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The Kar-Chee Reign by Avram Davidson

In The Kar-Chee Reign and Rogue Dragon, Ace, 1979, (192 p out of 381.)

The overall book, two novels in the one volume, is not a “proper” Ace Double as it does not have two authors and the second one isn’t printed upside down – and backwards – in relation to the first as in the classic doubles. It is also curious in that according to the copyright dates, 1966 and 1965 respectively, the sequel seems to have been published before the novel it is set after. Aspects of the setting and the occasional word choice (eg huntshoon as in shoes for hunting) made me wonder if Davidson had a Scottish background or connection but I couldn’t find one that was obvious.

The Kar-Chee Reign and Rogue Dragon cover

In The Kar-Chee Reign Earth’s resources have been depleted almost to zero, mainly due to its human inhabitants stripping it to make their voyages to the stars. All but forgotten by the diaspora, it has fallen to the Kar-chee – accompanied by their “dragons” – a species which specialises in extracting the last drop of resource from apparently worked out sources. They instigated violent earth movements, disrupting the land’s surface, changing the geography.

A small group in the new Britland – comprised from the new landmass connecting the former Western Isles, part of Ireland and the Isle of Man – survives without much contact with the aliens. But one day the aliens come and a few humans attack and kill them. This brings the dragons down on the settlement and the survivors flee on a raft. After exhausting most of the food they had brought on board they are rescued by a set of religious zealots who believe the Kar-chee are God’s revenge on humans for loose-living. Despite the strictures of their rescuers a few of them venture into a vast set of caverns and there do battle with the Kar-chee.

I must say this was better written than I had been expecting (I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Davidson before.) While plot is more or less everything in this type of tale (with a nod to setting) Davidson doesn’t neglect to give us character to sit alongside. While the chief zealot – and his wife – are pretty one-dimensional (then again, religious zealots tend to be so) others are complex enough to be getting on with.

Pedant’s corner:- the name of the aliens is spelled Kar-Chee in the title but Kar-chee in the text. Rowen (elsewhere Rowan,) dispell (dispel,) condescention (condescension,) gutteral (guttural.) “A pile of its timbers were stacked neatly” (a pile was stacked,) payed your own way (paid,) “buy the observation of the clouds” (by the observation,) “the ark-and the raft-group” (the ark- and the raft-group,) paniers (panniers,) painers (panniers,) afriad (afraid,) “there were a number of them” (there was a number,) Lors’ (Lors’s.) “And they silently followed them. All of them.” (And they silently followed him.) “The men’s face were grimed,” (faces,) “lay of land” (lie of land.) “It if can be done” (If it can be done.) “It was fixed into the wall of the pit firmly and on all sides were fixed into the wall of the pit firmly and on all sides were fixed the other struts,” (that second “fixed into the wall of the pit firmly and on all sides were” needs removed,) Lor’s (Lors’s,) racheting (ratcheting,) “the pattern of preceedings” (proceedings,) battless (battles.)

Eight Keys to Eden by Mark Clifton

Pan, 1965, 171 p.

Eight Keys to Eden cover

On an Earth seemingly one political entity, long after a global conflict rendered the old powers otiose, decision making and problem solving has been delegated to a small group of highly trained thinkers called Extrapolators, E for short, whose jurisdiction is unquestioned save by elements of the planet’s police force. The plot kicks off when all communication with the colony known as Eden, suspiciously admirably suited to human life, is broken off. A junior (therefore not fully qualified) E named Calvin Gray is given the task of finding out exactly what has happened, a decision police chief Gunderson sees as an opportunity to bring the Es under police control.

Dogged by police interference and pursuit Gray travels to Eden where all evidence of human settlement has disappeared, the landscape being as it had before the colonists arrived. Any humans their devices can image are naked. On landing the party is approached by three naked humans and then the landing ship plus the rescue expedition members’ clothes also disappear. The communication breakdown was occasioned by every human artefact being removed by such mysterious means. Moreover any attempt by humans to manipulate the environment is now subverted. They cannot rub sticks together to make fire. They do not even leave footprints in the sand. The humans can survive as there is no problem eating and drinking provided no artificial means are employed in so doing. Plants, berries, raw fish are all fine. In addition in this new dispensation, people cannot concentrate on one thing for very long. The pursuing police ship nevertheless is able to image the scenes on Eden. The pictures of naked humans are seized on by Gunderson as evidence of immorality and the lever which will allow him to bring the Es to heel.

