China Miéville’s 50 sf works for socialists to read

Thanks to – original list here.

Usual drill, those I’ve read in bold:

Iain M Banks—Use of Weapons
Edward Bellamy—Looking Backward, 2000–1887

Alexander Bogdanov—The Red Star: A Utopia
Emma Bull & Steven Brust—Freedom & Necessity
Mikhail Bulgakov—The Master and Margarita
Katherine Burdekin (aka “Murray Constantine”)—Swastika Night
Octavia Butler—Survivor
Julio Cortázar—“House Taken Over”
Philip K. Dick—A Scanner Darkly
Thomas Disch—The Priest
Gordon Eklund—All Times Possible
Max Ernst—Une Semaine de Bonté
Claude Farrère—Useless Hands
Anatole France—The White Stone
Jane Gaskell—Strange Evil
Mary Gentle—Rats and Gargoyles
Charlotte Perkins Gilman—The Yellow Wallpaper
Lisa Goldstein—The Dream Years
Stefan Grabiński—The Dark Domain
George Griffith—The Angel of Revolution
Imil Habibi—The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist
M. John Harrison—Viriconium Nights
Ursula K. Le Guin—The Dispossessed
Jack London—Iron Heel
Ken MacLeod—The Star Fraction
Gregory Maguire—Wicked
J. Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon)—Gay Hunter
Michael Moorcock—Hawkmoon
William Morris—News From Nowhere
Toni Morrison—Beloved
Mervyn Peake—The Gormenghast Novels
Marge Piercy—Woman on the Edge of Time
Philip Pullman—Northern Lights
Ayn Rand—Atlas Shrugged
Mack Reynolds—Lagrange Five
Keith Roberts—Pavane
Kim Stanley Robinson—The Mars Trilogy
Mary Shelley—Frankenstein
Lucius Shepard—Life During Wartime

Norman Spinrad—The Iron Dream
Eugene Sue—The Wandering Jew
Michael Swanwick—The Iron Dragon’s Daughter
Jonathan Swift—Gulliver’s Travels
Alexei Tolstoy—Aelita
Ian Watson—Slow Birds
H.G. Wells—The Island of Dr Moreau
E. L. White—“Lukundoo”
Oscar Wilde—The Happy Prince and Other Stories
Gene Wolfe—The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Yevgeny Zamyatin—We

Posted in Uncategorised

Unwelcome ally?

I noticed from random googling that Senator Edward Kennedy said nice things about my employers in a speech last week. So I expected to hear a jubilant reaction from one of my liberal American colleagues when I told him about it just now. But no, he was deeply depressed by the news. “To be honest, in terms of getting the current administration to listen to what we’re saying, an endorsement from Fidel Castro might have been more useful,” he grumbled. Take it where you can get it, is what I say.

Posted in Uncategorised


Unusually, there is only one book in common between the shortlisted novels for the BSFA Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. It is Ian McDonald’s excellent River of Gods. I have previosuly found that these two awards come prety close to predicting which books I will enjoy.

The other shortlisted BSFA candidates include two that I have read and much enjoyed, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Ken MacLeod’s Newton’s Wake and two that were already on my buy-on-sight-in-paperback list, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain and Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Stamping Butterflies. I was initially less inclined to look out for the last of the BSFA finalists, Alastair Reynolds’ Century Rain, because I was one of the minority who were underwhelmed by his earlier Revelation Space, but I’ve now read a good review of it in the latest Interzone.

The other shortlisted novels for the Arthur C. Clarke include one that I’ve read and much enjoyed, Audrey Niffeneger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, and three more on my buy-on-sight-in-paperback list, China Mieville’s The Iron Council, Richard Morgan’s Market Forces, and Neal Stephenson’s The System of the World. The last of the nominees, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, was on my buy-on-sight-in-paperback list until last Friday, when I saw it in paperback at the airport bookshop in Brussels, and bought it. About a third of the way through and it too is excellent.

I managed to read most of the short fiction on this year’s preliminary ballot for the Nebulas, thanks to ‘s helpful list on her other blog. I must say as usual I’m a bit unimpressed by some of the offerings. Of the novels, I have at least read Hugo-winning Paladin of Souls and Down and Out in the Magic KingdomThe Knight, unless something else wins.

