December Books

Non-fiction: 8 (total 74)
Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by Thomas McCarthy
The I.R.A., by Tim Pat Coogan
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science, by Mary Roach
I, Who: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels, by Lars Pearson
I, Who 2: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios, by Lars Pearson
I, Who 3: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios, by Lars Pearson

The Space Race, by Deborah Cadbury
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English, by John McWhorter

Fiction (non-sf) 2 (total 50)
The Falls, by Ian Rankin
Fair Play, by Tove Jansson

SF (non-Who) 5 (total 73)
Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Mirror Dance, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper
The Space Opera Renaissance, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

Doctor Who 5 (total 69)
The Hollow Men, by Keith Topping and Martin Day
Revenge of the Judoon, by Terrance Dicks
Short Trips: Destination Prague, ed. Stephen Savile
Vanderdeken’s Children, by Christopher Bulis
Doctor Who Annual 1978

Comics 3 (total 20)
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 1, by Fumi Yoshinaga
Scott Pigrim vs. The Universe (volume 5) by Bryan Lee O’Malley
With the Light… / 光とともに…, vol 3, by Keiko Tobe

8 books by women: Roach, Bujoldx2, Cooper, Yoshinaga, Jansson, Cramer, Tobe (total 65/288)
4 books by PoC: Yoshinaga, O’Malley, McWhorter, Tobe (total 24/288)
Owned more than a year – 14: Good Omens, Mirror Dance, The Space Opera RenaissanceThe Space Race, Vanderdeken’s Children, The Falls, Tintin and the Secret of Literature, Revenge of the Judoon, The IRA: A History, I, Who, I, Who 2, I, Who 3, Destination Prague, With the Light… Vol. 3.
Other rereads: Doctor Who Annual 1978 (3 this month, 25/288 for the year)

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December Books 23) With the Light… / 光とともに…, vol 3, by Keiko Tobe

Third in the series of graphic novels about a Japanese child with autism by the late Keiko Tobe. I found the first half of the book, where a new special education teacher repeatedly fails to rise to the occasion and deal with the needs of the children under her care, really quite tough reading; Sachiko Azuma, the viewpoint character whose child is at the centre of the story, displays much more patience than I could bear to in that situation. The second half of the volume has young Hikaru on a four-day school trip, which presents fairly huge challenges from a developmental psychological point of view. (Tobe throws in a couple of more standard soap-opera elements as well, as his schoolfriends engage in classroom politics and his father is demoted at work, but that’s forgiveable local colour.) Anyway, once again a fascinating and beautiful book.

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Whoniversaries 31 December

i) births and deaths

None. There’s quite enough for today as it is.

ii) broadcast anniversary

31 December 1965: broadcast of third episode of The Highlanders. Polly overpowers Ffrench; the Doctor overpowers Perkins; but Ben is thrown into the cold sea…

iii) dates specified in canon

31 December 1879: Queen Victoria issues the Torchwood Charter, as seen in Children of Earth (2009). (Though it must be a fake since she is referred to inaccurately as ‘HRH’, ie ‘Her Royal Highness’, rather than ‘Her Majesty’.)

31 December 1930: setting of the framing narrative of the 2002 Eighth Doctor / Charley audio, Seasons of Fear, by Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox.

31 December 1965 (?) setting of end of “Volcano”, the eighth episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan.

31 December 1986: setting of Paul Grice’s short story “Mondas Passing”, featuring Ben and Polly, included in the very first BBC Short Trips anthology.

31 December 1999: setting of most of Doctor Who: The Movie.

also 31 December 1999: setting of most of Craig Hinton’s 1995 Sixth Doctor / Mel novel, Millennial Rites.

also 31 December 1999: setting of Gareth Roberts’ 1994 DWM comic strip story featuring the Seventh Doctor and Mel, Plastic Millennium.

also 31 December 1999: Torchwood Three wiped out (apart from Jack Harkness) in a multiple murder / suicide by its leader Alex Hopkins (as shown in the 2008 episode Fragments).

also 31 December 1999: Setting of Mark Magrs’ 2009 Iris Wildthyme audio play, The Panda Invasion.

