Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sherri S. Tepper, Grass (1989) SFMW 48

The complex ecology and well-conceptualised social arrangements of Sheri S. Tepper's Grass (1989) invite comparison to Frank Herbert's Dune (1965), with Savannah replacing silica.

However, whilst the hostile habitat of Herbert's work provides a secondary focus to the politico-economic machinations at its heart, Tepper's novel has more of a symbiotic feel to it. The religious totalitarianism of Sanctity and the social order of Bons and Commons may ostensibly serve to provide a hierarchical infrastructure upon Grass and in the celestial interrelations it exists within, but as the novel unfolds it becomes clear that it is the planet's complex ecology that is its primary interest, and the reason for its titular association.

The issue with any world-building novel is once you've started building, a certain sleight-of-hand is required in order to divert the reader from speculating as to what else may lie beyond the authorial gaze. Luckily, the peepers, Hippae, foxen and absent (corporeally, at least) Arbai are diverting enough for us not to be overly troubled by the fact that the planetary ecology we are introduced to is somewhat limited.

The sinister Hippae perplex:
But the Hippae are herbivores," Tony protested still, thinking of his father. "Behemoths. Why would they – " "Who knows what the Hippae do, or are?" offered Brother Mainoa. "They stay far from us, except to watch us. And when they watch us – " "We see contempt," breathed Marjorie so quietly that Tony was not sure he had heard her correctly. "We see malice." "Malice," agreed Brother Mainoa. "Oh, at the very least, malice. (loc. 3378-82)
The esoteric foxen fascinate:
The foxen let it happen. They allowed themselves a comfortable retirement. They let happen what would. Then, when it all went wrong, they chose to discuss it philosophically. When men came here, they learned new ideas of guilt and redemption and talked about that. They engaged in great theological arguments. They sent Brother Mainoa to find out if they could be forgiven. They talked of original sin, collective guilt. They're still doing it. They haven't learned that being penitent sometimes does no good at all. (loc. 6405-8)
Overall, like Father James, the reader is content enough to relax into this substantial and rewarding SF Masterwork and allow the planet at the centre of the tale to envelop them:
Now the Brother reclined against the breast of a foxen, like a child in a shadowy chair, while Father James tried to convince himself yet again that the foxen were real – not dreams, not amorphous visions, not abstractions or delusions. Conviction was difficult when he couldn't really see them. He caught a glimpse of paw, or hand, a glimpse of eye, a shadowed fragment of leg or back. Trying to see the being entire was giving him eye strain and a headache. He turned aside, resolving not to bother. Soon everything would resolve itself, one way or another. (loc. 6975-79)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head Of Cerberus (1972) SFMW 8

Gene Wolfe's 1972 sequence of three linked novellas ('The Fifth Head of Cerberus', '"A Story," by John V. Marsch', and 'V.R.T.') is simultaneously a murder/mystery story, post-colonial allegory, and a cautionary tale concerning cloning and the impact such technologies could have on a theoretical human intergalactic diaspora.

The first and third tales are presented sequentially, although not in temporal succession, and both feature the character Dr. John V. Marsch, an anthropologist supposedly from Earth. The title of the intervening tale suggests that its author is also Dr. Marsch, but its subject matter (the tribulations of a group of aboriginals from the plant Sainte Anne, twin planet to Sainte Croix) offers an adjacent look at the work's thematic interests.

At the core of the mysterious mediations that occur between characters (who may be clones), versions of characters (who may be aboriginals), and their clones (recessing, near-infinitely), lies the hypothesis that Marsch is interrogating, posited by Dr. Aubrey Veil who is, as the reader discovers, a suitably shady individual herself:
“Veil’s Hypothesis supposes the abos to have possessed the ability to mimic mankind perfectly. Veil thought that when the ships came from Earth the abos killed everyone and took their places and the ships, so they’re not dead at all, we are.” (Loc. 385-87)
She believed, though she pretended not to, that the Annese have devoured and replaced homo sapiens—Veil’s Hypothesis, and she is Veil; it has been used for years to discredit other heterodox theories about the original population of Sainte Anne. But who, then, Tante Jeannine, are the Free People? Conservatives who would not desert the old ways? The question is not, as I once thought, how much the thoughts of the Shadow children influence reality; but how much our own do. (Loc. 3282-85)
Despite its relative brevity, the text possesses an exceptional semantic density which invites, but also purposefully challenges, interpretation through its panoply of narrators, indeterminate chronology, and textual filters. 'V.R.T.,' for example, is presented as a series of textual fragments, diary entries, and interrogation reports.

