January Books 6) Shutterbug Follies

6) Shutterbug Follies, by Jason Little

Nice little graphic novel about a girl who discovers disturbing things while working in a photography shop developing films. New York and the characters of the city are nicely portrayed. The plot, however, was rather cliched and improbable: at one point our heroine, Bee, is asked by her friend “So, uh, when are you going to call the cops?” The answer is, not just yet as we are only on page 25 out of 150… Still, good fun, if not exactly great literature.

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How common is your name?

Inspired by trying to remember where http://www.yournotme.com/ is (there are 16 people called Nicholas Whyte in the UK, apparently), I’m using this entry to bookmark the following:

UCL’s surname profiler, which shows Whytes of Great Britain concentrated in eastern Scotland (Angus and Fife in 1881; shifting north by 1998), and my wife’s maiden name concentrated in North Yorkshire in 1881 and mysteriously absent in 1998.

US Census Bureau – gives you total numbers and ranking of your name in the US. (Whyte is the 4460th most common name in the US, with a frequency of 0.003%, ie about 1 in 30,000. Nicholas is the 64th most common first name, with a frequency of 0.275%, 1 in 36.)

Nice map of US surname distribution. (Whytes very much absent from the Deep South; concentrated in New York and Washington. My wife’s maiden name appears only in North Carolina.)

There are presumably equivalents for other countries.

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Looking at the three candidates’ published lists of supporters, I count the following (possible) duplicates:

At least 30 on Hughes’ list twice:
Mohammed Hanif Asmal, Jan Clein, John Coyne, Brian Ellis, Joan Garrity, John Halliday, Lesley Hardy, Matthew Harris, EP Helme, Jon Hunt, Lawrence Hurt,Altaf Khan, Richard Knasel, Jonathan Lees, Isobel McCall, George Molyneux, Mark Pursey, Jan Revell, Paul Revell, Debbie Roberts, Paul Robinson, Jennifer Sefton, Max Smith, Tim Smith, Marilyn Sumner, Nick Sumner, Tim Symonds, Matthew Thomas, Joy Vincent, Michael Williams; (and a couple more possibles, eg “Powell Mrs E R” / “Nellie Powell”; “J (Mrs) Fisher” / “Jan Fisher”; but there is no reason to doubt the note on the site that there are two different supporters called Norman Fraser, Andrew Morris, David Rendel, MArtin Roberts and Derek Williams.)

3 on Campbell’s list twice:
Colin Hall, Graham Watson, and Sheila Clarke (none of these are uncommon names; possibly there is an elected official and a non-elected member of the same name; also note of two different supporters both named Sarah Green)

6 on both Campbell and Huhne’s lists:
Alan Dean, Pambos Economides, Brenda Smith, John Stevens, David Thomas, Peter Wilson

2 on both Huhne and Hughes’ lists:
Christopher Thomas, David Walker

2 on both Campbell and Hughes’ lists:
Jock Gallagher, Ricardo Sajor

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Bloggers on the Lib Dem leadership

commented re a previous entry that the Lib Dem bloggers appear to be drifting to Huhne. Much consultation of Icerocket reveals that in fact the honours are fairly even so far, though it’s certainly the case that the bloggers backing Huhne are comparatively more heavyweight. Campbell’s internet presence is being run by my old friend Martin Tod, which will certainly give him an edge in cyberspace – in so far as that helps…

Backing Campbell:
Peter of the Apollo Project
Stephen Tall
Dave Smithson
Tim Hicks
Martin Tod
Andy Darley
Dave Radcliffe
Iain Sharpe
Owen Griffiths
Backing Hughes:
Rob Fenwick
Stephen Glenn
James Thompson
Helen Evison
Martin Turner
Matt Jenkins
Barrie Wood
Andrew Milton
Susanne Lamido
Peter Black
Backing Huhne:
Steve Guy
Will Howells
Jonathan Calder
Richard Huzzey
Lynne Featherstone MP
Libertycat and Femme de Resistance
James Graham
Sandra Gidley MP
Jock Coats
Alex Foster
Nick Barlow
David Goodall
Edis Bevan
Alan Beddow
Chris Black
Mark Valladares
Michael Hinett
Chris Keating
Simon Isledon
Not sure yet
Simon Mollan (leaning Campbell)
 (leaning Campbell)
 (leaning Hughes)
Simon Jerram (leaning Hughes)
Ryan Cullen
John Hemming MP
Ian Ridley (deciding between Huhne and Campbell)
(leaning Hughes)

Edited to add: I’m updating this entry as things move. When I originally published it on Friday 20 January, the blog count was 9 (and two leaning) for Campbell; 10 (and two leaning) for Hughes; and 10 (and two leaning) for Huhne.

It is now (28 January) 14 (and two leaning) for Campbell; 15 (and three leaning) for Hughes; and 22 for Huhne.

Best quote on Campbell, from : “Fin and I were talking about yoghs (Ȝȝ) in bed last night.”

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BSFA/Clarke comparison post

I always used to find that the BSFA and Arthur C Clarke awards were better predictors of my personal tastes than, say, the Nebula, and that was even vefore I got to know the people running them. We now have shortlists for both the UK-based awards, and as usual there is a certain overlap:

On both lists
Ken MacLeod, Learning the World
Geoff Ryman, Air
Charles Stross, Accelerando

First off, congratulations to and Ken MacLeod for making the shortlist. I have read Accelerando, and Learning the World is on my to-be-read shelf. Looks like I must now do what everyone who has read it suggests, and buy Air, also the only novel on either list to be nominated for the Nebulas this year. (Though I see last year’s Clarke Award winner is also on this year’s Nebula shortlist.)

On the Clarke Award shortlist but not the BSFA
Liz Williams, Banner of Souls
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Alastair Reynolds, Pushing Ice

As before, I have read the one by the author with a livejournal – Banner of Souls – own another but haven’t read it yet – Never Let Me Go – and don’t have the third. I have rather bounced off Alastair Reynolds on previous encounters; is this time likey to be any different?

On the BSFA shortlist but not the Clarke
Jon Courtenay Grimwood, 9Tail Fox
Justina Robson, Living Next Door to the God of Love

Really loved Grimwood’s Arabesk trilogy (Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen), but was less impressed by his singletons, redRobe and Stamping ButterfliesMappa Mundi which I guess must have been shortlisted for a previous BSFA or Clarke award.

Anyway, am inclined to put in an Amazon order for these two and Air, and perhaps also the Reynolds if I can be persuaded, for diversion during my imminent travels.

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Autism and sf

Thoughts towards a future web page for my site:

I just read the first story in Gardner Dozois’ 2004 collection – Pat Murphy’s “Inappropriate Behaviour” – and it is about a girl with autism. Two of the stories in the Hartwell/Cramer collection also featured brilliant academics with autism – Terry Bisson’s “Scout’s Honour” and Brenda Cooper’s “Savant Songs”.

There are a number of other sf stories, some well-known, others less so, featuring autism. Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark of course won the Nebula Award two years ago, and deals specifically with a “cure”. Most of the others feature an autistic child as the centre of some almost (or even explicitly) magical events: Mary Doria Russell’s Children of God, Zoran Živković’s short story “The Whisper”, Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip, William Gibson’s All Tomorrow’s Parties. I also rather liked Brenda Clough’s “Tiptoe, On a Fence-Post” where the autistic child was marginal to the story but gave the author an excuse for some sensitive character-building.

Other sf stories that I understand feature autism which I haven’t read: Greg Egan, DistressA Wizard AloneDaystar and ShadowThe Reindeer People and Wolf’s BrotherPutting Up RootsWinterlongDykstra’s WarLight MusicHome FreeThe Truth Out ThereChildren with Emerald EyesNew York DreamsSomething’s At My ElbowThornsThe Universe Between.

Anyone want to particularly recommend (or dis-recommend) any of those, or add to the list? I don’t know for sure if autism is a subject which crops up more often in sf than in “mainstream” literature, but it seems rather likely; I can’t think of any non-genre novel dealing with it apart from Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but then I don’t read an awful lot of non-genre fiction.

For the sf writer, different ways of perceiving and sensing the world are of profound interest, and the enigma of the autistic experience is perhaps an attractive topic. (Of course, this tends to mean that the autistic characters are rather bunched towards the high-functioning end of the spectrum.) For a writer with personal experience of autism, projecting this crucial experience into a fantasy or far-future milieu may also be an important part of the coping mechanism. (I find it interesting that writer Nick Hornby, who has an autistic son, has never used autism in his fiction, which is set in the gritty contemporary world.)

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Two memes

From in this instance, though in fact I did answer this one before. Now I have to do it again and give different answers.

Name a CD you own that no one else on your friends list does.

The Orthodox Celts: “The Celts Strike Again” and “Green Roses”.

Name a book you own that no one else on your friends list does.

Thanks to Library Thing this one becomes much easier. Anyone else got What does Joan say? my seven years as White House astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan by Joan Quigley?

Name a movie you own on DVD/VHS/whatever that no one else on your friends list does.

Much the most difficult and I suspect whatever I say I am doomed to failure. But, what the heck. Anyone else out there own The Making of the Dark Side of the Moon?

Name a place that you have visited that no one else on your friends list has.

This I think may be a bit easier. Anyone else been to Prčanj in Montenegro?

And another more showoffy meme from :

Which languages do you know? How did you learn them (e.g. natively, from classes, by immersion)?

Native English speaker

Lived in the Netherlands for a year when I was 13 and went to a Dutch school, still retain pretty decent fluency

Did German at school up to A-level under the genial guidance of Mrs Owens at Rathmore, then worked on an archaeology site near Heilbronn for a few months, so that’s not too bad

French at school to O-level (yes, kids, I am that old), and can manage casual conversations for day-to-day purposes in Brussels and struggle through business conversations with native speakers

Did Latin O-level as well for what that’s worth

Have dabbled in New Testament Greek, but not in the real thing

Absorbed a certain amount of Serbo-Croat through osmosis while living in Bosnia and Croatia, similarly Macedonian though less exposure means less expertise – the former gets you a bit less than half-way into Slovenian and the latter a bit more than half-way into Bulgarian

Started a Russian course but haven’t finished it

Can struggle in tourist Italian, Spanish and Romanian though deeply conscious of making it up as I go along

Odd other phrases – Hyvää päivää! Falemenderit! გამარჯობა! Köszönöm!

No Irish at all, sadly.

Which language would you most like to learn? Why?

