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SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (i)

My contribution this week to Reader in the Wilderness’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times meme. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

These are some of my hardback SF and Fantasy books. I didn’t buy many hardbacks back in the day (except second hand) so most of these are fairly modern SF and some are review copies.

Science Fiction Hardbacks (i)

Above note some J G Ballard (his Empire of the Sun ought not really be shelved here but it keeps his books together,) Iain M Banks, Eric Brown, Alan Campbell, Ted Chiang, the wonderful Michael G Coney, the excellent Richard Cowper, Hal Duncan and Matthew Fitt’s amazing But n Ben A-Go-Go, an SF novel written entirely in Scots.

The next shelf still has some of its adornments in front:-

Science Fiction Hardbacks (ii)

Stand-outs here are Mary Gentle, the all-but indescribable R A Lafferty, the sublime Ursula Le Guin, Stanisław Lem, Graham Dunstan Martin, Ian R MacLeod, Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald.

You’ll also see the proof copy of a novel titled A Son of the Rock perched above the books at the right hand end on row 2.

Asimov’s Science Fiction Sep 2016

Dell Magazines.

Asimov's Sep 2016 cover

Sheila Williams’s Editorial lists The Thirtieth Annual Readers’ Award Results. Robert Silverberg’s Reflections (“Darn,” He Smiled) remembers the glory days of Science Fiction reviewing by James Blish and Damon Knight including one memorable Blish evisceration of a story that used 89 different expressions for “said” (a practice Silverberg himself thereafter strictly avoided) and laments that the pendulum has now swung so much the other way that would-be writers are positively encouraged to eschew the unintrusive “said”.
Peter Heck On Books1 looks favourably on the latest novels by Charlie Jane Anders, Laura R Gilman, and Fred Chapell, Paul di Filippo’s collection and the non-fiction Breaking the Chains of Gravity: the story of space flight before NASA by Amy Shira Teitel.
In The Mind is its Own Place2 by Carrie Vaughn, Lieutenant Mitchell wakes up in hospital to be told he is suffering from Mand Dementia, an affliction suffered by navigators who intuit the correct coordinates for hyperspace jumps. The story concerns his gradual unravelling of what happened to him.
Dome on the Prairie3 by Robert Reed is an alien invasion story inspired by the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Aliens in the form of the Scourge have come to Earth. Our (unnamed) narrator is chosen to try to communicate with a Scourge child dubbed Laura.
In Epitome4 by Tegan Moore, Shelby, a woman given power of attorney by her female lover Vivian (whom for some unexplained reason she cannot acknowledge as such) becomes her carer after a fall causes brain damage. To compensate, Shelby has a hacker friend upload a brain scan of Vivian into the Personify virtual reality programme.
Academic Circles5 by Peter Wood is a time travel story wherein a man uses a time machine to plagiarise academic essays on Philip K Dick and claim precedence. Others have feelings of déjà vu.
In The Whole Mess6 by Jack Skillingstead mathematical genius Professor Dunn is handed an incomplete equation. When he solves it tentacled Masters slip through from a parallel universe and he slides to a third. Only he can undo the change but his abilities are restricted.
All That Robot…7 by Rich Larson sees a man stranded on an island otherwise inhabited by sentient robots sin against their nascent religion.
The best is kept till last – and it’s the best in Asimov’s all year up to now. Ian R MacLeod’s The Visitor From Taured8 tells the tale of Lita, a woman who studies Analogue Literature (old style 2D physical books rather than interactive or non-static narratives,) and her (lack of) relationship with astrophysics adept Rob who is trying to prove the many worlds theory.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Palazo (in a book title! palazzo,) 2“He’d signed in, said good morning to the captain, went to his station” (He’d; therefore [he’d] gone to his station,) “He had to learn to the truth” (learn the truth.) 3a wide range… were scattered (was,) “shifting its aim for a moment that ends when you forcing your attentions to…. (with you forcing? when you force?) 4 freshman (freshmen mad emoe sense) 5Popoov (Popov,) a missing end quote mark. 6 the ‘the Masters’ (only one the needed,) a particularly adept memoirists (memoirist,) I couldn’t breath (breathe.) 7”hoping that the two events to coincide” (the two events coincide.) 8Even in a US publication it is intensely annoying to read in a story by a Briton and set mostly in Leeds and the Outer Hebrides the word “asshole” rather than arsehole, yet there was archaeologist not archaeologist and later maths and “arsed around”. “He fucked about.” (I assume US readers will read this as implying promiscuity – the context leans towards it – but I didn’t. In Britain it means engaging in activities to little purpose, not fulfilling yourself, see “arsed around”,) post-centarian (post-centenarian?) this stuff happen at the atomic level (this stuff happens,) “as if every choice you made in a virtual was mapped out in its entirety” (“world” after virtual?) sung (sang,) span (spun.)

My 2015 in Books

This has been a good year for books with me though I didn’t read much of what I had intended to as first I was distracted by the list of 100 best Scottish Books and then by the threat to local libraries – a threat which has now become a firm decision. As a result the tbr pile has got higher and higher as I continued to buy books and didn’t get round to reading many of them.

My books of the year were (in order of reading):-
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Electric Brae by Andrew Greig
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman
The Affair in Arcady by James Wellard
Flemington and Tales from Angus by Violet Jacob
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi
Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod
The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison
The Bridge Over the Drina by Ivo Andrić
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig
The Dear, Green Place by Archie Hind
Greenvoe by George Mackay Brown
The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson
The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Born Free by Laura Hird
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

If you were counting that’s 25 in all, of which 15 were by male authors and 10 by women, 8 had SF/fantasy elements and 11 were Scottish (in the broadest sense of inclusion.)

Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod

PS Publishing, 2008, 304 p.

 Song of Time cover

Love, sex and death.

Oh, I know within these pages there are dead people who are somehow still able to exist, an intelligent kitchen, a crystal field saturating the environment, artificial skin, the last snow melting from Kilimanjaro, computer screens with no visible supports, a nuclear war, the Yellowstone supervolcano blowing up, not to mention a symphony that continually rewrites itself, but these are all just background: at its core Song of Life charts the three literary biggies. And the greatest of these is love.

One day towards the back end of the twenty-first century Roushana Maitland finds a half-drowned man, possibly attempting to enter the country illegally and who does not remember who he is, on the Cornish beach just below her house. She drags him up to safety and shelter. His presence and her imminent transfiguration (not death, she has very recently undergone the procedure which will undo that) trigger memories of her life. Song of Time’s chapters alternate between depictions of her present day with the stranger in her house, whom she dubs Adam but who himself pronounces it Abaddon, and her memories of the unfolding century.

Roushana is of mixed heritage, Indian on her mother’s side, Irish on her father’s. Her brother Leo is a gifted musician but contracts WRFI, Wide Range Food Intolerance, perhaps brought about by an artificial virus targeted on the lactose tolerant, an adaptation mostly found in Westerners. Unable to withstand the debilitation this has caused him, he commits suicide, telling Roushana, It’s up to you now, Sis. She polishes her up to then not particularly good efforts on the violin and, with the later help of famous conductor Claude Vaudin who eventually becomes her husband, parlays them into fame and fortune. Her story is set against the background of a disintegrating world: racial tensions erupt in Britain, unspecified divisions occur elsewhere, a millenarian type of cult arises. In terms of terrorism and world politics this future is like our present, only more so. But technological progress still occurs. The environment becomes enmeshed in the “ever-spreading network of crystal” but no mechanism for the dead to still be around after death is elaborated beyond the “crystal seed of immortality whining its way” into Roushana’s skull.

It may seem counter-intuitive to have classical music as the driver for Roushana’s fame, but pop stardom would have been too clichéd, and a future classical revival of sorts is not too much of a stretch. There is in any case some genre crossing. Claude’s performances in clubs at times read more like those of a jazz musician.

Song of Time contains a profoundly imagined and realised world and Roushana’s voice is an engaging one. That there are doubts over the exact circumstances of Claude’s death ring entirely true, Leo’s continuing influence over her life being a source of jealousy to Claude.

MacLeod has a poignant story to tell, has a facility with language, a poet’s ear at times, scatters out in one book more ideas than many authors would use in a lifetime and the book itself is a lovely object. Roushana’s story is one I’ll remember for a long time. Looking back I see Song of Time won the literary-inclined Clarke Award. However, it didn’t make the nominee list for the BSFA Award for 2008. (The fact that the SF elements can be construed as only background may have told against it.) I have not read three of the four on that year’s list but nevertheless they’d have to be going some to be better novels than this.

I have a caveat, though.

Did anybody proof-read this thing?

