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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Spirits in the Wires

Reviewed: July 6, 2007
By: Charles de Lint
Publisher: TOR Books
448 pages, $21.95

Charles de Lint writes about the intersections between the world as it is, what one of his characters likes to call “consensual reality”, and the world as it might be/may have been/probably was once upon a time.

Christy Riddell writes and collects fantasy stories about strange events, things that shouldn’t have happened but did, about mixtures of myth, mystery and the modern world that  seem impossible but also seem to happen for those people who can see them.

Christy lives in de Lint’s generically North American city of Newford, which used to resemble Ottawa a lot more than it seem to now. In fact, there’s one scene in this book that is right out of the Eaton’s Centre in Toronto - at least the swans are - so I think de Lint’s patchwork metropolis is made of of bits and pieces that he likes.

That’s fine with me. Newford is a fantastic place to visit, but the walls between the worlds are so thin there that it would scare me to live in the town. You never know who you might meet or where they might have come from.

While this story is told from at least half a dozen different viewpoints and voices, including Christy’s, I’d have to name Christiana Tree and Saskia Madding as the central characters. Neither of them are exactly human and the first two sections of the book “First Meeting” and “How we were Born” explains as much of that as can be explained as well as setting up the intersection of mythical and digital realities that is certainly implied in the title.

Christiana is a living Jungian archetype, a person who originated in all the traits that Christy didn’t like about himself when he was seven years old. She’s his shadow, and she lives in both our world and the Borderland between us and Faerie. She’s not his opposite and she’s not evil, but she’s female to his male, impetuous to his deliberateness, etc.

Saskia appeared in our world one day with a full set of memories and a complete background, but a clear realization that she hadn’t actually lived any of this. As far as she can figure, she is a manifestation of the world wide web, which created and equipped her to live in the consensual world for reasons of its own. When she was “new” she was like a living search engine in many ways, full of knowledge but with no experience. That has faded over the years.

She is Christy’s lover, which means that he is connected to the central characters in the book is a very personal way.

The webmind that created Saskia is called the Wordwood, and it was created by a group of literature lovers who decided to outdo Project Guggenheim and put a lot of material online. At some point the site achieved sentience and took control of itself, governing its own interaction with the non-digital world. It is still a thing of zeroes and ones, however, and when a book reviewer who was once slighted by Saskia and some of the other in her circle blackmails a programmer into hacking a virus into the website, it crashes and becomes very outrŽ, physically downloading everyone who was logged on to it at the time is went down. They vanished from our world.

Along with several other people, Christy figures out what must have happened to the thousands of abductees and sets out to rescue them, as well as Saskia and Christiana, who have been “taken” as well. Along the way they pick up Aaron, the journalist who unwittingly caused this disaster, and a black guitarist named Robert who is hiding from the Legba spirit who helped make him such a fine blues musician.

There are seldom any actual villains in a de Lint novel, and the thoroughly nasty Aaron, who is transformed by his love for a street urchin named Suzi (you’ll like her story), finds redemption while assisting his former enemies in their quest to save the friends of the Wordwood.

As always, I came away from a de Lint  novel wondering if I shouldn’t look deeper in the shadows, and whether I should be inspired or struck dumb by what I might find there. But then, it’s all just a story. Right?

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