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Interzone 266 Sep-Oct 2016

TTA Press

Interzone 266 cover

Stephen Theaker’s Editorial muses on awards; their disadvantages and their necessity. Jonathan McCalmont’s column1 discusses Emma Geen’s The Many Selves of Katharine North favourably while Nina Allan reflects on the connections between classical and folk music on the one hand and the weird/faery on the other.
In the Book Zone I review Alastair Reynolds’s Revenger (recommended.) Also gaining approval are Paul Kearney’s The Wolf in the Attic (even if it does require a sequel,) Peter S Beagle’s Summerlong and Gaie Sebold’s Sparrow Falling.
In the fiction, Tade Thompson’s The Apologists is set in the aftermath of an invasion of Earth by aliens who hadn’t realised it was inhabited. Discovering their oversight, they keep six remnants alive on a simulated world.
Extraterrestrial Folk Metal Fusion2 by Georgina Bruce is a tongue-in-cheek tale of the discovery of a signal from outer space which is soon parlayed into opportunities for profit, either personal or monetary.
Narrated by the best friend of the test pilot (who tells him what happened in a disturbing first flight) Ray Cluley’s Sideways3 is an excellent, affecting story about a 1950s rocket propelled prototype craft that can go sideways. That word is deployed strategically throughout the story to underline its strangeness.
In Three Love Letters From an Unrepeatable Garden by Aliva Whiteley the titular letters are to the lover of a gardener protecting a unique but dying flower.
One by one in The End of Hope Street4 by Malcolm Devlin, the houses in the street become unliveable. If you are in them when they do then you die. A tale of neighbourliness in adversity but told in an oddly distanced way.

Pedant’s corner:- 1octopi (it’s not Latin!! The Greek plural is octopodes but octopuses is perfectly good English,) the real meat… lays in (lies in.) 2maw (it was a black hole so I suppose could be interpreted as a stomach.) 3sliver mirror (silver,) 4he was stuck with a … sense of horror (struck?) inside of (inside x2; ditto outside of,) the community prided themselves (itself,) there had been only few major incidents (there had been few, or, only a few,) everyone was on their feet (was, so everyone is singular; so how then, their feet? Avoid such a construction,) the neighbourhood fought to free themselves (ditto, neighbourhood is singular,) to examine it closer (more closely.)

Daughter of Eden by Chris Beckett

Corvus, 2016, 398 p

 Daughter of Eden cover

The narrator here is Angie Redlantern, childhood friend of Starlight, the protagonist of the previous novel in Beckett’s Dark Eden sequence, Mother of Eden, but long since struck out on her own from Knee Tree Grounds and living among the Davidfolk in Veeklehouse on the near side of Worldpool. Angie is a batface, one of the many such in Eden as a consequence of the inbreeding unavoidable in the scenario. She had for a long time been companion to Mary, a shadowspeaker faithful to the cult of Gela but was rejected by her after failing to hear Gela’s voice in the sacred Circle of Stones. The novel kicks off when Angie’s daughter, Candy, is the first to notice the men in metal masks coming across Worldpool in wave after wave of boats. Soon Angie’s family is heading out over Snowy Dark to Circle Valley to escape this invasion. There, in a strange left turn that falls outside the narrative pattern of the trilogy so far, the event that marks Angie’s life occurs. To reveal it would be a spoiler of sorts.

Beckett is of course examining origin myths and belief systems and here explicitly the question of what happens when evidence arises that directly contradicts the stories you have heard all your life, stories which that life revolves around, especially if they are stories on which your self-esteem and means of living depend. Well, belief is a stubborn beast. If you truly believe, you just rationalise that evidence away.

Beckett’s depiction of the evolution and entrenchment of social hierarchies is not an especially optimistic view of humanity. Perhaps all Edens are dark. Within it, however, while he shows us humans bickering and fighting, we also find loving and caring; so there is hope. Readable as always, Beckett involves us fully in Angie’s world, and presents us with characters who behave in the way we know they would. I’m still not sure about that life-marking event though.

