November Books since 2003

Why is Sex Fun?, Jared Diamond
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff VanderMeer
Floater, Lucius Shepard
Double Star, Robert Heinlein
The Separation, Christopher Priest
Ersatz Nation, Tim Kenyon
Sandman IV: Season of Mists, Neil Gaiman

Book of the month: The Separation, by Christopher Priest

Atonement, by Ian McEwan
The Scheme for Full Employment, by Magnus Mills
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
The Distant Past, by William Trevor
The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
Tears of the Giraffe, by Alexander McCall Smith
Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, ed. Jonathan Strahan and Karen Haber
Missing Man by Katherine MacLean
Year’s Best SF 9, ed. David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

Book of the month: The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson

The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, by Samuel R. Delany
Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi with Tahl Raz
Up Through an Empty House of Stars: Reviews and Essays 1980-2002, by David Langford
The Days of the Consuls/Travnik Chronicle, by Ivo Andrić
Moving Mars, by Greg Bear
Olympos, by Dan Simmons
A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin
Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett
Lords and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett
Smoke and Mirrors, by Neil Gaiman
Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link
The Darkness That Comes Before, by R. Scott Bakker
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Counting Heads, by David Marusek
(8th Doctor) Genocide, by Paul Leonard
(8th Doctor) The Dying Days, by Lance Parkin
Safe Area Goražde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95, by Joe Sacco

Book of the Month: Safe Area Goražde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95, by Joe Sacco

The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century, by Robert Cooper
A Bachelor’s London: Memories of the Day before Yesterday, 1889-1914, by Frederic Whyte
An International Relations Debacle: The UN Secretary-General’s Mission of Good Offices in Cyprus 1999-2004, by Claire Palley
Disaccord on Cyprus: The UN Plan and after, by Clement Dodd
Everything is about Cyprus, by Hasan Erçakica
Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King
Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War, by Tony Hodges
Endgame in the Western Sahara, by Toby Shelley
Western Sahara: Anatomy of a Stalemate, by Erik Jensen
Fantasy: The Best of the Year, 2006 edition, edited by Rich Horton
Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2006 edition, edited by Rich Horton
A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
(1st Doctor) Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror, by Ian Marter
(1st Doctor) Doctor Who – The Rescue, by Ian Marter
(2nd Doctor) Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World, by Ian Marter
(2nd Doctor) Doctor Who – The Dominators, by Ian Marter
(2nd Doctor) Doctor Who – The Invasion, by Ian Marter
(4th Doctor) Doctor Who and the Ark in Space, by Ian Marter
(4th Doctor) Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment, by Ian Marter
(4th Doctor) Evolution, by John Peel
(4th Doctor) Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation, by Ian Marter
(5th Doctor) Doctor Who – Earthshock, by Ian Marter
(9th Doctor) The Clockwise Man, by Justin Richards
(9th Doctor) The Monsters Inside, by Stephen Cole
(9th Doctor) The Stealers of Dreams, by Steve Lyons
Harry Sullivan’s War, by Ian Marter
Preacher [#2]: Until the End of the World, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Book of the Month: A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

William the Silent, by C.V. Wedgwood
Democratisation in Southeast Europe, ed. Dušan Pavlović, Goran Petrov, Despina Syrri, David A. Stone
The Awful End of William the Silent, by Lisa Jardine
The Steep Approach to Garbadale, by Iain Banks
Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey
A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin
The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
Eurotemps, edited by Alec Stewart
Mutiny In Space, by Avram Davidson
The Happy Prince and Other Stories, by Oscar Wilde

Book of the Month: The Awful End of William the Silent, by Lisa Jardine

Postwar by Tony Judt
Brussels versus the Beltway: Advocacy in the United States and the European Union, by Christine Mahoney
More Real Than Reality: The Fantastic in Irish Literature and the Arts, edited by Donald E. Morse and Csilla Bertha
Who Goes There (Travels through Strangest Britain, in Search of the Doctor), by Nick Griffiths
30 Hot Days, by Mehmet Ali Birand
Glafkos Clerides: the Path of a Country, by Niyazi Kızılyürek
Elizabeth I, by David Starkey
The Life of Elizabeth I, by Alison Weir
The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett
Emma, by Jane Austen
The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare
Henry IV Part 1, by William Shakespeare
Henry IV Part 2, by William Shakespeare
The Adventures of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets, by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds), by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 1: The Night of the Naughty Nostril Nuggets, by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 2: The Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers, by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People, by Dav Pilkey
Year’s Best SF 13, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Science Fiction Hall of Fame: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time, edited by Robert Silverberg
Heart of Stone, by C.E. Murphy
House of Cards, by C.E. Murphy
Hands of Flame, by C.E. Murphy
(1st Doctor) The Doctor Who Annual 1966
(7th Doctor) Theatre of War, by Justin Richards
(8th Doctor) Interference II, by Laurence Miles
Campaign, by Jim Mortimore
Burma Chronicles, by Guy Delisle
Alias vol 4: The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones, by Brian Michael Bendis

