January Books

Non-fiction: 6
Lois McMaster Bujold, by Edward James
Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien, eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan
Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I, ed. Janet Brennan Croft
The Story of Ireland by Brendan O'Brien
No Official Umbrella, by Glyn Jones
On The Way To Diplomacy, by Costas Constantinou

Fiction (non-sf): 2
Travelling Light, by Tove Jansson
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

SF (non-Who): 12
Jews vs Aliens, eds Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene
A Day In Deep Freeze, by Lisa Shapter
Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef, by Cassandra Khaw
The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton
Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
Touch, by Claire North
Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho
House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie

Doctor Who, etc: 4
Zodiac ed Jacqueline Rayner
Relative Dementias, by Mark Michalowski
Dry Pilgrimage, by Paul Leonard and Nick Walters
Royal Blood, by Una McCormack

Comics: 5
Saga vol 5, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why, by G. Willow Wilson
Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Bételgeuse, tome 3 : L'Expédition by Leo
Thor Volume 1: Goddess of Thunder, by Jason Aaron

7,300 pages
18/29 by women (Brennan Croft, Donovan Janssen, Monro, Levene, Shapter, Khaw, Walton, Hand, Novik, North, Cho, de Bordard, Leckie, Rayner, McCormack, Staples, Wilson)
5/29 by PoC (Barnes, Khaw, Cho, de Bodard, Staples)
Reread: 0

Reading now
Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson

Coming soon (perhaps):

Tik-Tok by John Sladek
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
The Magic Cup by Andrew M. Greeley
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey
Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park
Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
Legacy: A Collection of Personal Testimonies from People Affected by the Troubles in Northern Ireland by BBC Northern Ireland
Gorgon Child by Steven Barnes
The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst
1491 by Charles C. Mann

The Unwritten Vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words by Mike Carey
The Quarry by Iain Banks
How Loud Can You Burp? by Glenn Murphy
Het Spaanse spook by Willy Vandersteen
Walking on Glass by Iain Banks
A People's Peace for Cyprus by Alexandros Lordos
See How Much I Love You by Luis Leante
Short Trips: The Muses ed. Jacqueline Rayner
Citadel of Dreams by Dave Stone
The Sword of Forever by Jim Mortimore

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Extracts from the autobiography of Double Deckers script editor, Glyn Jones

I'm on the road this weekend, so no time to finalise my write-up of Happy Haunting, I'm afraid. Instead, please enjoy these extracts from No Official Umbrella, the 700-page autobiography of Glyn Jones, who was the script editor of Here Come The Double Deckers and also wrote or co-wrote many of the episodes.

(Five pages of anecdotes about auditions before we get back to Double Deckers🙂

And that’s it, I’m afraid, apart from one or two passing references later on.

There is also a little about Doctor Who – along with Mark Gatiss and Victor Pemberton, Jones is one of the few people to have both written a Who story (The Space Museum) and appeared in one (The Sontaran Experiment) – but I’ll save that for when I write the book up properly.

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Friday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
No Official Umbrella, by Glyn Jones
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson

Last books finished
Touch, by Claire North
Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

Last week’s audios

Next books
On The Way To Diplomacy, by Costas Constantinou
Tik-Tok by John Sladek

Books acquired in last week
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson
Faith in Politics, by John Bruton
Les Lumières de l’Amalou, by Claire Wendling
Hardwired, by Walter Jon Williams
A Darker Shade, ed. Jon-Henri Holmberg

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Encouraged by here and here, I bit the bullet and forked out €15 (the first time I’ve bought a music album for myself for over a decade) for the Broadway cast recording of Hamilton, the musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, based on the Ron Chernow biography which I read in 2006, and starring a mainly black cast.

Gosh. It hooked me less than two minutes in:

Well, the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man”
Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland
“Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came, and
The world is gonna know your name. What’s your name, man?”

Alexander Hamilton
My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait…

And then I couldn’t stop listening. I’d loaded up the iPod with the album, and casually thought I’d listen to it on a long walk after a day of travel. But I found I just had to get back to the computer and read through the annotated lyrics right through to the end. It is fantastic.

I love the clever wordplay, including the repeated use of “satisfaction” and “time” and “I will not throw away my … shot” hurtling towards the awful conclusion; I loved the many nods to Les Miserables

What I find interesting is that the audience, including the President of the United States and the First Lady, think it’s rather funny that anyone should try and write a hip-hop opera about the only one of the Founding Fathers who didn’t become President because he got shot dead by the sitting Vice-President in 1804. I don’t think they’re laughing now.

