January Books

Non-fiction: 5
The Hiſtory of That moſt Eminent Stateſman, Sir John Perrott
Sisters of Sinai, by Janet Soskice
For Noble Purposes, by Richard Porter
Tyrone’s Rebellion, by Hiram Morgan
The Secret Life of Trees, by Colin Tudge

Non-genre fiction: 1
The Undiscovered Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

SF (non-Who): 3 (4 counting comics)
Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake
Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake
Titus Alone, by Mervyn Peake

Who: 6
Heart of TARDIS, by Dave Stone
Doctor Who Annual 1979
AHistory: An Unauthorized History of the Doctor Who Universe, by Lance Parkin
Shadowmind, by Christopher Bulis
The Scarlet Empress, by Paul Magrs
Doctor Who Annual 1980

Comics: 1
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol.2, by Fumi Yoshinaga

Page count: 4396 (I know, suspiciously precise).
2/16 books by women (Soskice, Yoshinaga).
1/16 by PoC (Yoshinaga).
Owned for more than a year: 5 (The Undiscovered Chekhov, For Noble Purposes, The Secret Life of Trees, The Scarlet Empress, Shadowmind).
Rereads: 3 (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Doctor Who Annual 1979).

Best book of the month: Sisters of Sinai

Programmed reads: 12 from 10 lists
d: Undiscovered Chekhov (non-genre books by entry order)
i and j: Gormenghast Trilogy (sf by popularity among LT readers and on LJ poll)
l: Shadowmind (NA’s in sequence)
m: Scarlet Empress (EDA’s in sequence)
n: AHistory (New Who books by popularity, though this has Old Who elements too)
o: Heart of TARDIS (Old Who books by popularity)
r: The Hiſtory of Sir John Perrott and Tyrone’s Rebellion (Tudors and Ireland)
t: For Noble Purposes (unreviewed books acquired by end 2005 in reverse entry order)
u: Secret Life of Trees (unreviewed books acquired from 2006 on in entry order)

Coming next, possibly:
The Mahābhārata (already started)
Peeling the Onion by Günther Grass (already started)
Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan (already started)
Irish Tales of Terror edited by Peter Haining
The Prodigal Troll by Charles Coleman Finlay
How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ
Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin
Book of Lost Tales Pt. 2 by J.R.R. Tolkien
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling
The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
Elizabeth I by C. Haigh
Short Trips by British Broadcasting Corporation
Chicks Dig Time Lords edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea
The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Fall of the House of Usher, And Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Birthright by Nigel Robinson
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
The Janus Conjunction by Trevor Baxendale
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Onion’s Our Dumb World: 73rd Edition: Atlas of the Planet Earth
In the Heart of the Desert by John Chryssavgis

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Whoniversaries 31 January

i) broadcast anniversaries

31 January 1970: broadcast of first episode of Doctor Who and the SiluriansThe Seeds of Doom. A mysterious pod is found in Antarctica; it opens, infecting a nearby scientist. The Doctor and Sarah come to investigate.

31 January 1981: broadcast of first episode of The Keeper of Traken. First appearance of Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and of Anthony Ainley though not yet as the Master. The dying Keeper invites the Doctor to come to Traken, where social balance is threatened by the evil calcified Melkur.

ii) date specified in canon

31 January 2007: the SS Elysium arrives in Panama after its encounter with Cybermen, as told in David Banks’ 1993 novel Iceberg.

That brings January to an end, much the heaviest month in this project with 107 Old Who anniversaries, five Torchwood, one each of Sarah Jane Adventures and New Who, and various other things to take into account. February and March are also fairly intense; April and May (where many Old Who seasons had finished, and the numbers are not quite balanced out by the start of New Who) less so, and June will be a welcome relief.

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January Books 16) Doctor Who Annual 1980

With due respect to the anonymous commenter on the previous review in this series, I think that it is clearly Mary Tamm depicted in the 1980 Annual, and it’s a definite improvement from the previous few years. One feels somehow a lot more grounded in the series. Unfortunately, of course, by the time most kids were reading this, Mary Tamm had transformed into Lalla Ward, so the impact was a bit muted, but I read it while still watching The Armageddon Factor so it worked reasonably well for me.

