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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.)

Interzone 262, Jan-Feb 2016

Interzone 262 cover

Jonathan McAlmont’s column rails against current SF’s inability to conceive of society freed from the shackles of the market and examines the Quatermass series in the light of how “humanity would rather destroy itself than deal with the ambiguities of change”. Nina Allan muses on the pressures of a writer to produce to order and how unlikely that is to suit every writing style. The Book Zone has an interview with Dave Hutchinson and I review Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan. The fiction has:-
The Water-Walls of Enceladus1 by Mercurio D Rivera. Lily has been infected by an alien virus contracted on an asteroid. Despite the pustules on her body she is still regarded as beautiful by the Wergen, who have given humans advanced technology in return for companionship. Hating other humans reactions to herself she has contracted for a mission on Enceladus with only Wergen for company, Wergen whom she has come to hate. A well enough told story but my sympathies were entirely with the Wergen.
Empty Planets2 by Rahul Kanakia. In a future dominated by The Machine, people can offset the dwindling of their habitats’ prospects by earning shares through performing services or making discoveries.
In Geologic3 by Ian Sales the author calls on his knowledge of deep-sea diving and space exploration to tell the tale of an expedition to the crushingly high atmospheric pressure planet 61 Virginis b and the enigmatic rock structure on its surface. This brought to mindSolaris, except it has a rock instead of an ocean.
Circa Diem by Carole Johnstone is set after an asteroid bypass has caused Earth’s rotation to slow. One group of remnants lives underground, another above, never meeting – until a man from below and a woman from above do.
In A Strange Loop4 by D R Napper a man has been selling his memories to accumulate money to try to rewoo his estranged wife. As a result he doesn’t remember having done so.
Dependent Assemblies5 by Philip A Suggars is set in an alternative late 19th century Buenos Aires run by a homophobic, racist dictator who controls a mysterious substance called lux which can bring inanimate matter to life but does odd things to living tissue. Two male lovers try to use lux to make children from metal and ceramics. Effectively done but a little cursory.

Pedant’s corner:- Stross’ (Stross’s,) Quatermass’ (x2, Quatermass’s.) “But all writers are not the same” (not all writers are the same.) 1Written in USian; one less freak (one fewer,) corner of their eyes (corners,) Enceladus orbited at its greatest distance from Saturn (was orbiting at,) plateaus (plateaux,) providing us a panoramic view (with a panoramic view,) off of, outside of, trying to acclimate myself (acclimatise,) full-fledged (fully-fledged) 2Written in USian; while I laid out on a rock (lay.) 3 Not written in USian but still employs “ass” for arse, “the pilot in their blister” (I dislike this use of the plural for an individual character.) 4leather-bounds books (leather-bound,) Irving held up hand (a hand,) 5 Rojas’ (Rojas’s,) in middle of the night (in the middle of the night,) off of, sat (seated,) were a group (was a group.)

The Watcher by Jane Palmer

Women’s Press, 1986, 181 p.

The Watcher cover

A Star Dancer has taken to draining the energy pools of Ojal, threatening the planet’s future. Controller Opu finds the perpetrator retreats to Perimeter 84296 (Earth) on the other side of the galaxy and in “less than seconds.” Opu has to delegate care for her offspring before she can deal with this. She decides to send an android to Earth to try to stop the Star Dancer’s activities. Such a transmission is illegal, a transgression liable to be uncovered by a Watcher.

That aliens have childcare issues too is a neat touch; but that responsibility is shrugged off to someone else, in what may be regarded as an all too human manner, for most of the book.

On Earth the locals include Wendle a youthful looking man who is well over a hundred years old, a black police inspector called Weatherby, a sparky policewoman named Perkins, an orphan of Asian extraction called Gabrielle, and a divorced mother named Penny. Not all of these are as they seem but as with The Planet Dweller the interactions between the human characters are much more convincing than those sections dealing with aliens, which again have a cartoonish element. The search for Opu’s agent by giant cylindrical robots mistaken for sea creatures excites a certain degree of interest but the intrusion is accepted in a phlegmatic, restrained, very English way.

In the course of its endeavours the android manages to convert itself into being human; the first to achieve such transformation. As a further complication its senders are about to destroy it, which would be a further transgression now it’s technically alive. In the end the Watcher reveals herself.

The back cover blurb calls this, “Another joyous send up of the SF genre”. It may have appeared satirical when it was written but now I’m afraid it evokes only bathos. At least to this reader.

