October Books

Non-fiction 3 (YTD 55)
A New History of Ireland, Volume III: Early Modern Ireland 1534-1691, ed. T.W. Moody, F.X. Martin and F.J. Byrne
Newman, Elgar and "The Dream of Gerontius", by Percy M. Young
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

Fiction (Non-sf) 3 (YTD 41)
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
Exit Music, by Ian Rankin
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

SF (non-Who) 9 (YTD 66)
Half A Crown, by Jo Walton
The Borribles, by Michael De Larrabeiti
The Borribles Go For Broke, by Michael De Larrabeiti
The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis, by Michael De Larrabeiti

Other Edens, ed. Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock
White Queen, by Gwyneth Jones
Other Edens 2, ed. Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock
Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Other Edens III, ed. Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock

Doctor Who etc 8 (YTD 67)
The Twilight Streets, by Gary Russell
The Good, the Bad and the Alien, by Colin Brake
System Wipe, by Oli Smith

The Devil Goblins From Neptune, by Martin Day and Keith Topping
Legacy, by Gary Russell
The Wonderful Book of Doctor Who 1965, by Paul Smith
Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood, by David Fisher
Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood, by Terrance Dicks

Comics 1 (YTD 22)
Fables: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham

~7,000 pages (YTD ~73,500)
3/24 (YTD 55/251) by women (Walton, Jones, Bujold)
1/24 (YTD 13/251) by PoC (Equiano)
Owned for more than a year: 17 (The Grapes of Wrath [reread], Other Edens, Other Edens 2, Other Edens III [reread], Falling Free [reread], Newman, Elgar and "Gerontius", The Borribles [reread], The Borribles Go for Broke [reread], The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis [reread], Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood [reread], Legacy, Exit Music, White Queen, Half a Crown, Sons and Lovers, A New History of Ireland Volume III, The Devil Goblins from Neptune)
Other rereads: none, for a total of 7 (YTD 32/251)

Programmed reads: 17 from 13 lists
d) Sons and Lovers (non-genre books by entry order)
g) Other Edens, Other Edens 2  (sf anthologies in order of entry)
h) White Queen (sf non-anthologies in order of entry)
k) Falling Free (Nebula winners in sequence)
l) Legacy (New Adventures in sequence)
n) The Good, the Bad and the Alien, System Wipe (New Who books)
o) The Devil Goblins from Neptune (other Old Who by popularity)
q) Exit Music (Rankin's Rebus novels, in order)
r) A New History of Ireland Volume III (Tudors and Ireland)
s) The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (books by PoC)
t) Newman, Elgar and "The Dream of Gerontius" (books on the shelves at end 2005, otherwise not accounted for, going backwards in LT entry order)
u) The Borribles, The Borribles Go For Broke, The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis (unreviewed books acquired from 2006 on in entry order)
v) The Grapes of Wrath (books I have already read but haven't reviewed on-line, ranked by LT popularity)

Coming next, possibly:
Doctor Who: Autumn Mist by David A. McIntee (already started)
Diana Wynne Jones by Farah Mendlesohn (already started)

Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
Private Eye Annual 2008 by Ian Hislop
Race of a Lifetime by Mark Halperin
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
Doctor Who: Nuclear Time by Oli Smith
The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland by Christopher Haigh
Treason of Isengard by J.R.R. Tolkien
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
Heart of the Sea by Nora Roberts
Gulistān and Būstān by Sheikh Muṣleḥ-ʾiddin Saʿdī
Interpreting Irish History: The Debate on Historical Revisionism 1938-1994 by Ciaran Brady
History of Christianity ed. Tim Dowley and Pat Alexander
One Planet: A Celebration of Biodiversity by Nicholas Hulot
Beggars Banquet by Ian Rankin
Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards
Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
Theatre of War by Justin Richards
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Year's Best Science Fiction 24 ed. Gardner Dozois

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Interesting Links for 30-10-2011

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October Books 23) Other Edens III, ed. Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock

Third of this set of anthologies of sf short stories by British-based authors, the only one of the three I had previously read. I felt the quality of the stories was a notch above the other too (themselves not at all bad). Topped and tailed with “The Grey Wethers” by Keith Roberts and “A Tupolev Too Far” by Brian Aldiss, with the others including “Rainmaker Cometh” by Ian McDonald. Excellent stuff.

