8) Ersatz Nation by Tim Kenyon. Another one of the ones sent me for review by Infinity Plus but I think I need to rant here about it before writing something more sober. The main character’s lover gets kidnapped by the villains at some point we don’t hear about and gets rescued at the end. The other main character is estranged from his wife at the start of the book and inexplicably reconciles with her half way through. The setting of the parallel world is completely unbelievable; we never find out enough about the motivation and means of the villainous computer in charge (itself taken straight from The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés I.10, I.12, I.43, III.59 and IV.51). I’m simply stunned that a quick Google turned up only one review that is as negative as mine is going to be and several glowingly positive ones.
Monthly Archives: November 2003
Message from a candidate
Back in April I received the following amusing message from a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly from one of the small Unionist parties:
I NOTE THAT YOUR COMMENTS RE ASSEMBLY ELECTION IN [constituency] STATE THAT THE [party deleted] SEAT WILL FALL FOR SURE. I PRESUME YOU ARE REFERRING TO ME. THIS IS PROBABLY THE ONE ELECTION WHICH NO ONE CAN PREDICT. I HEARD AND READ THE SAME SILLY PREDICTIONS IN 1998 WHEN I STOOD ON POLICIES THAT THE ELECTORATE CLEARLY IDENTIFIED WITH.THESE POLICIES I WOULD SUGGEST ARE VIEWED EVEN MORE FAVOURABLY TODAY AMONG THE UNIONIST ELECTORATE. SOMETHING THAT U DONT APPEAR TO EVEN CONSIDER IN YOUR SHALLOW ANALYSIS. I HAVE NEVER SAID HOW I WILL DO IN ANY ELECTIONS AND I WILL NOT START NOW . I WILL LEAVE THAT TO THE SO CALLED EXPERTS, SAD ANORAKS AND KNOW ALLS. I NOTE THAT U ONLY DESCRIBE DAVID FORD OF THE ALLIANCE PARTY AS VULNERABLE.IF YOU HAVE GAGED THE POLITICAL MOOD AMONG THE ELECTORATE AT ALL YOU WOULD HAVE TO ADMIT THAT THE ALLIANCE PARTY MAY SUFFER CONSIDERABLY . I NOTE THAT U SAY THE ALLIANCE PARTY WILL WIN A SEAT IN SOUTH BELFAST .ON WHAT LOGIC DO U BASE THIS ? I SUGGEST U BE FAIR IN YOUR ANALYSIS AND DONT BASE YOUR PREDICTIONS ON SENTIMENT. I WOULDNT GIVE UP YOUR DAYTIME JOB JUST YET FOR A JOB AS GYPSY ROSY LEE’S REPLACEMENT ON BLACKPOOL PIER. LETS HAVE SOME BALANCE AND LESS BIAS.. YOURS SINCERELY [name deleted].
To which I sent this reply:
Dear [name deleted],
Thanks for your feedback.
I can only call the results as I see them, and of course I am conscious that any predictions may well be confounded by the electorate. It is a matter of public record that my own forecasts have gone wrong on occasion in the past, and certainly I admit to being one of those who did not foresee your victory in 1998.
Nor do I say that the Alliance Party “will” win a seat in South Belfast; I note that they “can” win a seat there, rather a different statement, and heavily qualified by my own declared preference.
You will, I hope, be pleased to know that in our book to be launched next week we note that [your party] got a higher percentage poll in [your constituency] in 2001 than in any other constituency. However a fair commentator would have to note that the combined total of 1300 votes [in the local elections] is still barely a fifth of the way to a quota.
Best wishes for the future,
PS: I advise you not to send emails exclusively in capital letters – it looks as if you are SHOUTING. But perhaps it was intentional on your part.
It breaks my heart to have to reveal that he got a mere 2% of the votes in last week’s election, and was eliminated on the fourth count. Unfortunately he lost his seat to the DUP rather than someone better!
