Scruffians! by Hal Duncan

Stories of Better Sodomites. Lethe Press, 2014, 205 p.

 Scruffians! cover

Unlike normal folk (groanhuffs,) Scruffians are mis-shapes and misfits – Orphans, foundlings, latch-key kids; Urchins, changelings, live-by-wits; Rascals, scallywags, ruffians, scamps; Scoundrels, hellions, – in their chant that last word is followed by, Scruffians STAMP. The Stamp is how they came to be fixed as Scruffians, an excruciating procedure which stops any growth in age from that time on and embeds all their existing characteristics. Only nicks to the Stamp mark on their chests will allow alteration thereafter. Their lore is expressed by tales known as fabbles (an ideal coinage,) some of which appear here as if addressed to potential or newly-Stamped Scruffians. Not all of the stories here are of Scruffians but each section within one that is has a title (or number, depending on the story) and each paragraph a first line in bold type. All are excellent reading.
In How a Scruffian Gets Their Story a new recruit falls in with the Scruffians.
How a Scruffian Gets Their Name tells of how and why Slickspit Hamshankery got that title.
The Behold of the Eye is where humans store all the things they prize most highly. What catches their eye is stored by the eye – and each is a home to a faery. The story relates the experiences of newly born faery Flashjack as he seeks his Beholder (to be found by Toby Raymond Hunter’s Behold) and follows Toby’s life as he comes to terms with himself and his sexuality.
Scruffian’s Stamp is the story of Orphan, the first Scruffian, and how groanhuffs came to invent the Stamp without realising it would Fix Scruffians for good.
An Alfabetcha of Scruffian Names describes the characteristics of twenty-six Scruffians.
Jack Scallywag expands on the one paragraph about the Scruffian Knight in the Alphabetcha, how said Jack aspired to knighthood and came to it as others did, (by stealing it more or less,) how he set off on his mission to slay the dragon only to find out who the real dragons are.
The Disappearance of James H riffs extensively but explicitly on Peter Pan – a shadow, a crocodile tear, “‘I’m not a…’ ‘Fairy?,’ ‘Every time you say that, I whisper, a little part of you will die,’” – in its tale of the titular disappearance.
The Island of the Pirate Gods is another swashbuckling Pannish adventure (with added language) wherein the twin lovers Matelotage and Mutiny are the background to a story of The People’s Independent Republic of Arse, Cock and bloody Yo-ho-bloody-ho, ie PIRACY.
Very well constructed and set against the background of the playing of a hand in a Texas Hold ‘Em game The Angel of the Gamblers is a meeting with the devil type of story except it’s not the devil who demanded a soul, it was the eponymous angel.
The Shoulder of Pelops features figures from Ancient Greek myth and legend in a story about signs, meanings and the difference between words and the things they name.
Bizarre Cubiques is a history – and critique – of an alternative world art movement, the creation of artists Bricasso and Paque. The narrator has made his way from home in New Amsterdam in Amorica to Pharis via Caerlundein, Felixstoff and Diephe.
The worlds of superhero comics are the inspiration for The Origin of the Fiend, a metafiction where differing origin stories for different supercharacters impinge on the consciousness of a young lad ‘sending his mind back and forth along his own timestream,’ in a mundane world where no superhero can stop his brother dying whether that be in France or Korea or Vietnam or Iraq.
Sons of the Law is a Western story with a framing device positing it as a manuscript handed down through a family. It transcends all the Western clichés while at the same time deploying them – the saloon, the hunter, the killer, the slave (whose name, Abraham, and experience embed a Biblical reference,) the bargirl, the gambler, the wrangler, the drifter, in a tale of revenge and implied poetic justice.
Sic Him, Hellhound! Kill! Kill! ticks off two fantasy tropes in one swoop with a story of a boy and his lover (a werewolf) hunting vampires.
Oneirica melds many myths and legends into one tale as it describes a trip by various characters to find a stone chest containing mythological objects.
Inventive, delightful stuff.

