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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Everyman’s Library, 1991, 606 p, plus xxiii p Introduction by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, ii p Select Bibliography, iv p Chronology and iii p Prefaces to the Second and Third Editions (as by Currer Bell.) First published in 1847.

Jane Eyre cover

I suppose this book hardly needs an introduction what with it being an acknowledged classic of nineteenth century literature. It could be described as Gothic – there is a madwoman in an attic, but it is also an instance of the ‘gaining of wisdom’ narrative, plus a case of virtue fulfilled, and there is even a dollop of Cinderella in its protagonist’s childhood. The later appearance of long-lost cousins, not to mention a handy inheritance, though, lend an air of authorial contrivance to the proceedings. And it has that besetting characteristic of the Victorian novel, an unrelenting wordiness. It’s easy to carp of course (and it should not be forgotten stepmothers were a prominent feature of life in the days the novel describes) but Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s Introduction reminds us Jane Eyre was innovatory, Brontë’s voice something new. The book certainly has had an enduring influence, with a wide afterlife, inspiring other hands to write prequels (Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea) and homages (Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.)

Jane Eyre is an orphan, entrusted to the care of her uncle, Mr Reed, who has unfortunately also deceased. Mrs Reed takes the wicked stepmother role, preferring her own children and treating Jane with lack of kindness and understanding, not seeing the calumnies with which her son John in particular attributes to Jane. Being packed off to boarding school (Lowood,) would have been a relief were that institution not (at least initially) so spartan. Here Jane meets the almost too saintly Helen Burns whose fate it is to die of consumption but not before Jane can reveal her philosophy to her. “‘If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way.’”

Feminism avant la lettre reveals itself in the passage, “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do.” This of course shows that women have been telling men things for donkey’s ages without the message ever managing to get through.

With her schooling finished Jane spends a few years teaching at Lowood herself before the departure of her mentor Miss Temple – to get married – prompts her to advertise for a position as governess. Thus finally, after over one hundred pages of preamble, we get to the main seat of the story, Thornfield Hall, and the brooding presence of its lord and master, Edward Fairfax Rochester.

How anyone could be attracted to Mr Rochester is a mystery to me. Jane knows almost from the outset of her dealings with him that he has a past. He himself tells her of a dalliance with the French actress Céline Varens, through whose machinations he has the charge of a ward in the shape of Adéle, for whose benefit Jane has been engaged as governess. He plays games with Jane – and, to be fair, with his aristocratic confrères – dressing up as a gypsy fortune teller to beguile them all and further his own designs, but also verbally. Moreover, he crucially conspires to keep the identity of the secret occupant of the attic unknown to Jane, allowing her to believe it is an attendant, Grace Poole. And is it a form of cruelty that sees Jane lodged in a room directly below that occupant? OK, he’s been dealt a stacked hand and trying to make the best of it but he is still trying to take advantage of a relative innocent. Even when his perfidy is revealed to her at the altar just before he’s about to contract a bigamous marriage with her she continues to think well of him. It is a fact of history, though, that such men are usually able to get away with it.

Still, Jane’s virtue will not see her become Rochester’s mistress. She flees Thornfield, and, penniless, stumbles into a village where no-one extends a helping hand. She is about to expire on his doorstep when St John Rivers hears her invoking God and brings her indoors to be looked after by his sisters and maidservant. Rivers is a strict religious man intent on becoming a missionary and creates a teaching post for her in the village. Religion may have been prominent in Victorian life but even so its presence here is an indicator that Brontë was brought up in a parsonage. Despite protestations on its first publication of its lack of piety, even of anti-religious content, religious discourse and allusion perfuse the novel, its resolution depends on Rivers’s vocation, and Jane’s different understanding of it.

It is in these closing stages of the book, though, that events begin to stretch credulity – even beyond a bigamous marriage being thwarted at the altar by the revelation of a previous wife who is still alive. Not many of us in extremis would expect to end up by chance in the household of a long-lost set of cousins nor to be the beneficiary of a bountiful bequest. Then off-stage events at Thornfield Hall enable what we are presumably to infer is a happy ending, though that Jane now has the advantage of Rochester does not speak entirely well of her. And it wasn’t at all happy for the incarcerated wife that had to die to allow it.

There are, too, other irritating aspects of the writing. Brontë has that unfortunate habit of designating places and periodicals with part names, _______shire, The ________ Herald. Why this coyness? Either spell them out properly or invent fictitious names for them. It’s a novelist’s job to make things up.

