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The University of Corporeal and Ethereal…
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The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies (Students of Madness Book…

by Wolfgang Edwards

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The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies is an imaginative yet strange and uncomfortable read.

The writing is competent, if perhaps drawn out, and explores themes which push the author into describing the fantastical – and there are many such trips – using the setting of an academic institution which is specifically in business to research and commercialise H.G. Wells-style fabric of reality stuff. This provides the ideal launch pad for many unusual stories from the same source, or at least from offices and research departments next door to each other on the same campus. Teaching, research and spin-out companies are all described in a fantasy context, but breaking the boundaries (and glass ceilings) of research is where the central action comes from.

The campus itself is set in a poverty-stricken, Victorian gutter-influenced, maker and steampunk city where the rich and the poor divide is thrown into sharp relief. It’s the sort of place where street urchins need their engineering skills to survive, exploitation is rife, so you wouldn’t want to be without work in this environment. The rich on their rocket sleds think they’re a species apart from the poor, the poor divide themselves absolutely from the painted savages in the wilds and the academics in their towering edifice act superior to all of them. It’s hard to be sympathetic to any part of a population which disfigures itself like this. Resentment, starvation, abandonment, lack of compassion and permanent injury have all been normalised in this imagery, so it’s hard to feel good about the book.

The characters are of course there to open up each themed idea, so could be puppets for all they matter, used to destruction, illustrating an idea, then it matters little if they are thrown away. In H.G. Wells’ the Time Machine, do we remember the name of the scientist? No, but we do remember the idea and what happens. The writer tries to engage the audience with each protagonist in turn, hoping readers will care about what happens to them, but from my reading of this it didn’t connect. The sense of macabre, almost semi-horror, that these mini plays descended into affected me in the way that I mentally stepped back, putting in some emotional distance so I wouldn’t be drawn into their queasy experiences. I wanted to see where the story was going and understand the characters but was reluctant to be part of it, to fuss around them.

In the sense of nature versus nurture, a desensitised society produces desensitised people (“society’s to blame!”) and that landscape of blunted emotions becomes tangible. In my case, the story desensitised me to the plight of the characters because it made me feel uncomfortable. What I had expected to take from this book was a sort of inspirational buoyancy, a feeling that there’s so much more behind the scenes of reality and what fun it would be to discover it. That got lost rather in all the social deprivation and hardship. Although I’m sure this is all very worthy and has historical precedence (Dickens hoped we’d change society if our attention was drawn to it), at this stage of history we have already understood that lesson and we need something a little more uplifting. That opinion can be disregarded in full if you think steampunk has to be Victorian and depravation goes with the territory. I disagree in this case as it wasn’t a light veneer. Fantasy is supposed to help us escape from drudgery, not wallow in even more of it. This is an institution in need of change. ( )
  HavingFaith | Jan 26, 2018 |
The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies deals with all types of science, both natural and supernatural, physical and unseen. Through eight interwoven yet standalone stories I was able to experience many different aspects of what one might study at the University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies, the different types of people involved in the college and the very interesting town that is shaped around the college. With any collection of stories, there were some stories that I liked better than others. Each story followed a different subject in the science fiction and fantasy genres; my personal preferences were for time travel and lucid dreaming, so there is probably at least one story in here for everyone. From each of the stories I had a wonderful sense of characterization and there was a diverse cast as well. In many of the stories I enjoyed that there was a dark element, a warning that these branches of science are both amazing and dangerous. My only complaint was that some of the stories felt very heavy, some warranting a long break before I picked up the book again and that the eight separate stories made for quite a long read ending at over 600 pages.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. ( )
  Mishker | Mar 3, 2017 |
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