Maria Pia Bridge, Porto

Porto’s Maria Pia Bridge was built by Gustave Eiffel of Paris Tower fame in 1877. It used to carry the railway over the River Douro.

Behind it is the Ponte de São João or St John’s Bridge, which now carres the rail traffic.

Maria Pia Bridge, Porto

Closer view:-

Maria Pia Bridge Closer View

Maria Pia Bridge, Porto, Reverse View. Infante D Henrique Bridge in background:-

Maria Pia Bridge, Porto, Reverse View

North support, Maria Pia Bridge:-

Maria Pia Bridge, Porto, Support

The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone

Canongate, 2002, 254 p including ii p list of principal characters and ii p map of the North Atlantic Ocean. One of the 100 best Scottish Books.

 The Sea Road cover

This is the story of Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, who sailed beyond the end of the world, gave birth to the first European to be born in the Americas beyond Greenland, voyaged to the court of the King of Norway and made a pilgrimage to Rome. Her tale is so extraordinary that I was irresistibly drawn to the parallel of Poilar Crookleg, whose first sentence (see here) I have echoed above.

Expanding on her source material in the Icelandic sagas, Elphinstone in The Sea Road has Gudrid’s storyframed by a Praefatio and Postscriptum written by Icelandic monk Asgar Asleifarsson who is – at the behest of Cardinal Hildebrand for the sake of some ephemeral Vatican political intrigue – taking down the memories of a Gudrid now a grandmother. On her dark (to Icelanders) appearance – though in Italy she is fair – she says, “Now it makes no difference. Old women are the same the world over.” The text is mostly Gudrid’s as supposedly written down by Asgar but there are occasional scenes observed in the third person and rendered in italics.

Elphinstone’s handling of her tale is exquisite. The characters live on the page and the relationship between Gudrid and Asgar is deftly portrayed. Despite his replies to her never being transcribed we still get insights into his thoughts and feelings. There is a prefatory list of principal characters which is unnecessary as there is never any difficulty in distinguishing them.

Gudrid was born just after Christianity had come to Iceland and on the death of her mother was fostered out by her father to his sister’s home. She herself was baptised when she was fourteen. There is tension between the old religion and the new in Iceland and Greenland both and some in Gudrid herself. Her first crisis comes when she is asked as a young girl to help a witch (this is the word used in the text) by singing along with the old songs.

Her father Thorbjorn, a friend of Eirik Raudi (Eric the Red) had always hankered after adventure and finally undertakes the voyage to Greenland taking Gudrid with him. Though of course the winters are harsh, through Asgar Gudrid tells us that “Eirik’s land is better than any she saw till she went to Norway” and at least till the time she left, “There have been no killings in the Green Land.” Leif Eiriksson, Raudi’s son, has by this time discovered Vinland. Gudrid might have been married to him but for his dalliance with an earl’s daughter in Ireland. Instead she marries another of Raudi’s sons, Thorstein, with whom she made her first voyage to Vinland, but he falls sick one winter in Greenland and dies along with Grumhild, the wife of their host Thorstein the Black. The two survivors spend five months in the same hut with the dead bodies, haunted by their ghosts. “In that place the dead watched everything,” she tells Asgar. “All that winter we were outside the boundaries of this world of yours,” and, “You look as if my callous attitude shocked you, and yet you’d not be shocked at all if I were a man and told you I’d wiped out a whole settlement in blood feud.” Spirits were never very far away in Gudrid’s world. “The launching of a ship is no place for new gods.” It is with a second husband, Thorfinn Harlsefni, come to the Green Land to make profit, that she again sails to Vinland and this time beyond.

Among Gudrid’s many insights we have, “You think there is a pattern to the way people behave… But I have never got to know any household well, when I didn’t find out quite soon that they don’t keep to the pattern….. the pattern doesn’t exist. I’ve never met a family that behaved normally. Have you?” which may be a comment on Tolstoy’s dictum about happy families. Then we have, “Girls are much harder to deal with generally but as far as I can make out boys of that age never think about anything except sex.” Make that boys of any age perhaps.

The Sea Road is a wonderful reminder that the Dark Age world was not as parochial as we might believe; a magnificently told tale about an extraordinary woman and extraordinary times, yet times which to Gudrid herself were unexceptional.

Pedant’s corner:- In the list of characters; Chirstianity (Christianity.) Otherwise:- Asgar mentions the clock; mechanical clocks were not invented till the late 1200s – but water clocks were well known, “the herd of ponies come out” (comes out,) Halldis’ (Halldis’s,) “the family quarrel with their neighbours” (the family quarrels with its neighbours,) Eirik says ‘Aren’t I enough for you?’ (Do Icelanders say this so ungrammatically? Wouldn’t they say, “Amn’t I?”) “none of her children believe” (none believes,) “the household have discussed” (has discussed,) staunch (stanch,) unfocussed (x2, unfocused,) “In the darkness Gudrid eyes escape the blank face of the dead” (Gudrid’s eyes,) Freydis’ (Freydis’s,) Chistendom Christendom.)

