Edwin in the mail

It’s been a long eight months of work but this morning I sent off to the publishers, Lion Fiction, the final text for Edwin: High King of Britain, the first volume in the projected trilogy of books about the Bretwaldas of the northern kingdom, The Northumbrian Thrones. The series title was the publishers idea, but a good one – there is something very Game of Thrones-ish about Anglo-Saxon England, even down to the rumours of monsters and dragons in the wilderness (and Beowulf’s hall).

The next volume will, naturally, be about Oswald – king, saint, martyr and, according to Max Adams’ biography, prototype for Aragorn, son of Arathorn.


Bede the Gentle-man

In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People the Venerable Bede invented the very idea of England. Reading the book today, I’m struck by its generosity, its concern for historical sources but most of all by the evident kindness of Bede himself. This was a good man. I wonder if the quintessence of the ideal of England – the gentle-man – was prefigured and, in a way, preformed by the man who invented England, Bede himself. I can think of few better patterns for a nation than the man from Jarrow.


Book review: Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost


Space Captain Smith is an almost successful science fantasy romp, set in a 25th-century universe where the British Empire has expanded to the stars and faces enemies both alien and human. The author has a gift for one liners and puns and, since I’m a sucker for both, as well as steam punk futurologies, it should have been a winner. Where it fails is quite interesting. Firstly, Frost proves utterly incapable of avoiding an approaching pun – something I’d normally applaud, but here there’s just too many one liners. Secondly, a lot of the jokes involve contemporary references, and even though the jokes are good, they jerk the reader right out of the world of the book. And thirdly, I don’t think Frost has thought through his future universe carefully enough. There’s no sense of space travel involving anything other than getting into a ship on one planet and then emerging on another, nor any depth to the history and cultures of the other peoples and civilisations – in contrast with Philip Reeves’s on-the-face-of-it similar triology, Larklight. Larklight also has a space-faring British Empire and excellent jokes, but the world is much more believable, the joking more disciplined, and the Victorian references deeper. In fact, if you’re looking for a purely enjoyable read involving stalwart Victorian heroes in space, try Larklight.

Blurb for Edwin: High King of Britain

Here’s the publisher’s blurb for Edwin: High King Of Britain. What do you think? Would you be inclined to read the book after reading this and looking at the cover?

Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure – the missionary Paulinus – who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point. Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to great power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life …This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving first to pillage, then to farm and trade – and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.


Book review: The Lost Fleet: Courageous by Jack Campbell


Rule no.2 of military SF: don’t do romance. (Rule no.1 is guns, lots of guns, or failing that vast battle fleets burning beneath the unforgiving stars.) Unfortunately, Campbell breaks this rule, with much of the book being filled by an angsty and frankly unlikely affair between Commander of the Fleet Geary and on-board, hard-as-nails politician Rione. The whole thing is made more icky by my impression of both characters as being in their fifties or sixties (Geary in fact is probably 140 or so, but most of that time has been spent in stasis), so my imagination is faced with the distinctly unpleasant images of wrinkly sex. No one reading military SF should have such awful images flashing into his mind; we are here for guns, bowel-spilling violence, stiff-jawed valour and, well, more guns. The only fluids spilled should be red. Thankfully, Campbell fulfills rule no.1, in its thousands of spaceships subvariety, and does so well. As a former naval officer, Campbell has thought through the implications of space warfare better than almost any writer, which shows in the battle scenes. So, for the next volume, less romance, more war, please.

Book review: Skios by Michael Frayn


As a genre, farce is the most rigidly deterministic of all literary forms, with consequences, farcical ones naturally, following ineluctably from actions. One of the key strengths of farce is that we, the audience or the reader, know what is going to happen but the characters don’t, so in the end the audience or reader is almost reduced to viewing the action through your fingers, so awful has the embarrassment become. Michael Frayn first became known for ‘Noises Off’, a farce that since its first performance in 1980 continues to be revived and performed.

But Frayn later went on to write ‘Copenhagen’, for me the best play about science ever written. In ‘Copenhagen’ he takes a mysterious incident in the lives of Niels Bohr and Werner von Heisenberg as the starting point for an investigation into the ramifications of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. For according to this view, quantum mechanics does not provide an objective description of the real world but rather deals with the various probabilities inherent in a situation – any possibility contained within a wave function may become real. This is the polar opposite of farcical determinism.

So what does Frayn do when he comes to write a new, post-‘Copenhagen’ farce? He writes a probabilistic collision with farcical determinism. And you know what: it almost works.