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Reminiscences

Back when I was young I used to have an order for Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.

Buchan had been a football player in the 1910s and 1920s – most notably with Sunderland. His career was interrupted of course by the Great War (in which he served and won the Military Medal.)

His eponymous monthly magazine (started in 1951) was the first dedicated to football.

One article I strongly remember (though I forget most of the details) was about the longest FA Cup tie ever played, which went to several replays before finally being resolved.

However the magazine stopped publishing in 1974. When my newsagent pointed this out to me I told him (being well into SF by that time) that I had in any case decided to transfer my order to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (aka to us aficionados as F&SF.)

I forget how many years I kept the order – probably till around the time I got married. I still have all those issues in a cupboard somewhere, though, despite several house moves since.

Though I was never much into the fantasy side of F&SF I did remember with some fondness stories written by Phyllis Eisenstein about one Alaric the minstrel who had been born with the ability to teleport merely by thinking. As a bit of nostalgia I have bought and am now reading a novel featuring Alaric (Born to Exile – see my sidebar for the moment.) I wonder how it will stand up.

If it does there’s a sequel titled In the Red Lord’s Reach which I may then purchase.

Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison

Women’s Press, 1985, 149 p. © 1962, First published in the UK, 1976.

Memoirs of a Spacewoman cover

I read this when I first bought it many moons ago but couldn’t actually remember much about it other than it was a bit dry. Re-reading partially reinforces that impression. Much of it is told not shown and the overall effect tends towards the intellectual. That said, it is never less than interesting.

Our narrator Mary is a communications expert who has gained employment on the intergalactic expeditions sent from Earth to contact and understand the aliens on the target planets. Non-interference with the alien life-forms is the guiding principle of the expeditions. On her travels Mary encounters radiates, a bit like starfish, who therefore have no binary view of the universe, and creatures who form grafts on others’ surfaces as a means of reproduction. Mary accepts such a graft and finds herself mentally dissociating somewhat and mysteriously attracted to water. All creatures who agree to such a graft (dogs for example) tend to be unwilling to repeat the experience.

Reference is made to Mary’s relationships with the various fathers of her children but there is more or less no exploration of these and not much more of the hermaphrodite Martian, Vly who somehow manages to engender her haploid child, Viola. (Martians communicate via sex organs.) Keeping contact – or even contemporaneity – with partners is admittedly made difficult by the time blackout caused by space voyaging.

The bulk of the text, though, is devoted to the life-forms on a planet which bears pattern-making “caterpillars” whose patterns are painfully disrupted by “butterflies” they refer to as “masters”. Teasing out the relationships between these creatures takes Mary and her companions a while. Some tension is caused by this as one of the expedition members becomes too close to the “caterpillars”.

In its depiction of a society in which women are on an equal footing with men as scientists and explorers – and in more general senses – as well as in its exploration of the details of alien reproduction Memoirs of a Spacewoman was something of a trail-blazer. That makes it an important (I hesitate to say seminal) pioneering work of SF.

Pedant’s corner:- Extra points for hyaena (now defunct, as hyena has become the accepted spelling.) Otherwise; “I liked in that he had tried” (‘I liked it that he had tried’ makes more sense,) “assemblement of data” (assemblement? Assembly, or assemblage, of data, surely?) “Peder was much interested” (‘very interested’ is the more natural expression,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, aureolus (that means golden. I suspect aureola was intended,) in, “We might unwittingly destroy some life which was not induced to move out by any of these stimuli, and of course we destroyed vegetation,” life is contrasted with vegetation (but vegetation is, of course, alive,) Silis’ (Silis’s,) furtheir (further,) Miss Hayes’ (Hayes’s.) Miss Hayes sent off on long expeditions” (Miss Hayes set off on…,) the text describes alien creatures in Earthly terms as eg ‘reptiles,’ ‘caterpillars,’ ‘butterflies’ (I know this usage is for purposes of familiarity for the reader but animals on other worlds would/will not come under the same biological classifications as on Earth,) “as regard” (usually as regards,) follicules (follicles.)

Ian Sales’s 1980s

In a previous post I posted about Ian’s first list in response to the BBC’s 100 books that shaped the world.

These are his influencers from the 1980s.

Bold means I have read them. Only 7 out of 24 here.

