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SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (vi)

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

Again these are small-size (original size) SF paperbacks. Again they are housed in the garage and again are double-parked.

It was difficult to get back far enough to fit these all into the photo.

They start at Stanisław Lem and finish at Connie Willis. There’s a whole shelf of Robert Silverberg in here. Other notables: George R R Martin, Ian McDonald, Larry Niven, Christopher Priest, Tim Powers, Kim Stanley Robinson, Bob Shaw, Cordwainer Smith, James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon,) Harry Turtledove and Ian Watson.

Science FIction Books

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (iv)

The remainder of my larger SF paperbacks. These are on the lower shelves of the old music cupboard. Looking at these photos two of the books seem to have wriggled away from alphabetical order. (I’ve fixed that now.)

Stanisław Lem, Ken Macleod, Cixin Liu, Graham Dunstan Martin, Ian McDonald:-

Large Paperback Science Fiction

China Miéville, a Tim Powers, Christopher Priest:-

SF Large Paperback Books

Alastair Reynolds, Robert Silverberg, Norman Spinrad:-

Science Fiction Large Paperbacks

Lavie Tidhar, Kurt Vonnegut, Gene Wolfe, Ian Watson, Roger Zelazny, (well half of one is):-

SF Books, Large Paperbacks

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (iii)

Another for Judith Reader in the Wilderness‘s meme.

This week, the remainder of my SF hardbacks. Click pictures to enlarge them.

More Ian McDonald, China Miéville, Christopher Priest, Keith Roberts, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Silverberg, a book of Art Deco posters which fits in nowhere else.

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iii)

On another shelf entirely, standing next to the above. This contains books by my not so secret SF vice, Harry Turtledove, plus one Gene Wolfe, among others. Above, on its side, is a book containing illustrated Bernie Taupin lyrics for early Elton John songs:-

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iv)

Chris Priest’s list

In response to the BBC’s list of 100 books that shaped the world Christopher Priest has blogged his 100 ‘key’ titles.

As usual the ones in bold I have read. (20 here. Others are on my tbr pile.) If asterisked I have read part of the works mentioned. Question marks mean I can’t remember if I read it in the long ago.

