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Interzone 264 May-Jun 2016

Interzone 264 cover

Jonathan McAlmont1 discusses Claire Vaye Watkins’s Good Fame Citrus on the way to concluding that capitalism is similar to a cult. Nina Allan examines film adaptations of J G Ballard novels. In the Bookzone I review Ken Liu’s collection The Paper Menagerie and City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett.
In the fiction:-
Starlings2 by Tyler Keevil is couched in the form of a recorded message from a mother to her child, Colum, who is one of the special children designed to leave an Earth doomed to a runaway greenhouse effect by the malfunction of the supposed remedy, the Hadron-Karensky Reactor, for a new start on another planet. Elegiac and
From the (almost) sublime to the hard to credit. Breadcrumbs3 by Malcolm Devlin posits an apartment block and a city suddenly overwhelmed by plant outgrowths and people beginning to change into animals. All of these could merely be the imaginings of viewpoint character Ellie, though.
James van Pelt’s Mars, Aphids, and Your Cheating Heart4 is told from the perspective of a God, who is addressed as “you.” Otherwise the only science-fictional elements it contains are mentions of an ice sheet on Pluto and the movement of a dust grain on Mars (with subsequent avalanche). The story is about a private eye who warms to the subject of his investigation.
Lifeboat5 by Rich Larson. Like many others before it the planet Lazy Susan is threatened with destruction by “synthetics”. A man who helps “rescue” inhabitants from these situations (for money) is faced with a dilemma over rescuing a woman carrying an unusual hybrid fœtus.
The Tower Princesses6 by Gwendolyn Kiste. The titular princesses – whose means of selection are obscure, the process is said to happen overnight – are caged (in materials of various sorts) and have to negotiate life within their restriction. Narrator Mary falls for one of them. The metaphor here is a little overstrained.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Watkins’ (Watkins’s,) “a group of activists are trying to convince” (is trying,) “the group positions itself on the edge of the dune sea and rearrange their vehicles” (“group” agrees with the first verb and not the second, “itself” is not in agreement with “their” so; rearranges its vehicles.) 2birth is used as a verb, anaesthiologist (that would be an anaesthetist, then.) Less respiratory problems (fewer,) “He told me ‘It doesn’t matter now’.” (That should be “He told me, ‘It doesn’t matter now.’”,) phased (fazed.) “He had not wept or showed any sign of emotions (nor shown.) 3”from the where she had lain” (no “the” required,) jimmy open (jemmy,) 4Written in USian – ladybug, sidewalk, skeptical, on the weekends, check (for cheque,) behavior – plus a “soundless avalanche” on Mars (Mars has an atmosphere; there will be sound,) “He must been shot” (must have been,) Tiggs’ (Tiggs’s,) cracks the entire length (cracks [along] its entire length.) 5Written in USian; “poofy” in the sense of voluminous (a usage I had never come across before. It’s not the first meaning that occurs to a Briton.) “That thing is not going to breach right.” (In the context of a birth; so “breech”?) ‘I’m smelling alkaline and vomit’ (alkaline is an adjective [cf acidic,] the noun is alkali.) 6Written in USian.

The Misunderstanding by Irène Némirovsky

Vintage, 2013, 162 p, plus iii p Translator’s Note and iv p Preface to the French Edition. Translated from the French Le Malentendu by Sandra Smith.

 The Misunderstanding cover

This short novel, originally published in 1924, when the author was 21, examines the love affair between Yves Harteloup and Denise Jessaint. Yves is a former soldier, a veteran of Verdun, but his family’s fortunes have been ruined by the war and he has been forced to work for a poor living. Denise is married (more out of a sense of duty than love) but she is still sexually ingenuous when they meet. Crucially though, her husband is well off. The mismatch in her circumstances and Yves’s is not so apparent at the holiday resort where in Denise’s husband’s absence on business they first spend time together but comes to dominate their relationship when they return to Paris. Denise is frustrated by Yves’s failure to say he loves her, Yves by her inability to act as submissively and devotedly as he would wish. Their mutual misunderstandings lead to a dissatisfaction on both their parts. A piece of advice from her mother precipitates their relationship’s crisis.

