Big Brother

Fortunately, living where I do I have no access to the UK’s Big Brother on TV, and better things to do on the internet than follow it there. But, from the little that I have picked up unintentionally from other sources, it sounds to me like this year’s series is very heavily manipulated by the producers, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that the contestants had been promised bonus payments for extreme behaviour, in order to get higher ratings. As far as I know the Flemish Big Brother stopped after the second series. (Is it still the case the the UK is the only country where they’ve had a Big Brother contest where no contestants have had sex with each other on the programme? If so, presumably the producers want to “improve” their record.)

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Clique lists

A clique presumably being a group of people who have all friended each other. Slightly surprised and amused by this result:

I am a member of 2 cliques of size 7

  • , , , , , ,
  • , , , , , ,

Find the largest clique containing:
(Enter your livejournal username here).

So, I hope to see you all during the first three weeks of August, when I’ll be in Loughbrickland with my family!

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Gmail update

I’ve been having great fun uploading all my mail archives from 2002 and 2001 onto my gmail account. Found a webpage advising how to do it from Eudora, and an actual application for Netscape. It will be a gradual process but I expect to complete, oh, this month. The one problem is that the transferred messages acquire the date you transferred them, not the original date of sending, but that’s less of a big deal than I thought – if an email message is old, it’s old, and it’s still possible to retrieve the orignal date with a little digging if you actually need it.

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June Books 11) On Basilisk Station

11) On Basilisk Station, by David Weber.

Another book that I read on my Palm Pilot in traffic jams over the last few days, then got to an exciting bit and finished it in bed last night and over lunch today. Not much more to say than that. Weber gets good marks for attempting to portray a gender-neutral society, good marks for thoughtful commentary on management styles, drastically off-set by very poor marks for a childish right-wing political perspective, also poor marks for flagging the climax of the final space battle in the second chapter, and very poor marks indeed for massacring the natives. I’m glad it’s free; I would have regretted paying money for it, but will now read the sequel to see if it gets any better.

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Language quiz: The answers

Well, without doing invidious things like actually giving the full scores, the honours are equally shared between and with 11 correct answers each. Special mention to who was the only person to get the Azeri correct. Congratulations to all who took part. Full details:

1) Aide AIAI à attraper toutes les bananes. Bonne chance! – French. Everyone got this including one person who didn’t bother answering any others.
2) Hilf AIAI alle Bananen einzusammeln. Viel Glück! – German. Everyone who answered got this.
3) Help AIAI om alle bananen te verzamelen. Succes! – Dutch. Again, everyone who answered got this.
4) Aiuta AIAI a raccogliere tutte le banane. Buona fortuna! – Italian. Correctly answered by , , , , , , (who has an unfair advantage), , , and .
5) Ajutaţi-l pe AIAI să adune toate bananele. Succes! – Romanian. Correctly answered by , , , , and . A difficult one.
6) Hjálpaðu AIAI að safna saman öllum banönunum. Gangi þer vel! – Icelandic. Correctly answered by , , , , and .
7) Hjälp AIAI samla alla bananer. Lycka till! – Swedish. Correctly answered by , , , , and.
8) Ajuda AIAI a col.lectar els plàtans. Sort! – Catalan. Correctly answered by , , , , , and .
9) Ayuda a AIAI a atrapar todos los plátanos. ¡Buena suerte! – Spanish. Correctly answered by , , , , , , , , , and .
10) Ajuda AIAI colha todas es bananas. Boa Sorte! – Portuguese. Correctly answered by , , , , , and .
11) Tüm muzlan toplaması için AIAI-a yardım edin. Bol şans! – Turkish. Correctly answered by , , , , and .
12) AIAI-ə bütün bananları yığmağa kömək edin. Uğurlar! – Azeri. Correctly answered only by .
13) Hjælp AIAI med at samle alle bananerne. Held og lykke! – Danish. Correctly answered by , , and .
14) Hjelp AIAI fang alle bananene. Lykke til! – Norwegian. Correctly answered by , , , and .
15) დასმარება AiAi მოაგროვეთ ყველი ბანანი. აბა იცით! – Georgian. Correctly answered by , , , , and .

