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The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

Hodder & Stoughton, 2015, 239 p. ISBN 9781473617940

 The Book of Phoenix cover

Phoenix is an ABO, an accelerated biological organism, a speciMen. Only two years old, she appears to be forty. Not only that but she is a weapon, forged in LifeGen’s Tower 7; she glows and heats up, destroying all around her. But she rises from the ashes to live again; and grows wings. Later she learns how to slip through time. The only two men she has loved are dead at the hands of her creators. The novel is essentially the story of how she exacts her revenge on those who made her and other speciMen. There is slightly more to it than this though. The tale, a prequel to Who Fears Death, a book I’ve not yet read, is bookended by sections describing how Phoenix’s story was first of all found and, secondly, parlayed into something else, the myth that I assume Who Fears Death is built around.

It did feel to me though to be more of a fantasy than a work of SF.

Pedant’s corner:- rung (rang,) “soothed my skin to no end” (‘to no end’ means without effect; ‘no end’, in the sense of ‘greatly’, was what was intended,) the phenomena (the context suggested phenomenon,) to not get too close (not to get,) sunk (sank; numerous instances – though sank did appear once.) ‘My light shined’ (shone; there were countless instances of ‘shined’ used in this way but only one ‘shone’,) sprung (sprang,) Ok (OK; or Okay [or okay in the middle of a sentence,]) round and about (round about,) albatross’ (albatross’s,) publically (publicly,) to not age (not to age; there were other counts of ‘to not’,) outside of (outside x3,) miniscule (minuscule,) manipulating and flying’ through (an apostrofly has done its work in there,,,801364,00.html) ‘saw me as many Arabs saw African slaves over millennium’ (millennia? – or the millennium?) ‘They could monitor control … of who got to read the files’ (monitor control? of? Monitor or control – minus the ‘of’ would surely suffice,) off of (off; just off,) Henrietta Lacks’ (Lacks’s,) plus more than a handful of instances of “’time interval’ later”.

Interzone 261

Nov-Dec 2015

Interzone 261 cover

Five Conversations with my Daughter (Who Travels in Time)1 by Malcolm Devlin. The title pretty much sums this up. The narrator’s daughter travels back in time – on only five occasions – to talk to him when her body in his time is asleep.
We Might be Sims2 by Rich Larson. One of a group of three convicts forced to make a trial run to Europa thinks they may be in a simulation.
Heartsick3 by Greg Kurzawa. Martin has his heart, dying for seventeen years since the drowning of his daughter, removed.
Florida Miracles by Julie C Day. Inside, Esta hears the voice of Mrs Henry. The day comes when Mrs Henry wants out.
Scienceville4 by Gary Gibson. In his basement Joel Kincaird has constructed a map of Scienceville, the town he’d invented as a teenage boy but after an exhibition in which he’d displayed some of his drawings he gets emails from people who claim to have lived there.
Laika by Ken Altabe. The (USian) narrator’s great uncle Dimitri – a real Russian – is dying and asks him to look after his dog Laika whom he claims to be that Laika, the first living creature in space.

1 summersaults (somersaults)
2 snuck (sneaked; I know it was written in USian but still.)
3 miniscule (minuscule), plus written in USian so we had he felt obligated rather than he felt obliged.
4 Despite Gibson being Glaswegian this is written (at least in part) in USian so we have recess for interval, couple hours for couple of hours, ‘getting on what, four years?’ for ‘getting on for what, four years?’ (He lives in Taipei now though (and his protagonist lives in New York.) Ikea (surely it’s IKEA?)

Cold in the Earth by Aline Templeton

Hodder, 2006, 366 p. One of the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books. Returned to a threatened library.

Cold in the Earth cover

Set against the backdrop of the late 1990s foot-and-mouth outbreak this is a police procedural crime novel whose main viewpoint character is Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming,* wife of a farmer and mother of two children. Also prominent is the figure of Laura Sonfeldt, a psychologist newly returned to Britain from New York (and a failed marriage) and resolved to find out what happened to her sister who had disappeared from home over ten years before. There are also odd passages from the viewpoint of an at first mysterious third woman who is estranged from her family, the invitation by the author being for us to believe this is Laura’s sister.

