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Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Tor.com, 2018, 228 p.

When a first person narrator (here the titular Binti) dies halfway through the text it presents something of a problem for the author. How do you carry on? How can the story not finish then and there? Okorafor’s solution here is to switch to third person – at least till the end of the chapter, when Binti comes alive again, (with a bit of authorial hand-waving. Microbes, she is told by her alien companion Okwu, “blended with your genes and repaired you,” in a breathing chamber in a young spaceship called New Fish.) I would submit that this aspect of the book (though there are others too) makes it more of a Fantasy than Science Fiction. Or is that just me being purist? Still, it makes for an interesting read.

Once more (see here for my previous experience of this scenario) her ever dwindling supply of the skin-covering paste called otjize is a constant source of concern for Binti, without it she feels naked and again she makes extensive use of her edan. Her Meduse okuoko (blue tentacles on her head instead of hair) mark her out, though.

There is still a war going on between humans called the Khoush and the alien Meduse. Binti has moved on from Oomza Uni, the first of her Himba people to go there, the first to leave Earth. Now part Meduse, she has an affinity with and ability to use mathematics, calling up currents to “tree”. When stressed she repeats the word “five” to calm herself. She also has a connection to the Enyi Zinariya, twenty-foot-tall slender beings who seemed to be made of molten gold. Accompanied by Mwinyi, a zinariya, she is going back to her homeland to try to broker a peace between the Khoush and the Meduse. Her family produced astrolabes, devices which carry the full record of your entire life. Hers and her father’s were the best in the business. In times of crisis Himba turn inward. Her family did so (into the Root where they lived) when their village was threatened by the Khoush and their Root was burned so Binti thinks they are all dead.

In the run up to the peace meeting she sees once again The Night Masquerade, a spirit previously only appearing to males (but which we later find is not a spirit,) thereby confirming her unique status. During the negotiations something goes wrong (a minion on one side did not like the prospect and opened fire) and Binti gets shot. Her body is taken on board the New Fish and taken to the rings of Saturn about which she had had a premonition. She reflects, “It was so unlike Earth, where wars were fought over and because of differences and most couldn’t relate to anyone unless they were similar.”

It all makes sense in context and Binti is an engaging companion. It is also still refreshing to read SF from beyond the familiar Anglophile template.

Pedant’s corner:- “Time interval later” ~(or equivalent) count, 8. Otherwise; zinairya (elsewhere zinariya,) spit (spat,) sunk (several times; sank,) shrunk (shrank.) “Astrolabes were the only object that… (objects,) shined (several times; shone.) “None around me were beathing” (was breathing,) “the feel of the numbers … were such a relief” (the feel … was such a relief.) “I didn’t want to go with.” (I didn’t want to go with him,) accidently (accidentally,) a missing quote mark at the end of a piece of direct speech, “their skin and hair was nearly free of otjize” (were nearly free,) “presented the dress she’s sewn for” (the rest of the sentence was in past tense, ‘she’d sewn’,) “the Roots defenses” (Root’s, [defences],) “off of” (just ‘off’,) “as Mwinyi and Okwu moved went New Fish’s walkway” (I have no idea why that ‘went’ is there. The ‘moved’ is a bit iffy too,) “the far side of the doom” (dome,) two full stops at the end of one sentence.

Tom Swift and the Captive Planetoid by Victor Appleton II

Collins, 1969, 157 p. Illustrated by Ray Johnson.

This one is definitely of its time. A boys’ own adventure written in breathless prose full of exclamation marks and with a “Gee Whizz!” and “Jumpin’ Jets!” style of dialogue. It was part of an ongoing series – five others are listed on the back cover – and refers to Tom Swift’s many “brilliant inventions” (some of which seem to have been able to be brought to market in short order by a couple of retainers) and previous “thrilling adventures”.

