November Books 31 and 32) Two books about Elizabeth I

31) Elizabeth I, by David Starkey
32) The Life of Elizabeth I, by Alison Weir

This was a fortuitously good paired reading of biographies: Starkey concentrates on Elizabeth’s life from her conception and birth in 1533 to her accession to the throne in 1558, while Weir concentrates on her reign from then to 1603. I read these as part of my larger 16th-century project, but both are good books in their own right – Starkey’s marginally the better, as he is telling a less familiar story and also challenges received wisdom (for instance he unhesitatingly puts the dying Edward VI at the heart of the Lady Jane Grey affair, where traditionally it has been seen as Northumberland’s doing). Both biographies concentrate on the personality of the queen – Weir makes the point that her private life was very much lived in public, and I would add that it was clearly very political.

Starkey’s approach is somewhat psychological. He has three main sets of conclusions: that Elizabeth learned important lessons of statecraft from the bitter failures of her sister Mary’s reign, that her attitude to religion was a sincere adherence to what evolved into High Church Anglicanism, and that her attitudes to both marriage and religion were perhaps crucially formed during her residence with her father’s last wife and her second husband, Thomas Seymour. Indeed, Seymour’s appallingly intimate behaviour with his teenage stepdaughter would surely be characterised today as sexual abuse (my assessment, not Starkey’s), and that must have left its traces in Elizabeth’s attitude to men (and indeed women – it’s noticeable from Weir’s account how often she became unreasonable about sexual relationships among members of her own household).

Weir concentrates essentially on the internal politics of Elizabeth’s court, which is great as a means of studying her statecraft, but does mean we miss out on some of the other important policy areas – notably, from my point of view, Ireland, which figures only as the scene of the death of the elder Earl of Essex and the catastrophic military failure of his son. Weir is anyway much more interested in the personal dramas of Elizabeth’s relationships with the younger Essex, Leicester, and Mary Queen of Scots, which are all in fairness rather good stories. She is particularly good on using appropriate contemporary quotes (though misattributes Nicholas White’s letter to the Earl of Shrewsbury).

Anyway, good reading both.

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More primary source material leading to a biography

Another one of my ancestor’s letters to William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, this time describing his visit to the captive Mary Queen of Scots – one of the few relatively neutral accounts of her lifestyle. I can’t get a precise date for this visit but the letter was written on 26 February 1569. At the time Mary Queen of Scots was 26 and had been in exile for not quite a year; she had been moved to Tutbury Castle only a few weeks before White’s visit. By his own account, White goaded Mary rather nastily on several issues – about the recent death of Catherine Knollys, a close friend of Elizabeth I’s whose husband had been one of Mary’s custodians; on Scottish intervention in Ireland; and about the dubious morality of painting. Not surprisingly she cut off the conversation abruptly. Despite this White found her rather fascinating – “she hath withall an alluring grace, a prety Scottishe accente, and a searching wit, clouded with myldnes” – and recommended that she should not be allowed contact with too many people in case they might succumb to her charms. Of course, nobody at this stage could have known that Mary’s captivity would continue for another 18 years, ending only with her execution in 1587.


when I came to Colsell, a town in Chester way, I understood that Tutbury Castell was not above half a day’s journey out of my way. Finding the wind contrary, and having somewhat to say to my Lord Shrewsbury touching the county of Wexford, I tooke post-horses and came thither about five of the clocke in the evening, where I was very friendly received by the Earle.

The Quene of Scotts, understanding by his Lordship that a servant of the Quene’s Majesty of some credit was come to the house, semed desyrous to speak with me, and thereupon came forth of her privy chamber into the presence chamber where I was, and in very curteise manner bade me welcome, and asked of me how her good syster did. I told her Grace that the Quene’s Majestie (God be praised) did very well, saving that all her felicities gave place to some natural passions of grief, which she conceaved for the deathe of her kinswoman and goode servant the Lady Knollys, and how by that occasion her Highnes fell for a while from a prince wanting nothing in this world to private mourning, in which solitary estate being forgettfull of her owne helthe, she tooke colde, wherwith she was much troubled, and wherof she was well delivered.

This much paste, she hearde the Englishe service with a booke of the psalmes in Englishe in her hand, which she showed me after. When service was done, her Grace fell in talke with me of sundry matters, from six to seven of the clocke, beginning first to excuse her ill Englishe, declaring herself more willing than apt to lerne that language ; how she used translations as a meane to attayne it ; and that Mr. Vice-Chamberlayne was her good schole-master. From this she returned back agayne to talk of my Lady Knollys. And after many speeches past to and fro of that gentilwoman, I, perceyving her to harpe much upon her departure, sayd, that the long absence of her husband (and specially in that article) together with the fervency of her fever, did greatly further her end, wanting nothing els that either art or man’s helpe could devise for her recovery, lying in a prince’s court nere her person, where every houre her carefull eare understoode of her estate, and where also she was very often visited by her Majestie’s owne comfortable presence; and sayd merely that, although her Grace were not culpable of this accident, yet she was the cause without which their being asunder had not hapned. She sayd she was very sory for her deathe, because she hoped well to have bene acquainted with her. “I perceyve by my Lord of Shrewesbury,” sayd she, ” that ye go into Irlande, which is a troublesome cuntry, to serve my sister there.” “I do so, madame; and the chiefest trouble of Irland proceeds from the north of Scotland, through the Earle of Argile‘s supportation.” Whereunto she litle answered.

