Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2016

Dell Magazines, 112 p.

Asimov's Mar 2016 cover

The second issue of the year’s subscription to the magazine my younger son gave me as a Christmas present. Robert Silverberg describes how Walter de la Mare’s story The Three Mulla-Mulgars, read in his youth and many times since, inspired him and fed into his fiction. James Patrick Kelly’s internet overview discusses the pros and cons of reading and writing a series of books.1 In the fiction:-
The Bewilderness of Lions by Ted Kosmatka.2 A data cruncher who can predict scandals goes to work for a politician. Then she is contacted by the people who really run things. Another story which panders to the secret-conspiracy-that-rules-the-world tendency.
The Ship Whisperer by Julie Novakova. An expedition to a black dwarf (which shouldn’t exist) discovers a device that can alter the rate of change of time. The titular character can “talk” to quantum computers, enabling the story’s resolution.
A Partial List of Lists I Have Lost Over Time by Sunil Patel is a series of listicles. I believe it is supposed to be humorous. The author seems to have a particular thing about kale.
Project Empathy by Dominica Phetteplace is about trends, moving elsewhere then finding the norms are different, plus there are Watcher chips inside people’s heads.
Do Not Forget Me by Ray Nayler3 is a story in the Eastern tradition, of tales within the tale – four embedded narratives here – the central one being about a man who doesn’t age. There is nothing really noteworthy here though.
A Little Bigotry by R Neube.4 An ex-soldier down on her uppers is reduced to accepting a contract to be an escort to a former enemy. A fine enough story but reminiscent of Barry B Longyear’s Enemy Mine. Then again, I suppose the point about enemies being worthy of understanding always bears repeating.
New Earth by James Gunn.5 A colony ship from a more-or-less destroyed Erath has reached a new planetary home. Choices and dangers must be faced.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space by Dale Bailey6 is narrated by a woman who takes home an alien who came into the Walmart she works in. This at first unpromising – clichéd even – scenario is, though, only scaffolding over what eventually becomes an affecting tale of love, loss and redemption. I note the references by Bailey – via the narrator’s surname (Sheldon,) her dead daughter Alice and her comment on her status as an invisible woman – to the career of James Tiptree Jr.

Pedant’s corner:- In the editorial; definine (define,) chose (choose,) Lawrence Watt Evans tale (Evans’s,) 1 ambiance (ambience,) 2 she could feel it siding in her fingers (sliding makes more sense,) lobyists (lobbyists,) 3 lay about (lie about.) 4 license (licence,) maw used for mouth (maw means stomach,) accurst (accursed,) 5mentions trees that are not-quite-trees but one of the characters says multi-cellular life hasn’t evolved there. Trees are multi-cellular; the fern-like structures subsequently described would be also. 6Bug-Eyes’ (it’s singular; so Bug-Eyes’s,) Hastings’ (Hastings’s,) laying (lying; plus lay for lie,) breath in (breathe in.) In Paul di Filippo’s book reviews; stefnal to mean science-fictional, a usage I had not come across before, whereas sfnal I was familiar with.

Summer Football

Way back in the dim mists of time the world was a simpler place and football did not dominate the calendar. World Cup finals were 16 teams large and the European Championship only had four qualifiers until it expanded to eight teams in 1980.

In Scotland the football season started on the second Saturday in August and finished on the last Saturday in April.

I thought it was pushing it when the season began edging into July to accommodate the Challenge Cup and altered League Cup format.

Today though is the 16th of July. The schools have barely broken up for the summer. Yet the Sons have a first game of the official season at Station Park, Forfar, in yet another alteration to the League Cup. It barely seemed the old season had ended when pre-season games began.

The squad manager Stevie Aitken has collected seems a little thin. The League Cup looks on paper to be not too daunting but I have no idea how we will fare against the three lower division sides in our group. (I expect to be beaten by Dundee.)

The league is a different matter. Already it looks tough. We’ll be relying on another full-time side to be rubbish (as Livingston were last season) to avoid the relegation play-offs and even then we’d have to finish above Ayr United, by no means a given.

How long we can continue to defy gravity I don’t know. This may be the season we don’t.

