Books acquired February

What Made Now in Northern Ireland by Maurna Crozier
Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter by Russell T. Davies
The Essential Rumi
The End of the Third Age (The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part 4) by J.R.R. Tolkien
The War of the Ring: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Three by J.R.R. Tolkien
Treason of Isengard: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Two by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Return of the Shadow: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part One (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
RG Veda Volume 3 by Clamp
Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction by Michael White
Alexander the Corrector: The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden’s Concordance Unwrote the Bible by Julia Keay
1688: A Global History by John E. Wills
The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
Godslayer: Volume II of The Sundering by Jacqueline Carey
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
The Eternity Code (Artemis Fowl) by Eoin Colfer
Faust – A Tragedy In Two Parts & The Urfaust by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Looking for Jake and Other Stories by China Mieville
Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway
Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Book of Lost Tales 1 by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James
The Deepest Sea by Charles Barnitz
The Push by Dave Hutchinson
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
The City & The City by China Mieville
Ark by Stephen Baxter
See How Much I Love You by Luis Leante
The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony by Stephen Schwartz

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February Books

Non-Fiction 4 (YTD 12)

Fiction (non-sf) 2 (YTD 9)

SF (non-Who) 9 (YTD 18)

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 9)

6/18 (YTD 11/48) by women (Carey, Austen, DWJ x 2, Le Guin, Mendlesohn)
1/18 (YTD 5/49) by PoC (Deng)
3/18 owned for more than a year (Who Saved Bosnia, The Bodysnatchers, Cat’s Cradle: Warhead)
1/18 reread (Charmed Life), total YTD rereads 3/48
Page count ~6,000 (YTD ~14,400)

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February Books 18) One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey

This is a pretty tough book, in many ways: the violence and abuse perpetrated by the staff of the mental institution where the story is set is uncomfortable to read (and I have a daughter who is permanently institutionalised, so it cuts rather close to home). Also I was rather dismayed by the racism and sexism of the story: the only black characters are the brutal male nurses (though the narrator is half Native American); the main female character is the Big Evil Nurse (the other women depicted are two prostitutes and the Little Good Nurse, who comes in only at the end). It was probably not Kesey’s intention, but I could see white American men who believe that they are being oppressed taking comfort and inspiration from this novel.

Having said that, it would be the wrong message. The book is about disorder and development – disorder in two senses, the mental disorders that many of the patients suffer and the disorder and subversion that McMurphy brings to the ward, and the opportunities he offers for his fellow inmates to develop n new directions. There is a tremendously cathartic couple of chapters about a deep-sea fishing expedition which almost summarises the entire book. The violent conclusion leaves several key characters dead but gives others the means of liberating themselves. So in the end I was glad to have read it, though I will not come back to it any time soon.

Top LibraryThing Unsuggestion: Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages by Haddon W. Robinson

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Poking my nose in

I’ve been following the activism of Maura McHugh / with interest and sympathy, but I think I now need to de-lurk and do so in practice – sparked by her correspondence with SFX here (a long read but worth it).

In a sense I am poking my nose in here, because I have bought perhaps two issues of SFX in the last ten years and am not really a horror fan; I have heard of very few of the men and women creative artists mentioned in the discussion. On the other hand I am a man who enjoys the genre (defined at its widest); and I would like to be counted as someone who is outraged at this sort of sexism in one of the genre’s leading publications. I was also dismayed by several rhetorical deficiencies in Ian Berriman’s response to Maura McHugh, sufficiently so to catalogue them below the cut.

Berriman: As methods of criticism go, I think that totting up the numbers of contributors or interviewees by category is very reductive, and not a reliable barometer of the politics, aims, or knowledge of the people involved.

On the contrary. Good hard numbers give you data that cannot be denied. The conclusions to be drawn can be debated, but 0 women out of 34 is still 0 however many times you count them.

Berriman: you don’t seem to consider that the features in the finished magazine might not have been the only ones we attempted to produce.

And why should any reader consider that? Literally all we can judge is the final product; readers and critics have absolutely no obligation to consider what the editor might have thought about including. Back in my political days, we had a saying that “If it’s not in the paper, it didn’t happen!” Likewise, if it’s not in the printed copy, it simply doesn’t exist, regardless of what we may know or speculate about editorial intent.

McHugh: I was stunned by the “Horror’s Hidden Treasures” piece. You found the time [my emphasis] to query 34 men for their opinions, but neglected to ask even one woman to recommend an under-rated gem in the horror field.

Berriman: Your second assumption is that we didn’t even consider approaching any women for the Hidden Treasures piece (you suggest they “do not register on SFX’s horror criteria”). Actually there were several women on my mental “wish list” of possible contributors that, in the end, we didn’t contact, basically for reasons of time. [my emphasis]

Note how Berriman challenges an accusation which was not actually made (“didn’t even consider”) – and then refutes it very badly; in the end “we thought about it but couldn’t be bothered to do it” is in some ways a worse excuse than “we made a policy decision not to do it”. McHugh’s actual accusation, that Berriman could not find the time to ask a single woman to contribute to the feature, is completely verified by Berriman’s response (he has a confused coda about emails going astray which rather proves the point).

Berriman’s response is devalued still further when he quotes two anonymous female friends who assure us that he is a nice guy who was just doing his job.

Berriman’s sexism is no doubt unconscious, but we are all conscious beings, so that is a poor excuse. He could learn from Guy Adams, who was similarly called out by McHugh over a horror anthology a few months back, and issued an unreserved apology:

It is disgustingly simple for a man not to notice these things, a blindness to the importance of correct gender representation that I feel embarrassed to have fallen into.

Short of not making the mistake in the first place, that is the only ‘explanation’ that will do, admitting that you screwed up and undertaking to try harder; not telling us that your lady friends think you’re a good egg, not fantasising about the thing you were going to publish but didn’t, and not whining about people daring to count what is in your output. It has been a long time since I bought a copy of SFX, and I think it will be a long time before I buy another one.

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February Books 17) A Short History of Fantasy, by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James

This book is precisely what it says on the tin, with a first chapter taking the genre to 1900, a second taking it to 1950, and then individual chapters for each subsequent decade, with two extra chapters for a) J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and b) Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett, the whole text weighing in at less than 220 pages (plus index and lists). It doesn’t interrogate the nature of fantasy literature in depth (one of the authors has done that elsewhere) but does define the genre clearly and convincingly, and also looks at when and why particular sub-genres (cute animal fantasies, paranormal romance, Big Commercial Fantasy) have become popular at different times. The authors integrate children’s literature and also genre films and television into the narrative; this is not just about fantasy for grownups. It would be rather a good (and inexpensive) gateway text for the reader of fantasy (and/or sf) who wanted to dip their toe into criticism.

I know I always say this, but when I read books like this I want i) a better understanding of books I have already read and ii) suggestions of books I might read in the future which may appeal to me, and I got plenty of both here; I also was provoked to start thinking (though not sufficiently to complete the thought) about the books which received popular and/or literary acclaim which I just didn’t like (including Little, Big, Light, and The Sword of Shannara). Mostly I found myself nodding in agreement or realisation with just the occasional raised eyebrow – Diana Wynne Jones surely wrote more than four books in the 1970s (p.139)?

For the non-fiction category of the BSFA awards, I have to choose between only two nominees: this book, or Deepa D’s January 2009 blog post “I Didn’t Dream of Dragons“. Of the other three nominees, Hal Duncan has withdrawn his own (excellent if very lengthy) blog post on “Ethics and Enthusiasm” from consideration, recommending instead that people vote for Deepa D; I haven’t seen Interzone recently, which is certainly nobody’s fault other than mine, but means I have no opinion on the merits of Nick Lowe’s “Mutant Popcorn” column in 2009; and although I greatly admire John Clute, the publishers of his Canary Fever have made it abundantly clear on their website that they are not interested in doing business with people like me who don’t have sterling or US dollar bank accounts, so I am unlikely to see it before the voting deadline.

Deepa D’s essay is heartfelt and moving, and was one of the best things to come out of last year’s bruising RaceFail discussions; indeed it ties in to my professional work to a certain extent, which I rarely get with my reading of sff criticism. It was of course only one part of a much wider conversation (and some people, such as Hal Duncan, will vote for it in order to support that conversation as a whole). I will vote for Mendlesohn and James, however, as their book happens to scratch my particular itch; and in the end that is what voting and awards are all about.

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I may not know much about art…

…but I know what I like.

Actually, I’m often not really sure what I like, especially in the visual arts, where many years of experience have demonstrated to me that I just don’t really care enough about good graphic design to be particularly good at it. But the BSFA challenges me to cast a vote on the nominees for its award for best artwork, so I have been looking at the entrants.

As ever, I rank them here in reverse order of preference. Also I hope my snipping and inserting here of bits of each artwork can be considered fair use.

I wasn’t wildly impressed by Nitzan Kramer’s alternate cover for Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Taken on its own, it is blocky and cartooney, and the eyes of the giant sea monster seem poorly placed; in context, of course, it misses the point of the book which is about human interactions, the sea monster being a mere incident.

Adam Tredowski has three of his covers for Interzone on the shortlist; the one for issue 220 is imaginative enough but didn’t quite grab me – one meanly suspects that it has been tilted at an angle to try and distract you from the fact that it’s not really clear what the picture is about. Nice contrasts, I admit.

I liked his cover for Interzone #225 slightly better; two minuscule figures pick their way past fantastic and twisted ruined tubular machinery to a blindingly lit gulf (so bright that it almost hurts the eyes). I don’t know if it related to a particular story (Interzone covers don’t always) but I would read whatever this is based on.

Even more so with Tredowski’s cover for Interzone #224, where a green belvedere clings to a fertile escarpment, with a troubled sea lying below and strange habitats (I suppose) floating high above in the background. Somehow the balance of colour and detail works for me here in a rather pleasing way.