BSFA Award Winners

The winnners of this year’s awards (for works published in 2016) have been announced.

Best Novel: Dave Hutchinson – Europe in Winter

Best Shorter Fiction: Jaine Fenn – Liberty Bird (Now We Are Ten, NewCon Press)

Best Non-Fiction: Geoff Ryman – 100 African Writers of SFF (Tor.com)

Best Artwork: Sarah Anne Langton – Cover for Central Station by Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon Publications)

Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to the rest of the nominees.

Infante D Henrique and Freixo Bridges, Porto

The Infante D Henrique Bridge is, according to this, a prestressed concrete deck-stiffened arch bridge. Completed in 2002. Elegant in its way.

Infante D Henrique Bridge, Porto

This is situated between two iron arch bridges of which the Dom Luís I Bridge is the first. The second I’ll come on to in a later post.

You can find more images here.

Like the Infante D Henrique Bridge, the Freixo Bridge (Ponte do Freixo) carries road traffic. We saw it only from a distance as the boat had to turn back to make good time:-

Freixo Bridge, Porto

There are more images of it here.

Friday on my Mind 149: Foot Tapper. RIP Brian Matthew

It was with great sadness I heard on Sunday of the death of Brian Matthew, one of the voices of my youth and, through the BBC Radio 2 programme Sounds of the Sixties, also of my recent adulthood.

This came only a few days after the BBC had mistakenly reported his death.

Despite his apparent dismay at a crass decision by the powers that be to replace him, and his stated intention to make further programmes for Radio 2, Mathew was obviously not as hale and hearty as he once was (none of us are.) There had been another lengthy absence from the programme a couple of years ago so the final news was merely a confirmation of what I had feared.

Whatever, Sounds of the Sixties is not – and never can be – the same without him. The new incumbent, Tony Blackburn, is far too chatty (what is all that stuff with Dermot O’Leary, who follows him on air? Just play the music and give us the information about the acts) and always sounds fundamentally unserious about the show’s contents. It’s Blackburn’s style and has always been his style but it grates somehow.

So. Here is the tune that will forever now be associated with Matthew – the one with which Sounds of the Sixties played (and plays) out every episode and which I will never in future be able to hear without a further tinge of sadness.

The Shadows: Foot Tapper

Brian Matthew: 17/9/1928 – 8/4/2017. So it goes.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit, 2015, 477 p.

 Aurora cover

This is Robinson’s take on the generation starship novel, wherein he makes it clear what a risky and unlikely undertaking such an adventure would be. The ship contains a microcosm of Earth habitats spread through various biomes in an attempt to provide the future colonists with the wherewithal to survive on landfall and subsequently thrive.

We begin with the generation born just before arrival at the destination (Tau Ceti). The viewpoint is that of Freya, a seemingly cognitively impaired child (but really only mathematically) and whose deficiencies are symptomatic of the ship’s growing imbalances. Her mother Devi is the ship’s troubleshooter, interrogating and solving problems as they arise but increasingly frustrated at the finite nature of her resources.

The book has an odd structure, topped and tailed by sections focusing on Freya but with the five interior sections ranging more widely. The occasional odd word choice and sentence structure are clarified when it becomes obvious that the (five section long) middle part of the book is being narrated by the ship’s quantum computer AI. Comments such as, “How to decide how to sequence information in a narrative account? … sentences linear, reality synchronous. Devise a prioritizing algorithm, if possible,” give some of the flavour here.

The target world, Aurora whose name is given also to the ship, orbits gas giant Planet E. The colonists begin to set about making it habitable – a very long-term project – but a setback when one is injured, her sealed suit punctured, which leads to the death of not only her but also those with whom she shared the tented living space they’d set up, means abandonment. Those who had remained on the ship are evenly split between “stayers” – willing to try another candidate moon in the system – and “backers” – those who want to return to Earth. Conflict ensues – a rather depressing authorial conclusion here; you might have thought people would avoid that in such a situation. The novel then follows the backers on their long trip home alleviated by the somewhat fortuitous (for Robinson’s purposes; deus ex machina thy name is god) development of hibernation technology on Earth (in radio contact with the colonists throughout) in the interim.

Many passages are given over to Ship pondering its liability to succumb to recursive programmes and what is known as the halting problem plus other philosophical conundrums to do with language and existence, including a discourse on metaphor and numerous references to the presence of metaphors when they occur in the narrative thereafter. All of which is interesting enough at an abstract level but is no more than filler. Yet Robinson appears more interested in this and in the nuts and bolts of interstellar travel, its inevitable flaws, its lack of controllability, than in any of the humans he is depicting.

