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Ian Sales’s 2010s

The last of Ian’s lists in response to the BBC’s one. He’s appended the whole 100 at the end of his final post.

I’ve read six of these but can’t remember if I read D C Compton’s Synthajoy back in the day.

Women of Wonder is on my tbr pile.

81 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence (1928, UK)
82 Seven Miles Down, Jacques Piccard & Robert S Dietz (1961, USA)
83 Synthajoy, DG Compton (1968, UK)
84 China Mountain Zhang, Maureen F McHugh (1992, USA)
85 Correspondence, Sue Thomas (1991, UK)
86 Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (2013, USA)
86 God’s War, Kameron Hurley (2011, USA)
88 Evening’s Empire, David Herter (2002, USA)
89 Spomeniks, Jan Kempenaers (2010, Belgium)
90 The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers (1946, USA)
91 Leviathan Wakes, James A Corey (2011, USA)
92 Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, Malcolm Lowry (1961, Canada)
93 Girl Reading, Katie Ward (2011, UK)
94 The Wall Around Eden, Joan Slonczewski (1989, USA)
95 Women of Wonder, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1974, USA)
96 HHhH, Laurent Binet (2012, France)
97 The End of Days, Jenny Erpenbeck (2012, Germany)
98 Nocilla Dream, Agustín Fernández Mallo (2006, Spain)
99 Party Going, Henry Green (1939, UK)
100 The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (1931, USA)

Two More For Interzone

 Re-Coil cover
 Sixteenth Watch cover

My tbr pile just increased by two.

Re-Coil by J T Nicholas and Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole both arrived (courtesy of Interzone) this morning.

Both authors are new to me. Re-Coil is Nicholas’s fourth novel.

Cole is apparently best known for writing Fantasy but Sixteenth Watch is SF. Looking him up today on the internet I note that he has made an apology for sexual harassment in his past.

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.

The Children Star by Joan Slonczewski

Tor, 1999, 347 p.

The Children Star cover

This is another of the author’s tales of the Fold, an interstellar polity which we have met before in A Door Into Ocean and Daughter of Elysium.

Here, a prion plague known as the creeping is devastationg the human population of the planet L’li. A L’iite child called ’jum G’hana is rescued by Brother Rhodonite and taken to Prokaryon, a planet where the living things all contain ring-shaped structures in their body plans and chromosomes. Zoöids are animal-like, phycoöids resemble plants, phycozoöids display plant and animal traits, while the microzoöids are microbes. The planet is also rich in arsenic. Humans need to be life-shaped to survive there, a process which works better the younger you are. Adults have almost insuperable difficulties in being adapted. ’jum G’hana is on the cusp. She does, however, have a facility for numbers, especially primes which she calls ‘orphans.’ Sarai, a Sharer lifeshaper working on Prokaryon, connects the tale more directly to Slonzcewski’s previous novels of the fold, which were both set on the Sharer’s home planet of Elysium. Sarai’s adoption of ’jum G’hana as a co-worker has ramifications later in the book in whose initial stages the narrative flow is cramped somewhat by the intrusiveness of the author’s information dumping.

While there is a diversion into interstellar politics Slonzcewski’s interest in The Children Star is on the biology of Prokaryon. Tumblerounds have a triplex DNA and reproduce by splitting three ways down the middle. Microzoöids contain a brain’s worth of data in a single cell and are capable of ‘infecting’ humans. This is the main engine of the plot and an explicit threat to Prokaryon. The Fold’s authority debates whether or not to destroy Prokaryon’s indigenous life-forms (by a process known as boiling.) That at least some of these turn out to be intelligent would be their saving.

It’s all readable enough – and more so than Daughter of Elysium. To have such a focus on biology at the microscopic level is an unusual trope in SF, but Slonzcewski is herself a biologist so that isn’t too surprising. The characters tend a bit to the stereotypical, however.

Pedant’s corner:- Sari (elsewhere Sarai,) clear (used as equivalent to colourless. Clear does not mean this, it means transparent. Objects can be both clear and coloured.) “Rod would never has asked” (never have asked.) “Patella came because is a Spirit Caller,” (because he’s a.) “Khral’s voices was softened” (Khral’s voice was softened,) ’jum Ghana (elsewhere always ’jum G’hana,) “or she would not have designed to come” (deigned to come makes more sense,) “he picked her up and folded her in her arms” (in his arms,) kidnaped (kidnapped,) “ten thousand-odd items priorities by her nanoservos” (prioritised makes more sense,) “only a few last long enough to secret toxins” (to secrete toxins,) odiferous (usually spelled odoriferous,) “others such correlations” (other such correlations.) “There … were a group of tumblerounds” (there … was a group.) “And what would the Fold do when they found out?” (And what would the Fold do when it found out?,) “all-to-familiar” (all-too-familiar,) “knew them better, perhaps, even then they knew themselves” (even than they knew themselves,) descendent (descendant.) In the Appendix (a description of the life-forms of Prokaryon): “Rotate as they swims through the water.” (Rotate as they swim through.)

