Best Novella Hugos 2014

This was one category this year where none of the stories quite grabbed me, and I feel a bit uncertain about my rankings. The fact that I read them all in one go lying outside in a hammock on a sunny day in my sister’s garden in Burgundy may have diminished my concentration. So, more than usually, this is just an explanation of my own vote rather than advocacy for or against one story or another. I have also not yet decided where to place “No Award” in my ranking.

5) [May Books 14)] The Butcher of Khardov, by Dan Wells

This seemed to me a pretty standard augmented humanity superhero-type story, without any particular features that grabbed me one way or the other. The Russian setting was an original touch.

4) “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, by Brad Torgersen

I’m not a lover of Torgersen’s prose in general, but here at least there seemed to be a bit more smoothness in delivery, and quite an interesting setup – humans have been defeated in a war with atheist aliens, and it’s now a decade or so later; counter-revolution and combat ensue. Having said that, the story then goes fairly predictably, and the aliens’ prosthetic flying discs didn’t really convince me (they never break down, except when they do; they just have enough power to get us to the next stage of the plot).

3) “Wakulla Springs”, by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages

This is the ranking I feel most ambivalent about. It’s probably the best story on the ballot, a brilliant exploration of race, movies and (mostly) Florida, packed with references to sf and other classics; but it isn’t sf itself, and I do like Hugo nominees to be visibly part of the genre. There is a short dream sequence, and a throwaway line at the very end, which could be argued to contribute (rather minimal) fantasy elements to the story, but otherwise the average Lovejoy novel has more sfnal content, and that is not very much. It will probably win despte my reservations.

2) “Equoid”, by Charles Stross

Another of Stross’s Laundry stories, about a secret arm of British bureaucracy whose job it is to see off occult threats to the realm. There are lots of really fun references to pony stories and particularly to Cold Comfort Farm – this is a woodshed in which there really is something nasty – as well as to classic Lovecraft, and probably many others that I missed, with the usual frenetic pacing and some vividly gruesome description. It slightly loses its way, oddly enough, in a flashback sequence to Lovecraft’s own life; it’s as if the Cthulhu mythos and its creator don’t actually mix all that well.

1) [May Books 15)] Six-Gun Snow White, by Catherynne M. Valente

An interesting retelling of the Snow White story, considerably altered and embellished, in a slightly fantasy Wild West setting, with the various tropes of fairy tale, Native American myth and frontier struggle colliding in a series of very short chapters. I rather bounced off the same author’s Deathless, which did something similar for Russia, but liked this one sufficiently to put it top of my list, if slightly faute de mieux.

You can vote in this year’s Hugos, and the 1939 Retro Hugos, by joining Loncon 3 at http://www.loncon3.org/memberships .

2014: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist | Best Fan Artist
1939: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist

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May Books

I’m pretty far behind with bookblogging at present. This has basically been the case since Worldcon commitments started to dominate my free time; I’ve also been trying to develop a policy of writing lots of bookblog entries at the weekend, and then publishing two every weekday evening, so as not to swamp friendslists of those who still use livejournal; I should be able to catch up eventually that way, though it hasn’t quite worked yet. Anyway, I managed 27 books during May, more than half of them sf, more than half of those Hugo or Retro Hugo nominees (and most of those I actually bought; the voter packet only came out in the last few days). Next month will have Hugo non-fiction and graphic story nominees as well. Anyway, these are the books of May 2014:

Non-fiction 3 (YTD 22)
The Rise and Fall of Languages, by R.M.W. Dixon
The Road To Middle-Earth, by Tom Shippey
The Eleventh Hour, ed. Andrew O'Day

Fiction (non-sf) 4 (YTD 16)
Mr Norris Changes Trains, by Christopher Isherwood
Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad

SF (non-Who) 15 (YTD 42)
Neptune's Brood, by Charles Stross
10 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights, by Ryu Mitsuse
The Finches of Mars, by Brian Aldiss
Warbound, by Larry Correia
The Empress of Mars, by Kage Baker
Parasite, by Mira Grant
Out Of The Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
Carson of Venus, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Cyberabad Days, by Ian McDonald
The Sword In The Stone, by T.H. White
The Legion of Time, by Jack Williamson
The Butcher of Khardov, by Dan Wells
Flora Segunda, by Ysabeau S. Wilce
Six-Gun Snow White, by Cat Valente
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany

Doctor Who 3 (YTD 29)
Island of Death, by Barry Letts
The Death of Art by Simon Bucher-Jones
Anachrophobia, by Jonathan Morris

Comics 2 (YTD 5)
The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who, by Paul Cornell
Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, by Mary and Bryan Talbot

