Aspects by John Ford, published by MacMillan, is as intricate and brilliant a piece of world creation as you’re likely to read anywhere. Sadly, the work is also unfinished as Ford died before completing it. However, the lack of conclusion doesn’t detract from either the story’s power or our appreciation for the author’s talent.
With Aspects Ford created a society on the verge of change. Currently ruled by a parliament composed of the rulers of the various districts/counties/provinces scattered throughout the country. However, none of these Corons, as they are called, are elected – rather they inherit their positions and titles.
When we enter the story there is a movement in place to try and reform the system and the constitution in order to make it more democratic, but there is resistance as some with power are obviously reluctant to surrender it. Indirectly, we are also told of a time in the recent past when the country was ruled by a monarchy so it appears this is not the first political upheaval in recent memory.
Even more fascinating is how Ford has combined Edwardian and Victorian technology, steam engines and rail lines, with a belief system based on goddess worship and magic. The magics are each aspected to an elemental force, which in turn are seen as representing the goddess. While both the magic and the steampunk elements are important elements in the world depicted in Aspects what really makes the book interesting are in the characters.
We meet two Corons from different parts of the country who start off as political allies and whose relationship evolves into a romance. We also become familiar with two magic workers in particular and witness the different how they work and the impact the channeling of magic has on them.
One in particular seems to live in a precarious position of having to be careful with her words. Poetry and song are her channels to generating power and she can become stuck in a place where verses become beyond her control and she could accidentally damage even those nearest and dearest to her.
In Aspects Ford has delved deeper into world making than most writers. He doesn’t take the easy way out by creating any obvious heroes or villains, or having a plucky hero attempting to overcome a dystopian society. Instead of black and white he treats readers to shades and hues from all over the colour spectrum.
We walk through a delightful kaleidoscope of shifting landscapes and people. Ford depicts everything with such accuracy we can almost taste, smell and feel what his characters experience. Aspects is reminiscent of the best of 19th century naturalism with its fascination of how characters and their environment interact, and contemporary speculative fiction. Perhaps its Edwardian type settings and steampunk technology that help create this atmosphere, but it seems like Ford has deliberately used naturalistic writing techniques to make the former more plausible.
The story ends abruptly, with no warning, as Ford died in the same manner. He left behind two paragraphs and a series of sonnets which provide some hints as to where the story – and the proposed series of books set in this world – might have travelled.
However, to read what we have, no matter how frustrating it might seem to be, is to read the work of a master writer. Hopefully it will encourage readers to seek out his early works which will be re-released over the next couple of years.
Aspects by John Ford is an amazing accomplishment. Read it and appreciate just how good steampunk speculative fiction can be.