The Undercover Aliens, (aka The House That Stood Still) AE Van Vogt (1950)
The Winds of Gath, EC Tubb (1967).
The Book of Alien, Paul Scanlon & Michael Gross (1979)
The Dune Encyclopedia, Willis E McNelly, ed. (1984)
The Future Makers, Peter Haining, ed. (1968)
Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany (1975)
The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (1979)
The Far Pavilions, MM Kaye (1978)
Iceberg, Clive Cussler (1975)
The Complete Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy Lists, Malcolm Edwards & Maxim Jakubowski (1983)
Radix, AA Attanasio (1981)
The Barbie Murders, John Varley (1980)
Serpent’s Reach, CJ Cherryh (1980)
The Science Fiction Sourcebook, David Wingrove (1984)
The War for Eternity, Christopher Rowley (1983)
Under a Calculating Star, John Morressy (1975)
Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
Knight Moves, Walter Jon Williams (1985)
Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
The Space Mavericks, Michael Kring (1980)
The Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975)
The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gene Wolfe (1972)
The Five Gold Bands, Jack Vance (1950)
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin (1969)

Age of Legends by James Lovegrove

Solaris, 2019, 405 p.

 Age of Legends cover

The novel starts with a scene in which parakeets in London are being systematically culled. They are alien, you see. They don’t belong in Britain. At least not in a Britain run by Prime Minister David Drake, head of the Resurrection Party, out to restore the country to “proper” British values and rid it of all undesirables. This last category, of course, includes anyone not born in the UK. Ajia Snell’s mother has been deported “back” to India – a country she had never visited. Bicycle courier Ajia’s father was white British, and therefore she is tolerated. Just. Her dusky skin tends to attract suspicion in certain quarters though. When out on her self-imposed mission to paint graffiti criticising Drake, she is spotted by cops and shot while trying to escape them. This leads to her capture, imprisonment and beating. Her heart stops.

It is of no consequence. The police can do anything they like in this law-and–ordered world. Two cops are delegated to dispose of the body. While they are dumping her in a sewer she wakes up, frightening them off.

Resting on a park bench, she is saved from a further beating at the hands of a vagrant by a man calling himself Smith. He calls her “good fellow” and tells her she is one of a new kind, people who did indeed die but have somehow come back to life with special attributes, attributes drawn from British mythological figures and folk tales. She is Puck, aka Robin Goodfellow, and has the ability to move at incredible speed. Smith is able to rework broken metal and shattered glass into new objects.

Nominative determinism is a central feature of the reincarnations in this book, who are known collectively as eidolons. Their leader is called Auberon LeRoy. A man named Fletcher is extremely handy with a bow and arrow, Daisy Hawthorn has power over growing things, Wee Paul Klein can diminish in size, Neve Winterton has the ability to freeze and unfreeze things. In order to save the soul of Britain they and their like are set to do battle against the armoured cars and Humvees of Drake’s security force, the Paladins.

Interspersed with the story of Ajia Snell (both of whose names mean speed) we are given the experiences of Drake, his wife Harriet, and Security Chief Major Dominic Wynne. In their telling I found these scenes to be reminiscent of the fiction of Harry Turtledove. Before entering politics Drake had been a successful businessman and collector of religious artefacts. He believes himself to be a devout Christian (in his youth a hard row to hoe, in his opinion) but his actions belie any tenets of that faith beyond those of the Old Testament fundamentalist types who seem able to ignore totally any (all?) of the compassionate things that their Messiah is reported to have said and encouraged. Drake’s prize possession is the Holy Grail. Returning to Britain after purchasing it abroad, his helicopter had crashed, with Drake the sole survivor. It is kept under lock and key in a secure building in the grounds of his family home. Not only does he talk to it, it talks back to him in the voice of his companion on that trip, Emrys Sage.

I note there is no mention of the Monarchy in this depiction of a Britain under Fascist rule. An odd omission. Perhaps we are meant to assume it’s been abolished. The implication is that it has been sidelined and of no relevance, certainly no kind of brake on anything.

I suspect Lovegrove intended his tale as a warning of how close the UK is to a future of this sort. Its appeal I suppose lies in the invocation of mythic British heroes and the prospect of the fascist state’s overthrow. However, the treatment suggests that we need to depend on the supernatural to rescue us from such a fate. If that’s the case we’re more lost than I had feared. It’s also depressing that in order to overcome it those heroes have to resort to methods almost indistinguishable from their persecutors. I suppose that was ever the way though.