~7,000 pages (YTD ~33,300)
5/27 (YTD 29/114) by women (Baker, "Grant", Wilce, Valente, Talbot)
2/27 (YTD 4/114) by PoC (Mitsuse, Delany)

Reread: 3/27 (YTD 6/114) (Madame Bovary, Out of the Silent Planet, The Sword in the Stone)

Reading now:
Het verdriet van België, by Hugo Claus
Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, eds Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas
Orbitsville by Bob Shaw

Coming soon (perhaps):
Green Living for Dummies, by Michael Grosvenor
The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theodore Roszak
Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann
Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler
Ireland Under the Tudors, by Richard Bagwell
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Desert Wisdom, by Henri J.M. Nouwen
A Guide to Tolkien, by David Day
How Languages Are Learned, by Patsy M. Lightbown
Brussel in beeldekes
Crash, by J. G. Ballard
Teenage Religion and Values, by Leslie J. Francis
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell
Rogue Queen, by L. Sprague de Camp
334, by Thomas M Disch
Billionaire Boy, by David Walliams
The Essence of Christianity, by Ludwig Feuerbach
Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Brontomek!, by Michael Cobley
[Doctor Who] A Device of Death, by Christopher Bulis
[Doctor Who] Damaged Goods, by Russell T. Davies
[Doctor Who] Trading Futures, by Lance Parkin

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Three books set on Mars

May Books 11) The Finches of Mars, by Brian Aldiss
May Books 12) The Empress of Mars, by Kage Baker
May Books 13) Out Of The Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis

I have read not one, not two, but three books set on Mars this month. Two of them were relatively new acquisitions – The Finches of Mars is billed as Aldiss’s last book, and The Empress of Mars had been on my reading list since I enjoyed the first instalment ten years ago; I had of course read Out Of The Silent Planet years ago, but it is now a nominee for the 1939 Retro-Hugos so I have returned to it.

Alas, The Finches of Mars disappointed me. There are several welcome flashes of Aldiss’s brilliance, but the basic plot – that human babies on Mars are mysteriously stillborn – required perhaps a more sensitive handling in this day and age. The concept of inhabited Martian towers each sponsored by a different Earth geographical zone was interesting, but failed to avoid some of the obvious traps. And the characters just weren’t terribly engaging. I return to Aldiss’s classic writing often, but I won’t to this.

I enjoyed The Empress of Mars every bit as much as I had hoped to. It’s basically a colonial adventure in space, with the poor but honest Irish immigrant being threatened off her homestead (which is a pub) by the English plutocrats. Some of the jokes are a little obvious and/or laboured, but I was greatly entertained by it all. There’s a splendidly creepy yet incompetent religious cult towards the end.

Having been reading so much about Tolkien over the last few years, Out Of The Silent Planet has acquired a new depth for me – especially since the hero, Ransom, is rather obviously meant to be an alternate bachelor version of Tolkien himself, free to go and explore Mars (well, to be kidnapped by an evil former schoolmate and his evil rich sponsor) without being burdened by family commitments. It is partly intended, of course, as a moral parable, a thought experiment of exploring a world which has not experienced the Fall; but I think it’s interesting that Lewis does locate it in the wider sf genre precisely by invoking it scornfully (in the words of the characters) and then apologising to HG Wells in a note at the very end. The Retro-Hugo for Best Novel is going to be between this and The Sword in the StoneOut Of The Silent Planet is deep but with some sense of fun; The Empress of Mars is fun but with some sense of depth; and I’d rather not think too much about the other one.

May Books 10) The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who, by Paul Cornell

This is one of this year’s Hugo nominees – the first I have read in the Best Graphic Story category – and it is utterly lovely. The Eleventh Doctor slips through a gap between universes and finds himself in a world where “Doctor Who” is a TV show and he himself is portrayed by a bloke called Matt Smith. Among other things, he discovers fan-fiction:

The ExCeL, where the 50th anniversary weekend was celebrated last November, is depicted; given that this will also be the venue for Loncon 3 this August, is it the first Hugo-nominated work which actually features the place where the awards for its year are actually to be made?

I haven’t yet read any of the other shortlisted works in this category, but the bar is set pretty high as far as I’m concerned.

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Best Short Story 2014 Hugos

My first write-up for the 2014 Hugos, as opposed to the 1939 Retro Hugos. I found this ranking fairly easy, though I also confidently predict that fandom will disagree with me.

5) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. I thought about this long and hard. It’s a story about unexpectedly mystical happenings in a Thai village, written by a Dutch writer. It may be an unintended effect of translation, but I rather felt that the Asian culture was being played for laughs; perhaps we Irish are too sensitive about that, but it pushed one of my buttons and I can’t vote for it.

