Books and audios of 2011

Total number of books for the year: 301 (counting the various Gibbon volumes as one). This is up from 278 in 2010 but below 2009's 346 and 2008's 374, thanks to watching old TV episodes (mostly Doctor Who) on my commute.

65/301 (22%) by women (23% in 2010, 20% in 2009)
15/301 (5%) by PoC (9% in 2010, 5% in 2009)
42/301 (14%) rereads (9% in 2010, 11% in 2009)

Total 69 (23%; 24% in 2010, 26% in 2009)
Best of category: The two slave narratives by Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass. Though Gibbon is in a category of his own.

Fiction (other than sff)
Total 48 (16%; 18% in 2010, 18% in 2009)
Best of category: greatly enjoyed Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest.

SF (other than Doctor Who)
Total 78 (26%; 26% in 2010, 23% in 2009)
Best of category: This may seem a rather odd choice but Tom's Midnight Garden, published 53 years ago, grabbed me in a way that none of the more recent books published for a more mature audience managed to.

Doctor Who
Total (not counting comics) 80 (27%; 24% in 2010, 19% in 2009).
Best of category: Torchwood: First Born, the best of a good crop of Who books published this year; honourable mention also to Paul Cornell's fannishly gleeful No Future.

Total (including Doctor Who comics) 27 (9%; 8% in 2010 and 2009).
Best of category: I was blown away by the first two volumes of Mike Carey's The Unwritten, Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity and Inside Man.

I was hugely impressed with Big Finish's Peri and the Piscon Paradox which took one of the least satisfactory bits of TV Who continuity, and got Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker to exorcise it very effectively. It was generally a good year for Big Finish though.

Most read author of the year
Arthur Conan Doyle, with all 9 Sherlock Holmes books.
Also-rans: James Goss (7), Hergé (6), Ursula Le Guin (6), J.R.R. Tolkien (6), Justin Richards (4), Ian Rankin (4), David Martin (4).

Worst books of the year
A close-run thing between Kuifje in Afrika / Tintin in the Congo and The Onion's Our Dumb World.

All reviews indexed on Livejournal and Librarything.

Incidentally I read one book called Blackout and listened to an audiobook also called Blackout. Both were pretty poor.

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December Books

Non-fiction 10 (Total for year 70)
Interpreting Irish History, edited by Ciaran Brady
Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography
Unrecognised States, by Nina Caspersen
Gulistān, by Sheikh Muṣleḥ-ʾiddin Saʿdī
Būstān, by Sheikh Muṣleḥ-ʾiddin Saʿdī

The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs
A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Vol 3 by Edward Gibbon
Vanished Kingdoms, by Norman Davies

Fiction (non-SF) 2 (Total for year 48)
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson
Het Boek Van Alle Dingen / The Book of Everything, by Guus Kuijer

SF (non-Who) 5 (Total for year 78)
The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin
The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin
Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin
Tales from Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin
The Other Wind, by Ursula Le Guin

Doctor Who + Torchwood 7 (Total for year 80)
Theatre of War, by Justin Richards
Interference Book One, by Lawrence Miles
Interference Book Two, by Lawrence Miles

First Born, by James Goss
Nuclear Time, by Oli Smith
The Eye of the Jungle, by Darren Jones
The Silent Stars Go By, by Dan Abnett

Comics 2 (Total for year 27)
Kuifje in Afrika / Tintin in the Congo, by Hergé
Operation Red Dragon, by Thierry Robberecht, Marco Venanzi and Michel Pierret

~8,000 pages (total for year ~88,200)
7/25 by women (Sladen, Caspersen, 5x Le Guin); total for year 65/302
2/25 by PoC (2x Saʿdī); total for year 15/302
Owned for more than a year: 10 (The Tombs of Atuan [reread], The Farthest Shore [reread], Tehanu [reread], Tales from Earthsea [reread], The Other Wind [reread], Interference Book One [reread], Interference Book Two [reread], Theatre of War [reread], Interpreting Irish History, Nuclear Time)
Other rereads: none for total of 8 (Total for year 42/302)

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December Books 26) Vanished Kingdoms, by Norman Davies

I was very glad to get this as a Christmas present, a book with fifteen chapters exploring the demise (and occasional revival) of European states. The first eleven chapters look at countries which once existed and appeared to be as permanent as any other, but have now disapeared; three of the last four look at countries which have (re)gained their independence (Montenegro, Ireland and Estonia); and we also explore the brief appearance of the Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine which lasted for less than a day in March 1939.

It’s all fascinating stuff. I felt most interested where Davies is most comfortable, on his favoured territory of what is now Poland and its surroundings; the chapters on Poland/Lithuania, Prussia, Galicia and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha are passionately written. I had not realised, for instance, that the Hohenzollern rule over Prussia (as opposed to Brandenburg) came about as a result of the commander of the Teutonic Knights, a junior Hohenzollern, converting to Lutheranism and shifting his territory to a hereditary monarchy. Nor had I known that Queen Victoria had two older siblings (from her mother’s first marriage). And the second chapter, on the Brythonic heritage of what is now south-west Scotland, was also an eye-opener; I knew very little of the Hen Ogledd, a cultural tradition that has been completely erased but once challenged for dominance of Great Britain and the Irish Sea. Even in the less exciting chapters one runs across odd eye-catching details:

….the sister of Juan II of Castile was married off to Alfonso of Aragon, while the sister of Juan II of Aragon married Juan II of Castile. Both of these brides were called Maria; they were first cousins, and each of them married a first cousin. After their marriages, Princess Maria of Castile became Queen Maria of Aragon, and Maria of Aragon became Maria of Castile. The phrase ‘keeping it within the family’ gains new significance.

Unfortunately I found that in the two chapters about countries which I know particularly well, while Davies’ heart is generally in the right place, there are many annoying errors of detail. On Montenegro: Adria Airways is Slovenia’s national airline, not Montenegro’s. Djukanović did not break with Milošević over the Dayton Accords, which he did not consider too conciliatory (I know Wikipedia says otherwise, but Wikipedia is wrong). In the local language the country’s name is Crna Gora, not Črnagora, and it just means “Black Mountain”, not “land of the Black Mountain”. Count de Salis was never referred to as “the earl de Salis”. To describe the current democratically and fairly elected coalition government as “Putinesque” is unjustifiable, and if the reference is to politicians serving terms as prime minister (or president) interrupted by a term as president (or prime minister), it would be more appropriate to descibe Putin as “Djukanović-esque” since Milo did it first (and then gracefully retired, twice).

