Asimov’s Jul 2016

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Jul 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s editorial1 discusses past and present winners of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections2 muses on Persons from Porlock and how he always took great care to allow no distractions when he was working but that Coleridge’s experience did provide him with the inspiration for his first ever sale (for $5) at the age of fifteen. Paul di Filippo’s “On Books” reviews retrospective collections from Nancy Kress and Gregory Benford, a contemporary one from Finnish writer Leena Krohn and novels by Christopher Fowler and Gene Wolfe.
In the fiction we have Suzanne Palmer’s Ten Poems for the Mossums, One for the Man3 which is narrated by a poet set down alone on an alien planet where he discovers the nature of some of its alien life.
Both Filtered4 by Leah Cypess andMasked5 by Rich Larson are typical ‘push current trends to their logical conclusion’ SF stories. In the former a journalist tries to get his story about the manipulation of everyone’s communication feeds by filter programmes through the filters. The latter has teenagers constantly surrounded by a cloud of appearance created to enhance their real selves. One of them, Vera, has been affected by a virus which turned the “cover” off.
Project Entropy5, the latest of the series of stories in Asimov’s by Dominica Phetteplace, explores the ramifications of Angelina having had her Watcher chip removed and the implications of such AIs. Curiously flat in execution.
In Jack Skillingstead’s The Savior Virus6 a biologist who lost his legs in a terrorist bombing engineers a virus to remove the notion of God from people’s minds.
In Nobody Like Josh7 by Robert Thurston Josh is a town’s secret alien whose spaceship crashed before the narrator was born. This story is curiously similar in premise to I married a Monster from Outer Space which appeared in Asimov’s March 2016 issue, but isn’t anything like as affective or effective.
Webs by Mary Anne Mohanraj is set around the prejudice of ordinary humans on a colony world towards those with adaptations.
In Lost: Mind by Will McIntosh a man has to search for the missing parts of his wife’s downloaded mind after they are stolen. The story is marred by a continuity error in the last quarter page which totally undermines verisimilitude.

1 graduating with a duel major (dual,) Joan Sloncewski (the correct spelling, Slonczewski, is used later in the piece.) 2 Samuel Purchas’ (Purchas’s,) 3 beside (besides,) to not spend (not to spend,) “how good he has always been about putting off things” (about putting things off.) 4matrixes (matrices.) 5Lawless’ (Lawless’s.) 5 canvasses (canvases.) 6 symptoms would manifest in mild cold-like symptoms. 7 crashed-landed (crash-landed.)

Roslin War Memorial

The War Memorial in Roslin, Midlothian is situated in a green area by the side of the main road through the town. A restrained Celtic Cross with a wreath on the pedestal.

Roslin War Memorial

It’s dedicated to “Those from Roslin and District.”
1914-1919 names are on the main cross, 1939-1945 names on the projecting slab below.

Roslin War Memorial Close

A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe

Tor, 2015, 300 p. Reviewed for Interzone 260, Sep-Oct 2015.

The Borrowed Man cover

The author carved out a well-regarded space for himself in the 1980s and 90s as a purveyor of quality high fantasy as in the various books of the New, the Long and the Short Suns, essayed a novel take on the unreliable narrator in his Latro in the Mist novels, made the occasional foray into detective/murder stories such as Pandora by Holly Hollander, and has also published various stand-alone books each with his own distinctive stamp, but in his previous output hasn’t produced all that much in the way of straightforward SF. A Borrowed Man goes some way to altering that – but only some way – in that it has an impeccable Science Fictional premise in the shape of its narrator.

That narrator is Ern A Smithe, who is a reclone, having the consciousness of a long dead author housed in a new version of his body, as a resource on a shelf in a library. Not legally human, fixed so as not to sire children, he can be consulted or even borrowed, but if he is not, then he will eventually be discarded and burned. He thinks real humanity has retired. For this is a world much diminished in population, with inhabitants who advocate further reductions; and reclones stand out. In this future society people with disabilities are kept out of sight to avoid troubling the rest and what was the US is (to us) an unrecognisable set of fragment states. However, as well as the reclones, there is advanced tech aplenty, voice controlled cars and aircraft, robots of varying degrees of intelligence, but despite the ubiquity of screens, books still exist – and inter-library loans, for clones as well as books.

Smithe is checked out of Spice Grove Public Library by Colette Coldbrook, whose father and brother are dead and who is the heiress to the estate. Smithe’s original was the author of Murder on Mars, a book which formed the only contents of Conrad Coldbrook Snr’s safe and which holds a secret. Both the Coldbrook men have been murdered and Colette thinks Smithe might know what that secret is. He doesn’t, but he sets about finding out.

In what follows there is a degree of toing and froing across the country which, however, does not display many differences from at present; there are still for example bus stations and cross-country buses, on one of which Smithe takes up with a pair of misfits, Georges and Mahala, whose talents he makes use of.