For all I know the treatment may be typical of a crime novel, my acquaintance with that genre isn’t extensive, but I found it programmatic, with excessive information dumping and, for me, too much of a ‘by the numbers’ vibe to the writing. An underling with an annoying habit? ✔. A subordinate who is a loose cannon? ✔. Problematic relationships – this time with the detective’s father – ? ✔. A strained marriage? ✔ – but only because of the stress induced by the foot-and-mouth quarantine and subsequent slaughter. And the body, though we know from the somewhat overwritten prologue a murder has already taken place, doesn’t appear till page 136, a third of the way through the book, which seems a touch reticent. Then too there was a strained striving for an unusual angle with the introduction of therianthropy as an aspect of the character of one of the suspects. Then there was that coyness with regard to the third narrative viewpoint.

Detective/crime novels are not really my thing so the above ought to be read in that light but this novel was one of the entries in the Herald’s list of 100 best Scottish Fiction books (see link in this post’s header.) I severely doubt it would get close to my top 800. It did however contain the impeccably Scottish reflection, “It spoke to him, this countryside, in a language he’d all but forgotten at a level too deep to explain even to himself,” so fair dos.

*I did wonder if Templeton’s use of the name Marjory Fleming was somehow related to “Pet Marjory.” It is otherwise quite a coincidence.

Pedant’s corner:- his gas on a peep (at a peep,) Menzies’ (Menzies’s,) Jake Morgan, (Jake Mason,) bairns and weans used interchangeably, ‘Would I of done that if..?’ (Even in dialogue it irritates me that it wasn’t ‘Would I have done that?’)

Asterix and the Pechts

Scrievit by Jean-Yves Ferri. Illustraitit by Didier Conrad. Translaitit by Matthew Fitt.
Dalen Alba and Itchy Coo, 2013, 48 p. Originally published as Astérix et les Pictes, 2013, by Les Éditions Albert René.

 Asterix and the Pechts  cover

A bit of fun. This is the Scots version of Asterix and the Picts the first Asterix book not to be written by either René Goscinny or his original illustrator Albert Uderzo. Here Asterix and Obelix retain their familiar names but the “clachan warlock” is rendered not as Getafix but instead Kensawthetrix, we also have Heidbummerix for the chief, Gieitbiglix, plus the inspired name Magonaglix for the bard; but my favourite of these is actually the fish seller, Minginhaddix.

The story starts when an ice-bound, kilted body washes up near Asterix’s clachan. This turns out to be MacHoolet who when thawed out cannot speak at first but nevertheless is a big hit with the local ladies. When MacHoolet, who Tourette’s-like, breaks out in anachronistic song every so often (Mak me wanna shout, Auld Lang Syne, I’ll tak the high road, Boom-Bang-a-Bang, I wid walk 500 miles, I feel it in my fingirs, Ally Bally) and utters the impeccably Doric phrase “foosyerdoos”, finally manages to communicate his origins to the village they set off to take him home and reunite him with his love Camomilla, whom the Pictish chief Macrammie (a nice double pun here on textile working and the Scots for a disputatious contretemps) wants for his own. En route they encounter Nessie’s ancestor Nechtan. They arrive in time to interrupt – with Camomilla’s help – a gathering of the clans to elect a new king (Muirlain Pechts, Plookie Pechts, Joco Pechts, Fattygus Pechts, Pechts fae the wids, Pechts fae the yella watter, White Pechts) as well as to send the Romans home to think again. When MacHoolet calls for new rules of inheritance there is a sly reference to the proportional representation element of the Scottish Parliament’s make-up, ‘we could tak names fae a regional leet’. There are other contemporary references such as ‘Vote Aye. Vote Naw. Better Thegither. It’s Pechtland’s Peat.’ Great stuff: but I doubt non-Scots would make much of it.

Though it is one of the spellings in Scots of that ancient people’s name and Matthew Fitt does make the pun during his translation I would have preferred an alternative (Picht? Peht?) to Pechts. It makes them sound as if they’re out of breath.

The Holy City by Meg Henderson

Black and White, 2010, 321 p.
One of the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books. Returned to a threatened library.

 The Holy City cover

The Holy City is narrated as the rememberings of near pensioner Marion Katie Macleod, who, at the age of eleven, lost all of her family – mother, father, brothers, sister, grandparents – in the Clydebank Blitz, hence found herself alone while resolving to look after Davy Ryan, the seven year-old neighbour in the bed beside her in the hospital where they were both recovering from wounds sustained in the bombings. This is a subject not unfamilar to me since a close friend of my parents had an elder brother killed in Clydebank during the bombing and was separated from his family – with nothing but the night clothes he was wearing at the time – and not restored to them for three years.

