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James P. Blaylock

James Blaylock(1950- )
James P. Blaylock was born in California and received a masters degree in English from California State University. He is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Chapman University in California and the director of the Creative Writing Conservatory at the Orange County High School of the Arts. He often collaborates with his friend Tim Powers.

Balumnia

Balumnia — (1982-1989) Humorous fantasy. Each novel can stand alone. Publisher: Trading with the elves used to be so simple. Every year Master Cheeser Jonathan Bing would send his very best cheeses downriver to traders who would eventually return with Elfin wonders for the people of Twombly Town. But no more. First the trading post at Willowood Station was mysteriously destroyed. Then a magical elfin airship began making forays overhead; Jonathan knew something was definitely amiss. So he set off downriver to deliver the cheeses himself, accompanied by the amazing Professor Wurzle, the irrepressible Dooly, and his faithful dog Ahab. It would have been a pleasant trip, if not for the weeping skeleton, mad goblins, magic coins, an evil dwarf, a cloak of invisibility — and a watch that stopped time. However, the return trip would not be so simple. This, the first volume in a trilogy, tells the story of Master Cheeser Jonathan Bing who sends his best cheeses downriver each year to the elves, in exchange for elfin treasures for the people of Twombly Town. When things go wrong, Jonathan has to set out to deliver the cheeses himself.

James P. Blaylock 1. The Elfin Ship, 2. The Disappearing Dwarf, 3. The Stone Giant James P. Blaylock 1. The Elfin Ship, 2. The Disappearing Dwarf, 3. The Stone Giant James P. Blaylock 1. The Elfin Ship, 2. The Disappearing Dwarf, 3. The Stone Giant

The Elfin Ship: Charming, light-hearted and funny

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The Elfin Ship by James P. Blaylock

Audible has recently put several of James P. Blaylock’s novels in audio format, so I’m giving a few of them a try. The Elfin Ship, first published in 1982, is the first book in Blaylock’s BALUMNIA trilogy about a whimsical fantasy world filled with elves, goblins, dwarves, wizards, and (because it’s Blaylock), a few steampunk elements such as submarines and airships.

In The Elfin Ship we meet Jonathan Bing, a cheesemaker who lives in a quaint little village with his dog Ahab. It’s just before Christmas, a time when Bing should be selling his famous cheeses to neighboring towns. However, something is afoot in the outside world and trade is drying up. Not only is Bing’s business in danger, but all of the villagers will have a dreary holiday if they are unable to buy their traditional toys and treats. Somebody must be se... Read More

Narbondo / Langdon St. Ives

Narbondo / Langdon St. Ives — (1984-2015) Steampunk.

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The Digging Leviathan: Dreamy, peculiar, and sweet

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The Digging Leviathan by James P. Blaylock

The Digging Leviathan is the first book in James P. Blaylock’s LANGDON ST. IVES/NARBONDO series. I’ve been reading these out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter. The books have some overlapping characters, settings, and/or concepts, but each stands alone. The Digging Leviathan features two teenage boys, Jim Hastings and Giles Peach, who are living on the coast of Southern California during the mid-20th century. Each is a dreamer and each has his own “issues” involving his father.

Jim lives with his uncle Edward St. Ives (who, I’m assuming, is a direct descendant of Langdon St. Ives, the eccentric Victorian scientist who stars in several of the books in this series) because Jim’s mother is dead and his father is insane. (Or is he?) Most of the time Jim’s fathe... Read More

Homunculus: Try this zany story on audio

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Homunculus by James P. Blaylock

"Does the night seem uncommonly full of dead men and severed heads to you?"

Langdon St. Ives is a man of science and a member of the Royal Society. With the help of his dependable and discreet manservant, St. Ives prefers to spend his time secretly building a spaceship in his countryside silo. But currently he’s in London to help his friend Jack Owlesby recover a wooden box containing the huge emerald Jack’s father left him for an inheritance. Things get confusing when it’s discovered that there are several of these boxes that all look the same and all contain something somebody wants. Soon St. Ives, Jack, and a host of other friends and enemies become embroiled in a madcap adventure featuring a toymaker and his lovely daughter, a captain with a smokable peg leg, the scientists of the Royal Society, an evil millionaire, a dirigible steered b... Read More

Lord Kelvin’s Machine: A steampunk adventure with time paradoxes

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Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock returns to Victorian England in another steampunk adventure with scientist Langdon St. Ives and his nemesis, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo. Lord Kelvin’s Machine contains three related stories which each feature a fictional infernal device created by inventor Lord Kelvin. I listened to the excellent audio version which was produced by Audible Studios, is just over 8 hours long, and is narrated by Nigel Carrington.

