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The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Harvill Secker, 2015, 303 p.

 The Gracekeepers cover

The sea has risen; the only land left is islands. Between the island dwellers (landlockers) and seafarers (damplings) there is antipathy, with the latter only allowed to set foot on land if they carry bells on their limbs. There are two main story strands. One concerns Callanish, a Gracekeeper. An aquatic equivalent of an undertaker, she lives in exile tending to graces, caged birds which are used in the ritual when a dampling has died and is “Rested”. Callanish’s preoccupation is to keep her webbed hands and feet out of sight of anyone as in this world such deformations can be a death sentence.

The other strand takes place mainly aboard a travelling – seaborne – circus where the young adult North has a bear as a companion. Their act is the circus’s star attraction. The ringmaster, Red Gold, owns and rules the circus. The main ship, Excalibur, trails the acts’ coracles behind it in a long chain. Excalibur’s sail doubles as a Big Top and its deck as circus ring. The main tension here is that Red Gold wants North and his son Ainsel to marry and live in a house on land. North hates the land and is moreover secretly pregnant – by a sea-swimmer she thinks of by names she’d only heard in stories “selkie, nereid, mermaid”. Red Gold’s young(ish) wife, Avalon, though, wants the house for herself.

Narration duties are carried by several of the characters’ viewpoints, Callanish, her mother (once), North, Ainsel, Avalon and a couple of the circus members, though only Callanish and North have multiple sections.

Despite North’s companion there is no evidence elsewhere in the book of bears being extant in this world. Neither does it seem plausible that any could exist on the scraps of land which are described. Food is scarce enough for the members of the circus. How much more so for a bear? North’s bear may be the last of its kind, of course, but surely we ought to have been told that. There is, too, a mention of ice and icebergs in the north. If the sea has risen so much ought not all such ice to have melted?

In the Avalon narration we find that on meeting Red Gold she lighted on that name because his boat was called Excalibur. No other reference to Arthurian legend is made, it seems of no importance to the people of this world; so what is the point of this? It can only be there as a nudge to the reader.

One of the clowns’ acts is to dress as old-fashioned bankers and throw paper money into the crowd. (we have previously been told paper is an exceedingly scarce commodity.) It seems the landlockers blame greed for causing the inundation of their precious land. This again seems too much of a reference to early twenty-first century concerns. Beyond the usual sorts of payments involving coinage there are no other references to financial transactions in the book so this note seemed off-key to me. For the world to have degenerated so far would have taken time; time enough for bankers’ excesses to have slid from prominence.

The back cover gives us a blurb from Ursula Le Guin, ‘A highly original fantasy, set in a haunting sea-world both familiar and mysterious.’ Maybe it was the bear that swung it for her. (Le Guin’s Earthsea does of course have a lot of water.)

Aspects of The Gracekeepers struck me too as familiar, particularly the circus (compare Larry Niven’s Destiny’s Road, and slightly less so Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven which involved a travelling – non-circus – entertainment in a post-apocalyptic world,) Red Gold’s seigniory, the fascinated antagonism of landlockers for damplings, the repressive revivalist religious sect; but then again it’s hard to construct completely novel scenarios.

Pedant’s corner:- “all that was clear were the fine lines” (was the fine lines,) the violins reached a crescendo (a crescendo rises to a climax; it is a process, not a culmination,) “the crowd held their breath” (its breath,) “forced her mouth into smile” (into a smile.) “Water poured through the gap, knocking Melia and Whitby on to their backs in the freezing water,” (Water… water; a bit clumsy. “The sea poured through the gap”?) “she did not know if any of those things were Whitby” (was Whitby,) “selkie, nereid, mermaids” (okay, North is using generic terms but nereids and mermaids are both female, so couldn’t have made her pregnant) “opened its maw” (a maw is a stomach; how can a stomach open?) “wanted to avoid to performing” (to avoid performing,) “might all have up and left” (upped and left,) “her hate burned so strong” (strongly, that would be.)
Credit for “lain” though.

BSFA Award Winners for 2015

The awards were announced on Saturday night at Mancunicon, this year’s Eastercon. See some pictures of the presentations here.

The fiction categories featured a double win for Aliette de Bodard.

Best Novel:
Aliette de Bodard, The House of Shattered Wings

Best Short Story:

Aliette de Bodard, Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight

Best Non-Fiction:
Adam Roberts, Rave and Let Die: The SF and Fantasy of 2014

Best Artwork:-
Jim Burns, cover of Pelquin’s Comet.

Rosie Oliver’s reflections are here.

Like her I felt that the novel award winner lay too far to the fantasy side of the SF/Fantasy divide to be considered for an SF award. Others obviously saw things differently.

Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

Gollancz, 2015, 512p.

Glorious Angels cover

The last of this year’s BSFA Award nominees for best novel.

The city of Glimshard is ruled by an Empress, a young Empress relatively new to the post. She is telepathically linked to other Empresses some of whom rule other cities. She can also influence the minds of those nearby her. Off to the north a war is being fought against creatures known as Karoo which have both animal and human characteristics and are referred to as bioplastic. The arrival in Glimshard of a Karoo known as Tzaban has piqued the interest of locals. Despite his warning that unless the Empire retreats from its course its forces will inevitably be defeated by the Karoo he is involved in training troops there.

The narrative viewpoint shifts between various characters but the tale is mainly carried by Tralane Huntingore who, despite references to witchlight, mage-bolts etc, is to all intents and purposes a scientist, with a laboratory in her house. We first meet her searching out crystals which have properties suitable for use in recovered machines of various sorts, among them a mysterious pair of goggles and a gun which diffuses entropy. Under the Empress’s orders Tralane is accompanied by Tzaban through a portal to the site of an artefact containing – or being – a prize everyone in power on this world bar the Karoo seems to seek to control.

The text feels oddly balanced, though. Towards the beginning Robson expends a lot of time in describing Glimshard society; there is in particular a scene illustrating an aspect of its sexual mores which doesn’t really illustrate character nor advance the plot. It may be that by that point in the book the norms in Glimshard have not been sufficiently established. Yet it is a strength that Robson eschews any egregious information dumping. Though it is important to this world that women/females are the powers behind it that fact is almost incidental to the narrative and never overtly stressed except for Karoo queens being all powerful with no male able to withstand their influence. The latter parts of the book, though, almost feel like a different novel entirely as plot gallops in and sweeps all before it. Something which may be an invention by Robson (I don’t recall reading of anything similar before, but then my reading of fantasy lags way behind that of SF) is that Karoo assimilate knowledge by eating each other – or humans.

The “magic” is treated matter of factly, in effect as if it were technology: apart from the influencing of minds by the Empresses and the Karoo’s knowledge-gaining attributes it may in fact be technology in our terms. The goggles show a certain star in the sky to be a manufactured object. This points to a science-fictional reading of the text (as does the revelation of the nature of the artefact the fighting was about.) Both suggest a sequel may be forthcoming.

Glorious Angels is good enough to be worthwhile reading; but an award contender? Not for me, I’m afraid.

Pedant’s corner:- The first section uses plural pronouns to describe a certain individual. Granted Robson wishes the person’s identity to be unknown until the viewpoint character finds out who it is – but as I have just demonstrated, what is wrong with using the gender neutral it or its in this context? (It would perhaps have been too far for Robson’s intentions for this scene for her to (re)invent a universal non gender-specific pronoun such as “hir” or “hem”.) Parillus’ (Parillus’s, x 2) “she badly didn’t want to lose the goggles,” (I know what Robson means but the construction is awkward,) betted (bet; several instances,) a missing full stop, (more than once,) Isabeu (Isabeau,) ass (x 2; though arse is used elsewhere,) “one who is making the most of themselves” (himself,) Empress’ (numerous instances; though once we had Empress’s,) ‘“He’s an asshole”’ (arsehole is so much more expressive,) “she laid back” (lay back,) Zarazin (Zharazin,) “where she had laid” (lain,) are are, (one are is enough,) “the Sorority” is treated as a plural noun rather than a singular one, “how many far better woman had surely been here before her” (women,) “either side of the processional carpets were filled with people” (both sides were – or, either side was – filled,) “recognised a lot of faces from the University crowd seated or talking together” (okay, faces is a synecdoche here but the sentence reads very oddly,) dais’ (dais’s,) denoument (denouement,) had known and laid in wait (lain in wait,) “was not without precedence” (precedent,) “This was the minimum cruise height for the landscape, any less ran the risk of damaging structures, and more was profligate, a waste of energy” (optimum cruise height, then,) “his intent distaste of the sound” (intense distaste of?) “she couldn’t hold it in longer” (any longer,) “None were unable to stand against them” (the sense was the complete opposite, ie “none were able to stand against them”,) lay up (lie up,) “where the science team were still working” (the team was,) harness’ (harness’s,) sprung (sprang.)

BSFA Awards 2015 Booklet

BSFA Awards 2015 cover

First, congratulations to the BSFA for getting this out in time in time for it to be read before the presentation of the awards at Eastercon. Easter is remarkably early this year. About as early as it can possibly be. (See previous post.)
And not only does the booklet contain the listed short stories but also the non-fiction nominees (or extracts therefrom) and as usual the nominated artworks.

As to the short fiction:-

Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight by Aliette de Bodard.1
An interstellar Empire has crop-growing space stations and long-lived mindships. Parents’ memories are usually downloaded to their children but those of crop researcher Professor Duy Uyen are allocated to her research group’s next leader. Her daughter, who became a mindship, will nevertheless remember her forever.

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell.2
A supermarket chain wants to build an outlet in a town where the borders with the other worlds are weak. This would result in the borders being breached. The witches of the title (not all of whom are witches) are three women who band together to preserve the status quo (in all its aspects.)

No Rez by Jeff Noon.3
Unlike in its original publication (in Interzone 260) the text here is not laid out transversely (perhaps robbing the story of some of its visual impact.) The tale is nevertheless rendered in a variety of typefaces. In its world, pixels are the be-all and end-all. Our narrator stumbles across a dead body with a box that renders everything in high rez. Heavies then come after him to get the box back.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor.4
Binti is the first of her Himba kind to be invited to Oomza Uni, the first to leave Earth. Her tribal habit was to cover themselves in otjize, a mixture of plant extract and red clay. On the trip the space ship is invaded by Meduse with whom the otherwise dominant humans, the Khoush, are at war. Only Binti’s edna – a general name for a piece of old tech whose use no-one remembers – protects her. Otijze turns out to be useful to the Meduse, as does Binti herself.

Ride the Blue Horse by Gareth L Powell.5
In a post-apocalypse US two men scavenging amongst a huge collection of shipping containers for sellable goodies from the old days uncover a 1960s Ford Mustang. The freedom of the road beckons.

In the non-fiction6 Nina Allan called for the possibility of a woman Doctor (Who) not to be dismissed and for that programme to be less self-referential, the book of Letters to Tiptree acknowledges the legacy of Alice Sheldon (aka James Tiptree Jr,) James McCalmont worries about the future of impartial reviewing, Adam Roberts surveys the SF and Fantasy of 2014 (and skewers Puppygate for its baleful effect on the Hugo Awards,) while Jeff VanderMeer tells of his trials while writing his three novels that were published in one year.