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October Books 21-22) The Stones of Blood novelisations

Earlier this year the BBC released a new novelisation of an Old Who story – David Fisher, who wrote the original TV story The Stones of Blood, has now converted it not to a print novel but to audiobook format, read with great gusto by Susan Engel (who played the villain of the piece on screen) with John Leeson doing K9’s lines. I had been looking forward to this with hopeful enthusiasm, as Fisher’s novelisations of his other two stories are among the best of the Target range.

I am very glad to say that I was not disappointed. The audio is about twice as long as the original series (four hour-long CDs), and Fisher has bulked out the material with lots more character background and atmosphere than was possible on screen – the full story of the campers gruesomely slain by the Ogri, for example, and various brazen but humorous infodumps. There are lots of decent sound effects as well. Very highly recommended.

I also went back and reread Terrance Dicks’ original novelisation of the story for comparison. It must be a lot shorter than Fisher’s new text. I noted of it three years ago that it is “a standard Dicks write-what’s-on-the-screen treatment, somewhat flattening a rather good story” and I found no reason to change my views. I did think Dicks handled the climax of the story with some finesse, but the rest it pretty thin.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.

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New book meme

From Ian Sales:

Book meme! Here are the 25 titles chosen for 2012's World Book Night. Do the usual: bold for read, italics for owned but unread. 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Take by Martina Cole
Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell
Someone Like You by Roald Dahl
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Room by Emma Donoghue
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Misery by Stephen King
The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Let the Right One In by John Ajvde Lindqvist
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
The Damned Utd by David Peace
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak

Any particular recommendations from the list of those that I have not read?

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October Books 20) The Wonderful Book of Doctor Who 1965, by Paul Smith

This book – available on download only at http://www.wonderfulbook.co.uk/ – has one of the more peculiar disclaimers one is ever likely to read:

The contents of this book are entirely fabricated and should not be believed, not even the bits that say they are facts. All quotes by persons living or dead are not genuine and are intended for entertainment purposes only. They should not be taken as suggesting or reflecting the opinions then or since of anyone named in this book or concerned with the production of Doctor Who at any time, or even of the author of this book.

This is because the book is a combination of alternate fannish history and affectionate piss-take; what if the same creative spirit that moved Clayton Hickman and colleagues to produce last year’s Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011 had animated the production team of 1964 to produce an annual along the same lines? In reality, of course, the first of the Doctor Who annuals came out a year later, and the production values and brand management of the time were very far removed from what we expect of any serious cult series today. But Paul Smith gets some good laughs from any reader who knows either the original first season, or the Brilliant Book, or preferably both, and also makes us think about how the way we are told what we are watching in 2011 has changed since 1963-4; and how it has stayed the same.

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Interesting Links for 26-10-2011

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Presidential election 2011

For those of you who haven’t been following it, the Irish Presidential election (voting on Thursday) grumbled into life over the last few weeks with the emergence of a dark horse front-runner, Seán Gallagher, who had a bit of a history as an activist with the utterly discredited former government party Fianna Fáil but was better known as one of the judges on the Irish version of the reality programme Dragon’s Den. Gallagher came from nowhere to lead the field of veteran candidates, with opinion polls over the last couple of days giving him an unassailable lead over the former favourite, Michael D. Higgins of the Labour Party.

And then last night it all fell apart. This is an amazing piece of political video, folks: watch as, under questioning from Sinn Féin’s candidate Martin McGuinness and moderator Pat Kenny, Gallagher’s political credibility disintegrates (and the person who speaks at the end is the likely winner Michael D. Higgins). One doesn’t need to know any of the material details (concerning the circumstances in which Gallagher accepted a donation on behalf of Fianna Fáil several years ago); the body language and tone of voice are enough to tell the story of a thousand votes being lost every second. Enjoy.

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Serpent Crest 2: The Broken Crown

The third series of BBC Doctor Who audios by Paul Magrs, starring Tom Baker, have drastically improved on the first two by shifting to full cast plays and not having Richard Franklin as Mike Yates. The first episode here had us in a cyborg version of the later Russian Empire; here we have something narrsty in a Victorian vicarage, the vicar being ably played by Terence Hardiman. The young boy at the centre of the story is played by Guy Harvey, who struggles a little with the long passages of exposition inflicted on him by Magrs, but otherwise this is a rather good episode, Susan Jameson as the Doctor’s companion Mrs Wibbsey being on top form, and Baker himself being unusually disciplined.

