BSFA shortlists: Goodreads/LibraryThing stats, and links

Hooray! The BSFA shortlists are out, and as usual I've looked at how many people have the novels on Goodreads and LibraryThing. (Only two of the short fiction finalists are standalone publicatioons, and while four of the six non-fiction finalists are monographs, a couple of them barely register on Goodreads of LibraryThing).

For Best Novel, the numbers are as follows:

Goodreads LibraryThing
reviewers av rating owners av rating
A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine 12621 4.38 478 4.18 £6.99 from Amazon
Shards of Earth, by Adrian Tchaikovsky 6081 4.24 174 4.03 £8.19 from Amazon
Skyward Inn, by Aliya Whiteley 565 3.53 49 3.4 £7.37 from Amazon
Purgatory Mount, by Adam Roberts 193 3.6 34 3.4 £7.56 from Amazon
Blackthorn Winter, by Liz Williams 72 4.42 24 3.73 £10.59 from Amazon
The Green Man’s Challenge, by Juliet E. McKenna 162 4.44 8 3.5 £5.58 from Amazon

For Best Book for Younger Readers, the numbers are as follows:

Goodreads LibraryThing
reviewers av rating owners av rating
Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao 22640 4.27 397 4.26 £8.99 from Amazon
Redemptor, by Jordan Ifueko 4828 4.32 112 3.95 £7.37 from Amazon
A Snake Falls to Earth, by Darcie Little Badger 1127 4.16 81 3.46 £10.95 from Amazon
The Raven Heir, by Stephanie Burgis 256 3.97 20 3.8 £5.82 from Amazon
Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep, by Philip Reeve 135 4.3 6 £6.55 from Amazon
The Empty Orchestra, by Elizabeth Priest 2 4 0 £9.99 from Amazon

A couple of surprisingly low numbers there…

Finalists in the other categories available as follows:

Short Fiction

Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard £8.62 from Amazon
Light Chaser, by Peter F Hamilton and Gareth L Powell £8.29 from Amazon
O2 Arena, by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki Apex Magazine #129, Jan 2022, available here
"Things Can Only Get Better", by Fiona Moore Abyss & Apex, 3 Sep 2021, available here


The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe in Contemporary Culture, by Mark Bould Book, £10.99 from Amazon
Cyberpunk Culture and Psychology: Seeing Through the Mirrorshades, by Anna McFarlane Book, £120 from Amazon
Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Colour, by Joy Sanchez-Taylor Book, £38.64 from Amazon
Octothorpe Podcast, by John Coxon, Alison Scott, and Liz Batty Website here
"Science Fiction and the Pathways out of the COVID Crisis", by Val Nolan Online here
Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Francesca T Barbini Book, £16.05 from Amazon

Not sure that I'll be spending 120 quid on this category…


Cover of Eugen Bacon's Danged Black Thing, by Peter Lo / Kara Walker Publisher's webpage
Cover of Eugen Bacon's Saving Shadows, Elena Betti / Ian Whates Publisher's webpage
Cover of Suyi Davies Okungbowa's Son of the Storm, by Dan dos Santos / Lauren Panepinto Publisher's webpage
Cover of Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (ed.)’s The Year's Best African Speculative Fiction Anthology, Maria Spada Publisher's webpage
Glasgow Green Woman, by Iain Clarke On Twitter

February books

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 16)
Roger Zelazny, by F. Brett Cox
Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five by Neil Gaiman
The Evil of the Daleks, by Simon Guerrier
Pyramids of Mars, by Kate Orman
Lost in Translation, by Ella Frances Sanders

Non-genre 1 (YTD 7)
The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake

SF 8 (YTD 15)
Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
Indigo, by Clemens J. Setz
The War in the Air, by H. G. Wells
Chaos on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard
After Atlas, by Emma Newman
84K, by Claire North

Doctor Who 5 (YTD 8)
The [Unofficial] Dr Who Annual [1965], by David May
The Flaming Soldier, by Christopher Bryant
The Dreamer’s Lament, by Benjamin Burford-Jones
Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks, by John Peel
Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, by Terrance Dicks

Comics 1 (YTD 2)
Scherven, by Erik de Graaf

5,000 pages (YTD 12,300 pages), average length 250 pages.
Median LT ownership 106.5 (Evil of the Daleks [Peel]/Indigo)
8/20 (YTD 14/48) by women (Orman, Sanders, Blake, Jones, Kritzer, de Bodard, Newman, North)
1/20 (YTD 7/48) by PoC (de Bodard)

317 books currently tagged "unread", same as last month.

Coming soon (perhaps)
Nine Lives, by Aimen Dean
Air, by Geoff Ryman
Hive Monkey, by Gareth L. Powell
Valley of Lights, by Steve Gallagher (2005)
Hergé, Son of Tintin, by Benoît Peeters
Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, by Mark Blake
The Limbless Landlord, by Brian Igoe
Tower, by Nigel Jones
Flicker, by Theodore Roszak
Demons and Dreams: v. 1: Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, ed. Ellen Datlow
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Mort, by Terry Pratchett
A Modern Utopia, by H. G. Wells
Junker: een Pruisische blues, by Simon Spruyt
Killdozer!, by Theodore Sturgeon
Intimacy, by Jean Paul Sartre
Lenin the Dictator, by Victor Sebestyen
The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen Baxter
Roger Zelazny's Chaos and Amber, by John Betancourt
Make Your Brain Work: How to Maximize Your Efficiency, Productivity and Effectiveness, by Amy Brann

My tweets


So, as reported previously I’ve spent the last few days in Washington State, with one of my oldest friends, A, and his family, M and little E (and older F who I did not manage to catch on camera). It was lovely to see them.

Not quite my first time in the Pacific Northwest – I spent 24 hours in Portland, Oregon in 2016. But four days is a decent length of time, and little E was asking why I had to go home? Who will teach her to play Sudoku now?

My first tourism stop in Seattle was the Space Needle, suitably sfnal.

I was a bit taken aback by the $35 fee to get to the top, but in the end felt it was worth every cent. My selfie game, never strong, was worse than uual, so you will have to settle for landscapes without me in.

In partiular I loved the lower level of the observation deck, with the rotating glass floor. It was tremendously relaxing to sit and watch the city revolve around me. The couple next to me had a very tiny baby, just a week old (I asked, as one does), blissfully relaxed as we adults can never be.

At the foot of the Space Needle is MoPoP, the museum of popular culture, formerly the Museum of Science Fiction, with some fascinating displays – there wasn’t a lot new for me from the sf exhibits, but there was a very interesting room on the local indie gaming scene and others on the history of the electric guitar, the photography of hip-hop and Jimi Hendrix on tour.

I also investigated the Olympic Sculpture Park, but was a bit less impressed; the best is Jaume Plensa’s Echo.

And I was pleased with the framing of the Space Needle under the wing of Alexander Calder’s Eagle.

Off to the North, Lenin has been moved from Poprad, now in Slovakia, to a commercial intersection in the suburb of Fremont.

His hands are bloody.

Back in the centre, I was very charmed by the Pike Park Market, with lots of quirky book, comic and game shops. Two people dressed as cats were playing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at the entrance.

Moving away from the urban, I found another distant cousin, W, a third cousin once removed like L who I had met in Los Angeles (and fourth cousin of L; we are descended from different children of my great-great-grandparents). W is the genealogist on his side of the family and showed me a lot more photographs from the early twentieth century. He has not done a DNA test but on average he and I should probably share 0.4% of our DNA. It may be stronger; I share 0.33% with his cousin’s daughter, which is on the high side of expectations for a generation further away. Facebook commentary suggests that the resemblance is detectable.

A took me on a very pleasant road trip yesterday, along the Chuckanut Drive on an unsuccessful hunt for fossils at the chamingly named Teddy Bear Cove (the tide was in) and up to lunch in Fairhaven.

We ventured over to Deception Point, and then down Whidbey Island; the bend of the road at the end of Penn Cove is the farthest west I have been in my life, marginally beating the Charlie Brown Museum in Santa Rosa.

Back at home, M got us grappling with Game of Thrones Risk.

Little E enjoyed the Georgian salmon dish I cooked one evening.

And R made sure we kept out of trouble, ready to help if necessary.

I’m coming back to a very different Europe than I left. I am writing on my flight which is only about a third full; I have a middle row to myself and am making full use of it. Possibly a number of people decided to defer their planned transatlantic trips this weekend for whatever reason.

This all has implications for this humble blog. LiveJournal has been a Russian owned service for some time; I think I need to find another solution. Suggestions welcome. But I think not Dreamwidth, which does not allow post-dating posts and does not have the flexibility with posting media that I like here.

May 2015 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.

A lot of travel in May 2015, starting with a day trip to Warsaw, then the announcement of the Clarke Award winner in London, the BBC in Belfast for the election results, a work trip to Sofia, a birthday outing to Antwerp for Anne (art museum ratehr than science fiction convention), an excursion to the public sculptures of Borgloon in eastern Belgium, a family party in Loughbrickland, a work trip to Kyiv and two more work trips to London. I didn't take a lot of pictures, but here's a screenshot from the election broadcast:

Also Ireland had a referendum on equal marriage, which went the right way:

I read 25 books that month.

Non-fiction: 2 (YTD 19)
Doctor Who and the Communist, by Michael Herbert
Wisdom from My Internet, by Michael Z. Williamson (not finished)

Doctor Who and the Communist Wisdom from My Internet

Fiction (non-sf): 9 (YTD 13)
Jar City, by Arnaldur Indriðason
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Across the River and into the Trees, by Ernest Hemingway
Islands In The Stream, by Ernest Hemingway

The Evolution Man, by Roy Lewis (a tricky classification, but I think it is a comic historical novel rather than fantasy)
Mating, by Norman Rush
The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari
Sharpe's Waterloo, by Bernard Cornwell
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Jar City The Shadow of the Wind Across the River and into the Trees Islands In The Stream The Evolution Man Mating The Egyptian Sharpes Waterloo Anna Karenina

SF (non-Who): 8 (YTD 71)
Stopping for a Spell, by Diana Wynne Jones
The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu
The Affirmation, by Christopher Priest
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
The Battle of the Moy: Or How Ireland Gained Her Independence in 1892-1894, by Anonymous
The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu (Not finished)
The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson (not finished)
The Painted Man/The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

Stopping for a Spell The Three-Body Problem The Affirmation The Goblin Emperor The Battle of the Moy The Deaths of Tao The Dark Between the Stars The Warded Man

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 19)
Synthespians™, by Craig Hinton
Emotional Chemistry by Simon A. Forward
Down by Lawrence Miles
City of Death, by Douglas Adams and James Goss

Synthespians Emotional Chemistry Down City of Death

Comics : 2 (YTD 11)
Amoras vol 1: Suske, by "Willy Vandersteen" [Marc Legendre and Charel Cambré]
Amoras vol 2: Jérusalem, by "Willy Vandersteen" [Marc Legendre and Charel Cambré]

Suske Jerusalem

~7,150 pages (YTD 32,650)
2/25 by women (YTD 33/129) – Jones, Addison
2/25 by PoC (YTD 10/129) – Liu, Chu

My favourite of these was The Affirmation, by Christopher Priest, which you can get here, followed by The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which you can get here, and the long-awaited official novelisation of City of Death, which you can get here. I should also shout out to Anna Karenina, which I enjoyed more than on previous reading; you can get it here.

Wisdom from my Internet, by Michael Z. Williamson, was not only the worst book I read that month, but I think the worst I read in 2015, possibly in the 21st century. You can get it here.

My tweets

  • Sun, 00:49: RT @BrigidLaffan: This is the Irish Republican Socialist Party in full support for a vicious dictator. Putin lackeys.
  • Sun, 01:54: RT @typesfast: The world’s only An-225 was reportedly destroyed on the ground at Hostomel airport yesterday, a tragedy for aviation enthusi…
  • Sun, 02:03: *boggle*
  • Sun, 10:45: RT @Mij_Europe: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is going to tip the French presidential election campaign decisively in Macron’s favour – for…

High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘I’m looking for a record for my daughter. For her birthday. “I Just Called To Say I Love you”. Have you got it?’

Rob is thirty-five, about to turn thirty-six, and has just split up with Laura, who has moved in with the bloke who used to live upstairs. His North London record shop is failing, and so frankly is he. He revisits the five worst break-ups he has ever had, has a fling with an American musician, and then renews contact with Laura, and together they find a redemption for him.

It's actually rather sweet and funny in places. I thoroughly enjoyed rereading it, even if it made me squirm occasionally. I think even men whose emotional and professional lives have been more successful than Rob's can empathise with his (largely self-inflicted) situation, and be frustrated on his behalf at the difficulty he has in changing gear.

I believe it was made into a decent film, which I must look out for. You can get it here.

This was the top book on my shelves which I had already read but not reviewed here. Next on that pile is Mort, by Terry Pratchett.

My tweets

710 days of plague

So, I am in the USA, for the first time since the pandemic started, having been to Gallifrey One last weekend and now staying in Seattle with one of my oldest friends after a couple of extra days in DTLA (downtown Los Angeles, as the locals abbreviate it).

Getting into the USA was surprisingly smooth. You need a vaccination certificate, of course, and unless you had a COVID diagnosis in the last 90 days, you need a negative test from the day before or day of travel. (Annoyingly, my COVID diagnosis in November was 91 days before I left, so I had to get the test.) You also have to print out and sign a seven page attestation, which immigration officials will briefly glance at and then discard. KLM allows you to upload your vaccine certificate and test result, but I carried paper copies anyway, and the vaccine cert has come in handy in restaurants or bars.

All that having been done in advance, I must say I thought the immigration process wss the smoothest I have had since 9/11. The queue at LAX seemed shorter than in 2013 or 2020, but maybe I was just in a better mood. The border officials have now been trained to ask questions to see if your story holds together, but it comes across as polite chit-chat even though we all knoww what it’s for.

For the subsequent domestic flight from LA to Seattle, there was no check of vaccination status at all, as far as I remember, though all passengers were required to wear masks.

However, that is not the whole story. Originally I had planned to land in Seattle on Wednesday, rent a car and drive up to Vancouver for 24 hours, to see various old friends and long-lost relatives. As I started making the final preparations at the weekend, I got very strong feedback from my Canadian friends that it was simply not worth the risk.

Canadian entry requirements include the provision that you may get pulled aside for random testing, and then required to isolate until the result comes through, which apparently can take up to 24 hours. I can’t really blame them – if most of my country’s international visitors came from the USA, I think I would want to be very cautious and distrustful of travellers from the south of the border in pandemic times.

I was also a little worried about the truckers’ protests, though they were mainly much further east and anyway that seems to be over now. I was not worried by any increased chance of infection – I am triple-jabbed and have also had the damn bug, so I hope I am unlikely to catch it again. But the thought of my planned 24 hours in Vancouver turning into a bored wait in a border motel was pretty discouraging, so, with considerable disappointment, I cancelled everything except the rental car and had an extra day here in Washington State.

I haven’t done the massive picspam posts from Gallifrey One that I did on the two previous occasions I was there because with people wearing masks, the photos are just not quite as good. It’s a price we have to pay, of course. There was a very strong rule that attendees must wear masks unless eating or drinking or doing convention panels or photos, and I did not witness anyone breaking it. The ethos was very much one of shared responsibility.

