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SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (vi)

(This week’s entry for Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.)

Again these are small-size (original size) SF paperbacks. Again they are housed in the garage and again are double-parked.

It was difficult to get back far enough to fit these all into the photo.

They start at Stanisław Lem and finish at Connie Willis. There’s a whole shelf of Robert Silverberg in here. Other notables: George R R Martin, Ian McDonald, Larry Niven, Christopher Priest, Tim Powers, Kim Stanley Robinson, Bob Shaw, Cordwainer Smith, James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon,) Harry Turtledove and Ian Watson.

Science FIction Books

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (iv)

The remainder of my larger SF paperbacks. These are on the lower shelves of the old music cupboard. Looking at these photos two of the books seem to have wriggled away from alphabetical order. (I’ve fixed that now.)

Stanisław Lem, Ken Macleod, Cixin Liu, Graham Dunstan Martin, Ian McDonald:-

Large Paperback Science Fiction

China Miéville, a Tim Powers, Christopher Priest:-

SF Large Paperback Books

Alastair Reynolds, Robert Silverberg, Norman Spinrad:-

Science Fiction Large Paperbacks

Lavie Tidhar, Kurt Vonnegut, Gene Wolfe, Ian Watson, Roger Zelazny, (well half of one is):-

SF Books, Large Paperbacks

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (ii)

Large SF paperbacks this week for Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.

I keep these in an old music cupboard I inherited from my great-uncle. I’ve got so many of these they have to be double-parked, so you can’t actually see the first and third shelves shown here when the cupboard is opened. Stacking some on their sides gives me an extra 4 cm of space. Click on the photos to enlarge the pictures.

These include a J G Ballard, Iain M Banks, Chris Beckett, Eric Brown, Ursula Le Guin and Ian McDonald:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (i)

Annoyingly, even these large paperbacks do not all come in one size. The upright ones to the right here are smaller than the previous books. More McDonald, Tim Powers, Kim Stanley Robertson, Adam Roberts, Hannu Rajaniemi, a lesser Robert Silverberg, Kurt Vonnegut:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (ii)

More Ballard, Banks, Beckett and Brown. Lavie Tidhar, Neil Williamson and another step down in size:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (iii)

John Crowley, M John Harrison, Dave Hutchinson, Stanisław Lem:-

Large Science Fiction Paperbacks (iv)

Paris Adrift by E J Swift

Solaris, 2018, 379 p. Reviewed for Interzone 274, Mar-Apr 2018.

Paris Adrift cover

Time travel is one of Science Fiction’s most venerable tropes but in more recent times has taken something of a back seat to other aspects of the genre. In Paris Adrift, E J Swift has adopted an oblique approach to the topic, gaily skipping over any problems with the ethics of non-intervention and avoidance of the grandfather paradox. She does not make anything of, still less explain, the mechanics of the process (which arguably puts us in fantasy territory,) it is simply an integral part of the story she has to tell.

Hallie, an English geology student estranged from her family, is on a gap year in Paris trying to sort her life out. She takes a waiting job at Millie’s, a bar near the Moulin Rouge. Millie’s is a nexus for the strange. Fellow employee Gabriela finds she is always somehow prevented from leaving Paris while Hallie has odd encounters with birds that talk to her, an apparent doppelganger, and customers, while also experiencing odd sensations both in the keg room and in Paris’s catacombs. She still finds space for a relationship with fellow waiter Léon, and Swift charts superbly the overwhelming intensity of a burgeoning love affair.

The narration is almost exclusively from Hallie’s viewpoint, in that pressing present tense which can seem like a default in so much modern SF. Occasional mentions of geological terms underline Hallie’s background.

The incursions of the weird might perhaps have been more unexpected had we not already read a prologue chapter introducing us to the chronometrist, a person seemingly able to take control of other’s bodies at will but whose essence is fading, and to the concept of anomalies and their incumbents. Hallie soon finds out the keg room is a time portal and her future has been mapped out by the Way of Janus.

Her first experience of timefaring takes her to 1875 where she seems to adapt to her new situation remarkably quickly and is befriended by the Millie who will one day found the bar. She also meets the architect designing the Sacré-Coeur. Partly due to Hallie’s interference that building will no longer be erected. In its stead will arise the Moulin Vert which becomes a significant location in the rest of the book (plus inspiration for a political movement) and technically makes the novel an alternative history. However, other aspects of our modern world and its history are unaffected, there are mentions of Whatsapp, plus the Bataclan, Stade de France and Nice attacks.