Pedant’s corner:- Plasticene (Plasticine,) “fifth formers” (yet the narrator is Scottish, where the expression is ‘fifth years’. Perhaps not in private schools though where the scene was set.) “Joey sees him close his eyes, puts the barrel to his own chest and pull the trigger” (put the barrel,) rigourous (rigorous,) “that’s bound to sparks some stares” (to spark,) “and the hoi polloi” (hoi means ‘the’, so it should really be ‘and hoi polloi.) “None of them are aware” (None of them is aware.) “None of them know what’s in the briefcase” (None of them knows.)

Annan

Annan is a town in Dumfries and Galloway. It is named for the river which runs through it:-

River Annan, Dumfries and Galloway, ScotlandBridge

That bridge is well-proportioned:-

Annan Bridge, Scotland

View from bridge looking north:-

River Annan at Annan Looking North

Somewhere in the park beyond is the remains of Robert Bruce’s motte and bailey castle:-

Bruce's Motte and Bailey, Annan

A statue of Bruce adorns the Town Hall:-

Statue of Bruce at Town Hall

The Town Hall itself from a different angle:-

Annan Town Hall, Dumfries and Galloway

This is the view south from the bridge. Another bridge (a footbridge) can be seen to top centre right:-

River Annan (south)

We walked down to get a closer look (and eventually walked over it):-

Iron  Bridge over River Annan

The footbridge gave a good view of the old railway bridge over the River Annan. the railway is now disused:-

Railway Bridge over River Annan at Annan

All the Rage by A L Kennedy

Jonathan Cape, 2014, 217 p.

 All the Rage cover

This is Kennedy’s fifth collection of short stories. Most of the contents tend to utilise short sentences. Sometimes verbless. Often with a second person style of narration.

Late in Life recounts the emotions of a younger woman and her older lover the day they have a lawyer’s meeting to determine the details his will. Of a student ahead of them in the queue at the Building Society where they are about to pay off her mortgage she thinks, “Young men are easily confused. They lack resources.”
In Baby Blue a woman wanders into a sex shop to get away from the cold outside and escape thoughts of the medical procedure she has undergone. As she finds herself dogged by the assistant’s efforts to help she ponders her attitude to love. “The real experience of love is of having unreasonably lost all shelter.” Chocolate-flavoured condoms inspire the thought that her experience of oral sex is not “intended to be primarily culinary,” and that “Use of such a device might imply “your penis is inadequate and ought at least to taste of chocolate to compensate, so here you go and roll on one of these.”
Because it’s a Wednesday. Wednesday is the day for the viewpoint character’s domestic help to do the cleaning. Because it’s a Wednesday they are doing what they always do – at her instigation. Because it’s a Wednesday he’s shagging Carmen. (Not a spoiler, it’s the story’s first sentence.)
In the run-up to Christmas a man drops into a church in These Small Pieces. The service prompts thoughts of the unreliability of God and the occurences which have hurt him.
The Practice of Mercy sees a woman take a stroll from her hotel room through an unfamiliar town and return to find her lover, with whom she’d had a disagreement, has come to join her.
The person who has been Knocked is a young boy recovering in hospital from being trampled by a horse, who imagines he can see into the future in a small way.
In All the Rage a married man in his forties who serially tries it on with women finds his match in a twenty-two year-old woman.
In Takes You Home a man who “never intended to grow up and have to be adult” but “did. Naturally,” (although on several occasions had heard it said he’d simply got taller and faked the rest,) ponders the times he had in the flat he’s selling.
The Effects of Good Government on the City features a woman on a visit to Blackpool questioning her relationships.
In Run Catch Run a boy caught up in the throes of his parents’ divorce plays with the dog his father has bought him and his mother says they can’t afford.
The viewpoint character of A Thing Unheard-of is seemingly afraid of contact and runs through the many ways in which they could deliver a message, in person, on the phone, in a letter, electronically.
This Man is the story of a lunchtime first date which is an awkward encounter – until suddenly it’s not.

Pedant’s corner:- potassium added to water is described as wasping “back and forth on the liquid’s surface in a tiny blur of lilac flames , too angry to sink.” (The reason potassium doesn’t sink is because it’s less dense than water. It would float even without the flames,) wisht (several times but once as whisht. This Scottish word is usually spelled wheesht.)

