kittiwake: (sea)
Great Dreamers! Tkett stared in awe and surprise at the object before them. It was unlike any starship he had ever seen before. Sleek metallic sides seemed to go on and on forever as the titanic machine trudged onward across the sea floor, churning up mud with thousands of shimmering, crystalline legs! 
As if sensing their arrival, a mammoth hatch began irising open -- in benign welcome, he hoped. 
No resurrected starship. Tkett began to suspect he had come upon something entirely different.


This novella takes place in the Uplift universe and follows on from the story in "Starship Rising". The Streaker has been on the run for so long that some of its mainly dolphin crew have suffered nervous breakdowns and regressed to a pre-sapient state and have been dropped off on the planet Jijo, along with a doctor and a few other healthy dolphins to look after them. The supposedly unoccupied planet is actually home to refugees from six galactic races who secretly live there in harmony with each other, but although the captain's idea was that the dolphins could set up a colony on Jijo, the doctor is worried that even it her patients do recover, it may not be possible for any of them to remain sentient in the long term, away from their human mentors and the technology of earth. The eccentric dolphin archeaologist Tkett is keen on finding an abandoned spaceship that can be adapted for use in salvaging the alien artefacts that the planet's previous inhabitants, an advanced race called the Buyur, dumped in an oceanic trench before leaving, but the sounds of machinery working deep under the sea, unknown to the planet's land-dwelling inhabitants, lead the dolphins to an unexpected discovery and a momentous choice.
kittiwake: (Default)
The history of mankind in space had been a long epic of ambitions and rivalries. From the very first, space colonies had struggled for self-sufficiency and had soon broken their ties with the exhausted Earth. The independent life-support systems had given them the mentality of city-states. Strange ideologies had bloomed in the hothouse atmosphere of the o'neills, and breakaway groups were common.
Space was too vast to police. Pioneer elites burst forth, defying anyone to stop their pursuit of aberrant technologies. Quite suddenly the march of science had become an insane, headlong scramble. New sciences and technologies had shattered whole societies in waves of future shock.
The shattered cultures coalesced into factions, so thoroughly alienated from one another that they were called humanity only for lack of a better term. The Shapers, for instance, had seized control of their own genetics, abandoning mankind in a burst of artificial evolution. Their rivals,the Mechanists, had replaced flesh with advanced prosthetics.

from "Sunken Gardens"

This book is split into three sections, It starts with five science fiction stories about two rival human factions, the Shapers and the Mechanists, and their relationships with the reptilian traders known as the Investors. The next section contained three stand-alone near-future science fiction stories and I preferred the three stand-alone in the next section, and the last section contained four fantasy stories with historical settings (the first of which might not even be fantasy depending whether the protagonist's vision is objectively real or just due to the hallucinogenic drugs he has taken. The Shaper/Mechanist stories were okay, but I preferred the stand-alone stories in the second section, especially "Green Days in Brunei" and I enjoyed the fantasy stories even more.
kittiwake: (sf)
Fiben had often wondered how much of the popularity of the thunder dance came from innate, inherited feelings of brontophilia and how much from the well-known fact that fallow, unmodified chimps in the jungles of Earth were observed to “dance” in some crude fashion during lightning storms. He suspected that a lot of neo-chimpanzee “tradition” came from elaborating on the publicized behavior of their unmodified cousins.
Like many college-trained chims, Fiben liked to think he was too sophisticated for such simple-minded ancestor worship. And generally he did prefer Bach or whale songs to simulated thunder.
And yet there were times, alone in his apartment, when he would pull a tape by the Fulminates out of a drawer, put on the headphones, and try to see how much pounding his skull could take without splitting open. Here, under the driving amplifiers, he couldn’t help feeling a thrill” run up his spine as “lightning” bolted across the room and the beating drums rocked patrons, furniture, and fixtures alike.