Love and death are perennial in the novel (any sex here, however, is strictly not to be mentioned.) However, time, and changing habits, have partially obscured the merits of a book like Jane Eyre. Novels nowadays tend to be less discursive. To modern eyes Jane Eyre is overwritten, even at places overwrought. It will always have an audience though.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; Helen Burns’ (Burns’s,) Dickens’ (Dickens’s,) Jean Rhys’ (Rhys’s.) Otherwise; there are various Victorian spellings – pannels (but, later, panels,) doat, blent, canvass, trode (trod,) secresy, dulness, etc, the correct ‘by-the-by’ swaps with ‘by-the bye’ at times. Then we have, “the Miss Reeds” (the Misses Reed,) also Miss Wilsons (Misses Wilson; I note that later on we have the two Misses Eshton,) Madame Jouberts (Mesdames Joubert,) bounp (bound, the p is actually an upside-down d so definitely a typesetting error.) “‘His elaer brother?’” (elder A transcription error in the typesetting?) “TheApollo Belvidree” (The Apollo Belvedere,) inammorata (inamorata,) stupefied (stupefied,) “the rest of the party were occupied” (the rest of the party was occupied,) “for the company were gathered” (the company was gathered,) “his gripe was painful” (his grip,) “had belonged to the Rivers’” (to the Riverses,) “Mr Rivers’ pointer” (Rivers’s.)

Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay

Picador, 2012, 248 p.

 Reality, Reality cover

The title of this second collection of Jackie Kay’s short stories reflects the contents. Most of the stories have shifting perspectives or protagonists who are unsure of their surroundings. All are very well written.

Reality, Reality is a stream of consciousness narration by a woman who is attempting to reach the final of a TV cookery competition, or thinks she is.
Another stream of consciousness, These are not my Clothes is told from the point of view of an inmate in a care home – who is not receiving very good care. The title is a phrase she keeps repeating to the nurses who dress her. Her only confidante is the part-time cleaner Vadnie.
From its first sentence I could sense from the way it is written that The First Lady of Song is a piece of Science Fiction; which is what, indeed, it is. It is narrated by a female singer, who centuries ago, was drugged by her father with a potion that meant she would not die. Her performing names always start with the letter ‘E’ – Elina, Eugenia, Ekateriana, Elisabeth, Ella, Emilia. The only change over time is that her skin darkens. Kay doesn’t bring much that is conceptually new to the old SF chestnut of the life eternal but she does write it well.
In The Pink House a heavily pregnant woman – also heavily debt-ridden – finds refuge in the house that Elisabeth Gaskell once lived in.
Grace and Rose is the story of the first lesbian wedding in Shetland, told by both its principals. A joyous tale of love and fulfilment.
In Bread Bin the narrator’s grandmother tells her she has never had an orgasm – but always had a clean bread bin. The narrator is similarly starved of sexual ecstasy; till the age of forty-nine.
Doorstep sees Cheryl decide to spend Christmas on her own; to the displeasure of her latest girl-friend Sharon.
Hadassah is a retelling of the Moses story, updated to feature a young refugee, Hadassah, who becomes the King’s eyes and ears. The King is running a people-trafficking and prostitution operation.
Inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, The White Cot features two women in a holiday let picking at the cracks in their relationship. One had wanted a child, the other hadn’t. The white cot in their room becomes the material focus for the first’s longings.
In Mind Away the narrator’s mother is gradually losing her memories and thoughts. Together they seek out the doctor into whose head the thoughts have gone.
Two girls who were on holiday together aged ten and nine the year their parents swapped partners, forever after call themselves Barn and Tawny due to witnessing the activities of an Owl.
In The Last of the Smokers two life-long friends contemplate giving up by comparing smoking to ex-lovers.
A woman seeks to find the Mini Me inside her by dint of dieting. Repeatedly.
Mrs Vadnie Marleen Sevlon (the same Vadnie as in These are not my Clothes) took the title Mrs as she thought I it would engender respect. She also invents a husband and children for herself reflecting that, ‘Only people with money have choice.’
The Winter Visitor appears to our narrator every so often without fanfare, taking over her life, until vanishing again as mysteriously.