It’s been a heck of a week. apart from the dismal result of the Croatian elections and the revolution in Georgia, the peace process in Moldova went into meltdown on Tuesday (completely unreported in the Western media as far as I could tell) so work has been pretty hectic – I took my eye off the ball for a number of routine but necessary admin things which I will now have to catch up with.
And of course the elections back home as well interfered with my sleep all week as I prepped my website for the vote on Wednesday and the count on Thursday and Friday. And Friday afternoon at work was a complete dead loss as I desperately waited for news of my former party colleagues, who all seemed to be struggling to get in – and astonishingly all six were elected, by the skin of their teeth in one or two cases.
This probably all means something but I need to go and reacquaint my family with my existence, and then catch up on sleep.
We took F and U to the Toy Museum in Mechelen today (Bridget is in the respite place) but it was a bit of a washout; all the nicest toys frustratingly behind glass and inaccessible. Frankly F got more fun out of MacDonalds on the way there… U was asleep and anyway it would be a bit lost on her.
Georgia: Good. Croatia: Bad. Northern Ireland: wait and see.
November Books 7) The Separation, and website update
7) The Separation by Christopher Priest – excellent stuff, dopplegangers, altered timelines and the second world war, as if Philip K Dick had been English and sober.
Website – 120 predictions of the election results now – whew!
შევარდნაძე is Shevardnadze in Georgian
So I went into work yesterday, hoping to clear the paper on Georgia that has been hanging around for too long off my desk.
I expected that the opposition would fail; the paper was written mostly before the 2 November elections, updated later, and took the line that we had to start planning now for Shevardnadze to leave office in 2005, at the planned end of his presidential term.
By lunchtime I was practically finished. I’d been talking to our man on the ground in Tbilisi off and on all morning (having been there myself for a couple of days in July), and reckoned that if the new session of parliament was successfully opened then it was all over for the revolution. Once I heard that Shevardnadze had started speaking I began to clear up my things.
And then Andrew, our media officer, who was also at work and was tuned to CNN, yelled down the hall for me not to leave. As the whole world now knows, the president got only a few sentences into his speech before the opposition broke into the chamber and he had to be rushed away by his bodyguards. Even more significantly (though less reported on the news) the opposition has apparently also got control of the Chancellery, ie the President’s office. I think this makes their takeover irreversible (though I’ve been wrong about Georgia before).
So looks like that’s it for Shevardnadze. He was far from the most oppressive of post-Soviet rulers, with little ideological difference between him and his opponents – the fact that Georgia has a pretty free media was obvious from the way yesterday’s events were covered by well-position local journalists who will have (hopefully) made a fortune as their live feeds were bought by the world’s TV. But he ran a hopelessly corrupt system and appeared incapable of reform of any kind. The new government will face contested legitimacy of their own rule, contested sovereignty over parts of their own country and a desperate population hungry for food and jobs.
Georgian joke (as told by me to Ken MacLeod):
What did we use for lighting before we had candles?
If you go to http://www.thisdayinmusic.com you can find out what was at number one in the charts in both Britain and the US the day you were born.
In my case it’s “Somethin’ Stupid” for both sides of the Atlantic, sung by Frank and Nancy Sinatra.
They also suggest (for those born too early) that you can go for your 18th birthday to find out your “life’s theme song”.
In my case that’s “One More Night” by Phil Collins (US) and “We Are The World” by USA for Africa (UK).
Actually I’d rather have either of those than “Somethin’ Stupid” as my theme song…
This kind of thing fascinates me
According to http://www.paulsadowski.com/birthday.asp:
I was born on a Wednesday
under the astrological sign Taurus.
My Life path number is 8.
The Julian calendar date of my birth is 2439606.5.
The golden number for 1967 is 11.
The epact number for 1967 is 19.
The year 1967 was not a leap year.
As of 11/20/2003 11:39:52 AM CST
I am 36 years old.
I am 439 months old.
I am 1,908 weeks old.
I am 13,357 days old.
I am 320,579 hours old.
