Archives » Science Fiction

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Titan Books, 2016, 429 p.

 All the Birds in the Sky cover

This, Anders’s first novel, is a blend of Fantasy and Science Fiction which starts off reading like YA fiction but soon enough makes clear that it deals with adult matters too. Patricia Delfine very early in her life realises she is a witch when birds begin to talk to her and she can talk back. She also has a conversation with a speaking tree – The Tree. In school her path crosses that of Laurence Armstead, a so-called techno-geek, who invents for himself a two-second time machine for travel only into the future, and later builds an AI he calls CH@NG3M3. For both of them schooldays are a kind of purgatory, as they are picked on and bullied. Their home lives are little better, both using the other as a means of convincing their parents they are out doing what is desired for them rather than what they wish for themselves. Mixed in with all this is an assassin called Mr Rose who gets a job as counsellor at their school in order to monitor their activities. Despite appearing intermittently in the novel Mr Rose’s function is not really clearly defined.

Later the children’s lives diverge as Patricia finds the company of other witches (whose old division into Healers and Tricksters was patched over many years before.) She is always being warned by them of the dangers of Aggrandisement. It seems just about anything she does can be interpreted in this way. Laurence is recruited by Milton Dirth to work on his project to build a wormhole machine to take humans to another planet. In the background there is a large degree of environmental degradation which makes this construction seem worthwhile and in daily life an electronic device called a Caddy somehow engineers people’s lives to be better through apparently serendipitous meetings and the like. How all these things are connected and Patricia and Laurence’s coming together in adult life are central to the story.

There are some observations on human nature. In one of their conversations Laurence says to Patricia “‘no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you’re not. But if you’re clever and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish they were.’”

Oddly, despite the novel being written in USian I noticed the British usages, “a total wanker,” “for some emergency nookie,” and “one intense wank fantasy.” In addition I was delighted to see the phrase “head for the Dumbarton.” (The Dumbarton is a bridge over San Francisco Bay – the southernmost. Its name derives from Dumbarton Point, itself named after my home town.)

Though it has some flaws, All the Birds in the Sky is overall an impressive debut.

Pedant’s corner:- epicenter [sic] (it was a centre,) a missing comma before a quotation mark, a capital letter after a colon, “none of the computers were connected” (none .. was connected,) “‘to lay low’” (lie low,) Patricia at one point is said to have reasonably fullish breasts but later they are described as small, “Here’s what Isobel said to Laurence, just before the earthquake hit” is a poor – a dreadful – way to start a flashback.

Interzone Again

Interzone 284 cover
Skein Island cover

Interzone 284 has arrived. This issue contains my reviews of Automatic Eve by Rokuro Inui and of the short story collection Incomplete Solutions by Wole Talabi.

My next review for the mag will be of Skein Island by Aliya Whiteley, which came today. Ms Whiteley has had several stories in Interzone over the past few years and took over the mantle of SF/writing columnist in Interzone when Nina Allan gave that up.

Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas

Coronet, 1981, 252 p.

 Walk to the End of the World cover

This book has an odd, disjointed structure, being narrated sequentially from the point of view of four of its characters, Captain Kelmz, Servan d Layo, Eykar Bek and Alldera, before the final section, called Destination, which switches between the last three of those. It was a bit of a slog at first as there was a significant degree of information dumping and much of the story was told, not shown to us.

The setting is many, many years after The Wasting, where most of humanity was wiped out by various environmental disasters and their accompanying wars. The remains of humanity are congregated in a smallish land area known as Holdfast, bounded on two sides by The Wild and stretching from the inland town of ’Troi to Lammintown and Bayo on the coast with a slight seaside extension to Endpath. (These are – unneccesarily – outlined on a map which follows the dedication page.)

