September books

Non-fiction 6 (YTD 76)
Political Animals, by Bev Laing
Matt Smith: The Biography, by Emily Herbert
Doctor Who (1996), by Paul Driscoll
The Dæmons, by Matt Barber
Richard of Cornwall: The English King of Germany, by Darren Baker
Argo: How the Cia and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, by Antonio J. Mendez and Matt Baglio 

Non-genre 1 (YTD 14)
Mr Britling Sees It Through, by H.G. Wells

SF 8 (YTD 77)
The Traders’ War, by Charles Stross
Brasyl, by Ian McDonald
Jocasta, by Brian Aldiss
Black Man, by Richard Morgan
Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

Doctor Who 3 (YTD 26)
Fear of the Web, by Alyson Leeds
Doctor Who – The Movie, by Gary Russell
Doctor Who and the Dæmons, by Barry Letts

Comics 1 (YTD 14)
A Matter of Life and Death, by George Mann, Emma Vieceli and Hi Fi

5,700 pages (YTD 55,500)
6/19 (YTD 84/211) by non-male writers (Laing, Herbert, β1, γ1, Leeds, Vieceli)
2/19 (YTD 27/211) by a non-white writer (Mendez, α1)

368 books currently tagged “unread”, 8 more than last month, with award submissions coming in

Reading now
Complete Short Stories: the 1950s, by Brian Aldiss
Voorbij de Grenzen van de Ernst, by Kamagurka
Empire Of Sand, by Tasha Suri

Coming soon (perhaps)
Goliath, by Tochi Onyebuchi
The End of the Day, by Claire North
The Harem of Aman Akbar, by Elizabeth Scarborough
Null States, by Malka Older
Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman
Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney
La Femme, by Storm Constantine
The Bad Christian’s Manifesto, by Dave Tomlinson
The Clockwise War, by Scott Gray
Song of Time, by Ian R. MacLeod
The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell
Schrödinger’s Kitten, by George Alec Effinger
Metamorphoses, by Ovid
What If? by Randall Munroe
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
The Revolution Trade, by Charles Stross
Thirteen, by Richard Morgan
The World Set Free, by H.G. Wells
Roadside Picnic, by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky
Neptune – Épisode 1, by Leo

April 2018 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging at the end of October 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.

We had a fantastic family trip to (North) Macedonia over Easter weekend:

There we saw the albino peacock of Sveti Naum.

It was a busy month. I also saw Gillian Anderson at FACTS in Gent:

I met Senator George Mitchell, the broker of the Nothern Ireland peace process, in Oxford:

Went to Albania again, with my colleague E:

And also went to Dublin for a Worldcon planning weekend, arriving on my birthday (oddly enough, I am doing exactly the same this coming weekend, but not arriving on my birthday which is in April).

I read 22 books that month.

Non-fiction: 1 (YTD 17)
The God Instinct, by Jesse Bering

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 13)
Mrs Miniver, by Jan Struther
Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller

sf (non-Who): 7 (YTD 35)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson
La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, by Robert A. Heinlein
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells
Islandia, by Austen Tappan Wright
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 14)
Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2010
Genius Loci, by Ben Aaronovitch
Rose, by Russell T. Davies
The Christmas Invasion, by Jenny T. Colgan

Comics: 8 (YTD 14)
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by H.P. Lovecraft and Ian Culbard
Torchwood: Rift War, by Ian Edgington et al.
Black Bolt, Volume 1: Hard Time, written by Saladin Ahmed, illustrated by Christian Ward, lettered by Clayton Cowles
Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Saga, Volume 7, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Clayton Cowles
Paper Girls, Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher
My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris

~6,000 pages (YTD ~25,900)
10/22 (YTD 37/94) by women (Struther, Doller, Jones, Wells, Okorafor, Colgan, Liu/Takeda, Staples, DeConinck, Ferris))
5/22 (YTD 11/94) by PoC (Okorafor, Ahmed, Liu/Takeda, Staples, Chiang)

I read three great comics that month: Saga vol 7, which you can get here, Paper Girls vol 3, which you can get here, and My Favourite Thing is Monsters, which you can get here.

Fear of the Web, by Alyson Leeds

Second paragraph of third chapter:

She was lying in a hospital bed, which admittedly came as no great surprise. On waking, Anne had thought she’d recognised the particular combination of not-too-comfortable mattress and highly starched linen, which only came with institutional bedding; the old-fashioned brushed nylon nightie she was wearing was something of a giveaway, too. She was not in a ward, however, but a private room – and a quite recently decorated one at that, judging by the faint smell of fresh paint lingering beneath the sharp tang of disinfectant. To her left was a small wooden bedside cabinet, on which was placed a carafe of water, a somewhat ‘retro’ (Anne hated that word!) Sony Digimatic digital clock, displaying the time of 10:23, and a hideously large bouquet of red-orange roses in a vase. To her right there was a solitary modern-style armchair upholstered in cream leather-effect vinyl, and a window gave her a view of what looked like a sort of urban green or common, over the far side of which stood a Victorian gothic church with a square tower. Her immediate surroundings seemed quiet, the muffled sound of human voices and movement coming distantly from elsewhere in the building, while outside she could just about discern the steady rumble of traffic, albeit deadened by the thick glass of the window.

The next in the Lethbridge-Stewart series of spinoff novels, and the second in the Laughing Gnome sub-series. The author wrote a good short story in one of the earlier collections.

I have generally enjoyed this whole sequence, and was a bit dismayed when I rather bounced off the previous installment, Scary Monsters; but I’m glad to say that order has been restored, and I very much enjoyed this rewriting of what is already alternative history, where the Brigadier and Anne Travers find themselves projected back in time to the events of The Web of Fear, with a danger that Doctor Who continuity history could go off the rails. You can get it here.

The Carhullan Army, by Sarah Hall; Brasyl, by Ian McDonald; Black Man aka Thirteen, by Richard Morgan

Next in my sequence of books that have won the Clarke, Tiptree/Otherwise and BSFA Best Novel Awards. I had read two out of these three before.

The second paragraph of the third chapter (“File Three”) of The Carhullan Army is:

I did not know how I had kicked away the iron walls and freed up enough space to straighten my legs and uncurl my back. My thoughts were slow to arrive and difficult to arrange. If the door of the dog box was open I could escape. If the pen was like a puzzle, somehow I had decoded it, made one sprung move, one solving turn, and the sides of the cage had released. I could sleep. The stool was gone and I was lying in the dirt. And yet it was smooth and there was the fragrance of soap.

When I first read The Carhullan Army in 2008, I wrote:

I thought it was a very good book. The setting is a near-future Britain, underpopulated and oppressed due to climate change and war; the narrator, a woman known only as “Sister”, flees her native town to join a community of women in the Lake District, and they spend the rest of the book preparing for their struggle with Authority (ie the government). This is the kind of story that is often done embarrassingly badly (see, for instance, Sherri S Tepper on occasion, or The Rising of the Moon) but Hall does it well; Carhullan is emphatically not a utopia, nor is it destined to be a permanent answer to an unjust society, and the leader Jackie and her colleagues are memorable figures. Some readers will be reminded of The Dispossessed, or The Handmaid’s Tale, and I guess it’s fair to say that if you didn’t like either of those books The Carhullan Army will leave you cold. But actually I felt it was also perhaps a response to John Christopher’s The Death of Grass, where the protagonists are engaged in essentially a selfish struggle to get through their post-apocalyptic landscape to (if I remember rightly) the Lake District; the Carhullan Army have a more altruistic and redeeming purpose.

Rereading, I still enjoyed it. The feminist community is not a utopia; it’s a very flawed society, which is still better than the alternative. The theme of eco-catastrophe is all the more relevant in 2022. The characterisation is desperate and convincing. Well worth returning to. You can get it here.

The Carhullan Army won the James Tiptree Jr Memorial Award for 2008. The shortlist included six novels, of which I have read two (Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce and Glasshouse by Charles Stross), a short story, an anthology, and a comic series of which I have read the last volume. It was also on the shortlist for the Clarke Award. From what I’ve read, the jurors made the best choice.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Brasyl (“Our Lady of Trash”) is:

“I know a hundred World Cup Stories.” Raimundo Soares watched his weight drop into the glowing water. He claimed to be the last professional carioca; sometime journalist, sometime writer with a good book about the new bossa nova, a better book about Ronaldo Fenômeno, and a so-so guide to how to be a professional carioca on his backlist. A little fishing early with the brothers, a little cafezinho when the heat got up, a few hundred words on the laptop, the rest of the afternoon he’d spend in a cafe, watching ass on its way to the beach, or strolling around his city, remembering it, memorizing it. In the evening, receptions, parties, openings, his many lovers: a late sleep and up again at fish-jump. He claimed to have worn nothing but surf-Ts and Bermuda shorts for twenty years, even to his own mother’s funeral. He was the loafer, the malandro who doesn’t have to try too hard, carioca of cariocas: they should make him a Living Treasure. “This is true. David Beckham comes to Rio; he’s going to play at the Maracanã for a benefit for Pelé. He’s the guest of the CBF, so he’s got the wife, the kids; everything. They put him up at the Copa Palace, nothing’s too much trouble for Senhor Becks; presidential suite, private limo, the lot. Anyway, one evening he goes out for a little kick-about on the beach and these hoods jump him. Guns and everything, one two three, into the car and he’s gone. Lifted. Right under his guards’ noses. So there’s Beckham in the back with these malandros with the gold-plated guns thinking, Oh sweet Jesus, I am dead. Posh is a widow and Brooklyn and Romeo will grow up never knowing their father. Anyway, they take him up into Rocinha, up the Estrada da Gávea, and then from that on to a smaller road, and from that onto an even smaller road until it’s so steep and narrow the car can’t go any farther. So they bundle him out and take him up the ladeira at gunpoint and anytime anyone sticks so much as a nostril out of their house, the hoods pull an Uzi on them; up and up and up, right up to the top of the favela, and they take him into this tiny little concrete room right under the tree line and there’s Bem- Te-Vi, the big drug lord. This was back before they shot him. And he stands there, and he looks at Beckham this way, and he looks at Beckham that way; he looks at Beckham every way, like he’s looking at a car, and then he makes a sign and in comes this guy with a big sack. Beckham thinks, Jesus and Mary, what’s going on here? Then Bem-Te-Vi stands beside him and they pull out the World Cup, the original Jules Rimet, solid gold and everything, right Out of the sack. Bem-Te-Vi takes one side, Beckham takes the other, and this guy gets out a digital camera, says, ‘Smile, Mr. Beckham.’ Click! Flash! And then Bem-Te-Vi tutns to Becks and shakes his hand and says, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Beckham, it’s been a real honor… Oh, by the way… if anyone ever finds out about this…’’’

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

Ian McDonald’s latest. The setting of Brazil fits his lush, dense writing style so well that it is remarkable that he’s never set a novel in real South America before (his two books set on Mars portray a rather Patagonian version of the planet, but it’s not quite the same). We have three interleaving narratives, from the mid-18th century, the present day, and the near future (2030); we have peculiar variations of reality; and we have the jungle, both urban and literal, with its various hostile inhabitants. In some ways it’s deliberately less ambitious than River of Gods, which juggled ten different viewpoint characters against the background of India forty years hence, but the intermeshing of the different characters from their different time periods in the end comes across rather pleasingly.

I wasn’t quite as blown away on re-reading. The three different timeline settings are superbly realised, but I was not as convinced about the link between them. Still very enjoyable. You can get it here.

Brasyl won the BSFA Award for Best Novel. I’ve read all but one of the other finalists: Alice in Sunderland, Black Man aka Thirteen (see below), The Execution Channel, and Hugo and Nebula winner The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, the other being The Prefect, by Alastair Reynolds. I didn’t vote that year, but I’d probably have gone along with the majority. Alice in Sunderland is a great book, but it’s only tenuously sf. Brasyl was also on the final ballot for both Hugo and Nebula, unlike The Carhullan Army or Black Man / Thirteen.

I had not previously read Black Man, published as Thirteen in the USA. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The siren hit, upward-winding like the threat of a gigantic dentist’s drill.

I’ve read a couple of other books by Richard Morgan, and this seemed to me in character with them and perhaps a little more under control. The viewpoint character is a genetically engineered “Thirteen” in a near-future (early 22nd century) world where people like him are regarded with suspicion by society and mostly exiled to Mars. There is a murder mystery with explosive political ramifications, some nasty violence (this is the bit of Morgan’s expertise that I don’t especially appreciate), some desperate sex and a very well-written death scene. Like all murder mysteries, the point is to get the reader from A to B while admiring the scenery and wondering how the route will twist next, and it certainly succeeds very well in that. You can get it here.