The stories are about average, and the filler material below. However I was interested that the crossword had a number of references to Who continuity (indeed more, apart from Romana, than the whole rest of the annual). Several stories also imply that the Doctor is taking Romana on a regular training mission on behalf of the Time Lords’ Academy, which is amusing considering the role both she and it play in the much later Big Finish Gallifrey stories. As in the TV show, K9 is in some stories but not in others. There is one interesting comment on politics of the late 1970s from the story “Reluctant Warriors” in the middle of the annual:

Alix lowered his voice. “You may remember Leondin from your last visit, when he was campaigning for more leisure and shorter working hours.” The Doctor nodded. “People were fooled by his persuasive talk and he was elected. Of course, some of us tried to block him on the grounds that he was mentally unstable, but we were outnumbered.

“As soon as he could, he threw out all the old senators and replaced them with his pleasure-seeking cronies. Soon the whole city seemed to think of nothing but pleasure, and Leondin provided more and more sophisticated entertainments to keep them happy in their long hours of leisure.”

“Surely there must be some sensible people left,” said Romana.

“There are a few of us,” said Alix, “but we cannot get together because Leondin has us watched. He has forbidden meetings of any kind, and controls all press and television. I suspect that he even has his spies in this building.”

This annual was written and published shortly after the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent and the subsequent Conservative election victory, and it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the writer was trying to make some allusion to current affairs.

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Gibbon Chapter XL: Justinian, Part I

Despite its flaws, which I discuss in the full post, this chapter is basically a really good introduction to the reign and times of Justinian.In 61 pages, it covers i) the Empress Theodora, ii) the factions at the Circus, iii) the economy of Justinian’s empire, especially relating to silk and taxes, iii) the Hagia Sophia and other famous buildings, including the fortifications, iv) the state of learning in the empire. It is the first of four chapters covering Justinian’s reign, with more about the Persians and the church, and I think that if the level of quality continues then I’ll be recommending this sequence of chapters as a way in to Gibbon as well as Justinian.

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Whoniversaries 30 January

i) births and deaths

30 January 1966: birth of Daphne Ashbrook, who played Grace Holloway in the TV Movie (1996).

30 January 1997: death of Nicholas Mallet, who directed The Mysterious Planet (1986), Paradise Towers 1987) and The Curse of Fenric (1989).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

30 January 1965: broadcast of “Conspiracy”, third episode of the story we now call The Romans. The Doctor is made to play the lyre but pulls an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’; the empress Poppæa conspires to poison Barbara; and Ian is ordered to fight to the death in the arena.

30 January 1971: broadcast of first episode of The Mind of Evil. Peculiar goings-on with the Keller Machine in Stangmoor Prison; meanwhile UNIT is guarding both a nuclear missile and a peace conference. What can possibly go wrong?

30 January 2008: broadcast of To The Last Man (Torchwood), the one with Toshiko’s annually defrosted boyfriend.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 1-29-2011

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Peri and the Piscon Paradox

This is one of the best plays Big Finish have ever done. I had reasonably high hopes after reading the very connubial mutual interview between author Nev Fountain and star Nicola Bryant in the last Doctor Who Magazine, and even more so after reading Andrew Hickey’s very positive and detailed review, and I was not disappointed. Nicola Bryant has been awfully good as Peri throughout the Big Finish run of audios; here Fountain has picked up on a number of the things that made The Kingmaker also one of the best Big Finish audios, and managed to both tie up a number of loose ends in Peri’s story and add considerable depth to her character without overburdening her. The two actors involved, Bryant and Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, are both called on to perform rather more intensely and diversely than usual and both really rise to it. Like Andrew Hickey, I was left full of admiration for Bryant’s convincing portrayal of young Peri with the Fifth Doctor just before The Caves of Androzani, combined with her equally convincing portrayal of 2009 Peri who has no memory of the Sixth Doctor at all. I am always attracted by doppelganger-style stories anyway but I loved the layers of disguise and identity in this one. And Fountain and Bryant managed to mix some pretty grim subject matter (which Big Finish don’t always manage to pull off) with the comedy elements where they are perhaps more at home. Very strongly recommended, though I think one would need at least a passing familiarity not just with Doctor Who but with the Peri era to really enjoy it.

