June Books

A couple of weeks ago, I had almost caught up with bookblogging. Then I slacked off from LJ for a week, read a lot of short books, and suddenly I am literally 14 behind. (Well, 12, in that two of them I won’t blog about here.)

Non-fiction 7 (YTD 29)
Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, eds Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas
Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary eds. Justin Landon & Jared Shurin
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, by Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss
Green Living for Dummies, by Michael Grosvenor and Liz Barclay
The Global(ized) Game: A Geopolitical Guide to the 2014 World Cup, by Harrison Stark
Legacy: A story of racism and the Northern Ireland Troubles, by Jayne Olorunda
Ireland Under The Tudors vol 1, by Richard Bagwell

Fiction (non-sf) 2 (YTD 18)
Het Verdriet van België, by Hugo Claus
Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann

SF (non-Who) 11 (YTD 53)
Orbitsville by Bob Shaw
The Blazing-World, by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle
Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone
A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
Nexus, by Ramez Naam
The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu
Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler
The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theodore Roszak
The Goblin of Tara, by Oisin McGann

Doctor Who 5 (YTD 34)
A Device of Death, by Christopher Bulis
Damaged Goods, by Russell T. Davis
Trading Futures, by Lance Parkin
The Bog Warrior, by Cecelia Ahern
The Shakespeare Notebooks, by James Goss, Jonathan Morris, Julian Richards, Justin Richards and Matthew Sweet

Comics 6 (YTD 11)
The Meathouse Man, by George R.R. Martin and Raya Golden
Saga, Volume 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Bételgeuse v. 1: La Planète, by Leo
[Suske en Wiske] De Apenkermis, by Willy Vandersteen
[Suske en Wiske] Amoris van Amoras, by “Willy Vandersteen” [Paul Gheerts]
[Suske en Wiske] Het Aruba-dossier, by “Willy Vandersteen” [Paul Geerts]

~7,800 pages (YTD ~41,100)
9/31 (YTD 38/145) by women (Ellis, Barclay, Olorunda, Cavendish, Samatar, Butler, Ahern, Golden, Staples)
6/31 (YTD 10/145) by PoC (Olorunda, Samatar, Naam, Chu, Butler, Staples)
Reread: 0/28 (YTD 6/145)

Reading now:
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Beowulf, tr. J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien

Coming soon (perhaps):
Ireland Under The Tudors vol 2, by Richard Bagwell
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
Lost At Sea, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
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
Liberal Language, by Graham Watson
Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis
Starry messenger: The best of Galileo, ed. Charles Ryan
The Making of Doctor Who, by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke
A Winter Book, by Tove Jansson
[Doctor Who] Millennium Shock, by Justin Richards
[Doctor Who] So Vile a Sin, by Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman
[Doctor Who] The Book of the Still, by Paul Ebbs

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June Books 17) The Global(ized) Game: A Geopolitical Guide to the 2014 World Cup, by Harrison Stark

I’m not a huge sports fan in general, but like a lot of people I will make an exception for the World Cup every four years. Pressure of work and Worldcon has meant that I have been less engaged this year than I would have liked, but I did my vital preparation anyway by reading FiveThirtyEight and also this modest book which runs through the star players, and also the footballing heritage and politics of each of the 32 competing countries, breezily and articulately.

Not quite all of the stories he tells about individual countries check out in every detail. It is true that Oscar Gestido, brother of Uruguay’s 1930 star player Álvaro Gestido, was president of Uruguay; however it’s not quite as good a story as it might be, because he was only president for a few months in 1967, ten years after his footballing brother had died and almost four decades after they won the first World Cup. Other stories in the book may have similar credentials; I don’t know.

I did actually finish it some time ago, a couple of days after the tournament started, and am still woefully behind with writing up my reading; of course, two-thirds of the teams are now out of the running, so it’s a bit late to recommend it, but despite the occasional fantasising, I’ll look out for Stark’s guide to the 2018 World Cup with interest. Like most people, I still think this is Brazil’s competition to lose; but they are showing signs of losing it…

And I’ll be cheering for Belgium tomorrow night, but I hope that they can get into the habit of scoring in the first three-quarters of the match for a change!

