July 2021 books

Non-fiction 2 (YTD 24)
Too Innocent Abroad: Letters Home from Europe 1949, by Joan Hibbard Fleming
The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies, Commonly Called Mother Ross on Campaign with the Duke of Marlborough (incorrectly attributed to Daniel Defoe)

Non-genre 4 (YTD 17)
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, by Zora Neale Hurston
Martin Lukes: Who Moved My Blackberry, by Lucy Kellaway
The History of Mr Polly, by H.G. Wells

SF 11 (YTD 74)
Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko
Riding the Unicorn, by Paul Kearney
Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse
The Separation, by Christopher Priest
Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard
A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik
Empire Games, by Charles Stross
"Grotto of the Dancing Deer", by Clifford D Simak
The Kingdom of Copper, by S. A Chakraborty
The Dragon Republic, by R.F. Kuang

Doctor Who 3 (YTD 5, 7 inc comics)
The Last Pharaoh, by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett
Times Squared, by Rick Cross
Star Tales, ed. Steve Cole

Comics 1 (YTD 19)
Le dernier Atlas, tome 2, by Fabien Vehlmann, Gwen De Bonneval and Fred Blanchard

7,400 pages (YTD 40,100)
13/21 (YTD 65/144) by non-male writers (Hibbard Fleming, Davies/Ross, Eliot, Hurston, Kellaway, Ifueko, Roanhorse, Muir, de Bodard, Novik, Chakraborty, Kuang, Bartlett)
6/21 (YTD 30/144) by PoC (Hurston, Ifueko, Roanhorse, de Bodard, Chakraborty, Kuang)
4/21 rereads (YTD 15/144) – Middlemarch, The Separation, "Grotto of the Dancing Deer", The Last Pharaoh

Fish Tails, by Sheri S. Tepper
Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction, ed. Hayden Trenholm
Thirteen, by Steve Cavanagh

Coming soon (perhaps)
Angel of Mercy, by Julianne Todd, Claire Bartlett and Iain McLaughlin
The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams
The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
A Hero Born, by Jin Yong
Cryptozoic, by Brian Aldiss
Eurofiles: A Cartoonist's View of Europe and the Wider World, by Peter Schrank (if I can find it)
The Primal Urge, by Brian Aldiss
A Woman In Berlin, by Anonymous
Humankind, by Rutger Bregman
Felaheen, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
The Bloodline Feud, by Charles Stross
"The Saturn Game", by Poul Anderson
Great Glowing Coils of the Universe, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Retour sur Aldébaran, tome 2, by Leo
Kipps, by H. G. Wells
Jack, by Marilynne Robinson
Zodiac Station, by Tom Harper
Hurricane Fever, by Tobias S. Buckell
The Return of the Discontinued Man, by Mark Hodder

Posted in Uncategorised

500 days of plague

So, back when I started these ten-day updates in March last year, I had no idea I’d still be at it half a thousand days later. (I did skip the updates between 100 and 220 days in; that was the lull of summer last year.) I will keep at it for now; we’re not exactly back to normal yet.

We’re a lot closer than we were. Today, for the first time in a month, the weekly average of new infections in BElgium was less than the previous reported day – and since that’s a seven-day average of the period from three to nine days ago, that means we are probably over the hump. The number of cases has risen a lot from its dip in June, but is still lower than at any time since mid-September 2020, more than nine months ago. And although hospitalisations and ICU occupancy have risen, they are many times less than the levels last time we had infection rates this high. There were six days in July when no COVID deaths at all were reported in Belgium, for the first time since 10 July last year.

So I’m on the optimistic side at the moment. I’ll be going back to work in the office five days a week, starting next Monday, 2 August. There are not a lot of people around during the holiday season – this week, I was in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I don’t think there were more than six others present on any of those days, in an office whose capacity is around 50. I have an actual physical meeting planned in London on 12 August, and I’ve also booked some time off to go to Ireland, now that that is possible again.

Apart from that, we celebrated F’s 22nd birthday with cake last Sunday.

And shopping in Leuven, I came across a band playing “Ciao Bella”, not sure exactly why.

Irish friends will have noted that the retired politician Desmond O’Malley died, aged 82. He famously challenged the church’s role in Irish politics in a speech during a parliamentary debate on legalising contraception in 1985, which ended with the famous phrase, “I stand by the Republic”:blockquote>The politics of this would be very easy. The politics would be, to be one of the lads, the safest way in Ireland. But I do not believe that the interests of this State, or our Constitution and of this Republic, would be served by putting politics before conscience in regard to this. There is a choice of a kind that can only be answered by saying that I stand by the Republic and accordingly I will not oppose this Bill. A friend pinged me to remind me (and I am not sure if I had ever realised it) that O’Malley had actually cited my father at some length earlier in the speech:

I took the opportunity over the last weekend to read some of the chapters in J. H. Whyte’s book on Church and State in Modern Ireland. To read, perhaps in full for the first time myself, the whole mother and child controversy of 1951, as it was called, is unbelievable. It is incredible that Members of this House and of the Government of the day could be as cravan and supine as they were, as we look back on them now. It shows how much the atmosphere has changed. Then one has to ask oneself “Has the atmosphere changed?”. Because when the chips are down is it going to be any different?

It was interesting to read the so-called mother and child scheme. There were ten provisions for women in it relating to ante-natal and post-natal care and care of the children when they were born. One of the provisions was for free dental treatment for pregnant women. The most tremendous objection was taken to that at that time. I recall only a couple of weeks ago, the Minister for Finance reading that out here in the budget speech and there was a howl of laughter all round the House. How could anyone seriously object to something like that? How could anyone seriously object to anything in it, as one looks back on it now? Look at the effect it has had on this island. We have to bear in mind that this is 1985, and whatever excuses one could make for people in 1951, those excuses are not valid today for us.

We are 36 years on from 1985, which was 34 years on from 1951, and Ireland has come a lot further in the last 36 years than in the previous 34.

Friday reading

Fish Tails, by Sheri S. Tepper
Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction, ed. Hayden Trenholm
Thirteen, by Steve Cavanagh
The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies, Commonly Called Mother Ross on Campaign with the Duke of Marlborough by Daniel Defoe

Last books finished
Le dernier Atlas, tome 2, by Fabien Vehlmann, Gwen De Bonneval and Fred Blanchard
The History of Mr Polly, by H.G. Wells
The Dragon Republic, by R.F. Kuang

Next books
The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams
The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

June 2012 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.

Lots of travel with my Georgian client that month, but no time for photographs: starting with a site visit in Tbilisi, and then to Geneva to lobby the UN, and Strasbourg to lobby the Council of Europe.

In my reading world, a group of us were working our way through War and Peace and happened to hit the precise 200th anniversary of the French invasion of Russia while reading it, which was an interesting synchronicity.

In external news that I don't really care about, Queen Elizabeth II marked fifty years on the throne. (The actual anniversary is in February but they celebrate in June.) I imagine that she will make it to sixty next year.

I read 29 books that month.

Non-fiction 6 (YTD 28)
The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
Jar Jar Binks Must Die, by Dan Kimmel
The Flowering of New England 1815-1865, by Van Wyck Brooks
The Steampunk Bible, by Jeff VanderMeer with S.J. Chambers et al.
The Young Elizabeth, by Alison Plowden
Danger to Elizabeth, by Alison Plowden

Fiction (non-sf) 3 (YTD 14)
Hard Times, by Charles Dickens
A Good Hanging and Other Stories, by Ian Rankin
Lust, Caution and Other Stories, by Eileen Chang

sf (non-Who) 7 (YTD 39)
Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, by Selma Lagerlöf
The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, edited by Terry Carr
Sphere, by Michael Crichton
Waking the Moon, by Elizabeth Hand
Sauron Defeated, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 37)
Autonomy, by Daniel Blythe
The House That Jack Built, by Guy Adams
Dying in the Sun, by Jon de Burgh Miller
Falls The Shadow, by Daniel O'Mahony

Comics 9 (YTD 12)
Habibi, by Craig Thompson
The Unwritten, vols 3-4, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Digger vols 1-6, by Ursula Vernon

Running totals:
~8,000 pages (YTD 38,800)
14/29 (YTD 39/130) by women (Chambers, Plowden x2, Chang, Lord, Lagerlöf, Hand, Butler, Vernon x6)
3/29 (YTD 5/130) by PoC (Chang, Lord, Butler)

The best of these was Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler, though it was a reread; you can get it here. Also really liked the Ian Rankin anthology, which you can get hereWaking the Moon, which you can get hereRedemption in Indigo, which you can get hereDigger, which you can get here.
Really didn't like either Sphere, which you can get here, or Dying in the Sun, which you can get here.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

2021 Hugos: The Lodestar Award

Obligatory bit of throat-clearing: I opposed the creation of the YA award because I am keenly aware of the extra burden every new category places on the Hugo administrators. But I have to admit that pound for pound, the YA and now Lodestar finalists are on par with the Best Novel finalists for the Hugos, and the extra degree of quality added to the awards as a whole justifies the extra resources required. (I do not feel the same way about Best Series, but we'll get to that.) Having said that, this year's finalists are a bit weaker

6) Legendborn, by Tracy Deonn. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Lights flash blue and red against the night sky, and dread, heavy and sour, fills my stomach. A Durham County Sheriff patrol car has pulled into the lot, and my friends are standing beside it talking to a deputy holding a notepad.

Dear God, King Arthur and the Round Table turn up in Chapel Hill as university students. I'm sorry, I know the writer was also saying important things about race and class, but I can't get past the silliness of importing a very specifically English/Welsh legend to North Carolina. Did not finish. You can get it here.

5) Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas. Second paragraph of third chapter:

They passed by some brujx still looking for Miguel.

Similarly failed to grab me. Again, I know that the writer was saying important things about gender identity and Latinx culture, but the plot turned out to be complete cliché. (Though this time I did keep reading to the end, in the hope that it wouldn't be.) You can get it here.

4) Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko. Second paragraph of third chapter:

“I told you travelling by lodestone was a bad idea,” Kathleen snapped at Woo In as she emptied my sick bowl out the window. “We should have taken camels. Lodestones are nasty powerful. She's never been exposed to magic before.”

Deeply imagined world with clear roots in West Africa; our protagonist is an unwilling part of a dynastic magical plot by her (frankly awful) mother, set up to kill the young ruler who she is also advising, and struggles to escape her destiny. All nicely put together but I wasn't totally convinced by some elements of the world-building – is there a means of replacement if one of the ruling magical Council dies or resigns, for instance? And the magic seemed (as so often) to be just sufficiently strong for the plot point it was supporting. You can get it here.

3) Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badger. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Kirby hopped off the bed. He’d been curled at her feet all night, entertained by who-knows-what. When ghosts fell asleep, they went back to the underworld, so he clearly didn’t dream. Maybe Kirby contemplated squirrels and cheese for seven hours.

I quite liked the set-up – an alternate USA timeline where the supernatural is an accepted part of life and our Apache protagonist has brought her own dog back from the dead as a ghost; and they confront ancient evil in a Texas town. However there's quite a lot of infodumping throughout, and I felt the author lost the run of herself in the concluding chase through the evil haunted mansion. You can get it here.

2) Really difficult to choose between the top two; I thought that they were both excellent. However, you have to put one second and one first, so my #2 vote goes to A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, by "T. Kingfisher" [Ursula Vernon]. Second paragraph of third chapter:

There was a new man in the bakery, and he didn’t look like he was interested in tea or sweet buns. He was wearing dark purple robes past his ankles, and the hems weren’t dusty at all. The street sweepers do a good job, once the snow’s melted, but not that good. He definitely hadn’t walked here.

Well thought out if slightly silly fantasy world where those who have magic can only manifest it in a particular way, and our protagonist manifests hers through magical baking, through which she is called on to save her home city, all the other magicians being conveniently unavailable (or traitors). As usual with this author, a cracking pace that keeps you engaged. You can get it here.

1) And my top vote this year goes to A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik. Second paragraph of third chapter:

The next morning Aadhya knocked to get me for showers and breakfast company, which was nice of her. I wondered why. A drill was valuable, but not that valuable. Thanks to her company, I was able to take my first shower in a week and refill my water jug before we headed to the cafeteria. She didn’t even try to charge me for it, except watching in turnabout while she did it, too.

