Tuesday, 25 October 2011

David Lodge, A Man of Parts (2011)

Here's a younger David Lodge (quoted in Malcolm Bradbury's The Modern British Novel 1878-2001):
This rising self-consciousness was one remarkable quality of mainstream British fiction over the Sixties; we can justly say a significant rediscovery of the novel and its possibilities was now occurring ... But where was it leading? The novelist, David Lodge famously said in 1969, now stood at the crossroads: 'the pressure on the aesthetic and epistemological premises of literary realism is now so intense that many novelists, instead of marching confidently straight ahead, are at least considering two routes that branch off in opposite directions', one towards neo-documentary, fiction as history, history as fiction; the other towards fabulation. [411]
There's never been any doubt in my heart that the latter is the right way to go; but Lodge, having made his name with a string of successful Campus novels (Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses, 1975; Small World: An Academic Romance, 1984; Nice Work, 1988 and the underrated Thinks ..., 2001) appears to have decided on the former. Author, Author (2004) was a carefully researched facto-novel about Henry James; Deaf Sentence (2008) a fictional autobiography about Lodge's own experience losing his hearing, lightly dusted with a sort-of-thriller plot; and this year's A Man of Parts, though subtitled 'A Novel'. is actually a scrupulously researched biography of H. G. Wells. The two main narrative strategies are, on the first hand, a process of docudramatisation of Wells's life as narrative; and on the other, a slightly stiff notional interview between Wells and an unnamed individual who poses question in bold type. Conceivably this is Wells's own conscience. I'm not entirely sure and can't remember if the novel makes it plain.  Anyway, much of the book concerns Wells relentless pursuit of sex (hence the parts, private in nature, dangling about the book's title); although various other aspects of the public Wells gets handled (oo-er! 'handled'!) here -- lots on his early life; a great chunk about his engagement with the Fabians -- indeed, there's something a touch distorting about the centrality Lodge gives this episode to Wells's larger biography, I think -- and some interesting material on his later life as a world-famous man.

I interviewed Lodge (and, as it happens, Steven Baxter) at the British Library over the summer. Despite his deafness, and thanks in part to a very cool advanced-tech hearing aid, he was fluent, eloquent and on the ball. The novel itself is consummately crafted, and full of fascinating detail, without ever, quite, coming alive. I wonder if, in some sense, this has to do with the way this is a novel that goes down route A, in 1969-Lodge's fork in the road, even though it is about an individual whose most important contribution to world culture was the way he paved route B. I asked Lodge why he concentrated in this novelmentary on Wells's non-SF life -- his politicing, Fabianising, New Women novels and other mainstream writing. SF gets mentioned (as how could it not?) but you get the impression that Lodge really does prefer Ann Veronica and Boon and Mr Britling Sees It Through -- I was surprised to see this last title get such a resounding endorsement ('Whatever you say, Mr Britling Sees It Through was a good novel. Britling lives' [478] ... really?). His answer, whilst conceding the influence the SF has had, was basically that these were the Wells novels that intrerested him.  Wells's life is full of fascinating busy-ness, but despite its high fucking quotient, and its interpolated Wells/Conscience interviewing, the focus here remains public and exterior, as neodocumentary surely must. It lacks the element of fabulation that might have enabled it to do what metaphor can do, and what factuality rarely can, howsoever scrupulously pursued -- infused the Frankenstein spark into the monster and have it lurch to life.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Alastair Reynolds, Blue Remembered Earth (2012)