Collectively, these devices can enrich the text's enjoyment for those who take pleasure from such equivocal and enigmatic writing, but equally it could frustrate readers who seek a simple tale, well told. The observation 'Let me see if I can cure my habit of skipping back and forth and give everything of interest in the order in which it occurred' (Loc. 2237-38) broadly describes how Wolfe stands in relation to his text.

To be fair, Wolfe (who's narrative voice is a (G)ene-splice away from that of the narrator 'Number Five') does offer the reader fair warning that The Fifth Head Of Cerberus is going to offer more in the way of spirals of indeterminacy than it will provide in deductively-reasoned facts:
You wish to find what is true, and I’m afraid you’re going to find damned little; I want what is false, and I’ve found plenty. (Loc. 2083)
Among his many other authorial accomplishments, Wolfe is technically commanding, a builder of compelling worlds, and a master-craftsman of plotting. For this reader, The Fifth Head Of Cerberus stands as a high-water mark of speculative fiction, and is a obvious and worthy candidate for inclusion in the SF Masterworks list.
“We wish to discover why we fail, why others rise and change and we remain here.” (Loc. 1007-08)
Note: the second, alternate cover to the numbered (I think) sequence of SF Masterworks only came to my attention when seeking images for this post. I do not own a copy of the alternate cover version, but if anyone who does has any more details that I can add in this regard, please feel free to forward them on, and I will amend this entry accordingly with a credit.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New stuff, and lots of it

As I'm already an unfeasibly long distance away from ever catching up with Orion's publication schedule, I can only celebrate rather than be daunted by the fact that the Fantasy Masterworks series is going to be revived.

The first five titles have now been announced, and I've added them to the sidebar. Unsurprisingly, bearing in mind the changes that have been made to the SF Masterworks series, the revived series will be unnumbered and boasts an attractive new uniform cover design template.

I've also added links and images to the slew of new SF Masterworks titles for which pre-publication details have been released.

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (1968) SFMW 4

“I notice you’ve never had any hesitation as to spending the bounty money I bring home on whatever momentarily attracts your attention.” He rose, strode to the console of his mood organ. “Instead of saving,” he said, “so we could buy a real sheep, to replace that fake electric one upstairs. (Loc. 125-27)

The title of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) certainly seems to invite the interpretation that Ridley Scott doggedly pursued in his 1982 film, Do Androids Dream of Origami Unicorns? No, wait… Blade Runner.

However, to my mind Dick's novel is rather less of a metaphysical mystery of machine consciousness than it is an obsessive-compulsive meditation on the many ways the author's characters conspire to alienate themselves.

Certainly, there is a sense in which the novel invites the reader to see humanity in androids and humanity as automata ("Most androids I’ve known have more vitality and desire to live than my wife", loc. 1251-52) and Dick goes to some lengths to explain the evolution of the various tests that have been developed in order to distinguish automaton from human.