Novellas: Haven’t yet read the Burstein. Most of these were also nominated for the Hugo (including Hugo-winning story by Vernor Vinge). The two I liked were both new since the Hugo nominations: “The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes”, by Adam Troy-Castro (FictionWise and original magazine), which I thought said interesting things about culture, values and pushing the frontiers of what it means to be human, and “Arabian Wine”, by Gregory Feeley (here) which though only barely sf (an alternate history starring a young Venetian who tries to invent coffee and steam power) is beautifully written.

Novelettes: As usual, the thinnest category, including one real turkey, an alternate history set in the late Roman Republic (and despite my recent rereading of Suetonius I didn’t pick up on many of the changes from OTL, apart from the fate of Julius Caesar) and written as a Platonic dialogue. The two I liked were “Dry Bones”, by William Sanders (here), which captured a moment of twentieth century America and had a nice bit of sfnality as well (though the end was a wee bit too pat), and “The Voluntary State” by Chris Rowe (here), which was entertainingly written, a story of a future quasi-Utopian Tennessee, though I wasn’t quite sure I agreed with the political point (or even entirely sure that one was being made).

Short Stories: Too many of these were about the author placing the characters in absurd positions and then expecting the reader to sympathise with them; and I could not – I mean, Santa Claus battling entropy at the end of the universe? Come on! The only one that didn’t fall into this trap for me was “Embracing-the-New” by Benjamin Rosenbaum (here), not a single human or quasi-human character in it, a fascinating portrait of a profoundly alien society.

Right, off to update my Amazon wish-list…

Posted in Uncategorised

Seen in passing

A couple of interesting articles that caught my eye:

Kenneth Tynan’s profile of Johnny Carson, from the New Yorker, 1978. I have very little idea who Johnny Carson was, but this was a fascinating though very long article about America and about television. Tynan reflects,

Star tennis players are renowned in every country on earth outside China, and the same is true of top heavyweight boxers. (A probable exception in the latter category is Muhammad Ali, who must surely be known inside China as well.) At least fifty living cricketers are household names throughout the United Kingdom, the West Indies, Australia, South Africa, India, and Pakistan. Movie stars and pop singers command international celebrity; and Kojak, Starsky, Hutch, Columbo, and dozens more are acclaimed (or, at any rate, recognized) wherever the TV programs that bear their names are bought and transmitted. Outside North America, by contrast, Johnny Carson is a nonentity: the general public has never heard of him. The reason for his obscurity is that the job at which he excels is virtually unexportable.

He then goes on to add, in a parenthesis that must have come to haunt him,

O. J. Simpson is a parallel case, illustrious at home and nada abroad.

Few of you reading this know who Carne Ross is. I came across him last year, trying manfully to put the pieces of the international community’s Kosovo policy back together again as a senior (and despairing) adviser to the UN Mission there; a British diplomat of about my age who had resigned from the Foreign Office in protest at the Iraq war, and also an aspiring playwright. Yesterday he had a substantial article in the Financial Times giving his own view of how intelligence was used to shape British policy in the run-up to Iraq. Nothing I didn’t already suspect, but very enlightening.

Posted in Uncategorised

Ljubljana musings

Intense meeting for most of the day. In one of the lighter moments I asked our host if he agreed with my alternative history thesis, that if Serbia and Slovenia had done a deal in the late 1980s, then they could have kept Yugoslavia together and the whole federation would have been in the EU today.

He agreed with me vehemently. I then asked if he also agreed with my identification of the last congress of the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1990, when the Slovenian and Croatian delegates walked out in disgust at the Serbian communists’ domination of proceedings, as the turning point.

I had forgotten that I was talking to a former dissident. He disagreed with me, saying that since multi-party democracy was coming in all the then Yugoslav republics within a few months, a disagreement within a single (if important) party was not so crucial. As someone who had been at the forefront of Slovenia’s drive for independence, he reckoned it could all have been put together again at any point for almost all the rest of 1990, until December, when the Serbian government stole $1.3 billion from the Yugoslav national budget. After that it was all over; why should the richer republics, Slovenia and Croatia, subsidise the Yugoslav army’s plan to attack them?