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June Books 10) Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord Of The Rings

10) Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord Of The Rings, by Lin Carter, updated by Adam Roberts

The first of my latest review package from infinity plus. Alas, my review will not be a whole-heartedly enthusiastic one; the thirty-five years that have passed since original publication have made this a book more for the completist than for the casual researcher. Oh well, I will write about it at greater length elsewhere.

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Languages quiz

We went to McDonald’s for lunch, and the children got a nice little video game with instructions in thirty-four different languages. I was so amused by this that I’m going to turn it into a set of pages for my website, but in the meantime I thoght I’d try it out as my first ever livejournal poll (will give the answers in a few days):

In each case, the phrase roughly translates as “Help AIAI collect all the bananas. Good luck!”

I warn you, it gets more difficult as you go along…


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June books 9) Avonturen van een Nederbelg

9) Avonturen van een Nederbelg: Een Nederlander ontdekt België by Derk-Jan Eppink

Derk-Jan Eppink is a Dutch journalist who covers Belgian politics for one of the main Flemish papers, De Standaard. He bills himself as the first Dutchman since 1830 to have taken a serious interest in Belgium, which can’t be entirely true, but he writes very amusingly about it. I learnt more about this country from this book in the last week than I had done over the rest of the five years we have been living here.

His first couple of chapters will endear him to his Flemish readers, as he lays into the Dutch for their uptight, complacent attitudes (and particularly into the Hague, where he had spent his previous journalistic career). Then in 1995 he moves to Belgium, and tries to get to grips with a completely different political culture, where “you don’t see things that are there, and you see things that aren’t there”, where “a detour is the quickest way to your destination”.

On a weekend visit to a prominent politician, Eppink is horrendously embarrassed by his own poor riding skills. Meeting the Queen of the Belgians, Eppink’s bow tie almost falls off and he is horrendously embarrassed (especially when it does fall off a few seconds after their conversation finishes). When he drops in on ex-Prime Minister Mark Eyskens (a nice guy who I’ve met through work) in his seaside cottage, a financial scandal breaks and Eppink is horrendously embarrassed. Covering a cycle race with two visiting Spanish journalists, their driver turns out to be utterly incompetent and… you get the idea.

Self-righteousness rather than embarrassment creeps into the longest chapter in the book, about his relationship with Guy Verhofstadt who has been Belgian Prime Minister since 1999. He chronicles Verhofstadt’s rise to power within his own party, his disappointment in the 1995 elections, and his victory in 1999, helped by the previous government’s mishandling of the Dutroux case and the chicken scandal. This is punctuated by a series of rows between him and Verhofstadt, each of which is resolved over lunch in an Italian restaurant near the Belgian parliament. (Oddly enough the one restaurant they go to which isn’t Italian, La Rotonde, is one I often went to in my previous job, as long as someone else was buying lunch; my then boss was the brother of the publisher of this book.)

So a fun book, about politics, about journalism, about the clash of cultures “divided by a common language” (gescheiden door een gemeenschappelijke taal), a little bit about what it means to be European, a lot about how the Flemings look to a sympathetic outsider. (Eppink actually lives in Leuven, not far from here.) I enjoyed it.

Finally, I’m very pleased with myself for reading a whole 240 pages of book in another language. I haven’t done that since my then girlfriend persuaded me to read L’Étranger by Albert Camus in about 1987. And I haven’t had to read anything in Dutch (other than official forms and children’s school reports) since 1980. Large parts of this book are untranslatable, rather like the word “ilunga” from the Tshiluba language, so it will remain inaccessible to most of the world. But I think he was really only writing for this small country, and for its even smaller number of fans from outside.

Books to read

Someone whose website I linked to from the Hugo reviews page just emailed to say that she doesn’t really read much science fiction but she would really recommend this related book called In Code by Sarah Flannery (see her review).

I had the immense satisfaction of being able to reply that since In Code is dedicated to my brother, I more or less had to read it. (And indeed, it is a good book.)

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Things you find in books

The Wall Street Journal has an article about things you find in second-hand books. I can’t quite manage that but I did once find a letter from Arthur Cayley (who invented group theory) to John Couch Adams (who nearly discovered the planet Neptune) about how they were going to rig that year’s elections to the Royal Astronomical Society (probably 1860 or so), tucked inside a journal in the University Library in Cambridge. I told the authorities and they filed it in the archives.

