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King of the Scepter’d Isle by Michael Greatrex Coney

New American Library, 1989, 297 p

 King of the Scepter’d Isle cover

This is set in Coney’s wider universe of the Greataway (as in the previous novels of his Song of Earth series, The Celestial Steam Locomotive, Gods of the Greataway and Fang the Gnome.) At its start the worlds of humans and gnomes, though visible to each other through the umbra, are separated in different happentracks, but Nyneve, a Dedo from the human world – yet who can see into the ifalong, the future of the many happentracks of the Greataway – can slip between them. (Coney’s linguistic inventiveness here is a delight. Happentrack is a lovely word to describe parallel universes and ifalong a beautifully poetic way to express (a) contingent future(s).)

Nyneve is also a storyteller who weaves tales of the legendary King Arthur, and how he will unite the warring lands and become King of England, in such a way as to make her audiences see as well as feel what they are hearing. In this she is helped by a wizened and faded centuries-old Merlin. Not that this is a rehash of the Arthurian legends (despite appearances from Lancelot, Guinevere – as a princess named Gwen – Morgan Le Fay, Mordred, Sir Galahad etc, and familiar concepts like the Sword in the Stone of course also make their appearance. Arthur even builds a Round Table – after many false starts – with a place labelled “Hot Seat” wherein anyone impure who sits at it dies soon after.)

But it is a commentary on such tales. As a minor king says to Nyneve, “‘Nobody’s poor in your stories. Nobody has to tend the animals or work the fields,’” and towards the end she herself says, “‘The stories were an ideal, Arthur. Reality is another thing. Reality is hungry soldiers who haven’t seen a woman for days. Reality is sweat and dirty pants.’” (I suspect that last word has a more earthy resonance in Britain than in the US.)

Nyneve is anxious to bend the stories to her will, arranging for the Sword in the Stone only to be released at the right time by a very mundane piece of trickery. She is also in love with Arthur but he marries Gwen anyway, since that is what the stories say he will. Here, though, Lancelot is never attracted to Arthur’s wife.

Then there are the gnomes, whose lives are circumscribed by the Kikihuahua Examples, handed down when gnomes were brought to their happentrack in the first place by the eponymous kikihuahuas to ensure they would not overexploit their resurces. Thus gnomes are never to work malleable materials and have a distaste for sex as “filth” (an aversion to which Fang and his lover the Princess are somewhat immune.)

What plot there is centres round the merging of human and gnome happentracks (concepts all of the characters seem to know about) and a big rock at a place called Pentor, whose movement by humans sometime in the ifalong will spell disaster.

It’s all enjoyable enough and amusing but suffers from a lack of focus by breaking from the Arthurian part of the tale to turn back to the plight of the gnomes for too many chapters before reversing, and vice versa.

Coney’s early work in the novels Syzygy, Winter’s Children, Hello Summer, Goodbye, The Girl with a Symphony in her Fingers, Charisma and Brontomek! was great stuff as was the much later I Remember Pallahaxi. His Greataway stories not so much.

Pedant’s corner:- Scepter’d (OK, it’s USian, but British English doesn’t even need the apostrophe. Sceptred.) On the back cover blurb; Brontomex (the previous Coney book that refers to was titled Brontomek!. Otherwise; prophesy/prophesies (USian spelling, several times; it was the noun so, prophecy/prophecies please.) Apothegm (I prefer apophthegm.) “‘it doesn’t strike me as being filth anymore, Elmera. It strikes me as …’” (this was Elmera speaking – ‘as being filth, Lady Duck. It strikes’,) “the less men will be killed” (OK it was in someone’s thoughts, but it still ought to be ‘fewer men’.)

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.)

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Head of Zeus, 2015, 637 p, including iii p Contents, a i p Note on Pronunciation, iii p List of Characters, ii p of map, i p Glossary, i p Notes and i p Acknowlegements.

 The Grace of Kings cover

Well. Here we are again in Fantasy Land. A 623 page blockbuster complete with contents page(s), a list of characters, a glossary – which nevertheless doesn’t contain all the invented words employed – even a note on pronunciation no less. Liu is certainly taking himself seriously. And there’s a map. Of course there’s a map. (A dingy map, though, in shades of grey.)

But what’s the story like, I hear you ask?

Well, it starts with an attempt on the life of the Emperor Mapidéré, who had united the warring island kingdoms of Dara by conquest, and whose impositions on the populace thereafter – taxation, impressment of labour for grandiose projects etc – has led to resentment, especially among the representatives of the old order. The attempt is foiled by the quick thinking of the Captain of the Imperial Guard but the perpetrator (who was flying strapped into a kind of kite) escapes. Despite intensive searches the Emperor’s followers never find him. He does turn up again in some later chapters but only as a relatively minor influence on the plot.

We mainly follow Mata Zyndu, scion of one of the deposed ruling families and a formidable swordsman, and former chancer and bandit Kuni Garu as they combine forces to depose the Emperor (who on his death was replaced as figurehead by his son Erishi,) and their inevitable falling out. Almost half of the book is the working out of their conflict as the revolution eats itself. Mata is represented as a military man wedded to strength and order while Kuni is more thoughtful of the position of the ordinary people and their travails but still has to do things that lead to suffering. At times there are interpolations from the seven gods of Dara, sworn not to interfere in the affairs of mortals but who cannot resist meddling at the margins.

Liu makes some obeisance to strong capable women in the shape of Kuni’s wife, Jia, and Gin Mazoti, an orphan who reveals military talents and is made by Kuni head of his army, but, as is usual with the genre this is mostly a male enterprise. One of the more interesting aspects of the novel is the possession by Gya of a book that writes itself but this is largely wasted.

As to the writing, there is extensive information dumping, far too much is told, not shown, and the scenes where characters are perhaps meant to become more rounded to the reader tend to the sketchy. This is not helped by the habit of the gods in this tale to take on human appearance and interact with the mortals, usually with no intimation of their true nature to the reader till the scene is ending. Above all, there is the relentless catalogue of killing. There must be better ways to order human affairs even if the setting is all-but default mediæval.

Judging by the various blurbs, Liu’s inspiration for the setting (arising from his Chinese background) has been widely welcomed as a fresh angle on the Fantasy genre but to anyone who has read Asian literature in translation things seem utterly unremarkable – indeed familiar.

Nevertheless the narrative has its moments. Luan Gya says to Kuni, “The grace of kings is not the same as the morals governing individuals,” and Kuni wonders, “I think I wield power, but perhaps it is power that wields me.”

The Grace of Kings is fine as far as it goes but at those 623 pages takes too long to do too little. I found Liu’s short stories more to my taste.

Pedant’s corner:- a capital letter on the next word following a colon (why? A colon does not indicate the end of a sentence.) “The crowd’s cheers rose to a crescendo” (No. the crescendo is the rise. Their cheers rose to a climax,) releasing the paper crafts to drift into the dark night sky (the plural of craft, as in ship or aeroplane etc, is craft,) “to not …” (innumerable instances, ‘not to …’ is the usual form, and indeed occurred; once,) “times its” (multiplied by its.) “All the boys had were each other now” (all the boys had was each other,) “Namen’s army were at the walls” (Namen’s army was at the walls,) “who have seen seen” (only one ‘seen’ needed.) “The empire might have lost on land but they could lay siege to the whole island” (sentence structure demands ‘but it could lay seige,) “to no end” (this means ‘without purpose’, Liu meant ‘no end’ ie ‘without limit’.) “‘That makes you think you’ll be better at ruling the world than him?’” (‘What makes you think …’ makes more sense,) laying (lying,) “a pod of crubens beached themselves” (strictly, a pod beached itself,) maws (these are not mouths, they are stomachs,) floatation (flotation,) treaded water (trod water?) “‘How I can face their fathers, mothers, …?’” (‘How can I face…?’)

Heliotrope by Justina Robson

Stories. Ticonderoga Publications, 2011, 345 p, including vi p Introduction by Adam Roberts and i p Acknowledgements.

 Heliotrope cover

The lead story Heliotrope is all that has surfaced from the author’s “Massively Unpublishable First Fantasy Epic” and at times the writing betrays its inexperienced origin. In it an artist finishing her apprenticeship is given by her ageing tutor the task of encapsulating the essence of dance master Jalaeka who inspires widespread devotion and can float. He can also drain his followers dry.

The McGuffin in Body of Evidence is a device which lets the wearer know what everyone is really thinking when they are speaking. Our heroine finds this even more excruciating when she meets another person trialling the device.