Black Man won the Arthur C. Clarke Award under that title. The other finalists included two books that I have read and already referred to above, The Carhullan Army and The Execution Channel, and three that I haven’t: The H-Bomb Girl, by Stephen Baxter; The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall; and The Red Men, by Matthew de Abaitua. I think if I had been a Clarke judge that year, I’d probably have argued strongly for The Carhullan Army.

Next up are the 2010 winners for books published in 2009: Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod (Clarke winner), Filter House by Nisi Shawl (joint Tiptree winner), The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod (BSFA winner) and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (joint Tiptree winner).

Matt Smith: The Biography, by Emily Herbert

Second paragraph of third chapter:

But one man didn’t think like this. He believed that Doctor Who had a huge role to play in the twenty-first century, that the franchise was not dead but sleeping, and that, in short, it was high time Doctor Who made a comeback. And this particular man was in a position to do something about it.

A rather fluffy biography which I hope I picked up cheap somewhere, first published in 2010 and hastily updated for the paperback edition in 2012, with at least as much about the history of Doctor Who as about the new star, whose career had lasted less than a decade at the time of writing. (Since then of course, he’s been Prince Philip and is now Daemon Targaryen.)

Emily Herbert specialises in celebrity biographies and this is not one of her top rated works on Goodreads or LibraryThing. (For the record, her top-rated works are her biographies of Robin Williams and Lady Gaga.) She does a decent job of making bricks out of straw here, and explains the history of Doctor Who rather well to a target audience whose interest may be less than obsessive. But the really interesting biography (or autobiography) of Matt Smith will be written a couple of decades from now. Meanwhile you can get this one here.

The WSFS Mark Protection Committee elections

As mentioned previously, I got elected earlier this month to the World Science Fiction Society’s Mark Protection Committee, which works to preserve the intellectual property of the terms WSFS, Hugo, Lodestar, etc. It’s a three year term, with three people elected every year by those who turn up to the Business Meeting (and a number of other members appointed in various ways).

This was actually my second attempt; I had put my name forward at the previous election in December 2021, when unusually six members were elected due to the peculiar circumstances of 2020. I was not elected, probably due to not being at the meeting itself (which made a number of other bad decisions). I did find this a bit surprising; I’m not exactly invisible in these discussions, and a number of people told me that they had voted for me. But we move on, and I got in this time.

I had not realised that the MPC is elected in the same way as Hugo final ballot places are determined. A separate single-seat STV election is held for each seat, with candidates elected in previous rounds excluded and their votes redistributed to the next preference. This is a pretty crazy way to run a multi-seat election. For the Hugo ballot, we want to ascertain the collective will of the majority at every stage, and don’t particularly care about representing minority views. But applied to a committee election, you are basically allowing a majority of voters to determine every one of the seats, and excluding minority views entirely. The result will represent the strongest faction and nobody else.

All public elections which use the Single Transferable Vote to elect more than one candidate (both parts of Ireland, Malta, most of Australia for Senate and state assembly elections, municipal elections in Scotland, New Zealand and some US cities) instead establish a quota of votes that a candidate must exceed to get elected. If you get more votes than the quota, the surplus is redistributed to the next available preferences. It seems to me to get the best balance possible between voter impact on the result, proportionality of outcome between different political groups, and encouraging accountability from elected representatives.

I also had not realised that the MPC election results are published. It turns out that in 2021, I had the equal third highest number of first preferences among nine candidates, but failed to get elected, effectively coming eighth.

They never liked me!

If the election had been a standard multi-member STV election, my 9 first preferences would have taken me to just below the quota (which would have been 10 or 9.3 or 9.29 or 9.286, depending on the precise system) and I would probably have picked up a transfer from somewhere and got in. It’s not just about me: the candidate with the second highest number of first preferences came fourth, and would not have been elected in a normal three-seat year.

WSFS moves slowly, so I don’t expect that this ridiculous situation will be fixed any time soon. But it has implications if WSFS were ever to move to a more manageable system of electing a standing Council of some kind, with executive powers, rather than the archaic Business Meeting, as has been proposed by Kevin Standlee. There would definitely need to be provisions for such a committee to have broad representation engineered into it, and the current system used for the Hugo final ballot and the MPC will not deliver that.

