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The Colour of Television

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

What do you make of the above sentence?*

Pyrotechnic? Emblematic? Iconic? Redolent of a new sensibility? A clarion call for the new digital age?

Or did it perhaps elicit a bemused, “Eh, what? Come again?”

It is of course the first sentence of William Gibson’s Neuromancer which thrust cyberpunk onto the novel-reading SF public all those years ago now and to which I alluded in my review of Tony Ballantyne’s Dream Paris.

Many saw it as the perfect embodiment of the new style of SF Gibson was promulgating. Yet to me it’s not quite in the league of the wake up calls that “Come on and hear!” or “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock!” were in musical terms. It’s not as pithy for a start. And when you begin to parse it any meaning it might contain slips away.

The sentence has been taken to mean descriptive of an oppressive, lowering sky, deep grey, I assume. (The colour of battleships, painted for action?)

Its first six words are unexceptional. But what, pray, is the colour of television?
I have no difficulty visualising the colour of a (or the) television (which word is still in the back of my mind suffixed by “set”.) Nowadays they’re nearly all black but back when Neuromancer came out in 1984, they could be all sorts, white, blue, pink, yellow. Some even had wood on them; or if it was plasticky, what I used to call pseud wood.

But television, with no defining article, is an abstract noun. Used in this way the word usually means the industry which produces the programmes it displays, not the apparatus they are shown on. And how can an abstract noun have colour? (Another possibility would be the band called Television, also fairly abstract, but that is spelled with a capital T.) It’s not even the apparatus’s screen that could be implied. Nowadays they’re uniformly blackish when the set is switched off; back in the day they were a deep olive green colour. That would be a sky too odd even for Science Fiction – except perhaps off Earth (which this sky wasn’t.)

Then there is that “dead channel”. I don’t suppose the young things these days know what that could possibly look like, when is a channel ever dead now? But then if the channel wasn’t broadcasting (the only possible interpretation of “dead”) the screen wasn’t even a uniform colour. It was spitty and specky, flecked with black and white, displaying what physicists call white noise; not a particular coherent signal as it was designed to do, but any signal – and every signal – picked up in the absence of a modulated transmission. Have you ever seen a flecked, spitty, specky sky? I haven’t. Not then, not now.

That sentence destroyed Neuromancer for me. From that point on I could not trust the author or what he attempted to describe. (I know about unreliable narrators but this was of a different order, it was in the omniscient third person for a start.) I didn’t have quite the same negative response to Gibson’s next novels Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive but still couldn’t really warm to him.

Ballantyne gave us, “The sky was the colour of an unpolished euphonium, tuned to a dead key,” which makes a bit more sense, but only a bit, and he did have the grace to come back to it at the end.

*For myself I think the sky was the colour of an author, straining, unsuccessfully, for effect.

This Year’s BSFA Awards Short Lists

The lists have been published here.

Amazingly, of the best novel list I’ve read four out of the five.

Chris Beckett’s Daughter of Eden, Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Winter, Tricia Sullivan’s Occupy Me and Nick Wood’s Azanian Bridges.

My review of Europe in Winter hasn’t appeared here yet as it only appeared in Interzone a few months ago.

You may wonder why there is also no review of Azanian Bridges on my blog. Well that’s because I did some proof-reading work on it and that exercise is a little different from reading for review purposes.

The only one I haven’t read is A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers and I won’t be. I thought her previous novel was godawful. I can’t see her having improved much.

I don’t have such a good strike record on the shorter works of which I’ve read only the two which appeared in Interzone.

Malcolm Devlin The End of Hope Street (Interzone #266)

Jaine Fenn Liberty Bird (Now We Are Ten, NewCon Press)

Una McCormack Taking Flight (Crises and Conflicts, NewCon Press)

Helen Oyeyemi Presence (What is Not Yours is Not Yours, Picador)

Tade Thompson The Apologists (Interzone #266)

Aliya Whiteley The Arrival of Missives (Unsung Stories)

I look forward to reading these when the usual annual booklet arrives.

Dream Paris by Tony Ballantyne

Solaris, 2015, 443 p.

