Sometimes I say I’ll hung my keyboard to the wall and move to a career as a tarot reader in the pubs of the area. I mean this only half-jokingly, and for a series of reasons it’s becoming increasingly more attractive. And it turns out I wouldn’t even be the first – one of my favorite writers, back when I was a kid, apparently ditched a career as an award-winning novelist and journalist to become an astrologer.
Jane Gaskell was born in 1941 and wrote her first novel at 14, and published it at 16. It’s called Strange Evil and it’s a strange roller-coaster of magic, imagination and sexual suggestions. I read it in 1985 – give or take a few months – because of the Borius Vallejo cover, and because I had just been through Gaskell’s Atlan saga, again picked up because of Boris, and I was a fan.
I would be curious, right now, to go back to the Atlan stories and see how they hold up. I’ve been thinking about that series, these days, because I see a direct influence on my forthcoming novella: I lifted the tangential references to the Atlantis myth and some pre-Colombian elements (but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced my story takes place in the Mediterranean area).
The five Atlan books follow the main protagonist as she is bumped between various factions in a complicated game of politics between ancient empires, with a side of non-human conquerors, strange animals and, yes, cavemen. The plot is melodramatic and brutal, a succession of changes of front and allegiance as the antediluvian world shifts and collapses. There’s a lot of sex, a lot of it non-consensual, in the books, as the main character is flung from one bunch of horrible men to the next. For a teenager coming from classic sword and sorcery, the Gaskell books were a bit of a change of pace, let’s put it this way. But they are good, and intriguing, and different.
Indeed, the reason why I started reading Tanith Lee was because she reminded me, at least in her earlier works, the old Atlan books. And I consider Tanith Lee up there in the fantasy writing Olympus, so I’m telling you a lot about Jane Gaskell, too.
Right now I am not sure if the books are available – China Mieville wrote wonders about Strange Evil, but maybe the Atlan series has faded from memory – and it’s a pity.
There’s two more novels by Gaskell I’ve been meaning to read for ages and I never got around to – a vampire novel set in the swinging London and an alien invasion/future distopia book, for which she got a Somerset Maugham Award. Then a work as a journalist and later, astrology.
Which makes me eye my tarot deck here on my desk, and think, never say never. There are worse ways to make a living.