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Authors: Steve Aylett

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Fain the Sorcerer

BOOK: Fain the Sorcerer
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‘Steve Aylett is without doubt one of the most ambitious and talented writers to emerge in England in recent years. While his work echoes the best of William Burroughs, it has the mark of real originality. It's hip, cool and eloquent.'

Michael Moorcock

 

‘Aylett is one of the great eccentrics of British genre fiction.'

The
Guardian

 

‘Aylett's prose is like poetry.'

The
Independent

 

‘Utterly original'

SFX

 

‘The most original and most consciousness-altering living writer in the English language, not to mention one of the funniest.'

Alan Moore

 

 

Steve Aylett was born in London in 1967. He
is the author of
The Crime Studio
,
Atom
,
Bigot Hall,
Fain the Sorcerer, Slaughtermatic
,
Rebel at the End
of Time
,
Toxicology
,
Shamanspace
,
Smithereens
and
Novahead
– all of which are available vi
a the
Serif Books website
.
His
work has been translated into Spanish, German, French, Greek, Finnish, Czech, Russian and Japanese. He is a bitter man.

www.steveaylett.com

 

 

 

FAIN THE SORCERER

 

by Steve Aylett

 

 

 

 

Serif
London

 

This e-book first published 2015 by

Serif
47 Strahan Road
London E3 5DA

 

www.serifbooks.co.uk

Copyright
©
Steve Aylett 2006, 2015
Cover copyright
©
Steve Aylett 2006, 2015
Introduction copyright
©
Alan Moore 2006, 2015
e-book edition copyright
©
Serif 2015

 

First published in June 2006 by PS Publishing Ltd

 

Steve Aylett has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

ISBN: 978 1 909150 43 0

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the publishers

 

e-book produced by Will Dady

 

 

INTRODUCTION by Alan Moore

 

If we loved Steve Aylett, really loved him in the way that he deserves, a selfless love that genuinely wanted nothing save his happiness and comfort, we
'
d lobotomise him. Nothing complicated or too costly, just a well-judged swipe with shovel blade or flat iron when he isn
'
t looking ought to do the trick. This would afford him satisfaction in more ways than one. Firstly, it would confirm his previous opinion of us personally and of humanity in general, and secondly it might impair him mentally, thus furthering his career. If he could just stop the Tourette
'
s flood of original ideas, dilute the language so the reader only had to pause and shake their head in admiration every paragraph or so rather than every other line, this man could be a sales phenomenon, could be a franchise; it
'
s all just a shovel-blow away. There would be glowing twelve-year-olds lined up in Waterstones at midnight for the latest Beerlight or Accomplice saga, there
'
d be blockbusters, Jeremy Paxman flirting openly with Aylett during
Newsnight
, Lint confectionery, Hell toys. Best of all, with his critical faculties all having gone the same way as his frontal lobe, he
'
ll have no idea that he
'
s writing tepid drivel and can just enjoy himself, can ride round Tunbridge Wells in a gold dodgem car, eating cream cakes and laughing.

Clearly, though, none of us love him that much, and especially not those of us who love his work. We
'
d prefer, for his sake, that he could be brilliant with a large, sophisticated audience whose polish was sufficient to reflect his dazzle but, in lieu of that, we
'
ll settle for brilliant-and-suffering. There are few people who can suffer as amusingly, revealingly or fruitfully as Aylett can, nobody with a talent for the torment so that they can turn their horror at the ocean of stupidity around them into something at once visionary and disablingly funny. It should also be said that within the field of fantasy and science fiction there are very few creators half as dogged or uncompromising in the pursuit of their muse as is Steve Aylett, or with such good reason.

With the death of William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard mourned the passing of one of the last committed writers, noting that Burroughs
'
demise had left us only
‘
career novelists
'
, the ones who had already lined up for the lucrative, blunt-spade accomplished neural surgery as mentioned earlier. These wordsmiths, spayed and tame, know where the grazing land is good and never wander past the stinging cattle-wire of audience comprehension out into the income-threatening wilderness beyond, out into the disreputable pulp-jungles of genre, into art. They know enough to hoard their fuel, dilute the energy to homeopathic doses that will not prove toxic to their audience or sales, to make one second-hand and borrowed concept last a chapter, last for a whole book. Whatever else you do, for God
'
s sake don
'
t burn twenty new ideas with every page as blazing throwaways. That just makes all the other workers on the line look bad, and anyway the constitutions of the readership are for the most part not adapted to ingest raw fire, preferring in the main its faintest after-taste, a water-memory of fire rather than the untreated magma.

