April 2021 books and Friday reading

Books finished in the last week:
Legendborn, by Tracy Deonn (did not finish)
The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Serpent Sea, by Martha Wells
The Orphans of Raspay, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Two Truths and a Lie, by Sarah Pinsker
The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi

April Books

Non-fiction 1 (YTD 14)
Kathedralen uit de steentijd, by Herman Clerinx

Non-genre 2 (YTD 7)
The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris
Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco

SF 12 (YTD 47)
Worlds Apart, by Richard Cowper
Network Effect, by Martha Wells
Kaleidoscope: diverse YA science fiction and fantasy stories, eds Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios
Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi
The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo
The Gameshouse, by Claire North
Legendborn, by Tracy Deonn (did not finish)
The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Serpent Sea, by Martha Wells
The Orphans of Raspay, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Two Truths and a Lie, by Sarah Pinsker
The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi

Doctor Who 1 (YTD 2, 4 inc comics)
Adventures in Lockdown, ed. Steve Cole

Comics 5 (YTD 10)
Muse vol 1: Celia, by Terry Dodson & Denis-Pierre Filippi
Muse vol 2: Coraline, by Terry Dodson & Denis-Pierre Filippi
Le dernier Atlas, tome 1, by Fabien Vehlmann, Gwen De Bonneval and Fred Blanchard
Feeders & Eaters & other stories, by Neil Gaiman, art by Mark Buckingham
Sculpture Stories, by Neil Gaiman with Lisa Snellings

4,800 pages (YTD 21,300)
9/21 (YTD 33/82) by women (Wells x2, Krasnostein/Rios, Vo, North, Deonn, Kowal, Bujold, Pinsker)
3/21 (YTD 15/82) by PoC (Onyebuchi, Vo, Deonn)
1/21 rereads (YTD 8/82) – Foucault’s Pendulum.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant
In the Days of the Comet, by H. G. Wells
The Evidence, by Christopher Priest

Coming soon (perhaps)
Cloud on Silver by John Christopher
City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Wonder Woman: The Golden Age, Vol. 2 by William Moulton Marston
The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, ed. Alex Dally MacFarlane
Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding
Don’t Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech, by Rana Foroohar
Comic Inferno, by Brian W. Aldiss
Carrying the Fire, by Michael Collins
Roger Zelazny’s The Dawn of Amber: Book 1, by John Gregory Betancourt
“Stories For Men”, by John Kessel
Empire Games, by Charles Stross
“Grotto of the Dancing Deer”, by Clifford D Simak
Le dernier Atlas, tome 2, by Fabien Vehlmann, Gwen De Bonneval and Fred Blanchard
Thirteen, by Steve Cavanagh
The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams
Kipps, by H.G. Wells

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Whoniversaries 30 April

i) births and deaths

30 April 1983: death of Gabor Baraker, who played Wang-Lo, the rather camp tavern-keeper, in the story we now call Marco Polo and Luigi Ferrigo, a dodgy Genoese merchant, in the story we now call The Crusade

30 April 2004: death of Richard Steele, who played Commandant Gorton in The War Games (Second Doctor, 1969), Sergeant Hart in Doctor Who and the Silurians (Third Doctor, 1970) and a guard in Mark of the Rani (Sixth Doctor, 1985).

30 April 2020: I missed the sad news a year ago of the death of Wally K. Daly, who wrote The Ultimate Evil for the Sixth Doctor but never saw it produced; he did write the novelisation and eventually authorised Big Finish to produce an audio version. I've heard some of his other radio plays, which are great.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

30 April 1966: broadcast of "A Holiday for the Doctor", first episode of the story we now call The Gunfighters. The Doctor, Steven and Dodo arrive in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 in search of a dentist.

30 April 2005: broadcast of Dalek. The Doctor and Rose encounter a captive Dalek in 2012 America.

30 April 2011: broadcast of Day of the Moon. Against the backdrop of the first moon landing, the Doctor and his companions must solve the mystery of the aliens and the little girl.

30 April 2020: webcast of Sven's Scarf, a prequel to Dalek.

iii) date almost specified in canon

30 April, some time in the 1970s: most of the events of The Dæmons (1971).

Two more months to go of this project. It's been a fun distraction in strange times.

Posted in Uncategorised

March 2011 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, 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 had three really nice trips in March 2011: to Geneva for one of my regular lecturing gigs at the start of the month, to Belfast for an internal BBC event in the middle, and to London for day-jub purposes at the end. The BBC event in Belfast was held at Stormont, in what had been the main dining room in the old days; despite the crapness of my camera, I got this great picture of the view down the drive while waiting for my turn to speak. (By weird coincidence, I was on the BBC talking about elections again today.)

I managed to read 31 books in the 31 days of March 2011.