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s “Emerald” is in a totally different league; an enigmatic image from a dream – a giant tree, a burst of natural vitality; are the figures at its foot supplicants, victims, offspring? I love the sense of energy and mystery about it. This is the only one of the artworks where we are given a legend to help explain what it is about (unless you count “20,000 מיל מתחת למים” for Kramer’s piece), but the description raises more questions than it answers.

In the end though my top vote goes to Stephan Martinière’s cover art for Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road (jacket design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke). It has a tremendous futuristic feel; it basically tells you that this is a book which includes giant railway trains on Mars, which is accurate enough. The sense of confrontation between the human figure and the locomotive engine is palpable; so is the idea that we are seeing just one part of a big, big world. The concept is slightly similar to Tredowski’s Interzone #225 cover, but I prefer the way it is done here.

I have to say that I approve whole-heartedly of giving the award to individual artworks rather than to artists as the Hugos do. It seems to me that if the other awards are for individual works of fiction or non-fiction, art should be treated the same way.

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February Books 16) Lavinia, by Ursula Le Guin

Well, it is a pretty easy decision in the end: my vote for Best Novel in the BSFA awards goes to Lavinia, by Ursula Le Guin. (Second: The City & The City, by China MiévilleYellow Blue Tibia, by Adam RobertsArk, by Stephen Baxter.)

Pretty much everyone knows the basic outlines of the Odyssey and the IliadAeneid has been rather lost in the last few decades. For those who don’t know it, it is a long poem in twelve books by the great Latin writer Virgil, recounting the tale of the Trojan prince Aeneas and his escape from Troy to found a settlement on the future site of Rome, despite the temptations of Dido, the queen of Carthage, and various other setbacks along the way. 

Myself, I did the first half of Book II for my Latin O-level many years ago (a lengthy flashback where Aeneas recounts the fall of Troy) and had skimmed to the end of Book VI in translation, but I realised reading Lavinia that I had never even started the second half. And the great thing is that it doesn’t really matter; it is striking that the book appears to appeal to readers who don’t know Virgil at all as much as to those who know him backwards.

This is partly because Le Guin introduces Virgil himself into the book as a character, a ghost from the future trying to finish his poem, discussing it with Lavinia, filling her in on the bit of Aeneas’ story she hasn’t experienced herself, aware some how that he himself is going to feature in someone else’s poem, and making her aware that she is in fact a character in his. It’s a profound reflection on Story and what it means to those who tell it, and those who are in it.

The other fascinating characters are Aeneas and his destiny. Aeneas, rather like Frodo, has a quest to follow and fulfill, and is grimly conscious of that burden (which loses him the first two women he loves, his Trojan wife Creusa and Dido of Carthage). Virgil likes to describe him is ‘pious’, which has all kinds of confusing connotations for today’s audience. Le Guin unpacks this infuriating adjective and explains Aeneas to us much better than any translation could.

On top of that, the world-building is super. Lavinia’s pre-Roman Latium is pagan, of course, but does not have the anthropomorphised gods that Virgil knows. It is also slightly magical – omens come true; Aeneas’ shield tells the future; and of course Virgil himself appears, possibly more real than Lavinia. The social structures of gender and power are beautifully delineated. I have no hesitation in voting Lavinia top of my bsfa ballot, and share the dismay of those who wonder why it did not greater recognition for the Hugos or Nebulas last year.

(See also an excellent group discussion of the book in four parts: 1, 2, 3, 4.)

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Βύρων Θεοδωρόπουλος / Viron Theodoropoulos, 1920-2010

Sorry to see that the venerable Greek diplomat Viron Theodoropoulos has died at the age of 90. I only met him once, a few years ago at a conference, but he made a vivid impression: in the late 1970s he had masterminded Greece’s negotiations to join the then European Economic Community, and even in his mid-80s he retained a certain rhetorical flair. He liked to point out that he was named after Lord Byron, who is of course spelt Βύρων in Greek.

Over the conference dinner I was teasing Theodoropoulos about Greek foreign policy mistakes of the twentieth century, but he surprised me by agreeing with me vehemently when we got onto Cyprus: “I told the King, your policy is disastrous! It will be bad for Cyprus and very bad for you! The British will never fiorgive you! And when his son had to flee the country ten years later, I knew I had warned them! But it was too late!”

A very junior British diplomat was sitting next to me and, once Theodoropoulos’ attention had wandered, he asked me to explain to him why the Greek king’s policy on Cyprus might have annoyed the British. I pointed out that in the 1950s the Greeks had been funding and arming EOKA which killed a rather large number of British troops and administrators on the island. (And I’m afraid I didn’t quite manage to hide my astonishment that a British diplomat, even a very young one, wasn’t aware of this major glitch in Anglo-Greek relations.)

I’m glad to find that Theodoropoulos was still capable of annoying hardliners on this issue as recently as May 2008. He will deservedly rest in peace.

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February Books 14) Charmed Life & 15) The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones

When I was about twelve I read all I could find of Diana Wynne Jones’ books – of course in those days she had not written so many, so it was easier – and loved them: Wilkins’ Tooth, The Ogre Downstairs, Dogsbody, Eight Days of Luke, Power of Three, Charmed Life and Cart and Cwidder (I don’t think I remember the other Dalemark book, Drowned Ammet). But I confess I had not really kept up with her later work – I think I’ve read only Archer’s Goon, The Homeward Bounders, Deep Secret and most recently The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

Anyway, when I did my what-shall-I-read-in-2010 poll, the three Chrestomanci books on my shelves were clearely ahead of all but Guy Gavriel Kay and The Wee Free Men. So I decided to get into them by rereading Charmed Life first.

February Books 14) Charmed Life, by Diana Wynne Jones

I remember vividly the Jackanory reading of Charmed Life, shortly after its publication in 1977 when I was about ten; investigation reveals that the reader was Sorcha Cusack and the illustrations by Lorraine Calaora (I particularly remember a picture of Fiddle the cat). I also remember enjoying the book first time round thirty years ago, though finding it rather creepier than the Jackanory version (which I guess may have toned down some of Gwendolyn’s nasty moments). I am glad to say that the magic remains: Cat and Gwen are orphans, trying to navigate an vividly realised adult world which is rather like our Edwardian era with magic as an accepted if not always trusted way of life; Cat is the viewpoint character, so we only gradually appreciate how Gwendolyn’s nastiness to him actually goes much deeper than normal family tension. The other great thing about the book (apart from the character of Chrestomanci himself) is of course the concept of parallel worlds, where history has gone differently but almost everyone still lives there, if with different names and personalities. I loved rereading it.

February Books 15) The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones

Next in publication order (which apparently is the recommended reading order rather than internal chronology) is The Magicians of Caprona, set in an Italy which remains a union of city-states (in the same world as Charmed LifeRomeo and Juliet, in the two great magical families locked in bitter feuding, is fairly obvious but there is a lot else going on here, with several pairs of children of each family (and their cats) allying against a more powerful enemy, which is exploiting the adults’ blind spots to try and destroy the city. There’s a great sense of architecture as well as a good moral lesson about not being afraid to define your own individuality. I was a little less convinced by the portrayal of the family dynamics here, normally one of DWJ’s strong points.

I did notice that the evil antagonists in both books are powerful magical women, which I think is also true in Wilkins’ Tooth and Dogsbody

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Online reviews and ownership of social spaces

I’ve seen several weird online reviews and weird reactions to online reviews recently, but the case recounted by Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber is pretty incredible. The editor of the European Journal of International Law is to be tried for criminal libel in a French court for publishing this review. He gives his own blow-by-blow of the story here (pdf). Without being an expert on the subject matter, it is evident that the author of the book in question – Karin Calvo-Goller – has damaged her own academic reputation far more by resorting to the courts (or, as we used to put it on, making cartooney legal threats) than anything contained in the review could have done.

Elizabeth Wein has had a similar problem, but from the other end: an Amazon reviewer posted a vitriolic critique of her novel A Coalition of Lions (though rather confusingly he attached it to the Amazon page for one of her other books), accusing her inter alia of “running interference” for the Eritreans in the recent war with Ethiopia (this in a historical fantasy novel set about 500AD). Wein did the sensible thing and vented about this on her livejournal rather than engage the reviewer directly. Karin Calvo-Goller could learn a thing or two from her.

I’ve had a few cases of this myself. Some of you will remember my exchange with John Scalzi about his Old Man’s War (starting here), as a result of which I modified my opinion of Scalzi’s personal politics (having fallen into a similar trap to Elizabeth Wein’s Ethiopian critic), though I stand by my view of the book. Three years ago, I reviewed an academic book whose author was upset by my closing paragraphs and wrote to me to say so (and had also written to the editors of the journal where I published it). I responded, rather than defend my criticisms, by pointing out that my review began with three paragraphs of unadulterated praise for the book; and the author replied saying that she would not worry about this any more. I have to say that the epsiode lowered my opinion of her, if not of the book.

Earlier this month I discovered that one of my book reviews on had attracted comments from a Balkan nationalist who took issue with my politics as expressed in the review – indeed, he posted over 7000 words in response to my 300 word piece (which was written in 1998 and has been on-line in several places for over a decade without attracting this sort of attention). Of this massive screed, only one sentence actually referred to the book; the rest was dedicated to proving that Whyte Is Wrong And Evil. (Amusingly, I have also been vigorously criticised from the opposite side on this particular issue in the past.) After some reflection, I decided that I would delete the comments and block the commenter; frank debate is one thing, but this was effectively vandalism of my review.

I draw a couple of general conclusions from these incidents. One is that, as a reviewer, it is always better to play the ball rather than the man (a phrase I picked up from the rules of debate on the excellent Slugger O’Toole group blog about Northern Irish politics). The Irish activist who objects to Scalzi, or the Ethiopian activist who objects to Wein, risks making the mistake of thinking that a fiction author, who is after all writing things which are not true, cares as much about the historical truths as we do, and that we can engage them in debate on the same terms as we do our fellow activists. It is never a bad idea for the reader to sit back and work out why their own baggage affects their reception of the book, before posting that entry or sending that message. Sometimes of course the reader has strong justification; while I acquit Scalzi of deliberately mocking the Irish peace process, it is pretty clear by his own account that he did so unthinkingly (and I still believe that his uncritical portrayal of his unreliable narrator is a failure of art).

Secondly and more pragmatically is the question of ownership of online space and control of online debate. Writers and others can reply to me in comments here, but in the end this is my journal, and I decide what comments get to stay and what are deleted; and likewise in any other space which I control. That’s simply a statement of fact. People who object to what I say have every right to do so on their own webspace, and sometimes do; and sometimes I am unwise enough to comment back even if it is obviously a waste of my time (and of course they have the right to delete my comments if they feel like it). The editor of the EJIL is in a slightly different position, as the rules of academic reviewing are more formal; note however that he did offer a right of reply to Karin Calvo-Goller, which she did not take up.

(On a related point, I have been trying to get to the bottom of the Italian court ruling against Google, and rather get the feeling that there is more to the story than meets the eye.)

February Books 13) The Pirate Loop, by Simon Guerrier

The Tenth Doctor and Martha find themselves on a luxury cruise spaceship under peculiar attack; a scenario which the TV version of Who did rather better a few months after this came out (though with Kylie Minogue instead of Freema). We know that the pirates are funny because they have working class accents and aren’t very bright. Also they look like badgers. There is a reasonably neat time loop idea (the loop of the title) and a sort-of moral to the tale (neat bracketing of the Ood, the Monoids and the Vocs); would probably have made a slightly above average couple of TV episodes.

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The Three Companions

Big Finish have been releasing this story at a rate of a ten-minute episode a month at the end of their regular releases, the twelfth and last episode being released last weekend. I have to say that I am not sure it was such a successful strategy: myself, I stopped listening out for the episodes in recent months, knowing that I would eventually consolidate them and listen to them all in one go, which I have now done.

The Three Companions of the title are Polly and the Brigadier, both repeated from their TV appearances by Anneke Wills and Nicholas Courtney, and Thomas Brewster, who was written into several of last year’s Fifth Doctor audios, played by soap star John Pickard (and who at one point went off by himself in the Tardis, which is presumably the point where this story is set). It falls into three separate cycles: in the first four episodes, Polly tells the story of visiting a dying planet with the Doctor, Jamie and Ben; in the middle four, the Brigadier tells her his story of a trip with the Third Doctor to a peculiar place with similar problems; and at the end, the three join together to battle global warmng in today’s London (Jo’s husband Cliff Jones makes an off-screen appearance).

The first episode, which tells the story of Polly and the Brigadier meeting, is entirely brilliant and lovely, and the next three telling her flashback story keep up the momentum. I’m afraid I thought it deteriorated as it went on. I wasn’t a fan of Pickard’s performance as Brewster in the first place, and he hasn’t improved much. The actual conspiracy didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, and nor did the denouement.

Polly talks of her office in Westminster and says at the end that she “has a ministry to run”, and I see some frantic fan speculation that she is meant to be a member of the British government. I think she is being flippant; she presumably holds a senior administrative job, that being where her career was headed when we first met her in 1966, but she is not a politician – if she were, the Brigadier would have heard of her (and she would have heard of him rather earlier).

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Gibbon Chapter XVIII

  • This is a very good narrative chapter. Most of the first half is about the reign of Constantine and the rather bloodthirsty way he dealt with his own family; the second half then tracks the rise to absolute power of his son Constantius, overcoming his own relatives and the usurpers Magnentius and Vetranio. There are parentheses about the Sarmatians, the Goths, the Persian empire and the siege of Nisibis. Lots of excellent details.
    (tags: gibbon)
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Cooking 1) Boiling

This is the first in an occasional series of posts about How I Learned To Cook.

Practically the first thing I learned to cook was pasta. And also rice. They are both very easy. You put them in boiling salted water and cook for the length of time it says on the packet. For pasta that is usually shorter than for rice. (3-15 minutes rather than 20-40 minutes.) Once that time has passed you strain it through a sieve or colander and eat it. You can tell when it is ready by picking the odd bit of rice and pasta out of the boiling water with a fork and testing it.

I am not a fan of boil-in-the-bag rice. It is messy and inconvenient to serve; you inevitably risk scalding yourself as you snip the bag open. Much better to cook the rice swimming round freely, and chase the last few grains out of the pan with hot water from the kettle. (Also you can use that water to rinse the rice as it sits in the sieve, a technique my future wife taught me.)

An early variation on this basic boiling technique which I tried in my late teens was to tip a packet of soup into the rice or pasta as it boiled. Also eating it with a lump of butter can mildly diminish the sense of despair which is easily generated by such a diet.

There are other foodstuffs which respond well to the basic boiling technique – essentially, almost all green vegetables and many of other colours as well, which can be bought in appropriately cut ready-to-boil servings, both frozen and fresh. Some of these do take a significant preparation time. For instance, I like eating potatoes, but I resent the time it takes to clean them and scrape them, and if pasta or rice is available for cooking instead I will almost always choose them. On the other hand I love cooking peas; chuck ’em into the water (with some mint if feeling adventurous) and three minutes later they are ready to eat – the perfect afterthought vegetable.

The other food which I enjoyed boiling even in my early teens and still love today is the humble egg. Soft-boiled inside the shell, they furnish a self-contained hot meal (best at just about five minutes, so that the yolk is still runny but the white more or less set). But even better, crack them into a pan of hot salted water, extract with a slotted spoon after three minutes and deposit onto your thickly buttered toast, and you have the poached egg breakfast which sustains me most mornings.

My culinary technique has moved on from simple boiling – or at least I like to think so – but this is where it started.

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February Books 12) Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

I think this brings me to the end of Jane Austen’s novels. It is a peculiar case: some very interesting characters and family dynamics, with a wealth of layered detail, but I found the basic social message of the book rather uncongenial. Austen’s heroine is Fanny Price, informally adopted by her rich uncle and aunt; Fanny is generally passive and when she expresses an opinion tends towards priggishness (with the author’s full approval); the stable conservative world of Mansfield Park is under threat from the cosmopolitan horrors of London, but Fanny supports the resistance. Most of the climactic events take place off-screen in the last few chapters, which is a bit unsatisfying. (Also the kind rich uncle clearly has made his money thanks to slavery.) The book does have its points of interest, but I would advise anyone thinking of casual dabbling in Austen to stick to Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.

Top LibraryThing Unsuggestion: On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins

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Dentistry again

My tooth saga continues.

Last week I had my long-awaited operation at the endodontist’s; she peered into my second upper left molar with a microscope and deftly rooted out all four canals (if that is the right terminology). Of course, it’s uncomfortable at the time but the whole point is that the nerves are all killed, so it stops any further toothache from that source, and I had my best sleep for weeks last weekend.

But I noticed increasing discomfort in my lower jaw opposite the tooth done last week. Even so, when I went to the dentist this morning it was rather a shock when she declared that the lower second molar was broken, and after a little fiddling, the whole inner face sheared off; it was somehow cracked longitudinally, though I have no idea how. She plugged the hole efficiently enough, but now it’s back to the endodontist at her next availability (9 March) and another two and a half weeks of eating on the right side of my mouth in the meantime. It is still pretty uncomfortable, and I have declared that my weekend has started now.

Looking in the mirror this morning I noticed many more visible grey hairs than I remember previously. That, the teeth and the recently acquired bifocals (of which I have no complaints apart from their cost) are making me feel rather middle-aged!

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BSFA Short Fiction nominees

While waiting for my copy of Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia to arrive, I worked my way through the short fiction nominated for this year’s BSFA awards. (I have been a BSFA member since the 2005 Worldcon, and am now kicking myself for not doing this in previous years.) I list the six stories below, in my reverse order of preference. NB that the two I liked most are also the two not available online; I wonder if their availability in dead tree form will affect the results?

‘The Beloved Time of Their Lives’, by Ian Watson & Roberto Quaglia

Gosh, this was a cute idea done very badly. The concept of the story is time-travelling lovers for whom the time travel itself both brings them together, and forces them apart. So far, so good. But the concept is wrapped in not very gentle mockery of nerds in love, of love between people of rather different ages, and in particular of obesity just because obesity is funny, y’know? – so I just lost interest. (And the time-travel punchline was pretty obvious from rather early in the story.)

‘The Assistant’ by Ian Whates

I fear that this was my Mike Resnick story, ie the one I couldn’t really believe was actually on the BSFA shortlist. The basic concept – that there is some sinister nano-infintration of a high-tech firm somewhere in middle England – is respectable if unremarkable. But the writing is simply clunky and embarrassing. It would be at the bottom of my ballot were it not for the Watson / Quaglia story being actually offensive.

‘Johnnie and Emmie-Lou Get Married’ by Kim Lakin-Smith

A rather peculiar (if mercifully short) tale of a young man battling his rival for the right to marry his pregnant girlfriend, everyone having odd fixations with their cars and able to survive, however briefly, horrific injuries. Really didn’t do anything for me.

‘Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast’ by Eugie Foster

Having vaguely known online for many years, I think this is the first of her actual stories I have read. It is excellent: a culture where people identify with each other through the masks that they choose to / are compelled to wear, and the narrator who is rather unwillingly dragged into challenging the structures. Slight reservations from me about the means and motivation of the mysterious woman who sets our hero on the right path, but it’s a good read. Glad to see today that it also made the Nebula shortlist.

