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Locus 21st Century Poll (Fantasy)

And here is the Locus 21st Century poll for fantasy

1 Gaiman, Neil : American Gods (2001)
2* Clarke, Susanna : Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)
3 Rothfuss, Patrick : The Name of the Wind (2007)
4* Miéville, China : The Scar (2002)
5* Martin, George R. R. : A Feast for Crows (2005)
6 Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
7 Bujold, Lois McMaster : The Curse of Chalion (2001)
8* Miéville, China : The City & the City (2009)
9 Fforde, Jasper : The Eyre Affair (2001)
10 Bujold, Lois McMaster : Paladin of Souls (2003)
10 Pratchett, Terry : Night Watch (2002)
12 Gaiman, Neil : Coraline (2002)
13 Wolfe, Gene : The Wizard Knight (2004)
14 Pratchett, Terry : Going Postal (2004)
15= Gaiman, Neil : The Graveyard Book (2008)
15= Lynch, Scott : The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)

I have read only four here – and two by the same author. Notably one of these made it onto the SF list as well, which shows how hard differentiating SF from Fantasy can be. (The only one that I’ve not read which I might look out for is the Wolfe.)

Bully Boys?

On Saturday, in the Scottish Cup, Rangers (the new Rangers) have been drawn to play Dundee United in Dundee.

Rangers chief executive has refused to accept their ticket allocation for the game, apparently agreeing with fans that Dundee United as a club was more involved than others in denying Rangers a continuing place in the SPL over the summer.

Set aside the fact that the only club to blame for the new club’s predicament is actually the old Rangers, but isn’t this the sort of throwing its weight about that so many associate with the old Rangers, the seignorial attitude to other clubs which in no small part led to them being cut little, if any, slack when they went belly up? (It is also a kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face as surely Rangers will find it more difficult to get a result in the game if their fans are absent.)

Reading between the lines it seems there are other clubs whom Rangers fans similarly blame for their present plight, so is this stance to be repeated on every away game if – when – Rangers gain promotion to the top flight?

If it is, perhaps the words of the “traditional” and now controversial Rangers supporters’ song ought to be changed to, “Hello! Hello! We are the bully boys.”

Locus 21st Century Poll

Following on from the Locus 20th century polls I posted about a few days ago this is their list for SF novels published from 2000 on.

1 Scalzi, John : Old Man’€™s War (2005)
2 Stephenson, Neal : Anathem (2008)
3* Bacigalupi, Paolo : The Windup Girl (2009)
4 Wilson, Robert Charles : Spin (2005)
5 Watts, Peter : Blindsight (2006)
6* Morgan, Richard : Altered Carbon (2002)
7 Collins, Suzanne : The Hunger Games (2008)
8 Gibson, William : Pattern Recognition (2003)
9* Miéville, China : The City & the City (2009)
10 Stross, Charles : Accelerando (2005)
11* Mitchell, David : Cloud Atlas (2004)
12* McDonald, Ian : River of Gods (2004)
13 McCarthy, Cormac : The Road (2006)
14* Harrison, M. John : Light (2002)
15= Willis, Connie : Black Out/All Clear (2010)
15=* Chabon, Michael : The Yiddish Policemen’€™s Union (2007)

7 out of 16. I’m obviously not keeping up with modern SF.

The Speak of the Mearns by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Polygon, 2011, 254p

The Speak of the Mearns cover

The Speak of the Mearns is an unfinished novel first published in 1982, almost 50 years after Gibbon’s death. The book also contains several of his short stories and some essays. The fiction’s setting lies in lands near Stonehaven in North-East Scotland, close to those in Gibbon’€™s most celebrated work, the trilogy A Scots Quair, which I have yet to read. (I saw the BBC Scotland television adaptation many years ago and will get round to reading it some day.) It is an almost elegiac chronicling of a way of life, a way of being, that was all but extinguished even as he wrote about it, though he recognised it as a harsh existence.

Gibbon also wrote under his real name of J Leslie Mitchell, works which included two Science Fiction novels, Three Go Back and Gay Hunter. (You can’€™t imagine anyone naming a novel Gay Hunter nowadays.)

Most of the fiction in the book contained an ingredient I had not previously associated with Gibbon: humour. However the final three stories – after a second introduction – stand in contrast to the others, being set in Egypt – as were several other of Mitchell’€™s novels and stories.

As an unfinished novel The Speak of the Mearns naturally has some infelicities but has an interesting narration, most being in standard third person but with parts in the second person. However the viewpoint can shift from the internal thoughts of one of the characters to another within the same scene. The introduction (which, for safety’€™s sake, I did not read till after the fragment novel) suggests this is a technique Gibbon employed to good effect in A Scots Quair.

