The Light of Other Days

I become enlightened, and descend into the murky depths of the ocean.

Issue #19, Sunday 3 April 2022

Bookish News

New and Forthcoming

All's Well by Mona Awad

This caught my eye on the “New Releases” list at Readings, looks like the kind of book I would enjoy.

Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating, chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised, and cost, her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.

Buy it at Readings

The Island by Adrian McKinty

Due out 24th May

I enjoyed this author’s earlier books set in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles”, though I wasn’t happy with his more recent The Chain. Still, this looks as though it would be worth trying.

Propulsive, terrifying, and blade-sharp, The Island is the next thrilling adventure from the mastermind behind the award-winning global sensation The Chain, and a family story unlike any you've read yet.
You should not have come to the island.
You should not have been speeding.
You should not have tried to hide the body.
You should not have told your children that you could keep them safe.
No-one can run forever . . .

More details

Other News

Orbit and Redhook Acquire New Trilogy by Claire North

Regular readers of this newsletter will be well aware that I’m a huge fan of the writing of Claire North, so I was really excited to see this announcement:

We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of a trio of novels from the award-winning Claire North that retell the ancient Greek myth of Penelope, wife of Odysseus.

The first book, Ithaca, is narrated by the goddess Hera. It is a daring, exquisite tale that breathes new life into ancient myth, and tells of the women who stand defiant in a world ruled by ruthless men…

Orbit UK and Redhook US will publish Ithaca globally this September. Books two and three in the series after will follow in 2023 and 2024 and will be narrated by the goddesses Aphrodite and Athena respectively.

This seems like a complete change of pace from North, but a really interesting one, and Ithaca will be at the top of my wish list when it comes out.

Sequel to Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep

Philip Reeve dropped the news on Twitter that there is a sequel coming to his earlier book. It will be named Utterly Dark and .... (something). That's interesting as I hadn't thought that there would be a sequel, and according to Reeve himself, who responded to me on Twitter, neither had he!

My Reading

Not Previously Reviewed

These books were read for the purposes of the “Hugo Time Machine” segment of our podcast, in which we travel back to a particular year and discuss the nominees and winners of the fiction categories of the Hugo Award for science fiction and fantasy. This time we visited 1968.

Thorns by Robert Silverberg

I really didn't like this. It's the tale of a billionaire media owner, Duncan Chalk, who psychically feeds off the distress of others. Like too many supervillains, he is grossly overweight (what a cliché!) and controls his empire by sitting on a throne 40 feet above the office floor, which he has to reach by climbing up a ladder (why? ego?). He brings together two damaged people to feature on his television show just in order to see their relationship falter and break apart.

These first of these two people Minner Burris, an astronaut who has been subject to extensive experimentational surgery by an alien race, leaving him transformed and in constant pain. The second is Lona Kelvin, a 19-year old virgin whose eggs have been harvested and used to create a hundred babies in plastic wombs; she's never seen or held them, but is psychologically traumatised by her feelings of loss (and by the subsequent overwhelming media attention).

Chalk brings these two together and pays for them to go on a tour of the Solar System, during which their interactions are filmed and broacast to Chalk's audience. More importantly, though, as their relationship breaks up, as he knew it would, Chalk feeds off their misery (apparently being able to suck this up telepathically on Earth while they are on one of Saturn's moons).

In the end, the two defeat and destroy Chalk because of the Power of Lurve... Yuck!

Oh, and the book definitely deserves to win the Bad Sex award. The wife of one of Burris's fellow astronauts is besotted by him, and there are several gross sex scenes and descriptions of this woman like "those continental buttocks", "the hips of the Earth-mother, the thighs of a courtesan", "the fleshy mounds quivering in intimate contact" and on and on, I'll spare you and stop there.

I gave this two stars on Goodreads, no idea why it was on the Hugo ballot.

The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany

Lyrical, mythical tale set in a future when mankind has become extinct or perhaps become transformed into a race of people suffering multiple mutations, either advantageous or deleterious. There's a culling process to kill off or else cage those who are too different.

It's written in the first person from the point of view of Lobey, who describes himself as "ugly and grinning", having "a figure like a bowling pin, thighs, calves, and feet of a man (gorilla?) twice my size (which is about five-nine) and hips to match."

Early in the book, Lobey loses Friza, the love of his life when she dies suddenly with no warning. Grieving, he helps an older man hunt down a "bull" which has been terrorising people. He discovers that the bull is in fact a mutant with the body of a man but the head of a bull—a minotaur. Lobey tracks it down and kills it in an underground complex, where he afterwards encounters a sentient computer which calls itself PHAEDRA (Phaedra, in Greek mythology, was the sister of Ariadne). PHAEDRA tells him that if he can "kid Death along for a little while" he may be able to recover Friza.

So Lobey sets out on an epic journey to try to try to defeat death and get her back. The story cleverly mixes up the myths of Theseus, of Orpheus, the Passion of Christ, and several other threads, even the stories of Billy the Kid and Jean Harlowe, to form a strangely compelling whole. I liked it a lot.

