“Pure joy” – Bumble & Snug return in The Excited Unicorn

Bumble & Snug and the Excited Unicorn,
Mark Bradley,
Hodder Children’s Book

The titular unicorn isn’t the only one who is very excited here – I’ve been eagerly awaiting a return to Bugpopolis (population 8,956, 012 with 6,282 hat shops, and 1 punctured blimp), ever since reading the first of Mark Bradley’s utterly delightful graphic novels for younger readers (see the review posted here last summer),our resident children’s book wizard has been desperate to nab the early copy I was kindly sent, and more than a few of our regular younger readers in our little Indy bookshop are waiting for it to appear. So, y’know, no pressure on Mark there at all!!

In the first volume we learned that there were a number of interesting areas surrounding Bumble and Snug’s home city of Bugpolois, including the Sleeping Giant Mountains, She Sells Seashells Bay and – oh yes! – the Unicorn Forest! I think you can quite possibly hazard a guess as to where our duo of bestest friends are going to be heading for their trip…

Bumble, as always, is a dynamo of enthusiasm and excitement (coupled with impulsiveness), while Snug tends to think it out a bit more; this manifests itself even in simple things like poor Snug not getting a chance to pack for their trip because Bumble is so hyped up she just can’t wait to get there, grabbing Snug and zooooom! Off they go! She even explodes out of the picture frame! The Unicorn Forest is brought to life in fabulously surreal, brilliantly colourful life, like Mark is channelling Willy Wonka via an explosion in a magical sweet store. We get close up panels and lovely double-page splashes of this magical place, including the Sherbet Fountains and Candy Caves – not to mention the super-rare Jelly Bees!!

It’s this last part where our chums come unstuck – as Bumble uses her abilities to change shape to lift Snug up to sample the jelly, they inadvertently startle the Jelly Bees, and find themselves being chased by a horde of sweet-making but very angry insects. Until they are magically transformed into colourful balloons – enter our eponymous unicorn, and new pal for Bumble and Snug, Sparklehoof. Sparklehoof saves our intrepid pair by magically changing the bees. Our new unicorn chum is terribly excited to meet them and to become friends (the other unicorns don’t much care for Sparklehoof).

Sparklehoof seems to have a dash of both Bumble’s over-excitement and enthusiasm, with some of Snug’s instinct to help people in trouble. Not bad attributes, of course, as long as, like everything in life, you don’t get too carried away for too long. And as our new buddies decide to use Sparklehoof’s magical powers to become superheroes and help people, it seems like a terrific idea. And, at first, it is, they dash around in their new superhero costumes, sorting wrongs, helping out people in Bugpopolis, until they get too carried away. In fact Sparklehoof gets so carried away that an onslaught of “help” is soon causing huge problems in the city, not least a giant kitty (shades of the Goodies and Kitten Kong for those of us of a certain age!).

I’m not going to spoil any of the story by going into it any further here – besides which, like the first book, this is one of those comics where summarising the plot really doesn’t do it justice; Bumble and Snug have to be experienced! Mark’s artwork is an utter delight to the eyes – lovely, clear work, colourful without overloading the senses (except when required for certain scenes!), and with a nice flow from smaller, four panel pages to large double-page spreads. It’s all designed to appeal to the reader, more specifically the young reader, to catch their eye, fill them with interesting details to spot but without over-complicating it which could confuse their reading (a task much harder than it sounds for any artist, especially when creating work for younger readers).

As with the first book there are extras, encouraging youngsters on how they can make their own Bugpops, draw Bumble and Snug, and also, once more, talking about the emotions in the story, and how important feelings are, but also how we need to understand them and be aware not everyone around us feels the same way we do all of the time (all gentle but nice lessons for developing minds). But mostly this is just pure, unadulterated joy, even for us boring, old grow-ups. It’s even more fun than a bouncy castle on top of a jelly trampoline!

The format is also nicely designed for little hands – it’s perhaps just a little smaller than the average manga digest size, something kids can easily carry around with them or stuff in their backpacks. It’s also super-fun for adults who still keep in touch with their inner child too! Can’t recommend this enough for anyone looking for good reading material for their kids! A great mix of fun, adventure, feelings and cake! Honestly, I am smiling just thinking about the book as I write this! Joyous!

Bumble & Snug and the Excited Unicorn will be published by Hodder Children’s Books on July 21st; this review was originally penned for Down the Tubes.