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June books 6) Turkey Travelogue, 7) Beasts & Super-Beasts, 8) Reginald in Russia

My reading habits this month have been a bit uncharacteristic. I decided to try and take a month off written sf, but have spent so long stuck in traffic jams in the morning that I read both Gather, Darkness! and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom on my Palm Pilot while waiting for the car in front to move. In fact that is not all; I managed another three e-books in the last couple of weeks, and still hope to finish Plato’s Republic. The paper books I’m currently reading are Bruce Feiler’s Walking the Bible, Lin Carter’s Tolkien, and Dirk Jan Eppink’s Nederbelg, all three non-fiction. And the three paper books I’ve read this month are one literary biography, one contemporary history, and one classic (non-sf) novel.

Anyway, the three e-books I have read are:

6) A Turkey Travelogue, by Mark Leeper. Irritatingly formatted so that each day was a single huge long paragraph (the various web versions seem better). Reading about other people’s holidays, especially if you don’t know them, is less boring than reading about their dreams, but more boring than reading about their sex lives. I suspect that Evelyn Leeper’s diary of the same trip is more interesting (I’ve only skimmed it on the odd website). Mostly the observations are fairly standard, and the short sentences give the narrative a rather irritating staccato feel, but I got the feeling towards the end that he was waxing lyrical, in passages such as:

Years ago when we visited a place that no longer exists by the name of Leningrad we went to see a dance show. They were folk dances and at the height of the dance they brought a bear onto the stage. We really enjoyed the night. Since then my acid test for a dance piece is would it be improved by bringing a bear onto the stage. Few pieces of modern dance can stand up to the bear test.

7) Beasts and Super-Beasts by Saki. Just fantastic. Starts off with “The She-Wolf”, in which a supposed practitioner of Siberian magic gets his comeuppance. Includes also such highlights as “The Open Window” and “The Story-Teller”.

8) Reginald In Russia, also by Saki. Apart from the title story, contains little information about Russia or Reginald. Not as good as the other collection. Does have one or two stories of interest for my work, eg “The Lost Sanjak” and “The Soul of Laploshka” (“Laploshka said nothing, but his eyes bulged a little and his cheeks took on the mottled hues of an ethnographical map of the Balkan Peninsula.”).

All three are available for free from Project Gutenberg.

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Ten awful puns

I warn you, these are bad…

  1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”
  2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says “Dam!”.
  3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
  4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says “I’ve lost my electron,” The other says “Are you sure?” The first replies “Yes, I’m positive.”
  5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
  6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. “But why?” they asked, as they moved off. “Because”, he said, “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”
  7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named “Ahmal.” The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him “Juan.” Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, “They’re twins! If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Ahmal.”
  8. These friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to “persuade” them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he’d be back if they didn’t close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.
  9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him …(Oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good)….. A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
  10. And finally, there was the person who posted ten different puns to his livejournal, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make the people on his friends list laugh. No pun in ten did!

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Fair enough

I have the usual Celtic tendency to cheer anyone who is playing against England. And also I enjoyed the hospitality of the Government of Croatia at a very fine embassy reception in Tervuren immediately before the match. But to be perfectly honest, England played better and Croatia deserved to lose.

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Thank you Keith

Waiting for me this morning, to review for infinity plus:

The Holy Machine, Chris Beckett; River of Gods, Ian McDonald; Newton’s Wake, Ken MacLeod; Jupiter: Ganymede Spring 2004; The Human Abstract, George Mann; Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings, Lin Carter; Beyond Infinity, Gregory Benford; and Cartomancy, Mary Gentle.

[edit: , thanks for pointing out my typing slip!]

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Evil EU migration policy

On the whole we love living in Belgium. But we have just been reminded how lucky we are to come from the right end of Europe.

Our former au pair just dropped by. She’s Bulgarian, has been studying at Leuven since she moved out of here in September last year, despite not having a student visa in the hope that eventually her application for temporary residence would be processed by the bureaucrats and she’d be allowed to stay.

She came around to say goodbye. She was told on Thursday that her application had been turned down and she had five days to leave the country.

The EU’s visa policy towards both the newly joined ten member states and the prospectives like Bulgaria is deeply stupid, offensive and counterproductive. At least I have the satisfaction of having said so in public, in my old job (PDF) and my current one (HTML). What good does it do to bar motivated, intelligent, honest people like A. from contributing to our society? Why do our governments insist on empowering the people traffickers and penalising the law-abiding traveller?

The only politician I’ve ever heard talking sense on this issue was Pat Cox, and he has now stood down from the European Parliament. I appreciate that my view is not the same as what we are told is the general view of the public, but I would like to see a little more courage from our politicians on this one.

Meanwhile I hope it won’t be too long before we can welcome A. back into our house. She is a smart, hard-working young woman, was the best of the three au pairs we have had, and deserved to be treated better than that by the Belgian state.

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Gaps in the map

My recent trip to Russia fills in a big chunk of map:

Now I just need to get invited to Albania and Turkey, the two most embarrassing remaining gaps.

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Hugo nominees

I’ve posted this on my web-site as it’s very long; but if you’d like to see it in livejournal format,

The 2004 Hugo Nominees (fiction)


A mega-meta-review

Repeating last year’s successful effort, I have read all the Hugo fiction nominees. (And finished a week earlier than last year, as well.) This is a mega-meta-review, a set of links to other people’s reviews with my own comments interspersed. Feedback is most welcome.

Best Novel


See also Richard Horton’s rasfw survey of the nominees in this category. Summary: two near-future stories of sort-of First Contact with non-humans on a parallel world; one classic fantasy; one cyberpunkish space opera; and one far future science fiction-meets-classical-mythology hybrid.

5) Humans by Robert J. Sawyer. This is the sequel to last year’s winner, Hominids, which I personally thought was the weakest of the nominees. Sawyer has repeated the performance. The book takes forward the story of contact between our world and a parallel universe where Neanderthals rather than homo sapiens survived and became civilised. The Neanderthal civilisation, which has become hi-tech without industrialisation, is completely implausible both technologically and socially. Sawyer’s comments on sex, politics and religion are below the level of an earnest undergraduate. The prose is wooden and clunking. Presumably local advantage will not be as much in Sawyer’s favour as it was at last year’s Toronto-based WorldCon (though Boston is worryingly close to Canada…)


My view is a minority one. Velvet Delorey in the Made in Canada Newsletter, John C. Snider in scifdimensions and Joe Murphy on the Dragon Page loved it. Asta Sinusas in SFRevu, Jonathan Cowie, Jerry Wright in Bewildering Stories, Timeshredder of Bureau 42, Wesley Williamson of BookLoons and Terry Baker at the Alien Online liked it. Steven Silver gives it a fair write-up and doesn’t say if he liked it or not. Only Max of SF Reviews, and to a lesser extent J.B. Peck of SciFi.com and Christian Sauve, share my reservations.


4) Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson. I liked this book. It’s about a community of research scientists in the very near future who have been able (for reasons they don’t fully understand) to observe remotely a community of aliens on a planet far far away. Their research facility is suddenly isolated from the outside world, with no communication possible, and the human relationships between the researchers churn out of control. I thought it was much more successful in this regard than Chronoliths, by the same author, nominated last year. However, as with Chronoliths, I felt the ending was a bit weak and left too little explained. I’ve been trying to think of books that managed the trick of leaving you with the sensawunda without explaining What Was really Going On, and really only Solaris by Stanislaw Lem and Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky come close; and of course 2001. But I thought the central human story was very well told, the aliens were very good too, and the failure of imagination of the human scientists studying them all too plausible. I think there are three better books on this year’s list but it would not be a travesty if Blind Lake won.

John Clute in the Toronto Globe and Mail loved it. Paul Giguere at SFRevu, James Schellenberg, Elisabeth Carey, Jerry Wright, Jonathan Cowie, David Brown at Rebecca’s Reads, Tom Easton in Analog and Cheryl Morgan in a (very perceptive) review in Emerald City really liked it. Richard Horton and John at sfsignal.com have similar reservations to mine.

3) Paladin of Souls
, by Lois McMaster Bujold. I’m a fervent Bujoldian, and really like this book; I just happen to think the other two are slightly better. Bujold’s third fantasy novel, and her second in the world of The Curse of Chalion, the action is set in a much smaller scale than the continent-spanning action of its predecessor; the characters are beautifully drawn, in a world where theology is an applied science; and it’s nice to have an adventure and romance story whose character is actually middle-aged.

