Pavane by Keith Roberts paints a picture of an alternative western world where Elizabeth I was assassinated in1588, the Spanish Armada won, the Protestant Reformation in Europe was defeated, the New World didn’t gain its independence, and the Catholic Church Militant holds sway.
The resulting world is technologically backwards in most respects (no cars but steam driven road trains; no phones but semaphore towers etc.), superstition is rife and the Inquisition (now known as the Court of Spiritual Welfare) continues to put people to the question. Oh and the old ones, in the person of Fairy, are still lurking around, watching and occasionally assisting.
This is less a novel than a series of linked stories which begin in 1968 (the year the book was published). I was immediately attracted by the basic premise (those of you who read this blog regularly will know that sixteenth century history is one of my great loves) and I found the book absolutely fascinating – a complete world which is internally logical. All of the stories are good, my favourite being Corfe Gate where a young woman leads a rebellion against the Church in south-west England, which is where the stories are mainly set.
I enjoyed this very much, although it does throw up a question for me about what we really mean by sci-fi, something which I occasionally find puzzling. This book has a number of fantasy elements, but I suppose it falls into the sci-fi genre because of the alternative history aspect.
The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction describes Pavane as “moody, eloquent, elegiac and thoroughly convincing” and I think its well worth a read.