31 December 2004: Rose Tyler misses a New Year’s Eve party and bumps into this odd bloke wearing a suit and sneakers on her way home, as seen in The End of Time II (2010).

31 December 2599: setting of part of Justin Richards’ 2000 novel The Doomsday Manuscript, first in the Big Finish series of Bernice Summerfield books.

31 December 4999999999: setting of third issue of the 2008 IDW Doctor Who comic, written by Gary Russell, in the series which has been retrospectively named Agent Provocateur.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 12-31-2010

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December Books 22: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English, by John McWhorter

Shortly before I started bookblogging I read and greatly enjoyed McWhorter’s Power of Babel, a great book about the history of languages. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is a much shorter follow-on book (less than 200 pages), looking at grammar rather than etymology. McWhorter makes five main points, one of which was completely new and intriguing to me.

1) That the ‘-ing’ present progressive and ‘do’ constructions in English come from Celtic languages. I had twigged to the former while dabbling in Irish last year; but it seems that both Welsh and Cornish also use the verb ‘do’ in the equivalent of questions and negatives – Do you agree? I don’t agree. McWhorter argues that English should be regarded as having a strong element of Celtic grammar as well as Germanic at its root. I basically agreed with this already but he goes on a bit too much about it, almost accusing the likes of Crystal and McCrum of deliberately ignoring it. A side argument is that written Anglo-Saxon is a poor guide to how it was spoken.

2) That there is no harm in linguistic innovation and no absolutely right way to write or speak English. That’s his privilege as a linguist, though in fact denies the interesting social process by which some innovations do become acceptable.

3) That the drop-off in inflection of English nouns was caused by mixing with Old Norse from the Viking invasions. Not a lot to say on this, though he says it at length, and I’m pretty sure I had heard this before.

4) That the Sapir-Whorf theory is rubbish. He doesn’t spend as much time on this as Steven Pinker, but it is after all stating the bleeding obvious.

5) That the differences between Proto-Germanic, as reconstructed, and the other Indo-European languages might be explained by its speakers around 500 BC having been strongly influenced by a Semitic language. This was a new and fascinating idea for me. McWhorter says he is quoting a German scholar, Theo Vennemann (who also argues for hidden influence from Basque on most Northern European languages including the Germanic ones), and that there are three key observations here:

i) the shifts from stops to fricatives of p -> f (pater/father), t -> th (tres/three) and k -> h (canis/hound) would fit with contact with a language which had a lot more sibilants, as Semitic languages do. On the surface this is the weakest of the points, but it’s slightly stronger than McWhorter realises – he notes without further comment that the only other Indo-European language group to have undergone that kind of shift is Armenian, but in fact Armenian is demonstrably geographically close to various Semitic languages and for all I know has more evident signs of contact;
ii) vowel shifts to mark tenses – sing/sang/sung, ride/rode/ridden – a mutation found universally in Germanic languages, not at all in other Indo-European languages, and universally in the Semitic languages (at least between present and past tenses)
iii) an area where again I think the evidence is stronger than McWhorter allows, the etymology of some of the words that are found in Germanic and not in other languages is not a bad match for Semitic: “fear”; being /furkhtaz/ in Proto-Germanic and /p-r-kh/ in Proto-Semitic; the word for a group of soldiers that became our “folk” and Hebrew פלוגה (“detachment”) from Proto-Germanic /fulka/, Proto-Semitic /p-l-kh/; the Germanic word from which we get “over” and German and Dutch get “Ufer” and “oever” meaning “shore”, linked to the Biblical Hebrew ʔeƀer/עבר, a root with various travelling and crossing-over connotations which is itself the source of the word “Hebrew”.

McWhorter doesn’t even mention the British Israelites, who will love this theory once they find out about it, but instead postulates contact through Phoenician maritime exploring, for which there is some archaeological evidence, though more such evidence may be drowned on the floor of the North Sea. Anyway, I love this theory, and someone should write a novel about Phoenicians getting lost among the swamps and bogs of Scandinavia. (Harry Harrison, if memory serves me right, already did one suggesting such a lost mariner getting involved in the building of Stonehenge, but that would have been a bit earlier.)

