Worldcon London Party 2 September

For those who are interested in the proposed 2014 London Worldcon, and in reach of the city on Sunday (unfortunately I'll be on a plane going east):

Originally posted by at London Party

Originally published at London in 2014. You can comment here or there.

For anyone who will be in London rather than Chicago this weekend, we'll be having a party in London on Sunday afternoon for the announcement of the site selection result. It's at the Green Man pub on Great Portland Street, from 4pm. The result should be announced around 5pm UK time. Come and help us to celebrate or drown our sorrows.

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 29-08-2012

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 27) The Poison Factory, by Oisín McGann

Short kids’ urban fantasy novel, somewhat sub-Diana Wynne Jones with added toilet humour; the sinister factory in the neighbourhood is responsible for the horrors of modern food, and our heroes destroy it with explosive pee. (Sorry about the spoiler, but if you were going to buy this it was probably for someone else.)

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 26) Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sometimes great classics (often by American writers) fail to grab me and I’m afraid this was one of those times. The novel follows the dubiously named psychiatrist Dick Diver, his wife and former patient Nicole, and the young actress Rosemary who he falls in love with, over a period of several years in and around southern France. Most of the characters seemed frankly unpleasant people to me, and while there are some dramatically violent moments they don’t seem to lead to much. The Great Gatsby had much the same observations to make about society but I thought did it better.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 25) The Space Age, by Steve Lyons

An Eighth Doctor Adventure that I felt might have worked better as a TV episode; in a dying city on a desolated planet, two gangs of mods and rockers, kidnapped from 1965 England many years before, are preparing for the final conflict, when the Doctor, Fitz and Compassion arrive and expose the computer and alien intelligences behind it all. OK but not all that much there compared with some of the other books in this range.

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 26-08-2012

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 24) Warlock, by Andrew Cartmel

I thought this was a particularly good New Adventure, a partial (though independent) sequel to the much earlier Warhead, taking the Doctor, Ace and Benny to very near-future England and America to deal with a peculiar new drug and a truly horrible animal experimentation centre. I was hooked, and felt that Cartmel managed to control the plot and characters in a very grownup Who story. Looking through my records I can see some of the themes from this and Warhead cropping up in Cartmel’s later Who work, but not as well co-ordinated as they are here. Really very impressed.

Posted in Uncategorised

HTC Desire for sale

After two years, I've had enough; I have been using my loathed Android HTC Desire for videos and ebooks, and that's OK, but I think I may as well sell it on to anyone who wants to try out the Android way for themselves, and use the profits (if any) for something like a Nexus 7 which is actually designed for videos and ebooks. After all, the Blackberry is still perfectly usable for phone and email, and not too bad for social media.

Offering it here for $100 or local equivalent; I have tried and failed to root it, so the purchaser may well wish to experiment on it in turn. If no bites from livejournal I'll try putting it on eBay.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 23) The Great California Game, by Jonathan Gash

Completely by chance, the next in the random selection of Lovejoy books I have picked up recently takes place immediately after Jade Woman, which I read earlier this month. Lovejoy has escaped Hong Kong and arrives penniless in New York, where he soon gets sucked into a group of sinister plutocrats involved with raising questionable money as their stake in the Great California Game. The first half of the book, in which Lovejoy tries to grasp the reality of New York and also gets entangled in the conspiracy, is very well portrayed – both the richness of the setting and our hero’s confusion in adapting to it. The second half was less good; en route to California Lovejoy and his rapidly acquired assistants encounter various American regional stereotypes, while Lovejoy demonstrates a hitherto-unseen talent for actually making money from his (possibly supernatural) gift for telling real antiques from fakes, and there is then a rather hard-to-swallow twist at the end. And surprisingly it is almost halfway through the book before Lovejoy gets together with any of the various women who as usual throw themselves at him. So, a book of two halves really. (And I am beginning to wonder how many of the Lovejoy books are actually set in East Anglia, or even England? So far I’ve had France, the Isle of Man, Hong Kong and now the US.)