Tina Morgan in Fiction Factor, Sherwood Smith on the SF Site, Hilary Williamson at BookLoons, Harriet Klausner, Ernest Lilley on SFRevu, Blaise Selby on SciFi.com, Nora Charles on Slash Novel Review and Jo Rogers at MyShelf.com loved it (as did truepenny in a spoilerish but perceptive analysis). Dave Roy in Curled Up With a Good Book, Matthew Scott Winslow at Green Man Review, Richard Horton, KC Heath at Yet Another Book Review, Martin Sutherland, Jerry Wright, Simeon Shoul in infinity plus, Christopher Allen on RPG.net, Cindy Lynn Speer in Fantastica Daily, Nigel Quinlan in The Alien Online, Megan Powell in SDO Fantasy, David Brukman and Kate Nepveu liked it. Preeti at Romantic Science Fiction and Fantasy thought it a bit unexciting but recommends it on balance. Sondra Eklund thought (as did several others) that it started very slowly but ended up liking it. Evelyn Leeper was so unmoved that she couldn’t finish it.


2) Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross. I thought this was a very good book, the only real space opera on the list. As well as reflecting and refracting the very different future universes described by his friends Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod, there are all kinds of other influences in there, including slightly subversive genuflections towards both Bujoldian space opera and Boris Pasternak. Apart from its complex literary heritage, there is a core political message about freedom of information defeating repressive political regimes, obviously of relevance in today’s world, and a rather good love story. Slightly let down by incomprehensible battle scenes, but I understood the sense of tension if not the military jargon. As Richard Kleffel puts it, “Even if you don’t understand precisely what Stross is talking about, it’s hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.”


Ernest Lilley at SFRevu, Alma A. Hromic at the SF Site, Mark L. Olson and Jerry Wright loved it. Curtis D Frye in Technology and Society Book Reviews, Elisabeth Carey, Cheryl Morgan, T.M. Wagner at SF Reviews and Gavin J. Grant at BookPage liked it. Richard Horton, Niall Harrison and Corinna Underwood for Curled Up With a Good Book think Stross can do better. Byron Merritt and John at sfsignal.com didn’t like it.


1) Ilium, by Dan Simmons. Fourteen years ago Simmons’ first novel, Hyperion, an extraordinary tale of pilgrims en route to a mysterious shrine, won the Hugo award. I think there’s a pretty good chance of his repeating it this year. Three plot threads are intertwined: the twentieth century scholar Thomas Hockenberry, resurrected in the far future as a commentator on a grand full-scale re-enactment of the Trojan War; two cyborgs, Mahnmut and Orphu, who travel from the moons of Jupiter to Mars on a mission to find out what is going on around Olympus Mons; and a primitivised yet high-tech human society on Earth. The three strands are deftly woven together, and my biggest complaint is that we will have to wait until later this year for the second half of the story to find out What Is really Going On. But the Hugo voters have a track record of voting for the first book in a promising series, and sometimes for the second as well. It is striking how few negative reviews I could find of the book, and how many of those who really liked it are people who write hardly any sf reviews (ie this was one of very few books they felt motivated to write about). I know I have a poor record in calling the winner correctly, but I think Ilium is the one to watch this year.


Greg West at Mostly Fiction, Sue Bursztinski in the January Magazine, Adam Roberts in Infinity Plus, Stuart Carter (also in infinity plus), Debbie Moon in The Zone, Bruce Cordell, Ernest Lilley at SFRevu.com, John C. Snider, Tony Chester at Concatenation, Steven Wu, Michael Pusateri, Ken Lux on BookLoons, Greg Hamel, Cindy Lynn Speer on Fantastica Daily, Michael Berry in SFGate, BooksForABuck, Lalith Vipulananthan in The Alien Online, Harriet Klausner, Ian Walker-Smith and Keith Martin loved it. Rob Bedford in sffworld.com, David Kennedy, Richard Horton, Elisabeth Carey, Ian Caplan, Tama Leaver on Blogcritics, William Thompson on the SF Site, Pauline Morgan at SF Crowsnest, dragonsworn, News From The Outside, Gavin J. Grant in BookPage, John Clute, Karri Watson on Curled Up With A Good Book, Lorna Robinson at Imperial College, Chris Wyatt in CineScape and Ian Kaplan liked it, their main complaint being that the story is not finished. The only negative review was by Justina Robson in the Guardian who felt there were too many loose ends and plot holes; she may not have been aware, since the British edition does not make it clear, that this is only part one of two. We’ll see if she’s more satisfied when the sequel comes out.