"Startide Rising" ended with the dolphin-crewed spaceship Streaker on the run from various warring Galactic races who are all desperate to win possession of the ship and its discoveries. As this book opens, the human and neo-chimpanzee inhabitants of Garth are expecting to be invaded at any moment, as one of the Galactic species has decided to take Garth hostage in an attempt to force the Terragen Council to hand over Streaker's discoveries. With diplomats and other visiting aliens fleeing the planet in droves, the Tymbrini ambassador Uthacalthing and his daughter Athaclena have decided to stay. The Tymbrini are the Terrans closest allies, and are known for their capricious sense of humour and Ambassador Uthacalthing seems to have some devious ploy in mind when he sets off into the wilds of Garth with the ambassador of a species less friendly to Terra in tow.

Garth is a planet that suffered ecological disaster when a newly uplifted predator species who had been granted a lease on the planet reverted to savagery and ran amok, wiping out all the larger native wildlife (although old legends say that some of the mysterious Garthlings may survive in out of the way areas). Now the Galactic Civilisation has leased Garth to the Terrans, who are trying to rebuild the shattered ecology, introducing Terran plants and animals to fill empty ecological niches. The Galactics chose the Terrans for this because of the unusual amount of biodiversity on Earth compared to other planets, but the amount of biodiversity also worries the Galactics, who got the humans to sign an agreement saying that they won't start uplifting any other species.

The uplift of chimpanzees is an on-going process and although humans govern their client species with a light hand compared to the other Galactics, breeding rights are tightly controlled. Only the coveted white card allows unlimited breeding and an unofficial class system has developed among the chimpanzees based on which colour card they have been allocated, and the ethics of uplift are one of the major themes of this novel.
kittiwake: (sf)
Sigfrid has a lot of Heechee circuits in him. He's a lot better than the machines at the Institute were, when I had my episode. He continuously monitors all my physical parameters: skin conductivity and pulse and beta-wave activity and so on. He gets readings from the restraining straps that hold me on the mat, to show how violently I fling myself around. He meters the volume of my voice and spectrum-scans the print for overtones. And he also understands what the words mean. Sigfrid is extremely smart, considering how stupid he is.
It is very hard, sometimes, to fool him. I get to the end of a session absolutely limp, with the feeling that if I had stayed with him for one more minute I would have found myself falling right down into that pain and it would have destroyed me.
Or cured me. Perhaps they are the same thing.


When Gateway was discovered, the asteroid was empty except for more than a thousand alien ships abandoned long before by the long-dead Heechee civilisation. The ships will only fly to certain pre-programmed destinations, so every trip is a lottery, from which the prospectors may come back dying or dead, or may never be heard from again. The prospectors are paid on results so they hope to return alive with Heechee goods or valuable scientific information about their destination, as they are paid on results, and will be in line for royalties if they find useful alien tech that can be reproduced and manufactured.

The story alternates between Robinette Broadhead's reminiscences about his time as a prospector living on Gateway, and accounts of his therapy sessions with a machine therapist years later when he tries to get over his overwhelming feelings of guilt. It was interesting to have an avowed coward as a protagonist, but I am surprised that Rob ever went out to Gateway at all, knowing the odds against becoming rich, or even surviving. On the other hand, his previous job in the mines was also a dangerous one, and mining had led to the deaths of both of his parents, so maybe it wasn't until he made it to Gateway that he felt he had any choice in how he lived his life, and only then realised what a coward he could be when he did have the choice.

In the Gateway chapters I was aware that Rob was leaving things out,and that sometimes he seemed to misinterpret things, but it was the therapy chapters that really brought this home, and made me understand that Rob was not a deliberately unreliable narrator, but just subconsciously avoiding mentioning certain things, or making connections related to the traumatic events that he couldn't face up to. My only disappointment with this book was that the therapy sessions didn't uncover as much of Rob's past as I had hoped. I was expecting to find out more about what happened with his ex-girlfriend Sylvia back on earth, and why he had his first mental breakdown after they split up, but that was left vague, compared to the trauma caused by the death of his mother and what happened on his last prospecting trip on Gateway.
kittiwake: (sea)
Socrates saw no point in telling the truth, pleading for benevolence. No one would believe he'd meant well and anyhow his evidence had flown away, back to some grapevine or burgeoning plum tree. In all likelihood he would be judged on his past crimes, which were many and varied and mostly premeditated.

