March Books

Non-fiction: 3 (YTD 14)
The Charm of Belgium, by Brian Lunn
The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon
Shan Mohangi: 95 Harcourt Street, by Kevin Higgins

the charm of belgium The Wretched of the Earth Shan Mohangi: 95 Harcourt Street

Fiction (non-sf): 0 (YTD 2)

SF (non-Who): 7 (YTD 31)
The Jonah Kit, by Ian Watson
κ1 (did not complete reread)

The Jonah Kit

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 11)
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Forgotten Son, by Andy Frankham-Allen
Grave Matter, by Justin Richards
The Last Resort, by Paul Leonard
Beyond the Sun, by Matthew Jones

The Forgotten Son Grave Matter The Last Resort 0426205111.01._SX116_SY165_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Comics : 2 (YTD 6)
Saga vol 3, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
With The Light Vol 8, by Keiko Tobe

saga 3 with the light 8

~4,958 pages (YTD 18,958)
4/16 by women (YTD 20/64) – κ1, ρ2, Staples, Tobe
3/16 by PoC (YTD 4/64) – Fanon, Staples, Tobe

Reread: 5/16 (σ2, κ1, β1, ζ1, ρ2, Beyond the Sun), YTD 8/64

Reading now:
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Wages of Sin, by Andrew M. Greeley
A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett

Coming soon (perhaps):
Kushiel's Justice, by Jacqueline Carey
Scales of Gold, by Dorothy Dunnett
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Stopping for a Spell, by Diana Wynne Jones
Islands In The Stream, by Ernest Hemingway
Mating, by Norman Rush
The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari
The Painted Man/The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett
The Complete Robot, by Isaac Asimov
The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999, by Misha Glenny
Martial Power and Elizabethan Political Culture: Military Men in England and Ireland, 1558-1594, by Rory Rapple
Een geweer in het water, by Hermann
The seven-per-cent solution; being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D, by Nicholas Meyer
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, by Luo Guanzhong
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Meditations on Middle Earth: New Writing on the Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien
City at the End of Time, by Greg Bear
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
Prisoner, by Dave Rogers
The King's Speech, by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
Sculptor's Daughter, by Tove Jansson
Burning Heart, by Dave Stone
Timeless by Steve Cole
Ship of Fools, by Dave Stone

Posted in Uncategorised

What is the best-known book set in Monaco?

See note on methodology

I had expected that Monaco’s best-known twentieth-century resident would win here, but in fact there is a clear lead for yet another crime novel, published in 2002 by a writer who was much better known in his native Italy as a comedian and actor; it seems to have been a successful if temporary shift of genre for him. It is:

Io uccido / I Kill, by Giorgio Faletti

Another best-selling crime novel, a 2012 collaboration between two well-known American authors, seems to be mainly set in France although the crime itself takes place on a boat off Monte Carlo:

Guilty Wives, by James Patterson and David Ellis

I’m happy with my Italian crime novel as today’s winner, but here are a couple more. First, a short novel from 1954 by one of England’s best-known twentieth century writers, a moral tale of winning at the casino failing to bring one happiness:

Loser Takes All, by Graham Greene

And second, a 2011 novel about the life of the chef Auguste Escoffier, torn between his lover Sarah Bernhardt and his wife in Monte Carlo, where (judging by a quick skim of online reviews) a bit more than half of the book is set:

White Truffles in Winter, by N.M. Kelby

And the best-known biography of the principality’s best-known resident, tying in with the recent widely-panned biopic (according to the Guardian, “so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk”), is:

Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Posted in Uncategorised

What is the best-known book set in Liechtenstein?

See note on methodology

I know a bit more about Liechtenstein than I do about some of these small states, because when I got my first job in Brussels in 1999, Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein worked downstairs in the same building; he was then his brother’s ambassador to Belgium (whose then king was his wife’s uncle) and Luxembourg (ruled by his father-in-law and then his brother-in-law). The Prince and I would often bump into each other in the lobby at the end of the working day, bantering about whose turn it was to lock up for the evening, and he was amused that I was the only person in the building who more or less shared his given name. We stayed in touch after I left that job in 2002, until he left Brussels in 2010.