Pedant’s corner:- ‘They can’s be that backward’ (can’t,) “they stared in wonderment the needle erratically began to flicker into life (has an “as” missing somewhere,) even less that the intruder (even less than,) vocal chords (cords,) ‘But how well these creatures know it’s a trial run’ (how will,) from whence (the from is redundant; whence means “from where”,) andriod (android,) ‘Why?’ said Annac, had no idea what was going on (said Annac, who had no idea,) “he was adamant she should not. and refused” (has an errant full stop,) “and a possible explanation …… came to him he froze (also missing an “as”.)

Asimov’s Science Fiction Jun 2016

Dell Magazines.

Asimov's Jun 2016 cover

The fourth issue of this year’s subscription. In the editorial Sheila Williams introduces the magazine’s background staff. Robert Silverberg’s column describes his discovery of the utility of a smartphone. (He still doesn’t own one though.) In On the NET James Patrick Kelly discusses the back and present catalogue of stories set on Mars in the light of encouraging real space missions. Norman Spinrad’s excellent Book Review essay reflects on the difficulties of representing quantum reality (his preferred term for quantum mechanics) in fictional form and the necessity to treat the reader fairly vis-à-vis recent developments in astronomy.

As for the fiction:-
Clearance by Sarah Pinsker sees a tooth gel saleswoman discover the delights of holidays in different realities.
In Unreeled by Mercurio D Rivera the husband of a streamer (people whose consciousnesses are beamed across the universe then brought back again) finds his wife’s behaviour has altered as a result of a trip to a black hole. The denouement seemed a trifle rushed.
Rambunctious by Rick Wilber is a tale of an overly-gifted young girl whose family harbours a secret. I was reminded (a bit) of Zenna Henderson’s stories of The People.
Project Symmetry by Dominica Phetteplace sees a woman’s Watcher chip help her to come to terms with her life. This story didn’t really add much to what we already knew about the author’s fictional universe.
In Rats Dream of the Future by Paul McAuley a researcher tries to get rats to predict the future in order to make stock market killings.
What We Hold Onto by Jay O’Connell is set in a climate changed world where some cities have been inundated. A woman enlists a Nomad (a group of stateless licensed helpers) to deal with her dying mother’s estate. In essence an extended love story.

Pedant’s corner:- phase (I prefer faze for this sense, though apparently phase is an acceptable US usage,) laying down with (lying down with,) flack (flak,) patinaed (patinated,) Chthulu (Cthulhu,) sat (sitting; or seated,) Nils Bor (Nils Bohr,) a “neither…. or” rather than neither … nor, “summarizing .. for or readers” (omit “or”,) daring-do (this is the first time I have seen this formulation but it is indeed the original which was mistaken as a noun in itself and so has long been rendered as derring-do,) charactarogical (characterogical, surely?)

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

Corsair, 2015, 352 p.

 The Philosopher Kings cover

Twenty years on from the events of The Just City and its Last Debate following which Athene flew off in a huff taking all but two of the Worker robots with her, our Platonists are still trying to become their best selves but have split into five cities on Kallisti/Santorini/Thera/Atlantis and a further group headed by Kebes/Mathias who sailed off in the ship Goodness to found colonies in the Ægean. The remaining five cities indulge in raiding each other to purloin the city’s art works for themselves. The Philsopher Kings starts off with one of these in which the heroine of the previous book, Simmea, is killed by an arrow. Apollo, in his incarnation as Pytheas, could have prevented her death but she forestalled him. The rest of the novel is preoccupied with Apollo’s search for the reasons why she wanted him to remain in the project without her and a quest for revenge on Kebes whom Apollo thought might be responsible for Simmea’s death and discovers from her journal had as good as (as bad as?) raped her. This gives Walton the opportunity to take us on a sub-Homeric trip round the Mediterranean and to allow those of Apollo/Pytheas’s children who are on the voyage to be imbued with divine powers on the island of Delos. It turns out the Goodness group has started to practice a form of Christianity, centuries before Christ’s life. They rationalise this by saying he is their eternal saviour.

As in the first book the narrative is presented from three viewpoints. Those of Maia and Apollo follow on from it, but, Simmea being dead, the third thread here is as by her daughter by Apollo/Pytheas, Arete (whose name means excellence.) There is much talk of possibly changing history but The Philosopher Kings does not engage as fully with the issues of free will and equal significance as The Just City did.

