My Latest Publication

…. was an emailed letter of comment in yesterday’s print edition Guardian Review on a piece called A Door into Wonderland which was the lead article in last week’s edition.

Unfortunately my letter doesn’t seem to be on the online version. (Or if it is I couldn’t find it.)

But the text was in my email’s “sent” folder:-

The idea of a “wonder-land” has certainly – as Robert Douglas-Fairhurst said – also attracted English and American authors but his point was perhaps a little undermined by the first example quoted, Thomas Carlyle, not actually being English. Ecclefechan may be near to the border but it’s still on the northern side.

Jack Deighton.

Top Ten Space Operas

Another list.

According to Wikipedia “Space Opera is a subgenre of science fiction that often emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, weapons, and other technology.”

Partly as a comment on the sub-genre and also as an attempt to subvert it I provided my own novel A Son of the Rock with the tagline “A Space Libretto” mainly because – while it roamed the spaceways and deployed technology – advanced abilities and weapons were largely, if not completely, absent.

As to Space Opera itself, Gareth Powell has posted a list of what he considers a Top Ten of Space Operas on his website. It leans heavily towards relatively recent works.

As you can see I’ve read all but three of them.

Nova by Samuel R. Delany
The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

The Reality Dysfunction By Peter F. Hamilton
Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey
Space by Stephen Baxter
Excession by Iain M. Banks

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan

Canongate 2009, 346 p.

This is one from the 100 Best Scottish Books list which I wrote about here. I picked it up from one of my local libraries.

 Buddha Da cover

The book starts with a section narrated by ten-year-old Anne Marie, whose father Jimmy has just turned into a Buddhist. Hence the Buddha Da of the title. But the novel isn’t solely rendered from Anne Marie’s point of view. Her mother Liz and father Jimmy also have sections narrated by their personae. In fact overall the novel is more Liz’s story than either Anne Marie’s or Jimmy’s as the ramifications of Jimmy’s decision sequentially embarrass Anne Marie then alter the marriage and the relationships within the family.

The narration in all three voices is in a modern Glaswegian Scots, which some might find off-putting but expresses emotions and the human condition as well as any other mode. Along the way we are treated to several bons mots. Jimmy muses on his relationship with his brother, “There we are pissed oot wer heids sayin how much we love each other and we cannae dae it when we’re sober.” Anne Marie worries about the tensions the situation has created, “Everybody’s speakin tae me but naebdy’s tellin me anything. Happy faimlies.” Liz says of a woman overheard in the Botanic Gardens, “Confident they voices, they English voices. Mibbae she wasnae English right enough. Loads of times you thought they were English and they turned oot tae be Scottish but went tae private schools,” and she reflects on the central event of the novel, the one that prompts the resolution, “At the time it was the last thing on ma mind. But then whit has yer mind got tae dae wi it?” There is also a sly reference in one of Anne Marie’s sections to the similarities between Scotland and Tibet, “Nae flag on the map. Or languages of wer ain.” Is this a comment by Donovan on the comparative neglect of the voices she has chosen for her story? If so she has remedied that defect admirably. These feel like real people with lives as worth documenting as any others.

The CD Anne Marie makes with her friend Nisha places Buddha Da firmly in time though, just after the turn of the century before online videos became the medium of choice for self-promotion.

Buddha Da’s first few sentences perhaps try too hard and the one-liner at the end is really more suited to a short story than a novel so is it one of the best 100 Scottish books? Well, the themes and emotions it explores are not particular to Scots, the characters’ situations could occur almost anywhere but it is written in that uncompromising urban Scots vernacular, emphasising that the people’s language has expressive power equal to anything else.

Pedant’s corner:- The language Buddha Da is written in pretty much makes any criticism of the grammar otiose as it reflects usage but I still had an aversion to the likes of “ahd of” and “could of” and I’ve always hated the use of “mines” as a possessive form for the first person. Donovan could very well reply that that makes me a literary snob.
There was vist for visit, and I’ve never heard of anyone having a holiday for the Queen’s birthday.

