The Vorrh by B Catling

Coronet, 2015, 510 p.

The Vorrh cover

I had this on the back burner until I read the recent favourable review by Brian Kelly in the Guardian of The Erstwhile, the second part of Catling’s trilogy.

The book is an eccentric thing to be sure – featuring a mysterious forest, robots in basements, a more or less human cyclops, a bow forged from human bone and which has strange powers of attraction, a pioneering photographer, anthropophagi (a smaller species of cyclops – Catling seems to have a thing about one-eyed creatures – but whose heads protrude from their chests,) a ritual involving still-born or aborted children – but I fear you may have to be in the mood for it. And I wasn’t.

The Vorrh is a forest in Africa which may be the site of the Garden of Eden and may even still have living somewhere in its centre, Adam. Most of the action of the book, though, occurs in Essenwald, a European city “imported piece by piece to the Dark Continent” which lies to the Vorrh’s south-east. The time is sometime after the Great War – yet there are sections from the Victorian era featuring the photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

The more or less human cyclops is Ishmael, raised in the basement of 4 Khüler Brunnen by the Kin, gentle dark-brown robotic machines. He is rescued from them by the building’s inhabitant, Ghertrude Tulp, whose lifelong chastity is broken by her attraction to Ishmael. But having tasted freedom from the basement and seen the city via a camera obscura in 4 Khüler Brunnen’s upper levels Ishmael is not content and on Carnival weekend (a time of masked, licenced debauchery) travels the city, encounters and has sex with the blind Cyrena Lohr. The next morning, Ishmael disappeared, Cyrena finds she can see. As a result of this miracle she dedicates herself to finding him. Meanwhile the ability to cure or cause affliction has become transferable from person to person.

The city’s fortunes are tied up with trade with the Vorrh for timber, trade which can only take place via creatures known as the Limboia, whose cooperation is only achieved via the delivering to them of the bodies of still-born children, an enterprise in which a Dr Hoffmann is closely involved.

There are also passages featuring a Frenchman who is based on the real life Raymond Roussel, in whose book Impressions of Africa appeared a forest called the Vorrh. Likewise the names of Ishmael and Dr Hoffmann are, I’m sure, intended to have resonances.

In that review Stuart Kelly waxed lyrical about The Erstwhile as did Michael Moorcock about The Vorrh in his review. but none of this really grabbed me.

And the Muybridge strand was odd in that it did not link to the others. I suppose it may do so in subsequent volumes but that, along with the occurrence of at least 30 instances of “time interval later”, meant I found completing this something of a chore. Those subsequent volumes may have to wait.

Pedant’s corner:- The copy I read was a publisher’s proof (or advanced reading copy as they are now known) so some or all of these may have been changed in the final published book.
“He had been in a slithering ditch at Passchendaele for two years” (no British unit was ever in the line that long) “had witnessed spectral visions .. Angels of the Somme” (Passchendaele isn’t on the Somme – and the Angels were seen at Mons,) at 23 “he stepped from a plane” 200 miles to the southeast of the Vorrh (a plane? in what must be the very early 1920s?) Prone (in the sexual encounter described “supine” is meant,) silkand (silk and,) workingmen (working men, cargos (cargoes,) “I loosen an arrow” (x3, arrows are loosed, not loosened,) “he had survived far worst” (worse,) leeched (leached, ditto for leeching vs leaching) “the surface is clear and highly reflective” (it can’t be both those things; clear = transparent, reflective = mirror-like, mirrors are not transparent,) affliction (affliction,) Misstress (Mistress,) a missing end quote mark, octopus’ (octopus’s,) imposter (impostor,) curb (kerb,) gotten (got,) vise (vice,) skeptics (sceptics,) fit (fitted,) “‘She’s just a bit ruffled, that all’” (that’s all,) staunched (stanched,) parquetflooring (parquet flooring,) “’I am the only person ever to ever have photographed it’” (one of those “ever”s is unnecessary,) the butlerhad (the butler had,) on all matter of things (manner,) no start quote when dialogue started Chapter 29. “He had aged seven years enough time for every cell in his body to change. A different man climbed these shadows and stairs, so why did he feel the same?” (in Victorian times was it known that every cell in the body changed over seven years?) lay low (lie low,) laughingstock (laughing stock,) undrgrowth (undergrowth.)

Art Deco in Matosinhos

We had a serendipitous metro stop opposite this lovely stylish building in Matosinhos. Pity the metro car’s windows intrude on the clarity:-

Art Deco, Matosinhos

I have no idea of the building’s purpose but it’s another striking one:-

Art Deco, Matosinhos

Art Deco, Matosinhos, Other View

Rule of three in the extension’s windows:-

Art Deco, Matosinhos, Extension

Live It Up 37: Marlene on the Wall

This song was the inspiration for a character in one of the short stories I had published in the late lamented Spectrum SF. I didn’t actually spell that out though.