Holdfast is a subsistence society run by men who blame the descent of the species on women, here known as Fems and treated as subhuman slaves barely fit for the necessary breeding (which is looked on with more than distaste by the men, who are supposed to prefer same-sex encounters.) The litany of those “Dirties” who are the butt of the men’s displeasure at their reduced state is a list of all those whom political right-wingers have traditionally despised. They chant, “Reds, Blacks, Browns, Kinks; Gooks, Dagos, Greasers, Chinks; Ragheads, Niggas, Kites, Dinks,” and, “Lonhairs, Raggles, Bleedingarts; Faggas, Hibbies, Families, Kids; Junkies, Skinheads, Collegeists; Ef-eet Iron-mentalists,” adding, “Bird, Cat, Chick, Sow, Filly, Tigress, Bitch, Cow,” and, “the dreadful weapons of the unmen; cancer, raybees, deedeetee; Zinc, lead and mer-cur-ee.”

I note that in that second last list, of derogatory terms for women, Charnas has missed out the most potent, the c-word, which her characters would more probably have gloried in. (It may be she thought it would not get past her publishers. Possibly she tried, and they vetoed it.)

In Holdfast, intergenerational conflict is thought to be inevitable and male children are brought up not knowing who their father is (and vice versa.) This provides part of the motor for the plot as Eykar Bek, once Endtendant at Endpath, to where men go at the end of their lives for a ritual suicide, knows his father is Raff Maggomas but not his whereabouts. The plot involves d Layo, Bek and the fem Alldera variously hiding out from the men at Lammintown and Bayo before travelling to ’Troi where the final confrontationt takes place. As Alldera is set on finding the legendary free women in The Wild, whom we do not meet (and into which we do not venture) in this novel, scope is afforded for a sequel.

At time of first publication in 1974 the future postulated here may have seemed an overly pessimistic view of the future of gender relations – which then were becoming more fluid in the West. But suppression of women never really went away in the wider world and in these days of resurgent male chauvinism in the so-called “mature” democracies and the less polite areas of the internet, it is frighteningly plausible.

Undoubtedly feminist as Charnas’s intent was, as a novel, taking the gender relationships aside, the mechanics of Walk to the End of the World’s plot and the degree (or lack of it) of characterisation were pretty standard SF fare for the time.

Pedant’s corner:- a UK edition but printed in USian. Kelmz’ (many instances; Kelmz’s,) Maggomas’ (several instances; Maggomas’s,) pantomines (pantomimes,) flutists’ (flautists’) focussed (focused,) Chings (Chinks,) lambaste (lambast,) tattoed (tattooed,) Matris’ (x2, Matris’s,) gutterals (gutturals,) gasses (gases,) Robrez’ (Robrez’s,) a missing end quotation mark, “to wipe the thin film of pinkish blood, from the Trukker’s blade” (doesn’t need the comma,) metail-tipped (metal-tipped,) dismissal (dismissal,) mock-obsequity (mock-obsequiousness.)

Resolution Way by Carl Neville

Repeater, 2016, 395 p.

 Resolution Way by Carl Neville cover

Ah. The drawbacks of writing near future SF. In this novel Scotland seems to be independent (not that much is made of that) yet there hasn’t been a UK referendum on EU membership. What there is, is an extrapolation of what life might look like under a right wing regime which treats workers as scum and non-workers as even worse.

It seems at first to be about the attempt by Alex Hargreaves, writer of a novel called Gilligan’s Century which plagiarised earlier works but was excused by him as being a kind of remix, into the life and archive of disappeared (and thought dead) 1970s pop musician Vernon Crane. Hargreaves has come across one chapter of a novel written by Crane but knows other chapters were scattered among Crane’s friends. Hargreraves wants to publish it as his own. The tale is then broadened out by the use of a succession of different viewpoint characters, a strategy which serves to flesh out this future dystopia (though it doesn’t seem too much of a leap for society to get there as many of the harsher elements are incipient in the concept of austerity) showing it from various angles.

