January Books

Non-fiction 4
About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 2005-2006; Series 1 & 2, by Tat Wood
Amsterdam, by Russell Shorto
British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland, eds Ciaran Brady and Jane Ohlmeyer
Do Elephants Ever Forget?, by Guy Campbell

Fiction (non-genre) 4
Saints of the Shadow Bible, by Ian Rankin
The Secret River, by Kate Grenville
Absalom, Absalom!, by William Faulkner
The Saint Zita Society, by Ruth Rendell

Sf (non-Who) 6
The Next Generation, vol ii and vol iii, by John Francis Maguire
Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett
Walk to the End of the World, by Suzy McKee Charnas
Motherlines, by Suzy McKee Charnas

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch

Doctor Who 5
Last of the Gaderene, by Mark Gatiss
Happy Endings, by Paul Cornell
Grimm Reality by Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale
Pest Control, by Peter Anghelides
The Death Pit. by A.L. Kennedy

Comics 2
With The Light vol 6, by Keiko Tobe
The Rabbi’s Cat v2, by Joann Sfarr

~6,500 pages
9/21 by women (Ohlmeyer, Grenville, Rendell, 2xCharnas, Ohlmeyer, Hale, Kennedy, Tobe)
1/21 by PoC (Tobe, though possibly I should count Sfarr too)

Reread: 0

Reading now:
Double Down, by Mark Halperin and John Heileman
Jane Austen, by Claire Tomalin
Crowe’s Requiem by Mike McCormack
The Big Finish Companion v1, by Richard Dinnick

Coming soon (perhaps):
God’s War, by Kameron Hurley
The Shining, by Stephen King
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010, by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Filippo
Empire of the Sun, by J. G. Ballard
The Kindness of Strangers, by Kate Adie
The Unfolding Of Language: The Evolution of Mankind`s Greatest Invention, by Guy Deutscher
The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Other Hand, by Chris Cleave
Essays on Time-based Linguistic Analysis, by Charles-James N. Bailey
Brick Lane, by Monica Ali
Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann
Inverted World, by Christopher Priest
Revelation, by C. J. Sansom
Anglicizing the Government of Ireland, by Jon G. Crawford
Cheese, by Willem Elsschot
Rupert Bear Annual: No. 72
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
Any Given Doomsday, by Lori Handeland
[Doctor Who] Speed of Flight, by Paul Leonard
[Doctor Who] GodEngine, by Craig Hinton
[Doctor Who] The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, by Lawrence Miles
[Doctor Who] The Forever Trap, by Dan Abnett

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January Books 18) Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch

Views on this book were mixed in my what-to-read-in-2014 poll, but I have to say I rather enjoyed it. Like Paul Cornell's London Falling, which I read this time last year, it has contemporary London police being caught up in a world of eldritch horror; but it scored for me in the central character's continuing self-doubt, not so much about whether he wants to be a policeman caught up in the occult, but about whether he wants to be a policeman at all; and in the clever invocation of a well-known folk tale which is stunningly revealed about halfway through. The personified rivers themselves (Fleet, Tyburn, Beverley Brook) are a brilliant concept, and the London streetscapes convincingly envisaged. I will definitely go get the sequels now.

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January Books 17) With The Light vol 6, by Keiko Tobe

It took me ages to track down the sixth volume of this manga series about bringing up an autistic child in contemporary Japan, but it was worth waiting for. Here, Hikaru has started to hit puberty, and has to be dissuaded from touching himself or pretty women inappropriately; family and school dynamics continue to be a strain; and we get sidetracked for a couple of diversions, when his father attracts too devoted an admirer at work and a couple of his classmates come to terms with their own fannish obsessions. But the core narrative remains sound, of Hikaru and his mother Sachiko dealing with a world which has not been designed for his needs, and doing the best they can. I have the next volume ready to read.

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Old friends get new jobs

I sent an old friend an email yesterday to ask about a particular policy issue in his country, which I used to follow quite closely but have slightly lost track of recently.

He called me back today, saying that he was rather busy so thought we should just sort it out by phone rather than by email. We had a jolly good conversation, and at the end of it I asked what he was doing now.

I could practically see his grin down the phone. “I’m Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development – have been since December 2012.”


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The BSFA shortlist, on GoodReads and LibaryThing

As before, I have tabulated how many people list the shortlisted works for the BSFA Award on the two major library sites, Goodreads and LibraryThing, and what average rating the books have been given.

Goodreads Librarything
number average number average
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie 1704 4.03 246 4.17
God’s War by Kameron Hurley 1338 3.61 358 3.73
Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell 139 4.03 32 4.13
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest 104 3.78 44 4.06
Evening’s Empires by Paul McAuley 29 3.9 26 3.8

I haven't read any of these, though I bought God's War last year based on recommendations around the place. It and Ancillary Justice are the clear leaders on both sites, with the latter scoring significantly ahead on reader appreciation. Publication date doesn't seem to be a factor – Ancillary Justice appears to have been the most recently published of any of them. Note that it has also put on 100 Goodreads users (and 12 from LibraryThing) since last week.

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Wednesday reading

Double Down, by Mark Halperin and John Heileman
Jane Austen, by Claire Tomalin
Crowe’s Requiem, by Mike McCormack
The Big Finish Companion v1, by Richard Dinnick

Last books finished
[Doctor Who] The Death Put, by A.L. Kennedy
[Doctor Who] Pest Control, by Peter Anghelides
The Rabbi’s Cat v2, by Joann Sfarr
Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch
With The Light vol 6, by Keiko Tobe
[Doctor Who] Grimm Reality by Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale
Do Elephants Ever Forget?, by Guy Campbell
British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland, eds Ciaran Brady and Jane Ohlmeyer

Last week’s audios
The Beginning (Susan/1) by Marc Platt
Current: Antidote to Oblivion (7/Flip)

Next books
The Shining, by Stephen King
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, by Damien Broderick and Paul di Filippo
Empire of the Sun, by J.G. Ballard
[Doctor Who] Speed of Flight, by Paul Leonard

Books acquired in last week
Ireland Under The Tudors vols 1-3, by Richard Bagwell
The Death Pit, by A.L. Kennedy
Into the Nowhere, by Jenny Colgan
Prisoners of Time, by Scott and David Tipton

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Links I found interesting for 29-01-2014

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The Beginning, by Marc Platt

This was the 50th Anniversary release in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series – a story told by Carole Ann Ford as Susan, explaining the very first adventure that she and the Doctor had after leaving Gallifrey and landing on Earth. Terry Molloy, who was Davros to the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors on TV, plays a disconsolate Gallifreyan technician called Quadrigger Stoyn who was accidentally brought along for the ride – apparently he will be a recurring character. I liked this though I won’t rave about it; the first quarter of an hour, describing the first stages of their departure from Gallifrey, is excellent, carried solo by Ford who clearly loves it. The subsequent story of how Susan and her grandfather deal with Stoyn and the first of many alien threats to humanity is OK, but perhaps not quite right for this format.

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January Books 14) British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland, eds Ciaran Brady and Jane Ohlmeyer

A collection of essays published as a Festschrift for Aidan Clarke, mainly concentrating on the first half of the 17th century though with a couple delving back into the Elizabethan period which interests me more. Which is not to say that the 17th century was dull – far from it. There are lots of fascinating bits of research here – quite a lot on the ideology of the English in Ireland (both Old English and New English, and later the Confederates) which of course ties into the religious and cultural questions as well; two chapters that really made my jaw drop pointing out the similarities between the Stuart and Spanish monarchies of the period, including the eerily parallel justifications for forcibly transplanting population; and a few local studies of specific individuals and places.

