My day

My day today started with a meeting with this man:

He is the leader of the largest opposition party in one of the former Yugoslav republics.

My day ended with a meeting with this man:

He is the leader of the largest opposition party in a different one of the former Yugoslav republics.

There will be a prize for the first person to name the two former Yugoslav republics in question.

(Extra bonus for anyone naming the opposition parties and their leaders.)

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Back from travels

Am taking the afternoon off at home, having arrived jetlagged from New York, two hours later than planned, at 3 pm. Quite a good trip, all things considered:

Saturday – conference in Berlin, considerably enlivened when in the first session a friendly but sincere dispute broke out between two different wings of the large organisation sponsoring the conference, which made the rest of us feel much more relaxed about speaking our minds – indeed, I can’t recall a conference I’ve been to in Germany that was quite so good-humoured. (The point at issue was, “Is a new EU constitution necessary before any countries join the EU after Bulgaria and Romania?” Discuss amongst yourselves.)

Sunday – mainly a travelling day, with lots of work when I could get the laptop to cooperate. Arrived in New York at 8 pm local time. Went out for a chicken burrito, went to bed.

Yesterday – woke at 0330 NY time (0930 Brussels time, of course) and put in six hours’ solid work before rewarding myself with a trip to the Barnes and Noble on Union Square (recommended to me some time ago by ). Bought Counting Heads by David Marusek and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Back uptown in time for:

Big Work Lunch. You can watch the promotional video which has a whole 5 seconds of me in it. The main point of the lunch was to present awards honouring the work of James Wolfensohn of the World Bank, Mark Malloch Brown of the UN, and, most movingly, Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who saved over a thousand people from the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He got a standing ovation from those present, and I can’t have been the only one whose eyes moistened as this modest but heroic man accepted his award.

There was an unexpected personal spin-off for me. As an inveterate self-googler, I knew of a nineteenth century architect called Nicholas Whyte who designed this New York building at 101 Spring St. As it happened, the couple sitting beside me at lunch were an architect and an engineer; and it turned out, by extraordinary coincidence, that his firm is actually renovating 101 Spring St. He promised to give me a tour next time I am in New York for more than 24 hours.

(The lunch itself? Chicken.)

Then to the United Nations for the meeting which was the actual point of my visit. I had enough time to spare beforehand to buy a couple of books for F in the UN bookshop – the rather lovely For Every Child, A Better World, and a a big colouring book called The United Nations in Our Daily Lives which combines simple illustrations of, say, nuclear weapons experts looking at radioactive barrels of gunk, with simple explanatory text in English and Spanish:

Many countries have agreed not to build nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors travel acroiss the planet to check whether these countries are keeping their promises.
Muchos países han prometido no fabricar más armas nucleares. Los inspectores del Organismo Internacional de Energía Atómica viajan por todo el planeta para controlar que esos países cumplan sus promesas.

Perhaps the text is a little advanced for their ostensible target readership, but F has been giving it a fair go this afternoon.

The UN meeting went well, and then it was straight off to JFK again to catch the plane, which was an hour late, giving me time to get into Counting Heads which I am enjoying so far, and grab a meal (chicken yet again). I managed to get some (but not quite enough) sleep on the plane. The delay meant a bit longer in Heathrow, where I saw a paperback edition of Anansi Boys and snapped it up. Also a discounted set of the Doctor Who DVD’s, which I was going to have as my Christmas present, so I bought them too and must now exercise self-restraint for the next four weeks.

And so home, and in pyjamas, and looking forward to a very early bed. And eating something other than chicken for my dinner.

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November Books 16) The Darkness That Comes Before

16) The Darkness That Comes Before, by R. Scott Bakker

Had been meaning to get around to this for ages. Hmm. Perhaps it’s the consequence of reading it on a transatlantic flight at the end of my second working weekend in a row, but this didn’t really do it for me. It’s a big fantasy novel, the first (inevitably) of a series called “The Prince of Nothing”, but I found the cultures and characters insufficiently distinguishable or engaging. Apart from the women, that is, though even there I was uncomfortable about their stereotyped roles (one querulous queen; one whore with a heart of gold; one naive concubine kidnapped by barbarian prince). I know other people have raved about this but I won’t be looking out for the sequels.

