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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Tours of the Black Clock

Steve Erickson

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To purchase Tours of the Black Clock

Title: Tours of the Black Clock
Author: Steve Erickson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989
Length: 320 pages
Availability: Tours of the Black Clock - US
Tours of the Black Clock - UK
Tours of the Black Clock - Canada
Les Tours du cadran noir - France

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a good alternate history as reflection of the 20th century

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 29/1/1989 Tom Clark
The NY Times A- 7/1/1989 Caryn James
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 5/3/1989 Kathy Acker
Wall St. Journal A- 13/3/1989 John Buckley

  Review Consensus:

  All have some reservations, but are generally very impressed.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his is a rare and original novel, written in controlled prose that balances the resonance of the dark river with the flash of the silver buffalo." - Caryn James, The New York Times

  • "Mr. Erickson's own sentences, like verbal mirrors of film noir images, lapse into ambiguity, disappear and reappear in the ocean of sense and meaning, just like the landscapes he describes. (...) Mr. Erickson is a gambler, a dealer in myths, who, if he can rid himself of some slight sentimentality or sentences whose gorgeousness sometimes slips into easiness, will be one of the fabulous mythmakers who are needed in these times of the deprivation of the imagination." - Kathy Acker, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is a curiously entertaining, if disturbing and difficult novel. Reading Tours of the Black Clock is like attending an epic one-man performance. At times wearying, there are also long manic stretches where Mr. Erickson thrillingly careens onto open road. He could be called modern fiction's genius caddy, reaching when necessary for just the right club -- magical realism, fabulism, metafiction, the detective novel, pure farce, black comedy, the dystopian novel, novels within novels. But he is also quite a marvelous story teller, and the story he tells is profound." - John Buckley, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tours of the Black Clock proposes an alternate version of history, presenting a world which is similar to the one we know through the beginnings of World War II and then shifts as the Germans decide on a different military strategy. Hitler is eventually deposed, but the German military keeps on fighting, far afield and for many decades, leaving the world looking, geo-politically, different from the one we know.
       The story is told by an American, Banning Jainlight, born in 1917. Escaping from his family (a perhaps overly melodramatic bunch of scenes) he eventually flees to Europe. He comes to be a pornographer-for-hire, writing made-to-order pornographical fantasies for the most powerful Nazis. Unsurprisingly, Hitler is his customer. Der Führer's desired fantasies revolve around his niece, Geli Raubal (see Ron Hansen's Hitler's Niece and our review for another fictional variation on that relationship). The Hitler of this novel is ultimately deposed and jailed by the Germans -- and escapes with Jainlight.
       The Nazi horrors -- and Hitler's personal culpability, and Jainlight's sense of guilt -- dominate much of the novel, though in fact it is a much broader indictment of our century.
       Presented in short chapters (164 of them), Erickson has fashioned a fascinating novel of modern history. The alternate version he proposes allows him certain freedoms, but they do not make the book any less substantial. Erickson has created a dark and perverse portrait of the modern age that is convincing and resonant.
       Well written, ambitious, with only a few shortfalls, Erickson's book is a good, dark entertainment. Recommended

       Note: there is one intensely irritating flaw in the book: Jainlight lives in Vienna for much of the novel, his apartment "on a street with a long name that translates roughly as 'storm of dogs'." Thereafter he (frequently) refers to it as "Dog Storm Street." The street in question is in Vienna's fifth district, near the so-called Hundsturm after which it is named. Unfortunately, while "Hund-Sturm" translates as "Dog Storm" the structure in question is actually the "Hunds-Turm", the Dog's-Tower, and that is how the street name should be translated. Erickson's amateurish research (and the shoddy editing of his editors -- but then when have editor's ever done their jobs ?) casts a pall on an otherwise remarkable achievement.

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Reviews: Steve Erickson: Other books by Steve Erickson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Steve Erickson was born in 1950. He has written several fairly highly acclaimed novels.

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