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October Books 19) Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Reading through the Nebula winners which I have not already reviewed online brings me to this old friend, the first novel of Bujold’s Vorkosigan series (albeit one with no mention of the Vorkosigans or their planet at all). It’s a feel-good, future engineering novel with a social twist: our hero has to defeat the evil man from management and rescue hundreds of genetically modified children and teenagers from certain doom. A pleasure to reread it and refresh my memory of the origin of parts of Bujold’s future universe.

The other novels shortlisted for the 1988 Nebula were Deserted Cities of the Heart by Lewis Shiner, Drowning Towers by George Turner, Great Sky River by Gregory Benford, The Urth of the New Sunby Gene Wolfe, Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson and Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card. I have read only the Gibson and the Card; as usual with Gibson, I can’t remember anything about Mona Lisa Overdrive, and while I enjoyed Red Prophet, Falling Free is better in almost every way. Bujold, Card and Gibson got Hugo nominations for those books, as did Bruce Sterling for Islands in the Net, but the Hugo itself was won by Cyteen (which I bounced off).

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October Books 18) Legacy, by Gary Russell

Peladon is one of a surprisingly small number of planets to figure in more than one televised Who story, and though Big Finish have visited it twice I think this is the only spinoff novel set there. Gary Russell starts with the story of how the planet lifted itself from barbarism, and the stranded human astronaut who married the king; we then get folded into a fairly complex tale of an ancient off-world relic with Ice Warriors, Alpha Centauri, Peladonian factions and the rodent-like Pakhar aliens, with lots for Benny and the Seventh Doctor to do (but rather less for Ace who gets politely shuffled off-scene at a fairly early stage). It’s also rather gory with many characters meeting untimely ends. Generally good stuff though I felt the climax was not quite under control (but I did like the political twist at the end).

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Companion banter

Sarah Sutton: I didn’t ever actually do a Dalek story…
Janet Fielding: I think that that means you weren’t a proper companion.
Sarah Sutton: You think?
Janet Fielding: Yeah, I do!
Sarah Sutton: I can’t call myself a companion?
Janet Fielding: No. No.
Sarah Sutton: Oh, poo. That’s not good, is it?
Janet Fielding: That just puts a lie to the last, you know, couple of decades.

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The Elite

First in a new line of Lost Stories of the Fifth Doctor from Big Finish, written by BF regular John Dorney from an idea by Barbara ‘Enlightenment’ Clegg. These Lost Stories have been a bit hit and miss, with a substantial fraction of them perhaps better off lost, but this is a very strong start to this sequence, set just after Arc of Infinity, exploring an enclosed totalitarian ideological planetary regime, with a sinister influence behind it all. I had read a DWM review which commented that although the educated listener can guess what is likely to be revealed at the end of Episode 2, the end of Episode 3 comes as a complete surprise, and that turned out to be equally true for me as well. It was rather spooky to listen to scenes of revolutionary mayhem in the immediate aftermath of Gaddafi’s end and the Tunisian elections. I hope the rest of this sequence are as good.

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The Many Deaths of Jo Grant

Latest of the Companion Chronicles range of Big Finish plays. Jo Grant tells us over and over of how she meets her end. Fairly obvious what is really going on from an early stage, but Katy Manning does it with charm and conviction.

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President Medvedev talks about playing badminton

There cannot be many heads of state who would devote a video blog to the virtues of badminton. Watch through to the end for footage of presidential badminton-playing, and see if you can spot the name-check of Yuri Gagarin at about 2:17 (which is an ad-lib, not in the published script).

PS – There is a theory going round the internets that Medvedev’s opponent is Vladimir Putin, but I think it’s too good to be true – you can’t see his face clearly, and if it really was him I think you would be left in no doubt.

PS again – So much for my speculation. Kremlin sources confirm that it is indeed Putin.

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Recipe: Red cabbage and figs

I invented this in a moment of inspiration this evening, and family reviews were good. The quantities are necessarily approximate.


