Books acquired in April

Powers by Ursula Le Guin (2007)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1981)
Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson (2001)
Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran (2005)
Phoenix Cafe by Gwyneth Jones (1998)
North Wind by Gwyneth Jones (1998)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1992)
Traitor to the Crown: The Patriot Witch by C. C. Finlay (2009) 
Motherlines by Suzy McKee Charnas (1979)
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Tales of Shakespeare by Charles Lamb (1994)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (1991)
The "Prisoner" Handbook by Steven Paul Davies (2007)
The Dissolution of the Religious Orders in Ireland under Henry VIII by Brendan Bradshaw (2008) 
Fanny Kemble: A Performed Life by Deirdre David (2007)
The Night Sessions: A Novel by Ken MacLeod (2009) 
Первые шаги по Луне by Эрже (1954)
Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham (2003)
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1991)
Sult : et fragment by Knut Hamsun (1999)
The "Prisoner": The Official Companion to the Classic TV Series by Rob Fairclough (2002)
Slaughterhouse 5, or The Children’s Crusade – A Duty-dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut (1991)
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1986)
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2002)
The Prisoner: A Televisionary Masterpiece by Alain Carraze (1996)
Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi (2008)
Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (2008)
Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger (1995)
Media Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies by Colin Rallings (2009 reprint with Northern Ireland) 
Trips to the Moon by Lucian of Samosata (2007) 
Jewel by Beverly Jenkins (2008)
A People’s Peace for Cyprus: Testing public opinion on the options for a comprehensive settlement by Alexandros Lordos (2009)
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1996)
Awareness by Anthony De Mello (2000)
The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin (1989)
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (2008)
Anathem by Neal Stephenson (2008)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1957)
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1966)
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April Books

Non-fiction: 5 (YTD 26)

Shakespeare: 4 (YTD 14)

Fiction (non-sf): 5 (YTD 16)

SF (non-Who): 7 (YTD 27)

Who: 2 (YTD 12)

Comics: 1 (YTD 4)

3/24 (YTD 17/99) by women (Tremain, Rowling, Butler)
2/24 (YTD 5/99) by PoC (Ifrah, Butler)
Total page count ~7,700 (YTD ~30,200)
Owned for more than one year: 5 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [reread], Lolita [reread], King Solomon’s Ring, Music and Silence, Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
Also re-read: Catch-22, The Big Time (for a total of 4, YTD 16).

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April Books 24) Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

The next book on my list is actually Reading Lolita in Tehran, so I thought I might as well re-read Nabokov’s original. (I have to admit I have absolutely no idea how important Lolita is in Nafisi’s book, but didn’t want to take chances.)

It is a fascinating novel, with the narrator appalled and disgusted by his own behaviour, and a series of other memorable characters – the ex-wife; Lolita’s mother; the dentist’s evil nephew (as played by Peter Sellers to James Mason’s Humbert in the flm); and of course Lolita herself, who gains dignity and independence, however briefly, from the terrible situations that older men have inflicted on her.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Iran.

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April Books 23) Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy

I don’t believe I’d read a word of Hardy before I started this book. It’s not as bad as I feared, though it moves awfully slowly, is annoyingly condescending to people with funny accents, and fails to really challenge gender narratives for today’s reader. Hardy no doubt meant well and perhaps even intended to be a bit feminist in his presentation of Tess’s story, but it doesn’t really work; one wishes that he had let her be more of an actor (before the crime at the end of the book) and that he had shown the men who treat her so badly in a more unforgiving light. I’m not wild about Hardy after reading this, but I won’t spurn him either if his books come up in my reading.

One of the delights of Bookmooch is that, if you are not too fussy, you can get books that have acquired some character from their previous owner. My copy came to me from a young woman in Florida, who has conducted a spirited conversation with Hardy by highlighter on the text and ballpoint pen in the margin, her disagreements with him being similar to mine. At the bottom of one page, she has written that she “♡’s Dan Eckstein”. Lucky Dan.

