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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.)

Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald

Everness Book III, Jo Fletcher, 2014, 397 p.

 Empress of the Sun cover

The airship Everness has jumped, more or less blind, through a Heisenberg Gate into a parallel world. Unfortunately it seems Everett Singh has made a mistake in his calculations as it is in immediate danger of crashing. “Yellow lights flashed. Horns blared. Balls* rang, klaxons shrieked.” The damage sustained means the airship and its Airish crew will be marooned for a while on a strange two-thirds gravity world peopled with lizard-like creatures. It is only when Everett recognises that the sun is descending straight downwards, not in an arc, that he realises the source of his miscalculation; they have jumped to a discworld, constructed from all the material orbiting its sun. Here the Chicxulub meteor never hit Earth and the dinosaurs have had millions of years to evolve and reconfigure the system. These inhabitants, who call themselves Jiju, are warlike, though, and periodically almost wipe themselves out. They are still knowledgeable and powerful enough to manipulate the sun: it moves through a hole in the middle of the disc, so that it illuminates either side of the world sequentially. Only Everett, in an explicit reference to Terry Pratchett, thinks of it as a discworld. To the Plenitude of Worlds it’s known the Wheelworld, but such are the dangers of the Jiju, contact has been avoided. Till now.

Everness’s crew is instrumental in allowing a Jiju, Kakakakaxa, to win her battle with her sister to be heir to their mother, the Empress of the Sun. In a fateful step Everett feels he has no option but to surrender his Infundibulum, which controls the Heisenberg Gates, to the Empress.

Meanwhile the deliciously vicious Charlotte Villiers is still scheming to procure Everett’s Infundibulum so that she will have dominance over the Plenitude of Worlds and elsewhere the Thryn Sentience-enhanced Everett M Singh from Book II tries to eliminate the traces of the Nahn he has brought to Earth 10 from E1, all the while pretending to be the original Everett, befriending Everett’s friend Ryun and forming an attachment to classmate Noomi. It is only in this third of the Everness series that McDonald begins to address the sexual politics and uncertainties of adolescence that have been latent in his scenario, but it’s done with sensitivity and as ever with YA fiction this does not interrupt the copious action to any great degree. There is too a cautionary note about how easy it is to be misled by superheroes. “… the real problems aren’t like that. You can’t solve them by hitting them. The real supervillains were ….. people in suits who met in rooms and decided things. ” We also get a sly nod to McDonald’s background with the phrase, “‘The Sunlords’ adversity may be the Airish opportunity.’”

What gives the Everness series a unique flavour is the Palari argot the Airish use, a light note amongst all the world-threatening plot happenings. I note both Everett and Everett M come to dislike the extremes they have been forced to by the exigencies of their situation, what those actions have turned them into, what they reveal about themselves, which is a timely metaphor for the journey into adulthood.

In not one, but two codas (which together suggest more books in this sequence may be forthcoming) we are shown what seems to be the source of Charlotte Villiers’s motivations and that Everett’s father Tejendra is alive and well somewhere in the Panoply of Worlds. I had thought the Everness books would end with this third instalment but if there were to be more to look forward to they wouldn’t come amiss.

Pedant’s corner:- * Balls rang (that must have been painful! Context suggests “Bells”,) “you certainly don’t want us enemies” (us as enemies,) wain (a Scots word for child) is usually spelled wean, “she had never struck ball like that before” (struck a ball.) “The two of them haunted the dead-ball line, directly behind Everett M in his net” (strictly speaking the dead-ball line is in front of the net,) “what the crew were running from” (the crew was running.) “They were only machine” (they were only machines,) “Mrs Abrahams the principle” (x 2, principal,) “But for you I would be me dead in the crechewood” (it would be me dead in the crechewood; or I would be dead in the crechewood,) Victorian terrace houses (the designation is usually terraced houses,) “was a endless droop” (an endless droop.) “Have you see anything of this Earth, …” (seen.)
Once again no doubt due to its main intended market there were USianisms:- hoods (as in cars; we say bonnets,) ass (though arse is used at least once,) diskworld.

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2015, 384 p.

 Luna: New Moon cover

Luna has been colonised. Its mineral resources mean vast wealth can be generated, or extracted. But Earth’s Moon has a thousand ways to kill; the slightest misplaced action, the merest moment of slackness make her the harshest of mistresses. And then there are the humans who have made their homes there….

Shoulder-sitting digital familiars connect the inhabitants to the data net. The Four Elementals – air, water, carbon, data – tick away on the chib in everyone’s eye. When the indicators run low the poor or jobless have to sell their piss for credit. Each breath is a hostage; unless you have a contract. Even the rich owe their carbon and water to the Lunar Development Corporation when they die.

Lunar life is stratified. Literally. The rich live in the depths, the poor in the Bairro Alto – with little to shield them from the intense solar radiation impacting the regolith above. Society runs on contracts; there is no criminal law. Courts are there to resolve disputes but in the last resort these can be settled in trial by combat. Life revolves around the Five Dragons, the big corporations whose activities dominate Lunar society. Some are focused on immediate objectives, others play the long game. While there are gritty places on this Luna we don’t see much of them. Most of the plot is concerned with the Corta family which runs the youngest Dragon, Corta Hélio, miners of helium-3 from the Lunar regolith (the resource which keeps the lights on down on Earth,) and their rivalries and friendships with the other Dragons. Set-piece descriptions of such mining and extraction processes seem well researched.