The Adventurers’ League was first published in an anthology dedicated to the style of Jules Verne. Voyager Lone Star Isol has returned from interstellar space in a manner suggesting it has been able to return faster than the speed of light. The journalist narrator Riba, is sent to investigate. Isol is one of the Forged people and there is the possibility of a war between them and Original humans. Riba is pushed off a transatlantic helium airship to fall oceanward. He is saved from death by the actions of an immense tentacled creature, which turns out to be a floating organism on which he meets avatars of Jules Verne, Captain Nemo, Sinbad, the Mermaid Silene, Ahab, and Sir David Attenborough, Forged people anxious to avoid war. The story has a fair degree of intrusive information dumping.

The Girl Hero’s Mirror Says He’s Not the One is set in Robson’s Mappa Mundi universe. The Girl Hero is sent to assassinate a poet who her mirror assures her will not the one to kill her. Biut he does have a device that resets internal software.

In The Bull Leapers a woman whose husband is in Knossos for an archæological dig encounters three Greeks who practice the old art of bull-leaping. They are also in touch with the Labyrinth, to where they take her for the story’s transforming episode.

Deadhead is narrated by Lois, a fourteen year-old girl. Her six years older sister Clem has Asperger’s and Lois always resents having to looking after her. She and their mother come to a better understanding after Clem communes with a dead horse’s head.

Erie Lackawanna Song starts off at the Hoboken ferry terminal with a man looking at the derelict Erie Lackawanna jetty next door. His journey across the river takes a different turn from usual when his nodding and sometimes speaking acquaintance, Claire Glick, asks him to look at a phial of liquid she has taken from work. It contains a substance that can rewrite brain synapses.

Cracklegrackle sees a man helped by one of the Forged (one who can “see” at all wavelengths) to find his daughter, kidnapped on Mars some time before, on Jupiter, much changed.

In No Man’s Island, on the day she finds she has not got the job at CERN she longed for Mariann Harris consoles herself with her discovery of traces of an alien spaceship having used an Alcbierre warp drive. Meanwhile her husband embarrasses himself with a customer of the shop where he works. Both find solace with their dog, Bing.

Robson’s first published story, Trésor, is understated horror wherein a prostitute has been waiting for her mark.

The Seventh Series is a mythical set of yoga exercises Davey is writing into a computer game. Then he finds that there is a video of that title and goes searching for its origin. The explanation at the story’s end is rather mundane though.

The Little Bear is one of the few SF stories to address the fact that time travel is also space travel and vice-versa. Ronson examines this through a series of vignettes set in different time-lines but with the same characters, each lamenting the human loss they incurred when an experiment involving the teleportation of a bottle of wine changed their world.

In Legolas Does the Dishes an inmate of a mental hospital envisages that the man who doe sthe dishes in the institution is Legolas from Tolkien’s Hobbit universe. Her viewpoint is emphasised when she tells us, “I don’t need to say what might happen if you got a shard in your eye and started to see the world through another lens. Who knows what might be revealed?” It is left open as to whether she is deluded or he really is Legolas.

Dreadnought is the intelligence of a spaceship as mediated through its units which can not exist without a human host.

An Unremarkable Man is the tale of two supernatural women trying to be ordinary, a Viscus Diabolique and the ensuing trade with a non-descript man who materialises from nowhere.

A Dream of Mars is suffered nightly by our narrator who was sent to recover the remains of the dead from a downed cable car in the Martian New South Face Woodlands and destroy the human created Bigfoot who had been intended as a tourist attraction only to form a bond with him instead.