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June Books 16) Bételgeuse v. 1: La Planète, by Leo

Having very much enjoyed the five volumes of the Aldébaran sequence of bandes dessinées by Brazilian writer/artist Leo, I have now started the next five-volume sequence, Bételgeuse. Once again we have lush illustrations of a completely alien world, with humans clinging to its rim and feuding with each other. This time round, a colonisation effort has collapsed, leaving the survivors divided into two armed camps over, among other issues, whether or not the indigenous aliens are sentient.

Unlike the previous series, this volume is divided pretty firmly into two different viewpoints. For the first half, the young Mai Lin (whose parents are clearly of Vietnamese descent) escapes from the two sets of humans and reveals her own ability to communicate with the aliens. In the second half, Kim from the Aldébaran sequence arrives in the Betelgeuse system to start finding out what has happened. Neither story line is resolved, so I'll just have to get the next one.

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June Books 15) The Bog Warrior, by Cecelia Ahern

Latest so far in the series of Time Trips, short Doctor Who ebooks by famous writers not generally known as Whovians – Ahern is a best-selling chick-lit writer, known in Ireland also as the daughter of a former Taoiseach. Alas, while this series has delivered some excellent stuff in small packages, this is not the best of the bunch; although we are informed via the cover that this is a Tenth Doctor story, there is very little characterisation of the main character; the story itself includes some very self-conscious rewriting of Cinderella, and the brokering of peace between two warring factions, but it’s really not terribly exciting or even well-written. I am sure that her work in her more habitual genre is better.

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Dialect quiz

I see several people doing blog posts about their native dialects today, so I thought I’d follow suit – but in the form of a poll. Running through these I was slightly surprised to realise how few of these words actually have standard English spellings.

Answers in due course (and no sneaky googling).

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June Books 14) A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar

I was slightly, but only slightly, spoiled for this by reading Abigail Nussbaum’s review, part of her submission for the Hugo Packet where she is nominated as Best Fan Writer. This too is part of the Hugo Packet, as evidence for Samatar’s candidacy for the John W. Campbell award; and it is good evidence. I’m always a sucker for apprentice sage stories; the best of them, like this, entangle the narrative of learning with political power struggle and the awful consequences of hidden knowledge. Into that you can throw an interesting take on colonialism (it’s made clear on the book’s cover, though not very directly in the text, that the narrator is black, trying to navigate the white scholarship of Olondria) and on how books change your brain. I liked this a lot.

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June Books 13) Trading Futures, by Lance Parkin

Oh dear. I was actually on the verge of catching up with bookblogging here a week or so ago. but now it’s the third last day of June, and I have a dozen unread books to write up here (plus another two that I won’t). Time to crack on, then…

I am not always a big fan of Lance Parkin, but I rather enjoyed Trading Futures. Good old Anji, the longest-running non-white Who companion (Feb ’01-Aug ’03, compared with Martha’s single season run, generously extensible to one and a bit) gets a proper story here where the Doctor and Fitz are rather in the background, and she gets both a James Bond-like storyline and a wee bit of character development. There are various other nods to both Bond and Who continuity, and some deliberately crap aliens. I don’t claim it as Great Literature, but I was very entertained, if not quite as much as by the previous 8th Doctor novel.

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Sarajevo, 28 June 1914


These are two photographs, taken in roughly 1914, of the building known to history as Schiller's bakery (which was really more of a delicatessen) on the corner of what are now Green Berets Street and Prince Kulin Quay in Sarajevo, formerly Franz Josef Street and Appel Quay (43.85791 N, 18.42892 E if you want to check it out for yourself). The second picture is taken from the end of the Latin Bridge, behind the photographer. This was the place where Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, starting a sequence of events which resulted in the first world war. (Incidentally, there is no possible truth in the story that Princip had just popped into Schiller's for a lunchtime sandwich and spotted the Archducal car going past. Schiller would not have sold sandwiches, and the assassination took place at 10.55 am. Princip was almost certainly there for a cup of coffee, and maybe a slice of cake.)