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 15)
International Law and the Question of Western Sahara, edited by Karin Arts and Pedro Pinto Leite
The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vols III & IV, by Edward Gibbon
The Essential Rumi
Contested Will, by James Shapiro

Fiction (non-sf) 8 (YTD 15)
The Return of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Valley of Fear, by Arthur Conan Doyle
His Last Bow, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, by Tom Baker
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

SF (non-Who) 7 (YTD 17)
The Fall of the House of Usher and other stories, by Edgar Allan Poe
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
Fantasy: the Best of the Year, 2007, edited by Rich Horton
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke
Miracle Visitors, by Ian Watson
The Lays of Beleriand, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Doctor Who 10 (YTD 20)
The Janus Conjunction, by Trevor Baxendale
Matrix, by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker
Doctor Who Annual 1981
The Gemini Contagion, by Jason Arnopp
Night of the Humans, by David Llewellyn
Iceberg, by David Banks
Doctor Who Annual 1982
Ghost Train, by James Goss
Beltempest, by Jim Mortimore
Deep Blue, by Mark Morris

Comics 1 (YTD 3)
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 3, by Fumi Yoshinaga

~9,400 pages (YTD 20,300)
3/31 (YTD 9/70) by women (Arts, Clarke, Yoshinaga)
2/31 (YTD 5/70) by PoC (Rumi, Yoshinaga)

The two best were volume 2 of the Penguin Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (original vols III and IV), which you can get here, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which I had not previously read in full; you can get it here. Also nice to return to The Little Prince, which you can get here. However I thoroughly bounced off Ian Watson's Miracle Visitorsyou can get it here.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Whoniversaries 29 April

broadcast anniversaries

29 April 1967: broadcast of fourth episode of The Faceless Ones. Jamie gets on a Chameleon plane, which is duly captured by the aliens

29 April 1972: broadcast of fourth episode of The Mutants. The Marshal plans to bombard Solos with ionising rockets; Varan and his men prevent him but the Skybase is damaged.

29 April 2006: broadcast of School Reunion. The Tenth Doctor unexpectedly meets Sarah Jane Smith, thirty years on. (Sob!)

29 April 2017: broadcast of Thin Ice. The Doctor accidentally lands himself and Bill in the past, at the final frost fair in 1814. However, something sinister is lurking below the frozen Thames.

Posted in Uncategorised

Muse: Coraline and Celia, by Terry Dodson & Denis-Pierre Filippi

Biggest frame of vol 1, page 3:

Biggest frame of vol 2, page 3:

I saw this recommended somewhere: two albums written by French author Filippi, best known for his writing for young adults, and illustrated by Dodson, better known for his Marvel and DC work on superheroes.

I'm not sure that I'd repeat the recommendation. Our heroine, Coraline, takes a job as governess to a teenage boy who invents lots of machines in his spare time. At night she has strange dreams which always seem to end with her clothes falling off. The end of the second volume reveals What Is Really Going On, and I have to say that it makes no sense at all in terms of what we have been told of the story. Also notable that the titles of the volumes are the wrong way around – vol 1's title is "Celia", but she is the sister of Coraline, the main character, and not otherwise mentioned until halfway through vol 2. The art is lush and gorgeous, but basically it's two short books about boobs. You can get them here and here.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Whoniversaries 28 April

i) births and deaths

28 April 1928: birth of Raymond Cusick, who designed the Daleks.

28 April 1977: death of Anthony Coburn, who wrote An Unearthly Child (1963) and the never-produced story The Masters of Luxor.

i) broadcast anniversaries

28 April 1973: broadcast of fourth episode of Planet of the Daleks. The Doctor and Jo are reunited, and the Thals disagree about how to tackle the Daleks.

28 April 2007: broadcast of Evolution of the Daleks. The Daleks' experiments are destroyed by the Doctor and Dalek Caan escapes.

Posted in Uncategorised

Birthday: Colin Baker, megaliths and erotica

Thank you all for your kind wishes for my birthday yesterday. One of the great things about the interconnected age is that we can easily reach out and let someone know that we are grateful for their continued existence. It did and does cheer me up, hearing from old and dear friends, and also from people where I was not terribly sure if they liked me or even remembered me

Before I go into how exactly I celebrated, I need to thank my brother William for arranging this very special birthday greeting:

Though somehow he didn’t spot this picture when doing his research:

Anyway. My birthday trip was out to the ancient East of Belgium, to look at the biggest concentration of megalithic monuments in the country around Wéris. I had been once before, but this time I intended to do a comprehensive sweep of all of the menhirs, dolmens and passage graves in the vicinity.

We stayed overnight Sunday in Durbuy, in a lovely five star hotel which had found a way of complying with health regulations; you went down and collected your gourmet dinner on a tray, watching it being made in front of you while you waited, and then took it up to your room to enjoy. Same with a very large breakfast yesterday morning. It is not the same as non-pandemic times, but it was a very pleasant break anyway.

Our first menhir was on the way out on Sunday, at Haillot, a sub-commune of Ohey, southwest of Huy and directly east of Namur. It’s at the end of a short lane in a small village. Anne coquettishly peeked out from behind it. (A friend on Facebook commented: “It’s just over one Anne in height.”)

Yesterday we took the sequence of megaliths in Wéris from south to north, in order. Actually I don’t recommend this. I think you would be better to start at the rather nice museum first thing in the morning, and then go on their self-guided walk around the monuments. Apart from the very last one I describe here, they are all within easy reach of the village centre on foot, and if the weather is good you will have had a great day out. (And then, if there is time, take in the Pierre du Diable at Haillot on the way home if like us you were coming from and returning to the west.)

We knew we were onto a good thing with the very first set of stones, the Menhirs d’Oppagne, 2 km out of Wéris. (50.3174 N, 5.50876 E)

These are nicely set off from the road, framed by a tree. The received wisdom is that they were brought here from elsewhere in the 19th century and re-erected; I’m not sure that I believe that, my instinct would be that there has been a line of stones here for a long time.

The next is one of the two big Wéris sites, 500m from the first set of menhirs, known as the Dolmen d’Oppagne, the Dolmen du Sud or Wéris II.

