“…One pig to rule them all,
One pig to bind them,
One pig to bring them all
and on the pier-end find them
In Seal Beach, on the Coast.”
Myths of the Pacific Coast
How does one describe one of one’s favorite books? How does one describe a book that he and nearly everyone he knew who read it experienced tremendous joy and satisfaction from reading it? How does one describe a book he enjoyed so much he feared any future works by its author might detract something from that book’s perfection? Well, first, he needs to stop writing about himself in the third person, because that’s rarely good. Then he needs simply to write, “Read The Last Coin and you will have read one of the most charming and joyful books I’ve ever read.”
My friend Carl started me down the path of becoming a James P. Blaylock reader when he tossed me an already worn copy of The Digging Leviathan (1984 — his third book. His first two, The Elfin Ship and The Disappearing Dwarf I’ve reviewed here on Black Gate.) With its cabals of conspiracists, hollow Earth theorizing, and besuited axolotls, I was completely enchanted with the book’s story of two boys in California in the middle of the last century in search of a connection with their absent or missing fathers. It’s rougher than his later novels, but here Blaylock was already introducing many of the tropes, and even characters he would revisit throughout his career.
When his next book, Homunculus (1986) came out, I ordered a copy from the long-gone local book store, The Book Nook, something I rarely did. It’s one of the books K.W. Jeter was thinking of — the others being his own Morlock Night and Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates — when he coined the portmanteau steampunk in a letter to Locus magazine. I enjoyed the book, which turned out to be the beginning of the ongoing adventures of Victorian inventor-cum-explorer Langdon St. Ives and the villainous hunchback, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo.