September books

Non-fiction: 3 (YTD 41)
An Inland Voyage, by Robert Louis Stevenson
East West Street, by Philippe Sands
Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside, by Matthew Tree

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 25)
Bruges-La-Morte, by Georges Rodenbach
The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel

sf (non-Who): 7 (YTD 86)
Jerusalem: Vernal’s Inquest, by Alan Moore
The Sky Road, by Ken MacLeod
Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman
Distraction, by Bruce Sterling
Beren and Luthien, by J.R.R. Tolkien
“Jeffty is Five”, by Harlan Ellison
“Stardance” by Spider Robinson and Jeanne Robinson

Comics: 5 (YTD 33)
Isabelle, by Jean-Claude Servais
Blood Monster, by Neil Gaiman and Marlene O'Connor
Chronin Volume 1: The Knife at Your Back, by Alison Wilgus
Chronin Volume 2: The Sword in Your Hand, by Alison Wilgus
Being An Account of the Life and Death of the Emperor Heliogabolus, by Neil Gaiman

5,000 pages (YTD 52,900)
6/17 (YTD 64/194) by women (Mantel, Hartman, Robinson, O'Connor, Wilgus x2)
None AFAIK (YTD 18/194) by PoC
4/17 reread (YTD 29/194) – The Sky Road, Distraction, “Jeffty is Five”, "Stardance".

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake
Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England, by Steve Jones
Gateway, by Frederik Pohl
Palestine +100: Stories from a century after the Nakba, ed. Mazen Maarouf

Coming soon (perhaps)
Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by M. Mitchell Waldrop
Helen Waddell, by Felicitas Corrigan
Survivants, Tome 3, by Leo
This Must be the Place, by Maggie O'Farrell
The Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan
Wild Life, by Molly Gloss
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig
Borderline, by Mishell Baker
For the Love of God, Marie!, by Jade Sarson
SS-GB, by Len Deighton
Tono-Bungay, by H. G. Wells
The Inside of the Cup, by Winston S. Churchill
Utopia For Realists, by Rutger Bregman
Greybeard, by Brian Aldiss
After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry
“The Persistence of Vision”, by John Varley
Painless, by Rich Larson

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Whoniversaries 30 September: The Abominable Snowmen #1, The Pirate Planet #1

A quarter of the way through the year, and I'm finding this time-consuming but (so far) rewarding. It helps that I have a skeleton for each day from my 2010-11 series of posts, but I've also enjoyed boosting them with pictures from the TARDIS Data Core and Tragical History Tour, as well as my own screencapping where needed. Closing September, here we go with:

i) births and deaths

30 September 1945: birth of Sandra Bryant, who played disco manager Kitty the night club owner in The War Machines (First Doctor, 1966) and Chicki in the first episode of The Macra Terror (Second Doctor, 1967) – the role was recast and a different actress played the character in episode three).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

30 September 1967: broadcast of first episode of The Abominable Snowmen. The Tardis lands in Tibet; the Doctor is captured by the monks of Det-Sen monastery at the urging of Travers who thinks he is a rival researcher. Meanwhile Jamie and Victoria go exploring in the caves…

30 September 1978: broadcast of first episode of The Pirate Planet. The Doctor and Romana, aiming for the planet Calufrax, discover instead that they are on the mining world of Zanak where the Captain and the Mentiads are in conflict.

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April 2008 books

April 2008 was the month that we applied for Belgian citizenship. A rare month (before this year) when I don't seem to have left the country at all, having arrived home from Ireland late on 31 March and departed for France early on 1 May. This was also the month that B moved from the place near the Dutch border where she had been living since leaving home in October 2007, to where she now is half an hour east of here.

I remember also a dinner with George Soros and a few others, at which he told us that the subprime mortgage crisis would likely lead to a huge financial meltdown in a few months. He was right, of course. (He was saying this in public too.)

Regular commuting meant that I read 43 books in April 2008.

Non-fiction 4 (YTD 18)
A History of Africa, by J.D. Fage
Understanding English Place-Names, by (Sir) William Addison
J.R.R. Tolkien: a biography, by Humphrey Carpenter
J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth, by Daniel Grotta

Non-genre 2 (YTD 6)
Saturnalia, by Lindsey Davis
True History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey

SF (non-Who) 9 (YTD 27)
Brasyl, by Ian McDonald
The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon
Rollback, by Robert J. Sawyer
The Last Colony, by John Scalzi
The Great War: Breakthroughs, by Harry Turtledove
The Cornelius Quartet: The Final Programme , A Cure for Cancer, The English Assassin, The Condition of Muzak, by Michael Moorcock

Doctor Who 28 (YTD 62)
Doctor Who – The Romans, by Donald Cotton
Doctor Who and the Zarbi, by Bill Strutton
Doctor Who and the Crusaders, by David Whitaker

Doctor Who – The Space Museum, by Glyn Jones
Doctor Who – The Chase, by John Peel
Doctor Who – The Time Meddler, by Nigel Robinson

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers, by Donald Cotton
Doctor Who – Mission to the Unknown, by John Peel
Doctor Who – The Mutation of Time, by John Peel

Doctor Who – The Smugglers, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet, by Gerry Davis

Doctor Who – The Power of the Daleks, by John Peel
Doctor Who – The Highlanders, by Gerry Davis
Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace, by Nigel Robinson
Doctor Who and the Cybermen, by Gerry Davis
Doctor Who – The Macra Terror, by Ian Stuart Black
Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones, by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who – The Evil of the Daleks, by John Peel
Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen, by Gerry Davis
Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Ice Warriors, by Brian Hayles
Doctor Who and the Web of Fear, by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who – The Wheel in Space, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who – The Mind Robber, by Peter Ling
Doctor Who and the Krotons, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who – The Space Pirates, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the War Games, by Malcolm Hulke

