Latest from Interzone

 The Mountains of Parnassus cover

Interzone 268 has arrived. Amongst the fiction and the reviewers/contributors lists of best reads of 2016 there are of course book reviews. Mine was of Invisible Planets: 13 visions of the future from China, edited and translated by Ken Liu.

Also arrived from the same source is an unusual object, an SF novel by a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Czesław Miłosz. He is best known for his poetry and this was his only SF novel. My review is due for Interzone 269.

Abernethy

Abernethy is a village in Perth and Kinross. It contains one of only two intact Pictish towers left in Scotland. (The other is in Brechin.)

Tower from street:-

Abernethy  Round Tower 1

A view from the tower. Graveyard just below:-

Part of Abernethy From Tower

Tower from graveyard:-

Abernethy  Round Tower

War Memorial from Tower:-

Abernethy  War Memorial

War Memorial from ground level:-

Abernethy War Memorial

Original inscription carved into plinth:-

Abernethy War Memorial WW 1.

War memorial names. Great War names above, 1939-45 below:-

War Memorial Names

On Their Shoulders by C N Barclay

British Generalship in the lean years 1939-1942. Faber and Faber, 1964, 184 p.

On Their Shoulders cover

The book is primarily a defence of the British generals in the early years of World War 2 who, “out-numbered, out-gunned, out-tanked and inadequately supported from the air,” nevertheless did not suffer terminal defeat and thereby bought time for sufficient numbers of men, training and decent equipment to be brought to bear. (Time too for allies belatedly to alleviate the burden.)

Barclay’s preface is at pains to point out that, “with the exception of the Great War, the British Army was a small colonial force, unsuitable for modern war. Both World Wars were begun with negligible land forces which had to hold the fort until expansion had taken place. After Dunkirk, alone, defeats were inevitable, not losing the war was about all that could be done,” and include the amazing statistic that, “The Boer War of 1899-1902 cost us more in men and material resources than the struggle against Napoleon nearly one hundred years before.” Perhaps more contentiously he states that, “the Staff College provided us in World War 2 with the best team of generals this country has ever known.” A particular handicap was that British generals’ experience of armoured warfare when the war began was theoretical as none had directed armoured troops as those forces barely exisedt. Nevertheless an armoured foray against the German advance near Arras did give the enemy cause for concern.

Barclay devotes one chapter each to Gort, Wavell, O’Connor, Wilson, Auchinleck, Cunningham, Percival and Hutton. Gort made the correct decision to retreat to Dunkirk and thereby saved not only most of the BEF, including most of the generals who would go on to victory in the latter years of the war, but also a substantial number of French troops, Wavell oversaw the victories against the Italians in East and North Africa, O’Connor directed that North African campaign and might have gone on to Tripoli if not denuded of troops for the forlorn Greek adventure but was then unluckily captured by a German patrol, Wilson helped in the planning for O’Connor’s victory and was then himself plunged into the debacle that was Greece before taking successful command of the Iraq, Syria and Persia sector, Auchinleck at least stopped Rommel’s first foray into Egypt but as an Indian Army man with no experience of armoured warfare was a strange choice for the role given to him, Cunningham swept the Italians from East Africa before being (briefly and almost certainly mistakenly) appointed to command in the Western Desert, Percival made no difference at all to the defence of Malaya and Singapore and Hutton had the impossible job of trying to save Rangoon.

While Norway, the Dunkirk campaign, the Western Desert, Greece, Hong Kong, Malaya and Burma saw defeats they were in the main retrievable. The single utter catastrophe was the fall of Malaya and Singapore (the biggest ever defeat in British military history.) This could be put down to political failure, local attitudes and dispositional necessities but General Percival did not do much to ginger things up when he arrived. It was also the only British campaign for hundreds of years in which naval support was totally absent. This was of course due to the sinkings of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse by the Japanese air force. In amongst these setbacks there were notable successes, the utter destruction of numerically much larger Italian forces in East Africa and North Africa (“two of the most resounding military victories in history”,) the elimination of the Vichy French threat in Syria and the flawed success of Operation Crusader in the Western Desert.

Barclay cites lack of high quality training as a principal contributor to defeat. Better trained, more mobile forces, even if much smaller in number, can nevertheless achieve victory. Against the Italians the British troops (whom I would submit were also better motivated) were the better trained. In Malaya, not so, even if the Japanese had in effect only the one tactic. The Germans were, of course, trained superbly.

The book is unfortunately lacking in depth. In addition, due to the overlapping jurisdictions and swapping of roles there is frequent repetition of information. We were told about ABDA at least four times.

