June books

Non-fiction 9 (YTD 54)
Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985, eds. Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre
The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, by Amia Srinivasan
True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, by Abraham Riesman
Directed by Douglas Camfield, by Michael Seely
Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism, by Elsa Sjunneson
The Eleventh Hour, by Jon Arnold
Face the Raven, by Sarah Groenewegen
No-Nonsense Guide to Global Media, by Peter Steven
The King of Almayne: a 13th century Englishman in Europe, by T.W.E. Roche

Non-genre 2 (YTD 11)
Intimacy, by Jean Paul Sartre
Q&A, by Vikas Swarup

SF 7 (YTD 50)
Half Life, by Shelley Jackson
The Happier Dead, by Ivo Stourton
Queen of the States, by Josephine Saxton
End of the World Blues, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
The Monk, by Matthew Lewis
Nova Swing, by M. John Harrison
Killdozer!, by Theodore Sturgeon

Doctor Who 1 (YTD 16)
The HAVOC Files, Volume 4, ed. Shaun Russell

Comics 9 (YTD 12)
Monstress, Volume 6: The Vow, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Far Sector, by N.K. Jemisin and Jamal Campbell
Lore Olympus, by Rachael Smythe
Die, vol.3: The Great Game, by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles 
Die, vol 4: Bleed, by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles 
Once & Future, vol. 3: The Parliament of Magpies, by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain
Once & Future, vol. 4: Monarchies in the UK, by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bon-villain
Junker: een Pruisische blues, by Simon Spruyt
Strange Adventures, by Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shane

7,100 pages (YTD 38,600), median 257 (YTD 254)
median LT ownership 45; YTD 63.5
12/28 (YTD 58/147) by non-male writers (Srinavasan, Sjunneson, Groenewegen, Jackson, Saxton, Liu/Takeda, Jemisin, Smythe, 2x Hans, 2x Bonvillain)
4/28 (YTD 20/147) by non-white writers (Srinavasan, Swarup, Liu/Takeda, Jemisin)

316 books currently tagged “unread”, 13 less than last month

Reading now
The Darwin Awards, by Wendy Northcutt
The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, by Catherynne M. Valente
A Short History of Kosovo, by Noel Malcolm 

Coming soon (perhaps)
Guy Erma and the Son of Empire, by Sally Ann Melia
Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
Make Your Brain Work, by Amy Brann
Lenin the Dictator, by Victor Sebestyen
Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells
The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen Baxter
Manifesto, by Bernardine Evaristo
Alaska Sampler 2014, ed. Deb Vanasse and David Marusek
Roger Zelazny’s Chaos and Amber, by John Betancourt
The Light Years, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Harp and the Blade, by John Myers Myers
The Revolution Trade, by Charles Stross
The Light Fantastic, by Terry Pratchett
“Tangents”, by Greg Bear
Mr Britling Sees it Through, by H. G. Wells
Voorbij de grenzen van de ernst, by Kamagurka
Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney
The Clockwise War, by Scott Gray
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, by Svetlana Alexievich
The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell

January 2017 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.

The year started with my first experience of opening Hugo voting – always a white-knuckle experience, even though I’ve done it four times since. My first trip of the year was to London where I went to a lovely Moomin exhibition in the South Bank Centre, along with my newest relative and her parents.

Back home in Northern Ireland, the Executive collapsed and new Assembly elections were called after less than a year.

I read 27 books that month.

Non-fiction: 5
Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution, ed. Margarette Lincoln
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, by David W. Anthony
Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, by Nicholas Ostler
The Other Islam, by Stephen Schwartz
The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley

Poetry: 1
Rhyme Stew, by Roald Dahl

Fiction (non-sf): 3
See How Much I Love You, by Luis Leante
Five Go On A Strategy Away Day, by Bruno Vincent
Five on Brexit Island , by Bruno Vincent

sf (non-Who): 11
A Fall of Stardust, by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess
“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, by Harlan Ellison
The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
The Palace of Dreams, by Ismail Kadare
Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric’s Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Colour Of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
The Humans, by Matt Haig
The Rapture of the Nerds, by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

Doctor Who, etc: 4
Short Trips: Farewells, ed. Jacqueline Rayner
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet, by Douglas Adams and James Goss
Rip Tide, by Louise Cooper
The Dead Men Diaries, ed. Paul Cornell

Comics: 3
Jeremiah: Een Geweer in het Water, by Hermann
Monstress Volume 1: Awakening, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

6,300 pages
8/27 by women (Lincoln, Hurley, McGuire, Bujoldx2, Rayner, Cooper, Liu/Takeda)
2/27 by PoC (Whitehead, Liu/Takeda)

The best of these was The Underground Railroad, now a TV series which I have not seen; you can get it here. The worst was my sample of long-running Flemish post-apocalyptic comic series Jeremiah.

Planetary photography

I got up at stupid o’clock this morning to look at the array of planets in the morning sky just before dawn. For the last few days, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have been visible all in a row, in that order, around 4 am, and some lucky observers may have been able to catch Mercury in front of the queue a few days ago. (We couldn’t – the weather was bad here over the weekend and Mercury was probably too low on the Belgian horizon anyway.) Street lighting around here is generally bad, but I went to the top of the tower of the Torenvalk park to try and rise above it.

Today’s phone cameras teeter on the edge of being able to do astrophotography with no extra equipment. In this picture I manage to capture Jupiter at the top right, and if you look closely you can see Mars about a third of the way over, just above the two streetlights. Venus was just above the cloud on the left, clear and bright to the naked eye, but drowned out by the dawn in the photograph.

But this was actually the second photo I took. First time round, I forgot to switch off the flash; with the unexpected result that illuminating the railing in front of me dampened the effect of the dawn and made Venus visible in the photo after all. Jupiter is still there, but this time it’s Mars that disappears into the background.

Saturn was way too far over to the right / south to fit onto the field of view, and using the panorama mode on the phone camera to try and capture all four planets just gave me a long black rectangle.

But I felt a bit of solidarity with the Babylonians tracking the movements of Ishtar, Nergal, Marduk and Nunurta four thousand years ago.

The HAVOC Files, Volume 4, ed. Shaun Russell

Second paragraph of third story (“United in Blood”, by Mark Jones):

Lethbridge-Stewart approached the bar and held out a hand to his old friend. ‘Bill Cunningham! It’s good to see you too,’ he said, as he grasped the other’s hand in a firm handshake. ‘It’s been too many years. One of your finest malts would go down a treat on a night like this.’

I’m consistently impressed by the quality of the Candy Jar Books series of stories featuring Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, mostly in the narrative window between his first encounter with the Doctor in The Web of Fear and their reunion in The Invasion, though this anthology has a couple from the later TV continuity. These are all good; I guess the standouts for me were “All the King’s Men” by Alyson Leeds and “The Two Brigadiers” by Jonathan Macho, two authors who were both new to me (at least under those names). If you’re not already invested in the Brigadier continuity this won’t mean much to you, but if you are it’s a good addition. You can get it here.

Slumdog Millionaire; and Q&A, by Vikas Swarup

Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2008 and seven others, Best Director (Danny Boyle), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and Best Sound Editing. The other films up for Best Picture were The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader, none of which I have seen. The Hugo and Nebula that year both went to WALL-E.

Slumdog Millionaire is 4th on one IMDB ranking but only 26th on the other, with The Dark Knight, WALL-E and Iron Man ahead of it on both lists. Along with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, those were the Hugo nominees and I saw them all. Weirdly enough I watched Mamma Mia! for the first time also last weekend; apart from the, the only other 2008 film I have seen is The Duchess, based on half a chapter of Amanda Foreman’s book.

For the second time in a row (after No Country for Old Men), I found no credited actors in common with other Oscar-winning films, Hugo or Nebula winners, or Doctor Who; perhaps a bit less surprising in this case, as almost all of the cast are from India and have made their careers there, and the kids in the flashback scenes have in general not become actors now that they have grown up.

It’s a film about a boy from the slums who wins the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? because his life experiences happen to mesh with the questions. As the film starts, he is arrested just before the final question is asked on suspicion of cheating, and explains his knowledge to a sceptical policeman, once they have finished torturing him, providing a series of flashbacks which tell the story of his life.

So, to start with the bits I didn’t like, as usual. I did not like the torture scenes. What can I say. I am squeamish. It’s weirdly out of tone with the rest of the film. They’re in the book as well, but there is a lot more violence in the original novel, so it’s less dissonant, and also you don’t have to watch it on paper.

It’s probably the least white film to have won an Oscar so far in my watching, but it’s very male. There is one female lead character, Latika, played as an adult by Freida Pinto. Again, the book is better on this – it memorably features a faded actress, a washed-up princess, a sex worker with a heart of gold, and crucially the framing narrative has the protagonist telling his story to a woman lawyer rather than a male police inspector.

It reduces Indian society to 1) the struggle of the poor and 2) the dynamic between the protagonist’s Muslim origins versus the forces of nationalism and/or the state, as specifically experienced in Mumbai. That’s an important story of course, but once again the book has a lot more diversity – it is set in New Delhi and Agra as well as Mumbai, and we encounter Indian Christianity, Sikhs, and quite a lot of stupid white people.

And I must say I twitched when the credits flashed up and there was only one Indian name (Loveleen Tandan) among a host of Brits in the senior production team. Somehow this mattered less for Gandhi, which was as much as anything about the relationship between India and the outside world, especially Britain. Slumdog Millionaire purports to be an Indian story about Indian people, but it isn’t.

Having said all that, I did generally enjoy the film. To be grim about it, the interrogation of poverty and social division is a crucial driver of the narrative, and is firm and not subtle. The story starts with the protagonist’s mother being killed in sectarian riots, and life in the slums is vividly depicted.

To be more positive, Dev Patel is great as Jamal, and all of the cast basically glow. I liked the comfortable bilingualism of the script (thanks to Loveleen Tandan apparently). I love quiz shows. I also love the interweaving of narratives where the past unexpectedly informs the present. It’s nice that a crucial plot point depends on The Three Musketeers, a novel which I like more than it really deserves. It looks fantastic and colourful in all the right ways. There is a happy ending. And the music is good.

I’m putting it just above the halfway point in my ranking of Oscar-winners, below It Happened One Night and above Gigi.

Next on my Oscar list is The Hurt Locker, which I have managed to maintain utter ignorance of since it came out (also in 2007, but it won a 2008 Oscar).

As noted above, I read the original book, Q&A, by Vikas Swarup. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

I don’t read the Maharashtra Times. In fact, I don’t read any newspaper. But I occasionally pilfer a copy from Mr Barve’s rubbish bin. It is useful for stoking the fire in the kitchen, and sometimes, when I have nothing else to do, I flip through its pages as a time pass before they are reduced to ash.

Some repetition below because I’ll be posting this section of the blog post independently to Goodreads and LibraryThing, in due course.

The central concept is the same as the film: a boy from the slums who wins a quiz show because his life experiences happen to mesh with the questions. The book is more violent. It has more sex and more female characters – as noted above, it has a faded actress, a washed-up princess, a sex worker with a heart of gold, and crucially the framing narrative has the protagonist telling his story to a woman lawyer rather than a male police inspector.

It’s also a broader look at India and its interactions with the outside world. The protagonist, Ram Mohammed Thomas, can pass as Muslim or Hindu, or indeed Christian; there’s a memorable chapter where he works for an Australian diplomat (the author is himself an Indian diplomat) and another where he makes a living taking tourists around the Taj Mahal. He also looks at the darker side of Bollywood, and of war heroes.

And at the very end there are a couple of pleasing plot twists, which I might have found rather contrived if the rest of the book had not put me in a generally good mood. 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)

Saturday reading

Killdozer!, by Theodore Sturgeon
Q&A, by Vikas Swarup
The Darwin Awards, by Wendy Northcutt
The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, by Catherynne M. Valente

Last books finished
Intimacy, by Jean Paul Sartre
The King of Almayne: a 13th century Englishman in Europe, by T.W.E. Roche
Nova Swing, by M. John Harrison
Strange Adventures, by Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner

Next books
Guy Erma and the Son of Empire, by Sally Ann Melia
Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie

The Cleveland conundrum, and more on Sarah Locke

The glory of DNA research is that there is always a new discovery around the corner, and sometimes these discoveries raise new questions as well as answering old ones.

Among my DNA connections, there are a fair number who are descended from a Benjamin Cleveland (1783-1853) and his wife Lydia Cooper (1787-1872). According to the written records, I am distantly related to Benjamin Cleveland; he is my 5th cousin 5 times removed (5C5R in the jargon), meaning that he and my 3x great-grandmother shared a set of 4x great-grandparents. At that distance, we should not really share any DNA; but a number of his descendants pop up on my connection lists.

(I had hoped to find a connection between him and President Grover Cleveland, but they appear to be from different families. The closest I personally can get to the top of the Executive Branch is from a different branch of ancestors, Sophia Chew Nicklin, who was married to George Mifflin Dallas, Vice-President under James Polk from 1845 to 1849.)

Going back to Benjamin and Lydia, their biographies are a bit mysterious. Benjamin was born in Massachusetts, but some sources say this was in Suffolk County, which includes Boston, and others put his birthplace further west, in Hardwick in the centre of the state. It is unclear if Lydia was from Richmond NY, Rhode Island or New Jersey, which is really rather vague. The official family biography has them marrying in December 1804 in upstate New York, but is ambiguous about whether this was in Richmond or 130 km away in Oswego. Benjamin was 21; Lydia was 17, and gave birth to their first child nine months later. They moved from New York to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and finally Middleton, Wisconsin, where he died in 1853 or 1854; she died almost two decades later, in 1872, in Iowa. They had eleven children, most of whom survived to adulthood, and at least four of whom have living descendants.

When I started to look into the Cleveland connections in more detail, the numbers seemed very strange. Between the various websites – Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and 23andMe.com – I found no less than 25 people who shared some of my DNA and are descended from Benjamin and Lydia: two great-great-grandchildren, ten 3x great-grandchildren, another ten 4x great-grandchildren, two 5x great-grandchildren and a 6x great-grandson. Here’s a chart showing their lines of descent and giving the DNA overlap in each case in centimorgans (cM), the standard unit of comparison. (Your whole genome has a bit under 7,000 cM.)

(Click to embiggen.) I’ve given first name and birth surname initials for DNA connections, and also the overlap between them and me in centimorgans. I give two numbers for LS because she has tested on two different sites which found slightly different DNA overlaps with me. DNA connections with the same initials are labelled MW1 and MW2 etc. The ancestors of the DNA connections who are descended from Benjamin and Lydia are identified by first name initial; siblings with the same initial are labelled M1 and M2, etc.

If the records are right, and Benjamin was my fifth cousin five times removes, then my DNA overlap with all of these people should be so small as to be invisible. In fact, one of Benjamin and Lydia’s 3x great-grandchildren (the row from RC to LC on the chart) had an overlap of 47 cM with me, which would be typical of a half third cousin or third cousin once removed, and most of the others are in the fourth cousin / half fourth cousin / fourth cousin once removed territory. This suggests that the connection is a lot closer than the records suggest.

(Just to refresh you: a third cousin is someone you share two great-great-grandparents with. A half third cousin is someone you share one great-great-grandparent with. A third cousin once removed is someone who shares two great-great-grandparents with one of your parents, or vice versa. For fourth cousins, apply the above but with 3x great-grandparents.)

So, in summary, we know for a fact that I am related to those 25 descendants of Benjamin Cleveland and Lydia Cooper, which suggests that either Benjamin or Lydia is a relative of mine. One other point that came up in my research is that several of the 25 also have DNA connections to relatives who are definitely descended from my great-great-grandparents William Charlton Hibbard (1814-1880) and Sarah Ann Smith (1815-1891).

So, purely hypothetically, I crunched the numbers on the basis that one of Benjamin Cleveland or Lydia Cooper was in fact secretly the parent of one of William Charlton Hibbard and Sarah Ann Smith. This would mean that I share a single 3x great-grandparent with Benjamin and Lydia’s 3x great-grandchildren, and they are my half fourth cousins. According to the DNAPainter site, this would give me on average an overlap of 27 cM with their generation, 37 cM with their parents, 23 cM with their children, 20 cM with their grandchildren and 18 cM with their great-grandchildren. We can plot this hypothetical DNA relationship against the actual numbers, and we get the following result:

So, this hypothesis is worth investigating further. We can eliminate one possibility quickly. Quite apart from the fact that it is much more difficult to conceal maternity than paternity, Lydia Cleveland née Cooper gave birth in Unadilla in upstate New York in May 1814 and had another child in January 1816, probably also in Unadilla. She is therefore unlikely to have been the mother of either William Charlton Hibbard, born in Littleton in northern New Hampshire in September 1814, or Sarah Ann Smith, born in Dover at the other end of New Hampshire in April 1815.

That leaves that possibility that one of them was the child of Benjamin Cleveland. To eliminate another possibility quickly, it seems unlikely that William Charlton Hibbard was his son. I have vague but ultimately convincing DNA links between myself and more distant members of the Hibbard family, reinforcing the official account of William Charlton Hibbard’s ancestry. Also Littleton, NH, is well over 400 km from Unadilla, NY, a heck of a long way to go.

Sarah Ann Smith is a different matter. I wrote earlier this month about the difficulty of pinning down her mother’s biography. Her father, supposedly a John Smith, has almost completely vanished from the historical record. I have not identified any DNA connection between me and anyone else related to John Smith, though I have been able to do so for all of my other 3x great-grandfathers on the American side.

Dover, where Sarah Ann Smith was born, is 40 km from the border with Massachusetts, Benjamin Cleveland’s native state. On top of that, there is evidence linking her mother, Sarah Locke, to western Massachusetts, where Benjamin may have been born – and if he wasn’t born there, he was born in Boston, which is much closer to Dover. It’s not conclusive, but for me it’s convincing.

Other explanations are possible, of course. But it’s quite difficult to find another that fits the genetic evidence anything like as well. If Benjamin Cleveland was not Sarah Ann Smith’s biological father, but I am connected to him by some other route, we will have to insert at least another two generations into the hypothetical model, which makes the DNA numbers much more of a stretch.

So I’m going to change my family tree now and identify Benjamin Cleveland as Sarah Smith’s biological father, and my 3x great-grandfather. It’s the first time I’ve had this in my direct line of descent, though I’ve had several cases in collateral branches, some of which I have written about here and here. At this distance in time, we can have no idea of the circumstances that brought two youngish folks together in New England in the summer of 1814, with Sarah Ann Smith arriving nine months later.

A few other notes that came up in the research:

  1. For some reason, Ancestry.com thinks that I have slightly more DNA in common with BL2 and KL than with their father, BL1; which seems unlikely. It’s possible that I am also distantly related to their mother, and that both parents passed DNA that they share with me to both daughters. But it’s more likely that my link with BL1 has somehow been understated (or that my link with the girls is overstated).
  2. I generally don’t identify the living in these posts, but the two strongest links that I identified here are both with people who have died since uploading their DNA to Myheritage.com. The strongest, 47 cM, is with Byron Regnier, who died in April 2018, and the second strongest, 44 cM, with Alvin Stowers, who died in August 2021. My sympathies to their families, if they ever read this; I’m grateful that Byron and Alvin helped me to solve this historical mystery.
  3. On a lighter note, the weakest and most distant of the connections that I identified belongs to KJ, whose full name is quite unusual. When I checked on Facebook for evidence that he is who I thought he is, I discovered that we have a mutual friend – another distant DNA relative who I’ve been corresponding with about how to connect our family trees. I asked her how she knew KJ, and she said that they were classmates in the same high school, in a town in rural Iowa whose total population is 4,000. They are not related to each other, but they are both distantly related to me. It’s a strange world.

Edited to add: Having set Benjamin Cleveland as my 3x great-grandfather on Ancestry, the system immediately found another dozen users connected to him by genealogy and to me by DNA. I now have AncestryDNA connections with more of his descendants than with all my other 3x great-grandparents, combined. It’s pretty convincing!

The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, by Amia Srinivasan

Second paragraph of third chapter:

In the hours between murdering three men in his apartment and driving to Alpha Phi, Rodger went to Starbucks, ordered coffee, and uploaded a video, “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” to his YouTube channel. He also emailed a 107,000-word memoir-manifesto, “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger,” to a group of people including his parents and his therapist. Together these two documents detail the massacre to come and Rodger’s motivations. “All I ever wanted was to fit in and live a happy life,” he explains at the beginning of “My Twisted World,” “but I was cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me.”

I can’t remember where I picked up this recommendation, but it is very good. It’s a collection of feminist essays on society in general and the legal system in particular, addressing the following topics:

  • the politics of rape allegations
  • pornography
  • incels and the “right to sex”, with a postscript based on student discussions
  • sexual relationships between university students and teachers, wherein she asks why there is so little discussion of the negative impact of such relationships on teaching and learning
  • prostitution, prison and the dangers of a blinkered legalistic approach.

These are punchy and difficult issues, and it’s often difficult reading. Srinivasan has more questions than answers, and they are generally very good questions to which I don’t have even the beginnings of an answer. Her fundamental points are that it is completely inadequate to reach for the legal system to deal with issues of gender justice, when what is needed is a complete revolution in society; and also that a lot of the proposed and implemented legal solutions demonstrably make things worse.

Of course the essays are largely directed to the situation in the United States, where as we’ve seen in recent years the “law enforcement” system is completely out of control. But we are far from perfect in Europe, and much of what Srinivasan writes can be directly applied to any society. It’s really worth reading, especially in the light of this morning’s news. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book by a non-white writer. Next on that pile is Manifesto, by Bernardine Evaristo.

December 2016 books, and 2016 books roundup

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 with a trip to SMOFCon in Chicago (flying out via Stockholm and back via Copenhagen), in the wake of which I saw the stage show of Hamilton, and then before Christmas went to Belfast and Frankfurt, with a side order of Strasbourg for the final European Parliament plenary of the year. My boss bought us all festive T-shirts.

F and I finished the year by visiting the Tintin exhibition at Trainworld.

2016 was and I think remains my record year for travelling, overnighting in 29 places away from home, in 22 different countries.

Books read this month:

Non-fiction: 4 (2016 total 37/212, 17%)
Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past, by Paul Cartledge
Tolstoy, by Henri Troyat
Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethà
What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Fantasy and SF, by Jo Walton

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (2016 total 28/212, 13%)
The Listener, by Tove Jansson
The Case of the Missing Books, by Ian Sansom

sf (non-Who): 6 (2016 total 80/212, 38%)
Kings of the North, by Cecelia Holland
AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, ed. Ivor Hartmann
Angels & Visitations: A Miscellany, by Neil Gaiman
The Star Rover, by Jack London
Last Exit to Babylon – Volume 4: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny
Christmas Days, by Jeanette Winterson

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (2016 total 39/212, 18%)
Short Trips: The History of Christmas, ed. Simon Guerrier
Bullet Time, by David A. McIntee
Twilight of the Gods, by Mark Clapham and John de Burgh Miller

Comics: 4 (2016 total 27/212, 13%)
Apostata, Bundel I, by Ken Broeders
Apostata, Bundel II, by Ken Broeders
Apostata, Bundel III, by Ken Broeders

Brain Fetish, by Kinga Korska

Page count for December: 6200 (2016 total 62,300)
Books by women in December: 6/19 (Jethà, Walton, Jansson, Holland, Winterson, Korska), 2016 total 65/212
Books by PoC in December: 2/19 (Cacilda Jethà, the AfroSF anthology), total 14/212

Top book of the month: Christmas Days, by Jeanette Winterson; get it here

Worst book of the month: The Case of the Missing Books, by Ian Sansom; get it here

2016 books roundup

Total books: 212, the lowest since 2009, surpassed every year since.

Total page count: ~62,300, fifth lowest of the years I have been counting, lower than any year since except 2017.

65 (31%) by women, the highest % to date, though exceeded several times since.
14 (7%) by PoC, exceeded most years since.

Most books by a single author: Christopher Marlowe (previous winners: Justin Richards in 2015 and 2014, Agatha Christie in 2013, Jonathan Gash in 2012, Arthur Conan Doyle in 2011, Ian Rankin in 2010, William Shakespeare in 2009 and 2008, Terrance Dicks in 2007, Ian Marter in 2006, Charles Stross in 2005)

Non-Whovian sff (80)

Best non-Who sff read in 2016: Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge – creepy doppleganger story set in England just after the first world war; get it here.

Runner-up: Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand – I never wrote this up properly, but it’s an excellent fantasy/horror story, again set in England; get it here.

Welcome re-reads: Watership Down, by Richard Adamsget it here; the Alice books by Lewis Carrollget them here.

The one you might not heard of: Time Bangers #1: One Does Not Simply Walk Into Tudor, by Luna Teague and Ivery Kirk – OK, this is not exactly great art, but the authors clearly had a lot of fun writing it; get it here.

The one to avoid: Nethereal, by Brian Niemeier; get it here.

Doctor Who (and spinoff) fiction (39)

Best Who book read in 2016: The Legends of Ashildr, by James Goss, David Llewellyn, Jenny T. Colgan & Justin Richards – all good stories, some really good; get it here.

Runner-up: The Mike Tucker (and Robert Perry) Seventh Doctor/Ace novels, Illegal Alien, Prime Time and Loving the Alien – great examples of respect for continuity and also bringing more; get them here, here and here.

Worth flagging up for Whovians: Drama and Delight: The Life of Verity Lambert, by Richard Marson – excellent biography of the show’s first producer; get it here.

The one to avoid: Heritage, by Dale Smith; get it here.

Non-fiction (37)

Best non-fiction read in 2016: Between the world and me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates -tremendous (and short) polemic about racism and violence in the United States; get it here.

Runner-up: SPQR, by Mary Beard – great account of the history of Rome; get it here.

The one you might not heard of: Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I, ed. Janet Brennan Croft – fascinating essays on at the influence of the global conflict on the origins of the fantasy genre; get it here.

The one to really avoid: SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police, by Vox Day.

Non-sfnal fiction (28)

Best non-sff fiction read in 2016: Alice Munro’s short story collections, The Love of a Good Woman, Selected Stories, and The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose – all fantastic vignettes of Canada; get them here, here and here.

Runner-up: Nemesis, by Philip Roth – the effects of polio on middle-class America in the 1950s; get it here.

Welcome rereads: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyceget it here; Walking on Glass, by Iain Banksget it here; The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumasget it here.

The one you might not heard of: Dark Horse, by Fletcher Knebel – the Republican candidate dies just before the Presidential election; his swiftly conscripted replacement is an obscure New Jersey politician who starts shaking the political system; get it here.

The one to avoid: The Case of the Missing Books, by Ian Sansom; get it here

Comics (27)

Best graphic story read in 2016: Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot – brilliant exploration of the town and its links to literature in general and Alice in particular; get it here.

Runner-up: The Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart, Todd Klein – very satisfying prequel/sequel to the classic story, which won the Hugo; get it here.

The one you might not have heard of: Toch Een Geluk, by Barbara Stok – fun Dutch comics writer, sadly not translated into English yet; get it here.

The one to avoid: Chooz, by Santi-Bucquoy.


One is slightly comparing chalk and cheese here. I was lucky enough to see Hamilton in Chicago this month, but had also read the Hamiltome which has loads of information and is a must-have for any fan; get it here.

However I also read the complete Christopher Marlowe, and particularly enjoyed Edward II and The Jew of Malta; get it here.

Worst books of the year

To be found on the Best Related Work ballot for the Hugo Awards.

Book of the year

Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot

Other Books of the Year:

2003 (2 months): The Separation, by Christopher Priest.
2004The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread).
– Best new read: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin
2005The Island at the Centre of the World, by Russell Shorto
2006Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea
2007Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
2008The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank (reread)
– Best new read: Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray
2009Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (had seen it on stage previously)
– Best new read: Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (first volume just pipped by Samuel Pepys in 2004)
2010The Bloody Sunday Report, by Lord Savile et al.
2011The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon (started in 2009!)
2012The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë
2013A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
2014Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
2015: collectively, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, in particular the winner, Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel. However I did not actually blog about these, being one of the judges at the time.
– Best book I actually blogged about: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, by Claire Tomalin
2016: See above
2017Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light
2018Factfulness, by Hans Rosling
2019Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
2020From A Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb, by Timothy Knatchbull
2021Carrying the Fire, by Michael Collins.

Directed by Douglas Camfield, by Michael Seely

Second paragraph of third chapter:

They worked on the seventh floor of Lime Grove, assigned to different film editors. This was the same building where Alfred Hitchcock made The Thirty Nine Steps twenty years before when it was the Gaumont British Picture studios. Perhaps it was a portent for the future of the film industry when the BBC had bought tip and converted the studios in 1949. Situated in Shepherd’s bush, the building was on a cramped and enclosed site and the only way to expand was up. Lime Grove Studios became a multi-levelled rabbit warren of a building, easy to get lost in and was not much loved by those inside. Try as they might, the people who worked here in the 1950s find it very hard to describe the place as magical. Further down the road at Wood Lane, something magical had been postponed.

A couple of years ago, I read a biography of Robert Holmes, the greatest of Old Who’s writers; this book looks at the life of Douglas Camfield, one of the greatest of the Old Who directors (the top three must be him, David Maloney and Christopher Barry – and Camfield directed more episodes than either of the other two).

I found it a really fascinating read. Seely has hunted down as much information as he can about every single TV episode that Camfield ever directed. He knows his audience, so he has concentrated particularly on Doctor Who – the stories we now know as An Unearthly Child, Marco Polo, The Crusade, The Time Meddler, and most of all The Daleks’ Master Plan; and also The Web of Fear, The Invasion, Inferno, Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom. Those alone would be a fantastic legacy.

But Seely is very good at taking us into the world of the director, to the point that you can almost smell the static electricity in the studio gallery and the manure on location. Not every BBC director was as meticulous or professional as him; at the same time, he seems to have been genuinely charming, always bringing his guitar to finish the evening singing with those of the cast and crew that wanted to. (Though he also had his musical blind spots, and repeatedly refused to hire Dudley Simpson for incidental music.)

Camfield had a loyalty to a certain group of guest actors who tended to pop up in many of his productions, but in general they were good. This included his wife, Sheila Dunn, who got a small part in the Dalek’s Master Plan and a larger part in Inferno; though I remember her best as the daughter of Kessler, in the sequel to Secret Army, which had nothing to do with Camfield. Incidentally Bernard Hepton, the star of Secret Army, started his career as a director before turning to acting and was a peer of Camfield’s on the BBC training courses.

He did his best to move away from being typecast as a police and science fiction serial specialist, but did not quite success. He directed Duel, one of the great Blake’s 7 episodes, and the first episode of Shoestring and two others. His only close co-operation with the great Robert Holmes was not Doctor Who but the 1981 series The Nightmare Man, based on the novel Child of Vodyanoi by David Wiltshire; I have fond if scary memories of it forty years on, and would love to get hold of a copy.

Camfield’s health was always a problem, and he had to be taken off the Doctor Who story Inferno after a couple of episodes when he suffered a heart attack. Another heart attack hilled him at the age of 52 in 1984. Unlike Robert Holmes, who had sadly run out of steam when he died a couple of years later, one feels that Camfield was still innovating and finding new things to do, though he would have refused to return to Doctor Who. We must be grateful for what we have. This is a good book, with occasional rough edges. You can get it here.

Mythos, by Stephen Fry

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Something else began too — what shall we call it? Personality? Drama? Individuality? Character, with all its flaws and failings, fashions and passions, schemes and dreams. Meaning began, you might say. The seeding of Gaia gave us meaning, a germination of thought into shape. Seminal semantic semiology from the semen of the sky. I will leave such speculation to those better qualified, but it was nevertheless a great moment. In the creation of and conjoining with Ouranos, her son and now her husband, Gaia unwound the ribbon of life that runs all the way to human history and our own very selves, yours and mine.

A run-through of Classical myths and legends by Stephen Fry, leaning on Ovid a lot, of course, but drawing in other writers too – apparently the first of three volumes, the other two dealing with heroes in general and the Trojan War in particular. It’s breezy and sometimes even funny, and Fry doesn’t gloss over the awkward castrations and incest. I found it especially helpful in locating the legends referred to by Jan Christian Hansche in his non-religious sculptures. You can get it here.

This was my top unread sf book. Next on that pile is Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells.

A Modern Utopia, by H. G. Wells

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Now in the first place, a state so vast and complex as this world Utopia, and with so migratory a people, will need some handy symbol to check the distribution of services and commodities. Almost certainly they will need to have money. They will have money, and it is not inconceivable that, for all his sorrowful thoughts, our botanist, with his trained observation, his habit of looking at little things upon the ground, would be the one to see and pick up the coin that has fallen from some wayfarer’s pocket. (This, in our first hour or so before we reach the inn in the Urseren Thal.) You figure us upon the high Gotthard road, heads together over the little disk that contrives to tell us so much of this strange world.

I have to admit that I had not really heard of this Wells novel before. Of course, like the original Utopia, the fictional framework is not the point; the books is about the ideal way to run a society, and what it might look like if you were to be transported to that society while on holiday in Switzerland, to discover that everyone you know on Earth has a parallel equivalent in the Utopia, except that of course they are happier.

Utopia is preserved by a caste of self-dubbed samurai who are devoted to keeping society fair. Wells is clear about the evils of racism, and the importance of equality for women; somewhat less convincing on a utopian vision of marriage, and downright weird on animals (no meat-eating, but no household pets either). To be honest, I did not find the ideas awfully interesting, though Beveridge claimed that they had inspired his vision of the welfare state.

