Archives » 2011 » August

Coelestis by Paul Park

Harper Collins, 1993, 254p.

On a planet colonised by humans some time ago the Aboriginals are routinely given drugs and cosmetic surgery to make them more or less indistinguishable from their masters. They have become so human many of them have been converted to Christianity. From a British perspective it is tempting to see this aspect of the novel as an allegory of Empire and the morality of colonisation, of manipulating the natives – even unconsciously – is always in the subtext.

Simon Marayam is an envoy from Earth, which has suffered an environmental and population decline. He becomes involved with Katharine Styreme, a beautiful, piano playing Aboriginal, just as a rebellion against human rule is starting. The situation becomes more intricate when it becomes apparent that the planet’s other sentient inhabitants, the Coelestis of the title, were not totally wiped out by the human settlers. Before humans arrived the Coelestis had exercised a form of mind control over the Aboriginals, who considered them Gods. The drugs the aboriginals are given negate this effect.

Styreme and Mayaram are imprisoned by the rebels and as her drugs wear off she becomes increasingly detached from what Mayaram perceives as reality and more under the influence of the Coelestis.

Park employs various points of view to narrate his story and one of the strengths of the book is the divergence of the views of humans and Aboriginals over the same event(s). Styreme’s perceptions are depicted as more and more dream-like. This is one of the best explorations of what it might mean to be alien I can remember reading.

The planet itself is less convincing. Since it is tide-locked, life can only exist within a few hundred miles of the terminator. Yet the landscape and weather are described as if they were somewhere on 20th century Earth. A journey into the darkside does give us a glimpse over the horizon of a hellish Black Hole at the centre of the galaxy, though.

On a technical level as time went by I found Park’s stylistic tic of repeating a phrase within a sentence of it already being used – sometimes as the very next phrase – increasingly wearing.

Despite the resolution being what you might expect of a traditional SF story, Coelestis does not have the overall feel of Science Fiction. It is, however, a novel which transcends quibbles, illuminating about the self-deceptions people have about their relationships, how others see them, and how they believe only what they want to.

New Bayview Stadium, Methil

New Bayview, like the SHS stadium at Dumbarton, is one of those modern identikit football grounds which has only one stand.

This is the view from the approach road.

New Bayview Stand 1

And here it is from the car park.

New Bayview Stand 2

This is the view towards the sea. Note the new Dumbarton away strip – all white with blue trimmings.

Right hand side of pitch, New Bayview

And the other end. The pile of rubble behind the fence on the far side of the ground is what remains of the Power Station which was all the view you used to get from the away end.

Left hand side of pitch, New Bayview

There’s a video of the demolition here. Several more appear on You Tube.

It is now possible to see this cream coloured building, which I know nothing about.

Cream Coloured Building

Utter Tosh

I don’t usually watch the ITN news but I caught the bulletin at 6.40 yesterday and was reminded why.

Their lead story was “Lockerbie Bomber Escapes Justice Again.”


Escapes justice?


Apparently the new Libyan regime will not extradite Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet Al Megrahi to the West.

And why should they?

ITN was peddling utter tosh. Twice over.

Even putting aside the fact that he is almost certainly innocent, Megrahi has not escaped justice. He was convicted, and served a term of imprisonment from which he was released on compassionate grounds under the terms of the justice system concerned.

So he did not “escape justice” even once: still less once more.

The BBC news earlier in the week wasn’t much better, though. A reporter knocked on his door in Tripoli and received no answer and on these grounds decided Megrahi had fled and had thereby broken the terms of his release.

Now, if you lived in Tripoli would you have answered your door this past week? And, if he has fled, wouldn’t you have in his place?

While he has survived way longer than we were led to expect he would, the man is still clearly ill. Given that he has already been duly processed, if under extraordinary provisions, it would be a crime to subject him to further detention.

And let’s have none of this “the victims want this to happen.” (That is to say the victims’ relatives.) They most certainly do not – or at least not all of them do.

That there is talk of US snatch squads apprehending him is an outrage. To do so would be a clear breach of international law and would put the perpetrators on an equal footing with any other law breaker.

Edited to add:-
It seems Megrahi is now at death’s door and has been found in his family home so perhaps we’ll hear an end of this.

East Fife 0-6 Dumbarton

SFL Div 2, New Bayview Stadium, 27/8/11.

We don’t get days like this very often. Utter dreamland.

At half time it was 4-0 going on a basketball score. Dumbarton were totally dominant. I don’t know what the corner count was but we were in double figures. Whether East Fife were suffering from their exertions against Dunfermline in midweek is problematic (and they also lost a midfielder early on due to a reckless challenge on his part) but they were never at the races here.

The first came from the selfless Pat Walker chasing down a hopelessly lost cause and forcing a corner which was pushed out on the opposite side for another. The Fife defence switched off, Mark Gilhaney took it short to Martin McBride who curled it deliciously into the far corner of the net. The next followed a flick on by Pat Walker from another corner, the ball broke to Prunty. 2-0. The third (from another corner?) was another case of the ball falling to Prunty. The fourth was headered by Jamie Lyden from yet another corner – from the right this time. It squirmed under the keeper, the only one of the six he was at fault for.

I cannot remember when the last time was we were 4-0 up away from home at half time. Neither could the rest of the – actually rather disbelieving, though delirious – Sons fans around me. It may never have happened before.

Then came something else I’ve not seen before. Training apparatus was set out in the interval and the team came out early to do a session.

Half-Time Training Session

This was, I guessed, a response to the fact that in the previous two games we had lost early goals in the second half.

There was a small flurry by the Fife on the restart but it didn’t come to much. Apart from a little understandable looseness at times given the huge lead we had, normal service was resumed thereafter and again we carved the E Fife defence apart at will. Over elaboration, by Mark Gilhaney in particular, meant no more goals for a while. Then Jamie Lyden came into contact with an opponent in our box. It was soft – though I’d have screamed for it at the other end – and the ref may have felt sorry for the Fife. But so abject were they Jamie Ewings saved the penalty.

Prunty finally got his hat-trick before adding a fourth after a great pass from sub Kieran Brannan following a fine run.

This is probably the first time since the mid 1950s a Son has scored four in an away match. In that famous game – Arbroath 5 Dumbarton 4 – Hughie Gallacher scored all four of ours while Dave Easson got all of Arbroath’s.

It may seem strange that, despite his four goals, Bryan Prunty isn’t my man of the match. But Pat Walker deserves it for his tireless running and getting battered by the defence every time he challenged for a high ball. Prunty actually had quite a few more chances which he hit straight at the keeper.

But overall the whole team was a success – no exceptions. With better final balls and less elaboration we might have had a rugby score.

Jamie Lyden is enough to make you forget Nicky Devlin, plus Jamie has goals in him. Jamie Ewings had only one hairy moment when he played the ball just a little too far round the charging attacker on a back pass but he managed to get rid of it quickly enough.

After our somewhat shaky start the boys should not lack confidence now.

The Death Of Scottish Football 5? (Woe, Woe, And Thrice, Woe)

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the realm of Scottish football over the results of the qualifiers for the Europa Laegue.

After the first leg comprehensive horsing of Hearts by Spurs and the draw and defeat for the ugly sisters (Rangers and Celtic for those who don’t share the disregard in which they are held by Scotland’s real football fans in the lower divisions) the BBC Scotland Saturday football airwaves were full of doom and gloom.

Since this Thursday and the – extremely predictable – elimination of all three Scottish clubs this rose to a cacophony on Radio Scotland this afternoon as I was making my way to New Bayview.

Most contributors seemed to be under the illusion that somehow or other the natural order of things had been upset and that Scottish clubs owed it to the country (or the fans, or something or other not entirely clear) always to survive these early rounds.

Well, ask yourselves. When was the last time a Scottish club outwith the Old Firm won a two-legged qualification tie? Motherwell was it, against Llanelli? And did they survive the next round? While I do remember Aberdeen doing well when Jimmy Calderwood was their manager, that was a good few years ago now. Most others have been deposited on their backsides very quickly indeed. And that is where Scottish football is and has been for a long time. This is the competition the Old Firm has to beat (and finds it ridiculously easy to do so by and large.)

This set of results has been coming down the pipe for a long time.

And they are perhaps to be expected from a small, poor country on the north-west periphery of Europe.

The riches pouring down on those clubs – and the leagues where they play – which habitually inhabit the knock-out stages of the so-called Champions League from television rights make this a circumstance not easy to alter.

That is where a lot of the disfunction lies. The Champions League is a monstrous carbuncle on the body of football ensuring (with only a few exceptions) the same old teams divi up the rewards between themselves. Only a Russian oligarch or oil-rich sheikh can have any hope of upsetting the apple cart.

Had the Champions League never been invented the world of football would be a purer, more innocent place. But Scottish football at the highest level would still be a self-serving, myopic miasma.

Friday On My Mind 60: I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag

For various reasons I was listening to “California Saga” from the Beach Boys’ Holland album this week, which, yes, is a 1970s recording. Referencing, among other things, John Steinbeck “and his travellin’s with Charley” it also mentions that at a festival, “Country Joe will do his show,” and I thought “Hmm.. I’ve not done that one.”