On Ireland: Captain Boycott was not a landlord. While there may well have been a prospect of “looming confrontation” between the Ulster Volunteers and Irish Volunteers in 1914, both groups were more interested at the time in defying British authority. Sinn Féin does not mean “Ours Alone”. Edward Carson and F.E. Smith may have seen “British law as the sole fount of legitimacy” but had no difficulty in defying it when it suited them, and their support for Ulster long predated the Ulster Volunteers being “slaughtered on the Western Front”. There was no “second vote” after the first Northern Ireland election in May 1921 to determine the future of the statelet (the Northern Ireland Parliament unanimously approved a “loyal address”). W.T. Cosgrave never used the title ‘taoiseach‘. Lord Brookeborough’s name is misspelt. Terence O’Neill was never known as Sir Terence O’Neill. County Offaly has no beaches, and anyway the incident reported to have occurred there actually took place in County Longford (which also has no beaches; like County Offaly it is landlocked). I will admit that I cannot challenge Davies on his real area of expertise, which is well to the north of Montenegro and far to the east of Ireland, but it’s disappointing that he could not find a handy Balkan or Irish expert to smooth out the bumps.

This should not detract from Davies’ main argument, which is that small and forgotten states are important, that history written from the perspective of the winners is misleading and even dangerous, and that all constitutional arrangements must be regarded as ephemeral in the longer run of things. He takes inspiration from Gibbon, who of course I have just finished reading myself, in wanting to get into the detail and seeing how this can be translated to get a better understanding of the bigger picture. He writes of how he would have liked to write about ancient Cornwall, Nieuw Amsterdam and D’Annunzio’s Fiume but did not have space; I am sorry about that, and would also have liked to see mention of my favourite forgotten Balkan state, Eastern Rumelia. Strongly recommended, though with the occasional pinch of salt where indicated. (And my Estonian friends will be annoyed that their chapter bears the title “СССР”.)

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December Books 25) The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vols 5 and 6, by Edward Gibbon

I'll do a roundup post on the entire Decline and Fall later in the weekend, but for now I just want to log that I have reached the end. The last two volumes of the original publication deal with the later Byzantine Empire, the rise of Islam, the Crusades and the final fall; the chapters are:

(Original Vol 5)
Chapter XLVIII: Plan of last two volumes, and later Byzantine emperors
Chapter XLIX: Iconoclasm, Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire
Chapter L: Mahomet
Chapter LI: the successors of Mahomet
Chapter LII: The limits of the early caliphate
Chapter LIII: The Byzantine Empire in the Tenth Century
Chapter LIV: The Paulicians and the Reformation
Chapter LV: The Bulgarians, the Hungarians and the Russians
Chapter LVI: Italy and the Normans
Chapter LVII: The Turks

(Original Vol 6)
Chapter LVIII: The First Crusade
Chapter LIX: The Later Crusades
Chapter LX: The Fourth Crusade
Chapter LXI: The Latin Empire, the Crusades and the Courtenays
Chapter LXII: the East in the later thirteenth century
Chapter LXIII: The East in the early 14th century
Chapter LXIV: Genghis Khan, and the return of the Turks
Chapter LXV: Tamerlane / Timour, and the Turks again
Chapter LXVI: The Eastern Empire and the Popes
Chapter LXVII: The Beginning of the End
Chapter LXVIII: The Fall of Constantinople
Chapter LXIX: Rome, 1100-1300
Chapter LXX: Rome, 1300-1590
Chapter LXXI: The End


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December Books 24) The Silent Stars Go By, by Dan Abnett

Latest Doctor Who book from the prolific Abnett, this one with a bit of a Christmassy theme (the chapter titles, like the title of the novel, are all lines from carols), but bringing back the Ice Warriors (who as far as I can tell haven’t been in a Who novel since 1998) interfering with a generations-long terraforming project, whose human crew have lost most of the details of their assignment over the centuries. Lots of references both to Who continuity and to the classic generation starship stories of Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss, with perhaps a nod to Riddley Walker as well, and some great flashes of humour on the way. This year’s main sequence of Eleventh Doctor / Amy / Rory hardcovers have generally been a cut above the norm and this one continues the pattern.

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December Books 23) A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee.

I was startled to find this referenced in the bibliography for Lois McMaster Bujold's The Sharing Knife: Passage, and sufficiently intrigued to track it down on Project Gutenberg and speculate about the author's uncle. It's a book which is quite obviously a first step in a presidential election campaign that never happened, full of references to the incumbent Andrew Jackson, most of which are rather obscure to anyone not familiar with the micro-politics of the year 1834. There is a lot of interesting detail about life on the frontier, including gruesome details of combat with various tribes and indeed with other white men; there's a surprisingly lengthy section about the intricacies of bear hunting; there's a sense that Crockett (and/or his ghost-writer) intended for large sections of it to be read aloud to his adoring public. There is surprisingly little detail on the politics – this is the most substantial passage about his falling out with Andrew Jackson:

I can say, on my conscience, that I was, without disguise, the friend and supporter of General Jackson, upon his principles as he laid them down, and as "I understood them," before his election as president. During my two first sessions in Congress, Mr. Adams was president, and I worked along with what was called the Jackson party pretty well. I was re-elected to Congress, in 1829, by an overwhelming majority; and soon after the commencement of this second term, I saw, or thought I did, that it was expected of me that I was to bow to the name of Andrew Jackson, and follow him in all his motions, and mindings, and turnings, even at the expense of my conscience and judgment. Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles. I know'd well enough, though, that if I didn't "hurra" for his name, the hue and cry was to be raised against me, and I was to be sacrificed, if possible. His famous, or rather I should say his in-famous, Indian bill was brought forward, and I opposed it from the purest motives in the world. Several of my colleagues got around me, and told me how well they loved me, and that I was ruining myself. They said this was a favourite measure of the president, and I ought to go for it. I told them I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure, and that I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might; that I was willing to go with General Jackson in every thing that I believed was honest and right; but, further than this, I wouldn't go for him, or any other man in the whole creation; that I would sooner be honestly and politically d—nd, than hypocritically immortalized. I had been elected by a majority of three thousand five hundred and eighty-five votes, and I believed they were honest men, and wouldn't want me to vote for any unjust notion, to please Jackson or any one else; at any rate, I was of age, and was determined to trust them. I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment. I served out my term, and though many amusing things happened, I am not disposed to swell my narrative by inserting them.