Pedant’s corner:- “like she is tossing a ball” (as if she is tossing a ball,) “the river Mersey” (river here is a proper noun, so River Mersey,) “and, and” (only one ‘and’ needed, no comma required.) “None of them have” (strictly ‘none of them has’ but it was in the narrator’s voice so perhaps true to that,) “coming forth to carry me home” (I had always thought the words from Swing Low, Sweet Chariot were ‘coming for to carry me home’ and it seems that is indeed the case (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_Low,_Sweet_Chariot#Traditional_lyrics)) homeopaths (homoeopaths, please; or even homœopaths,) “I clamour through” (it was through a window, so ‘clamber’,) sprung (sprang,) edidn’t (didn’t,) “as if it was the scene a crime I had committed” (scene of a crime I had committed,) doubt (a cigarette end is spelled dout,) lasagne (lasagne. Narrator’s spelling? Or author’s?) “‘could of’” (could have; but this was in dialogue.)

The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges

and The Gold of the Tigers, Penguin Modern Classics, 1987, 190 p, including Author’s Note, two Prefaces and Notes.
The Book of Sand was translated from the Spanish El libore arena (published by Emecé Editores SA 1975) by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. The Gold of the Tigers – a selection of poems from The Gold of the Tigers (published as El oro de los tigres by Emecé Editores SA 1972) and The Unending Rose (published as La rosa profunda by Emecé Editores SA 1975) were both translated by Alastair Reid.

The Book of Sand cover

In all of the tales in this collection there is an economical sparseness to the prose, a distancing, which tends to make them read like myth, or fable. They are certainly flavoured with the fantastic. The typical style is to tell rather than show. But in Borges’s hands it works. In his preface to The Unending Rose Borges says, “the notion of art as compromise is a simplification, for no one knows entirely what he is doing. A writer can conceive a fable, Kipling acknowledged, without grasping its moral.” He’s underselling himself. He knew perfectly well what he was doing.

A strange meeting is the nub of The Other. In Cambridge in 1969, by the Charles River, Jorge Luis Borges encounters Jorge Luis Borges, who is in Geneva in 1918, a few steps from the Rhone.
In Ulrike, a Colombian man has an encounter with a Norwegian woman in York. Their walk together leads them into a different time.
The Congress is the Congress of the World, an organisation set up to represent the men of all nations, whose President is Alejandro Glencoe, Uruguayan son of a man from Aberdeen.
Dedicated on its title page to the memory of H P Lovecraft There are more Things is in the tradition of ‘entering a strange house’ stories and ends with an undescribed horror approaching the narrator. Borges’s interest in Scotland is in evidence again. A character is named Alexander Muir and the narrator tells us, “Scotland’s symbol, after all, is the thistle.”
The Sect of the Thirty is a ‘fragment from a manuscript’ tale and reveals the origins of the titular sect’s name.
The night of the gifts contains a tale within a tale within a tale – all inside six pages. The gifts are knowledge of both love and death.
The mirror and the mask is set in the aftermath of the Battle of Clontarf when the High King of Ireland commissions a bard to compose a poem celebrating the victory, then – when it is delivered the next year – another, and finally a third the year after that. Each poem’s significance eclipses the earlier’s.
Undr purports to be a translation of an old manuscript and is another tale within a tale in which a man travels to the land of the Urns to find the single word which is their poetry plus a short rendering of his life thereafter to find the word’s meaning; and that of life.
In Utopia of a tired man our narrator is strolling a vast plain and comes across a building inhabited by a man who, when he speaks, reveals they are in the narrator’s (and the reader’s) future. Within the story’s seven pages we learn how the world came to be as it is and some of the future humans’ beliefs. Borges provides us with some sly digs at his own trade. “Printing – which is now abolished, since it tended to multiply unnecessary texts to the point of dizziness – was one of man’s worst evils.” “Language is a system of quotations.”
The bribe is an account of a piece of academic politics wherein one scholar publishes a critical paper as a stratagem to incline his criticisee to nominate him for a place at a conference.
Avelino Arredondo plans his forthcoming action for the morning of the twenty-fifth of August, sequestering himself from friends, fiancée and newspapers so that none but him can be blamed for it.
In The disk a now blind woodcutter recalls the time he gave a stranger shelter. In the morning the stranger told him he was the king of the Secgens and had Odin’s ring – the only one-sided ring in the world – in his palm. The woodcutter tried to obtain the ring.
The Book of Sand is a story which claims to be true. A man in Buenos Aires (with a great personal affection for Scotland through a love for Stevenson and Hume) opens his door to a Bible seller from Orkney – to where he hopes to return – who shows him the Book of Books, one which has no beginning nor end and whose pagination is arbitrary. He buys it.
The latter half of the book contains many of Borges’s poems; each printed with the original Spanish on the left hand page and the English translation on the right.