I asked her how she liked her change of ayre. She sayd if it might have pleased her good syster to let her remayn where she was, she would not have removed for change of ayre this tyme of the yere; but she was the better contented therwith, because she was come so much the nerer to her good syster, whom she desyred to see above all things, if it might please her to graunte the same. I told her grace that although she had not the actuall, yet she had always the effectual presence of the Quene’s Majestie by her greate bounty and kindnes, who, in the opinion of us abrode in the world, did ever performe towards her the office of a gracious prince, a naturall kinswoman, a loving syster, and a faithefull frend; and howe much she had to thanke God, that, after the passing of so many perills she was safely arrived into such a realme, as where all we of the common sort demed she had good cause, through the goodnes of the Quene’s Majestie, to thinke herself rather princelike entertayned, then hardly restrayned of any thing that was fit for her Grace’s estate; and for my owne parte did wishe her Grace mekely to bow her mynde to God, who hath put her into this schole to learne to know him to be above kings and princes of this world; with such other lyke speeches as time and occasion then served, which she very gentilly accepted, and confessed that indede she had great cause to thanke God for sparing of her, and great cause likewise to thanke her good syster for this kindly using of her. As for contentation in this her present estate, she would not require it at God’s hands, but only pacience, which she humbly prayd him to give her.

I asked her Grace, since the weather did cut of all exercises abrode, how she passed the tyme within. She sayd that all the day she wrought with her needil, and that the diversitie of the colors made the worke seme lesse tedious, and continued so long at it till very payn did make her to give over; and with that layd her hand upon her left syde and complayned of an old grief newely increased there. Upon this occasion she entered into a prety disputable comparison betwene karving, painting, and working with the needil, affirming painting in her owne opinion for the most commendable qualitie. I answered her Grace, I could skill of neither of them, but that I have read Pictura to be veritas falsa. With this she closed up her talke, and bidding me farewell, retyred into her privy chamber.

She sayd nothing directly of yourself to me. Nevertheles, I have found that which at my first entrance into her presence chamber I imagined, which was, that her servant Betun had given her some privye note of me; for as sone as he espied me, he forsake our acquayntance at courte, and repaired straight into her privye chamber, and from that forthe we could never see him. But after supper, Mr. Harry Knollys and I fell into close conference, and he, among other things, told me how loathe the Quene was to leave Bolton Castell, not sparing to give forthe in speeche that the Secretary was her enemy, and that she mistrusted by this removing he would cause her to be made away ; and that her danger was so much the more, because there was one dwelling very nere Tutbery, which pretended title in succession to the crowne of England, meaning the Erle of Huntingdon. But when her passion was past, as he told me, she sayd that tho the Secretary were not her frend, yet she must say that he was an experte wise man, a mayntayner of all good lawes for the governement of this realme, and a faithful servant to his mistres, wishing it might be her luck to get the frendship of so wise a man.

Sir, I durst take upon my deathe to justifie, what manner of man Sir William Cecill is, but I knowe not whence this opinion procedes. The living of God preserve her life long, whom you serve in singlenes of heart, and make all her desyred successors to become her predecessors.

But, if I, which in the sight of God beare the Quene’s Majestie a naturall love besyde my bounden dutie, might give advise, there should be very few subjects in this land have accesse to or conference with this lady. For beside that she is a goodly personage, and yet in truth not comparable to our soverain, she hath withall an alluring grace, a prety Scottishe accente, and a searching wit, clouded with myldnes. Fame might move some to relieve her, and glory joyned to gayn might stir others to adventure much for her sake. Then joy is a lively infective sense, and carieth many persuasions to the heart, which ruleth all the reste. Myne owne affection by seeing the Quene’s Majestic our soverain is doubled, and thereby I guess what sight might worke in others. Her hair of itself is black, and yet Mr. Knollys told me that she wears hair of sundry colors.

In loking upon her cloth of estate, I noted this sentence embrodred, En ma fin est mon commencement, which is a ryddil I understande not. The greatest personage in house about her is the Lord of Levenston and the Lady his wyfe, which is a fayre gentilwoman, and it was told me both Protestants. She hath nine women more, fiftie persons in house hold, with ten horses. The Bisshope of Rosse lay then thre myles off in a towne called Burton-upon-Trent, with another Scottishe lorde, whose name I have forgotten. My Lord of Shrewesbury is very carefull of his charge, but the Quene over-watches them all, for it is one of the clocke at least every night ere she go to bed.

The next morning I was up timely, and viewing the scite of the house, which in myne opinion standes much like Windesor, I espied two halbard men without the castell wall searching underneathe the Quene’s bed-chamber windowe.

Thus have I troubled your Honor with rehersall of this long colloquy hapned betweene the Quene of Scotts and me, and yet had I rather in my owne fancy adventure thus to encomber you, then leave it unreported, as near as my memory could serve me, though the greatest part of our communication was in the presence of my Lord of Shrewesbury and Mr. Harry Knollys; praying you to beare with me therein, among the number of those that load you with long frivolous letters.

And so I humbly take my leave, awaiting an easterly winde. From West Chester, the 26th of February.

All these cuntreys which I have past from London to the sea bank lie in great welthe and quietness; each man increaseth his owne, and no degree dare offend the law. They pray for the Quene with an universall voyce, and that peace may continue. Here is a faction in Chesshire betwene Sir Hughe Chamley and Sir Edward Fitten: which hath made some division. I would have written to my Lord of Leycester, but that this messenger could not stay.

