New Review

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August cover

My next book review for Interzone will be The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.

The accompanying blurb for this (and the link above) states, “Claire North is a pseudonym for an acclaimed British author who has previously published several novels. This book is completely different from any of them.”


I’ve got a BSFA Award nominee to read before that, though. Busy, busy.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Orbit, 2013, 386 p.

I bought this since I suspected it might be on the BSFA Award ballot: and it is. (Only three of this year’s nominees still to read now.)

Breq is a fragment of an Artificial Intelligence, the spaceship Justice of Torren, of which she was once an ancillary of the ship’s Esk level. Ancillaries are bodies captured by the Radchaai in their territorial expansions, implanted with augmentations and enslaved to a ship’s consciousness as military units, in companies named decades, which are themselves subsidiaries of hundreds. (An organisational parallel with Roman armies is obvious.) The book deals with the prelude to and aftermath of Breq’s (or Justice of Torren one Esk’s) sudden isolation from her hundred and ship. She goes on a self-imposed mission to seek out a weapon invisible to Radch technology and then use it against the Lord of the Radch. For most of the book Breq’s story is related in alternating chapters describing respectively the search and the events which led up to her separation from Justice of Torren. Once the two strands unite the narrative is straightforwardly linear. Leckie’s depiction of the multiple consciousness Breq inhabits before her severance is effective but authorially she seemed more at ease when the necessity to deal with it was removed.

One curiosity is that, despite some early asides on problems with languages in which gender assignation is important – and the same person is referred to as he or she at different points – all the characters in Ancillary Justice seem to be female, or at least they read as though they are. This is refreshing even though the usual actions, betrayals etc with which Breq deals are perhaps no different from stories featuring male characters – and it doesn’t affect the tale one whit.

Included at the rear were “Extras” – an “about the author,” an interview with her and a totally unnecessary extract from a book by someone else entirely. Here we find that further stories in this universe are to be forthcoming. I found myself curiously disappointed with this as, while there are unresolved elements, it did not strike me that further exploration of the scenario would be as intriguing as this book is.

Ancillary Justice is the better of the two candidate novels for this year’s BSFA Award I have read up to now. By far.

Pedant’s corner: we had publically for publicly, gasses for gases and a character saying, “one point eleven meters.” It was not the USianism of that meters which grated – there were USianisms throughout despite the British publication imprint. You might as well pronounce the number 231156 as twenty-three eleven fifty-six – which would be all but meaningless. The number 1.11 ought to be transliterated as one point one one. Eleven is a number larger than one: by definition numbers after a decimal point are smaller than one. No number after a decimal point should be described other than by its successive single digits. A writer of SF ought to know such things.

Euro 2016 Draw

So Scotland gets Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Georgia and Gibraltar.

It could have been worse, I suppose. (Could it have been worse?)

We won’t finish ahead of Germany. I don’t think we’ve beaten them for over forty years.

Ireland, Poland and Georgia are all tricky. And Gibraltar? That’s the sort of international team we have struggled against in the not so recent past.

Still, Gordon Strachan has improved things. Look on the bright side.

Dumbarton 3-3 Raith Rovers

SPFL Tier 2, The Rock, 22/2/14

I’ll take this – even though we were one up twice – as it keeps our unbeaten run in 2014 going and we were also one down at one point.

Nice to see Scott Agnew get on the score sheet. It’s his first non-penalty of the season. I don’t know if he’ll keep his place once Chris Turner is fit again though.

But… Cowdenbeath won again. The gap from us in fourth to them in ninth is only eight points. Safety is still a long way off.

Yet a draw next week at Palmerston will keep us fourth.

I hope the prospect of the Aberdeen Cup game the week after won’t be a distraction.

Latest from Kirkcaldy Promenade

Latest phase of work. Drilling out the old wall on the north part of the Prom. Taken 19/2/14.

This second one was today. Top mostly drilled out.

Friday On My Mind 95: Piece Of My Heart

One of the most covered songs from the 1960s brought to prominence by Janis Joplin‘s vocal on this track from Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Joplin is one of the members of the seemingly mythical 27 club, which the link states is a spurious artefact. A tendency for musicians to die when 27 is not borne out statistically. Still, print the legend, eh?

Some versions have the song’s title as (Take A Little) Piece Of My Heart others as Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart.

Big Brother and the Holding Company: (Take A Little) Piece Of My Heart

Markinch War Memorial

The plaque on this side, nearest the road, commmemorates the First World War. The individuals’ names are set into the stone plinths surmounting the surrounding walls.

The plaque on the far side commemorates the Second World War and incorporates the names of the fallen of that war, including a woman from the ATS – perhaps a ferry pilot.

Edited to add: I’ve now had a chance to look at the Scottish War Memorials Project and it says that Betsy L Wyse was a private in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz

Black Swan, 2013, 309 p. Translated from the Arabic Al-Sukkariyya by William Maynard Hutchins and Angele Botros Samaan.

Sugar Street cover

Originally published in 1957, this third part of Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy has al-Sayyid Ahmad abd al-Jawad entering old age and so dwells more on the younger members of his family. His children reflect that their youngsters seem to know it all and do not listen to their words of wisdom. ’Twas ever thus. The book takes place in the run up to and during the Second World War so mirrors the First World War setting of Book 1, Palace Walk.

While political events of the times tend to happen in the background, it seems that in this respect Egypt doesn’t change much; indeed one character reflects that tyranny is the nation’s most deeply entrenched malady. Here, hope is raised when King Faruq takes over from his father Fuad, but disillusionment soon sets in. Politicians sell out their principles for power and inspire contempt. The group named herein as the Muslim Brethren (nowadays that “Brethren” is translated as Brotherhood) have become active in the political arena. According to them all answers are to be found in the Qu’ran. “We attempt to understand Islam as God intended it to be: a religion, a way of life, a code of law and a political system.” This is immediately subject to the rejoinder, “Is talk like this appropriate for the twentieth century?” – which is a good question; and more so in the twenty-first. There is also mention of girls in the family not being educated beyond the elementary certificate – not that that was a specifically Egyptian failing in those times.

To illustrate the darker undercurrents at play Mahfouz has a Copt say, “in spite of everything we’re living in our golden age. At one time Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Jawish suggested that Muslims should make shoes of our hides.”

al-Jawad’s grandson Abd al-Muni’m Ibrahim Shawkat is a firm believer while his brother Ahmad Ibrahim Shawkat is a communist. Towards the end both are detained for sedition. The first claims it is because he believes in God, the second asks what, then, his own offence could possibly be, as he doesn’t. Ahmad’s earlier declaration of affection for a female classmate founders on his relative lack of means. “It was amazing that in this country where people allowed emotion to guide their politics they approached love with the precision of accountants.”

Other perceptions include, “Politics is the most significant career open to a person in a society,” “When we’re in love we may resent it, but we certainly miss love once it’s gone,” and, “Life is full of prostitutes of various types. Some are cabinet ministers and others authors.”

Once again the USian translation was prominent, with piasters for piastres, “darn it” as an imprecation, soccer and diapers all intruding on my suspension of disbelief.

Dumbarton 2-1 Falkirk

SPFL Tier 2, The Rock, 15/2/14

Our great start to 2014 continues. Seems like it was a good comeback against a team higher than us and pushing for promotion – and, apart from last week, in good form themselves.

Also pleasing is that our home form has taken an upturn.

It’s tight in the middle of the table at the minute, though.

Friday On My Mind 94: Bringing on Back the Good Times

Just to point up the contrast with last week.

Love Affair: Bringing on Back the Good Times

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