I mean, in general the wizardly boarding school setting was already a bit of a cliché even when Ursula Le Guin did it, never mind J.K. Rowling. But Novik takes a couple of interesting new turns. First, the school is infested by evil magical creatures which in a normal year eat or otherwise kill a large percentage of the students. Second, our protagonist is deeply cynical, rude to everyone, and doesn't even try to be a good girl, just alive. Third, the brutal outworkings of the class system in determining who lives and who dies are a crucial element of the plot. On top of this there's the usual plot of classroom politics and teenage angst, and one slightly wonders about all the parents who send their kids to a boarding school where their chances of survival are so low, but I liked it a lot. You can get it here.

2021 Hugos: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form | Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar | Astounding

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Times Squared, by Rick Cross

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Kramer had respectfully offered Lethbridge-Stewart the front passenger seat. She sat in the back with Sally and Owain, pointing out landmarks and catching up on the latest about the wedding plans and Sally’s new appointment to Edinburgh. Lethbridge-Stewart had to admit to himself that he was mildly pleased – at first – by Kramer’s deference. Then the driver somehow managed to slalom across four lanes of traffic, whipping into a taxi-only lane and braking with a screech of tires as he joined the long line of exhaust-belching vehicles headed for the Queensboro Bridge. Only then, removing both white-knuckled hands from where he’d planted them firmly on the dashboard – to keep from being thrown headlong into it – did Lethbridge-Stewart understand that Kramer had done him no favour at all in offering up the front seat.

As previously mentioned, I'm returning to the Lethbridge-Stewart series of books published by Candy Jar, looking at the career of the Brigadier before he became the Brigadier. In a previous review I unfairly accused the author of this novel, Rick Cross, of being a pseudonym; in fact he's NASA's senior media writer in the Marshall Space Flight Centre, and this is his first novel.

And it's pretty good. Lieutenant Adrienne Kramer, who later in her own timeline appears in the early Eighth Doctor novel Vampire Science, is Lethbridge-Stewart's liaison in New York where there are basically Yeti in the Metro. But it's a bit more than Web of Fear transplanted to the Big Apple: Lethbridge-Stewart is travelling with his fiancee and nephew, the latter already having a strange connection with the Great Intelligence, and there's a time-travelled version of Professor Travers in the mix as well. Well-written, respectful of its source material and true to its setting; it's a little too closely linked to the first novel in this sequence, The Forgotten Son, to work entirely on its own, but apart from that a good read. You can get it here.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

“Stories for Men” (J Kessel), Light (MJ Harrison), The Separation (C Priest)

Latest in my series of posts about successive winners of the Tiptree, Clarke and BSFA Best Novel awards.

Second paragraph of third part of “Stories for Men”, by John Kessel:

He washed his face, applied personal hygiene bacteria, threw on his embroidered jumpsuit, and rushed out of the apartment.

I remember being hugely impressed by this story when it was a Nebula finalist back in 2003. Hugo voters weren’t, and it finished in tenth place at nominations stage, both Hugo and Nebula voters going instead for Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. On rereading I still think it is a classic, and well done to the Tiptree jury for recognising it. It’s a story of a matriarchal society of human colonists on the Moon, where men have largely been disempowered for the common good; it’s neither utopia nor dystopia, but a complex society which may or may not be able to anser its own questions, and where politics and violence have an uneasy and widely denied coexistence. Eighteen years on, it still resonated for me. I own it in the Gardner Dozois annual collection, which you can get here or here; you can also get it in this John Kessel collection and in this anthology of lunar sf.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Light, by M. John Harrison:

He was a typical New Man, tall, white-faced, with that characteristic shock of orange hair that makes them look constantly surprised by life. The tank farm was too far up Pierpoint to do much trade. It was in the high 700s, where the banking district gave out into garments, tailoring, cheap chopshop operations franchising out-of-date cultivars and sentient tattoos.

When I first read this in 2004, I wrote:

I didn’t like it. I thought the sex was sordid, the characters unpleasant, and the plot barely comprehensible.

Seventeen years on, I don’t feel the need to revise my opinion much. For the Tiptree jury, which honoured this jointly with “Stories for Men”, the unpleasantness of the male characters was part of the point, but I really bounced off it. You can get it here.

The Tiptree jury also had three novels, four short stories and an anthology on their Honor Roll. I have read only one of the three novels, and bounced off it too. The short fiction included Karen Joy Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See”, which won the Nebula in its category, two more Nebula finalists – Gregory Frost’s “Madonna of the Maquiladora” and Eleanor Arnason’s “Knapsack Poems” – and Ted Chiang’s “Liking What You See: A Documentary”, which is a favourite of mine.

That year the BSFA voters and Clarke jury chose the same book: Christopher Priest’s The Separation. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

I hope you will remember me: I came to interview you in Antananarivo some eight years ago, about your experiences flying with the USAAF in the Chinese and Manchurian campaigns in 1942-3. You were kind enough to give me several hours of your time. From these conversations I extracted some excellent material about the fire-bomb missions in which you took part: the raids on the Japanese strongholds at Nanking and Ichang. I used most of that in my history of the campaign called The Silver Dragons: the 9th US Army Air Force in China. I recall that at the time I asked my publishers to send you a complimentary copy of the book. I realize that I never heard from you afterwards, so in case you did not receive the earlier copy I am enclosing one from the recently reissued paperback edition. As in the earlier editions, your interview features prominently in the first few chapters.

This was one of the very first books I wrote up when I started bookblogging regularly in November 2003. My review was succinct:

[E]xcellent stuff, dopplegangers, altered timelines and the second world war, as if Philip K Dick had been English and sober.

Again, I don’t feel the need to revise my opinion much, especially since I’ve now read a few more alternate-WW2 novels. (Good ones: The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, Jo Walton’s trilogy Farthing, Ha’penny and Half a CrownTimewyrm: Exodus, by Terrance Dicks, Dominion, by C.J. SansomThe Sound of his Horn, by Sarban, SS-GB, by Len Deighton.) I think it’s a really well put together exploration of several different timelines, involving the crucial choices of a pair of identical twins, one in the RAF, the other a pacifist, and the possibility of an early end to the war with a Jewish homeland in Madagascar. There aren’t any clear answers, even the questions may not be all that clear, but it really keeps one reading; the alternate-WW2 novel to end all others. Great stuff. You can get it here.

