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The Entropy Exhibition by Colin Greenland

Michael Moorcock and the British ‘New Wave’ in Science Fiction. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, 256 p, including Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index.

As its sub-title implies this is an account of the project Michael Moorcock started when he took over the British Science Fiction magazine New Worlds in 1964. This was to try to inject more literary qualities into SF which up to that point had been largely shunned by the ‘mainstream’ because of its pulp sensibilities as he did not see why SF should be separate from literature in general.

To that end Greenland gives us a history of New Worlds up to that point, considers the introduction of sex to SF stories (hitherto all but absent despite the prominence of the three Bs – Boobs, Babes and Bug-eyed Monsters – on cover illustrations,) the withdrawal from space fiction in favour of ‘inner’ space, questions of style, the salience of the concept of entropy to this mid-sixties endeavour, and offers us critiques of the contributions of the three most prominent figures of the British new wave, Brian W Aldiss, J G Ballard and Moorcock himself. (Though it receives a few mentions considerations of how the new wave played out in the US are beyond the remit of this book.)

Greenland is of the opinion that Aldiss’s books Report on Probability A and Barefoot in the Head are the quintessential new wave novels with Moorcock’s Karl Glogauer novels as exemplars of the new wave sensibility dealing as they do with “Time and identity: Moorcock’s two great themes, perhaps the great themes of all New Wave sf.”

Aldiss never really considered himself as part of a wave of any sort; he had in any case been prominent as a writer of SF before the 1960s.

Ballard was always something of an enigma. Whether he can be considered to “belong” to any movement other than his sui generis self is moot but he did contribute a guest editorial to New Worlds in May 1962 asking “Which Way to Inner Space?” an implicit call for a different approach to writing SF. Personally I have always seen in his writing – possibly due to his upbringing as an expatriate – an expression of English reserve taken to the extreme, elevated to an art form even. (His incarceration by the Japanese during World War 2 no doubt also contributed to his take on the world.) Greenland sees Ballard’s principal tool for the disorientating effect of his prose as “unyielding irony.”

The SF New Wave changed everything and nothing. After the 1960s experiment SF by and large returned to its ghetto and continued to be ignored by mainstream fiction. The attitude “if it’s SF it’s not good, if it’s good it’s not SF” still hung around.

Yes, literary qualities did become more common in the genre (and treatment of sex ceased to be shunned) and it is now possible for “proper” writers to dabble in its waters without expressions of horror – from either side – accompanying their efforts.

The Entropy Exhibition is by its nature (and origin as a dissertation for a D Phil) a critical endeavour and now stands as a historical document, and probably one only for those interested in the history of SF.


Pedant’s corner:- extra-terrestial (extra-terrestrial,) sf (I prefer SF,) Euripides’ (Euripides’s,) Capadocia (Cappadocia,) fridgw (fridge,) “the relationship between my characters don’t interest me much” (either ‘relationships’ or ‘doesn’t’,) “a compete new political and social history” (a complete new,) enormity (seems to be in the sense of ‘hugeness’ rather than ‘monstrousness’.) In the Notes; Hilary Baily (Bailey,) benefitted (benefited?)

Cybernetic Jungle by S N Lewitt

Ace, 1992, p.

This has an unusual setting for a piece of Science Fiction written by a USian author; Brazil, specifically Brasilia. In the aftermath of a natural disaster democracy has been overthrown (this is represented as unusual for Brazil!) and society is dominated by four monopolies called fazendas, who are the only purveyors of drugs from the rain forest. Street gangs dominate life for the common people. Drugs called phrines, which seem to sharpen the mind, are common but can lead to brain burn out.

Paulo Sylvia is a member of the Bakunin gang. He has an implant known as a secondary but his greatest wish is to upgrade this to be able to access something known as the Wave, which is here described as “a datastream, a quantum-level interface structure that had been created to serve the needs of the masters. Only it had become the master.” (It reads as if it’s a hazy sort of internet only accessed through the mind but as described it seems a diffuse kind of experience.) On a raid on behalf of one of the fazendas he witnesses a girl die. Very soon after he meets Zaide Soledad, who looks identical to the dead girl and intrigues him. She is a trainee in one of the fazendas, out on the town. When they meet she is not yet surgically prepared for accessing the Wave and her true background is not known to Paulo.