This isn't published until next year, so a detailed review from me now would be premature. But I have read it, and if you are asking the question 'should I be looking forward to this one?' then I can answer: yes. Yes, you should.
One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked - well, blackmailed, really - to go up there and make sure the family's name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise - or anyone else in the family, for that matter - what he's about to unravel. Eunice's ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything. Or shatter this near-utopia into shards . . .
The utopian, or neartopian, world is well-handled, actually: believable and engaging. Here's the thing: utopia, by definition (by dissolving away the conventional obstacles and conflicts that inform 'drama') is often the enemy of an engaging, exciting read. But somehow Reynolds (and thinking back, I'm really not sure how he does pulls this off) manages not to get bogged down by that at all. His future solar system is managed by a benign surveillance AI called the 'aug'; crime and disease are rarities -- yet Blue Remembered Earth still somehow construes a genuinely gripping mystery/crime/chase thriller out of this world without it feeling forced. The best thing about the fact that almost all (or possibly, I'm not sure, actually all) the characters are people of colour is the way this fact is simply a feature of the novel's future world, unshowboated and unremarked. There's plenty of ingenious gosh-wow and hmm-cool, and above all the plot is, as ever with Reynolds, disgustingly readable. The worst you could say is that there's the slight whiff of Nancy Drew about the trail-of-crumbs clues and mystery portion -- a sense (not unpleasurable) that the reader is being manipulated along the steps of the solution in order to provide the Cooks Tour of this particular Reynoldsworld. But the pay-off, which could have been anticlimactic, worked very well; and the whole thing is just an extremely accomplished piece of writing.

Friday, 21 October 2011

On Awards

So the 2011 Awards season is almost over. ‘Hello adam,’ commented the almost-certainly-not-a-spambot “goals” yesterday: ‘some words about the booker prize?’ What was it Hamlet said? Words, words, words. There's no shortage of them.  In sooth, to switch plays, I know not why I am so unmoved by the Man Booker this year. Most years I read the entire shortlist.  This year – not a one. Couldn’t muster the interest. I suppose I will read Barnes’s winning title, Sense of an N-Dubz, at some point. At the moment, having sat in one of those comfy chairs in a bookshop for half an hour browsing a copy, I can say: it looks slight, not merely in terms of length: well-written but essayistic. Maybe it is the single best novel published this year. Maybe not. More likely, I think, is that this award represents recognition for Barnes’s whole career, a sort of long service medal. The Booker has form for this: nobody would nowadays place 1998’s Amsterdam amongst McEwan’s best or even better books; it certainly wasn’t the best novel published in 1998. Similarly, by all accounts (and by ‘by all accounts’ I mean: according to something I read when I used to teach a course on the prize, but which I can’t locate at the moment) the judges were upfront that giving the prize to 2000’s The Blind Assassin, one of Margaret Atwood’s stodgier books, had more to do with her larger reputation than the novel itself. And giving last year’s prize to Howard Jacobson for the actively bad The Finkler Question (the worst book on that year’s shortlist, never mind questions of larger merit) was surely motivated by a sense of: ‘it’s about time we gave some formal recognition to Jacobson’ than anything else. It may look, from inside the judges’ eyrie, a safer bet: at least nobody can deny that Barnes and Atwood are writers of stature.  In those years when the prize tries to live by the good-wine-needs-no-bush mantra it as often as not goes embarrassingly wrong, rewarding lightweight, mediocre novels by newcomers like The White Tiger or Vernon God Little (this latter surely the most meager work of fiction ever to win a major prize). Still, it’s a letdown when weak novels win prizes, whatever the reason.

I'm more interested, personally, in SFF award-dom; which, this year, has been all a-kerfuffle.  The 2011 British Fantasy Award collapsed in ignominy and recrimination, and is now being painstakingly rebuilt from the ground up. In another part of the forest, the 2011 Hugo went to two Connie Willis books that (taken together or separately) were, or are, not especially good. This wasn’t a catastrophic award—like the year the Campbell went to Ben Bova’s execrable Titan (again, I presume, for reasons of long service to SF: it would be more than sane mind could cope with the thought that the prize was awarded for the merits of the novel itself). Having just read the Willis (I was sent it to review) I'd say it’s certainly not actively bad, in that way; but it is flabby and ill-disciplined, a bit tedious and a bit self-indulgent.  And, really, it isn't the best non-realist novel in the world.

I’ll come back to the Hugos in a minute, but I want to pause for a moment to say something about prizes more generally. The on-going British Fantasy Society kerfuffling is largely centred on reforming the voting protocols. It’s clear why that's so, and it’s a commendable thing; but it’s not, I think, at the heart of what went wrong. Similarly, when people criticize the Hugo awards, they are sometimes accused of criticizing the people who voted for the Hugo awards—the logic seems clear, there, but it’s misleading. Really, that's not the point.  Then again, when an award-winning novel is greeted with anything other than unanimous rapture, the canard is brought out of its canard sheath and waved about: taste is subjective. If I say that Ben Bova’s Titan is a bad book and somebody else thinks it was the best novel published in 2007, then perhaps our dissonant opinions represent a Lyotardian differend that can never be reconciled.  Live and let live.  Bollocks to that.