Some have been intrigued by the proposition that the most interesting character in the book is an AI. While that is true it is only because the so-called humans are little more than ciphers. Moreover it seemed at one point that the whole thing was devised solely to allow Robinson to make a pun on the phrase “halting problem”. Ship’s late conclusion that, “Love gives meaning,” is not borne out by any of the preceding prose.

File under “worthy, but no more”.

Pedant’s corner:- “a group of people ascend (a group ascends,) a group are packed (is,) ten g’s (an abbreviation subsumes its plural; so, ten g – multiple instances of g’s but towards the end of the book only g was used,) 1.28 deaths for every 100,000 births (that ratio would surely lead to a very rapid overpopulation of the ship and it is a plot point that human fertility is rigidly controlled,) a missing question mark, “and diffuse nebula” (nebulae,) flatted to white (what’s wrong with flattened?) “north of the Aurora’s equator” (no “the”,) “like Terran deltas [origin of phrase delta v?]” (a misdirection by Robinson – in the guise of the ship’s AI – as he must surely know that the “v” in “delta v” stands for velocity,) a series … were held (a series was held,) the median times…. was (the median time… was,) “‘Bacteria exposed to vacuum doesn’t grow very fast’” (OK it was dialogue but bacteria is plural; so, don’t grow very fast,) so that maybe (so that may be,) helmiths (helminths,) protozoa and amoeba (ameobae,) ambiance (ambience,) 2mankind … increased their destructiveness” (its,) “sent up to Tau Ceti” (sent us,) “she scoops up little sand crabs that makes her cry ‘Eek’” (make. )

Dom Luís I Bridge, Porto

Porto is bridge heaven. There are six bridges across the River Douro of which the Dom Luís I Bridge (Ponte D. Luís I) is a two-deck bridge that carries the metro line I featured a few posts ago as well as road traffic on its lower level.

Dom Luís I Bridge, Porto

Dom Luís I Bridge, Porto

It being a very nice day we enquired about the length of the boat trip available on the nearer boat in the above pictures and having plenty of time decided to go for it.

From that vantage point we got closer to the north bridge support buttress:-

Dom Luís I Bridge, Porto, North Support Buttress

The one below is from the bridge’s Wikipedia page and the last photo is of a distant viaduct bridge somewhere across the Douro which I had taken on the way down to the river:-

Dom Luís I Bridge/></center></p>
<p><center><a href=Bridge, Porto

Seething Hatred?

I discovered yesterday that poet W H Auden spent some time (two years) in Helensburgh – eight or so miles from Dumbarton – teaching at Larchfield Academy.

This information came to me via a review in the Guardian of a book Larchfield by Polly Clark.

The book, a novel, deals with Auden’s time there but there is also apparently (I’ve not read it, only the review) a present day section featuring Dora, an incomer to the town, who finds herself ill at ease there as it is “seething with hatred of outsiders.”

Really? Helensburgh, in my youth at least, was a tourist town and has had a fair number of incomers over the years what with the Faslane base just up the road. Is it really seething with hatred to such outsiders who bring – or brought – money into the town? Is it unwelcoming? No more so than anywhere else I’d have thought.

Or is Clark unfairly traducing it for literary purposes?

(It is entirely possible of course that a few incomers might “play the English” – as an English writer acquaintance of mine who now lives in Edinburgh depicts some of his compatriots who come to Scotland and moan about why it isn’t English and try to throw their weight about – and suffer adverse comments as a result.)

Porto

Porto is a stunning city. I suppose it helped that the sun was shining – after all, even Cowdenbeath looks good in the sunshine – but the buildings were interesting. Not just São Bento Railway Station and the tiled churches but even generally “ordinary” buildings.

This was just down from the Great War Memorial. That tiled church is just to right of centre here:-

A Street in Porto

“Ordinary” building:-

Buildings in Porto

Some of the streets were narrow though:-

A Street in Porto

And like all great cities, Porto has a river, The Douro:-

River Douro at Porto

That way kind of led us out of town so we doubled back and found this way down to the river:-

Street leading to River Douro, Porto

Looking back up to city from bank of River Douro:

Porto Buildings from Bank of River Douro

BSFA Awards Booklet 2016

The End of Hope Street1 by Malcolm Devlin. First published in Interzone 266, Sep-Oct 2016.
This is told in a curiously flat style which seems devoid of any feeling. Without explanation – which makes this fantasy rather than SF – the houses in the cul-de-sac of Hope Street are one by one becoming unliveable, death to anyone inside or who enters thereafter. The survivors are taken in by their neighbours, but matter-of-factly, not compassionately. The end of hope may touch a nerve in these unenlightened times but it’s a depressing philosophy.