Pedant’s corner:- sprung (sprang,) when when (this is not one of those instances where Eden folk use repetition of an adjective to express the comparative, a habit Beckett expands on later; just one “when” needed here,) me and her had fallen out (the English ought to be I and she or she and I but of course Angie is writing in Edenic,) me and Mary (I and Mary; Mary and I, ditto.) “Their bones, those that were left unpulverized, would be twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux” (twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux? Those cave paintings [being older than the bones] would themselves be three times as old as the ones referred to by the time concerned. “Twice as old as the cave paintings at Lascaux are now” would make more sense.) “Come Tree Road” (this corruption of the song Country Road is elsewhere “Come Tree Row”,) Johnfollk (Johnfolk,) a new kind of, story (kind of story.)

The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem, Head of Zeus, 2015, 400 p, translated from the Chinese 三體, Chongqing Publishing Group 2006, by Ken Liu. The Dark Forest, Head of Zeus, 2015, 512 p, translated from the Chinese 黑暗森林, Chongqing Publishing Group 2008, by Joel Martinsen. Reviewed for Interzone 261, Nov-Dec 2016.

 The Three-Body Problem cover

Barring Verne and the genre’s very beginnings, non-Anglophone SF has historically had a low profile in its heartlands. Some Eastern European SF did manage to filter across the language barrier during the Iron Curtain days but was usually a niche commodity. That situation has recently begun to change markedly with SF emanating from outwith the usual source countries. Though not all from non-Anglophone sources, in the past few years I have been able to sample SF originating from Japan, Finland, Israel, South Africa, Nigeria and other former colonial states. Now, aided by Puppygate and its unintended consequence of a best novel Hugo Award for Cixin Liu, his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy looks set to raise the profile of Chinese Science Fiction; which on this evidence comprises hard SF, red in tooth and claw (though arguably not red in political terms.)

The first book, The Three-Body Problem, begins during the Cultural Revolution when Ye Wenjie witnesses the death of her father, a physicist unwilling to bend to the doctrine that the theories which underpin his subject are reactionary, at the hands of Red Guards. Ye herself is sent to a labour camp and further blots her copybook when she reads Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and pens a letter to the authorities about the environmental depredations resulting from the work of her labour corps but due to her capabilities as a physicist she is assigned to Red Coast Base, an apparently military endeavour.

There is then a jump of forty years in the narrative and we are plunged into a world where nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao is co-opted into a Battle Command Centre – a committee whose members comprise not only Chinese but also NATO generals plus the unorthodox but effective cop Shi Qiang. The world faces a threat (at this point unspecified) related to the fact that physicists are killing themselves as their experimental results are not consistent, leading them to the conclusion that physics varies from place to place and so does not exist. Shi Qiang warns Wang always to look behind the surfaces of things to find the deeper connections.

Strange things begin to happen to Wang; he sees a countdown on his photographs and then on his eyes. This stops when he ceases his research. His wider investigations lead him to an online game at www.3body.net, the playing of which requires a haptic feedback suit, and which is set on a curious world with unreliable sunrises and sunsets, Stable and Chaotic Eras, mysterious flying stars and inhabitants who can dehydrate and rehydrate according to the conditions. Each time he logs into it the game’s history has moved on. He works out the planet has three suns whose orbits form an inherently chaotic configuration. This is Trisolaris. In one of the novel’s structural problems the relevance of this game to the ongoing threat is not revealed till later.

We subsequently find Red Coast was actually a site for SETI investigations and Ye Wenjie had used its antenna – via the sun as a signal amplifier – to send a message to the universe. A reply containing a warning of invasion if Earth responds came from only four light years away and therefore must have originated on Alpha Centauri. The disillusioned Ye, convinced that humanity’s relationship to evil is like the iceberg to the ocean (made of the same material) ignores the warning. Meanwhile a secretive Earth Trisolaran Organisation, ETO, has recruited devotees via 3-body and communicated with the Trisolarans who have developed Project Sophon, the unfolding of protons into different dimensions, to shoot a quantum entangled pair at Earth to completely ruin scientific research and seal off the progress of human science. The Alpha Centauri system of course contains three suns.

