Books acquired October 2009

Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies by Janice Capel Anderson
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
From Genocide to Continental War: The Congolese Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa by Gerard Prunier
Sudan: The Bradt Travel Guide by Paul Clammer
Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse by Brigid Keenan
Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Between structure and No-thing: An annotated reader in Social and Cultural Anthropology by Patrick J. Devlieger
A History of Anthropology by Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Superior Beings by Nick Walters
Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books

Non-fiction: 6 (YTD 80)

Fiction (non-sf): 4 (YTD 52)

SF (non-Who): 7 (YTD 79)

Doctor Who: 4 (YTD 60)

6 (YTD 60/301) by women (Brontë, Gentle, Kingsolver, Hurston, Jenkins, Mosse)
1 (YTD 14/301) by PoC (Hurston)
Total page count ~8,200 (YTD ~88,900)
Owned for more than a year: 7 (Wuthering Heights [reread], The Meaning of Tingo, An Empire of Plants, White Crow, Year’s Best SF 6 [reread], Year’s Best SF 7 [reread], Labyrinth)
Also reread: To Your Scattered Bodies Go (YTD 35 rereads)

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 20) Elizabeth the Great, by Elizabeth Jenkins

I have to say this is one of the more interesting biographies of Elizabeth I that I have read. Jenkins makes a good argument that Elizabeth’s determination to remain unmarried stemmed not just from the abuse she suffered in her teens from her stepmother, Catherine Parr, and Parr’s new husband Seymour, but also from the childhood echoes of her own mother’s execution – an event she could barely remember, but which was echoed in the beheading of another stepmother when she was eight. Apparently she told Leicester at one point that she had been determined never to marry since the age of eight; as Jenkins more or less puts it, join the dots.

Armed with this assumption, Jenkins has Elizabeth enjoying the thrills of the romantic chase but consciously or subconsciously determined never to reach the point that her male suitors desired to reach – she almost got caught out by the Duc d’Alençon, but I think she always knew that Parliament would never approve the marriage. She flaunted her body to her suitors (and indeed to others) but evaded physical contact. I found Jenkins’ analysis very convincing.

Jenkins also offered further insights into a number of other Elizabethan questions. First, she is very good at analysing Mary Queen of Scots – there is an interesting study to be done comparing and contrasting how she and her grandson ended up losing their heads for rather similar reasons. Second, I now understand rather better one of the ways in which the Irish question shifted during Elizabeth’s reign – once her cousin and prisoner Mary had been acknowledged as potentially legitimate by the Pope and the French and Spanish, a wholly new basis emerged for continental intervention in Irish affairs. Third, Jenkins is rather positive on English Catholics, most of whom remained loyal to Elizabeth except in extremis; the students at the English College in Rome cheered when they heard the Armada had failed in 1588.

And fourth, dancing at court masques and balls is frequently mentioned by Jenkins as an essential part of the political equation. There’s lots of exciting interdisciplinary research to be done there. I’ll bluntly assert that it’s difficult to imagine dancing being an important factor while either of Elizabeth’s siblings was on the throne. (NB that Shakespeare’s Henry VIII has her father gatecrashing a dance incognito, in order to seduce her mother.) But again, I don’t recall a single mention of dancing among the distractions available for government officials in Ireland in Elizabeth’s day; it looks like this was an activity driven by the queen’s personal preferences. (And my namesake and ancestor gets two brief mentions in the book, both favourable!)

Anyway, this was well worth searching out. The book is fifty years old, but stands up well in comparison with more recent works on the same subject.

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 19) Doctor Who – Slipback

There is a minor character in this novel who is an unsuccessful author:

When Horace’s book was finally published, it was viciously attacked by the critics. This was sad, as no-one had been able to disprove anything he had written. It was even sadder that the critics, blinded by their own prejudice, could not see the energy, grace and skill that had gone into the book’s construction. Even if, as they believed, every word was untrue, they chose to ignore the incredible flights of imagination necessary to argue such a theory. But worse still – as they were supposedly people of education and letters – they could not see or appreciate the pure, good writing which was on the page. Although the book sold well, it was bought for all the wrong reasons. People would memorise passages from it, then regurgitate them at drinks parties, laughing. like blocked drains as they did. It had become chic to mock Horace. Unable to cope with the ridicule, Horace retired into obscurity. Two years later he died of a broken heart.

It’s tempting to interpret this as Eric Saward justifying himself: a misunderstood and underappreciated genius, the quality of whose work will be apparent to the ages though not to the contemporary critic. Given everything else I know about Saward, actually, I am pretty convinced. Doctor Who – Slipback is a desperate attempt to channel Douglas Adams, even more desperate than the radio series on which it was based. Planets and people have comical names and bizarre characteristics; and threats to the universe are both gruesome and bathetic. I think this actually is a worse book than Saward’s novelisation of The Twin Dilemma, though I’m not rereading it in order to form a more precise judgement. Certainly neither is interesting enough in their awfulness to be worth memorising and regurgitating at drinks parties.

