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Cosmic Monster

Part of the Carina Nebula as seen in Astronomy Picture of the Day for 25/5/20.

It looks like something from the cover of a Fantasy novel:-

Part of Carina Nebula

In the Red Lord’s Reach by Phyllis Eisenstein

Grafton, 1993, 286 p.

 In the Red Lord’s Reach  cover

These are the continuing adventures of Alaric the minstrel, hero of Born to Exile, who has the ability to transport himself instantaneously from one place to another, a trait he has to keep secret for fear of being called a witch. In his wanderings he comes to the domain of the Red Lord where he offers his musical services in return for the usual bed and board. Very soon he realises that there is something disturbing at the heart of the Red Lord’s reign. The hold the Lord has over the valley is as a reward for protection against bandits – of whom Alaric has seen no sign – and screams come from the Lord’s tower every night. When Alaric says it is time for him to leave he is taken to the tower where he finds the Lord tortures and eventually kills his victims, a fate now intended for Alaric.

He escapes (of course, how could a self-teleporter not?) and makes his way to the north lands where he falls in with the deer-herding (and riding) nomads who live there. The chief, Simir, himself a fugitive from the Red Lord, takes to him, as does Xavia the daughter of the nomads’ witch, Kata. Kata’s potions and prognostications are a solace for the nomads – she yearly provides them all with the Elixir of Life and imbues the men with the talent to hunt. Here being a witch is not seen as devilry, though Alaric does not accept that for a while. His relationship with Xavia is not taken well by Simir’s sons and leads to a confrontation. The sons are exiled and Alaric finds himself desired as a successor by both Simir and Kata.

The bad winter which follows leaves the nomads with few deer, no prospects for the next year and little option but what all along the reader knew was coming; to try to overthrow the Red Lord.

It’s decently enough written and engaging (not to mention remarkably free of errata) but an attempted rationale for Alaric’s powers as tapping into what seem to be magnetic field lines, described when Kata leads an expedition north to harvest the strange flowers which grow only there at midsummer and provide the ingredients for the Elixir of Life, sits somewhat oddly with the otherwise purely fantastical premise.

Pedant’s corner:- a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. “‘Pilgrim’s bound where?’” (Pilgrims.)

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Hodder, 2019, 317 p.

 Storm of Locusts cover

This is the second of Roanhorse’s Sixth World sequence featuring the adventures of Maggie Hoskie, Monsterslayer. I reviewed the first, Trail of Lightning, here. We are again in Navajo country, Dinétah, and straight away Maggie is asked by Hastiin, of the Thirsty Boys, (drought still afflicts the land after the environmental catastrophe known as the Big Water,) to help with something big and bad over near Lake Asááyi. On the way she is introduced to Ben, who is not a young man, but a teenage girl, Hastiin’s niece, whom Hastiin asks Maggie to look after if anything should happen to him, which naturally it soon does. The something big and bad turns out to be a woman with wings who can sing others to submission and is an adherent of the White Locust. Hastiin is killed, Ben blames herself for attracting the winged woman’s attention and tries to kill her in revenge. In the aftermath Maggie has to accept reponsibility for Ben, who we find, like Maggie, has clan powers, in her case to track people. The winged woman – despite her singing abilities – is then forgotten by the narrative.

Rissa and Clive Goodacre of the All-American bar encountered in the previous book come knocking asking for Maggie’s help to rescue their brother Caleb, taken apparently by Maggie’s former ally, Kai, whom she betrayed in the course of defeating then burying her mentor, Neizghání, whose sword of lightning is now in Maggie’s possession. A video of the abduction is in the bar’s archive, and despite not being very revealing does show Kai mouthing, “I love you. Don’t follow,” presumably to Maggie. Though Maggie is insistent she no longer wants to kill anyone and any pursuit means she might have to, follow is of course what she does, accompanied by Ben, Clive, Rissa, and a shapeshifter called Mósí, escaping pursuit by a swarm of locusts which can devour everything in sight and assemble themselves into a human shape.

