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SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (ii)

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

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

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

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (i)

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

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (ii)

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

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (iii)

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

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (iv)

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (i)

My contribution this week to Reader in the Wilderness’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times meme. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

These are some of my hardback SF and Fantasy books. I didn’t buy many hardbacks back in the day (except second hand) so most of these are fairly modern SF and some are review copies.

Science Fiction Hardbacks (i)

Above note some J G Ballard (his Empire of the Sun ought not really be shelved here but it keeps his books together,) Iain M Banks, Eric Brown, Alan Campbell, Ted Chiang, the wonderful Michael G Coney, the excellent Richard Cowper, Hal Duncan and Matthew Fitt’s amazing But n Ben A-Go-Go, an SF novel written entirely in Scots.

The next shelf still has some of its adornments in front:-

Science Fiction Hardbacks (ii)

Stand-outs here are Mary Gentle, the all-but indescribable R A Lafferty, the sublime Ursula Le Guin, Stanisław Lem, Graham Dunstan Martin, Ian R MacLeod, Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald.

You’ll also see the proof copy of a novel titled A Son of the Rock perched above the books at the right hand end on row 2.

Women of Wonder, Edited by Pamela Sargent

THE CLASSIC YEARS. Science Fiction by women from the 1940 to the 1970s
A Harvest Original, Harcourt Brace, 1995, 446 p, including 20 p Introduction by Pamela Sargent, 14 p “About the Authors”, 1 p “About the Editor”, 13 p Recommended Reading: Science Fiction by Women 1818-1978, and 2 p Permission Acknowledgements.

