Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Tachyon Publications, 2015, 194 p

 Slow Bullets cover

This novella starts just after an armistice in a long war waged partly on religious differences. Each side had its sacred Book, “And I’m sure there is tremendous grace and power in these words. Tremendous wisdom and humanity – as well as ignorance and superstition and foolhardiness,” but Scur was not an ardent believer and her mother, very fond of the enemy’s official war poet, introduced her to the poem “Morning Flowers.” Just before the armistice Scur was captured by an enemy patrol and tortured by a war criminal called Orvin who left her for dead. Yet she mysteriously wakes up on the skipship Caprice along with soldiers of both sides, the ship’s crew and civilians of various sorts.

But things are awry. The skip has gone wrong, they are a thousand years in the future and the ship’s memory is malfunctioning. Not only that but sometime in the intervening years aliens dubbed The Sickening passed through human space. They could change physics, turning down the brightness of suns. No remnant of the civilisation the awakened people on the ship can remember is left.

While Scur’s desire for retribution on Orvin partly drives the story along so also does the rest of the ship’s company’s attempts to discard their differences and to preserve humanity’s knowledge. The slow bullets of the title contain information about their bearers, including personal memories, but can be overwritten. As such they are necessary to the story’s resolution, as is “Morning Flowers.”

The novella length doesn’t really give Reynolds much chance to develop character, most of the inhabitants are there to carry the plot along, but the justice Scur metes out to Orvin is not what we might expect and there is an elegiac tone to the ending.

Quick Appointment

Sons new manager has been appointed very quickly.

On the face of it, it’s a good move. Stephen Aitken has a good track record with Stranraer, helping them to promotion from the bottom division and consolidating their position in Tier 3 where they have finished third and second in the past two seasons. And in Stephen Farrell he has an assistant: something the club has been working without for a while.

Only time will tell whether it’s been too hasty but there was a need to set things moving with very few players signed up so far for next season. He ought to have good knowledge of the lower divisions and of players there who may be capable of the step up.

Interesting Times

I’ve been away for a few days and took the oportunity for a rest from the internet.

As a result it was only today I found out Sons manager Ian Murray has resigned and will take up the manager’s job at St Mirren.

This is not entirely an unexpected development; I knew he had been interviewed for his new post.

Whatever, Ian Murray will always be remembered fondly for turning round our first season in the second tier for over 25 years, leading us to 5th (17th in Scotland) in the next – not to mention a Cup quarter final – and consolidating us in the season just gone. Any good wishes will be tempered by the hope we thump his new team when we meet them in the season to come.

So will this mean a new dawn or the end of the recent good times? Can a new manager take us on any further or will we be returning to the struggles of the lower divisions?

In many ways this comes at a bad time. Only three players are signed up for next season. Planning for it will of necessity be delayed while the club seeks someone to fill the position.

Interesting – and worrying – times.

Art Deco in Milngavie

Milngavie is at the end of a branch railway line from Glasgow. it’s also the beginning (or the end) of the West Highland Way.

There wasn’t much deco about. The closest to it was this shop:-

Milngavie Art Deco Shop

Detail of cartouche on the roofline:-

Cartouche on Milngavie Art Deco Shop

Milngavie War Memorial

I photographed the War Memorial for Milngavie and District when I was over in Dunbartonshire for the Raith game at the end of the season.

The memorial is set in a sort of square just off the town centre. The inscription reads, “Nobly they kept alight the lamp of liberty.”

Milngavie War Memorial

I think the figure is holding a dove of peace in her hand but it’s hard to be sure.

Milngavie War Memorial Side View

RIP B B King

And now it’s blues legend B B King who has died.

There’s something pure about the music the great blues musicians played.

This is B B playing Sweet Sixteen, originally from 1959, live.

B B King: Sweet Sixteen

Riley B (known as B B) King: 16/9/1925 – 14/5/2015. So it goes

Not Friday On My Mind 31: Hard To Handle

Back to Otis Redding for some more soul. A no. 15 hit in the UK in 1967.

Otis Redding: Hard To Handle

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

Harper Perennial, 2007, 210 p

 Magic for Beginners cover

This is a book of short stories by Link, who has won multiple awards for her fiction.

The Faery Handbag. Made by Genevieve’s grandmother from an old dog skin, the eponymous bag opens three ways. One is just a normal bag, another leads to a capacious land where centuries elapse while only a single night has passed outside the bag, a third contains the bag’s guardian (the dog whose skin it was made from – and who is not a happy bunny.) Told with such confidence that it even warns the reader not to believe a word of it and also comments on the art of storywriting, “It’s hard work telling everything in the right order,” Link’s skill here is to make sense of nonsense, logic out of the bizarre.

The Hortlak. Eric works with Batu at an All-Night Convenience Store. Eric likes Charley, a woman who drives past regularly with dogs about to be put down but he never talks to her and is jealous of the fact that Batu is teaching her Turkish. The store is close to Canada and has some Canadian customers but is also frequented by zombies from the Ausible Chasm just across the road. The blend of the mundane (the store and the talk of changing the face of retail) and the bizarre (the zombies and the ghosts of dogs Batu says haunt Charley’s car, which are nevertheless treated matter-of-factly) gives the story its frisson. And the Hortlak of the title? I have no idea. It’s never mentioned.

