March Books

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 15)
International Law and the Question of Western Sahara, edited by Karin Arts and Pedro Pinto Leite
The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vols III & IV, by Edward Gibbon
The Essential Rumi
Contested Will, by James Shapiro

Fiction (non-sf) 8 (YTD 15)
The Return of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Valley of Fear, by Arthur Conan Doyle
His Last Bow, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, by Tom Baker
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

SF (non-Who) 7 (YTD 17)
The Fall of the House of Usher and other stories, by Edgar Allan Poe
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
Fantasy: the Best of the Year, 2007, edited by Rich Horton
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke
The Miracle Visitors, by Ian Watson
The Lays of Beleriand, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Doctor Who 10 (YTD 20)
The Janus Conjunction, by Trevor Baxendale
Matrix, by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker
Doctor Who Annual 1981
The Gemini Contagion, by Jason Arnopp
Night of the Humans, by David Llewellyn
Iceberg, by David Banks
Doctor Who Annual 1982
Ghost Train, by James Goss
Beltempest, by Jim Mortimore
Deep Blue, by Mark Morris

Comics 1 (YTD 3)
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 3, by Fumi Yoshinaga

~9,400 pages (YTD 20,300)
3/31 (YTD 9/70) by women (Arts, Clarke, Yoshinaga)
2/31 (YTD 5/70) by PoC (Rumi, Yoshinaga)
Owned for more than a year: 11 (The Diamond Age (reread), The Little Prince (reread), The Canterbury Tales, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (reread), Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2007, The Miracle Visitors, The Janus Conjunction, Iceberg , International Law and the Question of Western Sahara, The Essential Rumi, The Lays of Beleriand).
Also reread: The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear, His Last Bow, Doctor Who Annual 1982 for a total of 7/31 (YTD 14/70)

Programmed reads: 17½ from 17 lists.
b) and c) History of the Peloponnesian War (non-fiction by popularity on LT and on LJ poll)
e) Love in the Time of Cholera (non-genre fiction by popularity on LT)
f) Complete Sherlock Holmes (second half) (non-genre fiction by popularity on LJ poll)
g) Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2007 (sf anthologies in order of entry)
h) The Miracle Visitors (sf non-anthologies in order of entry)
i) The Ladies of Grace Adieu (sf in order of LT popularity)
j) The Fall of the House of Usher and other stories (sf by popularity on LJ poll)
k) The Diamond Age (Hugo winners in sequence)
l) Iceberg (New Adventures in sequence)
m) The Janus Conjunction, Beltempest (Eighth Doctor Adventures in sequence)
n) Night of the Humans (New Who books by LT popularity)
o) Matrix, Deep Blue (other Old Who by popularity)
p) The Lays of Beleriand (History of Middle Earth in sequence)
s) The Essential Rumi (books by PoC in order of entry)
t) The Canterbury Tales (books on the shelves at end 2005, otherwise not accounted for, going backwards in LT entry order)
v) The Little Prince (books I have already read but haven’t reviewed on-line, ranked by LT popularity)

Coming next, possibly:

Elizabeth’s Irish Wars by Cyril Falls (already started)
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce(already started)
Torchwood: Department X by James Goss(already started)
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Year’s Best SF 12 by David G. Hartwell
The Onion’s Our Dumb World: 73rd Edition: Atlas of the Planet Earth
The Rights of Woman – and – On The Subjection of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill
In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers by John Chryssavgis
Toujours Tingo: Extraordinary Words to Change the Way We See the World by Adam Jacot de Boinod
A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin
The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins
Judgement Of The Judoon by Colin Brake
A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay (bumped from March reading after I bought Ladies of Grace Adieu)
The Time Dissolver by Jerry Sohl
Blood Heat by Jim Mortimore
The Face Eater by Simon Messingham
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
The Shaping of Middle-Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien
More Short Trips, edited by Stephen Cole
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (bumped from March reading after I bought Love in the Time of Cholera)
The Alexiad by Anna Comnena

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March Books 31) Deep Blue, by Mark Morris

I’ve just started re-watching the Fifth Doctor’s stories, so it was interesting timing to read a Fifth Doctor novel featuring Tegan and Turlough, but also bringing in UNIT in the interval between The Green Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs, giving pride of place to Tegan and Mike Yates – not the most obvious of pairings, but in the context where both have recently survived mind control, they are well placed to comprehend an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario in an English seaside resort in the early 1970s where Turlough, the Brigadier and Benton don’t cope quite so well. Morris does horror pastiche well, and I think my biggest quibble is that the Doctor’s solution to the invasion is a bit glib; still, it would probably have worked (indeed did work once or twice) on TV Who stories. A decent end to my month’s reading.

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Whoniversaries 31 March

31 March 1973: broadcast of sixth episode of Frontier in SpaceSmith and Jones, starting Season Three of New Who; first appearance of Freeman Agyeman as Martha Jones. Martha’s hospital is abruptly transported to the Moon, where the Judoon are tracking down a criminal.

Three quarters of the way through the year now, and past the January-March hump; April-June will be less intense. Nine of the 26 seasons of Old Who ended in the first quarter of the year – six of them in March, including the two-episode-per week seasons of the 1980s which are of course particularly intense for Whoniversaries.

I will stop posting Whoniversaries to and my own journal after 30 June, since I started on 1 July last year. But I would very much like to set up a permanent feed for people who want to continue seeing them. Does anyone have any ideas as to how I might do this – or better, can anyone help directly? At present the information exists only in LJ posts, but should be easy enough to extract and to update as necessary.