The two chapters I enjoyed most (in that they tickled my other interests) were by Jane Ohlmeyer and Bríd McGrath on the early 17th-century Irish parliaments, covering the House of Lords and the House of Commons respectively, the latter intriguingly hinting at hidden archives of early election data. A table sets out the timescale of the steps between London commissioning the summoning of an Irish Parliament and the actual meeting; McGrath notes succinctly that “Due to a procedural error, the 1628 parliament never actually met.” The parliament did not meet until 1634. You want to watch out for those procedural errors, folks; they can have serious consequences.

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Links I found interesting for 27-01-2014

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January Books 13) The Saint Zita Society, by Ruth Rendell

I think the only other Rendell I’ve read is Thirteen Steps Down, which has a similar setting in the socially fragmented London of the Noughties; The Saint Zita Society features at its core those who work for the rich in one particular exclusive street, mostly immigrants from various parts of Europe and the Commonwealth. A rich white man kills his wife’s black lover, perhaps accidentally, and though only the au pair knows about it, the secret tears apart the social microcosm of the street’s inhabitants (again, it’s a crime novel rather than a mystery novel – we can see that first death coming from miles away, and the interest is in seeing how everyone copes, or fails to). There is a gratuitous psychopath, who I found a bit of a distraction in plot terms, but otherwise it is well done and well observed.

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Afterlife, by Matt Fitton

An audio that will really appeal to those who are already fans of the Big Finish storyline with Hex, which appeared to have come to an end back in 2012. The first episode is practically a two-hander between Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, which for me is one of the best examinations of both the Doctor as manipulator and Ace’s natural resentment of that; then we move into what appears at first to be an alternate timeline where Hex’s life worked out very differently, with the true state of affairs only gradually becoming apparent. Amy Pemberton, who played Sally Morgan in several previous Seventh Doctor plays, also joins the crowd. It’s an excellent twist to the end of Hex’s story, and might even be lucid enough for fans who aren’t already familiar with it to enjoy.

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To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
  Thou need na start awa sae hasty
    Wi bickering brattle!
  I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
    Wi' murdering pattle.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
  An' justifies that ill opinion
    Which makes thee startle
  At me, thy poor, earth born companion
    An' fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
  A daimen icker in a thrave
     'S a sma' request;
  I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
    An' never miss't.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
  An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
    O' foggage green!
  An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
    Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
  An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
    Thou thought to dwell,
  Till crash! the cruel coulter past
    Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
  Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
    But house or hald,
  To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
    An' cranreuch cauld.

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
  The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
    Gang aft agley,
  An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
    For promis'd joy!

Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
  But och! I backward cast my e'e,
    On prospects drear!
  An' forward, tho' I canna see,
    I guess an' fear!

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January Books 12) Absalom, Absalom!, by William Faulkner

Crumbs. I’ve been trying to read a bit more of the great modernist writers, but I found this really too opaque for my commuting brain; I got that there was a murder and long-lost siblings and racism and slavery and all that, and some interesting characterisation, but it was all a bit dense and none of the characters really all that attractive. Maybe if I’d been reading it on holiday, or while bedridden with some trivial, relatively pain-free, but immobilising complaint, I might have enjoyed it more.

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January Books 11) Happy Endings, by Paul Cornell + Many Happy Returns (audio)

Occasionally my reading and/or listening schedule generates an interesting pairing, and this is the first such this year: Paul Cornell's 1996 novel featuring the wedding of Bernice Summerfield, and Big Finish's 2012 play (a charity performance for ME research, with no less than twelve credited co-authors) featuring a look back at her subsequent audio history. It's quite impressive that there has been a steady stream of Benny material over the sixteen years between the two, or indeed over the 21+ years since she first appeared on the scene. I think it's fair to say that of the non-TV Who companions, she has had the longest and most vigorous life.

Neither of these is remotely comprehensible without knowing much about the back-stories concerned – with Happy Endings, it's the previous 40 New Adventures featuring Benny and her travels in the Seventh Doctor's Tardis with Ace, Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester; with Many Happy Returns, it's an even larger number of audios and books featuring her involvement with the historical collection of the urbanely sinister Time Lord, Irving Braxiatel. It's a bit invidious to compare the two, as they are works for different purposes in different media written in different centuries. But I will do so anyway.

