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Interzone 280 Has Arrived

Interzone 280 cover
The Orphanage of Gods cover

On the doormat this morning: Interzone 280.

This one contains – among all the other goodies – my review of The Orphanage of Gods by Helena Coggan.

My review of The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders, due in issue 281, has been despatched.

Embers of War by Gareth L Powell

Titan Books, 2018, 407 p.

This is the first of this year’s BSFA Award nominees for best novel that I have read.

 Embers of War cover

Apart from the prologue, a somewhat ropily written account of the destruction of an entire ecosphere – an act which depending on point of view either brought the war between the Conglomeration and the Outward to a swift end, thus saving lives, or else was an unforgivable crime – this novel is told in first person chapters narrated from various viewpoints, three human, one spaceship AI and that of a peculiar alien creature with many legs whose feet act both as hands and faces and is the spaceship’s engineer/general dogsbody but nevertheless gets the last word, plus a single one-page chapter narrated by an ancient armada of spaceships.

Captain Sal Konstanz was present at that planet destroying act of war but since then has been dedicated to the peaceful House of Reclamation, an organistion set up to rescue survivors from space disasters or acts of piracy. Ona Sudak is a poet with a secret, a passenger on the stricken ship Geest van Amsterdam, Anton Childe a Conglomeration agent gun-running on a backwater planet till his bosses tell him to find Sendak, Trouble Dog is Konstanz’s ship’s AI, once dedicated to war but whose conscience made it too join the House of Reclamation, Nod is the alien, much given to rumination and philosophising.

A lot of this is the usual space opera stuff, various factions clashing, assorted interpersonal conflicts, a somewhat clichéd martinet General (shouldn’t that be Admiral if he commands a fleet?) and his milquetoast son, the exporation of a big dumb object (though this one has the internal characteristics of a TARDIS.)

OK, Embers of War is set in the aftermath of a war rather than its waging or genesis but I don’t see much to mark it out from the ordinary run of military SF/space opera. There must be better SF novels published in 2018 out there.

Pedant’s corner:- The Conglomeration is usually given a plural noun (I would use the singular for a collective entity,) cannons (the military plural is cannon,) “more than handful” (than a handful,) “few ships … had flown without numbering at least one member” – of the Druff – “among their crew” (among their crews,) “a hoarse voice shrieked itself into a crescendo of ragged, agonised silence” (Powell possibly meant climax rather than crescendo. In any case a crescendo builds, and not into silence, which in turn can only be silence, and therefore not ragged,) “this accommodation on the behalf of these ancient monuments (on the part of these ancient monuments,) “wheeling around each one like mosquitoes wheeling around a ship’s lantern” (two uses of “wheeling around” in the space of eight words?) “all of them coming and going from the doorways in th ziggurat like buses comng and gpoing from a central bus terminal” (two uses of “coming and going” in the space of fourteen words,) maw (a maw is not a mouth,) degrees centigrade (it’s degrees Celsius,) “a pack of four Carnivores were inbound from Cold Tor” (a pack was inbound,) staunch (stanch,) immoveable (immovable,) barbeque (barbecue.)

Review for Interzone 281

 The City in the Middle of the Night cover

You may have noticed on my sidebar that I’m currently reading The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders.

This is because it’s the latest book I’ve received for review in Interzone.

Ms Anders is another author new to me. She is, though, a multiple award winner, gaining the Hugo for her novelette Six Months, Three Days in 2012 and several awards including the Nebula Award for her novel All the Birds in the Sky in 2017.

The review ought to appear in Interzone 281.

The Smoke by Simon Ings

Gollancz, 2018, 300 p

 The Smoke cover

We start on a space vehicle on which the brother of protagonist Stuart Lanyon is about to take off from Woomera – powered by successive explosions of atom bombs underneath it blasting it into space. This is something of a distraction however, though a signifier of an altered history where Yellowstone erupted in 1874, immolating North America, and a Great War was ended in 1916 after the atomic bombing of Berlin.

