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Passing for Human by Jody Scott

Women’s Press, 1986, 192 p. First published in 1977.

Passing For Human cover

From the publisher and the title of this book it can be inferred that this is a satire. While men may be its principal targets, “Male bodies are incomplete, because of that stunted Y chromosome, hence males lack intuition (which merely means they’re less intelligent, having a closed-off awareness)” and “There should be no lightness in the male life: only a bossy arrogant machismo,” the human race as a whole is found wanting, with all its primitive instincts, sex-obsession and reprehensible customs. “They commit advertising on each other. And as you know advertising is a crime against nature.” Sadly, though, Passing for Human has dated badly since its first publication.

Consider the plot. Dolphin-like creatures from the planet Rysemus are nearing completion of a Rapid transit system, The Mousehole, in the vicinity of Earth. This project might be put in jeopardy by the actions of the Sajorian, Scaulzo, aka the “Prince of Darkness” for, despite his machinations, humans feel well disposed towards him and are said to be easy prey to his evil ends.

The Rysemians have on their ship, Vonderra, a supply of bodies identical in every respect to their originals; bodies into which they can transfer at will. Our main protagonist, Benaroya, appears variously in the book as Brenda Starr, Emma Peel and Virginia Woolf. (I note here that two of these are actually fictional in our real world.) Other Rysemians inhabit the bodies of Abraham Lincoln, George S Patton, Heidi’s grandfather and countless Richard Nixons.

To a modern reading there are several problems with all of this. One is that, despite Rysemians having telepathic powers, none of the human characters ever rises above the caricature, not even Adrian Resnick who is being kept in captivity by Scaulzo and whose consciousness we roam for a while. The other is the pulpy nature of the plot and the treatment – which comes over more like a piece of pulp SF from the 50s or earlier. Both these elements lend the book a cartoonish quality at odds with any claim to seriousness. Moreover, I know the tale is supposed to be picaresque but there is still a certain lack of internal logic when Rysemians excoriate humans for experimenting on and killing animals but have no qualms about contemplating the extinction of humanity as a punishment, have indeed carried out just that sentence on the main life form of the planet Hogue. Yet what grated most was that for a piece pointing out supposed cultural peculiarities the text seems blithely unaware of its own cultural specificity. An Italian refers to a limey, another says “way to go babe” (I also wondered if 7-Up was available in Italy in the 1970s,) there is a comparison to over-civilized field goal kickers and Benaroya’s interminable interjections, “Jeeps! Holy Moses! Holy croakers! Wowzereeno, holy mackerel,” are unmistakably USian. Her reactions are supposed to be a result of culture shock but these authorial tics encapsulate an attitude arising from within (one of) the culture(s) she is supposed to be shocked by.

File under historical curiosity.

Pedant’s corner:- a thick-molecule “water” planet (what on – or indeed off – Earth is a thick-molecule?) deoderant (deodorant,) “can you imagine this is Scaulzo’s hands?” (in Scaulzo’s hands,) Earthie’s (Earthies,) sprung (sprang,) shizophrenic (schizophrenic,) skelton (skeleton,) a gargoyles’s head (gargoyle’s,) envison (envision,) the the (one the is enough,) as done (has done,) Sojorian (Sajorian,) a cluster of crones were (a cluster was,) knawed (gnawed,) aureoles (areolae,) humilation (humiliation,) comfty (comfy.)

Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson

Solaris, 2015, 304 p.

 Europe at Midnight cover

The Campus is an enclosed society which has just undergone a revolution but any attempts to escape its confines fail on the many lethal obstacles preventing it. Its latest head of intelligence jokingly calls himself Rupert of Hentzau and has set about instituting a fair justice system. Meanwhile, in a world recognisably ours (if in the future,) a man is stabbed on a late-night bus and claims asylum.

Back in the Campus “Rupert” misjudges a situation and provokes a counter-revolution. Araminta Delahunty, who had kayaked into his life one day, provides his outlet. She is from our world, seeking her brother who had managed to travel out of it, and shows “Rupert” the way to England. A connection to the stabbed man is soon established.

This is the set-up to Hutchinson’s tangled tale of parallel worlds, a development of the scenario he laid out in Europe in Autumn with its Europe splintered into a patchwork of variously sized polities (with borders of different degrees of rigidity) where the number of entries to the Eurovision Song Contest can exceed 600 – and the voting takes three days. At one point in the book “Rupert” (I can’t remember Hutchinson revealing his character’s “real” name) muses, “I had the impression that the English would have quite liked to be in Europe so long as they were running it.” Well, yes.

Unlike in Europe in Autumn in this book we also spend some time in The Community, the parallel world constructed in the maps produced by the Whitton-Whyte family where the county of Ernshire and its chief town Stanhurst are connected to a Ukipper’s wet dream of a greater England stretching from Iberia to the area Moscow occupies in ours – and which is much more menacing in this novel than its predecessor.

Again Hutchinson has managed to produce a Cold War type spy story within a Science Fiction scenario but this novel has more of the whiff of SF about it than did Europe in Autumn. The book has literary quality too; his characters are eminently believable and the action sequences well handled.

Notwithstanding this, the novel’s structure is perhaps a little askew. It may have been a slight mistake to begin with the scenes in the Campus as these were very well delivered and contained the book’s most intriguing character, Araminta – user of those very non-Science Fictional words muppet, berk and cockwomble – but for plot reasons we no longer return there after “Rupert” leaves it. To be fair the other settings are as convincing but throughout I found myself pining for the Campus.

Overall it’s excellent fare though.

Pedant’s corner:- poison chalice (poisoned chalice,) presently (to mean “soon” – this read oddly to me as Scots use presently to mean “at the moment”,) two full stops at one sentence end (this may have been meant as a diæresis but three dots is surely the minimum for that,) the Board were starting (the Board was starting?) the team were using (the team was using,) the team are working (is working,) math (maths,) [these past two appeared in dialogue so are excusable; just.] Each sub-section within the chapters of the book was prefaced by a number: one of these numbers appeared at the very bottom of a left hand page; which looked most odd.

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction edited by David G Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Robinson, 2013, 572 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.

 Twenty-First Century Science Fiction cover

The book cover and spine has 21st Century but the title page Twenty-First Century. The editors choices were made from those writers whose rise to prominence came after 1999 – in a world where they say SF is no longer marginal but a part of the cultural landscape. So to the stories.

In Vandana Singh’s Infinities Abdul Karim is fascinated by mathematics. Visions of beings he calls farishte and sees out of the corners of his eyes lead him to ponder the variety of mathematical infinities and the intersection between transcendental numbers and primes. But life wears him down and his glimpse of the connections does not mesh with the troubles of a divided India. Rogue Farm by Charles Stross is set in a depopulated future and features trees which can store nitrate (effectively making them rockets/bombs) and collective farms composed of several people melded into some sort of tank-like vehicle. I know it was originally published in a US magazine but it’s located in Cumbria yet not only the prose but also the dialogue – with a few exceptions – was written in USian. The exceptions were some unconvincing “ayup”s and a sudden splattering of “Northern” speech in the second last paragraph.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Gambler sees an exiled Laotian struggle to get enough click-bait on his news stories, Neal Asher’s Strood features more or less beneficent invading aliens and their pets, which have unusual eating habits. In Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky, Adriana seeks love from and marries a robot called Lucian. Things go wrong when she lets Lucian have free will and their adopted daughter begins to believe she’s a robot. “The Tale of the Wicked” by John Scalzi is an updated version of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics stories when the brains of two spaceships in a hot pursuit start to communicate. Bread and Bombs by M Rickert is a post-apocalypse, post twin towers, tale where no-one travels by air, indeed any sighting of an aeroplane is accompanied by fear, and outsiders are treated with suspicion.

Taking its inspiration from a Biblical text and the Uncertainty Principle, Tony Ballantyne’s The Waters of Meribah is set in a universe shrunk to only tens of miles across where a group of scientists is engaged in a bizarre experiment to create an alien in order to break out again. Tk’Tk’Tk by David D Levine features the experiences of a hereditary salesman on a planet inhabited by excessively polite aliens. He comes to an epiphany, as you do. Genevieve Valentine’s The Nearest Thing is the closest to a human an artificial entity can get but the process is neither morally nor emotionally simple for its software designer. In Ian Creasey’s Erosion the comparison evoked by its title is perhaps a touch over-egged in his tale of an augmented human about to leave for the stars out for a last hike along the North Yorkshire coast. Marissa Lingen’s The Calculus Plague tells of the beginnings of transfer of memories by viral infection. One of our Bastards is Missing by Paul Cornell is set in a future where early eighteenth century Great Powers have lasted into the space age, the balance of power is kept steady but they still plot against each other.

A damaged war machine, the last of its platoon, roams the seashore in Elizabeth Bear’s Tideline, collecting material to make memorial necklaces for the fallen. Finistera by David Moles is set on a giant planet with a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere where floating creatures as large as mountains form homes for people and exploitable resources for the less scrupulous. In Mary Robinette Kowal’s Evil Robot Monkey an augmented chimpanzee wants only to make pottery; but humans – especially schoolchildren – remain humans. The junior of The Education of Junior Number Twelve by Madeline Ashby is the twelfth offspring of a kind of self-replicating android, designed so as not to allow harm to humans. They make perfect lovers though. Even if humans themselves remain as messed up as ever. Toy Planes by Tobias S Buckell sees a Caribbean island join the space-faring nations. Ken Liu’s The Algorithms of Love is curiously reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon in its tale of a designer of truly interactive dolls coming to believe she herself, and all humans, are merely reacting to inbuilt instructions. The Albian Message by Oliver Morton speculates on just exactly what is contained in a pyramid left by aliens in the Trojan Asteroids hundreds of millions of years ago while Karl Schroeder’s To Hie From Far Cilenia supposes layers of “cities” – or at least organised groupings of people – only existing in a kind of online virtual reality parallel to the real world. Brenda Cooper’s Savant Songs is about the search by a brilliant (but socially awkward) female physicist for her counterparts in the multiverse of worlds. Ikiryoh by Liz Williams is reminiscent of Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas in that the eponymous child is the repository of all the darkness that would otherwise be present in the goddess who rules. The Prophet of Flores by Ted Kosmatka is set in a world where Darwinism was disproved in the 1950s by dating techniques. Yet on the Indonesian island of Flores unusual bones have been discovered in a cave. The protagonist’s conclusion sticks neatly to the logic of his world.

According to Catherynne M Valente’s How to Become a Mars Overlord each solar system has its own Red Planet and the author provides a stepwise guide to its overlordship but the piece overall is less of a story than a disquisition. In Daryl Gregory’s Second Person, Present Tense Therese has taken an overdose of a drug called Zen, which alters her persona. Her parents don’t accept this. Third Day Lights by Alaya Dawn Johnson features a shape-shifting demon and a human looking for the afterlife of the afterlife. James L Cambias’s Balancing Accounts has a robotic/AI protagonist plying a living for its owners by trading in the Saturn system. An unusual cargo brings problems. A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel by Yoon Ha Lee is another disquisitive story about various different cultures’ star drives. Hannu Rajaniemi’s His Master’s Voice stars a dog (and, yes, it’s called Nipper) seeking the return of its master who has been “condemned to the slow zone for three hundred and fourteen years” for illegally producing copies of himself and, since Rajaniemi sojourned for a while in Edinburgh, could just perhaps have been inspired (a bit) by the tale of Greyfriars Bobby. Plotters and Shooters by Kage Baker is set on a space station dedicated to spotting and destroying Earth threatening asteroids. The station’s hierarchies are disrupted by a new arrival. In The Island by Peter Watts a never-ending mission to seed the universe with jump gates threatens the existence of a millimetre thin organism surrounding its sun like a gossamer Dyson sphere. Escape to Other Worlds With Science Fiction by Jo Walton is set in a world where not only did the New Deal fail but the Second World War did not occur as we know it. By 1960 the US is becoming fascistic. Cory Doctorow’s Chicken Little posits a future where the rich are utterly cut-off from even the wealthy but a drug called Clarity can enable true assessment of risk to take place.

