10 February 2012


I love bookshops.

I'm sad that they are having such a hard time.  I fear that the drive to online, e-reading and competition from supermarkets will simply drive many to the wall.  If that happens, I'll regard it as a personal loss (that's one of the reasons why I object to e-books) but it will also make our streets so boring - there'll be nothing left but clothes and coffee shops.  What's the good of that?

The bookshops I use, and have used in the past, mean so much to me

For example, there was Willshaws in John Dalton Street in Manchester.  My father, whose office was in Manchester, introduced me to this and when I was a teenager I used to take the train into Manchester (about a 45 minute journey from our nearest town) and come back from there with armfuls of books, one or two months' supply at a time.  It's where I got my copy of "Nineteen Eighty-Four".  At that time, the paperback section was simply the Penguin section - a wall of orange.  (Why did they drop that? It made their books so recognisable that they practically owned the shop).

Or James Thin's on South Bridge in Edinburgh, "Scotland's Biggest Bookshop" (telegraphic address:  "Bookman, Edinburgh" -  I still have their bookmarks).  I found this on two very different occasions. 

The first time was during a  family holiday in Northumbria.  It was a holiday when everything went wrong that could go wrong, with a lot of falling out which I just wanted to get away from.  One day, we went to Edinburgh and I wandered past Thin's... and I wandered into Thin's... and that was when I started reading PG Wodehouse (which I alternated with Orwell).

The second time I found the shop was when I was a student at Edinburgh, I got most of my textbooks there, but it played a particularly important part in my life when I lived in a flat just round the corner from Thin's (New Arthur Place) and we had, in effect, no heating, or none we could afford to use.  I'd go round to Thin's, which opened in the evenings, just to warm up.  One evening I came across Robert Holdstock giving a talk, the first time I'd ever met an author, I think.

Obviously, particular businesses rise and fall, so I'm not going to get all sentimental - well, not too sentimental - about those that have gone, but I think it will be such a shame if there are none left at all. 

9 February 2012

Review: Transmission by John Meaney

John Meaney
London, 2012
ISBN 978 0 575 08535 0

This is the second book in Meaney’s Ragnarok trilogy, and if you enjoyed the earlier book, “Absorption”, published in 2010, I think you’ll like this too.  Both books are fairly similar – both deploy a startling range of characters across multiple timeframes, ranging from the eighth century (Viking warrior Ulfr) to the Second World War and after (chiefly Gavi, a German Jewish refugee scientist working at Bletchley Park) and the far future (scenes set in the 27th century are only a stepping stone:  there are also events in 5568AD and 502019AD (the latter looking forward another half a million years)

Again, most of the significant characters are being attacked by, or fighting back against, the mysterious Darkness (though a couple seem to be tainted by it).  The nature of this enemy is still unclear, as are the exact relationships between the characters (though there are clear crossovers and linkages) but the bigger picture is now beginning to emerge, both in hints (significant names, family relationships, reported history) about how the various storylines may combine and in the direct echoes between the storylines.  The trilogy resembles a vast,  canvas where small details become more significant in light of the overall design.  Some things are now explained (for example, the nature of the troll that attacked Ulfr's party in Absorption) while others are still mysterious (such as the ultimate relevance of Sharp's people) and some new threads are added (a new race, seemingly alien, but which might be far future humans).

It is perhaps a pity that this book wasn’t published last year, since there is a lot of detail in Absorption that it helps to remember in reading Transmission.  Meaney does repeat the main points, but I would advise rereading the earlier book if you can. 

This is though an excellent story, filled with mind bending concepts.  Just to name a few, Meaney weaves in resonances - both in nature and in the story structure – the Second World War, the history of martial arts, hypnotism, neurolinguistic programming, wave-particle duality and cryptography.  He seems to be equally at home with Viking runes and advanced physics.  In all, an excellent, engaging read. I’m looking forward to the final part of the trilogy (I hope I don’t have to wait another two years for it though!)

What else?  Well, I think family names are important in this trilogy, so keep an eye out for them.  And I think Meaney shows excellent timing in his concept of “mu space” – pronounced “moo” not “mew” – which enables faster-than-light travel through some kind of mysterious extra dimensions with fractal geometry – given the recent CERN experiments that seem to show faster than light neutrinos.