(Spoiler) There is also a spectacular example of what I can only call a Zeus ex machina towards the end. Granted, in Walton’s scenario the Greek Gods are real but Zeus has heretofore been well offstage and his incorporation seemed a trifle gratuitous.

Maybe this book is suffering from middle-of-trilogy, marking-time syndrome. I’ll still look out for Necessity, the next in the sequence.

Pedant’s corner:- blacksmith (isn’t this technically an iron-worker? We’re in the Bronze Age here, though iron is mentioned in places. The general term for metal-worker is smith.) “Near enough the overhear us” (near enough to.) “The thing they most wanted to discover….. were” (The thing…..was.) A sculpture of a crucifixion describes nails through “his palms and feet”; I believe the Romans actually pinned the nails through the wrists and ankles. Arete’s narrative refers to this as a crucifix but she would not have known that word. We are only told later she can understand all languages. Kebes face (Kebes’s – which appears later.) “‘I don’t want to discuss standing it on the harbor.’” (‘I don’t want to discuss it standing on the harbor.’)

The Heart of Mid-Lothian by Walter Scott

The Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, Edinburgh University Press, 2011, 470 p plus 59 p Essay on the Text, 50 p Emendation list, 2 p list of end-of-line “hard” hyphens, 40 p Historical Note, 120 p Explanatory Notes, 50 p Glossary, 2p maps of Edinburgh, iv p General Introduction to the Edinburgh Edition, and iii p Acknowledgements. One of the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books.

The Edinburgh Edition has sought to produce the nearest approximation to what Scott intended by using as base texts the first publications and Scott’s manuscripts of the relevant novels. The Heart of Mid-Lothian – the novel which, by way of a dance hall, provided the name for a Scottish Football Club – was seemingly the work which suffered most in the hands of such intermediaries as copyists, typesetters and editors. The length of the emendation list here attests to this. In this edition the explanatory notes work out at an average of four for every page of text! To consult them with this frequency would have interrupted the flow of reading so for the most part I left them till I had finished the novel, only consulting them during its course when absolutely necessary.

The Heart of Mid-Lothian cover

The story is supposedly set down by one Jedidiah Cleishbotham as one of his Tales of My Landlord, Peter Pattieson, only he had it from conversations in an inn with three gentlemen he had helped rescue from deposition in a river by an upturned coach, two of whom were lawyers and the other once jailed through indebtness. This is of course merely a framing device to introduce a story whose beginnings lie in the Edinburgh tolbooth (the gaol situated at the Heart of Mid-Lothian) and the Porteous riots of 1736 where a commander of the city guard was lynched after being pardoned for killing innocent civilians during a disturbance at an earlier public hanging. The story places in the tolbooth at the time Effie Deans, awaiting trial for concealment of her pregnancy, a crime taken to be evidence of intent to murder the child when it was born. Her lover, it turns out, was involved with instigating the riots and had immediately before the birth placed Effie and hence their son into the hands of old acquaintances of his who were less than reliable. Effie’s post-partum indisposition due to puerperal fever renders her incapable of accounting for her son’s whereabouts.

Effie is the daughter of David Deans, a staunch Presbyterian of the old school, a former Covenanter still unreconciled to the modern practices of the Church of Scotland and its accommodation with the State. Effie’s half-sister, Jeanie, has it in her power to prevent Effie’s conviction but due to her conscience and strict upbringing will not swear falsely that Effie informed her of her condition. As a result, Effie is found guilty and sentenced to death. Jeanie resolves to walk to London to enlist the help of the Duke of Argyle to petition the King for a pardon. While her encounters en route make for a novel whose parts are an interconnected artistic whole they do seem a little implausible. However, if you like loose ends to be successfully tied up you won’t be disappointed.

As with Rob Roy Scott’s wordiness can be wearing at first, but I soon accommodated myself to it.

While Jeanie is the undoubted heroine of the book the whole may also be seen as an exploration of the ramifications of an unjust law. From the perspective of two hundred years on Effie’s predicament exemplifies a pronounced tendency among religions to make women the gatekeepers to male sexuality and to punish them rather than their equally (in many cases more) culpable partner for any transgressions. I suppose women were and are easier to identify as culprits since the evidence of “sin” becomes all too readily apparent. It nevertheless reflects the not yet eradicated widespread misogyny (itself an expression of fear of women’s capabilities and of rejection; a manifestation of deep seated insecurity) prevalent throughout history.

