THE WILLY-Bs (by James Munro)

One should clearly keep clones caged. Not easy to say.
Not easy to do. They have a way of growing up,
becoming indistinguishable from oneself
at that age. Which of course is their point. You may

love them. Don’t. If you give them an hour, they’ll take over
your life. It won’t be just your heart, your eyes,
your hips that will be replaced. It will be you.

Temper mercy with sense. It was not as replacements
that they were created, brought into the world,
it was as spare parts. Parts. To be used as needed.

But will they understand that? WillyB-3 is
resentful still about his eye. His eye,
I ask you. I said, Willy, it was never your eye,
it is my eye; that eye you still have
is my eye: you are all me, all mine.

WillyB-4, who is minus most of his teeth
from my dental op and can’t talk properly –
and will probably provide me with my new liver
which will be the end of him, said – “I shink Mary’sh
right.” “Mary?” “Mary. She shaysh we are
people, shame ash her, shame ash you.”

“Listen, Willy. You know you are not people.
You have no name, no parents, no passport,
all you have is the codeword WillyB
linking you to me, and a number, you are
a clone, my fourth, like WillyB-1 and WillyB-
2 were, and these others are. That liver
is as much part of my body as this liver here is,
the body you think of as yours is as much
my body as this one I am at present using.

“What will happen when I need a brain?
That brain will be programmed with all my knowledge,
all my memories, all my feelings – your
few little thoughts – if they are your thoughts – will cease
to be like a ripple on a pond – my pond.”

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TO A POET A THOUSAND YEARS HENCE (by James Elroy Flecker & John Heath-Stubbs)

(This is James Elroy Flecker’s original poem, written around 1912)

TO A POET A THOUSAND YEARS HENCE

I who am dead a thousand years,
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
The way I shall not pass along.

I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry.

But have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
And prayers to them who sit above?

How shall we conquer? Like a wind
That falls at eve our fancies blow,
And old Maeonides the blind
Said it three thousand years ago.

Oh friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

 

(This is John Heath-Stubbs’ response to Elroy Flecker’s poem, written 50 years or so later)

TO A POET A THOUSAND YEARS HENCE

I who am dead a thousand years
And wrote this crabbed post-classic screed
Transmit it to you – though with doubts
That you possess the skill to read,

Who, with your pink, mutated eyes,
Crouched in the radioactive swamp,
Beneath a leaking shelter, scan
These lines beside a flickering lamp;

Or in some plastic paradise
Of pointless gadgets, if you dwell,
And finding all your wants supplied
Do not suspect it may be Hell.

But does our art of words survive –
Do bards within that swamp rehearse
Tales of the twentieth century,
Nostalgic, in rude epic verse?

Or do computers churn it out –
In lieu of songs of War and Love,
Neat slogans by the State endorsed
And prayers to Them, who sit above?

How shall we conquer? – all our pride
Fades like a summer sunset’s glow:
Who will read me when I am gone –
For who reads Elroy Flecker now?

Unless, dear poet, you were born,
Like me, a deal behind your time,
There is no reason you should read,
And much less understand, this rhyme.

SOCIALITE (by John Francis Haines)

Because it was a formal ‘do’ I wore
Blue jeans, T-shirt and my leather jacket
(The one with ‘Robots – built to lose’ embossed
In large gold studs right across the back)
I tucked fresh microchips behind my ear,
Dodged drinks, feigned food, attempted conversation
While skirting topics likely to offend
(Like Android Rights) I must not tread on toes …
After all, I was a guest tonight.
I smile, I nod, I wave to friends and chat,
Somehow the time goes by without a gaffe,
And then my taxi comes to take me home.

CROSSING IN TIME by D. L. Orton (Review)

It’s not our abilities that show who we really are, it is our choices.”

Let me first say I like the dedication! It has two very nice touches.

To my husband Fernando,
and my sons
Tristan, Stefan & Cedric
without whom this book
would have been written in half the time.In the vast and wondrous expanse
of space-time,
you guys are the best.

So. We start in the Prologue with a scene set in a dystopian future “a few years from now”. The narrator, Isabel, is trying to buy a gun in exchange for some pepper (money is no use any more). She hasn’t a clue about guns and is completely in the hands of the repulsive seller, but a gun will protect her from would-be rapists, she hopes, having just been miraculously saved from one by a friendly dog.

Dystopia? This is hell on earth.

When the story opens, ten months earlier, we learn that world-wide catastrophe is imminent and that no one seems able to do anything to avert it. However (there is always a “however” in stories – I hope there will always be one in real life!) a top-secret prototype time-machine exists and it just may be possible for someone to go back in time and effect one very small alteration that will prevent this particular catastrophe from ever taking place without causing other changes that might themselves be disastrous.

Much frantic research finally reveals that a young man and a young woman broke up some twenty or so years previously and that if they had only stayed together this would have made all the difference. Now forty-year-old (but still very attractive) Isabel must go back, find young Diego, whom she of course remembers and is still in love with, but who has not yet even met the young Isabel, and persuade him that when he does eventually meet this other, younger, Isabel, he must at all costs stay with her, not leave her.

What could possibly go wrong?

A great story, and one of the best books I read this summer, Crossing in Time is the first in a five-book series collectively entitled “Between Two Evils”. I have downloaded the second and shall probably go on to read all five.

