My 2019 books

I read 234 books this year, the fourth lowest of fifteen years that I have been keeping count. (Full numbers: 262 in 2018, 238 in 2017, 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). Being Hugo Administrator ate into my reading time. I am Deputy Hugo Administrator next year, so expect similar.

Page count for the year: 64,600 – third lowest of the nine years where I have kept count (71,600 in 2018, 60,500 in 2017; 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 non-male writers in 2019: 88/234, 38% – second highest ever, partly thanks to Hugo ballots. (102/262 [39%] in 2018, 64/238 [27%] in 2017, 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: 34/234, 15% – a record high, partly but not only due to the Hugo ballots. (26/262 [10%] in 2018, 17/238 [7%] in 2017, 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-read author this year: I read 7 books by Brian K. Vaughan, 6 of which were co-authored with Cliff Chiang (previous winners: Tove Jansson and Marcel Proust in 2018, Colin Brake and Leo in 2017, 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).

NB that book titles below mainly link to my reviews, and book covers link to pages if you want to buy the book from them (and kick a wee bit back to my Amazon credit).

1) Science Fiction and Fantasy (excluding Doctor Who)

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
77 108 68 80 130 124 65 62 78 73 78
33% 41% 29% 38% 45% 43% 27% 24% 26% 26% 23%

Lower than last year, still squarely in the middle of the historical ranking.

My top three sf books of 2019:

3) Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Great combination of loads of different SF themes – the degenerate generation starship, a very non-human civilisation; AIs pushed beyond their limits – and an intricate and well thought out plot with a satisfying ending. Won the Clarke Award in 2016. You can get it here.
2) Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman – A great YA novel combining elements of Tess of the d'Urbevilles, with a story of redemption from trauma and travel across a richly imagined landscape. A Lodestar finalist so I didn't review it at the time. You can get it here.
1) Time Was, by Ian McDonald – Fantastic queer romance timeslip war story, tying in lots of lovely detail (both historical and narrative) and building to a conclusion that I didn't quite see coming. Won the BSFA Short Fiction award. You can get it here.

The one you haven't heard of: Cat Country, by Lao She –  A very very direct satire on China of the 1930s, portrayed as a country on the planet Mars inhabited by cat people. You can get it here.

The one you can skip: Heartspell, by Blaine Anderson – A pretty rubbish example of the Celtic misht subgenre, where manly men fight battles and women do womanly druidic magic. In the very first chapter our hero is attacked by a cougar (there are no cougars in Ireland). There are tame wolves (wolves basically cannot be tamed). Ireland's eastern coast is much more rugged than the west (it isn't). Misspellings of Irish names abound. If you want, you can get it here.

2) Non-fiction

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
49 50 57 37 47 48 46 53 69 66 88
21% 19% 24% 17% 16% 16% 19% 20% 23% 24% 26%

Again, squarely in the middle of the historical range.

My top three non-fiction books of 2019:

3) Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, The Wall, and the Birth of the New Berlin, by Paul Hockenos – It's always good when someone you like writes a book you like about a subject you like. This is about West and East Berlin before the fall of the Wall, and the early years of reunification, and music. You can get it here.
2) Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by Alec Nevala-Lee – Great book about the men who made the Golden Age of science fiction, warts and all; a Hugo finalist which I therefore didn't review. You can get it here.
1) Alarums and Excursions: Improvising Politics on the European Stage, by Luuk van Middelaar – A tremendously lucid look at the weaknesses of the EU's internal architecture, and the possible ways forward. You can get it here.

The one you haven't heard of: Cycling in Victorian Ireland by Brian Griffin – A short but comprehensive book about the evolution of cycling from upper-middle-class fad to a mechanism to erode patriarchal and class oppression in late nineteenth-century Ireland. You can get it here.

The one you can skip: Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory by Deborah M. Withers – A jargon-filled PhD thesis which makes a fascinating subject dull. If you want, you can get it here.

3) Non-genre fiction

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
45 36 26 28 42 41 44 48 48 50 57
19% 14% 11% 13% 14% 14% 19% 19% 16% 18% 18%

Quite a high percentage, swelled by hitting the non-genre fiction part of various TBR piles.

My top three non-genre fiction books of 2019:

3) A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara – It's a tough read but a very good one, about four friends, one of whom is deeply damaged. The whole scenario is delicately and sympathetically observed. You can get it here.
2) The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters – It's 1922. Frances and her mother take in Lilian and Leonard as lodgers; there is a restrained clash of cultures – and then romance, and then murder. Frances as the viewpoint character is tremendously sympathetic even when she does things that are fundamentally not very nice. You can get it here.
1) Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo – A huge range of characters across contemporary London (with some flashbacks to earlier times and other places), almost all women, almost all black, all telling their stories from their own perspective, but often those stories intersect and overlap, and we see the same relationships from different angles. Great ending. You can get it here.

The one you haven't heard of: In Another Light by Andrew Greig – Great novel cutting back and forth between 2004 Britain (mostly Orkney with bits of London and elsewhere) and 1930s Malaya, both of them vividly portrayed. You can get it here.

The one you can skip: Alina by Jason Johnson – A badly written book about unpleasant people in Northern Ireland and Romania. If you want, you can get it here.

4) Comics

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
31 28 29 27 18 19 30 21 27 18 28
13% 11% 12% 13% 6% 7% 13% 8% 9% 6% 8%

An all-time high, partly due to Hugos and Retro Hugos, partly also because of more Doctor Who comics coming through the system, and a couple of re-reading projects which are detailed below.

My top three comics of 2019:

3) The Berlin Trilogy, by Jason Lutes – A tremendously well-done story of Berlin from 1928 to 1933, seen by just a few people caught up in the wider politics of the times. You can get volume 1 here, volume 2 here, volume 3 here, and (my recommendation) the whole lot here.

2) Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang – An everyday story of four 12-year-olds delivering newspapers in 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio, all from different ethnic backgrounds, who get swept up into a mysterious time war which takes them to the future and past, both near and far. You can get the six volumes here, here, here, here, here and here.

1) Saga, vol. 9, by Brian K. Vaughan (again) and Fiona Staples. I've been following this story of angel-girl and devil-boy In Space for years, and the latest novel brings us to a spectacular climax, at least for now. I understand that the authors are pausing before the next one, which is frustrating but understandable. You can get it here.

The one you haven't heard of: Animate Europe +, by David Shaw, Marta Okrasko, Juliana Penkova, Bruno Cordoba and Paul Rietzl – Shortlisted entries from this year's International Comics Competition on European themes, run by the Brussels office of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung. You can get it here (for free).

The one you can skip: Frédégonde, La sanguinaire, by Virginie Greiner and Alessia de Vincenzi – In fairness, the first volume is fine, but the second is poorly paced and most crucially fails to finish telling the story. You can get get vol 1 here and vol 2 here, but only in French (I think there is a Dutch translation, but not English).

4) Doctor Who

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
32 32 51 39 43 59 72 75 80 71 70
14% 12% 21% 18% 15% 20% 30% 29% 27% 26% 19%

Same number of Who books as last year, but a higher percentage because fewer books overall. Basically I have read almost all the Who books that there are – just a few spinoff lines to catch up with.

My top Doctor Who books of 2019, including non-fiction:

3) The autobiographies, and one biography – of John Leeson (buy), Mary Tamm (v1 review, buyv2 review, buy), Robert Holmes (buy), Matthew Waterhouse (buy), Peter Davison (buy), Andrew Cartmel (buy), and Christopher Eccleston (buy). That's roughly the increasing order of quality and interest, Eccleston's being much the best (not yet reviewed here) – not that Leeson's is terrible, mind you.