 Women of Wonder: The Classic Years cover

Since it covers some of the same ground it was odd reading this at the same time as All that Outer Space Allows. (I tend to read short fiction during the day and novels in the evening.)
In the Introduction Pamela Sargent traces the history of women writing SF which goes back a long way even if you discount Mary Shelley. It is true, though, that the profile of female SF writers certainly became more prominent in the 1970s. The stories in the book are listed on the contents page by the date when they were first published. I have included those dates below.
No Woman Born by C L Moore (1944) explicitly riffs on the Frankenstein story. Here a female dancer who died in a theatre fire has had her brain preserved and placed in a wonderfully supple metallic body so that she (it?) can continue performing. “‘The whole idea was to re-create what I’d lost so that it could be proved that beauty and talent need not be sacrificed by the estruction of parts or all of the body.’” The usual philosophical considerations apply.
In the war-ridden, radiation-raddled world of That Only a Mother by Judith Merril (1948) there has been an increase in the mutation rate, but the worst cases can be predicted and prevented. Infanticide committed by fathers is also on the rise. Margaret gives birth to a daughter while her husband is away on war service. The child is precociously gifted as regards cognitive development and speech. The father does not realise anything else might be amiss till he returns.
Contagion by Katherine McLean (1950) is set on a planet where a newly touched down expedition discovers previous settlers, who it turns out were severely affected by a disease they called melting sickness. Only certain genetic strains are able to survive.
In The Woman from Altair by Leigh Brackett (1951) the title character has been brought back from Altair as his wife by, David, one of the famous spacefaring MacQuarrie family. His brother Rafe, never eager to go into space, and his girl-friend Marthe begin to have suspicions when odd things start happening in the MacQuarrie household.
In a time of cold-war stress Short in the Chest by Margaret St Clair (1954) features the curious military custom of dighting, sexual encounters between members of the various armed services in order to relieve inter-service tension. Marine Major Sonya Briggs takes her problems with it to a huxley – a philosophic robot.
The box of Zenna Henderson’s The Anything Box (1956) is the invisible possession of Sue-lynn, a pupil in the narrator’s class. It nevertheless has weight and is where she goes to retreat from the world and find herself.
Death Between the Stars by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1956) is the tale of Helen Vargas, forced by circumstance and against all Terran norms and expectations to occupy the same cabin as a telepathic alien on her way back to Earth to avoid the outbreak of a war. The treatment of the alien by the prejudiced crew dismays her but its telepathic intrusions are equally disturbing. In death – brought on by its inhumane treatment – the alien finds a way to prolong its life, and study humans in secret.
The Ship Who Sang 1 by Anne McCaffrey (1961) is the story of the brain of a child malformed at birth but taken and grown inside a metal case eventually to become the controlling entity of a spaceship. She finds she can sing at any pitch and register.
The aliens in When I Was Miss Dow by Sonya Dorman Hess (1961) – who started her writing career as plain Sonya Dorman – can take various shapes at will and are able to be reconstituted in tanks. However, some of them are dependent on sulfadiazole which they can earn by working for humans. Our narrator reconstitutes as Miss Dow (recquiring her to have two brain lobes) and finds she is attracted to Dr Proctor, the human colony’s head biologist, whose assistant she becomes.
The Food Farm by Kit Reed (1966) is where our narrator is now in charge. Sent there by her parents to get over her addiction to binge-eating, a habit encouraged by hearing the singing of Tommy Fango on the radio, she rebelled when Fango visited and she was not allowed to see him, sought him out and discovered his main predilection, which she now seeks to fulfill.
The Heat Death of the Universe by Pamela Zoline (1967). “Sarah Boyle is a vivacious and witty young wife and mother, educated at a fine Eastern college, proud of her growing family, which keeps her happy and busy around the house, involved in many hobbies and community activities, and only occasionally given to obsessions concerning Time/Entropy/Chaos and Death.” Yeah, right. More like, “a woman’s work is never done” – and sometimes undoes her.
The Power of Time by Josephine Saxton (1971) uses the word Negro, likely to be frowned upon nowadays. It reverses the usual way of cross-Atlantic transactions. An English woman buys the whole of Manhattan island (previously owned by a descendant of native Americans) and transfers it to Leicestershire.
False Dawn by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1972) is set after an environmental apocalypse. A woman armed with a crossbow makes her way across the devastated landscape, trying to avoid the Pirates and mutant hunters. This contains the usual violent scenes accompanying such tales.
Nobody’s Home by Joanna Russ (1972) posits a future time of resource plenitude where people can travel the world at whim via transmission booths and hold parties willy-nilly. Leslie Smith turns up at one of these and puts a downer on it.
In The Funeral by Kate Wilhelm (1972) all non-citizens are the property of the state. This is a dystopia, with pre-echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale, where Carla has been brought up under the educational tenets of Madame Westfall. The funeral of the title is Westfall’s. She had hidden some secret knowledge the powers that be want to uncover. Carla finds the hiding place.
Vonda N McIntyre’s justly award-winning Of Mist and Grass and Sand (1973) tells of an incident in the life of a healer whose medicines are incubated by snakes before they bite the sufferer to “inject” the cure. Her clients of course fear her reptilian companions.
Another celebrated piece of feminist SF is The Women Men Don’t See2 (1973) published by Alice Sheldon under her pen name of James Tiptree Jr. Given that at the time of publication many thought “Tiptree” was a man, the story’s title is deliciously ironic. In it a plane with three passengers, our narrator Don plus a mother and daughter, goes down off the Yucatán peninsula. Don’s fantasies about female abilities are soon disabused as Ruth Parsons turns out to be very capable indeed. Also when he mentions women’s rights she tells him, “Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like … smoke. We’ll be back where we always were. Property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You’ll see.” Sadly, probably only too true. However, the intrusion of aliens near the end into felt like it came from another story altogether.
The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons by Eleanor Arnason (1974) tells how a cigar-smoking, tea-drinking, silver-haired maiden of thirty-five in a world where the usual bad stuff is on the news writes the story of the title, a somewhat schlocky enterprise which will read as bad as it sounds.
In Ursula K Le Guin’s The Day Before the Revolution (1974) an old anarchist, inspiration to her followers remembers her life of struggle and ruminates on what it all means. “Favouritism, elitism, leader-worship, they crept back and cropped out everywhere. But she had never hoped to see them eradicated in her lifetime, in one generation; only Time works the great changes.” She also comments on how people see her. “How brave of you to go on, to work, to write, in prison, after such a defeat for the Movement, after your partner’s death, people had used to say. Damn fools. What else had there been to do? Bravery, courage – What was courage? She had never figured it out. Not fearing, some said. Fearing going on, others said. But what could one do but go on? Had one any real choice, ever?” Human and humane.
The Family Monkey by Lisa Tuttle (1977) is an oddly constructed tale told from four different viewpoints of the adoption by a couple in Texas of an alien who crashlands in their graveyard. He is effectively part of the family down several generations. The concept of sleep is alien to him but when he finally achieves that state he experiences the humans’ dreams – and some of them experience his. The story contains the word “nigger,” reflecting the time and place in which that scene was set.
A totally immune-compromised woman is the ideal choice for the first interstellar human traveller in View from a Height by Joan D Vinge (1978.) Her trip gives her a perspective on life.