Book of the month: Postwar, by Tony Judt

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, by Jared Diamond
From Genocide to Continental War, by Gérard Prunier
King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild
A History of the Middle East, by Peter Mansfield
Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
The Black Book, by Ian Rankin
Notre Dame de Paris/The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo
Medea, by Euripides
Nature Girl, by Carl Hiaasen
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
Queen City Jazz, by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
The Pollinators of Eden, by John Boyd
Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm
The Swoop, or How Clarence Saved England, by P.G. Wodehouse
(1st Doctor) Farewell Great Macedon, by Moris Farhi
(6th Doctor) Time Of Your Life, by Steve Lyons
(6th Doctor) Millennial Rites, by Craig Hinton
(6th Doctor) Spiral Scratch, by Gary Russell
(Bernice Summerfield) Beyond The Sun, by Matthew Jones
(Torchwood) Border Princes, by Dan Abnett
Summer Blonde, by Adrian Tomine

Book of the month: Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

Doctor Who – The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter, by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
The Love Letters of Henry VIII
The Cyprus Question and the EU, by Andreas Theophanous
Shakespeare, by Bill Bryson
Elizabeth and Essex, by Lytton Strachey
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantell
The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
The Thunderbirds Bumper Story Book, by Dave Morris
Analog 6, edited by John W. Campbell Jr
The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald
The Book of Lost Tales I, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home, by James Tiptree, Jr.
Utopia, by Thomas More
(4th Doctor) Wolfsbane, by Jacqueline Rayner
(4th Doctor) The Doctor Who Annual 1976
(4th Doctor) System Shock, by Justin Richards
(4th Doctor) Doctor Who Annual 1977
(7th Doctor) Lucifer Rising, by Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore
(7th Doctor) White Darkness, by David McIntee
(8th Doctor) Placebo Effect, by Gary Russell
(11th Doctor) The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Scott Pilgrim #4), by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, by Bill Willingham

Book of the Month: The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald

Diana Wynne Jones, by Farah Mendlesohn
Race of a Lifetime/Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
The New Face of Digital Populism, by Jamie Bartlett, Jonathan Birdwell and Mark Littler
The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland, ed. Christopher Haigh
Why Nonviolent Resistance in Kosovo Failed, by Shkëlzen Maliqi
Why Kosovo Still Matters, by Denis MacShane
The Private Eye Annual 2008, edited by Ian Hislop
Ivanhoe, by Walter Scott
Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy
I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett
The Demon Headmaster, by Gillian Cross
The Treason of Isengard, by J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien
Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
Heart of the Sea, by Nora Roberts
A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin
(2nd Doctor) Dreams of Empire, by Justin Richards
(2nd Doctor) The Prison In Space, by Dick Sharples, ed. Richard Bignell
(8th Doctor) Autumn Mist, by David A. McIntee
(11th Doctor) Heart of Stone, by Trevor Baxendale / Death Riders, by Justin Richards
(Torchwood) Pack Animals, by Peter Anghelides
The Crab With The Golden Claws, by Hergé
The Secret of the Unicorn, by Hergé
Red Rackham’s Treasure, by Hergé

Book of the Month: Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe

A History of Christianity, by Diarmaid MacCullough
The Invention of Childhood, by Hugh Cunningham
Catholics in Western Democracies, by John H. Whyte
Between the Continent and the Open Sea, by David Rennie
Interview Secrets, by Heather Salter
The Harvester, by Gene Stratton-Porter
The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
Goodnight Mister Tom, by Michelle Magorian
The Light That Failed, by Rudyard Kipling
Being Human: The Road, by Simon Guerrier
Revise the World, by Brenda W. Clough
Grendel, by John Gardner
The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser
[8th Doctor] The Ancestor Cell, by Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole
[11th Doctor] Monstrous Missions: Terrible Lizards, by Jonathan Green
[11th Doctor] Monstrous Missions: Horror of the Space Snakes, by Gary Russell
[11th Doctor] The Sleepers In The Dust, by Darren Jones
[11th Doctor] The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery, by Justin Richards

Book of the Month: A History of Christianity, by Diarmaid MacCullough

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November Books

Non-fiction: 5 (YTD 49)
A History of Christianity, by Diarmaid MacCullough
The Invention of Childhood, by Hugh Cunningham
Catholics in Western Democracies, by John H. Whyte
Between the Continent and the Open Sea, by David Rennie
Interview Secrets, by Heather Salter

Fiction (not sf): 4 (TYD 45)
The Harvester, by Gene Stratton-Porter
The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
Goodnight Mister Tom, by Michelle Magorian
The Light That Failed, by Rudyard Kipling