His country has given me rather slim literary pickings. One of America’s best-known romance writers has written a novel whose protagonist is Princess Christianna of Liechtenstein, but as far as I can tell most of the book is set either in California or in Africa. I should point out also that the Princes and Princesses of Liechtenstein are properly referred to as “His/Her Serene Highness”, abbreviated to “HSH”; they are not technically royal, so the book has a mistake in its title. (In German one should address them as “Durchlaucht”.) The misnamed book, published in 2006, and the 70th published by its author, is:

H.R.H., by Danielle Steel

Having disqualified that on my geographical criteria, I’m going to have to declare a rare tie between two books. Top on LibraryThing, but second on Goodreads, is a short 1955 book by a writer who is well known for his moving, heavily symbolic children’s tales (and also one famous disaster story that became a famous movie). This particular book is about a cow whose ardent prayer is that she will be able to produce more milk than the other cows. It is:

Ludmila, by Paul Gallico

The other book, top on Goodreads but second on LibraryThing, is a 2005 non-fiction account of the Liechtenstein national team’s campaign to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, in which they lost all 8 matches they played, conceding 23 goals (including 5-0 defeats by Bosnia and Spain). Obviously, half of those matches were played away from Liechtenstein, but from the sound of it there is easily enough of the book set in the country to qualify. It is:

Stamping Grounds: Exploring Liechtenstein and Its World Cup Dream, by Charlie Connelly

Manga fans may also want to note:

The Seventh Seal / 第七の封印, a story line which starts in vol 13 of From Eroica With Love / エロイカより愛をこめて, by Yasuko Aoike.

Posted in Uncategorised

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

The classic anti-colonialist text, with foreword by Jean-Paul Sartre, explaining and legitimising violence against a colonial regime; the author was thinking particularly of Algeria to which he gave the last few years of his life, but also of the whole area dominated by European colonisation, particularly the rest of Africa. It’s passionate and well-argued, and I can see why it has remained a key political text for the last half-century (and will endure much longer). He is particularly good on the psychological consequences of manipulation by unaccountable regimes for those governed by them.

However, I have several problems with Fanon’s analysis. The biggest is that in justfying violence, he rather fetishises it – I’ve seen this with other commentators too, the assumption that a resort to violence is in itself evidence for the purity and legitimacy of its perpetrators. I’m not convinced by that. The IRA’s supporters used to argue that violence was the natural outcome of the situation in Northern Ireland, and convinced a lot of people of the purity and legitimacy of their cause, before they settled for a deal which was essentially what had been on offer 25 years and hundreds of deaths earlier. Some politically motivated violence is really crime, even if perpetuated by the oppressed.

That’s tactics, in a way; there’s an error also of strategy, in that Fanon calls on internal differences in a country to be ironed out, or preferably just ignored, in favour of making common cause against the colonial oppressor. That’s all very well; but it doesn’t address the issue of sharing out power and other resources internally once the colonial oppressor has withdrawn (or even beforehand). Questions of regional autonomy, deals between ethnic and religious groups, and indeed emancipation of women, sexual minorities and other groups, can’t simply be handwaved away by focussing on the national struggle. Privileging the national struggle above all else allows for discrimination against groups who are deemed insufficiently committed to the cause, and Fanon’s arguments legitimise this.

He also gets wrong the economic and political trajectory of post-colonial states, though I don’t think he can really be blamed for this as nobody else saw it coming either. And he rejects any connection between the Algerian war and the struggle for civil rights in the USA; which is one link that I’m quite happy to allow, given the parallels in power and wealth structures and the use of state coercion as a political tool.

Still, I’m glad I have now read it.

Posted in Uncategorised

The Arthur C. Clarke Award submissions list…

…has now been officially announced and can be found here.

This is my listing of the books using numbers from Goodreads and Librarything, ranked by the geometric mean of ownership on both systems. The top quintile for ownership and user ratings is in bold. The figures may have changed a little in the last couple of days.