The trouble is we are told a lot of this via the medium of 3-body and transcripts of Trisolaran transmissions – most of which content is dry as dust. Human interactions are sidelined, the main instigator of ETO, Mike Evans, advocate of Pan-Species Communism, barely appears in the novel and the chronology of the events is disjointed. While Wang’s nanomaterials background comes in useful in obtaining the Trisolaran transcripts the incident concerned is really the only one which occurs in the novel’s here-and-now.

In his translator’s afterword Ken Liu refers to Chinese fiction having different emphases and preferences “compared to what American readers expect”. Whether this explains the oddness of The Three-Body Problem’s structure the non-Chinese reader cannot tell. And nothing is resolved, the whole is merely a prologue.

 The Dark Forest cover

In The Dark Forest the narrative is much more linear. Earth has 450 years to prepare for the Trisolaran invasion but is now riddled with sophons, making all transactions transparent to Trisolaris. The UN has set up a Planetary Defence Council which initiates the Wallfacer Project whereby four individuals are given more or less absolute power to command resources to further the anti-Trisolaran plans devised in their own minds, (the sophons cannot read thoughts). One character muses, “I wonder whether we could find a form of communication that only humans can comprehend, but which the sophons never will. That way, humanity can be free of sophon monitoring…… A gaze or a smile can transmit so much information!”

The first part of the book follows the progress of the Wallfacers’ plans, the setting up and development of Earth’s space forces and the societal changes which take place under the Trisolaran threat. “Behind them was the Golden Age, the good times that began in the 1980s and ended with the Crisis. Ahead of them, humanity’s arduous years were about to unfold.”

The disparity in force between Earth and Trisolaris is the biggest in human history, defeatism the worst enemy – especially in the space forces. Escapism, the thought of leaving Earth for the wide blue yonder, appeals to some but is soon made illegal as who goes and who remains involves basic human values no matter who gets to leave – elites, the rich, or ordinary people. So long as some will be left behind, it means the collapse of humanity’s ethical value system. One character says, “The fundamental axiom of economics is the human mercenary instinct. Without that assumption, the entire field would collapse. There isn’t any fundamental axiom for sociology yet, but it might be even darker than economics. A small number of people could fly off into space, but if we knew it would come to that, why would we have bothered in the first place?”

There are still occasional forays into 3-body where we find Trisolaris has designated a Wallbreaker to each Wallfacer, to frustrate or reveal their plans.

Curiously – or is this an endemic Chinese habit? – smoking seems to be commonplace in this future even when we have again jumped in time to year 205 of the Crisis Era, after a minor Dark Age called the Great Ravine has more than halved Earth’s population. Most cities are now underground.

The narrative contains a few potential sense of wonder moments. Giant space telescopes, the seeding of space with oil film, “mined” from Neptune’s rings, to reveal the tracks of Trisolaran probes, a space battle which came over eerily like an updated version of E E ‘Doc’ Smith, and other Science Fictional concepts such as the technology to fix beliefs in the human brain. However, there are times when the info dumping can be intrusive and strange interludes such as when Liu allows his characters to discourse on the writing process, “The highest level of literary creation is when the characters in a novel possess life in the mind of the writer. The writer is unable to control them. But today’s practitioners of literature have lost that creativity,” and the nature of the object of love, “not the man or woman of reality, but what he or she is like in their imagination.”

Key to the book are two maxims, “Survival is the primary need of civilization” and, “Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant,” plus the related concepts of chains of suspicion and technology explosion.

