Tag Archives: science fiction

New story: “Alnwick”

A little belatedly, a new story, about spaceships, queers and beleaguered civil servants:  Alnwick, at Middle Planet. Here is an excerpt:

Meg hesitated, and in that moment of silence, the shuttle left the ground, moving straight up as though hung from a cable, rapidly enough to make her ears pop. The city receded beneath then, becoming a jewellery box of shining lights. “I don’t like to say, Minister,” she said, at last, and to her surprise, he smiled as though he’d been expecting her response.

“I won’t push,” he said. “Oh, one more bit of shop-talk: I suppose it’s all lost beyond recovery, but what was the cargo in the pod?”

“Tins, sir.”


“Tins.” Meg spread her hands. “There’s going to be hydroponics and food reclamation on board, but it’s a long way to Barnard’s Star. It was thought the crew might like—well. Tinned pineapple. Cream of tomato soup.”

“Tinned pineapple,” the minister said, faintly.

New story: “Archana and Chandni”

A new story! This one concerns Indians, weddings and spaceships.

Archana and Chandni, in Betwixt (3000w)
There was a package from Tara-didi in the morning, delivered via orbital station pickup with a note stuck to the outside. Should be opaque to little sister’s sensors, she’d written. Us bad girls need to stick together. Archana only had time for a quick peek at something pointy-pink with four speed settings before Dabbu Auntie barged in to call her to the beautician. “She has come from Naya Bharat!” Dabbu Auntie announced. “To thread your eyebrows! You want to get married with those so-shaggy caterpillars? Come!”

New story: “Ur”

A new story! This one is published by Expanded Horizons, and concerns, among other things, a new colony world, a new language, a very ordinary Indian household, and a garden.

Ur by Iona Sharma (4500 words)
The mali came in the morning to talk about their plans for the garden. “Flowers, madam,” he said, firmly. “We must have flowers.”

Edited to add! A lovely review of this story from Paige Kimble.

New story: “One-Day Listing”

A new story! This is, as a friend described, a sort-of post-apocalyptic story about lawyers, published by Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi. (It’s a great name for a magazine, I love it.)

One-Day Listing by Iona Sharma
People say that the asteroid that destroyed 47 Piscium was set in motion by a passing star. That it was a handful of dust coalesced into rock, with a bare nothing of a molten core, minding its own business out on the far reaches of traversed space, until its nearest star puffed off its outer layers in a radiant twinkling and it tumbled into history contrariwise to the spin of the galaxy.

I have another story forthcoming with Expanded Horizons, “Ur” (which is neither post-apocalyptic nor about lawyers), on which more anon.

Book review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August[Note: this review has major spoilers. It also has some minor discussion of suicide and self-harm. The novel has a great deal of discussion of suicide and self-harm; I wouldn’t recommend it if you have triggers concerning those things.]

Harry August dies in the early nineteen-eighties, aged nearly seventy or thereabouts, and is born again. Not in the sense of being reincarnated, at least not conventionally: for he is born again in exactly the same place as last time, in 1919 in Berwick-upon-Tweed, in a station waiting room. He’s a kalachakra: one of a group of people who are always born again, as themselves, with their memories of their previous lives returning to them in early childhood.

This is the powerful idea that sustains The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and about the first half of the novel is devoted to exploring it fully, which is as it should be, because it’s a richer seam than you might think.Harry lives the same life over and over: that’s understood. It makes all his childhoods apart from the first an exercise in tedium, which isn’t something I had thought of, and then of course with a basic amount of the intelligence and all the time in the world, you can become an expert in anything. So Harry in his later lives is a polyglot polymath, having studied medicine, physics and history knowing he can become an expert in each. (I don’t know what it says that it takes him fourteen lives to come to my particular profession, but he even does become a lawyer at one point.) And right from the start, of course the novel engages with the classic SF premise of whether, armed with foreknowledge, we can change history – does this universe work this way, and if it does, should we? I’m told that Claire North is a pseudonym for an established author who normally writes very different books, which might explain why this novel takes such an unusual stab at an idea that’s kind of an SF old chestnut. Harry is trying to save the world from some future cataclysm – which is a conceit I last encountered in, of all places, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books – and it’s interesting to see this trope played entirely straight, Harry journeying through the twentieth century on his mission to save the world. (He’s visited by another of his kind, from the future, carrying the message back in time – the end of the world is coming sooner and sooner. It’s that kind of thing that makes this novel, probably before anything else, a proper, compelling, thrilling page-turner.)

