Archives » Fantasy

Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller

Women’s Press SF, 1988, 150 p

Carmen Dog cover

All over the world women are turning into animals and animals into women. The narrative focuses on the adventures of Pooch, a dog turned woman, who has a yearning for opera and a pure singing voice. (She briefly thinks of calling herself Pucci.) Her particular interest is Carmen, hence the book’s title.

The men in this scenario are non-plussed by the changes, seeking either to deny or exploit it. (And their carnal desires are never very far away.) Chapter headings are quotes from the likes of Nietzsche, Apuleius and Marcus Aurelius and the text has embedded references such as, “stare at each other with wild surmises.”

It’s all gloriously over-the-top but at the same time an oblique look at gender relations in the 1980s. In particular, one gent has come to the belief “that motherhood should be dealt out, even to infants, in small insignificant doses so that it can be held within reasonable bounds.”

Pedant’s corner:- “that moves her mosts of all” (most of all,) sharks teeth (sharks’ teeth,) concensus (consensus,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. “None of the others return” (none returns,) “107s is” (it was a possessive, 107’s,) “‘I know its doesn’t match’” (it,) “if worse should come to worst” (the phrase is ‘if the worst should come to the worst,’ as was employed elsewhere,) “none of them come at all” (none … comes,) “will surely be one of the last, if not the last, building to fall” (one of the last … buildings to fall,) “like three phoenix” (phoenixes or phoenices,) nowdays (nowadays.)

Peregrine: Primus by Avram Davidson

Ace, 1971, 222 p.

Peregrine: Primus cover

The Peregrine of the title is the bastard son of a king, sent out on his own as he approaches manhood. The setting is in the declining years of the Roman Empire, an age of petty kingdoms and the burgeoning of Christianity as a Europe-wide religion. In this respect Peregrine is a heathen still, as was his father.

Davidson adopts a joky, referential, allusive style – with cod Roman numbers (VVVXXXCCCIII) and embedded quotations, “wine-dark sea,” “they looked at each other … with a wild surmise,” “minding the stoa,” “confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks,” – as his hero, along with page Dafty and mage Appledorus, goes out into the world partly in search of his elder brother Austin (also one of the King’s by-blows.) Along the way Peregrine falls into the company of Hun Horde Seventeen. You get the drift.

Peregrine, as his name suggests, is a traveller: not only that, but also, when fantasy bleeds into Davidson’s tale, at times a falcon.

This is not a novel to be taken very seriously. It’s a jeu d’esprit on Davidson’s part but passes the time well enough. I note that once again he employs the word wee to mean small. There’s Scots ancestry there somewhere.

Pedant’s corner:- “he had seen nought but” (‘nought’ means ‘zero’, it does not mean ‘nothing’. That would be ‘naught’.) “Gee” (an unlikely expletive for someone from a non-Christian culture, also an anachronism given the setting, but then we also had ‘mom’ and other twentieth century USianisms,) wisant (wisent,) “was still damp and a smelled briny” (no need for the ‘a’,) talley (tally, though always used in the plural so ‘tallies’,) a missing end quotation mark, boney (bony,) Sextuagesima (I’ve heard of Sexagesima and Septuagesima but not Sextuagesima. Davidson may have been signalling the speaker’s ignorance here,) cameleopard (usually camelopard,) coöperation (plus points for that diæresis,) “‘I didn’t use to wonder’” (I didn’t used to wonder,) “several battery of snores” (several batteries,) revery (usually reverie,) “lay of the land” (it’s lie, lie of the land.) “The Hun digested his slowly.” (The Hun digested this slowly,) Philozena (elsewhere always Philoxena,) “‘it’s an ideal was to get conversation started’” (ideal way,) abhore (abhor,) highoffice (high office,) apothegms (apophthegms,) asofoetida (asafoetida or, better, asofœtida,) “the congregation were delighted” (the congregation was delighted,) miniscules (minuscule,) “he had born hither” (borne hither.) “‘And where do you think to do?’” (And where do you think to go?)

