Smoke, mirrors and planes

Christopher Priest: The Adjacent
Gollancz 2013

“We were naïve, all of us but especially me — we thought we were making a breakthrough into something that would neutralise weapons. It would always be safe to use, non-aggressive in nature, harmless because it would remove harm. But what we all feared soon came to pass: minds other than ours worked out how to make quantum adjacency into a weapon of war.”
— Professor Thijs Rietveld, discussing Perturbative Adjacency Field.

This is a novel of ideas, of obsessions, and of the emptiness when a loved one disappears. It’s a work of speculative fiction, but one in which one mustn’t look too closely at the science nor expect any magic (except that being accomplished by smoke and mirrors). It’s a narrative that jumps around in time and space, told in both the first and the third person, in which we encounter many individuals; but ultimately there is one thread and one couple on which our attention is focused. It’s a novel that is by turns illogical and alienating but yet strangely satisfying.

Told in eight parts, The Adjacent begins in a dytopian 2030s. Hopping between Anatolia and the Islamic Republic of Great Britain we come to realise that the world is in the grip of two crises, one of extreme weather brought about by rapid climate change, the other produced by random terrorist strikes using a frightening, almost apocalyptic, weapon. It is this last that has apparently caused the disappearance of Melanie Tarent while on relief work as a nurse in Turkey, to the distress of her husband Tibor, a freelance photographer, who travels back to the IRGB, towards Lincolnshire and Hull, then one of the seats of government.

Thereafter, while continuing to follow Tibor’s story we also find ourselves travelling to the western front during the first world war with stage illusionist Tommy Trent and H G Wells, then to the home of Nobel prizewinner, the physicist Thijs Rietveld in East Sussex, where he is photographed by a younger Tibor; this is followed by a Second World War airfield for Lancaster bombers in the Lincolnshire Wolds (modelled on RAF Binbrook) where we meet Aircraftman Mike Torrence, and then the apparently fictitious island state of Prachous where we follow the career of Thom, a stage magician, and Tallant, an overseas visitor. What is the connection, if any, between all these individuals with curiously related names; and of the women whom they meet, whose names equally seem to share resemblances?

Continue reading “Smoke, mirrors and planes”

A ‘novel’ novel

rocks
West Wales beach, looking west towards a mythical Gwales (personal photo)

Review first published 19th February 2015, then reposted 21st October when Tim Burton’s film of the same name was on general release. Reappearing again as part of Dewithon19, this is the last of my reposts of reviews for this event.


Ransom Riggs:
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Quirk Books 2013 (2011)

There is a technique storytellers use whereby cues — words, phrases, scenes, characters suggested by audience members — are randomly inserted into an improvised narrative. Italo Calvino built up his novel The Castle of Crossed Destinies upon a sequence of Tarot cards, using the images to suggest not only a possible narrative but also to link to other classic narratives. These processes are similar to the ways in which Ransom Riggs constructs 16-year-old Jacob Portman’s journey from suburban Florida to a wet and windy island off the coast of Wales. Authentic ‘found’ vintage photographs of sometimes strange individuals placed in enigmatic positions or curious scenarios — these are the bones on which the author constructs his fantasy of children (with, shall we say, unusual talents) and the dangers they potentially face. For the reader the inclusion of these photos at appropriate points in the text is not only an added bonus but an integral and highly effective facet of the tale.

Continue reading “A ‘novel’ novel”

All you need is love

brain, old print
A disembodied brain (‘IT’) rules over Camazotz (the name is taken from the Mayan bat god)

Madeleine L’Engle A Wrinkle in Time
Introduction by Julia Eccleshare
Puffin Modern Classics 2007 (1962)

Authors often say they write the books they would have liked to read, and it’s also often said that authors effectively write about themselves, as if in response to the classic writing dictum Write what you know! This seems to be the case with A Wrinkle in Time.