The Dark Forest bristles with SF ideas while remixing the tropes of First Contact, Generation Starship and disaster tale but these elements sometimes sit uneasily with the stories of the humans involved. Its title’s metaphor encapsulates a bleak explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

Both these novels contain footnotes, mostly to explain specifically Chinese references. Footnotes can be a delight but SF readers are used to neologisms – sometimes unexplained. Their necessity in either book is therefore arguable – and in the cases of Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud, tokamaks, the strong nuclear interaction and Lagrange point, surely superfluous.

However, together they both suggest Chinese SF has been neglected in the wider world for far too long.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- ahold (a hold,) meet-up (meeting,) to not have heard(not to have heard,) we get tori (correct for the plural of torus) but tetrahedrons instead of tetrahedra, in a 3body argument with “Liebniz”, “Newton” is heard to refer to calculus (Isaac Newton called his system fluxions, calculus was Liebniz’s name for these mathematical functions,) sunken (sunk,) Wallfacers (Wallfacer, singular,) widow (window,) in The Dark Forest the base is called Red Shore (in The Three-Body Problem it was Red Coast,) gasses (gases,) “you only would have” (you would only have,) automatons (automata,) Jupiter is referred to as a liquid planet – it’s a gas giant, impassible (impassable,) shape of sword (shape of a sword,) 120gs (a measurement unit’s abbreviation subsumes its plural so 120g,) miniscule (minuscule,) become (became,) torturous (the context implies tortuous,) off of, use to (used to, x 3.)

Asimov’s Science Fiction Sep 2016

Dell Magazines.

Asimov's Sep 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s Editorial lists The Thirtieth Annual Readers’ Award Results. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections (“Darn,” He Smiled) remembers the glory days of Science Fiction reviewing by James Blish and Damon Knight including one memorable Blish evisceration of a story that used 89 different expressions for “said” (a practice Silverberg himself thereafter strictly avoided) and laments that the pendulum has now swung so much the other way that would-be writers are positively encouraged to eschew the unintrusive “said”.
Peter Heck On Books1 looks favourably on the latest novels by Charlie Jane Anders, Laura R Gilman, and Fred Chapell, Paul di Filippo’s collection and the non-fiction Breaking the Chains of Gravity: the story of space flight before NASA by Amy Shira Teitel.
In The Mind is its Own Place2 by Carrie Vaughn, Lieutenant Mitchell wakes up in hospital to be told he is suffering from Mand Dementia, an affliction suffered by navigators who intuit the correct coordinates for hyperspace jumps. The story concerns his gradual unravelling of what happened to him.
Dome on the Prairie3 by Robert Reed is an alien invasion story inspired by the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Aliens in the form of the Scourge have come to Earth. Our (unnamed) narrator is chosen to try to communicate with a Scourge child dubbed Laura.
In Epitome4 by Tegan Moore, Shelby, a woman given power of attorney by her female lover Vivian (whom for some unexplained reason she cannot acknowledge as such) becomes her carer after a fall causes brain damage. To compensate, Shelby has a hacker friend upload a brain scan of Vivian into the Personify virtual reality programme.
Academic Circles5 by Peter Wood is a time travel story wherein a man uses a time machine to plagiarise academic essays on Philip K Dick and claim precedence. Others have feelings of déjà vu.
In The Whole Mess6 by Jack Skillingstead mathematical genius Professor Dunn is handed an incomplete equation. When he solves it tentacled Masters slip through from a parallel universe and he slides to a third. Only he can undo the change but his abilities are restricted.
All That Robot…7 by Rich Larson sees a man stranded on an island otherwise inhabited by sentient robots sin against their nascent religion.
The best is kept till last – and it’s the best in Asimov’s all year up to now. Ian R MacLeod’s The Visitor From Taured8 tells the tale of Lita, a woman who studies Analogue Literature (old style 2D physical books rather than interactive or non-static narratives,) and her (lack of) relationship with astrophysics adept Rob who is trying to prove the many worlds theory.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Palazo (in a book title! palazzo,) 2“He’d signed in, said good morning to the captain, went to his station” (He’d; therefore [he’d] gone to his station,) “He had to learn to the truth” (learn the truth.) 3a wide range… were scattered (was,) “shifting its aim for a moment that ends when you forcing your attentions to…. (with you forcing? when you force?) 4 freshman (freshmen mad emoe sense) 5Popoov (Popov,) a missing end quote mark. 6 the ‘the Masters’ (only one the needed,) a particularly adept memoirists (memoirist,) I couldn’t breath (breathe.) 7”hoping that the two events to coincide” (the two events coincide.) 8Even in a US publication it is intensely annoying to read in a story by a Briton and set mostly in Leeds and the Outer Hebrides the word “asshole” rather than arsehole, yet there was archaeologist not archaeologist and later maths and “arsed around”. “He fucked about.” (I assume US readers will read this as implying promiscuity – the context leans towards it – but I didn’t. In Britain it means engaging in activities to little purpose, not fulfilling yourself, see “arsed around”,) post-centarian (post-centenarian?) this stuff happen at the atomic level (this stuff happens,) “as if every choice you made in a virtual was mapped out in its entirety” (“world” after virtual?) sung (sang,) span (spun.)

The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

Gollancz, 2015, 333 p

The Thing Itself cover

I’ve read quite a few novels by Roberts now and there was always – New Model Army perhaps excepted – something lacking about them which nagged a little but what exactly that something was hadn’t crystallised till partway through this one when he alluded to a famous Joseph Conrad phrase. Then it struck me. He was telling the reader what to feel. But, and this is the point, he hadn’t managed to evoke that feeling in me. It was all too distanced, too formalised, not emotionally compelling. Admittedly this novel is one of Roberts’s more abstruse efforts, being an attempt to render Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason into fictional form, to speculate on the Dring an sich, the world as it is – as opposed to the one we perceive through our senses.

It may be Roberts has an inkling of this himself as he has posted about the novel’s lack of award nominations or indeed much notice within the SF community and has said he intends in future to produce fiction that is less challenging to the reader. He may be slightly off-beam there. It’s not the challenge that niggled me, it’s the lack of connection. I still haven’t got round to Roberts’s Yellow Blue Tibia from 2009 (which Kim Stanley Ronbinson opined ought to have won the Booker Prize that year.) It’ll be interesting to read it with this thought in mind.

As to the plot here, Charles Gardner and Roy Curtius are on an Antarctic research base in 1986 when something weird happens. The effects of this are to dog Gardner for the rest of his life as he becomes gradually less employable before he is finally embroiled into a (deniable) government attempt to render Curtius and a recently evolved AI named Peta harmless. Breakthrough into the Dring an sich is way too dangerous to allow uncontrolled access. As it is, ripples backward and forward through time from the events of Gardner’s life have already occurred.

Gardner’s story chapters are alternated with others with settings ranging from Mayence (Mainz) in 1900 to a future time war via 19th century Gibraltar (where the rock changes its dimensions every time a couple has sex,) the late 1690s, a list of 89 numbered paragraphs and the days of Kant’s dotage.

With many allusions – the novel’s first sentence, “The beginning was the letter” suggests the first sentence of the Gospel of John, there is a Joycean section, a chapter in Restoration style, that reworking of Kant’s last days – the novel is undeniably dense; but it is not difficult to read. Emotionally, though, it is scanty.

There is a lot to admire in Roberts’s work, it is certainly impressive; but I suspect it is much more difficult to love it.