I spent a lot of time in Sarajevo in 1997 and 1998 (though I’m sorry to say I haven’t been back since 2003), and needless to say the very first thing I did on my first visit there was to go to the scene and take my own photographs. Here they are:



I'm glad to see that unwittingly I had stood at the same place as the person who took the second photograph above, though of course there's not a lot of choice if you don't want to be in the river or the middle of the road. This of course was just after the 1992-95 war, so Sarajevo in general and Schiller's former establishment in particular in particular were not in great shape. Basically it had been looted comprehensively, and was now nothing more than a shell. Before 1992, it had been the Young Bosnia museum, commemorating Princip, and had a rather pro-Serbian slant. Note that the window nearest the river on the Green Berets side has been long since bricked up, though the bas-relief on the walls remains. Note also the square shallow pit in the pavement at the zebra crossing, and evidence of something being removed from the wall behind it. The gap in the pavement, believe it or not, was a concrete representation of Princip's footprints when he fired the fatal shot, and the plaque behind, in Serbian, explained that he had done this "for the freedom of our people" (using the word "Народ" for people, which in this particular context means Serbs only and not the other residents of Sarajevo) [edited to add: I had neglected to observe that народа here is plural, so it’s a more inclusive “freedom of our peoples” rather than “people”]. Wikipedia has a picture:

It’s interesting to note that the first picture above marks the place where the assassination happened, “Ort der Katastrophe”, as the supposed location of the Archduke’s car, rather than the place where Princip was supposedly standing.

These days the museum has been completely revamped, and is now the Sarajevo Museum 1878-1918. I got a recent photograph of it from Google Maps:


The picture is taken from across the river, so you can now see the end of the Latin Bridge. You can also see that the Young Bosnia bas-relief has been removed, and the bricked-up window has been reinstated. What you can't see is that a more modest plaque has been erected in Bosnian and English simply stating that the fatal shots were fired from "near this spot". Times change, and often history changes with them.

Actual movie footage survives of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie arriving at their last engagement, a reception at the new Sarajevo City Hall (now the National Library, which in my day was a bombed out shell):

They are buried in one of their homes, Artstetten Castle, in Austria; Konopiště Castle, their main home, which is now in the Czech Republic, is commemorating the centenary with a special exhibition. One of the pictures they have displayed is this one, showing Franz Ferdinand's car coming along the quay (which is a little dissonant for anyone who's driven there in recent times, as now it's a one-way street with traffic going in the opposite direction).

You can see pretty clearly that this is taken from the corner across Franz Josef / Green Berets Street from Schiller's – it's the same tree, and the same cardboard champagne bottle, as in my first two pictures above, and the distinctive Emperor's Mosque is visible across the river. What is obvious here, and not visible in the first two pictures, is that Schiller put had tables out on the pavement to serve his customers, taking advantage of a fine June day.

This is therefore the last photograph taken of the Archduke and Sophie before they were shot; and it's entirely possible that Princip is one of the customers in the picture; he would certainly have been only a few metres away from the photographer.

I'll leave the last word with Rebecca West:

Not having been told how supremely important it was to keep going, the puzzled chauffeur stopped dead at the corner of the side street and the quay. He came to a halt exactly athwart the corner of the side street and the quay. He came to a halt exactly in front of a young Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip, who was one of the members of the same conspiracy as Chabrinovitch and had gone back to make another attempt on the Archduke's life after having failed to draw his revolver on him during the journey to the town hall. As the automobile remained stock-still, Princip was able to take steady aim and shoot Franz Ferdinand in the heart. He was not a very good shot: he could never have brought down his quarry if there had not been this failure to give the chauffeur proper instructions. Harrach could do nothing; he was on the left side of the car, Princip on the right. When Princip saw the stout, stuffed body of the Archduke fall forward he shifted his revolver to take aim at Potoriek. He would have killed him at once had not Sophie thrown herself across the car in one last expression of her great love and drawn Franz Ferdinand to herself with a movement that brought her across the path of the second bullet. She was already dead when Franz Ferdinand murmured to her, 'Sophie, Sophie, live for our children'; and he died a quarter of an hour later. So was your life, and my life, mortally wounded.

(From Chapter XXX of Black Lamb and Grey Falcom).

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Wednesday reading list

For reasons which may eventually become clear, I am resorting to code for some books.