Sons New (Now Old) Away Strip, 2019-2020

As seen at Galabank, Annan Athletic FC.

A fairly boring thing really, all white with black trimmings:-

Dumbarton FC New Away Strip, 2019-2020

Galabank

Just in case you (and I) had forgotten what a football ground looked like, these are pictures taken at Sons’ first game of last season, the League Cup tie at Galabank, home of Annan Athletic FC.

Ground as seen from road from town centre:-

Galabank As seen From South

Entrance:-

Entrance to Galabank, Annan Athletic FC

Annan Athletic Club Logo on Galabank’s gates:-

Annan Athletic Club Logo

Galabank From North. Ground is in background beyond gates at the left of the picture:-

Galabank From North

Pitch at Galabank, from northeast:-

Pitch at Galabank, From Northeast

From northwest corner looking south, showing pitch-side stand:-

Galabank From Northwest Corner Looking South

Northwest corner:-

Galabank From Northwest Corner

From southeast:-

Galabank From Southeast

From southwest corner:-

Galabank From Southwest Corner

Looking north:-

Galabank Looking North

South enclosure:-

Galabank South Enclosure

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

(And two other stories.) Folio Society, 1997, 295 p (including 11 p Introduction by Jeremy Hardy,) plus 12 p illustrations by Francis Moseley and 3 p Author’s Note.

 Heart of Darkness cover

This is one of a uniform Folio Society edition of Conrad’s works. Despite its title the book actually contains three stories, Youth, Heart of Darkness itself and The End of the Tether.

Youth
The fairly short Youth is one of those ‘as told to’ stories, by someone called Marlow to a group with knowledge of seafaring about his trip as a Second Mate on a ship whose charge was the Captain’s first, carrying coal to Bangkok from Newcastle. Before the ship can leave port it has to be caulked, then it is bashed by another steamer while still in dock and more repairs are required. On setting out the pumps have to be manned constantly and they are forced to turn back. It by now has such a reputation no crew can be found locally and men have to be fetched from Liverpool. The repairs are finally finished.

But, before she sets sail, the rats start to leave.

Heart of Darkness (In the list of 100 best Scottish books, but only Scottish because it was first published by Edinburgh based Blackwood’s Magazine.)

This long short story is another tale told by Marlow (this time accorded the first name Charlie) telling a ship’s crew in the offing off Gravesend of his trip as a steamboat captain up an unnamed African river – the Introduction says it’s the Congo but that is not in the text – to find the successful but rogue ivory trader Kurtz.

This ‘telling’ style is more obtrusive here than in Youth and erects a barrier between the reader and the text. The actual narrator regurgitating Marlow’s tales – both here and in Youth – is neither named nor makes much of an impression on the reader. The story is therefore rendered opaque (okay, it’s titled Heart of Darkness, a degree of opacity is perhaps required) but it makes disbelief more difficult to suspend.

Caught in a thick white fog near Kurtz’s station the boat is attacked with spears and a crew member is killed but blasts on the ship’s horn disperse the attackers. Marlow observes near Kurtz’s station a row of posts with severed heads on them. The natives seem to want to attack the boat again but Kurtz’s influence on them prevents that. When he is finally brought on board it seems to Marlow’s eyes that Kurtz has ‘gone native.’ He is in any case very ill and dies on the trip back.

(The) Heart of Darkness was first published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1898/9 (a book containing all three stories in this volume appeared in 1902) and despite Marlow’s expressed disillusion with the trading company’s methods it is representative of the attitudes of the time, presenting the Africans as ‘others.’ Even the story’s title is emblematic of a disregard both for the land- and riverscapes and for the accomplishments and society Africans of the time had. However, Conrad was writing at that time and for an audience who had those prejudices.

The End of the Tether is much the longest story here. In it, ship’s Captain Whalley had made a fortune (and promised it to his daughter who in turn had married a no-hoper) only to lose it in a stock market crash, leaving him with only a ship called The Fair Maid to sell. The proceeds go partly towards his daughter but the rest he invests in a ship called the Sofala whose main owner is its engineer, famous for getting rid of Captains at short notice. The arrangement is to last for three years after which time Whalley will regain the stake he put in. The time is almost up when Whalley begins to show signs of losing his touch. The second mate comes to the conclusion that Whalley is actually letting his Malay helmsman direct the boat and tries to blackmail him. The truth is more nuanced than that.