I wish he had swelled his narrative by inserting them. There's almost no indication in the book as to what Jackson's "Indian bill" (actually the Indian Removal Act) was about, and none at all as to Crockett's objections to it (other than that he thought it wicked and unjust).

Part of the charm of the book is the obscure vocabulary. What are we to make of the word "toated" in this passage, where he has an unexpected encounter with his future first wife?

I was sent for to engage in a wolf hunt, where a great number of men were to meet, with their dogs and guns, and where the best sort of sport was expected. I went as large as life, but I had to hunt in strange woods, and in a part of the country which was very thinly inhabited. While I was out it clouded up, and I began to get scared; and in a little while I was so much so, that I didn't know which way home was, nor any thing about it. I set out the way I thought it was, but it turned out with me, as it always does with a lost man, I was wrong, and took exactly the contrary direction from the right one. And for the information of young hunters, I will just say, in this place, that whenever a fellow gets bad lost, the way home is just the way he don't think it is. This rule will hit nine times out of ten. I went ahead, though, about six or seven miles, when I found night was coming on fast; but at this distressing time I saw a little woman streaking it along through the woods like all wrath, and so I cut on too, for I was determined I wouldn't lose sight of her that night any more. I run on till she saw me, and she stopped; for she was as glad to see me as I was to see her, as she was lost as well as me. When I came up to her, who should she be but my little girl, that I had been paying my respects to. She had been out hunting her father's horses, and had missed her way, and had no knowledge where she was, or how far it was to any house, or what way would take us there. She had been travelling all day, and was mighty tired; and I would have taken her up, and toated her, if it hadn't been that I wanted her just where I could see her all the time, for I thought she looked sweeter than sugar; and by this time I loved her almost well enough to eat her.

At last I came to a path, that I know'd must go somewhere, and so we followed it, till we came to a house, at about dark. Here we staid all night. I set up all night courting; and in the morning we parted. She went to her home, from which we were distant about seven miles, and I to mine, which was ten miles off.

I'm mystified. I find definitions for 'toat' including "The handle of a joiner's plane" and "A tenth of a ton, or a woman weighing 200 pounds", but those are nouns; I need a verb which suits the situation, and can't really think of one. But it certainly has the effect of adding to Crockett's homespun mystique. He concludes that

I do reckon we love as hard in the backwood country, as any people in the whole creation.

Of course, the book failed to get Crockett re-elected to congress in late 1834, and consequentially he went south to Texas and his story ended at the Alamo on 6 March 1836. But it's interesting to see an early example of a potential presidential candidate writing his autobiography, a path later pursued more successfully (from the perspectives of both political success and literary quality) by the current chap.

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What to read in 2012?

As can be seen from my tally here, I found last year’s poll asking what books on my TBR shelves you have read tremendously helpful in deciding what to read in the course of 2011. Unfortunately, the number of books on the shelves remains about the same as acquisition more or less keeps pace with completion. So I would be very grateful once again if you could fill in this poll:

Again, particular recommendations of books to read or avoid very welcome in comments; I shall also bank recommendations from previous years.

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December Books 22) Het Boek Van Alle Dingen / The Book of Everything, by Guus Kuijer

F had to do a report on this book for school, and invited me to read it too. It's quite a fascinating package, and very short at only 100 pages; Kuijer gives a very strong sense of a repressed Dutch society of the early 1950s, still coming to terms with the recent war and occupation (Thomas, the central character, is 9 so would have been born in 1942), combined with some startling magical realism as Thomas and the slightly sorcerous neighbour call down the plagues of Egypt on his wife-beating father. The line that sticks with me is from quite near the beginning (repeated again at the end) when Thomas first talks with the witch next door:

“Wat wil je later worden eigenlijk?” vroeg ze.
“Gelukkig”, zei Thomas. “Ik word later gelukkig.”

“What do you want to be when you are older?” she asked.
“Happy”, said Thomas. “I want to be happy.”

Anyway, definitely impressive enough for me to look out for more of Kuijer's work.

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Highlights of my Twitter year

Last year I went to the trouble of searching through my Facebook posts of the past twelve months to see which had attracted most comments. But Facebook's interface has now become so user-unfriendly that I will not waste time on that exercise.

Twitter is a different matter; there are a bunch of different metrics out there (of which my favourite, despite its imperfections, is Crowdbooster) which enable you to see which of your tweets has been picked up by the Twitterverse at large.

My most retweeted tweet ever was on 7 November 2010, a link to a Livejournal entry:

What happened to the Doctor Who companions?

It was retweeted by 20 people, and Crowdbooster (which caught only 16 of those) reckons it reached over 36,000 people (though there will of course have been some overlap).

My most frequently retweeted tweet of the last twelve months was on 5 December, as I livetweeted the International Court of Justice's ruling against Greece on the Macedonia name issue:

ICJ says that #Macedonia entitled to refer to itself as "Republic of MAcedonia" in dealings with Greece!!!!

This was picked up by 18 people, with (again according to Crowdbooster, which missed a couple of them) an outreach of over 6,000. The typo is a bit embarrassing, but there you go.

However, a single retweet by Paul Cornell, who has 16,000 followers, gave much more depth of penetration to this message on 16 August:

@Paul_Cornell I am very impressed that you put the Goodies into a #DoctorWho novel!

The most replies have I ever received to a single tweet (according to Crowdbooster anyway) came a few days later on 21 August:

D'oh! If I had realised Randall Munroe writes xkcd, I'd have voted for him and he would have been joint winner in the #hugos. #renosf

Crowdbooster claims that I got four replies to this (but I only seem to have records of three, from @niallharrison, @omegar24 and @elmyra).