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November Books 15) Up Through an Empty House of Stars

15) Up Through an Empty House of Stars: Reviews and Essays 1980-2002, by David Langford

When I grow up I want to be David Langford. I think his “Critical Mass” column in White Dwarf must have been the first regular sf review column I read, over twenty years ago now; I have fond memories also of his just-about-non-sf novel The Leaky Establishment. This volume brings together his own selection of his favourite reviews from the years in question. Some of them – perhaps even all of them – are archived on his website, but there’s nothing quite like the printed page for riffling back and forth to find favourite bits.

Not all of the reviews are of sf; Dave has a great familiarity with the classic detective novel, and as well as reviewing several examples of that genre, spots homages to Dorothy L. Sayers in Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign that had quite passed me by. Not all the pieces are reviews: there are lovely obituaries of people I had heard of, like Bob Shaw, and people I hadn’t, like George Hay. There are pieces on Terry Pratchett (not on-line) and Tom Holt. There is much about the merits (well-known) of Gene Wolfe and Stephen Baxter, and also (less well-known) Jack Chalker and James White.

And it’s all a joy to read. Dave possibly finds it easier to write at length about books that he didn’t like than ones he did – see for instance his take-downs of Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast and David Wingrove’s The Science Fiction Sourcebook (which I’ve reviewed more positively – having said which, I think Dave’s exposition of the book’s flaws is masterly). There are great one-liners like his adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from an ad-hoc plot device”.

I winced a bit at the £12 I had to pay for this at Worldcon, one of the most of expensive of my many purchases in Glasgow. But it is worth every penny.

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November Books 14) [Doctor Who:] The Dying Days

14) [Doctor Who:] The Dying Days, by Lance Parkin

Encouraged by , I went through a probably unnecessarily convoluted process of transferring this Doctor Who novel from the BBC website to my Palm T|X, and read it in bed over the last week or so. This is a story of the Eighth Doctor, Bernice Summerfield and the Brigadier defending 1997 London from an invasion of Ice Warriors from Mars. There is lots to like here. I especially liked the setting – the casual name-dropping of real celebrities from 1997 (including Lalla Ward twice, once as herself and once as Romana), but in the world of Doctor Who (the Whoniverse?), where the UK has had a massive space programme since the early 1970s – a sort of sfnal Cool Britannia. It was a heck of a lot more convincing than, say Remembrance of the Daleks‘ attempt to reconstruct 1963. The basic plot got a little convoluted – sinister British technocrat is conspiring with the aliens to take power, with lots of little details that didn’t always tie up well – but the characterisation and writing was great. Sure, the final escape from certain death through improvised parachute and airbags is a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but hey, we have a Time Lord battling invaders from a Mars with a breathable atmosphere – you expect gritty realism?

Despite my aggravation with getting hold of the text, the BBC has done a great thing in getting Lance Parkin to revisit the book and tell us the story of the story. This was in fact the very last of the New Adventures published by Virgin under the supervision of Rebecca Levene (who I knew at Cambridge), but also the first novel to feature the Eight Doctor. There is therefore a bit of an elegiac tone, and we cannot be really sure who will live and who will die. I saved reading Parkin’s notes to each chapter until I had finished reading the book, and recommend that you do too – both read the book, and then read his notes. One story he tells is this:

On May 1st 1997, on the night of the General Election, Tim Collins, newly-elected Conservative MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and Doctor Who fan (he’d had letters published in fanzine DWB) sat in his local town hall, oblivious to the activity around him, frantically reading The Dying Days, ‘because he wanted to have read all the New Adventures under a Tory administration’.

Collins lost his seat earlier this year to another friend of mine from those days, Tim Farron.

Back in August I was on a panel at WorldCon with the title “Dr. [sic] Who Retrospective: The Best Years”; my nominations were Season Ten, Season Twelve and Season Fourteen. But I’m beginning to suspect that the Rebecca Levene Years may also be in contention.

