May Books

Non-fiction: 2 (YTD 19)
Doctor Who and the Communist, by Michael Herbert
Wisdom from My Internet, by Michael Z. Williamson (not finished)

Doctor Who and the Communist Wisdom from My Internet

Fiction (non-sf): 9 (YTD 13)
Jar City, by Arnaldur Indriðason
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Across the River and into the Trees, by Ernest Hemingway
Islands In The Stream, by Ernest Hemingway

The Evolution Man, by Roy Lewis (a tricky classification, but I think it is a comic historical novel rather than fantasy)
Mating, by Norman Rush
The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari
Sharpe's Waterloo, by Bernard Cornwell
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Jar City The Shadow of the Wind Across the River and into the Trees Islands In The Stream The Evolution Man Mating The Egyptian Sharpes Waterloo Anna Karenina

SF (non-Who): 8 (YTD 71)
Stopping for a Spell, by Diana Wynne Jones
The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu
The Affirmation, by Christopher Priest
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
The Battle of the Moy: Or How Ireland Gained Her Independence in 1892-1894, by Anonymous
The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu (Not finished)
The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson (not finished)
The Painted Man/The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

Stopping for a Spell The Three-Body Problem The Affirmation The Goblin Emperor The Battle of the Moy The Deaths of Tao The Dark Between the Stars The Warded Man

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 19)
Synthespians™, by Craig Hinton
Emotional Chemistry by Simon A. Forward
Down by Lawrence Miles
City of Death, by Douglas Adams and James Goss

Synthespians Emotional Chemistry Down City of Death

Comics : 2 (YTD 10)
Amoras vol 1: Suske, by "Willy Vandersteen" [Marc Legendre and Charel Cambré]
Amoras vol 2: Jérusalem, by "Willy Vandersteen" [Marc Legendre and Charel Cambré]

Suske Jerusalem

~7,150 pages (YTD 32,650)
2/25 by women (YTD 34/132) – Jones, Addison
2/25 by PoC (YTD 10/132) – Liu, Chu

Reread: 0/25, YTD 11/132

Reading now:
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Complete Robot, by Isaac Asimov
The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal

Coming soon (perhaps):
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
Sculptor's Daughter, by Tove Jansson
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
The Wind's Twelve Quarters, by Ursula Le Guin
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Meditations on Middle Earth: New Writing on the Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien
The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson
The Sorrows of an American, by Siri Hustvedt
Kushiel's Mercy, by Jacqueline Carey
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
Divorcing Jack, by Colin Bateman
Sleepyhead, by Mark Billingham
Transition, by Iain Banks
11/22/63, by Stephen King
The Redbreast, by Jo Nesbø
Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories, by Michael Moorcock
Palace of the Red Sun, by Christopher Bulis
Sometime Never…, by Justin Richards
Deadfall, by Gary Russell

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The Painted Man / The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

Somehow I acquired two free copies of this book with different titles. It’s not bad first-book-of-a-fantasy-series; the world where humans are besieged nightly by deadly demons, and must ward them off with hastily-drawn magical sigils, is well realised, and the brutality of the human society conveyed effectively. Didn;t grab me sufficiently to make me want to look for the next in the series; my bar for big fantasy series is quite high.

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Links I found interesting for 31-05-2015

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The Voters of Sasquan, updated

A couple of weeks back I crunched some numbers to look at the question of whether this year's Worldcon voters might be measurably either more liberal or more conservative than last year's, comparing the membership figures for Sasquan with those from Loncon 3. This is an update with some new details which I found interesting; there was more to the figures than I had realised.

Last October, The Hill published its ranking (apologies for autoplay voiceover; just turn it off) of the 50 states from blue (which for Americans is left-wing) to red (which for Americans is right-wing). Applying their ranking to the updated Sasquan figures for the 50 states, where 7,335 of Sasquan's 9,000 members live, gives us this table (alas, I had to drop the District of Columbia from my table as the Hill didn't list it, though presumably it would have been off the scale at the top):

