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A Not So Trimphant Ending to The Atlan Saga: Some Summer Lands by Jane Gaskell

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017 | Posted by Tony Den

Orbit Futura Edition

Orbit Futura Edition

“The Fourth Book in the Hitch-Hiker Trilogy” proclaimed the cover blurb on the Pan version of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams. And many smiled and thought this was very clever and funny. The fourth book in a trilogy wasn’t actually a new idea, even back in the 1984. Now a fifth book in a trilogy is a little more unusual, and indeed when one appeared (Mostly Harmless, in 1992) the updated blurb proclaimed: “The Fifth Book in the Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhikers Trilogy”.

What has Douglas Adams got to do with Jane Gaskell?

Well, she did the same thing. She wrote a pretty good trilogy – albeit one which some publishers stretched into four books – and then, by all appearances, decided to tack on another volume some years later. This is of course my opinion, but if you’ll indulge me a bit you will see why I reached that conclusion.

Now there are plenty of authors who have tacked books on to a successful trilogy — and some who have even added a whole follow up series. To be fair to Mr Adams, his additional books were pretty good, though not up to the standard of the original series. To me, they still felt like they were more of an afterthought than a specifically planned and executed conclusion.

Some Summer Lands also does not quite fit. Sadly, that is not the only issue. I cannot in honesty give this book the same recommendation I gave to the other books in the Atlan Saga, which were pretty good, with occasional flashes of brilliance. Some Summer Lands was published in 1977, roughly ten years after The City. My Orbit Futura edition weighed in at 360 pages split into three parts of varying length.

Some Summer Lands is not pretty good. Dismally disjointed, maybe. Rambling, definitely. Misguided, certainly. One of the few positives I had from the experience was that it helped me realize why I had taken on re-reading the series with such trepidation. The first three (or four) books surprised me, as I did not have fond memories of the series when I read it in my youth.

Anyone who has read my earlier reviews may remember me marveling at certain aspects and wondering why I had disliked them as a teenager. Now I know why! It’s this last book which casts a dark shadow.

Seka’s Story

Seka is the daughter of Cija by the General Zerd and is the primary character in Some Summer Lands. The book picks up a month or so after The City left off, with Cija and Seka ensconced in the palace of The Dictatress, Cija’s mother. We soon discover that this book, also written in the first person, is from the point of view of the mute but observant Seka, whose father, has billeted his army in The Dictatress’ city.

Pocket Books (Boris Vallejo)

Pocket Books (Boris Vallejo)

St Martins Press

St Martins Press

DAW (James Gurney)

DAW (James Gurney)

Hodder & Stoughton

Hodder & Stoughton (Bob Fowke)

The story progress swiftly with Cija, pregnant with the offspring of her Ape Man lover Ungg, once again having her cozy happiness shattered as events unfold. We have seen this before. Pretty soon Cija is abducted by her half-brother Smahil whose sick infatuation with her has become a tangible threat.

The story moves relatively fast from that point. Smahil forces Cija to have an abortion, witnessed by Seka. Shortly thereafter, after making an escape, the mother and daughter find their way back to the palace only to face more threats and political skulduggery that force them to join Zerd’s army as it heads north to conquer the lands of its once king.

This event takes the reader into the most enjoyable part of the story, with a bit of campaigning, some marvelous scenery and lovely ideas such as a floating city on a lake that can move, like a gigantic raft, and a city built over a lake, where all the floors and passages are waterways. {Side note: One wonders if China Meiville, who is a bit of a Gaskell fan, may have been influenced by this concept in some way when he wrote The Scar}.

Thereafter we start seeing a repeat of Cija going from good luck to bad. At times one has to wonder if this is really a separate book, or just a rehash of concepts from Atlan that didn’t make that volume. We discover the forced abortion was not successful and Cija soon gives birth to a premature apeling whom she names Despair. Sick, infected and accompanied only by Seka, they are found by a noble from Sedili’s (Zerd’s first wife’s) army and carried away, only to find themselves in a village of crippling backwardness and poverty. This part of the book is also crippling for the reader as it rambles from one pointless scene to the next and had me setting the book aside for long periods, only to pick it up again and plough on just so I could bring you, dear reader, this retro review.

Times finally change and once again Cija and Seka are on the move, this time finding their way into Northstrong, the capital of the northern king, also reminiscent of the Southern City in The Serpent and portions of Atlan. Finally, after Zerd conquers Northstrong, Cija, reunited with one of the Atlantean Ancients who befriended her in The Serpent, makes her way back to Atlan.

