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Half a Crown by Jo Walton

Corsair, 2014, 316 p. Returned to a threatened library.

 Half a Crown cover

This follows the narrative template of the two previous books in Walton’s “Small Change” trilogy, Farthing and Ha’penny, set in a fascistic British state arising from an early peace with Germany in what we would call World War 2 but here would be a misnomer. The third person chapters again focus on Peter Carmichael, now head of the Gestapo-like Watch, the female first person voice is here, though, that of his ward, Elvira Royston, whom Carmichael took under his wing after the murder of her father in the line of duty eleven years before. She has been well educated and about to be “presented” to the Queen as a debutante under the sponsorship of the mother of her friend, Betsy Maynard. She nevertheless feels a slight fraud. Indeed at times her cockney accent slips out. All this is well worked into, and used in, the plot by Walton, which involves Elvira’s accidental brush with the fringes of a conspiracy to effect a coup d’état leading to an attempt to discredit and remove Carmichael from his post. He himself has reasons to fear investigation, being the centre of the “Inner Watch” which organises, when it can, the escape of Jews and other innocents to Ireland. Unlike in Farthing and Ha’penny we did get a mention here of Mosleyites and I suspect in her portrayal here of the Duke of Windsor Walton has him bang to rights.

The resolution is well tied-in with the beginning of the trilogy in Farthing but seemed perhaps a little too easily won.

Pedant’s corner:- I noticed a “fitted” but “fit” came up elsewhere as the past tense. England was occasionally used incorrectly in direct speech as interchangeable with Britain (but the characters are all English and would perhaps have done so. It is nevertheless an intensely annoying habit.) Cross fire (it’s usually rendered as crossfire,) “each department had their own exit and entrance” (each department had its own exit and entrance,) mementos (mementoes?) the band were playing (the band was playing,) coup d’etat (coup d’état,) a Turkey carpet (Turkish carpet?) hung (hanged,) Heath Row (Heathrow.)
Addendum to Ha’penny’s pedant’s corner:- Walton’s text in that book said the ha’penny coin had a picture of HMS Victory on its obverse. It was Drake’s ship the Golden Hind.

Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve

Scholastic, 2012, 388 p. Returned to a threatened library.

 Infernal Devices cover

The action in this novel takes place sixteen years on from the events in Predator’s Gold the previous (and second) of Reeve’s YA “Predator Cities” books. Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw have been living in the safety of Anchorage-in-Vineland for all that time. Their teenage daughter, Wren, however, has known no other life and is bored. As a consequence, when one of the burgling “Lost Boys” comes secretly to Anchorage in search of a relic from before the Sixty Minute War which led to the rise of the traction cities she is beguiled into helping him. This results in her abduction. Hester wades in rather heavy-handedly to try to prevent her kidnap but fails. The book follows Wren’s (mis)adventures and her parents’ search for her. Along the way we remake acquaintance with Professor Nimrod Pennyroyal, the anti-tractionist Green Storm and the Stalkers Anna Fang and Shrike.

The book is full of neat touches which may pass its YA readers by. Aeroplanes called Visible Panty Line or JMW Turner Overdrive or Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Machiney? An aviatrix calls to her sidekicks, “Algy? Ginger?” The slave-dealing Shkin corporation is “An Investor in People.” Hester seems more hard-bitten here than she did in the earlier books though it could be she is merely demonstrating she is her father’s daughter. Wren’s naivety can be a bit wearing but she has led a sheltered life. As is usual with YA there is plenty of action but also recognisable characterisation (even if its portrayal can be a bit over the top at times.)

Pedant’s corner:- into t he night (the night,) “I’ll pop the book back in my safe” (on the previous page the speaker had said “It’s in the safe in my office.”) Nabisco Shin (Nabisco Shkin,) casters (castors,) inside of (inside,) a missing end quote. In the publisher’s puff at the end (before extracts from Reeve’s GUIDE TO THE TRACTION ERA):- “The quartet are all available” (the quartet is.) In those extracts:- “with all both the” (no all, I think.)
But… plus points again for the diæresis used in aërobatics and aërodrome.

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell

Solaris, 2013, 341 p, including 16 p of the short story from which the novel originated.

 Ack-Ack Macaque cover

Ack-Ack Macaque is the lead character in a highly successful MMORPG (Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game) where he is a Spitfire pilot in an unending Second World War. He also turns out to be “real”, hooked up to the game, embodied in a brain-enhanced monkey which an AI liberation front group manages to free from its confinement in the labs of the game’s constructor, Céleste Industries, with the help of Prince Merovech, heir to the throne of the United Kingdoms of Britain and France (which countries merged after the invasion of Suez in 1957, later also incorporating Norway – with other Scandinavian countries in a wider association) and incidentally also the son of Her Grace Alyssa Célestine, Duchess of Brittany, head of said Céleste Group. Quite a lot to be going on with then, but the execution is initially marred by some intrusive information dumping (which, to be fair, did settle down.)

I had quite a few reservations about the scenario. This is an altered history, of course, but is it one so far removed from our own that the British monarchy could have regained executive power? A further problem though is that Ack-Ack Macaque is almost a peripheral presence, the main bulk of the narrative focusing on Prince Merovech and journalist Victoria Valois, both of whom have also been subjected to treatment in Céleste’s labs, the former’s being the motor of the plot.

Nevertheless, the whole thing rattles along at a good pace and is filled with incident and intrigue.

But I couldn’t believe a single word of it.

Addendum:- Not so for the short story where Ack-Ack Macaque first appeared (in Interzone’s 212th issue, September 2007) and appended here, which relates what goes wrong when the original anime version of the monkey is made over and exploited for commercial reasons. There is an irony in there somewhere.

Pedant’s corner:- A “time interval later” count of 7. “it was up to her accept and mourn” (to her to accept and mourn,) “‘Could you give me a minute please detective?’” (unless “please detective” is a title – and it isn’t – there should be a comma after please,) akevitt (Norwegian spelling of aquavit/akvavit,) Julie and Frank’s (I know this is common usage but it ought to be Julie’s and Frank’s,) it’s (its,) “and winced and the pain” (at the pain,) “‘For saying you’ll go the funeral’” (go to the funeral,) “he saw Julie’s silhouette stood” (can a silhouette stand? – that “stood” ought to be “standing” anyway – we also had “sat” where seated or sitting is better usage,) could use (the British term is could do with,) irresistable (irresistible,) zipper (zip,) gotten (got,) legally obligated (obliged,) commandoes (commandos?) “I’m the back-up, same as Paul” (the person saying this wouldn’t have known Paul’s back-up had been activated,) skull and crossed-bones (it’s usually skull and crossbones.)

Ha’penny by Jo Walton

Corsair, 2014, 318 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.

 Ha’penny cover

The Farthing Set responsible for the peace between Britain and the Third Reich in 1941 has parlayed the murder of Sir James Thirkie (which kick started Farthing, the first of Walton’s “Small Change” trilogy) into a takeover of the government of the UK.

As in Farthing, first person narration by a female alternates with third person chapters again concentrating on Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard. The woman narrator here is actress Viola Lark, one of the aristocratic Larkin sisters (who are clearly modelled on the Mitfords.) In this respect the failure to mention the British Union of Fascists or Oswald Mosley in Farthing is partly explained. In her acknowledgements Walton says she avoided the use of real names for those with speaking parts in the narrative. (There is one glaring exception to this, but in our real world he was dead by 1949 when this book is set.) In Ha’penny the attraction of fascism for one of the Lark sisters, Celia, has gone so far as for her to have married Himmler but it is another sister, Cressida, the communist one, who draws Viola into a conspiracy to murder Hitler during a visit to the theatre on his trip to Britain.

Ha’penny does not work quite as well as Farthing. Partly this is because the setting has been established and we are working through its ramifications but more importantly it is that the whodunnit element is wholly absent. We know from the first sentence that Viola has been apprehended and the plot motor, the conspiracy, is also revealed early on. Viola’s narration is also not as fresh (though less twee) as was Lucy Eversley’s in the previous book. The insidious creep of authoritarian measures, the poisoning of public attitudes, is well brought out, though. The new Prime Minister says, “‘we don’t want them to be able to say that we’re using these laws to shut people up, especially when we are.’” It was particularly salutary to read this so soon after the House of Commons debate on bombing Syria and the prior comments about those against it being “terrorist sympathisers”. The web of complicity woven around Carmichael is drawn tighter, however, as he is offered the oversight of a new law enforcement agency, The Watch, an analogue of the Gestapo.

Pedant’s corner:- Viola’s Britishness is questioned when she reveals she was born in Dublin (in 1917). Since Ireland was part of the UK then that would make her British no matter her ancestry. There were no opening quotation marks when a piece of dialogue began a chapter. “‘There’s a Joe Lyons automat on the corner of Charing Cross Road.’” (A Lyon’s Corner House I’d have accepted. I don’t think automats made it to Britain till the 1960s.*) Station wagon (OK the book has the USian text but Viola is supposed to be an English aristocrat, she’d have written “estate car”.) Was it necessary to transliterate a Spaniard’s pronunciation of the city as Barthelona? National Service. (In our time-line, yes. Would they have kept it on in this one?) “The report on the bomb and bodies were waiting for him” (the report was waiting,) Boedicea (it was generally spelled Boadicea in those days [Boudica or Boudicca now]) Canada is referred to as part of the Commonwealth (just scrapes by for 1949,) “‘He’s an ASDIC man. Radar you know.’” (ASDIC was a sonic technique, radar uses radio waves.) “There were a series” (there was a series,) the German Embassy in London is described as if “made over by some mad devotee of monumental Bauhaus” (the Nazis shut Bauhaus down,) the French for lark is rendered alouetta instead of alouette, vol-au-vents again (I still think the plural is vols-aux-vents,) come-out (the entry of a debutante to society was known as a coming out. Walton perhaps used “come-out” to avoid any inference of being gay by the modern reader.) The lower case sergeant is used for the police rank while Inspector is capitalised; they both ought to be so, “the Home Secretary’s backup were violating police tradition” (the backup was,) Inspector Jacobson from Hampstead seems to know what The Watch is but Carmichael had only just found out himself.
*Of course, it’s an altered history, maybe that’s part of Walton’s scenario.

Farthing by Jo Walton

Corsair, 2014, 318 p. Returned to a threatened library.

 Farthing cover

An altered history country house mystery, Farthing is not the cosy murder story you might associate with the time in which it is set. Farthing, here, is not only the smallest denomination coin of pre-decimal British currency but also the country house where the murder has taken place, whose name has also been given to a “Set” of like-minded politicians and wielders of influence. The murder victim was Sir James Thirkie – bringer back of “Peace with Honour” after Hess’s mission led to Churchill’s overthrow and talks brought about an accommodation with Germany in 1941. Thirkie’s body was left with a dagger in its chest, affixed through a yellow star, suggesting the involvement of Jewish activists.

The narrative is carried by the first person of Lucy Kahn, Eversley as was, daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley and wife of David, a Jew to whom Lady Eversley has never become reconciled, taking alternate chapters with the third person viewpoint of the investigating officer, Inspector Peter Anthony Carmichael of Scotland Yard. Lucy Kahn’s voice begins as irritating but seems well captured. It may well be a reasonable reflection of how daughters of the upper crust spoke in the 1940s.

Tightly and intricately plotted, the book is also deeply embedded in its parallel world; the crime(s) committed in it arising out of its particular circumstances. Normally it is the duty of the detective in a crime novel to put the world to rights. (Spoiler.) In this case, due directly to Walton’s setting and purposes, that isn’t possible.

To a British reader it did seem strange that a book set in such a time and place could go by without a single mention of Oswald Mosley or the British Union of Fascists (though Walton’s conspirators echo them clearly enough.) There is also a simplification of the mechanics and ramifications of a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons and no feel at all for the process by which leaders of the Conservative Party “emerged” in those times. I suspect both of these caveats would have been of little or no interest, or perhaps relevance, to Walton’s mainly USian readers. (The book is printed with the USian text – a minor irritant.) The degree of prejudice towards Jews prevalent by all levels of society in Farthing is perhaps a little at odds with the history of the Britain of our world (though such prejudice manifestly did exist) but in this respect, and substituting Muslims for Jews, the book has perhaps even more resonance now than it did when it was first published in 2006. A slide towards greater authoritarianism is all too evident in the UK at the moment and the phrase “if you’re innocent you’ve nothing to fear” is always chilling.

Another irritant was that characters refer to the country as England which is in one sense fair enough; most of them are English and would almost certainly have done so unthinkingly, but the new Prime Minister in his first PM’s speech to the House of Commons refers by that name to the whole of the country he has just taken over. I doubt even a crypto-fascist politician would have made such an error.

Nevertheless, I’ve already taken the second in Walton’s so-called Small Change trilogy, Ha’penny, out of a local library.

Pedant’s corner:- “But in the Battle of Britain, when the Heinkels were thick on his tail, I dived and strafed them to draw them off” (Heinkels were bombers and incapable of such a feat, Messerschmitts is more like it; strafing is done from air to ground, not air to air,) halftime (in a concert? That would be “the interval”,) “and all he died possessed but ten thousand pounds” (I get the gist but the phrase is missing something.) I wondered, would an English aristocrat name a horse Valley Forge? The spelling license was used for the noun (licence,) “which puts as back” (us back,) “and now he’d employed full time” (he’s employed,) taxicabs (cabs, or taxis, but not taxicabs,) no “?” at the end of a question, “I saw it during the war, looking at the way society interlocks at the bottom, talking to the other pilots (most RAF pilots in the Battle of Britain were not from the bottom of society) and either Lucy as narrator or Walton as author seems to be under the impression that the moment of conception occurs simultaneously with climax.

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.

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