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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….)

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Hodder, 2019, 292 p.

 Trail of Lightning  cover

Roanhorse is something of a rarity as an SF author. She may not be the first writer of Native American heritage to write SF and Fantasy but I confess if she isn’t I can’t recall reading any others. That heritage infuses Trail of Lightning, the first in a series of tales.

Narrator Maggie Hoskie is a Navajo, or Diné as they call themselves. Their former reservation is now a bastion against an outside world devastated by an environmental catastrophe referred to as the Big Water. Known to its inhabitants as Dinétah, the Diné’s land is protected by a Wall and there are few incomers. Despite the outer world being largely drowned, Dinétah is suffering from a prolonged drought. Water is one of the many scarcities, coffee an almost impossible luxury.

We first meet Maggie when her help is enlisted by a family whose daughter has been abducted by a monster. Somewhat reluctantly, Maggie, who has what the book calls clan powers – one of hers is to be taken over at times of stress by K’aahanáanii, a source of speed in movement, liable to be useful in a fight – takes on the task of finding the abducted girl. She reaches her too late, though, as she has already been infected by the monster and cannot be returned to her parents intact. The killings of the monster and the girl are only the first of many in the book.

Maggie’s training in the ways of her powers had been undertaken by a man called Neizghání, said to be an immortal (as opposed to the ‘five-fingered’ normal humans.) Maggie may still be in love with him. She is certainly tormented by his disappearance after an earlier incident.

Maggie’s only other friend, a medicine man called Tah, introduces her to his grandson, Kai Arviso, (who is Big Medicine, with healing powers – and silvery eyes.) Reluctantly Maggie takes him along on her quest to defeat the monsters and find Neizghání. Along the way we are treated to what is in effect a supercharged cage fight – to the death.

One of the story’s fantastical apparitions, Coyote, is a familiar figure in Native American folklore. He met Maggie, “before the end of the Fifth World, when my kind still lived mostly in the dreams of the five-fingered people,” and persists in annoying her by calling her Magdalena. Always dressed like one of those be-suited gents in cowboy films, Coyote is one of the book’s more intriguing, if elusive, characters but his interest in Maggie is for purposes of his own.

Some authorial hand-waving is evident when Coyote, also known to the Diné as Ma’ii, at one point says, “This last flood, the one you call the Big Water, ended the Fifth World and began the Sixth. It opened the passage for those like myself to return to the world.” Any rationale for monsters and clan powers is otherwise absent but it is The Sixth World which gives Roanhorse’s sequence of novels its overall title.

While the Native American background makes for an unusual and welcome twist on the norm of SF and fantasy the novel’s apparent relish in weaponry and killing is more by the book and sadly typical of many practitioners of the form.

Roanhorse can write though and, relish in weaponry aside, Maggie is an engaging enough narrator.

Pedant’s corner:- there were several instances of the formulation “time interval” later. Othewise; a missing comma before a piece of direct speech (many times,) “that soak up the hot” (the heat,) “the evil deeds every man and woman leaves behind” (leave.) “All that ugly, the sickness, the loss and unhappiness” (is missing a noun after ugly it would seem.) “Viscera pools at his feet” (viscera pool,) “it will portent something bad” (portent is a noun, the verb is portend.) “His smiles fades” (fade,) diced chiles (chilis,) later we had ‘chilé’ (again, chili.) “None of them even look back” (None of them even looks back,) “and set in on the bar” (set it on the bar,) chamisa (chamiso.)

Interzone 284, Nov-Dec 2019

TTA Press, 96 p.

Interzone cover

Joanna Berry takes over the guest editor role and asks how much of themselves players take into decision making when playing video games. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupteda makes a plea for stories to tackle the threats of the subtle and pervasive surveillance and tracking technologies rampant in the modern world. In Climbing Stories Aliya Whiteley seeks solace from the news in films. Speedy Sci-Fi adventure won’t do but conspiracy thrillers will. She now wants to go back to the source books. In Book Zone I review Rokurō Inui’s Automatic Eve and Wole Talabi’s Incomplete Solutions welcoming both, Val Nolanb finds Duncan Lunan’s collection of stories and articles From the Moon to the Stars too fond of “rigorous maths” and primarily of interest to those who enjoyed them at time they were written, Maureen Kincaid Speller engages in hand-to-hand fighting with concepts of language and meaning in the ‘very strange’ novel Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko but concludes that is only a good thing, Jo L Waltonc heartily recommends The New Voices of Science Fiction edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman, though thinks some of the stories might be a bit too polished, Graham Sleight appreciates the quality of Ted Chiang’s stories in Exhalation (and Chiang’s previous collection) as being worth the price of their scarcity, Stephen Theaker praises the “grown-up, fiercely feminist” The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs, warns against the cover and blurb of Earwig by B Catling though he recommends it to “some readers” and says Stephen Palmer’s collection Tales from the Spired Inn is pretty much the ideal small press SF title, Ian Hunterd laments the passing of Dianne Wynne Jones as he considers her Poems while Duncan Lunan discusses the history of Dyson spheres in SF as his take on the stories in Around Alien Stars by G David Nordley.