Your Honor’s assuredly to command,


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November Books 30) Henry IV Part 2

30) The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, by William Shakespeare

I seem to have lost a bit of pace with my Shakespeare project – this is only my third one this month, and I’m not rushing to tick off Henry V this weekend. But at least progress is in a forward direction – I am 40% of the way through.

It’s a curious play, with a lot of good scenes (and some very famous quotes) which are not tied together particularly well. The plot is essentially the hubris and fall of Falstaff, against a background of high politics where King Henry IV dies and passes on not just the office but the role of kingship to his son Henry V. Falstaff’s story is much more interesting than the warring aristocrats, and the young prince Henry seems much less in the action than in the previous play, though he gets the killer line “I know you not, old man” in the last scene. Henry IV himself does get some good lines, especially in his dying scenes, but we had a lot of faffing around with rebellious Archbishops and Welshmen before we got there.

Richard Griffiths as Falstaff and Julian Glover as Henry IV carry the Arkangel production. Jamie Glover as Prince Hal has a disastrous concept of blank verse, and perhaps I would have liked the play more with a different actor in that role. Ex-Catweazle (and alternate Doctor) Geoffrey Bayldon is good as Shallow.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love’s Labour’s Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All’s Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter’s Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

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Four Big Finish releases

Other Lives is one of those rare stories where the only sfnal elements are the Doctor and companions, and the Tardis. On a visit to the Great Exhibition (as promised originally by the Fifth Doctor at the start of Time Flight), everyone gets entangled in their own plotline – the Doctor embroiled in a case of mistaken identity, the Tardis arbitrarily wandering off with a couple of French tourists, C’rizz kidnapped by the proprietor of a freak show, and Charley rather gloriously hooking up with the Duke of Wellington, memorably portrayed by Ron Moody as a paragon of aged courtesy occasionally flipping into anti-revolutionary frothing. The plot doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but it is enjoyable stuff.

While most of Peri’s on-screen adventures were with the Sixth Doctor, most of her audios have been with Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor; so this Baker/Bryant combination is relatively infrequent. In Cryptobiosis they are taking a holiday cruise, but the first mate is keeping a captive mermaid in one of the guest cabins. The plot is a pretty standard contact-with-hidden-race affair, allowing Baker and Bryant to go through their standard motions, but it hangs together all right.

The Veiled Leopard brings together Peri and Erimem, but no Fifth Doctor, and Ace and Hex, but no Seventh Doctor, in Monte Carlo in 1966, to avert or arrange the theft of a famous jewel known as the Veiled Leopard. The first half of this is very good, with Nicola Bryant particularly sparking and Peri and Caroline Morris reacting nicely as Erimem. I have to say that the second half, with Ace and Hex, did not grab me and I waited in vain for the punchline.

As has been noted around the place, last Sunday was the forty-fifth anniversary of Doctor Who. Big Finish’s commemoration is four one-act, 25-minute plays, each by a different author. False Gods takes the team to Howard Carter’s excavation of the tomb known as KV45; Order of Simplicity sees them deal with a virus which reduces its victims’ IQs to 45; Casualties of War takes us to Ace’s mother and grandmother in Streatham on VE Day in 1945; and The Word Lord resolves it all in a Bad Wolf-style revelation. The final playlet seemed to me the strongest, playing with concepts of language as a reality of its own, and with Paul Reynolds as the eponymous villain seeming to channel David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor occasionally. I enjoyed the other two historical plays, but was a bit underwhelmed by the second of the four. The same guest cast appears in the first and second plays, and a different guest cast in the third and fourth, but the characterisations (and accents) are very different, so it all works rather well.

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Four More Blake’s 7 Episodes

Breakdown – The one about Gan’s limiter breaking down (hence the title). The first half is a bit silly, with David Jackson doing manic grunting and throwing the rest of them around while yet another dangerous sector of space must be crossed; the second half is really rather good, with the two tensions of 1) is the surgery going to work and 2) is Avon going to defect from the crew. Julian Glover is brilliant as nasty genius surgeon Kayn, and Avon is at his most sinister, with the Avon/Blake relationship at its worst. Also we have the comic relief of Kayn’s sexist assistant: "I love girls with a sense of humour" – to which Jenna replies, "Yes, I can see where that would be an advantage." But I must say this isn;t the one I would show someone to get them into the series.

Bounty – A drastically overpadded story. This is the one where for no apparent reason they are rescuing an ex-President and the Liberator, again for no apparent reason, gets temporarily captured (offscreen) by bounty-hunters who are old friends of Jenna’s. There is one good line – Avon reflecting to fellow captive Blake that "None of us showed conspicuous intelligence on this occasion." Vila gets some nice moments, and it seems that Jenna has a past and a personality as well. But this could have been a decent story at half the length.

Deliverance – This is much more like it. Here the two stories are 1) Avon finds himself the subject of a prophecy saving a lost race, also subject to the worship of the charming Meegat; and 2) Ensor junior hijacks the Liberator in an attempt to save his father, as the result of an unusually evil plot by Servalan which even has Travis blinking. Avon, having been a potential turncoat two episodes previously, is now forced to discover some nobility of character by circumstances, and duly does so (Vila to Avon: "Counting yourself, that makes two people who think you’re wonderful". Poor Cally continues her descent into uselessness, being mere canon-fodder for Ensor junior’s hostage-taking. Jenna, captured by savages, does rather better.

Orac – The season ends with one of its strongest stories. With Deliverance, It’s the first properly linked pair of stories since the very start of the season; all the crew who went down-planet last week falling ill with radiation sickness this week. It depends on a rather odd distribution of medicines (Ensor doesn’t have what he needs, but does have what the Liberator folks need) but once you swallow that it’s tense and well-paced. I was mildly puzzled by the way in which Servalan and Travis didn’t quite seem in phase once we switched to the studio scenes, and it turns out that Stephen Greif was injured and couldn’t do them; in which case I think they handled it well.