An example of present day trend extrapolation is that the employees of fast food franchise Heart of Chicken have to wear a plastic heart on their chests, an affective monitoring system which glows if they are happy, and if it doesn’t glow customers get a refund. Cue customers making employees lives miserable and the highest staff turnover rate in the world. (A similar technology is used in brothels.) Then there is the Community Giveback scheme where unproductive (or just unlucky) members of society have to work off debt or simply gain subsistence by it. This can extend into Permanent Giveback, when the recipients of this largesse by the state are obliged to have children so that they can pay off the debt.

It’s a horribly plausible description of a world where solidarity and fellow feeling have all but evaporated and public considerations have devolved into rampant individualism – and outright cruelty. About the only quotable phrase in the novel, though, is the rumination, “Music and love and sentimentality: dangerous drugs.”

The final section, titled Resolution, where we revisit the viewpoint characters in much shorter chunks, didn’t work for me and the alternative endings to characters’ stories we are provided with, as well as smacking of an author having his cake and eating it, did not chime with everything that had gone before. Even so Resolution Way has its moments and Neville inhabits his viewpoint characters’ heads convincingly. But, oh my…. What a list for Pedant’s corner.

Pedant’s corner:- “there were a small number” (there was a small number.) “5trhere were a series of adverts” (there was a series,) “‘he might have distributed things too’” (to,) “laying on his back” (lying – plus one more instance of laying where lying is the correct word) Hargreaves’ (x3, Hargreaves’s,) “the locked draw of his desk” (drawer,) “to take her mind of things” (off things,) Louise (elsewhere spelled Lewis, but this is the girl’s mother’s viewpoint and she is probably using Lewis’s given name rather than the version she may have chosen for herself,) “as a women” (woman,) “raise a few wains” (this West of Scotland word for kids is spelled weans,) “and slides into the machine” (slides it into the machine,) snuck (sneaked,) “a gaggle of schoolkids run” (a gaggle … runs,) “if he wanted too” (to.) “Ahh yes” (usually ‘Ah yes’,) “off in quiet corner” (in a quiet corner,) “some lingering anxiety about … have held her back” (some lingering anxiety … has held her back,) “a spectacularly attractive women” (woman,) unstaunchable (unstanchable,) curb (kerb,) “later on he has meeting” (has a meeting,) “stuck up a friendship with” (struck up,) Lewis’ (Lewis’s,) “of how not to be slave” (a slave.) “The same company that are trying” (that is trying,) “her work log and pen …. and lays it down” (and lays them down,) “the way the body is a whole, interconnected system” (no comma needed.) “That must have has soaked up ..” (either ‘must have’ or ‘has’; not both,) “so a series of …. have been set up” (a series .. has been set up,) “Peter’s has been” (Peters has been,) “to numerous players, each of whom use it in different ways” (each of whom uses it …,) “he’s had had to listen” (only one ‘had’ needed,) “not quite the young, brilliant billionaire though he was” (not quite the young, brilliant billionaire he thought he was,) focussed (focused,) “naught but a whisp,) (wisp,) waitress’ (waitress’s,) epicentre (centre,) “from the desk draw” (drawer,) whiskey (whisky,) Ferris’ (Ferris’s. I gave up noting these errant apostrophes much earlier in the book, this happened to be on the same page as another literal,) “let’s the petrol pour onto the rug” (lets the petrol. This – and the draw/drawer confusion earlier – are pretty unforgiveable mistakes to make,) “What’s left of his face begin to tremor” (begins,) “and a four rapid little taps” (and four rapid little taps,) “under and Immigration Threat Relocation Order” (under an Immigration Threat Relocation Order,) “as the crowd from the enclave head” (as the crowd … heads,) “she wants to give her mum piece of mind” (peace of mind,) a missing full stop at a section’s end, “with a dead Author” (author.) “He said that you would kill me to have me” (‘He said that you would kill to have me’ makes more sense.)

the Extremes by Christopher Priest

Scribner, 1999, 398 p.

