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BSFA Awards 2010

The ballot paper for this year’s awards is due to be completed before or at Eastercon. I’ll not be attending so I’ll need to email my votes. My thoughts on the fiction nominations that I have read are below.

Best Novel
Ark by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz) Not read by me.
Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin (Gollancz) Not read by me.
The City & The City by China Mieville (Macmillan) See my review here.
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (Gollancz) Not read by me.

I bow to no-one in my admiration for Ursula Le Guin’s writing but I am slightly puzzled as to why Lavinia is on this list. As I understood it the book is a historical novel with no speculative content. If so, why it should be on the ballot for the British Science Fiction Association Awards?

Best Short Fiction

I was hoping to receive a booklet with all the short stories in it in my spring BSFA mailing, as we members did last year, but the package hasn’t arrived yet so I resorted to the internet to read most of the candidates. Links can be found on the page where the shortlists appear.

1. “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster
This one is very Science Fictional with a first person present tense narration. It depicts a society where people must choose a mask every morning. To be unmasked is a crime. The mask imprints them with a personality for the day which may mean a pleasurable or painful experience results. One day our unnamed narrator meets someone who unmasks both herself and him.
All the characters are unnamed; only the queen who set up and directs the system (and is clearly inspired by the bee genus) has a designation.
I might add this story has an unusual solution to the problems inherent in info dumping.
Interesting but violent.
It has echoes of last year’s winner Exhalation so may be one to watch.

2. The Push by Dave Hutchinson (Not on internet? Unread.)

3. Johnnie and Emmie-Lou Get Married by Kim Lakin-Smith
The story is a reworking of Romeo and Juliet (or, given the gang background, West Side Story) with a scenario reminiscent of the car race from Grease or even The Phantom Menace. I was also reminded of Roger Zelazny’s Deadboy Donner And The Filstone Cup (1988.)
The language contains a strange cross-Atlantic mixture and other infelicities. Lakin-Smith uses “arse” not “ass” but “dove” not “dived” and surely could have found a better verb than “splurged” for an exhaust emission. She also unfortunately has a car “loose” momentum as if it can set that quantity free, plus there is a “span” count of one.
This is readable but inconsequential.

4. Vishnu at the Cat Circus by Ian McDonald. (Not on internet? Read from the collection Cyberabad Days.)
This reminded me more than a little of Midnight’s Children. But it’s a Midnight’s Children hyped up on steroids, overdosed on speed and LSD. Told in McDonald’s trade mark pyrotechnic prose it is the life story of Vishnu, a gene-enhanced Brahmin (see his novel River Of Gods,) who ages at half the pace of normal humans. It traces his arc from harbinger of the future to obsolescence and the getting of wisdom of sorts, all mixed up with a compelling depiction of a future India and replete with AIs, other universes and picotechnology. The Paul Daniels allusion and the reference to a Goodness Gracious Me sketch may be over the top for some but I was amused – and the second was justified by the subject matter.

5. The Beloved Time of Their Lives by Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia
An unusual story of undying love transcending the boundaries of time.
Jonathan meets the love of his life, a physicist, in her old age. When she dies in his arms he resolves to investigate time and eventually uses the somewhat unorthodox medium of a McDonalds to travel back in time to meet her in her youth. The story is light hearted but contains a degree of amusing speculation. Unfortunately it is slightly marred by being told to us rather than unfolded for us.

6. The Assistant by Ian Whates
This story is about a chief cleaner whose company keeps their client’s building free from infestation by microbots and regenerating moulds and other Science Fictional whatnot. The latest attack weapons turn out to be powered by a strange source.
Conventionally told in the first person this is unusual SF in that it focuses on humble workers rather than on innovators or inventors or explorers.

To pick one of these is like choosing between sellotape, string, glue and Blu-Tack. They all hold stuff together but in different ways; for different purposes.
Vishnu at the Cat Circus is the most ambitious – but it has room to be. The others are shorts. Vishnu is a novella. This argues for the BSFA to split its short story category like the Hugos do. I believe the difficulty here, since the BSFA membership is relatively small, might be there may not be enough nominations for this to be practicable.

The Beach Boys. Student Demonstration Time.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Ohio wasn’t the only song to mention the Kent State shootings. Student Demonstration Time, from the Beach Boys excellent Surf’s Up album, does so too.