Best Novella

In this section, Tom Veal agrees with me about the first and third placed stories, but we differ otherwise (indeed, we differ on many subjects, though we agree on who wrote the works of Shakespeare). In a sort of symmetry, Richard Horton agrees with me about the second, fourth and fifth, but puts Walter Jon Williams first and Kage Baker third. If the voters do the same I won’t complain too much.

5) “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know”, by Connie Willis. Suddenly, for no very good reason except that the author thought it was a cool idea, it starts snowing. everywhere in the northern hemisphere. Hilarity ensues. Or not, depending on your taste. Ingrid Blythe loved it, but comments, “It won’t win, though. Too sentimental, too many people cynical about Christmas, and too many people grounded in the now.” Bluejack rather damns it with faint praise.

4) “Walk in Silence” by Catherine Asaro. I’m sorry, I’m not a fan of Asaro’s writing, and still regard the Nebula award for The Quantum Rose as much more embarrassing than any recent Hugo (yes, even Hominids). Clunky story of yet another woman central character who falls in love with a man from whom society would part her, and far too many internal implausibilities. Mark Watson compares it to “a creaky Star Trek episode”, and Bluejack is pretty scathing too. But Phil Friel in Tangent On-Line loved it, and Jemima Pereira enjoyed it despite “weak characterization and a side of wholly unconvincing romance”. It won the Analog readers’ award for best novella, which is stunning given that at least one better Hugo nominee was also published in Analog. Obviously I’m just missing something about Asaro.

3) Now it gets a bit more difficult. If any of the other three stories wins I won’t be too dismayed. With some reluctance, I have put “The Green Leopard Plague”, by Walter Jon Williams third. It’s a complex story melding two time-lines, one in the far future related to his excellent 1997 story “Lethe”, the other near future including various parts of the world in which I take a professional interest (in particular, the little known, unrecognised, and thoroughly corrupt rogue statelet that I spell Transdniestria but he spells Transnistria, portrayed perfectly accurately here), with the linkage being historical research which is a topic I usually really like reading about. In the end I mark it down because the two story-lines didn’t quite mesh sufficiently for me. It worked better for Mark Watson and Bluejack, and Richard Horton puts it top of his list.

2) “The Cookie Monster”, by Vernor Vinge. It will probably win, as Vinge tends to win Hugo awards these days. Seems at first to be a normal story a la Microserfs. But then it turns out to be much much closer to numerous classic sf stories, mentioning any one of which will give away the main point of the plot. I don’t normally go for Vinge but I thought this was pretty good (though Frederik Pohl did it better, as James Nicoll said). Bluejack and Presenjeet Dutta also liked it. Claude Lalumière thinks it is embarrassingly fannish and pandering“. Mark Watson thought it was “ahead of the average Analog story“. Included in the Haber/Strahan Best of 2003 anthology.

1) “The Empress of Mars”, by Kage Baker. Now this is the sort of story that would satisfy Damon Knight’s definition of sf for anyone. On a corrupt corporate semi-terraformed Mars of the near future, the Celtic hewers of wood and drawers of water mount a successful challenge to their Anglo-Saxon overlords, led by Mary Griffiths, mother of three, landlady of the eponymous tavern. I thought it was great fun; a story that didn’t try to be any deeper than necessary. David Roy on Curled Up With A Good Book shares my assessment. Chris Markwyn on Tangent Online, Mervius of Fantastica Daily and bluejack liked it too. Interesting that it was published in the same issue of Asimov’s as two other nominees, “Hexagons” and “Robots Don’t Cry”.

Best Novelette

Here again Richard Horton has given his views via usenet. I must say I think this is a very strong category; all of these stories are very good. After much reflection, I’ve settled on this order (similar to Richard’s but I swap his first and second, and his fifth and sixth):

6) “Bernardo’s House”, by James Patrick Kelly. Central character is the incarnation of the computer program which controls Bernardo’s house. Bernardo himself has disappeared, but one day a girl called Fly appears on the doorstep. It seems there has been a large catastrophe outside… My only reason for marking it down is that I didn’t find the ending completely satisfactory, but I really enjoyed it, as did Bluejack and Mark Watson. In the Strahan/Haber Best of 2003 anthology, and shortlisted for the Sturgeon award.