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April Books 22) Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

Well, I’ve ploughed through the almost 900 pages of novel (plus 20-page glossary, plus 25 pages of supplementary material), and I reckon this gets my Hugo vote. (I’ve read all the other nominees except Zoe’s Tale, but given my track record with Scalzi’s writing I’m unlikely to put it at the top of my list.)

At first I thought this was going to be some sort of combination of The Tombs of Atuan, The Name of the Rose and philosophy of science; our hero is a trainee scholar in a rigidly ritualistic academic culture which covers his entire world. But then it turns out that this is a First Contact story, and we have the build-up to a brilliantly described commando raid in deep space. And our hero resolves the problems in his love-life, so the romantic in me was satisfied too.

I particularly enjoyed Stephenson’s playing with words: the honorific “Saunt” drawing on both savant and saint, the “Concent” combining the characteristics of a convent with undertones of concentration and concepts, our hero’s name “Erasmas” echoing most obviously Erasmus but perhaps also Rasselas and others with similar names. There are a lot of neat and witty allusions to well-known concepts in the history and philosophy of science. Erasmas’ home, the Concent of Saunt Edhar, is located at 51.3° north, the same latitude as London, or Greenwich, or indeed Bath where Herschel discovered the planet Uranus.

Stephenson loses marks on a couple of technical points, though. I mentioned last week that he has his polar orbits wrong. Also, like Asimov in The Gods Themselves, he has matter brought into universes where the nuclear forces don’t operate in quite the same way, in which case I would expect the atoms to either collapse or explode, though I suppose there could be some handwaving explanation (or perhaps I’ve misunderstood what “newmatter” is supposed to be).

I expect it will be a tight race between Anathem and The Graveyard Book for the Hugo this year. My vote goes to Anathem.

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April Books 21) The Prisoner, by Robert Fairclough

I’m laid up in bed with a stinking cold today, so getting through my to-read pile at a sedate (and sedated) rate.

I followed up my recently renewed enthusiasm for The Prisoner by getting hold of several of the books about it, and this seemed the best starting point: 135 pages of The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV series, by Robert Fairclough, with a (rather incoherent) foreword by Kenneth Griffith in the absence of McGoohan. It’s a good basic guide to how The Prisoner came to be made, six pages of info on each episode, and then some follow-up chapters on its impact at the time and later influence, both on popular culture in general and on Portmeirion in particular. It certainly made me want to go back and re-watch a couple of the episodes which I didn’t properly appreciate last time I saw them.

The story that isn’t told, but which I imagine I’ll find elsewhere, is how and when relations between McGoohan and his sponsors deteriorated to the point where the plug was pulled, with only 17 of the planned 26+ episodes being made. Likewise, some pulling together of how McGoohan drove the creative team (including himself) insane would have been usefully illustrative. (And why did the very first Number Two, Guy Doleman, unexpectedly leave the filming several days early?)

I was also interested to note that The Prisoner was shown over all of England and Scotland, but not Wales or Northern Ireland, in its first 1967-8 run. I wonder if there was any particular reason for that?

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April Books 20) Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

I loved this book when I first read it twenty years ago and I enjoyed the return journey now. The fractured narrative of Yossarian’s response to the dehumanising horror of war is also very funny in places (my favourite scene is the mass outbreak of moaning at the Avignon briefing). Awful and yet hilarious.

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MEPs tweet

Lovely article in this week’s New Europe about the use of Twitter by current and prospective members of the European parliament, as tracked by the site Glad to see that, of incumbent MEPs, the top twitterer is my friend Sophie in ‘t Veld (of the Dutch liberals, D’66), and the top Brit is another friend, Graham Watson. The top Irish MEP is Eoin Ryan of Fianna Fáil.

Somewhat dismayed to see that the only Belgian on the list is Walloon socialist Jean-Claude Marcourt, and his single tweet, from three months ago, consists of the three words “Je découvre twitter!”