 

Reviews: Summer in the Shade

Summer in the Shade,
Directed by Alice Millar,
Starring Niamh Walter, Nyobi Hendry, Rebecca Palmer, Zaqi Ismail

It’s the summer of 1997, and best friends Grace (Niamh Walter) and Asta (Nyobi Hendry) are going with Asta’s mother, Kate (Rebecca Palmer) for a break in Cornwell. It sounds like an ideal piece of childhood fun, a little while away with your bestie, free from everything else. But Niamh is dealing with problems, not least that her father has left her and her mother (the trip may be as much to give her mother some space as it is to give Grace a holiday). In fact her father is glimpsed only at the start, reading her a bedtime story – Penelope waiting for the return of Odysseus, which turns out to be prescient given his departure soon after.

Added into this emotional stew, the girls are approaching their teen years, and are in that strange, liminal space, still children for the most part, but adolescence and puberty are beckoning; they still want to play games like kids, but they’re also starting to talk about boys and sex, in that hushed, overheard-in-the-playground half-truths many of us will remember from those early years. One foot still in childhood, the other stepping very uncertainly into becoming older but not quite sure where to step or where the path leads. Millar and her young cast capture that feeling very well, that urge to be seen as more grown up while still partly wanting to hold onto elements of your childhood, something we’ve all been through. Even the mis-en-scene quietly, effectively evokes this as the camera circles Grace’s bedroom, a mix of childish interests any young girl of the time could be into, but also hints of interest in older age elements, like make-up; it’s a small touch, but effective, and also signals that tiny budget or not, there’s a lot of care and attention gone into the production.

While the girls play and talk – Grace is going through a religious phase and Asta enjoys spooky, supernatural stories, and these bleed into their imagination and play – what seems like a carefree break in the countryside slowly reveals the fault lines below each person’s emotional life. Even Kate, the Bohemian mother of Asta, who seems to radiate a positive, easy-going confident demeanour, has relationship problems. We’ve all had that feeling that that other people around us seem to have this life thing figured out much better than we do, although we all know that really everyone has problems; Palmer’s performance brings that out nicely, just a few cracks here and there subtly signalling that really she’s going through the same as everyone else, everyone has problems, that’s just life.

Zaqi Ismail’s Sid joins the small cast in Cornwall, sleeping rough in a little forest den the girls had made, after a misunderstanding by the girls (letting their imaginations out of control), Kate invites him to stay with them for a while, and he soon establishes a friendship with each of them, but of course introducing a man into this female environment also adds to the emotional complexity – it starts to become clear that Kate, more emotionally vulnerable than she at first appears, is drawn to Sid, and while Grace is too young, she is, perhaps, just old enough to feel some little pangs of jealousy when she sees Kate flirting with him.

While much of this is a coming-of-age tale (especially for Grace), the inclusion of the problems of the adults nicely balances this, hinting that it’s not just the adolescents struggling to know what they want, how to get it, how to act, who to be with, that’s just a life problem regardless of your age, and perhaps we shouldn’t beat ourselves up so much about it. You could also read Summer in some of the terms of a horror film – it’s not a horror, per se, but it uses some elements and stylistic riffs quite effectively, evoking echoes of British folk horror, which works very well, all nicely done in a fairly low-key way through good cinematography and soundscape use. An effective and emotional directorial debut; I look forward to seeing more work from Millar.

Summer in the Shade is streaming online now.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

The Raft Race Returns!

Last weekend saw the return of Raft Race and the Edinburgh Canal Festival for the first time since before the Pandemic years. I was at the very first Raft Race, taking photos back in 2007 (I hadn’t realised how long ago it actually was until I looked back at those photos and saw the date taken).

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It started as a fun Raft Race, with people building wacky designs (sinkings were common and still are – part of the fun!), and over the years evolved into the local Canal Festival. We had a warm, sunny weekend for it (you can’t take the weather for granted for outdoor events in Scotland, even in summer!), and a lot of folks turned out to welcome it back. I met several friends to watch it, two of whom had never been to it before, so this was all new to them, which of course made it more fun.

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Despite the warmth and sun, it was very, very windy – this wee raft was the only one I saw with a sail, which I imagine was as much for decoration as anything else originally. But with the strong wind, and fortunately for them, in the correct direction for the race, they scurried along at a great clip! Lucky!

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It’s not the Raft Race until someone ends up in the drink!!!