I don't have any way of tracking the longest conversation I have been involved with on Twitter, and I think it would be quite difficult to compare, say, a prolonged back-and-forth with a friend which is mainly seen by the two of us, versus a broader exchange between lots of people to which I may have only contributed once or twice. No doubt there are mechanisms out there which will claim to quantify that sort of thing.

If I were more concerned about building my online profile I would now be planning all kinds of optimization strategies; but I am not!

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Most commented posts of the last year

Further evidence, if any were needed, of the slow fading of Livejournal: two years ago I was able to list 42 posts of the previous twelve months which had attracted 20 or more comments; last year I could only find 32 with at least 15, and this year it's a mere 26 posts with a lower limit of 12 comments. They were:

30 December 2010: What to read next year? – 41 comments
31 December 2010: 2010 Books poll – 20 comments
4 January 2011: Literary anniversaries – 22 comments
9 January 2011: Getting rid of Amazon; problems with The Book Depository – 12 comments
19 January 2011: Android brick again: Do Not Buy a HTC Desire – 52 comments
19 February 2011: Child development – 28 comments
3 March 2011: Tor top 50 novels – which have you read? – 19 comments
29 March 2011: March Books 27) Contested Will, by James Shapiro – 80 comments
24 April 2011: April Books 28) A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay – 13 comments
26 April 2011: Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form – 15 comments
4 May 2011: Serbian ћ, Maltese ħ and Planck's constant – 26 comments
5 May 2011: Another conversation with a taxi driver – 28 comments
12 May 2011: 2011 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form – 21 comments
17 May 2011: A question for my legal friends – 15 comments
22 July 2011: Oslo bombing – 13 comments
23 July 2011: Hackgate – 20 comments
31 July 2011: July Books 23) A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin – 14 comments
21 August 2011: 2011 Hugos – some (not much) analysis – 18 comments
26 August 2011: Pronouncing "chair" and "charity" – 35 comments
1 September 2011: Air travel: safety vs comfort – 21 comments
13 September 2011: Northern Ireland: the new constituency boundaries – 36 comments
8 October 2011: British Fantasy Awards – 24 comments
2 November 2011: The SDLP leadership candidates, ranked on internet use and internal organisation – 12 comments
2 November 2011: The Tintin Movie (and the books it is based on) – 16 comments
27 November 2011: Third Doctor celebration – 12 comments
11 December 2011: The wine/whine and ant/aunt differences – 16 comments

As ever, best results are polls and topics that appeal to wingnuts.

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December Books 20) The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs

An unexpected Christmas bonus for us subscribers from Big Finish (unexpected to me at any rate, though I admit I tend to just download my own subscriptions and the occasional podcast and therefore miss a lot of the interactivity on offer). This is the original 4 CD set of the memoirs of Doctor Who’s longest serving producer, read by JNT himself and originally released by Big Finish in November 2000, eighteen months before his death.

I must say that my opinion of JNT as a human being has improved considerably as a result of listening through the whole set. He is, with a few exceptions (notably Eric Saward, though even there he records some good moments along with the bad), loyal to those who worked for him and reserves most of his criticism for the higher-ups at the BBC who made his job difficult and eventually impossible while also insisting that he keep on doing it. One gets the sense of a man of limited vision but a keen sense of pragmatism, not perhaps as burdened with ego as I had expected, though with very few regrets. Fan criticism obviously did get to him; his riposte to those (including me) who did not like Dimensions in Time is to ask if we would rather have had no commemoration of Who’s 30th anniversary at all (because that was the only other option on offer)? I wished that it had been twice as long, and I wished also that he had gone into a bit more detail about the major casting and crew decisions which he made. But his insider account of the Great Cancellation Crisis of 1985 is particularly compelling, and his voice is laden with emotion at the very end as he discusses why he would not want to be involved with any revival of Who, while wishing any such project well. I wondered if he was already aware that he might not live to see it happen.

Anyway, essential listening for anyone interested in the history of Who, and quite an enlightening insight into the internal politics of TV production in its own right.

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December Books 19) Nuclear Time, by Oli Smith

This was the last of the 2010 releases in the main Doctor Who series to hit my reading list, and to be honest it’s not a strong contender. Some interesting concepts, particularly the moving of the Doctor both backwards and forwards in the same timeline, and the intersection of the Whoniverse with the US politics of the Cold War era, but Smith’s style is irritatingly unpolished in places.

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The Transdniestrian presidential election

I guess it’s possible that you have missed some interesting developments over the other side of Europe, where the voters of the unrecognised state of Transdniestria have kicked out not only the strongman who had run the place since the end of the 1992 conflict with Moldova, but also the Kremlin’s chosen candidate to replace him. In the first round of the election, on 11 December, incumbent Igor Smirnov came third with less than 25% of the votes; he was pipped for second place by the Kremlin-supported Anatoliy Kaminsky, who got 26.5%, with Kaminsky’s predecessor as Speaker of the Transnistrian Supreme Soviet, Yevgeny Shevchuk, on 38.5%.

Christmas is celebrated in January in Transnistria (as far as it’s celebrated at all) so the runiff between Shevchuk and Kaminsky was held yesterday. I must say that looking at the first round results I wondered if traditionalists who had supported Smirnov in the first round would shift behind Kaminsky to take him ahead. The number of votes involved is very small – Shevchuk had got 95,000, Kaminsky 65,000 and Smirnov 61,000 in the first round. But in fact the opposite occurred; Kaminsky actually lost votes, getting only 44,000 in the second round, and Shevchuk crushing him with 165,000. (Almost 10,000 voted against both, which is an option in Transdniestria – see official results.)

It’s small beer, of course, compared to what has been happening in Russia, but it makes an interesting pattern with the elections in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia this year also having gone the wrong way from the Kremlin’s perspective. It is all grist to the mill of Nina Caspersen’s thesis that the internal politics of unrecogised states, even the most marionettish of puppet regimes, can be worthy of study and analysis.