Ireland Under The Tudors, by Richard Bagwell
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Beowulf, tr. J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien

Last books finished
Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann
Nexus, by Ramez Naam
The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu
Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler
The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theodore Roszak
The Goblin of Tara, by Oisin McGann

Last week's audios
The Wrong Doctors, by Matt Fitton
current: Masquerade, by Stephen Cole

Next books
How Languages are Learned, by Patsy M. Lightbown
Brussel in Beeldekes
Crash, by J.G. Ballard
[Doctor Who] Millennium Shock, by Justin Richards

Books acquired in last week
Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks
Who Goes There? (collection), by John W. Campbell

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June Books 12) Het Verdriet van België / The Sorrow of Belgium, by Hugo Claus

This is another of those classic Belgian novels, a largely autobiographical account of a boy growing up in rural Flanders in the years just before, during and after the Second World War. I read it in the original Dutch, and at 715 pages I think that is the longest book I have ever read in a language other than English. It took me almost a month, though as you will have noticed, I managed to read one or two other books along the way as well.

I very much enjoyed the start of the book, and it was enough to keep me going to the end. The first third or so is set in the years leading up to the war; our protagonist (who veers between third-person “Louis” and first-person “ik”, sometimes several times on the same page) attends a school run by nuns carrying forth the mission of educating reluctant Catholic kids in a divided society on the verge of horrendous conflict, where he hangs out with a small group of friends with shared odd literary interests. Obviously I found nothing there that related to my own experience of growing up in Belfast during the Troubles at all. Especially the school. Though we did not have quite the same reverence for the British royals that Louis’ relatives have for their Belgian equivalents.

Then, of course, the Germans invade and occupy Belgium. Louis’ father, a printer whose politics have always been pro-Nazi, finds it surprisingly tough to make ends continue to meet with his heroes in charge. His mother finds her own accommodation with the Germans to get lipstick and sausages, and also to get the emotional satisfaction her husband is incapable of supplying. Louis himself has his horizons broadened by a Hitler Youth trip to Mecklenburg in eastern Germany, where he stays briefly with a much more affectionate family than his own; and then again when his father brings him to Brussels, a place of unspeakable pleasures, and he gets a magical afternoon of cultural awakening browsing in a library of confiscated “degenerate” books, while prisoners are being interrogated (and perhaps worse) in the courtyard outside.

So it’s a story of coming of age during the Second World War in Nazi Europe, like Die Blechtrommel, with the difference that there is no fantastical element, just a blurring of the narrator’s identity between “Louis” and “ik”. The monsters here are very human – not so much the Nazis, but the Belgians whose carefully designed and enclosing social structures allow horror to flourish in the school playground and in the bedroom and the living-room. By the end of the book, Louis is on his way to becoming a published author, using a Hebrew motto for his submitted manuscripts (his father having mumbled an apology for the Holocaust to a dumbfounded American soldier who happened to be Jewish). It is a very long book, and I can see why reluctant Belgian schoolkids may consider it a cruel and unusual punishment. But as an immigrant to Flanders, particularly coming from where I come from, I found it rather revealing; a bit like Portrait of the Artist, but fifty years later, in a different but similar country.

While I think one could do a decent enough English translation (and no doubt it has been done), there are a lot of nuances that would be difficult to carry over. In particular, the use of language – more or less thick Flemish rather than standard Dutch – is at the heart of the book. For instance, people here generally use the pronoun “ge” for the second person “you”; for those who first learned the Netherlandish variety of Dutch (as I did) it sounds odd – “ge” is used up north only to address God, or by Belgians and South Africans. Even weirder, the accusative form of “ge” is “u”, which is the polite pronoun in the Netherlands – even after fifteen years here, I still find it very disconcerting to hear parents and children use “u” to each other (rather than the Netherlandish familiar form, “je” or “jij”) in phrases like “dank u” (“thank you”) or “dit is voor u” (“this is for you”). Even in Flemish children’s literature, such as the popular comic series Suske en Wiske or translations of Tintin (translated literally as Kuifje, “Tufty”), characters generally use the alien northern “jij” to each other. Claus went for a more realist approach, and it matters to the story he tells.

That’s not all. Louis’ father’s pro-German poltiics, and his mother’s relationships with German soldiers, mean that there are a lot of conversations where key words are in German. For a Dutch speaker, this isn’t normally such a big deal, and indeed the German words in the book aren’t marked off from the Dutch in any way other than the nouns being capitalised. I think that would be impossible to carry through into any other language. (Indeed, I wonder how one might tackle a German translation of Het Verdriet van België.) There’s also the casual use of French (like me, Louis and his family live very close to what is now the Belgian linguistic border, the taalgrens; unlike me, they also live close to the frontier with France) which drops off during the book (rather like Buddenbrooks, but for different reasons). The occasional use of French, and the concomitant cultural cringe, is not unique to 1930s and 1940s Belgium, of course (see also War and Peace). But the nuances here are rather specific.