In the prologue of Lord Kelvin’s Machine, Dr. Narbondo murders Langdon St. Ives’ beloved wife Alice which throws St. Ives into a funk. Part 1, titled “In the Days of the Comet” begins a year later... Read More

The Ebb Tide: Engaging, Beautiful, Thin

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The Ebb Tide by James P. Blaylock

19th-century London. A quiet evening among more or less renowned gentleman, including the gifted scientist-explorer Langdon St. Ives, at their favorite tavern is interrupted by word that a map to a missing mysterious device has been found. In no time, as chronicled by St. Ives's cohort Jack Owlesby, the group sets off to claim the map and device, racing against the shadowy figure of St. Ives's nemesis, Ignacio Narbondo (now known as Dr. Frosticos).

The first new tale of St. Ives in nearly two decades, The Ebb Tide is a brisk steampunk yarn with a dash of Sherlock Holmes. (Steampunk is, of course, a play on cyberpunk; instead of computers, the focus is usually on airships or mechanical men.) The focus in The Ebb Tide is on underwater transports (and a strange underwater environment), which James ... Read More

The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs: A pastiche still needs to entertain

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The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs by James P. Blaylock

Langdon St. Ives returns in The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs, James P. Blaylock’s latest Langdon St. Ives Adventure.

St. Ives is described as “the greatest, if largely unheralded, explorer and scientist in the Western World … piecing together a magnetic engine for a voyage to the moon.” Unfortunately, the premise of The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs is less ambitious than its protagonist. Although our heroes are explorers and scientists, they do little exploring here. In fact, they don’t even leave England. Worse, there is little mention of magnetic engines or steam engines, though an emerald’s power has a slight impact on the plot.

The adventure begins with an outbreak of madness at... Read More

Zeuglodon: Charming YA mystery

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Zeuglodon: The True Adventures of Kathleen Perkins, Cryptozoologist by James P. Blaylock

Eleven year old Kathleen Perkins considers herself a scientist — a cryptozoologist, to be exact. She studies legendary animals. According to Kathleen, “legendary” just means that they don’t appear very often. (“You can hardly blame them.”)

Kathleen’s mother disappeared in a submersible while trying to find the entrance to Pellucidar, so Kathleen now lives with her orphaned cousins Perry and Brendan at her eccentric uncle’s house. Uncle Hedge, who runs a little seaside museum of strange objects, is a member of the Guild of St. George, a secret society of men and women who fight the plots of an evil genius named Dr. Hilario Frosticos. Kathleen and her cousins love Uncle Hedge but their neighbor Ms. Peckwor... Read More

The Aylesford Skull: Absurd steampunk with a subtle wit

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The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock is most famous for being a protégé of Philip K. Dick and, along with his friends K.W. Jeter and Tim Powers, developing the steampunk genre of fantasy fiction in the 1980s. Blaylock’s most popular steampunk stories take place in Victorian England and feature gentleman inventor Langdon St. Ives and his archnemesis Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, a hunch-backed necromancer. The Aylesford Skull is considered to be the seventh installment of THE NARBONDO SERIES, though each of the LANGDON ST. IVES novels can s... Read More

The Adventure of the Ring of Stones: A Langdon St. Ives novella

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The Adventure of the Ring of Stones by James P. Blaylock

The Adventure of the Ring of Stones is one of several novellas written by James P. Blaylock that Subterranean Press has published. Each of these is a stand-alone steampunk adventure featuring Langdon St. Ives, the gentleman scientist/adventurer who stars in Blaylock’s LANDGDON ST. IVES novels. It would be helpful, but not at all necessary, to have read the novels Homunculus, Lord Kelvin’s Machine, and The Aylesford Skull before reading this novella. Not so much for the history of the character, but really more so you’ll be in tune with Blaylock’s very particular sense of humor. It may not seem like it at first, but these books are comedies and I’m not sure how well that comes across in Blaylock’s shorter works if yo... Read More

Beneath London: Langdon St. Ives meets vampiric mushrooms

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Beneath London by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock’s stories are an acquired taste, I think. Or maybe it’s just that the reader needs exactly the right combination of quirks and proclivities to truly appreciate them. I am that reader. Not all the time, but regularly enough to recognize when my mood would benefit from opening one of Blaylock’s books. When this happens, I usually choose a LANGDON ST. IVES story. Each of these steampunk stories is set in an alternate Victorian London and each can stand alone.

