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Archive for the ‘Sources’ Category

Readers of Watchers (the first Watchers book) will remember Nodens, the holy greyhound at a former Roman temple located overlooking the Great River.

Not so far away from this, a metal detectorist has discovered a hoard of 4th-century Roman bronze artefacts, including a ‘licking dog’ — a dog which licks humans to heal them. The report suggests that it ‘may be linked to the Roman healing temple at Lydney’ — yes, folks, that’s the one in Watchers.

Read about the find here: http://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/gloucester-news/amazing-discovery-could-evidence-hidden-542056

and there are some pictures of the dog and other finds here:  http://eveandreski.zenfolio.com/p789221425

‘Gloucestershire could be home to a previously undiscovered Roman temple!’ says the report. Of course the Roman temple at Lydney has already been discovered.

 

 

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‘Allamagoosa’ is a satire on bureaucracy within the armed services — or perhaps it is a satire on bureaucracy in all big institutions. The crew of a space ship recently returned from a long period of duty find themselves faced with a formal inspection. A quick check of the inventory against what they actually have on ship reveals that one item is missing: V108 Offog. But their problem is that they have no idea what an offog could be …

… so they invent one, with predictably hilarious results. I guess that an adult with experience of detective novels would probably have guessed the solution early in the story, but I first encountered ‘Allamagoosa’ in my mid-teens, and I had no idea what an ‘offog’ could be. The solution was so brilliant, so obvious (with hindsight) and so hilarious that I wanted more books by the author: Eric Frank Russell.

In the 1970s it wasn’t difficult to find Eric Frank Russell books in the public library, so I read my way through everything I could find that he had written. (I see that many are now available on Amazon.) They make a mixed collection. There are the edge-of-the-seat thrillers: Three to Conquer (1956) — a detective story which is science fiction because the enemy are alien infiltrators from Venus and the hero is telepathic. With a Strange Device is a spy story with echoes of the film ‘The Ipcress File’ — the enemy agents can literally change your mind. Sinister Barrier (1939) and Dreadful Sanctuary (1948) are darker; both clever stories, but even as a teenager I thought that Sinister Barrier was too much of a ‘shoot ’em up’, with not enough plot for the level of violence. But it was his first book … I enjoyed Sentinels from Space (1953) as a teenager, but now find it too moralising and the leading characters too good to be true — a sign I am growing old and cynical! Re-reading Men, Martians and Machines (1955) in my twenties I felt that it had dated more than the others (the official ship photographer was still using glass plates …). All of these, of course, reflected the interests and concerns of western society at the time that they were published.

There are also the hilarious, cynical satires on bureaucracy and humans’ (or aliens’) ability to get completely tied up in their own systems and traditions. Wasp, Next of Kin and The Great Explosion are brilliantly imaginative and very, very funny.

And of course there are the collections of short stories, of which ‘Allamagoosa’ is one; some are ‘science fiction’ while those in Dark Tides (expanded in Darker Tides) are excellent fiction but weird rather than science.

Eric Frank Russell came from a British military family — his father was in the Royal Engineers and he was born near Sandhurst, so it’s not surprising that he spent so much of his writing ridiculing military bureaucracy. (The ‘built-in emergency-pack’ scene in Next of Kin is redolent of someone’s bitter personal experience of trying to get into official army-issue equipment.) Born in 1905, he died in 1978. His work convinced the teenaged-me that science fiction does not have to be computerised and full of futuristic gadgets. After all, the future will come up with much cleverer gadgets than we can think of now. But it should imagine how humans — and other creatures as appropriate — encounter and cope with extraordinary situations, and how they remain human (or whatever) while living in a completely different society.

And it’s great if science fiction can also take pot shots at the ridiculous, and see the funny side of life.

 

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The Tale of Priestess Celoan

Of all the stories I have put on to Kindle, The Ballad of Julie Smythe has been re-written more frequently and more completely than all the rest. Parts of the plot were laid down as long ago as 1972; but even the version currently on Kindle is not entirely satisfactory, and at some point I will take it down and rewrite the central section.

An earlier version of the Ballad produced the attached appendix, which the friend who reads through my stories for me read and approved. It describes enough of that version of Julie’s adventures to explain why I scrapped that version it was desperately sad and the ending was bitter. The current version at least allows Julie and her friends to retain some purpose in existence, and they manage to get the Rulers to pay attention to them before it is too late.

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I found the basic storyline for Watchers 2: the Nightshift summarised in an article by a friend — you can read a summary of the article here. I looked up the published version of the original story, but alas! I can’t give you the link to it online because so far I haven’t found it on the web.

What clinched it as a Watchers story was the dragon. I’m always a sucker for dragon stories; especially when the dragon plays a positive role. This dragon, rather than being an agent of destruction, brings about justice — although Julie would have preferred to temper justice with mercy.

(I haven’t told my friend that I’ve borrowed the story — don’t want to cause embarrassment!)

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Chapters 10 and 12 of Kimball’s Kiss mention a weapon called a ‘star blaster’, which ‘absorbed energy from the star, then sent it back … it blew the star up using the star’s own energy. They destroyed dozens of our stars’.

I encountered this hideous weapon in the pages of Michael Shaara’s brilliant short story ‘All the Way Back’, first published in 1952. (There is an introduction to it here.) I read it in the early 1970s in an anthology of science fiction stories, and was immediately hooked by the concept of the super-race destroyed in a terrible war, that then comes ‘all the way back’.

Kimball’s Kiss is different from Shaara’s story. Shaara’s long-destroyed ruling race were the Antha, who turn out to have been humans. The long-lost rulers in Kimball’s Kiss were not human and the war was not a nuclear war.  But in Shaara’s story the war began because of a decimation, and in Kimball’s Kiss Aoan’s decimation of the Gustu rebels is traditionally blamed for the war. As in Shaara’s story, the rebels won through destroying the rulers’ star systems by blasting their stars.

So far as I remember — and as it’s over forty years since I read ‘All the Way Back’, my memory may be wrong — the central message of Shaara’s story was the innate violence and destructiveness of humanity, which made them unfit to colonise the rest of the galaxy. They had to be confined to Earth forever. Shaara wrote against the background of the Second World War, when it appeared that humanity was about to destroy the whole species and even the whole planet. Now humanity’s dreams of reaching Mars are looking less like a dream and more like the future. The horror of the star blaster ( = the nuclear bomb?) seem far in the past.

But discussions this week in the UK Parliament about the need to renew Trident and retain the UK’s nuclear capability remind us that there are still violent and destructive humans on the planet, whom we may need to fight in the future. And more recently I have returned to the star blaster in a story of Gray, Aoan and their friends in their new Empire. Violent and destructive humans are often called ‘mindless’ — so how come human violence and destructiveness is so often linked to idealism?

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Where do heroes come from? In Gray Matters, Graham Bradley’s god is a mysterious creature called Wiroan. The original form of this all-wise being was Rudyard Kipling’s Baviaan from Just So Stories 20160610_160949.

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Where do heroes come from? Here is the original Graham Bradley — with his long blond hair and stubborn chin.20160522_115539 As a five-year old I spent a lot of time playing ‘rummy’ with these cards.

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