They find Caleb at Dinétah’s southern entry gate, complete with a set of wings and pinned by stakes to the wall that surrounds Dinétah. (For some reason all the Goodacres have red hair. Odd, it isn’t a dominant gene.) The trail leads out into the Badlands beyond Dinétah. Within hours our adventurers are captured and taken to Knifetown, overseen by a man called Bishop who is a trader of all kinds but especially of breedable women. He deems Maggie and Rissa too dangerous though. They are to be harvested for their organs. Somewhat too easily they talk themselves out of captivity by persuading Bishop’s pilot, Aaron, to help them. This is good for plot reasons as he is the brother of Gideon, the White Locust. Mósí engineers that they stop at an abandoned casino named Twin Arrows, where Maggie becomes reacquainted with Ma’ii (Coyote) whom she had killed in the previous book, “The problem with immortals is that they don’t stay dead,” and engages in a game of chance with the god Nohoilpi. There is a diversion to a place called Wahheap, where Maggie learns from Tó how to control Neizghání’s sword, then on to Amangiri and the final confrontation with the White Locust, who holds a grudge against Dinétah and plans to destroy it.

Maggie is an engaging narrator. Despite all the mayhem, violence and killing, not all that much by way of plot, and the lack of filling in of background detail of this supposed future the book is well written. Roanhorse shows understanding of the human condition and a flair for character depiction. The blending of Navajo myth and beliefs with a Fantasy plot works well as a story but the control over natural phenomena by those with powers is always a stretch for me.

The last chapter is a bit of a tease as it does not relate at all to the main thrust of Storm of Locusts but instead promises more in the Sixth World.

Pedant’s corner:- “When the adrenaline spike that drive them fades” (drives then,) “at apace” (at a pace.) “Something about Rissa seem to repel the light” (seems,) “she slides off mattress” (the mattress,) “there’s no arcing patterns” (there are no arcing patterns,) a closed quotation mark at the end of a paragraph when the next paragraph started off with the same speaker (x 1,) “‘I’ve never drank alcohol before’” (never drunk.) “He shakes he head.” (his head.) “‘How it is my fault?’” (How is it my fault?,) “as we race for the Lupton” (for Lupton,) “like she’s relived” (relieved,) “Caleb’s rushes on” (Caleb rushes on,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. “His freezes” (He freezes.) “Feedings us to the sporting dogs.” (Feeding us to,) hanger (hangar, used correctly later,) “what looks to be modified Heckler assault rifles” (what look to be,) the sheathe (the sheath,) “I loved the way it shined” (shone,) “the pressure of fingers on my neck disappear” (disappears.) “His stumbles back” (He stumbles,) “sounds like I great idea” (like a great idea,) “righted the plan” (righted the plane.) “The use it against a god?” (To use it against a god?) Nohoipli (elsewhere always Nohoilpi,) “making them they sparkle like diamonds” (no ‘they’ needed,) “rarer in this world that you think” (than you think,) “rolling through by body” (through my body,) “‘if you haven’t notice’” (noticed.) “The docks creaks and moans” (the dock,) “I sheath the sword” (sheathe,) “There’s a an individual” (no ‘a’.) “Kai shoulders fall slightly” (Kai’s,) an unneeded end quote mark at the end of a normal piece of prose (x1.) “The spill of pebbles under my feet sound like” (the spill …sounds like,) “reaching up hands up” (only one ‘up’ required.) “The impossibly rare smell of sugar and cinnamon waft from the dish” (the … smell … wafts,) “I cry out at my fingers bend and crack” (as my fingers,) “and his eyes – whatever light they had before – snuffs out” (- whatever light they had before snuff out,) Diyin Dine’ e (elsewhere always Dine’ é,) “the handful that are left” (strictly; the handful that is left.) “Stepping out of from behind” (either ‘out of’ or ‘from’, not both,) “from having the relive the horrors” (having to relive,) “her face tight” (his face.) “As in on cue” (As if on cue,) “his breath coming is gasps,” (in gasps,) Dinetah (elsewhere always Dinétah.)

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville

Macmillan, 2015, 443 p.

 Three Moments of an Explosion cover

This is Miéville’s latest collection of short stories. Like with all such collections the interest varies but the stories are all readable.