At the closing ceremony of the convention, Shaun Lyon spoke emotionally about the torrent of abuse that he and the organisers had faced from COVID-sceptics and vaccine deniers every time they made any announcement about their COVID policies, and thanked attendees for the support we had collectively shown. It’s really awful that the trolls reacted in that way, but I guess it is not surprising. I doubt that any of the trolls ever seriously contemplated coming to the convention in the first place, and I am glad that the convention team stood their ground. I felt safe as a result, and I think most other people did too.

When I get back next week, it will be to a Belgium where the COVID numbers are all now dropping fast and teleworking remains recommended but is no longer required. My employer is allowing staff to choose how much they want to be in the office, and I plan to go as much as I can, so the WFH era is coming to an end. But I’ll do at least one more in this series of posts.

On a different topic entirely, I am watching the news from Ukraine with great anxiety. The unprovoked Russian attack, rooted in a belief that Ukraine should not exist as an independent country, does not seem to have been as successful as intended so far. But Russia has a massive advantage in terms of numbers, and the outlook is bleak.

My tweets

  • Thu, 16:51: RT @scalzi: Today is a very good day to critically evaluate and reliably source the information that comes to you online and which is almos…
  • Thu, 18:24: Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami
  • Thu, 20:54: RT @ObsoleteDogma: Putin has said the country he’s invading doesn’t have the right to exist, and people think the problem is we just didn’t…
  • Thu, 22:31: RT @jonlis1: Your occasional reminder that in 1994 Ukraine willingly surrendered its nuclear weapons in return for Russian, American and Br…
  • Fri, 03:24: A Close-run Thing? Voters choose in the Republic of Korea My analysis of next month’s Korean election, which may not be a top priority with everything else going on, but is still pretty important.
  • Fri, 10:45: RT @ruth_deyermond: The US right are still claiming that this wouldn’t have happened during under Trump because he was so tough on Russia t…

Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami

Second paragraph of third chapter:

時計は四時を指しており、窓を見るとまだまだ強い日差しがびくともせ ずにガラスー面に張りついている。 The clock said four, but the window was a flume of sunshine.

This was one of my impulse purchases in Paris last summer, arising from the realisation that I haven't read a lot of non-genre fiction by Asian women, and seduced by the blurbs on the front cover.

It's a story in two parts, the first being a visit by the narrator's sister from Osaka to Tokyo for a breast reduction operation, the second about the difficulties of the narrator getting access to artificial insemination as a single woman who does not like sex. I understand that we lose a lot of context in the English translation because the narrator and her family speak with pronounced Osaka accents and inevitably stick out in stuck-up Tokyo.

Apart from that I found it a good slice-of-life piece of writing, well two slices I suppose, describing the situation of women in today's Japan, and the second part grabbed me more than the first (most reviews that I have seen found the opposite). You can get it here.

This was my top unread book by a non-white writer. Next on that list is Nine Lives: My time as the West's top spy inside al-Qaeda, by Aimen Dean.

My tweets

Million Dollar Baby (aka Rope Burns), by F.X. Toole

Second paragraph of third story (which as it happens is “Million Dollar Baby”, on which the film was based):

The voice of Frankie Dunn pierced. In the same sentence it could climb high and harsh or loop sweet as a peach, like Benny Goodman playing “Body and Soul,” or go on down deep as a grizzly’s grunt. It could move sideways on you and then curl back on itself, but always the voice pierced the mind with images that stuck, because the sound out of the old man painted pictures that became part of you, made you hear his voice when he wasn’t even there. When Frankie Dunn told a fighter how to move and why, the fighter could see it through Frankie’s eyes, and feel it slip on into his own flesh and down into his bones, and he’d flush with magic of understanding and the feeling of power. Some called the old man Doc, some called him Uncle Frank. Old-time black fighters and trainers called him Frankie Dunn Frankie Dunn, repeating his name with a nod or a smile. Frankie loved warriors.

In my sequence of Oscar/Hugo/Nebula film-watching, I generally try and read the books on which films are based in the week and write them up at the same time. This collection of short stories is long out of print, and it took me a lot longer to source than I had expected, so I’m finally getting around to writing it up now, some time after watching the film.

The story of the book is a little sad: the author, whose real name was Jerry Boyd, published the book in 2000 at the age of 70, after many rejections from publishers, and died in 2002, just a few weeks after learning that Clint Eastwood wanted to make a film based on it. The original DVD release included paperback copies of the book in every box (which makes it really weird that it was so difficult to track down a copy). But there you go.

These are six nice short pieces, all of them acutely observed from the perspective of an Irish-American who lived in California. Being stories about boxing, they are mainly about men, with the obvious exception of “Million Dollar Baby”. Most of them have rather downbeat endings; in one memorable case, almost all of the main characters die horribly.

There is a lot of fighting; it’s interesting that the Clint Eastwood film cuts Maggie’s brother from the plot of “Million Dollar Baby”, therefore also losing the crucial physical confrontation in a hospital car park between him and Clint’s character Frankie. But there is a lot of character and human observation as well.

Personally, I’m not at all a fan of fighting, but this did bring me a certain amount of empathy with those who are. If you are lucky, you can get it here.

Winners of the Oscar for Best Picture

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in 80 Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021) | Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Farewell to LA

So, I’m on my flight out of LAX, having spent the weekend at Gallifrey One and then Monday and yesterday exploring Los Angeles.

I arrived on Thursday with H, who I actually knew as a Doctor Who fan before we became work colleagues a year ago. The afternoon was a write-off; we struggled over to the convention opening, grabbed dinner and crashed. I tweeted about jetlag and to my surprise got a reply from my cousin B, who lives in Cardiff but happened to be in town putting the final touches to the new TV adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife. He should in fact have gone home on Thursday, but was delayed by a day because of Storm Eunice. So we met for breakfast on the beach at Santa Monica on Friday morning, the first time we had seen each other since his brother’s wedding in 2015.

Gallifrey One! What to say? The previous two times I attended, I took lots of cosplay photographs; this time I took fewer, but I hope these convey some of the atmosphere.

And a shoutout to H who is one of the three Eighth Doctors here (her picture, not mine):

The headliners were Sylvester McCoy, Mandip Gill, Jo Martin and Fraser Hines. McCoy and Hines are old friends of Gallifrey One; Gill and Martin are new, and both did lovely interviews about the impact the show, and its fans, have had on their lives. Jo Martin, a long-term fan herself, had not told her son about that plot twist in Fugitive of the Judoon before it went out; quite right too, but it must have been an interesting evening in the Martin household. I got photos with Mandip Gill, Jo Martin, and Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter Sadie Miller; this is my favourite.

And of course quite apart from the specifics, it was just wonderful to be at an in-person event again, able for instance to meet up with Paul Cornell and the Thomases, to discuss The Evil of the Daleks with John Peel who wrote the noveisation and Rob Ritchie who did the animation, and tp have an impromptu dinner with Matthew Sweet, whose work I really like.

On Sunday evening, the convention having ended, I met up with some long-lost cousins: L, who I met through 23andMe, her father W, my third cousin (we are both descended from William Charlton Hibbard and Sarah Ann Smith) and N, L’s mother and W’s wife. These are people of whose existence I was completely unaware two years ago. I had an instant shock of recognition on seeing W, who is thinner, taller and ten years older than me, but immediately looked like family. We got on like a house on fire. Unfortunately we failed to take photos, but L joined me for the first part of my excursion the next day. She shares 0.41% of my DNA, exactly in the right range to be my third cousin once removed, which is our actual relationship. (I am not slouching here – like her father, she is taller than me.)

As you will have spotted, my Monday morning cultural excursion was to the La Brea Tar Pits museum, which I have known about since I was six (I am now 54). Surprisingly central to LA, this area has preserved the remains of tens of thousands of animals that wandered into a sticky field after the last ice age, got stuck and eventually died. At the entrance there is a moving sculpture of Daddy Mammoth and Baby Mammoth looking on in despair as Mummy Mammoth is swallowed by the pool (which bubble non-stop with newly released petroleum gases).