Enough red cabbage
A little butter (probably a non-dairy fat or oil could be used; trick is not to let it get too hot)
One cardamom pod per person
Half a dried fig per person (round fractions up)

1) Melt the butter / heat the oil.
2) Add the chopped red cabbage, stir around to ensure it’s all covered.
3) Add the crushed cardamoms and sliced figs. And also a couple of pinches of salt.
4) Cover and cook on low heat, stirring every ten minutes, until the cabbage is soft. (Should take 30-45 mins.)

It worked for us, anyway. I am aware that you can also use apple and/or raspberry with cabbage, but figs do give an extra granularity of texture and depth of flavour. And cardamoms go well with all brassicas.

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Planet Word, by Stephen Fry – Tourette’s

We're a bit behind with Stephen Fry's brilliant series about language, and just watched the third episode this evening (while some of you will have been watching the fifth and final one as it went out on BBC Two). Lots of fun intellectual stuff, but I was bowled over by the courage and humour of Jessica Thom, who has Tourette's syndrome and explained her situation as follows (here, from 1:57):

Lots of people misunderstand Tourette's, and they say, "I wish I had Tourette's, cos it would mean I could get away with swearing, and it means I could say whatever I – BISCUIT! BISCUIT! – I could say whatever I wanted to." – BISCUIT! – The whole point is, I can't say whatever I wanted to, lots of what I say I don't want to say, I just [bangs chest] HAH! it's just there, I just – FUCK! – and it's – BISCUIT! BISCUIT! BISCUIT! HAPPY CHRISTMAS! – but, you know, that doesn't mean that I haven't, I can't articulate my thoughts and make myself understood. FUCK! BISCUIT!

I think one has to be creative about it to be able to, sort of, to have a decent quality of life and not let the tics impact on me, especially socially, and part of the, part of the im, part of – BISCUIT! – one of the big elements of Tourette's is the social FUCK impact that it has. And by then engaging with people, and engaging with it creatively, and FUCK celebrating the humour and saying, look [bangs chest] HAH! it's not OK to laugh because I have Tourette's, but it's all right to laugh – FUCK! – I'm saying, laugh at – FFF! – the funny things that – FUCK! – I say as tics that are the result of Tourettes's – BISCUIT! – because they're often – FUCK! BISCUIT! – very visual. HAH!

She dresses up as a superhero with Tourette’s to educate children about the condition. More power to her.

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October Books 17) Other Edens II, edited by Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock

I have been steaming through my large collection of unread sf anthologies this year, but often finding it difficult to say much about them. I’m reviewing here primarily for myself, and since most of the anthologies concerned are long past their sales peak I can’t imagine that it makes much difference to anyone else. Most of these collections are of generally decent to excellent stories, and I do feel a slight twinge of conscience if the only ones I single out are for negative reasons. But only a slight twinge.

Anyway, this is another good collection of decent to excellent stories from 1988, of which the only one I will single out is “Confluence Revisited” by Brian Aldiss, a sequel to his 1967 alien dictionary piece “Confluence”, which was originally published in Punch and collected in The Moment of Eclipse, A Tupolev Too Far and Man In His Time, not to mention the Puffin Book of Science Fiction. The sequel, written twenty years on (and also in A Tupolev Too Far, though I had forgotten), is more reflective but still drily witty – for instance, it is explained that the Myrinian word JA can be translated as “A type of depraved underground mammal; mathematics; one’s appearance on certain mornings”. We’ve all had those, though fewer of us will have need of WAN, “A type of tortoise used in races”.

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October Books 16) The Devil Goblins From Neptune, by Martin Day and Keith Topping

This was the first of the BBC Past Doctor Adventure novels, from 1997, featuring the Third Doctor and Liz Shaw with the core UNIT team of the Brigadier, Benton and Mike Yates. It has its moments, particularly in injecting a past history to the Brigadier and Benton and attributing (separate) sex lives to Liz and Yates. But there’s a lot of Stuff here, some of which works OK – Chancellor Goth was responsible for sending the Doctor to Peladon, apparently – and some of which doesn’t – the convoluted international back-story to UNIT, the fifth Beatle, the aliens of the title. I suppose it catches the spirit of the very early Pertwee shows quite well, but this isn’t necessarily an entirely good thing.

