Wednesday 7 September 2022

Odds & Sods


An assortment of offerings this time, varying in age and theme. 

The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke

This was first published in 1957, so was  relatively early novel by this prolific author. It is set in a future in which mankind was established throughout the solar system, but no further. The principal character is Walter Franklin, a spaceman who has had to give up his career as a result of the psychological effects of an accident in space. He joins the Bureau of Whales, an organisation which looks after great herds of whales in much the same way as ranchers used to manage cattle. The book follows Franklin’s story as he works his way up through the organisation, eventually becoming its head. 

Two points struck me about the story. The first is that the SF element is very restrained: the advanced technology included is either in existence now or entirely feasible. Even the sea monsters are believable. The second is that the attitudes towards animal welfare which develop later in the story are very modern. Taken together, this makes The Deep Range a serious and thoughtful read.


Brisingamen by Diana Paxson

Published in 1984 and set in contemporary San Francisco, this features Karen Ingold, a young woman who discovers an ancient necklace which seems to change her when she wears it. She eventually discovers that this is Brisingamen, the legendary necklace of Freyja, the Norse goddess of love - and war - who effectively takes over Karen's body when needed. The emergence of Freyja also triggers the manifestation of other former Norse gods, including Odin, Thor - and the evil Loki. This results in a ferocious battle over Ragnarok, the end of the world.

This is more serious than most such epic fantasies. The author clearly knows her subject, and the book is punctuated by snippets of Norse poetry. It is definitely aimed at adults, with frank descriptions of the activities Freyja is best known for. One of the better efforts in this genre. 


A Catalogue of Catastrophe by Jodi Taylor

This is volume 13 of the author's Chronicles of St Mary's, and continues to follow the life of Max the heroine of the epic, now separated from St Mary's and working as a kind of freelance bounty-hunter, tracking down those who break the laws of time travel and handing them over to the Time Police. 

The main problem in this adventure turns out to be a ruthless and well-organised gang from the future on a mission to change British history by intervening at critical moments - for instance, in the Gunpowder Plot. Much confusion is caused by people time-hopping in different directions, and to add to this, Max is beginning to suffer the serious effects of too much time-travel so needs to minimise her use of it.

There seems to be no end to Ms Taylor's ability to wring yet more mileage from her basic setting and this book will clearly not be the last, as it has a cliffhanger ending. I for one am not complaining! 


Fatal Islands by Maria Adolfsson

I have come across a rather curious novel: Fatal Isles, by Swedish author Maria Adolfsson. It is  set in the present day on Doggerland, an imaginary group of large islands in the middle of the North Sea, half-way between Britain and Denmark. The islands, three of which are inhabited, appear to be politically fairly independent, perhaps the closest real-life parallel being the Faroe Islands. The culture is a mixture of British and Scandinavian. The book is otherwise a fairly conventional - if very good - detective story, the heroine being a senior detective with the now customary hang-ups and mysterious past. 

Quite how this novel is categorised I'm not sure; it seems to have created a rather mixed sub-genre all of its own. This prompted me to consider the pros and cons of this approach. An invented country gives the author's imagination freedom to roam unconstrained by any need to adhere to the hard facts of real-life geography, history, politics and policing. On the other hand, Adolfsson doesn't do anything very different with this freedom.

I should add that in recent years there has been an increase in interest in the real Doggerland, which used to exist before being drowned by rising sea levels as the last Ice Age ended a few thousand years ago. The North Sea is still relatively shallow in this area (known as the Dogger Bank) and diving archaeologists have discovered the remains of human settlements. There is even talk of creating a new island in that location, funded by a forest of wind turbines. 

More stories in the Doggerland series are on the way from the translator, and they are apparently best sellers in Sweden. Worth a look at if you enjoy Scandi Noir with a fantasy twist.


TV - Missions Season 3 (2022)

The French SF series continues, mainly back on Earth, or rather Earths: two alternative timelines have become intermixed, leading to two different versions of the principal characters existing in the same place and time. If this sounds confusing, it is… There is the usual ambiguous conclusion to this season - is it the end of the world, or not?

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