The action keeps returning, though, to the Coldbrook house, where the murders took place. It is run by robots and has a mini nuclear reactor on one of the locked upper floors. There is also a door one step through which takes Smithe to an alien world, light years away, peopled by strange, stick-like creatures and with menacing things coming out of the sea. This shimmer of SF gloss, while it does contribute to the plot, seems at odds with the rest of the story which has much more in common with the hard-boiled thriller. For, if the streets Smithe walks down are not exactly mean, Wolfe has certainly not forgotten Chandler’s Law; the one about having a man come through the door with a gun, even if this gun does have a strange trumpet shape. Encounters with the police, and a confrontation with a man who is on his tail only heighten the film noir impression.

Frequently nowadays it can almost seem obligatory, but time was the SF detective story was a stunted beast; neither of the strands marrying well. In those terms A Borrowed Man just about falls on the right side of the line.

For an opening line, “Murder is not always such a terrible thing,” is quite arresting. It is a true enough indicator of what follows, especially in signposting the thriller nature of the book as a whole, but doesn’t quite deliver what it seems to promise, while still presaging Smithe’s sympathy for one of the murderers.

Notwithstanding the above, which can all be looked at as a species of excessive nit-picking, Wolfe writes like a dream. Smithe is an engaging and resourceful character and on the whole A Borrowed Man is immensely readable. It is all very cleverly done, and the plot is tied up without loose ends. As a detective story it works well and the SF elements are intriguing but while the “borrowed human” concept is an ingenious one it is not really fully developed, despite Smithe meeting, in various libraries, different copies of his one-time wife, poet Arabella Lee. There is, though, apparently a sequel in the works.

These comments did not appear in the published review:-
I’m not sure what to make of Smithe’s thought that, “Someone ought to do a study on how long a man can talk to a woman without having to lie.” And what strange mind set comes up with the thought, “We had no more business shooting them than a burglar has shooting the owner of the house that he is robbing”? How about no-one has any business shooting anyone? (Or burgling come to that.)

Pedant’s corner:- The USianism “throve”, hangar is quite often written as hanger, “none of the rest were” (none of the rest was,) no “open quote” mark when a chapter starts with a piece of dialogue, “I dropped it to floor” (to the floor,) boney for bony, “I’ll look for work when get there,” (when I get there,) were for where, “You known, I feel lighter here,” (You know,) “That the cleaning service,” (That’s the cleaning service.)

Friday on my Mind 137: Al Capone; Madness; One Step Beyond

Prince Buster, who has died recently, was one of the instigators of ska and rock-steady and hence of course influential on the eventual development of reggae.

He only had the one hit in the UK in the 1960s though.

Prince Buster: Al Capone

His music was of course an inspiration for the group Madness who not only took their name from one of Buster’s songs (which they performed as the B-side to their first hit) –

Prince Buster: Madness

– but also covered his One Step Beyond for their second UK chart entry.

Prince Buster: One Step Beyond

Cecil Bustamente Campbell (Prince Buster): 24/5/1938-8/9/2016. So it goes.

Commonwealth War Graves, Roslin

There is a cemetery in Roslin, just below Rosslyn Chapel. On its gates I noticed the Commonwealth War Graves sign. Inside I found five graves and two commemorations on other gravestones.

Gunner J Penman, Royal Artillery, 17/10/1941, aged 31:-

Roslin War Grave 1

Private W Baillie, Royal Army Medical Corps, 18/12/1915:-

Roslin War Grave 2

Stoker J N Mackenzie, HMS Raymond, 13/3/1945, aged 34:-

Roslin War Grave 3

Sapper A C Brown, Royal Engineers, 4/1/1919, aged 31:-

Roslin War Grave 4

Serjeant W Barclay, Gordon Highlanders, 27/11/1919, aged 37:-

Roslin War Grave 5

Private John James Noble, RSF, died 24/2/1919, buried in Cologne:-

Roslin Cemetery, War Inscription 2

Brunton Smith, killed in France, 24/3/1918, aged 35:-

Roslin Cemetery, War Gravestone 1

Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie

Penguin, 1999, 298 p, plus 4 p Glossary of Gaelic Expressions.

 Whisky Galore cover

One of the 100 best Scottish Books and also in the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books.

The Second World War has brought hard times to the islands of Great and Little Todday. Supplies of whisky are running out as priority is given to exporting to the US to help pay for the war. Incomer Sergeant-major Odd has returned to the island from war duty to marry Peggy, George Campbell has just surprised himself by proposing to Catriona but dreads telling his mother the news. Captain Waggett worries the local Home Guard, of which he is in charge, are slacking too much and that morale on the islands has become dangerously defeatist.