Aylett, thankfully, has never met or listened to these people, and instead is gloriously unaware which side his bread is buttered. He just keeps on hurtling along, a Porky Pig express train that
'
s dismantling its own box cars to provide the sleepers for the tracks ahead as it roars smoking out amongst the cartoon cacti. When he first emerged in the science fiction field it was into a world of categories and labels that had no idea what to make of him. Was he a cyber-punk, a nano-punk, an Alfred Jarry pata-punk, or just somebody who
'
d turned up to take the piss? Was this science fiction comedy, in which case why no punning titles, why no obvious Robert Sheckley retreads, no easy referents, no
‘
in the grand tradition of...
'
? Why weren
'
t there any plots that worked as a three-minute pitch, a three-line jacket blurb? Was he just trying to unsettle everyone?

In fact, Steve Aylett was no kind of literary punk at all. He just liked sunglasses, and that
'
s what had us all confused. If there are any influences to be glimpsed in the almost self-conscious and relentless onslaught of sheer novelty that is his work, they seem to be the influences of an earlier time when there was nothing punk and not much outside
Dr. Who
was cyber; of a period where, when it came to science fiction authors, individual voices were appreciated, and were more than that, demanded. Had he not been born, with perfect Aylett irony, in the Summer of Love, been born too late, he might have had a Michael Moorcock
New Worlds
as a vehicle, have had a context in amongst all of the other brilliant, mismatched oddballs. Aylett is in many ways a staunch traditionalist in that he harks back, ultimately, to the Judith Merrill days when science fiction still had a tradition of originality, before we based our writings on a calculated demographic strategy, when intellectual shock was one of the main reasons that we bothered with science fiction in the first place, and when trilogies of sorcerer-infested fantasy were the exception rather than the norm.

Which brings us to this current volume,
Fain the Sorcerer
, concrete proof that had Steve Aylett launched
himself into the marketplace of fantasy rather than that of science fiction, then he would have been no less a marvel nor a prodigy, and he still would have frightened and bewildered us by turn. This is not comic fantasy in the restricted sense the term is used today, the knowing and post-modern slapstick with the title that lampoons a work more widely known, but is instead aggressively inventive, with a comedy that
'
s unrelenting, one of those transcendent satires that ends up a radiant, sublime example of the genre that it
'
s satirising, like Polanski
'
s
Fearless Vampire Hunters
. This is fresh, exciting comic fantasy, but it is also fresh exciting fantasy without the qualifier. Speaking as someone who for some years now has had difficulties with the concept of magical fantasy, this book was a reminder of the way that it was meant to work, a nitrous oxide rush of notions that at times recalls Jack Vance
'
s
Dying Earth
as it might be hallucinated by an M.C. Escher, with its self-imperilled hero and the labyrinthine mess he brings upon himself more than a match for Vance
'
s Cugel.

In fact, as is the case with Aylett
'
s greatest influence, Jeff Lint, one can sense an oblique resemblance between the author and his subject. One gets the impression that what drew Steve Aylett to the understandably neglected Lint was simple kinship. Maybe Aylett too once had an agent that turned out to have been dead for years. This current book suggests at least an empathy between the author and what is in this case his entirely fictional creation, Fain the Sorcerer. Like Steve Aylett, we have a protagonist whose very ingenuity is his undoing, who has somehow found a scam whereby he can unreel a seemingly unending list of magical abilities which both bewilder and delight. At one point in the narrative Fain backs away dispensing gold coins from one pocket of his coat and sardines from the other, which is an illuminating metaphor for the entirety of Aylett
'
s oeuvre.

