My books of 2017, including a poll

I read 238 books this year, more than last year and about the same as in 2013 and 2007, otherwise lower than usual (full numbers: 212 in 2016, 290 in 2015, 291 in 2014, 237 in 2013, 259 in 2012, 301 in 2011, 278 in 2010, 342 in 2009, 374 in 2008, 235 in 2007, 207 in 2006, 137 in 2005). Running the Hugos has that kind of effect. March, when nominations closed, was a particularly slow month with only 5. I did manage 29 in May, and 27 in January, June and July. (I've also padded the total a bit by expanding three trilogies, each of which I read in a single volume but have counted here as three books.)

Page count for the year: 60,500 – slightly surprised to see another historic low (62,300 in 2016; 80,100 in 2015; 97,100 in 2014; 67,000 in 2013; 77,800 in 2012; 88,200 in 2011)
Books by women in 2017: 64/238, 27% – slight decrease from high of last two years (65 [31%] in 2016, 86 [30%] in 2015, 81 [28%] in 2014, 71 [30%] in 2013, 65 [25%] in 2012, 22% in 2011, 23% in 2010, 20% in 2009, 12% in 2008)
Books by PoC in 2017: 17/238, 7% – same percentage as last two years (14 [7%] in 2016, 20 [7%] in 2015, 11 [5%] in 2014, 12 [5%] in 2013, 5% in 2011, 9% in 2010, 5% in 2009, 2% in 2008)

Most books by a single author: Colin Brake and Leo, both with 5 (previous winners: Christopher Marlowe in 2016, Justin Richards in 2015 and 2014, Agatha Christie in 2013, Jonathan Gash in 2012, Arthur Conan Doyle in 2011, Ian Rankin in 2010, William Shakespeare in 2009 and 2008, Terrance Dicks in 2007, Ian Marter in 2006, Charles Stross in 2005).


 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
57 37 47 48 46 53 69 66 88
24% 17% 16% 16% 19% 20% 23% 24% 26%

This is my highest non-fiction total since 2011, and my highest percentage for non-fiction since I started tallying categories separately in 2009. I think this was partly birthday presents, which were biased towards non-fiction; partly that non-fiction books have been moving to the top of my various piles; and partly a genuine shift ion my own reading tastes.

Best non-fiction read in 2017: Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light (review) – lovely micro-history of four lines of ancestry in the recent history of England.

Runner-up: Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (review)- great insight into how we think the way we do, and why we are wrong in what we think about it.

The one you might not heard of, if you're not in the Dublin or Brussels bubbles: Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response, by Tony Connelly (review) – essential reading on both the behind the scenes diplomacy and the stakes for the country most affected by Brexit.

Welcome reread: In Xanadu (review)

The one to skip: 1434: The Year a Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance, by Gavin Menzies (review) – such a bad rewriting of history that I wondered what its purpose really was.

Non-sfnal fiction

 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
26 28 42 41 44 48 48 50 57
11% 13% 14% 14% 19% 19% 16% 18% 18%

The opposite here with a historic low for non-sf fiction reading, mainly I think because I have read almost all all the well-known books of that kind on my shelves, which are still heaving with unread sf and non-fiction.

Best non-sff fiction read in 2016: A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth (review) – brilliant huge story of India just after independence.

Runner-up: Children are Civilians Too, by Heinrich Böll (review) – gripping short stories from Germany of about the same period.

The one you might not heard of: Five Go On A Strategy Away Day, by Bruno Vincent (review) – quite a funny parody of the grownup Famous Five in competition with the Secret Seven.

Welcome reread: Robinson Crusoe (review).

The one to skip: The Angel Maker, by Stefan Brijs (review) – really horrible story set on the Belgian frontier with Germany.

Non-Whovian sff

 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
68 80 130 124 65 62 78 73 78
29% 38% 45% 43% 27% 24% 26% 26% 23%

Back to the levels of pre-2014. (I was a Clarke Award judge in 2014-15, and then deliberately cast my sf reading net wider in 2016 as part of the anti-Puppy campaign.)

Best non-Who sff read in 2016: All The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (review with other Hugo novels) – by a long way my top choice for the Hugos, a magical contemporary Bildungsroman.

Runner-up: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead (review with other non-Hugo novels)) – fascinating steampunk alternate history of slavery in America.

The one you might not heard of: The Deepest Sea, by Charles Barnitz (review) – much better than usual Celtic fantasy, marred however by a dodgy map.

Welcome rereads: The Illustrated Man (review), The Colour of Magic (review), Dune (review).

The one to skip: The Red Leaguers, by Shan F. Bullock (review) – Irish war of independence in 1904 goes wrong, flawed and unpleasant protagonist.

Doctor Who (and spinoff) fiction

 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
51 39 43 59 72 75 80 71 70
21% 18% 15% 20% 30% 29% 27% 26% 19%

Picking up a bit from the dip of the last couple of years. Problem is, I've now read almost all of the main series of Doctor Who books, and what remains is dribs and drabs.

Best Who book read in 2016: The Pirate Planet, by Douglas Adams and James Goss (review) – Goss has ironed off the corners and made this a much smoother story, as usual a delight to read, and also includes bonus material on how Adams developed the plot.

Runner-up: Rip Tide, by Louise Cooper (review) – one of the good Telos novellas, taking the Eighth Doctor to a seaside resort to investigate mysterious goings on.

Worth flagging up for Whovians: Based On The Popular TV Serial, by Paul Smith (review) – a guide to the Target novelisations.

The ones you won't have heard of: The three novels based on short-lived spin-off Class (review), by Guy Adams, A.K. Benedict and especially (again) James Goss.


 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
29 27 18 19 30 21 27 18 28
12% 13% 6% 7% 13% 8% 9% 6% 8%

Much the same as last year, or indeed 2013.

Best graphic story read in 2016: Antarès, by Leo – excellent futuristic yarn. I read it in the original French but it has been translated into English (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Runner-up: The Vision vol 1: Little Worse Than A Man, by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta (review)- I (somewhat reluctantly) really liked this story of an inhuman family trying to fit in.

Welcome reread: Watchmen (review).

The one you won't have heard of: Re-#AnimateEurope: International Comics Competition 2017, ed. Hans H.Stein, by Jordana Globerman, Stefan "Schlorian" Haller, Štepánka Jislová, Noëlle Kröger, Magdalena Kaszuba, Davide Pascutti and Paul Rietzl (review) – nicely applying the medium of the graphic novel to the problems of Europe today.


There were only five of these. The only one I'd really really like to see on the stage, having seen the film that was based on it, is Cavalcade, by Noël Coward (review including also the Oscar-winning film).


Just two. Catullus is better than Roald Dahl.

I wondered whether to put the Argonautica here, but on reflection, Valerius Flaccus here is telling an sf story more than trying to fit ideas into a particular verse form; so both translations are tallied separately under SF above (review).

Now your turn. How much has your reading overlapped with mine this year? People with Facebook, Twitter, Dreamwidth and maybe even Google accounts should also be able to participate. The books are listed in order of LibraryThing popularity, apart from the last category.

(NB that I'm not doing an end-of-year poll of my unread books this year. The increasing desolation of Livejournal just makes it much less fun, and my current reading list system is delivering me plenty of quirky reading choices, which was the original goal.)

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Sunday and December reading wrap-up

Sunday reading

The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis
L’Équation Africaine, by Yasmina Khadra

Last books finished
A History of the Future: Prophets of Progress from H.G. Wells to Isaac Asimov, by Peter J. Bowler
Zola and his time; the history of his martial career in letters: With an account of his circle of friends, his remarkable enemies, cyclopean labors, public campaigns, trials and ultimate glorification by Matthew Josephson
Democracy and its Deficits: The path towards becoming European-style democracies in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, by Ghia Nodia with Denis Cenușă and Mikhail Minakov
The Power, by Naomi Alderman
The Story of English in 100 Words, by David Crystal

December books

Non-fiction: 8 (2017 total 57)
Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: Notes on Science Fiction and Culture in the Year of Angry Dogs, by Philip Sandifer
The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham
Alexander the Corrector: The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden's Concordance Unwrote the Bible by Julia Keay
The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig
A History of the Future: Prophets of Progress from H.G. Wells to Isaac Asimov, by Peter J. Bowler
Zola and his time; the history of his martial career in letters: With an account of his circle of friends, his remarkable enemies, cyclopean labors, public campaigns, trials and ultimate glorification by Matthew Josephson
Democracy and its Deficits: The path towards becoming European-style democracies in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, by Ghia Nodia with Denis Cenușă and Mikhail Minakov
The Story of English in 100 Words, by David Crystal

Fiction (non-sf): 3 (2017 total 26)
The Lies Of Fair Ladies, by Jonathan Gash
Men Against The Sea, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Pitcairn’s Island, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

sf (non-Who): 3 (2017 total 68)
Everfair, by Nisi Shawl
Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories, ed. John Joseph Adams
The Power, by Naomi Alderman

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (2017 total 51)
Re: Collections, ed. Xanna Eve Chown
Fear Itself, by Nick Wallace
A Life in Pieces, by Dave Stone, Paul Sutton & Joseph Lidster

Comics 5 (2017 total 29)
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vol 3, by Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino, art by Carlos Gomez
Het genootschap van Socrates by Yves Leclercq and Stéphanie Heurteau
The Autumnlands, Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw, by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey
Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vol 4, by Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino, art by Carlos Gomez

6,900 pages (2017 total 60,500)
7/22 (2017 total 64/238) by women (Keay, Shawl, Alderman, Mogavino x 2, Heurteau)
1/22 (2017 total 17/238) by PoC (Shawl)
Reread: 1 (2017 total 13): Watchmen

Reading now

L'equation africaine, by Yasmina Khadra
It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis
The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Coming soon (perhaps):
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, by Jane Hirshfield
"Gonna Roll the Bones" by Fritz Leiber
Quoth the Raven, by Jane Haddam
Looking For JJ, by Anne Cassidy
Ys de Legende: v 1 Verraad, by Jean-Luc Istin and Dejan Nenadov
The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog, by Doris Lessing
Providence, Act 1, by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
Daystar and Shadow, by James B. Johnson
The Island Of Doctor Moreau, by H. G. Wells
Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy
He, She and It, by Marge Piercy
Tangle Of Fates, by Leslie Ann Moore
The Universe Between, by Alan E Nourse
Toast, by Charles Stross
Planesrunner by Ian McDonald
Seventeen Equations that Changed the World, by Ian Stewart
Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift
So, Anyway…, by John Cleese
Julian, by Gore Vidal
The Tree of Life, by Mark Michalowski

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My tweets

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What to expect in 2018, according to science fiction

As we look forward to 2018, science fiction has already been there. Here are six portrayals of 2018 from books, television and film, imagining the coming year as utopia, dystopia, or something in between.

Lauren Beukes’ first novel, Moxyland (2008), is set in a cyberpunk South Africa of 2018, where your phone is your identity (much more true now than then) and vulnerable to control by the authorities (also even more true now), while nanotechnology has advanced to the point that you can inject yourself with it for health and entertainment, and games are another means of control, providing distraction from the state’s oppression. Beukes’ Johannesburg next year is a fascinating but dangerous place. (I must go back and re-read it now, having visited Johannesburg myself for the first time in October.)

Utopia v Dystopia: Definitely dystopia.

Published around the same time, Halting State, by Charles Stross (2007), combines elements of police procedural, cyberpunk and choose-your-own adventure, set in 2018 in a Scotland which became independent in 2012, where a huge theft in an online game leads to the discovery of massive international hacking and uncomfortable revelations for one of the main characters. In 2017 we did indeed have a massive heist in EVE, and continued evidence of real-world political hacking by unfriendly governments, though it's not yet clear if the two are related. A sequel, Rule 34, came out in 2011.

Utopia v Dystopia: Stross’s Scotland has improved with independence, but his future world has big new problems. The author's comment: "Halting State wasn't intended to be predictive when I started writing it in 2006. Trouble is, about the only parts that haven't happened yet are Scottish Independence and the use of actual quantum computers for cracking public key encryption…"

For more British politics, see Andrew Marr’s Children of the Master (2015) in which the Labour Party unexpectedly wins the 2018 election. For a time-travelling police procedural, see Liv Spector’s The Rich and the Dead (2014). For more geopolitical thrilling, see End Game by Matthew Glass (2011). For demons in Atlanta, see Forsaken by Jana Oliver (also 2011).

There are a number of films set in 2018 – including Brick Mansions (2014) (inner-city Detroit walled off from the outside world), Iron Sky (2012) (Nazis on the far side of the moon), and Terminator Salvation (2009) (the third sequel to Terminator). But I’m going back to 1975, and staying with the game theme, where Norman Jewison’s film Rollerball portrayed a future in which corporate interests have taken over from the state, and all team sports, indeed all means of entertainment including reading, have been abolished – apart from the violent sport of Rollerball in which the players, wearing body armor and equipped with roller skates and motorcycles, must score by throwing a steel ball into the magnetic goal. The protagonist, Jonathan E (played by James Caan), wants to retire but is forced to play one more game with deadly changes to the rules; the villain admits that the game is meant to demonstrate the futility of individual effort to a cowed populace.

Utopia v Dystopia: Our hero may triumph in the end, but this is not the 2018 you’d want to live in. Though the futuristic German architecture is pretty cool.

Fifty years ago, starting on 27 December 1967, Doctor Who visited 2018 in The Enemy of the World, starring Patrick Troughton as both the Doctor and the future politician Salamander, who it turns out has been gaining political power with the help of a group of scientists who he has deceived into causing various (apparently natural) disasters. Believed lost for years, this story was found again in 2013 and turned out to be a real treat for fans. It is the only Doctor Who TV story with substantial parts set in Australia. Or Hungary, for that matter. The helicopter flown by Astrid (Mary Peach) is licenced to the end of the year 2018.

Utopia v Dystopia: The political system is vulnerable, but the Doctor solves the immediate problem.

Going back another decade, They Shall Have Stars, the second published volume of James Blish’s Cities in Flight sequence (though first in internal chronology), was published in 1957 with the title Year 2018! (though it had already appeared in the UK with what is now the better known title). It’s a story of men and women working to make the scientific breakthrough that will be the foundation for the rest of the series, against an oppressive American state that has become too totalitarian in the name of freedom; one of the heroic protagonists, rather unusually, is a U.S. Senator, while the villain is the FBI director MacHinery. (Get it?) The story starts in 2013 and ends in 2020, but I think the variant title gives me licence to include it here.

Utopia v Dystopia: Definitely towards the latter, with the end giving some hope for escape (though alas not for our protagonists)

Finally, The Golden Book of Springfield, written between 1905 and 1918 by the poet Vachel Lindsay and published in 1920 (and available for free here) takes an idealistic look into the future of Illinois, a world where everyone is spiritually and aesthetically enlightened, apart from a few corrupt politicians who are busy squabbling about airplanes and prosecuting a war against the drug dealers of Singapore. In Lindsay's 2018, there has been almost no advance in technology since 1920.

Utopia v Dystopia: Lindsay predicts racial harmony and social and spiritual progress, but only up to a point. Still, it’s probably the most hopeful, and also by far the most outdated, of the six futures discussed here.

There are a few common themes here: governments which are not as democratic as they would have you believe, entertainment as a means of oppression, information technology used for ill as well as for good. We have our own 2018 ahead of us: let’s make the best of it.

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Democracy and its Deficits, by Ghia Nodia et al

Second paragraph of third section:

On the political level, there were two main competing elites. An alternative political elite
emerged out of parties and movements that challenged the existing regime on a combination of pro-democracy and strong nationalist agendas. They confronted the existing Communist nomenklatura that was keen to preserve its power and accompanying privileges. Both these elites had fundamental shortcomings. The post-Communist elites shed their erstwhile ideological commitments and professed allegiance to new slogans of democracy and nation state, but were structurally predisposed to resisting necessary democratic and free-market reforms. They were also well-placed to translate their pre-existing administrative power into control over the most important economic resources, thus laying the ground for the plutocratic (or oligarchic) character of the new regimes. The weaknesses of the newly emerging elites lay in their lack of political experience, insufficient organisation, and over-emphasis of the nationalist agenda, which could have alienated ethnic minorities. The electorate saw the nomenklatura as a force for stability and moderation, while the new elites saw it as standing for change and reform. The turbulence of the early post-Communist years inclined them to give preference to the values of stability.

A 30-page paper by veteran Georgian commentator Ghia Nodia, with input from Denis Cenușă (Moldova) and Mikhail Minakov (Ukraine), looking at the democratic and governance systems of their three countries, which are all wrestling with the dilemma of how (and how much) to get closer to the EU while Russian troops occupy parts of their territories. I found it a very refreshing antidote to the usual take on the region, which prioritises geopolitical competition and elite internal dynamics over boring but essential things like party structures and popular perceptions of government. I know Georgia and Moldova fairly well, Ukraine less so, and found the analysis of all three countries convincing and enlightening as well as sober and sympathetic. This is the sort of analysis I used to work on when I was with the International Crisis Group, and I’m glad that someone is still doing it and that my other former employers at the Centre for European Policy Studies are publishing it.

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The Life of Emile Zola (1937); Zola And His Times

The Life of Emile Zola won the Academy Award for Outstanding Production in 1938; there were nine other nominees, but I have not heard of any of them. It got nominations in nine other categories and won two, Joseph Schildkraut getting Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dreyfus, and the script winning Best Adaptation; deservedly so.

However, The Life of Emile Zola does not make the top ten of either way of counting IMDB votes. There is no doubt at all about the top film from 1937 in our civilisation’s collective memory: it is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It received only one Oscar nomination, for Best Score, and did not win.

This is the official poster for the film. I find it a bit odd that in fact Paul Muni as Zola is bearded throughout the film, but cleanshaven here. (It’s a bit less odd that he doesn’t have the same impressive girth that Zola developed in real life – worth noting that William Powell also played a slimmed-down Flo Ziegfeld last year.)

The film, based on a biography by Matthew Josephson, is another biopic, this time of crusading French journalist and writer Emile Zola. As usual, I watched it on Eurostar – it’s great the way most of these are around two hours long, exactly the time it takes the train from Brussels to London, a technological feat unthinkable eighty years ago (let alone during Zola’s lifetime). The plot is very simple: Zola as a young writer in Paris exposes the dark side of the city in his novel Nana, inspired by meeting a young prostitute; the novel’s success, and the success of his other writing, makes him complacent; he is provoked to take up the case of Alfred Dreyfus, wrongly accused of espionage by the French Army, and after much turmoil and a prolonged courtroom case, wins, only to die in a domestic accident as Dreyfus is being freed. Here’s the trailer.

There’s not much to dislike about this. There is one pretty big issue, for which the film received some criticism both at the time and more recently. In historical reality, the case against Dreyfus was deeply tinged with anti-Semitism, because he was Jewish. The word “Jew” is not mentioned once in the film. Is this a deliberate cover-up, as some have alleged, to court German audiences, or for whatever other sordid reason?

I’m not so sure. It is worth noting that the Warner brothers themselves who ran the studio, William Dieterle who directed it, Heinz Herald who co-wrote the Oscar-winning script, Joseph Schildkraut who won the Oscar for playing Dreyfus, and the film’s star Paul Muni in the title role, were all Jewish. Herald had actually fled the Nazis when they came to power, and Dieterle and Schildkraut were also from Germany and may well have still had vulnerable friends and relatives in the country. I don’t feel it’s ever my job to second-guess the responses of the oppressed; I do think that anyone who gave the Dreyfus affair even half an extra thought after watching the movie would have worked out what was going on. The point is very clearly if silently made in the shot of the officers’ roll during the scene where the French military leadership decide to frame Dreyfus:

If I may have a slightly different quibble, the women in the film don’t get a lot to do, and despite the fact that Paris between 1865 and 1905 was already a pretty multi-ethnic society, we see only white faces.

However. It’s a great story. Muni is tremendously watchable as Zola, so is Schildkraut as Dreyfus, so is Vladimir Sokoloff as Paul Cézanne. We all hate injustice, and love to see someone standing up for what is right despite the consequences. Flo Seinfeld, the subject of the previous year’s Oscar-wining biopic, ran roughshod over the feelings of his lovers, friends and business partners for the sake of his somewhat dubious art; Zola here does the same, but for the sake of freedom and justice, and certainly I found it much more sympathetic. There’s nothing particularly spectacular or innovative about the way the story is told (some decent incidental music), but if it’s a good story you don’t really need that.

I’m going to divert into a reflection on the symbolism of France and Paris in these films. In both Wings and All Quiet on the Western Front, France is a place of fascination and moral hazard. The Life of Emile Zola is set almost entirely in Paris (apart from Zola’s brief exile in London, and Dreyfus’s imprisonment on Devil’s Island). It’s clearly presented as a place of superior achievement, the centre of the cultural world, with its own drama and internal dynamics which the audience is expected to recognise and relate to. The path to An American in Paris is clear.

One last note – the memorable minor key variation of the opening phrase of the Marseillaise, which I know well from Casablanca, is used here for the French defeat in 1870.

Now that I’ve got through the first ten winners of Best Picture and its historical predecessors, I think I can give a running total of my ranking of the films so far. I actually found this pretty easy, though with slight hesitation about the ordering of 6th/7th place and 3rd/4th/5th.

10) The Great Ziegfeld (Oscar for 1936)
9) Cimarron (1930/31)
8) Cavalcade (1932/33)
7) Wings (1927/28)
6) Broadway Melody (1928/29)
5) Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
4) Grand Hotel (1931/32)
3) The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
2) It Happened One Night (1934)
1) All Quiet on the Western Front (1929/30)

Next up is You Can’t Take It With You, of which I know nothing at all.

The Life of Zola is the first Oscar-winner based on a non-fiction book, the grandly titled Zola and his time: the history of his martial career in letters, with an account of his circle of friends, his remarkable enemies, cyclopean labors, public campaigns, trials and ultimate glorification by Matthew Josephson. I got it and raced through the 500 pages. As is often the case, the film is based on just a small section of the book (eg The Duchess is based on a chapter or two of Amanda Foreman’s biographyGame Change is based on a couple of pages of the book by Heilemann and Halperin). Here is the second paragraph of the third chapter:

The city was under a reign of terror conducted by the ruthless General Espinasse, ever since the attempt on the life of Napoleon III by three Italian “anarchists,” Orsini, Pieri and Rudio. The press was muzzled completely, and the enemies of the despot were banished or silent.

I found it very interesting, particularly as I have just read a book about Ulysses, to see the connection between Zola’s radical political activity and beliefs, and (what was more important to him) his breaking the conventions of novel-writing. I may even try some of his books some day – Germinal, Nana, Thérèse Raquin And his autobiographical first novel La confession de Claude all sound promising.

A lot of what’s in the film is invented – the quarrel with Cézanne didn’t really happen like that, Nana was not his first successful novel (not even his first successful novel about Nana), he was not dragged into the Dreyfus case by the tears of Lucie Dreyfus, he wasn’t offered membership of the Academy in 1897 (but kept begging for it), he died in his bedroom with his wife rather than alone in his study, and Dreyfus was not exonerated until several years after Zola’s death. These are necessary edits of the truth to make a good movie, I suppose. On the other hand, the real-life attempted assassination of Dreyfus in 1908, while he was attending the ceremony of Zola’s interment in the Pantheon, is a dramatic end to the book that is skipped in the film. The anti-Semitism inherent to the Dreyfus case is made absolutely clear, though I’m sure that the full facts will have been even worse.

The part of Zola’s life almost completely omitted from the film is of course his love-life. As a student in a garret in his late teens and early twenties, he lived with an unnamed girlfriend who then drops out of the narrative completely. (Wikipedia quotes Henri Mitterand to the effect that her first name was Berthe.) As well as his wife Alexandrine (with whom he had no children), he had a long-term lover, Jeanne Rozerot, who bore him a son and a daughter. When he died he left all of his estate to his wife and nothing to his children or their mother. (I’m glad to say that his widow acknowledged and adopted the children, who in turn adopted the surname Emile-Zola.) Josephson conveys this as part of Zola’s general passion for life in general, and is rather critical of his wife for being too dramatic about the situation. I think Josephson could have found a bit more sympathy for Alexandrine, and Zola’s treatment of his children does not speak well of him.

It’s rather an old-fashioned biography, but a cracking good read, and it’s particularly impressive that Josephson was able to boil down vast amounts of archival research in French for an American audience. It’s also copiously illustrated with cartoons and copies of manuscripts.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

A History of the Future, by Peter J. Bowler

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The promoters of applied science assumed that eventually the mechanization of industry would give everyone more leisure time (even if the work involved only boring routines). The dirty and unhealthy factories of the first Industrial Revolution would be replaced with new structures that were better to work in as well as more efficient. It was also predicted that there would be more gadgets to make life easier in the home. Popular science magazines routinely printed lists of inventions designed to make life easier or more enjoyable, most of which turned out to be useless and sank into oblivion. Inventors and promoters sang the praises of their products, but they were competing against one another and success for one would block the chances of others. Some promotional material was purely superficial, as with the enthusiasm for streamlined designs applied to objects that didn’t move. Even when they were on to a good thing, technical experts and marketing agents were unlikely to foresee the wider consequences of a revolutionary technology. Yet in a few cases — radio broadcasting is a good example — almost everyone could see that their lives could be significantly transformed by what was promised. What couldn’t be predicted were the deeper consequences for society, which is why some commentators worried about things that the majority greeted with enthusiasm.

Twenty-five years ago, Peter Bowler was my PhD supervisor in Belfast; I owe him a lot. He had made his reputation a decade earlier with Evolution: The History of an Idea, and had managed to find a rhythm of writing a scholarly book a year, riffing off the general possibilities of the history of evolutionary biology. Recently, in retirement, he’s been veering a little bit further from his usual territory. In Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin (2013), he imagined what would have happened in science in an alternate timeline where Darwin had drowned during the voyage of the Beagle, something he had been muttering about doing for years. This year, in A History of the Future: Prophets of Progress from H.G. Wells to Isaac Asimov, he has surveyed futurology as perpetrated both by science fiction writers and by popular science writers, mainly in the UK but looking also at the USA, in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century.

People like me who read a fair amount of academic and fannish commentary on sf literature will be a bit thrown by this approach. Peter Bowler has unapologetically put technology and other scientific advances, real or imagined, at the centre of the narrative, and crunches everything down to nine shortish chapters, on How We’ll Live, Where We’ll Live, Communicating and Computing, Getting Around, Taking to the Air, Journey into Space, War, Energy and Environment, and Human Nature. He makes the point very strongly that the First World War made a much bigger difference to the Zeitgeist than the Second; there is much more continuity in terms of vision and concerns between 1939 and 1945 than between 1914 and 1918.

There are some interesting misses and hits along the way. Lord Birkenhead, writing in 1930 about the world of 2030, expected that “Instead of party politics, our descendants will probably be content with the rule of experts, who will seek popular sanction for each measure they purpose through a referendum.” (Hollow laugh.) On the other hand, A.M. Low correctly saw the potential of telephones:

In his Wireless Possibilities, Low predicted that in a few years’ time it would be possible to talk to a recipient anywhere in the world, even when flying on an aeroplane. Five years later, he made a similar point in one of his regular Armchair Science features: ‘I shall be glad when we have made wireless sufficiently selective to enable me to ring up during every rail journey I make and talk direct to my friends.’ Note that his concern was the problem of interference between transmitters, not miniaturization. He also recognized that there would be a downside to the facility: ‘Why should I inflict a description of my mother’s children to a radius of six yards, until all those around are driven to fury … ?’ Low thus not only predicted the mobile phone – he realized what a nuisance they could become when used in public.

There are lots of good nuggets here, including the frightening irresponsibility of some early supporters of nuclear power, who nonchalantly discussed melting the ice caps and re-engineering coastlines with atomic weapons. There is a tension also between those who thought that women being liberated from housework and reproduction would bring benefits and those who feared the costs to society. (It would be interesting to know the extent to which feminists interacted with these discussions.)

Anyway, first of my Christmas presents; well worth reading.

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My tweets

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Alphabets survey results

Well, it’s interesting to see how far internationalisation has progressed since the last time I did one of these surveys (and indeed the time before).

Burmese, with more native speakers than Romanian or Dutch, is once again the poor relation, with only 22 out of 29 respondents able to see the characters ဘယ်လ်ဂျီယမ်နိုင်ငံ – I guess this reflects slow adoption of information technology there. It has placed bottom of every poll I have don on this subject.

Both Divehi (the language of the Maldives) and Aramaic managed only 23 for ބެލްޖިއަމް and ܒܠܓܝܩܐ respectively. Both of these are right-to-left scripts related to Arabic, spoken by rather small populations (340,000 for Divehi, maybe a million for Aramaic). Still, Aramaic is culturally important, and the Maldives are a pretty open society, so it’s a bit surprising that they don’t do better. Aramaic placed second last when I last did this.

The Ge’ez script, also historically a trailing contestant, used for Amharic and Tigrinya got 25 out of 29 for ቤልጅግ. It is used by about the same number of people as the Burmese script.

Cherokee got 26 out of 29 for ᏇᎵᏥᎥᎻ, with less than 15,000 native speakers (most of whom live in the USA).

Those with 28 out of 29 included several smaller South Asian languages, all of which have tens of millions of speakers – Punjabi (ਬੈਲਜੀਅਮ), Telugu (బెల్జియం), Kannada (ಬೆಲ್ಜಿಯಂ), Malayalam (ബെൽജിയം), Odia/Oriya (ବେଲଜିଅମ), Sinhalese (බෙල්ජියම), Khmer (បែលហ្សិក) and Tibetan (པེར་ཅིན།). Devanagari (बेल्जियम), Bengali (বেলজিয়াম), Tamil (பெல்ஜியம்), Thai (ประเทศเบลเยียม), Gujarati (બેલ્જિયમ) and Lao (ປະເທດແບນຊິກ) are all OK. Apart from Tamil, all of these are the most widely spoken language in a particular country, and Tamil is official in Singapore which must help. (Though what about Sinhalese and Khmer, then?)

Also with 28 out of 29, Cyrillic (Бельгия) and Georgian (ბელგია); but surprisingly Armenian (Բելգիա) got the full slate.

The others with full scores – Chinese (比利时), Latin (Bélgica), Arabic (بلجيكا), Japanese (ベルギー), Korean (벨기에), Greek (Βέλγιο) and Hebrew (בלגיה).

Full scores this time for Bengali (বেলজিয়াম), Gujarati (બેલ્જિયમ), Lao (ປະເທດແບນຊິກ), Armenian (Բելգիա), Chinese (比利时), Arabic (بلجيكا), Japanese (ベルギー), Korean (벨기에), and Hebrew (בלגיה), none of which had previously managed it. Also Sinhalese (බෙල්ජියම), Khmer (បែលហ្សិក) and Tibetan (པེར་ཅིན།) have climbed significantly up the league table since last time.

There were several South East Asian scripts where I wasn’t able to translate the name Belgium – S’Gaw Karen, Sundanese, Batak, Lontara, Balinese, and Yi. I am also missing Tifinagh (used for Berber) and Inuktitut. For Inuktitut, I did find an online dictionary that gave “Belgia” as the translation for Belgium; but the Inuktitut alphabet has no ‘b’ and no ‘e’, so I gave up.

Thanks for participating!

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The Autumnlands, Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw, by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey

Second frame of issue 3:

This was flagged up to me last year as being particularly popular among File 770 readers in the run-up to Hugo nominations; when it didn’t appear on the final ballot, I guessed that it might have been pushed off by the Puppies and bought it during my brief visit to Portland, Oregon. In fact, it didn’t even make the top fifteen of last year’s nominations, and probably did well in the File 770 straw poll because Busiek is a frequent (and valued) contributor over there.

I don’t think I’d have voted it terribly high on my list if it had made the ballot. The world of the Autumnlands is one where various character who are anthropomorphic animals are in conflict with each other; the wizards of the steampunkish flying city summon an ancient hero who turns out to be a human, like you and me, and outwits the groundling enemy due to his superior human intellect. The one major female character is a sneaky turncoat. I’m never terribly comfortable with the resonances of stories like this, and although it’s nicely illustrated, it didn’t draw me in.

This had finally made it to the top of my pile of unread graphic novels in English. Next on that list is Providence: Act 1, by Alan Moore.

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Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vols 3 and 4

Second frame of third page of vol 3:

Second frame with dialogue on third page of vol 3 (Eleanor, very pregnant, is having a nightmare about her husband’s religious mania):

Second frame on third page of vol 4 (Vincenzo Damonte comes across a tragedy in the forest):

Having very much enjoyed the first two volumes in this six-part series about the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, I also enjoyed the next two, taking the story over the decade from Eleanor’s first pregnancy in 1144 to her second marriage in 1152. Volume 3 mainly concerns the disastrous Second Crusade and its consequences, and Eleanor’s entanglement with her uncle, the Crusader king Raymond of Edessa, and also with the fictional Vincenzo Damonte. (The authors miss a particularly glorious historical detail when the Pope, anxious to maintain the marriage of Eleanor and Louis VII of France, literally tucked them into bed together; their second daughter was born nine months later, but the marriage did not survive.) Volume 4, back in France, tracks the intersection of the Plantagenets, Duke Geoffrey and his ambitious and good-looking son Henry, with Louis and Eleanor in the early 1150s, and ends with her, newly divorced, marrying Henry (this requires some info-dumping about how he is about to become King of England). Still, the team of Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino (writers) and Carlos Gomez (artist) has breathed a lot of life into the dusty bones of the historical narrative, and I have gone out and got the final two volumes now.

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My tweets

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My (last?) year on Livejournal

This time last year, I temporarily rage-quit Livejournal for Dreamwidth in the wake of yet another outage. I came back, obviously, but I’m still not very happy with the fact that this place has turned into a desert. I have to confess that this year I stopped reading my friends list regularly, after 14 years; there’s just so much more going on on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even (despite its drawbacks) LinkedIn.

However, one benefit of the lower traffic on Livejournal is that quite often I am finding I have got the top post on the whole site for an hour or so. This year the following posts achieved that:

18 Feb: The top names in my address book (2 hours at the top – the others all managed only one hour)
19 Feb: Goodreads/LibraryThing stats: Clarke submission list
17 May: Pounded In The Butt By My Second Hugo Award Nomination, by Chuck Tingle
8 Jul: Wonder Woman in Belgium
30 Jul: Excursion, 21-22 July (lots of pictures)
17 Aug: The Administrator’s Tale – part 1 of my 2017 Hugo memories
10 Sep: Along the Dijle with Bo
17 Dec: Which lines of longitude and latitude pass through the most countries?

LJ also tracks when one of your entries gets into the top 25 across Livejournal. In addition to the above, the following entries achieved that (some of these are very odd choices, and I can only assume bot activity as the explanation):

19 Feb: BSFA shortlist
26 Mar: Interesting Links for 26-03-2017 (this mystifies me)
29 Mar: Interesting Links for 29-03-2017 (likewise)
8 Apr: My votes for BSFA Short Fiction 2016
27 May: Interesting Links for 27-05-2017
27 May again: The landlord’s daughter’s story, revisited
18 June: My tweets
18 Aug: The Adminstrator’s Worldcon – part 2 of my 2017 Hugo memories

My most commented entries (in some cases including the automatic LJ “top 25” comment) were:

23 Jul: The 2017 WSFS Business Meeting: Deterring Slates (16)
18 Aug: The Adminstrator’s Worldcon – part 2 of my 2017 Hugo memories (11)
18 Feb: The top names in my address book (9)
26 Nov: Everfair map confusion – what do you think? (9)
1 Feb: The Colour Of Magic, by Terry Pratchett (8)
25 Dec: A Christmassy poll (8)
11 Jan: BSFA shortlist (7)
15 Jul: The 2017 WSFS Business Meeting: reforming the Artist Hugos (7)
17 Aug: The Administrator’s Tale – part 1 of my 2017 Hugo memories (7)
4 Jan: What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Fantasy and SF, by Jo Walton (6)
17 Feb: Interesting Links for 17-02-2017 (6)
8 Mar: Interesting Links for 08-03-2017 (6)
13 Nov: The Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum (6)

On a more positive note, my sfnal activities clearly still have traction on LJ, relatively more so than on Facebook or Twitter.

Since the community aspect of LJ has almost disappeared, I want to switch to a system which has the tagging, image-hosting and formatting facility of LJ (Dreamwidth doesn’t do image hosting very well), and preferably also one that I can transfer back copies of LJ to. I already have a backup wordpress account, but since the LJ importer for WordPress no longer works, it’s increasingly out of date. Open to suggestions.

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Everfair, by Nisi Shawl

Second paragraph of third chapter:

It wasn’t the buildings’ fault. The narrowness of the ways between them, mere corridors, was what annoyed. So obviously outmoded. No room for machinery of any sort. Here was Victoria Street, a modern thoroughfare at last. Four lanes for carriages, business facades well set back but of more or less uniform height, meaning electric tramlines could easily be strung overhead between them. Striding rapidly along, an unconscious smile of contentment lurking behind his beard, Jackie saw only enough of his surroundings to avoid crashing into obstacles. He was lost, though continuing automatically on his course to St. George’s Hall. Lost in time, rapt in visions of things to come.

This was a Nebula finalist this year and came 8th in Hugo nominations, and has been getting a lot of buzz. It’s an alternate history where Fabian socialists team up with local leaders to build a steampunk-based society in what in our timeline became the Belgian Congo. I’m afraid I started grumpy because I found the map confusing, and I then had difficulty keeping the characters and places straight in my mind; I did like the technology and the concept of political liberation, but I would have liked more local colour to make me feel that the places were real. I’ll still look out for her other work, but this didn’t sell me.

This was my top unread book by a non-white writer. Next on that pile is Tangle Of Fates, by Leslie Ann Moore.

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My year on social media: LinkedIn

I like many things about LinkedIn, but I do not like its content feed. The content is generally great – for professional reading, it’s the best source for me – but organising it as you want, let alone tracking your own impact, is fiendishly difficult. This consequently deters me from posting on LinkedIn as much as I otherwise might; I don’t have useful metrics for how effective I am being, let alone how I might be more so.

The only consistent measures are likes and comments, and this video on the triggering of Article 50 filmed at work got 40 likes; nothing else I posted got more than 10.

This post, also work-related, celebrating us getting an award for our campaign to fund the eradication of polio, got 7 comments (all “congratulations”). I am also told that this got “8,471 views in the feed”. I don’t know what that means, and only posts from the last few weeks seem to have that metric displayed.

I wrote one new article for LinkedIn this year (as opposed to “posts” – a distinction whose difference is not clear), about the then imminent Northern Ireland Assembly election, and it got 111 “clicks”; also 11 likes and 3 comments. I have no other information on “clicks” so I can’t judge how successful it was. 3 comments may not seem like much, but it’s almost a tsunami by LinkedIn standards, and also one of them was from a former Taoiseach.

As I say, I like LinkedIn for may purposes, but it has some way to go to become an effective information sharing platform.

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My year on social media: Instagram

I love Instagram – it’s the only network I’m on where the default behaviour is to be kind. Add me – I’m @nwbrux there as I am on Twitter – and I’ll probably add you, if I haven’t already.

This was my most liked picture of the year, taken by Jo Honigmann in 1993, posted by me 24 years later to the day, with 114 likes.

This was the most liked photograph actually taken by me this year, on a visit to Strasbourg in May – one of those moments when you just come around the corner and a lovely image reveals itself to you; it got 69 likes:

And this was my most liked sequence, from the FACTS comic con in Ghent in October; it got 57 likes (link doesn’t seem to work, try here):

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My year on social media: Twitter

I used to be able to get statistics for my most successful Tweets from Crowdbooster, but unfortunately it closed down this year.

However, Twitter’s own metrics are pretty fascinating, giving you a dozen different ways of measuring impact. So here, in chronological order, are my most successful tweets by different measures this year.

Back in January, an election was unexpectedly called for the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I started preparing. This tweet got the most URL clicks of the year (872), and also earned me the most new followers (4):

Later in January I spent an evening at the European parliament watching the Catalan leadership explaining their policy and plans. This tweet was picked up by their supporters and got the most retweets of the year (129):

As the Assembly election votes were counted, I risked predicting the final tally with this tweet, which got the most hashtag clicks of the year (57):

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, this tweet got the most replies of the year (13):

This tweet linking Eurovision with the Whoniverse got the most media views (651), which I guess means those who clicked on the photograph to enlarge it:

Another election came unexpectedly in June, and this tweet predicting the final result got the most impressions by far of any tweet this year, (86371), and also the most clicks on my user profile (660):

This got the most clicks on an embedded permalink (a not very impressive 6):

And finally in December, this tweet got both the most engagements (2426) and the most detail expands (971):

This reflects the fact that the first half of the year was more exciting than the second!

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My year on social media: Facebook

Working out which are your top Facebook posts is pretty tricky – required massive cutting and pasting, and then some number crunching, and even then I’m not sure of the results. However there is no doubt which of my 2017 Facebook posts got the most likes and the most comments, posted just after I got into work on April 26:

The second most liked post was a video from about a month later (video below, post is here):

I’m trying to get Facebook to reveal how many comments each post gets, but it seems to get shy after a certain number higher than 44. This post got 44 comments, which is the most my system can count to (though both of those mentioned above got more):

My most shared post – in that as far as I can tell, I was the first to post this news story in this form, and Facebook tells me it was shared 107 times, none of which seem to pre-date my post – was this one from earlier in the year:

Subject to the same caveats, I seem to have got 97 shares from posting this news article on one of the year’s most memorable viral videos:

Not quite as successful as last year, when a picture that I posted of a young Bill and Hillary Clinton was shared five thousand times and my post on Brexit was shared five hundred times. But I think we could do without another year in politics like last year.

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Alphabets survey

OK, it’s some time since I did one of these properly. (Earlier this week doesn’t count.) Think of this as a sort of audit of internationalisation; this is the word for “Belgium” in most of the world’s scripts.

Results in a few days!

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Golden Dawn: Het Genootschap van Socrates, by Yves Leclercq and Stéphane Heurteau

Second frame of third page:

Open up! Open up!

I picked this up very cheap a few years ago – it’s the Dutch translation of the first volume of the two-part bande dessinée series Lautremer, so far the only collaboration between Belgian writer Yves Leclercq and French artist Stéphane Heurteau. It’s a nicely drawn story of early twentieth-century conspiracy, but I found the plot a bit Da Vinci code-ish (and not in a good way); and is the significance of the yachtsman being one Erskine Childers, in a story set ten years after the best known chap of that name had been shot and his son was busy running de Valera’s newspaper? I’m not hugely motivated to seek out the second and final volume.

This was my top unread graphic story in a language other than English. Next on that pile is Ys de legende 1: Verraad, by Jean-Luc Istin and Dejan Nenadov.

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My tweets

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Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Second frame of third chapter:

I read this years ago, of course, but read it again this year as part of a Facebook group of friends, some of whom were reading for the first time, taking it at the rate of a chapter a month, so as to recreate the experience of reading when it first came out in 1987. I had always enjoyed it, but I must say I really appreciated the detailed analysis that some people brought to it – in particular, I loved the observation that Chapter V is symmetrical, with the last frames mapping to reflect the first, advanced by a certain amount of time. Having also read V for Vendetta earlier this year, and Philip Sandifer’s commentary on it, I still like Watchmen much more, and if you haven’t already read it, you should. Ian has suggestions for other good comics.

This won the one and only Hugo Award for “Other Forms”, in 1988, the other finalists being Wild Cards, ed. George R. R. Martin; I, Robot: The Movie, by Harlan Ellison (script for a film that was never made); The Essential Ellison: A 35-Year Retrospective, by Harlan Ellison, Terry Dowling, Richard Delap and Gil Lamont; and Cvltvre Made Stvpid, by Tom Weller. For all the criticism of the current Best Related Work category, I think it’s a better solution.

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Re-#AnimateEurope, ed. Hans H. Stein

Second page of third story (“How to Save the World”, by Štěpánka Jislová):

Finishing the year by quickly writing up the books I hadn’t previously got around to – this has lingered a while, the finalists for this year’s comics competition run by the Brussels office of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit, the political foundation associated with the liberal Free Democratic Party; I’m glad to say that they accepted my suggestion of one of the judges. The theme this year was “Re-Animate Europe”, and the entries were all pretty good – the one that particularly spoke to me was the eventual runner up, “My Uncle’s Dream” by Jordana Globerman, about conflict, migration, family and heritage; the winner was “The Old Lady Gives No Answer”, by Magdalena Kaszuba. For those who are interested in both European politics and comics, however superficially, this is a competition well worth following. The full book of finalists can be downloaded here.

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My tweets

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A Christmassy poll – the answers, with screenshots

So, here are the answers to yesterday’s poll:

1) ክብር ለእግዚአብሔር በአርያም

This is Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia. Greg and Pseudomantid were not too far off geographically with Demotic Egyptian and Coptic – but Amharic uses the Ge’ez script which is an abugida (ie syllabic).

2) Hueyixtica Dios ne ilhuicac, niman nican ipan tlalticpactli ma onya yolsehuilistli intzajlan on tlacamej yejhuan quipiaj tetlajsojtlalistli!

Nahuatl, the language descended from Aztec spoken in Mexico (so I’ll give a half point.)

3) المَجدُ للهِ فِي الأعالِي

Arabic, as everyone guessed. (I should have chosen Farsi or Urdu for a laugh.)

4) Слава на Бога във висините.

Everyone thought this was Russian. It’s Bulgarian – the use of ъ as a vowel is the clue.


Greg got this – Cherokee.

6) Gogoniant yn y goruchaf i Dduw, ac ar y ddaear tangnefedd, i ddynion ewyllys da.

Welsh, of course.

7) Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ.

Greek, of course.

8) Kunnia Jumalalle korkeuksissa, ja maassa rauha ihmisten kesken, joita kohtaan hänellä on hyvä tahto!

Finnish, of course.

9) स्वर्ग में परमेश्वर की जय हो

Greg correctly spotted that it is Devanagari script but for some reason thought it wasn’t Hindi; it is.

10) Lavdi Perëndisë në vendet më të larta, dhe paqe mbi tokë njerëzve mbi të cilët qëndron mirëdashja e tij!.

Albanian. Only got this, and two people guessed it was Estonian. The ë is the give-away, no other language uses it so much.

11) பரலோகத்தில் தேவனை மகிமைப்படுத்துங்கள்.

Tamil; the combination of curves and right angles is unusual. Greg not far off with Orissa/Oriya/Odia, but that comes up later on.

12) Lwanj pou Bondye anwo nan syèl la, kè poze sou latè pou tout moun li renmen.

Haitian Creole.

13) สรรเสริญพระเจ้าบนสวรรค์สูงสุด


14) ¡Wacami, ri chilaˈ chicaj sibilaj niyaˈox (nyaˈ) rukˈij rucˈojlen ri Dios! ¡Y waweˈ chuwech re ruwachˈulef xoka yan ri uxlanibel cˈuˈx. Xoka yan chiquicojol ri winek, ruma ri rutzil ri Dios!

The Mayan language Kaqchikel, spoken in Guatemala. Nobody got this, though guesses of Quechua and Inca were on the right landmass at least.

15) 天では、神に栄光があるように。

Japanese, as almost everyone spotted.

16) Dicsőség Istennek a Mennyben, és békesség a földön azoknak, akik Isten tetszése szerint élnek!


17) 가장 높은 하늘에서는 하나님께 영광!


18) Ȝode sy ƿuldor on heahnesse and on eorðan sybb mannum ȝodes ƿillan;

Three people thought this was or might be Icelandic (with the ð and ƿ, I suppose). But the letter Ȝ/ȝ is typical of Anglo-Saxon/Old English, in this case the West Saxon dialect of the Wessex Gospels.

19) स्वर्गात देवाला गौरव

Marathi, the main language of the Indian states of Maharashtra and Goa. Too obscure; nobody got it.

20) Aiboojoj ñan Anij ilo utiejtata, im aenōṃṃan ioon laḷ ippān armej raṇ E buñbūruon kōn er.

Nobody got this either. It’s Marshallese, spoken in the Marshall Islands. The ṃ is the give-away letter here.

21) ସ୍ୱର୍ଗରେ ରହୁଥିବା ପରମେଶ୍ୱରଙ୍କ ଜୟ ହେଉ

This is Oriya or Odia, spoken in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. I’m generously letting Greg get a full point for this, even though he had already guessed the same answer for a different language. Two people thought it was Georgian, and I can see why.

22) Ilaah ha ku ammaanmo meelaha ugu sarreeya, Xagga dhulkana nabad ha ahaato dadka ka farxiya Ilaah dhexdooda.

Somali – the doubled consonants and vowels, and use of the letter X, are clues; also the word “Ilaah” for God indicates that it’s a Semitic language. Nobody got it.

23) ਸਵਰਗ ਵਿੱਚ ਪਰਮੇਸ਼ੁਰ ਦੀ ਉਸਤਤਿ ਹੋਵੇ

Punjabi, the most widely spoken language in Pakistan (and also in the Punjab in India).

24) Sáng danh Chúa trên các từng trời rất cao, Bình an dưới đất, ân trạch cho loài người!

Vietnamese. Everyone got it.

25) 荣耀归于至高无上的上帝。


I’m giving a half point for Aztec rather than Nahuatl, and a half point for Middle English rather than Old English. The final scores are:

– 7
– 7½
– 9½

in third place:
pseudomantid – 10

and joint winners:
Greg Hullender – 11
– 11 (entry received as I was typing this up).

Thanks to everyone!

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A Christmassy poll

(I think you can log in to do this poll using Facebook, Twitter and Google identities, if you want.)
The opening phrase of Luke 2:14 is below in 25 langauges – the full verse for those using the Latin alphabet.

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My tweets

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Sunday reading

The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
The Story of English in 100 Words, by David Crystal
It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis

Last books finished
The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig
Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories, ed. John Joseph Adams
A Life in Pieces, by Dave Stone, Paul Sutton & Joseph Lidster
Het genootschap van Socrates by Yves Leclercq and Stéphanie Heurteau
The Autumnlands, Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw, by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey
Democracy and its Deficits: The path towards becoming European-style democracies in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, by Ghia Nodia with Denis Cenușă and Mikhail Minakov
Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vol 4, by Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino, art by Carlos Gomez

Next books
Julian, by Gore Vidal
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, by Jane Hirshfield
"Gonna Roll the Bones" by Fritz Leiber

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My tweets

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