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Starhaven by Robert Silverberg

In The Chalice of Death, Planet Stories, 2012, 90 p. First published as Starhaven, 1958, as by Ivar Jorgensen.

Starhaven cover

Another of Silverberg’s early potboilers. Here Johnny Mantell, former researcher at Klingsan Defence Systems but for seven years a beachcomber on the planet Mulciber, has to flee justice when a tourist picks a fight with him and dies. He steals a spaceship and heads for Starhaven, “a sanctuary for people like us, who couldn’t make the grade or fit in with organised society. Drifters and crooks and has-beens can go to Starhaven.” This criminal’s planet was built and is ruled with an iron hand by Ben Thurdan. The premise is that all the criminal tendencies cancel each other out and so a sort of law prevails. Starhaven’s constitution is simple, “Expect the same treatment that you hand out to others,” and “ You’ll do whatever Ben Thurdan tells you to do without, argument, question, or hesitation.”

On arrival Mantell is subjected to a psychprobe, which reveals him to have an unusual level of will but also to be guilty of the murder of which he remembers himself innocent. Soon after, Mantell begins to be struck by episodes in which he is not quite himself. Thurdan employs him to build a personal defence screen to prevent assassination. Meanwhile Mantell is much taken by Thurdan’s assistant Myra and also gradually finds himself drawn into a plot to remove Thurdan from power.

Of its time and far from Silverberg’s 60s heights. I only read it for completist reasons.

Pedant’s corner:- one count of Thurban for Thurdan, several of quotation marks missing, “Only there was a pink blur waiting for him in this one.” ???? “He ducked, swept it under his mighty fumbling paws,” – I have no idea what the antecedent of that “it” might have been. I note here that Silverberg, too, could employ “time interval” later.

Tales from Angus by Violet Jacob

In Flemington and Tales from Angus, Canongate 2013, 269 p; including 9 p Introduction, 1 p Acknowledgements, 9 p Notes and 6 p Glossary.

 Flemington and Tales from Angus cover

Jacob was born into the Kennedy-Erskine family of the House of Dun near Montrose (and published the family history The Lairds of Dun in 1931. In the memorable stories of Tales From Angus her sympathy with, and compassion for, those born with fewer advantages, her intimacy with and love for the landscape of Angus, shine through. The summaries below do not capture her facility nor her powers of description. Again, the book’s introduction mentions some of the salient points in the stories. Read that afterwards.

Thievie. An old skinflint would do anything rather than hand over his life savings – even to his daughter.
The Disgracefulness of Auntie Thomson. On the arrival in town of a well-dressed stranger the daughter of an upright but proud couple (to flaunt their wealth they take a carriage to a further away Kirk rather than attend the one backing onto their land) turns down her suitor on the grounds his guardian, his Auntie Thomson – is too coarse. The twist here is obvious long before the end but enjoyable just the same.
The Debatable Land. An orphaned young woman taken in as a servant by a woman the attentions of whose son she finds abhorrent finds refuge with a traveller.
The Fiddler. A beautifully constructed tale of a woman haunted by her aid to one of the rebels hunted after Culloden and the fiddler who is the only other person in the know.
A Middle-Aged Drama. A widower takes on a housekeeper and gradually comes to appreciate her. But she has a secret.
Annie Cargill. A man visits his godfather’s house and is spooked by a grave in the adjacent cemetery. A fairly straightforward, but admirably written, ghost story.
The Watch-Tower. A shepherd shelters for the night in a watchtower and finds there an old acquaintance whom he perceives to be the notorious sheep-stealer recently escaped from a nearby jail. Others are on the hunt.
The Figurehead. The mate of the brig “William and Joann” is struck by the resemblance of a girl he sees on a stairhead in Montrose to his ship’s figurehead and starts to court her.
Euphemia. A young lass organises women to bring in a harvest on a Sunday when the men refuse supposedly for Sabbatarian reasons but really for the money.
The Overthrow of Adam Pitcaithley. The son of a farmer strikes up a friendship with a travelling lad but ignores him when in his Sunday finery. Not a wise move.
The Lum Hat. The manuscript of this story – of which a few pages were missing – was found in Jacob’s papers and first published in 1982, many years after her death. The missing pages do not affect the story’s thrust. Christina Mill has led a sheltered life in the house of her father (whose favourite ‘chimney pot’ hat provides the story’s title.) Her disastrous marriage to Baird, a sea captain, and thankfully swift widowhood when his ship founders, leads her to cling to the familiar.
The Fifty-Eight Wild Swans. A man all but bed-ridden with arthritis is struck by a desire to view the many swans newly arrived on a loch just out of sight from his house.
The Yellow Dog. A tale mostly at second hand as the story of the yellow dog, which may or may not be a ghost, is related by one of three men in a smiddy.
Anderson. The boy of the title rescues a kitten from the gaggle of boys about to take great pleasure in drowning it.

