February Books

Non-fiction 3 (YTD 14)
The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal
The World of Washington Irving, by Van Wyck Brooks
My Traitor's Heart, by Rian Malan

Fiction (other than sf) 2 (YTD 4)
Let The Great World Spin
, by Colum McCann
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

SF (other than Who) 7 (YTD 14)
Cyber Circus
, by Kim Lakin-Smith
Osama, by Lavie Tidhar
By Light Alone, by Adam Roberts
Snuff, by Terry Pratchett
The Islanders, by Christopher Priest
Year's Best SF 24, ed. Gardner Dozois
Embassytown, by China Miéville

Doctor Who etc 8 (YTD 16)
[SJA audio] The Time Capsule, by Peter Anghelides
[SJA audio] The Shadow People, by Scott Handcock
[SJA audio] The White Wolf, by Gary Russell

Touched By An Angel, by Jonathan Morris
The Eleventh Tiger, by David A. McIntee
Blood Harvest, by Terrance Dicks
The Taking of Planet 5, by Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham
The Sontaran Games, by Jacqueline Rayner

Comics 0 (YTD 2)

Running totals
~6,100 pages (YTD ~14,600)
2/20 (YTD 12/50) by women (Lakin-Smith and Rayner)
1/20 (YTD 1/50) by PoC (Alexie)
Owned for more than a year: 7/20 (Blood Harvest [reread], Year's Best Science Fiction 24, The Taking of Planet 5, The World of Washington Irving, The Sontaran Games, The Time Capsule [re-listened], The Eleventh Tiger)
Other rereads: 0 for total of 2 (YTD 3/50)

Big 2012 reading projects:
February 29 takes me to Book III, Chapter XI of War and Peace, and Joshua III in the Bible.

Also started:
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Beggars Banquet by Ian Rankin
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
[Torchwood] Almost Perfect by James Goss

Coming next, perhaps:
Under Heaven
, by Guy Gavriel Kay
The War of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Desolation Island, by Patrick O'Brian
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
A History of God, by Karen Armstrong
The Godmother's Apprentice, by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Moon and the Sun, by Vonda N. McIntyre
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
The Great Wall of China, by Franz Kafka
Among Others, by Jo Walton
The Word in the Desert, by Douglas Burton-Christie
The Great O'Neill, by Sean O'Faolain
Tickling the English, by Dara O Briain
The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Critique of Pure Reason, by Immanuel Kant
Hard Times, by Charles Dickens
The Flowering of New England 1815-1865, by Van Wyck Brooks
The Plotters, by Gareth Roberts
Strange England, by Simon Messingham

The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, ed. by Terry Carr
Frontier Worlds, by Peter Anghelides
The Krillitane Storm, by Christopher Cooper

(struck through = read in March)

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Cambridge architecture question

Anyone recognise this room?

Found on Flickr here.

The low ceiling and position of the window make me feel that it must be on an upper floor. I have vague memories of an upper hall a bit like that at Christ’s, but I guess it could equally be a room in, say, Trinity or John’s which is no longer a public space. (Or somewhere in the Old Schools??)

Anyway, interested to know if it rings any bells.

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February Books 19) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

A rather poignant YA novel, based apparently rather closely on the writer’s own life, about growing up in a reservation wracked by poverty and alcoholism in Washington state, and his attempts to fit in at the nearby white high school. I felt it a bit of a cop-out that the narrator turns out to be good at basketball and so wins the respect of his peers, but maybe I was just over-projecting nerd experience. Anyway, it is very lucidly told, with lots of illustrations, and can be recommended for younger teenage readers.

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February Books 18) The Sontaran Games, by Jacqueline Rayner

One of the very short “quick reads” novels, less than 100 pages, with the Tenth Doctor investigating mysterious deaths at an athletics training camp which has become the latest front in the Sontaran/Rutan war. Surprisingly high death toll among the characters (shades of Fang Rock, perhaps). Decently constructed, but I do wonder if these books reach their target audience.

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Scotland and Ireland in the British Parliament

In the event that Scotland votes for independence in a referendum, what will happen to Scottish representatives at Westminster?