Pedant’s corner:- 1“When they were forced to, Central Worlds shrugged its shoulders” (either ‘it was forced to’ or, ‘their shoulders”,) “sound issued through microphones rather than mouths” (microphones take in, they do not emit sound. Loudspeaker is the appropriate word,) “her throat microphone” (her throat loudspeaker,) “spoke to Jennan only through her central mike” (through her central speaker.) 2“A flock of ibis are circling us” (a flock of ibis is circling us.)

Ice and Other Stories by Candas Jane Dorsey

PS Publishing, 2018, 316 p.

 Ice and Other Stories  cover

Dorsey has been described as Canada’s Ursula K Le Guin. While her writing is good I wouldn’t go so far as to compare it with Le Guin’s. Overall in these stories I found there is something of a reserved quality to it.

In (Learning About) Machine Sex viewpoint character Angel writes the first computer progamme that can bring you to orgasm, with no need for all that love stuff. Despite also positing the need for human interaction the story presents a pretty bleak view of male sexuality. But that has ever been what it is.
Sleeping in a Box is nominally set on a Moon where everything is expensive and imported from Earth but the story is really about restrictions and how we all have to live with them.
Here Be Dragons is a metaphor for navigating through a life filled with obstacles. A woman exacts a small measure of revenge for the destruction of a domed habitat.
Presented as a historical report, Turtles All the Way Down tells of the development of a new scientific explanation for “reality faults,” cracks where the world opens and closes.
Dvorzjak Symphony is the story of a nightwatchwoman who has a clandestine lover on the premises.
A tale about how little we may know those nearest to us, in Death of a Dream dreams have become almost real places, monitored by the Dream Police. The narrator’s dream daughter is abducted by her ex-husband. Of course she sets out to find her.
The far future narrator of Living in Cities has returned to Earth and is giving to another returnee a tourist guide of the city she has curated.
In Going Home to Baïblanca, described under its title as a homage (femmage?) á Elisabeth Vonarburg, a human-like sea creature rescues a man from drowning only to find he’s not what he seemed.
Mapping sees a man abused in childhood trace patterns on his skin with razor blades before eventually seeing a psychiatrist.
Ice is set in a warmed world where our protagonist goes round blowing up partially drowned skyscrapers while holding the memories of a dream child under the influence of a drug named spike.
The lack of a question mark in the title of How Many Angels Can Dance forces a reading in which an explanation of angels dancing is necessary, which the story then goes on to provide.
Locks has the feel, but not the form, of a fairy story. There is a castle with locked rooms and a guardian, a forest, and someone under an enchantment. All you need really.
Despite its first eleven words Once Upon a Time…. is not a fairy- but instead a cryptic love story, which alludes to faery and metaphor in a meta-fictional commentary on the idea of story.
Blood From a Stone is a fantasy which sees the balance of a mother and her daughter’s isolated existence upset when a male water finder arrives.
In Mom and Mother Teresa the famous nun turns up on our narrator’s mother’s doorstep. Her mother’s Scots Presbyterian childhood, “with its message of duty, sacrifice, and unhappiness” had not been erased by adult years’ attendance at the local United Church but her own parents’ training made her offer the little woman tea and the second most comfortable bed in the house. Mistake. Mother Theresa moves in – complete with twenty-five alphabetically named orphans and a host of homeless folks. There is another twist to come.
In a deep dark winter of ice-fog, shortages – and electric cars – in “…the darkest evening of the year…” a group celebrates midwinter in the old ways, roasting meat, seeking the return of the light and coming together.
Written for Canada Reads 2006, A Trade in Futures reads like a hard-boiled detective story but its narrator is a poet laureate and the client who comes through the door wants his raison d’être to be found again for him. The text does though make the obvious joke about having a poetic licence.
The allusion in the title of Seven in a Boat, No Dog to Jerome K Jerome is somewhat misplaced. There are seven characters, possibly the last North American survivors of an apocalypse – certainly the last with memories of the old days – but there are at least two boats and the tone is not as light as might be expected.
First Contact may be just that but is more likely a metaphoric allusion to the fact that any initial intimate encounter between a woman and a man is laden with unknowabilities. This story is not for those with tender sensibilities as regards frank language and the sexual act.
In Dolly the Dog-Soldier the titular Dolly is part of a pack of uplifted dogs, able to speak and being trained for an assassination mission.
The Food of my People sees a young girl whose father has been badly injured in a rig blow-out taken in by a neighbour, Cubbie, after school. Attempting jigsaws seems to be instrumental in helping her dad recover. Cubbie is fond of home-cooking and there is a Dorsey family recipe for bread pudding at the end of the piece.
End of the Line, or, Desperate Russian Girls Looking for Love is another reflection on story, and on living life on-line beset by email spam.