Not Friday On My Mind 29: Shine on Brightly

Not a single but Procol Harum were one of the forebears of Prog Rock. As this track, among many others, evinces.

Procol Harum: Shine on Brightly

The Lake Illuminations, Empire Exhibition 1938

Two more stunning art-drawn postcards by Brian Gerald from The Empire Exhibition, Scotland, 1938. These are both of the Lake Illuminations.

This one also shows a piece of statuary.

Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks by Christopher Brookmyre

Little, Brown 2007, 343 p.

 Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks cover

The fifth in Brookmyre’s series of novels featuring journalist Jack Parlabane and it’s the mixture as usual, flashes of mordant humour in amongst investigation of nefarious goings on. In this one though, Brookmyre’s target is a rather easy one, spiritualists/mediums/psychics – whom Brookmyre characterises, no doubt wholly justifiably, as interested only in the money their activities bring in. The set-up is that Parlabane, as a newly installed Rector of Kelvin University, has been called in as an observer of a trial of psychic phenomena at the University (a fiction which is a very thinly disguised version of my alma mater, The University, Glasgow.) The catch is that in order to receive the money to fund a Chair of Spiritual Sciences the University has to accept that it be set up under the Science faculty, as is the trial.

The level of mayhem here, and the body count, is lower than in the typical Brookmyre novel. Most of the murders occur offstage. It’s all good readable stuff; though the early musings of rival journalist Jillian Noble are a bit tedious.

Along the way we learn about the history of psychic faking and the various ruses its practitioners employ to gull the suggestible. Appropriately given this subject matter there is a certain amount of authorial misdirection going on. But we are warned by the text that nothing here is what it seems.

We are also treated to Parlabane’s observation apropos the Scottish male psyche, “Anything that gets us off discussing our emotions can only be applauded; it drives us forward, away from petty distractions, in our never-ending quest to understand everything except ourselves.”

I did notice the occurrence of phrases which Brookmyre would later use as book titles – when the devil drives; where the bodies are buried.

This isn’t pretending to be great literature but once past the Jillian Noble bits it is entertaining enough.

And the unsinkable rubber ducks? This is the term used for those who cling stubbornly to belief in psychic phenomena no matter how often or completely they are debunked or shown to be fraudulent.

Pedant’s corner:- At one point reference is made to a Kelvin Avenue. Its counterpart in the real world could be Kelvin Way (unlikely) or, more realistically, University Avenue. It is unfortunate then that, later, Brookmyre refers to University Avenue. The trial is named Project Lamda: the Greek letter is spelled lambda. Some of these following irritations may charitably be attributed to being in the narrating character’s voice. Homeopathy (whatever happened to œ or even oe?) medieval (ditto æ or ae,) “served to maximise the crescendo,” (a crescendo is a steady build-up, can you maximise a build-up?) the mean time (meantime,) a “he said” for a “she said,” off of, snuck (sneaked,) “pan breid” the usual phrase is “brown breid.”

Peebles War Memorial

This is perhaps the most impressive War Memorials I have ever seen. Set off the High Street through an archway into the pathway to the entrance to the Town Hall this is a distinctive memorial; a domed alcove, with pillars.

The commemorated are not just those from Peebles but from the wider County of Peeblesshire. The plaques either side of the alcove are for WW2. This is for the villages and towns of Peeblesshire.

The plaque to the left is for Peebles and Manor.

A smaller plaque on the upper left commemorates a death in Afghanistan.

The names of the WW1 dead from the villages of Newlands, Skirling, Stobo, Traquair, Tweedsmuir, Walkerburn and West Linton are on the right hand panel inside the alcove.

On the left hand panel inside the alcove the WW1 fallen from Broughton, Drumelzier, Eddleston, Innerleithen, Kirkurd, Lyne & Meggat and Manor are listed.

These villages/towns may have their own War Memorials, some of which I have photographed:



West Linton

The central panel inside the alcove is for Peebles alone. A huge number of names.

The inner dome, the cross and the tiled mosaic decoration give this an unusual feel, Orthodox or even Moorish.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Tor, 2012, 416 p.