It has two components – the range of stones, which again have supposedly been assembled from finds elsewhere; and an excavated passage grave, one of three known examples in Belgium – and one of the other two is also in Wéris, while the third was reburied by archaeologists after excavation so there is nothing to see.

Very close by is a solitary roadside menhir, the Menhir Danthine – from behind it you can see the Wéris complex, 350m away.

It’s then just over a kilometre to the other big passage grave, know as Wéris I or the Dolmen du Nord, another passage grave framed by a corridor of stones.

We had been before with much smaller U and F, twelve years ago.

400m to the west as the crow flies, though the walk is more like 600m, is a supposed group of megaliths in a wood. They are not very impressive.

750m to the north is another supposed megalith, even less impressive. The road to it is barred for non-local traffic, so it’s a decent walk.

However, the last two menhirs are much more serious. The Menhir d’Heyd is down a terrible road for driving, about 4 km from Wéris I, and we were too busy concentrating on the potholes to spot it as we passed. Which was unfortunate, as it’s actually rather striking.

And finally, the Menhir d’Ozo, another 2.5 km along the alignment that most of these monuments share, stands proudly in a field (that we did not go into for the sake of the crops).

The alignment is really striking on the map. (The outlier is the unimpressive stone grouping in the wood near Wéris I.)

But that is not all that we saw. Durbuy (the commune of which Wéris is part) is held a sculpture festival in 2019 with odd stoneworks dotted around the countryside, mostly still there. Here’s one by Taiwanese sculptor Dwan Yu:

And another by Belgian sculptor Henry Hardy. (This is number 42, apparently, suggesting that there are at least 40 others that we did not find.)

The keen art hiker could probably spend a day or two wandering in the hills between Durbuy and Wéris finding them all.

And finally (though first in the sequence that we actually saw them) we visited Namur on Sunday to look at the Félicien Rops Museum. (It’s interesting that there are a lot of single-artist museums in Belgium; I cannot think of any in the UK or Ireland, and only one – van Gogh – in the Netherlands.) Rops was a nineteenth century chap with a dubious personal life, but a real eye for detail and character. His erotic ethings and sketchings are particularly memorable. The museum is not expensive (and also not large). My eye was particularly caught by his “The Fourth Glass of Cognac” (1878), and I’ll leave you with that.

Whoniversaries 27 April

i) births and deaths

27 April 1928: birth of Hubert Rees who played the Chief Engineer in Fury from the Deep (Second Doctor, 1968), Captain Ransom in The War Games (Second Doctor, 1969), and Stevenson in The Seeds of Doom (Fourth Doctor, 1976).

27 April 1931: birth of Glyn Jones, one of the few people who not only wrote a TV Who story – the story we now call The Space Museum (First Doctor, 1965) – but also appeared on the show as an actor, playing stranded astronaut Krans in The Sontaran Experiment (Fourth Doctor, 1975). See his autobiography.

27 April 1963: birth of Russell T. Davies, head writer and executive producer of the first five years of New Who (2005-10) and author of Virgin New Adventure Damaged Goods (1996). Without him, there would be no New Who.

27 April 1974: birth of Joseph Millson, who played Maria's father Alan Jackson in the first two series of the Sarah Jane Adventures.

27 April 1982: birth of Samuel Anderson, who played Clara's boyfriend Daniel Pink in the eighth series of New Who (2014)

Speaking of whom, 27 April 1986: birth of Jenna Coleman, who played Clara herself in the seventh, eighth and ninth series of New Who, as well as appearances before and after between 2012 and 2017.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 April 1968: broadcast of first episode of The Wheel in Space. The Tardis lands on a deserted spaceship; the controller of the nearby Wheel prepares to destroy it.

27 April 1974: broadcast of sixth episode of The Monster of Peladon. The Ice Warriors are defeated and the miners are reconciled with the Queen.

27 April 2013: broadcast of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. The Doctor's TARDIS is captured by space salvager brothers and Clara gets lost inside it. The Doctor promises the brothers they can have the TARDIS if they'll help search for her. They agree, only to find that what lies at the centre of the TARDIS can kill them all.

Posted in Uncategorised

SF Magazines of April 1967

I saw this meme going around a few months ago – what were the covers of the major science fiction magazines for the month you were born? They are a nice collection.

The best is the cover of Analog, by John Schoenherr.

I confess I don't recall any of the stories. The only one that has had much attention since then is "Ambassador to Verdammt" by Colin Kapp; I'm afraid I don't think I've heard of him let alone the story.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had almost as good a cover, by Gray Morrow, and much better content:

The cover refers to "Dawn", the second part of Roger Zelazny's classic novel Lord of Light. Other content includes "Randy's Syndrome" by Brian Aldiss, about an unborn baby who goes on strike by refusing to be born, and "Problems of Creativeness" by Thomas M. Disch, later retitled "The Death of Socrates" as the first part of his novel 334.

The cover of Galaxy Science Fiction by [Douglas] Chafee is not bad either.

The two most-reprinted stories are "Thunderhead" by Keith Laumer, and "You Men of Violence" by Harry Harrison. You can read the whole thing here.

New Worlds and SF Impulse unwisely crowds out what looks like a rather nice image (by Keith Roberts, also author of Pavane and Gráinne) with text about the contents.

This had the first magazine publication of "Daughters of Earth" by Judith Merrill (first published in an anthology in 1952), and three more stories by Thomas M. Disch.