When Montenegro declared independence 13 days after its 2006 referendum, the Serbia-Montenegro joint parliament consisted only on members appointed by the two constituent parliaments, and could simply be dissolved. In 2011, the Southern Sudanese were (rightly) annoyed when their members of the Sudanese parliament were sent packing before the formal declaration of independence after the January referendum but before independence was declared on 9 July. At the other extreme, the MPs elected to the Indonesian parliament to represent East Timor in 1999 kept their seats, despite grumbling, until the 2004 election, although East Timor had become independent in 2002 and their constituency was therefore no longer part of the coutry.

If the Scottish referendum takes place in late 2014, it is entirely possible that subsequent negotiations will take so long that the results may not be implemented until after the next Westminster general election, which is due in May 2015 (and might in any case happen earlier). If Scottish independence is in fact a done deal by then, it would be sensible simply not to hold the 2015 Westminster election in Scotland and instead to prolong the mandates of Scottish MPs until independence day, at which point they would go home. But if the next Westminster election happens before the Scottish referendum, or if there are other unforeseen complications, Scottish MPs could sit at Westminster for years after their constituencies have left the UK.

UK constitutional precedent is certainly in that direction. In the 1918 election, Sinn Fein won 70 of the 75 seats in the twenty-six counties of Ireland which became independent in 1922, the old Nationalist Party won two and Unionists three. The latter five took their seats in the House of Commons, and continued to speak and vote at Westminster until the November 1922 election. Although this was before the formal enactment of Irish independence in December 1922, it was after the assumption of power by the Provisional Government in January, and so the five were representing territory in the UK parliament that was no longer under UK control. If the November 1922 election had been delayed until 1923, they would have continued to sit, like the four East Timorese in the Indonesian parliament, representing constituencies which were no longer legally part of the country.

As for the House of Lords: from 1801 to 1922, peers who held Irish titles elected 28 of their number to serve as Irish Representative Peers at Westminster. The last of these elections was in 1919 when Lord Roden was elected to replace Lord Langford. Ove the following decades the last twenty-eight peers continued to sit in the House of Lords but were not replaced as they died, starting with Lord Curzon in 1925 and ending in 1961 with Lord Kilmorey (whose title, but not his seat, was eventually inherited by Richard Needham who served as a junior minister in Northern Ireland for years). The second last survivor, the Earl of Drogheda, was chairing meetings in the House of Lords until a few days before his death in November 1957, almost 35 years after the southern Irish MPs had left the Commons. (Lord Kilmorey does not appear to have ever spoken in the House of Lords as far as I can tell.)

Scotland's relationship with the House of Lords has changed over the centuries. From 1707 to 1963, Scottish peers convened after every general election to elect sixteen of their number as representative peers in Westminster. From 1963 to 1999, all Scottish peers were entitled to sit in the House of Lords (there are currently 42 of them who do not also hold an English, Great Britain or UK title), and since 1999 they have been eligible for membership like the other hereditary peers.

These days, the House of Lords has become a very peculiar animal. Under the government's current proposals, Scotland would elect seven or eight members of the new House of Lords every five years for fifteen-year terms, and a number of the appointed members would presumably also be Scottish. Since the entire process is going to consist largely of transitional arrangements for the first decade of its operation, I suppose it doesn't tax the imagination too much to find transitional arrangements for Scotland where the Scottish members of the new body are pensioned off after independence day.

But it's much more likely, in my view, that Scottish independence will succeed and the current House of Lords reforms will fail, leaving the UK in the same position it was in in 1922, with a rhetorical commitment to reforming the upper house which has not been implemented and a radically changed constitutional position. I think that Scottish title-holders make up a bit under 10% of the current House of Lords – 9 of the surviving 92 hereditaries (the Countess of Mar, the Earl of Erroll, the Earl of Caithness, the Earl of Lindsay, the Earl of Northesk, the Earl of Dundee, Viscount Falkland, Lady Saltoun, and Lord Reay) have Scottish titles only, though of the life peers whose titles have a Scottish element the proportion may be fewer – only five of the 120 life peers created since the last election have Scottish-based titles (John McFall, Tommy McAvoy, Jack McConnell, Des Browne, and Michael Ancram who holds a whole clutch of titles including Marquess of Lothian), but I also count 3 of Gordon Brown's 34, and 7 of the 77 of Blair's last term (and can't really be bothered to count earlier creations).

