Who answer

got it. The common feature of Warriors’ Gate, The Power of Kroll, The Pyramids of Mars, Planet of Evil, Revenge of the Cybermen, The Mutants, The Abominable Snowmen, The Moonbase, The Smugglers and The Rescue, plus, in its own special way, The Edge of Destruction, plus arguably The Deadly Assassin, plus as points out The Sontaran Experiment, is that there are no female characters apart from the regular cast. (The Edge of Destruction has no characters at all apart from the regular cast; The Deadly Assassin does have a woman actor, but she does not play a female part; queries The Rescue on the basis that Vicki is not a regular at that point, but personally I think companions count as regulars from their very first episode (Nyssa/Keeper of Traken, not Logopolis; Ben and Polly/The War Machines, not The Smugglers).

There are a couple of other stories from the classic era where there is only one female guest character who gets only a couple of lines – The Three Doctors, The Tenth Planet, and Castrovalva come to mind. It’s impossible to think of that happening in the Russell T Davies era, isn’t it?

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May Books 26) Northern Storm

26) Northern Storm, by

The second in Juliet E. McKenna’s Aldabreshin Compass series. Here we have Kheda, central character of the previous book, struggling to balance the interests of his new realm, his new wife, and the woman he loves (it’s a polygamous society, so the love-life issues are somewhat different from those faced by Jane Austen’s characters, but they are not absent). Also there is a dragon or two, and a conflict between a highly scientific concept of magic and a superstitious society that wants nothing to do with it.

I enjoyed this more than the first of the series – didn’t take as long to get going, and the whole thing drew me in more. Good stuff.

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Planet of Giants, The Time Warrior

Two Who stories from almost a decade apart to write up.

Planet of Giants was the first story of the second season, back in October/November 1964. The original Tardis crew arrive in a contemporary Earth (for the first time since An Unearthly Child) but find themselves miniaturised through some kind of dimensional glitch. It has a bit of a duff reputation among fans but I rather enjoyed it. There are two plot threads, the time travellers trying to extricate themselves from their predicament and the nefarious dealings of an insecticide manufacturer with whom they have unwittingly become entangled. It all worked for me, particularly because the sets are fantastically well designed and convincing.

Am I right in thinking that this was the only ever three-part story? (Edited to add: Until 1987, as points out.)

Looking through my reviews, I realised that this was the only story featuring Susan that I had not previously seen. I am tempted to do a piece about her as I did for Dodo Chaplet a while back. (I’ve also seen/listened to Victoria’s complete arc, but can’t bring myself to write her up.) But I should rewatch the last three eps of An Unearthly Child first, which I only saw in 1981.

The Time Warrior was the first story in the eleventh season of Doctor Who, over December 1973/January 1974. More significantly, it was the first outing for Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, a role she played until October 1976, the longest continuous run of any companion (and longer than some Doctors had on screen). (Reprised, of course, in 1981 in K9 and Company, 1983 in The Five Doctors, in various Big Finish and other spinoffs, and last year in School Reunion; now getting her own TV series at long last.)

She gets a good introduction, stowing away in the Tardis to investigate the disappearance of scientists, who as it turns out are being kidnapped by time machine by an alien Sontaran who needs them to repair his spaceship which has crashed on Earth in the Middle Ages. (Of course, when they meet again in School Reunion, the Doctor is once again pretending to be Dr John Smith; not, as we now know, for the last time either.) I felt she was a bit screamy compared with the Sarah Jane Smith we came to know and love later on, but in contrast with the awful Jo who came before she is a vast improvement.

There’s also an interesting conversation in Episode 2 between the Doctor and the Sontaran commander Lynx with significant continuity implications. Apparently this was the first time that the Doctor’s home planet had been named. But it’s also interesting that the Sontarans have been considering it as a military target, a plan which comes to fruition in The Invasion of Time in 1978.

Anyway, not one of the great Robert Holmes stories, but not bad at all.

Who trivia question

What do the following classic Doctor Who stories have in common?

Warriors’ Gate
The Power of Kroll
The Pyramids of Mars
Planet of Evil
Revenge of the Cybermen
The Mutants
The Abominable Snowmen
The Moonbase
The Smugglers
The Rescue

and, in its own special way, The Edge of Destruction

(Plus, I would argue, The Deadly Assassin, though technically it doesn’t quite fit my categorisation.)

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Who reflections

So are Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert now canon? Will there be Sydney/Verity rpf?

Also has a typically well-argued reflection on why there should always be more than one DW companion, by analogy with the Beatles.

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As Basil Fawlty would have said…

…in my speech today I made a point about how Islamic extremism isn’t a serious risk in rabidly pro-American Kosovo; there are indeed bearded clerics preaching hatred of the West in the Balkans, but they are mostly Christians.