Anyway, a book that is slightly uneven in style but provocative and well-sourced. Great for those of us who are interested in that sort of thing. There’s a lot of metaphorical reference to other languages beating English up, reminiscent of ‘s famous statement, but different in that McWhorter is discussing grammar rather than vocabulary and portrays English as the victim rather than the perpetrator.

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What to read next year?

In the last couple of years I’ve been tremendously helped by the start-of-year poll asking which books from my unread shelf you all have read. I guess my logic for this is that I basically trust the literary judgement of my friends and other readers, and am interested to know what in particular from my sagging shelves I might look at next. (I also have been using two other mechanisms for choosing in each of the three categories below, popularity among LibraryThing users and longevity on my shelves). So I will once again be grateful to any and all who fill in this poll.

Apologies in advance to editors listed below as authors, or co-authors and co-editors whose names are omitted; this is scraped from my LibraryThing catalogue so some important details do get lost. Any miscategorisation, however, is entirely my fault and cannot be blamed on software.

As ever, particular recommendations of what to read (or avoid) very welcome in comments.

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Whoniversaries 30 December: a wedding, Enemy of the World #2, Three Doctors #1, Power of Kroll #2

i) marriage

30 December 1980: wedding of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward

ii) broadcast anniversaries

30 December 1967: broadcast of second episode of The Enemy of the World. Giles Kent asks the Doctor to help him against Salamander. Jamie and Victoria manage to infiltrate Salamander’s headquarters.

30 December 1972: broadcast of first episode of The Three Doctors, starting Season 10 and bringing back Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell. The Time Lords are losing energy; UNIT is besieged by strange special effects and the First and Second Doctors return.

30 December 1978: broadcast of second episode of The Power of Kroll. Kroll starts grabbing people with his tentacles.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 12-30-2010

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Unread books from 2006

List of the 54 books I had marked as unread on 31 December 2006, which I did not already own at the end of 2005 (which were accounted for previously), in the order that I read them; with links to my write-ups, size according to how much I liked them and struck through if I couldn’t finish them.

Sourcery, Terry Pratchett
The Secret Visitors, James White
To Engineer Is Human, Henry Petroski

From Behind a Closed Door: Secret Court Martial Records of the Easter Rising, Brian Barton
Variable Star, Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Endgame in the Balkans: Regime Change, European Style, Elizabeth Pond
The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters, Terrance Dicks
Military Operations Macedonia, Captain Cyril Falls
Doctor Who – The Aztecs, John Lucarotti
No Present Like Time, Steph Swainston
George and Sam, Charlotte Moore
McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, ed. Michael Chabon
The Medieval Cookbook, Maggie Black
The Mind of Mr. Soames, Charles Eric Maine
The Nobel Prize, Burton Feldman
Harpist in the Wind, Patricia A McKillip
Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin, Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who – Caves of Androzani, Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive, David Fisher
Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders, Terrance Dicks

Earth is Room Enough, Isaac Asimov
City of Illusions, Ursula K. Le Guin
Talkback: The Unofficial and Unauthorised “Doctor Who” Interview Book: Sixties v. 1, ed. Stephen James Walker

Between the Woods and the Water, Patrick Leigh Fermor

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence
National Lampoon’s Doon, Ellis Weiner
The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross
Interzone 5th Anthology, eds. John Clute, Lee Montgomerie & David Pringle
Summerland, Michael Chabon

The Owl Service, Alan Garner
The Superpower Myth, Nancy Soderberg
Vellum, Hal Duncan

Abarat, Clive Barker
The seeds of time, John Wyndham
The Child Garden, Geoff Ryman

Liberal Democracy and Globalisation, ed. Graham Watson
Peter Abelard, Helen Waddell

Expiration Date, Tim Powers
Daughters of Britannia, Katie Hickman

Back Home, Michelle Magorian
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Second Annual Collection, ed Gardner Dozois

Irish tales of terror, ed. Jim McGarry
Radical Islams Rules, ed. Paul Marshall
Forbidden Acts, ed. Nancy A. Collins