Among Jacob’s bons mots are, “No woman, no matter of what age, can be quite cold to the charm of a new garment.” “Hard-working men do not analyse one another much; they either do or do not accept one another, and that is all.” “He was one of the many old men in Scotland who always allude to death as a joke.” She also writes, “Scottish people are addicted, perhaps more than any other, to nicknames,” and repeats the same sentiment elsewhere. Is that a particularly Scottish trait? Her acute observation is particularly evident in The Lum Hat. “In a small town a stranger in church is a godsend.” The cook objects to Christina’s help because of “her passionate belief that the gentry should keep the pose thrust on them by God.” “The stars in their courses fought for Baird, as they do for most thrusters.” “…men married their wives for convenience mainly, and were lucky if they got any attraction thrown in.”

I note that throughout Jacob employs the word “wean” for a child. Hitherto I had thought this a predominantly West Coast usage. On the East coast “bairn” had seemed to me to be exclusive. (It certainly is in Fife – and in The Sunday Post.) Perhaps its use stops just north of Dundee.

Pedant’s corner:- chrysophrase (chrysoprase,) standing in the white patch that then moon had laid, tried is used in the text where treid (the Scots for tread) appears in the glossary.

Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV by Eric Brown

The Telemass Quartet 1, P S Publishing, 2014, 88 p

 Famadihana on Fomalhaut-IV cover

This is the first of four novellas presumably centred round the beam-me-across-space technology Brown has dubbed Telemass and which, as I recall, made its first appearance in the author’s Meridian Days many moons ago.

Here, Matt Hendrick, a detective from Amsterdam, arrives by Telemass on the planet Avoel (Fomalhaut-IV) to seek his wife and the daughter she took with her when she left him. Once there he becomes embroiled with Tiana Tiandra, a woman whose girlfriend Lalla has also disappeared into the interior. The events of the novella are related to the goings-on of a strange cult inspired by the indigenous Avoeli who have a ritual similar to the famadihana of Madagascar from where most of the humans on Avoel originally derived. This involves the apparently dead being brought back to life. The story is mostly told in third person but small fragments from Tiana’s viewpoint are rendered in italics.

Brown does this sort of thing so well. His readers will be familiar with a protagonist not in a relationship at the story’s start or else getting over a failed one, a religion with a degree of bizzarrerie, a lost spouse or family member, strange aliens and may even expect a love interest to be encountered along the way. The entertainment comes with the twists he applies to these building blocks. In this novella the Avoel are perhaps a little too undeveloped, Hendrick’s relationship with Tiana is a bit precipitate and the resolution also feels a trifle rushed. Yet the whole thing is engaging, if perhaps lacking some of the warmth of Brown’s previous quartet for PS, Starship Seasons. But we’re only one story in. Time enough.

Pedant’s corner:- is a valued members of my congregation (member,) attempting to keep the irritation from her voice” (his voice makes more sense,) peered around it mass (its mass,) bears a passing a passing resemblance, not to hate met (me,) “He heard her breathing at her side (his.) And a fair sprinkling of instances of “time interval” later.

The Wall Around Eden by Joan Slonczewski

Women’s Press, 1991, 288 p

The Wall Around Eden cover

It’s the little things that niggle. One of the families in this book is Quaker, of the strict variety. And they address others as “thee” (except in the possessive when they use “thy”.) This is fine, but…. Bar once, they never use the form “thou” – and in the nominative case they ought to. I found this omission intensely irritating (though I’ll admit that “thou” would require, for example, the verb form “seest” as in “thou seest” rather than the author’s “thee sees.”) Do strict Quakers in the US actually use “thee” in this way? In any case Slonczewski and her characters are clearly aware that the “thou” form exists as in that one instance Daniel Scattergood uses it in the punning phrase “an I for a thou” when he and Isabel Garcia-Chase are exchanging images with an alien artefact. It also occurs in, “She had watched it for too long not to think of it as thou” when Isabel has an apparently wounded keeper at her mercy. Very annoying.