This is one of the areas where the novel shows its age. Gender roles and attitudes are firmly those of the late 1950s, their universality and infinite application unquestioned. Despite near enough instantaneous interstellar travel – the journey from Earth to Eden does take time but it is in the order of hours, not years – and the communication between Earth and the ships round Eden is depicted as having no delay, photographs require chemical processing and development, not to mention physical storage space.

Attempts at further landings to make arrests are prevented by an invisible barrier. However, E Gray proves up to his task, it seems Eden was a kind of lure to bring such an individual to the planet. Under the influence of the powers that control Eden he discovers that far from reality being a matter of equality in mathematical terms as in e = mc2 (here rendered as E = MC2) it is more fundamentally due to proportionality rather than equality. Merely finding the right way to think about it enables Gray to begin to manipulate matter.

It is the story that drives this. The characters are barely two-dimensional, their motivations simple, their interactions perfunctory. Almost as an aside Clifton implies that self-centredness is the basis of human attitude and behaviour – which is a dubious assertion at best. However, the sentiment, “any police officer will swear to any lie to back up another police officer because he might need the favour returned tomorrow,” is probably applicable anywhere, anytime.

Pedant’s corner:- hiccough (hiccup, any comparison to a cough is misplaced,) meteorolgist (metereologist, used correctly later,) chisms (context implies schisms,) “had men ever been able to settle their differences, had man been able to get along peacefully with himself, he might have developed no civilization at all” (it’s a mistaken notion in the first place since civilisation – note the “s” in British English – is entirely due to cooperation between humans; but context demands “never” for that ‘ever”,) “collar and hames rubs on their necks” (harness rubs?) “a flock of shore birds were busy” (a flock was busy,) laying (lying – used correctly a couple of times later,) “the way a herd of animals take shelter” (takes shelter,) “right were to look” (where,) “the top administrative brass were assembled” (the top brass was assembled.) “The both of them listened” (Both of them listened; or, the pair of them listened,) “he told himself that all wasn’t lost” (that not all was lost,) “but all was not lost” (but not all was lost,) innured (inured.)

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

Illustrated by Pat Marriott.

Vintage, 2012, 290 p.

 Black Hearts in Battersea cover

This is a sequel of sorts to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. However it does not follow the fortunes of the two main characters from that book but rather those of their friend Simon. He has received a message from Dr Field containing an invitation to take up a place at a school of drawing in London and to lodge in the same house as himself. However, when Simon reaches Rose Alley no-one admits to knowing the Doctor. He was first met there by Dido Twite, a perky child, though neglected by her parents. It soon becomes apparent that underhand activities are taking place in the house. Mr Twite sings Hanoverian songs (in this setting the Stuarts were never displaced from the British throne that second time) and Simon inadvertently stumbles on a stash of guns in the basement.

In the meantime Simon has enrolled in the Art School and encountered Justin, the heir to the Dukedom of Battersea, and a very poor artist, despite artistic ability running in the family. Also in Simon’s orbit is Sophie, his friend from the orphanage back home, who is now the Duchess’s lady’s maid. The Duke is an eccentric who befriends Simon through the medium of chess and asks him to clean one of his paintings. This, it turns out, has a representation of a Battersea ancestor to whom both Sophie and Simon bear a strong resemblance. It is immediately obvious where this is going and Aiken does not disappoint. In its working out, as befits a YA novel, we have breathless incident galore – a fire in a box at the opera, a sinking barge, shanghaiing, hot–air balloons, possibly poisoned mince pies, a gunpowder plot – before the villains are unmasked and the world brought to rights. (Well, most of it.) The characters are necessarily broad-brush but recognisable human types nevertheless. Yet quite why a putative James III (even if he would have been the eighth King of Scotland of that name) would be described as a Scottish gentleman, have a Scottish accent and speech patterns is beyond me. He would have been brought up as an English gentleman.