Seasons of Plenty, Colin Greenland
Half-life of a Zealot, Swanee Hunt

Mother of Plenty, Colin Greenland
The Wizard Knight, Gene Wolfe

Visions of Wonder, ed. David G. Hartwell and Milton T. Wolf
Earth Logic, Laurie J. Marks
Thunderbirds Bumper Storybook, Dave Morris
Analog 6, ed. John W. Campbell
The Space Opera Renaissance, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

There are 16 books on the shelves acquired in 2007 and still marked as unread: 2nd Interzone Anthology, ed. John Clute; Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2007, ed. Rich Horton; Irish Magic II, ed. Morgan Llywelyn; Irish Tales of Terror, ed. Peter Haining; The Miracle Visitors by Ian Watson; Other Edens: No. 1, ed. Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock; Other Edens: No. 2, ed. Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock; Peeling the Onion, by Gunter Grass; Speaking in Tongues, by Ian McDonald; Spectrum: A Science Fiction Anthology: No. 4, ed. Kingsley Amis; The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, ed. by Terry Carr; The Case for Global Democracy: Advocating a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, ed. by Graham Watson; The Prodigal Troll, by Charles Coleman Finlay; The Time Dissolver, by Jerry Sohl; The Year’s Best Science Fiction 24, ed. Gardner Dozois; Year’s Best SF 12, ed. by David G. Hartwell. Eleven of those sixteen are sf anthologies or collections, so I’ll have to think of a mechanism for getting through those more efficiently next year.

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December Books 21) The Space Opera Renaissance, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

Huge anthology (941 pages) of mostly excellent stories, very few of which I had actually read before (Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Weatherman”, Peter F. Hamilton’s “Escape Route” and Allen Steele’s “The Death of Captain Future” – all great stories), tracing the space opera sub-genre through the decades. It’s not always my favourite mode (and I found myself choking at short stories by a couple of writers whose longer works I have also bounced off) but the selection is generally good. In particular I appreciated the early stories from Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamon, Clive Jackson and especially Leigh Brackett (“Enchantress of Venus”) – shamefully, I am not sure that I had read anything at all by her previously, but I must repair that omission. The longest story is “The Survivor” by Donald Kingsbury, set in the Man-Kzin wars cycle originated by Larry Niven, a gruesome and disturbing though well-written tale. In general this is well worth looking out for.

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December Books 20) Doctor Who Annual 1978

I remember reading this Doctor Who annual first time round, when I was ten; probably 33 years ago this week, in the gap between the broadcasts of the last episode of The Sun Makers and the first episode of Underworld, which coincidentally is exactly where I had reached in my current rewatch of Who when this copy arrived from eBay.

The drawbacks first: the annual features Sarah Jane Smith as the companion, though she had left the show more than a year before most people would have read this, and in addition she is once again very poorly portrayed in the art (see right), looking more like a somewhat chunkier version of Leela than at all resembling Elisabeth Sladen. The filler material is as banal as ever. The whole thing is only 62 pages, which I think is a new low.

But the stories are actually rather good, and some of the images had lingered with me for a third of a century – the world full of skeletons in “A New Life”, the crowds of people lost in their own separate dream worlds in “The Sea of Faces”, the Doctor forced to go back on an ally who turns out to be flawed in “The Traitor” (the comic strip from which I took the frame shown here). Somehow the writing quality has gone up a notch.

And having earlier decried the filler material as banal, I loved the Doctor solving a diplomatic crisis with the old trick of taking a three-figure number, reversing it, taking the difference, reversing that and adding them to inevitably get 1089:

I prove this mathematically as follows:

Your three-figure number can be broken down as 100a + 10b + c

Its reverse is 100c + 10b + a

The difference is 100(a-c) + (c-a) = 99 (a-c) = 100(a-c-1) + 90 + (10+c-a)

the reverse of that is 100*(10+c-a) + 90 + (a-c-1)

add them together and you get 900 + 180 + 9 = 1089

Anyway, worth getting hold of another paper copy at last.