State Sasquan Loncon Population %Sasquan %Loncon %USpop Hill ranking
Washington 1463 239 7,061,530 19.9% 6.0% 2.2% 1
Minnesota 147 117 5,457,173 2.0% 2.9% 1.7% 2
Oregon 347 73 3,970,239 4.7% 1.8% 1.2% 3
California 1160 693 38,802,500 15.8% 17.3% 12.2% 4
Rhode Island 13 9 1,055,173 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 5
New York 271 235 19,746,227 3.7% 5.9% 6.2% 6
Massachusetts 330 282 6,745,408 4.5% 7.0% 2.1% 7
Maryland 226 152 5,976,407 3.1% 3.8% 1.9% 8
Michigan 129 78 9,909,877 1.8% 1.9% 3.1% 9
Wisconsin 95 73 5,757,564 1.3% 1.8% 1.8% 10
Maine 22 18 1,330,089 0.3% 0.4% 0.4% 11
Illinois 260 246 12,880,580 3.5% 6.1% 4.0% 12
Hawaii 13 10 1,419,561 0.2% 0.2% 0.4% 13
Connecticut 55 37 3,596,677 0.7% 0.9% 1.1% 14
Vermont 14 7 626,562 0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 15
New Jersey 108 92 8,938,175 1.5% 2.3% 2.8% 16
Delaware 15 10 935,614 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 17
Iowa 95 47 3,107,126 1.3% 1.2% 1.0% 18
Pennsylvania 156 108 12,787,209 2.1% 2.7% 4.0% 19
New Mexico 44 33 2,085,572 0.6% 0.8% 0.7% 20
New Hampshire 42 43 1,326,813 0.6% 1.1% 0.4% 21
Nevada 38 30 2,839,099 0.5% 0.7% 0.9% 22
Ohio 131 102 11,594,163 1.8% 2.5% 3.6% 23
West Virginia 10 8 1,850,326 0.1% 0.2% 0.6% 24
Colorado 171 105 5,355,866 2.3% 2.6% 1.7% 25
Florida 154 107 19,893,297 2.1% 2.7% 6.3% 26
Virginia 224 142 8,326,289 3.1% 3.5% 2.6% 27
Missouri 92 51 6,063,589 1.3% 1.3% 1.9% 28
Arkansas 22 20 2,966,369 0.3% 0.5% 0.9% 29
Kentucky 38 24 4,413,457 0.5% 0.6% 1.4% 30
Louisiana 41 27 4,649,676 0.6% 0.7% 1.5% 31
Tennessee 54 45 6,549,352 0.7% 1.1% 2.1% 32
Indiana 62 41 6,596,855 0.8% 1.0% 2.1% 33
Montana 38 4 1,023,579 0.5% 0.1% 0.3% 34
North Carolina 122 69 9,943,964 1.7% 1.7% 3.1% 35
Georgia 91 58 10,097,343 1.2% 1.4% 3.2% 36
Arizona 136 65 6,731,484 1.9% 1.6% 2.1% 37
South Dakota 8 8 853,175 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 38
North Dakota 5 5 739,482 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 39
Texas 447 234 26,956,958 6.1% 5.8% 8.5% 40
South Carolina 32 23 4,832,482 0.4% 0.6% 1.5% 41
Wyoming 11 1 584,153 0.1% 0.0% 0.2% 42
Utah 106 67 2,942,902 1.4% 1.7% 0.9% 43
Oklahoma 42 23 3,878,051 0.6% 0.6% 1.2% 44
Nebraska 26 24 1,881,503 0.4% 0.6% 0.6% 45
Mississippi 6 7 2,994,079 0.1% 0.2% 0.9% 46
Kansas 54 37 2,904,021 0.7% 0.9% 0.9% 47
Idaho 101 11 1,634,464 1.4% 0.3% 0.5% 48
Alaska 23 12 736,732 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 49
Alabama 46 50 4,849,377 0.6% 1.2% 1.5% 50

The median US inhabitant, on The Hill's ranking, lives in Ohio, the 23rd most liberal state; 49.14% of Americans live in more liberal states, 47.22% live in more conservative states.

Half of all Loncon 3 members from the 50 US states lived in the most liberal 12 of those states: Washington, Minnesota, Oregon, California, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine and Illinois.

Given the fact that Sasquan is taking place in the Pacific Northwest, it will not be a big surprise that its membership is more skewed. More than half of Sasquan's members from the 50 US states live in Washington, Minnesota, Oregon, California, Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts, which together represent 26% of the population of the 50. The other 43 states account for only 49% of Sasquan's members. 70.53% of Sasquan members from the 50 states live in states that are at least as liberal as Ohio, which as noted above is where the median inhabitant of the 50 states lives.

Of course, I have no information about whether Sasquan members are in general more or less liberal or conservative than the rest of the people living in their states. But it is pretty clear that Sasquan members are considerably more likely to come from liberal states than from conservative ones.

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Amoras: vol 1, Suske + vol 2, Jérusalem, by Charel Cambré & Marc Legendre

This comics series is described as a spinoff from the classic Flemish strip Suske en Wiske – but it's a bit odd to describe it as a spinoff when the main characters are the same, only a bit older than we are used to seeing them, in a comic aimed at the more mature reader than Suske en Wiske's target audience. Since it's set later in the characters' timeline than the mainsequence, one can't call it a prequel either. A "laterquel", perhaps?

Anyway, in the midst of a global ecological crisis (set in the present day), Suske and Wiske are accidentally propelled forward in time by Professor Barabas's machine to the island of Amoras in the year 2047 (they first met there in a strip published in 1947), where post-apocalyptic tribes are battling it out for control of, er, something, and the evil villain Krimson (also a staple of the main sequence) appears to be pulling the strings in both time settings. Suske becomes separated from from Wiske (who is gravely injured and apparently dead, though we know better) and falls in with Jérusalem, a violent and attractive young woman. Back in our timeline, Jerom attempts to rescue the kids and deal with the useless Lambik and hopeless Sidonia.

Despite having only a passing familiarity with Suske en Wiske, I caught a lot of the nods to the series' established characters though Wikipedia assures me that there are many more. Charel Cambré's art is really very good – moving the characters who are so familiar in ligne claire style forward to a more realistic (and more mature) portrayal. There is a particularly good sequence of a tsunami in the second volume, with Suske and Jérusalem clinging to a giant clock face as the waves rise and fall. It's not great literature, but I'll follow the series to the end.