For more info here’s a short documentary about it.

Go get it, listen to it.

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Interesting Links for 28-01-2016

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Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

A book set in a magical nineteenth-century England, with strong shades of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and also Mary Robinette Kowal, and of course pastiche of Jane Austen if she had been interested in scientific magic; but by bringing in the rest of the world, and making her central character an African orphan who unexpectedly becomes Sorcerer Royal, to the dismay of Society, Zen Cho turns a lot of those tropes sideways, and then injects a dose of Faerie and smart young woman with dragons as well. I really liked this and will be considering it seriously for my Hugo nominations and BSFA second round vote (due on Sunday).

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Interesting Links for 27-01-2016

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Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes

I’d read several of Barnes’ collaborations with Larry Niven, but this was my first time reading a solo novel by him – also I think his own first solo novel, published in 1983. It’s a decent techno thriller set in a degenerated California in about 2020, the protagonists a zero-gravity MMA fighter and a dancer, both black in a world that is still ruled by racism. Gangs, dubious technology and medicine, and self-realisation all feature large in the narrative. I have the sequel and will read it.

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Interesting Links for 26-01-2016

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Touch, by Claire North

I greatly enjoyed last year’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Harry August has an unusual experience of consciousness: every time he dies, he is reborn again and has the chance to re-live his life from the beginning. It really blew me away, with its alternate histories intersecting with some harsh questions of how much difference one person could make to the development of science and society in the twentieth century, and whether that would be a good thing. I thought it very well handled, and told with a strong emotional voice. I didn’t blog about it here when I read it (in December 2014) because I was one of the Clarke judges and was maintaining radio silence on submissions; but we shortlisted it, it also made the BSFA shortlist, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Touch also features a narrator who experiences consciousness differently, through having the ability to take possession of someone else’s body simply through skin contact. Set in our contemporary world, there is a whole sub-culture and underground economy of people renting out their bodies to such “ghosts”, along with “estate agents” who broker those arrangements. But there are also those who want to stamp out the ghosts – or at least our narrator – whatever the collateral damage, and unravelling the conspiracy while staying alive is the key driver of the plot. The book begins with an assassination in Istanbul, and climaxes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, taking in various parts of Europe en route, all well sketched with a good sense of location and culture. I really liked it and I suspect it will be on my Hugo nomination list and my BSFA second round vote.

Pictures from yesterday’s Bristol event with the Double Deckers

As posted on Twitter, by several people who were there:

Hooray! And thanks to those who posted from the event.

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Interesting Links for 25-01-2016

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#RetroHugos1941 Some Best Dramatic Presentation thoughts

In 2014 for the 1939 Retro Hugos, we did not have a Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category because there were not enough nominations to make the category viable. (I confess I had not heard of most of the possible nominees.) The Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category included four Orson Welles radio plays and a TV adaptation of R.U.R. (which cannot have been seen by very many of those nominating). The War of the Worlds scored a crushing victory, with 813 first preference votes out of 1058. But there was no cinematic representation on the final ballot – The Brave Little Tailor missed being a finalist by a single vote, and Porky in Wackyland by two.

This year it's a different matter. There are a number of viable and interesting films which could be considered by voters for the 1941 Retro Hugos. The big problem is that most of them are less than 90 minutes, which is the current boundary between the Short Form and Long Form categories. There is wiggle room of 20% either way; a lot of them could be shifted to Long Form as they are 72 minutes or more in length; or alternatively, all but Fantasia and the serials could be classed as Short Form, being less than 108 minutes in length. I guess this year's Hugo administrators will decide pragmatically, on the pattern of nominations. (We won't have this particular problem next year – there will be no Retro Hugos for 1942 because there was no Worldcon in that year.)

Steve Davidson has done us all a service by listing some potential nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation from 1940, here and here. I've been doing a little browsing and have adapted his list, in order of popularity on IMDB, as follows:

PinocchioWikipediaIMDBWhen You Wish Upon A Star. I'm surprised to see this ranked quite so high – I am not sure that I ever saw it all the way through. Anyway it seems that we will soon have a live action version from Disney to compare it with. A shade under 90 mins but clearly belongs in Long Form if that's the way the administrators decide to go.

This has my vote. It's extraordinarily ambitious for its time, and full of myth and fantasy. At 125 mins, the only single-shot cinema release on this list that is too long to be put in Short Form.

The Thief of BagdadWikipediaIMDB
I saw the 1978 version in the cinema when it came out – looks like I have missed a treat with the 1940 version.

Dr. CyclopsWikipediaIMDB
Mad scientist miniaturises visitors to his radium mine. According to John Brosnan (quoted in Wikipedia): "It's a fast-paced, inventive film though the dialogue is awful and the acting is undistinguished with the exception of Albert Dekker's portrayal of Dr Thorkel." Only 77 minutes but clearly belongs in Long Form if that's the way the administrators decide to go.

The Blue BirdWikipediaIMDB
Shirley Temple plays a little girl who goes on a fantasy dream journey in search of the Blue Bird of Happiness, based on L'Oiseau bleu by Belgian Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck. Patriotic fervour may move me to watch this. (Steve Davidson missed it in his list.) A shade under 90 mins but clearly belongs in Long Form if that's the way the administrators decide to go.

One Million B.C.WikipediaIMDB
I'm familiar with the 1966 remake starring Raquel Welch; I'm not sure I need to familiarise myself with this one. 80 minutes but clearly belongs in Long Form if that's the way the administrators decide to go.

The Ghost BreakersWikipediaIMDB
Stars Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard; it's not clear to me that the ghost and zombie are "real"; maybe I'd better watch it and find out? 85 minutes but clearly belongs in Long Form if that's the way the administrators decide to go.

Beyond TomorrowWikipediaIMDB
Three ghosts help two young lovers who they knew in life. (Steve Davidson missed this one too.) 84 minutes but clearly belongs in Long Form if that's the way the administrators decide to go.

The Mummy’s HandWikipediaIMDBin full
Actually recycles bits of the 1932 film The Mummy which it basically rips off. Only 67 minutes, so below the 72-minute cutoff of Long Form eligibility.

Flash Gordon Conquers the UniverseWikipediaIMDB
Steve Davidson lists this in Short Form; it's pretty clear to me that the whole 12 episodes should be considered as a potential single Long Form finalist, at 220 mins in length, which is less than some recent winners.

The Invisible Man ReturnsWikipediaIMDB
Not in fact a sequel to the 1933 Claude Rains The Invisible Man, but using (obviously) the same core idea, in Vincent Price's first horror role. I will check this one out. 81 minutes but clearly belongs in Long Form.

The Invisible WomanWikipediaIMDB
Same again, but played as comedy with an obvious twist in the lead character. 72 minutes, so Long Form / Short Form eligibility in question.

The Green HornetWikipediaIMDB
Another serial listed by Steve Davidson in Short Form, but which clearly should be considered as a potential Long Form nominee for all 258 minutes. However, I'm not convinced that it has sfnal content.

Black FridayWikipediaIMDB
Brain transplant film starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Only 70 minutes, so below the 72-minute cutoff of Long Form eligibility.

The Fatal HourWikipediaIMDB
Listed by Steve Davidson, but I don't see any evidence that it is sfnal (even though it stars Boris Karloff).

The ApeWikipediaIMDB
Stars Boris Karloff as a kindly mad scientist whose attempt to cure a young woman with an ape's spinal fluid goes horribly wrong. At only 62 minutes, it would surely fall into the Short Form category.

Doomed to DieWikipediaIMDB
Sequel to The Fatal Hour

Before I HangWikipediaIMDB
Another Boris Karloff film, in which he plays a doctor facing execution for murder who secretly tries an experimental serum on himself, with unexpected results. At only 62 minutes, it would surely fall into the Short Form category.

Mysterious Doctor SatanWikipediaIMDB
Mysterious Doctor Satan Part1 Return of the…
Another serial, this one originally intended to be a Superman series until rights issues scuppered that plan; mysterious hero The Copperhead prevents Doctor Satan from taking over America.

Son of IngagiWikipediaIMDB
The first science fiction-horror film to feature an all-black cast. Once again, only 70 minutes, so below the 72-minute cutoff.