February Books 11) The Push by Dave Hutchinson

I don’t think I’d even heard of Hutchinson before, which illustrates the abysmal depths of my ignorance. This is an excellent hard sf novella, combining a couple of plot elements from Zelazny’s “This Moment of the Storm” and GRRM’s “Sandkings”; the narrator has spent decades fleeing his own past, and then finds it catching up with him, as the dumb aliens on the planet he helped colonise turn out not to be so dumb after all. The resolution of the hero’s emotional and moral predicament is both imaginative and satisfying. Separately published by Newcon Press which is why this entry counts towards my February bookblogging.

‘Vishnu at the Cat Circus’ by Ian McDonald

Thanks to this being shortlisted, I opened my copy of ‘s collection Cyberabad Days, of which it is the final story. It is a return to the gloriously realised future India of River of Gods (as is the entire collection), looking at the Singularity from the point of view of the developing world; but also with echoes of Kipling’s Purun Bhagat, of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, of Zelazny’s Lord of Light. Our narrator has been genetically engineered for genius, but also to age and live at half the usual speed. His relationship with his family meshes oddly with India’s relationship with the world of artificial intelligence and transhuman survivors; and he ends up, literally, herding cats. Looking forward now to reading the rest of the collection.

Although my top vote goes to Ian Mcdonald’s story, I will not be devastated if the winner turns out to be either Eugie Foster or Dave Hutchinson. I hope that BSFA voters have the taste and judgement to reject the other three.

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Greek wingnut

Nicholas Whyte’s review of Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990

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Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990
by Anastasia N. Karakasidou
Nicholas’s review

This is a gripping and moving account of the construction of Greek nationhood in a municipality near Thessaloniki. Using both oral and official history, Karakasidou reveals how the inhabitants of the town once called Guvezna and now known as Assiros were altered from an Ottoman cocktail of Turks, Slavs and Greeks to the mono-ethnic culture present there today. The space left by departing Turks and Slavs after the town came under Greek control was partly filled by refugees forced to resettle in Greek Macedonia after the disastrous war of 1922. They mostly spoke Turkish themselves as a first language, but, like those Slavic speakers who remained in the town, they became assimilated during the course of the twentieth century. “In many ways,” the author concludes, “the past has become very much a foreign country to the Assiriotes”. (p.217)

But this book is not just about Macedonia, it is about nation-building. Karakasidou complains that “while there is overwhelming concern among Euro-American politicians and diplomats over what nationalism has brought to Eastern Europe in recent years, many seem unaware of the fact that nation-building processes are a longue duree”, (p. 146) and she describes the process in all its brutality. War, religion, politics and capitalism all contributed to constructing the ‘official narrative’ of this particular nation in this particular place over the last 120 years.

Cambridge University Press declined to publish this book, fearing attacks on their Greek staff if the crisis over the official name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were to escalate. Fortunately it did not, and many Greeks now look to their new northern neighbour as a business opportunity rather than a military threat. Perhaps Karakasidou’s courageous research helped to open up the space in which this became possible. There may be hope for all of us.(less)
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message 1: by Mike (last edited 10 days ago, 12:42PM) – rated it 3 stars Feb 08, 2010 11:16AM
Hi Nick,

As you mention, Greeks tried to look at FYROM as a business opportunity. Unfortunately when they started contradicting their own elected government’s ethnic narrative that they weren’t claiming to be “ancient macedonians (and now portray Macedonia Greece as “occupied’).. it became evident that they have no interest in dealing honestly with Greeks.

For those, that supported FYROM (who are now building giant statues of Alexander and naming everything in sight Alexander and Philip)… a reminder of what FYROM’s own elected leaders assured you not so long ago.

‘We do not claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great.’ (FYROM’S Ambassador Ljubica Acevshka in speech to US representatives in Washington, – January 22 1999)

‘We are not related to the northern Greeks who produced leaders like Philip and Alexander the Great. We are a Slav people and our language is closely related to Bulgarian.'(FYROM´s Ambassador to Canada Gyordan Veselinov – Interview to Ottawa Citizen Newspaper 24 February 1999)

“We are Slavs who came to this area in the sixth century … We are not descendants of the ancient Macedonians” (Kiro Gligorov, FYROM’s first President – Foreign Information Service Daily Report, Eastern Europe, February 26, 1992)…

The fact is people like you made a dramatic mistake in both intellectual and moral judgment. It now boils down if you are willing to take responsibility for those mistakes-or keep supporting FYROM’s conscious lies and blaming Greeks for your own racism against them.

Greejk have every right to protect their nation and heritage from the former self-identifying ethnic Bulgarians of the former Yugoslav state-that went looking for a fight against them.

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message 2: by Nicholas – added it Feb 09, 2010 10:59AM
Quite simply, Greece is reaping what it sowed in the early 1990s. Nationalist apologists like you make any reconciliation less likely.

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message 3: by Mike (last edited 2 days ago, 09:39PM) – rated it 3 stars Feb 16, 2010 08:33PM
Nicholas wrote: “Quite simply, Greece is reaping what it sowed in the early 1990s. Nationalist apologists like you make any reconciliation less likely.”

According to my reading of your logic above, Greeks are now responsible for the behavior of FYROM nationalist extremists-not FYROM nationalist extremists? Curious reasoning that.

Loring Danforth (that strongly supported them like you did on alleged “human rights’ grounds) once wrote…

“Extreme Macedonian nationalists, who are concerned with demonstrating the continuity between ancient and modern Macedonians, deny that they are Slavs and claim to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians. The more moderate Macedonian position, generally adopted by better educated Macedonians and publicly endorsed by Kiro Gligorov, the first president of the newly independent Republic of Macedonia, is that modern Macedonians have no relation to Alexander the Great, but are a Slavic people whose ancestors arrived in Macedonia in the sixth century AD”…

According to that definition, a fair chunk of FYROM’s population now qualify as “extremists” no? Rather ironic that the very people that used to ridicule Greeks for suggesting we have every right to protect our identity and nation… now claim themselves to be ancient Macedonians!

Surely Greeks haven’t been warning for 20 years it wasn’t just a dispute over a name and there would be such complications if they were recognized. Of course the wise Nicholas’ of the world couldn’t be bothered to take Greek peasant nationalists living a myth seriously (see Herzfeld). Instead you took at face value the assurances and historical narrative of a nation that had been living for 60 years under communist totalitarism. Clearly as events have unfolded such Greeks have proven themselves incapable of sophisticated reasoning.

As everyone knows ancient Macedonians were actually Slavic, spoke a Slavic dialect, and lived in ancient Paoenia (much like ancient English people were actually Russians, old English is actually a Slavic dialect. and the Ukraine is the “real” Wales) And if anyone questions that validity of this narrative they should be called “racists”, “nationalist” and “ethnic cleansers”. And if everyone “recognizes” FYROM thousands upon thousands of ancient Macedonian artifacts will eventually one day rewrite themselves from Greek into their Bulgarian dialect and put this issue finally to rest…

The dirty mongrel Greeks are clearly to blame for everything. Surely neither FYROM nor self-proclaimed “human rights” experts like yourself are capable of errors and prejudices. I mean it makes perfect sense that FYROM nationalists (and their supporters) on the one hand claim the right to self-identification an absolute-yet on the other openly deny Greeks their own ethnic identity? It makes perfect sense that on one side they claim they are sure ancient Macedonians weren’t Greek-yet on the other obsess over trying to prove Greeks aren’t “real” Greeks. It makes perfect sense one day FYROM’s leaders argue they aren’t related to ancient Macedonians-the next they are great Macedonian warriors?

Frankly dear Nicholas, it seems hiding your mistakes means more to you then correcting them. No worries you are not alone. All the nations and media outlets that recognized are desperately trying to pretend they don’t notice FYROM’s erratic behavior and blaming Greeks too.

However, if you cared about protecting actual human rights you’d put your pride aside and realize those rights apply to protecting Greeks as well (as well as our own identity). Instead you apparently find it more important to continue to demonize Greeks and be an apologist for obvious conscious fraud being currently openly promoted by the FYROM government. That speaks volumes about your commitment to human rights.

I try to keep an open mind around the complex historical and moral issues. Only a fanatic closes their mind. However, thus far no historical argument has been able to win me over that FYROM has a better case than Macedonians. In addition, the dramatically inconstantly applied human rights standards (as applied towards Greeks by people like you) convinces me I am the victim of prejudice not reason.

And in my opinion, it;s precisely because of people like you (that rushed to call them “Macedonians” and try to paint Greeks in a negative light)… that the moderates in FYROM (who’ve been trying to come out of the closet as ethnic Bulgarians)… have been crushed

“To everyone of us it is clear that this entire thesis, this entire thesis for ethnogenesis from Macedonians, it isn’t so. Ancient Macedonians until today is founded on a series of mystifications and semi-historical truths which are emitted from Republic of Macedonia and that by using and abusing the media.[…:] “Why do Skopjans not ask how much Dardanian blood there is in them[..:] how much Thracian blood there is in them[…:] how much Illyrian blood there is in them[…:]how much Paeonian blood there is in them.[…:]I do not see anyone of us get into a fight over the amount of Paeonian blood in us, or God forbid, Dardinian one?[…:]Ancient Macedonia does not match with today’s Macedonia at all.[…:]Ancient Macedonia, we must clarify it once, is literally in entirety in today’s Greece.[…:] If we are looking at ethnogenesis then we should open at another place. Therefore we should discuss how much we are Paeoneans. ” (Ljubco Georgievski, ex-Prime Minister of FYROM, FYROM A1 TV June 2009)…

“The creation of the “Macedonian” nation, for almost half of a century, was done in a condition of single-party dictatorship. In those times, there was no difference between science and ideology, so the “Macedonian” historiography, unopposed by anybody, comfortably performed a selection of the historic material from which the “Macedonian” identity was created. There is nothing atypical here for the process of the creation of any modern nation, except when falsification from the type of substitution of the word “Bulgarian” with the word “Macedonian” were made. (Denko Maleski, Minister of foreign affairs of the FYROM from 1991 to 1993 and ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997, in an interview to FYROMian newspaper Utrinski Vesnik October 16, 2006)

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message 4: by Mike (last edited 1 day ago, 12:05AM) – rated it 3 stars Feb 16, 2010 11:44PM
“They mostly spoke Turkish themselves as a first language, but, like those Slavic speakers who remained in the town, they became assimilated during the course of the twentieth century.”