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Whoniversaries 29 January

i) births and deaths

29 January 1930: birth of William Emms, author of TV story Galaxy 4 (1965) and the widely forgotten Sixth Doctor book, Mission to Venus (1986).

29 January 1976: birth of Mark Clapham, author and co-author of various Doctor who novels and books.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

29 January 1966: broadcast of “The Destruction of Time”, twelfth episode of the story we now call The Daleks’ Master Plan. The Doctor activates the Time Destructor, killing the Daleks, but also aging Sara Kingdom to death. Last appearance of Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom, though she comes back again as Morgaine in 1989.

29 January 1972: broadcast of first episode of The Curse of Peladon. The Doctor and Jo arrive on Peladopn and are mistaken for the Earth delegation of ambassadors adjudicating Peladon’s application to join the Federation.

29 January 1977: broadcast of first episode of The Robots of Death. The Tardis lands on a giant mobile sandminer, whose crew are being murdered one by one.

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Chroniques de fin de siècle

A hint from and some more googling found me the bande dessinée I was trying to identify: it is Autonomes, the first of a trilogy called Chroniques de fin de siècle, by Jan Bucquoy (better known as a film director, including of La Vie sexuelle des Belges 1950-78). There is a plot summary herecomics shop.

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Comics question

Browsing in a Paris bookshop, in about 1983, I remember looking through a bande dessinée set in a post-breakup Belgium, Flander under authoritarian rule and Wallonia kind of free and easy.

Does that ring any bells for anyone? If you know it please tell me; I’d love to track it down now.

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Whoniversaries 28 January

i) births and deaths

28 January 1938: birth of Christopher Coll, who played Phipps in The Seeds of Death (1969) and Stubbs in The Mutants (1972).

28 January 1976: death of James Mellor, who played Sean Flannigan in The Wheel in Space (1969) and Varan in The Mutants (1972).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

28 January 1967: broadcast of third episode of The Underwater Menace. This is the first surviving Troughton episode, the one with the appalling dance of the fish-people and “NUZZINK IN ZE VURLD CAN STOP ME NOWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!” I would swap it for any of the dozen lost Troughton episodes which preceded it.

28 January 1978: broadcast of fourth episode of Underworld. The Trogs are rescued by Jackson and the Doctor, and the P7E is blown up.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 1-27-2011

  • My old friend Tim Waters: "the real danger to peace is not peoples’ desire to form new states. It is the willingness of the present powers in this world to resist that desire with violence. Chaos and death are not consequences of opening Pandora’s box – they *are* the box. We have stumbled onto that truth in Sudan, after 40 years and Niles of blood. We should not have to learn it all over again, in every war, and every generation."
    (tags: sudan)
  • Latest on the bizarre case of the Israeli academic using the French courts to sue the American editor who published a German professor's book review in an online law journal. Verdict expected in March.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it would have to review two weeks' worth of procedure after determining it had mistakenly based its last three rulings on a copy of the Belgian constitution left in the justices' chambers. "When I presented my case on legal citizenship status under proposed changes to immigration law, I wondered why they said my argument was in direct opposition to the parliamentary rights of the Walloons," said lawyer Hector Martinez, who argued before the court last week. "In light of this information, I think their denying my case based on a precedent set by the Duke of Beaufort in 1782 is null and void." Martinez has appealed his case, but is still awaiting confirmation of his audience with His Majesty Albert II.
    (tags: belgium usa funny)
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Demon Quest, Parts 2 and 3

More Paul Magrs: I managed to listen to the second and third parts of his latest series of audios staring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor before setting off for Moldova last weekend and forgetting my MP3 player, and now that the January Big Finish releases are out I shall listen to them before I finish the Demon Quest sequence.

