Saturday, December 05, 2020

XX by Rian Hughes (C)




XX by Rian Hughes

PART THREE OF MY REAL-TIME REVIEW, as continued from here:

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…


25 responses to “xx

  1. 1704FD1C-8BD7-40A6-9F5C-700FC419B106


    ASCENSION by F. Herschel Teague (part one)

    “The subsequent development of Terrine’s native flora and fauna, and the sentient peoples and their cultures that eventually rose there,…”

    This is the start of one of those delightfully old-fashioned SF world-making concoctions in an equally old fashioned SF magazine, complete with spectacular map of the Quarterlands and description of Terrine’s Spire (‘a symbolic combination of navel and axis mundi’) that at least part of which reminds me of the earlier Spindle in this book and, elsewhere, the Covered (Covid?) Market and levels of another Terra called Earth, the Tallest King and his various viewpoints of outer world scrutiny, levels here called tiers, First Tier onward. Its social and hierarchical history, its sexual practices perhaps shamefacedly implied, its ‘breeding cycles’, its attitude to tradition while still looking out to the stars of invention, I guess… and a lot more you need to read for yourself. Strangely, what affected me most was a reference to a Hill Naze….


    “; he had signed NDAs and the Official Secrets Act.”

    …and as with Jack, me, too — and so this book has given me my own Oxbow depthcharge glasses, and as I have promised before above, I have vowed to keep all the book’s secrets spoiler-free. But, beware, a real-time book review aiming towards a gestalt may have interim or inadvertent spoilers, so I try to confuse things by getting some factors wrong on purpose! Like this current chapter’s own mined Golconda of plot treasure, and Jack’s powerful vision of aliens gathering on the London Embankment, with the Signal-As-Signaller ethos of Girl 21, the 19th Count and XX. This is indeed a powerful vision for the reader, too, as you will see for yourself when you read it. After all, Jack, I now find, is the one reading ASCENSION in the 1960s SF magazine and, thus, his own imagination is in overdrive, anyway, beyond his own cold objective ratiocinations of what is happening. So take it all with a pinch of salt, I guess. I was learning semiotics with Anne Cluysenaar at university when that magazine first came out in the 1960s, by the way, so my perspective is certainly one to be trusted. Take what you want out of all that!

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    Sometimes when reading this book it is like entering the Tate Modern — or, perhaps, reading La Jalousie by Robbie-Grillet, or at least looking through his blind at the aliens along with Jack when he is back in the office. Or Michel Butor’s rain.

    As well as thinking of the word ‘alien’ in particular, not only does it have AI, as in ai, obliquely embedded in it, but also I thought of neutralisations by the prefix a-, such as apolitical and amoral, whereby, from elsewhere, we need to factor in ‘A lien is a claim or legal right against assets that are typically used as collateral to satisfy a debt. … A lien serves to guarantee an underlying obligation, such as the repayment of a loan. If the underlying obligation is not satisfied, the creditor may be able to seize the asset that is the subject of the lien’.

  4. ASCENSION by F. Herschel Teague (part two)

    “The Highmost gestured to a soiled chaise longue. Next to it was a small table, on which a stack of platters carried mouldy remnants of desiccated food.”

    This next episode of the equivalently consuming-in-itself SF fiction serial — published in a two bob, if not two x, pulp magazine from the past — does make me enjoy the relationship between the Spire’s Highmost and his protagonistic Celestial Mechanic, and the latter’s mission outside the Spire to reach — through the well-characterised exterior lands and peoples and auras of myths or mœurs — the place where the object in the sky (an unexpected meteor?) is calculated to reach at its Terrine-fall. And I wonder what cross-reference I could now myself perceive with the outer fiction work’s similar heavenly body hitting our moon? But what if neither is a fiction by being fiction x fiction, since a negative number x a negative number is always a positive? But I vow my part in such “filing, interpreting and cross-referencing, but soon that too was quiescent” will not remain quiescent — as far as I at least am concerned — for long!

    • My tweet today:

      A fiction within a fiction but what if neither is a fiction by being fiction x fiction, since a negative number x a negative number is always a positive.