Incidentally since you are trying to imply they were “assimilated” into Greeks did it ever occur to you (and Herzfeld, Karakasidou, Danforth, and co) this “assimilated” wording has 60 years of communist block framing behind it? (exactly why all the far leftists Greeks, the only one’s that agree with you, use the same wording)

A. How do you know they “mostly” spoke Turkish as first langauge? Census source rather than flaky post-modernist narratives please.

B. And lets suppose they did speak Turkish as a first langauge. So what. Clearly their ethnic consciousness wasn’t Turkish and they wanted to speak Greek (as opposed to a Bulgarian dialect like FYROM nationalists) Were Jews under the Ottomans that spoke Turkish as a first langauge not Jews? Were such Turkish speaking Jews “assimilated” into Israelis? How about the one’s the spoke Polish, couldn’t speak a lick of Hebrew (a dead language until the 19th century), and were atheists. Does that mean that modern Jews aren’t “real” Jews Nicholas?

Of course most Greeks don’t believe they are pure Greeks (just one more negative stereoptype that fake FYROM “human rights” activists use to spread ethnic hatred of Greeks- that people like you bought into) However, this is true of every ethnic group on earth.

You imagine dear Nicholas that the English haven’t “assimilated” Poles, French, Germans and many other ethnic groups into “English” folk over the last 500 years (do a DNA check to confirm if you doubt me). You think Americans haven’t changed toponyms after conflicts? (see status of native Indians)

So does the fact the English people have mixed, that the English language and culture has evolved considerably since the middle ages now mean I now get to pompously start starting suggesting you are just English-speaking peasants living a myth of being related to ancient English? That the “real” English people disappeared ages ago?

And if France has a civil war do they get to call themselves “ethnic Normaans” if they want? How about suggest you are fake English unrelated to ancient English? Suggest 1/3 of UK is “occupied”? Claim French as the language of Wales? Suggest the UK is persecuting “ethnic Normans”? Call you “mongrels”? Claim Newton and Shakespeare were actually French? And start framing you as racist nationalist extremists if you object?

And what exactly happened to all the self-identifying “ethnic Bulgarians” that used to live in FYROM? Where exactly did all these “ethnic Macedonians” come from? Could it be that Bulgarians were “assimilated” into “ethnic Macedonians” (by other Bulgarians ironically)

See how that works Nicholas.

That’s how far self-righteous people like you have strayed from human rights into supporting conscious liars in the FYROM government (that openly promote ethnic hatred against Greeks because we won’t accept their state myths since it hurts us the most) You think because you can utter the words ‘human rights’ it magically protects you from having prejudices.

WE are Greeks and Macedonia is part of our nations history not the former Bulgarians living in ancient Paeonia that speak a south Slavic dialect. Stop trying to blame Greeks because Yugoslavia had an ethnic war and you expect us to pay the price for FYROM’s mistakes. And grow up and take responsibility for your mistakes Nicholas. Don’t be like the former Bulgarians too “proud” to admit them and instead driven by their hatred of Greeks.

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message 5: by Nicholas – added it Feb 17, 2010 04:44AM

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message 6: by Mike (last edited 1 day ago, 09:41AM) – rated it 3 stars Feb 17, 2010 09:37AM
What are you 12 years old Nick? Why not try offering a response with facts and substance? Your pompous immature attitude is just more evidence of your prejudices Nick. If you cared about “human rights’ you’d be more sensitive. Instead you care more about your pride.

Here is an example of what kind of “human rights’ work people like you have produced in FYROM nationalist extremism.

“Divine blessing for you, my Macedonians. I have waited for thousands of years to be called by you. From always with you, from eternity I am coming, I am already among you because here neither time nor space exists. Here, at my place, the time is still. But at your place, the time is now, for me to explain. Your mother earth I have inhabited with three races: the White-Macedonoids, the Yellow-Mongoloids and the Black-Negroids. The rest-all are mulattoes. From you, Macedonians, the descendants of Macedon, I have impregnated the White race and everything began from you, to the Sea of Japan. All White people are your brothers because they carry Macedonian gene.”…
(footage from state owned TV in 2009 claiming “Macedonians” as progenitors of the White Race)

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message 7: by Mike – rated it 3 stars Feb 17, 2010 09:57AM
“We do not claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great.” (FYROM’S Ambassador Ljubica Acevshka in speech to US representatives in Washington on January 22 1999)

‘We are not related to the northern Greeks who produced leaders like Philip and Alexander the Great. We are a Slav people and our language is closely related to Bulgarian.'(FYROM´s Ambassador to Canada Gyordan Veselinov in interview to Ottawa Citizen Newspaper 24 February 1999)

“We are Slavs who came to this area in the sixth century … We are not descendants of the ancient Macedonians” (Kiro Gligorov, FYROM’s first President to Foreign Information Service Daily Report, Eastern Europe, February 26, 1992)…

Yet today building giant statues to Alexander and claiming themselves ancient Macedonians? Pardon did some great new archeological discovery happen in the last 10 years?

Yet Nicholas the “human right” activist continues to ridicule Greeks… for saying this would happen all along? Both good and evil men make make mistakes Nick. One of the properties that separates them is the evil ones are incapable of admitting their mistakes in moral judgment. They are controlled more by their pride than principles. Instead they keep hurting people unfairly to hide their own shame.

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message 8: by Mike (last edited 1 day ago, 03:40PM) – rated it 3 stars Feb 17, 2010 12:13PM
FYROM nationalists use an endless stream of out-of-context 19th century “Macedonian” quotes to try and trick people into believing an ethnicity existed were there was none. “Macedonian” was an unofficial regional term back then. There were Bulgarians (who’ve been “assimilated” into today’s FYROM nationalists), Turks, Greeks, Albanians, Jews, and Roma which is easily shown by the lack of census data (which certain “human rights” supporters seemingly consciously publicly obfuscate)…

There is also currently a widespread effort to put our two ethnic claims on Macedonia at par by burying all sorts of facts that clearly support Greeks case-and insinuating “facts” that don’t. For instance, I read an article in the NY Times a year ago that tried to suggest Greek used to all speak Albanian. While no doubt some Albanians have been “assimilated” into Greeks (e.g. Avrites that used to be around Athens which was a small village under the Ottomans) the absurdity of trying to suggest we all spoke Albanian…when we know for a fact many were speaking Greek well before the formation of the modern Greek state… is just more evidence of prejudice masquerading as “human rights”. Modern demotic Greek is not a manufactured Greek dialect like Katharevousa, nor the liturgy dialect that is closer to Koine Greek (spread by ancient Macedonians ironically), nor attic Greek. It’s a time worn Greek Nicholas.

Although not perfectly, a twelve year old Macedonian girl can still read some of the words on a 2300 year old Macedonian artifact. There is a very real emotional distress to millions of Greeks, that people around the globe have been causing us to support what they know…they know… are unambiguous conscious deceptions from FYROM.

Why I suggest specifically prejudice is a factor is because media outlets have carefully avoided any mention whatsoever of their prior positions on Macedonia (or past positions of FYROM politicians that not so long ago claimed not to be related to ancient Macedonians). Why hide so many facts?

e.g. the NY Times itself reported Delchev’s death as a BULGARIAN in 1903. (today re branding him an “ethnic Macedonian”)

“SALONIKA. May 6. 1903 – An engagement is reported to have occurred at the village of Vanitza between Turkish troops and a Bulgarian band. Sixty Bulgarians, including their leader, Detzeff, were killed, while the Turks had four men killed and three wounded. Thirty houses in Vanitza were burned.
A Bulgarian band led by Petroff has been routed at Krapeseza. Seven of the Bulgarians were killed.”

e.g. the US government (and I believe the UK as well) flatly denied the existence of “ethnic Macedonians” in 1944 calling it communist demagoguery (when it was much more obvious that “Macedonians” were mostly “Bulgarians” renamed “Macedonians”)

And why not mention that many Greek/Romans in the Romans/Byzantine empire considered ancient Greeks their ancestors, spoke Greek, and were still teaching Greek philosophy to westerners…. long after antiquity but before the “great powers” allegedly showed up to convince us we were related to Greeks.…

Also carefully omitted from the discussion is Greek Macedonians (among the millions of Greeks who equally consider ancient Macedonia part of their history). What of their human rights? What of their identity which is being denied from them in order to support an unambiguous lie in FYROM?…

This demonization of Greeks has reached such epic proportions that when Greeks integrate non-Greeks into their nation it is now reframed disdainfully as “Hellenization” and prounced around as “proof” we are not “real” Greeks.

Is there a word like “Irish-ization”? “American-ization”? China-ization? FYROM-ization? Why are we being slandered as racists, xenophobes and nationalists for integrating? How can one reason with such hate tainted logic-coming even from those that claim to support “human rights”?

Some suggest Greeks are being a bully. They have it exactly backwards. Greeks are being bullied by the 100 plus nations that recognized them but are now too ashamed to admit they made a mistake in not trusting us. We too shoulder some of the blame for making a mess of our name (via our government finances) but this is not moral justification to erase us from history.

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message 9: by Nicholas – added it Feb 17, 2010 11:08PM
I don’t normally engage with anonymous commenters, and I certainly haven’t read much of the above, but I caught a mention of Goce Delchev. Do remind me, what was the name of his organisation?

If you want to devote your energies more fruitfully than posting comments which I probably won’t read to a review which I wrote over ten years ago, I suggest you try engaging with some of the other people who call themselves Macedonians. You may even find some in Ontario.