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Soon it will be filled with parking cars – the end of ROSAT

Another satellite is crashing to the earth – the German-built X-Ray astronomy probe, ROSAT (short for Roentgen Satellite), launched in 1990 and crashing to a planet near you tomorrow morning. It could basically hit anywhere between 53° north and 53° south, which covers most of the inhabited world (Dublin is safe; Nottingham is not.) There is a twitter account tracking it at @ROSAT_Reentry (how do I get a twitter user icon for that?) and from there and elsewhere it looks to me like it will come down tomorrow mid-morning European time. So, keep an eye out for a 1.7 ton telescope mirror crashing to the ground from 150 km up.

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October Books 15) The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

This is the autobiography of an 18th-century slave, sold from his home in West Africa as a child to work on the West Indian fleet and around the Anglophone Atlantic shores, before becoming a freeman, missionary and political activist. (I'm using the Sierra Leone flag for this entry's userpic because Equiano spent some time there as part of the British project to resettle freed blacks living in England.) It's an absolutely riveting first-hand account, not only for the awful conditions of slavery (and indeed for freed blacks) in the British empire of the day, but also because of Equiano's unabashed enthusiasm for naval combat (reminiscent of Patrick O'Brien, with the important difference that Equiano was actually there) and his conversion to a fairly open-minded but pious evangelical Christianity. I see that some recent scholars have been trying to assert that Equiano was actually born in South Carolina, but I find his narrative of Africa and the Middle Passage completely compelling, and he comes across as a completely honest witness even if sometimes a bit scatty on long-ago detail.

One point that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere is that as far as I can tell, Equiano was one of the first people to use the phrase "human rights". Wikipedia thinks that "The term human rights probably came into use some time between Paine's The Rights of Man [1791] and William Lloyd Garrison's 1831 writings in The Liberator", but Equiano's Interesting Narrative is published in 1789, the year that the French National Assembly passed its Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen and two years before Paine. He uses the phrase twice, first with reference to the African slave traders who parted him forever from his sister (they had been captured together):

From the time I left my own nation I always found somebody that understood me till I came to the sea coast. The languages of different nations did not totally differ, nor were they so copious as those of the Europeans, particularly the English. They were therefore easily learned; and, while I was journeying thus through Africa, I acquired two or three different tongues. In this manner I had been travelling for a considerable time, when one evening, to my great surprise, whom should I see brought to the house where I was but my dear sister! As soon as she saw me she gave a loud shriek, and ran into my arms–I was quite overpowered: neither of us could speak; but, for a considerable time, clung to each other in mutual embraces, unable to do any thing but weep. Our meeting affected all who saw us; and indeed I must acknowledge, in honour of those sable destroyers of human rights, that I never met with any ill treatment, or saw any offered to their slaves, except tying them, when necessary, to keep them from running away. When these people knew we were brother and sister they indulged us together; and the man, to whom I supposed we belonged, lay with us, he in the middle, while she and I held one another by the hands across his breast all night; and thus for a while we forgot our misfortunes in the joy of being together: but even this small comfort was soon to have an end; for scarcely had the fatal morning appeared, when she was again torn from me for ever!

The second incident is an ugly affair at Montserrat:

While we lay in this place a very cruel thing happened on board of our sloop which filled me with horror; though I found afterwards such practices were frequent. There was a very clever and decent free young mulatto-man who sailed a long time with us: he had a free woman for his wife, by whom he had a child; and she was then living on shore, and all very happy. Our captain and mate, and other people on board, and several elsewhere, even the natives of Bermudas, all knew this young man from a child that he was always free, and no one had ever claimed him as their property: however, as might too often overcomes right in these parts, it happened that a Bermudas captain, whose vessel lay there for a few days in the road, came on board of us, and seeing the mulattoman, whose name was Joseph Clipson, he told him he was not free, and that he had orders from his master to bring him to Bermudas. The poor man could not believe the captain to be in earnest; but he was very soon undeceived, his men laying violent hands on him: and although he shewed a certificate of his being born free in St. Kitt's, and most people on board knew that he served his time to boat-building, and always passed for a free man, yet he was taken forcibly out of our vessel. He then asked to be carried ashore before the secretary or magistrates, and these infernal invaders of human rights promised him he should; but, instead of that, they carried him on board of the other vessel: and the next day, without giving the poor man any hearing on shore, or suffering him even to see his wife or child, he was carried away, and probably doomed never more in this world to see them again. Nor was this the only instance of this kind of barbarity I was a witness to.

