Archives » Reading Reviewed

Proxima by Stephen Baxter

Gollancz, 2013, 485 p.

Proxima cover

Proxima is set in the mid-twenty second century after the Heroic Generation has been demonised in retrospect. Yuri Eden was cryogenically stored by his parents till better times arrived. He wakes up on the Ad Astra, a starship bound for Proxima Centauri, one of many caught up in a sweep (press-ganged) to provide colonists for an Earth-like planet tide-locked to that system’s third sun.

Meanwhile back in the solar system — where, on Mercury, mysterious artefacts known as kernels have been discovered and are proving a revolutionary power source — Stephanie Penelope Kalinski is forging her career as a physicist.

Life on Proxima c, dubbed Per Ardua by the colonists, is harsh and brutal. Soon, out of his group of thirteen colonists, only Yuri and Mardina Jones, a ship’s officer of Australian aboriginal lineage, delegated/dragooned/abandoned by her commander to fill a gap in the manifest as the best genetically diverse replacement available, are left, along with an AI robot known as a ColU. Together they watch the local life forms – stick-like creatures they call builders – while trying to scratch a living from the surface. Despite mutual misgivings they have a daughter, whom they name Beth. Despite strict orders to remain where they were set down they have to migrate as their water source – a lake – is moved by the builders. Eventually, meeting other groups along the way they gravitate towards the point on the Per Ardua’s surface immediately below the sun.

On Mercury a further apparently alien device is discovered under a hatch in the bedrock. When it’s opened Stephanie finds a twin, Penelope Dianne, previously unknown to her, and her name has become Stephanie Karen, but everyone else thinks this is how it has been all along. The hatch has altered reality, created ragged edges like Steph’s memories or her mother’s headstone where Steph’s original name remains inscribed. The hatch sequences were somewhat reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke’s The Sentinel (which provided the germ for 2001: A Space Odyssey.) The link between the two narratives is then established.

This is all good, solid Science-Fictional stuff but the characters are not very engaging, limited in scope, mostly at the mercy of the plot, present only to push the story along.

Pedant’s corner:- The edition I read was a proof copy so some of these may have been corrected in the final printing. “People moving around him wearing in green shirts and hygiene caps and masks” (wearing in?) like cvNissan huts (Nissen huts – unless Baxter is essaying a pun.) “A women” (woman,) “‘And we are going -’ He pointed straight up … There.’” (that’s a continued sentence the “he” should not be capitalised,) “she understood that that the” (only one “that”,) “from Earth and moon” (traditionally Earth’s [principal] satellite is afforded proper noun status, Moon.) “The throng gathering …. were” (the throng was,) “not as fast as it would in Earth” (on Earth.) “He’d known here on Mars,) He’d known her on Mars,) “a position were the cuffs” (where the cuffs,) focussed (x2, focused,) “‘..what time it be when’” (time will it be when .) “In her dreams she had been the one seprated from the rest, in her dreams.” (repetition of “in her dreams” is unnecessary.) “The ColU continued to stress was that the” (no “was” needed.) “‘Waiting for the prize, where you?’” (were you,) “‘its relationship, of any,’” (if any,) a paragraph start doubly indented, fit (fitted,) “had been the only way route by which she” (either way or route, not both,) “‘they’ve been are about us’” (either ‘they’ve been’ or ‘they are’, not ‘they’ve been are’,) “the ancient impact created shattered the bedrock” (“created” is redundant,) “the further Proxima rise in the sky” (rose,) put-puts (putt-putts,) “a party of four of them … made their way” (a party made its way.) “On the wall opposite other was some kind of” ) on the wall opposite was some kind of,) antennas (antennae.) “There hadn’t been much opportunities” (‘There hadn’t been much opportunity’, or, ‘There hadn’t been many opportunities’.) None of their families were here” (None of their families was here,) Secretary Generals (Secretaries General,) grills (grilles,) “that the languages of widely scattered groups was so consistent” (either ‘language’, or, ‘were so consistent’,) “of the species and their culture” (its culture,) Lu (elsewhere Liu.) “A couple of crew members were” (a couple was,) “‘will be like atomised when we lift’” (no need for the ‘like’,) “there was no point holding their breath” (breaths.)

Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon

Orbit, 2017, 439 p.