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message 10: by Mike (last edited 12 hours, 23 min ago) – rated it 3 stars 14 hours, 47 min ago
Do remind me, what was the name of his organisation?

Here is what Delchev wrote (while leading IMRO) to Nikola Maleshevski on 1 May 1899.

‘I have received all letters which were sent by or through you. May the dissents and cleavages not frighten you. It is really a pity, but what can we possibly do when WE OURSELVES ARE BULGARIANS…’

Many erronously believe “IMRO” was “ethnic Macedonian” organization. However, this is a perfect example of half-truths that emanate from FYROM. What they don’t tell you is originally IMRO was named BMARC. (which stands for BULGARIAN Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committees). Here are some of their statutes (orginally co-authored by Delchev and future IMRO leaders and written in what was still widely considered a BULGARIAN dialect at the time)

Art. 2. To achieve this goal they [the committees:] shall raise the awareness of self-defense in the BULGARIAN population in the regions mentioned in Art. 1., disseminate revolutionary ideas – printed or verbal, and prepare and carry on a general uprising. Chapter II. – Structure and Organization
Art. 3. A member of BMARC can be any BULGARIAN, independent of gender, ……

BMARC eventually became IMRO but was still founded by former BMARC members. Hristo Tatarchev, Dame Gruev, Petar Pop-Arsov, Andon Dimitrov, Hristo Batandzhiev and Ivan Hadzhinikolov-most of them connected with the Bulgarian Men’s High School they attended (and in practice most of the organization was made up of ethnic Bulgarians). Ivan Hadzhinikolov in his memoirs wrote as one of the principles of the organization.

“The revolutionary organization should be established within Macedonia and should act there, so that the Greeks and Serbs couldn’t label it as a tool of the Bulgarian government.” (i.e. clearly indicating he saw it as an organization specifically for Bulgarians)

Tatarchev (another leader in the organization) wrote in his memoirs.

“We talked a long time about the goal of this organization and at last we fixed it on autonomy of Macedonia with the priority of the Bulgarian element. We couldn’t accept the position for “direct joining to Bulgaria” because we saw that it would meet big difficulties by reason of confrontation of the Great powers and the aspirations of the neighbouring small countries and Turkey. It passed through our thoughts that one autonomous Macedonia could easier unite with Bulgaria subsequently and if the worst comes to the worst, that it could play a role as a unificating link of a federation of Balkan people. ”

Misirkov (a key FYROM national icon) wrote later after the failed Ilenden uprising: “The only Macedonian Slavs who played a leading part in the Uprising were those who called themselves Bulgarians.”

He also wrote-“We are Bulgarian more than the Bulgarians in Bulgaria. The population of Skopje is pure Bulgarian. The Serbian not only want to colonize Macedonia with Serbs from other part of Yugoslavia, but they wish to kill our Bulgarian consciousness.”…

Again let me stress, “Macedonian” in the 19th century was a regional term not ethnic. The region was populated by many ethnic groups-none of them “ethnic Macedonians” Census after census indisputable proves this.…

Todays “ethnic Macedonians” (aka former self-identifying ethnic Bulgarians) misuse the term out-of-context to trick people like you (who I have no doubt are well meaning but are ill informed on this issue).

By FYROM nationalists refusing to compromise on a name they are trying to suggest Macedonia Greece is “occupied” (since they are now the real “ancient Macedonians”… that speak a Bulgarian dialect renamed “Macedonian”) This is akin to French renaming French English, themselves the “real” English, and calling the UK “occupied”.

Ancient Macedonian artifacts are all writen in Greek not a Slavic dialect. Would you prefer the primary language of the UK as Russian or English? Would you be a “nationalist” or “racist”” for being firm and suggesting English? If they claim to be Macedonians-why wouldn’t they want to speak the language of their own self-proclaimed ancestors?

Unfortunately people want quick easy answers where the story is very complex. All they see is a bunch of people saying they are “ethnic Macedonians” and can’t understand the extent of lying going on in FYROM. (the effects of 60 years of communist tyranny and propaganda) Instead they bought into the endless stream of hate and stereotypes that emanates from FYROM towards Greeks (because we won’t accept their absurd historical narrative-as we are the ones hurt by it).

Nocholas wrote: I certainly haven’t read much of the above

Someone that has firm opinions yet refuses to learn the other side of the story. That’s what prejudice is all about. This is why I suggest Greeks are victims of prejudice. Why are so many politicians and media outlets hiding such information? I couldn’t believe it myself until even the NY Times started contridicting its own reporting (claiming in 1903 Delchev was a Bulgarian yet today claiming he was an “ethnic Macedonian”?)

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message 11: by Nicholas – added it 14 hours, 42 min ago
So what did the letters IMRO stand for?

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message 12: by Mike (last edited 14 hours, 40 min ago) – rated it 3 stars 14 hours, 42 min ago
Even some of FYROM’s key politicians have come out of the closet as Bulgarians. Unfortunately it never gets reported (my guess is because many people in news organizations are ashamed to admit they were had and its much easier to keep demonizing Greeks)

‘Why are we ashamed and flee from the truth that whole positive Macedonian revolutionary tradition comes exactly from exarchist part of Macedonian people? We shall not say a new truth if we mention the fact that everyone, Gotse Delchev, Dame Gruev, Gjorche Petrov, Pere Toshev – must I list and count all of them – were teachers of the Bulgarian Exarchate in Macedonia.’ (former Prime Minister FYROM, Ljubco Georgievski, 2007, in his book ‘Facing the truth’-who now also has a Bulgarian passport)

“The creation of the “Macedonian” nation, for almost half of a century, was done in a condition of single-party dictatorship. In those times, there was no difference between science and ideology, so the “Macedonian” historiography, unopposed by anybody, comfortably performed a selection of the historic material from which the “Macedonian” identity was created. There is nothing atypical here for the process of the creation of any modern nation, except when falsification from the type of substitution of the word “Bulgarian” with the word “Macedonian” were made.”
(Denko Maleski, Minister of foreign affairs of the FYROM from 1991 to 1993 and ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997, in an interview to FYROM newspaper Utrinski Vesnik October 16, 2006)

“To everyone of us it is clear that this entire thesis, this entire thesis for ethnogenesis from Macedonians, it isn’t so. Ancient Macedonians until today is founded on a series of mystifications and semi-historical truths which are emitted from Republic of Macedonia and that by using and abusing the media.[…:] “Why do Skopjans not ask how much Dardanian blood there is in them[..:] how much Thracian blood there is in them[…:] how much Illyrian blood there is in them[…:]how much Paeonian blood there is in them.[…:]I do not see anyone of us get into a fight over the amount of Paeonian blood in us, or God forbid, Dardinian one?[…:]Ancient Macedonia does not match with today’s Macedonia at all.[…:]Ancient Macedonia, we must clarify it once, is literally in entirety in today’s Greece.[…:] If we are looking at ethnogenesis then we should open at another place. Therefore we should discuss how much we are Paeoneans. ” (Ljubco Georgievski on FYROM A1 TV June 2009)…

And again let me stress what FYROM’s own elected government officials used to tell you not so long ago (to underline the amount of lying going on by their current government)

‘We do not claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great.’
(FYROM’S Ambassador Ljubica Acevshka in speech to US representatives in Washington on January 22 1999)

‘We are not related to the northern Greeks who produced leaders like Philip and Alexander the Great. We are a Slav people and our language is closely related to Bulgarian.'(FYROM´s Ambassador to Canada Gyordan Veselinov in interview to Ottawa Citizen Newspaper 24 February 1999)

“We are Slavs who came to this area in the sixth century … We are not descendants of the ancient Macedonians” (Kiro Gligorov, FYROM’s first President to Foreign Information Service Daily Report, Eastern Europe, February 26, 1992)…

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message 13: by Nicholas – added it 14 hours, 37 min ago
So what did the letters in “IMRO” stand for?

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message 14: by Mike (last edited 13 hours, 4 min ago) – rated it 3 stars 13 hours, 12 min ago
Going back to Loring Danforth. He claimed (to NGOs and governments) the FYROM government weren’t claiming to be ancient Macedonians over a decade ago. He also bizarrely claimed there was a historical concensus ancient Macedonians weren’t Greeks. (which any public school kid with an Internet connection can discover is far from the case- see ancient Olympics where they competed as self-identifying Greeks)…

Let me specifically quote him about FYROM because he’s been such a strong supporter of FYROM in the name dispute (ergo-no one can accuse him of being on the Greek side or Greek “nationalism”)

“The history of the construction of a Macedonian national identity does not begin with Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. or with Saints Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century A.D. as Macedonian nationalist historians often claim. (Loring Danforth, “The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World”, Princeton Univ Press, December 1995 p.56)

“Krste Misirkov, who had clearly developed a strong sense of his own personal national identity as a Macedonian and who outspokenly and unambiguously called for Macedonian linguistic and national separatism, acknowledged that a Macedonian national identity was a relatively recent historical development.” (p.63)

“The political and military leaders of the Slavs of Macedonia at the turn of the century seem not to have heard Misirkov’s call for a separate Macedonian national identity; they continued to identify themselves in a national sense as Bulgarians rather than Macedonians.(p.64)

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message 15: by Mike (last edited 12 hours, 25 min ago) – rated it 3 stars 12 hours, 27 min ago
Indentally. Why I stay anonymous is because I literaly fear for my family’s safety. I live in Toronto where there are tens of thousands of “ethnic Macedonians”-most of which hate Greeks since we are the one’s that call out their historical fabrications (since it most effects us).

I’m not sure what they expect to happen. Even if every nation on earth “recognizes” them (and demonizes Greeks for protecting their own identity)… it will not change the fact ancient Macedonia is not ancient Peonia (which is where FYROM is primiarly situated) nor will countless ancient Macedonian artifacts (written in Greek) rewrite themselves into their south Slavic dialect that used to be called Bulgarian.

“Men of Athens… In truth I would not tell it to you if I did not care so much for all Hellas (Greece); I myself am by ancient descent a Greek, and I would not willingly see Hellas change her freedom for slavery.
(The speech of Alexander I of Macedonia when he was admitted to the Olympic games, Herodotus, ” Histories”, 9.45, ed. A. D. Godley)

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message 16: by Mike (last edited 5 hours, 10 min ago) – rated it 3 stars 7 hours, 50 min ago
Nicholas wrote: “So what did the letters in “IMRO” stand for?”

You may know what the letters stand for but seemingly don’t want to know anything further than that. My guess for that is because to do so would require you accept moral responsibility for the fact you (and the mob) allowed your prejudices against Greeks to take hold of you (rather than reason and fairness)

Again let me repeat, Delchev and fellow IMRO members made it quite clear they were ethnic Bulgarians (but ethnic Bulgarians trying to control all of Macedonia… at the expense of macedonian Greeks living there) Delchev and co. in their own words (I can find more examples but these should make in abundently clear how they saw themselves ethnically).

Art. 2. To achieve this goal they [the committees:] shall raise the awareness of self-defense in the BULGARIAN population in the regions mentioned in Art. 1., disseminate revolutionary ideas – printed or verbal, and prepare and carry on a general uprising. Chapter II. – Structure and Organization
Art. 3. A member of BMARC can be any BULGARIAN, independent of gender”

You can find a photo of the original document here.…

‘I have received all letters which were sent by or through you. May the dissents and cleavages not frighten you. It is really a pity, but what can we possibly do when WE OURSELVES ARE BULGARIANS…’ (Gotse Delchev to Nikola Maleshevski on Sofia, 1 May 1899 WHILE PART OF IMRO)

Or how about Misirkov whom FYROM nationalist portray as an “ethnic Macedonian” national father today. Here are some of the parts they carefully omit.

“Who is against a greater Bulgaria is against Slavism”

“Macedonians means only Macedonian Bulgarians”

“Some will ask why I speak of breaking away from the Bulgarians when in the past we have even called ourselves Bulgarians ”

“The only Macedonian Slavs who played a leading part in the Uprising were those who called themselves Bulgarians.”…

“there were certain people who considered that the existence of such a society was quite unnecessary because there was no exclusively Macedonian nationality in Macedonia – only Serbs and Bulgarians – and since there were already Serb and Bulgarian student societies in St. Petersburg there was no need for a Macedonian one as well.”

“Is it even possible now to bring about the national unification of the Macedonians when in Macedonia we have several nationalities and not just one, and when there is no separate Macedonian Slav nation?”

“Come what may, our separation from the Bulgarians…”

“We did indeed call ourselves “Bulgarians” and “Christians” in the national sense”….

“They use this fact – that the people of Macedonia are described variously as Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgarians…”….

“The first objection — that a Macedonian Slav nationality has never existed — may be very simply answered as follows: what has not existed in the past may still be brought into existence later, provided that the appropriate historical circumstances arise.”

“why is it that they cannot and will not agree that from this larger ethnographic unit, which everybody including themselves describes as the Bulgarian nation, two smaller units might be formed: a Bulgarian and a Macedonian one?”

“The emergence of the Macedonians as a separate Slav people is a perfectly normal historical process”

“No matter whether we call ourselves Bulgarians or Macedonians we shall always feel as a nationality with a Bulgarian national consciousness,”

“We are Bulgarian more than the Bulgarians in Bulgaria. The population of Skopje is pure Bulgarian. The Serbian not only want to colonize Macedonia with Serbs from other part of Yugoslavia, but they wish to kill our Bulgarian consciousness.”…

“The Ilinden Uprising of 1903 had a pronounced effect on me and caused me to make some mistakes which completely isolated me from the Bulgarian cause in Macedonia. With great respect I was forced to temporarily renounce completely working for the realization of the Bulgarian national ideals[…:] “The same Mr Zanetov gave me the idea to appeal to you and ask for a lecturing position at the Bulgarian Male Gymnasium in Salonika. I agreed with satisfaction to Mr Zanetov’s proposal, since in this way I would receive the opportunity, anew, and according to my ability to serve the Bulgarian national interest and ideals”

In 1924 Mirsirkov writes in a Bulgarian newspaper.
“If the question of racial similarity and difference between Bulgarians and Macedonians comes to be resolved on the basis of the national name, language and history, there is no doubt that we should resolve it as a Greek priest did in 1804; author of a four-language dictionary Greek, Bulgarian, Rumanian and Albanian and who regarded as Bulgarian the Western Macedonian dialect. Therefore when in Macedonia and Bulgaria there was no mention of the Bulgarian Exarchate, the Greeks, obviously well acquainted with the Balkan nationalities, do not make any distinction between a Bulgarian, a Macedonian and a Macedonian Slav. We the Macedonians, cannot, and have no reason to ignore this and similar facts, which can be quoted by the hundreds. We cannot ignore them because to do so means to distort our history, to hide the truth and to deceive ourselves.”

“But now cries from the Macedonians can be heard: we are Bulgarians, we are more Bulgarians than the Bulgarians themselves. …….. You could be victors over Bulgaria and impose on it all sorts of treaties but this cannot change our conviction, our consciousness that we are not Serbians, that up till now we have called ourselves Bulgarians and this is what we are today and this is what we want to be called in the future.”

etc… etc..

You and the rest of the people that rushed to recognize FYROM… can certainly continue to bully Greeks Nicholas (by stereotyping all Greeks as racists and nationalists for standing up to your bullying attempt to hand over our ethnic identity to a neighbouring state)

Or you come to realization that Greeks aren’t all the nationalist extremist villians you make us to be and FYROM nationalist extremists aren’t the perpetual innocent “victims” some make them out to be.……

Either way ancient Macedonian artifacts are forever going to be written in Greek. All people like you are accomplishing is torturing them (and Greeks) by having this drag out (because of your own pride and inability to accept you are in the moral wrong by continuing to support their unambigious historical fabrications).

We’ve come half way by suggesting composite name in good faith. There is no good reason why the former self-identifying Bulgarians of FYROM can’t compromise on a name. It doesn’t prevent them from speaking their language, having a culture, and having an identity. They just can’t have ours nor can they be allowed to use it as an a tool to imply Macedonia Greece as “occupied”. Otherwise that road will only lead to yet another bloody Balkan conflict because if push comes to shove millions of these Greeks (whose identity some so generously hand away while claiming to stand for ‘human rights”) will not volentarily commit ethnic suppuku because other people hate them.

Human rights applies to Greeks too. Period.

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message 17: by Mike (last edited 5 hours, 55 min ago) – rated it 3 stars 6 hours, 37 min ago
All men in all nations make mistakes. In my opinion, a property that distinguishes a good man from the bad ones is that a good man knows when its time to say “I’m sorry. I was wrong”. Such an admission does not mean one is intrinsicly a bad person or that another man is a better man. It’s only an admission one understands there is a difference between wrong and right beyond self-defensive pride. Otherwise morals is just reduced to sophistry where one pretends to stand for something but all they really stand for is whatever words senselessly come out of their mouths.

Justice demands following principles not simply a lynching by some self-righteous angry mob dujour. And the principles of justice demand observation of the facts-even if it sometimes leads to unflattering conclusions about our own mistakes.

‘We do not claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great.’
(FYROM’S Ambassador Ljubica Acevshka in speech to US representatives in Washington on January 22 1999)

‘We are not related to the northern Greeks who produced leaders like Philip and Alexander the Great. We are a Slav people and our language is closely related to Bulgarian.'(FYROM´s Ambassador to Canada Gyordan Veselinov in interview to Ottawa Citizen Newspaper 24 February 1999)

“We are Slavs who came to this area in the sixth century … We are not descendants of the ancient Macedonians” (Kiro Gligorov, FYROM’s first President to Foreign Information Service Daily Report, Eastern Europe, February 26, 1992)…

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message 18: by Nicholas – added it 21 minutes ago
Now you are getting repetitive as well as boring. I think this exchange is at an end.

message 19: by Mike (last edited 2 days ago, 02:10PM) (new) – rated it 3 stars Feb 19, 2010 10:14AM
Another fact filled reply by Nicholas. Well here is my own narrative Nick. Whereas once it might have been excusable as an honest mistake, given FYROM’s obvious conscious deceptions today… every word you speak in defense of FYROM makes you partially complicit in setting up the ideological justifications for a future attempt at genocide of the Greek people.

Despite having such firm righteous opinions in the name dispute for so long, you don’t want to deal with inconvenient facts that don’t suit your little narrative of Greeks as the villians. Your answers here, in the face of what has now become blatently obvious deceptions by the current FYROM government, are full witness to the fact your motivations are not to arrive at the truth and human rights but to defend your prejudices, and pride.

(16th century reading, on the alleged 18th century invention of Greeks theory, promoted by 20th century “experts” that claim former self-identifying ethnic Bulgarians that clearly speak a Slavic dialect and live in primary ancient Paoenia… are “ethnic Macedonians”.…

One day FYROM nationalist aren’t related to ancient Macedonians-the next they are direct descendents of ancient Macedonians? How would you like it Greeks started insinuating your identity was fake Nicholas to suit a completely different nation taking it from you?

If FYROM’s identity was as sacred to them as they claim-why did they abandon their Bulgarian ethnic roots and start self-Hellenizing themselves as Macedonians? Are they ashamed of their Bulgarian heritage? This isn’t the 19th century where the facts weren’t as well known and such behavior might have been excusable. Twenty years past communism they should know full well by now…

A. they freely used to self-identify as ethnic Bulgarians (their language alone should have been a “slight” clue)

B. the historical record shows ancient macedonians were SELF-IDENTIFYING Greeks

Since you don’t like repetition, here is new quote for you from another “human rights” activist.

“You seem to be afraid of Kimon Georgiev, you have involved yourselves too much with him and do not want to give autonomy to Pirin Macedonia. That a Macedonian consciousness HAS NOT YET DEVELOPED AMONG THE POPULATION IS OF NO ACCOUNT. No such consciousness existed in Byelorussia either when we proclaimed it a Soviet Republic. However, later it was shown that a Byelorussian people did in fact exist.” [Stalin to Bulgarian Delegation on 7 June 1946 (G. Dimitrov, V. Korarov, T. Kostov)…

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February Books 10) The City & The City, by China Miéville

I rather gave up on Miéville after not really grokking his Iron Council, but I think I have changed my mind again. The City & The City is set in the peculiar circumstances of Besźel and Ul Qoma, two cities in an unidentified part of Eastern Europe, which spatially overlap but whose inhabitants have been socially conditioned to "unsee" each other (and each other's buildings, road vehicles, etc), or face unspeakable consequences.

I just love this concept. Having grown up in Belfast, where the tribal boundaries are sometimes invisible but always must be respected; also having seen Berlin before and after the fall of the Wall; and having got to know both sides of Nicosia more recently (not to mention other places with less formal but similar issues), I can see the total fascination of these invisible fractures through the urban landscape. (I have never been to Tighina/Bendery, but it is another interesting if lesser-known example which actually fits the geography of the novel rather well.)

Miéville takes this setting and explores it through the eyes of police detective Tyador Borlú, investigating a murder which appears to have transgressed the boundaries between Besźel and Ul Qoma. This is a brilliant idea, as the necessary infodumps come through the tired musings of the jaded investigator trying to get at the truth in a bizarre world. But nothing is as it seems; and Borlú ends up confronting pretty much every one of the uncomfortable truths that keep the two cities together and apart in the process of solving the crime.

The book doesn't have a totally satisfactory resolution. Eventually Borlú delves into the factors which connect and divide Besźel and Ul Qoma, and I was hoping for a slightly more substantial explanation than we get. But it still went at least half way towards meeting my expectations, and is basically a very good read. The City & The City is currently top of my BSFA ballot; let's see if Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia can impress me more.

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…and I complained about Amazon…

A Greek nationalist wingnut has discovered my GoodReads review of Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990. Note my careful point-by-point rebuttal of the arguments made by ‘Mike’. Please don’t feel under any obligation to engage him.

By the way, I noticed just as I was deleting it that someone had posted another comment to my Amazon review of Des Ekin’s book, where the first commenter accused me of being part of the Belgian conspiracy to further the interests of global jihad. If that was one of you guys leaping in to defend me, thank you for doing so; I’m afraid I had deleted the review before thinking to look at the new comment.

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Big Finish latest

The first two Lost Stories released by Big Finish, The Nightmare Fair and Mission to Magnus, had both been destined for Season 23 before the BBC pulled the plug on them for Trial of a Time Lord. Leviathan was originally intended for Season 22, and we are given to believe that it was probably dropped as too ambitious – requiring a medieval forest village, a big scary monster and loads more special effects.

It certainly wasn’t a problem with the script as such: this is a far better story than either The Nightmare Fair or Mission to Magnus. It rapidly becomes apparent that the medieval village where the Doctor and Peri arrive is not what it seems, but I was still surprised and gratified by the plot twist at the end of the first disc, and though that in itself sets up the eventual resolution rather inevitably, it is all very well done.

I hope now that the other Lost Stories of this run will be as strong as Leviathan. I don’t really envy Big Finish, lumbered with the two well-known but really awful stories as part of the project, and having to decide where to put them in serquence. It was rather brave to front-load the Lost Stories as they did. In their place, I would have tried to conceal them in the middle somewhere.

Returning to the main sequence of Big Finish stories, Andy Lane has delivered another hit with A Thousand Tiny Wings, where the Seventh Doctor visits Kenya in the midst of the Mau Mau crisis of the 1950s and runs into Dr Elisabeth Klein, last seen in Colditz during the second world war trying to make sure that the Germans won (and aided by a sinister guard called Kurtz, played by one David Tennant). The story turns out to be a fairly standard Who plot, but the execution is excellent – both the African soundscape and the white women cooped up in a remote farmhouse waiting for the inevitable doom to arrive. (The incidental fact that I have passed through Kenya several times recently made it seem a bit more personal.) It sounds as if Lisa Bowerman as director was able to get the best out of her cast and team.

Alas, Bowerman is less well served in the latest Companion Chronicle, Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code, a two-hander between her and Charley Hayes (who has I think the unusual distinction of having appeared on Doctor Who in the form of a bump in her mother’s tummy, visible to the careful observer of Wendy Padbury’s cameo in The Five Doctors). Unfortunately the plot is slow to get going, has the Seventh Doctor rather uncharacteristically taking a public role as a mediator, depends rather heavily on a particular interpretation of what the Tardis translation circuits actually do, and then packs far too much exposition of What The Story Was Actually About into the last three minutes. The crew express the hope in the extra tracks that this will attract more listeners to the Bernice Summerfield range, but I’m inclined to doubt it.

I want to generalise from this to a wider gripe from a Companion Chronicle subscriber. I loved the idea of bringing back companions of the first four Doctors to tell their own stories. It seemed however a bit odd to start bringing in Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctor companions, and now we have crossed another line in bringing in a companion who was never seen on TV at all. I don’t really approve.

On the other hand, those who don’t know the Bernice Summerfield audio stories, but who download the free podcast of “Making Myths” (a short story from the years old Buried Treasures CD, starring Lisa Bowerman as ever with Sarah Mowat as a hamster-like alien journalist) will be charmed by it. Indeed, this would have been a rather better two-hander for the Companion Chronicles series, except that it came out several years too early.

In summary, A Thousand Tiny Wings and Leviathan are both very good; Buried Treasures: Making Myths is enjoyable; and you can skip Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code.

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I am unharmed and far from the scene

Thanks for the kind messages enquiring about my involvement or otherwise in this morning’s train crash. At 0830 this morning I was at Brussels airport, checking in for my flight to Switzerland. It’s not my sideof town anyway – I don’t think I have ever been on that particular train track. But I appreciate the concern.

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Linkspam for 15-2-2010

  • The first quarter of the chapter is about the layout of the city of Constantinople; a good description, but hampered by Gibbon’s not having his own personal experience of being there, and also could have done with a map. There is then a lengthy section on how the empire was governed: the setup of the civilian administration, of the military, and last but not least of the imperial palace. Finally there are notes on the security system (spies and torture) and on taxation.
    (tags: gibbon)
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February Books 9) The Bodysnatchers, by Mark Morris

The Eighth Doctor and Sam turn up in Victorian London where they have an adventure which largely retraces The Talons of Weng-Chiang, complete with Litefoot (but not Jago) and with added Zygons. It actually would have worked rather better as a second novel in the sequence than Vampire Science did; here Sam is still trying to get to grips with the Doctor and with time travel, rather than behaving as if she’s been at it for years. Morris’ descriptive writing is generally good but he doesn’t have as firm a grasp of Victorian dialogue (there is a particularly irritating ruffian called Jack). The fundamentals are sound, if not hugely original.

I have already read the next in sequence, Genocide by Paul Leonard, so next up is War of the Daleks by John Peel.

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February Books 8) Ark, by Stephen Baxter

This is the second book in a series; its predecessor, Flood, which I haven’t read, saw the near-future Earth threatened by catastrophically rising sea levels, and Ark follows the story of a group of young survivors sent to colonise a distant planet in order to continue the human race. I will look out for Flood but didn’t especially feel the lack of having read it hampering my enjoyment (it is fairly easy to spot which characters must have been in the previous book). I did, however, feel that Ark is weakened as a novel by the number of loose ends left unresolved, in particular the characters and groups of characters who drop out of the narrative, fate unknown, some of whom will presumably to be brought back again (or definitively killed off) in future volumes. And in general, while Baxter’s writing always at least teeters on the brink of greatness, this doesn’t quite make it. The basic idea is a great sensawunda concept – the broad brush strokes of the mechanics of building the Ark, and the human factors which screw up its makers’ plans, are depicted in full glory. But at a human level Baxter’s characters don’t always sound like, say, 22-year-old women thrust into leadership positions; and they sometimes make peculiar choices which enable him to extend the narrative in the direction he wants. The book becomes more episodic towards the end, and I felt Baxter was rather rushing to finish it. So I wasn’t completely satisfied, and this will rank below Yellow Blue Tibia on my BSFA ballot.

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February Books 7) The Nature of the Universe / De Natura Rerum, by Titus Lucretius Carus

This is one of the best-argued cases for atheism I have read (speaking as a non-atheist). Millennia before Dawkins, Hitchens, or even Bertrand Russell, Lucretius argued the nature of the universe from first principles, concluding vigorously that there is no God and no afterlife, just matter made of atoms. There is no tedious sniping at current beliefs (apart from a rather funny bit towards the end about why Jupiter does not hurl thunderbolts; and he has a go also at the beliefs of Heraclitus and Empedocles about elements), just an explanation in detail of the philosophy of Epicurus and how that helps us understand the way the world around us works. As with all such books, it is tempting to give the author marks out of ten for the accuracy of his scientific explanations as compared to our current understanding, but that would be a mistake; it is amazing how far Lucretius got given his starting point. It reminded me a bit of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, but is of course much shorter; also Lucretius, writing in 55 BC or thereabouts, had two millennia less of scientific research to fit in. Unfortunately he doesn’t appear to have finished it; the text ends rather abruptly after a description of the effects of plague.

I first heard of De Natura Rerum when I attended a lecture in Cambridge in about 1987 explaining its links with Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man, part of a series of lectures from different academics on the Enlightenment which I skipped physics practicals to attend on wet Thursday afternoons, despite the lack of course credits (this in itself was a signal that my future did not lie in astrophysics). I wonder who the lecturer was? I suppose I should now complete the circle by reading the Pope poem.

Top LibraryThing Unsuggestion: Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella

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