Pedant’s corner:-
1 “had fallen out before, on more trivial things” (over more trivial things,) “treason to much as think this” (to as much as think this,) “the only thing in existence were the laboratory and the living quarters” (“and” – therefore the only things in existence were,) designed to accept an unbalance (imbalance,) it’s mother’s hands that lie her down into the cradle” (lay her down [in?] the cradle,) ‘“When I hear you were back into service”’ (in service.)
2 This is set in Gloucestershire so the need to use the USianism “gotten” totally escapes me. Also “I could have used” for “I could have done with”. I know it was originally published on a US website but that’s no excuse. After all Cornell does have one character say “summat” as in summat terrible. Sprung (sprang,) focussed (focused,) “instead that she setting up the shop” (was setting up the shop,) “someone she vaguely new” (knew.)
3 “She always get the best streams” (gets,) “too many people, to many viewpoints, all on me” (context suggests “too many viewpoints”.)
4 “too old for anyone to know it functions” (its functions,) CO2 (CO2,) sunk (sank, x 3,) conducter (conductor,) ‘“The only thing I have killed are small animals”’ (things, then,) “all I could see were a tangle of undulating tentacles and undulating domes” (all I could see was…,) “Or the cool gasses” (gases) “Okwu promised would not harm my flesh even though I could not breathe it” (breathe them,) miniscule (minuscule,) museum specimen of such prestige are highly prized” (specimens,) ojtize (otjize,) clear is used to mean colourless rather than transparent.
5 Written in USian. “I caught a whiff of carbon monoxide.” (Carbon monoxide is odourless I’m afraid. A whiff of partially burnt petrol, maybe.) Plus: if the narrator and his companion don’t know how to drive a car (and nor has anybody for decades) how does he know which is first (gear) and what a clutch is?
6 There were typos etc (noun/verb disagreements in particular) in most of the non-fiction but I haven’t bothered enumerating them.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Gollancz, 2015, 408 p. One of this year’s BSFA Award nominees for best novel.

 The House of Shattered Wings cover

The Fallen are impossible. Their bones are far too lacking in density to bear their bodies’ weights, no backbone could possibly support the wings necessary for flight. (Those wings, useless after falling, are then removed. Only the Fallen, Morningstar, founder of House Silverspires, ever wore wings on Earth; but his were artificial and a species of weaponry.) But the Fallen have magic. Their breath and their rendered body parts can be rendered into magic residues. Each individual Fallen has no idea of the reason for having been expelled from heaven, knowing only that no return is possible.

Paris is dominated by Houses, whose heads may be Fallen or human. The Houses have been in uneasy balance since the aftermath of the Great War between them, which the text has beginning in 1914, evoking resonances with our own world, but this is the only date given in the book and the Houses’ war clearly has no parallel with a lengthy stalemate. The balance is upset by the falling of an angel (that is the only word to describe these beings) into the remains of Notre Dame Cathedral where gang members are scavenging. Their attempts to extract magic residues from her body are interrupted by Selene, after Morningstar’s disappearance head of House Silverspires by default, who names the angel Isabelle and takes her into Silverspires as a member and one of the gang, Philippe, an Annamese exile from the Court of the Jade Emperor, as a prisoner of the House. But during the scavenging they had come upon an artefact which contains dark magic intended to undo House Silverspires.

Religion exists in this Paris and appears to be familiarly Christian (and Roman Catholic at that: well, in France it would be) but how this squares with the existence in the human realm of Fallen from Heaven de Bodard keeps from us. Similarly the Fallen have motivations and desires which do not seem different, if at all, to those of humans (whether inside the story or outwith it in our own world.) We spend a lot of early time with Philippe, who is immortal (an unexplained circumstance but seemingly something to do with his Annamese inheritance) but also inhabit the views of Selene, Isabelle and of Silverspires’s alchemist, Madeleine. Crucially though de Bodard hasn’t done enough to engage our sympathies with House Silverspires and its threatened demise in an act of revenge by a former House member, Nightingale, who was betrayed by Morningstar to appease Asmodeus, head of House Hawthorn. It also wasn’t clear from the text whence Nightingale derives the power to do all this. The eventual resolution of Silverspires’s immediate troubles lies within the logic of the world though. There is, too, a running motif about possible resurrection of personalities which is left unresolved, perhaps for future volumes.

The House of Shattered Wings is not one for me, I’m afraid. I’m puzzled as to why people would consider it among the year’s best. It’s more fantasy than SF anyway.