Author Title GR owners GR ave rating LT owners LT ave rating
Andy Weir The Martian 83035 4.36 2,010 4.27
Emily St. John Mandel Station Eleven 42456 4.02 1,201 4.25
Karen Joy Fowler We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves 34501 3.77 1,177 3.87
David Mitchell The Bone Clocks 23106 3.84 1,085 3.92
Pierce Brown Red Rising 27103 4.18 697 4.05
M. R. Carey The Girl With All The Gifts 25587 3.91 625 4.07
Jeff VanderMeer Annihilation 19624 3.64 783 3.8
John Scalzi Lock In 13672 3.83 487 3.99
Claire North The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August 9109 4.02 388 4.06
Michel Faber The Book of Strange New Things 6337 3.75 463 3.89
Jeff VanderMeer Authority 7544 3.66 376 3.83
Erika Johansen The Queen of the Tearling 9769 3.9 286 3.67
Josh Malerman Bird Box 10141 3.93 261 3.89
Laline Paull The Bees 5644 3.65 329 3.91
V. E. Schwab Vicious 6993 4.24 261 4.07
Ann Leckie Ancillary Sword 5141 4.09 355 4.17
Hugh Howey Sand 8766 3.97 186 3.89
William Gibson The Peripheral 4128 4.02 365 3.99
John Darnielle Wolf in White Van 6772 3.8 222 3.56
Jeff VanderMeer Acceptance 5022 3.69 286 3.74
Lauren Beukes Broken Monsters 5352 3.63 267 3.64
James S. A. Corey Cibola Burn 6393 4.09 202 3.85
Tanya Huff The Heart of Valour 2465 4.04 514 3.93
Hanya Yanagihara The People in the Trees 3246 3.54 268 3.67
Sarah Lotz The Three 4418 3.38 161 3.49
Terry Pratchett The Long Mars 2951 3.62 229 3.32
Jo Walton My Real Children 2115 3.73 258 4.04
Charles Stross The Rhesus Chart 2430 4.19 207 4.00
Alena Graedon The Word Exchange 1523 3.33 215 3.27
Edgar Cantero The Supernatural Enhancements 2300 3.65 132 3.83
Nick Harkaway Tigerman 1750 3.98 135 4.24
Kameron Hurley The Mirror Empire 1226 3.62 135 3.94
Peter F. Hamilton The Abyss Beyond Dreams 1886 4.2 84 3.67
Hannu Rajaniemi The Causal Angel 1292 4.22 106 3.85
Peter Clines Ex-Purgatory 1950 3.97 68 3.81
Kenneth Calhoun Black Moon 1271 3.19 96 3.34
Daryl Gregory Afterparty 1227 3.71 97 3.84
Emmi Itäranta Memory of Water 940 3.79 121 3.9
Monica Byrne The Girl in the Road 963 3.56 118 3.59
Toby Barlow Babayaga 956 3.48 118 3.58
Jack Campbell The Lost Fleet : Beyond the Frontier – Steadfast 1884 3.92 57 3.57
Kameron Hurley Infidel 688 3.97 150 3.74
Mira Grant Symbiont 1175 3.66 82 3.81
Paul Cornell The Severed Streets 740 4 98 3.77
Peter Carey Amnesia 566 2.88 93 2.97
David Cronenberg Consumed 655 3.16 70 3.06
David Ramirez The Forever Watch 466 3.61 52 3.59
Jack Campbell The Lost Stars – Imperfect Sword 636 4.08 35 3.72
William C. Dietz Andromeda's Fall 452 3.72 45 3.25
Nnedi Okorafor Lagoon 330 3.7 61 3.81
Greg Bear War Dogs 379 3.09 42 2.91
Kieran Shea Koko Takes a Holiday 324 3.6 33 3.36
Rjurik Davidson The Unwrapped Sky 225 3.29 45 2.8
Adam Christopher The Burning Dark 287 3.39 34 3.67
Sandra Newman The Country of Ice Cream Star 169 3.79 47 4.31
James Smythe The Echo 197 3.82 40 3.94
Clemens J. Setz Indigo 147 3.32 36 3.75
Mark Hodder The Return of the Discontinued Man 172 3.99 30 3.88
Ken MacLeod Descent 117 3.62 43 3.64
Will McIntosh Defenders 776 3.62 6 3.75
Dave Hutchinson Europe In Autumn 115 3.7 40 3.83
Marianne de Pierres Peacemaker 153 3.69 29 3.6
Larry Niven and Gregory Benford Bowl of Heaven 24 3.67 182 3.04
Tobias S. Buckell Hurricane Fever 124 3.53 35 3.67
Simon Ings Wolves 111 3.37 34 3.67
Sarah Perry After Me Comes the Flood 196 3.08 18
Adam Roberts Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea 110 3.33 25 3.38
Stephen Baxter Ultima 175 3.63 15 2.33
Gareth L. Powell Hive Monkey 96 3.98 27 4.13
Sheri S. Tepper Fish Tails 77 3.36 24 2.8
Sophia McDougall Mars Evacuees 101 4.27 18 3.67
Gaie Sebold Shanghai Sparrow 60 3.55 25 3.63
Gary Gibson Extinction Game 114 3.6 13 2.75
Peter Watts Firefall 81 3.99 15 3
Harry Karlinsky The Stonehenge Letters 80 3.44 13 3.42
Samit Basu Resistance 99 3.73 10 3.99
Lavie Tidhar A Man Lies Dreaming 68 4.16 14 4.38
Adam Roberts Bête 43 3.79 21 4.14
Nikesh Shukla Meatspace 69 3.61 12 3.5
Kim Curran Glaze 103 3.96 8 3
James Smythe No Harm Can Come to a Good Man 81 3.68 10 3.75
Ivo Stourton The Happier Dead 48 3.25 16 3.5
Jon Wallace Barricade 69 3.45 11 3.75
Tricia Sullivan Shadowboxer 58 3.76 11 2.5
Diego Marani God's Dog 37 2.51 16 1.88
Eric Brown Jani and the Greater Game 33 3.55 17 3.33
Graeme Shimmin A Kill in the Morning 43 4.19 13 3.33
Nina Allan The Race 26 4.08 14 3.92
Liesel Schwarz Sky Pirates 81 3.77 4
Chris Beckett Marcher 42 3.52 7 4.5
Stephanie Saulter Binary 31 4.39 9 3.5
Tom Harper Zodiac Station 49 3.88 5
Alexander Maskill The Hive Construct 18 3.44 10 3.17
Kate Horsley The Monster's Wife 32 3.94 5 4
Scott K. Andrews Timebomb 31 3.77 5 3.33
Guy Adams The Rain-Soaked Bride 22 4.18 5
Naomi Foyle Astra 24 3.88 4 3.83
E. J. Swift Cataveiro 11 3.82 7 3
Steve Harrison TimeStorm 12 4.25 4 4
Peter Liney Into the Flame 16 3.88 3 2.25
David Wingrove The Empire of Time 26 3.42 1
Katrina Mountfort Future Perfect 7 4.43 2 3
James Thornton Sphinx: The Second Coming 13 4.15 1 2
Douglas Thompson The Rhymer: An Herodyssey 4 4.75 3
Stefan Jackson Glass Shore 5 4.4 2
Justin Richards The Blood Red City 3 4.67 3 2.5
John Schoneboom Fontoon 0 3 2.5