And I realised that the chairman of the session, sitting right beside me, was in fact a bearded Christian priest. (He was also the first non-Communist foreign minister of East Germany.) But, as Basil Fawlty put it, I think I got away with it.

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The election

Lots of people have been asking me what I thought of Thursday’s election. To be honest, since the Irish Times started charging for access (which is years ago now) I have been following Southern politics much less closely than I did. But I am not at all surprised that Bertie is back, or that the PDs were wiped out. Here, for what it is worth, are my poorly-informed and biased comments.

First of all, Bertie is a phenomenon: this brilliant and bitter rant captures it very well:

The constant spotlight on Bertie’s convoluted personal finances would have destroyed a lesser man, but every time Bertie is accused of corruption his poll ratings actually go up.

Bertie has actually managed to out-Dev Dev. The Long Fellow said that he only had to look in his heart to know what the Irish people wanted. By contrast, the Irish people only have to look at Bertie to see what they want. He truly is the man for all seasons.

I was talking to an Irish diplomat earlier in the week, who marvelled at the contrast between the modest and slightly tongue-tied Bertie who you might talk to in the pub, and the European statesman who went to twenty-four other capital cities and rescued the EU from the wreckage left by the Italian presidency through simple persuasion. I’ve never formally met him, though we had a close encounter a couple of years ago – Anne and I were driving to and ‘s wedding, and stopped briefly on the Northside to take in supplies; his car had pulled in quite close to ours, presumably for much the same purpose. He saw me staring – I don’t see heads of government doing their shopping very often – and gave me an affable, almost conspiratorial wink. Many senior politicians do the blank look or even gaze avoidance. I can understand why he has got where he is.

(Having said that, of course, FF will be down by several seats from their 2002 result, even though their vote has increased; mainly because the bad luck that Fine Gael had last time will not be repeated.)

The wipeout of the PDs came as little surprise to me. It’s not just that their electoral form is boom and bust (fourteen in 1987; six in 1989; ten in 1992; four in 1997; eight in 2002; now down to two, which I think means oblivion). It’s also that their two key issues (as far as I can tell from here) were badly mishandled by McDowell’s leadership. As the blogger I quoted above made clear, Bertie’s financial irregularities worried the electorate less than the PDs’ response to them. This, after all, was a party founded twenty years ago to take the corruption out of Irish politics in general and Fianna Fail in particular. They have actually spent almost two thirds of that time in government with Fianna Fail, and what do they have to show for it?

Second, McDowell’s toughness on law and order issues was possibly counter-productive. The PDs, to be blunt, don’t represent people at the sharp end of this particular issue. They do represent people of vaguely liberal inclination, who are alarmed at least as much by tough rhetoric from a supposedly liberal party leader as by the spectre of crime which largely happens to other people. I suspect that that section of their previous vote simply jumped straight to Fine Gael.

That only counts for a quarter of Fine Gael’s gain of the vote though, which at almost 5% is the biggest shift for any individual party (FF, Labour, Greens and Shinners all shifted by less than 1% from their 2002 vote). That 5% gain looks like turning into an incredible seat bonus, going up from 30 to 50. We must bear in mind that 2002 was a really really bad election for FG, who had replaced a difficult leader with a disastrous one, with transfers going against them in almost every crucial count; someone said that even their 2002 result should have delivered 40 seats rather than 30 in a normal year. So FG’s result is one of consolidation back to the starting point they should have had five years ago. I’m not hugely surprised; their results in the European and local elections in 2004 were very good, but those are second-order elections in the mid-term of the Dail. Fine Gael need voters to take it as read that if you don’t like Fianna Fail, your next choice is FG, and they lost that perception in 2002; Kenny has restored it. He will be criticised by some party members for failing to deliver more (and frankly I think he is pretty lightweight) but given the awful starting point I think he didn’t do badly.

What Fine Gael have done is to hoover up the votes and seats of the independents, who seem likely to be slashed from 14 to four or five. Similarly in the 1954 election, the fourteen independent TDs who had decided the fate of the two governments of the previous six years were reduced in number to five. I think this reflects the tension between, on the one hand, admiring the verve of the local guy who wants to make a difference for his own people and not be beholden to party hierarchies, and on the other realising that that doesn’t in fact deliver as much in terms of government as voting for a party with an actual programme – quite apart from the fact that many Irish politicians who are firm party members seem perfectly well able to deliver on the local pork-barrel politics as well. Parties are still popular in Ireland, and almost 90% of the votes on Thursday were cast for them. This is still lower than in most countries, and independents will always be a visible part of Irish politics, but they are not as central as they would perhaps like to be.

I have no particular view about the performance of Labour or the Greens. Both will now be under pressure to consider going into coalition with FF. If I were them I would stay out and give tactical support to an FF minority administration. Irish voters tend to punish junior coalition partners rather than reward them (with the peculiar exception, now rectified, of the PDs in 1992 and 2002).

