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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great SF books (is it a novel?) of all time!
I first read this book in 1972 or thereabouts and was immediately entranced by the author's beautiful style and the story which is, at once, gripping and romantic. It is a novel made up of shorter stories held together by a common thread. The technology of the stories is of course "retro" and is created for an England which has a very different history from...
Published on 20 Feb 2001

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Linked stories rather than a novel
I wanted to like this. It has been compared to Philip K Dick's Man in the High Castle, but really the two are poles apart. Firstly, this does not read like a novel, and is actually a series of stories set against the 'alternate history' backdrop. There is sometimes only a tenuous link between the stories, but this in itself doesn't spoil the book. There are some...
Published on 23 Sep 2011 by Archy


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great SF books (is it a novel?) of all time!, 20 Feb 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
I first read this book in 1972 or thereabouts and was immediately entranced by the author's beautiful style and the story which is, at once, gripping and romantic. It is a novel made up of shorter stories held together by a common thread. The technology of the stories is of course "retro" and is created for an England which has a very different history from the one we know. The Church has controlled the development of the sciences in the world of Pavane and technology has progressed at an uneven and majestic pace. But the reader can immediately relate because Roberts paints such a realistic picture of a world ensnared in time, caught in the web of the Church's authority. The characters in Pavane are exquisitely drawn and their roles played out to perfection. Their world is created so perfectly that you will immediately be caught up in it and greatly regret when you must leave it, having finished reading the book. If you have a shred of romance in your soul, you must read Pavane. Unlike most other books I have read, I have had to experience Pavane several times since 1972 and it never fails to please me, no matter how many times I read it. I am about to read it again, for the umpteenth time. Join me?
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting alternate history, 16 Sep 2003
By 
N. Clarke (Lancs, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
I can really only echo the sentiments of the other five-star reviews here. This is simply a beautiful work; another gem from Gollancz' Masterworks series, although one which reads more like fantasy or historical fiction than SF.
The novel is told through a series of six 'Measures', vignettes of story and mood focusing on a different character each time. While each works separately, taken together they form a tapestry linking thematic and narrative concerns - producing, ultimately, a beautifully-conceived and wonderfully effective tale of twentieth century England stifled by an all-powerful, anti-progress Catholic Church.
The alternate England is a triumph of understated, economical world-building (something that many of today's fantasy novels could learn from, perhaps). It is filled with enduring images - the Signallers' towers, the steam engines, the land held in winter's icy grasp - made all the more striking and memorable because we are shown them through the eyes of convincing and distinctive characters.
My only criticism would be of the 'Coda', which feels superfluous, and far too neat. Otherwise, this is a moving story of a transforming world, all the more effective for being incompletely explained.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keith Roberts' finest: a haunting vision of a fedual Britain, 17 Jun 2004
This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
The late lamented novelist and illustrator Keith Roberts had several claims on the attention of posterity but none better than this book. 'Pavane' has to be one of the most painstaking and convincing alternative history stories ever written. (It also won plaudits from Brian Aldiss and was selected by Anthony Burgess as one of his '99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939'.) The prologue to the book neatly introduces Roberts' other world, describing the bloody aftermath of Elizabeth I falling to an assassin's bullet in 1588. In the ensuing chaos, the Armada successfully invade and suppress the forces of the English Reformation. Thereafter, England remains within the Catholic fold. Most of 'Pavane' is a series of (often beautifully-written) episodes in the history of this alter-England from 1968 until sometime early in the 21st century. Roberts' chronicle deftly shows the Church hierarchy and the forces of revolt struggling through decades of uneasy truce. As the years pass, the power of the Church comes under attack and an older wisdom begins to re-assert itself. Just when you think you can see where Roberts' alternative world is going, the ending of the book throws a very different and thought-provoking slant on this subtly changed history. Rather unusually for an SF author, Keith Roberts combined a clear and unpretentious style with a firm grasp of writerly virtues like characterisation and plot, and, believe me, this unusual combination pays off. (I hate to disagree with any of the previous reviews, but anybody with an aversion to fantasy who reads this review might like to note that there aren't actually any fairies or pixies in 'Pavane' at all - without giving anything away, the 'People of the Heath' referred to near the end of the book are entirely human.) Finally, anyone who enjoys 'Pavane' might also like to look out for Roberts' other major alternative history, 'Weinachtsabend'. This short but powerfully unsettling novella appears in Roberts' collection 'The Grain Kings' and describes what replaces the celebration of Christmas in a Nazi-occupied Britain.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful..., 15 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
...I first read this some half-a-dozen years ago, borrowing it from a library. In succeeding years, it remained in my mind, though I could not remember author or title. Fortunately, on describing it to a friend, hugely knowledgeable in SF, he instantly identified it. Imagine my delight when I discovered it had been recently re-published!
It's a moot point as to whether this should be included in the SF or Fantasy series. Whichever you class it as, it is a beatifully written, hugely atmospheric, thoroughly consistent & convincing view of an alternate history. Comprising half-a-dozen or so short stories (that I suspect were originally published as such in magazines), this is a work that deserves a place on anyone's bookshelf. It starts & ends with stories linked by the same steam traction engine, separated by the passage of a number of years. More than that, I shall not say for fear of spoiling your enjoyment, except to add - go buy this!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Weird, compelling, unforgettable, 21 Oct 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
I first read this book because I had never heard of the author before and the blurb made it out to be some kind of classic. I must say that my nose for an interesting read once again didn't let me down. This is one of those books that you read and think "what the hell is this trying to say?", and you finish it and find that it continues to play on the mind long afterward. It's an amazingly convincing creation of at least two or three strange and chilling worlds in one. I think one of the great set pieces of this book is the opening one with the ambush of the road train, and also the weird experiences of the young semaphore operator. All in all, a richly realised and resonant work, I'd recommend it to anyone with a taste for enigmatic and absorbing alternative-world stories.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking, 10 Oct 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
Like some of the other reviewers I too read this many years ago and re-visited it over the years before finally lending it, missionary like, to a 'friend' who never returned it. I am now about to replace it now that it is back in print.
Not normally being a lover of descriptive 'flowery' prose, I was seduced in a few short pages by this intensely atmospheric and credible alternative history. I not so much read this book as experienced it, feeling the chill on my breath and hands on the footplate of the traction engine as it crossed the Dorset moors, to hearing the clack-clack of the semaphore as their messages winged their way across the countryside.
The intensity of the images was brought back to me two or three years after reading the book when, on rounding a bend on the road, I saw for the first time, Corfe Castle shrouded in mist. The feeling of dejavu was so profound it made the hairs on my neck stand on end.
I would recommend this book to anyone regardless of whether they are science fiction/fantasy readers or not.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Deeper Wisdom, 18 May 2011
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
Alternate history novels are sometimes regarded as a sub-genre of science fiction, but in some respects this book is the exact opposite of a work of sci-fi. Science fiction is normally set in an imagined hi-tech future, whereas "Pavane", like Kingsley Amis's "The Alteration" or Ward Moore's "Bring the Jubilee" is set in an imagined alternative low-tech present, less technologically advanced than our own society. It would, of course, be quite possible to write about a high-tech alternative present, based on some such premise as "If the Roman Empire had survived we would today be colonising the planets", but this is less often done. If one wants to write fiction about the colonisation of outer space it is easier to do so within the framework of orthodox science fiction and to set one's story in, say, 2511 rather than in an alternative 2011.

Keith Roberts's alternative world has many similarities with that imagined by Amis in "The Alteration". Roberts's point of departure occurs in 1588; Queen Elizabeth I is assassinated, resulting in a civil war and a successful invasion of England by the Spanish Armada. Protestantism is eventually destroyed, both in Britain and in Europe, and the Roman Catholic Church rules supreme over Western Christendom, including the European colonies in the New World. "The Alteration" also deals with a world where a reactionary, intolerant Catholicism has triumphed in Europe, although in Amis's world Protestantism still survives across the Atlantic in the "Republic of New England".

In the world of "Pavane", England remains a semi-feudal society, dominated by the Church and a powerful aristocracy. The Church has banned, or severely restricted the use of, many new inventions, with the result that late 20th and early 21st century Europe only possesses a level of technology which in our timeline had been attained by the early 19th century. The most advanced form of transport is the steam-powered traction engine; long-distance communication is achieved by the use of mechanical semaphore towers.

Like Roberts's later "The Chalk Giants", "Pavane" is less a novel in the traditional sense than a series of seven short stories, all set in Dorset. (There are other links with "The Chalk Giants"; both books feature as important characters a lorry-driver- or traction-engine driver- and a woman named Margaret, and in both a crab symbol takes on great significance). A "pavane" is a type of dance, and continuing the musical analogy Roberts refers to these stories as "measures" with a final "coda". Although each "measure" constitutes a separate story in its own right, they are linked by being set in the same imagined world, by a sense of growing revolt against the power of Rome and by the use of characters drawn from the same family. (The main character in the first story is the road haulier Jesse Strange and that in the sixth story is his great-niece Eleanor; Eleanor's mother Margaret appears in the fourth).

Some have claimed that the book's depiction of Catholicism is offensive to that religion. In fact, Roberts simply depicts a twentieth-century Catholic Church acting in much the same way as its sixteenth-century predecessor did, and I would certainly agree with his thesis that the failure of the Reformation would have acted as a brake on scientific and technological progress, although for slightly different reasons to those he gives. An all-powerful Church acting as the sole source of religious authority and political power throughout Christendom would have led to a deeply conservative, less intellectually adventurous society where there would be no need to ban inventions like electricity and the internal combustion engine for the simple reason that they would never have been invented in the first place.