The shortlist will be announced in early April.

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 30-03-2015

Posted in Uncategorised

What are the best known books set on the Faroe and Åland Islands, and Svalbard?

See note on methodology

Since I did the British-ruled non-sovereign territories of Europe a couple of days back, I felt it only appropriate to do the Danish, Finnish and Norwegian equivalents. (NB that Greenland is not in Europe, nor are Ceuta and Melilla, or French Guiana, etc etc.)

The Faroe Islands

There’s a very clear winner for the Faroes, a Danish novel about a mild-mannered chap who has a fascination with a particular astronaut. It sounds very entertaining:

Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? / Buzz Aldrin, hvor ble det av deg i alt mylderet?, by Johan Harstad

The Faroes don’t do badly in general:

Island of Sheep, by John Buchan
Far Afield, by Susanna Kaysen

Even a couple of novels by Faroese writers:

Barbara, by Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen
Feðgar á ferð / The Old Man and His Sons, by Heðin Brú

The Åland Islands

Not as rich pickings as the Faroes, but at least the top novel is a recently published best-seller by a native writer:

Is / Ice, by Ulla-Lena Lundberg

Not too far behind is a thriller by a British writer.

The Ice Cage, by Olivier Nilsson-Julien

Bonus islands: Svalbard and Jan Mayen

I’m afraid that I’ll have to rule out a well-known children’s fantasy because only a small section of the book is set there:

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman

Svalbard is reasonably well served, in fact, the top book being a horror story set there just before the second world war:

Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver

See also:

A Woman in the Polar Night, by Christiane Ritter
The Solitude of Thomas Cave, by Georgina Harding

Posted in Uncategorised

Shan Mohangi: 95 Harcourt Street, by Kevin Higgins – Irish murder trials of 1963

As Ireland collectively draws breath after the conclusion of a high-profile murder trial, my eye was caught by this account of a similar such event from 1963 – a South African medical student who killed and then dismembered his fifteen-year-old girlfriend, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, and then allowed a retrial on appeal in which he was convicted of manslaughter. I won't go into the sad and grisly details, but there were several things that struck me as interesting incidental colour:

  • Nobody seems to have expressed any surprise that a fourteen-year-old might have a relationship with a man in his early 20s. She had left school, and had a full-time job, so it appears that society considered her mature enough to know her own mind. Mohangi's desire to marry her was seen as a little premature rather than utterly inappropriate. I find this extraordinary. It’s also notable that most recent accounts incorrectly give her age as sixteen.
  • Dublin in 1963 was a lot more multicultural than I had realised. The other tenants of 95 Harcourt Street included Winston Sotubu and Morgan Pillay. On the day Mohangi was sentenced for the second time, the recently arrived Kader Asmal was launching the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement. A lot of Commonwealth students attended the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
  • One issue that isn't mentioned at all in the book is that the victim and the owner of 95 Harcourt Street appear to have been Protestants. The landlord's name was Cecil Frew, which is not a typical Catholic name. The victim's mother was the sexton at the Church of Ireland church in Bray. All the judges, lawyers and police involved appear to have been Catholics. Was this an issue? I simply don't know. (The judges, lawyers and police and probably the juries at both trials were also all men.)
  • The story continues to circulate in Dublin mythology that the death was the result of a botched abortion, but this is decisively disproved by the author.
  • Mohangi was deported back to South Africa after his release in 1968, and became a successful businessman. In 2009, he was unceremoniously dropped from a list of candidates for that year's election because his past conviction came to light. It's a bit odd because a moment's googling found two news articles from 1984 in which he discussed the case perfectly frankly with journalists, in the context of his successful campaign of that year to win a seat in the apartheid South African parliament's chamber representing Indians. Perhaps people had simply forgotten in the ensuing quarter-century.
  • One person who comes out of the business very well, greatly to my surprise, is Charles Haughey. As Minister for Justice since 1961, he had pledged to end capital punishment; with the Mohangi case creating public debate, he rushed the relevant legislation through the Oireachtas, and then (reading between the lines) helped ensure that there was a retrial under the new legislation so that the death penalty would not be possible. Haughey's political legacy is, to put it politely, flawed, but this was a case where he exerted himself politically to do the right thing for a man who was discriminated against by his home country and, though clearly culpable by his own admission, had been the victim of a flawed judicial process in Ireland. Credit where credit is due.

It's not a terribly well-written book, but it is an interesting snapshot of the beginnings of change in Irish society in the background of awful events.

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 29-03-2015

Posted in Uncategorised

What is the best-known book set in Andorra?

See note on methodology

We are getting into the final stretch now, with the first of the micro-states of Europe, perched between Spain and France on the Pyrenees. Today’s winner – far ahead by ownership on Goodreads, and a close second on LibraryThing – is a historical romance about a Scottish mercenary captivated by an Andorran princess – apparently the first of a trilogy about him and his brothers. Published in 2003, set in 1856, it is:

If You Dare, by Kresley Cole

My approach so far has been that if a work is ostensibly set in a particular country, in general it should count. I’ve allowed Shakespeare (and Marlowe) for Denmark and Cyprus (and Malta), and here we have a similar problem: a play set in Andorra, but whose author stipulated whenever asked that he in no way intended it to be set in the real place of that name, but to be considered as a political and human story that could have played out anywhere. Shakespeare would no doubt have made the same defence of Hamlet and Othello, and Marlowe of The Jew of Malta. So today’s runner-up (it’s actually ahead on LibraryThing, but not as far as the other work is on Goodreads) is a 1954 play by a Swiss writer, where perhaps we understand one mountainous country surrounded by more powerful neighbours to stand for another:

Andorra, by Max Frisch

The only other book to score significantly is a 1997 psychological novel of suspense, a man who moves to Andorra after a family tragedy and gets drawn into various unsettling affairs. This too requires a caveat in that the Andorra of the story has a Mediterranean coast, which the real Andorra definitely does not. Its title is also rather obvious:

Andorra, by Peter Cameron

I haven’t found much else.

Posted in Uncategorised

What are the best known books set on the Channel Islands and Isle of Man? (And Gibraltar?)

See note on methodology

Since I started this series with the component parts of the United Kingdom, I guess I should also note those books set in dependent British territories (and Francis specifically asked about the Isle of Man). A later post will cover the Faroe and Åland Islands. 