the Extremes cover

FBI operative Teresa Simons has lost her husband in one of those shooting incidents typical of the US. In an attempt to assuage her grief and probe the circumstances of similar tragedies she has travelled to her native England, from where her parents emigrated when she was young, to visit the south coast town of Bulverton, also scene of a (much less typical) mass shooting several months before. In her FBI training to improve the responses of law enforcement agents in such cases Teresa had undergone many immersions in virtual reality scenarios of shooting incidents. We are given accounts of several of these where Teresa inhabited the minds of different participants – victims, bystanders, perpetrator. Commercial VR outlets are also a feature of this world and, in them, shooting simulations (as well as the inevitable porn) are widely popular. Employees of the GunHo Corporation, purveyors of ExEx (extreme experience, their version of virtual reality, which overall amounts to the second largest economy in this world) also occupy the hotel where Teresa is staying and are willing to pay the town’s inhabitants enormous sums for their recollections of the fatal day.

Like Philip K Dick, Priest has always been a slippery prospect. In his work appearances can be deceptive and reality tenuous. As Teresa delves deeper into ExEx’s wares, trying to find the limits to their scenarios, the outside world starts to become less concrete. If, in a scenario, you enter an ExEx property within it and immerse yourself in one of its simulations where will you emerge when you activate the trigger that is supposed to restore you to the ‘real’ world? In particular she has to face up to her own responsibility for, within an ExEx simulation, inadvertently showing the Bulverton shooter how to handle the gun he is carrying. Is she to blame for the subsequent deaths? This has the potential to takes us down a rabbit hole which Priest manages to sidestep but the phrase, “Extreme reality was a landscape of forking paths,” is undoubtedly a nod to Borges’s famous short story wherein he presaged the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics by decades.

The subject matter invites comment. The fascination some people have with guns is undoubted but I suspect they would not be swayed out of it in any way by the observation, however true, that, “the more there were people who owned guns, who made themselves expert with guns, who prepared to defend themselves with guns, who went on hunting trips with guns, who mouthed slogans about freedom and rights being dependent on guns, the more those guns were likely to be abused and to fall into the wrong hands.”

As usual Priest’s characters are well drawn and believable. This is so even within the virtual realities. For a twenty year-old narrative this still holds up remarkably well.

Pedant’s corner:- On the cover and spine the title is given as the Extremes but the title page has The Extremes. At times the narrative slips between English and USian usages. Otherwise; Mrs Simons’ (Simons’s,) epicentre (centre,) “in bright orange shirt” (in a bright …,) “the police Swat team were trying to gain access” (the police Swat team was trying ….) “A crowd … were staring” (a crowd … was staring,) non-antibioticly (non-antibiotically?) Mrs Williams’ (Williams’s.) “She thought, Any more of this and….” (Either put the ‘any more of this and….’ in quotation marks or lose the capital ‘A’.)

Body of Glass by Marge Piercy

Penguin, 1992, 590 p.

Body of Glass cover

In a post-environmental disaster, post-nuclear war world dominated by commercial multis Shira Shipman has returned to her domed home of Tikva after Y-S, the multi she worked for, awarded custody of her son, Ari, to her husband. In Tikva she finds that Avram has created a(n illegal) cyborg, Yod, named for the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (He – Piercy depicts Yod as male and to all intents and purposes fully human – has had nine less successful predecessors.) Shira’s grandmother Malkah has helped Avram to construct Yod’s persona as the previous efforts had lacked, for want of a better word, humanity. Complicating Shira’s return is the presence of Avram’s son, Gadi, Shira’s first lover and a producer of computer generated entertainment, but who is constitutionally incapable of keeping himself to one woman. There is an ongoing effort to keep Yod’s nature secret within Tikva, always under threat of attack by information pirates, and to prevent Y-S from gaining control of him for itself.