4) No Award. The other three are all decent enough tales, though I personally think that it would be better to lower the eligibility threshold to 4% rather than 5%, which would have ensured that we had five or more stories to choose between in 2013 and 2011 (I have no information on how this would have worked out this year).

3) “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky. This will probably win the award. It is very short and very moving. I’ve marked it down because I don’t think it is very sfnal, and I personally think that still does matter in the context of the Hugo awards: the whole point of the story is that in fact the narrator’s lover is not a dinosaur. But I expect mine will prove to be a minority opinion.

2) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar. I wrote about this before as it was nominated for the BSFA Award. Again, I think the sfnal credentials are a little questionable, but I also rather liked it.

1) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu. Good heavens, a Hugo nominee that actually has entire sentences in untranslated Chinese!!!!! (The killer punchline from the narrator’s mother – apologies for spoiling the story for those of you who can read it – is “你是研究生物科技的. 孫子能給我嗎? 有你們兩個的基因的.”) On the one hand, it’s a story of an increasingly widely-recorded human experience, of a gay man coming out to his family in a culture which is not naturally sympathetic to that sort of diversity; on the other, there’s a Ted Chiang-like change to the natural order (though it reminds me also of The Primal Urge by Brian Aldiss) which forces everyone to reassess their experience of the world and the rest of humanity. It gets my vote, though as I said above I expect that Rachel Swirsky will actually win.

You can vote in this year’s Hugos, and the 1939 Retro Hugos, by joining Loncon 3 at http://www.loncon3.org/memberships .

2014: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist | Best Fan Artist
1939: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist

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Best Novelette 2014 Hugos

1) “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang

This really blew me away. I wasn’t sure at first; Chiang’s trademark is to tell us of emotionally complex material with an apparent air of academic attachment, and that only works if there is an original idea to use it on. But, gosh, here Chiang takes the concept of being able to reconstruct accurately what you did and said at past times in your life, and shows that facts are not really always very helpful in getting to grips with feelings – either in traditional low-tech societies, or in contemporary families. For me, it sailed through the Philip K. Dick “My God! What if..?” test.

2) “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard

I’ve sometimes found de Bodard’s richly detailed Vietnamese spacefaring future a bit too different from my personal experience to properly appreciate, but I loved this story and was all set to vote for it (until I read the Chiang). It is a great tale of personal identity, artificial intelligence and family dynamics across the generations, mingling together tropes from cyberpunk and space opera and making them her own. Great stuff.

3) “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal 

This story somewhat controversially was not included on the list of finalists last year, despite having sufficient nominations; now that it has actually been published in written form, it deservedly is on the list. I liked very much the descriptions of a recently settled Mars, and a child survivor of disaster who grows up; I was less convinced by the nature of the narrator’s key personal dilemma, or by the choice she made.

4) No Award

5) “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen

A story about a near future space conflict between a gender-balanced US military and the Chinese. I was startled to read of “the familiar hammer, sickle and stars of the People’s Republic of China”, and there were some other editing fluffs that I did not expect to see from Analog (“assuming the worse”, several uses of “i” where “me” would be more usual). Leaving those niggles aside, basically this story could have been written in the 1950s, and I think the genre has moved on just a bit since then.

6) “Opera Vita Aeterna”, by “Vox Day”

I’ve already written about the deficiencies of the Latin in this story (and Stephanie Zvan has analysed its linguistic deficiencies more generally). A very clunky beginning settles into an elf doing undergraduate theology and an attempt at a sentimental ending. Not quite as bad as I had expected, but still not very good. Certainly by some way the worst story on the ballot.

Even if that were not the case, the fact that the author has unapologetically called a black writer a “half-savage” and defended throwing acid into the faces of feminists is something that I cannot ignore. You vote how you like, I am putting it last.

You can vote in this year’s Hugos, and the 1939 Retro Hugos, by joining Loncon 3 at http://www.loncon3.org/memberships .

2014: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist | Best Fan Artist
1939: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist

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The Berlin novels by Christopher Isherwood

May Books 8) Mr Norris Changes Trains, by Christopher Isherwood
May Books 9) Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood

I've never seen the movie Cabaret, though I did see a stage production of the musical many years ago in Belfast – a local team putting it on at the Arts Theatre, directed by Peter Quigley who also played the EmCee (this was just before Sam Mendes's West End production). It is one of thse cultural things that everyone knows about even if they haven't actually seen it; I've been a little surprised while raving bout these books over the last few days by just how many people haven't heard of them but do know the film.