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April Books 19) The Deviant Strain, by Justin Richards

It seems almost indecently soon to look back on 2005 with feelings of nostalgia, but the Tardis team of Nine/Jack/Rose is surely one of the great triple ensembles of Who, up there with One/Steven/Sara, Two/Jamie/Zoe, Three/Brig/Liz or Four/Harry/Sarah Jane. (Almost made the list: One/Steven/Vicki|Dodo, One|Two/Ben/Polly, Four/K9/Leela|Romana, Ten/Martha/Donna. Didn’t make the list: Two/Jamie/Victoria, Five/anyone.)

This was the first book published to feature Jack Harkness as a character. It foreshadows Torchwood, no doubt unintentionally, with Team Tardis resolving abandoned alien tech and local human factionalism in an Arctic port in contemporary Russia. Richards has caught Ecclestone’s portrayal of the Ninth Doctor very well, and builds up a decent sense of terror driven by blue glowing aliens with life-6orce-sucking tentacles. We fanboys would have liked some nods to the similar Who adventures of the past – thinking especially of The Stones of Blood and The Curse of Fenric – and the Jack and Rose characterisations were less firm than the Doctor’s. But basically it is a good effort.

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April Books 18) Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare

This write-up is a couple of days later than I expected it would be – I misplaced my MP3 player on Saturday, having just started listening to the final scene, and only found it last night, after two days of agonising cold turkey. Anyway, I know how it ends now.

Cymbeline is rather odd. Although it is traditionally listed as one of the Tragedies, it actually has a happy ending: the evil queen and her wicked son are dead, lost children restored, estranged spouses reunited. It’s also odd that the title character is not particularly prominent in the plot: this is really the story of Cymbeline’s daughter, Imogen, and her husband Postumus. (Even Julius Cæsar, killed off in the third act, looms over the rest of the play and reappears as a ghost.)

Another odd thing about Cymbeline is the music. Two of the most famous Shakespeare songs are here – “Hark, hark, the lark” and “Fear no more the heat of the sun” – and Act 5 Scene 1 is a musical extravaganza of Postumus’s visionary dreams which almost foreshadows Gene Kelly. (Well, not really, but if you know both Cymbeline and Singin’ in the Rain or An American in Paris, I hope you can see my point.) There’s the occasional song elsewhere in the canon, but this is surely the Bard’s most serious musical effort.

The music must make it challenging to stage, but apart from that it is a perfectly decent story. There is a glorious moment when Imogen discovers a headless corpse dressed in her husband Postumus’s clothes, and assumes the worst; but it is in fact the body of the evil Cloten, slain by Imogen’s own long-lost brother. Compared to the best known plays, there are not many memorable lines, which I guess explains its relative obscurity.

Arkangel don’t really make the most of the material. Jack Shepherd is subdued in the title role, Sophie Thompson (Emma’s sister, Eric’s daughter) is rather drippy as Imogen, and I can’t even remember who plays Postumus. The show is thoroughly stolen by Stephen Mangan as the Hooray Henry evil princeling Cloten, and I was sorry when his head was chopped off in the fourth act. Stephen “Marvin” Moore was also good as the exiled family retainer Belarius.

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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My twins

It’s that time of year again when I think about my twins, those people born on the same day as me. (A brief trawl through the relevant statistics suggests that somewhat more than 300,000 people were born that day, the world population at the time being around 3.5 billion and the annual birthrate somewhere between 30 and 34 per 1000.)

I’ve done long lists of twins in previous years, here in 2008, here in 2006 and here in 2002; and a few months back I discovered that another of my twins is Valentine Strasser, who became military ruler of Sierra Leone just after our 25th birthday. Today I want to salute three literary twins:

Warren Read, whose The Lyncher In Me is the story of how an internet search opened up a dark chapter of family history,
Trish Doller, whose My Way or the Highway comes out shortly, and
Yves Cotten, whose work I haven’t yet read either in French or Breton but it looks just lovely!

Happy birthday to them, and everyone else celebrating today.

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Nebula Watch

Women winners: 3/4
First time winners: 1/4 (Hoffman)
Winners born between 1942 and 1951: 1/4 (Kessel)

Ursula Le Guin is now equal top of the Nebula table with Connie Willis, both having won six.

(Official announcement here.)

