Many years ago, having come across a few titles in the collection, I decided to try and collect as many of the Gollancz SF Masterworks series of books as possible. What I didn’t realise at the time was that the series was soon to be discontinued by the publisher. As a result, I’ve had to track down second hand copies of the titles I’m missing. One of the first volumes I managed to acquire, however, was Cities in Flight by James Blish. Originally published in four volumes (1955, 1956, 1959 & 1962), the SF Masterworks series collects the whole story in one.
At 605 pages it’s a veritable tome but it’s been sitting on my to be read pile for quite some time. When I originally started reading from the SF Masterworks collection I skipped over it (it’s #3) in favour of…
It seems crazy to think about it now but about 17 years ago I started writing my first story about a young queen named Elexra. She was arguably the first character I ever created and, even though she evolved a bit in those early days she has stuck with me over the years and I’ve always wanted to tell her story. Indeed, I’m fairly confident that the years have allowed me to consider every facet of the story and that at this point I just need to get off my arse (or sit on it as the case may be) and write it down.
However, the thought occurred to me last night that I may have been pronouncing her name wrong all these years. Yes, that’s an odd realisation given that I created and named her but it just might be the case. You see, the Elexra character was always associated with the fictional kingdom of Contex, and when I originally came up with the names I pronounced them with a hard “x” sound – Elle-EX-Rah and Con-TEX respectfully. Having talked with a schoolfriend and hearing him pronounce Contex “Con-tay” I realised that it fit so much better. I hadn’t derived the name from the word “county” but hearing it pronounced that way just felt right. As a result, for as long as I thought about the character, she was Elle-EX-Rah from Con-tay.
Last night, while I was at work I began to think about how languages tend to have specific ways of pronouncing of things. I realised that, if Contexians (Con-tay-ans) pronounced that “x” softly in the name of their kingdom, then the same would likely be true for their queen. As such Elexra would be pronounced more like Eh-LAY-Rah than Elle-EX-Rah, and to be honest I think it fits. Anyway, that’s just a thought that I’ve been having.
If you’re interested in reading any of Elexra’s story then there are some old pieces that can be found here and here. As I’ve already mentioned, her story has evolved over the years though some of the elements (her mother’s staff and father’s ring) are so integral to the character and the new story that I doubt I could ever remove them. I had some older pieces that were shared on the now shutdown website wotmania that are forever lost which is sad. I hope you enjoyed this trip into my head all the same.
Two years ago, at Dublin Comic-Con I attended a panel simply titled Science Fiction. It was the end of the con day and my girlfriend and I decided Why not? we like science fiction and we’re in no rush to get home. That turned out to be a fortuitous decision because at that panel we learned not only of this wonderful thing called Worldcon but that it was also coming to Ireland in 2019. In the two years since we’re attended our first Octocons (Ireland’s National Science Fiction Convention) and gotten to talk to some amazing people, though admittedly we’re still on the outskirts of the community.
Anyway, to Worldcon we went and we chatted briefly with a nice Japanese man in the entry queue on Thursday morning who turned out to be Taiyo Fujii, former chair of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan. Of course, I didn’t realise this until I saw him at a signing on Friday where we had a brief chat about Japanese science-fiction and he signed a collection of short-stories about A.I. for me. At the same signing event, I also met V.E. Schwab which was something of a highlight for me after I missed out the last time she visited Dublin due to work.
Among the other authors that I met over the five days was Kate Elliott, one of the first fantasy authors I read. She has a new book coming out next year billed as gender-bent Alexander the Great in space which sounds intriguing. She read two excerpts from it on Friday before asking the assembled listeners to guess whose point of view the second passage was told from but I was too embarrassed to say anything, especially given I’d put my foot in it earlier in the reading. I did get to talk to her on Sunday when she indicated that my (second) guess was correct. Alexander the Great is one of those topics that I enjoy reading about so I’m particularly excited about this book.
Beyond meeting with authors I never expected to share a room with, I got to a number of excellent panels and readings on a whole range of topics. I was in the audience on Sunday morning when Ireland’s own Declan Shalvey announced his new comic book Bog Bodies which will be coming next year. That same panel also had Sana Takeda (Monstress), Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + The Devine) and Afua Richardson (2019 Hugo Awards Host among other things) on it. It was great to see such names at a con in Ireland.