As to the fiction;
In The Kindest God is Light by Joanna Berry a poet is engaged to provide an embodiment of humanity – warts and all – to aliens. Typographically unusual in that it involves a lot of glossed over (crossed out) inner thoughts.
She and I and We1 by Timothy Mudie is a time travel story. Poet (yes, another one) Nathaly Evariste is stalked by someone from the future who says she has come back to save her from being killed. This is no All You Zombies… or even By His Bootstraps but there’s a neat twist to the ending.
Dent-De-Lion2 by Natalia Theodorou is set on a planet to where Thomae has been sent to find a silicon plant-based cure for an endemic sickness back home. She finds it – and more.
In Parasite Art3 by David Tallerman our narrator is an artist who has gone to the planet of Culcifa to find one of the Zobe, an alien race which has appeared there and can merge with people who can then experience the Zobe’s dreams.
The Duchess of Drink Street4 by Tim Chawaga on its surface charts the relationship between a cupcake seller on the eponymous street and the food reviewer who damns those cupcakes with one word, inauthentic. With a globally flooded background featuring floating cities it is about fads, gentrification and its reverse and the elusiveness of memory.
Against a background of the end of the world in which the rich are sending samples of their hair skin and semen into space to save the species, Dream of the High Mountain5 by Daniel Bennett relates the experience of a poet (yes, a poet again) who goes on a retreat.

Pedant’s corner:- aCastells’ (Castells’s,) Aldiss’ (Aldiss’s.) b“are a series” (is a series.) c“None of the stories feel out of place” (None feels,) hijinks (high jinks.) “Much as I stan Luce, social and economic consequences of technological developments are never inevitable” (???) dJones’ (Jones’s,)
1Written in USian, “neither of you react” (neither … reacts.) 2Written in USian. 3“soon be discarded” (soon to be discarded,) “she must recognise as her and I” (as her and me.) “Conceivably we were one of its ancestors. Seeing it, my muscle memory recalls what it’s like to make those spasmodic movements” (‘descendants’ for ‘ancestors’ is the only way to make sense of this, and it would be ancestral rather than muscle memory,) canvasses (canvases?) 4Written in USian, at first I read ‘chicest part of the city’ as a misprint for ‘choicest’, but they’re much the same in meaning. “The difference in textures … work well together” (the difference works well,) “New Lagos’ greed” (New Lagos’s.) 5“‘This the survival of’” (This is the survival.) “Upon the fourth floor” (Either, ‘On the fourth floor,’ or, ‘Up on the fourth floor’,) “inside of him” (inside him, no need for an ‘of’.) “His group were among the last” (his group was among the last.)

Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller

Women’s Press SF, 1988, 150 p

Carmen Dog cover

All over the world women are turning into animals and animals into women. The narrative focuses on the adventures of Pooch, a dog turned woman, who has a yearning for opera and a pure singing voice. (She briefly thinks of calling herself Pucci.) Her particular interest is Carmen, hence the book’s title.

The men in this scenario are non-plussed by the changes, seeking either to deny or exploit it. (And their carnal desires are never very far away.) Chapter headings are quotes from the likes of Nietzsche, Apuleius and Marcus Aurelius and the text has embedded references such as, “stare at each other with wild surmises.”

It’s all gloriously over-the-top but at the same time an oblique look at gender relations in the 1980s. In particular, one gent has come to the belief “that motherhood should be dealt out, even to infants, in small insignificant doses so that it can be held within reasonable bounds.”

Pedant’s corner:- “that moves her mosts of all” (most of all,) sharks teeth (sharks’ teeth,) concensus (consensus,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. “None of the others return” (none returns,) “107s is” (it was a possessive, 107’s,) “‘I know its doesn’t match’” (it,) “if worse should come to worst” (the phrase is ‘if the worst should come to the worst,’ as was employed elsewhere,) “none of them come at all” (none … comes,) “will surely be one of the last, if not the last, building to fall” (one of the last … buildings to fall,) “like three phoenix” (phoenixes or phoenices,) nowdays (nowadays.)

Peregrine: Primus by Avram Davidson

Ace, 1971, 222 p.