Even at this stage of her writing career Némirovsky had a firm grip on her subject matter. There are parallels with Madame Bovary here of which Némirovsky was undoubtedly conscious. Despite this being a first novel, her insights into character and attitudes are already well developed. Quite how much force there is in Denise’s cousin’s assertion that, “In the end, there’s no woman on Earth you can’t get over ….. We men know that from birth,” is debatable, though probably true in the vast majority of cases.

Once again (though see below) Sandra Smith’s translation flows smoothly but she is working with the best of materials. Any Némirovsky novel it would seem is well worth reading.

Pedant’s corner:- sprung up (sprang up,) “and white peacocks roamed the grounds were planted with” (seems to be missing a which.)

Asimov’s Jul 2016

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Jul 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s editorial1 discusses past and present winners of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections2 muses on Persons from Porlock and how he always took great care to allow no distractions when he was working but that Coleridge’s experience did provide him with the inspiration for his first ever sale (for $5) at the age of fifteen. Paul di Filippo’s “On Books” reviews retrospective collections from Nancy Kress and Gregory Benford, a contemporary one from Finnish writer Leena Krohn and novels by Christopher Fowler and Gene Wolfe.
In the fiction we have Suzanne Palmer’s Ten Poems for the Mossums, One for the Man3 which is narrated by a poet set down alone on an alien planet where he discovers the nature of some of its alien life.
Both Filtered4 by Leah Cypess andMasked5 by Rich Larson are typical ‘push current trends to their logical conclusion’ SF stories. In the former a journalist tries to get his story about the manipulation of everyone’s communication feeds by filter programmes through the filters. The latter has teenagers constantly surrounded by a cloud of appearance created to enhance their real selves. One of them, Vera, has been affected by a virus which turned the “cover” off.
Project Entropy5, the latest of the series of stories in Asimov’s by Dominica Phetteplace, explores the ramifications of Angelina having had her Watcher chip removed and the implications of such AIs. Curiously flat in execution.
In Jack Skillingstead’s The Savior Virus6 a biologist who lost his legs in a terrorist bombing engineers a virus to remove the notion of God from people’s minds.
In Nobody Like Josh7 by Robert Thurston Josh is a town’s secret alien whose spaceship crashed before the narrator was born. This story is curiously similar in premise to I married a Monster from Outer Space which appeared in Asimov’s March 2016 issue, but isn’t anything like as affective or effective.
Webs by Mary Anne Mohanraj is set around the prejudice of ordinary humans on a colony world towards those with adaptations.
In Lost: Mind by Will McIntosh a man has to search for the missing parts of his wife’s downloaded mind after they are stolen. The story is marred by a continuity error in the last quarter page which totally undermines verisimilitude.

1 graduating with a duel major (dual,) Joan Sloncewski (the correct spelling, Slonczewski, is used later in the piece.) 2 Samuel Purchas’ (Purchas’s,) 3 beside (besides,) to not spend (not to spend,) “how good he has always been about putting off things” (about putting things off.) 4matrixes (matrices.) 5Lawless’ (Lawless’s.) 5 canvasses (canvases.) 6 symptoms would manifest in mild cold-like symptoms. 7 crashed-landed (crash-landed.)

Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie

Penguin, 1999, 298 p, plus 4 p Glossary of Gaelic Expressions.

 Whisky Galore cover

One of the 100 best Scottish Books and also in the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books.

The Second World War has brought hard times to the islands of Great and Little Todday. Supplies of whisky are running out as priority is given to exporting to the US to help pay for the war. Incomer Sergeant-major Odd has returned to the island from war duty to marry Peggy, George Campbell has just surprised himself by proposing to Catriona but dreads telling his mother the news. Captain Waggett worries the local Home Guard, of which he is in charge, are slacking too much and that morale on the islands has become dangerously defeatist.

The fog-induced wreck of the SS Cabinet Minister with its cargo of high-grade whisky changes everything. Suddenly all the men become bonhomous, Peggy’s father agrees to the wedding occurring soon and a fortified George tells his mother to come to terms with his plans or leave for her sister’s on the mainland.

The phrase “whisky galore” (uisge beatha gu leòir) appears even before the wreck as the locals yearn wistfully for a normal delivery. In the glossary of Gaelic expressions Mackenzie notes that gu leòir (as “galore”) is almost the only Gaelic phrase to pass into English so nearly like the original.

