Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This is a collection of stories set in the mysterious city of Cinnabar, a city at the end of time. Or maybe it's lost in time, or possibly even in another dimension. It's a large city, with many varied areas devoted to residences, businesses, educational and religious institutions, all separated by a series of temporal loops which causes the passage of time to be perceived differently in different sections. Cinnabar exists in an area in between a desert and the sea. Leading away from the city is an abandoned railway line, which legend says runs to another city called Els, but apparently nothing else is known of it. Very few of Cinnabar's inhabitants have ever traveled to its City Center either, and fewer have returned, but it is known that is where the all-powerful Terminex computer system is housed. If nothing else exists in the world, it may be because of a cataclysmic event, either a war or a natural disaster, since one of the areas of the city is known as Craterside Park.
Eight different stories of various lengths, written between 1971 and 1976, and with the exception of the penultimate tale they are presented in the order of publication. I think that was a mistake. The first two are the weakest, in fact they caused me to set the book aside years ago on my first attempt. Even though I still had the paperback I purchased the e-book from ReAnimus Press recently, along with all the other Bryant titles they were offering. I would have put either "Gray Matters" or "The Legend of Cougar Lou Landis" (stories three and four respectively) at the beginning, and saved "The Road to Cinnabar" and "Jade Blue" for later, since their featured characters both recur in the final story. The two most important characters, appearing in four stories, are Tourmaline Hayes, the polyamourous Network sex star, and one of her frequent lovers, the scientist Timnath Obregon.
Most scientists work in the areas of body and mind enhancements, or with bio-mechanics or genetic manipulation. Obregon is a classicist though, envious of past endeavors. To this end, he invents a time machine in order to bring things out of the dusty old texts and into reality in his laboratory. His first attempt is a fluke, bringing a young Denver college student from 1963 into the future, aided by a time-travel experiment by two Texas researchers back in '63. His next attempt is at the urging of Tourmaline, who wonders what was the most ferocious animal that ever lived. Obregon brings her an extinct giant shark, a Carcharodon megalodon. Other themes are of life enhancing technologies, memory wipes to keep long life fresh and exciting, or occasionally using such technologies for revenge. The time travel tale of "Hayes and the Heterogyne" is the best at contrasting the otherness of Cinnabar with our reality, socially, scientifically and politically, and speaks to quite a few current controversies.
Bryant is perhaps best known for his horror stories, but Cinnabar is closer to New Wave SF, both in style and theme. The stories are a cross between science fiction and fantasy, with one closer to horror. Cinnabar at times reminded me of Brave New World, others might think of Oz or Wonderland, or maybe all three rolled into one. Almost any interpretation could be correct, it's up to each reader to make sense of it if possible. If Oz was on his mind when writing, then certainly Bryant is Cinnabar's wizard. His prose is lyrical and illustrative, full of color and energy. To quote a line from one of the stories, "Each word was perfectly cut with gemstone edges."
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