The Cannon. Couched as a question and answer dialogue this is about emm…. a cannon – from which people are shot into the air to fly for miles without apparently suffering any injuries.

Stone Animals. A couple and their two children move into a new house whose entrance is flanked by stone rabbits. As the lawn gradually fills with rabbits they come to feel everything is haunted.

Catskin. A tale of witches, and how they get their children, of revenge, of sewing people into catskins so that they take on the attributes of a cat, and which may, just may, have been written to enable a pun on the word pussy.

Some Zombie Contingency Plans. A former jailbird who thinks a lot about zombies, icebergs and art gatecrashes a party and takes the girl of the house into his confidence.

The Great Divorce. A man who is married to a dead woman – “It has only been in the last two decades that the living have been in the habit of marrying the dead, and it is still not common practice” – and has three dead children with her, wants a divorce, “Divorcing the dead is still less common.” He consults a medium – mediums know what the dead are like.

Magic for Beginners. A tale about Jeremy Mars, one of a group of teenagers who are avid fans of a magnificently bonkers and elusively scheduled TV show called The Library, but who themselves appear in episodes of the show. The story is beautifully written; about burgeoning sexuality, embarrassing parents, the highs and lows of friendship (and the characterisation is very good) but it doesn’t really go anywhere. (Except Las Vegas, where Jeremy’s mum has inherited a wedding chapel and a phone booth.) Contains the questionable assertion, “That’s the trouble about being a writer. You know how every story goes.”

Lull contains a tale within a tale within the tale, about a poker playing group, time running backwards and a cheerleader and the Devil.

Link is without doubt a stylist, but that style is unusual, full of meanderings and discursions, and never far from a core of disorientation. Oddness is the keynote of almost every sentence. Individually the stories would be intriguing and striking but one after the other they add up to a niggle about how Link’s world corresponds to the real one.

Pedant’s corner:- Bajadoz (Bajadoz?) sucessful (successful,) if you had to chose one (choose.)

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Canongate, 2014, 592 p

 The Book of Strange New Things cover

Despite having Dutch nationality, Michel Faber, by virtue of living in Scotland for 20 years and being published here, appears on the list of 100 Best Scottish books with his first novel, Under the Skin. That’s gone on my tbr list but I read this as it was one of the nominees for the Clarke Award this year.

Pastor Peter Leigh has been taken on by a mysterious company called USIC to become a missionary to the indigenous inhabitants of the planet Oasis. (This is a strange place with a day, and hence also a night, that each last 72 hours but, as described here, has a not very diverse ecology.) The selection process meant that Peter’s wife Beatrice – also interviewed by USIC – did not accompany him but they are able to write to each other via a communication device known as the Shoot.

Importing material from Earth to Oasis is very costly indeed and the base depends to a large extent on the Oasan crop, whiteflower, which (handily) can be converted to various Earth-like foods when harvested at different stages of its cycle. However the aliens (of whom we only hear of one group) have moved away from the USIC base and Peter has to spend over an Oasan day out of contact in order to further his mission. His immersion in this task leads to a gradual estrangement both from the humans at the base and from Bea.

The religious missionary to another planet concept may be new to mainstream readers of Faber’s work but Science Fiction readers have been on this sort of territory before; most notably with A Case of Conscience and The Sparrow, however here the crisis of conscience that interaction with aliens usually engenders in the missionary is undergone not by Peter but by Bea left at home on an Earth where various disasters – to the Maldives, Guatemala, Pakistan and a Britain falling apart economically and socially (along the way Tesco’s goes bust; I read this book a few weeks after my local Tesco’s closed) – are occurring and the couple’s cat Joshua comes to a sticky end.

Another unusual feature here is that the locals are actually avid to learn about Jesus and to hear from the King James Bible (the Book of Strange New Things as they call it.) The slow unravelling of their need for this good news holds what little SF tension the book provides. Faber is more interested in the aliens’ effect on Peter and the deterioration of his relationship with Bea. Faber renders the Oasans’ inability to pronounce the “s” “t” and “ch” sounds in English by using symbols (easily decipherable in context.) He then gives us Peter’s final speech to them almost entirely in these symbols but I wasn’t engrossed enough to try to decode them.

As a novel of how distance can undermine a relationship this is fine but, despite the aliens, it doesn’t really hit the SF buttons.

Pedant’s corner:- tourniquetted (tourniqueted?) imposter (impostor,) after a some hesitation, “glotch of submersion into the liquid-filled crib” (glotch seems to be a coinage, it doesn’t conform to the definition I found in the urban dictionary.) The text is full of Usianisms – lonesome, Styrofoam, Band-Aids, Caucasian, trunk, Cub Scout rather than just Cub, but uses British spellings, eg foetus. There is a reference to cameras with film in them (to be fair technology seems not to work well on Oasis) and to Georgia being in the Russian Federation as opposed to an independent state. I noted frequent instances of “seconds (or minutes) later” and a few of “within minutes/seconds.”

Possible Blogging Hiatus

Things may be sparse around here for a while. The good lady’s blog friend from the USA, Peggy of Peggy Ann’s Post and whose Read Scotland 2014 Challenge I signed up for last year, has arrived for her long awaited holiday in Scotland.

As a result we will be busy showing her all the sights, or at least those sights not too far flung from Son of the Rock Acres. Time for blogging may be limited.

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