There is, though, a reading in which The Heart of Mid-Lothian is actually a chronicle of the life of David Deans, his stedfastness and surety, and also a marking of the beginnings of the long, slow fading of the Covenanting mindset, still not quite extinguished.

Pedant’s corner:- As in Rob Roy; stupified, plus sunk, shrunk, sprung, sung, rung, run for sank, shrank, sprang, sang, rang, ran. These are Scottish usages at the time Scott was writing and still survive in some everyday speech. We also had wrang for wrung (once, but elsewhere wrung appeared) and flang for flung. The editors do say that Scott would add flourishes to certain instances of the letter “u” which may have led to some of these. Despite the care which the editors have taken we also had whichshould (which should,) ofhabitual (of habitual,) the hangman is designated the Doomster on page 217 (twice) but on page 218 is referred to as the Dempster, whisht (as I noted on Keith Roberts’s The Lordly Ones this is nowadays usually spelled wheesht but obviously Scott did not,) the text has Dumbartonshire – or shires – but the emendation list mentions one instance where Scott’s manuscript has Dunbarton Shires. I believe the spelling has altered through time, reverting to Dunbartonshire for the county by 1914. In the historical note: Presbbytery (Presbytery.) In the explanatory notes: “is a now an obsolete usage” (has one too many indefinite articles,) Galations (Galatians.)

A Dead Man’s Memoir (A Theatrical Novel) by Mikhail Bulgakov

Translated from the Russian Театрализованное Роман (Teatralizovannoye Roman) by Andrew Bromfield. Penguin Classics, 2007, 174 p including 5 p notes: plus iv p chronology, xii p introduction by Keith Gesset, i p Further Reading and A Note on the Text ii p. First published in Novy Mir 1965. The book seems also to have been published in English in 1968 under the title Black Snow: A Theatrical Novel.

 A Dead Man’s Memoir cover

Sergei Maksudov has written a novel: but it cannot be published. All who are shown it comment unfavourably, critically or dismissively and universally tell him it won’t pass the censor. He makes an abortive suicide attempt but then is invited to a meeting with a theatre director who has read the book and wants him to turn it into a play. It is only then that Sergei’s troubles begin. Not only does he sign an onerous contract on poor terms, he has to put up with interference with the text, actors’ jealousies, a misguided director and sundry other difficulties.

A Dead Man’s Memoir is semi-autobiographical, satirising Bulgakov’s experiences in the theatrical world of Moscow. This edition’s text is annotated with references to the real-life models for various characters. There is apparently a lampooning of Stanislavsky among others. The novel, however, remained unfinished as Bulgakov began instead to put his energies into work on his masterpiece The Master and Margarita. It stops on the eve of the first performance of Maksudov’s play.

I know the roman-à-clef is a well-established form but I have reservations about it as it leads some to believe that no characters in a work of fiction are ever entirely made-up. In this instance, though, the book can also be read as an allegory of the labyrinthine workings and the absurdities of the Soviet bureaucracy but in this it is nowhere near as powerful as The Master and Margarita.

Pedant’s corner:- in the introduction; Likopastov (Likospastov.) Elsewhere: “a sturdy man with a beard by the name of Vasily Petrovich.” (I didn’t know Russians named their beards….. The translator could have avoided this ambiguity by writing “a sturdy, bearded man by the name of,”) wee cucumbers (a Scottish translation of a Russian term is unusual,) span (spun.)

The Lordly Ones by Keith Roberts

Gollancz, 1986, 160 p.

This is a collection of seven stories by one of the best (if not the best) British SF writers of the late twentieth century.