An educational notice pinned to the fence explains that we now know that mammoths did not live in nuclear families, but in female-led herds, and that most of the mammoths discovered at La Brea were males, presumably solitary. Predators are over-represented among the fossils, possibly because they ran in to eat the mammoths etc and then got stuck themeslves. Here is L again, with C, another local friend of mine, with the sabre-tooth tigers.

After lunch, C and I went up to Griffith Observatory to enjoy the view.

No famous discovery was ever made at Griffith Observatory, but it has an iconic status from its appearance in films. I was very struck by the Astronomers’ Monument in front, featuring Art Deco depictions of Hipparchus, Herschel, Kepler, Newton, Galileo and Copernicus.

We spent the evening playing board games and drinking cocktails at the sf-themed bar in Hollywood, Scum and Villainy, at the invitation of fellow-Whovian LA from LA, who took this picture.

Yesterday morning I decided to investigate the origins of the city. This is the Avila Adobe, the oldest building in Los Angeles, dating from 1818, built by the then alcalde (mayor/governor) and used by the Americans when they came marching in. It was lovingly restored in the 1920s and 1930s by local activists. Entry is free, and amusingly the guard who checked my vaccination certificate turned out to be a Doctor Who fan.

It’s a nice little exhibit giving a picture of Los Angeles when it was a very small settlement indeed. But you need to be careful in the garden.

And my final cultural stop was The Last Bookstore, an amazing warren of shelves.

Finally I joined forces with H once more and we met up with some locally based work colleagues in Santa Monica, ending where I had started on Friday morning. No photographs from our social gathering, but H and I were very intrigued by this ballot box:

The languages appear to be Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Japanese and Khmer on one side, with Korean, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese on the other, listed in alphabetical order of their English names.

And we resisted the temptation of this exhibition.

On my way to Seattle now. I shall report back.

My tweets

  • Tue, 12:56: RT @KenyaMissionUN: Kenya makes strong statement opposing the undermining of the sovereignty & territorial integrity of #Ukraine during the…
  • Tue, 18:10: “Bloodchild”, by Octavia E. Butler; “Press Enter ◼️”, by John Varley; Neuromancer, by William Gibson
  • Tue, 22:01: Me (enters small museum in downtown LA) Guard (spotting my Doctor Who bag): Oh, are you in town for @gallifreyone #gally1 then? Me: Er, yes! Were you there too? Guard: Couldn’t go this year but I went in 2020! Me: Me too! Guard: Wasn’t Christopher Eccleston fantastic? Me: Yes!

“Bloodchild”, by Octavia E. Butler; “Press Enter ◼️”, by John Varley; Neuromancer, by William Gibson

These three all won Hugo and Nebula Awards presented in 1985 for work published in 1984. (So the 1985 Hugo, but the 1984 Nebula.)

“Bloodchild” has no chapters or sub-sections. The third paragraph is:

But my mother seemed content to age before she had to. I saw her turn away as several of T'Gatoi's limbs secured me closer. T'Gatoi liked our body heat and took advantage of it whenever she could. When I was little and at home more, my mother used to try to tell me how to behave with T'Gatoi—how to be respectful and always obedient because T'Gatoi was the Tlic government official in charge of the Preserve, and thus the most important of her kind to deal directly with Terrans. It was an honor, my mother said, that such a person had chosen to come into the family. My mother was at her most formal and severe when she was lying.

When I last read it in May 2001, I wrote:

The story is set on a world dominated by the insect-like Tlic, whose reproduction system includes laying eggs inside a living host; the larvae then hatch and eat their way out. However the mammal-like animals native to the Tlic world have evolved a natural defence which poisons the eggs before they hatch. Fortunately for the Tlic, humans also live on the planet and are ideal hosts for their eggs. The Tlic have moved from a period of time when humans were basically kept as brood animals for the eggs, to a social system of adopting humans into their family; with any luck, the newly hatched larvae can be removed from their human host before too much damage is caused. The narrator of the story is Gan, a young human whose family has been "adopted" by T'Gatoi, a leading Tlic. He witnesses a hatching event which almost goes horribly wrong, but none the less agrees in the end to bear T'Gatoi's children.

Gan's position as the future partner and indeed half-brother of T'Gatoi ("She had been taken from my father's flesh when he was my age") is very important. Shocked by the process of the larval hatching (though in fact it's described in terms which are, excruciatingly, almost familiar to anyone who has witnessed a human birth), he takes the responsibility of suggesting that in future humans be made more aware of the process, pointing out that "no Terran ever sees a birth that goes right". T'Gatoi balks at the suggestion that a private act become public, but Gan seems confident that he will bring her around in the end, and indeed there is enough of a sense that the relationship between humans and Tlic as a species is still developing that we believe him.

There are already a lot of on-line reviews of "Bloodchild", either on its own or considering it as a part of Butler's oeuvre (which includes little short fiction but numerous novels). Many of them see it as a story about slavery or about slavery combined with gender exploitation. Elyce Rae Helford has written the best developed analysis I have yet found of this interpretation of the story in "Would you really rather die than bear my young?": The Construction of Gender, Race and Species in Octavia E. Butler's "Bloodchild", originally published in African American Review vol 28 (1994) pp. 259-271.

Helford describes the Tlic power structure as "a metaphor for human gender relations under patriarchy", as illustrated by "men suffering the pains of childbearing (and when 'birth' means removing grubs from around your internal organs, the pain can be intense)" and the sexual, almost erotic description of T'Gatoi implanting her eggs in Gan at the end of the story. T'Gatoi combines roles which are (in our own society) masculine (leading politician) and feminine (protecting the humans from over-exploitation by her own kind). She sees pointers to the slave-owning society of the Old South in the implantation scene, the widespread use of narcotics to control the humans, and the unspoken despair of Gan's mother at "the oppressive system under which she must live". And she also hints that the treatment of humans as animals by the Tlic goes beyond the usual categories of class and race.

Helford's analysis is impressive and thought-provoking. However, I find myself agreeing with Octavia Butler herself, who writes in an afterword, "It amazes me that some people have seen "Bloodchild" as a story of slavery. It isn't. It's a number of other things, though. On one level, it's a love story between two very different beings. On another, it's a coming-of-age story in which a boy must absorb disturbing information and use it to make a decision that will affect the rest of his life. On a third level, "Bloodchild" is my pregnant man story."

True, Gan has been brought up as the young human who is destined to bear T'Gatoi's young. But it is quite explicit that Gan has a real choice, because his sister Hoa is available and willing to perform the task in his place. His decision is made not merely to protect his sister from the pain of bearing the larval Tlic, but also because he is jealous of the relationship she would thus develop with T'Gatoi. One can see this relationship as exploitative (indeed Butler writes of "paying the rent") but one can also see it as a possible outworking of a fair and stable decision between two very different organisms to share a family and social life. (A sf precursor is Brian Aldiss' early short story "The Game of God" aka "Segregation" – much inferior in every way except the descriptions of the weather.)

The fact that Butler is a Black woman writing in the mainly [I think I would now say "traditionally" rather than "mainly"] white male genre of science fiction makes her perspective particularly challenging for the average [white male] sf reader. Gender and race are more consciously present in her writing than in most literature, but rape and slavery are not the automatic results of her exploration of these issues. "Bloodchild" is no clichéd parable of exploitation. Butler's agenda is more subtle.