The premises on which McDonald builds his story are followed through to the end. Along the way he reminds us that humans need their darknesses. I particularly appreciated the concept of some of Luna’s inhabitants being affected by the Full Earth. McDonald might have called these individuals terratics but eschewed the term. The interactions and motivations of his characters are always convincing.

Some of Luna’s history is filled in via back-story but I’m not totally sure the logic of this cut-throat future stands close examination. As a metaphor, though, it’s fine. I doubt, however, that the character list at the book’s beginning is entirely necessary; I omitted it and didn’t feel its loss. The appended glossary of words borrowed from Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Yoruba, Spanish, Arabic and Akan – this Luna is a polyglot place – did come in handy at times even if SF fans don’t really need such things. The story-telling is, as ever with McDonald, accomplished.

Luna is apparently the first of a duo of books. While leaving scope for a follow-up it did not seem unfinished.

PS: Did anyone else notice a connection between Boa Vista, Queen of the South, Estádio da Luz and CSK St Ekaterina?

Pedant’s corner:- I read an uncorrected proof copy. I did notice quite a few literals. I assume the proof-read will spot and get rid of the occasional mistypings, missing prepositions or articles, the accidentally repeated words (been been) the sometimes repeated information, any incidental switching of verb for gerund, the periodic disagreements between subject and verb.
The spelling of Prospekt wavered (c sometimes for k) and since there was also a Tereshkova Prospekt, Gargarin Prospekt should surely have read Gagarin. Despite most of the text being in British English (colour, manoeuvre) we unfortunately had ass for arse and math for maths. O2 and CO2 appeared for O2 and CO2, haemotomas (haematomas,) ambiance (ambience,) colloquiums (colloquia,) Marna (Marina,) over spilling (overspilling,) each of us has a differed mechanism for dealing with it (different?)
Congrats, though for “not all … are.”

2014 in Books Read

The ones that stick in my mind most – for whatever reason – are:-

Signs of Life by M John Harrison
Mr Mee by Andrew Crumey
Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald
The Deadman’s Pedal by Alan Warner
A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – but in especial Sunset Song
The Moon King by Neil Williamson
The Dogs and the Wolves by Irène Némirovsky
The Last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani
HHhH by Laurent Binet
That Summer by Andrew Greig
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Way to Go by Alan Spence

Four SF/Fantasy novels, six Scottish ones (eight if the trilogy is separated) and no less than five translated works.

Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald

Everness Book II, Jo Fletcher Books, 2013, 374 p.

This second book in McDonald’s series of novels for young adults set in the Plenitude of Worlds starts off with Everett M Singh, an “alter” of our hero from Book I. M lives on the only Plenitude world which has encountered aliens, the Thryn Sentience. On M’s world the UK Prime Minister is a Mr Portillo. Everett M is knocked down by a car and remade with Thryn technology into a walking arsenal of weapons to be used by Plenitude Plenipotentiaries against the Everett from our world, E10. This Everett is the only person with a map of all the worlds, kept on his computer, Dr Quantum. He has become accepted as a crew member on the Airish airship Everness from E3, enabling them to evade immediate pursuit and jump to an Arctic waste. Each jump leaves a trace, though, and they have been followed. Using the last of their power Everett jumps them back to E10 and French air space. A quick piece of thinking sees them recharge their systems from electric power lines and they jump once more to hover over White Hart Lane. (Everett supports Spurs.) He tries to rejoin his E10 family but is prevented by a nifty little battle with Everett M in Abney Park Cemetery before retreating.

Everness then ventures to the embargoed world E1 where the voracious Nahn have destroyed nearly all organic life. Residual groups of humans hang on in some electromagnetically protected cities but it is on this world that Everett may find a device allowing him to trace all jumps and so track down his father, sent randomly into the Panoply in Book I. Meanwhile Everett M has to deal with the Nahn to get on with his mission. Book III neatly set up then.

Be My Enemy does not fall into the usual “second instalment of a trilogy” slump. The young adult novel requires a brisk pace and there is plenty incident here. It is all tackled with McDonald’s usual brio and is highly entertaining stuff yet with enough insight into human nature to make it well worth an older reader’s time never mind a young adult’s. Knowing references like the airship’s captain Anastasia Sixsmyth saying, “Make it so,” or her adopted daughter Sen breathing, “It’s full of stars,” on seeing a 3D computer graphic plus the observation by Everett M that “parallel universes always have airships” add pleasing grace notes.

The Everness crew, both Sixsmyths, Miles O’Rahilly Lafayette Sharkey and Scots engineer, Mchynlyth, all make their presences felt in various ways and even minor characters are fleshed out.

There were signs of tendering to the US market. We had meters for metres and no unrespectable – or respectable for that matter – Glaswegian ever said “ass” instead of “arse,” but I await Book III, Empress of the Sun, with keen anticipation.

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