Pedant’s corner:- in the author’s note; Wells’ (Wells’s.) Otherwise:- Heraclitus’ (Heraclitus’s,) Tacitus’ (Tacitus’s,) Beauvais’ (Beauvais’s,) John Wilkins’ (Wilkins’s,) Jesus’ (Jesus’s,) extra marks for ‘hanged himself’. “One day less.” (One day fewer,) Wiclif (usually spelled Wycliffe,) Córboda (Córdoba.) In the Notes; Borges’ (Borges’s.)

The Start of the End of it All and other stories by Carol Emshwiller

Women’s Press, 1990, 169 p.

 The Start of the End of it All and other stories cover

In these stories Emshwiller’s style tends to the intellectual and reflective, and always told with a female slant on the world. Very few are straightforward narratives but all of them are intriguing – and well written.

The Start of the End of it All is an alien invasion story. “‘Politics,’ they say, ‘begins at home, and most especially in the kitchen’” – a good place for a revolution to start. But first they have to get rid of the cats. The aliens seem to have targeted divorced, post-menopausal women for their infiltration. A tinge of alarm strikes when one of the aliens says, ‘Time to find lots of little dark, wet places.’ But our narrator isn’t keen on giving up cats.
Looking Down is narrated by a sentient bird (or flying creature at least) who allows himself to be captured by humans to function as an oracle and protector.
In Eclipse a woman stumbles into the wrong party and is taken for either a pianist or flautist. She is neither. But a student of Jung gives her confidence.
The Circular Library of Stones is found by our narrator who collects stones and imagines the circle as a library. Her story can be read as if she has lost some marbles though.
In Fledged a winged woman who looks remarkably like the narrator’s ex-wife comes crashing into his house during a storm.
Vilcabamba finds a man displaced from his people but able to remember gestures they made and bits of their language. He sets out to try to find his way back home.
In Acceptance Speech a man abducted from his own world makes his speech on being made Humble-Master-of-the-Poem.
If the Word Was to the Wise is a story about the importance of the word, and its dangers. In the tallest building in the city are two safes. One contains the law, all that keeps the city secure, the other, all the banned books. A young prince of the library (despite the title, really an underling) falls for the chief librarian’s daughter, Josephine. They begin to plan to open the “banned” safe.
The centre of the universe in Living at the Centre is Omphalo, of whose fabulous beached women the mountain men have heard tell. One old woman goes down there to find out if the tales are true.
In Moon Songs a brother and his older sister encounter an unusual insect which when pricked with a pin “sings” for ten minutes. The sister tries to parlay this discovery into a stage career.
But soft, what light… is a variation on the 100 monkeys eventually typing out Shakespeare thing. Uniq-o-fax, (rather quaintly now in 2019) thirty nine typewriters and a word bank, “all those wires and tubes,” and the female narrator fall in love and write poems to each other.
Pelt is set on Jaxa, an ice planet on which a human has landed, with his dog, to hunt for furs. The viewpoint character is the dog, and the hunter finds more – and less – than he bargained for.
Début could be seen as a variation on Snow White. An apparently blind girl is brought before the Queen only for her mask to be removed before she is banished to the hills. There, the story diverges from that template.
The titular organisation of The Institute is the Old Ladies Institute of Higher Learning (the OLI of HL,) the story one that features an embedded drawing and ends with a piece of musical notation for a song. The narrator’s grandmother, an alumna of the OLI of HL, was quite a gal.
Woman Waiting is the stream of consciousness of a woman waiting for her postponed flight, retreating ever into herself.
In Chicken Icarus a man who is a head and torso but little else (but that little – or not so little – is important,) schemes to have himself displayed more widely.
Sex and/or Mr Morrison features a woman looking for the Others amongst us spying on her upstairs neighbour.
In Glory, Glory a woman on holiday with her husband in a country where they don’t know the language is taken by the locals for a goddess.