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Transit of Earth [sf stories from Playboy]

This is a collection of thirteen sf stories by eleven authors (Clarke and Bradbury are in there twice) published in Playboy between 1958 and 1971. Given the dates and authors, there's not much beyond the usual two-fisted action story here, though they are almost all decent efforts in that genre. The two standout pieces are the title story by Arthur C. Clarke, which I remember once hearing him read on a borrowed audiotape, and the final story which is also the only really New Wave one in the collection, J.G. Ballard's "Souvenir", better known as "The Drowned Giant". I think I only paid a pound or so for this so I can't really complain.

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The science fiction of 1967

Over at Mike Glyer's File 770, there has been extensive discussion of this year's Hugo nominations every day for the last seven weeks, varying from erudite to lyrical to argumentative. A couple of days ago several contributors took a neat digression to look at the Hugo awards for the year of their birth. So I'm doing that here, with the caveat that I was born in 1967 so the relevant Hugos are those awarded in 1968; and I am adding in the Nebulas for 1967 as well.

Jo Walton also did this back in 2011. She likes the works from 1967 very much less than I do, and has also read a lot more of them. She concludes that the shortlists do give a good picture of where sf was that year, though regrets the omission of a number of worthy contenders from the shortlists. Of those that she mentions, I can see that the conclusion of John Christopher's Tripods trilogy, and Alan Garner's The Owl Service, would have fallen through the cracks as YA and British; I must also shout out for Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, published a year after the author's death in 1966 and one of my favourite books of all time.

Best Novel
On both lists:
Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny (won the Hugo)
The Einstein Intersection, by Samuel R. Delany (won the Nebula)
Chthon, by Piers Anthony
Thorns, by Robert Silverberg
Hugo only:
The Butterfly Kid, by Chester Anderson
Nebula only:
The Eskimo Invasion, by Hayden Howard

Lord of Light is one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors, and while I admit it has dated in a lot of ways, I still go back to it as comfort reading every now and then. I guess most people would agree that it was one of Zelazny's best, indeed possibly his absolute best.

I found The Einstein Intersection more accessible than a lot of Delany's later writing. I'm not a huge Delany fan, but I can see that there's something there to be impressed by. Stylistically it makes the more recent nominees look very staid.

I read Thorns as a teenager and remember being somewhat mindblown, but no more detail than that. I have a copy on the to-read shelves. I haven't read ChthonBest Novella
On both lists:
"Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip José Farmer (joint Hugo winner) [Dangerous Visions]
"Weyr Search" by Anne McCaffrey (joint Hugo winner)
"Hawksbill Station" by Robert Silverberg
Hugo only:
"Damnation Alley" by Roger Zelazny
"The Star Pit" by Samuel R. Delany
Nebula only:
"Behold the Man" by Michael Moorcock (Nebula winner)
"If All Men Were Brothers Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" by Theodore Sturgeon [Dangerous Visions]

This of course was the year of Dangerous Visions, the anthology edited by Harlan Ellison which got nine nominations and took four out of seven short fiction awards; it supplied "Riders of the Purple Wage" and "If All Men Were Brothers…" in this category. Of the three winners, the Farmer is probably the least remembered (I complained in 2005 that I found it incomprehensible), with Moorcock's drastic revision of the Crucifixion and the first of many many stories of Pern displaying more staying power. As McCaffrey pointed out in her acceptance speech, she was the first woman ever to win an sf award.

I confess that, Zelazny geek though I am, I had forgotten that Damnation Alley started life as a shorter piece.

Best Novelette
On both lists:
“Gonna Roll the Bones” by Fritz Leiber (won both Hugo and Nebula) [Dangerous Visions]
“Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” by Harlan Ellison
Hugo only:
“Wizard’s World” by Andre Norton
“Faith of Our Fathers” by Philip K. Dick [Dangerous Visions]Nebula only:
"Flatlander" by Larry Niven
"This Mortal Mountain" by Roger Zelazny
"The Keys to December" by Roger Zelazny

Back in the days of my long-abandoned attempt to write up all joint winners of the Hugo and Nebula, I had a detailed look at the winning story in this category, complaining that it wasn't quite as new and cutting-edge as editor Harlan Ellison claimed. It's still a better story than Ellison's own contribution to this category, but the standout piece in Dangerous Visions for me was Dick's "Faith of Our Fathers", bringing together Vietnam, drugs and God. I love the two Zelazny stories as well; I can't remember reading either the Norton or the Niven.

Best Short Story
On both lists:
“Aye, and Gomorrah” by Samuel R. Delany (won the Nebula) [Dangerous Visions]
Hugo only:
“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison (Hugo winner)
“The Jigsaw Man” by Larry Niven [Dangerous Visions]
Nebula only:
"Earthwoman" by Reginald Bretnor
"Driftglass" by Samuel R. Delany
"Answering Service" by Fritz Leiber
"The Doctor" by Theodore Thomas
"Baby, You Were Great" by Kate Wilhelm

A bit of an imbalance here, with only three finalists for the Hugo and six for the Nebula. Both winners are memorable and shocking short pieces. Of the rest, I think I have read the Niven and Delany's "Driftglass", but am not at all sure about the rest.

