Liverpool Scottish Memorial, Railway Wood, Ypres

The Liverpool Scottish were raised in Liverpool from Scottish stock and wore kilts. They made an attack at Hooge (Bellewaarde) in June 1915 by Railway Wood.

There is a memorial at the edge of Railway Wood.

Liverpool Scottish Memorial near Ypres

Liverpool Scottish Memorial, Railway Wood, Ypres

Friday on my Mind 140: Journey to the Centre of the Mind

I’ve not posted a piece of psychedelia for a while so here are The Amboy Dukes performing on Spanish TV.

The Amboy Dukes: Journey to the Centre of the Mind

Railway Wood, Ypres

In Railway Wood itself, near the Royal Engineers Memorial, there were several large craters.

Shell Crater , Railway Wood, Ypres

Shell Crater, Railway Wood, Ypres

Shell Crater near Ypres

Shell Crater near Ypres

It was quite spooky walking round the shell shattered ground, the peacefulness contrasting with what it must have been like for the soldiers of both sides, some of whom must lie underneath all this.

Pinned to a tree we found this memorial note for Private John William Ogley:-

Memorial Note for Private John William  Ogley

Interzone 267

Interzone 267 cover

The latest issue of Interzone, 267 of that ilk, has landed.

Among all the usual stuff this one contains my review of Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Winter.

Royal Engineers Memorial, Railway Wood, Ypres

From the Menin Road we could see just on the ridge of a hill a Commonwealth War Graves Cross of Sacrifice. A signpost pointed up a very minor road to RE Memorial Railway Wood. We had to make the last bit on foot – past several Remembrance Trees. The line had shifted up a bit from the Menin Road by 1915.

It was now such a peaceful setting with cows grazing hard by the memorial:-

Royal Engineers Grave, Railway Wood, Ypres

Royal Engineers Memorial, Railway Wood, Ypres:-

Royal Engineers Grave, Railway Wood, Ypres, From Access Road

Unless there are at least forty graves a Commonwealth War Cemetery will not have a Cross of Sacrifice. This memorial commemorates only twelve men but the graves are not individually marked, hence the cross.

Royal Engineers Memorial, Railway Wood, Ypres, from Entrance:-

Royal Engineers Grave, Railway Wood, Ypres, From Entrance

Royal Engineers Memorial, Railway Wood, Inscription 1, 177th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers:-

Royal Engineers Grave, Railway Wood, Inscription 1

Royal Engineers Memorial, Railway Wood, Inscription 2, six names:-

Royal Engineers Grave, Railway Wood, Inscription 2

Royal Engineers Memorial, Railway Wood, Inscription 3, a further six names:-

Royal Engineers Grave, Railway Wood, Inscription 3

View Towards Ypres from Royal Engineers Memorial, Railway Wood:-

Royal Engineers Memorial, Railway Wood, View Towards Ypres

Crater, Railway Wood, Ypres, Royal Engineers Memorial in background:-

Crater, Railway Wood, Ypres

Sherlock Holmes The Thinking Engine by James Lovegrove

Titan Books, 2015, 304 p. Reviewed for Interzone 261, Nov-Dec 2015.

 Sherlock Holmes The Thinking Engine  cover

After The Stuff of Nightmares and Gods of War this is the third of Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes novels for Titan Books. (By other hands there are four more with two forthcoming.) The foreword here, supposedly written in 1927 by a retired Dr Watson, places The Thinking Engine in the interstices between the Holmes stories published in The Strand.

Books which extend a franchise, as it were, potentially have to satisfy more than one constituency; devotees of the originals, those of passing acquaintance, the possibility of attracting new adherents – even the odd reviewer unfamiliar with the oeuvre save, perhaps, as part of the general cultural background. Adherents are catered for here by frequent mentions of previous Holmes cases, a couple of diversions on how often Holmes ever used the word “elementary”, sly references to inconsistencies in the canon, several citings of the Reichenbach Falls and an evocation of the Great Grimpen Mire.

The premise of The Thinking Engine promises a foray into Alternative History, a speculative slant to the proceedings, a steampunk ambience. A certain Balliol Professor, Malcolm Quantock, has constructed the Engine of the title, said to be able to solve crimes merely by providing it with all the data required, and newspaper proprietor Lord Knaresfield has offered a prize to anyone who can disprove its accuracy. How can this fail to interest the Great Detective?

The Engine’s first case is that of the murder of a mother and her two daughters for which the prime suspect, the husband and father, has an apparently cast-iron alibi (involving a dog which did not bark.) Holmes, given access to the crime scene by an unusually helpful policeman, Inspector Tomlinson, solves it in short order. So too does the Thinking Engine, a device of whirring rotors and tickertape print-outs (though it later gains a voice based on phonographic disc recordings.) We have to wait a while for this encounter, though, as in the early chapters we are introduced to a pre-fame Harry Houdini, animating the mummy of an Egyptian pharaoh in the midst of night in order to drum up business for an exhibition of antiquities. Such unlikely meetings with the famous in perhaps unfamiliar roles are one of the small pleasures of Alternative History; but here there are few other instances. We are told Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) consults the Thinking Engine on a mathematics problem (and appears crushed by its, evidently correct, solution). Later, Home Secretary H H Asquith and the London Police Commissioner visit to assess the Engine’s suitability to aid in the wider aspects of law enforcement.

The Engine’s second case at first seems more trivial. Student Aubrey Bancroft sends poison pen letters to his tutor but is easily unmasked. This affair takes on more sinister attributes when Bancroft is himself poisoned by strychnine contained in a celebratory bottle of champagne. Another apparent piece of nonsense about the crew kidnapping and replacing the arrogant stroke of a rowing VIII ends in the murder of ringleader Hugh Llewellyn. In both of these Watson is conscience-struck by being unable to save the lives of the victims despite being in attendance.

Holmes’s repeated failures to rebut the Engine delight reporter Archie Slater, who takes great pleasure in lambasting him in print. Yet all the cases bear the hallmarks of the perpetrators being manipulated into their acts. A greater intelligence is at work.
Unlike SF, it is the duty of the detective story, of the detective, to restore order to an errant world. Holmes, naturally, does so, but not before exposing himself to danger and humiliation.

Despite occasional USianisms such as, “it’s down to me,” “So you’ve shown up,” “ruckus,” “fit” used as a past tense and instances of possibly unWatsonian usage like, “Oh pish! Think nothing of it,” plus the surely modern, “You reckon you’ve cracked it?” and, “It fair broke my heart,” it’s all very cleverly done and devotees will (I assume) be pleased enough; but lovers of speculative fiction may be less enthralled. The story sticks closely to the Holmesian template, remains firmly down to earth. Far from being an advance on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the workings of the Thinking Engine are foreshadowed by the business with the mummy, and resolutely quotidian. Its closest comparator (Spoiler!) is a historical machine known as the Mechanical Turk, which Lovegrove himself acknowledges in the text. After this the revelation of the villain of the piece does not come as too great a surprise.

There are neat authorial touches such as Quantock’s allusion to, “paths laid out before me, following the lead of others,” and Watson’s statement that, “It is possible to have refined tastes and peddle dross,” but this book is one mainly for Holmes aficionados.

These comments did not appear in the published review (but “Americanisms” for “USianisms” did):-
Pedant’s corner:- the book is set in 1895 yet Holmes suggests a criminal would be transported to the colonies. Penal transportation had ended by 1868. There are references to Slater’s bookmaker (but off-course betting wasn’t legalised in Britain till 1960.)
Opuses (the plural of opus is actually opera – though I agree that could be confused with a type of musical entertainment,) medieval (mediaeval.) “Whet my whistle” (a confusion with “whet my appetite”? “Whet” means “sharpen”. The correct phrase is “wet my whistle”.) The chemists (it may be plural I suppose but the context suggests otherwise, so chemist’s,) between him and Quantock (“himself” would be less awkward than “him”,) font of all wisdom (I prefer fount,) “when you have quite so clearly lost” (“quite clearly” or “so clearly” but not “quite so clearly”,) one less villain (fewer,) mostly likely (most likely.)

In Flanders Fields Museum Exhibits (iii)

Italian Field Gun beside horse ambulance in In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres:-

Italian Field Gun

Machine Gun:-

Machine Gun

Stokes Mortar:-

Stokes Mortar

Trench Mortars:-

Trench Mortars

At the exit there was a list of wars since 1918 – so many I had to take three photographs.