2) Two particularly gorgeous handbooks from 2010 and 2014 respectively, The TARDIS Handbook by Steve Tribe and The Secret Lives of Monsters by Justin Richards. A lot of thought and effort has gone into these, and it shows. You can get The Tardis Handbook here and The Secret Lives of Monsters here.

1) I haven't reviewed this yet online, but The Target Storybook, edited by Steve Cole with stories by Joy Wilkinson, Simon Guerrier, the much-missed Terrance Dicks, Matthew Sweet, Susie Day, Matthew "Adric" Waterhouse, Colin "Sixth Doctor" Baker, Mike Tucker, Cole himself, George Mann, Una McCormack, Jenny T Colgan, Jacqueline Rayner, Beverly Sanford and Vinay Patel is a total delight. You can get it here.

The one you haven't heard of: In Time, ed. Xanna Eve Chown, the last to date of the Bernice Summerfield spinoff books from Big Finish, this one an anthology with some very good stories (which, alas, will be mostly lost on those not familiar with Benny's continuity). You can get it here.

The one you can skip: Eric Saward's novelisation of Resurrection of the Daleks. For completists only. If you want, you can get it here.

5) Plays

Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, is much much better than Faustus Kelly, by Flann O'Brien. You can get Pygmalion here and Faustus Kelly here.

My Book of the Year

No hesitation at all in naming my Best New Book of 2019 as Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo. It won the Man Booker Prize jointly with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments, which is also high on my reading list for 2020. But I also enjoyed revisiting The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Previous Books of the Year:

2003 (2 months): The Separation, by Christopher Priest.
2004: The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread).
– Best new read: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin
2005: The Island at the Centre of the World, by Russell Shorto
2006: Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea
2007: Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
2008: The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank (reread)
– Best new read: Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray
2009: Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (had seen it on stage previously)
– Best new read: Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (first volume just pipped by Samuel Pepys in 2004)
2010: The Bloody Sunday Report, by Lord Savile et al.
2011: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon (started in 2009!)
2012: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë
2013: A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
2014: Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
2015: collectively, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, in particular the winner, Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel. However I did not actually blog about these, being one of the judges at the time.
– Best book I actually blogged about: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, by Claire Tomalin
2016: Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot
2017: Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light
2018: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling

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Tuesday and December books roundup

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman
Exhalation, by Ted Chiang

Last books finished
The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey
Doctor Who: The Target Storybook, ed. Steve Cole
Dragonworld, by Byron Preiss (did not finish)
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp
The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border, by Garrett Carr
I Love the Bones of You: My Father And The Making Of Me by Christopher Eccleston

December Books

Non-fiction: 4 (2019 total 49)
Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution, by Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp
The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border, by Garrett Carr
I Love the Bones of You: My Father And The Making Of Me by Christopher Eccleston

Fiction (non-sf): 5 (2019 total 46)
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
Hild, by Nicola Griffith
She Was Good-She Was Funny, by David Marusek
The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey

Theatre: 0 (2019 total 2)

sf (non-Who): 4 (2019 total 77)
My Morning Glory and other flashes of absurd science fiction, by David Marusek
Being Human: Bad Blood, by James Goss
Being Human: Chasers, by Mark Michalowski
Dragonworld, by Byron Preiss (did not finish)

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (2018 total 32)
Revelation of the Daleks, by Eric Saward
Revelation of the Daleks, by Jon Preddle
Wildthyme Beyond!, by Paul Magrs
Doctor Who: The Target Storybook, ed. Steve Cole

Comics: 0 (2019 total 31)

~4,600 pages (2019 total ~64,600)
4/16 (2019 total 88/234) by non-male writers (Trapp, Evaristo, Griffith, Massey)
3/16 (2019 total 34/234) by PoC (Dumas, Evaristo, Massey)
2/16 (2019 total 29/218) rereads (The Three Musketeers, Preddle's Revelation of the Daleks)

Coming soon (perhaps):
Demon in Leuven, by Guido Eekhaut
Auguria, Tome 1: Ecce signum, by Peter Nuyten
As Time Goes By, by Joshua Hale Fialkov
"Home is the Hangman", by Roger Zelazny
The Last Days of New Paris, by China Mieville
The Idea of Justice, by Amartya Sen
Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver
The Critique of Pure Reason, by Immanuel Kant
Arc of the Dream, by A. A. Attanasio
A Popular History of Ireland, by Thomas D’Arcy McGee
Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Babayaga, by Toby Barlow
Red Notice, by Bill Browder
Excession, by Iain M. Banks
Prophet of Bones, by Ted Kosmatka
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson
The First Men in the Moon, by H. G. Wells
Small Island, by Andrea Levy

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My tweets

  • Mon, 22:41: RT @BamaWriter: i’m not an RWA member, but i *do* have experience in PR & crisis management (and RWA *is* in crisis right now). They need 4…
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July 2004 books

July 2004 began and ended with travels for me – beginning with an epic journey by train to Paris, then flying to Berlin, and then Belgrade, then driving from Belgrade to Pristina and Skopje before flying home again via Budapest, a total of six countries in ten days. It was particularly significant because one of my co-speakers at the conference I attended while in Kosovo was to become my next boss two and a half years later; of course neither of us knew that at the time. I also got to London for a day, and was appointed to the Advisory Board of the South East European Research Centre in Thessaloniki (the centre is still going strong, not sure about the board). My intern A, half Slovene, half Geordie, left the Brussels office but went on to do some work for us in the Balkans later in the year. (Her replacement arrived only in August.) And on the last two days of the month we did our usual summer holiday drive to Northern Ireland via Kidderminster. F celebrated his fifth birthday with schoolfriends – the first time we had had a kids' birthday party, which was nice. I don’t seem to have any pictures of the party, but here’s B up a tree in our back garden, and F and U with me on a visit to Mini-Europe.

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 26)
Saki: A Life of Hector Hugh Munro, with six short stories never before collected, by A. J. Langguth
A Narrative About War And Freedom: Dialog with the commander Ramush Haradinaj, by Bardh Hamzaj
J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, by Tom Shippey
The Politics of Serbia in the 1990s, by Robert Thomas
The Story of Alice, by Mavis Batey

SF 6 (TYD 41)
The Holy Machine, by Chris Beckett
Newton's Wake, by Ken MacLeod
The Human Abstract, by George Mann
Cartomancy, by Mary Gentle
The Door into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein
River of Gods, by Ian McDonald

Comics 1 (YTD 2)
The Complete Maus, by Art Spiegelman

3,700 pages (YTD 26,900)
2/12 by women (YTD 19/78)
none by PoC (YTD 1/78)

Links above to my reviews, links below to Amazon.

My two top books of the month are Spiegelman's classic Holocaust comic Maus, which you can get here, and Shippey's brilliant book on Tolkien, which you can get here. At the other end, I am not a fan of George Mann's writing anyway, and The Human Abstract, which you can get here, is my least favourite of his books.

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My tweets

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My tweets

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“She Was Good-She Was Funny”, and My Morning Glory etc, by David Marusek

Third para of "She Was Good-She Was Funny":

In the meantime there was plenty to do. Walt hauled water uphill by sled from a hole he had chopped in the lake. He split and stacked firewood. He shoveled snow from his rather lengthy driveway. He taught himself to cross-country ski and visited his few and odd neighbors.

Second para of third story in My Morning Glory and other flashes of absurd science fiction:

“My man,” he says, sliding into the booth. “Where’s Vera?”

Two very short collections by David Marusek (who I met when we were room-mates for the 2004 Worldcon in Glasgow). "She Was Good-She Was Funny" is a Playboy short story about a guy in Alaska (where Marusek lives) who has a fight with his neighbour about a girl; OK but not remarkable. You can get it here.

The three very short pieces in My Morning Glory and other flashes of absurd science fiction are all sparkling, though – each takes a single sf idea and just develops it for a few pages. They were all originally published in Nature. You can get them here.

These were the shortest books on my pile acquired in 2012. Next, if I can find it, the 2012 Doctor Who Annual.

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The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas

Second and third paragraphs of third chapter:

— Athos ! Porthos ! Aramis !
Les deux mousquetaires avec lesquels nous avons déjà fait connaissance et qui répondaient aux deux derniers de ces trois noms, quittèrent aussitôt les groupes dont ils faisaient partie et s’avancèrent vers le cabinet, dont la porte se referma derrière eux dès qu’ils en eurent franchi le seuil. Leur contenance, bien qu’elle ne fût pas tout-à-fait tranquille, excita cependant, par son laisser-aller à la fois plein de dignité et de soumission, l’admiration de d’Artagnan, qui voyait dans ces hommes des demi-dieux, et dans leur chef un Jupiter olympien armé de toutes ses foudres.
“Athos! Porthos! Aramis!”
The two musketeers whose acquaintance we have already made, and who answered to the last two of these three names, immediately left the groups they were part of and advanced towards the office, the door of which closed behind them the moment they not entirely calm, still aroused d’Artagnan’s admiration by its casualness, which was at once full of dignity and of submission. He saw these men as demigods and their chief as an Olympian Jupiter armed with all his thunderbolts.

Well, this was a welcome revisiting of a past favourite. I first read it aged about eight, in an abridged version with all the sex taken out (which makes some of the plot twists even less comprehensible), and came back to it as an undergraduate in a more complete version. It's full of exciting fights and journeys, to England, to the siege of La Rochelle, to the palaces of the King and Queen and the Cardinal, and D'Artagnan, our hero, and the three musketeers of the title are all well enough delineated, cardboard with some decent background colour.

The big flaw is in the background and fate of Milady de Winter, the chief villainess. Aged only 22, she has already married Athos and (as far as he knows) been killed by him in retribution of dishonour, and yet also managed to marry de Winter's brother and become a trusted agent of the Cardinal despite her criminal record. It's a bit reminiscent of Patrick Ward in the Bloody Sunday Report. On top of this, the poor woman is subjected to summary execution by three men who she has wronged (two of whom have already tried to kill her), a deadly act given legitimacy by Porthos and Aramis, with the plausible deniability of actually beheading her in Belgium rather than France. I mean, she's not a nice person – the attempted poisoning of our heroes is a nasty thing to do – but one cannot really feel that she has been given justice. (I do like the transgender theory.)

And D'Artagnan's love life is barely coherent. He spent most of the book longing for Constance Bonacieux, who he has met about twice. He manages to deceive Milady into thinking he is the Comte des Wardes (how can she possibly make this mistake?) and his only really successful liaison with with Milady's maid Kitty, where they obviously have raucously glorious sex, even though he is using her for access to her boss (and she knows this deep down). It's a bit unpleasant to be honest, but also not all that convincing.

Still, the book really does succeed in evoking a complex political society in which young men thrash about violently and the real power-brokers try to shape their impulses to political ends. It has its internal inconsistencies but in the end it is generally great fun. You can get it here.

I think I've seen two versions of it on film – the 1973 one with Spike Milligan as Bonacieux

and the 1993 one with Tim Curry as the Cardinal.

This was the top book on my shelves that I had not already reviewed online. Next up is A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.

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The Sound of Music (1965) and The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (1949)

The Sound of Music won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1965, and picked up another four: Best Director (Robert Wise), Best Music (Irwin Kostal), Best Sound Recording and Best Film Editing. Doctor Zhivago also won five Oscars that year, beating The Sound of Music for three of them.

The other Best Picture nominees were Darling, Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools and A Thousand Clowns, none of which I have seen. For once, IMDB users agree with the Oscar voters, with The Sound of Music on top of one ranking and second to For A Few Dollars More on the other. I haven’t seen For A Few Dollars More, but I have seen a half-dozen other films from 1964: Thunderball, Help!, The Ipcress File, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, Dr Who and the Daleks and The Monkey’s Uncle (mostly from Saturday TV in the olden days). I must say I am aligned with both the Oscar voters and IMDB users; The Sound of Music is the best of the lot. In the improbable case that you are not familiar with it, here’s a trailer.

You know what it’s about, but I’ll remind you anyway. Julie Andrews plays trainee nun Maria, who is sent as governess to Captain von Trapp (who has some surprisingly mature children for a man of his apparent age). She erodes his gritty reserve and they fall in love. Then, in a swerve from family drama to global affairs, Nazi Germany annexes their country, von Trapp escapes conscription into the Third Reich navy and they flee across the mountains to Switzerland.

And, well, it’s just brilliant (such a relief after I found that My Fair Lady had aged rather badly). There’s one minus point that I will come to, but in general I loved rewatching it. It’s going right to the top of my list – well, in second place behind Casablanca, which is also about resisting the Nazis and has a more compelling plot, but ahead of An American in Paris, which despite the lovely music, doesn’t do much for its women characters. In particular, I appreciated the emancipatory lyrics of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, not a revolutionary song, but still one which calls for self-belief and personal ambition. It is the climax of the film, of course, but it’s introduced by the Reverend Mother challenging Maria to live for herself.

(The Liberal Democrats have a version of this which applies to election campaigns.)

We have two returnees from previous Oscar-winning films. Anna Lee, who played Bronwen in How Green Was My Valley twenty-three years ago, is Sister Margarethe here. (She has barely changed!)

And Norma Varden, whose husband got pickpocketed in Casablanca twenty-one years ago, returns as Frau Schmidt, the Captain’s housekeeper.

One important returner who we have not in fact previously seen is Marni Nixon, who dubbed the principals in both West Side Story and My Fair Lady, but here is allowed to appear in the flesh (because Julie Andrews did not need to be dubbed).

I mentioned that there is one negative point. I’m afraid it’s our old friend whitewashing. To my surprise, the original book recalls a very friendly encounter between the von Trapp family while they were still in Austria and the great American singer Marian Anderson. OK, the film considerably truncates the family’s singing career in Austria, but it should be noted that one of the elements of the story that was thus excised was an actual meeting with a black woman musician. (More than half of the book is about their lives in America, and they have plenty of encounters with people of colour.)

But otherwise, it’s sheer joy. I’m going to give a particular shout-out to Charmian Carr, aged 22 and playing 16-year-old Liesl, who is by far the best performer of the kids but lets the others all get their turn, apart of course from her own song.

Incidentally the real eldest daughter, whose name was Agathe not Liesl, was gay and ran a kindergarten in Maryland for many years with her partner.

And there’s the completely bonkers “Lonely Goatherd”, which certainly gave me as a child the completely false idea that you could knock together a puppet show perfomance in a wet afternoon.

The settings of Salzburg and the Alps are mercilessly exploited. Here’s the picnic scene in Do-Re-Mi (where the kids are wearing clothes that Maria has whipped up from curtains ovenight):

The best songs get repeated in a slightly different context. “My Favourite Things” marks both turning points for Maria’s relationship with the children, when she bonds with them and when she comes back.

The songs can also distract from just how well the film is directed and acted. I give you the dance of Maria and the Captain (my friend points out that Maria is the only one at the party who doesn’t have a full-length dress), illustrating also the talents of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the lead roles:

And “Something Good”, a less memorable song, gets some memorable cinematography:

And I must say that my curmudgeonly cynical soul was moved to tears at the moment when the Captain’s heart is melted by his children’s singing.

It’s all fantastic, really.

The Sound of Music has totally permeated our culture. Here’s a flashmob at Antwerp Central station perfoming Do-Re-Mi to the bemusement of commuters:

Here’s Lady Gaga with an extraordinary performance of selections from The Sound of Music at the 2015 Oscars – particularly worth it for the moment at 4:29 just after she finishes, looks into the wings and realises what’s happening next.

Also in 2015, infamous Slovenian industrial rock group Laibach performed two concerts in North Korea, including mostly songs from The Sound of Music, which is used for teaching English in the DPRK. There is of course an album, and several songs are available on Youtube (including the title song and “Lonely Goatherd”). The littlest of the girls in their “So Long, Farewell” is the daughter of a friend of mine (she’s also in “My Favourite Things”).

Well. My next Oscar-winning film takes me back to Merrie England with A Man for All Seasons. I don’t anticioate it being as much fun.

Maria von Trapp’s relationship with the movie was complex and intimate. Famously, she was not invited to the premiere, even though she and two of her daughters make a brief cameo appearance in “I Have Confidence”.

However, she was sufficiently laid back to teach Julie Andrews how to yodel.

The movie was based on her book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which came out in 1949. Here’s the second paragraph of the third chapter:

Desperate, I looked for help.

Actually only the first part of the book deals with their time in Austria; the rest is about their experiences in America. Neither book nor film explains much about Maria’s own background – apparently both her parents died by the time she was ten, and various other arrangements did not work out; she did get a professional teaching qualification before entering the convent.

The major change to the story is the telescoping of time. Maria and Georg married in 1927, when he was 47 and she was 22 (when the film was made, Julie Andrews was 29 and Christopher Plummer 35); over the next ten years the family became noted performers, especially when most of their money was wiped out in a bank crash and they needed the income; Maria had three more children to add to the seven from the first marriage; the turning point when they decided to flee was after they were invited to sing for Hitler on his birthday after the Anschluss, and knew that they could not bring themselves to do it but also could not stay in the Reich if they said no. And they fled to Italy, where Georg von Trapp had citizenship due to havig been born in Zara when it was Austrian (it was then Italian and is now the Croatian city of Zadar).

Most of the story about her romance with Georg von Trapp is consistent between the book and the musical/film, and a lot of the little details about life in the Trapp household are taken from the book. Maria’s rival for Trapp’s affections is described as “Princess Yvonne”, a distant cousin of the first Mrs Trapp, and by implication of Austro-Hungarian nobility. I have done a bit of detective work on this. The first Mrs Trapp was born Agatha Whitehead, into a family of British naval engineers who moved to the Austro-Hungarian coast (now in Croatia) – her grandfather invented the torpedo, and his son carried on the work. Her mother was an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat, who would have had many eligible nieces and cousins I suppose; also her father’s sister married Georg von Hoyos, her cousin was the diplomat Alexander von Hoyos, and there are plenty of candidates on that side as well (I see an Ilona who would be the right age and is almost “Yvonne”). Incidentally Georg von Trapp was a submarine captain, and personally sank eleven Allied ships in the first world war, six of them British; we don’t hear much about that.

The book is frank about the problems of impoverished gentility and very direct about the plight of refugees trying to get permanent status in the USA – it is of course inhumanly difficult now, but it wasn’t all that easy back then even for nice white people. Maria is also very up front about her personal piety and devotion to the Catholic faith – it’s entirely consistent with the story of her vocation, and it’s an element that is only alluded to as background colour in the film.

It’s a celebrity memoir, written for fans, but also I feel putting down on paper the stories that Maria had told her friends and family over many years. She finishes with reflections on the fundraising that the family had done for humanitarian relief in Austria after the war ended, an emotional but also super-organisational task, and on Georg’s death from lung cancer in 1947 on the Vermont farm that the family set up as first a refuge and then a business, and which is still run by the grandchildren. Their legacy remains strong. You can get the book here.

Winners of the Oscar for Best Picture

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 80 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) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021) | Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

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Revelation of the Daleks: novelisations by Eric Saward and Jon Preddle

Second to fifth paragraphs of third chapter of Eric Saward's novelisation:

'You were mistaken,' said Grigory.
Natasha tugged at the body-bag. 'Unwrap him.'
'Are you sure you want to see this?'
'There is no other way of proving he's actually here.'

Second paragraph of third chapter of Jon Preddle's novelisation:

Grigory took a hand-scanner from his case and held it over the shrouded body. The scanner sounded a loud beep as it registered a humanoid form.

The very last of the Old Who stories to receive official novelisation treatment, Revelation of the Daleks has now been written up by its author, Eric Saward, a mere thirty-four years after its first broadcast. Fannish imagination will always fill a vacuum, and as I did with Resurrection of the Daleks a couple of months ago, I read it along with the unofficial novelisation (this time by Jon Preddle) from 1992.

This is what I wrote when I first watched Revelation of the Daleks in 2007:

When I expressed the view that none of the Sixth Doctor stories was any good at all, , , and all recommended I try Revelation of the Daleks (with mild dissent from and ). The Dynamic Doctor Who Rankings page currently has Revelation of the Daleks at a princely 51st out of 200 stories ranked, better by far than any other Sixth Doctor story – The Two Doctors is now at 100th place, and Vengeance on Varos at 102nd, while The Twin Dilemma has rather surprisingly been shifted from last place in the list by Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks, presumably by voters who have not actually seen The Twin Dilemma themselves.

I realised that I'm a bit out of phase with Davros' history – I have seen Genesis of the Daleks many times, and was then rather baffled by Remembrance of the Daleks (which is this month's pick on ), but have not seen either Destiny of the Daleks or Resurrection of the Daleks. I'm also not well up on the Sixth Doctor generally – I think I saw The Twin Dilemma, Vengeance on Varos and The Two Doctors when first broadcast, and this is the first of his stories I have watched since. (I must add the standard rider – "but the audio adventures are so much better" – because on the whole they are, especially the ones with companion Evelyn Smythe.)

I don't think it matters. This is almost a 1985 version of the more recent "Doctor-lite" episodes, with him and Peri not really there much, and Davros playing a role which is incomprehensible given his past and future as we know it. If you can overlook the huge plot flaw of Davros feeding the entire galaxy with the corpses of a few rich people, it's very well done, with various different factions of characters motivated for different reasons. In fact it's odd to consider that this was a time when, despite the generally lousy production values, really big names wanted to appear on Doctor Who – here we have Alexei Sayle, Eleanor Bron, Clive Swift (Hyacinth's husband in Keeping Up Appearances), and William Gaunt (who I can't remember seeing in anything else, but he is very good here). Shame about Jenny Tomasin but you can't have everything.

So, basically, I liked this – not a great story, but at least a good one, and definitely under-rated.

And this is what I wrote when I rewatched it in 2011:

I do agree with those who see Revelation of the Daleks as one of the best Sixth Doctor stories. It is full of fun stuff to watch – the Kara/Vogel interaction, the Jobel / Tasambeker relationship, Grigory and Natasha, and of course the DJ. And the fundamentals of the plot are fairly sound by the standards of this period of Who; it is the first time, I think, that we have seen the Daleks attempting to propagate their race by converting humans, though Terry Nation had hinted at this in one of the Dalek Annuals. It is a bit odd that the Doctor and Peri are present for so little of the action, and someone less kind than me would say that that is one of the story's strengths.

And on first reading the Jon Preddle novelisation in 2008, I wrote this:

This is the last of the New Zealand fan-produced novelisations (apart from the one of City of Death which I haven't yet got hold of). Preddle says in his introduction that there are two ways of doing these books, the right way and the Terrance Dicks way, and he is conscious of having gone for the latter option. This isn't really fair on Terrance Dicks, who is a more than competent writer when on form, or indeed to Preddle himself, who has turned in quite a reasonable adaptation of what was a decent enough story to begin with, with extra characterisation of the Happy Repose setup (and unhampered by one particular rather weak performance).

Unlike Resurrection of the Daleks, I felt sufficient confident in my memory of the TV story to feel that I could judge the novels without rewatching it again. (Also, I was busy watching Blake's 7.) Here, for a quick comparison of the two styles, are the two versions of the cliffhanger:

Saward Preddle
It was then Peri saw the statue of the Doctor starting to oscillate. At first, she thought it was a hallucination, but on closer examination she saw it was definitely sliding, swinging, swaying.
'Doctor!' she called desperately, but again he didn't hear her.
The sculpture was now on the verge of toppling.
'Doctor! Look at the statue! It's moving!'
Still the unhearing Time Lord remained transfixed.
The statue was now tilting further forward.
The massive stone rolled forward and under the effects of gravity collapsed onto the Time Lord.
It was sad that such a beautifully carved piece of stone had been turned into a weapon of death.
Then she blinked. Had the statue moved? No, surely not. Probably just the reflection of the sun in the pond. But as she looked again, she could see that the tall stone was moving… it was tipping over – and the Doctor was standing right in its path!

‘Doctor! Look out – the statue!’ she shouted.

Her cries brought the Time Lord back to reality. He looked up to see his stone twin looming over him like an angel of death. He held up his hands to protect himself, but it was too late.

With a loud crash, the stone doppelganger claimed its victim…

Neither of these is Great Literature, but on the other hand this is a better, more coherent story than Resurrection of the Daleks (even if the plot is basically resolved by killing almost all of the other characters) and these are therefore both better novels for it. Saward for once has dialled down his writing style, and cranked up his concentration on character and giving his fictional world a bit more in-universe context, to the point that this is actually a pretty readable book. Preddle’s earlier work is also a decent effort, without the depth that Saward brings to it but perhaps a bit more emotional empathy. These are for completists only, but not too embarrassing. You can get the Saward novelisation here, and the Preddle version here.

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The monuments of Laeken cemetery, especially those by Ernest Salu

The other half of yesterday’s trip was to inspect Laeken cemetery in northwestern Brussels. There is a cluster of spectacular monuments close to the church by one or other of the three generations of sculptor who shared the name Ernest Salu; the founder of the line lived from 1846-1923 and started his funerary business in the 1870s; his son lived 1885-1980 and I think must have been responsible for the best of the monuments; and the last Ernest Salu lived 1909-1987, clsoing the business in the 1980s more than a century after his grandfather had started it.

The jewel in the collection is this amazing monument to Max Pelgrims, son of the industrialist Eugène Pelgrims, killed in action at the age of 24 in the early days of the First World War (defending Aarschot, not so far from here).

It seems that Eugène Pelgrims and his wife Léonie Dailly had no other children. He survived Max by thirteen years; Léonie outlived him by another twenty.

There are a number of mourning bronze ladies, decorously draped acrodd the tombstones. My favourite is this lady commenorating Jules Denis and his wife Marie Devos. I have not been able to identify them (there is a Jules Denis who was active as an architect in Brussels in the 1880s, but that is too early).  He was 47 when he died in 1919; possibly a victiom of the great flu epidemic, or of war injuries? She lived another 44 years without him.

I didn’t note the dates for this lady mourning the Duco-Netels family (of whom I was unable to discover anything else) but she’s clearly a bit more Art Deco from the style of the letters, so perhaps about ten years after the Denis-Devos tomb. Unlike most of the others, she is standing up thoughtfully.
General Storms, a leader of the brutal colonial enterprise in the Congo, was already familiar to me from his statue in the Sqaure de Meeûs around the corner from my office. This is a nice framing of what must surely be another Salu bronze.
What is this lady looking at?
It’s not just the resting place of the D’Haeyere family; she’s also right next door to one of the genuine castings of Rodin’s The Thinker. Art collector Jef Dillen bought it in 1927, after the city of Paris decided that it didn’t fit in front of the Pantheon. He ended up underneath it eight years later (he died in 1935).
Back to the Salu sculptures again. This woman with outstretched arms commemorates the Belgian composer and musician Jules-Emile Strauwen. (I’ve enhanced the picture to get the colours properly.)
And a very early Salu sculpture in marble commemorates another musician, the great pianist Marie Pleyel (I love the claws under the casket). Liszt and Berlioz were in love with her, Chopin dedicated Nocturnes to her, but she married Mr Pleyel instead; his family made the pianos on which they all depended. The marriage didn’t last, but she lived on and rests here. She dies in 1875, so must have been one of the first Ernest Salu’s very early customers.
Finally, here’s a carved tree with the title “Cycle of Life and Death”, by the contemporary sculptor Anton Klijnsmit. I’m giving you details of the two figures, presumably Life and Death respectively.
Our tactical mistake was to visit on a Thursday rather than a Saturday or Sunday, when the former workshop of the three Ernest Salus is open to the public. Something to do on a future free weekend.

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“Superheroes Never Die. Comics and Jewish Memories” exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Belgium

So, I went to the "Superheroes Never Die. Comics and Jewish Memories" exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Belgium yesterday. It was as good as I had hoped, linking the origins of the American comics tradition with the authors' experience of immigration and integration.

There is a particularly interesting moment from 1940 when Superman, taking Adolf Hitler captive, threatens him with "a strictly non-Aryan sock on your jaw".

It was also a bit chilling to see America's knowledge of Belgium in the first world war reflected in a comic of 1914.

There is lots of lovely art.

Also, Batman and Robin now have competition.

You have plenty of time to catch it – it's on until 26 April (my birthday). It's at Rue des Minimes 21, just off the Grand Sablon.

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Tuesday reading (last of the year)

I’ll do a reading roundup next Tuesday, but it will be for twelve months, not seven days!

The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey
Doctor Who: The Target Storybook, ed. Steve Cole

Last books finished
Being Human: Bad Blood, by James Goss
Wildthyme Beyond!, by Paul Magrs
Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution, by Stephen Zunes
Being Human: Chasers, by Mark Michalowski

Next books
Dragonworld, by Byron Preiss
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

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June 2004 books

June 2004 was the month I switched from my old email address, which I'd had since 1997, to my Gmail address, which I've had ever since. Ronald Reagan died; the new European Parliament was elected. Those were more innocent times. I also posted my Hugo finalists review.

This was the month of my one and only trip to Russia, a hasty 48 hours in Moscow (actually a bit less, two days and a night). We also published reports on Moldova and Bosnia, and I had an op-ed on Moldova published in European Voice which seems to have vanished from their archive but is preserved by my former employers.

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 21)
Roger Zelazny, by Jane Lindskold
Black Garden, by Thomas de Waal
A Turkey Travelogue, by Mark C. Leeper
Avonturen van een Nederbelg, by Derk Jan Eppink
Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord Of The Rings, by Lin Carter, updated by Adam Roberts

Non-genre 3 (YTD 7)
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
Beasts & Super-Beasts, by Saki
Reginald in Russia, by Saki

SF 3 (YTD 35)
Gather, Darkness!, by Fritz Leiber
Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow
On Basilisk Station, by David Weber

2,800 pages (YTD 23,200)
2/11 by women (YTD 17/66)
none by PoC (YTD 1/66)

Links above to my reviews, below to Amazon.

Top book of the month was Thomas de Waal's account of Nagorno-Karabakh, updated by his new book on the Caucasus published this year, which I have got but not yet read. I did not know anything much about him back in 2004; we are now friends. You can get it here. Second favourite is Saki's eternal Beasts and Super-Beasts, which you can get here. Two to avoid: Carter on Tolkien, and On Basilisk Station.

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My top Livejournal posts of 2019

As the deafening noise of tumbleweed grows, here are the three LJ posts that got five or more comments this year.

2 June: a post about objets d’art in Utrecht and Leuven. 5 comments.
1 December: Dr Strangelove, the book it was based on and the book of the film. Also 5 comments.

18 February: The 54 whole numbers whose square root is less than or equal to their number of divisors. 8 comments.

How the mighty have fallen.

(Last year I tried posting an analysis of my LinkedIn posts as well, but it’s really impossible to pull meaningful statistics.)

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My top tweets of 2019

I’ve been fiddling around with the methodology of rating top tweets using the analytics that Twitter provides, and I’ve finally come up with a solution that satisfies me – rank them all, by all the rankings available; and add together the reciprocal of each ranking to get an overall score. That gives me a top 22 which I am goign to share with you. Tough, it’s my blog.

In 22nd place, election day commentary and the one and only tweet of the year that got an app opened (whatever that means):

21) Start of a bitter thread commenting on the UK’s Foreign Office.

20) End of a long and bitter thread predicting No Deal as the most likely outcome of Brexit:

19) Jeannette Ng’s speech from the Hugo ceremony.

18) The Twitter version of the crowdsourcing question, which led to a blog post and then my Five Books interview:

17) Start of another pessimistic Brexit thread.

16) A nice little video moment from the British parliament attempting to twist Sir Ivan Rogers, who played a straight bat in return (if that is the right metaphor):

15) One of a series of tweets (that got misinterpreted by a Belfast journalist), projecting the local government election votes onto the Westminster constituency boundaries.

14) The Flemish press came up with a good term for Boris Johnson.

13) Another Brexit thread, this time critiquing a POLITICO article.

12) Not very surprisingly, this got the most permalink clicks of the year.

11) Science fiction meets commentary on the UK Supreme Court.

10) In the run up to the Hugo voting deadline, some votes were very close.

9) Another of the tweets projecting local election results in Northern Ireland to Westminster constituency boundaries.

8) One of the two most successful local election commentary tweets.

7) The Twitter version of my most commented post on Facebook for the year – this also got the most replies of any of my posts on Twitter.

6) Start of my local government elections thread. It got the most “detail expands”, whatever that means.

5) My most popular local election tweet – I think because it was a fairly early result, and a dramatic one. Also got the most hashtag clicks (on #LE19).

4) My best scoring tweet from European election commentary. I’m pleased with this picture. I had just taken one with Naomi Long and Diane Dodds looking away, and Martina Anderson looking at me; as I took it, Martina Anderson said my name and the other two immediately looked in my direction, so I got this much better shot as well.

3) The best performing of my tweets on the local election votes, projected to the Westminster boundaries, and also had the highest :engagement rate” (whatever that is) of any of my 2019 tweets. South Belfast is a very volatile seat.

2) Another of my long Brexit threads. This one got me the most new followers. (Five, which is the same as the equivalent tweet last year.)

1) Top tweet of the year, by a long way. It got the most impressions, most engagements, most retweets, most likes, most user profile clicks, most url clicks, most media views and most media engagements of all of my 2019 tweets. Sadly the content is not original, but deserved to be reposted.

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My top Facebook posts of 2019

I had a couple of Facebook posts that went viral this year. The best performing was one where I didn't actually write the material myself, but shared it from a screenshot, and it got picked up by the two linguistic communities concerned, etting 99 shares.

This Brexit commentary was my own material, and got 21 shares.

My five Facebook posts that got the most comments, in ascending order, were this Brexit commentary (actually copied from an FT journalist’s tweet, with attribution):

…which was beaten by this Brexit commentary:

…which was beaten by this very brief Brexit commentary:

…which was beaten by this crowdsourcing question, which led to a blog post and then my Five Books interview:

…but all were beaten by this slightly stalkerish meme riffing off the Conservative Party leadership contest.

My five most liked (etc) Facebook posts of the year were in general less political. In fifth place, sheer vanity:

Beaten by this, where I should have credited the artist:

Beaten by this scene of debauchery from the work Christmas party:

Beaten by B’s birthday:

But coming in at a massive 640 likes is a picture of me and an adult relative who is not a Facebook user; it is therefore a private post, but even so 640 people liked it. If we are Facebook friends, you can see it here.

However I should say that my most-liked Facebook post of 2018 was made after I had worked out the numbers for last year

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My top Instagram posts of 2019

It's not all that easy to measure Instagram impact (and they are going to make it more difficult). These two videos both got between 300 and 400 views.

My top five Instagram photo posts were:

(A visit to the Vatican)

(A visit to Dordrecht)

(The two younger kids at a comics festival in Brussels)

(B’s birthday)

(Doctor Who content will seriously increase your footprint!)

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My media in 2019

My biggest media appearances were the BBC election broadcasts for the three elections in Northern Ireland, with my long-term sparring partner Mark Devenport. Not much of it is online, but I am in 2:49-3:35 here:

Some viewers' responses were a little, er, unusual…

The most important piece that I wrote on Northern Ireland was for the Irish Times, published 10 July, setting out the three preconditions as I see them for a referendum on unifying Ireland to be successful.

(Click to embiggen)

Apart from that, on Northern Ireland I was quoted three times by Rory Carroll in the Guardian:
12 July: Belfast bonfire 'victory' masks tide turning against loyalist Twelfth
15 August: How the 'neithers' could decide Northern Ireland's political fate
20 December: How Northern Ireland vote was punishment for Stormont impasse

I also did a piece for the Newsletter on 10 January, being sceptical about the SDLP-Fianna Fáil link.

Finally, a Belgian journalism student interviewed me a couple of weeks ago for a piece explaining the connection between Northern Ireland and Brexit.

Apart from the BBC election coverage, I did two televised panel discussions with Tian Wei on CGTN's flagship programme World Insight. The first was on the Biarritz summit. My bits are are 14:40-18:30 and 23:25-24:50.

The second was on Brexit. I got a bit more time here, 6:45-8:15, 13:34-14:46, 16:45-19:10 and briefly 25:40-25:55. The exchanges between Tian Wei and Cui Hongjian are particularly interesting as an insight into how Chinese commentators view the functioning of democratic systems in general.

In print, I was interviewed by Bloomberg on speculation about the future of Margrethe Vestager on 13 March. (A memorable interview for me; I was at the airport in Prishtina, Kosovo, talking down the line on a connection which seemed just about robust enough…)

I got some decent coverage from a 9 May Foreign Policy piece on why some countries don't have populism, which led on to an interview with Euronews on the same topic – the English version of the story did not use the video, but the Spanish, Hungarian and Portuguese versions did. Here’s the Spanish version: I am in it at 1:19-1:54 and again at 2:18-2:44.

I did a more general preview of the elections for the Law Societies, and commented on the energy/environmental aspect here.

The Hugo Awards brought me a spot on Five Books, a site I have loved if not followed closely for ages, so I was thrilled about that – it had a lot of resonance. The awards themselves were covered in Irish Tech News, and Polygon quoted me on Archive Of Our Own qualifying for the final ballot.

Finally, I did a lot of speeches etc throughout the year, but two of my hosts put out press releases mentioning me, within a week of each other in March: the Cass Business School and the National Council of Insurance Legislators.

Further posts coming on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Livejournal.

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It’s Gauda Prime Day – so here is my write-up of the fourth and final series of Blake’s 7

Today is the anniversary of the last episode of Blake's 7 being first shown on TV, and we hardcore fans refer to 21 December as Gauda Prime Day after the planet on which that last episode was set. It's the end of my revisiting the show – I realised actually that I had missed quite a lot of it first time round, so it's been a lovely journey of discovery as well as rediscovery. (If you want to see my previous write-ups they are here, here, here and here)

4.1 Rescue, written by Chris Boucher, directed by Mary Ridge

Well, we really are off with a bang, as the planet Terminal explodes, taking poor Cally with it. (She got reincarnated, I think, as a woman widowed during the Troubles in one of the Northern Ireland Office's peace advertisements about ten years later.) And our crew get rescued by Dorian, who is a direct lift from Oscar Wilde, with an alien alter ego in the basement; when he turns out to be evil and is disposed of, his girlfriend Soolin joins the team. Fans are generally a bit down on this series, but I enjoyed most of the stories, including this one; it gets a bit over the top at the end (the monster is only just passable), but in particular I thought Geoffrey Burridge was great as Dorian himself; I am surprised that he was not better known.

Glynis Barber as new regular Soolin isn't quite as intense as Cally, but doen't annoy me as much as Tarrant. She has actually been here before, as a mutoid in the first series.

Dialogue triumphs:

Dayna: Don't you ever get bored with being right?
Avon: Just with the rest of you being wrong.

Avon: 'A man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.' Cally once said that was a saying among her people.
Dorian: Who's Cally?
Avon: Cally was murdered. So were most of her people.

Dayna: Cheer up, Vila. You've got a lot of very bright associates too.
Vila: Oh yeah? Name six.

4.2 Power, written by Ben Steed, directed by Mary Ridge

Having said that I liked most of this series' episodes, this was pretty dire – another battle of the sexes story by Ben Steed. You know, if the women and men of the planet Xenon have been at war with each other for years, where do all the little Xenonians come from? (Actually we don't see any, so perhaps that's the answer.) The other pot strand is a well-done locked-door problem with Vila and Avon, but the clunky sexism rather spoils it. Avon does one of his power snogs with Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill).

We have two crossover with the Sixth Doctor story Timelash, where Dicken Ashworth, playing the leader of the menfolk here, is Sezon, and Paul Darrow of course is Tekker. Unfortunately I don't think they are in any scenes together.

Dialogue triumphs:

Pella: You must be very clever.
Vila: That's what I keep telling everyone. They even believed me in CF One.
Pella: CF One?
Vila: A sort of academy, when I was a boy. They chose me as technical advisor for the escape.
Pella: Escape? From an academy?
Vila Restal: Perhaps academy was the wrong word.

4.3 Traitor, written by Robert Holmes, directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

One of the great Robert Holmes' less great contributions to the series, this has the Scorpio crew observing politics on a planet where really the most interesting thing is that Servalan, for some unknown reason, has decided to rename herself Sleer. Once again the Federation has a vulnerable and underdefended communications terminal (you'd think they'd have learned by now).

Two Doctor Who crossovers. Christopher Neame, here Colonel Quute, was Skagra in the unshown Fourth Doctor story Shada.

And David Quilter, here playing a soldier known only as The Tracer, appears in New Who as the butler in the Tenth Doctor Agatha Christie story, The Unicorn and the Wasp.

Dialogue triumph:

Avon: These old freighters are fitted with short burn boosters to help get their payloads into orbit. Orac is figuring out a way to redesign them to give us extra inflight speed.
Soolin: I thought he was keeping unusually silent.
Avon: Probably sulking. One of the almost human things about Orac is that it does not like to work. [Silkily] Orac.
Orac: Yes, Avon.
Avon: Any progress with the booster problem?
Orac: There has been no reply yet.
Avon: What do you mean, no reply?
Orac: I passed the program to computers specializing in engineering design.
Avon: You mean you can't handle it yourself?
Orac: The art of leadership is delegation.

4.4 Stardrive, written by James Follett, directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

I vividly remember the opening sequence of this episode from the first showing in 1981 – I've always had a bit of a fascination with asteroids, and feel a bit defensively that they are given a bum rap here; asteroids are perfectly safe if you approach them correctly, just like any large animal. We now know of course, as we didn't in 1981, that real asteroids tend to be less lumpy than this one. (It's also a bit bizarre to think that you could zoom undetected into a star system hiding behind an asteroid, though Stephen Baxter also wrote a novella with that plot.)

The rest of the spisode is pretty silly, with the punk Space Rats driving their fast vehicles around, both on and off planet. (Follett had a thing about depraved youth.) One Doctor Who crossover, Barbara Shelley, who is Dr Plaxton here and would go on to play Sorasta in the Fifth Doctor story Planet of Fire.

Dialogue triumph (not a great selection here):

Dayna: Sometimes, Vila, you can be quite disgusting.
Vila: Not so, my lovely. I can be disgusting all the time. It's easy.

4.5 Animals, written by Allan Prior, directed by Mary Ridge

This is Dayna's best episode this season, which is not saying much; she encounters a former lover and gets brainwashed and then unbrainwashed by Servalan (whose means and motivation remain as obscure as ever). Dayna's ex has been running experiments a la Dr Moreau, but exactly why is not clear. Josette Simon and Peter Byrne do display some impressive chemistry (which is actually a bit errrr given that the two actors are 32 years apart in age).

There is one brilliant scene with Kevin Stoney, previously a Senator, returning as a blind scientist who recognises Servalan but wisely decides not to say so. He of course was on Doctor Who many times.

Two other Doctor Who crossovers. Servalan's captain-of-the-week is played by William Lindsay, previously Zargo, the vampire leader in the Fourth Doctor story State of Decay.

And Servalan's intelligence-officer-on-a-screen is played by Max Henderson, who would soon after be Cardinal Zorac, wearing a fetching red helm, in the Fifth Doctor story Arc of Infinity.

Dialogue triumph:

Tarrant: Will he remember you?
Dayna (grinning): I should hope so.

4.6 Headhunter, written by Roger Parkes, directed by Mary Ridge

Cor, this is a different matter. I hate stories about cute anthopomorphic robots. But this is a story about a deceptive homicidal robnot that appears to want to make love to Orac. And it's a very well done murder mystery – it turns out that the scientist Muller has been killed and decapitated by his own creation, much to the dismay of his lover who the Scorpio crew have somehow got hold of. There's great stuff between the crew as well. One of the memorable episodes from this season (I think I must have missed it in 1981). Muller's lover Veena is played by Lynda Bellingham, who of course was the Prosecutor in the Sixth Doctor Trial of a Time Lord season.

(The android is played by Nick Joseph, who was an extra in several Doctor Who stories, but as we don't see his face I won't use a photo here.)

Dialogue triumphs:

Orac (possessed by the evil android): Join us, Soolin. We can fulfill your every desire.
Soolin (turning Orac off): You wouldn't know where to start.

4.7 Assassin, written by Rod Beacham, directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

This is a game of two halves. The first half, with Avon being sold as a slave, is very silly indeed. But the second half, with Caroline Holdaway as terrified ex-prisoner Piri whose true homicidal nature only gradually becomes apparent, is very well done indeed, and actually I think she is rather good. (Apologies for the spoiler, but this was first broadcast in 1981!)

A big Doctor Who crossover here: Richard Hurndall's turn as Avon's fellow slave Nebrox, according to lore, was directly responsible for his casting as William Hartnell's replacement as the First Doctor in The Five Doctors.

Not quite as historic, Adam Blackwood here plays one of the auction bidders, Tok, with a lot of extra facial hair, and went on to be the clean-shaven Balazar, the reader of the Books of Knowledge in The Mysterious Planet, the first part of the Sixth Doctor's Trial of a Time Lord.

I'm going to note a crossover with Here Come the Double Deckers! too – Betty Marsden, who plays the auctioneer Verlis, was Millie the lady camper in the utterly glorious episode Summer Camp.

Dialogue triumph (ish):

Soolin slaps Piri's face.
Tarrant: You enjoyed that, didn't you?
Soolin: There are two classic ways of dealing with an hysterical woman; you didn't really expect me to kiss her, did you?

4.8 Games, written by Bill Lyons, directed by Vivienne Cozens

Another great sfnal plot – a mad scientist who is also a game designer and has a strange relationship with his computer. Vila gets some good stuff to do, and even Soolin is given a rare moment of sharpshooting, but of course it is Avon who spots the trap before it is too late.

Stratford Johns, a really well-known actor, is mad scientist Belkov here but was also Monarch, the leader of the alien Urbankans, in the Fifth Doctor story Four to Doomsday.

And David Neal, who is Gerren here, plays the ill-fated President in the last Fifth Doctor story, Caves of Androzani, but without a beard.

Dialogue triumph:

Guard: Four of our men have been killed with a knife like that.
Vila: You don't think – I mean, I'm not the violent type, really I'm not.
Guard: Then why do you carry that?
Vila: I found it.
Guard: Where?
Vila: It was stuck in one of your men.

4.9 Sand, written by Tanith Lee, directed by Vivienne Cozens

Tanith Lee, eh? One of the great British SF writers, who left us a couple of years ago, and wrote two of the most ssfnally intersting episodes of Blake's 7 – last season's Sarcophagus, and this one now, featuring intelligent, vampiric sand which is able to possess computers such as Orac. Tarrant, most people's least favourite member of the Seven, gets a decent episode and actually what looks like a romance with Servalan – whose emotional backstory is revealed here, not completely consistent with what we knew of her, but great drama none the less.

A whole festival of Who crossover here with four of the guest cast also having Whoniverse credits. Stephen Yardley, who is Reeve here, was in the classic Fourth Doctor story Genesis of the Daleks as Sevrin the Muto, and in the Sixth Doctor story Vengeance on Varos as Arak, the reality TV fan.

His sidekick Chasgo is played by Daniel Hill, also Chris Parsons in the unshown Fourth Doctor story Shada.

Peter Craze, who plays Servalan's unnamed assistant, has not only already been on Blake's 7 before as Prell in the first series episode Seek-Locate-Destroy, he was in three Doctor Who stories – far in the mists of time, he was the young revolutionary Dako in the First Doctor story The Space MuseumThe War GamesNightmare of Eden.

And finally, Jonathan David, who plays the dead scientist Keller, went on to be Stratton in the Sixth Doctor story Attack of the Cybermen:

Dialogue trimphs:

Servalan: Oh, Tarrant. I'm just the girl next door.
Tarrant: If you were the girl next door, I'd move.
Servalan: Where would you move, Tarrant?
Tarrant: Next door?

Orac: I love you.
Vila: Orac!
Orac: My emotions are deeper than the seas of space. One times one is only possible in the ultra-dimensional.
Avon: Turn Orac off.
Orac: I love you.
Avon: Off!
Orac: We will be lovers for a little while, or maybe for a long while, who knows?
Soolin: I do. (Turns Orac off)

4.10 Gold, written by Colin Davis, directed by Brian Lighthill

I have to say that I felt this was the last unsatisfactory episode of Blake's 7. (And I am consious that most fans seem to like it more than I did.) It's a story of a heist, which seems to run up against just enough obstacles to create plot points; and at the end of it, Avon inexplicably lets Servalan win. It is lifted very much by Roy Kinnear as Avon's untrustworthy ally, though I always see him as George's friend Jerry in George and Mildred.

The only Doctor Who crossover here, noted for the record, is Norman Hartley, unseen as the voice of the pilot, but visible in two black-and-white Doctor Who stories, the First Doctor's The Time Meddler as Viking warrior Ulf, and the Second Doctor's The Invasion as Sergeant Peters. But I don't think we see him here (unless I missed him in a crowd scene) and so I won't inflict photos on you.

Dialogue disaster:

Tarrant: We've just risked our lives, for nothing.
Soolin: Not for nothing, Tarrant. We risked our lives… to make Servalan rich!
Avon: (laughs manically)

4.11 Orbit, written by Robert Holmes, directed by Brian Lighthill

This is one of Robert Holmes later scripts, and one of his best ones. Homes' trademark is to have two guest actors establishing the situation by the conversation between the two characters; here he excels with the two scientists Egrorian and Pinder, whose relationship with each other is clearly unhealthy and whose relationship with Servalan is even more creepy.

But what this episode is rightly remembered for is the five-minute sequence where Avon decides to kill Vila to achieve orbit by jettisoning his weight, and then changes his mind when he realises that there is a fragment of plotdevicium on the shuttle that he can get rid of instead. It's one of the most intense pieces of British sf drama.

John Savident plays the sinister scientist Egrorian here; we've already had him as the presiding officer in the second series episode Trial. He is killed off in the first episode of the Fifth Doctor story The Visitation, where he was the (unnamed) Squire, with a lot more hair.

Dialogue triumph:

Avon: How much more weight must we lose before we can achieve escape velocity?
Orac: Seventy kilos, Avon.
Avon: Only seventy kilos… Vila, strip off the insulation material in the cargo hold. Vila! (hands him something)
Vila: But that's plastic. It weighs nothing.
Avon: Get rid of it anyway.
Vila: A kilo and a half if we're lucky.
Avon: Do it! We've got five minutes. (Vila leaves) Not enough! Not nearly enough! Dammit, what weighs seventy kilos?
Orac: Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon.

4.12 Warlord, written by Simon Masters, directed by Viktors Ritelis

A weird one this – Avon forming a coalition of strange-looking warlords is strangely reminiscent of the Daleks' Master Plan…

And the coalition then turns out to have nothing to do with the rest of the plot, which has warlord Zukan in alliance with Servalan (in her last appearance) both double-crossing the Scorpio crew and being himself double-crossed by his own daughter. It's well done and keeps you watching to the grim end.

Well, I was wrong when I said that Vila and Kerril were the only characters to explicitly have sex in City at the Edge of the World last season, because Tarrant and Zeeona head away from the company at one point and come back looking smug.

Two Doctor Who crossovers here. Roy Boyd, playing main baddie Zukan, has a small part in the Fourth Doctor story The Hand of Fear as nuclear engineer Driscoll, with a lot more hair.

And Rick James, whose performace as Cotton in the Third Doctor story The Mutants is notoriously one of the weakest in the whole of Doctor Who, is a little better here as subsidiary warlond Chalsa with the impressive Jedward-style hair. He was quite a well-known figure in his native Antigua.

4.13 Blake, written by Chris Boucher, directed by Mary Ridge

Well, this is it. I remember 39 years ago today, stunned as the closing titles rolled, wondering what I had just watched. The BBC kills off Blake and the entire crew; it's one of the bleakest ends to a series that I can think of. And it's done in style; has Blake gone over to the dark side? We find out that he hasn't; Avon doesn't find out in time, and takes his vengeance for a destroyed idealism.

And then they all die.

Even knowing it was coming this time round, I was stunned by the drama of the climax. The biggest disappointment is that Servalan is not there at the end, as she had promised she would be; but who can trust her?

David Collings, here playing Blake's main accomplice Deva, was in Doctor Who three times, in the Fourth Doctor stories Return of the Cybermen, heavily made up as the Vogan leader Vorus, and The Robots of Death, less heavily made up, as the homicidal Poul; and also heavily made up again as the title character of the Fifth Doctor story Mawdryn Undead.

Not a Who crossover, but it's interesting to note that Deva's assistant Klyn is played by Janet Lees-Milne, who was married to Paul Darrow; Avon kills her.

And we'll leave Paul Darrow with the last word:

It's been great fun watching Blake's 7, some episodes again and some for the first time, almost forty years after they were first broadcast. Strongly recommended to any fan of 1970s/1980s TV science fiction. There is lots more to say, but maybe for another time; it's getting late.

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