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Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times Again

And so, back to the beginning of Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, which started with Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but is now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West.

These books sit on the very top of that bookcase I featured in the first of these posts, above the shelves that contain all my (read) Scottish books.

Books Once More

They’re here because they fit into the space – at least in the case of the three “What If…” books, What If?, More What If? and What If America? – anthologies of Altered History stories – and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Then there is Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, Colin Greenland’s excellent Finding Helen, a Paul Torday, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Marina Lewycka’s A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian, non-SF works by SF writers Brian Aldiss and Norman Spinrad, Robert Standish’s Elephant Walk and three books by Erich Maria Remarque including the incomparable All Quiet on the Western Front.

If I were filing my books thoroughly systematically these would all have to be moved.

Interzone 272, Sep-Oct 2017

TTA Press

Interzone 272 cover

Andy Hedgecock’s Editorial1 is an appreciation of the late Brian Aldiss of blessed memory. Jonathan McCalmont2 ponders the uses of allusion, contrasting the reductive and lazy with the dense or expansive. Nina Allan welcomes post-SF. Book Zone has an interesting and discursive author interview by Jo Walton3 with Adam Roberts to tie in with his new novel The Real-Time Murders but neglects to review the book. Duncan Lunan4 reviews Paul Kincaid’s book of criticism Iain M Banks mostly by relating his experiences of the late master. There is also Juliet E McKenna’s take on Charles Stross’s Delirium Brief, Stephen Theaker5 on Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning while John Howard reviews Xeelee Vengeance by Stephen Baxter, with the final item a review of Hal Duncan’s A Scruffian Survival Guide by Elaine C Gallagher who also interviews6 the author.
In the fiction:
As the world slowly rebuilds after war and ecological disaster, Blessings Erupt by Aliya Whiteley tells the story of the last of the original plastic eaters, consuming the hydrocarbon-based tumours that afflict the population in return for years of service to the company he represents.
The Music of Ghosts7 by Paul Jessop is set on a generation starship after Earth has been destroyed. The voyagers’ essences are supposed to be uploaded into the library after their death but things go wrong.
In a Melbourne fifty years past any relevance it ever had Ghosts of a Neon God8 by T R Napper tells of two small time crooks who are unwittingly embroiled in a dispute between the Chinese who run the place.
A white mist of unknown origin – possibly alien, possibly human – has “clouded cognitive processes and slowed down conscious thought” and in Erica L Satifka’s The Goddess of the Highway9 people are fitted with plates in their heads in a caste system to suit each to their new roles. Viewpoint characters Harp, a Plastic who monitors a truck criss-crossing the former US, and Spike, a Platinum, come together to try to join the resistance. The titular goddess may be a manifestation of the plates.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Aldiss’ (Aldiss’s.) 2Written in USian, “the crowd are right” (the crowd is.) 3Lord Peter Whimsy (did Roberts actually say that? I believe him capable of such punnery but in English English – as opposed to Scottish English – the correct, Wimsey, and the pun, whimsy, are much less distinguishable,) descendent (descendant,) 4Banks’ (Banks’s,) “human affairs are so complex than any stance (that any stance,) 5“A series of innovations have set this world apart” (a series has,) 6fit (fitted) 7Written in USian, “the sun grew wane and hungry with light” (wan?) “the whirring of machines are chugging” (the whirring is chugging but even that is clumsy.) Ray stops programming for a moment and touches Ray’s hands” (Mark’s hands.) The story is riddled with errors in tense. It’s written in the present but has past tense verb forms intruding, “He’d been training for this day” (He’s ) “And his heart was a wild thing inside his ribs” (is.) “They ran into the storage facility” (run,) “and then she turned” (turns.) 8“Now it may as well not even existed” (exist,) his practiced stride (practised,) focussed (focused.) 9Written in USian, hocking up (hawking,) “the majority of what gets shipped are luxuries” (the majority is,) “intersecting a round sphere” (I’d like to see a sphere that isn’t round!)

Brian Aldiss

Earlier today I read the news that Brian Aldiss has died.

At times during my youth he was about the sole standard bearer for British SF (for which actually read English SF as Science Fiction from other parts of these islands was more or less invisible till years later.) Only John Wyndham and J G Ballard had anything like as high a profile and they were very different writers.

(Edited to add: I don’t know why it was that Arthur C Clarke slipped my mind when I originally wrote this. Maybe because his output was hard SF as compared to the others.)

As a result of Aldiss’s prominence I have a large number of his books. I think The Interpreter was the first SF book I bought as opposed to borrowing them from the local library.

The latest such purchase was bought for me for Christmas by the good lady because she liked the cover so much – and she read it before me!

I suppose there won’t be any more now.

I did meet him once; briefly, at one of the Liverpool Eastercons.

One of the greats. Arguably the last of the SF pioneers.

Brian Wilson Aldiss: 18/8/1925 – 19/8/2017. So it goes.

