June Books 6) With Stars In My Eyes

6) With Stars In My Eyes: My Adventures in British Fandom, by Peter Weston

I had been trying to get this as it was a Hugo nominee; already cast my vote by the time the book arrived, but thought it would be educational reading anyway, as the story of one of the leading figures in British science fiction fandom of the last forty years, indeed the man who actually makes the Hugo awards, despite never having won one..

And indeed I enjoyed reading it. I don’t think I’ve met (in the flesh) a single person named in this book; I attended a couple of speeches made by Terry Pratchett when I was an undergraduate, but that hardly counts. However I instantly felt I was reading a book by someone like me, about other people like me. I’m a relatively recent arrival in the world of active sf fandom (attended my first sf con only three years ago), but already feel very much at home in it. And my natural inclination is towards the more intellectual discussion of sf that it would appear Weston was trying to promote back in the ’60s and ’70s, so I feel naturally sympathetic to his Grad Project, such as it was.

I also had a serious flirtation with a slightly different hobby in my late teens and mid 20s, that being the postal games (esp Diplomacy) scene, full of zines whose lettercolumns seethed with controversy – usually on the political issues of the day (I remember huge fights over Northern Ireland with Joy Hibbert, later Joy Hilbert) but often just personality based – who, I wonder, other than or , can now remember the acrimonious circumstances of Pete Tamlyn folding The Acolyte? So the sf fanzine scene of twenty years before seems very familiar.

That is really thanks to the way Weston tells the story, with enough information about individuals that I like to think I’d recognise key protagonists from his description if I bump into them in the pub in Glasgow or elsewhere. He is detached enough to recount his own mistakes in managing interpersonal relationships over the years of his involvement to make you feel comfortable with his narrative, and also to make you sympathise all the more on the one or two occasions where his feelings clearly haven’t cooled down after the passage of decades.

I especially liked the occasional vignettes of people who I have at least heard of, though I’m struck that those I really wanted to hear more about are all those at the same literary end of fandom where Weston placed himself and where I’d like to place myself – Terry Pratchett, Tom Shippey, . My biggest frustration was that I’d have liked to hear more about the various cons described only briefly; on cool reflection, it’s an unreasonable criticism, based purely on the fact that I used to get con reports ad nauseam from Diplomacy fanzines and also read them eagerly when people post them on my friends-list.

Anyway, I’m sorry this arrived after I’d voted. I’d have put it ahead of The Best of Xero, but still behind The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. I almost wonder if Peter Weston will do the same…

(Incidentally, I know that the last book I wrote up was June book #4 and this is June book #6. June book #5 will be reviewed together with its companion volume when I have finished them both.

Posted in Uncategorised

New Belgian tax instructions

Belgian taxes are an annual nightmare, but I smiled at one part of the instructions on the form:

Waar 2 kolommen zijn voorzien, moeten personen die alleen een aangifte indienen, steeds de linkerkolom invullen. Where two columns are provided, persons submitting only one tax return must fill in only the left hand column.
Gehuwden en wettelijk samenwonenden van een verschillend geslacht die een gezamenlijke aangifte indienen, moeten de gegevens van de man in de linkerkolom en die van de vrouw in de rechterkolom invullen. Married and cohabiting couples of different sexes who are submitting a joint tax return must put the data for the man in the left hand column and those of the woman in the right hand column.
Gehuwden en wettelijk samenwonenden van hetzelfde geslacht die een gezamenlijke aangifte indienen, moeten de gegevens van de oudste in de linkerkolom en die van de jongste in de rechterkolom invullen. Married and cohabiting couples of the same sex who are submitting a joint tax return must put the data for the older in the left hand column and those of the younger in the right hand column.

Somehow it seems a special Belgian mixture of aspiration towards social equality, combined with insane bureaucracy.

Posted in Uncategorised


With all the recent discussion of reviews, I spent an uneasy few minutes early this morning to check if any of the authors whose novels I have panned are likely to be at WorldCon. To my relief, only Stephen Baxter is on the list so far, and I suspect his ego is sufficiently robust (and the other reviews of the book in question sufficiently affirming) that he is unlikely to seek me out for revenge.

I’m usually happy to take the line that “This just didn’t work for me” rather than that the book in question is bad in some objective sense. Though I will be unforgiving of prose that is genuinely bad – such as the character whose wounds “looked like huge purple welts”, probably because they were large purple welts. And I like my villains to have a clear means and motivation for their actions.

My interest in this topic has been further piqued by a couple of recent posts on my f-list, and I’ve actually taken the time to read Carol Emshwiller’s story “Boys“, Trent Walters’ critique of it, and then the subequent argument between him and .

Basically – and while this is of course just my view, I think it’s what most readers of the story and the critique would conclude (eg here) – has the right of it. Walters, as far as one can tell, has completely and disastrously failed to understand the concept that the views expressed by a character may not be those held by the author. “Unreliable” is perhaps an unfortunate word to apply to a narrator, as it has implications of dishonesty, but as far as I’m concerned the narrator’s “unreliability” is revealed in the very first paragraph:

Boys are so foolhardy, impetuous, reckless, rash. They’ll lead the way into smoke and fire and battle.

We readers know that this is not universally true of all boys all the time, and I’m stunned that anyone could read it as an expression of the author’s personal view. The quote illustrates very well where the narrator is coming from, what he tells himself about the truth of the world; but we readers also know he’s wrong, because of our own life experience, and indeed the colonel’s own account confirms this, as he shows us his own more caring, less “manly” side at numerous points in the story.

My own “close reading” of the story suggests that the author is trying to say this: a society which rigidly divides the sexes and tries to enforce gender roles will fail, because it isn’t in human nature; and the narrator illustrates this through his own thoughts, words and actions. He feels loyal to the rigid divisions of his society, but he is in fact capable of acting in a less “manly” way, even though he may feel uncomfortable about admitting this to himself. The opening statements about boys are a statement of the character’s ideology, not the author’s, and should be seen as a profession of faith which the narrator (as it turns out) is himself not fully convinced of.

I’m not totally wild about the story – the basic theme seems to me a bit of a straw man, in that the society portrayed is unlikely to come about, and the whole theme was explored in much greater depth in a novel which I have an unfashionable affection for, Sherri S Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. But it’s amazing that Walters missed the point so completely, despite the efforts of the author herself and numerous others to point him in the right direction. ‘s characterisation of Walters’ critique as both “massive and misguided” is accurate. The subsequent discussion is, unfortunately, somewhat pissy, though my sympathies are with . (Though I think his riposte re Electric Velocipede should have been left as an apologia for writing a shorter rather than a longer review, and it was unnecessary, as far as I can see, to personalise it.)

I also agree that because reviews are personal accounts, reviewers who write in the third person sound very pretentious, and this is a real disincentive to investing the time necessary to discover what the reviewer actually thinks.

Posted in Uncategorised

My revised Worldcon schedule

Thursday 6:00pm
The Digital Divide

Christopher Rowe
Don Sakers
Renee Sieber (M)

Are we rushing to build a web-enabled society that disenfranchises those unable or unwilling to adopt the online lifestyle? Governments justify the push for e-services on the basis of cost savings, but even aside from privacy considerations, what are the implications for those happy with society as it is?

Friday 11:00am
The High Frontiersmen

Keith DeCandido (M)
Ken MacLeod

Is it inevitable that space will become the next battleground for geopolitics?

Friday 1:00pm
Dr. Who Retrospective: The Best Years

Chris M Barkley
Paul F. Cockburn
Paul Cornell (M)
Kathryn Sullivan

What were the best years of Dr. Who? While part of the discussion can include “who made the best Doctor,” it goes beyond that. Which years had the best scripts? The best set-ups (e.g, comparing the UNIT years with the more free-wheeling years with the years that included major arcs).

Saturday 10:00am
The Fracturing of the UK: is British politics too broken to stay together?

James Lovegrove
Ian R. Macleod

UK politics and race, class, geography, and changing poltiical alignments

Saturday 11:00am
Byzantium at our Borders in the 21st century: the Future of Europe.

Keith Brooke
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Patrick J. Gyger
Harry Turtledove

Would we have needed a different past to have a different future? What would be the consequences if “recognition of Europe’s Christian heritage” is inserted into the constitution.

Sunday 10:00am
Is the American Empire on the Verge of Collapse?

Ken MacLeod

Lawrence Person (M)

(No explanatory text!)

Monday 11:00am
The World We are Making Now: Politics

John-Henri Holmberg
Klaus Mogensen
Caroline Mullan (M)

Today’s adults are setting the stage for the next half-century. Our careers, our causes, and the decisions we take now will determine both has power half a century hence and what they will use that power to do. What kind of world is being made now?

Posted in Uncategorised


My flight to Glasgow from Belfast for Worldcon costs nothing at all!

(Plus £43.48 in taxes, so actually a little more than nothing.)

Posted in Uncategorised

Here comes the rain again…

…blessed rain, cleansing the muggy weather of the last week or so.

I’ve been pretty comatose all day. I was at two liberal parties last night, with Liberal International holding a farewell reception for departing staff – great fun, Count Otto Lambsdorff looking very fierce, but old, and had a good chat with a certain Foreign Minister who I’d first met a year or so ago, and then on to the Brussels branch of the British Lib Dems for their annual summer barbecue. But I wasn’t home until well after midnight, and had to be up at 7 this morning for an early presentation to a bunch of Kosovo government officials. Not such a big deal – I’ve done enough of these presentations by now that I could probably do one in my sleep, and this morning came perilously close to testing me on that. But I could have done with a bit more bed-rest.