Young members of the fazenda seem to be produced as kinds of clones – hence Zaide’s resemblance to the dead girl, who was apparently rejected for the fazenda. Zaide becomes drawn into a contest with one of the fazenda’s board members, Julio Simon, who has no redeeming features whatsoever and a predilection for gratuitous violence. Paulo and Zaide’s attraction to each other provides the motor for the plot and their conflict with Simon.

This is a tale with cyberpunk features and, with its main characters’ divergent backgrounds, echoes of Romeo and Juliet. Apart from the unnecessarily violent scene with Simon I quite enjoyed it.

Pedant’s corner:- “now the third generation were growing in jam jars in the closet” (the third generation was growing,) highjackers (hijackers,) “most of the other traffic was cycle or motoped” (why not just moped?) Vasco de Gama (Vasco da Gama,) Flumine (Fluminense,) Corintans (Corinthians,) fer-de-lants (fer-de-lance,) ambiance (ambience,) “in their green and whites” (in their green and white.) “Zaide didn’t looked at Susana” (didn’t look at.)

Cybele, with Bluebonnets by Charles L Harness

The NESFA Press, 2002, 155 p.

How could I resist a novel with an illustration of the Periodic Table on its front cover? Still less “a book for chemists who might appreciate magical realism” as the publisher’s prefatory lines have it. It could have been designed for me.

Don’t let that put you off though; it’s also a very powerful and intricate novel exploring those eternal themes of love, sex and death – with a very unusual ghost.

Charles L Harness is one of my favourite SF writers of the last century but due to the fact that it’s quite rare I only bought this book recently. It was, then, a little disconcerting that in the first page we find narrator, Joe Barnes, mentally undressing his female Chemistry teacher Miss Wilson (Miss Cybele Wilson) down to nothing but stockings, garters and low-heeled shoes as she enters class. Adolescent male fantasy no doubt but a bit much for page one.

There is a plot strand relating to a cup said to be the Holy Grail (the “real” one was lost in the Atlantic in its evacuation from Europe during the Great War.) Joe takes a job modelling for artists and recognises, though the face is turned away, one of the pictures the tutor rotates on the studio’s walls as being a nude Cybele holding the cup. A mystery about the cup’s disappearance from the religious institution where it is held is resolved by Joe’s knowledge of the refractive index of borosilicate glass.

Cybele becomes the love of his life and a major influence on it, her characteristic scent of bluebonnets (the State Flower of Texas apparently) coming to him at significant turning points. She inspires him with a love of Chemistry and encourages his thirst for knowledge.  She is a strong character but her prognostications about the future invite suspicion from the school authorities. It is not until well after he has left school, however, that they get together and that not for long as she has cancer. Here Harness inserts Joe’s thoughts on his loss. “And life goes on. It goes, but it doesn’t go anywhere. We begin, and end, in the middle.” At this point there is still half the book to go with many more opportunities for Cybele to affect Joe’s progress through life.

Joe was growing up in the 1930s and there is a lot of incidental detail about life in small town US in those times. Cybele’s background was unconventional, her mother was a madam in a local house of ill repute whose activities are policed by arrangement of times to raid the premises. A fair amount of Chemistry adorns the pages but I’m sure the details will not faze the average reader.

All of this is interspersed with incidents of what can only be termed magical realism. Young Joe’s discovery of a millions of years old skimming stone which skips from the river into a cave where something spooks him as he goes to retrieve it, the panther which saves his brother from a snake, the voice which he hears warning him to run from a lab accident, the unusual circumstances surrounding his daughter’s birth.

Almost innocent at times, Cybele, with Bluebonnets is a wonderful book; insightful, humane, knowledgeable, rueful. Here is a human life in all its glory and pain.