Now, aesthetic judgment is not an exact science, and sometimes the toss can genuinely be argued. But here’s the elephant in the room: the most contentious decisions, award-wise, are usually the ones where the wrong book is given the prize. As to what the ‘right’ book is, in any given situation: well, there will be a number of possibles. But too often the book that is chosen is not one of these.

This very rarely (if at all) happens, I think, for reasons of corruption or delinquency, certainly in SFF, where fans really do care about their genre. But it does happen nonetheless, and for a number of reasons. Fandom tends to distort distinterested objective judgment: when an author of whom one is a fan puts out a sub-par book, the fact that one is a fan of that author can lead one to an inflated assessment of the book’s merits. Tribal allegiance makes this worse, bedded-in by the mild siege mentality that is (we can be honest) precisely one of the appeals of being a genre fan—for when the ‘mainstream literary culture’ flies over us like the Luftwaffe, we inside the urbs of Truefandom can generate a really excellent Blitz spirit, as many a jolly con attests.

Let me put it another way. Giving a prize to a novel is, in effect, trying to second-guess posterity. If I say ‘this book is great’ I may be talking about my idiosyncratic taste. If I say 'Dune is a classic of postwar American SF' I'm not. Indeed, if we look at the result of the 1966 Hugo -- joint winners Frank Herbert's Dune and Roger Zelazny's ...And Call Me Conrad, it is no disparagement of Zelazny (a very interesting writer, who has written several enduring novels) to say: one of those books has been endorsed by posterity in a way that the other hasn't. And this is the nub of my point: what matters about an award is not how it arrives at its decision.  What matters is the extent to which its decision is posterity-proof.

And actually, I'd say SFF has proven itself pretty sound when judged by that criterion. We might, I suppose, look back and think ‘well, broadly speaking I’d say Phil Dick (say) should probably have won more awards, and Robert J Sawyer (say) fewer’, but scrolling down the lists of Hugo, Nebula and Clarke winners from the last century—far enough ago for us to begin to get a sense of how posterity is settling with respect to the books’ longer term reputations—is to encounter a list of, mostly, actual classics.

Two further things occur to me. One is that, as far as making one’s decision posterity proof goes, you’re generally better selecting a book by a newbie—because then the people making the decision, not having the reputation of the author to fall back on, are more likely to be guided by the actual merit of the book. China Miéville was a relative unknown ten years ago; yet his 2001 Clarke Award for Perdido Street Station was clearly the right call; and now we'd all agree it's a modern genre classic. It’s far too early to say whether posterity will endorse Lauren Beukes’ 2011 Clarke award—though I’d say there’s a good chance—but I’d much rather see the judges going with a newer writer on the merits of the novel than give the prize to one of the genre old guard on the grounds that ‘it’s about time so-and-so won a prize'. The other thing that occurs to me is this: I wonder if popular votes, rather than juried awards, actually have a slightly better posterity-convergence than juried awards. It’s hard to demonstrate this, statistically; although the wisdom of crowds—assuming one believes in such a thing—might lead one to expect it. In the 80s the Clarke went to books like George Turner’s The Sea and the Summer and Rachel Pollack’s Unquenchable Fire--good books, both, but, really, without the staying power in terms of long-term reputation of some of the BSFA Best Novel awards from the same decade (I’m thinking of Aldiss’s Helliconia books, Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer or Holdstock’s Mythago Wood). Still, this is starting to get mushily subjective, so I’ll come back to my main point. Which is this: really, and in the longer term, ‘the process by which you arrive at your decision’ matters much less than whether or not you pick the right novel. The path by which the BFS arrived at their best novel award this year was dodgy, and that’s regrettable; but a bigger deal is putting the weight of fandom behind the idea that Demon Dance is the best non-realist novel published this year. One need not think it a bad novel to say: it’s not that.