Happy Endings was the 50th New Adventure overall, and the 41st with Benny. It's a rave-up celebration of the series so far: Bernice is marrying Jason in the village of Cheldon Bonniface, and many characters from previous Who stories, particularly the New Adventures, turn up either as guests or as potential spoilers. Paul Cornell is always great when expressing his love for Who (or indeed other things that he loves) and this is awfully good fun, particularly for the further characterisation of Benny as uncertain bride.

It was interesting to read it so soon after Last of the Gaderene, which takes itself much more seriously, and is about the same length, but seems to have only about half the plot. I cheered at various points, though I confess I also scratched my head at others as characters who I barely remembered from their single appearance in a novel I read three years ago emerged blinking back into the narrative light. But the cheers were more numerous than the head-scratchings, and really, what more can you want?

Many Happy Returns is the work of many hands, and gets off to a very tricky start with a misfiring postmodern sketch – but after that it livens up considerably, and although Big Finish have done the theme of telling a story through a key character exploring a dodgy museum dedicated to his or her life life a couple of times now, this really takes off through the performance of Lisa Bowerman and the rest of the company; perhaps the change of pace to what is essentially a sequence of five-to-ten-minute sketches was stimulating to the creative juices all round.

Anyway, I could not really recommend either of these to anyone who was not already a fan of that particular branch of Bernice Summerfield continuity; but for those who are, they are indispensable.

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Links I found interesting for 25-01-2014

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January Books 9/10) Walk to the End of the World / Motherlines by Suzy McKee Charnas

This is part of my reading of past winners of the Tiptree (and Clarke and BSFA) Award; I must say I had not heard of either book other than in this context; I was pleasantly surprised.

Walk to the End of the World, the first half (I got the combined edition, The Slave and the Free) is a horribly well-drawn future dystopia where women are enslaved and brainwashed, and doped up men fight for their own continued supremacy. It's gruesomely well depicted, though not at all subtle and a bit relentless.

But Motherlines takes a lot of Walk to the End of the World and inverts it – we switch from a male to a female central character, and discover that a lot of what had been presented as unchallengeable fact in the first volume is in fact very different looked at from the other side of the gender divide. In addition, the actual plot has some very impressive twists and turns in what is still a very short book.

Motherlines is really excellent, and though Walk to the End of the World is not quite as good you enjoy the second much more for having read the first. And neither is very long.

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The Kitschies’ shortlists, on Goodreads and LibraryThing

Hooray! The first of the sf award shortlists of this year are out, the pleasingly eclectic Kitschies, which celebrate “progressive, intelligent and entertaining books that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic”. This also means I can do my first number-crunching of the year by looking up how many people list the shortlisted works on the two major library sites, Goodreads and LibraryThing, and what average rating the books have been given. (I’ll note that while Goodreads has extended its lead over LibraryThing in terms of numbers of users, my sense is that both sites continue to expand.)

The Kitschies come in three categories. First the Red Tentacle, equivalent of Best Novel:

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki 9962 4.18 677 4.19
More Than This, Patrick Ness 3033 4.02 199 3.95
Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon 2405 3.57 349 3.71
Red Doc>, Anne Carson 378 4.12 90 4.3
The Machine, James Smythe 55 4.07 12 3

A Tale for the Time Being has clearly caught the public mood, with more copies owned by both GR and LT users than the other five nominees put together. But I am intrigued by the high user ratings given to Red Doc> – and by the comparatively low ratings for Bleeding Edge.

Then we have the Golden Tentacle, awarded for best debut novel – must be the writer’s first novel in any genre.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan 40300 3.78 2289 3.92
Nexus, Ramez Naam 1721 4.14 155 3.77
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie 1603 4.03 234 4.17
A Calculated Life, Anne Charnock 72 3.72 12 4
Stray, Monica Hesse 45 4.36 2

The intriguingly titled Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is far ahead of all of the other books in either category combined, in terms of popularity. On the other hand Stray almost falls off the LT charts; neither LT user who has logged it has yet rated it. In the mid-section, Ancillary Justice‘s numbers look good.