The main meat of the story is the ramifications of the discovery of the Gurwitsch ray – biophotonic weak ultraviolet pulses passing from cell to cell in living things, each creature with its own characteristic emissions, orchestrating development, leading to the ability of humanity to sculpt organic forms at will. Hence we are in the age of speciation of mankind. The dead of the Great War battlefields were subjected to Gurwitsch’s ray, producing strange organisms known as chickies which are able to exert sexual allure among other abilities, a technocratic intellectually superior elite called the Bund has arisen in Eastern Europe and dominates world affairs.

The weird aspects of all this are underlined by Ings’s story-telling, part of the novel being narrated in the second person, though the down to Earth sections are more traditional first person and some interludes are in third. Though the background details seem to sit oddly with one another – a thoroughly industrial Yorkshire can feel more like the 1930s, a television series more signifies the early 1960s, parts of London are dominated by ultra-modern architecture – Ings manages to hold them together. The setting is occasionally reminiscent of Andrew Crumey’s Sputnik Caledonia with the merest hint of Ballard thrown in for extra alienation.

At the novel’s heart is the love story between Stuart and Bund citizen Fel, aka Felicine Chernoy, daughter of Georgy, inventor of the Chernoy Process which utilises Gurwitsch’s ray to enable rebirth. Stuart’s mother, dying of cancer, undergoes this treatment and is reconstituted as an infant. A curious phenomenon to behold, this, a child with an adult’s memories, behaving in unchild-like ways – and subject to unthinking prejudice. Stuart and Fel’s different backgrounds lend their affair the attributes of all star-crossed lover stories.

The characters are well drawn but despite their supposedly greater intellects the two members of the Bund shown here – Fel and her father – do not seem significantly different from humans as we know them. Stuart does though in his narration refer to his father as Bob and mother as Betty, which is a touch unusual.

Ings’s vision here is a particular one, at once curiously fantastic and yet also recognisable, a flight of fancy (several flights if you like) but utterly grounded.in human emotions. The Smoke goes to show that Science Fiction continues to produce work of which those detractors who dismiss it without ever sampling it assume it to be incapable.

Pedant’s corner:- “the Bund” is treated as plural throughout, but ought to be singular, “And since no one wants to meet each other’s eye, it makes logical sense that the entire audience repair en masse to the bar” (others’ I think, plus make that no-one, and, the entire audience repairs,) Lutyens’ (Lutyens’s,) potshard (potsherd, please,) Picasso is referred to as a Parisian artist (he was Spanish, but this is an altered history,) “the family were meant to cheer Jim off to Woomera” (the family was meant to,) “it would be the most natural thing in the world for me to stove this thing’s head in” (the verb is to stave in, stove is the past tense form.) “The odds against there being no set now increases” (the odds …. increase.) “‘According your friend’” (According to your friend,) “till it run out of” (runs out,) a parenthetical sentence not started with a capital letter as it ought to have been, “for goodness’ sake” (this ought to be written “goodness’s” even if it’s pronounced “goodness”.)

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…..

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Penguin, 2005, 296 p

The Jane Austen Book Club cover

This book does what it says on the tin. Six people are brought together by co-ordinator Jocelyn to read the novels of Jane Austen and meet – or not depending on circumstances (a hospitalisation for example) – to discuss them, one each per month.

The novel therefore consists of six chapters, one per month but they are more about the characters’ lives than any book discussions. We are also granted a prologue and an epilogue. Six pages devoted to synopses of Austen’s novels follow the epilogue and these give in turn to 25 pages of responses to Austen’s work – 2 pages of comments by her family and friends, the rest by critics, writers and literary figures – all accompanied by 61 bibliographical Notes. (Then we have 3 pages of those naff “Questions for discussion” sometimes appended to modern books. But I suppose that is what book groups do.)

There are some parallels between the lives of the group’s members and incidents in Austen’s novels, Jocelyn’s attempts at match-making notable among them, but they are really just grace notes.

In effect, what Fowler has done here is conceived a way to collect six short novellas – or six longish short stories – under the umbrella of a novel. Yes, there is some character development – Jocelyn’s initial dismissal of only male group member Grigg’s enthusiasm for Science Fiction (“She didn’t actually have to read science fiction to know what she thought of it. She’d seen Star Wars”) overcome by his introduction to her of the works of Ursula Le Guin being a case in point.