When I was a whippersnapper, snapping my whippers and hoovering up SF, a Hugo award for best novel or best short story really did work as a bellwether.  It meant I would seek out the text in question and read it. But it's been a long time since the prize has influenced my reading like that. For some years after that I was barely even aware of the shortlists and winners. Then, in 2009 I read a sizeable portion of the Hugo shortlists. I did this because I was booked to appear on a panel about the prize, at Swecon in, er, Sweden, and wanted to be minimally prepared for the discussion. I was underwhelmed by what I read, largely speaking. Indeed, I blogged the lowness of my general whelm; a post to which some people added comments deploring what I said, and some others added comments of the 'very useful info and great post, I like it so much because it's a unique article and easy to remember for me' type. Sadly for me, the latter comments were generally from such knowledgeable and dedicated SF fans as 'penisenlargement4men' and 'Freearcadegames'. Still; who’s to say that, after the robot revolution, those won't be the blog-commentators that really count? Anyway, John Scalzi, whose followers number in the millions, responded to my post. He was classy enough to refrain from slagging me off personally (despite the fact I called his Hugo-shortlisted novel 'mediocre'), although he did don the Jeremiah mantle to assure me that criticising those fans who voted for the Hugo was biting the hand that fed me and would result in the short-order death of my career as a writer of SF. Something that has, of course, subsequently come to pass. There's more than a difference in writerly temperament at work here, I think; however much (and with what undeniable success) Scalzi has filtered his genuine wit and charm through a Mr Rogers 'I want to be your friend' idiom; and however much I have sacrificed my dignity and sales to the idol of being Johnny Rotten at the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, jeering at the crowd 'you ever get the feeling you've been cheated?' We all have our crazy Fitzcarraldo-type dreams, after all; and nobody is going to deny that Scalzi is a much more successful writer than I am. Indeed, after I posted that 'Hugos 2009' piece several people emailed me saying in effect 'you realise, don't you, that by posting that you've completely scuppered your chances of ever winning a Hugo yourself?' These messages surprised me very much: for this thought had literally never occurred to me -- not because I assumed Hugo voters would have saint-like powers of forgiveness, or that I have ever forgotten the truth of Auden's lines about those to whom evil is done and what they do in return. But for a more fundamental reason: because it had never occurred to me that I ever could have won a Hugo. I can go further, actually, and state without fear of contradiction: I never was going to win a Hugo. Posting negative thoughts about the prize made no difference to that. I could have posted a whole string of positive blog essays, I could have praised both Hugos winners and Hugo-voters to that place in the skies where the air goes indigo, and it would have made absolutely no difference to my chances of winning a Hugo. There are many reasons for this; and many writers (some of them far better than I) of whom it is true. Certainly I have a very low US profile; I am not (those two quantities that tip the balance in the voters' minds) well-known and well-liked amongst typical Worldcon attendees. I suppose it was a little naive assuming that this, which seemed so obvious to me, would also be obvious to people reading my post. Some accused me of being motivated by sour grapes. I can promise you; my Hugo grapes are entirely free of sour. I no more fret about my chances of winning a Hugo than I fret about my chances of winning a 2012 Olympic gold medal in the womens’ shot-put.

