Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

When I first saw this (from a distance) in the Field of Mars, St Petersburg, I thought it would be a Great Patriotic War Memorial.

Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

It isn’t. Not exclusively. The original memorial is a Monument to the Fighters of the Revolution. The flame in the centre, however, commemorates the victims of various wars and revolutions.

From east:-

Eternal Flame Enclosure, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Trees in one corner:-

Tree, Eternal Flame Enclosure, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Eternal Flame:-

St Petersburg Eternal Flame, Field of Mars

Commemoration block:-

Eternal Flame Memorial Plaque, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Video of eternal flame:-

Video, Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Some of the dedications. Translations of the dedications are here:-

St Petersburg, Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, Dedications

Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg, Dedications

Eternal Flame Dedications, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Dedications, Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

More of Flåm, Norway

I just remembered I had more photographs of our trip to Norway to post.

It’s over a year now since we were there.

The red road train here was plying up and down the road while we were walking in Flåm, Norway. Photo taken beside Flåm Church, hence the gravestones:-

Road Train, Flåm, Norway

The good lady posted photos of Flåm Church – an example of a wooden stavkirke – on her blog here.

The odd sight of this locomotive poking out of a shed is just by the side of the road. It didn’t seem to part of the Flåmsbana Museum:-

Locomotive Poking Out of Shed, Flåm, Norway

After Flåm the ship departed to cruise Nærøyfjord but had to travel back down Aurlandsfjord first.

Aurlandsfjord, Norway

These photographs make it look a bit more misty than it felt at the time.

Heading towards Nærøyfjord from Flåm:-

Aurlandsfjord

More of Aurlandsfjord:-

More Aurlandsfjord

Side of Aurlandsfjord, side bow of SS Black Watch in shot:-

Aurlandsfjord Side

Typical wooded slope of fjord:-

Wooded Slope Aurlandsfjord, Norway

Moving Water, Flåm, Norway

The fjords in Norway are festooned with waterfalls. This one in Aurlandsfjord was the first thing I saw when I looked out the porthole on the morning we arrived to visit Flåm. I dubbed it “our” waterfall. Click on picture to get to video:-

"Our" Waterfall, Aurlandsfjord

This moving sculpture was on the dockside at Flåm. Again click on it:-

Moving Sculpture, Flåm, Norway

This is the Bokkefossen, the waterfall we didn’t manage to climb up to, in a photo taken from the road:-

Bokkefossen, Flåm, Norway

Earlier I’d shot a video:-

Bokkefossen, Flåm, Norway

A later photo, taken on way back to Flåm, showing the waterfall’s higher portions:-

Bokkefossen, Flåm, Norway

Flåmsbana Museum, Flåm, Norway

The Flåmsbana Museum is more or less on the dock side at Flåm. The railway’s story is fascinating. They had to dig the line, which has lots of tunnels, out of solid rock by hand, using hand tools and horse driven carts. Construction was started in 1924 and the line did not open till 1940 by which time the Germans were in control of Norway.

It’s the steepest standard gauge railway in Europe. The information card said that because of the safety considerations required by the railway’s steep gradients and no rack and pinion back-up this early locomotive had six different braking systems:-

Locomotive in Flåmsbana Museum

A more modern locomotive, no longer used, outside the museum building:-

Old Locomotive, Flåmsbana Museum

Another obsolete locomotive, a bit further away:-

Newewr but Obsolete Locomotive, Flåmsbana Museum 3

Old railway poster, showing a stavkirke, or wooden church. These can be almost Russian Orthodox in appearance:-

Old Railwat Poster, Flåmsbana Museum

The Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana)

Flåm is most visited for its railway (the Flåmsbana.) It’s a branch of the line from Oslo to Bergen coming off at Myrdal.

Since Flåm is so small the railway mainly carries tourists eager to experience the steep gradients and spectacular views.

in Flåm itself the railway is not as spectacular as elsewhere. If I ever go back I might take a trip on it.