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This chap in costume, with the recumbent bike approach to his design, was going great guns, handily ahead of the others… until it broke down and he was trying to fix the pedals and chain as the others caught up and passed him. They all got big cheers anyway.

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As you can see, it was a pretty busy day, and everyone was having fun, cheering on the rafters. I think we were all just enjoying being able to hold these events again after the last couple of very difficult years.

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There was also live music – this lady in the pic above was playing her violin under the stone arch of the old bridge over the canal at the bottom of Viewforth, which gave amazing acoustics. Others played by the side of the canal or even on passing boats!! Insert pun here about performing Handel’s “Water Music”!!!

Water Music

Making Music 01

Making Music 02

As ever, if you click on the pics you can view the larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr photo stream.

I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside

Very windy but sunny and warm day off, met with chum and his old hound, off down to Portobello for a stroll. Despite being a weekday it was still quite busy, when among the folks on the beach, something caught my eye – a woman in a totally white costume, with a white inflatable ring with an animal head around her waist, trotting down the beach, then joined by a man, also in a white costume and clutching an inflatable palm tree.

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The pair of them then ran down towards the shoreline, where they were joined by another chap with a camera, so I imagine it was some sort of photoshoot, although I have no idea what for. Still, it was a wonderfully odd thing to just come across and grab some pics of – hope their photos for whatever it was come out too.

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A little further long the beach we spotted something else that was rather delightful: someone had created a wee sculpture of the TARDIS and a Dalek, mounting them on the post of the wooden groynes that run along the beach periodically, to help stabilise the sands. I do love when artists create something like this, then leave it somewhere public so anyone who spots it can enjoy it – certainly made us smile!

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(as ever click on the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr stream)

Fun on the Water

Sitting on a bench by the side of the Union Canal on a very fine evening, reading. Hear some splashing, look over and see a kayaker coming along, enjoying the spring evening. Managed to grab the camera for some very quick pics as he came towards where I was, then turned as he passed and saw a traditional “Indian” style canoe coming the other way.

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They both moved over to give each other plenty of space, passing with friendly smiles and waves, all enjoying a very welcome evening of warm sunlight after several days of rain and wind.

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And while we’re on the canal theme, here’s a nice bookend to my recent photos of this year’s new cygnets – this year’s new ducklings on the Union Canal! All looking unbelievably cute and fluffy, also looks like I caught one of them here mid-quack!

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As ever, click on the pics to see the much larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr site (now over 24, 000 photos!)

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New Life

We’ve reached that time of year when something rather wonderful happens: I heard a few weeks back that our resident breeding swan pair on the Union Canal had nested, laid their eggs, then hatched them. The main nest is along near Wester Hailes, but the pair claim a roughly five mile stretch from there right into the city centre where the canal ends at Lochrin Basin.

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Well, as you can see from the photos taken on a canalside stroll, the we cygnets are now strong enough to start swimming up and down that range of canal with Mama and Papa Swan keeping a close eye on them. I’ve been waiting for them to be strong enough to start going up and down the canal, and had heard from a friend they were around our area the previous night. I went for a stroll the next day, not really expecting to see them, assuming they would have drifted back down the way before I was there. I had reached the final section of canal and given up on a chance of seeing them – with them moving up and down several miles, it is pure luck if I happen to be walking by a section they are in at the right time.

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I paused at the Watershed, the floating cafe-barge moored by the old Leamington Lift Bridge, and as I was waiting for my coffee, I happened to look over – and there they were, the Swan Family, happily bobbing around in the water right behind the barge. Just when I had pretty much given up for that day and assumed I had missed them, that they had already headed back down the canal, there they were. I’ve taken photos of their broods each year going back quite some years now, but it still always makes my heart sing to see them with their new cygnets, especially when they are at this size, just adorable, fluffy, beautiful little creatures, sticking close to Mum and Dad.

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I’m so lucky to have this just a few moments walk from my flat, and right in the middle of the city. Always cheers me to see this little annual miracle of nature, then to try and follow them through the next few months, taking more photos of them as they grow into adolescents, before one by one they fly away to start their own lives. So many people out walking or cycling by the canal stopping to admire them, it really does brighten the world for many of us.

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They swam back along a little further, then up through the reeds onto the opposite banking, a spot the mother and father know well and often use as a temporary nest for the little ones to rest for a while before heading back along to the main nest. As ever, click on the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr.

