East of Laughter by R A Lafferty

Morrigan, 1988, 176 p.

East of Laughter cover

How do you describe the indescribable? This is Lafferty in all his bonkers glory.

The novel starts with a focus on one Atrox Fabulinus’s “one hundred and one tests to tell whether you’re dreaming” and in chapters one to three we are also introduced, by way of lists, to the Group of Twelve (who actually number fifteen.) Fabulinus (the Roman Rabelais) is one of the seven giants who scribble the world into being and also one of the pillars on whom the world rests. The twelve decide they are. (Dreaming, that is.) “To be real is to be unique. To be unreal is to be common. There is only one chance in all infinity of it (the world) being real. But there are a billion billion and ongoing billions of chances of it being unreal.”

Along with Fabulinus the Group of Twelve comprises Hilary Ardri, Jane Chantal Ardri, Leo Parisi, Perpetua Parisi, Gorgonius Pantera, Monika Pantera, John Barkley Towntower, Solomon Izzersted, Denis Lollardy, Caesar Oceano, Laughter-Lynn Casement, Mary Brandy Manx, Hieronymous Talking-Crow, Countess Maude Grogley. (Some of them are spares.) To call them characters would be to stretch the word beyond breaking point. You don’t read Lafferty for characters. Nor for plot – though there is one; involving the murders of successive members of the group and of others’ elevation to Scribbling Giant. They also roam the world day to day (chapter by chapter) taking in Frisia, Dublin (East of Laughter is apparently Lastoir de Gaire in Dublin,) East Sussex, the Isle of Man, Lecco in Italy and a castle in Germany. And there are eight days in the week for some and nine days – the ninth slotted into gaps in the other days – for a select few.

To give a flavour of the writing a (partially shortened) piece of dialogue runs, “Yes, to all appearances the atoms are empty boxes….. They lack detail…. They contain only rough schematics of even rougher schematics..” This situation is then compared to buying an expensive car and receiving only a child’s drawing of a car. The dialogue continues, “But this isn’t the way I remember them! I remember them as totally detailed…. Great God of the Atoms, you have short-changed me! Oh mend your ways! The atoms of the apparent universe are completely unworthy of you.”

Pedant’s Corner:- Skirried? Past tense of skirr? That ought to be skirred surely? Apparently skirried is in a Thackeray story. Aquafer, titonium.

Stafford (i)

On the way back to Scotland we stopped off at Stafford for a break.

The place is festooned with Art Deco.

This is the Edinburgh Woollen Mill:-

And here’s a detail:-

This is the upper frontage of the Nat West Building:-

This is another shop’s frontage:-

Here’s Marks and Spencer’s (a stitch of two photos):-

Art Deco, or at least 1930s, style shop upper window. The glazing looks original to me. Possibly Critall. Good brickwork too.

A pub/restaurant called Casa. Perhaps modern but has deco style

Ursula Le Guin and Tomorrow’s Worlds

There was an interview with Ursula Le Guin in the Guardian which also appeared in print in yesterday’s edition. It didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know but opined she is underrated as a modern US writer – to which I can only agree.

Also yesterday I watched the first episode of Tomorrow’s Worlds, a BBC 2 series on the history of Science Fiction, in which Le Guin made an appearance. To my mind the programme focused too much on visual media (film and television) and did not give enough attention to the written form. Then again, it’s difficult to show clips from books. It was nevertheless good to see the genre given some critically approving TV exposure. Or critical TV exposure at all come to that.

Agnes Owens: The Complete Novellas

Polygon, 2009, 499 p.

 Agnes Owens: The Complete Novellas  cover

Various encomia adorn both the back cover (“Agnes Owens is one of Scotland’s best yet most overlooked writers,”) and the before-the-title pages of this book. Owens is someone of whose name I’d been aware but whose work I’d never sampled till now, an omission a chance encounter in a local library enabled me to rectify.

Like Birds in the Wilderness1 is a rather rambling tale of an unemployed bricklayer with a fondness for drink who moves to a northern city seeking work, meets a girl, encounters a military type who cryptically offers him unspecified employment, goes hiking in the highlands, returns home.

A Second World War childhood/adolescence figure in both A Working Mother2 and For the Love of Willie.

Betty is the titular working mother, the focus around which the events of the novella orbit. She is married to a war hero, but the only things she and her husband, Adam, have in common are alcohol and two children. As her husband is unemployed she goes back to work to help support the family. Her job takes her into the office of widower Mr Robson. This relationship, like hers with Adam’s friend Brendan, is not what propriety deems it should be. A few final scenes undercut the reliability of the previous narrative by revealing Betty is telling her story to a fellow mental patient.