One interesting feature is the insertion throughout the book of Author's Notes which describe where Samuel Delany was, what he was doing, and what he was thinking about the book as he was writing it.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

I loved this when I first read it, many decades ago, and I loved it again on a re-read. It's very cleverly done.

As the book opens, after a quotation from a sacred Buddhist text we're introduced to the protagonist with these words:

His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god. Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be of any benefit.

So immediately, there's a flavour of ironic humour to the book, yet we're introduced to the idea of godhood, and the name Mahasamatman (and the Buddhist text) make it clear we're dealing with Indian mythology. Yet almost immediately afterword we learn that advanced scientific technology is being wielded by the gods.

Sam's soul or spirit, we learn, as a punishment for some severe infraction, has been transmitted into a ring of magnetic particles which circles this world; and the god Yama-Dharma, the god of death, is trying to bring him back.

The background scenario is revealed very gradually over the course of the book. We eventually understand that hundreds (thousands?) of years ago a small group of humans from Earth established a colony on this world. Early on, a technology was invented which allows the mind and memories of a human to be transferred into another body, and the original crew of the colony ship have used this to essentially become immortal. Their descendants have filled the world, but are mostly kept poor and ignorant while the founders continue to develop very advanced technology which gives these individuals immense personal power. In the process, and in order to keep the masses under control, they have spread the Hindu religion and themselves taken on the personalities and powers of the Hindu gods.

I won't try to summarise the plot other than to say that our protagonist, Sam, has set up in opposition to the gods by assuming the role of Gautama Buddha, the self-enlightened one.

The concept is brilliant, the many characters full of interest, and the plot is engaging and filled with tension: will Sam and his allies manage to defeat the terrible power of Brahma, Visnu and Shiva?

I love this book. I think it thoroughly deserved to win the Hugo.

Just a footnote: Lord of Light is an early example of what we might now call Science Fantasy, and I found this quote by Zelazny which shows that he knew exactly what he was doing in the book: quote:

On the one hand, I attempted to provide some justifications for what went on in the way of the bizarre; on the other, I employed a style I associate with fantasy in the telling of the story. I wrote it that way on purpose, leaving some intentional ambiguity, because I wanted it to lie somewhat between both camps and not entirely in either. I did this because I did not see much stuff being written at that time which fit that description; because I wanted to see whether I could do it; and because I was curious as to how such a book would be received. (Roger Zelazny)

Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock

This wasn’t nominated for the Hugo in 1968, but won the Best Novella category that year at the Nebulas, which are given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

I actually read the expanded novel version, which seemed a bit padded out from the novella version, and suffered from that.

Still, it’s a fascinating tale of a man called Karl Glogauer who is obsessed with finding out whether the story of Jesus as told in the New Testament is true. He eventually encounters someone building a time machine and uses it to travel back to a few years before the Crucifixion. The arrival of the machine, which is wrecked, creates enormous awe in the locals who see it arrive, and soon Karl is visited by a powerful-looking man who it turns out is John the Baptist, who wants to recruit him to John’s cause of getting rid of the Roman occupiers of Judah. Karl promises to help but spends a lot of time trying to locate Jesus of Nazareth. Spoiler: the real Jesus in this story is a mental defective still living with his parents, and Karl slowly, step by step, finds himself acting out the role of Jesus as told in the Bible. Not really a spoiler, as this is given away in the prologue of the novel.

Clever idea, and well-put together, though as I say the novel version seems to spend far too much time with Karl’s childhood and early adult years building up the story of his obsession.

Completed Since Last Issue

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

It took me quite a while to get through this book, which seems extraordinarily long for a book intended for a younger audience (I’m assuming middle-grade level). In the paperback edition I read, it runs to 432 pages of quite small type, and I estimate it must be at least 120,000 words.

The story also took a while to really get going and engage me. Perhaps that’s my fault. Anyway, once it did get going I did enjoy it. It certainly has a clever concept: set on a group of small islands called the Myriads, where once monstrous gods dwelled in the ocean, to emerge from time to time to devastate human communities. Decades before, however, there was an internecine battle between these gods and they were all wiped out. Now, humans descend in crude submarines to hunt for pieces of these monsters, which may have valuable properties.

The book follows the story of young Hark, who is under the influence of a somewhat older boy, Jelt, who leads him into trouble. Getting into trouble on the Myriads generally means being enslaved and put up for auction, and Hark finds himself despatched to an island which hosts the Sanctuary, a kind of aged care facility for old priests, who of course were out of a job when all the gods died.

Jelt continues to get Hark into trouble, travelling to the Sanctuary to contact him secretly, and together they venture underwater where Hark discovers a perilous object, the heart of one of the gods.

The story is too complex to summarise further, but a noteworthy feature of the book is the inclusion of several deaf characters. Those who have descended too many times into the Undersea tend to lose their hearing completely. One such young character who plays an important role in the book is Selphin, the daughter of the chief of an illicit salvage gang, is totally deaf. The author’s dealing with deafness is sympathetic and well-informed throughout.

Though I was daunted by the length of the book and the time it took me to get engaged in the story, I will look up some other titles by this author.

Waiting on the Shelf

A bit of a contrast, here!

And that’s all for this issue. See you next time.

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