But now it’s all over. Here’s our book haul for the few days anyway.
The Watchmaker’s Daughter isn’t the kind of book that I’d normally pick up. Indeed, I happened to stumble across it while looking through the Kindle store for a light read. The book’s premise is fairly straight forward, our protagonist India Steele has fallen on hard times. Her father has just died and her fiancé has abandoned her once he gained possession of her father’s shop. Despite having worked with her father for years, she finds herself unemployed and forced to rely on the generosity of others to get by. This generosity, however, is beginning to wear thin. Enter Mr. Glass, a mysterious American with a secret that’s about to shake India’s world to its core.
This book certainly has a lot of charm going for it. The cast of characters, from the mysterious Mr. Glass to tomboyish Willie, make for an interesting read. However, I was somewhat disappointed by our protagonist as she falls into that annoying trope of ‘woman who should know better but is falling for the charms of the mysterious stranger.’ The author does do a good job of building India as a woman who is perhaps not as immune to the attentions of men as she believes but is a bit tiring that a few key plot points are triggered by this naivete.
The plot is also driven by India’s refusal to confront any of the other characters. When she suspects Mr. Glass of being a criminal she shies away from reporting him to the police, despite the idea crossing her mind a number of times. Indeed, it almost seems like the more dangerous he appears, the less likely she is to report him. Of course, all this works out in the end and Mr. Glass’ secrets are revealed for what they are and the true antagonist is caught. Everything wraps itself up nicely, with Mr. Glass and his family remaining in England and India finding herself in new employment. It just about avoids the trope of having the two fall into each other’s arms.
With these slight issues aired, I will say that The Watchmaker’s Daughter was fairly well written. While many of the characters are the standard fare Archer ensures that they do each maintain their own personality. As I’ve already suggested, India could have been a stronger lead but I suppose her weaknesses helped to move the story along. In all, I don’t think I’ll be running out to read the following books in the series right away, but by the same token, I won’t avoid them if they cross my path.
Another Wednesday rolls around, and with it a nice bundle of new reads for me to get stuck into. Unfortunately, this is one of those weeks where everything seems to be from series’ that I haven’t quite caught up with so I can’t really jump into the new pile just yet. However, Worldcon kicks off tomorrow so I’ll hopefully get a bit of time to read while travelling to and from the convention centre as well as during downtime throughout the day.
Over the last month or so I’ve begun to play Malifaux at the behest of a mate of mine. Having taken a cursory glance at the available factions I quickly settled on The Outcasts as the one I most wanted to play. For my first two games, I proxied the Viktorias crew using some Guild Ball models, enjoying limited success with a win and a loss. This dismal start to my Malifaux playing days was compounded by a Viktorias crew I had ordered getting lost in the mail – this was prior to 3rd Edition’s official launch so replacing the missing models wasn’t really an option.
As a result, I invested in a Parker Barrows crew box that I now have painted up and played a few games with. Thankfully, the crew is fairly straight-forward to use, though I doubt I’ve unlocked their full potential just yet. Every new game I play, I’ve been able to try something a bit different which is keeping the format fresh for me. As it stands, I’ve played eight games so far – two wins, two draws and four losses – though I expect I’ll be getting plenty more in by the end of the year.
The first reaction that springs to mind about The Age of Science is the surprise that it was written in 1877. The story centres around a futuristic newspaper from 1977, that presumes to inform the people of the previous century of what will come to pass. In Cobbe’s future, science has fought its way to the fore, all but rendering such pursuits as art and religion extinct. It’s an interesting premise and one that certainly hasn’t come to pass. Indeed, in today’s social climate scientific achievements often go unreported in the mainstream media.
While The Age of Science paints a picture of how things could be if we let reason guide us, it also provides a cautionary tale. Among the various news stories provided from the futuristic text is one pertaining to the extinction of most of the world’s wildlife. Had the story been written in recent years we might be compelled to view it in a satirical light as we currently find ourselves trying to forestall the loss of many species. That it was written nearly 150 years ago, when wildlife conservation wasn’t such a big issue, makes it all the more prescient.