Any unreliability issues are addressed at the start of For the Love of Willie where Peggy is an inmate in a psychiatric ward who announces to fellow patient, the duchess, her intention to write a novel based on her own life, scrounging or stealing paper to do so. The two phases of Peggy’s life are then told in parallel describing how her wartime employment in the shop of Willie Roper led to her present state. Peggy’s mother tells her warningly, “No man’s as nice as he looks” and also that (men) have habits worse than dogs. Peggy herself tells the duchess that love is only sex with a sugar coating round it. I note here that this novella’s title may be a crude pun.

Bad Attitudes3 revolves around the doings of the Dawson family – recently decanted from a condemned terrace to a new council flat – the busybody downstairs, her across the close neighbour, the local councillor they both consult, the one man who refuses to leave the old terrace, the tinkers who have squatted there and their sister/in-law. It takes a strange turn near the end when two murders are committed in the terrace.

In Jen’s Party Jen lives penuriously with her mum, Maude, and Aunt Belle. Her father is in jail but she thinks he merely left and is well off somewhere with another woman. Belle is a force of nature, blithely careening through life while Maude feels the struggle. Belle organises a party for Jen’s fourteenth birthday which, on the day, brings all sorts of things to a head. The dialogue between Maude and her sister in this story is immensely readable and sparkles with authenticity.

One of Scotland’s best writers? I’m not wholly convinced yet, but she is certainly worth reading. I’ll look for more.

Pedant’s corner:-
1 encyclopedias (why the US spelling?) inadvertantly, skuttled, fruit wellies (jellies,) proprietory, stoney.
2 sprung – though sprang is used later, before I could take if off, dotary – which I’ve only ever seen as dottery before.
3 if she hadn’t seen it for her own eyes. For? It’s usually with.

Friday on my Mind 108: Hung Up On a Dream

It’s possible the Zombies may have been listening to Nirvana (the real Nirvana, see link and my Nirvana category) before they recorded this album track.

Whether that’s true or not there’s a great mellotron sound on this song, which was written by keyboard player Rod Argent.

The Zombies: Hung Up On a Dream

Great Book Cover

We were in Buckingham on a Saturday morning. There was a market. Some of it was vegetables and fruit etc but further on towards the old jail there were several stalls selling antiques/junk etc. A couple of them were bookstalls. The good lady bought a watering can with a hole in it – to use as a planter – and four books. She also persuaded me to buy The Splendid Book for Boys, typical 1950s boys book fare, whose cover I show below along with the two (facing) Contents pages which I had to scan separately as together they were too big to fit the scanner.

Nice space rocket!

When I get round to reading the book I’ll also post the interior ilustrations of the SF story.

Buckingham

After we left Bicester we made our way to the hotel we’d booked in Buckingham.

The town has a swan for its symbol. In golden form it appears as a finial (it looks too big and heavy to be a weathervane) on the roof of the Town Hall.

The town centre is pleasant with a mediæval castle-type building which was also once the town jail.

The Sainsbury’s Local (On the road in) has a look of Deco about it. There are good horizontals in the brickwork and stepping on the roofline.

The shop has been blended in well with the flat-roofed thirties house to its left.

There is a lovely Art Deco frieze on the wall of The Buckingham School, a Sports College. Note the swan logo. I assume the BCC stands for Buckingham County Council.

The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

Headline, 2014, 538p. Reviewed for Interzone 251, Mar-Apr 2014.

The Citadel contains within its labyrinthine caverns not only the trapped remains of the old gods (bar one) but a supposed treasure trove. By reputation no-one escapes from it alive yet it still attracts adventurers and has guards who must be bribed to allow entry. Sell-swords Wydrin of Crosshaven (the Copper Cat) and Sebastian Carverson, disgraced former Knight of Ynnsmouth, are engaged by the mutilated Lord Aaron Frith of Blackwood to penetrate its secrets. They agree somewhat off-handedly considering the apparent dangers. Amid adventures which in part are curiously reminiscent of the 1980s children’s adventure game TV show Knightmare and Indiana Jones films they succeed up to a point. Sebastian suffers a mortal wound but Frith is restored to fitness – and beyond – by immersing himself in the lake underneath the Citadel. In the process Frith acquires magical powers by which he involuntarily transports our three heroes to Blackwood in an instant when they are threatened by the old god Y’ruen, a dragon, which their foray into the Citadel has raised from its confinement. Frith’s new powers allow him to heal the wounds of both Sebastian and Wydrin.