01. Penguin SF Ed. Brian Aldiss
02. Non-Stop Brian Aldiss
03. New Maps of Hell Kingsley Amis
04. The Green Man Kingsley Amis
05. The Four-Dimensional Nightmare J G Ballard
06. Vermilion Sands J G Ballard
07. The Twins at St Clare’s Enid Blyton
08. The Castle of Adventure Enid Blyton
09. The Mountain of Adventure Enid Blyton
10. 2666 Roberto Bolaño
11. Last Evenings on Earth Roberto Bolaño
12. Don’t Point that Thing at Me Kyril Bonfiglioli
13. Fictions Jorge Luis Borges
14. The Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles
15. The Silver Locusts Ray Bradbury
16. The Naked Island Russell Braddon
17. The Dam Busters Paul Brickhill
18. Project Jupiter Fredric Brown
19. What Mad Universe Fredric Brown
20. Rogue Moon Algis Budrys
21. Dark Avenues Ivan Bunin
22. The People’s War Angus Calder
23. That Summer in Paris Morley Callaghan
24. The Outsider Albert Camus
25. Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
26. No Moon Tonight Don Charlwood
27. Bomber Pilot Leonard Cheshire
28. The World in Winter John Christopher
29. The Second World War Winston S Churchill
30. The City and the Stars Arthur C Clarke
31. Mariners of Space Erroll Collins
32. Enemies of Promise Cyril Connolly
33. Fifth Business Robertson Davies
34. Complete Holmes Stories Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
35. Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich
36. Who Killed Hanratty? Paul Foot
37. Modern English Usage H W Fowler
38. The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles
39. The Magus John Fowles
40. Diaries Joseph Goebbels
41. Adventures in the Screen Trade William Goldman
42. The Killing of Julia Wallace Jonathan Goodman
43. Good-Bye to All That Robert Graves
44. A Sort of Life Graham Greene
45. The Quiet American Graham Greene
46. The Door into Summer Robert A Heinlein ???
47. Catch 22 Joseph Heller
48. A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway
49. Hiroshima John Hersey
50. Pictorial History of the War Walter Hutchinson
51. Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor W E Johns
52. Dubliners James Joyce
53. Ice Anna Kavan
54. A History of Warfare John Keegan
55. Fame Daniel Kehlmann
56. 10 Rillington Place Ludovic Kennedy
57. Jack the Ripper – The Final Solution Stephen Knight
58. Steps Jerzy Kosinski
59. The Painted Bird Jerzy Kosinski
60. Changing Places David Lodge
61. Small World David Lodge
62. The False Inspector Dew Peter Lovesey
63. High Tide Mark Lynas
64. Revolution in the Head Ian MacDonald
65. Calculated Risk Charles Eric Maine
66. The Caltraps of Time David I Masson
67. Owning Up George Melly
68. The Cruel Sea Nicholas Monsarrat
69. Pax Britannica James Morris
70. Song of the Sky Guy Murchie
71. A Severed Head Iris Murdoch
72. Collected Stories Vladimir Nabokov
73. Collected Essays George Orwell
74. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
75. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers Beatrix Potter
76. Invisibility Steve Richards
77. Pavane Keith Roberts
78. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Oliver Sacks
79. Collected Sonnets William Shakespeare*
80. Hamlet William Shakespeare
81. Pilgrimage to Earth Robert Sheckley
82. Frankenstein Mary Shelley
83. Larry’s Party Carol Shields
84. Mary Swann Carol Shields
85. On the Beach Nevil Shute
86. Loitering with Intent Muriel Spark
87. The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas Gertrude Stein
88. Earth Abides George R Stewart
89. Dracula Bram Stoker
90. The Murder of Rudolf Hess Hugh Thomas
91. Battle Cry Leon M Uris
92. No Night is Too Long Barbara Vine
93. Twins Peter Watson
94. The War of the Worlds H G Wells
95. The Time Machine H G Wells
96. Uncharted Seas Dennis Wheatley
97. Disappearances William Wiser
98. The Crazy Years William Wiser
99. The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
100. The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham

the Extremes by Christopher Priest

Scribner, 1999, 398 p.

the Extremes cover

FBI operative Teresa Simons has lost her husband in one of those shooting incidents typical of the US. In an attempt to assuage her grief and probe the circumstances of similar tragedies she has travelled to her native England, from where her parents emigrated when she was young, to visit the south coast town of Bulverton, also scene of a (much less typical) mass shooting several months before. In her FBI training to improve the responses of law enforcement agents in such cases Teresa had undergone many immersions in virtual reality scenarios of shooting incidents. We are given accounts of several of these where Teresa inhabited the minds of different participants – victims, bystanders, perpetrator. Commercial VR outlets are also a feature of this world and, in them, shooting simulations (as well as the inevitable porn) are widely popular. Employees of the GunHo Corporation, purveyors of ExEx (extreme experience, their version of virtual reality, which overall amounts to the second largest economy in this world) also occupy the hotel where Teresa is staying and are willing to pay the town’s inhabitants enormous sums for their recollections of the fatal day.

Like Philip K Dick, Priest has always been a slippery prospect. In his work appearances can be deceptive and reality tenuous. As Teresa delves deeper into ExEx’s wares, trying to find the limits to their scenarios, the outside world starts to become less concrete. If, in a scenario, you enter an ExEx property within it and immerse yourself in one of its simulations where will you emerge when you activate the trigger that is supposed to restore you to the ‘real’ world? In particular she has to face up to her own responsibility for, within an ExEx simulation, inadvertently showing the Bulverton shooter how to handle the gun he is carrying. Is she to blame for the subsequent deaths? This has the potential to takes us down a rabbit hole which Priest manages to sidestep but the phrase, “Extreme reality was a landscape of forking paths,” is undoubtedly a nod to Borges’s famous short story wherein he presaged the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics by decades.