It’s a toss-up between Italian and Finnish, because they sound so beautiful, and Russian/Arabic/Chinese, because they would actually be useful for communicating with people. I guess at the moment Russian is at the top of the list.

Have you visited any places where you did not know the predominant language? If so, which ones? Was it hard to manage?

Well, just in 2005 I visited Albania, Ukraine and Georgia (and indeed South Ossetia). Fortunately I was with colleagues or friends in all cases so it wasn’t such a big deal. Last time I was more or less on my own in such circumstances was in Moldova in September 2004, but my vestigial Russian and Romanian was just about enough to get through.

Which language do you most enjoy hearing, seeing, or expressing? Why?
I just love the sound of both Italian and Finnish. Italian hardly needs explanation. Finnish – well, just listen to some of Koskenniemi’s lyrics to Sibelius’ music (these are the official lyrics for Finlandia):

Oi Suomi, katso, Sinun päiväs koittaa,
yön uhka karkoitettu on jo pois,
ja aamun kiuru kirkkaudessa soittaa
kuin itse taivahan kansi sois.
Yön vallat aamun valkeus jo voittaa
sun päiväs koittaa, oi synnyinmaa.

Oi nouse, Suomi, nosta korkealle
pääs seppelöimä suurten muistojen,
oi nouse, Suomi, näytit maailmalle
sa että karkoitit orjuuden
ja ettet taipunut sa sorron alle,
on aamus alkanut, synnyinmaa.

I love the look of Georgian, even though I can’t read it:

დილასა ადრე მოვიდა იგი ნაზარდი სოსანი,
ძოწეულითა მოსილი, პირად ბროლ-ბადახშოსანი,
პირ-ოქრო რიდე ეხვია, შვენოდა ქარქაშოსანი,
მეფესა გასლვად აწვევდა, მოდგა თეთრ-ტაიჭოსანი.

(Note how the last four syllables of each line rhyme. Obvious now I point it out, isn’t it.)

I like speaking Dutch. Not something I do very often, but normally rather shocks native speakers – especially here in Flanders, where they assume I must actually be Dutch (ie from the hated North).

Which languages, other than the one(s) you know, are you exposed to your daily life?

I get bits and pieces of many languages. Even at McDonald’s.

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What I got today

Several things arrived by post today.

Three books sent by their author(s):

  • Da nije bilo Oluje i drugi eseji / Who saved Bosnia and other essays by Vitomir Miles Raguž
  • Media Guide to the New Scottish Westminster Parliamentary Constituencies, compiled and edited by David Denver, Colin Rallings & Michael Thrasher
  • The Media Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies, Colin Rallings & Michael Thrasher

And Interzone, though I’ve only glanced at it so far. Who is Michael Lohr? And why does he feel the need to apologise to us quite so abjectly for doing a duff interview with Terry Pratchett?

Two great links. From , love for gamers (you have to listen past the first minute). And, via, , on Mary Gentle’s Ash: A Secret History – good spoiler-free review of a favourite book.

Am sitting here listening to The Celts Strike Again, the second album of The Orthodox Celts, a fairly standard Irish music band except that they are Serbs:

She is handsome, she is pretty, she’s the belle of Belgrade city

which is not quite the wording I am used to.

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Pleasant surprise

My history of science days, and especially my PhD thesis, are long behind me now, so it was rather pleasant to get not one but two emails about it this morning.

One was from a scientist with an Irish name in Hong Kong, doing research on the obscure figure of William Doberck, a Danish astronomer who worked at the observatory in Markree Castle, Co Sligo, in the late 19th century. I couldn’t offer him any more direct information apart from what’s already in my book, but I did pass on to him a couple of contacts in the Irish amateur astronomical community who are into historical stuff.

The other was an invitation to a one-day conference on the history of science in Ireland, due to be held on 24 June at the Senate House in the University of London. Even though I haven’t written anything on it since 1999 I am still one of the top six or so names in the field. I replied saying that I doubted I could really participate, though I will look in on it if I happen to be passing through London that day.

So, a nice feeling of nostalgia. As far as that field is concerned, I may be gone but I am not forgotten.

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January Books 5) Year’s Best SF 10

5) Year’s Best SF 10, ed. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

I usually try and get these anthologies as soon as they are out, but somehow forgot about it last year, so am only catching up now. It’s always interesting to note how little overlap there is between the three Year’s Best volumes (this one, Haber/Strahan, and Dozois) and the Hugo and Nebula shortlists. Anyway, this is a nice collection; no particular standout story for me, though I did enjoy Glenn Grant’s “Burning Day” (for once, a cute anthropomorphic robot story that didn’t make me cringe), Neil Asher’s “Strood”, James Stoddard’s re-telling of American history in “The Battle of York”, and two stories which included Islam in slightly different sfnal ways (Jean-Claude Dunyach’s “Time, as it Evaporates.. .” and Pamela Sargent’s “Venus Flowers at Midnight”). There were several time-travel stories that didn’t really take that sub-genre anywhere it hasn’t been before, and a couple that I really didn’t understand, and two that for some reason chose to feature brilliantly intelligent women with autism as their protagonists. I also didn’t like the extent to which the editors felt they had to reveal details of the plots of what are, in the main, already pretty short stories in their introductions to each piece. But still, you can’t really complain about 22 pieces of generally good short fiction for $7.99.

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Showing my support

I’m voting for Chris Huhne.

There’s not much to choose between the three candidates, to be honest. All three appear to have the same basic approach to policy; all three are professional politicians, with all the ups and downs of that approach. But I think Huhne will be able to give the party more of a feeling of a fresh start after a traumatic period. He is smart and looks cuddly. He also performed marginally better on last night’s Any Questions (entertainingly written up here by Nick Barlow). He has problems with fluency and soundbites, but so do the other two, and he is more likely to be taught new tricks than they are.

Another factor is that when I look at the lists of supporters published on each candidate’s website, I find more people who I feel closer to in the party supporting Huhne than either of the other two. It’s not a question of being impressed by Big Names supporting the candidate – if it were, I’d be backing Campbell. It’s people who I have worked with in the past and respect, and who have remained active in the party where I have been less so. I take their views very seriously.

It is also interesting that the blog count which I have been maintaining is heavily in favour of Huhne. He has picked up and extra ten in the last few days, more than the other two put together (four for Campbell, five for Hughes). It is also very noticeable that the bloggers backing Huhne are more heavyweight (in the sense of higher numbers of other people linking to them as tallied by Icerocket and Technorati) than for the other two: Jonathan Calder, James Graham, Richard Huzzey, Nick Barlow, Will Howells, and Lynne Featherstone MP, all score better (in that order) on Icerocket than any pro-Campbell blogger (best is Tim Hicks) and than any pro-Hughes blogger except Peter Black AM. (I’m omitting livejournal users from that tally, firstly because we tend to score much better on Icerocket because of the social nature of Livejournal, second because if I did include them, the best scoring blogger would be, er, me.)

Sir Menȝies Campbell will get my second preference. He is clearly a “safe pair of hands” rather than a risky choice. I feel about him rather like I did about Alan Beith in the 1988 leadership election: worthy but ever so slightly dull. He nearly slipped to third place on my list on the basis of last night’s unimpressive performance on Any Questions – too many answers which slightly distorted history, eg saying (in full contradiction of the facts) that Charles Kennedy resigned with dignity, and while it was wrong to go to war on Iraq without a UN resolution the fact is that we did so as well in Kosovo – rightly, in my view, but it was a hole in his argument. I don’t take the age question very seriously, though it is a factor. I don’t take the “He sounds like a Tory” argument at all seriously; it doesn’t seem to have stopped people voting for Blair!

Simon Hughes will get my third preference. He did OK on the radio last night, though noticeably floundered towards the end when it got a bit more technical, but well enough that I was considering giving him my second preference ahead of Ming. His reputation for muddle is now drastically reinforced by today’s interview with the Sun apparently contradicting his statements about his own sexuality to the Guardian and the Independent. I have no problem with voting for a gay or bisexual party leader (though he should have got this over with years ago, as Michael Portillo did), but I would like someone who can make up their mind.

In brutal summary: Ming too dull; Simon too disorganised; Chris is neither so he gets my vote.

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145 Me (leaning Huhne)
81 Jonathan Calder (Huhne)
57 caribou95 (Campbell)
48 John Hemming MP
45 James Graham (Huhne)

44 Peter Black AM (Hughes)
40 Richard Huzzey (Huhne)
35 Nick Barlow (Huhne)
34 burkesworks (Hughes)
34 Will Howells (Huhne)
34 Lynne Featherstone MP (Huhne)

33 imperial_artist (leaning Campbell)
30 Tim Hicks (Campbell)
24 Peter of the Apollo Project (Campbell)
22 Andy Darley (Campbell)
21 Susanne Lamido (Hughes)
20 blue_condition here (Hughes)

20 Alex Foster (Huhne)
19 Simon Mollan (leaning Campbell)
16 Stephen Glenn (Hughes)

14 Edis Bevan (Huhne)
13 ig1234 here (Huhne)

10 Stephen Tall (Campbell)
9 Libertycat and Femme de Resistance (Huhne)
9 Ryan Cullen
8 Rob Fenwick (Hughes)
7 redfiona99 (Hughes)

6 sinsir (leaning Hughes)
7 Sandra Gidley MP (Huhne)
6 Chris Black (Huhne)
5 Martin Tod (Campbell)
5 Dave Radcliffe (Campbell)
5 Steve Guy (Huhne)
5 Cicero
4 Iain Sharpe (Campbell)
4 hikari_neko here (Hughes)
3 Dave Smithson (Campbell)
3 Chris (Campbell)
3 Helen Evison (Hughes)
2 James Thompson (Hughes)
2 Barrie Wood (Hughes)
2 Andrew Milton (Hughes)

2 Alan Beddow (Huhne)
1 Joyce (Campbell)
1 Matt Jenkins (Hughes)
1 Jock Coats (Huhne)
0 Jimbo (Campbell)
0 Martin Turner (Hughes)
0 David Goodall (Huhne)