SF (not Who): 4 (YTD 60)
Being Human: The Road, by Simon Guerrier
Revise the World, by Brenda W. Clough
Grendel, by John Gardner
The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser

Who: 5 (YTD 69)
The Ancestor Cell, by Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole
Monstrous Missions: Terrible Lizards, by Jonathan Green
Monstrous Missions: Horror of the Space Snakes, by Gary Russell

The Sleepers In The Dust, by Darren Jones
The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery, by Justin Richards

Comics: 0 (YTD 19)

~5,900 pages (YTD 70,600)
4/18 (YTD 64/242) by women (Salter, Stratton-Porter, Magorian, Clough)
1/18 (YTD 11/242) by PoC (Clough)
Owned for more than a year: 9 (Catholics in Western Democracies [reread], The Invention of Childhood, The Ancestor Cell, The Light That Failed, Goodnight Mister Tom, The Faerie Queene, A History of Christianity, The Portrait of a Lady, Interview Secrets)
Other rereads: none (YTD 18/242)

Big 2012 reading projects:
November 30 takes me to Book XV, Chapter XVIII of War and Peace, and Romans chapter 12 in the Bible.

Also started:
Non-Stop, by Brian Aldiss
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection, ed. Gardner Dozois
The Colony of Lies, by Colin Brake

Coming next, perhaps:
A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland
Ōoku : The Inner Chambers, Volume 6 by Fumi Yoshinaga
Bleeding Hearts by Ian Rankin
Toward the End of Time by John Updike
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century by Brendan Bradshaw
The Peoples of Middle-Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien with Christopher Tolkien
Kushiel’s Justice by Jacqueline Carey
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple
The Far Side Of The World by Patrick O’Brian
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
1632 by Eric Flint
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Kraken by China Mieville
The Need for Certainty by Robert Towler
Cheese by Willem Elsschot
[Doctor Who] Sanctuary by David A. McIntee
[Doctor Who] The Burning by Justin Richards
Doctor Who Book 6: Step Back in Time by Richard Dungworth and Jacqueline Rayner
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
[Doctor Who] The Indestructible Man by Simon Messingham
Starry Messenger: The best of Galileo ed. by Charles Ryan

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November Books 18) Interview Secrets, by Heather Salter

Not that I am actively looking for another job myself, but I found this very short book on job-hunting rather lucid, and perhaps particularly helpful for people who need advice on just getting a job rather than finding a career (for the latter, nothing beats Richard Nelson Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute). While as promised in the title it concentrates on the interview stage, there is some useful advice about application strategies, refreshing the CV, etc.

Since I recruit fairly intensively several times a year for my own office, I found myself checking my own style against the various types of interviewer described. I do hope that I am not the nightmare type.

I picked this up as a freebie somewhere but it is probably worth the cover price if you are job hunting, or thinking about it.

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November Books 16-17) The Sleepers In The Dust, The Angel’s Kiss

Two stories here both told in the first person by companions of the Eleventh Doctor, and neither of them available in dead tree format.

The Sleepers in the Dust, by Darren Jones

This is an audiobook narrated by Arthur Darvill in the first person as Rory Williams. It has a lot of good things going for it, including two differently interesting types of alien, a nicely constructed time paradox, and not least Darvill’s usual excellent performance as Rory reflecting on his odd relationship with the Doctor. There is a major plot implausibility, though, rather early on where Rory leaves a desperately ill Amy on her own in order to go gallivanting off with the Doctor looking for a cure; this seemed to me emotionally tone-deaf. Though not as bad as the treatment of River Pond’s relationship with her parents. Speaking of which:

The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery, by Justin Richards

This is an ebook exclusive, supposedly the book that the Doctor, Amy and Rory were reading in The Angels Take Manhattan, though in fact it contains almost none of the material we heard about on TV, instead being quite a nicely constructed novella of Melody Malone, Private Investigator, hired to find out what is really going on in a New York film studio. The fun here is not just the plot, which is properly sfnal while fitting Who continuity, but also Richards’ generally successful capturing of Alex Kingston’s voice telling a noir story (with perhaps a couple too many lines about breasts). I should not complain too much; the good lines start with the statement that the supposed author is “possibly married but lives alone usually, and is older than both of her parents. Sometimes.” And much more.

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Links I found interesting for 30-11-2012

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November Books 15) The Continent or the Open Sea, by David Rennie

A few months ago the Economist's David Rennie wrote a pamphlet for the Centre for European Reform, a London-based pro-EU think tank. The paper, like Rennie himself, is only barely pro-EU, and the best bits are not in the conclusions, which he published here, but in the analysis of how successive British governments, especially the present one, got into the mess we are currently in, where a future British departure is increasingly taken for granted in Brussels to the extent that Britain's negotiating strength on almost any issue has been drastically weakened (my analysis, not Rennie's).