Anyway, this year there was a lot of reaction to the Hugo announcement (Strange Horizons links to a few of these here). Some people were happy, and rather more were disappointed. My sense of it is that, broadly speaking, this year’s winners are not of a very high standard. That may strike you as a terribly condescending thing to say. John Scalzi thinks it is -- or rather, thinks that suchlike sentiments, generally speaking, are:
Post-Hugo Kvetching: Meh. There’s always post-Hugo kvetching, for the same reason there’s pre-Hugo kvetching, which is, people like to kvetch, and/or they have a hard time internalizing that their own tastes are not in fact an objective standard of quality. I do think there’s a core of commenters whose problem internalizing that other people have other tastes is overlaid with a more-than-mild contempt for fandom, i.e., “Oh, fandom. You’ve shown again why you can’t be trusted to pick awards, you smelly, chunky people of common tastes, you.” Fandom does what fandom does with folks like that: it ignores them, which I think is generally the correct response to such wholly unwarranted condescension. But if people want to gripe, however they want to gripe, it’s their call. Point is, yes, people are bitching about the Hugo results. When do they not?
When do they not? I didn't, last year. Actually I thought last year's Hugo results were pretty good, the tied best novel award to Mièville and Bacigalupi in particular (and I said so, in The Guardian; a venue with a rather larger readership than my blog). But that didn't register, and I'm not surprised. Negative criticism touches us in ways positive doesn't. Nevertheless, to Scalzi's two reasons for kvetching about the Hugos, 'people like to kvetch' and 'people have a hard time internalizing that their own tastes are not in fact an objective standard of quality', we are, I think, entitled to add a third: people kvetch when the books and stories winning a prize that describes them as the best in the world aren't very good. Putting such a case is neither unwarranted (on the contrary: the health of the genre depends upon it); nor is it condescending. Aesthetic criticism includes grounds for judgment that go beyond 'I like this, you like that, there's nothing more that can be said'. Damien Walter challenged Scalzi on the 'condescending' line, in a post which seems to me worth reading, not least for a comment by Jonathan McAlmont (you probably know him best from his performing days as part of 'McAlmont and Butler') which is, I think, very well put:
SF Fandom is an affinity group and many of its institutions were created at a time when the realities of technology, culture and geography meant that if you wanted to talk to people about written SF then you went to places like Worldcon and if you wanted to write SF you joined the SFWA. Because of this, the Hugo and Nebula awards carry a good deal of cachet.

Fast forward forty years and we live in a world where it is easy to talk to other people with an interest in SF: All you need to do is set up a twitter account or a blog and away you go. Because talking about SF no longer requires these big centralising institutions, the field has fragmented into dozens of more-or-less interconnected tribes. Many of whom have never been to a Worldcon.

Despite the fundamental structure of the field having changed, the concentrations of social capital in the older sections of the fan community mean that venerable awards like the Hugos and the Nebulas still carry a good deal of cachet. Cachet completely disconnected from their capacity to represent a more and more disjointed and multicultural field.

The sound that Scalzi is hearing is the tiny groan emitted by every science fiction fan who looks at the Hugos and sees no connection to their experience of either the genre or the field.
When challenged on the increasing self-marginalisation of the Hugos, defenders (such as Scalzi) speak of bitterness, condescension and jealousy but the truth is far simpler: The Hugos have made no effect to keep up with changes in the field and so they are becoming increasingly irrelevant with every passing year.

The tragedy of this is that the Hugos are a social institution created before many of us were born. They were nurtured by a generation of fans and passed along to those who came after them as an act of trust. Great institutions are never owned by the generation that controls them, they are simply held in trust. By failing to update the awards, retreating behind bureaucratic barriers and shouting down anyone who complains, the current generation have done their best to destroy something that should have been held in trust for the fans of tomorrow.
I am neither condescending nor disappointed. I am disgusted.
My gust isn't quite as dis as that. But it seems to me that there are a couple of structural pitfalls where awards are concerned. One is the move from 'eligible titles' to shortlist to winner. It's probably a necessary thing, that; it spreads the recognition around a little, and more importantly it breaks the difficult task of 'picking one novel from hundreds' into more manageable chunks. But it contains its own difficulties: for once the shortlist is decided we stop thinking 'I'm choosing the best book published this year' and start thinking 'I'm choosing the best book out of these six titles'. With that comes a relaxation, which in turn makes it easier to justify to oneself the elision that results in Julian Barnes winning the fucking Man Booker prize for a fine-brush bone-china elegant squib of a novelette -- because, I suppose, it's easier to say to oneself 'Barnes deserves it; maybe the other shortlisted titles are better, but they have at least the satisfaction of having been shortlisted so no great injustice is perpetrated by overlooking them' and 'all six shortlisted titles are great books, so there's no harm in going for any one rather than any other' and so on. You forget, in other words, that telling the world 'The Sense of an Ending is the best book published this year' is also, tacitly, telling Alan Hollinghurst, or China Miéville, or whomsoever 'comparatively speaking your book sucks'. And if you're going to do that, you'd better be sure you have a good case. My gut: both The Strangers Child and Embassytown will still be current in ten years time (who can say whether The Sense of an Annoying "Ding!" will? When I've read it, I'll report back).