The bit that did grab me was where the narrator meets his equivalent on Utopia. Jorge Luis Borges’ story “The Other” has fascinated me for many years – it’s the one where he meets his younger self, but discovers that in fact they don’t have much to say to each other. The interaction between the narrator and his double in A Modern Utopia is similarly awkward. Basically, we need other people for mental stimulation – our own thought processes are not different enough to be interesting.

Anyway, not my favourite Wells novel, but you can get it here. Next up is Mr Britling Sees It Through.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘I know. She can undo it all, from the start. He won’t want to leave her.’

When I first read this in December 2001, I wrote:

Ender’s Game is a vivid and disturbing book. The most vivid part is its portrayal of the casual violence of childhood and the isolation of the gifted child. Much great sf literature appeals to readers who themselves were (or indeed are) gifted children, whose experience of childhood friendship was limited and whose attempts to strike out physically were often unsuccessful and almost always duly punished. (Card himself, in a lengthy introduction to the second, 1991 edition of the novel, spends more time on this topic than on any other.) The twist in Ender’s story is, first, that when he attacks other children physically, he is more or less rewarded rather than punished by the military elite who control his life; but second, it really doesn’t make him feel any better. Most child-genius-turned superhero stories at least let their hero feel good about what they have done at some point; Ender is denied even that luxury.

The most disturbing part is the military’s manipulation of Ender. On one level, given the universal perception that humanity is under threat of utter destruction, the use of Ender’s genius for winning battles, for, er, winning battles would have been portrayed as right and necessary by a lesser author. However, it becomes apparent that the manipulation of Ender began before his birth, and continues right up to the last chapter of the book. He has been genetically engineered to hold a middle point between the violence and manipulation of his brother and the empathy and compassion of his loving sister. (A weak area of the book is the rather extreme characterisation of the siblings, combined with the fact that their parents appear to be rather dull and yet produced not one but three genius offspring.) As a six-year-old Ender is taken to an asteroid along with other precocious children, in order to be taught how to fight and kill. In a series of war-games (described in somewhat excessive detail) of ever-increasing sophistication, where the odds have been stacked ever more against him, he finally passes what he thinks is the final exam – only to discover that (as the astute reader will have already suspected) in fact the last few battles have not been simulations, and he has utterly destroyed the alien threat.

Ender’s response to this revelation lifts the book beyond a well-told war story (à la Starship Troopers or The Forever War) and into a novel of redemption. He repents his genocide of an entire alien species, brought about essentially by a mistake in communications, and, in a hastily told last chapter which actually covers years of narrative time, resolves to atone for his crime on behalf of all humanity by telling the story of the aliens. Michael R. Collings has reflected on the parallels between Ender and Jesus Christ, and while he is wrong on some of the details he is clearly right on the big picture. (Unlike, I would add, the reviewer who became obsessed with the parallels between Ender Wiggin and Adolf Hitler – shades of Dave Barry’s suggestion that Moby Dick actually represents the Republic of Ireland – all the more so since I actually once read a Lit Crit paper attempting to prove the latter.)

One has to suspend one’s disbelief slightly to believe that not only Ender but his entire crew of prepubescent commanders are sophisticated enough to win a war. I don’t know what the statistics are correlating the brilliance of military commanders with their age, but I would be surprised if there is any real reason to think that children could be super-competent in this field. Similarly, the ease with which Peter and Valentine, Ender’s siblings, capture the political high ground through their skillful debating techniques, is simply not credible even within the parameters of the book. I look back on stuff I wrote when I am half my present age – I am now 34 – and cringe with embarrassment. (One such item, about Turkish opening strategy in the game of Diplomacy, is much more widespread than it deserves to be on the Web.) The gift of political argument matures slowly. My other big problem with the book is the portentous, mythic tone of the narrative, but there’s not much Card can do about that; it’s his natural voice, I think, and suits books like the Alvin Maker series perfectly, but sometimes irritated me here.

There are some great bits in Ender’s Game: the “fantasy game” which turns out to be a link with the alien minds, the difficulty of fighting in free fall, the character of Mazer Rackham, the delicate political situation of Earth, the way in which Peter and Valentine rapidly become experts simply through writing about stuff on bulletin boards under pseudonyms. The best single moment for me is when Ender is set up with his team of squadron leaders in the penultimate chapter, and discovers that they are all his friends from the earlier chapters of the book. There is a sense that all the collective suffering was worth something. I can understand why Card returned to that setting for the most recent of the sequels.

I still agree with most of that, but this time around, the things I didn’t like about the book annoyed me much more. Watching adults fighting desperately in Ukraine, as we have ben since February, it seems really tasteless to suggest that children might somehow do the job better. At the same time, watching how online political discussion has worked out in practice, the notion that people with good ideas and deep philosophical insights might consequently emerge as powerful political figures seems hilariously naïve. It’s also notable that almost all (though not quite all) of Ender’s classmates are white boys – this for a force that is supposed to represent the whole of humanity. It’s a quick read at least. You can get it here.

Ender’s Game won both the Hugo and Nebula for Best Novel presented in 1986 for works of 1985. The novel version of Blood Music, by Greg Bear, and The Postman, by David Brin, were on both ballots. Also on the Hugo ballot were Cuckoo’s Egg, by C. J. Cherryh and Footfall, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle; I have read the latter but would not vote for it. Also on the Nebula ballot were Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, by Tim Powers, and Helliconia Winter, by Brian Aldiss, both of which I have read; and The Remaking of Sigmund Freud, by Barry N. Malzberg, and Schismatrix, by Bruce Sterling, which I haven’t. I think I’d have voted for Blood Music.

The other three fiction awards were split. The Hugo for Best Novella went to “24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai”, by Roger Zelazny, and the Nebula to “Sailing to Byzantium”, by Robert Silverberg. Each was on both ballots, as were “Green Mars”, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and “The Only Neat Thing to Do”, by James Tiptree, Jr.

The Hugo for Best Novelette went to “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, by Harlan Ellison, and the Nebula to “Portraits of His Children”, by George R. R. Martin. Again, both were on both ballots, as were “Dogfight”, by Michael Swanwick & William Gibson; “The Fringe”, by Orson Scott Card; and “A Gift from the GrayLanders”, by Michael Bishop.

The Hugo for Best Short Story went to “Fermi and Frost”, by Frederik Pohl, and the Nebula to “Out of All Them Bright Stars”, by Nancy Kress. This time neither story was on the other ballot, but three stories were on both: “Flying Saucer Rock & Roll”, by Howard Waldrop, “Hong’s Bluff”, by William F. Wu, and “Snow”, by John Crowley.

There was no dramatic Nebula that year, but the Hugo went to Back to the Future.

Onwards to the following year’s joint winners, Greg Bear’s “Tangents” and Speaker for the Dead, the sequel to Ender’s Game.

Mort, by Terry Pratchett

Second paragraph of third section (as you know, Bob, very few of Pratchett’s Discworld novels are divided into chapters):

Mort was interested in lots of things. Why people’s teeth fitted together so neatly, for example. He’d given that one a lot of thought. Then there was the puzzle of why the sun came out during the day, instead of at night when the light would come in useful. He knew the standard explanation, which somehow didn’t seem satisfying.

When the BBC did its Big Read in 2003, this was the first of five Terry Pratchett novels to make the top 100 books beloved by the BBC-watching public. (The others were, in order, Good Omens – co-written by Neil Gaiman of course – Guards! Guards!, Night Watch and the one that started it all, The Colour of Magic.) I’ve got to it now as the top book on my shelves not yet reviewed on line; in fact the next few on that pile are all by Pratchett, so I’m going to split the pile in two, PTerry and non-PTerry; the next books on each pile respectively are The Light Fantastic, and Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie.

It’s years since I last read this. It hasn’t lost its charm. Pratchett’s Death is one of his most memorable characters, from his first appearance in The Colour of Magic:

“I said I hope it is a good party,” said Galder, loudly.

to the end:

This was the fourth Discworld novel, after the original duology and Equal Rites, and Dave Langford’s comment at the time was “Pratchett has sussed the combination of hilarity with a tortuous plot, and the rest of us would-be humorists hate him for it.” I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a masterpiece, but a lot of the elements that make for a good Pratchett book – indeed for a good book in general – converge here.

You’ve read it too, so I won’t go on at length. It is as funny as I remembered. I was pleasantly surprised on re-reading by the breadth and depth of references to classic (and Classical) literature. The main driver of the Sto Lat subplot, the rewriting of history and destiny, is actually more of a science fiction trope, rarely found in fantasy (and the description of it is fairly sfnal). And Death’s slogan resonates still for me, 35 years on.


You can get it here, if you don’t already have it. My copy is the first Corgi paperback from 1987, with the Josh Kirby cover.

The Colour of Magic | The Light Fantastic | Equal Rites | Mort | Sourcery | Wyrd Sisters | Pyramids | Guards! Guards! | Eric | Moving Pictures | Reaper Man | Witches Abroad | Small Gods | Lords and Ladies | Men at Arms | Soul Music | Interesting Times | Maskerade | Feet of Clay | Hogfather | Jingo | The Last Continent | Carpe Jugulum | The Fifth Elephant | The Truth | Thief of Time | The Last Hero | The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents | Night Watch | The Wee Free Men | Monstrous Regiment | A Hat Full of Sky | Going Postal | Thud! | Wintersmith | Making Money | Unseen Academicals | I Shall Wear Midnight | Snuff | Raising Steam | The Shepherd’s Crown

Saturday reading

Nova Swing, by M. John Harrison
Killdozer!, by Theodore Sturgeon
Strange Adventures, by Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner
Intimacy, by Jean Paul Sartre

Last books finished
The Eleventh Hour, by Jon Arnold
Lore Olympus, by Rachael Smythe
Face the Raven, by Sarah Groenewegen
No-Nonsense Guide to Global Media, by Peter Steven
Die, vol.3: The Great Game, by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles
End of the World Blues, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Die, vol 4: Bleed, by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles
Once & Future, vol. 3: The Parliament of Magpies, by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain
Once & Future, vol. 4: Monarchies in the UK,by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain
Junker: een Pruisische blues, by Simon Spruyt
The Monk, by Matthew Lewis

Next books
The Darwin Awards, by Wendy Northcutt
Guy Erma and the Son of Empire, by Sally Ann Melia

November 2016 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 at a work conference in darkest Kent, and on the day of the US election I was in Dublin, again for work, and spent the night in London for the sake of a rather brief TV interview. The next weekend it was off to Helsinki for my first Worldcon 75 meeting as Hugo Administrator. Colette Fozard was then my deputy, but in fact one of the Chairs of the convention resigned a week after the meeting, and Colette was appointed Vice-Chair in the subsequent reshuffle.

The Messukeskus was hosting an pet fair at the time. Check out the show-jumping rabbit:

I then went back to Dublin again for another work trip, and also visited the World Health Organisation in Geneva. At home in Leuven, the M Museum was hosting an exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia:

But I must say that the election of Donald Trump caused me to do so much doomscrolling that I read only three books in the whole of that month, the lowest tally since I started keeping count (and probably the lowest since I learned to read). They were:

Fiction (non-sf): 1 (YTD 28)
Kramer’s War, by Derek Robinson; get it here.

sf (non-Who): 1 (YTD 74)
Prime Minister Corbyn: and other things that never happened, eds. Duncan Brack and Iain Dale; get it here.