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Reading lists, revised

Back in January, I set up a series of reading lists, based largely on my unread books list on LibraryThing. I’ve now been working this for three months, and it’s time for some major changes.

The point of all this is of course to reduce the number of unread books on my shelf, and to do so enjoyably. Each unread book represents an investment of cost either by me, if I bought it, or by someone else if they got it for me. Books are meant to be read, not to gather dust. What I want to do is to make sure I progress systematically through my unread books, and to have a system that is fairly easy to administer. There is also a minor consideration of wanting to write book reviews that others may want to read, hence my invocation of my poll from the start of the year on three of the lists (though this also helps bridge the gap between old and obscure acquisitions on the one hand, and the most recent and most popular on the other.) And this is a time of year when I like to assess various aspects of my life. All of this leads me to the following lists:

a) sf, in order of entry onto my LibraryThing catalogue:

  1. Raven’s Gathering, by Keith Taylor
  2. The Enchanted Isles, by K.C. Flynn
  3. Misspent Youth, by Peter F. Hamilton
  4. Sacred Visions, edited by Andrew M. Greeley
  5. The Prisoner of Chillon, by James Patrick Kelly

b) sf, in order of popularity on LibraryThing as a whole:

  1. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire
  2. The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
  3. Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
  4. Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett
  5. The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

c) sf, as owned by me before start of this year and previously read by you here:

  1. Elric, by Michael Moorcock
  2. Stormbringer, by Michael Moorcock
  3. The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  4. Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
  5. On the Beach, by Nevil Shute

d) fiction other than sf, in order of entry onto my LibraryThing catalogue:

  1. The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer
  2. Sunset at Blandings, by P. G. Wodehouse
  3. Cities of Salt, by Abd al-Rahman Munif
  4. Chronicle in Stone, by Ismail Kadare
  5. With the Light, by Keiko Tobe

e) fiction other than sf, in order of popularity on LibraryThing as a whole:

  1. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  2. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  3. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
  4. The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
  5. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

f) fiction other than sf, as owned by me before start of this year and previously read by you here:

  1. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy (currently reading)
  2. To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
  3. Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
  4. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Choderlos de Laclos
  5. Black and Blue, by Ian Rankin
  6. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

g) non-fiction, in order of entry onto my LibraryThing catalogue:

  1. On the place of Gilbert Chesterton in English letters, by Hilaire Belloc
  2. The lost heart of Asia, by Colin Thubron
  3. The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea
  4. Hotel Rwanda, by Terry George
    The Bessarabian Question in Communist Historiography, by Wim Van Meurs (missing)
  5. England’s Troubles, by Jonathan Scott

h) non-fiction, in order of popularity on LibraryThing as a whole:

  1. Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller
  2. Survival In Auschwitz, by Primo Levi
  3. The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell
  4. The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker
  5. Diplomacy, by Henry Kissinger

i) non-fiction, as owned by me before start of this year and previously read by you here:

  1. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
    Galileo’s daughter, by Dava Sobel (missing)
  2. The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell
  3. On Liberty and Other Essays, by John Stuart Mill
  4. Survival In Auschwitz, by Primo Levi
  5. Queen Elizabeth I, by J. E. Neale

And then I’m keeping some of the lists from my January efforts:

j) (previously a) books I have already read but haven’t reviewed on-line, ranked by LT popularity (NB first two are swapped in order for obvious reasons):

  1. Harry Potter and the goblet of fire, by J.K. Rowling
  2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
  3. The hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  4. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

k) (previously i) Hugo-award winning novels which I haven’t previously reviewed on-line, in order of winning the award:

  1. The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
  2. This Immortal, by Roger Zelazny
  3. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
  4. Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny
  5. Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner

l) unread Doctor Who books, in order of internal continuity:

  1. Sands of Time, by Justin Richards
  2. Imperial Moon, by Christopher Bulis
  3. Doctor Who: The Nightmare Fair, by Graham Williams
  4. Doctor Who: Mission to Magnus, by Philip Martin
  5. Doctor Who: The Ultimate Evil, by Wally K. Daly

m) unread New Series Doctor Who books, in order of LT popularity (nearly finished!):