They are fascinating for a Berlinophile like me; these are familiar streets, distanced from the present by eight decades and the Third Reich. On the one hand, there is the depiction of young and somewhat irresponsible expats spending and shagging their way around an exciting city, a situation which, while not exactly universal, has none the less been replicated in many other places and times (as a glance around Place Luxembourg in Brussels most Thursday evenings will demonstrate); on the other hand, there is the fact that this amazing city was the centre of a society that was turning on itself and about to turn on the rest of Europe. Nobody sees the Nazis coming, and yet everyone does; they are like frogs in a heating saucepan.

The two books are actually very different from each other in structure. Mr Norris Changes Trains is the less polished work, a character study of Mr Norris whose pretensions of respectability are overshadowed by his history of dubious business dealings, his unorthodox sexuality and his activism with (but not quite in) the Communist Party. Goodbye to Berlin is a collection of several shorter stories which were never quite combined into a single novel, so that there are characters in common but less of a coherent thread. Yet Isherwood is more ready to let his sæva indignatio show, and it's a better read if more disjointed.

One last point: Mr Norris Changes Trains is dedicated to W.H. Auden. Goodbye to Berlin is dedicated to John and Beatrix Lehmann – that's the same Beatrix Lehmann who played Professor Amelia Rumford in The Stones of Blood shortly before she died, and her brother.

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Best Novel 2014 Hugos

My votes are as follows:

1) Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

I voted for this for the BSFA Award without any hesitation, and I'll do the same for the Hugos.

2) Neptune's Brood, by Charles Stross

Excellent stuff, but wears the economic theory perhaps a little too heavily for it to get my top vote.

3) No Award

The highest I've put this for some time. Let me explain…

4) The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Back in the very brief period of my life when my wife and I were living in a priest's spare bedroom, some well-meaning worshipper had lent him the entire series as it then was, and I gave it a serious try. But I got fed up with it by volume 4 or 5, when I realised that nothing had actually happened in the entire vast book, and soundings taken from other sources indicated that this wouldn't change any time soon if I persevered, so I let them remain undisturbed on the parochial bookshelves. Much more recently, Adam Roberts convinced me that I need not go further (though as far as I know he has not read the Brandon Sanderson volumes). I'd be embarrassed for the Hugos if it wins, so it goes below No Award for me; but at the same I respect the enthusiasm of its fans, and I entirely understand their desire to honour a series that has brought a lot of people a lot of pleasure. It will get a lot of votes, but mine won't be one of them.

5) Parasite, by Mira Grant

I could take (just about) the coincidences regarding the parents of the narrator and her boyfriend, and more or less swallow the US military not quite realising what was going on under their noses. But the twist at the end insults the reader's intelligence.

6) Warbound by Larry Correia

There are those who say that one should not judge books on their authors' politics, but solely on literary merit. Frankly, on that basis alone this would be pretty near the bottom of my list. But I am not going to ignore the wider context, which is that this book got its Hugo nomination as the result of a political stunt – a political stunt which quite intentionally delivered collateral benefits to another author who has called a black writer a "half-savage" and who has defended throwing acid into the faces of feminists. I obviously disagree with those who nominated the Wheel of Time, but I respect them because they did so out of love. No such noble reason is behind the nomination of Warbound, and I feel under no obligation at all to consider its scanty literary merits outside the political context in which it was nominated. I write here only for myself, and you can vote how you like; I'm putting it last.

You can vote in this year’s Hugos, and the 1939 Retro Hugos, by joining Loncon 3 at http://www.loncon3.org/memberships .

2014: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist | Best Fan Artist
1939: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist

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Wednesday reading

Current
Het Verdriet van België, by Hugo Claus
Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog, by Ysabeau S. Wilce
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany

Last books finished
The Road To Middle-Earth, by Tom Shippey
The Eleventh Hour, ed. Andrew O'Day
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad

Last week's audios
Current: The Rosemariners, by Donald Tosh

Next books
Green Living for Dummies, by Michael Grosvenor
The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theodore Roszak
Orbitsville by Bob Shaw
[Doctor Who] A Device of Death, by Christopher Bulis

Books acquired in last week
Wit, Wisdom and Timey Wimey Stuff – The Quotable Doctor Who, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Global(ized) Game: A Geopolitical Guide to the 2014 World Cup by Harrison Stark
Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It eds. Sigrid Ellis and Michael D. Thomas
A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
The Legion of Time, by Jack Williamson

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Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) 1939 Retro Hugos

There were a couple of categories where there was a pretty clear front runner as soon as it was decided to hold the 1939 Hugo vote, and this was one of them – though I must admit it was surprising that all of the viable nominees came from the same stable. My normal practice is to reveal my votes in reverse order of preference, and I shall do so here:

No vote: the BBC production of R.U.R. by Karel Čapek. It’s nice that the nominators decided to celebrate the kick-off of seventy-five years of BBC sf drama on television, but if I haven’t seen it myself I don’t think I can express an opinion on it.