On the whole, strong stuff. There is enough here to suggest that SF is a vigorous culture still.

Pedant’s corner:- “the cluster of competing stories are growing” (the cluster is growing,) metastized (metastasised – I have also substituted s for the USian z,) remittance (remission,) minutia (minutiae,) her sisters’ ability to overcome her fear of their father (their fear?) rung (rang,) “I hate to come out of that jump (I’d hate to,) none of the …. have (none has,) a they as an antecedent to an it, and the killed (and killed,) the architecture of the brains are different (the architecture is different,) a yearning gap (the context suggests yawning gap,) “where his regiment were dining” (his regiment was dining,) a Queen Mother is addressed as “Your Royal Highness,” (I suspect that would still be, “Your Majesty,”) “the Queen Mother’s Office are asking” (is asking,) “the unit are still in the fold” (is still in the fold,) the start quote mark is omitted at a story’s beginning, stripped off (stripped of,) Becqurel Reindeer (they are radioactive, so I presume Becquerel,) borne (born,) Hitchens’ (Hitchens’s – which is used later,) jewelery (the USian is jewelry, in British English it’s jewellery,) the total affect (the noun is effect,) goddess’ (goddess’s, which is used 12 lines later!) equilibriums (equilibria,) Deluvian Flood Theory (Diluvian? – which means flood, so is this Flood Flood Theory?) “Hands were shook” (shaken,) a phenomena (phenomena is plural; one of them is a phenomenon,) “It’s the circulating domain of their receptors that are different” (is different,) sunk (sank,) rarified (rarefied,) talk to the them (no “the”,) none of us get (gets,) aureoles (context suggests areolae,) “that whole series were built” (that series was built,) “a great deal of time to attempting” (no need for the “to”,) “The chained aurora borealis flicker and vanish,” (if its one aurora borealis that should be “flickers and vanishes”; otherwise it’s aurorae boreales.) “We sweeped over the dark waves,” (I think that really ought to be “swept”,) hemi sphere (hemisphere,) the Van Oort belt (a confusion of Oort Cloud with Van Allen Belt?) infered (even USian surely has inferred?) borne of parents (born of; definitely born of.)

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2015, 384 p.

 Luna: New Moon cover

Luna has been colonised. Its mineral resources mean vast wealth can be generated, or extracted. But Earth’s Moon has a thousand ways to kill; the slightest misplaced action, the merest moment of slackness make her the harshest of mistresses. And then there are the humans who have made their homes there….

Shoulder-sitting digital familiars connect the inhabitants to the data net. The Four Elementals – air, water, carbon, data – tick away on the chib in everyone’s eye. When the indicators run low the poor or jobless have to sell their piss for credit. Each breath is a hostage; unless you have a contract. Even the rich owe their carbon and water to the Lunar Development Corporation when they die.

Lunar life is stratified. Literally. The rich live in the depths, the poor in the Bairro Alto – with little to shield them from the intense solar radiation impacting the regolith above. Society runs on contracts; there is no criminal law. Courts are there to resolve disputes but in the last resort these can be settled in trial by combat. Life revolves around the Five Dragons, the big corporations whose activities dominate Lunar society. Some are focused on immediate objectives, others play the long game. While there are gritty places on this Luna we don’t see much of them. Most of the plot is concerned with the Corta family which runs the youngest Dragon, Corta Hélio, miners of helium-3 from the Lunar regolith (the resource which keeps the lights on down on Earth,) and their rivalries and friendships with the other Dragons. Set-piece descriptions of such mining and extraction processes seem well researched.

The premises on which McDonald builds his story are followed through to the end. Along the way he reminds us that humans need their darknesses. I particularly appreciated the concept of some of Luna’s inhabitants being affected by the Full Earth. McDonald might have called these individuals terratics but eschewed the term. The interactions and motivations of his characters are always convincing.

Some of Luna’s history is filled in via back-story but I’m not totally sure the logic of this cut-throat future stands close examination. As a metaphor, though, it’s fine. I doubt, however, that the character list at the book’s beginning is entirely necessary; I omitted it and didn’t feel its loss. The appended glossary of words borrowed from Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Yoruba, Spanish, Arabic and Akan – this Luna is a polyglot place – did come in handy at times even if SF fans don’t really need such things. The story-telling is, as ever with McDonald, accomplished.

