Review: Pyrotechnicon, by Adam Browne


coeur de lion, ISBN 978-0-987-15872-7

(Review first published in ASIM 58, June 2013)

Adam Browne, noted Scribbler, Fabulist, Magister of the Imaginatorial Arts and venerated Antiquarian of Obsolescent and Unjustly Moribund Words, has promulgated forth a Book. And lo! Reader! what a Book it is! Even by its title, which in its full glory is longer than some other entire books themselves: Pyrotechnicon, Being a True Account of Cyrano de Bergerac’s Further Adventures Among the States and Empires of the Stars, shall you know it to be something verisimilitudinally other, something palpably irregular, something not plain among the realm of books. A tale regaling the further interplanetary exploits, pre-humous, humous and posthumous all, of one generously-rhinified and gallantly-besworded Cyrano de Bergerac, told in Cyrano’s very own voice (by which we are given to understand, from Browne’s identification with the tome, that the narrative has been produced by some curious form of reverse ghost-writing, assuredly involving the agency of an electrokinetick Ouija Board or, at the very least, the tormented spirit of a once-proud Gutenberg printing press forced to endure its afterlife in the piteous bowels of a ten-year-old and too-soon-decrepit laptop Computing Engine of once-modern design).

The above paragraph may, I hope, go some poor way to communicating the flavour of Pyrotechnicon. It is a work gothic, steampunkish, visceral, quixotic, lewd, scatological, fanciful, and above all playful. It’s a wonderfully sustained piece of imagination, generously bedecked with Browne’s careful and carefree wordplay, giddy with pirouettes of fancy, Immelmann turns of audacious conjecture, and Heimlich manoeuvres of phlegm-bespattered farce. The language used to convey the tale is a joy in itself, bustling with such activity as to be almost virulent, or even phosphorescent. Not a page can be examined but that there springs at the reader some contrivance of textual trickery which entreats of the reader that it be read aloud. If ever there was a book crying out to be podcast, then this book is that book.

Or perhaps not. For a podcast, being as I understand it a purely auditory contrivance, would offer no mechanism by which the listener-reader could appreciate the fine drawings with which Browne has ornamented his manuscript. These monochromatic images, though few in number, are appropriately distinctive and arresting.

But enough of this preamble: what of the story? Wordplay is all very well, but does it carry a significant freight of plot across an arc of narrative? Is there a seriousness, a depth, behind the frippery? Has it the ability to resonate with the reader, communicating something of itself to the reader’s soul? I believe it does, it is, and it has; for Pyrotechnicon is a tale of love, of despair, of a quest for vengeance, things that ring deep and true. And the voice of Cyrano—here I should perhaps confess that I know next to nothing about the original, never having read any of de Bergerac’s work, nor the other works associated with his life story—is a clear and appealing and engaging voice, speaking somehow true even when the subject matter is patently false or fanciful. The reader becomes quickly caught up in Cyrano’s unflinching pursuit of the mysterious, billiard-table-resembling Master of Secrets who has squirrelled (or, perhaps, ferretted) away de Bergerac’s beloved Roxane, a pursuit beset by difficulties both too numerous and too singularly extreme to elaborate in detail here, but including death, transparencification, and attack from without and within by vicious shadow-dwelling salamanders. The rules of logic need not apply, and yet it all makes sense. (I’m reminded most strongly, in this aspect, of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, though other readers might see hints of Lear, Belloc, Milligan, Peake, or Gilliam.) And yet to compare Pyrotechnicon to the works of others seems in some manner unfair, for it is most assuredly its own thing.

A good thing, too.

I will say one thing more, which is that, although the book is available both as hardback and as e-book, the former is substantially the more desirable: coeur de lion have done an excellent job of producing a work as outwardly handsome and pleasing to the eye—and the touch—as its contents are agreeable to the intellect. There are aspects to the book which must be foregone in electronic format, and though your shelves might already be creaking and overstuffed, I would attempt to entreat you to find some room for this most singular tale.


(Review by Simon Petrie, 2013)


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