Other Hugo categories

Best Dramatic Presentation
Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (winner)
Star Trek: “The Trouble with Tribbles”
Star Trek: “Mirror, Mirror”
Star Trek: “The Doomsday Machine”
Star Trek: “Amok Time”

Anyone who complains about Doctor Who dominating the Hugos in recent years should be asked to reflect on this list. Having said that, it's interesting that all of these classic Trek episodes were by writers who were or became established sf writers (Ellison, Gerrold, Bixby, Spinrad, Sturgeon), and are now better known for other things.

Best Professional Magazine
If ed. by Frederik Pohl (winner)
Analog Science Fiction and Fact ed. by John W. Campbell, Jr.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction ed. by Edward L. Ferman
Galaxy ed. by H. L. Gold
New Worlds ed. by Michael Moorcock

If had four stories on the Nebula lists and two on the Hugos. Galaxy also had two Hugo finalists but only one for the Nebula. Analog had "Weyr Search", on both lists; F&SF had one Nebula shortlisted story ("Earthwoman") and nothing on the Hugos; New Worlds had published two on the Nebula list in 1966, but they were eligible for the 1968 Hugos due to publication in Wollheim and Carr's Best Science Fiction of the Year 1967. One story was published in a men's magazine and the rest came from anthologies, Dangerous Visions suppying six stories with nine nominations, and the Nebulas also included two from the Orbit 2 anthology edited by Damon Knight.

Best Professional Artist
Jack Gaughan (winner)
Frank Kelly Freas
Chesley Bonestell
Frank Frazetta
Gray Morrow
John Schoenherr

Best Fanzine
Amra ed. by George H. Scithers (winner)
Australian Science Fiction Review ed. by John Bangsund
Lighthouse ed. by Terry Carr
Yandro ed. by Robert Coulson and Juanita Coulson
Odd ed. by Raymond D. Fisher
Psychotic ed. by Richard E. Geis

Nice to see the Australians getting a look-in.

Best Fan Writer
Ted White (winner)
Ruth Berman
Harry Warner, Jr.

This was the second year that this category was awarded. Both Alexei Panshin and Harlan Ellison were nominated but declined.

Best Fan Artist
George Barr (winner)
Bjo Trimble
Johnny Chambers
Steve Stiles
Arthur “ATom” Thomson

This was the second year that this category was awarded, and was also Steve Stiles' second time as a finalist in this category. He is on the ballot again in 2015, for the 14th time. He has never won (and I'm afraid I'm not voting for him this year either).


Those who complain about left-wingers who have abandoned traditional science fiction taking over the Hugos would have had much firmer grounds for complaint in 1968 than they do now. Evil diversity struck that year as for the first time a woman won a Hugo and a black writer won two Nebulas! Worst of all, six of the nine fiction awards went to writers who had signed the advertisement in Galaxy opposing US participation in the Vietnam war (the other three going to Moorcock, Zelazny and Mccaffrey); only two of those who took the pro-war side even got nominated (Larry Niven and Thedore L. Thomas).

But the other thing that must strike anyone who has browsed the short fiction of that year, and compared it to the Hugo finalists of 2015, is how very much better and varied it is. I will never be a fan of "Riders of the Purple Wage", but at least it is aiming high, and for a lot of readers it clearly achieved it at the time (and continues to do so for some). It is a hugely different story from "Weyr Search", with which it shared the Hugo, and the Nebula-winning "Behold the Man" is hugely different from both. This year the slate-mongers have given us three short fction ballots of conformity, conservatism (in a literary sense) and lack of ambition. I don't know about you, but I am rejecting them all.

2015 Hugos: Initial observations | Voting No Award above the slates | How the slate was(n’t) crowdsourced | Where the new voters are | Considering 1967
Best Novel | Short fiction | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Pro and Fan Artist

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The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari

Published in 1945, this was apparently a huge classic in the middle of last century, described as the best known book written in Finnish (Tove Jansson wrote in Swedish), the only Finnish book ever adapted to become a Hollywood movie, and the best-selling translated novel in America until The Name of the Rose.

It's about an ancient Egyptian doctor, Sinuhe, who spends most of the first half of the story travelling through Egypt's neighbours, as far as Crete, Smyrna and Babylon, and then in the second half returns home to participate in the intrigues at the courts of Akhenaton and his successors Tutankhamun and Horemheb (an old friend of the narrator). It was hailed for its "realistic" portrayal of ancient life, which to me tends to signal that it buttressed existing popular conceptions; I definitely felt that the scenes of ideologically driven internal conflict and brutal military suppression of popular uprisings might be drawn from more local experience of mid-century Europe than from any study of ancient Egypt.

It is a solid book of its kind, which would have appealed to the prejudices of mid-century readers while at the same time making them think that the author was informing and enlightening them. Of course, it has a comic slave character, almost all the women are seductresses, and none of the many "Negroes" are named. But there is a decent sense of scale in both space and time, and the reflections of the politics of the day are sufficiently oblique to remain interesting.