I was a bit surprised to see this particular Foreign Minister at a party political event – I reminded him that when I’d last spoken to him, he told me that he was a non-political appointee, put in because he was seen as a good career diplomat and wasn’t a member of the ruling party. He replied that after having to answer the opposition’s parliamentary questions foe a while, he came to the realisation that he actually agreed with the policies of the governing party (I twitched a bit at this, as it’s a bit unusual for a government minister to express himself in quite that way) and so he’d decided to become an activist as well as a minister. He then gleefully told me that his government had recently won re-election, though with a reduced majority. Half the seats are elected proportionally and half in single-member districts. I pointed out that a lot of ex-Soviet countries use that system. The Minister reacted a bit coolly; his is most definitely not an ex-Soviet country.

Am going to a book launch later on today. Just have to fill in the next three hours somehow…

Posted in Uncategorised

“I am a jelly doughnut”

Turns out this is quite an old ending to an older story, dating from 1993 and with many repetitions on the web, but it completely convinces me that the urban legend is wrong:

An actual resident of Berlin would say, in proper German, “Ich bin Berliner.” But that wouldn’t have been the correct thing for Kennedy to say. The indefinite article “ein” is added to a statement like this, Eichhoff explains, to express a metaphorical identification between subject and predicate. In fact, “ein” is required in a sentence such as this unless the speaker wants to be taken literally.

For example, the German sentences “Er ist Politiker” and “Er ist ein Politiker” both mean “He is a politician,” but they’re understood by German speakers as different statements. The first means, more exactly, “He is (literally) a politician.” The second means “He is (like) a politician.” You would say of George W. Bush, “Er ist Politiker.” But you would say of an organizationally astute coworker, “Er ist ein Politiker.”

Link from an urban legends site, via Language Hat.

Posted in Uncategorised

Zelazny’s themes: a consolidated reply

From : I think it’s a reference to his Nebula award winning story ‘The Engine At HeartSpring’s Center’, about a suicidal cyborg and a literally femme-fatale death-counsellor. Same year as Silverberg’s ‘Born With the Dead’ took best novella. Good year for death.

From : A few thoughts:

In Nine Princes in Amber, Corwin mounts a suicidal attempt on Amber, never withdrawing.

In Creatures of Light and Darkness, the Prince’s wife commits suicide, and the Prince offers himself up to be killed as part of a bargain. Typhon commits apparent suicide as well.

In Lord of Light, Taraka suicides, as does another demon earlier on. So does Rild. All apparently know what they are doing. Sam is brought back from death and resents it. The God/Goddess of Thieves commits a crime even though she knows it will lead to her death. Yama commits temporary suicide with an escape plan.

In general, I think “suicide” is oversimplifying his perspective, but “doing potentially suicidal things” is a big theme in Zelazny. Risking all, and sometimes not even for obvious reasons – a sort of “because it was there” philosophy.

From Chris Kovacs: I don’t think suicide is a hugely prevalent theme in Zelazny’s work, but it is there, and you missed quite a few things. It’s especially among the earlier short stories and novellas where there are lots of brooding and suicidal characters. A Rose for Ecclesiastes – the story ends with the arrogant main character waking up from a suicide attempt in the ship’s dispensary. This Moment of the Storm – the character wants to die, his beloved was killed, and he puts himself into suspended animation. The Doors of His Face (etc) reveals a number of psychological aspects about the main character’s motivations, one of which is a fascination with death and mortality, and probably a death wish. One of my favourites of his short works is Angel, Dark Angel – the superpowered immortal-like agent of death kills himself at the end in order to allow his beloved to survive. Etc etc.

And don’t forget Corwin — he admitted trying to kill himself before, and then tried to throw himself over the cliff when Deirdre died.

Posted in Uncategorised


The weekend started with a cool beer with on the way home from work on Friday. Sweltering hot weekend has basically been spent reading Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun and Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. The children have all been avidly watching a new show called Boohbah, made by the makers of Teletubbies. It is no exaggeration to say that Boohbah makes the Teletubbies look like Bertold Brecht.

Posted in Uncategorised

Tidying up my livejournal

Well, I’ve spent many happy hours this weekend and last adding tags to all my old livejournal entries, also completing the process of importing entries from two earlier attempts at blogging from late 2001 onwards; also exported the media stories about me and my work to bookblog
cool links
northern ireland
us politics / history
quiz memes
interview memes
election nov 04
my media
books to read
uk politics
election may 05
doctor who
neil gaiman
off-blog reviews
election nov 03
election observation
jrr tolkien
usa 05/05
election jun 04

There’s still a bit more tidying to be done – eg the “bookblog” category has already over 200 entries, so perhaps I need to split it up by year; same for “travels”. I think once you’ve got over 60 entries with the same tag you need to think about splitting it up. But that’s enough for now!