 Dream Paris cover

This is the sequel to Ballantyne’s earlier Dream London which I reviewed here. Its first sentence riffs on the famous opening line of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Ballantyne’s comes closer to making sense though.

Seventeen year-old Anna Sinfield is trying to get her life together in what is left over after the fall of Dream London and the restoration of something like normality. She is given a fortune scroll by Mr Twelvetrees, a man with faceted, insect-like eyes. The scroll reveals she will meet her mother again, whom she had thought dead in Dream London’s demise; but it will be in Dream Paris. Twelvetrees has his own reasons for wishing her to go to there as he is an agent of the British Government. To protect her on the journey she is assigned a bodyguard, Francis, whose backpack trails a wire behind him – Theseus style – so they can find their way back. Both the English Channel and the rivers in Dream France are infested by aquatic dinosaurs and the French distinction between the second person pronouns tu and vous has become highly elaborate with up to 17 degrees of superiority/inferiority capable of being expressed. (Ballantyne’s treatment of this linguistic quirk wasn’t entirely consistent, though.)

There are some longueurs, particularly on Anna’s and Francis’s journey to Paris and even some while they are there. To Anna’s disappointment her mother sends several messages to the effect that she should not come. But Anna has the fortune scroll. She will meet her mother no matter what. And it seems everyone, the revolutionary Committee for Public Safety (a very slight adjustment in title by Ballantyne to the one in our history,) the Prussians who have been at war with Dream France for centuries, the British Government, has their own reasons for finding Anna’s mother.

Francis’s wire (in the Dream World its mechanism becomes apparent) criss-crosses the streets of Paris and provides any British citizens stranded in the Dream World – or indeed anyone else – who wish to do so with the means to find their way (back) to London. It also allows travel in the opposite direction.

In the Dream World the counting/numbering system is peculiar. In Dream London there had been no prime numbers, and mathematicians went mad; here there are no fractions, making shapes and geometry different. The chapters count down in the dream numbering system from Silver then Twenty-three through numbers such as blue and (a feeling of fulfilment) down to Zero. Count-downs are of course a harbinger of a significant event. In this regard mention of an Integer Bomb is a foreshadowing.

Dream Paris suffers from the drawback of most sequels in that the unique nature of its predecessor cannot be repeated. The plot here is not so much one of restoration of the natural order of things as it was in Dream London (even if that wasn’t truly achieved) as that of a thriller; albeit one with elements that verge on being bonkers and a vision of an extremely odd Paris.

Pedant’s corner:- “The sound of violins wove their way..” (the sound wove its way,) a moments rest (moment’s,) “it was important not show any emotion” (not to show,) Mr Twelvetrees’ (x2, Mr Twelvetrees’s,) “I folded up the wallet up” (one “up” is sufficient.) “It fell back onto road,” (onto the road,) “swept away in whirl” (in a whirl,) sat (x2; seated, or sitting,) towns of unspeakably loveliness (unspeakable,) “had a wall around it to” (too,) “I don’t mean like strong like expresso is at home” (one like is enough,) but this gentlemen (gentleman,) Entschuldigen (Entschuldigung,) for hundreds miles (hundreds of miles.) “‘And now I must now report back’” (only one “now” is necessary.) “‘Someone came in rushing in’” (one “in” only,) “from a word written on the side ‘Abattoir’” (is missing a full stop after side,) “‘We are both that same’” (the same,) that that (only one needed,) “that feeling of the meaningless of it all” (meaninglessness,) “that complimented the taste “ (complemented,) “right next me”(to me,) “‘if you wish to continue, than I shall wish you good luck’” (then I shall wish you..) the crowd were (the crowd was, [as found later on the same page,]) placenta (of a fish????) “‘And now the rest of the table were doing the same’” (the rest was….) “I didn’t want it know” (to know,) “‘You think you could you kill your dinner?’” (You think you could kill your dinner,) teeth made for ripping flash (flesh.) Men and woman (women,) the point of infinity were the two sides converged (where the two sides,) miniscule (minuscule.) “At that they all gazed at me open-mouthed at that” (only one “at that” I feel,) “‘I grew up here.Surely’” (is missing the word break,) who knows what he was doing (should be “knew what”; or “is doing”,) “More to the point would have you done otherwise?” (would you have done,) “‘Francis what’s going?’” (what’s going on,) to note the Francis had done (that Francis had,) “‘You don’t see very happy, Anna’” (seem,) a welcoming committee were drawn up (a committee was drawn up,) sipping at glass (at a glass,) “A child. What had happened to their eyes” (its eyes.)