Walking around Ljubljana later on I came across Plečnik’s memorial obelisk in French Revolution Square, which contains the ashes of a French soldier killed in 1813, “fighting for our freedom” as the Slovenes put it. I doubt if there is any other country in Europe which has as unequivocally positive a view of the Napoleonic period.

Posted in Uncategorised

Hotel woe

Actually it’s quite a nice hotel. But their internet terminal has now eaten the entry I wrote about the Nebula award nominees. So I shall giver it another try when I find a different computer.

I got picked up by a government driver at the airport, and said to him that I thought they have some nerve to name their national airline after the Adriatic Sea when they have only about 5 km of coastline. He giggled and replied, “Yeah, but we have some nerve to claim we have a national airline at all when we only have three planes!” Fair point.

Posted in Uncategorised

Pleasant stuff!

I think it time for Dr Nicholas Whyte to be honest with himself and to the people he preaches too. I have a sneaking suspicion he is from the same school as other lobbyists and self named people helpers from the international community in Macedonia and abroad.

His interest in the Balkans is of one thing and that is of the same disease that spreads in this part of the world and that one thing is the big $ sign.

Its no surprise to anyone on this list it begun with paid mercenaries like the Mujahadeens who joined the Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia these people even came from abroad like the Chechens, Afghans, Saudis PAKISTANIS even the legitimised Macedonian and Kosovo politicians and people like Davis Hicks from Australia and even the notorious MPRI Combat Military trainers who trained and armed the terrorist and who were paid with Afghan heroin profits.

And Back to the legitimate PEOPLE HELPERS like DR Nicholas Whyte who is no different to the American Red Cross, the very organisation that helped destabilise Macedonia in its momentum of weakness. Why continue this act of war, as you are the instigator paid by the devil.

Be Honest DR Nicholas Whyte how much lives will you risk for the $. Be honest and tell us of your illegal backyard deals with Terrorist and your monthly pay cheques into illegitimate accounts.

Gosh, I am as villainous as the American Red Cross now. Though I’ve no idea who Davis Hicks was. And I wish those large cheques were real, rather than the figments of deluded minds.

Yeah, I’m used to this kind of thing; comes as part of the job. It’s still a depressing insight into human nature.

Posted in Uncategorised

Alan Moore interview

Was lucky enough to catch most of the Alan Moore interview on BBC Radio Four as I drove home. For those of you (like ) who are interested and may have missed it, the programme as broadcast appears to be here and the out-takes are available here.

Posted in Uncategorised

Wingnut rant

He’s good enough to criticise me by name, here. Actually for once I actually agree with a lot of his analysis, though not the conclusions, and if my colleagues have been conspiring with Commissioner Rehn and Congressman Lantos they haven’t bothered to keep me in the loop!

Posted in Uncategorised

January Books 8) The Star Factory

8) The Star Factory, by Ciaran Carson

Ciaran Carson is one of Northern Ireland’s best known poets, but this book is a prose rambling through the streets of Belfast, both geographically and literarily, interspersed with meditations on the English and Irish languages, his relationship with his father, and the nature of the literary life. For anyone like me who knows and loves the city, it’s a quick and pleasant read, where we can share our memories with the author. He writes of his former home, “The Bungalow”, through whose gardens I once tried to take a short-cut; he remembers playing “off-ground tig”, which is something I haven’t thought of in 25 years; he explains the shape of Boyne Bridge and meditates on its name. In other cases I’ve had similar but not identical experiences – my school too had a forbidden forest and a pond nearby, though it was several miles to the south of his; I too had a disastrous tooth filling from an apprentice dentist (a friend of mine who was resitting his exams and did the job for me on the fly – badly).

I was very amused by the convincing link he establishes between the Crown Liquor Saloon and Doctor Who via Carol Reed’s film Odd Man Out (another one for the Amazon wish list, I think, along with Cocteau’s Orphée which he also makes relevant). But I’m particularly grateful for the concept of dinnshenchas, the History of Places, the concept that “the land of Ireland is perceived as being completely translated into story: each place has a history which is continuously retold.” This puts into a single word something I’ve always felt to be important, and not just in Ireland.

