BSFA Awards Nominees for this Year

This year’s short list has been announced.

Best Novel:-

Dave Hutchinson – Europe at Dawn

Yoon Ha Lee – Revenant Gun

Emma Newman – Before Mars

Gareth L Powell – Embers of War

Tade Thompson – Rosewater

I’ve not yet read any of these, I’m afraid.

Best Shorter Fiction:-

Nina Allan – The Gift of Angels: an Introduction

Malcolm Devlin – The Purpose of the Dodo is to be Extinct

Hal Duncan – The Land of Somewhere Safe

Ian McDonald – Time Was

Martha Wells – Exit Strategy

Liz Williams – Phosphorus

Marian Womack – Kingfisher

The Purpose of the Dodo is to be Extinct appeared in Interzone 275 (I reviewed that issue here) and I read Time Was in September.

Best Non-Fiction:-

Nina Allan – Time Pieces column 2018 articles

Ruth EJ Booth – Noise and Sparks column 2018 articles

Liz Bourke – Sleeps With Monsters column 2018 articles

Aliette de Bodard – On motherhood and erasure: people-shaped holes, hollow characters and the illusion of impossible adventures

Adam Roberts – Publishing the Science Fiction Canon: The Case of Scientific Romance

Of these I have of course read Nina Allan’s “Time Pieces” from Interzone and (some of) Ruth EJ Booth’s “Noise and Sparks” columns in Shoreline of Infinity.

I’m assuming the usual BSFA Booklet will be forthcoming giving me a chance to catch up on the shorter fiction, non-fiction and artwork. First I’ll need to get to tracking down the novels…..

Memorable Weekend

I had a wonderful weekend, thank you for asking.

My eldest son tied the knot. (Literally; it was a part of the ceremony.) He and his now wife tailored things very much to their own preferences.

Like his younger brother’s nuptials nearly three years ago now – blimey, though things in the wider world haven’t improved any in the interim and they looked bad enough back then – there was beer involved.

Not that the piss-up was in a brewery this time, rather it was in an old farmyard. But beer there was. Made by the happy couple’s own fair hands.

Beer bottle

Very nice stuff it was too. And there was some left over. I took two bottles home which will need to be drunk before it goes off….

And the mighty Sons of the Rock won at Stranraer, moving from bottom to third bottom and leapfrogging our hosts in the process.

Our first win anywhere since early December and our first away since August. Not to mention going against our truly abysmal record at Stranraer as a whole.

This is one of those results which might rekindle hope. I’ll merely temper that with the observation that the two teams below us both have a game in hand on us with the result that one of them would go above us whatever the result of that game if it were to take place right now. So in effect we’re ninth and by no means out of the relegation woods.

And there’s a tough run of fixtures coming up against teams in the top five.

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Penguin, 2005, 296 p

The Jane Austen Book Club cover

This book does what it says on the tin. Six people are brought together by co-ordinator Jocelyn to read the novels of Jane Austen and meet – or not depending on circumstances (a hospitalisation for example) – to discuss them, one each per month.

The novel therefore consists of six chapters, one per month but they are more about the characters’ lives than any book discussions. We are also granted a prologue and an epilogue. Six pages devoted to synopses of Austen’s novels follow the epilogue and these give in turn to 25 pages of responses to Austen’s work – 2 pages of comments by her family and friends, the rest by critics, writers and literary figures – all accompanied by 61 bibliographical Notes. (Then we have 3 pages of those naff “Questions for discussion” sometimes appended to modern books. But I suppose that is what book groups do.)

There are some parallels between the lives of the group’s members and incidents in Austen’s novels, Jocelyn’s attempts at match-making notable among them, but they are really just grace notes.

In effect, what Fowler has done here is conceived a way to collect six short novellas – or six longish short stories – under the umbrella of a novel. Yes, there is some character development – Jocelyn’s initial dismissal of only male group member Grigg’s enthusiasm for Science Fiction (“She didn’t actually have to read science fiction to know what she thought of it. She’d seen Star Wars”) overcome by his introduction to her of the works of Ursula Le Guin being a case in point.

The book is clearly targetted at readers familiar with Austen’s œuvre as there is frequent mention of incidents/dilemmas/characters from the books plus an update of her most famous aphorism in the form of “‘Everyone knows,’ Prudie said, ‘that a rich man is eventually going to want a new wife,’” but even those unfamiliar with the works will find it readable enough. I somehow doubt, though, that any aficionados will come away from this enthusing about it. It’s not a patch on We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves or even Sarah Canary.