Then too, Slonczewski has her characters reference various works of Science Fiction which, although it provides a means of explaining the topographical relationship of the alien Pylons which link various human settlements together with a central core, comes over more as her demonstrating an awareness of the genre rather than something organic to her creations.

But to the tale. It’s set in the aftermath of an atomic war in which aliens called Keepers may or may not have had some part but where most of humanity and other life failed to survive the ensuing nuclear winter. Those who did now live in domed cities created by the aliens. These have an impenetrable barrier (the wall around Eden of the title) to the outside and also a walled off Pylon at their centre, plus flying aliens (or alien artifacts) called angelbees – who see infra-red – roaming the air inside the domes. There are very few of these environments – none in Europe – the main one is in Sydney, Australia, but ours is in Gwynwood, USA. Courtesy of the aliens the domed cities are kept in touch with each other by a teleportation technology.

Sunlight can penetrate the wall around Gwynwood but snow cannot; nor can animals – the outside is littered with the bones of the dying, humans among them, attracted there by its warmth and light in the days of nuclear winter – but there is weather inside (not to mention bluejays, mice and squirrels.) Despite references to the growing of crops and fruit – and their contamination with radiation via the groundwater – Gwynwood seems rather too small to create that internal weather, and to be self-sufficient. Yes, imports come in from Sydney but these seem to be mostly technological or medical. I did wonder how even the small number who live there managed to survive. Their existence is summed up by one of them remembering Chief Seattle, on being taken to the reservation, “It is the end of living and the beginning of survival.”

No matter; the main story is of Isabel’s quest to escape Gwynwood, join the Underground and eject the aliens from Earth. Somewhere along the way it turns into a yoyage of discovery about the nature of the Keepers and their purposes. Slonczewski does the discovery stuff very well and the central message – unusually for a post disaster novel – is of hope but I was left wanting more.

Pedant’s corner:- there was a “sprung” count of one (but sprang was used elsewhere,) the now very unPC, “We’ll watch the poofs at Les Girls.” “But King George (III) was a tyrant” is a very USian sentiment. We had crèche (for nativity scene,) rhinoceri (the word ending is plain wrong; its root isn’t from Latin, the English plural is rhinoceroses anyway,) calling an in unimaginable variety (in an,) polyhedrons (it’s from Greek so the plural is polyhedra,) shined (shone,) could have mowed us down (mown.)

The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis

Letters from a senior to a junior Devil, Fount, 1991, 160 p (first published in 1942)

The Screwtape Letters cover

Many years ago, before we moved to Braintree, the good lady and I lived for a few months in Welwyn Garden City. We joined the library there and came across a book – which we both read and enjoyed – about angels and devils (and, I think, a war between Heaven and Hell.) Our recollection was, and is, that it was by someone reasonably well known, with a surname that began with a letter towards the end of the alphabet, but that the book wasn’t typical of his (it was a man) output. Since we moved from WGC we’ve never found the book elsewhere and can no longer remember its title nor who the author was.

When we heard of The Screwtape Letters both our thoughts were that, no, Lewis is too religiously minded to be the unknown author and his name does not begin with a letter in the latter half of the alphabet. I chanced upon this copy at a charity book sale and thought well, why not try it anyway?

The book is arranged as a series of epistles to “My Dear Wormwood” – the junior devil of the sub-title – all bar two of which are signed off with, “Your affectionate Uncle, Screwtape.” They outline Screwtape’s responses to Wormwood’s attempts to ensnare a soul and the various stratagems that may be employed for that purpose. In this Lewis highlights numerous human frailties and misconceptions, as he sees them. The whole thing is rather dry, coming over as an arid intellectual exercise, and strangely rooted in time by its many references to the “current European War.”

That book from Welwyn Garden City was funny and a delight. The Screwtape Letters is not.

Does my description of the WGC book strike a chord with anyone? Can you enlighten me as to its author and title? I’d like to read it again to see if it stands up to memory.

Pedant’s corner. All these despite this being a forty-fourth impression!:- dulness (that’s two books in a row now; did it used to be spelt that way?) strategem, in which a stranger self preyed upon a weaker (stronger self, surely?) “reckoning in light years” used as if a light year were a unit of time rather than distance, to watch a man doing something is not to make him to it (“make him do it” makes more sense,) a shell-like tetter (??? – tetter is a skin disease.)