Paralleling this narrative and taking up one out of every three of the book’s chapters we are treated to the story of the golem of Prague (called Joseph,) created by Rabbi Loew to protect the Prague ghetto’s inhabitants from their gentile neighbours. This is presented as if Malkah is telling it to Yod and is interesting enough but is really meant as a counterpoint to Tikva’s situation – though there are perhaps too many similarities between the two strands of the book (the would-be independent woman in Prague, Chava, is what Malkah considers herself to be) – and also to act as an illustration of the struggle against the perennial prejudice Jewish people have suffered throughout history. The inhabitants of Tikva seem all to be Jews but that is more or less incidental to the plot in those sections, whereas in Prague it is the central consideration.

The contest between Shira and Y-S for custody of Ari and of Tikva with Y-S makes up the meat of the plot and provides most of the science-fictional interest – she and Yod themselves undertake what is in effect a cyber attack on Y-S, very William Gibson – but these are in many ways the least satisfying aspects of the novel as Piercy is considering what it might mean to be Jewish (Jewish words and customs are liberally sprinkled through both strands) and, in the characters of Yod and Joseph, interrogating what it means to be human. While Joseph and Chava do not, Yod and Shira become close and eventually lovers. Yod is of course more accomplished than either Gadi or Shira’s husband ever were – or could be. In one of their conversations Shira tells Yod telepathy is a prominent human fantasy – usually of women, who wish they could understand what men want and tell men what they want. Not that their relationship, and that of Shira with Malkah, is without complication. This is a fully fleshed out narrative, more intricate than I have room to set down here. It’s easy to see why it won the Clarke Award in 1993.

I noticed the phrase, “my wee installation.” Is there perhaps a Scottish influence on Piercy there?

Pedant’s corner:- The publication date given is 1992 but the author information tells us this won the Clarke Award in 1993, so it must be a later reprint. Otherwise; Fernandez’ (Fernandez’s,) hung (several times, hanged,) “a epiphenomenon” (an epiphenomenon,) “conveyer belt” (conveyor belt,) “Each people has their own road, their own destiny” (has its own road, its own destiny. People is treated as singular two lines below this!) “If she were Gadi, she would not be careless in turning his back to Yod” (if she were, then she would not be careless in turning her back,) “a group of Jews … follow after” (a group … follows after,) “the doctor yanks it free as she streams, the blood spurting out” (as she screams,) “to staunch the rush of blood” (stanch.) “Malkah shuffled after here” (after her.) “Because the house disapproved of him so strongly she wondered sometimes if an occasional message did not get lost” (she wondered sometimes if an occasional message got lost,) “eighteen hundred point fifteen hours” (eighteen hundred point one five hours – especially as this is an AI [the house] speaking,) plasticene (plasticine.)

The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri

Titan Books, 2018, 384 p. Published in Interzone 277, Sep-Oct 2018.

 The Book of Hidden Things cover

Dimitri is an Italian fantasy author now living in London. This is his first novel in English but there is no awkwardness in the text to betray that circumstance. In fact he writes with more facility than many a published native speaker (for which he can be forgiven the few USianisms present.) The book’s setting, though, is deepest, darkest rural Italy, the Puglia region, a town called Casalfranco. Four friends, Tony, Fabio, Mauro and Art(uro) have a pact to meet up in their home town every year, kept to ever since they left school, despite mostly living elsewhere, abroad in one case. This year Art doesn’t turn up. The other three feel compelled to find out why.

Things are complicated by the fact that in their youth Art disappeared for a week (putting his friends under suspicion) and never gave a truly satisfactory explanation for his absence. Due to that legacy the Carabinieri aren’t interested in his latest disappearance and the three (musketeers?) are left to their own devices. Their investigation of Art’s home reveals an unsavoury aspect to his recent activities and, in his marijuana plantation, a likely source of conflict with the local mafia, the Sacra Corona Unita. The deeper into the web of Art’s life they delve the more they find his connections dangerous. For a dispensation, Art once cured a Corona chief’s granddaughter of leukaemia by mysterious means and in a previous conversation he raved about Hidden Things. He is also said to have been obsessed with a woman he called la Madama.