Weltraumschiff 1 startet (Spaceship 1 is launched) – German WikipediaIMDB (with incorrect date of 1937); in full, with English subtitles:

This is definitely from 1940, not 1937 as some sources say; there is a good article about it here

As you know, Bob, online links to full-length films tend to have a short lifespan. I'd recommend that you have a quick look at these now, and ensure that you are able to watch the ones that interest you at your leisure. I'd be surprised if we are not able to fill out both categories of Best Dramatic Presentation this year. If you are a member of last year's Sasquan, this year's MidAmeriCon II, or next year's Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, you can nominate as long as you join by 31 January, which is a week from today; Worldcon 75's rates go up from that day too, so what are you waiting for?

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Royal Blood, by Una McCormack

Possibly the last Twelfth Doctor / Clara novel, or at least the last we’ll have for a while, this has the TARDIS arriving in a medieval-style society where knights have lasers. It’s good fun, particularly the invocation of the Holy Grail quest, an interesting viewpoint character among the knights, and Clara’s lines in general; there’s perhaps not enough Doctor in it (though he too is well caught), and I wasn’t quite sure in the end how the Glamour here fitted in with its other appearances. But a worthy addition to the shelves.

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Which of David Bowie’s 100 favourite books have you read?

As seems somehow appropriate, there are several different lists in circulating, each claiming to be the authentic tally of David Bowie’s 100 favourite books. I’m using the one from www.davidbowie.com which seems most likely to be canonical. (One of the others has only 75 books on the list.) How many have you read? (I think you can vote with your Facebook or Twitter accounts.)

*not sure about “Tadanori Yokoo”; Yokoo is an artist who doesn’t seem to have published a book with his own name as the title. But it’s in the official list.

Any particular recommendations?

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Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

This has been widely tipped as a potential Hugo finalist, and among the BSFA long list was second on both Goodreads and LibraryThing by number of owners, topping my statistics overall. I am not sure that it will go all the way. I generally liked it – it’s very well rooted in its home culture, which in this case unusually is Poland, the creepy horror of the ancient forest and evil tree magic is very well done, and the narrator is well-drawn (there’s a particularly good couple of chapters where she as a country girl tries to fit into court life in the capital city). But I felt it fell down by relying heavily on two particular YA cliches: first, the narrator, plucked from obscurity to serve in the castle of the local wizard, turns out to be unexpectedly gifted; and second, the magic that she and her colleagues wield is always just sufficient to get us to the next stage of the plot and no more. So I’m not sure that I will vote for it.

I’ll note that Her Majesty’s Dragon, by the same author, was similarly far ahead of the other 2007 Hugo finalists for Best Novel by ownership on online libraries, and topped the poll on first preferences, but in the end came behind Rainbow’s End and Glasshouse, scraping third place from Eifelheim by a single vote (not mine). That was the year that Novik was the only female author nominated in any of the fiction categories.

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Starstruck: Episode 4 of Here Come The Double Deckers

Before I start: A reminder to friends in the Bristol area that Billie and Tiger are appearing tomorrow at the Watershed, 1 Canon’s Road, Harbourside at 11.15 am.

Episode 4: Starstruck (variously also referred to as Star-Struck and Star Struck)
First shown: 3 October 1970 (US), 21 January 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writers: Harry Booth and Glyn Jones
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
David Lodge as 1st Security Man
Hugh Walters as 2nd Security Man
Liz Fraser as Zizi Bagor
Bob Todd, Michael Fleming, Alec Bregonzi, Alan Rebbeck, Douglas Ridley as assorted film crew


Seeking autographs at a film studio, the gang go in pursuit of a glamorous film star's lost dog, and get involved in, successively, a war film, a sea epic, a horror movie, an oriental fable, and a stage show for cute kids. The dog is found and cake is eaten; all ends well except for the humiliated security guards.


A rather impressive dance number based on the Nutcracker ballet, with the Italia Conti Dance School interacting with the Double Deckers.

Glorious moments

This is sheer farce, but also sheer joy to watch. Particular highlights are the quick-setting plaster gag – so good they use it twice – the tumbling war film director, Tiger in the upturned box, and the gang pretending to be dwarves.

Less glorious moments

We never quite understand why the film star Zizi Bagor is supposed to be famous, or why a bunch of strange children chasing a small dog is likely to bring it back to its owner. The final chase scene through the oriental city set maybe goes on a bit.

What's all this then?

This is an excuse to have a decent slapstick caper in a conveniently located studio. The two significant genres of film that are omitted are Westerns – covered in the previous episode – and science fiction – yet to come.