Pedant’s corner:- Many instances of “‘time interval’ later” throughout. Otherwise; “‘that there was any unnatural about your speed’” (anything unnatural,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, “‘You’re coming with’” (coming with me,) “where an assortment of … were parked” (an assortment … was parked.) “Mr LeRoy helped pored” (helped pour,) “air conditioning kept the temperature steady between 16 and 200C (a 4 degree range is hardly steady,) a pope (a Pope,) “used by the Saint Veronica” (Saints’names are not usually prefixed by the definite article; ‘used by Saint Veronica’,) “there were a number of ikons and Bibles,” (‘there was a number’ or, here, ‘there were numbers of…,) “told you do” (told you to do,) unadvisable (inadvisable,) “that Auberon LeRoy fit the bill” (fitted the bill.) “A trio of Paladins were zeroing in” (A trio … was zeroing in,) “skidded into the life” (into life.) “Mr Le Roy sai without looking round” (Mr LeRoy said..,) “of out both politeness and deference” (out of both,) jpeg (x3, it was a video file, I believe that’s an mpeg, or a gif,) “his his great shoulders” (only one ‘his’ required,) lay low (lie low,) “for another women” (woman.) “The armoured slowed” (armoured truck slowed,) “said to much” (too much,) travelling into the troop-carrier” (in the troop-carrier,) “the tongue-lashing he’d excepted” (expected,) “an elicit thrill” (illicit thrill, this was used correctly later, as was elicit,) “was quite bit older” (quite a bit older,) “all she owned in the way of acreage were two window boxes” (all she owned … was two window boxes,) “‘but all indications is that’” (all indications are that,) “like steel hawser” (like a steel hawser,) “the onyx, jewel-encrusted cup” (the jewel-encrusted onyx cup,) “over a licking flames” (‘over a licking flame’, or, over licking flames’,) “as if unconscionably” (‘unconsciously’ makes more sense in the context. Unconscionably = ‘without conscience’ rather than ‘without thought’,) “an besuited MC took up the microphone on small stage” (a besuited MC took up the microphone on a small stage,) “Drake’s Paladin’s killed them all” (Paladins.) “‘Add your ability own to ours’” (Add your own ability to ours,) behind the fathering “‘and you’d be alerting the bastards the fact’” (and you’d be alerting the bastards to the fact.) “Smith look up at Fletcher” (looked up.) “Lieutenant Noble raised spoke hurriedly into his lapel mic” (raised what?) “Harriet laid on the bed” (Laid? Laid what? ‘Harriet lay on the bed’,) “pointed to see the town far below” (pointed to the town..,) whiskey (x3, whisky.) “They drove onto town” (on to town, or, into town.) At television stood in the corner” (A television,) “‘to contact President Vasilyev on the morning’” (‘in the morning’ is more usual.) “‘The flashed up a fucking mugshot of me, didn’t they?’” (They flashed up..,) “on Wolfson arm” (Wolfson’s arm,) “raring like a demon” (roaring makes more sense,) “‘the method of murder in Bradford suggest the same perpetrator’” (the method … suggests,) “towards an door” (a door,) “a strong of high-pitched gibberish” (a string,) “and hugged hers shins” (her shins,) “or rather where its head has been” (had been.) “‘On you way.’” (On your way,) “a newsagents” (newsagent’s,) “the creature shrieked and rage” (in rage.) Edward Winterton opened her eyes and smiled sat her” (opened his eyes and smiled at her,) “that had rang out” (that had rung out,) parliament (Parliament,) “in ones and two” (ones and twos,) “aptitude with the weapons” (it’s usually aptitude for, not with, something,) “icy and other creepers” (ivy,) “until such a time” (usually ‘until such time’,) “at the top of their voices” (‘tops of their voices’ is more grammatical,) “the line of a ha-ha diving it from sloping lawns” (dividing it,) “jersey cows” (Jersey cows,) “a small force of Russian insurgents have crossed the border” (a small force … has crossed,) a missing full stop (x2,) “more Paladin” (Paladins,) “opened fire of the castle’s defenders” (on the castle’s defenders.) “The reply was hard to make out about the rattle of gunfire” (above the rattle.) “The study door open and an voice” (door opened and a voice,) “You will seek to form a coalition with Labour and the Liberal Democrats” (Labour and the Liberal Democrats are still around in this scenario? They’ve not been banned?)