Pedant’s corner:- “Pregnancy came as a shock to me…. The sheer alienness of the symptoms…” (But Roushana had been pregnant before – albeit then had an abortion.) Disks (discs,) programs (programmes) – I don’t care even if either of these two were to do with computers – practise (innumerable times as a noun, but the noun is “practice” which strangely also appears correctly at times,) the late 1950s in the search of (in the late 1950s in search of,) “They didn’t have say it” (have to say it,) into him arm (his,) the speed in which (with which,) lineney (lineny,) sung (sang,) would not longer (no longer,) with she as she was (with her as she was,) it was shade (a shade,) Doges’ Palace (Doge’s,) on diet (on a diet,) as goes inside (as he goes inside,) after I’ve I sat him down (either I’ve or I, but not both,) “You where I mean” (You know where I mean,) “For a just a while” (for just a while,) glowing n his (in his,) unfocussed (unfocused, ) “Pakkis” but later, “Paki-girl”, the “the village” (just “the village”,) sewerage (sewage,) lost contact Uncle Indra (lost contact with Uncle Indra,) reforming (re-forming,) I really do have sit down (have to sit down,) St Fimbarrus’ (St Fimbarrus’s,) we took at ride (a ride,) whilst still officially still at war (one still too many here, plus there was another “still” later in the same sentence,) how you were you supposed to deal (a “you” too many,) ignited =in (ignited in,) its commanding view sea (sea view.) Back the kitchen (Back in the kitchen,) Miles Davis’ (Miles Davis’s,) fames (??), has (had,) Blythe Monroe (on all other appearances it was Munro,) I was following what he saying (what he was saying,) in one of pots (one of the pots,) Christos’ (Christos’s) Cholera B (is later Cholera b,) of a return virtuality to paint (of a return from virtuality to paint,) pervious (previous.) Near beside them (Near them? Beside them?) Periphique (Peripherique,) sit ins (sit-ins,) burn-out (burned-out,) I knew that Claude was be out debating (“would be” or “was”, but not “was be”,) virtuality de monde (as I remember my French that’s du monde,) focussed (focused,) if she’s started (she’d,) the orchestra were (orchestra is singular; therefore the orchestra was.) Loose faith (Lose faith,) whether he of she (he or she,) Bezant’s Bay (in most instances it’s Bezant Bay,) one instance of its for it’s, complemented (complimented,) it they haven’t been paid enough (if,) one of periodic eruptions (one of the periodic eruptions,) the early half-life of the radiation had decreased considerably (the radiation level may decrease but the half-life most certainly doesn’t,) softy steaming greenery (softly?) were (where,) so I often with worked with, anything less that whole-heartedly (than,) wintery (wintry,) closer to him that when he was (than when he was,) after I’d laid down (lain,) the least emotion I felt was surprise (the last emotion) I can’t read you mind (your,) with its all lights (with all its lights,) it’s shrunken (shrunk.) The text implies Yellowstone is in Colorado but it is mostly in Wyoming with parts extending into Montana and Idaho.

The Great Wheel by Ian R MacLeod

Harcourt Brace, 1997. 458p.

Global warming has come and stayed, one of its ramifications being that only Christianity has survived as a major world religion. There is a division between Europeans and people from outwith Europe who are called Borderers. This is so marked that Borderers can die merely from contact with Europeans.

Father John Alston of The Holy Apostolic Church of Rome is a priest sent to the Magulf, a part of The Endless City which runs all the way along North Africa up through the Near East and peters out somewhere in the Russian steppes. There he acts as a kind of pharmacist dispensing medicines to those denizens of the Magulf who come to the clinic attached to his church. The diagnoses, though, are performed by a machine, known as a doctor. Europeans in the Magulf wear special gloves to prevent touching the locals, gloves which burn up when discarded, and keep mostly to the Zone, a gated area where few Borderers are present. Borderers working in the Zone are protected from the contaminating European viruses by taking a drug called lydrin.

In his ministrations Father John comes to recognise that there is a higher incidence of leukæmia in the Magulf than there ought to be. He links this to the chewing of a leaf called koiyl and with the help of a Borderer named Laura Kalmar sets out to find the source of the contamination, which may be near a nuclear bomb site dating from the attempts to prevent immigrants moving from Africa to Europe when the sea levels started to rise.

In many ways this is a conventional tale of a missionary priest who goes a bit weird when he encounters the locals. A nice touch is the fact that Father John’s bishop is a woman. There is an added subplot about John’s brother, who is in a coma after almost killing himself, which in turn may have been due to his guilt about the murder one year of a Borderer girl from the traveling shows which came annually to their boyhood town. Father John’s ambivalence about his faith is a rather well worn staple, though.

This book is much better proof read than the editions I read of MacLeod’s otherwise excellent subsequent novels The Light Ages and The House Of Storms. Here there was a span count of zero, but I did spot two sunks, unfortunately.

It is a measure of its complexity and slight strangeness that The Great Wheel is actually quite difficult to summarise. MacLeod can undoubtedly write. He handles and delineates character very well indeed.

Recommended if you like your SF with a touch of difference.

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