Did anyone else think that Derek Farr as Ensor was very much channelling William Hartnell’s Doctor? More on this below.

The final cliff-hanger – Orac’s prediction that the Liberator would be destroyed – kept us all guessing for a year; was that the prediction on the screen, or was that what had actually happened?

My conclusion after all of this is that anyone who wants to appreciate Terry Nation’s work in Blake’s 7 also needs to see his early Doctor Who serial, The Keys of Marinus. The six 25-minute episodes are essentuially five distinct stories, the last being a two-parter, in which the regulars are sent to different environments for the adventure of the week. Several of them – the murder mystery, the chilly environment, the bottled brains – have fairly direct parallels in B7, but I’m more struck by the underlying concept of subjecting your team to different stresses and seeing what it brings out of them – Nation wasn’t actually terribly good at this, but the thought was there. One thing he manages in B7 which he didn’t do so often in Who was humour. Well, we’ll see if the new Survivors is any cop.

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Online maps

I saw someone advocating OpenStreetMaps as a source of online mapping information, and thought I would try the various online mapping services with some of the more obscure places of interest to me. Wikipedia is a great starting point: you can click through to a pretty good selection of mapping services from its navigation pages.

1) Loughbrickland, Northern Ireland. Located at 54°19′N, 6°18′W. Good coverage from Google Maps, WikiMapia,,,, Windows Live, MapQuest,, Multimap. But OpenStreetMaps shows only the two main streets.

2) Pristina, Kosovo. Located at 42°40′N 21°10′E. None of the on-line sources I checked shows the current (post-1999) street names. and Windows Live both have all the streets but with the old Serbian names. OpenStreetMap shows all the streets but with no names at all. None of the others is any use. (If perchance you actually need a map of Pristina, I recommend this guidebook.)

3) Northern Nicosia, Cyprus. Location 35°10’42"N, 33°21’42"E. Oddly enough, neither side of Nicosia is especially well served by online maps.,,, and Windows Live do mark streets in the north, but grossly inaccurately! is very good for southern Nicosia, but doesn’t mark many streets on the northern side; at least they are in the right place, if uinnamed. If you actually need a map of northern Nicosia, try thishere.

4) Freetown, Sierra Leone. Location: 8°28′44.4″N, 13°16′6.24″W. Only OpenStreetMap has any level of detail for the streets at all, though no names for any of them. (Here‘s a 1985 CIA map of the city centre; this looks more up to date.)

Basically, online map services still have some way to go, even in some parts of Europe, never mind Africa.

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November Books 27-29) The Negotiator Trilogy

27) Heart of Stone, by C.E. Murphy
28) House of Cards, by C.E. Murphy
29) Hands of Flame, by C.E. Murphy

These three books take ‘s urban fantasies to new territory: specifically New York rather than Seattle, and with her heroine a feisty lawyer rather than a mechanically-minded policewoman. I saw the author summarise the setting of the first book back at P-Con in a sentence: “Margrit’s met the perfect man, except that he’s a gargoyle and he’s wanted for murder” – at which someone sitting behind me called to her, “I do not think that word means what you think it means: ‘Perfect’.”

We have five old races – the gargoyles, djinns, dragons and selkies, each affiliated with one of the four traditional elements, and the vampires which are somehow separate – dealing with the dangerous business of interacting with the contemporary human world. It’s a fairly Buffy-esque setting, with a couple of conscious references, though also a number of important differences.

I think the three books are not sufficiently independent to read other than as a series. The first book treats Margrit’s entry into the parallel world of the Old Races; the second has her negotiating a new deal between them; and the third sees a settling of scores among them, again brokered by Margrit. All very enjoyable, and lightened my trip to Cyprus (and return to rainy Belgium).

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Those cotton-picking maps

The excellent Strange Maps produced a fascinating overlay of Obama votes in this month’s presidential election compared with cotton production in 1860. Not surprisingly there is a huge correlation: cotton in 1860 => slaves => black population now => Obama support.

The one thing that jumped out at me, after admiring the clarity of the general point, was that anomaly in southern Tennessee, where a concentration of cotton farms marked on the 1860 map translates into no correlation at all with the Obama votes in 2008.

The cotton concentration shown is mainly in Lawrence County (briefly the home of Davy Crockett, now the home of presidential hopeful Fred Thompson), with some spillover into Giles County; yet in the election, Lawrence voted for McCain over Obama by 66% to 32%, and Giles by 59% to 39%. (Lawrence has a 1.47% black population; Giles 11.80%.)

The commenters on the Strange Maps post put forward two theories to account for the lack of Obama votes in Lawrence and Giles Counties. First, that there were never many blacks there in the first place, because local agricultural practices were different: "Greg" says that "much of the cotton production in northern Alabama and southern Tennessee during the antebellum era was done on small family farms rather than large plantations. These poor white farmers couldn’t afford slaves, and resented having to compete with plantations that relied on slave labor." Sam Persons Parkes adds that "Lawrence County has always been about 99% white."

The second is that the black population has left. "Goateebird" suggests that it has to do with the Ku Klux Klan, which was actually founded in Pulaski, the seat of Giles County. "DG" decries the KKK explanation, and says instead that the black population of southern Tennessee fled en mass to Nashville (a visibly blue part of the map with no 1860 cotton production) at an early stage of the Civil War. I must say that myself I wondered if this might turn out to be a parallel to the ethnic cleansing phenomenon of sundown towns.