Chris Priest’s list

In response to the BBC’s list of 100 books that shaped the world Christopher Priest has blogged his 100 ‘key’ titles.

As usual the ones in bold I have read. (20 here. Others are on my tbr pile.) If asterisked I have read part of the works mentioned. Question marks mean I can’t remember if I read it in the long ago.

01. Penguin SF Ed. Brian Aldiss
02. Non-Stop Brian Aldiss
03. New Maps of Hell Kingsley Amis
04. The Green Man Kingsley Amis
05. The Four-Dimensional Nightmare J G Ballard
06. Vermilion Sands J G Ballard
07. The Twins at St Clare’s Enid Blyton
08. The Castle of Adventure Enid Blyton
09. The Mountain of Adventure Enid Blyton
10. 2666 Roberto Bolaño
11. Last Evenings on Earth Roberto Bolaño
12. Don’t Point that Thing at Me Kyril Bonfiglioli
13. Fictions Jorge Luis Borges
14. The Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles
15. The Silver Locusts Ray Bradbury
16. The Naked Island Russell Braddon
17. The Dam Busters Paul Brickhill
18. Project Jupiter Fredric Brown
19. What Mad Universe Fredric Brown
20. Rogue Moon Algis Budrys
21. Dark Avenues Ivan Bunin
22. The People’s War Angus Calder
23. That Summer in Paris Morley Callaghan
24. The Outsider Albert Camus
25. Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
26. No Moon Tonight Don Charlwood
27. Bomber Pilot Leonard Cheshire
28. The World in Winter John Christopher
29. The Second World War Winston S Churchill
30. The City and the Stars Arthur C Clarke
31. Mariners of Space Erroll Collins
32. Enemies of Promise Cyril Connolly
33. Fifth Business Robertson Davies
34. Complete Holmes Stories Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
35. Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich
36. Who Killed Hanratty? Paul Foot
37. Modern English Usage H W Fowler
38. The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles
39. The Magus John Fowles
40. Diaries Joseph Goebbels
41. Adventures in the Screen Trade William Goldman
42. The Killing of Julia Wallace Jonathan Goodman
43. Good-Bye to All That Robert Graves
44. A Sort of Life Graham Greene
45. The Quiet American Graham Greene
46. The Door into Summer Robert A Heinlein ???
47. Catch 22 Joseph Heller
48. A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway
49. Hiroshima John Hersey
50. Pictorial History of the War Walter Hutchinson
51. Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor W E Johns
52. Dubliners James Joyce
53. Ice Anna Kavan
54. A History of Warfare John Keegan
55. Fame Daniel Kehlmann
56. 10 Rillington Place Ludovic Kennedy
57. Jack the Ripper – The Final Solution Stephen Knight
58. Steps Jerzy Kosinski
59. The Painted Bird Jerzy Kosinski
60. Changing Places David Lodge
61. Small World David Lodge
62. The False Inspector Dew Peter Lovesey
63. High Tide Mark Lynas
64. Revolution in the Head Ian MacDonald
65. Calculated Risk Charles Eric Maine
66. The Caltraps of Time David I Masson
67. Owning Up George Melly
68. The Cruel Sea Nicholas Monsarrat
69. Pax Britannica James Morris
70. Song of the Sky Guy Murchie
71. A Severed Head Iris Murdoch
72. Collected Stories Vladimir Nabokov
73. Collected Essays George Orwell
74. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
75. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers Beatrix Potter
76. Invisibility Steve Richards
77. Pavane Keith Roberts
78. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Oliver Sacks
79. Collected Sonnets William Shakespeare*
80. Hamlet William Shakespeare
81. Pilgrimage to Earth Robert Sheckley
82. Frankenstein Mary Shelley
83. Larry’s Party Carol Shields
84. Mary Swann Carol Shields
85. On the Beach Nevil Shute
86. Loitering with Intent Muriel Spark
87. The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas Gertrude Stein
88. Earth Abides George R Stewart
89. Dracula Bram Stoker
90. The Murder of Rudolf Hess Hugh Thomas
91. Battle Cry Leon M Uris
92. No Night is Too Long Barbara Vine
93. Twins Peter Watson
94. The War of the Worlds H G Wells
95. The Time Machine H G Wells
96. Uncharted Seas Dennis Wheatley
97. Disappearances William Wiser
98. The Crazy Years William Wiser
99. The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
100. The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham

Starfarers by Vonda N McIntyre

Ace, 1989, 286 p.

