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Hold up the Sky by Cixin Liu

Head of Zeus, 2020, 333 p.

撑起天空, variously translated from Chinese by John Chu, Carmen Yiling Yan, Joel Martinsen, and Adam Lamphier. Reviewed for Interzone 289, Nov-Dec 2020.

 Hold up the Sky cover

In his foreword to this collection Liu says that until recently SF had been foreign to China, peripheral to the sweep of its history but the changes in the country have made the future ever more apparent and pressing, thereby creating more interest in the genre. The question he is most asked is what makes Chinese SF Chinese in nature, but he does not consider his writing to be about anything other than humanity as a whole. Which would be, of course, what makes it widely readable.

Liu’s stories here (spanning publication from 1985 to 2014) usually have echoes of Wells and Stapledon in displaying temporal or cosmological grandeur. He has no lack of ambition in his speculative ideas but sometimes that detracts from the capacity for emotional engagement with them. He has a fondness for portraying big (though not necessarily dumb) objects, but also a tendency (see *) to inelegant nomenclature – which may be a problem of translation of course – and a slight awkwardness with structure. Almost without exception, though, his stories deal with mind-expanding concepts.

Still, the leading one, The Village Teacher, (乡村教师,) appears strangely old-fashioned to Anglophone eyes and the contrast between the tale of the dying title character inculcating Newton’s three laws in his pupils and its intersection with a millenia-old galactic war between the forces of the Federation of Carbon-Based Life* and those of the Silicon-Based Empire* is fairly stark.

To alleviate environmental and population pressures The Time Migration, (时间移民,) is carried out using cryogenics. Stops at 120, 620 and 1,000 years hence proving unsuitable for various reasons, sights are set for 11,000.

In 2018-04-01, (2018年4月1日, – a future date when Liu wrote it) Gene Extension – which actually cuts out the bits that cause ageing rather than inserting anything – is possible but expensive. Our narrator is triggered by an April Fool joke involving digital nations to commit the fraud that will ensure he has the means to benefit.

Fire in the Earth, (地火,) is about the first project to gasify coal underground for use as an oil substitute and the disaster attendant on that endeavour. The story would work without its coda but arguably that’s the only thing that makes it SF.

In Contraction, ( 西洋,) Professor Ding Yi has constructed a unified field theory which predicts the imminent moment when the universe’s expansion will stop and its collapse begin, but only he truly understands the implications. The premise is far from new (Philip K Dick’s Counterclock World springs to mind) but the story ends with a neat, if obvious, typographical way to illustrate it.

Mirror, (镜子,) postulates the invention of the superstring computer – of infinite capacity. This has allowed simulations of evolutions of universes from different Big Bangs to take place, including of course our own. Liu lays out the implications of such knowledge for human relationships.

Despite its subtitle (An alternate history of the sophon,) Ode To Joy, (欢乐颂 ,) does not mention that concept, familiar from Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, at all. Instead a huge ultra-thin mirror appears in Earth’s sky on the day the UN is to be closed for good: a mirror that can turn radiation from nearby novae into music.

Full-Spectrum Barrage Jamming, (全频带阻塞干扰,) is set during a war between a Russia newly returned to Communism and NATO (a war whose cause seems relatively trifling but has to be accepted for story purposes.) NATO’s electronic warfare capability outmatches the Russians who have to resort to the full-spectrum barrage jamming of the title. Depletion of the jamming network leads to a desperate measure in response.

Sea of Dreams, (梦之海,) is almost emblematic of Liu’s style. An ice-ball dubbed the low-temperature artist* arrives on Earth professing interest only in art and proceeds to convert the planet’s oceans into ice-cubes, which it suspends in a ring surrounding the planet (the titular Sea) before leaving humans to deal with their altered world.

Cloud of Poems, (诗云,) has faint echoes of Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God in its account of a human telling what is effectively a god that its poetry will never surpass that of the human Li Bai. Its attempt to do so involves programming every possible permutation of the formal rules of Chinese poetry composition and constructing them in a 100 AU diameter model of the Milky Way.

The last story, The Thinker, (思想者,) is the most successful here at integrating the science and speculation behind it with the experiences of its characters and making the reader feel them. A male brain surgeon and a female astronomer meet by chance at an observatory where she is studying the energy fluctuations from stars. Over the years that follow they, almost by accident, make a discovery about interstellar communication.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- “in a pinch” (at a pinch,) “smoking sulfuric acid,” (the technical term is ‘fuming’ sulphuric acid, Liu also describes the smoke as yellow; that sounds more like fuming nitric acid,) “Order of Victories are worth the most” (should be “Orders of Victory are worth the most” but that was in dialogue,) however ‘Order of Suvorovs’ wasn’t, (Orders of Suvorov,) “gunpowder smoke” (gunpowder? From modern munitions?) “lakes of mercury” (on Mercury the planet. Yet the surface temperature is stated to be 1,800 degrees Celsius. The element mercury evaporates at 0C at 1 atmosphere pressure. In a vacuum – or near vacuum such as exists on the planet Mercury’s surface – and specifically mentioned in the text – that would occur at a much lower temperature,) Comanches (is the helicopter’s name spelled differently to the First Nation tribe’s? Commanche,) “1.0 gees” (1.0 gee, or, better, 1.0 G. It would still be ‘gee’ even if its value was greater than 1, since a measurement’s abbreviation subsumes its plural, eg 6 A, or 20 N or 3 m,) “changing from the dark red to orange” (no need for that ‘the’.)

Ruin’s Wake by Patrick Edwards

Titan Books, 2019, 413 p.

It is the year of the Quincentennnial of the Hegemony, an authoritarian state set up by The Seeker after a civilisational collapse known as the Ruin, a society where everyone knows the sun (called Ras) orbits the Earth as the true cosmology of the heavens has been lost even the word ‘planet’ has been lost; but some tech is still left over from the old time.

In the wintry wilds of the north Professor Sulara Song is investigating an archaeological site that may contain an artefact from before the Ruin; at a strip mine on a frozen steppe a man called Cale receives bad news about his son, Bowden; in the city, Kelbee, sold by her father to be the wife of a defender of the Hegemony known to the reader only as the Major (but after a promotion as the Lance-Colonel,) is little but a drudge and sex-slave, allowed outside the house only to work at the lowest grade in a garment factory.

Song’s experiences are given us in the form of journal she writes – and hers is a voice that is wry and compelling – Cale’s and Kelbee’s stories are told in the third person and their personalities therefore come across less sharply. All are actual or potential foes of the Hegemony; Song since the artefact threatens to undermine its foundation myth, Cale as a former comrade of the revolutionary known as Brennev, Kelbee through her growing connection with Nebn who befriends her one day when he comes to the factory to repair a piece of equipment.

The revelation of the underground artefact’s capabilities reads, though, like an interpolation from a different book. (Then again, after regression followed by five hundred years of stagnation any sufficiently advanced technology would seem like magic.) Even knowledge of its facilities represents a threat to the Hegemony’s belief systems and therefore its control of the populace. For unlike the citizens of the Hegemony, kept separate, individualised yet subject to group orthodoxy (as is the ideal for all dictatorships,) “Our ancestors had tinkered with themselves, with the brain itself, back before the Ruin. Every new-born child inherited its parents’ ability to connect with the data corpus, not limited by proximity.”

Perhaps because it was his first novel Edwards is not quite as in control of his prose as he is in his second book, the excellent Echo Cycle, which I reviewed for Interzone, nor is his focus as tight. There is a sense here – especially in the hierarchy of the Hegemony (its head Fulvia arc Borunmer, though the first woman in that post “since… well, ever” is a typical vengeful dictator,) even the existence of the ‘Free City,’ Aspedair, supposedly the only entity on the planet that is not under the Hegemony’s sway, is not an entirely original concept – that he is feeling his way into writing, exploring other people’s scenarios than his own, conforming to a template, that he has not yet found his own voice.

Ruin’s Wake is still very readable though, and Edwards’s portrayal of human relationships and interactions is convincing.

Pedant’s corner:- Time interval later/within time interval count: 17. Otherwise; maw (it’s not a mouth,) sprung (sprang,) “the situation appeared to be diffused” (the situation was not spread out, it was resolved; defused,) “the thick pile of blankets that served as a bed” (earlier on there had been a mattress in the room,) “the light coming under the jamb” (this use of ‘jamb’ appears twice; a door’s jamb is at its side, not its bottom-most part,) snuck under the door jambs (sneaked, and see previous comment,) “the volume of the whole chamber 1,985 metres cubed and the surface area 947 metres squared” (1,985 cubic metres and the surface area 947 square metres. I didn’t bother checking the figures,) “Syn grabbed length of rope” (a length of rope,) sat (x2, sitting,) “the music swelled to a crescendo” (no it didn’t; it swelled [crescendoed] to a climax.) “Which was the truth she wondered” (is a question, so needs a question mark.) “Where would those boys would be now” (remove the second ‘would’,) dove (dived,) “a deep sob wracked her body” (racked.) “None of the people … were armed” (none … was armed,) “darkened by oxidisation” (the verb is ‘oxidise’ the noun is ‘oxidation’,) “it fit snug” (it fitted snugly,) “What struck her most were the looks on the aces” (what struck her most was …..) “He was stood in the wrong place” (standing in the wrong place.) “None of the guns were trained on him” (None … was.) “He was stood in front of her” (standing.)

Interzone 290-291, Summer 2021

TTA Press, 2021.

  Interzone 290-291 cover

After a longish break Interzone reappears with a double edition. The editorial is by Lavie Tidhar describing his early steps into being published (in Interzone natch,) and his quest to bring World SF to wider attention. This being a double issue there are two of Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Stories. In the first she ponders museum artefacts what they tell us about the past – and the future. In the seconda she wonders about the connections we make – as people and as readers – and their validities. Whiteley is also the subject of the first item in the book reviews, where Duncan Lawie looks at both her latest novels Greensmith (“the more astonishing end of Philip K Dick”) and the gentler on the reader Skyward Inn (the name of a pub in the Western Protectorate.) Both “explore big questions whose answers lead to further thought.” I examine the British Library’s reprints of John Brunner’s “very readable” The Society of Time (which is in control of time travel in a Western Europe dominated by a Catholic Spanish Empire) and Ian Macpherson’s Wild Harbour, a cosy catastrophe avant la lettre, and Scottish to boot. John Howard relishes M John Harrison’s “selected stories” collection Settling the World, stories in which nothing is settling, the footing is always unsure. Stephen Theaker discusses David Ebenbach’s How to Mars, (“a good story, but gimmicky, of a one-way trip to Mars for a reality show but where one of the inmates against all the rules has become pregnant,”) Premee Mohammed’s novella These Lifeless Things (set fifty years after the Setback killed 99% of humans) and Martha Wells’s Fugitive Telemetry (an Android SecUnit investigates a murder on Preservation Station,) Maureen Kincaid Speller considers The Wall by Gautam Bhatia (filled with moments of deep emotional intensity but a little too overcrowded with possibilities) yet “deeply satisfying,” and Val Nolan finds the “darkly absurdist” Line by Nial Burke well worth waiting for.

The fiction was all well worth reading.

A Hollow in the Sky by Alexander Glass.1 Except for a few refuseniks called scatterlings humans have joined into a kind of hive mind called the Gathering. Our narrator Mateo is one of the scatterlings, looking after a vespiary in a monastery. Some years ago fellow scatterling Tomoko went off with/was taken away by extremely enigmatic aliens named the Borers. Now she has returned. This is well written but overuses the vespine metaphor.
In The Andraiad by Tim Major,2 the titular andraiad is a church organist and piano tuner called Martin Helm, built to replace a man who died in a fight, and determined to be better.

Pace Car by Lyle Hopwood. Gates – matter transmitters – apparently gifted to Earth as a punishment for the creation of part animal/part human chimeras – have transformed the world, but they are gradually destroyinh their surroundings. Billions of humans have died. Our narrator is a collector of old cars who requires a mechanic to maintain them. He is part goat.

An Island for Lost Astronauts by Daniel Bennet is set in a post sea-level rising world and the appearanceof a mysterious and otherwise unexplained White Ship where convicts are left to scavenge the islands outside East City where returning astronauts have also been outcast for fear of contamination. The story has a sub-Ballardian feel and is deliberately enigmatic.

The narrator of A Stray Cat in the Mountain of the Dead by Cécile Cristofari3 is a nurse of Arabic origin working in a French care home. As the story unfolds we discover she has a weak heart but it is the stray cat that gets in no matter what the staff do that drives the story. If it lies on their laps the deaths of inmates seem inexorably to follow.

Nemesis by Matt Thompson. In a world threatened by comets thrown Earthwards by the sun’s dark companion beyond the Oort Cloud (the Nemesis of the tile) a woman’s memories are being reconstructed.

The Mischief That is Past by John Possidente4 is a tightly controlled exposition of justified paranoia. A journalist on Humbodt, a space station, is in hiding after a contact tells him of someone called Sacagawea who died in 1812. Except she didn’t; she’s still alive, uncovered in Greenland 1937 along with an alien spaceship, and now a state secret. Yet this story ends as its narrator’s is just beginning.

The Egg Collectors by Lavie Tidhar5 are two ballooners (sic) sheltering from a storm on Titan who encounter some ovoid objects on the surface.

Without Lungs or Limbs to Stay by Shauna O’Meara is set on a generation starship where the population has gone rogue, is now space adapted, and recycles the sleep-frozen members of the intended colony in order to keep their nutrient balance the right side of viable.

Pedant’s corner:- aTim Lees’ (Lees’s,) “to not only” (not only to.) 1“a timpani” (timpani is plural; one of them is a timpano.) 2Louis’ (x2, Louis’s,) a mining lift cage accident is said to involve nine men on the top deck and seven below, but three lines later reference is to nine on the lower deck.) 3a missing comma before a piece of direct speech. 4“to lay low” (to lie low.) 5ballooners (balloonists,) “‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you.’” (is a question so ought to finish with a question mark.)

ParSec 1

ParSec 1 cover

New digital SF magazine ParSec launched today from PS Publishing. It’s a handsome cover image.

You can buy it here.

I have no fewer than four, yes four, reviews within its pages.

This Fragile Earth by Susannah Wise

Composite Creatures by Caroline Hardaker

The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

The First Sister by Linden A Lewis

I’ll be posting those here once a decent time interval has passed.

Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2019, 446 p.

This is the third (and final?) in the author’s Luna series (see here and here) and McDonald’s characteristic prose style is again in evidence, his ear for a telling phrase, the almost lyrical descriptions, but straightforwardly down to earth (down to Moon?) when necessary.

Once more we are shown ongoing events in the present tense, a device which imparts a sense of urgency – and contingency – to the narrative. The main plot here relates to who is to assume the guardianship of Lucasinho Corta who suffered catastrophic anoxia on the lunar surface in the previous book and now has to have his memories rebuilt from the recollections of others, but this is counterpointed with the ongoing conflict between the powerful lunar companies collectively called Dragons.

Since Corta Hélio has fallen, only four of the Dragons remain, Taiyang of the Suns, the Asamoahs’ AKA, the Vorontsovs’ VTO and the Mackenzies of Mackenzie Metals and MacKenzie Helium, but Lucas Corta is determined to make the most of the position as Eagle of the Moon he levered himself into in the last book. An introduction here is the University of Farside – fiercely independent of the Dragons – to where Lucasinho is taken for the memory restoration treatment and whose employees eschew former family connections.

As in Luna: Wolf Moon the defining feature of lunar life, the Four Elementals of air, water, carbon and data, rights to which are monitored by the chib in every inhabitant’s interactive contact lens, are not lingered on but this reflects the chib’s everyday nature for lunar citizens. Unless those rights run low they would not be a concern. They do, though, come into play at the dénouement.

The Dragons and their jostling for power – here joined by the incipient threat from Earth to eliminate the Moon as a competitor – is an exaggerated metaphor for unbridled capitalism, red in tooth and claw. The level of bloodshed is a warning about the consequences of the absence of legal restraints – though doubtless some readers will greet those scenes with approval. But McDonald raises the question of whether such a mode of living could be sustainable (and given the high body count here a certain degree of doubt is justified.) While their means of pursuing their interests had been indistinguishable from the other Dragons’ the Cortas’ collective insistence that family is everything suggests a different set of values is possible. It’s certainly desirable.

The scenes involving Marina Calzaghe (returned to Earth and finding herself regretting it,) though highlighting prejudice as they do, are something of a distraction from, and ultimately unrelated to, happenings on the Moon. But they illustrate McDonald’s wider vision.

Among those I no doubt missed there are embedded reference to Flanders and Swann, to Casablanca (in the film Bogart never actually said, “Play it again,” but of course Woody Allen used the phrase as the title of a play which later became a film,) and to Candide. There is a bar named The Flashing Blade, an adaptation of the Scottish (and Northern Irish?) term of approbation ‘Ya dancer’ to the US audience, a pun on ‘take the heat off them,’ another on ‘The Eagle has landed’ – this last’s setting up waiting almost three books for its payoff.

Few who read this could be disappointed with the experience.

Pedant’s corner:- “the lay of her belly” (the lie of her belly,) “a housand dins” (a thousand dins,) “in every cell her body” (cell of her body.) “The position rotate every two years” (rotates,) “blown four million years in the eruptions” (blown four million years ago,) “the size of size of her torso” (only one ‘size of’ required.) “Lucas’s hand tighten on the knurl of his cane” (tightens,) bola (the throwing weapon referred to is a bolas.) “Waiting in the corridor are AKA employee to lift and store…” (employees,) “smashed every rule the road” (of the road,) “looking down in to the” (down into,) sub-regolithis (sub-regolith.) “He strokes Lucasinho cheek” (Lucasinho’s,) “darker even that the dark basalt” (than the dark basalt,) “systems runs checks” (systems run checks,) Alexis (Alexia,) “puts out medical alert to his blades” (puts out a medical alert,) zeros (used to be spelled zeroes,) “‘there’s be’” (‘there’ll be’,) prospket (x2, prospekt,) “catches it, throw it on to another” (throws it on,) “and how she used to them” (how she used them,) “when the Earth-light in hot in him” (is hot in him,) open maws (a maw is a stomach, not a mouth,) staunch (stanch,) “the thunder of carnival give way to” (gives way to,) “loathe to involve itself” (loath, or, loth. Loathe is to despise/hate/abhor,) ambiance (ambience,) “none are as small and compact” (none is as small,) “When the Gularte’s left Caio for dead” (Gulartes.) “Wagner heart turns over” (Wagner’s heart,) “none of them are worthy of” (none of them is worthy of.)

Glister by John Burnside

Jonathan Cape, 2008, 263 p.

Begin with a warning. In a prefatory chapter, someone, who has passed through the Glister, is remembering the story of his life, again. In that story his name is Leonard and he remembers John the librarian saying to him, “When it comes to reliability, it’s not the narrator we should be worried about, it’s the author,” but Leonard himself tells us it’s not the author either; it’s the story that is unreliable.

Be that as it may, it is Leonard’s recollections which take up the bulk of the book. He grew up in a coastal town somewhat cut off from the rest of the world – outside influences do intrude, there is a Spar shop and references to television (curiously to Dr Kildare and Richard Chamberlain, which seems a bit out of time with the rest of the narrative) – a town once home to a chemical plant, whose contamination blights the lives of those who worked there, and perhaps even those who stray or rummage onto its former grounds or into the so-called poisoned wood, but people stay and put up with it all. (Not Leonard’s mum, though, who, unable to cope with her situation, pissed off when his father took ill leaving Leonard to take care of his dad.) But the town has a bigger problem. There have been disappearances of children, teenage boys, over the years, unexplained disappearances which cast a pall over everyday life.

Leonard lived in the Innertown, the most deprived and blighted area, distinguished from the Outertown where the big houses are. The Innertown has the same claustrophobic feel as the village in Burnside’s earlier novel The Devil’s Footprints and the hellish residue of the plant bears echoes of the Corby he described in Living Nowhere. Leonard’s story is given in the first person but other sections are written in the third and describe incidents to which he was not a witness. (These may still be him writing from an omniscient viewpoint, however; remember the unreliability of story.) They include Morrison, the local policeman, who seems to have got his position without in any way training for it, the local big man Bryan Smith (who levered Morrison into his job so as to have a hold over him,) Morrison’s alcoholic wife, Alice, recluse Andrew Rivers, and Leonard’s girlfriend, the precociously sexually adventurous Elspeth.

Morrison is conflicted by his knowledge of finding the dead body of the first boy to disappear, his enthralment to Bryan Smith (who got his henchman Jenner to deal with it) and his duty as a policeman. Towards the end he reflects that “the soul is wet and dark, a creature that takes up residence in the human body and feeds on it …. possessed of an unhuman joy that cares nothing for its host, but lives, as it must live, in perpetual, disfigured longing.” Alice senses her husband’s confusion but is mired in her own difficulties. Rivers has kept all the reminders of his dead father and is alert to the possibilities his behaviour has of being misunderstood. Elspeth is a spark of life but seems to be perpetually randy. The mysterious outsider Leonard calls the Moth Man, supposedly conducting a survey of the flying insect population of the contaminated area but also taking the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of the disused chemical plant and possibly with a darker involvement in events, with a hint of the supernatural, flits in and out of Leonard’s story while occasionally providing him with brews of a strange tea. Of his non-exclusive, on both sides, relationship with Elspeth, Leonard muses that romance is for older people, not adolescents.

Despite the realistic depiction of Leonard’s encounters with John, Elspeth, the Moth Man and the members of the small teenage gang led by Elspeth’s ex-boyfriend Jimmy van Doren, there is an overhanging feel of Science Fiction or fantasy to proceedings. This prefigures the ending, the manifestation of the Glister, which, while possibly explaining the disappearances does not do so fully but is nonetheless satisfactory.

At one point Leonard tells us of “the sense I have of a story all disjointed and out of sequence.” The novel is not like this at all. Burnside writes supremely well. I wasn’t overly satisfied by the ending even though it is in accord with what preceded it, but in all other respects Glister is gold.

Pedant’s corner:- “maybe ony a few minutes” (maybe only a few,) cargos (this plural used to be spelled ‘cargoes’,) unimagin-able (not at a line break, unimaginable,) ditto “separ-ate” (separate.) “It has to with Leonard” (It has to do with Leonard.) None of the others see me go (sees me go,), Rivers’ (Rivers’s,) “when she come across” (comes across,) a missing start quotation mark.

New Review Books

Via Parsec (see here) I’ve received two more books for review.

These are Best of British Science Fiction 2020 edited by Donna Scott, which I hope will live up to its title, and Three Twins at the Crater School by Chaz Brenchley. This last seems to be the first in a series of “English girls’ boarding school stories. On Mars,” based I assume on the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, an author whose œuvre I do not remember ever sampling.

White Wing by Gordon Kendall

Sphere, 1986, 312 p.

Gordon Kendall is a pseudonym used – for one book only – by S N Lewitt (Shariann Lewitt) no doubt for the same reason female writers have always used male pen names. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database says the book was a collaboration with Susan Shwartz.

Humans are in a war against the Sej. Earth has been destroyed and the remnants of its population forced to take refuge on other human worlds of the League, where they are seen as largely second-class citizens and subject to prejudice. Earthers’ military arm, it has to be said, does not help in this regard. Except in their own company its members keep their emotions to themselves, presenting an unflinching, unemotive face to the worlds at large, only ever expressing their feelings in private. The League’s armed forces are split up into Wings, each with its own designated colour. The White Wing of the title is the Earther Wing, trained up on Wing Moon, a world given to them begrudgingly by the League. Their unit of battle is typically, though not always, made up of groups of seven. These are tight knit contingents, living and fighting together, joined in a contract they call marriage. Never has a member of White Wing been captured by the Sej. If any of them is in danger of that (and the subsequent maltreatment the Sej will no doubt administer) they are granted what is called the Mercy. In other words their own unit will kill them in order to prevent it. This happens to squad member Maryam in chapter two and makes pilot Gregory, who committed the deed, almost a pariah among the other Wings.

Squad Comm officer Suzannah has an eidetic memory. Her chief in League Security, Federico Hashrahh Kroeger, is another eidetic, keen to capture as much data about Earthers as he can. The plot revolves around the gap Maryam’s death has left in the squad, the solo pilot Dustin who may in the end become her replacement, Sej spies called Bikmat and Aglo, a Sej drug named hathoti, and a rabble-rousing politician, Ag Kolatolo, eager to exploit and amplify anti-Earther attutudes. The novel’s resolution is perhaps a bit too optimistic about how easily prejudice in public life can be overcome.

The book is a fairly typical SF tale of its time. Of military SF at any time. There are sufficient battle scenes and intrigue to satisfy adherents of the form but there is more of a tendency towards describing the interactions between, and thoughts of, the characters than most of its male purveyors tend to provide.

Pedant’s corner:- epicantic (epicanthic,) Gus’ (Gus’s,) Charles’ (Charles’s.) “None of them were” (was,) eidectics (eidetic,) neutrino (neutrino – spelled correctly elsewhere,) forseeable (foreseeable.) “A phalanx of Reds were closing in” (a phalanx … was closing in,) hanger (hangar– spelled correctly elsewhere, except for Hanger Deck,) “‘when she’d off duty’” (when she’s off duty.) “‘You said ‘us’ Federico,’” (to which he assents. He actually said ‘we’.)

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

Tor, 2017, 97 p.

In a planetary system protected by an early warning network known as the dewline, members of The Colony are hiding out from the authorities back on Earth, The Bureau, still looking for them after the thefts the Colony’s founders made on leaving Earth. The Colony has made genetic modifications to its members – forbidden by The Bureau – resulting in “superbrights” known as The Kids, “tall, fragile children with towering IQs and a penchant for terrible jokes.”

The crisis for The Colony is precipitated by the sudden emergence well within the boundaries of the dewline of a probe, which, though destroyed almost immediately by a Colony member, may still be noticed by The Bureau as missing and so bring down their vengeance. The Colony makes provision to escape elsewhere and instructs the dewline to dismantle itself. Our narrator, John Wayne Faraday (nicknamed Duke,) is The Colony’s latest President (elected by default,) and is one of those left behind to oversee the dewline’s disassembly after the Colony migrates. The banter between Duke and his Colony compatriots is as friendly and barbed as you’d expect and Duke himself appears (ahem) down to Earth and as a narrator seems utterly reliable.

Well before the dewline has finished its last task another probe enters the system. Duke’s negotiations with the man called Simeon Bivar operating it lead his companions to suspect that it is actually an AI. Bivar’s reaction to that assertion is surprising, and twists the entire tale.

This is a beautifully written novella, replete with allusion – spaceships are called One Potato, Two Potato and Gregor Samsa, for example. However, it does mention Science Fiction conventions – an unlikely allusion several centuries hence I’d have thought. It is, though, another instalment in SF’s long examination of what it means to be human.

Pedant’s corner:- “The second wave of probes were tasked with” (the second wave … was tasked with.) “There were a couple of sunloungers” (there was a couple,) “‘a great fuck-off big colony transport’” (violates the adjective order rule; ‘great big fuck-off colony transport’,) “with the most up-to-date motors … that would have been a trip of about ten light-years” (a light-year is a distance, not a time; it would have been a trip of ten light-years whatever kind of motor was employed.) “As soon as the second generation of Kids were old enough” (as soon as the second generation … was old enough,) “huge Christmas tree bubbles” (baubles surely?)

Zima Blue by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz, 2009, 503 p, including 3 p Introduction by Paul McAuley.

This is a collection of Reynolds’s short(ish) stories from the early part of his writing career. They vary in length from short story to novella.

The Real Story is a beautifully well-thought out and executed tale of an investigation by journalist Carrie Clay into the whereabouts many decades later of the first man to land on Mars. His was a solo project which almost went catastrophically wrong and caused him profound psychological problems. There is a great set piece where the pair of them base jump from Mars’s premier city into that deep scar across the Martian surface, Valles Marineris.

Beyond the Aquila Rift is set in a universe where barely understood technology left behind by aliens allows interstellar travel. Sometimes, though, there are routing errors. Our narrator ends up beyond the local bubble in the Milky Way, beyond the Aquila Rift.

In the framing device of Enola the remnants of humanity live out their lives terrified of the alien enolas reining down destruction from the skies. The middle section of the story, the meat in the sandwich, contains the recollections of the last of the enolas, AI weapons of mass destruction but capable of reasoning with one another.

The world of Signal to Noise is one where correlators can “cold-call” similar machines in other realities, resonate with and lock on to them to allow information transfer. In the wider world implanted nervelinks can connect one body to the sensory inputs of another, sedated, body, giving control over it. In his world, Mike’s wife dies in an accident. His friend, Joe Liversedge, works in the correlation unit – where they were about to try nervelinking between worlds – and gives him the opportunity to interact with his estranged wife’s counterpart in a newly correlated other world. But the signal fades with time.

Cardiff Afterlife is set in the same milieu as Signal to Noise a few years later. Joe Liversedge doesn’t like the use the governments (and the parallel universes’ governments) are making of the correlation capability and sets out to do something about it.

The far future of Hideaway is one in which humans have long left Earth and its location has long been forgotten. The remnants of the Cohort, on a ship called the Starthroat, are in a decades long flight from a species known as the Huskers. When a Husker fleet is also detected in front of them the crew is forced to head for a likely planetary system to hide out. Unfortunately the star and the system’s biggest planet have unusual activity in them. The details of this involve some speculative physics. The story is told in five parts. For some reason in my proof copy parts 3-5 were in italics while 1 and 2 had been in a normal typeface.

In Minla’s Flowers, Merlin, a survivor from the previous story, is thrown out of the Waynet, an ancient interstellar transport system. He is forced to seek aid on a planet of a nearby sun, whose inhabitants’ technology is at the biplane/airship stage. He discovers the Waynet will intersect with the system’s sun in about seventy years. He drops them hints about physics so that they will be able to develop the means to leave for another world, coming out from ‘frostwatch’ cold sleep every fourteen years or so to see how things are going. The story has an embedded reference to Margaret Thatcher’s “no such thing” comment about society.