Flemington by Violet Jacob

In Flemington and Tales from Angus, Canongate, 2013, 291 p, including 16 p introduction, 1 p each Acknowledgements, Note on the Text and Author’s Note, 14 p Notes and 6 p Glossary.

Another from the 100 Best Scottish books list. Again from a local (well, 9 miles away) library. The novel was first published in 1911.

 Flemington and Tales from Angus cover

As soon as the years in which this is set, 1745-6, are discovered certain expectations might arise, a focus on Bonnie Prince Charlie or his entourage, following the rising tide of his fortunes from the standard raising at Glenfinnan through his initial triumphs to Edinburgh and on down to England before the fatal loss of nerve at Derby and thence to his downfall. Jacob, however, is more subtle than this. The events of that last Jacobite rebellion are present here, to be sure, (the Battle of Prestonpans – here rendered as Preston Pans – the advance to and retreat from Derby, the Battles of Falkirk and of Drummossie Moor, otherwise known as Culloden, the bloody and vengeful aftermath of that final battle on British soil) but they occur offstage. Jacob’s focus is relentlessly on individuals, not the broad sweep of history or “great events”. Though the Duke of Cumberland does appear in Flemington’s pages as a character (and not in a flattering portrait) the Young Chevalier never does, except as the driving force for the dilemma into which our titular protagonist falls. The action takes place exclusively in the county of Angus and specifically in the area linking the towns of Forfar, Brechin and Montrose. It is in Montrose harbour that the sole military engagement described in the book – a fictionalisation of a very minor naval incident in the ’45 rebellion – takes place.

To prevent his mother compromising Prince Charlie, protagonist Archibald Flemington’s father was badly used by the Old Pretender in exile at St Germain. Archie was subsequently orphaned and put in the care of his grandmother who, due to those earlier experiences, is now a full supporter of the Hanoverian dynasty. Flemington is a painter but also a government spy trying to discern the plans of the rebel James Logie; to which end he turns up at the door of Logie’s brother, a retired judge. While Flemington is still undercover Logie reveals to him a personal confidence – unrelated to any Jacobite sympathies. This engenders in Flemington a sympathy for Logie which he will not thereafter compromise and so the central tragedy of the story unfolds.

The novel is full of well-drawn and memorable characters: Flemington; his grandmother; Skirlin’ Wattie, the no-legged bagpiper who travels about on a cart drawn by dogs; Callander, the Government Army officer who is dutiful to a fault. Despite his confidence granted to Flemington, James Logie is a shadowier character, though his brother Balnillo is portrayed in all his preposterousness. Wattie is the only one who speaks broad Scots. The context provides clarity enough but the glossary is there if needed.

One chapter begins, “April is slow in Scotland, distrustful of her own identity, timid of her own powers. Half dazed from the long winter sleep, she is often bewildered, and cannot remember whether she belongs to winter or to spring.” How true – especially redolent when reading it in Scotland, in April, and the passage is characteristic of Jacob’s writing which is especially strong on landscape description.

Flemington is an illustration on an individual human scale of the dislocations and traumas, the disruptions, which a Civil War brings in its train and of how character can both resist circumstances and be a victim of them.

I took the precaution of not reading the introduction before the story. Wisely, as the usual spoilers in such things were present.

Pedant’s corner:- I found the reference to English parents strange in a passage contrasting the thoughts of a Scots woman who had spent a long time in France with those who hadn’t. Also mentioned were English dragoons at Culloden. (I haven’t checked. Any dragoons may have been English, though certainly a large part of Cumberland’s army was Scots.) Dulness with one ‘l’?

The Affair in Arcady by James Wellard

Hutchinson, 1959, 336 p.

The Affair in Arcady cover

Clive Marshall, a not very successful author, has been hired to write the history of The Tylers of Tyler County: An Epic of American Enterprise, coming over from his home in Italy, leaving his wife to her nascent acting career, to do so. One night at work on this project in the family’s pile in Arcady, Illinois, he is disturbed by a young woman tapping at the window. When she enters he discovers she is the daughter of the house, Abbie. Abbie is wayward, used to getting her own way, except for when she chose a boyfriend her folks found unsuitable. That affair having been ended she continues to choose wrongly. Marshall’s first impressions of her are not favourable but neither that nor the fact that he is married stops him having sex with her the next night. Thereafter Marshall is inexorably drawn into Abbie’s orbit. Put as baldly as this it might not seem that this is a particularly worthwhile novel but Wellard’s writing is discursive and acute, his character drawing excellent. Outstanding here is Abbie’s stepfather, Earl Borman, in all his venality, his sureness of his world view, his sense of entitlement. When Marshall returns to Italy for a brief spell his wife, Lydia, is also revealed in all her frivolity. Marshall himself is portrayed as weak and easily led.