Pedant’s corner:- I read an Advance Reading Copy (somewhat belatedly) so many of these may have been changed before publication. I note from the cover that the author’s first name – given as Candice on the ARC – has been. Elsewhere; a missing comma before a piece of direct speech (several times,) forbearers, (forebears,) Dvorzjak (okay it’s a character’s name; but the composer’s was spelled Dvořák,) “When I reached to door” (reached the door,) reflexion/reflexions (reflection/reflections) gaffer’s tape (gaffer tape,) Dr Jones’ (Dr Jones’s – used later,) Polariodä camera (Polaroid,) “because of the visor no-one would never see me again” (would ever see me again,) connexion (connection,) focussed (focused,) “heaven forefend” (forfend,) “a tinker’s dam” (damn,) “I took him in his my arms” (Dorsey may have intended this – to represent a disoriented state – but ‘my arms’ would not be such an opaque over-elaboration,) “not just cock into cunt into but into all molecules” (again perhaps intended, but again over-elaborated,) “all the pack are younger than I am” (all the pack is younger,) “ma chou” (even though the person being spoken to was female, the French word chou is masculine in gender; ‘mon chou’. Do Quebecois use “ma chou” in this way?) ambiance (ambience.) In the Story Notes; “this this story” (only one ‘this’ needed.)

Hey! A list!

I’ve just discovered through Ian Sales’s blog that the BBC has produced a list of “100 Books that Shaped our World.” It’s as idiosyncratic as any such list always is.

Ian has started a list of his own (with different criteria) of which you can see the first instalment via the link above. Nina Allan has also published her own list.

I doubt that I could go up to anything like 100 on the books that shaped me and my reading so I’m not even going to try except to say my love of Science Fiction was engendered by reading the SF of Captain W E Johns and Patrick Moore out of the children’s section of Dumbarton Library (in the basement, accessed via an outside door) and, once I’d graduated to the adult floor, the yellow covered Gollancz hardbacks.

Two exceptions.

I was about to give up reading SF when I read Robert Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze. It’s not his best but it’s one from the 1960s, in the “revival” stage of his career after he came back to SF and wrote stories the way they ought to be done – as distinct from the less considered works he’d written in the 1950s. It made me realise that SF could be literature.

So too, in spades, did Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

Of the BBC’s list the ones I’ve read are in bold (19.) If I’ve read one or part of a series it’s in italics (2.) Some others here are on my tbr pile.