Saturday reading

Complete Short Stories: the 1950s, by Brian Aldiss
Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
Richard of Cornwall: The English King of Germany, by Darren Baker

Last books finished
Black Man aka Thirteen, by Richard Morgan
Doctor Who and the Dæmons, by Barry Letts
The Dæmons, by Matt Barber

Next books
Empire Of Sand, by Tasha Suri
Goliath, by Tochi Onyebuchi

The Avengers

The Avengers won the 2013 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. It had a pretty thumping victory at both stages.

It beat The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which I have seen, and The Cabin in the Woods, The Hunger Games and Looper, which I haven’t. IMDB users rate it 3rd and 8th film of the year on the two rankings. In both cases it is behind The Dark Knight Rises, which I’m really surprised to see came as low as eleventh in the Hugo nomination rankings. (Beasts of the Southern Wild, which won the Ray Bradbury Award, came twelfth.) From the long list I also saw and enjoyed Brave and Wreck-It Ralph. I didn’t vote in that Hugo category that year.

Despite the star-studded cast, just one actor who’d been in previous Hugo winners and one who had been in an Oscar-winning film. Samuel L. Jackson presides here as Nick Fury; in 1993 he was the scientist Arnold in Jurassic Park, and also the voice of Frozone in The Incredibles in 2004.

And Gwyneth Paltrow gets one scene here as Pepper Potts, having won an Oscar as Viola in Shakespeare in Love a decade ago.

This is a film about a bunch of superheroes, the Avengers, getting together and biffing Loki, the god of Asgard, who wants to take over the world. (Or destroy it, I got a little lost.) I think it looks great but I’m not terribly invested in the Marvel mythology, so I’m putting it quite a long way down my rankings, in 40th place out of 53, below The Princess Bride but above The Incredibles.

I had my fourth COVID jab yesterday morning and am feeling under the weather today, so I’ll be brief. The performances are good, but I actually found the script a bit disappointing. My heart lifted when I saw Joss Whedon’s name on the credits; surely we can expect the same crackling humour that he often delivered for Buffy? But there’s not a lot of it.

Thor: Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!
Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.
Thor: He’s adopted.

The fight scenes are well choreographed and the effects are superb.

But basically it’s a film that is intended to set up and develop the Marvel mythos, and I’m just not terribly interested in that even though it does the job well.

Next up will be that year’s Oscar winner, Argo, the closest that the late great Roger Zelazny ever got to a cinematic award. (If you don’t know, I’ll explain…)

March 2018 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.

As usual a busy month, with two work trips to London and one to Albania; I finished the month in Skopje, on my first ever non-work trip to North Macedonia, dining with my family and my friend Stevo Pendarovski (who is in a different job now). To my delight, when boarding my plane home from Tirana, I saw the planet Mercury for the first time in my life.

They also have public art in Tirana, as my colleague M and I discovered.

I read 25 books that month.

Non-fiction: 8 (YTD 16)
An Outline of the History of Pharmacy in Ireland, by William D. Moore M.B.
A History of the Universe in 100 Objects, by Steve Tribe and James Goss
Iain M. Banks, by Paul Kincaid
So, Anyway…, by John Cleese
The Road to Somewhere, by David Goodhart
After Europe, by Ivan Krastev
Free Radical, by Vince Cable
No Going Back to Moldova, by Anna Robertson

Fiction (non-sf): 3 (YTD 11)
The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
Julian, by Gore Vidal
How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn

sf (non-Who): 9 (YTD 28)
Provenance, by Ann Leckie
Planesrunner by Ian McDonald
Uncanny Valley, by Greg Egan
The Enclave, by Anne Charnock
“Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”, by Samuel R. Delany
The Murders of Molly Southbourne, by Tade Thompson
Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
The Man Who Spoke Snakish, by Andrus Kivirähk
Jade City, by Fonda Lee

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 10)
Doctor Who Storybook 2009, ed. Clayton Hickman
Something Changed, ed. Simon Guerrier
The Missy Chronicles, by James Goss, Cavan Scott, Paul Magrs, Peter Anghelides, Jacqueline Rayner and Richard Dinnick
The Legends of River Song, by Jenny T. Colgan, Jacqueline Rayner, Steve Lyons, Guy Adams and Andrew Lane

Comics: 1 (YTD 6)
Apostata 07: Niets meer dan een wolk by Ken Broeders

~6,400 pages (YTD ~19,900)
7/25 (YTD 27/72) by women (Robertson, Kingsolver, Leckie, Charnock, Lee, Rayner, Colgan/Rayner)
3/25 (YTD 6/72) by PoC (Delany, Thompson, Lee)

I gave five books five stars on LibraryThing that month, so I will report them and not the ones I didn’t like. They were:

Mr Britling Sees It Through, by H.G. Wells

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Have to do my fourteen miles before lunch,” he said. “You haven’t seen Manning about, have you?”