The bulk of the narrative is carried by first person, present tense sections narrated by one or other of the three and in which their present relationships and frustrations with their lives are revealed, with salient important incidents from the past drip-fed to the reader throughout the novel. Very little of this has the feel of fantasy and most of it reads more like a crime novel. In fact until Dimitri inserts his slice of the weird (and even afterwards to a great extent) The Book of Hidden Things felt as if it could easily have been a lost Iain Banks – without the M – novel written somewhere in the continuum between The Crow Road and Stonemouth. There is that same emphasis on home, and the gravitational pull of family and old friendships, not to mention one of our narrators’ fascination with a particular woman. Obviously some things are universal.

Up to now all might have served to illustrate the thought, “We think we are in control of our lives but we aren’t. Most of the time we don’t know what we’re doing.”

A start to resolution comes when they read the prologue to Art’s manuscript THE BOOK OF HIDDEN THINGS, a discourse about barriers and dry stone walls as boundaries.

Then, as before, the spanner in the works, Art returns, with a story about being drawn over the boundary into a world of hedonism, his rejection from it and desire to go back, which he accomplished. Even though Puglia lies under “a long-forgotten curse that makes change, any change, impossible,” his book delineates the connection of physical things and spirituality. Landscape is context, not backdrop. People have left the land, giving space for the hidden things to flourish. Chapels dedicated to all sorts of Saints litter the countryside. Junctions between the profane and the sacred, the seen and unseen, they mark the boundary between two different lands. He expresses his wish to take his friends across the barrier with him and the necessity of transgression to breach it. Not convinced (all the other world seems to boil down to is a promise of endless sex) the three swither over trying to stop him. And the Corona wants to use his abilities for their own purposes.

Dimitri’s book captures the claustrophobia of small town life, the brooding atmosphere of menace of a mafia ridden polity, the yearning for the lost possibilities of youth and the belated acceptance of adulthood. The possibility that Art may be mad, or at least delusional, is left open till the last word, which swings the pendulum firmly in one direction. Whether it contains enough of the fantasy element to satisfy the buffs is a matter of choice but The Book of Hidden Things is well-written, characterful and, in the end, humane. You could read it for those alone.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- *ass for arse, ice tea for iced tea, awesome, faggot. Otherwise; “none of us were expecting” (none of us was expecting,) Lucius Apelius’ (Apelius’s.) “The first thing I notice are the books” (the first thing is the books,) Blu-Tack (Blu-Tak?) “there are a set number of pharmacies” (there is a set number,) “their chirping reaches a crescendo” (reaches a climax, the crescendo is the rise not its culmination,) “a bunch of teenagers burst into laughter” (a bunch of teenagers bursts into laughter,) “the tourist crowd find it oh-so- picturesque” (the tourist crowd finds it.) “Half of Casalfranco were my father’s students” (half was,) “‘the only structure I ever saw on that side were drystone walls’” (the only structure was,) the golden writing underneath assure the faithful (the writing assures the faithful.) “The couple seem happy” (the couple seems happy.)

Supercute Futures by Martin Millar

Piatkus, 2018, 232 p. Review first published in Interzone 277, Sep-Oct 2018.

Welcome to the realm of Mox and Mitsu, stars of the Supercute Show, the world’s most popular entertainment. Starting as teenage girls in a bedroom in London with only an iPhone and a collection of cuddly toys, using their own skills, software assistance and enhanced bodies – only thirty percent of their brains is still organic, about the only original body parts left – they have parlayed their following into the mammoth Supercute Enterprises, one of the world’s top nineteen conglomerates, with fingers in every pie (including weapons production) but particularly desalination. Their trade-marks are multi – but never clashing – colours, always having twelve centimetres of skin showing between their skirts/shorts and stockings (they are not unaware of older male followers) and Big Colour Super V-hair. Not color, note. Mox insists. Civilisation may be having a difficult time but it’s not yet ended. The Supercute Show can be accessed via what reads like “normal” television but also through Supercute space, in effect a virtual reality zone, a kaleidoscopic cyberspace, entry to which is mediated through purchases and brand enthusiasm.