Identity
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Small Island – Andrea Levy
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Love, Sex & Romance
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Forever – Judy Blume
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Riders – Jilly Cooper
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
The Far Pavilions – M. M. Kaye
The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
The Slaves of Solitude – Patrick Hamilton

Adventure
City of Bohane – Kevin Barry
Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
Ivanhoe – Walter Scott
Mr Standfast – John Buchan
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Jack Aubrey Novels – Patrick O’Brian
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien

Life, Death & Other Worlds
A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
Astonishing the Gods – Ben Okri
Dune – Frank Herbert
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
The Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis
The Discworld Series – Terry Pratchett
The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Sandman Series – Neil Gaiman
The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Politics, Power & Protest
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman
Strumpet City – James Plunkett
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
V for Vendetta – Alan Moore
Unless – Carol Shields

Class & Society
A House for Mr Biswas – V. S. Naipaul
Cannery Row – John Steinbeck
Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
Poor Cow – Nell Dunn
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – Alan Sillitoe
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne – Brian Moore
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

Coming of Age
Emily of New Moon – L. M. Montgomery
Golden Child – Claire Adam
Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
So Long, See You Tomorrow – William Maxwell
Swami and Friends – R. K. Narayan
The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling
The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ – Sue Townsend
The Twilight Saga – Stephenie Meyer

Family & Friendship
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

Middlemarch – George Eliot
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
The Witches – Roald Dahl

Crime & Conflict
American Tabloid – James Ellroy
American War – Omar El Akkad
Ice Candy Man – Bapsi Sidhwa
Rebecca -Daphne du Maurier
Regeneration – Pat Barker
The Children of Men – P.D. James
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
The Quiet American – Graham Greene

Rule Breakers
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Bartleby, the Scrivener – Herman Melville
Habibi – Craig Thompson
How to be Both – Ali Smith
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse
The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde

A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski

Women’s Press, 1987, 410 p.

The novel starts off on the planet Valedon but is mostly set on its aquatic satellite, Shora, inhabited for centuries solely by women. They wear no clothes since they spend a lot of time in the moon-spanning ocean and have a bluish tinge due to microbes which, in the aquatic environment, help them to maintain breath. In contrast to Valedon – a world where the usual vices of political power are prevalent and which seems to be a militarily directed society – life on Shora is peaceable, its values based on sharing learning, and where the highest form of punishment is Unspeaking (that is, sending someone to Coventry.) They are also capable of a state known as whitetrance, a type of withdrawal where their hearts slow almost to death. The Shorans live on rafts of plant material floating on the water’s surface and have an appreciation of the interactions between all the life-forms – beneficial or seemingly inimical – that make up Shora’s web of life. They also have a deep knowledge of biology and genetics and a plant-based means of expressing new organisms quickly.

Traders from Valedon – sometimes known pejoratively as malefreaks – have been present on Shora for years and Berenice Hyalite – known on Shora as Nisi – has come to a deep understanding of its way of life. Her father set up the trading post but she reports back to the rulers of Valedon. There is some interplay between Valans and Shorans on whether the others are really human with respect to each other but all the characters present as recognisably so to the reader. Berenice’s fiancé Realgar is a military man, and he is given the command of the Valedon forces sent to Shora to bring it fully under control.

The novel is thus set up to explore the mutual incomprehension of the military mindset and the habitual, instinctive, non-violence of the Shorans. It can therefore be read as a feminist work but is equally parsable as a Science Fictional exploration of a different approach to life’s challenges. In A Door Into Ocean Slonczewski is exploring an alternative way of being human. This is partly territory pioneered by the late lamented Ursula Le Guin. Slonczewski is no Le Guin but is good enough to be going on with.

Pedant’s corner:- laniard (lanyard,) “Berenice like to absorb” (the rest of the paragraph was in past tense, so, Berenice liked,) maw (mouth was implied, a maw is a stomach,) sunk (sank,) shined (shone,) octopi (octopuses, or, octopodes, but since we’re on an alien planet, octopods,) sprung (sprang,) “I could take take pills” (only one take needed,) “‘You could to that?’” (do that,) brusk (brusque,) langauge (language,) “more that she let on” (than she let on,) “was kept with in raftwood” (within,) strategem (stratagem,) collander (colander,) waked up (woken up,) automatons (strictly, automata.)