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March Books 30) The Lays of Beleriand, by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the third volume of the History of Middle Earth; it contains two unfinished poems tackling the two key narratives of the Silmarillion. The first, a version of the tale of Túrin told in alliterative blank verse, did not really appeal to me, and while I can see why Tolkien, with his background, wanted to give it a try, it’s not very surprising that the effort did not come off. The Lay of Leithian, however, is a different matter – telling the story of Beren and Lúthien in rhyming couplets of iambic tetrameter, it has a tremendous energy that Tolkien never quite managed in the prose versions of the story, despite its strong personal significance for him. Also I had forgotten, or had never realised, just how kickass a heroine Lúthien actually is. The couplets are occasionally a little unpolished, but Christopher Tolkien reproduces a mock source-critical analysis by none other than C.S. Lewis suggesting that the least good bits are obvious interpolations by later scribes. J.R.R. Tolkien then revised the poem in line with Lewis’ suggestions, but typically started expanding it from the middle again and never got around to finishing it.

Years later, it was part of the disorganised bundle of papers submitted to Unwin as material for a potential sequel to The Hobbit. Unwin’s reader, who clearly had not been given much background, found the poem indigestible and urged instead an expansion of the prose summary of the rest of The Silmarillion. Tolkien wasn’t up for this at that point, and wrote The Lord of the Rings instead. And thus was history made.

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March Books 29) Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 3, by Fumi Yoshinaga

I’ve had a stinking cold all day and stayed in bed, which did at least mean I finished a couple of books and started a couple more. And now apparently Livejournal is suffering the worst DDoS attack in its history, so I’m posting this by email and hoping it will appear once the gremlins have been purged from the intertubes.

Having enjoyed Volume 1 and Volume 2 of this series, I had fairly high hopes for this third instalment of the alternate history of a Japan where almost all men were wiped out by a mysterious plague in the 1630s. It didn’t quite scratch my itches; the focus is much more on the court sexual politics of the Ōoku itself, and the relationship between Arikoto and the Lady Chiye (posing as the shōgun Iemitsu Tokugawa), in particular the political need for her to bear children by other men given Arikoto’s apparent sterility. We do get some exploration of the social catastrophe wrought by the man-killing plague in Japan, and of why Chiye/Iemitsu’s response, backed by her government, is to legitimise female succession rather than polygamy; I’d have liked more of that and less of the romance, but I guess I can’t have everything. In any case, it is once again beautifully drawn and characterised, and with a welcome reduction in the brutal violence of the precious volume.

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Whoniversaries 30 March

i) births and deaths

30 March 2007: death of Dave Martin, who co-wrote The Claws of Axos (1971), The Mutants (1972), The Three Doctors (1973), The Sontaran Experiment (1975), The Hand of Fear (1976), The Invisible Enemy (1977), Underworld (1978) and The Armageddon Factor (1979) with Bob Baker and also wrote six spinoff novels.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

30 March 1968: broadcast of third episode of Fury from the Deep. Maggie and Robson have been taken over by the weed, and walk together into the sea.

30 March 1974: broadcast of second episode of The Monster of Peladon. The Doctor and Sarah are thrown into a pit to face the wrath of Aggedor.

30 March 1982: broadcast of fourth episode of Time-Flight, ending Season 19. The Doctor rescues the Concorde, bounces the Master to Xeriphas, and departs with Nyssa, leaving Tegan behind.

30 March 1984: broadcast of fourth episode of The Twin Dilemma, ending Season 21. The Doctor defeats Mestor and the Gastropods and Azmael is killed.

30 March 1985: broadcast of second episode of Revelation of the Daleks, ending Season 22. A different faction of Daleks arrives and captures Davros; Tranquil Repose is destroyed.

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March Books 28) The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

This is the Penguin edition of the Canterbury Tales, translated rather bravely into modern English verse, and omitting the bulk of Chaucer’s own Tale of Melibee and also the Parson’s Tale (which is admittedly very boring). I have a number of general observations:

  1. It is striking how many of the Tales are unfinished, either interrupted by other characters or simply not completed by Chaucer – the Shipman’s Tale being the most egregious example, ending in mid-sentence.
  2. Chaucer is happier writing about sex than high politics. The Monk’s Tale with its list of virtuous rulers is a yawn a minute. The Knight’s Tale is far too long and should have concentrated on the love story rather than the courtly jousting. By contrast the Miller’s Tale and the Reeve’s Tale are vivid sketches.
  3. There are a lot of unfaithful wives in Chaucer, yet I sense his sympathy is more with them than with the virtuous (who often end up dying painfully spiritual deaths). I don’t think there is direct evidence that the Wife of Bath ever cheated on any of her five husbands but one senses that she would not have let an opportunity slip past her and that Chaucer approves.
  4. The astrology really is a big deal. The late great J.D. North wrote several books addressing Chaucer’s astrology which I absorbed with great interest while doing my MPhil twenty (gulp!) years ago, but basically the point is that Chaucer knew what he was talking about and his astrology is carefully calculated. (Unlike Shakespeare, who is cheerfully hazy on the details of cosmology.)
  5. By contrast, Chaucer’s geography is rather weak once you get past Flanders and northern France. In the Man of Law’s Tale, poor Constance’s boat is washed from Syria to Britain without coming in sight of her native Italy or of any other land mass.
  6. It is a shame that the rather dull and over-long Knight’s Tale tends to be placed first in the collection. I am sure it puts off many potential modern readers, and most of the rest of the stories are great fun.

Anyway, strongly recommended, apart from the points noted above.

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March Books 27) Contested Will, by James Shapiro

An excellent book about the Shakespeare authorship controversy, which was a topic I once wasted quite a lot of online time on (between about 2000 and 2004). Shapiro is not really writing about the balance of evidence on either side, though he makes it clear that his sympathies are with the Stratford man rather than with Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford. His subject is more an attempt to work out why various highly regarded intellects (Mark Twain and Helen Keller for Bacon, Sigmund Freud for Oxford) should be attracted by such peculiar theories. His answer is that, for Twain and Freud in particular, it was emotionally important to see the plays and sonnets as autobiographical and revealing of their author’s state of mind, even though this is completely anachronistic in terms of how Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote and thought about writing.