 Cold Welcome cover

The cover makes it obvious (“Vatta’s Peace: Book 1” is inscribed below the title) that this is the first part of what I assume is a trilogy. What I hadn’t realised when I picked it up was that there is a previous trilogy (“Vatta’s War”) to which this is presumably a sequel of sorts. Not that it matters: Cold Welcome pretty much stands on its own with Moon slipping in information about Admiral Ky Vatta’s past as and when necessary.

After apparently unexpected success as a war commander against unlikely odds Vatta is returning to her home planet, Slotter Key, where her family is a prominent presence. There is some early interplay about the wearing of spacesuits for a shuttle descent which makes it beyond obvious to the reader that skullduggery is afoot. And indeed the shuttle encounters trouble during the descent, its pilots and a local military commander being murdered by devices in their suits. Vatta and her aide-de-camp wore their own suits and so are spared, along with lesser luminaries on board. The shuttle comes down in a polar sea near an uninhabited continent which – conveniently or otherwise – has a reputation for mishaps and communications blackouts.

As senior military officer Vatta takes charge even though she is not in the local command chain. Her expertise gets the survivors through a few days at sea in life-rafts and landfall on an inhospitable beach. From then on it all gets a bit Alistair MacLean with Vatta wondering whom she can trust and intrigues played against her. The continent also turns out not to be quite as abandoned and inhospitable as everyone supposed.

Cold Welcome is reasonably standard SF fare with not a lot of consequence to it. Violence, though not entirely absent, is mostly off-stage here (for which relief much thanks; I’m getting fed up with SF where violence seems to be the only type of conflict resolution available) and the SF trappings are mostly off the shelf. We don’t find out though who exactly the conspirators were who committed the shuttle murders nor those behind the goings-on on the polar continent. No doubt all will be revealed in later books in the sequence. I may not bother with those though. Neither the scenario nor its execution piqued my interest enough.

Pedant’s corner:-Stavros’ (Stavros’s,) “he had lived into that label” (lived up to that label makes more sense,) Captain Argelos’ (Argelos’s,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, Colonel Greyhaus’ diary (Greyhaus’s,) “the crew were resting” (the crew was resting.) In the acknowledgements: Gonzales’ Gonzales’s.)

Buying Time by E M Brown

Solaris, 2018, 357 p.

 Buying Time cover

The designation of the author as E M Brown is a slight repositioning by the publisher of my old mate Eric Brown to highlight works of his that are more character based. (It’s a bit late and a bit odd. He has always produced these to go alongside his action adventure novels but even in those he did not neglect character.)

In 2017 Ed Richie, prodigious boozer, script-writer for Coromandel Cable’s Morgan’s Café and also with a few radio plays to his name, is a serial monogamist with a penchant for women of a certain type. His latest relationship with a woman called Anna blows up in his face after he has had some sort of medical emergency experiencing a blinding white light. The break-up is part of a pattern repeated throughout his life. He has a long standing, equally boozy, friend Digby Lincoln, a jobbing script-writer on the TV serial Henderson’s Farm, with whom he discusses his situation.

We then jump to 2030, where in an independent Scotland Ella Croft works as a journalist for ScotFreeMedia. England and the US are in the grip of right-wing authoritarian regimes and Scotland is accepting LGBT refugees from a US where gay marriage is banned and same sex relationships suspect. It seems Richie disappeared some time in 2025 after switching successfully to a career as a novelist. Croft, who knew Richie in her childhood, sets out to find out what happened to him.

When we return to Richie he has had another white light episode and discovers himself in April 2016, much to his confusion and others’ bafflement.

The Richie and Shaw strands alternate throughout the book, interspersed with interpolations from various journal extracts, some Richie’s own, others newspaper or media outlet pieces. Richie is tumbling backwards through time, from 2017 to 2016, then 2013, 2008, 2002, 1995, 1988, and finally 1983. At first Richie wonders if these are hypnagogic hallucinations but Brown later provides, via the 2030 Croft sections, a science-fictional explanation.

Brown draws some amusement from Richie’s knowledge of the future. To the revelation that Trump will be elected President of the US Digby responds, “What? The multiple-bankrupt TV celebrity shyster? Come on, even the Americans can’t be that stupid!” and when told Leicester will win the league in 2016 comments, “Now I know you’re crazy.”

A Trove of Stars, Digby’s SF piece, had caused a rift between them for a while as Richie told him he, “took needless time out to tell the reader about the characters’ states of mind.” Digby objects, “‘What I’m trying to do here is bring the concerns of the modern psychological novel to the hidebound format of hard SF.’ Richie had restrained himself from accusing his friend of talking pretentious bollocks.” In a later time-shift the book’s success signals we’re in a different timeline. All Richie’s touches down in the past must be in altered histories or else there would be time paradoxes.