The book is clearly targetted at readers familiar with Austen’s œuvre as there is frequent mention of incidents/dilemmas/characters from the books plus an update of her most famous aphorism in the form of “‘Everyone knows,’ Prudie said, ‘that a rich man is eventually going to want a new wife,’” but even those unfamiliar with the works will find it readable enough. I somehow doubt, though, that any aficionados will come away from this enthusing about it. It’s not a patch on We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves or even Sarah Canary.

Pedant’s corner:- Whenever a section starts with a piece of dialogue the opening quotation mark is missing (this is one of those publishing habits with which I disagree,) teepees – also teepeed (tepees – tepeed,) “the lay of the land” (it’s “lie” of the land,) “playing the bagpipe” (bagpipes,) the occasional missed comma before a quote, L.A. at the end of a sentence not followed by the full stop. In the Responses: “there would be more genuine rejoicing at the discovery of a complete new novel by Jane Austen than any other literary discovery, short of a new major play by Shakespeare, that one could imagine” (than one could imagine.)

After the Saucers Landed by Douglas Lain

night shade books, 2015, 240 p

 After the Saucers Landed cover

As the title suggests this book is set in a time after aliens have come to Earth. Things, however, are not as dedicated Ufologists would have wished. They came down in a mundane manner – exactly as expected, setting down on the White House lawn as if they were an incarnation of Klaatu, the alien from The Day the Earth Stood Still. (That was also the name of the band which first recorded the song Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, which is referenced in the text.) The time these aliens landed though was not in the future but in the 1990s – making this an Altered History – but this allows Lain to saturate the book with cultural references from then and the immediately preceding decades. The aliens, called Pleidiens, do not seem to be concerned with conquest but wander around in sequined jumpsuits, hovering their disc-shaped “saucers” over the streets of the US (no wider perspective of their impact on the world is afforded to the reader) offering redemption of a wishy-washy sort. There is some discussion of a phenomenon called Missing Time and of time travel to a second before things happen but this is never developed and the aliens are more like an absence in the book rather than a driving force. This may be the point, though. New dispensations, what might once have been wonders, tend to become accepted relatively quickly and soon settle down to normality. Still, bits of this reminded me vaguely – very vaguely – of Philip K Dick’s mainstream fiction.

The novel’s main protagonist is Brian Johnson, once an author of UFO books, who encounters an alien capable of morphing into – in effect becoming – people, specifically Johnson’s wife Virginia (though Johnson is able to perceive slight differences. (Others are also impersonated in like fashion.) The Pleidien, Asket, wants Johnson to investigate the aliens and write another UFO book. However, there is very little resembling a plot here. Lain presents us with a metafictional construct, frequently addressing the reader and discussing events to come later in a matter of fact way.

What meat there is in this may be contained in the revelation vouchsafed to Johnson by the chief Pliedien, Ralph Reality, “The Pleidien doctrine was simple but absurd. The universe was imaginary….. your head was imaginary too.”

Pedant’s corner:- Pleides, Pleidien (Is this a misreading of Pleiades? [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleiades] Therefore Pleidean?) loud speakers (loudspeakers,) “when a man in a sequined jumpsuit steps comes around the corner” (either “steps” or “comes”, not both,) “and then zips away toward our solar system. The saucer zips toward a three dimensional rendering of our solar system” (I suspect there’s been a revision there and the original text has not been removed from it.) “For Flint this was this difference that mattered.” (Either, “For Flint it was this difference that mattered,” or, “For Flint this difference mattered,”) “as the light from street lamps and neon signs illuminate the back seat” (illuminates,) “lets it fall from their” (from there,) “because her parents forbid it” (forbade it.) “None of the locals were very interested” (none was interested.) “It more of a modernist sculpture hanging over us” (It’s more.) “What my wives imagined was that that they” (only one “that” needed,) “how they ended up climbing onto our kitchen table” (the text implies “how we ended up climbing” as a better word choice.) “This time I don’t stay anything” (This time I don’t say anything,) Charles’ (Charles’s.) “These things weren’t distinct but one.” (?????) shined (shone,) “squiggles and gestures that Patricia knew was something like a language” (were something like a language.) “Back in in 1957.” (only one “in” required.) “The agents pull up a plastic stool for me and then pushes down on my shoulders” (either “the agent” or “push”,) a missing comma at the end of a piece of direct speech in a continuing sentence, cotiliion (cotillion,) “The Rascals’ “Groovin’” (when “Groovin’” was released they were The Young Rascals,) a regress (a regression?) “as she lays back” (lies back,) “her explanations, her story, drifts away” (drift away,) Pledien (Pleidien,) kids game (kids’.)