The Age of Science also touches on two further topics that would be of interest in our modern world. Firstly, with the #MeToo movement finding voices in women all around the globe, the suggestion that women should not be allowed to read or write is absolutely shocking. With that said, however, we can easily imagine that there are people out there that would like to see such regulations come into play. Secondly, the punishment of the parents for their children’s lack of education is an issue that has modern significance. With many ‘western’ nations putting pressure on parents to ensure that their children are attending school, Cobbe isn’t too far off the mark here. Of course, in 2019 parents aren’t being flogged for this misdemeanour, but the punishments are definitely more severe than one might expect.
All in all, I found The Age of Science to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. Its satirical look at the future was just the ticket after the seriousness of the previous stories was a welcome treat.
Another interesting tale from the A Brilliant Void anthology, The Diamond Lens tells the story of an eager microscopist. indeed, the chap is so eager to advance his studies that he is not even prepared to stop at murder to achieve his ends. Much like The New Frankenstein, The Diamond Lens is told in the first person, giving the reader a better idea of the mind of the main character. To that end, we can see that the murder that is committed is the act of a fanatic rather than that of a psychopath. It’s an odd distinction but I believe it goes some way to ensuring that our protagonist isn’t a detestable human being.
Throughout The Diamond Lens, there is a strong tendency toward detailed description which makes for a slow start to the story. Indeed, it is only when the protagonist is settled in his new abode that the story really gets going. It is odd too that a psychic plays such a large roll in a story that otherwise leans heavily on the scientific. I’m not suggesting that it’s out of place, but merely observing its contrast with the rest of the description.
I must also say that I really enjoyed the ending of the story. That the narrator is now viewed as something of a madman is completely fitting. The ending also provides a neat little bow with which to tie up the whole narrative. Another excellent, and old short story.
A very interesting tale this one, even it is based on a misunderstood premise. In this short story, the narrator mistakenly concludes that Victor Frankenstein never embued his monster with a brain. As such, the aim of the ‘mad scientist’ in this story is to go one further than the literary character. When he does so, drawing on the intelligence of Gothe and Shelley to name but two, he finds his monster to be bereft of something that can be considered a soul. As a result, he must travel to Egypt, that land of ancient, spiritual mystery in order to complete his work. Of course, when he begins to mess with such occult powers, everything goes wrong.
The New Frankenstein itself feels like a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a narrative. The beginning of the story has a definite feel of classic literature to it – indeed it should have considering it was written in 1837. The latter section then, as the story reaches Egypt, feels like it has more in common with H.P. Lovecraft. I must admit though, that this was my favourite part of the story, as I really enjoy that kind of writing. In all, a wonderful beginning to the A Brilliant Void collection of Irish Science Fiction short stories.
About a month ago I lent a spare copy of Greg Bear’s Blood Moon to a mate of mine and he reported back that it was an extremely weird book. I haven’t had the opportunity to read it myself yet, so I was intrigued by Blood Music when it came to reading an SF short story beginning with ‘B’; and yep, it’s pretty weird. Somewhat akin to a Frankenstein’s monster tale, Blood Music is a story of scientific advancement without consideration of the consequences.
For the majority of the story, the narrator is a passive observer as his friend slowly undergoes a metamorphosis thanks to something he has injected himself with. As interesting a concept as this was, I was waiting for everything to go wrong by the end of the tale, which it ultimately did. Those last few paragraphs, after the confrontation in Vergil’s, happen extremely quickly and seem at odds with the patient explanations that came before. This could, however, be a clever way to show how the ‘invaders’ are evolving, becoming quicker at distributing information and achieving their goals.
Ultimately, I can’t decide whether I felt for the narrator of the story. Perhaps it was because I was outside the story, but it was evident that things were going to go wrong. You could say that he was looking out for his friend, but the description he gives of Vergil from the start of the story didn’t suggest to me that they were all that close. In the end, I feel he was just as negligent as Vergil, though it is sad that his wife gets dragged in on the whole thing despite being oblivious to everything that’s been going on.