The grand Oxford conspiracy theory (which in its wilder variations has the Earl as both son and lover of Queen Elizabeth, as well as being the author of the works of Shakespeare, Marlowe and many more) then happened to hit the Zeitgeist of the last few decades, when we have learned that governments often do lie to us about more important issues than who wrote a play, and questioning received wisdom has become habitual.

Finally, Shapiro points out that Shakespeare’s claim to sole authorship of all the plays is no longer accepted by mainstream scholars, in that several of the plays are in fact collaborations (with Fletcher, Middleton, Wilkins and Peele; and he omits Kyd and Edward III). The idea that even a small part of Shakespeare might not be by Shakespeare was heretical until surprisingly recently. But real research, unlike Oxfordianism or Baconianism, moves on.

A good book to read as I crystallize my own biographical endeavours.

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Whoniversaries 29 March

broadcast anniversaries

29 March 1969: broadcast of fourth episode of The Space Pirates. Clancey and the Doctor try to convince Madeleine that Caven is behind the space pirates, but Caven himself arrives and captures them.

29 March 1975: broadcast of fourth episode of Genesis of the Daleks. The Thals destroy the Kaled dome; the Daleks destroy the Thals; and Davros captures the Doctor, Sarah and Harry.

29 March 1982: broadcast of third episode of Time-Flight. The Master is trying to get in with the Xeraphin.

29 March 1984: broadcast of third episode of The Twin Dilemma. Mestor is killing people and there are Jacondans and Gastropods.

29 March 2002: webcast of “No Child of Earth, Part 1”, eighth episode of Death Comes to Time.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 3-29-2011

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Whoniversaries 28 March

i) births and deaths

28 March 1924: birth of Robert James, who played Lesterson in The Power of the Daleks (1966) and the High Priest in The Masque of Mandragora (1976).

28 March 1983: birth of Gareth David-Lloyd, who played Ianto Jones in the first three series of Torchwood (2006-09).

28 March 1987: death of Patrick Troughton, three days after his 67th birthday, while attending a convention in Georgia.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

28 March 1964: broadcast of “Mighty Kublai Khan”, sixth episode of the story we now call Marco Polo. Ping-Cho flees, but the Doctor and the Khan bond.

28 March 1970: broadcast of second episode of The Ambassadors of Death. The returned Mars probe is captured by Carrington’s men, and retrieved by the Doctor. But who or what, if anything, is inside?

iii) dates specified in canon

28 March 1963: murder of Lizzie Lewis by Ed Morgan, as later transpires in the Torchwood story Ghost Machine (2006).

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 3-28-2011

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His mother was a *what*?

Thanks to 's hospitality, and a fortunate alignment of timetables, I was able to visit the British Library on Friday and investigate some of the papers dealing with my dubiously illustrious ancestor, the sixteenth-century Sir Nicholas White. The most exciting document I found was the original of this letter written by him and bound into volume 21 of the Lansdowne collection of William Cecil's papers, describing the death of the second Earl of Essex from dysentery.

The sentence I was particularly looking out for is the one transcribed thus:

Emong others he had care of my seconde son, which is all this while brought upp with the young Erle his son, without any chardge to me, bicause his mother was a Lenox.

I took this reading from Original letters, illustrative of English history, edited by Sir Henry Ellis in 1825. But in fact I should have cross-checked with Queen Elizabeth and her Times, edited by Thomas Wright in 1898, which transcribes the last few words as

…because his mother was a Deverox.

I've just seen that now as I write this entry, but staring at the letters on Friday in the BL I could see it was clearly not 'Lenox' and certainly 'd***vox', or possibly 'ad***vox'.

Anyway, in the context of why the Earl of Essex should look after a random Irish lad, the Deverox/Devereux connection makes far more sense than any Lennox connection could. The few records we have indicate that Nicholas White's first wife, and the mother of at least his first two sons, was a Sherlock, but I begin to wonder if that too may not have been a misreading.

Devereux is also a Wexford name as well as being the name of the Earl of Essex, and the Whites seem to have originated from the areas bordering Counties Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny. The Devereux family holdings in County Wexford were attacked by the McMurrough Kavanaghs in 1535, and in 1540 Sir Nicholas Devereux inherited the estate from his grandfather John Devereux. Nicholas Devereux claimed to have been a schoolfellow of William Cecil's, which I guess makes it plausible that his sister, if a couple of years younger, was the mother of Nicholas White's son. Best of all, I find that when Robert Browne was killed by the Kavanaghs in 1571, a reprisal was led by Sir Nicholas Devereux, described as his uncle. Robert Browne was Nicholas White's son-in-law; if his wife was the daughter of Nicholas White and of Nicholas Devereux's sister, that would make him Devereux's nephew by shorthand.

(One more supporting element is that if White's wife had been a member of the English Devereux family, rather than their distant Irish relatives, Cecil would hardly have needed reminding of the fact.)

Anywa, all grist to the mill…

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March Books 25) Ghost Train, by James Goss

One of the two Torchwood audio books just released, both I think by Goss (who I find a tremendously impressive writer) and read by Kai "Rhys Williams" Owen, set in the gap between Torchwood series 2 and 3. Ghost Train is told as a first person narrative by Rhys, who gets sucked into a peculiar alien invasion with added time travel paradoxes, and ends up pilfering from himself. It’s slightly retconning to put Rhys, whose great virtue in the TV show was that he was a lightning rod to normality, as the central character in a tale of the creepy unknown, but the story is a brilliant mixture of humour and horror, and Owen is a great reader – his Jack is a little too drawly, but of course he is playing Rhys doing Jack rather than being Jack himself. I hope the other new audiobook, Department X, is as good.