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Geek Books By Women meme

The top 21 as scientifically determined by :

The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula Le Guin
Ash – Mary Gentle
Cyteen – CJ Cherryh
Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling
The Warrior’s Apprentice – Lois McMaster Bujold

Nylon Angel – Marianne de Pierres
The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
Slow River – Nicola Griffith
1610: A Sundial in the Grave – Mary Gentle
Deep Secret – Diana Wynne Jones

Dark Lord of Derkholm – Diana Wynne Jones
China Mountain Zhiang – Maureen McHugh
Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link
Wildseed – Octavia Butler

Oryx & Crake – Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Tam Lin – Pamela Dean
The Lioness Quartet – Tamora Pierce

She has a long list too.

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A reminder

For those of you who (like me) are still only getting email notification of about half the commetns in their livejournals: gives you the most recent comments posted to your journal – most recent 50 if you’re a paid member, I think fewer if you’re a free user.

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F and I had a conversation last night about all the places round the world where I have friends (i.e. colleagues). After we had gone through Africa, he asked me if I had any friends in Asia. I said yes, I know a woman called Sidney who works in Indonesia. F immediately picked up on the fact that there is a town in Australia with a similar name, and giggled about it for a few minutes.

Poor Sidney is well used to being spelt Sydney. But I got into the office to find that she now has bigger problems than people misspelling her name.

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Received this morning:

Dear Chief Executive Officer,

Canadian election is just around the corner, you will soon have to reach millions of voters.

[Spammer & Co], a Canadian software company is offering [product], an automated dialing system that allows you to call thousands of citizens per day.

You can use it for: running surveys; fund raising; sending information about your candidates; getting voters opinions; party events announcement. The system can play messages in multiple languages.

For a limited time, with the purchase of a system, we offer all the listed phone numbers of residents across Canada, free of charge. Check the following pages for further details about [product]. Do not hesitate to call us, we will be pleased to answer all your questions.

Best regards,

Spammer Q McSpam
Spammer & Co

Well, next time I’m running an election campaign in Canada, I’ll know who to boycott because of their marketing methods!

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Sort-of job interview

So, I had a chat with a lobbyist firm this afternoon. I’ve known them for a while, but never quite got to deal with them much. My former assistant now works for them (her London job proved less attractive). For me this was an “informational interview” to sound out what someone with my skill-set might be able to do in the private sector.

Well, it turned out rather interesting; they said that one of their weaknesses, globally speaking, was that they don’t have enough people with experience of dealing with European governments and the EU institutions. I expressed interest; they expressed further interest; I have to write them a formal application letter next week, and they may well be in a position to make me a decent offer.

They were also rather interested in blogging, which they see as an important addition to the lobbyist’s set of tools (and again, admitted that there was nobody currently in their Brussels office who really understands it).

So, we’ll see. Other options appear to have gone off the boil right now; and the more I think about it, the more I realise that if I stay in the NGO sector I’m now at the level where I’ll have to spend lots of my time fund-raising, which I hate. So perhaps this may be another option…

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November Books 13) The Wind’s Twelve Quarters

13) The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Under heavy work pressure at the moment, so I’m returning to basics. I’ve read the collection a couple of times before, but it was nice to be reminded of, say the early Earthsea story, “The Rule of Names”, with that great couple of sentences ending the penultimate paragraph:

But they did stop talking about it, three days later. They had other things to talk about, when Mr Underhill finally came out of his cave.

Which will mean nothing to you unless and until you read the story. There are a number of other cool stories in the book, such as “Nine Lives” and “Vaster than Empires and More Slow”. And one or two that still appeal to the teenage geek in me such as “April in Paris”.

The other issue that interested me – really because of my recent exchange with – was Le Guin’s claims about her own feminism. Her introduction to “Winter’s King” certainly sounds as if she defined herself as a feminist in 1975, but also as if she felt she had not been sufficiently conscious to gender issues when the story was first published in 1969 (a point she makes explicitly, for different reasons, about the first publication of “Nine Lives” in 1968 – in Playboy). I’ll obviously have to read more of what she says about her own work.

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My party’s former deputy leader is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG

From an old friend of mine who was present at the meeting:

I attended Lisburn City Council’s full council meeting held tonight at Lisburn City Council’s magnificent Civic Centre on Tuesday 22 November 2005 at 7pm. A wonderful Christmas tree with amazing decorations welcomed me to Lisburn City Council’s building, adorned with the phrase “A City for Everyone”.

