Fiction Reviews

Bread, Butter and Paradoxine

(2002) Roberto Quaglia, Delos, Euro 16.99, pbk 474 pp, ISBN 88-7360-015-8

(new edition 2009) retitled as Paradoxine - The Adventures of James Vagabond,
Immanion Press, 12.99 / US$21.99, trdpbk, 330 pp, ISBN 978-1-904-85367-1


First of all I am ethically bound to say that many of us on the Concat team know the author. I say that not because we 'know' Roberto because, let's face it, most of us on the Concat team have had at least a drink with at least a quarter of the authors we review, and some have done more than that. Roberto's relationship with us falls into this last camp as the man is a regular on the Eurocon circuit and for a while from 2002 was Vice-President of the European Science Fiction Society . Having said that, that is as far as our relationship with the man goes and I hope that we have a sufficiently professional an approach to reviews not to be biased. Ethical disclaimer out of the way and on with the review...

This is so long overdue that I can't believe it has happened, a full Roberto Quaglia novel translated into English. Indeed not one, but two combined into a single volume. What's more there is an introduction by the one and only Robert Sheckley. Wow! Seriously, this is a rare treat as hardly any non-Anglophone SF gets translated into English and it really is interesting seeing how those from other nations relate to the genre. Of course N. American, British and Australasian SF dominates the SF market globally, but there are other countries with a thriving SF market and their home grown stuff is interesting to check out even if it is not quite your cup of tea. I mention this last because Bread, Butter and Paradoxine does not read like much you are likely to have come across before. It is though similar to some other continental European SF I have read but strangely not western European SF but some former communist bloc SF. For instance there are clear echoes of Stanislaw Lem who was doing what Douglas Adams did to comedy SF with such Britishness but decades earlier. Indeed Bread, Butter and Paradoxine is far more like Lem than Adams.

The two stories revolve around James Vagabond who is an investigator. That is really all you need to know as the novels are essentially an assemblage of comedy vignettes with just a very loose plot to carry you along. There's interactive TV which is more interactive than you or I would want. Housing ecology. Reality games (reminiscent of Dick). And along the way we encounter a few historical figures from the Joan of Arc to members of the Nazi party.

I will not pretend that this is either an easy read (translations rarely are, even good ones which this is), for this book does not lend itself to speedy assimilation. Aside from the translation, Quaglia's humour is sophisticated beyond its almost schoolboy presentation, and so the book is not one that either can, or should, be read lightly. So potential readers are either going to hate it or fall in love with it. Hey, but then you need a challenge now and then. Besides, as said it is all too rare a treat to get access to non-Anglophone SF. On the other hand, its short episodic nature lends itself to reading while commuting. This is required reading for all those seriously into literary SF. However you'll need to order this one as Delos is based in Italy, but you have the ISBN number above.

N.B.   The 2009 English edition from Immanion has had a translation polish by Ian Watson (even though the Delos translation was rather good).

Jonathan Cowie

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