Emerald City
An occasional 'zine produced by Cheryl Morgan and available from her at cheryl@emcit.com


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Issue #65 - January 2001


As most of you will already know, Emerald City has moved web servers. This will not affect you very much. The 'zine can still be found at http://www.emcit.com/. However, it does mean that I am changing my email address. From now on correspondence should go to cheryl@emcit.com. Please update your address books.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Michael Wallis for hosting Emerald City for the past four years. However, occasionally one has to move on, and I have.

The other thing that has happened with the web site is that I have updated the look and feel of the pages. I am pretty hopeless at artwork, but I think I am getting better. Also hopefully the text is now a lot more readable. The response I have got from people thus far has been highly positive so I think I'm getting it right.

In this issue

Streets of Darkness - China Miéville announces his genius. Is Perdido Street Station Cheryl's book of the year?

Islands of Mystery - Tom Arden is anything but washed up in his desert island capers

Secrets of the Ancients - Jan Siegel delves deep into British mythology for a fine fantasy novel

Powers of Empire - Thomas Harlan starts his career with a fascinating fantasy alternate history of ancient Rome

Fragments of History - Edward James tells us what really went on in Britain in the first millennium

Plots of Quality - some more highly readable and intelligent fantasy from Juliet McKenna

Miscellany - a whole bunch of other stuff

Footnote - The End

Streets of Darkness

I have managed to avoid Perdido Street Station for quite a while. Lots of people whose judgement I really should listen to have been telling me to buy it. But the cover looked unappealing, and it was this huge fat fantasy thing, and I wondered if I couldn't just wait for the paperback. So I chickened out and read King Rat first, and it was good, but not awesome, so I continued to dither.

Perhaps I should have taken a look at some of the blurb. It might have meant something to me if I had seen that the author, China Miéville, had dedicated the book to Mervyn Peake and M. John Harrison. It might have told me something about the sort of thing I could expect. On the other hand I might just have thought it incredibly pretentious. I mean, it is a bit like some young Italian painter dedicating his work to Michaelangelo and Leonardo. It is one thing to admire great craftsmen, it is another to emulate them. Miéville couldn't be that good, could he?

So then I began borrowing books from the local library, and this seemed like a good excuse to get the hardback after all. And I read, and I saw, and my jaw dropped, and I knew that I was in love.

I sleep in old arches under the thundering railtracks.

I eat whatever organic thing I find that will not kill me.

I hide like a parasite in the skin of this old city that snores and farts and rumbles and scratches and swells and grows warty and pugnacious with age.

New Crobuzon is not a pretty place, and it is anything but new. It squats monstrously on the confluence of the rivers Tar and Canker, filling them with effluent from its vast, multi-variant population and pollution from its huge, grinding, smoking thaumaturgical factories. It throbs tunelessly to the rhythm of trains and airships and corruption and crime. It is, I suspect, a lot like London.

Our hero Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is an outcast scientist, a dabbler in obscure disciplines such as vodyanoi watercraeft and Crisis Theory. He is middle-aged, fat, something of a rebel, and could be rather brilliant if only he could apply himself to something for long enough. He is very fond of his beer, and even more fond of Lin.

The lady is a khepri gland artist. The insect-headed females of her race are capable of digesting coloured berries and combining them with various natural secretions to make a fast drying paste with which they create fabulous sculptures. Lin, who is also a bit of a rebel, has forsaken traditional khepri styles and has become quite popular amongst human art lovers. In fact, she is rather too popular for her own good.

Of course Isaac and Lin have to keep their relationship secret. Other than amongst the free-thinking artistic community of Salacus Fields, cross-species relationships are deeply frowned upon. But soon their social embarrassment will become the very least of their problems. A mysterious, bird-headed visitor from the far deserts of Cymek, a terrifying client whom Lin dare not turn down, and accidental involvement in one of the many money-making schemes of the city government place our heroes, New Crobuzon, and all of its inhabitants, in very deadly danger.

If King Rat was a little short on plot, Perdido Street Station shows gloriously that Miéville has no great lack of skill in that department. Complex strands are woven together in the first half of the book, and resolve themselves into a fast-paced adventure in the second half. What the books do have in common is the same dark, grimy view of the world; gazing upwards from the interstices of city life and seeing "normality" for the complacent and/or corrupt mess that it is. Perdido Street Station is grotesque and grand by turns. It is overflowing with imagination and encrusted with centuries of deceit, exploitation and betrayal. It is remorselessly cruel and coldly merciless. It is amazingly fantastical and terrifyingly real.

