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Creating a Fictional World

Two articles caught my eye in Saturday’s Guardian Review.

The cover piece was by Naomi Alderman and discussed feminist Science Fiction with reference to its warning nature and the threat recent political events present to the potential of women being treated on an equal basis with men. Of particular interest here was the revelation to me of part of the background to Ursula Le Guin’s childhood where her parents had taken in the last survivor of the Native American Yani people about whom Le Guin’s mother wrote a book. The implication is that exposure to other ways of thinking than what otherwise surrounded her opened up perspectives which Le Guin was able to transform into her fiction. Margaret Atwood too spent parts of her childhood outside the comforts of civilisation, while Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr) travelled in Africa as a child coming into contact with various groups. Alderman uses the example of her own novel The Power to illustrate that the nature of a utopia/dystopia is dependent on viewpoint.

Further on there was an odd piece by Scarlett Thomas on her conversion to the delights and magic of children’s fiction.

What got me here was the sentence, “But it turns out that creating a fictional world is a very complex act” in a “who knew?” context.

Well, duh. Only every Science Fiction or fantasy writer who ever tried it.

Behind the sentence’s remarkable blindness presumably stood Thomas’s previous implicit view that such creators are not real writers and anything fantastical does not warrant serious attention.

Still, it seems she’s got over that now.

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

Gollancz, 2010, 330 p

Yellow Blue Tibia cover

Emblazoned across this book’s cover is ‘Should have won the 2009 Booker Prize’ – Kim Stanley Robinson. Rather a large claim to make and considering the novel spends some time mentioning and discussing Science Fiction and the existence or not of aliens – an automatic disbarment one would have thought – a forlornly hopeful one at best. (I note a certain amount of possible mutual back-scratching going on here as Roberts praised Robinson’s latest novel in his recent Guardian review.)

Yellow Blue Tibia, unusually for a piece of Western SF, is set entirely in the Soviet Union and starts when a group of Soviet SF writers is invited to meet comrade Stalin and asked to come up with a scenario of alien invasion to provide an enemy for the state to rally the people against. Their concept of radiation aliens becomes fleshed out but then they are told to forget the whole thing and never mention it again to anyone. Narrator Konstantin Skvorecky, former SF writer and veteran of the Great Patriotic War, recalls this from the perspective of the glasnost and perestroika era of 1986 when he once again meets a member of that original group, Ivan Frenkel, and weird things begin to happen.

The novel contains several nods to works of SF, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy etc, and frequent discussions of the form, ‘the worlds created by a science fictional writer do not deny the real world; they antithesise it!’
But what are we to make of this exchange?
“‘Communism is science fiction.’
‘And vice versa.’
‘I can think of many American writers of science fiction who would be insulted to think so.’
‘Perhaps they do not fully understand the genre in which they are working.’”

Frenkel is attempting to convince Skvorecky that UFOs are real, are in effect all around us, that in accordance with the scenario dreamed up by Stalin’s conclave of SF writers an alien invasion is under way. Skvorecky is initially sceptical, “‘Marx called religion the opium of the people… But at least opium is a high-class drug. UFO religion? That’s the methylated spirits of the people. It’s the home-still beetroot-alcohol of the people.’” To help persuade him Frenkel has Skvorecky meet two US Scientologists, James Tilly Coyne, and Nora Dorman – with whom Skvorecky falls in love mainly, it seems, because she is well-proportioned. In the end, though, Skvorecky tells us, “There are no secrets in this book… it is drawing your attention to that which is hidden in plain view all the time.”

Supposedly comedic interludes are provided by Saltykov – a taxi driver who has a condition, an extreme form of Asperger’s syndrome – and cannot bear contact with another man. He continually harps on about this and repeatedly says, ‘Do not talk to the driver. It’s a distraction.’ Roberts making one of Saltykov’s utterances, ‘I like to keep my engine clean. It’s a clean machine,’ is, though, certainly an authorial allusion to Penny Lane. Then we have the rather plodding KGB heavy, Trofim, who dogs Skvorecky more or less throughout.

