Archives » 2012 » September

New Book: The Fractal Prince

Last Thursday I attended the launch of fellow East Coast Writers’ Group and Writers’ Bloc member Hannu Rajaniemi’s second novel The Fractal Prince. I reviewed his first novel The Quantum Thief for Interzone. Hannu made a reading from the new book and was interviewed by another Group and Bloc member Andrew Ferguson before the floor was opened for questions.

The reading was enthusiastically received and Hannu’s thoughts on translation and the way his Finnish origins are reflected in his writing were interesting. It seems he has a Finnish self – with family and friends back home – and an English (speaking) self in his day to day life in Edinburgh. The Finnish translation of The Quantum Thief, not carried out by him, apparently read like his “English” self.

Emperor by Stephen Baxter

Time’s Tapestry Book One Gollancz, 2006, 302 p.

Emperor cover

In the prologue, set in pre-Roman Britain, a woman giving birth starts to speak in tongues. Handily there is someone on hand who has traded with Rome and not only understands the Latin phrases but can note down her words. These are later interpreted as a prophecy.

The main narrative is then structured round the descendants of those who attended the birth who pass the legend down the generations. The three main sections are set centuries apart; during the second Roman invasion of Britannia (Claudius’s undertaking,) Hadrian’s decision to build his wall between the Tyne and the Solway and Constantine’s visit to these islands. The families are moved to intervene at each of these critical junctures. One of the families interprets the prophecy as being the attempts of a Weaver of time pulling at the threads of its tapestry.

In the epilogue another birth is accompanied by a similar phenomenon but this time the words are in Saxon, so cueing Book Two.

I wasn’t quite sure whether to list Emperor under Altered History or not. Our history isn’t altered (of course a different history may have been) but there are discussions of the possibility of alteration. These discussions, while necessary for the overall arc of Baxter’s Time’s Tapestry sequence, seemed to me to be a bit too modern, jarring a little with the setting.

The style of the narrative unfortunately required a prodigious quantity of information dumping and historical description. Reading a novel is a relatively painless way to access history, though, and what I know of those times wasn’t contradicted by the narrative. There was also a strange mixture of British usages (shag and screw for example) and Americanisms (“fit” as a past tense.) Baxter also incorporates a mention of the iniquities both of wealth disparities and of excessive taxation, the first of which may be a relatively recent concern – in historical terms. The characterisation was sketchy, though adequate, but characterisation isn’t the main point in a book like this, the speculation is. Indeed at one juncture Baxter makes a defence of “imaginative” fiction in precisely these terms.

Emperor isn’t high literature but isn’t setting out to be. Enjoyable enough, though.

Friday On My Mind 77: The Weaver's Answer

Stephen Baxter’s Emperor, which I have just finished reading, has as its motive force a Weaver of Time’s tapestry. Inevitably it brought to mind this song.

Family: The Weaver’s Answer

Family’s songs didn’t usually have straightforward structures and so they stray into Prog Rock territory.

Dysart Memorials

Dysart was once a separate town from Kirkcaldy but now the two run together. Kirkcaldy’s Ravenscraig Park ends just above Dysart Harbour. Its War Memorial has only names from the Great War on it. I assume those from World War 2 are on the main Kirkcaldy one.

Dysart War Memorial from south west
Dysart War Memorial from north west

There is another memorial in Dysart and that is to the memory of the men who died underground in variuos accidents and disasters at the Frances Colliery.

Frances Colliery memorial

As you can see from the dates on the section with the names there were many instances of such tragedy.

Frances Colliery Memorial Names

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Faber and Faber, 2009, 734 p. Translated from the Turkish, Masumiyet Müzesi, by Maureen Freely.

 The Museum of Innocence cover

This is the tale of our narrator, Kemal Basmacı, a relatively well to do son of a Turkish business man, though he would say it was that of the love of his life, his distant not-quite relative, the shopgirl Füsun Keskin. As the novel starts Kemal is enjoying his carefree lifestyle, helping to run his father’s business, plus having sex with his intended, Sibel. A few weeks before their engagement party he meets Füsun again (they had been childhood acquaintances) and the pair take to making love in the afternoons. Being Turkey in the 1970s – though actually extra-marital relations were not entirely comment free then even in the West; certainly not in Scotland – the potential for ruin of her reputation is extreme. When Kemal falls in love with Füsun the outlines of a tragedy are in place.

Like a lot of novels set in repressive settings (not only for example in Egypt (The Yacoubian Building) but also Soviet era Czechoslovakia (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) the importance of sex infuses the story. More importantly here, it is the question of a woman’s virginity, or lack of it, on marriage that creates Kemal’s dilemma, Füsun’s family’s response to that problem a formidable obstacle to a happy resolution. The Museum of Innocence is trading on the perennial great themes of literature through the ages; love, sex and death. At one point the narrator opines that a love story with a happy ending is pretty well not worth telling. His mother (too late) tells him that in a country where men and women can’t be together socially, can’t even have a conversation, there is no such thing as love. If any woman shows interest the man is conditioned to pounce on her like a starving animal.

The Museum of Innocence of the novel’s title is Kemal’s shrine to Füsun’s memory. The narrative is like the museum’s catalogue, a description of the various stages of their relationship, exhibits of all the items Kemal has collected which connected her to him. In some places it as if the museum’s curator is speaking to us. A bit of meta-fictional post-modern gamesmanship occurs when an entry ticket to the museum is printed on one of the pages and also when the novelist Orhan Pamuk intrudes into his own novel as a very minor character. This is finessed in the final chapter by a not wholly convincing device which nevertheless confers a degree of perspective on Kemal’s story.