Pedant’s corner:- six storey (six storeys,) “bit for the tower, I also, would have done” (either no comma after ‘also’ or an extra comma after ‘I’,) “‘the first snows will be coming’ he says. ‘The tower..” (that ‘he says’ is part of a sentence the character is speaking so it should not be outside the quotation marks,) “in order fit my own ears” in order to fit,) “the forsythia were not in bloom” (either ‘forsythias’, or ‘was not in bloom’, largess (USianism for largesse?) stachel (satchel,) contraposto (contrapposto.)

Its Colours They Are Fine by Alan Spence

Corgi, 1987, 238 p.

Its Colours They Are Fine cover

Called “A vivid portrayal of Glasgow life” in the title box on its front cover Its Colours They Are Fine is divided onto three sections – each itself made up of five, five and three connected stories respectively.

Section One illustrates the young life of Aleck, growing up in the crowded conditions of Govan before the slum clearances. Tinsel relates the boredom of a pre-Christmas trip to the Steamie and contrasts it with the fulfilment of putting up seasonal decorations. Sheaves finds Aleck at the Harvest Festival at his Sunday School, one of a crop of souls destined for Christ. The Ferry deals with the exoticism and fear of an adventure across the Clyde to Partick. Gypsy tells of the delights and otherwise of the Kelvin Hall carnival and the mutually mistrustful relationship of Govan folk with those they call Gypsies, the people of the travelling shows. Silver in the Lamplight describes life in the back courts and games such as KDRF (Kick Door Run Fast.)

Part Two is more diffuse, featuring episodes from different stages of life. Its Colours They Are Fine recounts the anticipation of and satisfaction from taking part in an Orange Walk. Brilliant repeats this for an evening out, tribalism – of a more parochial sort – being again in evidence. The Rain Dance relates the immediate precursors to and the events on the day of a “mixed” wedding (ie between a Catholic and a Protestant.) Neither family is best pleased. The Palace sees an older man, now jobless but with little prospect of new employment, make a human connection in the Kibble Palace. The chimes of an ice-cream van in Greensleeves lead a retired widow living on the twenty-second floor of a tower block to reflect on her isolation.

Section Three is the most elegiac in tone. In Changes a man returns from a New Year spent in London visiting friends pondering on the fullness and transitoriness of little lives. Auld Lang Syne describes the events of a quiet Hogmanay (for the narrator) but one who is still bound by the traditions attaching to it. All meanings ofBlue, as in the colour of Rangers shirts, and of the Virgin Mary in Art, its associations with sadness and a patch of sky caught between clouds, resonate in the narrator’s memory of the day his mother died.

Glasgow life is here to be sure; working class Glasgow life especially. Its attitudes and habits, its prejudices, the odd casual violence, but also the camaraderie, the fellow feeling. The book in total has become something of a series of snapshots of the past though. Many of the circumstances that led to the sorts of lives portrayed here are gone now – though some will remain – but still Spence has peopled his tales with recognisable characters with full inner lives and descriptions of the Glasgow urban environment to match those of the countryside of other Scottish authors. The prose is written in straightforward English but the dialogue is in an uncompromising Glaswegian.

For those of a sensitive disposition note that the word ‘darkies’ is used twice. (In Glasgow in the days Spence is writing about, though, its use was mainly descriptive and usually not meant derogatorily.)

Pedant’s corner:- Little star of Bethlehem (later given as Little Star of Bethlehem,) a missing end quote, a Roman thumbs up said to mean survival, thumbs down to mean death (this was a common belief at the time these stories are set but I’ve since read that gladiators’ fates were determined the opposite way.) “On the platform were a number” (was a number,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech (x 3.)