Anyway, I may try the English translation as well some day, in case there are things I missed as I struggled through the original version. But this was worth the struggle for now.

Those alphabets then

Thanks, all, for filling in my poll last week – this was basically the word for "Brussels" in various different scripts, and I thought it would be interesting to see which are readable, and which less so, by various browsers. I arranged them in order of the number of people in the world who actually use the script in question.

There were five non-Latin scripts which everyone could see clearly:
ब्रुसेल्स – Devanagari (Hindi)
Брюссель – Cyrillic (Russian etc)
பிரசெல்சு – Tamil
บรัสเซลส์ – Thai
Βρυξέλλες – Greek

There were another five that all but one person could see clearly:
بروكسل – Arabic / Farsi
ব্রাসেল্স – Bengali
בריסל – Hebrew
Բրյուսել – Armenian
ბრიუსელი – Georgian

Another two South Asian scripts could be seen by all but two people who answered:
ബ്രസൽസ് – Malayalam
બ્રસેલ્સ – Gujarati

And then for five scripts which could be seen by 90 of the 93 respondents, we swing first east and then back south:
布鲁塞尔 – Chinese
ブリュッセル – Japanese
브뤼셀 – Korean
బ్రస్సెల్స్ – Telugu
ಬ್ರಸೆಲ್ಸ್ – Kannada

Three more were visible to over 80 of the 93 who replied:
ବୃସେଲ – Oriya/Odia (87/93)
බ්රසල්ස් – Sinhala (84/93)
པུའུ་ལུའུ་སེལ​། – Tibetan (83/93)

It's not surprising, but it's a bit sad, that the Ge'ez script used for Amharic and Tigrinya in East Africa is so far down:
ብሩክሴል 76/93

It's not at all surprising that Aramaic is very close to the bottom:
ܒܪܘܟܣܠ 59/73

And it's an extraordinary demonstration of the international isolation of Burma / Myanmar that not even 30% of respondents could see the Burmese script for "Brussels", despite the fact that Burmese has more native speakers than, say, Amharic, Sinhalese, Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, Georgian, or indeed Dutch, Hungarian etc. Last time I did one of these polls, only one person in 97 could see the Burmese; it's improved a lot since then but still has a long way to go.
ဘရပ်ဆဲလ်မြို့  26/73

Overall, I'd say that internationalisation is moving forward; there are a lot more people who can see a lot more languages  in the original script, whether or not they can actually read them. It's gratifying to see that Devanagari, Tamil and Bengali have made gains, and Sinhalese in particular has leapt up the charts, though a bit surprising that Chinese and Japanese still are not right at the very top.

(I'm sorry to have missed Divehi, Khmer, and Inuit, Cherokee and Deseret this time; will do better next time.)

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My Worldcon schedule

My Worldcon is going to be dominated by being Loncon 3's Director of Promotions, and yet somehow my friends in the Programme Division have scheduled me on more items than any other member of the Committee. (Having said which, at least I am not Paul Cornell who admits to being on seven items, including the Thursday interview of George R.R. Martin and Connie Wilis.)

So moderate is my reputation that I am currently down as moderator for three panels and as sole presenter for another item. The full list isas follows.

Thursday 14 August, 16:30 – 18:00: Libertarianism's Conquest of the Future

Science fiction once took government for granted. Writers like Asimov and Clarke often assumed that advances in technology and knowledge would naturally spawn rational world governments. Speculative societies, like Star Trek's Federation, could be utopian or, like those of Huxley, Zamyatin, LeGuin, dystopian, but government was central. However, increasingly, authors like MacLeod, Doctorow and Vinge write governments out of our future. Why has so much SF lost faith in government? Has government failed, or has familiarity bred contempt? Do we value personal freedom, and resent government intrusion into our lives, more than our predecessors? Or do we undervalue the benefits of government, and take its safety net for granted?

