Archives » 2012 » March

My Second Blurb

Ian Sales (see link to his blog on my side-bar) has a book out.

Well, not quite. It’s actually a short story in book form, the first in a projected series. Its full title is Apollo Quartet 1: Adrift on the Sea of Rains.

Ian asked some people to provide comments to put on its cover. One of them was me! (We call it “blurbing.”)

It’s only the second time I’ve ever been asked to provide a blurb. The first was for David S Garnett’s Bikini Planet but he’d asked just about everyone he’d ever bought a story from to do it so that doesn’t really count. Those quotes took up three pages.

I don’t yet know if Ian has included the quote I gave him.

His book will be available in hard- and paperback and copies will be on sale at Eastercon.

Reelin’ In The Years 37: The Devil’s Answer

More Atomic Rooster, just for completeness.

Atomic Rooster: The Devil’s Answer

Clarke Award Stushie*

It seems Christopher Priest, whose BSFA Award listed novel The Islanders I am reading as we speak (or read, or converse, or whatever-the-hell-it-is-we-do-on-the-internet,) has attacked this year’s Clarke Award shortlist.

Go on. Read it. It’s an entertaining rant however unfortunately open to the charge of sour grapes at not himself being on the Clarke list it may be. (Priest tries to cover this angle by saying he would withdraw his novel from any consideration if the Clarke list were to be rethought as he proposes.)

I would insert the turbulent Priest joke here but someone used it decades ago in one of the BSFA’s journals and I actually think Priest has a point. Perhaps several.

My impression of the BSFA shortlist novels I have read is that last year wasn’t a particularly good one for SF novels – though my sample is admittedly small. And I agree that to have China Miéville win the Clarke Award for a fourth time would suggest that no-one else need bother writing SF (nor fantasy) as we could all then give up and go home.

I disagree, though, with his interim assessment of Adam Roberts’s By Light Alone. See my review here.

Charles Stross (whom Priest castigates in his piece) has linked to a comment thread engendered by Priest’s rant and has also seized upon the criticism as a marketing opportunity (see link to Stross’s post.)

Among other things Priest complains Stross writes “och-aye” dialogue. “Och-aye” dialogue. What’s wrong with that? People do not necessarily speak RP, or estuary, or USian, now or in the future. Get over it.

By the way, I used to receive a yearly invitation to the Clarke Award do but I could never go – it’s in London and I always had work that day and the next. Those invitations dried up some while ago now, though.

*Stushie is a Scottish word for contretemps.
stushie [ˈstʊʃɪ], stishie, stashie
n Scot
1. a commotion, rumpus, or row
2. a state of excitement or anxiety; a tizzy. Also spelled stooshie, stoushie.

Central Park, Cowdenbeath

Home of Cowdenbeath FC.

It’s fair to say Central Park has seen better days. There is talk of a new stadium being built, though.

Here are the entrance turnstiles.

Entrance Turnstiles, Central Park, Cowdenbeath

Just beyond the turnstiles you can turn right towards the main stand or ascend the steps to the terracing. Just by the steps is a memorial stone (see right, below) which I first noticed on Saturday.

View from turnstiles, Central Park, Cowdenbeath,
Stone with Cowdenbeath FC Crest, Central Park, Cowdenbeath

At the top of the steps you get a view of the main stand – with stock car in the foreground.

Main Stand from East, Central Park, Cowdenbeath

As well as football, Central Park also hosts stock car racing as witnessed by the tyres as barriers and the wide expanse between the stand and the pitch. On a Saturday the racers start to turn up (revving engines and such behind the stand) midway through the football game’s second half.

This is the (uncovered, you’ll note) south terracing, not a good place to stand when it’s raining. Saturday was fine, though.

South terracing from east, Central Park, Cowdenbeath

Here are two photos of the stand side taken from the south terracing:-

West Terracing and Old Stand, Central Park, Cowdenbeath


East Terracing and Main Stand, Central Park, Cowdenbeath

The fans are well back from the playing surface – and fenced off from it; but that’s due to the stock cars.

A couple more photos are on my flickr.

A few months ago someone posted a documentary video about Central Park on You Tube. I’ve not watched it all – it’s 18 minutes long and must have been filmed in summer, or colour enhanced – but at 1 min 35 seconds in you can see an old building up behind the stand. That building has since been demolished but I started my teaching career there in the 1980s.

