Book Review: Christopher Galt, The Third Testament – continued

So what did I think of this book?

Very well-written, intriguing, intelligent and exciting. The tension is maintained. That is not only – or even, for me, mainly – tension about some cataclysm. It’s tension about what’s going on. In that respect it resembles a crime story in which the focus is on detection. There must be an explanation for these events. What can it be?

Right away the fact that a supercomputer is involved and characters recognise that the computer, becoming self-aware, might create its own virtual world, raises the possibility that the world John Macbeth lives in might not be real. There are other possible explanations – for example, that there are parallel worlds of equal reality and these are somehow getting mixed up. Something of the sort seems to be happening because time is being disturbed, though only in people’s minds: they’re “seeing things” which really happened centuries or millions of years ago. There are also shadowy groups mentioned which might be orchestrating something – one violent Christian fundamentalist group and an obscure network of scientists. There is also that worrying American president.

It would be spoiling the read to let on what the answer turned out to be. Enough to say that there is a dramatic twist right at the very end which makes you reinterpret everything. For me that left some questions, some things I couldn’t quite relate to the solution.

I liked the book enormously. Criticisms? Three, I think. I picked up very early that the standpoint of the author seemed to be strongly anti-religious. You can argue that this reflects his characters, but then it’s odd that all the main sympathetic characters are atheists, with the possible exception of a Californian police sergeant whose Latino surname suggests he’d very likely be a Catholic, but for whom religion isn’t mentioned. There is a tendency to equate religion with crankiness. The young priest featured at the very start trying to talk down a potential suicide lectures the man in a way I find quite unlikely. I suspect priests get some training in how to handle emotionally unstable people: they have to do it often enough. Admittedly this one is inexperienced, but he talks to an apparently desperate man as if he were a rather stupid pupil.

That’s one. The second is that the poetic writing, while fast-paced, is sometimes a little overdone, I think. Russell uses words I’d never heard of – “pearlescent” for one. The third is that the strand or sub-plot about the sinister US president is developed to a point where it seems very important and then left hanging. The denouement does shift our perception of her in a neat and clever way, though.

In summary – I’m glad I discovered this book and this writer.

 

 

 

Book Review:The Third Testament, Christopher Galt

dangerpic

Sorry for a long delay since I last posted. There’s no overwhelming excuse like death or complete demotivation. I’ve stopped posting poetry for publishing reasons, I mean to post and then don’t, I have no desire to share every seemingly significant moment with an almost random pond-dip of the world… and when I tried to post a while back, I got in a tangle with positioning an image in relation to the text.

Still, here I am.

An advantage of just picking up books at a library or bookstall, as opposed to a ruthless and systematic electronic hunt, is that you occasionally find things you never suspected.This book is one. The cover says it’s by Craig Russell writing as Christopher Galt, which is unusual for a start. If authors want to use a pen-name they usually don’t put their real name alongside. Some real identities are genuinely meant to be secret and others are not really meant to be secret, more a matter of marking out A1 type writing from A2 type, but the Russell/Galt thing intrigued me. Turns out Craig Russell is a well-known Scottish crime writer and Galt is his SF/thriller alias.

I was also a bit puzzled when, after reading the book, I started to research it online and found reference to an apparently different book, “Biblical”, by the same writer with apparently the same plot. Puzzlement ended: it is the same book, but re-issued and re-titled. “Biblical” was the old title.

OK: American Psychiatrist John Macbeth is working in Copenhagen on a project to create a super-computer that mimics the human mind. The idea is that once it’s up and running, scientists can generate psychological problems and test treatments, finding out a huge amount about how the mind works. One worry is that the computer will be self-aware and no-one quite knows how it will react. That introduces one big question and tension.

The next is apparently quite separate and more urgent. People all over the world start doing strange things. A party of employees of a cutting-edge computer games company jump off the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Macbeth witnesses a student jumping from a roof, taking with him the priest who had been trying to talk him down. People have hallucinations. They suddenly stop in the street as if frozen, seeing things no-one else can see. A plane crashes trying to avoid a vast volcano that did exist in that place millions of years ago. John Macbeth, on a visit to Boston, shares with the whole population an experience of an earthquake that seems very real, that causes deaths through car crashes and so on, but that leaves no evidence of structural damage at all. The US President, someone with a dangerous psychological make-up, is seeing visions. Macbeth is put under pressure to join a US group working to understand what is happening, but refuses to leave the Copenhagen project.

Now I think for the benefit of those who haven’t read the book, I’ll stop just here and come back next time with my thoughts on the book and just a little more on how the story develops.

 

 

 

Invitation to deceive

hoodies

Hoodies

 

It leaps out at me from a regular e-mailing from an outdoor clothing store:

FLEECE HOODIES!

(they’re naive and trusting).

 

I Reject

broken-chain-1024x768

 

I REJECT

 

24 June 2016

 

I reject you, my country.