The evocation of Turkish life is interesting, its teetering on the brink of what Kemal’s crowd saw as modernity, its conflict with tradition. The vicissitudes of Turkish politics of the time, the civil strife, the military coups, the saturation with Atatürk’s image and memory, are mentioned but more or less in passing; indeed are there to point up that life went on notwithstanding them. Pamuk’s implicit critique of Turkish mores isn’t overstated, though. A salient feature was the tendency of the characters to smoke cigarettes. The fug of burnt tobacco almost leaps off the page: the book could come with a health warning. Is it the same still in Turkey, I wonder?

Kemal’s narration is measured, even, and his actions presented as reasonable but they are certainly obsessed and smack of a kind of madness. This is not unknown to Pamuk, of course. In the last chapter Kemal is referred to as “not quite right in the head.” Obsessive love is a kind of madness, I suppose. The novel and the Museum are presented as Kemal’s attempts to reclaim the sense of his own life from others’ interpretation of it. He may be deluded, but like Hamlet said, there is method in it.

The translation is into USian, but that was fine; Kemal had spent some time in the US in his youth. (There was only one sentence which struck me as awkward. In 700 odd pages that’s not bad going.)

In such a long story it is hard to avoid longueurs. That Pamuk broadly manages this despite more or less nothing happening to progress Kemal’s situation for many years is testament to his ability. I’ll be reading more of Pamuk.

Séance Fiction

Writers’ Bloc Presents:-





Doors – 7pm

Show – 7:30PM-10PM, £4 (£3)

WARNING: This show contains literary necromancy.

Not suitable for those of a nervous disposition.

WRITERS’ BLOC is Edinburgh’s premier spoken-word performance group, with a ten-year legacy of innovative and entertaining shows showcasing some of the capital’s foremost fiction writers. Recent shows include: Electric Lit Orchestra, part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Unbound strand; Brave New Words at the Edinburgh Science Festival; and FANtasia at Eastercon, the British National Science Fiction Convention, in London. Other events have ranged from Mr Big Society to The Slime of Miss Jean Brodie, and Doyle M for Murder (part of the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature programme).

Now in preparation is a daring, dangerous and diabolical show for Halloween.

In the months running up to All Hallows’ Eve, the members of Writers’ Bloc have been contacting the spirits of the dead – invoking the shades of literary giants, and using spirit guides to produce terrifying tales of The Other Side.

On Halloween, Writers’ Bloc invites you to a thrilling live séance at The Bongo Club. Using black magic and cutting-edge technology, Bloc will command the dead to speak, or at least tip some literary tables over. You will see them rise from the grave, and catch a thrilling glimpse of the ghosts, demons and bogles who reside beyond this mortal coil.

Come and witness the birth of a new literary movement: SÉANCE FICTION. You can also find us on Facebook.

Goodbye Vesta

The Dawn spacecraft has now left Vesta, leaving us with this image, a composite of the best pictures it took of the asteroid. (Picture from Astronomy Picture of the Day 19/9/12.)

Vesta manages to look a bit like a large potato. A 500 kilometre across potato, though. The large mountain towards the bottom of the picture is twice the height of Mount Everest.

Dawn is now on its way to the only asteroid bigger than Vesta. It’s due to reach its target, Ceres, in 2015.

Vesta in full

Alloa War Memorial

This is a very dignified memorial set in a lovely wee garden area. It’s actually just round the corner and over the road from the stunning Art Deco building of the former Gas Showroom which I posted about last week.

View from main road (garden entrance.)

Alloa War Memorial

The names are on the wall to the rear. World War 1 on main area, World War 2 on the side pillars. The plaque to the left (above the wreath) is for a recent death in Afghanistan.

Alloa War Memorial Names

Views from right and left of the main statue are below. These ones with figures of soldiers are always evocative. The main statue seems to be of a woman. A Saint, I suppose.

Alloa War Memorial Statue from left
Alloa War Memorial from front right

Dumbarton 3-3 Hamilton Academical

SFL Div 1, The Rock, 22/9/12.

Again I wasn’t at the game and I really don’t know what to think about this.

On the one hand we came back from a goal down to lead 3-1.

On the other we lost a two goal lead. Two minutes of normal time left and two goals up – well the game should be safe. But it seems no-one knows where the added time came from.

I was watching it on teletext and thought the equaliser must have been the final score coming through. Then I started inwardly cursing.

It looks like we have to score four to win. Six games and eighteen goals lost is beyond poor.

At least we’ve shown we can score; even if the first was an own goal. (It might have taken something like that to get us off the mark again.)

And we’re not pointless.

(Winless: but not pointless.)

I don’t know if I can face going to Livi next week.

Reelin’ In The Years 52: Border Song

Elton John’s next single came out in 1970. It was the gospel influenced Border Song from his second LP Elton John. Border Song almost tickled the UK charts. In fact Elton sang it on Top of the Pops as a single “bubbling under” – as they said in those days. Such an appearance was something which usually presaged a surge in sales for the next week. With Border Song the opposite happened. Whatever the reasons for this decline (beyond a tendency to didacticism in the last verse) the fact that the song’s hook, “Holy Moses!” wasn’t its title and its title didn’t appear in the song must have contributed. I can still imagine folk walking in to record shops to ask for “Holy Moses” only to be told it didn’t exist.

Border Song does showcase the variety in Elton’s song-writing at the time though.

Elton John: Border Song

A You Tube clip of Elton singing Border Song live is apparently the earliest video of him still to survive.

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