Where Time Winds Blow Robert Holdstock

I’ve seen Where Time Winds Blow (1981) by Robert Holdstock described as ‘criminally unknown’ and while that’s true, if every criminally unknown title were hyped, filmed and thrust into the public attention, public attention would wane back to what it already is; a steady state of low level care. A novel that follows the odd urges of its author, and fails to adhere to the normative patterns of storytelling that the US film industry developed (they evolved from vaudeville, actually) will always be further down the film makers’ wish list.

Where Time Winds Blow tells in eerie detail, the sort of things that humanity might well expect were it to be genuinely living on another planet. In the case of Where Time Winds Blow, the planet is called Kamelios, where little bitty creatures called the Skarl build wild coral like structures on the landscape, to a nasty predator called a Gulgaroth, which the people have to be wary of. Also on this well realised world are weird fire storms called Fiersigs which have the uncanny ability of being able to enter people’s minds and change their behaviour, inducing paranoia, fear and a desperate madness in those affected.

However, the most striking aspect of Kamelios are the awful Time Winds and Time Squalls, which tend to leave behind them artefacts and items from various stages in the planet’s history. Of the colonists on the planet of Kamelios, none of them really know much about the effects of these Time Winds, because nobody that has ever been caught in one has ever returned to describe it.

I’m guessing that most avid SF fans will know Where Time Winds Blow and its author Robert Holdstock (1948 – 2009). The early 1980s were a great time to be reading SF, because the genre was much simpler than it is today, and as this was pretty much the pre-digital world, a lot of 1950s, 60s and 70s stuff still had real relevance and vitality. Books like Where Time Winds Blow, which built on much of this with human drama were great feats, although Robert Holdstock was at that stage still pretty much undiscovered. It’s that glorious state that allows Where Time Winds Blow to be a few things at once, and a little genre-bucking too, falling more into the category of what they call today ‘speculative fiction’. To me, that term refers to something much more broad than mere SF, or science fiction, because it simply deals in alternate reality, or more simply in anything that is a fantastic rendering of our reality. Some books you open and the author is talking about machines and places that are clearly off the scale in real terms, while others like this one have strong social narratives that tie them much more to our own reality.

In the case of Where Time Winds Blow by Robert Holdstock, the reality is the world of archaeology, and what’s explored is chronology, history and even geology, all of which are completely scrambled by the eponymous Time Winds. Reading Where Time Winds Blow, I have also been aware of a somewhat elevated style, which I wasn’t expecting at first. That is to say, normally in picking up a novel published in the Pan SF series, I wouldn’t expect to be too taxed in literary terms, but oddly, Robert Holdstock’s sentences are a little longer than the norm, just as his descriptions and characters take a little more effort to grasp. That’s no bad thing, of course, and the end result is that in enjoying he book, you feel by the end that you have really read ‘a classic’. Hence, I expect, the criminal neglect. There is a magic to Where Time Winds Blow, because weird things keep popping up, you imagine with perhaps too much discomfort, what it would really be like on another inhabitable planet; strange, unpredictable, unpleasant and too weird to cope with most of the time. It is in fact enough to make you homesick.