Bits and bobs

  1. Is this legal?

    Due to the large number of applications we are receiving and the particular nature of the position, please only apply if you hold a degree from any of the following institutions:

    • Oxford University
    • Cambridge University
    • University of Edinburgh
    • London School of Economics

    Although I clearly am qualified on that basis alone, I’m not sure I would ever want to work somewhere whose management thought that way.

  2. The local elections in Georgia have been called for October 5th. Election observers will probably be needed.
  3. I think that one of the “lunatic fringes” to which Chris Priest referred in his GoH speech to last year’s Worldcon has just expanded to include most of fandom. [edited to add: I should make clear that I myself do not regard the people concerned as in any way lunatic.]
  4. has an interesting observation about Rose’s story arc in Doctor Who. Go read it.
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You’d think I’d have learnt by now…

…came into work this morning facing one Big Task and lots of little ones. Decided that I would tackle the Big Task first and allow myself to do the little ones as a series of “rewards” during the day. Of course, I made very little headway with either.

On the way home I remembered that the many books on increasing your productivity which I have read all advocate precisely the opposite approach: that you should make a start on the little tasks, because it will get you into a frame of mind where it is easier to get started on the Big Task. Once you have done all the little tasks, or even some of them, you a) have fewer tasks to do overall and b) have a feeling of achievement about the ones you have done and so have a more positive outlook generally.

All I can say is that I haven’t been sleeping well of nights, mainly due to early mornings caused by small people waking me up, so that has impaired my judgement. Early to bed tonight, I think, and a fresh start in the morning.

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August Books 23) The Brightfount Diaries

23) The Brightfount Diaries, by Brian Aldiss

I knew of this, Brian Aldiss’ first novel, from one of his autobiographies, but thought I would never get a chance to read it. However House of Stratus have reprinted it as part of their series of all Aldiss works – though it can’t be doing awfully well as I picked it up for 99p somewhere (marked down from the original £6.99). It’s a funny little book, stiched together from a series of newspaper columns, purporting to be the diary of an assistant in a second-hand bookshop in an unnamed English cathedral city. He has a raneg of more or less peculiar colleagues, an eccentric uncle and aunt, and very little luck with girls. The eccentric relatives seem awfully familiar from Aldiss’ later work (though his subsequent protagonists had more success with the opposite sex). The most sympathetic of his colleagues is a science fiction fan; our hero is not (this is 1955). Engaging but mainly as a harbinger of things to come.

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August Books 21-22) A Rule Book for Arguments; Critical Reasoning

21) A Rulebook for Arguments, by Anthony Weston
22) Critical Reasoning: An Introduction, by Anne Thomson

Got these just to see if my science degree had seriously impacted my ability to construct sensible arguments. I seem to have picked up the necessary skills along the way somehow, though, despite not writing any essays between my desultory first-year geology course and my final-year dissertation on the origin of the universe. Still, two quite nice little books: the first more for Americans, and just containing rules to follow; the second for the British market, containing some interesting examples to work through. Well, more fun thatn Sudoku anyway.

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More Hugo reflections

In the fiction categories: One woman out of four (on a par with Hugos in general, 41 of 201 Hugo awards (20%) in total, 9 out of 40 in the last ten years); three first-time winners, same as last year (though the year before, all winners already had at least two Hugos).

Details (thanks to for pointing me to the full stats):

Spin had a convincing lead over Accelerando at all stages of the count. Accelerando came second, with a smaller but still convincing lead over Old Man’s War. The third place result was very tight, Old Man’s War one first preference ahead of Learning the World, extending that lead to two on the second count, and ending with 216 to 213. For fourth place, contrary to Ken MacLeod’s gloomy predictions to me a few weeks earlier, Learning the World was decently far ahead of A Feast for Crows which in turn was decently ahead of “No Award” for the fifth slot. Apparently Neil Gaiman withdrew Anansi Boys which otherwise would have had the third highest number of nominations and would have knocked Old Man’s War off the list.