Comics: 1 (YTD 23)
Antarès, Épisode 1, by Leo; get it here in French and here in English.

800 pages (YTD 56,100 pages)
0/3 (YTD 59/193) by women
0/3 (YTD 12/193) by PoC

With only three books, I won’t choose a best or worst of the month.

Demons and Dreams: Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror v. 1, eds. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

The third thing in the main text of the book is actually “DX”, a poem by Joe Haldeman. The second verse (or equivalent; it’s rather free-form in format) is:

You dig a hole
and cover it with

I got hold of this because it includes the one and only published fantasy story by my distant cousin Elizabeth Helfman. It’s a compilation of 32 stories and four poems originally published in 1987, chosen by the good taste of Datlow and Windling, including classics like Ursula Le Guin’s “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight”, Jonathan Carroll’s “Friend’s Best Man”, George R.R. Martin’s “The Pear-Shaped Man”, and “Delta Sly Honey” by Lucius Shepard. In fact I think I was surprised by how many of the authors I already knew. The only other really obscure writer apart from Elizabeth Helfman is John Robert Bensink.

Anyway, it’s a good solid collection, though it reminded me from time to time why horror isn’t usually my thing. You can get it here.

Flicker, by Theodore Roszak

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Before long, I was asking myself how a tiny, hole-in-the-wall operation like The Classic could possibly require so much work. What with repairing, replacing, purchasing, cleaning) Polishing, picking up and delivering, my unpaid labor was soon snowballing into a full-time job, most of it menial drudgery. Each morning at breakfast, as strictly as a general marshaling her army of one, Clare would tick off the chores I was expected to discharge that day. Order more coffee for the espresso machine, buy more toilet paper, replace the burnt-out light bulbs, fix the broken seats, tack down the carpet in the lobby, chase to the printers, the distributors, the post office, the bank. There came a point when I began to wonder if our love affair was really a way for Clare to make up for years of neglect to her capital investment with the benefit of cheap labor. So I complained, if feebly, reminding her that I did after all have classes to attend and assignments to do.

I picked this up from the freebies table at Novacon, and eventually got around to it as the most popular book on my unread sf pile as of the end of last year. (Yes, it’s now June.) I’d previously read the author’s Tiptree-winning Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, so I was prepared for some fairly dense prose. I wasn’t expecting to be left until quite a late stage before being able to decide if this was really an sfnal book or not; in the end, I decided that it is – the plot is about an obscure religious cult with cinematic ambitions, and the author’s gradual entanglement therewith. The blurb suggests that it’s a cross between Sunset Boulevard and The Name of the Rose, and I think that is probably fair, though I have not seen Sunset Boulevard.

I’m not a film buff, and my Oscar-winners project has been in part a journey to try and get into the minds of those who are. There are lots of other areas of human endeavour that leave me cold – I cannot get excited about makes of car, for instance, and sports events outside the major championships don’t do all that much for me. Roszak did in fact manage to convey to me what it is to care about films. The book dates from 1991, still a time when films physically existed entirely on celluloid; it’s weird to reflect how thoroughly the practice of digital storage has affected our experience of the cinema.

Anyway, it’s a bit rambling, but I liked the sense of geography (mostly California but with a bit of Europe and elsewhere) and the cult itself was an interesting concept. You can get it here.

Next on the unread sf pile was Mythos by Stephen Fry, which I have in fact read in the meantime, so you’ll see it coming up here soon.

The Halls of Narrow Water: A family history, by Bill Hall

Second paragraph of third section of main narrative:

On arrival in Ireland, William Hall is believed to have been involved in mining at Red Bay near Carrickfergus  in Co. Antrim and to have died there in 1640.  There were other Halls in Antrim at that time.  However, they were no connection to William Hall and the subsequent Halls of Narrow Water.  William’s son Francis was born in 1620 and married Mary Lyndon daughter of Judge Lyndon of Galway.  We do not have any historical background on the Lyndon family of Galway, but given his status as a judge he would have been from a family of some influence.  There is a Francis Hall recorded as holding land in 1663 in the Barony of Glenarm, which is where Red Bay is located. Francis subsequently moved to Glassdrumman in County Armagh before buying the townland of Narrow Water and eight other townlands in 1680. Francis and Mary had four children, Roger, Edward, Alexander, Trevor and Frideswid.  The marriages of these children saw the beginning of a series of marriage alliances between the Halls and several influential and powerful families in Ireland.  Roger married Christine Poyntz, daughter of Sir Toby Poyntz; Edward married Anne Rowley and moved to Strangford, establishing another branch of the Hall family who were also to marry into a number of prominent families.  Frideswid married Colonel Chichester Fortescue of Drumiskin, the eldest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Fortescue Governor of Carrickfergus Castle, continuing the link with the Chichester Family.

I have mentioned previously that one of my father’s best friends as a child was Roger Hall, of the Halls of Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint on the southern shore of County Down; and my aunt Ursula and Roger’s sister Moira Hall shared a house in London for many years. I renewed contact with the Halls last summer, for the first time in decades; here’s F with Roger’s son M, who now runs the castle and the estate, in the snooker room which carries many memories.

Growing up, I didn’t especially know Roger and Moira’s younger brother Bill (formally Sir William Hall), but we had a great lunch together with various other relatives last August, and I was subsequently sent his book about the Hall family, which is available by private circulation only.

It’s a breezy 250-page compilation of archival material and personal reflection. The Troubles and the wider political situation are inevitably part of the book. One of the worst atrocities of the whole period took place literally at the castle gate. But the focus is on the Hall family and on their role within the community, and I must admit that my personal interest was in the anecdotes about my own family in the book.

To be honest, for most of the the three and a half centuries that the Halls have been based in Narrow Water, they kept their heads down and were unremarkable County Down landlords. The picture becomes more interesting with Frank Hall (Bill, Moira and Roger’s great uncle), a UVF gunrunner and spy. To Frank’s disgust, his nephew married a Gibraltarian and their children were brought up as Catholics, the ultimate betrayal for a fervent Loyalist.

Bill, Moira and Roger’s father died when the boys were still quite young, which led to complications in the administration of the Narrow Water estate. The legal convolutions to prevent it falling into the hands of the Catholic church are apparently a case study in such things. Undaunted, all of the children of that generation (there were three more sisters, but I only knew Moira) had adventurous lives. I’m very glad that Bill took the time to compile it all into digestible form.

October 2016 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 fair bit of travel that month, with an unsuccessful work trip to Berlin followed by a more successful work trip to London. My (second) godson’s christening helpfully coincided with a convention in Dublin.

I also had a Whovian encounter in Gent.

And the month ended with a reunion in Cambridge. Little did we know…

I read only eight books that month.

Non-fiction: 1 (YTD 33)
SPQR, by Mary Beard

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 27)
Seventeen, by Booth Tarkington
Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann

sf (non-Who): 2 (YTD 73)
Winter Song, by Colin Harvey
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in honour of Jack Vance, eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (YTD 36)
Short Trips: The Solar System, ed. Gary Russell
Companion Piece, by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker
The Joy Device, by Justin Richards

2,500 pages (YTD 55,600 pages)
2/8 (YTD 59/191) by women (Beard, Susann)
0/8 (YTD 12/191) by PoC

Liked SPQR, which you can get here, and Songs of the Dying Earth, which you can get here; didn’t care for Companion Piece, which you can get here, or The Joy Device, which you can get here.

The mystery of Sarah Locke

Sarah Locke, from 1810 Sarah Smith, was my great-great-great-grandmother. There’s no doubt about that. First, there’s a clear paper trail through her daughter, her grandson, and her great-granddaughter who was my grandmother; and second, there’s also clear DNA evidence that I am related to other descendants of her daughter, another Sarah, which generally means that I should be descended from Sarah Locke as well. (Even though she was Sarah Smith for most of her life, I’m going to call her Sarah Locke here to avoid confusion.) The marriage certificate, a 1905 transcript of the original, is the most solid document we have about her life. (The date, 5 March 1810, is not on this document but is noted elsewhere in the records of Dover, New Hampshire.)

Marriage certificate between John Smith, born 14 November 1784, and Sarah Locke, botn 27 July 1783, transcribed by Fred E. Quimby, 28 September 1905.

The date of birth given in the marriage certificate is 24 July 1783, which makes her 26 on her wedding day, and 16 months older than her husband; and there is a birth certificate, also transcribed by Fred Quimby, the town clerk of Dover NH in 1905, which gives the same date.

Birth certificate of Sarah Locke, born 27 July 1783, transcribed by Fred E. Quimby, 14 September 1905

But the 1850 census gives her age as 57 – she is living in Boston with my great-great-grandparents, her oldest daughter Sarah, and Sarah’s husband William Charlton Hibbard, and their baby daughter (who died in 1852, before her third birthday). And the 1860 census gives her age as 67 – now she is living in St Louis with her youngest daughter Mary, Mary’s husband John Deming, his parents and a teenaged Irish servant. (John Deming is rather a romantic figure; as a riverboat pilot he trained with Sam Clemens, later Mark Twain, and ran the Confederate blockades on the Mississippi during the Civil War.)

1850 census return for Sarah Smith, aged 57, Sarah A. Hibbard, aged 35, Mary Hibbard, aged six months and William C. Hibbard, aged 36.
1860 census return for John Deming, aged 44, Mary Deming, aged 34, Sarah Smith, aged 6, Ralph Deming, aged 70, Lucretia Deming, aged 70 and Anna Powers, aged 16.

So it looks like Fred E. Quimby, the town clerk of Dover, New Hampshire, made the same mistake twice when transcribing the birth and marriage certificates in 1905, and Sarah was actually born on 27 July 1793 not 1783, making her 16 years old when she married John Smith on 5 March 1810. (Their first child was born on 21 September, so she was probably ten or eleven weeks pregnant on the day of the wedding.) This is also mildly supported by the age of the youngest daughter, Mary, born in January 1826; 42-year-old mothers are not unknown, even in the early nineteenth century, but 32-year-old mothers are a lot more common.

Sarah’s husband John Smith melts away into the early nineteenth-century mists of people with the same name. My grandmother suggests in her memoirs that he was an alcoholic (though he would have died long before she was born in 1899). I’ve had correspondence from another researcher who thinks that he was in a bigamous marriage with a woman from Massachusetts and raised another family with her in upstate New York. In any case, he drops out of the picture at some point after Mary was born in 1826. I do not know when or where Sarah died, though obviously it was after 1860.

Edited to add: I now have good DNA evidence that Sarah Smith’s biological father was not the John Smith who Sarah Locke married, but a Benjamin Cleveland who was born in Massachusetts, and was living in upstate New York in 1814-15.

There is a further mystery associated with Sarah Locke’s birth: who were her parents?

When first adding her to my family tree on Ancestry.com, I found that another user had tagged her, though with no supporting evidence, as the child of Joseph Locke (1759-1837) and Tirzah Arms (1768-1838), both of whom were born and died in the Connecticut River valley in western Massachusetts. This is not exactly next door to Dover, NH, where Sarah was born and married, but it is not impossibly far either. If the 1793 birth date for Sarah is correct, she was born two days after Tirzah’s 25th birthday, and Joseph would have been 34. It seemed plausible enough, and I moved on to other details.

