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This review is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

Cover of Deep Wheel Orcadia: A Novel
Paul March-RussellHarry Josephine Giles, Deep Wheel Orcadia: A Novel (Picador) £10.99
The Yallo Yotoun

Deep Wheel Orcadia, winner of the 2022 Arthur C. Clarke Award, is – as its subtitle suggests – a novel of sorts. It synthesises two under-explored literary traditions. First, it is a science fiction verse narrative, the most famous example of which is Harry Martinson’s Aniara (1956), which effectively won him the Nobel Prize in 1974. Second, it is bilingual, written in Orkney with an accompanying English translation from the author. It therefore evokes such precursors as W.N. Herbert and Robert Crawford’s Sharawaggi (1990), as well as the Scottish Gaelic poet Rody Gorman and P.J. Harvey’s verse-novel Orlam (2022), written in vernacular Dorset.

As Giles acknowledges, ‘the Orkney tongue’ presented here is poeticised, not unlike the transformed rural dialect of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel Sunset Song (1932). From a science-fictional perspective, we might say that both the Orkney dialect and its English translation are cognitively estranged: we know and experience them differently from how they are in our world. For example, this is how Astrid, a college student on Mars, experiences her homecoming to the deep space station Orcadia:
…hids Central station tirlan yet
anent the yallo yotoun, peedie
bolas teddert aroon hids ring,

pierheids trang wi yoles, wi glims,
an fund the gloup atween ootbye
an in clossan slaa…
Like some kind of Franglais, concepts that have no equivalent in Orkney are rendered in English, whilst elsewhere in the translation, Giles compounds the multiple meanings of Orkney words. If this can be stilted to read, the ...

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