The very short Three Moments of an Explosion consists of three fragments all describing explosions, some of which are used for advertisemants.
In Polynia Cold Masses – icebergs – appear in the sky over London (while coral sprouts on the walls of buildings in Brussels.) There’s a Wellsian feel to it but the end result is still distinctly Miévillean.
The Condition of New Death is that all dead bodies orient with their feet pointing directly towards to any observer (including cameras) at all times. Apparently this is linked to a feature of early First-Person Shooters.
The Dowager of Bees is narrated by a card player, inducted one day into the phenomenon of Hidden Suits, where a card (such as the Dowager of Bees) will manifest during a game – and in the rule books – only for both to disappear again once the game ends, with forfeits to be fulfilled. The reader can guess which card the climax will involve but there is still a resolution beyond its appearance.
Narrated by an immigrant shopkeeper on the island where it is set In the Slopes is the story both of two rival archæological digs in the shadow of a volcano which are uncovering evidence of extraterrestrials living alongside humans and of a new resin for preserving the remains.
The Crawl is the text of a trailer for a zombie film.
Watching God is set on a peninsula cut off from its mainland by forest and a ravine. Ships appear from time to time but never come ashore, instead wrecking themselves just out to sea as if forming words with their arrangements.
The title of The 9th Technique refers to a form of torture but the story itself is about the uncanny manifestations attached to the techniques – the cloth from the first waterboarding now having unusual properties – and their value as objects of desire. The 9th technique is confinement with an insect. Viewpoint character Koning acquires it.
The Rope is the World is a history of the girdling of Earth – a thin-spoked wheel – by space elevators and their subsequent inhabitation and decay. Money for old ….
Containing some fables particular to its setting The Buzzard’s Egg is the address of an enslaved member of a defeated city, whose job it is to look after the captured gods of conquered peoples, to one of those gods.
Säcken is a tale of supernatural apparitions arising from an ancient punishment for parricide, the poena cullei, where the criminal was sewn into a bag with a dog, a cockerel, a viper and an ape and then thrown into water.
Syllabus is what it says, an outline for an academic course on the detritus left by time-travellers, the ramifications of the arrival of alien insects for global poilitics and the implications of the privatisation of sickness in the UK.
In Dreaded Outcome a therapist has an unusual proactive role in the restoration of her patients to well-being using what she calls traumatic vector therapy. She also has her own therapist.
After the Festival is a gruesome tale about a new entertainment – the public slaughter of animals and the subsequent wearing of their heads by people chosen from the crowd.
The Dusty Hat starts as a tale of political leftist factionalism but soon veers off into weirdness and a discussion of geological deep time (which gives Miéville the opportunity to make a neat pun with the description glass struggle. He also for some reason finds it necessary to italicise the word stramash.)
Escapee is another text of a film trailer, this time for a horror film.
The Bastard Prompt’s narrator’s girlfriend was a jobbing actor not getting many parts so took a post as a Standardised Patient – helping trainee doctors to recognise diseases from their ‘symptoms’. She’s very good at it but then starts to describe symptoms for diseases that don’t exist – yet.
Rules is a short list of, em, rules for as yet unknown games and also a reflection on imitating an aeroplane with spread arms and making that “now-familiar” noise.
The estate of Estate is a housing one which Dan Loch’s family had to leave one day. When he comes back there is an outbreak of incidents involving drugged deer staggering around with their antlers on fire.
Keep relates the evolution of a new epidemic where, if the afflicted remain too long immobile, trenches appear in a circle around them, and the scientific efforts to discover its origins and possible cure.
A Second Slice Manifesto is that of an art movement which constructs and displays slices through prior paintings; slices which reveal more of the originals than was apparent to the naked eye.
A father and daughter enter a militarily embargoed area around Covehithe. They have come to watch the emergence of a damaged and sunken oil-rig from the sea. It has come to drill down and deposit eggs from which new rigs will grow.
The Junket is narrated by a hard-boiled media journalist describing the controversy around a film (made by Jews) which displays every anti-Semitic trope in the book, and its aftermath.
Four Final Orpheuses gives us four different versions of why Orpheus might have made that turn and fateful look towards Eurydice.
A picture frame turns put to have unusual properties in The Rabbet.
Listen the Birds is another storyboard for a film trailer.
A Mount is a meditation on the ubiquity of porcelain animals and why some seemingly out-of-place people, not their owners, might be fascinated by them.
A sense of understated eeriness hangs over The Design in which a medical student between the wars discovers designs etched into the bones of the cadaver he is dissecting. He concludes that God is a scrimshander.