The outside world is in the wake of an unspecified set of disasters alluded to but not described in the text. Large areas lie derelict and deserted at best, irradiated at worst, with government regulation of the C19 virtually non-existent and its members subject to fierce competition. “‘When you get to a certain size you can’t stop.’” Investors want growth. If you stand still you get swallowed up. Hence Mox and Mitsu are there to be shot at.

Enter Moe Bennie at Lark 3 Media with his offer to Supercute’s desalination rivals RK Enviro. He plans to exploit a flaw in Mox’s and Mitsu’s android Artificial Intelligence Forecast Unit, Aifu, to gain control of the company’s shares and consign Mox and Mitsu to oblivion. Literally. Members of the C19 deploy lethal force vigorously to protect their interests. Premises are guarded by “ag-scans” which detect hostile intent.

It does then seem a little odd that Millar puts into Bennie’s mouth the thought, “‘Most people don’t care about the super-rich. They’re struggling through life, worrying how they’re going to pay the rent while politicians tell them it’s time to make sacrifices. Meanwhile some guy on a yacht had just made 100 million with his AI investment software. The same day my first hedge fund reached ten billion, the government cut child benefit in half.’” The text offers no other trace of conscience on his part. Rather the opposite.

Not that Mox and Mitsu are innocent themselves. As things progress we learn more about how their success was achieved, how much potentially reputation damaging information they have suppressed. Their rise was in part propelled by confrontationalism, until their edge was blunted by the necessity to placate advertisers, their educational intent watered down so as not to baffle consumers unduly. Happy Little Science Pixie, anyone? In this, Millar’s dystopia is depressingly familiar.

Bennie’s strategy begins to succeed and the Supercute Show falls off air but he has reckoned without Mox and Mitsu’s determination and their devoted followers. Two of these, Amowie in Igboland and Raquel in South America, all but pre-teenagers, are the most engaging and (a little conveniently?) resourceful characters in the book.

The final confrontation – in shoot-em-up style – is enabled by a pair of time-limited Mox and Mitsu clones quickly computer-printed in a back-street laboratory.

The comparison to Vonnegut which is blazoned on the back cover is to my mind totally misplaced and does Millar no favours. There is a certain tonal similarity but in matters of execution Millar falls way behind, especially as regards information dumping. It is obtrusive enough elsewhere but it sometimes appears that the only purpose of a Mox and Mitsu conversation is so that a piece of background can follow immediately. Plus no matter how true it is I don’t recall a Vonnegut protagonist ever displaying cynicism of the order of, “‘As for confidence. If you don’t have enough you can fake it…. tell the world it’s lucky to have you … after you’ve faked it for a while, you’ll start to believe it.’” He was more for the underdog.

Supercute Futures isn’t pretending to be high art nor is it a rigorous exposure of corporate (lack of) ethics. It’s a bit too broad brush for that and its intention different. But if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a pleasant enough ride.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- (I stopped counting the number of times a corporate entity in this book was granted a plural verb form; such an organisation is a singular concern.) Otherwise; a missing end quote mark, desalinisation (innumerable instances, the word is desalination,) “Mox and Mitsu’s” (strictly Mox’s and Mitsu’s but they are frequently treated as a single unit linguistically here,) “Ms Mason’s” (Ms Mason,) neeed (need,) fender (civilisation hasn’t ended, remember: it’s bumper,) “‘his board aren’t going to abandon the deal’” (his board isn’t,) “‘I have to go to’” (I have to go.) “Neither were squeamish” (neither was squeamish.) “Soot in the stratosphere had severely damaged the ozone layer.” (I doubt it would. In addition the text following that sentence gives the impression the ozone layer prevents Earth overheating. It doesn’t, it blocks ultra-violet, not infra-red radiation,) “turbulence in the ionosphere affects satellite communications” (really?) “said one of the policeman” (policemen,) “in the celling” (ceiling,) anesthetised (anaesthetised, or better still anæsthetised.) “Once Ishikawa had lowered their radiation to manageable levels” (that’s some jump in medical technology to be able to do that.)

