Clarke Award Winner

I see Emily St John Mandel has won the Clarke Award for her novel Station Eleven. Congratulations to her.

Having now read five out of the six nominees I can’t say I would disagree with the judges’ decision.

Reelin’ In the Years 103: Love is Life / Brother Louie (RIP Errol Brown)

I was sad to hear the news yesterday of the death of Errol Brown.

His band, Hot Chocolate, first came to my attention with this song in 1970.

Love is Life: Hot Chocolate

They were notable for being one of only three acts to have at least one (UK) hit in every year of the 1970s with Brown writing (or co-writing) most of them. In fact that run of chart success continued till 1984.

Perhaps their bravest release was Brother Louie, with a spoken word part which was voiced by British blues legend Alexis Korner.


Brother Louie: Hot Chocolate

Lester Errol Brown: 12/11/1943 – 6/5/2015. So it goes.

The Vacant Casualty by Patty O’Furniture

A Parody, Boxtree, 2012, 247 p

 The Vacant Casualty cover

I saw this in one of my local libraries and couldn’t resist. The words, “Is it a murder mystery? Is it biting social satire? Who knows? Who cares? You’re not my mother – where am I?” adorn the front cover and the Praise on the back reads, ‘Quite simply one of the world’s leading prose stylists – and a wonderful wife’ – Derek O’Furniture; ‘Writing Crooked House was pure pleasure and I feel justified in my belief that it is one of my best’ – Agatha Christie; ‘With Trans-Europe Express Kraftwerk single-handedly popularised the electric music genre’ – NME; ‘Johnny is progressing very well with the oboe, but might take a little more care with his fingering’ – Miss Pripps, Music Teacher.

With blurb like that you know you’re not in for a serious read and so it turns out. Terry Fairbreath has disappeared from the small town of Mumford – a village dominated by the fact that a famous author of fantasy books lives there. Despite the locals never mentioning the author’s name – indeed they take great pains not to – this has brought tourists to the town, which is now festooned with Olde Shoppes – including Ye Olde Cure-iosity Shoppe (Chemist) and the Olde DVD Shoppe. (How soon such things date.)

Despite the resonances invoked by this there is only one supernatural element in the book; the appearance of an ogre which at one point chases our two main characters Reginald Bradley, recently promoted to Detective Inspector, and journalist Sam Easton, who is researching police work for a proposed novel. Bradley has doubts about his suitability to fill his new role, Easton provides advice dredged from his memories of crime novels and TV series. In the end the whole thing ends up as more of a parody of detective fiction than of fantasy.

The reference to the town seeing off a plan to dump tens of thousands of remaindered crappy parodies written by “talentless half-brained hacks” trying “to make a quick buck off the back of genuinely successful authors by writing things with similar titles and book covers” is perhaps a step too far. I did like though, “an ancient stone wall constructed of paving slabs,” which had this not been a parody would have been a contender for Pedant’s Corner.

Pedant’s corner: snuck, the first fifteen of the Mumford rugby league team (only thirteen to a side in rugby league I’m afraid,) linem of business (line,) two film noirs (films noir,) from whence, Styrofoam cups is USian – as is fire department – slew (slewed,) and a paragraph indent occurring in the middle of a sentence.

The Freedom Maze

 The Freedom Maze cover

My latest book for review has arrived via Interzone.

Again it is from an author new to me.

It’s called The Freedom Maze and is by Delia Sherman.

The publisher’s blurb for it can be found here.

Dumbarton 2-2 Raith Rovers

SPFL Tier 2, The Rock, 2/5/15.

Not bad for an end of season game with nothing riding on it (except pride, players’ contracts, points and the money that comes with them.)

The first half was pretty uneventful till Garry Fleming hit the post with a shot from just outside the box. It rebounded, hit the goalie’s back and fell into the path of Jordan Kirkpatrick who tucked it away. Raith came into it more towards the end.

In the second half Raith equalised when they cut their way right through our defence and the forward finished very tidily.

