Saturday, April 30, 2016

Currently Reading (5)

Some Rain Must Fall is the fifth volume of My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgaard's 3600 page six-volume novelistic memoir (heroically translated by Don Bartlett), and in some ways the most straightforward. An account of Knausgaard's struggle to become a serious writer, beginning with his induction into a prestigious writing course at the tender age of nineteen and ending with the success of his first novel, it also includes his first real love affair and his first real job, meeting and marrying his first wife, and the deaths of his grandmother and father (a distant but domineering figure, the immediate aftermath of his death was described in devastating detail in the first volume). All the landmarks of growth into adulthood, then, conveyed in prose that's sometimes flatly descriptive, sometimes banal, sometimes conversational, sometimes crackling with insight, that doesn't avoid cliche yet is precise, clear-sighted, and unflinching. Of all the real people who populate these pages Knausgaard is most acute and least sparing about himself, dissecting with unflinching candour the shame of private moments of selfishness, self-doubt, folly and reckless (and often drunken) foolishness.

This maximalism, larded with descriptions of the ordinary transactions of everyday life leave in all the things that most other writers leave out or dress up with flash and filigree, sometimes recalls the kind of naive science fiction worldbuilding that attempts to convey the future through endless invented details. But Knausgaard's impressionistic narrative, unconstrained by any particular pattern or plot, moving unforcedly from incident to incident, is also addictive and hypnotic. One of his themes is the nature and reliability of memory, which he believes to be an act on recreative imagination, purposively shaped, 'everything coloured by the mind,' yet his compound of memory and mimesis seems artless, flowing directly from mind to page with enviable directness and freedom, and it's in this volume that he gives some insight into his technique.

After two years hard work produces a few polished paragraphs of conventionally 'beautiful' writing that he can't take any further, he finally hits on the breakthrough that will allow him to write his first novel:
A girl parked her bike outside, performed all the necessary movements with consummate ease, in with the wheel, out with the lock, click it into position, straighten up, look around, head for the door and remove the hood of her rain jacket.

She greeted a girl at the table behind mine, ordered a cup of tea, sat down and started chatting. She talked about Jesus Christ, she'd had a religious experience.

I wrote down exactly what she said.
There, in the mingling of the mundane and the ecstatic, the entwining of the internal with the external, is the genesis of the voice that captures, in encounters with people and things, in feelings and struggles large and small, the essence of a single life and makes it universal.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wizards Of The Slime Planet

An extract from the second chapter of Into Everywhere.

When the perimeter alert slammed down the pipe Tony Okoye was lying on his command couch and one of the hands was braiding his hair. He raised a finger to still the clever fingers of the man-shaped machine and said, ‘I hope this isn’t another cosmic-ray impact.’
    ‘Not this time,’ the ship’s bridle said.
    ‘Because if it is, I swear I will modify your detection filters with an axe.’
    ‘Then I’m almost glad I’m looking at an actual intruder,’ the bridle said, and opened an arc of windows in the dim warm air.
    Tony sat up, bare-chested in lime-green ‘second skin’ shorts, pushing a fall of loose hair from his face as he studied multi-spectrum images, vectors, estimates of the intruder’s capability. She was real. She was big. A G-class frigate ten times the size of his C-class clipper, bristling with weapon pods and patches. She had come through the mirror less than two minutes ago, she was already driving straight for the slime planet, and she was displaying a police flag. CPF Dauntless.
    ‘What are the police doing here? Have they said what they want?’
    ‘They haven’t said anything. And they aren’t the police,’ the bridle said. ‘The Dauntless is a G-glass frigate, but that G-class frigate is not the Dauntless. The configuration of her assets is wrong, and her flag’s certificate is a clever fake. Clever enough to fool the average freebooter, but not quite clever enough to fool me.’
    ‘Are you certain?’
    ‘I can show you my workings.’
    Tony flicked through images of the intruder. It looked a little like a weaponised jellyfish got up from shards of charred plastic: a convex shield or hood three hundred metres across, trailing three stout tentacles ornamented with random clusters of spines. No one knew what the original function of G-class Ghajar ships had been, but plating their shields with foamed fullerene and attaching weapon pods and patches around their rims turned them into formidable combat vessels.
    ‘If they aren’t police,’ he said, ‘they must be pirates. Claim jumpers.’
    ‘The possibility is not insignificant,’ the bridle said.
    ‘A ship that size, running under a fake flag? It is the only possibility. The Red Brigade has frigates, doesn’t it?’
    ‘So do a number of other fringe-world outfits. We should challenge it,’ the bridle said. ‘You can use your notorious charm to get its crew to reveal who they really are and what they want.’
    Her personality package, presenting as a bright eager capable young woman, was the front end of the AI that interfaced with the mind and nervous system of the actual ship, which like the frigate, like all ships everywhere, had been built by the Ghajar thousands of years ago. Tony’s C-class clipper was called Abalunam’s Pride, but no one knew its real name. The name its maker had given it long before it had been extracted from a sargasso orbit, refurbished and modified, and purchased by his grandmother. The secret name it might still call itself.
    Tony said, ‘I already have a pretty good idea about what they want. And it is possible that they do not know we are here. So we will maintain radio silence and continue to monitor them. And if they contact us, we will tell them that we are just a freebooter with an exploration licence and nothing to hide.’
    ‘Which we are.’
    ‘Which we are. But my family has a history with the Red Brigade. And if that really is one of their frigates . . .’
    Tony grazed the cicatrices on his cheek with his thumb as he thought things through. He was scared, yes, shocked and sort of numb, but he also felt alert and focused. Babysitting Fred Firat and his crew of wizards while they probed the ancient secrets of the slime planet had proven to be astoundingly tedious. There were no beasties to hunt, and the scattered Elder Culture ruins weren’t anything special. Junot Johnson was supervising the wizards’ work; Lancelot Askia was keeping them in line; after completing the survey of stromatolite sites and setting his little surprises, Tony had mostly stayed aboard the ship. Now, for the first time in four weeks, he was fully awake. At last he had something to do. And if that frigate really was one the Red Brigade’s ships he would have a chance to test his skill and cunning against his family’s old nemesis.
    He said, ‘How long before it gets here?’
    ‘Nineteen point three eight hours, if it maintains its current delta vee,’ the bridle said.
    ‘We will have a lot less than that if it fires off scouting drones. What about our assets at the mirror? Has our unwelcome guest pinged them, tried to spoof them, knocked any of them out?’
    ‘Not yet.’
    ‘It could have left behind assets of its own when it came through. Have one of the drones scan the mirror and the volume around it out to five thousand kilometres, but keep the rest dark. And shoot a message to Junot, brief him on the situation and tell him that the wizards should start packing up their stuff straight away.’
    ‘Then we’re going to make a run for it,’ the bridle said.
    ‘I am not going to sit on the ground and wait to see what that frigate does next,’ Tony said. ‘Check the mirror, message Junot, and raise the ship and aim it at the wizards’ camp.’
    ‘Shall I have the hand finish braiding your hair, too?’
    The bridle had a nice line in sarcasm, but Tony took the offer at face value.
    ‘Why not?’ he said, settling back on the couch. ‘If those claim jumpers do want to talk to me face to face, I should look my best.’

Monday, April 25, 2016

Transect: The Dome To The Thames Barrier

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