Starfarers cover

J D Sauvage has been appointed alien contact specialist on the starship Starfarer, soon to make its maiden voyage into interstellar space by magnetically latching onto cosmic string. In the meantime she is finishing up her work with genetically modified humans known as divers, who are able to communicate with Orcas (capitalised here.) Both the starship and the divers are threatened by the policy of the latest US government which is anxious to make sure the divers are not used as spies by the Mideast Sweep (a fundamentalist religion dominated political entity which has swallowed up not only the Middle East but also the former USSR) and wishes Starfarer itself to become a low-orbit military facility.

On the starship, a pair of huge contra-rotating cylinders only one of which is inhabited by humans, J D meets the members of the family partnership containing Victoria, Stephen Thomas and Satoshi. The family partnership is said to be a now outdated social arrangement, a loosely structured menage, not quite polygamy, with several members. Victoria, Stephen Thomas and Satoshi’s “family” had had a fourth member Merry, but she died.

The conflict here is between the starship’s crew and the US government – not the only but the main funder for the expedition. A minor conflict ensues from the activities on the ship of Griffith, a US government spy, sent to discredit the expedition’s aims. The programme, Grandparents in space, seems to him a prime example of its uselessness. However Griffith gets distracted from his mission by the presence on board of space pioneer Kolya Cherenkov.

Operations on the ship are overseen by a web AI called Arachne which is in direct contact with all on board. This seems a mundane extrapolation nowadays but in 1989 when this was published it was fairly visionary, (the presence of a back-up system of hardware perhaps less so.)

This edition has one of those ‘window’ covers which were popular at the time, depicting a spaceship and the Moon as through another spaceship’s viewport. Unfortunately its tag-line “They broke all the rules …” is a huge spoiler as it continues on the inside flap, “to explore the final frontier,” thus vitiating the book’s main outcome.

It is thirty plus years on of course, but once again I found on reading McIntyre that my memories of her prose from The Exile Waiting and Dreamsnake (evolved from the short story Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand) are not lived up to. Starfarers is certainly readable enough but not anything out of the ordinary.

Pedant’s corner:- earth (multiple instances; Earth,) J. D. (we had examples of ‘J. D.,’ but at the end of a sentence it was always ‘J. D.’ not ‘J. D..’,) “hyphenated double last names. Like Conan Doyle.” (Conan Doyle isn’t hyphenated, neither in the name of that author nor in this book’s text,) the moon (several times, the Moon.) “And I cooked the isotopes, so the dating will be consistent.” (‘Cooking the isotopes’ wold be incredibly difficult and looks beyond any technology on display here,) “font of wisdom” (fount,) “the United States’” (is now a singular entity, United States’s,) impoundment (impounding, as in seize legally, was what was meant; an impoundment is a dam,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech (x2.)

Ian Sales’s List, Part 1

Ian Sales has taken a different tack in his approach to the BBC’s list of 100 Books that Shaped Our World.

He’s annotated his and split it up into the decades in which he read them, starting with the 1970s (thus there are books from the sixties in this first tranche.)

Again, those in bold I’ve read. Those in italics I have watched on TV. I doubt I read them as such.

Not surprisingly, since Ian and I are both into SF, I have a pretty good strike rate here; 8 out of 15.

The Golden Bird, Jan Pieńkowski & Edith Brill (1970)
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Alan Garner (1960).
Destination Moon, Hergé (1950).
Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes, Burne Hogarth (1972)
The Red Moon Mystery, Frank Hampson (1951)
Doctor Who and the Zarbi, Bill Strutton (1965).
Gray Lensman, EE Doc Smith (1951)
The Trigan Empire, Don Lawrence & Mike Butterworth* (1965).
Jack of Eagles, James Blish (1952)
Time and Again, Clifford D Simak (1951)
Tactics of Mistake, Gordon R Dickson (1971).
Final Stage, Edward L Ferman & Barry N Malzberg (1974).
Dune, Frank Herbert(1966).
Traveller: Characters & Combat, Marc Miller (1977).

Ian has more recently posted his 1980s list. I will get round to that.

*In the weekly magazine Look and Learn.