The book deals not only with the misfortunes Marion suffered as a result of the bombs but also the effects that war had both on her and other Clydebank residents. Interspersed in the text is the history of the town from the 1930s, encompassing the heyday and post-war demise of the shipyards and the workers’ treatment therein, the rise and fall of the Singer sewing machine factory – a significant landmark and employer in the town till its clock was demolished and the Japanese began to produce cheaper sewing machines in the millions. The Holy City was the name that had been given to the part of Clydebank which suffered most damage during the Luftwaffe raids as it apparently bore a resemblance to Jerusalem.

Henderson’s depiction of the community of working people rings true enough, their humour, camaraderie, the deep sense of ‘Us and Them’, their resentments – among which was the fact that the casualty figures were massaged (the text says for the sake of morale elsewhere) – their betrayal by economic circumstance. Marion is a resourceful and combative protagonist but the historical passages read more like pieces of journalism than a memoir. The picture of Jimmy Ryan – whom she marries when he returns from the war as the only means she has to keep her promise to herself to protect his brother Davy – as too damaged by his experiences as a Commando to function properly in civilian life again, withdrawn, unable to sustain a relationship, is well done. Henderson also highlights the scandal of the asbestos which has to be brushed off Jimmy every night on his return from work in the yards (which also permeated the air and covered the ground so that children could throw sodden clumps of it at each other) and leads to his premature death.

The text refers to the myth (sic) of ‘We can take it’ especially as regards the inhabitants of the equally devastated Liverpool in terms of “The reality was there was no choice. The people took it because they were forced to take it” by not being allowed to flee to the surrounding countryside (or being sent back if they did.) There may be some truth to the supposed official thought that bombing attacks led to the chance to shoot down German aeroplanes but there is a circularity to the proposition that lack of (civilian) targets would then give the German pilots pause. Would it? Yes losses did lead the Luftwaffe to give up daylight bombing in favour of night-time raids (the same was true for the RAF over Germany) yet there would still have been no shortage of targets. The raids on Clydebank may have been purely terror inspired – Hitler’s military attentions had by that time turned to the Soviet Union – but they had a strategic sheen. Despite the Luftwaffe’s lack of success in undermining British morale the thought persisted – on both sides – that bombing could win or at least shorten the war, witness the Allies continued air attacks on Germany till the war’s end; to achieve which end actually required ground troops to take and occupy Germany. But for the people being bombed there really was no choice. You either carry on with life as best you can in the circumstances or give up. Most British victims of bombing had nowhere else to go. So too for the Germans.

While Marion is an engaging, resourceful character and the conversations she engages in are lively – and occasionally barbed – there is something a little stilted about the whole. The historical interludes, though interesting, aren’t well enough integrated, the incident with which the novel starts and whose ongoing ramifications intersperse the narrative is not come back to sufficiently often, the loose ends are tied up a bit too neatly, showing too much of the authorial hand. The Holy City is good, well worth reading certainly. But a contender for entry in a list of 100 best Scottish books, though? Not for me.

Pedant’s corner:- Marion describes Helensburgh as by the seaside (I wouldn’t.) She also says it is six miles from Clydebank (make that 17.) The details of the sinking of the Bismarck are also wrong. There is a reference in dialogue to ‘wanno they science fiction stories, ye know the wans, where an impostor takes ower somebody’s life.’ Were these a common enough currency in the late 1940s to invite such a comparison?

Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz, 2015, 600 p.

 Poseidon’s Wake cover

Poseidon’s Wake is the third book in Reynolds’s Poseidon’s Children series, my reviews of the first two of which, Blue Remembered Earth and On the Steel Breeze, can be found by following the links. By the time of this novel the enhanced elephants to which Goma Akinya has devoted her life on Crucible, the planet of the sun 61-Virginis round which humans first encountered the enigmatic machines known as Watchkeepers and where is sited the still mysterious construction the Mandala, left by the M-builders, are losing their intelligence to genetic drift. Things are stirred up however when a message is received from the direction of the star Gliese-163 hitherto thought not to have been visited by humans. The message contains only two words, “Send Ndege.” Ndege is Goma’s mother and was the instrument by which Crucible’s greatest disaster, the sudden loss of the habitat Zanzibar girdling the planet with a ring of its remains, occurred when Ndege managed to activate the Mandala. Despite Crucible’s relative poverty an interstellar ship is prepared but Ndege is thought too old to withstand the rigours of such a journey and Goma goes in her place.