One of the essays, Literary Lights, is about Scottish writing. He says that those Scots writing in English felt alien to our southern cousins, as if they had translated themselves. Gibbon takes care to make the distinction between writing by Scots and that in Scots, claiming that none of the practitioners of the time (himself included) wrote in Scots, barring only the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid and Lewis Spence. That writing in Scots would necessarily restrict your readership and thus was a very valid reason not to (and still is to this day) does not seem to have weighed with him. As far as he himself is concerned he says his technique was to “mould the English language into the rhythms and cadences of Scottish spoken speech*, and to inject into the English vocabulary such minimum number of words from Braid Scots as that remodelling requires.” (*Surely a tautology there.)

Since a fair few of the Scots words he uses were unknown to me (though their sense could be inferred fairly easily) he surely failed in the second part of that mission. In my defence I plead that I am only half-Scots. It has to be said, however, that if their use by English TV presenters is any guide then some Scots words are now more widely spread than when I was young.

Gibbon also claims that Scottish writing was about 20-30 years behind the times, A J Cronin, for example, dragging realism into Scottish letters long after it had appeared in English or foreign writing. That in the 21st century it is English writers -€“ as opposed to Scots or Irish we must suppose – who are now backward was noted in the last paragraph of this review in the Guardian on 4/1/13.

Dumbarton 3-1 Hamilton Academical

SFL Div 1, The Rock, 26/1/13.

This is incredible. We’re off the bottom of the table and not even in the relegation play-off spot! Whether we’re now getting the rub of the green where we weren’t earlier in the season I don’t know. I’ll take it, though.

The players cannot now lack confidence in moving towards the end of the season.

Plus Hamilton were/are our bogey team. I can’t remember the last time we beat them.

Ian Murray must be in the running for the dreaded Manager of the Month. We can only hope they give it to someone else. Also that the board has got him on a long term contract (just in case another club comes calling for him.)

This run has coincided with me not being able to get to games.

I’m almost afraid to turn up for one now.

One caveat. This Division is notorious for teams having good or bad streaks of form. Others could do what we just have.

Irn Bru

The title to yesterday’s post was, of course, an allusion to an advertising slogan used by Barr’s, the Scottish soft drink manufacturers, to promote Irn Bru, which outsells Coca-Cola in Scotland. Barr’s use of their Scottishness is astute. I have posted their High School Musical parody before.

Irn Bru has had a few slogans, starting off in a comic, The Adventures of Ba-Bru and Sandy.

The two best, however, are undoubtedly, “Made in Scotland From Girders” and “It’s Your Other National Drink.”

The last is doubly appropriate since the first national drink – whisky – has unfortunate side-effects (hangover) for which Irn Bru is widely thought to be a sovereign cure.

And it does contain iron – at least as a compound – in the form of ammonium ferric citrate.

Here is their parody of The Snowman, which showcases some iconic Scottish landscape features. It’s just a pity the boy treble doesn’t manage to roll the “r” in Irn enough. (I’m not sure he rolls it at all, in fact.)

Irn Bru: The Snowman

It’s Your Other National Day

For reasons to do with the Calvinist traditions of Scottish Presbyterianism Scotland’s national day of celebration actually covers two days, Hogmanay and New Year’s Day. (Christmas could not be celebrated riotously due to its religious nature, besides it was tainted with Catholicism.) Everyone, though, needs a blow out at the depth of winter to rejoice at coming through so far and look forward to the turning into light.

Today, however, is your other national day, if you’re Scottish.

It marks the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most renowned poet, lauded worldwide – most notably in the US and Russia.

Though the tradition may be dying out a little there will still be hundreds of Burns’ Suppers taking place around the world today, and in the days around, in his memory.

I shall not be addressing the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race,” nor toasting the lassies (only the good lady will be present,) nor even proposing the immortal memory, but I will be supping on haggis, neeps and tatties tonight.

Burns’s contribution to Scottish letters and culture lies not only in his own verses but in the collection of traditional songs which he sometimes revised or adapted. Without him many of these might have been lost.

He may have treated the women in his life badly, or off-handedly, but there is a concern for common humanity, and indeed for animals, in evidence in his work.

This is Is There For Honest Poverty (A Man’s A Man For A’ That) sung by Ian Benzie.

A Man’s A Man For A’ That

Locus Poll (Fantasy)

That same Locus Poll also listed the top 15 Fantasy novels from last century.

Again asterisked means I’ve read them, ** that I can’t remember and (*) only the first of the trilogy.

