Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson

 Wild Harbour cover

Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson was published in 1936 but it has been reprinted by British Library in the Science Fiction category. Actually it’s a bit of a difficult book to categorise, I wouldn’t really call it SF. Ian Macpherson was a Scottish author and he was obviously influenced by what was happening in the news in the 1930s, with Hitler tooling up for WW2 and indeed the Spanish Civil war already ongoing.

Hugh has no intention of waiting for his call up papers, he doesn’t want to take part in any war, so he and his wife Terry pack their little car with as many things from their home as they can and as much food as possible, and set off for the western Highlands of Scotland. They know of a well hidden cave there that they can hide out in. Hugh has also managed to buy lots of ammunition for his gun and takes a lot of rabbit traps too, he plans to shoot deer to feed them.

The next part of the book is all about them trying to make their cave into a home, levelling the floor, building a chimney and hearth. It’s fine in the warm summer weather but they know that it’ll be brutally cold and snowy in the winter. This section reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie except they were building a cabin, not fitting out a cave.

Life is much harder than they could have imagined and eventually the war catches up with them as starving gunmen make their way into the Highlands. Certainly towards the end this wasn’t an uplifting read as I’m sure you can imagine. I’m sure that in the 1930s there were a lot of ordinary people who just felt like getting away from the threat of a wartime situation, just as many people nowadays hanker after going off grid and withdrawing from society – even without the prospect of being called up to ‘do their bit’.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace by Eric Brown

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace cover

Sherlock Holmes and the Martian Menace by Eric Brown is the most recent publication in the series which is published by Titan Books. It’s not at all my usual kind of reading fare, I’ve never been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan mainly because I found his smart Alec observations to be quite tedious, thankfully they don’t feature too much in this book, but otherwise I think this strange mixture of the Edwardian era and SF works really well.

Earth has been invaded by Martians who are obviously much more technologically advanced than humans. The first invasion was very violent and culminated in many deaths but the invaders couldn’t fight off a common terrestrial virus (yep) so it was ultimately a failure. Six years later another Martian armada arrives on Earth, suposedly they’re peace-loving and their technological advances are very welcome by the people of Earth as they bring prosperity. There’s no doubt though that the Martians are in charge and Earth is just a part of their empire.

When Holmes and Watson are asked to investigate the death of an allegedly famous Martian philosopher and the investigation takes them to Mars, it isn’t long before Holmes realises that the whole thing is a con to get them to Mars.

All is not hunky dory on the planet and there’s a rebel faction, they’re not at all happy with those in power. Can they team up with Holmes and Watson?

I really enjoyed this book which has plenty of tension, interesting characters, is well written and also manages to convey an authentic Edwardian atmosphere at the same time as being futuristic.

I must admit that I was given this book by the author who is an old friend of ours. He writes science-fiction and also a crime series which is set in the 1950s. Although Eric Brown is a proud Yorkshireman he has been living happily in Scotland for several years now, but I’m not sure if he can be counted as a Scottish author.

The 1956 Club – The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

 The Man Who Japed  cover

The 1956 Club is a meme hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

The Man Who Japed by the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick is such an echo of the time it was written in – 1956. The year is 2114 but there had been a devastating nuclear war in the 20th century. General Streiter had headed up a revolution in 1985 and the society he formed is strict and puritanical, named Moral Reclamation (Morec). Neighbours are encouraged to spy on each other, sex is more or less outlawed, certainly outside marriage and there are weekly denunciations in apartment buildings with people being accused of ‘vile enterprise’ which was generally sex. But there are also punishments for using very mild swear words such as damn. There are also robot spies.

There are several other planets where people strive to produce food and there’s a rehabilitation planet which people who don’t toe the line are sent to. There’s a museum to the 20th Century where the most popular exhibit is a 20th century house, the exhibit is titled The Age of Waste and people are mesmerised by the opulence of it all.

Allen Purcell lives in Newer York with his wife Janet, they feel lucky to have a teeny room to themselves, inherited from Allen’s family. The bathroom is communal so you have to queue up for it in the morning. But Allen has an important job and is later given the position of Director of Entertainment and Propaganda. The statue of General Streiter has been vandalised and has been hastily boarded up, but it’s rumoured that the few people who saw the damage had laughed at it, it’s the beginnings of revolution.