“Inside Job” was in fact level with “Magic for Beginners” with 124 first preferences, inched ahead for the second, third and fourth counts, and then received a substantial number of transfers from “Identity Theft” to finish ahead by a clear margin. “Magic for Beginners” was a reasonably strong second place, with a tight contest between Burn and “The Little Goddess” for third resolved in Burn‘s favour, again by transfers from “Identity Theft”. “The Little Goddess” came a comfortable fourth, and “Identity Theft” a decent enough fifth with fewer votes preferring “No Award” than for any of the other fiction categories.

The results for Best Novelette were pretty clear with nobody changing places at any stage of the count: “Two Hearts” top, “I, Robot” in second place, “The King of Where-I Go” in third place, “The Calorie Man” in fourth and “Telepresence” in fifth.

The Best Short Story category saw the best performace for “No Award” indicating general voter dissatisfaction with the choices available. “Singing My Sister Down” actually got the highest number of first preferences, 120 to 110 for “Tk’tk’tk” but did dismally in later stages, with “Tk’tk’tk” getting more than twice as many transfers from “The Clockwork Atom Bomb” and doing almost as well from “Down Memory Lane”. For second place it was even more drastic, with “Singing My Sister Down” again starting on top, but being overtaken by both “Down Memory Lane” and “The Clockwork Atom Bomb”, the latter winning the #2 spot. Even for third place, it was fairly tight, “Singing My Sister Down” finishing on 217 votes to 202 for “Down Memory Lane”, which secured fourth place fairly comfortably. “Seventy-Five Years” did not shift from the fifth place at any stage, and beat “No Award” by only 257 to 96. (“No Award” also got 64 votes to 340 for “Tk’tk’tk” in the runoff to see if the award could be made at all.)

Looking around elsewhere, I see that the three Doctor Who stories won the top three spots for Best Dramatic Presentation (short) – Hurrah! Though “Father’s Day” sneaked it by a single vote ahead of Battlestar Galactica. (Followed, a very long way behind, by “Jack-Jack Attack”, Lucas Back in Anger, and last year’s Hugo awards ceremony.)

The most one-sided result was, predictably, the one in which the most votes were cast, Serenity getting 329 out of 660, and winning a clear majority once “No Award” had been eliminated. This category also saw the only actual tie, for third place, between “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (“Batman Begins” coming second and “Goblet of Fire” fifth).

The closest result for any actual award was for Best Fan Writer, Dave Langford finishing with 156 votes to Cheryl Morgan’s 148 (Cheryl presumably being boosted a little by the fact the the Worldcon was on her home turf).

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August Books 20) H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life

20) H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, by Michel Houellebecq

Read this for review elsewhere, so will notify here when it is done. But it was amusing to re-read Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness”, based as it is on the premise that the recent discovery of Pluto was a signifier of Dreadful Things, the same week that Pluto got downgraded to sub-planet status.

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You (may have) heard it here first (unless like me you got it from who has photographs):

Big Heart Award was awarded to Forest J Ackerman. And they have changed the name of the award to the Forest J Ackerman Big Heart Award
Campbell Award Winner: John Scalzi
Fan Artist: Frank Wu
Fan Writer: Dave Langford
Best Fanzine: Plokta
Best Semiprozine: Locus
Best Pro Artist: Donato Giancola
Best Editor: David Hartwell
Best Dramatic Fiction (Short): Doctor Who “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances”
Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form: Serenity
Best Related Book: Storyteller
Best Short Story: “Tk’tk’tk” by David D Levine
Best Novelette: “Two Hearts” by Peter S Beagle
Best Novella: “Inside Job” by Connie Willis
Best Novel: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Well, I called two out of four in the fiction categories. Delighted about Doctor Who and Serenity, of course, and Plokta and Dave Langford as well.

Stunned that, as with the Nebulas, “Singing My Sister Down” didn’t win the short story category.

How will poor Connie Willis find room on the mantelpiece for her nine, count ’em, nine Hugos?

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The War Games

Am feeling rather low in energy after first few days back at work, but I managed to watch all ten episodes of this during the week. That, of course, is the central problem with this story: it is four hours of screen time, and you really appreciate it best by taking a decent break between each episode, so getting into it is a substantial investment.