Interzone 277

Sep-Oct, 2018. TTA Press

In her guest editorial Aliya Whiteley wonders who owns a story as influences can colour story telling as if by osmosis. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupted notes a new approach to doorbell ringing by those under 25 in his consideration of the changes wrought by the internet and the false sense of agency fostered by advertisers and data brokers. Nina Allan’s last Time Pieces muses on what a difference four years can make, in politics, in Doctor Who, in the inclusiveness of SF as a whole. In Book Zonea Duncan Lawie welcomes the wide perspective in the anthology Twelve Tomorrows edited by Wade Roush, Ian Sales appreciates Hannu Rajaniemi’s latest novel Summerland despite its lack of SF bells and whistles but is slightly more critical of Liminal by Bee Lewis, I wax lyrical over Francesco Dimitri’s The Book of Hidden Things but less so with Supercute Futures by Martin Millar, John Howard approves of the anthology Infinity’s End edited by Jonathan Strahan, Andy Hedgecock describes Literature® by Guillermo Stitch as a promising debut and Julie C Day’s first collection Uncommon Miracles (can there be common miracles?) as not merely promising but astonishing while Stephen Theaker enjoyed Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s Secret Passages in a Hillside Town.

In the fiction:-
Inscribed on Dark Waters by Gregor Hartmann has a student on a work experience programme on an ocean world at a factory producing liquid hydrocarbons biochemically being befriended by an inspector who has her own agenda. The student has an idea to improve the processing.
The Sea-Maker of Diarmid Bay1 by Shauna O’Meara is another sea-based tale. Four boys on a fishing expedition on a global-warmed, polluted planet come across a mythical creature, a sea-maker.
The narrator of Joanna Berry’s The Analogue of Empathy2 is a robot, a Cognitive Intelligence Personhood Emulating Robot to be precise. Doctor Harris is developing its – her – consciousness in an attempt to save humanity from itself. Since its structure, form and feel so closely resemble Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon I would be amazed if this story did not take its inspiration from that source.
Territory: Blank3 by Aliya Whiteley is a journal based story but the entries are presented to us out of order. Narrator Saffron enters one of the domes; simulated environments designed as entertainment for the masses. Either she goes mad or the domes generate inimical entities by themselves. The third explanation – that Saffron is the experimental subject – is vitiated by the manner of her second dome excursion.
Samantha Murray’s Singles’ Day4 – Singles’ Day is like Black Friday but only for the partnerless – is a multi-viewpoint tale of four winners of a Singles’ Day lottery (via Smile to Pay) for passage aboard a starship intended to travel through The Rift to the planet of Zorya to escape an overcrowded Earth. The story does not need the info-dump of its preamble.

Pedant’s corner:- aStokes’ (Stokes’s,) one book title is given as Infintiy’s End (the book’s cover has Infinity’s End,) Watts’ (Watts’s,) Dickens’ (Dickens’s,) “reflections on these parallel projects show remind us” (either show or remind, not both.)
1a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, vortexes (vortices,) miniscule (minuscule.) 2Harris’ (Harris’s,) terphthalate (terephthalate,) chassis’ (chassis’s.) 3“Each has their own way” (Each has its own way,) maw (it’s a stomach! Not a mouth.) 4“to not live,” “to not be,” (not to live, not to be,) “there were even a couple of birds” (there was even a couple,) fit (fitted.) “The latest crop were blooming” (the latest crop was blooming,) wracked with pain” (racked.) “The team of seven photographers were” (the team was.)

Interzone Time Again

The Orphanage of Gods cover
Interzone 279 cover

The latest Interzone, 278 of that ilk, came through the letter box a few days ago. It doesn’t have one of my reviews in it.

The issue after, though, 279, will do, as a couple of days later The Orphanage of Gods by Helena Coggan also arrived.

Once again, Ms Coggan is a new author to me – even if she has had two previous books published.