The subject matter invites comment. The fascination some people have with guns is undoubted but I suspect they would not be swayed out of it in any way by the observation, however true, that, “the more there were people who owned guns, who made themselves expert with guns, who prepared to defend themselves with guns, who went on hunting trips with guns, who mouthed slogans about freedom and rights being dependent on guns, the more those guns were likely to be abused and to fall into the wrong hands.”

As usual Priest’s characters are well drawn and believable. This is so even within the virtual realities. For a twenty year-old narrative this still holds up remarkably well.

Pedant’s corner:- On the cover and spine the title is given as the Extremes but the title page has The Extremes. At times the narrative slips between English and USian usages. Otherwise; Mrs Simons’ (Simons’s,) epicentre (centre,) “in bright orange shirt” (in a bright …,) “the police Swat team were trying to gain access” (the police Swat team was trying ….) “A crowd … were staring” (a crowd … was staring,) non-antibioticly (non-antibiotically?) Mrs Williams’ (Williams’s.) “She thought, Any more of this and….” (Either put the ‘any more of this and….’ in quotation marks or lose the capital ‘A’.)

The Rift by Nina Allan

Titan Books, 2017, 421 p. One of the novels on this year’s BSFA Award shortlist.

 The Rift cover

In 1994, when she was fifteen, Selena Rouane’s two years’ older sister Julie disappeared, an event which has haunted the family ever since. Years later, after Selena has had an on-off relationship with Johnny, who occasionally phones her from Malaysia where lay the job opportunity she ushered him off to, Julie returns to her life saying that in the interim she had been living on the planet Tristane in the Suur system, in the Aww galaxy. No mechanism is described for this. It just happened to her, as if by magic. Neither is there a description of how she managed to get back. Selena is convinced by her story, especially as Julie remembers a particular childhood toy, but their mother is not.

The Rift is oddly constructed. Most of the narration is from Selena’s viewpoint but other perspectives are introduced from time to time to broaden out the story Allan has to tell. We have diary extracts (and one from a terrestrial novel,) newspaper clippings, and a scientific report. In Selena’s recollections of the time of Julie’s disappearance the sections can read like a YA novel. At other times a fairly prosaic mainstream one.

Julie’s knowledge of Tristane’s geography and history as relayed to Selena is derived from the planet’s books, her memories sometimes presented as a gazetteer – akin to Christopher Priest’s The Islanders, only not so comprehensive. (Or did this comparison only come to my mind because of the connection between Allan and Priest?) Some emphasis is laid on a creature known as a creef, a parasite from Tristane’s system companion the planet Dea (once accessible by spaceship, now cut off,) which debilitates its victims from the inside, slowly eroding their mental and physical capabilities as described in a Tristanean novel The Mind-Robbers of Pakwa.

Creef are said to be like a silverfish or centipede. It is here that severe doubts about Julie’s intergalactic voyaging grow on the reader. Would a Tristanean novel really use such Earthbound terms? Then too there are the previous mentions of “Ziploc wallets”; the choice of the name Marillienseet for one of Tristane’s seas and Cally (pronounced Kayleigh) for Julie’s friend in her exile, seemingly pointing to an origin within Julie’s mind, since the band Marillion is referred to several times in the terrestrial sections of the book. Later we find that “centigrade” is the Tristanean unit of temperature. Plus in one of the “gazetteer” extracts Tristane’s main raw material, julippa, is stated to be similar to rubber – surely the entry’s writer would not even have known what rubber is; yet Julie would. And of course the correspondence between “julippa” and “Julie” is marked. None of these is presented as Julie trying to make a terrestrial comparison for the sake of clarity.