Finally, for completeness, Australia's Future Science Fiction has an cover by Keith Chatto:

As the cover hints, it's back to the past; the magazine contained three stories from the 1950s and one from 1935!

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Whoniversaries 26 April

i) births and deaths

26 April 1928: birth of Donald Cotton, who wrote The Myth Makers (1965) and The Gunfighters (1966) as well as the novelisations of both stories and of The Romans (1965), three of the best Who novelisations in the range.

26 April 1975: death of Kevin Lindsay, who played Linx in The Time Warrior (1973-74), Cho Je in Planet of the Spiders (1974), and Styre/The Marshal in The Sontaran Experiment (1975).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

26 April 1969: broadcast of second episode of The War Games. The Doctor and friends, including Carstairs and Lady Jennifer, escape in an ambulance but are confronted by Roman soldiers.

26 April 1975: broadcast of second episode of Revenge of the Cybermen. Harry and Sarah are on Voga; the Doctor tries to repair the transmat; and the Cybermen arrive.

26 April 2002: webcast of "Death Comes to Time Part 2", twelfth episode of Death Comes to Time.

26 April 2008: broadcast of The Sontaran Stratagem.

26 April 2010: broadcast of The Cambridge Spy, the sixteenth and in my own view much the worst episode of the Australian K9 series. A freak accident takes Jorjie back to 23 November 1963 (geddit?). K9 and Starkey follow to rescue her and become embroiled in a spy-ring and a race against time to save Darius from never having existed (which would have been such a shame).

Posted in Uncategorised

The Bordleys of Baltimore in art

I was looking at my grandmother’s memoirs the other day and came across this interesting passage:

Like so many Americans, I know much more about my mother's family than about my father's, and she in turn knew more about her own mother's family. Her mother was Frances Wyatt Belt, whose father was a homeopathic doctor practicing, I think, but I am not sure, in Philadelphia. Her mother was Rebecca Heath Bordley, the daughter of Matthias Bordley. The Bordleys of Wye Island are about the most distinguished of my ancestors; there was a Judge Bordley who sent his sons all the way to Eton before the Revolution – the poor boys went knowing that they could not come home for eight years, and one of them died there, but one my great, great grandfather survived. There is a painting in the style of Zoffany of the two Bordley boys on Archer's Day at Eton, in fancy dress. I have a photograph of it, but the original is owned by my second cousin, Gordon McGrath. For a long time the picture hung in the Hadfield house in Carlton House Terrace, and I was told more than once that it would be left to me, but it was left instead to Gordon's father, Sims McGrath. So it went back to America, and perhaps it is happier there and more valued. And I have the photograph, and also one of "Aunt Gibson" – my grandmother's great-Aunt with whom she spent a great deal of time before her early marriage – my grandmother’s marriage, I mean. I mean I have a photograph of a painting of her by Gilbert Stuart. She and Nellie Custis, the step-daughter of George Washington, were great friends and the story is that the two girls had their portraits painted at the same time for each other.

In these online days, it was the work of seconds to find both of these paintings. Here are the two boys dressed up as archers (I have no idea if "Archers' Day" is a real Etonian tradition).

It was sold for $47,500 at Christie’s in 2018. According to Christie’s, the painting had passed from the artist to “Aunt Gibson” (Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, 1777-1863), then to her great-niece, Elizabeth Bordley Belt McGrath (1842-1926), then to her niece Lady Frances Hadfield (1862-1950), my grandmother’s aunt and unofficial guardian. Not that it maters much, but Christie’s thinks it then passed not to Sims McGrath senior (1877-1959) or to his son Gordon (1920-1990), but to Gordon’s brother Sims McGrath jr (1918-1998), and in 1988 from him to their sister Peggy, who was married to David Rockefeller. She died in 1996; the 2018 Christie’s auction was of paintings from her and her husband's collection. The buyer has not been disclosed. (In parenthesis, I do not completely buy my grandmother's story that the painting should have been left to her; I don't really think she would have known what to do with it. Lady Hadfield was scatty but sharp.)

The painting is by Charles Willson Peale, who got a lot of work from the Bordley family (and is a better known artist these days than Zoffany, who my grandmother accuses him of imitating). Another portrait of the two boys by Peale, at a younger age, is in the Smithsonian but not on display.

I am descended from the younger boy, Matthias Bordley (1757-1828), my 4xgreat-grandfather; the older brother, Thomas, died aged 16 in 1771. It's interesting that in both pictures Thomas is on the right, eyeing his younger brother a bit moodily. In the earlier picture, Matthias is looking straight at the viewer, ignoring the book that his brother is trying to show him; in the later one, he is looking at his brother with a bit of a grin. He went on to marry and have thirteen children.

The portrait of their (much) younger half-sister Elizabeth by Gilbert Stuart, best known for his classic portrayals of George Washington (to be found on everyday objects such as dollar bills), is on display at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Stuart is best known, as I said, for his older men, but his young women seem to me to have more character on the whole, and that's certainly true of Elizabeth Bordley. She looks like she is about to make a cuttingly sarcastic remark, or at least that is what she is thinking of. The picture is dated to around 1797, the year she turned 20. (She was born to her father's second wife, after his first wife and son Thomas had both died.)

Nellie Custis (1779-1854) was George Washington's step-granddaughter, not step-daughter as my grandmother would have it, and married George Washington's nephew. She and her brother were brought up by the Washingtons after her father's early death. (Their mother remarried, and had sixteen children by her second husband.) The best known portrait of her is indeed also by Gilbert Stuart, but it dates from 1804, a few years after his portrait of Elizabeth. Nellie is 25 and married with at least two children; she's sitting down and thinking, glad of the chance to pause from the domestic fray. The portrait is in the National Gallery of Art, but not on display.