1(*) Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Lord of the Rings (1955)
2* Martin, George R. R. : A Game of Thrones (1996)
3 Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Hobbit (1937)
4* Le Guin, Ursula K. : A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
5* Zelazny, Roger : Nine Princes in Amber (1970) 971 70
6 Lewis, C. S. : The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
7* Miéville, China : Perdido Street Station (2000)
8 Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
9* Crowley, John : Little, Big (1981)
10* Adams, Richard : Watership Down (1972)
11 Goldman, William : The Princess Bride (1973)
12* Martin, George R. R. : A Storm of Swords (2000)
13 Beagle, Peter S. : The Last Unicorn (1968)
14** White, T. H. : The Once and Future King (1958)
15 Pratchett, Terry (& Gaiman, Neil) : Good Omens (1990)

I don’t have quite such a high hit rate here – unsurprisingly, as I prefer Science Fiction to Fantasy: but there is of course a lot of crossover between the two and the boundary is blurred. Even so I would have said Perdido Street Station was SF rather than Fantasy.

Locus Poll

A recent poll in Locus (the main news magazine for those with an interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy) had the following results for SF novels of the 20th century.

Those asterisked I have read. **means I can’t remember if I read it long ago or not.

1* Herbert, Frank : Dune (1965)
2* Card, Orson Scott : Ender’s Game (1985)
3* Asimov, Isaac : The Foundation Trilogy (1953)
4* Simmons, Dan : Hyperion (1989)
5* Le Guin, Ursula K. : The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
6 Adams, Douglas : The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
7* Orwell, George : Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
8* Gibson, William : Neuromancer (1984)
9* Bester, Alfred : The Stars My Destination (1957)
10** Bradbury, Ray : Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
11* Heinlein, Robert A. : Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
12 Heinlein, Robert A. : The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966)
13* Haldeman, Joe : The Forever War (1974)
14* Clarke, Arthur C. : Childhood’s End (1953)
15* Niven, Larry : Ringworld (1970)

People obviously voted for their favourites from their youth and not in terms of literary quality.

The only one of them I would put in a top ten is the Le Guin. My memory of that is that it was one of the best books I have ever read, never mind just SF books. It was a long time ago, though.

And where is Robert Silverberg on the Locus list? Shameful.

Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith

NewCon Press, 2011, 254p. (Cyber Circus and Black Sunday)

On a future Earth, or possibly some other planet altogether, known as Sore Earth, where an agricultural innovation known as Soul Food has led to soil despoliation and dry, barren conditions, a flying circus whose big top doubles as an airship roams a post war countryside to entertain sets of miners who employ vast burrowing machines in their endeavours.
The main characters are the circus acts, all with varying degrees of augmentation. The ex-soldier, Hellequin, is one of the enhanced vision HawkEye (Hellequin having unwillingly chosen his cybernetic eye as the lesser of two evils.) Desirous Nim – or is it Desirious, the spelling keeps shifting – is a woman wired up to glow from within. We also have the transvestite Lulu, plus Pig Heart, who has a pig’s heart and lusts after the wolf woman, Rust. Also prominent are the ringmaster Herb and D’Angelus, a gangster figure who pimped Nim out before she escaped his clutches and whose attempts to recapture her drive the plot.

The story consists of a series of violent episodes, with no-one questioning the brutal nature of life on this world, which nevertheless seemed to me not to require such a callous disregard for the better angels of our nature.

As well as confusion over the spelling of Nim’s qualifying adjective, which, since she is supposed to be an irresistible beauty, ought in any case to be “Desirable,” the text is further littered with homophones (assent for ascent, peddle for pedal,) malapropisms (slating his thirst,) adjectives used as nouns (“a sense of nauseous,” “mouth blackened with visceral,”) other spelling mistakes (eek out, fury limbs,) grammatical errors (“It breezes out past the edge of the ring, lifts and swooping over the heads of the gasping audience,”) and common typos (hanging on for dead life.) I have noted before Lakin-Smith’s form in this regard. These things matter because they tumble the attentive reader out of the story in order to try to make sense of what has just been read thus highlighting its constructed nature and destroying suspension of disbelief. It is possible that every one of these solecisms was a deliberate choice by the author for some arcane reason possibly to do with attempting to make the language feel futuristic. If so it failed – at least for this reader. Then consider the fact that “court-martialled” is rendered in its accepted form on one page but given on the very next page as “court-marshalled.” Such lack of care and attention to detail goes beyond any striving for effect into the realm of the slapdash or carelessness and verges on contempt for the reader. NewCon Press is a small publisher whose resources may not stretch to a proof reader: but if they did I would suggest they ask for their money back.

As ever such infelicities emphasise other problem areas. The circus’s airship apparently uses steam as its lifting source. (It often requires to set down to fill with water.) Why? Water needs a lot of energy to vaporise it. The heat employed to generate the steam would surely be more efficiently used directly; as in a hot air balloon. Plus water is a scarce resource on Sore Earth. But then, of course, the plot depends on Cyber Circus seeking out a water source.

The other story in the book, Black Sunday, is better, with only one homophone but some unconvincing attempts to mimic US speech. Though it shares a burrowing machine with Cyber Circus it’s dated as the 1930s and apparently set in the US dustbowl – but there are slaves so it can therefore only be construed as an altered history.

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