Pedant’s corner:- In Adam Roberts’ Introduction “and both, well, Forged stories” (are both, well, Forged stories,) “of of” (only one ‘of’ required,) “but a tale that understand … are” (understands,) “ontological speaking” (ontologically speaking.) “But another of saying” (But another way of saying,) “knows whats I’m talking about” (what,) “I think that it what her” (that is what her,) a missing full stop, “as a way” (is a way.) “On the contrary the story does is” (what the story does is,) “amply demonstrates” (demonstrated.) Otherwise; “whilst others both showed some degree of chestnut” (both?) Elys’ (x 4, Elys’s.) “‘She dare not breathe’” (the rest of this segment is written in the past tense; ‘dared not’,) bringing her skin up to his awake and. He pinned her down,” (no full stop and subsequent capital needed.) “The paint is so thick that is has” (that it has,) “and Elys’ stops making a noise” (Elys,) “dare not” (again, past tense, dared not,) “like a the funnel” (one or other article, not both,) “sent his Abacand him the time” (either ‘sent his Abacand’, or, ‘sent him’ the time, not both,) “together with in increasing lawlessness” (no ‘in’,) “Jules Verne was a Frenchman of the twentieth century” (only barely; he died in 1905,) “that that” (only one ‘that’ needed,) “your media group have been advocating” (has been advocating,) fit (fitted.) “None of them are interested” (is interested,) “and in just in time to” (and is just in time to,) “its rotor whir softly” (‘its rotors whir’, or, ‘its rotor whirs’,) “I could help but take a sharp breath” (I couldn’t help but, Minos’ (Minos’s,) “It’s comfort” (Its.) “Bishop figure it was for his benefit” (figured,) claimes (claims,) “and sings” (the rest is in past tense, so ‘sang’,) scaned (scanned,) “I dare not” (again past tense; dared,) Mars’ (Mars’s.) “‘Their names is what they are” (Their names are what they are.) “‘and its real, external’” (it’s,) ““Let’s start looking’ Bishop said” (“Let’s start looking,” Bishop said,) iat (at,) “Part sof a” (Parts of a.) “‘may I see it?’” (May,) “much me readily” (much more readily,) “even as it wasn’t part of his concern” (‘even if it wasn’t’ makes more sense,) “all the questions that were hunting him” (haunting him makes more sese,) withy (with,) coudln’t (couldn’t,) “he he” (only one ‘he’ needed,) “those involved Forged” (those involved are Forged,) “less seconds” (fewer seconds,) “for the a regular payment” ( no ‘a’ needed.) “None of them were talking” (None of them was talking,) “(CGPS)was” ((CGPS) was,) a new paragraph taken in the middle of a line when a piece of dialogue is opened (x 2,) “watched the their chosen object” (no ‘the’ I think,) “ ‘still signs himself off “ A Friend of Your Father’s” as if’” (off “A Friend…..) “They stared at the offended item” (the offending item,) Legolas’ (Legolas’s.) “‘I want to see him again,’ She rubbed” (I want to see him again.” She rubbed,) Saclides’ (Saclides’s,) “Laura said ordered a double espresso” (is missing a comma between said and ordered.) “The main criteria is” (the main criterion is,) “the meatl struts of the nearest tower groans and creaks” (the metal struts … groan and creak,) Mars’ (Mars’s,) Raditech were set to lose (Raditech was set to lose.) In the Acknowledgements; Crwther (Crowther.)

In the Red Lord’s Reach by Phyllis Eisenstein

Grafton, 1993, 286 p.

 In the Red Lord’s Reach  cover

These are the continuing adventures of Alaric the minstrel, hero of Born to Exile, who has the ability to transport himself instantaneously from one place to another, a trait he has to keep secret for fear of being called a witch. In his wanderings he comes to the domain of the Red Lord where he offers his musical services in return for the usual bed and board. Very soon he realises that there is something disturbing at the heart of the Red Lord’s reign. The hold the Lord has over the valley is as a reward for protection against bandits – of whom Alaric has seen no sign – and screams come from the Lord’s tower every night. When Alaric says it is time for him to leave he is taken to the tower where he finds the Lord tortures and eventually kills his victims, a fate now intended for Alaric.

He escapes (of course, how could a self-teleporter not?) and makes his way to the north lands where he falls in with the deer-herding (and riding) nomads who live there. The chief, Simir, himself a fugitive from the Red Lord, takes to him, as does Xavia the daughter of the nomads’ witch, Kata. Kata’s potions and prognostications are a solace for the nomads – she yearly provides them all with the Elixir of Life and imbues the men with the talent to hunt. Here being a witch is not seen as devilry, though Alaric does not accept that for a while. His relationship with Xavia is not taken well by Simir’s sons and leads to a confrontation. The sons are exiled and Alaric finds himself desired as a successor by both Simir and Kata.

The bad winter which follows leaves the nomads with few deer, no prospects for the next year and little option but what all along the reader knew was coming; to try to overthrow the Red Lord.

It’s decently enough written and engaging (not to mention remarkably free of errata) but an attempted rationale for Alaric’s powers as tapping into what seem to be magnetic field lines, described when Kata leads an expedition north to harvest the strange flowers which grow only there at midsummer and provide the ingredients for the Elixir of Life, sits somewhat oddly with the otherwise purely fantastical premise.

Pedant’s corner:- a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. “‘Pilgrim’s bound where?’” (Pilgrims.)

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Hodder, 2019, 317 p.