His latest wheeze is a thermal wing for re-entry – which is used for bouncing on the atmosphere like a skimming stone. This is his Duratherm Wing – or Durathermor for short (though Durathermor is hardly any shorter) and Durabuoy crash shield. Other late sixties coinages the author makes are repelatrons, Tomasite, and asbestalon. (That last would surely be given a health and safety swerve these days.)

Incidents come thick and fast – we start with an attack on a US spaceport base by black clad raiders whose costumes are blazoned with a sphere and lightning bolt symbol. This is followed up by Tom accused of being involved and his plan to hollow out an asteroid for use as a space vessel as a threat to his country. A package delivered to him turns out to contain deadly flying insects. Mysterious men arrange meetings with patsies to further implicate Tom. Despite his troubles on Earth Tom still finds time to make an excursion to an asteroid which has been brought into Earth orbit by some force or other. Using it as a test bed for his plan for an asteroid ship he finds it has a sapphire core. He manages to hop into and back from space as if he’s taking aeroplane trips. On one occasion he is accompanied by a chef named Chow. Tom’s sister and her friend make a brief appearance as companions for Tom and Bud on a trip to the beach and have as little agency as you would expect from “girls” in late sixties “juvenile” SF.

In its favour the colourful cover and grey and white endpapers are wonderfully redolent of the age though the four interior black and white illustrations are more humdrum.

I note, however, that this was a time when British publishers took care to reproduce US publications using, for the most part, British spellings. Hurrah!

Pedant’s corner:- Time interval later (or equivalent) count; 21. Otherwise: dryly (drily,) “lighter-than-air buoyancy” (less dense than air buoyancy,) Petronius’ (several times; Petronius’s,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech.

Hold up the Sky by Cixin Liu

Head of Zeus, 2020, 333 p.

撑起天空, variously translated from Chinese by John Chu, Carmen Yiling Yan, Joel Martinsen, and Adam Lamphier. Reviewed for Interzone 289, Nov-Dec 2020.

 Hold up the Sky cover

In his foreword to this collection Liu says that until recently SF had been foreign to China, peripheral to the sweep of its history but the changes in the country have made the future ever more apparent and pressing, thereby creating more interest in the genre. The question he is most asked is what makes Chinese SF Chinese in nature, but he does not consider his writing to be about anything other than humanity as a whole. Which would be, of course, what makes it widely readable.

Liu’s stories here (spanning publication from 1985 to 2014) usually have echoes of Wells and Stapledon in displaying temporal or cosmological grandeur. He has no lack of ambition in his speculative ideas but sometimes that detracts from the capacity for emotional engagement with them. He has a fondness for portraying big (though not necessarily dumb) objects, but also a tendency (see *) to inelegant nomenclature – which may be a problem of translation of course – and a slight awkwardness with structure. Almost without exception, though, his stories deal with mind-expanding concepts.

Still, the leading one, The Village Teacher, (乡村教师,) appears strangely old-fashioned to Anglophone eyes and the contrast between the tale of the dying title character inculcating Newton’s three laws in his pupils and its intersection with a millenia-old galactic war between the forces of the Federation of Carbon-Based Life* and those of the Silicon-Based Empire* is fairly stark.

To alleviate environmental and population pressures The Time Migration, (时间移民,) is carried out using cryogenics. Stops at 120, 620 and 1,000 years hence proving unsuitable for various reasons, sights are set for 11,000.

In 2018-04-01, (2018年4月1日, – a future date when Liu wrote it) Gene Extension – which actually cuts out the bits that cause ageing rather than inserting anything – is possible but expensive. Our narrator is triggered by an April Fool joke involving digital nations to commit the fraud that will ensure he has the means to benefit.

Fire in the Earth, (地火,) is about the first project to gasify coal underground for use as an oil substitute and the disaster attendant on that endeavour. The story would work without its coda but arguably that’s the only thing that makes it SF.

In Contraction, ( 西洋,) Professor Ding Yi has constructed a unified field theory which predicts the imminent moment when the universe’s expansion will stop and its collapse begin, but only he truly understands the implications. The premise is far from new (Philip K Dick’s Counterclock World springs to mind) but the story ends with a neat, if obvious, typographical way to illustrate it.