As this book was written in 1956 the American author was obviously heavily influenced by the McCarthy era which was just beginning to break down by then. I’m sure if he had written it ten years earlier Dick would have been hauled in front of some sort of committee and accused of Un-American Activities and would have been lucky to come out of it with a viable career as publishers would have been too scared to touch his books.

It seems that revolutions always begin with the statues!

This was an enjoyable read, and I always find it amusing that science fiction dates so much faster than any other type of writing. It was funny that despite the fact that there is interplanetary travelling in this book, if you want to make a phone call you’ll have to use a phone in a street phone box.

The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter

1977 Club
I’m participating in The 1977 Club this week which is hosted by Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a Book. I’m also reading The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre, but I still have 100 or so pages of that one to read.

The Passion of New Eve cover

The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter was first published in 1977, which is why I read it. It really isn’t my sort of book. It’s well enough written but is extremely weird and I suppose when it was written it was hailed as some sort of feminist wonder read. Each to their own. I suspect the author had recently visited the US and she just let her imagination run wild into a future it could be heading for.

Evelyn (a man) lives in London but by chapter two he has travelled to New York, a place that all of his American friends had warned him about. It’s a lot worse than he could have imagined though as society has completely broken down and it’s mayhem, it’s a bit of a civil war situation and everyone’s out for themselves. After some adventures Evelyn decides it might be safer outside the city, but that’s when all his troubles really begin.

After getting lost in the desert he’s kidnapped by a young woman, taken back to an underground society of women headed by a large multi-breasted fertility goddess who performs a sex change on him – hey presto, now Evelyn is Eve.

After escaping from there he/she ends up at the home of Zero who’s a one-legged, one-eyed pirate type who has seven young female followers, they’re all supposed to be his wives and he decides that Eve will be his eighth, she has no say in the matter. This part seems a bit Manson family-ish and that had certainly been in the news not long previously. Bizarrely Zero blames an old movie actress called Tristessa for his infertility and he thinks she lives somewhere in the desert. He uses his helicopter to track her down and things get even weirder. Eventually Eve ends up in the hands of a heavily armed army of right-wing supposedly Christian schoolboys and paedophilia is added to the mix.

There’s a lot more of course but I’ve already written more than I usually do about the storyline of a book. In this book gender is flexible and I suppose in its day that was a strange thought, but now it seems that it’s quite common for people to choose which gender they want to be. I’m just not that interested as I think of people as people not a sex.

So this was a weird read by an author who nicked ideas from various places, it might have shocked readers back in the day but as often happens with science- fiction some things have just about caught up with it.

This is the first book by Angela Carter that I’ve read but I have a few more in the house so I’ll eventually give her another go – sometime.

Thanks Kaggsy and Simon for setting this up.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Literary Map of the UK

Map

Jack was thrilled to bits when a writer friend of his sent him a link to this literary map of British Science Fiction and Fantasy writers, made up of all their names, inscribed on the part of Britain that they are living or were born in.

Admittedly it’s a few years since he has got round to writing anything, what with pressure of work and then moving house and such. It is about time I gave him a swift kick up the bahookie (bum/ass) in the hopes of galvanising him into action again. He has only had one novel published but has had quite a few short stories appearing in anthologies.

Anyway, there he is, Jack Deighton up on the west coast of Scotland, sandwiched in between Naomi Mitchison and Edwin Morgan amongst others. It’s an interesting and pretty map I think.

The Moon King by Neil Williamson

The Moon King cover

The Moon King by Neil Williamson was published in 2014, it’s the first novel by the author and I think it comes under the genre of fantasy, not something that I read much but I did enjoy this one.

Glassholm is a strange place to live as everything is affected by the moon’s phases. When the moon is waning the whole of society goes a bit crazy and terrible things happen as the inhabitants’ moods can become violent and argumentative. The whole place is constantly swinging between highs and lows in a bi-polar way, and the people put their faith in the Moon King, otherwise known as the Lunane who is apparently immortal and had been their saviour hundreds of years ago when he had managed to harness the moon’s power via a machine.

Although fantasy isn’t really my cup of tea there are some very likeable characters in this book which is always a must for me if I am going to enjoy a book.