The anomaly’s next flare sends Hallie to 1942 and a suitably claustrophobic encounter with would-be cellist Rachel Clouarte. Hallie dodges German soldiers and the curfew to reunite Cluarte with her cello and aid her escape in order to ensure her career in music will prevail, so that she will not marry and produce (eventually) the descendant who will contribute to a catastrophic war in the future. This 1942 Paris is lightly affected by the occupation, street life continuing gaily as normal, though of course the deportations from which Clouarte is to be saved proceed apace. I did wonder why Hallie’s intervention in the Clouarte family tree had to be quite so early but of course it does give Swift the opportunity to depict Paris in wartime and up the danger quotient.

Another flare takes Hallie to 2042 and a terribly plausible fascist Paris (complete with Metro station called LePen) and the seeds of the situation which the Way of Janus seeks to avert. Other timefaring trips are mentioned but not gone into in detail.

The 1942 and 2042 excursions lend the novel aspects of a thriller yet there are other scenes which bring to mind Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus and the work of Tim Powers. Throughout, Swift’s portrayal of her characters is assured. These are people we can believe in even if one of them is prey to the logical fallacy that because the Earth is remarkably suited to humans it is a sign of something miraculous rather than the unfolding of impersonal forces which merely allowed us to arise.

Paris Adrift deals with the heavy theme of totalitarianism and the threat of the far right but never loses sight of the smaller people who live through interesting times. While Léon and Hallie are pivotal to the resolution of the plot (and History itself) its emotional focus, though sometimes sidelined, is on their relationship.

Like a lot of SF this suggests life is hard and pain impossible to avoid but unlike most recent SF it proffers hope along with the sacrifice. Never mind it being good SF/Fantasy, this is a good novel.

The following did not appear in the published review.
Pedant’s corner:- “the night team begin to trickle in” (the night team begins to trickle in,) “the group want shots” (wants,) “a stream of people flow inside,” (a stream flows,) “the confines of the locker room lends an air” (the confines lend an air,) “a travelling company were performing” (a company was performing,) “the shape of the walls change, become smooth and rounded” (the shape changes, becomes smooth,) “Her age and appearance has altered once again” (have altered,) “the floor team are doing the rounds” (the team is doing the rounds.) “None of these people have an anomaly. None are bound to this place” (none has, none is.) “Only a small proportion of the catacombs are maintained for visitors.” (Only a small proportion is maintained,) “as the assault team go through their final checks” (as the team goes through its final checks.) Yet despite all these examples of such failures of agreement of subject and verb Swift obviously knows what’s what as we had the correct “a rickety set of steps leads up to”,) “till I am stood right next to him” (it wasn’t a passive activity, so standing”,) “sat on the gravestones” (sitting,) gotten (in a narrative otherwise so British in tone this USianism jars,) “since she bid me farewell” (bade me farewell,) “preempting the touch that will follow” (the context implied savouring rather than pre-empting,) Dušanka calls Hallie “‘my petit chou.’” She responds, “‘And I’m not a pastry.’” (That response would be to “my petit choux” – chou is a cabbage and “petit chou” a term of endearment. Hallie’s French isn’t supposed to be good but surely she would not confuse the two?) “is sat” (is sitting,) “another woman is stood at the window” (is standing,) dove (USian; the British past tense of dive is dived,) “sat sipping” (sitting sipping,) “glasses pile up on either side” (context implies both sides,) inside of (USian, it’s just inside, no “of”,) descendent (descendant,) focusses (focuses,) syllabi (I prefer syllabuses, though I concede syllabi is a correct Latin plural,) “you’ll be never be happy” (that first “be” is redundant, “‘How can I do that.’” (That is a question so requires a question mark, not a full stop.)

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

Corvus, 2012, 521 p.

 Hide Me Among the Graves cover

Powers has form with poetry and poets, especially those of the nineteenth century. In The Anubis Gates he even, in the form of William Ashbless, deployed one of his own (and that of James Blaylock) invention. Fantastic Fiction even lists some of “Ashbless”’s works.

Here Powers concentrates on the Rossetti family, Christina and her brother Dante Gabriel, but Algernon Swinburne also features as a character as does Edward Trelawny.

In Hide me Among the Graves sublime poetry is an expression of a kind of demonic possession by (or more accurately a close association to) the Nephilim, a semi-vampiric type of creature. The affliction is partly hereditary but can be transmitted by biting. Two of these creatures (one is Byron’s friend John Polidori, the Rosettis’ maternal uncle, the other embodies the spirit of Boudicca – though the characters of course call her Boadicea) are the background drivers of the plot. Uniting their two strands in one body by the union of the two bloodlines will awaken such power that Boadicea will again be able (as she did in Roman times) to destroy London in an earthquake. Byron, Shelley and Keats are said to have shared the nephilitic tendency, Tennyson and Ashbless not. The loved ones, especially the children, of those close to the Nephilim are in danger of death, or – worse – a lingering half life as a diminished ghost. The prologue involves the awakening of the spirit of Polidori, by Christina rubbing her blood into a small statue belonging to her father. (There it is, blood again.)

The lesser known (ie totally fictional) protagonists of the book are Adelaide McKee and John Crawford who unknown to each other (at first) are host to the relevant spirits. When they are passing by chance on a London bridge at night they are attacked by an avatar of Boadicea. Only Crawford’s quick thinking in hurling them both into the water saves them. (For some reason both salt water and almost drowning repel the vampires, exposure to the open air increases the danger.) The same night though they conceive a child. Since McKee had earlier been trapped into prostitution they do not meet again for seven years, by which time McKee thinks Johanna, their daughter, may be dead. She is not, but has fallen into the clutches of Polidori and they and she spend the rest of the book trying to evade a forced union of Johanna with one of Boadicea’s creatures.

Powers is good with characters. McKee, Crawford and Johanna are very well drawn and their story is much the most compelling in the book. I was less taken with the doings of the Rosettis though. This is perhaps due to my distaste for the incorporation (it might as well be traducing) of real people in such a distortion of history. It is only the fantastical elements which disturb me here, however; I have no quarrel with the practice in a straightforward altered history. In this context, in Hide me Among the Graves, Powers purports to give us the real reason why Gabriel’s wife Lizzie Siddal’s grave was exhumed.

While Powers does write like a dream bits of this are ridiculous. Like vampires, the Nephilim – or their agents – can be deflected by garlic, killed by silver bullets, and their reflections trapped by mirrors. (I know it’s a staple of vampire stories but …. garlic? Really?) It is a measure of Powers’s facility that despite my reservations I continued reading. He can certainly spin a yarn and people it with apparently living, breathing characters. The book is too long though. I could quite happily have stopped reading at the end of Part One and still felt satisfied; but there was still over half the book to go.

Pedant’s corner:- remarkably few instances for a book this long. And the copy I read was an ARC (or proof as they used to be known.) It shows it can be done.
Nevertheless we still had “to lay low” (lie – but it was in direct speech,) missing opening quote marks when direct speech started a chapter, “had strode” (stridden, surely?) “‘the effect requires parents from two continents’” (Powers’s geography is off here. A Roman, no matter how consecrated to an Alpine Goddess, who raped one of Boadicea’s daughters – similarly consecrated to the old British Goddess known as Andraste, Magna Mater or Gogmagog – was not from a different continent to that of his victim.) An electric doorbell (in 1869?) Octopi (the plural is octopodes or octopuses,) “in front of one in the long row of houses” (it does make sense but “one of the long row of houses” is a more natural construction.)

Three Days to Never by Tim Powers

Corvus, 2013, 430 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.*

 Three Days to Never cover

This is a surreal tale. A modern urban fantasy/SF crossover (well, 1987; though someone has travelled back in time from 2006) featuring multiple cultural references – both high and low brow – agents of the Israeli Secret Service (one of whom has premonitions,) a group of Egyptian Occultists, the afore-mentioned time travel, a mummified head that is somehow still alive and is kept in a box, ghosts, an astral plane, a blind woman who can see only through the eyes of those close by, a father and daughter connected by a psychic link, and a lost Charlie Chaplin film.