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Whoniversaries 29 December: Bernard Cribbins, Time Warrior #3, Horns of Nimon #2, Girl in Fireplace

i) births and deaths

29 December 1928: birth of Bernard Cribbins, who played Tom Campbell in Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966) and Wilfred Mott in various Tenth Doctor episodes starting with Voyage of the Damned (2007) and ending for now with The End of Time II (2010); also Arnold Korns in the 2007 Eighth Doctor audio Horror of Glam Rock.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

29 December 1973: broadcast of third episode of The Time Warrior. Irongron’s attack on Edward of Wessex’s castle fails; the Doctor and Sarah infiltrate Irongron’s castle, but are caught by Linx.

29 December 1979: broadcast of second episode of The Horns of Nimon. The Doctor and Romana end up in the maze with the teenage sacrifices.

ii) Date specified in canon

29 December 1758: Masetting of the climactic scenes of The Girl in the Fireplace (2006).

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Whoniversaries 28 December

i) births and deaths

28 December 1990: death of Edward Brayshaw, who played Léon Colbert in The Reign of Terror (1964) and the War Chief in The War Games (1969).

28 December 1999: death of Donald Cotton, who wrote The Myth Makers (1965) and The Gunfighters (1966) as well as the novelisations of both stories and of The Romans (1965), three of the best Who novelisations in the range.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

28 December 1963: broadcast of “The Survivors”, second episode of the story we now call The Daleks. The Doctor, Ian and Susan join Barbara as prisoners of the sinister metal creatures, but are suffering from radiation poisoning. Susan returns to the Tardis to get anti-radiation drugs. (Or gloves.)

28 December 1969: broadcast of first episode of The Krotons, the first but not the best from Robert Holmes. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrive on the planet of the Gonds and witness the destruction of the brightest of their young people.

28 December 1974: broadcast of first episode of Robot, first full episode for Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. The newly regenerated Doctor starts to investigate mysterious thefts at military establishments, involving the sinister Think Tank and Professor Kettlewell. Oh, and a robot.

28 December 1981: broadcast of A Girl’s Best Friend, the first and only episode of K9 and Company, starring John Leeson as the voice of K9 and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Our heroes disrupt a local human-sacrificing coven.

28 December 1987: broadcast of third episode of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. The Doctor and Ace start to unravel the mystery of the Psychic Circus; but the Doctor is trapped in the ring with a werewolf.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 12-28-2010

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December Books 18) Fair Play, by Tove Jansson

This is a lovely lovely book about two women who live together yet separately, work separately but together, and discuss (or don’t discuss) the deep and meaningful things of life with each other, and with friends, relatives and strangers, in that laconic, efficient and profound way that the Finns have. The romantic reader will want to believe that Mari and Jonna in the book are basically Tove Jansson herself and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä, be that as it may, you will reach the last page cheering for any long-term relationship or marriage as intimate and successful as the one depicted here.

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December Books 17) The Space Race, by Deborah Cadbury

I didn’t see the TV series that this book accompanies (a four-part drama-documentary filmed in Romania) but it’s a good read anyway, framing the 1950’s and 1960’s competition between the USA and USSR as essentially a competition between two men, Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev, who never met but sent each other (and their countries) effective messages by rocket. The Wikipedia page objects that Cadbury is too harsh about Korolev’s internal rival Glushko, but otherwise it seems to me an admirable piece of historical reconstruction, paring down the wealth of material available on the American side to match the smaller and more recently revealed archives from the Russian side.

Like most people I suppose I was more familiar with the von Braun story – from building the V2 with slave labour to chief architect of the Saturn V – and Cadbury devotes a lot of the early book to showing how the two men’s different experiences of mid-twentieth century totalitarianism shaped their lives; von Braun successfully surrendered to the Americans with most of his team as the Nazi regime collapsed, Korolev imprisoned in the gulag for a decade. It is interesting that von Braun, rather than Korolev, was hampered by internal political constraints, largely because his face didn’t fit and through the late 1950s various arms of the US government tried to find other, more American, engineers who would put stuff in space quicker (and they failed).