Douglas Adams did it much better, not just because his prose style in general was vastly superior to Saward’s but also because he had a coherent sense of world-building, both for his own fiction and for the Who stories he wrote; and his humour was self-deprecating rather than defensive.

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 18) Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

I have to say that I don’t quite get Wuthering Heights. Yes, I suppose the destructive psychological relationship between Heathcliff and the elder Cathy is rather grimly fascinating, as is a train crash; but that takes up only the second quarter of the book. There are elements which are difficult to accept for today’s reader – the appearance of Cathy’s ghost at the beginning, the almost nonchalant violence perpetrated by Heathcliff throughout. The descriptive passages, both of the human relationships and of the natural environment, are vivid and memorable, but I find the repeating pattern of destructive and inescapable family relationships rather depressing and, frankly, not terribly interesting.

Posted in Uncategorised

Unread books from 2005

Back in late 2005, I entered all the books on our shelves into LibraryThing, and tagged 133 of them as “unread”, ie hoping that I would read them some day. Well, that day has arrived; I have read 122 of them, and will not read the other 11. (Why not? Well, three were ebooks on my Palm T|X when it finally gave up the ghost – I think they were all short stories or extracts anyway, so probably shouldn’t have counted. Two of them I just can’t find, but will read if they ever show up. Three are from series of books that I do not feel I need to rea any more of – the Alexander McCall Smith books, and E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman books. Two I gave up on before starting, when I realised that they were academic works too specialised for my tastes or interest. And one I realised I had in fact already read.)

Of the 122 which I have in fact read, I got through 41 in 2006, 39 in 2007, 24 in 2008 and the last 18 in 2009. (Those figures include 10 that I started but gave up on.) The full list, with font size adjusted for how much I liked them, is as follows:

God’s Clockmaker John North 2006
Anansi Boys Neil Gaiman 2006
Shutterbug Follies Jason Little 2006
First Man: the Life of Neil Armstrong James Hansen 2006
Little Women Louisa May Alcott 2006
Learning the World Ken MacLeod 2006
Hidden Camera Zoran Živković 2006
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire Amanda Foreman 2006
Alexander Hamilton Ron Chernow 2006
Malachy Brian Scott 2006
A hat full of sky Terry Pratchett 2006
Alternate Generals Harry Turtledove 2006
Daughter of the Drow Elaine Cunningham 2006
The triumph of the West J. M. Roberts 2006
The Prisoner Thomas M Disch 2006
The Complete Enchanter L.Sprague De Camp 2006
Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams M.J. Simpson 2006
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro 2006
Galactic Patrol E. E. Smith 2006
The Red Badge of Courage Stephen Crane 2006
The lady of the shroud Bram Stoker 2006
The Wreck of the River of Stars Michael Flynn 2006
Southern Fire Juliet McKenna 2006
Persuasion Jane Austen 2006
The God of Small Things Arundhati Roy 2006
Beloved Toni Morrison 2006
The System of the World Neal Stephenson 2006
The lovely bones Alice Sebold 2006
Villette Charlotte Bronte 2006
The color purple Alice Walker 2006
Star songs of an old primate James Tiptree 2006
The Reader Bernhard Schlink 2006
This Was Not Our War Swanee Hunt 2006
The great English pilgrimage Christopher Donaldson 2006
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee Dee Brown 2006
The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon 2006
Crooked little heart Anne Lamott 2006
Lord Jim Joseph Conrad 2006
Notes From a Small Island Bill Bryson 2006
An intimate history of humanity Theodore Zeldin 2006
Joan of Arc: the image of female heroism Marina Warner 2006
The Art of War Sun Tzu 2007
The Secret Visitors James White 2007
The Mill on the Floss George Eliot 2007
Spin State Chris Moriarty 2007
Master of Earth and Water Diana L. Paxson 2007
In Search of the Dark Ages Michael Wood 2007
After Dinner Speaking Fawcett Boom 2007
The Search for Roots Primo Levi 2007
800 Years of Womens Letters Olga Kenyon 2007
Blindness Jose Saramago 2007
The Way to Babylon Paul Kearney 2007
The Epic of Gilgamesh 2007
The Druid King Norman Spinrad 2007
The Age of Kali William Dalrymple 2007
Islam in Azerbaijan Arif Yunusov 2007
Sailing to Sarantium Guy Gavriel Kay 2007
The True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod 2007
Gilead Marilynne Robinson 2007
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies Alexander McCall Smith 2007
The Mabinogion Jeffrey Gantz 2007
Wild Swans Jung Chang 2007
The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen 2007
Three to see the king Magnus Mills 2007
Once in a Blue Moon Magnus Mills 2007
The Discovery of the Germ John Waller 2007
Wilt In Nowhere Tom Sharpe 2007
What Ifs? Of American History 2007
Last and First Men Olaf Stapledon 2007
Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century Mark Leonard 2007
The Kalahari typing school for men Alexander McCall Smith 2007
Blind Voices Tom Reamy 2007
The Shore of Women Pamela Sargent 2007
The full cupboard of life Alexander McCall Smith 2007
Oscar and Lucinda Peter Carey 2007
The Happy Prince and Other Tales Oscar Wilde 2007
Athens-Skopje: An Uneasy Symbiosis Evangelos Kofos 2007
Μακεδονία (Macedonia): A Greek Name in Modern Usage 2007
Democratisation in Southeast Europe Dusan Pavlovic 2007
Dhalgren Samuel R. Delany 2007
Endgame in Ireland Eamonn Mallie 2008
National Lampoon’s Doon Ellis Weiner 2008
No great mischief Alistair MacLeod 2008
Trillion year spree Brian Wilson Aldiss 2008
Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction 2008
The embarrassment of riches Simon Schama 2008
Great War Breakthroughs Harry Turtledove 2008
The Cornelius Quartet Michael Moorcock 2008
The Prince of Tides Pat Conroy 2008
Kosova Express James Pettifer 2008
The Phoenix Exultant John C. Wright 2008
Shadowkings Michael Cobley 2008
The Conquest of Gaul Julius Caesar 2008
Peace Gene Wolfe 2008
Teranesia Greg Egan 2008
The pilgrim’s regress C. S Lewis 2008
The Faded Sun Trilogy C. J. Cherryh 2008
The Ill-Made Mute Cecilia Dart-Thornton 2008
The Golden Transcendence John C. Wright 2008
The English: A Portrait of a People Jeremy Paxman 2008
The Duke And I Julia Quinn 2008
Astra and Flondrix Seamus Cullen 2008
Sunrise Alley Catherine Asaro 2008
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 Tony Judt 2008
Fortunata and Jacinta Benito Perez Galdos 2009
The go-between L. P. Hartley 2009
The Road from Coorain Jill Ker Conway 2009
Rocks of Ages Stephen Jay Gould 2009
Red Branch Morgan Llywelyn 2009
Jennie Paul Gallico 2009
Resurrection Leo Tolstoy 2009
Music & silence Rose Tremain 2009
The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer 2009
Cities of salt Abd al-Rahman Munif 2009
The Devil’s Highway Luis Alberto Urrea 2009
The Enchanted Isles K.C. Flynn 2009
Misspent Youth Peter F. Hamilton 2009
Hotel Rwanda: Bringing the True Story of an African Hero to Film 2009
Sacred Visions Andrew M. Greeley 2009
Appleseed John Clute 2009
England’s Troubles Jonathan Scott 2009
White Crow Mary Gentle 2009
The Man in the Iron Mask Alexandre Dumas lost with Palm T|X
The Prisoner of Chillon James Patrick Kelly lost with Palm T|X
Dreams of the Compass Rose [Excerpt] Vera Nazarian lost with Palm T|X
Quidditch through the ages J. K. Rowling lost
The Bessarabian Question in Communist Historiography Wim P. Van Meurs lost
The Sunday Philosophy Club Alexander McCall Smith gave up on series
Grey Lensman E. E. Doc Smith gave up on series
Second Stage Lensmen E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith gave up on series
Science Fiction and Postmodern Fiction: A Genre Study Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz decided it was not for me
The revolution of the saints Michael Walzer decided it was not for me
Battle of Forever A E Van Vogt realised I had already read it

There are currently 15 books on my shelf tagged “unread” and acquired during the calendar year 2006, mostly sf anthologies (The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Second Annual Collection ed. by Gardner Dozois, Irish tales of terror ed. by Jim McGarry, Forbidden Acts ed. by Nancy A. Collins, Seasons of Plenty by Colin Greenland, Mother of Plenty by Colin Greenland, The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe, Visions of Wonder ed. by David G. Hartwell, Thunderbirds Bumper Storybook by Dave Morris, The Two Faces of Islam by Stephen Schwartz, Radical Islams Rules by Paul Marshall, Analog 6 ed. by John W Campbell, Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks, Untold Stories by Alan Bennett, Half-life of a Zealot by Swanee Hunt and The Space Opera Renaissance ed. by David G. Hartwell). Will report back when I have finished them.