It's worth noting that even among her human characters, Butler specialises in unusual relationships: witness the fact that there was the same large age gap between Gan's parents as between the central character and her husband in Parable of the Talents, and the sympathetic treatment of brother/sister incest in one of the other short stories in the Bloodchild collection. "Bloodchild" almost feels like a riposte to feminist suspicions of marriage. Butler's answer seems to be, look, here when the power relationships are so uneven – and inevitably uneven, given the massive physical size of the Tlic compared with humans – a real, valid, loving relationship across species is still possible.

Twenty years on, I'm not very comfortable with my 2001 conclusion. The massive power imbalance between humans and Tlic makes any concept of consent very dubious indeed. Against that, one has to set Butler's clearly expressed authorial intent; but do authors always achieve what they think they were trying to achieve?

It's still a great story, though, which you can get in the Butler collection of the same name.

Both Hugo and Nebula shortlists for Best Novelette also included “The Lucky Strike”, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule”, by Lucius Shepard. The other Hugo finalists were “Blued Moon”, by Connie Willis; “Return to the Fold”, by Timothy Zahn; “Silicon Muse”, by Hilbert Schenck; and “The Weigher”, by Eric Vinicoff & Marcia Martin. The other Nebula finalists were “Bad Medicine”, by Jack Dann; “Saint Theresa of the Aliens”, by James Patrick Kelly; and “Trojan Horse”, by Michael Swanwick. I've read a couple of these, but “Bloodchild” really stands out.

The second paragraph of the third section of “Press Enter ◼️” is:

I thought about ignoring it. I was still thinking about that when the phone rang again. I glanced at my watch. Ten minutes. I lifted the receiver and put it right back down.

This is a much more straightforward story, set in the present day (the 1980s). A murderous AI, developed within the existing computer network, kills the narrator's neighbour and then the woman he loves when they get wind of its existence, and the narrator ends the story holed up in his own home, hoping that he has successfully cut off all points of connection with the outside world; but we sense that he may be doomed anyway.

There's obvious wish fulfillment in the middle aged narrator scoring with a beautiful hacker babe half his age, but apart from that it's well enough executed, especially if you haven't been spoilered for it by reading this review; the previous year's “Blood Music” maybe did something similar a little better, and it also shares a theme with Neuromancer.

It has been most recently published in the Future on Ice anthology edited by Orson Scott Card, which you can get here, and the John Varley Reader, which you can get here.

Apart from “Press Enter ◼️”, there was no overlap between the Hugo and Nebula ballots for Best Novella that year. The other Hugo finalists were “Cyclops”, by David Brin; “Elemental”, by Geoffrey A. Landis; “Summer Solstice”, by Charles L. Harness; and “Valentina”, by Joseph H. Delaney & Marc Stiegler. The other Nebula finalists were “The Greening of Bed-Stuy”, by Frederik Pohl; “Marrow Death”, by Michael Swanwick; “A Traveler's Tale”, by Lucius Shepard; “Trinity”, Nancy Kress; and “Young Doctor Eszterhazy”, by Avram Davidson. I don't recall having read any of them.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Neuromancer is:

Home was BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.

I have a confession to make. I just don't get on with William Gibson's writing. I find Neuromancer not quite unreadable, but pretty unmemorable. The characters are flat, the settings not very well realised, and the plot really not very original. I am well aware that this is a minority view, and I dutifully reread the book last month to see if my mind has changed over the twenty years since I last gave it a try. But it left me as cold this time as previously. Most people like it more than me. You can get it here.

Two other books that I have read were both on the Hugo and Nebula ballots that year, The Integral Trees by Larry Niven and Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein. I don't think either is a high point of either author's career, to put it politely, and Neuromancer despite its flaws is better than either. I have not read any of the other finalists, Emergence by David R. Palmer and The Peace War by Vernor Vinge for the Hugo, Frontera by Lewis Shiner, The Man Who Melted by Jack Dann and The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson for the Nebula.

There were two stories on both best Short Story ballots, “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything”, by George Alec Effinger and “Salvador”, by Lucius Shepard. Neither won. The Hugo went to “The Crystal Spheres”, by David Brin, and the Nebula to “Morning Child”, by Gardner Dozois. The other Hugo finalists were “Ridge Running”, by Kim Stanley Robinson; “Rory”, by Steven Gould; and “Symphony for a Lost Traveler”, by Lee Killough. The other Nebula finalists were “A Cabin on the Coast”, by Gene Wolfe; “The Eichmann Variations”, by George Zebrowski; and “Sunken Gardens”, by Bruce Sterling. I have probably read several of these, but none of those titles evokes any particular memory, positive or negative.

The Nebulas did not have a dramatic category that year. The Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation went to 2010The Terminator did not make the final ballot.

Next up: Ender's Game, by Orscon Scott Card.

My tweets

  • Mon, 12:56: RT @Emily_Rosina: This made my weekend! It’s been wonderful hearing people talk so fondly about our Doctor Who Lockdown times and lovely to…
  • Mon, 16:05: RT @BernardineEvari: 1/3. The media’s obsession with so-called ‘cancel culture’ is dangerous. Marginalised communities have always been de…
  • Mon, 18:37: RT @bbcdoctorwho: We’re sad to hear that Stewart Bevan has passed away, who played Professor Clifford Jones, the husband of Jo Jones (née G…
  • Mon, 18:40: April 2015 books
  • Mon, 20:48: Jo van Gogh-Bonger: Creator of Vincent van Gogh A longish read, but a lovely story.
  • Tue, 10:45: NFTs aren’t art — they’re just the Cult of Crypto’s latest scam Tremendous piece. You can’t actually spend crypto on anything real, so NFTs were invented to ensure that the gullible stay hooked.

April 2015 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.

Quite a lot of travel that month – I went to Eastercon at Heathrow via Belgrade, Serbia, and returned via Sofia, Bulgaria. In Belgrade I had a happy reunion with R, who had worked for me in Bosnia in 1998; I hired her the week before her 20th birthday, and she had barely changed.

On my birthday I went with F, and work colleagues T and A, to an sf convention in Antwerp, which was great fun too.

Of course the big sf news of the month was the success of the Sad and Rabid Puppies in dominating the ballot for the Hugo Awards, something I wrote a lot about and which continues to resonate.

I read 40 books that month, but did not finish most of them.

Non-fiction: 3 (YTD 17)
A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett
Here's One I Wrote Earlier, by Peter Purves
The Start-Up of You, by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 4)
Wages of Sin, by Andrew M. Greeley
Scales of Gold, by Dorothy Dunnett

SF (non-Who): 28 (YTD 63)
Memory of Water, by Emmi Itäranta
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North
The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber
Babayaga, by Toby Barlow – did not finish
The Supernatural Enhancements, by Edgar Cantero – did not finish
Shanghai Sparrow, by Gaie Sebold – did not finish
Jani and the Greater Game, by Eric Smith – did not finish
Fish Tails, by Sherri S. Tepper – did not finish
The Rain-Soaked Bride, by Guy Adams – did not finish
Shadowboxer, by Tricia Sullivan – did not finish
The Stonehenge Letters, by Harry Karlinsky
Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle – did not finish
The Monster's Wife, by Kate Horsley – did not finish
The Return of the Discontinued Man, by Mark Hodder – did not finish
Timebomb, by Scott K. Andrews – did not finish
Hurricane Fever, by Tobias Buckell – did not finish
Kushiel's Justice, by Jacqueline Carey
The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword, by Jack Campbell – did not finish
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier – Steadfast, by Jack Campbell – did not finish
Resistance, by Samit Basu – did not finish
Glass Shore, by Stefan Jackson – did not finish
The Rhymer: An Heredyssy, by Douglas Thompson – did not finish
Ex-Purgatory, by Peter Clines – did not finish
Indigo, by Clemens J. Setz – did not finish
The Happier Dead , by Ivo Stourton – did not finish
Hive Monkey, by Gareth L. Powell – did not finish
Symbiont, by Mira Grant – did not finish
Sky Pirates, by Liesel Schwartz – did not finish
After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry – did not finish

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 15)
Burning Heart, by Dave Stone
Timeless by Steve Cole
Ship of Fools, by Dave Stone
Lethbridge-Stewart: Top Secret Files, by Andy Frankham-Allen, Nick Walters, Graeme Harper and David A. McIntee

Comics : 3 (YTD 9)
Ms Marvel vol 1: No Normal, by G.Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Rat Queens, vol 1: Sass and Sorcery, Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch
Sex Criminals, vol. 1, by Matt Fraction

~6,500 pages (YTD 25,500)
11/40 by women (YTD 31/104) – Dunnett, Itäranta, North, Sebold, Tepper, Sullivan, Horsley, Carey, "Grant", Wilson, Perry
4/40 by PoC (YTD 8/104) – Buckell, Basu, Alphona, Upchurch

Several books I really enjoyed this month: the erotic fantasy Kushiel's Justice, which you can get hereMs Marvel, which you can get hereScales of Gold, in Dunnett's Niccolo series, which you can get here. Some real turkeys as well, of which my least favourite was After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry; you can get it here.