Pedant’s corner: vortexes (strictly the plural of vortex is vortices,) “a plethora of ceremonies are emerging” (a plethora is singular; a plethora …. is emerging,) indices (yes, it’s an acceptable plural but when it is for book contents it’s usually spelled indexes,) sodium pentothol, (sodium pentothal,) Cheevers’ wife (Cheevers’s,) crevace-spiders (crevice-spiders?) “There were a series of percussions” (there was a series.) “Most of the town were already gathered” (most of the town was gathered.) “None of them leave.” (None of them leaves,) snuck (sneaked.) Pangea (Pangaea, or, even better, Pangæa.) “A line of police block the road” (A line … blocks the road,) “wracks his brain” (racks,) “or that it be not shown” (or that it not be shown,) “Baron von Richtofen” (if it’s that baron, it’s Richthofen,) fit (fitted,) trash (rubbish.)

Two More From Interzone

 Echo Cycle cover
 The City We Became   cover

Thursday’s post brought two more goodies from Interzone. (Well I hope they’re goodies.)

The first was The City We Became by N K Jemisin. Jemisin won the Hugo Award for best novel three times in a row with the components of her Broken Earth series of books.

The second is from a writer new to me, Patrick Edwards. His novel is titled Echo Cycle. The reviews ought to appear in issue 287.

The Orphanage of Gods by Helena Coggan

Hodder and Stoughton, 2019, 407 p. Published in Interzone 280, Mar-Apr 2019

 The Orphanage of Gods cover

The first thing to be said of this novel is that Coggan writes well. She has an eye for character and plot, and builds layer on layer of complication and betrayal. Don’t expect to see much of the titular orphanage however, as it is offstage for most of the book, though it does provide the setting for a final confrontation.

In this world some humans, called gods, have developed strange abilities, known as demesnes. One of the demesnes, of which gods may have one or several, is premonition. But, ‘Premonitions are evil, sneaky things. They leave out the important stuff.’ It is not only in that where godhood seems a diffuse and random attribute, handy for story-telling though it may be.

These gods became feared and were overthrown in a revolution 20 years before the events of the novel, the remnants being persecuted or forced into hiding. Any foundling children since then have been suspect and kept in the orphanage at Amareth under the watchful eye of the Guard till eighteen years after they were found, when they are tested. Godhood shows up in blood which has a silvery appearance, but not until a child matures. Some orphans manage to hide their demesne till test day but others’ powers manifest themselves before they can hide them. Those discovered are said to be taken north to a place named Elida.

Narrator Hero, plus Joshua and Kestrel, were allocated to a triple room in the orphanage. Hero is a healer and can sense heartbeats, Joshua can manipulate light and heat. Kestrel is a normal human but loves Joshua (and also Hero as a sister.) We take up the story with Hero and Joshua escaped from the orphanage – the first ever to do so – but only because Kestrel sacrificed her own freedom in the process. Hero is trying to keep Joshua safe so that they can make their way north in order to rescue Kestrel from where the Guard has surely taken her – to Elida, as bait. The book’s first scene is set in a disused tavern, but the Guard has patrol cars complete with sirens and tyres, which makes that word seem an archaic choice. But it is in keeping with the rest of the world here which, barring the patrol cars and a powered boat, is mostly non-technological, presumably regressed, though this is not really spelled out.

Hero refers to herself as a half-breed, though since she actually has a demesne the distinction is so fine as to be useless. In an encounter in the dark with a Guard patrol, with Joshua hiding, one of them cuts her and drinks her blood, failing to recognise its taste as godly. (Blood will saturate this book.) She and Joshua are free to travel onwards, meeting suspicion and horror in a village called Seabourne and an offshoot resistance group whose help they spurn.