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Don’t ask

А а [a] – Aa
Б б [b] – Bb
В в [v] – Vv
Γ г [g] – Gg
Д д [d] – Dd
Ѓ ѓ [gʲ] – |
Е е [ɛ] – Ee
Ж ж [ʒ] – @`
З з [z] – Zz
Ѕ ѕ [dz] – Yy
И и [i] – Ii
Ј ј [j] – Jj
К к [k] – Kk
Л л [l] – Ll
Љ љ [ʎ] – Qq
М м [m] – Mm
Н н [n] – Nn
Њ њ [ɲ] – Ww
О о [ɔ] – Oo
П п [p] – Pp
Р р [r] – Rr
С с [s] – Ss
Т т [t] – Tt
Ќ ќ [kʲ] – ]}
У у [u] – Uu
Ф ф [f] – Ff
Х х [h] – Hh
Ц ц [ts] – Cc
Ч ч [tʃ] – ^~
Џ џ [dʒ] – Xx
Ш ш [ʃ] – [{
î – è
é – е́
í – и́
ñ – ѝ

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Sad news

The BBC are to axe Radio 4’s “UK theme” which starts every day at 0530 British time (ie 0630 our time, when the alarm clock goes off).

For those of you who haven’t heard it: it starts with a snatch of Early One Morning, appropriately enough given the time of day, then starts to get interesting by playing two well-known tunes simultaneously – especially daring is What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor? mashed up with Greensleeves, but we also get Men of Harlech combined with Scotland the Brave, and The Londonderry Air/Danny Boy melded with Annie Laurie, ending with Rule Britannia and an added helping of The Trumpet Voluntary.

I guess if I wasn’t used to it, I would in fact prefer to have a few extra minutes of news at that time of day, rather than patriotic music for a value of patriotism that I don’t particularly share. But I will miss it once it’s gone.

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Public service announcement: Russia

Many Russian dialling codes have changed. All local codes starting with 0 have been changed to 4 – most significantly, the local code for Moscow is now 495 rather than 095. The old codes are still valid but will be phased out over the next few weeks. Change the details for your Russian contacts now.

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Nebula preliminary nominees considered

The Nebula short fiction nominees, in a nutshell.

Novellas (5/5)

Albert Cowdrey: The Tribes of Bela (F&SF, FictionWise)
* Golden Age stuff (except with female characters equal to males). A straightforward sf story, well enough told, but not spectalular. In the Dozois collection.

Kelly Link: Magic for Beginners (F&SF)
* Awfully good. Should win.

Robert J. Sawyer: Identity Theft (Author’s site)
* Amazingly, a Sawyer story that I actually rather liked, taking the absurd premise of last year’s Hugo nominee “Shed Skin” and putting it into a film noir setting on Mars. Ending a bit too pat but otherwise enjoyable.

Bud Sparhawk: Clay’s Pride (Analog, FictionWise)
* Crumbs. The one dud of this entire list. Clean-cut military types with European surnames outwit local corrupt planetary hierarchy with Asian names, in a plot straight out of ‘Nam (with off-stage aliens to give us some sfnal content). I am amazed this stuff still gets published, let alone nominated.

Paul Witcover: Left of the Dial (SCI FICTION)
* I liked this one too, as did , though wondered if it was really much more than a ghost story.

The Link and Sawyer stories were first published in 2005 and thus are eligible for this year’s Hugos. I shall certainly nominate the Link, and (and I never thought I would say this) possibly the Sawyer as well.

Novelettes (9/10)

Daniel Abraham: Flat Diane (F&SF)
* This is simply a horror story rather than fantasy or science fiction. Not my thing. (Though liked it.)

Paolo Bacigalupi: The People of Sand and Slag (F&SF, Feb04)
* Also a rather disturbing and nasty story, but at least it was sfnal (and a Hugo nominee last year). In the Dozois and Haber/Strahan collections.

William Barton: Harvest Moon (Asimov’s)
* Good romantic stuff about lunar exploration in a slightly different 1960s. After an excellent build-up I had expected a slightly heftier punchline though.

James L. Cambias: The Ocean of the Blind (F&SF)
* Another nasty story, unpleasant future version of Jacques Cousteau gets his comeuppance from sonar-using aliens. Shows promise but prose a little clunky and characters behave stupidly for the sake of a good story. In the Dozois collection.

Cory Doctorow: Anda’s Game (Salon.com)
* Very good story combining the themes of virtual gaming and globalisation. Surely this will win.

Eileen Gunn and Leslie What: Nirvana High (Gunn’s website)
* More futuristic schoolchildren, like Doctorow’s story. Lots of good bits but didn’t quite fit together for me.

James Patrick Kelly: Men are Trouble (Asimov’s)
* Rather good – Clarke’s Childhood’s End meets Wyndham’s “Consider Her Ways”. But female point-of-view not quite convincing. In the Dozois collection.

John G. McDaid: Keyboard Practice Consisting of an Aria with Diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with Two Manuals (F&SF)
* I just couldn’t get into this one; seemed to be about a near future piano contest but it never became clear to me what was actually going on.

Paul Melko: Strength Alone (Asimov’s, Dec04)
* Human gestalt-mind future, trainee spaceship pilots caught in natural disaster; characters sadly two-dimensional, but look at the scenery!

Beth Shope: Dragon’s Eye (Lords of Swords, Daniel E. Blackston, Ed., Pitch-Black Books, Dec04)
* Not on-line so haven’t read it (yet.)

The Barton and McDaid stories were first published in 2005 and thus are eligible for this year’s Hugos. I shall certainly nominate the Barton.

Short Stories (14/16)

Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta: Rough Draft (Analog)
* Fun story about a science fiction author confronted with his own literary activities in an alternate universe. Zoran Živković has done this one better but it’s nicely done here.