Gentle fun is poked in different directions. The text tries to render the muted plosives and fricatives of native Gaelic speakers, crumple for “grumble”, “Chust efferything iss a tisaster.” Sergeant-major Odd’s English speech patterns are signified by “r”s appearing at the ends of words in which they have no place (Africar, Burmar and Indiar) and his inability to pronounce Gaelic words such as rèiteach is repeatedly emphasised.

Structurally the novel is a bit of a mess. The fulcrum of the novel is the wreck but too much time is spent establishing and entrenching the situation before it. The wreck itself occurs off-stage, as does all its plundering. Too many characters’ individual stories are followed in too little depth and the book dribbles away with the experiences of Odd’s mother, whose first appearance is only in the second last chapter, on attending the wedding.

It is all light-hearted stuff to be sure and will undoubtedly have provided some leaven in those dark post-war still rationed days when the novel was first published in 1947 but it represents whisky as only a benign influence, none of its ravages receives even the briefest mention. In a Scotland then, as now, with alcohol too often a blight on too many lives, that is gilding the lily more than a touch.

But this is to criticise the book for something it was never intended to be. This is pure entertainment and written as such. No deep enduring message, except perhaps the continuing allure of Western Isles scenery, is to be drawn from it. Though he would probably have been delighted at the thought I doubt even Mackenzie would have expected it to appear on a list of 100 best Scottish books.

Pedant’s corner:- lay down (lie down – this was in Sergeant-major Odd’s dialogue though and will be a deliberate representation of his speech; his mother also refers to a “lay in bed”,) dimunitive (diminutive – ditto so perhaps a deliberate misspelling by Mackenzie,) mcvements (movements,) if I’d only have know in time (known,) “a man with a white walrus moustache from Inverness” (moustaches come from Inverness?) for goodness’ sake (goodness’s,) “‘I though it would be’” (thought,) portentious (portentous,) ringmarole (rigmarole – but it was in dialogue,) toothe-paste (elsewhere is tooth-paste,) “dropped in Snorvig, Each with his” (each,) wating (waiting,) Coloenel (Colonel,) “would probably had said” (have said,) Miss Cuffins’ (Miss Cuffins’s,) I’l (I’ll – but in a letter so may have been an intentional error by Mackenzie,) St Enoch’s station (it was St Enoch,) Caberfèidh (had previously been spelled [unusually] Cabarfèidh,) ready for to start (no need for that “for”,) ‘I never like a place so much in all my life’ (liked.)

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Harper, 2015, 526 p plus 1 p Reading Group Questions, 6 p photos of Detroit taken during Beukes’s research and 7 p author interview.

 Broken Monsters cover

Detective Gabriella Stirling-Versado becomes OIC of a bizarre murder case (where half the body of a young teenage boy has been joined to half that of a deer) by virtue of being first on the scene. The story is narrated from several viewpoints each rendered in an urgent stripped down present tense. Some tension is lost by the fact that one of these is that of the murderer but there is no doubt throughout that Beukes is in control. All the viewpoints are compelling and Gabi’s relationship with her daughter, Layla is particularly neatly drawn as, in turn, is her friendship with schoolmate Cas. Along the way Beukes addresses issues of the prevalence, and misuse, of social media, and of sexual harassment.

The circumstances of the murder and the hints that chalk outlines of doors drawn on walls presage occult events notwithstanding, this is a straight enough police procedural thriller until the supernatural elements impinge in force at the climax. This for me was where the novel broke down. It is difficult to register my misgivings without spoilers but the details of the way in which those forces manifest and gain power were beyond my ability to sustain suspension of disbelief.

My main complaint, though, is that any hint of the supernatural is a cop-out. History has shown humans are cruel enough to each other. There is no necessity for an external force to make them so. Buekes can write well – brilliantly even – but I would contend that it is a failure of the imagination rather than its triumph to posit influences beyond humanity as causal factors in demented behaviours.

Pedant’s corner:- jerry-rigged (jury-rigged,) “sounds fraught with meaning that don’t have anything to do with her” (with meaning that doesn’t – or; with meanings that don’t,) peering through the grill of an oversized hockey helmet (grille,) “where the skin of the worlds are permeable (the skin is – or; the skins are,) the lay of the land (lie,) a cluster of party people are standing (a cluster is,) the back of his hands are (the back is – or; the backs are,) lay low (lie.) He’s was trying to help. (He was,) and realises her and mistake (realises her mistake,) “she’s terrified that if she opens Gabi’s all her secrets will come flying out,” (opens Gabi’s what?) “A scattering of neon highlighter markers stand out,” (a scattering stands out.)
Plus points for “ten years’ time” though.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Sceptre, 2015, 620 p, plus 4 p notes on reappearing characters and 4 p author interview.

 The Bone Clocks cover

In The Bone Clocks Mitchell is essaying something similar to his earlier novel Cloud Atlas which also had episodes spanning over time into the future but the six first-person-narrated-in present-tense novellas here are not enleaved within one another nor returned to later as they were in that earlier book but rather follow in chronological sequence; 1984, 1991, 2004, 2015-2020, 2025, 2043. The narratives of Hugo Lamb, Ed Brubeck, Crispin Hershey and Dr Marinus (in the guise of Dr Iris Fenby) are bookended by two from Holly Sykes, who appears in every novella and whose overall life story the book therefore chronicles.

We meet Holly at fifteen years old when she is in the throes of her first love affair, besotted with car salesman Vincent Costello, and at odds with her mother. In her childhood, until treated by Dr Marinus, Holly had heard voices, whom she called the Radio People. Her much younger brother Jacko is also touched by strangeness, old beyond his years. The crisis of this first section is precipitated by Holly’s discovery of Vince’s faithlessness and subsequent running away from home. Classmate Ed Brubeck brings her back with the news that Jacko has disappeared too. Mitchell’s delineation of the teenage Holly and her character is so immersive that the fantastical elements of Holly’s existence feel like intrusions, as if coming from some altogether different story.

Jump to 1991 where “posh boy” Hugo Lamb is holidaying in a Swiss ski resort with his even posher mates. He boasts to them he has never fallen in love (despite having had many lovers) but his meeting with an equally commitment-shy Holly after an accident on a ski-slope changes all that. A happy ending is precluded, though, when Lamb is recruited by the Anchorites of the Chapel of the Dusk of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Monastery of Sidelhorn Pass, practitioners of the psychosoterica of the Shaded Way. These fantastical aspects appear almost shoe-horned in so at odds are they with Lamb’s (again brilliantly rendered) persona.

By 2004 Holly has a child, Aoife, fathered by third narrator Ed Brubeck, by now a lauded war journalist. When Aoife disappears from their hotel room at a wedding bash, Holly has a fit of sorts and channels a voice, which resolves the situation. The dynamics of Ed and Holly’s relationship are superbly depicted as are the chaos and exigencies of war-torn Baghdad.

The fourth narrator is Crispin Hershey, once the Wild Man of British Letters but struggling to make a living. He comes across the now single Holly (Ed Brubeck’s luck in bomb-dodging having run out) at writers’ events after she has written a book of memoirs titled The Radio People. Deeply sceptical about her experiences Hershey also witnesses one of Holly’s channelling episodes.

The fifth segment contains the book’s climax as narrated by Dr Iris Fenby Marinus, the latest incarnation of Dr Marinus. She/he is an atemporal, or horologist. When she/he dies he/she will wake up in a new body forty-nine days later, usually with a sex-change. Among horologist’s attributes are telepathy, suasion, hiatusing others, scanning minds and everlasting life (with terms and conditions.) The atemporals are in conflict with the Anchorites of the Blind Cathar who can only achieve immortality by draining the psychosoteric energy of adepts and drinking the Black Wine so produced. Holly aids in the final conflict with the help of a labyrinth in a pendant left to her by Jacko. This is the most fantastical of the six novellas and stands in contrast to the others as its focus lies mainly on action.

The last, 2043, section adds nothing much to the overall story but finds Holly retired to Ireland and looking after her two orphaned grandchildren. It does, though, succeed in portraying a very believable post-oil, globally-warmed, electricity deprived world fallen apart (unless blessed with geothermal power plants as in Iceland.)