Meanwhile on Mars, Kanu Akinya, like Ndege a child of one the Chiku Akinyas from On the Steel Breeze, suffers extremely severe damage in a terrorist incident. The machines of the Evolvarium – to which he had been an ambassador – manage to revive him though, but while doing so insert into his consciousness one of their own, an intelligence named Swift. Under Swift’s influence he deviously procures a lift to Europa on a ship belonging to his ex-wife Nissa Mbaye. From there he retrieves his own interstellar ship and sets off for Gliese-163.

The narrative follows Goma and Kanu and their various companions in alternate chapters till very near the end of the book. Goma experiences troubles en route to Gliese, Kanu less so but things only really motor up when we get to that system which contains a huge waterworld, Poseidon, with strange wheel-like objects protruding from its ocean up into space. Poseidon moreover is guarded by lots of moons, getting too near which provokes them to “examine” intruders and induce in them a phenomenon (felt as “the Terror”) as a result of its revelation of knowledge of the end of the universe. These guardians do not allow the Watchkeepers anywhere near Poseidon but only creatures of a certain degree of consciousness. The signal which brought them all to the system had had nothing to do with Poseidon though. It was sent by Eunice Akinya, progenitor of the Akinya clan, not now the artilect we met in previous books but restored to human form by the Watchkeepers. Also in orbit in the system is part of Zanzibar the habitat it was thought Ndege had caused to be destroyed. This (large) remnant of Zanzibar is run by Dakota, an enhanced elephant now at the level of human intelligence or beyond, who fell out with Eunice and banished her – along with six elephants loyal to her – to Orison, another planet in the system.

This set-up takes some while to put in place but even once we get to Poseidon the pay-off there isn’t as great as a three book sequence perhaps requires. Reynolds has though left ample scope for further exploration of his scenario.

Further note: compare the cover of this book to the previous two in the sequence.

Blue Remembered Earth cover
 Poseidon’s Wake cover

 On the Steel Breeze cover

That is seriously odd. When I first saw Poseidon’s Wake’s cover I thought Reynolds had published a novel not in the sequence. I know that the paperback covers are now in broadly similar form but for owners of all three in hardback it will make their shelves look askew.

Pedant’s corner:- The inside cover blurb has the message to Crucible which kicks things off reading as “Send Nedgi.”
Despite the speed of light being an absolute barrier the habitat Zanzibar was transported seventy light years with the people (and elephants) on board feeling only a few days at most had passed “in their frame of reference.” Surely even at only a fraction under the speed of light they would experience the interval as being much longer than this? I must confess, though, the intricacies of time dilation effects are beyond me.
Otherwise:- with offset with disquiet (was offset,) ‘I feel obligated to point out’ (I feel obliged to point out,) they might yet make it our alive (out,) the new generation of engines were faster (the new generation was faster,) before any of them were allowed (was allowed,) the link between his name and artist’s (and the artist’s,) epicentre (centre,) rolled over into his belly (onto,) ‘what his surname?’ (what’s his surname?) inside the orbit of the moons (orbits,) ‘Have you told spoken to her about it?’ (no “told” needed,) ‘with disarming speed – and an equally disarming lack of concern for their own safety – the figure appeared to descend the crag in a series of perilous backward hops’ (the figure; therefore “its” own safety,) ‘we might have wait’ (to wait) Nhemedjo (Nhamedjo,) ‘as to not matter’ (as not to matter,) rigor (rigour,) appraised (apprised,) ‘that we still recovering (we are still recovering,) had brought some valuable time (bought,) forsee (foresee,) a skull-faced person clasping their hands to the bony bulb of their head (her/his hands, her/his head,) ‘into it deepest secrets (its,) ‘when we returned from Poseidon (return,) it might signal a change of heart on Dakota’s behalf (on Dakota’s part,) ‘I’d be glad if weren’t going deeper now’ (if we weren’t,) rancor (rancour,) waiting the deliverance (awaiting the deliverance,) a century and half (a century and a half.)

Interzone 260

Sep-Oct 2015, TTA Press.

