Archives » 2008 » September

Colonisation: Second Contact by Harry Turtledove.

New English Library, 2000

Second Contact cover

After The Fanatic I felt like reading something lighter. Colonisation: Second Contact is certainly that but I ought first to have checked the page count (694!!!) and saved it up for a holiday.

The book is set 17 years after the events of Turtledove’s World War In The Balance series (WWIB) where an invasion of Earth by lizard-like creatures – expecting opposition only from leather clad horsemen – interrupted Earth’s internal squabblings in the Second World War. Not a serious premise, then, but diverting enough.

In this first of a new series, the lizard colonisation fleet has arrived to follow up the invasion and the equilibrium established between the lizards and what remains of Earth’s 1940s power structure stands to be disturbed. The major players are a strong USA and USSR, plus a still-Nazi Germany which dominates mainland Europe, with Britain and Japan much lesser powers. The stimulus the lizards have provided for humans in this scenario has led to space flight and Moon landings much earlier than in the real world.

The novel is episodic, with each segment told from the viewpoint of one of the many characters Turtledove uses to illustrate this world – some of whom are familiar from WWIB. This device, as in other Turtledove books, does tend to lend the story a disjointed feel, though given the world-wide scope involved here this is perhaps inevitable. It did, however, work much better in his Great War, American Empire and Settling Accounts series where the focus was much more narrowly American.

Given the setting and Turtledove’s background it is not surprising that he gives a lot of space to Jewish protagonists and affairs. However this does not unbalance the book as a whole even if it sometimes seems Turtledove is ticking off all the possible variations one by one.

Like a lot of Americans Turtledove’s feel for British idiom is uncertain but he does recognise there is a different UK dimension. One of his Jewish characters is accosted on the streets of Belfast with the question, “Protestant or Catholic?” His potential attackers are thrown by his laughter, only mutter darkly, and he escapes harm. (Yet in this scenario perhaps the follow up would more likely have been the question, “But are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”)

The lizards, who, for members of a technological society, are a bit too bemused by human behaviour, are nevertheless treated sympathetically, several being granted viewpoint status.

There are some moments of low comedy when lizard females – none of whom were part of the earlier invasion fleet – are sent into heat by ingesting the Earth spice, ginger, which is also addictive to the males. All the lizards are apparently disgusted by the permanent nature of human sexuality but succumb to incontrollable – and indiscriminate – sexual urges under the influence of the pheromones which abound when their females come into heat. There is a bit of a logical flaw with this aspect of the novel as some of the lizards begin to show human sexual aptitudes, and vices, far too rapidly. The humans are of course not above using the lizards’ susceptibility to ginger to their advantage.

A bigger failing is that the plot, involving the building of a US space station which may be something more, fails to motor up until well past the halfway stage.

Yet while the writing rarely gets above the functional there is enough in the setting and the treatment to keep the reader going; especially those with an interest in history.

I will be reading the next in the series; but I’ll save it for the Christmas fortnight or something similar.

Forfar Athletic 2-2 Dumbarton

Station Park, 27/9/08

I’d have taken this before the start but given we were two-nil up in a game where Forfar were barely in it in the first half and a win would have put us second it’s disappointing. As it is we’re now down to fourth. But at least the unbeaten away record is still intact.

I was impressed by Paul McLeod – who seems to want it more than Dumbarton strikers usually do – and Paul Keegan played better than he did against Airdrie Utd or Annan. Stevie Murray and Derek Carcary were good as usual but the final cross wasn’t always the best. But why on Earth is Andy Geggan playing in midfield? He was anonymous. Plus Gordon Lennon isn’t a right back and the least said about Gary Wilson the better.

The substitution with four minutes to go was a bit strange. Waste time, yes, but replace like with like and keep the shape, don’t put on a midfielder for a striker.

Man of the match?

Forfar’s keeper, who made four or five very good saves. Francois Dubourdeau, where are you now?)

Back To The Future

In Dumbarton when I was growing up I can remember branches in the town of the British Linen Bank, the Glasgow Savings Bank, the National and Commercial Bank (itself previously merged from the separate National and Commercial banks,) the Bank of Scotland, the Clydesdale Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Possibly the Co-op ran a banking service in its main store and there would have been the Post Office Savings Bank. In addition there were various Building Societies – though some of them were run out of solicitor’s offices. This was in the days when a lot of working people didn’t have bank accounts! (If that was because they didn’t trust banks with their money it now turns out they were probably right to be wary.)

With the Lloyd’sTSB – HBOS merger that will bring the number down to three banks plus whatever Building Societies are there now.

Will depositors’ or investors’ money be safer as a result? Given recent events who can tell?

In Kirkcaldy, where I live now, the merger might mean two bank outlets – which are quite often queued out as it is – may be replaced by one. I hardly think the service will improve.

I have also noticed recently some Royal Bank poster adverts trumpeting the fact that they will be open on Saturdays. I believe one of the English banks is doing something similar. They’re making a virtue out of going back to something they ought never to have abandoned in the first place????

For, yes, in those days when I was growing up, banks opened on a Saturday – at least in the mornings.