It’s not a perfect book – too many laundry lists, too much quoting from other sources at times – but I did enjoy it; I wonder if it could make the same impression on someone who doesn’t know Belfast?

Posted in Uncategorised

…and another thing

The fact that my boss spent far too much time on the margins of yesterday’s first meeting swearing at us because one small detail in the preparation had been screwed up makes me all the more determined to move on. In fact I was the one who spotted the problem and tried (unsuccessfully) to put it right, but in the end I wished I had kept my mouth shut.

Posted in Uncategorised

Hectic couple of days

Monday: Kosovo report published (as subscribers to will be aware).

Yesterday morning: Big launch event for report, with my boss, also with Chris Patten, etc etc.

Yesterday lunch: meal with Balkan government officials discussing Kosovo. There was not a real meeting of minds in this case.

Yesterday afternoon: Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament had a session on Kosovo which I had to attend for reasons which will be obvious if you click on the link.

Evening: after the glass or two of wine described in the previous post, went off for dinner with foreign minister of small Balkan country.

This morning: ambassador from another small Balkan country.

Lunch: foreign minister of yet another small Balkan country.

Afternoon: World Bank delegation.

Since then: Head hasn’t stopped spinning. Going home now, for nice long rest.

Posted in Uncategorised

ART for The World

I had a couple of hours to kill before dinner last night, and wandering through the European Parliament I bumped into a reception to celebrate an exhibition called “Playgrounds and Toys” exhibition from an outfit called ART for The World, which seems to involve combining art and playgrounds. I admit that I only attached myself to the crowd in the first place because they were handing out free wine, but I found the exhibits really very engaging, and had a nice chat with the Indian architect Martand Khosla who was partly responsible for it. At first sight it looked like just some naive bunch of well-meaning individuals, of the kind I occasionally encounter in my work of bringing peace to people whether they want it or not, however these folks seemed to be doing really useful stuff.

It is good to see the European Parliament’s public spaces being put to good use – not just showing something interesting and unusual to casual visitors such as myself, but also reminding the MEPs who tend to spend fourteen-hour days cooped up in the building that there is in fact an outside world.

Speaking of which, while I was at the reception, I also bumped into an MEP who chairs the European Parliament delegation dealing with one of my countries, so it turned into a networking opportunity after all!

Posted in Uncategorised

My Giant Battle Monster


is a Giant Robot that lives Underwater, Glows in the Dark, dislikes Modern Architecture, and is Easily Confused.

Strength: 7 Agility: 3 Intelligence: 6

To see if your Giant Battle Monster can
defeat nhw, enter your name and choose an attack:

fights nhw using

Posted in Uncategorised

Ev’rybody’s doing it…

You scored as Verbal/Linguistic. You have highly developed auditory skills, enjoy reading and writing and telling stories, and are good at getting your point across. You learn best by saying and hearing words. People like you include poets, authors, speakers, attorneys, politicians, lecturers and teachers.















The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences
created with

Posted in Uncategorised

January Books 7) The Twelve Caesars

7) The Twelve Caesars, by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus

What do you do if you’re the Emperor Hadrian’s secretary and have a certain amount of spare time? You write a racy popular account of the lives of his predecessors as emperor of Rome. It is, of course, the Penguin edition of the Robert Graves translation that I’ve been reading (I own an 18th century edition as well but it’s entirely in Latin). I’m also influenced by other stuff I’ve read about the early Empire: Robert Graves’ own I CLAVDIVS, of course, and also CLAVDIVS the God, and the Lindsey Davies detective stories set in the reign of Vespasian (plus her non-genre novel about Vespasian’s lover – see her note on Vespasian himself). And it was amusing to find the few details in the otherwise tedious story of Augustus which presumably formed the basis for the “August” chapter of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

I have to say that the first biography, that of Julius Caesar, the one who wasn’t actually Emperor, comes off as the best of the lot (I have already noted it). The Augustus one I found soporific, apart from Suetonius’ references to what he’d found in Mark Antony’s correspondence, which made me wish he’d written about Mark Antony instead. Tiberius comes across as such a dreadful individual and ruler that it is inexplicable (going by Suetonius’ account) that he lasted 23 years. Caligula even worse; Claudius comes across relatively well; Nero actually starts off with some good points, before descending into craziness. The three Emperors of AD 68-69 barely have time to establish themselves as characters in our mind before they each die horribly in turn. I wished he had written more about Vespasian and Titus, who both come across as competent (by Roman standards, that is; they did of course together conquer and devastate Jerusalem and the surrounding territory). Domitian turns into another crazy, ushering in the two Emperors who Suetonius didn’t write about but for whom he actually worked, Trajan and Hadrian. Michael Grant in the foreword suggests that the last six were published as a supplement to the first six, and that the fact that Suetonius quotes no first-hand source later than Augustus’ reign indicates that he got sacked after finishing that biography. Maybe; we will never know for sure.