 Boneshaker cover

In 1863 Dr Leviticus Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine undermined Seattle and let loose an invisible gas dubbed the Blight, whose effects are (slowly) deadly. As a result Seattle’s old city centre has had a two hundred feet high wall built around it. Sixteen years later (and incidentally with the War between the States still raging back east – which makes this an altered history: then again I suppose all steampunk is) his son, Zeke, convinced his father is innocent, sets off into the forbidden area to prove it. His mother, daughter of hero Maynard Wilkes, goes after him, scrounging a ride on an airship. (Ah, the glories of steampunk.) Inside the city various adventures befall them both before they (separately) encounter the mysterious technical wizard who effectively rules the walled city, Dr Minnericht.

Despite the Blight being described as invisible Priest has the air inside Seattle’s walls as brownish-yellow in colour. Some of the people who succumb to the Blight come back to animation as zombie-like things called rotters which roam the streets of the walled city in search of live human flesh which apparently they like to feed on. (I gather this is typical of zombies more generally.) The logic of this escapes me. Granted, Priest’s rotters will need an energy source, but why would this need to be meat and how, given that their own flesh has decayed, would they digest it anyway?

The scenes inside the walled city ought to conjure up a feeling of claustrophobia but somehow, despite constant references to the discomfort of facemasks and the necessity to replace their filters, doesn’t. The chapters featuring Zeke understandably read like a YA novel as does the pace of events. At times the atmosphere is reminiscent of Phillip Pulman’s His Dark Materials but these characters are much less memorable. I’m glad I’ve sampled Priest’s work but I don’t think I’ll seek out more.

Pedant’s corner:- amuck (I prefer amok,) if you had mask (a mask,) from whence (whence already means from where,) off of, sprung for sprang, but least they weren’t bleeding (at least.) stunk for stank (x 2,) shined for shone (x 2,) who was seemed on the verge, wadded it into ball, lay of the land.

Livingston 1-2 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Almondvale Stadium, 21/3/15

What an odd game.

We started brightly and had two efforts on goal from Garry Fleming neither of which were on target. Then Chris Turner dangled his leg out to stop a Livi player getting past and was booked. An unneeded foul which I said to Onebrow would be even more unnneeded if they scored from it. So what happened? 1-0 Livi. Danny Rogers seemed a bit immobile as it went in.

There followed a succession of fouls by Livi layers on ours all of which went unpunished – even the one that resulted in Darren Petrie having to be substituted. Dylan Easton came on but this wasn’t really the sort of game where he could shine as Livi were very physical. Despite that it was two more of our players who got booked. In Mark Wilson’s case it looked to me as if he played the ball onto their player. I thought it wasn’t till late in the game that the ref saw fit to book any of their players but the BBC says one was yellow carded after 45 mins. The worst refereeing decision came in the second half when Garry Fleming was given offside despite the fact that he had run on to a pass misplaced by one of their players.

From five minutes into the second half Livi were time-wasting. That was an irritating spectacle. I was thinking we’ve beaten way better Livi teams than this.

The time-wasting came back to bite them late on when Scott Agnew drove a free-kick into the net. Is that Aggie’s first goal from a free-kick since we got promoted to this division?* It wasn’t even in the corner, hit on the goalie’s side of the wall, but I wasn’t caring.

No time-wasting by Livi now. But it was us who scored again, Garry Fleming latching on to a ball after a set piece wasn’t fully cleared and fairly belting it into the net. He simply wanted it more than the defender.

So a win that sees us 11 points clear of 8th place with 7 games left (with Alloa only having 18 points to play for and Cowdenbeath 24.) Livi are 17 points behind us with only 21 to play for. I think we won’t finish last, then.

*Edited to add:- Apparently not. I seems he got one in the 4-1 demolition of Hamilton Accies last spring. I wasn’t at that game.

Pinhole Eclipses

I tried to photograph the pinhole camera image I managed to get of yesterday’s eclipse. It was difficult to focus the digital camera on the image made by the pinhole, though. In real life it appeared much sharper.

I did get multiple images by using a colander:-

I’ll stick to the day job.

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