When The Sun Shines
Documentary on Central Park, Cowdenbeath.

Mr Irresponsible Strikes Again

I see Mr Irresponsible has been at it once more.

He has been telling motorists to top up their cars in case the tanker drivers dispute remains unresolved.

In his position should he not having been advising them to behave normally? Not to instantly rush to the pumps?

Has he never heard of panic buying?

I saw the result for myself this afternoon when I went in to a forecourt to check the air in my tyres. Well, I say went in. But I had to queue: due to the volume of cars waiting for petrol.

And to what level should motorists let their tanks drop before “topping up”? A quarter empty? A third? A half? Or maybe after just one litre has been used? Should they drop in to every petrol station they happen upon on the off-chance?

The man is either a numpty (see definition 3) or he was deliberately encouraging anti-social behaviour. (Which in these circumstances is what rushing to top up your car unnecessarily certainly is.)

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

Bantam Press, 2011. 429p plus historical note and acknowledgements.

Published in Interzone 236, Sep-Oct 2011.

US author Maria Dahvana Headley’s first novel is a historical fantasy set in the founding days of the Roman Empire. Not only Mark Antony and Cleopatra but Octavian/Augustus and Marcus Agrippa feature prominently. Even the poet Virgil pops up in one scene. The novel swiftly deviates from the accepted history as it has Cleopatra, in an attempt to frustrate her final defeat along with Antony, use a fragmentary spell to unleash the ancient Egyptian deity Sekhmet from her long incarceration by the sun god Ra. (No passing acquaintance with Egyptian, Roman or Greek mythology is required as Headley provides the requisite detail.) The partial spell, however, provides no protection for its invoker and Sekhmet enters Cleopatra’s body, allowing her to shift shape – serpent, lion and sea snake the creatures of choice. But Sekhmet’s influence also turns her into a killer and drinker of blood.

In the subsequent mayhem, Antony is revived from the dead not once but twice, albeit the second time as a shade, the action moves on to Rome where Cleopatra seeks revenge on Augustus who employs sorcerers of his own to combat her – a Norse weaver of life threads, a Psylli who has an affinity with snakes and Chrysate, a devotee of Hecate – all of whom have their own agendas. In a series of false climaxes Cleopatra almost kills Augustus, is subsequently trapped and then set free to roam through the underworld with Antony while Sekhmet looses the first of her arrows of pestilence upon the world. After the lovers return to the living world more mythological mining involving the labours of Hercules sets up the true climax.

This is all entertaining enough if you don’t like rigour but throughout we are given little to flesh out the characters who as a result never convince, being for the most part no more than plot enablers. In addition, no real flavour of life in ancient Alexandria or Rome is presented. Since Headley’s story concerns aristocrats that may be fair enough but it fails to ground the story and the fantastical elements end up becoming one damn thing after another.

The prose is a curious mixture of archaisms and modern usages and, irritatingly, the point of view within a scene sometimes changes, often more than once. There are, too, frequent instances of not quite appropriate word choices. Suspension of disbelief is also made more difficult by the fact the narrative keeps hitting a succession of wrong notes. The prologue suggests we will read the personal memoir of Nicolaus of Damascus, tutor to Cleopatra’s children, though the main text and the epilogue are both actually narrated in standard third person. There are anachronisms – in a piece of dialogue, despite Augustus barely having invented the post, the position of Emperor is held in too great a reverence, “bleachers” for open air seating is surely too modern, and at one point someone wields a bayonet. (Roman technology was advanced in all sorts of ways but even they did not have access to rifles, nor muskets even.) After Cleopatra has been transfigured her skin blisters in the sun but Headley seems to forget this for most of the novel till apparently suddenly remembering it again in the aftermath of the climactic battle. Finally, the pet endearment used – endlessly – between Antony and Cleopatra, and stated to mean, “You are mine,” is rendered as, “Vos es mei.” Vos is the plural of you (the singular is tu, but either is redundant in Latin.) Headley’s formulation – “both of you are mine” – thus makes no sense. It might have in the one scene where two Antonys appear were es not actually a singular verb form.