As mentioned above, The Separation won both Clarke and BSFA Best Novel awards. Light, discussed above, was on both shortlists, as were The Scar by China Miéville and The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson. BSFA voters also had the options of Castles Made of Sand, by Gwyneth Jones and Effendi, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Clarke judges also shortlisted Kil’n People, by David Brin, and the following year’s Nebula winner, Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon. I think I’ve read all of those books and they are two very solid shortlists. Apart from Elizabeth Moon, there was no other crossover with the Nebula ballot for either that year or the next. Kil’n People, The Scar and The Years of Rice and Salt were also on the Hugo ballot, but voters at the Canadian Worldcon chose local boy Robert Sawyer’s awful book, Hominids.

Next in this sequence: 2003: Set This House In Order: A Romance Of Souls by Matt Ruff; Felaheen by Jon Courtenay Grimwood; and (gulp) Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson.

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

A long weekend in Paris

It's F's 22nd birthday today – Happy Birthday! – and as an early treat we went to Paris last weekend. I go to Paris now and then for work – a bit less so at the moment obviously – but I realised that possibly the last time I stayed overnight as a tourist was on an inter-rail with Anne in 1992, the year before we got married. We have all changed a bit since then. It was also the first nights outside Belgium for me and F since our trip to Burgundy and Switzerland this time last year. F had not been outside Belgium since, though I had briefly been in France twice, once to find my great-uncle's grave and once for a haircut. I can't remember a previous time in my life when I spent seven month without crossing an international border, let alone a year without an international overnight; even when I was a small child there were regular visits to relatives in Dublin.

The formalities of entering France were fairly straightforward. I had my second vaccination several weeks ago, so just needed to wave my certificate at the French police as we got off the train in Paris. F gets his second vaccination tomorrow; he therefore had to get a test a couple of days before we left, which he also then waved at the French police who gave it cursory examination along with our IDs. On our return, we detected no checks at all in Brussels.

We booked an AirBnB for €105 per night right beside the Pompidou Centre – a brilliant location. Our travels were a bit hampered by the fact that I wrenched a muscle in my leg a couple of weeks ago, and it's been pretty painful in the mornings until it warms up. On that basis I booked a taxi via Thalys on our arrival, which turned out to be a needless extravagance; twice the price of the taxis on the street, and more difficult to locate. Mostly I was able to manage public transport anyway.

We ate at the following places:

Friday dinner: La Reserve Du Terroir, 13 rRue Quincampoix, French tapas near the apartment; I had yummy snails and steak tartare.
Saturday breakfast: Crêperie Loulou, 62 rue Rambuteau, omelettes which were fine.
Saturday lunch: Le Jardin du Roy, 31 rue de la Huchette, nice Niçoise salad but awful glass of wine which I couldn't take more than two sips from.
Saturday dinner: Phở 18, 18 Rue Philibert Lucot, guided by our friend A, really really nice Vietnamese food; I had crispy sweet and sour duck.
Sunday breakfast: Le Cavalier Bleu, 143 rue Saint Martin, a really good deal on breakfast omelettes
Sunday lunch: sandwiches in Saint-Germain-en-Laye; yuck.
Sunday ice cream: La Fabbrica De Luca, 18 rue de la Salle, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, guided by our friend E who lives there; really nice on a hot day
Sunday dinner: Chez Mamie, 18 rue du Grenier-Siant-Lazare, Chinese food and very nice.
Monday breakfast: Le Cavalier Bleu again, I just went for the bread and croissant breakfast which is also good value, but F stuck with the omelette.
Monday lunch: Ancora Tu, 6 rue de Chaillot, with colleagues; very acceptable Italian, though F found the linguini carbonara very salty.
Monday dinner: Yasoya, 88 rue Saint-Martin, right beside where we were staying; swift service (which turned out to be just as well); no sushi, though totally Japanese menu; the beef tataki was heavenly.

Worth making a general point that thanks to the pandemic, a lot of restaurants have closed, and neither TripAdvisor nor Google Maps is fully up to date with recent changes. So don't set your hopes on that fantastic-looking seafood place around the corner.

What we did:

Friday: as noted above, arrived without incident in the evening, had our only French dinner of the trip (we ate Asian the other three nights) and retired, having ensured that Notre Dame is still there.

Every time we approached the apartment from the south, we encountered this gentleman, a creation of the exiled Syrian artist Khaled Dawwa, with the title Standing: The King of Holes, courtesy of Le Socle.


Saturday: As previously noted, we started with the superb exhibition about Napoleon.

From there I took F on a quick pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Company, which is just the same as ever, if not more so.

On a whim we then went across the river to the Crypt of Notre Dame, whose exhibition is not all that big – bulked out a bit by some reflections on Victor Hugo – but has a stunning extra element: for €3 more, you can experience Ubisoft's 3-D virtual reality recreation of Notre Dame, which itself is of course closed to visitors right now. I must say I thought it was fantastic. Here's the 2-D version of the video.

I had been inspired to come to Paris in the first place by a recent Doctor Who play, starring Peter Davison and David Tennant, with a convoluted plot involving Cybermen in the Paris Catacombs. So inevitably we had to visit the Catacombs as well. Unlike Rome, these are purely nineteenth-century constructions, a huge artistically created subterranean ossuary of skeletons exhumed from former city centre graveyards. I had visited as a teenager, and my memory was that it was slightly more interesting then. I have a vague memory that they used to show off Danton's skull, or was it Robespierre's? Anyway, no celebrities this time, just the ranks of centuries of dead Parisians.

And we met with my friend A, who took us to a favourite Vietnamese place of hers in the 13th. The Asian Quarter greets you with a lovely sculpture which resolves into the Chinese character 門 (mén), meaning "gate", as you align yourself with it.

After dinner, A accompanied us as far as the Pompidou Centre before going home, and the only decent picture I have of the Centre is the three of us stading in front of it in the last of the evening sun.

Sunday: We started with the Pompidou Centre, just outside our front door, and had a good look at the current exhibition of women abstract artists. There were some names there I knew, including videos – gosh, Barbara Hepworth's accent was pretty posh!!!! It was worth the price of admission alone to see Tremor, by Bridget Riley. (She turned 90 earlier this year.)

