Spectrum SF 4

John Christopher.

The first instalment of a novel serialisation from a Big Name in British SF in the 50’/60’s. For ‘older’ SF readers his ‘Death of Grass’ novel from 1956 will be the major piece of fiction associated with him. I am of the generation for which his juvenile ‘Tripods’ trilogy was a major influence in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. As to what he has been up to since those halcyon days I am not sure.

I’m not one for novel serialisations, and gave the Keith Roberts ‘Drek Yarman’ serialisation in Spectrum 1-3 a miss (particularly as it leant too far towards fantasy than is my wont), but this near-future EU-background story looks promising. When the serialisation is complete I shall read the novel and report back.

Pause Time. Mary Soon Lee.

A new author for Spectrum, which is to be welcomed, particularly as this is a strong short story.

In the 22ndC, bringing up a family is less of a strain due to the option of being able to press a button to ‘pause’ children : a lot more convenient than handing over to a nanny/childminder/babysitter/au pair.

A single mother struggles to raise her infant without the use of this ‘liberating’ technology, mindful of the effects of being ‘paused’ as a child.

Virtual Reality. Keith Roberts.

Editor Paul Fraser states in the mini obituary at the end of this story that Roberts was ‘under-recognised and under-published’, primarily known for the classic ‘Pavane’ alternate history novel.

For many (the majority?) of SF readers whose main source of reading has been the high street bookshop and second hand bookshops, rather than SF magazines, it can prove difficult to get beyond the Big Names in SF. I wonder what percentage of buyers of Iain M. Banks novels are aware of Interzone?

Paul Fraser has taken one step to remedying this in that his Spectrum is closer to a paperback book than a magazine and can fit on a normal bookshelf. Indeed, I was pleased to see Spectrum on the shelves of Waterstone’s bookstore on Princes Street in Edinburgh recently. I am assuming that Fraser is not visiting local bookstores and infiltrating copies on the shelves ;-)

The next stage is of course to get the prospective buyer to tear their gaze from the serried ranks of Bear, Banks, Baxter, Brookes, Egan, Eddings, and the shelves of Pratchett. (l have been thinking up a collective noun for Pratchett’s works: how does a ‘similarity of Pratchett’s’ sound to you?) That is another battle!

However, I digress. But the preceding is germane to the Keith Roberts story in that the introduction refers to no less than 23 stories by Roberts featuring the main character Kaeti, published in two (original?) collections in 1986 and 1992.

Not having read any of these l approached the story with some reservations, for even if the story is totally free-standing I am bound to engage with the story in an entirely different way to someone who has known Kaeti for some 14 years.

The story relates the arrival of a Belgian exchange visit student to Kaeti and her voluble daughter Norma. Through schoolgirl Norma’s incessant chatting (endearing and irritating in turns and obviously written by someone with lots of first-hand experience) Roberts sketches in, with a very deft hand, his main concerns: changing family structures, economic changes and the potential fragility of a service-based rather than a production economy, individuals taking comfort from virtual reality rather than real reality, the demand for the modern over the old, more for less, losing touch with reality and with the soil.

The overall downbeat themes and hyperactive Norma contrast well, with unsettlingly vague suggestions of smoky figures lurking at the periphery of vision.

The Ultimate Sacrifice. Eric Brown.

The ever-present Brown (stories in all four Spectrums to date) furnishes another Tartarus story. Feisty female journalist Katerina de Klein is on the track of a good story and a lost brother, and finds both, as you might expect, but loses both (unexpected).

Leaving aside the denouement, the story was a little run of the mill, compared even to Brown’s more inventive ‘The Miracle of Kallithea (Spectrum 3), which was also about a visitor to the doomed planet seeking a feared-dead relative (and finding them, and losing them).

The ending is somewhat unsatisfactory – the brother’s religious self-mutilation and ritual sacrifice is overly dramatic, and having the loving sister watch the latter did not ring true for me.

I had also recently read a couple of Lydia Duluth stories, in which feisty female holovision location scout has similar adventures, so perhaps this story, for me, felt too like the previous Tartarus story and too like the Duluth stories. And for a triple whammy this story, featuring Katerina and Sabina, immediately followed Robert’s story with a Kaeti and a Sabby!

Conclusion.

Enjoyable stories from Keith Roberts and Mary Soon Lee, and a promising-looking novel by an author with a fine pedigree (whether rusty or not remains to be seen).

The next issue promises an Alistair Reynolds (free-standing) follow-up to the excellent ‘Great Wall of Mars’ (Spectrum 1), to which I’m already looking forward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *