reading and reviewing his backlist.
I had high expectations regarding this book. I really, really loved The Map of Time, and wanted to like the sequel just as much. Alas, although I really liked it, I thought it wasn't as good. It starts slowly. With that, I mean that the first hundred pages are static plot-wise, the characters aren't written to be liked, and I had a hard time getting into the novel. But past that initial obstacle, we find again Félix Palma's characteristic quirky voice and brisk pace, and the rest of the novel is really worth that initial effort. It is, however, much darker and grimmer than The Map of Time. Here's the book trailer (in Spanish, but it is still beautiful and easy to understand without words):
The Map of the Sky is a novel in three acts. The first one is an expedition to the South Pole organized to find evidence for John Symmes' Hollow Earth theory. This expedition did exist, as well as Symmes and Reynolds, and it did inspire Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, but Palma took some literary license with it. Once they arrive to Antarctica, the story shifts from a Shackleton exploration to a classic sci-fi story, Who Goes There?, written by John W. Campbell and adapted to the screen as The Thing (or The Thing from Outer Space). Palma has stated that he wanted to give homage to the early sci-fi genre, so this first novella is his playful way of honoring the short story and/or the film(s). There are even shared characters, if you want to play a game of spot the seven differences. The best about this part is the double-ending. I thought it was an amusing oddity until the very end of the novel, when I could finally appreciate what Palma had done with linearity - it really took me by surprise.
The second novella is a retelling of The War of the Worlds with a little twist. If you have read H.G. Well's novel, there is little there to surprise you, but it will be a fun ride. In this case, Wells turns out to be the main character of his own story, and he is accompanied by a really special police officer, Clayton. During this adventure, Wells get entangled with a plucky young lady from the States, Emma Harlow, and her unlikely suitor, Montgomery Gilmore. Mr. Gilmore has decided he will do anything to win Miss Harlow's heart, be it replicating a Martian invasion or creating a new world for her, since she has decided she can only love a man as great as her great-grandfather, Richard Adams Locke, who masterminded the Great Moon Hoax. Apparently, Félix Palma wanted to give homage to Poe, as well as Wells, since the Great Moon Hoax was what probably inspired Poe to write The Balloon Hoax and The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall. I don't want to spoil this for you, but it isn't exactly an uplifting tale, and yet I could find humor in it.
In the third and last section we encounter characters from The Map of Time, like Captain Shackleton or Charles Winslow. In fact, it is the latter's diary. He recounts his life since the arrival of the Martian cylinders, and how our little gang goes underground to try to blow up the Martian leader. I am convinced this novella is an homage to another science fiction story, but I can't exactly pinpoint which one. The ending is along the lines of what I expected it to be, but Palma has introduced some elements that made me do a double take anyway. Not enough to outdo The Map of Time, but good enough to make me eager for the third book of the Victorian Trilogy.