Ed suffers further confusion when Finnish artist Emmi Takala, whom he met on a trip to Crete, seems to know about his condition but he time–jumps again before she can elucidate. Ella finds out Emmi also disappeared in the late 2020s when she went to England to meet a man called Ed. There is a connection too to scientist Ralph Dennison – mates at University with and Ed and Digby – an investigator into the theory behind faster-than-light travel but who, too, vanished in 2010. The scientists’ backer, tycoon Duncan Mackendrick, finally provides Ella (and us) with the puzzle’s solution.

Brown’s characterisation is excellent throughout. The Richie sections do not read like SF which is fine – good even – the Shaw ones do when necessary. Whether Buying Time brings “the concerns of the modern psychological novel to the hidebound format of hard SF” or is “pretentious bollocks” is for each reader to decide. I thought it was very well done indeed.

Pedant’s corner:- imposter (I prefer impostor.) “How many woman have you lived with over the years?” (women) “that all was not as it should be” (that not all was as it should be,) Diggers’ (Diggers’s – several other instances,) “her portrayal a grieving mother” (portrayal of a grieving mother,) Man U (earlier it had been Man U.,) humous (humous means ‘like a component of soil’, the food is houmous or hummus,) “He could curb the TV work, continued writing radio plays, and, to flex his creative muscles and ambition, tried his hand at stage plays.” (continue writing….try his hand,) recent British politics (given it’s 2030 here would that not be English politics?) Waterstones’ crowd (earlier, Waterstones staff and Waterstones crowd had had no apostrophe,) a double full stop at the end of a sentence (facing each other..) “‘You can bring yourself to love anyone’” (You can’t bring yourself to,) (and again later) -Tennant’s lager (Tennent’s,) “Pam took herself off the bed” (off to bed,) flag-stoned (flagstoned,) “she later said that that was what she initially liked about him was his ability” (she later said that what she initially liked about him was his ability.)

The Bone Yard by Paul Johnston

NEL, 2003, 316 p. First published 1998.

 The Bone Yard cover

Being the renewed adventures of Quintilian Dalrymple (after Body Politic) in an independent Edinburgh in 2020 where the inhabitants lead circumscribed lives ruled over by a Council and guardians while tourists to the year-round Festival are afforded every luxury.

Two people are found with their throats bitten out, tongues and genitals removed, and a cassette lodged in the wounds, in each case with a blues song (the Blues are banned in this Edinburgh) on the tape. When the first body is found Dalrymple is assigned the case due to his success in solving earlier murders. The usual conflicts with his nominal overseers ensue. Along the way we find out what the mysterious Bone Yard is, plus its connection to both the mothballed Torness Nuclear Power Station and pills dubbed Electric Blues – which are potentially fatal to those with weak hearts. We, Dalrymple, and his sidekick Davie, also make re-acquaintance with Quint’s love interest from Body Politic, Katharine Kirkwood. Her experiences outside Edinburgh in the interim, as recounted to Quint, have been grim (and a touch gratuitous) but provide a link to the killer.

The voice in which Johnston describes Quint and his attitudes is of the usual couldn’t-give-a-toss, rule-bending, I’ll-go-where-the-leads-take-me, would-be irreverent maverick type. While it seemed bright and almost fresh in Body Politic, here the similes and metaphors are either strained or overcooked.

Johnston has certainly hit on an unusual situation in which to set a crime novel. The speculative aspects are only trappings though. This is first and foremost a crime novel. A good enough one at that. But he’s since written five more Dalrymple books (plus eleven others.) This one didn’t much encourage me to look out the rest.

Pedant’s corner:- “the temperature swapped a minus for a plus reading” (the temperature went down, so a plus was swapped for a minus,) “didn’t use to turn up” (didn’t used to.) “Tonight was the only night of the year when the curfew isn’t enforced.” (conflict of tenses; wasn’t enforced is more natural,) had a accident (an accident,) bunsen burner (Bunsen burner,) e-string (E-string surely?) span (spun,) “a clear liquid” (colourless I think,) ouside (outside.) “Even though the numbers of Moslem tourists has fallen” (either ‘number of’ or else ‘have fallen’,) the Forth Rail Bridge (aka the Forth Bridge: since it’s the original only any others need a qualifying description,) a missing re-opening quote mark when a piece of dialogue resumed. Asshole, ass and smartass (this is Edinburgh; even there they put the “r” in. Arsehole, arse and smartarse,) “didn’t use to be like this” (used to be.)

My Real Children by Jo Walton

Corsair, 2014, 318 p.

My Real Children cover

Multiple lives have been having a bit of a vogue recently what with the likes of Life after Life and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. The trend may be waning now but this is one to add to the list – though its premise is more akin to that of the film Sliding Doors in that its protagonist, known variously as Patricia, Patsy, Patty, Pat, Tricia, Trish, has two lives here, the hinge being when she accepts or rejects her fiancé’s demand to marry her on the instant when he garners only a third class degree instead of the first they had both been expecting. The first chapter sees Patricia in a nursing home at the end of her life, remembering her past and confused as to whether she had four or three children. Up to the fifth chapter we follow the course of her early life until the (in)decisive moment. The two strands of her life alternate chapters with each other thereafter.

Both are altered histories. Depending on the strand, there are relatively small nuclear exchanges between the US and USSR over Cuba, others later in the Middle East and elsewhere, Bobby Kennedy becoming President in 1964, the UK joining the Coal and Steel Community at its inception in the 1950s, a rise in authoritarianism in Pat’s later life. Unfortunately all of this requires too much telling and not enough showing and this applies to the main thrust of the stories as well as the historical background.

It’s all shot through with how hard life is for women and the unfairnesses of discrimination against minorities, particularly same sex couples. Worthy, but done heavy-handedly.

I know we’re implicitly invited to do so ourselves but it is only in the final chapter, when Patricia’s lives seem to have re-coalesced, that Walton begins to make wider contrasts and connections by which time it is really too late.

Pedant’s corner:- Despite being a British edition this uses the USian text and spellings. Otherwise; post office (Post Office,) Finefare supermarket (it was Fine Fare,) “wracked with guilt” (racked.) “‘They will, however, will serve adequately’” (has one ‘will’ too many.) “The government were funding” (the government was funding,) grifters (is a USian term. A Brit wouldn’t use that but ‘conmen’ instead.) “Could she made it again, knowingly?” (Could she make it again.)

Elephant Walk by Robert Standish

NEL, 1968, 252 p. First published 1948.

Elephant Walk cover

The Elephant Walk of the title is a very prosperous tea (once coffee, till a disease blighted the crop) plantation in Sri Lanka (Ceylon as was) whose founder, Tom Carey, built “the Big Bungalow” across a traditional elephant trail. Despite being dead for years Carey’s attitudes and prescriptions for life still dominate life in the bungalow – as mediated through the main servant Appuhamy (who periodically talks to the old master at his graveside) and with the parrot Erasmus ensuring Carey’s voice is still heard regularly – with open house for other local planters. Carey’s almost middle–aged son, George, takes a trip to England. (Here, in an incidental conversation with a pair fascinated by Buddhism, “George … remarked that the only Buddhist priest he had ever come in contact with had seemed to prefer small boys to mysticism.” Some things are universal and timeless it would seem.) George is attracted by the charms of Ruth Lakin; chiefly her ability at tennis. He soon proposes and Ruth seizes eagerly at her chance for a more comfortable existence.

Back in Ceylon the presence of a woman in the Big Bungalow puts all sorts of noses out of joint, while George’s drinking puts a strain on the marriage. An accident in which George breaks his leg throws Ruth into closer contact with George’s assistant Geoffrey Wilding. The Sinhalese plantation workers soon infer, wrongly to begin with, that their working relationship has improper aspects, but the seeds for an eternal triangle have been sown. Once the relationship has been consummated Ruth finds herself in thrall to her feelings for Wilding.

The advent of the Great War throws a spanner into their lives. Without knowing he is the father of Ruth’s unborn child Wilding leaves for Europe and news eventually comes he is missing, presumed dead. Ruth resolves to make the best of things. Wilding has been captured though and escapes to Holland. His return to Ceylon precipitates the book’s, and Ruth’s, crisis, not helped by the fact that Wilding’s war experiences have changed him.

The web of character relationships here is complex, and each has his or her own motivations. The oddnesses and assumptions of colonial life are well depicted. Appuhamy’s devotion to having things just so – as they have always been that way even if extravagantly wasteful – his acceptance of minor change to avoid dismissal, the jealousies of the beautiful Rayna, a Sinhalese outcast girl whom Appuhamy procures in an attempt to distract Wilding from Ruth. Standish’s desire to portray the Big Bungalow as a character in its own right doesn’t quite work though and while the occasional foray into the thoughts of the bull elephant injured while navigating the trail when the bungalow was being built are necessary for plot and dénouement reasons they do not accord with what knowledge of elephants I thought I possessed. (Only remembering the bungalow when approaching it? A bull elephant leading a herd rather than being solitary? Do Asian elephants differ in these regards from African ones?)