Meg Murry is the classic outsider at the beginning of this science fantasy; at school she is awkward and friendless, she considers herself a plain Jane, she finds lessons torture. As the author herself stated in an interview, “Who would’ve wanted to be like Meg? I made Meg good at math and bad at English, and I was good at English and bad at math. Otherwise, we were very much alike! Meg couldn’t keep her hair nice and she was not a beauty. She was a difficult child. She is a lot like me!” And what would Madeleine L’Engle have liked to read? It’s clear it’s books about what she came across in her twenties and what excited her as a result: Einstein, particle physics and quantum mechanics. What more natural thing than to combine the two subject areas — herself and science? And then not only dedicate her first children’s book to her father and father-in-law but also honour them by calling another key character Charles Wallace after their forenames?

Continue reading “All you need is love”

Not reverting to type

typewriter

I often marvel at how far I seem to have time-travelled in less than one life’s span. We are all, in fact, time travellers, living a life partly dreamt but sometimes barely imagined when we were younger. Driverless cars, 3D printing, seeing almost to the edge of the known universe, was this not the stuff of science fiction in the not-so-distant past?

And how frequently have our elders and betters misjudged our present future in times past: regular visits to the Moon, a pill for everything with no side effects, an end to poverty, superstition replaced by science.

My musings have been kickstarted by simply sitting down to write this post.

Continue reading “Not reverting to type”

A spinner of tales

Alice Jane Taylor at 16, around Penelope's age at story's end http://www.alisonuttley.co.uk/album/slides/alison16.html
Alice Jane Taylor at 16, around Penelope’s age at story’s end
http://www.alisonuttley.co.uk/album/slides/alison16.html

Alison Uttley
A Traveller in Time
Puffin Books 1977 (1939)

Alison Uttley is best known for her Little Grey Rabbit books — beginning with The Squirrel, The Hare and The Little Grey Rabbit (1929) — publication of which continued for nearly fifty years, with charming illustrations by Margaret Tempest (latterly Katherine Wigglesworth). They were part of a story-telling tradition that stretched from Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit to Jane Pilgrim’s Blackberry Farm series, a tradition featuring anthropomorphic creatures and describing a rural life that has now largely disappeared.

A Traveller in Time is rather different. Continue reading “A spinner of tales”

A funny thing happened on the way to the post office…

toilet cabin
Stefan Jakubowski
Once Upon A Tyme
Zygmunt Stanley 2009

It’s Tom Tyme’s sixty-fifth birthday and after he has been down to the village post office – while it’s still there – to collect his pension he’s going to become a Time Traveller.
But he doesn’t know that yet.

Doctor Who has his Tardis, Tom Tyme has his … Portaloo. No, this isn’t a Cornish seaside resort — though we do get to visit Tintagel — but a machine for travelling in time and space. Unlike the Tardis, however, there’s not much space inside it and the flush doesn’t do what you’d want it to.

And that’s just for starters in this inventive comic novel, which involves a talking moggie, King Arthur’s sword Excalibur and mistaken identities — from which you’ll gather it’s absolutely pointless giving a plot summary. Continue reading “A funny thing happened on the way to the post office…”

Ingenious genre-crossing

snowscape

Jill Rowan The Legacy Snowbooks 2011

Folktales and ballads often recount the fantasy of a fairy abduction or visit to the Otherworld where both reality and time are suspended until the human visitor returns to their own world. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court gave this trope a time-travel twist by using the story as a means of satirising contemporary mores, perceptions and attitudes. Jill Rowan has given this by now well-worn motif a further twist: her protagonist, Fallady Galbraith, visits a kind of fairyland (the late 18th century), leading her to re-appraise her personal philosophy, her perceptions of life lived then and her attitudes to class, gender issues, education and love. How she copes with the possibility that she mayn’t return to 2008 while yet enamoured of her ‘fairy lover’, a country parson, is the mainspring of the plot and the conflict she has to resolve. Continue reading “Ingenious genre-crossing”