I do have a view about Sinn Fein’s performance. This was supposed to be the breakthrough election for them. Like a lot of other people, I thought they would probably do it; there were a dozen constituencies where they had a pretty good chance of winning. Instead they appear to have lost out almost (but not quite) as badly as the PDs, going from six seats to three or four. I wonder if this is in part due to a paradoxical blowback from the recent progress in Northern Ireland. Those who see the Shinners as part of the problem rather than part of the solution will certainly have rewarded Bertie with their votes rather than anyone else. And on the other hand it’s difficult to see how the hearts of traditional Republicans will have been particularly gladdened by the pictures of Martin McGuinness laughing and cracking jokes with his new boss, Ian Paisley. It was not an event that brought forward the day of a united Ireland in any obvious way.

(Edited to add: hat-tip to Pete Baker over at Slugger for this line attributed by Garret Fitzgerald to a friend of his on Gerry Adams’ performance in the leaders’ debate, that the people of the Republic “are not yet ready to welcome the intervention of a member of the British parliament in the domestic political affairs of this State!”)

It’s also important for the North, and the SDLP in particular, because it shows that there can be a plateau for SF’s vote; that their rise is not inexorable and can be reversed. My own view is that the two situations are completely different, and there is no domino effect across the border; SF’s 7% in the south is much less than their score across the North in any election since they entered politics in 1982. They have now become the natural party of preference for Northern Catholics, and will continue to erode the SDLP’s vote until the latter throw in the towel. But Thursday’s result probably postpones that day.

OK, thank you for listening!

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I´m incandescent with rage. This doesn´t happen to me often; I think of myself as a calm and unflappable person.

I arrived at the hotel at 1245, having had an email from my London colleagues to the effect that a much-postponed task at work was now really urgent. Fine, I thought, it will take me the guts of an hour, I can do that and catch the last half of the conference session this afternoon.

No WiFi in the room. Called reception. They promised to get a cable.

Watched some Doctor Who. (The Invisible Enemy, episode 1.) No cable. Called again.

Oredered up room service lunch. Unlike the cable, it arrived promptly. Cable turned up an hour after I had asked for it. Plugged it in.

No connection.

Called reception, explained the problem. “We´ll send the technician right away.”

Half an hour later, called again. Again, “We´ll send someone right now.”

Another half hour, called again, same answer. Wrote a couple of book reviews.

Went downstair to reception and stood there until they found the technician for me. This took another 20 minutes.

He turned up with another cable. I explained, the receptionist interpreting, that they had given me a cable two hours ago; my problem was the connection.

I almost saw a little light go on over the technician´s head. He explained, and the receptionist translated, that the network connection was down for the whole hotel.

I explained that I would have appreciated knowing this three hourse earlier when I first asked to be connected to the internet; or indeed two hours earlier when he had given me the first cable; and that I was now going to miss an important session of an important conference because I had wasted time believing their promises. I announced that I was going down town to find a cyber cafe, since obviously nothing works in the hotel. The receptionist started pleading with me to wait a few minutes, but I didn´t.

Called my colleagues in London and told them I was too angry to do it today, and it would have to wait until Monday. Colleagues (as usual, to give them credit) were sympathetic.

Have just about calmed down sufficiently to go back to the hotel. At least my rant at the reception was closely witnessed by the hotel liaison person from the conference I am attending. I´m not actually paying for my room, but at least my predicament has made some impression on the people who are.

(Having said which, apparently I have to fork out for my own meals today, though not tomorrow or Sunday. At least this is a fairly cheap country, but overall I am not impressed and wishing I had stayed at home.)

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Google meme

Type “*your name* likes to” into google and see what comes up.

The presence of 101 stocks in the portfolio, each accounting for less than 2 percent of assets, shows that Nicholas likes to spread his bets.

In the spring, Nicholas likes to sniff the flowers…

Nicholas likes to laugh and have others laugh with him. He enjoys teasing and telling jokes and funny stories. Nicholas can be very charming

Nicholas likes to drink either apple juice or tea for breakfast.

Nicholas likes to come to mindchamps early. Very early. He can come half an hour before mindchamp actually starts.

In his free time at home Nicholas likes to watch Blues Clues and Elmo videos.

Nicholas likes to play the Allies because they have some pretty strong advantages in the beginning scenario.

It´s all true! All true!

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May Books 25) Palace Walk

25) Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz

This is my “serious” novel for this trip (still have two decently thick fantasies for my homeward journey). It is the first in Nobel Prize winner Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, and tells the story of a family in the city during and immediately after the first world war.