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.)

Mexica by Norman Spinrad

Abacus, 2006, 510 p.

Mexica cover

Spinrad is no stranger to readers of Science Fiction, coming to prominence around the time of the New Wave with works such as Bug Jack Barron and The Iron Dream (an Altered History SF novel whose author was supposedly Adolf Hitler.) In the early part of this century, though, he took a turn into historical fiction with The Druid King, about Julius Caesar’s adversary Vercingetorix the Gaul. Mexica is his take on conquistador Hernán Cortés (in the text always referred to as Hernando Cortes) one of History’s supreme adventurers – or villains, depending on your viewpoint.

Our narrator is Cortés’s companion, and unwilling advisor, Avram ibn Ezra (an Arabised form of the Jewish Ben Ezra,) who was baptised Alvaro Escribiente de Granada since being a Jew in the newly united Christian Spain under the scrutiny of the Inquisition was not a healthy prospect. This choice allows the narrative to distance itself both from the brutal Christianity of the Spanish invaders and from the sanguinary religious practices of the indigenous Mexica and their vassals. (Only once or twice is the word Aztec mentioned. This apparently was an insulting term deriving from the bumpkinish highlands down from which the Mexica came to replace their predecessors, the Toltecs, whom the Mexica still revered, after that earlier people had vanished into the east.)

It is arguably a necessary choice, as religion mattered. For how else can a few hundred men bring down a mighty empire? In this telling the Mexica – or at least their emperor Montezuma – were undone by their beliefs. The Toltec god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, was prophesied to come back from the east with a light skin whereupon the fifth world (that of the Mexica) would end and the sixth begin. On hearing of the arrival of the Spaniards Montezuma awaits a sign from his god of war, Huitzilopochtli, as to their true nature, and receives none. A native woman, Malinal (known to present day Mexicans as Malinche but here dubbed Marina by the Spaniards as it’s easier for them to pronounce,) a princess of one the Mexica’s vassal states, sold into slavery when they were defeated, takes up with Cortés and, aided by Alvaro, becomes his translator. She it is who nudges Cortés (despite his own religious qualms) into affecting the appearance, and, in native eyes, substance, of Quetzalcoatl. The prospect of not having to pay blood tribute to the Mexica in the form of the hearts of their young men also leans on the Mexican vassals whom Cortés enlists as allies, vassals all but mystified at the thought of a god who gives his flesh and blood to be eaten by his worshippers rather than requiring their own of his believers.

It was still a very long shot, emphasised when after a couple of military victories against allies of the Mexica on the journey to the central high plateau, Alvaro briefly views through the clouds the magnificence of the Mexica capital Tenochtitlan, from the mountain pass above. The city was built on a series of lakes and joined to the surrounding land by four causeways. An impregnable fortress it would seem.

Later, after falling in love with the place, Alvaro wonders, “How could the civilization that had built Tenochtitlan rip out human hearts on such a bloody altar?” but also, “How could the civilization of the Prince of Peace who commanded men to love their neighbours as themselves burn human beings at the stake in his name? How could those who worshipped an Allah who was styled the Beneficent and Merciful behead the infidels who would not bow down to him?”

Whle the central figure here is always Cortés, the most sympathetic and tragic is Montezuma, who is entrapped and imprisoned by Cortés and thus in conversations with Alvaro vouchsafes to the reader his philosophy. Here is a man who, in trying to do the best by his gods as he sees them, loses not only his empire, his people and his city, but also his life. That those gods were horrific taskmasters and not worthy of any such soul-searching or devotion does not diminish this. Religious beliefs make people do strange and bewildering things. From his religious perspective Alvaro sees, “This is the crime for which I have no name. Having conquered their lands, now we were conquering their spirit.”

Mostly a self-serving – not to mention greedy – hypocrite and casuist there are contradictions too in Cortés’s behaviour, illustrated when he gives full military honours to the dead Montezuma and Alvaro tells us, “There were so many reasons for me to hate Hernando Cortes…. But … there were moments …., when no matter how I tried, I found it impossible not to love the bastard.”