Time Travel, Reviews, Hame and Rebellions

In an article in Saturday’s Guardian review, James Gleick examined the history of the time travel story since H G Wells more or less invented the form in The Time Machine. It was a skate over the subject really and veered into the territory of so-called Alternative History which of course I prefer to name Altered History but worth reading all the same.

In the same section of the paper was a review of Annalena McAfee’s new novel Hame. Many reviews are interesting, some make you think “definitely not”. Very few inspire you to go out and read the book concerned. Stuart Kelly’s did just that, as indeed did his review of Kevin MacNeil’s The Brilliant and Forever which I read a few months ago after also reading the same author’s A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde due to the same review. McAfee’s Hame sounds intriguing and possibly funny. Definitely one I’ll look for.

I recalled McAfee’s name. She had an article in the Guardian Review some weeks ago which I wished to post about then but at the time could not find on the Guardian website but which now pops up fourth when you search her name there. The article was about the relative importance of Robert Burns and the possible balefulness of his mythologising (Aside. Why does no-one ever question this about Shakespeare?) and the continuing battle over whether Scots is a suitable medium of expression for literature.

My take is if the author wishes to use Scots it is entirely up to her or him. It may reduce the psossible readership but that is a question for author and publisher, not reader. Myself, though not very well versed in it, my mother being the daughter of two English parents, thus hardly a native speaker and unable to expose me to its richness, I do not consider Scots – as some do – as necessarily inferior form to English. It is at times much more pithy.

I have a quibble with McAfee over a detail in that piece, though. She stated that Burns was born “two decades after the failed rebellion against the Union.” While Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Rebellion of 1745-6 was many things, not least the last flailing gasp of a failed dynasty, and the Battle of Culloden can even be considered as in some way (if you ignore its continuation into Ireland even into the twentieth century and possibly beyond,) the last of the Thirty Years War – though admittedly that was mostly fought out in German territories – it was not primarily against the Union. It was less general then that, more personal.

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

Hodder, 2014, 268 p, plus 5 p Historical Notes, 9 p Endnotes and 1p Acknowledgements

 A Man Lies Dreaming cover

Before we plunge into the first chapter there is a framing device, “In another time and place, a man lies dreaming.” Then we enter the diary, from November 1939, of a private investigator who calls himself Wolf, a refugee to London from Germany after an event he describes as the Fall, before a passage in the third person relating ongoing events not described in Wolf’s diary. It very soon is apparent Wolf is a Nazi. “I don’t work for Jews,” he tells the woman who wishes to be his client. Moreover he once had an affair with his neice, Geli (who killed herself with his gun,) and then took up with “sweet, good-natured” Eva. This, in other words is Adolf Hitler, fallen on hard times. (That name though, does not appear on the page till very late in the book.) The woman is Isabella Rubenstein who wants to know the whereabouts of her sister Judith, supposedly smuggled out of a Germany led by the Communist Ernst Thälmann after the 1933 elections, but since disappeared. Altered history territory, then.

Except, it isn’t. The chapter ends with the framing device and the dreaming man is named as Shomer. The book continues with the noir thriller elements alternating Wolf’s diary entries with third person elements and every so often the framing device being reasserted. In this we learn Shomer was a writer of shund (a kind of pulp fiction) and the place he is dreaming in is Auschwitz, the real Auschwitz. So it appears it is Shomer who is telling Wolf’s tale, an exquisite revenge presumably since he inflicts pain on Wolf through the various beatings he receives throughout the thriller. Shomer also hallucinates a companion, Yenkl, partly, it seems, to give him some comfort.

It can also be considered a kind of revenge by Tidhar, who is an Israeli, and whose maternal grandparents were both Auschwitz survivors. (The rest of their families were not so fortunate.) This is the sort of subject matter which a non-Jew would have to treat with circumspection, if not avoid altogether. Tidhar has more licence in that regard.