Insofar as the last portion of the book goes, I cannot tell if Ms Gaskell was trying to be whimsical, depicting a land of the fey / Midsummers’ Night Dream type setting, or if she had maybe just lost the thread of the story in a bit of psychedelic plotting that was popular in the era. Suffice to say I was really happy to get to the end, much like an unprepared runner is happy to cross the finish line of a marathon, in the dark once most of the crowd has gone home. I was exhausted and disappointed.

What Went Wrong?

I am sure some of the other Black Gate contributors could put a finger on this more precisely than me, but here goes.

  • Inappropriate sexuality. Please, I am no prude, but Seka is way young and the adventures she gets up to… Well let me say if a man wrote in the same vein these days the publisher he submitted to would be speed dialing child protection. I don’t know why this was deemed necessary. Certainly for some gritty realism, but bearing in mind this is more of a fantasy romance, it was unnecessary and somewhat disturbing.
  • Dead ends. Way too many ideas explored and just dropped. I got the impression the author had way too many ideas, and was trying to cram them all into a story where they don’t fit. One wonders who edited this. Perhaps they were at the same party the author attended?
  • Poor retconning. There are things mentioned in Some Summer Lands which Cija supposedly did, which were just not included in the previous books. To be fair, Gaskell does attempt to explain certain phenomena seen in Atlan that left the reader a bit bewildered.
  • The Sherlock Holmes syndrome. The contempt Seka has for Cija and her activities is over the top. I got the impression the author had started to dislike her heroine and was using Seka to portray this contempt.
  • A small personal gripe I had with my version of the book was one page was printed backwards. The trials and tribulations of mass market budget printing methinks.

In my opinion. I think Jane Gaskell was a talented novelist of her time. I think the sexual revolution notwithstanding, her young age (20 – 24) when she wrote the original Atlan Saga had an influence on Some Summer Lands, which was written when she was older, more mature and at a time when society was rapidly changing. That Some Summer Lands was perhaps pushing the envelope a bit far may be evidenced by the reduced number of times it has seen print, as opposed to other books in the series.

Sphere Books

Sphere Books

Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Sphere Books

Sphere Books

Jane Gaskell moved away from fantasy writing after the Atlan Saga. She wrote a few mainstream novels such as All Neat in Black Stockings,(1968), which was filmed as a British comedy in 1968, and also dabbled in a bit of Science Fiction with Sun Bubble and A Sweet, Sweet Summer, the latter of which sounds like it could be a pretty interesting read.

A few of her short stories, such as “Caves” (published in Beyond Lands of Never) and “Bait,” “The Wooing of Grimhilde” and “The Savage Spring” (which appeared in Argosy) have seen publication. Horror fans were not left wanting with a story called “Jane,” which appeared in a few anthologies. She was also a journalist who wrote for a British newspaper before moving on to other pursuits.

Argosy Feb 1963_Small Beyond-Unicorn_Small Argosy Oct 1960_Small

Conclusion

Can I recommend the Atlan Saga?

Yes!

Let me explain.

I had some reservations when I suggested this retro review to John O’Neill. He had no such reservations and responded with, “That’s a cool idea, no one has covered Jane Gaskell before, go for it!”

I have to say the original trilogy of relatively unknown fantasy volumes left me impressed from a world building and characterization perspective. I personally found the characters more believable in many ways than those of a similar high fantasy work of a famed author born in the country of my residence.

I hope my fellow Black Gate readers have enjoyed reading these reviews as much as I have enjoyed writing them. If at least one new reader seeks out the Atlan Saga, I will consider this labor of love well worth it.

Arrow Splinters_Small Horror_Small

The previous installments in this series are:

Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part I
Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part II
Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part III
Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, Part IV


Tony Den’s most recent article for Black Gate was An Interlude with Messrs Brunner & Van Vogt. His personal website RuneQuest.orc is busy undergoing a slow migration to WordPress.

5 Comments »

  1. Yes, I for one have definitely enjoyed the reviews.

    Comment by Joe H. - September 5, 2017 9:38 pm

  2. Thanks Joe H. I hope to do a similar service to two other series which I also perceive to be forgotten yet deserving some attention, so watch this space.

    Comment by Tony Den - September 6, 2017 1:32 am

  3. Great Reviews. Now I just wish someone would bring these out in ebook.

    Comment by bobby_5150 - September 6, 2017 10:49 pm

  4. I picked this series up second hand just after graduating. I loved them up until this book, off which I bounced. I had no idea anybody else had read them!

    Comment by M Harold Page - September 7, 2017 5:26 am

  5. Harold – Glad to see last volumes problems were not of my imagining.

    Bobby-5150 – With a number of eBook published out there I am also surprised these have not been added to a stable. Maybe an opportunity for someone enterprising

    Comment by Tony Den - September 7, 2017 9:44 am


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