Having said that, Korolev had to go right to the top, one dispute between him and Glushko being personally resolved by Krushchev. Korolev was also fortunate in that the failures of his programme could be hushed up. But he seems to have had a lucky touch as well; he took a number of chances with the Soviet space programme, including with the lives of the astronauts, which fortunately succeeded (and intimidated the Americans), and after his death in 1966 the wheels came off – Vladimir Komarov killed on re-entry in 1967, the failure of the N1 rocket, the deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew; all problems that might easily have happened on Korolev’s watch but somehow didn’t.

Unlike a lot of space histories, this one runs out of steam when we get to the moon landing, having lost the central dynamic of the rivalry between the two chief engineers. But there’s plenty to think about anyway.

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Whoniversaries 27 December: Noel Johnson, Christopher Benjamin

i) births and deaths

27 December 1916: birth of Noel Johnson who played King Thous in The Underwater Menace (1967) and Sir Charles Grover in Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974)

27 December 1934: birth of Christopher Benjamin, who played Sir Keith Gold in Inferno (1970), Henry Gordon Jago in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977) and the Big Finish Jago and Litefoot stories since 2009, and Colonel Hugh Curbishley in The Unicorn and the Wasp (2008) as well as Tardelli in the 2008 Eighth Doctor audio Grand Theft Cosmos.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

None. This is the last such day in the calendar year; the next 177 days (178 if leading into a leap year) all have broadcast Whoniversaries, until 22 June ends the run.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 12-27-2010

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The Shakespeare scene from “Time Flies” (1944)

This is a little curio. In the 1944 Tommy Handley film Time Flies, Handley and a couple of New York entertainers played by the wonderful Evelyn Dall and George Moon get zapped back to the Elizabethan era in a time machine that surely inspired the Tardis nineteen years later. I’d love to show you the time-travel scene (where our travellers collapse, incapacitated, as it takes off) but unfortunately I no longer have the technical means to do so. I can however bring you the two superb scenes where Evelyn Dall’s character helps Shakespeare write Romeo and Juliet, and then (it being a musical comedy) she and the George Moon character burst into song to throw their pursuers off the scent, Shakespeare looking on approvingly, and the lead violinist being the young Stéphane Grappelli. I think this will cheer you up. (There’s no Tommy Handley in this extract, which is frankly a bonus.)

Shakespeare here is played by John Salew, who also has small parts in Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob.

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December Books 14-16) I, Who; I, Who 2; and I, Who 3, by Lars Pearson

December Books 14) I, Who: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels, by Lars Pearson
December Books 15) I, Who 2: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios, by Lars Pearson
December Books 16) I, Who 3: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios, by Lars Pearson

I managed to pick these three up cheap off eBay a bit over a year ago, and though a little dated they were well worth adding to my Who reference library. Dating respectively from 1999, 2001 and 2003, they attempt to bring the reader up to date with the state of Who spinoff literature in the year of publication. I did my best to read only the pages dealing with books I have already read and audios I have already heard, which means a bit under half of the total page count. The first volume covers the complete Virgin range of New Adventures and Missing Adventures, and the early run of BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures; the second continues the EDA’s and PDA’s and also includes the first couple of years of Big Finish audios, but also dips back to give summaries of the first few years of Bernice Summerfield novels and Target companion stories and brings in a few more apocrypha (Death Comes To Time, The Curse of Fatal Death, The Masters of Luxor, Campaignpreference transmission. I think there is at least one other guide (or series of guides) to the Big Finish audios; I don’t know of any other guide to the spinoff novels. There are of course also a couple of websites which provide the same service, but it’s nice to be able to hold Pearson’s hard copy in your hand and browse through it.

About 80% of the time I find myself largely in agreement with Pearson in his occasionally brutal assessments of the various stories under discussion, and where we disagree it is usually because I didn’t like a story that he approves of (or else that I simply can’t remember much about it). He is rather more positive about, say, Keith Topping than I would be; he’s also very strong on Paul Cornell, and looking at, say, Timewyrm: Revelation or Goth Opera or Love and War in their historical context I can see why.

