March books

A slow month again – I really got a bit burnt out by Hugo reading frenzy, and will pace myself better another year.

Non-fiction: 2 (YTD 11)
The Road to Ruin: how Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government, by Niki Savva
Easter 1916: selected archive pieces from the New Statesman

Fiction (non-sf): 0 (YTD 3)

SF (non-Who): 8 (YTD 25)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Mother of Eden, by Chris Beckett
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Wings of Sorrow and of Bone, by Beth Cato
Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell
Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
Glorious Angels, by Justina Robson – did not finish
Naamah's Curse, by Jacqueline Carey

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (YTD 11)
Short Trips: Steel Skies, ed. John Binns
Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry
Another Girl, Another Planet by Martin Day and Len Beech

Comics: 2 (YTD 7)
The Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman et al
House Party, by Rachael Smith

3,500 pages (YTD 14,100 pages)
5/12 (YTD 30/59) by women (Savva, Cato, Okorafor, Carey, Smith)
1/12 (YTD 7/59) by PoC (Okorafor)

Reread: 4 (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Witches of Lychford and Binti)

Reading now
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

Coming soon (perhaps):
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
Selected Stories, by Alice Munro
The Quarry, by Iain Banks
Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
How Loud Can You Burp?, by Glenn Murphy
Het Spaanse spook, by Willy Vandersteen
Walking on Glass, by Iain Banks
A History of Anthropology, by Thomas Hylland Eriksen
The Ragged Astronauts, by Bob Shaw
Master Pip, by Lloyd Jones
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
Quantico. by Greg Bear
See How Much I Love You, by Luis Leante
Short Trips: Life Science, ed John Binns
Prime Time, by Mike Tucker
Beige Planet Mars, by Lance Parkin

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Glorious Angels, by Justina Robson

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘My father was a soldier in the war, a hero,’ a young recruit was saying eagerly. He was seated at the far end of the trestle where the lunch was being laid waste by himself and his twenty-four troopmates.

Probably more a reflection of my state of mind than the quality of the writing, but I’ve given up on this not quite half way through when I realised I had completely lost track of the characters and their motivations. Some excellent sex (in the book! in the book!) kept my attention for slightly longer than might otherwise have been the case.

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Illegal Alien, by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry

Second paragraph of third chapter:


A Seventh Doctor novel published in 1997, featuring Ace and Cybermen in wartime 1940s London; grittily imagined, with good characterisation; one of the better Past Doctor Adventures that I have read. It shares certain resonances with The Doctor Dances / The Empty Child, but is really very true to the spirit of McCoy era Who, to the point that I wondered if it could have been a script in its own right.

As indeed, apparently, it was – submitted for the 1990 season that was never made.

This was the next in the internal chronology of Seventh Doctor novels other than the New Adventures, set immediately after Survival. The next is Matrix, by the same authors, which I read and liked in 2011Storm Harvest, also by the same authors, which I also read and liked in 2011. So April’s Seventh Doctor book will be Prime Time, by Mike Tucker alone.

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My Hugo nominations: The end

The deadline in Thursday night (actually Friday morning our time), but I'm pretty settled on my nominations now. I listed most of them hereBest Fan Artist:
Andy Bigwood
Chris Moore
Jane Stewart
Margaret Walty
Keith Scaife

Best Pro Artist:
Anne Sudworth
Julie Dillon
David Hardy
Fiona Staples

Next, I have (as reported) found a fifth nomination for Best Graphic Story, making my complete ballot in that category as follows:
The Sculptor, by Scott McCloud
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, by Sydney Padua
Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Saga vol 5, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart, Todd Klein

Finally, Best Novel. I found my long-list shorter than I had feared, with eight novels in the mix. In the end, I set aside The Shepherd's Crown, Luna: New Moon and Sorcerer to the Crown, and ended up with:
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson
Mother of Eden, by Chris Beckett
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
Touch, by Claire North
The Just City, by Jo Walton

I must say I am rather looking forward to resuming my usual reading schedule, now that I am no longer Reading For The Hugos – I really found myself running out of reading mojo in the last couple of weeks – and I'm slightly relieved that next year will be a year off Hugo-blogging for me.