The setting and personalities are vividly portrayed, and actually that is the problem with the book – the central character, Ahmad, is such a convincingly unpleasant tyrant to his wife and family that it is rather difficult to read. You rather hope that the book will be some kind of spiritual journey for him ending with either the disastrous consequences of his behaviour or else a firm resolve to be a better human being (or indeed both) but he finishes the story just as unpleasant as he was at the start, despite the marriages, divorces and deaths happening to the other characters. (Having said that, there is a dramatic denouement at the very end, but we don’t get more than Ahmad’s immediate reaction to it.) If anything, the sympathies of the author seem to be with him – when his wife disobeys him and goes out of the house for the first time in twenty-five years (having married him at the age of 13) she is injured in a car accident, thrown out of the house and has to grovel to be allowed back. Of course, one should not forget that in terms of public and private devotion and sexual repression, Ireland was heading that way under de Valera and McQuaid, and parts of the Bible Belt may be there now.

But the portrayal of an Arab society by an Arab writer, writing on his own terms, was very interesting to me. Also amusing to find the Australians, of all people, filling the role of nebulous off-stage villain for the first part of the book.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey.

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May Books 24) Urban Shaman

24) Urban Shaman, by .

The first of C.E. Murphy’s stories about Joanne Walker, policewoman and reluctant gateway to the spirit world. I had previously read the next two in the series, which is certainly the wrong order; while the others are self-contained narratives, there is important back-story here which would have helped me enjoy the other two even more. (Also I hadn’t picked up on Joanne being unusually tall from the other two – in my mind’s eye she looked rather like her creator!)

Anyway. What I particularly like is that the spirit world of Murphy’s books is a cheerful synthesis of Celtic and native American mythic elements, not making the mistake of being earnestly evangelical about any particular pagan mythos. Here she has the Wild Hunt spilling onto the streets of Seattle, with Coyote as her heroine’s spirit guide. Also the family and professional dynamics she describes are perfectly believable once you accept the supernatural edge to the setting.

Great fun.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Top 50 destinations

Apparently these are the top 50 tourist destinations in the world. Have bolded the ones I’ve been to.

1. Times Square, New York City, NY: 35 million visitors every year
2. National Mall & Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C. (Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials,the war memorials): About 25 million
3. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.: 16.6 million
4. Trafalgar Square, London, England: 15 million
5. Disneyland Park, Anaheim, Calif.: 14.7 million
6. Niagara Falls, Ontario and New York: 14 million
7. Fisherman’s Wharf/Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco, Calif.: 13 million
8. Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea, Tokyo, Japan: 12.9 million
9. Notre Dame de Paris, Paris, France: 12 million.
10. Disneyland Paris, Marne-La-Vallee, France: 10.6 million
11. The Great Wall of China, Badaling area, China: About 10 million
12. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina: 9.2 million
13. Universal Studios Japan, Osaka, Japan: 8.5 million
14. Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, Paris, France: 8 million
15. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France: 7.5 million
16. Everland (amusement park), Kyonggi-Do, South Korea: 7.5 million
17. The Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China: At least 7 million
18. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France: 6.7 million
19. Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, Fla: 6 million
20. Sea World Florida, Orlando, Fla: 5,740,000 Sea World San Diego several times . . .
21. Pleasure Beach (amusement park), Blackpool, England: 5.7 million – been to Blackpool loads of times but don’t think I ever bothered with the beach!
22. Lotte World (amusement park), Seoul, South Korea: 5.5 million
23. Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, Japan: 5.4 million
24. Hong Kong Disneyland, China: 5.2 million
25. Centre Pompidou, Paris, France: 5.1 million
26. Tate Modern, London, England: 4.9 million
27. British Museum, London, England: 4.8 million
28. Universal Studios Los Angeles, Calif.: 4.7 million
29. National Gallery, London, England: 4.6 million
30. Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY: 4.5 million
31. Grand Canyon, Ariz.: 4.4 million both rims
32. Tivoli Gardens (amusement park), Copenhagen, Denmark: 4.4 million
33. Ocean Park (amusement park), Hong Kong, China: 4.38 million
34. Busch Gardens (amusement park), Tampa Bay, Fla.: 4.36 million
35. Sea World California, San Diego, Calif.: 4.26 million
36. Statue of Liberty, New York, NY: 4.24 million – have seen it from afar but not been to the island let alone up to the top.
37. The Vatican and its museums, Rome, Italy: 4.2 million
38. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia: More than 4 million
39. The Colosseum, Rome, Italy: 4 million
40. American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY: 4 million
41. Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood, Calif.: 4 million
42. Empire State Building, New York, NY: 4 million
43. Natural History Museum, London, England: 3.7 million
44. The London Eye, London, England: 3.5 million – have walked past it but not zet been up it.
45. Palace of Versailles, France: 3.45 million
46. Yosemite National Park, Calif.: 3.44 million
47. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt: 3 million
48. Pompeii, Italy: 2.5 million
49. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia: 2.5 million
50. Taj Mahal, Agra, India: 2.4 million

(Thanks to , who raises some reasonable questions about what is and isn’t included on the list.)