I bought this book from the author, who gave a talk at a convention I attended this autumn, and I preferred it to her novel "The Mother-in-Law", because I found the characters more likeable (apart from the baddies of course). Eve Makis is a Greek-Cypriot who was brought up in England, and worked as a journalist on Cyprus for several years, and her portrayal of the lives and customs of the islanders and the changing attitudes of the younger men and women, are very believable. She based Socrates on her husband, as he too ran wild as a boy and made home-made firecrackers every Easter by hammering open bullets to get the gunpowder.

This story seems quite light-hearted to begin with, as twelve-year-old Socrates and his friends run wild through the fields and hills of Cyprus, getting into mischief wherever they go, and I liked the sub-plot about the curmudgeonly cafe owner falling in love with his new employee. But there are dark undercurrents of domestic violence, sexual abuse and criminal activity that cast dark shadows over adults and children alike, with various people coming under suspicion of attacking one of the village boys. Some of Socrates' exploits are thoughtless and dangerous, and the happy ending is not really all that happy for those directly concerned.
kittiwake: (mythology)
I have been listening to the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcraft s it works through Lovecraft's stories in chronological order. I started off reading the stories on my iPod but decide that I didn't like reading the longer stories that way, so I bought a three volume Omnibus of his stories, and now it is only the ghost-written stories he wrote for other people that I need to read on-line. I started listening to the podcast in October 2010 from the first episode, and had caught up with the early episodes by the first week of January 2011. I have been reading each story before listening to the podcast episode(s) about it, and the podcast has now reached the point that I have read all the stories in Volume 1 of the Omnibus, so I can finally review one oft he volumes.

Then through that star-specked darkness there did come a normal sound. It rolled from the higher hills, and from all the jagged peaks around it was caught up and echoed in a swelling pandaemoniac chorus. It was the midnight yell of the cat, and Carter knew at last that the old village folk were right when they made low guesses about the cryptical realms which are known only to cats, and to which the elders among cats repair by stealth nocturnally, springing from high housetops. Verily, it is to the moon's dark side that they go to leap and gambol on the hills and converse with ancient shadows, and here amidst that column of foetid things Carter heard their homely, friendly cry, and thought of the steep roofs and warm hearths and little lighted windows of home.
from The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

This book contains Lovecraft's three short novels, "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" and "At the Mountains of Madness", plus four short stories, three of them featuring Randolph Carter, the hero of the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath". The other is a rather unpleasant story called "The Dreams in the Witch House" ?.

Unlike most of Lovecraft's protagonists, Randolph Carter is a born adventurer and tends not to faint in the face of unnameable horrors! On a journey through the dreamlands in search of the lost city that he used to visit in his dreams, he makes friends with the ghouls, and his kindness to small kittens is rewarded when the heroic band of cats who spend their nights on the moon battling evil alien cats, rescue him from the toad-things which have captured him. This isn't the only story in which cats play a big part, and Lovecraft is obviously a cat-lover, mentioning in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" that "Inquanok holds shadows which no cat can endure, so that in all that cold twilight realm there is never a cheering purr or a homely mew."

"The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" rambles about and has frequent longeurs, as it was Lovecraft's first attempt at a novel and it's thought that he didn't intend it to be published, but I still preferred it to "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" which has an annoyingly oblivious protagonist heading to an obvious doom (as does "The Dreams in the Witch House"). "At the Mountains of Madness", the last of Lovecraft's three novels, is an exciting tale of Antarctic adventure, complete with huskies and a lost civilisation. Lovecraft liked to use British English spellings and got really annoyed when his editors changed them, and I noticed that he uses the British "torch" rather than the American "flashlight" in several stories (the protagonists mention worrying about running out of batteries, so it's clear that it is referring to electric torches rather than naked flames).
kittiwake: (Iceland)
Darwin's support of Beddoes and work on Zoonomia let him envisage the improvement of society through medicine, rather than politics. Most of his work was serious; some of it was fun, like his correspondence with Tom Wedgewood on making an air bed. ('He thinks feathers always stink', Darwin told Watt with amusement, 'and wishes to rest on clouds, like the Gods and Goddesses, which you see sprawling on ceilings.')