The key point here is the indeterminacy that the act of attempted discrimination provokes and the Voigt-Kampff scale's unreliability in identifying differences between the two subjects, as well as the fact that the means of gradating the likelihood of android identity is perpetually being redefined, the Voigt-Kampff scale being merely the most recent iteration:
A small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale. If you tested them in line with police work, you’d assess them as humanoid robots. You’d be wrong, but by then they’d be dead (loc. 545-46)
Beyond this, however, Dick's characters seem to do a good enough job of keeping themselves at arm's length from their own phenomenological experience. Deckard even comes to envy and fantasise about androids:
He wondered, now, about her, too. Some female androids seemed to him pretty; he had found himself physically attracted by several, and it was an odd sensation, knowing intellectually that they were machines, but emotionally reacting anyhow. (Loc. 1257-59)
The quote with which this review begins illustrates the densely layered emotional estrangement the novel's protagonist, Rick Deckard, has swaddled himself in: the association of the acquisition of money with the potential to acquire the living commodities (the prices of which he compulsively reviews) which, it is inferred, would in some way improve the quality of the lives of himself and his wife; the willing enslavement on a societal level to the influence of the mood organ; the totemic worship of animals in a post-apocalyptic environment that has destroyed many species to the point that the possession of fake animals is considered to be a social pre-requisite, and so on:
Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one. And yet from a social standpoint it had to be done, given the absence of the real article. He had therefore no choice except to continue. (Loc. 238-41)
The tyranny of the object over the subject, one of the mainstays of postmodernist thought, finds a precursor in one of Deckard's author-reported observations:
He thought, too, about his need for a real animal; within him an actual hatred once more manifested itself toward his electric sheep, which he had to tend, had to care about, as if it lived. The tyranny of an object, he thought. It doesn’t know I exist. (Loc. 600-02).
Dick seems both terrified of and fascinated by the commodity-informed nature of urban life, to which he speculatively assigns a self-replicating nature -- when no-one is around to see it happening:
By coming here he had brought the void to them, had ushered in emptiness and the hush of economic death. (Loc. 635-36)
Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more[…] No one can win against kipple,” he said, “except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization. (Loc. 881-83, 892-95).
The dominant religion of the novel's world, Mercerism, sees practitioners linking mentally with other devotees via Empathy Boxes to share the experience of Wilbur Mercer. Dick playfully describes Deckard's assessment of the androids' own aspirations towards a collective spiritual experience which, in the author's typical idiom, reveal a kaleidoscopic number of possible readings as to its symbolic connotations, inside and outside the text:
Roy Baty (the poop sheet informed him) has an aggressive, assertive air of ersatz authority. Given to mystical preoccupations, this android proposed the group escape attempt, underwriting it ideologically with a pretentious fiction as to the sacredness of so-called android “life.” In addition, this android stole, and experimented with, various mind-fusing drugs, claiming when caught that it hoped to promote in androids a group experience similar to that of Mercerism, which it pointed out remains unavailable to androids. (Loc. 2368-72)
In our own pre-technological singularity era, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? can be a tough read; not because it is particularly challenging, structurally, but because of the conclusions it invites. For analogue-educated digital converts of a certain age such as myself, the novel's vision of an entropic future seems much closer now than when one of science fiction's greatest visionaries brooded over the implications more than forty years ago:
Yet, the dark fire waned; the life force oozed out of her, as he had so often witnessed before with other androids. The classic resignation. Mechanical, intellectual acceptance of that which a genuine organism—with two billion years of the pressure to live and evolve hagriding it—could never have reconciled itself to. “I can’t stand the way you androids give up,” he said savagely. (Loc. 2567-70)
Time and tide, he thought. The cycle of life. Ending in this, the last twilight. Before the silence of death. He perceived in this a micro-universe, complete. (Loc. 2377-78)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Colin Greenland, Take Back Plenty (1990)

'I would not shake my credit in telling an improbable truth, however indisputable in itself' (Lawrence Sterne, The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759-67); Vol. 1, Chapter XI (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), p. 53

'Here [Tabitha Jute] was now, years later, in Schiaparelli, heading for a fateful encounter which would completely and utterly change her life, my life, all our lives' (p. 10)

Colin Greenland's British SF Association and Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Take Back Plenty reminded me of Lawrence Sterne's extraordinary magnum opus in a number of ways. The principal similarity resides in the fact that for a considerable stretch of this 482 page novel, nothing really happens.

Tabitha Jute, captain for the Kobold class freighter Alice Liddell, encounters renegade performance troupe-cum-criminal gang Contraband, and accepts a commission to take them to Plenty, and beyond. They're captured, there's a disaster, salvation of a sort for some, and that's about it, really.
Driven from her normal reserve, [Tabitha] talked more to the ship on this trip than she ever had, and not on technical or navigational questions. On this journey through the realm of virtual, her chosen companion was an imaginary one. When people, natural, human, or otherwise, become too much to bear, your best friend may be an artifact (pp. 231-2)
For me, much of the interest in Take Back Plenty lay in the chapters that punctuate the main narrative wherein Tabitha relates anecdotes from her past life to Alice. Providing a flighty contrapuntal theme to the sustained chord of the main work, the interplay between the captain and the ship's artifact proved to be more compelling to me than the narrative itself in a work which is 'digressive[...] and[...] progressive too, at the same time' (Tristram Shandy, op. cit., p. 95).
How gratifying it would be to record that before the Ugly Truth skipped back into normal space our resourceful heroines once again turned the tables on their tormentors, and effected a second cunning escape. Alas, it did not happen; and even I, with all my narrative liberty in time and space, my freedom to conjecture what shadows flit through the inviolable regions of the living mind -- even I am bound by truth. Were I to trifle with the truth in the slightest respect, albeit for our mutual pleasure at watching valour confound villainy, could I then win your trust for any other feature of this astonishing tale? (p. 418)
The conclusion of Take Back Plenty confounds the expectations such passages provoke that the novel is narrated by an omniscient authorial voice. The familiarity this device, beloved of eighteenth century novelists and those who subsequently emulated them, confers is exploded at the end of the work when the identity of the narrator is revealed in a most pleasing manner.