Rennie's historical summary starts with Thatcher and ends with Major in 1992, before skipping to the present day, but in terms of understanding how British views on Europe shifted that is fairly reasonable. He then tackles the Conservatives' irrational Euroscepticism with restraint, hits at Labour's pandering on migration, and points out the limits to the Lib Dems' Europhilia and to UKIP's effectiveness. He looks rather too briefly at the role of the media, and in much more detail at think tanks and public opinion, especially in England (the piece as a whole is very Anglocentric). He surveys what the Eurosceptic agenda actually is, and how achievable it may be. And he analyses Cameron's infamous "veto" at last December's summit rather more kindly than he did at the time, though this is not saying much. After thus rather gloomy survey of where we are, he has a few rather modest practical suggestions for the government (which has shown no sign of adopting any of them in the six months since this was published).

While I probably agree with about 70% of the overall analysis, I am in almost complete agreement with the conclusion. (However, I take issue with the statement that "No political party that supports withdrawal has won even a single seat in the House of Commons" – quite apart from early 80s Labour, does he not know of the DUP?) The assumption that the UK will part company with the EU, possibly quite soon, is becoming normalised; and this is one bit of popular wisdom which becomes more rather than less substantial when one digs a big deeper. British policy circles do not realise how far they gave already moved from the core of European debate. The Eurosceptics have not yet won, but they are winning.

Tonight sees a by-election caused by the resignation in disgrace of Labour's most pro-Europe MP; early predictions on Twitter are that Labour will hold on for now despite considerable slippage of support, with UKIP a strong runner-up – another straw in the wind.

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November comics

Sandman IV: Season of Mists, Neil Gaiman

Safe Area Goražde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95, by Joe Sacco

Preacher [#2]: Until the End of the World, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Burma Chronicles, by Guy Delisle
Alias vol 4: The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones, by Brian Michael Bendis

Summer Blonde, by Adrian Tomine

Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Scott Pilgrim #4), by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, by Bill Willingham

The Crab With The Golden Claws, by Hergé
The Secret of the Unicorn, by Hergé
Red Rackham's Treasure, by Hergé

For other categories of book I have been choosing five to remember out of those I have read since I started bookblogging. With so few comics on the list, I think it's better to just pick two or three, especially because here more than in any other category the part may stand for the whole. So, with that caveat and without too much prejudice to authors whose most significant works I will cover in other months, the ones I'd particularly recommend from this lot are:

Safe Area Goražde, by Joe Sacco – Sacco's visceral yet compassionate take on conflict is generally excellent, and here he rises beyond the usual narrative to give a searing account of life in a forgotten Bosnian enclave during the war.

Alias vol 4: The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones, by Brian Michael Bendis – I'm not a big fan of superhero comics in general, but this sequence about an embittered former costumed crime-fighter turned private investigator really grabbed me. The fourth and final volume takes us throughher personal background, and is a good conclusion to the series.

Red Rackham's Treasure, by Hergé – Can't not include a Tintin book somewhere, but I have written up rather few, and that mostly the bad ones, since I started bookblogging. But I am happy to flag up this, the conclusion of the first two-album story, which introduces Professor Calculus and is apparently the best-selling of the Tintin books.

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Links I found interesting for 28-11-2012

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Four recent Doctor Who audios

As usual, I’m writing these up in continuity order rather than in release order or in the order I listened to them.

Return of the Rocket Men, by Matt Fitton, brings back the Rocket Men of last year’s play by John Dorney, but this time with Steven Taylor rather than Ian Chesterton. I’ve always been sorry that we never find out what happened to Steven after he left the Doctor; here we have a bit of a flashback to what happened before he arrived on Mechanus, the Rocket Men of course fitting very nicely into the space opera sub-genre that is Steven’s home. There’s some timey-wimey stuff and some introspection by Steven, nicely carried off by Peter Purves forty-six years after leaving the programme; I liked it more than the previous one.

The Uncertainty Principle, by Simon Guerrier, is an ambitious tale of Zoe being interrogated by the company psychiatrist (played again by Wendy Padbury’s daughter Charlie Hayes) about an incident with a woman who is both dead and alive and aliens who explode leaving a funny smell behind. It didn’t really grab me I’m afraid. It is apparently the third in a series of four with Zoe exploring her blocked memories, so once the fourth is out I will listen to them all again and reassess my opinion.

Big Finish have provided an absolutely superb end to the story of Liz Shaw in The Last Post, recorded by Caroline John a few months before her death in June this year. It is by James Goss, who I find consistently one of the best Who writers (and yet he has never written for Who on television), and takes us through the year that Liz spent with UNIT, through conversations with her mother, who is played by Rowena Cooper, about the series of mysterious deaths that keep on happening. There are loads of lovely continuity references, not only to Season Seven but backwards and forwards as well, and it’s well-constructed and fascinating. I’m not one of Liz’s biggest fans, but I thought this was a brilliant tribute to her.

Finally, The First Sontarans was a story originally pitched by Full Circle author Andrew Smith for Season 22. but replaced by The Two Doctors. I was a bit dubious about Smith’s previous audio for Big Finish (and was even at the time a little underwhelmed by Full Circle, but this is good stuff, bringing the Sontarans to Victorian England in pursuit of the Caveetch, with Rutans possibly (or possibly not) in attendance as well; it’s a sprawling narrative with a lot going on, plenty of moral outrage from Colin Baker and wrestling with destiny from Nicola Bryant, and an excellent take on the true origin of the Sontarans, with a well-realised soundscape for all of its varied settings. On the one hand, it’s ashame that this never reached the screen; on the other, perhaps it’s better to have the pictures in one’s head rather than the JNT realisation of them.

In summary: Return of the Rocket Men is a decent sf tale which will be accessible to anyone but appreciated more by those who have seen Steven Taylor in action; I was underwhelmed by The Uncertainty PrincipleThe Last Post is excellent but probably for fans only; and The First Sontarans works well but probably also better for those who know and care what the Sontarans are.

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Links I found interesting for 27-11-2012

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November Books 14) Catholics in Western Democracies, by John H. Whyte

Of my father's four books, this was much the least successful; rather than addressing a concrete issue in Irish history or politics, he attempted a wide survey of the extent to which Catholics were organised as such, in a rather small set of countries – those European or European-descended states that had enjoyed democracy since the second world war and actually had enough of a Catholic population to write about (Spain and Portugal exluded on the first criterion, the Nordic countries on the second and Greece on both).

The paradigm he sets up is potentially interesting: that on the one hand, you might find a "closed" political catholicism where Catholics all join a Catholic party, are only in Catholic civil society organisations (including trade unions) and where the Church regularly intervenes in politics; on the other, you might find an "open" Catholicism where Catholics are no more or less likely to join particular parties than anyone else, there is no specifically Catholic civil society, and the Church is silent. Neither of these has ever actually happened in reality. Continental Europe on the whole veered closer to "closed" Catholicism than the Anglosphere, and much more in the years immediately before and after the second world war than earlier or later, but there are exceptions all along the way (and in an appendix he looks at Malta, which had strong clerical intervention in politics but was otherwise much more "open").

I can see why the book did not do well though. By the time it was published, in 1981, Catholicism was changing out of all recognition; I think there would have been much more in common in what Catholics did and thought between 1950 and 1850 than between 1950 and 1980. There are lots of nice numbers of election results, censuses and opinion polls to try and quantify who thought of themselves as Catholics and who they voted for. But the economic aspect is largely omitted; surely the question of why Catholics tend(ed) to vote more leftish in some countries and more rightish in others can be answered to an extent by how well off they are/were? And concentrating on the numbers alone, useful though they are, means losing focus on the actual topics of debate, which are mentioned only really in passing.

The most interesting question raised but not really answered in the book is to what extent the Catholic Church as a whole, or regional elements within it, ever really aspired to restore the total control of society that the church liked to think that it enjoyed in the middle ages. The evidence from the book is, not very much, and not very successfully to the extent that this was so (with occasional exceptions). That then would lead on to a potentially much more interesting discussion about what the Church can reasonably think it is doing as a political actor at all. But for that one would have to look elsewhere.

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Links I found interesting for 26-11-2012

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Talus, the sixteenth century robot

I was totally startled to reach Book V of The Faerie Queene and encounter Talus, a servant given by the goddess Astræa to the young knight Artegall:

His name was Talus, made of yron mould,
    Immoueable, resistlesse, without end.
    Who in his hand an yron flale did hould,
With which he thresht out falshood, and did truth vnfould.

Talus goes around following orders and smiting the unjust (ie non-Christians, Catholics, people who look at you funny) with great vigour, and then drops out of the narrative at the end of the book.

He’s not the only metal human I have encountered in pre-Čapek literature (cf Homer’s animated tripods and robot women) but they are rare enough to be worth noting.

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The Time Travel scene from Time Flies

I just found this on YouTube – a fifteen-minute extract from the 1944 film Time Flies starring Tommy Handley, which includes some elements which are also found in "An Unearthly Child", the first episode of Doctor Who, from 19 years later. Note bemused police, four people unwittingly transported back in time, collapsing incapacitated to the floor as they go at around 11:00 in. Note also that Evelyn Dall is far better than Handley, the ostensible star.
(Previous discussion here, here and here.)

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November Books 13) The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser

This is one of the curiosities of the English language, a long poem written in its own peculiar verse structure in which archetypal figures based on myths of many different origins contend for mastery of spoils, women and virtue in a fantasy landscape which resembles the north of County Cork. Some of the allegory is pretty straightforward, as when Prince Arthur springs to the defence of the cruelly oppressed lady Belge; other parts are more layered and/or obscure.

