NEW TITLES FROM CANONGATE
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MEMOIRS OF A HIGHLAND LADY Volumes land H Iilizabeth (irant of Rothiemurchus edited and introduced by Andrew 'l‘od £3.95 each volume
A CELEBRATION OF THE LIGHT Zen in the novels of Neil Gunn .lohn Burns £12.95
ROBERT THE BRL’CE Ronald McNair Scott £5.95 'Robert the Bruce is a thundering good narrative. . . many marvellous anecdotes. splendidly told. I would not have missed them for anything.” The Sunday Telegraph
REVISITING EMPTY HOL'SES Una Flett £10.95 A NEW ()1 NONGA 'l‘lf FIC ‘ HUN '1‘] 7‘1. [5 CANONGATE
I7 JEFFREY STREET EDINBI'RGH
Eye ol newt, and toe oi irog,
Wool at bat, and tongue at dog. Science has come a long way since Macbeth‘s day. But in Michael Stewart's book a lair amount at hocus-pocus still goes on. He delends his scientilic plots, claiming that the experiments in Blindsight and Prodigy are lounded on lact. ‘I think at these developments not as ‘what it?‘ but ‘what when?', They’re just around the corner. They‘re not science liction.‘
Stewart specialises in probing the ethical dilemmas which will and do confront poineer scientists who break through accepted lrontiers. Like Faustus, the scientists in his novels get a slap on the wrist (it not the chop) lor over-stepping the mark. ‘Overall my moral is that they‘re ordinary human beings who lind thatthey're obsessed by knowledge which takes them beyond normal human decencies. Butthey're compelled to do it. Then they get punished for it.‘ '
Genetic enhancement isthe temptation to which Jake lalls prey in Prodigy. He has a Downes’ Syndrome son, and he wants to make sure that his next child (the wile only passineg comes into it) gets a clean bill of
health. He jigs her genes and she turns f into the brightspark ofthe title. Stewart
does admitthat this is ‘a bit dodgy scientifically, because of course nobody knows what intelligence is, never mind pin-pointing particular
tangy wit and — as ever — mega-readable.
I Chinese Whispers Robert Sprout (Faber £10.95) Debunking history is the name of the game these days but if you expect Glasgow-born Sproat to reveal that the Mongols were child-minders and Sunday school teachers prepare to be disappointed. True. he does re-examine history but colorfully. with a clamour of voices testifying that (ienghis and his gang were just as had (and good) as we thought they were. and not bereft of a sense of humour.
I The Chronicles of Craigiieth David Milstead (Mainstream £9.95) Para Handyish party politics in Perthshire. ()vertones too of’I‘om Sharpe. or so the cover would have you believe. but while Milsted raises titters don't expect to burst a stitch.
intellectual qualitiest cluster.‘
His enthusiasm lorthe unplumbed depths of the human brain is catching. ‘I love this idea at the great mystery going on in our brains. We know as little about the brain now as we knew about Africa or the moon in years past. It‘s a lost continent. There aren't many areas of life where there are still discoveriesto be made.’
Blindsight charts the bumbles ol scientist Patrick as he tries to give his blind friend a sort ol second sight by
o a gene or
I Tupelo Nights .lohn [id Bradley (Bloomsbury £1 1.95) Filial disaffiliation in Louisiana as John (iirlie tries to live down his folks' reputation as quitters and insinuate the mysterious Emma (iroves into his mother's house. An apron strings‘ tug of war with a knotty twist. and a line first novel.
I The Fifth Child Doris Lessing (Cape £9.95) Swimming against the tide of (ills-style free love Harriet and David defy the odds. marry. settle down and procreate like rabbits. But if four children are bliss. five are a migraine. and domestic harmony turns to horror. Staccato stuff. as compelling as a keyhole.
I Oscarand Lucinda Peter ('arey (Faber £10.95) From the farthest flung parts of the world. Oxford. England. and Sydney. Australia. two unlikely people meet and fall in love united by an addiction to gambling and enthralled by glass. Appropriately of 19th century
proportions (it's set in 1865). this is
(‘arey's most adventurous novel to date. even outdistancing the Rabelaisian lllywhacker and a hot tip for the Booker shortlist.
I Pale Kings and Princes Robert B. Parker (Viking £10.95) Wisecracking private dick Spenser traces Colombian coke dealers but finds himself— with Susan Silverman and Hawk. natch — in the real thing when he rides his Mustang to the rescue. As ever the plot's as thin as pantyhose. and Sue‘s turning into a
linking up various bits ol the brain. As in Prodigy. a quirky and obsessive parent/child relationship sits at the helm at the book, steering all towards disaster. Ultimately, it is not the scientific discovery that wreaks havoc, it is human responses to it. ‘I use modern medical and scientitlc developments as the arena, butthe real issues are the human dramas and the ethical decisions. I hope that elevates my books above science iantasy.’
And how do scientists take to his books? ‘They like them. They help me enormously. They're happy to talk to me as a rule, because they want the record put straight. My scientists come out better than the average cliches— who are generally evil and are to blame lor all the world‘s ills from pollution to the bomb. I portray them as human beings. It's not my job to judge. It’s how we use inventions. Einstein said once that it he’d known his theory at relativity would lead to the bomb, he'd have become a watchmaker. He felt a kind of guilt. As a theoretical physicist, he’d been at the beginning of a whole chain at events. But it’s impossible to see into the future, and we all have to take uninlormed decisions, not knowing the consequences. The greatest tragedies are those which happen lrom the best motives.’ Blindsight is published by Fontana at £2.95, Prodigy is published by
f Macmillan at £11.95.
violet shrink. but you can't beat Parker to the draw for dialogue. The beer‘s good. too.
I The Falling Woman Pat Murphy (Headline £2.95) A strong fantasy fable about Elizabeth Butler. an archaeologist with the ability to see the ghosts of people who once inhabited the digs on which she is working. Full ofwonderful imagery and detail. this is an unusual and worthwhile book. Looks very likely to win this year's Nebula award on the early voting.
I Who Killed Palomino Molero? Mario Vargas Llosa (Faber £9.95) Difficult. ifnot impossible. to tell. Least likely to find out are Silva and Lituma. two ofthe most down at heel cops in fiction. A rare diversion into genre for the renowned Peruvian master of magic realism. here at his least expansive but still intense and bleakly comic.
I The Missionary Alex Cathcart (Polygon £4.95) A series of beautifully-judged set pieces. charting. respectively. the rise and demise of two contrasting ‘missionaries' in a godless and desperate Britain. Rich in gallows humour. the book‘s brutal but compassionate climax is hard to forget.
Reviews by Clive Yello wjohn. Philip Barclay, Alan Taylor. Alan Fraser. Jenni Allan. Sally K innes.
55 The List 15 — 28 April 1988