Hi. I’m Nicholas Whyte, a public affairs consultant in Brussels, political commentator in Northern Ireland, and science fiction fan. This is my blog on WordPress, but you can also find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, X/Twitter, Mastodon, Bluesky and Threads. You are welcome to follow me on all of those, but I usually won’t add you back unless we know each other personally. If you want to contact me I prefer email to nicholas dot whyte at gmail dot com, or at my work address if it’s something to do with my job.

Since late 2003, I’ve been recording (almost) every book that I have read. At 200-300 books a year, that’s over 5,000 books that I have written up here. These are the most recent; I also record the books I have read each week and each month. These days each review includes the second paragraph of the third chapter of each book, just for fun; and also a purchase link for Amazon UK. (Yes, I know; but I get no other financial reward for writing all of this.)

During the pandemic I developed an interest in family history and have been recording my research here.

This WordPress blog replaced my Livejournal in March 2022. I was able to copy across all of my old Livejournal posts; unfortunately the internal links in old posts will still in general point back to Livejournal, and though I was able to import images, I wasn’t able to import videos, so it’s a little imperfect.

Comments welcome.

Another DNA connection

Sometime you have the experience of staring at a jumble of shapes and then realising that they actually make a bird, or a rabbit, or a person. Genealogy research can be like that too.

When you get your DNA results, you get notified of clusters of people who share particular DNA fragments with you. I’ve chased down a number of these over the last few years, often finding to my frustration that the records run into the sand at just the moment where I could have worked out how they were related to me. For instance, there are two different groups of African Americans who share bits of my genetic heritage, and I have half a clue how one of those groups may be related to me, but no clue at all about the other.

I did manage to resolve one such cluster of contacts recently, to my own satisfaction. There are a bunch of Ancestry users who are related to each other, and to me, and they are all descended from a Canadian couple, Patrick Morrissey, born on Prince Edward Island in 1856, died in Nova Scotia 1930, and Annie Flynn, born in 1865 and died in 1920, both on Prince Edward Island. The DNA links are sufficiently close that one of Patrick or Annie must be the first cousin of one of my grandparents.

As it happens, I knew that one of my grandparents had an uncle who was stationed in Canada as an Irish element of the British garrison there from 1858 to 1870. This is too late for him to be Patrick’s father, but exactly right for Annie. He married in 1863, moved back to Ireland in 1870, had two children with his first wife there and three more by his second wife after his first wife died. I am in touch with his Irish-line descendants. I have no documentary evidence placing him on Prince Edward Island; he seems to have spent most of his time in Ontario.

Annie Flynn’s mother, Johanna Pendergast, married James Flynn in 1862. She was 23; he was 37. They had four children, all of whom were recorded of course as being the children of Johanna and James. But it looks very likely that Annie at least was not James Flynn’s biological child, but the result of a liaison between Johanna and my great-great-uncle. Her grandchildren score matching DNA with me at the third cousin level, suggesting that we have common great-great-grandparents, which would fit the hypothesis. And most crucially, I cannot place any of my other great-grandparents’ many siblings in Canada at any point in their lives, let alone in 1864.

When Annie Flynn was born in June 1865, her mother, Johanna (born in 1840), had been married to James Flynn since October 1862, and her likely father (born in 1839) to his first wife since November 1863. We’ll never know how two relatively recently married people in their mid twenties came together in the autumn of 1865 and produced Annie. Perhaps he was visiting Charlottetown from Ontario as part of his army duties; we don’t know if it was romantic, transactional, or something else. But thanks to the DNA that I share with Annie’s descendants, we can be pretty certain that it did happen. You will have to use your imagination for the rest.

The Virgin in the Garden, by A.S. Byatt

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Outside this trim anonymity was a piece of wasteland, once an Officers’ Training Camp, where there was a semi-circle of battered Nissen huts on splitting tarmac; through long cracks in the surface willowherb and groundsel poked weak, tenacious stems. There was no flagpole in the concrete slot: no cars in the designated car park: the place appeared, not recently, to have undergone a successful siege. The huts let out, through dangling doors, a strong smell of stale urine. In one, a long row of basins and urinals had been deliberately shattered and fouled. The regulars, Alexander saw, were there. A circle of grubby boys lifted their heads from the cupped glow of matches as he passed. In a doorway a gaggle of girls whispered and shrilled, leaning together, arm in arm. The largest, skinny and provocative, thirteen maybe, stared boldly. She wore a drooping flowered dress in artificial silk, and a startling red latticed snood. A cigarette stub glowed and faded in one corner of her pointed mouth. Alexander made a rushed and incompetent gesture of salutation. He imagined they knew very well why he, why anyone, went there.

I see a lot of online reviews complaining that this book is dense and incomprehensible. I loved it actually. It’s the story of Frederica Potter, turning 18 in the summer of 1953, and her crazy academic family and the English town where they live. A lot of it is about a pageant celebrating the life of Elizabeth I, with the coronation of Elizabeth II running in the background. A lot of it is about sex and love. There are some vivid set-pieces, and some well observed bits of humanity. I found Frederica’s father, dominant in his own family until his children grow up and away from him, a particularly interesting character.

This is the first of four books in a sequence, and I read and really didn’t enjoy the fourth Babel Tower, when I was living in Bosnia in 1997. I wonder if it would have made more sense if I had read the previous three? I’m certainly willing to give it a try.

You can get The Virgin in the Garden here.

This was my top unread book by a woman. Next on that pile is The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones.

The Myth Makers, by Ian Z. Potter (and Donald Cotton)

When I first listened to the audio of this lost story, with linking dialogue read by Peter Purves, in 2007, I wrote:

The Myth Makers was the four-part story between the single-episode, Doctor-less Mission to the Unknown and the twelve-part epic The Daleks’ Master Plan, bringing the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki to ancient Troy. Vicki here becomes the second regular to be written out after developing a love interest; the Doctor is mistaken for Zeus and helps Odysseus construct the wooden horse, though is somewhat obsessed with its fetlocks “no safety margin at all… if only you would have allowed me another day to fit shock absorbers!”

I liked the creative reinterpretation of the characters from the Greek legend. Priam takes a shine to Vicki, renames her Cressida and won’t hear a word against her. Both Paris and Menelaus are incompetent, the former a coward and the latter drunk, making one wonder what Helen ever saw in either of them. (Menelaus: “I was heartily glad to see the back of her!” Paris: “I think this whole business has been carried just a little bit too far. I mean, that Helen thing was just a misunderstanding.”) Helen herself never appears in person, the BBC beauty budget presumably not reaching that far. The interpretation of the story that will always remain with me, I think, is Roger Lancelyn Green’s The Luck of Troy, but this will do as an sfnal version.

As with all the “lost” stories, one never knows what one missed, though I can make a couple of guesses – Frances White (Julia in I CLAVDIVS) as Cassandra, or Vicki in her dress. But Peter Purves’ narration is, as ever, great, even though of the three regular characters his has the least to do. We end with a real acceleration of pace towards the next story; Vicki and the Doctor say their goodbyes off-screen, while Cassandra’s handmaiden Katarina accompanies a wounded Steven aboard the Tardis as a new (but very short-lived) companion.

When I came back to it for my Great Rewatch in 2010, I watched the Loose Cannon reconstruction and wrote:

The first three episodes of The Myth Makers are tremendous fun, rather in the spirit of Carry On Cleo which came out a few months earlier. The switch to epic drama and tragedy in the last episode is rather effective and sets the tone for the next story better than I had remembered. Donald Cotton presumes that the audience will have sufficient familiarity with the Trojan legends to appreciate the paradox of the various heroes being vain, cowardly, stupid, greedy or alcoholic.

I wonder also if he deliberately reversed the events of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, where Cressida leaves Troilus for Diomede rather than the other way round. I know that the received wisdom is against me on this, but mention two further, admittedly weak, hints at a deberate reversal: Vicki arrives in Troy while Shakespeare’s Cressida leaves the city; and Hector is killed at the end of the Shakespeare play but the beginning of the Who story. Also, though this may not count, Troilus kills Achilles here, whereas Shakespeare has Achilles triumphant and alive at the end.

The lore is that Hartnell was in bad form while this was being made, but he seems to me to greatly enjoy his banter with Ivor Salter as Odysseus. Mind you, I felt a bit sad when I realised that John Wiles’ name had replaced Verity Lambert’s in the credits, and I am sure Hartnell must have started wondering how much longer he would last as the sole survivor of the original cast and crew. (Another year, as it turned out.)

Watching the reconstruction again, the striking thing is how little the Doctor and companions do; Vicki and Stephen spend most of the story imprisoned, and the Doctor just does the horse (though admittedly that’s a big part of the plot). I did like the dynamics among the Trojan ruling family. Barrie Ingham, who plays Paris, had also just played Alydon in the first Peter Cushing film, Dr Who and the Daleks. You can find the recon online, and get the Purves narration here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Donald Cotton’s novelisation of his own script, written twenty years after it was broadcast, is:

Mind you, we Greeks are constantly expecting the materialisation of some god or other, agog to intervene in human affairs. Well, no – to be honest – not really expecting. Put it this way, our religious education has prepared us to accept it, should it occur. But that is by no means to say we anticipate it as a common phenomenon. It’s the sort of thing that happens to other people, perhaps; but hardly before one’s own eyes in the middle of everyday affairs, such as the present formalistic blood-letting. Certainly not. No – but, as I say, the church has warned us of the possibility, however remote.

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

Once again, Cotton produces a memorable Who novel through a first person narrative: this time he has the poet Homer telling the story of how he witnessed the Doctor and friends interfering with the outcome of the siege of Troy. Homer didn’t appear at all in the story as broadcast (though Cotton has him absorb the silent role of the Cyclops played by Tutte Lemkow); constricting the whole narrative to a single viewpoint character does create some difficulties in telling the story, but basically it is a really good story anyway, and while it’s not Cotton at the utter peak of his form, it is surely one of the top ten novelisations. Cotton has taken the opportunity to restore as chapter titles some of the punning episode titles scrapped by the production team (eg “Doctor in the Horse”).

Coming back to it now, I still very much enjoyed it, including the anachronistic asides, especially as I have read a few more novels loosely based on the period, and also recently read the Wilson translation of the Odyssey. You can get it here.

Before I get onto Ian Potter’s Black Archive, which (spoiler) is one of the best in the series, I have been doing a little research myself into the BBC’s previous treatments of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. The first broadcast version was on the National [radio] Programme in 1935, and a couple of names leap out, most notably that Menelaus was played by Francis De Wolff, who would play Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon on Doctor Who thirty years later. It was an early break for Jack Hawkins and Anthony Quayle as well.

Francis De Wolff was in another radio production on the Third Programme in 1946, this time playing Ajax, and here Pandarus was played by Max Adrian, who of course was Priam in Doctor Who. Other Whovian names that jumped out at me were Valentine Dyall as Hector, Leonard Sachs as Paris and Laurence Payne as Troilus. Cresside was played by Belle Chrystall.

Belle Chrystall and Valentine Dyall returned in the same roles for a 1952 Third Programme production, in which Troilus was played by Marius Goring. Grizelda Hervey, who had been Helen in 1946, was Cassandra this time.

The first TV version in 1954 featured Donald Eccles as Priam, eighteen years before he played the High priest of Atlantis on Doctor Who. John Fraser was Troilus, Geoffrey Toone was Achilles, and Timothy Bateson and James Culliford also had small parts.

Familiar names again in a Third Programme production in 1959, with Francis de Wolff returning as Ajax and Valentine Dyall as Hector; Achilles is Trevor Martin, who much later played the Doctor on stage.

Another Third Programme production in 1964 is very star heavy – no crossover with The Myth Makers this time, but many actors who went on to star in Who, with Michael Kilgarriff doing the prologue and Margarelon, Julian Glover playing Hector, Stephen Thorne as Aeneas, Cyril Cusack as Pandarus, Maurice Denham as Ulysses and Peter Pratt as Ajax.

A televised National Youth Theatre production in 1966, a year after The Myth Makers, featured a young Timothy Dalton as Diomedes and also Derek Seaton, later to play Hilred in The Deadly Assassin, as Ulysses. The director was Bernard Hepton who went on to star in Secret Army.

Most entertaining of all, The Listener‘s review of a Radio 3 production in 1980 tells us that “Maureen O’Brien beautifully played Cressida as a squeaky sex kitten – a wanton from the start, with come-hitherish inflections.” Other familiar names include Gabriel Woolf as Agamemnon, Sheila Grant as Cassandra and Terence Hardiman as Hector.

The following year the BBC Television Shakespeare has less crossover with Doctor Who, with Vernon Dobtcheff as Agamemnon the only name I spotted. I thought it was interesting.

The only production since then is a 2005 Radio 3 version, where the only Who-related name I spotted was Toby Jones as Thersites.

In the 47 years between 1935 and 1981 there were seven BBC radio productions and two on TV of Troilus and Cressida, not to mention several productions of William Walton’s opera which I have not listed above. In the 43 years since 1981, there has been just one.

There are two points that occur to me from this. One is that obviously expectations of how much Shakespeare you should expect to get on the BBC have shifted quite a lot since 1965. The other is that viewers of The Myth Makers when it was broadcast would have had a much better background knowledge of the Troilus and Cressida story than most viewers today.

Ian Potter’s Black Archive monograph is unashamedly longer than usual, but (spoiler) one of the best Black Archives I’ve read recently. He begins with a short note on the spelling of character names, and then a prologue explaining the good and bad points of the story (highlights – Good: it’s funny; Bad: it screws up Vicki’s departure).

The very brief first chapter, “Foundational Myths”, briefly surveys the limited archaeological evidence for Troy, a metaphor (this is not stated) for the limited evidence we have about the lost Doctor Who story.

The second chapter, “Source Texts”, looks at the Iliad and Troilus and Cressida, and frames an argument for how and why The Myth Makers differs from both.

The third chapter, “The Engaging Mr Cotton”, looks in great detail at the life and career of Donald Cotton, who wrote The Myth Makers. He wrote a lot for stage, and had written several previous treatments of Greek myth. He had a complex love life as well. (The only mistake I’ve spotted by Potter is in the name of Cotton’s protégée towards the end of his career – it was Tamsin Hickling, not Tamsin Wickling.) Its third paragraph is:

Donald Henry Cotton was born near3 Nottingham on 26 April 1928, the son of Professor Harry Cotton, the distinguished and respected head of Electrical Engineering at Nottingham University and a mother described by Cotton’s wife Hilary Wright as `neurotic and over possessive’4. According to Wright, Cotton’s father, while a popular and gregarious figure, was stand-offish with his son, and the boy seems to have grown up a solitary, guarded child. Cotton went to the local Southwell Minster Grammar School, a school which, having historically trained boy choristers, retained a strong music tradition. Reading his school’s annual magazine, Cotton seems to have made no special impact during his time there, unlike his father, who as the school’s governor regularly appears in its pages.
3 According to Cotton’s 1969 biography in the programme of My Dear Gilbert at the Worthing Connaught Theatre. His father’s address is given as Mapperley Street in Nottingham in the mid-193os, but local press places him in Gunthorpe, a small village near Nottingham, in 1952, so this may well be where Cotton grew up.
4 Testro, Lucas, ‘Man Out of Time’, DWM #58i, p25. More detail on Professor Cotton’s career can be found in Crewe, ME, ‘The Met Office Grows Up: In War and Peace’.

The fourth chapter “The Unravelling Texts”, is one of the longest I’ve seen in any Black Archive. Potter takes the extant versions of the script and traces its development from Cotton’s original hand-written notes to camera script and screen. This can be done badly or well, and here it is done very well. The most interesting conclusion (of many interesting points) is that Donald Tosh, the script editor, rewrote most of the fourth episode to take account of Vicki’s departure and the installation of Katarina as the new companion.

The fifth chapter, “What Did It Look Like?”, considers the limited evidence available, and also the reputation of director Michael Leeston-Smith, concluding that the horse itself must have been a fine thing.

The sixth chapter, “The Many Wiles”, is also long by Black Archive standards, and examines in detail the career of Doctor Who’s second producer after Verity Lambert, John Wiles. I have often given my view that the Wiles period showed a road not taken, a grittier show where companions might die and comedy mixed with tragedy, not so very different from New Who in fact. Wiles was South African, left in protest at apartheid, crashed out of his first big TV job (Doctor Who), and continued a career as a minor theatre writer and novelist. Potter has gone deeply into Wiles’ body of work, and emerged with a fascinating picture of the man, which would have been worth the cover price of this Black Archive on its own. In particular, he addresses Wiles’ attitude to racism (where he finds little case to answer) and underage sex (where the evidence is more troubling). But the crucial point is that Wiles mishandled the writing out of Maureen O’Brien and lost the confidence of William Hartnell, who was then able to get him fired (though he seems to have jumped before he was pushed).

An epilogue apologises (quite unnecessarily in my view) for the length of the book.

As I said up front, this is a standout in the usually very good Black Archive series, and you can get it here.

Next: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, by Dale Smith (and Stephen Wyatt).

Glimmer of Hope, Glimmer of Flame, by Ag Apolloni

Third paragraph (there are no separate sections in this 169 page book):

The works are lost, but the author remains. The most wonderful and the most woeful, tragediographic and tragic.

(English translateion by Robert Wilton)

I got this last month when the author launched it at a Kosovo Embassy event in Brussels, a short novel that was declared Kosovo’s Novel of the Year in 2020. It’s a quick but tough read, written in something of a stream-of-consciousness style, linking the stories of two women who lost most of their families in the 1999 conflict with the ancient Greek myths, most notably the story of Niobe as told in the lost play by Aeschylus (and Lemonnier’s 1772 vision of that story graces the front cover). The descriptions of the violence done to civilians by Serbian police and paramilitaries are visceral and vivid, and unapologetically (and rightly) one-sided. It takes a bit of patience to follow the twists between the interlinked stories, but I felt that my patience was rewarded. You can get it here.

Tuesday reading

Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse
The Book Eaters, by Sunyi Dean
Hallelujah: The Story of a Musical Genius & the City That Brought His Masterpiece, by Jonathan Bardon
The Ultimate Treasure, by Christopher Bulis

Last books finished
The Combined 2001 Election, by NISRA
Godkiller, by Hannah Kaner
The Malignant Earth, by Si Spurrier et al
Frontiers of the Roman Empire: The Lower German Limes, by David J. Breeze, Sonja Jill, Erik P. Graafstal, Willem J.H. Willems and Steve Bödecker

Next books
The Waters of Mars, by Phil Ford
How to be Invisible: Lyrics, by Kate Bush
“Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”, by Mike Resnick

Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood, by Keith Temple

When Planet of the Ood was first broadcast in 2008, I wrote:

Russell T Davies was 15 months old when the first episode of The Sensorites was broadcast in June 1964, but it obviously made a deep impression on him – we had two explicit references to Susan’s description of her and the Doctor’s home planet last season, and now we have it confirmed that the Ood are close neighbours to the Sense-Sphere. I think The Sensorites is positively the worst First Doctor story, so to me it is a slightly weird choice, but I’m aware that this is not a universal view.

[My brother] pointed out at the time that evolving to the stage where you have to carry part of your own brain around in your hand doesn’t seem terribly viable. But that apart, I thought that the music was great, the parable about slavery and society decent enough, and Tim McInerny’s performance (and also Ayesha Dharker’s) really excellent.

I rewatched it prior to tackling the recently published novelisation, and I didn’t like it quite as much as the first time. The heavily armed guards seem to have considerable difficulty in hitting the unarmed Ood, and the company’s OpSec in general is pretty poor. But the chemistry between the various actors is good, and of course now we know that there is foreshadowing of the Tenth Doctor’s approaching end.

I noted that one of the reps is played by Tariq Jordan, the brother of Yasmin Paige of the Sarah Jane Adventures.

It seems to me an odd choice of episode to put into book form, given the wide range of available choices, but I guess that when it was published a year ago the BBC were going back to the Ten/Donna pairing in anticipation of the Fourteenth Doctor stories.

The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

A powerful, cutting wind whipped and howled around her, and her lungs hurt every time she inhaled. It was so cold. And it was snowing. Giant icy flakes settled on her cheeks and eyes, burning her skin with their sharp coldness. She wrapped her arms around herself and stomped her feet to stay warm.

It’s a perfectly serviceable novelisation, stretching the story a little bit and giving a bit more depth to the characters and even bringing in a new one (a senior rep). If you liked the TV story you’ll like this, and if you were not so keen on it, it won’t change your feelings. You can get it here.

I’m working through the new novelisations as they come to my attention; looking forward to the ones to be published this summer, but otherwise the next will be The Waters of Mars, by Phil Ford.

The best known books set in each country: The Philippines

See here for methodology.

CryptonomiconNeal Stephenson 112,82917,036
Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue MissionHampton Sides36,9682,735
Arsenic and AdoboMia P. Manansala68,089876
The FarmJoanne Ramos38,712759
American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964William Manchester13,6211,810
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United StatesDaniel Immerwahr14,7821,147
Avenue of MysteriesJohn Irving13,5581,173
TrashAndy Mulligan13,9911,043

So, the top book most often tagged “Philippines” on Goodreads is Neal Stephenson’s epic Cryptonomicon. I am of course disqualifying it as considerably less than half of the 900+ pages are set in the country, though it does play a crucial role in the narrative.

More than any other country so far, the USA’s historical involvement with the Philippines dominates this list, with the top LibraryThing book with the Philippines tag being a historical account of a military operation during the second world war, a successful American raid on a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Arsenic and Adobo appears to be set entirely in Chicago, and The Farm in upstate New York, so neither qualifies. I’m disqualifying American Caesar and How to Hide an Empire for the same reason as Cryptonomicon, that less than half of either book deals with the Philippines, though the country is crucial to both narratives. Likewise Avenue of Mysteries, which at least goes to the Philippines, though for less than half of the book.

I’m stretching a point and allowing Trash by Andy Mulligan, because although the setting is not specified, most reviewers seem to think that it is Manila.

The top book set in the Philippines by a Filipino writer is Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal, which ranked only 13th on my list, behind many stories of expat Filipinos and in-country white saviours.

Well, that was a bit depressing. Next up is Ethiopia (actually I should probably have done it two countries ago, before Japan).

Best Novelette Hugo 2024

“Ivy, Angelica, Bay” by C. L. Polk

Second paragraph of third section:

“Jael Brown.”

“The Year Without Sunshine” by Naomi Kritzer

Second paragraph of third section:

“Maybe someone in the suburbs has an electric tiller they’d trade,”
Lem said. We’d started tearing up yards with spades, and it was slow
going, although at least we weren’t putting buried utility lines at risk.

I AM AI by Ai Jiang

Second paragraph of third section:

Atop the entrance of the café are the flickering neon aqua letters of Mao Tou Ying and the wired image of an orange owl sitting on top of “Tou” as though perched on a tree, the wavering colour making it seem like it’s on fire. Sometimes only the “Ying” is lit, and without the tonal accent, no one can tell whether it is the “ying” in owl or the “ying” in shadow. Ironically, both fit the establishment.荧光绿色的“Mao Tou Ying”在咖啡店入口上方闪烁,一只紧张不安的橙色猫头鹰踩着“Tou”,仿佛栖息在树上,摇曳的色彩令它看似在燃烧。有时候只有“Ying”被点亮,没有声调,没人能区分它表示猫头鹰的鹰还是阴影的影。讽刺的是,二者都挺适合这家店铺。

“Introduction to 2181 Overture, Second Edition”, Gu Shi

Third paragraph of original Chinese text, with English translation by Emily Jin:

这次改变人类生死观和时间观的革命,只用了三十多年就完成了,现在想来真是令人觉得不可思议。其间当然会有种种议论的声音,反对者、甚至是以恐怖行径来威胁的人,亦为数不少。尤其是当冬眠技术不再是一个问题,其安全性也不再令人怀疑之后,反对的声浪却愈演愈烈,几乎上升到宗教和哲学的层面。当然如今回头去看,这些人不过是各说各话罢了,To be or not to be ,这是一个问题,却永远不会有统一的答案。本书最为可贵之处,就在于作者采用了中立、客观的立场,在对“冬眠”这一议题进行了长期追踪后,她找出那些最关键的、足以改变历史方向的人物,和最特殊的、让人深入思考的案例,再平和地向读者展示出来。It’s incredible that three mere decades were enough for the revolution that reshaped the human perception of life, death, and time. Just like every other revolution, the cryosleep revolution was a hotbed of controversies. Heated debates, opposing voices, terrorists that threatened to end the cryosleep project with violence . . . the war of values only became more heated when the reliability of cryosleep technology and relevant safety measures were no longer questioned by the public. Challengers took the discussion to the level of religion and philosophy. Of course, looking back, most of the debates were merely pundits babbling to their respective echo chamber. To be or not to be is a question impossible to elicit a uniform answer. Therefore, in my humble opinion, the greatest achievement of this book is that the author maintains an impartial stance. Industriously tracking the topic of cryosleep through a series of interviews conducted over an extended period; she pinpoints the most crucial figures who had altered the course of history and the most exceptional and thought-provoking case studies. Then, she delivers the information and her analysis to her readers with a voice
that’s objective and calm.

“On the Fox Roads” by Nghi Vo

Second paragraph of section III:

Driving one-handed, Jack skimmed out of his jacket and passed it back to me. I wrapped his jacket thick around my arm and knocked out the shards of glass from the frame, pushing them out onto the road behind us where they glittered briefly before they were lost to the darkness.

If Found Return to Hell / The Death I Gave Him, by Em X. Liu

Second paragraph of “Third Court” in If Found, Return to Hell:

Oh, absolutely,” Nathaniel says. She snaps one last photo of the talisman, then pulls out a small, glass orb.

Second paragraph of Chapter Three of The Death I Gave Him:

There had been a murder.

Two short pieces in the Hugo Packet by Astounding finalist Em X. Liu. If Found, Return to Hell is a tale of an intern in a wizardly call centre who gets sucked into one particular client’s problems; you can get it here. The Death I Gave Him is a retelling of Hamlet as a murder in a family-run technology company; you can get it here. I enjoyed them both.

The 2024 Westminster election in Northern Ireland

Scores on the doors

SF 210,891 (27.0%, +4.2%) 7 seats
DUP 172,058 (22.1%, -8.5%) 5 seats (-3)
Alliance 117,191 (15.0%, -1.8%) 1 seat
UUP 94,779 (12.2%, +0.5%) 1 seat
SDLP 86,861 (11.1%, -3.8%) 2 seats
TUV 48,685 (8.2%) 1 seat
Ind U 20,913 (2.7%) 1 seat
Green 8,692 (1.1%, +0.9%)
PBP 8,438 (1.1%, -0.1%)
Aontu 7,466 (1.0%, -0.2%)
CCLA 624 (0.1%)
Cons 553 (0.1%, -0.6%)
Inds 2,789 (0.4%)

This was a very good election for Sinn Fein, if without the breakthrough successes of previous years. They were comfortably the largest party, held all their seats with increased votes, and came close to pulling off an upset in East Londonderry.

This was a terrible election for the DUP, coming after the accusations against former leader Jeffrey Donaldson, but also after a confused approach to post-Brexit governance. They lost seats to Alliance, the UUP and the TUV.

This was not as good an election for Alliance as some had expected. They picked up Lagan Valley from the DUP, but lost North Down to independent Unionist Alex Easton, and also failed to make headway in East Belfast. Their vote share was slightly down.

This was a reassuring election for the UUP. Their vote share increased slightly but most importantly they regained South Antrim. There is a big difference between having no MPs, and having even just one.

This was not as good as it looks for the SDLP. They held their two seats with reduced majorities, but fell back badly elsewhere.

This was a good election for the TUV, who claimed the scalp of Ian Paisley in North Antrim. Their vote was solid in most constituencies, though usually not quite at the level to challenge for an Assembly seat.

This was a good election for Alex Easton, who having topped the poll in North Down at the last five Assembly elections now gets to represent the constituency at Westminster.

This was not much good for any of the others.

I list the seats below in order of marginality, and it’s extraordinary that East Londonderry is at the top of that list.

East Londonderry

Gregory Campbell (DUP) 11,506 (27.9%, -12.2%)
Kathleen McGurk (SF) 11,327 (27.4%, +12.0%)
Cara Hunter (SDLP) 5,260 (12.7%, -3.7%)
Allister Kyle (TUV) 4,363 (10.6%)
Richard Stewart (Alliance) 3,734 (9.1%, -5.5%)
Glen Miller (UUP) 3,412 (8.3%, -0.9%)
Gemma Brolly (Aontú) 1,043 (2.5%)
Jen McCahon (Green) 445 (1.1%)
Claire Scull (Con) 187 (0.5%)

DUP majority 179

Electorate 75,707; total vote 41,430 (54.7%); valid vote 41,277; invalid 153 (0.3%)

An unexpected squeaker for the DUP, who held their seat by 179 votes, the tightest majority in Northern Ireland. 

If cast in a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would get the DUP two seats and probably SF two and the SDLP one, though there might be a third Unionist seat in there somewhere.

North Antrim

Jim Allister (TUV) 11,642 (28.3%)
Ian Paisley (DUP) 11,192 (27.2%, -23.7%)
Philip McGuigan (SF) 7,714 (18.7%, +7.4%)
Sian Mulholland (Alliance) 4,488 (10.9%, -3.4%)
Jackson Minford (UUP) 3,901 (9.5%, -7.5%)
Helen Maher (SDLP) 1,661 (4.0%, -1.9%)
Ráichéal Mhic Niocaill (Aontú) 451 (1.1%)
Tristan Morrow (Ind) 136 (0.3%)

Electorate 74,697; total vote 41,361 (55.4%); valid vote 41,185; invalid 176 (0.4%)

East Antrim

Sammy Wilson (DUP) 11,462 (28.9%, -13.0%)
Danny Donnelly (Alliance) 10,156 (25.6%, -0.4%)
John Stewart (UUP) 9,476 (23.9%, +7.3%)
Matthew Warwick (TUV) 4,135 (10.4%)
Oliver McMullan (SF) 2,986 (7.5%, -0.2%)
Margaret McKillop (SDLP) 892 (2.3%, -1.3%)
Mark Bailey (Green) 568 (1.4%, -0.3%)

Electorate 72,917; total vote 42,890 (58.8%); valid vote 42,706; invalid 184 (0.4%)

A narrow squeak for the DUP, one of several in previously safe seats. The top three candidates were within 2,000 votes of each other.

In a five seat STV election, these votes would probably give the DUP and Alliance two seats each, and the UUP one, which was in fact the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

East Belfast

Gavin Robinson (DUP) 19,894 (46.6%, -1.3%)
Naomi Long (Alliance) 17,218 (40.3%, -1.8%)
John Ross (TUV) 1,918 (4.5%)
Ryan Warren (UUP) 1,818 (4.3%, -1.5%)
Brian Smyth (Green) 1,077 (2.5%)
Séamas de Faoite (SDLP) 619 (1.5%, -2.8%)
Ryan North (Ind) 162 (0.4%)

Electorate: 72,917; total vote 42,890 (58.8%); valid vote 42,706; invalid 184 (0.4%)

After much speculation, in the end the result was similar to 2019 with both leading candidates slipping a bit.

In a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would give the DUP three seats and Alliance two.

Lagan Valley

Sorcha-Lucy Eastwood (Alliance) 18,618 (37.9%, +10.9%)
Jonathan Buckley (DUP) 15,659 (31.9% -11.5%)
Robbie Butler (UUP) 11,157 (22.7%, +4.2%)
Lorna Smyth (TUV) 2,186 (4.5%)
Simon Lee (SDLP) 1,028 (2.1%, -2%)
Patricia Denvir (Green) 433 (0.9%)

Total vote 49,243 (59.9%); total valid vote 49,081; invalid 162 (0.3%)

An exceptional result for the Alliance Party, in the wake of Jeffrey Donaldson and his wife facing criminal charges of historical sex abuse.


Colum Eastwood (SDLP) 15,647 (40.8%, -17.5%)
Sandra Duffy (SF) 11,481 (29.9%, +8.8%)
Gary Middleton (DUP) 3,915 (10.2%, +1.5%)
Shaun Harkin (PBP) 2,444 (6.4%)
Anne McCloskey (Ind) 1,519 (4.0%)
Janice Montgomery (UUP) 1,422 (3.7%, +1.7%)
Rachael Ferguson (Alliance) 1,268 (3.3%, +0.6%)
John Boyle (Aontú) 662 (1.7%)

Electorate: 73,496; total vote 38,765 (52.7%); valid vote 38,358; invalid 407 (1%)

The SDLP slipped back significantly from their impressive 2019 result, but are still safe. Incidentally this had the highest proportion of spoiled votes in Northern Ireland.

If cast in an Assembly election, these votes would probably get the SDLP and SF two seats each, and the DUP one, which was also the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Pat Cullen (SF) 24,844 (48.6%, +6.1%)
Diana Armstrong (UUP) 20,273 (39.7%, -1.9%)
Eddie Roofe (Alliance) 2,420 (4.7%, -0.6%)
Paul Blake (SDLP) 2,386 (4.7%, -2.5%)
Gerry Cullen (CCLA) 624 (1.2%)
Carl Duffy (Aontú) 529 (1.0%)

Electorate 77,828; total vote 51,340 (66.0%), valid vote 51,076; invalid 264 (0.5%)

Much excited chatter on election night suggested that SF might be in trouble, but in the end (as with all of their seats) they consolidated their position.

If cast in a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would give SF three seats and the UUP two.


Jim Shannon (DUP) 15,559 (40.0%, -0.5%)
Michelle Guy (Alliance) 10,428 (26.8%, +0.6%)
Richard Smart (UUP) 3,941 (10.1%, +0.9%)
Ron McDowell (TUV) 3,143 (8.1%)
Noel Sands (SF) 2,793 (7.2%, -0.4%)
Will Polland (SDLP) 1,783 (4.6%, -5.5%)
Alexandra Braidner (Green) 703 (1.8%)
Garreth Falls (Ind) 256 (0.7%)
Gareth Burns (Ind) 157 (0.4%)
Barry Hetherington (Con) 146 (0.4%, -3%)

Electorate 74,525; total vote 39,046 (52.4%); valid vote 38,909; invalid 137 (0.4%)

Early excited reports on election night were that the DUP might be in trouble here, but in fact the vote shares for the leading parties barely changed. But contra my expectations, it was the Unionist vote overall that increased here rather than the Nationalists.

In a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would give the DUP and Alliance two seats each, and the UUP one, which was also the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

North Belfast

John Finucane (SF) 17,674 (43.7%, -4.4%)
Phillip Brett (DUP) 12,062 (29.8%, -10.5%)
Nuala McAllister (Alliance) 4,274 (10.6%, nc)
David Clarke (TUV) 2,877 (7.1%)
Carl Whyte (SDLP) 1,413 (3.5%)
Mal O’Hara (Green) 1,206 (3.0%)
Fiona Ferguson (PBP) 946 (2.3%)

With more candidates in the mix, both of the leading parties lost vote share, but the DUP lost more.

In a five-seat Assembly election, this would give SF and the DUP two seats each and Alliance one, which was in fact the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

North Down

Alex Easton (Ind U) 20,913 (48.3%)
Stephen Farry (Alliance) 13,608 (31.4%, -13.4%)
Tim Collins (UUP) 6,754 (15.6%, +3.7%)
Barry McKee (Green) 1,247 (2.9%)
Déirdre Vaughan (SDLP) 657 (1.5%)
Chris Carter (Ind) 117 (0.3%)

Electorate: 73,885; total vote 43,464 (58.8%); valid vote 43,296; invalid 168 (0.4%)

Impressive performance by Alex Easton, who had topped the last five Assembly polls here, but this time running as an independent; he clearly took votes from Alliance as well as from other Unionists.

If these votes were cast in a five-seat Assembly election (which they wouldn’t be), Easton would win three of them and Alliance two.

Upper Bann

Carla Lockhart (DUP) 21,642 (45.7%, +4.9%)
Catherine Nelson (SF) 14,236 (30.1%, +5.4%)
Eoin Tennyson (Alliance) 6,322 (13.4%, +0.7%)
Kate Evans (UUP) 3,662 (7.7%, -4.7%)
Malachy Quinn (SDLP) 1,496 (3.2%, -6.2%)

47,595 total votes (58.6%), 47,358 valid, 237 invalid (0.5%)

Consolidation for the top two candidates doing a tactical squeeze on those lower down.

In a five-seat STV election, the DUP and SF should both win two, and Alliance one.

South Antrim

Robin Swann (UUP) 16,311 (38.0%, +9.0%)
Paul Girvan (DUP) 8,799 (20.5%, -15.7%)
Declan Kearney (SF) 8,034 (18.7%, +7.3%)
John Blair (Alliance) 4,574 (10.7%, -7.7%)
Mel Lucas (TUV) 2,693 (6.3%)
Roisin Lynch (SDLP) 1,589 (3.7%, -1.2%)
Lesley Veronica (Green) 541 (1.3%)
Siobhán McErlean (Aontú) 367 (0.9%)

Electorate 77,058; total vote 43,089 (55.9%); valid vote 42,908; invalid 181 (0.4%)

An impressive victory for the UUP, one of several seats where the DUP suffered unexpected reverses.

If cast in a five-seat Assembly election, the UUP would win two seats and the DUP, SF and Alliance one each.

South Down

Chris Hazzard (SF) 19,698 (43.5%, +12.7%)
Colin McGrath (SDLP) 10,418 (23.0%, -4.2%)
Diane Forsythe (DUP) 7,349 (16.2%, -1.9%)
Andrew McMurray (Alliance) 3,187 (7.0%, -6.8%)
Jim Wells (TUV) 1,893 (4.2%)
Michael O’Loan (UUP) 1,411 (3.1%, -4.6%)
Rosemary McGlone (Aontú) 797 (1.8%)
Declan Walsh (Green) 444 (1.0%)
Hannah Westropp (Con) 46 (0.1%)

Electorate 76,248; total vote 45,472 (59.6%); valid votes 45,243; invalid 229 (0.5%)

Some SDLP optimists thought that they had a chance here, but in fact SF increased their majority, as in all of the seats that they held.

In a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would probably get SF three seats and the SDLP and DUP one each.

South Belfast

Claire Hanna (SDLP) 21,345 (49.1%, -4.2%)
Kate Nicholl (Alliance) 8,839 (20.3%, +4.9%)
Tracy Kelly (DUP) 6,859 (15.8%, -9.6%)
Michael Henderson (UUP) 2,653 (6.1%, +2.5%)
Dan Boucher (TUV) 2,218 (5.1%)
Áine Groogan (Green) 1,577 (3.6%, +3.5%)

Electorate 74,749; turnout 43,757 (58.5%); valid votes 43,491; invalid 266 (0.6%)

SDLP vote down slightly but still a solid result.

In a five-seat Assembly election, this would give the SDLP three seats, and Alliance and the DUP one each.

Mid Ulster

Cathal Mallaghan (SF) 24,085 (53.0%, +7.3%)
Keith Buchanan (DUP) 9,162 (20.2%, -3.6%)
Denise Johnston (SDLP) 3,722 (8.2%, -5.7%)
Glenn Moore (TUV) 2,978 (6.6%)
Jay Basra (UUP) 2,269 (5.0%, -2.5%)
Padraic Farrell (Alliance) 2,001 (4.4%, -3.2%)
Alixandra Halliday (Aontú) 1,047 (2.3%)
John Kelly (Ind) 181 (0.4%)

Electorate 74,000; turnout 45,691 (61.7%)    45,445    246

Consolidation from SF (which was the story of the night in their seats generally).

In a five-seat Assembly election these votes would give SF three seats, the DUP one and probably the TUV one – Unionists are closer to a second quota than Nationalists.

Newry and Armagh

Dáire Hughes (SF) 22,299 (48.5%, +7.5%)
Pete Byrne (SDLP) 6,806 (14.8%, -4.6%)
Gareth Wilson (DUP) 5,900 (12.8%, -7.4%)
Keith Ratcliffe (TUV) 4,099 (8.9%)
Sam Nicholson (UUP) 3,175 (6.9%, -0.8%)
Helena Young (Alliance) 2,692 (5.9%, -2.5%)
Liam Reichenberg (Aontú) 888 (1.9%)
Samantha Rayner (Con) 83 (0.2%)

Electorate 78,244; total vote 46,236 (59.1%); valid vote 45,942; invalid 294 (0.6%)

A strong defence by SF, as in all of the seats that they held.

If cast in a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would give SF three seats and the SDLP and DUP one each; which was also the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

West Tyrone

Orfhlaith Begley (SF) 22,711 (52.0%, +11.9%)
Tom Buchanan (DUP) 6,794 (15.6%, -6.2%)
Daniel McCrossan (SDLP) 5,821 (13.3%, -5.1%)
Matthew Bell (UUP) 2,683  (6.1%, -0.4%)
Stevan Patterson (TUV) 2,530 (5.8%)
Stephen Donnelly (Alliance) 2,287 (5.2%, -4.3%)
Leza Houston (Aontú) 778 (1.8%)
Stephen Lynch (Con) 91 (0.2%)

Electorate 74,269; total vote 43,935 (59.2%); valid vote 43,695; invalid 240 (0.5%)

As usual in this election, a consolidation for SF in a strong area for them.

In a five-seat election, these votes would get SF three seats and the SDLP and DUP one each, which was also the result of the 2022 election.

West Belfast

Paul Maskey (SF) 21,009 (52.9%, +4.4%)
Gerry Carroll (PBP) 5,048 (12.7%, -1.4%)
Paul Doherty (SDLP) 4,318 (10.9%, +3.4%)
Frank McCoubrey (DUP) 4,304 (10.8%, -7.3%)
Ann McClure (TUV) 2,010 (5.1%)
Eoin Millar (Alliance) 1,077 (2.7%, -4.4%)
Gerard Herdman (Aontú) 904 (2.3%)
Ben Sharkey (UUP) 461 (1.2%, +0.3%)
Ash Jones (Green) 451 (1.1%)
Tony Mallon (Ind) 161 (0.4%)

Electorate 75,346; total vote 40,003 (53.1%); valid vote 39,743; invalid 260 (0.6%)

As with all of SF’s constituencies, a consolidation of an already strong position.

In a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would probably give SF three and PBP and the DUP one each.

Fear of the Dark, by Trevor Baxendale

Second paragraph of thrid chapter:

‘Ordinarily, no,’ agreed the Doctor. He regarded Nyssa with a look of consternation. ‘But in this case, I think it could be something rather extraordinary. Tell me about the dream again.’

Back at the start of the 2010s, I read through all of the New Adventures, Missing Adventures, Eighth Doctor Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures at the rate of two or three a month, and wrote them up here as I went – except that at the end of 2014 and the first part of 2015, I was so overwhelmed with Arthur C. Clarke Award reading and other things that I just never got around to blogging them. So I’m going back to the missing entries now, in order of internal chronology, and that means starting with this novel of the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa, set immediately after Arc of Infinity.

Trevor Baxendale is usually reliable as a Who writer (see in particular The Janus Conjunction and Prisoner of the Daleks), and I think this is one of his better books too. The TARDIS lands on a moon where the team encounters a crew of archaeologists (or are they?) and an ancient evil is unleashed from the depths. Lots of very creepy description and good characterisation, and a couple of welcome shout-outs to Old Who. A good start to this mini-project. You can get it here.

Next up: The Ultimate Treasure, by Christopher Bulis.

Linghun by Ai Jiang

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Why are there people on the lawns?” I ask.

A novella by one of this year’s Astounding finalists, which didn’t make its way into the Hugo packet but which I picked up on spec at the Lovecraft Arts and Sciences bookstore in Providence last December. It’s short and powerful, an examination of grief as augmented by near-future technology, and the different ways that there are of coming to terms with loss. My copy has several very short stories at the end and a foreword by Yi Izzy Yu. You can get it here.

Tuesday reading

Godkiller, by Hannah Kaner
The Malignant Earth, by Si Spurrier et al

Last books finished
The Death I Gave Him, by Em X. Liu
Glimmer of Hope, Glimmer of Flame, by Ag Apolloni
The Myth Makers, by Ian Potter
Dangerous Waters, by Juliet E. McKenna
The Virgin In The Garden, by A.S. Byatt

Next books
The Ultimate Treasure, by Christopher Bulis
The Combined 2001 Election, by NISRA
Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Best Graphic Story or Comic Hugo 2024

Bea Wolf, written by Zach Weinersmith, art by Boulet

Second frame of Fitt 3:

The Three Body Problem, Part One, by SFCF Studio

Second frame of part 3:

The Witches of World War 2 written by Paul Cornell, art by Valeria Burzo

Second frame of Chapter 3:

Saga, Vol. 11 written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples

Second frame of Chapter Sixty-three (third chapter in thjs volume):

Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, art by Phil Jimenez, Gene Ha and Nicola Scott

Second frame of Book Three:

Shubeik Lubeik / Your Wish Is My Command, by Deena Mohamed

Second frame of Part III:

Northern Ireland: The Forgotten Election

As pundits speculate wildly about the scale of the coming Labour landslide and Conservative collapse in England, Scotland and Wales next Thursday, let’s remember that 18 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons are elected by voters in Northern Ireland.

This became briefly important in 2017, when the Democratic Unionist Party’s MPs propped up Theresa May’s government for the two agonising years before its collapse. There were also utterly rumours that Sinn Féin might take its seats in order to thwart or ameliorate Brexit. (This was never going to happen.)

In the 2019 election, the DUP got the most votes, but slipped back badly and lost two seats, finishing with eight MPs. This was one more than Sinn Féin, whose vote also slipped but who compensated one lost seat with a gain from the DUP. The SDLP, previously the dominant Nationalist party, came back from a wipeout in 2017 by regaining two seats from both the DUP and Sinn Fein. And the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland won the seat left vacant by a veteran independent Unionist.

Five years on, in 2024, the DUP face further losses, with half of their seats potentially at risk from other parties. Sinn Féin’s seven look safer, though a couple are wobbly. So do the SDLP’s two. The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland could end up with anything from zero to three seats (some optimists even see a fourth potential gain). The Ulster Unionist Party, which ran Northern Ireland as a one-party state from 1921 to 1972, but has been locked out of Westminster for the last few years, see two potential gains. And there is an independent Unionist in the running as well. Unionism as a whole could win anything between six and ten seats of the eighteen. 

Nine of the eighteen seats can be regarded as pretty safe for the incumbent parties. East Antrim, North Antrim, East Londonderry and Upper Bann are solidly DUP these days, and West Belfast, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh and West Tyrone are even more solidly strongholds of Sinn Féin. Foyle was lost by the SDLP in particular circumstances in 2017, but regained with a massive majority in 2019, and can be safely tallied in their column again.

Three, or possibly four, of the DUP’s eight seats are vulnerable. South Antrim sees a strong challenge from the Ulster Unionist Party. In two other seats, the DUP faces fierce opposition from the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. The exit from politics of the DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, after he was arrested on historic sex crime charges, has left his Lagan Valley seat more open than it has been since its creation in 1987; and his successor as party leader, Gavin Robinson, faces a tough challenge from Alliance’s leader, Naomi Long, in East Belfast – a rather rare case where the leaders of two significant political parties are candidates in the same constituency. Alliance optimists add neighbouring Strangford to the list of potential gains, but it is a longer shot.

Three of Sinn Féin’s seven seats are at risk on paper, though my gut feeling is that they will keep all three. In 2019 North Belfast was gained from the DUP after 130 years of Unionist dominance, and while in theory the margin is not irreversible, in practice the DUP will be putting their resources into defending East Belfast. Fermanagh and South Tyrone, normally a knife-edge seat, was regained by SF from the UUP in 2019, but I hear grumblings from local Unionists that they are further behind this time. And some SDLP optimists see grounds for hope in South Down, which SF have held since 2010; again, it is a long shot.

I noted Foyle as safe for the SDLP above; their other seat, South Belfast and Mid Down (formerly just South Belfast), is probably also pretty safe, given that SF are not standing against them and the incumbent MP, Claire Hanna has positioned herself well. (Her father was my landlord when I moved back to Belfast in 1992; it’s a small world.) The weird thing about South Belfast is that the Alliance Party got more votes than anyone else in two of the last three elections, including the SDLP. But South Belfast voters are volatile.

The most fascinating seat, and the least typical, is the Alliance Party’s current patch of yellow on the map, North Down. Here, Stephen Farry, Alliance’s deputy leader, faces a challenge from local independent Unionist Alex Easton, who has the support of the DUP despite having parted company with them acrimoniously in 2021, and also from the colourful retired British army officer Tim Collins, selected as the UUP’s candidate. To do justice to this very odd campaign would take more space than is reasonable, so I’ll leave it there.

One last point to make is that the Boundary Commission’s changes to the Northern Ireland seats were pretty minimal. They were also difficult to calculate because of the lack of co-terminosity between the different electoral units involved. I myself supplied the projections of the 2019 results onto the 2024 boundaries in Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher’s Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies. On the Northern Ireland politics blog Slugger O’Toole, Michael Hehir has been providing his own projections, which I am glad to say differ little from mine. We come to the same conclusion: that in this election, it will be voters, not boundary changes, that determine the results.

Ruby Red, by Georgia Cook

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘I’m sorry,’ said Ran. ‘I didn’t expect them to come after me.’

One of my disappointments about the Chibnall era of Doctor Who is that there was so little good quality spinoff material apart from the TV show itself. By contrast, Russell T. Davies has hit the ground running as usual, with one novelisation out already and another three coming later in the year, as well as two spinoff novels last month and another scheduled for November.

This is the first of the spinoff novels, taking the Fifteenth Doctor and Ruby to an obscure part of European history, the Battle on the Ice in 1242, fought between Russians and Estonians (to use anachronistic and brutal shorthand) on the frozen surface of Lake Peipus. My extensive and detailed research suggests that this is the only Who story in any medium which has an Estonian setting.

Being a Doctor Who story, there are of course external incursions into the real history of what happened – three interstellar Valkyrie sisters, managing a rite of passage for the youngest of them, and an alien hive mind under the ice. On top of that the TARDIS is behaving oddly, in a foreshadowing of what we found out about its extra passenger in the recent season finale.

These sfnal trimmings are also the basis for much banter between the Doctor and Ruby, and that of course is what people will buy the book for. Given that it’s Cook’s first novel, and it must have been written before any of the recent season was shown, she catches Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor really well. The plot doesn’t gel completely perfectly (the climax in particular is lower-key than I had anticipated) but it’s a good start to the new era on paper. You can get it here.

Next up: Caged, by Una McCormack.

June 2024 books

Non-fiction 4 (YTD 36)
Flying from Malone, by Guy Warner
Electoral Laws and their Political Consequences, eds. Bernard Grofman and Arend Lijphart
Ten Years to Save the West, by Liz Truss
The Myth Makers, by Ian Potter

Non-genre 4 (YTD 18)
Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak
Casting Off, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Glimmer of Hope, Glimmer of Flame, by Ag Apolloni
The Virgin In The Garden, by A.S. Byatt

SF 8 (YTD 47)
Unraveller, by Frances Hardinge
To Shape A Dragon’s Breath, by Moniquill Blackgoose
The Sinister Booksellers of Bath, by Garth Nix
I AM AI, by Ai Jiang
Linghun by Ai Jiang
If Found Return to Hell, by Em X. Liu
The Death I Gave Him, by Em X. Liu
Dangerous Waters, by Juliet E. McKenna

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 16)
Ruby Red, by Georgia Cook
Fear of the Dark, by Trevor Baxendale
Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood, by Keith Temple
Doctor Who: The Myth Makers, by Donald Cotton

Comics 4 (YTD 18)
Your Wish is My Command [Shubeik Lubeik], by Deena Mohammed
The One, by Si Spurrier et al
Barnstormers: A Ballad of Love and Murder, by Tula Lotay and Scott Snyder
Bea Wolf, by Zach Weinersmith and Boulet

7,300 pages (YTD 34,400) 
13/24 (YTD 63/137) by non-male writers (Truss, Howard, Byatt, Hardinge, Blackgoose, Jiang x 2, Liu x 2, McKenna, Cook, Mohammed, Lotay)
5/24 (YTD 21/137) by a non-white writer (Blackgoose, Jiang x 2, Liu x 2)
3/24 rereads (Doctor Zhivago, Fear of the Dark, Doctor Who: The Myth Makers)

307 books currently tagged unread, down 2 from last month, not tallied in June 2023.

Reading now
Godkiller, by Hannah Kamer

Coming soon (perhaps)
The Malignant Truth, by Si Spurrier et al
The Ultimate Treasure, by Christopher Bulis
The Waters of Mars, by Phil Ford
Caged, by Una McCormack
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, by Stephen Wyatt
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, by Dale Smith
The Combined 2001 Election, by NISRA
Hallelujah: The Story of a Musical Genius & the City That Brought His Masterpiece, by Jonathan Bardon
How to be Invisible: Lyrics, by Kate Bush
Comparing Democracies: Elections and Voting in Global Perspective, eds. Lawrence Leduc, Richard G. Niemi, Pippa Norris
Darkening Skies, by Juliet E. McKenna
Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse
“Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”, by Mike Resnick
Our Share of Night, by Mariana Enriquez
The Sol Majestic, by Ferrett Steinmetz
Who Runs the World?, by Virginia Bergin
L’Affaire Tournesol, by Hergé
Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, by Mariana Mazzucato
The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless
The Wonderful Visit, by H. G. Wells
Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
All Change, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones
Hard to Be a God, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
The Hanging Tree, by Ben Aaronovitch
South, by Ernest Shackleton
Monica, by Daniel Clowes
Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett
The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

[Doctor Who] The Ultimate Treasure by Christopher Bulis (1998)

Der Weisse Engel in Quedlinburg – another stucco ceiling by Hansche?

One of the things that has puzzled me about the stucco artist Jan Christian Hansche is that there are very few other examples of ceilings with his sort of sculpture anywhere. He told the Brussels authorities in 1661 that his work was admired in Germany, Austria and Italy; but where?

Via the Internet Archive, I’ve found a 1903 article about stucco ceilings in a building called “Weißer Engel“, “White Angel”, in Quedlinburg in eastern Germany. The article was published in a journal called Die Denkmalpflege, and is by Paul Schwarz who describes himself as “Oberlehrer”, a senior teacher, at the Quedlinburg Gymnasium (grammar school). Schwarz leads off by comparing the stucco in Quedlinburg with the works in Kleve, now destroyed, which he knew were by Hansche. The Quedlinburg stuccos have survived, and the Weißer Engel haus is now a home for people with learning disabilities where you can hire the room with the stucco ceiling for events. Here are two nice photos from the local websites:

Schwarz says that the house was built in 1623, and believes that the stucco panels must have been installed at the time of construction. There is no date and no signature, which would be unusual for Hansche who usually did put both the date and his name or at least initials somewhere on the ceiling; and 1623 would be too early for him, as his earliest surviving work is dated from 1653 and he continued working until the 1680s. And Quedlinburg is 300 km east of Olfen, Hansche’s birthplace, and 350 km east of Wesel, the easternmost known work that he did. But there is a striking similarity of execution.

There are two rows of six panels in Quedlinburg, and Schwarz’s article include photographs of seven of them. The first six tell the story of Tobit – an interesting choice for a traditionally Protestant town; Tobit is accepted as canon by Catholics but not by most Protestants.

Tobit is blinded by a bird defecating into his eyes. Lots of domestic details.
Tobit’s son Tobias bids farewell to his parents, to travel to Ecbatana with the disguised angel Raphael.
Tobias is greeted by his relatives in Ecbatana.

Five of the other six stuccos show the five senses, and again Schwarz has published photographs of three of them, and we can see a fourth in the tourism photos:


Also visible in one of the more recent tourism photos above (here rotated 180 degrees)

Smell, from the tourism photos and rotated 180 degrees.
Also from the tourism photos, Taste, Smell and Hearing.

And the sixth in this row is a bird packing at its own breast, with the motto “Nosce Te Ipsum”, “Know thyself”.

Schwarz says somewhat sniffily that the Quedlinburg stuccos much better executed than the ones in Kleve; I agree that they are a bit more adventurous and better framed, and it seems to me that the distance, the likely date and the lack of a signature all point to these being by a different artist. But there seems to be no information about who that could have been.

Quedlinburg is a good five and a half hours drive from here, and not really close to anywhere else (almost exactly half way between Leipzig and Hanover), so my opportunities for a site inspection are limited.

Ten Years to Save the West, by Liz Truss

Second paragraph of third chapter:

My Brexit referendum campaign started with a hurried and unplanned departure from Europe. It was February 2016, and we were on a half-term family holiday in Paris. The tiny Airbnb I’d found on the top floor of an apartment block near the Arc de Triomphe looked much more attractive in the photos than it turned out to be in real life. We had only been there a few days when the call came from London: Prime Minister David Cameron had completed negotiations on his new deal with the European Union. He was convening an urgent Cabinet meeting the following day to showcase it and fire the starting gun on the promised referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU.

Liz Truss is the only British prime minister that I have actually met. (By contrast, I met Garret Fitzgerald and John Bruton many times, took Micheál Martin punting once in Oxford, and also have had a handshake with Albert Reynolds and a conspiratorial wink from Bertie Ahern.) We were both student Lib Dem activists in the early 1990s, though she is a bit younger than me, and I was in the room when she made her famous speech calling for the abolition of the monarchy in 1994:

I congratulated her on her speech, though not long afterwards we found that our views diverged, and I never heard from her again.

As you may be aware, she failed to last even two months as leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister back in 2022, but ably laid the foundations of failure that Rishi Sunak and his party are now digging even deeper. Her failure really should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Matthew Parris wrote about her rise and inevitable fall during that long hot summer two years ago. Here is the whole piece, but the first of many juicy quotes is:

In Times columns I’ve offered my first impressions of this candidate. They were that she was intellectually shallow, her convictions wafer-thin; that she was driven by ambition pure and simple; that her manner was wooden and her ability to communicate convincingly to an electorate wider than the narrow band of Tory activists was virtually non-existent; that she was dangerously impulsive and headstrong, with a self-belief unattended by precaution; and that her leadership of the Conservative Party and our country would be a tragedy for both.

Most, but not all, of this analysis is borne out by later history and by Truss’s own book, which I have now read. (I got it for free, don’t worry.)

The format of the book is a little unusual. The very first chapter is about her meeting with the Queen, and the Queen’s death two days later. Elizabeth II’s last words to Truss were “Pace yourself.” “Perhaps I should have listened”, she reflects, in a rare moment of self-examination.

The chapters on her political career in government, which form the meat of the book, are sandwiched between incoherent political rallying calls for Conservatives to get their act together and defeat the Left at home and China abroad. The first of Matthew Parris’s allegations, lack of intellectual depth, is amply borne out by these more polemical sections. One is reminded of the old saying that while the problem with liberals is that they only read liberal literature, the problem with conservatives is that they read no literature at all. It’s not that she doesn’t really engage with the arguments made by her opponents; she doesn’t even really engage with the arguments of those she thinks she agrees with.

Her account of her time as a minister under Cameron, May and Johnson (for all of whom she retains a certain loyal affection and sympathy) is surprisingly dull, because she didn’t achieve very much and wants to blame other people for that. She is clearly, as Parris points out, unable to communicate clearly outside her own office, and fails to put the hours in behind the scenes to build up what we in our business would call a stakeholder coalition. She seems to believe that having been put in charge is sufficient for everyone to start doing what she wants them to do. In real life, this is never the case, even in the most autocratic power structures.

She writes of one night that she lay awake worrying about a prison officer, injured in a riot, but apart from that, there is a surprising lack of reference to the human dimension of her policies. There are almost no personal glimpses of colleagues and few of her family. One doesn’t get much sense of Truss as a social animal from her own account. Maybe she just isn’t; but for me that’s one of the crucial political skills.

And these things all collide when tragedy strikes and she becomes prime minister. She explains at great length how the economic plans that she and Kwasi Kwarteng proposed weren’t really all that radical, but simply misunderstood and subjected to unfair criticism; but I think even sympathetic readers (which I am not) will be lost by her depiction of a grand Left Woke conspiracy to kill growth which includes the Bank of England and the financial markets. I was irresistibly reminded of the French presidential election debate in 2012, when the challenger François Hollande killed incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempt to fight back with the telling line, “Ce n’est jamais de votre faute!” – “It’s never your fault!”

In Truss’s world, it’s never her fault either.

In summary, this is a not very good book written by a person who was completely unsuited to the job which she had so ruthlessly pursued. It is clearly intended for the American right-wing conference circuit market – there are many explanations of basic British political concepts for the American reader, and also the annoying and frequent use of “math” rather than “maths”. You can skip it in good conscience; you haven’t missed anything. If you really want, you can get it here.

I think there is also some cause for reflection about how political parties should choose their leaders. Part of this is about having a good team of candidates, which the Conservatives have not had in recent years. But I am also unconvinced that a ballot of party members is such a good way of identifying a good potential prime minister.

The Conservative system allows MPs to winnow down the candidates to two, who are then voted on by party members. A contested vote among members has happened four times; twice party members confirmed the MPs’ vote, and chose leaders who went on to win the next election (Cameron in 2005 and Johnson in 2017), and twice they chose the candidate liked by fewer MPs, who then failed and was booted out before the next election (Duncan-Smith in 2001 and Truss in 2022). Three leaders were elected without the need to consult members, Howard (2003), May (2016) and Sunak (2022); none of them was able to win the next election either, though May (who was also supported by MPs when they voted) came closest.

I don’t fundamentally mind if the Conservatives choose internal systems which increase their chances of electoral failure, but it’s probably not a brilliant thing overall for democracy.

Casting Off, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘I didn’t – but ages. He was sort of a friend of Angus’s.’

Once again I have hugely enjoyed this, the fourth volume of the Cazalet Saga, set in 1945-47, about an upper-class family recovering from the war, particularly concentrating on the women and especially on the three cousins Clary, Louise and Polly, though with one very sympathetic male character, Archie, who is a close family friend. The dismay of the slow realisation that life will not return to the old ways, encapsulated by the Labour election victory, rang very true, as did the disintegration of Louise’s marriage, clearly and painfully based on the author’s marriage to Peter Scott. There is one particularly lovely chapter about Polly unexpectedly finding her destiny, and the Archie/Clary thread twists through the book, along with many other sidetracks into the extended family. I don’t think you could read this without having read the previous three, but I do recommend them all. One left now, All Change; but you can get this one here.

Barnstormers: A Ballad of Love and Murder, by Tula Lotay and Scott Snyder

Second frame of Part 3:

Gorgeous story, set in 1923, where a stunt pilot and a runaway bride fly across the south-eastern United States, bringing havoc and romance in their wake. Tula Lotay’s art is particularly gorgeous and sensuous, and suits the sultry climate of the setting perfectly. There’s a Bonnie and Clyde vibe, and evil detectives, and everything. Great fun. You can get it here.

Lodestar Award 2024

Promises Stronger than Darkness by Charlie Jane Anders

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Two cute young Makvarians surround her and gaze adoringly while she keeps their cups overflowing with Yuul sauce. All three of them kiss each other with their mouths full of the spicy, tart liquor, in the gloomiest corner of the sleaziest nightclub at the bottom level of Vandal Station, the Bump Dump. Thaoh has attached new gems to her strong cheekbones and jaw, bigger than the ones Tina used to wear.

The Sinister Booksellers of Bath by Garth Nix 

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“That was stupid of me,” muttered the left-handed bookseller to himself. Hefting the William IV truncheon, he slowly turned on the spot, taking stock of his surroundings.

Unraveller by Frances Hardinge

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Maybe Nettle was right. Maybe they were heading to a new captivity. But at least they were doing so in style.

Abeni’s Song by P. Djèlí Clark

Second paragraph of third chapter:

But just as she had begun the face-off, the old woman ended it. Her eyes gave one last sweep across the village before making a loud humph! Without another word, she hiked up her long dress and started walking forward. No one got in her way—everyone moving quickly to let her pass. It wasn’t hard to tell where she was going, because her eyes were fixed on the large round building ahead.

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose

Second paragraph of third chapter:

But then Crow, who came flying to Masquapaug from the lands west of the sunset, taught the first people how to dance. Nampeshiwe’s Mother came to watch their dances. Nampeshiwe’s Mother said to the people, “Your dancing is beautiful. You must teach me your dancing. I would know how it is done.”

Liberty’s Daughter by Naomi Kritzer

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I was really surprised to hear from you, because Dad told me you were dead. Should I have thought of a more tactful way to say that?

Tuesday reading

Dangerous Waters, by Juliet E. McKenna
The Virgin In The Garden, by A.S. Byatt
The Death I Gave Him, by Em X. Liu

Last books finished
Ruby Red, by Georgia Cook
Fear of the Dark, by Trevor Baxendale
Bea Wolf, by Zach Weinersmith and Boulet
Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood, by Keith Temple
Ten Years to Save the West, by Liz Truss
Linghun by Ai Jiang
If Found Return to Hell, by Em X. Liu
Doctor Who: The Myth Makers, by Donald Cotton

Next books
The Myth Makers, by Ian Potter
The Combined 2001 Election, by NISRA
Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Electoral Laws and their Political Consequences, eds. Bernard Grofman and Arend Lijphart

When I finished the books on my shelves acquired in 2016, I knew I had mislaid several about elections and boundaries, and to my delight I located those a couple of weeks ago and am now going through them.

This is a collection of no less than 18 essays on electoral laws by the top-ranked political scientists of the day (early 1980s, published in 1986). All but one of the authors is male; all but one of the authors is white. The third chapter is a reflection by Maurice Duverger on “Duverger’s law”, first proposed by him forty years earlier, which pointed out (though in terms that are disputed) that majoritarian electoral systems tend to go with strong two-party political systems, whereas proportional electoral systems tend to go with multi-party political systems. The second paragraph of the third chapter, which includes a quote in the middle, is:

Certain errors of interpretation have resulted from my own tentative and imprecise formulations. An example is the alleged difference between “Duverger’s law” on the plurality rule’s tendency to create and maintain two-party systems and the “hypotheses” concerning the tendency toward multipartism of proportional representation and the two-ballot majority system, Riker’s (1982a; see also, chapter 1) analysis of this distinction is the most recent instance. In 1951, I did say in Political Parties that the former was “the closest to a sociological law among all the generalizations suggested in this book,” but this remark did not have the significance that was later attributed to it. It simply reflected my cautious attitude which was a reaction to the criticisms of the propositions that I first stated in 1945 at a conference at the University of Bordeaux (Duverger, 1946a, 1946b), where I presented the con-sequences of the three electoral systems as a “threefold sociological law.” I already discarded this expression in the paper presented at the 1950 Congress of the International Political Science Association which merely mentioned “three formulas” (Duverger et al., 1950, p. 13). But later I used it again in the first edition of my handbook Droit Constitutionel et Institutions Politiques which propounds “three sociological laws defining merely basic tendencies that interact with national and social factors” in terms which have hardly changed since then.

(1) Proportional representation tends to lead to the formation of many independent parties, . . . (2) the two-ballot majority system tends to lead to the formation of many parties that are allied with each other, . . . (3) the plurality rule tends to produce a two-party system (Duverger, 1955, p. 113).

In the more recent editions, the second law is formulated as follows: “The two-ballot majority system tends to produce multipartism tempered by alliances.”

The thing about Duverger’s ‘law’ is that it’s obviously true except when it isn’t. Majoritarian systems don’t always lead to concentration around two alternatives – Canada and India, and even the UK to an extent, have seen the two-party system rise and fall and rise again. And nobody ever mentions Malta, which despite having a proportional election system very similar to Ireland’s, has a rigid binary political divide – the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party between them have won literally every parliamentary seat since independence sixty years ago.

In general I found that the arguments here were largely in issues that I considered in my 20s, soon after the book was published, and a lot of it seemed very old-fashioned. There is a lot more experience of democratic systems now than there was in 1985, given that we have had an end to single-party politics in most of Eastern Europe, and the debate between whether proportional or majoritarian systems are better is basically over, after the failure of the 2011 referendum in the UK and the Trudeau government’s decision not to proceed with reforms in Canada in 2015. There’s also a lot of discussion of peculiar US electoral practices that the rest of the world is unlikely to copy.

Still, there were a couple of chapters that really stood out. One, by Gordon E. Baker, looked at the revolution in reapportionment in the US, and made the point that the shift to insisting on numerically equal populations in each state’s Congressional districts, plus various other contradictory court findings, has actually made it more difficult rather than easier to draw fair boundaries. Forty years on, I fear that this hasn’t changed. And Peter Mair has a lucid paper on gerrymandering in Ireland with multi-member constituencies and the Single Transferable Vote.

However, there’s also a crashingly unreadable review of (then) recent literature compiled by Taylor, Gudgin and Johnston (who were all capable of much better); and the most annoying thing about my 2003 reprint is that the OCR’ed typesetting has been poorly edited and the placement of the letter ‘f’ is irritatingly off-centre in the words “of” and “if”.

As I said, this is one of a cache of election-related books that I’m now going through. Next up is Comparing Democracies, edited by Lawrence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi and Pippa Norris. But you can get this one here.

Version 1.0.0

The best known books set in each country: Japan

See here for methodology.

Memoirs of a GeishaArthur Golden2,012,06236,568
Norwegian WoodHaruki Murakami613,48216,355
Kafka on the ShoreHaruki Murakami476,02518,153
PachinkoMin Jin Lee483,2666,599
1Q84Haruki Murakami262,1029,036
ShōgunJames Clavell185,3398,065
Before the Coffee Gets Cold Toshikazu Kawaguchi432,8993,125

If I had continued the listing, seven of the next eight books are by Haruki Murakami.

The only one of these that I have read is Memoirs of a Geisha and I was pretty unsatisfied by it. The rest all seem legit enough – they are set in Japan or somewhere like it. Before the Coffee Gets Cold starts in Korea but at a quick glance spends most of the book on the other side of the straits.

Next: the Philippines, but since next Sunday is the last day of the month when I will do my usual book round-up, that will be in two weeks’ time.

Doctor Who, “Season One”

OK, I can’t possibly not comment on the recently concluded first full series of stories featuring Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor and Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday. In summary, it srted a bit wobbly, had some super peaks in the middle, and ended (for me) a bit flat.

Ncuti Gatwa is great as the Doctor, and while I am of the old-school that prefers my Doctors not to have emotional vulnerability, I felt that he covered it off very well. Like all the lead actors so far, he is very watchable. The eye is drawn to him no matter where he is on the screen. I thought the chemistry with Gibson was great as well, and I am glad that she will still be around for at least some of the next series.

The two opening stories, both shown on Eurovision night six weeks ago, were OK but both were a bit silly. The actual premise of Space Babies is very silly indeed, but was executed with poker faces by all concerned. The flaw in the plot (alas, not the last time I will use that phrase) is that if Jocelyn has been hiding in a storage room all along, why did she not make herself known earlier?

Though it was good to see Golda Rosheuvel, the first of many excellent guest stars this series, Jocelyn here after enjoying her in the title role in Queen Charlotte. She was also a hospital doctor in two episodes of the second series of Torchwood.

Apparently a novelisation of Space Babies will be one of three published this summer, written by Angela Rumfitt who is a pioneer of the New Gross. Appropriate enough for a monster made of snot.

The Devil’s Chord has a really sinister plot, with music being removed from the world; Big Finish has sometimes dared to play with the soundscape of the fictional universe, but this is the first time that the TV show has really gone there. This time it was the execution that was a bit silly, with Jinkx Monsoon really chewing the scenery as the Maestro.

The returning figure from the show’s history that really took me by (pleasant) surprise was June Hudson, in her first appearance on screen at the age of ninety-something; she did all the costume design for late 1970s and early 1980s Who, and also for Blake’s 7. She is the only character actually killed in the 1963 part of the episode.

Then we get onto the good stuff, with a run of four brilliant episodes. Boom is not silly at all; it’s a tense story of potential sudden death in an awful war zone, where although we know that it’s only the third episode of eight in the season, the threat of disaster is real. Probably the darkest episode of the season.

The standout guest star is Varada Sethu, who is apparently joining next season as a new companion, but here playing the quietly desperate Mundy Flynn. She was great in Andor too.

I was in Glasgow planning the Worldcon for the showing of 73 Yards, and a bunch of us clustered together to watch it in someone’s room. This too was tremendous, a Doctor-lite episode that called on Gibson (who turned 20 last week) to portray her character aging through the decades, with one of those timey-wimey plots that can actually go awry rather easily but in this case didn’t.

This time the old school actor who I cheered for was Siân Phillips, who was of course Livia in I, CLAVDIVS, almost half a century ago, but has done some more recent Big Finish work as well. She too is in her nineties but clearly in her element as the sinister old woman in the pub.

Though I was also unnerved by the resemblance between Aneurin Barnard, as the fictional prime minister Roger ap Gwilliam, and Irakli Kobakhidze, who in real life is the prime minister of the Republic of Georgia.

73 Yards is also getting an early novelisation, this time by the series script editor Scott Handcock, who is a lovely chap though I have had mixed feelings about his previous books.

We watched Dot and Bubble in Antwerp before dental emergency brought a premature end to our romantic getaway three weeks ago. This was a return to the format of Blink, with the Doctor and Ruby participating in the story only by video until the end. Russell T. Davies doesn’t always get his social commentary right, but this was well done.

And full marks to Callie Cooke in her central role as Lindy Pepper-Bean. As she pointed out in the Unleashed episode following this, Carey Mulligan went on to big stardom after Blink. We’ll watch Callie Cooke with interest.

And the fourth in a good run of four episodes was Rogue, in which it turns out that aliens in the Doctor Who universe are also fans of Bridgerton. This had particularly good emoting from Ncuti Gatwa, suddenly taken by feelings for Jonathan Groff’s Rogue, but also had Millie Gibson playing Ruby pretending to be an alien pretending to be Ruby, and getting away with it. The contrast between spaceship and 1813 was well done.

Jonathan Groff of course was the very first King George in Hamilton, and so his voice was the first heard by the audience. I felt that (unlike Jinkx Monsoon) he avoided chewing the scenery here.

And I also cheered for Indira Varma, the Duchess here, but previously seen by me in Game of Thrones and the first season of Torchwood.

Rogue will also get the novelisation treatment, by the episode’s writers, Kate Herron and Briony Redman.

The Legend of Ruby Sunday summoned back lots of old favourites – UNIT, Mel, the recurrent character of Susan Twist, and most of all, Gabriel Woolf – another actor over the age of 90! – as Sutekh. It looked good, sounded good, and had a good twist, but there wasn’t a lot of substance; it was running around for the sake of running around. I hoped this would be put right this weekend.

And I’m afraid it wasn’t. Empire of Death was a real mess. The visuals were superb (as we have come to take for granted, now that we are Disneyfied), and the lead performances were great as usual. I also loved the explicit throwbacks to Pyramids of Mars, one of my favourite Old Who stories.

But the plot was very weak. As soon as people started disintegrating into dust, I knew that they would all be resurrected. Why should Sutekh care about Ruby’s unknown mother? (And indeed why could he not use the available technology to find her?) What was the point of the devastated future world with one inhabitant? And I missed the explanation of the snow, and of various other things.

I do have sympathy for the narrative of finding Ruby’s parents by DNA. My longer-term readers may recall that I myself identified the parents of a baby abandoned in a park in Philadelphia in 1917, using DNA samples and genealogy sites, who turned out to be a local musician and an airplane executive cousin of my grandmother’s; I’m in touch with the baby’s three children, now all in their 70s, and I have met with one of them and introduced her to other relatives.

I’ve also done it for another woman much closer to Ruby Sunday’s age, and for a couple of other cases that I have not reported here. So that’s one part of my own real life that I have now seen brought into a Doctor Who plot; and it could have been done much worse.

Still, I had been hoping for better.

Lots of people have been raking the episodes in order of preferences, so I will do the same.

  1. Dot and Bubble
  2. Rogue
  3. 73 Yards
  4. Boom
  5. The Devil’s Chord
  6. The Legend of Ruby Sunday
  7. Space Babies
  8. Empire of Death

King Albert I as “a railroad man”, and Herbert Hoover’s linguistic ability

In an insomniac moment recently, I hit upon the memoirs of Herbert Hoover as a potential cure. The second volume of three, which deals with the successful years of his political career, starts with him organising at very short notice a visit to California by King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians. This was in 1919, and the royals had arrived in Washington the very day that President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a cerebral haemorrhage, so all of their official engagements in the capital had been cancelled; and the King and Queen knew Hoover from the war, where he become famous for his role coordinating international aid for Belgium.

Hoover managed to get accommodation for the royals in Santa Barbara, by promising official Belgian awards to everyone who helped. This led to a political problem (pages 8-9):

From the City Hall we went to the Palace Hotel, where we had engaged rooms for the King’s use prior to a public luncheon in his honor… I had no sooner returned to the King’s rooms than the Mayor descended upon me with the Order of the Crown, second class—glittering star, red ribbon, and all—in his hand, and a troubled look. The King had just put it on him. And the very next day, he was coming up for reelection. He felt certain that if he faced over a thousand people and reporters at the luncheon with this display of feudalism on his breast, he would lose thousands of votes. It was an emergency that called for quick action.

I suggested to His Honor that certain European cities had been decorated for valor; Verdun, for example, had received the Croix de Guerre. Why should he not speak at the luncheon, refer to this precedent, and go on to grow eloquent over the great honor conferred on the City of San Francisco? The Mayor thought this a stroke of genius. When he rose to speak, he held up the Order for all to see and in most eloquent terms accepted it on behalf of the city of which he had the honor to be chief magistrate, I sat next to the King, who turned to me and said, sotto voce, in the colloquialism of his youthful period as an American railroad man:

“What in blank is he talking about?”

“Pay no attention to the Mayor,” I replied. “He has his troubles. I’ll explain later on.” Which I did. The King was so interested that he asked me to telegraph him the result of the election. I was happy to inform him next night that the Mayor had been retained in office by an unusually handsome majority.

I had forgotten this episode when later I was called on to serve as pallbearer at Mr. Rolph’s funeral—he died Governor of California. On his breast was the button of the Belgian Order of the Crown.

We can date this precisely, because official records indicate that the election for mayor of San Francisco was on 2 November 1919 and that James Rolph won it with the biggest majority of his five victories for that position. (His opponent was Handsome Gene Schmitz, who had been previously sacked as mayor and imprisoned for extortion in 1907.)

But I was intrigued by a couple of points here.

  • Surely Hoover would have spoken French well enough for the King to speak to him discreetly in that language rather then in colloquial English?
  • And what did Hoover mean by King Albert’s “youthful period as an American railroad man”?

The first question is easy to resolve from the first volume of Hoover’s memoirs. His linguistic gifts were in fact minimal. Although lists of presidential trivia celebrate him as the only Chief Executive who spoke Chinese, he himself is much more modest (p 36):

With a natural gift for languages she [Lou Hoover, his wife] made great progress in the most difficult tongue in the world. I never absorbed more than a hundred words. But all our life afterwards she kept that hundred words in use between us by speaking Chinese to me on sotto voce occasions.

As for French, he notes (p 20) that he studied both French literature (which he passed) and German (which he failed) at Stanford, where he was in the very first class after the university opened in 1891. But I suspect that this French literature course may have been in English. In 1899 in China (p. 36) he notes:

I had armed myself with a supply of cheap paper translations of Balzac, Dumas, Zola, Victor Hugo, Rousseau, and Montaigne, so that I made at least a beginning of an education in French literature. It subsequently traveled the more solid road of Voltaire, Mirabeau, the Encyclopedists, and the other Revolutionaries

There is no suggestion of his reading the books in the original.

Between 1907 and 1912, Herbert and Lou Hoover translated the Latin text De re metallica by Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer) into English. Hoover notes (p. 118) that he mainly worked on the technical terms, while “Mrs. Hoover’s ability to read German and some French helped greatly”, which suggests that he was not comfortable with either language. In 1915 in Paris, after a day of fruitless negotiation with the French government, he notes with relief (p. 169) the intervention of a banker, “an elderly and distinguished looking Frenchman, who spoke perfect English”.

Although most Americans of his class would have been taught some French at school, Hoover lost both his parents before his tenth birthday, was adopted by an uncle in Oregon and then dropped out of high school to work in the family business. And being taught a subject does not mean that you learn it. He must have had at least tourist level French, but it was clearly not a working language for him, any more than Chinese was.

Going back to the question of King Albert’s days “as an American railroad man” (my fingers itch when typing that word, for me of course it’s usually “railway”): this story was told by the King to Hoover at their the first meeting in person (p. 186 of Hoover’s first volume):

When he was heir apparent, after his education at Oxford, the old King Leopold had sent him to get some American experience under the tutelage of James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railway in which Leopold had a large interest. The Prince wanted no tourist visit, so he got from Mr. Hill a job as a fireman on the railway. He told me that it was the happiest period of his life. He even made up his mind to abandon his Belgian nationality and become an American. He was sure he would be promoted to be an engine driver in a few years and possibly a railroad president sometime. He thought either of them was a better job than that of being a king. Soon after he began to evidence such yearnings, the Belgian Minister at Washington turned up at Missoula and ordered him, on behalf of the King, to stop dreaming and go straight home. So ended his independence.

Well. The future King’s visit to America in March to June 1898 is very well documented – his diary (in French) has actually been published (with notes in Dutch, sorry). He went all over the country, from coast to coast, dipping into Mexico and Canada (and also visited two brothels in Seattle). James J. Hill and his sons are mentioned several times as offering him hospitality, but there is nothing about working as a fireman, and no mention of Missoula, Montana (the Great Northern Railway’s main junction point in the northwest).

I have not found any reliable record that Albert visited America other than in 1898 and 1919, and his life is pretty well documented. The story he told Hoover is simply inconsistent with his own diary of the trip. I think that he was playing a joke on Hoover in 1915, to exaggerate his affection for America. Obviously he did not say “what the blank…?” at the San Francisco lunch, but something much stronger. However there are plenty of other ways in which he could have picked up the English vernacular, including for instance the brothels in Seattle. So it’s a nice story, recounted by a king to a future president, but I suspect it is fictional.

The One, by Si Spurrier et al

Second frame of third section:

Next in the Year Two sequence of Eleventh Doctor comics from Titan, following from The Then and the Now, with Abslom Daak, the mysterious Squire and Alice the librarian now joined by River Song to work out what the Doctor was up to during the Time War. Some great references to past stories, though I’m a little uneasy with the somewhat harsher characterisation of the Doctor. Scrapes through the Bechdel test.

You can get it here.

Flying from Malone: Belfast’s First Civil Aerodrome, by Guy Warner

Second paragraph of third section:

This had been the case in June 1921, when Alan Cobham had arrived initially “in a field near Balmoral where an aeroplane had once landed”, off-loaded a quantity of The Times and had then flown to join the other three aircraft at Aldergrove for re-fuelling. Noel Smith was taken to inspect a possible landing ground at Balmoral and had commented that the ground had seemed a bit soft, especially for heavy aeroplanes. He added that the maximum dimensions of an airfield need be no more than 800 yards square and that pilots overflying the city had been instructed by the Air ministry to keep their eyes open for likely sites.

This is a very short book on the brief moment in 1922-23 when Belfast had the first municipal airfield in the UK, on the land that is now the Taughmonagh housing estate at the top of the Malone Road. (Oddly enough, I attended Taughmonagh school for a couple of years when I was very little.) The money to make it operational was invested by the city council (then known as the Corporation) and there were regular flights to Liverpool and then to Glasgow.

It was opened with much fanfare, the Lord Mayor of Belfast making the inaugural flight to Liverpool and back. But this was not the easy “hop into the air, point in the right direction, land safely” routine that we’re used to now. This map gives a sense of how pilots had to navigate by landmarks, which meant of course that they needed to stay below cloud level.

The idea was to cut the Belfast to Liverpool journey to an hour and a half from the all-day or overnight boat journey, shipping mail, newspapers and the occasional brave person to England and then to Scotland. But the market was not strong, and facilities at the Liverpool end notably poor – although the planes took off from Aintree racecourse, they then had to land again at Southport beach for mail and newspapers.

The Malone airfield lasted for just a year. The Taughmonagh ground was soggy and muddy, and the weather was terrible. There were no catastrophic accidents, but the small planes of the day got tossed around by the wind when they landed. Warner does not put it in these terms, but I suspect the pilots hated it and didn’t want to fly there. The Aldergrove airfield, now Belfast International Airport, was much better, and there were already plans to create reclaimed land on the shore of Belfast Lough for the site where what is now Belfast City Airport (aka George Best) was eventually built in the 1930s.

Again, Warner doesn’t put it in these terms, but this was obviously a prestige project set up by the municipal government and in particular by the new Lord Mayor, William Turner, immediately after Partition and the creation of the Irish Free State, to tie Belfast and Northern Ireland more tightly to the UK and to escape Dublin. For most of the twelve months that the airfield operated, the Civil War was raging on the other side of the Border. Turner got a knighthood out of it in 1924.

This is a nice wee book, lavishly illustrated with contemporary photographs and newspaper clippings, and not too difficult to get second hand, especially from sellers who have signed up for EU VAT…

Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Собирать гардероб пришел Дворник Маркел. Он привел с собой шестилетнюю дочь Маринку. Маринке дали палочку ячменного сахара. Маринка засопела носом и, облизывая леденец и заслюнявленные пальчики, насупленно смотрела на отцову работу.The yard porter Markel came to put the wardrobe together. He brought along his six-year-old daughter Marinka. Marinka was given a stick of barley sugar. Marinka snuffed her nose and, licking the candy and her slobbery fingers, watched frowningly as her father worked.
translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari

I first read this at least 35 years ago, possibly longer, and my copy still smells of the mildewy second-hand bookshop where I got it, probably in Cambridge. It’s a great book. There’s a wonderful human story in the transition from the fading empire to the brutality of the Communist regime, with people clinging to what crumbs of comfort they can, especially each other.

Although the title of the book is Doctor Zhivago, it’s just as much Lara’s story; she’s there at the beginning and the end, and has a more complicated life, with the climax of the story coming when three of her lovers end up in the same place at almost the same time. A lot of her story is unstated – for instance, when she is first seduced by Komarovsky, it happens entirely off screen, where most writers today would go into explicit erotic detail about the encounter. But we know perfectly well what has happened.

There is also a tremendous sense of place. Moscow, the steppes, the fictional towns that Yuri and Lara end up living in, are all vividly described, and although if you’re not used to Russian nomenclature you can get lost among the characters (most of whom have at least three completely different modes of address), you can’t get lost among the locations.

I haven’t seen the film (which lost the Best Oscar to The Sound of Music, though it won just as many awards on the night), and given that it’s three hours long, I am a little intimidated; but I really enjoyed revisiting the book after a third of a century. You can get it here.

This was the top book on my shelves that I had previously read but not reviewed here, and is not by Terry Pratchett. Next on that pile is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.