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March Books 24) Doctor Who Annual 1982

Produced just as Tom Baker was changing to Peter Davison, and featuring Adric as the sole humanoid companion, along with K9 for the earlier stories (this is presumably K9 Mark III, being run in before the Doctor sent him off to Sarah Jane Smith). The first two stories are rather memorable – one has Adric reduced to miniscule size and forced to take part in a war between inhabitants of a world which is actually a carbon atom; the other has the Tardis afflicted by the sort of spatial bending that crops up in both Logopolis and Castrovalva, this annual being published in the gap between the respective broadcasts of the two. As well as anticipating Wikipedia and the GPS, the factoids include a relatively balanced piece on plutonium and nuclear power which is just as relevant thirty years on. The two Fifth Doctor stories at the end aren’t especially memorable, and feature head-shots of Davison based on his All Creatures Great and Small character. The art is otherwise pretty good.

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March Books 23) Iceberg, by David Banks

I thought this was an excellent Seventh Doctor novel, achieving the rare feat of writing a decent Cybermen story, in this case by the guy who actually played the Cyberleader on screen in the 1980s; set in 2006 and unifying the continuity of the various Cybermen TV stories set in the twentieth century. The Doctor is separated from his usual companions (who are off having the adventure described in Birthright) and teams up with a feisty investigative journalist called Ruby Duvall; if Big Finish are casting around for more characters to revive they could do worse than her.

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Assembly Election 2011: initial thoughts

Have uploaded my thoughts on the coming Assembly election to my elections site.

East Belfast (2007: DUP 3, UUP 1, Alliance 1, PUP 1): particularly volatile at present, with Alliance having got more than double its 2007 vote in the 2010 Westminster election, and Dawn Purvis, the sole successful PUP candidate last time, having left her party and contesting as an independent. It seems reasonably certain that the DUP will win at least two seats, and the UUP at least one; on their Westminster result, Alliance should comfortably win two as well. But it is not at all clear who will win the sixth seat.

North Belfast (2007: DUP 2, SF 2, SDLP 1, UUP 1): The DUP are within shouting distance of overhauling the UUP and taking all three Unionist seats here; the Nationalist balance of two SF and one SDLP looks stable.

South Belfast (2007: SDLP 2, DUP 1, UUP 1, SF 1, Alliance 1): The 2010 result was very similar to the 2007 result, if one tallies SF votes from the Assembly has having been lent to the SDLP, and therefore no change seems likely here.

West Belfast (2007: SF 5, SDLP 1): Despite the boundary changes, there doesn’t seem to have been much of a shift in relative party strengths here – in particular, there is no Unionist quota – so no change seems likely.

East Antrim (2007: DUP 3, UUP 2, Alliance 1): The new boundaries make a real difference here as there is a likely (though not completely certain) Nationalist seat; with the SDLP and SF separated by only 45 votes in the Westminster election, it is very difficult to call which of the two parties is likely to jhave the best shot. The losers, on recent form, will be the UUP unless Alliance are very unlucky or careless. The DUP are running four candidates, which is bold, but one never knows.

North Antrim (2007: DUP 3, SF 1, UUP 1, SDLP 1): The new boundaries make a real difference here as one of the Nationalist seats (the SDLP’s, on recent form) is lost to East Antrim. It is difficult to establish which of the Unionist parties is likely to gain as a result. My gut instinct favours the DUP, but Lord Bannside, formerly Ian Paisley, will not be a candidate here for the first time since 1970. Jim Allister got a clear quota for the TUV in 2010, but will he be able to hang onto it? On the other hand, if the UUP votes slips still further, there may be another seat up for grabs.

South Antrim (2007: DUP 2, UUP 1, SF 1, Alliance 1, SDLP 1): The UUP were careless not to win a second seat here in 2007, the last man in being the SDLP’s Tommy Burns. Boundary shifts help them this year, and they should have a chance of taking a Nationalist seat, which onrecent form would be the SDLP’s.

North Down (2007: DUP 2, UUP 2, Alliance 1, Green 1): This is one of the most volatile constituencies in Northern Ireland; to add to the confusion, the sole Green member elected in 2007 is not standing again, and Alan McFarland, elected in 2007 for the UUP, is standing as an independent. One can be reasonably sure that the DUP will get at least two seats, Alliance and the UUP at least one each, and that neither Nationalist party has much chance, but it’s very difficult to call the last two seats.

South Down (2007: SDLP 2, SF 2, DUP 1, UUP 1): The new boundaries put a Unionist seat at risk here, and on recent form that seat is the UUP’s rather than the DUP’s. The SDLP should be better placed than SF to pick it up. But a lot will depend on balancing of candidates, and if the Unionists are lucky they may keep the status quo.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone (2007: SF 2, DUP 2, SDLP 1, UUP 1): The peculiar circumstances of the 2010 election make it very unreliable as a forecast of this year’s result. No change from 2007 seems the most likely, unless SF are able to maintain their squeeze of SDLP support.

Foyle (2007: SDLP 3, SF 2, DUP 1): Veteran campaigner Eamonn McCann hopes to gain a seat here. If he does, it will probably be from the SDLP.

Lagan Valley (2007: DUP 3, UUP 1, SF 1, Alliance 1): The new boundaries remove the Nationalist seat here, unless Alliance are very unlucky. Either way, that means a fifth Unionist seat, which on recent form is more likely to go to the DUP.