Suzanne Vega: Marlene on the Wall

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Jo Fletcher, 2016, 450 p. Reviewed for Interzone 264, May-Jun 2016.

 City of Blades cover

In this sequel (of sorts) to Bennett’s City of Stairs the action of the book is set round the Continental city of Voortyashtan, quite a few years after the events of the previous novel. The Continentals are still resentful of the rule of Saypur and, in Voortyashtan, especially of the cannons threatening its citizens from the ramparts of Fort Thinadeshi.

Saypuri General Turyin Mulaghesh has been recalled from retirement by Shara Komayd, now Prime Minster of Saypur, to investigate the strange goings-on in Voortyashtan to do with a mysterious powdery ore (at first described as a new element) which can greatly enhance electrical conductivity. Komayd’s previous investigator, Sumitra Choudhry, has disappeared and a series of strange ritualistic murders is taking place in Voortyashtan’s hinterland. Examination of the crime scenes rouses Mulaghesh’s guilt at what she did on the Yellow March during Saypur’s war with the Continent.

Voortyashtan was formerly the Continent’s main port but most of the city has been destroyed, sliding into its waters in the event known as the Blink which ended the war. Voortyashtan’s harbour and river are now being cleared by a consortium of Dreyling, the people from the Northern Isles. This project is being managed by Signe Harkvaldsson. The suspicion nags that the Dreyling are only there so that Sigrud from the earlier novel can be dragged into the tale. Bennet has made an effort here to humanise Sigrud a little (Signe is his estranged daughter) but he’s still quite cartoonish; and, while we’re casting aspersions, Thinadeskite is a strangely Wellsian name for the mysterious ore.

Despite its suspicious nature, on close examination the Saypurians can find no trace in Thinadeskite of influence of the Divine who used to rule the Continent. This is as it should be, as all these old Gods are supposed to be dead, killed either in the war or the Battle of Bulikov which ended City of Stairs. Yet the spirit of the Continental Saint Zhurgut still somehow manages to manifest in a guard who handles the gift of a sword meant for Mulaghesh and cuts a swath through Saypuri soldiers and Voortyashtani citizenry alike before Mulaghesh can bring him down.

Mulaghesh’s investigations lead to a scene where the blood – why does it always have to be blood? – of killers (herself, Sigrud and, more surprisingly, Signe) is required to transport her to the Voortyashtani nether world and its City of Blades where she believes Choudhry has gone. There, she uncovers the mystery of Thinadeskite but is too late to prevent an army of the dead from which the ore derives its potency setting out to devastate Voortyashtan. Her trip does provide her the means with which to confront them though.

Mulaghesh has something of a rose-tinted view of the trade of soldiering as a noble enterprise whose standards she fell below during the Yellow March but still strives to uphold. General Biswal, her commander during that march and now in charge of security at Fort Thinadeshi, represents what is perhaps a more realistic tradition of single-minded self-righteousness.

Its treatment of such themes of personal responsibility and the importance of relationships makes City of Blades very readable stuff.

The following remarks did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- to not say so (not to say so. Please?) Secret (Bennett meant secrete,) “none of them produce anything” (none produces anything; repeat instances of “none” with a plural verb,) “the figure’s head….. [is] oddly swollen as if their skull is far too large” (only one figure, therefore its, not their, skull. Bennett repeats this use of plural possessive pronouns relating to singular nouns several times,) routing (routeing,) Olvos’ (Olvos’s,) off of (just off, no “of” necessary, multiple instances,) Mulaghesh’js (Mulaghesh’s,) a gazing pool (is a usage I had not come across before; it seems to mean a pool which reflects light,) each of which resemble (each resembles,) “the surface of the waters are dotted with shapes, long and thin and curiously shaped” (the surface is dotted [and shapes/shaped is clumsy],) “the ship is shook” (shaken,) putting the lives … in incredible risk (it’s usually “at incredible risk”,) “he lunges at her piling riposte upon riposte as she just barely manages to parry” (a riposte is a return thrust, not an attack; barely also appeared two lines above,) “the endless line toil up” (a line toils.)

Art Deco in Porto (v): Armazéns Cunhas

This stunning Art Deco building fetauring a green peacock motif below the Novidade lettering is Armazéns Cunhas, a department store.

Stunning Art Deco, Porto

The shop’s motto is apparently “novelties, we sell cheaper.”

Armazéns Cunhas, Porto

Next door was the mundane by comparison, Era Porto Baixa:-

Art Deco, Porto

Gail Edwin Aguiar has some more stunning Deco from Porto on Flickr.

Coliseu at https://flic.kr/p/sWsaUi, Garagem Passos Manuel at https://flic.kr/p/tAJp5S.