I have a couple of quibbles about the presentation. Pearson has ordered his reviews in (presumed) order of internal continuity rather than chronological publication; I have some sympathy with this approach (and will use it myself in my books of 2010 poll later this week) but it does badly disjoint some of the story arcs within both the Virgin and BBC ranges (particularly the Lawrence Miles sequence of Virgin novels), and also I query his decision to lump multi-Doctor stories with the latest rather than the earliest Doctor involved. It also seems odd that he omits the Tom Baker and Pertwee audios, other than by reference to their novelisations, and likewise the various BBV etc productions that were floating around at the time. And the audio reviews could have used a more systematic presentation of cast and crew in each case.

More troubling for me, I wonder if I have been taking the right approach in reading the novels myself. I switched at the start of this year from browsing the most popular of the NAs and EDAs to reading through them in order, skipping the ones I’ve already read; but I’m realising now that the narrative arc of both series is such that I will have to reread the previously perused books in sequence to get the full effect. I’m thinking also that I may tackle those of the Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures which I have not read in publication order as well. (And that will also apply to New Who novels.)

The I, Who series of books was produced at a time when it seemed that the audio and spinoff novel sequences where the only future of Who, and it’s not hugely surprising that Pearson stopped producing them once New Who became a real prospect. He then went on to edit the About Time sequence of reference books to the TC stories (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and apparently a new series of reference guides called Fluid Links is planned, of which the first two will tackle the Eighth Doctor Adventures. I’m not even a quarter of the way through that series, but I’ll get Pearson’s next book on Who as soon as it comes out, whatever the subject.

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December Books 13) Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 1, by Fumi Yoshinaga

Like a lot of people, I suspect, I was intrigued and surprised when this year's James Tiptree Jr Award was shared between Cloud and Ashes by Greer Gilman (who I once had dinner with in Boston, though she will have forgotten) and this manga by Fumi Yoshinaga. I was sufficiently intrigued at any rate to put it on my Christmas list, and my kind sister got it for me (and in time to avoid the last few days' delivery problems).

It is an alternate history, set in a world where a gender-sensitive plague killed most of Japan's menfolk in the mid-17th century; the story itself is set a couple of generations later, in the early 18th century, in an era when men are prized as potential breeding stock but excluded from the levers of formal power. The first three of four issues collected here follow the story of Mizuno Yunoshin, a poor but good-looking boy who joins the Ōoku, essentially the harem of the shōgun, at a time of political change. (The fourth issue has the new shōgun looking into the archives and presumably setting up a framing narrative for historical flashbacks the next volume.)

It's a fascinating construction. This is a path that a couple of other writershave previously trodden, most notably John Wyndham in his story "Consider Her Ways" (where all men, rather than most, have become extinct). Apart from the information that men now become commodities to be traded on the marriage market, and that the plague has not affected other countries, most of this first volume simply looks at the inversion of gender relationships as applied to the shōgun's ōoku in our world. There's an extraordinary moment when the shōgun speaks to a visiting Dutch delegation from behind a curtain, so that they will not realise that she is a woman; and she then commands a historical exploration of why patriarchal nomenclature continues to be used. Indeed, although Mizuno Yonushin is the ostensible viewpoint figure of the first three issues, I found the new shōgun, Yoshitsune, much the most interesting character.

Anyway, I shall try and get hold of the remaining volumes – I see that the next three are available in English translation. Good for the Tiptree Award, for calling attention to fascinating works like this one.

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December Books 12) Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science, by Mary Roach

This is a book that I found very difficult to put down once I had unwrapped it yesterday. Mary Roach has written a hilarious account of scientists carrying out research on one of the most fundamental of human activities. It’s something that most of us spend a lot of time (perhaps too much) thinking about anyway, but the stories of those who are researching it for a living are, well, stimulating. The biggest problem with the book is that you have to be slightly careful about the company you are in when tempted to read the most glorious passages out loud. I must also add that, like the author’s husband apparently, I crossed my legs instinctively when reading about surgical interventions to fix male erectile dysfunction. But that discomfort is more than made up for by the breezy, sympathetic and witty descriptions of the whole topic. Very strongly recommended, and I’ll look out eagerly for her other books.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 12-26-2010

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