5) Dracula, adapted for radio by Orson Welles, he himself doubling up as Dr Seward and Count Dracula. This was the first of the Mercury Theatre on the Air productions for CBS, and the team is still getting its act together. The crackly quality of the surviving recording does it no favours, of course, but it has some serious technical problems – the soundscape is too busy, with too many cases of music, sound effects and voices all competing simultaneously for the listener’s attention. Also the story, which is pretty rambling in the original, is compressed slightly beyond comprehension. I’m actually putting this below “No Award”; it fails the test of whether it would be embarrassing if it won. Having said that, I see one website claiming that this is one of the best ever adaptations of Dracula, so your mileage may vary. I should also add that, unlike the others, I listened to this in the car rather than on my iPod, which may have created extra difficulties in hearing.

4) No Award, as explained above.

3) Around the World in 80 Days, adapted for radio by Orson Welles, he himself playing Phileas Fogg. This is a much more competent piece of work, with the central narrative driving relentlessly forward; you can shear off a lot of the colourful detail and still have the story of a man with a vision, pursued by another man with an arrest warrant. The cast clearly had very little idea of what an Indian accent sounds like, with Arlene Francis’s Princess Aouda sounding almost as French as Edgar Barrier’s Passepartout. I am being generous in my own eligibility criteria this year, for reasons that will be made clear in due course; otherwise I would complain that there is nothing particularly sfnal about a play performed in 1938 and set in 1871 using only 1871 technology. But let’s give it half an extra mark for ending with an interracial marriage.

2) A Christmas Carol, adapted for radio by Orson Welles, who also plays Scrooge. This was the last in broadcast order of the plays, done after the deal with Campbell’s Soup (for which there is a long intrusive advertisement near the beginning). Of the four, it probably sticks closest to the original, which was of course at least partly intended for reading aloud to an audience. The source material is good, and Welles does good things with it. So do the rest of the team, with decent sound effects and cheery Christmas music used appropriately without drowning out the dialogue. I felt that the Christmas Future section’s grimness was slightly muted, but it is very grim in the original and perhaps Welles felt it went too far for 1938. He liked to story so much that he adapted it as a Cole Porter musical for Broadway in 1946.

1) The War of the Worlds, directed by Orson Welles who also plays Professor Pearson, but adapted by Howard Koch and Anne Froelick (the only woman named as a nominee in this category). I listened to this in 2009 and repeat what I said then:

It is only loosely based on the original novel; the brilliant introduction is retained, but then we are into light music interrupted by increasingly desperate news bulletins and horrible events, culminating with Times Square and the rest of New York succumbing to poison gas. That takes us to the 40-minute mark, at which point we are reminded that this is a work of fiction; and then the last third is essentially a post-holocaust survival story, Welles’ Martians having been much more thorough in their devastation than Wells’ originals. And at the very end, Welles himself steps out of character to remind everyone that it is Halloween.

The poison gas scene is particularly chilling. I think we have a winner.

You can vote in this year’s Hugos, and the 1939 Retro Hugos, by joining Loncon 3 at http://www.loncon3.org/memberships .

2014: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist | Best Fan Artist
1939: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist

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May Books 7) Parasite, by “Mira Grant”

Another Hugo nomination for the eminently successful Seanan McGuire, no longer in the zombie mode but now portraying a near future California where everyone’s life has been transformed by ingesting bio-engineered tapeworms. The presentation is rather similar to her zombie trilogy, each chapter being prefaced by material supposedly from other sources and the first-person narration almost identical in tone, but I felt the setting was a significant improvement – I don’t really get the zombie thing anyway, so the only way was up.

Significant marks off, however, for 1) the remarkable coincidence that the protagonist and her boyfriend just happen to have parents who are significantly involved in the central scientific problem and 2) the shock twist at the end that any sensible reader will have worked out by roughly the third chapter, yet the narrator has not seen it coming at all. has written it up in more detail including massive spoiler.

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May Books 6) The Death of Art by Simon Bucher-Jones

The Seventh Doctor, Chris and Roz end up in Paris all involved with the Dreyfus case and Ace. I'm afraid I thought this wore its historical research a bit too heavily, without compensating gains in characterisation or plot. Ah well; the next New Adventure on my list is Russell T Davies's Damaged Goods.