Posted in Uncategorised

De-stressing meme (thanks to )

I’ve been tagged for this by , and it’s fairly timely – some people tell me that I appear to be a generally stressed and tense individual, which worries me as my own self-image is of someone who is often much too relaxed!

Things you enjoy, even when no one around you wants to go out and play. When you are mindless, bored and need a way to suck away time. What lowers your stress/blood pressure/anxiety level? Make a list, post it and then tag 5 friends and ask them to post it to theirs.

  1. Browsing in bookshops. I don’t even have to buy, though I find it helps even more to lower my stress levels if I do. But just taking half an hour to an hour of wandering around the shelves, flicking through the pages, is very relaxing.
  2. Reading. Especially tucked up in bed, with nice fresh mug of coffee, even more effective if the weather outside is a howling gale with heavy rain.
  3. Watching TV/DVD/video with Anne. We’ve only just got back into a routine of doing this, but are swiftly working our way through Season Seven of Buffy. Then we have ‘s copies of Firefly to get through. Although it’s against the spirit of the quiz, which comes close to specifying things you do on your own, I much prefer watching with Anne to watching films on my own – that usually happens only on transatlantic flights, or stuck in a hotel room on a work trip.
The meme doesn’t say you have to think of five things, and I’ve sort of run out after those three. Maybe I really am tense and stressed.

Tagging: a bunch of you have already done this, but I can’t remember who. If you have, then reply saying so and I’ll see how similar your relaxing methods are to mine.

Posted in Uncategorised

Buffy Season 7 (part I)

We’ve finally started to watch the Buffy Season 7 DVD’s we got ourselves for Christmas. Good marks so far; here are notes on the individual episodes.

7.1: Lessons – one of two episodes we managed to catch first time round, so this time we watched it with the Joss Whedon/David Solomon voiceover – first time I’ve watched a DVD with a voiceover like that. The episode is the one where the new principal is introduced, Spike is insane in the school basement, and the monsters du jour are zombies summoned by a talisman. As well as the great morphing sequence of villains at the end, which brings us back to the beginning of the whole show, the initial exchange about how terrifying school is between Dawn and Buffy almost seems like a return to the show’s original theme. Query Istanbul sequence? And Westbury has romantic associations for me from long past (OK, so I know it was actually ASH’s house in Bath 20 miles away).

7.2 Beneath You – this is the one with the woman called Nancy whose ex-boyfriend has been turned into a giant worm by Anya. Several great character moments. Lucid Spike is even more scary than Insane Spike. A truly slash-tastic moment when Nancy asks who hasn’t slept with each other, and Xander and Spike exhange a (smouldering?) glance. Cathartic (one hopes) fight between Spike and Buffy. First episode in which Anya is clearly the baddie (though persuaded to undo her spell at the end). Query Frankfurt sequence?

7.3: Same Time, Same Place – the one where Willow and the others can’t see each other, but everyone else can see them. This was the only other episode we’d seen before. Much more horror content than we are used to from Buffy, with not just the invisibility factor but also the Gnarl demon, the flayed corpse, and the sequence where he starts to eat Willow. Poor Dawn – she gets the answer and nobody believes her, and then she ends up paralysed on the couch with the TV remote control uselessly clutched in her hand. Some very good sequences here as we try and work out what is really going on, and as Willow and her friends start the process of re-integrating her.. Another slash-tastic moment when Anya, who was initially worried about her magic with Willow getting “all sexy”, then rather enjoys it when it does get “a little sexy”!

7.4 Help – the one with the girl who knows she is going to die next Friday. TBH this one didn’t really work very well for me, the most interesting bit for me being to try and work out if Cassie Newton/Azura Skye really looks like Drew Barrymore in “Never Been Kissed”. Oh yes, and Willow’s excellent line that “this is normal teen stuff. You join chat rooms, you write poetry, you post Doogie Howser fan-fic. It’s all normal, right?” But the plot as a whole didn’t gel – Buffy will get sacked as a school counsellor if she goes on like this (social worker-style calls on estranged fathers, using Dawn as part of her outreach startegy); Peter, the main demon-raiser, gets off very lightly with only a shoulder bite, which seems a little mild as retribution for an attempted human sacrifice; and Cassie’s death as a result of a condition mysteriously absent from her available medical records but known to her mother made the entire rescue effort and therefore most of the episode seem completely pointless.

7.5 Selfless – the one with Anya getting people’s hearts torn out. Now we’re cooking on gas! The Viking flashback scenes had some great lines: “Your hips are narrow, like a Baltic woman from a slightly more arid region.” “Run! Hide your babies and your beadwork!” – and even starts with Anya holding, of all things, a rabbit. Buffy hunting and killing the spider demon (indeed the spider demon itself) – a great sequence. D’Hoffryn, coming across all urbane and charming, especially in his chat with Willow (“Have you done something with your hair?”) and then at the end utterly casually killing Halfrek rather than Anya, to remind everyone that he’s still a demon lord, however charming and urbane he may appear. The flashback to Once More With Feeling was good too, coming as it did immediately after we’d seen Buffy stab Anya through the chest. Basically a rather sad episode, leavened by shafts of comedy.

