Alembic by Timothy d’Arch Smith is one of the great novels of rock ’n’ roll. The number of these is small and includes Don Delillo’s Great Jones Street, and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and a handful of other titles. The number of great science fiction rock ’n’ roll stories is even smaller, and includes Alembic, Bradley Denton’s Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede and Howard Waldrop’s “Flying Saucer Rock & Roll”.
The science in London antiquarian bookseller Timothy d’Arch Smith’s science fiction rock ’n’ roll novel Alembic (1992) is early modern alchemy in the service of a modern bureaucratic state, and the rock ’n’ roll is Celestial Praylin, a band on the scale of Led Zeppelin. The antics of Nicholas Sparks, depraved megastar frontman of Celestial Praylin, the crazed adoration of the fans, and the scary manipulations of the government office of experimental alchemy are reported through the eyes of Thomas Graves. Graves is an antiquarian bookman, and the sort of overly sensitive, self-centered post-adolescent person who is the ultimate novel protagonist — so long as he survives the events and grows up to tell the tale.
Timothy d’Arch Smith is also author of an excellent collection of essays, Peepin’ in a Seafood Store: Some Pleasures of Rock Music (1992), Love in Earnest (1970), and numerous other bibliographical works.
Timothy d’Arch Smith. Alembic. A Novel. Normal, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 1992.