It has, at times, rather too much to it. Lovers of doorstep fantasy novels will demand 7000 pages rather than the mere 700 they have been given, and even that will not be sufficient to explore the complexities of the world that Miéville has created. Of course exploring it in that way would doubtless burst innumerable bubbles of imagination and leave the setting dull and lifeless, but the pressures of publisher economics may force it to happen anyway.

Lovers of ideas on the other hand will nod happily at the way Miéville uses Isaac and Lin's relationship as a way of introducing the occasional gay character without raising an eyebrow. They will ponder on the nature of the legal system of the garuda from Cymek and consider the possibility of making the book required reading for all Libertarian theorists. They will compare the desperate hopelessness of New Crobuzon's social revolutionaries with the romanticism of Ken MacLeod, and they will wish that Miéville had more time to spend on all of these topics, instead of simply revelling in the joy of beautiful prose.

Is it the best book of the year? I don't know. Ash runs it pretty close, and in a way I'm rather relieved that neither is likely to make the final Hugo ballot so that I don't have to choose between them. But they are right there at the top of my list, and hopefully they will find their way onto yours as well. Perdido Street Station is not a book that will ever be a best seller. It is not Terry Pratchett, who manages to be clever as well and entertaining and populist. And it is most definitely not David Eddings or Anne McCaffrey. It makes no concessions to politeness and comfort reading and reinforcing the smug, self-satisfied preconceptions of its readers. Like one of Lin's sculptures, it cares little for convention, but it is darkly beautiful all the same.

From the other side of the cabin they saw the spectacularly darkening sky, made even more astonishing by a day in the reeking dun below New Crobuzon. The sun was gone, but only just. The sky was bisected by the skyrail that threaded through Flyside militia tower. The city was a layered silhouette, an intricate fading chimneyscape, slate roofs bracing each other obliquely before the plaited towers of churches to obscure gods, the huge priapic vents of factories spewing dirty smoke and burning off excess energy, monolithic tower blocks like vast concrete gravestones, the rough down of parkland.

Mervyn Peake, M. John Harrison, and now China Miéville. Long may he write! From now on, I get his books the moment they hit the shelves. American readers - there will be a trade paperback edition available from Del Rey in March. Don't miss it.

Perdido Street Station - China Miéville - Macmillan - hardcover

Islands of Mystery

Yes, dear reader, it is time once again to find out what new marvels of convoluted silliness Mr. Tom Arden has visited upon his unfortunate heroes in their search for the five crystals of the Orokon. The latest instalment finds us on the high seas, a favourite location of novelists and therefore prime territory for Mr. Arden's gentle spoofs. We have castaways from Robinson Crusoe to Lord of the Flies. We have the one-legged pirate, Faris Porlo, who is more like Captain Pugwash than Long John Silver, and a mighty sea monster that would swallow white whales like truffles. Along the way we get scenes out of The Little Mermaid and a flying submarine that seems to have more in common with the Nautilus than Stingray.

At the same time we are still very much in the land of The Arabian Nights. There are mighty rulers, a wicked sorcerer, a beautiful princess and plentiful Strange Customs. We have the over-protective nurse, Ra Fanana, who only wants to see her wilful mistress married, to anyone, and Tagan the Eunuch who seems to have watched far too many Julian Clary routines. Well, it is pantomime season after all.

In amongst all of this hilarity Jem and Rajal have somehow to acquire the fourth of the Orokon crystals, that associated with the sea goddess, Javander. There is, of course, little doubt that they will find it, but which island it is secreted upon is kept a mystery for much of the book. In addition the two boys get to face a magical foe far more bizarre than anything they have yet encountered. Several mysteries left hanging over from the previous volume are also resolved.

I must admit that this is my least favourite of the Orokon series so far. Possibly this is because I am less familiar with the source material that Tom is using. Possibly it is because Jem and Rajal spend most of their time being flung from one hair-raising or farcical situation to another with no chance of acting for themselves. And maybe it is a bit because Tom is marking time.

