August Books

Non-fiction: 2 (YTD 31)
Drama and Delight: The Life of Verity Lambert, by Richard Marson
Ghastly Beyond Belief, eds. Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman

Fiction (non-sf): 1 (YTD 20)
The Beggar Maid, by Alice Munro

Play scripts: 7
Dido, Queen of Carthage, by Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe
The First Part of Tamburlaine the Great, by Christopher Marlowe
The Second Part of Tamburlaine the Great, by Christopher Marlowe
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe
The Jew of Malta, by Christopher Marlowe
Edward the Second, by Christopher Marlowe
The Massacre At Paris, by Christopher Marlowe

sf (non-Who): 11 (YTD 67)
The Host, by Peter Emshwiller
Merchanter's Luck, by C.J. Cherryh
The Last Theorem, by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl
Oracle, by Ian Watson
A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay
Robot Dreams, by Isaac Asimov
The Sea and Summer, by George Turner
Planet of Judgement, by Joe Haldeman
The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Vol 3: This Mortal Mountain
Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge
Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (YTD 29)
Short Trips: Seven Deadly Sins, ed. David Bailey
Atom Bomb Blues, by Andrew Cartmel
Tears of the Oracle, by Justin Richards

Comics: 2 (YTD 19)
Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment, by Bryan Talbot
Les Lumières de l'Amalou, by Christophe Gibelin and Claire Wendling

6,600 pages (YTD 46,900 pages)
4/26 (YTD 51/165) by women (Munro, Cherryh, Hardinge, Wendling)
0/26 (YTD 10/165) by PoC

Reread: 1 (Watership Down), YTD 13

Reading now
The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4, ed. Mahvesh Murad
Brother and Sister, by Joanna Trollope

Coming soon (perhaps):
Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin
Paper Girls Volume 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Cauldron, by Jack McDevitt
The Collected Stories Of Arthur C. Clarke
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack
A History of the World in Twelve Maps, by Jerry Brotton
The Parrot's Theorem, by Denis Guedj
The Dinner, by Herman Koch
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in honour of Jack Vance, by George R. R. Martin
Winter Song, by Colin Harvey
Angels & Visitations: A Miscellany, by Neil Gaiman
Tolstoy, by Henri Troyat
Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past, by Paul Cartledge
De Mexicaan met twee hoofden, by Joann Sfar
Last Exit to Babylon – Volume 4: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny
SPQR by Mary Beard
AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, ed. Nnedi Okorafor
Short Trips: A Day in the Life, ed. Ian Farrington
Independence Day, by Peter Darvill-Evans
Return to the Fractured Planet, by Dave Stone

Posted in Uncategorised

The Jew of Malta, by Christopher Marlowe

Second speech of third scene (Act 2 Scene 1):

ABIGAIL: Now have I happily espied a time
To search the plank my father did appoint;
And here, behold, unseen, where I have found
The gold, the pearls, and jewels, which he hid.

I just loved this. Barabbas, the Jew of the title, is screwed out of his substantial property by the Christian rulers of Malta, and exacts revenge upon his enemies – at great personal cost, in particular as regards his own beautiful daughter Abigail. I paused after reading the first act, rather hoping that Barabbas would find some way of delivering his Christian oppressors into the hands of the Turks; well, without undue spoilers, I was more than satisfied by the way it ended.

Despite the grim subject matter (large numbers of violent deaths on and off the stage) there’s also a deadpan humour about it, and I felt Marlowe was satirising both the cliches of bloody revenge (which I think are accepted rather less sceptically in Tamburlaine) and the unquestioning anti-Semitism of his times – Barabbas does end up as a villain, sure, but it is very clearly the Christians who have pushed him into it through state-sanctioned theft and humiliation – and if any religious group is subjected to cliche, it is the monks and nuns who were of course a focus of fear and disgust in Marlowe’s England. Machiavelli introduces the play by saying, “I count religion but a childish toy”, and I don’t think that Marlowe is necessarily agreeing with him but I do think he is stressing that Christians can be every bit as evil as non-Christians (Machiavelli was also of course a tremendously loaded figure in Marlowe’s England).

I found Barabbas a better rounded character than Shylock, to whom he clearly is closely related. Of course the Merchant of Venice is probably better in the end – the plot is less linear and more interesting, the other characters apart from the lead better rounded out – but the dialogue between the two plays is more equal than I had realised. And Barabbas gets one of the best lines in the whole of Marlowe, brought up before a tribunal of Christian clerics and accused of all manner of sins:

FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed–
BARABBAS. Fornication: but that was in another country;
And besides, the wench is dead.

I’d really love to see this, more perhaps than any other of Marlowe’s plays. I think the resonances with our own time could be played out in a way that would make an audience of today justifiably uncomfortable.

Posted in Uncategorised

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe

Second speech of third scene (Act 1 Scene 3):

[Faustus invokes Mephistopheles]
FAUSTUS: Sint mihi Dei Acherontis propitii! Valeat numen triplex Jehovae! Ignei, aerii, aquatani spiritus, salvete! Orientis princeps Belzebub, inferni ardentis monarcha, et Demogorgon, propitiamus vos, ut appareat et surgat Mephistophilis. Quid tu moraris? per Jehovam, Gehennam et consecratum aquam quam nunc spargo, signumque crucis quod nunc facio, et per vota nostra, ipse nunc surgat nobis dicatus Mephistophilis!
[“Be propitious to me, gods of Acheron! May the triple deity of Jehovah prevail! Spirits of fire, air, water, hail! Belzebub, Prince of the East, monarch of burning hell, and Demogorgon, we propitiate ye, that Mephistophilis may appear and rise. Why dost thou delay? By Jehovah, Gehenna, and the holy water which now I sprinkle, and the sign of the cross which now I make, and by our prayer, may Mephistophilis now summoned by us arise!”]

This is a play with a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning and the end are very good as Faustus makes his bargain with the devil and as he faces the inevitable price that he must pay. The middle is much weaker; having been granted immense power, all Faustus wants to do with it is play a series of silly practical jokes. The first of his targets is the Pope, but there doesn’t seem to be any further point to Faustus’s antics other than temporary humiliation of the powerful.