Hitler has been treated before in SF of course, but not usually so directly – except perhaps for Fritz Leiber’s short story Catch That Zeppelin! and Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream part of which purports to be a novel written by a Hitler who emigrated to the US in 1919. The crazed nature of that narrative is not quite emulated here. If anything Wolf is relatively restrained in his ravings. That may be due to the necessity for a viewpoint character to be, at least, coherent.

An altered history would not be worthy of the name did we not meet the famous within and here – as well as Hitler – we duly encounter Oswald Mosley – soon to be a British Union of Fascists Prime Minister in Wolf’s world – his wife, Diana (Mitford,) and her sister Unity, whom Wolf knows as Valkyrie and has the hots for him. Various other Nazis pepper the plot, Rudolf Hess, Josef Kramer, Ilse Koch, Joseph and Magda Goebbels. Literary Brits pop up including Ian Fleming, Tolkien and Evelyn Waugh. Tidhar’s tendency to gild the lily was exemplified here at a publisher’s party (the publisher concerned had, of course, turned down My Struggle,) when Wolf re-encounters Leni Riefenstahl, now working in the US, and she relates to him a plot – to be written by F Scott Fitzgerald as a sequel to The Great Gatsby – for a projected film starring Humphrey Bogart as Gatsby, owner of a bar in North Africa when Daisy Buchanan walks back into his life. The film is to be called Tangier, though, not Casablanca.

There is, too, a Constable Keech. I wondered mildly if Tidhar was aware of what this word signifies for Scots. For myself, I could not avoid the inference.

A Wilfred Owen reference occurs in Wolf’s Great War reminiscences of being blinded and I must confess I liked the conflation, “It is a truth universally acknowledged , that once a detective acquires two concurrent cases , the two must be in some way related,” but I’m not sure about the odd scene where Wolf dreams he is in what is obviously, to us, Auschwitz. Then again, he tells the Chief Inspector who had interrogated him about the murders of prostitutes outside his office, “‘You Jews spend far too much time in your own imagination.’”

This could have been powerful stuff but there is something unbalanced about it all. The scenes in Auschwitz are compelling (but did they still require Sonderkommando to dig graves after the ovens came into operation?) and moving. However, they occupy far too few pages. It is Wolf’s tale which dominates. And that is too trifling to carry the weight thrust upon it by the overall concept.

Pedant’s corner:- USianisms abound. For a story mainly set in late 1930s London that is an added barrier to suspension of disbelief. We had purse for handbag, down-at-the-heels for down at heel, nightstand for bedside table, inside of for inside, ruckus for racket, nightstick – in the 1930s British policemen had truncheons, whiskey (whisky,) airplanes (aeroplanes,) bums used by an Englishwoman as a term for a ne’erdowell (not a chance,) beat-up (beaten-up,) the car’s hood (the car’s bonnet.)

Otherwise there was maw (it’s a stomach not a mouth,) “‘What are you looking at,’ he said’” (ought to have a question mark after at,) Mosleys’s (x2, the correct Mosleys’ was used once,) “the past was …. threatening to catch up to him” (to catch up with him,) tenements (does London have tenements?) sunk (sank,) “none … were” (none was,) “one table was covered in vegetarian dishes from an Indian-style curry to Italian lasagne and British shepherd’s pie” (lasagne and shepherd’s pie would never be vegetarian in the 1930s,) “and sat two tables away from Goodman. He tried to listen to their conversation” (his conversation surely?) ears perked (ears pricked is more usual.) “Her bosoms were immense” (no-one has more than one bosom.) “They put me in a cell again.” (They’d,) “‘Are you,’ I said,” (question mark, not comma, after “you”, “and he gives him with a cursory glance and his diagnosis,” (and he gives him with a cursory glance his diagnosis,) “before immigration out of Germany became impossible” (you cannot immigrate out of a country,) Goebbels misspelled once as Goebbles, “the back of my hands” (technically that would be backs, then,) detached of space and time (detached from,) a red phone box (what other colour would it be? He wasn’t in Hull,) fireworks (on 22nd November? (They were apparently to celebrate the General Election. Not in Britain.) Mosley declares victory on the stroke of midnight of election day. The votes would not all have been counted by then; probably not till the next day back then. He uses the phrase nineteen hundred hours, a military one, not one a politician would employ when addressing a crowd. His first act as the new Prime Minister is to declare war – because Germany has invaded Poland – then martial law (I doubt that last could have been done so readily.) Imposter (impostor.) Wolf describes Charlie Chaplin as “that vile man,” (his lampooning of Hitler did not come till 1940 in our world and would perhaps not have been necessary in Wolf’s.) “The sound the drawer had made … sounded very loud to him” (“the sound sounded” is inelegant, use a different noun; rattle? scrape? noise?) the limelight (of a spotlight, which could be moved? Limelights were fixed in position,) “he always had much respect for the German soldiers,” (lots of respect,) a row work (a row works,) exodii (used in the context of people making an exodus. Is this an invention by Tidhar?)