I was prepared for a tedious dragging ten-part story with a deus ex machina ending. In fact, it is very good. It looks good for a start, with the various settings and scenery convincingly used. Troughton (especially) and Padbury and Hines really shine, and the guest actors all seemed pretty good to me. (The only one I didn’t much care for was the stereotyped Mexican guerilla leader.) The music is not too bad either.

The story is excellent. The first episode gives only the mildest hint of what is to come (British WWI general with hypnotic abilities and a TV screen in his office, soldiers not sure how long they have been where they are) and we gradually build up through a hierarchy of villains – General Smythe, the Security Chief, the War Chief, the War Lord – to the appearance of the Time Lords themselves in episode 10.

The final episode is particularly good, with the War Lord’s minions trying to bust him out of the Time Lords’ custody, and Jamie and Zoe then trying the same with the Doctor; though he knows, as we do, that he cannot escape. The Doctor’s trial echoes his court-martial by General Smythe in the first episode. And the ending, as the Second Doctor spins off into the void forever, must be one of the saddest in the programme’s history.

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Queen Elizabeth and Her Times: A Series of Original Letters, Selected from the Inedited Private…
ed Thos Wright, 1838

The Puritans: Or, The Church, Court, and Parliament of England, During the Reigns of Edward VI….
By Samuel Hopkins, 1860

The History of the County and City of Cork
By Charles Bernard Gibson, 1861

State Papers Concerning the Irish Church in the Time of Queen Elizabeth
By W. Maziere (William Maziere) Brady, 1868

An Historical Account of the Plantation in Ulster at the Commencement of the Seventeenth Century,…
By George Hill, 1877

History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth
By James Anthony Froude, 1881

Ireland in the Seventeenth Century: Or, The Irish Massacres of 1641-2, Their Causes and Results….
By Mary Agnes Hickson, 1884

The Plantation of Munster 1584-1589
R. Dunlop
English Historical Review, Vol. 3, No. 10 (Apr., 1888), pp. 250-269

The Lismore Papers of Richard Boyle, First and “Great” Earl of Cork
By Richard Boyle Cork, Alexander Balloch Grosart, 1888

The Life and Letters of the Great Earl of Cork
By Dorothea (Baker) Townshend, 1904

Handbook to the City of Dublin and the Surrounding District
By Grenville A. J. (Grenville Arthur James) Cole, R. Lloyd (Robert Lloyd) Praeger, 1908

The Embroidery at Hardwick Hall
M. Jourdain
Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 16, No. 80 (Nov., 1909), pp. 97-99

Memoirs of the Binghams
By Rose Elizabeth McCalmont, 1915

The Judges in Ireland, 1221-1921
By F. Elrington (Francis Elrington) Ball, 1927

Shakespeare’s Richard II and the Essex Conspiracy
Evelyn May Albright
PMLA, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Sep., 1927), pp. 686-720

Spenser with Lord Grey in Ireland
Raymond Jenkins
PMLA, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Jun., 1937), pp. 338-353

Strafford in Ireland 1633-1641: A Study in Absolutism
By Hugh F. Kearney, 1959/1989

The Irish Surveys of Robert Lythe
Robert Lythe, J. H. Andrews
Imago Mundi, Vol. 19, 1965 (1965), pp. 22-31

Rowland White’s ‘Discors Touching Ireland’, c.1569.
Nicholas Canny
Irish Historical Studies, 20 (1977), 439-463.

Rowland White’s ‘The Dysorders of the Irisshery’, 1571.
Nicholas Canny
Studia Hibernica, 19 (1979), 147-160.

Sword, Word and Strategy in the Reformation in Ireland
Brendan Bradshaw
Historical Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Sep., 1978), pp. 475-502

A History of the County Dublin: The People, Parishes and Antiquities from the Earliest Times to…
By F. Elrington (Francis Elrington) Ball, 1979

Malice Aforethought: the poisoning of the ninth earl of Ormond
J Butler Soc 3:1 (1986) 30-41

Reformation to Restoration: Ireland 1534-1660
By Nicholas Canny, 1987

Colonial Identity in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800
By Anthony Pagden, Nicholas Canny, 1989

That “Insolent Liberty”: Honor, Rites of Power, and Persuasion in Sixteenth-Century Ireland
William Palmer
Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Summer, 1993), pp. 308-327

The Chief Governors: The Rise and Fall of Reform Government in Tudor Ireland 1536-1588
By Ciaran Brady, 1994

Reconstructing Lord Grey’s Reputation: A New View of the View
Catherine G. Canino
Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring, 1998), pp. 3-18

The Early Elizabethan Polity: William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis, 1558-1569
By Stephen Alford, 1998

British Consciousness and Identity: The Making of Britain, 1533-1707
edited by Brendan Bradshaw, Peter Roberts, 1998

The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585-1597
By Paul E. J. Hammer, 1999

Elizabeth I: Collected Works
edited by Leah S Marcus, Janel M Mueller, Mary Beth Rose, 2000

Language and nationality: the role of policy towards Celtic languages in the consolidation of Tudor power
Gillian Brennan
Nations and Nationalism Vol. 7 Issue 3 Page 317 July 2001

A Viceroy’s Vindication?: Sir Henry Sidney’s Memoir, 1583
By Henry Sidney, 2002

A Sidney Chronology, 1554-1654
Michael G Brennan and Noel J Kinnamon, 2003

The Hook Peninsula
By Billy Colfer, 2004

‘Secretary to the Lord Grey Lord Deputie here’: Edmund Spenser’s Irish Papers
Christopher Burlinson and Andrew Zurcher
The Library 2005 6(1):30-75

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Apparently there is an article in the Journal of the Butler Society, vol 3, part 1 (1986) pages 30-41 with the glorious title of “Malice Aforethought: the poisoning of the ninth earl of Ormond”.

The Journal of the Butler Society appears to be available only in the following libraries: University College Cork, National Library of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, NUI Galway

(, perhaps you can tell me if there are other libraries in Ireland which have copies of it?)

Anyone with access to any of those libraries? I would be very keen to get hold of a copy of the article!!!

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Nice to hear

Heard over the holiday that a friend of a friend was doing research related vaguely to my PhD topic. Emailed her to ask if my work was of any use to her. She replied,

You might be interested to know that there is still much rueful shaking of heads at every meeting of those interested in Irish history of science that Nicholas Whyte abandoned the arena!

No great regrets on my part, but nice to hear that my efforts were not wasted.

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August Books 19) Sixteenth Century Ireland

19) Sixteenth Century Ireland, by Colm Lennon

I bought this for a couple of reasons. My namesake and ancestor, Sir Nicholas White, was a senior government official in Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth I, but from the available biographies I have never been able to make any sense of what he actually did, and I hoped that reading this book would give me a bit more context. Also, as a student at Cambridge I got to know one of the great experts in sixteenth-century Irish history, who was at that time locked in bitter ideological battle with those who wanted to rewrite the history books to suggest the the English were not always completely wrong, nor the Irish completely right (I simplify the argument slightly). It’s many years since I saw the historian in question, but I hoped this book (published in 1994 and revised in 2005) would at least let me know who won.

I have to say that my confusion about Ireland in the sixteenth century has now been raised to new and unexpected levels of bafflement (and I didn’t discover who won the historiographical battle of fifteen years ago). I think – just about – that I grasp the main narrative. Up until 1520, Ireland was ruled (in the name of the English King, who was double-hatted as Lord of Ireland) by a hand-picked local magnate, normally the head of the Fitzgerald family. In 1520 the Fitzgeralds fell out with Henry VIII, and from then on English officials were appointed to head up the Irish administration. This led to more or less serious efforts by London to bring all of Ireland under English law (re-hatting the English King as King of Ireland also), and also coincided with the Reformation. The period closes, in 1603, with the end of a major Irish rebellion (the Nine Years’ War) at the former Mellifont Abbey, the Earl of Tyrone surrendering to the Queen Elizabeth’s representatives (who knew, but didn’t tell him, that she had died a few days before).

There are not enough maps in this book, and those that there are are largely confusing, but the most interesting it the first one, showing the actual extent of the area of Ireland effectively under Dublin rule (though even then substantial chunks would have been more under the control of the Fitzgeralds or the Butlers than of Dublin Castle). It is pretty difficult, knowing the political geography of Ireland over the last two centuries as well as I do, to get my head around the fact that in the sixteenth century, it was Ulster that was more or less homogenously Gaelic in culture, and the other three provinces that had a confusingly mixed picture – so, completely the opposite to what I am used to. I certainly had no idea that most of what is now County Wicklow was a Gaelic enclave.

NB Laois and Offaly were “planted” under Queen Mary, and thus brought more or less into the system.

But a lot of things were not clear to me. Why did neither side win more decisively? That, I guess, is the main question. The Irish chieftains were never quite prepared to declare independence or to put their trust in the Spanish (indeed they quite happily slaughtered the sailors of the Spanish Armada in 1588 who were wrecked on the western coast). But at the same time the English were never quite able to consolidate their occasional military victories with better and more durable governance. It was a bit reminiscent of Thessalonica under Ottoman rule, a territory which was very much able to carve its own political identity while partially – but not completely – detached from the metropolis.

The dynamics of the Reformation in Ireland were a completely new story for me as well (including its precursor, the dissolution of the monasteries, which appears to have been widely popular among all sections of the population apart from the monks). Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 1530s, by Lennon’s account, had little real impact in Ireland for decades. Not until 1570, when the Pope attempted to depose Elizabeth I, did it become a live political issue, and even then it wasn’t until the Baltinglass rebellion in 1580 that Protestant vs Catholic became a significant cleavage point.

It is tempting to speculate as to how this might have developed differently. On the one hand, if a university (under Dublin and eventually Protestant control) had been established several decades before 1592, Ireland as a whole could have been more tightly linked in with English rather than continental European intellectual currents and vice versa, and might well have ended up as a Protestant country in the Scandinavian mode. (As it was, the only printing press in the seventeenth century producing books in Irish was down the road from where I am writing now, in Leuven.)

On the other hand, if the Pope had not issued his 1570 bull (which he didn’t get around to until months after the 1569 rebellion in England had failed), the Elizabethan officials could have found a better accommodation with Catholic and Gaelic Ireland than was possible in our time line. In fact very few Catholics took the Papal command to overthrow Queen Elizabeth seriously, but it added an extra hurdle to the integration of the majority of the population into state structures which had actually made significant progress under Henry VIII.

As for my own ancestor: I was grimly pleased to find confirmation of one piece of family lore. His father, James White, of King’s Meadow, Waterford, was the steward of the ninth Earl of Ormond (the head of the Butler family, and so one of the top three Irish magnates); while visiting London in October 1546, they and dozens of other people were poisoned at a banquet at Ely House in Holborn, and 18 of them died, including the Earl and James White. This was surely the most massive political poisoning of British history. I would love to find out more details about it.

His son Sir Nicholas gets one rather confusing mention in Lennon’s book as a counsellor of the English envoy Sir John Perrot in the mid-1580s (an association that eventually led to them both dying as prisoners in the Tower of London in the 1590s). It doesn’t get me a lot further. I know from other sources that after his father and the Earl were poisoned, he benefited from a legacy in the Earl’s will to study law in London, and earned some extra as a tutor to the children of an up-and-coming political lawyer called William Cecil who, as Lord Burghley, more or less ran England for most of the reign of Elizabeth I. Burghley and White remained in correspondence for years, and most of their surviving letters were published in the nineteenth century. White’s access to the London establishment certainly helped him get fairly high political office back in Ireland, until it all went wrong for him.