A clear win for the first book of a Second World War trilogy by a well-known thriller writer:

Night of the Fox, by Jack Higgins

An autobiographical memoir about setting up a zoo is not far behind, but definitely in second place:

Menagerie Manor, by Gerald Durrell


Although Jersey has the larger population, there are a lot more books set on Guernsey. However, it’s a decisive win for a wildly successful epistolary novel of the Second World War:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Strictly speaking the other Channel Islands are politically and administratively part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, so I don’t need to do them (for certain values of “need”). But in for a penny, in for a pound…


Despite extensive research, I’m afraid I am unconvinced that any book set on Alderney qualifies as “well-known”. The best I can do is a murder mystery which has some of the action set there, but as far as I can tell most of it is set in Manchester.

Sleep Tight, by Rachel Abbott


Somehow Sark has captured writers much more than Alderney. The winner, I think, is a 1953 short novel by a well-known fantasy writer. Who remembers the TV version starring Derek Jacobi?

Mr Pye, by Mervyn Peake

Honorable mention for a 1989 murder mystery set partly on Sark, partly on Jersey, but as far as I can tell largely in London, much loved by those who have read it:

The Sirens Sang of Murder, by Sarah Caudwell


Not under its own name, but a 1919 novel by the bloke who actually owned Herm is generally understood as being set there. He is better known for his Scottish work.

Fairy Gold, by Compton Mackenzie

Jethou and Brezhou

Nothing to report.

The Isle of Man

The book most frequently tagged “Isle of Man” on LT, certainly much more popular on both LT and GR than any other with a significant Manx component, is a prize-winning 2000 seafaring novel, which however is mainly set in Australia and on the high seas. For the record, it is:

English Passengers, by Matthew Kneale

The top book by ownership actually set on the Isle of Man is a 2012 murder mystery:

Safe House, by Chris Ewan


Gibraltar gets visible pagecount in several well-known books, alas set mainly elsewhere; but they are an eclectic threesome – the conclusion to a best-selling Swedish trilogy; the first in a long series of nineteenth-century naval tales; and the latest novel by a well-known British spy writer (which actually cites my former boss as partial inspiration for the plot). They are:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson
Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
A Delicate Truth, by John le Carré

The winner for Gibraltar is yet another murder mystery, this time set against the background of a conference of forensic anthropologists:

Uneasy Relations, by Aaron Elkins

Akrotiri and Dhekelia

Again, nothing to report.

Posted in Uncategorised

Thursday reading (a little late)

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Beyond the Sun, by Matthew Jones
Wages of Sin, by Andrew M. Greeley

Last books finished
κ1 (did not complete reread)
Last Resort, by Paul Leonard
The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon
With The Light Vol 8, by Keiko Tobe

Last week’s audios
Requiem for the Rocket Men, by John Dorney
The Entropy Plague, by Jonathan Morris

Next books
A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett
Kushiel’s Justice, by Jacqueline Carey

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 26-03-2015

Posted in Uncategorised

What is the best-known book set on Iceland?

See note on methodology

Some difficult judgements to be made here. A famous 1864 SF novel must be disqualified because only a short but memorable section is set on Iceland, the main action taking place in an underground setting completely implausible to today’s geologists. It is of course:

Journey to the Center of the Earth / Voyage au centre de la Terre, by Jules Verne

Ruling that out, the book that topped the Goodreads ownership by quite a long way was very far behind on LibraryThing, so far behind that I can’t really consider it today’s winner. It was published only in 2013; I wonder if this reflects a recent surge of relative popularity for GR? Anyway, it is a novel about the last woman to be executed for murder in Iceland, in 1854:

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

Second on both LibraryThing and Goodreads is one of the great works of ancient Norse literature. I fear I must disqualify it also, because it too is not set on Iceland, concentrating instead on the great issues of cosmogony and literature – though I’m willing to be persuaded about this. It is:

The Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson

Jockeying for position with it are the third and fourth volumes of Iceland’s most famous series of crime novels. I’m going to proclaim the former of these today’s winner, because it is top on LT, whereas the latter is only third on GR. (Each is fourth on the other system, respectively.) They are:

Jar City / Mýrin  (Inspector Erlendur 3), by  Arnaldur Indridason
Silence of the Grave / Grafarþögn (Inspector Erlendur 4), by  Arnaldur Indridason

But it’s close at the top. Third on LT and fifth on GR is the most famous novel by Iceland’s only Nobel laureate writer:

Independent People, by Halldór Laxness

And not very far behind is the best known of the works of Norse literature actually set on Iceland:

Njál’s Saga / Njáls saga, possibly by Sæmundr fróði

Many more sagas and detective noves fill up the lists.