Reelin’ In the Years 145: Hold Your Head Up. RIP Jim Rodford, Hugh Masekela and Mark E Smith

What a week this has been. It’s like 2016 came back again.

First Jim Rodford of Argent (and later The Kinks and the re-formed Zombies) then Jimmy Armfield, Hugh Masekela, Ursula Le Guin and Mark E Smith of The Fall.

Jimmy Armfield was an almost forgotten member of a certain England football World Cup squad but had a follow-up career as a manager in which he took Leeds United to the European Cup final where they were diddled out of a win by some dodgy refereeing but crowd trouble took some shine off the team’s efforts and later as a commenter on BBC radio’s football coverage.

I’m not much into jazz but was aware Hugh Masekela was an impressive musician, and equally important for his standing in the anti-apartheid movement.

I posted about Ursula Le Guin on Wednesday 24/1/2018. There were two articles about her in yesterday’s Guardian. This one by Alison Flood and Benjamin Lee plus David Mitchell’s appreciation.

The Fall is a band I didn’t follow (they were a bit after my time) but some folks swear by them. By all accounts Mark E Smith was a particularly exacting taskmaster.

Argent’s biggest hit was Hold Your Head Up from 1972. This is a TV performance from 1973.

Argent: Hold Your Head Up

Below are two samples of Masekela in performance.

Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela: Soweto Blues

Hugh Masekela: Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela.)

And here’s The Fall’s cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song There’s a Ghost in My House, which gave them their highest UK chart placing.

The Fall: There’s a Ghost in My House

James Walter Rodford: 7/7/1941 – 20/1/2018. So it goes.
James Christopher Armfield: 21/9/1935 – 22/1/2018. So it goes.
Hugh Ramapolo Masekela: 4/4/1939 – 23/1/2018. So it goes.
Mark Edward Smith: 5/3/1957 – 24/1/2018. So it goes.

Ursula Le Guin

I’ve just looked at the Locus website and discovered to my deep sadness that Ursula Le Guin has died.

She was one of the greats of Science Fiction and Fantasy and will be sorely missed.

Probably most famous for her “Earthsea” series of books she first came to my attention in the 1960s. I cannot now remember which book of hers I read first but I think it must have been the acclaimed The Left Hand of Darkness. I went on to scour bookshops for her work. I confess I wasn’t as impressed (in my relative youth) by the even more critically praised The Dispossessed – I probably hadn’t enough life experience then to appreciate it fully – but since those days her fiction has always been the background to my SF reading life, my anticipation of each new book never disappointed by its content.

Most recently I always enjoyed her book reviews for The Guardian, which showed a mind as sharp and incisive as ever.

Tonight the world – the universe – feels like a much smaller place.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin: 21/10/1929 – 22/1/2018. So it goes.

Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer

the greatest empire that never was.

Small Beer, 2003, 255 p. Translated from the Spanish Kalpa Imperial by Ursula K Le Guin. First published in two volumes La casa del poder (The House of Power) and El Imperio mas vasto (The Greatest Empire) by Ediciones Minotauro, Buenos Aires, 1983.

 Kalpa Imperial cover

This is not really like anything I’ve ever read before, a sweeping, dazzling, accomplishment of a book, soaring yet at the same time utterly grounded, told in two parts, The House of Power and The Greatest Empire, of five and six sections respectively, a history of an empire “so long that a whole life dedicated to study and research isn’t enough to know it wholly,” a history “strewn with surprise, contradictions, abysses, deaths, resurrections,” of an empire “so vast that a man can’t cross it in his lifetime.” A chronicling of human life, then.

I doubt it has any equivalent but the nearest comparison in SF is probably Robert Silverberg’s Roma Eterna, mainly due to its episodic narrative, but despite its fabular nature (no empire could ever last as long, with so many ruling dynasties, as the one in this book) this is somehow less fanciful and more convincing (and I liked Roma Eterna a lot even though it was late Silverberg where he wasn’t quite as incisive as in his pomp.) Kalpa Imperial nevertheless did somehow at times remind me of translations of Chinese literature but probably only because it deals with emperors and empires and the consequent power struggles.