Asimov’s Science Fiction Dec 2016

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Dec 2016 cover

Sarah Pinsker’s Guest Editorial That’s Far Out, So You Read it Too? muses on the connections, and the similarities, between SF and music. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections examines the possibility and desirability of resurrecting the Dodo genetically. Peter Heck’s On Books1 discusses novels by Lois McMaster Bujold, Charles Stross, Pierce Brown, Tim Powers, Indra Das and Lavie Tidhar.
In the fiction:-
They All Have One Breath2 by Alexander Jablokov explicitly references E M Forster’s The Machine Stops in a tale of a world taken over by AIs, where all acts of violence have been made impossible.
Empty Shoes by the Lake by Octavia Cade is the tale of two people from a backwoods town; Rafi who gets out, makes pottery and sends his first bowl (cracked) to the other, Becca, who sees visions in the puddles left by the water that seeps out of it.
In HigherWorks3 by Gregory Norman Bossert a black refugee from a US turned to fascism to an almost equally fascistic UK has the knowledge to allow nanotechnology to connect minds together.
The extremely short How the Damned Live On by James Sallis is set on an unspecified island which contains a giant speaking spider which experiences time differently from our human narrator.
The island in The Cold Side of the Island4 by Kali Wallace is somewhere off the north east coast of the US. One day three youngsters find a set of unidentifiable bones in the woods, bones which bind then even though they’ve drifted apart.
Where There is Nothing: There Is God5 by David Erik Nelson features a jobbing actor travelling back in time to 1770 Massachusetts to ply the locals with crystal meth in return for silverware stamped with the mark of Paul Revere.

Pedant’s corner: 1 have showed (shown,) “a team who’s assessing” (a team which is assessing,) “there are a number” (there is a number,) Stross’s (√) yet also Powers’ (be consistent at least.) 2Polykleitos’ (Polykleitos’s.) 3”The couple are” (the couple is,) “a gaggle of girls… stumble” (a gaggle stumbles,) Blue tats’ (Blue tats is a nickname, so is singular; hence Blue tats’s,) “‘a economic refugee’” (even in dialogue that ought to be an economic refugee,) “an photographic print” (a,) “A flock of microdrones spiral” (a flock spirals,) “like a hole in the dancers hair” (dancer’s,) “as she looses the thread” (loses.) 4”Each phalanges” (each phalange, or phalanx,) “a knobby knitted hit” (Hurrah for knitted but the hit should have been a hat.) 5Charles’ (Charles’s,) largess (largesse. Is largess a USian spelling?) James’ (James’s,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) “asking ‘Well…’” (no comma preceding the direct speech) “none were drawn” (none was drawn,) Means’ (Means’s.)

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

Canongate, 2014, 300 p. One of the 100 best Scottish Books. Also in the Scotsman’s 20 Best Scottish Books.

 Under the Skin cover

Well this is an odd tale. A woman named Isserley trawls up and down the A9 between Tain and Dunkeld searching for male – and only male, well-muscled at that – hitchhikers to pick up. The narrative is mostly from Isserley’s viewpoint but small interludes are given to the thoughts of her various pick-ups. She calls their species vodsels and it soon turns out she has been surgically modified – apparently to make her more attractive to these males – and has the intent to drug them via a concealed apparatus under the front passenger seat of her battered looking car. She then takes them back to a farm where members of her own species (which she of course knows as human) “process” them. Her backstory as a beautiful young woman betrayed by richer young men and plucked from a miserable existence in “the Estates” to undergo the mutilations which have rendered her acceptable to vodsel eyes (at least on brief scrutiny) is given a lot of space. However, other than the unsavoury nature of the job Isserley would have had to perform there (to produce oxygen from filth) no more detail is given about these Estates than that they are to be avoided at almost any cost.