Pedant’s corner:- “Say what?” (I don’t recall people using this formulation in 1986,) sprung (sprang,) scilla (cilia made more sense,) protruberances (protuberances,) nineties and naughties (noughties, but then again it may have been a sexual pun,) “I was in the verge of something” (on the verge is more usual,) “not eager to say” (to stay.) “And her she held up a single finger,” (And here,) my stomach clenches sharply (all the other verbs here were past tense so; clenched.) “Spaces is,” (Space,) “the torn stitched removed” (stitch,) shuggle (this Scots word is usually spelled shoogle) another Scotticism was “fair” as an amplifier, as in, he fair shrieked. “The sole window right beside the door I had just come in through, and so I took a look outside.” (??) “didn’t phase the clerk” (faze,) Curtus (Curtius,) “who can do as the please” (as they please,) meters (metres, but this was in a future scenario along with the spelling vodka,) Valzha (spelled twice this way, otherwise Valzah,) sphereoids (spheroids,) “in which both paries were male” (parties,) he is sat (seated.,) appeared drunken (appeared drunk, surely?)

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken MacLeod

Orbit, 2016, 333 p

 The Corporation Wars: Dissidence cover

Most of the “characters” in this novel are dead, their consciousnesses (or what remains of them) uploaded into a simulation. Others are robots whose “minds” have gained awareness. The first of these presents a problem; one which I have written about before here and here. I know that fiction isn’t a description of the real, it’s all made-up – thinly disguised real lives of the roman à clef aside – but it aspires to that verisimilitude; the people we are reading about ought to feel real, or at the very least plausible, their perils and dilemmas actual to the reader even if at one remove. Breaking the necessary suspension of disbelief is a dangerous activity for an author, with the potential fatally to undermine what is the delicate process of interacting with a fictional text. But if the characters in a novel are themselves dead the distancing goes too far. Put simply, if these people are dead already why should the reader care? There is no real jeopardy; they can be resurrected at the touch of a button. Yes, there is the argument that our “real life” might itself be a simulation so what does it matter if the characters in a novel also are but that falls down on the grounds that we can only suspect it, we do not know it for sure.

The action, and there is a lot of it, takes place on or near an exo-planet long after the Final War on Earth between the more-or-less progressive Acceleration and the counter-revolutionary Reaction. A government known as “The Direction” is nominally in charge but as a result of the development of robot consciousness various companies are now at war either with the robots or each other. Human consciousnesses from the time of the Final War have been preserved, training to fight the Corporations’ wars after being decanted into a virtual reality of the way the exo-planet will be after its terraformation. The story-telling details here are elegant enough, the “bus journey” from the “spaceport” every time they are resurrected from an abortive mission is a nice touch. The shadow of the Final War still hangs over these remnants though. The extension of their consciousnesses beyond their bodies when they are in their (tiny) battle arrays is also neatly handled, instantaneous connectivity feeling akin to telepathy, being able to “smell” the sun etc.

Curiously (or perhaps not, as they may be the most “real” characters in the book as opposed to mere ghosts of electrons fizzing about in a server) it is the robots who seem the most human entities in Dissidence even if their dialogue, , can be a little reminiscent of Dalek in its terseness and detached vocabulary (though admittedly, is never an injunction I have heard issued by a Dalek.)

As usual with MacLeod there is a degree of philosophical discourse, especially among the robots, and of political discussion. There is also an allusion to please all SF buffs, “I have no mouth and I must gape.” If you can get over any nagging doubts about the “reality” of the dilemmas and situation of the entities here it’s a fine read.

Pedant’s corner: when in their “battle” arrays the “humans” also spoke in chevrons apart from one instance at the close of a section where the quote marks were normal. I didn’t gain the impression they had yet dropped out of battle mode. There was also medieval (long time devotees know I prefer mediaeval or even mediæval,) plus “upside the head” (a USianism, what’s wrong with “on the head”?)

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Windmill Books, 2012, 574 p (plus no fewer than 9 p of puffs before the publishing information page.)

 Angelmaker cover

Clockworker Joshua Joseph Spork, son of Matthew a now dead former denizen of the Night Market, by contrast likes to keep his head down and his nose clean. An old woman called Edie Banister with her one-toothed, marble-eyed dog; the Death Clock left to Spork by his father; a plague of mechanical bees; various varieties of heavies, governmental and not, all lead to him becoming active rather than passive. On the way we encounter a train called the Ada Lovelace, which is a kind of travelling Bletchley Park, an Asian fiefdom ruled by a ruthless would-be-god, not to mention the resourceful Polly Cradle, all wrapped up in a plot which revolves around an Apprehension Engine, “‘a device which would allow one to know the truth of a situation, without fear of error,’” aka Angelmaker as, “‘It makes angels out of men…. It makes the world better, just by being,’” but with the potential to make the world infinitely worse.