The book is slightly marred by its illustrations being misplaced so that they often occur just before the incident which they depict but it is all good fun.

Pedant’s corner:- “to show this good intentions” (his,) hoboy (hautboy. I suppose the spelling “hoboy” may have been adopted to avoid flummoxing Aiken’s younger readers but it is still wrong,) a missing full stop, topsy-turvey (topsy-turvy,) “the whole party were in charity with one another (the whole party was,) knit (knitted.)

Harlan Ellison

Yesterday’s print edition of the Guardian contained the obituary of Harlan Ellison, one of the most influential Science Fiction writers of the 1960s and 70s.

Much of his most imporatnt work came in the form of short stories ‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and A Boy and his Dog being only three which immediately spring to mind. He also wrote an award winning Start Trek episode, The City on the Edge of Forever (but was unhappy with alterations the show’s controllers made to the script) and many other TV episodes .

He won no fewer than eight Hugo Awards plus four Nebula Awards and many more nominations.

He was also the begetter of the anthologies Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions which promoted the Nrew Wave style of writing. A third book The Last Dangerous Visions was projected and stories sought – and submitted – but it never appeared, leading to some acrimony.

He could be hard to get along with and indulged in many quarrels. His personal behaviour was certainly far from beyond reproach raising the question as to how is it possible to separate the personality of an artist from his or her work.

But his work will linger in the memory.

Harlan Jay Ellison: 27/5/1934 – 28/6/2018. So it goes.

The New Road by Neil Munro

B & W, 1994, 353 p, plus v p Introduction by Brian D Osborne. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

The New Road cover

Another Scottish novel which scratches the Jacobite itch, though this time fairly tangentially. The setting, 1733 or 1734, in that period between Marr’s 1715 rebellion, the even more abortive 1819 rising, and that of Charles Edward Stuart in 1745 is an unusual one though. It is the time when General Wade’s project of building roads to help pacify the Highlands is well underway, thus giving the book its title.

Æneas Macmaster (yes, the spelling does have the ligature) has been denied his inheritance by his father Paul’s unwise decision to partake in the 1819 rising even though dying in the aftermath of the Battle of Glen Shiel. The present laird of Drimdorran House, Alexander Duncanson, has nevertheless engaged him as tutor in Cæsar’s Gallic Wars to his daughter, Margaret, and his ward. One evening Æneas’s pupils fail to turn up for their lesson and he tracks Margaret down to Drimdorran’s dovecote, where she is evidently awaiting an assignation. A mysterious figure prowls around outside and when Æneas is brought before Duncanson, it is apparent the laird is far from pleased with him as he is unable to explain the night’s affairs without compromising Margaret, which he is too gentlemanly to do. This leads to Æneas undertaking a journey north to enhance the business interests of his uncle Alan-Iain-Alan-Ogg, in the company of Ninian Campbell, an agent of the government. Eschewing the New Road, the pair duck and weave through the hills and on to Inverness. Along the way many adventures and scrapes befall them, arousing inevitable echoes of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. It is here the story diverges from that template, though, as comments made to them raise doubts as to the circumstances of Æneas’s father’s death.

The foray to Lord Lovat’s Dounie Castle and the possibility of that gentleman’s potential treachery turn out – despicable character though he may be – to be incidental to the book’s main thrust, which becomes increasingly concerned with Ninian’s efforts to uncover the true story behind the demise of the older Macmaster and the younger’s disinheritance.

Despite the landscape of the West Highlands being described in detail (landscape is a recurring feature of Scots literature) scarcely three pages are set on the new road itself, (while the two are making their way back to Inveraray) though the opportunity – again as in much Scottish literature – is taken to lament the passing of the old, to decry the incursion of the modern. Yet Ninian observes that the new road in turn will one day be superseded and have its own ghosts.