Posted in Uncategorised

Geopolitics: Sweden vs the UK

Blogging has been pretty light here for a while – I had almost no net access for my three weeks in Ireland, and last week has been spent catching up on other stuff. So I have missed my chance to write on the various controversies of the interim, and I will skip things like royal bums that do not interest me.

But I have been following the Assange affair with great interest. One thing that strikes me is that there has been a vast amount of excellent legal blogging explaining exactly how we have reached where we are from the lawyers' point of view. (There are too many to link to, but David Allan Green's writings have been particularly lucid, and Swedish legal bloggers have been doing their bit too.) There has also been a lot of passionate discussion of sexual abuse, with some moving personal testimonies (and also some disgusting commentary from people who obviously know no better).

I've seen rather less sensible commentary on the geopolitics, in particular Assange's claim that he is in danger of a extradition to the US to face trial, imprisonment and/or summary execution from the US government if he returns to Sweden.

Folks, this makes no sense at all. I am talking about the politics of this claim, not the legal issues (though the balance of analysis from legal blogs seems to be in the same direction).

Frankly if you are worried that the Americans are out to get you (and in fairness to Assange they quite possibly are), and you have a choice between the UK and Sweden, you should choose Sweden immediately.

Sweden ranks higher than the UK in any global ranking of performance on human rights which you may care to choose, particularly as regards the justice system. (Just a few such lists: here, here, here/here, here.) The UK is blessed with an articulate legal commentariat, but has a significantly flawed system which means that it normally creeps into the top twenty in such rankings, whereas Sweden is usually in the top three if not actually in the top spot. Swedish process is different from the UK, which confuses people, but it is clearly a better process by any objective measure. If you are worried about a fair trial and the respect of your human rights, and you have a choice, go to Sweden.

But more importantly, the UK is practically an extension of the US in geopolitical terms. The UK has been a full member of NATO since its foundation; the British government completely bought into the Iraq invasion; the UK has a rather one-sided extradition treaty with the USA (according to noted lefty rag the Telegraph and the House of CommonsLadies in White, a well-known human rights group of the kind that would obviously appeal to a lefty Swede with a long-standing interest in Cuba; it would be rather more surprising if she had no links with them at all.

The second particulary silly point is that Karl Rove is an adviser to the Swedish prime minister, and therefore Sweden must be regarded as an American satellite state. Apart from the points mentioned above about Sweden's geopolitical orientation, I would add that Rove has been out of office in the USA since 2009, and these days seems to be devoting his energies to attacking President Obama (I cannot imagine that he finds much time for political advice to the main centre-right political party in Sweden these days). Perhaps you can believe that while Rove heaps vitriol on the current administration in public he is secretly manipulating a foreign government on its behalf in private, but I have difficulty with that.

Any reasonable person must conclude that the political reasons given by Assange for his reluctance to return to Sweden are baseless. He is at greater risk of being whisked off to the US from the UK than from Sweden. His only rational grounds for not wishing to go to Sweden must be that he knows exactly how strong the case against him actually is.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 22) Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kästner

Classic children’s books, which I had first read many years ago long before I got to know and love Berlin, the city in which it is set. It’s a very basic but charming story of the young and smart and good getting together to defeat the old and evil, and has not lost its charm – so popular that it was the only book by Kästner to escape the book-burning of May 1933. I had forgotten the scene-setting dramatis personæ at the beginning, and also Kästner’s insertion of himself into the story at the end. Great fun.

I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t convinced by W. Martin’s new translation, supposed to appeal to the young reader of the twenty-first century. Berlin and Germany are foreign places anyway, and the 1920s a far-off time; why bother to rebrand our hero, Emil Tischbein as “Emil Tabletoes”? It seems if anything more jarring; surely kids even in these unenlightened times can cope with the notion that people in a book set in Germany might have German-sounding names? And rather than try to translate street names, I would have preferred a map showing where they all are (the Nollendorfplatz where the story climaxes is now in Berlin’s gay district; that is optional information for the younger reader).