9,300 pages (YTD 28,900)
1/43 by a woman (YTD 11/118)
None by PoC (YTD 2/118)

I'm not going to be cruel to the books I didn't like this month, and instead will recommed the four best new reads (with a shout out also to Carpenter's Tolkien biography, which you can get here): Donald Cotton's novelisation of the story we now call The Romans, which you can get hereBrasyl, which you can get hereTrue History of the Kelly Gang, which you can get hereCornelius Quartet, which you can get here. When I was tallying books back in 2008, I counted the last of these as one volume, but these days I am tallying them separately.

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Whoniversaries 29 September: City of Death #1, The Last Sontaran, The Angels Take Manhattan

i) births and deaths

29 September 1933: birth of Clinton Greyne, who played Ivo in State of Decay (Fourth Doctor, 1980), Stike in The Two Doctors (Sixth and Second Doctors, 1985) and the Sontaran commander in In A Fix With Sontarans (Sixth Doctor but disowned, 1985).

29 September 1961: birth of Nicholas Briggs, voice of the Daleks and responsible for so much more in the Whoniverse. We would not be where we are without him.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

29 September 1979: broadcast of first episode of City of Death. The Doctor and Romana are in Paris, and get mixed up with Duggan the detective and Count and Countess Scarlioni. But the Count is more than he seems…

29 September 2007: broadcast of both episodes of The Last Sontaran, starting Season 2 of the Sarah Jane Adventures. A surviving Sontaran from The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky tries to destroy human life on Earth, but is thwarted by Sarah Jane, Luke, Clyde and Maria. But (sob!) Maria is moving to America and we won't see much more of her.

29 September 2012: broadcast of The Angels Take Manhattan, and the departure (sob, again!) of Amy and Rory when the angels keep them in 1930s New York, ending the first part of Season

iii) date specified in-universe:

29 September [?2016, a Sunday anyway]: the Hackney Harvest Festival was due to take place in the very first episode of Class (2016), For Tonight We Might Die.

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The Conqueror’s Child, The Sky Road and Distraction: SF award-winners of 2000

Next in my series of posts of books that won the James Tipree Jr Award, the BSFA Award for best Novel and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in each year. I've now reached the turn of the century; these awards were made in 2000, the year I wrote reviews of all five Hugo finalists for my website, including the winner, A Deepness in the SkyParable of the Talents (and the next year's Nebula, because of the weird eligibility system, went to Darwin's Radio which had been on the 2000 Hugo ballot). The three books combined are well over 1300 pages, the same as Alan Moore's Jerusalem and a bit shorter than Hilary Mantel's Cromwell trilogy which I was reading at the same time.


The Tiptree Award went to The Conqueror's Child, by Suzy McKee Charnas, which was the only one that I had not read before. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Veree sat on my lap questioning and pointing and grabbing at anything within reach. He was too shy of all these new people in a new place to go far from me, which suited me very well.

This is the fourth in a series of which the first two already came up in my Tiptree readingThe Furies). They are available only in dead tree format, at least for now. The setting is an isolated world where men and women live as separate tribes, often brutalising each other when they have the opportunity; Sorrel, the narrator of some chapters, is the daughter of Alldera, the central character of earlier volumes, who is now trying to construct a lasting society for women that will be robust against male attack. Some readers see the author's take as utopian; I don't think so, I think she is showing the warts-and-all out-working of idealism, and in particular in Sorrel's relationship with her son Veree, and how she can bring up a boy in a society of women. I don't think it is an optimistic book, but it identifies the challenges of liberation in detail.

L. Timmel Duchamp, who was one of the jury that decided the award, has written a very long and very interesting piece about it here on LibraryThing. You can get The Conqueror's Child here.

None of the Tiptree short list (three other novels and four shorter pieces) was in the running for any other award apart from the Locus lists. The Tiptree long list (of eight novels and four shorter pieces) included A Civil Campaign, which was also a Hugo finalist that year and a Nebula finalist the next year, and was frankly my favourite book of the year.


The BSFA Award went to The Sky Road, by Ken MacLeod. This is the fourth and last of the Fall Revolution series, though it works perfectly well as a standalone book (and the author thinks it is in a slightly different continuity to the third volume, but I'm not going to make a fuss). The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The sun’s growing heat was burning off the morning mist on the loch and between the hills. I felt as though I might at any moment rise and float away myself. My eyes felt sandy and my brain felt hot, but these discomforts did not diminish the kinder glow of elation somewhere in my chest and gut. In a strange way I could hardly bear to think about Merrial – every time I did so brought on such an explosion of joy that I quivered at the knees, and I almost feared to indulge it to excess. I wanted to keep it, hoard it, dole it out to myself when I really needed it, not gulp it all down at once. (Which is of course a mistaken notion – that particular well, like all too many others, is bottomless.)

Here the setting shifts between a near-future Central Asian statelet, run by one Myra Godwin-Davidov; and a utopian anarcho-communist Scotland centuries hence, where young historian Clovis is working out what exactly Myra did to change human society and is seduced by the "tinker" Merrial (actually a member of a technologically advanced separatist tribe). MacLeod is, like Charnas, a political writer, but his interest is more in the overthrow of the class structre as a means to liberation. The book is tightly constructed and builds to a coulpe of revelations in each timeline that are both surprising and satisfying, with shafts of humour which are sometimes satirical and sometimes just Scottish. I enjoyed returning to it, and you can get it here.