Scots in the House of Lords could reasonably cite the precedent of the Earl of Drogheda to argue that they should be allowed to remain in place on the same terms as the other peers, until they gradually die off. I dunno though; that's quite a large chunk of the Upper House whose allegiance nominally would lie in another country. Perhaps, if the current House of Lords reforms fail (as I think they deserve to) and Scottish independence succeeds, it will kickstart a process to find a better upper house for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which in my view would be a much smaller body of long-term appointed members, with a clear mandate for revision and scrutiny. That is, if such a body is needed at all; I note that there has been no talk of an independent Scotland adopting a bicameral system.

(Incidentally, if you don't already know, you probably will not guess which British-ruled island territory was offered full integration into the UK in 1955, with seats in the House of Commons and all the trimmings, an arrangement which did not get sufficient support in the 1956 referendum to be implemented.)

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February Books 16) My Traitor’s Heart, by Rian Malan

A truly powerful memoir, partly telling Malan’s own story as a lefty journalist of hardline Afrikaner stock, and partly also an introduction to the dialect and grammar of South African political violence, particularly of the 1980s (the book came out in 1990, when it was clear that change was coming to South Africa but not at all clear what it would be or even how it would come).

The accounts of the various atrocities carried out by South Africans on each other are pretty stark, but Malan’s message is clear: this was a racial problem, not a class war (of course, he was writing before the fall of Communism), and the only ultimate choice for the Afrikaners and for South Afrtica’s other whites was to surrender to majority rule, with all the risks and dangers it entailed – not for strategic reasons (though the security situation was not viable in the medium or long term) but for moral reasons.

Back in my student days, I had a couple of right-wing acquaintances who would mutter that Mandela was actually guilty or that the death rate from black-on-black violence was much greater than the death rate from whites killing blacks. These points might have been true but Malan makes it clear that they were irrelevant, in a system constructed by the people he calls “the mad architects of apartheid”. It was noticeable that these views tended to come from Tories rather than white South Africans, who generally wished it could all be over soon.

Anyway, I learned a lot from this book, and will stew gently on the implications for similar situations elsewhere.

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February Books 15) Year’s Best SF 24, ed. Gardner Dozois

I used to get the Dozois anthology every year and read it immediately, but this habit faded out a few years back, so I am now reading his 2007 collection of the best stories of 2006 for the first time. Most of these stories were indeed fresh for me; four (I think) were Hugo nominees, and I'd read a couple of others in other collections (or possibly even in the original magazine publication). As usual, Dozois shows excellent taste, though my 2007 records are not in good enough shape to tell me if I think he got a better or worse result than the Hugo or Nebula nomination system. The story that stood out for me as a new discovery was Carolyn Ives Gilman's "Okanoggan Falls", a disturbing tale of alien occupation and human resistance. I may get back into the Dozois habit.

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I’ve been entertaining myself o the commute for the last couple of weeks with episodes of the mid-noughties BBC sf sitcom Hyperdrive, which managed two series of six episodes in 2006 and 2007. The only core cast member who I was familiar with was Miranda Hart, whose own sitcom I have caught occasionally; the star is Nick Frost as Commander Henderson, charged with protecting British interests in a changing galaxy through his command of the spaceship H.M.S. Camden Lock, and somewhat reminiscent of David Brent of The Office except nicer (and therefore less interesting).