7.6 Him – the one with the magic jacket which makes girls fall in love with you. This is Buffy going back to its roots of high-school angst manifesting as dark forces, and doing it well (I always liked Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered). Poor Dawn – her attempts to ingratiate herself with RJ are almost more painful and disturbing than the demon Gnarl eating Willow three episodes back. And Buffy really is going to get sacked as a school counsellor if she goes on like this! The music is from “A Summer Place”, a 1959 film which I’ve never seen but which is apparently one of the great teen romances of all time. Great lines like Willow’s “Right there with ya” (when they realise that the girl with the “painted on” top is in fact Dawn), and then her attempts to turn RJ into a girl – would the jacket have still worked, I wonder? And if so, how? The four way split screen just before the last commercial break was hilarious. And what will Anya do with all the money she has (presumably) stolen? Great to have a funny episode after several that were somewhat less funny.

So, on balance, very much enjoying Season 7, with only one duff episode out of six so far. Next up is Conversations With Dead People, which was the only Buffy episode ever to win a Hugo Award, so I’m really looking fiorward to it.

Posted in Uncategorised

The end of a (not so) beautiful friendship

Representative Peter King rethinks his position.

Once a vocal and frequent House champion for the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, and its leader, Gerry Adams, the 60-year-old, Queens-born Mr. King has said nothing about either on the House floor in years. The politician once called the IRA “the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland,” he was banned from the BBC by British censors for his pro-IRA views, and he refused to denounce the IRA when one of its mortar bombs killed nine Northern Irish police officers. But Mr. King is now one of America’s most outspoken foes of terrorism.

Posted in Uncategorised


My prospective lunch date for today is nine months pregnant, or at least was when I saw her last week.

She’s not answering her phone, and when I called her office they said they hadn’t seen her yet this morning. I suggested they call her at home and call me back if she is in fact on for lunch.

They haven’t called back. I think I may well be eating lunch on my own!

Posted in Uncategorised

Zelazny: immortality vs suicide?

Having giggled a bit about the Onion’s sf horoscopes earlier, I’m now pondering the one about Roger Zelazny:

Even if you do find their unique combination of style, universal competence, ennui, and raw ambition strangely exhilarating, you’d probably be a lot happier if you stopped keeping company with suicidal types, immortals, and suicidal immortal types.
I’ll happily grant you the fact that many Zelazny heroes do display “style, universal competence, ennui, and raw ambition”, and many indeed are immortal or effectively so. But one element of the Onion’s satirical summary just didn’t ring true for me. A brief hunt through the combination of Google and my personal library brings me to Theodore Krulik’s book about him, where I find on p 49-50 a discussion of the obsession of Charles Render, the protagonist of “He Who Shapes”/The Dream Master, with suicide, finishing with a note that:
Samuel Delany represents a basic tenet of Zelazny’s world with a two-sided coin; one side is immortality and the other side is suicide. Most of Zelazny’s heroic figures fall on the immortality side of the coin. Although there are several protagonists in Zelazny’s short stories who may be placed on the negative side of the coin, Dr Charles Render is the only such representative in the lengthy, sustained form of the novel.
(A cite is given to a 1977 essay by Delany on Thomas Disch and Roger Zelazny in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, which I should obviously try and get hold of.)

I have to say I really wonder how accurate this characterisation of Zelazny’s writing actually is. Of course, there’s an awful lot about immortals with god-like powers. Excuse me for a moment if I summarise his solo novels, listed here in chronological order:

This Immortal (1966) – hero is immortal
The Dream Master (1966) – hero is a psychiatrist
Lord of Light (1967) – main characters have godlike powers
Creatures of Light and Darkness (1969) – main characters have godlike powers
Isle of the Dead (1969) – hero has godlike powers
Damnation Alley (1969) – hero is a Hell’s Angel
Nine Princes in Amber (1970) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 1)
Jack of Shadows (1971) – hero has godlike powers (if somewhat restricted)
The Guns of Avalon (1972) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 2)
Today We Choose Faces (1973) – hero is effectively immortal (via cloning and partial memory transfer)
To Die in Italbar (1973) – several characters have godlike powers
Doorways in the Sand (1975) – hero is a perpetual student
Sign of the Unicorn (1975) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 3)
The Hand of Oberon (1976) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 4)
Bridge of Ashes (1976) – time travel and immortality
The Courts of Chaos (1978) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 5)
Roadmarks (1979) – time travel and immortality
Changeling (1980) – fantasy leaking into our world
The Changing Land (1981) – standard fantasy
Madwand (1981) – fantasy leaking into our world
Dilvish the Damned (1982) – standard fantasy
Eye of Cat (1983) – main character is a Native American tracker
Trumps of Doom (1985) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 6)
Blood of Amber (1986) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 7)
Sign of Chaos (1987) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 8)
A Dark Travelling (1987) – fantasy pastiche
Knight of Shadows (1989) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 9)
Prince of Chaos (1991) – main characters have godlike powers (Amber 10)
A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) – fantasy pastiche