It is noticeable that, apart from the acquisition of the crystal, this volume hardly advances the plot at all. There is no sign of Cata and Bob Scarlet, Polty and Aunt Umbecca are equally absent, "Lord Empster" appears to have vanished, and even Toth-Vexrah is strangely subdued. It is almost as if Tom wanted to give us some light relief before sending his heroes back to Ejland for what promises to be a thunderous climax.

There were brave attempts to recapture the spirit of the earlier books, but the occasional joking asides about the island of Hora's supposedly "isocratic" government were mild compared to the biting satires on Ejland society. The new comedy duo, Menos and Blard, were poor substitutes for Morven and Crum.

None of which is to say that Arden's prose is in any way lacking in eloquence and style. It is simply to say that this volume has neither the excitement, the biting wit, nor the side-splitting hilarity of its predecessors. Those books were, of course, very hard acts to follow, and in a series this long the occasional false step is forgivable. I have every confidence that the final volume, when we are reunited with the main cast, will be every bit as good as the first three. Unfortunately we have to wait another year or so for it.

Sisterhood of the Blue Storm - Tom Arden - Gollancz - hardcover

Secrets of the Ancients

There is no Time here, beneath the Tree. She has no memory of arriving, or of any journey in between; her memories belong all to that other place, the place where they lived by Time. Dimly she recalls growth, change, constant motion - the wearing out of the body, the swift onset of death. Nothing kills like Time.

Boy have I been spoilt this issue! First China, then Tom, and now Jan Siegel: who says that genre novelists don't know how to write?

The Dragon Charmer is a sequel to Siegel's earlier Prospero's Children. It is set some twelve years later and shows Fern once again in denial about her magical powers and about to marry some boring media pundit and settle for a life of Range Rovers, dinner parties and holiday homes in Provence. Needless to say, neither the wild magic in her genes, nor the demon Azmordis, are likely to let this happen without a fight.

There were times when I wondered whether bits of the book are somewhat autobiographical. Certainly Siegel has the kind of expert knowledge of the horrors of wedding arrangements that can only be gained by suffering them at first hand. Siegel began her career with an SF novel (under the name of Amanda Hemingway) but has since moved to more mainstream work. One might suspect that this excursion into writing fantasy is her own little rebellion against conformity. She does, after all, take time out in the book to defend her position.

Fortunately she had read plenty of the right sort of books - not 'serious' literary fiction where the heroines have single-parent status and unsuccessful love affairs and Angst, but the kind where they have to escape from locked rooms on ropes of knotted sheets, or by hitting an unwary jailor over the head with a convenient blunt instrument.

It is obvious, however, that fantasy is something for which Siegel has much love, and a great deal of talent. Whereas Prospero's Children focused primarily on the sort of high magic you find in Dion Fortune, the new book is steeped in the magic of the wildwood. If you like Rob Holdstock's work you will love this too. Siegel's knowledge of mythology is prodigious, and she weaves in themes from the Odyssey and the Mabinogion to Malory and Shakespeare with consummate ease, drawing them all into the ambit of the Atlantean history that she established in Prospero's Children. I particularly liked her use of Morgause and Caliban, and her dragon is worlds away from the cute pets of Pern.

Structurally I think that The Dragon Charmer is an improvement on its predecessor. It has the same two-part construction, but the second part is not as sharply separated from the first. You don't suddenly feel that you have been dropped into a completely different book. It also has excellent pacing. I couldn't put it down. I think it is a better book than Prospero's Children, and this is a very good sign for the future.

What really impresses me about The Dragon Charmer however, is that it is not only beautifully written and expertly researched, but it is highly commercial as well. It manages to have all that stuff about angst and unexpected passionate sex and dysfunctional relationships without letting them take over the book. It is girly fantasy with magnificent style and only the required minimum of squishy sentiment. Here's hoping that it sells by the container-load.

There will of course be more. Siegel is not producing a mammoth, multi-volume "trilogy", but she has left enough loose ends for at least two more books. What she is doing is more like the way a mystery writer will write many books featuring the same character, but have each novel pretty much distinct and complete in itself. There will be character development between the books, but not a continuous plot. This too is an improvement on traditional genre fantasy.

It's over, thought Gaynor, and thought became a murmur, uttered under her breath, as she walked beside Will carrying his sister into the hall.

'No', muttered Fern, and her eyes half opened, gleaming blearily through her lashes. 'It has begun.'

Long may it continue!