      And two bob = 2/-

      Re #XX by @RianHughes


  5. The other side of a different coin? 


    See how the word ‘Adieu’ — at the end of a full reproduction of the pages of an old 18th century letter to Horace Walpole, a letter as a potential rationale of the 19th Count — can at first glance seem to have been ‘Alien’. This chapter, meanwhile, and the said letter as its appendix — Shakespeare’s skull or a giantesque helmet from a suit of armour notwithstanding — tell of the challenge and response of Toynbee? The antibodies against memes, against viral fake news, one fiction AGAINST another fiction (in contradistinction to my arithmetic contention of positive collucidity above), individuals not coviduals, just as one novel fought another different novel for a victory of verity within the otherwise seemingly singular novel Nemonymous Night … the war of ideas that still pans out today. Now aided by a gestalt called Internet? McLuhan and radicalisation. A grooming by fictions in collaborative triangulation. Or these fictions battling each other with challenges and responses to spark new good ideas to expunge what are deemed to be bad ideas, or vice versa? The fictive defence as a new chess move by demon or DMEn. Or a virulent gambit’s attack in disguise?

  6. Cf the Varvaros Ascensions –
    A book with a ‘story’ about another book whose code needs breaking. But which book has the deeper code?

  7. ASCENSION by F. Herschel Teague (part three)

    “Somewhere out there was an insignificant location that would soon achieve a new significance,…”

    This discrete SF novel or novella, not sure which yet, is delightful, outdoing even Jack Vance! As our Celestial Mechanic travels across lands by packhorse, outside the Spire, towards the ‘triangulated’ planetfall of a cosmic object, across lands we get to know more about, along with him, their coinage currency that he inadvertently disrupts (while the magazine in which this work is published still costs 2/-), the nature of the train and its platform, the creatures with eggs, and much more, but particularly I was struck by one of the Beyonders as a moon, perhaps an alternate world version of our own moon with only one face ever facing us, here more like the face of a being that we can too easily insult, like insulting that of someone else’s sacred god, by describing it. Or did I get that wrong or deliberately confuse myself? And I am also intrigued by more references here to ‘Naze’, mainly because I happened to have been born in Walton-on-Naze (in 1948).
    There follows this episode a disconnected marbled page just like the one in Tristram Shandy, followed by Johannis Hevellii’s ancient tracts on and pictures of what appear to be feathery comets. Quite a sight to see!


    “, but the performance was pure Jack, pulling information from the ether like a visionary prophet receiving messages from angels . . . or a hallucinating madman.”

    And Jack’s obsession with patterns, is it retrospectively or even retrocausally infected today by such an angel or madman as me, me who has picked up this book to serially message it my so-called wisdom, along with some others turning up in addition to me? I feel I myself must be of the ‘madman’ sort, as I link XX’s alien zoo here to my earlier ‘CERN Zoo’ and to the dream-sickness-antibody of a zoo in Jules-Vernean ‘Nemonymous Night’ wherein the visions proceeded to network within the earth itself to its core, all of this there somehow to do with a bird flu pandemic! And now in hindsight this XX teXt on teXt helps de-irrationalise much of what I have thought of as an angel or what I have been forced to think of as a madman in recent years, but now I can at least hope to GRASP it all.

    “We can find it. We can go and see what it looks like.”

    • From Internet: “About 11 miles (18 kilometers) in diameter (assuming an albedo of 0.04), Trinculo is a small, dark moon orbiting Uranus in the opposite direction from the regular moons and the planet’s rotation (called a retrograde orbit).”

  9. From Internet: “Joseph Miller, 1684–1738, began his acting career as Teague in ‘Sir Robert Howard’s Committee’, at Drury Lane in 1709, followed by such roles as Trinculo in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’….”

    ASCENSION by F. Herschel Teague (part four)

    Not Jack Vance’s ‘Servants of the Wankh’ (sic) but Herschel Teague’s “Servants of the Omphalos”, a most exciting episode of this serial, imaginatively scenic with a view, from the multi-decker train, of the now distant spire, and of the falling star whose planetfall is the reason for the Celestial Mechanic’s journey through such strange lands, amid characterful train passengers with conspiracies and religions to praise or lament. Some religions in new tune with the falling star, no doubt. And character names fit for a Clark Ashton Smith.


    “I explained that it was like assembling a jigsaw puzzle; sometimes we found many pieces that fit with one another, but we didn’t know where they belonged until we found the piece that connected them to our main chronology.”
    — from OMPHALOS by Ted Chiang (my review of it here)

  10. From the OMPHALOS to the COLOSSUS in the next chapter of your own solipsism……


    “….how unremittingly unpleasant people were capable of being to each other — even when they were convinced they were actually doing good.”