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 17) White Crow, by Mary Gentle

A few years ago, shortly before I began bookblogging, I read and totally loved Mary Gentle’s Ash. More recently, I was rather disappointed with her 1610. I’m afraid that White Crow was more towards the 1610 end of the scale. It brings together three short stories about her protagonists Valentine and Casaubon, and three novels, Rats and Gargoyles, Left to his Own Devices and The Architecture of Desire. Most of the stories are set in varyingly 17th or 18th century milieux, with a heavy admixture of Hermetic magic. I am afraid the only one I really liked was the exception to this setting, the near-future cyberpunkish Left to his Own DevicesAsh, but I couldn’t really recommend them.

Posted in Uncategorised


…to see that the registrar in tomorrow’s SJA episode is played by Zienia Merton, who was Ping-Cho in the 1964 Doctor Who story Marco Polo. I think this must give her the record for greatest elapsed time between her earliest and most recent appearance in Doctor Who and its spinoffs – apparently she is in Friday’s episode as well so that will be 45 years, 8 months and 7 days since 22 February 1964. (Of course, that is counting televised versions only – Carole Anne Ford is in a Big Finish audio release as Susan later this year, 46 years on.)

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 16) In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

I don’t read much true crime, though I am as fascinated as anyone by the story of human wickedness. This seemed to me a particularly good (and early) example of the genre, with Capote following events through the stories of the victims, the investigators and the perpetrators, from just before it happened to the day of the executions. The crimes in question took place fifty years ago next month, when the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas, were murdered by two men who had recently been paroled from the state prison. Capote devotes a lot of the book to a not unsympathetic psychological portrait of Hickock and Smith, the two killers; though the description of the Kansas environment where the Clutter family lived and died (based partly on notes by Harper Lee, who had just finished writing To Kill A Mockingbird) is also rather memorable. The book was originally published as a series of long articles in The New Yorker, and retains a couple of journalistic touches; the most intrusive of these is that Capote can’t quite decide to keep himself out of the picture he is creating. I see that there have been two recent films about how Capote wrote this book, which is somehow not surprising.

Posted in Uncategorised

This Month’s Who from Big Finish

Time to write up the two October releases from Big Finish – a Companion Chronicle with Lalla Ward reprising Romana II, and a new Five/Nyssa story set in the village of Stockbridge and partly in the twelfth century. I had read reviews of both of these over at Unreality SF (here and here) so this slightly coloured my expectations. I have to say that in both cases I enjoyed them slightly more than the Unreality SF reviewers did.

The Pyralis Effect is a standard Doctor and aliens runabout. My expectations for this were pretty low, based partly on

‘s review but largely on the fact that it is by George Mann, whose fiction and non-fiction has failed to impress me. The fact that it more or less held my attention to the end has to be considered a major triumph, and (given the discussion in the extra tracks of the number of rewrites extracted from Mann by Big Finish) a triumph shared by many. Let us consider it equivalent in quality to the average Season 17 story, and leave it there.

On the other hand, I quite liked The Castle of Fear. Partly, it made me nostalgic for The Kingmaker, which is one of my favourite Big Finish audios; it’s not as good, but then few Who stories are. I hate John Sessions, and luckily all the bits I thought weren’t funny enough were the bits with him in, so I was happy enough to enjoy the rest. A clever plot, just about as funny as it could bear (Sessions apart), and good stuff from Davison and Sutton. John Sessions fans (the mad, deluded fools) will like this one.

Posted in Uncategorised

Who’s On What

I have been pondering the amount of material on each Doctor available in the Whoniverse, considering TV, audio and novels/novellas (I’m not quite sure how to tabulate comics and short story collections).

Time on TV

This is uncontroversial. The order is:

  1. Four
  2. One
  3. Three
  4. Two
  5. Ten
  6. Five
  7. Seven
  8. Six
  9. Nine
  10. Eight

This is counting screen time as the Doctor. There have been more individual Tenth Doctor televised stories than for any other except Four, but most of them are only a single 50-minute episode, so in screen time he is still behind Two, though I think now comfortably ahead of Five.


  1. Eight
  2. Seven

It is a tight squeeze at the top, but Eight just beats Seven – there are 73 Eighth Doctor Adventures, and he features as lead or joint lead also in 2 Past Doctor Adventures and 3 Telos novellas. That is a total of 78, just ahead of Seven’s total of 76 (61 Virgin New Adventures, 1 Missing Adventure, 12 Past Doctor Adventures, and 2 Telos novellas).

  1. Ten

There are now 30 New Series Adventures, 12 Decide Your Destiny books, 10 Darksmith Legacy books, and 5 Quick Read novellas featuring the Tenth Doctor, which makes a total of 57. I doubt if he will catch the leaders now.