Dale Bailey: The End of the World as We Know It (SF site, FictionWise)
* Nice elegiac story about the end of the world, with many riffs on past disasters and tips of the hat to sf authors who have gone before.

Richard Bowes: There’s a Hole in the City (SCI FICTION, Jun05)
* A 9/11 ghost story, though rather an effective one (my favourite in that category is still Lucius Shepard’s “Only Partly Here”)

Carol Emshwiller: I Live With You (F&SF)
* Another ghost story – I think. Didn’t really feel sfnal enough to me.

Anne Harris: Still Life With Boobs (Author’s livejournal)
* Funny story about wandering breasts.

John G. Henry: Small Moments in Time (Analog)
* Time-travel story which addresses the old question: if you could change history by preventing a major awful event, would you? Done decently enough though I didn’t feel it added any more.

Nancy Kress: My Mother, Dancing (Asimov’s)
* Nicely written but I really didn’t understand what was going on. In the Haber/Strahan collection.

Jonathan Lethem: Super Goat Man (New Yorker)
* Story about a minor superhero growing old as a college professor. Style nice, not grabbed by the substance.

Kelly Link: The Faery Handbag
* Has already won the Hugo for Best Novelette. A good piece, though I felt not as good as some others on that list. In the Haber/Strahan fantasy collection.

Mike Resnick: A Princess of Earth (Asimov’s, FictionWise)
* Was a Hugo nominee. Old man meets famous fictional character for long rambling conversation and cop-out ending.

M. Rickert: Cold Fires (F&SF)
* Impressive short piece of magical realism in the American midwinter.

Benjamin Rosenbaum: Start the Clock (F&SF)
* Zany and touching story in a future where people can choose to remain stuck in childhood (though some of the details are left a bit obscure). In the Dozois collection.

Lawrence M. Schoen: The Sky’s the Limit (All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, David Moles and Jay Lake, Ed., Wheatland Press, Nov04)
* Not on-line so haven’t read it (yet.)

Ray Vukcevich: Glinky (F&SF)
* Tale of alternate timelines, also in the Hartwell/Cramer collection; didn’t quite work for me.

Bud Webster: Christus Destitutus (Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic, F. Brett Cox and Andy Duncan, Ed., Tor, Aug04)
* Not on-line so haven’t read it (yet.)

K.D. Wentworth: Born-Again (F&SF)
* A silly silly story about cloning Jesus.

The Anderson/Moesta and Wentworth stories were published in 2005 and thus are eligible for this year’s Hugos. I will probably nominate the former but definitely not the latter.

I have to say that I remember the Nebula preliminary lists of recent years as being distinctly less impressive and memorable than this one. There are very few real stinkers here, and more often when the stories failed for me it was through being over-ambitious rather than actually bad.

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Doctor Who – rewatched

Since December 24th I have watched a lot of Doctor Who for the second time. Spoiler-free summaries follow, in the order in which they were first broadcast (but I should first of all mention that all but the last of the stories below are at least mentioned in Graham Sleights’ superb essay for Strange Horizons, Take Me To The Fantastic Place):

Pyramids of Mars (1975) – from Tom Baker’s second year as the Doctor, which also included The Seeds of Doom and The Brain of Morbius, surely near the top of any fan’s listing of best stories. This is the one with the mummies and ancient Egyptian gods. It survives pretty well, and the DVD commentaries give it extra value – in fact it’s particularly touching that Michael Sheard, who of course died last August, obviously really enjoyed reliving his Who days via fandom and especially cons. The one serious problem is the special effects towards the end… but more than compensated for by the mini-documentary about Philip Hinchcliffe’s influence on the show.

All the rest are episodes from 2005 revisited:

Rose – this really is very good, better on second viewing than first if anything. In particular, Rose’s first encounter with the TARDIS is just superb. The climactic scene with the Nestene Consciousness seemed better paced than I remembered, and the wheelie bin scene seemed somehow more appropriate and less silly second time round. And of course, the Doctor and Rose are absolutely perfect, from their first meeting up to the final scene. (But surely the Doctor’s dialogue with the Nestene Consciousness was a bit of a lift from the star of Men In Black?)

Dalek – this is still great, though only as good second time round as it was first time. The different reactions to the captured Dalek from the Doctor and Rose are beautifully done. (ObLJ – the LiveJournal of the Last Dalek.) It also has my second favourite line of the entire series – “Broken… broken… hairdryer… broken…”

The Long Game – Thought it was OK first time round, and no reason to revise that second time round. Could fit as an episode into almost any sf series, to be honest. I was impressed by Anna Maxwell Martin as Suki and understand she came from playing Lyra on stage in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and went on to great things as Esther Summerson in Bleak House.

(Father’s Day – I didn’t re-watch this one properly, but just want to state that it has my favourite line of the entire series: “Who said you’re not important? I’ve travelled to all sorts of places, done things you couldn’t even imagine. But you two..! Street corner, two in the morning, getting a taxi home. I’ve never had a life like that.” That last sentence is superb.)

The Empty Child – even better second time I watched it, and I loved it first time round. I must sit down and see the second half of the story, The Doctor Dances, again soon.