As the months passed, Ancestry.com flagged up a couple of genetic connections on each side – people for whom there is a paper trail to show that they are descended from siblings of Joseph and of Tirzah, and who also share some DNA with me. Obviously there is always the possibility of other lines of genealogical connection which I missed in the records, or indeed which are not recorded, but this strongly supported the idea that Sarah was Joseph and Tirzah’s daughter.

Then I got a note from another researcher, asking why on earth I had made this connection, and referring me to The Book of the Lockes: A Genealogical and Historical Record of the Descendants of William Locke, of Woburn, published in 1853. The entry on Joseph Locke is potentially devastating for my theory of Sarah’s parentage.

Joseph [Locke], b. May 1758; m. Tirzah Armes, of Greenfield, 1809. He removed from Wendell to Hadley about 1787; was a farmer and also master of a freight boat running from Hadley to Hartford, Ct; was a soldier in the war of the Revolution; Capt. of the Militia, and was “a worthy and much respected man.” He had no chil. but adopted Stephen Lawrence, a relative of his wife, who inherited his property and d. at Hadley 1850, leaving a wf. and one child. Capt. Locke d. Dec. 16, 1837, a. 79 yrs. and 7 mos. and his wid. d. Oct. 12, 1838, a. 70 yrs. and 2 mos.

There are a couple of trivial errors here. Joseph’s birth is clearly recorded in the Shutesbury town records as 1759, not 1758, and his marriage with Tirzah in January 1806, not 1809. (And their adopted son seems to have died in 1851, not 1850.) But even taking all of that into account, it is a bad look for the notion that Sarah was their child; the family records – written only fifteen years after they died – say that Joseph and Tirzah had no biological children, and the official records (if I interpret them correctly) show that their marriage took place twelve and a half years after Sarah was born, 200 km away in another state.

Map of Massachusetts showing Greenfield, Wendell, Shutesbury, Hadley and Boston, also Dover NH and Hartford CT.

And yet. On their wedding day in 1806, Joseph was 46 and Tirzah 37. That’s on the older side for a first marriage even now, and more so then, especially for her. There also remains the fact that I appear to have independent DNA connections to both of them. And there seem to be no other potential parents for Sarah out there. What if…

Maybe Joseph and Tirzah had been a couple since around 1790; maybe she fell pregnant with Sarah, and went to stay with friends or relatives in New Hampshire to give birth in 1793, and Sarah was brought up there, acknowledged as Joseph’s child with his surname by the folks in New Hampshire; maybe by 1806, circumstances had changed and Joseph and Tirzah decided to formalise their relationship at last, but too late to acknowledge their twelve-year-old daughter among their western Massachusetts friends and relatives, for the sake of his reputation as “a worthy and much respected man”?

And it is a nice coincidence that Joseph Locke was the master of a freight boat on the Connecticut River, and his theoretical granddaughter Mary Smith married a Mississippi river pilot, a decade after he died.

There are other possibilities. Joseph had four brothers and five sisters. Tirzah had two brothers and three sisters who survived to adulthood. As I said before, there may well be other lines of genealogical connection which I missed in the records, or indeed which are not recorded at all. But the above theory is the best I can offer right now. Occam’s razor can sometimes shave in strange patterns.

PS: Tirzah is an unusual name these days. It’s biblical of course; she was one of the five daughters of Zelophehad who asked Moses for justice (Numbers 26-27). William Blake’s poem ”To Tirzah” is one of the Songs of Innocence and Experience published in 1789, when Tirzah Arms was 21. In 1880, Lew Wallace gave the name Tirzah to the sister of Ben-Hur, played by Cathy O’Donnell in the 1959 film. It is also the name of a present-day British musician.

A fictional Tirzah Locke is the subject of a grim fable published in Boston in 1840, about a young girl who transgresses God’s law by reading after bedtime and is blinded as a result. (Reprinted in shorter form in 1853.) It must surely be a coincidence that her name is the same as the married name of my possible 4xgreat-grandmother, who had died in 1838.

Saturday reading

The Monk, by Matthew Lewis (a chapter a week)
End of the World Blues, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Lore Olympus, by Rachael Smythe

Last books finished
Directed by Douglas Camfield, by Michael Seely
Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism, by Elsa Sjunneson
Monstress, Volume 6: The Vow, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Half Life, by Shelley Jackson
The Happier Dead, by Ivo Stourton
The HAVOC Files, Volume 4, ed. Shaun Russell
Far Sector, by N.K. Jemisin and Jamal Campbell
Queen of the States, by Josephine Saxton

Next books
No-Nonsense Guide to Global Media, by Peter Steven
Junker: een Pruisische blues, by Simon Spruyt


WALL-E won both the 2009 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and the last ever Nebula Award for Best Script (it’s now the Ray Bradbury Award). I watched it soon after it came out (on DVD, I think). In both cases it beat The Dark Knight, which actually got my first preference for the Hugo; the other Nebula contender was a TV episode, and the other Hugo contenders were Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Iron Man and an audio anthology, METAtropolis. WALL-E was comfortably ahead of the field at nominations stage, and blew away the opposition in the final ballot.

I must say that re-watching WALL-E, I am a bit ashamed that my cynical curmudgeonly heart did not incline me to go with the majority in 2009. Having said that, IMDB users put The Dark Knight ahead of it on both rankings of 2008 films, WALL-E ending up second on one list and 21st on the other (ahead of Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire in both cases), so my 2009 vote was aligned with today’s critical consensus.

It’s not a flawless film. To have a cute robot with droopy sad eyes, and its even cuter insect buddy, is of course hugely manipulative.

I also noticed that although the humans are somewhat diverse, only the white ones get to speak; and there is a lot of fat-shaming going on.

But the depiction of a devastated, polluted and abandoned Earth is tremendous. It’s an old sf trope, of course, and I was particularly reminded of Brian Aldiss’s “Who Can Replace a Man?

And the humour of WALL-E as fish out of water, trying to understand the ways of humanity and also trying to share his enthusiasms with his new friend once EVE appears, is very nicely done; especially as his hobby is humanity on Earth – and now we’re getting into the territory of another favourite story of mine, Roger Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tarry”.

It’s also always good to show humans as we might appear to others, even if the others are cute anthropomorphic robots…

And yet, on reflection I think I have argued myself around to my first viewpoint, that this is a cute and sweet and funny film, with moments of greatness, but I think I stand by my 2009 vote.

I’m going to take the next two Oscar Winners before I get to the following year’s Hug and Bradbury films, which are respectively Moon and District 9.

Marco Polo, by Dene October (and John Lucarotti)

Next in the sequence of Black Archive books about Doctor Who. In this case I had actually listened to the audio reconstruction again quite recently, so I didn’t repeat that for this blog post, just reading the novelisation again as well as the Black Archive analysis.

When I first listened to it in 2007, I wrote:

This is the fourth ever Doctor Who story, broadcast in 1964, and the earliest one to be lost conpletely from the archives. It was also the first purely historical Doctor Who story, telling simply of an encounter between the time travellers and Marco Polo (and eventually Kublai Khan) in the late thirteenth century.

I bought the soundtrack with linking narration from William Russell, who played Ian Chesterton in the original series. It’s generally pretty good though the fifth episode sound quality is rather lousy. I was also misled by one of the hidden extras – the first of the three CDs includes also all seven episodes as MP3s without narration, and since this is nowhere stated I ended up loading them by mistake.

Took me a while – first started this the week before last, and took a break from it while I was travelling. But it is in fact very good. Seven episodes is about right for a leisurely plot, with Susan bonding with the maiden Ping-Cho, and the others dealing with the treacherous warlord Tegana and with Marco Polo himself, who decides to seize the Tardis and offer it to the Khan as his ticket home to Venice. (Or, as Croatian lore would have it, Korcula.)

It builds to a satisfying conclusion with the Doctor playing the Great Khan at backgammon, with the Tardis as the stake. Marco Polo himself, weighing in the balance his honour, his liking and respect for Ian and the others, and his desire to get home, is an interesting character study.

A shame, but I guess understandable, that they stopped making stories like this one after a while.

When I returned to it for my Great Rewatch in 2009, I wrote:

Marco Polo is the only lost story in this run, but I was able to get hold of the reconstruction which tops and tails the original story with filmed pieces featuring Mark Eden as a much older Marco Polo reminiscing. The colour snaps illustrating the soundtrack make it look fantastic, and the visual cues give it a real sense of place as well, as the narrative shifts from the mountain passes to the court via the desert and staging towns. And it is rather bleak in places – the Doctor’s illness is not funny, the murderous plans of Tegana even less so. Susan gets a welcome bit of character development through her relationship with Ping-Cho. (Marco Polo, Tegana and the Great Khan are reunited in 1967 for an episode of The Prisoner, “It’s Your Funeral”, which gives another flavour of how this must have looked.) This is the first story that doesn’t lead directly into the next at the end of the last episode.

Coming back to the audio in 2020, I wrote:

Listening to it again – the 25-minute episodes are just right for timing a lunchtime walk under lockdown – I still found it enjoyable. The dynamic between Polo and the Tardis crew is a little odd – I thought that they gave in to Polo a bit too quickly, and also for someone who has not actually looked inside the Tardis he seems pretty sure that it will transform his relationship with the Khan. But that aside, it’s well written and well executed. And as I’ve said tbefore, the recons make it look gorgeous.

I did wonder, however, if anyone seriously thought that this was educational. The original remit for the show was supposedly that the historical stories would get kids interested in history. Well, I fear you’ll scan the history books in vain to find out any more about Ping-Cho, the warlord Tegana, or the very camp innkeeper at Sheng-Ting. But maybe it’s better to scan the history books for something that’s not there, than not to look into them at all.

You can easily google the Loose Cannon reconstruction of the story, and you can get the audio here.

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

The journey to Lop, through the undulating farmland, was pleasant. Marco, Ian, Barbara and Tegana were on horseback which meant that the two wagons for the travellers had, in the first, the Doctor muttering irascibly to himself and, in the second, Susan with Ping-Cho giggling, gossiping and playing games. The tent, now without the furs to line it, was pitched in the evenings and Ping-Cho, with both Barbara and Susan helping, would prepare them a ‘proper’ meal as the Doctor described it. But, as they approached Lop, the landscape changed: the earth became dry and dusty, the outcrops of green fewer and farther between for Lop was built on the edge of the vast Gobi desert and, whereas Yarkand had been a town, Lop was little more than an oasis, a natural spring, surrounded by tents and wooden shacks. But the main building, the way-station or hotel, was well-appointed. The manager, Yeng, a dignified Chinese who never took his hands out of his jacket sleeves, greeted Marco courteously and gave orders for the horses to be stabled. The baggage train was put into a compound, but the Doctor insisted that the wagon with the TARDIS be placed in the main courtyard where he could keep an eye on it. Smiling, Marco agreed with him.

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who – Marco Polo is certainly the best of John Lucarotti’s three Who books (the other two being Doctor Who – The Aztecs and Doctor Who – The Massacre). Possibly the need to be fairly concise – cutting down from a seven episode story, rather than writing up from four – made a difference. It’s a cracking good story anyway, and the fact that we have only sound rather than video records of it makes Lucarotti’s presentation all the more valuable. He has a rather peculiar fascination with detailing the various different Chinese prawn dishes that the Tardis crew consume en route, but this of course just adds to the depth of the setting. Really rather a good one.