Pedant’s corner:- “into the gaping white maw of the snake” (maws do not gape, they are stomachs,) clear is used as a synonym for colourless (it isn’t, clear means ‘see-through,’ which many coloured things are,) barring one, all chemical formulae in the text are rendered correctly – even the subscripts are correct – however bicarbonate is given as having the formula -HCO (bicarbonate – now known as hydrogencarbonate – is actually HCO3,) focussed (focused,) “Munch’s The Shriek” (usually known, at least nowadays, as The Scream,) miniscule (several times, minuscule,) “a unisex washroom” (in the 1930s I wondered? Apparently separate toilets only came into being in the US in the 1920s as a response to more women entering the workplace,) “a few less bullets” (a few fewer bullets,) spit (USianism for ‘spat’,) cartilege (cartilage.)

The Kif Strike Back by C J Cherryh

201 p, in The Chanur Saga, Daw Books, 2000, (which has an 11 p Appendix on Species of the Compact.) Originally published 1986.

This is the third of Cherryh’s novels featuring Pyanfar Chanur, a hani from the planet Anuurn, itself a member of the interstellar trading system known as the Compact. For my thoughts on the earlier two instalments see here and here.

Pyanfar’s first task in this book is to gain the release of both her niece Hilfy and the human Tully from their captivity by the kif, Sikkukkut. For this she has travelled to the station of Mkks, which is under Sikkukkut’s control. The exchange involves her agreeing to an arrangement with Sikkukut to aid him in his contest with another kif, Akhtimakt, for supremacy among their kind. Part of this is a gift to her of Skukkuk, a kif whose presence on Payanfar’s ship The Pride of Chanur causes grave misgivings among her crew. An alliance such as this is also thought by other hani undesirable, even treasonous, and may have repercussions for Payanfar’s family back on Anuurn.

The agreement requires Pyanfar to journey deep inside kif territory to Kefk station, where most of the action takes place. The nature of kif beliefs and behaviour is emphasised by the entrance to Sikkukkut’s headquarters being flanked by his enemy’s heads on poles. So far, so mediæval. Pyanfar manages to bargain for the release of another hani ship’s crew from Sikkukkut’s custody but on the way back to the Pride they get caught up in the struggle between kif factions which provides the book’s only ‘battle’ scenes.

I note here that the kif language is heavy with (often doubled) percussive consonants and seems to lack the vowels a and e. Apart from Pyanfar’s hani, the only other language represented on the page in this volume is that of the tc’a, who communicate in cryptic seven by three matrices.

Though bearing in mind that hani are essentially lion-like (certainly in appearance, apart from what I assume – there being no indication to the contrary – is their bipedalism) Cherryh may have been making a comment on human affairs when in the context of hani social arrangements she tells us “Hilfy had known all her life that men were precious things; and their sanity precarious; and their tempers vast as their vanity.”

While all the action and intrigue Pyanfar witnesses and takes part in is going on a lot of stuff has been occurring in the background. Pyanfar’s mohendo’sat friend Goldtooth has, without Pyanfar’s knowledge, been manœuvring to leverage the impact of human accession to the Compact. Tully has less of a central role in this book than he had previously but he does let slip that human culture is more factional and complicated than the species of the Compact had perhaps assumed.

I suppose these books are technically space opera but their emphasis is less on spaceships battling each other than on political matters in the Compact, inside kifdom and amongst the hani. There is, too, frequent reference to domestic life on board the Pride. In this regard the procedures on board make the hani seem more human than leonine.

Pyanfar, Hilfy and even Sikkukut have become more rounded the more the story develops and we also learn more of the other members of the crew than before.

Since there are five books in the overall Chanur story arc it is a little odd that this omnibus has cobbled together Books 2 and 3 with Book 1, which was more of a stand alone. Indeed Cherryh’s tale is by no means resolved by The Kif Strike Back’s end, which in a three book volume I would have thought the reader has a right to expect.

However, I found Pyanfar’s company (both that on her ship and in my head as I read) very congenial. I will look out for the next in the sequence.


Pedant’s corner:- “whether that this was a kif’s humour or…” (no ‘that’ required,) Mkks’ (several times, Mkks’,) “‘You sure about this’ Pyanfar said” (needs a question mark after ‘this’,) strategem (stratagem – used later,) asyet (as yet,) “which had shed their v and began a sedate return” (had shed their v and begun a sedate return,) focussed (x 2, focused.) “Smoke skirled and billowed in the shock” (smoke does not skirl, it might swirl but it doesn’t make a sound,) “undernHaral’s pushbutton command” (under Haral’s.)