Interzone 260  cover

Weedkiller1 by John Shirley. In a world overburdened by population, climate change and lack of food the unproductive are hunted down by “weedkillers.” Both our protagonists, a weedkiller and an immersive game user, have moral dilemmas.
Blonde2 by Priya Sharma. In a world where light hair colours have all but disappeared Rapunzel, yes, has been kept locked up in a tower, her constantly growing blonde hair cropped every day. No prince rescues her but she does escape.
No Rez3 by Jeff Noon is laid out transversely, across the page, and uses a variety of fonts and typographical quirks to tell its story of a world of “streamers, surfers, users, blip seekers. Pixel chasers, image junkies” where people are their POV, nothing more.
Murder on the Laplacian Express4 by C A Hawksmoor. Said express is an interplanetary train (though powered, I note, by interstellar engines) on which a politically inspired murder takes place. Incidentally, the author of this, given in the accompanying biographical information as Caerwyn Allegra Hawksmoor, is thereafter referred to as “they”.
The Spin of Stars by Christien Gholson. A hitch-hiker encounters an old man and a talking manatee in deepest darkest Florida.

Pedant’s corner:-
1 Written in USian “Both … would be paralysed from the neck up, when he set it up with them to read” (if you’re paralysed from the neck up you wouldn’t be able to read aloud. Down was meant. Later one of them does say he can’t move from the neck down.)
2 stokes (strokes,) hung (hanged,) Rapunzel’s sat at her desk (seated; or sitting,) he holds the gold filament up the light (up to the light,) neither of them hear the door open (neither hears the door open,) his topknot and beard makes him look older (make.) Four months of silence follows (four months follow,) ‘I’ve bought some things to look at’ (context suggests “brought”.)
3 “too many people, to many viewpoints” (context suggests “too many viewpoints”)
4 outside of (outside; just outside) off of (off is sufficient) and the construction, “‘What aren’t I scared of?’” is awful; so much less natural – to me at any rate – than “‘What amn’t I scared of?’”

The Secret Knowledge by Andrew Crumey

Dedalus, 2013, 234 p.

The Secret Knowledge cover

In The Secret Knowledge Andrew Crumey has done something out of the ordinary. He has illustrated a corollary of the Schrödinger’s cat scenario – the possibility of multiple worlds – in a piece of fiction written in realistic terms. His characters discuss the possibilities but in the text it is never really spelled out that different scenes take place in different worlds. We must infer it from the narrative. Utilising the concepts of quantum physics in a literary form has always been one of Crumey’s concerns, though, and here he also returns to another of his familiar themes, music.

The chapters alternate between the historical and the present day starting in Paris in 1913 where composer Pierre Klauer has just completed a piano piece (entitled Le Savoir Secret, hence – in part – our novel’s title,) has also just proposed to his girlfriend Yvette but kills himself (off-stage) moments later. In our time, Paige, a student of piano, has just been assigned the tutelage of part-time concert performer David Conroy after giving up a course in English because she loves music more. Conroy gives to her to play a manuscript that has just come into his possession. A manuscript written by an unknown French composer and entitled The Secret Knowledge.

We then go back to 1919 just prior to the “Battle of George Square” in Glasgow where a newly arrived young French man befriends socialist John Quinn outside an Engineering Works. The Frenchman stirs up a meeting and is of course named Pierre Klauer. So. Did Klauer actually die in 1913, or not? (According to one Schrödinger outcome it can be both – or neither.) There follows a narrative which skips between the doings of Conroy and Paige, Yvette (who marries Klauer’s friend Louis Carreau) – to 1924 where Theodor Adorno meets a man who introduces himself as Klauer, Spain in 1940 where Carreau – who had stolen Klauer’s manuscript for Yvette has an encounter with the philosopher Walter Benjamin who then kills himself in the belief he will be returned to France and the Nazis, 1941 where Adorno meets Hannah Arendt. During these the same scene may be returned to but is shown to be subtly different.

But as Conroy says, “Art is always inconsistent,” and, “Truth is not something we discover consciously; it discovers us.” He also muses on his disappeared wife, “It’s only when they surprise you that you find out your ignorance. We expect continuity, not paradox.” About a part of Le Savoir Secret he feels, “this section is the dream of how things might otherwise have been, a path denied.”

In a passage which could be all about the writer’s art we have, “‘A performer knows all about the tricks of persuasion. Yes, the game was rigged, you were always meant to lose, but go on, take a card, see what you get.’” One of the characters conceives a future project, “a book of fragments, epigrammatic, or even surreal in character, apparent irrelevancies serving to create new, unintended meaning,” a book which, presumably, Crumey intended us to be reading in The Secret Knowledge.

Other notable pieces of dialogue include, “Lenin has” (succeeded) “in Russia. Make everyone think it’s a popular revolution when really it’s a coup: that’s genius.” Mention is made too of Louis Auguste Blanqui and the Mechanical Turk – which has seemed to crop up a lot recently in the books I have read.