The third category, the Inky Tentacle for cover art, is not really susceptible to the same sort of analysis. (I must say that, of the shortlisted works, I do like the cover of Stray.)

As I said in my roundup post from last year’s awards, this is a good way of identifying books that have built up a wide audience, but may not actually prove a reliable predictor of the winners.

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Links I found interesting for 23-01-2014

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Wednesday reading

British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland, eds Ciaran Brady and Jane Ohlmeyer
Do Elephants Ever Forget?, by Guy Campbell
With The Light vol 6, by Keiko Tobe
[Doctor Who] Grimm Reality by Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale
The Big Finish Companion v1, by Richard Dinnick

Last books finished
Absalom, Absalom!, by William Faulkner
The Saint Zita Society, by Ruth Rendell

Last week’s audios
Ghost in the Machine (Jo/3) by Jonathan Morris
Many Happy Returns (Benny/various) by various
Afterlife (7/Ace/Hex) by Matt Fitton
Current: The Beginning (Susan/1) by Marc Platt

Next books
Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch
The Rabbi’s Cat v2, by Joann Sfarr
Jane Austen, by Claire Tomalin
[Doctor Who] Pest Control, by Peter Anghelides

Books acquired in last week
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
The Lowest Heaven, eds Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin
The Unlimited Dream Company by J. G. Ballard
The Uncertain Legacy of Crisis: European Foreign Policy Faces the Future, by Richard Youngs
Challenges for European Foreign Policy in 2014: The EU’s Extended Neighbourhood, eds Giovanni Grevi and Daniel Keohane
Empowering Europe’s Future: Governance, Power and Options for the EU in a Changing World, by Giovanni Grevi, Daniel Keohane, Bernice Lee and Patricia Lewis

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January Books 8) Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett

Back in November, the day after Doctor Who’s 50th birthday, a lot of people were pointing out that it was the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Colour of Magic, on 24 November 1983. As I’ve been noting elsewhere, there’s nothing like that sort of statement to make you feel old. But here we are – thirty years on, knowing that his own time is running out, Sir Terry is still producing for us.

Raising Steam takes one of the Discworld plot lines that I have tended to find less successful – some aspect of modern culture intruding into the fantasy environment, as in Moving Pictures, Soul Music and Going Postal – and really does something quite interesting. There’s lots here, the major plot line being the mutual interlocking of the Patrician’s statecraft with the new technology, and how this affects a power struggle between the fundamentalists and pragmatists among the Dwarves, but there are plenty of shout-outs to characters and situations from earlier volumes. I liked it.

Once you have invented railway trains, society and economics on Discworld are surely going to be altered for ever; and I wonder if Pratchett now feels at liberty to change his creation so fundamentally because he feels he may be nearing the end of his own engagement with it. We started from a parody of Lankhmar three decades ago, and now appear likely to end with steampunk, after many diversions along the way. Hopefully there will a few more stops before the end of the journey.

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

Links I found interesting for 21-01-2014

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Ghost in the Machine, by Jonathan Morris

Continuing my intention of blogging Big Finish audios as I listen to them: this is a story with Katy Manning doing Jo Grant, investigating a dangerous entity which exists only as sounds. This is a classic audio story set-up and if anything it’s a bit surprising that it hasn’t been done to death – I can think of only the early (and fairly successful) Big Finish audio Whispers of Terror, and the Tenth Doctor’s excellent final outing Dead Air. Anyway, although I started a little irritated with the initial as-you-can-see-now audio scene setting, once Jo and the Doctor get into the confrontation with the audio creature, helped by the final survivor of the base whose end they are investigating (excellent performance from Damian Lynch), I found myself liking it a lot, particularly the portrayals of different characters from the two cast members; Manning is always at her most effective when pushed to do several things at once.

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