Nicholas Whyte (Moderator), Brenda W Clough, Charles E. Gannon, John-Henri Holmberg, Farah Mendlesohn, Justin Landon

Sunday 17 August, 10:00 – 11:00: The Spies We (Still) Love

From James Bond, UNCLE, and the (British!) Avengers to SHIELD and Person of Interest, the world of spies and conspiracy has long been a fixture of Western SF on screen. Yet there has always been ambivalence about such agents' real-world counterparts, and these days most of us have reservations about the extent of US/UK surveilance and big data manipulation. Bearing in mind this context, how have espionage stories evolved over the last forty years? Which shows and films have endured? And which modern examples are most artistically or politically successful, and why?

Nicholas Whyte (Moderator), Elizabeth Bear, Colin Harvey, Gillian Redfearn, Stefanie Zurek

(NB that I've pulled out of a promising panel early on the Sunday evening, as I suspect I may need to be on hand for media wrangling of the Hugos.)

Monday 18 August 10:00 – 11:00: How to Decide – Voting Systems

Nicholas Whyte discusses voting systems, from the Hugos to the European Union.

(There will be little flags to wave, or at least that is my plan.)

Monday 18 August 15:00 – 16:30: The Ruling Party

Is there an Alternative? Increasingly it seems that, no matter which party is elected, they do the same things. Charlie Stross has suggested that no matter who is elected, the Ruling Party, an agglomeration of top level politicians across all parties, always has the controls. Is there any alternative to this? Is this a bad thing? And if it is, what can we do about it?

Nicholas Whyte (Moderator), Paul Graham Raven, Charles Stross, Nigel Heffernan, David Nickle

Monday 18 August 18:00 – 19:00: How do you divide a railroad

This panel looks at the issues that face new independent nations as they separate from a larger state–whether as colonised entities, federated or equal partners.

Phil Dyson (Moderator), Nicholas Whyte, Ivaylo Shmilev

(A decent preparation for my return to work…)

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Wednesday reading

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theodore Roszak
Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann
Nexus, by Ramez Naam

Last books finished
Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone
Het Verdriet van België, by Hugo Claus
[Doctor Who] Trading Futures, by Lance Parkin
A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
Bételgeuse v. 1: La Planète, by Leo
[Doctor Who] The Bog Warrior, by Cecelia Ahern
The Global(ized) Game: A Geopolitical Guide to the 2014 World Cup, by Harrison Stark

Last week’s audios
Tomb Ship, by Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby
Elixir of Life, by Paul Magrs
1001 Nights, by Emma Beeby, Gordon Rennie, Jonathan Barnes and Catherine Harvey
Current: The Wrong Doctors, by Matt Fitton

Next books
Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler
Ireland Under The Tudors, by Richard Bagwell
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

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Links I found interesting for 18-06-2014

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June Books 11) Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone

The previous book in the series, Three Parts Dead, was included in last year’s Hugo voter package. I confess that I may have bounced off this one a bit more; I couldn’t remember much about the previous book, and though I appreciated the baroque detail of the setting, I wasn’t particularly excited by the relationships between the characters (and found rhe central father-son narrative particularly unconvincing).

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June Books 9) Damaged Goods, by Russell T. Davies

I think Russell T. Davies is the only Who showrunner to have written a novel set in the Whoniverse before he took over, and this is it: published in 1996, set in 1987, and a really important taproot text for New Who and particularly for Rose, its very first episode. The number of common elements is pretty remarkable:

  • The first character we encounter in the story is the daughter of Mrs Tyler, who is a single mother
  • She says to the Doctor at one point, "You think you're so funny", a line almost echoed by Rose Tyler a decade later
  • The Tylers live on a council estate where strange things are happening
  • The strange things include (but are not restricted to) a doppelganger of a black neighbour created by an evil alien intelligence
  • The Doctor's female companion is Roz
  • At the very end the Doctor goes back in time to meet the young Tyler girl before the adventure started in her time line
  • As the alien invasion fully manifests lots of people die horribly and swiftly
  • There are several pretty mosntrous middle-aged women characters for whom motherhood is a driving motivation

All of this is not to say that Rose, let alone New Who as a whole, is "just" a rewrite of Damaged GoodsThe End of Time.

Having said all that, I thought this was a cracking good book of the New Adventures series, taking the Doctor Who framework and fitting it to an unexpected setting, a gritty council estate. It's a complex plot with lots of elements, and Davies keeps all the balls in the air, juggling furiously. Even his monstrous maternal characters are a bit more sympathetic than they somehow ever came across on screen. I'm surprised that this isn't better known among fans; a lot of the elements that brought the show back are here, and also we can see some ways in which it might have gone differently. I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in how New Who came to be the way it was in 2005.

