Magical History, Alternative Pasts

“I first read The Art of Memory by Frances Yates somewhere around 1971. It introduced me to the strange ways in which people of the past – the Renaissance and after – conceived of the world and the mind. It also told me about the imagined or mythic Egypt that fascinated scholars and enthusiasts before hieroglyphics could be read. The difference between the actual Egypt and theirs – often spelled “Ægypt” – suggested a vast alternative history that took nearly forty years for me to compose.”

The Solitudes (1987): Originally called Ægypt. Crosses between a failed history teacher seeking a new life in a country town, an actual Elizabethan philosopher seeking truths from angels, and an Italian monk seeking escape from the Church and knowledge in memory arts.

Love & Sleep (1994): The former teacher, Pierce Moffett, is writing a book speculating that magic practices like alchemy once worked, but as time shifted, they no longer do – and now they never did. But a new epoch is dawning that will bring in new magics. In the past, those seekers meet.

Dæmonomania (2000): Pierce practices sex and magic on a too-willing Rose, but in a collapsing world also rescues a child, thus saving the new age. In the past, Bruno the Italian monk is burned at the stake, or maybe isn’t. The angels announce War in Heaven and prelates seek out and burn witches on earth.

Endless Things (2007): Returning from Europe and a fruitless quest for truth, Pierce meets and marries a brave this-worldly woman. Long ago a new age dawns, wondrous and strange. A new age dawns in this day too, and the new age exactly resembles this one, ours, because it is this one. “It is not that there is more than one history of the world but that we all shape the world our way. That’s what Ægypt is about, the way we cope with the world by remaking it, and the way we remake the world by telling stories about it.” – Paul Kincaid, in Strange Horizons