The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi

Gollancz, 2014, 292 p.

 The Causal Angel cover

The third in Rajaniemi’s Jean Le Flambeur trilogy – see my reviews of The Quantum Thief and The Fractal PrinceThe Causal Angel also features the characters Mieli and Matjek Chen from the previous novels, the latter now as a young boy. Reversing their previous roles, here Jean is attempting to save Mieli, who is in the hands of the transhuman Zoku. The action ranges all over the Solar System – much of which has already been trashed or else is destroyed in the process. Any attempt at plot summary would be wasted.

While The Causal Angel shares a present tense narrative with the earlier books it felt too distancing here and the frequent shifts of viewpoint make the tale less intimate than, in particular, The Quantum Thief. Except in a few cases – most notably the necessity of Planck locks for life as we know it to exist – Rajaniemi still makes absolutely no concessions to the reader with regard to explanation. While quantum entanglement is more or less obvious and the overlapping of branes is easy enough to visualise, the concept of an ekpyrotic cannon does depend a little more on a knowledge of Physics.

Not a read for the faint-hearted or the technophobic.

Pedant’s irritants:-
The text mentions an aurora borealis near Saturn’s south pole, That would be an aurora australis, then; or just an aurora. The spelling of Iapetus warps back and forth to Iapetos.

The Netherlands

The ferry left Harwich late firstly due to “a cruise ship in the next berth” and then to the fact that they couldn’t get the engines to start. (Cue cries of, “They cannae take it, Captain.”) It was an electronic problem apparently. As a result we were an hour late arriving at Hoek van Holland.

Almost the first thing that happened after we got off the boat was we got lost. Our intructions said to take the second exit from a roundabout. It should have been the first. After a slight detour we got onto a road on the top of a dyke, which was pretty intimidating as there didn’t seem much room if there was any sort of traffic problem or accident. I missed another turning, found myself in the wrong lane and had to enter the A 20 motorway to Rotterdam. I was able to get off and pull into a petrol station where I consulted the map I had bought and worked out a way back onto the route I needed. Dutch motorways are brilliant, very well sign-posted.

Unfortunately the delays meant we hit Amsterdam at rush hour. Four north bound lanes more or less jam-packed. Fun. I wasn’t quite sure of which junction to come off the Amsterdam ring motorway but I spotted a sign for Leeuwarden and Heerenveen and took it. This route meant we drove over what used to be part of the Zuider Zee – on the Afsluitdijk, with the IJsselmeer on our right and the Wadden Sea hidden behind the dyke to our left. This was a weird experience but the dyke is a fantastic piece of civil engineering. At each end it has a set of huge sluice gates to allow the IJsselmeer to drain into the Wadden Sea. Presumably this only happens at low tide.

North of Amsterdam the traffic became very much lighter. Most of the way was motorway and the journey passed very quickly.

At certain junctions the motorway regulations stop a few hundred metres before the roads meet. This happened just west of Heerenveen where there is effectively a roundabout between the A 6 and A 7 motorways. (In Groningen two motorways meet at a set of traffic lights.)

I was struck by the number of smallish industrial units near the motorways and at the edges of towns – way more than in the UK. Old Dutch buildings tend to be traditional with pitched roofs. The industrial buildings all looked modern and were either rectangular boxes, some up to seven or eight stories, or else replete with curves.

The towns seemed tidy and prosperous looking. That may be due to the brickwork pavements and cycleways. I can’t say I noticed any litter.

Where Did You Say You Were?

Five posts now and we’ve still not made the ferry.

After Melton Mowbray we travelled through Rutland and saw a bit of Rutland Water. Not the most scenic lake I’ve ever seen. The good lady spotted a sign to Barnsdale. This was the garden of the late lamented Geoffrey Hamilton (so it goes) of whom the good lady was a fan and it is still running as a commercial concern in the shape of the gardens – for which we had too little time to visit – and a plant centre. Two plants were duly bought.

Then it was a long haul down the A 14 and M 11, then along the A 120, where we stopped at Braintree and shopped at an outlet centre we remembered from three years ago. Once more we dined at the old Embassy Cinema in Braintree.

Along the A 120 once more, then the A 12, stopping for petrol on the outskirts of Colchester. The service area was directly opposite a stadium – which of course I had to photograph. As I suspected it turned out to be Colchester Community Stadium, home of Colchester United FC (since 2008.) Situated at the delightfully named Cuckoo Farm it’s a good, tidy example of the modern stadium style.

When I lived in Braintree I never made it to Colchester’s old ground at Layer Road. I never will now.

Finally along the continued A 120 to Harwich for the night and the morning ferry.

Melton Mowbray (iii)

Yet more deco style in Melton Mowbray – mainly in the horizontals and verticals. This is The Mall:-

Just to the right in the picture above you can see the building below whose gable end and central feature suggest deco:

The doorway has strong deco styling. Inscribed above it is Harwood House and round it is, “By Farmers for Farmers” but I think it’s a solicitor’s now.

Higher still the detail shows a cow’s head and a stylised human one.

There was another shop with deco styling, Townrow. The window styling here argues for deco, and the horizontal and vertical stepping, but this part may be pre-deco.

The extension on the right hand side has had its windows mucked up.