 Storm of Locusts cover

This is the second of Roanhorse’s Sixth World sequence featuring the adventures of Maggie Hoskie, Monsterslayer. I reviewed the first, Trail of Lightning, here. We are again in Navajo country, Dinétah, and straight away Maggie is asked by Hastiin, of the Thirsty Boys, (drought still afflicts the land after the environmental catastrophe known as the Big Water,) to help with something big and bad over near Lake Asááyi. On the way she is introduced to Ben, who is not a young man, but a teenage girl, Hastiin’s niece, whom Hastiin asks Maggie to look after if anything should happen to him, which naturally it soon does. The something big and bad turns out to be a woman with wings who can sing others to submission and is an adherent of the White Locust. Hastiin is killed, Ben blames herself for attracting the winged woman’s attention and tries to kill her in revenge. In the aftermath Maggie has to accept reponsibility for Ben, who we find, like Maggie, has clan powers, in her case to track people. The winged woman – despite her singing abilities – is then forgotten by the narrative.

Rissa and Clive Goodacre of the All-American bar encountered in the previous book come knocking asking for Maggie’s help to rescue their brother Caleb, taken apparently by Maggie’s former ally, Kai, whom she betrayed in the course of defeating then burying her mentor, Neizghání, whose sword of lightning is now in Maggie’s possession. A video of the abduction is in the bar’s archive, and despite not being very revealing does show Kai mouthing, “I love you. Don’t follow,” presumably to Maggie. Though Maggie is insistent she no longer wants to kill anyone and any pursuit means she might have to, follow is of course what she does, accompanied by Ben, Clive, Rissa, and a shapeshifter called Mósí, escaping pursuit by a swarm of locusts which can devour everything in sight and assemble themselves into a human shape.

They find Caleb at Dinétah’s southern entry gate, complete with a set of wings and pinned by stakes to the wall that surrounds Dinétah. (For some reason all the Goodacres have red hair. Odd, it isn’t a dominant gene.) The trail leads out into the Badlands beyond Dinétah. Within hours our adventurers are captured and taken to Knifetown, overseen by a man called Bishop who is a trader of all kinds but especially of breedable women. He deems Maggie and Rissa too dangerous though. They are to be harvested for their organs. Somewhat too easily they talk themselves out of captivity by persuading Bishop’s pilot, Aaron, to help them. This is good for plot reasons as he is the brother of Gideon, the White Locust. Mósí engineers that they stop at an abandoned casino named Twin Arrows, where Maggie becomes reacquainted with Ma’ii (Coyote) whom she had killed in the previous book, “The problem with immortals is that they don’t stay dead,” and engages in a game of chance with the god Nohoilpi. There is a diversion to a place called Wahheap, where Maggie learns from Tó how to control Neizghání’s sword, then on to Amangiri and the final confrontation with the White Locust, who holds a grudge against Dinétah and plans to destroy it.

Maggie is an engaging narrator. Despite all the mayhem, violence and killing, not all that much by way of plot, and the lack of filling in of background detail of this supposed future the book is well written. Roanhorse shows understanding of the human condition and a flair for character depiction. The blending of Navajo myth and beliefs with a Fantasy plot works well as a story but the control over natural phenomena by those with powers is always a stretch for me.

The last chapter is a bit of a tease as it does not relate at all to the main thrust of Storm of Locusts but instead promises more in the Sixth World.