I guess it’s partly an indication of the demands of the stage – “Chris baby, we’ve got these clowns in the company, you gotta write something for them, the crowd will love it” – but I felt that Goethe found more interesting things for his Faust to do, at least in Part I (Goethe’s Part II rather disappears up its own erudition). Marlowe does try to turn this around to make it an Awful Warning about the price of knowledge and diabolical deals, but surely the average audience member will feel that we end up with a character flaw on Faustus’s part, in that he doesn’t seem to have considered how to use his great powers, rather than a general lesson for all of us.

Still, one can forgive a lot of Acts II, III and IV for the brilliance of Act I and especially Act V. At a rough estimate 95% of the well-known quotes from the entirety of Marlowe’s works come from Faustus – including, I was surprised to see, “Che sera sera”, but also the better known speeches: Faustus on Helen of Troy:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Mephistopheles, on Hell on Earth:

Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?

As a lapsed historian of astronomy, I have to comment on one of the more obscure exchanges between Faustus and Mephistopheles, which I think Wikipedia gets wrong (and therefore others may get it wrong too):

FAUSTUS. How many heavens or spheres are there?
MEPHIST. Nine; the seven planets, the firmament, and the empyreal
FAUSTUS. But is there not coelum igneum et crystallinum?
MEPHIST. No, Faustus, they be but fables.
FAUSTUS. Resolve me, then, in this one question; why are not
conjunctions, oppositions, aspects, eclipses, all at one time,
but in some years we have more, in some less?
MEPHIST. Per inœqualem motum respectu totius.
FAUSTUS. Well, I am answered.

This is the secret of the universe, part of the new knowledge Faustus is getting as part of his deal. The Wikipedia entry suggests that Mephistopheles’ answer to the third question (“Per inœqualem motum respectu totius” – “because of the unequal motion with respect to the whole”) is evasive and demonstrates that he is fundamentally untrustworthy. I disagree; it is actually Faustus’ question that is a really stupid one, and Mephistopheles’ answer is pithy and perfectly reasonable and accurate. Perhaps it is from this point that Faustus realises that the secret of the universe is not really as interesting as it is cracked up to be?

Posted in Uncategorised

Interesting Links for 30-08-2016

Posted in Uncategorised

Tamburlaine, Parts 1 and 2, by Christopher Marlowe

Second speech of third scene of Tamburlaine, Part One (Act 2 Scene 1):

MENAPHON [describing Tamburlaine]: Of stature tall, and straightly fashioned,
Like his desire, lift upwards and divine;
So large of limbs, his joints so strongly knit,
Such breadth of shoulders as might mainly bear
Old Atlas’ burden; ‘twixt his manly pitch,
A pearl more worth than all the world is plac’d,
Wherein by curious sovereignty of art
Are fix’d his piercing instruments of sight,
Whose fiery circles bear encompassed
A heaven of heavenly bodies in their spheres,
That guides his steps and actions to the throne
Where honour sits invested royally;
Pale of complexion, wrought in him with passion,
Thirsting with sovereignty and love of arms;
His lofty brows in folds do figure death,
And in their smoothness amity and life;
About them hangs a knot of amber hair,
Wrapped in curls, as fierce Achilles’ was,
On which the breath of heaven delights to play,
Making it dance with wanton majesty;
His arms and fingers long and sinewy,
Betokening valour and excess of strength;–
In every part proportion’d like the man
Should make the world subdu’d to Tamburlaine.

Second speech of third scene of Tamburlaine, Part Two (Act 1 Scene 3):

[The imprisoned Callapine asks his guard Almeda for pity.]
Almeda.My lord, I pity it, and with my heart
Wish your release; but he whose wrath is death,
My sovereign lord, renowmed Tamburlaine,
Forbids you further liberty than this.

This is usually discussed as a single play in two parts, and I guess I agree with that, though it is notable that the two parts are set at least twenty years apart – the first ends with Tamburlaine marrying Zenocrate, by the start of the second they have three grown-up sons. I felt it had a tremendous energy; lots of violence and horrible death, a portrait of a monstrous leader who in the end is defeated not by battle but by illness. It’s deliberately over the top, I think, and Shakespeare makes fun of the line “Holla ye pampered jades of Asia!” addressed by Tamburlaine to two captive kings harnessed to his chariot (in Henry IV part 2 II.iv).

A lot of commentators try to read Marlowe’s own views into Tamburlaine, in particular extrapolating his supposed atheism from the scene in Part Two where Tamburlaine burns the Koran. It seemed pretty clear to me that this scene is about Tamburlaine breaking faith with his own former religion, just as he has broken faith with the Christian rulers in the first act and with his insufficiently violent son Calyphas, and we should not mistake the views and actions of the character for those of the author. That’s not to say that Marlowe was not an atheist, just that I don’t find this scene convincing evidence that he was (whereas I do find the opening scene of Dido convincing evidence that he was very comfortable with man-boy love).

I’m perfectly satisfied with Tamburlaine as a new form of entertainment rather than a political statement. This was apparently the first attempt to do an epic in blank verse; there’s also vast amounts of conflict and spectacle – defeated opponents killed in various gory ways, Tamburlaine himself as a dominant character and aspirant force of nature, attempting to shape the world to his own liking and ultimately defeated not by Man but by entropy. It made Edward Alleyn’s reputation when first produced. (It didn’t make William Shatner’s reputation, though he appeared in a Broadway production in 1956 as Tamburlaine’s hanger-on Usumcasane.)

I’ve long been fascinated by the real Timur, and hope that some day I will be able to visit his tomb in Samarkand. Needless to say, Marlowe’s narrative bears only the vaguest resemblance to the real history of his subject. Unlike Dido, where I think there’s a didactic point about taking the Æneid and adding to it rather than varying, the point here is invention rather than history.

Posted in Uncategorised

Dido Queen of Carthage, by Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe

While on holiday, I read the complete plays of Christopher Marlowe, my first encounter directly with his work. It was very interesting; I know Shakespeare to a certain extent (I read/listened to the entire canon a few years ago, starting here), and was struck by both the similarities and the differences between them. Marlowe died, of course, just as Shakespeare was getting started; experts trace several direct references to Marlowe’s works in Shakespeare’s plays.

I have some general thoughts about Marlowe, but I am going to save them to the end. First, I’m going to write up the six (or seven) surviving plays here, one by one, giving you my conclusions at the end.

I’m starting therefore with:

Dido, Queen of Carthage

Second speech of third scene (Act 2 Scene 1):

ACHATES: Why stands my sweet Æneas thus amaz’d?