Interzone 281, May-Jun 2019

TTA Press, 96 p

Interzone 281 cover

Georgina Bruce’s Editorial calls for SF to resist celebrating the beautiful apocalypse and instead to imagine something better. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupted muses on the Golden Age future that didn’t happen and the present day world of work and its intersection with the “stultifying timidity” of business, academia and politics. In Climbing Stories Aliya Whiteleya contemplates stupid questions, obvious questions, the unanswerable Why? and the attempts of film, theatre and fiction to answer it – or not. In Book Zone John Howardb welcomes the “directly and compellingly told” reprints of all-but forgotten 1950s and 1960s writer Charles Eric Maine’s far from cosy catastrophe novels The Tide Went Out and The Darkest of Nights, Duncan Lunan finds A Brilliant Void: a selection of classic Irish Science Fiction novels edited by Jack Fennell a book for the literary historian rather than the SF enthusiast and Temi Oh’s generation starship novel Do You Dream of Terra-Two? not entirely convincing, Ian Hunter lauds Tim Major’s science fantasy Snakeskins as better than good, where good equates to “stays with you”, Stephen Theaker feels the anthology New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl is a missed opportunity to trawl a wider writers’ pool than the editor’s acquaintances, Barbara Melville “cannot fault” the “seamless, gripping and immersive” The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion, the best she has ever read for Interzone, Maureen Kincaid Speller says Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan, partly a thought experiment on what happens if the plug is pulled on the internet, is a novel that has been well worth the wait, while finally Andy Hedgecock reviews Georgina Bruce’s “eminently impressive” debut collection This House of Wounds and interviews the author.
In the fiction:
The Realitarians by James Warner1 features, as well as a woman inveigled into luring a physicist to a hotel in Paris, a couple of talking cats. Apart from the cats there is little to this that reads as SF or Fantasy.
In Float by Kai Hudson2 a young woman exiled back to Earth from a space colony struggles with high gravity and the plethora of water.
Harmony by Andy Dudak3 is set in a totalitarian world where the regime uses song as a means of control. A foreign agent tries to resist its siren call.
The city of A Dreamer Arrives in the Occupied City by Malcolm Devlin4 is occupied by lopers who steal dreams, have imposed a curfew and keep the populace subjugated by means of a drug called kurshi. Felicia Fortuna suffered an accident in her youth and so still dreams. She sings her dreams in a nightclub.
The longest story, Scolex by Matt Thomson5, features a drug mule used to smuggling contraband in his blood, who has been given the Scolex of the title, a substance which alters DNA.
The very short Café Corona by Georgina Bruce is illustrated by a background of the recent photograph of the event horizon of a black hole. A woman sits in a café and ponders the malleability of the world, the resemblances between things.
In Our Fathers Find Their Graves in our Shortest Memories by Rebecca Campbell6, the Ossuary, a vast digital database of human images and messages, a repository of human memory, counts down the dwindling number of humans still alive.

Pedant’s corner:- a“to not answer” (not to answer.) b“even if his handling of some of the scientific aspects were not always so sure” (his handling … was not always,) focussing (focusing.) 1Written in USian. 2snuck (sneaked.) 3Written in USian; staunch (stanch.) 4crenelated (crenellated,) “the cream of the city’s middle class were slumming it” (the cream …was slumming it,) “their audience are allowed to dismiss what they say” (their audience is allowed to.) 5“A group of office workers jostle him” (a group jostles.) 6Written in USian, “the species’” (species, singular, so species’s.)

Shoreline of Infinity 12: Summer 2018

The New Curiosity Shop, 134 p

In Pull up a Log Iain Maloney reflects on his time as Shoreline’s reviews editor.

In the fiction we have Do Not Pass GO by Helen Jackson, a light-hearted time-travelling story which tells how the board game “Property Is Best!” became “Monopoly” and conquered the world.
This is followed by Aeaea by Robert Gordon where day by day a man’s consciousness passes between bodies working on a production line of some sort. The workers are overseen by robots. He knows little of his past but occasional dreams let him know he had one. He instigates a revolution but there is still time for an ending which, despite some foreshadowing, is still a deus ex machina.
In Jammers by Anton Rose a young Max is recruited into a gang which remotely hi-jacks self-driving cars in order to rob their passengers. His junkie mother is disgusted by his new-found occupation.
Paradise Bird by J S Richardson features an exotic alien – a male – from an almost forgotten far-flung outpost of humanity come to visit the Habs on the fringe of the asteroid belt and charm one of the hermaphroditic inhabitants.
In Sand and Rust by W G White the entirety of human civilisation wanders through a relentless desert landscape in a caravan guided by a machine called The Chaperone. The caravan’s First Rider has to induct his replacement before entering The Chaperone, never to re-emerge. I did wonder how, in the midst of all this desert, the people in the caravan obtained food.
Sleeping Fire by Elvira Hills is a tale of haves and have nots, the desert people left without regeneration technology, those in Rejensy exploiting them to secure their own longevity. New recruit Resa determines to redress things. The pacing here is a little too breathless at times and the action sequence borders on cliché.
The Beachcomber Presents graphic strip literally depicts people living in social bubbles, escaping their confines to find the richness outside.
SF Caledonia: Crossing the Starfield by Chris Kelsoa relates how he stumbled on a copy of Starfield, the first ever anthology of Scottish Science Fiction, in a Glasgow second-hand bookshopb. He goes on to wonder how it has been so forgotten (not by those of a certain age, mate) and to eulogise the contents.
The Square Fella1 by Duncan Lunan is one of the stories from that collection and describes the first manned rocket mission out of the bowl of the world in which its protagonist lives.

There is a page introducing a flash fiction competition for SoI readers on the subject of the Moonc followed by an interview with Ada Palmer conducted by Eris Young.
Ruth E J Booth’s Noise and Sparks column Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Genred discusses the ongoing disparagement of SF by some academics.

Reviews sees Eris Young finding new depth in Ada Palmer’s Terra Incognita trilogy as books 2 and 3 Seven Surrenders and The Will to Battle roll on, Steve Ironsidee confesses to not being armoured enough to cope with the rhythm and narrative of Hal Duncan’s A Scruffian Survival Guide, Katy Lennon delights in the intricacies of M John Harrison’s You Should Come with Me Nowf, Georgina Merryg appreciates the gorgeous writing and unpredictable story line of Sarah Maria Griffin’s Spare and Found Parts, Callum McSorley feels the mix of action thriller and political drama in Null States by Malka Older doesn’t quite mesh, Lucy Powellh describes Eric Brown’s Binary System as a colourful romp.
MultiVerse has poems by Caroline Haker, Ken Poyner and Elizabeth Dulemba (whose three very short pieces are illustrated.) Replacing Parabolic Puzzles we have Spot the Difference by Tsu.

Pedant’s corner:- I proofread the fiction original to this issue before publication so assume there are no remaining errata there. 1“at its comers” (‘corners’ makes sense, ‘comers’ doesn’t,) “on one side that the other” (than,) “but if was less massive” (if it was less massive,) “the last chance to bum him with his knowledge” (burn. This – as with comers above – is a manifestation of the problem in some fonts of distinguishing the letter pairing ‘rn’ from the single letter ‘m’.)
a“There is a notable contributions” (contribution,) David Crooks’ (Crooks’s,) “of it’s achievements” (its.) bSaid in the introduction to be in Glasgow’s Merchant City but it’s in the West end. c“on the the theme of the Moon” (only one ‘the’ needed.) d“the kind of the impact” (the kind of impact,) “startling out of depth” (startlingly.) e“but the challenges I faced in getting to grips with Duncan’s writing means …” (the challenges mean….) 3272 pags apparently (pages,) clamor (is the reviewer USian?) “twisting the reader’s expectations, forcing them…” (that ‘them’ means its noun antecedent ought to be “readers’”,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth.) g“merely part of the characters’ identity” (characters, plural, therefore ‘identities’.) h“for all intents and purposes” (it’s ‘to all intents and purposes’.)

The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams

Published as Straw Dogs by Bloomsbury Film Classics, 2003, 157 p. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

I have not seen the film into which this was made and which provides the title for this reprint of the original text of Williams’s novel. The subject matter did not attract me. It still doesn’t. I only read this for completeness, because it’s on that 100 best list.

 Straw Dogs cover

In the run-up to Christmas a snow storm cuts off the village of Dando Manchorum in the English West Country. At a do in the village a young girl, Janice Hedden, goes missing. Search parties are organised. George Magruder, a US citizen, decides to take his English wife Louise and daughter Karen back home to Trencher’s Farm for safety before returning to the search. In the meantime Henry Niles, convicted child molester and murderer, has been thrown out of the van in which he was being transported from a hospital procedure back to the local prison for the criminally disturbed and is wandering the roads. Magruder’s car hits him and the family takes him back to the farmhouse till a doctor can come out to see him. When George finds out who Niles actually is he phones the police but due to the snow drifts they won’t be able to get there for hours.

Several of the locals, especially Tom Hedden, the missing girl’s father, convinced Niles must have abducted her, hear the news Niles is at the farm and they decide to take justice into their own hands. The siege of the title is their attempts to get in and those of George and, less so, Louise, to resist them. The beseigers are partly inspired by the tale of Soldier’s Field when some of their ancestors collectively killed the rapist and murderer of a young local girl but as none would talk weren’t subsequently prosecuted.

Niles himself, portrayed here as a bewildered, inadequate soul and of course totally innocent of abducting or killing Janice Hedden (though not the crimes for which he was incarcerated,) plays an off-stage part for most of the novel, locked in the Magruder’s bathroom before being stuffed into the loft.