Pedant’s corner:- in the back cover puff Macmaster is spelled MacMaster. In the text General Wade is referred to as Marshal, a rank he did not actually acquire till 1743. Otherwise; Æneas’ (Æneas’s,) “tha baffling visitation” (the,) Forbes’ (Forbes’s,) a missing comma before a quote x 2, “said Æneas, Still dubious” (still,) “Sim ’s” (Sim’s,) hoised sail (hoisted?) years ago ’s (ago’s,) coud (could,) “were ‘stretch thy hand! ’”” (“were ‘stretch thy hand!’”) “my lord ’s no’ worth a docken” (lord’s no’ worth,) “were better than the old, He” (the old. He.)

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Tachyon, 2016, 277 p.

 Central Station cover

Central Station is a giant spaceport situated between Arab Jaffa and Jewish Tel Aviv. The incidents of the book occur under its shadow but the station itself is curiously absent from the narrative, we do not see inside it as such, it is merely a backdrop.

The book is filled with a multitude of Science-Fictional concepts, a kind of mind-vampire known as strigoi; robots yearning to be human; characters with augmentation; a third essential component of a human along with sperm and egg, the node seed, enabling people always to be in connection; a family, the Chongs, with memories passed on from generation to generation. The text is also sprinkled with references to previous works or authors of SF. There is an Elronite Centre for the Advancement of Humankind, mentions of Louis Wu, Jubjub birds, sandworms, the Up and Out, Mother Hitton, Shambleau, Glimmung, all of which will be decoded easily by aficionados. And the cover is not without its button-pushing charms.

The setting is a welcome antidote to the mainly US-centred concerns of the genre up to recent times and Tidhar deserves appreciation for championing SF from outwith the usual sources.

However, there is something disjointed about the book as a whole, no ongoing narrative drive, as there is little by way of plot. This is perhaps due to the book’s prior incarnation as a set of stories sharing the same milieu (and characters,) published in different outlets between 2011 and 2013 – with two original to these pages. This is not an objection that could be levelled at the same author’s Bookman Histories nor the other novels of his I have read, Osama and A Man Lies Dreaming, but it is a hindrance to full engagement with the text. There is, perhaps, just too much going on, not enough exploration or development of the individual ideas to give a completely satisfying whole.

He is an author to look for though.

Pedant’s corner:- On the map at the beginning; chryogenic (cryogenic.) Otherwise; Mama Jones’ (Mama Jones’s,) a missing full stop at the end of a piece of direct speech, automatons (strictly, automata,) Venusian Fly Trap (this being SF it might be Venusian but the earth-bound version is a Venus fly trap.) “She had hid” (she had hidden, plus a later instance of “had hid”,) sunk (sank,) a greengrocers’ (a greengrocer’s,) moyel (I’ve only seen this before as moyle,) “could convert food and drink into energy” (um; no. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; only transformed from one kind into another. Food and drink already contain [chemical] energy, bodies convert that to heat, movement, electricity etc as required,) lacrimal apparatus (lachrymal,) “a simulacra” (one of these is a simulacrum, several instances,) a full stop where a question mark was required, “reversed engineered” (reverse engineered,) mazal tov (several instances yet later is in the more familiar form “mazel tov”.)

Interzone 275, May-Jun 2018

TTA Press

Interzone 275 cover

Steven J Dines’s Editorial describes the unlikely role of father figure which fiction took in his young life. Andy Hedgecoock takes over Jonathan McCalmont’s Future Interrupted column and hopes to continue his search for SF “that is of value and worthy of our time”. In Time Piecesa Nina Allan looks at the abiding relevance of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

In Book Zone Maureen Kincaid Speller found herself disappointed and frustrated by Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous, Duncan Lunan reviews two anthologies edited by Mike Ashley Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures and Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet welcoming some of the choices made and questioning others and laterb looks very favourably on Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima, Duncan Lawiec says he won’t persevere with any sequels to Tristan Palmgren’s Quietus, Ian Hunter findsd The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer hindered by its first person narrative, Andy Hedgecock warmly welcomes Ursula Le Guin’s collection of non-fiction Dreams Must Explain Themselves, Stephen Theaker laments the enduring topicality of Middle-Eastern woes in his look at The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, Elaine Gallagher praises Kirsty Logan’s The Gloaming while I myself find Chris Barnham’s Fifty-One diverting and Andrew Crumey’s The Great Chain of Unbeing totally accomplished. Finally Ian Sales says the stories in the Australian Sean McMullen’s collection Dreams of the Technarion do what SF ought to as it contains a wide range of ideas thoroughly worked out.