  1. Four and Six

For Four I count 8 Virgin Missing Adventures, 12 Past Doctor Adventures, and 1 Telos novella; I am not counting the novelization of Doctor Who and The Pescatons. For Six I count the three 3 Target Missing Episodes, 5 Virgin Missing Adventures, 11 Past Doctor Adventures, 1 Telos novella, and the charity production Time’s ChampionSlipback. In both cases that is 21 books with Four or Six as lead or co-lead.

  1. One
  2. Three
  3. Two
  4. Five

Actually all four of these are pretty close. For One I count 5 Missing Adventures, 8 Past Doctor Adventures, 2 Telos novellas, the scripts of The Masters of Luxor and Farewell Great Macedon and a half point for Jim Mortimore’s Campaign, for 17½. For Three I count 5 Missing Adventures, 11 Past Doctor Adventures, and 1 Telos novella but not the novelizations of the radio plays, which makes 17. For Two, there are 4 Virgin Missing Adventures, 10 Past Doctor Adventures, and 2 Telos novellas; and for Five there are 5 Virgin Missing Adventures, 10 Past Doctor Adventures, and 1 Telos novella, which is 16 each. I bump Five ahead of Two on the basis that a Missing Adventure beats a Telos novella.

  1. Nine

There are 6 Ninth Doctor books and I doubt if there will be any more.


  1. Eight

He may be bottom of the pack for TV time but beats the others in terms of audios as well as books, thanks to Big Finish treating him as the incumbent Doctor for much of the 2001-2005 period, and then the BBC7 series.

  1. Six
  2. Five
  3. Seven

Presumably this ranking reflects simple availability of the lead actors to do the Big Finish plays.

  1. Three
  2. Four

This is very tight and subject to change. I am crediting Three for 7 Companion Chronicles, The Ghosts of N-Space and The Paradise of Death, and also for the not-yet-complete The Three Companions, which makes sort-of 10 stories in total; while Four has The Pescatons, Exploration Earth, the first two parts of The Hornets’ Nest and 5 Companion Chronicles, making 9. But this will look different in a few months.

  1. Two
  2. Ten and One

Again this is very tight. All three of them have five complete audio stories – 5 Companion Chronicles for One and Two, and 5 audio-only novels for Ten. I put Two ahead though because he also features in the ongoing The Three Companions, which gives him a sixth.

  1. Nine

Poor old Nine has no audios out at all.


For what it’s worth, averaging out the rankings you get the following:

  1. Four – Top on screen time, decent number of books, let down by his audios but is improving there
  2. Eight – just tops books and audios, but way way behind on screen time.
  3. Seven – strong competitor on audios and books, let down by screen time
  4. Six – likewise
  5. Three – decent mid-list on books and audios, pulled up slightly by screen time
  6. One – tie with Ten broken by having more screen time though fewer books and same audios
  7. Ten – now unlikely to rise higher, unless he starts doing audios
  8. Five – surprised to see him this low, but only scores well on audios
  9. Two – despite good screen time, has not been the most popular subject of spinoff fiction
  10. Nine – poor chap, least books, no audios, and second shortest screen time

Posted in Uncategorised

The North Down conundrum

North Down is a peculiar parliamentary constituency even by Northern Ireland’s rather odd standards. It is currently (since 2005) the only seat held by the Ulster Unionist Party, in the shape of Lady Sylvia Hermon; from 1995 to 2001 it was the only seat held by Bob McCartney’s UK Unionist Party; and from 1980 to 1995 it was the only seat held by Sir James Kilfedder’s Ulster Popular Unionist Party.

But while Kilfedder and McCartney were effectively one-man-bands with the occasional sidekick, the Ulster Unionist Party is the former party of government for the half-century of Stormont rule. It has now fallen on hard times, and lost five of its six Westminster seats in 2005 (Lady Hermon being the sole survivor). In the 2007 election from the Northern Ireland Assembly, the party came fourth in terms of first preferences, winning 18 of 108 seats with less than 15% of the vote.

Since early 2008, the UUP has been exploring closer links with Britain’s Conservative Party, who are pretty much certain to win the British election due next year. The history here is that the UUP were in fact organically part of the British Tories until the early 1970s. They then broke off that relationship. In the late 1980s, local Conservative associations were set up in Northern Ireland, and over the next few years came close to but never quite made a crebible electoral breakthrough. Their strongest area was North Down: Conservative candidates got a quarter of the votes cast for North Down’s borough council in 1989, and their local leader got 32% in the 1992 Westminster election.