It's interesting that both of Equiano's usages of the phrase come in descriptions of slavers brutally breaking family ties, rather than in talking of any of the other numerous abuses he witnessed.

Anyway, this is an amazing book whose title rather under-sells it to a modern audience.

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The Silver Turk

In the latest from Big Finish, the Eighth Doctor returns to their main sequence of audio releases with a new companion – the writer Mary Shelley, who joined him in 1816, at the end of a short audio episode released in 2009, but whose adventures in the Tardis we had otherwise not seen or heard. This is an excellent start for the new team. The two pitch up in Vienna in 1873, where mysterious murders are taking place and a showman is demonstrating the marvellous Silver Turk, a metal humanoid that can play musical instruments and also chess. The cover picture makes it pretty clear that the Turk is in fact not merely a Cyberman but one of the original Mondas Cybermen from The Tenth Planet, and knowing that author Marc Platt had previously written what I still think is the best ever Big Finish audio, Spare Parts, which tells the story of the origin of the Cybermen on Mondas, I rather hoped we might be in for a treat.

And we are. Platt (who I think is the only writer for the classic series still contributing to any of the lines of Who) is always an intricate writer and sometimes over-reaches himself. But here he skilfully interrogates the relationship between the Cybermen and Frankenstein, not only Shelley’s original novel but also the film versions (and there’s a nod to King Kong as well). Platt (and Mary Shelley, as more-or-less viewpoint character) is actually rather sympathetic to the stranded Cybermen, who none the less are fundamentally inhuman; there is a brilliant scene in a church between the excellent Julie Cox as Mary Shelley and Nick Briggs as the stranded Gram (and generally the soundscape is pretty good). This is the best Cybermen story since Spare Parts (which itself is the best Cybermen story ever).

I listened again to “Mary’s Story” from The Company of Friends before going on to The Silver Turk, and found that I liked it much more this time. I think it does help to appreciate The Silver Turk to hear the earlier short, and I see that BF are wisely offering it as a 99p download as a taster. All strongly recommended.

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Interesting Links for 22-10-2011

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Interesting Links for 19-10-2011

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October Books 14) White Queen, by Gwyneth Jones

I had been looking forward to reading this James Tiptree Award winner, recommended by many of you, and started off very much enjoying the well-constructed future Earth of the story – the decayed America, the peculiar infections, the African setting for many of the chapters, the aliens who are more than human and less than human in various ways, the central character who is a newsblogger avant la lettre. But I didn’t quite feel that the plot then did much with this promising elements. Perhaps it’s just that I got to it towards the end of a long plane flight, but I also remember having much the same reaction to Bold As Love.

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October Books 12-13) The Good, the Bad and the Alien, Colin Brake; System Wipe, Oli Smith

Two short (200-page, large print) Doctor Who novels packaged together as a double. Colin Brake’s The Good, the Bad and the Alien is written rather more for the younger end of the market, and is the same aliens in the Wild West type story that has been done several times over in recent years (including in the Eleventh Doctor audio The Runaway Train). I wondered if Amy would have been old enough to catch Deputy Dawg on TV – was it still being shown in the 1990s? And the “comparing the meerkats” joke passed me by (though I caught the quote from Blade Runner). But decent enough for what it is.

I have not been hugely impressed by Oli Smith’s previous work for Who (which includes The Runaway Train, mentioned above, and Blackout, an audio set in 1960s New York). But System Wipe worked rather better for me; also set in America, with the Doctor trying to save the population of the virtual world Parallife before its entire system is wiped and Amy and Rory solving another part of the mystery in meatspace. Some similarities with the recent Seventh Doctor Big Finish audios The Doomsday Quatrain and House of Blue Fire.

Recommended for younger fans, and completists like me.

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October Books 11) Other Edens, ed. Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock

Original anthology of sf stories by writers based in Britain, published in 1987. My copy has lots of autographs. I had only read one of the stories before (the one by Dave Langford) and enjoyed all the others – thought the very first one, “Crying in the Rain” by Tanith Lee, was particularly memorable; couldn’t really see that there were any sfnal elements in M. John Harrison’s “Small Heirlooms”.

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