The second half of the eighteenth century was a ferment of invention and the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group whose members were mostly Midlands and Lowland Scots, was in the thick of it. Members included engineers, manufacturers, potters, chemists and doctors, but their scientific and entrepreneurial interests were varied and overlapping. They competed and collaborated, and urged each other onwards. They went into business together, their sons and daughters married each other, and their friendships were lifelong, excepting the relationship between William Withering and Erasmus Darwin, which was irreparably damaged by accusations of plagiarism.

A well-written and engrossing tale, of pumping engines, porcelain and patent infringements, canals, caves and chemistry, mining, manufacturing and minting, botanical taxonomy and balloons.
kittiwake: (sf)
Mankind was exploding through this spiral arm of the galaxy. There was a racial enthusiasm about it all. Man's destiny lay out in the stars, only a laggard stayed home of his own accord. It was the ambition of every youth to join the snowballing avalanche of man into the neighboring stars.
It took absolute severity by Earth authorities to prevent the depopulation of the planet. But someone had to stay to administer the ever more complicated racial destiny. Earth became a clearing house for a thousand cultures, attempting, with only moderate success, to co-ordinate her widely spreading children. She couldn't afford to let her best seed depart. Few there were, any more, allowed to emigrate from Earth. New colonies drew their immigrants from older ones.
Lucky was the Earthling able to find service in interplanetary affairs, in any of the thousands of tasks that involved journey between member planets of UP. Possibly one hundredth of the population at one time or another, and for varying lengths of time, managed it.
Ronny Bronston was lucky and knew it. The thing now was to pull off this assignment and cinch the appointment for good.


When Ronny Bronston manages to land a job at Section G of the Bureau of Investigation he is told that it is a cloak and dagger department, whose role is to upholding articles one and two of the United Planets Charter, which forbid United Planets and its member planets from interfering in each others' political, socioeconomic and religious institutions.

His first off-planet assignment s a probationary agent is to track down 'Tommy Paine', a legendary revolutionary who has been active throughout the United Planets for the past couple of decades., although Branch G don't know if he is one man, or a group, or even if he exists at all. After several months of training by experienced agents, Tommy Paine surfaces again, rumoured to be involved in the assassination of an immortal god-king on the planet of New Delos and Ronny is sent off with a super-competent female agent called Tog as his assistant. The planets they visit are not much known by the outside world, since the less planets know about each others' internal political, socioeconomic and religious institutions, they less likely they are to break the rules by interfering.

Project Gutenberg created this illustrated e-book from an illustrated version of this novella that was published in Analog Science Fact and Fiction Magazine in March 1961. The story is basically a mystery, as Ronny tries to work out the identity of Tommy Paine as he follows his tracks from planet to planet, and although I had worked out his identity before Ronny did, the final revelation back on earth came as a surprise. I am glad that I read the illustrated version, as the illustrations really brought home the period feel of the story.
kittiwake: (fantasy)
Sith clicked the phone off. She opened the trunk of the car and tossed the phone into it. Being telephoned by ghosts was so . . . unmodern. How could Cambodia become a number one country if its cell phone network was haunted?

As I progressed through the book, I realised that a large number of the stories were to do with death in one form or another. I suppose it could be a coincidence, but was there something about 2006 that inspired authors to write about death and its aftermath, or did the editor have an affinity for those subjects that predisposed him to choose those stories?

After fifteen stories about death in a row, I was thrilled to come across something more light-hearted when I read "D.A." by Connie Willis, but it was straight back to death and destruction for the last few stories. The only two stories that I didn't really enjoy were "A Siege of Cranes" which was quite gruesome (although I liked the jackal-headed men and their quest to perform funeral rites for the dead of the world), and "Sob in the Silence" which I would say was horror rather than fantasy.
kittiwake: (Default)
My name is White Fang, though of course that is not really my name. At least not any more. My name is really Dennis White, now. I like the old name better; it is more in keeping with the image I have of myself. But perhaps such an attitude is just a hangover from the time I was a pet. Some people would say that once you've been a pet, once you've grown used to the Leash, you're never quite human again- in the sense of being free. I don't know about that. Of course, it is more fun to be Leashed, but one can learn not to want it so badly. I did. And this, in one sense, is the story of how I did it.