And yet in the context of "Pavane" such arguments are perhaps unnecessary, as Roberts never intended the book to be a serious piece of counter-factual history. This is demonstrated by a series of deliberate anachronisms antedating his stated point of departure in 1588. We learn that members of the British aristocracy still speak Norman French as their mother tongue, even though this language had ceased to be spoken in England some two hundred years before the Armada sailed. One character is killed by a lynx, a creature which had become extinct in Britain during the Dark Ages. Some places are referred to by their Roman names, such as "Durnovaria" for Dorchester. And when a twenty-first century monarch has trouble with a rebellious aristocrat, his forces bombard her castle with stones fired from mediaeval siege engines. Even the Elizabethans had cannons!

The world of "Pavane" is rather a blend of alternate history and fantasy, in this respect reminiscent of Philip Pullman's world in "Northern Lights", although unlike Pullman Roberts does not make use of explicitly supernatural elements. It is a brilliantly realised world, one both like our own and yet strangely different. In some ways it is a very concrete place; Roberts delights in giving detailed descriptions of his imagined alternative technology, especially the traction engines and semaphore towers. In others, however, it is a strange, mystical, alien place. (The fifth story, "The White Boat", has a particularly mystical tone).

By the end of the six "Measures", most readers will be left feeling profoundly relieved that they have the good fortune to live in the real twentieth century, not this alternate one. And then, suddenly, in the final "Coda" Roberts leads us to question this assumption. As he points out, his world might be a place without democracy and freedom of thought, where the Enlightenment never happened, but it is also a place where Passchendaele, Hiroshima and Auschwitz also never happened. We are left to ponder two unanswerable questions. Might not political progress and scientific advance have been purchased at too heavy a price? And might not the Church's suppression of new technologies have been based on a deeper wisdom rather than obscurantist folly?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 13 Dec 2009
By 
Michael Chance "mjfchance.co.uk" (Manchester) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
Just wanted to encourage anyone thinking of buying this book to definitely get it! I've been reading my way through the S.F. Masterworks collection and this is one of the best I've read so far.

Roberts writes vivid, descriptive prose, with a poetic and almost romantic sensibility which many sci-fi writers should take note from. This book is wonderfully controlled, and its measures were paced beautifully, leaving me racing through the book whilst actuallly trying to hold myself back to appreciate at greater length the quality of Roberts' writing. The characters are full of life, yet are situated within a larger social context upon which their actions cause progressively greater ripples of disruption. One of the things I love about sci-fi is that good sci-fi novels so often comment upon the interaction between individuals and socio-cultural contexts on a huge scale, whether global, inter-planetary or truly cosmic in their scope (I definitely suggest reading Olaf Stapledon for the latter). The freedom that sci-fi gives its authors means that some really interesting and progressive ideas can be discussed and logically worked out to provide the reader with a really intriguing thought experiment.

Pavane fits that mould to some extent, but crucially never loses its interest in the concerns of the individual; concepts are fully worked out but never become overly sober or dominant because the prose is so passionately evocative. Whilst Pavane is a novel of revolution, the conflicts between religion, state and individual are never wrongly simplified, and the book left me wondering about what it really meant for some time afterwards.

My only complaint is that I wouldn't mind the book being longer, I would have happily read it for ages.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the gretest books ever written, 3 Jan 2012
By 
bventure (Shropshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
I first read this many years ago, was hugely impressed, and just started looking here for any of his books I've missed. I was driven to add this review because I was amazed at some of the negative comments here. Poorly written? Are you reading the same book? Long after some of the details have been forgotten, I can still feel the atmosphere of this book, the silence of the Dorset countryside under snow is something I haven't directly experienced (at least, only in Shropshire!), but it lives in my head to this day, despite not having read it for more than 30 years. Buy this. Read it. Anyone with any sensitivity whatever will always be glad they did. While you're at it, read Kiteworld, The Chalk Giants, The Grain Kings - and anything else you can find. This is a beautiful and moving experience.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hauntingly beautiful book...., 21 July 2002
By 
This review is from: Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
I read Pavane after reading most of Roberts' other works, and I was not disappointed... far from it, it is the most hauntingly beautiful book that I have ever read. Imagine a changed England, where Elizabeth the First died in 1588 and the Armada conquered... now move on to 1960, to a land where petrol is rationed, electricity is banned, and the people live in serfdom and poverty, ruled by a faraway Rome. Superstition and fear rules the land, but behind it all, rebellion simmers, and the heresy of electricity and science enlightens the common man until one day the great Castles rise against the power of the Church of Rome. I too made the pilgrimage to Corfe Castle in Dorset, and stood where the Lady Eleanor watched the Pope's men besiege her castle by the light of her electric arc lamps. If you hold romance in your heart, this book will live there too... total enjoyment!!
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Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS) by Keith Roberts (Paperback - 9 Nov 2000)
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