A (restricted access) blog which I frequent aired complaints that this is a rip off of Riot In Cell Block Nine which, according to Wiki, the Beach Boys used to play in their concerts around that time. Some might, instead, call it a homage.

The lyric does contain what I think is rather a good pair of lines in:-
“The pen is mightier than the sword
But no match for a gun (when there’s a riot going on.)” The parentheses are mine.

The blurb on this You Tube item says it’s a different version from the one on Surf’s Up.

This is the more familiar (to me) track from the album.

Dumbarton 1-3 Peterhead

League goals against predictor:- 67

The Rock, 27/3/10

Well; at least I didn’t have to change the goals against predictor.

And we have a welcome midweek break.

Perhaps the lads can watch Barcelona and see how it’s done….

Two tricky away matches coming up, though, from which I expect to gain no points (even if our record at Brechin is good on the whole.)

American Imperialism?

Inhabitants of the US tend to refer to themselves as American. This is of course factually correct as their country does lie within that continent (or those two continents if you prefer.)

However, they also tend to appropriate the phrase for themselves, to use it to mean a citizen of the United States. This is an implicit dismissal of the other countries in their hemisphere – possibly a linguistic reflection, or extension, of the Monroe Doctrine which explicitly regards the Americas as the USA’€™s backyard. The doctrine dresses itself up as anti-colonial but was of course in itself nothing but imperialist by appropriating to the US the right to interfere in the affairs of other continental – and Caribbean – states. (This right has sometimes been exerted whether the recipients of the benefit desired it or not.)

The terminology is also prevalent, though, on this side of the Atlantic. I may have used it myself at times, however much I try always to refer to the US or USA rather than “€œAmerica.”

I believe, though, that it is a source of irritation to Canadians in particular and also I suspect to Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Costa Ricans, El Salvadoreans, Nicaraguans, Belizeans and Panamanians. Not to mention Uruguayans, Brazilians, Chileans, Bolivians, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Argentines, Peruvians, Venezuelans, Surinamese, Guyanese and Paraguayans – even French Guianese – all of whom are American in the wider sense.

I have seen the proposal that the description Columbian – after the continent’€™s “discoverer”€ – be used to replace American in the narrower sense. This would be the supreme irony, as what was Columbus if not a European imperialist?

It is unlikely to catch on, though, as US citizens would doubtless not wish to be confused with their fellow continentals from South America, ie Colombians.

As other options this would leave us with the rather unwieldy United Statesian. This could be shortened to USian (which may, though, be misread as Usian,) or Uessian, or even in these days of cavalier spelling, Youessian.

Any of these would at least have the merit of being specific (as well as unimperialist.)

Dumbarton 2-1 Stenhousemuir

League goals against predictor:- 67

The Rock, 23/3/10

So. Two games against Stenny in ten days, two goals apiece and an equal share of six points. Better off than with two draws then.

Yet more midfield manoeuvrings, I see.

Now eleven points clear of ninth place albeit Arbroath are playing tonight. Dare I dream of safety?

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

Harper Perennial, 2009. 247p

This one comes, if not pavilioned in splendour, then at least girded with praise. The “Richard And Judy Book Club” sticker on the front cover did give me pause, though, but it seems this novel wasn’t actually one of their selections. There is too, like the previous Harper Perennial book I read, an author interview appended after the novel’s conclusion. Is this an attempt to bulk out the page count? Plus there appears an advert for Galaxy chocolate. Strange.

The novel chronicles the New York and London travails of Dutchman Hans Van Den Broek, who starts the book living with his English wife and baby son in a New York hotel as their apartment is still uninhabitable after the events of September 11th 2001. They think (to my mind mistakenly) they are less safe in New York post those attacks than they had been before them. This attitude eventually leads to a banal marriage break up, though there is a reconciliation later.

The main focus, though, is on Hans’s relationship with an enigmatic Trinidadian immigrant to the US, Chuck Ramkissoon, who as well as having grandiose ambitions for the future of cricket in the US is a (very) minor New York gangster and into whose orbit Hans comes after meeting at a cricket match.

The netherland of crime contrasts with Van Den Broek’s oberland job in the financial sector and is not so remarkable but that of cricket is on the face of it a surprising aspect of a novel set in the US. It is less surprising that a Dutchman should be interested in the game as Holland are really quite good at it. (They will play in the next ICC World Cup.)

The narrative contains many long, apparently rambling, yet perfectly constructed sentences if, at times, with too many conjunctions peppering them. It takes a high degree of artifice to roll out such prose in the deceptively smooth manner O’Neill achieves. He is definitely a stylist.