After considering other matters Council was asked whether they wanted to adopt the minutes of the Special Corporate Services Committee convened last night (Monday 21 November 2005) to consider legal advice that Lisburn CC should allow use of the Cherry Room for Civil Partnerships. As you all know, the Special Corporate Services Committee agreed last night to overturn the ban on the Cherry Room.

Cllr Peter O’Hagan (SDLP) proposed and Cllr Trevor Lunn (Deputy Mayor, Alliance) seconded the adoption of the minutes. They were accordingly adopted. I can therefore confirm that the ban has been lifted and lesbian, gay and bisexual people can register their Civil Partnerships in the Cherry Room from Monday 19 December 2005.

Following this the Mayor (Cllr Jonathan Craig (DUP)) asked Councillors if there were any matters arising from the minutes just adopted. Cllr Seamus Close MLA (Alliance) rose as the first speaker to deliver a wide ranging pre written speech.

Cllr Close remarked that it was a sad evening for local democracy with the voice of the people threatened by legal action of a few. He commented that the people of Northern Ireland had supported his principled stand with many emails, phone calls and letters received. Cllr Close stated that Civil Partnership legislation had not been supported by Northern Ireland MPS but had, in his opinion, been foisted upon the Council. He said that he had to accept the legislation as a democrat but could not support it.

The senior Alliance politician stated that the government was being economical with the truth and perverted in their approach to right and wrong with lie as a pillar of state.

Cllr Close commented “We are told that to prevent homosexuals and lesbians using the Cherry Room is discriminatory, may be unlawful and interferes with respect for their private lives” but remarked that this begged the question “Who is being unreasonable?” with 86% of people opposed to Civil Partnerships.

Following on, Cllr Close remarked that he felt that Civil Partnerships to be an instrument for other changes remarking that it would be perverted for young people to have “two daddies or mummies” with adoption to be a direct consequence of the Civil Partnerships legislation.

Cllr Close stated that they were being asked to give a “veneer of democracy to a dictatorial regime”.

Closing his speech, Cllr Close detailed that reversing the ban on using the Cherry Room for Civil Partnerships goes against every fibre in his body and his conscience and that he could not and would not support the change.

He stated that, as a result, he intended to withdraw from the meeting and let others support the motion with the dire consequences that would result.

After leaving the room the Mayor (Cllr Jonathan Craig (DUP)) stated that the minutes of the Special Corporate Services Committee convened last night (Monday 21 November 2005) had already been adopted and therefore no opportunity existed to vote on the matter. Giggles were heard.

Cllr Paul Butler (Sinn Fein) then rose and remarked that the decision to overturn the ban was a good decision and the only decision. He commented that Lisburn City Council stood accused to discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people and condemned the extreme homophobic attitudes displayed by Cllr Close. Cllr Butler stated that LGB people possibly make up 10% of people in Lisburn but was heckled by Cllr Paul Girvan (DUP) with “prove it, prove it”. In closing Cllr Butler stated that he welcomed that
the Cherry Room could now be used.

After Cllr Butler spoke the Mayor (Cllr Jonathan Craig (DUP)) reminded Cllr Butler and all present that they were not protected by Parliamentary privilege and should ensure any comments made about other Cllrs weren’t slanderous.

Cllr Patricia Lewsley (SDLP) then rose and also welcomed the decision. Cllr Lewsley reminded Cllr’s that the Civil Partnership’s legislation was a legal safeguard and not marriage and that the Cherry Room was not the Marriage Room as it was used for many events, including Council meetings.

Cllr Lewsley commented that when the matter first arose she had asked Lisburn City Council’s Chief Executive whether the motion was legal and had been informed by the Chief Executive that it was but, in fact, the Council had failed to fulfil its equality obligations and that a Equality Impact Assessment was now being carried out.

Cllr Jonathan Craig (DUP) then commented that the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) “could well be dead”.

Cllr Edwin Poots MLA (DUP) then spoke about the matter. Cllr Poots stated that Civil Partnerships were “marriage in all but name” and that Mr Blair had done it again with con man tactics.

Cllr Poots stated that it was a “slap in the face for basic morality” and that homosexuality was unnatural, undesirable and “repulsive to many people”.

He stated that the next step would be adoption and that homosexuality was unnatural as homosexuals cannot conceive. He stated that 10% statistic was crazy and that 0.2% was more convincing.

Cllr Poots remarked that it was up to homosexuals to address and overcome their homosexuality, he had no problem with individuals who are homosexual but that homosexuality is a problem that needs to be overcome just like alcoholism and drug addiction.

Edwin Poots commented that Cllr Close had been an advocate of Section 75 but that it was coming back to “haunt him and us all” with this being “rammed down our throats”.

Cllr Poots then acknowledged that the minutes had been adopted but proposed that the Council adopted a motion stating that the Council resents the undermining of family values by Civil Partnerships, that the Council is opposed to Civil Partnerships and deeply concerned that the democratic wishes of those with moral convictions are being overridden.

Whilst Cllr Paul Givan (DUP) seconded the motion the Chief Executive advised that the matter should not be considered at this point in the meeting. The Mayor Cllr Jonathan Craig (DUP) therefore decided that the matter should be considered under Any other business.

Cllr Ronnie Crawford (UUP) then spoke remarking that the decision marked the death of local democracy with all major religions opposed to homosexuality. Cllr Crawford stated that homosexuality was unnatural and a foreign practice to the body with human organs not designed for homosexuality.

Cllr Crawford voiced his annoyance that the Council was “suddenly hung out to try as legal opinion has changed” and informed all present that he intended to propose that the next Corporate Services Committee that the Cherry Room no longer be referred to as the Marriage Room.

Cllr Crawford then addressed the “Roman Catholic Councillors” and remarked that Sinn Fein had claimed to be the guardians of the people but that Civil Partnerships were iniquitous with both the last and current popes remarking that homosexuality is an unnatural disorder. Cllr Crawford stated that Sinn Fein were undermining what the Catholic Church teaches and that the “people kicking the pope are not on this side of the chamber”.

Cllr Crawford remarked that “in the face of gay rights fascism” they wanted to show that marriage and civil partnerships were different. He then continued to remark that homosexuals first wanted age of consent to 16, now want it lower and seem to have an open ear of “our Christian Prime Minister” who is “giving them all they want” with leaders of Stonewall given positions in government.

In closing Cllr Crawford stated that the vast majority of constituents were against and that unelected quangos such as the Equality Commission were overriding the will of the people and that a new bill of rights was required.

Cllr Ferguson (Sinn Fein) then spoke. Cllr Ferguson welcomed the decision, disassociated himself with the many homophobic comments made by previous speakers and the comments which, he felt, many people would find offensive.

The meeting then continued and under Any other Business Cllr Paul Givan (DUP) proposed the motion earlier mentioned by Cllr Poots who had since left the meeting. Many Councillors supported the motion including Cllr Trevor Lunn (Deputy Mayor, Alliance) and some, from UUP & Alliance abstained but all SDLP and Sinn Fein Councillors opposed the motion. The motion (more a homophobic rant really) was therefore passed but with lesbian, gay and bisexual still able to register their partnerships in the Cherry Room.

Seamus Close was deputy leader of the party at the time I was Director of Elections / Party Organiser ten years ago. He was always a loose cannon, especially on this sort of issue. I hope the current party leadership manages to distance themselves from him – again.

Ironically, Seamus was one of the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement, which includes “a statutory obligation on public authorities in Northern Ireland to carry out all their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to religion and political opinion; gender; race; disability; age; marital status; dependants; and sexual orientation.”

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Wiring up the entire country

Macedonia Deploys World’s First Country-Wide Broadband Wireless Mesh Network

The Republic of Macedonia has decided to deploy an Outdoor Wireless System (OWS) to create a country-wide wireless mesh network. The 1,000+ square-mile deployment, which is funded and deployed by Macedonian service provider On.Net, will be the single largest broadband wireless network in the world, providing high speed data, voice, and video capabilities to the entire population of over two million people. On.Net has already deployed a high-performance, multi-radio wireless mesh throughout Macedonia’s capital city of Skopje, which provides wireless broadband capabilities to the nearly one million inhabitants.

Full story here.

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An interesting list

“The largest foreign investor in Russia is Cyprus (18.2%) followed by Luxembourg (16.7%), Holland (16.1%), Britain (10%), Germany (9.7%), the United States (7.4%), France (3.6%), Switzerland (2.3%), Virgin Islands (2.2%) and Bahamas (1.9%).”


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SFWA Grand Masters

I see that Harlan Ellison has been named the next SFWA Grand Master. I’m not an especial fan of his, but I predicted last year that he was the obvious next candidate (admittedly I made the same prediction the previous year when the title went to Robert Silverberg).

So, who will be next? The list of award-winning authors, excluding those who are deceased or who are already Grand Masters, ranked by the length of time since they won their first Hugo or Nebula, looks like this (first 11, with date of birth – those who have been Worldcon guests of honor are asterisked)

1960 Hugo: Daniel Keyes (b. 1927)
1966 Nebula: Samuel R Delany* (b. 1942)
1967 Hugo: Larry Niven* (b. 1938)
1967 Nebula: Michael Moorcock* (b. 1939)
1968 Nebula: Kate Wilhelm* (b. 1928)
1968 Nebula: Alexei Panshin (b. 1940)
1971 Nebula: Katharine MacLean (b. 1925)
1972 Nebula: Joanna Russ (b. 1937)
1973 Nebula: Gene Wolfe* (b. 1931)
1973 Nebula: Vonda N. McIntyre (b. 1948)

McIntyre is much younger than the others, so I guess she’s out of the running. I’m inclined to think that Keyes, Panshin and MacLean are excluded for not really having written very much. After that, it’s a pretty interesting choice. All the others can reasonably claim to have been pretty influential in the field. I don’t really envy SFWA having to make the choice for next year (if they choose to make the award at all), or the years to come.

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Home from the war zone

Today’s Doonesbury reminded me of my first visit back home to Belfast after I started working in Banja Luka in 1997. Landmines, rather than carbombs, were the big deal in Bosnia then; the golden rule was never to drive onto the grass verge of the road, as mines are much more difficult to see against vegetation than against tarmac. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing quite like driving through a minefield to concetrate your mind on the importance of the issue.

When Anne picked me up at Belfast airport, and pulled over onto the verge to check something to do with the car, I nearly freaked out as badly as B.D. does here. I’m over it now.

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Book spam

Has anyone else been spammed by someone calling himself “Kenneth J Harvey”, with an email message pimping his latest novel, accompanied by laudatory squibs from J.M. Coetzee, Alistair MacLeod, and Joe O’Connor?

Mr Harvey, I don’t know you, and I have no great love for people who send me unsolicited emails advertising commercial products; indeed I was responsible for a successful campaign to get the European Parliament to legislate against such activities on this side of the Atlantic.

If you want me to review your book on this livejournal or on my website, then you can send me a copy, and I’ll consider it. But we have not got off to a good start.

, it was on your reading list back in January (although it is now being pimped as a “new novel”); did you ever get around to it? , you seem to have enjoyed reading it some time last year as well. Meanwhile I note both negative and positive reviews elsewhere on lj.

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Geek Books revisited

OK, I know none of you reading this are geeks. None at all. But putting prejudice aside for a moment, let’s just try a poll:

Sorry that it has to be in two sections – they only let you do fifteen questions.

Of course, quite apart from the gender balance, some of the choices of book by individual author are a bit odd as well. Among us Library Thing users, the four most popular books by John Wyndham are Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids (surely a much more geeky plot), The Midwich Cuckoos and The Kraken Wakes, and Trouble With Lichen ties for fifth place with Chocky.

Anyway, have fun. And don’t forget ‘s survey of the Geek Girl canon, and ‘s appeal for the one book that should have been on the list.

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Weekend in the office

Yep, my backlog of last weekend has now backed up to include this weekend. At least a) the Afghanistan paper is now orbiting other people’s desks; b) the Azerbaijan paper is due for publication on Monday; and c) have nearly finished going through the Kosovo security paper though it will need a bit more tweaking. But the EU Visas paper needs a massive amount of work done to it – by Tuesday.

So I’ve been in the office most of the day, wrestling with the various texts requiring my attention. The boss has turned up too, just back from the US, but in a reasonably good mood. Have taken it as far as I can for now and am going home shortly.

When I left the house at ten o’clock this morning, Fergal was curled up on the sofa under a duvet watching Scooby Doo. I felt very envious.

On the plus side, both Ursula’s chickenpox and my mouth ulcers have largely cleared up.