I can see why no third series was commissioned and am a bit surprised that it managed a second. The two best episodes are in the middle of the first series. The third episode, “Weekend Off”, breaks with the usual sitcom format to explore the relationships between the characters, and by this stage one has started to learn enough about them to care. Of course, everything has to be reset at the end of the half-hour, but it was fun while it lasted. And in the fifth episode, “Clare”, the crew encounter a woman who is travelling single-handed round the galaxy, Ellen MacArthur-style, played with fantastic carpet-chewing psychotic energy by Sally Phillips, who completely steals the show. Other guest stars worth noting include Geoffrey McGivern, the original Ford Prefect, who plays an alien warlord, and Paterson Joseph as the Space Marshal who is Henderson’s boss. But in general I felt that a decent enough cast weren’t given terribly oromising material to work with, and the results will be quickly forgotten.

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Interesting Links for 24-02-2012

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The #ACTA referral

I've been following the online debate about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) with some confusion. I am automatically distrustful of senior officials who tell us that everything is going to be all right; and I have noted with dismay some of the wilder predictions about how the ACTA agreement will result in the police cutting off your internet if they think you have installed μTorrent. The European Parliament has an info page which, typically, concentrates on the Parliament's own role; but it also has its own study (PDF), commissioned from Maastricht, which raises a number of questions about the agreement at least from a procedural point of view. And my old friend Joe McNamee, before the latest news broke, made some serious charges against it.

However, I'm now in a position where I can offer some expertise of my own. The European Commission yesterday decided to refer ACTA to the European Court of Justice for a ruling on "whether ACTA is incompatible – in any way – with Europe’s fundamental rights and freedoms" (there is some dispute about exactly what the question is).

Just to step back a moment and define who the actors are here: the European Commission is the EU's executive, which has fairly strong powers to negotiate for all 27 member states on trade issues but much less on other questions (ACTA involves both of these). The European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg, is not the same as the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg and is not part of the EU. The ECJ rules on whether actors within the EU have stuck to EU rules; the ECtHR has a remit on human rights which stretches from the Atlantic to Russia and Azerbaijan (the membership of the Council of Europe, a separate organisation). If ACTA were eventually passed and enforced, one could imagine appeals to the Strasbourg ECtHR, but we are far from that point.

As far as I know, there has only been one previous occasion when an envisaged EU treaty was referred to the ECJ, and it also concerned intellectual property. The 2009 draft agreement on European patents was thrown out by the ECJ, not because it curtailed rights and freedoms, but because it would have set up parallel institutions to apply EU law without being themselves subject to it (the details are technical and frankly boring). The ACTA challenge is much more ideological.

The Commission's decision to refer ACTA to the ECJ is, I think, unprecedented – the patents treaty was referred to the ECJ by member states. It is obviously the result of an extraordinary level of grass-roots action and campaigning, which saw the European Parliament rapporteur resign and mass protests in numerous European cities earlier this month. It obviously also indicates that the Commission was so internally divided that it was unable to reach an agreement on the issue. On the one hand, the referral takes the decision out of the democratic process and puts it into the court system; but on the other, it certainly holds up the implementation of ACTA for at least a year, probably two, and will deliver a firm legal decision at the end of the process which will either kill ACTA completely (as the ECJ did with the patent agreement) or will restrict its applicability.

Now for the words of warning. I'm not a lawyer, I'm a political activist; and I have myself been involved with two cases which involved the European Court of Justice, neither of which, frankly, was successful. I have observed that the Court will tend to take a rather protective view of EU treaties and procedures. ACTA opponents who want to influence the court will therefore need to i) identify EU-specific concerns, rather than issues of general human rights and justice, which apply to the agreement, and ii) much more importantly identify someone who can put that particular case before the Court. My suspicion is that the only bodies with locus standi in this procedure will be the EU institutions (the Parliament and the Commission) and the 27 member states. I would recommend that ACTA activists identify friendly member state governments now, and start lobbying them immediately to make sure that their interpretation is laid before the court; and even then it may not work. My contact details are easy to find, and I will be happy to discuss further with interested parties.

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Interesting Links for 23-02-2012

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Interesting Links for 22-02-2012

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Nebula nominees

Here are the novels on this year's Nebula shortlist, ranked by owners on Librarything and Goodreads, with Amazon sales rank thrown in.

