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In his column Jonathan McCalmont extols the value of experimental narrative while in hers Nina Allan argues that there is such a thing as a daunting book and they may even be necessary. However is it possible that James Smythe’s position on “difficult” books can be interpreted more favourably? His Twitter quote, “Saying that patience is needed to read those books both demeans the books, and suggests that you’re not mentally able to read them … Here’s a novel thought: stop acting like a book is a mountain. Start acting like they’re a thing people read for fun, in their free time,” might mean that people ought to be encouraged to read them rather than discouraged from doing so. In the Book Zone Jo L Walton praises Catherynne M Valente’s Radiance and Ian Hunter suggests Adam Roberts’s The Thing Itself is already one of the books of the year. As to the fiction:-
Alexander Marsh Freed’s Ten Confessions of Blue Mercury Addicts, by Anna Spencer examines the effects of blue mercury, a drug that slows down time – or speeds you up, the experience is the same – but is addictive.
In Spine1 by Christopher Fowler, as an outbreak of deaths by sting occurs in Terrance Bay it seems as if jellyfish have become intelligent pack animals.
Not Recommended for Guests of a Philosophically Uncertain Disposition by Michelle Ann King features two workers at a tourist attraction known as the Fracture, a place where physical laws have broken down. This was neatly done and reminded me of the Eagles’ Hotel California.
In Motherboard: a tale from somewhere2 by Jeffrey Thomas the rather programmatically named Leep seeks refuge from his life by imagining himself into the world he perceives in the circuit boards he works on.
Lotto3 by Rich Larson is set in a transit camp where applicants wait for their number to come up for a slot on a colony ship.
Andromeda of the Skies4 by E Catherine Tobbler has a seven-year old girl fall through ice into a lake and travel two million light years to a cavern by a strange sea.
Pedant’s corner:- 1a missing “start quote” mark. 2Written in USian – except for the spelling “dialogue”, Down syndrome (Down’s syndrome,) space crafts (space craft,) held the circuit board it both hands (in both hands,) 3would make only the whole thing more exotic (would only make the whole thing more exotic,) stared up at quickcrete ceiling (the quickcrete ceiling.) 4the caves darknesses (the caves’ darknesses?)
Posted in Science Fiction at 22:00 on 23 August 2016
These were announced at the 74th Worldcon, MidAmeriCon II, last Saturday.
BEST NOVEL The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
BEST NOVELLA Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
BEST NOVELETTE Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu
BEST SHORT STORY Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer
Of these I have read only Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, see here.
I have no idea whether any of these were Sad (or even Rabid) Puppy nominations – in the cases of Folding Beijing and Binti at least I would be inclined to doubt it – but “No Award” appeared only once in the full list this year.
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.)
Women’s Press, 1986, 181 p.
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”.)
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?)
Corsair, 2015, 352 p.
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.’)
A proof copy of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds landed on my door mat last week.
It’s the latest book I’ve received from Interzone for review purposes.
I must confess it was a bit of a surprise as, though I had expressed interest in reviewing it, I thought I was in line for a different book altogether. No complaints though.
The review is due in before the end of the month and is scheduled to appear in issue 266 shortly thereafter.
I’ll need to get reading it then…..
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 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.)
Dell Magazines, 192 p.
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.)