Mirror, (镜子,) postulates the invention of the superstring computer – of infinite capacity. This has allowed simulations of evolutions of universes from different Big Bangs to take place, including of course our own. Liu lays out the implications of such knowledge for human relationships.

Despite its subtitle (An alternate history of the sophon,) Ode To Joy, (欢乐颂 ,) does not mention that concept, familiar from Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, at all. Instead a huge ultra-thin mirror appears in Earth’s sky on the day the UN is to be closed for good: a mirror that can turn radiation from nearby novae into music.

Full-Spectrum Barrage Jamming, (全频带阻塞干扰,) is set during a war between a Russia newly returned to Communism and NATO (a war whose cause seems relatively trifling but has to be accepted for story purposes.) NATO’s electronic warfare capability outmatches the Russians who have to resort to the full-spectrum barrage jamming of the title. Depletion of the jamming network leads to a desperate measure in response.

Sea of Dreams, (梦之海,) is almost emblematic of Liu’s style. An ice-ball dubbed the low-temperature artist* arrives on Earth professing interest only in art and proceeds to convert the planet’s oceans into ice-cubes, which it suspends in a ring surrounding the planet (the titular Sea) before leaving humans to deal with their altered world.

Cloud of Poems, (诗云,) has faint echoes of Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God in its account of a human telling what is effectively a god that its poetry will never surpass that of the human Li Bai. Its attempt to do so involves programming every possible permutation of the formal rules of Chinese poetry composition and constructing them in a 100 AU diameter model of the Milky Way.

The last story, The Thinker, (思想者,) is the most successful here at integrating the science and speculation behind it with the experiences of its characters and making the reader feel them. A male brain surgeon and a female astronomer meet by chance at an observatory where she is studying the energy fluctuations from stars. Over the years that follow they, almost by accident, make a discovery about interstellar communication.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- “in a pinch” (at a pinch,) “smoking sulfuric acid,” (the technical term is ‘fuming’ sulphuric acid, Liu also describes the smoke as yellow; that sounds more like fuming nitric acid,) “Order of Victories are worth the most” (should be “Orders of Victory are worth the most” but that was in dialogue,) however ‘Order of Suvorovs’ wasn’t, (Orders of Suvorov,) “gunpowder smoke” (gunpowder? From modern munitions?) “lakes of mercury” (on Mercury the planet. Yet the surface temperature is stated to be 1,800 degrees Celsius. The element mercury evaporates at 0C at 1 atmosphere pressure. In a vacuum – or near vacuum such as exists on the planet Mercury’s surface – and specifically mentioned in the text – that would occur at a much lower temperature,) Comanches (is the helicopter’s name spelled differently to the First Nation tribe’s? Commanche,) “1.0 gees” (1.0 gee, or, better, 1.0 G. It would still be ‘gee’ even if its value was greater than 1, since a measurement’s abbreviation subsumes its plural, eg 6 A, or 20 N or 3 m,) “changing from the dark red to orange” (no need for that ‘the’.)

Ruin’s Wake by Patrick Edwards

Titan Books, 2019, 413 p.

It is the year of the Quincentennnial of the Hegemony, an authoritarian state set up by The Seeker after a civilisational collapse known as the Ruin, a society where everyone knows the sun (called Ras) orbits the Earth as the true cosmology of the heavens has been lost even the word ‘planet’ has been lost; but some tech is still left over from the old time.

In the wintry wilds of the north Professor Sulara Song is investigating an archaeological site that may contain an artefact from before the Ruin; at a strip mine on a frozen steppe a man called Cale receives bad news about his son, Bowden; in the city, Kelbee, sold by her father to be the wife of a defender of the Hegemony known to the reader only as the Major (but after a promotion as the Lance-Colonel,) is little but a drudge and sex-slave, allowed outside the house only to work at the lowest grade in a garment factory.