Note. Modern sensibilities may quail at the use of the word nigger(s) and ‘Marlow’ also describes native Africans as savages.

Pedant’s corner:- “to come abroad” (to come aboard,) curb (kerb.)

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (v)

(This week’s edition for Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.)

These are all small-sized SF paperbacks. By small I mean the size all paperbacks used to be back in the day – before publishers realised they could charge a higher price for larger editions and they aspired to the status of hardbacks.

In our old house all my paperback SF was shelved in one room – on shelving specially built for the purpose. When we moved to Son of the Rock Acres there was no space for them in the house. Hence these are stored in the garage; to accomodate them they are double parked on each shelf, which is why they seem to start at Ballard and jump from Bester to Bishop, and Dick to Garnett.

Lots of goodies here: Eric Brown, John Brunner, Michael G Coney, Philip K Dick, Mary Gentle, Colin Greenland. If you look closely you’ll even see some Harlan Ellison peeping through at the back on the bottom shelf.

Science Fiction Paperbacks

Beneath the World, A Sea by Chris Beckett

Corvus, 2019, 283 p. Published in Interzone 282, Jul-Aug 2019.

 Beneath the World, A Sea cover

“The ground of one world is the sky of the world below” runs one of the myths and legends of the Submundo Delta, the most inaccessible place on Earth, the Delta Beneath the World. A place of magenta trees with spiral leaves and flowers with bright pink mouths, overhung by a huge sun and moon as if inside a magnifying bubble, and not really below the outside world, it can be accessed only from South America via a long boat trip on the (perhaps too obviously named) River Lethe, passing through the Zona de Ovido, the Zone of Forgetfulness, all memories of which disappear the moment you leave it. The Delta has no radio communication with elsewhere, aeroplanes which try to penetrate its airspace all crash.

Such a cut-off world is a staple of fantastical fiction of course – fairyland, hollow hills, parallel worlds, alien planets and so on – but Beckett’s vision is a fresh take on the sub-genre even if the Delta is a slightly recycled though embellished version of the Caramel Forest of the planet Lutania in the same author’s collection The Peacock Cloak.

The Delta’s local human inhabitants are called Mundinos, and are descended from a group tricked into going there by a Baron Valente in the semi-distant past, long enough ago for them to have developed their own gods in the benign Iya, whose idol adorns every Mundino household, and the less indulgent Boca. More recent incomers are scientists and adventurers or hippie types plus the odd business man on the lookout for profitable exploitation.

Following a UN decree that a Delta life-form known as duendes, grey long-limbed, frog-like flaccid creatures with black button eyes, (somewhat reminiscent of the goblins of Lutania’s Caramel Forest) and which may be the offspring of trees – with which they perhaps form a single dimorphic species – are ‘persons’ entitled to the protection of the law, police Inspector Ben Ronson has been delegated from London to investigate their endemic killing by Mundinos. Duendes can project settlers’ thoughts back into human minds, “‘Things already inside your head ….. become as powerful as things you normally choose to focus on,’” and build enigmatic structures called castelos. Despite their persecution the duendes keep intruding on Mundinos’ space.

What makes all this SF rather than fantasy is the attempt at scientific rationale. “‘There’s no DNA equivalent. No ‘animals’ or ‘plants’ in the delta,’” Ronson is told. “It seemed to him that it was just about possible to imagine that a completely different form of life might not only have a different chemistry and different anatomy, but might even involve the mind-stuff itself being configured in some manner unfamiliar to human beings,” while, “‘the trees and the harts and the duendes and so on aren’t competing against each other … any more than our blood cells are competing against our bone cells,’” but quite why the story is set in nineteen ninety is not clear. The Delta is obviously not quite of this world, making the tale an alternative history does not add to that.