Pedant’s corner:- Whenever a section starts with a piece of dialogue the opening quotation mark is missing (this is one of those publishing habits with which I disagree,) teepees – also teepeed (tepees – tepeed,) “the lay of the land” (it’s “lie” of the land,) “playing the bagpipe” (bagpipes,) the occasional missed comma before a quote, L.A. at the end of a sentence not followed by the full stop. In the Responses: “there would be more genuine rejoicing at the discovery of a complete new novel by Jane Austen than any other literary discovery, short of a new major play by Shakespeare, that one could imagine” (than one could imagine.)

Ultima Thule Update

According to Astronomy Picture of the Day for 11/2/19 the asteroid Ultima Thule is not two spheres stuck together as it appeared from the angle at which the New Horizons spacecraft approached it but judging from the way stars reappeared from behind it more like a pancake stuck to a walnut, as represented in the graphic below.

Friday on my Mind 176: Ciao Baby

A piece of typical mid-60s pop. Never a hit (though apparently it still sold 10,000 copies in the UK) but one that nevertheless stuck in the memory.

The Montanas: Ciao Baby

The version below I’d never heard until I researched this post. It was a hit for Lynne Randell in Australia. I think I prefer its faster pace.

Lynne Randell: Ciao Baby

After the Saucers Landed by Douglas Lain

night shade books, 2015, 240 p

 After the Saucers Landed cover

As the title suggests this book is set in a time after aliens have come to Earth. Things, however, are not as dedicated Ufologists would have wished. They came down in a mundane manner – exactly as expected, setting down on the White House lawn as if they were an incarnation of Klaatu, the alien from The Day the Earth Stood Still. (That was also the name of the band which first recorded the song Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, which is referenced in the text.) The time these aliens landed though was not in the future but in the 1990s – making this an Altered History – but this allows Lain to saturate the book with cultural references from then and the immediately preceding decades. The aliens, called Pleidiens, do not seem to be concerned with conquest but wander around in sequined jumpsuits, hovering their disc-shaped “saucers” over the streets of the US (no wider perspective of their impact on the world is afforded to the reader) offering redemption of a wishy-washy sort. There is some discussion of a phenomenon called Missing Time and of time travel to a second before things happen but this is never developed and the aliens are more like an absence in the book rather than a driving force. This may be the point, though. New dispensations, what might once have been wonders, tend to become accepted relatively quickly and soon settle down to normality. Still, bits of this reminded me vaguely – very vaguely – of Philip K Dick’s mainstream fiction.

The novel’s main protagonist is Brian Johnson, once an author of UFO books, who encounters an alien capable of morphing into – in effect becoming – people, specifically Johnson’s wife Virginia (though Johnson is able to perceive slight differences. (Others are also impersonated in like fashion.) The Pleidien, Asket, wants Johnson to investigate the aliens and write another UFO book. However, there is very little resembling a plot here. Lain presents us with a metafictional construct, frequently addressing the reader and discussing events to come later in a matter of fact way.

What meat there is in this may be contained in the revelation vouchsafed to Johnson by the chief Pliedien, Ralph Reality, “The Pleidien doctrine was simple but absurd. The universe was imaginary….. your head was imaginary too.”

Pedant’s corner:- Pleides, Pleidien (Is this a misreading of Pleiades? [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleiades] Therefore Pleidean?) loud speakers (loudspeakers,) “when a man in a sequined jumpsuit steps comes around the corner” (either “steps” or “comes”, not both,) “and then zips away toward our solar system. The saucer zips toward a three dimensional rendering of our solar system” (I suspect there’s been a revision there and the original text has not been removed from it.) “For Flint this was this difference that mattered.” (Either, “For Flint it was this difference that mattered,” or, “For Flint this difference mattered,”) “as the light from street lamps and neon signs illuminate the back seat” (illuminates,) “lets it fall from their” (from there,) “because her parents forbid it” (forbade it.) “None of the locals were very interested” (none was interested.) “It more of a modernist sculpture hanging over us” (It’s more.) “What my wives imagined was that that they” (only one “that” needed,) “how they ended up climbing onto our kitchen table” (the text implies “how we ended up climbing” as a better word choice.) “This time I don’t stay anything” (This time I don’t say anything,) Charles’ (Charles’s.) “These things weren’t distinct but one.” (?????) shined (shone,) “squiggles and gestures that Patricia knew was something like a language” (were something like a language.) “Back in in 1957.” (only one “in” required.) “The agents pull up a plastic stool for me and then pushes down on my shoulders” (either “the agent” or “push”,) a missing comma at the end of a piece of direct speech in a continuing sentence, cotiliion (cotillion,) “The Rascals’ “Groovin’” (when “Groovin’” was released they were The Young Rascals,) a regress (a regression?) “as she lays back” (lies back,) “her explanations, her story, drifts away” (drift away,) Pledien (Pleidien,) kids game (kids’.)