The Dragon Charmer - Jan Siegel - Voyager - softcover

Powers of Empire

Now here I must be careful. Having just reviewed three books by superbly talented writers I come to a first novel by someone who is still recognisably a genre novelist. Thomas Harlan's book, The Shadow of Ararat, did rate close to the top of last year's Locus Poll for best first novel. He is also a serious contender for the Campbell Award, but he still has a bit to learn about the craft of writing compared to the previous three offerings. I'm trying not to be too hard on him just because the rest of what I have been reading was so good.

The Shadow of Ararat is the first book in a series entitled The Oath of Empire. It is one of those books that give genre cataloguers nightmares. Quite clearly it is fantasy. It has magic and demons and necromancy. But it is also a complex alternate history of Rome in the 7th Century that appears to promise survival of the Empire and continuation of Roman civilisation. I guess Harry Turtledove has now legitimised the alternate history fantasy, so hopefully not too many people will be upset.

I should also point out that Harlan's fantasy is leagues away from that of Jan Siegel. In his world, magic is a well-understood phenomenon used primarily for medicinal purposes and in warfare. Although some of his descriptions of necromancy are quite good, there is little mythic spark in his writing. It is magic for science fiction fans.

The book has a multi-strand structure with a variety of lead characters. The major players are Dwyrin, a young Irishman shortly to become a legionary in the Third Ars Magica; Thyatis, the female Centurion of a crack Roman commando troop; and Maxian, the Western Emperor's sorcerer brother. As you might guess, there are times when one has to step back and remind oneself that this is an alternate history, not a fantasy novel set in historical Rome. Otherwise one's disbelief would quickly become prostrate rather than suspended.

The bulk of the plot revolves around an alliance between the two Roman emperors (East and West) against the Persian king, Chrosoes. I did, for a few brief moments, worry that this was going to be another one of those American anti-Moslem propaganda books. But it quickly became clear that Harlan's world is one in which Christ did not exist, Zoroastrianism is the main source of food for the Coliseum lions, and Mohammed may be finding some rather different outlets for his leadership talents. There are no simplistic politics here.

What you will find is a lot of military talk. Harlan is an experienced game designer with an enormously successful play-by-mail game behind him. I suspect he has played a lot of ancients wargaming. Certainly he loves the period and the characters, from well-known commanders such as Caesar and Alexander to lesser luminaries such as Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. Fortunately the military stuff does not completely take over the book, though it can get a bit wearing in places.

In addition to his knowledge of ancient warfare, Harlan demonstrates a good basic grounding in the history of the period. At the beginning of the book he has a lot of fun playing with the reader regarding what is real history and what is made up. So yes, concrete was a common building material in ancient Rome. And the escalator in the Imperial palace? Well, it is technically feasible. I'll have to look it up. The only thing that I found really out of place (as opposed to being a well-judged alteration) was having an Irishman with a last name of MacDonald. Something like Uí Domnhaill might have been more appropriate.

The war between the Romans and Persians is the major plot theme for the opening book of the series, but the long term plot is something quite different and more to do, I think, with preserving civilisation against the Dark Ages than mere military conquest. It is not yet clear quite where Harlan is going with these ideas, but there are some interesting possibilities.

My main difficulties with the book were with the characterisation and the micro-plotting. Far too many of the characters, even the main players, are very thinly portrayed. It was quite noticeable that one of the most vibrant characters in the book is a revenant. Of course he is based on a real person, which must help. As for the plot, there were far too many places where things happened because it was necessary for them to happen, rather than because it made sense at the time. These are both things that Harlan will get better at with practice. I might also point out that something that looks great in an episode of Mission Impossible does not necessarily translate easily to the printed word. TV and books are not the same medium. Again I think Harlan will learn.

Stepping back and looking at the novel from a philosophical perspective, I have to conclude that this is a book that glorifies military conquest and the concept of monarchy. It is, to a certain extent, a romanticisation of the ancient world. But it does not gloss over the nastier sides of conquest and empire. There is plenty of cynicism, betrayal and brutality. That doesn't entirely excuse the theme, but at least it shows that Harlan's adoration is far from blinkered.

Anyway, book two in the series was available at Worldcon, so I had better find out what Harlan is doing with the long-term plot. There is that Campbell Award to think about as well.