Interzone 285 Est Arrivé

The latest Interzone (no 285, Jan – Feb 2020) popped onto my doormat this morning.

Interzone 285 cover

 The Menace From Farside cover
Skein Island cover

As well as the usual fiction and features this one contains my reviews of Aliya Whiteley’s Skein Island and Ian McDonald’s The Menace From Farside.

I am expecting a couple of books for review in Interzone 286 through the post any day now.

Interzone 283, Sep-Oct 2019

TTA Press, 96 p

 Interzone 283 cover

John Kessel takes the guest Editorial and wonders about the utility of fiction in today’s ‘alternative facts’ world. In that context too, in Future Interrupted Andy Hedgecocka reflects on the nature of beliefs and memory. Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Storiesb appreciates the sequencing involved in ordering stories in an anthology – some have compared it to the similar process in musical albums – each choice reflects on previous and subsequent stories/tracks. In a bumper Book Zone Duncan Lawiec calls the climate change themed A Year Without a Winter edited by Dehlia Hannah interesting, strange and irritating, I run my eye over the excellent This is How You Lose the Time War by Amar El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone plus the anthology Palestine +100 edited by Basma Ghalayini, John Howardd surmises that present day equivalents of the stories from the twentieth century in Menace of the Machine and The End of the World and Other Catastrophes, both edited by Mike Ashley, might not deal with their subjects very differently, Lawrence Osborn finds Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Brightness Long Ago entrancing, a book to be savoured many times, Maureen Kincaid Speller praises Mick Wood’s collection Learning Monkey and Crocodile for a “striking insight into how one might write genuinely good stories in a respectful way”, Barbara Melville thought Driving Ambition by Fiona Moore disappointing since it didn’t work for her as it’s told by the wrong narrator and reads like an early draft, Stephen Theakere characterises Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes as goofball space opera with a more serious protagonist but far too long, Ian Hunterf says The Library of the Unwritten by A J Hackwith has at least one narrative viewpoint too many but the author has a hit on her hands, Georgina Bruce calls The Complex by Michael Walters a ‘startling and confident debut’ but is ponderous reading at times and its women only operate in relation to the men but is still elusive, stylish, complicated and interesting, while Andy Hedgecockg delights in the ‘narrative treasure trove of wit, compassion, excitement and erudition’ that is Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein.

In the fiction:-

Society is literally stratified for Sib and Malmo in The Winds and Persecutions of the Sky1 by Robert Minto. Their first plan is to adopt strict hygiene and work hard to access the lowest floors. Malmo eventually gives up and instead climbs their skyscraper till he can access the outside. Sib follows him trepidatiously, but the girl he finds there and who helps him seek out Malmo wants only to go inside.
In Of the Green Spires2 by Lucy Harlow a plant-like organism called a starthistle takes over Oxford before retreating again leaving its offspring behind.
The titular entity of Jolene3 by Fiona Moore is a sentient truck, who has left her rider, part-time country singer Peter McBride, for another job. McBride has also lost his wife and dog but wants the truck back and is referred to our narrator, Noah Moyo, a consultant autologist, to help with that. Jolene (“‘Please don’t take my van,’”) turns out to be a hard case. (Pun intended.)
The Palimpsest Trigger4 by David Cleden tells the story of Marni, who works for one of the palimps, creatures who can overwrite people’s memories.
Fix That House!5 by John Kessel starts off as it will be an account of a house restoration project for a TV programme but it later chillingly turns out that houses are not the only antebellum things that have been restored.
The James White Award Winner, Two Worlds Apart6 by Dustin Blair Steinacker, features an inhabitant from Earth (candidate to join the benevolent intragalactic Consortium) tested for suitability on a mission to persaude the inhabitants of a planet without a star into the fold.