Before the story gathers momentum with the landing in Central America the reflective nature of Alvaro’s account can be a little tedious. The text is liberally larded with the word ‘thereof’ and vocative asides to “dear reader”, a tendency which drops out when the action sets in only to reappear many pages later. ‘Alvaro’’s intent in setting this down is to expose and expiate his guilt at the part he played in the downfall of the Mexica and the beautiful city they constructed. But in the end he rationalises that, “..it could not have been prevented. Even if Columbus had never set sail it could not have been prevented, for Europe had the ships, and sooner or later someone would have discovered this New World.” The fulfilment of Montezuma’s omen was inevitable. “For this new world held treasure and unbounded virgin land unknown in the tired old one, and Europe had the greed to covet and the means to sieze it.” The greatest devastator of the Mexica though, would be what Alvaro names as the small pox, a weapon more deadly to the natives than either cannon or arquebus. The Mexica live on, however, in the adaptation of their name to that of the modern day country sitting on their lands, a process which had begun even in Cortés’s time.

Alvaro’s profoundest thoughts are however inspired by the much older civilisation that built the huge pyramids at Teotihuacan, whose people were forgotten even by the Mexica. “This was not a New World. This was a world old beyond imagining…. Five worlds come and gone … And now the breaking of the fifth and the coming of the sixth.” He consoles himself with the thought that in the end great events do not matter; civilisations amd conquerors may come and go but, “It is in the small things that life comes closest to eternity.”

Pedant’s corner:- Cortes’ (innumerable instances, Cortes’s,) sprung (sprang,) “to the point where no one dare approach him” (the narrative is in past tense so, ‘no one dared’ – and ‘no one’ ought to be ‘no-one’,) maws (mouths was the intended meaning, not stomachs,) imposter (I prefer impostor,) “but more than not wearing only simple cotton shifts” (more often than not is a more usual construction,) “in a foreign land as Britain might be to a Spaniard” (there was no Britain as a foreign ‘land’ (in a political sense) in the time of Cortes – only the geographical island.)

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.

Ian Sales’s 2000s

Carrying on with Ian Sales’s annotated list of reading which influenced him; this time his 2000s.

Only two for me this time, both SF.

The Forever War, Joe Haldeman (1974)
The Mechanics of Wonder, Gary Westfahl (1998)
The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan (1990)
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (1987)
The Incal, Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius (1980)
Valérian and Laureline 4: Welcome to Alflolol, Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières (1972)
The Levant Trilogy, Olivia Manning (1977 – 1980)
The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature, Robert Irwin (1999)
Ascent, Jed Mercurio (2007)
Moondust, Andrew Smith (2005)
Alanya to Alanya, L Timmel Duchamp (2005)
Poems, John Jarmain (1945)
Postwar Military Aircraft 4: Avro Vulcan, Andrew Brookes (1985)
The Raj Quartet, Paul Scott (1966 – 1975)
The Stainless Steel Rat, Harry Harrison (1961)
First Man: The Life of Neil A Armstrong, James R Hansen (2005)
Carrying the Fire, Michael Collins (1974)
Return to Earth, Buzz Aldrin (1973)

Best of 2019

These are the books that stood out from my reading this year – in order of when I read them. 7 by men, 6 by women. 3 were SF or Fantasy.

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
Hy Brasil by Margaret Elphinstone
Shiloh by Shelby Foote
A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk
The Lantern Bearers by Ronald Frame
Gone Are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
A Pass in the Grampians by Nan Shepherd
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Reading Scotland 2019

This was my Scottish reading (including a Scottish setting) in 2019.

Those in bold were in that list of 100 best Scottish Books.

15 by women, 15 by men, one non-fiction,* two with fantastical elements.

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
A Concussed History of Scotland by Frank Kuppner
Romanno Bridge by Andrew Greig
Winter by Ali Smith
Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
Tunes of Glory by James Kennaway
Hy Brasil by Margaret Elphinstone
Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle
The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark
Independence by Alasdair Gray*
The Lantern Bearers by Ronald Frame
Gone Are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
Children of the Dead End by Patrick MacGill
A Pass in the Grampians by Nan Shepherd
Brond by Frederic Lindsay
The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh
The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams
Its Colours They Are Fine by Alan Spence
Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay
Salem Chapel by Mrs Oliphant
Transcription by Kate Atkinson
Spring by Ali Smith
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner
Jelly Roll by Luke Sutherland
The Citadel by A J Cronin

Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison
Where the Bodies Are Buried by Christopher Brookmyre

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