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SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (iii)

Another for Judith Reader in the Wilderness‘s meme.

This week, the remainder of my SF hardbacks. Click pictures to enlarge them.

More Ian McDonald, China Miéville, Christopher Priest, Keith Roberts, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Silverberg, a book of Art Deco posters which fits in nowhere else.

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iii)

On another shelf entirely, standing next to the above. This contains books by my not so secret SF vice, Harry Turtledove, plus one Gene Wolfe, among others. Above, on its side, is a book containing illustrated Bernie Taupin lyrics for early Elton John songs:-

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iv)

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (ii)

Large SF paperbacks this week for Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.

I keep these in an old music cupboard I inherited from my great-uncle. I’ve got so many of these they have to be double-parked, so you can’t actually see the first and third shelves shown here when the cupboard is opened. Stacking some on their sides gives me an extra 4 cm of space. Click on the photos to enlarge the pictures.

These include a J G Ballard, Iain M Banks, Chris Beckett, Eric Brown, Ursula Le Guin and Ian McDonald:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (i)

Annoyingly, even these large paperbacks do not all come in one size. The upright ones to the right here are smaller than the previous books. More McDonald, Tim Powers, Kim Stanley Robertson, Adam Roberts, Hannu Rajaniemi, a lesser Robert Silverberg, Kurt Vonnegut:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (ii)

More Ballard, Banks, Beckett and Brown. Lavie Tidhar, Neil Williamson and another step down in size:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (iii)

John Crowley, M John Harrison, Dave Hutchinson, Stanisław Lem:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (iv)

2020 Hugo Awards Shortlists

The shortlists for this year’s Hugo Awards have been announced. Amazingly I have actually read some of these (the ones in bold the one also in italics as an extract only, in the BSFA Awards 2019 booklet) – partly due to Interzone, but also becasue I read Ted Chiang’s collection Exhalation towards the end of last year.

Since the Worldcon (at which these awards are presented) which was to take place in New Zealand has been cancelled for attendees I assume the ceremony will now have to be virtual, as will the con itself.

The nominations are:-

Best Novel

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)

Best Novella

“Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))
The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga Press/Gallery)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Saga Press; Jo Fletcher Books)
To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager; Hodder & Stoughton)

Best Novelette

“The Archronology of Love”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019)
“Away With the Wolves”, by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019)
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)
Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon))
“For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019)
“Omphalos”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))

Best Short Story

“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
“As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)
“A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
“Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)

Best Series

The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)
Luna, by Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
Planetfall series, by Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
The Wormwood Trilogy, by Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

New Review

 The Menace From Farside cover

Hot off the Press.

Also for Interzone 285 I will be reviewing Ian McDonald’s latest novella The Menace From Farside, one of his “Luna” stories of which I have read New Moon and Wolf Moon.

BSFA Awards for 2018

This year’s awards (for works published last year have been announced.)

Best Novel: Gareth L Powell for Embers of War

Best Shorter Fiction: Ian McDonald for Time Was

Best Non-Fiction: Aliette de Bodard for “On motherhood and erasure: people-shaped holes, hollow characters and the illusion of impossible adventures.”

Best Artwork: Likhain for “In the Vanishers’ Palace: Dragon I and II.”

The novel winner wasn’t my choice.

BSFA Awards Booklet 2018

BSFA, 2019, 104 p.

BSFA Award Booklet for 2018

It would appear from the nominations for shorter fiction appearing in this year’s booklet that the SF short story is dead. Barring the last in the booklet none of the shortlisted stories is printed in its entirety. The others are all extracts from longer pieces of fiction.
Nina Allan’s The Gift of Angels: an introduction1 is narrated by a Science Fiction writer, whose mother was the first person on Mars but whose fate remains unknown, and tells what appears to be his life story. The tale riffs on and critiques the films La Jetée and Twelve Monkeys. Allan has a beautiful writing touch. I did want to find the longer version to finish it. The story, though, refers to Harry Potter and Game of Thrones as famous. I doubt these will be quite such cultural touchstones in the fifty years or so time when this is set as they are now.
I read The Purpose of the Dodo is to be Extinct by Malcolm Devlin in Interzone 275, where it was first published. I reviewed the issue it appeared in here.
The Land of Somewhere Safe3 by Hal Duncan is one of the author’s Scruffians stories. Here we have a wonderfully linguistically inventive tale (Dunstravaigin Castle is a brilliant coinage) involving wartime evacuees to Skye and a Nazi spy.
The magnificent Time Was by Ian McDonald I reviewed here.
Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries Vol 4)5 by Martha Wells is narrated by a murder bot apparently lured to a planet by an organisation that has sequestered its boss. The story suffers from being told to us rather than shown and did not grab me in the slightest.
Phosphorus6 by Liz Williams is set on Mars and the planet Winterstrike. One of its viewpoint characters is dead. However, the extract is not really long enough to judge whether its balance is askew or not nor to evaluate the story properly.
Kingfisher7 by Marian Womack is set in a future where wildlife is all but vanished and human births a rarity yet libraries seem to abound. Our protagonist is saddled with a useless tool of a husband, an abiding sense of failure and a fascination with birds. There is a hint of a writerly sensibility lurking underneath the prose but the story is riddled with a ridiculous number of errata.