Luna is apparently the first of a duo of books. While leaving scope for a follow-up it did not seem unfinished.

PS: Did anyone else notice a connection between Boa Vista, Queen of the South, Estádio da Luz and CSK St Ekaterina?

Pedant’s corner:- I read an uncorrected proof copy. I did notice quite a few literals. I assume the proof-read will spot and get rid of the occasional mistypings, missing prepositions or articles, the accidentally repeated words (been been) the sometimes repeated information, any incidental switching of verb for gerund, the periodic disagreements between subject and verb.
The spelling of Prospekt wavered (c sometimes for k) and since there was also a Tereshkova Prospekt, Gargarin Prospekt should surely have read Gagarin. Despite most of the text being in British English (colour, manoeuvre) we unfortunately had ass for arse and math for maths. O2 and CO2 appeared for O2 and CO2, haemotomas (haematomas,) ambiance (ambience,) colloquiums (colloquia,) Marna (Marina,) over spilling (overspilling,) each of us has a differed mechanism for dealing with it (different?)
Congrats, though for “not all … are.”

For Interzone 262

 Occupy Me cover

The latest book from Interzone for me to review arrived a few days ago.

It is Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan.

My thoughts on previous examples of Sullivan’s work can be seen here, here and here.

The review of this one ought to appear in Interzone 262.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Orbit, 2015, 340 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.

 Ancillary Mercy cover

Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai, once an ancillary of the AI spaceship Justice of Torren, the only surviving fragment thereof, starts this third in Leckie’s Imperial Radch sequence effectively in charge of Athoek Station, trying to do the opposite of what her enemy, Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch, would in similar circumstances. Things are complicated here by the arrival of Translator Zeiat from the alien Presger, whose incomprehensions and misunderstandings of human customs provide moments of humour – as does the ancillary Sphene, a remnant of a ship survived from a long ago war with the Radch. What in Ancillary Sword had seemed the apparent sideshow of Athoek Station becomes here the setting for the unfolding of Breq’s wishes as ships under the command of that half of the Lord of the Radch which hates Breq come through the gate from an adjacent system.

As in the previous two Radch books the narrative viewpoint is firmly fixed with Breq. This makes the transition to (recorded) viewpoints of Lieutenants Seivarden and Tisarwat when Breq is injured and cannot go on the final mission herself a piece of authorial legerdemain that seems a little clumsy: but it also highlights how much Leckie’s mode of story-telling, taking in the experiences of all those connected to ship as seen by Breq, had been assimilated (easily) by the reader.

This gives Leckie the opportunity to examine what effects such dissemination of consciousness might have on those who experience it and on what it means to be human, or, indeed, a Significant Being, more generally. Within the book Leckie also addresses the impossibility of endings. Whether this presages further Radch instalments, only time will tell. Breq doubtless has her ardent admirers who would be delighted with more of this universe. The wider conflict to which Breq’s story is a minor component remains unresolved at the end; yet her (its?) actions have the potential to change relations with the Presger.

I must say the emphasis on tea-drinking gets stranger and stranger the more these books progress. Were it not for this (or perhaps because of it? – within the book it is an Imperial/Radch custom – ) I might have idly wondered whether the trilogy may have been a thinly disguised rewriting of the American War of Independence – though the word Radch may hint at a different historical inspiration.

No matter. Leckie can write, has psychological insights and focuses more on personal relations and feelings than the average Space Opera author. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Pedant’s corner:- As in Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, Leckie uses the feminine form of personal pronoun throughout but the utility of this choice seems to be undermined by the one instance where she employs “him”. Like with the two previous books, appended at the rear are 25 pages from a novel by another author entirely.
At the beginning of Ancillary Mercy – no doubt for the benefit of those who haven’t read Justice and Sword – several things were mentioned twice – I submit unnecessarily.
Then we had “Translator Zeiat scoffed ‘She would,’” (it doesn’t seem like a scoff to me,) off of (USian but still awful,) complacence (complacency.)