Over the next few years the Northern Ireland Tories crashed and burned. The long slow death of John Major’s government and the early Blair years were not good times for the Conservative brand anywhere in the UK. After 1992 the Conservatives failed to score above 1.3% in any election, getting a handful of councillors each time.

However, this is probably a better time to be associated with the Conservative brand, given the party’s ascendancy in the mainland polls. The UUP’s veteran MEP Jim Nicholson stood in this year’s European elections with Conservative support, and actually posted a mild increase in his vote share from 2004 – 17.1% rather than 16.6%. The UUP, whose Assembly team is shockingly middle-aged and male, clearly hopes for some revitalisation from the Conservatives.

This will come at a cost. Lady Hermon, the party’s sole sitting MP, has made it clear that she is Labour in sympathy and will have nothing whatever to do with the Conservatives. The Tories in North Down, meanwhile, have selected as their candidate one Ian Parsley, who recently defected from the Alliance Party after having been their candidate in June’s European election. The DUP are waiting in the wings with Peter Weir, who was at one point in his career the UUP’s candidate for the seat (before being deselected in Lady Hermon’s favour, and subsequently defecting to the DUP). Latest reports, which may be based on no more than reading the numbers, have her considering a run as an independent, possibly with Alliance support (though I am not aware of internal Alliance thinking on that option).

So, who will win? The votes in the 2005 Westminster election, with changes from 2001 (when Alliance didn’t stand) were:

Sylvia Hermon (UUP) 16,268 (50.4% -5.6%)
Peter Weir (DUP) 11,324 (35.1%)
Alliance 2,451 (7.6%)
SDLP 1,009 (3.1% -0.3%)
Conservative 822 (2.5% +0.3%)
Independent 211 (0.7%)
Sinn Fein 205 (0.6% -0.2%)

But in the local council election on the same day, it was a different picture (NB fractional votes here because there is one electoral district equally divided between North down and a neighbouring constituency):

DUP 11,034 (34.3%)
UUP 7,343.5 (22.8%)
Alliance 4,958 (15.4%)
Independents 3,180 (9.9%)
Green 2,639 (8.2%)
Women’s Coalition 738 (2.3%)
UKUP 734 (2.3%)
PUP 651 (2.0%)
SDLP 526 (1.6%)
Conservative 353 (1.1%)

We can take it that half of those who voted Alliance at the local election, and most of those who supported the independent, Green and Women’s Coalition candidates, backed Lady Hermon for Westminster. The results of the 2007 Assembly election were pretty similar to those of the 2005 local election (changes here from the 2002 Assembly votes):

DUP 10,469 (34.1%, +10.6%)
UUP 7,280 (23.7%, -8.4%)
Alliance 3,131 (10.2%, +1.6%)
Green 2,839 (9.2%, +6.9%)
UKUP 1,806 (5.9%, -5.7%)
Inds 1,317 (4.3%)
Ind U 1,129 (3.7%, +0.2%)
SDLP 1,115 (3.6%, -1.3%)
Conservative 864 (2.8%, +1.2%)
SF 390 (1.3%, +0.4%)
PUP 367 (1.2%, +0.2%)

It’s pretty clear then that the DUP’s core vote in recent elections is 34%, and the UUP’s is 23% if Hermon is not on the ballot. It’s also clear that habitual Alliance and Green voters will be likely to peel off and support Hermon whether or not their own parties are standing; this is less true, but less important, for the SDLP and Sinn Fein. UKUP’s 5.9% in 2007 can be taken as a likely indicator of strength for Jim Allister’s hardline TUV if they choose to stand. We can also assume that the Conservative votes will all go to the joint UUP/conservative candidate if there is one.

On this basis, I think I can make the following set of predictions:

  1. If Hermon is endorsed as the UUP candidate, whether or not jointly with the Conservatives, she is very likely to retain the seat.
  2. If she stands as an independent, she has a pretty good chance as well. This rises to a near certainty if she is formally or informally endorsed by Alliance and the Greens. Without such an endorsement, she will need to repeat her record of pulling in non-UUP votes and also persuade at least half of the UUP’s habitual voters to abandon their party’s official candidate and support her, in order to beat the DUP who one assumes will have support in the mid-30s. If the UUP officially supports Ian Parsley, who will then be a Conservative running with UUP support, this will not be too difficult a task.
  3. If Lady Hermon decides not to contest the seat at all, then it is more open. However it is pretty clear from the numbers that the DUP are ahead of the field.

This has been much discussed on Slugger O’Toole, especially here. (I see one SDLP supporter thinks that with a sufficiently split Unionist vote, the Stoops might have a chance. Bless.)