Pedant’s corner:- written in USian, “boats to Asia almost inexistent” (in this sort of context it’s usually “non-existent”,) “his hand loosely wrapped around his handle” (its handle,) maw (de Bodard uses this to mean mouth; it actually means stomach,) ‘“You didn’t use to be”’ (didn’t used to; which appears seven lines below!) Silverspires’ (Silverpires’s, several instances,) ‘“to leave him into my care”’ (in my care,) the sentence, “The fact that she couldn’t have looked more innocent if she’d tried – and God knew Claire was no innocent,” is missing a main clause, “that no-one and nothing was coming to save him” (the “and” means there ought really to be a plural verb here,) “but nothing would leap into the broken mess of his hands – but there was only” (two “buts”?) octopi (the English plural is octopuses, the Greek is octopodes,) “set them at each other’s throat” (there’s only one throat between them?) “Closer, though, it didn’t quite look as impressive” (it didn’t look quite as impressive,) “Apart from that, it looked like a usual plant” (it looked like a normal plant,) ‘“You’re going to chastise me for lacking to do my duty”’ (failing to do my duty; or, being lacking in my duty,) ‘“You knew the rules and flaunted them”’ (that would be flouted, flaunting is something else entirely,) “the shop” (Les Halles) “ had been nuked in the war, and an upstart House had settled in the wreckage, making grandiloquent claims of restoring the art deco building to its former glory,” (nuked? And it can be restored? Any nuke would have destroyed the whole of Paris – and beyond – never mind Les Halles,) overlaid (overlain,) twinging (I had to think about this a second or so before I thought “twingeing”,) smidgeon (smidgen/smidgin.)

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

Hodder & Stoughton, 2015, 239 p. ISBN 9781473617940

 The Book of Phoenix cover

Phoenix is an ABO, an accelerated biological organism, a speciMen. Only two years old, she appears to be forty. Not only that but she is a weapon, forged in LifeGen’s Tower 7; she glows and heats up, destroying all around her. But she rises from the ashes to live again; and grows wings. Later she learns how to slip through time. The only two men she has loved are dead at the hands of her creators. The novel is essentially the story of how she exacts her revenge on those who made her and other speciMen. There is slightly more to it than this though. The tale, a prequel to Who Fears Death, a book I’ve not yet read, is bookended by sections describing how Phoenix’s story was first of all found and, secondly, parlayed into something else, the myth that I assume Who Fears Death is built around.

It did feel to me though to be more of a fantasy than a work of SF.

Pedant’s corner:- rung (rang,) “soothed my skin to no end” (‘to no end’ means without effect; ‘no end’, in the sense of ‘greatly’, was what was intended,) the phenomena (the context suggested phenomenon,) to not get too close (not to get,) sunk (sank; numerous instances – though sank did appear once.) ‘My light shined’ (shone; there were countless instances of ‘shined’ used in this way but only one ‘shone’,) sprung (sprang,) Ok (OK; or Okay [or okay in the middle of a sentence,]) round and about (round about,) albatross’ (albatross’s,) publically (publicly,) to not age (not to age; there were other counts of ‘to not’,) outside of (outside x3,) miniscule (minuscule,) manipulating and flying’ through (an apostrofly has done its work in there, http://www.theguardian.com/comment/story/0,,801364,00.html) ‘saw me as many Arabs saw African slaves over millennium’ (millennia? – or the millennium?) ‘They could monitor control … of who got to read the files’ (monitor control? of? Monitor or control – minus the ‘of’ would surely suffice,) off of (off; just off,) Henrietta Lacks’ (Lacks’s,) plus more than a handful of instances of “’time interval’ later”.