East Londonderry (2007: DUP 3, SF 1, UUP 1, SDLP 1)The new boundaries don’t give Nationalists an extra seat but do leave half a Nationalist quota floating around, which might help Alliance or might help whichever is perceived as the more moderate Unionist option (or equally might simply not transfer). The third DUP seat is the most vulnerable on the Unionist side.

Mid Ulster (2007: SF 3, DUP 1, SDLP 1, UUP 1): In a good year, the DUP might be able to grab the second Unionist seat from the UUP; otherwise, no change is likely.

Newry and Armagh (2007: SF 3, SDLP 1, UUP 1, DUP 1): No change in the boundaries, and no change seems likely.

Strangford (2007: DUP 4, UUP 1, Alliance 1): On the figures from recent elections, muddied as they are by tactical voting, an SDLP gain from the DUP seems not unlikely given that they missed by only 31 votes last time and are strongly favoured by boundary changes.

West Tyrone (2007: SF 3, DUP 2, Kieran Deeny 1): Kieran Deeny’s retirement probably means that the SDLP regain the seat that they should have won in 2007. If the UUP can repeat their 2010 performance they should regain the seat lost to the DUP last time.

Upper Bann (2007: DUP 2, SF 1, UUP 2, SDLP 1): The UUP were very fortunate to win their second seat here in 2007. SF supporters have been trying to persuade me that there is a third Nationalist seat here, but I don’t see it; on the other hand, in a good year they should have a chance of gaining from the SDLP. The DUP, who would have a chance at a third seat here in a good year, are running only two candidates. The Alliance candidate is a high profile UUP defector who got the highest vote of any UUP candidate in 2010. With surplus Nationalist and DUP votes sloshing around, it’s difficult to call the last seat.

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Whoniversaries 27 March

i) births and deaths

27 March 1935: birth of Julian Glover, who played King Richard in The Crusade (1965) and Scaroth in City of Death (1979).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 March 1965: broadcast of “The Lion”, first episode of the story we now call The Crusade. Barbara is captured by Saracens; the Doctor, Ian and Vicki ask King Richard to rescue her.

27 March 1972: broadcast of third episode of The Claws of Axos. The Doctor and Jo are captives of the Axons; the Master offers to blow them all up, and the Brigadier agrees.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 3-27-2011

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Why Lucy Snyder is a better human being than I am

I was amused by this post by Lucy Snyder, in which she actually answers a set of questions from a student who is basically trying to use her brains to write her essay for her. I don’t actually know Lucy at all other than having read her livejournal for the last few years (the only fiction I have read by her was a Doctor Who short story, and that very recently) but I think she is an excellent human being for taking the trouble to respond even as briefly as she did.

I have a varied approach to this kind of query (and with my level of exposure on the internet, get several such queries a week): if it’s a genuine academic query about my work, I’ll invite my correspondent to interview me in person or by Skype or phone, and if their questions are interesting enough I’ll generally write a couple of paragraphs in reply in the first place. I do this partly because I want to and partly because my current employers (and my previous employers) include raising the level of academic debate as part of the overall mission of the organisation. (This approach has its limits; I feel a bit guilty about the Romanian researcher who came to see me last week to ask my views on Russian foreign policy, which he clearly knew more about than I do.) I will usually do the same for queries about Northern Irish politics.

But my other web presences generate other queries which I’m not always so merciful about. I was probably unnecessarily snarky a few months back to someone who asked me a question about history of science via a comment to a livejournal post on a completely different topic. I had one the other day to which I haven’t responded (and probably won’t respond) about Asimov’s The Gods Themselves, probably prompted by my comment to Jo Walton’s post about it on

This particular query started rather well:

I am doing a project in my lit class in which we were given a list of sci fy novels and chose one at random. The assignment is to research your author and events during their life to figure out the message they are trying to convey. I enjoyed the review and I too feel that there are many holes in the plot. Why didn’t they invent a system for gravity simulation on the moon? etc.

OK, apart from the y in “sci fy”, so far so good.

I do not like this assignment as i believe authors put many messages in their story to reach as many readers as possible. The question given is “What comment is the author making on the society in which they live?” My first inclination is this as a thesis: Asimov believes that humans have many flaws that affect decisions and the way one acts. I would like to hear your opinion on the overall message.

If I were as good a human being as Lucy Snyder, I would already have replied suggesting that my correspondent has missed the point of the question; that the proposed answer makes no sense; and that the social commentary in The Gods Themselves is really quite specifically about sex and the politics of how governments administer scientific research. Maybe I will actually send that reply, now that I have written this entry. But I need to finish cooking dinner first.

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Ulster Unionist Party: a week of disaster

I am sorry for banging on about the travails of the Ulster Unionist Party here, a party for which I have never considered voting (and I am sure that is true of most of you reading this too).

But this has been an extraordinary week, just from the technical point of view of managing your party as the election campaign gets under way.

Problem 1: the Deputy Chairman (sic) of the party resigned because his local hospital (in Derry) is not getting its proposed radiotherapy department, a decision made by the Health Minister, who is also from the UUP (but from Belfast). The departing Deputy Chairman described his own party’s minister’s decision as ‘wrong’.

What should have been done? From a tactical point of view, this could have been averted by 1) not announcing the decision so close to the election campaign, though I admit I have no idea of the minister’s freedom of manoeuvre on this, and more crucially 2) making sure that the party’s Deputy Chairman, and other local representatives, had had an opportunity to raise his concerns in some formal way. The rewards of holding a high-level but unpaid post such as Deputy Chairman of a political party are rather few, and it is very easy to feel that the people who your have worked for to get them into ministerial office are then simply not listening to you. In those circumstances, better to put your energies somewhere else.