Having said that, there is a very nice introduction to this edition by Maurice Sendak, who had read an early (and possibly better) translation at the age of 10 in 1938.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 21) Yearwood, by Paul Hazel

I’d had this on my list for years as a fantasy book set in a disguised Ireland. It isn’t really; there’s Irish, Welsh and Norse bits and pieces all jumbled up in a quest tale where I didn’t really get very interested in the central character and the setting was much the same as many other fantasy novels. First of a trilogy but I won’t get the other two.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 20) The Wheel of Ice, by Stephen Baxter

Two years ago I was at the DiscWorld Convention in Birmingham, and was drawn for a place in a kaffeeklatsch with Stephen Baxter, who had just begun his Long Earth collaboration with Terry Pratchett, but whose work I have known and (often but not always) enjoyed for many years. I suppose I can summarise my feelings about Baxter’s writing by saying that I always appreciate the breadth and scope of his vision – the commitment to sensawunda if you like – but that he doesn’t always succeed in communicating it in a human way to me. The cold emptiness of the vast deserts of space and time sometimes need a personal dimension beyond empty vastness to make them interesting.

So I was surprised and perhaps a little apprehensive when Baxter revealed over that coffee in 2010 that he had also been commissioned to write a Second Doctor novel by the BBC. He waxed lyrical about The Mind Robber (demonstrating his good taste) and about the Jamie/Zoe era in general, which went some way to reassuring me. But then last year we had Michael Moorcock’s bending of the Whoniverse to write a Jerry Cornelius story, and I began to wonder if an established SF author could ever adapt his or her style to written Who. Still, I tracked the publication schedules and was set to put in an order for the book when it came out next month.

And then I spotted it in a Belfast bookshop last week and grabbed it off the shelf. There have been various interruptions to my schedule over the last few days, but I managed to finish it on the train to work this morning. (Holiday over, dammit!) As the Belgian fields whizzed by me I was transported to the moons of Saturn, courtesy of S. Baxter. It was a warm day today in Belgium, so I was glad of the icy relief.

And, basically, I was relieved in all ways. This is a good Who novel, and a decent Baxter novel. The vast emptinesses are tempered both by the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe’s experiences (and all three get some excellent stretching as characters) and by the internal dynamics of the human colony (a classic Troughton-era base under siege, with added marital discord and stroppy teenagers). Yet at the same time he has ancient, weird aliens, and a mystery stretching across millions of years, which entirely convince the reader that this is a Stephen Baxter novel. There are also various pleasing references both to Who continuity and to Baxter’s other work, none of them crucial to enjoying the book. Much much better than the last Who book I read set in this corner of the Solar System, and recommended both to Who fans and readers who find Baxter interesting; and indeed to SF readers generally.

(Though I must point out that “The Wearing of the Green” is not a Jacobite tune. Wrong island, and more than half a century out.)

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 19) The Quantum Rose, by Catherine Asaro

Many years ago, when this book originally won the Nebula, I read it and was distinctly underwhelmed. But that was in the days before my bookblogging became serious; now that I am almost finished working through the Nebula winners, I felt I owed it to the book (and to its author, who engaged with me very gracefully and decently over my criticism) to give it another try.

Well. In fairness the novel itself is not all that bad, just very ordinary; our viewpoint character is a beautiful aristocrat bred for a submissive personality (which she is able to overcome just sufficiently for the needs of the plot); she is loved by another aristocrat who is from a different planet and conceals a heart of gold under his rugged exterior and alcoholism; and a third aristocrat envies them and tries to break them up by raping her. Our heroine then goes to her lover’s home world where they discover a lost city which his people had carelessly forgotten about. Also the nice aristocrats are locked in conflict with the evil Earth people. Then we find out in an afterword that the entire novel is a metaphor for quantum scattering theory and the three characters should really be considered as elementary particles (I am not making this up).