This is the first time on reading Roberts that he has made me laugh. This came during an exchange in Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 (the aliens are apparently intending to blow this up, Skvorecky to find the bomb) when Trofim says, “It’s fallen in the water!”. But then I suppose, strictly speaking, since it’s a Goon Show quote (“He’s fallen in the water” – audio sample here, towards the bottom of the page) it was actually Spike Milligan making me laugh.

Skvorecky leads a charmed life, surviving many threatening situations, not least with Trofim. The UFO hypothesis suggests his survival is due to the superposition of states, of what Roberts dubs realitylines.

So why Yellow Blue Tibia? Apparently “yellow, blue, tibia” approximates to a phonetic declaration of “I love you” in Russian, a phrase which Skvorecky teaches to Dora. Unfortunately the book states that the tibia is a bone in the arm. The tibia is actually in the leg, along with the femur and the fibia; the bones of the arm are the humerus, the radius and the ulna. This is a pretty egregious mistake to make when the word tibia is in your book’s title.

It is undeniably all very cleverly done but again there is that distancing feeling attached to Roberts’s writing. Skvorecky claims to be in love with Dora but as a reader I couldn’t really feel it.

Apart from that could Yellow Blue Tibia have won the 2009 Booker Prize? Given the literary world’s prejudices – even though some of its denizens have taken to appropriating the tropes of the genre – never.

And should it have? In a word, no. Look at the short list.

Pedant’s corner:- for you next appointment (your,) paleoarcheological (palaeoarchaeological,) a stigmata (stigmata is plural, the singular is stigma,) a missing opening quote mark, sat (seated, or sitting,) “the spindle-wheels of the cassette again began turning again” (only one “again” required here,) span (spun – which appeared later,) “covered with the chocolate brown patches” (these patches had not previously been mentioned; so “covered with chocolate brown patches”,) a missing full stop at the end of a piece of dialogue, “we spent out energies” (our energies,) sprung (sprang.) “‘What am I suppose to do now?’” (supposed,) liquorish (liquorice. This is the second time I have seen liquorish for liquorice in a Roberts book. Does he really believe liquorish is the correct spelling?) “‘She was the middle of’” (in the middle of,) cesium (caesium, please,) trunk (of a car; previously “boot” had been used,) “‘Use you fucking head.’” (your,) “The air around me was less atmosphere and more immersion, or preparation was of a multiple spectral shift.” (????) “when accounts … becomes more frequent” (become. )

Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February 2017

Dell Magazines

Asimov's Jan-Feb 2017 cover

Sheila Williams’s Editorial hails Asimov’s 40th year of publication, Robert Silverberg’s Reflections solicits two cheers for Piltdown Man, James Patrick Kelly’s On the Net: Ask Me Anything compares various digital assistants, in On Books1 Paul di Filippo reviews eight books (including one I have reviewed for Interzone.) I was under the impression that Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station was a fix-up novel. di Filippo writes about it as if unaware of this.
As to the fiction. In Crimson Birds of Small Miracles2 by Sean Monaghan the father of a daughter with a terminal brain disease takes her and her sister to see Shilinka Switalla’s artwork, a flock of robot birds doing murmurations, as these excursions seem to help her. This story had an illustration of a strange attitude to wealth. The father has a good business, can afford increasingly complex prosthetics for his sick daughter, can take his children to various different planets but reckons he could never be rich in the monetary sense. Yet he quite clearly is.
Tagging Bruno3 by Allen Steele. On Coyote, a moon in the system 47-Uma, a former soldier is roped in to act as guide on a project to tag an indigenous bird-like species (boids) dangerous to humans but under threat of extinction due to human hunting activity. It goes quite well till the expedition encounters a flock which turns the tables on them.
Still Life with Abyss by Jim Grimsley is set in a project researching the only individual in all the multiple universes who has never caused a fork in time.
In Fatherbond by Tom Purdow, new arrivals on a colony planet begin to work against the entity which seeks to restrict their actions. (It’s tempting to read this as a metaphor for the pre-Revolutionary government of North America which forbade expansion westwards, the desire to overthrow which ban -rather than the confected protest about taxation – being the true reason for the War of Independence.)
Winter Timeshare4 by Ray Nayler shows us the annual meeting of two people who inhabit bodies (dubbed blanks) for their one holiday each year which is always in Istanbul, whose surrounding hills are the location for sending volunteers on a one-way trip to space. Despite their purchasing power blanks are resented by the “normal” locals. For a reason not particularly obvious the job of one of our protagonists involves simulating the Peloponnesian War.
Two young girls in the LA area in Lisa Goldstein’s The Catastrophe of Cities investigate strange houses wherein they glimpse oddly shaped people and passageways lead elsewhere. They drift apart on puberty, one seemingly dropping out of existence. In much later life the other seeks her out.
Robert R Chase’s Pieces of Ourselves5 is the tale of a survivor of a terrorist attack on a moon base who may have assimilated character traits as a result of her experience.
Jack Skillingstead’s Destination6 features a man who has not been outside the confines of his gated work community since being plucked from his childhood home after displaying high aptitude being told by his bosses to take part in the game Destination, essentially a mystery tour by taxi. Outside is not what he thought.
The Meiosis of Cells and Exile by Octavia Cade is structured around the life of Soviet biochemist and neuroscientist Lina Stern. On a train to exile in Dzhambul her body buds sequentially (or else she hallucinates) three of her former selves, the Academician, the Child, and the Scientist. Each is equated with a function of the blood-brain barrier.
Starphone by Stephen Baxter is set in a post ocean-rise world where flood refugees are kept inside domes. Some teenagers plan a short escape to test the Fermi Paradox by making an Allen Array with their mobile phones.
In Blow Winds, and Crack Your Cheeks7 by John Alfred Taylor a couple celebrates the last time it will be safe to witness a storm at their island home. The damage it causes is still substantial even though the hurricane’s eye passes thirty miles out from shore.
Robert Reed’s The Speed of Belief8 is a tale of three entities, two immortals with bioceramic brains, one normal human, on their way to a planet where the rivers are sentient. I really couldn’t make much of this. Perhaps I was too tired when I read it.