SHEPHERDS by J. Drew Brumbaugh (Review)

This is a story about what are, in effect, mermaids and mermen. However, it is not fantasy – at least not fairy-tale fantasy, though perhaps you might class it as that SF sub-genre Speculative Fantasy, rather than as hardcore Science Fiction.

In one sense, it is a little of both – as I suppose are all the best SF novels.

In a not-too-distant future, when over-fishing has depleted the seas of wild fish, shoals of millions of farmed tuna are minded out in the open ocean by genetically engineered humans and tame dolphins. Like shepherds and their sheepdogs, the humans directing operations and the dolphins keeping the shoal all together and moving in the right direction. As a situation this clearly has its good side, but one of its downsides is that traditional fishermen, who had been barely making a living before, are now unable to compete. Some turn to piracy, or to drug-trafficking, working for the big cartels. Others, like our hero Toivo, struggle on as fishermen.

Toivo, it should be pointed out, is not a shepherd. What enables him to keep going is his ability to communicate directly with dolphins. He literally “speaks dolphinese”, which he learnt as a small child spending all his time with dolphins that his father, a marine zoologist, was studying. Now his dolphin friends help him with his fishing.

So there he is on his fishing-boat somewhere out in the south Pacific. And not far away on a submersible raft, their home, live three shepherds. Two of them are a couple; the third, Olga, whom some would descrinbe as beautiful, others as a freak, feels left out. Lonely. And that she has nothing whatsoever to look forward to. She cannot live on land, and now her kind, mutants, the product of genetic engineering, have been declared illegal by the UN.

On a third vessel, a large ship, a fishing-boat skipper turned drug-runner who hates “swimmer freaks” sails towards them.  Enough. I don’t wish to spoil it.

I love the whole notion of mermaids and sea-people so naturally I thrilled to this story. But there is something else that makes this book stand out from the rest. The dolphins are not only intelligent but philosphically and spiritually more advanced than most of us humans – partly, of course, because they are completely unmaterialistic. There is even the suggestion that their ancestors, millions of years ago, were land-dwellers and the first civilisation on Earth, but then took the conscious decision to return to the sea. Toivo’s close friend, the dolphin Poika, believes that humans have at last begun to tire of their materialistic and self-destructive civilisation and are now ready to return to the sea. That people like Olga represent the future of our species.

Don’t miss this if you enjoy thrillers with an unusual setting and some passages which make you think. And go on thinking after you have closed the book.

THE GODS THEMSELVES by Isaac Asimov (Review)

One of the great classic works of SF.

The title is part of a line from a play (“The Maid of Orleans”) by the German poet Friedrich Schiller: Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.

In the first part of the book, Against Stupidity, the problem of free, clean energy has finally been solved, and the scientist who came up with the solution is universally lauded. Oh, there are a few scientists who consider the whole system, which involves exchanging matter with a para-universe, inherently dangerous, but they are dismissed by everyone as trouble-makers. (And their careers as scientists brought to a dead stop if they dare to speak out.)

In Part II, The Gods Themselves, we find ourselves in that “para-universe”. This is a stunning creation and the book should be read to experience this other world if for no other reason. It is so, so different, yet so, so believable … and yes, of course, the stupid rule the roost there, too.

In Part III, we are on the Moon – our Moon – and again the book would be worth reading just for this depiction of what life on the Moon might be like. This Part is naturally entitled “Contend in Vain”, but with an important question mark: Contend in Vain?

It would be too easy to spoil this wonderful story, so I will simply finish by saying how happy I am to have rediscovered my early love of Isaac Asimov (my grandmother had all his books) and that I plan on re-reading many more of them.

E by Kate Wrath (Review)

Yet another version of the dystopia that seems to be how we the masses envisage the brave new world that lies ahead. (Coming utopias do not make for gripping fiction, though, do they?) Still, no zombies in this one. Nothing supernatural at all. The setting, Outpost 3, is a walled town – not as in an ancient walled city, but a shanty town with a makeshift wall around it – where life consists of struggling to survive from day to day in a dog-eats-dog environment. That was metaphorical: there are, of course, no dogs left. It is a human-eats-rat environment.

What ‘law and order’ there is consists of immensely strong and fast robots known as ‘sentries’, left-overs, clearly, from a previous technocratic dictatorship, which respond to stimuli such as the smell of spilt blood. Nobody there understands them, they are just a fact of nature, but everyone fears them, including Matthew, the local gang-leader and most powerful man in the enclave.

As the story opens, the protagonist wakes up knowing only that she has been erased. No name, no memories. It seems that she has been dropped there by some outside organisation, because erasing is not something that happens – that could happen – in Outpost 3. She hears men coming, hides among the rubbish, and listens. She learns that the two goons were expecting her and that she was intended for slavery.

The rest of the book is the tale of her survival in what can only be described as a man-made hell. In the face of the unfaceable, she remains brave and kind, and there are lines – thoughts of hers – I shall always remember. For instance this:

There are things that set us apart. Things that are human. Decent. And humor, alone, is not a qualifying factor. (Reminds me of Shakespeare’s “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”)

and :

Ironically, coming to terms with my impending doom offers me a sweet taste of freedom. I’m going to die makes I might die far less potent.

I enjoyed every word of it and shall certainly be reading the sequels, Evolution, and the forthcoming Eden.