The Sky Road was also a Hugo finalist the following year. One other BSFA finalist (Silver Screen, by Justina Robson) was also a Clarke finalist. I really enjoyed Eugene Byrne's ThigMoo. I am surprised to learn from this fascinating website that of all Hugo Best Novel finalists this century, now well into three figures, The Sky Road is owned by the fewest members on GoodReads; and of all BSFA finalists this century, ThigMoo is owned by the fewest Goodreaders.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award went to Distraction by Bruce Sterling. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

‘I'm a corner-stone,’ the cinder block announced.

This too is a political book, set in a crumbling USA of 2044, whose protagonist is a political operator who switches from electoral campaigning to protecting his lover's laboratory. Some parts of the setting now seem eerily prescient:

We get taken into the depths of the politics of Sterling's future America, with weak governance (Senator, Governors, President), armed militias (mostly benign), a vat-born hero, and self-funded scientific breakthroughs. It's funny and fast-paced, and has more owners on both Goodreads and LibraryThing than the other two put together. But I felt that of the three, it is the most superficial and has aged least well. Sterling was of course the apostle of cyberpunk, and the fact that this book actually has a coherent plot and interesting (if not always sympathetic) characters set it apart from some others in that genre. You can get it here.

The Clarke Award (unusually) had the strongest crossover with other ballots. Distraction had been a Hugo finalist the previous year. The shortlist included two of that year's Hugo finalists (Cryptonomicon and A Deepness in the Sky), one BSFA finalist (Silver Screen, as noted above) and a Tiptree finalist from a previous year (The Bones of Time, by Kathleen Ann Goonan).


It's interesting that these three awards threw up three winners that are very political, in very different ways – The Conqueror's Child addressing gender politics, The Sky Road looking at the overthrow of capitalism, and Distraction with its focus on the transformative effects of communications technology on society. Not a surprise for the Tiptree, which was set up on political principles, but a bit more unusual for the two British winners. I found it a bit distressing to have to conclude that McLeod and Sterling now look Pollyannaish in their assumptions that post-Soviet separatist statelets will be a force for good in the world, or that armed American militias will be benignly idealistic and open to reasonable argument. Charnas's world, technologically degenerate and divided violently on gender politics, seems a bit too grimly plausible.

Literally as I was writing this, a couple of days ago, this year's winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award announced what she is planning to do with the prize:

Next up will be the 2001 winners: Wild Life, by Molly Gloss; Ash: A Secret History, by Mary Gentle; and Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville – once again, two that I have read and one that I haven’t.

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Whoniversaries 28 September: Dudley, Gee, Carey, Mind Robber #3, Rani #4

i) births and deaths

28 September 1919: birth of Terence Dudley who directed Meglos (Fourth Doctor, 1980) and wrote Four to Doomsday (Fifth Doctor, 1982), Black Orchid (also Fifth Doctor, 1982) and The King's Demons (Fifth Doctor, 1983) not to mention K9 & Company: A Girl's Best Friend (1981).

28 September 1937: birth of Donald Gee, who played Major Ian Warne in The Space Pirates (Seocnd Doctor, 1969) and Eckersley in The Monster of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1974).

28 September 1986: death of Denis Carey, who played Professor Chronotis in Shada (unbroadcast Fourth Doctor, but would have been 1980), the Keeper in The Keeper of Traken (Fourth Doctor, 1981), and the Old Man (the front identity for the Borad) in Timelash (Sixth Doctor, 1985).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

28 September 1968: broadcast of third episode of The Mind Robber, where Jamie turns back into himself, and the team meet Rapunzel, the Minotaur and the Medusa.

28 September 1987: broadcast of fourth and final episode of Time and the Rani. The Doctor defeats the Rani and rescues the kidnapped geniuses.

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The Thomas Cromwell trilogy, by Hilary Mantel

I got The Mirror and the Light for Anne's birthday earlier in the year, and before tackling it directly myself, decided to go back and read the two previous books in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. That of course became quite a big reading project, at the same time as I was reading Alan Moore's Jerusalem (1300 pages, to the 1800 pages of Cromwell) and an SF mini-project of similar length which I'll write up tomorrow. It took me about seven weeks to reread the trilogy, but it was well worth it.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Wolf Hall is:

‘Forget where you lived?’

When I first read it in 2010, at the same time as The Other Boleyn Girl, I wrote:

In Mantel's hands Cromwell becomes a fascinating character, carrying the baggage of a brutal London upbringing, always mindful of his family away from court, ascending the greasy pole of power rather in spite of his own best instincts. She really summons up the smell and feel of Tudor London, and the alarming sense of fragility of life – not just from the king's displeasure, but from illness, violence, or accident. The novel ends with Cromwell's ascent to full power; I believe a sequel is brewing which will cover the last five years of his life, and I will certainly buy it.

After reading this and The Other Boleyn Girl, the one person who I really ended up wanting to know more about was Anne Boleyn. Only Mantel explores her character at all positively – she is the villain of Gregory's book, and the depiction of her as the court flirt in The Tudors goes back at least to Shakespeare and Fletcher. But she kept Henry chasing her for years (from their first encounter in 1525 to their marriage in 1533), which is pretty impressive considering that he could basically have had any Englishwoman he wanted. It's also strongly suggested that she was genuinely Protestant in sentiment, which would make her a rather advanced thinker and would perhaps give her an extra motive (besides the obvious personal one) for wanting the Church to be under direct royal control.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Bring Up the Bodies is:

From the amphibian mouth, a juvenile chortle. ‘Simon. Merry Christmas, sir, how do you?’