Song’s experiences are given us in the form of journal she writes – and hers is a voice that is wry and compelling – Cale’s and Kelbee’s stories are told in the third person and their personalities therefore come across less sharply. All are actual or potential foes of the Hegemony; Song since the artefact threatens to undermine its foundation myth, Cale as a former comrade of the revolutionary known as Brennev, Kelbee through her growing connection with Nebn who befriends her one day when he comes to the factory to repair a piece of equipment.

The revelation of the underground artefact’s capabilities reads, though, like an interpolation from a different book. (Then again, after regression followed by five hundred years of stagnation any sufficiently advanced technology would seem like magic.) Even knowledge of its facilities represents a threat to the Hegemony’s belief systems and therefore its control of the populace. For unlike the citizens of the Hegemony, kept separate, individualised yet subject to group orthodoxy (as is the ideal for all dictatorships,) “Our ancestors had tinkered with themselves, with the brain itself, back before the Ruin. Every new-born child inherited its parents’ ability to connect with the data corpus, not limited by proximity.”

Perhaps because it was his first novel Edwards is not quite as in control of his prose as he is in his second book, the excellent Echo Cycle, which I reviewed for Interzone, nor is his focus as tight. There is a sense here – especially in the hierarchy of the Hegemony (its head Fulvia arc Borunmer, though the first woman in that post “since… well, ever” is a typical vengeful dictator,) even the existence of the ‘Free City,’ Aspedair, supposedly the only entity on the planet that is not under the Hegemony’s sway, is not an entirely original concept – that he is feeling his way into writing, exploring other people’s scenarios than his own, conforming to a template, that he has not yet found his own voice.

Ruin’s Wake is still very readable though, and Edwards’s portrayal of human relationships and interactions is convincing.

Pedant’s corner:- Time interval later/within time interval count: 17. Otherwise; maw (it’s not a mouth,) sprung (sprang,) “the situation appeared to be diffused” (the situation was not spread out, it was resolved; defused,) “the thick pile of blankets that served as a bed” (earlier on there had been a mattress in the room,) “the light coming under the jamb” (this use of ‘jamb’ appears twice; a door’s jamb is at its side, not its bottom-most part,) snuck under the door jambs (sneaked, and see previous comment,) “the volume of the whole chamber 1,985 metres cubed and the surface area 947 metres squared” (1,985 cubic metres and the surface area 947 square metres. I didn’t bother checking the figures,) “Syn grabbed length of rope” (a length of rope,) sat (x2, sitting,) “the music swelled to a crescendo” (no it didn’t; it swelled [crescendoed] to a climax.) “Which was the truth she wondered” (is a question, so needs a question mark.) “Where would those boys would be now” (remove the second ‘would’,) dove (dived,) “a deep sob wracked her body” (racked.) “None of the people … were armed” (none … was armed,) “darkened by oxidisation” (the verb is ‘oxidise’ the noun is ‘oxidation’,) “it fit snug” (it fitted snugly,) “What struck her most were the looks on the aces” (what struck her most was …..) “He was stood in the wrong place” (standing in the wrong place.) “None of the guns were trained on him” (None … was.) “He was stood in front of her” (standing.)

Interzone 290-291, Summer 2021

TTA Press, 2021.

  Interzone 290-291 cover

After a longish break Interzone reappears with a double edition. The editorial is by Lavie Tidhar describing his early steps into being published (in Interzone natch,) and his quest to bring World SF to wider attention. This being a double issue there are two of Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Stories. In the first she ponders museum artefacts what they tell us about the past – and the future. In the seconda she wonders about the connections we make – as people and as readers – and their validities. Whiteley is also the subject of the first item in the book reviews, where Duncan Lawie looks at both her latest novels Greensmith (“the more astonishing end of Philip K Dick”) and the gentler on the reader Skyward Inn (the name of a pub in the Western Protectorate.) Both “explore big questions whose answers lead to further thought.” I examine the British Library’s reprints of John Brunner’s “very readable” The Society of Time (which is in control of time travel in a Western Europe dominated by a Catholic Spanish Empire) and Ian Macpherson’s Wild Harbour, a cosy catastrophe avant la lettre, and Scottish to boot. John Howard relishes M John Harrison’s “selected stories” collection Settling the World, stories in which nothing is settling, the footing is always unsure. Stephen Theaker discusses David Ebenbach’s How to Mars, (“a good story, but gimmicky, of a one-way trip to Mars for a reality show but where one of the inmates against all the rules has become pregnant,”) Premee Mohammed’s novella These Lifeless Things (set fifty years after the Setback killed 99% of humans) and Martha Wells’s Fugitive Telemetry (an Android SecUnit investigates a murder on Preservation Station,) Maureen Kincaid Speller considers The Wall by Gautam Bhatia (filled with moments of deep emotional intensity but a little too overcrowded with possibilities) yet “deeply satisfying,” and Val Nolan finds the “darkly absurdist” Line by Nial Burke well worth waiting for.

The fiction was all well worth reading.

A Hollow in the Sky by Alexander Glass.1 Except for a few refuseniks called scatterlings humans have joined into a kind of hive mind called the Gathering. Our narrator Mateo is one of the scatterlings, looking after a vespiary in a monastery. Some years ago fellow scatterling Tomoko went off with/was taken away by extremely enigmatic aliens named the Borers. Now she has returned. This is well written but overuses the vespine metaphor.
In The Andraiad by Tim Major,2 the titular andraiad is a church organist and piano tuner called Martin Helm, built to replace a man who died in a fight, and determined to be better.

Pace Car by Lyle Hopwood. Gates – matter transmitters – apparently gifted to Earth as a punishment for the creation of part animal/part human chimeras – have transformed the world, but they are gradually destroyinh their surroundings. Billions of humans have died. Our narrator is a collector of old cars who requires a mechanic to maintain them. He is part goat.

An Island for Lost Astronauts by Daniel Bennet is set in a post sea-level rising world and the appearanceof a mysterious and otherwise unexplained White Ship where convicts are left to scavenge the islands outside East City where returning astronauts have also been outcast for fear of contamination. The story has a sub-Ballardian feel and is deliberately enigmatic.

The narrator of A Stray Cat in the Mountain of the Dead by Cécile Cristofari3 is a nurse of Arabic origin working in a French care home. As the story unfolds we discover she has a weak heart but it is the stray cat that gets in no matter what the staff do that drives the story. If it lies on their laps the deaths of inmates seem inexorably to follow.

Nemesis by Matt Thompson. In a world threatened by comets thrown Earthwards by the sun’s dark companion beyond the Oort Cloud (the Nemesis of the tile) a woman’s memories are being reconstructed.

The Mischief That is Past by John Possidente4 is a tightly controlled exposition of justified paranoia. A journalist on Humbodt, a space station, is in hiding after a contact tells him of someone called Sacagawea who died in 1812. Except she didn’t; she’s still alive, uncovered in Greenland 1937 along with an alien spaceship, and now a state secret. Yet this story ends as its narrator’s is just beginning.

The Egg Collectors by Lavie Tidhar5 are two ballooners (sic) sheltering from a storm on Titan who encounter some ovoid objects on the surface.

Without Lungs or Limbs to Stay by Shauna O’Meara is set on a generation starship where the population has gone rogue, is now space adapted, and recycles the sleep-frozen members of the intended colony in order to keep their nutrient balance the right side of viable.

Pedant’s corner:- aTim Lees’ (Lees’s,) “to not only” (not only to.) 1“a timpani” (timpani is plural; one of them is a timpano.) 2Louis’ (x2, Louis’s,) a mining lift cage accident is said to involve nine men on the top deck and seven below, but three lines later reference is to nine on the lower deck.) 3a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. 4“to lay low” (to lie low.) 5ballooners (balloonists,) “‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you.’” (is a question so ought to finish with a question mark.)

ParSec 1

ParSec 1 cover

New digital SF magazine ParSec launched today from PS Publishing. It’s a handsome cover image.

You can buy it here.

I have no fewer than four, yes four, reviews within its pages.

This Fragile Earth by Susannah Wise

Composite Creatures by Caroline Hardaker

The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

The First Sister by Linden A Lewis

I’ll be posting those here once a decent time interval has passed.

Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2019, 446 p.

This is the third (and final?) in the author’s Luna series (see here and here) and McDonald’s characteristic prose style is again in evidence, his ear for a telling phrase, the almost lyrical descriptions, but straightforwardly down to earth (down to Moon?) when necessary.

Once more we are shown ongoing events in the present tense, a device which imparts a sense of urgency – and contingency – to the narrative. The main plot here relates to who is to assume the guardianship of Lucasinho Corta who suffered catastrophic anoxia on the lunar surface in the previous book and now has to have his memories rebuilt from the recollections of others, but this is counterpointed with the ongoing conflict between the powerful lunar companies collectively called Dragons.

Since Corta Hélio has fallen, only four of the Dragons remain, Taiyang of the Suns, the Asamoahs’ AKA, the Vorontsovs’ VTO and the Mackenzies of Mackenzie Metals and MacKenzie Helium, but Lucas Corta is determined to make the most of the position as Eagle of the Moon he levered himself into in the last book. An introduction here is the University of Farside – fiercely independent of the Dragons – to where Lucasinho is taken for the memory restoration treatment and whose employees eschew former family connections.

As in Luna: Wolf Moon the defining feature of lunar life, the Four Elementals of air, water, carbon and data, rights to which are monitored by the chib in every inhabitant’s interactive contact lens, are not lingered on but this reflects the chib’s everyday nature for lunar citizens. Unless those rights run low they would not be a concern. They do, though, come into play at the dénouement.

The Dragons and their jostling for power – here joined by the incipient threat from Earth to eliminate the Moon as a competitor – is an exaggerated metaphor for unbridled capitalism, red in tooth and claw. The level of bloodshed is a warning about the consequences of the absence of legal restraints – though doubtless some readers will greet those scenes with approval. But McDonald raises the question of whether such a mode of living could be sustainable (and given the high body count here a certain degree of doubt is justified.) While their means of pursuing their interests had been indistinguishable from the other Dragons’ the Cortas’ collective insistence that family is everything suggests a different set of values is possible. It’s certainly desirable.

The scenes involving Marina Calzaghe (returned to Earth and finding herself regretting it,) though highlighting prejudice as they do, are something of a distraction from, and ultimately unrelated to, happenings on the Moon. But they illustrate McDonald’s wider vision.

Among those I no doubt missed there are embedded reference to Flanders and Swann, to Casablanca (in the film Bogart never actually said, “Play it again,” but of course Woody Allen used the phrase as the title of a play which later became a film,) and to Candide. There is a bar named The Flashing Blade, an adaptation of the Scottish (and Northern Irish?) term of approbation ‘Ya dancer’ to the US audience, a pun on ‘take the heat off them,’ another on ‘The Eagle has landed’ – this last’s setting up waiting almost three books for its payoff.

Few who read this could be disappointed with the experience.