(1):-

List of Wars Since 1918 (1)

(2):-

List of Wars Since 1918 (2)

(3):-

List of Wars Since 1918 (3)

In Flanders Fields Museum Exhibits (ii) Headstones

I didn’t photograph the British headstone as I have posted many of those before.

Belgian Headstone:-

Belgian Headstone, In Flanders Fields Museum

German Grave Marker + French Cross:-

Great War German Headstone + French Cross

German Headstone. Unusual. The German grave markers are usually laid flat. French Cross behind:-

Great War German headstone

Muslim Headstone:-

Muslim Headstone

Unattributed Headstone plus various commemorative statuary:-

Unattributed Headstone

In Flanders Fields Museum Exhibits (i)

Exhibits in In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres (Ieper) Belgium.

Anti-tank rifle:-

Anti-tank Rifle, In Flanders Fields Museum

Photograph of survivors of a Canadian battle of the Great War:-

Canadians, In Flanders Fields Museum

Flame Thrower (Flammenwerfer):-

Flame Thrower, In Flanders Fields Museum

(The next one was too far behind its glass for the camera to focus properly.) Fritz Haber was responsible for developing Chlorine gas as a weapon. Also without his Haber Process to make ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen (necessary for producing artificial fertiliser) the Germans would have been unable to make nitrate explosives and so would have been forced to an armistice much earlier. The main exhibit was of an actor speaking Haber’s words:-

Fritz Haber Exhibit

Tableau of Horse Ambulance:-

Tableau of Horse Ambulance

The Wipers Times was a satirical magazine produced by soldiers during the Great War:-

Copy of Wipers Times

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken MacLeod

Orbit, 2016, 333 p

 The Corporation Wars: Dissidence cover

Most of the “characters” in this novel are dead, their consciousnesses (or what remains of them) uploaded into a simulation. Others are robots whose “minds” have gained awareness. The first of these presents a problem; one which I have written about before here and here. I know that fiction isn’t a description of the real, it’s all made-up – thinly disguised real lives of the roman à clef aside – but it aspires to that verisimilitude; the people we are reading about ought to feel real, or at the very least plausible, their perils and dilemmas actual to the reader even if at one remove. Breaking the necessary suspension of disbelief is a dangerous activity for an author, with the potential fatally to undermine what is the delicate process of interacting with a fictional text. But if the characters in a novel are themselves dead the distancing goes too far. Put simply, if these people are dead already why should the reader care? There is no real jeopardy; they can be resurrected at the touch of a button. Yes, there is the argument that our “real life” might itself be a simulation so what does it matter if the characters in a novel also are but that falls down on the grounds that we can only suspect it, we do not know it for sure.

The action, and there is a lot of it, takes place on or near an exo-planet long after the Final War on Earth between the more-or-less progressive Acceleration and the counter-revolutionary Reaction. A government known as “The Direction” is nominally in charge but as a result of the development of robot consciousness various companies are now at war either with the robots or each other. Human consciousnesses from the time of the Final War have been preserved, training to fight the Corporations’ wars after being decanted into a virtual reality of the way the exo-planet will be after its terraformation. The story-telling details here are elegant enough, the “bus journey” from the “spaceport” every time they are resurrected from an abortive mission is a nice touch. The shadow of the Final War still hangs over these remnants though. The extension of their consciousnesses beyond their bodies when they are in their (tiny) battle arrays is also neatly handled, instantaneous connectivity feeling akin to telepathy, being able to “smell” the sun etc.

Curiously (or perhaps not, as they may be the most “real” characters in the book as opposed to mere ghosts of electrons fizzing about in a server) it is the robots who seem the most human entities in Dissidence even if their dialogue, , can be a little reminiscent of Dalek in its terseness and detached vocabulary (though admittedly, is never an injunction I have heard issued by a Dalek.)

As usual with MacLeod there is a degree of philosophical discourse, especially among the robots, and of political discussion. There is also an allusion to please all SF buffs, “I have no mouth and I must gape.” If you can get over any nagging doubts about the “reality” of the dilemmas and situation of the entities here it’s a fine read.

Pedant’s corner: when in their “battle” arrays the “humans” also spoke in chevrons apart from one instance at the close of a section where the quote marks were normal. I didn’t gain the impression they had yet dropped out of battle mode. There was also medieval (long time devotees know I prefer mediaeval or even mediæval,) plus “upside the head” (a USianism, what’s wrong with “on the head”?)

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