Heliotrope by Justina Robson

Stories. Ticonderoga Publications, 2011, 345 p, including vi p Introduction by Adam Roberts and i p Acknowledgements.

 Heliotrope cover

The lead story Heliotrope is all that has surfaced from the author’s “Massively Unpublishable First Fantasy Epic” and at times the writing betrays its inexperienced origin. In it an artist finishing her apprenticeship is given by her ageing tutor the task of encapsulating the essence of dance master Jalaeka who inspires widespread devotion and can float. He can also drain his followers dry.

The McGuffin in Body of Evidence is a device which lets the wearer know what everyone is really thinking when they are speaking. Our heroine finds this even more excruciating when she meets another person trialling the device.

The Adventurers’ League was first published in an anthology dedicated to the style of Jules Verne. Voyager Lone Star Isol has returned from interstellar space in a manner suggesting it has been able to return faster than the speed of light. The journalist narrator Riba, is sent to investigate. Isol is one of the Forged people and there is the possibility of a war between them and Original humans. Riba is pushed off a transatlantic helium airship to fall oceanward. He is saved from death by the actions of an immense tentacled creature, which turns out to be a floating organism on which he meets avatars of Jules Verne, Captain Nemo, Sinbad, the Mermaid Silene, Ahab, and Sir David Attenborough, Forged people anxious to avoid war. The story has a fair degree of intrusive information dumping.

The Girl Hero’s Mirror Says He’s Not the One is set in Robson’s Mappa Mundi universe. The Girl Hero is sent to assassinate a poet who her mirror assures her will not the one to kill her. Biut he does have a device that resets internal software.

In The Bull Leapers a woman whose husband is in Knossos for an archæological dig encounters three Greeks who practice the old art of bull-leaping. They are also in touch with the Labyrinth, to where they take her for the story’s transforming episode.

Deadhead is narrated by Lois, a fourteen year-old girl. Her six years older sister Clem has Asperger’s and Lois always resents having to looking after her. She and their mother come to a better understanding after Clem communes with a dead horse’s head.

Erie Lackawanna Song starts off at the Hoboken ferry terminal with a man looking at the derelict Erie Lackawanna jetty next door. His journey across the river takes a different turn from usual when his nodding and sometimes speaking acquaintance, Claire Glick, asks him to look at a phial of liquid she has taken from work. It contains a substance that can rewrite brain synapses.

Cracklegrackle sees a man helped by one of the Forged (one who can “see” at all wavelengths) to find his daughter, kidnapped on Mars some time before, on Jupiter, much changed.

In No Man’s Island, on the day she finds she has not got the job at CERN she longed for Mariann Harris consoles herself with her discovery of traces of an alien spaceship having used an Alcbierre warp drive. Meanwhile her husband embarrasses himself with a customer of the shop where he works. Both find solace with their dog, Bing.

Robson’s first published story, Trésor, is understated horror wherein a prostitute has been waiting for her mark.

The Seventh Series is a mythical set of yoga exercises Davey is writing into a computer game. Then he finds that there is a video of that title and goes searching for its origin. The explanation at the story’s end is rather mundane though.

The Little Bear is one of the few SF stories to address the fact that time travel is also space travel and vice-versa. Ronson examines this through a series of vignettes set in different time-lines but with the same characters, each lamenting the human loss they incurred when an experiment involving the teleportation of a bottle of wine changed their world.

In Legolas Does the Dishes an inmate of a mental hospital envisages that the man who doe sthe dishes in the institution is Legolas from Tolkien’s Hobbit universe. Her viewpoint is emphasised when she tells us, “I don’t need to say what might happen if you got a shard in your eye and started to see the world through another lens. Who knows what might be revealed?” It is left open as to whether she is deluded or he really is Legolas.

Dreadnought is the intelligence of a spaceship as mediated through its units which can not exist without a human host.

An Unremarkable Man is the tale of two supernatural women trying to be ordinary, a Viscus Diabolique and the ensuing trade with a non-descript man who materialises from nowhere.

A Dream of Mars is suffered nightly by our narrator who was sent to recover the remains of the dead from a downed cable car in the Martian New South Face Woodlands and destroy the human created Bigfoot who had been intended as a tourist attraction only to form a bond with him instead.

Pedant’s corner:- In Adam Roberts’ Introduction “and both, well, Forged stories” (are both, well, Forged stories,) “of of” (only one ‘of’ required,) “but a tale that understand … are” (understands,) “ontological speaking” (ontologically speaking.) “But another of saying” (But another way of saying,) “knows whats I’m talking about” (what,) “I think that it what her” (that is what her,) a missing full stop, “as a way” (is a way.) “On the contrary the story does is” (what the story does is,) “amply demonstrates” (demonstrated.) Otherwise; “whilst others both showed some degree of chestnut” (both?) Elys’ (x 4, Elys’s.) “‘She dare not breathe’” (the rest of this segment is written in the past tense; ‘dared not’,) bringing her skin up to his awake and. He pinned her down,” (no full stop and subsequent capital needed.) “The paint is so thick that is has” (that it has,) “and Elys’ stops making a noise” (Elys,) “dare not” (again, past tense, dared not,) “like a the funnel” (one or other article, not both,) “sent his Abacand him the time” (either ‘sent his Abacand’, or, ‘sent him’ the time, not both,) “together with in increasing lawlessness” (no ‘in’,) “Jules Verne was a Frenchman of the twentieth century” (only barely; he died in 1905,) “that that” (only one ‘that’ needed,) “your media group have been advocating” (has been advocating,) fit (fitted.) “None of them are interested” (is interested,) “and in just in time to” (and is just in time to,) “its rotor whir softly” (‘its rotors whir’, or, ‘its rotor whirs’,) “I could help but take a sharp breath” (I couldn’t help but, Minos’ (Minos’s,) “It’s comfort” (Its.) “Bishop figure it was for his benefit” (figured,) claimes (claims,) “and sings” (the rest is in past tense, so ‘sang’,) scaned (scanned,) “I dare not” (again past tense; dared,) Mars’ (Mars’s.) “‘Their names is what they are” (Their names are what they are.) “‘and its real, external’” (it’s,) ““Let’s start looking’ Bishop said” (“Let’s start looking,” Bishop said,) iat (at,) “Part sof a” (Parts of a.) “‘may I see it?’” (May,) “much me readily” (much more readily,) “even as it wasn’t part of his concern” (‘even if it wasn’t’ makes more sense,) “all the questions that were hunting him” (haunting him makes more sese,) withy (with,) coudln’t (couldn’t,) “he he” (only one ‘he’ needed,) “those involved Forged” (those involved are Forged,) “less seconds” (fewer seconds,) “for the a regular payment” ( no ‘a’ needed.) “None of them were talking” (None of them was talking,) “(CGPS)was” ((CGPS) was,) a new paragraph taken in the middle of a line when a piece of dialogue is opened (x 2,) “watched the their chosen object” (no ‘the’ I think,) “ ‘still signs himself off “ A Friend of Your Father’s” as if’” (off “A Friend…..) “They stared at the offended item” (the offending item,) Legolas’ (Legolas’s.) “‘I want to see him again,’ She rubbed” (I want to see him again.” She rubbed,) Saclides’ (Saclides’s,) “Laura said ordered a double espresso” (is missing a comma between said and ordered.) “The main criteria is” (the main criterion is,) “the meatl struts of the nearest tower groans and creaks” (the metal struts … groan and creak,) Mars’ (Mars’s,) Raditech were set to lose (Raditech was set to lose.) In the Acknowledgements; Crwther (Crowther.)

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