For other authors the quest for Kestrel would have taken up most of the tale but Coggan has more for us. The tower in which other gods, and Kestrel, are held in Elida is a dark and ominous place, the activities the Guard carries on there hideous. Hero and Joshua finally penetrate the tower and effect the rescue but only by jumping from its highest point into the sea, which breaks Kestrel’s neck. Gaining land, they are surrounded by the Guard but saved by the resistance group, one of whom can teleport – others as well as himself.

Narration duties then devolve to Raven, a child god whose demesne is shape-shifting. Her innocence is intended to be the key to reconciling normal humans with gods. The resistance group’s leader, Cairn, calls her mala kralovna. (Slovak for ‘be queen’ I discovered.) Raven is as yet too young for her assigned role, though desperate to take part in actions against the Guard. Before the group makes contact with the bulk of the resistance both Cairn and Joshua are captured by the Guard.

The book’s final, longest, section is narrated by Kestrel, healed by dint of Hero’s power. The resistance leader, Anthony Abernathy, turns out to be less than enthused by the prospect of Raven as a saviour. Joshua’s return shows he has been made mad by his experiences, as, in effect, is Anthony when the Guard discovers the camp and overruns it. The methods he then resorts to in revenge are no better than his opponents.

The book is riddled with violence as well as blood but does emphasise that, once wielded, power is difficult to eschew. Godly powers possibly the more so.

One factor about dark fantasy such as this never fails to puzzle me. Why does it always have to be blood? Granted here Coggan provides a rationale of sorts, but it is usually pretty thin stuff.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- Throughout, the Guard and the resistance are treated as plural. Otherwise; despite the orphanage’s inmates being given triple rooms Hero tells us she one night went to that of another inmate who seems to be alone there. “When the first generation of gods were born” (when the first generation of gods was born.) “‘Bar the door if you want to live’” (three pages earlier the door had already been barred, [that was possibly from the outside but others are now clamouring to get in.]) “Yes I do. Idiot. Heartbeats.” (the Idiot is clumsy.) “We get there” – the coast – “near midnight . There’s a fishing town about ten miles west of us,” (fishing towns are usually on the coast.) “I feel nothing just weary resignation” (needs a comma after nothing,) offence (in British English – and this reads as British – it’s attack.) “Neither of the others speak.” (Neither of the others speaks, but there were more than two others, so it should have been, “None of the others speaks”,) “she’s is a monster” (either she is, or, she’s, not she’s is.) “The crowd are separating” (The crowd is separating,) “half of them are cheering” (half .. is cheering,) “the other half are screaming for Eliza” (the other half is screaming.) “Anthony’s battered army crawl like insects” (Anthony’s battered army crawls,) “into away from the city” (either into or away from, not both,) the crowd walk away (the crowd walks away.) “There’s a white–hot thread of power into her voice” (in her voice, or, “A white–hot thread of power has come into her voice.)

Slade House by David Mitchell

Sceptre, 2016, 236 p, plus 32 p of the Bombadil Tweets.

 Slade House cover

Slade House, accessed from Slade Alley (itself dank and narrow, with a bend, and easy to miss from its connecting streets) through a small iron door in the wall, which appears only once every nine years. Slade House, bombed to rubble in 1940 and its grounds built over since, yet still able to effect the disappearance of Rita and Nathan Sharp in 1979, Detective Inspector Gordon Edmonds in 1988, Sally Timms along with her paranormal investigation group in 1997 and then her sister Freya in 2006. Slade House, on whose walls certain visitors will find portraits of themselves and whose stairs lead only back to whence you came. Slade House, inhabited by Norah and Jonah Grayer (who can both take up all sorts of appearances, inhabit others’ bodies,) adepts of the Shaded Way from whom they wish to keep themselves hidden. Slade House, wrapped in an orison. (The word means prayer but the Grayers have adopted it to describe a bubble out of time.) The later sections tend to invoke Fred Pink, who saw both the Sharps outside Slade Alley just before he was hit by a car and went into a coma. Trying to fill in the gaps in his life years later he recognised the Sharps in newspaper photos from the time.