Granted, the book is set in Scotland and Faber lives in the Highlands but apart from occasional descriptions of scenery (which, admittedly is a pronounced trait in Scottish literature) there isn’t anything particularly Scottish about it. The book’s other flaws also lead me to wonder why it should appear on that list of 100 “best” Scottish books. Apart from their sexual and economic dynamics, portrayed as more or less the same as that of us vodsels, we learn almost nothing about the species to which Isserley belongs to except that their planet is short of oxygen, water and living space, they have a fondness for vodsel meat, a reverence for creatures who walk on all fours, and their general appearance. Their ships are apparently capable of moving into and out of what is in effect a barn without anyone in the wider world noticing. The attractiveness of Earth as a planet to her species, broad skies, open water, water falling from the sky, is made plain though.

Isserley has learned English mostly from television programmes but lately she reflects, “there was no point trying to orient yourself to reality with television. It only made things worse.” She avoids contact with the Police by always travelling well below the speed limit and avoiding flashing blue lights but, even if she is careful to determine the (lack of) marital and employment status of her victims before drugging them, it does stretch credulity that she can pick up and remove from their everyday lives so many people from such a relatively small area in such a short time – she sometimes picks up two a day – without causing some sort of official concern.

Despite its Science-fictional scenario, like Faber’s later The Book of Strange New Things, this, his first published novel, fails to hit the SF buttons square on. It does contain some fine writing at the level of the sentence and garnered a lot of praise when it came out but I found myself unable to discern what purpose Faber had in mind when conceiving it. I couldn’t avoid the feeling that there is less to Under the Skin than meets the eye.

Pedant’s corner:- “as if her perfectly sculpted little nose had indeed been sculpted” (two “sculpted”s in close proximity,) “cruising safely off the bridge at the far end” (cruising safely off the far end of the bridge,) “All was not necessarily lost though.” (Not all was necessarily lost,) “it was no place for a claustrophobic” (the noun is claustrophobe,) hingeing (makes sense for a Scottish writer to spell it this way as hinging is Scots for hanging.)

Latest from Interzone

 The Mountains of Parnassus cover

Interzone 268 has arrived. Amongst the fiction and the reviewers/contributors lists of best reads of 2016 there are of course book reviews. Mine was of Invisible Planets: 13 visions of the future from China, edited and translated by Ken Liu.

Also arrived from the same source is an unusual object, an SF novel by a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Czesław Miłosz. He is best known for his poetry and this was his only SF novel. My review is due for Interzone 269.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Gollancz, 2016, 272 p. Reviewed for Interzone 262, Jan-Feb 2016.

 Occupy Me cover

While it’s always good to review a novel featuring those exotic, for SF, locations of Edinburgh and Queensferry – North or South sadly not specified, but likely North as there’s a crossing of the Forth (Road) Bridge interrupted by a shooting incident – and which comes to its climax on an oil rig in the North Sea, Occupy Me starts even more interestingly with a second person narration, raising the possibility of something along the lines of Keith Roberts’s Molly Zero; but the tonal qualities are quite different and in any case, before this there is an appendix to instructions for something called a waveform launcher and we soon move on. The second person concerned is the viewpoint of Dr Kisi Sorle, who hears whispers from the past and whose body has occasionally been taken over by another being which is possibly an AI, coming to himself again to find he is in possession of an unusual briefcase. Dr Sorle has been hired by Austen Stevens, once of Pace Industries but now of Invest in Futures Foundation, to palliate his last days. Stevens in turn has been building up funds in the expectation that they will be used to prevent him dying. After two chapters there is an interpolated advert for flight attendants. The ad was placed by the Resistance, an organisation which we later find tries to improve humanity by having its agents commit small acts of kindness. Said flight attendant and Resistance operative Pearl Jones narrates in the first person and, fittingly, has wings which in her Earthly form she has to hide. Pearl has access to higher dimensions, HD, which comes in handy when she recognises a passenger as the person who stole part of her and in a struggle she, him, and his briefcase tear through the aeroplane’s fuselage and plummet to the sea. Just as she is about to rescue him the briefcase opens and a pterosaur (a quetzalcoatlus) emerges. Pearl’s backstory from when she became aware of herself in a bullet riddled refrigerator in Dubowski’s scrap yard, where she hides out, makes small repairs and leaves the fixed objects, like a cat to its owner, for the caretaker to find, is told to us in flashbacks as she tries to come to terms with who – or what – she is. In these it is revealed she loves to push against things with her muscles. The narration alternates irregularly between these two viewpoints until much later in the book when there are third person chapters featuring an Edinburgh vet called Alison.