The Bone Clocks manages to contain its own critique: at one point Lamb thinks, “‘The Mind-walking Theory, plausible if you live in a fantasy novel.’” Then there is the quote from a review of Crispin Hershey’s come-back novel where Richard Cheeseman says, “the fantasy sub-plot clashes so violently with the book’s State of the World pretensions, I cannot bear to look,” and “what surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?” – which is precisely what one could say of Mitchell here except that Mitchell’s writing is superb, mellifluous and engaging – each narrative drags you along – but the gradually uncovered fantastical elements are too in conflict with the realistic treatment, seem too tagged on to be credible. By the time we get to the meat of Marinus’s section disbelief is all but impossible to suspend and the whole begins to seem a bit pointless. I began to wonder if Mitchell was somehow playing a joke on all his mainstream readers who would not knowingly read a fantasy novel. Mitchell’s touch also deserted him with his use of “device” as a verb for texting somebody (or texting’s future equivalent.) Then too there were the intertextual meta-fictional games in the mentions of Black Swan Green and de Zoet and Mitchell’s laying out in a Crispin Hershey lecture of, “The perennial tricks of the writers’ trade dating back to the Icelandic sagas. Psychological complexity, character development, the killer line to end a scene, villains blotched with virtue, heroic characters speckled with villainy, foreshadow and flashback, artful misdirection.” Hershey also observes, “What Cupid gives, Cupid takes away. Men marry women hoping they’ll never change. Women marry men hoping they will. Both parties are disappointed.”

The 2015 narrative mentions ex-President Bashar-al-Azad of Syria and in the 2043 one the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point has been updated by the Chinese but recently suffered a meltdown. The first (and perhaps now both) of these would turn the book into an altered history.

Mitchell can certainly write and creates compelling characters. The Bone Clocks however does not reach the heights that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet did.

Pedant’s corner:- must of (must have. OK it was in a character’s voice but even so; authors owe a duty to their readers not to mangle the language unnecessarily,) heat-seeker missile (the term is heat-seeking missile; but again it was in voice,) and and (only one “and” required,) a plethora pass through (passes, but it was in dialogue,) medieval (mediaeval,) Saint Agnès’ (Saint Agnès’s,) “I’ve find I’ve forgotten” (I find,) the the (only one the necessary,) anciliary (ancillary – or was it a confusion with auxiliary?) homeopathy (homoeopathy,) tying ropes around painted steel cleats, “a T-shirt emblazoned with Beckett’s fail better quote I was given in Santa Fe” (reads as if the narrator was given a quote in Santa Fe,) ‘I consider jerking off again’ (the British term is “wanking”,) a Taser (does that need to be capitalised any more?) Hershey narrates his meeting with Hugo Lamb and then Lamb’s redaction of his memory of it; so how could he relate it to us? “A leaf loop-the-loops” (loops-the-loop,) St James’ church (St James’s,) superceded (superseded,) modii (is meant as a plural of modus, so “modi”,) maw (used for mouth, [sigh….]) in the the pram (remove a “the”,) embarass (embarrass,) sailboat (sailing boat.) In the author interview:- “set in Iceland” (it was actually Ireland.)

The Highway Men by Ken MacLeod

Sandstone, 2006, 74 p. (Sandstone vista 8.)

 The Highway Men cover

This novella is one I missed when it first came out and so have only just caught up with. It is set in a near future after a Chinese guy gasping for a cigarette lost his rag on an aeroplane coming in to Edinburgh, the resulting fracas and panicked phone calls interfering with the plane’s controls so that it crashed into an aircraft-carrier in Rosyth, hence precipitating war with China. The highway men of the title, deemed not tech-savvy enough for the army have instead been drafted to work on the roads. When this was written Osama Bin Laden had not been killed and so appears in this future. Consequently the novella now has to be read as an altered history.

The action takes place in Scotland’s Western Highlands. En route to a job our highway men come across an abandoned village where all the glass has been removed from the windows. At their destination of Strathcarron narrator Jase (Jason Mason) realises a group of people estranged from society is living up in the hills. His going to see them there has unfortunate consequences.

An interesting scenario with believable well-drawn characters – even at such short length.

Pedant’s corner:- smoothes (smooths,) gulley (gully.)

Public library and other stories by Ali Smith

Hamish Hamilton, 2015, 228 p

 Public Library cover

Borrowed from a doomed library.