Pedant’s corner:- a Goebbels’ (Goebbels’s.) bH G Wells’ (Wells’s,) Mary E Wilkins’ (Wilkins’s.) c“I took exception with” (it’s ‘took exception to’) “There are a variety of” (there is a variety of.) d Jenkins’ (Jenkins’s,) “Usually it is the entire planet and its inhabitants that is threatened” (the ‘and’ makes it plural, so, ‘that are threatened’.) e“to the ends of universe” (of the universe.) fLiz Williams’ (Williams’s,) “our merry band are initially trying to bring back” (our merry band is initially trying to bring back.) gDickens’ (Dickens’s.)
1Written in USian, miniscule (minuscule.) 2St Giles’ (Giles’s.) 3“to lay over top of it” (to lie over the top of it,) veterinarian (this is set in the UK and narrated by a Brit, hence vet, or veterinary surgeon.) 4Socrates’ (x4, Socrates’s,) similarly Endymius’ (x2, Endymius’s,) “Shafts of weak light like heavenly search lights, stabbed down” (no need for the comma.) 5Written in USian. 6Written in USian, shrunk (shrank,) “as if the hybrid had never spoke” (spoken,) “none of the Tarsach were coming forward” (none … was coming forward,) “between she and them” (between her and them.)

Shoreline of Infinity 13; Autumn 2018

The New Curiosity Shop, 2018.

 Shoreline of Infinity 13 cover

In Pull up a Loga Noel Chidwick says that the tradition and sense of myth in Scottish story-telling underlies Shoreline of Infinity, tales of wonder told round the fire as the cold swirls around, and invites us in. Reviewsb has Katy Lennon finding the worlds depicted in the anthology Improbable Botany edited by Gary Dalkin feeling “real and conscious”, Samantha Dolan is impressed by Cat Hellisen’s collection Learning How to Drown, Steve Ironside appreciates rather than enjoys the lampoon The Church of Latter-Day Eugenics by Chris Kelso and Tom Bradley, but still tilts his crown to it, Rachel Hill finds Autonomous by Annalee Newitz to be an accomplished thriller, tackling thorny contemporary issues without offering simple solutions, Callum McSorley welcomes us to the Wild East of the collected novellas of Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley, formula plotting and all, Marija Smits says Sealed by Naomi Booth is a powerful book with an original, hard-hitting premise, Lucy Powell describes The Freeze-Frame Revolution as hard and fast-paced narrative that really makes you think, gripping till the last page, Georgina Merry defines Fifty-One by Chris Barnham as a fun read – with flaws.
Multiverse has poems by Tris Crestd, Charlotte Ozment and Nate Maxson, while a total of three 6 word stories (written respectively by Gregg Chamberlain, Dane Divine and Michael Stroh) appear, one each, at the bottoms of pages 44, 71 and 131.

In the fiction:-
Harry’s Shiver* by Esme Carpenter. A man commissioned to steal some sort of (unspecified) valuable raids the ‘unbreachable’ Caste Arco. To aid him he makes use of devices he calls Shivers. I’m afraid for me this story was marred by far too much obtrusive info dumping, some unnecessary phrases, the occasional odd word choice and more than a smattering of cliché.

In The Time Between Time*2 by Premee Mohamed windows onto another planet have begun appearing all over Earth. Eleven year-old Dalton finds one in her back garden and tries to keep it secret.

Daughter3 by Laura Young is narrated by a woman taking her terminally ill mother from Japan to her home in San Francisco to care for her. Things turn strange during the flight and even stranger when they land.

Splitting Up*4 by Bo Balder is narrated by a Split – a part of someone’s personality which by medical intervention has been reduced to only restricted access to that person’s body but takes over for designated purposes – in this case interacting/having sex with a boyfriend.

In Goodnight Rosemarinus5 by Caroline Grebell a future human, evolved into a sea-dweller, is held captive by an alien Observer. This story is followed by a one page article “We Have a Winner”d on the artist, Jimmy McGregor, who won the competition to illustrate the story.

Tim Major’s Cast in the Same Mould* describes the peculiar circumstances in which life is discovered on Mars.