Despite its subtitle the book does not restrict itself to the emperors or their courts. Life in the empire is presented in an approximation of its diversity but there is no continuity between the sections, no characters carry on from one to the next or later. Instead the picture is built up from what are in effect short stories/novellas set in the same milieu. A binding link in the book, though, is that, like fairy tales, most of the sections begin with the same phrase, in this case, “The storyteller said:” but varied with one, “Yes, said the storyteller:” a, “Vast is the empire, said the storyteller:” with the last section altering the template to, “‘I’m an orphan,” The Cat had said,’”. All these help to solidify the tales, to root the book in a compelling simulation of an actual history as remembered by oral historians. But it is precisely that lack of continuity, that difference between the sections (except for the narrative tone,) that works to make the book feel like a true history.

Throughout the book there are asides on the art of story. “The reason why there are storytellers in the world is to answer those questions we all ask, and not as the teller, but as the reader,” “a storyteller is no more than a free man, and being a free man is a dangerous business,” and, pertinently to any time but certainly apposite now, “who takes any notice of the wise, these days, except storytellers, or poets?” Particularly redolent was the passage which dwelt on the phrase, “not all is said.”

There is a knowing quality to the section which riffs on The Odyssey. A legend is recited containing people named Kirdaglas, Marlenditrij, Betedeivis, Maripícfor, Briyibardó, Jedilamar, Alendelón, Orsonuéls, Clargueibl, Yeimsdín etc, with houses named saloon, rashomon, elañopasadoenmarienbad and charge of the light brigade and which also features sirens called ringostars.

Gorodischer is well-served by her translator. (Though if you’re going to be translated it must be a boon if it is done by one of the best writers around.) But the whole is a marvel of invention, a rich imagining of a world not our own but as near to it as makes no difference.

Pedant’s corner:- “time’s mirror losses all its reflects” (reflections, surely?) Ja’ladahlva (elsewhere Ja’ladahva,) a missing end quotation mark, busses (buses,) “who lived more than twenty kilos away” (kilo is used as an abbreviation for kilogram, not kilometre,) “the girl was very young girl” (a very young girl,) “in the darkness under of the walls” (either under or of, not both,) two of the women were were crawling (only one were needed.) “Five minutes later” (twice in two lines, both beginning a paragraph.) “He knew it” – death – “was waiting for him in the South too, but maybe there it wouldn’t take so long to come” (context suggests “but maybe there it would take longer to come”,) traveller’s tales (travellers’ tales?) “.. he could stay as long as he like before” (liked,) “a gesture that included that included” (one “that included” only,) a missing quote mark at a section beginning with a piece of dialogue – probably house style but it irritates me, Clargueible (previously Clargueibl,) “of the the dead emperor” (only one “the”,) “it it rose up” (only one “it”.)

Creating a Fictional World

Two articles caught my eye in Saturday’s Guardian Review.

The cover piece was by Naomi Alderman and discussed feminist Science Fiction with reference to its warning nature and the threat recent political events present to the potential of women being treated on an equal basis with men. Of particular interest here was the revelation to me of part of the background to Ursula Le Guin’s childhood where her parents had taken in the last survivor of the Native American Yani people about whom Le Guin’s mother wrote a book. The implication is that exposure to other ways of thinking than what otherwise surrounded her opened up perspectives which Le Guin was able to transform into her fiction. Margaret Atwood too spent parts of her childhood outside the comforts of civilisation, while Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr) travelled in Africa as a child coming into contact with various groups. Alderman uses the example of her own novel The Power to illustrate that the nature of a utopia/dystopia is dependent on viewpoint.

Further on there was an odd piece by Scarlett Thomas on her conversion to the delights and magic of children’s fiction.

What got me here was the sentence, “But it turns out that creating a fictional world is a very complex act” in a “who knew?” context.

Well, duh. Only every Science Fiction or fantasy writer who ever tried it.

Behind the sentence’s remarkable blindness presumably stood Thomas’s previous implicit view that such creators are not real writers and anything fantastical does not warrant serious attention.

Still, it seems she’s got over that now.

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