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Photography Milestone

This evening’s uploads to my Flickr photo stream saw the Woolamaloo Flickr pass the 24, 000 images mark. Since I first purchased a Pro Flickr account back in 2007 I have uploaded 24, 000 photos and videos to my Flickr, and it has taken some 33.7 million views of those images across those years, which to be honest is pretty damned amazing. Quite a milestone – to mark it I thought I would pick out some photos from 2022 so far:

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People watching in Princes Street Gardens, folks enjoying a bright, spring day

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Water pouring over a lock gate on the Forth and Clyde Canal

Smoke Signals
Sudden burst of warm, spring weather, of course some men will cook up a huge cloud of very stinky BBQ smoke to ensure everyone within a hundred yards is enveloped by it! It’s like an inexorable law of nice weather here…

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Evening light creating some lovely reflections of the old rowboats on the Union Canal at Harrison Park and the surrounding area:

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Barefooting it at Porty Beach

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Came back from getting myself another pint to find the book I was reading had fanned itself out like this and was being illuminated by a burst of spring light coming in the pub window, of course I had to take a pic.

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Juggling a tote bag on Princes Street

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The annual spring miracle as the cherry blossoms beging to bloom again

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The Falkirk tunnel for the Forth and Clyde Canal, finished in 1822, running some 630 metres. In an interesting historical aside, two of the navigators – navvies – who excavated this were Irishmen, Burke and Hare – yes, the later, infamous Resurrection Men and Bodysnatchers of Edinburgh’s Old Town…

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Krow on stage at the welcome return of the Shoreline of Infinity journal’s Event Horizon evenings in the Pleasance Cabaret Bar; as it was March, the month that includes International Women’s Day, the line up of musicians, performers, poets and writers was entirely female.
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Peaceful Pub
Peaceful afternoon drink and read in Cloisters pub

Nothing Beats A Good Cuppa
Nothing quite like a good cuppa! Street photo of chap enjoying a cuppa in a cafe on the Grassmarket

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Smiling seaside selfie by the sea shore (how’s that for alliteration?)

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Daffies!!!!

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Holy Corner at night; improvised night shot, just after work so I didn’t have the tripod, made do with sitting camera on timer mode on top of the button box for the pedestrian crossing to steady it.

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First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, chairing a talk with the Scottish Makar, Kathleen Jamie, as the Paisley Book Festival in February, and bestselling Scottish author Denise Mina being interviewed at the festival.
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Wet Night In The New Town 07
Dreich night! Pouring rain on a cold, dark, winter night by the Royal Scottish Academy

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Wee dusting of snow around Holy Corner

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Union Canal towpath at night, Fountainbridge

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Dusk on a winter’s evening at the Union Canal, viewed from the old, stone bridge at Viewforth

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Stewards guiding the huge crowd coming from Murrayfield stadium after the opening Scotland versus England rugby match of the Six Nations.

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Haymarket at night

Evening Street 01
Shops and cafes at night, Bruntsfield

As ever click the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr.

Reviews: The Kaiju Preservation Society

The Kaiju Preservation Society,
John Scalzi,
Tor/Macmillan,
Hardback, 272 pages, published March 2022

Jamie (whose gender is never explicitly mentioned) has put up with corporate nonsense and an entitled trust-fund owner of the tech start-up they are working at, to try and get ahead, only to find themselves laid off, right as the Covid nightmare is manifesting and Lockdown beckons. The only job they can find is delivering food during the Lockdown, and in a bitter irony for a company that her former tech company did the software for. Depressing as this is, it does lead to the happy accident of delivering to someone – Tom – who turns out to be someone they vaguely know, a friend of a friend sort of thing. And on hearing of Jamie’s recent employment woes, Tom reveals the animal protection charity he works for has been left short-handed at the last minute and he’d much rather have someone he knows if he can manage it.

Tom can’t tell her the full details, it is all very secretive, but it involves working with “large animals”, Jamie’s work would mostly be grunt work of helping move stuff and help out the science and tech teams, and the remuneration package is superb. Grabbing this offer, Jamie is soon given numerous shots for various diseases – including an early form of the Covid vaccine, not yet out to the public – and bundled off with a team of returning staff and some other new recruits to an airbase in Greenland.

