The Myriad Worlds of Chris Roberson: the Bonaventure-Carmody universe

In my previous post, I introduced you to Chris Roberson’s universe of alternate history tales featuring a space-faring Chinese empire. But the Celestial Empire stories form only a part of this writer’s prolific career. Now we are going to take a look at his equally impressive Bonaventure-Carmody universe, and to do so, we need to step back a bit in time ourselves.

Long before the Celestial Empire, Chris was a part of a brief-but-fiery writing collective called Clockwork Storybook. They were a group of writers who came together for mutual encouragement, and then to experiment with this then-newfangled thing called Print-On-Demand. They put out a number of novels and collections, all before any of the works listed above. Along with Chris, Clockwork Storybook included Bill Willingham, of Fables fame, Matthew Sturges (co-author of the Eisner-award winning Jack of Fables, author of many more DC/Vertigo titles, and author of the forthcoming fantasy novel, Midwinter), and Robert E. Howard scholar and author Mark Finn. All of them have since gone on to greatness, and they recently “reunited” in a group blog, also titled Clockwork Storybook, and are joined by Bill Williams of Lone Star Press. But it was in those days that Chris began to work out his sprawling multiverse of pulp-inspired tales, all featuring members of the giant Bonaventure-Carmody clan. Those getting shades of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton universe and Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse are on the right track.*

Chris’ Myriad is a sprawling collections of novels, stories, and yet-to-be-penned-but-rigorously-conceived ideas set across multiple dimensions, several counter earths, and quite a few centuries. The first post-Clockwork, professionally published novel in the series is Here, There & Everywhere, which it was my privilege to acquire as one of the first books from the then-brand new publishing imprint, Pyr.** It tells the story of Roxanne Bonaventure, a young girl who at the age of eleven is given a mysterious bracelet by a dying old woman. The bracelet bonds with her arm and allows Roxanne to travel anywhere in time and space, visiting countless alternative histories, and taking a little bit of a walking tour of Chris’ Myriad. The author makes no pretense of trying to conceal the identity of the mysterious old woman. The payoff isn’t about closing the circle when our Roxanne reaches that point in her life, it’s about what happens after that outside the circle. But the destination isn’t the only thing that matters—it’s the journey that gets us there, and that is a wonderful, at times amusing, and at other times heart-wrenching look into the life of one of science fiction’s most intriguing heroines.  The New York Review of Science Fiction called it “ingenious good fun, a delightful package of escape and entertainment starring a heroine who wears her attitude around her shoulders like a Lady Madonna.” I couldn’t say it better myself, so I won’t. But you can read some sample chapters here.

We followed this with Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, an Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired tale of a Russian cosmonaut named Akilina “Leena” Chirikov, who launches from Star Town in ’60s era Soviet Union, only to pass through a dimensional portal and land in a counter earth full of jaguar men and prehistoric beasts. She’s quickly met by two wandering, swashbuckling rogues, Lieutenant Hieronymus Bonaventure of the Royal Navy—who left home to fight the forces of Napoleon and never returned—and his companion, Balam—outlaw prince of the jaguar men. Leena, a dutiful communist, wants to report back to her superiors ASAP, and Bonaventure and Balam offer to help try to get her home. What follows is an action-packed adventure all over this gorgeous map, full of enough pulp-goodness to make Leigh Brackett proud. But what you need to understand about Roberson’s Bonaventure-Carmody books is that, while a lot of them read like classic pulp tales, they are all meticulously underpinned with the latest in hard SF understanding. So when you finally find out what the world of Paragaea is and where it came from, well… don’t say I didn’t warn you. But you can check out some sample chapters here. Meanwhile,those wanting to know how Bonaventure and Balam came to be bosom buddies can check out this  short story, “Ill Met in Elvera,” available exclusively at the Pyr Sample Chapters Blog.