    One of the symptoms of Jack’s solipsism is seeng newspapers on sale personalised to himself, but any solipsism I have found myself experiencing does not deter a persecution paranoia that there are forces outside myself in triangulated unison against or sometimes even for me, or forces each of which is even in discrete non-unison. Here the “memeplex” thrives, I guess and embodies the idea that “An idea was a virus that didn’t need to ensure the survival of its host because, unlike a common cold, it could reproduce regardless.” Oh for the days when the world was so simple you could encompass all its knowledge within yourself, as Horace Walpole no doubt once did… as long as he had, even then, a big enough head to encompass everything? (As an aside, there are folders on my ‘computer’ called ‘binned’ and ‘forbin’, and no folder called ‘current’.)


    “…the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. There it was, clearly circled in black. His final destination. The DMEn would be waiting for him there.”

    My italics.
    I wonder if every reader of this book also sees it as a bespoke creation written just for him or her or them. Well, I certainly got this feeling even more so today, reading this chapter as my own “celebratory fireworks” went off inside my head. The dome of St Paul’s as well as visiting it in person was very important to me when starting out getting my stories published, as many of you who have read them will know. Also, one of my own favourite poems of my own (from when I wrote poetry in the 1960s) is TALK TO ME, that you can hear read aloud here: (please copy link into browser if it doesn’t otherwise work). And as well as the National Gallery, my favourite venue in London was Tate Modern, including its comic strip artwork blown up on the walls. Of course, all that is now in my locked-down head. With speech in bubbles.

  12. ASCENSION by F. Herschel Teague (part five)

    “…clearly visible above the fabric masks that covered their nose and mouth, a complex web of raised white veins that pulsed under their skin.”

    As mysterious an episode as the seeming fact that this magazine edition carrying this episode has no price at all shown, so does it now cost more than two bob? The episode tells of the Celestial Mechanic seeming to be equipped with hooves and a hindbrain, assuming I had not already forgotten this fact so as to be able now to see them anew. Ankles, too, as well as hooves. His sudden exit from the top floor of the train somehow leads to him following those pilgrims who had stolen his packhorse, following them without his purse or papers, leading, as if serendipitously, to where the ‘meteorite’ or falling star now falls, almost undramatically, to the ground…. and I will not divulge exactly what this object is like and how, for me at least, unexpectedly undersized it is, yet prehensile, nor what stupor it left the pilgrims he followed — a stupor with synchronised breathing and, yes, with those raised white veins above their masks. More a rapture, though, than a stupor, my unreliable memory guesses.

  13. img_2841


    “…an unobstructed view of the dome of St Paul’s —“

    From ‘a dead monument to once ancient hope’ represented by the dome and then inside the Cathedral itself, this Chapter is a momentous moment for me in reading literature. It really is!
    Since being one of its mentioned city workers on lunchbreak inside the cathedral, myself in the very early 1970s, I, too, recall similar sublimely awesome visions, otherwise unseen by the general public around me. I just seemed never to reach my own deceptively ‘dead end’, and always went back to work and to my computerless desk! (Although the desk did bear a massive calculator contraption!)
    As mentioned before, I did include St Paul’s in many of my early published stories, including my very first!

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    The Naze Tower, Erbil (Hawler)

    ASCENSION by F. Herschel Teague (part six)

    “This horizontal motion intrigued him: to move forever forwards, and to not find that one had circled the Spire and arrived back at one’s starting point. Novel.”


    The Naze Tower, Walton

    The CM gets lodgings, whereafter he dreams. Was this a seed or a living creature that fell or something else? Is it still falling? His dreaming between forebrain and hindbrain reminds me of co-vivid dreaming today. And of a remarkable passage I extracted about a woman’s such dream from The Late Breakfasters 1964 here only yesterday: ‘But the nightmare had each time seized and penetrated her whole body and mind; 40E1AB62-9AF2-4E42-92CD-C5AE8A0469C3it was as if she had been twisted into another identity, mysterious and horrible, which, when she returned, there could be no question of remembering since the two beings had no capacity for memory in common. She shuddered to reflect that this second identity, totally unreachable lay always behind her face and beneath her thoughts. The strain of having perpetually to maintain the ascendancy over it weighed upon her.’
    My italics.

    “succulents that had been sculpted”

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