This is the first play printed in the Complete Works although it’s not clear if it was the first historically performed or written, published only the year after the authors death. Mostly it’s a dramatisation of the Dido story from the Æneid, which would have been been well known to the audience (quite a different situation from the other plays where the stories are more original).

But Marlowe (with input from Nashe) bulks up two elements in particular. First, he gives Dido herself lots more to do and say than Virgil did. She is his only strong female protagonist, and although she is hopelessly and irrationally in love with Æneas (who is not such an attractive character here) this is not because she is a weak woman, it is because she is being toyed with by the gods; having been set up in a difficult situation by divine caprice, she otherwise retains agency to the end.

To the core love story, Marlowe adds a number of other romances (again, unlike his other plays and unlike the original story). Most obviously, the play opens by showing us the man/boy relationship between Jupiter and Ganymede. But there are other non-standard relationships too, and I’m struck that Marlowe was not playing them for laughs but as real situations in the terms of the story.

I wasn’t able to find any audio or video of Dido online. That seems a shame to me; it’s not too complex and I think would be particularly good on audio. It was apparently first written (or at least first performed) by child (=teenage) actors. The Marlowe Society has a good overiew of it here.

Posted in Uncategorised

Death and disability

One of B’s housemates died last week. He was 40, and just didn’t wake up one morning. Like her, he would have been unable to tell anyone that his tummy felt sore, or his chest felt tight, or his head felt funny, and of course it might not have made a difference anyway. (I assume that the necessary investigations into cause of death have been made, and I don’t expect to hear the outcome; we’re not his family.)

I went to see B yesterday for the first time since our holiday (and obviously the first time since her housemate died). She was, simply, sad, and wept tears of grief beside me as we walked in the gardens. I’m sure that she knows that a sad thing has happened and that the chap who used to sleep over there isn’t there any more; I’m certain that she will have picked up on the mood among the carers, who of course are devastated. The cliche is that autistic people lack empathy; this simply isn’t true.

B doesn’t do cuddles, but I was glad to be able to take her out for a small change of scene. I drove her to a couple of favourite walking spots but, while she enjoyed the drive, she wasn’t interested in leaving the car (this is normal enough if she is feeling under the weather) and then required a lot of persuasion to go back to her house at the end of the trip. Again, I’m not terribly surprised that she wasn’t rushing back to the awareness of a new absence.

B’s own lifespan should in principle be the same as anyone else’s, meaning that she may well outlive us by a couple of decades. On the other hand, she too may miss out on diagnosis of some life-threatening condition because she cannot tell anyone where the sore bit is. Neither of those thoughts really helps me sleep at nights.

Posted in Uncategorised

Interesting Links for 28-08-2016

Posted in Uncategorised

Saturday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (finishing up at a chapter a day)
Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge
The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4, ed. Usman T. Malik
Brother and Sister, by Joanna Trollope 

Last books finished
The Sea and Summer, by George Turner
Planet of Judgement, by Joe Haldeman
Les Lumières de l’Amalou, by Christophe Gibelin and Claire Wendling
The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Vol 3: This Mortal Mountain

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

Next books

Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin
Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Short Trips: A Day In The Life, ed. Ian Farrington

Posted in Uncategorised

Third of three posts: the effect of the new rules on the Hugo Awards

Several significant changes to the Hugo rules were ratified by this year's WSFS meeting. Although discussion has tended to focus on the new tallying system dubbed EPH (short for E Pluribus Hugo) by its creators, two of the other amendments can also be retrospectively applied to past voting results – specifically, that there will now be (at least) six finalists in each category rather than five; and that the 5% cutoff for finalists no longer applies. Some commentators, looking just at EPH (to take two fairly representative cases, Jed Hartman and Cheryl Morgan), have expressed disappointment that the consequential changes of EPH are less satisfactory than expected. I think that, taken with the other changes made (particularly the increase of ballots to six finalists while keeping the number of nominations a member can make at five), the picture is a bit more encouraging.

(I wrote a long piece on how EPH works last year. The original proposal is here, and the version passed last weeknd here.)

EPH results have been published (except for the Best Dramatic Presentation categories) for 2014, 2015 and 1940for 2016for 1941. These tables, however, don't take into account the other new rules and just show the effect of EPH if there were five finalists rather than six on the ballot for each category. They also don't show the effects on the Best Dramatic Presentation categories.

Adapting from a table created by Steven desJardins, and adding in some further data, I tabulate below exactly what difference the new rules would have made to recent Hugo ballots, starting with the Retro Hugos for 1939 (awarded in 2014) and for 1941 (awarded in 2016). There's not a huge difference in those two cases, though I think it's worth noting that in both years, one of the additional finalists in the written fiction categories would have been a story by a woman. In one category, there is no change at all, because a fifth-place tie meant that there were six finalists, all six of whom would also have been on the ballot under EPH.

There is one other issue regarding the 1941 Best Novella ballot. Under another change passed this year (Nominee Diversity), no more than two works by a single author or single combination of authors can appear on the ballot in any one category. This would have ruled out one of the three Heinlein stories nominated for Best Novella, probably "Magic, Inc." which was well behind both of the others on nominations (but took second place in the vote). That in turn would have brought in "The Wheels of If", by L. Sprague de Camp (he is co-author of the other two non-Heinlein stories on the ballot, but the rules only exclude a third story by the same group of authors). The next story after that (and the only other one with a decent number of nominations) would have been "Darker Than You Think" by Jack Williamson, which was incorrectly placed in this year's Best Novelette category and subsequently removed.

1939 Retro Hugos

Category Removed Added
Best Novel The Silver Princess in Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson
Best Novella "Tarzan and the Elephant Men" by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Best Novelette "Seeds of the Dusk" by Raymond Z. Gallun
Best Short Story "An Experiment of the Dead" by Helen Simpson
Best Editor (Short Form) T. O'Conor Sloane
Best Editor (Long Form) Howard V. Brown
Best Fanzine Science Fiction Newsletter
Best Fan Writer William F. Temple

1941 Retro Hugos

Category Removed Added
Best Novel Final Blackout, by L.Ron Hubbard
Best Novella (2) "Magic, Inc.", by Robert A. Heinlein "The Wheels of If", by L. Sprague de Camp
"Darker Than You Think", by Jack Williamson
Best Novelette "Fruit of Knowledge", by C.L. Moore
Best Short Story "Let There Be Light", by Robert A. Heinlein
Best Graphic Story Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr Seuss
Best Editor (Short Form) Malcolm Reiss
Best Professional Artist no change
Best Fanzine Detours
Best Fan Writer Art Widner

My initial analysis of the impact of the new rules on the 2014 Hugo ballot turns out to have been too pessimistic. If we have six finalists per category rather than five, I think in almost all cases the ballot would have looked better. Personally, I regret the loss of Fiona Staples from the Best Professional Artist category, but since she came 5th overall in the real ballot, I can't really argue that the voters would have been cheated of a viable candidate for the award. The only other finalist who would have lost their place on the ballot under the new rules came 7th and last in their category under the 2014 rules. Most notably, the change to six finalists per category means that the one Hugo winner who would have lost out, if EPH was brought in with no other changes, would have been able to keep their place on the ballot. NB also that there are two new finalists for Best Short Story due to the abolition of the 5% threshold.

2014 Hugos

Category Removed Added
Best Novel The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Best Novella "How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea" by Mira Grant
Best Novelette "The Litigation Master and the Monkey King" by Ken Liu
Best Short Story "Dog's Body" by Sarah A. Hoyt
"A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel" by Ken Liu
Best Related Work Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, ed. Ytasha L. Womack
Best Graphic Story Locke & Key, Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Best Editor (Short Form) Sheila Williams
Best Editor (Long Form) Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Best Professional Artist (5) Fiona Staples Joey Hi-Fi
Best Semiprozine Clarkesworld ed. Neil Clarke
Best Fanzine Banana Wings eds. Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
Best Fancast (7) The Writer and the Critic
Best Fan Writer Justin Landon
Best Fan Artist Maurine Starkey
Campbell Award Frank Chadwick

And so to the years of the slates. As in the 1941 and 2014 tables, I've indicated the ranking of real-life finalists who would have lost their places on the final ballot under the new rules. I've also marked with a degree sign ° where No Award was given in a particular category, and also where an excluded finalist was ranked below No Award by voters in real life. In 2015, 8 finalists would not have made it to the final ballot under the new rules; in 2016 the number was rather higher, 14. In every single one of these cases, the voters ranked those finalists below No Award, so EPH does not really seem to be removing viable candidates from the process. You will need to decide for yourself if these hypothetical ballots would have been more representative of fan opinion than the real ones, and whether No Award might have won fewer categories if the extra finalists had been available as options for the voters.

2015 Hugos

Category Removed Added
Best Novel (°6) The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson Lock In by John Scalzi
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
°Best Novella (°6) "Pale Realms of Shade" by John C. Wright "The Slow Regard of Silent Things" by Patrick Rothfuss
"The Regular" by Ken Liu
Best Novelette "Each to Each" by Seanan McGuire
°Best Short Story (°3) "A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond "Jackalope Wives" by Ursula Vernon
"The Breath of War" by Aliette de Bodard
°Best Related Work (°5) Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton
Chicks Dig Gaming by Jennifer Brozek, Robert Smith, and Lars Pearson
Best Graphic Story Schlock Mercenary: Broken Wind by Howard Tayler
°Best Editor (Short Form)
(°4) Bryan Thomas Schmidt
(°5) Vox Day
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow
°Best Editor (Long Form) Liz Gorinsky
Best Professional Artist (°3) Kirk DouPonce John Picacio
Galen Dara
Best Semiprozine The Book Smugglers edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
Best Fanzine Lady Business, edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan
Best Fancast The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Best Fan Writer (°4) Dave Freer Abigail Nussbaum
Natalie Luhrs
Best Fan Artist Maurine Starkey
Campbell Award Alyssa Wong

2016 Hugos

Category Removed Added
Best Novel Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwithering Realm by John C. Wright
Best Novella "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" by Usman T. Malik
Best Novelette (°5) "What Price Humanity?" by David VanDyke "Our Lady of the Open Road" by Sarah Pinsker
"So Much Cooking" by Naomi Kritzer
Best Short Story (°3) Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" by Alyssa Wong
"Wooden Feathers" by Ursula Vernon
°Best Related Work
(°2) Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini
(°3) "The Story of Moira Greyland" by Moira Greyland
Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein
You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
Invisible 2, edited by Jim C. Hines
Best Graphic Story (°3) Invisible Republic Vol 1, written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman
(°4) The Divine, written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka
(°6) Erin Dies Alone, written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell
Bitch Planet Volume 1: Extraordinary Machine, written by Kelly Sue DeConick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Saga Volume 5, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt
Best Editor (Short Form) C. C. Finlay
Best Editor (Long Form) (°6) Vox Day Anne Lesley Groell
David Hartwell
Best Professional Artist (°5) Lars Braad Andersen
(°6) Larry Rostant
Julie Dillon
John Picacio
Galen Dara
Best Semiprozine Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater editor and publisher
Best Fanzine Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
°Best Fancast (°2) Tales to Terrify, Stephen Kilpatrick Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman and Peter Newman
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Andrew Finch
Best Fan Writer (°5) Shamus Young
(°6) Douglas Ernst
Alexandra Erin
Natalie Luhrs
Mark Oshiro
Best Fan Artist Megan Lara
Campbell Award (°5) Sebastien de Castell Becky Chambers
Kelly Robson

I did have a moment of concern about EPH before the Business Meeting. It obviously does have an immediate impact in opening up categories which would otherwise be closed by slates – of the 7 No Awarded categories last year and this, the new system would have brought an additional 14 non-slated finalists onto the ballot. But it also seemed to me that EPH risked losing some of the diversity of the ballot through edge effects in non-slated years. However, I had not taken into consideration the additional positive effects of i) the six-finalist ballot and ii) the removal of the 5% threshold, both of which actively increase diversity. In addition, it's now very clear that the real-life finalists that would have been excluded from a six-member ballot by EPH in the last two years all came below No Award in the actual vote, and the two who would have been excluded in 2014 both did exceptionally poorly in their categories, so my previous concern that potentially popular candidates on the final ballot would be excluded by the new nomination procedures appears to have been ungrounded.

All in all, I'm confident that this year's rule changes give the 2017 Hugos a very solid foundation.

Posted in Uncategorised

Second of three posts: 2016 Hugos in detail

I normally like to do these posts on the night, but circumstances prevented me this year. Next year will likely be a different matter…

Results are listed here, full details herehere.