Any plot summary suffers the possibility of being thought bonkers but we are driven on throughout by an insistent present tense – in which even the flash-backs are couched – and the brio of the storytelling plus the incidental details render any tendency to disbelief otiose. (Polly Cradle’s bed is a memorable construction.) The Night Market has echoes of Hugo and the names of Arvin Cummerbund, Rodney Titwhistle, Frankie Fossoyeur and Vaughn Parry evoke Dickens but this is really sui generis.

The book is exquisitely written – and fantastic entertainment – but in the end not much more than entertainment. I was left with a slight sense of disappointment that it wasn’t more meaningful. Still, that would be greedy. As it is Edie Banister and Polly Cradle are wonderful creations. To have two such in the one book is a pleasure indeed. I shall look out for more Harkaway.

Pedant’s corner:- the work gang look like astronauts from another world (the work gang looks like,) medieval. “But he has no Scots lilt, just a pure English diction… (Scots don’t speak pure English????) Brits (was this designation in use in the 1940s?) “Having your own engine means no timetables, no delays” (yes, acknowledging that signals etc will have to be set to accommodate this,) twenty foot away (feet; please,) “a wild exultant creel of power” (a wild exultant “rack”, or “basket for fish”, of power?) Decent batter (of Don Bradman; the English – as opposed to USian – usage is batsman,) “‘even with the new bodyline’” (in the 1940s bodyline was well past new,) twinging (twingeing?) mischievious (why do people add that extraneous “i” into mischievous?) “none of these blessings place the Watsons in the clutches of the system” (none of these places the Watsons,) “the enemy knows they’re on the edge” (the enemy knows it’s on the edge,) surpresses (suppresses,) “X-rayed, MRI’d and electron microscoped” (I would prefer MRI-ed; there are no letters missing to warrant an apostrophe. Also, the first two techniques would delve into the depths of an object – the required goal here – but electron microscopy only reveals surface details,) oxidisation (the verb is oxidise but the noun is oxidation,) novagenarian (nonagenarian, I think,) “‘I think I may have over-egged the nitro and gone a bit heavy on the toluene’” (a good line but a touch inaccurate. The first of these is possible, though chemically difficult, but the second would have the opposite effect to the one implied,) “written in a European alphabet Joe doesn’t recognise” (? As far as I’m aware European alphabets are Roman, Cyrillic or Greek. Surely all three are recognisable?) a magnet … so that any metal will move the catch (not any metal: only iron – hence its alloy, steel – nickel and cobalt are magnetic.) “The fire service withdraw their operators” (withdraws its operators,) the wrecking crew strip the dead machines (the crew strips; on the previous page we had, correctly, the crew slips away,) veterbrae (vertebrae.) I liked “brook no denay.”

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Jo Fletcher, 2014, 345 p, plus i p acknowledgements and v p bonus content.

 The Galaxy Game cover

Humans are spread over five extraterrestrial planets, Saraldi, Zhinu, Punartam, Cygnus Beta and Ntshune with Earth embargoed. Psionic abilities necessary for swift transit between solar systems are frowned upon in Cygnus Beta where Rafi lives. Since he may follow his father in being be so endowed he is administered a cap to monitor his urges/proclivities. However, Rafi swiftly moves on to Punartam where his abilities are encouraged and developed in a wall-running game which – like the similar task in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game – has much more significance than at first appears. Third person narration is interspersed with first person sections from one of Rafi’s friends; which seemed to me rather an odd authorial decision.