Beyond feeling the cold I hadn’t much noticed the wind in the first half but it badly affected Danny Rogers’s kicking from the outset of the second. This culminated when he hit the ball straight to a Raith player who promptly chipped it back over him into the net in a great finish. Rogers’s kicking is a major weakness in his game.

Raith were on top but things chnaged when young Donald McCallum came on for Jordan Kirkpatrick. The goal stemmed directly from McCallum skipping past the full back. His cross was headed straight to Scott Agnew who performed that rarity scoring with his right foot.

Ryan Clark got a few minutes on the pitch too. He had a strong run ended by a cynical clip on his heels. Welcome to the adult game, son.

So the season ends on a slightly less gloomy note after five losses in a row. How easy it’s going to be to keep the club’s best part-time team in Scotland tag next season is anyone’s guess. With Livingston’s great escape on Saturday there will be a maximum of one other such club in our league for 2015-16. I suspect the manager may move on soon; he’s already lasted longer than most Sons bosses of recent times. I’d take eighth place right now, before a ball is kicked.

Robert Bruce’s Tomb, Dunfermline Abbey Church

I visited Dunfermline Abbey and Palace back in January. At that time the Abbey Church was closed for the winter and consequently I couldn’t photograph the tomb of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, hero of Bannockburn and he of the spider. In mid April I was able to rectify that omission. The tomb is situated below the Abbey Church’s pulpit.

The pulpit surmounting the tomb of Robert I (as he was known) is rather ornate.

A rather macabre exhibit in Dunfermline Abbey Church contains a cast of Bruce’s skull.

Annals of the Parish by John Galt

Or the Chronicle of Dalmailing during the Ministry of the Rev Micah Balwhidder, written by himself.
Oxford University Press World’s Classics, 1986, 272 p – including xiv p Introduction, 1 p Note on the Text, 2 p Select Bibliography, 3 p Chronology of John Galt, 3 p Textual Notes, 29 p Explanatory Notes.

Annals of the Parish cover

Not just one of the 100 Best Scottish books but a World’s Classic no less, and set in the interesting times of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries so taking in growing industrialisation and, at a distance, the American War of Independence and The French Revolution. The book is couched as the parish memoirs of the Rev Balwhidder who is at first not welcomed by his new congregation as being imposed on them by the parish’s heritors but wins them over soon enough. Initially he refers to Dalmailing as the clachan (village) but the town grows in size when manufacturing begins.

While, as Galt himself admitted Annals of the Parish is not a novel since it has no plot, the book still has enough human activity to sustain interest. Characters are sketched economically and develop by repeated exposure to their doings. Mrs Malcolm in particular engages the narrator’s and hence the reader’s sympathies. Some of the lesser characters’ names are playful. Mr Cayenne has a temper, the mason is a Mr Trowel, there is a Mr Toddy who owns a drinking establishment, Mr Cylindar is an engineer, the doctors Tanzey and Marigold are named after medicinal plants.

There are many biblical allusions and several animadversions against Roman Catholicism – to be expected of a Presbyterian minister of the time, though the Parish elders and Rev Balwhidder himself mellow in this regard later in the book as a consequence of the French Revolution. At one point he observes that, “The world is such a wheel carriage that it might properly be called the WHIRL’D.” (If someone 200 years ago could write that how much more would their disorientation be now?)

Modern sensibilities may be a little shocked by the mention of a “blackamoor” servant named “Sambo” (my quotation marks.) And there is the phrase “avaricious Jew” – though that epithet is directed at the Rev Balwhidder when he seeks an augmentation of his stipend.

In the notes it is said that the word Utilitarian – and thus its ism? – might have been lost (Jeremy Bentham gave it up for ‘greatest happiness principle’) had not John Stuart Mill recovered it from Annals of the Parish.

For a piece of fiction with no plot Annals of the Parish is surprisingly readable, even two centuries on. As a portrait of small town Scottish life at the time it is admirable and its lessons not applicable to Scotland alone.