It has taken me five months to read this. I found I could not proceed faster than one canto every day, and on many days I did not manage any cantos at all; and there are 74 of them, plus the proems and the two concluding verses. It’s not that it is particularly difficult to read, compared even to Shakespeare; the style is generally consistent, and a good edition (mine is the Longman edited by A.C. Hamilton) helps you through the more obscure words or usages. But it’s dense and moves both rather slowly and rather fast at the same time.

I found that one of the biggest barriers to my understanding of the poem was Tolkien. Spenser writes of elves and dwarves in a parallel fantasy world, but these are not Tolkien’s separate races; the elves are effectively just a fantasy nationality, and the dwarves just short guys (who tend to appear as servants). I was also subliminally expecting some Big Bad villain, but in fact we have a chain of more or less loosely connected stories, with the main linking character Prince Arthur, who is intended to be King Arthur (and yet didn’t fit for me too well into my own vision of Arthurian legend). So I found myself unnecessarily distracted by my attempts to fit it into fantasy genres with which I am more familiar.

What does come over with extraordinary vigour is Spenser’s love of the Irish landscape. Subsequent history shows him as one of the many adventurers who descended on Munster to occupy land confiscated from the Desmonds and their affiliates, who then lost it all in a subsequent rebellion; it’s worth being reminded that from Spenser’s point of view, he had come to stay, and expected his descendants to live on at Kilcolman for many generations. County Cork was his home and the focus of his imagination. It’s not too difficult to believe that he died essentially of a broken heart after losing it all.

As for the actual meaning of it all: I think it is possible to over-analyze. Sometimes the allusions are pretty obvious, or indeed the description may be pretty much what it appears to be (thinking for instance of the house whose chambers correspond to organs of the human body, or the personified rivers of Britain and Ireland). The only one of the six virtues where Spenser has much interesting to show about the virtue itself, for my money, was Courtesy; I felt he let his pen wander aside from the point as his fancy took him elsewhere. The best character in it is Britomart, who is obviously the model for George R.R. Martin’s Brienne of Tarth.

And there’s a robot, but that needs a separate post.

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No names will be revealed

I was starled this morning to receive this text from a lady friend:

Bonne journée mon chaton adoré. Te miaouuuuu mucho mucho mucho

All was explained a few minutes later with another text from the same source:

Sorry i sent you a text for my husband

Theirs is a Spanish/French-speaking household.

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The Curse of Fatal Death

As you all know, it was the 49th anniversary of the first episode of Doctor Who yesterday; so I am picking up where I left off in August 2010, with the first televised Who story since The Movie, also the first televised script written by Steven Moffat. Purists may complain that it is not "canon"; I included both Dimensions in Time and the nauseating one with Jimmy Savile in my previous rewatch, and The Curse of Fatal Death tells us some interesting things about how Old Who regenerated into New Who. If you haven't seen it, the whole 20 mins are on YouTube.

What struck me about the first half is that Jonathan Pryce's Master actually gets a lot more to do than Rowan Atkinson's Doctor or Julia Sawalha's Emma. Perhaps the Master's role is more flexible, in a way; we know what to expect of the Doctor and the companion, and in 21 minutes we don't need a lot of explanation of their roles. Pryce has to combine pantomime villain and homicidal seeker of vengeance, and do this with huge sinister whoops of laughter, and manages it well.

Atkinson and Sawalha do not look like themselves at all. Both have completely different hairstyles to their usual screen personas, so for the viewer who knows them there is a shock of both the familiar and the unfamiliar. Sawalha's considerable talents are barely called on, other than as a foil to Atkinson, whose Doctor is closest to the fourth Blackadder in personality (dressed a bit like McGann's Doctor, who was still the most recent version). But the production succeeded in making this a show about Doctor Who which happens to have Rowan Atkinson in it, rather than a Rowan Atkinson sketch about Doctor Who.

I wonder if doing the entire thing with just two sets was a strategic choice in partial homage to the production constraints of yesteryear? There is a very definite homage in the first regeneration scene, where Rowan Atkinson's gurning is a direct reference to McCoy in The Movie, while the music from Logopolis plays in the background. One continuity element which is dumped even at this early stage of the Moffat era is the thirteen regenerations rule – the Master says "This is only his ninth body. He has many, many more" which sounds like more than four, and the death of the Hugh Grant incarnation is due to the power of Zectronic energy rather than because it is the last regeneration – which it wouldn't be anyway, as if Atkinson is Nine, Hugh Grant is Twelve and Lumley Thirteen.