Pedant’s corner:- 1 again di Filippo uses stefnal for science-fictional – it still looks odd to me, “compare that man to somewhat callow fellow” (to the somewhat callow fellow.) 2a dark red button-front jumper (a dark red cardigan, then?) base reliefs (bas-reliefs, I think,) 378.2 inches (how can you decimalise a non-metric unit?) “a small red crosshairs” (a implies singular, crosshairs is surely plural; there was “a green crosshairs” later,) “Carbon testing of boid skeletons had shown they could live as long as thirty-five years” (leaving aside the question of whether 14C would exist on this world at all, unless the carbon testing is somewhat different from on Earth it could do no such thing; 14C dating only yields the time elapsed since death,) a missing end quote mark, sole causality (casualty.) 4Bosporus (I only ever saw Bosphorus when I was young,) causal (casual was intended.) 5 “started at her intently” (stared.) 6 “an approved media” (it was one of the social media; so medium.) 7grille (grill, used earlier in the story.) 8 “with every sort of creatures” (creature.) “But the dense native air was heavily oxygenated, and the bedrock had been scorched clean of its forests and soil.” (This is stated to have been done by wildfires. The oxygen would have to be remnant then as there will be nothing to replenish it,) “carefully tailored frame: The long body” (no capital at “the”.) “Mere notice what was different” (noticed,) forbad (the usual form is forbade.)

Interzones 269 and 270

 The Stars Are Legion cover
Interzone 269 cover

Interzone 269 arrived today.

It contains my review of The Mountains of Parnassus by Czesław Miłosz.

A few days ago I received The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley.

That review is due soon for Interzone 270.

Shoreline of Infinity 2: Winter 2015/16

Science Fiction Magazine from Scotland, The New Curiosity Shop, 106 p.