The book cover and spine have “Public library” as the title but the colophon shows “ Public library ” (actually struck through several times.) As is usual in Smith’s output the left hand margin is justified but the right hand one is not – curiously, though, the acknowledgements page has the reverse. The prefatory “Library” is an apparently true story about Smith and her publisher coming across a building emblazoned Library; but it’s an exclusive club instead. Smith’s stories are interleaved with Smith and her correspondents’ memories of libraries and their importance to civilised life. These interludes are entitled “that beautiful new build”, “opened by Mark Twain”, “ a clean, well-lighted place”, “the ideal model of society”, “soon to be sold”, “put a price on that”, “on bleak house road”, “curve tracing”, “the library sunlight”, “the making of me” and “the infinite possibilities”.

As in Smith’s previous collections the short stories included here tend to have similar structures whereby the narrator will start off on one course and then veer onto another, and on occasion a return to the first topic will occur.

In Last the narrator sees a wheelchair-bound woman has been left behind on a train. While she tries to effect a rescue she muses on the changing meanings of various words.
Good voice is narrated by a woman who speaks to her dead father and ruminates on the First World War.
In The beholder a woman who has suffered a series of life altering events finds a growth on her chest. It seems to be a rose.
The poet relates the life story of the poet Olive Fraser whom Smith imagines being inspired by finding printed music on the binding (made from recycled old paper stock) of one of Walter Scott’s Waverley novels.
The human claim dwells on the unlikely connection between an unauthorised credit card transaction and the fate of D H Lawrence’s ashes.
The ex-wife has a woman trying to come to terms with breaking up from her ex-wife because she was so obsessed with Katharine Mansfield. In it Smith says, “What the writer does is not so much to solve the question but to put the question.” She also utilises the word pompazoon; as Mansfield did.
In The art of elsewhere the narrator tells of her desire to come upon some kinder, better, less constrained existence.
After life. A man is twice reported dead; both times falsely. The second time no-one cares. This leads him to muse on the vitality shown in the Mitchell and Kenyon films of turn of the twentieth century life.
In The definite article the narrator has an epiphany after lingering in Regent’s Park on the way to an important meeting.
Grass A book of Robert Herrick poems brings to the narrator’s mind an incident which occurred when she was minding her father’s shop during an Easter break in her finals year.
In Say I won’t be there the narrator has an ongoing discussion with her partner about not revealing the contents of her recurring dream which features Dusty Springfield (about whom her partner knows a lot more than her.) She tells us the dream instead.
And so on’s narrator ruminates on a friend who died young and her illness-induced imaginings that she was a work of art in the process of being abducted.

Pedant’s corner:- to not sway (not to sway,) ones bones (one’s bones,) H G Wells dream (H G Wells’s,) ‘We bought the book in Habitat, before Habitat became defunct.’ (Habitat isn’t quite yet defunct. It still has some outlets in a few Homebase stores.)

Interzone 263, Mar-Apr 2016

Interzone 263 cover

In his column Jonathan McCalmont extols the value of experimental narrative while in hers Nina Allan argues that there is such a thing as a daunting book and they may even be necessary. However is it possible that James Smythe’s position on “difficult” books can be interpreted more favourably? His Twitter quote, “Saying that patience is needed to read those books both demeans the books, and suggests that you’re not mentally able to read them … Here’s a novel thought: stop acting like a book is a mountain. Start acting like they’re a thing people read for fun, in their free time,” might mean that people ought to be encouraged to read them rather than discouraged from doing so. In the Book Zone Jo L Walton praises Catherynne M Valente’s Radiance and Ian Hunter suggests Adam Roberts’s The Thing Itself is already one of the books of the year. As to the fiction:-

Alexander Marsh Freed’s Ten Confessions of Blue Mercury Addicts, by Anna Spencer examines the effects of blue mercury, a drug that slows down time – or speeds you up, the experience is the same – but is addictive.
In Spine1 by Christopher Fowler, as an outbreak of deaths by sting occurs in Terrance Bay it seems as if jellyfish have become intelligent pack animals.
Not Recommended for Guests of a Philosophically Uncertain Disposition by Michelle Ann King features two workers at a tourist attraction known as the Fracture, a place where physical laws have broken down. This was neatly done and reminded me of the Eagles’ Hotel California.
In Motherboard: a tale from somewhere2 by Jeffrey Thomas the rather programmatically named Leep seeks refuge from his life by imagining himself into the world he perceives in the circuit boards he works on.
Lotto3 by Rich Larson is set in a transit camp where applicants wait for their number to come up for a slot on a colony ship.
Andromeda of the Skies4 by E Catherine Tobbler has a seven-year old girl fall through ice into a lake and travel two million light years to a cavern by a strange sea.