It is interesting that the story of Akhenaton became such a popular topic for literature. Agatha Christie wrote a play about him in 1937, and he's also the Pharaoh of Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers which was published in 1943. Of course, his close family connection with Tutankhamun added an extra element of interest. But I wonder how many other ancient rulers had more or less well-documented heretical religious ideas, and have been completely forgotten? I reckon Akhenaton easily beats Julian the Apostate, who is the only other one I can think of. (Unless you count those who won, like Constantine and Henry VIII.)

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Links I found interesting for 29-05-2015

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Thursday Reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
The Complete Robot, by Isaac Asimov
The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal

Last books finished
Amoras v2: Jerusalem, by "Willy Vandersteen" [Marc Legendre]
The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari
City of Death, by Douglas Adams and James Goss
The Painted Man/The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett
Sharpe's Waterloo, by Bernard Cornwell
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Next books
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
Palace of the Red Sun, by Christopher Bulis

Books acquired in last week
City of Death, by Douglas Adams and James Goss

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Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Back in October, a group of us started reading Anna Karenina at the rate of a chapter a dayAnna Karenina once before, maybe 25 years ago, and felt then what I felt on this reading: very absorbed by Anna herself, whose story always pulled me in even though I knew what happens at the end; and generally repelled by the other main character, Levin, who is Tolstoy’s representation of himself without the talent (as his wife put it). I must say that of the two of them it is Levin who I want to shake; he is immensely privileged, finds a woman who loves him, and yet is perpetually dissatisfied with his lot. Anna, on the other hand, makes some quite brave decisions (even if she arguably gets a lot of them wrong) and her tragedy is not that her adultery is karmically punished (as I have heard some people assert) but that the society in which she lives denies her the legal and emotional fulfilment she deserves. Vronsky and Karenin are both bad choices for her, and the consequences are terrible; but did she really have many other attractive options? As Joshua Rothman observes in a long article in the New Yorker, she is one of the best characters in fiction, totally understandable and sympathetic. 

I did find that I disliked Levin a bit less this time round. I still find him one of the least likeable characters in literature, but perhaps he does undergo a moral lesson in the course of the book, learning to be satisfied with being like other people; he ends in the bosom of his happy family, just like all the others mentioned in the book’s first sentence. Yet it’s a bit unsatisfactory for me. Essentially Levin learns to respond to the challenges he sets himself by just not setting them any more, rather than by calibrating either his goals or his methods to fit the world as it is rather than the world as it should be. I can’t see it as a completely happy ending.

One Levin section that I had completely forgotten, but which held me captivated, is the run of half a dozen chapters at the end of Part 6 where he and Vronsky are separately dragged into the Kashin provincial elections, in which Levin’s brother is organising the campaign for a progressive candidate (progressive is of course a relative term here). Levin doesn’t have a clue what is going on, and Tolstoy does a brilliant job of showing us the detail of the political process through the eyes of someone who doesn’t actually understand it. It’s a bit of a sidestep from the main plot – how shocking to find that happening in a Tolstoy novel! – but this psephologist appreciated it.

Well, that was worth doing. I wonder what we will try next?

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City of Death, by Douglas Adams and James Goss

We’ve waited a long time for this!

Back in the days before video recorders, let alone DVDs, Doctor Who stories lived on after first broadcast only in the novelisations published by Target Books (and later by Virgin). In the fullness of time, almost every story ever shown appeared in print – many of them in novelisations by the indefatigable Terrance Dicks, whose lucid if workmanlike style informed the tastes of a generation of fans.

One of the few stories not to get that treatment was the 1979 Fourth Doctor story City of Death, which has a strong claim to being one of the best Who stories ever, written over a wet weekend by the then script editor Douglas Adams, certainly the most prominent SF writer to have held that position, from a story concept by David Fisher, one of the best Who writers of the late 1970s. It is now brought to the page by James Goss, who I personally rate as the best writer of Who prose and audios active at present. (He has, alas, no screenplay experience, so I don’t expect him to be writing any TV episodes soon.)

Goss is not the first Who writer to try and channel Douglas Adams (unsuccessful: Eric SawardGareth Roberts). But he takes it in a new direction, starting off by lulling the reader into a false sense of security with an Adams-esque first chapter, and then settling into adapting from both the script and the final broadcast version for the printed page. As he explains in an afterword, he picks and chooses between the alternatives. Shakespeare here sprained his hand playing croquet (Adams) rather than writing sonnets (Tom Baker’s improvisation). The John Cleese and Eleanor Bron characters have been pursuing a desultory love affair around Paris for days. Most importantly, the Count doesn’t actually realise his own identity until the end of the first episode, and this actually makes a lot of sense. (But he keeps the broadcast version of the story’s funniest line, while explaining how it originated from the script.)

The target audience for this book will be people who already know the story, and I think that they will be satisfied. It’s a different situation from Shada, the unfinished 1980 story by Adams whose novelisation by Gareth Roberts was published in 2012, in that there’s no what-might-have-been mystery about City of Death – we’ve seen it and we know what happens. Goss preserves the spirit of Adams’ script, and probably does a better job of putting it on the page than Adams would have done (he had a habit of revising his own past work without necessarily improving it).