Interzone 261

Nov-Dec 2015

Interzone 261 cover

Five Conversations with my Daughter (Who Travels in Time)1 by Malcolm Devlin. The title pretty much sums this up. The narrator’s daughter travels back in time – on only five occasions – to talk to him when her body in his time is asleep.
We Might be Sims2 by Rich Larson. One of a group of three convicts forced to make a trial run to Europa thinks they may be in a simulation.
Heartsick3 by Greg Kurzawa. Martin has his heart, dying for seventeen years since the drowning of his daughter, removed.
Florida Miracles by Julie C Day. Inside, Esta hears the voice of Mrs Henry. The day comes when Mrs Henry wants out.
Scienceville4 by Gary Gibson. In his basement Joel Kincaird has constructed a map of Scienceville, the town he’d invented as a teenage boy but after an exhibition in which he’d displayed some of his drawings he gets emails from people who claim to have lived there.
Laika by Ken Altabe. The (USian) narrator’s great uncle Dimitri – a real Russian – is dying and asks him to look after his dog Laika whom he claims to be that Laika, the first living creature in space.

1 summersaults (somersaults)
2 snuck (sneaked; I know it was written in USian but still.)
3 miniscule (minuscule), plus written in USian so we had he felt obligated rather than he felt obliged.
4 Despite Gibson being Glaswegian this is written (at least in part) in USian so we have recess for interval, couple hours for couple of hours, ‘getting on what, four years?’ for ‘getting on for what, four years?’ (He lives in Taipei now though (and his protagonist lives in New York.) Ikea (surely it’s IKEA?)

BSFA Awards Lists

The BSFA has just announced the short list for this year’s awards (ie for works published in 2015.)

See this link for the full lists.

As far as the fiction is concerned the final nominees are

Best Novel:-

*Dave Hutchinson: Europe at Midnight, Solaris

*Chris Beckett: Mother of Eden, Corvus

Aliette de Bodard: The House of Shattered Wings, Gollancz

*Ian McDonald: Luna: New Moon, Gollancz

Justina Robson: Glorious Angels, Gollancz

Best Short Story:-

Aliette de Bodard: Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight, Clarkesworld 100

Paul Cornell: Witches of Lychford, Tor.com

*Jeff Noon: No Rez, Interzone 260

Nnedi Okorafor, Binti, Tor.com

Gareth L. Powell: Ride the Blue Horse, Matter

Of those, I have read the ones asterisked. That’s three out of the five novels and one of the five shorts. I look forward to receiving the usual booklet containing the short stories.

Irregularity. Edited by Jared Shurin.

Jurassic London, 2014, 303 p. Reviewed for Interzone 256, Jan-Feb 2015.

 Irregularity cover

Irregularity is an anthology of short stories inspired by the history of Science from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries (the back cover invokes the Age of Reason) and intended to coincide with an exhibition, Ships, Clocks and Stars, The Quest for Longitude, at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

To emphasise the “olde” feel the book is printed in a reconstruction of a seventeenth century typeface – though we are spared that italic-f-shape once used for the letter “s”. It has an unusual dedication, “To failure,” plus five internal illustrations adapted from paintings in the Museum’s collection.

The Prologue, Irregularity by Nick Harkaway, which sets the tone, has a woman bequeathed a library in which she finds a book which bears a cover described as similar (to all intents and purposes identical) to the one we are reading, not only relating her life story up to that point but also seeming to tell her future.
In the Afterword, Richard Dunn and Sophie Waring broadly define Science as the search for nature’s laws in order to codify them and ask what happens when things don’t fit. (Answering that last question is actually the most important scientific endeavour.) Irregularity’s contents are about just such attempts to understand the world.

As a coda, positioned after the afterword and which could easily be missed by a less than careful reader, an “email” to the editor comments on the impossibility of a book that loops back on itself.
The authors have interpreted their remit widely, the stories ranging from Science Fiction through Fantasy to Horror. Some could fall under the rubric of steampunk or alternative history. The literary antecedents being what they are it is perhaps not surprising that the majority lean towards the form of journal or diary extracts and epistolary accounts.

And so we have the inevitable pastiche of Samuel Pepys, M Suddain’s The Darkness, set in a steampunk 17th century with radio, telemessages and air defence antenna arrays, where the French are experimenting with Darke Materials, Restoration London has Tunnelcars and Skycars and a Black Fire of nothingness has begun to eat the city.