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December Books 18) The Dalek Handbook, by Steve Tribe and James Goss

As guides to Who go, this is one of the better ones I have come across, with a main core narrative recounting the televised Dalek stories of Doctor Who (shamefully little space given to The Power of the Daleks, but otherwise decent enough) and lots of brilliant little sidebars about how and why the Daleks have been brought to the screen, and also going through the non-televised Dalek material in great detail – particularly the comic strips and computer games, of which I must say I knew very little.

I would be very interested to hear of James Goss writing a televised story. His credits are not vast in number but very impressive in quality; I find almost all of his stories excellent and all of them at least above average. Here he shows (as he had previously done when he ran the Cult TV section of the BBC website) that he is a committed keeper of the flame. More power to him.

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The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Well, I thought that was above average for a Who Christmas special. The jokes were funny, the whole thing seemed disciplined in its self-indulgence, Bill Bailey got to do his thing, Claire Skinner is excellent, and it fitted well with the Zeitgeist. Good stuff.

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Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία!

Luke 2:14, as it might have been presented by the EU:

[bg] Слава на Бога във висините, И на земята мир между човеците, в които е Неговото благоволение!
[es] Gloria en las alturas a Dios, Y en la tierra paz, y en el hombre buena voluntad!
[cs] Sláva na výsostech Bohu, a na zemi pokoj, lidem dobrá vůle!
[da] Ære være Gud i det højeste! og Fred paa Jorden! i Mennesker Velbehag!
[de] Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe und Frieden auf Erden und den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen!
[et] Au olgu Jumalale kõrges ja rahu maa peal hea tahtega inimestele!
[el] Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία!
[en] Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men!
[fr] Gloire soit à Dieu dans les lieux très-hauts, que la paix soit sur la terre et la bonne volonté dans les hommes!
[ga] Glóir do Dhía ann sna hárduibh, agus síodhcháin ar an dtalamh, deaghthoil do na dáoinibh!
[it] Gloria a Dio ne’ luoghi altissimi, pace in terra fra gli uomini ch’Egli gradisce!
[lv] Gods Dievam augstībā, un miers virs zemes laba prāta cilvēkiem!
[lt] Šlovė Dievui aukštybėse, o žemėje ramybė ir palankumas žmonėms!
[hu] Dicsõség a magasságos mennyekben az Istennek, és e földön békesség, és az emberekhez jó akarat!
[mt] Glorja lil Alla fl-ogħla tas-smewwiet, u sliem fl-art lill-bnedmin li jogħġbu lilu!
[nl] Ere zij God in de hoogste hemelen, en vrede op aarde, in de mensen een welbehagen!
[pl] Chwała na wysokościach Bogu, a na ziemi pokój, w ludziach dobre upodobanie!
[pt] Glória a Deus nas maiores alturas, e paz na terra entre os homens de boa vontade!
[ro] Slavă lui Dumnezeu în locurile prea înalte, şi pace pe pămînt între oamenii plăcuţi Lui!
[sk] Sláva na výsostiach Bohu a na zemi pokoj ľuďom dobrej vôle!
[sl] Zhaſt bodi Bogu u’viſsokoti, inu myr na Semli, inu v’Zhlovekih dobra vola!
[fi] Kunnia Jumalalle korkeuksissa, ja maassa rauha ihmisten kesken, joita kohtaan hänellä on hyvä tahto!
[sv] Ära vare Gud i höjden, och frid på jorden, bland människor till vilka han har behag!

For Slovenian I took the 1584 translation by Jurij Dalmatin, so the style is a bit archaic (this is even more true of the Greek of course). A more modern Slovenian text would be “Slava Bogu na višavah in na zemlji mir ljudem, ki so mu po volji!” And a modern Greek version, though of course heartily disapproved of by traditionalists, is “Δόξα στον Θεό εν υψίστοις, και επάνω στη γη ειρήνη, σε ανθρώπους ευδοκίας.

Often by looking at translations one gets a better insight into the nuance (or ambiguity) of the original text, and doing this post has been a case in point. I grew up ‘knowing’ that the angels wish peace to men of goodwill on Earth. But by far the majority of the translations above separate out the three parts of the sentence – i) Glory to God in the highest; and 2) peace on earth; 3) εὐδοκία in humanity – and I must say I find that much more convincing. (Note how the King James Version tries to have it both ways by inserting a sneaky comma.)

That word εὐδοκία is particularly tricky. Most translations go for the local equivalent of ‘good will’, a straight etymological reading, εὖ meaning ‘good’ and δοκέω ‘to think’, no doubt strongly influenced by the Vulgate’s ‘gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis.’ But I find εὐδοκία cropping up more in terms of satisfaction of a desire, rather than benevolence, in its other New Testament uses. Perhaps a better synonym for the purpose would be ‘contentment’.

The Aramaic text, which I suppose is how the shepherds (if they existed) would have perceived the experience, is ܬܫܒܘܚܬܐ ܠܐܠܗܐ ܒܡܪܘܡܐ ܘܥܠ ܐܪܥܐ ܫܠܡܐ ܘܤܒܪܐ ܛܒܐ ܠܒܢܝ ܐܢܫܐ – and this has significant differences; ܠܒܢܝ ܐܢܫܐ  are ‘sons of men’, rather than humanity in general, and ܘܤܒܪܐ ܛܒܐ seems to be ‘good hope’ – though ܘܤܒܪܐ is close to ܣܒܥܘ, which is much closer in meaning to satisfaction and fulfillment, were it not for that tricky ܘ at the start rather than the end of the word. Of course Luke’s Greek is the authentic original text here, and the Aramaic that we have is a much later translation. Or at least that’s what most people think…

That final word in the English version, ‘men’, should be understood as directed at all humanity rather than half of us – ἐν ἀνθρώποις, not ἐν ἀνδράσι (if I have that right). Again I used the King James Version above to illustrate the difficulty, rather than because I particularly like it.

Anyway, I wish ευδοκίας to all, particularly if we interpret it as satisfaction or fulfillment; and peace on Earth if we can manage it too.