Front of train heading out of Flåm to Myrdal:-

Train on the Flåm Railway, (Flåmsbana)

Rear of train:-

Rear of Train on Flåmsbana

Leaving Flåm heading to Myrdal:-

Train on Flåm Railway

Train in Flåm heading towards Flåm terminus having come from Myrdal:-

Flåmsbana Train in Flåm, Norway

Flåm and Flåm River

The river at Flåm is called the Flåm (Flåmselvi). Fishing platforms have been built round some of the rocks.

Fishing Platforms, Flåm, by Aurlandsfjord, Norway

A notice said these had been recently replaced after having been washed away in a flood. They are for locals only. There were “no fishing” signs up:-

Another Fishing Platform, Flåm

Typical Norwegian Houses, Flåm:-

Typical Norwegian Houses, Flåm

Flåm River, looking up Flåm Valley:-

Flåm River, Looking up Flåm Valley

Flåm, Aurlandsfjord, Norway

First stop on the Norway trip was Flåm, at the top of Aurlandsfjord, Norway. The ship’s daily information sheet said Flåm is pronounced flom, but the (Norwegian) Captain had it somewhere nearer flum than flom.

It was a bit misty and a small city was docked at the quayside.

Flåm from Aurlandsfjord

Due to that small city we were told we would be tendering.

This is the MV Black Watch’s tender:-

Tender from Ship to Shore

We decided to go for a walk round Flåm, actually in search of a waterfall, the Bokkefossen. It was a steep and muddy climb though so we gave that up.

This is the village from above, Aurlandsfjord is off to the left:-

Flåm Village from above.

Flåm looking back towards Aurlandsfjord:-

Flåm looking towards Aurlandsfjord

Part of Flåm with Flåm River:-

Part of Flåm with Flåm River

Age of Legends by James Lovegrove

Solaris, 2019, 405 p.

 Age of Legends cover

The novel starts with a scene in which parakeets in London are being systematically culled. They are alien, you see. They don’t belong in Britain. At least not in a Britain run by Prime Minister David Drake, head of the Resurrection Party, out to restore the country to “proper” British values and rid it of all undesirables. This last category, of course, includes anyone not born in the UK. Ajia Snell’s mother has been deported “back” to India – a country she had never visited. Bicycle courier Ajia’s father was white British, and therefore she is tolerated. Just. Her dusky skin tends to attract suspicion in certain quarters though. When out on her self-imposed mission to paint graffiti criticising Drake, she is spotted by cops and shot while trying to escape them. This leads to her capture, imprisonment and beating. Her heart stops.

It is of no consequence. The police can do anything they like in this law-and–ordered world. Two cops are delegated to dispose of the body. While they are dumping her in a sewer she wakes up, frightening them off.

Resting on a park bench, she is saved from a further beating at the hands of a vagrant by a man calling himself Smith. He calls her “good fellow” and tells her she is one of a new kind, people who did indeed die but have somehow come back to life with special attributes, attributes drawn from British mythological figures and folk tales. She is Puck, aka Robin Goodfellow, and has the ability to move at incredible speed. Smith is able to rework broken metal and shattered glass into new objects.

Nominative determinism is a central feature of the reincarnations in this book, who are known collectively as eidolons. Their leader is called Auberon LeRoy. A man named Fletcher is extremely handy with a bow and arrow, Daisy Hawthorn has power over growing things, Wee Paul Klein can diminish in size, Neve Winterton has the ability to freeze and unfreeze things. In order to save the soul of Britain they and their like are set to do battle against the armoured cars and Humvees of Drake’s security force, the Paladins.

Interspersed with the story of Ajia Snell (both of whose names mean speed) we are given the experiences of Drake, his wife Harriet, and Security Chief Major Dominic Wynne. In their telling I found these scenes to be reminiscent of the fiction of Harry Turtledove. Before entering politics Drake had been a successful businessman and collector of religious artefacts. He believes himself to be a devout Christian (in his youth a hard row to hoe, in his opinion) but his actions belie any tenets of that faith beyond those of the Old Testament fundamentalist types who seem able to ignore totally any (all?) of the compassionate things that their Messiah is reported to have said and encouraged. Drake’s prize possession is the Holy Grail. Returning to Britain after purchasing it abroad, his helicopter had crashed, with Drake the sole survivor. It is kept under lock and key in a secure building in the grounds of his family home. Not only does he talk to it, it talks back to him in the voice of his companion on that trip, Emrys Sage.