Beckett also undercuts expectations. Despite the set-up what we have here is not a police procedural, nor a straightforward crime novel with a clear-cut resolution, nor indeed an action adventure. The author is more interested in the psychological aspects of isolation, the effect a strange environment has on human behaviour and particularly the influence the Zona might have on motivations and actions. Ronson is almost paralysed by the thought of what he might have done during those four days he cannot remember but is reluctant to consult the notebooks he compiled while in transit.

There are faint echoes here of other odd worlds, perhaps even a nod to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, there is a touch of Ballard in the detachment of many of the characters. We do not have the complete isolation that applied to the inhabitants of Beckett’s Dark Eden, nor the genetic paucity of that environment, and the existence of the duendes adds a distinctive flavour but at the end the nature of the enigma they represent is not unravelled. Perhaps Beckett intends to return to the Delta.

That might be a misstep, though. Beneath the World, A Sea is not really concerned with its backdrop. Instead it uses that backdrop to question how much a person can know of him- or her- self. While not in the highest rank – the characters indulge in too much self-examination for that – like all the best fiction it explores the nature of humanity.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:- “whose contents, she learnt, turned yellow and shrank as it dried” (as they dried.) “Their only child, wherever she went inside the house, she was surrounded by” (that second comma distorts the meaning and should be removed,) outside of (outside, just outside, no ‘of’,) “before continuing towards to the west” (either “towards” or “to”, not both,) “a posse of men and woman” (it’s possible only one woman was involved but it reads oddly,) “for hundreds of millions of year” (years,) automatons (automata,) “‘take it out in the duendes’” (on the duendes,) ambiance (ambience,) a tendency to use ‘her’ and ‘him’ where ‘she’ and ‘he’ are more grammatical, “for goodness’ sake” (if the apostrophe is there it ought to be goodness’s, best to leave it out altogether,) “‘she’ll always being able to support herself’” (always be able.) “There were also a number of” (there was a number,) “all the holes on the ground” (in the ground,) “‘a range of tawdry attractions are duly provided for them’” (a range of tawdry attractions is duly provided,) epicentre (centre,) “cheer fully” (was split over two lines without the necessary hyphen when “cheerfully” was meant,) “‘to see if Rico’s turned up If you run into him’” (needs a full stop after “up,”) “three young woman were smoking” (women,) engrained (ingrained.) “He had a mango in there He’d bought at the last village” (No capital H after “there”, ‘he’d bought’.)

Reelin’ in the Years 177: Only You Can. RIP Kenny Young

The song-writer and producer of 1970s band Fox died earlier this week. He also wrote Captain of Your Ship – a hit for Reparata and the Delrons in the 60s – Under the Boardwalk and some hits for Clodagh Rodgers.

A list of his hit songs is on Wikipedia.

The biggest of those in the UK were recorded by Fox. This looks like a Top of the Pops appearance.

Fox: Only You Can

Shalom Giskan (Kenny Young,) 14/4/1941 – 14/4/2020. So it goes.

War Graves and War Death Commemorations, Upper Largo, Fife

The kirkyard in Upper Largo (Largo and Newburn Parish Church, see previous post,) has two War Graves and two war commemorations.

To left. In memory of John Patrick Oliphant Russell, Captain, Royal Artillery, died of wounds in Italy, 7/9/1944. Buried at Gradara, Italy:-

War Death Commemoration Upper Largo Kirkyard 1>

Ralph Frederick Baxter, 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Sussex Regiment, killed in action, France, 25/9/1915, aged 18 and John Edward Baxter, 2nd Lieutenant, Scots Guards, killed in action in Italy, 16/10/1944, aged 19:-

War Deaths Commemoration Upper Largo Kirkyard

Serjeant T Simpson, Pioneer Coprs, formerly Royal Artillery, 10/8/1946, aged 46:-

War Grave, Upper Largo Kirkyard

Lower Inscription. In loving memory of Thomas Simpson, died 10th August, 1946:-

Lower Inscription War Grave Upper Largo Kirkyard

Lieutenant W A Freeborn, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, HMS Victory, 31/7/1944:-

Upper Largo Kirkyard War Grave

We took a diffeent way home from normal and had this unusual view of East and West Lomond, Fife’s highest hills from the Star (Star of Markinch) road:-

Two Lomonds in Fife

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