Also, gosh, Louise Bourgeois!

The thing I really want to follow up on is the 1924 Soviet science fiction film Aelita, Queen of Mars, for which costume designer Alexandra Exter established a lot of the science fiction aesthetic that we now take for granted.

But we spent most of Sunday out at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where my friend E had suggested we could watch the Tour de France as it started its final day. Saint-Germain-en-Laye is nalso where the exiled James II and VII spent his final days. I thought we could spent some time looking for his memorial in the church, but in fact it's just on the right as you go in.

And you can choose between two different versions of history, neither necessarily complete.

Famous public figures can be seen in the vanguard of the Tour.

Also, dodgy merchandise can be bought by the gullible.

Eventually the Tour de France itself came past, and I wondered what the exiled Jacobites in the castle 300 years ago would have thought of it all.

E and her (slightly rebellious) sons treated us to ice cream and a nice but hot walk in the park, in the course of which both F and I caught the sun a bit.

That took us to early evening, and a relatively early night.

On Monday, we started with a lightning quick visit to the Louvre, where my leg was playing up again so I didn't really have energy (or time) to give it the full whack. However, there is plenty to see in the Denon wing, and I'll save the other two for another time. This extraordinary candlestick was beaten out of a single sheet of metal in Khorasan in the late 12th century.

Of course, the classics are classics for a reason.

Our last selfie of the trip had us posing with a Dacian barbarian prisoner.

From the Louvre we headed up to eat lunch with colleagues near L'Étoile, and then walked a long hot walk across the river, my leg now much better, past the Quai d'Orsay and through the Invalides where the security checkpoint has one of the more creative approaches to Russian transliteration (and indeed basic German vocabulary) that I have seen:

Our last actual conversation was with a friend at the EU Institute for Strategic Studies, which I used to visit often in my thinktank days. I'm no longer in that world to the same extent, but it was interesting to learn how it had developed since the last time I was there.

Finally we visited the taxidermist Deyrolle. This place is just extraordinary. And a little creepy. You can't take pictures but here's a video.

Our quick Japanese meal before going had to be even quicker when I realised that our train's departure time was 19:24 and not 19:42, but we made it, despite me hobbling on and off the Metro, with about 90 seconds to spare. As F cheerfully said, there was another train later if we missed that one; but we didn't.

So, a great few days and a great break from routine. Hopefully travel will start becoming a thing again.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

May 2012 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.

In the outside world, the big news was the French Presidential election, in which François Hollande destroyed the incumbent with the killer line, "Ce n'est jamais de votre faute!" If only his presidency had been as good as his debate performance.

One of my aunts had a big birthday party; as usual for this era, my best photo is not of her but of various cousins, another aunt, an uncle and an ex-aunt on the front doorstep. Sadly this was to be the last picture I would take of Denise, my youngest aunt, at the front of the group.

I also had a nice trip to Paris with the Georgians, including a meeting with mid-level diplomats at the Quai d'Orsay literally at the moment that the newly appointed foreign minister arrived in the building for the first time. And I was touched by greatness (at 0:37) as Javier Bardem put the case of the Saharawis to the European Parliament.

In the SF world, I picked my first but not my last pointless fight with Brad Torgersen.

And the Russian Eurovision entry was half in English and half in Udmurt.

I read only 17 books that month.

Non-fiction 6 (YTD 22)
The Word in the Desert, by Douglas Burton-Christie
The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Sharpen Pencils, by David Rees
The Great O'Neill, by Sean O'Faolain
Tickling the English, by Dara O'Briain
History & Hope: the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (then unpublished), by Brian Eggins

sf (non-Who) 7 (YTD 32)
Leviathan Wakes, by "James S.A. Corey"
Deadline, by "Mira Grant"
The Moon and the Sun, by Vonda McIntyre
Countdown, by "Mira Grant"
Silently and Very Fast, by Catherine M. Valente
Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks
Hiding Under the Light (unpublished) by Ruth Coleman-Taylor

Doctor Who 5 (YTD 33)
The Taking of Chelsea 426, by David Llewellyn
Bay of the Dead, by Marc Morris
Invasion of the Cat-People, by Gary Russell
St Anthony's Fire, by Mark Gatiss
Shadows of Avalon, by Paul Cornell

Running totals:
~5,700 pages (YTD 30,800)
5/17 (YTD 25/101) by women ("Grant"x2, McIntyre, Valente, Coleman-Taylor)
1/17 (YTD 2/101) by PoC (Thich Nhat Hanh)

My top new book of the month was Tickling the Englishyou can get it here. Unusually I'm going to call out three that appealed to me less: The Taking of Chelsea 426, which you can get here, Invasion of the Cat-People, which you can get here, and Countdown, which you can get here.

Posted in Uncategorised

Hugos 2021: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

I found it pretty easy to rank these.

6) Tenet, written and directed by Christopher Nolan

Nasty violence, incomprehensible time-travel plot and Kenneth Branagh does a very silly Eastern European accent.

5) The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Charlize Theron and her co-stars are very cute immortal fighters in today’s world, and do a lot of biffing, for no reason that I could really detect.

4) Soul, screenplay by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, directed by Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers, produced by Dana Murray

In case you were worrying, I liked all the others, including this. Soul is a fun story of a man whose soul is separated from his body just before he was going to get his big musical break, and then becomes incarnated as a cat. Features Graham Norton in a supporting role.

3) Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara, directed by Max Barbakow

A reshaping of the concept of Groundhog Day where the repeated day is someone else’s wedding. I thought this was sweet and funny and kept up the pacing well, but then realised when I came to write this post that I couldn’t remember all that much about it.

2) Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, written by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele, directed by David Dobkin

We had some complaints after the final Hugo ballot was published from people who thought that this film anout the Icelandic entry for the Eurovision Song Contest was not sfnal. I’m tired of explaining that the subject criteria for the Dramatic Presentation categories are not as restrictive as they are for other categories, but anyway this film features several appearances by the ghost of a character who is killed early on, and one of the other characters is killed by invisible elves, which seems pretty sfnal to me. It also features Graham Norton (whose life goals probably did not include appearing in two Hugo finalist films in the same year). As my regular reader knows, I love Eurovision, and I really liked this film, including Pierce Brosnan as the protagonist’s grumpy father. My one quibble is that Will Ferrell is a little too old to credibly be in the central part (though this is lampshaded in the script). There’s a particularly glorious scene where Ferrell and Rachel McAdams participate in a singalong of Eurovision classics with some of the previous winners and contestants.

1) Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), written by Christina Hodson, directed by Cathy Yan

I know, totally inconsistent of me to mark down Tenet and The Old Guard for the cartoonish violence and then give my top vote to a movie that is all about cartoonish violence. But, even for someone like me who has almost no familiarity with the Harley Quinn comics and did not always enjoy previous DC movies, this has an internal integrity and an amazing level of energy that lifts it above the other contenders this year for me. We know exactly who our protagonists are, and why they are doing what they are doing, because the film tells us; and yet it also has a cleverly fragmented timeline (like Tenet and Palm Springs) which of course echoes the fragmented nature of Harley Quinn’s mind. It’s funny and witty, and beautifully put together, and it gets my top vote. Rock on, Margot Robbie.

2021 Hugos: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form | Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar | Astounding

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Dorothea by this time had looked deep into the ungauged reservoir of Mr. Casaubon’s mind, seeing reflected there in vague labyrinthine extension every quality she herself brought; had opened much of her own experience to him, and had understood from him the scope of his great work, also of attractively labyrinthine extent. For he had been as instructive as Milton’s “affable archangel;” and with something of the archangelic manner he told her how he had undertaken to show (what indeed had been attempted before, but not with that thoroughness, justice of comparison, and effectiveness of arrangement at which Mr. Casaubon aimed) that all the mythical systems or erratic mythical fragments in the world were corruptions of a tradition originally revealed. Having once mastered the true position and taken a firm footing there, the vast field of mythical constructions became intelligible, nay, luminous with the reflected light of correspondences. But to gather in this great harvest of truth was no light or speedy work. His notes already made a formidable range of volumes, but the crowning task would be to condense these voluminous still-accumulating results and bring them, like the earlier vintage of Hippocratic books, to fit a little shelf. In explaining this to Dorothea, Mr. Casaubon expressed himself nearly as he would have done to a fellow-student, for he had not two styles of talking at command: it is true that when he used a Greek or Latin phrase he always gave the English with scrupulous care, but he would probably have done this in any case. A learned provincial clergyman is accustomed to think of his acquaintances as of “lords, knyghtes, and other noble and worthi men, that conne Latyn but lytille.”

I had really been looking forward to this bubbling to the top of my reading list, and I was not at all disappointed. You’ve probably either already read it or decided that it’s not for you, and that’s fine; rather than review it, I’m going to run briefly over the reasons why I love this book.

  • Characterisation. Everyone in the novel has their own distinctive voice. There are no stereotypes. Even Bulstrode, who seems at an early stage to be being set up as a rhetorical target, turns out to have unexpected depths.
  • Change. I wrote a few years back that it’s rather an sfnal book, dealing as it does with the impact on society of a time of rapid social, political and scientific change. Eliot is writing 40 years after it happened, so we readers know that it’s a done deal, but her characters don’t and she takes us beautifully through the uncertainty.
  • Setting. We can guess whether or not Middlemarch is pre-industrial Coventry, but it hardly matters; it could be anywhere in England. More impressive is that she has given a compelling picture of a time 40 years ago which manages to avoid appearing anachronistic. (The same distance separates us from 1981: Reagan and Mitterand become presidents, the Hunger Strikes in Northern Ireland, martial law in Poland, MTV and PacMan launch.)
  • Plot. I’m jotting these things down in no particular order, but really the 682 pages fly by as we wonder exactly what will happen next. Eliot has a great gift for taking people into very difficult situations in such a way that we understand exactly how they got themselves there and feel deeply invested in how they can possibly get out.
  • Politics. It’s everywhere, and it’s not just the issue of the day, the Great Reform Bill; it’s also the politics of gender, with the major women characters all constrained by social (and in Dorothea’s case legal) pressure to take or avoid particular roles. She doesn’t bang on about it, but shows us enough to make it clear which side she is on.
  • Happy ending. I am a bit of a sucker for soppy conclusions, and I love this one.

If you like this sort of thing, you probably already have it, but if you don’t you can get it here.

(Also recommended: The Road to Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead, which I reviewed here and you can get here.)

This was the top book on my shelves which I had already read but not reviewed here. Next on that pile is (shudder) The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Posted in Uncategorised

Friday reading

Le dernier Atlas, tome 2, by Fabien Vehlmann, Gwen De Bonneval and Fred Blanchard
Fish Tails, by Sheri S. Tepper
The Dragon Republic, by R.F. Kuang

Last books finished
A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, by Zora Neale Hurston
Empire Games, by Charles Stross
"Grotto of the Dancing Deer", by Clifford D Simak
Star Tales, ed. Steve Cole
The Kingdom of Copper, by S. A Chakraborty
Too Innocent Abroad: Letters Home from Europe 1949, by Joan Hibbard Fleming
Martin Lukes: Who Moved My Blackberry, by Lucy Kellaway

Next books
Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction, ed. Hayden Trenholm
The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

The Last Pharaoh, by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The dull stinging sensation of a numb arm woke Tom Niven. He glanced at his watch. It was still stupid o’clock. What the hell was going on? His head was still fuzzy from last night’s trip to the Students’ Union. Cheap booze, Ronnie’s jazz fags and Freshers… ah. That explained the dead arm. And the blonde head on the pillow beside him. She was lying across his arm. Christ, what was her name again? Anne? Andrea? Anna! Bingo. That’s was it. Anna! Anna Whitaker. It was all coming back to him. Anna Whitaker, a Fresher with an interest in medieval history. He had done the course on the Crusades a few years earlier. He’d given her a bit of chat about the course, what books to go for, what the tutors would look for… a few drinks, some all-American charm and then back to the flat. None of his flatmates were back for term yet so they’d had the place to themselves.