Standish didn’t have pretensions, there’s no fine writing here, but it’s a good solid piece of fiction.

Pedant’s corner:- strategem (stratagem, spelled correctly later.) “George’s attentiveness and solicitude was impeccable” (attentiveness and solicitude were.) “‘Blame then?’” (Blame them,) “his little brain” (of a bull elephant? Big brain I should think,) “two whiskies-and-sodas” (two whiskies-and-soda: at least Standish spared us “whisky-and-sodas”,) “‘I like to to be exclusive’” (only one “to” needed,) “‘it does no look much now’” (does not look,) at one point George Carey makes a comment on information which the reader already knows but he hasn’t been told.

Drowntide by Sydney J van Scyoc

Futura, 1987, 222 p.

Drowntide cover

Keiris is the scion of a family/clan, of Adenyo stock, which has the genetic ability to span (communicate telepathically) with sea creatures known as mams. The ordinary people of his society are Nethlor who accepted the Adenyo after their lands were drowned following a volcanic eruption. When Kieris’s sister Nandyris fails to return from a sailing expedition he appears to be the only heir to his mother’s calling – yet he has not manifested any capability in it. In the aftermath his mother acknowledges her powers are fading, reveals to him that he had a twin sister whose father had taken her away very shortly after the birth and charges Keiris with the duty of setting out to find them both and bring his sister back.

This planet has two moons, whose celestial wanderings lead periodically to a period called drowntide when the land to which Keiris travels is subject to daily inundation. In his journey through the islands at the end of the land the book has similarities to Kim Stanley Robinson’s A Short, Sharp Shock (which this novel predates.) Keiris eventually meets the tide folk, where his father is a sort of headman, and his sister – who has the hallmarks of another called race, the rermadken. In following the tide folk’s yearly pilgrimage Keiris develops a spanner’s voice and we discover from their folk tales that all these varieties of human originated from, and left, a poisoned Earth a long, long time ago.

This novel still stands up reasonably well thirty-plus years after its first publication. The cover doesn’t though.

Pedant’s corner:- Nandyris’ (Nandyris’s. Many of the names in this book end in “is” eg Tardis. Every one of their possessives was rendered is’ rather than is’s, ditto Harridys’,) “you care more for your own affairs then for our heritage” (than for our heritage.) “What shore had then chosen?” (What shore had they chosen?) “It gave into” (usually it’s “it gave onto”,) “on an unchartered beach” (uncharted,) “a very young women” (a very young woman,) patienty (patiently,) compell (compel,) “on nights when its warm” (when it’s warm.)

Interrupted Journey by James Wilson

Arrow, 1963, 190 p. First published 1958.

Interrupted Jurney cover

A group of soldiers on a more or less routine trip in Cyprus during the “Emergency” is ambushed by EOKA members. The fighting scenes that ensue take up almost half the book and are vividly described with the individual British soldiers’ characters well delineated but in the end only the officer, Captain Giddings, survives the encounter – and that more by luck than judgement. His empathy with and understanding of the Cypriot rebels and their families (amongst whom he finds himself in the skirmish’s aftermath before he makes his final escape) marks this out as a thoughtful exploration of an incident from the retreat from Empire even if he is later instrumental in the arrest of the chief suspect.

The ongoing story is illuminated by Giddings’s memories of his time on Cyprus a decade or so earlier during the Second World War. The dynamics of military life are also well portrayed but these are seen through the lens of Giddings’s lack of true suitability for the role. (He is in truth a bit of a misfit all round.)

Pedant’s corner:- radiator grill (grille,) staunch (stanch,) swop (swap,) “the band were playing” (the band was playing,) “stach away” (nowadays it’s stash away,) waggon (wagon,) “he had been mislead” (misled.)

Necessary Ill by Deb Taber

Aqueduct Press, 2013, 350 p.

 Necessary Ill cover

The book features the presence of a large number of human neuters, whose personal pronoun is “it” and whose chests are free of nipples. It is implied that they are also without genitalia (but they do have a urethra for urination.) They speak to each other in stripped-down phraseology and call sexed humans “gens”. Another way in which they are different from “normal” humans is that they have heightened senses. This allows them to interpret human behaviour readily but they lack empathy. They of course have to disguise themselves as “normal.”