Langdon St. Ives is a retired professor who spends his time pursuing eccentric scientific hobbies. Recently he’d been building an airship in the barn on the country property that he and his wife Alice (who loves to fish) recently moved to after they ... Read More

Holy Relics

Holy Relics — (1988-2008) Each novel can stand alone. The Last Coin: Two thousand years after silver coins pass from the hands of Judas Iscariot, they continue to hold magical powers, changing the luck of those who posses them, and possibly even providing immortality. The Paper Grail: Curator Howard Barton goes to Mendocino, California, to get a 19th-century woodcut sketch for his museum back home. But other, rather strange, people want the sketch for their own dubious purposes. Now Howard’s caught in the middle of a secret war that somehow involves a piece of paper that is much more than it seems. All the Bells on Earth: This is a homey fantasy, almost excessively so. Doughnuts, family tensions, relatives who arrive in a Winnebago, Christmas decorations, business worries, Uncle Henry’s womanizing, and pyramid schemes wrap Walt Stebbins in layers of detail and distraction. Walt runs a small catalog business out of his garage, and he has no notion of a demonic presence in his town until a package is mistakenly delivered to him. The contents are not the inexpensive Chinese toys and novelties he deals in. The nasty-looking pickled bluebird of happiness (“Best thing come to you. Speak any wish.”) piques Walt’s interest, and he keeps it when he rewraps the box and passes it on to the addressee: the one person in the world Walt loathes, his former friend Robert Argyle. But Walt’s keeping back the bluebird of happiness is the best thing that could have happened to Argyle — and the worst thing that could happen to Walt. What price happiness? If you have to ask … Knights of the Cornerstone: Calvin Bryson has hidden himself away from the world, losing himself in his work and his collection of rare and quirky books. He never meant to let so much time go by without visiting his aunt and uncle in the tiny town of New Cyprus, California. When he gets there, he’ll discover the town’s strange secrets and a mysterious group dedicated to preserving and protecting holy relics – a modernday incarnation of the legendary Knights Templar.

James P. Blaylock 1. The Last Coin, 2. The Paper Grail, 3. All The Bells On EarthJames P. Blaylock 1. The Last Coin, 2. The Paper Grail, 3. All The Bells On EarthJames P. Blaylock 1. The Last Coin, 2. The Paper Grail, 3. All The Bells On Earthfantasy and science fiction book reviews

The Last Coin: Read this if you love Fawlty Towers

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The Last Coin by James P. Blaylock

Andrew and Rose Vanbergen have recently purchased a California inn which they are fixing up and getting ready for guests. They live in the inn along with aging Aunt Naomi, her numerous cats, and her companion, Mrs. Gummage. The Vanbergens have only one real guest so far — the mysterious Pepto-drinking Mr. Pennyman.

Andrew has grand plans for the inn. Unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a slacker and he’s always managing to find excuses for doing anything but the actual work that needs to get done. While his good-natured and industrious wife is cleaning or sewing linens, he’s daydreaming about a gourmet kitchen and purchasing luxury items that aren’t really necessary. (He fancies himself an epicure).

Andrew also tends to have crazy ideas that sometimes border on delusional. Sometimes he acts on these. He knows he’s being silly and that it up... Read More

Ghost stories

Ghost stories — (1994-1999) Each novel can stand alone. Publisher: Blaylock’s Night Relics is a chilling novel of unearthly emotional power, a ghost story that pushes beyond the classic form. It is the tale of a man haunted by the ghosts of the human heart — both real and imagined — where lost memories and lost loves whisper on the wind. It is a perfectly captured nightmare.

James P. Blaylock 1. Night Relics, 2. Winter Tides, 3. The Rainy Season James P. Blaylock 1. Night Relics, 2. Winter Tides, 3. The Rainy Season James P. Blaylock 1. Night Relics, 2. Winter Tides, 3. The Rainy Season

Winter Tides: Not what I expected

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Winter Tides by James P. Blaylock

I was disappointed in Winter Tides, though it's probably not fair to blame James P. Blaylock for my disappointment. It's not his fault the cover copy doesn't accurately describe the novel's actual subject matter. It's also not his fault I'm a big enough ballad geek that when I see the words "Anne," "Elinor," "sisters," and "drowning" in the same sentence, I immediately think of "The Cruel Sister," a heartbreaking ballad of love and sisterly betrayal. Between the cover copy and a ballad reference that may or may not have been intentional, I led myself to expect a ghost story and a love story. Here's the cover copy, for what it's worth:
Fifteen years ago, on a deserted California beach, Dave Quinn swam out into the winter ocean to save two drowning girls — identical twin sisters. He was only able to save one. Now, years later, he meets A... Read More