Friday on my Mind 134: From the Underworld

When a very young Peter Frampton joined The Herd, the group with whom he made his name, they had just been dropped by Parlophone, but simultaneously brought in composers Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who had written a barrowload of hits for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich and signed up to Fontana. The songs concocted for the Herd were of a different order to those hits though. Elements of psychedelia and glimmerings of prog rock are here.

The Herd: From the Underworld

1610: A Sundial in a Grave by Mary Gentle

BCA, 2003, 603 p.

 1610: A Sundial in a Grave cover

Valentin Raoul Rochefort is a duellist, even though it is illegal, and a spy for the Duc de Sully, who in turn is right hand man to Henri IV of France. In order to protect his patron he is suborned by Henri’s wife Marie de Medici into procuring the King’s assassination. He means to fail by hiring an incompetent to carry out the killing but by chance the assassination succeeds and Rochefort is forced to flee. In attempting to make his escape he encounters a M. Dariole who had previously humiliated him in a duel. As a result of a further defeat (and a sexual humiliation) Rochefort and Dariole end up travelling together. The sparring between Rochefort and Dariole is of the verbal as well as the fencing kind. On a beach in Normandy they rescue a shipwrecked man, Tanaka Saburo, the only survivor of an embassy from the Shogun of the Japans to King James I (of England) and VI of Scotland. Saburo immediately sees M Dariole is in fact a woman. She is Arcadie Fleurimonde Henriette de Montargis de la Roncière, runaway from a premature marriage and much more at home as a sword wielder.

In London the three come under the influence of Robert Fludd – a historical figure here a practitioner of the Nolan Formulae learned from Giordano Bruno who can therefore calculate the future and who wishes (in order to create conditions so that humankind might prevent the impact of a destructive comet in 500 years’ time) to replace King James with his son Henry, Prince of Wales, and asks Rochefort to devise a plan to kill the King. The plan having been deliberately sabotaged with the help of another of Bruno’s disciples and spymaster Robert Cecil many further adventures ensue (including a trip to the Japans) before events are set on a more familiar keel with Prince Henry’s fatal swim in the Thames. We also meet in these pages Armand Jean du Plessis, to whose career our heroes give a boost.

We are presented all this as a found manuscript of Rochefort’s memoirs, partly burned and reconstructed via computer image-enhancement. It is perhaps too convenient that other accounts found in the same box, an extract from the cipher journal of Robert Fludd, two excerpts from Saburo’s report to the Shogun, an account of Roncière’s rape when captive by Fludd, fragments of a play by poet Aemilia Lanier, Roncière’s reflections from old age, so precisely fill in the gaps in Rochefort’s, though the “translator’s note” at the beginning states they are included for that purpose.

For all its glorying in the details of everyday life in the early 17th century (the black mud of Paris, the unwashed state of westerners, the fiddly business of clothing,) the minutiae of sword fighting – and the concomitant outpourings of blood and death – the toying with matters of history, the brushes with hermeticism, in the end this is a love story, peopled with eminently believable characters, replete with human passions, flaws, desires and misunderstandings.

Aside: I find it interesting that since 2000 Gentle has taken to setting her stories in the past (or alternative pasts Ash: A Secret History, Black Opera.) Is there something about the future or the present that she finds inimical to sweeping storytelling?

Pedant’s corner:- de Vernyes’ companion (de Vernyes’s,) laying (lying; also lay for lie, multiple instances,) sunk (sank; ditto,) swum (swam,) “I am not used to be manhandled” (being,) one instance of “amn’t I?” “No woman neither.” (The no is already a negation so “no woman either,”) “ought else” (aught, several instances,) Neopolitan (Neapolitan – which appeared later,) swum (swam,) one instance of Fontainebleu (Fontainebleau occurs elsewhere,) “cowardice on his own behalf” (on his part makes more sense,) Louis Capet (this is usually used to denote Louis XVI after his dethronement in the French Revolution – nearly 200 years after the events of this novel – but since all later French Kings were descended from the first Capetian, known as Hugh Capet, I suppose it may have been a common epithet,) I thought Bedlam might have been another possible anachronism but it seems the word did enter everyday speech in Jacobean times as a synonym for chaos, wernt (went,) Prince of Wales’ (Prince of Wales’s,) “All men do not travel in groups, with firearms” (Not all men travel in groups.)