Looking down the list, I’m trying very hard to think of Zelazny characters – whether protagonists or not – who displayed suicidal tendencies, and drawing a bit of a blank. One very off-stage character in the Amber books, Morganthe (Moire’s daughter, Random’s ex-lover, Martin’s mother), is said to have killed herself some time before the series begins. The Colonel Who Never Died, in Jack of Shadows, is given rather gruesome instrutions on how to slit his wrists by the novel’s eponymous hero, but this is in the context of a military defeat and anyway he knows he is going to be resurrected almost immediately. And that’s it, as far as I can remember.

There are a number of Zelazny characters who put themselves at risk (and indeed some of them die – most notably, Billy Blackhorse Singer in Eye of Cat) for the sake of a heroic cause, but such behaviour is not normally described as suicidal. A number undergo death-like experiences and are transformed – thinking especially of the multiple protagonist of Today We Choose Faces and the villain in Roadmarks. But it’s not really what Delany appears to have meant.

There is a serious discussion to be had about “He Who Shapes”/The Dream Master. The second chapter (of both versions) begins “The suicide bothered him [Render] more than it should have”, and there is a recurring discussion of suicide throughout the text. But here again I think it’s wrong to read the story of Render’s self-destruction as suicidal; it’s much more a story of hubris, of a man who thought he had godlike powers and pushed them too far because of a love that he wouldn’t admit.

It’s also perhaps his most autobiographical novel. Render is still getting over the death of his wife in a car accident several years before; Zelazny at the time of writing the novel was getting over his first marriage of a few years before – a marriage which had in fact been delayed because he and his then fiancee were injured in a serious car accident, and then again because of his father’s sudden death. It’s not very difficult to join the dots.

So, my proposition is that suicide is not, in fact, a major theme of Zelazny’s works, and without having read Delany, I think he was being too flippant.

Now, I’ll admit that there are a couple of witnesses against me (apart from Samuel Delany, whose 1977 piece I haven’t read). Douglas Barbour, in a review of Krulik’s book, snorts in disappointment, “Four times, for example, Krulik refers to Delany’s brilliant essay, ‘Faust and Archimedes: Disch, Zelazny,’ yet he never elicits anything more out of it than that the twined themes of immortality and suicide are to be found in Zelazny’s work.” The tone of Barbour’s comment leads me to suspect that Delany actually had quite a lot more to say.

The other witness against my case is, rather significantly, Zelazny himself, as quoted by Krulik (p. 29) in what appears to be an unpublished (and undated) essay called “Tomorrow Stuff” in the Syracuse archives of his correspondence:

What are my particular hang-ups and foibles? Immortality, suicide, one man against the winds and the tides and the stars, sometimes the impossible love which sustains, impossibly, the tortured soul, sometimes the hate so big that it would burn the innocent to reach the guilty, and sometimes the simple, contemplative pleasures – like good food, friendly cats, a pipe of pleasant tobacco – that make life worthwhile, despite all ugliness.
How seriously should we take this self-description? Zelazny, of course, was a fan of Delany’s (and vice versa) and even dedicated Creatures of Light and Darkness to him; I find myself wondering if he wrote this after reading what Delany had written about his work, and thought, “Aha, if Chip thinks that’s what I’m writing about, maybe he’s right…”

Certainly the simple statement that Zelazny’s work shows a basic tension between immortality and suicide sounds deep and profound and convincing. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it just ain’t true.

Posted in Uncategorised

Your interests

Following ‘s instructions:

Top 25 interests of poeple on my f-list: science fiction (83), writing (64), reading (60), books (58), fantasy (43), history (34), music (33), cats (32), sf (31), terry pratchett (29), ireland (27), chocolate (25), literature (25), sci-fi (25), computers (24), politics (23), douglas adams (22), buffy (21), cooking (21), lord of the rings (21), movies (20), neil gaiman (20), philosophy (20), and tolkien (20).

All fairly much as expected. Those topics which are not on my own interests list are at least ones I am interested in.