Land of Dreams: Strong echoes of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Land of Dreams by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock is a fabulist, a teller of magic realist tales that reframe our everyday world in more colorful, fanciful, sinister, and whimsical ways. His style and themes often overlap with the works of Tim Powers and they have collaborated on several stories and even have shared the character William Ashbless, which is no surprise since they met as students at Cal State Fullerton. There they also befriended author K.W. Jeter (who coined the term “steampunk” and wrote perhaps the earliest full-length example, 1987’s Read More

Steampunk: Quick entertaining education on the subgenre du jour

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Steampunk edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

Steampunk is an anthology of, well, steampunk stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. If you hurry, you can still get to this first anthology before the second one, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, appears in mid November. Based on the quality of the stories in this collection, I heartily recommend checking it out, especially if you’ve been a bit bemused (or possibly amused) by all the people wearing odd Victorian costumes at SFF conventions nowadays, or if you have at best a vague idea of what steampunk exactly entails. If you’re one of those people who’s interested in, but not entirely sure about, the new hot subgenre du jour (like me, prior to reading Steampunk), this anthology is here to take you by the hand and give you a quick, entertaining educatio... Read More

Wings of Fire: I thought I didn’t like dragons

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Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan & Marianne S. Jablon

I don't like dragons.

This is probably not the first sentence you'd expect to find in a review of Wings of Fire, an anthology devoted exclusively to dragon stories, but I thought it best to get it out of the way right from the start.

There's nothing inherently wrong with dragons. They're just terribly overused, one of those tired genre mainstays that people who typically don't read a lot of fantasy will expect in a fantasy novel because they were practically unavoidable for a long time. To this day, I confess to having to suppress a mental groan whenever I encounter them.

For a long time, I actively avoided reading any fantasy novel with the word dragon in the title. Granted, I made several exceptions to this rule in the past, most notably The King's Drago... Read More

Other novels by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock Land of Dreams, 13 Phantasms13 Phantasms  — (2000) Short stories. Publisher: The first short story collection from Philip K. Dick Award-winning author James Blaylock features sixteen thought-provoking forays into the fantastic — from a tale of alien influence on an ordinary neighborhood to the story of one man’s self-destructive obsession with a dragon.


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsIn For A Penny — (2003) Short stories. Publisher: This mesmerising collection from World Fantasy Award-winner James P. Blaylock offers seven brilliant excursions into one of the most idiosyncratic imaginations of our time. Highlighted by the acclaimed novella, “The Trismegistus Club” – a brilliant riff on the antiquarian ghost story – In for a Penny goes from strength to strength, taking us deep into the heart of a quirky, deeply engaging fictional world that no one but Blaylock could have created.Other high points include “Home Before Dark,” which chronicles one man’s first few hours in the afterlife. Its thematic companion, “Small Houses,” recounts an aging widower’s last few hours on earth. Both stories constitute deeply felt, lovingly detailed farewells to the things and places of this world.In “The other Side,” a minor precognitive episode leads the hero to an obsessive fascination with the hidden mysteries of the universe. In “His Own Back Yard,” a story worthy of the great Jack Finney, a middle-aged man finds himself stranded in the haunted territory of his childhood. The blackly funny “War of the Worlds” uses a bowling ball and the imminent end of Life As We Know It to illuminate the fault lines in a modern marriage. Finally, in the wonderfully imagined title story, the single-minded pursuit of treasure – of something for nothing — leads Blaylock’s protagonist to a harrowing confrontation with his own worst self. Startling, funny, eccentric, and often unexpectedly moving, the Blaylockian worldview shines forth with undiminished vigor in this marvellous collection, which shows us ourselves — and the world around us – from a wholly unique perspective.


James P. Blaylock Metamorphosis Tim PowersMetamorphosis — (2009) A story collection. Publisher: Metamorphosis: three stories, each one involving a man who discovers that he has come to dwell, for an hour or for a lifetime, in a house and in a mind not quite his own. Each one opens doors onto rooms of illusion, radiance, regret, and dark enchantment. Welcome to the stories of three young writers, stories written in collaboration with James P. Blaylock. Welcome to the borderland of illusion and reality. Three tales, written in collaboration by James P. Blaylock with students in a class by Tim Powers, with an introduction and illustrations by Tim, an afterword by Blaylock, and some necessary meddling by William Ashbless.


By James P. Blaylock & Tim Powers

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Devils in the Details — (2003) Short stories. Publisher: Collects three original short stories, ”Through And Through” by Powers, ”The Devil In The Details” by Blaylock, and ”Fifty Cents” a collaboration by both authors together. Plus a foreword by Powers and an afterword ”Mexican Food” by Blaylock (this afterword comes in the form of a separate chapbook laid into the book).