Adrift in the Stratosphere by Prof A M Low

Blackie and Son, 1954? 338 p.

Adrift in the Stratosphere cover

What a strange old beast this is. It was first published in 1937 – and shows it. Its three protagonists are (in one case ex-) public schoolboys who say things like, “I say, you chaps,” “jolly well” and “Rather!” and get through more by luck than expertise. They become adrift in the stratosphere by accidentally taking off in a spaceship that someone has built (in a barn!) where they’d stopped off on a motorbike excursion. The radio on board (wireless set and radio are used interchangeably) can somehow access two week old broadcasts and their diet is provided by “super-vitamin tablets.” “One represents sufficient food for one person for one day. Dissolve in the mouth and swallow slowly.” Parse the last sentence of the quote, if you would.

Their adventures include passing through a belt of X-rays (which allow them to see through each other,) the ship being struck by particles from a passing meteor (without any structural damage,) an encounter with a cloud like stratospheric creature, being attacked by evil Martians (complete with death rays) and meeting a somewhat more benevolent set of comet dwellers. “The speed at which we travel through space sets up an action in the ether which covers us with a gas-like vapour. Your astronomers have fallen into the mistaken belief that we are composed entirely of gas.” The adventures come thick and fast but characterisation is non-existent. Plus the return of the chaps to Earth in the final page is very perfunctorily handled.

For its time I suppose it would have been unexceptional, a Boy’s Own Adventure indeed.

A view of the nice thistle design on the hardcovers ca be found here and that of the internal illustration here.

The author, one Prof A M Low, apparently designed a proto-television system he called Televista (a device of this name, which combines the “principles of television and that of the camera obscura,” appears in the book) but due to the Great War nothing much came of it.

Here Low uses the term stratosphere to describe what would now be called space. Whether that was a common usage in the 1930s I have no idea. He also employs the latter term in its modern sense. And the ship is at least once referred to as falling. In space you wouldn’t notice.

Typos corner (even in the 1950s!) – breath for breathe, noticably for noticeably.

Friday on My Mind 98: RIP Gerry Goffin. Goin’ Back

I woke up this morning to the news that Gerry Goffin has died.

In his collaborations with Carole King hewrote the lyrics to some of the most enduring popular songs from the 1960s. The list is stunning. At the end of the article in the link are songs he wrote with others.

His lyrics tended to be carefully worked out and belied the frothy nature of the productions of the era.

Look at the words of Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Their underlying poignancy was highlighted in King’s own version on her album, Tapestry.

Tonight you’re mine completely/You give your love so sweetly.
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes/But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure/Or just a moment’s pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your sighs?/Will you still love me tomorrow?

Tonight with words unspoken/You say that I’m the only one
But will my heart be broken/When the night meets the morning sun?

I’d like to know that your love/Is love I can be sure of.
So tell me now and I won’t ask again/Will you still love me tomorrow?

This, though, is the early 60s take by The Shirelles.

The Shirelles: Will you Love Me Tomorrow

And then there’s this:-

A little bit of freedom’s all we lack.
So catch me if you can I’m goin’ back.

Dusty Springfield: Goin’ Back

Gerald “Gerry” Goffin: 11/2/1939 – 19/6/2014. So it goes.

Daniel Keyes

I see from yesterday’s Guardian (I was out all day yesterday and only got round to reading it this morning) that Daniel Keyes has died.

He was best known in the SF world for just the one story, Flowers for Algernon.

But what a story! I read it many years ago and it is one of those that sticks in the mind forever. I haven’t read the later novel to which it was converted. I didn’t want my memories of the short piece to be diminished in any way. From the obituary and the link above I learned that it has been adapted for film and TV. I doubt that any of those have the power of the original text.

Daniel Keyes: 9/8/1927 – 15/6/2014. So it goes.

Reelin’ In the Years 87: The Story In Your Eyes

I’ve already mentioned the odd decision to release Watching and Waiting rather than Gypsy as the single from To Our Children’s Children’s Children. The former was an ideal coda to the album but not really single material.

The single that came after, Question, was the Moodies most successful in the new era, only being kept off the No. 1 slot by the England World Cup squad’s Back Home. (Oh tempora!) Despite being described as, “One of the world’s most advanced groups,” while promoting the song on Top of the Pops, the LP it prefaced, A Question of Balance, gave the first indication that collectively the band was going off the boil.

Their next single didn’t even make the UK charts despite being a belter. First below is not the album version from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. This one has a different vocal performance and a more lush mellotron sound. The more familiar album edition follows.

The Moody Blues: The Story In Your Eyes

Spain 0-2 Chile

World Cup Group B, Estádio do Maracanã, 18/6/14.

This is the way the world (Cup) ends. For Spain at least. Not with a bang – and barely a whimper.

The signs that were there in the Confederations Cup last year that Spain’s time was coming to an end are now manifest. Their defensive frailty in the Holland game was underlined here. How they miss Carles Puyol. I don’t think a defence with a Puyol in his prime would have collapsed in such a way. And the wisdom of selecting Iker Casillas in goal has to be doubted.