Shadow of Ararat - Thomas Harlan - Tor - hardcover

Fragments of History

So, here we go again. Cheryl is getting side-tracked and is reviewing a history book. But I do have some excuses. To start with, Edward James happens to be the editor of Foundation, the magazine of the Science Fiction Foundation. Being a professor of history at Reading University is presumably merely his mild-mannered alter ego. In addition, the first millennium is a fertile time for fantasy fiction. It includes the Arthurian period. The Thomas Harlan book reviewed above is set during it. Knowing a bit about the real history of the period can help us understand fiction set in that time and hopefully also help us write better fiction. Besides, Edward is a very nice bloke and I wanted to review his book. So there.

Britain in the First Millennium is the first in a series of books (by various authors) under the general title of Britain in Europe. It is an interesting attempt to view British history in its European context, rather than in isolation which is what has generally been done in the past. When I was a kid the only time we ever learned about Europe was when Britain was at war with someone on the continent. Given the current intensity of debate about Britain's role in the European Community, such an attempt at rolling back the myth that Britain never had anything to do with the rest of the world (except when conquering it) is probably very timely.

History books come in two basic types. The first group comprises those books whose authors have a pet theory that they wish to prove. An example might be John Morris's The Age of Arthur, which provides a convincing temporal setting for Arthur's kingdom even if there is still no solid evidence that the man himself existed. Or there are Jean Markale's works which try hard to prove that Celtic society was a Marxist utopia.

The other kind of book is that in which the author is trying to debunk something. I am thinking in particular of Stuart Piggott's classic, The Druids. In that book Piggott makes a brave attempt at showing that, Caesar's lurid propaganda apart, we have no solid evidence that druids existed. Edward's book, it appears, falls into the debunk camp.

The particular bugbear that causes Edward to wax cynical is the use of ancient history to shore up Nineteenth Century ideas of nationalism and racism. He gets quite animated when discussing concepts such as "Celtic society" or, even more absurdly, the English and Scottish races.

We know, for example, that there were two, possibly three, very distinct groups of "Celts" in these Isles when Caesar arrived and began our written history. We can tell them apart by their languages. The Britons have given us the modern tongues of Welsh, Cornish and Breton, while the Gaels gave us Gaelic (Irish and Scottish versions). The Picts, who by the way are not mentioned by the Romans until about the 4th Century, despite the fact that Agricola's army marched right through the territory that they later held, appear to have been related to the British, though some of their cultural artefacts are very different.

Speaking of the Picts brings us to the thorny question of Scottishness. The Scots, as you may know, were a Gaelic (that is Irish) tribe who settled on the Western shore of what is now Scotland. Their kingdom, Dál Riata, was originally beholden to the Uí Neill dynasty in Ulster. Somehow, however, they managed to wrest control of the region from the Picts, from the British kingdom of Strathclyde, and from the aggressive Anglian kingdom of Northumberland which once ruled the east coast as far as the Firth of Forth.

Scottishness was further diluted by substantial Viking settlement, especially in Orkney where, unusually, the Norsemen seem to have completely eliminated the previous occupants. Not forgetting, of course, that one of Scotland's most famous kings can trace his descent from one of William the Conqueror's Norman knights, a fellow by the name of Robert de Brus.

Other nationalisms are, of course, equally foolish, and becoming more so as Britain continues to welcome immigrants from all corners of the globe. Even Welshness is dubious. After all, if I were genuinely Welsh I would be short and dark like a Briton, not tall and red-haired like a Gael.

I share some of Edward's annoyance in this area, having waxed irritable from time to time in this publication over the American habit of describing any British folk music as "Celtic", even Steeleye Span and Jethro Tull. I had not, however, realised quite how bad things were, or how culpable we modern British (and Irish) are.

Take the Book of Kells, for example. This is generally supposed to be an example of the pinnacle of "Celtic" art. Take it to an art historian, however, and he will tell you that it was produced long after the Angles and Saxons arrived, and will point out the influence of British, Pictish and Anglo-Saxon culture on the artwork. Thus much of what we take to be typical "Celtic" art is, in fact, Anglo-Saxon in origin. Oops!

One of the things that struck me about the book is how readable it is. Obviously it gets a little dense in parts, as there is a lot of information to impart. But elsewhere the style is free and chatty. For example, how many academic historians do you know who would quote Terry Pratchett, or use their personal love of Jazz to illustrate a point about cultural diffusion?