There are also elements here which we did not see in Old Who but will see more of in New Who, for good or ill: the Doctor in a romantic relationship with his female companion; the Doctor getting married; the shiny glowy regeneration effect; characters going through long waiting times off screen to end up where we last saw them; fart jokes. But at the time this was made there was every reason to think that it would be the last televised Who story ever, and it's difficult not to see Emma's lament as a farewell to the 1963-96 show:

Doctor, listen to me. You can't die, you're too… You're too nice. Too brave, too kind and far, far too silly. You're like Father Christmas! The Wizard of Oz! Scooby Doo! And I love you very much. And we all need you and you simply cannot die! … He was never cruel and never cowardly, and it'll never be safe to be scared again.

I would have posted this yesterday but my phone seems to be on its last legs. Anyway, onwards with the webcasts of Death Comes To Time, Real Time, Shada and Scream of the Shalka before I start on the Ecclestone era.

< The Curse of Fatal Death | The Webcasts | Rose – Dalek | The Long Game – The Parting of the Ways | Comic Relief 2006 – The Girl In The Fireplace | Rise of the Cybermen – Doomsday | Everything Changes – They Keep Killing Suzie | Random Shoes – End of Days | Smith and Jones – 42 | Human Nature / The Family of Blood – Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords & The Infinite Quest | Revenge of the Slitheen – The Lost Boy & Time Crash | Voyage of the Damned – Adam | Reset – Exit Wounds

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How the EU summit spoiled my evening

Foolishly assuming that the EU summit would be over by dinnertime, I arranged to meet eight friends at the 1898 Brasserie after work.

Three of us got there at about 6 pm, to discover that it was closed due to being too close to the EU summit – the entire Schuman Roundabout was closed.

So we found another venue, the branch of Fatboys at the the corner of Avenue de Cortenbergh and Rue Stevin, but despite alerting people via email, Facebook and SMS, only three of the other six were able to join us.

One has to admit that it is pretty good that with today’s communication technology I was able to redirect half of the people who weren’t physically with me at the start of the evening to an alternate venue which none of us would otherwise have even thought of going to. (They briefly had a live band who were so awful they were told to stop after a very few minutes.)

Still, I’m annoyed about not seeing the other three! And if there had not been an EU summit today we could probably have all got together.

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Links I found interesting for 23-11-2012

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Next list of award-winning books for my reading

When I realised that I was getting to the end of the Nebula winners, I began to consider my next SF reading project. Apart from the Hugos and Nebulas, the only other awards that really interest me are the BSFA award, the Arthur C Clarke Award and the Tiptree Award. I had been vaguely planning to read each of the long fiction winners of each award in the order in which they were established, starting with the BSFA and finishing with the Tiptree.

But as I looked down the lists of past winners, I realised the shocking fact (which probably everyone else knew) that the BSFA Award has been a very male affair. Women have won the BSFA Best Novel Award precisely twice since it was instituted in 1969. (Men have won 40 times, and no award was made for 1972.) It is already over a decade since the last time a woman won.

The whys and wherefores of this are for the BSFA to evaluate. But I like to try and build in a certain diversity to my plans, and prioritising BSFA winners alone would actually reverse that by emphasising male writers.

So I have decided to combine the three lists, including the retrospective winners of the BSFA and Tiptree awards, and will go through those in chronological order, skipping any that I have read in the last ten years or so (basically since I started bookblogging in late 2002). It still ends up being a rather masculine assortment, and I’ll try to compensate for that in other ways. In the list below, BSFA winners are in green, Arthur C. Clarke Award winners in blue and Tiptree Award winners in red, with attempts to mix and match the colours for winners of two or three of the awards. Bold indicates that I have read the book at some time in my life, and underlining should take you to an online review of some kind, and also probably indicates I won’t reread the book as part of that sequence.

1958 retrospective: Non-Stop by Brian W. Aldiss

1969: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
1969 (1996 retrospective): The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

1970: The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner

1971: The Moment of Eclipse by Brian W. Aldiss

1973: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

1974 (1996 retrospective): Motherlines by Suzy McKee Charnas
1974: Inverted World by Christopher Priest

1975: Orbitsville by Bob Shaw
1975 (1996 retrospective): The Female Man by Joanna Russ

1976: Brontomek! by Michael G. Coney

1977: The Jonah Kit by Ian Watson

1978 (1996 retrospective): Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas
1978: Collection: Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison
1978: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

1979: The Unlimited Dream Company by J. G. Ballard

1980: Timescape by Gregory Benford

1981: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

1982: Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss

1983: Tik-Tok by John Sladek

1984: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

1985: Helliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss

1986: The Ragged Astronauts by Bob Shaw
1987: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

1987: Grainne by Keith Roberts
1988: The Sea and Summer by George Turner

1989: Unquenchable Fire by Rachel Pollack
1988: Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock

1990: The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman
Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

1991: A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason
White Queen by Gwyneth Jones
1990/1991: Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland

1992: Synners by Pat Cadigan
1992: China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
1991: The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