Some deeper reflection would also have recognised that the UUP has a decades-long image problem in Derry, where the DUP has been the larger Unionist party since the local elections of 1981, and the UUP won only one seat out of thirty in the last council elections; even if there are no longer very many UUP voters left in the city to annoy, it just looks bad.>

Problem 2: The UUP have two ministers of the eleven in the Executive. I have covered the travails of one of them above. The other, the Minister for Employment and Learning, had a bad week as well, as one of his Special Advisers was caught bragging to an undercover journalist over the internet about trading access to his boss in return for sexual favours from lobbyists. This story has almost everything you could want in a political scandal: the role of Special Advisers is little understood and they are unfairly unpopular, the bloke in question is a part-time clergyman, and the details as published are excruciatingly embarrassing. The only element missing is drug abuse.

What should have been done? Actually the UUP got this one completely right; they sacked the guy as soon as the story broke, and he’ll never work in politics (or, probably, the Church) again. While I am sure that there will be some internal debate as to whether and how this situation could have been avoided, I’m also sure that anyone who has ever made a political hire is aware that it could have happened to them.

Problem 3: The third problem, on the other hand, is almost entirely self-generated. UUP leader Tom Elliott has an obsession with the provision in the Northern Ireland institutional setup that provides for the leader of the largest party after the election to choose the new First Minister. If Sinn Féin get more votes than the DUP, Martin McGuinness will become First Minister. The only way that is likely to happen is if the UUP’s fortunes revive sufficiently to eat into DUP support to pull them below the votes gained by SF (as indeed happened thanks to the intervention of Jim Allister’s TUV in the 2009 European Election and the inter-Unionist pact in Fermanagh South Tyrone in the 2009 Westminster election). For those voters who care about this issue, therefore, a vote for the UUP is effectively also a vote for a Sinn Féin First Minister of Northern Ireland. 

Elliott has handled this question with astonishing clumsiness. He began by simply asking the British government to change the rules, on the basis that the UUP and the British Conservatives are sister parties and therefore the Tories should do as he asks. His request was rejected out of hand; no British government is going to make even the slightest tweak to the constitutional arrangements just because they have been asked nicely by a political leader who failed to elect a single MP last year. Elliott should have been aware of this, and he was foolish to make his dialogue with the British so humiliatingly public.

Over the last week things got really bizarre (see also Ian Parsley’s brutal analysis).

  • On Monday, Elliott said that if necessary after the election the UUP and DUP could do a temporary formal merger to prevent SF being the largest single party. The DUP’s response was lukewarm; the first they had heard about this proposal was through the media.
  • On Tuesday, SF said that they would consider a job share, with two ‘Joint First Ministers’.
  • On Thursday, Elliott’s Deputy Leader and another front-bencher declared on live radio that in fact they didn’t have a problem with Martin McGuinness as First Minister, if that was what the voters wanted.
  • An Elliott loyalist then phoned into the radio programme to tell the deputy leader and his colleague that they were stabbing Elliott in the back.
  • Elliott had a meeting with all three later that evening and emerged to announce that they had all apologised, though two of the three later denied that any apologies had been made.
What should have been done? First of all, Elliott should stop banging on about the need to avert a Sinn Féin First Minister. The rules won’t be changed without SF and DUP buy-in, the DUP will probably top the poll at the election given the decline of Allister’s fortunes and the absence of electoral pacts, and those voters who actually care about this are voting DUP anyway. What he has done is to expose his own inability to lobby the British government on constitutional change, and then his own weak leadership of his party.

Structurally, the risk of last week’s problems occurring could have been reduced by making sure that before UUP spokespeople (well, spokesmen as they all seem to be) go on live radio or TV, they have had a chat with the party’s press officer – indeed, preferably with the party’s leader – to make sure that they are clear on the party lines. That doesn’t necessarily mean quelling dissent, but it does mean that dissent can be informed dissent and it vastly increases the chance of consistency. I spotted this problem before on election night last year, when the DUP were grimly prepared for their leader’s defeat, and the UUP were not. (David McNarry was a key figure then as well.)

But I sense another structural problem: Elliott seems rather prone to tossing off ideas to the media before they have had much internal party ventilation. The idea of a possible post-election merger with the DUP, however limited in nature, is rather a big one to inflict on fellow party members without warning. (The fact that the DUP had also not been approached about this idea is another indication that it’s not a serious policy, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that advocating it is a bad strategy.)

Elliott is a genuinely nice and warm and friendly man, and needs to show that side of his personality rather more than he has done; and he will be a better leader if he implements some internal party discipline over public statements, particularly if he starts by applying that discipline to himself. That will generate a faint chance that the party can start debates about actual policies, if it has any, rather than starring in news stories about political disasters.

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Hugo nominations

For once, I’ve been a good citizen and put in a few nominations for this year’s Hugos. (We have just under twenty-three hours in which to do so.) The process brought home to me that I tend to be a follower rather than a shaper of these things. Usually I read short fiction only after it has been nominated, and this year is no exception; I left all three of those categories blank. I’ve also read very few sf novels published in 2010 – basically Cryoburn and the BSFA shortlist. So I nominated all of those, except for The Windup Girl which isn’t eligible (having won last year’s Hugo) and Lightborn which I didn’t think terribly good.

After my whine about the BSFA non-fiction category, I decided to put my voting where my rhetoric is and have nominated three non-fiction books about Doctor Who: Chicks Dig Time Lords, The Writer’s Tale – the Final Chapter and Triumph of a Time Lord. The last of these is the best but probably the least likely to figure on the shortlist.

For Best Graphic Story I nominated The Only Good Dalek and the last volume of Scott Pilgrim which appear to be the only comics published in 2010 which I have read.

For best Dramatic Presentation, once again I haven’t seen any 2010 movies. The cutoff between Long Form and Short Form is formally 90 minutes, but apparently that means 108 minutes in reality, and the Who two-parters have been in the Short Form category in every year that they have been around to nominate (indeed, The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances won in 2006). So if they all go into the Short category, I have nothing to put in to Long. I nominated the closing two-parter, Vincent and the Doctor, The Lodger, The Eleventh Hour, and, just to add variety, James Goss’s story Dead Air as read by David Tennant – if METAtropolis was eligible two years ago, Who audiobooks should be eligible now. Much as I love the Big Finish run in general, there wasn’t a standout play from their 2010 productions that I particularly felt I must include. (Though 2011 is looking very promising so far.)

I don’t read the magazines enough to express an opinion on them at this stage, and I don’t agree with the concept of Hugo Awards for individual people (though congratulations and all that to those of you who may have won them), so that’s it.

If you are able to nominate, you can do so here.

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Whoniversaries 26 March

i) births and deaths

26 March 1925: birth of Barry Letts, producer of Who from Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970) to Robot (1974-75), director of Enemy of the World (1967-68) and The Android Invasion (1975), writer of The Dæmons (1972).

broadcast anniversaries

26 March 1966: broadcast of “The Bomb”, fourth episode of the story we now call The Ark. The Monoids fight among each other; the Doctor and friends find the bomb on the Ark; and the Doctor turns invisible…

26 March 1978: broadcast of fifth episode of The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Leela and the Doctor go to the laundry and are followed by Jago and Litefoot who are captured. Leela and the Doctor return to Litefoot’s house, where she unmasks Weng-Chiang.

26 March 2005: broadcast of Rose, the first episode of New Who. Rose Tyler meets the mysterious Doctor, and together they prevent the Autons / Nestene consciousness from taking over the Earth; and she decides to travel with him.

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Doctor Who books I didn’t know about

1) There are four new Eleventh Doctor novels out, published as two double volumes. The first combines Death Riders by Justin Richards with Heart of Stone by Trevor Baxendale; the second combines The Good, the Bad and the Alien by Colin Brake with System Wipe by Oli Smith. They seem to be aimed at younger readers; though all four are reasonably well established Who writers (especially Richards who has written more Who books than anyone except Terrance Dicks).

2) The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011 includes a short story by none other than Brian Aldiss.

Further reports to follow.

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Doctor Who Rewatch: 19

I was pleasantly surprised by how good The Leisure Hive looks. Two lots of aliens, who both look convincingly alien. The legacy of a terrible war, combined with organised crime (which I now know is a standard combination in real life, but I don’t think that was as widely appreciated in the 1980s). Lots of technobabble and decent special effects. Apparently the budget was way overspent, but the money is visible on the screen.

It also of course is a new show. The title sequence is new. K9 is blown up in the first scene. The first episode ends with the Doctor being pulled apart, the second with him being aged almost beyond recognition, and at the end of the story the Randomiser is removed. JNT is making his mark.

And the new shoow has a new sound – I was tremendously impressed by Peter Howell’s incidental music, and this made me seek out his amazing Greenwich Chorus. Fantastic, and setting a standard which is usually kept by the incidental music in the other stories of the season.

Meglos is, however, as mediocre as I remembered. It does have some good points – the Brotadac/Grugger relationship, the music (Peter Howell again), Tom Baker enjoying being his own evil double (in particular, enjoying being the Doctor confronting Meglos in the last episode), and most of all Jacqueline Hill who is actually taking her rather two-dimensional role seriously and delivers with passion.

But one senses a certain slackness. Edward Underdown is very unimpressive as Zaster, which drags the Tigella scenes down, and the Zeons are rather dire (once again, too many scenes of them standing around aimlessly); the fact that the Earthling is never named also indicates a lack of depth. The chronic hysteresis is just silly. Though the script has some nice lines, the plot has some serious holes. It will be a long time before I watch this again.

I think this may be a recurring theme in this post, but Full Circle was also much better than I remembered. This month’s DWM ran an interview with author Andrew Smith, who was only 18 at the time the story was made, and thus a cause of immense envy to all Who-watching teenagers such as myself (both then and also now, though I am no longer a teenager). Smith admits that the story underwent considerable massage by script editor Christopher Bidmead, but of course that actually helps to give it a certain unity of style with the rest of the season.

It is a decent and original sfnal yarn, with Lalla Ward getting some good moments as Romana, reluctant to return to Gallifrey, and even Matthew Waterhouse not yet awful (Baker’s Doctor takes to him rather uncharacteristically swiftly). On the downside, we have the first of many cases in the Nathan-Turner years of the Tardis as both taxi and conflict zone as the Outlers hijack it; I rather regret the loss of the Doctor’s ship as a place of refuge and comfortable magic. It had been occasionally penetrated by the bad guys before (The Invasion of Time, Death to the Daleks) but from here on in it seems to be a regular occurrence.

State of Decay is a solid Terrance Dicks story, with lots of elements familiar from Who and vampire lore, all put together competently enough. The two weak moments are quite late on, the rather crappy rocket turning round in space, and Matthew Waterhouse’s awful delivery of Adric’s line about not really being under the vampires’ influence. (It is a little incomprehensible that the vampires, after thousands of years as a trio, take to Adric so suddenly as a potential fourth partner; but the Doctor took to him the same way in the previous story after all.)

Warrior’s Gate is truly weird and wonderful. The slavery of the Tharils is pretty horrifying, but we understand that there’s an element of cosmic karma in that they were once the enslavers (and Rorvik in turn gets his cosmic come-uppance at the end). For a story which is mostly filmed in a blank studio, there is an amazing sense of place about it. I still don’t completely understand the plot but I somehow feel confident that the author did, and wasn’t just making it up as he went along. K9 and Adric get reduced to mere observers here – again, it’s a strong story for Romana, but of course it is her last.