The brickwork on yet another shop also argues for deco. If the original windows had been retained that might have clinched it.

And there’s more…. Iceland. Deco stepping over main door:-

Side door detailing:-

Upper portion detailing:-

Round the corner is taken by Boyes:-

Detailing on Boyes’s portion:-

I make that twelve Deco buildings for Melton Mowbray – all packed into a small area.

Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

In search of the perfect dram

Century, 2003, 368 p.

I bought this mainly for completeness. I’ve read all of Banks’s fiction and so his only non-fiction book kind of rounds things off. It also qualifies for the Read Scotland Challenge.

Raw Spirit cover

It is strange to be writing about this in the wake of the referendum. While the book is ostensibly about whisky it is in reality a hymn to Scotland, in particular its landscape, its “Great Wee Roads” and its inhabitants, not forgetting the West Highlands’ voracious midges and prodigious rainfall. Banks’s liking for fast cars can’t be missed and the numerous inns and hotels he frequented as well as the distilleries and their visitor centres (there is, it seems a whisky “experience” look) will be grateful for the exposure. Had the book been solely about whisky I would not have been the best person to appreciate it as I have never taken to the stuff.

That said, the history and processes of whisky production are described in extremely accessible terms. While Banks attempts descriptions of the single malts he samples in the course of his travels (for which he had no shortage of willing companions) this is perhaps an impossible task – in the way that descriptions of music are often lacking – but the word “peaty” does appear quite often.

Parts of Raw Spirit read like Banks’s non-SF fiction. The verbal interplay between the author and his friends is just like the conversations encountered in say Espedair Street, The Crow Road or Complicity, the asides and digressions – his journeys were undertaken and the book written around the time of the (second, the illegal) Iraq War, occasioning familiar Banksian rants – typical of his mainstream work.

As a book Raw Spirit is barely ten years old yet so much has changed since it was published. Banks himself is sadly no more, as are the Inverleven Distillery at Dumbarton and (not so sadly) the Forth Road and Skye Bridge tolls. The landscape, the Great Wee Roads, the whisky, though, remain – at least those bottles as yet unconsumed.

A delightful addition to the Banksian œuvre.

Melton Mowbray (ii)

As I spotted the Regal Cinema I looked down a side street and saw a Deco roofline. I made a mental note but when we worked round to the main street I saw it again. Right beside the building which houses Lloyds Bank.

This building isn’t really curved. The picture is a stitch of two photos to show it all. Good frieze here above the circular feature. At the extreme right in the photo above is the building with the roofline I’d seen earlier. It has a strong corner element:-

Even before those two I’d already photographed Middletons. Good windows and the detail on the roofline at the angled frontage is pleasing:-

Melton Mowbray’s Bargain Buys might be deco. Nice brickwork, whatever.

Bailey’s definitely fits the bill though. Good strong horizontals and verticals:-

Live It Up 20: It Won’t Be Easy (Without You)

This is a curiosity. The theme from the 1987 TV series Star Cops. Written and performed by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues.

Star Cops Theme – It Won’t Be Easy (Without You)

This is how the opening credits looked.

Melton Mowbray (i)

We spent the first night away from home in a hotel just outside Derby. On our way there from the motorway we travelled along Brian Clough Way, a nondescript, even dowdy, dual carriageway. Surely there’s a better way to commemorate the man. In the morning we drove into Derby but didn’t know of any suitable parking space so gave up after a drive around the inner ring road and skedaddled back along Mr Clough’s memorial road, taking a right towards the South at Nottingham. (A curiosity was we came across two roundabouts that had roads through their middles, something I’ve never seen before. Is it a Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire thing?)

We stopped at Melton Mowbray, “the Rural Capital of Food.” (Well, 3 years ago we went to Bakewell.) Unfortunately it was market day and the place was heaving. As a result I couldn’t get a photograph of the Pork Pie shop (there was a stall in the way) but we did buy a pie and very nice it was too. Enough for lunch that day and the next. We passed on the Stilton cheese though.

What I didn’t expect was Art Deco. The place is liberally strewn with it. Remarkable for a relatively small town.

The first thing I saw on leaving the car park was the brick side of what looked like a school building but is (now, at any rate,) the King Street Building of Brooksby Melton College.


A bit rectilinear but nice iron work protecting the small windows flanking the entrance. The fan light above the door is good as is the frieze on the portico. Amazingly the windows don’t seem to have been mucked about with.

The next building along is also Deco! The Regal Cinema is a stunner. The decoration on it is sublime. It’s still a working cinema.

See more here.

Superb!

Geese on the River Wharfe, Wetherby

We made a further stop on the first day on the way down to the Holland ferry. At Wetherby.

There’s a nicely situated car park hard by the River Wharfe.

There were geese on the river.

Tim Whalen

I have just seen on the club website the news of Tim Whalen’s death.

Though I do not recall seeing him play I’m sure I must have done as a little boy. I well remember his playing comtemporaries Hughie Gallacher, Tommy Govan and Andy Jardine though their stays at the club lasted beyond Tim’s.

Whatever, my father used to mention Tim in reverent terms and he is widely regarded as one of the club’s greats.

Tim Whalen. So it goes.

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