And on Gail at Large, Serralves:-

Serralves

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Orbit, 2015, 379 p

The Water Knife cover

The south-western US states have run out of water. Federal authority has all but broken down; there are patrolled borders between states to cut down on refugees. Phoenix is a dust-bowl, any refugees that have made it from Texas face a life scraping on the margins, doing what they have to do. The South Nevada Water Authority under Catherine Case aggressively pursues its water rights over the Colorado River making Phoenix’s problems worse.

There are three narrative viewpoints; Angel, the water knife of the title, one of Catherine Case’s enforcers; Lucy, an investigative journalist; and Maria, a refugee from Texas scrabbling to survive. The plot centres round ancestral water rights which once belonged to Native Americans and which outweigh all others.

It is an almost relentlessly misanthropic endeavour. Only one character states a view approaching anything compassionate, “‘We’re all each other’s people…. When everything’s going to pieces, people can forget. But in the end? We’re all in it together.’” Yet he then goes on to say what an immigrant from India had told him, “‘… people are alone here in America. And they don’t trust anyone except themselves, and they don’t rely on anyone except themselves….. India would survive all this apocalyptic shit but America wouldn’t. Because here, no one knew their neighbo(u)rs…. in America everyone had left their homes in other countries, so maybe that was why we’d forgotten what it was to have neighbo(u)rs.’”

More representative is when Angel describes “a view of the world that anticipated evil from people because people always delivered.” Contrast that to the essentially optimistic view of humanity in Naomi Mitchison’s The Bull Calves which I read just beforehand. If anything, The Water Knife actually shows the necessity for a resilient, well-ordered, balanced society, even in times of stress; but that is not an argument which Bacigalupi makes.

The back cover here reads (in part,) “One of the most exciting and original novels you will read this year.” I must disagree. It’s the same picture of degradation and selfishness peddled by too much recent SF. Only the details differ. Bacigalupi does it well though.

Pedant’s corner:- The copy I read was an uncorrected proof (ARC) riddled with “a”s or “the”s or “it”s or other words either missing or extraneously interpolated eg “His was face was puffy” and “just another of victim of”. There were so many I gave up noting them. I hope most of these were cleaned up before actual publication. Missing start quotes if a piece of dialogue began a chapter. “she wrapped her arms around her herself,” (no second “her” needed,) “The went after the Calies” (they went after.) “Do find that’s true?” (Do you find?) “out of Hell , he’d,” (out of Hell, he’d,) “Lucy’s sister was the kind of people who broke eas(il)y” (the kind of person.)

Clarke Award Short List

I’m in Holland at the moment (unlike last year scheduled posts have been appearing okay though) so I’ve only just discovered this year’s Clarke Award nominees which are:-

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton)
Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
After Atlas – Emma Newman (Roc)
Occupy Me – Tricia Sullivan (Gollancz)
Central Station – Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (Fleet)

I’ve read one of them but two others were on my look out for list. I suppose I’ll now be adding two more. (Yes that makes only five. There is one I certainly won’t be reading as the author’s previous book was a waste of my time.)

The winner will be announced in July.

Dumbarton 0-1 Falkirk

SPFL Tier 2, The Rock, 6/5/17.

Well; it’s done now.

Next season Sons will still be playing in Scottish football’s second tier. That will be six years in a row – a magnificent achievement for a part-time club.

But it was close this time. Never before has it gone down to the last day, never before have we survived only on goal difference. It’s an indication of how difficult the task is year on year. And once again we have finished above at least one full-time club. We are punching above our weight.

Making it all the more sweet is that we have been the beneficiaries of what the Scotsman inquired might have been the worst transfer of the season. It was in fact the best. Lewis Vaughan’s goals contributed directly to six points in our efforts to stay up.

But survive we have and congratulations to the management team and players.
It’s a roller-coaster ride following Sons at the best of times. In this division wins are hard to come by and few enough per season. When they do occur the joy is that much more delicious.

It will all end one day but while trips to big grounds like Ibrox, Tynecastle or Easter Road are not on the agenda for next season there is still (maybe) Tannadice and the likes of St Mirren and East End Parks to go to and the possible prospect of rare games for us in Inverness.

But football doesn’t stand still. The worrying starts again in a couple of months time. Less if you fret about the manager’s future and summer signings.

Art Deco in Porto (iv)

The Wine Box, Porto, on the northern road approaches to Dom Luís I Bridge has Art Deco styling:-


The Wine Box, Porto

Another tall Deco building. Note cartouche below roofline:,-

Another Tall Deco Building Porto

This one’s yellow paintwork emphasises the strong horizontals:-

Art Deco Style, Porto

Terrace of Deco:-

Art Deco Terrace, Porto

Zoom to lower down the terrace:-

Art Deco Detail, Porto

Reelin’ In the Years 134: Blockbuster

That siren sound announced the change from the Sweet’s previously bubble-gummy sound to something more hard-edged. It gave them their only UK no 1.

Surprisingly it wasn’t as big a hit in the US as the totally bland Little Willy had been.

The Sweet: Blockbuster

free hit counter script