Of course, encountering well-known names is one of the pleasures of an anthology like this and there are plenty more to conjure with. Two for the price of one in Adam Roberts’s The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle, a piece of Robertsian playfulness in which Boyle has had access to modern physics (even discoursing with Brian May, whom Boyle says Newton resembles) and wishes to preserve the more human cosmogony which Newton’s work will displace. Chock full of allusion – including an extended riff on the “operatic” section of Bohemian Rhapsody – this story might just possibly be too knowing for its own good. Charles Darwin appears in Claire North’s The Voyage of the Basset where we follow him on his second sea voyage, utilising his knowledge of the lycaenidae to ensure nothing can mar the glory of Queen Victoria’s coronation. Ada Lovelace helps produce steam-driven animatronic dinosaurs in Simon Guerrier’s An Experiment in the Formulae of Thought, while Fairchild’s Folly by Tiffani Angus muses on the possible classification of love within a taxonomy via the epistolary relationship between Carl Linnaeus and Thomas Fairchild, who crossed a sweet william with a carnation to produce a sterile plant dubbed Fairchild’s mule. In Kim Curran’s A Woman out of Time unnamed creatures relate how they prevented Émilie du Chatelet from disseminating modern Physics too early. A Game Proposition by Rose Biggin has four women get together once every month to play a game which decides the fate of ships, incidentally giving William Dampier the knowledge to compile his atlas of the trade winds.

The most chilling tale is perhaps Roger Luckhurst’s Circulation, wherein a book-keeper is sent out from London to the island of San Domingue to investigate irregularities in the returns from the plantations there and comes upon the secrets of circulation as discovered by “the wizard Sangatte”.

Elsewhere; in Linnaean era Stockholm a young girl has dreams of the future, inspired by spiders; a maker of maritime clocks, in competition with Harrison for the Longitude prize, uses a variety of gruesome fluids to fine tune his escapement; a taxonomist travels to Southern Africa to seek out unusual beasts and finds the egg of a creature variously called gumma, gauma, gomerah, ghimmra, sjeemera; a found manuscript story with not one, but two introductions, suggests a reason for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral after London’s Great Fire on a realigned axis; an artist and his apprentice, commissioned to depict an anatomy lesson, witness the subject’s heart beating after death.

The stories work well in their own terms, but in totality are rather relentlessly “olde worlde”.

The following comments did not appear in the review:-
In my edition one of the stories was not in the order given on the Contents page.
Span count 1, sunk 1, as you no doubt you anticipated (one “you” is enough,) off of (x 2,) rolled a dice (a die,) court-marshalled (court-martialled,), the committee force me to seethe (forced,) at prices that seems almost scandalous (seemed,) her voice is a echo (an echo,) baster gang (?) a missing “it” (x 2,) two references to “three years” since the Great Fire of London (in diary entries dated 1667,) now used now (one “now” is enough,) can secret a substance (secrete,) they toppled the lids of those wooden prisons and relased their cargo (released,) I might find pick my way back through the canes back to the house (no find?) in sight of one of another (one “of” is enough,) walleyed with lust (wall-eyed,) inside of (inside,) to humour and old man (an old man.)

Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz, 2015, 600 p.

 Poseidon’s Wake cover

Poseidon’s Wake is the third book in Reynolds’s Poseidon’s Children series, my reviews of the first two of which, Blue Remembered Earth and On the Steel Breeze, can be found by following the links. By the time of this novel the enhanced elephants to which Goma Akinya has devoted her life on Crucible, the planet of the sun 61-Virginis round which humans first encountered the enigmatic machines known as Watchkeepers and where is sited the still mysterious construction the Mandala, left by the M-builders, are losing their intelligence to genetic drift. Things are stirred up however when a message is received from the direction of the star Gliese-163 hitherto thought not to have been visited by humans. The message contains only two words, “Send Ndege.” Ndege is Goma’s mother and was the instrument by which Crucible’s greatest disaster, the sudden loss of the habitat Zanzibar girdling the planet with a ring of its remains, occurred when Ndege managed to activate the Mandala. Despite Crucible’s relative poverty an interstellar ship is prepared but Ndege is thought too old to withstand the rigours of such a journey and Goma goes in her place.