An invocation of the fake Grand Duchess Anastasia, Franziska Czenstkowska, otherwise known as Anna Anderson, is another powerful steer towards the possibility that “Julie”’s memories have been constructed from newspaper and other accessible information. The case was a brief media infatuation, as such things are. And what to make of Cally’s statement to Julie, “‘The written word has a closer relationship to memory than with the literal truth, that all truths are questionable, even the larger ones’”?

Allan’s characterisation is good, even the minor players in the story appear as rounded people (though those on Tristane are more barely sketched.) A nod to the importance of reading (and the lack of awareness in ignoring genre?) is given by the sentences, “Categorisation is a kind of brainwashing. How do you know which books will turn out to be important to you, until you’ve encountered them?” Yet it is a big ask to read this as SF rather than a quotidian novel with SF trappings. Though she clearly feels an affinity with speculative fiction other qualities in Allan’s writing speak more loudly.

Two of the four BSFA Award shortlisted novels down. Two to go. I might not manage one of them though.

Pedant’s corner:- broach (several times; that particular style of jewellery is spelled “brooch”,) “her beside clock radio” (bedside clock radio,) “it still fit” (fitted,) “for not pursing it” (pursuing.) “The southern polar regions …… remains largely unmapped” (regions remain unmapped,) “[its support plinths] are still judged by certain scientists … to be a logistical impossibility” (from a gazetteer extract. Logistics is the art of moving, lodging and supply; the rest of the sentence does not support this meaning. The materials for the construction must have been able to be transported and lodged; that is, supplied. But if this was merely one of Julie’s imaginings Allan may have used the wrong term deliberately,) “the [organic] bond takes place at the sub-atomic level” (how is that possible? Organic bonds occur between atoms,) “on the playground” (the usual expression is “in the playground”,) “in her stocking feet” (it’s “stockinged feet”,) “‘one less thing to worry about’” (was in dialogue, but it still ought to be “fewer”, as it should five lines later, in plain text,) sung (sang.)

The Quiet Woman by Christopher Priest

Gollancz, 2014, 238 p.

 The Quiet Woman cover

Writer Alice Stockton lives in a Hampshire which has suffered the fallout from a nuclear accident at Cap la Hague in France. Despite there being no obvious reason for it she has had her latest manuscript impounded by agents acting for the government. Her only local friend, a much older woman named Eleanor, has been found murdered. Alice’s story is narrated in the third person and interspersed at times with a first person narrative by Eleanor’s son Gordon Sinclair, who also goes under the name of Peter Hamilton. As Hamilton he works, at arm’s length from the government, in information management – de facto censorship. Hence the ability to prevent Alice’s manuscript being published and to demand any copies, electronic or otherwise, be destroyed.

There are early hints that the first person narration may be unreliable when the narrator’s car and torch cut out and he observes spinning cylinders make circles in the nearby crops before disappearing as mysteriously as they arrived. However this incident is only once referred to again and can be taken to be imagined or hallucinated. However potential unreliability is underscored by part of one of the two letters Eleanor wrote for Alice wherein she says, “I am by nature a concealer and disguiser, a natural fiction writer,” and (a book should have) “little facts that don’t add up, that misdirect the truth.” Then there is the very late scene which is described in both the first and third person narratives with substantial discrepancies between the two. Two of the first person chapters describe acts of extreme sexual violence on their narrator’s part. They also describe Sinclair’s mother (in the third person sections a relatively benign presence) as relating to him from an early age stories of her life before he was born with sexual details foregrounded. Again a reading of delusion on the narrator’s part seems in order.

Priest’s prose is immensely readable but there is something elusive about what purpose his book might serve. The total mismatch between Sinclair’s accounts of events and the seemingly more authoritative third person sections reinforce the reading that he is unhinged (at best.) Yet he is a powerful man – able to alter the official records pertaining to Alice’s life. Even in authoritarian systems surely someone would notice? Then there is Alice’s sudden conviction, without any evidence, that Sinclair is responsible for his mother’s death. And the bit about authors being paid merely for submitting manuscripts to the “European Repository of Human Knowledge” is just bizarre.