  • All four written fiction categories went to women who had never won a Hugo before, three of them WoC
  • Women also won both Best Editor categories and Best Professional Artist
  • An unusually high number of first-count victories:
    • Best Short Story (Cat Pictures Please)
    • Best Related Work (No Award)
    • Best Graphic Story (Sandman: Overture)
    • Best Fanzine (File 770)
    • Best Fancast (No Award)
    • Best Fan Writer (Mike Glyer)
  • Closest result at the top was Andy Weir beating Alyssa Wong by 34 votes for the Campbell award, second closest was Abigail Larson beating No Award by 84 for Best Professional Artist
  • Abigail Larson won Best Professional Artist despite being third on first preferences with only 16.7%
  • Alyssa Wong got the most first preferences for the John W. Campbell Award but lost on transfer to Andy Weir
  • No Award:
    • won only two categories this year, Best Fancast and Best Related Work
    • came second in Best Short Story, Best Graphic Story, Best Professional Artist, Best Fan Writer and Best Fan Artist
    • came third in Best Editor Long Form, Best Fanzine and Campbell Award
    • came fourth in Best Novelette, Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and Best Semiprozine
    • came fifth in Best Professional Editor, Long Form
  • Closest result in nominations was Julie Dillon (last year’s winner) missing by 14 votes to Larry Rostant in Best Professional Artist
  • The winners of Best Short Story (“Cat Pictures Please”), Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (Jessica Jones, AKA Smile), Best Fan Writer (Mike Glyer) and Best Fan Artist (Steve Stiles) were only on the ballot because others declined nomination or were disqualified
  • Jerry Pournelle and Hello Greedo got the most nominations for Best Editor (Short Form) and Best Fancast respectively, but both came last, behind No Award, in the actual vote

In more detail:

Best Novel: The Fifth Season beat Uprooted by 1373 to 1203, having been ahead at all stages. Uprooted second, Ancillary Mercy third, Seveneves fourth, Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass fifth, all by large margins. Seveneves topped the nominations ballot; Somewhither, by John L. Wright, was 155 behind The Cinder Spires for the last place.

Best Novella: Binti beat Penric’s Demon by 1419 to 1077. Penric’s Demon then gets a very secure second place, followed by Slow Bullets in third, Perfect State in fourth, and The Builders in fifth, all by large margins. Penric’s Demon got the most nominations; Fear of the Unknown and Self-Loathing in Hollywood by Nick Cole was 51 behind The Builders for the last place.

Best Novelette: Tight at the top, but “Folding Beijing” finishes with 1201 to 944 for “And You Shall…” after benefiting from transfers from “Obits”. “And You Shall…” more narrowly wins second place over “Obits”, which comes third, No Award fourth, “What Price Humanity?” beats “Flashpoint: Titan” for fifth, all clear enough margins. “Folding Bejhing” also got the most nominations. Jonathan Moeller declined nomination for “Hyperspace Demons”, thus allowing “And You Shall…” onto the ballot. Sarah Pinsker’s “Our Lady of the Open Road” was 31 nominations behind “And You Shall…”, and would have replaced “What Price Humanity?” as fifth finalist on the ballot under EPH.

Best Short Story: “Cat Pictures Please” gets 1548 first prefs of 2704, 57.2%. No Award clear winner of second place. “Space Raptor” scrapes third place by 30 votes ahead of “Asymmetrical Warfare”, which securely gets fourth place. “Seven Kill Tiger” beats “If You Were An Award, My Love” for fifth. Thomas Mays withdrew “The Commuter” after the ballot was announced, allowing “Cat Pictures Please” to take its place. “Asymmetrical Warfare” got the most nominations. Alyssa Wong’s “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” was 114 nominations behind “Cat Pictures Please”. Under EPH, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” and Ursula Vernon’s “Wooden Feathers” would have replaced Space Raptor Butt Invasion and “If You Were an Award, My Love” on a ballot of five.

Best Related Work: No Award wins a staggering 1872 first prefs of 2545, 73.6%. Between Light and Shadow needs only one count to secure second place. “Moira Greyland” beats “Appendix N” for third place by 44 votes. “Appendix N” securely gets fourth place, and “Safe Space or Rape Room”, which was actually last on most of the early counts, beats “SJWs Always Lie” for fifth. “Appendix N” got the most nominations. Letters to Tiptree was 25 nominations behind Between Light and Shadow for the last spot on the ballot. Under EPH, Letters to Tiptree and You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) would have replaced “The Story of Moira Greyland” and Between Light and Shadow as fourth and fifth finalists on the ballot.

Best Graphic Story: The Sandman: Overture gets 1366 first prefs out of 2171, 62.9%. No Award gets second place almost as securely. Invisible Republic clear third, The Divine clearly fourth, and Full Frontal Nerdity beats Erin Dies Alone by 18 votes for fifth place. The Sandman: Overture was also far ahead in nominations, and Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine was 78 votes behind The Divine for the last spot on the ballot. Under EPH, Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine, Nimona and Saga vol 5 would have replaced Erin Dies Alone, Invisible Republic and The Divine – the only case I’ve seen of EPH bringing three new finalists to the ballot.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: The Martian was 300 votes ahead of Mad Max: Fury Road at every stage, finishing with 1514 to 1226. The other places were equally decisive if not more so: Mad Max second, Star Wars third, Ex Machina fourth and The Avengers: Age of Ultron fifth. Unusually, this also exactly reflects the order of nominations, with Inside Out 258 behind Age of Ultron for the final spot.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Jessica Jones: AKA Smile won by 1151 to 805 for Doctor Who: Heaven Sent and 276 for My Little Pony. Heaven Sent won second place even more decisively. Grimm: Headache came from far behind to beat No Award for third place by 79; No Award then beat Supernatural: Just My Imagination by 6 for fourth place, the closest result of the night; and Supernatural: Just My Imagination beat My Little Pony for fifth place. My Little Pony had the most nominations, and the third highest number of first preferences, but finished in last place overall (though ahead of No Award). Hardhome was 20 nominations behind Jessica Jones for the final spot on the ballot. Tales from the Borderlands: The Vault of the Traveller and Life Is Strange, episode 1 were both ruled ineligible due to being too long.