The time machine itself – a contraption which requires you to stand on a gold swastika shape plus place your hands into the prints of Charlie Chaplin’s lost square from Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre in order for it to work – has been kept in their back yard in what the Marrity family call the Kaleidsocope Shed. Importantly, Frank Marrity and his daughter Daphne are descended from Einstein through Frank’s grandmother Lisa (originally Lieserl.) The plot kicks off when she uses the maschinschen to travel sideways in time and this alerts the groups searching for it.

So far, so ordinary. That Powers manages to allow us to make sense of all of it is a sign of the command he has over his material.

*The library had this labelled as a thriller. While it certainly has thriller elements I doubt those who don’t have some familiarity with fantasy or SF will find it a straightforward read. For aficionados it’s good stuff though.

Pedant’s corner:- When paragraphs begin with a piece of dialogue the start quote mark is omitted, one instance of Kaleidosope for Kaleidoscope, sayi (saying?) supercedes (supersedes,) hiterto (hitherto,) intefere (interfere,) a Dahpne for Daphne, “whistling in the wind wing” (????) worse comes to worse, was was (one was would suffice.)

Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers

Orbit, 1998. 565 p

Tim Powers has written several books I have enjoyed, most notably The Anubis Gates and The Drawing Of The Dark. His On Stranger Tides was also a good read as I recall. His work is usually a blend of fantasy and horror. Like most of his œuvre Earthquake Weather leans more to fantasy. I picked it up in a bookshop sometime during the past year. I didn’t realise it was part of a series including Last Call and Expiration Date – which I have read but which didn’t leave so much of an impression on me – until I looked here. I must have missed it at the time.

Fantasies in a modern setting are relatively unusual – a lot tend to inhabit cod mediæval worlds – so Powers is to be commended on eschewing that default.

In Earthquake Weather, the Fisher King of the whole American West, Steven Crane, is dead but his body is not decomposing. His putative successor, recognisable by a wound that bleeds continuously, is a young boy named Koot Hoomie Parganas who occasionally likes to say, “Call me Fishmeal.”

Sid Cochran, a psychiatric patient, along with a woman named Janis Plumtree who hosts multiple personalities (including among others Cody, Flibbertigibet, Valorie, Tiffany, Omar Salvoy, changes between whom are accompanied by electromagnetic disturbances – lights flickering and such) – escape hospital and seek out Parganas and his companions, with whose help they attempt to kindle Crane’s ghost personality back into his body. Plumtree’s Omar Salvoy incarnation was the person who killed Crane (with a spear point.) It is partly guilt because of this, but also to protect Koot, that the other personalities wish to resurrect Crane. However, when Salvoy is in possession of the mutual body, he collaborates with the novel’s bad guys.

It sounds daft, doesn’t it? And it is. This is a universe where ghosts hang about ‘phone booths, can speak to the living on the telephone or jump into people’s heads at moments of trauma and where trucks can start themselves (and even drive themselves) but the action is set in a USA recognisable as our own in the late twentieth century. Yet Powers’s matter of fact prose and descriptive (ahem) powers render the scenario entirely reasonable when reading it. For good measure, as a centuries old wine is a key plot device, there’s a short ongoing history of viticulture injected into the story every so often. Plus the wine god Dionysus gets frequent mention as a background presence. Also crucial to the plot is a palindromic poem. In Latin.

Amid all this – a symptom of Earthquake Weather‘s complexity – the datum that the ghost of Thomas Alva Edison once inhabited Koot’s personality is a mere throwaway. Other writers would have milked this dry.

The book is not short of incident, then. The climactic scenes, though, as well as containing a flurry of split infinitives, show a drop in the overall quality of the writing, perhaps a sign that Powers was rushing to his finish.

One other thing. I’ve noticed that blood – spilling it, using it for spells, even drinking it – seems to be very important to the writers of fantasies such as this. An unhealthy obsession, methinks.

I did spot a flourescent – it’s fluo, people; flew-oh, not flew – and a paremedics*. Inevitable, I suppose, in a book so long.

To those unfamiliar with Powers’s work I’d recommend The Anubis Gates as a better starting point than Earthquake Weather, whose peculiar title seems to derive from Dionysus’s involvement with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

*I like the idea of paremedic as a word. I can imagine such people existing in uninformed medical times. They would obviously either flense or flay their patients to effect their cures. It’s only a small step beyond bleeding after all. Let’s see them in your mediæval fantasies, boys and girls.

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