But after a bit more research, I am inclining towards the first theory. The 1860 map comes from Sam Bowers Hilliard’s Atlas of Antebellum Southern Agriculture, and can be found online here, an on-line publication of a book about the Savannah river by the National Park Service. That same page also has maps showing cotton production in 1820 and 1850, and most importantly slave population in 1860. Tennessee is represented as follows:

Tennessee cotton production, 1820

Tennessee cotton production, 1850

Tennessee cotton production, 1860

Tennessee enslaved population, 1860

That final map is pretty conclusive: rather than being kicked out by the KKK, or fleeing to Union-controlled territory, Lawrence County’s black cotton plantation slaves simply weren’t there in the first place. I have to say I find the sudden surge of cotton production in that area shown in the 1860 map a bit suspicious, and wonder just exactly how accurate it is to locate it in Lawrence County; I’m inclined to suspect that the real growth was a little further south and east around Decatur, Alabama.

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Play the voting game!

Spoilt ballots are always one of the more fun parts of an election campaign for the participants. Here are some from the current nail-biter between Al Franken and Norm Coleman for the Senate seat in Minnesota.

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November Books 26) Theatre of War

26) Theatre of War, by Justin Richards

A fairly standard New Adventure, introducing the sinister character of Irving Braxiatel, renegade Time Lord and cultural collector, with lots of fun archaeology for Benny and combat for Ace. The actual plot is a rather ludicrous Sekrit Plan involving the overthow of a warmongering dictatorial regime by means of an electronic theatre and a long-lost play, so it makes as much sense as many Who stories.

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November Books 25) Science Fiction Hall of Fame

25) Science Fiction Hall of Fame: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time, edited by Robert Silverberg

This is one of those classic collections, assembling the top sf stories published before 1965 as voted for by the membership of SFWA in the late 1960s. (I wonder how different the results would be, if a similar poll were taken now?) Most of these stories were very familiar to me, but it filled in a couple of gaps – I don’t think I had read either Theodore Sturgeon’s “Microcosmic God” or Alfred Bester’s “Fondly Fahrenheit” before. Anyway it’s good to have such a selection of classics within a single set of covers.

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November Books 23) 30 Hot Days, 24) Glafkos Clerides: the Path of a Country

I’m on my way home from Cyprus, and while I was there picked up and read two books which give considerable and vivid detail on two aspects of the island’s recent history.

23) 30 Hot Days, by Mehmet Ali Birand

This book sports jacket endorsements by both Archbishop Makarios and Rauf Denktash, as well as the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers of 1974, attesting to its accuracy and neutrality. It is a very detailed, almost insider account, of decision-making in Ankara and to a lesser extent in Athens, over the period between 15 July, when the Greek junta overthrew Archbishop Makarios in a coup, and 14 August, when Turkey implemented the second stage of its military intervention. Birand clearly enjoys superb access to Turkish officials, and does a pretty good job with the Greeks as well. Jim Callaghan, British foreign secretary at the time, doesn’t come out of it well, nipping out of meetings on the pretence of going to the toilet while actually phoning Henry Kissinger in Washington.

Birand’s account is peculiarly thin in one surpising area: Cyprus itself. Apart from brief and enthusiastic details of the initial Turkish military operation, we get only second-hand reports of what else was going on on the island. It is also totally concentrated on the 30 days of the title, so the casual reader would have no idea why the Greek junta hated Makarios so much, or what happened after August 14. Apart from that, though, it’s a good account of the parts of the story it looks at, and although Birand states at the outset that he thinks the Geneva conferences were doomed to failure, this isn’t totally supported by his own account: it’s clear that the Greek side did miss a chance to cut a deal.

24) Glafkos Clerides: the Path of a Country, by Niyazi Kızılyürek

A relatively minor figure in Birand’s book, but a major figure in Greek Cypriot politics, Clerides was temporarily the acting Greek Cypriot president in Makarios’ absence after the collapse of the 1974 coup, and was subsequently elected in his own right in 1993 and 1998, losing in 2003. He had also been the speaker of parliament and chief negotiator with the Turkish Cypriots at various times. His autobiography, My Deposition, has intimidated me with its size, so I was glad to acquire this book of interviews with Clerides by Turkish Cypriot academic Niyazi Kizilyurek, as a taster.

Again, I couldn’t recommend the book to Cyprus novices; a great deal of background knowledge is assumed of the reader. Clerides’ record is on the whole a good one – he got EU membership, he got closer to a solution than any previous leader, and he campaigned vigorously in favour of the Annan Plan in 1974. It is not completely positive: he excluded the Turkish Cypriot MPs when they tried to return to parliament in 1965, and he wasn’t able to deliver a settlement despite having come so close more than once. He also ruthlessly disposed of his predecessor as President in the 1993 election by a tactical appeal to the right.

But the biographical detail is fascinating – the young Clerides, educated in London, an RAF prisoner of war, a lawyer for prisoners of the British in the 1950s, opposing his own father who stood against Makarios in the 1960 election, his memories of Makarios and Denktash who he worked with so closely (and the rather more lightweight Fazil Kuçuk who was Denktash’s predecessor), and his involvement with ongoing peace efforts, hampered always by his eventual successor as president, Tassos Papadopoulos. The book ends on a pessimistic note, written as it was in 2005 and 2006 when prospects for a solution seemed more distant than ever before. I’m glad to say that things are looking up now.

Interestingly Kızılyürek’s book sports only one endorsement on the back cover – from none other than Birand.

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Salute to Cem Özdemir

I’m delighted to hear that Cem Özdemir is the new co-leader of the German Greens. I’ve known him since shortly after he was elected to the European Parliament in 2004, mainly (but not exclusively) on the Cyprus issue where he has played a subtly constructive role in unpropitious circumstances. I have no idea about the wider ramifications of his election in German politics, but it’s not a bad thing for the perception of diversity in the political leadership of western Europe’s largest democracy.

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Weekend in Cambridge

Anne and I went back to Cambridge this weekend, for the first time since our year group’s reunion in 2000. We arrived very late on Friday (having got snarled up with Brussels traffic, and thus had a long wait for the channel tunnel train, and then further confused by Maidstone roadworks) and left at dinnertime on Sunday, feeling that we should do it again some time soon, and maybe see some more of you while we are there next time.

We did manage to catch up with , Liz the knitter, and Catherine the non-blogger; and we spent lots of money in Heffers and similar. We also went to the Fitzwilliam Museum – to my shame, I think it was the first time I had been, despite my five years of living in the city. There is a great exhibition of gold ornaments from, of all places, Georgia – the land of the Golden Fleece. There is a relatively new courtyard development as well, with shop and café.

And we went to Choral Evensong in Clare College, the first time either of us had been back to the college chapel since we got married there 15 years ago. Before the service there was a recital of a couple of Schumann pieces by one of the choral scholars; I chortled briefly at the coincidence that her accompanist had the same name as the editor of the Guardian, and then realised that it wasn’t in fact a coincidence at all. He’s not a bad pianist.

The service itself was rather good – built around the themes of redemption and forgiveness, with a sermon from a fellow alumnus reminiscing about his experiences as a prison chaplain, asking us not to buy certain newspapers which sensationalise crime and criminals (the irony of having a national newspaper editor in the congregation was not lost on us). We stayed on for dinner afterwards, but made an early move to try and get a chunnel train at a decent hour.

Well, it didn’t work. One patch of bad traffic immediately south of Cambridge meant that we just missed the train at ten past ten, and the next on Sunday evenings isn’t until a quarter to midnight. So we waited, and got it, and arrived in France at 0130. And we were making good time on this side until the car conked out, with a terrifying death rattle, at 0330 on the Brussels ring road. It was another hour before we got home, and another hour again before I was in bed.

Yeah, and on top of that I am travelling again today – about to get on a plane to Istanbul and then another to Cyprus. By the time I touch down on the island this evening, I will have been in five different countries in the previous 24 hours. Which is a lot, even by my standards. But it was worth it.

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November Books 22) Year’s Best SF 13

22) Year’s Best SF 13, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

As always, a generally good selection, with a lot of the stories revolving around virtual identities and gaming. I had read two of the 25 before, as they were Hugo nominees; of the rest, the ones that will stay with me are the first, “Baby Doll” by Johanna Sinisalo, a terrifying tale of future sexuality; in the middle, “End Game” by Nancy Kress, which retreads some of the ground from her “Beggars in Spain” but takes it in a new direction; and the final story, James Van Pelt’s “How Music Begins”, a tale of alien abduction, romance and a high school band. All good stuff; I still have the Dozois collection to look forward to.

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November Books 21) Alias vol 4: The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones

21) The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones

I’d been looking for this for ages, having very much enjoyed the first three books in the series. Jessica Jones, superhero against her will, confronts her internal demons, both the guilty secret of how she acquired super powers, and her personal nemesis. There are so many pages here where Bendis and the artists achieve statements that couldn’t be made in any other medium – the schooldays flashback, Jessica’s first encounter with other superheroes, and the unspoken parts of her conversations with her friends and lovers. As I said of an earlier volume, it would probably require more familiarity than I have with the Marvel universe to fully appreciate it, but I very much enjoyed it all the same.

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November Books 20) Henry IV Part 1

20) The First Part of King Henry the Fourth, by William Shakespeare

It always puzzled me a bit that my English friends seemed to have a better knowledge of Shakespeare’s history plays than I did, and only now has the obvious answer occurred to me: they are all about English history, which my school had a natural bias against giving too much importance. As a result I knew almost nothing about the two parts of Henry IV except that Falstaff is a character.

Well, I’m enlightened now. This is a good play: essentially the education of young Prince Henry, under the two possibilities of ending up like the unhealthy drunk and cowardly Falstaff or the valiant young Harry Hotspur. The Falstaff option is vividly illustrated by highway robbery; the Hotspur option by rebellion. In the end, the Prince kills Hotspur, yet in a sense takes on his mantle.

It’s a bit unfortunate that this gets mixed up with politics. The rebellion against King Henry is even more obscurely motivated than most, and it is one of the few unsuccessful rebellions in the canon. The Welsh angle is a bit peculiar as well, with actors instructed to “speak in Welsh” in one scene. Perhaps this is scene-setting for Part 2.

The Arkangel version has great performances from Julian Glover as Henry IV and especially Richard Griffiths as Falstaff. Alan Cox is good as Hotspur, but unfortunately Jamie Glover as Prince Hal doesn’t quite seem to get the point of blank verse; I hope he improves over the course of the next two plays.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love’s Labour’s Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All’s Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter’s Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

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November Books 19) Who Goes There

19) Who Goes There (Travels through Strangest Britain, in Search of the Doctor), by Nick Griffiths

This is a brilliant book, and I think could be enjoyed even by non-Who fans provided they have at least a mild interest in southern England (and Wales). Griffiths sets off on a quest to find Doctor Who locations – not to do a comprehensive listing, because that has alreay been done, but to check out the places that linger most vividly in the memory, from the years between Spearhead from Space and Destiny of the Daleks, and from the four years of the new series (this book, written between November last year and September this year, is already in the shops).