The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan

Gollancz, 2015, 560 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.

 The Dark Defiles cover

Firstly I must say I am not the intended target for this sort of stuff. I did enjoy and admire Morgan’s earlier novels but they were solidly SF, with no tinge of fantasy. While there are again hints in the text that the setting of The Dark Defiles may be rooted in the real world – albeit unimaginably long ago in the book’s timeline – and machines that seem to be AIs which would make this a fantasy/SF cross, my misgivings about the second in Morgan’s Land Fit for Heroes series (which I reviewed here) are reinforced in this last of the trilogy. Yes, the main characters are rounded and resourceful and the politicking believable but the narrative focuses almost unremittingly on violence. And our hero has magic powers. I also found that the Dark Lords – and the even darker lords in this one – appear too late to convince entirely that they are worthy opponents.

Still, Morgan can undoubtedly write and his world is well-imagined, dense and detailed but this hand, that could have been a strength, is to my mind overplayed. Background is delivered so minutely that it often gets in the way of story, indeed at one point info dumping about some minor characters is actually expressed as a list. Apart from the externals – not only do we have gods to contend with but there are incidental lizard folk to be fought against and also here be dragons (well, one dragon) – like in so many fantasy tales the society against which this is portrayed is mediæval in form. Then again, without this, it is difficult to see how so many sword fights could be fitted in to 500 plus pages.

The book’s structure is both standard and unusual. We start with three viewpoint characters and follow them to the end (whatever that end is for each of them) but their tales bifurcate early as Ringil Eskiath is separated from Archeth Indamaninarmal and Egar Dragonbane; and never become one again. This is in contrast to most narratives and is a brave decision by Morgan. Yet, despite the cover saying “It ends here….” the ending does leave scope for more.

People do seem to relish this sort of thing; but I enjoyed Morgan’s SF better. I hope he returns to it for his next project.

Pedant’s corner:- didn’t use to be (used,) a missing full stop at the end of a line of dialogue, like a herdsmen (herdsman,) hingeing (the normal English spelling of this is hinging, but Morgan has spent part of his life in Scotland where the verb to “hing” means something entirely different hence hingeing would be my preference: hinging is used later though,) careful not apportion (not to apportion,) judgement of those beings (judgement of is for a case, for beings it would be judgement on,) to breath it (breathe,) sprung (sprang – which appears elsewhere,) bid it goodbye (bade it goodbye,) “are going make” (are going to make,) do the math (maths, if you please, x 2) “He’s going pull” (going to pull,) “the Talons of the Sun” (twice this phrase is given a singular verb, surely talons are plural?) gestures him join (to join.) This is a remarkably low strike count of literals for over 500 pages of densely printed text.

Three Days to Never by Tim Powers

Corvus, 2013, 430 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.*

 Three Days to Never cover

This is a surreal tale. A modern urban fantasy/SF crossover (well, 1987; though someone has travelled back in time from 2006) featuring multiple cultural references – both high and low brow – agents of the Israeli Secret Service (one of whom has premonitions,) a group of Egyptian Occultists, the afore-mentioned time travel, a mummified head that is somehow still alive and is kept in a box, ghosts, an astral plane, a blind woman who can see only through the eyes of those close by, a father and daughter connected by a psychic link, and a lost Charlie Chaplin film.

The time machine itself – a contraption which requires you to stand on a gold swastika shape plus place your hands into the prints of Charlie Chaplin’s lost square from Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre in order for it to work – has been kept in their back yard in what the Marrity family call the Kaleidsocope Shed. Importantly, Frank Marrity and his daughter Daphne are descended from Einstein through Frank’s grandmother Lisa (originally Lieserl.) The plot kicks off when she uses the maschinschen to travel sideways in time and this alerts the groups searching for it.

So far, so ordinary. That Powers manages to allow us to make sense of all of it is a sign of the command he has over his material.

*The library had this labelled as a thriller. While it certainly has thriller elements I doubt those who don’t have some familiarity with fantasy or SF will find it a straightforward read. For aficionados it’s good stuff though.