OWL & LION AND WRITERS’ BLOC present Print Factory

WHAT: Live readings of original fiction

WHO: Writers’ Bloc spoken-word performance group

WHERE: Owl & Lion, 15 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS

WHEN: 8:00–10:00 p.m., Wednesday 1 October 2008

HOW MUCH: £6.00 (£4.00 concessions)


Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Are six-word stories worth illustrating? Find out at Print Factory, when you will hear tales inspired by postcards, and see pictures inspired by short stories and micro-fiction.

What does that little old lady have in her handbag beside all those stamps? Is there anything beyond the ends of the earth? Who would want to write “glad you’re not here” in blood on an unsigned postcard?

Writers’ Bloc, Edinburgh’s premier spoken-word performance group, performs at Owl & Lion in conjunction with the gallery’s new exhibition of cutting-edge postcard art. The price of the ticket includes a drink and a limited-edition print. Owl & Lion will also be launching their new handmade books at the event.

Authors appearing at Print Factory will include: Jack Deighton, Morag Edward, Andrew C. Ferguson, Gavin Inglis, Stefan Pearson, Hannu Rajaniemi and Andrew J. Wilson.

Notes for editors
Over the past seven years, Writers’ Bloc has established itself as a force to be reckoned with on the Edinburgh spoken-word performance scene. The group consists of published novelists and poets, whilst other members have placed stories in magazines and anthologies as diverse as Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction, Year’s Best Horror Stories, Scottish Book Collector, Interzone, Pinball Player, West Coast Magazine, Markings, Grunt And Groan: The New Anthology of Sex at Work, and of course, Postcards from Hell.

“This was genuinely daring stuff … irreverent, surprising and provocative.” — Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

For more information:

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Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 4. The Beresford Hotel

Art Deco, Glasgow

Art Deco, Glasgow

The Beresford, Glasgow...

Designed by Weddell and Inglis in 1937, the Beresford was opened to provide hotel accommodation for visitors to The Empire Exhibition of 1938 which was held in Glasgow’€™s Bellahouston Park.

The building is a stunner. A great example of high Art Deco. The present red on the facade may be a teeny bit over the top; I think white Art Deco buildings like this really ought to have pastel colours as highlighters, though it does look more pastelly in the close-up.

You can view the Beresford in its heyday at the Glasgow Story where it looks as if it has been somehow snatched from the streets of New York or Chicago and plumped onto Sauchiehall Street to sit rather like an alien spaceship.

Some more views including an interior shot are on this site.

For a while the Beresford had been converted to accommodation for students of Strathclyde University when it was known as the Baird Hall, at which time parts of the frontage, especially the rounded columns, seem to have been painted in a more restrained mustard colour.
As my Alma Mater (The University, as it still styles itself) is its city rival, I have to say that the chance of staying in the Baird Hall would have been the only reason to attend Strathclyde.

The building was sold on in 2003 and has now been refurbished to form 112 apartments.

Some more of its internal deco elements are on show here and there is also an apartment view.

For a 3D-ish colour sketch look no further.

There are numerous pictures of the Beresford on flickr including some night views.

What an absolute belter of a building.

Selling Us All Short

The practice of short selling, whereby stock market traders effectively bet on a decline in the value of a share (which often they do not actually own!) and thereby make money by buying shares at the newly created lower price in order to give back shares they “borrowed” at a higher price, has now been banned temporarily.

The practice had been partly blamed for the assault on HBOS’s shares which led to its recent takeover by Lloyd’s TSB.

I admit I am not an economist but, however much short selling may be an identifier of a share which is overvalued, its effects can certainly be pernicious – especially when the markets indulge in one of their feeding frenzies. The point is, in these circumstances, it puts pursuit of short term profit for an individual or an organisation above any other consideration – including that of the common good.

This is particularly so in the case of short selling of shares in banks.

Think of it this way: short selling, however legal it was and might again be, actually consists in betting directly on losses in various other people’s jobs, investments, savings and pensions.

And that, I would submit, is immoral.

Dumbarton 2-1 Cowdenbeath

The Rock, 20/7/08

Finally a home win. And two wins in a row!

The giddy heights of third. When was the last time that happened?

The last minute sounds like it was a bit hairy, though. Well done the lads.

Writers’ Bloc at Owl And Lion Gallery

The Writers’ Bloc event where I shall be reading my latest piece of short fiction has now been scheduled for Wednesday 1st October 2008 at the Owl And Lion Gallery, Grassmarket, Edinburgh, 6.00-8.00 pm.

I will post further details including the other readers and ticket prices soon.

Algis Budrys 1931-2008

Yesterday I was reminded of the death of the Science Fiction writer Algis Budrys.

I have five of his books on my shelves – none of those was written more recently than 1967 and I read all of them a long time ago now – but I remember them as atmospheric and a bit scary.

The Guardian obituary is here.

With a track record in questioning identity as in “Who?” “Rogue Moon” and “Michaelmas” it’s a wonder he wasn’t Scottish.

With that in mind I’ll need to read more of him sometime.

Richard Wright

I was sorry to hear about the death of Richard Wright of Pink Floyd through cancer.

He was one of the lesser sung of Pink Floyd’s members but integral to their development.
He’s probably most famous for writing the tune to The Great Gig In The Sky from The Dark Side Of The Moon but I suspect everybody’s going to put that up. (Johnny Walker played it as a tribute on Radio 2 this morning.)

Instead here, from Atom Heart Mother, is Summer of ’68 – which he wrote and which has a great bit of “rock”y piano from the man himself.

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