The Lordly Ones cover

The Lordly Ones A man who was “a bit slow” in school finds a job as a lavatory attendant. A war or revolution (the Trouble) breaks out but he keeps the toilets spotless despite there being no infrastructure to sustain him.
Ariadne Potts Sedate bank clerk Henry Potts has a hobby of photographing the garden statuary of stately homes. One day he comes across a most fetching, exquisite nymph whom he wishes to come alive. She does; and then takes over his life. An almost perfect be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale.
Sphairistike A subtly told story of our nameless narrator’s relationship to the man behind a tennis playing prodigy, who/which may or may not be an android.
The Checkout One of Roberts’s stories featuring Anita the witch. Here she is intrigued by a supermarket checkout girl whom she helps escape from her restrictions.
The Comfort Station riffs on the same scenario as The Lordly Ones with a woman disrupting the toilet attendant’s existence.
The Castle on the Hoop A ghost story. Or one about someone who can bend time.
Diva A woman singer becomes a world-wide sensation as her voice calms the troubled breasts of her audiences and sparks off outbreaks of peace, love and understanding. Narrated as by the gardener of the Laird of Ardkinross in Argyllshire where she gives her last performance before the powers that be prevail on her to stop. Even the cohorts of the local Minister whose “notices proclaimed the sinfulness of singing, dancing, musicmaking and almost anything else one cared to mention,” are placated. Both Scots and US speech are part represented phonetically, not always entirely convincingly. Note to those of a nervous disposition. The US President at one point says, “Uh ain’t never lynched a nigger yet.”

Pedant’s corner:- “I was suppose” (I was supposed,) “coming up smelling violets” (it’s usually smelling of violets,) “with six whole channels to fill” seems a quaint detail these days, awhile (a while,) “I can only – and your belief isn’t my concern – that I was…” (say that I was,) nobbly roots (knobbly,) James’ (James’s,) whisht (this Scottish imprecation to be quiet is nowadays usually spelled wheesht,) sometning’s afoot (something’s,) from whence (the from is redundant; whence means from where,) will-he, nill-he (an unusual rendering of willy-nilly,) the Diva’s bodyguard has a Schmeisser sub-machine gun (in Britain??) Brahmans (usually written Brahmins.)

Asimov’s Science Fiction, Double Issue April-May 2016

Dell Magazines, 192 p.

Asimov's Apr-May 2016 cover

The third issue of the year’s subscription to the magazine my younger son gave me as a Christmas present. In the guest editorial Charlie Jane Anders takes issue with the myth that novels and short stories can’t be written equally well by the same author. In his column Robert Silverberg muses on the possibility that there was not one Trojan War but several, not one Homer but many, writing down their accounts over centuries before it was all drawn into one after Greek script evolved from Phœnician. In the fiction:-
Matilda by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.1 Matilda is a single ship. She likes being piloted by Devi. The feeling is not mutual. Yet in conflict against the CeaWayLaVi they must act in concert.
Three Paintings by James van Pelt. An artist worried about going stale conceives a plan to be backed up, cut himself off from the world, paint and then kill himself, be restored, paint again, kill his new self, and repeat the cycle once more. His commercial partner gets greedy.
In The Days of Hamelin by Robert Reed2 children between the ages of five and eighteen start to die of ruptured arteries. For obvious reasons the virus responsible comes to be known as Hamelin. The few child survivors evolve a mordant philosophy.
The Return of Black Murray by Alexander Jablokov3 sees three former high school friends return to the scene of an incident from their senior year. Black Murray is a giant moray eel; or its simulation. The payoff here does not justify the story’s length.
Starless Night by Robert R Chase is a tale of the response of Earth colonies to invasion from Sagittarius.
Project Synergy by Dominica Phetteplace4 is another of the author’s stories featuring Watcher chips. Here the chip wants to acquire a body of its own, which is highly illegal.
Flame Trees by T R Napper.5 The titular trees are a nostalgic trigger for a war veteran whose memories are about to be wiped for committing an act of violence.
A Flight From the Ages by Derek Künsken6 spans the lifetime of the universe. In 3113 AD a weapon starts to dissolve space-time. Over succeeding multi-millennia efforts are made to escape its expanding wave-front and make the universe into a Klein bottle – all mediated through the experiences of AIs. Very dry indeed.
Of the Beast in the Belly by C W Johnson.7 The belly is that of an arcthant. Nawiz and, Janum, the man she is chasing for revenge purposes, have been swallowed by the huge sea creature. Inside its array of increasingly acidic stomachs exist a number of different societies, scraping a living from the (part) digested contents.
In Woman in the Reeds by Esther M Friesner8 the woman has been feigning madness to avoid the attentions of Pharaoh’s slave overseers and collecting the bones of dead children from the Nile in order to gain the power to restore her own dead son. She refuses the demands of the god Set to hand over a baby she finds floating in a bulrush basket.
Lazy Dog Out by Suzanne Palmer.9 The Lazy Dog is Khifi’s salvage ship. Khifi gets implicated in a plot to take over her habitat and uses the ship to frustrate it. There is an incident here of summary justice (which in my view is never acceptable – even for the supposed good guys. When you think clearly about it, summary justice is no justice at all.)

Pedant’s corner:- 1overlaying (overlying,) 2US spelling of practice and practicing for the verb practise (plus points though for “hanged himself”,) 3vortexes (vortices,) according the Pete (according to Pete,) “The girls squealed satisfyingly and moved closer to me and Myron” (? This would have been difficult. They were in separate boats,) 4terrariums (terraria,) “The long skirt of her skirt grazes the floor” (how about “her long skirt grazes the floor”??) “Often times” (oftentimes is USian I know but isn’t it usually one word?) 5bowls green (USian? we would say bowling green,) 6Poluphemos’ (Poluphemos’s,) Ulixes’ (Ulixes’s,) even less processing sources (even fewer,) 7a pack of sea-jackals were attacking (a pack was,) “with out of his large hands” (with one of his large hands,) Nawiz laid down (lay down,) maw was used here several times: fine; the story takes place inside stomachs, 8Osiris’ (Osiris’s,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) 9locii (loci, or even locuses,) Candles’ (x 3; Candles is one if the characters, so Candles’s – which was used once!) “cut the freighter’s main engines, flipped on the brakers.” (Space-ships have brakes? Which can work when the main engines have shut off?) maw (it’s a stomach; not a mouth,) “behind them in a semicircle was Redrum, Jonjon and Inchbug” (behind them were.)

Promised Land by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice

Ace, 1998, 366 p.

 Promised Land cover

After her mother’s death Delanna Milleflores returns to Keramos, the backwater planet of her birth (from where she was sent years ago to get a decent education) to resolve complications over the inheritance. She wishes to sell up but local laws are strict and do not allow this unless the seller has been in occupation for ten years. In addition her pet scarab Cleo falls foul of the quarantine regulations and she finds that a marriage arranged by her long-dead father between Delanna and Tarleton Tanner (known as Sonny,) the man from the neighbouring farm (on Keramos these are called lanzye) who has been running Milleflores lanzye all these years, became legal. At the space-port she encountered local Lothario, Jay Madog, whose attentions she is plagued by from then on.

The apparent urgency with which her Keramos lawyer, Maggie, says she must take up residence in Milleflores in order to comply with the planet’s inheritance laws, necessitating catching the morning train, is somewhat vitiated by the fact that the terminus is still five thousand miles from Milleflores and it takes weeks to get there. The length of the journey would have disqualified her. The delay of course gives the authors plenty of opportunity to describe Delanna’s lack of knowledge of local customs and conditions and her adaptations to them.

From the start, though, we know where this is going. Delanna’s journey from worldly-wise offworlder (or been-to as they are known on Keramos) to falling in love with her childhood home again – and with Sonny – her accommodations to the idiosyncracies of life on Keramos (including a world-wide radio news and gossiping network where her inadequacies are exposed and everybody’s business discussed mercilessly) has an obvious arc which the authors do not eschew. The traffic is not all one way. She is able to contribute some of her expensively learned been-to computer skills to finding the best routes through dangerous salt-flats.

Promised Land is a very Willis kind of story in which her signature narrative technique of delay by interruption, of not getting to the nub of a situation, which so marred To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout and All Clear, is to the fore. At first I thought her co-author Felice had muted this trait but it becomes increasingly irritating as the book progresses. Another quirk is that the main structural building material on Keramos is tile. (Keramos, you see.). Add in a sub-plot about an over-officious vet, Doc Lyle, and his obsession with protecting the wild-life and livestock of Keramos from contamination, particularly the very rare birds called Royal Mandarins, an obsession which threatens to endanger Cleo, and the indigenous animals known as Fire Monkeys (fascinated by Delanna’s red hair) and the elements are present for all the ends to be tied up.

Pedant’s corner:- mowed (mown,) Milleflores’ (Milleflores’s,) Keramos’ (Keramos’s, which did appear once,) solarises (a soralis is a solar powered vehicle: the plural might have been solares but I suppose that could have been misconstrued,) mike as an abbreviation for microphone (still in use in 1998 then) Flaherty’s (this is usually given as Flahertys’ as its plural,) two full stops at the end of one sentence, jerry-rigged (jury-rigged; why do people confuse this with jerry-built?) tamarines (elsewhere always timarines,) species’ (the usage was singular so species’s.)

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