Librarything Goodreads Amazon
owned score owned score paper Kindle
Embassytown, by China Miéville 767 3.96 2427 3.86 17544 8141
Among Others, by Jo Walton 444 4.19 1240 3.86 14122 7864
The Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin 147 3.96 642 3.93 11329 12887
God's War, by Kameron Hurley 157 3.82 373 3.62 16292 22719
Mechanique… by Genevieve Valentine 102 4.47 309 3.88 8706 6319
Firebird, by Jack McDevitt 60 3.86 178 4.11 20955 10082

The order above is that of number of owners on Goodreads, which is the same as Librarything apart from the middle two, and indicates that Embassytown probably has the greatest public exposure, followed by Among Others. But there is a lot of texture here. Note that Librarything users who own it love Mechanique, and Goodreads users who own it love Firebird. Note also that Amazon sales rank tells a different story, with Mechanique well ahead of the field, followed by The Kingdom of Gods in paper sales and Among Others in Kindle sales. Embassytown's paper sales rank is surprisingly poor, and God's War's Kindle sales rank is dismal.

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February Books 14) The Islanders, by Christopher Priest

I’m on a steady upward track with the BSFA nominees. Though presented as a gazetteer of islands in the Dream Archipelago, where time swirls and nomenclature is unstable, there is actually a story, or several stories, here, dotted across the spots of land separated by the ocean. I found it very satisfying: the artist who sculpts tunnels into the islands to make them sing in the wind, the mime artist killed by a mysteriously dropped pane of glass, the writer who somehow writes the preface to a work which describes his own demise and funeral, the venomous scorpion-like creatures which are never spoken of, the educator, the randy artist, all with parts of their narrative here, there and hidden. At first I was inclined to be a little grumpy about whether or not this is actually a novel, but it looks more like a novel than, say, Tristram Shandy (not setting the bar terribly high, I admit). I really liked this, and Embassytown will have to be really impressive to beat it on my BSFA ballot.

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Interesting Links for 20-02-2012

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February Books 13) Blood Harvest, by Terrance Dicks

This was one of the first New Adventures that I read, back in 2006, but I’m glad that I stuck to my decision to include it as I read the series in order. It is slightly better than I remembered; possibly I enjoyed it more because I now see it in the context of the previous 27 novels in the series and also I have re-watched both State of Decay and The Five Doctors, on which it leans pretty heavily, a couple of times in the interim. It was interesting to read this so soon after Lavie Tidhar’s Osama, which mingles the noir genre with The Man in the High Castle rather than with Time Lords and Space Vampires, and is marginally the better book.

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February Books 12) Snuff, by Terry Pratchett

Latest of the Vimes sub-series of Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett; once again, as in Thud, he takes Vimes out of Ankh-Morpork and the story is the better for it. I really enjoyed the combination of toilet humour (because poo is always funny) with cold clinical rage against racial injustice; I got a little lost with some of the topography of the river, but then there are not a lot of authors who would simultaneously try and satirise both Jane Austen and Mark Twain. Vimes is great, though I wish we could get rid of the other Guards.

The Colour of Magic | The Light Fantastic | Equal Rites | Mort | Sourcery | Wyrd Sisters | Pyramids | Guards! Guards! | Eric | Moving Pictures | Reaper Man | Witches Abroad | Small Gods | Lords and Ladies | Men at Arms | Soul Music | Interesting Times | Maskerade | Feet of Clay | Hogfather | Jingo | The Last Continent | Carpe Jugulum | The Fifth Elephant | The Truth | Thief of Time | The Last Hero | The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents | Night Watch | The Wee Free Men | Monstrous Regiment | A Hat Full of Sky | Going Postal | Thud! | Wintersmith | Making Money | Unseen Academicals | I Shall Wear Midnight | Snuff | Raising Steam | The Shepherd’s Crown

Interesting Links for 19-02-2012

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BSFA short stories: my ballot

Long plane flights and short stories often work quite well in combination for me, and I used the last week's travels, among other things, to read through the BSFA shortlist. I should say that I ranked my choices before then turning to Martin Lewis's discussion, which illustrates the point that chacun a son goût.