Pedant’s corner:- “When the adrenaline spike that drive them fades” (drives then,) “at apace” (at a pace.) “Something about Rissa seem to repel the light” (seems,) “she slides off mattress” (the mattress,) “there’s no arcing patterns” (there are no arcing patterns,) a closed quotation mark at the end of a paragraph when the next paragraph started off with the same speaker (x 1,) “‘I’ve never drank alcohol before’” (never drunk.) “He shakes he head.” (his head.) “‘How it is my fault?’” (How is it my fault?,) “as we race for the Lupton” (for Lupton,) “like she’s relived” (relieved,) “Caleb’s rushes on” (Caleb rushes on,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. “His freezes” (He freezes.) “Feedings us to the sporting dogs.” (Feeding us to,) hanger (hangar, used correctly later,) “what looks to be modified Heckler assault rifles” (what look to be,) the sheathe (the sheath,) “I loved the way it shined” (shone,) “the pressure of fingers on my neck disappear” (disappears.) “His stumbles back” (He stumbles,) “sounds like I great idea” (like a great idea,) “righted the plan” (righted the plane.) “The use it against a god?” (To use it against a god?) Nohoipli (elsewhere always Nohoilpi,) “making them they sparkle like diamonds” (no ‘they’ needed,) “rarer in this world that you think” (than you think,) “rolling through by body” (through my body,) “‘if you haven’t notice’” (noticed.) “The docks creaks and moans” (the dock,) “I sheath the sword” (sheathe,) “There’s a an individual” (no ‘a’.) “Kai shoulders fall slightly” (Kai’s,) an unneeded end quote mark at the end of a normal piece of prose (x1.) “The spill of pebbles under my feet sound like” (the spill …sounds like,) “reaching up hands up” (only one ‘up’ required.) “The impossibly rare smell of sugar and cinnamon waft from the dish” (the … smell … wafts,) “I cry out at my fingers bend and crack” (as my fingers,) “and his eyes – whatever light they had before – snuffs out” (- whatever light they had before snuff out,) Diyin Dine’ e (elsewhere always Dine’ é,) “the handful that are left” (strictly; the handful that is left.) “Stepping out of from behind” (either ‘out of’ or ‘from’, not both,) “from having the relive the horrors” (having to relive,) “her face tight” (his face.) “As in on cue” (As if on cue,) “his breath coming is gasps,” (in gasps,) Dinetah (elsewhere always Dinétah.)

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville

Macmillan, 2015, 443 p.

 Three Moments of an Explosion cover

This is Miéville’s latest collection of short stories. Like with all such collections the interest varies but the stories are all readable.

The very short Three Moments of an Explosion consists of three fragments all describing explosions, some of which are used for advertisemants.
In Polynia Cold Masses – icebergs – appear in the sky over London (while coral sprouts on the walls of buildings in Brussels.) There’s a Wellsian feel to it but the end result is still distinctly Miévillean.
The Condition of New Death is that all dead bodies orient with their feet pointing directly towards to any observer (including cameras) at all times. Apparently this is linked to a feature of early First-Person Shooters.
The Dowager of Bees is narrated by a card player, inducted one day into the phenomenon of Hidden Suits, where a card (such as the Dowager of Bees) will manifest during a game – and in the rule books – only for both to disappear again once the game ends, with forfeits to be fulfilled. The reader can guess which card the climax will involve but there is still a resolution beyond its appearance.
Narrated by an immigrant shopkeeper on the island where it is set In the Slopes is the story both of two rival archæological digs in the shadow of a volcano which are uncovering evidence of extraterrestrials living alongside humans and of a new resin for preserving the remains.
The Crawl is the text of a trailer for a zombie film.
Watching God is set on a peninsula cut off from its mainland by forest and a ravine. Ships appear from time to time but never come ashore, instead wrecking themselves just out to sea as if forming words with their arrangements.
The title of The 9th Technique refers to a form of torture but the story itself is about the uncanny manifestations attached to the techniques – the cloth from the first waterboarding now having unusual properties – and their value as objects of desire. The 9th technique is confinement with an insect. Viewpoint character Koning acquires it.
The Rope is the World is a history of the girdling of Earth – a thin-spoked wheel – by space elevators and their subsequent inhabitation and decay. Money for old ….
Containing some fables particular to its setting The Buzzard’s Egg is the address of an enslaved member of a defeated city, whose job it is to look after the captured gods of conquered peoples, to one of those gods.
Säcken is a tale of supernatural apparitions arising from an ancient punishment for parricide, the poena cullei, where the criminal was sewn into a bag with a dog, a cockerel, a viper and an ape and then thrown into water.
Syllabus is what it says, an outline for an academic course on the detritus left by time-travellers, the ramifications of the arrival of alien insects for global poilitics and the implications of the privatisation of sickness in the UK.
In Dreaded Outcome a therapist has an unusual proactive role in the restoration of her patients to well-being using what she calls traumatic vector therapy. She also has her own therapist.
After the Festival is a gruesome tale about a new entertainment – the public slaughter of animals and the subsequent wearing of their heads by people chosen from the crowd.
The Dusty Hat starts as a tale of political leftist factionalism but soon veers off into weirdness and a discussion of geological deep time (which gives Miéville the opportunity to make a neat pun with the description glass struggle. He also for some reason finds it necessary to italicise the word stramash.)
Escapee is another text of a film trailer, this time for a horror film.
The Bastard Prompt’s narrator’s girlfriend was a jobbing actor not getting many parts so took a post as a Standardised Patient – helping trainee doctors to recognise diseases from their ‘symptoms’. She’s very good at it but then starts to describe symptoms for diseases that don’t exist – yet.
Rules is a short list of, em, rules for as yet unknown games and also a reflection on imitating an aeroplane with spread arms and making that “now-familiar” noise.
The estate of Estate is a housing one which Dan Loch’s family had to leave one day. When he comes back there is an outbreak of incidents involving drugged deer staggering around with their antlers on fire.
Keep relates the evolution of a new epidemic where, if the afflicted remain too long immobile, trenches appear in a circle around them, and the scientific efforts to discover its origins and possible cure.
A Second Slice Manifesto is that of an art movement which constructs and displays slices through prior paintings; slices which reveal more of the originals than was apparent to the naked eye.
A father and daughter enter a militarily embargoed area around Covehithe. They have come to watch the emergence of a damaged and sunken oil-rig from the sea. It has come to drill down and deposit eggs from which new rigs will grow.
The Junket is narrated by a hard-boiled media journalist describing the controversy around a film (made by Jews) which displays every anti-Semitic trope in the book, and its aftermath.
Four Final Orpheuses gives us four different versions of why Orpheus might have made that turn and fateful look towards Eurydice.
A picture frame turns put to have unusual properties in The Rabbet.
Listen the Birds is another storyboard for a film trailer.
A Mount is a meditation on the ubiquity of porcelain animals and why some seemingly out-of-place people, not their owners, might be fascinated by them.
A sense of understated eeriness hangs over The Design in which a medical student between the wars discovers designs etched into the bones of the cadaver he is dissecting. He concludes that God is a scrimshander.