My tweets

Pyramids of Mars, by Kate Orman (and Robert Holmes and Terrance Dicks)

I’m not sure if I saw Pyramids of Mars when it was first broadcast in 1975; I know I did catch the edited rebroadcast in November 1976, which got a larger TV audience than any previous episode of Doctor Who, and I also remember devouring the novelisation by Terrance Dicks at a young age. Once New Who had rekindled my fervour, it was one of the first DVDs I got. When I watched in 2006, I wrote:

Pyramids of Mars (1975) – from Tom Baker’s second year as the Doctor, which also included The Seeds of Doom and The Brain of Morbius, surely near the top of any fan’s listing of best stories. This is the one with the mummies and ancient Egyptian gods. It survives pretty well, and the DVD commentaries give it extra value – in fact it’s particularly touching that Michael Sheard, who of course died last August, obviously really enjoyed reliving his Who days via fandom and especially cons. The one serious problem is the special effects towards the end… but more than compensated for by the mini-documentary about Philip Hinchcliffe’s influence on the show.

When I returned to it for my great rewatch, I wrote:

This is a strong season of Who in any case, but it would have been even stronger if as originally planned Pyramids of Mars had been the first story of the season. It starts with the Doctor declaring his independence from UNIT, proclaiming a break with the past, and ends with UNIT HQ being destroyed (well, the building on the site anyway). The Doctor restates his fundamental purposes several times in the first episode, reminding us that this is a show about an alien Time Lord, not UNIT’s eccentric Scientific Adviser.

In other news, it is a particularly good story: Holmes as so often comes up with a good script, where pace and wit disguise the occasional hole in the plot, and stellar performances from Bernard Archard, Michael Sheard and Gabriel Woolf, as well as Baker and Sladen, combined with Paddy Russell’s inspired directing and some excellent design – note particularly how seamlessly we move from studio to location shots – make this one of the most effective stories of one of the better seasons. As it happened I was able to watch most of it with 11-year-old F and so can confirm that it remains good family viewing after 35 years.

Lewis Greifer, who wrote the first version of this script, also wrote an episode of The Prisoner (The General, the one with the teaching computer). He would qualify as the only person to have written for both great cult shows, had Robert Holmes not preformed such radical surgery on Greifer’s original text as to leave it unrecognisable (and, one suspects, much better).

Rewatching this time, I found the story mesmerising and fascinating, and I frequently found myself just replaying particular scenes to enjoy them still further. In my two previous write-ups I failed to pay adequate tribute to Elisabeth Sladen’s performance as Sarah Jane Smith. She really crackles in a way that few previous companions did (with the possible exception of Barbara, right at the beginning). It’s her third season in the role, but the first where she is mainly travelling on her own with Tom Baker’s Doctor, so the relationship has in a sense been rebooted.

I happened to see Sadie Miller, Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter, on a panel at Gallifrey One on Friday, and she commented that Tom Baker’s deep love for her mother, who died eleven years ago, still comes through in every interaction she has with him. That love is almost half a century old now, and I think it’s here where we really see it starting to take hold. We take the format of the Doctor with one lead female companion as being standard now, with the Peter Davison and Jodie Whittaker eras as exceptions, but this is actually where it starts. You can get it here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the novelisation is:

The Doctor listened, puzzled, as the sound of Namin’s movements suddenly moved away from him. The second pursuer, the larger one, was moving too. The sound came closer, then died away, as it moved past him somewhere just out of sight.

When I first re-read it in 2008, I wrote:

A good novelisation of one of the great stories. Dicks has topped and tailed the narrative with an explanation of the Osirians, and a nice vignette of Sarah going back to see what the local newspapers said about it all at the time. Again, some of the effects work better on the page than on the screen. (Though the written word can never give us the excellent performances of the guest cast here.)

I devoured the novelisation again on my flight to Los Angeles on Thursday. It’s still a good read. Terrance Dicks’ crisp and simple prose pulls the screen onto the page, with Sarah (who he had of course introduced when he was script editor) as the viewpoint character. You can get it here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Kate Orman’s book on the story is:

While the chinoiserie of Talons draws on the single source of Fu Manchu fiction and films, Pyramids of Mars is the inheritor of a longer tradition of ‘Egyptomania’ which started in the early 19th century with the deciphering of hieroglyphs and the publication of the multi-volume, richly-illustrated, and wildly successful Description de l’Égypte115. France and Britain, rivals for control of Egypt, shipped home obelisks from the city of Luxor to stand in Paris and London. In Victorian Britain, Egypt was everywhere: at exhibitions, public mummy unwrappings, and the opera (Verdi’s AidaPyramids.
115 Lupton, Carter, ‘“Mummymania”’ for the Masses’: Is Egyptology Cursed by the Mummy’s Curse?’. MacDonald, Sally, and Michael Rice, eds, Consuming Ancient Egypt, p23.

I commented in yesterday’s write-up of Simon Guerrier’s The Evil of the Daleks that these books have varied quite a lot in the attention they give to the script vs the performance. This one is unusual in that there is very little discussion of the actual TV programme. A quick search reveals that the main text does not mention director Paddy Russell, or of the stars Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, or most of their acting colleagues, at all. (Three of the guest cast are mentioned briefly, once each.) Orman has concentrated almost entirely on the script and its sources, with a few references to casting, design and effects, but none at all to acting or cinematography. Everyone must write the book they want to write, of course, but this is the least complete guide to any story that I have yet read in the Black Archive series.

On the plus side, it’s a very deep dive into the roots of the script, which as noted above was originally written by Lewis Greifer and then heavily revised by script editor Robert Holmes. I love the story, as repeatedly stated above, but it invites and deserves critique of its treatment of race and gender (Sarah is the only woman seen, all the other characters, including non-speaking extras, are men).

The chapters cover:

  • Briefly, the question of why the story is set in 1911
  • At length, Egpytian mythology and its depiction of Set, rather different from what we are told about Sutekh in the script.
  • At length, mummy fiction.
  • Briefly, Mars in science fiction.
  • At length, the links between pyramids and the occult.
  • a conclusion which finishes with a personal reflection:

    Growing up with the ABC’s constant repeats of Doctor Who, I was never troubled by the frequent failure of the special effects to look realistic. It didn’t matter that, when Sutekh sends the TARDIS key through the time tunnel and into Scarman’s hands, it’s obviously dangling from strings; what mattered was that Sutekh had control over the Doctor and the TARDIS. When I was a little older, I remember thinking the show could be seen as a dramatisation of real events. Obviously, the strings weren’t there when Sutekh really sent the key through. It was a useful way to excuse internal contradictions, errors of science and history, and other blemishes: the TV show was only an attempt to approach the truth of the original – so that multiple, seemingly incompatible attempts were all valid. Later still I could see how this could be applied to Doctor Who beyond the small screen. Novels, comics, audios, and so on, are all efforts to reach some basic truth – most importantly, I think, about the nature of the Doctor himself – which none of them can ever precisely define. Perhaps the Egyptians’ ‘multiplicity of approaches’ could be a useful alternative approach for a fandom obsessed with continuity and canonicity.