Night Birds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken

Puffin, 1969, 172 p.

Night Birds on Nantucket cover

At the start of this follow-up to Black Hearts in Battersea, itself a sequel of sorts to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Dido Twite has been comatose for four months, fed by one of the crew on the whaling ship Sarah Casket, which rescued her from drowning.

On her awakening she is asked by Captain Casket to befriend his now motherless daughter Dutiful Penitence (Pen) who is too scared to come on deck and hides away in her cabin. Dido soon finds another member of the crew, Mr Slighcarp (a surname readers of the series know well,) acting suspiciously and keeping secret the presence on ship of a mystery woman.

After following a pink whale (the captain’s obsession) from the Arctic down past the Galapagos and round into the Atlantic, Dido and Pen, now firm friends, are dropped off at the ship’s home port in Nantucket, where it has been arranged for the captain’s sister Tribulation to look after Pen for a while. Readers familiar with the series know where this domestic situation is going by now but perhaps its target younger audience might not. Excitement ensues though, when our two young friends come across a Hanoverian plot to kill King James III.

This is wholesome fare, as befits its intended YA audience but also eminently readable for older booklovers. Dido and Pen are agreeably portrayed – though some of the adults’ characterisations are a little over the top.

The book is decorated at intervals with illustrations (one of which is unfortunately placed one page too early.)

Pedant’s corner:- “The whole crew were trying to…” (the whole crew was trying to,) imposter (I much prefer impostor,) sculduggery (I know Dido does not speak in received pronunciation but the spelling of words she does speak ‘normally’ should not be altered; skulduggery,) trapesing (traipsing,) “‘when you Papa’s at sea’” (your Papa’s.) In the ‘About the author’; “the Amercian writer” (American.)

Nina Allan’s List

This is Nina Allan’s response to the BBC’s list of 100 Books that shaped our world.

As usual the ones in bold I have read. (18. 19 if John Banville’s Shroud and Eclipse count as two.) Some others are on my tbr pile.

Borka: the Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers by John Burningham

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Stig of the Dump by Clive King

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

Thursday’s Child by Noel Streatfield

‘Adventure’ series by Willard Price

The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones

Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

‘UNEXA’ series by Hugh Walters

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

‘Changes’ trilogy by Peter Dickinson

‘Tripods’ trilogy by John Christopher

The Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Watership Down by Richard Adams

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Pavane by Keith Roberts

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

The Drought by J. G. Ballard

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Search for Christa T. by Christa Wolf

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Doktor Faustus by Thomas Mann

Ada by Vladimir Nabokov

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

Midnight Sun by Ramsey Campbell

Ghost Story by Peter Straub

The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine

The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Personality by Andrew O’Hagan

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe

Shroud/Eclipse by John Banville

My Tango with Barbara Strozzi by Russell Hoban

The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

Shriek: an afterword by Jeff VanderMeer

Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

Darkmans by Nicola Barker

Glister by John Burnside

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

The Kills by Richard House

A Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrère

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano

The Dry Salvages by Caitlin R. Kiernan

In the Shape of a Boar by Lawrence Norfolk

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

The Accidental by Ali Smith

Happy Like Murderers by Gordon Burn

F by Daniel Kehlmann

Straggletaggle by J. M. McDermott

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

The Loser by Thomas Bernhard

The Peppered Moth by Margaret Drabble

All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

The Infatuations by Javier Marias

Outline by Rachel Cusk

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

This is Memorial Device by David Keenan

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson

Lanark by Alasdair Gray

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Attrib. by Eley Williams

Berg by Ann Quin

When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy

Munich Airport by Greg Baxter

Caroline’s Bikini by Kirsty Gunn

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz

The Sing of the Shore by Lucy Wood

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Head of Zeus, 2018, 729 p. Translated from the Chinese, 死神永生 (Sǐshén yǒngshēng) by Ken Liu. Published in Interzone 278, Nov-Dec 2019.

Science Fiction is often said to be the literature of ideas. If that is where your pleasure in it lies, Cixin Liu is certainly the author for you. His Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (the first two of which, The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, were reviewed in Interzone 261, with all three having now been published in paperback with a themed set of covers) throws out SF concepts with abandon. It is prodigiously imagined, none more so than this last in the series, which has ideas in abundance. Enigmatic alien civilisations, four dimensional universes poking into ours, star-busting weapons, a light speed drive, manifestations of quantum entanglement, gravitational wave communicators, a weapon which reduces dimensions, the possibility the speed of light was once infinite, an unremittingly hostile universe, the laws of physics as the ultimate in weaponry, a timeline extending nearly nineteen million years. There is surely enough here to satisfy anyone’s quest for a sense of wonder.