Neil Williamson is a Scottish author and that is very obvious from his writing which is sprinkled with Scots words and for me has that typically Scottish knack of conjuring up an atmosphere. This one counts towards the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

For some reason bits of this book reminded me of the film of The Wizard of Oz – I’ve never got around to reading the book. Have you read it. It also reminded me a bit of Alasdair Grey’s Lanark, but I think The Moon King is better than Lanark.

You can read Jack’s much fuller review of The Moon King here.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

 The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet cover

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers was published in 2015. Becky Chambers is an American author who has also lived in Scotland and Iceland but is now back living in the US. I’m not counting her as a Scottish author for the reading challenge though.

I first read of this book after Stefanie @ So Many Books wrote about it, you can read what she thought here. I read SF from time to time so I thought I would give this one a ago.

Anyway, there are quite a lot of different types of SF and I would say this book comes under the category of space opera, not a type I’ve ever read before but it was a good read despite being what I think of as a really old fashioned form of SF such as Star Trek or Blake’s Seven.

I’ve often written that I haven’t enjoyed a book just because there were no likeable characters in it, I prefer to spend my free time with people whose company I enjoy, and there were plenty of characters in this book to like. The Wayfarer is ‘peopled’ by various different sorts of aliens and the on board computer Lovey has developed into much more, she has a personality and in fact one of the crew members has fallen in love with her. As you would expect from different species being thrown together into close confinement there are tensions, especially as Corbin – a human – is of the grumpy male variety.

The Wayfarer is a patchwork spaceship that has been cobbled together from bits and pieces, no sleek streamlined vessel here. Rosemary Harper is the newest crew member, there’s a bit of a mystery about her, but as far as Ashby the easy going captain of the ship is concerned she is vital because she is a clerk and will put all of his files into good order. It’s important to his bosses that he pays more attention to such things.

The Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship and they have got a contract to punch a hole in space to build a hyperspace tunnel in a distant planet, travelling through a dangerous area where wars have been going on. The contract is worth a huge amount of money and Ashby trusts that it must be safe enough as surely they wouldn’t be sent into danger.

This is a very moral tale, similar to The Wizard of Oz or Toy Story where various species learn to get along and respect each other and Ashby ends up wondering if it is morally acceptable for them to be taking on the type of work entailed in the contract. Think of all the people who put themselves in danger taking on contracts in the Middle East and elsewhere and it’s easy to see where Chambers got her idea.

There are big moral questions involved but this is done in a very light-hearted way. It’s an enjoyable read.

The blurb on the front says: A quietly profound, humane tour de force’ Guardian.

Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown

Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown is a science-fiction book, more specifically it’s Steampunk and it’s the first Steampunk book which I’ve read. In fact the book was dedicated to Jack and myself, as you can see from the photo below. Eric Brown has been a full time science-fiction writer for 20 odd years but this is his first foray into Steampunk.

Book Dedication

 Jani and the Greater Game cover

I didn’t really know what to expect of this book but I was agreeably surprised, I really liked it and am now looking forward to reading the sequel, which I believe isn’t quite finished yet.

Janisha Chaterjee is an 18 year old who has been educated in Cambridge but her father, an Indian government minister is seriously ill, so Jani has returned to see him. On the way back home the airship she is travelling on is attacked and most of the other travellers are killed. Jani survives along with an old lady, Lady Eddington, whom she had befriended on the journey, who it turns out has influence in high places. They are helped by a strange looking being who had been a prisoner on the airship and he gives Jani what she thinks is a coin, before he legs it away from the Russian soldiers who are advancing on them.

So begins Jani’s adventure where she has to dodge the British army, Russian spies and a mysterious Indian holy man and his side-kick. Jani has difficulty deciding who can be trusted and her life is in danger from just about everyone it seems. Amongst the bad guys there are a few really likeable characters which is always a must for me to enjoy a book.

It turns out that steampunk books are a sort of combination of historical fiction and science-fiction. The atmosphere in this one is Victorian with some wonderful futuristic gadgets thrown in. Who wouldn’t love an enormous mechanical elephant which you can ride on and in?

Eric Brown did live in India for a few years so I’m presuming that the Indian parts are all authentic. Go on, if you’re new to steampunk too – give this one a go!