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June Books 8) Saga, Volume 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I read the first volume of this last year, when it was nominated for a Hugo, and didn’t quite buy it. I thought this second volume, also Hugo-nominated, was much improved; a fairly straightforward story arc about families and conflict, with a little bit of magic and interplanetary skullduggery. I still found the plot a bit unsurprising (one element in particular reminded me of the old saying about the pistol on the mantelpiece), but it is lifted immensely by Staples’ superb art.

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Best Related Work 2014

I’m clear on my top vote in this category, but very uncertain about the next three.

No vote: Writing Excuses Season 8. I completely defend and support the eligibility of podcasts, whether as a series or as individual episodes, for Best Related Work. However, I myself just don’t really have time to listen to a representative sample of this long-running series, and I’ll therefore leave it off my ballot. It won last year and no doubt has a good chance of doing so again.

No vote: No Award. There has been nonsense written about how you shouldn’t allocate preferences below “No Award”. This piece explains in more detail than I care to right now that all you have to do is list your choices in order of preference until you no longer care about the outcome. That includes “No Award”.

All of the rest were reasonable potential winners. To be honest I am having real difficulty with my #2, #3 and #4 rankings, and I may end up ordering them differently when I actually finalise my ballot. As of right now, they are:

4) Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, by Jeff VanderMeer, ill. Jeremy Zerfoss – very nicely produced, very interesting; I am not quite the target audience.

3) Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, eds Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas – not that I didn’t like it, but I felt the content a little repetitive, and could have done with some more overarching analysis of what is actually going on here.

2) “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley – again, I completely defend and support the eligibility of individual blog posts to be nominated in this category, and it’s perhaps a little surprising that this hasn’t happened before; and this particular piece is part of a very important debate. However, it’s only a part of that debate; it’s possibly better than any of the individual essays in my top choice, but collectively I think they outweigh it.

1) Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, eds. Justin Landon & Jared Shurin – the fact that I am personally namechecked in it is a nice bonus, but I think this really does give a good overview of what was being talked about in fandom in 2012, and of where the debates on its future are coming from and going; if you want to understand what’s going on in the field, it’s a very good starting place.

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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June Books 7) Wonderbook, by Jeff VanderMeer

Having only dipped into this, I gave it my vote for the BSFA Award (which it won); now I’ve read it from beginning to end, and feel confirmed in my immediate reaction that this is an excellent and beautiful guide to the craft of writing, and specifically fantasy writing, with insights not only from VanderMeer but from many others (including an interview with George R.R. Martin). I don’t have particular ambitions to write fiction myself, but I found this very useful in looking at how stories come into being (and perhaps how they can be improved, even that doesn’t always happen). The one annoying thing is that the numerous inserts on particular themes do quite often break up the reader’s experience of the flow of the book. But even there it’s not as bad as The Steampunk Bible, from the same stable.

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June Books 6) The Blazing-world, by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

For all the primacy of Frankenstein, I reckon this must be one of the earliest known sf books by a woman, at least in English. The Duchess of Newcastle was a well-known eccentric of Restoration England – Samuel Pepys has several awestruck entries in his diary about simply wanting to look at her in astonishment, including her visit to the Royal Society – and wrote various pieces including this exploration of politics, science, religion and learning from 1668. 

Her unnamed heroine, kidnapped by sea from her home, is blown by storms to the North Pole and thence to another world which adjoins ours there. The inhabitants immediately make her their Empress, and we then settle down for a hundred pages or so of exposition and world-building, some of it a little satirical, some simply speculative and imaginative (some of it perhaps inspired by her visit to the Royal Society the previous year). The Empress then causes further point-of-view confusion by inviting the Duchess of Newcastle to come visit her on her own planet, and, using otherworldly technology, exterminates all of England’s military enemies to ensure that Britain can be Top Nation. 

It’s a undisciplined, rollicking, diverting ramble through the mind of one of the era’s most interesting personalities, and I’m really surprised that it is not better known – I think I came across it only browsing Wikipedia, though I then found an essay about it in Speculative Fiction 2012 when I was already half way through. I also detect one or two elements which surely Swift must have put directly into Gullver’s Travels; he would surely have known and read this.

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