"Lost in the Library of Life"

Back To The Village, Number 3

An Acnestis Submission from Simon Bisson

May, Twerton-upon-Avon: The Cross Country Dash

Phew. Time at last to sit down and catch up. My usual bi-monthly schedule is recovering from the sudden arrival of a new job, and the resulting move across the country, from Borehamwood to Bath.

So here I am. Friday, a research engineer at GEC's Hirst Research Centre in Borehamwood, and on Monday, I'm at my new desk: the Technical Manager at UK Online. I'm working in Shepton Mallet, in the heart of the Mendips (underneath the shadow of the Babycham fawn and beside the famous viaduct). The offices are pleasant, a converted brewery with ammonites in the walls, lakes in the grounds, and a 256 kilobits per second link to the digital world buried beneath the roses...

So here I am, after 10 years of living alone, now moved in with Mary in a lovely house, and considering unpacking the books at last. It's rather nice not to have to get into the car on Sunday night for the drive up to London.

All in A Mouse's Night

Brian Jacques builds worlds.

Not the expanding futures of American space operas, nor the inner landscapes of the Wessex school. His worlds are simple places: earthy woodlands and dusty moors, home to simple folk. They are worlds where great deeds are done, not to save good from evil, but to catch a moment of peace in the never ending struggle that is life.

Brian Jacques' worlds are the English countryside.

I first found his books on the shelves in a children's bookshop: these were the root tales of his world: Redwall and Mossflower. Then I saw them filed under fantasy: Mattemio, Mariel Of Redwall, Salamandastron, Martin The Warrior and The Bellmaker. Beautiful covers of lush country scenes, and mice bearing swords...

It took me some time to pick up the first book. I'd read Watership Down and Duncton Wood. Did I really want to read another book full of cuddly animals confronting nature red in tooth and claw? But the idea of a monastery of mice led me back one more time to the shelves, and a beckoning copy of Redwall. This was a coming of age tale, where a misfit mouse in an abbey of mice learnt the true meaning of warriorhood, and saved his people from the ravages of rats and weasels.

Jacques' characters are archetypes, drawn from old country lore, mixed with a twentieth century sensibility: part filmic, part Beanoesque. Trickster foxes, doomed to fail, mix with pseudo-Amerindian "sparras", whilst church mice feast in remembrance of the numinous, under the watchful eyes of the guardian badgers.

He uses them to illustrate his themes: the power of love (of place, of fellow man), the splendor of loyalty, the need for lives to have meaning. It is the characters who dream that succeed, guided by the spirit of the long dead mouse Martin The Warrior. Evil is doomed to spectacular failure, sometimes in a humorous manner, but often in an almost Shakespearean tragedy.

Each of the Redwall tales is, at heart, a celebration of a Britain that is being lost beneath the concrete of our cities. Hidden in the fairy-tale wrappings are the things that make life worth living. For this reason alone Jacques' books are well worth cherishing, by children and adults alike.

Recent Reads

The Modular Man, Roger MacBride Allen. The dark side of artificial intelligence explored by American hard Sf's most liberal writer. What is intelligence, and what is humanity, when a vacuum cleaner is accused of murder? Allen's exploration of man's propensity for slavery continues in a novel that transcends Byron Preiss' The Next Wave packaging.

Thrice Upon A Time, James P. Hogan. Time travel and quantum physics coexist in an uneasy truce, in a novel that explores the rôle and morality of deliberate paradox. The rush to alter time's passing is reminiscent of Benford's Timescape. One thing is certain, Benford did it much better.

When Heaven Fell, William Barton. The alien invasion novel is a common trope, especially in American Sf. Since time immemorial man has triumphed over the implacable hordes through grit and determination. Barton's hero, a janissary, betrays childhood friends who plot rebellion against mankind's new masters. He's seen the other side of the sky, and knows what powers move there. It's time to rethink the invasion, and Barton has made the first moves. Will Jerry Pournelle get the message? Somehow I think not.

Path Of The Fury, David Weber. Can Greek myth mix with the hard right of science fiction? Weber thinks so, and in Path he attempts to chart the course of Tisiphone, the last of the Furies, across a galactic empire straight from central casting. Weber makes no pretenses to high art: he's writing space opera and he knows it. This is an adequate light read, and I'll probably keep an eye out for the sequel that's due later this year. However I keep wondering what Weber do next. Will we see Calliope and the rest of the muses defending humanity?

The Aquliad, Somtow Sucharitkul. Two volumes of wondrously insane alternate history carry Aquila across an America ruled by a Rome that never was: where the lost tribe of Israel live as Bigfoot, where Ursus Erectus and Equus Insanus lead the tribes in uneasy alliance with the Pater Maximus Candidusque across the water, and where Romans are found engrossed in the scientiae fictiones of the Judaen Asimanus and one P. Josephus Agricola.

Dark Sky Legion, William Barton. Barton is one of a small group of writers who are rethinking the tropes of American Sf. In Dark Sky Legion he explores a world where destructive teleportation has given rise to a sprawling galactic empire: a tightly controlled civilisation, even when hampered by the universe's speed limits. What is the morality of controlling so many worlds, and can one of the empire's agents rebel?

The Torch Of Honor, Roger MacBride Allen. Allen's first novel is a rather well thought-out space war story: though the appearance of a reconstituted BNP as an interstellar enemy seems slightly odd. Characters agonise their ways through a destructive war, where all that really matters is that death comes with honor.

Profiteer, S. Andrew Swann. High speed space opera with big guns, by the man who gave us hard bitten private eye tigers and rabbit waitresses with hearts of gold in his first three novels. It's the far future, and a vague interstellar UN is trying to consolidate its power by wiping out its natural enemies. All good blood-thirsty fun, with a rather nifty Jim Burns cover.

Mailbits and Sundry Spotted Acnestoids

Daniel: the new season of Babylon 5 started slow, but has rapidly picked up: Coming of Shadows was a real shivers down the spine piece of work. I seem to have addicted everyone else in the house, so... And no one's complained about the Starfury chasing the Narn fighter across the top of my computer at work! (Yes, I hear the cries of sad bastard!)

Jenny: I hope the move went well. I'm still en-cardboard-boxed after a month or so...

Barry: look out for Douglas Coupland's rather odd little short story Microserfs. I found in an early issue of Wired, but I believe PCW recently repubished it. It's the story of a young geek working for Microsoft. Odd, but quite moving. With regards to the Prisoner font, the variant of Albertus used for the titles is fairly readily available (at least for Macintosh users) in shareware form as either Furioso or Village. I prefer use Village, as it's got a rather nice penny farthing dingbat... Then again, I'm a font-slut. I only bought a Global Hypercolor t-shirt as all the typography was in a rather nice version of Eurostyle-extended.

Pat (and Dave): have you noticed that S.M. Stirling uses Flecker quotes in virtually everything he writes...

A note from Mary:

Hi Ian! Any Prolog programmer (and a few others I expect) would recognise "instantiated" - it's 
quite a reasonable word, C20th derivation, meaning to represent by an instance from the Latin 
instantia (although before I checked in the dictionary, I was thinking of setting or standing up 
an instance, from sto, stare). In Prolog in particular, a program (in particular, a predicated 
definition, which is roughly equivalent to a procedure in a more traditional programming language) 
describes a situation or a condition that you want to occur, in general terms, using variables. 
Filling in one or more of the variables creates a new instance of the situation or condition, so you 
instantiate the predicate, creating a new instantiation. I presume that the Oracle text file was 
asking you to fill in some details, like your name and serial number? Tad overkill, asking you to 
instantiate just for that...

"That's All Folks…"

Simon Bisson