Best Editor, Short Form: Ellen Datlow was clearly in the lead and won by 1040 to 691 for Neil Clarke. Sheila Williams then beat John Joseph Adams for seond place, and Clarke beat Adams for third place by 85 votes. Adams was far ahead of Jerry Pournelle for fourth place, and No Award then also beat Pournelle for fifth. Pournelle had by far the highest number of nominations. C.C. Finlay was 54 behind Sheila Williams for the last spot on the final ballot.

Best Editor, Long Form: Sheila Gilbert started in the lead and extended it to win by 862 to 768 for Liz Gorinsky. Gorinsky then comfortably beat Toni Weisskopf and No Award for second place. No Award beat Weisskopf for third place by 56 votes. Weisskopf then beat Jim Miz and Vox Day for fourth place, and Minz was far ahead of Vox Day for fifth. Weisskopf had by far the most nominations, far ahead of Anne Sowards who declined nomination. Mike Braff, who got the fifth most nomination (counting Sowards) was ruled ineligible. Anne Groell was 58 behind Liz Gorinsky for the last place on the ballot. Under EPH, she would have replaced Vox Day as a finalist.

Best Professional Artist: Extraordinary stuff here, with No Award getting the most first preferences but Abigail Larson, who started in third place, picking up transfer from Michal Karcz to overtake Larry Elmore and then from Elmore to overtake No Award and win by 918 to 834, the closest result for a Hugo (not counting the Campbell) of the evening. No Award then took second place ahead of Elmore by 104 votes; Michal Karcz also overtook Elmore for third place, by a margin of 12; Elmore beat Larry Rostant for fourth place by 76 votes; and finally Rostant beat Lars Braad Andersen for fifth place by 129. Julie Dillon was only 14 nominations behind Larry Rostant for the final space on the ballot, the nearest miss of any category; under EPH, Dillon and John Picacio would have taken the places of Rostant and Andersen.

Best Semiprozine: Uncanny Magazine had a strong lead and won by 1025 to 596 for Strange Horizons and 375 for No Award. Strange Horizons took a strong second place ahead of No Award; Beneath Ceaseless Skies took third ahead of No Award; No Award then took fourth ahead of both Daily Science Fiction and Sci Phi Journal; and Daily Science Fiction was far ahead of Sci Phi Journal for fifth place. Strange Horizons had the most nominations, with Abyss & Apex 32 behind Daily Science Fiction for the last nomination spot.

Best Fanzine: File 770 crushed all opposition for a first round victory, with 56.3% of first preference votes. Lady Business then beat No Award for second place, No Award took a very secure third place on the first count, and Tangent Online also won on the first count for fourth place. Superversive SF, which had been last on all previous rounds, overtook the Castalia House Blog to win fifth place by a margin of 92. File 770 was also far the lead in nominations; Black Gate declined nomination, allowing Lady Business (which had been far behind) onto the ballot. Journey Planet was 17 behind Lady Business, the second closest miss after Best Professional Artist.

Best Fancast: No Award got a stunning 70% of first preferences here. Most of the votes had no further preference between the finalists; among those that did, Tales to Terrify beat Rageaholic for second place by 37 votes, Rageaholic beat HelloGreedo by a mere 10 for third, 8-4 Play beat HelloGreedo by 54 votes for fourth place, and Cane and Rinse beat HelloGreedo by 40 votes for fifth. Hello Greedo actually got the most nominations; Tea and Jeopardy missed the final spot by 118. Under EPH, Tea and Jeopardy and Galactic Suburbia would have taken the places of 8-4 Play and Tales to Terrify.

Best Fan Writer: Mike Glyer crushed all others with 63.4% of first preferences, and No Award then took second place with 72% of the remaining voites. Jeffro Johnson beat Shamus Young for third place by 37, Morgan Holmes beat Shamus Young for fourth place by 40, and Shamus Young was well ahead of Douglas Ernst for fifth pace. Mike Glyer only made it to the ballot because Zenopus declined nomination; he was 30 ahead of Alexandra Erin for the final spot. Under EPH, Glyer, Erin and Natalie Luhrs would have replaced Zenopus (had they not declined their nomination), Shamus Young and Douglas Ernst on the ballot.

Best Fan Artist: Steve Stiles was well ahead from the start, beating No Award by 1193 to 569. No Award then decisively took second place on the first count. Christian Quinot beat Matthew Callahan by 51 votes for third place, Callahan beat Kukuroyo by 64 for fourth, and Kukuruyo comfortably beat disse86 for fifth. Matthew Callahan got the most nominations. Steve Stiles was only on the ballot because Rgus declined nomination; Megan Lara was 28 behind him for the final spot. Under EPH, the final spot would have gone to Kukuroyo rather than Stiles, if Rgus’ withdrawal stood.

John W. Campbell Award: Alyssa Wong was actually two votes ahead on first preferences, but Andy Weir picked up on transfers to win by 1144 to 1110, the closest result for any award on the night. Wong then emphatically won second place. No Award clearly won third, Pierce Brown fourth, and Sebastien de Castell beat Brian Niemeier for fifth. This was also the order of first preferences. Weir was far in the lead for nominations, and Cheah Kai Wai was 19 behind Sebastien de Castell for the last spot on the ballot.

Obviously a lot to consider here in terms of the effects of EPH, which will be the subject of my next post.

Posted in Uncategorised

First of three posts: 1941 Retro Hugos in detail

Have you recovered from Worldcon? Good. I was travelling all weekend, and then back at work last week, so even if the statistics had been out earlier I couldn’t have easily processed them. This is the first of three posts about what I take from the figures, in this case concentrating on the 1941 Retro Hugos. Official results are here, full stats here.


  • Closest result was “Robbie” beating “Requiem” by 24 for Best Short Story; followed by Slan beating Gray Lensman by 28 for Best Novel.
  • Closest result of any count was Hannes Bok beating Margaret Brundage by 7 for second place in Best Professional Artist.
  • First count victories for Fantasia (Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form) and John W. Campbell (Best Editor, Short Form)
  • Three of the finalists in Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) and Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) had enough nominations to appear on either ballot.
  • Given the smaller vote pool, there were a lot of close results at the nomination stage:
    • The first Tom and Jerry episode, “Puss Gets the Boot”, and the Oscar winning The Milky Way both missed the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) ballot by a single vote. Ghost Wanted missed by 2, The Invisible Woman by 3, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of Fantasia by 4, and five others by 5.
    • The Phantagraph missed the final ballot for Best Fanzine by 2 votes, Detours and Snide missed by 3 votes, and another three missed by 4.
    • Art Widner missed the final ballot for Best Fan Writer by 3 votes.
    • Horton Hatches the Egg missed the final ballot for Best Graphic Story by 3 votes. Two others missed by 5 and one more missed by 6.
    • Final Blackout, by L. Ron Hubbard, missed the final ballot for Best Novel by 4 votes, Twice in Time by Manly Wade Wellman missed by 8 and Typewriter In The Sky by L. Ron Hubbard missed by 10.
      Malcolm Reiss missed the final ballot for Best Editor (Short Form) by 7 votes.