In the fiction, Erika L Satifka’s The Fate of the World Reduced to a Ten-Second Pissing Contest is set in a bar which has been abducted into a gap in reality – contents, patrons and all – by aliens with a taste for alcohol.
In Looking for Landau1 by Steven J Dines a man wanders the earth in search of Landau, who introduces people to the gateway to the next world.
The Mark2 by Abi Hynes can be read as a comment on how women are perceived in some quarters as not quite being human. A member of a seemingly uniform far future community (where reproduction has been a technological process now failing) flees up a mountain to escape the consequences of deformity. It soon becomes apparent she has given birth and the bundle she is carrying with her is the child.
The Purpose of the Dodo is to be Extinct3 by Malcolm Devlin is a quasi-philosophical piece centred round a man who dies at the same time in every separate reality (though in different ways depending on each.)
The Christ Loop4 by Leo Vladimirsky is narrated by a Jesus who undergoes every kind of execution possible, and is debriefed after each one in order to discern which will finally be enough to satisfy God.
It is a bit odd that these last two stories both feature the multiple deaths of their main character.

Pedant’s corner:- adescendent (descendant.) bOne Day in the Life of Ian Denisovitch (Ian?) Star Trek – Next Generation (Star Trek – The Next Generation) cIain M Banks’ (Iain M Banks’s,) populus (populace.) d“will not except him as a son” (accept.) 1stood (standing,) focussed (focused.) “A pair of women’s panties sit on the crumpled roof” (a pair sits.) 2“They lay Uncle down” (laid.) 3Iron Bridge (Ironbridge,) “the manner of Prentis O’Rourke’s deaths were documented” (the manners …. were documented,) Mechano (Meccano,) busses (buses.) 4Written in USian, “if they just left all the other me” (all the other me’s,) a question mark at the end of a statement.

Gardner Dozois

I found out from George R R Martin’s blog this week that sometime Science Fiction writer, editor and anthologist Gardner Dozois (editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine for 20 years from 1984-2004 and of the annual The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies 1984-2017 – in other words every single one of those so far – has died.

His influence on the field was therefore enormous.

I never met him but did send him a story or two (which he rejected graciously.)

His presence will be greatly missed.

Gardner Raymond Dozois: 23/7/1947 – 27/5/2018. So it goes.

When Galaxies Collide

“Two thousand million or so years ago two galaxies were colliding; or, rather, were passing through each other,” is the first sentence of E E ‘Doc’ Smith‘s Triplanetary, the first in his Lensman series. I read it at an impressionable young age and that sentence has stuck with me ever since, probably because the concept struck my young mind as awesome. (Awesome in the British sense and not as our USian cousins use the term, almost as a throwaway.)

Smith wasn’t the greatest stylist (he wasn’t a stylist at all) and his characterisation was rudimentary but he more or less invented space opera. About the only things I can remember about the Lensman series is that first sentence and the frequently repeated call sign (no doubt modelled on William Joyce as “Lord Haw-Haw“) “This is Helmuth, speaking for Boskone.”

Anyway, this, from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for 23/5/18, is a picture of two galaxies (NGC 4038 and NGC 4039) colliding; or, rather, passing through each other, not two thousand million years ago but for the last 100 million at least.

NGC 4038 and NGC 4039 Colliding

The two galaxies are known as the antennae. A wider angle (which was featured on APOD on 29/4/2011) shows why.

The Antennae

Kate Wilhelm

I discovered yesterday that SF author, antholgist and encourager of others through the Clarion workshops and Milford Writers’ Conference, Kate Wilhelm, died earlier this year.

She was one of the few women who published Science Fiction under her own name in those far off days of the 1960s. And she was good, nominated for many awards, winning several including the Hugo for best novel in 1977 for Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.

The only one of her books I have featured on my blog is Somerset Dreams and Other Fictions.

Kate Wilhelm: 8/6/1928 – 8/3/2018. So it goes.

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