Pedant’s corner:- When paragraphs begin with a piece of dialogue the start quote mark is omitted, one instance of Kaleidosope for Kaleidoscope, sayi (saying?) supercedes (supersedes,) hiterto (hitherto,) intefere (interfere,) a Dahpne for Daphne, “whistling in the wind wing” (????) worse comes to worse, was was (one was would suffice.)

Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett

Corvus, 2015, 481 p.

 Mother of Eden cover

This is Beckett’s sequel to Dark Eden which won the Clarke Award in 2013. The premise was that three people had been marooned on a planet without a sun located somewhere outside the galaxy – the sky is filled with a view of the Milky Way its inhabitants call Starry Swirl – and that novel was set among their descendants. (For my review of Dark Eden see here.)

This book develops the scenario several generations after the events of the previous one and centres on the artefact known as Gela’s ring, the possession of one of the founders which had been lost and was rediscovered in Dark Eden.

We start in the small community of Knee Tree Grounds where decision making is consensual – and where there are no restrictions on sexual partnering. Very soon Starlight Brooking makes a trading voyage with some companions to the much larger community of Veeklehouse where institutions like guards emphasise the descent from the idyllic the wider world has made and which was instigated in Dark Eden. In Veeklehouse she meets Greenstone Johnson, a visitor from across the large sea known as the Worldpool. Their instant attraction is complicated by his status as Headmanson and her incomprehension of the ways of the settlement of New Earth from where he came. She agrees to go to New Earth with him to become his housewoman (a position of sexual exclusivity – for the housewoman.) Only when she arrives does she discover she will be a figure of adoration, the reincarnation of Gela herself, and the wearer of her ring.

Starlight could have settled for a life of luxury and pampering, but New Earth is a harsh and prejudiced industrial society which appals her. Its big people have discovered how to make their own metal from local rocks, exploit both the small people and the indigenous bats and practise a horrific form of capital punishment (and incidentally due to an old feud, plan to recross Worldpool in force one day and take over the whole of Eden.) New Earth’s motto, carved into the rock above its large entrance door, is Become Like Earth. Sadly, it has.

Greenstone is not a natural leader and faces problems even before his father dies and he succeeds as headman. Together with Gela’s Secret Story – passed down from mother to daughter only – these two circumstances combine to determine Starlight’s actions.

This is a book about foundation myths and their perversion, the persistence of such tales, the unreliability of written sources, their susceptibility to mistaken exegesis, and the genesis of cults. One passage late on suggests that Starlight will herself become an object of veneration in Eden’s future.

Like Dark Eden the narrative is carried via multiple viewpoints, through which we get into many people’s heads. The character of Starlight is engaging, developing from naïvety to suspicion – others are as convincing – and the power dynamics of a “primitive” society are well portrayed. Becket’s world is well-imagined – any quibbles about the viability of human life on Eden are easily laid aside in the following of story (even if the possibility of the local bats being intelligent may be adding a layer too many) – but that story shows that humans are humans no matter where they happen to be and in whatever circumstances they find themselves.

Pedant’s corner:- despite this being a British edition it contains US spellings (center, colored.) I assume the publishers simply lifted the US text. Yet “fitted” appeared as a past tense as it would in Britain. “that it must punished (must be punished,) I look round anxiously (all the rest of the verbs in this passage are in past tense, so “looked”,) sunk (sank.)

Interzone Reviews

 The Three-Body Problem cover
 The Dark Forest cover

You may have noticed on my “currently reading” sidebar a few days ago the cover of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. This was the book which only made it onto the final ballot for this year’s Hugo Award for best novel as a result of Puppygate yet won the award – a first for Chinese Science Fiction.

Shortly to appear on that sidebar is the sequel to that novel, The Dark Forest, also for review in Interzone – a combined review over the two books. (I see that cover has the translator’s name as Joel Martinson. In the text it’s spelled Martinsen.)

These are the first two books in a trilogy properly known as Remembrance of Earth’s Past but popularly known in China as The Three-Body Problem.

My copy of Interzone 260 with its review of Gene Wolfe’s A Borrowed Man came through the letter box a week or so ago.

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