Fiction Reviews

Deep Wheel Orcadia

(2021) Harry Josephine Giles, Picador, £10.99, trdpbk, ix + 166pp, ISBN 978-1-529-06660-9


Deep Wheel Orcadia is a science-fiction verse novel written in the Orcadian dialect, but donít worry potential reader, because it also comes with an English translation on the bottom half of each page where Harry Josephine Giles has not only produced an English version but joined some words together to get the meaning of Scots and Orcadian dialect. This isnít a new way of trying to get the flavour or nuances of some Scots words over to the reader as poets Robert Crawford and W. N. Herbert have done similar things in the past, and perhaps the best-known exponent of this technique is the Gaelic poet, Rody Gorman. Of course, there are issues regarding being poetic against the need for narrative drive in a verse novel and perhaps straying from the plot or the point and Giles has certainly set themselves no easy task in attempting this.

Deep Wheel Orcadia, the place, is a space station with echoes to the Orkney of the past, of a people living on the edge, of being helpless against larger forces out with their control, of having to rely on their wits, of there being food shortages, of hard times and having to make and mend. We even get a ceilidh of sorts. As for the plot, it is essentially about two women coming to the station. One is Astrid, an artist, who is returning from a stay on Mars, hoping to rekindle her inspiration; the other person is Darling, but she is a lie, a fugitive on the run, who has changed her appearance in her attempts to stay out of the clutches of her super-rich family who have been tracking her across the stars. As you would expect, they meet, they become friends and then lovers, but can their love survive when one is willing to bare her soul, while the other is living a lie? Behind these two characters is a cast of other characters and some strange goings on which threaten the lives and livelihood of those living on the station, some of which make their existence by harvesting ďlightĒ from a gas giant, but that is an old industry and times are changing, even though there is some speculation that the light being gathered is somehow, intelligent. There are also gigantic wrecks of spaceships whose origins are unknown as well as sightings of ghosts from the past and possibly the future of the station. These things need investigated but already there are worries that somehow they are connected and perhaps an incredible discovery is about to be made which will change everything.

Full marks for Giles trying this, but it is slightly unfulfilling, possibly because Giles is dealing with big science fictional themes against the larger canvas of space and while capturing the awe and spectacle of what lies outside the stations, it is to the detriment of the characters and the people we encounter, with the result that some of their concerns, hopes and dreams that have been hinted at, arenít fully developed or realised. Certainly, Giles canít be faulted in rendering the two main characters in greater detail and there are unanswered question echoing in the mind of the reader, as one main character takes an unexpected turn and tries to forge a new beginning for herself, while the other is possibly going to do the same, but not on the station, although we never find out. This possibly underlines the ultimate problem with this novel in verse form which combines space opera tropes with a romance all told in a mixture of Scots and Orcadian, there are just too many unanswered questions and plot points which are never fully-developed or reach a satisfying climax.

Ian Hunter


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