But this brings me to a serious point about Hugo nominations. I had originally take the view that I would nominate my favourite single-part story (Dalek) for the best short dramatic presentation Hugo, and then nominate both The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances in the long category. Cheryl Morgan points out, quite reasonably, that Serenity is 100% certain to win the long category, and so better to concentrate our Doctor Who nominations in the short category. Do others follow this logic? Makes a certain amount of sense to me. If it’s clear that The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances togterh make a valid short form nomination, I would very much hope it wins.

And finally, The Christmas Invasion – watched it tonight with Anne, who had been prepared by reading the Graham Sleight/Tim Phipps reviews. Well, I take a neutral position. I didn’t like the Lion King/Arthur Dent lines as much second time round, and the plot holes seemed even more egregious. But it was fun. And While I don’t go overboard about Tennant the way some people do (Ecclestone was as good as Tom Baker in his early years, and from me there is no higher praise) I still thought he was up to it. Looking forward very much to Anthony Stewart Head/Elisabeth Sladen in the new series…

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Most Recent Common Ancestor, revisited

I’ve been doing some more thinking after my post of last weekend.

1) Rates of inter-country migration: The results of my poll are really rather startling. OK, it’s not completely scientific – there are a few inconsistent answers about grandparents, and one case of siblings giving different answers about their own parents (cough, cough). But I think it’s interesting.

94 of you answered all three questions. Of your 188 parents, 32 (17%) were born in a different country to you; and of your 376 grandparents, 87 (23%) were born in a different country to you. This compares with the inter-country migration rate of one in a thousand (0.1%) assumed by Rohde in the most conservative of his models. I’m sure that those of you who read my LJ are more likely than the norm to to have an interest in travel, as I do, and to have had parents who, like mine, were also interested in travel, but even so I’m sure that one in six is close to the real rate of inter-country migration than one in a thousand.

Noteworthy also that the survey results do not show a random distribution. If one of your parents was born in a different country from you, it is more likely than not that the other was as well.

It’s only impressionistic, but it seems to me that migration from country to country has been pretty frequent for a very long time. As I look at my history shelf, the nearest book is F.E. Peters’ study of Jerusalem, which chronicles the waves of settlement over that city in the last 3000 years starting when David conquered it from the Jebusites. Next along is my abridged version of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. On the same sheld I have Peter Balakian’s account of the Armenian genocide and diaspora, Keay’s History of India and a collection of essays on the life of the much-travelled twelfth-century queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (whose son Richard I, if you remember, was married to a Spanish princess shortly after conquering Cyprus). Probably it’s even easier now than it was, and probably more people can travel now than did a hundred years ago; but moving to different countries has probably been part of human life since there were different countries to move to.

2) Age between generations. I wrote before that [Rohde’s] model assumes that women have an equal probability of bearing children every year between the ages of 16 and 40, thus giving an average age difference between mothers and their children of 28. I reckon this flattens out the natural bump (!) at the lower end of that age range, and my suspicion (without any proof) for most of human history is that most children were born to women aged between 14 and 30. That too will decrease the time to our most recent common ancestor, as the time between generations will be shorter.

replied, Most children may have been born to women between 14 and 30 but the ones born to older mothers may be more likely to have survived (and their mothers to have died as a result or shortly after). A large number of children born to younger mothers succumbed to poor infant care (nursemaids dropping babies off battlements, bizarre infant-rearing theories not contradicted by inexperienced parents, malnutrition etc).

It’s an interesting point. Rather arbitrarily picking the year 1250, and the European monarchs then in power according to Wikipedia, and filtering down to those whose birthdates (and whose spouses’ and childrens’ birthdates) I could identify pretty quickly, I find that mothers gave birth between the ages of 13 and 39, average age 25; and fathers had children between the ages of 15 and 45, average age 32. So in fact Rohde’s average of 28 years between generations is not too bad, for monarchs in the mid-thirteenth century at least, though I suspect the comparatively younger age of mothers will shorten the time to the most recent common ancestor.

(data set: James I of Aragon and Yolande of Hungary; John I of Brittany and Blanche of Navarre; Ferdinand III of Castile and Jeanne of Ponthieu; Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence; Margaret of Constantinople, countess of Flanders in her own right, and William of Dampierre; Béla IV of Hungary and Maria Laskarina; Håkon IV of Norway and Margrét Skúladóttir; and Henry I of Cyprus and Plaisance of Antioch – counting only children who survived to adulthood, ie older than 16, and only parents who were alive and married in 1250; which gave me 40 child/mother pairs and 47 child/father pairs).

3) The influence of people with lots of progeny. I have no research of my own to add to this, but I’m sure that most of you will have seen this week’s news item about Niall of the Nine Hostages (see full research paper here (PDF)). News reports that he may have 3 million descendants alive today are exaggerated. Under-exaggerated, that is. That’s three million male-line descendants – the real number of descendants must be much higher, indeed, Niall himself is at about the right time-frame to be Rohde’s Most Recent Common Ancestor (though not in the right place; difficult to see how his descendant line would have penetrated indigenous populations in the Americas or Australia).

I emailed Rohde about my previous post and he was good enough to send a brief reply. I guess my research stops here, but I hope his continues.

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False friends

On 23 December, friended my livejournal; on 29 December, did as well, and the following day so did and . (Yes, I am that obsessive, and check ‘s page every day.)