Shoreline of Infinity 2 cover

This issue is larger than the first. Each story (bar one) still has its own piece of artwork and title page but the story text now starts about one-sixth down the page instead of at the top, with the first paragraph in a larger font size than the rest. The Interview1 is with Duncan Lunan whose work also features in SF Caledonia. Steve Green’s Border Crossings rues the modern tendency for excessive strip-mining of previous creative endeavours, in both fiction and film. Reviews2 looks at Poems by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod plus five other books, one of which I have marked for reading another of which I have read and liked much less than the reviewer and one I saw in embryo when it was workshopped by the East Coast Writer’s Group. The poetry theme is maintained with a new dedicated section, MultiVerse,3 edited by Russell Jones, which here takes the form of 2 poems apiece by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod.
In the fiction “We Sell Seashells”4 by Ryan L Daly has a prospector for mind-altering seashells finding her biggest one yet. It isn’t what she expects.
In Citizen Erased5 by Bethany Ruth Anderson, a married couple agree to take part in a process of memory extraction.
Megan Neumann’s Charlie, A Projecting Prestidigitator is an android who gives performances akin to the circus except with holographic projections. He/it finds sanctuary/fulfilment among children on a scrapheap.
Purgatory6 by Michael Fontana circles back on itself a trifle too predictably as two men roll the bones and confront each other in an
In Death Do Us Part7 by Tyler Petty the resurrection technology of the Wilton Foundation means risky endeavours are survivable Our married couple take it in turns to die – or kill each other.
Reliquaries8 by Steve Simpson. The Superior War has degraded civilisation. A spaceship has landed in South America and is compulsively attracting the remains of the population.
The very short Vanity by Kathy Steinemann has its artwork and title on the one page and its text barely fills one other. It is narrated by the purveyor of a rejuvenation treatment which is partly a con.
Anton Rose’s The Republic of David features a malfunctioning matter transmitter which keeps churning out copies of David at the colony on the receiving end.
A Season of Want by Ken Poyner is set in the cybernetic afterlife of the very rich who can afford such procedures.
In The Child With Wings9 by Ann Craig people on an underground train are enchanted by a young girl, with wings, who is also making the journey and may be a ghost or an angel,
In Last Days in the Nanotech War10 by Duncan Lunan nanotech biological implants have gone haywire, forcing updates voraciously on their hosts.

1the the (one “the”,) “That seem to me” (seems,) 2Banks’ (Banks’s,) a missing full stop, “and are all invoked” (the “and” should be before the last of the list of names given earlier,) “Ward Moore Bring the Jubilee” (Ward Moore’s,) to questions the ways (question,) 3and In “Sobieski’s Shield” (either in; or “In Sobieski’s Shield”,) “I first men” (met,) Banks’ (Banks’s,) “there’s a verge of danger and bout of war about them” (no, sorry. Can’t parse that at all.) 4Written in USian, rarified (rarefied,) spectrums (spectra,) “a trail of mucous” (mucous is an adjective; the noun is mucus.) 5in hopes that (in the hope that,) scrapping (scraping,) “than the songs lasts” (song; or, last) sat (seated; or, sitting,) “Naomi gathered up her back” (???? Context suggests bag.) 6Written in USian, “He had took” (taken,) pablum (pabulum,) “‘Why’d you let me up?’ He asked.” (‘Why’d you let me up?’ he asked,) a missing paragraph indent. 7Written in USian. Mills (Mills’s – which had appeared a few lines before.) 8Written in USian, or perhaps Aussie given the author’s address, ”shattered moonlets shone down on the tideless Atlantic” (even without the Moon there would still be tides, the Sun would still pull the Earth’s water towards it,) serra??? (sierra made more sense) callouses (calluses,) a missing end quotation mark. 9Every dialogue quote -barring two which end their respective sentences – is without the comma before the end quote mark, its (x 2, it’s.) 10insured (ensured,) “over the top” (not at Mons. The trench system hadn’t developed by then.)

Shoreline of Infinity 1: Summer 2015

Science Fiction Magazine from Scotland, The New Curiosity Shop, 104 p.

Shoreline of Infinity 1 cover

Apart from the fiction, in this first issue of a new venture there is an interview with Charles Stross; Steve Green’s column Border Crossings1 discusses two SF films made mostly in Glasgow over twenty years apart, Bertrand Tavernier’s Death Watch adapted from D G Compton’s The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe and Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s Under the Skin; in SF Caledonia – John Buchan SF writer,2 Paul Cockburn examines that writer’s SF credentials. Reviews3 discusses five books.

The fiction is varied in scope. Each story has its own one-page art work and a title page to itself. Internal illustrations accompany some others.
More fantasy than SF, The Three Stages of Atsushi4 by Larry Ivkovich is set in Japan in 1531. A woman whose son, Omasu, was swept away in a flood the year before petitions the God Amaterasu to bring him back to life. A strange man in odd armour appears with an entourage of samurai and helps her (in stages,) for Omasu has a destiny.
In Alex Barr’s very well written The Spiral Moon5 a woman astronaut whose mission has suffered a catastrophic failure sets out to circumnavigate the small planetoid she is on, eventually hallucinating as she succumbs to oxygen starvation.
Symbiosis6 by Colleen Anderson has another member of a doomed space mission, on a planet this time, trying to survive by going native. The story’s ending is fantastical rather than SF.
The protagonist of See You Later7 by M Luke McDonnell gets herself a set of AR lenses to match the ones her husband needed for work and finds the settings he uses for his something of a surprise.
In what is intended to be a humorous piece, but is far too over the top to be so, David Perlmutter’s The Brat and the Burly Qs8 gives us an alien superhero, who is part mechanical, flying to Mars to apprehend a wrongdoer whom it has sent to jail once already.
Approaching 43,000 Candles9 by Guy T Martland. Controlled by the Moon, time is switched off once a year, and British Lighthouses travel to attend a conference. At one of these, Voth, from the Isles of Scilly, overhears the Bishop Rock and two other Cornish Lighthouses planning a shut down so that the Bishop’s much needed maintenance will be expedited.
In Broken Glass by Joseph L Kellogg, Slide Stations allow travel between five parallel worlds. RedBrian envies the other Brians who all have their Pats as lifetime companions.
In TimeMachineStory10 by Richmond A Clements a man goes back (and forward) in time but the effects aren’t what he expected.
The extremely short, almost throwaway, Cleanup on Deck 7 by Claire Simpson features a new female crew member on a spaceship under attack seeking refuge in a cupboard with only solvents and bleach available to her as weapons.
Space11 by John Buchan is one of Buchan’s Leithen stories where that gentleman relates to a companion on a deer shoot the tale of his acquaintance Hollond, who forms a theory that so-called empty space is full of “mathematical pandemonium” with “halls and alleys in Space shifting .. according to inexorable laws” and there are Presences within it.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Good Friday isn’t – and never has been – a public holiday in Scotland, PBS’ (PBS’s,) embue (imbue,) 2Given in the contents as page 82, it’s actually page 80. 3Stross’ (Stross’s,) “for an entertaining a ‘management team for dummies’” (one indefinite article is enough,) “their alien mind set giving homo sapien the chance” (either homo sapiens or homo sapien) 4Written in USian, a missing start quote at the beginning of a paragraph, thusly (thusly??? What sort of a word is that?) 5CO2 (it’s CO2.) 6While their normal prey is referred to as herbivores the planet’s top predators are described as cats. However they appear they would not be cats. They are alien. Ditto the so-called trees. “The night painted the blood a sinister substance” (substance? Colour surely?) “Keela tramped determinably” (?? Determinedly, I think.) 7Written in USian. 8Written in USian; on their own free will (of their own free will,) synthetic water (????) embarrasing (embarrassing,) said my peace (my piece that would be,) sat (seated; or sitting,) liquid mercury (even piping hot at normal atmospheric pressure it has no other option but to be liquid, it doesn’t boil till 357 oC) jail-after (jail after.) 9And anyways (a Scot – even if a lighthouse – would say anyway, not anyways,) “couldn’t see more that a few yards” (more than.) 10“there’ll be cure in the end” (a cure,) one sentence had two full stops at its end, Arch Duke Ferdinand (Archduke.) 11caldron (cauldron,) “as keen is a keen sword” (as keen as; or, as keen as is,) Prescences (Presences,) Holland (always Hollond elsewhere,) a missing start quote when a piece of dialogue continues after a narrative interpolation, plus a missing end quote at its end, and another at the end of a paragraph where the next was not a continuation of speech.

The Colour of Television

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

What do you make of the above sentence?*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Year’s BSFA Awards Short Lists

The lists have been published here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tade Thompson The Apologists (Interzone #266)

Aliya Whiteley The Arrival of Missives (Unsung Stories)

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

Dream Paris by Tony Ballantyne

Solaris, 2015, 443 p.

 Dream Paris cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Travel, Reviews, Hame and Rebellions

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

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

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

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

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

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