On re-reading, I still like it a lot; but I was a little unfair about the prawn dishes. For the record, these are the meals and drinks mentioned in the book:

  • Chapter 2: “Bean sprout and chicken broth”
  • Chapter 3: “two small Tan Chiao omelettes stuffed with minced fresh water shrimps and […] a bowl of tea”
  • Chapter 4: “a bowl of tea and two Tan Chiao omelettes stuffed with chopped water-chestnuts and pork”
  • Chapter 6: “sesame seed pings followed by soochow chiang, a delicious mixture of pork,
    mushrooms and bamboo shoots served with a succulent sauce and rice wine”
  • Chapter 11: “‘Chicken-fat braised carp”
  • Chapter 12: “a mellow white wine”
  • Chapter 15 (banquet scene): “There was a choice of, at least, fifteen soups, including one called a ‘water-melon pond’, and egg dishes in profusion followed by fresh-water as well as sea-water fishes and crustaceans. Then, of course, came the poultry dishes which reminded the Doctor of the old adage that the Chinese eat everything bar the feathers. Next on the menu were the meat and vegetable bowls served with a multitude of rices, after which the meal was rounded out with a variety of desserts. The wines were of every hue and taste and to the Doctor’s astonishment there were Italian and French ones as well as champagne. / ‘My father imports them,’ Marco said modestly.”
  • Chapter 15 (later): “a succulent slice of pineapple roast duck” … “a dried shrimp wanton” … “a Lan-Chow steamed dumpling” … “chicken chessmen”
  • Chapter 16: “Yang-Chow shrimp balls”

I think that is more discussion of food than you will find in any six other Doctor Who books, combined. And shrimps (not prawns) are in only about half of them. You can get the novelisation here.

Dene October’s Black Archive on Marco Polo is one of the longer ones in this series. He makes a very strong argument that this story, which most fans like without necessarily loving, should be considered as one of the peaks of Old Who. Sadly, those of us who did not see it will need to rely on his word. It is enhanced by the fact that October actually saw Marco Polo twice – when originally broadcast by the BBC, and then again a year after in Australia where his family had meantime moved. He therefore has a huge advantage over most of the rest of us who will probably never see any of the seven lost episodes; if they were findable, they would surely have been found by now.

(As I said in a previous entry, I used to have fantasies of some day opening a long-shut cupboard in the Green Zone in Cyprus to find a bunch of Doctor Who tapes that had been abandoned by some luckless TV technician in 1974, but in fact now that I’ve established that the Green Zone in Nicosia is still basically where it was when established in 1963, I accept that this is never going to happen, especially not to me.)

Like the original story, October’s book is divided into seven chapters. In a really interesting first chapter, October insists that the story should in fact be seen as educational, as a dramatisation of the original Travels of Marco Polo with a didactic agenda. My instinct is that this is over-analysis; the purpose of the drama is the drama. If this had not been Hugo season, I’d have read the Travels too to make up my own mind. In any case I have acquired it and will get to it sooner or later. October goes further into detail on both the Reithian missionof the BBC and the extent to which the original Travels can be regarded as fictional anyway. It’s one of the most interesting sections I have read of any of the books in this series.

The second chapter looks at the soundscape of the episode, the low visibility of the Doctor and the voice of Marco Polo as the central character and audience identification figure – very unusual for Old Who, rarely done in New Who.

The third chapter looks at the visuals of the story, especially the camerawork. The second paragraph is:

3.1 ‘Pray Attend Me While I Tell My Tale’: Staging History
Ping-Cho’s carefully planned dance makes for an unusual history lesson, something Ian picks up on immediately in quizzing Susan about the English derivation of the word ‘Hashashins’. Ian’s teacherly prompt is in many ways a remediation of the Chinese girl’s poem, one he perhaps feels remedies her version, and uses a more appropriate medium. In a sense, Ping-Cho and Ian are both educators using different media and reflecting the programme’s challenges in delivering historical content to a mixed family audience.

October insists that the lost visuals impact of the series was particularly good. This is frustratingly difficult to prove, as all we have are a few still shots and people’s memories, but it’s good to hear.

The fourth chapter has October reflecting on the fallibility of his own memory of having seen the show twice, and on the way in which viewers experience television. He then veers off into a fascinating sidetrack on the memory abilities of the historical Marco Polo, based on the identifiable mistakes in the Travels – he does not mention the Great Wall, for instance.

The fifth chapter looks at travel as a narrative device, and again invokes the Travels as a point of comparison for how we experience the Doctor Who story.

The sixth chapter looks at the character of the Khan, and the portrayal of rulership and of the Orient in the story.

The seventh chapter combines three important themes: Marco Polo‘s portrayal of gender, the reliability of the narrator, and how fans have worked to retain and reconstruct the lost story.

It’s one of the good ones in this series, and made me think a lot more about the story than I had expected. 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)

Best Novel Hugo, 2022

As before, just noting that I have read them all, without specifying my preferences.

A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine

(Three months ago, even if she’d somehow reached this exalted position in the Ministry, complete with her own tiny office with a tiny window only one floor down from the Minister herself, Three Seagrass would have been asleep in her house, and missed the message entirely. There: she’d justified clinical-grade insomnia as a meritorious action, one which would enable her to deal with a problem before anyone else awoke; that was half her work done for the day, surely.)

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers

Roveg sat in the middle of the tableau, his abdominal legs folded properly beneath him while his thoracic legs engaged with the serious business of finishing a lengthy breakfast. A variety of foods were spread across the table in front of him, all carefully selected from the stasie that morning. He’d arranged a somewhat Aandrisk-influenced spread: grain crackers with snapfruit preserves, spicy fermented fungus paste rolled in fresh saab tesh, and a few choice slices of hot smoked river eel (this was an Aeluon addition, but it complimented the other offerings well). A bowl of tea tied the arrangement together – a delicate Laru blend, as it happened – along with a small glass of seagrass juice. The latter beverage was the only part of the meal that originated with Roveg’s own species, and though he’d had many sorts of breakfasts on many different worlds, he still swore by that hard-shelled Quelin tradition of starting the morning with a cleansing shot of the stuff. Some habits, he could never break.

Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki

Once common in LA’s Eisenhower years, just a few of these giant donuts remained in greater Los Angeles. There were Kindle’s Donuts, Dale’s Donuts, and Randy’s Donuts, of course. Donut King II was in Gardena. In La Puente, there was the drive-through Donut Hole.

A Master of Djinn, by P. Djèlí Clark

As she rode, her mind cataloged the night’s events. It had taken days to follow up on Khalid’s tip. Identifying the bottle. Arranging the meetup and creating her undercover persona. She’d even gotten a new suit— to perfect the look of the eccentric socialite. Things hadn’t exactly gone as planned. Then again, did they ever? Who thought that kid had it in him to summon up a Marid djinn and then demand wishes?

Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir

“Lightning round!” yelled my students.

She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan

The sunshine was warm, and Xu Da had taken off his shirt and both robes to work half- naked in his trousers. At sixteen, the hard labor had already given him a man’s body. Zhu said a little tartly, “You’re asking to die, running around like that.” Prefect Fang never hesitated to wield his bamboo on novices who violated the rules of dignified monkly attire. Twelve- year- old Zhu, who felt an existential chill whenever she was forced to acknowledge the fact of her boyish but undeniably not- male body, appreciated Prefect Fang’s strictness more than anyone realized. “You think you’re that good- looking everyone wants to see you?”

Terrorism In Asymmetric Conflict: Ideological and Structural Aspects, by Ekaterina A. Stepanova

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Much has been written about the ‘sharp’ rise of ‘religious terrorism’ during the last decades of the 20th century and about its growing internationalization and international impact. However, to back this thesis most analysts choose not to look at the available data directly. The same few pieces of quantitative evidence are usually quoted, covering the same period of time (from the late 1960s until the mid-1990s) and derived from the same sources—most commonly from terrorism experts Bruce Hoffman and Magnus Ranstorp. For example, these experts’ reference to the fact that over the 30-year period until the mid-1990s the number of radical fundamentalist religious groups professing various confessions tripled has been reproduced in a number of analyses. These analyses also note that there was an increase in terrorist groups of an ‘explicitly religious’ character from virtually no such groups in 1968 to a quarter of all terrorist organiza-tions by the early 1990s (somewhat declining to 20 per cent of approximately 50 active terrorist groups in the mid-1990s).77
77 E.g. Hoffman, B., “‘Holy terror”: the implications of terrorism motivated by a religious imperative’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol. 18, no. 4 (Oct.–Dec. 1995), p. 272—for an earlier version see Hoffman, B., ‘Holy Terror’: The Implications of Terrorism Motivated by a Religious Imperative (RAND: Santa Monica, Calif, 1993), <https://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/P7834.html>, p. 2; Ranstorp, M., ‘Terrorism in the name of religion’, Journal of International Affairs, vol. 50, no. 1 (summer 1996), pp. 41-62; Hoffman, B., ‘Terrorism trends and prospects’, I. 0. Lesser et al., Countering the New Terrorism (RAND: Santa Monica, Calif, 1999), http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR989/, pp. 16-17; and Hoffman, B., ‘Old madness, new methods: revival of religious terrorism begs for broader U.S. policy’, RAND Review, vol. 22, no. 2 (winter 1998/99), pp. 12-17.

I found this in my luggage while travelling the other weekend, a 2008 paper from the Swedish thinktank SIPRI by Ekaterina Stepanova. I owe her a bit of a public explanation, actually; she now works at IMEMO, one of the better Russian thinktanks, and asked me (and I agreed) several months ago to write a piece on unrecognised states for their journal. However, after February I felt that this is not really the time to be writing even for one of the better Russian thinktanks, and withdrew with apologies.

It’s a typically detailed paper, though it really made me realise just how much the discourse has changed in the last 14 years. The actual seizure of territory on a large scale by Islamist terror groups only really happened four to five years later, and that has totally changed the analytical framework. Stepanova can’t be blamed for not foreseeing that; few people did.

I think however she also missed the opportunity to look at domestic political terrorism, which is a rising problem in all Western countries, but which she excludes from her analysis. The American mass shootings and the Taliban’s summary justice are linked by a common thread of ideologically motivated brutality, and I wonder whether there’s some useful parallel to be drawn. I don’t know if there is, which is why I ask the question.

Anyway, despite the dense subject matter, I found it a quick read. You can get it here.

Signs and Symbols Around the World, by Elizabeth S. Helfman

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Hieroglyphic writing included many signs that can be called pictographs. They are simplified pictures of things, some of them quite recognizable. But hieroglyphic writing was not picture writing in the same sense as American Indian picture writing. It was more than that, and it was much more complex.

Elizabeth S. Helfman (1911-2001) was my second cousin once removed. Her maiden name was Seaver and her father, my grandmother’s first cousin, was a well-known architect in western Massachusetts. She was trained as a teacher, and married an artist; she wrote a load of non-fiction books for younger readers, and also published one fantasy short story in 1987, which got a couple of best-of anthology reprints.

This is her top book on LibraryThing, due no doubt to a reprint in 2000, and was easy enough to get hold of. It’s a breezy account of how signs and symbols have been used from ancient times to the present day (ie 1973), going through hieroglyphs, pictograms, trademarks, alchemy, and her own particular enthusiasm, Blissymbolics, a writing system designed for people with communication difficulties (simple enough, but alas too advanced for my own daughters). The book is endorsed by Margaret Mead, yes, the real one. You can get it here.