Anyway, for those of us who treasure memories of a former monk from Liverpool courting an Ulster aristocrat by the Seine, this is simply indispensable. And for those who are fans of Douglas Adams, this is, in a way, his last book, reflecting back to the height of his powers. I won’t claim that it’s great literature; but I loved it.

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The Battle of the Moy: Or How Ireland Gained Her Independence in 1892-1894

This is one of the small subgenre of Irish Home Rule future histories published towards the end of the 19th century, most of which forecast disaster for both Britain and Ireland as a Consequnce of Irish self-government; There are a couple of exceptions, including John Francis Maguire's The Next Generation and, as you may have deduced from the title, this anonymous 74-page pamphlet, published in Boston in 1883, thought that Irish independence, never mind Home Rule, would be a Good Thing. You can get it for free here.

It's an interesting scenario, especially for a story written before Parnell's electoral triumph of 1885. The context for the story is one of general European disintegration, as indeed was the case when push eventually did come to shove forty years after writing and thirty years after the story is set:

The year 1892 opened upon a gloomy prospect,—a period of impending strife and conflict in Europe. Eveiy-where discontent was manifest, and people grew more and more restless under the government of kings and princes. Nihilism, Socialism, and Democracy honeycombed and permeated every civilized community. The Russian government, as a last resort to escape destruction, had granted autonomy to long-suffering Poland ; the Turks had retired to the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, whence they came ; and the Greeks, whose territory was now expanded to its ancient domain, occupied Constantinople as their original capital, Byzantium. Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Albania had been consolidated with Dalmatia as a Christian republic, called the Dalmatian League. Norway, separated from Sweden, had become a republic. The people of British North America had asked and had received autonomy, and were now the Republic of Canada. India, taking fire from the example of Christian lands, became restive, and consequently England had sent large bodies of troops thither ; but Ireland still occupied her old position, not as, according to the Act of Union, a component, sovereign part of the Empire, but as a vassal dependency.

The outbreak of a European conflict – Germany, allied with Austria, invades the Netherlands and Belgium – creates Ireland's opportunity; the Irish army, trained in America and with German support, lands near Ballina and fights a decisive battle with the British at the Moy River (I had slightly hoped that the title might refer to Moy in County Tyrone, but it was not to be). There is another battle at Grangegorman in Dublin, in which the Irish/German army unleashes the awesome destructive power of a super bomb, causing the surrender of the remnants of the British garrison, after which the victorious Irish army is welcomed with public celebration into every major city, including Belfast. King Edward's government must therefore sue for peace, and the newly independent Irish state becomes an earthly paradise.

I found it very interesting that the dispositions of the various Irish/German and British troops are given in considerable detail – it's as if the writer had been working out the scenarios with tabletop miniatures on maps of the territory, and I must say that in places it descends into a game report. What the writer misses, of course, is that when the war for Irish independence actually came it was irregular forces on both sides that shaped the outcome, including the police and auxiliary police. If you're writing in 1882 and reading about the Franco-Prussian War and the American Civil War, it's an understandable mistake to make – though the Balkan wars of 1877-79 clearly weren't scrutinised very closely except as news items (as is apparent from the opening paragraph above). One of Shaw's targets in Arms and the Man, written only a few years later and set in 1885, is the armchair war enthusiast who thinks it's all about glorious cavalry charges.

Another point that struck me was the political geography of Dublin, particularly as it relates to the 1916 Rising. Both military plans, from this book and real life, were fairly crazy. The Battle of the Moy has a victorious insurgent army coming in from the northwest and overwhelming the Brits after the Grangegorman kerfuffle. Pearse and Connolly seized the General Post Office, but failed to assert control of either Dublin Castle or indeed the actual phone exchange. But the wider point is that while we now think of the government quarter of Dublin as being in the block centred on Leinster House, in both 1882 and 1916 it was really Dublin Castle with an extension down to the Four Courts. I don't think there were any government buildings on Merrion Square until the Department of Agriculture arrived there in 1899. (The Battle of Moy is inconsistent as to whether the Irish Parliament returns to College Green before or after independence.)

Anyway, a short future history book of the past, well worth looking at if you are familiar with Irish geography and history, probably not otherwise. I wonder who wrote it?

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Links I found interesting for 25-05-2015

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My votes in the Hugo Artist categories

Best Fan Artist is the only category which was left un-piddled on by the slatemongers. As usual, it's a mixture of familiar names and new; also as usual, I find the new ones more interesting. And they managed to get on the ballot with no need for an organised campaign…

My ranking:

5) Steve Stiles
4) Brad Foster
3) Niini Aalto
2) Spring Schoenhuth
1) Elizabeth Leggett

My ranking is very similar to that of Joe Sherry. He is rather mercilessly wielding “No Award” after his top two. Certainly I too am being more merciless than usual in voting “No Award” this year, and not only on the slate candidates; I may also put it third, but I will also rank those finalists that I put below “No Award” in this category.