Not the simplest of narratives then but immensely readable just the same. The actual secret of Klauer’s manuscript is not quite the tremendous revelation we might have hoped for though. Crumey here hasn’t quite achieved the heights he did in previous novels but The Secret Knowledge is still a remarkable rendering of quantum physics in the form of an accessible piece of fiction.

Pedant’s corner:- “he no longer tours, or records” (nor records,) Louis’ (Louis’s,) “the roll of a dice” (one of them is a die.) “The family she saw are gliding over the top” (the family is gliding.) Crumey is a serial offender here – “the family were” (the family was,) “around its upper balcony stand a crowd” (stands a crowd,) “a young couple huddle in one corner” (a couple huddles.)

Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata

Penguin Modern Classics, 1986, 160 p.Translated from the Japanese Utsukushisa To Kanashimi To by Howard Hibbett. (First published by Chuo koronsha, Tokyo, 1961.)

Beauty and Sadness cover

Twenty-four years before the time of the narrative, when he was thirty, Oki Toshio had an affair with fifteen year-old Ueno Otoko. Her subsequent pregnancy led to a still birth and a stay in a mental institution, experiences Toshio, a writer, parlayed into his best-selling novel A Girl of Sixteen, much to the chagrin of his wife, Fumiko. Otoko meanwhile moved to Kyoto, has become a successful painter in the Japanese style and taken on a young pupil, Sakami Keiko. For New Year Toshio decides to hear the traditional bells from Kyoto at New Year’s Eve for himself and contacts Otoko to see if she wishes to join him for the celebration. She sends Keiko (who is also her lover) to greet him and has her accompany Toshio throughout his visit. But, as Otoko says, Keiko is “a bit crazy,” a trait which drives the plot.

Though I am not unfamiliar with Japanese fiction this is the first work by Nobel Laureate Kawabata that I have read. Beauty and Sadness is compelling and interesting but whether it is due to the translation or the fact the source is Japanese there is something distancing about the text, a barrier between the reader and the character’s emotions. We are told they are present but they somehow seem to be held behind a layer of reserve. Kawabata’s back catalogue is one I’ll look out for though.

Pedant’s corner:- a missing period at the end of one sentence, another appears on the line after its own sentence, exquisie (exquisite,) the word order of, “Balconies line the river banks for drinking and feasting” is a little awry, “‘It’s hard to believe you’re idea you’d come out to meet me,’” doesn’t need the “you’re idea”, and is immediately followed by “‘My kimono?’” which is a baffling non-sequitur, tidbits (titbits,) “had not sent a telegram to Otoko or Keiko” (to Okoto nor Keiko,) “quite apart from weakness of strength of will” (apart from weakness or strength of will,) “at they drove” (as they drove.)

Shadow on the Stars by Robert Silverberg

In The Chalice of Death, Planet Stories, 2012, 98 p.

Shadow on the Stars cover
 Shadow on the Stars cover

This novel originally appeared as Stepsons of Terra in 1958 (see cover left – though that looks like a 1970s printing.) It was republished as Shadow on the Stars in 2000 (cover on right.)

It is typical early Silverberg, a potboiler with little in the way of characterisation. Baird Ewing has been sent from the former Earth colony world of Corwin, under threat from the Klodni, who have stormed into the Milky Way from the Andromeda Galaxy, to seek help from the mother world against the invaders. When he arrives he finds Earth is no longer a vibrant planet. It has no military and is itself about to be subjugated by humans from another ex-colony round Sirius. Very soon he is accused of spying on the Sirians and made captive but is strangely rescued when about to be mind-probed. There follows a tale of time travel and paradox wherein lies the solution to all his problems.

For Silverberg completists only.

Pedant’s corner:- “I’m a stabilized orbit” (I’m in a stabilized orbit,) sprung (sprang is used later!!) “showed seemingly, genuine confusion” (no comma, or an extra one before seemingly,) Mellis’ (Mellis’s,) “the past three of four days” (three or four,) a missing full stop, “felt the transition from now minus three microseconds (as I understood it, it would have been now plus three microseconds,) insure (ensure.) A “time interval later” count of 8.
At one point Baird goes back in time and looks at his watch; which now shows a time earlier than when he left. A mechanical or electrically driven watch could not possibly do this. The only way it could happen would be if the watch were set (and updated) remotely, say by microwave. There was no mention of the watch working via such an external signal.

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