Take Back Plenty is an enjoyable addition to the SF Masterworks library, and is a work to be enjoyed in the page-turning tradition of the Space Opera genre it emulates (and indeed contributes to) rather than meditated over.

Philip K. Dick, Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) SFMW 32

"I'll have a true factory in the old sense, the pre-war sense."
"'The pre-war sense,'" she echoed. "Is that good?" (loc. 3252-54)

Philip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney revisits the author's habitual thematic obsessions of justifiable paranoia and the transmogrification of the illogical into the plausible and externalises, rather than internalises, them.

Written in 1963, but not published until 1965, Dr. Bloodmoney's narrative encapsulates what Frederic Jameson describes as the 'pastiche and schizophrenia' of the cultural forms of late capitalism.  The influence of the closing of Berlin's borders and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty in 1963, and -- entirely appropriately, this being Philip K. Dick -- the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove (which the novel predates in everything other than title) are all contextual influences upon the work, and are echoed within it.

In the novel's historic present of the 1980s, civilisation struggles to reassert itself after having nearly been eradicated as the consequence of a defence-related nuclear accident in 1972 which has led to the destruction of the world's pre-existing infrastructural, political and economic organisation. The titular architect of the disaster, Dr. Bruno Bluthgeld ('blood money') lives on in the work, serving as a sort of totem for the failures of character that allowed the world to produce a means of 'defending' itself that if used would also destroy it.

The fact that humanity now seems set on working towards the reproduction of the forms that led to the moment of catastrophe make the recuperation of a positive reading of this bleakly pessimistic work difficult to construct, as characters yearn to devolve responsibility for their actions and dream of problems being 'automated out of existence' (loc. 3446-48):
Our little fragile world, Bonny thought, that we labored to build up, after the Emergency. This puny society with out tattered school books, our 'deluxe' cigarettes, our wood-burning trucks—it can't stand much punishment; it can't stand this that Bruno is doing or appears to be doing. One blow again directed at us and we will be gone; the brilliant animals will perish, all the new, odd species will disappear as suddenly as they arrived. Too bad, she thought with grief. It's unfair; Terry, the verbose dog—him, too. Maybe we were too ambitious; maybe we shouldn't have dared to try to rebuild and go on.    "I think we did pretty well, she thought, all in all. We've been alive; we've made love and drunk Gill's Five Star, taught our kids in a peculiar-windowed school building, put out News & Views, cranked up a car radio and listened daily to W. Somerset Maugham. What more could be asked of us? Christ, she thought. It isn't fair, this thing now. It isn't right at all. We have our horses to protect, our crops, our lives. . . . (loc. 3232-33)
If Dr. Bloodmoney is pregnant with anything, it is not the fecundity of parturition but rather the despair of not being able to give birth to the new. The foetal Bill is trapped within the body of his internally conjoined twin, Edie; Walt Dangerfield is trapped in orbit around the Earth, neither able to achieve escape velocity, nor return; psychokinetic phocomelus Hoppy Harrington strives to escape a body that holds more potential than any he could adopt.

Philip K. Dick's body of work is one of the cornerstones of the science fiction oeuvre, yet in a sense stands outside it. Dr. Bloodmoney is an archetypal Dick novel; conceptually perplexing, thematically dense, and richly rewarding to read and revisit, it is another excellent entry in the SF Masterworks series.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood (1984)

'Was it possible that the stories could survive that long? Tales of the glaciers, and the new forests, and the advance of human societies northwards across the marshes and the frozen hills?' (Loc. 3581-83)

Winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1984 and World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985, Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood is the first entry in a sequence of works set in an ancient woodland that brings the myths and legends of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norse origin to life, as well as revisiting vignettes of medieval, seventeenth century, and even early twentieth century folk histories.

Returning to Oak Lodge, the family home on the edge of Ryhope Wood, after recuperating in southern France from wounds received towards the end of the Second World War, Stephen Huxley discovers his brother Christopher has become obsessed with breaching into the heart of the ancient forest, a mania that similarly consumed their late father during their childhood.

When Christopher fails to return from one of his lengthy excursions, Stephen sets out to discover more about the woodland realm for himself. An encounter with Guiwenneth, a mythago whom his father also had a fixation with, initiates a sequence of events that sees Christopher setting off into the forest himself in the company of Harry Keeton, a former RAF airman whose facial disfigurement was inflicted by things mystical rather than martial.

The Huxleys speculate that the mythagos are brought into being as a consequence of Ryhope Wood being within a 'ley matrix' (Loc. 555-56) that provides a 'creative field that can interact with the unconscious'. It is within the unconscious, the Huxleys propose, that mankind carries 'pre-mythagos', images 'of the idealized form of myth creature[s],' remaining 'in our collective unconscious', and 'transmitted through the generations.’ (Loc. 581-90)

The Huxleys own familial relations are interpolated within rather standing outside of the mythagos both pursue, and come to embody. Christopher records how 'the Urscumug opened its mouth to roar, and my father seemed to leer at me' ; The last I saw of my father’s mythago was its towering black form, swaying slightly as it stared into the distance, its nostrils quivering, its breathing a quiet, calm, contemplative sound. Loc. 836-7, 3775-78). It is with more of a sense of acceptance than despair that Christopher acknowledges his own transition into the mythago realm: 'I had become a part of legend myself. Christian and his brother, the Outlander and his Kin, working through roles laid down by myth, perhaps from the beginnings of time' (Loc. 3831-33).

In Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock crafts an hypnotically plausible liminal reality that conjoins the richness of Northern myth and folklore with the tangible sense of historic events that the age and silence of ancient woodlands are still capable of evoking in those that walk them. An excellent entry in the SF Gateway library, and one that is bound to whet the reader's appetite to journey on to Lavondyss.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker (1980)

On one level, Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker is a straightfoward, linearly-plotted tale of a young adult's experiences in a post-apocalyptic British east coast landscape subsequent to the death of his father in a work-related accident.

However, such an unadorned description does little justice to the complex, richly allusive nature of this extraordinary, peregrinating, puzzling work.

Every 1 knows about Bad Time and what come after. Bad Time 1st and bad times after. Not many come thru it a live. (p. 2)

Christian fabulation, folklore, mythology, technology, atomic theory, and popular culture intersect in Riddley Walker in complex ways which invite multiple, parallel readings of their significance.

Thematic points of origin in the text between 'the 1 Big 1 or the Spirit of God of the Littl Shyning Man or what ever' (p. 150) are indistinguishable. History and language have become muddied and muddled in the work, which is presented in the first person in phonetically-inflected language by a titular narrator through whom meaning is iterated, but also impeded:
You know some times you get a fealing you dont want to put no words to. (p. 54)
The frequently encountered (and fully documented) 'Eusa Story' is simultaneously a retelling of the tale of St. Eustance, and a referent to the USA -- presumably one of the participants in the cataclysmic atomic event (the '1 Big 1') that led to the destruction of the previous civilization from which the world of Riddley Walker emerged -- as well as a computer 'user', as fragments of the language we encounter suggest.

The' Little Shyining Man the Addom' refers to both a Christ (and perhaps also Adamic) analogue, and the splitting of the atom. The Eusa Show, enacted with puppets modelled on traditional Punch & Judy entertainments, represents aspects of the puppet show from which it has been derived but also introduces novel elements which serve as a gloss, or perhaps a satire on, or possibly even a theatrical requiem to, the lost knowledge of the past:
Eusa says, 'I dont know what Ive los I aint very qwick.' The Littl Shyning Man says, 'Wel Eusa you bes qwicken up fas then becaws there gone Good Time and here comes Trubba.'
Eusa says, 'It looks like you see Trubba all ready you aint even in 1 peace.'
The Littl Man says, 'Eusa dont you know who done thise to me dont you onow who toar me in 2? Dont you know who opent me like a chicken time back way back in the wood in the hart of the stoan?'
Eusa says, 'How cud I know that?'
The Littl Man say, 'Becaws youre the 1 as done it.'
Eusa says, 'I dint know that Ive los it clean out of memberment.' (pp. 49-50).
The prehistory of Riddley Walker is a conundrum, despite the fictive future of the work being dated with some specificity:
There's a stoan in the Power Ring stannings has the number 1997 cut in to it nor we aint  never seen no year number farther on nor that. After Bad Time dint no 1 write down no year count for a long time we dont know how long til the Mincery begun agen. Since we startit counting its come to 2347 OC  which means Our Count.'
I said, 'Dyou mean to tel me them befor us by the time they done 1997 years they had boats in the air and all them things and here we are weve done 2347 years and mor and stil slogging in the mud?' (pp. 100, 124)
Relatively early in Riddley Walker, before aspects of the novel's back story are introduced towards the end of the work, the reader is invited either to conclude that magical realist elements feature in the novel's universe, or that genetic adaptation or mutation has taken place across not only humanity, but other species:
The dogs begun running round me all in a circel roun and roun with ther littl heads up hy and ther hy sholders up. They begun running on ther hynt legs. The sky wer black the stoans gon wite the dogs gone all diffrent shyining colours and the wite stoans shyning thru them. I tryd to hol it like that but I los it wernt man a nuff right then. (p. 157)
The 'fits' that Riddley has become a focus for this theme, leaving the reader to ponder whether the titular protagonist has epilepsy, or is perhaps manifesting some sort of evolutionary effect precipitated over thousands of years by his progenitors' exposure to radiation:
I had like a mynd flash of colourt lites with clicking and bleaping it wernt like nothing I ever acturely seen nor heard only in dreams. I cud like feal the woal circel of the dead towns in me and see a line of grean lite sweaping round that circel from the senter. (p. 89)
A sense emerges during the course of the work of the possibility of the existence of a genetic-level code trigger or gene mutation: I wer programmit diffrent then from how I ben when I come in to Cambry. Coming in to Cambry my hed ben ful or words and rimes and all kynds of jumbl of yellerboy stoan thots (p. 163)

Technologies have clearly informed the language and thinking of the society from which the communities of Riddley Walker have evolved:
Like it says in Eusa 5: 'Evere thing blippin & bleapin & movin in the shiftin uv thay Nos. Sum tyms bytin sum tyms bit.' (p.101)
This is an historic figure of speech suggesting 'we made ready and got underway' rather than suggesting that there are live terminals.
We pult datter and we printowt we wer roading Goodparleys show (p. 202)
Green Man myths and subsequent discoveries could be as prosaic as the discovery of the remains of a garden supply centre, but they also have a symbolic value as a signifier of rebirth and regrowth:
I had a idear of what it wer going to be when I unrapt it. I were right. It wer Greanvine. Carvit out of wood and paintit it wer may be 1/2 as big as a real face. The back of it flat and the front of it ful roundit it wer that same and very face I seen in my mynd. Them wide open grean eyes staring up at me wylst the vines and leaves growit out of his mouf (p. 165)
Granser recreates the 1 Littl 1 -- gunpowder -- using  'yellerboy stoan [sulphur] and Saul & Peter [potassium nitrate, or saltpetre] and chard coal [charcoal]' (p. 185):
He wer pounding the yellerboy stoan to a fine powder. Then he done the same with some chard coal. Done it with a boal and pounder. He had the Saul & Peter all ready that wer kirstels like salt. He took little measurs and measuring out yellerboy and chard coal and Saul & Peter. Mixing them all to gether then and me watching. It wer like the 1st time I seen a woman open for mee and I wer thinking: This is what its all about then (p. 189)
Orfing reveals that the technology humanity was in possession of prior to the apocalyptic nuclear event is still extant as colonists had already passed beyond our galaxy. This passage also suggests that the trances Riddley has experienced and the 'telling' that takes place elsewhere in the work are genetic  echoes of post-Singularity bioengineering which connected humanity together; the receptors remain, but with the collapse of the technologies that enabled them, the facilitating data is no longer being generated:
To have them boats in the air which they callit them space craf and them picters on the wind which that wer viddyo and going out beyont the sarvering gallack seas. Not jus singing it you know. Acturely going it acturely roading out thru space. Jus try to get it in your mynd try to happen it in your head o dint they trants hy you cud feal the thrus and the boost of it you know the jynt woosh of them liffing  off and to the stations. Which they jumpt 1 station to the nex you see and til they jumpt right out beyont them gallack seas. I tel you Riddley lissening to then trantsing and telling it wer all mos like being in 1 of them space craf o the yoaring and the roaling o the nertial and the navigation of it' (p. 195)
After the explosion that kills Granser reintroduces gunpowder-making, civil discord is unleashed and the existing order is overthrown. Orfing says:
It looks to me like that Fools Circel is broakin now I dont think therewl be no mor regler hevvys and any Eusa folk whatre stil a live theyre all too binsy running a roan trying to go bang. Plus a woal lot of other peopl as wel by now parbly. Fars we know there bint no mor bangs yet but we dont have the leas idear whats going to happen. Right now there aint even no Pry Mincer its what they call a care maker Mincery with regenneril guvner me from the Ram at all the forms. (p. 198)
A thread of existentialist thought runs through Riddley Walker:
Our woal life is a idear we dint think of nor we don't know what it is. What a way to live. Thats why I finely come to writing all this down. Thinking on what the idear of us myt be. Thinking on that thing whats in us lorn and loan and oansome[...] The thot come to me: EUSAS HEAD IS DREAMING US' (pp. 7, 61)
'Them peopl as jus want to hol on to what theyve got theyre afeart to chance any thing theyre afeart to move even 1 littl step forit.' (p. 125)
He said, 'I never sung no beginning becaws you wont never fynd no beginning its long gone and far pas. What ever youre after youwl never fynd the beginning of it that why youwl all ways be too late. Onlyes thing youwl ever fynd is the end of things. What ever happens itwl be what you dint want to happen. What ever dont happen thatwl be the thing you wantit. Take your choosing how you like yuowl get what you dont want. (p. 150)
If I wer a figger in a show what hand wer moving me then? I cudnt be bothert to think on that right then. Theres all ways some thingwl be moving you if it aint 1 thing its a nother you cant help that (p. 170)
A transcendent and richly rewarding entry in the SF Masterworks series, Riddley Walker is an essential read.
I thot: Whyd we come here? Id knowit some kynd of thing like this myt happen. Whynt we stay hoalt up? Whynt we go somers far a way? Becaws you cant stay hoalt up. Becaws there aint no far a way. Becaws where you happen is where you happen[...] Stil I wunt have no other track (p. 206, 215)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Year-end update