Interests where everyone who has them is on my f-list, ignoring 493 (493!!) unique ones: cocac (4), damn fine convention (4), sf in ireland (3), #cocac (2), albedo 1 (2), electrical eggs uk (2), irish gaming (2), john w sexton (2), kordeth (2), nagorno karabakh (2), nova awards (2), paul j holden (2), sex w johnston (2), sf quizzes (2), sons of shiva (2), the convertible bus (2), thomas mcmahon (2), and transdniestria (2). “cocac” is clearly some sinister Rathmore-based conspiracy. The Damn Fine Convention was obviously a historic event of great importance in 2002. I am the only real person interested in “sf in ireland”, the other two users being communities. Of the twofers, will have to explain “John W Sexton” and “Sex W Johnston”, and a couple of others. And only my Folkestone-based readership know about Thomas MacMahon (presumably not the guy who blew up Lord Mountbatten as he spelt his name McMahon).

Using the special metric of people on my f-list, squared, divided by total ljers with that interest, those where the number of users with that interest on my f-list is greater than the square root of the total number users with that interest is as follows: irish sf news (6/7), p-con (6/8), cocac (4/4), damn fine convention (4/4), dave langford (12/44), gay for jonny drain (7/15), juliet e mckenna (5/8), sf in ireland (3/3), ian mcdonald (10/36), the alien online (4/7), mecon (5/11), plokta.con (3/4), ken macleod (15/105), [the fifteen (2/2) interests in the last paragraph,] arthur c clarke award (3/5), chunga (3/5), irish comics (3/5), swisstone (3/5), bsfa (4/9), fannish history (4/10), bloodfarts (5/17), the cult of livejournal (5/18), ansible (9/59), angels in space (2/3), balkan politics (2/3), daemongirl (2/3), hat-mouth-boat (2/3), ladyfest dublin (2/3), lostcarpark (2/3), michael carroll (2/3), octocon (2/3), sheela na gigs (2/3), south ossetia (2/3), steer’s true stories (2/3), virtue is ever-vigilant (2/3), rasfw (5/19), science fiction foundation (3/7), sproutlore (4/13), the pointy bear game (3/8), third row fandom (3/8). Most of these are in-jokes of one kind or another. Interestingly Jonny Drain, Ian McDonald and are themselves on my f-list, though does not claim to be interested in himself. I don’t know if Juliet McKenna or Michael Carroll reads this (but I’d be rather surprised if they did).

I’m a bit stunned that only nine of you claim to be interested in sex!

Posted in Uncategorised

This week’s Onion…

…reports back from the future. The Horoscopes section is clearly directed at certain science fiction authors:

Aries: (March 21—April 19)
You will be thrilled to encounter a science so highly advanced that it is indistinguishable from magic—a science primarily concerned with generating rabbits using common headgear, producing endless amounts of colored handkerchiefs, and sawing women in hal

Taurus: (April. 20—May 20)
Your attempt to build a peaceful, agrarian matriarchy in the former northern-Californian archipelago fails miserably when the thousands of cat-fights breaking out amongst the basket-weaving lodgers are traced back to overexposure to winsome folk music.

Gemini: (May 21—June 21)
You realize that your world is rapidly approaching perfection, ruled as it is by the benevolent power of supermen-scientist atom-masters. Nevertheless, sometimes you can’t help but feel that humanity has lost something of its near-divine spark.

Cancer: (June 22—July 22)
You’ve never encountered a problem that can’t be solved by the combined mental and spiritual resources of the enlightened people of the galaxy or by swinging from the doorframe and kicking people in the gut.

Leo: (July 23—Aug. 22)
Exhausted after fleeing the harsh realities of an increasingly boring life in front of the computer terminal, you will awake to find yourself transported to a colossal cave, where it will seem like you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

Virgo: (Aug. 23—Sept. 22)
Despite your years of earnest effort to create a civilized and compassionate dialogue on the emotional languages of race, love, and desire, most of the universe will still insist on calling you “that one black gay weirdo.”

(Sept. 23—Oct. 23)
You will be unable to shake a deep feeling of unutterable sadness as you roam the world with a scruffy band of misfits at the end of history, performing the occasional execution in your search for your lost mother/lover and a way to rekindle the dying sun

Scorpio: (Oct. 24—Nov. 21)
Even if you do find their unique combination of style, universal competence, ennui, and raw ambition strangely exhilarating, you’d probably be a lot happier if you stopped keeping company with suicidal types, immortals, and suicidal immortal types.

Sagittarius: (Nov. 22—Dec. 21)
You will be unable to shake the feeling that society at large would be improved by even more chunky, quasi-cubist levitating machinery of mystic origin, as well as the increased use of triple exclamation points by the general populace.

Capricorn: (Dec. 22—Jan. 19)
Prepare for major life changes this week, Bester. You will achieve great commercial success, vast literary acclaim, and a premature death while completing your magnum opus, The Bars My Destination: A Guide To All 24 Hours Of Orbital Nightlife.

…and then they ran out of ideas before getting to Aquarius and Pisces.