I guess the kindest thing that I can say is that this sort of thing is simply not my cup of tea; and I think on reflection that among Nebula winners The Quantum Rose is not quite as bad a novel as Robert Sawyer’s The Terminal Experiment, and roughly as bad as The Gods Themselves.

I have read four of the other Nebula nominees for 2000 – A Storm of Swords, by George R.R.MartinThe Collapsium, by Wil McCarthy; Declare, by Tim Powers and Passage, by Connie Willis. The last of these is also pretty ordinary, but any of the other three would have been a more comprehensible winner – my memory is that The Collapsium is a bit disorganised but fun. The other nominees were The Tower at Stony Wood, by Patricia A. McKillip; Eternity’s End, by Jeffrey A.Carver; and Mars Crossing, by Geoffrey A. Landis. I don’t think I have heard much about any of these. The Hugo for the relevant year (2001) went to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with the other nominees being A Storm of Swords again, two other good books – Ken MacLeod’s The Sky Road and Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight RobberPowers, by Ursula Le Guin.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 16) Barbaraal Tot Op Het Bot, by Barbara Stok

A couple of years back I read one of Stok’s more recent albums, Nu We Toch Hier Zijn and enjoyed it; this is her first collection, a series of autobiographical stories in comic strip format, set around her student days between the Hague, Amsterdam and her native Groningen. It’s all nicely observed, self-deprecating humour; the first two-thirds of the book chronicles several love affairs and her first orgasm (a great laugh-out-loud moment); the rest is slightly more disjointed journeyman work (though the pancake shaped like an armadillo is a high point). My memory is that Nu We Toch Hier Zijn has a more even pace, but it’s also a more mature work. Unfortunately I don’t think her work is available in English but I heartily recommend it to nederlandstaligen.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 15) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, by Émile Durkheim

I should stop readng the classic works on religion and culture, because I always end up disappointed. In this classic anthropological analysis from the first years of the twentieth century, Durkheim generalises from studies of the totem cults of Australia to conclude that pretty much all intellectual concepts, including scientific theories as well as notions of God and religion, can be examined as socially constructed phenomena. While sympathetic to the conclusion (having studied the history and philosophy of science in a past life) I was not terribly excited by the journey Durkheim takes to get there. His methodology straddles what today would be fairly clearly demarcated territory between philosophy and anthropology, and I found this mixture of concepts frustrating. More specifically, the Australian worshippers (particularly the women) are never given their own voice; we hear only what white anthropologists think of them. A pioneering work, perhaps, but I rather hope that things have moved on in the last century.

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 15-08-2012

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 14) Jade Woman, by Jonathan Gash

Another Lovejoy book with a particularly implausible plot, allowing Gash to place his hero in Hong Kong (not contemporary 1980s Hong Kong, but the 1960s city that the author clearly knew well and loved) for fun with organised crime, sex work and inventing a previously unheard-of Chinese Impressionist painter. The antiques scam itself is as beautifully detailed as Gash’s description of the city, and Lovejoy is clear that the criminality in which he becomes enmeshed is a consequence of capitalism rather than ethnicity or culture. But the mechanisms for getting him to Hong Kong in the first place, and then out again in the end, are hopelessly contrived. Generally good fun though.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 13) With The Light vol. 5, by Keiko Tobe

I’m working through this excellent manga series about the difficulties of raising an autistic child in contemporary Japan; in this volume, Hikaru Azuma finishes elementary school and moves on to junior high, his mother Sachiko dealing with the problems of a new and tremendously unsympathetic special education teacher in his old school and with the insanity of the system for choosing the next step – is there any country that gets this right? They also have to deal with bullies from a neighbouring school and also help Hikaru’s fellow students (and their parents) with other difficulties: the dyslexic kid, the ADHD kid, and also the kid whose father gets drunk and beats her mother. The elementary school years end fairly triumphantly with Hikaru participating in the graduation ceremony in his own particular way, but then the last three installments are a bit disjointed as we establish the junior high setting. Still a gripping read, though.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 12) The Reign of Elizabeth 1558-1603, by J.B. Black