According to Barclay the war was disastrous in its consequences, “allowing Communism into the heart of Central Europe.” In addition the colonies were lost, Britain’s prestige and influence declined. Yet the consequences of a German and Japanese victory would have been even more regrettable. And the generals discussed did prevent that.

Barclay’s somewhat Victorian/Edwardian world-view, exemplified by the Communism remark above, is emphasised by his use of the word “savages” to describe some of the native peoples against whom the British Army was used in colonial times. Fifty years after the book’s publication reading that expression came as a shock.

Pedant’s corner:- he showed mark enthusiasm (marked,) india (India,) seemed to damp enthusiasm (dampen,) and other who visited (others,) the British public have been given the impression (has been given,) Field- Marshall (Field-Marshal,) Alemein (Alamein,) non-commital (non-committal,) Iraqui (may have been the spelling in 1964; now it is Iraqi,) based on New Delhi (in, surely?) after he arrive (arrived,) Caldron Battle (Cauldron is more usual,) there were a few (was,) for an Army office his early background (officer,) military unsound (militarily,) Japanes (Japanese,) “It would be foolish to deny that there may not have been neglect in the training of the Army in Malaya” (the exact opposite is meant; “It would be foolish to deny that there may have been neglect in the training of the Army in Malaya.” It is obvious from Barclay’s previous comments that the training was very poor,) “if other councils had prevailed” (counsels,) it maybe that (may be,) “that is is no part” (that it is,) two lines are transposed on page 160, by much small bodies (such small bodies,) to a less degree (lesser degree is more usual,) acquite (acquit,) salving the bulk of the Burma Army (saving makes more sense,) miscaste (miscast,) “the programmes for units was similarly laid down” (either

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Gollancz, 2016, 272 p. Reviewed for Interzone 262, Jan-Feb 2016.

 Occupy Me cover

While it’s always good to review a novel featuring those exotic, for SF, locations of Edinburgh and Queensferry – North or South sadly not specified, but likely North as there’s a crossing of the Forth (Road) Bridge interrupted by a shooting incident – and which comes to its climax on an oil rig in the North Sea, Occupy Me starts even more interestingly with a second person narration, raising the possibility of something along the lines of Keith Roberts’s Molly Zero; but the tonal qualities are quite different and in any case, before this there is an appendix to instructions for something called a waveform launcher and we soon move on. The second person concerned is the viewpoint of Dr Kisi Sorle, who hears whispers from the past and whose body has occasionally been taken over by another being which is possibly an AI, coming to himself again to find he is in possession of an unusual briefcase. Dr Sorle has been hired by Austen Stevens, once of Pace Industries but now of Invest in Futures Foundation, to palliate his last days. Stevens in turn has been building up funds in the expectation that they will be used to prevent him dying. After two chapters there is an interpolated advert for flight attendants. The ad was placed by the Resistance, an organisation which we later find tries to improve humanity by having its agents commit small acts of kindness. Said flight attendant and Resistance operative Pearl Jones narrates in the first person and, fittingly, has wings which in her Earthly form she has to hide. Pearl has access to higher dimensions, HD, which comes in handy when she recognises a passenger as the person who stole part of her and in a struggle she, him, and his briefcase tear through the aeroplane’s fuselage and plummet to the sea. Just as she is about to rescue him the briefcase opens and a pterosaur (a quetzalcoatlus) emerges. Pearl’s backstory from when she became aware of herself in a bullet riddled refrigerator in Dubowski’s scrap yard, where she hides out, makes small repairs and leaves the fixed objects, like a cat to its owner, for the caretaker to find, is told to us in flashbacks as she tries to come to terms with who – or what – she is. In these it is revealed she loves to push against things with her muscles. The narration alternates irregularly between these two viewpoints until much later in the book when there are third person chapters featuring an Edinburgh vet called Alison.

The briefcase. Yes. While normal in appearance, battered looking even, its weight alters from time to time and it resists Pearl’s attempts to open it despite it belonging to her. The AI controlling Dr Sorle has locked it to his body pattern. It contains a Post-event Adjacent Reality Launcher, capable not only of time travel back to the Cretaceous but to Pearl’s creators. She is not a real person, has been built by bird mothers, scavengers of waveforms, who call themselves waveform artists. “We make new beings from old. You are a recycled piece of junk from a dying civilisation. We can store materials in HD but the Immanence left us behind.”

The Immanence? “The Immanence is an intelligence far beyond any of us. It rose out of a hypercivilisation and was a great ordering in the universe that came about because entropy favours higher order.” Sullivan seems keen to stress this point; we are told elsewhere that “the funny thing about entropy is that it loves order.”

The Immanence, however, is entirely incidental to the surface plot which is concerned with much more mundane considerations to do with Austen Stevens’s funds, which will somehow allow the Resistance, “Love’s what the Resistance is really made of, internally,” to come into being. A woman called Bethany and her husband Liam have embezzled these funds so threatening the Resistance’s existence. But the Resistance is already in operation. This not being a time paradox novel that last fact does tend to undermine a tad any sense of jeopardy surrounding it.

No matter. Things roll along; fellow Resistance operative Marquita tells Pearl, “Don’t accept the axe of either/or; there’s always a third way,” Alison treats not only Bethany’s cat (poisoned by eating part of a giant Cretaceous frog) but also the quetzalcoatlus, on Salisbury Crags no less, we discover Pearl’s wing feathers contain a strange oil and the feathers are a repository of stored information, “a sophisticated HD structure” which is also in the trees back in the Cretaceous. And Pearl’s pushing is useful in the final scene.

Occupy Me takes a while to get there though and goes round several houses on the way.

The following remarks did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- I read an uncorrected proof copy; the usual caveats therefore apply to these. [line space] appeared quite often as did underlinings, Stevens’ (Stevens’s,) Two Phones’ (Two Phones’s,) shrunk (shrank,) fusilage (fuselage – which does appear later,) miniscule (minuscule,) there receipts (there are receipts,) “made ‘poorly’ made sound like Pearly” (remove the second “made”,) “because it we had another lead” (no “it”,) “switched on large screen” (the large screen,) one instance of qzetzalcoatlus, the Haymarket (it’s just Haymarket, no “the”,) Abernathy biscuit (Abernethy,) “like a waves leave on the sand” (like waves leave,) “had set put out a hit on me” (had put out,) veterinarian (this was from Sorle’s viewpoint though, he is Ghanaian,) at one point Alison says “airplane” (that would be aeroplane, then,) as loathe as I may feel (loth,) crude oil probably dating to the late Cretaceous (oil does not “date from” the Cretaceous; its starting materials may do so but the oil that comes from them takes millions of years to form,) Queens Street (Queen Street,) strapped to the Kelly (I can’t find a dictionary definition of Kelly as a noun,) all chapter titles were in bold, save one.

Friday on my Mind 144: I Am a Cathedral

Everyone knows the big hit performed by Peter Sarstedt (who died earlier this week) Where Do You Go To (My Lovely). Many people think he was a one-hit wonder – even his Wikipedia entry says that about him despite mentioning he had two other hits (though I must confess I don’t remember Take Off Your Clothes – probably because it was a B-side) but the follow-up single Frozen Orange Juice did get to no. 10 in the UK.

His previous single to the big one wasn’t a hit though arguably it deserved to be.

Peter Sarstedt: I Am a Cathedral

Peter Eardley Sarstedt; 10/12/1941 – 8/1/ 2017. So it goes.

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 20: North West Circus Place

Two bank buildings – one a former bank – in North West Circus Place, Edinburgh, near Stockbridge:-

Frontage, Number 15, North West Circus Place:-

Former Bank, Near Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Detail:-

Detail, Former Bank, N West Circus Place, Edinburgh

Royal Bank of Scotland:-

RBS, N West Circus Place, Edinburgh

Front View:-

Front View, RBS, N West Circus Place, Edinburgh

Good cartouche above doorway and still deco style on the door itself:-

Detail, N West Circus Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 19: Shandwick Place

The Co-operative Food om Shandwick Place, Edinburgh:-

Art Deco, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh 1

Upper levels. Rule of three in windows on either side of central portion:-

Shandwick Place, Edinburgh, Art Deco Shop

Detail:-

Detail, Co-op, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Art Deco Heritage 18: Fraser’s, Princes Street

On corner of Princes Street and Hope Street.

From Shandwick Place:-

Frasers, Edinburgh

Note clock on corner. Rule of three on windows above:-

Frasers, Edinburgh 2

From Princes Street. gain rule of three on windows:-

Frasers, Edinburgh from Princes Street

Newhailes

Newhailes is a stately home near Musselburgh in East Lothian. It’s now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

Front view:-

Newhailes

Rear view:-

Newhailes

There was a tree there festooned with a mushroom-type growth, in several places:-

Fungus at Newhailes

Newhailes Fungus

Fungus at Newhailes

Walking the grounds we came upon this memorial to the Battle of Dettingen. There is a Latin inscription in memory of John, 2nd Earl of Stair, who fought as 2nd in command to George II at the Battle of Dettingen:-

Dettingen Memorial, Newhailes 6

The battle took place in the War of the Austrian Succession and was the last one in which a British Monarch led his troops.