The non-fiction nominees section contains two of Nina Allan’s “Time Pieces”a columns from Interzone, ditto for Ruth E J Booth’s Shoreline of Infinity essays published as “Noise and Sparks”, Liz Bourke has five of her “Sleeps with Monsters”b columns for Tor.com, Aliette de Bodard writes “On Motherhood and Erasure”c from the blog “Intellectus Speculativus” and there is an extract from Adam Roberts’s “Publishing and the Science Fiction Canon: The Case of Scientific Romance”d.

Pedant’s corner:- 1“A sinister band of scientists prey off” (a band preys off,) “sprung up” (sprang up,) “the museum has replacedtheir stash” (its stash,) “a cetain child .. finds themselves” (a child finds itself.) 3puntied in (punted?) argylle socks (argyle,) liptick (lipstick seems intended but liptick may be one of Duncan’s neologisms.) 5GrayCris’ (GrayCris’s.) 6governess’ (governess’s,) mistress’ (mistress’s,) “The scatter of hovels erected at the tip of the Tail were the last to fall behind..” (The scatter … was the last.) 7 “each bar offered their personal take” (each bar offered its personal take,) statues becomes statue several lines later, “a prevalent Sun descended” (a prominent Sun?) “it was frightening how comforting was to fall back into” (how comforting it was to.) “The library would pay for my librarianship degree on the sole condition that I came back to work for them for three or four years” (to work for it, or, to work there,) “climbing up thopusands of miles up in the air” (one ‘up’ too many,) a ‘seem’ where ‘seemed’ fits the other tenses in the sentence, “and they would let themselves been touched” (be touched,) “Jonas was better at cooking at me” (than me,) “scribbled in old pieces of reclaimed paper” (scribbled on,) “in a strangely elaborated [dream]” (elaborate.) “I looked a Jonas” (at Jonas.) “I fell a moment of void” (I felt.) “I had never knew whsat to do with it” (I had never known, or, I never knew,) although there were not fluff” (although they were not fluff,) “but they seem to accumulate” (seemed,) “when I notice a stain” (noticed,) “too look inside” (to look,) “the dinning room” (dining room,) “what they where for” (were for.) “Whener I don’t remember what it means to be sad I took it out and look at those pages” (either ‘remembered’, and ‘looked’, or, ‘take’,) “minus zero” (that would be zero, then,) “magazines cut-outs” (magazine cut-outs,) “I had tided them up” (tidied,) “plastics bags” (plastic bags.) “They were not native to the local fauna” (‘They were not native’, or, ‘they were not local fauna’,) “so effectively they had contaminated the environment” (so effectively had they contaminated the environment.)
a“are startling out of step” (startlingly.) b“I’m going to look at take two books together” (either ‘look at’ or ‘take’ not both, automatons (automata,) “Neither of them resolve anything” (neither of them resolves anything,) “[X]’s .. pregnancy …. and her feelings … is central to the narrative” (there’s an ‘and’ in there; that makes for a plural verb subject, so, ‘are central’.) “The poets are most affect by” (affected by.) c“are littered with the death of mothers” (deaths.) d“is comic-satiric impossible voyage” (is a comic-satiric impossible voyage,) “triple-decker length SF form this era” (from, I think,) “the content of which were published” (was published.)

BSFA Awards Nominees for this Year

This year’s short list has been announced.

Best Novel:-

Dave Hutchinson – Europe at Dawn

Yoon Ha Lee – Revenant Gun

Emma Newman – Before Mars

Gareth L Powell – Embers of War

Tade Thompson – Rosewater

I’ve not yet read any of these, I’m afraid.

Best Shorter Fiction:-

Nina Allan – The Gift of Angels: an Introduction

Malcolm Devlin – The Purpose of the Dodo is to be Extinct

Hal Duncan – The Land of Somewhere Safe

Ian McDonald – Time Was

Martha Wells – Exit Strategy

Liz Williams – Phosphorus

Marian Womack – Kingfisher

The Purpose of the Dodo is to be Extinct appeared in Interzone 275 (I reviewed that issue here) and I read Time Was in September.

