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Sun, 12 Aug 2012

The Meat Tree, by Gwyneth Lewis

I'm a Londoner, and so I avoided the Olympics. I avoided them in north Wales, and on on the way there I needed to stop for a pee. I pulled over at the next place on my route that looked like it had a bog, the Erwood Station Craft Centre. It's a typical trashy little tourist-trap selling ugly, overpriced knick-knacks, and uglier, overpriceder bad art. But, having used their bog I felt it would at least be polite to have a cup of tea and have a quick look to see if there was anything worthwhile there. I was quite surprised to find that there was. Amongst dreary books about Welshism there was a small series of books which stood out by dint of having had an actual graphic designer work on their covers, and one of them in particular grabbed my attention because of its bizarre title. A quick glance at the cover blurb and a read of the first couple of pages sold it to me.

Just about the only piece of Welsh literature of any significance is "The Mabinogion", a collection of mediaeval tales and myths, first translated into English in the 19th century. I've actually read it, and I can tell you that it ain't that great. It's not awful, just ... not great. It's so mediocre and hum-drum that while I do know that I've read it, I don't remember a single thing about it. "The Meat Tree" is part of a series supposedly re-telling the tales from the Mabinogion in a contemporary way, and is a science fiction short wrapped around the tale of "Math, son of Mathonwy". The original tale seems to be (based on a synopsis I read on Wikipedia) mostly present, and doesn't really make much sense, but the way that it is presented here works around that problem. In Lewis's tale, a badly matched pair of "wreck inspectors" board a derelict space craft and attempt to figure out where it came from and who its missing crew were. There's no sign of them, but there is a VR entertainment system, which just happens to have this weird mediaeval tale loaded into it, which they play in an attempt to find messages from the original crew - with awful consequences.

Lewis is primarily a poet, not a novelist, and her excellent command of language shines through. And in an authorial afterword she enthuses about science fiction and how she'd wanted to write it for so long. She makes a couple of elementary mistakes that any fan of the genre should spot, but I'm not surprised that the publisher didn't spot them, as they mostly seem to publish poetry and Welshism. This is an excellent first work of science fiction, and I hope that Lewis stops wasting her time with Welsh poetry that will be read by no-one, and uses her prodigious talents to write more stuff like this, stuff that normal people will read.

Posted at 22:24 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | fantasy | sci-fi
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