Reverse view:-

Newhailes, Dettingen Memorial, Reverse View

English inscription after a renewal in 1907:-

Dettinhgen Memorial, Newhailes, Inscription

The Great Game by Lavie Tidhar

In “The Bookman Histories”, Angry Robot, 2012, 303 p. Originally published 2012.

 The Great Game cover
 The Bookman Histories cover

This is the third in Tidhar’s Bookman Histories wherein Les Lézards were roused from their Caribbean island by Vespucci’s trip to the New World and subsequently became monarchs of Great Britain. See my reviews here and here. It is again to Tidhar’s credit that familiarity with either of the two previous books is not necessary to follow events in this one as it stands alone quite easily.

It’s all a very readable romp, a steampunk/altered history mash-up but Tidhar again goes over the top with his references. One of the joys of altered history is seeing familiar names in situations for which they are not best known but he really does take it too far with this one – among the characters from literature we have Mycroft Holmes (and his brother, retired to the village of St Mary Mead [where a busybody twitches her curtains] not to mention Irene Adler) we have a hunchback named Q who lives in Notre Dame cathedral, a scientist called Moreau exiled to a Pacific island, Van Helsing, a Miss Havisham, a thiefmaster called Fagin and his pickpocket protégé Oliver Twist, a Doctor Victor Frankenstein, Harry Flashman. And at the novel’s climax tripods begin to devastate – okay it wasn’t London – Paris. Real life intruders into the story include the Mechanical Turk, Karl May, Harry Houdini, Bram Stoker, Jack London, Charles Babbage and Friedrich Alfred Krupp.. Of a Dickens’ book in three volumes an unnamed character observes, “You should never write a third volume.” Perhaps Tidhar was commenting on his own situation as in his afterword he says publisher Angry Robot asked him for two more novels after accepting The Bookman.

Hokum, but entertaining, a plot summary would be fatuous, as well as sounding mad.

A quibble. The first lizard-king was Henry VII, followed by another Henry, an Edward, and later the great Gloriana. How come then they ended up in the timeline of the novel with a lizard Queen Victoria? Our Queen Victoria was descended primarily from Hanoverians, not Tudors. Why would the naming of lizard-monarchs follow that of the real world?

Pedant’s corner:- In Tidhar’s introduction to the omnibus volume; “I wanted to tribute the wuxia tropes” (pay tribute to.) Elsewhere; “eThe last one” (typo; The,) Market Blandings’ (Market Blandings’s,) “who often said a ‘Honesty is a gun’” (said a ‘Honesty’? surely “said ‘Honesty is a gun.’”) “There are a number” (There is a number,) not to be found on the British Isles (“in the British Isles” is the more usual formulation,) “that only now he was beginning to identify” (that only now was he beginning to identify is more common syntax,) automatons (many occurrences – it’s an acceptable spelling but stick to it; there were also at least four instances of automata,) snuck (a London street boy of the time would have said sneaked,) her team were outnumbered (her team was outnumbered,) mortician (USian, we British say undertaker,) “Something to scare children by” (“to scare children with” makes more sense.) “They sat and sipped their drink,” (drinks, I think. They weren’t sharing the one cup,) then the one in Europe (than the one in Europe,) “one… being…. who had made it their life’s ambition” (a singular being; so, its life’s ambition,) Paris’ (Paris’s,) had showed up (shown up,) “undistinguished from his cover story” (indistinguishable from his cover story,) “like that persistent feel that she was being followed” (okay, the author uses feeling two lines later and maybe wanted to avoid complete repetition but it’s still awkward.) “But no one was going to act until the airship had landed, safely. Weren’t they?” (should be “Were they?”) as for the recipe (as to,) “in a rather quite threatening manner” (choose from ‘in rather a’, ‘in quite a’ or ’in a quite’ not ‘a rather quite’,) sat (sitting, or seated,) “running down a narrow mountain pass that led upwards” (???) “the sound of motors sounded” (use another verb?) Vlad epe ? (remove gap before the question mark,) “moving, now that he knew to look for it, moving in a single direction” (second “moving” not necessary,) a vast antennae (antenna,) taking no mind (taking no heed; or, paying no mind,) “Van Helsing, rode shotgun” (no comma required,) all manners of (all manner of,) had indeed deducted the observer’s arrival (deduced,) Mr Spoons’ (Mr Spoons’s,) no full stop at the end of chapter forty-six, a simulacra (a simulacrum,) “he’d brought his own people in” (he’s brought.) “There was a string of miniature model cars strung together” (use a different verb, coupled?) “paid her no mind” (“no heed” sounds more natural,) there is much work to do (lots of work,) Victoria Rex (Victoria Regina.)

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