Pedant’s corner:- “the lay of her belly” (the lie of her belly,) “a housand dins” (a thousand dins,) “in every cell her body” (cell of her body.) “The position rotate every two years” (rotates,) “blown four million years in the eruptions” (blown four million years ago,) “the size of size of her torso” (only one ‘size of’ required.) “Lucas’s hand tighten on the knurl of his cane” (tightens,) bola (the throwing weapon referred to is a bolas.) “Waiting in the corridor are AKA employee to lift and store…” (employees,) “smashed every rule the road” (of the road,) “looking down in to the” (down into,) sub-regolithis (sub-regolith.) “He strokes Lucasinho cheek” (Lucasinho’s,) “darker even that the dark basalt” (than the dark basalt,) “systems runs checks” (systems run checks,) Alexis (Alexia,) “puts out medical alert to his blades” (puts out a medical alert,) zeros (used to be spelled zeroes,) “‘there’s be’” (‘there’ll be’,) prospket (x2, prospekt,) “catches it, throw it on to another” (throws it on,) “and how she used to them” (how she used them,) “when the Earth-light in hot in him” (is hot in him,) open maws (a maw is a stomach, not a mouth,) staunch (stanch,) “the thunder of carnival give way to” (gives way to,) “loathe to involve itself” (loath, or, loth. Loathe is to despise/hate/abhor,) ambiance (ambience,) “none are as small and compact” (none is as small,) “When the Gularte’s left Caio for dead” (Gulartes.) “Wagner heart turns over” (Wagner’s heart,) “none of them are worthy of” (none of them is worthy of.)

Glister by John Burnside

Jonathan Cape, 2008, 263 p.

Begin with a warning. In a prefatory chapter, someone, who has passed through the Glister, is remembering the story of his life, again. In that story his name is Leonard and he remembers John the librarian saying to him, “When it comes to reliability, it’s not the narrator we should be worried about, it’s the author,” but Leonard himself tells us it’s not the author either; it’s the story that is unreliable.

Be that as it may, it is Leonard’s recollections which take up the bulk of the book. He grew up in a coastal town somewhat cut off from the rest of the world – outside influences do intrude, there is a Spar shop and references to television (curiously to Dr Kildare and Richard Chamberlain, which seems a bit out of time with the rest of the narrative) – a town once home to a chemical plant, whose contamination blights the lives of those who worked there, and perhaps even those who stray or rummage onto its former grounds or into the so-called poisoned wood, but people stay and put up with it all. (Not Leonard’s mum, though, who, unable to cope with her situation, pissed off when his father took ill leaving Leonard to take care of his dad.) But the town has a bigger problem. There have been disappearances of children, teenage boys, over the years, unexplained disappearances which cast a pall over everyday life.

Leonard lived in the Innertown, the most deprived and blighted area, distinguished from the Outertown where the big houses are. The Innertown has the same claustrophobic feel as the village in Burnside’s earlier novel The Devil’s Footprints and the hellish residue of the plant bears echoes of the Corby he described in Living Nowhere. Leonard’s story is given in the first person but other sections are written in the third and describe incidents to which he was not a witness. (These may still be him writing from an omniscient viewpoint, however; remember the unreliability of story.) They include Morrison, the local policeman, who seems to have got his position without in any way training for it, the local big man Bryan Smith (who levered Morrison into his job so as to have a hold over him,) Morrison’s alcoholic wife, Alice, recluse Andrew Rivers, and Leonard’s girlfriend, the precociously sexually adventurous Elspeth.

Morrison is conflicted by his knowledge of finding the dead body of the first boy to disappear, his enthralment to Bryan Smith (who got his henchman Jenner to deal with it) and his duty as a policeman. Towards the end he reflects that “the soul is wet and dark, a creature that takes up residence in the human body and feeds on it …. possessed of an unhuman joy that cares nothing for its host, but lives, as it must live, in perpetual, disfigured longing.” Alice senses her husband’s confusion but is mired in her own difficulties. Rivers has kept all the reminders of his dead father and is alert to the possibilities his behaviour has of being misunderstood. Elspeth is a spark of life but seems to be perpetually randy. The mysterious outsider Leonard calls the Moth Man, supposedly conducting a survey of the flying insect population of the contaminated area but also taking the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of the disused chemical plant and possibly with a darker involvement in events, with a hint of the supernatural, flits in and out of Leonard’s story while occasionally providing him with brews of a strange tea. Of his non-exclusive, on both sides, relationship with Elspeth, Leonard muses that romance is for older people, not adolescents.