The destination seems puzzling – what large animals are they working with here? But Greenland is just a way-point – from here they take a special portal, one of just a handful secreted around the globe, to, well, Earth. Except this is a parallel Earth, one where giant monsters, the eponymous Kaiju – are the dominant species. It transpires there are indeed numerous parallel worlds to our reality, but this is the only one we’ve been able to access, and only since the Atomic Age: nuclear energy, especially large-scale explosions, thins the walls between the worlds for a while. In fact one 1950s A-bomb test in the Pacific brought over a Kaiju looking for a radioactive snack, only to encounter the US Navy (yes, in this world the inspiration for Godzilla were the stories that leaked of this Kaiju incursion!).

In Scalzi’s world one of the reasons the atomic test ban treaties were agreed by world powers was not just for safety in our world, but to prevent more of these enormous creatures coming through – imagine if one entered our world near a major city. Of course only a few people know the reality behind this – the organisation, a number of senior members of world governments, and a few big corporate heads who also donate to the budget for operations (nice parallel to the billionaires having their rocket-measuring competitions at the moment, and yes these CEOs are just as big a bunch of numpties as you’d expect).

While bad things can and do happen to good people, for the most part this is a joyful romp of a book – it’s laced with a lot of humour (which will not surprise many Scalzi regulars), and the main characters (and even most of the supporting cast) are immensely likeable and indeed, loveable. Actually I came away from this with the sort of warm feelings for the characters as I have from Becky Chambers’s wonderful books, while Scalzi also works in some sound ecological themes and the sheer sense of wonder at such creatures really existing.

In an afterword, Scalzi reveals this was not the book he was originally writing; he was partway through something far darker when Covid hit. Lockdown, then falling ill himself, then a computer failure eating several thousand words of the work in progress, and he realised he just couldn’t finish it. Tor was understanding – it has been a weird two years for everyone – and with the weight of that book lifted from him, the Kaiju story popped into his head, and he wrote it swiftly, offering up instead of that grim, dark tale, something full of wonder and joy and humour. I don’t think I realised how much I needed this book, it left me content and smiling. An utter delight.

This review was originally penned for The Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s premiere journal of new science fiction.

Snow day

Light snowfall overnight, woke up to cold but bright winter morning, snapped a few photos on the way to work:

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Holy Corner (so named because it has a church on all four points of this busy junction) was looking especially beautiful on this February, just a small amount of snow, but draped across the roofs, chimneys and ledges, outlining them in white against the slowly rising winter sunlight, had to grab a couple of photos on my way into work. The Italiante architecture of Morningside United Church (where Eric Liddell, whose story was told in the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, worshipped – one of the stained glass windows still commemorates that Olympian) looked especially handsome.

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Reviews: Beyond the Hallowed Sky

Beyond the Hallowed Sky,
Ken MacLeod,
Orbit Books

I’m always happy when there is a new Ken MacLeod book to be read; for my money he is one of the UK’s most consistently impressive and thought-provoking SF writers. In Beyond the Hallowed Sky we have not only a new book, but the start of a trilogy – the Lightspeed series. As that would suggest, this is a story in which the development of FTL (Faster Than Light) travel is fairly prominent. In the summer of 2067, Lakshmi Nayak receives an old-fashioned, physical letter, containing detailed mathematical proofs, which would seem to indicate that FTL travel is in fact possible. It seems to echo some thoughts she has already had but not fully formulated, but who was thinking not only on the same lines but ahead of her, and knows of her interest to contact her? Examining the letter the seemingly impossible explanation is that she sent it to herself – from the future…

After finally publishing the work, Lakshmi’s reputation is ruined by many of her peers; she eventually decides to take an offer to defect to the Union bloc and travels to Scotland, a member state, where after some Le Carre-esque spycraft in the middle of Edinburgh, the Union’s AI guides her around the spies of rival powers and to a job interview on the west coast. The job offer is genuine, but the AI has other reasons, not least the development of her FTL ideas into a workable engine for a starship.

This brings us to the Clyde Coast and John Grant, a “responsible” (a person who was seriously active and important in a previous revolution in the Union) and his comrades who run an engineering co-operative making ships on the Clyde. The AI guides them together to start a collaboration which could create the first FTL ship – rather pleasingly, Clyde-built, like the great ships of the previous two centuries of tradition on that great river.

But there’s more going on here – out for a coastal stroll John sees a submarine leaving the Faslane naval base – in this decade Scotland is no longer part of the UK, but an independent member of the Union. However, Westminster held onto the vital nuclear submarine base of Faslane as part of the deal, and shares it with their US allies. When John sees a submarine leave the base and sail out into open water it’s nothing unusual – until it seems to hover above the waves for a moment before vanishing in a shimmering haze. Most don’t believe him, the all-seeing AI carefully wipes his photographic evidence from his devices. Is it possible that FTL is not only possible, but other power blocs already have it?