Pedant’s corner:- 1a missing “start quote” mark. 2Written in USian – except for the spelling “dialogue”, Down syndrome (Down’s syndrome,) space crafts (space craft,) held the circuit board it both hands (in both hands,) 3would make only the whole thing more exotic (would only make the whole thing more exotic,) stared up at quickcrete ceiling (the quickcrete ceiling.) 4the caves darknesses (the caves’ darknesses?)

The Antiquary by Walter Scott

The Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, Edinburgh University Press, 2011, 541 p, plus 37 p Essay on the Text, 48 p Emendation list, 2 p list of end-of-line “hard” hyphens, 7 p Historical Note, 72 p Explanatory Notes, 18 p Glossary, i p Foreword, vi p General Introduction to the Edinburgh Edition, and iii p Acknowledgements. One of the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books.

See my review of The Heart of Mid-Lothian for the intent behind the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels.

The Antiquary cover

We start in Edinburgh where the titular antiquary, Mr Oldenbuck, known as Oldbuck of Monkbarns, is awaiting the arrival of a coach to take him to South Queensferry to catch the tide there. He makes the acquaintance of a Mr Lovel, also to be travelling on the coach and on to the same final destination, the town of Fairport, near which lies Oldbuck’s estate of Monkbarns. Oldbuck is forever animadverting on the derivations of place names and the like and seeking out antiquarian antecedents for objects – and is often mistaken in his attributions. The usual longueurs and prolixity which beset Scott’s novels are again present, here exacerbated by the novel taking a long time to get into its stride. Different plot strands are set off and pursued and these appear at first to be almost occurring at random. Only about two thirds of the way through do the connections between several of the characters become apparent and that in a way which is immediately obvious to the modern reader but may well have been more of a novelty in Scott’s time. As with The Heart of Mid-Lothian the strands are eventually tied together a bit too neatly and in this case perfunctorily.

Scott here rather over-indulges in nominative descriptivism. We have mention of a Dr Dryasdust, the local minister is Mr Blattergowl, the bailiff Mr Cleansweep, Mrs Mailsetter deals with the post, the butcher’s wife is Mrs Heukbane, Mrs Shortcake is married to the baker, and there is a German con-man, Herman Dousterswivel.

Despite its title the book focuses more on the gaberlunzie (i.e. licenced beggar) Edie Ochiltree, than on Oldbuck. We first meet Ochiltree when he contradicts Oldbuck’s views about the presence of remains of a Roman camp on the latter’s estate by saying, “I mind the bigging o’t,” (in other words the structure’s origins lie within living memory) but thereafter he is the active force in many of the scenes. He also speaks in very broad Scots. This surely must have been disconcerting to Scott’s English readers on first publication, but it is of course the marker of his importance to Scottish literature.

Pedant’s corner:- on the inside cover flap; Lovell (the text always has Lovel.) The usual Scott renderings, sprung, sunk, sung, etc as per the Scottish usage of the time but here also run for ran. Similarly we have the usual stupified, but then, surprisingly, stupefaction. In one case a new speaker’s new paragraph is not indented. “‘He had had the pleasure,’ Lovel answered, ‘to see her at Mrs Wilmot’s, in Yorkshire.’” (Since it is Lovel who is speaking – about himself – should that “he” not be “I”? Or else remove the quote marks.) “No. I.,” (Scott’s punctuation?) At least three different spellings of ecstasy (two of them with an x,) invaasion (an explanatory note says this is the spelling in Scott’s manuscript. I can only think this indicates an idiosyncratic pronunciation by Ochiltree.) In the explanatory notes; “(who gave his name both to the Cameronian sect)” (????) Hary (Harry, as in Blind Harry, author of the poem The Wallace,) tansfer (transfer,) marriage marriage (unnecessary repeat of marriage.)

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