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December Books 17) The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson

Normally I have several books on the go at any given time, reading fifty pages of one before switching to another. Last night I realised that I couldn’t put down The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, as Lisbeth Salander’s impending trial for the attempted murder of her father unlocks a chain of conspiracy within Sweden’s intelligence services which takes us readers right to the top of the government. Larsson’s story-telling technique is fascinating: he lays out his characters’ knowledge and intentions in great (though not always complete) detail, which makes the intrusion of brutal violence into the narrative all the more vivid. He also paints a compelling and meticulous picture of the political and physical geography of Sweden, reminiscent of Rankin (except that Rankin is less accurate on the politics). But most of all he makes the reader care about the fate of his central character, and in the most effective scene (a courtroom confrontation with a crooked psychiatrist) appeals for the essential humanity of those who have been written out of society for failure to conform. A brilliant conclusion to this superb trilogy.

Posted in Uncategorised – the #SNCB / #NMBS clients strike back

We had an exciting general strike yesterday in protest at the government’s planned austerity measures, or as a friend of mine put it on Facebook, “it’s like an ant kicking the other ants in the backside on the assumption that the ant-eater will feel the pain”. Certainly it’s difficult to see how the transport strike will seriously inconvenience those with any power, while at the same time it reminds those of us dependent on the lousy service provided by SNCB / NMBS of the grotesque sense of entitlement which the staff of Belgium’s largest employer seem to enjoy.

One enterprising group of passengers proposes a counter protest. From this site you can download a fake ticket to hand over to your conductor next time you travel by train to indicate your disapproval of yesterday’s action. It’s of course rather unfair to take out one’s feelings on the train staff, when the real problem is clearly one of corporate culture overall; I don’t even particularly blame the unions who are just playing the game according to the usual script. But this seems to me a harmless and sane response.

(For a satirical take on the recent public sector strike in another EU state see here.)

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You know when someone’s account has been hacked…

…when you get a message with the subject line "hey" and the message consists simply of the hyperlinked phrase "Click here to see the attached photos".

That in itself is enough to set off the warning bells. But when the email comes from the account of the former president of a European republic, who I suspect has never said 'hey' to anyone in his life (and who I also suspect might not know how to set up a hyperlink to connect photographs to the message) then I can be pretty certain that it is bogus!

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December Books 16) First Born, by James Goss

A prequel to this year's Torchwood: Miracle Day series, which fairly leapt off the online shelves at me when I realised it was by James Goss, whose contributions to the off-screen Whoniverse have been pretty impressive, and that two of the readers – the main two, it turns out, the other four getting only a chapter or so each – are Kai "Rhys Williams" Owen, who did such a good job of Goss's Ghost Train, and Clare Corbett, who likewise did well sharing The Hounds of Artemis and carrying Dead of Winter on her own.

I was not disappointed. Although the plot itself is a pretty straightforward cut-and-paste from The Midwich Cuckoos and Children of the Corn, Goss puts together a very compelling story of creepy children in a village where nothing is quite right, with the added factor of Gwen Cooper and Rhys Williams and their very small baby trying to work out what is going on and also incidentally not get killed. I have been generally enjoying the Torchwood novels, which as a series are some of the hidden gems of Who fiction, but this is one of the best. The audio brings us Kai Owen's voice to do a warm, confused but courageous Rhys, with Clare Corbett doing a convincing interpretation of Eve Myles and carrying her chapters extremely impressively (she is really good at accents). Apart from the basic horror of the story, there's some bleak office humour about the bureaucracy of atrocity, and some tough teenagers who are central to the story. Very strongly recommended.

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December Books 15) Operation Red Dragon, by Thierry Robberecht, Marco Venanzi and Michel Pierret

Last year I read The Aïda Protocol, the second in a series of earnest graphic novels about the work of Liberal MEPs in the European Parliament; Operation Red Dragon is the first of them, published in 2006, in which our hero Elisa Correr busts open illegal arms dealing with the government of a very large Asian country and incidentally liberates her lover from captivity as a result of getting a resolution passed in the plenary session. So there is a certain amount of wishful thinking (and also an awful lot of info-dumping). But I did like the artists’ faithfulness to the European Parliament’s architecture, both in Brussels and Strasbourg, and the idea of MEPs blocking an economic deal on the grounds of human rights concerns seems a little less improbable to me after last week.

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An tAontas Eorpach

Through an administrative glitch I was sent an internal EU document today in its Irish translation. It wasn't terribly exciting but I was struck by the names of the member states as Gaeilge:
An Bheilg:
An Bhulgáir:
Poblacht na Seice:
An Danmhairg:
An Ghearmáin:
An Eastóin:
An Ghréig:
An Spáinn:
An Fhrainc:
An Iodáil:
An Chipir:
An Laitvia:
An Liotuáin:
An Ungáir:
An Ísiltír:
An Ostair:
An Pholainn:
An Phortaingéil:
An Rómáin:
An tSlóivéin:
An tSlóvaic:
An Fhionlainn:
An tSualainn:
An Ríocht Aontaithe:

I am puzzled by why Ireland, Malta, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic are allowed to be described without the definite article. (Though I suppose "na Seice" is genitive.) And if you had asked me which EU country is referred to as "an Ísiltír" in Irish, it would have taken me a long time to get there (in the end a process of elimination led me to the right answer).

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Lots of interesting links. (Well, interesting to me.)

Clare College – 2012 Alumnus of the Year announced
Alice Welbourn, who has spent her career working to raise the profile of HIV positive women.

Paul Cornell: Social Networking.
I love the internet. I live here. You know at parties how people, if the conversation tends towards the online, will say 'oh, I prefer real human interaction to all this Twitter nonsense'? I stare at them in horror and go 'are you *insane*?! Twitter *is* real human interaction, turned up to the maximum!

The hunt for Britain's ghost trains – This Britain – UK – The Independent
The 11.36 from Paddington to Gerrards Cross is designed to be as inconvenient for passengers as possible. Why?

Regarding Christopher | The Nation
So far, most of the eulogies of Christopher have come from men, and there’s a reason for that. He moved in a masculine world, and for someone who prided himself on his wide-ranging interests, he had virtually no interest in women’s writing or women’s lives or perspectives.

Life in the UK Test website
How much do you know about the British way of life????

Zombie Borders –
June 13th, 1990, was a historic day for weather forecasting in Germany. For the very first time, the weather map on the Tagesschau showed the newly reunited country’s international borders.