5) Afterbirth, by Kameron Hurley

Martin Lewis asks if this would work for someone who hasn't read God's War buy the same author. I can only say that it didn't really work for me; I didn't quite get either the background to the story or why I was supposed to care about it. Important themes, good writing, but didn't really engage me. The only story of the five that I would rank below "No Award" (if the BSFA had that category, which it doesn't.)

4) The Silver Wind, by Nina Allen

A piece with rather interesting scenery, juxtaposing two alternative present-day Londons linked by a mysterious dwarf watchmaker. Lots of intriguing details which however didn't quite go anywhere.

3) The Copenhagen Interpretation, by Paul Cornell

A fantasy steampunk short in the same world as the same author's Hugo-nominated "One Of Our Bastards is Missing"; I enjoyed the pace and appreciated the basic concept, would have liked a bit more story, but decent enough.

2) Covehithe, by China Miéville

Originally published in the Guardian, of all places. Basically a very short piece about living, walking oil rigs. As usual with Miéville, gorgeous prose.

1) Of Dawn, by Al Robertson

Martin Lewis (and his commenters) complain that this story is variously too much like other recent British sf or too much engaged with its own internal references. I obviously haven’t read enough recent British sf to get jaded with this kind of thing because I enjoyed it a lot; I thought the depiction of the central character’s grief very true to life, and the layered delving into a personal and geographical past fitted the central premise in a way I found very satisfying. I would agree that it is perhaps a shade too long, but will put it top of my ballot anyway.

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February Books 11) The Eleventh Tiger, by David A. McIntee

This isn’t quite the last First Doctor novel for me to read, in that I started (but could not bear to finish) The Plotters a couple of years back. But until the BBC decides to licence another First Doctor story, it is the last one whose covers I have cracked; a tale of Vicki, Ian and Barbara in China in the 1860s, encountering the Ten Tigers (of whom I had not previously heard, but a quick Google put me right) and an alien menace trying to take over Earth history through revenants and the terracotta soldiers. Lots of vivid imagery, and good imaginative backstory for Ian, Barbara and Vicki. I must just register a slight note of dissatisfaction that the baddie wasn’t obviously tied to Who continuity despite the clues (unless he actually was, and I missed the point). But otherwise this is one of the best First Doctor novels. Unfortunately I think I must now have another go at The Plotters for the sake of completism.

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February Books 10) By Light Alone, by Adam Roberts

Next up in my reading of the BSFA nominees, and again I like this one more than the one I have already read; In By Light Alone, humanity has become universally able to photosynthesise enough energy to stay alive through their hair by virtue of a drug which is freely available, and has consequently collapsed into a Gatsbyesque dichotomy of the super-wealthy and the poor. The plot concerns a couple who are holidaying in an exotic resort, whose obscenely comfortable world is upended when one of their children is stolen – not kidnapped, no ransom involved; we then follow first their efforts to get her back and then the real story of her return. It’s lushly descriptive, but most of the characters are so unpleasant that it’s rather difficult to enjoy (and then the missing daughter is almost too heroic when she finally turns up).

Most reviewers have concentrated on Roberts’ commentary on wealth and gender, but I took something slightly different from it. By curious coincidence I have been reading this book on a trip to Tbilisi, which is the setting for a couple of scenes and the backdrop for several others. (I teased the author on Twitter about one geographical howler; the author replied that “it’s possible the borders have been redrawn a little, in my future-world”.) More to the point, Roberts’ future world is also a world without conflict, where his characters (both rich and poor) are able to wander across borders that in our world are tense and contentious but in the world of By Light Alone are sunk into a sullen peace, watched over by local militias and strongmen whose desire for a quiet life apparently doesn’t include conquering the next village. (Though the book ends with renewed conflict between rich and poor, personified in the family who are his core characters.)