When I first read it in 2013, I wrote:

This is the second of Mantel's acclaimed trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII. Like Wolf Hall, it is intensely told in the present tense, but it concentrates on a much briefer historical period, the months leading up to the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. Again Mantel is very good at getting us into Cromwell's head, but I found it a less satisfying book than the previous one; there is much less variety of setting for Cromwell to react to – it is entirely about the sexual politics of the court, though rooted of course in the wider European context; and the most interesting person in this story is clearly Anne herself, and it is a shame that we do not really get to hear her voice (in this book or indeed in most books about the period, fiction or non-fiction). However, "not quite as good as Wolf Hall" is still pretty good.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of The Mirror and the Light is:

Early July, the grandi hold a triple wedding, combining their fortunes and ancient names. Margaret Neville weds Henry Manners. Anne Manners weds Henry Neville. Dorothy Neville weds John de Vere.

Rereading the first two books, I think I must resile a bit from my complaint that we don't get enough insight into Anne Boleyn. Actually, given that she is a women liviing a dangerous life at a dangerous time, we get pretty close to her, and the disintegration of her relationship with Henry is captured tremendously well. Wolf Hall has her rise (and the fall of Cromwell and More), and Bring Up the Bodies has her fall. And I think it's pretty clear that she drives the ideology of the King's new approach to religion, until he decides that she can't provide what he really wants, which is a son.

I also now recognise the theme of dynastic fragility throughout all three books. When Henry came to the throne in 1509, he was the son of a usurper who had ruled for less than 25 years, his only brother was dead, one sister was married to the King of Scots and the other engaged to the future Empereor Charles V, which effectively took them and their children out of the succession. (Of course, 94 years later, the English throne did go to Henry's great-great-nephew, uniting the Scottish and English thrones.) So the need to provide heirs for dynastic and social stability was imperative, and other claimants, more closely related to the Plantagenets, were ready to move if the situation developed in their favour; meanwhile the other great families, Norfolk/Howard, Suffolk/Brandon, Seymour, all put their eligible girls in the king's line of sight.

Cromwell, having switched from Wolsey to the king at an early stage, and with no dynastic capital to spend at first, dedicates himself to maintaining the regime. But he seems to me always conscious of two things: first, that he is a smarter and better operator than the King, and second that it could all end rather rapidly; every few pages someone is burnt, hanged or beheaded. One subplot from the second book that I didn't pay enough attention to first time round is Cromwell's rescue of the eldest daughter, Mary, from potential disaster; and by the end of the trilogy it's reasonably clear that Henry is set to rehabilitate his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, both of whom had been declared illegitimate at the point that their mothers' marriages were annulled. And of course we know that they did both inherit the throne in the end; but Mantel shows us that there was nothing inevitable about it.

I thought the third book a tremendous capstone to the other two. We know how the story is going to end; but until we get to the dramatic denouement, Cromwell continues to consolidate power around himself, and juggles the demands of Henry VIII, the other lords and the foreign powers, not to mention the women in Henry's life – the book is very much centred around managing his third and fourth marriages, and the fifth takes place at the very end (and the future sixth wife is hovering around the edges of the scene as well). There's also a great sub-plot about a long-lost Belgian daughter, and the dead Thomas Becket and the live ambassador Chapuys are fascinating characters too.

The single most powerful scene is in fact reported indirectly – when Anne of Cleves first sees Henry, who against Cromwell's advice has approached her incognito, and reacts badly. The witness is Cromwell's son Gregory (who has incidentally married Jane Seymour's sister); it's very well described. And the blow to Henry's ego because of the failure of the Anne of Cleves plan is enough to end Cromwell as well. His fall was suddent and dramatic: he was made Earl of Essex and Lord Chamberlain on 18 April, and three and a half months later he was dead.

As noted above, it took me a while to read, but the pages came close to turning themselves at various points. I'm also storing up impressions of the Tower for when I finally write something about my ancestor Sir Nicholas White, who died there in 1593. Really memorable stuff.

The Mirror and the Light was my top unread book acquired in 2020. Next on that list is Utopia For Realists, by Rutger Bregman.

You can get Wolf Hall here, Bring Up the Bodies here and The Mirror and the Light here.

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Whoniversaries 27 September

i) births and deaths

27 September 1911: Birth of John Harvey, who played Professor Brett in The War Machines (First Doctor, 1966) and Officia in The Macra Terror (Second Doctor, 1967)

27 September 1921: birth of Milton Subotsky, who produced and wrote Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966), the two cinema films starring Peter Cushing as Doctor Who.

27 September 1939: birth of Garrick Hagon, who played revolutionary/evolutionary leader Ky in The Mutants (Third Doctor, 1972), and the undertaker A Town Called Mercy (Eleventh Doctor, 2012).

27 September 2000: death of Daphne Dare, who did costumes for most of the first four seasons of Old Who.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 September 1975: broadcast of first episode of Planet of Evil. The Doctor and Sarah land on Zeta Minor and are captured by the crew of a Morestran space ship, who have been mysteriously losing team members to an ‘orrible invisible monster…

27 September 1980: broadcast of first episode of Meglos. The Doctor and Romana materialise in the Prion system, but are trapped in a chronic hysteresis loop while Meglos, an evil cactus, plans to take over the planet of Tigella with the help of the Gaztaks, some passing space pirates. The local priestess resembles a former companion.