    • “Fruit of Knowledge” by Catherine L. Moore missed the final ballot for Best Novelette by 8 votes, and “Into the Darkness” by Ross Rocklynne missed it by 9.

In detail:

Best Novel: Slan beat Gray Lensman by 360 to 332. Gray Lensman then won second place in a single count. The other places went clearly to The Ill-Made Knight in third place, Reign of Wizardry in fourth and Kallocain in fifth. Slan had by far the most nominations. The Incomplete Enchanter was ruled ineligible (though its two component parts were both on the Best Novella ballot). As noted above, Final Blackout, by L. Ron Hubbard, missed the final ballot for Best Novel by 4 votes and there were other close contenders.

Best Novella: “If This Goes On…” won by 389 to 288 for “Magic, Inc.”, which then took second place with “Coventry” providing a hat-trick for Heinlein by coming third. “The Mathematics of Magic” beat “The Roaring Trumpet” for fourth place. “If This Goes On…” had by far the most nominations. “The Wheels of If” was 15 behind “The Roaring Trumpet” for the final spot on the ballot.

Best Novelette: “The Roads Must Roll” beat “It!” by 388 to 309. “Blowups Happen” then also beat “It!” for second place by 17 votes. “It!” took third place convincingly, “Farewell to the Master” took fourth and “Vault of the Beast” fifth. Votes for “Darker Than You Think”, which had been ruled ineligible at a late stage, remained tallied in the final result. “The Roads Must Roll” also had the most nominations. As noted above, “Fruit of Knowledge” by Catherine L. Moore missed the final ballot for Best Novelette by 8 votes, and “Into the Darkness” by Ross Rocklynne by 9.

Best Short Story: In the closest race for any of the top spots, “Robbie” beat “Requiem” by 369 to 345. “Requiem” then had a first-count victory for second place, far ahead of “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”; “Martian Quest” then beat “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” for third place, and “The Stellar Legion” beat “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” for fourth place. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” did secure fifth well ahead of No Award. “Requiem” had the most nominations (so Heinlein topped all three short fiction categories). Heinlein’s “Let There Be Light” was 12 votes behind “The Stellar Legion” for the last spot on the ballot.

Best Graphic Story: Batman #1 won convincingly by 292 to 135 for Flash Gordon and 126 for Origin of the Spirit. The other places were clear: Flash Gordon second, Origin of the Spirit third, Captain Marvel fourth, The Spectre fifth. Batman also got the most nominations. Captain America Comics #1 was published in 1941 and therefore not eligible. As noted above, Horton Hatches the Egg missed the final ballot by 3 votes; Flash Comics #1 and Prince Valiant missed by 5 and a generic nomination for Flash Gordon missed by 6.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Fantasia won a thumping first-count victory with 62.8% of first preferences. The Thief of Bagdad similarly took second place with 52.8% of first preferences. Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe took third place comfortably, followed by One Million B.C. in fourth and Dr. Cyclops in fifth. Fantasia also had the most nominations. Pinocchio had the second most, but was classified as Short Form, thus allowing One Million B.C. onto the ballot. The Invisible Man Returns was 6 votes behind One Million B.C., but had enough votes to be on the Short Form ballot anyway. Son of Ingagi was 15 votes off the final spot.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Pinocchio won with 308 votes to 268 for “A Wild Hare”. “A Wild Hare” beat “The Baby from Krypton” for second place, “You Ought to Be in Pictures” also beat “The Baby from Krypton” for third, and fourth and fifth places went to “The Baby from Krypton” and The Invisible Man Returns. Pinocchio was also (just) ahead of “A Wild Hare” at nominations stage. Dr. Cyclops and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe got enough nominations to be on the ballot in this category but had been primarily nominated in Long Form and appeared there instead. The Shadow was ruled to be too long to be eligible. As noted above, there were a lot of near misses here: the first Tom and Jerry episode, “Puss Gets the Boot”, and the Oscar winning The Milky Way both missed the ballot by being a single vote behind The Invisible Man Returns, Ghost Wanted missed by 2, The Invisible Woman by 3, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of Fantasia by 4, and five others by 5.

Best Editor, Short Form: John W. Campbell won on the first round with 64.4% of first preferences. Fred Pohl likewise won second place on the first count with 71%. The other places were also very clear: Dorothy McIlwraith third, Ray Palmer fourth and Mort Weisinger fifth. Campbell also had by far the most nominations. Malcolm Reiss was 7 votes behind McIlwraith for the final spot on the ballot.

Best Professional Artist: Virgil Finlay was ahead at all stages and beat Margaret Brundage by 297 to 184. Brundage ran Hannes Bok close for second place, but he eventually secured it by 7 votes, the closest margin of any on the night. Brundage then secured a clear third, Frank R. Paul fourth, Edd Cartier fifth and Hubert Rogers sixth. Rogers, who came last, had the most nominations, narowly ahead of Finlay, who won. Robert Fuqua was 21 behind Paul and Bok for the final spot on the ballot. This is the only category where it is known that EPH would have made a difference, resolving the fifth-place tie between Paul and Bok in Paul’s favour.

Best Fanzine: Futuria Fantasia beat Le Zombie by 235 to 156. Le Zombie beat Voice of the Imagi-Nation for second place, and Spaceways likewise beat Voice of the Imagi-Nation for third. Voice of the Imagi-Nation came fourth and Novacious fifth. Le Zombie was just ahead of Futuria Fantasia at nominations stage. As noted above, it was crowded at the bottom: The Phantagraph missed the final ballot by 2 votes, Detours and Snide missed by 3 votes, and Futurian War Digest, Spaceship and YHOS missed by 4.