Percivious Escape by J J Cook and A J Cook MD

AJ JJ Publishing, 2022, 269 p.  Reviewed for ParSec 6.

This is the third in a trilogy, a fact of which I was unaware when, drawn by the premise, I requested the book for review. (The previous two instalments, Percivious Insomnia and Percivious Origins, were not, I think, reviewed in ParSec.) Mea culpa, for not researching the authors beforehand.

Coming in only for the last part of any book sequence is problematic – especially for a reviewer. Not all the background to the text is available; though the author(s) ought to provide enough to give any new reader a fair shout. Still, a book is a book, and must be considered on its own merits.

The scenario here is that an outbreak of insomnia has hit Earth. We are told people stagger around like zombies, transport – personal and public – has all but ceased, society has broken down. A drug called Noctural has been peddled as a cure but is ineffective, a fact of which its makers are well aware. In addition, the XYZ, a group of aliens capable of instant communication with each other by a form of emotional telepathy and apparently descended from whales who lived on Earth millions of years ago but now taking the shape of outsize humans, have been on an unsuccessful interstellar odyssey to find a new home but failing to settle (and incidentally forced into making a kind of slingshot around a black hole in transit) have returned to Earth intent on helping to find a cure for the pandemic of sleeplessness and making us all kinder into the bargain.

It gives me no pleasure to write this but if this all seems like a bit much for the authors to juggle with successfully, well it is. Chapters are relatively short and each is narrated from one of at least twenty different viewpoints which tends to make the reading experience bitty. Far too much is told to us, not shown, information dumping is profuse, clumsy and intrusive, with overuse of the pluperfect tense and a frequent resort to cliché. The process of discovering an effective serum against the insomnia pandemic, Noctural 2.0, is not dramatised and it seems to have been found absurdly easily. The text is sometimes couched as journalese, the characters do not come across as rounded and their dialogue is wooden.

At the climax it all descends into Bond villainy: that the villain has been given the name Khalid Al Gamdi leaves a sour taste. In addition, after that dénouement there are no less than nine chapters clearing up loose ends (while ironically introducing a new one.)

Alarm bells about all this had been ringing from before the start – which itself has the galloping hiccups, with both an Introduction and a Prologue. On the title page there is that MD after the name of the second co-author. But why is it there? Is it to lend an air of scientific credibility? In which case it is spurious, since this is a work of fiction not an academic tract and ought to need no outside props. In any case such a claim is thoroughly undercut by multiple appearances in the text of the non-metaphorical use of the phrase “the dark side of the moon” (which is an elegant description of madness but not of reality. Both “sides” of the Moon, far and near, are bathed in fourteen continuous Earth days of sunlight – and another fourteen of darkness – per lunar cycle. If you are striving for scientific verisimilitude at least get the details right. See also the ancient whales above.)

The overall feel of the text is that of authors so enamoured with their vision that they indulged the need to put every last little aspect of it down on paper (or screen.) Unfortunately, fiction doesn’t succeed under those conditions. Certainly there has to be enough detail to convince the reader the authors have a consistent world in their heads. Too much however, tends to give the opposite impression. Moreover, it gets in the way of the story. And it is story that readers of Science Fiction primarily search for. There is story here but the authors’ avowed intention in the accompanying blurb and the ‘About the Authors’ page of reviving what they describe as forgotten altruism led them to stray into didacticism.