Lalla Ward picks up the part of Romana in Destiny of the Daleks and runs away with it. Somehow she has more of a comedic spark with Baker right from the word go, perfectly fitting the Williams/Adams season 17, combining the roles of junior clown and girl genius. She is then very well served by JNT’s decision to get rid of her, with by far the most protracted departure narrative of any companion in the history of the show, summoned back to Gallifrey fully three stories before she actually leaves, and thus knowing long in advance that her time with the Doctor is coming to an end.

I’ve just been listening to the new Gallifrey audios starring Ward, Louise Jameson and John Leeson, the first of which has a guest appearance from Mary Tamm as our heroes visit an alternative timeline where Romana neither left Gallifrey nor regenerated and it was Leela who helped find the Key to Time. Ward has done well out of Big Finish, getting elected president of Gallifrey and even in one audio reprising Princess Astra as well.

There is a view (articulated most clearly by Kim Newman) that the introduction of K9 was when Old Who ‘jumped the shark’; once the tin dog arrived, it was all downhill. I don’t share that view; I loved him when I was a child, and I still quite like him. (There’s an argument that Who never again reached the heights of quality of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes years, which ended just as K9 arrived, with which I have more sympathy.) I can see that he creates difficulties in story terms – Tom Baker has made the point that the Doctor can’t really change or develop as the show goes on, and this is even more true of a robot character; also if the Doctor is not really a weapons user it’s a bit odd to go round with a machine which can stun or even kill with its laser. But K9 gets lots of good character moments with the Doctor, mainly due to Leeson’s deadpan chirpy delivery. (I wasn’t in the UK when the stories where David Brierley did the voice were first broadcast, and I can never quite believe in him; just as Tom Baker is my Doctor, John Leeson is my K9.)

Who would have thought that K9 would get not one but two spinoff series? OK, the first only lasted one episode, but the new Australian one still seems to be going strong. I have only seen the first episode, but quite enjoyed it, and will watch the rest some day. (Also, like Romana, he returns in the Big Finish Gallifrey series.)

As with The Leisure Hive, I was also pleasantly surprised by The Keeper of Traken. A point I found unconvincing when I was 13, Kassia’s psychotic obsession with preventing her husband from becoming Keeper, to the point where she allows herself to take on the role with fatal consequences, seems more realistic to me now that I’m older and have seen people unhinged by their relationships. The story looks good; uniforms, costumes, scenery, the odd ugliness of the Melkor jarring with the refinement of Traken. The tragedy of the dwindling number of Consuls, part murder mystery and part power struggle, is moderately compelling. And the last scene is one of the great shock endings in the whole of Who (I’m noting that this often happens in the second last story of the season in the JNT years); we could be reasonably sure that the Master would probably survive, but his brutal erasure of Tremas’s life is a defining moment – the old Master was rarely seen to be cruel (when he actually does shoot the Doctor, it’s in his very last scene). It’s a shame – and the story’s only real visual weakness – that the Peter Pratt Master’s poached-egg eyes were not retained for this story, as we lose an element of visual continuity.

The DVD commentary track notes that Johnny Byrne got inspiration for the dying Keeper from a news story about a country which was anticipating chaos as its ruler’s life slowly ebbed away, and speculates that this may have been Yugoslavia, given that Tito died around then after a long and horrible illness. There are one or two other countries which were in this situation in 1980 (Wikipedia reveals that Botswana, for instance, survived a similar transition rather better than Yugoslavia). However, I happen to know that Byrne had a real obsession with Yugoslavia; during the wars of the 1990s, he was to be found on Usenet (if anyone remembers that) castigating the Croats and anyone who did not support the Serbs against them; a far cry from the world of All Creatures Great And Small which is his more deservedly remembered legacy.

Looking back, these stories were shown when I was roughly the age when I started to grow out of Who, and my disenchantment with what was happening to the show was only partially quelled by the wonderful wealth of information that was becoming available to us all through Doctor Who Magazine (as it now is). Re-watching these stories I found them all (except Meglos) better than I remembered, The Leisure Hive and The Keeper of Traken very much so. They usually look good, in a welcome reversal of the awful sets and shoddy design that afflicted the Graham Williams era (not all his fault); they sound fantastic, with JNT bringing in new talent and somehow inspiring previous contributors to better work; and the fairly subtle groundwork of the story arc building to Logopolis is an impressive bit of subtle yet coherent planning by script editor Bidmead – we haven’t ever had anything quite like this, the Key to Time being not exactly subtle and the Master sequence of Season 8 not terribly coherent. It is almost laying the groundwork for New Who.

< An Unearthly Child – The Aztecs | The Sensorites – The Romans | The Web Planet – Galaxy 4 | Mission To The Unknown – The Gunfighters | The Savages – The Highlanders | The Underwater Menace – Tomb of the Cybermen | The Abominable Snowmen – The Wheel In Space | The Dominators – The Space Pirates | The War Games – Terror of the Autons | The Mind of Evil – The Curse of Peladon | The Sea Devils – Frontier in Space | Planet of the Daleks – The Monster of Peladon | Planet of the Spiders – Revenge of the Cybermen | Terror of the Zygons – The Seeds of Doom | The Masque of Mandragora – The Talons of Weng-Chiang | Horror of Fang Rock – The Invasion of Time | The Ribos Operation – The Armageddon Factor | Destiny of the Daleks – Shada | The Leisure Hive – The Keeper of Traken | Logopolis – The Visitation | Black Orchid – Mawdryn Undead | Terminus – The Awakening | Frontios – Attack of the Cybermen | Vengeance on Varos – In A Fix With Sontarans | The Mysterious Planet – Paradise Towers | Delta and the Bannermen – The Greatest Show in the Galaxy | Battlefield – The TV Movie >

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