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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
Passarola Rising

by Azhar Abidi

(Viking, CAN$29.00, 244 pages; hardcover, published in February 2006.)

cover scanFor centuries before humanity successfully took the skies, visionaries of many stripes imagined, designed, and sometimes even built flying machines. One such dreamer was Father Bartolomeu Lourenço. In 1709, 73 years before the Montgolfier hot-air balloon debuted, he demonstrated his flying machine, a sort of hybrid glider/balloon (the exact design is lost to history), for the king of Portugal. Alas, his invention drew the censorious attention of the Inquisition. Bartolomeu fled to Spain, where he died several years later, never to resume his experiments with flight.

That's history. But what if Bartolomeu had pursued his dreams under the king's protection?

Azhar Abidi, in his first novel, Passarola Rising, explores that alternate-history scenario.

Abidi's novel is engagingly narrated by Bartolomeu's younger brother, Alexandre, who worships his brilliant older sibling and dedicates his life to accompanying him in his larger-than-life adventures. Even in this parallel history, the Inquisition eventually targets Bartolomeu; he escapes with the aid of his airship, the Passarola.

Drawing on the fantastic voyage genre popularized by Jules Verne, Abidi creates a wonderful and poignant adventure story. The brothers explore the Earth aboard the Passarola, and Abidi evocatively portrays the eighteenth century as a vista of alien landscapes -- worlds lost to history, or in the process of being lost.

The brothers' close bond anchors this beautiful novel of exploration, history, politics, wonder, and speculation, but what really makes it soar is its celebration of the power of imagination.

Originally published, in slightly different form, in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 18 March 2006.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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