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That Northern Ireland European Parliament election, then

It seemed to take a very long time to get the first results through for the European election yesterday at the King's Hall. Having originally arranged to help out with the BBC's coverage from 2.15 to 4.15 pm, I was still there at 6.30 when the first preference votes were announced, and hung around for another hour or so until the second count came through. I did check with Brussels friends who thought that Estonia might be the only other place in the EU still counting; but Estonian sources reassured me the their results were through (ex-Prime Minister Ansip pulling his party just about into first place to win a hard-fought extra seat, if you are interested).

First Count

Anyway, the first preferences in Northern Ireland were (with % change from 2009):

Martina Anderson (SF) 159,813 (25.5%, -0.5%) elected
Diane Dodds (DUP) 131,163 (20.9%, +2.7%)
Jim Nicholson (UUP) 83,438 (13.3%, -3.8%) – worst UUP euro result
Alex Attwood (SDLP) 81,594 (13.0%, -3.2%) – worst ever SDLP result
JIm Allister (TUV) 75,806 (12.1%, -1.6%)
Anna Lo (Alliance) 44,432 (7.1%, +1.6%) – best ever euro result
Henry Reilly (UKIP) 24,584 (3.9%)
Ross Brown (Green) 10,598 (1.7% -1.6%)
Tina McKenzie (NI21) 10,553 (1.7%)
Mark Brotherston (Conservative) 4,144 (0.7%)
(NB Nicholson supported by Conservatives in 2009.)

Total poll 636,093 (51%, up from 43% last time); total vald poll 626,125.

As I was poring over the figures, Peter Weir pointed out to me that this is the first time ever that a majority of votes cast in a Northern Ireland-wide election have been cast for women (Anderson + Dodds + Lo + McKenzie = 55.2%).

NB also Unionist total (inc UKIP and Con but not NI21) 50.2% (+1.9%);  Nationalist total 38.5% (-3.7%).

Second Count

Anderson's 3,000-ish surplus could not have pulled Brotherston ahead of McKenzie, so the 4,144 Conservative votes transferred as follows:

Dodds (DUP) + 668 (16.1%) = 131,631
Nicholson (UUP) + 980 (23.6%) = 84,418
Attwood (SDLP) + 196 (4.7%) = 81,790
Allister (TUV) + 376 (9.1%) = 76,182
Lo (Alliance) + 546 (13.2%) = 44,978
Reilly (UKIP) + 330 (8.0%) = 24,914
Brown (Green) + 325 (7.8%) = 10,923
McKenzie (NI21) +270 (6.5%) = 10,823

453 (10.9%) non-transferable.

Third Count

Most unfortunately, the total of Anderson's surplus and McKenzie and Brown's votes was slightly more than Reilly's total at this stage, so all 159,183 SF votes now had to be examined for their next valid preference (ie anyone except Brotherston) and reallocated at a value of .03. This brought the remaining candidates to the following totals (percentages are the share of Anderson's total first preference vote which went to each candidate, not the share of the transferred surplus):

Dodds (DUP) + 14.52 (0.3%) = 131,845.52
Nicholson (UUP) +8.31 (0.2%) = 84,426.31
Attwood (SDLP) + 2056.26 (42.9%) = 83,846.26
Allister (TUV) + 13.53 (0.3%) = 76,195.53
Lo (Alliance) + 314.70 (6.6%) = 45,292.70
Reilly (UKIP) + 31.08 (0.6%) = 24,945.08
Brown (Green) + 115.53 (2.4%) = 11,038.53
McKenzie (NI21) + 39.00 (0.8%) = 10,862.00

The non-transferable figure is 688.07, but in fact 73,382 (45.9%) of Anderson's papers did not have a further preference (or only for Brotherston).

Third Count

Brown and McKenzie's joint total still being less than Reilly's, both are eliminated and the Green and NI21 votes transferred as follows:

Dodds (DUP) + 1,619.98 (7.4%) = 133,465.5
Attwood (SDLP) + 3,182.57 (14.5%) = 87,028.83
Nicholson (UUP) + 2,246.23 (10.3%) = 86,672.54
Allister (TUV) + 870.05 (4.0%) = 77,065.58
Lo (Alliance) + 8,661.10 (39.5%) = 53,953.80
Reilly (UKIP + 1,072.28 (4.9%) = 26,017.36

4,248.32 (19.4%) non-transferable.

And there we leave it overnight, with Attwood having nosed ahead of Nicholson on that last round of transfers. It's fairly clear what will happen this morning: Reilly's transfers will generally go to Unionist parties (he told me he thought they would be fairly evenly divided) which will pull Nicholson ahead of Attwood again; Lo's transfers may well favour Attwood over Nicholson; and Allister will then be eliminated, electing Dodds and Nicholson on the final count.

I shall be on and off planes all day, though, so you'll have to analyse it without me.