It is sixty-seven years since earth was invaded by aliens, and two generations of men have been kept as pets in the Masters' kennels, on earth and throughout the solar system. The kennels are campuses where pets are raised and educated in lovely surroundings, and bred by the Masters' who want to improve their pets. Outside the kennels the dingoes, human beings who refused to become pets or were rejected as unsuitable, try to keep things going. The Masters do not have bodies, and appear to be some kind of electromagnetic beings. One of their first acts after the invasion was to take over all electrical generation, and they love auroras and flock to earth when a good display is expected, but when an unusual surge of sun-spot activity knocks the Masters out temporarily it gives the Dingoes a chance to fight back and try to wrest control of Earth back from the aliens.

I liked how this book was written in the form of the memoirs of White Fang, who was born and bought up in the kennels of the Masters. He explains that however unacceptable such terms are nowadays, he must talk of pets and puppies and the Leash since that is how he thought of things at the time. White Fang and his brother Pluto received their names due to a vogue among the first generation of pets for calling their puppies after famous dogs.

The cover picture doesn't really fit the story. It features a dog standing on its hind-legs, brandishing the broken chain attached to the metal collar round its neck, and two wolves sitting in the background. As the pets of the story aren't dogs but men, it is symbolic of the human pets breaking the mental Leash that controls them, but it still doesn't really work, since most of the pets were freed from the Leash unwillingly and would have preferred to remain pets. During the story we only hear of one ex-pet who plotted his own escape from the Masters and went Dingo.
kittiwake: (mythology)
Most of the Beings on the Street of the Gods didn’t want to talk to me. In fact, most of them hid inside their churches behind locked and bolted doors and refused to come out until I’d gone. Understandable; they were still rebuilding parts of the Street from the last time I’d been here. But there are always some determined to show those watching that they aren’t afraid of anyone, so a few of the more up-and-coming Beings sauntered casually over to chat with me. A fairly ordinary-looking priest who said he was the newly risen Dagon. Stack! The Magnificient; a more or less humanoid alien who claimed to be slumming it from a higher dimension. And the Elegant Profundity, a guitar-carrying avatar from the Church of Clapton, who was so laid-back he was practically horizontal. The small and shifty God of Lost Things hung around, evasive as always. None of them professed to know anything about a broadcast from the Afterlife, let alone a DVD recording. Most of them were quite intrigued by the thought.
“It can’t be authentic,” said Dagon. “I mean, we’re in the business of faith, not hard evidence. And if there had ever been a broadcast from the Hereafter, we’d have heard about it long before this.”
“And just the idea of recording one is so…tacky,” Stack! said, folding his four green arms across his sunken chest.
“But it could be very good for business,” said the Elegant Profundity, strumming a minor chord on his Rickenbacker.


The Unnatural Inquirer is the Nightside's trashy tabloid newspaper, always the first to print the latest scurrilous gossip. The paper has just paid a fortune for a DVD containing a broadcast from the Afterlife, and when the owner disappears before handing over the DVD the sub-editor turns to John Taylor to track them down, pairing him with one of their reporters, a half-demon called Bettie. Although the DVD is supposed to be the first ever recording of heaven or hell, I'm sure that there was a broadcast from Hell playing on a screen in one of the bars or clubs that Taylor visited in "Hell to Pay" (which I read immediately before this book), and the contradiction grated.

Unfortunately the series is getting more than a little repetitive, and the investigations don;t seem to have much meat to them. Similar discussions about the nature of the Nightside's traffic appear in every book, sometimes more than once, and just how often do we need to be reminded that it is Taylor's reputation that is his most powerful weapon? How many times does he tell some powerful opponent that they need to back down just because he is John Taylor? It's getting old.

Let's hope that book nine is a return to form, as I have already bought a copy.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
I looked at him for a long moment. “Are you saying,” I managed finally, “that not only did Melissa’s kidnappers remove her from this Hall without anyone noticing, but that they walked off with all her belongings as well? And no-one saw anything? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes, sir.”
“I have a major slap with your name on it in my pocket, Hobbes.”
“I feel I should also point out that no magics will function in Griffin Hall unless authorised by a member of the Griffin family, sir. So Miss Melissa could not have been magicked out of her room…”
“Not without her cooperation or that of someone in her family.”
“Which is of course quite impossible, sir.”
“No, Hobbes, nailing a live octopus to a wall is impossible, everything else is merely difficult.”
“I bow to your superior knowledge, sir.”
I was still thinking Inside job, but I wasn’t ready to say it out loud.


Although the Authorities who ran the Nightside were killed in the recent war, their representative Walker is still running things on a day to day basis, but there are plenty of other big players jockeying for position with a view to taking over from him. One of the most powerful of these is Jeremiah Griffin, an immortal man who has had business interests throughout the Nightside for hundreds of years. Rumours are rife about the Griffin and the terms on which he and his family gained immortality, and when he hires private detective John Taylor to track down his kidnapped granddaughter who has been somehow been spirited away from Griffin Hall despite its magical protections, it seems that her disappearance may be linked to one of these stories.

I preferred the first three book in the series with their stand-alone plots, to the story arc that took up the next three books, so I was hoping to really enjoy this story but now that the mysteries of the identity of John's mother has been solved and the Harrowing are no longer on John Taylor's trail, the plot of this book seemed a little thin.

The Nightside is still recovering from the war, in which a lot of buildings were destroyed and a lot of big players killed, and everyone seems to blame John Taylor, and this book fell a little flat, as if the series, too, needed time to recover from the war. I was irritated by what seemed a big plot-hole in this book, as a supposedly immortal character is killed, and none of the other characters seem surprised that this person is dead or even comments on it. At the end of the book it says that the Griffins are "getting used to being only mortal now that SPOILER is gone" So how could the a Griffin have died before that?
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
Like certain reptiles she had learned to survive by leaving in Julia's hand the dead stump of the tail by which she had been grasped. One could even, she thought, sacrifice a more necessary limb, a hand, a foot, which would not grow again, and still survive. One could do this for ever, so long as one was not touched to the quick. Let Julia store and catalogue the limp relicts of what had been Cassandra. Successive skins, discarded hair and nails, the dead stuff of witchcraft, like the photographs, like the fiction.

At the start of the story, it seemed that Simon would be the snake who came between sisters Cassandra and Julia and ruined their relationship with each other, but then I realised that Simon had problems of his own and was in many ways just another piece in the Looking- Glass chess game whose moves and maps had been laid out long before his arrival. Oxford don Cassandra has spent her life trying to protect her own privacy and keep her little sister out, while Julia was desperate to be allowed in, but was careless with her sister's secrets.

When SImon comes back into their lives twenty years nearly twenty years after leaving to study snakes, it seems that they may be able to repair their relationship but then Julia ruins everything. Julia is a novelist who uses her husband and child as raw material for her best-selling novels and seems lacking in empathy, constantly having to ask her husband whether she is behaving badly, and asking another friend if she has written a wicked novel, when she should have realised herself that writing it was the ultimate betrayal. I prefer Cassandra but that is probably because she is the character most like me, as she isn't really any more likeable than Julia or SImon.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
There, alone in the quiet house, I picked up the first page of Paul's letter to me. I wanted to read it like a love letter but of course I didn't. I read it like a detective, looking for clues and traps.I read it like a critic, trying to understand the hidden meaning of each sentence, and why each word had been chosen. Because this is a story about how things look, about how a tone of voice or a trick of style can betray you and, most importantly, how words on a page can lie as easily and cruelly as the false lover in whose arms you may have fallen peacefully asleep.

After Fiona McMillan has been attacked twice by a masked man, she discovers a clue that tells her that it must be one of the three men she works with. When she receives a package containing several versions of the events, including an anonymous account by her attacker, she is sure that he intends to kill her and is determined to unmask him before that can happen, but it doesn't help that everyone seems to be lying, hiding things or at any rate being inconsistent and getting their dates mixed up.