  1. The Deviant Strain by Justin Richards (currently reading)
  2. The Last Dodo, by Jacqueline Rayner
  3. Wooden Heart, by Martin Day

n) Shakespeare’s plays, in supposed chronological order (also nearly finished!) :

  1. Cymbeline (currently reading)
  2. The Winter’s Tale
  3. The Tempest
  4. Henry VIII
  5. The Two Noble Kinsmen (end of the traditional chronological ordering of the plays)
  6. Edward III (if I am really keen)
  7. Double Falshood (if I am really really keen)

o) books owned only by me on LT, in order of entry into my catalogue (NB several have since picked up other owners):

  1. EU Accession Dynamics And Conflict Resolution: Catalysing Peace Or Consolidating Partition In Cyprus? by Nathalie Tocci
  2. How to Make Good Decisions and be Right All the Time: Solving the Riddle of Right and Wrong, by Iain King
  3. How to Make School Make Sense: A Parents’ Guide to Helping the Child with Asperger Syndrome, by Clare Lawrence
  4. The British Museum Book of Ancient Egypt, by A. Jeffrey Spencer
  5. Young people in post-conflict Northern Ireland The past cannot be changed, but the future can be developed, by Dirk Schubotz and Paula Devine

p) books by PoC, in order of entry into my catalogue:

  1. Cities of Salt, by Abd al-Rahman Munif
  2. So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Visions of the Future, by Nalo Hopkinson
  3. With the Light, by Keiko Tobe
  4. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
  5. Black Juice, edited by Margo Lanagan

Well, we’ll see how long this system lasts!

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EU Profiler

Here’s a fascinating site to match your political position with parties from all over Europe (including almost all parts of the EU, Croatia, Switzerland and Turkey):

I come out (in British terms) pretty close to the Lib Dems, which is fortunate since I am a member.

But the interesting thing is where that puts me in the political spectra of other countries:

Belgium (Flanders), where I will actually be voting – more or less bang on the Sociaal Liberale Partij spot, which surprised me since I hadn’t heard of them before. Closer investigation reveals that they used to be Spirit, but have had a certain amount of internal turmoil recently.

Austria – half-way between SPÖ and Grüne
Belgium (francophone) – equidistant from all parties
Bulgaria – none terribly close but ГЕРБ least distant
Croatia – rather pleased to be equidistant between my three favourite parties, IDS, SDP and HSLS
Cyprus – rather alarmed to be closest to ΔΗΚΟ, who are certainly my least favourite of the major parties there!
Czech Republic – closest to ČSSD
Denmark – halfway between Radikale Venstre and Socialistisk Folkeparti
Estonia – halfway between Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond and the Greens (Eestimaa Rohelised)
Finland – more or less exactly on the Greens
France – closest to the minor Parti Radical de Gauche and the even minor-er Newropeans
Germany – equidistant between SPD, Grüne and Newropeans
Greece – equidistant between ΠΑΣΟΚ and the minor Ecologist Greens
Hungary – closest to the new lefty-greenish Lehet Más a Politika party.
Ireland – Labour, unexciting but unexpected
Italy – closest to the PD
Latvia – between two largely Russophone parties, Saskaņas centrs and Par cilvēka tiesībām vienotā Latvijā.
Lithuania – very close to the Lietuvos socialdemokratų partija with Frontas and the National Resurrection Party not far off
Luxembourg – again, halfway between the Greens and Social Democrats
Malta – none terribly close, Alternattiva Demokratika least distant
Poland – closest to SLD (social democrats)
Portugal – closest to PS (social democrats)
Romania – closest to the Hungarian-speaking UDMR
Slovakia – none terribly close, least distant being social democratic SMER and, alarmingly, Mečiar’s ĽS-HZDS.
Slovenia – very close to both social democratic SD and left-liberal ZARES
Spain – very close to both PSOE and the lefty independentist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya
Sweden – not close to any, SDAP least distant
Switzerland – not close to any, Socialists least distant
Netherlands – closest to GroenLinks, D66 and Newropeans not far off.
Turkey – almost exactly on the Kurdish DTP

They haven’t done Northern Ireland yet, but I imagine I would come out closest to Alliance and the SDLP. (Would also be interested to see results from the TRNC.)

Overall apparently it is the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya whose views most closely match my own. I wonder if they accept memberships from liberal Northern Irish Belgians? I am certainly left-of-centre, anti-monarchist and agnostic tending toward positive on Catalan independence, so I have no problem with their main policy areas. Though they are not terribly sound on immigration, or on reforming the CAP.

However, when I go to the list of party matches – which rates strength of commitment to the issues as well as the position on the two axes – things change rather radically and my closest match is the Swedish Pirate Party. I fear that this actually reflects the fact that they don’t have opinions (and therefore disagreements with me or others) on very many issues, though where they do have views (pro-gay marriage, pro-civil liberties, pro-EU integration) I tend to agree with them.

It’s also interesting that while in a lot of countries I’m fairly close to the lefty-greeny-social liberal mainstream, in a few (Romania, Latvia, Turkey) I end up close to the most visible of their ethnic minorities, and in some (Bulgaria, Malta) there’s no party that really reflects my own views. Of course, if I lived or had grown up in Bulgaria or Malta, my views might well have been different. (I’m not surprised by the Maltese result, given the rather static politcs there, but it’s surprising that Bulgaria’s recent internal political volatility has not as yet produced any openings for the centre-left.

Well, that filled out my lunch break nicely!

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April Books 16) The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, by Larry Nemecek

I bought this cheap at an Irish sf con several years back (or possibly even won it in a raffle) and finally have got around to reading it. Slightly disappointed to find that it covers only the first five years of ST:TNG (1987 to 1992) and even more surprised to realise how few of the individual episodes I can remember having seen (specifically, Symbiosis, Identity Crisis and Unification).

But it does the duty of a book like this, each episode getting a very brief plot, cast and crew summary and a slightly longer behind-the-scenes commentary, with a bit more commentary of each of the seasons. I’m familiar enough with the sub-genre from my reading of Who commentaries that I can see this is a decent effort. Oddly enough it spurs me to (re)watch the Original Series more than any later version.

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April Books 15) The Romance of Crime, by Gareth Roberts

I liked this much more than the other Four / Romana II / K9 novel I’ve read, The Well-Mannered War, which as it happens is by the same author. Our heroes arrive on a sinister prison asteroid, where they find themselves at the centre of a plot involving miners, corrupt judges, criminal brothers based on the Krays, Ogrons, and a dead mind-stealing criminal. The Doctor accuses K9 of never knowing the answer when it’s something important, a glorious reference to the famous Tom Baker out-take. It all pretty much hangs together, Russell juggling multiple viewpoint characters without losing track of the story. One of the good ones.

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MEPs rated

Marco Cappato, an Italian Liberal MEP, has set up a website tracking the attendance and activity records of all the members of the current European Parliament. It’s mostly in French, and the eplanation of the methodology is not yet complete, but it is an interesting set of data: very glad to see some good friends of mine (Raul Romeva, Sarah Ludford, Ana Gomes) scoring highly; not at all surprised to see some big names rather low in the list.

In Belgium, top marks go to Gerard Deprez of the MR and Bart Staes of Groen!, with lowest marks going to the VLD’s Dirk Sterckx and CD&A leader Marianne Thyssen (who is a neighbour of ours). (Even they are not too bad, but they are the only Belgians who score below average.)

In Ireland, the top mark goes to veteran pol Prionsias De Rossa, now Labour, and the lowest mark (by quite some way – the only Irish MEP to score below average) goes to a fellow Dublin MEP, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald.

Of the British MEPs, Sarah Ludford of the Lib Dems takes top spot, followed by her fellow Londoner Charles Tannock (Conservative) and South-East England MEP Caroline Lucas (Green). The system ranks Chris Huhne bottom (which is a bit unfair as he stopped being an MEP four years ago) and then we have six of the UKIP crowd (including the now expelled Roger Knapman). Of the three from Northern Ireland, Jim Allister ranks 24th, Jim Nicholson 35th and Bairbre de Brún 57th.