I note there is no mention of the Monarchy in this depiction of a Britain under Fascist rule. An odd omission. Perhaps we are meant to assume it’s been abolished. The implication is that it has been sidelined and of no relevance, certainly no kind of brake on anything.

I suspect Lovegrove intended his tale as a warning of how close the UK is to a future of this sort. Its appeal I suppose lies in the invocation of mythic British heroes and the prospect of the fascist state’s overthrow. However, the treatment suggests that we need to depend on the supernatural to rescue us from such a fate. If that’s the case we’re more lost than I had feared. It’s also depressing that in order to overcome it those heroes have to resort to methods almost indistinguishable from their persecutors. I suppose that was ever the way though.

Pedant’s corner:- Many instances of “‘time interval’ later” throughout. Otherwise; “‘that there was any unnatural about your speed’” (anything unnatural,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, “‘You’re coming with’” (coming with me,) “where an assortment of … were parked” (an assortment … was parked.) “Mr LeRoy helped pored” (helped pour,) “air conditioning kept the temperature steady between 16 and 200C (a 4 degree range is hardly steady,) a pope (a Pope,) “used by the Saint Veronica” (Saints’names are not usually prefixed by the definite article; ‘used by Saint Veronica’,) “there were a number of ikons and Bibles,” (‘there was a number’ or, here, ‘there were numbers of…,) “told you do” (told you to do,) unadvisable (inadvisable,) “that Auberon LeRoy fit the bill” (fitted the bill.) “A trio of Paladins were zeroing in” (A trio … was zeroing in,) “skidded into the life” (into life.) “Mr Le Roy sai without looking round” (Mr LeRoy said..,) “of out both politeness and deference” (out of both,) jpeg (x3, it was a video file, I believe that’s an mpeg, or a gif,) “his his great shoulders” (only one ‘his’ required,) lay low (lie low,) “for another women” (woman.) “The armoured slowed” (armoured truck slowed,) “said to much” (too much,) travelling into the troop-carrier” (in the troop-carrier,) “the tongue-lashing he’d excepted” (expected,) “an elicit thrill” (illicit thrill, this was used correctly later, as was elicit,) “was quite bit older” (quite a bit older,) “all she owned in the way of acreage were two window boxes” (all she owned … was two window boxes,) “‘but all indications is that’” (all indications are that,) “like steel hawser” (like a steel hawser,) “the onyx, jewel-encrusted cup” (the jewel-encrusted onyx cup,) “over a licking flames” (‘over a licking flame’, or, over licking flames’,) “as if unconscionably” (‘unconsciously’ makes more sense in the context. Unconscionably = ‘without conscience’ rather than ‘without thought’,) “an besuited MC took up the microphone on small stage” (a besuited MC took up the microphone on a small stage,) “Drake’s Paladin’s killed them all” (Paladins.) “‘Add your ability own to ours’” (Add your own ability to ours,) behind the fathering “‘and you’d be alerting the bastards the fact’” (and you’d be alerting the bastards to the fact.) “Smith look up at Fletcher” (looked up.) “Lieutenant Noble raised spoke hurriedly into his lapel mic” (raised what?) “Harriet laid on the bed” (Laid? Laid what? ‘Harriet lay on the bed’,) “pointed to see the town far below” (pointed to the town..,) whiskey (x3, whisky.) “They drove onto town” (on to town, or, into town.) At television stood in the corner” (A television,) “‘to contact President Vasilyev on the morning’” (‘in the morning’ is more usual.) “‘The flashed up a fucking mugshot of me, didn’t they?’” (They flashed up..,) “on Wolfson arm” (Wolfson’s arm,) “raring like a demon” (roaring makes more sense,) “‘the method of murder in Bradford suggest the same perpetrator’” (the method … suggests,) “towards an door” (a door,) “a strong of high-pitched gibberish” (a string,) “and hugged hers shins” (her shins,) “or rather where its head has been” (had been.) “‘On you way.’” (On your way,) “a newsagents” (newsagent’s,) “the creature shrieked and rage” (in rage.) Edward Winterton opened her eyes and smiled sat her” (opened his eyes and smiled at her,) “that had rang out” (that had rung out,) parliament (Parliament,) “in ones and two” (ones and twos,) “aptitude with the weapons” (it’s usually aptitude for, not with, something,) “icy and other creepers” (ivy,) “until such a time” (usually ‘until such time’,) “at the top of their voices” (‘tops of their voices’ is more grammatical,) “the line of a ha-ha diving it from sloping lawns” (dividing it,) “jersey cows” (Jersey cows,) “a small force of Russian insurgents have crossed the border” (a small force … has crossed,) a missing full stop (x2,) “more Paladin” (Paladins,) “opened fire of the castle’s defenders” (on the castle’s defenders.) “The reply was hard to make out about the rattle of gunfire” (above the rattle.) “The study door open and an voice” (door opened and a voice,) “You will seek to form a coalition with Labour and the Liberal Democrats” (Labour and the Liberal Democrats are still around in this scenario? They’ve not been banned?)

Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

Apex Book Company, 2018, 230 p. Reviewed for Interzone 276, Jul-Aug 2018.

Close your Eyes cover

This certainly starts with a bang; to be precise a supernova, in which the star in its death throes somehow impregnates a woman called Ekhi, apparently by means of light. Thereafter she is forced to pilot her own ship after shutting down its AI heart since it goes insane due to entropic breakdown of its programmes. She is found floating, naked, in the ship’s control centre – throughout the book these are named egia – by Mari, Hodei and Sugoi, scavengers from The Good Ship Lollipop. At this early point the text displayed an uncomfortably voyeuristic attitude towards Ekhi, embodied in the character of Hodei, who is also fascinated by a nude model in a stache of magazines he keeps. (Magazines? These digital days?) This fascination is later revealed to be because he has the essence of a woman, Iuski, hidden inside him.

Sugoi is Mari’s (very jealous) lover and resents, to the point of violence, any hint of interest in her by Hodei. Sugoi is a lumbering, almost inarticulate creature. With his propensity for violence it is difficult to see what, for Mari, his attraction might be. Then too, there seems to be little jeopardy. Biological repair organisms named thalna can restore to health a body damaged to a high degree. In a similar way robot-like mozorro keep the egias running “smooth and perfect”. Moreover each character contains within itself systems called patuek which “have the ability to store a mind in stasis and be transplanted into a healed, cloned body”.

The ship’s captain, Itsasu, has a frail withered body tethered to the ship’s control heart near the Ortzadar engine (found on the ruins of a moon) and its “bizarre wisdom culled from centuries of intelligence algorithms evolving and learning and storing information into complex data matrices”. She is on a long, 435 year, quest to find her husband but has kept this from the crew, never explaining “exactly why they wandered the stars, stealing from dead cities and spun-down relics of starships”.

None of these are sympathetic characters, not even Ekhi, who seems to be present only to kick-start the story and incubate the supernova’s child. This problem of empathy is exacerbated by Jessup’s use of short, sometimes one word sentences. This is a technique best used sparingly, rather than being endemic.

Jeopardy does come; in the shape of pirates of a sort whose main weapon seems to be language; “‘We would whisper the word once, just once, and your mind would become a slave to this foreign tongue, this alien thought device.’” “That language is a giant looming inside of my mind. Hunting me.” “With the new language came a new being, a hive mind that commanded each and every one of them.” This enemy is connected with the sakre, which can drive human minds to destruction.