That List Again

The Guardian’s 100 Best Books of the century, Part Two.

I have read the ones in bold.

50 Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)
49 Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (2011)
48 Night Watch by Terry Pratchett (2002)
47 Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000-2003), translated by Mattias Ripa (2003-2004)
46 Human Chain by Seamus Heaney (2010)
45 Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (2013)
44 Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (2004)
43 Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014)
42 Moneyball by Michael Lewis (2010)
41 Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
40 The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
39 White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
38 The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
37 The Green Road by Anne Enright (2015)
36 Experience by Martin Amis (2000)
35 The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (2010)
34 Outline by Rachel Cusk (2014)
33 Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006)
32 The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)
31 The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (2015)
30 The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)
29 A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (2009), translated by Don Bartlett (2012)
28 Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy (2005)
27 Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (2001)
25 Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018)
24 A Visit from The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2011)
23 The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon (2001)
22 Tenth of December by George Saunders (2013)
21 Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (2011), translated by Harari with John Purcell and Haim Watzman (2014)
20 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)
19 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night‑Time by Mark Haddon (2003)
18 The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (2007)
17 The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
16 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
15 The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
14 Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)
13 Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
12 The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (2004)
11 My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011), translated by Ann Goldstein (2012)
10 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
09 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)
08 Autumn by Ali Smith (2016)
07 Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)
06 The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (2000)
05 Austerlitz by WG Sebald (2001), translated by Anthea Bell (2001)
04 Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
03 Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (2013), translated by Bela Shayevich (2016)
02 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
01 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

Nine out of this fifty, but I’ve read the number 1. I’ve got a good run between six and twelve.
However. Life After Life at no 20? Not A God in Ruins?

A List. (Well; Part of a List)

This list – supposedly of the 100 best books of the 21st century (so far) – was published in The Guardian Review on Saturday 21/9/19. (Some of them are non-fiction which I’m extremely unlikely to read.)

I’ve split it in two for purposes of concision in a post.

The usual annotations apply. Those in bold I have read, an asterisk denotes intention to read.

100 I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (2006)
99 Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou (2005), translated by Helen Stevenson (2009)
98 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005), translated by Steven T Murray (2008)
97 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (2000)
96 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
95 Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan (2004)
94 The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
93 Darkmans by Nicola Barker (2007)
92 The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2001)
91 Light by M John Harrison (2002)
90 Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2008), translated by Susan Bernofsky (2010)
89 Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000)
88 Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)
87 Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (2017)
86 Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis (2017)
85 The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006)
84 The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (2018)
83 Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli (2016), translated by Luiselli with Lizzie Davis (2017)
82 Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
81 Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)
80 Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (2002)
79 The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009)
78 The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin (2015)
77 Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (2009), translated by Lisa Dillman (2015)
76 Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)
75 Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (2009), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (2018)
74 Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2016)
73 Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (2009)
72 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff (2019)
71 Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (2000)
70 Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003)
69 The Infatuations by Javier Marías (2011), translated by Margaret Jull Costa (2013)
68 The Constant Gardener by John le Carré (2001)
67 The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (2018)*
66 Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli (2014)
65 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
64 On Writing by Stephen King (2000)
63 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
62 Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn (2006)
61 This House of Grief by Helen Garner (2014)
60 Dart by Alice Oswald (2002)
59 The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson (2002)
58 Postwar by Tony Judt (2005)
57 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
56 Underland by Robert Macfarlane (2019)
55 The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (2006)
54 Women & Power by Mary Beard (2017)
53 True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)
52 Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)
51 Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (2009)

As you can see I’ve only read four of this selection – all of them broadly under the SF or fantasy umbrella.

free hit counter script