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 12-14) Three Fifth Doctor novels

October Books 12) King of Terror, by Keith Topping

I am relieved to report that King of Terror is the best Doctor Who book I have read by Keith Topping. This is faint praise, because I really did not like either Byzantium! or Ghost Ship. The prose style seemed a bit more under control here, though it still isn’t a very good book: lots of gratuitous violence, rather improbable scenes not quite involving sex (separately) for Tegan and Turlough, and peculiar unexplained irrelevancies like the Doctor’s dislike of the CIA, and Tegan’s future marriage to the rock-star son of Ian and Barbara. One to skip.

October Books 13) Imperial Moon, by Christopher Bulis

This is a different matter. Bulis has made some effort to get to grips with the Victorian boys’ adventure genre, and here we have a British expedition landing on the Moon in 1878, seen off by the Queen herself (and thus inspiring my question about steampunk the other day). There’s also a slightly contrived but not too horrible subplot of the Tardis crew crossing their own timeline, and Bulis even finds two useful things for Kamelion to do (which is two more than ever happened on television). I didn’t quite swallow the ultimate reveal about the aliens or the Doctor’s trigger-happy way of dealing with the problem, but it is at least a decent effort.

October Books 14) Superior Beings, by Nick Walters

I think this is my first book by Walters, whose Wikipedia page describes him as the author of many Doctor Who novels (where “many” apparently means “four”). He has done rather well on characterising Peri as young, vulnerable, and actually interested in botany; she is pursued as sexual prey by one non-human and then as literal prey by the nasties when they show up. The nasties are engaged on a mad religious quest as well as killing and eating passers-by, and the Doctor inevitably has to put a stop to it. It is a decent enough novel but I could have survived without quite so many scenes of brutal dismemberment, and also there was the odd annoying editorial slip.

I wouldn’t really recommend any of these three to someone other than a Doctor Who completist, and would not really recommend King of Terror to anyone at all.

Posted in Uncategorised

Health whine

I got my jabs for my Africa trip eleven days ago, and they warned me at the hospital that I might suffer a reaction from the yellow fever one within five to ten days. Sure enough, I was groggy all last week and totally knocked out for most of Tuesday. By yesterday, though, I thought I was over it.

However I came home yesterday with a severe pain in the left biceps. Not quite where the tetanus / polio jab went in, but within a few centimetres, and I seem to remember a similar reaction to tetanus jabs before. Saw the doctor this morning who diagnosed an inflammation of the muscle (which is really a symptom rather than a condition) and prescribed industrial-strength ibuprofen. Am rather fed up with all this.

Posted in Uncategorised


The place I will be staying in the first week of November is visible on Google Earth, with photographs, at 4°50’25” N, 31°37’5″ E – reassuring to see what it looks like, though I guess the photos won’t convey the temperature.

Posted in Uncategorised

Steampunk and Doctor Who

I am thinking about which Doctor Who stories fit into the steampunk sub-genre – indeed, some of them are elderly enough to have helped inspire it. Come to think of it, the whole concept of the programme, in which the leading actor, born in the reign of Edward VII was made up to look ten years older and in control of technology centuries further advanced, is part of the cultural mix from which steampunk emerged.

One has to be careful not to just include any story with a 19th-century or early 20th-century setting. There is nothing in the least steampunkish about The Gunfighters or Timelash, for instance, despite the supposed 19th-century setting of thee one and the presence of the young H.G. Wells in the other (and one would have to stretch a long way to include Pyramids of Mars or Black Orchid). But I think it’s pretty clear that the following could be considered at least a little steampunk:

Evil of the Daleks – Victorian inventor produces time machine – what more could you want?

Talons of Weng Chiang – granted that the technology itself is not indigenous to the 19th century, but the attitude to Asian people certainly is. (And the recent Big Finish sequel, The Mahogany Murders, is definitely steampunk.)

Enlightenment – the sailing ships may be from all parts of history, and the centre of historical gravity probably nearer the 18th than 19th century, but really, I look at it and I say “steampunk!”

Tooth and Claw – rather than The Unquiet Dead, even though they both have 19th-century settings, because T&C has Queen Victoria and a telescope rather than ghosts and leaking gas.

(Imagine if The Red Fort had ever been made…)

Various thoughts about audios and books, but I’ll pause here.

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 11) The Meaning of Tingo, by Adam Jacot de Boinot

The author is a researcher for the Stephen Fry quiz show QI, and the book basically reads like an extended set of QI rounds about funny words in foreign languages, all mildly amusing. I spotted one spelling error – the excellent Serbian word inat is given as iant – and there may be others, but I will not be consumed by vengeful spite over it; also I imagine there is room for interpretation of some of the definitions, such as the 10 Albanian ways of describing a moustache, which to be do not seem very different from the ways we describe different moustaches in English.