I rather liked The Demon of Paris, set in 1894 in the world of Toulouse-Lautrec, with Baker’s Doctor and Susan Jameson’s excellent Mrs Wibbsey investigating both why the Doctor’s face appears on the famous Aristide Bruant poster (which of course partially inspired the BBC to give Baker his Doctor’s costume in the first place) and also a series of unsolved disappearances. It’s pretty obvious how things are likely to unfold but a fun ride.

I was less impressed by A Shard of Ice the third of the series set in a German snowstorm in 1847. The fundamentals are basically there, with the Doctor meeting a writer before he has become famous and avoiding the paradox of revealing his future while also telling him his own past adventures and defeating the ‘ideous monster. But I’m not a fan of Richard Franklin’s Mike Yates, who is the companion in this pay, and I also felt the story lost contextual weight by using a fictional writer as its central character, where the first two in the series had the Emperor Claudius and Toulouse-Lautrec and his circle.

Still, I’ll listen to the other two, just not right away.

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January Books 15) The Scarlet Empress, by Paul Magrs

This is the first of Magrs’ Doctor Who novels, and also the first to feature the peculiar Iris Wildthyme, who claims to be a the Doctor’s girlfriend from the old days in Gallifrey, driving around in a Tardis in the shape of a double-decker London bus. I find Magrs a bit variable but this was a good start to his Who career, a quest narrative set on the peculiar magical planet of Hyspero, with everyone looking for their own particular goals, including a couple of additional companions picked up on the way. The Doctor/Sam relationship is back on form, and the Doctor’s dynamic with Iris – combined irritation and affection – works rather well. Having said which, as with all quest narratives, it’s a bit episodic and the end doesn’t quite flow from the middle. But after a couple of less impressive Eighth Doctor adventures I feel the series was getting back on form here.

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Whoniversaries 27 January

i) births and deaths

27 January 1984: death of Douglas Camfield, who directed the third episode of Planet of Giants (1964), also The Crusade (1965), The Time Meddler (1965), The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965-66), The Web of Fear (1968), The Invasion (1968), much of Inferno (1970), Terror of the Zygons (1975) and The Seeds of Doom (1976).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 January 1968: broadcast of sixth episode of The Enemy of the World. Salamander is overthrown, but tries to take control of the Tardis by pretending to be the Doctor. The real Doctor opens the doors and Salamander is blown into the Vortex. The programme was followed by a trailer for The Web of Fear in which the Doctor warns children that it may be frightening.

27 January 1973: broadcast of first episode of Carnival of MonstersThe Armageddon Factor. (I’m due to get to this in my rewatch tomorrow.) K9 almost gets melted, and the Doctor is trapped by the bad guys.

27 January 1984: broadcast of second episode of Frontios. Turlough threatens the Orderlies with the Tardis hatstand, and the Tractators capture the Doctor.

27 January 1996: broadcast of second episode of The Ghosts of N-Space on BBC Radio. The Doctor and Sarah explore earlier periods of the castle’s history by projecting themselves through N-Space: in 1818 they are menaced by a heavy stone falling towards them.

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Whoniversaries 26 January

broadcast anniversaries

26 January 1973: broadcast of third episode of Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The Doctor is playing with his Tyrannosaurus; Sarah is captured by Charles grover and wakes up on a space ship three months out of Earth.

26 January 1982: broadcast of fourth episode of Four to Doomsday. This is the one with the rebounding cricket ball getting the Doctor back into the Tardis. Monarch is killed by his own virus, and Nyssa faints.

26 January 1983: broadcast of fourth episode of Snakedance. The Mara is revived; but the Doctor smashes the Great Crystal and destroys it.

26 January 1984: broadcast of first episode of Frontios. The Tardis materialises at the end of time, where Norma has a very 1984 haircut and the ground swallows people and things up – including the Tardis.

26 January 1985: broadcast of second episode of Vengeance on Varos. The Doctor evades several nasty deaths and joins forces with the Governor and the othe humans to overthrow Sil.

