Harry Josephine Giles' Deep Wheel Orcadia, the first sci-fi verse novel written in Orcadian, adds lustre to their rising star – Laura Waddell

Deep Wheel Orcadia by talented poet Harry Josephine Giles is a notable publication by virtue of its very existence.

Harry Josephine Giles's verse novel Deep Wheel Orcadia is ambitious and enjoyable, says Laura Waddell

This is the very first sci-fi verse novel written in Orcadian, (and also, claims the blurb, the first full-length book written in the language in over 50 years – a hat tip to publisher Picador.)

Set on space station Deep Wheel Orcadia, the plot follows a cast of characters getting to grips with changes in the universe around them, which threaten their way of life.

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Newly independent young adults face the eternal dilemma of where to call home and who to give their hearts to. Although set in space, there is familiarity in the traditions.

The primary industry in this universe is fishing, but boats head out to capture light, not fish, and, enjoyably, country dancing is interspersed with an intergalactic light show. Moving from intimate moments to the infinitely huge makes for a heady mix.

On each page I switched between the Orcadian and English at will, stanza by stanza, as felt right in each moment. I appreciated the former more for the rhythm of its composition, and stuck with it if I could find a path forward through the words I recognised, generally those in common with Scots. At other times, I resorted to the English translation underneath to understand what was going on.

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In places, the translation contains compounds of several words pushed together, which presumably convey Giles’ intended meaning more accurately than one English word alone could do.

Taking the additional moment to mull these meanings over was generally a poetic pleasure, bringing roundness and richness to my understanding. “Muckle” is translated to “greatbig”; “guff” to “stinkpuffsnortnonsense”.

Only occasionally did having to parse these meanings feel like additional labour. For example, “stills”, a word I recognise, the present tense of bringing something in motion to a halt, is offered in English as “pauselullsecretsilences” but I prefer the simplicity of the one-syllable word than the compound with lots going on. However, there is a degree of subjectivity at play: translation is an art, not a science, and this is a poem, after all.

Over the last decade, Giles has emerged as a real star of Scottish poetry, and it’s satisfying to see this ambitious, enjoyable verse novel come to the shelves.

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