But he was far from unique in having such access to the king or queen of the day. One of the questions most frustratingly unexplored in the book is the close contact between the Irish magnates and the English monarchy. The Irish leaders were at least barons and usually earls; they therefore had far easier access at court in London (if they chose to go there) than the succession of bureaucrats sent to Ireland to actually try and run the administration. Often they had spent their childhood in England as hostages to their parents’ good behaviour, in the hope that, when they grew up, they would go back to Ireland and co-operate nicely. (It never worked.) This very signifcant dynamic seems to have operated throughout, and clearly made a difference to the freedom of action of Dublin Castle, but since it happens off-screen – I suppose Lennon is focussing very tightly on Ireland the island – we never really find out much about it.

So, a rather frustrating book. I still want to find out more, but it may take actual library work, some year when I have a few weeks off.

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Chomsky on Srebrenica, again

My first day back at work after my break. I had almost resolved not to write any more blog entries on this topic, and this one is old news anyway, but thanks to an email exchange with TK while I was away, I looked up his post to East Ethnia back in June which mentioned in passing the New Statesman interview with Noam Chomsky from earlier that month. This interview includes the surprising statement that:

The worst crime was Srebrenica but, unfortunately for the International Tribunal, there was an intensive investigation by the Dutch government, which was primarily responsible – their troops were there – and what they concluded was that not only did Milosevic not order it, but he had no knowledge of it. And he was horrified when he heard about it.
TK, not surprisingly, is puzzled about what Chomsky could mean. I think I can help. The “intensive investigation by the Dutch government” must surely refer to the exhaustive report of the Dutch Institute for War Documentation, published in April 2002. What the report actually states (in part III, chapter 6, section 9) is the following:
It is also not known whether Milosevic had any knowledge of the continuing Bosnian-Serb offensive that resulted in the occupation of the enclave. After the fall of the enclave, Milosevic made no mention to that effect to the UN envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg – he was too much of a poker player to reveal anything. On the other hand, Milosevic did express himself clearly later, in 1996, when he dropped the question to a group of Bosnian-Serb entrepreneurs as to ‘what idiot’ had made the decision to attack Srebrenica while it hosted international troops when it was obvious that, in any event, the enclave would eventually have been bled dry or become depopulated. It is not clear to what extent that statement had been intended to clear his responsibility for those events.
Obviously, Chomsky (being a top public intellectual) would not misquote from such a widely available document on such an important topic; there can be no doubt that he accurately cited the Dutch report to the New Statesman’s reporter, who then wilfully misquoted him in order to make him look like an apologist for Milosevic. I hope his supporters will bombard the New Statesman with emails to demand they either correct the interview, or withdraw it from their website.

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I’m pleased and gratified to see that a whole lot of people have added me to their f-lists over the last few months. If I don’t know you in real life, please do drop an introductory note here as a comment, perhaps letting me know where you are, what you do, and why you are reading me.

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August Books 18) The Warden’s Niece

18) The Warden’s Niece, by Gillian Avery

The Warden’s Niece is no relation to The Warden, though of course they share a common background in the nineteenth century (this book set in 1875 and written in 1957). Eleven-year-old Maria runs away from school to her great-uncle who is the Warden of an Oxford college. She gets put in with the three sons of the neighbouring house, and their eccentric temporary tutor Mr Copplestone (who would certainly be played by Stephen Fry in the movie version). She also develops her own little research programme, solves a historical mystery, and thus gets her Bildung. It’s a lovely little book. My favourite scene is where she manages to talk her way into the Bodleian Library, in a combination of drive to find the answers to the historical mystery that has been puzzling her, and carrying out the terms of a dare from one of the boys next door. But I am a sucker for the Bodleian anyway.

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August Books 17) The Warden

17) The Warden, by Anthony Trollope

Picked this up on a whim from a four-for-a-pound box in Wiltshire yesterday. I remember watching the BBC adaptation with Donald Pleasance years ago. Actually a rather good book, which I found myself reflecting on rather a lot as I drove across England and Belgium today.

I was particularly intrigued by trying to work out what Trollope was really trying to say. While we are made to feel very sympathetic to Mr Huntley, the eponymous warden, the fact is that he is getting a substantial amount of money for doing almost nothing; and the argument that the old men of the almshouse would be incapable of spending the money wisely, if it was theirs, seems pretty patronising – is Harding’s expenditure of it, on music and soft furnishing, so much more moral? And the ending of the story, where all goes to rack and ruin – well, this is actually the fault of the bishop, for not getting the confused legal situation sorted out, rather than the fault of the zealous Dr Bold for raising the question.

