Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Gates of Hell

Last summer I picked up a book in a small indie bookshop in Bala. The cover art was terrible and the title could have been better, but it was a disaster story set in Wales, mildly SFnal, and I thought I might give it a try. It's taken a while to get around to reading it, but a couple of weeks ago I started on The Gates of Hell by Geraint V Jones and I've just finished reading it.
And, you know, it was pretty darn good. There were a few rough edges here and there, but it kept me turning the pages and, well, it was kind of refreshing to see the end of the world through the eyes of the residents of a small North Wales village instead of via presidents, journalists and soldiers living in LA or NYC. There was some Welsh language in here (always translated in the notes) and this was nice, because I'm a bit of a sucker for the poetry of the Welsh tongue, even though I don't know any of it beyond the dual language road signs like dim parcio (no parking) and araf (slow). Some of the place names were changed of course, but I'm guessing it was set somewhere around Blaenau Ffestiniog - I'd love to know where for sure because I spent a lot of the book trying to guess locations.
Some locations were specifically mentioned though: My own home on the Wirral peninsular, for one, was portrayed as a deserted and waterlogged wasteland. I almost felt like giving the helicopter a thumbs-up as it flew past with the main protagonist inside - I don't recall the Wirral ever appearing in a Science Fiction book before.
What particularly won me over was the realism of the eventual global disaster, especially the false hope and anticlimax in the days immediately after the asteroid slammed down into the Antarctic. Probably this had much to do with the way the catastrophe was seen through the eyes of ordinary people living in an ordinary small village.
So yes, it had it faults, but I was more than happy to ignore them because this was a most entertaining read.

The Gates of Hell
Geraint V Jones
publ. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch

Friday, 3 June 2011

Hay Festival - Intermission

I've been to the Hay Festival, but as can be seen from the fine weather that has now arrived, I am, right now, back home again. Sadly the day-job doesn't allow a full week in Hay this year, but as soon as I escape from the clutches of accountancy, on Friday, I'll be heading back for another helping, so if you're down at Hay I wouldn't put your wellies away just yet.

So what were the highlights from the first weekend?

Top of the list has to be Niall Ferguson, the historian, who so eloquently spelled out the grim picture of 500 years of Western ascendancy coming to an end, now, this week, more or less. There's going to be a TV series to follow on from the book (Civilisation, which I loaded onto my Kindle as soon as I came back into 3G range) and this promises to be a must-see.

It seems funny, me buying a history book. I am not a history person. I've never got it. I've always been one to say that we should be looking to the future, not the past. But Niall Ferguson's talk amounted to a virtual epiphany. It was an OMG moment when he unleashed (on stage and in the book) a view of what history is all about; that 7% of all the people that have ever lived are alive today, so 93% are not; and that looking to the future there are an infinite number of possibilities, but look to the past and there is only one - and wouldn't it be cool to know what that one was; and that all the great minds of the past struggled and usually failed to live beyond middle-age, and this begs the question, what if they'd lived longer, what might they have accomplished then? All this is useful, no, essential, to a writer of Speculative Fiction. So isn't it time I got off my backside and studied some of it. Woohoo!

There were other high spots, too: Allison Pearson and her David Cassidy novel, appealing to a room-full of 40/50 ish ladies, but I enjoyed the talk and I might even read the book, (albeit on Kindle minus the girly cover-art).

Anyway, it's Friday and soon I'll be heading back for more. I've got a couple of sessions at HowtheLightGetsIn, including a discussion of the activities at Cern, and top of the list, Saturday afternoon, I have tickets for Julian Assange. That should be a good one.