You who used to be my country, I divorce you.

You have become mean and full of hate

You look over your shoulder for immigrants

And complain even where there are none.

You have no vision for the world

You have no love for the world

No knowledge of other worlds

Resentment is your life.

 

Don’t worry. I’ll still pay my taxes and vote.

We have a business arrangement. In return

You care for me disdainfully if I’m ill

You send a policeman if I’m burgled

And sometimes clean the street. There’s no need

To revise the social contract. But you are not mine.

I know you.

 

 

India, India

Indian rail image

I promised to say more about my trip to India, especially on the wildlife. There is too much to say. My foremost interest was the birds and they were utterly fantastic, the numbers, the colours, the variety. At this time of year India has not only its resident birds, but many winter visitors, some familiar to the British birder (Hobby, Tree Pipit, Little Stint) and others less familiar from Siberia (Siberian Rubythroat, Marsh Sandpiper, Black Stork). I was interested to see many Indian birders. At the main wetland reserve, Bharatpur, most visitors go round in rickshaws (the rider/drivers really know their birds) and I saw one very attractive young Indian woman with binoculars leap from her rickshaw, guided by the driver, to see the Siberian Rubythroat.

 

Sinerian Rubythroat

The tiger reserve – Ramthambore – was similar in that there was a mix of European and Far Eastern tourists with Indians among the visitors. This is obviously good for conservation. We did see a pair of tigers, but since about twelve vehicles – jeeps and boneshaker ex-army trucks – were clustered round them, there was a bit of circus about the drama. The leopards sighting was entirely different. No-one else was there. The leopards – an unusual unit of dominant male, young female and hanger-on male – seemed unaware of us. I don’t think we felt like peeping Toms when the couple proceeded to have sex.

The politics? In the small towns and villages, I noticed many banners hung up with head-and-shoulders pictures of series of people, maybe ten to a banner. I had my suspicions, but I asked the tour leader. They were for local elections. Bad point: the party lists were either all-male or had one woman included. Good point: in a village, I saw a poster for what appeared to be an independent candidate whose appeal, judging by his symbol, appeared to be agrarian. He included his website address and email.

Oh, I haven’t even started.

Back to literary matters next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The silence is ended: India

Yes, it’s a long time since I’ve posted. Like a lot of bloggers, I find after a while the motivation flags. Also I’m being more cautious about posting my poetry. And like most people, I’m a bit lazy.

A poetic post of some sort will come quite soon. But I felt I should post about India.

I’ve known many people in the UK of Indian subcontinent origins and one in the US. I suppose because of the colonial link most British people have India in their consciousness somewhere and maybe not just consciousness: it was a shock to many to find that the Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly was Anglo-Indian (European-Indian mixed race). I’d wanted to go to India for some time; after all, I’d been to Africa and North America, but not Asia at all though I’d seen it from Istanbul and Lesvos.

I was to travel with the nature tours group Naturetrek, but the tour was cancelled because the numbers weren’t enough. I booked on another tour nearly a year later…and the same thing happened, but an alternative tour just a bit later (February 2016 instead of November 2015) was OK.

It was aimed at wildlife with a bit of culture and architectureTaj group

(some Indian government building in the background there. Come on, I’m in that group, so which one?)

A few impressions:

Delhi’s fabled traffic is less disorganised than it first seems. The huge noise is partly because, in passing a slower vehicle, you’re supposed to sound your horn to warn the other driver. There are far fewer accidents than you’d expect and few cars show signs of damage. In India generally, there are few real driving rules and very few traffic lights, but drivers are not aggressive.

The contrasts are huge. Posh hotels with plenty of prosperous Indian guests are not far from people living in groups of old tents by huge expanses of rubbish (trash) and stagnant pools. Then again, Delhi International Airport is well-organised and well-provided and the trains are rather impressive with the latest technology on some telling you precisely where you are (not only the next station, but how far away it is) and we arrived at one station, among the people sleeping wrapped up in robes, to hear a cultured female voice over the intercom informing us that the train was four minutes late: “inconvenience caused is deeply regretted.”)

Advertising is everywhere. The most popular products, judging by the amount of advertising, are EDUCATION, CEMENT and BEAUTY PRODUCTS in that order. One company in the second category had the slogan “cementing relations”. Oh, and underwear adverts are rather different. Getting off a train, we were greeted by a picture advertising “Innerwear”: a filmstar heart-throb kind of guy sitting in his vest wearing dark glasses. What he was doing wearing vest and dark glasses was a matter for speculation. A soldier we chatted to as we waited for our bus thought that advert was funny too.

We visited Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh – Ranthambore, Bharatpur and Chambal River reserves or wildlife areas.

The Taj Mahal? Everything you’ve heard is understated.

More on that, wildlife and even politics next time. I think this post is long enough.

 

 

Happy Christmas!