Given such an almost Stapledonian timeline any narrative has to tend towards the episodic, even if due to the development of suspended animation technology (here called hibernation) we are able to follow the fortunes of Cheng Xin, a spaceflight technologist, and, with her, those of wider humanity down the ages. The advent of reliable hibernation allows the author to tease us with the thought that, “As modern biology advanced apace, people began to believe that death’s end would be achievable in one or two centuries …. those who chose hibernation were taking the first steps on the staircase to life everlasting,” but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Periodic extracts from a journal called A Past Outside of Time act as a sort of historical filler between episodes. While there is some early overlap between events in Death’s End and those of the previous two books we are soon venturing well beyond them.

Death’s End start though is comparatively prosaic; at the siege of Constantinople, with a magician being engaged to kill Sultan Mehmed II and so save the city. She doesn’t, of course, but we are told her magic is due to the first manifestation of a four dimensional universe into ours. That telling is emblematic of the book’s overall style. The section is, however, notable for its concentration on the interactions between its characters.

Move on centuries to a college classmate of Cheng Xin, Yun Tianming, who, mainly due to an unrequited affection for her, at the time we meet him is contemplating the newly legalised euthanasia. His acceptance of death makes him an ideal candidate to represent humanity as a sole envoy to the incoming fleet of the Trisolarans, as he won’t be coming back. The book has a structural problem here as Yun remains offstage for a large portion of it before returning as a crucial contributor to the later story it tells. The fleet finally turns back after Earth’s broadcasts of a third planet’s location to the universe implicitly threatening the Trisolaran home star since in an inimical (Dark Forest) universe this invites pre-emptive destruction by aliens with superior technology. A system of deterrence is established between Earth and Trisolaris which holds until Cheng becomes the Swordholder responsible for initiating the required signal. Seconds after she does so, Trisolaris strikes. Cheng does not act; but an Earth ship in deep space, effectively nothing but a gravitational wave antenna, does transmit the coordinates. Trisolaris’s sun is swiftly destroyed. Here we lose what was one of the attractions of the two earlier books, the descriptions of Trisolaran society.

The rest of Death’s End is taken up with humanity’s efforts to avoid or evade Dark Forest annihilation, basically keeping schtum but also building habitats to hide in the shadows of the giant planets. There is some by-play involving a meeting between Tun and Cheng promoted by Trisolarans from a spaceship that picked him up. He has invented folk tales to embed clues to their superior knowledge of Physics. These tales, clever metaphors on Liu’s part, are perhaps the most readable part of the book. Elsewhere the characters are little more than pegs to hang the story from and most of their conversations relate purely to the ongoing scenario or its exploration.

Death’s End is certainly the culmination of a tour-de-force of speculation (and hats off too to its translator Ken Liu) but its 700+ pages are in effect one long info dump. Intellectually bracing, but emotionally cold.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Translator’s note; “thus preserving a flicker of hope for humanity during their darkest hour” (its darkest hour.) Otherwise; colons are invariably followed by a capital letter (which they should not be. It is not after all, a new sentence,) none is most often given a plural verb when it ought to be singular, antennas (antennae,) advisor (adviser.) “Neither droplet struck their respective targets” (Neither droplet struck its respective target,) “the two crafts” (craft, this incorrect plural later appeared several times,) candelabras, (candelabra, one of them is a candelabrum,) “in close proximity of” (proximity to,) “mark in the psyche of the world” (on the psyche,) “the dark side of the moon” (it has no dark side. A far side yes, but all of it experiences sunlight. Plus it should be the Moon,) “there were a total” (there was a total,) football-shaped (USian; the shape was that of a rugby ball,) “the Federation fleet had sent the bulk of their ships” (the Federation fleet had sent the bulk of its ships,) “three point forty-one” (three point four one. Forty is a signifier for four tens and no units – 40 – not a placeholder for four tenths and zero hundredths as in 3.40. Later we had “point five three” correctly rendered,) gasses (gases,) “back to this chest” (his chest.)

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