You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | The Girl Who Died (64) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

My tweets

The Evil of the Daleks, by Simon Guerrier (and John Peel)

The eleventh of the generally excellent Black Archive series of short books on individual Doctor Who stories addresses The Evil of the Daleks, the last story of the fourth season of the show, first broadcast soon after I was born in 1967, written by David Whitaker and directed by Derek Martinus, both big names in the history of Who. It had seven episodes, but only the second of the seven survives in video. When I first listened to the audio tape of the story, narrated by Fraser Hines from a script by Sue Cowley, I was taking B out of the way so that F could enjoy his seventh birthday in 2006. I wrote:

Spent most of this afternoon driving to the Ardennes and back, so finished listening to The Evil of the Daleks, the last story of Patrick Troughton’s first season as the Doctor, and the one voted the Best Ever Doctor Who Story by readers of Dreamwatch in 1993. Only one episode out of seven survives on video, and I haven’t seen it (yet).

I have to say that I was very unsatisfied with the plot of this classic story. The Daleks’ plan to manipulate the Doctor, and the Doctor’s attempts to manipulate Jamie, are both unrealistically convoluted as well as being very out of character. We never find out how the Daleks got photographs of the Second Doctor, whom they otherwise met only on the planet Vulcan, and of Jamie, whom they did not otherwise meet at all (unless you believe the Season 6B theory). (We also know that the first two episodes of Evil of the Daleks are contemporaneous with The War Machines, so the Daleks would have been better off trying to grab the First Doctor who was elsewhere in London at the same time.) When we hit the nineteenth century, Arthur Terrall’s presence is not very satisfactorily explained, and the fact that he is a robot is just left hanging (or rather, Ruth is told to take him as far away as possible, as if this will somehow cure him of being mechanical). And it seems difficult to imagine that the Daleks are so bad at keeping track of individual units, however de-personalised they may be, that they simply lose track of the first three humanised Daleks. (The Discontinuity Guide further asks, “Why not just kidnap the Doctor and Jamie? Why does Terrall get Toby to kidnap Jamie? Since Jamie is so essential to Dalek plans, why are the traps set for him so lethal?”)

Having said that, the acting is great, and it’s clear from the BBC photosnaps that the series looked fantastic (Maxtible’s beard!!!!!). It’s also a really great idea to return to the Dalek City on Skaro (apparently the first time the Doctor had ever been seen to return to any planet except Earth) [other than a return within the same story, eg Kembel]. And I loved the Victoriana; I especially liked Waterfield’s horror-filled explanation, “We had opened the way for them with our experiments. They forced me into the horror of time travel, Doctor” – sounded very HP Lovecraft! And the references to Poe were clear (and even at one point explicit). And Troughton is great, dominating every scene (and this partly accounts for the flagging pace of episode 4 when he was on holiday).

So anyway, more good than bad, but I’m very sorry not to have actually seen any of it.

In retrospect, that was really a bit grumpy of me, and I guess I was put out by spending a nice summer day entirely in a car. In 2010 I watched the reconstruction of still photographs combined with narrated audio, and wrote:

Well, I have revised my opinion of Evil of the Daleks upwards thanks to watching the reconstruction. I still rate it below Troughton’s debut story, The Power of the Daleks, because the plot has some large holes (why go to the bother of the elaborate entrapment via the cafe in 1966? how is the Doctor supposed to spread the Dalek Factor through history? what’s up with Terrall anyway?) and also I just don’t like Victoria (though again, maybe I will change my mind after doing her stories in sequence).

There are a couple of things about Evil of the Daleks, however, that really appealed to me this time. First, Marius Goring as the deranged Maxtible is a compelling vilain, especially as backed up by John Bailey as Waterfield – together they are the two sides of the scientist character portrayed by Lesterson in the previous story. Second, Dudley Simpson is on top of things as composer – the Daleks have a “diggerdy-dum” leitmotif, Victoria has a more wistful theme. Third, while I’m not a huge fan of turning the Daleks into something else by giving them humanity, Whitaker handles it better here than Helen Raynor did in Daleks of Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks. Fourth, it’s a nice early example (or perhaps foreshadowing) of the steampunk subgenre.

Finally, the two episodes on Skaro are an excellent climax to not just this story but the five Dalek stories of the black-and-white era; the return to their home planet somehow gives the Daleks more cultural depth than they previously had, with the thrilling appearance of the Emperor and the excitement of the civil war. So more of a thumbs up than I expected.

I took advantage of family travel earlier this month to experience Evil of the Daleks in two different ways – the Fraser Hines/Sue Cowley audio that I had first listened to in 2006, and the brand new animation released last year by the BBC, which I watched in colour rather than black and white, though I made an exception for the surviving episode 2. As it happens, I met Rob Ritchie who did much of the work on the animations on Thursday evening in the bar at Gallifrey One. He was interesting and disarming about the challenges of the process, and the flaws of the final result, none of which I spotted when watching. I have to say that I still feel that the telesnaps reconstruction, with Fraser Hines narration, which I watched in 2010 is the version that works best for me. But the animation does take us to places where the recon cannot go.

Somewhat sheepishly, I will admit that I liked the story as a whole even more this time than previously. Troughton is on top form; the varied settings keep you guessing as to what will happen next; Maxtible and the Emperor are suitably deranged; the essence of what makes us human and the Daleks monsters is core to the plot; we move from a stolen blue box in Gatwick to planetary destruction. And Victoria is given a new home by the Doctor and Jamie. I am amused at myself for liking this story more every time I experience it.

You can get the audio here, and the DVD including both animation and telesnaps reconstructions here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of John Peel’s novelisation is:

‘Bit of a bad area, know what I mean?’ the driver observed. ‘You want me to hang around?’ He was obviously hoping for another fare, since he’d overcharged the Doctor outrageously for their trip here.

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

This was the last official Target/Virgin adaptatation (a few remaining stories were produced in book form by fans subsequently) and therefore also the last Second Doctor novelisation and the last in the impressive series of five Dalek novelisations by John Peel. I have to say that I am among that heretical minority who regard the original story here as of less than top quality: the plot is absurdly convoluted, requiring both the Doctor and the Daleks to behave out of character, and Victoria as a new companion is awfully wet. But having said that, Peel improves on the original in a number of ways, giving the characters more comprehensible motivations, and embedding the narrative in the Dalek continuity he has been developing. I still preferred his others, but this is a good effort.

Oddly enough I also met John Peel the night before last, in the bar at the Marriott; he chortled with delight when I told him I had just been reading this – it had been great fun to write, he said. It shows.

I would add to the points made above that Peel resolves a number of points left hanging by the original TV plot – in particular, the situation of Arthur Terrell, who is not semi-robotic as I had thought, but a victim of Dalek experiments on mind control. You can get the novelisation here (for a price).

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Simon Guerrier’s monograph is:

The Daleks were – and remain – a key part of Doctor Who. Their first appearance, in the second Doctor Who story, helped establish the series, and their subsequent stories saw peaks in the numbers of people watching. When the production team took the risky step of recasting Doctor Who’s lead actor in 1966, they cushioned the blow by having this new incarnation immediately face The Power of the Daleks. Viewers stuck with the programme.

This really is one of the best Black Archive volumes that I have read so far, and also I think the longest. Some earlier ones went rather far into the literary origins of particular Who stories, perhaps because there wasn’t all that much to say about the actual stories in question. Guerrier looks at that a little, but doesn’t waste too much time on it, and is much more interested in telling the story of Evil of the Daleks – both production and reception – as a social process, carried out in real time by real people. As I’ve done before, I’ll list out the (few and long) chapters in summary:

  1. London, 20 July 1966: Looks at the difficulties of analysing a story that is mostly lost, and at the production background and influences on the fist episode and a half (no woman appears in the 1966 scenes; originally Ben and Polly would have been in the first two episodes, and the Samantha Briggs character from The Faceless Ones would have been the new companion);
  2. Outside Canterbury, 2 to 3 June 1866: looks at the Victorian setting of the middle episodes and Victoriana in general, but also at the character of Maxtible (Marius Goring, the lead guest star, had a fixation with Henry Irving and his play The Bells, which is one of the artistic source for Evil) and what we learn about the Doctor;
  3. Skaro: Date Unknown: goes into great detail on the Daleks and on what Terry Nation and David Whitaker might have argued about, given that Whitaker arguably had an equal share in their creation; and
  4. Earth, 1967-2017: looking at the reception and preservation of the story over fifty years – lot of deep research into how and where the scripts were preserved, featuring in places my old friend Rebecca Levene; the Beatles’ song Paperback Writer was played during the original cafe scene in the first episode, but has been dropped from releases of the sound track for copyright reasons; new photographs and off-air recordings keep coming to light.

Guerrier ends by appealing for the animation of the missing episodes which has since been accomplished, but also (as usual for these books) has a decent bibliography. It’s a really solid piece of work.

My one complaint is that yet again the footnotes have been botched on the epub version. Clicking on any of the hundreds of footnote links in the text takes you to the start of the footnote section rather than to the relevant footnote itself. When you have found your footnote and ty to click back to where you were in the main text, you are taken instead to the start of the relevant chapter – and these are long chapters. No blame attaches to the author for this, but really, publisher, this is not rocket science and you got it right in several of the others.

You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | The Girl Who Died (64) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

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  • Sat, 10:45: RT @AITA_online: AITA – I provided scones for a work function and made some with cream first then jam and others with jam first then cream…

Saturday reading

84K, by Claire North

Last books finished
The Dreamer’s Lament, by Benjamin Burford-Jones
Scherven, by Erik de Graaf
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard
The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake
Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks, by John Peel
After Atlas, by Emma Newman
The Evil of the Daleks, by Simon Guerrier
Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, by Terrance Dicks
Pyramids of Mars, by Kate Orman
Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five by Neil Gaiman

Next books
The Twinkling of an Eye, by Brian Aldiss
Lost in Translation, by Ella Frances Sanders

The Flaming Soldier, by Christopher Bryant; The Dreamer’s Lament, by Benjamin Burford-Jones

Moving up my queued Doctor Who reviews in honour of my presence at Gallifrey One this weekend, here are a novella and novel in the generally good Lethbridge-Stewart spinoff series.

Second paragraph of third chapter of The Flaming Soldier, by Christopher Bryant:

For a moment, Oliver considered lingering by the local literature table, leafing through the pamphlets about historical smugglers and recently-opened attractions while eavesdropping, but in the end lethargy won the day and he headed up to his room for a bit of an afternoon nap.

It was only after I had read this rather good novella that I discovered that the main guest character, Eileen Younghusband, was an entirely real person who also wrote for the publisher, Candy Jar Books. Often attempts to shoehorn real characters into fictional universes can fall flat (thinking of Lindsey Davis's The Accusers as a case in point), but this one has really worked well. There are two converging timelines, Eileen and colleagues managing a captured alien spacecraft in the middle of WW2, and the Brigadier and proto-UNIT colleagues managing a situation of spontaneous combustion in the ranks. It's short and punchy, and recommended. You can get it here.

Second paragraph of third chapter of The Dreamer’s Lament, by Benjamin Burford-Jones:

‘Any joy?’ he asked Dovey.

I'm afraid this is the first really poor volume in the Lethbridge-Stewart series that I have encountered, though that's not a bad ratio given that it's the nineteenth (I think) that I have read. Burford-Jones' writing style is rather lurid (especially in the first chapter, which almost made me close the book without going any further); I could not take seriously his set-up, that there is a lost time-shifted corner of countryside near Bristol existing in a parallel dimension, including disappearing passenger trains; and it's basically a story about zombies, a sub-genre which has never done anything for me. You can get it here.

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The [Unofficial] Dr Who Annual [1965], by David May

Second paragraph of third chapter ("The Space Buoy", by Paul Vought):

He flicked a switch on the control panel and waited for an image to appear on the monitor. Seconds ticked by, the screen remained black. Although it normally took a short while to show an image, this was taking too long. What was wrong with the confounded thing now? He had only recently replaced the valves in the device. He flicked the switch back and forth but the screen was still resolutely black.

There is a bit of a cottage industry at the moment in producing unofficial annuals for old TV series; I had already tried the 1984 Blake's 7 Annual, and I have a few more Doctor Who ones on the shelf.

The very first Doctor Who annual was the 1966 one, published in late 1965, the only one featuring William Hartnell. What if the BBC had got into the game a year earlier, and published an annual at the end of the show's first full year? David May and collaborators have produced 156 pages of material, mostly prose stories, though with a couple of comic strips, a few little features (including a mock interview with William Hartnell) and the usual rather pointless games and puzzles.

The stories are a mix of standard sf and historicals, the latter including encounters with Amundsen and Magellan, and a visit to the Russian Revolution. None of the TV aliens or companions appear, though the Doctor rescues a girl from 1918 Russia who stays with the TARDIS for the last few stories. (The real 1966 Annual also had the Doctor travelling alone, but featured several aliens from the TV show.) Most of the stories are decent enough – though there is one awful battle-of-the-sexes tale by Gordon Tarrant – and the art is lovely.

I normally provide a link where you could buy this for yourself, but I see that the Lulu webpage where I got it from has been closed down, so I guess you'll have to look for a second-hand copy. (Not selling mine!!!)


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March 2015 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 started the month by giving my inaugural lecture as a Visiting Professor at Ulster University. (The cycle of time being what it is, I'm due to give another five weeks from now.) I also had work trips to Paris, London and rather more exotically Iraq, where I attended a conference in Suleimaniya.

On my way back from Iraq, I got the awfully sad but not at all unexpected news that we had lost Terry Pratchett.

I read 16 books that month.

Non-fiction: 3 (YTD 14)
The Charm of Belgium, by Brian Lunn
The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon
Shan Mohangi: 95 Harcourt Street, by Kevin Higgins

the charm of belgium The Wretched of the Earth Shan Mohangi: 95 Harcourt Street

SF (non-Who): 7 (YTD 31)
The Jonah Kit, by Ian Watson
The Defenders, by Will McIntosh
The Peripheral, by William Gibson
The Bees, by Laline Paull (did not complete reread)
The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey
Europe in Autumn, by David Hutchinson
The Mussel Easter, by Octavia Cade

The Jonah Kit

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 11)
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Forgotten Son, by Andy Frankham-Allen
Grave Matter, by Justin Richards
The Last Resort, by Paul Leonard
Beyond the Sun, by Matthew Jones
The Forgotten Son Grave Matter The Last Resort 0426205111.01._SX116_SY165_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Comics : 2 (YTD 6)
Saga vol 3, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
With The Light Vol 8, by Keiko Tobe

saga 3 with the light 8

~4,958 pages (YTD 18,958)
4/16 by women (YTD 20/64) – Paull, Cade, Staples, Tobe
3/16 by PoC (YTD 4/64) – Fanon, Staples, Tobe

The best new read here was Volume 3 of Saga, which you can get hereThe Jonah Kit, which you can get here.