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 25-03-2015

Posted in Uncategorised

What is the best-known book set in Luxembourg?

See note on methodology

My apologies to Luxembourg. I should have posted this entry yesterday instead of the one for Malta. It was a long day.

This is one of those cases where there is a very clear winner, most owned and most often tagged Luxembourg on both GoodReads and LibraryThing, but which I had personally never heard of – neither book nor author. Published in 2012, it is a thriller about an American woman who moves to Luxembourg when her husband gets a job there, and then discovers that the neighbours are more than they seem. It is:

The Expats, by Chris Pavone

Apart from that, there really isn’t much. In second place, but a very very long way behind, is a self-published 2010 YA fantasy novel about two sisters who get involved with a magical plot in the caves under Luxembourg city:

The Elf of Luxembourg, Tom Weston

The top book by a Luxembourgish writer is also from 2010, and parallels the migration of impoverished Luxembourg farmers to Brazil in 1828 with the arrival of refugees from Montenegro in the Luxembourg of the present day. Published in German, not yet translated into English, it is:

Neubrasilien, by Guy Helminger

We’re in small country territory now, and the pickings are sometimes a bit slim…

Posted in Uncategorised

Links I found interesting for 24-03-2015

Posted in Uncategorised

What is the best-known book set on Malta?

See note on methodology

It took a little calculating here, but there is a very clear winner once all editions and collected works are taken into account. A sixteenth century play, a story of religious conflict, intrigue, and revenge, focusing on a particular religious minority on the island, it is not its author's best-known work but it is certainly the best-known book in the English language which names the place in its title. It is:

The Jew of Malta, by Christopher Marlowe

Three books set on more recognisably realistic Malta also scored well, the first two both set in the 16th century, one concerning the adventures of a Scottish knight in 1551 (the third of a long series of novels about him), the other about a more German adventurer in 1565 (the first of a trilogy). They are:

The Disorderly Knights, by Dorothy Dunnett
The Religion, by Tim Willocks

The other is set in a more recent global conflict, a story of murder against the backdrop of the siege of 1942:

The Information Officer, by Mark Mills

Disqualified due to being only partly set on Malta, but would have scored well:

V., by Thomas Pynchon
Treason's Harbour (Aubrey-Maturin #9), by Patrick O'Brian

And that concludes the European Union part of this exercise.

Posted in Uncategorised

BSFA Best Art

I usually find the award categories for art rather difficult to vote in, because I don't have a lot of confidence in my own taste, and I'm also not familiar enough with the technicalities to easily tell the difference between bugs and features. Four book covers have been nominated, and I find it quite difficult to choose between them:

Wolves Mars Evacuees
Mirror empire Bete

Basically, I like the two on the left more than the two on the right, but find it quite difficult to articulate why.

However, it doesn't matter much, because in my view there's a runaway winner this year which isn't a book cover at all. This picture is copied from the creator's website, and shows the work of art as it was set up in the Exhibition Hall at Loncon 3:

Wasp Factory

Quite apart from it being an amazing and wonderful creation in its own right, it is a lovely salute to Iain M. Banks and a memory of our Worldcon. So my vote goes firmly to Tessa Farmer's Wasp Factory sculpture.

Correction: I used the wrong Mars Evacuees cover above. The correct one is this:


Posted in Uncategorised

What is the best-known book set in Montenegro?

See note on methodology

The book most often tagged “Montenegro” on both Goodreads and LibraryThing must, alas, be disqualified because only a small part of a very long book is set there. It does, however, have one of the best quotes ever about Montenegro (see page 1009):

It is said that a traveller said to a Montenegrin, ‘How many of your people are there? and he answered, ‘With Russia, one hundred and eighty millions,’ and the traveller, knowing there were not two hundred thousand of them said, ‘Yes, but how many without the Russians?’ and the Montenegrin answered, ‘We will never desert the Russians’.