I don’t think Country Joe and the Fish are remembered for more than the one song but that song certainly caught a mood.

It is the quintessential musical protest against the war in Vietnam.

As this is a live version – Joe performing at a festival, Woodstock no less – it is not suitable for work.

Country Joe McDonald: Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag

Interzone Once More

My latest reviewing assignment for Interzone is Wither by Lauren DeStefano. 650 words by the end of September.

The book is the first in the Chemical Garden trilogy, apparently, which is an intriguing description. It will probably turn out to have not much Chemistry in it.

I do not propose to review it by solely looking at its cover – which you can survey for yourself to the right but ……

I know it doesn’t have a couple in a clinch but isn’t it just a little Mills and Boon?

Where’s Wally?

I heard William Hague’s voice on Newsnight last night. I don’t know what he was talking about as I was in another room but if it was Libya and I had been the interviewer I’d have felt tempted to ask him if he thought Colonel (can anyone else remember when he was only a lieutenant?) Gadaffi might now be in Venezuela.

Gadaffi has still not been found as I write and continues to spout defiance. It could be a long time yet.

Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 20 (i) Alloa

I took these a month or so ago.

This is the former Gaumont (later Odeon, Classic and De Luxe) Cinema, Mill Street, Alloa.
According to the Scottish cinemas website it was the last Gaumont to be built pre-war, and the only purpose built Gaumont in Scotland.

Former Alloa Cinema from left

Below is a photo of the upper level of a building on Primrose Street, now sadly unoccupied.

Building on Primrose Street, Upper level

At the junction of Shillinghill and Mill Street you can see this:-

Deco? Building in Alloa

Perhaps not really deco but the bits that resemble chimneys have the look.

As part of my quest to photograph old Woolworths premises here is the Alloa variety. It’s right next to the former cinema and has been taken over by Poundland. Not deco, it looks of 1960s or 70s vintage to me.

Former Woolies in Alloa

A couple more pictures of these buildings are on my flickr site.

The Road To Stalingrad by John Erickson

Stalin’s War With Germany Volume 1
Grafton, 1985, 814p (including 144p of sources and references and a 26p index.)

I remember seeing a newspaper review of this and thinking, “That sounds interesting, I’ll maybe get it in paperback.” Then I realised it was the paperback. (£7.99 was a lot of money for a book in 1985. And there was the second volume to consider). It was a few years later before I bought both, I believe. They are weighty tomes and I didn’t feel able to give them the necessary time till now.

Originally published in 1975, firmly during the cold War era, The Road To Stalingrad filled a gap by being the first UK history of the Russian Front to focus primarily on Soviet sources.

Its starting point is the disruption to the Soviet armed forces caused by the purges of the 1930s, the rearrangements and lack of preparedness which that caused, all of which was exacerbated by the strange purblindness of Stalin with regard to German intentions in the run up to war. Thereafter it considers the frontier battles, the deep German advance, touches briefly on events behind the German lines, deals with the Moscow counterstroke and the following abortive Soviet offensive in early 1942 with which Stalin thought he might win the war that year, up to the German drive to the Volga and the Caucasus.

The book is strongest on the deliberations within the stavka, the Soviet high command, but really that means the decisions reached by Stalin. Marshal Shaposhnikov, the main military voice within the stavka – even though Zhukov was made Stalin’s deputy in 1942 – seems to have learned early to go with that flow.

Unfortunately it is not till page 538 and the start of the Battle of Stalingrad that the narration comes to life. Here Erickson begins to leaven his account with details of the battle. Up till then he is more concerned with the general sweep of events and is peculiarly fixated on enumerating the switching of multifarious Divisions between the various Soviet Armies, Groups and Fronts. Along the way there is a daunting array of Russian General’s names to deal with.

While the book does have maps, they are very few and only depict large areas. Some showing the smaller movements involved would have provided clarification of the somewhat dense prose.

What, for me, it all illuminated was the unlikelihood of any attack to liberate Europe by the Western Allies being likely to succeed had Hitler’s armies not already been embroiled and macerated in the East. The sheer numbers of troops involved, the scales of the operations, are stunning. As it was, Stalin’s pressing of Britain and the US to initiate a Second Front quickly was deflected as they were as yet not adequately prepared for any such endeavour.

At the end of the 642 pages of narrative we have reached only the encirclement of von Paulus’s Sixth Army, trapped in the city. The second volume of Erickson’s history, The Road To Berlin, awaits. It may be some time.

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