I've been taking a bit of a sabbatical from Doctor Who books over the last year or so, but I've decided to jump back in, taking three strands of reading: the stories of Erimem, an audio companion for Peter Davison's Doctor; the Candy Jar novels of the Brigadier; and also the most recent BBC publications (which have slowed to rather a trickle at the moment). I'm going to resume the Brigadier books from where I left off, but I'm taking the Erimem series from the beginning, even though I had already read this one in 2015. Back then I wrote:

Here she is brought back to adventure by her creators, Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett (with a foreword by Caroline Morris who played her on audio and has now given up acting for other behind the scenes media work). It's a decent enough story; Erimem appears in a 21st century university museum, with convenient amnesia of her adventures since leaving Egypt, and gets swept up into faculty politics with demonic forces and the Battle of Actium. I was entertained and I will get the next in the series.

(Well, it took me six years but I did eventually get the next in the series.) On rereading, I still enjoyed it; Erimem's convenient amnesia means that you don't need to know anything about her Doctor Who background to appreciate the book, though you may wonder how a young woman could both be a Pharaoh and also have awesome combat skillz. The seedy campus scenes of the 21st century are written with conviction, and the Egypt / Actium scenes with enough spirit to avoid the impression of historic bludgeoning. Also a couple of the incidental characters get killed off, having been given decent characterisation first, which doesn't always happen in books like this. Not Great Literature, but entertaining. You can get it here.

Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

Riding the Unicorn, by Paul Kearney

Second paragraph of third chapter:

It's too soon, sire. You do not have enough influence over his will. There is no telling what may happen. The melding is still in its early stages.

I've previously read Kearney's first two novels, The Way to Babylon and A Different Kingdom, both of which involve liminal adventures of a chap in our world who finds himself also playing a vital and heroic role in a fantasy world; but is it real? Riding the Unicorn has much the same premise, but some differences; the protagonist is an older ex-army prison guard, who is somehow chosen for a vital political assassination on the other side. It did not come together as well as the first two, I felt; it's brave to make the central character less attractive, but it also makes him less interesting, and I wasn't actually convinced by the need for the fantasy world to choose him for the mission. And there's no actual unicorn, except in an opening quotation about schizophrenia. But it's not too long. I see it's now being marketed as in sequence with the previous two, suggesting that the parallel world is the same in each case. You can get it here.

This was the sf book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction, ed. Hayden Trenholm.
Posted in Uncategorised

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

490 days of plague; and Limerick comes to Landen

My last update was a bit pessimistic, as COVID case numbers started to surge again in Belgium. But actually it now looks not too bad. Cases today are at 1330 (well, that’s the daily average for 10-16 July), compared to 697 ten days ago and 328 twenty days ago. But hospital numbers are only at 265, up a bit from 240 ten days ago and down rather more from 329 twenty days ago. So it looks rather like the extensive vaccination campaign (68% of the entire population has had one jab, 49% have had both) means that those who are getting the bug are not getting it as badly. It’s still far from over, of course, but this is the first time we’ve seen a surge in cases that wasn’t immediately followed by a surge in hospital numbers, ICU cases and ultimately deaths. We are in new territory. I see unconfirmed reports today that the UK is no longer screening arrivals from green or amber countries; I do hope that’s true and also that it’s sustainable.

A different disaster: on Thursday last week we were woken early in the morning by extraordinarily heavy rain. The flooding was very bad in parts of Belgium and worse in Germany, and a number of kind people contacted us to ask if we were OK. Fortunately we’re elevated well above the river basin. We had some roads closed, and some houses in the next village had to be evacuated and had their cellars flooded. Other places had it much worse. But the most dramatic thing in our locality was a confused beaver seen navigating a street which is normally not under water.

Also in more or less local news, this morning I went to Landen to attend a ceremonial visit by Patrick Butler, Lord Mayor of Limerick, to inspect the battlefield on which Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, lost his life in 1693. The Mayor of Landen, Gino Debreux, presented him with a rare contemporary print of the battlefield.

We then went to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which you may remember is a favourite place of mine anyway, where Wim explained the course of the battle to us.

The two mayors (both wearing sunglasses) inspected a contemporary 1693 rifle. (Later on the Mayor of Landen got a fantastic photo of the Mayor of Limerick firing a similar weapon, which I hope he will publish).

I’ve had a nice relaxed few days in Paris, which I’ll write up at the weekend, and tomorrow is a public holiday here. Back to work after that. But it’s been really good to have a five-day break, my first since the start of the year.

My tweets

Posted in Uncategorised

The blog that launched a thousand sh*ts

Ten years ago tomorrow, I wrote up my choices for the 2011 John W. Campbell Award (as it then was) for Best New Writer. This turned out to be a fateful blog post. In sixth place out of five, below "No Award", I listed Larry Correia with this assessment of his book Monster Hunter International:

6) Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. I do have little hesitation in putting Monster Hunter International last. It is relentlessly single-tone, derivative and predictable, and I can't see how anyone could rank it above any of the other works included in the package. To an extent the John W. Campbell Award is about the future of the genre; books like this take us way back to the past, with the incidentals slightly jazzed up for the twenty-first century, and I think it would be embarrassing for the genre if Correia won on the basis of this.

I stand by this; I think it was harsh but fair, and voters by and large voted for other people (the winner was Lev Grossman). And I wasn't just picking on Correia, though he may have felt so; for comparison this is what I wrote about that year's winner of the Hugo for Best Novel, which came in two huge parts, Connie Willis's Blackout/All Clear:

(First half🙂 The portrayal of wartime Britain is relentless and in the end wearyingly sentimentalised, the history students too busy being caught up in the moment to reflect on what they are doing there and what they might learn. There is an awful lot of running around and missed communication, and then the book ends in mid-story, without even the dignity of a decent cliffhanger, the publisher expecting you to buy the next volume to see how it ends. I will, but will wait until it is available as a second-hand paperback.

(Second half🙂 It is a mild improvement on the first volume, in that there are actual signs of plot around page 400 and again around page 600. But the tone is wearyingly sentimental as ever, and the characters just dull apart from the two cheeky kids; and in the end, if the time continuum is going to respond to time travellers in such a way as to preserve History As We Know It – and there is never any good reason for Willis's characters to think otherwise apart from her need to inject emotion into her writing – it's difficult to get excited about it. I also spotted more errors of setting here than I had noticed in Blackout – premature mention of the Jubilee Line by over three decades, and reportedly vast distances separating the Tower from Stepney (actually about a mile and a half apart) and St Paul's from Bart's (five minutes' brisk walk).