The glitch with Huhne, and the incomplete and monolingual explanatory notes, suggest that there are still some gremlins in the system, but I’m glad Cappato has taken the initiative.

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Thought for the day

Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему.

Looking at international examples of conflict resolution, I have often felt that the same is true for countries.

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Polar orbits

Am I right in thinking that most surface-based observers will not usually see satellites in polar orbits pass over the celestial poles / pole star?

(And if you know which book I am reading, have I missed something, or is this a slip by the author?)

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April Books 14) EU Constitution: the Rubicon of Supranational, by Blerim Reka

This is an academic text on EU integration written by the current Macedonian ambassador to the EU in his native Albanian, with a handy 80-page English summary. It is already a bit dated, and it’s interesting just how much the debate has moved on from early 2007 when it was not at all clear that there would be another EU treaty to replace the failed Constitution, and all kinds of weird ideas were being thrown around (including by me). Reka eschews the temptation to provide his own answers, instead putting a number of questions to the EU from the perspective of a concerned outsider who wants to be an insider in due course. He draws quite a lot on the ideas of Andrew Duff MEP, who contributes a foreword. (I maybe should add that I know both Reka and Duff quite well.) It would have been more helpful for the English-speaking reader if Reka had got a native speaker to smooth out his prose, but we are not his primary audience, and I hope the students in Tetovo are grateful for his efforts.

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April Books 13) Pericles, Prince of Tyre, by William Shakespeare (and George Wilkins)

I swore four years ago, after reading this cruel but entirely accurate summary, that I would never bother with Pericles. Well, the rapidly dwindling list of Shakespeare plays brought me to break that oath, and I think it’s a bit of a lesson in how performance can shape your perception. Pericles is without doubt a very silly play, probably Shakespeare’s silliest (and the silly bits are shared evenly between the bits he wrote and the bits by brothel-keeper and part-time playwright George Wilkins). But if you just read the script, either on your own or without preparation among a bunch of friends (as Francis Heaney and his pals were doing), you miss out on the tremendous possibilities of performance by a cast who are just having fun with the absurdity of it: and it’s no worse than the average pantomime, and there are Shakespeare plays with better reputations but worse plot holes. There’s no deep observation of human nature here, but surely Shakespeare was entitled to the odd belly-laugh now and then (helped by Wilkins).

One thing that struck me (not mentioned by Heaney) was that the Chorus who steps in to give narrative background is explicitly identified with the medieval poet John Gower, and Wilkins actually tries to make him speak Middle English (Shakespeare doesn’t try as hard). He must be the most intrusive Chorus in the canon, giving away the punchlines before they happen. Again, the casual reader of the script wonders what the heck is going on, but a stage production can play it for laughs.

Arkangel don’t quite dare to do this with their Gower, who is Sir John Gielgud, aged 94. One gets a sense that the rest of the cast, led by Nigel Terry as Pericles (and with ex-vet Christopher Timothy as weak-willed Cleon) were trying to do a respectful performance. But the script doesn’t really allow for that, and it’s just as well.

One could not by any stretch of the imagination call Pericles a masterpiece, but it is very funny.

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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Science Fiction written in Irish

Delighted to find this article by Philip O’Leary of Boston College, discussing the rather minimal amount of sf written in Irish.

Even interpreting “science fiction” quite broadly—as we will do throughout this essay—we find startlingly little interest in a kind of writing with proven appeal for a wide range of readers—in many ways precisely the kind of writing one would expect to have most excited those in charge at An Gúm, people never faulted for their elite standards in literature… original Gaelic works of science fiction are thin on the ground and thoroughly mediocre.

What there is of it, O’Leary surveys pretty comprehensively, devoting a reasonable chunk of the essay to the works of Cathal Ó Sándair, “whose productivity and sales figures will almost certainly never be matched by any other writer of Irish.”