The Highlanders piping their way doggedly into the trenches is presumably a reference to some well-known war film which I have not identified, or possibly to the BBC's 26-part 1964 documetary series The Great War. (Though it may also be a partial reference to the Scottish regiment of the very recent [1968] Carry On Up the Khyber.)

The seafaring scene is pretty obviously a reference to the 1956 Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck, directed by John Huston and written by John Huston and Ray Bradbury.

The horror movie's title is "Dracula and the Mummy Meet Frankenstein", but none of those are suitable for Saturday morning children's TV so all we get is an opening grave. Also, we have ghostly stuff coming up next week.

The gang whistle, carry spades and wear beards in imitation of the Seven Dwarves from the 1937 Disney cartoon. However, they whistle the theme tune to their own show.

The oriental setting could be a reference to the classic 1924 The Thief of Baghdad, the 1955 Kismet, or something else I haven't identified.

The Nutcracker-style dance was a staple of TV Christmas shows of the time; the only surprising thing is that this was shown in October/January.

Zizi Bagor is an obvious reference to the glamorous film star Zsa Zsa Gabor, who will celebrate her 99th birthday next month.

Where's that?

Well, if you are filming a TV series in a film studio, you don't have to go too far to find a location for an episode about running around a film studio, do you? Almost all of this is filmed in Elstree Studios, with a couple of shots of the gang chasing the dog along a canal bank in Borehamwood.

Who's that?

David Lodge (First Security Man, not the novelist of the same name) had a lot of roles playing grumpy men in uniform, be it army, police, navy or (as here) private sector. He was also associated with the Goons before they were the Goons, and was particularly close to Peter Sellers, whose best man he was at Sellers' wedding to Britt Ekland. You will see him here in the 1975 Return of the Pink Panther with Sellers and Catherine Schell, of Space 1999 and also the Countess Scarlioni in teh Doctor Who story City of Death. He was born in 1921 and died in 2003.

Hugh Walters (Second Security Man) appeared three times in three decades in Doctor Who. In 1985 he played Vogel in Revelation of the Daleks, and is killed in the middle of the second episode; in 1976 he played Runcible in The Deadly Assassin, and is killed in the middle of the second episode; in 1965 he played William Shakespeare in The Chase, and is only in the first episode. He had also played Smike in a 1968 televised Nicholas Nickleby, but had since shifted towards comedy. He was born in 1939 and died only last year.

Liz Fraser (Zizi Bagor) was just getting back into acting after a couple of years off. She had been a major star ten years before, rather often as a dumb blonde, again with Peter Sellers (in I'm All Right Jack and Two Way Stretch and in four Carry On films, three of them in the 1960s. She seems to have last worked in 2007 but as she is now 85 that is hardly surprising.

See you next week…

…for Happy Haunting.

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Friday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Touch, by Claire North
Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

Last books finished
Dry Pilgrimage, by Paul Leonard and Nick Walters
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
Royal Blood, by Una McCormack

Last week’s audios
[Bleak Expectations] “A Restoration Re-ruined, Only Even Worse”, by Mark Evans
[Bleak Expectations] “An Already Bad Life Made Worse but Sort of on Purpose”, by Mark Evans
[Bleak Expectations] “A Happy Life Broken and then Mended a Bit”, by Mark Evans
[UNIT: Extinction] Bridgehead, by Andrew Smith
[UNIT: Extinction] Armageddon, by Matt Fitton

Next books
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

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Interesting Links for 22-01-2016

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Interesting Links for 21-01-2016

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Interesting Links for 20-01-2016

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Interesting Links for 19-01-2016

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Dry Pilgrimage, by Paul Leonard and Nick Walters

Next in sequence of the Virgin Bernice Summerfield novels, this time featuring a voyage by sea with an alien species whose life cycle and religious beliefs are worked out in interesting detail, of course largely driving the plot. I thought this was an above average book in this series, with convincing characters among both the humans and non-humans and a compassionate take on the conflict between them.

I am struck, though, that the standard mode of a Bernice Sumemrfield novel seems to involve her being sent on mission rather than staying at home. My memory of the audios is that a lot more of them have her dealing with problems at home base. (Though of course she has been on mission for the last few of those as well.)

Next up: Jim Mortimore’s Sword of Forever.

Interesting Links for 18-01-2016

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Interesting Links for 17-01-2016

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