1993: Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
1993: Body of Glass by Marge Piercy (published as He, She and It in the U.S.)
1992: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

1993: Aztec Century by Christopher Evans
1994: Larque on the Wing by Nancy Springer
1994: Vurt by Jeff Noon

1995: The Memoirs Of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak
1995: Fools by Pat Cadigan
1995: Waking The Moon by Elizabeth Hand
1994: Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

1996: Fairyland by Paul J. McAuley
1995: The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

1997: Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey
1997: The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh
1996: Excession by Iain M. Banks

1996/1997/1998: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

1999: The Conqueror's Child by Suzy McKee Charnas
1999: Dreaming in Smoke by Tricia Sullivan
1998: The Extremes, by Christopher Priest

2000: Wild Life by Molly Gloss
1999: The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod
2000: Distraction by Bruce Sterling

2001: The Kappa Child by Hiromi Goto
2000: Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle
2001: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

2002: Bold As Love by Gwyneth Jones
2002: Light by M. John Harrison
Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

2002/2003: The Separation by Christopher Priest
2003: Set This House In Order: A Romance Of Souls by Matt Ruff

2003: Felaheen by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
2004: Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo
2004: Camouflage by Joe Haldeman
2004: Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

2004: River of Gods by Ian McDonald
2005: Iron Council by China Miéville

2005/2005/2006: Air by Geoff Ryman

2006: Half Life by Shelley Jackson
2006: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

2006: End of the World Blues by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
2007: The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
2007: Nova Swing by M. John Harrison

2008: Filter House by Nisi Shawl
2007: Brasyl by Ian McDonald
2008: Black Man by Richard Morgan
2008: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

2009: Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod
2009: Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter’s Tales by Greer Gilman
2009: Ōoku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga (Vol 1, Vol 2)
The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

2010: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic
2009/2010: The City & the City by China Mieville

2011: Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston
2011: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

2011: The Islanders by Christopher Priest
2012: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

That should keep me out of trouble for a while. This list was also the basis for this poll.

NB that Wikipedia has Ishiguro winning the Clarke Award in 2006, but that is wrong and I cannot be bothered to fix it.

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Links I found interesting for 22-11-2012

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They call him Mr Soundbite

“And for a Christian it’s never enough to say ‘I don’t trust you’, unfortunately, because if St John is right, the next question is how do I put trust – and how do I become trustworthy?

“So I hope that connections will go on being made and deepened in that sense, in that context.”

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November Books 12) The Light That Failed, by Rudyard Kipling

I had been looking forward to reaching this for some time, under the impression that it was an interesting step away from Kipling's usual writing. Not sure if that is really true – it was his first novel, so not sure if it can really be characterised as a step away. And it is interesting only in places; the hero's failure to get anywhere with the girl he loves is apparently painfully autobiographical, and the casual brutality is not very pleasant to read. However, I was really grabbed by Kipling's sympathetic portrayal of his hero as an artist, not a protagonist I had expected from this author (which shows how little I knew), and of course the central drama of his going blind is then very effective. (I guess that Florence Barclay's The Rosary may have been in part a response to The Light That Failed

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November Books 11) Grendel, by John Gardner

This is an attempt to tell the story of Beowulf from the side of the monster, an experimental early 70s novel (with super illustrations by Emil Antonucci), which obviously ends with Grendel's death, though his mother and the dragon are there in the background.

It's always tricky to think through the motivation of the villain (especially when the villain is an inhuman monster), The original poem introduces Grendel thus (using Seamus Heaney's not-quite-literal translation):

Ðá se ellengaést earfoðlíce Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
þráge geþolode sé þe in þýstrum bád nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
þæt hé dógora gehwám dréam gehýrde to hear the din of the loud banquet
hlúdne in healle þaér wæs hearpan swég every day in the hall, the harp being struck
swutol sang scopes and the clear song of a skilled poet

The original Grendel is evil by nature, but is driven to homicide by sounds of revelry. The 2007 Robert Zemeckis animated version actually stuck fairly closely to this motivation, though there is the extra wrinkle that Hrothgar turns out to be Grendel's father; the 2005 Beowulf and Grendel, starring Gerard Butler, has Hrothgar killing the young Grendel's father and thus providing a motive. John Gardner reimagines Grendel as a philosophical monster both attracted and repelled by the world of humans; he reminded me very much of Meursault in L’Étranger, except that I think he would have made a more entertaining dinner companion (as long as you weren't on the menu yourself).

I didn't spot the astrological references at the start of each chapter until tipped off by Wikipedia. Indeed, in general I felt this novel was too clever for me, but it is mercifully short with some passages done in interesting styles; and Grendel himself comes off as a believable character.

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Links I found interesting for 21-11-2012

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Links I found interesting for 20-11-2012

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Links I found interesting for 19-11-2012

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