Pedant’s corner:- human’s vast and varied pastimes (humans’,) “the prime minister” (Prime Minister,) “‘Your safety, our safety, as well as the safety of many others depend on it’2 (depends on it,) “the dark side of the moon” (there is no such thing – see above – and it’s Moon,) “that was provided there were enough insomnia-resilient staff on duty” (provided there was enough staff.) “Fifty suicide STARLINK satellites composed the payload” (the satellites created the payload? – comprised,) “what drew his attention were her photos” (was her photos,) one ‘it’s’ that ought to have been ‘its’, “something cold crossed his gaze upon her face” (needs its syntax sorted out,) “regardless the cost” (regardless of the cost,) “risen to a crescendo” (to a climax,) “careful to cover their interaction with his torso from the cameras” (opaque syntax again,) “returning from whence he had come” (whence = ‘from where’ so this is equivalent to ‘from from where he had come’,) another “rose to a crescendo”, “the two crafts” (the plural of craft [as in conveyance] is ‘craft’,) “desperate to clear its path” (‘his’-  or ‘their’ – path,) “despite the unforeseen danger that undoubtedly lay ahead” (if it undoubtedly lay ahead then it was not unforeseen; ‘unknown’ perhaps,) “and good thing” (an interpolation that has no sense at all,) “Cooper’s gaze – abducted by a long black, illuminated gown” (how can a gaze be abducted?) many new paragraphs are unindented, “the reason his kiss had fallen on deaf lips” (a tin-eared construction, ‘unresponsive lips’,) “than he had ever felt had before” (one ‘had’ too many,) “the only options to negate it was to swallow Noctural 2.0 .. or they could go off planet” (is missing an ‘either’ before what then should be ‘were to swallow’; otherwise ‘the only option was to swallow’,) “had rode up in” (had ridden,) “the tallest thing standing on the island were the trees in Central Park” (was the trees.)


ParSec 8

I believe ParSec’s issue 8 has now gone live:-

I’ve not yet delved into this issue but it ought to contain my reviews of Beethoven’s Assassins by Andrew Crumey, Chimera by Alice Thompson, and Umbilical by Teika Marija Smits.


Three for ParSec

You may have noticed on my sidebar that I am reading Stephen Baxter’s Creation Node. This is his latest novel and I will be reviewing it for ParSec.

In the same package Mindbreaker by Kate Dylan arrived. I’ll get onto that next. The author is new to me.

In a subsequent list of potential review books I couldn’t resist asking for My Brother’s Keeper by Tim Powers. This is a fantasy centred round the Brontë family and also awaits a read.

Hunt the Space Witch! by Robert Silverberg

Seven Adventures in Time and Space. Paizo, 2011, 255 p.

These are reprints of early Silverberg stories from the 1950s which first appeared in Science Fiction Adventures. As the stories’ titles (not to mention the book’s cover illustration) suggest they are firmly in the pulp tradition and bear most of that era’s faults and suppositions. Planet Stories as a publishing venture was set up precisely in order to resurrect them.

This volume has seven of Silverberg’s stories from that time plus an introduction from the author remembering those early days of his as a writer.

Slaves of the Star Giants. Lloyd Harkins wakes up in a future where giant creatures (whose descriptions are a bit like dinosaurs) have taken over Earth and its humans have degenerated into pre-civilisation mode while giant robots plough back and forth. He has been summoned there by someone called the Watcher who primes him to enter a place called the Tunnel City and use to overthrow the aliens. This story is typical of those where humans – especially those of the twentieth century US variety, and, naturally, males – are superior creatures.

Spawn of the Deadly Sea is set on a far future Earth which was conquered by aliens known as Dhuchay’y who flooded the planet and left its human inhabitants to live on floating cities (each of which specialises in one product with which it can trade,) and then disappeared. Dovirr is a youngster in one of these cities, Vythain, who wishes, despite the chances of being killed on sight) to join the crew of Gowyn, the local Thalassarch (one of the human rulers who go around the cities collecting tribute; apparently in return for protection from pirates.) There are also undersea creatures known as Sea-Lords who will eat anything organic thrown into the water. These are descended from humans genetically altered to fight the Dhuchay’y but who were produced too late to make any difference. Dovirr vows to Gowyn to destroy the Dhuchay’y should they ever return.

The whole scenario falls completely to pieces if you give it a moment’s thought – what use would tribute in gold be to a Thalassarch who spends all his time plying the seas? – even while reading it. However, these stories were never designed to be anything but mere entertainment.