Read the book, first to yourself, then, unavoidably, aloud to friends until they
'
re sick of you. Hope that Steve Aylett
'
s soul-destroying trail of tears continues if this is an indication of the nuggets that he
'
s finding on the way. Hope also that he one day realises how ridiculous he is and is delivered in that instant to a lovely maskfaced mermaid, all his endlessly amusing tribulations done. This is a stunning work of the imagination that is also very, very funny, from one of the most exciting and innovative creators to emerge in years. See him, the fabulous self-cursing magus as he backs away, flinging his golden talents and his glittering sardines, each as enticing as the other, offering not only opulence but also salty nourishment. This book, replete with both, is an extravagant and satisfying feast that you should savour, even while resisting the temptation to devour it in a single sitting. Aylett is a jeweller, and this work is one of his most finely chiselled gems. Hold it up to the light and study at your leisure.

Alan Moore

Northampton

July, 2005

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

In which Fain shows up with a lemon

 

Here
'
s the whole story of how Fain the Gardener became Fain the Sorcerer. But I
'
ll tell it quickly by leaving out the lies.

The King of Envashes offered a reward to whoever could awake his daughter, who had been sent to sleep by a necromancer. This was a tradition in those days: it gave everyone something to chat about other than pigs, and something to think about other than what was important.

Fain visited the court with the intention of squishing a half-lemon onto the nose of the princess, or perhaps simply shouting at her, or both.
‘
Or perhaps,
'
he thought,
‘
when the time comes, I won
'
t be bothered to do either.
'
For Fain was a young man of his own mind and no-one else
'
s.

But as Fain entered the audience room and saw the King awaiting on his throne, he happened to see also a miming, pranking moron who pulled faces at empty air and generally acted the fool. Enraged by the clown, Fain flew at him and smashed him to the floor, strangling the jangling jester as the whole court protested and claimed they were appalled. Finished, Fain stood to regain his composure as everyone cried out against him.
‘
He has destroyed the neck of the King
'
s jester!
'
they announced, and called guards upon Fain. Fain was obliged to run outside, steal a beautiful horse and escape into the forest.

Though a mere labourer and odd-job man, Fain knew the business with the Princess was meant to distract the common people from rebelling against the King and other woes.
‘
With the spectacle I
'
m providing,
'
Fain thought,
‘
you would have thought the King would be grateful.
'

Arriving at the mossy mouth of a cave, he was confronted by a ragged, one-armed man who staggered out with a jug jammed down over his head.
‘
You!
'
Fain shouted at the man, leaping from the horse and thwacking it into a run.
‘
Idiot! I must hide in your cave.
'

‘
Take the jar from my head, and the cave is yours,
'
the man was saying as Fain knocked him aside and the jar smashed upon a rocky ledge. The tangle-bearded old man shouted
‘
Land of beer, nook of pine!
'
or something like that, but seemed quite happy. He picked up a few of the jar shards and scampered after Fain into the cave. Fain was explaining the anger he had incited at court by killing a mime.

‘
What was your crime?
'
croaked the old man.

‘
For the throttling of that stupid clown I
'
m being hunted by one and all
—
they
'
ll probably follow the horse awhile, then double back and stab me.
'

‘
Not you,
'
the old man chortled, and began dancing around the smashed pottery.
‘
For this urn is enchanted, and it falls to you, its destroyer in good faith, to receive its final three wishes. The old man you see cannot benefit from it
—
only others may. Choose!
'

‘
Three wishes is it?
'
thought Fain.
‘
He
'
s probably a total nutter but just in case, I
'
d better choose carefully.
'
For he knew such situations are notoriously sticky and fraught with unforeseen consequences. Magical literature was full of stories of impulsive dreamers asking for stupid things like
‘
an endless supply of sardines
'
and so on. Fain considered his options as carefully as he could with the threat of capture upon him. Then he piped up.
‘
Alright, old man
—
if this broken rubbish really does have the power to grant wishes, here are mine. One, that I can travel into the past to whatever time I wish, at will. Two, that I be given the knowledge of how to wake the Princess up at the castle. And three, that I have an endless supply of sardines.
'

‘
You choose well, young stranger,
'
cackled the old lunatic.

Fain felt no different, and immediately wondered why he
'
d stood here in the cave mouth wasting his time with this dodgy relic.

But as he stormed out of the cave he saw the King
'
s riders bearing down on him, the lead man drawing his sword with a yell.
‘
There
'
s the villain now!
'

As the sword drove toward him, Fain wished he could go back and do it all differently. The entire scene blurred as though he were falling backward over a cliff, the view rushing away from him. And indeed the wind was knocked out of him as he landed in the previous day, completely naked.

 

 

 

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