The relationship between George and Louise is gone into in some detail but in the end reduces to the kind of sexual politics reflective of the decade in which The Siege of Trencher’s Farm was written (the 1960s.)

There isn’t really much insight into the human condition in these pages. The locals are depicted as very insular (which may be true to life) but the besiegers are more or less unthinking yokels – or else disturbed. I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone unless they like descriptions of violence. It’s yet another crime book on that 100 best list. Presumably it’s only on there due to its – or the film’s – notoriety. It certainly hasn’t much by way of literary merit.

Pedant’s corner:- “worked as a mechanic as the Compton Wakley garage” (mechanic at the Compton Wakley garage,) hung (several instances; hanged,) Niles’ (Niles’s,) “‘he won’t say nothin’. all right.’ “ (comma after ‘nothin’’ rather than a full stop.)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Puffin, 2014, 262 p.

 A Wrinkle in Time cover

Meg lives a more or less normal life with her family of three brothers, twins Sandy and Dennis and the younger Charles Wallace, one of those children who are slow to speak but when they finally do so it is in complete sentences. Normal that is, apart from her mother having a chemistry lab in the back room, and a physicist father who has disappeared (accompanied by all sorts of rumours as to where; and with whom.) Meg, Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin meet three odd women who are secretly inhabiting the local “haunted” house. Mrs Whatsit was once a star in the sky, Mrs Who speaks in quotations (Latin, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, as well as Shakespearian,) and Mrs Which talks in ddoubblle cconnssonnannttss with the occasional double vvoowweell. Mrs Which can also ‘wrinkle’ space-time and so is able to send Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin off to battle the forces of evil which have trapped Meg’s father.

On their interstellar journey they encounter a Black Thing in the interstices of space, which almost draws the life from them, strange multi-tentacled creatures who restore them to health, eventually moving on till they reach the planet Camazotz, where Meg’s father is captive and which is home to a large pulsating brain dubbed IT (which nowadays reads slightly differently to how L’Engle would have intended it) bent on total control of the universe.

Meg is disappointed that, once freed, her father can not set the universe right by himself. It is she and her love for Charles Wallace that is the key to overcoming IT’s baleful influence.

Regarded as something of a children’s classic, this was first published in 1962, making the descriptions of card- or tape-fed computing machines, with dot-dash punched print-outs somewhat quaint to modern eyes. Mrs Who’s quotations and Mrs Whatsit’s comparison of the children’s lives to a sonnet, expression within strict constraints, do not talk down to its intended readership. The resolution, though, is a little forced and more in line with early 1960s attitudes than more modern ones.

Pedant’s corner:- Jenkins’ (Jenkins’s,) “in ITs clutches” (IT here is a proper noun not a pronoun, so ‘in IT’s clutches’.)

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

King Penguin, 1987, 141 p. Translated from the Japanese 午後の曳航 (Gogo no Eikō) byJohn Nathan.

 The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea cover

Mishima, seemingly at the height of his literary powers and success, cut short his own life by committing seppuku in 1970, apparently in protest at the erosion of Japan’s values due to Western influence.

In this short novel, the first of his I have read, Fusako Kuroda has been widowed for five years. Unknown to her, her son Noboru has discovered a hole in the wainscotting between their bedrooms through which he can witness her bedtime routines. After a visit with Noboru to a tramp merchant steamer she takes up with the sailor, Ryuji Tzukazaki, who was attentive to Noboru but who it is revealed considers sex as a secret yearning for death. Their relationship is then consummated under the eyes of a not best pleased Noboru. Noboru is also number three in a group of schoolboys who enact nefarious rituals in their secret den. Boys have always tended to the wanton; as Shakespeare well knew.

Here is set the scene for an odd tale of love, alienation, dehumanisation and revenge. Things come to a head when after a final voyage away Ryuji decides to give up sailing and marry Fusako. Noboru presents his list of charges against Ryuji to his gang’s chief.

The tension between Japan’s past and present, which Mishima felt all too keenly, is reflected in the different attitudes of the characters. Fusako, with her job in a luxury goods shop, represents modernity, Ryuji a connection to Japan’s former seafaring glories, the boys a reminder of the insular past.

Pedant’s corner:- louvered swinging doors (louvred,) an unneeded indent of one space at one new line with a larger line spacing than usual below it.

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