Given the gap of seven years between the two portraits, I don't think my grandmother's story that they were commissioned as tokens of mutual admiration can be true; but Nellie Custis and Elizabeth Bordley were indeed great friends, and Nellie's letters to Elizabeth have been published.

Going back to Elizabeth, there are two other striking portraits of her from later in her life. This by Thomas Sully (on display in the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas City, MO, but owned by the Thomas H. and Diane DeMell Jacobsen PhD Foundation of St Louis) dates from 1820 or 1821, a few years after her marriage in 1817 to Philadelphia doctor James Gibson. They had no children.

She kept herself pretty busy by writing family history (her work is dated 1826, though not published until 1865) and presumably also by corresponding with Nellie and other friends. Here the angles of her face have been softened by middle age, which otherwise does not seem to have hit her too hard. She looks somewhat wistful. A first marriage at forty is relatively late now, and even more so in those days. She had spent many years looking after her mother, who died in 1816. What other options had she not taken, or not been able to take? But she and her husband were to have almost four decades together.

He died in 1856; she lived until 1863, and in 1861 John Henry Brown caught this striking image of her (he was noted for the almost photographic quality of his work, and you can see why, though she doesn't look anywhere near 84 years old). The original is in the Maryland Center for History and Culture, and is surely in colour, but I could not find a picture of it; this monochrome image is from the Smithsonian catalogue of American Portraits.

She still has the same long nose as in the earlier pictures, and I think that she is planning the next cutting remark for anyone who deserves it, just as she was when sitting for Gilbert Stuart 64 years earlier, and perhaps a bit impatient with the hassle of being painted yet again; I can imagine her telling her recently married great-niece Fanny, my grandmother’s grandmother, that she is too far old for all that stuff and nonsense. But I'm glad that they caught her, again, for posterity.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Whoniversaries 25 April

i) births and deaths

25 April 1923: birth of Paul Whitsun-Jones, who played the Squire in The Smugglers (1966) and the Marshal The Mutants (1972).

25 April 1961: birth of Cyril Nri, who played the Shopkeeper in two Sarah Jane Adventures episodes, Lost in Time (2010) and Sky (2010), and also the Chairman of the Board of Governors in the Class episode The Lost (2016).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

25 April 1964: broadcast of "The Screaming Jungle", third episode of the story we now call The Keys of Marinus. The second Key is hidden in a jungle full of mobile carnivorous plants.

25 April 1970: broadcast of sixth episode of The Ambassadors of Death. The Doctor finds that the aliens are keeping the original astronauts hostage, but is kidnapped by Carrington on his return.

Posted in Uncategorised


Unforgiven won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1992, and three others: Best Director (Clint Eastwood), Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman) and Best Film Editing. It lost in five other categories to five different films (including Clint Eastwood’s nomination for Best Actor)

That year’s other Best Picture nominees were The Crying Game and Howard’s End, which I have seen, and A Few Good Men and Scent of a Woman, which I haven’t. I had not seen Unforgiven before, but I had seen a dozen other films made that year: Basic Instinct, Batman Returns, Wayne’s World, Sister Act, The Crying Game, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Player, Howard’s End, Damage, Bob Roberts, Noises Off… and Peter’s Friends. Apart from Batman Returns, which really lost me by trying to make a large number of penguins look menacing, I really like them all, including Unforgiven, though I would not put it at the top of my list. IMDB users rate it second and seventh on the two systems, Reservoir Dogs ahead of it in both cases. Here is a trailer.


We have several actors returning from previous Oscar-winning films, and one who was also in two Hugo winners (one of which also won the Nebula). We’ll start there, with Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman as Little Bill, the nasty sheriff, and Ned Logan, the nice black cowboy.

It’s a while since we’ve seen Gene Hackman, but he was Lex Luthor in Superman (1978), the blind man in Young Frankenstein (1975) and one of the lead cops in The French Connection (Oscar 1971). He has aged well.

We saw Morgan Freeman only three years ago as the guy who was Driving Miss Daisy:

It’s a lot longer since we last saw Anthony James, who is brothel-keeper Skinny Dubois here and was the killer in In the Heat of the Night (1967). (Sorry for spoilers, but the film has been out since the year I was born, and it’s my 54th birthday on Monday.)

When first drafting this I missed the first woman of colour to be in two Oscar winners. Morgan Freeman’s character’s wife, Sally Two Trees, is played eloquently and silently by Cherrilene Cardinal, who as Tantoo Cardinal was also Black Shawl in Dances with Wolves.

I see a couple of other returnees in the smaller parts too, though none of the women.

Unforgiven is the third Western to win the Best Picture Oscar, after Cimarron (1930-31) and Dances With Wolves (1990), and the first one that I really enjoyed. Yes, it has its flaws, but this time I found the good points outweighing the bad points. I’m putting it a third of the way down my list, between two other films about crime and law in the USA with historical settings – ahead of The Sting, but below The Godfather.

So, on the negative side: it’s still a pretty violent film. Only nine people are actually killed, but it starts with the horrific mutilation of Anna Thomson’s Delilah and ends with a bloody shootout, with Richard Harris’s English Bob getting beaten out of town and Morgan Freeman’s Ned tortured to death in the meantime. Sure, this drives the narrative, but I don’t have to like it.

