Latest Review

The Great Chain of Unbeing cover

Interzone has sent me Andrew Crumey’s latest novel, The Great Chain of Unbeing, for review. Review to appear in Interzone 275, May-Jun 2018.

Not the most prepossessing of covers, but I shan’t judge it on that.

Crumey has been one of my favourite authors since I first read Mobius Dick in 2010. Not one of his books has so far proved a disappointment. Let’s hope The Great Chain of Unbeing lives up to the standard he has set for himself.

TV Fame at Last.

Sons are in the big time. On a poster for TV games:-

Sons on TV poster

Crannog Interior

More from the reconstructed crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay.

The animal pen. Yes they kept their livestock inside:-

Animal Pen, Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay

Bed (elevated):-

Bed, Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay

Drying crops:-

Drying crops, Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay


Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay, Looking Out

Part of interior, Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay

Entrance from inside:-

Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay, Looking Out

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamish Hamilton, 2017, 233 p. Another of the novels on this year’s BSFA Award shortlist.

 Exit West cover

In an unnamed Middle-Eastern city on the threshold of becoming embroiled in an insurrection, Saeed and Nadia meet while attending evening class. Despite wearing a black robe that covers her from toe to neck she tells him, “I don’t pray,” and on their first coffee together answers his question about the reason for her attire by saying, “So men don’t fuck with me.” As their relationship develops mysterious black doors are meanwhile beginning to appear at various locations on Earth, allowing people to move from place to place without traversing the ground, air, or sea between.

The relationship between Seed and Nadia becomes closer but when given the opportunity Saeed says he doesn’t want to have sex till they are married. Nadia’s response is pithy. To have Nadia as the less repressed of the two (she was independent enough to live in her own flat and had taken a previous lover,) to be the unreligious one of the pair, is a neat touch by Hamid. History has its own way with them, though, as the insurgents take over the city and life becomes repressive and dangerous. On Saeed’s mother’s death Nadia moves into his family’s apartment. They keep a fake marriage certificate in case of inquiries.

The militants are only ever in the background – though they do give Hamid the chance to convey the flavour of their impact – but they provide the impulse for our lovers to take a chance on escaping via a black door. The doors are essentially a fantasy element. How they work is never gone into, they just appear and do their, effectively magical, work.

Nadia and Saeed first alight on the Greek island of Mykonos, confined to a refugee camp, then later another door transports them to a plush but otherwise unoccupied London flat. Soon the flat fills up with more migrants through the door, unrest at the incomers builds up in the UK and the neighbourhood becomes ghettoised and a microcosm of the wider immigrant experience.

It is perhaps a flaw that Hamid doesn’t quite fully explore this strange new world where borders have been for all practical purposes abolished – and I suspect he is far too sanguine about the political accommodation the British state makes with the migrants, one which, in any case Saeed and Nadia eschew by taking another door to the US. Hamid’s main interest lies in portraying the migrant experience through the arc of Nadia and Saeed’s love affair, the strains their uncertain existence puts on the relationship between. Hamid also does a lot of telling rather than showing, but that is not uncommon among writers more celebrated than he is.

Hamid makes the point that migration is a trauma for the individual, “When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind,” and that, “We are all children who lose our parents ….. and we too will be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity.” Then again, “Everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.” (This is why nostalgia, a yearning for a lost golden age, is such a pernicious emotion.)

Despite Exit West’s nomination for the BSFA Award, nothing in Hamid’s treatment betokens Science Fiction. This is really a mainstream novel (albeit a good mainstream novel) with an SF idea bolted on. The black doors are not necessary for the plot to work and the implications of easier transit between countries are rather skated over.

All three nominees I’ve read so far are lacking in some regards. I really don’t know which novel to place first; only the one I won’t.

Pedant’s corner:- legs akimbo (legs cannot be placed on hips; at least not on the same body’s hips,) fit (fitted.)

Brechi City 1-3 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Glebe Park, 17/3/18

When was the last time we scored three goals? (Last season.)

When was the last time we scored three goals in one half? (I can’t remember.)

This was pretty much over at half-time. We’d scored three without really threatening their goal and lost one to a well-struck free-kick.

We had most of the ball early doors but hadn’t made their keeper make a save. Then we had a flurry of three corners in a row. The two from Andy Stirling were cleared out for more corners. The one from Froxy was headed (by Andy Dowie?) back across goal to an unmarked Calum Gallagher who only had to let the ball bounce off him but headered it anyway.

Then Sam Wardrop was fouled in the act of crossing the ball but not given the award. He tried to carry on but only lasted two more minutes. I hope he only went off as a precaution ahead of next week.

Another Froxy corner was then headed goalwards by Andy Dowie and deflected beyond the keeper by a defender. Two up inside half an hour. Unheard of this season.

They pulled one back with that free-kick. It was well placed but I thought Scott Gallacher was a bit too far across his goal at the set-up.

Things could have been tricky if they had get their heads up but after another Froxy corner not well cleared the ball was squared back across goal by Craig Barr and squirmed about the goal line before Danny Handling poked it home.

The second half was a bit of a non-event with Brechin having most of the ball. They were awarded a penalty. That could have made for a nervy last twenty minutes but it was screwed past the post to make their recent sub Isaac Layne, who had been wanting to take it, not at all a happy bunny.

We had two further chances with both Calum Gallagher and Danny Handling through on the keeper but their shots were too straight.

Three welcome points though.

Interzone 274 Has Arrived

Interzone 274 cover
Paris Adrift cover

After its brief hiatus, Interzone is back, this time with issue 274.

Among the usual selection of goodies – including no less than seven stories – this issue contains my review of Paris Adrift by E J Swift.


Tickets are now available for the Challenge (Irn Bru) Cup Final.

In That Number

Some have even been purchased!

Something Changed 7: 7 Seconds

This was the first (the only?) song with lyrics sung in the language of Wolof to be a hit in the UK. It possibly helped that Neneh Cherry’s contribution to it was sung in English. N’Dour sings in three language in total as he also threw rench into the mix.

Youssou N’Dour featuring Neneh Cherry: 7 Seconds

The Scottish Crannog Centre

When we visited here we thought it would be a short visit but they put on a talk describing neolithic life and giving demonstrations of various sorts including making fire so we ended up taking nearly two hours. Not the least of the interesting titbits was that apparently midges don’t come out over the water. Those neolithic folk weren’t daft!

Reconstructed crannog entrance:-

Reconstructed Crannog Entrance, Loch Tay

Crannog walkway, right:-

Crannog Walkway, Loch Tay

Crannog walkway, left:-

Walkway on Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay

Reconstructed crannog from lochside:-

Crannog on Loch Tay

It’s surprisingly spacious inside. Interior panorama:-

Interior Panorama, Loch Tay Reconstructed Crannog


Hearth, Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay

Roof centre:-

Roof Centre, Reconstructed Crannog, Loch Tay

Stephen Hawking

This is starting to feel like 2016 over again. Now it’s Stephen Hawking who has died.

He was one of the few people in the world who needed no introduction. Certainly the most famous scentist.

His A Brief History of Time brought cosmology to wide audience in accessible terms (though it was nothing like as difficult to follow as some have represented it. Or do I just think that as someone who trained in Science? I believe after I read it I characterised it as “Physics for Dingbats”. [I was perhaps less temperate in those days.])

A diagnosis of motor neurone disease would have devastated most but Hawking obviously had a fierce resolve and determination to make the best of what he had to deal with. That he managed to survive to the age of 76 is a testament to his indominability.

Plus he took Jeremy Hunt to task over the government’s treatment of the NHS and its selective attitude to evidence.

It is not just the scientific world that will miss him.

Stephen William Hawking: 8/1/1942 – 14/3/2018. So it goes.

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