Pedant’s corner: vortexes (strictly the plural of vortex is vortices,) “a plethora of ceremonies are emerging” (a plethora is singular; a plethora …. is emerging,) indices (yes, it’s an acceptable plural but when it is for book contents it’s usually spelled indexes,) sodium pentothol, (sodium pentothal,) Cheevers’ wife (Cheevers’s,) crevace-spiders (crevice-spiders?) “There were a series of percussions” (there was a series.) “Most of the town were already gathered” (most of the town was gathered.) “None of them leave.” (None of them leaves,) snuck (sneaked.) Pangea (Pangaea, or, even better, Pangæa.) “A line of police block the road” (A line … blocks the road,) “wracks his brain” (racks,) “or that it be not shown” (or that it not be shown,) “Baron von Richtofen” (if it’s that baron, it’s Richthofen,) fit (fitted,) trash (rubbish.)

Two More From Interzone

 Echo Cycle cover
 The City We Became   cover

Thursday’s post brought two more goodies from Interzone. (Well I hope they’re goodies.)

The first was The City We Became by N K Jemisin. Jemisin won the Hugo Award for best novel three times in a row with the components of her Broken Earth series of books.

The second is from a writer new to me, Patrick Edwards. His novel is titled Echo Cycle. The reviews ought to appear in issue 287.

Slade House by David Mitchell

Sceptre, 2016, 236 p, plus 32 p of the Bombadil Tweets.

 Slade House cover

Slade House, accessed from Slade Alley (itself dank and narrow, with a bend, and easy to miss from its connecting streets) through a small iron door in the wall, which appears only once every nine years. Slade House, bombed to rubble in 1940 and its grounds built over since, yet still able to effect the disappearance of Rita and Nathan Sharp in 1979, Detective Inspector Gordon Edmonds in 1988, Sally Timms along with her paranormal investigation group in 1997 and then her sister Freya in 2006. Slade House, on whose walls certain visitors will find portraits of themselves and whose stairs lead only back to whence you came. Slade House, inhabited by Norah and Jonah Grayer (who can both take up all sorts of appearances, inhabit others’ bodies,) adepts of the Shaded Way from whom they wish to keep themselves hidden. Slade House, wrapped in an orison. (The word means prayer but the Grayers have adopted it to describe a bubble out of time.) The later sections tend to invoke Fred Pink, who saw both the Sharps outside Slade Alley just before he was hit by a car and went into a coma. Trying to fill in the gaps in his life years later he recognised the Sharps in newspaper photos from the time.

Mitchell’s story – an off-cut of his previous novel The Bone Clocks – is narrated in five sections by Nathan, Gordon, Sally and Freya as they make their visits, with the final section (set in 2015) from the viewpoint of someone calling himself Bombadil (whose uploads to Twitter from Monday 7th September to Saturday 31st October, 2015, act as an appendix to the book) but whose body has been taken over by Norah. Five different narrative styles, six if you include the tweets. Each internally consistent and – until the strange stuff begins to happen – realistic in tone.