Meanwhile on Mars, Kanu Akinya, like Ndege a child of one the Chiku Akinyas from On the Steel Breeze, suffers extremely severe damage in a terrorist incident. The machines of the Evolvarium – to which he had been an ambassador – manage to revive him though, but while doing so insert into his consciousness one of their own, an intelligence named Swift. Under Swift’s influence he deviously procures a lift to Europa on a ship belonging to his ex-wife Nissa Mbaye. From there he retrieves his own interstellar ship and sets off for Gliese-163.

The narrative follows Goma and Kanu and their various companions in alternate chapters till very near the end of the book. Goma experiences troubles en route to Gliese, Kanu less so but things only really motor up when we get to that system which contains a huge waterworld, Poseidon, with strange wheel-like objects protruding from its ocean up into space. Poseidon moreover is guarded by lots of moons, getting too near which provokes them to “examine” intruders and induce in them a phenomenon (felt as “the Terror”) as a result of its revelation of knowledge of the end of the universe. These guardians do not allow the Watchkeepers anywhere near Poseidon but only creatures of a certain degree of consciousness. The signal which brought them all to the system had had nothing to do with Poseidon though. It was sent by Eunice Akinya, progenitor of the Akinya clan, not now the artilect we met in previous books but restored to human form by the Watchkeepers. Also in orbit in the system is part of Zanzibar the habitat it was thought Ndege had caused to be destroyed. This (large) remnant of Zanzibar is run by Dakota, an enhanced elephant now at the level of human intelligence or beyond, who fell out with Eunice and banished her – along with six elephants loyal to her – to Orison, another planet in the system.

This set-up takes some while to put in place but even once we get to Poseidon the pay-off there isn’t as great as a three book sequence perhaps requires. Reynolds has though left ample scope for further exploration of his scenario.

Further note: compare the cover of this book to the previous two in the sequence.

Blue Remembered Earth cover
 Poseidon’s Wake cover

 On the Steel Breeze cover

That is seriously odd. When I first saw Poseidon’s Wake’s cover I thought Reynolds had published a novel not in the sequence. I know that the paperback covers are now in broadly similar form but for owners of all three in hardback it will make their shelves look askew.

Pedant’s corner:- The inside cover blurb has the message to Crucible which kicks things off reading as “Send Nedgi.”
Despite the speed of light being an absolute barrier the habitat Zanzibar was transported seventy light years with the people (and elephants) on board feeling only a few days at most had passed “in their frame of reference.” Surely even at only a fraction under the speed of light they would experience the interval as being much longer than this? I must confess, though, the intricacies of time dilation effects are beyond me.
Otherwise:- with offset with disquiet (was offset,) ‘I feel obligated to point out’ (I feel obliged to point out,) they might yet make it our alive (out,) the new generation of engines were faster (the new generation was faster,) before any of them were allowed (was allowed,) the link between his name and artist’s (and the artist’s,) epicentre (centre,) rolled over into his belly (onto,) ‘what his surname?’ (what’s his surname?) inside the orbit of the moons (orbits,) ‘Have you told spoken to her about it?’ (no “told” needed,) ‘with disarming speed – and an equally disarming lack of concern for their own safety – the figure appeared to descend the crag in a series of perilous backward hops’ (the figure; therefore “its” own safety,) ‘we might have wait’ (to wait) Nhemedjo (Nhamedjo,) ‘as to not matter’ (as not to matter,) rigor (rigour,) appraised (apprised,) ‘that we still recovering (we are still recovering,) had brought some valuable time (bought,) forsee (foresee,) a skull-faced person clasping their hands to the bony bulb of their head (her/his hands, her/his head,) ‘into it deepest secrets (its,) ‘when we returned from Poseidon (return,) it might signal a change of heart on Dakota’s behalf (on Dakota’s part,) ‘I’d be glad if weren’t going deeper now’ (if we weren’t,) rancor (rancour,) waiting the deliverance (awaiting the deliverance,) a century and half (a century and a half.)

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