The briefcase. Yes. While normal in appearance, battered looking even, its weight alters from time to time and it resists Pearl’s attempts to open it despite it belonging to her. The AI controlling Dr Sorle has locked it to his body pattern. It contains a Post-event Adjacent Reality Launcher, capable not only of time travel back to the Cretaceous but to Pearl’s creators. She is not a real person, has been built by bird mothers, scavengers of waveforms, who call themselves waveform artists. “We make new beings from old. You are a recycled piece of junk from a dying civilisation. We can store materials in HD but the Immanence left us behind.”

The Immanence? “The Immanence is an intelligence far beyond any of us. It rose out of a hypercivilisation and was a great ordering in the universe that came about because entropy favours higher order.” Sullivan seems keen to stress this point; we are told elsewhere that “the funny thing about entropy is that it loves order.”

The Immanence, however, is entirely incidental to the surface plot which is concerned with much more mundane considerations to do with Austen Stevens’s funds, which will somehow allow the Resistance, “Love’s what the Resistance is really made of, internally,” to come into being. A woman called Bethany and her husband Liam have embezzled these funds so threatening the Resistance’s existence. But the Resistance is already in operation. This not being a time paradox novel that last fact does tend to undermine a tad any sense of jeopardy surrounding it.

No matter. Things roll along; fellow Resistance operative Marquita tells Pearl, “Don’t accept the axe of either/or; there’s always a third way,” Alison treats not only Bethany’s cat (poisoned by eating part of a giant Cretaceous frog) but also the quetzalcoatlus, on Salisbury Crags no less, we discover Pearl’s wing feathers contain a strange oil and the feathers are a repository of stored information, “a sophisticated HD structure” which is also in the trees back in the Cretaceous. And Pearl’s pushing is useful in the final scene.

Occupy Me takes a while to get there though and goes round several houses on the way.

The following remarks did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- I read an uncorrected proof copy; the usual caveats therefore apply to these. [line space] appeared quite often as did underlinings, Stevens’ (Stevens’s,) Two Phones’ (Two Phones’s,) shrunk (shrank,) fusilage (fuselage – which does appear later,) miniscule (minuscule,) there receipts (there are receipts,) “made ‘poorly’ made sound like Pearly” (remove the second “made”,) “because it we had another lead” (no “it”,) “switched on large screen” (the large screen,) one instance of qzetzalcoatlus, the Haymarket (it’s just Haymarket, no “the”,) Abernathy biscuit (Abernethy,) “like a waves leave on the sand” (like waves leave,) “had set put out a hit on me” (had put out,) veterinarian (this was from Sorle’s viewpoint though, he is Ghanaian,) at one point Alison says “airplane” (that would be aeroplane, then,) as loathe as I may feel (loth,) crude oil probably dating to the late Cretaceous (oil does not “date from” the Cretaceous; its starting materials may do so but the oil that comes from them takes millions of years to form,) Queens Street (Queen Street,) strapped to the Kelly (I can’t find a dictionary definition of Kelly as a noun,) all chapter titles were in bold, save one.

The Great Game by Lavie Tidhar

In “The Bookman Histories”, Angry Robot, 2012, 303 p. Originally published 2012.