In the guise of Pink and much to Norah’s dismay Jonah Grayer reveals to Freya they were Victorian twins with telepathic ability, taken under the wing of a medium called Cantillon who hustled them off to the Atlas Mountains for tutoring in the Shaded Way by the Albino Sayyid of Aït Arif, toured them round the world, then went too far by proposing to reveal their secrets in a book. Their longevity has been ensured by enticing ‘Engifted’ to Slade House and stealing their souls, a process which needs topping up every nine years. Mitchell’s facility with fantasy and SF is underscored by reference to the Midwich Cockoos among others.

As ever Mitchell is totally in command of his material and the read is never less than entertaining. There is a sense, though, of marking time, of promise unfulfilled. Perhaps it’s unreasonable, though, to expect another The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Pedant’s corner:- “Wolverhampton Wanderers play in black and orange” (black and gold in fact. Orange and black, though, recur as a motif in the book,) occasional missing commas before pieces of direct speech, liquified (liquefied,) lasagna (lasagne,) Tinker Bell (x4, Tinkerbell,) smidgeon (smidgin or smidgen,) Timms’ (x2, Timms’s.)

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Orbit, 2018, 393 p.

 Rosewater cover

Rosewater was a nominee for the BSFA Award last year and won the Clarke Award. Its successor The Rosewater Insurrection is on this year’s BSFA Award short list. As I hope to get round to reading that before voting I thought I’d better look at this first.

Rosewater is a doughnut-shaped city that surrounds the biodome, an alien outcropping in Nigeria. The biodome opens once every year for twenty or thirty minutes and everyone in the vicinity is cured of all physical ailments. Even dead people can be reanimated, but the results tend to be soulless and mindless, and have to be killed again.

Narrator Kaaro is a sensitive, able to discern the thoughts of others by accessing the xenosphere, strands of alien fungi-like filaments and neurotransmitters, which link with the natural fungi on human skin and penetrate the nervous system. His abilities have made him useful to S45, a branch of the Nigerian security services. He is also a finder, and a thief. Later his abilities are referred to as those of a quantum extrapolator. He is also a misogynist and sexist, notwithstanding his entering a relationship with a woman called Aminat. Not that strong women are missing in the book, his initial S45 boss, Femi Alaagomeji, and Aminat being cases in point.

The novel is structured into scenes taking place in Kaaro’s Now of 2066, the Then of when the biodome first appeared and its subsequent evolution, and interludes describing his previous missions for S45. This tends to render the reading experience as bitty. Just when getting into the swing of things in one timeline we are jarred out of it, often with a cliffhanger. Coming across in the background we find that the thing humans call Wormwood was an amœbic blob of alien organic matter that fell to Earth in 2012 in Hyde Park, London. Unlike previous such incursions, Wormwood survived and (apparently) tunnelled its way to Nigeria.

Not that it has any real connection to any part of Kaaro’s story, but we are informed that in this world, as a response to the alien incursions, the US has withdrawn into itself, letting nothing in or out, not even information.

At the start of the book Kaaro has a job protecting a bank’s customers from the attentions of other sensitives out to steal their information. This is one of the hares Thompson sets running but never quite catches. There is the biodome itself, the appearance of a character known as Bicycle Girl or Oyin Da, and, in an apparent signal to a thriller subplot that never arrives, sensitives are dying. In the wider xenosphere, where reality is very distorted, Kaaro uses a gryphon as an avatar. Aminat’s brother, Layi, is kept chained in her flat to prevent him burning things using his own xenospheric power.

As can perhaps be gleaned from the previous paragraph there is too much going on in the novel which, as a result, fails to achieve focus. Thompson can undoubtedly write but hasn’t yet found the virtue of economy. Quite why Rosewater has been accorded the accolades it has is therefore a bit obscure.

Pedant’s corner:- “crimes perpetuated in the xenosphere” (crimes perpetrated,) “Ascomytes xenophericus” (elsewhere Ascomytes xenosphericus,) smoothes (smooths,) “amuses me to no end” (‘to no end’ means ‘without purpose’, ‘amuses me no end’ [‘no end’ = infinitely] was meant,) aircrafts “OK it was in dialogue but the plural of aircraft is aircraft.) “None of the people around me are harmed” (None …is harmed.) “None of them want to live in the refugee camps” (None of them wants to live….)

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