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Evening’s Empires by Paul McAuley

Gollancz, 2013, 375 p.

Another BSFA Award ballot book. I didn’t have to go far to find this one. I managed to pick up from one of my local libraries.

Gajananvihari Pilot is part of a family which operates as space salvagers in the decades after an event precipitated by Sri Hong-Owen and known as the Bright Moment. One day their ship, a Mobius ring called Pabuji’s Gift, is hijacked by pirates. Hari escapes with the head of Dr Gagarian, which is supposed to contain files relating to the work he and Aakash, Hari’s father, had been doing to try to understand and replicate the physics of the Bright Moment. The plot revolves around Hari’s search to seek out those responsible for the hijack and to revenge himself on them.

Like the two other books of McAuley’s Quiet War sequence which I have read there is a lot of attention paid to his history of the future. Again, though, the characters seem almost incidental.

The book is riddled with references to SF works of the past including the titles of each of the six sections which make up the novel. This homage may explain its appearance on the BSFA Award ballot.

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.”

Hmmm.

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.

BSFA Awards List

The lists for this year have been announced.

The novels are:-

God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Del Rey)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)

Evening’s Empires by Paul McAuley (Gollancz)

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris)

The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

I’ve read one of these already and have another, Ancillary Justice, on the tbr pile.

The short fiction:-

Spin by Nina Allan (TTA Press)

Selkie Stories are for Losers by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)

Saga’s Children by E. J. Swift (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium)

Boat in Shadows, Crossing by Tori Truslow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

I have so far read Spin.

More Awards News

Great to see that Ian Sales’s BSFA Award winning Adrift on the Sea of Rains has made it to another awards short list, this time the Sidewise Awards; which are for Altered History (or Alternate History as they affect to call it.)

The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales

Whippleshield Books, 2013, 80p.

This is the second in the Apollo Quartet, the first of which, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, has just won the BSFA Award.

Once again we have an Altered History. Here, Alexei Leonov was the first man on the Moon but the Russians quickly gave up going there to concentrate on Space Stations. Our hero, Brigadier General Bradley Elliott, USAF, though, was the first – and only – man on Mars, in 1979. What he found there drives the plot as he is recalled to NASA twenty years later to undertake a faster than light trip to Gliese 376 to investigate what has happened to the colony there.

As in Adrift, there are two strands interleaved with each other (which is not unusual) and tricks with typography but again the Glossary which follows rounds out the tale – even if one part of it appears to contradict a piece of dialogue in the text. That latter could have been a deliberate misdirection, though and a Coda explaining the central conception and the FTL drive is a less successful addition to the formula.

With his utilisation of the glossary Sales seems to have found a new way to tell the space exploration story. It is of course a species of info dumping but he has arguably turned the necessity into a strength.

He is very good on the nuts and bolts of space travel, especially if you can thole the alphabet soup of NASA terminology. A list of abbreviations is given to help with this. Elliott is a complex enough figure though the other characters are less fleshed out; but in an 80 page book only 47 of which are actual story it could hardly be otherwise.

Hugo Awards Short Lists

The Hugo is effectively the world’s Science Fiction award but it’s usually a North American fiefdom. The awards are presented at the World Science Fiction Convention, which, this year, is Lone Star Con 3 on whose website all the nominations can be found.

Unlike the BSFA Awards the Hugo splits non-novel SF into three categories as below.

Best Novel
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Blackout by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

Best Novella

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)

Best Novelette

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
“Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

Best Short Story

“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
“Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

Remarkably I have read two of the novels, but that is thanks to Interzone and its reviews editor, Jim Steel.

It is notable that only one novel (2312) and one short story (Immersion) appear both on the BSFA short list and the Hugo.

BSFA Awards Stop Press

Via Jim Steel’s blog we have this year’s Awards as given on tor.com.

Jack Glass by Adam Roberts won for best novel. (I have not yet read this.)

Best short story was Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales.

I’m delighted for Ian.

Best Artwork was Blacksheep for the cover of Jack Glass

Best Non-Fiction winner was The World SF Blog, Chief Editor Lavie Tidhar.

Congratulations to all the winners.

Edited to add:- I have now added the World SF Blog to my sidebar.

Marcher by Chris Beckett

Cosmos Books, 2008, 304 p.

A drug called slip allows people, shifters, to move between parallel universes – which are arranged in a tree shape. Charles Bowen is an immigration officer in a universe (not ours) where his main job is to deal with shifters in an effort to eradicate the problem they represent. Here the poor and unemployed are kept in sink estates known as Social Inclusion Zones from which it is difficult to break free. Unusually, and all the more welcome for it, the main setting for the novel is the Bristol area. Bowen likes to think of himself as a guardian of the borders – between universes in his case – the “Marcher” of the title. He is himself attracted to shifting without at first quite knowing why.

Shifters are treated as criminals because they can do what they like and then evade capture by shifting. To be fair some of them follow the cult of Dunner, based on Norse mythology, and are dedicated to mayhem. These misfits commit a massacre in Clifton which allows the government to crack down hard on Social Inclusion Zones and any shifters – cultees or not – who are captured.

In the chapters written (in first person) from Bowen’s viewpoint his relationship with a social worker called Jazamine and his part in her shifting are treated as haunting him but the relationship itself is only portrayed at its beginning, its end (her shift) and otherwise in snapshots. Other sections are written in third person but as narrated by Bowen.

The proof–reading is at times inadequate. At various points a word required to make complete sense of the sentence is missing, “He was (a) decent man,” “He looked as if he’d (be) more comfortable,” “But (it) was hard to turn away,” and there are places where the author has clearly changed one part of a phrase or sentence but not another where sense requires it, “I’ve never understand this bit,” “Carl that he had always known that acts of courage would lead to something new,” “he had been moved him to another high security unit.”

Beckett’s previous book The Holy Machine was a treat despite suffering from the same issue with words missing. Marcher is less focused and also has too much telling rather than showing plus some not too well integrated info-dumping. His latest novel, Dark Eden, has been nominated for this year’s BSFA Award.

BSFA Awards Time Again

BSFA Awards Booklet 20122013

Yesterday the booklet containing the short listed stories and artwork for the BSFA Awards for works from 2012 landed on my doormat.

It’s a handsome enough thing, seeming thicker than in previous years.

I’ve already read Ian Sales’s Adrift on the Sea of Rains (my thoughts on that are here) and three others of the stories on the internet which I was going to post about soon.

I’ll now be able to complete the set before voting.

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