 The Great Game cover
 The Bookman Histories cover

This is the third in Tidhar’s Bookman Histories wherein Les Lézards were roused from their Caribbean island by Vespucci’s trip to the New World and subsequently became monarchs of Great Britain. See my reviews here and here. It is again to Tidhar’s credit that familiarity with either of the two previous books is not necessary to follow events in this one as it stands alone quite easily.

It’s all a very readable romp, a steampunk/altered history mash-up but Tidhar again goes over the top with his references. One of the joys of altered history is seeing familiar names in situations for which they are not best known but he really does take it too far with this one – among the characters from literature we have Mycroft Holmes (and his brother, retired to the village of St Mary Mead [where a busybody twitches her curtains] not to mention Irene Adler) we have a hunchback named Q who lives in Notre Dame cathedral, a scientist called Moreau exiled to a Pacific island, Van Helsing, a Miss Havisham, a thiefmaster called Fagin and his pickpocket protégé Oliver Twist, a Doctor Victor Frankenstein, Harry Flashman. And at the novel’s climax tripods begin to devastate – okay it wasn’t London – Paris. Real life intruders into the story include the Mechanical Turk, Karl May, Harry Houdini, Bram Stoker, Jack London, Charles Babbage and Friedrich Alfred Krupp.. Of a Dickens’ book in three volumes an unnamed character observes, “You should never write a third volume.” Perhaps Tidhar was commenting on his own situation as in his afterword he says publisher Angry Robot asked him for two more novels after accepting The Bookman.

Hokum, but entertaining, a plot summary would be fatuous, as well as sounding mad.

A quibble. The first lizard-king was Henry VII, followed by another Henry, an Edward, and later the great Gloriana. How come then they ended up in the timeline of the novel with a lizard Queen Victoria? Our Queen Victoria was descended primarily from Hanoverians, not Tudors. Why would the naming of lizard-monarchs follow that of the real world?

Pedant’s corner:- In Tidhar’s introduction to the omnibus volume; “I wanted to tribute the wuxia tropes” (pay tribute to.) Elsewhere; “eThe last one” (typo; The,) Market Blandings’ (Market Blandings’s,) “who often said a ‘Honesty is a gun’” (said a ‘Honesty’? surely “said ‘Honesty is a gun.’”) “There are a number” (There is a number,) not to be found on the British Isles (“in the British Isles” is the more usual formulation,) “that only now he was beginning to identify” (that only now was he beginning to identify is more common syntax,) automatons (many occurrences – it’s an acceptable spelling but stick to it; there were also at least four instances of automata,) snuck (a London street boy of the time would have said sneaked,) her team were outnumbered (her team was outnumbered,) mortician (USian, we British say undertaker,) “Something to scare children by” (“to scare children with” makes more sense.) “They sat and sipped their drink,” (drinks, I think. They weren’t sharing the one cup,) then the one in Europe (than the one in Europe,) “one… being…. who had made it their life’s ambition” (a singular being; so, its life’s ambition,) Paris’ (Paris’s,) had showed up (shown up,) “undistinguished from his cover story” (indistinguishable from his cover story,) “like that persistent feel that she was being followed” (okay, the author uses feeling two lines later and maybe wanted to avoid complete repetition but it’s still awkward.) “But no one was going to act until the airship had landed, safely. Weren’t they?” (should be “Were they?”) as for the recipe (as to,) “in a rather quite threatening manner” (choose from ‘in rather a’, ‘in quite a’ or ’in a quite’ not ‘a rather quite’,) sat (sitting, or seated,) “running down a narrow mountain pass that led upwards” (???) “the sound of motors sounded” (use another verb?) Vlad epe ? (remove gap before the question mark,) “moving, now that he knew to look for it, moving in a single direction” (second “moving” not necessary,) a vast antennae (antenna,) taking no mind (taking no heed; or, paying no mind,) “Van Helsing, rode shotgun” (no comma required,) all manners of (all manner of,) had indeed deducted the observer’s arrival (deduced,) Mr Spoons’ (Mr Spoons’s,) no full stop at the end of chapter forty-six, a simulacra (a simulacrum,) “he’d brought his own people in” (he’s brought.) “There was a string of miniature model cars strung together” (use a different verb, coupled?) “paid her no mind” (“no heed” sounds more natural,) there is much work to do (lots of work,) Victoria Rex (Victoria Regina.)

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