For Best Professional Artist, there is only one non-slate finalist, Julie Dillon. I'll be honest; I prefer at least one of the other artists to her, but I am voting for “No Award” against any finalist whose place on the ballot has been secured as part of a political campaign by a racist misogynist. This does not reflect on the artists themselves, whose interests and motives do not concern me here. But I'm taking the reflections of Matt Foster very seriously, and I think I will simply vote 1) No Award, 2) Julie Dillon this year. We have been denied a proper vote in this category, as in so many others.

2015 Hugos: Initial observations | Voting No Award above the slates | How the slate was(n’t) crowdsourced | Where the new voters are
Best Novel | Short fiction | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Pro and Fan Artist | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), Best Fan Writer, John W. Campbell Award

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The Evolution Man, by Roy Lewis

I have on the shelf another of Lewis’s novels, The Extraordinary Reign of King Ludd, set in an alternate history where the 1848 revolutions succeeded and the crowns of the British and Mughal Empires were united in marriage. Eighty years on, King-Emperor George Akbar I is struggling with technology; I don’t remember a lot else except that I think there was another revolution at the end.

I got hold of The Evolution Man (aka What We Did to Father aka How I Ate My Father aka Once upon an Ice Age) after reading Terry Pratchett’s repeated recommendations in A Slip of the Keyboard. It really is hilarious, a novel of cavemen who talk to each other in mid-twentieth century schoolboy prose, with names like Oswald, Ernest and Wilbur – clearly aimed in part at William Golding’s The Inheritors, and perhaps also at any number of caveman films. Their father worries about which end of the Pleistocene era they are living at, but invents fire, thus causing a technological revolution. I’m sure that the young Douglas Adams must have read it too; there are strong echoes of the humour of Hitch-hiker here, if anything more so than of Pratchett (though there are shades of Lewis’s the treatment of technology in the early Rincewind/Twoflower relationship). It’s a very short book at 120 pages, and there really is only one joke, but it’s worked through in several different variations to a satisfactory and tasty conclusion.

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Write It Right A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults, by Ambrose Bierce

A style guide for American writers in 1909, some of which must have seemed absurdly pedantic at the time and much of which seems obsolete now (though in a few cases I can regret that the battle has been lost). Here are a few examples of usages to which Bierce objected:

Casualties for Losses in Battle. The essence of casualty is accident, absence of design. Death and wounds in battle are produced otherwise, are expectable and expected, and, by the enemy, intentional.

Conservative for Moderate. “A conservative estimate”; “a conservative forecast”; “a conservative statement,” and so on. These and many other abuses of the word are of recent growth in the newspapers and “halls of legislation.” Having been found to have several meanings, conservative seems to be thought to mean everything.

Demean for Debase or Degrade. “He demeaned himself by accepting charity.” The word relates, not to meanness, but to demeanor, conduct, behavior. One may demean oneself with dignity and credit.

Endorse for Approve. To endorse is to write upon the back of, or to sign the promissory note of another. It is a commercial word, having insufficient dignity for literary use. You may endorse a check, but you approve a policy, or statement.

Expectorate for Spit. The former word is frequently used, even in laws and ordinances, as a euphemism for the latter. It not only means something entirely different, but to one with a Latin ear is far more offensive.

Forebears for Ancestors. The word is sometimes spelled forbears, a worse spelling than the other, but not much. If used at all it should be spelled forebeers, for it means those who have been before. A forebe-er is one who fore-was. Considered in any way, it is a senseless word.

Gubernatorial. Eschew it; it is not English, is needless and bombastic. Leave it to those who call a political office a “chair.” “Gubernatorial chair” is good enough for them. So is hanging.

Imaginary Line. The adjective is needless. Geometrically, every line is imaginary; its graphic representation is a mark. True the text-books say, draw a line, but in a mathematical sense the line already exists; the drawing only makes its course visible.

Insignificant for Trivial, or Small. Insignificant means not signifying anything, and should be used only in contrast, expressed or implied, with something that is important for what it implies. The bear’s tail may be insignificant to a naturalist tracing the animal’s descent from an earlier species, but to the rest of us, not concerned with the matter, it is merely small.

Last and Past. “Last week.” “The past week.” Neither is accurate: a week cannot be the last if another is already begun; and all weeks except this one are past. Here two wrongs seem to make a right: we can say the week last past. But will we? I trow not.

Literally for Figuratively. “The stream was literally alive with fish.” “His eloquence literally swept the audience from its feet.” It is bad enough to exaggerate, but to affirm the truth of the exaggeration is intolerable.

Moneyed for Wealthy. “The moneyed men of New York.” One might as sensibly say, “The cattled men of Texas,” or, “The lobstered men of the fish market.”

Novel for Romance. In a novel there is at least an apparent attention to considerations of probability; it is a narrative of what might occur. Romance flies with a free wing and owns no allegiance to likelihood. Both are fiction, both works of imagination, but should not be confounded. They are as distinct as beast and bird.

Pants for Trousers. Abbreviated from pantaloons, which are no longer worn. Vulgar exceedingly.