MacLeod proceeds to gives us an expanding universe with three main arcs: our future Scotland and the small team trying to engineer their FTL ship (without the rival power blocs knowing), a Union science team on a floating base in the violent atmosphere of Venus, paying host to a visiting android who is also a spy for British Intelligence (which they are aware of, all sides are playing a version of The Great Game here), and a distant world around another star, reached by FTL, and the science teams operating there. Crossing all of this is a discovery that ties all three worlds together in a way that isn’t clear yet.

The multiple, overlapping story arcs work nicely to build up a three dimensional picture of this future society, dominated by three rival power blocs; as with a number of his previous works, MacLeod conjures up a believable socio-political structure, giving it just enough details that we can grasp the situation but not bogging it down with too much exposition, so the narrative flows at a good rate of knots. Along the way we get to consider various weighty topics, from the notions of political ideology and patriotism to the use and limits of AI in the human sphere, and the exploration/exploitation of other worlds. Looking forward to the second volume.

This review was originally penned for Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s leading journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Reviews: Sea of Tranquility

Sea of Tranquillity,
Emily St, John Mandel,
Picador

Mandel, who won huge acclaim and the prestigious Arthur C Clarke Award for Station Eleven (recently adapted into a TV series), returns with a fascinating take on the time travel tale. Taking us from the vast forests of British Columbia in 1912, where a young aristocrat, Edwin St. Andrew, has a strange, momentary audio-visual experience involving a glimpse of a building and violin music, a famous author, Olive Llewellyn, two centuries later, leaving her Lunar colony home for a book tour on Earth, with a new novel that includes a scene with a violin player in a huge airship terminal, but momentarily seeing huge trees, and further into the future, the unusually named Gaspery-Jacques Roberts (named by his mother for a character in Llewellyn’s novel), in an era where time travel exists but is understandably tightly controlled. Gaspery-Jacques is tasked with investigating a potential anomaly in different time periods, an anomaly involving violin music…

Mandel takes us chronologically through these different lives in different periods, introducing us to the different characters, giving us a glimpse of their lives, their worlds, and then deftly drawing them together, through the anomaly. Is it just a weird coincidence linking these disparate lives and time periods, or is there an actual fault in time itself – and if so, is it naturally occurring or the result of human interference? Or… could it be something else again? Gasper-Jacques’s sister, a physicist with the Time Institute has an interest in Simulation Theory, the idea that what we assume is the real universe around us is in fact an advanced computer simulation, that we are, in effect, all living in the Matrix. And perhaps this anomaly is a glitch in the Matrix?

The narrative manages to be both chronological yet circular, exploring the nature of this potential anomaly; I really am wary of saying too much because I don’t want to spoil it, and with all three segments being so interrelated it’s impossible to talk about certain events without massive spoilers. Suffice to say I found Mandel handled this rotation through the timelines and the various people in a very satisfying manner. The book also raises a lot of interesting questions – for instance, the few licensed to go back in time have a strict non-interference policy, like the temporal Prime Directive in Star Trek. Very sensible you may well think, protect the integrity of the timeline – after all, we can’t know what even minor alterations could have on the unfolding centuries of events that follow.

But, as Gaspery-Jacques is told in his training, when they visit a period, they know everything about most of the people they will encounter, their entire biographies. He could meet people at a party, for example, and know that one woman he is chatting to so amiably is destined to die soon, and not in an unavoidable way such as a fatal disease, but by a simple accident. Despite knowing this he absolutely could not tell her to avoid driving on that particular road next week. As his sister tells him, you effectively have to shut down your empathic, human side and remain totally detached; easier said than done. The issues raised by the possibility of Simulation Theory are likewise fascinating in their philosophical ramifications (I was reminded of the compelling documentary A Glitch in the Matrix which came out last year and explored this in some depth), both to the Big Questions of Life, The Universe And Everything, and the smaller, personal, individual elements (what would this mean for our lives, the lives of those we love?).

I can see this being a cracking read to do for my long-running book group, there’s a lot of questions and moral quandaries raised here that would be perfect for book group discussion material! Thought-provoking and very satisfying reading, I raced through this and couldn’t stop.

Sea of Tranquility is published late April 2022 by Picador

This review was originally penned for Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s leading journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy.