November Books 19+20) More Doctor Who fiction

19) [Doctor Who] Evolution, by John Peel
20) [Doctor Who] The Stealers of Dreams, by Steve Lyons

I have read some serious books recently, honest, and reviews of those are coming up Real Soon Now. But it just so happens that I have managed 14 Doctor Who books this month, the nine Ian Marter novelisations and five spinoffs; perhaps I need to admit to myself that I am a fan?

I got both of these as a result of recommendations. Evolution somehow fitted into my purchase of Managra months ago; it is a Virgin Missing Adventure featuring the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, set immediately after “The Brain of Morbius”. The Stealers of Dreams was recommended to me last week by Evolution is much the better of the two, a glorious Victorian romp featuring the young Arthur Conan Doyle (just after I discovered my own obscure family connection with him) and an even younger Rudyard Kipling, combined with affectionate references to those classic Fourth Doctor stories, “Horror of Fang Rock” and “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”.

The Stealers of Dreams takes us to a rather unlikely planet where both fiction and government have been outlawed, resulting in a heavily policed and medicated society. Some good ideas, and nice capturing of the Doctor and his companions, but my science-fictional soul prefers settings that feel a bit more alien rather than just London give or take a few features necessary to the plot.

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The untold bit

One bit of my Berlin trip that I will remember for a long time:

In previous visits I have tended to concentrate on the Bundestag, the Foreign Ministry and the thinktankers. On this occasion I decided I would take in the Defence Ministry as well, and found to my delight that it was conveniently close to my hotel. A rather impressive building, I thought; I wondered if there was any particular history behind it?

(Of course, the Bundestag, in the former Reichstag building, has history literally oozing out of the walls – if you’ve been inside you’ll know what I mean. And the Foreign Ministry was originally built as the central bank of the Third Reich, and then served as Communist Party headquarters in East Germany.)

So I asked the silver-haired colonel who I was meeting about the building’s history. He told me that it had originally been the headquarters of the German Navy from 1911, and was then the territorial army headquarters; and then became the centre of resistance to Hitler within the armed forces, in particular under Claus von Stauffenberg. (I realised why the street I had just walked down is called the Stauffenbergstraße.) He added, “So after 20 July, von Stauffenberg was shot in one of the courtyards,” indicating which one with a nod.


On a different note entirely, I am quite unreasonably pissed off with the people who have mis-spelt my name on the invitation to next week’s book launch. They are the embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I get on very well with their ambassador in Brussels, and it’s irritating that one of her staff has let her down; but also, I have always done my best to make sure that invitations to events involving diplomats respect the necessary protocol and it really irritated me today that they weren’t able to extend the courtesy reciprocally. (They also used an out-of-date logo for my employers.) I spent sixteen months of my life in 1997 and 1998 trying to help strengthen democracy in their country, and… well, no point in going on about it I suppose.

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Berlin was basically OK, except that something I ate last night was dodgy and I was awake for more of last night than I would have wanted.

Then, driving to work from Brussels airport after I had landed, as I zoomed through the Montgomery tunnel I felt a sudden KCHUNK and the car coasted to a halt on the uphill stretch. Phone calls to Touring, long wait while traffic pooled around me in one of the prime choke-points of Brussels suburbia, finally the Touring guy arrived and towed me to a nearby layby, more long wait while he fiddled with the distributor cap before shaking his head in bafflement and calling a pickup truck, more long wait for the pickup truck, which then couldn’t find the garage, probably because its driver was too busy talking to his girlfriend on his mobile phone to look for it properly, and eventually walked from the garage to my office with all my luggage from Berlin, still feeling fragile from stomach upset, and reaching my desk roughly two hours after I had expected.

And then I find that an invitation to an event I am doing next week has already been sent to the very senior invitees with my name mis-spelt. Given the day that I’ve had, it’s annoyed me more than I think it normally would.

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Meme propagation

I am participating in ‘s experiment. She’s measuring the speed of meme transmission across the blogosphere, by means subtle and electronic.

Brief instructions:

  1. Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, etc.)
  2. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I’m one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
  3. Ping Techorati.
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TrustFlow results for

I tried out TrustFlow II for LiveJournal. The following people not on the friends list for are close by:

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Created by ciphergoth; hosted by LShift.

TrustFlow II: Who is closest to your friends

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Four links

Tom Baker has been blogging for Blockbuster. Hilarious. Don’t forget to scroll down for previous entries.

has done a compilation of Doctor Who opening titles. I would be interested in feedback on this from those of you who have never watched Doctor Who and wonder what the heck I am writing about – I think it’s a rather gripping compilation, though there is an unfortunate (and I guess unavoidable) change of tempo for the eighth and ninth Doctors (who are not themselves portrayed here).

via , a time-lapse video of a drive from LA to NY; I found the music forgettable but the images fascinating.

via at Vector, all the Nebula winners in haiku.

I’m off to Berlin for a couple of days; be good while I’m away and see you when I’m back.

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Calling Belgian residents

Zoe McCarthy (whose Boyfriend is a Twat) invites us all to a Belgian Bloggers Christmas Bash. She says,

If the Brits can have a Brit Blogger Christmas Party – than so can we!

Date: December 9th.
Time: 8pm onwards.
Venue: O’Farrels, Place Lux. (Could change.)

Please confirm if you’re coming [] and do pass this on to any other blogger you know of.

Feel free to pass on, as she says, and hope to see you there.

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November Books 9-18) The Doctor Who Novels of Ian Marter

9) Doctor Who and the Ark in Space, by Ian Marter (published 1977, based on TV story shown in 1975)
10) Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment, by Ian Marter (published 1978, based on TV story shown in 1975)
11) Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation, by Ian Marter (published 1979, based on TV story shown in 1978)
12) Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World, by Ian Marter (published 1981, based on TV story shown in 1968)
13) Doctor Who – Earthshock, by Ian Marter (published 1983, based on TV story shown in 1982)
14) Doctor Who – The Dominators, by Ian Marter (published 1984, based on TV story shown in 1968)
15) Doctor Who – The Invasion, by Ian Marter (published 1985, based on TV story shown in 1968)
16) (The Companions of) Doctor Who – Harry Sullivan’s War, by Ian Marter (published 1986; original fiction)
17) Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror, by Ian Marter (published 1987, based on TV story first shown in 1964)
18) Doctor Who – The Rescue, by Ian Marter (published 1987, based on TV story first shown in 1965)

(pictures copied, with much thanks, from Steve Hill’s Doctor Who Image Archive)

I’ve referred cryptically in a couple of recent entries to my Speshul Prodjekt. I can now reveal it to the world: I have been reading all of the Doctor Who novels written by Ian Marter, who played the Fourth Doctor’s companion Harry Sullivan, and went on to write more novelisations of Doctor Who stories than any other author apart from Terrance Dicks (who is well in the lead, at 64½ to Marter’s nine; next is Malcolm Hulke with six, John Peel with five, and Gerry Davis with 4½). Marter was the only regular actor from the series to write novelisations, though two others who wrote novels based on their own scripts had also made appearances in minor roles (one of them, indeed, in The Sontaran Experiment).

This isn’t going to be a blow-by-blow comparison of where the novels differ from the TV series. Sarah Hadley has done excellent detailed reviews of eight of the nine novelisations on her site, and I’m not at all familiar with the broadcast versions of some of them (specifically, I don’t think I’ve seen a single minute of “The Reign of Terror”, I’ve seen only the one surviving episode of “The Enemy of the World”, and I haven’t re-watched “The Ribos Operation” or “Earthshock” since they were first broadcast over twenty years ago). Instead, some general thoughts on writing the book-of-the-TV-show as illuminated by Marter’s efforts, and a few other repeated themes that lingered in my mind.

The nine novelisations divided, in my mind, into three groups. The first two, Doctor Who and the Ark in Space and Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment, were both based on stories in which Marter himself had appeared in the character of Harry, and there’s a corresponding emphasis on the character; somewhat less so in the former, though Harry is very much the viewpoint character as we are introduced to the Doctor, Sarah, and the space station setting; rather more so in the latter, where he gets almost an entire chapter to himself exploring the Sontaran spaceship, a passage completely absent from the TV story. (“The Sontaran Experiment” had only two episodes as opposed to “The Ark in Space”‘s four, so some padding was required.)

The very first Doctor Who novel published, David Whitaker’s Doctor Who in An Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, told the story from the viewpoint of Ian Chesterton; those were in the days when it was not expected that anyone would ever see The Daleks again, let alone the story preceding it, and so it was easier to play around with the format for what was expected to be a stand-alone book with no other surviving media backing it. By 1975, however, repeats in the summer had become normal procedure, so the novels had necessarily to stick more closely to the original TV version. In any case I think it would have been impossible to write any of the novels discussed here from a first-person point of view; TV means multiple viewpoints, and restricting it to a single character means all kinds of narrative gyrations (as even Whitaker found, despite having a freer hand). Also there’s something rather difficult about doing Doctor Who in the first person rather than the third; I’ve read precisely one piece of spinoff DW fiction using that technique, and it was bad. Marter may well have been tempted to write these two from his own character’s viewpoint; if so, I think he was wise to restrain himself.

Marter both adds and subtracts from the TV show here. He subtracts, somewhat to my surprise, most of the humorous lines of dialogue – specifically the Doctor’s line “Well, my doctorate is purely honorary, and Harry here is only qualified to work on sailors.” It is of course a joke against Harry (a naval doctor, but one who appears rather a twit at times), but I don’t think that is the reason; perhaps Marter just felt the line didn’t work as well on the page as it does on the screen, as he also drops the banter between Rogin and Lycett just after they are woken up. It’s also a bit surprising that the unusual link between the two TV stories – the Doctor and his companions travel to Earth via transmat beam – was dropped in favour of the more standard Tardis journey.

He adds, however, some simply superb descriptive passages which one really regrets were not realised on-screen. Sometimes it’s just little things, like the Doctor opening a door on the space station by thinking at it. At his best, he has added in much longer passages – Harry’s exploration of the Sontaran ship has already been mentioned; there’s also Sarah’s journey through the ventilation duct, through the mass of Wirrrn (another thing added by Marter is an extra “r” in the name of the monster), and the nightmares inflicted on both Sarah and Harry by the Sontaran experimenter. He also adds graphical nastiness and violence. Noah’s head explodes, revealing the Wirrrn within. Rogin’s body is “burnt to a colourless crystal”. The fight between the Sontaran and the Doctor is realised in considerable detail.

Basically, if your attention is suddenly held by the prose in one of Marter’s novelisations, it’s a fair bet that it’s something he added to the original story. Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment makes a below-average DW story into a well-above-average DW novel. Doctor Who and the Ark in Space is a really good read, to the point where Andrew Wrixon at the Doctor Who Ratings Guide blames Marter for making him unable to enjoy the original version as much as he does the novel.

I was much less impressed with Marter’s next four novelisations – Doctor Who and the Ribos OperationDoctor Who and the Enemy of the World, Doctor Who – Earthshock and Doctor Who – The Dominators. The two Second Doctor stories among this lot are not considered classics; “The Enemy of the World” was the one story of the famous fifth season that did not feature monsters, and I watched “The Dominators” a week ago as part of this project and thought it was pretty poor. The other two stories should have been a bit more promising; “The Ribos Operation” was the first in the Key to Time season of six stories, and introduced Romana as the Fourth Doctor’s companion; and “Earthshock”, famously, shockingly, killed off the Fifth Doctor’s companion Adric in battle with the Cybermen. But for different reasons I felt Marter had not done a particularly good job with any of them.

In “The Ribos Operation”, perhaps it’s a case of clashing formats. What I remember most about the TV version is just the sense of cold; this is a snowy city on a chilly planet. Really very little sense of that in the novel. The intial set-up between the Doctor and Romana is changed substantially, and in my view not for the better; in the TV version, the White Guardian tells the Doctor that he will be assigned an assistant, and the Doctor when he encounters her spends the first few minutes practically hiding from her behind K-9. Marter’s novelisation has Romana’s arrival as a total surprise, and puts the two characters on a more equal footing, but somehow doesn’t sparkle the same way. The final battle, according to Sarah Hadley, is much more gory in the book; but that’s as we expect from a Marter novel.

I watched the surviving third episode of “The Enemy of the World” again while reading the novel. Some lovely dialogue between Victoria and Salamander’s chef has been completely cut by Marter; so too, more happily, has an unconvincing exchange about why they are guarding the prisoner in the corridor. (Slightly off-topic, but is this the only Doctor Who story with scenes set in Hungary???) Apparently a substantial chunk from the underground caverns in the last episode was cut too. This was the first time Marter had tried to squeeze a six-episode story into 127 pages, so obviously some cuts were necessary, but the result feels very jumpy. The various deaths by shooting are, of course, more gory than on screen. It does have a rather striking cover though, the second best of the lot I think; for some reason this was only the sixth Second Doctor story to be published in novel form.

Reading the early chapters of Doctor Who – Earthshock, I decided that the descriptions of people being melted into puddles of liquid by the androids must be yet another gruesome addition of detail by Marter, and was rather surprised when I checked on-line sources to find that, for once, he has stuck pretty closely to the original story – I think more so than for any of his other novelisations, if Sarah Hadley is right. Unfortunately this does also emphasise the flaws in the plot of “Earthshock” which are numerous – not, of course, Marter’s fault but among many crimes which must be laid at Eric Saward’s door. Apart from the shock ending, it’s not a story that can stand up to much analysis – Why are the Cybermen hiding on the spaceship? Why aren’t their weapons as good as their androids’? How did they get the bomb onto Earth in the first place? Faced with this material, Marter did a barely adequate job of the novelisation.

Doctor Who – The Dominators is a better book, but this is not saying much. It was a very over-padded five-episode story in the first place, and Marter has made it a bit less dull, and injected some of the missing chemistry between the two Dominators themselves – and made them both over two and a half metres tall! He does capture Zoe and Jamie rather well here, the latter better than in Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World. But again, faced with such unpromising material to work from, the result is not up to much.

The standard Target novelisation (ie, by Terrance Dicks) just ran through the script with a bit of extra description, and I felt that Marter had not ventured very far beyond that remit in these four cases, what might be called his middle period. Somehow he managed to find that spark again, though, and his last three novelisations are all cracking good reads.

First up is Doctor Who – The Invasion, whose TV original has just been released on DVD. This was an eight-part story when first broadcast, here cut down to 160 pages, so a rather extreme rate of compression. But somehow Marter makes it work as he failed to with “The Enemy of the World”; better material to work with, true, but I actually found the plot somewhat easier to follow in the novel as well. The villainous Tobias Vaughn, briliantly brought to life by Kevin Stoney on screen, is better in some ways here, with several hints that he has already become more (or perhaps less) than completely human, and his change of heart at the end of the story (when he takes on the Cybermen) more consistently portrayed as a fanatic changing targets rather than as a human being brought to his senses we saw on TV. At the same time, no written desription can possibly convey Stoney’s sinister drawl.

But here we must take a break for Doctor Who – Harry Sullivan’s War, as it is on the spine, or The Companions of Doctor Who: Harry Sullivan’s War, as the front cover has it, or Harry Sullivan’s War, as it is on the title page. This was the second officially published Doctor Who novelisation not based on a TV story (the first being the long-forgotten Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma, from earlier in 1986) and so could be said to be at the start of the long chain of spin-off fiction passing through the Virgin New and Missing Adventures to the BBC Eighth Doctor, Past Doctor and New Doctor Adventures, but also including the Big Finish audios and climaxing, if that is the word, in Torchwood.

Alas, we start to understand why Marter was never otherwise able to sell original fiction. (His other published fiction included the book-of-the-film of Down and Out in Beverley Hills, and as Ian Don the books-of-the-films of Baby, Splash, My Science Project and Tough Guys. I cannot find in my heart to regret very much that the four books he apparently wrote about the Gummi Bears were never published.) I was startled on page 4 to learn that, in this book meant to have a contemporary mid-1980s setting, NATO headquarters was in Geneva. A fairly trivial detail to those readers who visit neither NATO nor Geneva as frequently as I do, but symptomatic of a lack of focus throughout. Harry Sullivan, meant to be an experienced doctor working on top-secret biological warfare, seems to have no idea about elementary security precautions. There are some nice bits with a recurrent Van Gogh motif, and a climactic fight on the Eiffel Tower, but basically it doesn’t make much sense. There are cameos from the Brigadier (now retired to teaching a la “Mawdryn Undead”) and Sarah Jane Smith as well.

Forward, or in some ways back, to the really good stuff now. Marter’s last two books, Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror and Doctor Who – The Rescue, match his best earlier ones, in somewhat different ways. Both feature the First Doctor. “The Reign of Terror” is another six-parter, which ended the very first season of Doctor Who back in 1964. It features gruesome implied violence – which Marter is quite subdued in writing up, apart from the historically accurate detail of Robespierre having his jaw blown off just before the end of the story. The whole atmosphere of a Paris living under horrible oppression is well conveyed; as with any Doctor Who story, the main characters get split up to follow different bits of the action, but Marter conveys very well their panic and disorientation in this dangerous environment (as he failed to do in Doctor Who – The Dominators). Purists will feel robbed that the Doctor’s speech about destiny at the end of the last scene has been replaced with some banter between him and Ian Chesterton, but I suspect this may one of those cases where what worked on the screen would not have worked so well on the page. It also has absolutely the best cover of the ten books.

Ian Marter died suddenly on his 42nd birthday, 28 October 1986, leaving Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror in press and having completed and partially revised Doctor Who – The Rescue. His last is probably his best book, better even than Doctor Who and the Ark in Space. Like “The Sontaran Experiment”, “The Rescue” was a rare two-part story, intended purely to introduce the first new companion to join the show since its beginning, Vicki – one of two survivors of a spaceship crash on an apparently hostile planet. I thought after watching it a few months ago that this was a plot which could manage a great deal of filling out of back-story; the Doctor’s past relations with the natives of the planet, the story of what had actually happened to the human settlers.

In fact Marter delivers much more than that. For once, the printed page is superior to the screen. The twenty-something Maureen O’Brien could never really pass as the young teenager that Vicki was meant to be; Marter is not restricted by the actor’s appearance. The monsters of the planet were among the least compelling aspects of the original TV story; again Marter can just make them up and does indeed bring in at least one more. We get loads more banter between the Doctor and Ian, with Marter for once putting comic dialogue in rather than taking it out. And the entire story is topped and tailed by the rescue ship which is supposed to be coming for Vicki and her fellow-survivor, so that one feels that this planet is one that fits into a wider history.

So, who knows what Marter might have delivered had he lived? Certainly some more novelisations – there were still a couple of dozen left when he died. Perhaps Peter Darvill-Evans and Rebecca Levene might have knocked him into shape as a contributor to the Virgin series. Going by what we have, the quality would have been uneven, but at his best, Marter was very good. Sadly, we’ll never know.

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Melatonin request

Is there someone out there in LJ-land who could do us a massive favour and buy, and send, some melatonin? We need 1 mg tablets, not capsules, not any other size of tablet. For some peculiar reason we can’t buy them in Belgium or in the UK, but I know it is available across the counter in pharmacies and health-food shops in the USA and numerous other countries. We need it to regulate the sleeping patterns of our two daughters; neither of them has a natural sleeping pattern.

Comments screened, BTW. Will follow up replies by email.

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November Books 8) Preacher [#2]: Until the End of the World

8) Preacher [#2]: Until the End of the World, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Read the first of these a few months ago, found it compelling despite the violence. The second volume has two separate stories; first our hero confronts his horrific relatives in Texas, then he and his friends find themselves disrupting a very debauched party in San Francisco. The first bit seemed to me a bit implausible even in the framework of the narrative so far; the nasty relatives turn out to be vulnerable to a few well-aimed punches and gunshots. The second bit seemed to me to gel better, despite the graphic violence there were actual moments of slapstick humour. People tell me it gets better from here so I’ll probably buy more in the series.

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November Books 7) A Bachelor’s London

7) A Bachelor’s London: Memories of the Day before Yesterday, 1889-1914, by Frederic Whyte

This is the autobiography of Frederic Whyte (1867-1941), a distant cousin of mine who was active in the literary world of London in the quarter-century before the first world war. (Indeed, although the sub-title on the cover page of the book is “Memories of the Day before Yesterday”, the running title on the right-hand pages is “Memories of Literary London”.)

A lot of it is literary name-dropping, often of people I haven’t heard of – though there is one amusing moment when Whyte, giving a rare public speech in 1898, is heckled from the audience by both George Bernard Shaw and Bram Stoker, which sounds to me like a truly frightening experience. Thirty years later, Whyte wrote to Shaw to offer his services as editor of Shaw’s correspondence; Shaw replied, “I do not think it would be possible to publish much of my correspondence until the year 2028 or thereabouts; but, of course, you would make an excellent editor if you could manage to live so long.”

He also writes of Arthur Conan Doyle (“he looked like two stolid policemen rolled into one”) as being a fellow-Irishman, which came as a surprise to me but I see on checking that both of Doyle’s parents were Irish Catholics. Among the illustrations in the book is this 1919 letter from Doyle, then firmly in his spiritualist phase:

My dear Whyte,

        It was a kindly thought. Many thanks.