Theresa May Not

Of course I caught on the news Mr Irresponsible‘s last Prime Minister’s Questions. What a parade of sycophancy that was (with a few exceptions.) The man has been an absolute disaster for the country and he ended up being applauded for walking away from it! [On which note whatever happened to the convention that applause was unparliamentary? They just make it up as they go along.]

And did anyone else notice the journalist’s comment that austerity was forced on him? Forced? FORCED? It was a choice, a political choice that could quite easily have been made otherwise. In all probability it contributed mightily to the situation we find ourselves in. They say journalism is history’s first draft. In this case it was history being rewritten before it was history. David Cameron’s place in history is of course utterly secure – as the worst Prime Minister since the office was instituted, with the possible exception of Neville Chamberlain (though even he managed to delay war with Hitler till the country’s defences, in the shape of the RAF, were just up to the task.)

Then there was the fawning over the new PM, Theresa May. Did nothing else happen in the world today?

I did notice her claim that her government will not be to the favour of the privileged few but for those who are struggling. This reminded me of “where there is discord may we bring harmony” and we know how well that worked out for the less privileged.

And in one of her first acts….. She has appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary!

Words fail me.

Apart from:- on this evidence, Theresa certainly won’t.

What is Occurring, Terence?

The title of this post is, of course, taken from the TV series Minder, George Cole‘s signature role.

It is however the only appropriate phrase with which to greet the latest news from the soap opera that British politics has become. Yea, verily; Angela Leadsom – it seems only two seconds after anyone first came to hear of her – has abandoned her attempt to become Prime Minister.

So, not only is the architect of the catastrophe, Mr Irreponsible, quitting, his main nemesis been shown up for the buffoon he is and betrayed, his assassin defeated, and one of the last two standing has weaselled out (which is entirely in keeping with the way she weaselled in.)

Who leaned on her? Is Angela Leadsom really so thin-skinned that she cannot take criticism of a statement she made – on tape – to a journalist? Why has she suddenly decided she is no longer the person most suited to run the country? She seemed confident enough about her abilities a week or so ago.

This is the sound of the Tory party closing ranks, partly to presume upon Labour’s disarray, partly because it is just what Tories do. They can be ruthless in cleaving to what they see as their advantage. Its members may feel cheated of their chance to give their input but I suspect the Tory grandees have never been too keen on democracy – even democracy within the party – and may always have been looking for a way to engineer the result they wanted.

But…. To look at it another way it is actually a coup d’état. The Government has been removed and will be replaced with another, another that is liable to propel the UK even further rightwards, make it even more divided, even less fair, even more prepared to kowtow to the barons of the Press and their agenda, even less likely to address the concerns of those whose votes were suborned in order to enable it, even more likely to eviscerate – and even dismantle – the NHS and the BBC.

She may possibly have been the lesser of two evils but if the answer is Theresa May what the hell was the question?

And note, the wider electorate has been totally excluded from all this. I very much doubt there will be a General Election to sanction the change of government and due to the Fixed Parliament Act our new Prime Minister will have four years to do more or less as she wills. Her government’s majority of 12 in the House of Commons will not see serious inroads, unless there are by-elections. Tories, without the bee of the EU in their bonnets, won’t want to upset the apple cart.

On a happier note, congratulations to Andy Murray on winning Wimbledon for a second time. A thoroughly professional, accomplished performance.

Queensferry Crossing (iv)

Photos taken 11/2/2016.

North Support Pillar:-

New Forth Road Bridge 14

North cable stay tower:-

New Forth Road Bridge 15

Service boat near north cable stay tower:-

New Forth Road Bridge 16

Centre cable stay tower from North Queensferry:-

New Forth Road Bridge 17

South and centre cable stay towers and south support pillar from South Queensferry. I have read there’s a problem with this pillar as it’s leaning a bit:-

New Forth Road Bridge 18

South, centre and north cable stay towers plus first Forth Road Bridge to right:-

New Forth Road Bridge 19

New bridge seen through the original Forth Road Bridge:-

New Forth Road Bridge 20

Forth Bridges

Forth Bridge (rail) seen through south piers of Forth Road Bridge. Road Bridge’s suspension cables feeding into their anchor point:-

Forth Bridges

Portugal 0-0 France (1-0 aet)

Euro 2016, Final, Stade de France, 10/7/16.