I liked Fiona's decision not to be a victim, despite being terrified and obeying her attacker's order to tell no-one about the first attack, but I wasn't sure about the ending, which was a little abrupt and quite ambiguous (although that's not always a bad thing).
kittiwake: (meditiation)
In spite of himself Nathan came out of suspension with a mixture of voyeuristic guilt and pride in her courage. This was beauty. He forgot everything else, even the pills on the desk. This was his daughter, in full flight. She was so like Cheryl, the way Cheryl used to be, the curiosity that wrecked and elevated her.

The story takes place on the day of Nathan's funeral. He finds himself drifting through the house, avoiding the lure of a room with a door and a white bed. which seem to be offering him the choice between sleep and going on somewhere else. As he watches the people at his wake he finds that he can read their thoughts and that getting to close to certain people and objects, catapults him back into memories of his opts or the past of his family or friends.

Nathan always thought of his wife Cheryl as being much more alive than him, but she is a cold and distant presence in the book, who never seems as real as their children Luke and Gina. Nathan remembers their youngest child who died a few years before, but he can't remember how she died, or for that matter, how he himself died.

In some ways this book reminded me of the film "The Swimmer", since to start with everything seems normal (apart from Nathan being dead, obviously), but as he relives earlier events and begins to remember, his life seems to disintegrate.
kittiwake: (Iceland)
It is told of Gunnlaug that he was quick of growth in his early youth, big, and strong; his hair was light red, and very goodly of fashion; he was dark-eyed, somewhat ugly-nosed, yet of lovesome countenance; thin of flank he was, and broad of shoulder, and the best-wrought of men; his whole mind was very masterful; eager was he from his youth up, and in all wise unsparing and hardy; he was a great skald, but somewhat bitter in his rhyming, and therefore was he called Gunnlaug Worm-tongue.

The story begins with a guest of Thorstein Egilsson having a prophetic dream about his host's unborn daughter Helga the Fair. In his dream she appears as a swan fought over by an eagle and another fowl, and the remainder of the saga tells how her life unfolds as foretold, as the skalds Gunnlaug and Raven fighting over her.

Having read various Icelandic sagas before, I am now finding that the same characters pop up in more than one saga. Helga's father Thorstein Egillsson is the son of Egill Skallagrímsson and appears in Egil's Saga, and Helga spends her early life in the household of her uncle by marriage, Olaf Peacock, who has a much larger role in the Laxdaela Saga.

"Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu" was translated into archaic English by Eirikr Magnusson and William Morris in 1875, and I am not impressed by their translation of the poetry in this saga. Most of the skalds' songs are incomprehensible and I had to re-read them a few times before they started to make any sort of sense, which is not something I found when reading Egil's saga, for example.
kittiwake: (history)
'The sock is from the Hughesovka Museum Of Our Forefathers' Suffering. I used to be the principal curator. As you know, this museum charts the centuries of tyranny and oppression that caused that great Welsh Moses, John Hughes, to throw off the imperialist yoke and lead his people out of servitude to the promised land.'
'Is there really such a place as Hughesovka?'
'You ask such a thing of me?'
'We learned about it in school; they told us it was the only Welsh-speaking community east of the Greenwich meridian – it always struck me as improbable.'
'In our schools we found tales of Aberystwyth equally hard to credit.


A Welsh Russian named Uncle Vanya asks Louie and Calamity to find out what happened to a young girl called Gethsemane Walters, who disappeared from the town of Abercuawg near Aberystwyth over thirty years before, and pays their fee with one of Yuri Gagarin's socks! The investigation takes Louie and Calamity to the drowned village of Abercuawg which is now reappearing from under the reservoir due to a prolonged drought, and then to Hughesovka disguised as spinning-wheel salesmen, before they work out what happened to Gethsemane and to Uncle Vanya's daughter.

Much to my surprise, I found that Hughesovka (aka Yuzovka, later renamed Stalino and now called Donetsk) is a real place, although John Hughes was from Merthyr Tydfil not Aberystwyth and almost all the Welsh workers returned to Britain after the Russian Revolution.

Although quite sad in parts, this was much more fun than the previous book in the series, "Don't Cry For Me, Aberystwyth".
kittiwake: (history)
That winter when he grew up, I enjoyed myself for the first time. I acquired consequence. To be needed and liked by two such popular characters as Papa and Hubert lent me an interest rather better than second hand. Maybe I was a parasite-but what a happy parasite, happy in their admiration and their kindness, happy in being their new joke.

I first read this book in the 1980s, but apart from feeling sorry for the large and unattractive Aroon, the only thing I remembered was the incident with the rabbit dish. But I remembered enjoying both the book and the television series based on it, and was looking forward to a re-read, even though it is a sad book and does hit some of my buttons. IShe may not be the most likeable protagonist, but Aroon is stifled by her upbringing in a family of poverty-stricken Anglo-Irish gentry, and always seems unlikely to escape it through marriage, but she doesn't deserve to be treated as a figure of fun by her family, even if she often seems unaware of the mockery. I don't think that Aroon's description of events is deliberately misleading, but she often misreads what is actually happening, and there are some things, such as her father's relationships with Rose and the Crowhurst twins, that I think she won't allow herself to see.
kittiwake: (sf)
* Creideiki leads us-
Is our master
* Yet we imagine-
Secret orders *

Tom sighed. There it was again, the suspicion that Earth would never let the first dolphin-commanded vessel go out without disguised human supervision. Naturally, most of the rumors centered around himself. It was bothersome, because Creideiki was an excellent captain. Also, it detracted from one of the purposes of the mission, to make a demonstration that would boost neo-fin self-confidence for a generation.


The first ship commanded and crewed by uplifted dolphins, has discovered an ancient fleet of derelict spaceships that may be linked to the Progenitors, and has crashed on an ocean-covered planet while attempting to evade the Galactics who are determined to discover the secret of its location. As the Galactics fight a space battle other above the planet, making and breaking alliances in their efforts to come out on top, surprising discoveries are taking place on the planet below, which has supposedly been uninhabited for millions of years.

It was easy to sympathise with the neo-dolphin crew, with their tendency to revert to atavistic behaviour when stressed, and often exhibiting a lack of confidence in their own abilities, and deferring to the few humans on board. There seems to be a bit of anti-scientist theme, as Dr Metz's tinkering with the make-up of the crew leads to disaster, and the neo-chimp planetologist Charles Dart is equally as arrogant, obsessive and self-absorbed.

"Startide Rising" is a much better story than the first book in the series, being both more exciting and more complex rather than a straight mystery story, but it's still a good idea to read "Sundiver" first, as it explains about uplift and man's status in the the galactic civilisation as a wolfling species without a patron. And it is their wolfling attitude, refusing to use any galactic technology that they are unable to understand, and using initiative rather the age old tactics documented in the Galactic Library, that gives the Streaker's crew the edge.
kittiwake: (religion)
“Your Excellency, I am proud to inform you that Laxmangarh is your typical Indian village paradise, adequately supplied with electricity, running water, and working telephones; and that the children of my village, raised on a nutritious diet of meat, eggs, vegetables, and lentils, will be found, when examined with tape measure and scales,, to match up to the minimum height and weight standards set by the United Nations and other organizations whose treaties our prime minister has signed and whose forums he so regularly and pompously attends.
Ha!
Electricity poles – defunct.
Water tap – broken.
Children – too lean and short for their age, and with oversized heads from which vivid eyes shine, like the guilty conscience of the government of India .
Yes, a typical Indian village paradise, Mr Jiabao. One day I'll have to come to China and see if your village paradises are any better.”


Although "the White Tiger" is an amusing read, the narrator Balram - murderer, ex-servant and entrepreneur - does not see India through rose-tinted spectacles. His India is split into two very different worlds, the Darkness (the poorer interior of the country, still oppressed by the brutal landlords) and the Light (the richer coastal areas where there is the possibility for a poor man to better himself). Balram sees himself as a white tiger, a rare beast who has managed to break out of the Rooster Coop and leave the Darkness, moving into the Light and reinventing himself as an entrepreneur in Bangalore.

Really enjoyable.

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kittiwake

June 2012

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