Pedant’s corner:- David and Goliah (Goliath,) but if was one of misfortune (it.) Once again I noticed dulness with one “l” and there was “when I now recal to mind.” There is one use of the word bairns for children but otherwise weans is used throughout.

Not Friday On My Mind 30: Fire Brigade

A rest from soul this week.

In Britain we don’t refer to the Fire Department. Instead it’s the Fire Service or the Fire Brigade.

Cue The Move.

This is a live performance:-

The Move: Fire Brigade

And here’s a rarity. Fire Brigade with Carl Wayne rather than Roy Wood on lead vocals. This version, somewhat flatter in sound, also lacks the siren sounding “woo-oo, woo-oo, woo-oo” singing behind the chorus and the “Ooh” punctuating the chorus and its repeat.

The Move: Fire Brigade

Boer War Memorial, Alloa

This is situated by the A 907 across the road from West End Park.

Here is a close-up of the inscription:-

This is the reverse view:-

The central plaque lists the names of the dead, 5 killed in action, 3 of wounds, 3 of disease:-

Queen of the States by Josephine Saxton

Women’s Press, 1986, 182 p

Queen of the States cover

After her car mysteriously conks out one day, Magdalen Hayward wakes up in a strange room to find she has been abducted by aliens who have no concept of time, know next to nothing about humans but can “speak” directly into her head through a meaning transmitter and conjure furniture, fixtures, fittings and fabulous food out of thin air. Neither do they understand gender so she tells them ramblingly that, “Maleness (is) the power to be superior without effort, thousands of years of conditioning having given them (men) that.” The aliens tell Magdalen she has “seven concentric selves, all interlocking, making forty nine states of being, each with seven levels of intensity and each in contact with the forty nine states plus contact with the original seven at all times and places, and a central consciousness which can freely move about to any point in the network. To us this is a very limited experience of consciousness.” Magdalen also has dreams in which she is a patient in a mental hospital where she claims to be Queen of the United States. About her mental states she tells a doctor, “I move about from one existence to another, on several planes at the same time.”

All this is reminiscent of Marge Piercy’s A Woman Out of Time and as in that novel tends to undermine the possibility of this being a work of SF. When a teacher in the mental hospital tells Magdalen she is “writing a science fiction novel… I had thought of doing it from the point of view of a mental hospital patient, so that people could have a choice of realities,” this disjunction is compounded rather than defrayed. (As well as appearing in that quote there were several other references to science fiction. It’s almost as if Saxton is trying to convince us of something.)

To Magdalen the true situation makes no difference. “If this was a delusion it did not matter: it was convincing enough to be real, therefore was real.” Her husband Clive believes Magdalen is not mad, simply in a different state of consciousness from himself. She is, of course, queen of the states.

When the aliens ruminate upon providing Magdalen with a male companion the narrative shifts from Magdalen’s viewpoint and we start to inhabit other people’s consciousnesses; Magdalen’s psychiatrist Abel Murgatroyd, Clive, his mistress Miriam Goldsmith, Royston Hartwell (a dreadlocked psychiatric student,) Louis Sakoian (a man Magdalen met in the US) – all of whom except Royston and Sakoian are disturbed in one way or another. Miriam dreams she is Magdalen, whom she knows thinks that, “There must be a better state of being than this.”

Escaped from her confines and on a motorway, the aliens return to Magdalen and tell her that any possible male companions vibrations’ are “unsuitable for you at present.” But she already knew that. Meanwhile vehicles coast to a halt all round where she is stopped. Towards the novel’s conclusion she disdains the thought of taking up with Louis and thinks, “I’m on my own planet, out to lunch, and I like it by myself.”

Is this an SF novel? The chronicle of a disturbed mind? Take your pick.

Pedant’s corner:- gasolene, terrrified, “The can create things” (they can…) smidgeon, avocadoes (avocados? Inserting an e in the plural of words ending in “o” is not a universal rule.)

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