I am 19,234,779 minutes old.
I am 1,154,086,792 seconds old.
There are 158 days till my next birthday
and 35 days till Christmas!
The moon’s phase on the day I was
born was waning gibbous.
…must start planning a party for when I am 20,000,000 minutes old…
First real kiss: Deirdre who grabbed me at a school disco. Nothing came of it; she was going out with someone else at the time.
First job: Got a pittance on a Northamptonshire archaeology site in autumn 1985 during my year off.
First screen name: nhw14 I think. Certainly nhw** where the number was in the low teens. Back in the old days of Cambridge University's Phoenix.
First self-purchased album: Alan Parsons Project, The Turn of a Friendly Card. No idea where it is now.
First funeral: My paternal grandmother's when I was twelve.
First pets: Never had any of my own as a child, though there were rabbits and cats in the family by my late teens and we briefly had a kitten last year until it ran away.
First piercing: None.
First true love: Sue, who lasted for five years (1983-88). She's married to one of my best friends from college now.
First big trip: The first real adventure was hitching from Cologne to Stuttgart in the summer of 1985. Linked up with a Thai student who spoke no German (though claimed to be fluent in four Asian languages). Took us ten hours.
Last big car ride: driving to Ireland and back last summer.
Last kiss: This morning.
Last good cry: I shed a tear or two when Zoran Djindjic was shot in March. Before that, when U was born in December.
Last movie seen: Terminator 3, while flying back from Washington last month.
Last beverage drank: Large glass of cold water.
Last food consumed: Tuna and mayo sandwich for lunch.
Last phone call: Ekrem, a Kosovo journalist, looking for a quote (I gave him a slightly different one from what he was expecting).
Last TV show watched: University Challenge on Monday night.
Last shoes worn: My new brown work shoes.
Last CD played: The Dire Straits album I have in the car.
Last item bought: probably the grovery shopping on Saturday.
Last soda drank: Ice tea with my sandwich.
Last ice cream eaten: Over lunch on Thursday last week.
Last shirt worn: Blue.
An offer I couldn’t possibly refuse!
Received an email just now:
We look forward to seeing you at our Breakfast Meeting tomorrow morning (19 November) with the Foreign Minister of Andorra, Mr Juli Minoves at the Xxx Hotel, Brussels from 08h00 to 09h30.
We would like to offer you a place at the Head Table on this occasion with the Foreign Minister. On registration one of our staff will be waiting to escort you to your place.
If for any reason you are unable to attend we would be grateful it you could let us know in advance as a courtesy to our distinguished speaker as well as for logistical reasons.
With best regards, etc etc
Well, that gives me an incentive to get up early in time for the meeting. I guess they must be scraping the bottom of the barrel for semi-presentable people to sit at the top table. Just hope he speaks English…
November Books 6) Double Star
6) Double Star by Robert Heinlein. Read it on my Palm Pilot thanks to getting the electronic version at Fictionwise. Of course it’s The Prisoner of Zenda with spaceships, but I was interested to notice just how much of the plot was subsequently ripped off for the Kevin Kline/Sigourney Weaver movie Dave. Also his choice of the Dutch royal family as supreme rulers of the solar system gave me some private amusement given my own occasional contacts with the real Dutch royals. But what really grabbed me was Heinlein’s effortless portrayal of grand political ideas, and indeed an election campaign, as background material to the main story. Compare with Philip K Dick’s Cantata 140 which I recently reviewed for Infinity Plus, with one of the least realistically portrayed election campaigns I have ever encountered in literature. A very good read and worthy Hugo winner.
November Books 5) Why Is Sex Fun?
5) Why is Sex Fun? by Jared Diamond – still no really satisfying answer to the question of why men don’t lactate, except that we don’t.