And while it’s only one of the three Westerns to have a major role for a black actor, and Morgan Freeman is really really good, one cannot help but feel that it somewhat sanitises the African-American experience of the West – yes, even with his grisly end.

Apart from Sally Two Trees, the other women characters are all sex workers, which is the first time we’ve seen that profession on screen since The Deer Hunter (1978) and the first time they’ve had a positive portrayal since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). There is a debate about whether Unforgiven passes the Bechdel test: the first two steps are easy, but in the one scene where the women are all talking together, they are discussing raising money to get revenge on the men who hurt Delilah, so I think that is a fail. Still, the plot is driven by women who collectively plan and fund a mission, even if the focus of the story is on the men who implement that mission.

As usual with Westerns, the scenery is breath-taking (and my eye cannot detect the difference between Canada and Wyoming); and the music is good too, without being distracting.


I also enjoyed the subplot with English Bob’s top-hatted biographer, W.W. Beauchamp, played by Saul Rubinek, reminding us that most of what we think we know about the West is romanticised fiction.

But what carries the film is of course the performances of Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. (I was actually a little less swept away by Gene Hackman, though Oscar voters were more impressed.) My most recent memory of Clint was his frankly embarrassing performance at the 2012 Republican National Convention, where (in case you have forgotten) he talked to an empty chair pretending that it was President Obama. It’s good to be reminded that he was a really great actor in his day, twenty years earlier. And as I mentioned already, while I have some difficulty with the way Freeman’s character is written, I have none at all with the way he performs. One has the sense of fully rounded personalities, real people in a real environment dealing with real life, as opposed to the cruder dichotomy of Dances with Wolves (and the confused truncation of Cimarron).

So basically I enjoyed this a lot more than I had expected.

The Hugo that year went to “The Inner Light”, from the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The other finalists were Aladdin, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Batman Returns (the only one I have seen) and Alien3. But in this project I am covering cinematic releases only, so we will skip the Hugos this year and go straight on to Schindler’s List. I may take a weekend off.

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)

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Whoniversaries 24 April

i) births and deaths

24 April 2008: death of Tristram Cary, who wrote incidental music for six First Doctor stories and two later ones. Here's his "The Ambush" for the story we now call The Daleks.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

24 April 1965: broadcast of "The Space Museum", first episode of the story we now call The Space Museum. The Tardis jumps a time-track and the crew find themselves in a museum where they cannot interact with the locals and they themselves appear on display. (A really good one, this.)

24 April 1971: broadcast of third episode of Colony in Space. The Doctor and the colonists take control of the IMC ship, but Jo is in the hands of the primitives.

24 April 2010: broadcast of The Time Of Angels. The Doctor, Amy, and River Song find themselves trapped on the Byzantium with armed Clerics and the Weeping Angels.

24 April 2020: webcast of two stories by Paul Cornell following on from Human Nature / The Family of Blood: “Shadow of a Doubt”, read by Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield, and “The Shadow in the Mirror”, read by Lor Wilson as Lucy Cartwright.

iii) date specified in canon

24 April 2010: marriage of Bernice Summerfield and Jason Kane, as described in Paul Cornell's 1996 novel Happy Endings. (I don't think it's a huge spoiler to reveal that things didn't really work out between them.)

Posted in Uncategorised

February 2011 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, 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 don't seem to have travelled that month, and no particular family or office news. The big developments were all international – the Egyptian revolution and crisis in Libya, South Sudan's independence referendum results, and the epochal Irish election which saw Fianna Fáil cascade down to third place from the leading position they had had at every election since 1932. In Doctor Who news, Nicholas "Brigadier" Courtney died; here is Tom Baker's tribute.

I read 23 books that month.

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 10)
Peeling the Onion, by Günter Grass
How to Suppress Women's Writing, by Joanna Russ
Life of Frederick Douglass
Elizabeth I, by Christopher Haigh
Chicks Dig Time Lords, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O'Shea

Fiction (non-sf) 6 (YTD 7)
Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford
Resurrection Men, by Ian Rankin
A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sign of Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

SF (non-Who) 7 (YTD 10)
The Mahābhārata
Irish Tales of Terror, ed. Peter Haining
Lightborn, by Tricia Sullivan
Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes
The Prodigal Troll, by Charles Coleman Finlay
The Book of Lost Tales, Vol II, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, by J.K. Rowling

Doctor Who (fiction) 4 (YTD 10)
The Jade Pyramid, by Martin Day
The Hounds of Artemis, by James Goss
Short Trips, edited by Stephen Cole
Birthright, by Nigel Robinson

Comics 1 (YTD 2)
Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour, by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Page count ~6,500 (YTD ~10,900)
5/23 (YTD 7/39) by women (Russ, Thomas/O'Shea, Sullivan, Beukes, Rowling)
3/23 (YTD 4/39) by PoC (Douglass, authors of Mahābhārata, O'Malley)

Best books of the month: How to Suppress Women's Writing, which you can get here, and The Life of Frederick Douglass, which you can get here. Worst: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by J.K. Rowling, 100 pages of guff about monsters looked at from the perspective of the Ministry of Magic bureaucrats with hand-written annotations supposedly by Harry and Ron; you can get it here.