Best Non-Fiction:-

Nina Allan – Time Pieces column 2018 articles

Ruth EJ Booth – Noise and Sparks column 2018 articles

Liz Bourke – Sleeps With Monsters column 2018 articles

Aliette de Bodard – On motherhood and erasure: people-shaped holes, hollow characters and the illusion of impossible adventures

Adam Roberts – Publishing the Science Fiction Canon: The Case of Scientific Romance

Of these I have of course read Nina Allan’s “Time Pieces” from Interzone and (some of) Ruth EJ Booth’s “Noise and Sparks” columns in Shoreline of Infinity.

I’m assuming the usual BSFA Booklet will be forthcoming giving me a chance to catch up on the shorter fiction, non-fiction and artwork. First I’ll need to get to tracking down the novels…..

Time Was by Ian McDonald

Tor, 2018, 138 p.

McDonald has always been a stylist. There has tended, though, to be a pyrotechnic quality to his poetically inclined prose, plus a certain knowingness. Knowingness isn’t entirely absent here, a pitch perfect novella in some contrast to his most recent Luna series (which tends to emphasise violence and power manœuvrings rather than relationships,) but it is always ruthlessly subordinated to the tale he is telling. Here the pyrotechnics have been reined in and the author shows an admirable restraint, total control. Everything is at the service of the story. Though there is still room for his sly allusions, I doubt there’s a spare word in its 138 pages. Before the inevitable deployment of the Science Fictional concepts underpinning the novella, the language used stands in comparison to that of anyone who has ever written fiction, the emotions conjured as poignant. My only caveat is that since it was published in the US it contains USianisms (‘ass’ for ‘arse’, ‘Dumpster’, ‘soccer’, ‘tires’ etc) and for a British reader the first two in particular immediately lift him or her straight out of the narrative. However, this is still the best piece of fiction I have read this year – and possibly for a long time beyond.

It is narrated mainly by Emmett Leigh, a bibliophile and bookseller who finds an odd book in the cast-offs of a bookshop which has gone out of business, inside which is enclosed a letter from one World War 2 soldier to another. A love letter. Other passages are extracts from a memoir by one of the two soldiers of his time in Shingle Street, engaged in a very hush-hush World War 2 project on the English coast.

Intrigued by both the book, Time Was – “A singular book,” which has “no author biography, no foreword, no afterword, no index or notes. No publisher’s address, no publication date. No clue to author,” – and the letter, Emmett sets about finding out more about the pair. This brings him into contact with Thorn Hildreth (who is twice greeted by the phrase, ‘Thorn thirtieth letter of the Icelandic alphabet,’ – I will merely note it is also, like yogh, a former letter in English both now defunct -) whose grandfather’s papers contained a photograph of the soldiers. Emmett contacts Shahrzad, a Persian émigré with the ability to recall not only faces but also where it was she first saw them. She identifies the pair of soldiers, Seligman and Chappell, in photographs taken in Gallipoli in 1915, and Goritsa in the war of the break-up of Yugoslavia. Pictures of Seligman and Chappell are also traced as far back as the Crimean War. By application of the normal distribution curve, Emmett eventually reasons Seligman and Chappell are time travellers, venturing up and down the ages with only the book Time Was – that in Emmet’s time exists solely in the inventories of five bookshops with strict instructions as to its disposal – to enable them to contact each other. Via the extracts we also find the Shingle Street project entailed “The Uncertainty Squad” using quantum superposition in order to achieve displacement of the location of a ship but instead conjured displacement in time.

A hint of McDonald’s background comes with the phrase, “Pagans are worse than Protestants for denominationalism.” We also have the observation, “Emotions have no definition other than themselves….. All written art is an attempt to communicate what it is to feel,” and a comment on the novelist’s and poet’s bane, “the irreducibility of feeling, it can’t be broken down into anything simpler or more explicable.”

While the SF idea In McDonald’s Time Was isn’t quite as outré as in Robert Heinlein’s All You Zombies (the father and mother of all time travel stories) it’s up there with that same author’s By His Bootstraps and, in contrast, a thousand times better written than either.

Pedant’s corner:- thatfirst (is two words, not one,) a new paragraph that was unindented, hadhoped (again, two words.) “‘A hot wind blew in our aces’” (faces,) “ ‘”Not abductees. Immortals.”’ ” (that first double inverted comma in the quote ought to be a start quote mark not an end one,) a missing start quote mark, at “ Mea culpa””, “any simpler: (anything simpler.) “He hops up behind he” (behind me,) “soe time” (some time,) “dedicated to a pastry-cooking” (why the “a”?) “‘I sold this copy one of your bookfinders’” (copy to one of your,) “a new tray or drinks” (of drinks,) “strung out along for half a mile along the street” (has one “along” too many.) “His glee is evident as he cast around” (casts around.) “He beckons me out to the where the bikes” (to where the bikes,) drafhty (draughty,) an extraneous single inverted comma at “ “East Suffolk”’ ” and again at “ ‘I look around’’ ” , the start quote mark for a piece of direct speech given at the end of the previous line (x 2,) withany (again, two words,) “I could be certain that that I lived with Thorn” (only one “that”,) “from the across the shop” (from across the shop.) “I would always been that Englishman” (always have been, or, always be.)