Chapters narrated in the present tense focus on the neuter Jin. The other main character’s viewpoint chapters are in the past tense. These feature the gen, Sandy, who when we first meet her is rescued by a neut from rape at the hands of the gang who have just raped and killed her mother and so becomes closely associated with neuters.

For some not very clearly articulated reason (gens are overburdening the planet? Really?) there is an organisation of neuters dedicated to spreading plagues designed to reduce gens’ numbers. Jin is such a spreader. In that light any animosity shown by gens towards neuters – which would have been in evidence in any case due to the common human failure to accommodate difference – is hardly surprising and therefore given a justification by the narrative. It seems an odd undertaking for a reviled/misunderstood minority to initiate and carry through, even if, “Genders fear what they don’t understand, and the way they choose to understand neuters is to turn them into something they don’t fear. Women. As if carving a slit through the tiny neut urethra would suddenly give it estrogen* and ovaries and an acceptable biological flow.”

The plagues start as biologically based but one predicated on soundwaves embedded in music, effective in inducing heart attacks in gens who show aggressive tendencies, has the most success.

To mitigate the effects of the inevitable anti-neut campaign a group of neuts in the film industry make a film of Jin’s life-story to try to make him, and by extension all neuts, more relatable to gens. (Like that would work.)

Necessary Ill is well enough written but I’m afraid the story it tells never quite convinced me.

Pedant’s corner:- *aka oestrogen, “wash away the mucous and grime” (mucous is an adjective; the noun required here is mucus,) gasses (gases,) Blue-eyes’ (Blue-eyes’s.) “Its zooms in on” (It zooms in on,) “the powder seemed to absorb the chemicals odours” (chemicals’.) “The cavern system stretches far beneath the surface the Guadeloupe Mountains into the Cornudas” (beneath the surface of the Guadeloupe Mountains,) a total figure for plague deaths was first given as ending at the date 10.06 but later 36% of the deaths were said to be from 10.1-10.6, “still she felt she needed speak the words” (needed to speak the words,) a missing comma before a direct speech quote (x 2,) “‘Well if the benefit of my feminine charms mean that much to you’” (if the benefit of… means that much,) “Jin thoughts fall into dreams” (Jin’s thoughts.)

On Green Dolphin Street by Sebastian Faulks

Hutchinson, 2001, 345 p.

Love, sex, and death, again. Literary fiction doesn’t seem to stray far from those. Though I suppose there isn’t that much sex here, and death is mostly off-stage. Set in the late 1950s as they turn to the 60s, the love is that between Mary van der Linden, sojourning in Washington DC with her diplomat husband Charlie (whose career has stalled somewhat, perhaps because he is too fond of the bottle) and journalist Frank Renzo who is making a slow return after disfavour in the McCarthy years.

The book does describe the progress of what I assume is supposed to be a great love affair but unlike in Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger I didn’t really feel it, was never convinced. When Mary states her feelings for Frank they more or less come out of the blue as far as the reader is concerned. (His affections – or perhaps I should say intentions – were discernible from the outset.)

To add a bit of colour incidents from the characters’ earlier lives are incorporated into the narrative – Mary’s first lover, who died in the Second World War, Frank and Charlie’s almost forgotten meeting at Dien Bien Phu – as are contemporary events, particularly the first Kennedy-Nixon TV debate and Charlie’s breakdown on a visit to Moscow which sharpens the tale with a dose of Cold Wear paranoia. And everybody smokes like a lum.

I remember the author’s earlier novel Birdsong with some affection. On Green Dolphin Street, while readable enough, is no Birdsong

I did though learn that there is a Dumbarton Street in Washington DC!

Pedant’s corner:- USian usages – fender, hat-check girl, laundromat, elevator, the fall, bake sale, sidewalk etc – but aluminium not aluminum and railways [sic] sleepers not railroad ties. Otherwise; Commonweath war cemetery (at the time it would have been an Imperial war cemetery,) “sluiced it down” (twice in the space of a page or so is once too many,) croci (crocus isn’t from Latin, so crocuses,) “under the instructions of a man with a crew-cut called Don Hewitt” (why does his hair-do have a name? A minor edit would have got rid of this,) “which even in this light she could see where shot with blood” (were shot,) on to (onto,) railways sleepers (railway sleepers,) sprung (sprang.)

free hit counter script