Christmas is about many things:

CAMELS:

 

Sopwith_F-1_Camel_USAF.jpg

WISE MEN:

Hansen

CHURCH:

Charlotte_Church_by_Law_Keven

TURKEY:

Turkey

And, of course, a child born at just the wrong time to parents struggling to deal with an unhelpful government and soon to be refugees.

 

HAPPY CHRISTMAS, anyway!

Night Trains

 

 

 

NIGHT TRAINS

In daytime, a train journey is anchored by the scenery,
Visible river and industrial estate.
You might see an ornate narrowboat edging forward
Or a small red car manoeuvring into a tight space;
At least if some station names flash by in a blur
There were letters, they exist
The details work hard
Holding you back from flying off into
The unknown or Iceland. You are where what you see.

And the regular commute, even if sliding
Into the night, is clamped dead straight by habit,
The endorsed rule of office or home

But enter into an unfamiliar train at night,
Passengers silent or shouting, not even dark showing outside
But a mirror image of the train’s interior
Patterned seats, bland tables, preoccupied passengers
Trapped by their smartphones into writhing worlds,
But no sign of yourself, and you wonder
Where you are going , if anywhere, in what world if any.
No wonder the retreat into laptop homelands.

So different is the plane, where there are only two options,
Lesvos or death, the first being much more likely.

Night train

The Quiet

At 8:30 precisely on Christmas Eve, the family next door fell silent. The loud music had been belting out for nine hours, interspersed only by yelling over the thump of the music and the sound of something heavy falling on the floor.

 

But suddenly – nothing. Not even footsteps.

 

Leroy looked at his girlfriend. They shared a tentative glance. He spoke:

 

“It’s quiet, Carruthers – too damn quiet.”

Not a poem

That ought to make a lot of people read it.

Well, I haven’t been writing much poetry lately, though this is something written for a small, friendly writers’ group that could easily be poetry.

I thought it best not to use a picture with this since it’d push people’s understandings in particular directions. Make your own mind up what’s happening.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Somewhere

Consciousness: a kind of moving light. Aware of the light moving in the darkness. I am the light. Am I?

I am. I’m conscious. I’m somewhere. I’m aware of my body, a dull, vague casing round the bits that see, the bits that hear, the bits that think, the bits that clasp.

I move my arm.

I’m lying on something. Lying face down. Not so dark when I move my head. My arm aches. I hear a regular sound, soft, rasping, reassuring. Cat purring, mother breathing. Waves. The sea. I smell salt tang. I’m lying on a beach. There’s sand stuck to my face.

What’s that? Something blurry. A building? It has meaning. I should get to it.

I don’t want to move.

I’m seeing clearer. I push myself to rise on my elbows and move forward. My elbows sink in damp sand. A pebble pokes at my thigh. I reach the thing. It has a message

EXTRA KRACHT BLEEKMIDDEL

Should I carry the message somewhere? Where, then? I was going somewhere.

Sand is sticking to my shirt. I’m wet.

Who am I? Stupid question, boy. I am me. I am that I am. I am the monarch of all I survey. Sand, pebbles, lost seaweed, a plastic bottle, a flip-flop rising out of the sand like a sinking ship.

The sand around it is smooth, then rough.

Something is angry. That’s a gull. More gulls. Raucous cackles and shrieks.

Something is pushing me into the sand.

I know that. It’s my heart beating. It beats much faster than the sea.

I can see a bit further now. This is a beach. But no girls in bikinis, no fat men, no yelling kids, no barking dogs. What time of year was it?

I’m not wearing shoes. Or socks. Sand rasps and tickles my feet. Why didn’t I notice that before? Sensations returning slowly, top to bottom. Front to back. East to west.

There is a big, dead animal on the beach, its stiff arms outstretched.

It’s a long way off. Can I stand up? Nothing broken, just this huge sensation of weakness, of everything I try to concentrate on slipping away.

Kneel.

That wasn’t so hard. I can see trees now, higher ground. Alternate universe. Alternative?

STAND. I’m standing. Careful. To walk, put one foot forward. Shift weight to that leg. Move other foot beyond first one. That’s the way to do it. Who said that? Edwards. Who was Edwards? Do I have to tell Edwards? I can repeat it: EXTRA KRACHT BLEEKMIDDEL. Good boy.

I can walk. The soft sand tries to stop me. My feet sink in. What I push against shifts. But I move. The dead animal is closer.

I can feel wind. It’s cold. It’s in my face.

It isn’t a dead animal after all. I know this: it’s a tree trunk. A tree that fell into the sea and drowned, its trunk picked clean of bark, its leaves fallen away. The pale grey wood is smooth, very smooth. I can hear the secret hiss of my fingers running along it.

Can anyone else hear it? I must be quiet. I must be invisible. If I sink in the sand I can disappear. The sand tickles. The sea is salt.