Mitchell’s story – an off-cut of his previous novel The Bone Clocks – is narrated in five sections by Nathan, Gordon, Sally and Freya as they make their visits, with the final section (set in 2015) from the viewpoint of someone calling himself Bombadil (whose uploads to Twitter from Monday 7th September to Saturday 31st October, 2015, act as an appendix to the book) but whose body has been taken over by Norah. Five different narrative styles, six if you include the tweets. Each internally consistent and – until the strange stuff begins to happen – realistic in tone.

In the guise of Pink and much to Norah’s dismay Jonah Grayer reveals to Freya they were Victorian twins with telepathic ability, taken under the wing of a medium called Cantillon who hustled them off to the Atlas Mountains for tutoring in the Shaded Way by the Albino Sayyid of Aït Arif, toured them round the world, then went too far by proposing to reveal their secrets in a book. Their longevity has been ensured by enticing ‘Engifted’ to Slade House and stealing their souls, a process which needs topping up every nine years. Mitchell’s facility with fantasy and SF is underscored by reference to the Midwich Cockoos among others.

As ever Mitchell is totally in command of his material and the read is never less than entertaining. There is a sense, though, of marking time, of promise unfulfilled. Perhaps it’s unreasonable, though, to expect another The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Pedant’s corner:- “Wolverhampton Wanderers play in black and orange” (black and gold in fact. Orange and black, though, recur as a motif in the book,) occasional missing commas before pieces of direct speech, liquified (liquefied,) lasagna (lasagne,) Tinker Bell (x4, Tinkerbell,) smidgeon (smidgin or smidgen,) Timms’ (x2, Timms’s.)

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Orbit, 2018, 393 p.

 Rosewater cover

Rosewater was a nominee for the BSFA Award last year and won the Clarke Award. Its successor The Rosewater Insurrection is on this year’s BSFA Award short list. As I hope to get round to reading that before voting I thought I’d better look at this first.

Rosewater is a doughnut-shaped city that surrounds the biodome, an alien outcropping in Nigeria. The biodome opens once every year for twenty or thirty minutes and everyone in the vicinity is cured of all physical ailments. Even dead people can be reanimated, but the results tend to be soulless and mindless, and have to be killed again.

Narrator Kaaro is a sensitive, able to discern the thoughts of others by accessing the xenosphere, strands of alien fungi-like filaments and neurotransmitters, which link with the natural fungi on human skin and penetrate the nervous system. His abilities have made him useful to S45, a branch of the Nigerian security services. He is also a finder, and a thief. Later his abilities are referred to as those of a quantum extrapolator. He is also a misogynist and sexist, notwithstanding his entering a relationship with a woman called Aminat. Not that strong women are missing in the book, his initial S45 boss, Femi Alaagomeji, and Aminat being cases in point.

The novel is structured into scenes taking place in Kaaro’s Now of 2066, the Then of when the biodome first appeared and its subsequent evolution, and interludes describing his previous missions for S45. This tends to render the reading experience as bitty. Just when getting into the swing of things in one timeline we are jarred out of it, often with a cliffhanger. Coming across in the background we find that the thing humans call Wormwood was an amœbic blob of alien organic matter that fell to Earth in 2012 in Hyde Park, London. Unlike previous such incursions, Wormwood survived and (apparently) tunnelled its way to Nigeria.

Not that it has any real connection to any part of Kaaro’s story, but we are informed that in this world, as a response to the alien incursions, the US has withdrawn into itself, letting nothing in or out, not even information.

At the start of the book Kaaro has a job protecting a bank’s customers from the attentions of other sensitives out to steal their information. This is one of the hares Thompson sets running but never quite catches. There is the biodome itself, the appearance of a character known as Bicycle Girl or Oyin Da, and, in an apparent signal to a thriller subplot that never arrives, sensitives are dying. In the wider xenosphere, where reality is very distorted, Kaaro uses a gryphon as an avatar. Aminat’s brother, Layi, is kept chained in her flat to prevent him burning things using his own xenospheric power.

As can perhaps be gleaned from the previous paragraph there is too much going on in the novel which, as a result, fails to achieve focus. Thompson can undoubtedly write but hasn’t yet found the virtue of economy. Quite why Rosewater has been accorded the accolades it has is therefore a bit obscure.