As usual, I find myself apologising for the slow progress I've made in advancing this project during 2012. Posts have been infrequent and seldom as expansive as I would have liked.

As is customary at Spong Towers, matters have been exacerbated by the fact that more new books, both print and digital, have come into the house during the past twelve months than have been read. Plus ├ža change, and all that.

You'll probably not fall into a dead faint if I plead the usual reasons of time constraints (somewhat ironically for an avid reader of speculative fiction, I know), and the fact that my consultancy has had a good year.

Beyond this, I do have a couple of pieces of relevant news to convey.

Firstly, I started co-curating new client (and publisher of the SF and Fantasy Masterworks, of course) Orion's SF Gateway's social presences on Twitter, facebook and Pinterest in November 2012, which has been a lot of fun. Consequently, I'll be adding ebook reviews of the SF Gateway titles I buy (yes, buy) on the blog in the future. In fact, I'm reading one at the moment. I'm also hoping that if it's true that ereader users read more books than print readers, the imbalance in my buying-to-reading ratio may move in the right direction in 2013.

Secondly, I've added some code to the Blogger template in order that social buttons now appear at the bottom of each post.

Enjoy the holidays, and happy reading in the new year and beyond.

Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates (1983) FMW 47

"One of these time gaps is just outside Kensington, five miles from the Strand, on the evening of the first of September, 1810. And unlike most gaps that close to the 1802 source, this one is four hours long."

Time travel, demonic magicians, werewolves, cross-dressing heroines, Romantic poets and Egyptian gods: The Anubis Gates is a sovereign salmagundi of some of the pillars of speculative fiction.

Laphroaig-swilling, cigar-toting literary professor for hire Brendan Doyle is commissioned by plutocrat J. Cochran Darrow to travel back to 1810 through a time gate in order to verify the identity of stoner sonneteer Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Suffice to say, things don't go according to plan.

The principal enjoyment of The Anubis Gates lies in allowing oneself to be dazzled by the pyrotechnics of the tale itself, and as such there is little purpose in rehearsing the panoply of plot twists the work provides. It is a novel of incident rather than ideas which places a premium on the pleasures of thematic divagation rather than focused rumination and as such is a far from taxing, albeit thoroughly enjoyable, read.

Winner of the 1983 Philip K. Dick Award, The Anubis Gates is an entertaining, undemanding, and fully immersive entry into the Fantasy Masterworks series.