Peregrine: Primus cover

The Peregrine of the title is the bastard son of a king, sent out on his own as he approaches manhood. The setting is in the declining years of the Roman Empire, an age of petty kingdoms and the burgeoning of Christianity as a Europe-wide religion. In this respect Peregrine is a heathen still, as was his father.

Davidson adopts a joky, referential, allusive style – with cod Roman numbers (VVVXXXCCCIII) and embedded quotations, “wine-dark sea,” “they looked at each other … with a wild surmise,” “minding the stoa,” “confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks,” – as his hero, along with page Dafty and mage Appledorus, goes out into the world partly in search of his elder brother Austin (also one of the King’s by-blows.) Along the way Peregrine falls into the company of Hun Horde Seventeen. You get the drift.

Peregrine, as his name suggests, is a traveller: not only that, but also, when fantasy bleeds into Davidson’s tale, at times a falcon.

This is not a novel to be taken very seriously. It’s a jeu d’esprit on Davidson’s part but passes the time well enough. I note that once again he employs the word wee to mean small. There’s Scots ancestry there somewhere.

Pedant’s corner:- “he had seen nought but” (‘nought’ means ‘zero’, it does not mean ‘nothing’. That would be ‘naught’.) “Gee” (an unlikely expletive for someone from a non-Christian culture, also an anachronism given the setting, but then we also had ‘mom’ and other twentieth century USianisms,) wisant (wisent,) “was still damp and a smelled briny” (no need for the ‘a’,) talley (tally, though always used in the plural so ‘tallies’,) a missing end quotation mark, boney (bony,) Sextuagesima (I’ve heard of Sexagesima and Septuagesima but not Sextuagesima. Davidson may have been signalling the speaker’s ignorance here,) cameleopard (usually camelopard,) coöperation (plus points for that diæresis,) “‘I didn’t use to wonder’” (I didn’t used to wonder,) “several battery of snores” (several batteries,) revery (usually reverie,) “lay of the land” (it’s lie, lie of the land.) “The Hun digested his slowly.” (The Hun digested this slowly,) Philozena (elsewhere always Philoxena,) “‘it’s an ideal was to get conversation started’” (ideal way,) abhore (abhor,) highoffice (high office,) apothegms (apophthegms,) asofoetida (asafoetida or, better, asofœtida,) “the congregation were delighted” (the congregation was delighted,) miniscules (minuscule,) “he had born hither” (borne hither.) “‘And where do you think to do?’” (And where do you think to go?)

Interzone 285 Est Arrivé

The latest Interzone (no 285, Jan – Feb 2020) popped onto my doormat this morning.

Interzone 285 cover

 The Menace From Farside cover
Skein Island cover

As well as the usual fiction and features this one contains my reviews of Aliya Whiteley’s Skein Island and Ian McDonald’s The Menace From Farside.

I am expecting a couple of books for review in Interzone 286 through the post any day now.

Shoreline of Infinity 13; Autumn 2018

The New Curiosity Shop, 2018.

 Shoreline of Infinity 13 cover

In Pull up a Loga Noel Chidwick says that the tradition and sense of myth in Scottish story-telling underlies Shoreline of Infinity, tales of wonder told round the fire as the cold swirls around, and invites us in. Reviewsb has Katy Lennon finding the worlds depicted in the anthology Improbable Botany edited by Gary Dalkin feeling “real and conscious”, Samantha Dolan is impressed by Cat Hellisen’s collection Learning How to Drown, Steve Ironside appreciates rather than enjoys the lampoon The Church of Latter-Day Eugenics by Chris Kelso and Tom Bradley, but still tilts his crown to it, Rachel Hill finds Autonomous by Annalee Newitz to be an accomplished thriller, tackling thorny contemporary issues without offering simple solutions, Callum McSorley welcomes us to the Wild East of the collected novellas of Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley, formula plotting and all, Marija Smits says Sealed by Naomi Booth is a powerful book with an original, hard-hitting premise, Lucy Powell describes The Freeze-Frame Revolution as hard and fast-paced narrative that really makes you think, gripping till the last page, Georgina Merry defines Fifty-One by Chris Barnham as a fun read – with flaws.
Multiverse has poems by Tris Crestd, Charlotte Ozment and Nate Maxson, while a total of three 6 word stories (written respectively by Gregg Chamberlain, Dane Divine and Michael Stroh) appear, one each, at the bottoms of pages 44, 71 and 131.

In the fiction:-
Harry’s Shiver* by Esme Carpenter. A man commissioned to steal some sort of (unspecified) valuable raids the ‘unbreachable’ Caste Arco. To aid him he makes use of devices he calls Shivers. I’m afraid for me this story was marred by far too much obtrusive info dumping, some unnecessary phrases, the occasional odd word choice and more than a smattering of cliché.