With this result we seem to have reverted to situation normal for Spain at World Cups. Implosion.

Speaking of which, has anyone else noticed the facial resemblance between Diego Costa and Fernando Hierro?

Fernando Hierro
Diego Costa

Fort William Art Deco

The town is cut off from Loch Linnhe by a dual carriageway. We walked along it the first evening and saw the Imperial Hotel. Lovely curved area with balcony above. Nice stepping on the roof line.

There are other decoish buildings on the High Street.

Could this once have been a Woolworths?:-

The next one looks flat-roofed. Windows have been altered:-

Mountain Warehouse. Minor Deco at best:-

Fort William (An Garasdean)

Our destination was Fort William (or, as the signposts have it, An Garasdean. No prizes for working out it’s Gaelic for garrison.) The first thing I noticed on entering Fort William proper was the rounded extension to the hotel here.

The Bank of Scotland building on the High Street:-

A shop called Aroma – more likely 60s or 70s than deco:-

Rear extension to Edinburgh Woollen Mill, off High Street:-

The Moon King by Neil Williamson

NewCon Press , 2014, 338 p.

The Moon King cover

Disclosure. I have known the author for a considerable number of years and he has been writing short stories – and getting them published – for all that time. He is one of nature’s good guys with many strings to his bow. (Strictly that should be lots of keys on his piano.) The Moon King is his first novel.

The book is tinged with subtle touches of Scottishness and is a curious beast, a blend of Science Fiction and Fantasy – with equal facility in both aspects. There is a machine at the heart of the plot but what it controls is strange indeed. Creatures made of water stalk its pages but can be neutralised by scooping the water from them. The world in which it is set has discontinuities with our own but is recognisably Earth-like. Its characters are all too human, though.

The city of Glassholm lies on an island. Its ruler and founder, the seemingly immortal Lunane, saved his followers by somehow tethering the Moon in an orbit that holds it above the city. The Moon’s cycles of day and night are reflected in the city’s calendar – the months are divided into wax days and wane days – and influence not only the people’s moods (Full is a day of abandonment and revelry, the heady behaviour it engenders referred to as Fullishness, Dark a time of mayhem and danger) but also the rate at which decay and rot occur.

Anton Dunn wakes up the day after Full and discovers the Palace staff think he is the Lunane. Gradually he discovers that he has indeed become the face of the Lunane, his mind and body taken over as his engineering expertise is needed. For things are beginning to fall apart on Glassholm. Unprecedentedly, a murder has taken place on Full – and the tethered Moon is beginning to stray. Anton is one of three viewpoint characters, the others are Lottie Blake, an aspiring artist whose overbearing mother is the leader of a religion, and Jonathan Mortlock, former cop and now member of the Palace guard.

Glassholm is populated with well-drawn characters. Even the minor ones feel as if they have an existence beyond the page. Lottie’s Aunt Ruby is an especial delight. This aspect fell down slightly when Dunn ventured beyond the city and met with the remnants of the indigenes the Lunane usurped when he took over the island – but that was the section where fantasy intruded most and it may have been my tendency to look on that less generously which made me feel this. The Lunane’s Palace is refreshingly exotic. Though it inevitably has faint echoes of other large fictional buildings it has a distinctive topography.

Williamson has his characters occasionally employ those impeccably Scottish terms of endearment for, respectively, a woman and a younger man, hen and son. Other artfully deployed Scotticisms were muckle, wersh, skite, puss (pronounced as in bus and meaning a person’s face,) skelped, semmet – (though Williamson spells it simmet, the way it is spoken,) close (for the entrance passageway of a tenement block,) wee, “so it does” at the end of a spoken sentence (though that may be an import from Ireland,) loup, clout for cloth and cried for called or named. The fantastical nature of the story means that many readers will be unaware that he has not just invented these words – as he has others; in SF it’s almost obligatory – but, for a Scot, it’s an unusual delight to see them in such a setting.

The Moon King has the touch of an author with a vision, who knows what he is doing and has the ability both to engage the reader and to create believable characters. If the secret locked below the Lunane’s Palace is a shade too fantastical for my tastes, that doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

At the book launch at Eastercon Neil inscribed my copy, “Please enjoy this Lunacy!” I did, and it isn’t.

Strathfillan War Memorial, Crianlarich

This stands at the junction of the A 85 and A 82. As you’re coming along the A 85 from Lochearnhead you can’t see it as it’s hidden by the railway bridge and the trees of the memorial garden. It was only on the way back that we spotted it.

The memorial is dedicated to the men from Strathfillan who gave their lives in the Great War. I couldn’t see any names for WW2. I don’t know if Crianlarich has a WW2 memorial located elsewhere.

Lochearnhead

Just after the A 85 turns right in Lochearnhead you can find this rather decrepit old garage in the thirties style which has hints of deco in the stepped frontage – and flat roof.

The photo below is of Loch Earn from Lochearnhead. Just a glimpse through the trees. The loch is much more visible from the A 85 as you drive along it.

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