The novel is divided into two “books” titled “Open Your Eyes” and “Close Your Mouth” both with five Acts and separated by an Intermission. The birth of the child of the supernova (“I am Arigia. I am the dreams of humanity, the lands of the stars. I am the coupling between all and everything. I float, I am free. And I sing this ship to life. The port to life. I sing the sorrow song at the end of the universe, at the end of time,”) ends the first section. This seems to presage Arigia’s subsequent importance but she is all but totally absent from Book II wherein a wheelchair bound Isatsu, accompanied by Mari (now turned into a bird,) and Isatsu’s husband Ortzi – or, rather his consciousness contained within a skull – wander a labyrinth loosely drawn from the minotaur legend through a landscape of severed heads, while trying to escape the clutches of a bear-like creature called Basa and his diminutive controller La whose driving force seems to be, “Cover them in words. Take their heads. Fill with eggs.”

It all presents as just a little bonkers. Add in some purple-skinned, elephant-headed creatures for seasoning.

Bonkers is fine, but a human story to hang on to while we’re at it, characters whose fates the reader might care about, would help the medicine go down. If SF ideas for the sake of SF ideas do it for you then give this a go. Those who prefer their senses and sensibilities to be engaged should look elsewhere.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- Written in USian, eg “inside of” (for inside) is littered throughout the text, as is outside of, though there was at least one plain “inside”, shined (shone,) gasses (gases.) Otherwise; sung (sang,) pixilated (pixelated; “pixilated” means drunk, not “blocky in appearance”,) madamoiselle (mademoiselle,) “the sound of the engine became a thundering rush of sounds” (sound….. became …. sounds,) “recording each movement and sending it back” (sending them back,) “and he doesn’t expect me too, either” (expect me to, either,) “kept trying on the shape of names” (shapes,) “had climbed into … and stole away” (stolen away is more natural.) “The only thing preserving his being … were his patuek” (The only thing …was.) “She felt a smile, somehow, hung in her mind” (hang in her mind?) “The eyes were not orbs, but instead flashlights, letting out hot white halos from LED eyes.” (The eyes …. eyes,) “[you] will be discarded of properly” (discarded properly; or, disposed of properly; not “discarded of properly”,) “the heart and the AI where the only things” (were the only things. How on Earth does this “where” for “were” substitution get past i] the writer, ii] any agent involved, iii] a publisher’s reader, iv] the editor?) “her remembered his mother” (he remembered,) “tried to push his cheek back and out its washcloth caress” (and out of,) “with the tip of his toes” (tips.) “His life readings show that his still alive” (he’s still alive,) “near were we need to be” (and now we get the reverse; “were” for “where”,) “a white milky, substance” (a white, milky substance,) ganeeshas(ganeshas,) “with doors along the every facet of the interior” (along every facet,) “Hodei opened door” (opened the door,) “a craggy old fishermen” (fisherman,) “and horded them for itself” (hoarded,) “of the most importance” (utmost?) “it heard a voice sing a solitary voice sing” (take out either ‘a voice’ or ‘a solitary voice’,) “on one the lesser pods” (one of the lesser,) batadur (previously betadur,) crow’s feet (crows’ feet,) “all of her wonderful machines she’d been building” (all of the wonderful machines she’d been building.) “The tenor of the words were true” (The tenor … was true.) Patuek (patuek.) “Sword to help each other” (Sworn makes more sense,) “She saw that flicker of flame tattoos on each of the foreheads” (that flicker of flame tattoo,) shrunk (shrank.) “The profound of absurdity of our very existence” (The profound absurdity of our,) “we watched thirteen suns float through and endless sea of night” (an endless sea,) encoves ….. “on a raised dais where the reprogrammed dolls” (Here it is again; were the reprogrammed dolls,) “all I found where your doubles” (and again: were,) a missing question mark (x3,) Mozorro (elsewhere mozorro,) their epidermis (their; therefore epidermises,) super nova (supernova,) “a room that was on large tank” (one large tank,) “waiting to be woke into” (woken,) “It always changed when they go on the hunt” (when they went on the hunt,) “And where they more her than she was?” (once more; were,) “through the infinite of space and time” (infinity,) sat (seated; or, sitting,) “The pain one’s experiences” (the pain of one’s experiences; or, the pain one experiences,) “This ship was filled with the most flammable object known to humankind. Oxygen.” (That “object” ought to be “substance”. And oxygen isn’t flammable. It’s the agent that causes flame,) damnit (elsewhere dammit,) “a thought eeked out” (eked? Leaked?) “with these cluster of doubles” (this cluster; or, these clusters,) ‘Can you use to revive him?’ (use it,) “full of explosive oxygen” (oxygen isn’t explosive; in its presence other substances may be.)