Transdniestrian Leader Out Of Presidential Runoff
…and another one bites the dust, as Smirnov comes third in his bid for election; Moscow having dumped him rather publicly.

Last Dictator Standing
Mugabe, Gaddafi and Kim Jong-Il together at last!

NYT: In Kim Jong-il Death, an Extensive Intelligence Failure
Kim Jong-il, the enigmatic North Korean leader, died on a train at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in his country. Forty-eight hours later, officials in South Korea still did not know anything about it – to say nothing of Washington…

Final exam — Crooked Timber
I stopped giving in-class final exams a few years ago. It was a light-bulb moment, brought on by a student who needed a disability accommodation… I asked myself why I was offering in-class final exams in the first place.

Seasonal flame bait – Charlie's Diary
1. The USA is already a functional oligarchy.
2. It's impossible to be elected to high office without so much money that anyone in high office is, by definition, part of the 0.1%
3. Public austerity is a great cover for the expropriation of wealth by the rich
4. Starving poor people with guns and nothing to lose scare the rich
5. Worse, the poor have smartphones.
6. The oligarchs are therefore pre-empting the pre-revolutionary situation by militarizing the police
7. Modern communications technologies (including the internet) provide people with a limitless channel for self-expression
8. So I infer that the purpose of SOPA is to close the loop, and allow the oligarchy to shut down hostile coordinating sites as and when the anticipated revolution kicks off.

No Country for Innocent Men | Mother Jones
There is no formal legal means in Texas to confess to a crime for which someone else has been convicted. "I guess you can contact whatever law enforcement agency handled the case," says Lubbock District Attorney Matt Powell. That, of course, is precisely what Johnson did when he copied his petition to the district attorney in 1995.
"Here you've got a guilty guy saying, 'I did this crime,'" says Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas. "All the ears went deaf and all the eyes went blind."

In the Wake of Protest: One Woman's Attempt to Unionize Amazon – Vanessa Veselka
"to make the case that Amazon is anti-union barely approaches relevance. Most companies are anti-union, that's not important right now. What made Amazon unique was the way in which it was."

Ciaran Barnes, the Boston College Blackguard Outed as Internet Troll | The Broken Elbow
More detail on dubious journalistic practice in Belfast.

Ciaran Barnes: ‘journalistic ethics on a par…’
Journalist trolls popular Northern Ireland political website.

Belgian beer: Brewed force | The Economist
On Belgian beers: "1,131 at the last count. Apart from six Trappist ales and other abbey beers, it churns out lagers such as Stella Artois and its stablemate Jupiler, the more popular brew in Belgium. Tipplers can also choose from an array of wheat beers, brown ales, red beers from West Flanders, golden ales, saison beers based on old farmhouse recipes, and any number of regional brews. Oddest are the austere, naturally fermented lambic beers of Brussels and the nearby Senne valley, a throwback to the days before yeast was tamed. These anachronisms have survived only in Belgium."

The UK and Europe: how much damage did Cameron's veto do? | openDemocracy
Kirsty Hughes, again: "Rather than playing a major influential role to stop a euro-meltdown, or being in a position to lead through the crisis if the euro did implode, Cameron has relegated the UK to the sidelines whichever way the euro crisis plays out. It is a deeply unimpressive result for a country and a government that likes to assert it is still a global player. And it is no way to defend the UK's interests."

More Action, Better Service: How to Strengthen the European External Action Service
"Roughly one year after its establishment, the EEAS still suffers from a number of design flaws. It has an insufficient resource base and there is a lack of genuine buy-in on the parts of both the member states and the European Commission." And one other big problem not named but shown in the picture. Informed but slightly wishful analysis by an insider who I very much respect.

The European Council on Foreign Relations | How to stop the demilitarisation of Europe
European publics feel safe from armed attack; have become disillusioned with the doctrine of liberal interventionism; and are unconvinced by attempts to conjure ‘new threats’ to justify defence spending. Nick Witney suggests that such reactions are understandable, but dangerously short-sighted. <- Excellent piece including some reflections on what armies are actually for.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg as promoter of Internet freedom
It was barely a year ago that a web-based collaboration of scientists and citizens demonstrated that Mr zu Guttenberg's doctoral thesis was shamelessly plagiarised from over 130 different sources… Commissioner Kroes justified her choice of consultant saying she wanted "talent, not saints". Yet surely the fact that Mr zu Guttenberg's doctoral thesis is barren of original thought shows that the one thing he lacks is talent… Ultimately, when the commodity you are trading in is trust, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is the last person you want fighting your corner.

Doctor Who News: Big Finish: Jago and Litefoot reunited with the Doctor!
Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter will once again reprise the Victorian investigative duo alongside Tom Baker as The Doctor and Mary Tamm as Romana in The Justice of Jalxar. The adventure is written by John Dorney and will form part of the second season of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, to be released in 2013.

Doctor Who Timeline
Lovely graphic of DW history! (though with some inaccuracies)

Living History (Part One) « Ardent Reader
How to make me feel old: "I wasn’t even a year old when Bill Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States, and I was nine when he left office."

What makes us better people? I’m starting to think it’s mostly not our character…
"I am spending a lot of time thinking about what characterises systems that set people up to do well, and systems that set people up to do less well. My current showcase system is single queuing. People behave better when there is a single queuing system in place, and they are much more relaxed. In parallel queues, they twitch in case the other queue is moving more quickly or someone jumps in or they are in the wrong place and will miss their turn. Their behaviour is more defensive and less kind."

BBC News – Morocco's fish fight: High stakes over Western Sahara
MEPs rejected the deal in its current form by 326 votes to 296 on Wednesday, which will lead to its immediate suspension. They voted instead for a new protocol that is economically, ecologically and socially sustainable, and that fully respects international law.
Back in Laayoune, Ismaili Mohamed Barek, 34, had been hoping for such an outcome. He did a six months of work experience on a fishing boat, but said that he and his fellow Sahrawis were offered nothing at the end of it. "Fishing is dominated almost 100% by Moroccans," he said. "Because of this we want to see the pillaging of Sahrawi wealth stop, and we want an end to the agreement with the EU."

Interview: Russell T Davies on shelving US projects, his partner’s cancer diagnosis and coming home
RTD tells all to the Pink Paper.

An intimate look at ancient Rome
When you visit sites of ancient Roman civilization, it's hard to know where to look first: Temples, markets, brothels and baths all draw the eye and the imagination. But if you really want to know what it was like to live in ancient Rome, you may want to consider the humble toilet.

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The Earthsea Books

November Books 26) A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin
December Books 8) The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin
December Books 9) The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin
December Books 10) Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin
December Books 11) Tales from Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin
December Books 12) The Other Wind, by Ursula Le Guin

Partly inspired by Jo Walton's set of essays (here, here, here, here, here and here) but more by the fact that Tehanu was next on my list of Nebula winners, I have been rereading the six Earthsea books. I strongly recommend this as a little literary project if you want to challenge yourself. The longest book, Tales from Earthsea, is only a little over 300 pages; The Other Wind less than 250 and the first four around 200. Also, you have probably read some of them already. I remember A Wizard of Earthsea on Jackanory when I must have been about eight, with creepy drawings and all; I found The Tombs of Atuan in a school library a couple of years later, and loved it; and I think I was given The Farthest Shore as a present before I was a teenager. But I read the last three as an adult, and one by one over a period of several years; and I don't really recommend that, because despite the sixteen year publication gap between The Farthest Shore and Tehanu, the action follows directly from the one to the other. 

I won't go into the detail of the plot, since Jo Walton has done that and you probably already know at least the first book. What struck me this time was the structure of the six books. They fall rather neatly into three trilogies, even though Tales From Earthsea is not a novel but a story collection and despite the close time link between the third and fourth books. The classic Earthsea trilogy, the first three books, are a thing of beauty; three Bildungsromane, the stories of Ged, Tenar and Arren/Lebannen, the latter two guided by Ged; but also with a very dark streak in all three, about the world of death leaking into the world of life – centre stage in the first and third books, and never far out of sight in the second. The images – of dragons and the shadow, of the subterranean labyrinth, and of the dry wall separating life and death – will stay with me all my life. Everyone should read them.

The second trilogy is more problematic. I like and appreciate the structure, where first we return to Ged and Tenar and the injured child, and then we divert into some stories of which the last takes us to the question of women and Roke (and dragons), and finally a grand restructuring of Earthsea to repair the damage done to its fundament by the misbehaving wizards of the first trilogy. But actually these are not really improvements. The urgency and vitality of the first three books – particularly the first two – has been slightly dissipated by a process of reflection, which is interesting and engaging but not fascinating and enthralling in the same way. So anyone reading the six books in order needs to be warned in advance that the first ones are the best. Which is not to say that the later ones are bad.

Having said that none of the books is actually bad, I'm afraid I concluded that Tehanu is much the weakest of the six. It's nice to see what Tenar has been up to for the intervening decades between The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore but it's not terribly satisfying to see her, a former incarnate goddess, being casually dismissed by her wastrel ex-pirate son. It's nice to see how her relationship with Ged develops, with Tenar as adoptive daughter. But the means and motivation of the bad guys is very poorly explained, certainly compared to the other books; and the abrupt ending comes quite literally out of a clear blue sky, and is a jarring change of pace.

Tehanu won the 1991 Nebula against one book I've read a long time ago and think I liked better at the time though I remember very little about it (Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion) and four books that I not only have not read but have not even heard of (Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly, James Morrow's Only Begotten Daughter, John E. Stith's Redshift Rendezvous and Jane Yolen's White Jenna). The Hugo that year went to Bujold's The Vor Game, likewise a volume I don't particularly rate in a series I generally love.

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The Romans, reappraised

Last time I watched The Romans, just over two years ago, it left me rather cold. On F’s suggestion we watched the first two episodes last night and the other two this evening, and I found I loved it (and so did he). Last time round I was watching while waking up early and jetlagged on a particularly arduous field trip; shows how the mood you are in can make a difference to your appreciation of, well, anything.

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Gibbon Chapter LXX: Rome from 1300 to 1590

A survey of the history of Rome from 1300 to 1590, which covers the history of Rienzi (which I knew nothing about), the Great Schism (which I did know something about) and the government of Rome once the Popes had returned. See also notes on how silly it is to have a poet laureate, the Pope as temporal prince, the Great Schism, how power transforms people, the influence of holy women, and who was right in the end.

One more chapter to go!

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Three BF audios: First Wave, Five Companions, Army of Death

Somehow I have fallen behind with logging my progress with the latest Big Finish audios, so here are three, in continuity order (which is coincidentally also release order).

In The First Wave, the story of Steven and audio-only companion Oliver, and their travels with the First Doctor, comes to an end. It’s a story which features the Vardans, which is a stroke of genius – they really belong much more to Season 3 than to the colour era, and somehow the sense of the story fits rather well to the era in which it was set, with Peter Purves and Tom Allen bleakly sparking off each other as death and destruction rage around them. I felt though looking back on it that there wasn’t quite enough plot to sustain a full hour of audio.

The Five Companions is consciously a Christmas romp for us diehard fans, with Peter Purves again opening the story being chased by a Dalek. He finds other people here as well – his old acquaintance Ian Chesterton, Sara Kingdom back from the dead, a woman called Polly, another called Nyssa, and a young fair-haired man with a pleasant open face who claims to be the Doctor… also Sontarans, Daleks, and other nasties. It didn’t make a lot of sense to be honest but I loved it anyway. I particularly noted the audible chemistry between William Russell and Sarah Sutton, who had played against each other previously in an earlier Big Finish story in the main sequence.

Finally, Army of Death brings the Eighth Doctor and Mary Shelley to a future planet equipped with complex politics, scientists playing with artificial life, and (until recently) two major cities. Mary Shelley is now far from her own background but comes over more as Leela than Victoria, with of course the obligatory subplot of her falling in love with the Doctor. It’s well enough done, I felt stronger than the previous run in this series, and I was glad that the ending seemed to leave the path clear for more Eight/Shelley adventures.

In summary, I think all of these would require some knowledge of their particular branches of Who mythology to appreciate properly, with possibly Army of Death the least impenetrable to non-fans, and The Five Companions likely to end up as the most memorable.

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