Best Fan Writer: Ray Bradbury beat Forrest J. Ackerman by 327 to 230, with the other places clearly falling thus: Ackerman second, Robert Wilson “Bob” Tucker third, H.P. Lovecraft fourth, Harry Warner fifth. Ackerman was ahead of Bradbury at nominations stage. The only other reported recipient of nomination ballots was Art Widener, who was 3 behind H.P. Lovecraft for the final spot.

Under current rules, no more Retro Hugos can be awarded until 2022 (on behalf of the 1947 Worldcon, ie for works and activity of 1946). There were no Worldcons in 1942, 1943, 1944 or 1945, and Retro Hugos for 1946 were awarded in 1996. However, this year’s WSFS Business Meeting passed a change which would allow Retro Hugos also to be awarded for the missing WW2 years. If that is ratified next year, the 2019 Worldcon could decide to hold Retro Hugos for 1944 (ie celebrating work of 1943).

Posted in Uncategorised

Interesting Links for 27-08-2016

Posted in Uncategorised

Robot Dreams, by Isaac Asimov

Second paragraph of third story (“Breeds There a Man…?”):

He was saying, “That’s right! He came in here and said, ‘Put me in jail, because I want to kill myself.’[”]

I have fallen out of love with Asimov much more than any of the other authors whose work I inhaled as a teenager, mainly because I hate cute robots, for which he may not be single-handedly responsible but for which he clearly bears the lion’s share of the blame. However, this collection went some way to reconciling me. The stories I liked least were those I had read last year in The Complete RobotThe Dinner, by Hermann Koch.

Posted in Uncategorised

Interesting Links for 26-08-2016

Posted in Uncategorised

A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay

Second sentence of third chapter:

The observatory presented itself to their eyes as a self-contained little community, without neighbours, and perched on the extreme end of the land. There were three buildings: a small, stone—built dwelling house, a low workshop, and, about two hundred yards farther north, a square tower of granite masonry, seventy feet in height.

This SF novel from 1920 is about a chap called Maskull who is rather mystically translated from a Scottish observatory to the planet Tormance, orbiting the double star that we know as Arcturus, where he meets various inhabitants for deep and meaningful conversations, and ends up killing most of them at the end of their respective chapters. It clearly inspired C.S. Lewis, who took a lot of concepts from this for Out Of The Silent Planet and Perelandra, except that frankly Lewis did it better, by having vaguely interesting characters and by using comprehensible philosophical dilemmas – both being areas that A Voyage To Arcturus falls down on.

Tolkien also loved the book; Wikipedia quotes Colin Wilson and Clive Barker as singing its praises. I find it difficult to enjoy because I have read a lot of the better, later stuff that it inspired. In that sense, perhaps it’s a hidden taproot text for the mid-century British SF writers, unconstrained by any need to be loyal to the (hazy) scientific facts, free to think romantically and even morally about other worlds. Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman quote a critic of an early splatter film as saying “It’s like a Walt Whitman poem—it’s no good, but it’s the first of its type and therefore deserves a certain position.” I felt a bit like that about A Voyage To Arcturus.

This was the most popular book on my unread pile acquired last year. Next on that list is Angels and Visitations, by Neil Gaiman.

Posted in Uncategorised

Oracle, by Ian Watson

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Soon, the car and its headlights were cutting through the night at a steady eighty.

Another for my (very short) list of sff set in Belgium, this is a story of a Roman soldier yanked forward from the Boudicca uprising to the present day (1997), where he falls in with a Northern Irish brother and sister living in Milton Keynes and reminisces about his involvement with the Crucifixion; they flee to Brussels, and the story ends in an apocalyptic battle between the SAS and the IRA around the Atomium. Dedicated to Graham and Agnes Andrews, who are fellow Norn Iron expats working in Brussels. I twitched a bit at some errors of Irish and Belgian detail, but basically I enjoyed the execution of the story, especially the Roman's culture shock and the attention to local atmosphere once we get to Brussels; a little disappointed by the ending which wasn't as tidy as the plot deserved.

This was the shortest unread book on my shelves acquired in 2009, and the sff book which had lingered longest unread on those shelves. Next in line respectively are Winter Song by Colin Harvey and This Mortal Mountain, Volume 3 of the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny.

Posted in Uncategorised

Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot

Second frame of third page:

Wow. How come nobody told me about this sooner? (Well, yes, I know you told me. I should have listened.) This is a glorious exploration of the cultural history of Sunderland and its immediate vicinity, and specifically its impact on the Alice books and the other works of Lewis Carroll. Talbot makes the argument that Oxford has for too long claimed a monopoly on Alice, when in fact both Dodgson and the Liddell family had long-standing links with this part of North-East England, and there is convincing evidence that the relationship between the families, and many crucial details in the books themselves, depend crucially on the Wear estuary. Talbot presents the entire story as told by two of his own avatars to a theatre-goer, assisted by various mythic and historical figures including the ghost of Sid James, who literally died on stage in Sunderland (on my ninth birthday, I note). And there are many diversions into Talbot’s own career and personal history, and into the history of comics, picking up many pleasing resonances and a number of spot-on pastiches.

I thought this was brilliant. I love deep local histories anyway – the Irish word is dinnseanchas, the lore of places – and the fact that I know very little about that part of the world possibly enhanced my enjoyment as Talbot makes his immediate geographical landscape relevant to the cultural references which I know much better. It’s a little demanding in that some knowledge of Talbot’s other work, and much knowledge of Lewis Carroll, is assumed, and I guess when this was first recommended to me I probably lacked the former. But I also suspect that readers who know less about the writer can skip the more Talbot-centric parts and get a lot out of the rest. Nice also to see some photography by and of this parish.

Alice in Sunderland was shortlisted for the BSFA Award for Best Novel of 2007; as Niall pointed out at the time (NB Talbot responds several times in comments), it is only tenuously sf and not really a novel, and duly lost to Brasyl. But it’s great that its genius was recognised by BSFA nominators.

This was the top unread comic on my shelves. Next on that list is volume 1 of Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang.

Posted in Uncategorised

The Last Theorem, by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

Second paragraph of third chapter:

For Ranjit, the experiment was not so successful. Gamini was away, so he had no one to enjoy it with, and world news remained bad.

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this, Clarke’s last book and Pohl’s second last novel, both aged around 90 when it came out – particularly after bouncing off the recent John Le Carré. But in fact it is comforting home ground for Clarke fans, with perhaps a little hint of Pohl here and there. There are hat-tips to The Fountains of Paradise, Imperial Earth and Childhood’s End