Unfortunately I found out too late that The Galaxy Game seems to be a sequel to one of Lord’s previous novels, The Best of All Possible Worlds, which I have not read and knowledge of which may have improved my appreciation of this one. As it is, two weeks on from reading this I can barely recall what it was about except that too many things were reported rather than narrated, even in the first person sections.

I enjoyed Lord’s first novel, Redemption in Indigo, which was set in Africa, much more than this even though it was more of a fantasy rather than the straightforward SF of The Galaxy Game.

Pedant’s corner:- directed a student (at a student,) “‘are you in love with Rafi,'” (question mark rather than comma,) “he was staring a collection of shapes, colours and textures that coalesced … under the identity Naraldi,” (staring at a collection,) “a handful of Uplanders were (a handful was,) a skilled team who knows (team who know,) must have showed (shown,) practise (practice? practise is USian?) “anything that the worlds ….. has seen (have seen,) mentions an ice-bound world that nevertheless has a stable and favourable atmosphere (what produces the oxygen that makes it breathable? On our world it is plants and photosynthetic algae. Is that going to be true for an ice-covered world?) “She quickly reached in and detached the upper casing from their pod.” (Only one person was in the pod; so his, not their,) by slight increase in gravity (by a slight increase,) hovercrafts (hovercraft’s plural is hovercraft,) “according whatever terms were agreeable to us” (according to whatever terms) tumbling out thin air (out of thin air,) paid with their pilots lives (pilots’.)
Plus points for the “fewer” in “fewer drugs and less malaise” though.

Sheri S Tepper

I see Sheri S Tepper has died.

She has a long list of SF works and awards to her name but the only one I have read so far is Grass. So many books, so little time.

Sheri S Tepper (née Stewart): 16/7/1929-22/10/2016. So it goes.

The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

Gollancz, 2015, 543 p.

The Promise of the Child cover

It is sometime in the 14,700s, Homo sapiens has speciated, “Prismed into a dozen breeds of fairy-tale grotesques,” Pifoon, Vulgar, Melius, Amaranthine, being only some of its descendants; Immortals wait out their time before falling into madness, a war is being waged. There is intrigue over the succession of a new Emperor. A machine called the Soul Engine can resurrect dead bodies, undamaged dead bodies, into true immortality and is an object of desire for some of the characters, none of whom engaged my interest or sympathy. A pair of long-dead space-faring dinosaurs found among the rings of Saturn also feature.

Despite containing spaceships and superluminal engines (which somehow also seem to be capable of operating at sub-light speeds) this future still has artillery which fires shells and recognisable place names and locations on Earth. Also marring it all are unconvincing fight and battle scenes, tedious information dumping and a failure to adhere to Colin Greenland’s injunction to beware the pluperfect.

I never give up on a book; but I came perilously close with this one.

Pedant’s corner:- The text mentions lifeless worlds exist where oxygen concentration is higher than that of the Old World. (Oxygen is a reactive gas; without replenishment it would swiftly be used up. Replenishment is a by-product of plant activity, ie life,) “the drilling team were” (was,) whisps, (wisps,) Impatiens’ (Impatiens’s; and this use of the apostrophe is not applied consistently, witness Sotiris’s,) fetid (I prefer foetid,) the crew were (was,) crenulated (crenellated?) metal is “soft enough to mould and carve in a person’s hand, with only a dip in salt water necessary to begin the hardening process” (no metal I know of behaves like this; each metal is either soft or not, depending perhaps on the temperature. Mind you, this metal grows on trees,) “said…. a voice in the chapel that appeared to come from everywhere” (the chapel came from everywhere?) “hoping at least one would find their target” (its target surely?) “but did nothing shade them” (nothing to shade them,) hingeing (I believe the correct form is hinging – but to someone from the West of Scotland there is a distinction between hinge and hing so I would accept hingeing in a Scottish work, which this isn’t,) the expectant trio were (was,) epicentre (centre,) master-at-arms’ (master-at-arms’s,) wollen (woollen.)

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