5) “Legions in Time”, by Michael Swanwick  I find Swanwick’s sense of humour sometimes a bit wearing, but this one worked for me. Woman in 1930s New York has a job where she Must Not Open The Door. She opens the door. Time-travelling and saving the world ensue. Good fun; Mark Watson thought so too; Bluejack a little more reserved in his judgement.. In the Strahan/Haber Best of 2003 anthology; published in same issue of Asimov’s as “Nightfall” by Charles Stross.

4) “Nightfall”, by Charles Stross. I’ve sometimes found the sheer density of ideas and writing in Stross’ fiction difficult to cope with, but found this story very much to my taste, the first one I’ve really felt I properly grasped in the “Accelerando” series. Two of the previous characters find themselves incarnated as artificial personalities in a far-off galaxy – or are they?  Bluejack loved it; Richard Horton was dubious because he found the density of ideas less than other stories in this series. Published in same issue of Asimov’s as “Legions in Time” by Michael Swanwick.

3) “Into the Gardens of Sweet Night”, by Jay Lake. Originally published in L. Ron Hubbard’s 19th Writers of the Future collection, which will no doubt put some people off, but I thought it was a real gem. A boy called Elroy and a talking dog  called Wiggles go on a mysterious quest across (and ultimately off) a post-disaster Earth. Unexpected ending. Really good.

2) “The Empire of Ice Cream”, by Jeffrey Ford. At first it seems to be just another story about synaesthesia, but when the narrator starts seeing a mysterious girl whenever he tastes coffee, it’s clear that it’s something more; and the ending was (for me) quite unexpected. Apparently there’s a literary background to it drawing on the characters of the poets Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams; lost on me, but I enjoyed it anyway. Not to everyone’s taste: Jamie Poitra was not completely convinced; Sharon Turner and Prasenjeet Dutta loved it; positive marks from Yoon Ha Lee. Has already won the Nebula award. In the Strahan/Haber Best of 2003 anthology.

1) “Hexagons”, by Robert Reed. I love alternate history, strategy games, elections, and stories told from the point of view of a child where the reader has to work out some of what is going on. This story has all of those elements so for me it is the winner in this category (though as I said above all the stories are good). The only other thing I’ve read by Reed is Marrow (both short story and novel expansion) and I enjoyed that also; must look out for more. Chris Markwyn on Tangent Online, Jonathan Strahan, and Bluejack all liked it too. Published in the same Asimov’s as “The Empress of Mars” and “Robots Don’t Cry”.

Best Short Story


Once again, a good discussion by Richard Horton on rasfw and another by “communicator” on livejournal. If you read Bulgarian, Anima has also written about them.


5) “Robots Don’t Cry”, by Mike Resnick. I really hate cute robot stories in the Asimov tradition (see my comments on “The Bicentennial Man”) and this is no exception. The heartless materialist narrator finds compassion as a result of a robot’s selfless love. Some good lines but awful plot. Bluejack was less negative than me. Chris Markwyn in Tangent thinks it’s thin but “well-crafted”. From the same issue of Asimov’s as “The Empress of Mars” and “Hexagons”.


4) “Four Short Novels”, by Joe Haldeman. Reflections on the concept of immortality, as it might work out in four different ways. Nice ideas but didn’t really grab me. Bluejack liked it; Richard Horton puts it top of his list.

3) “The Tale of the Golden Eagle”, by David D. Levine. Space opera, cyborgs, glamorous robots, love across the man-machine interface. Standard stuff, but well told, with a convincing portrayal of the various societies. Several reviewers (conveniently indexed by Levine) point to parallels with the Golden Age author Cordwainer Smith, but it is certainly possible to appreciate the story without knowing his work, as I can testify. Most reviews were very positive (also Prasenjeet Dutta
2)
“Paying It Forward”, by Michael A. Burstein. Nice story about help for a young science fiction writer apparently coming from a recently deceased fellow writer. I usually find Burstein’s sentimentality too sugary but this was much more acceptable. (However the best story about writers getting unexpected information via their computers is still the “Virtual Library” chapter of Zoran Zivkovic’s The Library.)  As Phil Friel points out in Tangent, the fact that it’s an Analog story gives you a fair idea of the ending.