I suppose the good news is that it will probably take Willis another six years to publish her next book; the bad news is that it too will probably win awards it doesn't deserve.

I will admit that I am sometimes grumpy and brief in what I write about novels – I find it much easier to write at length about non-fiction books (as a glance at my recent reviews will demonstrate). I don't pretend to write for anyone but myself; I generally try not to be performative (with occasional exceptions).

But my brief caustic note about Monster Hunter International had a substantial afterlife, and mutated out of all recognition in the telling of Larry Correia, as analysed by Camestros Felapton here and even more so here:

In later years, Correia would recount that either a “European snob reviewer” or a “British blogger” wrote either that “If Larry Correia wins the Campbell, it will END WRITING FOREVER” or that if Larry Correia wins the Campbell it will end literature forever”. I have searched for reviews saying these things but have not found them [13]. It is likely that Correia had read Whyte’s review as he would note:

“The other day when I was googling my name I found one place that ranked the Campbell nominees. They placed me at #6. Out of 5. Apparently I wasn’t “nuanced” enough for them. Or as they said, I was a relentlessly single tone throw back. Oh, how the literati elite hate me.”

And closer to the convention he would increase the number of people rating him sixth:

“I am the least favored to win by the literary critical types, (in fact, I’ve seen a few places where they have ranked me #6 out of the 5 finalists) but that’s cool, because I am the only author eligible that has had a gnome fight or trailer park elves. (or as one critic pointed out, I am a relentlessly single tone throw back, and another said that if I win it is an insult and a black mark on the entire field of writing.) SWEET!  I’m so unabashadly pulpy and just happy to entertain, and thus offensive, that I make the inteligensia weep bitter blood tears of rage.”

[13] https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/05/20/faking-shared-history/

Basically, nobody ever wrote that Correia winning the Campbell Award would "end writing forever" or "end literature forever", or that it would be an "insult" or "a black mark on the entire field of writing". "A few places" suggests more than two people rating him sixth out of five; I don't believe that anyone stated that in public other than me and one commenter on my blog, which is two people in one place, rather than "a few places". Those statements by Correia were, simply, lies (or fiction, if you will), distorting my words, made up to feed his narrative of victimhood and drive the marketing campaign for the Sad Puppies. (I won't complain about being called a "European snob reviewer" – I've had much worse, from more important people than him. I would not claim to be "literati elite" either.)

If I had realised that Correia was so thin-skinned that he would be provoked by my review, and by other slights whether real or imaginary, to launch a campaign to wreck the Hugos, would I have moderated my tone? Obviously I regret and deplore the Puppy campaigns, but I disclaim any responsibility for Correia's actions. He is legally an adult and should have been able to behave like a grownup. Some people like his writing; some don't; I am in the latter category, and strangely enough the subsequent behaviour of Correia and his allies did nothing to change my mind.

Last week the BSFA resurrected Christopher Priest's Guest of Honour speech at Novacon from 1977, which addresses a lot of these issues. It's full of great lines, but this paragraph seems particularly apt:

The advocates of the pulp tradition simply cannot see beyond the ends of their noses. Science fiction has existed in British and European literature for about a hundred years. It existed as a natural part of all literature. Writers outside the science fiction category, both major and minor, have turned to the speculative themes of sf as a means of saying something. They did this before Gernsback came along, they did it all through Campbell’s so-called Golden Age, and they continue to do it now. After fifty years, pulp science fiction has improved itself to the point where the half-dozen or so best sf writers can compete with writers outside. This is my principal indictment of the pulp tradition: it put the clock back and created something worse. Gernsback and his imitators siphoned off speculative literature into crass, commercial magazines, and made it into trash. After fifty years, we’re just recovering.

Looking forward to seeing Chris Priest again at this year's Novacon, all being well. I hope that I never encounter Larry Correia in person.

Posted in Uncategorised


There is a big exhibition about Napoleon in Paris, and in the course of a long weekend there F and I visited it yesterday.

It’s alway interesting to see what is included and what is not in an exhibition like this. Napoleon’s career as a military and political leader lasted only 20 years, but he packed a lot into that time. The exhibition is big on art and artefacts, including several of the classic portraits:

And also the coach that took Napoleon to his coronation and his second marriage, and some pretty amazing domestic objects.

Videos of talking heads and animated maps illustrate the course of Napoleon’s career. These filled in a couple of important gaps in my own knowledge. I was aware of the Egypt campaign, of course; I didn’t realise that Napoleon also invaded the Holy Land, getting as far north as Acre before having to retreat. When he sneaked back to France leaving his army in the lurch in Egypt, it was to a hero’s welcome and within weeks he was in charge of the whole affair.

I was also vaguely aware of the Haitian revolution, but had somehow missed that this was sparked by Napoleon’s reintroduction of slavery, eight years after Revolutionary France had abolished it. This must be the worst thing that Napoleon did in his career, as a matter of principle. The extraordinary story of Louis Delgrès and the failed revolt in Guadeloupe was new to me.

It had not occurred to me that Napoleonic France had a legislative system, but of course it did, even if this was somewhat limited – the Tribunat, which could debate new laws but not vote on them, and the Corps législatif, which could vote on the new laws but not debate them, along with the hand-picked Conservative Senate (the adjective is part of the official name) which eventually formally deposed Napoleon in 1814. I would have liked to hear more about Cambacérès, the Second Consul who was basically prime minister and wrote the Code Napoléon. Not mentioned in the exhibition, but he was homosexual and everyone knew it.

There’s a nice presentation of the two empresses. I always feel sorry for Marie-Louise, made empress at 18 for five brief years. Her lover and second husband was a younger son of the Neipperg family, who owned the land on which I worked as an archaeological volunteer in Germany in 1986. The head of the family then was Joseph Hubert Graf von Neipperg, who died only last year, aged 102.

It’s impossible not to feel some sympathy for Napoleon at the end. I thought the Montfort/Vernet painting of Napoleon’s Farewell to the Imperial Guard was striking.

And you leave the exhibition under the brooding gaze of Vela's statue of the last days of Napoleon on St Helena.

Time well spent. Get to Paris and view the exhibition while you can.

Posted in Uncategorised