The situation gives Wellard plenty rein to criticise the society and culture he is describing. “I’ve enough evidence to prove that the Tylers were a clan of greedy, ruthless, unprincipled land and money-grubbers. So, as you asked me before, what do I intend to do about it? Answer: write them up as great Americans.” “The only true thing that was ever said about all of them was that all great men are bad.” “‘Yessir. Nobody wants to cheer a losing team.’ Marshall looked at him, aware that he had just uttered a profound maxim of American philosophy. … He had never even thought of football as a game…. This set of values… made him so … different from other national types, providing an incontrovertible argument against internationalism and the brotherhood of man.”

The words “negress”, “negro”, “darkies” and the other (now highly unacceptable) “n” word appear early and at first I thought their presence was simply a marker of the time the novel was written but they are important since racial prejudice and animus against miscegenation are germane to the plot. Oddly we had what I assume is an expletive deleted in the phrase “you –– bastard” though the last word there is considered by many to be unmentionable.

The title – and the novel – is of course about more than the relationship between Abbie and Marshall. As Marshall’s research into the family’s papers proceeds the dark secrets of the Tylers’ recent past are revealed. In Abbie’s fractured search for meaning in life, and her justified resentment towards her family, lie the seeds of despair.

The Affair in Arcady is an excellent book. I am mystified that it and Wellard himself do not appear on the Fantastic Fiction website. There is an extensive list of his books on LibraryThing though.

Pedant’s corner:- Youasked for it, ciaous (ciaos,) hadn’t of been – but this was in direct speech – if is is (if it is,) damwell (damn well,) ofthe (of the,) should of – again in direct speech, interne.

Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman

Pushkin Press 2013, 592 p. Translated from the Spanish El viajero del siglo by Nick Caistor and Lorenza García.

 Traveller of the Century cover

Traveller of the Century is the first novel by Argentinian born though long time Spanish resident Andrés Neuman to be translated into English.

Its protagonist, Hans, arrives by coach in the city of Wandernburg, somewhere on the borders of Prussia and Saxony, fully intending not to stay long. The city is strange, though. Apart from the constant changing between which of the two countries it belongs to (the setting is post-Napoleonic, there is a lot of moaning by the characters about the baleful influence of Metternich) its streets and buildings seem to realign themselves every night. So once again I find myself reading about a weird city (The City and the City, Pfitz) or altered borders (Europe in Autumn.) Neuman does not overplay this aspect of his novel however. The shifting topography is mere background, the city as it is. Hans finds himself lingering in Wandernburg (it is a difficult city to shake off) and becomes drawn into the lives of its characters; especially the literary salon held every Friday by Sophie Gottlieb and her father. The best friend he makes in the city is a lowly organ-grinder (who sadly does not have a monkey but rather a dog) living in a cave two miles outside the city. And there is a masked man who is attacking women at night.

Barring one two-line exchange on page 569 the dialogue isn’t marked out from the rest of the text in any way – neither by quotation marks nor by dashes – but rather is embedded within it (characters talking across or interrupting each other is rendered in parentheses, as are any actions of the speaker.) This idiosyncrasy does take some getting used to and, coupled with the lengthy discussions of philosophy, politics, economics, the merits or otherwise of Walter Scott’s novels, poetry etc in the scenes taking place in the salon, is one of the reasons it took me a while to settle to the book. Once in its stride however, the thrust of the story won me over. The love affair which we always know is inevitable between Hans and Sophie – despite her engagement to the wealthy Rudi von Wilderhaus – has a slow build up but gives Neuman ample scope to deal with two of the eternal literary concerns, love and sex. Sophie is a determined woman, opinionated in the salon, standing up to both father and fiancé in the matter of assisting Hans in his works of translation (a great excuse for the two to meet in Hans’s room at the inn,) and, a fact naturally kept concealed from father and fiancé but of course impossible to hide from Hans, sexually experienced to boot, an attribute which Hans rather appreciates.