To get an idea of Ó Sándair’s approach we can focus here on An Captaen Spéirling, Spás-Phíolóta (Captaen Spéirling, Space-pilot) (Dublin, 1961). The story is set in 2000, when the earth’s most precious resource, uranium, is running out and war for what remains is imminent. An Irish scientist has, however, determined that there is an abundant supply on the moon. The Irish government benevolently decides to fund a mission to prove his theory and then secure and distribute the uranium to all countries on earth in need of it… Ó Sándair’s astronauts travel in a real rocket built and launched on the Curragh of Kildare. On the moon they discover a humanoid civilization whose members still bear the disfiguring scars of their own nuclear holocaust. The Irish manage to overcome their suspicions, win their trust, and acquire a huge supply of uranium on condition that it never be used to make weapons. More importantly, the moon people share with their new friends their own greatest technological advance, “so-ghaethe” (good rays), energy beams that immediately neutralize feelings of aggression and cause an overwhelming desire to cooperate. Needless to say, when the astronauts return to Ireland, their government arranges for these rays to be made available through the UN to every country on earth.

O’Leary does find one or two sparks of hope for the future, though more in the line of a sort of urban Celtic magical realism, including

Tomás Mac Síomóin’s Ag Altóir an Diabhail (2003), where contemporary Ireland’s cultural identity crisis is mirrored by the entirely unreliable narrator’s obsession with a lifelike robotic sex partner with interchangeable heads—he opts for Hilary Clinton and Mary Robinson.

I slightly question O’Leary’s analysis on one point: he buys into the widely-held view that interest in speaking and learning Irish tended to preclude any parallel interest in science. My own investigations (as part of my thesis, on-line separately here) lead me to conclude that the relationship is a bit more complex than that. But O’Leary’s observations are an important piece of evidence against my own revisionism.

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The nice people at this year’s Worldcon, Anticipation, have made available a large number of the nominees for electronic download by members of the convention. Thanks in particular should go to John Scalzi for getting this started.

The following nominees in the fiction categories are not included in the download:

Best Novel nominee: Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Best Novella nominee: “The Tear”, by Ian McDonald
Best Novelette nominee: “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner.

However, it does include all the Best Short Story nominees, and two complete books in the Best Related category – John Scalzi’s Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded and Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy, as well as an extract from Paul Kincaid’s What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction, by Paul Kincaid. I must say that the 55 Canadian dollars for a supporting membership for the Worldcon, which gets you all the fiction nominees not mentioned above (including novels by Gaiman, Stross, Scalzi and Doctorow) plus an actual vote for the Hugos is a very good deal.

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Susan Boyle

If you haven’t already heard of Susan Boyle, you really need to watch this extract from last weekend’s broadcast of a British TV talent show. As comments:

We love her because she reminds us that we don’t have to stop living at 47, or 57, or 67, or 77, or ever.

We love her because she reminds us that we don’t have to wait till we lose weight or get some new clothes or get a better job or make more money to start living.

We love her because she reminds us that we are already good enough to go on to our own next round (as it were).

We love her because she reminds us that we don’t have to let anyone else tell us who or what we are.

We love her because she reminds us that we don’t have to give up.

In addition, “I Dreamed A Dream” is one of my favourite songs from Les Miserables, and this is just fantastic.

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eBay question

I just won an auction for a PDA on eBay, for a pretty good price.

The seller has contacted me saying that the price is not high enough and they don’t want to sell it after all.

Since they didn’t set a reserve price, am I right in thinking that they darn well have to sell it to me for the value of my winning bid?

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Pictures from Burgundy

We had the Easter weekend in Burgundy, which explains why I missed out on #amazonfail and similar events over the last few days but read plenty of books. Pictures below the cut. (None of little U here because she was a bit off-colour and quiet, now fully recovered though.)

and little S, now aged seven months

F and his cousin (compare picture from October here)

F meets an old friend of mine (who some of you will recognise)

Rollerblading! Renting skates from LudiSport (warning – site plays music at you). I did not last as long as my wife and son.

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