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Interesting Links for 29-03-2016

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Easter 1916: selected archive pieces from the New Statesman

Second paragraph of third essay (“From The Later Writings of Mr Yeats”, by J.M. Hone)

Eight or nine years ago Mr. Yeats published a complete edition of his work amid an impression, encouraged by the mischievous memoir-writers and gossips of Dublin that, although still nearer to forty than fifty, he had said all he had to say, and would spend the rest of his life revising old passages, lecturing in America, and conducting the business of the Abbey Theatre. 21 And truly since that time Mr. Yeats has written, or at least published, little, but has spent much time in rewriting old work, chiefly the plays that belong to the repertory of the Abbey Theatre—“ remaking himself,” as he explained in a footnote to the Collected Edition. We may, however, look elsewhere than in new versions of old plays for the remade Mr. Yeats; small though they are, the three volumes that have come within the last few years from the Cuala Press in Dublin—Synge and the Ireland of his Time, Responsibility, The Green Helmet and Other Poems—reveal him plainly enough.

The centenary of the Easter Rising has been being celebrated today. I spent the day travelling from Manchester to Antwerp, so my mind was on other things, but I did download and read the New Statesman's ebook of its own archive pieces from around that time. There are just ten of them, one of which is a classic of world literature in its own right; the others don't actually reflect all that well on the New Statesman's ability to report and analyse. The eyewitness acount provided by an anonymous correspondent reflects only the situation around St Stephen's Green; the reports on the aftermath assume (incorrectly) that the leaders would not be shot, and that Roger Casement would not be exectuted. A report on the state of the print media in Ireland in 1914 correctly spots that Sinn Fein was effectively a one-man band, but fails to track the links of ownership and loyalty between the various Dublin polemicists, and omits the rest of the country entirely. A splendid polemic by Shaw also misses the point, or rather insists on making his own points:

Do not rashly assume that every building destroyed by an enemy is a palatial masterpiece of architecture.

It is greatly to be regretted that so very little of Dublin has been demolished. The General Post Office was a monument, fortunately not imperishable, of how extremely dull eighteenth century pseudo-classic architecture can be. Its demolition does not matter. What does matter is that all the Liffey slums have not been demolished. Their death and disease rates have every year provided waste, destruction, crime, drink, and avoidable homicide on a scale which makes the fusillades of the Sinn Feiners and the looting of their camp-followers hardly worth turning the head to notice. It was from these slums that the auxiliaries poured forth for whose thefts and outrages the Volunteers will be held responsible, though their guilt lies at all our doors. Let us grieve, not over the fragment of Dublin city that is knocked down, but over at least three-quarters of what has been preserved. How I wish I had been in command of the British artillery on that fatal field! How I should have improved my native city.

The last of the prose pieces, an anonymous mid-June reflection on "The Mood of Ireland", reminds us that for a few weeks after the Rising, British government policy actually was to introduce Home Rule for Ireland as quickly as possible; an interesting historical diversion that one could consider as an AH jumping off point. In that case, the wartime Home Rule government set up under Redmond in late 1916 would have still faced the conscription crisis of 1918, and would have either collapsed or been forced into rebellion in turn.

The tenth of the ten pieces is W.B. Yeats' poem, "Easter 1916", which though dated 25 September 1916 by him in its first appearance in book form (in the 1921 collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer) was actually published first by the New Statesman in October 1920 (in an issue otherwise reporting on the Black and Tan atrocities). I had of course studied it at school more than thirty years ago, but it is very instructive to read it in historical context rather than in the context of a bunch of other Yeats poems, which is how readers normally encounter it. As a teenager the strongest impression I took from it was the thrill that all these people knew each other – Yeats had grown up close to the Gore-Booths, Pearse and MacDonagh were fellow-travellers in the cultural sphere, he was in love with MacBride's wife. Now what strikes me is that Yeats himself was just not sure what to think; these people who he knew as flawed human beings, who perhaps he did not like or respect very much as individuals, had none the less changed history; and he isn't sure if he likes what they have done, or if he should admire them any more, but the epic nature of what happened is undeniable. Anyway, every reader must make their own judgement.