Having said that, I rather liked some of the very conscious ironies that Trollope puts in the book: Dr Bold, after all, is himself the beneficiary of unearned income, which is what allows him to bring the case in the first place. I relished even more the brief descriptions of British policy on Ireland, particularly since The Warden is set in 1855, precisely because I just read my father’s book on the same period. Where my father declined to attribute anything other than the usual kneejerk bigotry as being behind the outrageously anti-Catholic policies of the British government of the day, Trollope (writing at the time, rather than a century later) is much more vicious:

Sir Abraham Haphazard was deeply engaged in preparing a bill for the mortification of papists, to be called the “Convent Custody Bill,” the purport of which was to enable any Protestant clergyman over fifty years of age to search any nun whom he suspected of being in possession of treasonable papers or Jesuitical symbols… The bill had all its desired effect. Of course it never passed into law; but it so completely divided the ranks of the Irish members, who had bound themselves together to force on the ministry a bill for [Irish economic development, though rather a silly policy].

So some at least of this is meant as simple satire. And yet his entire chapter – “Tom Towers, Dr Anticant, and Mr Sentiment” – about the baneful and pernicious influence of the media seems pretty heartfelt (and also helps explain why this author appealed so much to John Major). I will just have to read more and see what I think.

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August Books 16) Year’s Best SF 11

16) Year’s Best SF 11, ed. David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

So, why is it that the Hugo and Nebula systems cannot produce shortlists of the quality of this selection? There was only one story out of 31 here that failed to really engage my interest (OK, some of them were very short) and two that I thought were really good and would not have come across otherwise. I liked very much R Garcia y Robertson’s “Oxygen Rising”, about future war, peacekeeping and sex, and Ken MacLeod’s “A Case of Consilience” struck me as one of the great sf and religion stories (OK, it references many of the others, but that if anything is a strength). Anyway, if the Dozois annual collection is even half as good as this, my money has been weell spent.

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August Books 15) [Doctor Who] The Empire of Glass

15) [Doctor Who] The Empire of Glass, by Andy Lane

This is one of the Virgin Missing Adventures of Doctor Who which is downloadable from the BBC website. Set in Venice and London in 1609, it gives the author a chance to bring together Galileo, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe (not dead after all, it turns out) and the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki. The BBC presentation makes it easy to cut between chapters of the book and the author’s notes, which makes reading the book rather like watching a DVD for the first time with the production team’s commentary turned on. It’s rather good fun, with decent treatment of Steven and several rather satisfying nods to continuity, though I don’t think we find out exactly what happens to Cardinal Bellarmine.

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My latest watched Doctor Who DVD, this being the last of the first Jon Pertwee season. I liked it. Alex Wilcock has already said pretty much all I would want to say about it. I would just add a few more details:

The Doctor’s own role is not especially glorious in this story. Rather than concentrate on the dangers of the drilling project, he prefers to try and escape via TARDIS. When the Brigadier accuses him of having wasted time “gallivanting”, the Doctor takes deep offence, but the Brigadier is absolutely right. Had the Doctor stuck around on our world instead, he could have simply badgered Stahlman to take his glove off, which would have resulted in his being instantly discredited. We the viewers know about the intimate connection between the drilling and the Primords; the penny never really drops for the characters.

It’s a shame that they didn’t give Liz Shaw a decent farewell scene. I suppose that is part of the problem of a season with only four stories and the last one seven parts. There was too much plot to fit in, perhaps. On the second DVD, Caroline John comes across in the interviews as a very pleasant and intelligent person, much more so than the last companion-playing actress who I saw interviewed, who came across as pretty brainless. But it’s nice that the last shot of the series, and of the season, is of her laughing at the Doctor and Brigadier squabbling.

The story of John Woods/John Levene and his acting career is a rather nice one too, which I hadn’t heard before.

More on alternate universes in another post. But in summary: a good set of DVDs.

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