Probably nobody else will do this, so here is her complete bibliography as far as I can establish it from the Library of Congress.

  • Trudy, the motherly hen; illustrated by Grace Paull (New York: J. Messner [1954])
  • Patsy Pat, a duck’s story. Photographed by Grete Mannheim (New York: Dutton, 1958)
  • Get ready to read (New York: Platt & Munk [1960])
  • Words, words, words; picture stories, rhymes and word games to build vocabulary in the early school years (New York: Platt & Munk [1960])
  • Water for the world, illustrated by James MacDonald (New York: Longmans, Green, 1960)
  • Land, people, and history (New York: D. McKay Co., 1962)
  • Milkman Freddy, illustrated by Zhenya Gay (Chicago: Melmont Publishers [1964])
  • Rivers and watersheds in America’s future (New York: D. McKay Co., 1965)
  • Strings on your fingers; how to make string figures, by Harry and Elizabeth Helfman, illustrated by William Meyerriecks (New York: William Morrow, 1965)
  • Signs and symbols around the world (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. [1967])
  • Wheels, scoops, and buckets; how people lift water for their fields, illustrated by Eva Cellini (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard [1968])
  • Celebrating nature; rites and ceremonies around the world, with drawings by Carolyn Cather (New York: Seabury Press [1969])
  • This hungry world (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard [1970])
  • The Bushmen and their stories, with drawings by Richard Cuffari (New York: Seabury Press [1971])
  • Our fragile earth (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. [1972])
  • Maypoles and wood demons; the meaning of trees, with drawings by Richard Cuffari (New York: Seabury Press [1972])
  • Signs and symbols of the sun (New York: Seabury Press [1974])
  • Apples, apples, apples (Nashville: T. Nelson, ?1977)
  • Blissymbolics, speaking without speech (New York: Elsevier/Nelson Books, ?1980)
  • Memories and shadows (South Thomaston, Maine: Produced in association with the Conservatory of American Letters and Northwoods Press, ?1990)
  • On being Sarah; illustrated by Lino Saffioti (Morton Grove, Ill.: A. Whitman, 1993)

And her one fantasy story, “Voices in the Wind”, which can be found in the following anthologies:

  • Spaceships and Spells, eds. Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh, Jane Yolen (1987)
  • Demons and Dreams: The Best Fantasy and Horror 1 aka The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection, eds. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (1988)
  • Visions of Fantasy: Tales from the Masters, eds. Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (1989)

I’m very grateful to her son Robert Helfman for pointing me to these.

Best Related Work Hugo, 2022

As previously, I’m not going to record my own preferences here, just the fact that I’ve read this category.

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism, by Elsa Sjunneson. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Your fingertips have been dulled over decades of use, used to blunt force instead of sensitive consideration of the subtle differences in a texture. You have no idea how to find the world beneath them until you’ve tried.

The Complete Debarkle: Saga of a Culture War, by Camestros Felapton. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Part 1 of our Debarkle saga is estories [sic] about the past. Most of them take place this century but some of the precursors to the events in our saga take place in the Twentieth Century. I can’t hope to do justice to the full breadth of science fiction’s history but I will be looking at selected events from that history that have repercussions to later events. What follows in this chapter is a whistle-stop tour over many decades up to the early 1990s to just briefly touch on some elements of the past that will re-appear later. We’ll touch briefly on the roots of early fandom but mainly highlight some parts of US history that will be important later.

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985, edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre. Second paragraph of third essay (Radioactive Nightmares: Nuclear War in Science Fiction, by Andrew Nette):

One of the most chilling takes is American academic Mordecai Roshwald’s novel Level 7. An unnamed soldier is assigned to the lowest level of a massive selfsuffcient underground military complex, where he and hundreds of others are expected to reside forever. Known only as X-127, he is a “push-button offensive initiator” of his nation’s arsenal of intercontinental nuclear missiles. The story is told via X-127’s diary: his low spirits at never seeing the sun again, doubts about his job, the physical adjustment to living four thousand feet—over twelve hundred meters—underground. The monotony of level 7 life is interrupted only by the occasional directive from the speakers of an intercom system, their sole means of communicating with the other levels. The several hundred men and women of level 7 develop a strange ersatz version of society, complete with marriage and their own mythology to justify life underground to the children that will come from these unions. Then the order comes to launch the missiles.

“How Twitter can ruin a life”, by Emily St. James. Second paragraph of third section:

It’s incredibly hard to imagine “Attack Helicopter” receiving the degree of blowback it did in a world where Twitter didn’t exist. There were discussions of the story on forums and in comment threads all over the internet, but it is the nature of Twitter that all but ensured this particular argument would rage out of control. Isabel Fall’s story has been held up as an example of “cancel culture run amok,” but like almost all examples of cancel culture run amok, it’s mostly an example of Twitter run amok.

Never Say You Can’t Survive, by Charlie Jane Anders. Second paragraph of third chapter:

I had a severe learning disability in elementary school— I nearly flunked out of first grade, second grade, and third grade. I couldn’t hold a pencil right, no matter how many times people showed me, and when I tried to put words on paper, the outcome was an unreadable jumble. I sat and stared at my blank notebook page, inhaling the scent of stale PB&J crumbs and spilt chocolate milk, while the teacher got more frustrated and the other kids made fun of me.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, by Abraham Riesman. Second paragraph of third chapter:

His schemes for departure from the comic-book trade in the 1940s and ’50s were varied, but they all hit dead ends for one reason or another: tragic luck, infertile business climate, deficit of inspiration, what have you. As a result, he never quit his day job. Timely Comics, or whatever it was called on a given week, continued to churn out four- color narratives, and Stan was back to being in charge of the whole line, despite his still- young age. Fago was relieved of his duties as head editor and would later note that Goodman, whatever his flaws, seemed to trust Stan. “Goodman never interfered with what Stan was doing,” Fago said. “He had faith in Stan. He knew Stan was in control and that his work was good.” Stan had associate editors, but was firmly in charge and trusted his gut instincts while navigating the waters of the adolescent comics industry— waters that would soon become dangerously choppy.

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, by Simon Bucher-Jones (and Matt Jones)

Next in the excellent Black Archive line of short books about individual Doctor Who stories, this looks at a two-parter from Series 2 of New Who, a story where the Tenth Doctor and Rose are stranded on a planet orbiting a black hole which imprisons, well, the Devil. The author, Simon Bucher-Jones, has written several Who novels, and also did the Black Archive book on Image of the Fendahl (and a more recent one on The Hand of Fear). He does not mention if he is related to the author of the TV story, Matt Jones, but their surname is the fourth most common in England and the most common surname in Wales, so chances are that they are not.

I don’t seem to have made a note about this story when it was first broadcast. When I first rewatched it in 2013, I wrote:

 I fear this is becoming a boring refrain, but I had forgotten how good The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit actually is. I think it is our first proper base-under-siege story in New Who (perhaps arguments can be made for The End of the World or Dalek, but I won’t) and perhaps it’s a return to that comfort zone of Old Who, with the difference of a more diverse base crew than Old Who would have had (the black guy would never have been in command in the old days, and the smart woman would never have been chief scientist). The scarily different bit is not so much the monster – though it is well done, both the descent to the pit and the technical realisation of a superhuman incarnation of evil – but the Ood, who are very creepy indeed. Having a slave race never works out well in Who, but here the message is that by exploiting the Ood, humanity has opened a potential route for its own destruction. Terrific stuff.

Rewatching it now, I was again pleasantly surprised. David Tennant is always watchable, but here the chemistry between him and Billie Piper is at its peak. It also struck me that the plot element of the TARDIS being lost on a world where a more cosmic battle is playing out had been done before, and worse, in Frontios.

This is not one of the small (but growing) number of New Who stories to have been novelised, so I’ll jump straight into the Black Archive book, which is short and punchy.

The first chapter reflects on just how few New Who episodes are set on other planets, compared to most of Old Who (apart from the Pertwee era), the reasons for this, and how this shapes the sort of programme it becomes.

The second chapter, the longest in the book, goes in depth into the physics of black holes and how they are portrayed in fiction, notably in The Three Doctors in Old Who as well as the Disney film. I had not realised, or had forgotten, that the term “black hole” was coined as late as 1967, only a few years before The Three Doctors was shown.

The third chapter, almost as long, looks at the Devil as portrayed in Christianity, and satanic creatures as portrayed in science fiction (rather than fantasy) in general and Who in particular. Its second paragraph is (with footnotes):

As Sherlock Holmes – with whom the third Doctor has often been compared (as the Master has with Moriarty)119 – remarked, ‘The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.’120 The Doctor might well have said in The Daemons, and almost will say in The Satan Pit, ‘The universe is big enough for us. No Devils from before it need apply.’
119 While the fourth Doctor dresses like him in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977), the third arguably does so all the time: while he doesn’t affect a deerstalker like the theatrical or televisual Holmes, he does have an inverness travelling cape.
120 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of The Sussex Vampire’, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes p73.

The fourth chapter looks much more briefly at the Ood and the problematics of slavery.

The fifth and final chapter looks even more briefly at the Doctor’s fear of domestication, ie of settling down with Rose, even though he obviously loves her.

A first appendix apparently has a graph in the paper version, absent from the electronic publication, listing all of the alien planets to date in Doctor Who.

A second and final appendix very briefly goes back to the Beast, making the connection with Sutekh and with Abaddon in Torchwood, points that I felt could actually have been folded into the third chapter.

As usual with these books, recommended, even though there’s very little about the production process of the TV show in this case. 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)

September 2016 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 this month, starting rather sadly with a weekend trip to Brussels to say farewell to Ian Traynor. Back at home we had the traditional Dorpfeest, including children’s toy and game sale, and display by local artists including Anne:

Lots of travel, starting with a trip to London (and Oxford), including the Bagpuss and Clangers exhibition with S and little W (who has got a lot bigger since).

This was followed by a grim work trip to Dublin and Serbia in which my back was hurting so badly that I barely staggered out of bed to my meetings. At the end of the month I went to Amsterdam with my brother, mother and sister, and then on to Albania for my first meetings with the Foundation of which I am a trustee.

I read 18 books that month.

Non-fiction: 1 (YTD 32)
A History of the World in Twelve Maps, by Jerry Brotton

Fiction (non-sf): 5 (YTD 25)
Brother and Sister, by Joanna Trollope
Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
Nemesis, by Philip Roth
The Dinner, by Herman Koch

sf (non-Who): 5 (YTD 72)
The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4, ed. Mahvesh Murad
One Does Not Simply Walk into Tudor, by Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague
Cauldron, by Jack McDevitt
Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack
The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 33)
Short Trips: A Day In The Life, ed. Ian Farrington
Independence Day, by Peter Darville-Evans
Return to the Fractured Planet, by Dave Stone
In The Blood, by Jenny Colgan

Comics: 3 (YTD 22)
Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Prisoners of Time, by Scott and David Tipton
Toch Een Geluk, by Barbara Stok

6,200 pages (YTD 53,100 pages)
6/18 (YTD 57/183) by women (Trollope, Murad, Kirk/Teague, Pollack, Colgan, Stok)
2/18 (YTD 12/183) by PoC (Murad, Chiang)

Great to return to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which you can get here; great to read Nemesis, by Philip Roth, which you can get here. Unimpressed by Peter Darville-Evans’ Independence Day, but you can get it here.