Despite the realistic depiction of Leonard’s encounters with John, Elspeth, the Moth Man and the members of the small teenage gang led by Elspeth’s ex-boyfriend Jimmy van Doren, there is an overhanging feel of Science Fiction or fantasy to proceedings. This prefigures the ending, the manifestation of the Glister, which, while possibly explaining the disappearances does not do so fully but is nonetheless satisfactory.

At one point Leonard tells us of “the sense I have of a story all disjointed and out of sequence.” The novel is not like this at all. Burnside writes supremely well. I wasn’t overly satisfied by the ending even though it is in accord with what preceded it, but in all other respects Glister is gold.

Pedant’s corner:- “maybe ony a few minutes” (maybe only a few,) cargos (this plural used to be spelled ‘cargoes’,) unimagin-able (not at a line break, unimaginable,) ditto “separ-ate” (separate.) “It has to with Leonard” (It has to do with Leonard.) None of the others see me go (sees me go,), Rivers’ (Rivers’s,) “when she come across” (comes across,) a missing start quotation mark.

New Review Books

Via Parsec (see here) I’ve received two more books for review.

These are Best of British Science Fiction 2020 edited by Donna Scott, which I hope will live up to its title, and Three Twins at the Crater School by Chaz Brenchley. This last seems to be the first in a series of “English girls’ boarding school stories. On Mars,” based I assume on the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, an author whose œuvre I do not remember ever sampling.

White Wing by Gordon Kendall

Sphere, 1986, 312 p.

Gordon Kendall is a pseudonym used – for one book only – by S N Lewitt (Shariann Lewitt) no doubt for the same reason female writers have always used male pen names. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database says the book was a collaboration with Susan Shwartz.

Humans are in a war against the Sej. Earth has been destroyed and the remnants of its population forced to take refuge on other human worlds of the League, where they are seen as largely second-class citizens and subject to prejudice. Earthers’ military arm, it has to be said, does not help in this regard. Except in their own company its members keep their emotions to themselves, presenting an unflinching, unemotive face to the worlds at large, only ever expressing their feelings in private. The League’s armed forces are split up into Wings, each with its own designated colour. The White Wing of the title is the Earther Wing, trained up on Wing Moon, a world given to them begrudgingly by the League. Their unit of battle is typically, though not always, made up of groups of seven. These are tight knit contingents, living and fighting together, joined in a contract they call marriage. Never has a member of White Wing been captured by the Sej. If any of them is in danger of that (and the subsequent maltreatment the Sej will no doubt administer) they are granted what is called the Mercy. In other words their own unit will kill them in order to prevent it. This happens to squad member Maryam in chapter two and makes pilot Gregory, who committed the deed, almost a pariah among the other Wings.

Squad Comm officer Suzannah has an eidetic memory. Her chief in League Security, Federico Hashrahh Kroeger, is another eidetic, keen to capture as much data about Earthers as he can. The plot revolves around the gap Maryam’s death has left in the squad, the solo pilot Dustin who may in the end become her replacement, Sej spies called Bikmat and Aglo, a Sej drug named hathoti, and a rabble-rousing politician, Ag Kolatolo, eager to exploit and amplify anti-Earther attutudes. The novel’s resolution is perhaps a bit too optimistic about how easily prejudice in public life can be overcome.

The book is a fairly typical SF tale of its time. Of military SF at any time. There are sufficient battle scenes and intrigue to satisfy adherents of the form but there is more of a tendency towards describing the interactions between, and thoughts of, the characters than most of its male purveyors tend to provide.

Pedant’s corner:- epicantic (epicanthic,) Gus’ (Gus’s,) Charles’ (Charles’s.) “None of them were” (was,) eidectics (eidetic,) neutrino (neutrino – spelled correctly elsewhere,) forseeable (foreseeable.) “A phalanx of Reds were closing in” (a phalanx … was closing in,) hanger (hangar– spelled correctly elsewhere, except for Hanger Deck,) “‘when she’d off duty’” (when she’s off duty.) “‘You said ‘us’ Federico,’” (to which he assents. He actually said ‘we’.)

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