This is all deployed to little effect, though. Nothing in the story was truly gripping. We learn early on that Ramkissoon is dead but this happens off page as it were, at a remove of thousands of miles.

O’Neill is, though, a master of digression and the non-linear. Conversations are interrupted by ruminations on past events and pages may pass before the talk resumes. Everything seems to set off a reflection on something else – all presented as a kind of stream of consciousness in a kind of literary equivalent of deferred gratification; sadly one where the pay off doesn’t compensate for the wait. There is also the problem that Hans isn’t really very likeable.

[And radiuses? Radiuses? I know online dictionaries give it as a plural but my (paper) one does not. So what is wrong with radii?]

While I agree Netherland does strive for significance, in the end I’m not at all sure the novel actually says very much.

Two More Former Woolies

I’ve already featured the former Woolies buildings in Kirkcaldy, Dumbarton, Morecambe and Dundee.

Here’s a couple more Art Deco former Woolies premises located in Fife.

The first is in St Andrews, photographed still in its Woolies livery. Nice detailing above the windows and on the roof line. (It has been converted to a Nisa shop since the photo was taken.)

St Andrews Woolies

The second is in Cowdenbeath. Not so much ornamentation on this one; just the roof detail really. As you can see, it’s a Poundstretcher now. (I took the picture before Saturday’s game.)

Cowdenbeath Woolies

Cowdenbeath 0-0 Dumbarton

League goals against predictor:- 69

Central Park, 20/3/10

This: was dire.

I thought I’d plumbed the depths at Ochilview last week but this was worse. Neither team had much of a clue.

Two clean sheets in a row, though! The world has turned upside down. This one was in the end down to Dr Jan, who made a fantastic double save with about two minutes to go when it would have been easier for the guy to score.

We had two shots on target. One from Wyness in the first half – it was class but it was the only thing he did all game – the other from Kieran Brannan, who looked lively when he replaced Andy Geggan (whose midfield dig we missed when he went off as it allowed Cowdenbeath to begin to dominate more than they had already. Apart from Geggan our midfield wasn’t really in the game. We could have done with Ross Clark in there. Injured again it seems.)

Stevie Murray had the worst game I’ve seen him play, misplaced passes all afternoon, flicks not coming off. I’d have hoicked him before half time never mind with fifteen minutes left.

Martin McNiff was in; apparently for his long throws. What is the point of this when their back four are giants? (Btw, Joe Mbu was born to be a centre back. Imagine Sol Campbell without the silky skills.) Putting our big men up left us vulnerable to the quick break. We got away with it only because Cowdenbeath were rubbish at exploiting it. They had a four on two once in the second half and squandered it.

The ref and his linesmen didn’t seem to be able to communicate with each other at all. Several times they looked at each other to see what the decision should be and still mucked it up. This business with the flag not going up for offside till the player tries for the ball is very frustrating for the fans. The stand side official took some stick because he was apparently not giving “first phase” offside when it was obvious.

But ….. a point gained and more distance from ninth place. I’d have taken that before the game.

Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young: Ohio

“What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?”

Previously I featured only C S and N. This is the full monty CSNY with their Neil Young composed protest song about the Kent State University shootings, Ohio.

The cover shown on the clip is of Deja Vu, but Ohio didn’t appear on that; only coming out on a studio album with the compilation So Far (on which a notable absentee was CSN’s first hit in the UK, “Marrakesh Express” – a track which for which I can only find fairly dodgy live versions on You Tube.)

Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young: Ohio

Small Nuclear War? No Problem!

The launch for Ken Macleod’s new novel (not actually on sale till July) went well.

As well as Ken, Charles Stross and Andrew J Wilson gave readings and there was then a question and answer session for the three panellists.

The subjects discussed were what do you think might go wrong next (ie what disasters/problems might be coming soon) and, interestingly, what will go right?

The demise of newspapers and the subsequent loss of democratic oversight of government, enhanced rubbishing of science and the possibility of a new virus all entered the first category.

Reasons to be cheerful?

War kills fewer people as a percentage of the world population now than in any previous century and affluence is likely to increase. (Abject poverty is at its lowest percentage ever.)

This was the section where Ken raised the biggest laugh of the night when he opined (I paraphrase) that, all things considered, in the bigger scheme of things a few small nuclear wars wouldn’t be all that much to be bothered about.

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