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Whoniversaries 25 January

i) births and deaths

25 January 1950: birth of Christopher Ryan, who played Lord Kiv in Mindwarp (1986), General Staal in The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (2007) and Commander Stark in The Pandorica Opens (2010). Also played Mike Thecoolperson in the Young Ones.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

25 January 1964: broadcast of “The Ordeal”, sixth episode of the story we now call The Daleks. The Doctor and Susan sabotage the Dalek machines but are captured; Ian is endangered in a very literal cliff-hanger.

25 January 1969: broadcast of first episode of The Seeds of Death. The Ice Warriors take over the Moonbase which controls the T-Mat transport system; meanwhile the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe land in a museum of spaceships.

25 January 1975: broadcast of first episode of The Ark in Space. The Tardis lands on a deserted space station to find booby traps, dead giant insects, and frozen people. (A particularly excellent one this with nobody other than the new Tardis crew visible and speaking.)

25 January 1982: broadcast of third episode of Four to Doomsday. Monarch’s mad scheme to destroy the Earth and make himself God is revealed, and the Doctor is threatened with decapitation.

25 January 1983: broadcast of third episode of Snakedance. Nyssa releases the Doctor, but meanwhile Lon and Tegan have ensured that the Great Crystal will be reinstalled; and the Doctor and Nyssa are captured again.

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Whoniversaries 24 January: Spearhead from Space #4, Brain of Morbius #4, Warriors’ Gate #4

broadcast anniversaries

24 January 1970: broadcast of fourth episode of Spearhead from Space. The Doctor and Liz defeat and expel the Nestene Consciousness, and the Doctor accepts the Brigadier’s proposal that he become UNIT’s Scientific Adviser.

24 January 1976: broadcast of fourth episode of The Brain of Morbius. Morbius arises; the Doctor defeats him in a mind-bending contest; and the Sisterhood force him over a cliff, but restore the Doctor’s life.

24 January 1981: broadcast of fourth episode of Warrior’s Gate, last appearance of Romana II and of K9 Mark II on TV. Rorvik blows up his own ship, inadvertently freeing the Tharils and allowing the Doctor and Adric back into N-Space; but Romana and K9 stay behind.

(Compare and contrast these three stories, each of four episodes, broadcast on exactly the same dates in three different years.)

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January Books 14) The Secret Life of Trees, by Colin Tudge

I’ve been aware of Colin Tudge as a science writer and commentator on BBC Radio Four for decades, but this was the first time I’d read one of his books. I was frankly disappointed. The biggest section of the book, 150 pages of the 400, is a gazetteer of tree genera and families; it would actually have been better presented as an alphabetical encyclopedia – the narrative style doesn’t really suit this sort of information (at least, not the way Tudge writes). The final section starts by insisting that humanity must return to an agrarian existence, though without any realistic agenda as to how this might happen (or even convincing reasoning as to why). He also misses two important chances at the beginning: first, the very question of ‘What is a tree?’ could actually lead to interesting speculations about definitions and the history and philosophy of science, but does not do so here; and second, I would really have liked a lot more about the biology and paleontology behind the single most startling thing I learned from the book, which is that plants have evolved tree structures over and over again (rather than all trees being descended from one ancestral tree and all non-trees being descended from other ancestors).

Apart from that fascinating though underdeveloped point, there are bits and pieces of interest – I had not realised that teak and ash are closely related not just to each other but to mint, basil and rosemary (and there are numerous similar examples); his chapter on the relations between figs and wasps is the best in the book (though even that got a bit confused with nematode worms and dodos); and I enjoyed the occasional glimpses of travelogue to see particular trees and wished there had been more of them.

But I’d be rather surprised if this is the best book about trees out there.

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January Books 13) Shadowmind, by Christopher Bulis

A decent enough Seventh Doctor, Ace and Benny story, with human colonists wandering into an existing struggle between two alien entities. I didn’t think Bulis quite got Benny in this one but he has an excellent Ace and good Doctor. A really good ending which would have made great TV especially for New Who, as the Bad Alien Entity is put out of action by an innovative use of a solar sail. Would be an OK book for Who fans who don’t know the New Adventures, less useful for non-Who fans wanting to experiment.