This is the eighth of the original 14-volume Oxford History of England, originally published in 1936 but revised in 1959. I can’t very easily count the number of books I have read recently about Elizabeth right now; this is one of the major attempts to summarise what was then known about her. I was disappointed in Black’s treatment of Ireland, squashed into the last chapter and a half and very much treated from an entirely English perspective. However, I found some welcome strengths: in particular, I haven’t seen as good an exploration anywhere else of the English policies of Spain, France, Scotland and the Netherlands. (It still seems odd to me that nowhere further east seems to have mattered much.) The chapter on constitutional theory, and the first hald of the chapter on literature, were also helpful. I’m still on the lookout for a good book about the Elizabethan (or indeed Tudor) court as a phenomenon.

My Elizabethan work, such as it is, is now going on hiatus until September 2014 for reasons which are already partly public and will be revealed in more detail in a couple of weeks. But I will keep up my reading.

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 11) Morgoth’s Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien

Having moved through the process of revisiting the compilation of The Lord of the Rings, the History of Middle-Earth now starts into Tolkien’s later working through of his mythology. I found a lot of this material very interesting and it is a shame that more of it did not find its way into the published Silmarillion, particularly the “Annals of Aman” which brings much more detail to the early days of relations between the Valar and the Elves. Tolkien also gave a lot of thought to the question of Elvish death and immortality; there’s a series of reworkings of what happened to Finwë’s first wife Míriel, and also a long dialogue between Finrod and an early wise-woman, Andreth (Beren’s great-aunt), about these issues. There’s also the series of hints about Elvish sexuality which are nicely summarised in this classic essay, and some interesting speculation about the origin of Orcs. Binding the whole thing together is the question of Morgoth/Melkor’s means and motivation; the title Morgoth’s Ring is supplied by Christopher Tolkien, basically to suggest that the impact Morgoth’s creative power had on Middle-Earth was similar to that of Sauron on the Rings of Power – Middle-Earth itself is therefore Morgoth’s Ring in a way.

It is unusual that one could say this of the tenth book in a series of twelve, but I think I would actually recommend Morgoth’s Ring rather strongly to Tolkien fans who have not tried any of the History of Middle-Earth series and are interested in giving one of the volumes a try.

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 12-08-2012

Posted in Uncategorised

August Books 10) A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

This classic book is fifty years old; it was first published in 1962. Young F absorbed it with enthusiasm a few months back, and now I have reread it properly; of course I first read it when I was almost as old as Meg, some time in the late 1970s, and was a bit bemused by what I now see as a nicely observed family dynamic, but also able to relate to both Meg and Charles Wallace as geeks. (An odd coincidence: my grandmother’s name was Margaret Murray.)

Reading it now, I was more interested to identify a political agenda than I had been in 1979. But L’Engle escapes easy categorisation here (my memory is that the later books in the series are a bit more didactic). The hellish world of Camazotz inflicts equality through conformity on its inhabitants; a naïve reader might see this as a commentary on Communism as perceived in the hottest period of the Cold War, but I see it as equally applicable to 1950s America (which is in fact the particular hell to which the Camazotzians are condemned). It’s also notable that the motives of the US government (strictly, Meg’s father’s employers at Cape Canaveral) are not questioned at all. L’Engle preaches individualism but also a loving compassion for others; this is how Meg defeats IT. She also of course has angelic beings sweeping in to help, but with limitations; they provide transport and guidance, but Meg has to find her own way in the end.

Anyway, a book that deserves its reputation and well repays re-reading.

Posted in Uncategorised