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Links I found interesting for 26-05-2014

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Links I found interesting for 25-05-2014

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Northern Ireland #LE14 The story so far

This is an election with few dramatic changes. The major parties have pretty much stayed as they were, as far as we can tell given the changed boundaries. The DUP, SF and Alliance have perhaps slipped back a little, and the UUP moved forward a bit, but that impression based on yesterday’s counts is slight enough to be reversible today. (My first take from Mid Ulster early yesterday afternoon was that the SDLP and UUP were in trouble; this was not really borne out by later data.)

The smaller parties have had a good poll. TUV have done best, with at least half a dozen seats in the bag, and UKIP and the PUP have also made gains in places where they had not previously had representation. The People Before Profit Alliance took a seat in West Belfast and the Greens are likely to double their representation in North Down. But NI21 are nowhere to be seen (I hear rumours that they may get some small comfort from Lisburn today).

The list below is of those DEAs where all seats have been filled; my comments on the notional change from the 2011 local elections must be taken with a huge pinch of salt. I am particularly uneasy about the Lisburn/Castlereagh projections, but include them here for completeness.

I’ll be on the box again at 2pm: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b045g9h7

Completed DEAs

Antrim and Newtownabbey
Airport (5): 2 UUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP – notional UUP gain from Alliance.
Antrim (6): 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance – notional SDLP gain from SF.
Macedon (6): 3 DUP, 1 Alliance, 1 TUV, 1 UUP – notional TUV gain from DUP
Three Mile Water (6): 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance – no notional change.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon
Craigavon (5): 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP – notional DUP gain from SF
Cusher (5): 2 UUP, 1 Ind, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP – no notional change
Lagan River (5): 3 DUP, 2 UUP – no notional change
Portadown (6): 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SF, 1 UKIP – notional UUP and UKIP gains from DUP

Belfast
Balmoral (5): 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance – no notional change
Black Mountain (7): 5 SF, 1 People Before Profit, 1 SDLP – notional PBP gain from SF
Castle (6): 2 DUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance – notional Alliance gain from SF
Lisnasharragh (6): 2 DUP, 2 Alliance, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP – no notional change

Causeway Coast and Glens
Ballymoney (7): 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SF, 1 TUV – no notional change
Causeway (7): 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance, 1 SDLP, 1 TUV – notional DUP gain from independent
Coleraine (6): 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 SDLP – notional PUP and UUP gain from DUP and Ind

Derry and Strabane
Ballyarnett (6): 3 SF, 2 SDLP, 1 Ind – notional Ind gain from SDLP
Waterside (7): 3 DUP, 2 SDLP, 1 SF, 1 UUP – no notional change

Fermanagh and Omagh
Erne North (5): 2 UUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP – no notional change
Erne West (5): 2 SF, 1 Ind, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP – no notional change
Mid Tyrone (6): 4 SF, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP – no notional change
West Tyrone (6): 3 SF, 1 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP – no notional change

Lisburn and Castlereagh
Castlereagh East (6): 3 DUP, 1 TUV, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance – notional UUP and TUV gains from DUP and Alliance
Downshire East (5): 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance – no notional change
Downshire West (5): 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance – notional UUP gain from DUP
Killultagh (5): 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP – notional DUP gain from SF

Mid and East Antrim
Bannside (6): 2 TUV, 2 DUP, 1 SF, 1 UUP – notional TUV gain from DUP
Carrick Castle (5): 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Ind, 1 UKIP – notional UKIP gain from Alliance

Mid Ulster (complete)
Carntoghter (5): 3 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP – no notional change
Clogher Valley (6): 2 SF, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP – no notional change
Cookstown (7): 3 SF, 2 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP – notional UUP gain from DUP
Dungannon (6): 2 DUP, 1 Ind, 1 UUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP – notional SDLP gain from SF
Magherafelt (5): 2 SF, 1 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP – no notional change
Moyola (5): 3 SF, 1 DUP, 1 UUP – notional UUP gain from SDLP
Torrent (6): 4 SF, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP – notional SF gain from Ind

Newry Mourne and Down
Downpatrick (5): 3 SDLP, 1 SF, 1 Ind – notional Ind gain from SF
Rowallane (5): 2 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance – notional Alliance gain from UUP
The Mournes (7): 2 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP, 1 DUP – no notional change

North Down and Ards
Ards Peninsula (6): 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance – no notional change
Comber (5): 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 TUV, 1 Alliance – notional TUV gain from DUP
Holywood and Clandeboye (5): 2 DUP, 1 Green, 1 Alliance, 1 UUP – notional DUP gain from Alliance

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Me on TV for the elections

If the travel gods are kind I shall be on BBC Northern Ireland this evening to discuss today’s elections starting 2235 UK time:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04403dh

edited to add: The travel gods have not been kind, and it looks like I won’t make it. Bah! But…

I should certainly be on the Friday evening show from 2200:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b044mh9r
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b044mh9t

And Saturday from 1405:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b045g9h7

If you are watching, I’ll give you a wee wave!