In The Time Between Time*2 by Premee Mohamed windows onto another planet have begun appearing all over Earth. Eleven year-old Dalton finds one in her back garden and tries to keep it secret.

Daughter3 by Laura Young is narrated by a woman taking her terminally ill mother from Japan to her home in San Francisco to care for her. Things turn strange during the flight and even stranger when they land.

Splitting Up*4 by Bo Balder is narrated by a Split – a part of someone’s personality which by medical intervention has been reduced to only restricted access to that person’s body but takes over for designated purposes – in this case interacting/having sex with a boyfriend.

In Goodnight Rosemarinus5 by Caroline Grebell a future human, evolved into a sea-dweller, is held captive by an alien Observer. This story is followed by a one page article “We Have a Winner”d on the artist, Jimmy McGregor, who won the competition to illustrate the story.

Tim Major’s Cast in the Same Mould* describes the peculiar circumstances in which life is discovered on Mars.

The Beachcomber Presents Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein6 by Mark Toner, Stephen Pickering & Tsu Beel discusses Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the original and its various adulterated adaptations.

Next comes an interview with the authore (conducted by Noel Chidwick) and extracts from the novel Origamy7 by Rachel Armstrong.

Preceded by a very short author intervewf (by Chris Kelso,) The Silk Tower of Beijing8 by Preston Grassman is dedicated to the late Iain M Banks. Seeming to take inspiration from that author’s A Gift From the Culture an inhabitant of an Earth taken over by aliens strikes at the core of their hold over humans

Pedant’s corner:- I proofread the stories marked* before publication so assume there are no remaining errata there. Otherwise; aHanks’ (Hanks’s.) b“made up of diverse range” (made up of a diverse range,) pays of (pays off,) “an authors motivation” (author’s,) “each … aren’t window dressing” (each isn’t,) “this editions extra interview material” (edition’s,) “the majority of the public are unconcerned” (the majority … is unconcerned,) Watts’ (Watts’s,) eons (aeons,) “the inherently claustrophobia nature” (the inherently claustrophobic nature,) “where the human’s sleep” (humans,) “the twists and turns … is at times genuinely shocking” (are genuinely shocking,) “the ultimate climax of the book and the afterword to is one that is” (that ‘and’ requires a plural verb, ‘are ones that are’,) “one could be forgiven into thinking they were reading sections” (again, ‘one’ is a singular antecedent and should not be followed by a plural pronoun,) “the group split” (splits.) cIn the author blurb “bird nests” (normally ‘birds’ nests’.) dfocussed (focused.) eMobius’ (Mobius’s.) f“the nations arts” (nation’s,) skillful (skilful,) Ian M Banks (x2, Iain,) Banks’ (Banks’s.)
1Written in USian. 2Written in USian. Or is it Canadian? Instantly dated by its mention of Stephen Hawking. 3Written in USian. 4 Written in USian. “The uited people” (The suited people.) 5focussed (focused.) 6“ice flow” (ice floe that would be,) “whom in turn draughts it” (who in turn drafts it,) “as Victor grew as did his love for Science” (as Victor grew so did his love for..) Victors’ (Victor’s,) “evidence there of” (thereof,) Victor breaths his last” (breathes his last,) “There’s very few movies” (there are very few movies,) “near all of” (nearly all of.) 7haurspicy (haruspicy,) auger (after the previous page’s mention of four types of divination I strongly suggest this is intended to be ‘augur’. An auger is a different thing entirely.) 8Written in USian, “a flock of drone-birds hover” (a flock hovers,) a missing full stop (x 4.) “The cross-hatched ruins of the Bird’s Nest appears” (the .. ruins… appear,) “none of them are as monumental” (none .. is as monumental.) “As I think of the world as I want to be” (‘as I want it to be’ makes more sense.)

Alasdair Gray

Sad, sad news.

Alasdair Gray has died.

If he had never done anything else in his life his first novel Lanark (arguably four novels) would have made him the most important Scottish writer of the twentieth century’s latter half, if not the whole century. (Perhaps only Lewis Grassic Gibbon rivals him in that respect.)

But of course he published 8 more novels, the last of which I read in 2009, 4 books of short stories – see this review of one of them – 3 of poetry (I reviewed a couple here and here,) many pieces for theatre, radio and television plus books of criticism (as here) and commentary (eg see here).

Yet that was not the least of it. There is also his work as an artist and illustrator to take into account. His drawing/painting style was unique and uniquely recognisable; much admired and sought after.

A polymath and curmudgeon, learned and contrary, Gray was one of a kind.

Even as his work lives on we will miss his acerbic presence.

And I still have his The Book of Prefaces to peruse.

Alasdair Gray: 28/12/1934 – 29/12/2019. So it goes.

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