First published in 1942, and dedicated “To my friends in Yugoslavia, who are now all dead or enslaved”, it is:

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West

The top book by ownership on both GR and LT which is mostly set in Montenegro is part of a long series of detective novels which are mostly set in New York, and whose central character is a Montenegrin. He rarely leaves his house and orchids on West 35th Street, but in 1954 he returns home to avenge the murder of an old friend in the appropriately named:

The Black Mountain (Nero Wolfe #24), by Rex Stout

It’s followed very closely on Goodreads – again illustrating Goodreads’ occasional deep reach into local literary traditions – by the national epic poem, published in 1847, written by the man who ruled the country from 1830 to 1851 and describing the bloody exploits of one of his ancestors. It is:

The Mountain Wreath / Горски вијенац / Gorski vijenac, by Prince-Bishop Petar II Petrović-Njegoš

That is very far behind on LibraryThing, where the next book with a Montenegro setting is a 2000 novel about a young botanist who gets caught up in Balkan intrigue in the critical year of 1908. Again appropriately named, it is:

Montenegro, by Starling Lawrence

I’m in a quoting mood today, so here’s another from a literary classic of 1925, in which the title character recounts his experiences of the Great War:

“…every Allied government gave me a decoration — even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!”
     Little Montenegro! He lifted up the words and nodded at them — with his smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro’s warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines.
     He reached in his pocket, and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm.
     “That’s the one from Montenegro.”
     To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look
     “Orderi di Danilo,” ran the circular legend, “Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.”
     “Turn it.”
     “Major Jay Gatsby,” I read, “For Valour Extraordinary.”

Yep, The Great Gatsby himself had been there.

Posted in Uncategorised

BSFA short fiction

There are only three nominees this year, all by women. I’m voting for “The Mussel Eater”, by Octavia Cade, a magical realist fairy tale; you are in little doubt where the story is going from the first few paragraphs, but it’s very well told.

I was not as impressed by “The Honey Trap”, by  Ruth M.J. Booth. There were a couple of jarring tone shifts in the middle of key scenes, and (perhaps I was just too tired while reading it) I wasn’t actually sure what we were meant to understand had happened at the end. But I’m glad I read it.

Last year, I didn’t vote for a Hugo nominee who endorsed acid attacks. I am applying the same to my BSFA votes. That is all.

Posted in Uncategorised

What is the best-known book set on Cyprus?

See note on methodology

The clear winner by ownership here (though not by tagging) is a famous seventeenth century play, set in a version of Cyprus which is so close to Venice that they hear about a planned Turkish invasion in time to send military assistance to prevent it. That of course is not the point of the plot, which is mainly about racism and poisonous jealousy. As with Scotland and Denmark, the English language's best-known playwright wins again with:

Othello, by William Shakespeare

I know I'm inconsistent on how many other books I include in these posts, especially where there is such a clear winner, but I'm going to give you four more, several of which rather unwittingly expose British attitudes to the former colony. That includes a 1989 historical novel set in the fifteenth century, one of a series in which a Flemish adventurer charms his way across Europe. Second on LT, third on GR, it is:

Race of Scorpions, by Dorothy Dunnett

Second on GR, fourth on LT, is one in a series of mildly humorous mysteries featuring an elderly lady detective, who in this 1997 installment leaves her customary base in Middle England to invesgate Northern Cyprus. It is:

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist, by M.C. Beaton

Third on LT, fourth on GR, is an autobiographical account from 1957 of a British official who was actually the colonial government's chief public affairs officer when the EOKA rising broke out in the late 1950s. He is much better known for his fiction, but this is worth a read also:

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, by Lawrence Durrell

Set in the same period, but a work of fiction, is a 2009 novel about the break-up of a military marriage against the background of the disintegration of the country:

Small Wars, by Sadie Jones

The top book on GR by a Cypriot author is a 2009 collection of short stories, some of them clearly allegorical (the collection appears to be originally assembled for this English edition rather than being a translation of an existing Greek collection):

Gregory: and Other Stories, by Panos Ioannides

The top book by a Cypriot author on LT is a 2001 non-fiction work of Orthodox spirituality:

The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality, by Kyriacos C. Markides

Posted in Uncategorised

Thursday reading

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Last Resort, by Paul Leonard
The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon

Last books finished
Grave Matter, by Justin Richards
The Charm of Belgium, by Brian Lunn

Last week’s audios
Encore of the Scorchies, by James Goss
The Backwards Men, by Andy Lane
Jago & Litefoot & Patsy, by Simon Barnard & Paul Morris
Higson & Quick, by Justin Richards

Next books
With The Light Vol 8, by Keiko Tobe
A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett
Beyond the Sun, by Matthew Jones

Books acquired in last week
La Femme, ed. Ian Whates
The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, 1918-1923, by Charles Townshend
The Whole & Rain-domed Universe, by Colette Bryce

Posted in Uncategorised