So, what am I saying? I'm saying that award judges, or voters, need to believe, or at least to suspend their disbelief, that it is meaningful to talk of the best book of the year -- to think not that you are making purely subjective and arbitrary decisions but on the contrary are engaged in a worthwhile and a possible attempt to get the drop on posterity. It can be done. And that's quite enough of the auld kvetching from me for now, I think.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Kenneth Ingram, The Symbolic Island (1924)

Here's John Clute, from the newly-gone-live Science Fiction Encyclopedia (Third Edition), on Ingram:
INGRAM, KENNETH. (1882-1965) UK barrister, lay theologian, and author of some novels in the field of the fantastic, including two fantasies: The Symbolic Island: A Novel (1924), an abstractly mystical tale; and Midsummer Sanity (1933), in which Faerie and mortal Earth intersect at the summer solstice, at which point the denizens of the former convey wisdom to the denizens of the latter. Of sf interest are England at the Flood Tide (1924), which espouses a UTOPIAN Britain in which natural aristocrats rule a willing populace, and women have property rights; and The Premier Tells the Truth (1944), in which a truth DRUG causes fruitful disarray in the distant NEAR FUTURE. The Coming Civilization Will it be Capitalist? Will it be Materialist? (1935) is a nonfiction speculation.
I discover that Ingram died precisely two days before I was born, so no overlap there. Phew! And of course, you know about the new online SFE3? If not, then haste to the site. There's good browsing there, as well as the answer to almost all SF-related questions.

Still, 'an abstractly mystical tale' isn't right for this novel (I picked up a copy in a Bracknell charity shop). It's much more specific and sciencefictional than that; and although it is certainly over-schematic and, frankly, not very good, it does have some interesting moments. So, a group of varied characters -- amongst them a middle-aged Civil Servant, a Capitalist, a retired Colonel, a Vicar (and his wife), a journalist with Socialist sympathies, and a philosopher -- are holidaying on a pleasant island off the coast of Cornwall. The neighbouring island, Tresala, houses the experimental laboratories of industrialist Lord Steinher, where is being developed a new super-weapon that, we're told, will 'revolutionise war'. As the novel starts Steinher himself is visiting the holiday island and is away from his labs, which is lucky for him, because a few pages in Tresala blows up ('a deafening thunder, a blinding crash, a convulsion ... the island of Tresala had suddenly been blotted out from existence and in its place was a wild crater belching out terrific angry clouds of smoke' 27). This smoke is actually some unnamed but new element, the active ingredient of the wonder-weapon; it settles around the island in a circular belt ('the belt destroys anything up to twenty-six thousand feet above it!' according to Steinher, which is a neat trick) and the people on the island are marooned. Some embrace the modestly utopian possibilities of their isolation; others fall back on authoritarian structures of control -- Steinher and the Colonel proclaim a militaristic regime, though others oppose them. The staff at the island's hotel, where everyone is staying, go on strike. Characters do that Magic Mountain-ish thing of talking about their various different world-views at one another with a persistence that approaches interminability. A storm threatens to move the killing 'band' of the poisonous wonder-weapon to the island, but in the event it dissipates the stuff and a steamer is able to get to the island and rescue everybody. The author's thumb slips into the balance at the end: the Vicar, having discussed religion with a Catholic on the island, has a sort of mystic vision and decides to convert. Ingram's slightly peculiar thesis is that, alone of all religions, Catholicism grants access to a 'sixth sense': '... the Catholic Religion produces, or rather develops a sixth sense in man. Other religions have a remarkable influence, but they do not quite do this' [168]. That's the frequency, Kenneth? Really? Hmmm.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Amanda Roberts, Strictly Shimmer (2010)

Not, so far as I know, a relation; although if they asked me to write a Strictly tie-in I'd positively leap at the chance, so maybe it's a Roberts thing. You can read excerpts here, but I believe I need to do no more than quote the opening paragraph:
The first time I walked onto the dance floor, I had to pretend I wasn’t gawping. My eyes must have been spinning like disco balls as I tried to take it all in. I gripped the clipboard I had just been handed as tightly as I could, in the desperate hope that this might keep me calm. Chloe, my new colleague, walked straight across the dance floor as if it were nothing more than a studio, and I trotted along behind her, trying to keep my pulse rate – and my eyes – down.
The eyes! The eyes! I'm sold, and so is Thog.