1) “A Study in Emerald”, by Neil Gaiman. This is the lead story from the collection Shadows over Baker Street, a collection of stories melding the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft. It is also by far the best in the collection, as the narrator takes us through his unspeakable experiences in Afghanistan, his eccentric Baker Street flatmate, and encounters with a royal family whose habits are rather unlike the home life of our own dear queen, and a final confrontation with his version of England’s subversive mastermind. I think Gaiman’s writing is a bit more uneven than most people like to admit, but he’s caught the voice of Conan Doyle perfectly here, and interspersed the narrative with slyly allusive small ads from the alternative London he has envisaged. I’ll be sorry to see any other story win (which would give Gaiman three Hugos in different categories in consecutive years, a feat only previously managed by Ursula Le Guin in 1973-75; Orson Scott Card and Lois McMaster Bujold have won Hugos in three consecutive years, though not all in different categories, in 1987-89 and 1990-92 respectively, and Connie Willis won three in two years in 1993-4).

It’s had lots of positive reviews (and as with Ilium a lot of them are from people who haven’t otherwise written a lot of reviews). See for instance Giacomo Lacava, Anita Rowland, James Hsiao, Prasenjeet Dutta, A.M. Kuchling, Philip Jones, Gabe Chouinard and Tim Pratt, but also Cindy Lynn Speer in Fantastica Daily, Kelly Sedinger in Green Man Review and Dave Goldfeder in sfrevu.com. Also available in the Strahan / Haber Best of 2003 collection.

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European Constitution

Well, I’ve had a quick browse and I’m very impressed with the diplomatic fixes that went into it. Rather than try and rig the mathematics so that the four big countries can’t just block things on their own, there is an explicit line saying that the four big countries can’t just block things on their own. And the Dutch government’s problem with the budget has been sorted by offering them a rebate a la Britain. The Eurosceptics will try and market their paranoia but I like the look of it personally.

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Birthday

It’s Bridget’s seventh birthday today. I always find this difficult, and have done since her third birthday, just after her autism was finally diagnosed. She’s completely unaware of the concept of birthdays; for her it will be a day like any other non-school day – get up, raid the fridge for breakfast, play in the garden if weather halfway decent, raid the fridge again for lunch, have two baths if possible. The fact that there will be a cake, and some new clothes, are amusing but basically irrelevant details for her. She will have a very happy day but that is because she is a very happy child. If we feel up to it we might take her to a swimming pool, as she loves playing in the water whenever there is any available.

It’s perhaps a bit selfish of me to regret that Bridget’s experience of the day doesn’t live up to my aspirations for her. That’s of course true of her experience of most days; but her birthday seems to rub it in for me. The night before she was born (a planned Caesarian, so Anne was already in hospital getting prepared for it) I sat up in our empty house pointlessly worrying if the baby would be handicapped. As it was, we had two years of beautiful normal development before she had her regression and I loved her every day of it. I love her every day still. But it’s not always easy.

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Quote source

I’m trying to remember the source of a quotation about a small country that looks like a mistake on the map, so much so that “you can almost hear the printer saying ‘damn'”. A friend thought it might be from Douglas Adams but I’m not convinced (and anyway he wasn’t beyond using other people’s good lines). Does it ring a bell for anyone?

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The Mary Sue meme

Or a slight variation on it. Searching for my full name on Amazon pulls up 10 results. 7 are references to me, 1 is the 19th century New York architect Nicholas Whyte, and 1 seems to be a confusion between composers of different tracks on a CD. But the tenth, Twilight Whispers by Barbara Delinsky, has me as a character in a romantic novel:

Their children were no less striking, though in truth they were not children, for they ranged in age from thirty to forty-four. There was the oldest, Nicholas Whyte, somber yet dashing, the heir apparent to the Whyte Estate, and his wife Angie, a stunning woman who had been the cause of many a broken heart when she had removed Nicholas from the ranks of the eligible ten years before.

It looks dire. But I can live with “somber yet dashing”. Even if I prefer to spell it “sombre”.

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Everybody’s doing it…

Who’s been commenting in your journal?

1 162 comments 32.34% of total
2 43 comments 8.58% of total
3 Anonymous 21 comments 4.19% of total
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These statistics were generated using the LJ Stats Web Interface by . Original idea from ‘s LJ Comment Stats Wizard.

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