The quiet woman of the title is presumably Eleanor, she speaks to us only through those two letters to Alice which Priest vouchsafes us, yet as a result is paradoxically too quiet. This is only one of the aspects of the novel which are unbalanced. The Quiet Woman is not one of Priest’s major works but interesting enough, if a little frustrating.

Pedant’s corner:- “we hurried back along to promenade (along the promenade? Along to the promenade?) “one three sent to England one of three,) “she knew he that he wasn’t sure who she was” (miss that first “he”? or “he that”?) “How could she had forgotten?” (have,) one end quote where there had been no dialogue, an personal nature (a,) “Tom pushed the bolt of the door home” followed nine lines later, with no other mention of the bolt, “Alice pushed home the bolt on the door,” plus seven or eight instances of “time interval later”.

Ian McEwan

There’s a interesting post over on Christopher Priest’s blog about Ian McEwan‘s writing.

Reading between the lines it seems that the acclaim McEwan received at the start of his career is related to the fact that he seemed to be a promise of a wonderful future – and that among not many candidates – and that few have troubled to revise their opinion since.

What is more problematic are the inspirations for his published pieces. Originality may be difficult to achieve and all sorts of things – conscious and unconscious – bleed into any work of fiction but there certainly seem to be question marks over the decisions that go into McEwan’s writing.

Now, I’ve not read much McEwan (and what I have read did not enthuse me much.) Though I have one of his books on the tbr pile – it’s been there ten years or more – I’m now not too minded to alter that fact.

The Dream Archipelago by Christopher Priest

Earthlight, 1999, 264 p.

This is the first collection of Priest’s stories set in the Dream Archipelago, preceding The Islanders by 12 or so years, though apart from the introductory The Equatorial Moment – describing the strange vortex which affects the planet and presumably written especially for this book – the stories herein are considerably older.

The Negation features an author, Moylita Kaine, who has written a book called The Affirmation. (Priest later reused this title for a novel of his own and Kaine reappears in The Islanders.) Kaine’s book fascinates a border guard, Dik, who visits her in her position as writer in residence in the town where he is on leave.

Whores is a strange tale of another (unnamed) soldier whose visit to one of the whores of the title – forced into that profession by the enemy’s prior occupation of the island – has unexpected consequences.

The Cremation has Graian Sheeld travel to a funeral on an island where the customs are strange to him. His faux-pas lead him to a mistake. In parts this reminded me of the work of Michael G Coney. There is an enigmatic woman, a particularly nasty indigenous lifeform known as a thryme and its unusual life cycle.

The Miraculous Cairn is a tale of narrator Lenden’s sexual awakening combined with an unusual – possibly hallucinatory – encounter, and its ramifications resounding in later life.

The Watched has another of Priest’s confused protagonists. Ordier is fascinated by the mysterious Qataari who have been decanted from their ancestral peninsular home as a result of the war but who are notoriously secretive. A folly on the land he has bought allows him to spy on them.

As a collection this is fine but it doesn’t add up to a whole in the same way The Islanders did. But then it probably wasn’t supposed to.

There are some USian usages presumably because of where some of the stories were first published (though a twice mentioned casket is also once referred to as a coffin.)

Then there was the strange sentence, “You did not make rape my wife?” which badly needed editing and (twice) the common misuse of aureole for areola.

Clarke Award Shortlist

Last year it was Chris Priest who incited controversy over the Clarke Award, this year it seems to be the judges themselves – for not including a book by a woman on their shortlist.

The contending books are:-

Nod by Adrian Barnes (Bluemoose)
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)*
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann)
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Headline)
Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)*
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)*

I’ve read the last two of these and Dark Eden is on the TBR pile.

The overlap with this year’s BSFA Awards novel short list is strong (asterisked titles) but only 2312 is also up for the Hugo.

I’m a bit surprised that M John Harrison’s Empty Space didn’t make the list, it’s the sort of book that Clarke Award juries tend to like.

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