27 September 1986: broadcast of fourth episode of The Mysterious Planet (ToaTL #4). It all goes bang, really.

27 September 1989: broadcast of fourth episode of Battlefield. Morgaine frees the Destroyer, but the Brigadier shoots it with silver bullets, and Morgaine surrenders to UNIT; the girls go out for a night on the town in Bessie.

27 September 2014: broadcast of The Caretaker. The Doctor takes a job at Clara’s school, greatly disrupting her relationship with Danny Pink.

iii) production anniversaries
27 September 1963: principal photography on the pilot episode of Doctor Who; it all starts here.

Superman (1978)

Superman won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1979, beating Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the animated Lord of the Rings, Watership Down and the original radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. For once I have actually seen/heard all of the finalists. Even though the Worldcon that year was held in the UK, which should have given the BBC a natural home turf boost, Superman won (and Christopher Reeves actually turned up, as did Tom Baker). It's a tough call, but I think I would have just voted for the Hitch-hiker's Guide ahead of Superman (though at 12 I would probably not have had a vote). One of the best shortlists for years before and after, anyway. IMDB users rank it 4th and 6th best film of the year, with Grease and The Deer Hunter at the top. I actually remember seeing this in the cinema when it first came out, and enjoying it; I'm glad to say that the magic mostly remained after forty years.

There are a number of familiar faces from previous Oscar and Hugo winners, starting with Superman's parents, Jor-El and Lara, played by Marlon Brando and Susannah York.

Brando had the lead role in two Oscar-winning films, The Godfather (1972) and On The Waterfront (1954). I must say he looks younger here than he did in 1972.

Susannah York, who was a schoolfriend of my aunt's, was Thomas More's daughter Margaret in A Man for All Seasons (1966) and Sophie the Good Girl in Tom Jones (1963).

And we saw Trevor Howard, here the First Elder of Krypton, thirty-two years ago as Fallentin the Reform Club member in Around the World in Eighty Days (1956).

We've had Gene Hackman, who is Lex Luthor here, in both Oscar-winning and Hugo-winning films. He was one of the lead cops in The French Connection (Oscar 1971) and then the blind man in Young Frankenstein (Hugo/Nebula 1975).

Valerie Perrine, who plays his sidekick Ms Techmaker here, was Hollywood starlet Montana Wildhack in Slaughterhouse-Five.

And to my immense surprise, there is a Doctor Who link. Somewhat out of focus, one of the Elders of Krypton is played by William Russell, who was Ian Chesterton, one of the First Doctor's first companions way back in 1963-64.

Right. On to the substance. This was a lot of fun in 1978, and it's a lot of fun now. I think the biggest complaint I have is that it's a bit too long, at 3 hours and 3 minutes. There's a lot of story to pack in there, and the Boyhood Years segment in particular maybe could have been trimmed a bit.

(And the Lex Luthor slapstick too – but doesn't he remind you of another meglomaniac New York property developer?)

The silliest bit of the plot by far is Superman turning back time so that he can save Lois. Even at twelve I thought this was over the top – if he can do that, he can undo anything so what's the point? Nice graphic though.

Teetering on the edge, but in the end safely enough, is the chemistry between Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder as Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. Reeves himself is just brilliant and in a debut role (for which many much better-known actors were apparently considered) acquits himself gloriously. He was born 68 years ago yesterday.

The effects are glorious too.

And, well, the music. Let's finish with the music.

I'm putting this near the top of my Hugo/Nebula list – probably just after 2001, and ahead of A Clockwork Orange. The latter is probably a better film, but frankly less fun.

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Whoniversaries 26 September

i) births and deaths

26 September 1946: birth of Togo Izawa, who played Dr Tanizaki in Cyberwoman (Torchwood, 2006) and the Secretary General of the United Nations in The Pyramid at the End of the World (Twelfth Doctor, 2017).

26 September 1909: birth of Leonard Sachs, who played Admiral de Coligny in The Massacre (First Doctor, 1966) and President Borusa in Arc of Infinity (Fifth Doctor, 1983)

26 September 2014: death of Maggie Stables, who played the Sixth Doctor's audio companion Evelyn Smythe in Big Finish audios from 2000 to 2011.

ii) production anniversaries

26 September 2003: the BBC announced that Doctor Who would return in 2004.

26 September 2015: broadcast of The Witch's Familiar. The Doctor and Davros are stuck together on Skaro; Clara and the mysterious Missy are on the way.

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An Inland Voyage, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Sure enough there was the slip in the corner of the basin; and at the top of it two nice-looking lads in boating clothes. The Arethusa addressed himself to these. One of them said there would be no difficulty about a night’s lodging for our boats; and the other, taking a cigarette from his lips, inquired if they were made by Searle and Son. The name was quite an introduction. Half-a-dozen other young men came out of a boat-house bearing the superscription ROYAL SPORT NAUTIQUE, and joined in the talk. They were all very polite, voluble, and enthusiastic; and their discourse was interlarded with English boating terms, and the names of English boat-builders and English clubs. I do not know, to my shame, any spot in my native land where I should have been so warmly received by the same number of people. We were English boating-men, and the Belgian boating-men fell upon our necks. I wonder if French Huguenots were as cordially greeted by English Protestants when they came across the Channel out of great tribulation. But after all, what religion knits people so closely as a common sport?