Proxima by Stephen Baxter

Gollancz, 2013, 485 p.

Proxima cover

Proxima is set in the mid-twenty second century after the Heroic Generation has been demonised in retrospect. Yuri Eden was cryogenically stored by his parents till better times arrived. He wakes up on the Ad Astra, a starship bound for Proxima Centauri, one of many caught up in a sweep (press-ganged) to provide colonists for an Earth-like planet tide-locked to that system’s third sun.

Meanwhile back in the solar system — where, on Mercury, mysterious artefacts known as kernels have been discovered and are proving a revolutionary power source — Stephanie Penelope Kalinski is forging her career as a physicist.

Life on Proxima c, dubbed Per Ardua by the colonists, is harsh and brutal. Soon, out of his group of thirteen colonists, only Yuri and Mardina Jones, a ship’s officer of Australian aboriginal lineage, delegated/dragooned/abandoned by her commander to fill a gap in the manifest as the best genetically diverse replacement available, are left, along with an AI robot known as a ColU. Together they watch the local life forms – stick-like creatures they call builders – while trying to scratch a living from the surface. Despite mutual misgivings they have a daughter, whom they name Beth. Despite strict orders to remain where they were set down they have to migrate as their water source – a lake – is moved by the builders. Eventually, meeting other groups along the way they gravitate towards the point on the Per Ardua’s surface immediately below the sun.

On Mercury a further apparently alien device is discovered under a hatch in the bedrock. When it’s opened Stephanie finds a twin, Penelope Dianne, previously unknown to her, and her name has become Stephanie Karen, but everyone else thinks this is how it has been all along. The hatch has altered reality, created ragged edges like Steph’s memories or her mother’s headstone where Steph’s original name remains inscribed. The hatch sequences were somewhat reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke’s The Sentinel (which provided the germ for 2001: A Space Odyssey.) The link between the two narratives is then established.

This is all good, solid Science-Fictional stuff but the characters are not very engaging, limited in scope, mostly at the mercy of the plot, present only to push the story along.

Pedant’s corner:- The edition I read was a proof copy so some of these may have been corrected in the final printing. “People moving around him wearing in green shirts and hygiene caps and masks” (wearing in?) like cvNissan huts (Nissen huts – unless Baxter is essaying a pun.) “A women” (woman,) “‘And we are going -’ He pointed straight up … There.’” (that’s a continued sentence the “he” should not be capitalised,) “she understood that that the” (only one “that”,) “from Earth and moon” (traditionally Earth’s [principal] satellite is afforded proper noun status, Moon.) “The throng gathering …. were” (the throng was,) “not as fast as it would in Earth” (on Earth.) “He’d known here on Mars,) He’d known her on Mars,) “a position were the cuffs” (where the cuffs,) focussed (x2, focused,) “‘..what time it be when’” (time will it be when .) “In her dreams she had been the one seprated from the rest, in her dreams.” (repetition of “in her dreams” is unnecessary.) “The ColU continued to stress was that the” (no “was” needed.) “‘Waiting for the prize, where you?’” (were you,) “‘its relationship, of any,’” (if any,) a paragraph start doubly indented, fit (fitted,) “had been the only way route by which she” (either way or route, not both,) “‘they’ve been are about us’” (either ‘they’ve been’ or ‘they are’, not ‘they’ve been are’,) “the ancient impact created shattered the bedrock” (“created” is redundant,) “the further Proxima rise in the sky” (rose,) put-puts (putt-putts,) “a party of four of them … made their way” (a party made its way.) “On the wall opposite other was some kind of” ) on the wall opposite was some kind of,) antennas (antennae.) “There hadn’t been much opportunities” (‘There hadn’t been much opportunity’, or, ‘There hadn’t been many opportunities’.) None of their families were here” (None of their families was here,) Secretary Generals (Secretaries General,) grills (grilles,) “that the languages of widely scattered groups was so consistent” (either ‘language’, or, ‘were so consistent’,) “of the species and their culture” (its culture,) Lu (elsewhere Liu.) “A couple of crew members were” (a couple was,) “‘will be like atomised when we lift’” (no need for the ‘like’,) “there was no point holding their breath” (breaths.)

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