        No, this is my swansong – a dying duck’s
quack in history.

[Presumably the letter is in response to one from Whyte, congratulating Doyle on some recently published book – which might have been the Sherlock Holmes collection, His Last Bow, published in 1917? Of course, Doyle did publish more Sherlock Holmes stories even after this.]

        The rest of my life will be spent in
endeavouring to show the human race how
blind + deaf they have been in not
understanding the great new spiritual forces
which have come in so strange a fashion
into the world.

                Yours sincerely

                        A Conan Doyle

           Apr 19 [1919]

But Whyte also writes with deep affection of various writers of whom I have never heard: Tighe Hopkins, Arthur Diosy, his one-time flatmate Herbert Compton. Funny how history filters out some people.

The book answers my questions about what Whyte actually did for a living, at least up to the point he moved to Sweden (which seems to have been in about 1914). His education was through a suspiciously numerous list of boarding schools (checking the family genealogy I see that his father had died in 1883 when Frederic was 16); his first job, in 1887-88, was as a Reuters correspondent in Constantinople; he then got hired as an editor at the publisher Cassell’s, where he worked from 1889 to 1905; he then decided to go freelance, translating books and doing other bits of writing with a couple of other short-lived regular publishing jobs. When I’m next in a decent English-language reference library I’ll check him out in the index of periodicals.

There is a chapter about his holidays in Ireland, interestingly not with the Whyte side of the family, though he writes with great affection of George Ryan of the Ryans of Inch, who was both my great-great-uncle and Frederic’s first cousin, and of various other relatives who crop up in the family records. Frederic Whyte was pro-Home Rule, and very much an agnostic; his Irish relatives were all fervent Unionists and devout Catholics (in the days when that was a less unlikely combination than it is now); but they appear to have agreed to get along.

There are a couple of other chapters randomly thrown in on the art of translation, and the claims of phrenology (this one featuring heavily both Alfred Russel Wallace and G.K. Chesterton). He also reflects rather ambiguously on the first world war, rather giving the impression that while he thought it was a bad idea at the time (it may not be insignificant that this was precisely the point that he moved to Sweden), from the viewpoint of 1931 he is no longer so sure.

Anyway, an interesting book which enlightened me on various points.

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Toynbee vs Churchill

The Guardian was full of its characteristic self-righteousness this week over the revelation that Tory front-bencher Greg Clark, the MP for Tunbridge Wells, has suggested that Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee is a better source of ideas than Winston Churchill. (I’m not if that this has been discussed in any other papers, since I only read the Guardian, even when, as on this occasion, it annoys me.)

There is a connection between Greg Clark MP and Polly Toynbee which I did not see mentioned in the course of the discussion. Both of them were members of the Social Democratic Party (the SDP) in the 1980s; Clark was an exact contemporary of mine at Cambridge (the only vote I’ve ever cast in a Westminster election was for the SDP), and while I really only got involved in politics after the merger with the Liberal Party in 1988, I was aware of him as the leader of the pro-David Owen, anti-merger group of SDP students – indeed, more than aware, we got on very well on a personal level. Interestingly, Toynbee too opposed the merger. I have no idea if they knew each other in those days, but I’d be a bit surprised if one of the party’s brightest student activists had had no contact at all with one of its most visible supporters in the media, especially give that this was not a massively huge party.

Polly Toynbee now sees New Labour as the true inheritor of the SDP’s ideas; Greg Clark thinks it’s the Conservatives under his close friend David Cameron. Myself if I were living in England, Scotland or Wales I wouldn’t vote for either of them; but we all have choices to make.

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Icons pairing

has passed on this silly idea:

Make a list of all the characters in your icons. (Although you may have more than one icon of a single character, they only go on the list once.) Alphabetize it. Take the first two people on the list; that’s your first pairing. Second two people; second pairing. etc.

I have very very few fictional characters on my icons, but the thought of including the non-fictional ones – a somewhat ecletic selection of Albert Einstein, Arsenie Todiraş, Buzz Aldrin, Gerald Ford and Sir Robert Ball – is pretty frightening. So I bring you only three pairings (and yes, I know that even so two of these are historical characters, but they are characters from the TV-show-based-on-the-novel so they are fictional, OK?):

  1. The First Doctor and the Fourth Doctor.

    Hmm. At least if you’re in a relationship with yourself, it’s with someone you really know well.

    But no, I can’t see this one lasting for very long. It breaks all the laws of Time and a few others too.

  2. Jack and Livilla.

    Yes, I can totally see this. Livilla would go with anything powerful and dangerous, and Jack is certainly attracted by the exotic.

    They would have a wild affair, she would poison another couple of husbands (not necessarily her own) out of jealousy, and eventually he would disappear in a puff of time travel leaving her heart-broken. Then he’ll come back fifty years later and allow her to be killed by the fairies.

  3. Orac and Sejanus

    I have to say that this takes a little more imagination. I see it as more of a professional partnership than a loving relationship. Sejanus would very much thrill to Orac’s advice and conversation at first.

    But eventually he would get irritated by the condescending box of tricks from the future, and would throw it into the Tiber.

Well, that was fun. My first proper excursion into fanfic.

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November Books 5 and 6) Ninth Doctor Fiction

5) The Clockwise Man, by Justin Richards
6) The Monsters Inside, by Stephen Cole

In the old days, when I were a lad, the only Doctor Who novels available were the versions of broadcast stories published by Target (and mostly written by Terrance Dicks). Spinoff fiction was the preserve of fanzines and of the comic strips in Doctor Who Monthly. (Some of which were excellent – drawn by the likes of Alan Moore.) In the mid-1980s Target published two spinoff novels featuring the Doctor’s companions, and three unbroadcast stories (which had been scheduled but cancelled) were published as novels in 1990.

But the real breakthrough came in 1991 when Virgin got the licence to produce new Doctor Who fiction, under the guidance of, among others, my old friend from college Rebecca Levene. Sixty new adventures featuring the Seventh Doctor were published until the licence reverted to the BBC in 1997 due to the arrival of the Eighth Doctor (though they got one last novel out featuring the latter, and also more than thirty featuring previous Doctors, the Missing Adventures, the first of which was written by the lovely , plus a few volumes of short stories).

There was, of course, only one broadcast story featuring the Eighth Doctor. It was novelised by Gary Russell and published by the BBC (before Virgin’s licence had expired), and then followed by more than seventy Eighth Doctor Adventures (and the BBC kept up also the Virgin concept of past doctor adventures and short story collections, the latter now published by Big Finish). As I read them and write them up here I’ve tagged the unbroadcast stories as dw spinoff fiction, whereas novelisations (only one at the moment but more to come soon) are, oddly enough, dw novelisation.

Apparently there are no plans to publish novel versions of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors’ broadcast adventures. I can understand why not. Back in the old days, very few people had video recorders, the DVD had not been invented, and so apart from your memory of having watched it first time round, your only way of renewing acquaintance with the programme was to buy and read and re-read the Target novelisation. Now, we all have DVDs with commentaries and extras, we can buy the shooting scripts, there is no obvious need to have them available in a different format.

So the BBC decided last year to publish original fiction featuring Nine and Ten, and I have read the first two this week. Neither is exactly brilliant literature (and of course they have completely dropped the more adult themes introduced by Virgin), but they are not total mind-candy either.

The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards has Nine and Rose visiting London in 1924, encountering clockwork robots reminiscent of those that Ten meets in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, having adventures around Big Ben not awfully dissimilar from “The Empty Child”. At first I thought it was going to be fairly close to my day job, as the plot looked like it might be about an anti-communist revolution in a small eastern European country. However, we veered into the realms of sf fairly rapidly. (And some major implausibilities about the rightful heir to the throne of Russia and haemophilia.)

We’ve been re-watching Eccleston’s episodes over the last week or so, and his characterisation of the Ninth Doctor is very memorable indeed. Richards, unfortunately, doesn’t really carry it through to the page here, and the book could practically have been written with any Doctor-plus-female-companion combination. Also, the title doesn’t really make sense; as mentioned above, we get a fair bit of clockwork in the book, but not much about directions of rotation, clockwise or anti-.

The Monsters Inside, by Stephen Cole, is a different matter. Perhaps the author was closer to the production process (I assume that the two books were written well before the first episode of the new Who was broadcast). He catches the Ninth Doctor/Rose banter, I think, very well:

It wasn’t Earth. She was, officially, Somewhere Else.
‘Another world. . . ’ Rose closed her eyes, opened her arms and leaned out a little. She felt giddy for a moment as a gentle breeze blew up and ruffled her long blonde hair about her shoulders.
‘You did it, then,’ she called to the man who’d brought her here.
‘Huh?’ He sounded preoccupied. ‘Oh, yeah, right. The alien planet thing.’
‘And about time. We’ve done space stations. . . space-ships. . . ’
‘We’ve done your planet so often we should get T-shirts made up.’
Rose heard him crossing to join her and smiled to herself.
‘What, you mean, like, I saved the Earth and all I got was –

The monsters of the title are the Slitheen, from “The Aliens of London” and “World War Three” (the internal chronology suggests that this is set before “Boom Town”); their back-story as a species is filled out rather nicely, with some uncertainty as to whether they are allies or enemies. The last word of the title refers not to complex explorations of Inner Space, but to the interplanetary jail in which the Doctor and Rose end up. The descriptions of setting and incidental characters are good. Sadly the actual scientific bit of the plot (the local solar system being sneakily remodelled for sinister criminal purposes) makes no sense at all, but you can’t have everything.

Anyway, I will not expend huge resources of time and money looking for the books in this series, but I’ll certainly pick them up if I get the chance.

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This and that

This is pretty random but caught my eye over the last couple of days:

on ten-minute meals and Sunday roasts.

Teenager creates nuclear fusion in garage (via ).

Somaliland’s quest for independence.

Samuel Pepys has been sent an Indian gown for his wife as a bribe, and is upset that the bribe is not large enough:

I went by coach to Ludgate, and, by pricing several there, I guess this gowne may be worth about 12l. or 15l.. But, however, I expect at least 50l. of him.

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The Dominators; The Invasion

I watched these two stories from Patrick Troughton’s last season as Doctor Who partly because they fit into my Speshul Prodjekt but, in the case of The Invasion, also because of the new DVD release.

As a season opener, The Dominators really isn’t very special. Lots of plot elements and themes which could have been used better, and indeed had been used better in other stories. The citizens of Dulkis themselves are so crap that one almost feels they had the invasion coming to them; but the Dominators are also so useless at maintaining security on a vital military operation, and the robot Quarks so ludicrous, that one doesn’t feel they deserve it.

It’s difficult to believe that this is from the same authors who brought us the Yeti (and in the case of one of them, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail). The list of missed opportunities is huge, including the failure to convince of the chemistry between the two Dominators themselves. According to the documentary on the Invasion DVD there were huge problems with the scripting process, and one does sense it as the characters run pointlessly from place to place.

There are a couple of interesting points none the less. Arthur Cox is good as Cully the dissident Dulkian. The shapeless Dulkian costumes are not at all flattering to the figure but none the less rather fascinating (also interesting that the writers had little hesitation about killing off the bit-part female characters as ruthlessly as the men). Troughton excels as always despite the thin material. And Wendy Padbury as Zoe – cor!

The Invasion, from later in that season, leading up to The War Games, is quite a different matter. I’ve commented already on the brilliant idea of using animations for the two episodes (of the right in total) which are missing. I can bear to listen to an entire series in audio, but to mix audio and video is a different matter. I’ve tried the fan “reconstructions”, but don’t find them satisfactoryThe Dalek Master Plan, though Chen is quite a different character. (And he popped up in I CLAVDIVS as Tiberius’ court astrologer, Thrasyllus – who is indeed a historical character.) The story is really about Vaughn’s journey as much as about anything else.

Poor Jamie doesn’t get to do a lot, apart from canoeing and climbing up the liftshaft, but the other main characters are all great – Troughton as ever brilliant, but also Wendy Padbury as Zoe sparking a very very watchable rapport with Sally Faulkner’s Isobel Watkins – and incidentally saving the day and blowing up the Cybermen’s fleet with her Mental Powers of Calculation. And of course this is the first UNIT story, with the return of Lethbridge-Stewart (now a Brigadier) and the first appearance of Benton. Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier in particular gets some really good material to work with, a far cry from the cartoonish character of the Pertwee years. Again, the DVD reveals just how much fun the cast were having, especially thanks to the hospitality provided by the Guinness brewery where a lot of the action scenes were filmed.

Some reviewers have expressed bitter disappointment with the Cybermen, either that they don’t have enough screen time, or that they don’t look good, or (inconsistently) both. I don’t completely share those feelings. The Cybermen aren’t seen until the end of episode 4, but that’s really because we have not been told who is behind the invasion of the story’s title. It is a bit unfortunate that much of the action of blowing up spaceships, etc, happens off screen – but of course mediated through that new-fangled radar stuff. I also have the controversial view that the Cybermen redesign is better than the original version – I think supporting evidence is that the new version has survived through to this year.

The only other thing that really annoyed me was the cheery music accompanying the arrival of the soldiers for the final battle (apparently real soldiers from the real army). But the rest of the music is very good, and the whole thing is a jolly good package.

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New friends

I see there are some more people who have signed up to read my musings. Do feel free to introduce yourselves if you wish. I may not be able to friend you back, simply due to lack of time, but I will probably drop in on you from time to time – especially if you post comments.

(Partly lifted from .)

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Cloning the archbishop

It’s a minority taste, I know, but I like to start my week by reading the “Tales from the Coffeeshop” column at the Cyprus Mail. This week’s entry has a particularly savage, and hilarious, go at the local Communist party for opportunism, and then turns to the current debate about the heart of Archbishop Makarios, which has been (I kid you not) on public display in his bedroom since 1977, but apparently is now to be interred, prompting a public row between his home village and the current (newly elected) Archbishop as to where it will end up. (The rest of the Archbishop is on top of a mountain, but it is not proposed to reunite his heart with the remainder of his remains.) The writer concludes,

All this anguish could be avoided if we did not bury the heart and instead sent it to our countryman, Dr Zavos, the cloning expert, who could reproduce the DNA and make us another Makarios or a few hundred. And the talk about a thousand Makarioses continuing the struggle would become a reality.

The article, if you care to read it, has a couple of other sfnal references (brain transplants, automata). And people ask me if my literary preference has any relevance to my day job!

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Interviews on a Sunday, part 2

Mysteriously didn’t show on my f-list first time I posted this, so here goes again: This is the second of two sets of interview questions. I know I owe questions to a number of you; if you wish me to owe interview questions to you as well, say so in the comments.

From :

  1. Which would you most like back in the BBC archives in its entirety – Evil of the Daleks or The Daleks’ Masterplan?

    It’s actually quite a difficult one. I was underwhelmed by the Evil of the Daleks audio, and impressed more than I expected by The Dalek Master Plan. Fan lore, however, has it that the Evil of the Daleks was more impressive to watch. But the bottom line is that there are nine missing episodes of the Dalek Master Plan and only six missing of Evil of the Daleks, so resurrecting the former gets you almost four hours of extra classic Who rather than just two and a half. So the older story wins.

  2. What’s your preferred electoral system for the UK – STV or AV? (Or, indeed, other?)

    STV in multi-member constituencies. I think it is the best electoral system for anything anywhere. (Except of course if you are choosing only one winner.) Political parties hate it because it allows the voter to make sophisticated choices. I wish more voters would actually do so, of course.

  3. How easy do you think it is for the person-at-home-with-a-TV-and-internet to grasp the complexity of (eg) the Bosnian conflict?

    I think you can get a fairly good idea of what’s going on from open source information. The US Army used to produce a truly comprehensive daily news summary from Bosnia, compiled from local media sources and translated into English, and distribute it free to all comers. Most countries have some similar news service available, though not always for free.

    But myself, I couldn’t just do it like that; I think it is always vital to talk to people and get a sense of whether the media have got it right or wrong, and to get those local nuances of body language and intonation which are necessary to get the full picture. If I see a startling news item from one of the countries I deal with, my immediate instinct is to call or email someone who actually lives there to find out what is really going on.

  4. Do you have any personal preference between sf and fantasy as genres in general (as it were)?

    I think of myself as more of a science fiction reader, but in fact this basically means that I am more likely to buy a cheap science fiction book off a second-hand stall without thinking about it; to buy or read a fantasy novel takes a more serious act of will. Also, of course, I have put a lot of effort into analysis of the Hugo and Nebula awards, which are more of a science fiction than a fantasy phenomenon. In general I prefer to duck the question by declaring if challenged that sf stands for “speculative fiction” and that I am therefore an sf fan without differentiating too much.

  5. Is it worth visiting Brussels if you can’t stand moules?

    Gosh, yes. There’s still beer, chocolate and waffles; there’s still the art museums, the EU, and some of the architecture. Though having said that, I don’t actually live in Brussels and spend very little time there at the weekends – there are lots of more attractive cities in Belgium!

From :
  1. Crosswords or Sudoku?

    Yeah, that is one of the fundamental questions of our times, isn’t it? Sudoku to take my mind off things, crosswords for more intense stimulation. I couldn’t take more than a couple of crosswords a week; sudoku I can do for hours at a stretch. Not a direct answer, but as good as I can do right now.

  2. Three countries you’ve never visited but would like to?

    I gave a slightly longer answer to this eighteen months ago, since when I have actually been to Albania, Ukraine and Turkey (twice). I think my three remaining top places to go are:

    1. Pitcairn Island, because of its bizarre and disturbing history;
    2. Egypt, because of the everything; and
    3. Poland or Norway, to fill in the remaining gaps on my map of countries I’ve been to in Europe.

  3. Tell me an anecdote from your schooldays.

    This was a tremendously difficult one to answer. I remember my schooldays in terms of activities (Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, attending the City of Belfast School of Music [cf answer to below]), exams, crushes, being a nerd whose accent was more English-sounding than the other kids’. But I guess one iconic moment was when one of my friends and I, anticipating that we would finish our maths tests well ahead of everyone else, established a system of playing chess across the classroom by tapping on our desks with rulers. The teachers knew something was going on but never worked out what. I haven’t played much chess since.

  4. Where did you find fandom?

    Mainly on-line. I started posting to rasfw in 1995, and started posting my reviews of Hugo nominees in 2000. In 2002 I took the step of actually going to an sf con for the first time, MeCon V in Belfast, and that marked a serious up-tick in my fannish activity. Since then I’ve been to the first and third P-Cons, the most recent MeCon, PicoCon last year, two London meets and of course the WorldCon in Glasgow. But my fannish activity will remain mainly on-line.

  5. Assume the Daleks have been purged from this space-time continuum. Who would you like to be your new overlord(s)?

    Really it should be the insects, of course. But I think in the matter of overlords, you have to take what you get.

From :
  1. I’ve only watched the Baker and Davison years of the old Dr Who – what would you recommend as the essential episode to watch that I’ve never seen?

    I’m in much the same position, actually; and if your “Baker years” include much of Colin Baker as well as Tom, you may in fact be better versed than me.

    I have seen only one Sylvester McCoy story, and was unimpressed (though The Curse of Fenric is on the shelf waiting to be watched) and watched the Eighth Doctor movie for the first time only two days ago. So my recommendations are entirely from the first three Doctors which I suspect is what you wanted anyway.

    As mentioned above, I very much enjoyed the Dalek Master Plan, which is available only on audio. From the Hartnell era, I also especially liked the Dalek Invasion of Earth. I enjoyed the two stories from the first Pertwee season I have seen, Spearhead from Space and Inferno. But in terms of which story from the first eleven years is the classic that the true fan must see, I think there can be only one answer: The War Games. Troughton had other good stories, but this story was crucial in establishing internal Doctor Who continuity and also elicited really good performances from the cast and generally looks good. You do have to be patient with it though as it has ten episodes.

  2. What is the most frustrating aspect of your job?

    When people do really stupid things, particularly governments and people whose job it is to know better. There are loads of examples from the countries I work on professionally, but I’ll take one that is particularly close to home: the anti-immigration policies of western European countries, who have a labour shortage domestically and who are also (supposedly) concerned about extremism and political instability in the nearby countries with high levels of male unemployment and a desire to work in the EU. The only thing that comes even close to annoying me as much as stupid officials is commentators who try and explain the actions of these stupid officials by resorting to conspiracy theories, rather than the simpler explanation of them just being stupid.

  3. What is the first book you remember reading?

    A book about the sun and the stars, probably around Christmas 1971 or so.

  4. Do you play any musical instruments?

    Not any more. At primary school I was made to experiment unsuccessfully with the violin; at grammar school with the clarinet. What I did enjoy was orchestral percussion, and I ascended to the dizzy heights of Second Percussionist with the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra; and indeed played between two and six classical music concerts (for college orchestras, mostly) every term I was an undergraduate. But I have no great urge to pick up the drumsticks again.

  5. Pirate or robot? Defend your choice! (and none of that robot pirate nonsense.)

    Oh that’s easy. I hate cute robots. It has to be pirates; who also have a certain libertarian, anti-statist, revolutionary streak to them, at least in the best cases.

From :
  1. How do you manage to juggle things and find time for a family life, a demanding job, reading hundreds of books, and posting to LJ?

    I think I’m pretty good at multi-tasking. Family comes naturally. Work comes almost naturally. I read books by reflex, and really have to have two or three on the go simultaneously, at least one of them in easy reach, or I don’t feel comfortable. (And a lot of the books I choose to read are pretty easy reading, so it’s not that much extra strain!) Some of these lj entries (this one for example) are actually written over a period of days, using Semagic, editing and re-editing the draft private entry and then finally posting as a new entry. And some day, I’ll rebalance and spend time doing different things (as indeed I have moved away from usenet almost completely).

    On top of that I have a wonderful wife who does not have a paid job (which is not at all the same thing as not working). So many of the necessary tasks that are done by both partners at the weekend in a dual-income household are taken on my other half; that probably liberates a lot more time for other activities.

    (Though I think I would probably still be clutching a book in my hand.)

  2. Which of the regular cons you’ve been to is your favourite?

    “Regular”!? I’ve only been to two cons more than once, P-Con in Dublin and MeCon in Belfast. Very much enjoyed them both, with P-Con, being slightly mre literary rather than media and (I think) with more guests scoring slightly above its northern cousin. I hope to attend both next year, so ask me again in September.

  3. Best book you’ve read this year?

    I think I’ll keep my vote for single best book of 2006 until nearer the end of the year. The books I’ve read and really enjoyed so far were: Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1838-1839, by Frances Anne KembleThud!, by Terry PratchettLost Lives, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVeaAlexander Hamilton, by Ron ChernowLords of Parliament: Manners, rituals and politics, by Emma CreweFahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (re-read); The Healer’s War, by Elizabeth Anne ScarboroughSalonica: City of Ghosts – Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, by Mark MazowerIndefensible, by David FeigeThe File on H, by Ismail Kadarëthe first five Amber books, by Roger Zelazny (re-read); A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin (re-read); and The Breaking of Nations, by Robert Cooper. But there are still six weeks to go.

  4. Do you find learning languages easy, or is it something you have to work at?

    Of course it’s not easy, and I don’t do it very often! I would say that I have to work at it, not only because it is difficult, but also in the sense of feeling a moral obligation to try and communicate better.

  5. Where would you like to live if you weren’t in Belgium?

    Probably back in Northern Ireland; though New York and Cambridge (England, not MA) are attractive too! If money is no object, certainly back in the homeland. If I have to work for a living, probably New York.

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Interviews on a Sunday, part 1

This is the first of two sets of interview questions. I know I owe questions to a number of you; if you wish me to owe interview questions to you as well, say so in the comments.

From :

  1. Which public figure, if any, makes you the most mad?

    There is at present a particular leading politician who has been lying outrageously to his own people and the international community to an appalling extent, and has not been called on it by wishful-thinking international officials because his future constructive participation is reckoned more likely than his continued obstruction of the local peace process, despite his past record. Actually, that applies to several people in my area of operations, so I’d better leave it there (at least in a public post).

  2. Which international politician do you most admire?

    Of those I’ve met, Paddy Ashdown. Of those I haven’t, Nelson Mandela. Of those I haven’t who are still active, hmm, much trickier; I think at the moment I’m impressed with Al Gore for not letting defeat get to him and continuing to push inconvenient truths.

  3. How on EARTH do you find the time to do the reading you do?

    As pointed out earlier, I am indeed an Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm. I give more details in an answer to in my next post.

  4. I’ve never been entirely sure what an intern is except they get the rubbish jobs on The West Wing. Please enlighten me.

    Good question. The internship system is truly extraordinary – young people hoping for a professional career agree to work for almost no financial reward in a high-powered environment, hoping that the experience the gain from rubbing shoulders (and, notoriously in the case of Monica Lewinsky, other body parts) with the people already working in their dream jobs will stand them in good stead. In Brussels, the interns are usually called stagiaires, and those working for the European Commission are notoriously supplied with a timetable of parties to go to before they are instructed in their official duties.

    I run a tighter ship. My own interns are under strict instructions to keep me supplied with coffee (Nescafe, two sugars, milk) at all times, and are in charge of my daily calendar of meetings, but also get to come along to almost all of those meetings, be they with students, activists, European Commissioners or presidents, and are a constant sounding board for me in discussing the latest news from the countries we work on; plus I often send them to conferences happening in Brussels which vaguely interest me but which I can’t make time to go to myself. They seem to enjoy it.

    I was never an intern long-term myself, though I was a conference gopher in similar circumstances several times, and most of my work for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland was unpaid (though at a more senior level than the average intern).

  5. What’s the best meal you’ve ever cooked.

    I do enjoy cooking, especially trying out Georgian recipes and my annual Christmas efforts to deal with wild boar. But I have to say that what I enjoy most about cooking is when I prepare something for my eldest daughter, B, who is nine and cannot talk. Communication with her is often difficult, but if she enjoys something I have specially cooked for her, be it egg on toast or something slightly more sophisticated with pasta and meat, I feel we are making a connection, and she seems to think so too.

From :
  1. Were you an ambitious child?

    Yes, I think so – I wanted to be famous, preferably as a rocket scientist. Didn’t work, of course.

  2. What do you think people get as a first impression of you when meeting in a social situation?

    I think I come across as intellectual but also humorous. I have been looking for on-line evidence of this; not quite sure if I have found any (Paul Cornell: “a man of tremendous learning and a great European”: “has a large supply of fascinating insights and anecdotes“, for example). At least there are not too many statements out there to the effect of “avoid like the plague and pray you are never stuck in a lift with him”, which I guess is all I can ask for.

  3. Sub-question: Do you think it’s different in a work encounter?

    Yes. In a work situation I have to appear not only intellectual in general but also very well informed in particular about the topic under discussion. Most of my senior professional interlocutors are supported by large bureaucracies who funnel them the best information available. I spend a substantial amount of time each day catching up with open sources (and fairly often touching base with my own contacts – see answer to in next entry) to make sure I know what the hell is going on.

  4. Do you sew, knit or do anything else that’s stereotyped as a female pastime?

    Only cooking comes close, I think…

  5. Why do you have a livejournal?

    A combination of record-keeping, showing off and self-gratification. Same with most people, I suspect.

From :
  1. You may well have answered this here, but how much of your SF/fantasy purchasing is based on recommendations/reviews from friends, reviews online, award-nominee lists and random browsing?

    It’s almost precisely the reverse order from your list. Random browsing in bookshops (real rather than on-line) is the biggest single driver of my book purchasing. Occasionally I do give in to particular programmed purchasing, though, most obviously in my purchase of the Hugo shortlisted works and past award winners, but also with other things like the great works I haven’t read, or to try and chase a particular author (such as Frederic Whyte, or my current Speshul Prodjekt). Recommendations from friends, and newspaper reviews, are also important. I confess that I read very few on-line reviews of books I haven’t read, and they play very little part in my purchasing strategy.

  2. Why are you so fascinated with shagging fictional characters?

    I’m happily and monogamously married, so shagging real people other than my wife is out of the question!

  3. How did you get into fandom?

    See my answer to in next post.

  4. Did you like Dan Simmons’s Endymion books, and if so why (or why not)?

    Didn’t read either Endymion or The Rise of EndymionHyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, but was advised that the next two got a bit silly. Having read both Ilium (which I enjoyed) and Olympos (which I didn’t) I suspect that Simmons may have difficulty sustaining his great ideas to the length he plans for them.

  5. What do you think about secret history novels (eg: books by Tim Powers and Tom Holland)? A worthy genre or misappropriation of historical figures that should be left in peace?

    I think that provided the reader remembers that these things are fictional, it is definitely fair game. They can be done very badly, of course – both Robert Graves and David Drake have written very bad novels featuring Belisarius, for instance. I have slightly more hesitation if the characters are still living. But I think that the principle in English law that you can’t libel the dead is a good one.

From :
  1. Which Gaiman work/project are you most looking forward to (or least trepidacious of)?

    While I like Gaiman’s work, I’m not following it so closely that I wait with anticipation before publication date; I’m happy to wait until it is published and then see the reviews. The only writer whose work-in-progress I do try and stay au courant with is Gaiman’s fellow resident of Minnesota, Lois McMaster Bujold.

  2. What is your opinion of Louis MacNeice? I have been reading him recently, and am curious as to how you find his work.

    Again, sorry to disappoint: I have precisely one book by MacNeice, his posthumously published work on astrology, written to contract with no real enthusiasm for the topic. I did once take an interested friend to his gravesite in Carrowdore, though I was more interested to discover that the graveyard was also the ancestral resting place of the astronomer Andrew Claude de la Cherois Crommelin (though I think he himself is buried elsewhere).

  3. Do you favor, in an ideal world, the parliamentary or presidential system (providing the legislative and executive branches remain coequal and competitive)?

    I actually think the second point is more important than the first. The British system of members of the executive being also legislators seems to me wrong-headed. The Belgians and Dutch, to name but two, have a perfectly decent system where ministers must resign from parliament on appointment. It seems to me axiomatic that the job of governing is different from the job of representing, and crazy to insist that to do the one you need not only experience but ongoing responsibilities in the realm of the other.

    However, I do also have a preference for parliamentary rather than presidential systems; it seems to me that a more broadly distributed system of authority is going to be able more easily to resolve mistakes, and in particular, it is less traumatic to get rid of the person at the top when the time comes.

  4. When did you realize your parents were mortal, and how did it make you feel?

    Both my parents had lost one of their own parents long before I was born – my mother’s mother died of a pulmonary embolism soon after giving birth to my uncle in 1944, and my father saw his own father drop dead of a heart attack beside him in church one day in 1949. So whenever we visited/were visited by the remaining grandparents it was something we were very much aware of.

  5. Would you meet one, and only one, person from history?

    Oh gosh, yes!

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What kind of reader?

From :

What Kind of Reader Are You?

Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Relieved to have just missed the cut as an Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm. Not quite sure how I managed it though. Alas, the nice red lines don’t seem to come through on LJ.

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More Who

The lovely Belgian Waffle complains that there is too much Doctor Who here, and looking over the past few weeks’ entries, she has a point. (And I haven’t even revealed the Speshul Prodjekt I’m currently working on.) So, while I don’t intend to cut down especially on the dockeroo posts, I will start employing the cut tag a bit more judiciously. And don’t worry, there’s a big long post mainly about me and hardly at all about Doctor Who coming up, with lots of answers to interview questions.

No need for a cut-tag for the first of the two stories I’m looking at here though. “The Gunfighters” is just a silly story of time-travellers landing in Tombstone just before the gunfight at the OK Corral. Hartnell has some great lines; trying to pass off the Tardis crew as entertainers, he introduces himself as “your humble servant, Doctor, er, Caligari.” “Doctor Who?” asks the bewildered local. “Yes, quite right!” comes the response. I still think Jacki Lane is good as Dodo as well, and of course so is Peter Purves as Stephen.

It really did take me until last night to get around to watching, for the first time, the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie. I think it looks fantastic. The inside of the Tardis, especially, but also the other scenes, hospital, party, city, the policeman riding his motorbike into the Tardis, the lot. The final scenes with the Master, the Doctor and the Eye of Harmony are impossible to look away from. I think it sounds good as well. The arrangement of the theme tune is the only one to take serious liberties with the original and get away with it. (Apart from the original 1963 version, the only good opening music for the TV series is the present one. Though the opening titles for the Tom Baker era are the best of the classic series.)

There is, of course huge violence to continuity which can only really be dealt with by assuming that the post-regeneration Doctor and body-transferring Master were deluded in their statements. There is really no way the Doctor can be half-human. We suspect that Gallifreyans and humans can mate (see Leela’s departure, and the follow-up in Lungbarrow), but the Doctor has made so many remarks over the years about his own separateness and difference from humanity that I must assume he doesn’t mean what his eighth incarnation says. Also the Eye of Harmony was on Gallifrey on the Tardis as far as I remember. (Though Wikipedia has some heroic retconning on this topic.)

But in general I come down in favour. I think McGann, Ashbrook and Roberts are great. I also liked the links to continuity both forward and back – McCoy’s appearance for the first twenty minutes, McGann’s fondling a scarf as he decides what to wear; but also of course (a point that was new to me) the Doctor looking through Grace’s letterbox, a scene repeated by the Ninth Doctor and Rose in the very next episode (nine years later). Sure, the plot was just a bit threadbare, and the revival of the dead companions at the end a bit silly (if repeated for Captain Jack in The Parting of the Ways); and I can see why this did not lead to a revival of the series’ fortunes. But it is far from embarrassing.

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Below the cut is a map of the EU district in Brussels, showing (in pencil scrawl) the main EU institution buildings and (in red biro) the member states’ diplomatic representations (not all of these in precisely the right place – some are a block or two out, and the Greeks have just moved to be beside the Germans).

From left to right: Spain, Sweden, Estonia, Czechs way down at the bottom, Sweden, Greece (not there any more), Malta, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy way up at the top, Hungary, Finland, European Parliament, the Charlemagne building of the European Commission, the Justus Lipsius building of the Council Secretariat, the Berlaymont building of the European Commission, Ireland, Belgium, UK, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia.

(The French are off the top left of the map; the Poles off to the right and down a bit; the Dutch way off in the same direction.)

So my choice is: Rondpoint Schumann (where “Sch” is written in red over “Tunnel Belliard”) or further west (more or less under the “y” in “Rue Montoyer”). Tricky. Having slept on it, though, I’m closer to a decision.

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B woke up about half an hour ago and has dragged me downstairs so that she can raid the fridge. To her delight, the fridge is (or rather was) full of yogurt, so she has had about fifteen pots of it last night and this morning.

The yogurt itself comes from one of the neighbours, whose partner works delivering dairy goods and has passed on to us the stuff that has got damaged in transit but is still perfectly edible. Over the last few weeks there has been a noticeable decrease in yogurt supplies, and a noticeable increase in long angst-ridden conversations with said neighbour.

Now the yogurt is back. It is odd to realise that one can make interesting deductions about the neighbours’ sex lives from inspecting the contents of one’s own fridge.

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