All five user info pages for these accounts were conspicuously blank. They had all friended the same few dozen people, including . There was nothing of substance on any of their user pages except that one had a link to a “gay love story”, which isn’t my thing. (Don’t go looking for the link to the “gay love story” site. Wait until you’ve finished reading this post.)

Well, I thought nothing of it. But then this week, we’ve all become aware of Livejournal’s change of policy owing to a newly discovered “security flaw”; and thanks to linking to this Washington Post blog entry, I have realised that this was all part of an attempt by the hackers to crack my account, along with all the others. The “gay love story” site is thus part of this plan, and somehow (I suppose) looking at it must enable the hackers to steal the cookies with your livejournal login details.

(See? I told you not to go looking for the link to the “gay love story” site. If you did, and you spent any time at all on it, you probably have to log out of livejournal, expire all your cookies, and change your password.)

So there we are. Mystery explained with a little bit of drama added.

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Top tips: Cut out the High-Maintenance people in your life

From one of my mailing lists:

1. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the center.

2. On the left side, write down the names of all the negative people that suck the life out of you and whom you dread seeing.

3. On the right side, write the names of all the people who give you energy and motivate you.

4. Make a 30-day commitment to minimize the time you spend with the energy drainers and maximize your time with the energy suppliers (and then continue this strategy for life.)

If only it was really that easy…

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Yogh and Ezh

Let’s be quite clear: the letter yogh (Ȝ ȝ) is completely different from the letter ezh (Ʒ ʒ). See?

I hereby resolve to write about Sir Menȝies Campbell in future, to avoid confusion.

Edited to add: Rather to my surprise, in my journal’s default view, they actually are completely different!

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Lib Dem leadership

Well, I came into this, like most people, accepting that a Menzies Campbell victory was inevitable. And, like most people, I am shifting my views.

First off, though, in Campbell’s defence: I’m not convinced by the “he’s already 64, he has only one election left” argument. Last year both Tony Blair (by self-declaration) and Michael Howard (on age grounds) were clearly fighting their last elections as party leaders, and both got more votes than Charles Kennedy.

More widely, I think it’s very unhealthy to expect party leaders to stay on for a decade as a matter of course – how many of us expect to be in our current jobs for that long? Four or five years should be the standard, and the party as a whole should be capable of generating sufficient talent to fill the top spot, and resilient enough to cope with elections every so often.

I know very little about Mark Oaten. A colleague tells me pleasing anecdotes of personal favours; an old friend tells me that he’s done very well on Five Live. I think that he was very unwise to play the card of loyalty to Kennedy after that story was over (and I feel the same about Lembit Opik), and it’s interesting that he couldn’t even get seven MPs to sign his nomination papers having stuck his neck out.

Loyalty to both parties and leaders in politics is over-rated anyway. Those of us who are in any branch of politics – and I include myself, in both my professional role and my roles as a member of the Lib Dems and of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – are in it to change the world for the better. A political party, and its current leader, are only part of the means to that end, and as a political activist your support of either party or personality must be constantly judged against the question, “Is this going to help change the world the way I want it?” If your loyalty to either party or leader is stronger than the answer to that question, you are no longer a political activist but an adherent of a religious sect. Which is why I suspect that for both Oaten and Opik, their partisanship of Kennedy after the man himself had given up did them no favours.

Simon Hughes – well, what’s not to love about Simon Hughes? Apart from the fact that he is known to turn up chronically late for meetings (Paddy Ashdown has a hilarious set of anecdotes about this in his memoirs), and that he is reputed to do as much constituency work as any two other MPs put together (or three, if one of them is George Galloway). I sat up and watched his extraordinary by-election victory back in 1983, and thrilled to every minute of it (the more controversial elements of the campaign were lost on me when I was 15).

And yet, and yet. There is the known character flaw of tardiness (and I voted last time for a candidate with a known character flaw), and I’m just generally not convinced that he will convert the voters rather than frighten them. Maybe I will be. I remember back in 1988 I was certain I was going to vote for Alan Beith until I opened the envelope with the election literature from the two candidates and realised that Ashdown might be risky, but would at least be interesting.

Which brings me to Chris Huhne. I know him vaguely and consequently like him from his time in Brussels as an MEP; he co-wrote a book with my former boss; the Oxford Mail is trying rather desperately to smear him as an extremist. I am rather impressed that despite his substantial economics background, he chose the environment as the main basis for his campaign launch, prompting some rather desperate me-tooism from the other candidates. Sure, he is not a household name; but be honest, who had heard of David Cameron twelve months ago?

And on the economics front: I’m aware of the suspicion generated recently by the publication of the Orange Book. I think its significance has been overblown. There is little prospect of a right-wing clique taking over the party a la Jorg Haider. I find it interesting that Liberator, which I take as a touchstone of the parts of the Lib Dems further (though not much further) to the left than me, responded to the Orange Book, not with the outright hostility which I remember the magazine taking to the leadership and the SDP in the Steel era, but by welcoming the fact that there was a debate at all (eg here and herereview for Liberator, singles out Huhne’s contribution to it as “in many ways the most impressive piece in the book”.

So, on balance, I’m a not very committed Campbell supporter, drifting towards Huhne. Having said that, as in 1988, I may just find that the candidates’ own literature convinces me to change my mind at the last moment.

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