So who are the targets? My personal guesses:
Aries: not sure [ETA: Of course, it’s a riff on Clarke’s Law – thanks, !]
Taurus: Sherri S Tepper? Or Ursula Le Guin? I’ve read this book but can’t remember which it is…
Gemini: One of the great pulp authors – Hubbard? Van Vogt?
Cancer: Star Wars?
Leo: Philip K Dick? [ETA: says it’s the original computer adventure game, ADVENT, later seen as Colossal Cave Adventure.]
Virgo: Easy – Samuel R Delany.
Even easier – Gene Wolfe
Scorpio: Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time?
Sagittarius: I don’t know this one.
Capricorn: Alfred Bester.

Posted in Uncategorised


Sat for two hours in a conference this morning and listed eleven tasks that I should try and do today.

Haven’t done any of them.


Posted in Uncategorised

More elections

I’ve just seen the OSCE assessment report for the elections in Azerbaijan and it seems they want to deploy 500 short term observers, plus another couple of dozen long-term ones. Details of how to apply here.

Really, anyone who is over the age of about 21 and has an interest in politics should consider applying. Obviously in this case some knowledge of Russian would help, but if they’re looking for as many as 500 observers I suspect they may have to be flexible.

Posted in Uncategorised

B’s birthday

Sunday was B’s eighth birthday. It doesn’t mean an awful lot to her, but she definitely appreciated the cake (though less so the presents):

For her birthday treat we all went to the nearby town of Tielt-Winge where there is an activity centre for children with special needs called Het Balanske. The jewel in Het Balanske’s crown is a fantastic space for snoezelen.

Snoezelen is a calming multi-sensory environment developed by Dutch therapists over the years. It includes a room with rotating lights, a hammock, a water bed, and these lovely bubble columns (picture from Het Balanske as my own attempt to capture it didn’t work):

But that is not all. As well as the “classic” snoezelen space, there’s another room with musical instruments, and a corridor with a rotating floor and funny mirrors:

which B enjoyed:

…which ends in a space with a huge ball pit and a bouncy castle:

F and U enjoyed it too. But it was B’s day.

Posted in Uncategorised

June Books 4) The Assassin’s Edge

4) The Assassin’s Edge, by Juliet E. McKenna

The fifth in Juliet McKenna’s Einarinn series, of which I am a moderate fan (see third and fourth books previously). Once again, competently done, and most of the threads from the first four books pulled together (though I did want to hear more of the lascivious island race from book #2). Among McKenna’s strengths (others are mentioned in my previous reviews) are decent battle scenes – just enough detail to make you feel that it’s a confusing, violent situation to be in, without at the same time confusing the reader (or at least this reader). There’s also a wonderfully described bath scene. And the final confrontations with the bad guys are most satisfying. I was slightly surprised, though it’s not really a criticism, by the low-key tone of the final wrap-up chapters after the plot is basically over; I’d somehow expected something more dramatic after five books and 2500 pages. But perhaps McKenna is just trying to tell us that life goes on.

Posted in Uncategorised

Why I’m not watching Doctor Who…

…because I’m in Dublin airport waiting for my plane.

Book spoils from Belfast:

Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland
Plato, The Republic
Chris Bird, To Catch A Tartar: Notes from the Caucasus
Olivia Manning, The Balkan Trilogy

Last night I crashed early in Madison’s, which was just as well because when their live band started at 10.30 there was no way I was getting any more sleep until they stopped. I got up, had a shower, and wandered around a bit, looking for a quiet spot where I could pull together my thoughts and write a bit more of my talk for this morning. Renshaw’s duly obliged, appearing like a wasteland in comparison with the throbbing nightlife along Botanic Avenue, so I settled down and wrote another two pages. Two nice girls from Tyrone appeared and came over to chat me up, astonished by the fact that someone was sitting writing a lecture in the pub at midnight on a Friday (which I agree is a little odd). They eventually gave up on me and went to work on the barmen, who were the only other people left in the place by then.

It was a bit odd to be back in Belfast for twenty-four hours, eight years after I moved away, and I asked the two Tyrone girls what they thought about emigrating – would they stay in Belfast for the rest of their lives? One of them, a nurse, had hankerings to move to Australia, but I didn’t really believe her. The other, who’d just got her law degree, was already signed up to do the law college course in Chester. I doubt that she’ll ever come back to Northern ireland.

Right, must go find something to eat before entrusting my person to RyanAir. Will write more about the conference, and NI politics, later.

Posted in Uncategorised

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity

Well, I’m still working on the paper that I have to deliver tomorrow morning. Struggled through at my desk in the Institute of Governance for most of the afternoon, though took a very pleasant break in the form of a cup of tea with . Then checked into the York Hotel Madison’s for the night, and now sitting in Revelations cyber-cafe on Shaftesbury Square, surrounded by papers.

Belfast seems really humid today! Thank heavens I packed light…

Posted in Uncategorised