Some of the locations of the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker years have disappeared (buildings get demolished; quarries get filled in); some cannot be found despite the best efforts of Griffiths and his long-suffering family; but about half of the places he looks for can indeed be located and retain a certain ineffable Who-ness. Examples: the villages of The Android Invasion and The DæmonsDoomsday and Journey’s EndDay of the Daleks which Griffiths locates despite a huge argument with his wife. There is apparently a website here which I haven’t had a chance to look at yet, with lots of photos.

I haven’t read Griffiths’ earlier book, Dalek I Loved You, but I imagine it is at least as good. Part of the charm of his writing is that he factors in further anecdotes about the journeys he makes, and also fits in the story of his own family: his mother’s death, his wife’s pregnancy, his teenage son’s reactions to his own obsessions. It is a touching an memorable little memoir. Strongly recommended.

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Four Big Finish audios

Three more as I work through the BF back catalogue, and also the latest of their offerings.

Live-34 is an excellent experiment in format. The story is told as four half-hour episodes of live radio on Colony 34. The oppressive rule of the authorities is challenged by the legitimate opposition, led by Resident Doctor, the focus of the first episode; the more explosive part of the resistance is led by the Rebel Queen, interviewed in the second episode; and the third episode focusses on an evening in the life of a paramedic called Hex. The soundscape and performances are flawless; I was a little uneasy about exactly why the Doctor and companions have chosen to infiltrate and overthrow this particular regime.

I’m afraid Scaredy Cat didn’t leave much impression on me (and I’ve listened to it twice). It is in keeping with the duller end of the earlier Eighth Doctor audios. Various conceptual entities get incarnated as personalities and the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz eventually clean up the mess.

Singularity brings Five and Turlough to near-future Moscow and an invasion from the far future via an entity called the Somnus Foundation (I wondered if this was a conscious echo of the Putin/Medvedev attitude to civil society). Good soundscapes and acting (with the dismal exception of Mark Bollinger as Pavel), and full marks to the actors who pronounce Королев correctly as “KaraLYOV” rather than “KORolev”. Mark Strickson gets some particularly good moments of character development for Turlough. But it went on rather a long time.

I’ve come to expect total brilliance from Alan Barnes, and in the most recent Big Finish he doesn’t disappoint. Brotherhood of the Daleks is the latest in an ongoing storyline where Charley Pollard is travelling with the Sixth Doctor after her time with Eight, from her personal timeline perspective, and trying to keep this secret from Six in order not to damage the Web of Time (a recurring problem for poor Charley). They arrive on what appears to be the planet Spiridon and are apprehended by what appear to be Thals. But almost nothing in this narrative is what it appears to be. The revolutionary Daleks singing “The Red Flag” are a particularly glorious touch. I couldn’t recommend this as strongly to newcomers to Big Finish, but those of us who are into the audios in general (and the earlier Eight/Charley arc in particular) will love it.

In summary, Brotherhood of the Daleks is excellent, Live 34 pretty good, Singularity OK and Scaredy Cat meh.

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November Books 11-18) The Captain Underpants series

11) The Adventures of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
12) Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets, by Dav Pilkey
13) Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds), by Dav Pilkey
14) Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, by Dav Pilkey
15) Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, by Dav Pilkey
16) Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 1: The Night of the Naughty Nostril Nuggets, by Dav Pilkey
17) Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 2: The Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers, by Dav Pilkey
18) Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People, by Dav Pilkey

Young F is a big fan of this series of books, so I worked through them myself over the course of this week. It did not take me long; none of the lavishly illustrated books is even 180 large type pages in length.

Our protagonists, George and Harold, accidentally transform their school’s principal, Mr Krupp, into superhero Captain Underpants. This is fortunate, as their Ohio town is a bit of a focal point for invading aliens and deranged scientists, who tend to have a fixation with toilets and/or underwear and/or body fluids. George and Harold, and Captain Underpants, save the day, though the latest books end on cliff-hangers to lead into the next story.

The books are all pretty similar but quite funny, and I can see why F likes them. I wondered whether the time-travelling portable toilet in the last two books drew some inspiration from Doctor Who? More likely that it’s second-hand inspiration via Bill and Ted, I suppose. Note on the Bechdel test, though: almost no female characters apart from members of the psychotic school staff and the odd – very odd – parent.

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F holding little cousin S very carefully:

U and F inspecting their little cousin, her mother warding off U from doing it too enthusiastically:

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V speaks

Captain (Rtd) Valentine Esegrabo Melvin Strasser interviewed here, by Awoko.

The interview took place at a local pub.

Awoko: How do you receive the news that you are dead?
Strasser: I was shocked, as this place is filled with machines which manufacture rumours; and people can say nasty things about you simply because they are idle and all they do is basically sit around and gossip.
Awoko: Hope I am not talking to a ghost?
Strasser: Have you ever seen one?

A readers’ poll beside the entry asks "Should the State take care of former Head of State Captain (Rtd) Valentine Essegrabo Melvin Strasser?" Answers: Yes, 83%; No, 17%.

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Naming of Parts

NAMING OF PARTS, by Henry Reed

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
        And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
        Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
        Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
        They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
        For to-day we have naming of parts.