Merlin’s Gun is a third story featuring Merlin. Here Sora survives an otherwise devastating Husker attack only for her familiar to shut her down in frostwatch for three thousand years – relativistic time-scales are one of Reynolds’s characteristics – waking her up only when a likely rescue ship enters the system where she is hidden. Merlin takes her on his quest to find the ‘gun’ which will allow the Huskers (whose true nature is revealed here) to be defeated. Reynolds’s knowledge of the SF genre is exemplified when he calls the gun ‘a weapon too dreadful to use’.

In Angels of Ashes aliens called the Kiwidinok, whose perception of quantum reality differs from that of humans, came to Earth and revealed to a “lucky” volunteer, Ivan, the remnants of a nearby neutron star whose formation ‘miraculously’ spared Earth the radiation devastation. The Kiwidinok suddenly left again. Ivan became the inadvertent Founder of a new religion but he is now on his deathbed and wishes his truth to be known.

Spirey and the Queen is another story set during an age-old interstellar war, where Von Neumann machines nicknamed wasps have evolved into consciousness but its main thrust is concerned with protagonist Spirey – from a branch of humanity which is entirely female – and her endeavours to survive while on a mission to kill a traitor and her discoveries about the reasons for the war continuing.

Understanding Space and Time is for some strange reason printed in italics. Its subtitle, Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids…, is a tip of the hat to the holographed Piano Man who appears in the story, complete with Bösendorfer grand. He appears to John Renfrew, the last survivor of humanity, in a habitat on Mars. Renfrew has little to do but converse with the holograph and use the few books available to try to understand space and time. With the later help of Aliens called the Kind who resurrect him from mummified death centuries after he suffers an accident on the Martina surface he spends his days, years and centuries, unlocking the layers of reality.

Digital to Analogue is, in effect, about an ear-worm which is akin to a virus, propagating via the sampling of a music track, and may be a new life-form.

Everlasting explores a ramification of the many worlds theory. Moira drives hurriedly through the snow to Ian’s house as he had talked on the phone about not killing himself. There he expounds his notion that in every dangerous branching of the worlds there will always be one where there is an unlikely survival and that he is therefore effectively immortal. Then he produces a revolver with one round in it. The twist in this tale is not hard to foresee but is arguably inevitable in any case.

Zima Blue is a story about memory and belonging, the tale of a universe-renowned artist called Zima, body adapted to endure the most extreme environments – interstellar vacuum, the pressures of gas giants etc – famous for the increasing vastness of his works (to the scale of moons,) and the particular blue colour he always employs. He gives his final interview to the Carrie Clay of The Real Story earlier in this book and produces his final, very much scaled down, artwork.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; “That’s doesn’t mean” (That doesn’t,) “that begin in a different times and places” (in different times,) “none of the stories … are” (none … is.) Otherwise; “none of my expectations were actually contradicted” (none … was,) epicentre (centre,) overlaying (overlying,) “the atmospheric gases became steadily more fluidic” (gases are already fluids; they flow. I think Reynolds meant ‘steadily more like liquid’,) “to condense the air into its fluid state” (ditto; liquid state,) “glimpsed_moving”, “added_some”. “Slammed_Tyrant”. “The_closer”, (I have no idea what those underslashes are for, and another appeared in a later story) “‘with the things I’ve showed you’” (shown,) “letters in Lecyth us A marched in stentorian ranks across the high vertical face” (how ranks of alphabetical symbols can be loud is something of a puzzle.) “The music reached its crescendo now.” (No. The crescendo is the rise, not its climax,) “where gouged by” (were gouged by,) “had opened a rosewood box and showed them to him” (shown,) “like kneeling orisons” (I didn’t know invocations/acts of supplication to a deity could kneel,) “I understood the math” (Oh, please. It’s ‘the maths’,) “‘as it conveniences us’” (no need for the ‘it’,) one story’s afterword has no indents at a new paragraph. “The moment reached a kond of crecscendo” (No. It reached a kind of climax,) smidgeon (smidgin, or, smidgen, but in any case, the word has no ‘o’ in its spelling,) “for old time’s sake” (times’,) “finding that the scene was established in Newcastle made up for the wrench” (‘the scene that was established’ makes sense of this,) a new paragraph that is not indented, “than any prescience on my behalf” (on my part,) Sacks’ (Sacks’s.)

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