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The travel curse

There seems to be some kind of sinister travel curse going around. I turned up too early for my flight yesterday, and I see on my f-list one tale of woe involving getting on the wrong train last night, and another about a missed plane this morning. Commiserations to those concerned, especially the latter case which involves missing at least part of WisCon.

I hope this curse isn’t too long-lasting. Tomorrow morning I have a 7 am flight from Geneva to Lisbon, and if all goes well I should fly straight on from there to Madeira. Where, I should point out, the forecast is for 20° and overcast; in Switzerland for the last two days it has been 28° and sunny. (Temperatures are 68° and 82° respectively for Fahrenheit addicts.)

Home very late on Sunday.

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Numbers answer

got it through nifty googling, and makes an impressive argument from first principles.

These are the numbers with f factors which are also multiples of f.

1) 1: has one factor, 1.

2) 2: has two factors, 1 and 2.

3) 9: has three factors, 1, 3 and 9.

4) 8: has four factors, 1, 2, 4 and 8.

5) 625: has five factors, 1, 5, 25, 125 and 625.

6) 12: has six factors, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12
  18: has six factors, 1, 2, 3, 6, 9 and 18.

7) 117649: has seven factors, 1, 7, 49, 343, 2401, 16807 and 117649

8) any odd prime (p) multiplied by 8 has eight factors, 1, 2, 4, 8, p, 2p, 4p and 8p.
Likewise 128: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128.

9) the square of any prime (q) other than 3, multiplied by 9, has nine factors: 1, 3, 9, q, 3q, 9q, q2, 3q2 and 9q2
Likewise 6561: 1, 3, 9, 27, 81, 243, 729, 2187, 6561.

10) the only two numbers which have 10 factors and are themselves multiples of 10 are 80 and 1250.
80: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 16, 20, 40 and 80
1250: 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 125, 250, 625 and 1250.

Thank you for playing, and congrats to and .

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May Books 23) Fragile Things

23) Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman’s latest collection of short stories, including this year’s Hugo nominee, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”, several other pieces that I knew and liked already (such as Hugo winner “A Study in Emerald” and Locus winner “October in the Chair”), and two that were new to me but left a strong impression: “Bitter Grounds”, a memorable tale of zombies, impersonation and an academic conference, and “Monarch of the Glen”, the novella sequel to American Gods, which takes Shadow, the book’s hero, to the north of Scotland for mythic combat.

This is a great collection. I am repeatedly astonished by the way Gaiman’s prose draws you into the story, yet hinting that there is more going on behind the scenes than we can possibly (or might want to) imagine. (For those who appreciate poetry there’s some of that here too.)

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Knowing God, by J.I. Packer

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Numbers game

OK, while I am waiting, here is another maths quiz:

Which two numbers go in tenth place in this sequence?

1) 1
2) 2
3) 9
4) 8
5) 625
6) 12 and 18
7) 117649
8) An infinite set of numbers starting 24, 40, 56…
9) An infinite set of numbers starting 36, 225, 441…
10) ?? and ??

Answers will be revealed in good time.

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Feeling a bit premature

Got to the airport in bags of time to check in for my 7 am flight. Indeed, I have even more time than I had realised; because the flight is not, in fact, until 0850.

Must remember to chesk itinerary very carefully next time, and then check it again.

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Pulitzer Prize meme

The usual: bold the ones you’ve read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put an asterisk beside the ones you loved. These are the Pulitzer Prize winners for the Fiction (since 1948) and Novel (to 1947) categories.

2007: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
2006: March by Geraldine Brooks
2005: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2004: The Known World by Edward P. Jones
2003: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo
2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
2000: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham
1998: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
1997: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
1996: Independence Day by Richard Ford
1995: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
1994: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
1993: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
1992: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
1991: Rabbit At Rest by John Updike
1990: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
1989: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
1988: Beloved by Toni Morrison
1987: A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
1986: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
1985: Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
1984: Ironweed by William Kennedy
1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
1982: Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
1980: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
1979: The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
1978: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
1977: no award given
1976: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
1975: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
1974: no award given [Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon recommended by the jury but turned down by the Pulitzer board]
1973: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
1972: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
1971: no award given
1970: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford
1969: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
1968: The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
1967: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
1966: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Katherine Anne Porter
1965: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
1964: no award given
1963: The Reivers by William Faulkner
1962: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor
1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
1959: The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor
1958: A Death in the Family by James Agee
1957: no award given
1956: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor
1955: A Fable by William Faulkner
1954: no award given
1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
1952: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
1951: The Town by Conrad Richter
1950: The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
1949: Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens
1948: Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener
1947: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
1946: no award given
1945: A Bell for Adano by John Hersey
1944: Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin
1943: Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair
1942: In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow
1941: no award given
1940: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
1939: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
1938: The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand
1937: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1936: Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis
1935: Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson
1934: Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
1933: The Store by Thomas Sigismund Stribling
1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
1931: Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes
1930: Laughing Boy by Oliver Lafarge
1929: Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin
1928: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
1927: Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield
1926: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (declined prize)
1925: So Big! by Edna Ferber
1924: The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson
1923: One of Ours by Willa Cather
1922: Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington
1921: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
1920: no award given
1919: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
1918: His Family by Ernest Poole

I haven’t read a lot of them (yet).

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May Books 22) George’s Marvelous Medicine

22) George’s Marvelous Medicine, by Roald Dahl

I’ve been feeling very under the weather today (which explains how come I have been reading so many books); F, dutiful son that he is, sent me a “get well” email from the Roald Dahl website and pressed the book itself into my fevered hand. Well, I do hope that the medication I’ve been taking doesn’t have the same effect on me that it does on George’s grandmother!

Top UnSuggestion for this book: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace

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May Books 21) Gilead

21) Gilead, by Marilynn Robinson

And so from a book about the writings of a clergyman's son to a book about a clergyman writing to his son. This is a lovely, understated novel about the distance between generations, family histories, the meaning of fatherhood, faith, and redemption, set in Iowa in 1956. Having a low-energy evening so will leave it there.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

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May Books 20) The True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod

20) The True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod, ed. Andrew M Butler and Farah Mendlesohn

It is too long since I have read the Fall Revolution Quartet, because most of these essays would have meant a lot more to me if I had had it nearer the top of the memory stack. Oh well, perhaps an incentive to reread them some time soon. I particularly enjoyed Adam Frisch’s piece on the Engines of Light trilogy, the intriguing review of MacLeod’s poetry by K.V. Bailey, and the pieces by Ken himself. But am not feeling energetic enough right now to write something here that properly engages with the whole of the book.

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May Books 19) Troubled Images

19) Troubled Images: Posters and Images of the Northern Ireland Conflict from the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, ed. Yvonne Murphy, Allan Leonard, Gordon Gillespie and Kris Brown

Lots of pictures here, many of them very familiar to me from my own experience of Northern Ireland politics. The explanatory text is best when it explains the roots of some of the images used; the political commentary, however, has dated rather rapidly.

One thing that surprised me was the prominence of Cedric Wilson as a personality in this side of things. I knew him as a rather buffoonish character at the time I was most involved – he was the one who heckled President Clinton at his speech at Mackies in December 1995, and when I was involved with the Mitchell talks he was still hanging around with Bob McCartney, though they split fairly quickly after the 1998 Assembly elections. But according to this book he designed both the “Ulster Say No” logo of the mid-80s, and the “Heart for Ulster” anti-Agreement logo more recently. I have to honestly confess this is the first I’d heard of it, but presumably the editors did their research, which means I seriously underestimated him.

Not all Unionist posters were as memorable as the ones attributed to Cedric Wilson. I was going to illustrate this post with several bad ones, but realised that this would look rather unbalanced, as none of the Nationalist or Republican ones are particularly bad, while the non-sectarian/ centre grouns oned tend to be a bit wince-making. So I will only give you one, but it is the worst one by far, for the short-lived (and as it turned out ironically named) United Ulster Unionist Party:

Isn’t that truly dire? Too many messages and mixed metaphors: the Good People of Ulster (workman, housewife and businessman) protected by the umbrella of the UUUP from the ambiguous glow of “Westminster moonshine” (not at all clear about the identity of the face from which said moonshine radiates – maybe Roy Mason, who was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the late 1970s?) and yet the umbrella is not merely a protection, it is a spike which slays the verminous IRA.

It is not easy for a splinter group (or in the case of the UUUP, a splinter of a splinter) to insist convincingly that the path to unity lies in supporting them and nobody else, and this poster comprehensively fails to do the job.

The UUUP’s best performance was in the 1979 Westminster election, when they won Mid Ulster thanks to an electoral carve-up (none of the larger parties wanted to challenge their sitting MP and risk a loss to the Nationalists); apart from that they scored in the 2-3% range and won no seats in the 1982 Assembly election, after which nothing more was heard of them.

Having said which, their deputy leader, Reg Empey, is now the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (formerly the largest party in Northern Ireland, now in close competition for third place with the SDLP).

Anyway, enough of that. I will have to buy the CD of all of them next time I am in Belfast.

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May Books 18) Sailing to Sarantium

18) Sailing to Sarantium, by Guy Gavriel Kay

I’ve read two very bad novels about Justinian, Belisarius, and seventh-century Constantinople, one by Robert Graves and one by David Weber Eric Flint and David Drake. This is a damn good novel about them, one I had been meaning to get around to for ages. It is fortuitous (or maybe not completely) that I have been reading it so soon after my own visit to Istanbul two weeks ago; having just been there, I really found Kay’s description of the city, the Hippodrome, and the grand Sanctuary of Holy Wisdom helping me make sense of what I saw and letting me imagine what the place would have been like 1400 years ago. Kay also brings to life the decaying civilisation of the former imperial territories to the west, and the lonely and dangerous land route to the capital. (As for the latter, I also have eerie memories of driving its modern equivalent, the former Highway of Brotherhood and Unity, between Zagreb and Belgrade in a thick winter fog, hoping to avoid the minefields.)

And yet of course this book isn’t ostensibly about Justinian, or Belisarius, or Theodora, or the Byzantine Empire, but about the emperor Valerius, his general Leontes, his wife Alixana, and the empire of Sarantium. It is reasonable to ask if it is worth the hassle of Kay renaming a few personal and place names to tell his story. I think it is. For a start, it liberates him from any obligation to stick too closely to the historical events from which he has drawn his story, and in particular to be a bit more inventive about the religious beliefs and practices of his characters; and I suppose to write about faith and belief as universal human experiences, while separating them from what the reader may know or think about specific religions in our own world. And second, it allows him to inject a fantasy element or two, specifically an alchemist who can create telepathic metal birds, and an intervention from the Old Gods of the type favoured by Lois McMaster Bujold in her most recent novels.

Having raved about the scenery, I am now going to rave about the plot and characters. The core of the book is the story of Crispin the mosaicist’s journey from the western city of Varena (ie Ravenna, Kay’s least opaque renaming) to the capital to decorate the new Sanctuary, overcoming personal tragedy and deadly political conspiracy. But Kay builds up the mosaic of the narrative from lots of little glimpses of perspective as well, in a memorable sequence actually telling one part of the story backwards, each new viewpoint character taking us to an earlier stage of the action. All really well done, and yet the worldbuilding is even better than that.

Well, I really enjoyed this, as I have enjoyed all Kay’s books (apart from his first, coauthored with a more famous writer). I wish I had bought the sequel at the same time as this.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.

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Doctor Who stuff, unrelated to tonight’s episode, with lots of YouTube

I caught this interview with Peter Davison this morning, about his secret life as a song-writer. If you click on “Listen to the show” his bit starts at 28 minutes in (marked for some reason as 1h 28m, but it starts at 1h 0m). Good fun.

Here is the song the radio programme is about (unmistakably the voices of Peter Davison and his first wife Sandra Dickinson performing):

And while I’m at YouTube, I just want to salute the fantastic fanvids of Stuart Humphreys. All worth watching, some of them good, some of them very good indeed.

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42: Doctor Who liveblogging

what’s this chirpy music?

Lucky Martha with the phone. But she’s not Rose.

Hah, future gender-balanced space crew. Very Firefly.

Nice line, “42 minutes until we crash into the Sun”!

Boo, Chris Chibnall; but yay, Graeme Harper.

Hah, ship is illegally obsolete.

All 29 doors deadlocked, of course.

Captain’s husband accused of sabotage. Hmm, he’s obviously not out of it completely. Possessed by alien forces, or some personal grudge?

Don’t like the music.

“Happy primes”? Never heard of them. “Some stupid pub quiz.” Good line. Beatles vs Elvis – good question.

Hah, the patient woke up as we knew he would.

Korwin can now kill people with his eyes. I guess it wasn’t just something personal with his wife then.

Here he goes again. Crew is a bit less gender-balanced now…

What is the captain holding back?

And Korwin makes a convert rather than killing.

What’s that handy door? Oh, an escape pod. How sweet!

Oh Martha, don’t scream! (But it’s better than the music.) Fan-fic writers are going to love this scene of her stuck in the escape pod.

Korwin thinks it is his wife’s fault…

Ice vents – jolly good! That’ll teach ’em.

Martha disappears off – a beautiful silent scene, no stupid music this time.

Doctor wants a spacesuit. Rescue plan…

Heat shields fail, and then into free fall? Seems a bit unlikely.

Oh Martha, you should have been nicer to your mum!

Good for Kath, taking direct action against Ashton.

Doc in spacesuit. Some day someone will do a montage of Doctors wearing spacesuits.

Martha doing last phone call. Her mother has company though. Who? Someone doing a phone trace?

What buttons is the Doctor trying to push? (Fnarr!) Oh yeah, the recall plot device button.

But he has looked into the face of the sun and got infected! Brilliant!

Go and get frozen!

Who’s that twitching? Korwin?

The Doctor is “so scared”! But he can of course regenerate.

Korwin cuts the power to the med centre. And chases the captain off.

Music has improved now.

The captain’s self-sacrifice – very good!

But the Doctor is still infected…

Martha takes his message to the two remaining crew members. They do what he says, and the day is saved.

Hmm, it would be enough to make you want to try not being a Time Lord for a bit.

Martha has to say goodbye. Snog. Yuck. And bad music again.

“Frequent flyer’s privilege.”

Martha’s mother – in league with Mr Saxon, or being used?

Actually that was quite good, though there were moments of naffness and implausibility, and the music was more than usually irritating. Better than any of Chibnall’s Torchwood scripts.

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May Books 17) Islam in Azerbaijan

17) Islam in Azerbaijan, by Arif Yunusov

This may seem a somewhat obscure subject, but the author gave me a copy of this book when we met at a conference in July 2005 so I have finally got around to reading it.

Azerbaijan may be the only country in the world named after a religion; apparently it comes from an ancient form, “Atropatena”, which originally means “the land of fire-worshippers”, in reference to the large proportion of the population who followed the teachings of a local chap, the prophet Zoroaster. The Persians, under various dynasties, sustained his beliefs in the region for centuries, while to the north dissident Christians hung out and set up their own Monophysite church. All this was swept away by the armies of a new prophet from Arabia in the mid-7th century AD, though the old beliefs took centuries to die out. (The mysterious Khazars make an appearance here too.)

For the next thousand years, the story is one of variable relations between state and clergy, with occasional movements towards repression or radicalism respectively. The Russian conquest in 1801-1806 brought a new element into play: for the first time, Muslims in Azerbaijan were ruled by Christian overlords, just at the moment when 19th-century nationalism began to make Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism conceivable alternatives to rule from Moscow.

But when the Russian Empire did fall, the short-lived democratic Azerbaijan republic (established between 1918 and 1920) was brought down by an interesting coalition of the Red Army and local Islamists suspicious of the independent republic’s secularist pretensions. Lenin was determined to crush the Orthodox church but was apparently much more relaxed about Islam. Things deteriorated (as they did everywhere in the Soviet Union) later in the 1920s, and the cycle of greater or lesser state repression, combined with state co-option of the religious bureaucracy, resumed.

There was a revival of popular interest in Islam under perestroika in the 1980s, which also of course came immediately after the Iranian revolution of 1979 (three quarters of Azeris live in Iran rather than in the ex-Soviet republic). Nationalists in Baku, especially at the time of the war with Armenia, were depicted in Yerevan and Moscow as Islamic extremists, but in fact religion had little to do with the conflict, or with the succession of chaotic changes of government in Baku culminating in the ascent to power of Heydar Aliev and later his son Ilham, the current president. (Iran’s only formal intervention was a disastrous peace initiative in the middle of the war.)

Since then, the Azeri government has obsessively kept tabs on the official Islamic religious bureaucracy (to the extent of creating a competitor organisation to keep the older structure on its toes) and has consequently taken its eye off the ball of less formally organised groups. A few of these are indeed very sinister – the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 appear to have been coordinated through a cell in Baku. Mostly, however, the authorities are reaping the consequences of the notorious corruption of the state-supported clerical structures, and are intervening to suppress popular religious figures and movements because they are not sufficiently under control, rather than because of any sinister political agenda they may or may not have.

Anyway, an interesting book, which could perhaps have benefited from the attention of an Anglophone proof-reader – published in English, but by a German organisation, and in places it shows.

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May Books 16) The Age of Kali

16) The Age of Kali, by William Dalrymple

I admit to a youthful fascination with William Dalrymple, who was at Cambridge a couple of years ahead of me and was much talked of (though rarely seen) in the Catholic chaplaincy, which I frequented. And his first book, In Xanadu, was the sort of adventure I always wished I could go on. (It has helped inspire me to the occasional much more modest quest of my own.)

Until today I hadn’t read any of his later books though we have a couple on the shelves. The Age of Kali, to be honest, is a bit disappointing. First off because of the form – it is a collection of pieces written for different journals at different times in the 1990s, and there is occasional repetition from one piece to the next, with no overall guiding structure. Second, because of this, the book lacks any synthesising introduction or conclusion, apart from a page at the very beginning explaining the concept of the Age of Kali, the Kali Yuga.

Having said that, what you are left with is a series of very readable, vivid, in-depth essays on particular places, personalities or events; we start with sectarian violence in Bihar, and end with the Bhutto family. The book is mainly about India, but there are excursions also to Sri Lanka, Réunion, and of course Pakistan. (But for some reason not Bangladesh.) And India is, of course, a fascinating subject, about which I learnt almost everything I know as a result of reading Kipling, Rushdie, River of Gods, and . (Another of the unread books on my shelf is John Keay’s India: A History.)

However, what comes across from Dalrymple’s account is an India descending into terminal anarchy and violence, where the old days of the Raj are much missed and the new world is uncertain and probably a Bad Thing. The book is nine years old now, and India doesn’t actually seem to have disintegrated into anarchy, or even into the statelets foreseen by in his novel, so I have to wonder how fair the picture painted actually is. And I am dubious about the fact that almost the only aspect of British rule which Dalrymple criticises is that it ended.

Still, it will spur me on to have another go at Keay.

Top UnSuggestions for this book:

  1. Eragon by Christopher Paolini
  2. Deception Point by Dan Brown
  3. The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
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