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Whoniversaries 23 January

i) births and deaths

23 January 1921: as noted yesterday, birth of Kevin Stoney, who played Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965-66), Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion (1968), and Tyrum in Revenge of the Cybermen (1975).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

23 January 1965: broadcast of “All Roads Lead to Rome”, second episode of the story we now call The Romans. The Doctor and Vicki meet Nero, the Doctor pretending to be the murdered musician Petullian. Barbara is sold as a handmaiden to the Empress, Ian is shipwrecked.

23 January 1971: broadcast of fourth episode of Terror of the Autons. The Doctor persuades the Master that the Nestenes will go for him too, and together they repel the invasion. The Master escapes.

23 January 2008: broadcast of Sleeper (Torchwood), the one with homicidal aliens disguised as humans. (That doesn’t help you remember which one it is? Really?)

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 1-23-2011

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The Tintin Museum

We had a jolly good time this afternoon in the Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve.

This is despite the fact that Louvain-la-Neuve is a true hell-hole of Sixties architecture, a place that only exists because of the Belgian language conflict and whose most prominent features are pot-holes and car parks. Readers acquainted with the English city of Milton Keynes should consider what it would be like with no soul and no money; that will give you something of the flavour of Louvain-la-Neuve.

However, it hosts various important institutions, of which the largest is probably the Université Catholique and one of the newest is the Hergé Museum. An amazing modernist building designed by noted French architect Christian de Portzamparc, it straddles one of the dubious bits of the Louvain-la-Neuve ring road like a beacon of civilisation among the chaos. (The architect itself says that he wanted to make “the whole building look a bit like a moored ship, resembling Fitzcarraldo’s great steamship being hauled over the Amazon forest.” He succeeded.)

Given that the museum celebrates the vision of a singular creative genius, Fitzcarraldo isn’t a bad metaphor. Though, on reflection, that is very unfair to George Rémi, aka Hergé, who was a lot more sane than Fitzcarraldo (and also of course real). The whole thing is a really nice celebration of a man who gave a lot of pleasure to chldren (and adults) all over the world; it depicts the environment in which he grew up (Boy Scouts, you will not be surprised to learn, are a crucial element in the personal history of Tintin’s creator), and the way in which he worked (in later years as head of a studio of artists, all producing output under the name of Hergé) as well as the possible inspirations of some of the characters, plots and scenes from the books.

You can even step quite literally into the world of Tintin:

And buy all kinds of souvenirs:

The museum is rather muted on the racism of the earliest Tintin books (notably Tintin in the Congo) and totally silent about the blow to Hergé’s reputation and career caused by his lack of resistance to the Germans occupation and his publication of his stories in a collaborationist newspaper. But in fairness Rémi himself comes across in interviews (and there are many viewable in the museum and on the cute iPods which talk you through the displays in five languages) as a man dedicated, first, to his art and second, to his family and colleagues, rather than to the grand political issues of the day. His accommodation with the Nazis was the behaviour of a coward rather than an ideologue; which of us can really know what we would do in a similar situation? And his later work seems to show that he had learned from his mistakes, with consistent attacks on big business and sympathy for the oppressed (including the depressing conclusion of his last full book, Tintin and the Picaros, where the man at the top may have changed but the police remain the same).

Anyway, after reading Thomas McCarthy’s Tintin and the Secret of Literature, this was a welcome reminder of how we got there. I left with three Tintin volumes under my belt, two of which I haven’t actually read before. Well worth a trip if you are in Brussels, or otherwise nearby, and have half a day to spare.

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January Books 12) Tyrone’s Rebellion, by Hiram Morgan

The Nine Years’ War lasted from 1594 to 1603; its consequences were catastrophic for Ireland, in that the old Gaelic order was weakened to the point that its leaders chose exile in Europe rather than continue life in their devastated homeland; the political impact in England was massive as well, in that it caused the spectacular end of the Earl of Essex (whose expedition to Ireland is the only contemporary event directly mentioned in any of Shakespeare’s plays).