So. It wasn’t to be Germanic hegemony after all.

Neither was it to be French triumph.

Like a lot of the knockout matches this was a spectacularly dull game but it suggested one thing to me. Portugal are a better team without Cristiano Ronaldo in it than with him. I felt much the same about Liverpool in the latter stages of Steven Gerrard’s time with them. It seemed to me the rest of the Liverpool players were looking too much to Gerrard, giving way to him or allowing him to have the ball when they were in better positions to do something with it. So too with Ronaldo and Portugal. Throughout the tournament (though perhaps not the 3-3 draw with Hungary which I missed as I was watching the Iceland-Austria game) there was something about the way they played with him on the pitch that rendered them less effective as an attacking force. His hogging of all the free kicks with no fruitful result whatsoever was almost laughable. Okay, he did score that header against Wales and scuffed the assist for Nani’s toe-poke in that game but otherwise there was little end product and he seemed to get in the way at times. With him not available others stepped up to the plate – particularly Eder who I doubt would have made it onto the pitch if Ronaldo hadn’t been injured.

Football. It’s a funny old game.

The Quiet Woman by Christopher Priest

Gollancz, 2014, 238 p.

 The Quiet Woman cover

Writer Alice Stockton lives in a Hampshire which has suffered the fallout from a nuclear accident at Cap la Hague in France. Despite there being no obvious reason for it she has had her latest manuscript impounded by agents acting for the government. Her only local friend, a much older woman named Eleanor, has been found murdered. Alice’s story is narrated in the third person and interspersed at times with a first person narrative by Eleanor’s son Gordon Sinclair, who also goes under the name of Peter Hamilton. As Hamilton he works, at arm’s length from the government, in information management – de facto censorship. Hence the ability to prevent Alice’s manuscript being published and to demand any copies, electronic or otherwise, be destroyed.

There are early hints that the first person narration may be unreliable when the narrator’s car and torch cut out and he observes spinning cylinders make circles in the nearby crops before disappearing as mysteriously as they arrived. However this incident is only once referred to again and can be taken to be imagined or hallucinated. However potential unreliability is underscored by part of one of the two letters Eleanor wrote for Alice wherein she says, “I am by nature a concealer and disguiser, a natural fiction writer,” and (a book should have) “little facts that don’t add up, that misdirect the truth.” Then there is the very late scene which is described in both the first and third person narratives with substantial discrepancies between the two. Two of the first person chapters describe acts of extreme sexual violence on their narrator’s part. They also describe Sinclair’s mother (in the third person sections a relatively benign presence) as relating to him from an early age stories of her life before he was born with sexual details foregrounded. Again a reading of delusion on the narrator’s part seems in order.

Priest’s prose is immensely readable but there is something elusive about what purpose his book might serve. The total mismatch between Sinclair’s accounts of events and the seemingly more authoritative third person sections reinforce the reading that he is unhinged (at best.) Yet he is a powerful man – able to alter the official records pertaining to Alice’s life. Even in authoritarian systems surely someone would notice? Then there is Alice’s sudden conviction, without any evidence, that Sinclair is responsible for his mother’s death. And the bit about authors being paid merely for submitting manuscripts to the “European Repository of Human Knowledge” is just bizarre.

The quiet woman of the title is presumably Eleanor, she speaks to us only through those two letters to Alice which Priest vouchsafes us, yet as a result is paradoxically too quiet. This is only one of the aspects of the novel which are unbalanced. The Quiet Woman is not one of Priest’s major works but interesting enough, if a little frustrating.

Pedant’s corner:- “we hurried back along to promenade (along the promenade? Along to the promenade?) “one three sent to England one of three,) “she knew he that he wasn’t sure who she was” (miss that first “he”? or “he that”?) “How could she had forgotten?” (have,) one end quote where there had been no dialogue, an personal nature (a,) “Tom pushed the bolt of the door home” followed nine lines later, with no other mention of the bolt, “Alice pushed home the bolt on the door,” plus seven or eight instances of “time interval later”.

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