Easter 1916
W. B. Yeats
September 25, 1916


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.


Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of it all.


That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near to my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,      
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.


Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse–
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

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Saturday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Glorious Angels, by Justina Robson
Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey
Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker

Last books finished
Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell
Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Last week’s audios
You Are the Doctor, by John Dorney
Come Die With Me, by Jamie Anderson
The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel, by Christopher Cooper
Dead to the World, by Matthew Elliott
The Waters of Amsterdam, by Jonathan Morris
Aquitaine, by Simon Barnard & Paul Morris

Next books
Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park
Another Girl, Another Planet by Martin Day

Books acquired in last week
The Shape Of Sex To Come, ed. Douglas Hill
Collision Course by Robert Silverberg / The Nemesis from Terra by Leigh Brackett
At The Edge Of The World by Lord Dunsany
The Second ‘If’ Reader ed. Frederik Pohl
A Woman In Space, by Sara Cavanaugh
The Anything Box by Zenna Henderson
The Creation Machine, by Andrew Bannister
Peculiar Lives, by Philip Purser-Hallard
The Best of Ian McDonald
The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock
Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution, ed. Margarette Lincoln

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Double Deckers – some videos

I’m at Eastercon this weekend, so no episode review – next week I’ll get to Invaders from Mars, one of the most sfnal episodes, by Glyn Jones.

But for those of you who have been wondering what the fuss is about, located several entire episodes, dubbed in French (except the songs), available online. (The show was very popular also in French speaking countries under the title “Autobus à imperiale”). So we have:

Tigrette au volant, the very first episode, Tiger Takes Off (also here) (my write-up here)

Chasseurs d’Autographes, Starstruck (my write-up here)

Les Espiegles Rient, The Pop Singer (my write-up here)

La Course Infernal, The Go-Karters (my write-up here)

There’s also a Russian site that claims to have all 17 episodes up; it seemed a bit slow to me, but you may want to investigate for yourself.

Here’s also a playlist of Double Deckers related videos on Youtube, including a later episode dubbed in French, Un Pour Tous, Tous Pous Un, English title United We Stand.

See you next week!

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My vote for BSFA Best Novel

Eastercon,  I will be in you later today!  A bit later than I originally planned,  because I realised that this is my last chance to see the Pepys exhibition in Greenwich,  so I will do that this morning and get a later train.

Meanwhile, to go with my Best ArtBest Non-Fiction and Best Short Fiction votes,  this is how my thoughts are running for Best Novel.  It is a tough choice – very little to separate my top three,  and I may yet change my mind; also I haven’t yet finished Glorious Angels, so that ranking may change too.  Anyway, without further explanation, my preferences are:

5) The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard
4) Glorious Angels, by Justina Robson
3) Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald
2) Mother of Eden, by Chris Beckett
1) Europe at Midnight, be Dave Hutchinson

Winner to be announced tomorrow night.

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They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

Brian Bilston

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Interesting Links for 25-03-2016

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My votes for BSFA Short Fiction

The deadline is coming up, and I still haven't finished Glorious Angels (which maybe says something in itself), but I have re-read all the short fiction on the BSFA list, and will vote as below. I'm expanding my second-paragraph-of-third-chapter-or-section approach to include the short stories not separately published, with a little difficulty in a couple of cases.

5) “No Rez”, by Jeff Noon

Second paragraph of third section:

and now we move on
away from the projectors’ reach, far away
into the areas beyond the city, where the endless blue fields
touch the endless blue skies
with no visible horizon separating them
only the blue world, endless, endless…
until the blue starts to fray a little
and at last we kiss, Colleen and I
our two faces covered in cloth
our covered mouths, now touching
where our fingers tear the cloth away
and now our eyes are seen, uncovered
the blue cloth on our faces in shreds
and now Colleen reaches out to the distant sky
and her hand touches the sky, a few feet away
the blue cloth sky, and she takes a penknife
clicks out the blade, the tiny shining blade
and slices into the blue
and together, at last, at last, we climb through
and now, at long last, yes, finally

The story has very specific formatting, and only three sections, the last of which has only three paragraphs, so the above is the penultimate para of the whole story. I confess that I did not understand it at all. I must be getting old.

4) “Ride the Blue Horse”, by Gareth Powell

Second paragraph of third section:

The first three were full of plasma TVs, electric kettles, and other unusable junk. The fourth was empty, and the fifth strewn with the discarded rags of a shipment of long-forgotten immigrants.

A vignette about two lads finding an abandoned but usable Ford Mustang in a post-apocalyptic America. Felt to me the wrong length, more like the start of a longer story than a story in it's own right. Also didn't quite seem American enough in setting.

3) Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Second paragraph of third section:

When the officer handed me my astrolabe, I resisted the urge to snatch it back. He was an old Khoush man, so old that he was privileged to wear the blackest turban and face veil. His shaky hands were so gnarled and arthritic that he nearly dropped my astrolabe. He was bent like a dying palm tree and when he’d said, “You have never traveled; I must do a full scan. Remain where you are,” his voice was drier than the red desert outside my city. But he read my astrolabe as fast as my father, which both impressed and scared me. He’d coaxed it open by whispering a few choice equations and his suddenly steady hands worked the dials as if they were his own.

Some people have been raving about this, but I don't really see why. The plot (plucky kid survives alien attack, makes peace between aliens and humans) is hardly original, and the fact that the protagonist's tribal adornments uniquely give her protection against the aliens is pretty cliched. Yes, well written; yes, interesting characters; no, not a masterpiece.

2) “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, by Aliette de Bodard

Second paragraph of third section:

She was alive. She was sane. At least…

This is good stuff – genetic engineering, cyborg spaceships, and tea, all packed together for a big emotional punch about grief and bereavement and moving on. The author is Guest of Honour at Eastercon which may well boost her chances.

1) Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The dry stone walls along the way weren’t in a good state of repair, but as the houses gave way to the edge of the forest, they didn’t look like they were going to fall over any time soon either. These stones had been laid with care by those who knew that all the old crafts had a hidden dimension to them, that the placing of a bonder stone changed everything.

The only story on the list that made it onto my Hugo nomination ballot. Very solid and also moving, an exploration of rural England at the intersection between old and new forces, the evils of Mammon and the good of community, and the necessity of balancing past, present and possible futures. Do I even detect a partial homage to Terry Pratchett? Anyway, I liked it a lot and it gets my vote.

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The Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart, Todd Klein

Second text frame of third chapter:

I’ve found my fifth nominee for Best Graphic Story. In retrospect, I don’t know why it took me so long to pick this up – I generally like Neil Gaiman’s writing, even if I’m not as wowed by him as the hardcore fans are (I went to a book signing with him on the very day I started this livejournal); and a return to Sandman, which was the first extended work I wrote about when I started bookblogging.

I guess I was worried that it could have been pretty awful. I’m glad to say that it isn’t; it’s a thoughtful coda and prelude combined for the ten volumes of the original story, mostly centred around a new plot of Morpheus and a rogue star, with a young girl called Hope as a key ally, which culminates in his becoming weak enough to be captured by a second-rate British magician. Numerous characters from the previous volumes, including Dream’s siblings, make appearances, some more substantial than others. If that were all, it would be a satisfying addition to the Sandman canon.

But that’s not all. Gaiman is often at his best when running up against other creators, and the art here is gorgeous. I’m happy to list Williams, Stewart and Klein as co-creators, because the picturescapes they create will linger with me possibly longer than most aspects of the plot.

I think I’m still voting for Lovelace and Babbage. Or The Sculptor. But I’m not sure, and if this is a finalist and the other two aren’t, I think it may be an easy enough decision.

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Short Trips: Steel Skies, ed. John Binns

Second paragraph of third story (“Reversal of Fortune”, by Graeme Burk):

Mikhail laughed so hard he began to cough. For an instant his vital signs became bee-bop-syncopation and arrhythmia.

The theme of this book is explorations of closed environments, and how the Doctor’s arrival might change them (or not). I couldn’t help but think that the steel sky as a concept is closely related to the TV studio where the programme is actually made. Anyway, the book is divided into four sections each exploring different aspects of this idea; each of the four had a standout story for me, to wit:

1) “A Good Life”, by Simon Guerrier, where neither the villagers nor their apparent imprisonment turn out to be exactly what the Eightht Doctor and Charley expect;
2) “No Exit” by Kate Orman, where a group of colonists have had their reproductive freedom brutally restricted, but what can the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan do about it?
3) “Doing Time”, by Lance Parkin, where convicted prisoners end up worse off than before despite/because of the Fourth Doctor and (first?) Romana;
4) “Cold War”, by my old friend Rebecca Levene, where a participant the human/Silurian conflict undergoes agonising twists of perception witnessed by the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice Summerfield.

No particular turkeys either, I’m glad to report.

Next in this sequence would have been Short Trips: Past Tense, ed. Ian Farringdon, but I read it in 2006. So it will instead be Short Trips: Life Science, ed. again by John Binns.

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Well, I had an interesting journey to work yesterday. Normally I take public transport, but once or twice a month I drive in; and as usual there was a fairly major tailback of traffic at the tunnel that takes you from the motorway to Avenue de Cortenbergh when I hit it at about 0850. But it became clear by the time I reached Rond Point Schuman that this was no ordinary traffic jam; the Rue de la Loi, along which I would normally coast before taking a left turn down Rue de la Science for my office (the green line on my map), was being closed off by serious-looking police, and I ended up taking a very serpentine route indeed, not helped by thinking at one point that it might be smart to double back and then changing my mind. My phone is broken, so I had no idea what was going on, but it was obviously something very serious. (I suppose I could have checked the radio, but I was listening to an audio play, and valued the distraction.)

I finally made it to the office at 1022, those last two kilometres having taken me 90 minutes to drive, to find most of my colleagues gathered ashen-faced in the lobby, greeting me tearfully – I was the only person who was unaccounted for, due to my phone being out of order – and giving me the headlines of what had happened. It’s nice to feel appreciated, still more so when I logged on and saw many concerned messages from friends and family, and even more so when people responded to my posts confirming that I was safe. One of the great things about the interconnectedness of today’s world is that we can often catch up with our friends quickly – Facebook’s check-in system in particular is a source of reassurance.

The horror has hit very close to home. I have flown out of Brussels airport in the morning five times this year, and was originally due to do so again on Friday to go to Eastercon in Manchester (in fact my plans have changed and I’ll take the Eurostar to London for work tomorrow and travel on up by train). My wife was flew out on Monday for a funeral in England and was due to fly back last night; her flight was cancelled and she will now return by Eurostar this evening. Maelbeek metro station (the four-pointed star on my map) is in the heart of the EU quarter, and I go past it almost every day and through it several times a month; a former colleague was actually on the train that was bombed, but fortunately escaped without injuryMaelbeek is actually the wrong metro station to attack – both Schuman, the stop before, and Arts-Loi, the stop after, would surely be much more attractive targets, being much busier intersections on the network (and also both recently renovated as prestige architectural projects). Only two of three planned explosions in the airport happened, the third attacker apparently losing his nerve and running away. To adopt a Trump-ism, these guys were losers.

This happened because they are losing. Less than a week ago, a major figure in the terror movement was arrested in Brussels; perhaps yesterday was revenge for his arrest, perhaps it was rushed into because they were afraid he would start talking (or knew that he already had). On the ground, their allies and sponsors are losing territory and resources in Syria and Iraq. I wrote a week ago about violence as story-telling, in the Irish context. This is an attempt to write a story about the weakness of our interconnected world, attacking places where people travel and meet, where many nationalities and cultures join together and build together.

It is a narrative that must not and will not win. I am not interested in hearing that this is all because of migration. I am a migrant myself; so are my brother and my sister and my wife. I bet we will find that the perpetrators of yesterday’s attacks were all EU citizens, maybe even all Belgian citizens; their victims will have been from a much broader variety of backgrounds (the first formally identified victim was a Peruvian, resident in Belgium for many years, who was checking their flight in the departure hall at Zaventem while her Belgian husband kept an eye on their little twin girls playing in the corridor; a British man who was probably on the Metro has not been heard from). Travel broadens the mind; clamping down on migration now, when it’s clear that the culprits are already here, is a surrender to violence.

Likewise I am not interested in hearing that this is a fundamental problem with a particular ethnic, religious or cultural group. I admit that I’m personally sensitive about this, having grown up as a Catholic in Belfast during the bad old days, when it was not always easy to be myself in England. I think also of my numerous Muslim relatives and friends, many of whom are deeply politically engaged and who have themselves fought against fundamentalist extremism in their own communities. (You never hear about that, by the way, because it doesn’t suit the media narrative to report on it.) Targeting an entire community in retaliation for the actions of a few is also a surrender to violence.

The solution is both stick and carrot – to increase the penetration of these groups by our own intelligence services (and I know that the Belgian VSSE is increasing its capacity, though clearly they are not where they should be) and to shift the political calculus on the streets, so that supporting the state becomes a more attractive option than helping out your own community’s hotheads (and in fact we are most of the way there already). For the rest of us not involved with security or community development policy-making, we must continue to show solidarity with the victims and with each other.

I changed my Facebook icon to overlay it with the Belgian flag yesterday; I am proud of this country, which I now call my own, which finds its way to solutions through peculiar paths, and sometimes combines superficial surliness with a silent determination to just get on with things. I’m also proud of the European project, which is about building and sustaining a vision based on transcending past conflict. I am not interested in hearing the views of those who want to open new conflicts. They are losing. We must win.

And now I shall go and see if I can get a temporary solution for my phone situation, and tidy the house up before my better half’s belated arrival this evening. If you have someone to hug, hug them, and tell them (if you like) that I said so.

(A final word to my ambasssador friend who admits that he was in Washington on 9/11 and in London on 7/7 – please let us know where your next posting is, so that we can avoid it!)

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Alice in Wonderland, and, Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

Second paragraph of third chapter of Alice in Wonderland:

The first question of course was, how to get dry again: they had a consultation about this, and after a few minutes it seemed quite natural to Alice to find herself talking familiarly with them, as if she had known them all her life. Indeed, she had quite a long argument with the Lory, who at last turned sulky, and would only say, `I am older than you, and must know better’; and this Alice would not allow without knowing how old it was, and, as the Lory positively refused to tell its age, there was no more to be said.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Through the Looking Glass:

However, this was anything but a regular bee: in fact it was an elephant — as Alice soon found out, though the idea quite took her breath away at first. `And what enormous flowers they must be!’ was her next idea. `Something like cottages with the roofs taken off, and stalks put to them — and what quantities of honey they must make! I think I’ll go down and — no, I won’t just yet,’ she went on, checking herself just as she was beginning to run down the hill, and trying to find some excuse for turning shy so suddenly. `It’ll never do to go down among them without a good long branch to brush them away — and what fun it’ll be when they ask me how I like my walk. I shall say — “Oh, I like it well enough — “‘ (here came the favourite little toss of the head), `”only it was so dusty and hot, and the elephants did tease so!”’

Of course, I knew these two books very well at one stage of my life, so this was a case of revisiting an old friend who hasn't changed as much as I have since our last encounter. I was very glad that the Puffin edition that we got for F a long time ago has the original Tenniel illustrations; I can't think of Alice in any other way. (Despite the efforts of, inter alia, Tove Jansson, Salvador Dali and Ralph Steadman.) It was also a nice coincidence to come to it so soon after watching Jane Seymour in her first television role as Alice in an episode of Here Come The Double Deckers.

It's striking just how charming and engaging the story is, despite the fact that it makes very little sense. Any child can identify with Alice; for the time of writing, there’s surprisingly little gendering of her behaviour and attributes. The stories explore some quite deep questions of logic and language, which may be lost on many readers but still make some think. Through the Looking Glass is better structured as a story, thanks to the framing chess game, but that may actually work to its own detriment; there’s something charmingly spontaneous about Wonderland. Anyway, very interesting to retread both after many years.

I had thought of getting hold of Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice, which I read as a teenager, before writing this up, but it’s actually quite expensive!

Alice came to the top of my reading list as the book in my catalogue with most LibraryThing owners that I had not yet reviewed online (not counting Watership Down, which I am currently reading at a chapter a week). The Count of Monte Cristo has just nipped ahead of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to be next in the list.

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Interesting Links for 21-03-2016

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Mancunicon sorted

Very glad to say that I have found someone who can’t attend Mancunicon due to family illness, and is selling me their membership. Very sorry not to see this particular person there, but look forward to seeing the rest of you!

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Losing the war on the poor and disabled

I watched the Marr interview with Iain Duncan Smith this morning. It was pretty electrifying. Whitehall has suffered a critical setback in its war on the poor and disabled.

Ten years of rhetoric from Labour and Conservative (and Lib Dem) governments about disability scroungers was corroded into sludge in ten minutes by one of its principal architects. He described the budget as “deeply unfair” and unequivocally opposed the welfare cap. The terms of the UK debate on disability benefits have been changed out of all recognition in the last 48 hours.

I do not warm to IDS who, if he is sincere now, should never have taken the job in the first place. But truths have been told by someone I did not expect to tell them.

(See also: Stephen Bush: “Think Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation is a masterstroke? Sadly, he’s not that clever”)

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Mancunicon membership needed!!!

Although I booked travel and hotel for Mancunicon some time ago, I neglected to check that I had actually bought a membership, and on reviewing both the list of members and my own records it is clear that I haven’t. And they are full (which indicates that deciding to go was a good decision which I should have implemented properly).

If you hear of anyone who isn’t going after all and wants to dispose of their membership – and I will obviously pay today’s price, £75 – please get them to contact me on nicholas dot whyte at gmail dot com, or plus three two four eight nine eight zero five five one four.

Hope to see you in Manchester next weekend…

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House Party, by Rachael Smith

Second frame of third chapter:

F and I went to Brussels Comic Con yesterday, and to be honest it was a bit of a disappointment compared to the Antwerp Convention, which we enjoyed last year and the year before. The cosplay was at least enthusiastic, but otherwise the program items were rather thin and the internal layout bizarre – Jeremy Bulloch and other Star Wars actors, for instance, were jammed into a very narrow but important passage, which rapidly got blocked by autograph hunters meaning that those wanting to go through needed to find a long way round (I got a chance to tease him about Summer Holiday though); a crowded and understaffed catering corner was crushed up against the games section, which in turn (my local expert tells me) was not overwhelming; fan groups seemed to have been banished into a crowded and chaotic side room.

However, in a relatively spacious Artist Alley area near the entrance sat two British comics artists, Rachael Smith and Adam Cadwell, with their stock. My eye was caught by Smith’s Bryan Lee O’Malley-like art, and I picked up this book, apparently her first full-length story. (In the frame above, Siobhan wakes up badly hungover from the eponymous party.) It’s a fairly brief story about three young housemates who decide that they will try to reclaim their youth by throwing a party with the cool kids from the year below who are still at college; it all goes wrong and they wake up sadder, wiser and with aching heads. It’s well observed, particularly the central protagonist Mish (short for Michelle). It’s just a bit of a shame that the nice people in the story aren’t all that smart, and the smart ones aren’t very nice. I guess that’s necessary for the plot to develop in this case, but it’s a barrier to engaging with the characters.

Anyway, I have high hopes that Mancunicon next weekend will be more fun. Hope to see some of you there.

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Interesting Links for 20-03-2016

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