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November Books 10) Emma

10) Emma, by Jane Austen

I had read Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion previously, and frankly liked them more. Emma Woodhouse is a manipulative snob, and while the author clearly disapproves of her manipulations and occasional rudeness, she entirely endorses the snobbery. The unfortunate Harriet, whose emotional life is Emma’s plaything, turns out to be the daughter of (shudder) a tradesman, so it’s all right for her to marry the farmer who loves her after all. All the other various single men and women characters get paired off by the end of the book. There are some vivid and even funny moments of characterisation, but I found the setting and mindset rather unappealing.

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2008 Films 6) Richard III (1995); and The Kingmaker

I was very strongly recommended to watch Ian McKellen’s Richard III after I had read the script and listened to the Arkangel version. Well, , and , you were right. It is an extraordinary tour de force, set in a grazingly Fascist Britain of the 1930s (so echoed in more recent books by Christopher Priest and ). McKellen himself is superb; the other actors include Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Adrian Dunbar and Tim McInnerny, all excellent. McKellen explains on his own website how and why he judiciously pruned characters and plot to turn it into his own film version. Standout scenes include Richard’s nightmares before the final battle; Nigel Hawthorne’s melancholy reflections as the doomed Clarence; the exchange where Buckingham (Jim Broadbent) persuades the pseudo-reluctant Richard to take the crown. A really good film.

Oddly enough over the last few days I had also been listening to a completely different presentation of the story of Richard III, the Big Finish audio play The Kingmaker, written by Nev Fountain of the TV comedy show Dead Ringers. This brings the Fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison, back to the 1480s to find out what really happened to the Princes in the Tower, after a heated drunken argument with William Shakespeare. As you would expect from a production with that author and numerous comedians in the cast, it is utterly hilarious, totally subverting the expectations of the listener – are the Princes really robots? Who is the bearded time-traveller advising Richard of Gloucester? What of the true identity of the barmaids? Some might possibly think it just a bit silly, but I really enjoyed it.

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Small political party disintegrates, no casualties reported

In a week full of exciting electoral news from the USA, Scotland, the Maldives and New Zealand, you could be forgiven for missing the fact that one of the parties in the current Irish government coalition has formally disbanded itself.

The Progressive Democrats were founded in 1985 by dissidents from Ireland’s main political party, Fianna Fáil; however, they spent almost two thirds of their existence in coalition with the party from which they had originally split (1989-92, 1997-now). The PDs ostensibly endorsed liberal social values (where their clothes have been stolen by FF, and indeed everyone else) and opposed corruption (where they appear to have achieved nothing at all in their years of coalition with FF). The death knell was sounded in last year’s election, when they won only two seats in the Dáil compared with 14 at their height in 1987. But really the writing had been on the wall ever since 1992, when the party’s founder, Des O’Malley, botched the handover of the party leadership to his designated successor, Mary Harney, and alienated Pat Cox, one of the party’s better media performers, to the point that he left the party and ran as an independent in the European Parliament elections of 1994. (I admit that I know and like Cox a lot better than any of the other ex-PDs; there may have been other factors of which I am unaware, but for a small party to discard a figure of his ability was rather wasteful.) Really today’s news is about five years too late in coming, one of many things in Irish politics that were distorted by the appalling performance of Fine Gael in 2002, where the PDs were among the numerous unexpected beneficiaries.

So the PDs disappear; their voters will now drift to FG who apparently are enjoying their highest ever poll ratings, seven points clear of Fianna Fáil, for the first time since the 1920s. The one thing they did do was to demonstrate that the sterile structures of Irish politics could be shaken up, and create the basis for other changes to take place (most notably the election of Mary Robinson as President in 1990). But I must say that if I was a member I would be wondering today if it had all been worthwhile.

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Companion Chronicles again

Big Finish’s series of Companion Chronicles, two-hander audio plays featuring companions of the first four Doctors, get better and better. Here we have Susan, Victoria, Jo and Leela brought back to life by Carole Ann Ford, Deborah Watling, Katy Manning and Louise Jameson, recounting adventures that we never saw on screen.

In Here There Be Monsters, by Andy Lane, the First Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara arrive on a strange spaceship run by a vegetable alien which is punching holes in space. Carole Ann Ford does a decent Hartnell, and the story is excellent.

The Great Space Elevator, by Jonathan Morris, is the best of this run (though they are all good). It is a delightful homage to Season Five, with elements from almost all of the Victoria stories (and elsewhere from the Second Doctor’s time) shaken together to form a very entertaining mixture. I think you could use this as a good entry point to the whole Companion Chronicles for a Who fan otherwise unfamiliar with the audios.

Marc Platt’s The Doll of Death is literally the first decent Third Doctor audio I have heard (and I include also The Ghosts of N-Space and Paradise of Death among those I didn’t like. As you would expect from Platt, he takes the story very much towards the surreal, with two literally contraflowing timestreams. Manning does lots of male voices well, and the plot is inevitably a bit confusing but avoids being self-indulgent.

In Empathy Games, Nigel Fairs continues his line of flashbacks from the point of view of post-Gallifrey Leela, defiantly enduring her fate. Here she remembers an adventure where she became a fighter in a local violent hunting event – Chris Boucher, her creator, also wrote this basic plot for her in Last Man Standing, but Fairs does it much better, because i) he isn’t trying to be satirical, ii) he writes the Doctor better and iii) he benefits from Louise Jameson’s excellent delivery. It is perhaps my least favourite of the four, but as I said they are all good.

All of these are recommended.

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