There are even points at which I might tentatively accuse Edward of cracking a joke. I am particularly fond of the section where he is describing the Venerable Bede's zeal for reforming the Christian Church in order to preserve its ideals of poverty, freedom from sin and devotion to God, and likens this to Trotsky's theory of the need for perpetual revolution.

The European aspect of the book also works well. For much of the period in question, of course, Britain was part of a pan-European empire centred on Rome. And for most of the rest of the period it was part of a pan-European theocracy centred on Rome. Then there was Canute (who, incidentally, was the grandson of the newly famous Harald Bluetooth) who ruled a vast empire encompassing Norway, Denmark and Britain. Still, at least in his defence he did spend rather more time in England than that famous Frenchman, Richard the Lionheart.

There are economic links too. Offa and Charlemagne signed one of the first known free trade treaties between England and France. There is a fascinating theory that the Viking passion for raiding came about as a result of the collapse of the silver trade between Islam and France (which came through Russia, a Swedish protectorate). Not to mention, of course, the famous Cornish tin trade, which allegedly attracted merchants all the way from First Century Palestine.

All in all, there is a wealth of fascinating material in the book. Being a conscientious academic, Edward spends much of his time pointing out just how little we actually know. But he certainly provides enough material to give the author of Dark Age fantasies food for thought. He has also given me a fabulous idea for an alternate history. Ah, if only I could write fiction.

Britain in the First Millennium - Edward James - Arnold - softcover

Plots of Quality

Most of the fiction I review in Emerald City gets in either because the author is very famous, or the writing is very good, or both. Sometimes I'll review books because I like the ideas, or because the author is new and very promising. But sometimes I have to fall back on that old adage of "a good story, well told". That could not be more true of Juliet McKenna.

I think Juliet will forgive me if I say that she is still working on producing works of art. It isn't something that everyone can do straight off. But it is a welcome change to pick up something that looks like a standard piece of genre fantasy and discover that the author is smart, imaginative, occasionally unorthodox, not afraid to challenge the cosy preconceptions of comfort readers, and above all a darn good story teller.

I reviewed Juliet's first novel, The Thief's Gamble, a few issues ago. Book two in the series (which I can now tell you will end with book four) is called The Swordsman's Oath, and straight away we find Juliet prepared to stretch herself and experiment. She has abandoned Livak as her viewpoint character, and has switch to the swordsman, Ryshad. It takes a bit of courage, in your second novel, two write the whole book (including the sex scenes) from the point of view of someone of the opposite sex.

Juliet stretches the bounds of genre fantasy in other ways too. You might say that having a major character who is openly gay is just political correctness, but it is a welcome change from the "might is right" Neanderthal politics of so much fantasy fiction. Add to that the fact that her world seems workable and that she does not shy away from the brutality of mediaeval life, and you have an author who is prepared to respect her readers rather than mollycoddle them. People complain endlessly about how SF&F books are "escapist", but I can assure you that McKenna's work is far less escapist than the average bonkbuster, let alone the average fantasy novel.

There is that heroism thing as well. In formulaic Tolclone fantasy the heroes may show a little initial reluctance, but very soon they are keenly off in search of glory and of saving the world for Good, Truth, Righteousness and the pseudo-mediaeval WASP way of life. Juliet's heroes, on the other hand, hate being involved in world-shaking events. The see the wizards as a bunch of cynical politicians prepared to make abominable choices to further their ends. Even thought he bad guys are quite clearly bad, Ryshad and Livak are sickened by what they are asked to do and can't wait to get back to a bit of clean, honest mercenary work or thievery.

There are some areas where Juliet still has a way to go. For example she creates some wonderfully intense emotional situations, and then chickens out of following through in detail. We get to hear what characters think, rather than experiencing it. This, of course, will come with practice. Book three is already out, and thanks to the quality of Juliet's storytelling I'm very keen to get hold of it.

I note, by the way, that I have told you almost nothing about the plot. This is difficult. We are in the middle of a four-book series and I don't want to spoil the first book for you. Let's just say that the plot is one that involves politics, the occasional bit of military action, and a fair amount of magical research rather than expecting an ill-trained and naïve farm boy to take down the Embodiment of All Evil. The story continues, and I for one was completely caught out by the direction that the book took.