Couple of sidelights. First, Suetonius notes how, under Nero, “Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.” Amusing that this is part of the (substantial) list of good things that Nero did. There’s a reference also earlier to the Jews of Rome becoming agitated by a man called “Chrestus” which sounds like a distorted version of something involving early Christianity. Second, I’ve been sufficiently interested by the death of Domitian to write about it and also republish another article. I remember reading with great interest F.H. Cramer’s Astrology in Roman Law and Politics; I never worked out why the Asiatic kingdom of Commagene seemed to be so close to the topic. Anyway, that’s for another day.


Pastoral care

One of my work colleagues was having a bad day, so I decided to cheer him up. He’d sent me a cross text message, so I replied with a message saying “There were two old men sitting on a park bench.”

He replied, “And?”

So I sent the second bit, “One of them said to the other, ‘it’s nice out, isn’t it?'”

He replied “Yes. And?”

So I sent the third line, “And the other one said, ‘Yes, it is, but you’d better put it away – someone’s coming!'”

This time I got no reply. So I sent a fourth message, saying “Punchline arrived safely?”

Almost immediately the response came: “Yes, unfortunately.”

Posted in Uncategorised

January Books 6) Nebula Award Stories Number Three

6) Nebula Award Stories Number Three, ed. Roger Zelazny

This collection has been recently (2001) reprinted, and reviewed it, as did Peter Tillman. There's not a lot I can add to their two reviews (which, contrasted with each other, amusingly demonstrate how one's Mileage May Vary), except to note that the cover image to the left, from the edition I myself have (the 1970 Pocket Book edition), seems to show a reclining female figure behind a much smaller spectral cyclist, above whose head an equally spectral top hat appears to be levitating. The artist's name is unknown.

I bought this as the last step in preparation for my planned piece on Fritz Leiber's story "Gonna Roll The Bones" which is one of the seven included here, but it also ties into my fascination with Roger Zelazny, who had won two of five Nebula awards the previous year, and was only thirty; and as Zelazny himself writes in one of the introductions here, "Consider the fact that everything a man writes is really only a part of one big story, to be ended by the end of his writing life. Consider that, as so many have said, everything a man writes is, basically, autobiographical… I tell you these things because every writer who has ever lived is unique."

Zelazny seems to have taken the job of editing this collection seriously, and though his introductions are as mere postscripts to those of Harlan Ellison in the near-contemporaneous Dangerous Visions, they do give evidence of his commitment to the project, including lengthy quotations from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Czesław Miłosz, and invokes Anne McCaffrey as an aspect of Goethe's Ewigweibliche.

While he had to include the three Nebula winners, his choice of the other four stories (as points out) is pretty idiosyncratic: two of them, "Weyr Search" by Anne McCaffrey and "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" by Harlan Ellison were at least nominated for the Nebula, but the other two are probably not what the readers of 1968 expected to find in the anthology. At least "The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D" by J.G. Ballard turned out to be a good call, one of the better known stories of an author who has become very well known indeed, but little is known of Gary Wright, author of "Mirror of Ice" – which is barely even an sf story. I can see why Zelazny liked it, as the style is not so very different from his own; I don't really believe the theory that Wright was Samuel R Delanyfour times1976!

Well, it cost me very little to buy, and I'd have paid the price five times over. Three of the other stories – "Aye, and Gomorrah…" by Samuel R. Delany, "Weyr Search" by Anne McCaffrey, and "Behold the Man" by Michael Moorcock – are generally recognised as classics in very different ways. I'll write more when I do my long-planned piece on the Leiber story.

Posted in Uncategorised