St Drostan’s, Markinch

Markinch is the nearest small town to Son of the Rock Cottage. It was once the capital of Fife where in mediaeval times justice was administered. Its most prominent landmark is St Drostan’s Church whose tower dates back to the 12th century.

St Drostan’s in the snow:-

St Drostan's in the snow

St Drostan’s from Glass Street:-

Markinch Kirk

Cruden Bay War Memorial

On the way back to the main road from Slains Castle we passed Cruden Bay War Memorial, an archway and gates, with the arch inscribed “Memory”. The name tablets are surmounted by 1914 and 1918 respectively. (I’ve since found that the World War 2 memorial is on the other side of the gates but I didn’t go through them into the kirkyard.)

Cruden Bay War Memorial

Names on tablet surmounted by 1914:-

Cruden Bay War Memorial Names

Names on tablet surmounted by 1918:-

Name son Cruden Bay War Memorial

Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley

William Morrow, 2005, 472 p

Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land

Lord Byron, of course, never wrote a novel – except perhaps the beginnings of one. Or, if he did, it is lost to the mists of time. Crowley’s conceit here is that Byron completed it, and that his daughter, Ada Lovelace, “the first computer programmer,” burned it due to her batty mother’s insistence, but, before she did so, encrypted it in a series of numbers. Those numbers have turned up in papers belonging to Viscount Ockham, Ada’s son. A website called strongwomanstory has gained access to these and sent a reporter to look them over. This aspect of Crowley’s novel is related in a series of emails and letters between the reporter “Smith” and her mother “Thea” but expands to include her father. Smith’s relationship with her father is much the same as Ada Lovelace’s with hers – sexual indiscretions resulting in estrangement – except the modern story holds the promise of reconciliation. Included in these exchanges is the observation that Ada’s story contains ‘a monster parent, but it’s not her father-it’s her mother’ and the observation about Byron’s notorious lack of punctuation “Printers in those days could punctuate. Imagine. Now hardly anybody can.”

It would of course be impossible to proceed with this scenario were the “novel” by Lord Byron not to appear in these pages and it does take up by far the largest part of the book. Crowley has done an impressive job in ventriloquising the poet’s voice even if at one point he does have Byron pre-echo Tolstoy with the thought, “Happy endings are all alike; disasters may be unique.” Its protagonist, Ali, born in Albania as the result of a liaison with a wandering British aristocrat, Lord Sane, is in young adulthood sought out by his father to become heir to the Sane estate, somewhere in Scotland. This tale, The Evening Land, is as Gothic as you could wish, involving a gruesome death, misplaced accusations, possible amnesia, an impersonator, a clandestine seduction – everything you would expect from a book with such supposed origins and complete with the verisimilitudinal inclusion of archaic spellings such as dropt for dropped, segar for cigar and soar’d for saored. We are also given Ada’s commentary on the text of The Evening Land, in the form of “her” notes on each chapter, wherein she wonders if her father could ever have imagined a family not riven by disputes. (There is, too, a respect in which, notwithstanding the fact that The Evening Land’s contents bear resemblances to incidents in Byron’s life, this overall endeavour might be said to be more about Ada than Byron.)

Then we have the wonderful cover illustration featuring Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,) and the rough-cut page edges making the book resemble one from the early 19th century show a pleasing attention to detail.

Crowley came to my attention back in the 1970s with books such as Little, Big, Aegypt (I note here the appearance in the text of The Evening Land of the spelling Æschylus,) and Engine Summer but dropped off my reading register till I noticed this book. I’ll be looking for more of him now though.

Pedant’s corner:-
In the back cover flap blurb: “Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog” (Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog.) Otherwise: “‘into whose recognizance’” (recognisance – I doubt Byron would have used USian spellings, others, such as honour, are rendered in the British way. Plus recognizance is a US legal formulation rather than a Scottish one,) “‘these lands and goods was truly yours’” (were,) “Kendals drops” (Kendal drops,) Bachus’ (Bachus’s.)

Slains Castle

On the way back down from Fraserburgh and Peterhead we decided to take a look at Slains Castle, just on the coast near Cruden. Apparently this is New Slains Castle as there is an older Slains Castle nearby.

Bram Stoker visited the castle in its heyday and is said to have used it as a model for Dracula’s castle in his novel.

It is quite atmospheric and spooky from a distance:-

Slains Castle

Closer view:-

Slains Castle

The interior is open to the elements:-

Slains Castle Interior

Landward side:-

Slains Castle

Seaward side:-

Slains Castle

An interior wall. (This looks much more recent):-

Slains Castle Interior Wall

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