Going back to spelling, I was a bit dubious of the example given of a word with five consecutive consonants – cmrlj which is Slovenian for bumble-bee – first off, “lj” is a single letter in Slovenian and second I think the “r” is basically functioning as a vowel there. (If you are trying to say it to yourself, remember that “c” is pronounced “ts”.) However there is no doubting the authenticity of the Dutch word with eight consecutive consonants, angstschreeuw – linguists may cry out in fear and horror that “ch” is a single phoneme, but it is spelt with two letters. (Again, if you are trying to say that to yourself, remember that “s” and “ch” are pronounced distinctly in Dutch, unlike in German.)

Like the TV programme it is based on, the book is a little too pleased with its own cleverness, but fun all the same.

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 10) The Dissolution of the Religious Orders in Ireland under Henry VIII, by Brendan Br

I knew Brendan Bradshaw, genial and intellectual priest and historian, while I was a student at Cambridge – indeed, I asked him to marry me, but unfortunately he wasn’t available on the day. (I will wait while you unscramble that sentence.)

I hadn’t realised how big a contribution this book had been to Irish historical studies. It is a micro-study of one policy area concentrated on a period of a few years and geographically restricted mainly to the core areas of English rule in Ireland. But he puts forward, entirely convincingly, the evidence that the suppression of the Irish monasteries was driven at least as much by local circumstances and leaders as by the demands of Henry VIII, and that in fact it was no big deal – the monasteries had long since lost their way as centres of spiritual leadership, or even providers of public welfare, and had become blocks on economic and political development. The monks were in general easily bought off, and the only demonstration of popular protest against their dissolution was the successful mobilisation of public opinion in Dublin to save Christ Church Cathedral. The policy enabled Henry VIII to pull the Gaelic lords (and the Earl of Desmond) more tightly into his project of transforming Ireland from a Lordship to a Kingdom, with considerable success.

Of course, I’m reading this as background for my own Tudor Ireland project. One James White, the recorder of Waterford, is recorded as having visited Cork in the spring of 1541 in order to help survey and dissolve the monasteries in both city and county. It’s not an uncommon name, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is the same James White who was my direct ancestor and died of poisoning while visiting London five years later.

Posted in Uncategorised

October Books 9) To Your Scattered Bodies Go, by Philip José Farmer

I am always a bit nervous about returning to books I enjoyed when I was much younger. Will the magic survive? I had fond memories of Farmer’s four-part Riverboat series, despite the very unsatisfactory ending, and the peculiarly anal accuracy of some descriptions (“the mountains were seven miles or 11265 metres high”, if I remember correctly from one of the later books). There is a brilliant central sensawunda concept: all of humanity who ever lived (up to the year 2008, and who survived past the age of seven) are resurrected on the shores of a world-twisting river, apparently as some gigantic social anthropology experiment. Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor) attempts to find out What Is Really Going On, aided in later volumes by Samuel Clemens / Mark Twain.

Coming back to the first book 25 years after I first read it, I am sorry to say that I found it pretty dire. Farmer is too dazzled by the audacious brilliance of his concept to actually write interesting characters or settings – one early warning is when he writes himself into the book, as Peter Joseph Frigate, to tell us just how interesting Burton is. There are numerous blunders of racial or gender sensitivity, of which the most boringly repetitive is a bizarre fixation with Hermann Göring. Extraordinarily, everyone in the world gets bacon and eggs for breakfast, steak for dinner, and marijuana to smoke in between. And yet nothing is actually resolved in plot terms in the book. I’m afraid that this goes right to the bottom of the Hugo winners on my list, keeping company with They’d Rather Be Right, Hominids, The Gods Themselves and Neuromancer.

(One problem I had with the book which I suspect is not Farmer’s fault – my memory of the original version of the erotic encounter between Burton and Alice Liddell in Chapter 8 was that they explicitly have drug-fuelled sex, but the relevant paragraphs seem to have been cut from my recently acquired 1998 Ballantine edition; is my memory of the 1971 original incorrect? Or is it a peculiar act of censorship by Ballantine/Del Rey?)

Other Hugo nominees that year were The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin, Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey, Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny, and that year’s Nebula winner, A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg. I don’t think I have read the McCaffrey; the other three are all manifestly better novels than To Your Scattered Bodies Go, but I guess lacked the sensawunda that Hugo voters like.

Posted in Uncategorised

EU telecoms package?

I haven’t been following this issue lately, so was a bit alarmed to see a tweet from Sophie in’t Veld MEP, saying that while the Liberal in the European Parliament will oppose the “three strikes” law cutting off access to the internet, the Socialists and Christian Democrats are in favour of it. Can anyone point me at the latest on this?

Posted in Uncategorised