Those of us who take an interest in the origins of conflict occasionally debate the extent to which access to resources is a universal factor (my own take is that it can be over-rated; cultural factors can exacerbate conflict even in areas which are wealthy, or prevent it in areas which are poor). Iain M. Banks portrays a post-scarcity future where conflict is pretty much absent except for those outside the Culture. I was a bit disappointed that the disappearance of traditional conflict from Roberts’ world wasn’t really a matter of comment within the novel; Tbilisi, Yerevan and Mount Ararat are basically far-off places which are not like New York and are full of poor people, and while that’s explicitly the view of the unpleasant rich characters, I felt it was implicitly the view of the novel as a whole, and an opportunity missed.

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February Books 9) Touched By An Angel, by Jonathan Morris

I’ve already quoted the Belgian line from this Eleventh Doctor novel, which is yet another story of car crashes and mixed-up timelines (I have lost count of how often this has come up in New Who but it’s at least twice on the main show plus Sarah Jane Smith’s parents), but with the excellent addition of the Weeping Angels, who both create the possibility of temporal paradox and hope to feed off it. Morris does a beautiful job of conveying the history of the relationship between the car crash victim and her husband which is central to the narrative, and the Angels also come across superbly – if Blink is one of your favourite DW episodes, as it is mine, this book comes close to being a novelisation of it in a slightly different frame. It’s more of a Weeping Angels novel than a Doctor Who novel – the original Blink of course was a Doctor-lite episode, and while I’ve seen a couple of reviews grumble that there’s not enough Doctor in this book I actually felt there could have been a little less. It’s a shame that the excellent quality of the writing was not entirely matched by originality of plot, but almost for that reason I think I could recommend this rather strongly as a Who book for non-fans. I listened to the audio version performed by Clare Corbett, of whom I increasingly feel that I would gladly pay a fee to hear her read the phone directory.

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The Social Graph

Fascinating to play with Gephi to get this lovely image of the network of my Facebook friends:

(Click to embiggen)

Apart from the two outliers of recent Cambridge sabbaticals and friends from the 1980s International Astronomical Youth Camps, it’s quite revealing of the gap between work and life, or business and pleasure. My Irish relatives are up at the top and my colleagues at my current employer (and my contacts in South Sudan) are as far away from them as possible.

Then there’s a very telling gulf between a) sf fandom, and my educational peers (note how my grammar school friends divide into two cliques, basically the large group on the left are those who I was not as close to as the smaller group on the right); and b) my professional/political contacts, with Ulster politics loosely connected to schoolfriends, and Lib Dems loosely connected to Cambridge friends. Then we gradually work through degrees of foreignness and personal history – NDI, who I worked for 1997-98; ICG and other Balkan contacts, reflecting my 1999-2006 work; and finally my current job. There are a few geographical concentrations there as well, South Sudan (as already mentioned), Banja Luka (where we lived in 1997-98), the Turkish Cypriots with whom I was closely engaged in 2007-10.

This doesn’t capture the full picture – there are obviously some nodes of connection between the various networks, and the links between fandom and the Lib Dems are more intense than appears here (as you would expect). But I’d better stop playing with it now, I am getting addicted…

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Eastercon: I will be there; will you?

I decided soon after moving to Belgium that the only reason to fly rather than take Eurostar to London would be to attend an event which was actually taking place at one of the airports. But as it happens, Olympus 2012, this year’s British national science fiction Easter convention, is taking place at the Heathrow Radisson. So I will fly from Brussels, possibly the first time I have ever done that route by plane other than to make onward flight connections.

Wiill you be there too?

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February Books 8) Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

A novel following an assortment of characters through their lives in New York over a period in August 1974, when they are linked by a fatal car accident and the experience of watching a man walk a tightrope strung between the towers of the World Trade Center. A New Yorker friend spotted this in my bag while we were in the pub, and expressed scepticism that any writer could properly capture his native city; I can’t judge that, but I did find it a satisfying and dramatic read, McCann capturing various voices to make an interesting story which is also fairly obviously an allegory for the impact of 9/11.

It was interesting to read this at the same time as both Lavie Tidhar’s alternative take on 9/11 and Van Wyck Brooks’ examination of New York culture in the early nineteenth century.

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