There is a hint of mystery to Hans beyond his status as a traveller. He has books that look old but bear recent publication dates. It is only one of the many intriguing aspects of the book that his origins remain an enigma to the end.

In the salon we hear of Adam Smith that his “theories are capable of enriching a state and impoverishing its workers,” a fact proved many times over in the past two centuries, also – in a comment emblematic of the author’s referential approach – “These Argentinians are very restless, they are everywhere at the moment. They have a penchant for Europe and seem to speak several languages. They talk incessantly about their own country but never stay there.” Of Hans and his friend Álvaro we are told, “They spoke in a manner two men rarely succeeded in doing – without interrupting or competing with one another.” The novel might have been designed to test the statement that, “There are two types of people. Those who always leave and those who always stay put,” while Hans says to Sophie, “I feel as if time has stopped, but at the same time I’m aware of how fast it is going. Is that what being in love is?”

Not that it’s all serious stuff. We encounter a pair of semi-comical police officers, Lieutenants Gluck and Gluck (father and son,) tasked with finding the attacker. And what are we to make of the names thrown in as if at random of those incidental characters, Rummenigge, Klinsman and Voeller? I doubt it is laziness on Neumann’s part, as if he has only a limited knowledge of German names and merely utilised those he had heard elsewhere. Is it a subtly sardonic allusion, a joke at the expense of any highbrow readers, who will eagerly latch on to the salon discussions but perhaps miss this reference to German former footballers – and strikers at that?

Whatever my misgivings to begin with, Traveller of the Century is a novel not frightened of demanding effort from its readers but worth that effort just the same, one of those works that will stay with me for a long time.

Pleasingly, the translation seemed to be into British English but there were still a few entrants to Pedant’s Corner:- “And, yes, be able” (to be able,) there’s no need be so formal, the only thing he kept up all evening were…. (was,) neither of us like to waste time (likes,) from her there to her navel (from there to her navel,) laid for lay, do you take me for fool (a fool,) medieval, running towards to them, knelt down next to straw pallet.
I looked up Braille and water closet in case of anachronism. The first just about fits; however the second term wasn’t used in English till 1870. But the book is set in Germany and written in Spanish, perhaps the description was in earlier use in those two languages.

Currently Reading

That part of my sidebar which also provides the title of this post is at the moment inaccurate.

I read the BSFA Awards booklet as soon as it arrived in order to meet the voting deadline and took time out from Andrés Neuman’s Traveller of the Century to do so. I’ve finished the booklet now (see the review on my previous post) and nearing the end of Traveller of the Century.

BSFA Awards Booklet 2014

This year’s booklet plopped on the doormat on Monday. Just in time for me to fill in the online voting form on Tuesday, one day before the deadline!

BSFA Awards Booklet 2014

The non-fiction items this year were:-
”Deep Forests and Manicured Gardens” by Jonathan Mcalmont, a discussion of two online magazines

”Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of the Great War” edited by Edward James. A record of research the author has done on the lives and war experiences of SF and fantasy writers during the Great War.

“Call and Response” by Paul Kincaid. The introduction to Kincaid’s book about criticism is reprinted.

”Greg Egan” by Karen Burnham. An examination of some of Egan’s themes.

The State of British SF and Fantasy: A Symposium” various authors. Contributions to the symposium first published in Strange Horizons. See http://www.strangehorizons.com/2014/20140728/1britsf-a.shtml

As to the fiction:-

The Honey Trap by Ruth E J Booth. La Femme, NewCon Press.
Bees are extinct. An industrialised fruit grower (whose plants are pollinated by hand) is tempted by the sweetest apple he has ever tasted – despite its ugly appearance and the scruffiness of its grower.

The Mussel Eater by Octavia Cade. The Book Smugglers, Nov 2014
Karitoki tries to make friends with a Pania, one of a set of (genetically engineered?) creatures sworn to protect whales, dolphins and seals, by cooking mussels for it. Its taste is for fresh, not cooked, food.

Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Immersion Press, 2014
Set in a Hong Kong where demons and gods interact with humans, but the story also contains excursions to heaven. One of the gods requires the help of the human Julienne to release her sister from imprisonment. This story had too many fantasy incursions for my taste and whether the pay-off was worth the inordinate length is debatable.

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