The Flame and the Hammer. The decaying Galactic Empire is threatened with revolt. Legend has it that a device known as the Hammer of Aldryne will end the Empire by killing the Emperor. Duyair, son of the High Priest on Aldryne is interrogated by the priesthood when his father is killed by Imperial torturers seeking the Hammer. He has no knowledge of its existence or whereabouts. The rebellion starts with the new High Priest Lugaur Holsp claiming to have the Hammer but he plans to collude with the Emperor to enrich himself. It falls to Duyair to thwart this.

Valley Beyond Time. A selection of humans, several men and two women, plus three aliens, find themselves in a valley from which they seem unable to escape. They have been plucked from their normal lives by a being named the Watcher presumably to see how they react and interact. The usual jealousies and conflicts arise before they begin to test the valley’s boundaries.

In Hunt the Space Witch! Barsac seeks his friend, Zigmunn, who had been left behind on the planet Glaurus when he failed to get back to his spaceship on time. He finds Zigmunn has recently fallen under the sway of the Cult of the Witch and was taken to the planet Azonda.  Barsac has to be inducted into the cult, a process involving a kind of conditioning, in order to follow him. Barsac has to overcome the conditioning to succeed.

The Silent Invaders. The people of the planet Darruu are in conflict with Medlin. In surgically enhanced disguise as a human named Harris, Aar Khiilom of Darruu has been sent to Earth to thwart the efforts of Medlin to enlist Earth as an ally. His encounter with Beth Baldwin – who turns out to be a similarly disguised Medlin spy – leads Harris to a reassessment of his loyalties.

Spacerogue. Barr Herndon is the spacerogue of the title. He has sworn revenge on Seigneur Krellig after his family had been killed during a looting raid by some of Krellig’s henchmen. Recruitment into a smuggling operation gives him the chance to achieve this.

These stories have the faults of the time they were written and the outlets to which they were sold. The protagonist is always stronger or more forceful than his opponents, there is an awful lot of casual, unthinking violence, women are generally treated as little more than sex objects, not many are given any kind of agency. The prose is barely workmanlike. They do not bear comparison with the author’s later works. This collection is only for the Silverberg completist.

I also have to say the book’s cover is execrable.

Pedant’s corner:- Harkins’ (several times; Harkins’s,) “unable to get at this throat” (at his throat,) focussed (focused,) “in an old age” (in old age; no need for the ‘an’,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, a missing start quote mark at the beginning of another, “‘but there was no organisation on Aldrynel’” (that ‘l’ ought to be an exclamation mark,) “‘the throne of his father distinguished’” (has very odd syntax,) mind-wracking (mind-racking,) “shrugged and shagged a mass as it hung before him” (not shagged I should think; snagged makes more sense,) Vellers’ (x 4, Vellers’s,) (like a faroff musical chord” (a far off musical chord,) vender (vendor,) Glaurus’ (x 2, Glaurus’s,) “as if in each of the masks a witch shined” (shone,) Harris’ (x 3, Harris’s,) “the music reached an ear-splitting crescendo” (sigh; the music crescendoed to an ear-splitting climax,) a missing close-quote mark at the end of a piece of direct speech, “the proteus’ body” (proteus’s,) Morais’ (x 2, Morais’s.) “The Lady Moaris could not have been more than twenty-three or twenty-five” (well, which is it then? If she was twenty-five she was more than twenty-three.)

ParSec Update

I have finished Gary Gibson’s Europa Deep and sent the review off to ParSec.

In the meantime two further review books have arrived for me to peruse.

These are Mindbreaker by Kate Dylan, an author new to me, and Creation Node by Stephen Baxter of whom that can not be said.

Those two should keep me busy.

Beyond the Burn Line by Paul McAuley

Gollancz, 2022, 459 p. Reviewed for ParSec 6.

The burn line is a geological stratum of scorched remains marking where a catastrophe – partly of their own making – befell what the inhabitants of a far future Earth remember as ogres. After the ogres’ demise a civilisation of intelligent bears developed, bears who enslaved Pilgrim Saltmire’s people before the bears in turn lost sway and regressed to feral habits. But the people’s memories of enslavement are long and bitter. The society in which Pilgrim lives is at a more or less agrarian level, transport is typically by four-legged animal known as a mara, though a slow growth is occurring of techne inspired by artefacts dug up from archaeological sites, for example messages are being sent by tapcode. The prevailing religion’s deity is referred to as Mother, a mother who could at first be interpreted as Mother Earth but turns out not to be.

