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Interzone Time Again

The Orphanage of Gods cover
Interzone 279 cover

The latest Interzone, 278 of that ilk, came through the letter box a few days ago. It doesn’t have one of my reviews in it.

The issue after, though, 279, will do, as a couple of days later The Orphanage of Gods by Helena Coggan also arrived.

Once again, Ms Coggan is a new author to me – even if she has had two previous books published.

Best Reading of 2018

Listed below in order of reading. 16 in total; 7 by Scottish writers, 4 SF or Fantasy (+ 1 non-fiction about SF,) 3 in translation, 10 by men, 6 by women:-

Living Nowhere by John Burnside
All Our Worldly Goods by Irène Némirovsky
Science Fiction: A Literary History Edited by Roger Luckhurst
The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin
The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
The Gathering Night by Margaret Elphinstone
When They Lay Bare by Andrew Greig
The Great Chain of Unbeing by Andrew Crumey
Hame by Annalena McAfee
I Remember Pallahaxi by Michael G Coney
Not so Quiet …. stepdaughters of war by Helen Zenna Smith
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez
Time Was by Ian McDonald
The Shipbuilders by George Blake
Mr Alfred M.A. by George Friel
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

Reading Scotland 2018

The ones in bold are in the 100 Best Scottish Books list.

I’ve read 33 Scottish (in the broadest sense) books in 2018, 7 SF or Fantasy (italicised,) 13 by women, 20 by men. E M Brown (aka Eric Brown) qualifies by having a small part of Buying Time set in Scotland and by living near Dunbar for the past few years.

I’ve not a good balance this year between men and women, mainly due to exhausting the women on the 100 Best list.

The Distant Echo by Val McDermid
Living Nowhere by John Burnside
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Gathering Night by Margaret Elphinstone
When They Lay Bare by Andrew Greig
Autumn by Ali Smith
The Great Chain of Unbeing by Andrew Crumey
The Lie of the Land by Michael Russell
As Though We Were Flying by Andrew Geig
Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine
Jericho Sleep Alone by Chaim I Bermant
Hame by Annalena McAfee
The Thirteenth Disciple by J Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon)
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan
The New Road by Neil Munro
Glitter of Mica by Jessie Kesson
From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark
Supercute Futures by Martin Milllar
The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre
Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey
Adam Blair by J G Lockhart
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
The Shipbuilders by George Blake
Mr Alfred M.A. by George Friel
Serious Sweet by A L Kennedy
Interrupted Journey by James Wilson
The Bone Yard by Paul Johnston
Buying Time by E M Brown

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Macmillan, 2017, 423 p. Reviewed for Interzone 273, Nov-Dec 2017.

 A Skinful of Shadows cover

A YA novel with the usual quota of incident this is also a book written with a pleasing clarity and focus.

Makepeace Lightfoot is brought up as a Puritan in her aunt’s house in Poplar, sleeping on a straw mattress shared with her mother. More unusually her mother frequently forces her to spend nights in a church so that she might learn to ward off ghosts. Her lack of knowledge of her origins and the conflict this produces induces Makepeace to run off after a man her mother lets slip came from Grizehayes, her father’s home. This leads Makepeace into a mob heading for Lambeth Palace, protesting against the influence Archbishop Laud has over the King. In the confusion her chasing mother loses touch with her. Makepeace encounters wisps emanating from the body of a mistreated dancing bear, whose presence, as Bear, will be with her for ever. When Makepeace’s mother dies in the disturbances the classic ingredient for a children’s story, no parents, is in place but there is a moment of horror as Makepeace battles off her mother’s ghost.

Quickly packed off to Grizehayes, the ancestral seat of the powerful Felmotte family where the patriarch Lord Felmotte is a malevolent presence, calling her ‘the by-blow’, Makepeace is despatched to work in the kitchen where she befriends the domestic animals, despite Bear’s reluctance, and in turn is taken up by her half-brother James, another Felmotte by-blow who tells her a Felmotte’s character changes for the worse when he comes into his inheritance. While the reader has already divined the phenomenon it is only slowly that the extent of Makepeace’s genetic disposition – beyond the Felmotte cleft chin – becomes fully apparent to her.

That the waters we swim in colour our attitudes is indicated by Makepeace’s observation that, “Back in Poplar, everyone had known that the king was being led astray by evil advisers and Catholic plots. …. in Grizehayes it was just as obvious … that a power-hungry Parliament driven to frenzy by crazy Puritans was trying to steal power from the rightful King.”

Up to this point that background conflict seems only colouring but Hardinge integrates it into her plot with the revelation of the existence of a charter bearing the King’s seal acknowledging the Felmottes’ unique strangeness in return for their financial support.