The fog-induced wreck of the SS Cabinet Minister with its cargo of high-grade whisky changes everything. Suddenly all the men become bonhomous, Peggy’s father agrees to the wedding occurring soon and a fortified George tells his mother to come to terms with his plans or leave for her sister’s on the mainland.

The phrase “whisky galore” (uisge beatha gu leòir) appears even before the wreck as the locals yearn wistfully for a normal delivery. In the glossary of Gaelic expressions Mackenzie notes that gu leòir (as “galore”) is almost the only Gaelic phrase to pass into English so nearly like the original.

Gentle fun is poked in different directions. The text tries to render the muted plosives and fricatives of native Gaelic speakers, crumple for “grumble”, “Chust efferything iss a tisaster.” Sergeant-major Odd’s English speech patterns are signified by “r”s appearing at the ends of words in which they have no place (Africar, Burmar and Indiar) and his inability to pronounce Gaelic words such as rèiteach is repeatedly emphasised.

Structurally the novel is a bit of a mess. The fulcrum of the novel is the wreck but too much time is spent establishing and entrenching the situation before it. The wreck itself occurs off-stage, as does all its plundering. Too many characters’ individual stories are followed in too little depth and the book dribbles away with the experiences of Odd’s mother, whose first appearance is only in the second last chapter, on attending the wedding.

It is all light-hearted stuff to be sure and will undoubtedly have provided some leaven in those dark post-war still rationed days when the novel was first published in 1947 but it represents whisky as only a benign influence, none of its ravages receives even the briefest mention. In a Scotland then, as now, with alcohol too often a blight on too many lives, that is gilding the lily more than a touch.

But this is to criticise the book for something it was never intended to be. This is pure entertainment and written as such. No deep enduring message, except perhaps the continuing allure of Western Isles scenery, is to be drawn from it. Though he would probably have been delighted at the thought I doubt even Mackenzie would have expected it to appear on a list of 100 best Scottish books.

Pedant’s corner:- lay down (lie down – this was in Sergeant-major Odd’s dialogue though and will be a deliberate representation of his speech; his mother also refers to a “lay in bed”,) dimunitive (diminutive – ditto so perhaps a deliberate misspelling by Mackenzie,) mcvements (movements,) if I’d only have know in time (known,) “a man with a white walrus moustache from Inverness” (moustaches come from Inverness?) for goodness’ sake (goodness’s,) “‘I though it would be’” (thought,) portentious (portentous,) ringmarole (rigmarole – but it was in dialogue,) toothe-paste (elsewhere is tooth-paste,) “dropped in Snorvig, Each with his” (each,) wating (waiting,) Coloenel (Colonel,) “would probably had said” (have said,) Miss Cuffins’ (Miss Cuffins’s,) I’l (I’ll – but in a letter so may have been an intentional error by Mackenzie,) St Enoch’s station (it was St Enoch,) Caberfèidh (had previously been spelled [unusually] Cabarfèidh,) ready for to start (no need for that “for”,) ‘I never like a place so much in all my life’ (liked.)

Interzone: Issues 266 and 267

 Europe in Winter cover
Interzone 266 cover

Interzone issue 266 arrived yesterday. Along with the usual fiction and comment pieces this one contains my review of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds.

My next review, to appear in Interzone 267, will be of Europe in Winter, the third in Dave Hutchinson’s “Fractured Europe” sequence. I posted about its predecessors Europe in Autumn here and Europe at Midnight here.

Mr Irresponsible Just Can’t Help Himself

Not content with all his other serial idiocies culminating in being reckless with the UK’s future and then walking away from the resultant mess I today heard on the news that the man this blog knows as Mr Irresponsible, aka former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, is to resign his parliamentary seat.

He can’t even be bothered to give another four years commitment to constituents who were reasonably entitled to expect he would serve out his term till the next General Election. (The reasons he advanced for his decision were entirely spurious by the way. It is perfectly possible for him to be a back-bench MP and not cause the Government any bother at all.)

I would hope the good citizens of Witney give his party a bloody nose at the consequent by-election for being troubled totally unneccessarily but of course they won’t.

No doubt he has a very lucrative job (more likely jobs plural) or even sinecures lined up with some of the people and organisations whose interests he favoured while in office. To them I say; take care. He’ll mess those up just like everything else he has touched. I hope you come to regret it. He certainly won’t.

Rosewell War Memorial

This is located on the wall of a Memorial Hall on Main Street, Rosewell, Midlothian.


Erected in 1932 it commemorates only the Great War:-

Rosewell, Great War Memorial Plaque

Ancient and Moderne

Just before the chapel’s entrance on the approach to Rosslyn Chapel stands the Old Rosslyn Inn.

Old Rosslyn Inn

The inn’s catalogue of great and good patrons is commemorated on a plaque by the arched gateway:-

Old Rosslyn Inn

Yet this obviously 20th century building (in the Art Deco/Moderne style) can also be seen from the access road.

Moderne Building

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