When belief is being stretched so much by the subject matter small details like these loom larger and annoy more than they might otherwise. If you can ignore them, do so. If not, you’ll struggle.

Prog? Really?

I was watching “Prog at the BBC” last week. It featured the usual suspects – except for me Soft Machine always tipped too far over into seemingly improvised tootling to be prog.

But they also showed Atomic Rooster.

Atomic Rooster?

Fair enough their drummer Carl Palmer went on to become a member of those highpriests of the overblown, ELP, but Atomic Rooster themselves were more or less straightforward rock (even if the Wiki link above does say they were a “progressive” rock band.)

As witness Tomorrow Night, the track played on the programme (by which time Palmer had already left):-

Atomic Rooster:€“ Tomorrow Night

Clarke Award Shortlist

The Clarke Award (named obviously for British SF pioneer Arthur C Clarke) is an annual award for the best SF novel of the year. It’s fair to say its choices lean towards the literary end of the SF spectrum and its shortlist usually provides a marked contrast to the BSFA Award.

This year’s shortlist – for novels published in 2011 – is here and is reproduced below:-

Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Gollancz)
Drew Magary, The End Specialist (Harper Voyager)
China Miéville, Embassytown (Macmillan)
Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
Charles Stross, Rule 34 (Orbit)
Sheri S.Tepper, The Waters Rising (Gollancz)

Of these I have read only Chinatown. (Edited to add:- I meant Embassytown.)

Compare and contrast the BSFA Award list:-

Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press)

Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan)

The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

My strike rate here is higher; the Miéville, the Roberts and (currently reading) the Priest.

New Supernova

This was Astronomy Picture of the Day on 22/3/12.

Supernova

It is a picture showing the recently observed supernova in the galaxy which is known as M95, 38 million lightyears away. The supernova therefore occurred 38 million years ago and we’re just seeing its light now. The supernova is the really bright spot towards the edge of the galaxy.

A supernova is just about the biggest explosion imaginable and occurs when a massive star reaches the end of its life. It is in supernovae like this that the universe’s (and therefore Chemistry’s) heavy elements are formed as it is only under such conditions of tempertaure and pressure that smaller atomic nuclei can fuse together to form the largest ones.

This is a video (from vimeo) which contrasts the supernova with M95′s appearance before the star exploded.

Supernova 2012aw in M95 from Adam Block on Vimeo.

Cowdenbeath 4-1 Dumbarton

SFL Div 2, Central Park, Cowdenbeath, 24/3/12.

We were well beaten. Cowdenbeath may not be the best footballing team I have seen this season – Arbroath remain that – but they are probably the most effective. None of our players got a moment’s peace. Their players’ willingness to chase, harry and press, their eagerness to get to the ball, was an object lesson. This is how to deny the opposition the opportunity to play.

Add to that our continuing inability to defend set pieces and, in this game, to clear our lines or even simply pass the ball and it was a recipe for heavy defeat. Kevin Nicoll had a terrible game in midfield – absolutely awful – and I lost count of the number of times two of our players went for the same ball or one hit it against another and so lost possession. And having two smallish strikers up against tall defenders isn’t perhaps the best recipe for success.

We started brightly enough – without ever threatening their goal – but the signs at Cowden corners were there from early on. And so it came to pass that from one of those, Stephen Grindlay let the ball through him for the second game in a row. Their second came after we had again failed to clear the ball and it broke to the guy who had an easy chance.

Then, a minor miracle. Against the run of play and out of nothing Craig Dargo eventually made the most of a Joe Mbu mistake to score his first for Sons across the goalkeeper. It seemd to take an age to hit the net.

Faint hopes of a comeback were extinguished when Mbu was left unmarked from a free kick.

I was going to say we dominated the second half but that would only be true of possession. We threatened about twice and the keeper saved them both. At least we competed a bit better and started trying to stretch them wide.

Their fourth was a direct result of our (ridiculously late) double substitution as Cowden exploited the space left by Ryan Finnie’s removal to surge down the left and whip in a cross.

They should have got a fifth a minute later but somehow their forward hit it into Grindlay from 5 yards out.

After our straight losses to Cowden and Arbroath two weeks ago I had feared that after this one we’d be level with Stenny, but they lost today too.

Still four points ahead of fourth (with a negative goal difference!) but E Fife are coming up on the rails.

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