Liberty Bird2 by Jaime Fenn. First published in Now We Are Ten, edited by Ian Whates, NewCon Press, July 2016.
The bird of the title is a racing spaceyacht about to take part in a prestigious race and piloted by Kheo Reuthani, scion of an aristocratic house but homosexual in a society which frowns on that – and where some such aristocratic clans have seemingly managed to survive the removal of an Empress from power. The plot hinges on the fact of Kheo’s sexuality being known to his chief engineer. It’s depressing that such repression of sexuality has to be continually commented on. But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Taking Flight by Una MacCormack. First published in Crisis and Conflicts, edited by Ian Whates, NewCon Press, July 2016.
On reading this I was reminded irresistibly of the style and tonal quality of many of Eric Brown’s SF stories. Our (unnamed) narrator having come to find little satisfaction in the bustle of life in the core worlds remembers an invitation by Eckhart, an acquaintance from her privileged youth in college, to visit him on far-flung backwater Wright’s World. Eckhart appears distracted and fretful but arranges for his friend to travel up-country where the scenery is magnificent, the experience of gliding, on drugs, sublime and the secret of Eckhart’s behaviour is revealed. Apart from a single phrase to do with the passage of time and a slightly weak ending this is pitched perfectly.

Presence3 by Helen Oyeyemi. First published in What is Not Yours is Not Yours, an anthology from Riverhead Books, March 2016.
Jill and Jacob, two psychiatrists married to each other – both not in their first marriage – agree to take part in an experiment to simulate the presences of deceased loved ones some people experience after their bereavement. Jill and Jacob are each to feel the presence of the other but an unexpected different presence intrudes. I found the experience of reading this was marred by no less than 17 unusual hyphenations (pur- pose, drop- ping,) in the middles of lines which may have been a hangover from true line-breaks in the original publication.

The Apologists4 by Tade Thompson. First published in Interzone 266, Sep-Oct 2016.
Somehow in taking over Earth the aliens didn’t realise it was inhabited. Only five humans survive but they don’t get on. They are kept alive and given work designing replacements for everything that was lost. Storm’s project is to design simulant humans, Katrina works on roads, buildings etc. But, as Storm says, “Humanity is defined by imperfections.”

Extract from The Arrival of Missives5 by Aliya Whiteley. First published by Unsung Stories, May 2016.
In the aftermath of the Great War Shirley Fearn conceives a passion for education and war-wounded Mr Tiller, her teacher. She goes to his house to speak to him about it and through the window witnesses something strange. This is well-written but unfortunately the BSFA booklet contains only an extract so it is difficult to assess.

In the non-fiction category, Paul Graham Raven’s essay New Model Authors? Authority, Authordom, Anarchism and the Atomized Text in a Networked World discusses an experimental piece of critical writing on Adam Roberts’s novel New Model Army which had appeared on the internet (and which he had uploaded to his clipping service) but which has now vanished – apparently without trace. Raven’s essay read to me as if it were a piece of fiction.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Lewis’ (Lewis’s,) the both of them (“both of them, or “the pair of them” not “the both of them”,) oblivious of (ignorant of was meant; oblivious means “unaware of”, not “unknowing”,) the community prided themselves (itself,) residents committee (residents’, x4) “there had been only few” (only a few,) “one of its residents found their way” (his, or her, way,) more-so (more so,) a sentence containing only subordinate clauses, may have (might have,) focussing (focusing,) “the neighbourhood fought to free themselves” (strictly, itself,) homeopathic (homoeopathic,) PIN number (PIN – the N already stands for number,) the chemists (the chemist’s.) 2miniscule (minuscule,) “Why were this mismatched pair meeting ..?” (Why was this pair meeting?) “a block of portholes have been elected” (a block has been selected,) seven year ago (years,) a lack of punctuation makes at least two sentences read oddly, publically (publicly,) forbad (forbade,) “‘But not every change is for the worst,’” (worse, I think that would be.) 3stood (standing,) focussed (focused,) four absences of paragraph breaks when a different person is speaking. 4none … yells (fine,) but none … mean anything (means,) none of us remember (remembers,) breathing heavy (heavily,) “I cannot move from the aches and pains” (for the aches and pains,) “I know there is such a thing as odourless solvents” (such things as,) whinging (I prefer whingeing) 5”Those from farming stock can possess…..if he is shown..” (those is plural, therefore, “if they are shown”,) smoothes (smooths,) “there are a handful” (is a handful,) Clemens’ (Clemens’s,) “which decorates the entire of his chest and stomach” (the entire? How about “the entirety” or “the whole”.)

free hit counter script