The Swordsman's Oath - Juliet E. McKenna - Orbit - softcover


Routley interview online

Some time ago I met up with my good friend Jane Routley at a coffee shop in London and conducted an interview, that being what journalists do when they talk to famous authors. Much of the time was actually spent exchanging gossip about Melbourne, but in between all that we did manage to talk about Jane's books and giggle lots.

I am pleased to say that the interview will shortly appear in electrons on the SF web site Strange Horizons. It is due for publication on January 22nd, which is also about the time that I will be sending out this issue. Please go and take a look.

By the way, Strange Horizons is in the process of applying for non-profit status. This will put it on the same footing as various fannish organisations such as NESFA, San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions, and so on. It gets its money primarily from sponsorship and advertising, and it spends it on buying good quality fiction (and the occasional interview). You can help out by visiting the site. The more visitors they get, the easier it will be for them to get advertising.

I might add that I would be doing the same thing with Emerald City if only I was an American citizen. Sadly the tax laws in the UK do not make it nearly so easy to do that sort of thing.

Clarke museum mooted

One of the last things that I would expect to find here in Darkest Somerset is someone building a science fiction museum practically on my doorstep. An Arthurian museum, perhaps, but SF? Some people here are still getting to grips with modern inventions like the tractor.

Ah, but there is a reason for all this. Sir Arthur C. Clarke was born in Minehead, about ten miles west of here, and lived much of his life in Taunton, a similar distance south. This year, of course, is 2001, a date that will forever be connected with Clarke and his work. Furthermore, Clarke's brother still lives in Taunton and he has a fine collection of memorabilia to put on display, including the original manuscript of 2001.

The proposal, then, is for a space and science fiction museum somewhere in Taunton. The current favourite site is an old council building which, by good fortune, used to provide accommodation for the town physics club that Clarke attended in his youth.

This idea may all go nowhere. This is Somerset, after all, and funding for anything is as hard to find as dry land in the winter. A similar scheme was floated in Minehead last year and came to nothing. It is that abortive scheme that is still being touted on the Clarke Foundation web site. But this is 2001. If ever the job can be done, this is the year to do it. I will keep you posted, and be down there promptly if it opens.

Corrections department

Ken MacLeod writes to tell me that I have slightly misunderstood parts of Cosmonaut Keep. Most of the astronauts are not really Trots; they are just a bunch of rebel scientists who got caught up in a Trot plot against the EU. And the English are not really Fascists, though many people like to claim that the English Nationalists are.

This sort of thing happens to me occasionally, and I confess to having particular trouble following all of the politics in Ken's books. That's my fault, not his. However, I am pleased to note from the latest Ansible that there are people worse than I am. SFX apparently wrote their review on the basis of a plot summary that was issued by the publishers while Ken was still writing the book, and which is now very much out of date. Which I guess goes to show that if you want good book reviews you should come to a specialist book magazine, like this one.

This month on IGoUGo

My travelogue for this month on IGoUGo.com is a little tale called Brighton by Fairy Lights. It is a story of Christmas shopping, of some very unusual shops, and some excellent cosmetics and chocolate. To find my work on the site, just search for me under Guide Name from the home page or click here.

Poll results

As I had expected, the poll last issue was a close run thing between Ken MacLeod's Cosmonaut Keep and John Meaney's Paradox. The final result was a clear victory for MacLeod with Brian Stableford sneaking up on the outside at the last minute to tie for second. I confess to being a little disappointed at how few people voted, but there were enough of you for me to warrant keeping up the experiment. Don't forget to vote.

WSFS Minutes

As you may recall from my report of Chicon 2000, I got drafted in to be secretary of the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting last year. For those of you who are interested in that sort of thing, and have not already seen the announcements on SMOFs, a copy of the minutes from the Chicon 2000 Business Meeting is available on this site. You will also find copies of the current WSFS Constitution and Standing Rules. If you are really lucky I will get Kevin to post a review of the new 10th Edition of Roberts Rules of Order. As a public service, of course.


Well, that's it for another month. Next time you hear from me I will hopefully have escaped the watery expanses of Somerset and be warm and dry in California.

As regards books, I have lined up the new novel from Rob Holdstock and some very experimental strangeness from Jeff Noon. I will also be featuring a classic alternate history, and whichever of the latest US releases Kevin has bought me for Christmas.

See you in a month,


Love 'n' hugs,