Richard Calder

Richard Calder - novels

PS Publishing

PS Publishing

Whitechapel, London. 1888. Madeleine Fell is dreaming of Babylon. Not the Victorian Babylon of London, but a second, Mesopotamian Babylon that exists in a parallel dimension, a world populated and ruled by Ishtar’s sacred prostitutes that has of late gained ascendancy over our own.

In Whitechapel, Jack the Ripper is murdering Babylonian whores. And off-world, on Babylon itself, the men of the Black Order plot revolution—by instituting a ruthless program of gendercide. Unbeknown to her disapproving parents, Madeleine enters the Babylonian novitiate, her heart set upon travelling to the exotic, parallel world of her dreams, fearful, yet at the same time strangely excited, by the intimation that her demon lover awaits.

When Madeleine’s parents discover what she has done, she escapes to Babylon with the help of her irrepressible friend and fellow novice, Cliticia. As the two adventuresses journey through a landscape of magnificently bizarre ruins towards the consummation of their amour fou and a concomitant disillusionment, they begin to understand that Babylon the Great, like London, is as much a city of the mind as a set of co-ordinates on a transdimensional map, and that they owe the Black Order, and even Jack the Ripper himself, a debt of complicity.

‘Calder’s visions of Babylon are both allusive and alluring. How can one resist a scene like this? ‘“Lord Azrael and Mr Malachi stood by the railway lines that ran down the middle of the street. I looked south, to where the lines receded towards the vanishing point of our destination: a saw- toothed horizon comprised of ziggurats surmounted by a bloated moon. The moon neither waxed nor waned, nor did it cross the heavens; it simply remained where it was, night after night, like a great Chinese lantern above the tiny, distant buildings – a goddess brooding over her deathly still world.”

‘Later invocations of Fuseli, Rossetti, and the like are equally intoxicating – bizarre, sensuous, channelling the essence of late 19th-century decadence … His goal may seem to be nothing but fin de siècle atmosphere erupting into pulpish mayhem. But then comes the kicker … and we can see how it applies to us, at the dawn of the 21st century … If Babylon is a dark dream from another age, it’s also very much our own.’

In the same issue of LOCUS Nick Gevers lists After the Party as a ‘recommended story’ and writes: ‘Interzone has been serializing Richard Calder’s controversial novella After the Party: A Nymphomaniad, starting in the December issue and concluding in that for April. A companion to the author’s imminent novel Babylon, this can be seen as a culmination of Calder’s long fascination with issues of eroticism: the association of orgasm with death; the fetishization of the sexual Other as Object; decadence and the politics of “perversion”. The setting is an alternate Earth of the late 19th or early 20th century, where female worshippers of Ishtar, long exiled to a parallel world, have returned, changing history by toppling patriarchy and installing a new global order dominated by Orders of sacred prostitutes and the male Illuminati who relish the attendant fleshly circus. The problem for women in this timeline is that although they have in a sense liberated themselves from bondage, forcing men to concede their equality and their power, they have also had to reify themselves in the image of masculine desire, becoming stereotypical maenads or dolls in consequence; nymphomania has become a plague, often of a literal and lethal kind. And males who resent the dictatorship of sensuality, in effect the ideological brothers of Jack the Ripper, have formed a dissident Black Order, dedicated to the destruction of all whores. What occurs in After the Party is the tentative, only vaguely successful reconciliation of the conflicting opposites, as a doctor belonging to the Order encounters a prostitute who draws him platonically as well as physically; the fatal psychological contradictions of the late Victorian Age come into sharp focus, and Calder achieves a powerful bleak finale.’