Stevenson's first non-fiction book, a voyage by canoe through Belgium and France in 1878 with a Scottish baronet friend. It's interesting to look at the route between Antwerp and (more or less) Paris by water rather than by the more familiar road or rail. There are some nice moments of local colour. But this isn't Three Men in a Boat, and the ending is rather abrupt. Free online here.

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My tweets

  • Fri, 10:45: Experts question Belgium’s call to relax coronavirus rules Not surprisingly. But I feel that if hospitals are not overwhelmed and the mortality rate is under control, it’s OK.

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Whoniversaries 25 September

broadcast anniversaries

25 September 1965: broadcast of "Air Lock", third episode of the story we now call Galaxy 4. Vicki is captured by the Rills, but persuades the Doctor to help them; Steven is threatened with asphyxiation by the Drahvins. This may be the one episode of Old Who that I have not actually seen since its recovery in 2011.

25 September 1976: broadcast of fourth episode of The Masque of Mandragora. The brotherhood attempt to infiltrate the masque at the gathering of Renaissance savants, but the Doctor and Sarah foil their plan.

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Thursday reading

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake

Last books finished
The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel
Distraction, by Bruce Sterling
Blood Monster, by Neil Gaiman and Marlene O’Connor
Chronin Volume 1: The Knife at Your Back, by Alison Wilgus
East West Street, by Philippe Sands
Chronin Volume 2: The Sword in Your Hand, by Alison Wilgus
Being An Account of the Life and Death of the Emperor Heliogabolus, by Neil Gaiman
Beren and Luthien, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Next books
Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England, by Steve Jones
Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside, by Matthew Tree

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My tweets

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Whoniversaries 24 September

i) births and deaths

24 September 1939: birth of Maurice Colbourne who played Lytton in Resurrection of the Daleks (Fifth Doctor, 1984) and Attack of the Cybermen (Sixth Doctor, 1985).

24 September 1951: birth of David Banks, who played the Cyber-leader in Earthshock (Fifth Doctor, 1982), The Five Doctors (1983), Attack of the Cybermen (Sixth Doctor, 1985), and Silver Nemesis (Seventh Doctor, 1988) and also wrote the New Adventures novel Iceberg (1993).

24 September 1963: birth of Jaye Griffiths, who played UNIT operative Jac in The Magician's Apprentice and The Zygon Invasion (both Twelfth Doctor, 2015)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

24 September 1966: broadcast of third episode of The Smugglers. It's the Doctor's turn to escape from his captors by magic; and everyone comes to the church for the final confrontation.

24 September 1977: broadcast of fourth episode of Horror of Fang Rock. The alien is revealed as a Rutan; the Doctor destroys its ship with a laser, and Leela's eyes change from brown to blue.

24 September 1993: broadcast of the fifth and, thank God, last episode of The Paradise of Death on BBC Radio. Does it help if I tell you that in the climactic scene, the president's son is mauled to death in an arena by a giant toad? No, I thought not.

24 September 2007: on a much happier note, first broadcast of both parts of Revenge of the Slitheen, which kicks off the first regular season of the Sarah Jane Adventures. Maria and Luke, with Sarah Jane and their new friend Clyde, discover that the Slitheen have taken over their school; but are able to destroy them with vinegar.

24 September 2013: broadcast of Closing Time, ending the regular run of the sixth season of New Who (though there was a Christmas special yet to come). The Eleventh Doctor reunites with Clive and Clive's baby to confront Cybermen under a department store.

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March 2008 books

This is the latest post in a series I started last November, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023. Every six-ish days I've been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I've found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

I started the month with a trip to Cyprus, and the following weekend went to Dublin for P-Con and on to Limerick to give a lecture.

A rare picture taken at Easter weekend of the five of us together:

The long travel to Cyrpus and Limerick, and the long weekend, and the short length of the Doctor Who novelisations, meant that I red no less than 44 books in March 2008. This was my record to that date, but I've broken it a couple of times since.

non-fiction 7 (YTD 14)
The River of Lost Footsteps, by Thant Myint-U
Freedom from Fear, and other writings, by Aung San Suu Kyi

Berlitz Turkish Travel Pack (did not finish)
The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest To Become The Smartest Person In The World, by A.J. Jacobs
The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might, by Nancy Soderberg
Trillion Year Spree, by Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove
The Embarrassment of Riches: an interpretation of Dutch culture in the golden age, by Simon Schama

non-genre 2 (YTD 4)
Pass the Port: The Best After-Dinner Stories of the Famous
The Prisoner and The Fugitive, by Marcel Proust

sf (non-who) 7 (YTD 18)
Summerland, by Michael Chabon
Rogue Moon, by Algis Budrys
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, ed. Bruce Sterling
The Owl Service, by Alan Garner
Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Jack Dann
Halting State, by Charles Stross

Doctor Who 25 (YTD 34)
Doctor Who and the Face of Evil, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Robots of Death, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Image of the Fendahl, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Sunmakers, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Underworld, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Invasion of Time, by Terrance Dicks

Time and Relative, by Kim Newman
Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Daleks, by David Whitaker
Match of the Day, by Chris Boucher
Last Man Running, by Chris Boucher
Corpse Marker, by Chris Boucher
Psi-Ence Fiction, by Chris Boucher
Drift, by Simon A. Forward
Eye of Heaven, by Jim Mortimore

Doctor Who – The Edge of Destruction, by Nigel Robinson
Doctor Who – Marco Polo, by John Lucarotti
Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus, by Philip Hinchcliffe

Doctor Who and the Sensorites, by Nigel Robinson
Doctor Who – Planet of Giants, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Terrance Dicks

Venusian Lullaby, by Paul Leonard

Comics 2 (YTD 3)
Transmetropolitan: Tales of Human Waste, by Warren Ellis
Fables: Legends in Exile, by Bill Willingham et al.