Posted in Uncategorised

Friday reading

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant
The Serpent Sea, by Martha Wells
The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi
Legendborn, by Tracy Deonn

Last books finished
The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo
Muse vol 1: Celia, by Terry Dodson & Denis-Pierre Filippi
Muse vol 2: Coraline, by Terry Dodson & Denis-Pierre Filippi
Le dernier Atlas, tome 1, by Fabien Vehlmann, Gwen De Bonneval and Fred Blanchard
Feeders & Eaters & other stories, by Neil Gaiman, art by Mark Buckingham
Sculpture Stories, by Neil Gaiman with Lisa Snellings
The Gameshouse, by Claire North

Next books
In the Days of the Comet, by H. G. Wells
Cloud on Silver by John Christopher

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Whoniversaries 23 April

i) births and deaths

23 April 1975: death of William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor from 1963 to 1966, and returned for The Three Doctors in 1972-73.

23 April 2013: death of Norman Jones, who played Khrisong in The Abominable Snowmen (Second Doctor, 1967), Major Baker in Doctor Who and the Silurians (Third Doctor, 1970) and Hieronymous in The Masque of Mandragora (Fourth Doctor, 1976).

23 April 2019: death of Edward Kelsey, who played the slave buyer in the story we now call The Romans (First Doctor, 1965), Resno in The Power of the Daleks (Second Doctor, 1966) and Edu in The Creature from the Pit (Fourth Doctor, 1979).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

23 April 1966: broadcast of "The Final Test", fourth episode of the story we now call The Celestial Toymaker. Dodo and Steven defeat Cyril the schoolboy at Tardis Hopscotch, and the Doctor solves the Trilogic Game; they escape.

23 April 2005: broadcast of World War Three. The Doctor, Rose and Mickey defeat the Slitheen by hacking into UNIT's computers.

23 April 2011: broadcast of The Impossible Astronaut, starting Series 6 of New Who. Amy, Rory, River Song and the Doctor receive a mysterious summons that takes them on an adventure to 21st century Utah and Florida in 1969. Along the way they meet Richard Nixon, president of the United States of America, and former FBI agent Canton Everett Delaware III.

Also 23 April 2011: broadcast of documentary My Sarah Jane: A Tribute to Elisabeth Sladen.

23 April 2016: broadcast of Friend from the Future, introducing Bill Potts.

Posted in Uncategorised

Vector 293: Chinese SF

Second paragraph of third article (“龙马精神 Dragon Horse Vitality Spirit”, by Yen Ooi):

Genres are in general difficult to define, but CSF is especially complicated. Both the terms Chinese and science fiction defy any clear definition, yet are used so commonly that every user has their own pre-assumed definition. One popular assumption in the West is that CSF should always be read in terms of political dissent or complicity with state power. As much as that might be true for some, it is an unhelpful generalisation. After all, we do not assume that British SF is only about Brexit, or American SF only about Trump. In one sense, all storytelling is inherently political, and within Anglophone SF especially, the racist and queerphobic attack on representational diversity is often disguised as a demand to “remove the politics” from our stories. However, the necessarily political nature of storytelling is complicated in the case of the Anglophone reception of CSF. The insistence of many Western readers on interpreting CSF exclusively in relation to government censorship can itself have a paradoxically censoring effect. Some CSF authors have even resisted writing stories set in China, or allowing the translation of their work into English, for fear that readers will ignore its actual aesthetic and intellectual qualities, while using it as material for simplistic speculation: Whose side are you really on? To quote Ken Liu — for what is a publication on CSF without mentioning the writer who, it feels like, has single-handedly brought CSF to Anglo-American readers? —

Like writers everywhere, today’s Chinese writers are concerned with humanism; with globalization; with technological advancement; with development and environmental preservation; with history, rights, freedom, and justice; with family and love; with the beauty of expressing sentiment through words; with language play; with the grandeur of science; with the thrill of discovery; with the ultimate meaning of life.
— Ken Liu, Invisible Planets, 2016.

The BSFA has done us all a huge service with a special issue of Vector devoted to Chinese SF, 80 pages of really interesting pieces about the genre in the language with most native speakers in the world. I must say there isn’t a dud piece here – I thought I was going to bounce off Angela Chan’s interview with artist Beatrice Glow, but in fact it developed into a really interesting narrative about colonialism and representation. I won’t attempt to summarise what I learned from the magazine, but I went straight out and bought An Excess Male, by Maggie Shen King, and Waste Tide, by Chen Qiufan, to add to my TBR list. I assume that the interested non-BSFA member can make arrangements to get a paper copy from the source, or wait a few months until it appears on the back issues page.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

  • Wed, 12:40: Hugely childish. @DanTehanWannon was senior adviser to Aus trade minister Vaile 2002-06, was then director of trade policy and international affairs for Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2006-07. @TrussLiz became UK’s trade minister in Jul 2019. Er, that’s it. https://t.co/Vb2frrvman
  • Wed, 12:56: RT @UKandEU: What is in the Northern Ireland Protocol the Johnson Government negotiated? Find out in this explainer by @JS_McStravick @ha
  • Wed, 13:51: Can’t they both lose? https://t.co/1jbK4mk0e0
  • Wed, 16:05: Walter Mondale’s paper for Jimmy Carter on the role of the Vice-President https://t.co/ehK9nyFU6m A nice clear read, based on consultations with Rockefeller and Humphrey – though apparently not Agnew or Nixon!
  • Wed, 16:40: RT @francescabinda: Fascinating. Obviously, the current @VP has a different take on section IV! https://t.co/GnaQcCCYbY
  • Wed, 16:47: RT @jburnmurdoch: Greater availability of Covid-19 data in the western world has at times given the impression the US, UK and Europe have b…
  • Wed, 17:11: Dialogue for mutual recognition will succeed when the EU joins the US in its Kosovo approach https://t.co/zywpItzF6D Alush Gashi writes.
  • Wed, 17:14: …and right on cue as we consider Australia’s trade diplomacy, I get an invitation from one of the big German thinktanks for an event next week on EU-Australia trade relations, why they are good and getting better. Australia trades 3x more with EU than with UK. And comfy chair.
  • Wed, 17:23: RT @Glasgowin2024: Glasgow in 2024 only becomes a seated convention if we win the bid vote at Chicon8 in September 2022. That vote is now…
  • Wed, 18:47: 400 days of plague https://t.co/pp5W5kj3bp