The relatively kindly Sir Thomas Felmotte, who has not yet inherited, reveals to Makepeace, “‘There is a …space inside us. We can host more than ourselves.’” Makepeace realises, “‘We’re hollow. And dead things can get in.’” On death, the Elder Felmottes pass on their personalities to their chosen heir’s body, which acquires exceptional skills as a result. As Sir Thomas rationalises, “‘Imagine how great a family would be, if no experience, no skills, no memories were ever lost.’” The downside? Only the strongest personalities survive among the mix.

Makepeace ponders their toleration by the Elders and begins to understand the danger she and James are in, telling him, “‘We are spares,… somewhere to put the ghosts in an emergency!’”

The dispute between King and Parliament has by now erupted into full blown war, “The world was turning cartwheels … and nobody was sure which way was up any more,” providing Makepeace with the opportunity to flee when that emergency does arise. But James has meanwhile succumbed to Felmotte infiltration.

“Humans always betrayed you sooner or later,” Makepeace reflects, but embarks on a search for a way to restore James to himself and destroy the Felmottes forever. Along the way she incorporates a doctor, a Parliamentary soldier and a Felmotte sent ahead to take her over. These talk to her in a different, lighter font. Her travels take her to the King’s court at Oxford and capture by a Parliamentary detachment where she is accused of witchcraft. She speaks again to our times with the thought, “Humans are strange, adaptable animals, and eventually get used to anything, even the impossible or unbearable. In time, the unthinkable becomes normal.”

Towards the end Hardinge has a playful stab at the author/reader relationship with the doctor’s ghost’s rumination, “I am nothing but a bundle of thoughts, feelings and memories, given life by someone else’s mind. But then again, so is a book.”

The author’s touch is assured and her execution admirable. Apart from some dialogue which (arguably necessarily) doesn’t quite have a 17th century feel there is little to find fault with here.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- Remarkably for these times I found only one typo, “she had had unexpectedly halted” (only one “had”.) Yes the book had a few examples of collective nouns being given a plural verb but these were in dialogue and therefore possibly true to the character – except for “a murder of Crowes were gathered around Lord Felmotte” (was gathered.) The phrase, “‘I had a ringside seat’” is hardly a 17th century expression, I’d have thought, and unfortunately we had an explosion occurring at an “epicentre” (centre.)

More for Interzone

Another book for me to review for Interzone arrived today.

It is called Supercute Futures and was written by Martin Millar – born in Scotland but now living in London – and is said to be “a gloriously warped dystopian fantasy.”

The review ought to appear in Interzone 277.

I’ll need to get on to it straight away.

Interzone 276 Jul-Aug 2018

TTA Press

 Interzone 276 cover

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam takes the editorial slot and reflects on how growing up queer (her word) revealed that adults knew as little as children about navigating the world and instilled her with all sorts of phobias. In Future Interrupted Andy Hedgecock reveals how certain formative reading/viewing experiences still colour his tastes. Nina Allan’s Time Pieces reflects by way of her own experience and Marian Womack’s debut collection Lost Objects on how the short story is still the best pathway for a writer to come into his or her own.

The fiction kicks off with Grey Halls1 by Rachael Cupp where a future musician famous for, but himself dismissive of, his one big success, Grey Halls, travels back in time for inspiration.
Superbright2 by Ryan Row is set in a world where superpowers are common. This story totally failed to capture my interest.
In Tumblebum3 by Darby Harn, New York is flooded and everything is controlled by a huge corporation named TAG. Tumblebum is hired to find the missing photographer daughter of a racehorse owning family.
A species of harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex quaesitor; or P.q. starts building sculptures- or are they temples? – in P. Q.4 by James Warner.
In Tim Major’s Throw Caution5 pseudo-crab lifeforms have been found on Mars. Their bodies contain diamonds. (Well, not really. They’re silicon based.) The story follows two prospectors searching outwith the normal areas.
So Easy6 by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is a post-apocalypse story. Well enough done but a bit inconsequential.
Paul Crenshaw’s Eyes7 has a young boy find a pair of disembodied eyes floating in the stream which runs by his house. They can still blink and so answer his questions thereby telling a tale of life, the universe and so on.

In Reviews Iain Hunter recommends the Jane Yolen edited Nebula Awards Showcase 2018 (rather confusingly featuring stories from 2016;) I am rather less enthusiastic about Paul Jessup’s Close Your Eyes; Duncan Lunan says Rob Boffard’s Adrift relocates the aeroplane movie to a tour shuttle from a habitat overlooking the Horsehead Nebula, Lawrence Osborn claims Revenant Gun, the last in Yoon Ha Lee’s trilogy which began with Ninefox Gambit is essential reading for military SF space opera or worldbuilding buffs (I still won’t be going near it;) Duncan Lawrie accepts Shattermoon by Dominic Dulley for what it is, fast-paced light reading; Andy Hedgecock lauds at least one entertaining and provocative story from an under celebrated master in The Adventures of the Ingenious Alfanui by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio translated by Margaret Jull; Stephen Theaker8 likes Kameron Hurley’s fix-up Apocalypse Nix better than he did her God’s War trilogy and Andy Hedgecock returns to praise Juliet E McKenna’s The Green Man’s Heir.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Written in USian, “He was fortunate, then, to not have Osorio’s fan base” (not to have.) 2Written in USian; “experiments with which had given her son” (either experiments which had given her son, or, experiments with which she had given her son,) “He shined.” (He shone.) 3Written in USian. 4Written in USian, “atypical climactic conditions” (climatic.) 5“sand….sunk away” (sank,) shrunk (shrank.) 6Written in USian. 7Written in Usian. 8“her ramshackle team of misfits are pretty much always doomed to fail” (her team is always doomed to fail.)

Future Reading Delight

No less than three future items of reading came through my letter box between yesterday and today.

 The Book of Hidden Things cover
 Shoreline of Infinity 12 cover

 Interzone 276 cover

Firstly Shoreline of Infinity 12 arrived yesterday – I know I’ve not yet read issues 8-11 but I will get round to them – then both Interzone 276 (which contains my review of Close your Eyes by Paul Jessup) and the latest novel for review in Interzone, The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri. Mr Dimitri is another author new to me. An Italian writer of Fantasy, this is the first book he has written in English.

Widdershins by Oliver Onions

Penguin, 1939, 244 p.

Widdershins cover

This is a book of eight short stories – well, one is a novella – first published in 1911, by Yorkshireman Onions. He wrote well, each of the stories holds the attention and his characterization is good. All have at least a hint of the strange or unnatural. They stand up even a century after writing.

In the combined ghost and horror story The Beckoning Fair One a writer takes a flat in an otherwise empty house and finds he can no longer continue the novel he has been working on, nor the enthusiasm for much else. I was reminded a bit of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.
Phantas is the story of the captain of a becalmed – and sinking – galleon out of the port of Rye, who dreams of a means of propulsion which would enable ships to avoid such a predicament. Out of the mists looms a grey, steam-driven modern destroyer.
Rooum is one of those unlettered men who has a natural flair for competency in his trade. He questions our unnamed narrator about molecules and osmosis as he feels he is occasionally subject to a kind of interpersonal merging.
The register in which Benlian is told is a familiar one to readers of Fantasy or Science Fiction, a realist depiction of a weird phenomenon. Benlian is a sculptor whose essence is increasingly opaque to photography, a man passing away, into his sculpture. The possibility that the narrator is mad rather spoils things though.
In Io a young woman who is convalescing tries to remember the dreams she had during her illness so as to enter their reality.
The Accident occurs when a man about to meet an old adversary in an attempt at reconciliation has a vision of how the encounter will – must – turn out.
The Cigarette Case is one of those shaggy dog stories of the “as told me by a friend” variety.
In Hic Jacet a successful author of detective fiction – a thinly veiled model, this – is asked to write the “Life” of an artist friend (who did not compromise his integrity for commercial success) and finds the gods of writing are against the project.

Pedant’s corner:- accidently (accidentally,) a missing end quotation mark. “But an effort of will he put them aside” (either ‘By an effort of will’, or, ‘But by an effort of will.’) “I seemed so natural” (context also supports ‘It seemed so natural.’) “whiskys and soda” (whiskies; but at least we weren’t subjected to ‘whisky and sodas’.) “ A group of scene-shifters were” (a group was,) plaintains (plantains,) pigmy (I prefer pygmy,) “penumbia of shadow” (penumbra,) “I confess that the position had effect of the thing startled me for a moment” (I can’t parse this phrase at all,) “his position involved a premium on which the rich amateur, he merely replied…” (seems to be missing a word after “amateur”, besogne (besoin,) “the abiquitous presence” (ubiquitous, I suspect.)

The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan

Harvill Secker, 2018, 309 p, plus iv p Glossary of Chapter Titles and i p Bibliography.

 The Gloaming cover

Set on an unnamed Scottish island, The Gloaming is an extended riff on the selkie legend, with additional elements of the fantastic. Mainly concerned with the lives of Islay, Mara and Barra, the three children of an ex-boxer, Peter, and a former ballerina, Signe, incomers to the island who live in a large house – complete with shark jaw for a doorway – which they intend to convert slowly from dilapidation to a hotel, it also explores familial resentments and duties. Barring the first’s, its chapter titles contain one word – ballet terms for those about Signe, boxing ones for Peter, and Scots for the children. While in some cases these are apposite, in others the connection between the title and the chapter’s content seems more than a little forced, if it exists at all.

When inhabitants of the island are about to die they start to slow down. This is an indication they will turn to stone, a fantastical conceit of Logan’s whereby the bodies end up on a hill as statues, a process usually attended by the island’s inhabitants as a ceremonial act but sometimes undertaken alone. This whimsy is not really explored fully as the hub around which the story revolves is Mara, who suffers a facial disfigurement the night she tries (and fails) to rescue Barra from drowning. In later life she forms an attachment to Pearl, a later incomer to the island, whose house lies within a hill and who at first can be read as the embodiment of the selkie legend. On their first meeting Pearl tells Mara she is a mermaid, by which she means she performs as one in an aquatic travelling show. Their later sojourn away from the island as a double act (selkies always leave) is a brief interlude only though. The pull of family is too strong.

Logan does pull off some tricks with apparent narrative viewpoint but her asides on readerly expectation of a story’s destination prefigure too strongly her intentions.

The Gloaming is fine as far as it goes, certainly better, more cohesive, than the author’s previous novel The Gracekeepers.

Pedant’s corner:- “When he arrived he wouldn’t fail to miss her” (context demands, “he wouldn’t fail to see her”,) “the sort that comes in packs of four at discount shops and only shattered if you threw them hard on a tiled floor” (and only shatter if you throw them.) “Didn’t that use to be…” (used to be,) “‘whatever I have to do make her see’” (to do to make her see.) In the Glossary; besom is defined as “a broom, a woman of loose morals and a cheeky child.” (A broom, definitely but I’ve not heard it used in the context of a woman of loose morals, only of one cheeky or nosy) drouthy is given as thirsty for strong drink (it just means thirsty, not necessarily for strong drink,) mauchit (spelled this way the “ch” would be pronounced as in loch; it isn’t. The online dictionary of Scots language has mockit – one instance of maukit – though I have seen mocket.)

Interzone 275, May-Jun 2018

TTA Press

Interzone 275 cover

Steven J Dines’s Editorial describes the unlikely role of father figure which fiction took in his young life. Andy Hedgecoock takes over Jonathan McCalmont’s Future Interrupted column and hopes to continue his search for SF “that is of value and worthy of our time”. In Time Piecesa Nina Allan looks at the abiding relevance of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

In Book Zone Maureen Kincaid Speller found herself disappointed and frustrated by Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous, Duncan Lunan reviews two anthologies edited by Mike Ashley Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures and Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet welcoming some of the choices made and questioning others and laterb looks very favourably on Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima, Duncan Lawiec says he won’t persevere with any sequels to Tristan Palmgren’s Quietus, Ian Hunter findsd The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer hindered by its first person narrative, Andy Hedgecock warmly welcomes Ursula Le Guin’s collection of non-fiction Dreams Must Explain Themselves, Stephen Theaker laments the enduring topicality of Middle-Eastern woes in his look at The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, Elaine Gallagher praises Kirsty Logan’s The Gloaming while I myself find Chris Barnham’s Fifty-One diverting and Andrew Crumey’s The Great Chain of Unbeing totally accomplished. Finally Ian Sales says the stories in the Australian Sean McMullen’s collection Dreams of the Technarion do what SF ought to as it contains a wide range of ideas thoroughly worked out.

In the fiction, Erika L Satifka’s The Fate of the World Reduced to a Ten-Second Pissing Contest is set in a bar which has been abducted into a gap in reality – contents, patrons and all – by aliens with a taste for alcohol.
In Looking for Landau1 by Steven J Dines a man wanders the earth in search of Landau, who introduces people to the gateway to the next world.
The Mark2 by Abi Hynes can be read as a comment on how women are perceived in some quarters as not quite being human. A member of a seemingly uniform far future community (where reproduction has been a technological process now failing) flees up a mountain to escape the consequences of deformity. It soon becomes apparent she has given birth and the bundle she is carrying with her is the child.
The Purpose of the Dodo is to be Extinct3 by Malcolm Devlin is a quasi-philosophical piece centred round a man who dies at the same time in every separate reality (though in different ways depending on each.)
The Christ Loop4 by Leo Vladimirsky is narrated by a Jesus who undergoes every kind of execution possible, and is debriefed after each one in order to discern which will finally be enough to satisfy God.
It is a bit odd that these last two stories both feature the multiple deaths of their main character.

Pedant’s corner:- adescendent (descendant.) bOne Day in the Life of Ian Denisovitch (Ian?) Star Trek – Next Generation (Star Trek – The Next Generation) cIain M Banks’ (Iain M Banks’s,) populus (populace.) d“will not except him as a son” (accept.) 1stood (standing,) focussed (focused.) “A pair of women’s panties sit on the crumpled roof” (a pair sits.) 2“They lay Uncle down” (laid.) 3Iron Bridge (Ironbridge,) “the manner of Prentis O’Rourke’s deaths were documented” (the manners …. were documented,) Mechano (Meccano,) busses (buses.) 4Written in USian, “if they just left all the other me” (all the other me’s,) a question mark at the end of a statement.

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