The Beachcomber Presents Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein6 by Mark Toner, Stephen Pickering & Tsu Beel discusses Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the original and its various adulterated adaptations.

Next comes an interview with the authore (conducted by Noel Chidwick) and extracts from the novel Origamy7 by Rachel Armstrong.

Preceded by a very short author intervewf (by Chris Kelso,) The Silk Tower of Beijing8 by Preston Grassman is dedicated to the late Iain M Banks. Seeming to take inspiration from that author’s A Gift From the Culture an inhabitant of an Earth taken over by aliens strikes at the core of their hold over humans

Pedant’s corner:- I proofread the stories marked* before publication so assume there are no remaining errata there. Otherwise; aHanks’ (Hanks’s.) b“made up of diverse range” (made up of a diverse range,) pays of (pays off,) “an authors motivation” (author’s,) “each … aren’t window dressing” (each isn’t,) “this editions extra interview material” (edition’s,) “the majority of the public are unconcerned” (the majority … is unconcerned,) Watts’ (Watts’s,) eons (aeons,) “the inherently claustrophobia nature” (the inherently claustrophobic nature,) “where the human’s sleep” (humans,) “the twists and turns … is at times genuinely shocking” (are genuinely shocking,) “the ultimate climax of the book and the afterword to is one that is” (that ‘and’ requires a plural verb, ‘are ones that are’,) “one could be forgiven into thinking they were reading sections” (again, ‘one’ is a singular antecedent and should not be followed by a plural pronoun,) “the group split” (splits.) cIn the author blurb “bird nests” (normally ‘birds’ nests’.) dfocussed (focused.) eMobius’ (Mobius’s.) f“the nations arts” (nation’s,) skillful (skilful,) Ian M Banks (x2, Iain,) Banks’ (Banks’s.)
1Written in USian. 2Written in USian. Or is it Canadian? Instantly dated by its mention of Stephen Hawking. 3Written in USian. 4 Written in USian. “The uited people” (The suited people.) 5focussed (focused.) 6“ice flow” (ice floe that would be,) “whom in turn draughts it” (who in turn drafts it,) “as Victor grew as did his love for Science” (as Victor grew so did his love for..) Victors’ (Victor’s,) “evidence there of” (thereof,) Victor breaths his last” (breathes his last,) “There’s very few movies” (there are very few movies,) “near all of” (nearly all of.) 7haurspicy (haruspicy,) auger (after the previous page’s mention of four types of divination I strongly suggest this is intended to be ‘augur’. An auger is a different thing entirely.) 8Written in USian, “a flock of drone-birds hover” (a flock hovers,) a missing full stop (x 4.) “The cross-hatched ruins of the Bird’s Nest appears” (the .. ruins… appear,) “none of them are as monumental” (none .. is as monumental.) “As I think of the world as I want to be” (‘as I want it to be’ makes more sense.)

Alasdair Gray

Sad, sad news.

Alasdair Gray has died.

If he had never done anything else in his life his first novel Lanark (arguably four novels) would have made him the most important Scottish writer of the twentieth century’s latter half, if not the whole century. (Perhaps only Lewis Grassic Gibbon rivals him in that respect.)

But of course he published 8 more novels, the last of which I read in 2009, 4 books of short stories – see this review of one of them – 3 of poetry (I reviewed a couple here and here,) many pieces for theatre, radio and television plus books of criticism (as here) and commentary (eg see here).

Yet that was not the least of it. There is also his work as an artist and illustrator to take into account. His drawing/painting style was unique and uniquely recognisable; much admired and sought after.

A polymath and curmudgeon, learned and contrary, Gray was one of a kind.

Even as his work lives on we will miss his acerbic presence.

And I still have his The Book of Prefaces to peruse.

Alasdair Gray: 28/12/1934 – 29/12/2019. So it goes.

Best of 2019

These are the books that stood out from my reading this year – in order of when I read them. 7 by men, 6 by women. 3 were SF or Fantasy.

