For the first time in a decade I travelled for more than a day from home without my LSS, my Life Support System. Do I mean essential medications? No. Vegan food? No. My laptop – not to keep up with e-mails and facebook but to keep my daily writing increments going. I told my wife that literary muscles, as other parts, will atrophy if not exercised regularly. Never mind, it was an opportunity to give eyeballs more swivelling to do. And so they did on the beach of Cala Pi in Mallorca: bikini watching and reading.
For the Chester SF Book Group in the library on November 6th I needed to read Banner of Souls by Liz Williams because our theme is to be technology in Science Fiction. I remembered reading another book by Liz Williams in which a sentient vehicle gave me much thought and inspiration. So much I wrote a short story, The Judgement Rock, in which an asteroid miner had to argue with his sentient spacesuit, which wanted to go in a different direction. It was accepted by Steve Upham for his Estronomicon ezine. Of course sentient machinery abound in many science fiction stories and films from my own novel – Exit, Pursued by a Bee to HAL in A Space Odyssey: 2001. The fun bit is to extend the character beyond mere computer interface. In Banner of Souls, sentient armour is extended by having several previous owners haunting it. Clever and it works. The armour is a feature of alien-provided haunt tech. Other technology includes a fascinating wet ship made of water whose molecules are bounded by unknown forces. GM people populate the novel and thereby comes a disturbing consequence. Apparently, when biotechnology sees to it that all future humans are engineered for optimum lives and occupations, they will all be female. The argument runs that if procreation is unnecessary with the advent of ‘growing tanks and bags’ for people making then men are not needed. The notion of sex as fun is raised but discarded by the main character. She is Dreams-of-War and initially endearing as an Amazon type intelligent young woman. However, her murdering adversary, Yskatarina, appealed to me more and more. Dreams-of-War made too many tactical errors for someone supposedly selected for a bodyguard job because she was the best. Seemed incredulous, as did the excissieres, who rushed around with inbuilt scissors – like the joke, Edward Scissorhands. In fact the anti-male stance in the book grated with me increasingly. Is misogyny applied to women hating men as well as vice versa? (edit: apparently it is Misandry) Having said that, the action is page turning as is the clever tech.
On my shelf waiting for a holiday read has been Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. All the Amis family are noted for their literary style of writing and this book had been described as a venture into science fiction, which it isn’t really. Maybe it was described thus because the main character is a conscience that is experiencing a doctor’s life from the moment of death back to his birth. It is a backwards plot. As such I loved the way it forced the reader to contemplate how different common aspects of life is organised anew. Consider eating. The narrator observes a dirty plate drawn out of a dishwasher, then scraps added to it from the trash. Food is disgorged from the doctor’s mouth onto the plate and moved around for a while until the food is decanted into pans on the stove. From the stove the food is poured into cans, which are taken to the shop, who reimburses the doc for his trouble. Being stuck with the doctor the poor conscience sees well people come into the hospital, undress, lie on a bed, taken to the operating theatre. There, the doctor opens the patient, rummages around inside them and eventually sends them back outside but ill, sometimes with horrible injuries he inflicted on them. Of course all this is with people walking and talking backwards, but the conscience knows no different and assumes these modes as normal. However, a flaw in my opinion, is that the narrator is aware that he is experiencing life in reverse and so he should know that the bodies are being repaired. Harrowing scenes come as the doctor sails backward from the US to Europe where we learn he is an experimental surgeon at Auschwitz concentration camp. The observation is of bodies pulled from pits, or as ashes from ovens, and miraculously made better, given back their jewellery, dressed and put on trains to go home.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this fascinating insight into the life of one of Hitler’s evil surgeons and of the time direction. A short book (176 pages) this was a quick read and peppered with literary phrases and concepts – eg As he moves through the house mirrors monitor him.
One of our Chester Book Group members is a keen fan of Christopher Priest. I bought Inverted World at NewCon in Northampton. I’d asked the seller if he had anything by Priest and he told me Priest’s first wife, Lisa Tuttle, was standing behind me! What’s the odds? To be brief, I didn’t like Inverted World as much as I wanted to. It is engineering based – great, but in a daft way. A city has to be pulled along four rail tracks to avoid being crushed by centrifugal forces. The planet is shaped like a rotated hyperbola – think of a Pringle. There are too many stretches to make the premise feasible. I also find the characters unfeeling and sterile. Shame. On the other hand the narrative is easy to read and the maths explained lucidly, worth a read for the infinity aspects – even if nonsense.
My wife enjoyed Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother. Haddon wrote the best-selling The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I hated that book (not really) because he described things editors told me not to – eg the unique numbers on lampposts – but it is an incisive excursion into autism. A Spot of Bother looked like a family-lit light read, and it is. I started reading it at Palma Airport, and continued on the plane. Still have a hundred pages and now I want to continue even though it is a bit two-dimensional. However, the dad, George, has feelings about the world that I have. He observes clouds, and misinterprets people. He is rather potty but endearing as are his dysfunctional family.
Three and three-quarter books in a week! Even so, I’d rather have read one book and taken my laptop.