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Wednesday reading

Current
Het Verdriet van België, by Hugo Claus
The Road To Middle-Earth, by Tom Shippey
The Eleventh Hour, ed. Andrew O’Day

Last books finished
[Doctor Who] The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who, by Paul Cornell
Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood
Out Of The Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
Carson of Venus, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Cyberabad Days, by Ian McDonald
[Doctor Who] Anachrophobia, by Jonathan Morris
The Sword In The Stone, by T.H. White
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, by Mary and Bryan Talbot

Last week’s audios
Charlotte Pollard Series 1, by Jonathan Barnes and Matt Fitton

Next books
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
Green Living for Dummies, by Michael Grosvenor
Flora Segunda, by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Books acquired in last week
The Girl who Loved Doctor Who, by Paul Cornell
(and for Anne’s birthday:)
The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
When I Was a Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson
The Road to Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead
Selected Prose, by Charles Lamb

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The Memory Box, by Jonathan Morris

This is the pilot episode for a new (well, new-ish now) Big Finish range featuring Chase Masterson as interstellar bounty-hunter Vienna Salvatore, who ruthlessly kills anyone who discovers her name and previously featured in the last story of the Drashani trilogy. It’s rather good. Masterson takes her character and turns her into a classic BF performance; the story has the brilliant concept of memories that can be locked in a “memory box” and released if the correct passphrase is invoked, which leads to a brilliantly complex plot with overtones of Phil Dick paranoia. I have a huge backlog of BF audios at the moment but I shall get onto the other Vienna stories at some point, with enthusiasm.

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May Books 5) The Rise and Fall of Languages, by R.M.W. Dixon

A brief book about language change, which again must have been recommended to me in Facebook comments as I can't find another source; dates back to 1997 but I don't know how fast the field moves. The author has two main points to make. First off, he compares the evolution of language to Steven Jay Gould's concept of punctuated equilibrium in biology: long periods of steady development with little change, interspersed with periods when the environment changes rapidly and organisms, or languages, must adapt equally rapidly to survive. The impact of Western colonialism is the most recent and largest such traumatic change to have hit the world's language groups and ddiversity.

His other main point is to propose an alternative to the "family tree" model of language relationships. It works well for Indeo-European (within limits) and also for the Austronesian languages of the Pacific; but he is sceptical, to put it politely, of Greenblatt's claims to have constructed family trees for the African and Amerindian languages, let alone the pretensions of Nostratic. Surely in most cases where different language groups exist side by side for centuries, it makes at least as much sense to consider a "linguistic area" where neighbouring speakers may steal vocabulary and grammar from each other. His example is Australia, the area he knows best, but I can see relevance for the Albanian / Macedonian / Bulgarian / Romanian relationship which I've always found fascinating. He makes the point that even Proto-Indo-European doesn't appear to have been homogenous – did the instrumental plural end with *-bhis or *-mis ?

Anyway, I found this rather more digestible than dear old C.-J. Bailey's essay collection. Must look out for more on this topic..

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The War To End All Wars, by Simon Guerrier

I am one of those who has been hoping that we would some day get a story telling us what happened to Steven Taylor after he was left behind to rule the planet of the Savages, and Simon Guerrier, who has done well in First Doctor stories for Big Finish, has finally provided us with one – though this is only the framing narrative, as Steven, long since overthrown by his former subjects, tells a visitor of a previous adventure on a planet where the time travellers were conscripted into a long-entrenched war between two factions. There is basically one idea here but it is done awfully well and fills the time very nicely, driven by Peter Purves’ performance in his old role (and doing a decent take on the First Doctor and Dodo as well). And there’s a fairly mind-blowing twist at the end; this was apparently the very last of the Companion Chronicles to be recorded, so I hope that Big Finish will come back to resolve it in their new range.

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May Books 4) Warbound, by Larry Correia

This was nominated for the Hugos as the result of a campaign by the author, which also brought several other controversial nominees to the ballot. I’ll have more to say about that when I do my Best Novel category roundup, but for now I’ll report that this is not quite as awful a book as Correia’s Monster Hunter International. However, it’s the last book of a trilogy set in an alternate 1930s where many people have psychic/magical powers and the good ol’ US of A gets a gang of misfits together on an airship to smite the Asian foe (the Germans having already been dealt with by a zombie outbreak). I’m not moved to find the first two books.

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