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November Books 12) Magic for Beginners

12) Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link

Tales of “kitchen sink” magical realism, set in small-town America, some of them drifting a bit further from reality than I could follow, but others very good. No time to write more about this, but I liked it – especially the title story.

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The Geek Canon

The Guardian’s list of top 20 geek books: bolding the ones I’ve read.

1. The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Douglas Adams
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four — George Orwell
3. Brave New World — Aldous Huxley
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — Philip Dick
5. Neuromancer — William Gibson
6. Dune — Frank Herbert
7. I, Robot — Isaac Asimov
8. Foundation — Isaac Asimov
9. The Colour of Magic — Terry Pratchett
10. Microserfs — Douglas Coupland
11. Snow Crash — Neal Stephenson
12. Watchmen — Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
13. Cryptonomicon — Neal Stephenson
14. Consider Phlebas — Iain M Banks
15. Stranger in a Strange Land — Robert Heinlein
16. The Man in the High Castle — Philip K Dick
17. American Gods — Neil Gaiman
18. The Diamond Age — Neal Stephenson
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy — Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
20. Trouble with Lichen – John Wyndham

There are many problems with this list, not least that all the authors are male. is therefore seeking advice on what should be in the canon by and for Geek Girls. Will be interesting to see what she comes up with.

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November Books 11) Smoke and Mirrors

11) Smoke and Mirrors

When I was a child, adults would tell me not to make things up, warning me of what would happen if I did. As far as I can tell so far it seems to involve lots of foreign travel and not having to get up too early in the morning.

The other nice freebie I got with my new Palm T|X was an ebook edition of Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, with three extra stories not in the print version. Lots of good stuff here; we start with the Holy Grail turning up in an Oxfam shop, and finish with Snow White, as told from the stepmother’s point of view; and the Cthulhu mythos as it might have been interpreted by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in a strange English coastal resort:

The beer had the kind of flavour which, he suspected, advertisers would describe as full-bodied, although if pressed they would have to admit that the body in question had been that of a goat.

And several other jewels, including a homage to Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October and the story of a 1960s schoolboy who liked Michael Moorcock. Here is one story in full, a seasonal drabble:

Nicholas Was…

older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.
The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.
Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.
He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.

Great stuff.

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Ambassadors and relatives

Last weekend’s Observer reports that Francis Campbell, the new British Ambassador to the Vatican, “will be the first Irishman to represent the UK abroad since the partition of Ireland in 1921”. The Zenit newsagency goes a step further, saying he is “the first Irish Catholic to be elevated to ambassador since the republic of Ireland was granted independence in 1921”.

Er, no, not really. My cousin Dermot MacDermot was an Irish Catholic who was also a British ambassador almost fifty years ago. His cousin Brian MacDermot was also a British ambassador at the end of his career, but had earlier been Chargé d’Affaires at the British representation to the Holy See (contra the Zenit story that only Protestants were allowed to hold that position from 1917 on).

There are lots of things I don’t like about the British state’s relationship with my religion. But we should give credit where it is due.

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The new set-up for my Palm T|X has wiped my entire appointments calendar, for some reason.

Luckily I still have the old one at home and can backup from that, missing only changes made in the last week. But it is DEEPLY aggravating.

[Edited to add: Even more luckily, there was a backup at work, so all is now restored. But is right; I need belt and braces.]

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Just in case anyone reading this has not already seen it:

The SCI FICTION website has been publishing excellent science fiction stories, both old and new, since 2000. It is to stop publishing at the end of this year, alas. Some of its fans have had the excellent idea of compiling a tribute, by asking for volunteers to write an appreciation for each of the 320-odd stories on the site.

The first few of these have been done already – Pete Tillman’s appreciation of the Nebula-winning “Goddesses”, by Linda Nagata, Ben Peek’s appreciation of “Jailwise”, by Lucius Shepard, Jay Lake’s substantial essay on “The Wages of Syntax”, by Ray Vukcevich, and Lois Tilton’s brief (but heartfelt) note on “The Horse of a Different Color (That You Rode In On)”, by Howard Waldrop. But there is still plenty of room for more. You could more or less pick any story and find you had something to say about it.

And if you just want to read the reviews as they come in, you can get them via .

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