Saltmire has a gammy leg, is an albino and a pure – a person who doesn’t feel the effect of the yearly Season, and is pitied for it. We follow his story after the death of his mentor, the scholar Master Able, who spent his time trying to elucidate whether accounts of strange visitors accompanied by lights in the sky had any truth to them. Saltmire’s wish is to carry on Able’s work but all his writings were returned to Able’s family on his death and Saltmire is forced to go back to his own tribe to try to obtain funding to carry on the work. It does not go well and he is exiled for a year for a violent, though in self-defence, attack. In exile, he is charged with setting to rights a neglected library. One day he discovers a map which appears to show a visitor beside a hitherto unknown bear city. Unfortunately, he falls foul of the local law enforcement officer and loses the map to him. Thereafter, the remainder of Part One of the book, Archaeologies of Memory, lies in his attempts, along with members of The Invisible College, a group of female activists, to regain the map via a prophet, Foeless Landwalker, who claims the coming of the visitors is imminent and has gathered a cohort of adherents to call them down. Like all such, Landwalker’s connection to the object of his obsessions is negligible. When the visitors reveal themselves, it is not to him.

There is then a sudden jump to Part Two, The Other Mother. Pilgrim Saltmire is fourteen years dead, the visitors, descendants of ogres – humans sent out in seedships in a failed attempt to colonise other planets but now returned – live openly with, but separate from, the people (who are much smaller in stature, being descended from racoons) with treaties regulating their interactions. The controlling intelligence of the returned seedship, an AI, is referred to as Mother and has an array of advanced technologies at her disposal.

Human Ysbel Moonsdaughter of the Bureau of Indigenous Affairs is sent to investigate the deaths of two of the people as a result of a speedboat race between two humans, Trina Mersdaughter and Joyous Hightower. The local bailiff she is dealing with, Goodwill Saltmire, is Pilgrim’s nephew and he realises that the map, the prize Mersdaughter and Hightower were racing for, is the same one his uncle had lost. Its hint of a possible connection between humans and bears long before the recent supposed First Contact combined with a possible re-emergence of intelligent bears has potentially threatening consequences for relations between humans and the people. Ysbel’s investigations delve into the map’s background, unfold the history and antagonisms of both Mothers – and the possible existence of a third. During them she meets numerous setbacks, betrayals and agents acting in bad faith. At one point her commlink to the Mother’s network is memorably described by one of the people as a “telephone in her head.”

It is not often that a work of Science Fiction has as its central focus, its plot driver, a historical artefact. (Of course, to us readers in 2022 it is in effect a contingent future one.) The blending of far future SF with a quest for a defiantly mundane document works well here and the notion of a reverse First Contact is a neat twist to that trope. The main characters are depicted acting in recognisable ways (sometimes all too recognisable) but nevertheless have individuality.

Some may complain this is all too narrowly drawn, that the First Contact is witnessed but its immediate ramifications are not. That the climactic battle between the two Mothers occurs off-stage. But the stories of individuals caught up in larger events are as, if not more, worthy of depiction as those events themselves. It is, after all, as individuals that we live our lives.

Pedant’s corner:- “‘where you’re planning to go, someone like you is you’re going to need someone like me’” (doesn’t need the ‘you’re’,)  “reached a brief crescendo” (brief climax,) “jutting at at different levels and angles” (either no first [or second] ‘at’, or, ‘jutting out at’.) “ ‘So far no one will tell me who am I supposed to be co-operating with’” (who I am supposed to be co-operating with,) “when it came of matters of trust” (when it came to matters of trust,) “the map had once been belonged to his tribe” (no need for that ‘been’,) “‘and return it my tribe’” (return it to my tribe,) make sure that that neither the humans nor native authorities” (no second ‘that’,) accidently “accidentally,) oughten’t (oughtn’t.)


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