10,700 pages (YTD 19,600)
2/44 by women (YTD 10/75), though I don't know anything about the author of the Berlitz Turkish Travel Pack or the editor of Pass the Port
2/44 by PoC (YTD 2/75), subject to the same caveat

The best of these was Alan Garner's classic The Owl Service, which you can get here. The worst by some way are the two novelisations by Nigel Robinson of the stories we now call The Edge of Destruction and The Sensorites, which you can get here and here.

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Whoniversaries 23 September

i) births and deaths

23 September 1949: birth of Floella Benjamin (now Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham) who played the recurring character Professor Rivers in the first three seasons of the Sarah Jane Adventures.

23 September 1959: birth of Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote In the Forest of the Night (Twelfth Doctor, 2014) and Smile (Twelfth Doctor, 2017). (And much ese, including the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

23 September 1967: broadcast of fourth episode of Tomb of the Cybermen. The Cybermen kill Kaftan; Toberman helps the others to freeze the Cybermen again, at the cost of his own life.

23 September 1978: broadcast of fourth episode of The Ribos Operation. The Doctor is rescued by the shrivenzale, blows up the Graff, and converts the jethrik into the first segment of the Key to Time.

Apologies by the way for yesterday’s entry, which I did not finish editing before it was posted.

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Bruges-la-morte, by Georges Rodenbach

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Lorsqu’il allait, en de muettes dévotions, baiser la relique de la chevelure conservée ou s’attendrir devant quelque portrait, ce n’est plus avec la morte qu’il confrontait l’image, mais avec la vivante qui lui ressemblait. Mystérieuse identification de ces deux visages. Ç’avait été comme une pitié du sort offrant des points de repère à sa mémoire, se mettant de connivence avec lui contre l’oubli, substituant une estampe fraîche à celle qui pâlissait, déjà jaunie et piquée par le temps. When he went to perform his silent devotions, kissing the relic of her hair or giving rein to his emotions before some portrait, it was no longer his dead wife to whom he related the image, but the living woman who resembled her. Mysterious conformity of these two faces! It was as if fate had taken pity on him, providing his memory with markers, conspiring with him against oblivion, substituting a crisp new print for the one that was fading, already yellowed and mildewed with age.

In preparation for our trip to Bruges and parts west last week, I read this very short 1892 novel, which is described by those who know about this things as one of the taproot texts of Symbolism. I am afraid that I thought it was rather silly. The protagonist, recently widowed, takes an actress with an uncanny resemblace to his dead wife as his sugar baby; eventually there comes a point where he realises that his new lover is in fact her own person, and he strangles her with a lock of his dead wife's hair. (Sorry for the spoiler, but the book has been around for a century and a quarter.) The symbolism of the dead town and its dead rituals is belaboured well beyond the point you would have thoguht possible. The French original (which you can read here) was illustrated with some very nice contemporary photographs of Bruges, supposedly the first novel to have this feature (and there can't be many). My translation, with introduction by Alan Hollinghurst and also an essay by Rodenbach on "The Death Throes of Towns", unwisely has chosen to update the photographs with pictures from the present day. But you can get it here.

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Whoniversaries 22 September

i) births and deaths

22 September 1937: birth of Tony Caunter

22 September 1944: birth of Fraser Hines, who played Jamie from 1966 to 1969, and has appeared in more Doctor Who episodes than anyone except the first four Doctors.

22 September 1982: birth of Billie Piper, who played Rose in the first two series of New Who (2005-06) and reappeared in 2008, 2010 and 2013; has appeared in more New Who episodes than anyone except David Tennant.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

22 September 1979: broadcast of fourth episode of Destiny of the Daleks. The Doctor defeats first the Movellans and then the Daleks, and Davros is captured and taken away for trial.

iii) date specified in canon

22 September 1960: birth of Tegan Jovanka, as revealed in the 2006 Big Finish adventure The Gathering.

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Jerusalem, by Alan Moore

Second paragraph of third chapter of Book One: The Boroughs:

He could remember how he’d got out of the life, the business, the proverbial ‘Twenty-five Thousand Nights’, as he’d heard it referred to. Far as Freddy was concerned, it might have happened yesterday. He’d been under the arches down Foot Meadow, sleeping out the way he did back then, when he’d been woke up sudden. It was like he’d heard a bang that woke him up, or like he’d just remembered there was something that was happening that morning that he’d better be alert for. He’d just come awake with such a start that he’d got to his feet and he was walking out from underneath the railway arches and across the grass towards the riverside before he knew what he was doing. Halfway to the river it was like he’d woken properly enough to think, hang on, what am I jumping up like this for? He’d stopped in his tracks and turned around to look back at the arches where he saw another tramp, an old boy, had already nicked his place where he’d been kipping, on the earth below the curve of brickwork up against one wall, had even nicked the plastic carrier bag of grass that had been Freddy’s pillow. It was bloody typical. He’d walked back a few steps towards the archway so that he could see just who the bugger was, so that he’d know him later. It had taken Fred a minute before he could recognise the nasty-looking piece of work, but once he had he knew he’d never get his spot back now. There was no point in even trying. He’d been moved on, and he’d have to just get used to it.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Book Two: Mansoul:

They trespassed upon babies’ dreams and took short cuts across the thoughts of writers, were the inspiration and ideal for every secret club and Children’s Film Foundation mystery, for all the books, for every Stealthy Seven, every Fearless Five. They were the mould; they were the model with their spit oaths and their tramp marks, their precarious dens and their initiation tests, which were notoriously tough: you had to have been buried or cremated before you could join the Dead Dead Gang.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Book Three: Vernall's Inquest:

Spoonin’ the tousled egg into her scrambled head she wells, as iffer, on the past now. Sadly hatched in Triste at seven past the century and seven past the year, born to the clench and stamour of a paupoise warld, she was denied the mummer’s teatre. Not a dripple Nora drop was she aloud. The molcow was sucked dry, by George, who went from one mamm to an udder all of his serpenitentine life. Eve’n the girden of her garlhood he had snaken from her, eden then, with him the dirty apple of their Mermaw’s eye and allwas raising cain, which Lucia had resistered for as long as she was abel. He’d been furteen, shy was only ten, to pet it baldly. Wristling under milky and transluciant sheets in a suck-session of clamped, crusterphobic rended rooms, the da off summerwhere with all his righting and the mudder rural, pagan in her unconcern, forever standing pisspots on the parlour table where they lifft their venerable beaded halos on the varnish. Giorgio’s dragon would rear up, out from the scampy wondergrowth and orgiantly demanding her at-ten shuns while their Moider only smirled, ingently dull, and let her borther press a head with his idventure, up into the little light, the little depth.

I have not been to Northampton since 1985, when I worked for two months on an archæology site in nearby Raunds. It did not seem to me a strong candidate for hosting a complex mythic geography. However I'm very sympathetic to exploring the dinnseanchas of a particular place – Bryan Talbot has done it for Sunderland, Ciaran Carson for Belfast. The three books have differing formats: the first is a sequence of purely historical vignettes, most connected to the characters who will appear later; the second is a connected narative about one boy's adventures in the afterlife, very much tied to the streets of the town as they developed historically; and the third unfolds again into a less sequential collection of vignettes, most of which have a mystical element.

The writing is dense and I found it slow going, and also I regretted that the map of Northampton at the front of each book is printed across two pages, so that important details get lost in the central crease. The third chapter of Book Three, "Round The Bend", is particularly tough going, adopting the style of James Joyce to tell a story about his daughter Lucia who spent the last thirty years of her life in Northampton's mental hospital; here I basically put down my paper copy of the book and read the text and explanations at this fan site, without which I think I might have given up. (Other inmates at the hospital included the composer Malcolm Arnold, the poet John Clare, and Violet Gibson who shot Mussolini in 1926, but did not kill him.)

Anyway, it's an ambitious and mesmerising piece of work, pulling together a vast amount of information and imagination. There are some nice emotional bits in there as well, particularly at key moments of the story of the Vernall family whose narrative is at the core of the book. I do think it could have been shorter and tighter (it's almost 1300 pages in length). But I can now at least wear my badge with pride. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2016. Next on that pile is This Must be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell.
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My tweets

  • Sun, 12:56: RT @felixmlarkin: This by ⁦@FrankmcnallyIT⁩ made me laugh out loud over breakfast. And we all need a laugh in Dublin today!
  • Sun, 13:48: “The government may have the brute power to seek to make the governed comply with the law but not the legitimacy to insist. That is quite a loss for any government. And that is what was thrown out of the car window on that journey back from Barnard Castle.”
  • Sun, 14:48: RT @vanitaguptaCR: “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year…
  • Sun, 15:38: The Secret in Vault 13 and The Maze of Doom, by David Solomons
  • Sun, 16:05: Boris Johnson ‘worried his �150,000 salary isn’t enough’ Diddums.
  • Sun, 18:54: This is really sad news. David Cook was a great man and we’d had some really good conversations in recent years. Warm hugs to his family. (The first person who I knew at all well who has lost their life to the pandemic. Alas, likely not the last.)
  • Sun, 18:57: RT @EamonnMallie: #LordMayor…I loved how self-deprecatory David Cook could be. Having lost yet another election I’d bump into him and his…
  • Sun, 18:57: RT @AlderdiceLord: Very sad to learn of David Cook’s death. He was a great colleague and a very fine man who did such a lot for Alliance a…
  • Sun, 18:57: RT @naomi_long: So sorry to learn of the passing of David Cook, founder member of Alliance and former Lord Mayor of Belfast. Thoughts are w…
  • Sun, 20:48: (PDF) The Death of Michael Collins: Who Pulled the Trigger? | Denis Lenihan – Fascinating analysis, concluding that we cannot know for sure.

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Whoniversaries 21 September

i) births and deaths

21 September 1960: birth of Sue Vertue, producer of The Curse of Fatal Death, daughter of Terry Nation's agent Beryl Vertue and married to later Who show-runner Stephen Moffatt.

21 September 2010: death of Geoffrey Burgon, who composed the memorable incidental music for Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom, and also the music for Monty Python's Life of Brian and much else besides. For his birthday I linked to the Terror of the Zygons music; here's The Seeds of Doom.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

21 September 1968: broadcast of second episode of The Mind Robber. Jamie turns into someone else with the same name; team Tardis meet Lemuel Gulliver and end up being charged by a unicorn.

21 September 1986: broadcast of third episode of Time and the Rani. Yet more running around with the Doctor ending up plugged into the machine which will drain his brain.

iii) date specified in-universe

21 September 2360: The Doctor's first, or maybe also last, date with River Song.

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