Next we hope back in time to Set the Seas on Fire, recently released in mass market from Solaris, which is a prequel to Paragaea, featuring Hieronymus Bonaventure in the Royal Navy, during the Napoleonic Wars, and before he came to fall through a rift in space into Paragaea. It’s a “mysterious island” novel, with sea serpents and zombies.  He told Yatterings, “The original inspiration was watching the Horatio Hornblower films featuring Ioan Gruffudd. Those led me to read some of Forester’s original novels, as well as a great deal of nonfiction on the period. Being somewhat addled, I quickly decided that what the world needed was a Napoleonic-era nautical adventure from me. …I’d already worked out the culture and history of Kovoko-ko-Te’Maroa, having included a brief mention in another story about the first European contact with the island being with a ship commanded by a Northrop Ross, and was interested in writing a story set in the days of that first contact. The two intentions collided, intermingled with my mania for introducing new members of the Bonaventure-Carmody family, and the result was Set the Seas on Fire.” The chapter “A Fencing Lesson” is excerpted here.

Now the latest tale in the Bonaventure-Carmody tale has just been released, again from us at Pyr, and that is the Grail Quest adventure, End of the Century. io9 described it as a “YA time-travel fantasy” which is interesting in that it isn’t YA, contains no time-travel per se, and isn’t fantasy, but they can be forgiven for thinking all three of these things. The novel starts out in 498 AD, where Galaad, who we remember as Galahad, travels to Caer Llundain to beg King Artor’s aid in saving a strange lady that he has seen in visions, trapped in a tower of glass. Then we jump to 1897, where on the eve of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, consulting detective Sanford Blank (who we first encountered in a chapter in Here, There & Everywhere), and his companion, a certain Roxanne Bonaventure, are called in to investigate a series of brutal murders. They soon find themselves embroiled in secret histories, pointing to a secret society itself bent on a search for none other than the Holy Grail. Our third narrative in this tri-fold tale concerns Alice Fell, tattooed and pierced American teenager, who has been beset by strange visions her whole life, including one of a mysterious eye. So when Britain unveils the London Eye, and it matches the images she’s seen her whole life, she sneaks away to the UK to find out if she’s crazy, or about to discover the secret of her own identity. She falls in with a retired spy named Stillman Waters, but they are both swiftly beset by something resembling the Wild Hunt. The whole thing is a see-it-to-believe it extravaganza, featuring “magic” swords, Arthurian knights, talking crows, secret histories, and David Bowie (yes, David Bowie). It can be read completely on its own, or as a sort of Rosetta Stone to Chris’ Myriad. And I won’t give anything more away, except to say that the novel has odd parallels, both thematically and structurally, with Ian McDonald’s Brasyl. (And yes, you guessed it, there are sample chapters for that, too, here.)

Chris has also made available as a Kindle eBook a Bonaventure-Carmody novel from his Clockwork Storybook days, Cybermancy Incorporated.  Incorporating two novellas and a host of short stories, these are tales of the extended clan from his early days of working all this multiversal madness out, ranging from golden age pulp adventurers to jungle lords. With Nazis! If you don’t have a Kindle, you’ll have to try to track down one of the out of print editions, or hope someone pays him to dust it off and update it for a new, revised edition.

And again for the completist, we have…

The Bonaventure-Carmody stories:

Surely together the Bonaventure-Carmody stories and the Celestial Empire stores are more than enough for one decade’s worth of one writer’s fiction output, right? Maybe, but of course, not everything Chris writes fits into one or the other of these universes. Here is a complete list of his short fiction to date, with a few more online links. And we haven’t said anything about his tie-in work or his forthcoming comic book. Roberson has penned two Shark Boy and Lava Girl Adventures for young readers, written X-Men: The Return for Pocket Books, contributed one-third of the content to Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions (again for Pocket Books) and just came out with Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War II (Black Library, 2009) with a second Warhmammer 40k novel in the works. He’s going to be making his comic book debut at DC/Vertigo with Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, set in the world of Bill Willingham’s Fables stories and has a story in a special edition of House of Mystery as well.

And maybe, finally, that’s enough output for one decade, right?

Only there’s ten months still to go…But surely that’s enough to get you started.

*The clever reader will realize that all of the Celestial Empire tales are, of course, a subset of the Myriad stories, and, indeed, Roxanne Bonaventure does appear incognito in at least one of the CE short stories, though I won’t say which.

**Yes, I bought both his first professionally-published short story and his first professionally-published novel. No, he hasn’t named any progeny after me yet.


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