Harry Harrison

Another of the prominent Science Fiction writers of my youth and young adulthood, Harry Harrison, has died.

He was probably known best for his Stainless Steel Rat books and also for the stories of Bill, the Galactic Hero, whose title gives a flavour of Harrison’s sardonic wit. In these books Harrison played against the usual conventions of the SF action adventure.

Ouside the narrower SF world his most familiar work – via the film Soylent Green starring Charlton Heston – is probably the novel Make Room! Make Room!, one of the first to touch on overpopulation as an imminent problem. Harrison said the film, “at times bore a faint resemblance to the book.”

He was also one of the earliest purveyors of Altered History. His A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! was published in 1972, with his Eden trilogy, where dinosaurs never died out, following in the 1980s. The Stars and Stripes trilogy (1998- 2001) imagined a British intervention on the American continent during the American Civil War leading to war between a Reunited States and Britain. (The US won. Of course.)

He edited more than a few important SF anthologies with English SF author Brian Aldiss with whom he also helped introduce serious criticism to the genre.

Henry Maxwell (Harry) Harrison: 12/3/1925 – 15/8/2012. So it goes.

British SF Masterworks?

Over on his blog a week or so ago Ian Sales has with some help come up with a list of fifty British SF Masterworks.

The list is below. It has only one book (or series) per author and a “completely arbitrary cut off date of 1995” I suppose on the grounds that anything younger can not yet be called a masterwork.

It’s an interesting set of choices.

The ones in bold I have read.

1 Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
2 The War of the Worlds, HG Wells (1897)
3 Last And First Men, Olaf Stapledon (1930)
4 Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)
5 Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell (1949)
6 The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)
7 The Death of Grass, John Christopher (1956)

8 No Man Friday, Rex Gordon (1956)
9 On The Beach, Nevil Shute (1957)
10 A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
11 The Drowned World, JG Ballard (1962)
12 Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)

13 A Man of Double Deed, Leonard Daventry (1965)
14 The Time Before This, Nicholas Monsarrat (1966)
15 A Far Sunset, Edmund Cooper (1967)
16 The Revolt of Aphrodite [Tunc and Nunquam ], Lawrence Durrell (1968 – 1970)
17 Pavane, Keith Roberts (1968)
18 Stand On Zanzibar, John Brunner (1968)
19 Behold The Man, Michael Moorcock (1969)
20 Ninety-Eight Point Four, Christopher Hodder-Williams (1969)

21 Junk Day, Arthur Sellings (1970)
22 The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, DG Compton (1973)
23 Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C Clarke (1973)
24 Collision with Chronos, Barrington Bayley (1973)
25 Inverted World, Christopher Priest (1974)
26 The Centauri Device, M John Harrison (1974)

27 The Memoirs of a Survivor, Doris Lessing (1974)
28 Hello Summer, Goodbye, Michael G Coney (1975)
29 Orbitsville [Orbitsville, Orbitsville Departure, Orbitsville Judgement], Bob Shaw (1975 – 1990)
30 The Alteration, Kingsley Amis (1976)
31 The White Bird of Kinship [The Road to Corlay, A Dream of Kinship, A Tapestry of Time], Richard Cowper (1978 – 1982)
32 SS-GB, Len Deighton (1978)
33 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)

34 The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)
35 Helliconia, Brian W Aldiss (1982 – 1985)
35 Orthe, Mary Gentle (1983 – 1987)
36 Chekhov’s Journey, Ian Watson (1983)

37 A Maggot, John Fowles (1985)
38 Queen of the States, Josephine Saxton (1986)
39 Wraeththu Chronicles [The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire], Storm Constantine (1987 – 1989)
40 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
41 The Empire of Fear, Brian Stableford (1988)
42 Desolation Road, Ian McDonald (1988)
43 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)

44 Wulfsyarn, Phillip Mann (1990)
47 Use of Weapons, Iain M Banks (1990)
48 Vurt, Jeff Noon (1993)

49 Ammonite, Nicola Griffith (1993)
50 The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter (1995)

I’m sure I haven’t read Frankenstein in the original. I have however read Brian Aldiss’s Frankenstein Unbound but of course he’s in the list for the Helliconia trilogy.

I read Doris Lessing’s Shikasta soon after publication and could not get to grips with it at all. It seemed to me like the classic case of a mainstream writer attempting SF and not bringing it off. Among other things it was too didactic, too preachy, totally unengaging. As a consequence I did not persevere with her SF output; nor indeed the remainder of her oeuvre.

I’m not sure of A Man of Double Deed at no 13 nor A Far Sunset (15). I may have read these out of the library when I was a young thing.

One point of interest. The only two Scottish writers in the list seem to be Naomi Mitchison, for a book published in 1962, and Iain M Banks, 1990. (See my post on the dearth of Scottish SF till extremely recently.) Mitchison was of course more renowned for her non-SF.

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