In this book, Hiram Morgan does not tell any of that story. He ends the narrative in 1596 when Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, made the strategic decision to ally with Spain and continue the war rather than accept the peace terms on offer. The book as a whole is an explanation of how matters got to that point: essentially the clash between O’Neill’s desire to achieve endorsement from Queen Elizabeth of his political dominance in Ulster, and her commitment to increase the central power of her state and uphold her own honour and dignity – a clash of principles which could have ended quite differently, either with a negotiated settlement (if the Queen’s officials had been more politically adept at selling the necessary concessions to her and to each other) or indeed in an Irish/Spanish victory (if the Spanish had been luckier with the weather, and/or O’Neill had been even half as good a commander in field combat as he was at guerilla strikes and general strategy).

Morgan makes the point, which I have seen elsewhere and which remains valid, that the war in Ireland was a mirror-image of the contemporaneous conflict over here, where England supported Dutch rebels against Spanish rule. Over here the result was a draw, with each side getting half the territory; considering how extended their supply lines were, the Spanish were lucky to get that much.

However, Morgan is really writing about beginnings rather than endings, which suits me fine. He starts with two excellent chapters comparing the rule in Ireland of the activist but abrasive Sir John Perrot with his lazy and corrupt successor Sir William FitzWilliam. He then explains the extraordinarily complex dynastic politics and history of the O’Neill family, in the context of a Gaelic society in transition (incidentally disproving the view of many historians that Hugh O’Neill spent any time in England as a child). And finally he looks at the immediate causes of the outbreak of the war, placing O’Neill firmly in the heart of the Gaelic Ulster response to the Dublin administration’s attempts to reorganize the judicial system.

I found some very interesting parallels with some of the contemporary conflicts I have dealt with. The Dublin Castle attempt to implement a new judicial system is very reminiscent of the UN’s efforts in Kosovo (I helped write a report on this once) – perhaps also of international attempts to upgrade traditional justice mechanisms in some of the African countries I have looked at.

I was also fascinated by the accounts of information flow. Perrot, in his own account, is absolutely clear that he had informants in Spain as well as in the Gaelic areas. O’Neill was even better at it, knowing full well where English troops would be (partly why he was so good at the guerilla raids) and deliberately feeding misleading information via his own secretary who was a double agent. But spies seem to have been fairly respectable; they could expect to get hearings with the most senior officials, and continue dealing with both sides long after their exposure. Perhaps they should be seen more as predecessors to today’s constantly open diplomatic channels.

I was very glad (with some sharp intake of breath, for reasons explained below) to find out more about my ancestor, Sir Nicholas White – Morgan’s account raised more questions than answers for me, but in a sense that is what I wanted. White was knighted by Perrot on the latter’s arrival in Dublin as viceroy, and wrote him an affectionate and laudatory poem on his departure. My reading is that White was in sympathy with Perrot’s activist agenda, to the point of shifting away from his own family allegiance to the Earl of Ormond and his personal links with Lord Burghley in support of Perrot. Once Perrot had returned to Wales, he continued to be an activist on Irish issues and was a real pain in the side for his venal successor, FitzWilliam, undermining him for instance by stage-managing a Dublin visit by Burghley’s son Sir Thomas Cecil (who had been tutored as a boy by none other than Nicholas White).

FitzWilliam struck back. He arrested one of the many double agents, Sir Denis O’Roughan, with evidence that Perrot was in league with the Spanish (this just a couple of years after 1588 and the Armada). The Dublin Castle establishment, who did not line FitzWilliam, interrogated O’Roughan and reported that his evidence was untrustworthy.

The Queen took a different view (perhaps because she had reliable reports that Perrot had described her as “a base bastard piskitchin”, though Morgan omits that last juicy detail). She hauled Perrot off to the Tower of London and also brought in two members of the Irish council for torturing O’Roughan during his interrogation. One of them, a bishop, was released after paying a £2000 fine. The other died in the Tower (as did Perrot); he was Nicholas White.

So, it’s a bit disconcerting to discover that the ancestor was a part-time torturer, but I knew he had a vicious streak – he once ordered a dispute between two Gaelic chieftains to be resolved by trial by combat in the yard of Dublin Castle, and was also very keen on executing rebels.