Pedant’s corner:- “crimes perpetuated in the xenosphere” (crimes perpetrated,) “Ascomytes xenophericus” (elsewhere Ascomytes xenosphericus,) smoothes (smooths,) “amuses me to no end” (‘to no end’ means ‘without purpose’, ‘amuses me no end’ [‘no end’ = infinitely] was meant,) aircrafts “OK it was in dialogue but the plural of aircraft is aircraft.) “None of the people around me are harmed” (None …is harmed.) “None of them want to live in the refugee camps” (None of them wants to live….)

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Hodder, 2019, 292 p.

 Trail of Lightning  cover

Roanhorse is something of a rarity as an SF author. She may not be the first writer of Native American heritage to write SF and Fantasy but I confess if she isn’t I can’t recall reading any others. That heritage infuses Trail of Lightning, the first in a series of tales.

Narrator Maggie Hoskie is a Navajo, or Diné as they call themselves. Their former reservation is now a bastion against an outside world devastated by an environmental catastrophe referred to as the Big Water. Known to its inhabitants as Dinétah, the Diné’s land is protected by a Wall and there are few incomers. Despite the outer world being largely drowned, Dinétah is suffering from a prolonged drought. Water is one of the many scarcities, coffee an almost impossible luxury.

We first meet Maggie when her help is enlisted by a family whose daughter has been abducted by a monster. Somewhat reluctantly, Maggie, who has what the book calls clan powers – one of hers is to be taken over at times of stress by K’aahanáanii, a source of speed in movement, liable to be useful in a fight – takes on the task of finding the abducted girl. She reaches her too late, though, as she has already been infected by the monster and cannot be returned to her parents intact. The killings of the monster and the girl are only the first of many in the book.

Maggie’s training in the ways of her powers had been undertaken by a man called Neizghání, said to be an immortal (as opposed to the ‘five-fingered’ normal humans.) Maggie may still be in love with him. She is certainly tormented by his disappearance after an earlier incident.

Maggie’s only other friend, a medicine man called Tah, introduces her to his grandson, Kai Arviso, (who is Big Medicine, with healing powers – and silvery eyes.) Reluctantly Maggie takes him along on her quest to defeat the monsters and find Neizghání. Along the way we are treated to what is in effect a supercharged cage fight – to the death.

One of the story’s fantastical apparitions, Coyote, is a familiar figure in Native American folklore. He met Maggie, “before the end of the Fifth World, when my kind still lived mostly in the dreams of the five-fingered people,” and persists in annoying her by calling her Magdalena. Always dressed like one of those be-suited gents in cowboy films, Coyote is one of the book’s more intriguing, if elusive, characters but his interest in Maggie is for purposes of his own.

Some authorial hand-waving is evident when Coyote, also known to the Diné as Ma’ii, at one point says, “This last flood, the one you call the Big Water, ended the Fifth World and began the Sixth. It opened the passage for those like myself to return to the world.” Any rationale for monsters and clan powers is otherwise absent but it is The Sixth World which gives Roanhorse’s sequence of novels its overall title.

While the Native American background makes for an unusual and welcome twist on the norm of SF and fantasy the novel’s apparent relish in weaponry and killing is more by the book and sadly typical of many practitioners of the form.

Roanhorse can write though and, relish in weaponry aside, Maggie is an engaging enough narrator.

Pedant’s corner:- there were several instances of the formulation “time interval” later. Othewise; a missing comma before a piece of direct speech (many times,) “that soak up the hot” (the heat,) “the evil deeds every man and woman leaves behind” (leave.) “All that ugly, the sickness, the loss and unhappiness” (is missing a noun after ugly it would seem.) “Viscera pools at his feet” (viscera pool,) “it will portent something bad” (portent is a noun, the verb is portend.) “His smiles fades” (fade,) diced chiles (chilis,) later we had ‘chilé’ (again, chili.) “None of them even look back” (None of them even looks back,) “and set in on the bar” (set it on the bar,) chamisa (chamiso.)

Interzone 284, Nov-Dec 2019

TTA Press, 96 p.