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2017, 390 p, including i p derivation of Wolf Moon, i p map of the Moon’s nearside, iii p Glossary, iv p Dramatis Personae and ii p Lunar Calendar.

 Luna: Wolf Moon cover

Not long into this second of McDonald’s “Luna” sequence of novels, the rolling city of Crucible, surmounted by solar mirrors focusing the sun’s rays into the enormous smelter for which it is named and beneath which its inhabitants live, the source of the power and influence of Mackenzie Metals, one of the Five Dragons (the families which effectively control everything on the Moon,) meets the end which we have suspected it would since the moment McDonald introduced it in the previous book Luna: New Moon. Software hidden in its controlling programming is activated to misalign the mirrors; with catastrophic results.

At first surprisingly, McDonald makes very little of this potential set-piece, certainly much less than he did the destruction of Boa Vista, the city of the now fallen Corta family, in the previous volume. But then, the focus of his Luna books is, or seems to be, that particular family. Corta Hélio, their firm which mined the helium-3 which powered the fusion reactors which keep Earth going, is now no more, its functions taken over by the Mackenzies. A few of the Cortas have survived, notably Lucas, who has enlisted the help of the Vorontsovs (the clan in charge of the Dragon which transports cargo between Moon and Earth) and made the dangerous decision to accustom himself to Earth gravity to travel there and prepare the way for his revenge. The narration, in that urgent present tense which permeates a lot of modern SF, also follows Robson Corta, a ward of the Mackenzies, lawyer Ariel Corta, Lucas’s son Lucasinho, and Wagner, one of those “wolves” who are affected by the Earth’s phases. A significant addition to the cast is Alexia Corta, Queen of the Pipes, who keeps the water supply flowing in her Brazilian township till she inveigles herself into Lucas’s orbit and becomes his right-hand woman.

MacDonald’s decision almost to underplay the fall of Crucible becomes understandable as it sets the scene for what can only be described as total war between several Moon factions. Certainly a great deal of mayhem is involved. Almost as an incidental the Eagle of the Moon dissolves the Lunar Development Corporation before he himself is deposed. Along the way MacDonald subtly slips in references to previous works of speculative fiction, “The company of wolves wheels on,” “Earth is a harsh mistress,” “The bone clocks.”

A neat touch is Lucasinho’s contention that in a society where just about everything can be printed and recycled, cake is the perfect gift as it has to be hand-crafted. Admittedly he was saying this in extremis to distract his young companion from impending doom but it was a welcome light-hearted aside.

McDonald’s Luna does not present as an appealing place in which to live. Its people are for the most part even less appealing. It was ever thus with pioneers.

Pedant’s corner:- USianisms intrude -ass for arse, curb for kerb, shit for shat – yet we have manoeuvre. “‘Oh can I?’ Dr Volikova and again Lucas heard the amusement in her voice,” (has a “said” missing,) “Death is nothing. Not even not nothing,” (not even not nothing? “Not even nothing” is more parsable,) as in the previous volume the “2”s of CO2 and O2 are rendered as here in normal type and not as subscripts CO2, O2, lip-sticks (lipsticks.) “None ask to see the lip-gloss-smeared bruises.” (None asks,) “insisted that that Lucas Corta would inherit” (only one “that” needed,) “‘I think you should go back to you seat,’” (your seat,) “‘That’s there a Corta left to ask?’” (That there’s a Corta…) “was she doing it all?” (doing it at all.) Elamentals (Elementals,) “in Ariel’s’ entourage” Ariel’s,) “a third squad of hired blades secure the doors,” (a squad secures the doors,) “the maids’ uniform,” (it was one maid so maid’s.) “Jinji brings down a personnel capsule down” (only needs one “down”,) “the pod AI warn” (the AI warns,) “Communications seems to be down” (communications is plural, so “seem to be down”.) “Foods shortages” (Food shortages) “He feel sick” (feels,) “‘And you are withered old scorpion’” (a withered old scorpion.)

I’m on the Map!

Literally.

Despite me not having a piece of fiction published for a few years – and only ever one novel – I’ve been included on this map of British SF and Fantasy writers. (If you click on the map it will lead you to its creator’s website, where copies can be purchased):-

Science Fiction and Fantasy Literary Map

I’m humbled by this. Imagine me being on the same map as Alasdair Gray, Iain (M) Banks, Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald, Eric Brown, Arthur C Clarke, J G Ballard, George Orwell et al. Not to mention J Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon.)

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