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Monthly Archives: October 2018

” I remember everything”: Red Planets by Una McCormack (2018)

This Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish  features the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), accompanied by Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford). In essence it’s  an  “alternative history” story, a genre that I am  a bit of an addict for, my favourite being Pavane by Keith Roberts.

The story weaves together three threads whose connections only slowly became apparent:  Phobos, a   Communist spaceship on its way to Mars with a solo woman cosmonaut who proclaims “Good morning, brother Mars, we come in peace from all the people of Earth but then picks up a  mysterious signal from the red planet :  Ace’s adventures in East Berlin in November 1961 where she has been dropped off by the Doctor for a short break,  but immediately gets caught up  in a John le Carré-esque  espionage plot when she rescues an agent Tom Elliot  who has been wounded trying to cross the  newly built Berlin Wall; and finally, the Doctor and Mel’s  arrival in  London in  2017 to investigate a time ripple.

But they land in  a very different London, a London which is part of the People’s Republic of Mokoshia. And Mel is behaving  very oddly, recalling events that never happened in our time line, the take-over of Western Europe by Communism  in the  mid 1960s. If nothing else,  this story is worth listening to hear  just to hear  Mel  sing a snatch of The Internationale.

Back in East Berlin, Ace  finds that strange  things are happening, streets are vanishing, the city is disappearing,  and a deadly fog is killing people. In London the Doctor is trying to work out what  has caused the change in history,  “Nothing here is right,”  but finds himself in the hands of people who seem to know a lot about him. And on Mars  the expedition is heading for a rendezvous….with something impossible. Can the Doctor reverse history or will Mokoshia “unite the human race.”

This  is a  serious-minded story, which I enjoyed, driven by the idea that single events matter, that they can  send history down  a different  route. It’s also surprisingly violent with a number of characters not making it to the finale.

 

By the way, if you like me, you are womdering where “Mokoshia” comes from, Comrade McCormack tells me that she got it Mokosh, a Slavic goddess of women’s work and destinies. Mother Russia,  in fact.

More information here.

 

 

 

 

 

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The joy of text: “I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land” by Connie Willis (2018)

In previous posts I have written about Connie’s previous novels: Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the DogBlackout and All Clear.

Jim is in New York doing publicity for his  blog, Gone for Good,  (in which he apparently welcomes the disppearance of things  such as payphones and  VHS tapes). Taking a walk before his next interview, he runs across a second-hand bookstore called Ozymandias Books which  he ducks into to escape a downpour.

The inside was exactly what you’d expect: an old-fashioned wooden desk and behind it, ceiling-high shelves crammed  with books streching back  into the dimness. The store was only wide enough for a bookcase along each wall, one in the middle, and a space between just wide enough for a single customer to stand. If there’s been any customers. Which there weren’t. The only thing in the place besides the guy sitting hunched over the desk- presumably the owner – was a gray tiger cat curled up in one corner of it.

Jim cannot make sense of the way that the books are positioned on the sehelves which seems completely at random with no rhyme or reason. Then he notices a attractive  blonde young  woman  disappearing into the back of the shop, except there is  no back. He finds a door and cannor resist going through,  first  going up and then down into a vast room below street level  awash with books.

The blonde stood next to the carousel with a clip-board, supervising three burly workmen  in overalls who were scooping the books up and piling them onto big metal library carts. But not fast enough. They were working at top speed, but they still weren’t able to keep up. Books were piling up on the carousel adn beginning to fall over the edge. 

The woman is named Cassie and takes a Jim on a tour of  the  facility, which is neither  a bookstor nor a library, as Cassie is at  pains to  inform him

....libraries  are one of the biggest reasons we’re here…they destroy hundreds of thousands of books a year. They don’t call it  that, of course.  They call it ‘retiring books” or ‘pruning” or ‘culling’. Or ‘de-acquisition.’

The books are categorised  in different ways, from hoarders, attics,  garages, closed bookstores and libraries that have been  destroyed by fire or flood. Then there are sections  for  books left on beaches, dropped in the bathtub, torn up by a toddler, scribbled in etc..

Jim  thinks he has grasped what is going on.

It was an endangered -book archive, like those gorillasand elephant sanctuaries or those repositaries for rare type of seeds, to keep them from going extinct. And it was the scarcity of the book that determined its place here, not its collectible value or literary quaiity.

But  he hasn’t quite got it right.  Whereas we, the readers,  by now probably have.  You’ll need to read this novella  to find out for yourself, through.

Connie has written a paean of praise to books in all their scruffy, tattered, coffee-stained, dog-eared glory. Long may they continue.

Oh,  and the ending calls to mind  a short story by H G  Wells, The Door in the Wall.