Interzone cover

Joanna Berry takes over the guest editor role and asks how much of themselves players take into decision making when playing video games. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupteda makes a plea for stories to tackle the threats of the subtle and pervasive surveillance and tracking technologies rampant in the modern world. In Climbing Stories Aliya Whiteley seeks solace from the news in films. Speedy Sci-Fi adventure won’t do but conspiracy thrillers will. She now wants to go back to the source books. In Book Zone I review Rokurō Inui’s Automatic Eve and Wole Talabi’s Incomplete Solutions welcoming both, Val Nolanb finds Duncan Lunan’s collection of stories and articles From the Moon to the Stars too fond of “rigorous maths” and primarily of interest to those who enjoyed them at time they were written, Maureen Kincaid Speller engages in hand-to-hand fighting with concepts of language and meaning in the ‘very strange’ novel Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko but concludes that is only a good thing, Jo L Waltonc heartily recommends The New Voices of Science Fiction edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman, though thinks some of the stories might be a bit too polished, Graham Sleight appreciates the quality of Ted Chiang’s stories in Exhalation (and Chiang’s previous collection) as being worth the price of their scarcity, Stephen Theaker praises the “grown-up, fiercely feminist” The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs, warns against the cover and blurb of Earwig by B Catling though he recommends it to “some readers” and says Stephen Palmer’s collection Tales from the Spired Inn is pretty much the ideal small press SF title, Ian Hunterd laments the passing of Dianne Wynne Jones as he considers her Poems while Duncan Lunan discusses the history of Dyson spheres in SF as his take on the stories in Around Alien Stars by G David Nordley.

As to the fiction;
In The Kindest God is Light by Joanna Berry a poet is engaged to provide an embodiment of humanity – warts and all – to aliens. Typographically unusual in that it involves a lot of glossed over (crossed out) inner thoughts.
She and I and We1 by Timothy Mudie is a time travel story. Poet (yes, another one) Nathaly Evariste is stalked by someone from the future who says she has come back to save her from being killed. This is no All You Zombies… or even By His Bootstraps but there’s a neat twist to the ending.
Dent-De-Lion2 by Natalia Theodorou is set on a planet to where Thomae has been sent to find a silicon plant-based cure for an endemic sickness back home. She finds it – and more.
In Parasite Art3 by David Tallerman our narrator is an artist who has gone to the planet of Culcifa to find one of the Zobe, an alien race which has appeared there and can merge with people who can then experience the Zobe’s dreams.
The Duchess of Drink Street4 by Tim Chawaga on its surface charts the relationship between a cupcake seller on the eponymous street and the food reviewer who damns those cupcakes with one word, inauthentic. With a globally flooded background featuring floating cities it is about fads, gentrification and its reverse and the elusiveness of memory.
Against a background of the end of the world in which the rich are sending samples of their hair skin and semen into space to save the species, Dream of the High Mountain5 by Daniel Bennett relates the experience of a poet (yes, a poet again) who goes on a retreat.

Pedant’s corner:- aCastells’ (Castells’s,) Aldiss’ (Aldiss’s.) b“are a series” (is a series.) c“None of the stories feel out of place” (None feels,) hijinks (high jinks.) “Much as I stan Luce, social and economic consequences of technological developments are never inevitable” (???) dJones’ (Jones’s,)
1Written in USian, “neither of you react” (neither … reacts.) 2Written in USian. 3“soon be discarded” (soon to be discarded,) “she must recognise as her and I” (as her and me.) “Conceivably we were one of its ancestors. Seeing it, my muscle memory recalls what it’s like to make those spasmodic movements” (‘descendants’ for ‘ancestors’ is the only way to make sense of this, and it would be ancestral rather than muscle memory,) canvasses (canvases?) 4Written in USian, at first I read ‘chicest part of the city’ as a misprint for ‘choicest’, but they’re much the same in meaning. “The difference in textures … work well together” (the difference works well,) “New Lagos’ greed” (New Lagos’s.) 5“‘This the survival of’” (This is the survival.) “Upon the fourth floor” (Either, ‘On the fourth floor,’ or, ‘Up on the fourth floor’,) “inside of him” (inside him, no need for an ‘of’.) “His group were among the last” (his group was among the last.)

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