A few years back I was at a talk by Misha Glenny, who is best known for his writings about the Balkans. He waxed lyrical about his childhood discovery of the Balkans through Tintin’s adventures in Syldavia, particularly in King Ottakar’s Sceptre first published in 1939. But then he finished with a riff about how the Cold War would have treated Syldavia; probably it ended up as effectively a US protectorate, with history of suspicion of the Communist neighbours in Borduria and mutual ill-treatment of each other’s respective minorities.
As I came back from Vienna yesterday I passed by the huge model Tintin rocket in the airport (which is itself something of an icon of Belgian culture) and it occurred to me that of course Syldavia had a space programme, as told in Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon from 1953 and 1954. I was thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be interesting to set a short story of someone investigating, perhaps even trying to revive the Syldavian space programme from half a century ago?
This was on my mind as I drove across Brussels today for a lunch, and to my surprise I found that I ended up sitting opposite the very same Misha Glenny. He was delighted with the concept, and more or less gave me his blessing for it. Now I just have to find some time to write it up… but it’s a good excuse to go out and stock up on Tintin (as if having a literate four-year-old weren’t excuse enough).
November Books 3) City of Saints and Madmen 4) Floater
3) City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer – excellent, though I now realise I have only the short version. City narratives are always great (China Miéville being the most recent specialist; I finished reading this book in Vienna, home of The Drawing of the Dark and The Third Man) but VanderMeer plays all kinds of fascinating mind games with the reader here – the fact that Ambergris boasts a bookshop called Borges is clue enough.
4) Floater by Lucius Shepard – sent to me for review by Infinity PLus, so can’t say too much here; Shepard’s typical lush sexy tropical prose, though this time set in contemporary New York.
Well, managed to find the new printing of Christopher Priest’s The Separation in the American bookshop, so not a complete waste of time…
Actually that’s a bit unfair. I’d given up on this conference last night, but this morning’s session on the EU was very good. I asked in German wheher the panellists agreed with me that English was becoming the dominant language in EU foreign policy, and if so how important it was. One of them told me over lunch a hair-raising story from Bosnia where lives had been endangered because the helicopter pilots didn’t speak English.
And a jolly pleasant dinner last night with three Macedonians. Good stuff.
New year resolution – November books 1) American Gods 2) Sandman IV
I resolved a week ago that as a Celtic New Year resolution I would record at least the names of the books I read as I finish them, along with maybe a thought or two about them.
I was working so hard on both work stuff and the elections site all last week that it was Saturday night/Sunday morning before I finished reading anything. So for the record, the two books I did read are:
1) Neil Gaiman, American Gods – rereading for the third time, to review it for my other website
2) Neil Gaiman, Sandman IV: Season of Mists – am working through these one by one, and fascinated by the way he has managed to meld the plotlines together. Am off to Vienna later today and hope to pick up Vol V in the (excellent) American bookshop while there.
And a whole box of books from Infinity Plus just came through the door while I was typing this. Excellent.
After months of work in what I laughingly call my spare time, the great elections website update is complete, and more than a dozen people have already tried predicting the election results.
It’s really just a sad little hobby but just now it feels like a public service!
No big surprise
"You should never be cowed by authority. Except, of course, in this instance, where I am clearly right and you are clearly wrong."
What "Buffy" Character Are You?
Of the four members of the Queen’s University of Belfast team in University Challenge back in 1994, three are Alliance Party candidates in the coming Assembly election: Kathy Ayers in West Belfast, Pete Whitcroft in Newry and Armagh, and Stephen Farry in North Down.
And as for the captain of the team? Well, he emigrated to Belgium and now has a livejournal…
Back in the spring of 1998, when I was sort of half way between jobs in Banja Luka, I set up a website dealing with the 1998 elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I’ve just finished the more or less final version of a major upgrade which included a British government grant and two research assistants, and I’m rather pleased with it. Also it’s just in time for the elections to the next Assembly due at the end of November. The site now has over 200 pages and lives on a special server in Derry (having originally been based in Vancouver and then moved to Seattle and Las Vegas, where my home page still resides). A feeling of accomplishment though I expect it will be a tough November what with work and the elections simultaneously.