And in some ways, this is the other great strength of the novel, the life and colour that Harry’s sometimes very dispassionate narration can bring to the history of the modern world: Harry lives through the Second World War many, many times; he lives through the Cold War; he journeys through 1950s China and the 1960s USSR; he sees the Great Leap Forward, the Soviet closed cities, the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He gets kidnapped by Argentinian bandits and he’s around in the early days of Israel. The chapters are short and often serve as short snapshots of a greater story, like all history.

Against that colour, there’s the contrast of a lack of colour: Harry’s childhood in the north of England as the illegitimate child of an impoverished aristocrat, spent on the Northumberland moors, with little parental love or ambition. Sometimes the narrative seems to be saying that that sense of alienation stays with him throughout his lives, which I actually don’t buy, but it’s complex. One thing the novel does spectacularly and chillingly well is to depict Harry’s increasing ruthlessness and increasing willingness to treat people as things, including, at times, himself. In his first life, we see him traumatised by his experiences killing enemy soldiers in the Second World War; in his third life, we see him tortured by an American intelligence agent who has (correctly) surmised that he can tell him how the Cold War turns out. It’s a turning point for him, Harry writes, because, “I learned that there is a black pit inside my soul with no limit to its falling”. Not being Harry, the reader can think instead that to want to die, to escape, is to be human. But in later lives, torture and death become strange, dark inconveniences, as does the childhood that follows; they are all as nothing in the face of his quest to save the world, that becomes, as he admits himself, a quest for vengeance. As above, I don’t buy that Harry’s childhood can be the cause of his increasing alienation, not when there’s also the simple fact that he lives over and over, without much companionship and a resultant tendency to regard ordinary people as “linears”, nothing to do with him – but the narrative occasionally doesn’t seem to know what to do with that idea, giving us a meandering daddy issues subplot that skirts the edge of it but never quite comes out and says it. Harry gets less and less human as his lives progress and eventually even the family subplot lapses, so perhaps it’s a wash. And at the very end, we get to the climax of the vengeance plan and it’s nothing to do with Harry’s early life: it’s just Harry August, his nemesis, and possibly the ending of the world.

What the novel is about, then, is about how a life can have meaning. How Harry’s life, which will be as long as he could possibly want, gradually reduces to one quest for vengeance; how in rejecting everything else, including love, faith, work, selfhood, it comes to mean very little to him, because those are the things that give life meaning. Which is a noble theme and a powerful one, as powerful as the starting premise, for those of us reading who don’t live the same life over and over. And for that reason, it’s a good book. And I don’t read literary fiction, for the most part – I’m not well-versed in its tropes, so perhaps this is a category-error criticism and if so I apologise. But perhaps, coming to this from the SF and not the literary standpoint, there could have been a little more redemption for Harry, a little sacrifice of theme to character rather than vice versa. Having spent four hundred pages on the first fifteen lives of Harry August, I think I wanted a glimmer of a happy ending for him, too.

Space Station Politics

sketch of DS9 from Far Beyond The Stars


I have a post up at the Lashings of Ginger Beer blog today, on space stations, science fiction, and the politics of community. I could write a thesis on this topic, I think: on why we have science fiction, what it is for, and why, like me and real life, it really doesn’t have to be serious business all the time.

(Image from sketch drawn by John Eaves, via memory alpha.)