  • Wed, 19:38: RT @JimMFelton: Laurence Fox is currently polling equal to Peter Gammons – a man with gammon in his actual name – and Count Binface, a man…
  • Wed, 20:48: Lactarius hibbardiae, a milkcap mushroom found in the northeast USA, named after my great-great-aunt Ann Hibbard (1858-1940). https://t.co/mwZF7FYW3p
  • Thu, 01:58: RT @japansociety: Japan Society extends its thoughts and prayers to Vice President Walter F. Mondale’s family on his recent passing. A form…
  • Thu, 09:30: Whoniversaries 22 April https://t.co/zvcX2yIiHu
  • Thu, 10:45: RT @davidallengreen: ‘An uncomfortable chair’ Why the international trade secretary wrongly believes trade deals are quick and easy, and…
  • Thu, 11:45: RT @APCOBXLInsider: To celebrate Earth Day, we’ll be highlighting three upcoming EU policies that aim to protect our planet, health, and e…
  • Thu, 11:59: RT @PatrikGayer: Lopuksi asiat sitten ratkeavat vähän @alexstubb ‘n EU:n “ongelmaratkaisukaavan” mukaisesti. Kaikki saa jotain mutta kukaan…

Posted in Uncategorised

Whoniversaries 22 April

i) births and deaths

22 April 1942: birth of Denis Lill, who played Dr. Fendleman in Image of the Fendahl (Fourth Doctor, 1977) and Sir George Hutchinson in The Awakening (Fifth Doctor, 1984).

22 April 1984: birth of Michelle Ryan, who played Christina de Souza in Planet of the Dead (Tenth Doctor, 2009).

22 April 1989: death of Kenny McBain, who directed The Horns of Nimon (Fourth Doctor, 1979-80).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

22 April 1967: broadcast of third episode of The Faceless Ones. The Doctor convinces the Commandant to let him investigate the mysterious disappearances.

22 April 1972: broadcast of third episode of The Mutants. Jo, the Doctor, Cotton and Stubbs are trapped in the caves by the Marshall, with gas closing in.

22 April 2006: broadcast of Tooth and Claw. The Doctor and Rose save Queen Victoria from werewolves; she founds the Torchwood Institute.

(Odd coincidence that Pauline Collins features in two episodes shown exactly 39 years apart.)

22 April 2017: broadcast of Smile. The Doctor takes Bill to see one of Earth's first space colonies, where the inhabitants have supposedly cracked the secret of perpetual happiness. However, they soon discover that the cause of this "happiness" has a very deadly punishment for not following along.

iii) date specified in-universe:

22 April 2011: setting of much of Eleventh Doctor stories The Impossible Astronaut and The Wedding of River Song.

Posted in Uncategorised

400 days of plague

Well, the Belgian numbers are a little better than ten days ago, but only a little. All of them ticked down today, both day-on-day and week-on-week, apart from – crucially – new infections, which are a hair up from the previous seven days. There were over 100,000 vaccinations in Belgium on 7 and 8 April, though only one day since has topped 80,000. I am still waiting for my (supposedly prioritised) turn.

I am a little down partly because of the Grim Reaper's recent recruits – our dear friend Liz, of course, but also Shirley Williams, who I had actually met a couple of times, Jonathan Fryer, another Liberal friend, and Walter Mondale and Jim Steinman, who I did not know but who helped make the world a slightly better place. Also partly because at work, two much valued colleagues announced that they are leaving – they had both been very helpful to me when I began and throughout my time in my current job, and both very popular with the rest of the team, so they will be missed; but sometimes it's right to move on, especially if a good opportunity comes up.

The Hugo final ballot was launched, with inevitable glitches and Sturm und Drang, much discussed elsewhere.

However, as well as my excursion with U to Bozar at the weekend, we had visitors from Brussels for the first time in ages, and had a long walk in the woods followed by a chat in the garden.

Also on the positive side, two glorious moments in the history of space travel. The BBC tracked down the little girl who was the first to greet Yuri Gagarin when he landed from the first spaceflight. She said to her grandmother, "He speaks Russian, so he's probably human!"

And the Ingenuity helicopter made the first powered flight on another world (we must not forget the June 1985 Venus balloons):

Belgium will gradually open up again over the next few weeks. Here's hoping that the vaccination campaign can keep the virus in check.

PS – back to last year: two of my videos about our village from mid-April 2020. Sacred spaces and sabotage.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

  • Wed, 10:45: RT @tconnellyRTE: NEW: A majority of people in the South do not believe there will be a United Ireland inside the EU within the next ten ye…
  • Wed, 11:11: RT @BorderKent: Ms Truss appears to have broken Kentish diplomatic rule (of Kent) #4 Don’t insult overseas trade teams that are – more ex…

Posted in Uncategorised