Of course, coercive violence was also a tool of government, at least as much from the Gaelic chiefs towards their own subjects (and especially their prospective subjects). If you actually executed a rival, you could expect to be held to account for it, but you could usually explain it away. Hostage-taking was almost a normal part of neighbourly relations.

A few other points. Morgan is good at flagging up the role of Irish women on the rare occasions when they were allowed to become political players. But one point not well explained is O’Neill’s seduction and marriage of Mabel Bagenal, of the main English family in Ulster: just a small detail, but she disappears into the background. My only other gripe is that the family tree if the O’Neills on pages 86-87 is missing most of the horizontal and vertical lines needed to make it comprehensible.

Apart from that, an excellent book if you are interested in the period, and very readable even if you aren’t.

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Whoniversaries 22 January

i) births and deaths

22 January 1950: birth of Pamela Salem, who played Toos in The Robots of Death (1977) and Rachel Jensen in Remembrance of the Daleks (1988).

22 January 1993: birth of Tommy Knight who plays Sarah Jane Smith’s adopted son Luke in the Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-).

22 January 2008: death of Kevin Stoney, the day before his 87th birthday; he played Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965-66), Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion (1968), and Tyrum in Revenge of the Cybermen (1975).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

22 January 1966: broadcast of “The Abandoned Planet”, eleventh episode of the story we now call The Daleks’ Master Plan. The Doctor, Sara and Steven arrive on Kembel and release the Daleks’ prisoners; but Mavic Chen takes them captive.

22 January 1971: broadcast of fourth episode of Day of the Daleks. The Controller lets the Doctor and Jo return to the twentieth century, and Shura blows up Styles’ house with the Daleks in it.

22 January 1977: broadcast of fourth episode of The Face of Evil. Xoanon becomes sane and the Tesh and Sevateem agree to live in peace; Leela leaves with the Doctor.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 1-22-2011

  • I'm chairing a couple of sessions at this.
    (tags: moldova)
  • Moffat's first ever Who story; readers will recognise some similarities with the most recent TV story, "A Christmas Carol".
    (tags: doctorwho)
  • Running tally of the referendum count. I wonder if the pro-unity vote can close the gap? (Actually, no I don't.)
    (tags: sudan)
  • Tremendous news – David Fisher to write a new novelisation of The Stones of Blood for audio release, to be read by Susan Engel (Vivien Fay in the TSusan Engel, who played Vivien Fay in the story, and also features John Leeson who provides the voice of K9 story) and also featuring John Leeson (K9). The original Terrance Dicks novelisation is workmanlike but not terribly memorable; however Fisher's two previous novelisations of his own stories – The Creature from the Pit and The Leisure Hive – are particularly good, among the best Fourth Doctor books and certainly better than the TV originals.
    (tags: doctorwho)
  • FRiveBooks is a brilliant site in general, and this is particularly delightful.

    "Any parting advice for young journalists?"
    "The best piece of advice I ever got was from John Bulloch, of The Independent, when I was grousing about some miserable act of sub-editing. ‘Never, ever read the paper, my boy,’ he said. ‘You’ll be much happier that way.’ So I didn’t, and I was. But since nobody reads newspapers any more anyway, this advice may be of limited application."

    (tags: books)
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Whoniversaries 21 January

i) births and deaths

21 January 1978: death of Geoffrey Orme, who wrote The Underwater Menace.

21 January 1993: death of David Blake Kelly, who played the captain of the Mary Celeste in The Chase (1965) and Jacob Kewper in The Smugglers (1966)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

21 January 1967: broadcast of second episode of The Underwater Menace. The Doctor causes a power cut and Ara rescues Polly. Zaroff explains that he intends to destroy the Earth.

21 January 1978: broadcast of third episode of Underworld. The Trogs rebel against the Guardians; the Doctor and Leela prepare to infiltrate the Citadel.

(Two particularly duff episodes today, in my opinion.)

iii) date specified in canon

21 January 1941: the Doctor and Rose trace a mauve alert to London and meet Captain Jack Harkness, as see in The Empty Child (2005).

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