In the Blackwood village of Pinehold, they encounter the source of Frith’s misfortunes, Fane, who is torturing the inhabitants to find the secret of the Frith family vault. While wearing a peculiar glowing helmet – which channels the influence of the demon Bezcavar, the Prince of Wounds, an enthusiastic harvester of pain – Fane is immune from harm. His equally cruel henchmen, the Children of the Fog, Enri and Roki, wear enchanted gauntlets to manifest copies of themselves which confuse and confound any opponents. With help from an old woman, Holley, and her magical glass spheres our heroes escape, cross an invisible bridge to the vault, find in it little but maps and return to free Pinehold from its oppressors. Meantime Y’ruen and her indistinguishable brood army – whose members have numbers but no names (though some of them have developed an interest in words and their own individuality) – is devastating the land of Relios.

The three then split up to pursue their own projects before being reunited for the final scenes. Wydrin returns to Crosshaven, Sebastian goes to fight the brood army. On the Hollow Isle of Whittenfarne, Frith meets Jolnir, who turns out to be O’rin, the untrapped god, and, without much protest or questioning, bestows on Frith the power to control his magic. As a by-product Frith realises that the maps describe a weapon.

This is Williams’s first novel and I’m afraid that shows. We start with a torture scene – never auspicious – from the viewpoint of a character who is not even mentioned again for about a hundred pages and is encountered in the narrative just once more – and that after she has already been killed. Chapter two introduces the Citadel and some of its menaces. Sebastian’s erstwhile friend Gallo is killed. Only in Chapter three do we meet our heroes, the two sell-swords, in a tavern, awaiting their client, the tortured party from Chapter one, Aaron Frith, whose escape from torture is dealt with exceedingly sketchily. (Not quite “with one bound he was free” – but near enough.) Descriptions of fights are leaden, we have changes of viewpoint within scenes, suggestions by a character of what to do next are followed by the sentence, “And so they did.” At various points a touch of economy with the prose would not have gone amiss. For example, who else would a cluster of people be in proximity to but each other?

There is also a curious prudishness to the proceedings. None of the characters really swears. (Williams tells us they do but no expletives save two “bloody”s appear in direct speech.) They might as well be neuter for all the sexuality we are shown. The one time even the faintest possibility of sex arises the subject is treated with absurd coyness and the opportunity is snuffed out abruptly. We infer early on, and later are told – but without description – that Sebastian is gay. He doesn’t manifest it in the text. (But he does carry a large broadsword.) Wydrin, I suspect, is intended to be a spiky young woman but instead appears rather foolhardy and unreasonably cocky. All are hauled hither and yon by the necessities of the plot. Gallo’s reappearance as one of the walking dead is a case in point. None of them come across as having agency of their own.

For all these reasons The Copper Promise fails to breathe. There is no sense in it of a life beyond the page, and little but death on it.

The following comments did not appear in Interzone.
I read an uncorrected proof copy so some of these may have been amended for final publication but (among others) there was a “sunk” count of 5, 1 span, 1 sprung, a “scrapped” for scraped, an “octopi,” one instance of vocal “chords,” “every bone felt as though they had shattered,” – one of innumerable failures of verbs to agree in number with their subject nouns; in especial an army is singular – “over take” for overtake, “very almost completely normal,” “it’s” for “its,” the “lay” of things (which wasn’t a song,) “lengths they would go to deceive each other,” “fit” for fitted etc, etc.

Bicester, Oxfordshire

On the way from Woodstock to our hotel we were passing by Bicester, so decided to stop for a look.

It’s a pretty standard English market town sort of place but there was a modern shopping centre that had deco aspects.

And further round a bit there was this interesting looking old church.

Livingston 1-2 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Almondvale Stadium, 15/11/14.

Had today’s games finished at half-time Sons would be bottom of the table. Had I written this post at half-time it would contain one word: dreadful.

We simply were not in this in the first half. We couldn’t string a pass together (never mind two,) the players seemed anxious, hurried. The side was totally without shape and baggy. We had not one attempt at goal. We stood off Livi and let them play. Result 1-0 down; and nearly another. Playing 3-5-2 wasn’t helping. The players were very ill at ease with the system.

Second half we reverted to 4-4-2, with Garry Fleming up alongside Colin Rhyming Slang, and started pressing. Result; we were in the game. After what I think was our first corner of the match the ball broke to Garry Fleming who rifled it in. (One of our players had had a high boot in there somewhere so we maybe got away with that: then again for their goal one of our defenders had his shirt pulled, preventing him getting to the scorer for a block.)

Garry Fleming was also instrumental in our second with a brilliant piece of trickery to evade the defender and play the ball down the wing for Mark Gilhaney to cut it back. Mitch Megginson nearly overran the ball but stretched behind himself to control it. He still had room to take the step back, pivot and stroke the ball into the net. Couldn’t have seen this at half-time. Mitch had had a terrible game up to then. His goal seemed to galvanise him though, as he went on a good run later.

We only had two shots on target all game – and scored with them both!

I’ll take it.

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