Practically for Virtually. This error is very common. “It is practically conceded.” “The decision was practically unanimous.” “The panther and the cougar are practically the same animal.” These and similar misapplications of the word are virtually without excuse.

Proven for Proved. Good Scotch, but bad English.

Responsible. “The bad weather is responsible for much sickness.” “His intemperance was responsible for his crime.” Responsibility is not an attribute of anything but human beings, and few of these can respond, in damages or otherwise. Responsible is nearly synonymous with accountable and answerable, which, also, are frequently misused.

Spend for Pass. “We shall spend the summer in Europe.” Spend denotes a voluntary relinquishment, but time goes from us against our will.

To. As part of an infinitive it should not be separated from the other part by an adverb, as, “to hastily think,” for hastily to think, or, to think hastily. Condemnation of the split infinitive is now pretty general, but it is only recently that any one seems to have thought of it. Our forefathers and we elder writers of this generation used it freely and without shame—perhaps because it had not a name, and our crime could not be pointed out without too much explanation.

United States as a Singular Noun. “The United States is for peace.” The fact that we are in some ways one nation has nothing to do with it; it is enough to know that the word States is plural—if not, what is State? It would be pretty hard on a foreigner skilled in the English tongue if he could not venture to use our national name without having made a study of the history of our Constitution and political institutions. Grammar has not a speaking acquaintance with politics, and patriotic pride is not schoolmaster to syntax.

Entertaining even where one doesn’t agree with him.

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Wages of Sin, by Andrew M. Greeley

This is the last of seven books by Greeley set in and around Irish Chicago in the late twentieth century; the only other one I had read was the first in the series, Virgin and Martyr, which I thoroughly enjoyed many years ago. This was also thoroughly enjoyable, the story of Lorcan Flynn, a mostly respectable businessman who becomes motivated to dig into mysterious events of his youth – how he lost his first love, and the death of her relatives in an unsolved explosion thirty-five years earlier -and starts to uncover answers that are difficult to live with. As was usually the case with Greeley, his protagonists are flawed but have their own kind of integrity (apart from a couple of cartoony villains), and underpinning a lot of is lies an optimistic view of an imperfect church. Not deep literature but a fun read.

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The Startup of You, by Reid Hoffmann and Ben Canocha

I do like to read the odd personal development book sometimes, but in general I like them more than this one, which summarises its approach thus:

How do you survive and thrive in this fiercely competitive economy? You need a whole new entrepreneurial mindset and skill set. Drawing on the best of Silicon Valley, The Start-Up of You helps you accelerate your career and take control of your future–no matter your profession.

The authors mock the What Color Is Your Parachute approach of establishing a clear desired vision, and urge instead an aggressively flexible approach of constantly rethinking your priorities, which to me sounds like an awful lot of work. It seemed to me full of assumptions about personal values and experiences which will apply only to a small subset of people, most of whom are either already very well off or are already well-placed to become so. There is no harm in encouraging people to think creatively, and some of the ideas about networking are actually rather good, but I don’t recommend this particularly strongly.

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Bételgeuse, Tome 2 : Les survivants, by Leo

Something of a middle book in this five-part series: our heroine Kim continues to lead her expedition of a group comprising different human factions deep into the interior of the planetary jungle of Bételgeuse, to try and find the secret of the alien iums. There is a fun swimming scene, and also a vivid sequence of alien creatures wandering through a human settlement causing mayhem. And there is a welcome reappearance at the end. But I’ll hope for a bit more plot in the next volume.

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Thursday reading

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day; getting very near the end now)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari

Last books finished
The Evolution Man, by Roy Lewis
Mating, by Norman Rush
The Battle of the Moy: Or How Ireland Gained Her Independence in 1892-1894, by Anonymous
Wisdom from My Internet, by Michael Z. Williamson (not finished)
The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu (not finished)
The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson (not finished)

Next books
The Painted Man/The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett
The Complete Robot, by Isaac Asimov

Books acquired in last week
Amoras v2: Jerusalem, by “Willy Vandersteen” [Marc Legendre]
Apostata Bundel 2 [Argentoratum + Paulus Catena], by Ken Broeders
Suske en Wiske v 150: Het Spaanse spook, by Willy Vandersteen
Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, by David Kynaston
Sally Heathcote: Suffragette, by Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth, and Bryan Talbot
The Battle of the Moy: Or How Ireland Gained Her Independence in 1892-1894, by Anonymous
The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson 
Big Boys Don’t Cry, by Tom Kratman 
One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, by John C. Wright
Wisdom from My Internet, by Michael Z. Williamson 
The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu

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The Jonah Kit, by Ian Watson

I’m sorry to say that I bounced off this 1977 BSFA Award winner pretty thoroughly. The basic scientific hook, imprinting a dead cosmonaut’s mind onto the brain of a child, is interesting enough, but the general setting of decaying contemporary civilisation is depressing without being completely convincing; whereas the characters are convincingly nasty unpleasant people who it is difficult to get interested in. I bounced off The Miracle Visitors too; Adam Roberts took me to task for that, but has since deleted his post. Well, I have two more Watsons on the shelf, so we’ll see if they can pull me round.

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Links I found interesting for 20-05-2015

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