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
Hy Brasil by Margaret Elphinstone
Shiloh by Shelby Foote
A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk
The Lantern Bearers by Ronald Frame
Gone Are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
A Pass in the Grampians by Nan Shepherd
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Born to Exile by Phyllis Eisenstein

Grafton, 1992, 219 p.

 Born to Exile cover

These are the adventures of Alaric the minstrel, a foundling discovered on a wooded hillside with a severed hand clutching his leg. Taken in by a childless couple desperate for someone to care for he later is befriended by a minstrel called Dall who recognises his unusual ability – liable to be described by the society they live in as witchcraft. Alaric has the power of self-teleportation – handy for extricating himself from dodgy situations but a dangerous attribute.

In his wanderings after Dall’s death he comes to a castle where the local princess takes a fancy to him. Their liaison uncovered he has to flee precipitately but cannot forget her. Eventually he meets a former midwife with a strange tale to tell. She has only one hand. Cut off when a child she had just delivered disappeared along with it and banned from her home kingdom for failing to take proper care of her charge. Through her he comes to his ancestral home and finds a family he didn’t know he had (all of whom have his ability – but it must be kept secret.)

Born to Exile is a pleasant enough read, Alaric is a reasonably engaging protagonist – with a conscience (though the sexual politics of his world are typical of fantasy novels of this vintage) – and the ending provides scope for a sequel.

Pedant’s corner:- One entry. One only. Remarkable. “He bent her back till they lay prone on the bed” (face down? I think not; supine on the bed perhaps.)

Reminiscences

Back when I was young I used to have an order for Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.

Buchan had been a football player in the 1910s and 1920s – most notably with Sunderland. His career was interrupted of course by the Great War (in which he served and won the Military Medal.)

His eponymous monthly magazine (started in 1951) was the first dedicated to football.

One article I strongly remember (though I forget most of the details) was about the longest FA Cup tie ever played, which went to several replays before finally being resolved.

However the magazine stopped publishing in 1974. When my newsagent pointed this out to me I told him (being well into SF by that time) that I had in any case decided to transfer my order to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (aka to us aficionados as F&SF.)

I forget how many years I kept the order – probably till around the time I got married. I still have all those issues in a cupboard somewhere, though, despite several house moves since.

Though I was never much into the fantasy side of F&SF I did remember with some fondness stories written by Phyllis Eisenstein about one Alaric the minstrel who had been born with the ability to teleport merely by thinking. As a bit of nostalgia I have bought and am now reading a novel featuring Alaric (Born to Exile – see my sidebar for the moment.) I wonder how it will stand up.

If it does there’s a sequel titled In the Red Lord’s Reach which I may then purchase.

Ian Sales’s 1980s

In a previous post I posted about Ian’s first list in response to the BBC’s 100 books that shaped the world.

These are his influencers from the 1980s.

Bold means I have read them. Only 7 out of 24 here.

The Undercover Aliens, (aka The House That Stood Still) AE Van Vogt (1950)
The Winds of Gath, EC Tubb (1967).
The Book of Alien, Paul Scanlon & Michael Gross (1979)
The Dune Encyclopedia, Willis E McNelly, ed. (1984)
The Future Makers, Peter Haining, ed. (1968)
Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany (1975)
The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (1979)
The Far Pavilions, MM Kaye (1978)
Iceberg, Clive Cussler (1975)
The Complete Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy Lists, Malcolm Edwards & Maxim Jakubowski (1983)
Radix, AA Attanasio (1981)
The Barbie Murders, John Varley (1980)
Serpent’s Reach, CJ Cherryh (1980)
The Science Fiction Sourcebook, David Wingrove (1984)
The War for Eternity, Christopher Rowley (1983)
Under a Calculating Star, John Morressy (1975)
Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
Knight Moves, Walter Jon Williams (1985)
Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
The Space Mavericks, Michael Kring (1980)
The Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975)
The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gene Wolfe (1972)
The Five Gold Bands, Jack Vance (1950)
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin (1969)

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