End of Empire

One of the lessons of history is that all empires come to an end. The Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire (“neither holy nor Roman, nor an empire,” as Voltaire once quipped,) the Mongol Empire of the Golden Horde, the muslim Caliphates, the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empires (Napoleon’s and the later colonial empire,) the Empire of Brazil, the German Empire, the Russian Empire and the later Soviet one, the British Empire – whose last vestige apart from dribs and drabs of territory around the world surfaced in the “Empress of India” proclamation at the funeral of the late Queen Mother – all gone to dust along with so many others.

This Wikipedia list gives only the largest empires.

US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, once said that Britain had lost an empire and not found a role. I wonder if part of the Brexit vote – not all, just part – was a reaction by older voters to that lack of a role as they can by and large remember when a political map of the world was liberally strewn with pink. I would venture that young people don’t have that feeling.

As for myself I long ago came to the conclusion that empire was a thing the UK was better off without, a delusion of grandeur no longer sustainable. After all, the British Isles constitute a relatively small mass of land off the northwest coast of Europe, not too significant in the grand scheme of things. That the British state should “punch above its weight” in international circles struck me as an increasing anachronism. And why should we be punching anybody anyway?

Membership of the European Union made perfect sense; a close collaboration with neighbours of a broadly similar outlook and goals.

But maybe this was actually a Scottish perspective as there seems to be a streak of belief in the southern parts of these islands – perhaps more prevalent the further south you go – in English exceptionalism coupled with a desire to have as little to do with foreigners as possible. As a newspaper headline supposedly once had it:- “Fog In Channel. Continent Cut Off.”

Scots do have the saying, “Wha’s like us?” (To which the answer is “Gey few and they’re a’ deid.”) But that was always more of a joke, a whistling in the wind, than an assertion of superiority.

That loss of empire (and of the sense that superiority can no longer be assumed) may well have been a factor in the Brexit vote. Clearly, for some in the southern portions of Britain at least, being part of a larger association in which you are neither the top nor the most numerous dog and therefore cannot condescendingly lord it over others (as they historically have done abroad and do still within the UK) is not a role in which they feel comfortable. Some of them still seem to think the UK can be (or even still is) a force on the world stage. Former (is there any other kind?) Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said sonorously on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, “This is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” in the context of what he called “bullying” by the EU as if that assertion still carried a degree of clout. (I note Marr made no attempt to disabuse him of his belief in innate worth. The fact that Raab had been made Brexit Secretary in the first place – and Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – is an indicator of how impoverished the British political system has become in terms of elected representatives.) Sometimes I could wish that they would get over themselves.

Maybe a period of irrelevance as a North Atlantic offshoot of a more powerful trading block – a truer reflection of the UK’s standing – is just what they need in order to wake up to their reduced capacity to influence world affairs (consider: does anyone in Spain still hanker for the empire they once had?) – but perhaps even that would not jolt their certainties. Indeed, it may even inflame their resentments.

It may be that some of that losing a role sentiment, a sense of imminent decline, is an explanation of why US voters turned to T Ronald Dump two years ago. Decline has not come yet but will eventually – all empires fall in the end – but for now the US is still a preeminent superpower (though facing economic challenge from China in particular.) Quite how a real fall from that state will affect a polity which is used to strutting its stuff on the world stage is now being rehearsed in a compelling but worrying way, as a farce presaging a tragedy.

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