I had no expectations whatsoever of this novel, originally published in 1916, one of the last of the novels in my big H.G. Wells collection. I found it a really impressive work, one of the best non-sf novels by Wells that I have read. Mr Britling is a self-parody of the author, a complacent intellectual writer with a nice place in the country, extended family around him and a lover in London. In 1914 he thinks that war is impossible, and if it comes it will be brief because sensible people of all countries will reject it. It turns out that he is wrong, and his world diminishes through loss and tragedy. I like Wells all the more for putting such a flawed version of himself front and centre; Britling is a very imperfect human being, but his tragedy is discovering that the imperfections of the world he lives in are much worse than he had imagined. There are some nice and respectful bits with Belgian refugees as well. You can get it here.

Next up in this sequence: The World Set Free.

A Matter of Life and Death, by George Mann, Emma Vieceli and Hi Fi

Second frame of third part:

Continuing my journey through my substantial backlog of Doctor Who comics, I’m now at this Eighth Doctor collection from 2016. I have generally rated George Mann poorly as a writer, and so I am glad to say that I really enjoyed these five linked stories, in which the Eighth Doctor finds a young artist squatting in his country house and takes her on a series of adventures. The third, in which sinister entities emerge from mirrors, is particularly good.

My one complaint is that artist Emma Vieceli’s depiction of the Eighth Doctor doesn’t look a lot like Paul McGann. (The cover is by someone else, I think.)

But otherwise this came as a pleasant surprise and I will give George Mann’s work at least a second glance in future. You can get it here.

Next up: the Ninth Doctor in Weapons of Past Destruction.

Political Animals, by Bev Laing

Third section (illustrated by a picture of a small boy standing under an elephant’s belly):

No matter how much you feed a wolf, an elephant still has bigger BALLS.
Russian popular saying.

One of those New Internationalist books. A series of quotes about how humans, especially politicians, behave like animals, and also how we should treat animals a bit more like we treat humans, illustrated with cute animal photos. I am sympathetic to the sentiments, on the whole, but I found the delivery rather sanctimonious. You can get it here.

This was both the shortest unread book I acquired in 2015, and the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on those piles respectively are La Femme, by Storm Constantine, and The Bad Christian’s Manifesto, by Dave Tomlinson.

A royal burial (though not the one you’re thinking of) and how a monk helped me find my grandmother’s grave

So. My original plan when I booked today’s visit to London, two weeks ago, was to work from our London office today and tomorrow before getting the last Eurostar on Tuesday. But it turned out that for some reason the office would be closed today. Fine, I said to myself, I’ll work from my hotel room for the day, and fulfill a long-standing Monday evening social commitment.

Then, to my dismay, I found on arrival that the hotel’s rooms are completely unsuitable for work – no desk, no comfortable chair, and worst of all, no coffee. Entirely my own fault for not reading the small print when booking, but my plans of today being a normal remote working day disintegrated. I tossed and turned in bed last night, wondering what to do. My mood shifted from frustration to sorrow with the news that we have lost Maureen Kincaid Speller, just one day after she was given a lifetime achievement award by the British Fantasy Society.

And then it all came together. The first funeral I remember attending was my grandmother’s, in 1979, when I was twelve; she was born in Philadelphia in 1899, died after a period of ill health in a nursing home near Hook in Hampshire, and is buried in Brookwood Cemetery, the largest graveyard in Europe, southwest of London. I have not been there since. Given what else has been happening today, and also given that I tracked down her grandparents last month, it felt appropriate to try and find her.

In parenthesis – some people have been asking me for my take on the transition in the British monarchy, as some are euphemistically putting it. I decided not to renew my British passport in 2017, and in general I think it is better to elect your head of state, preferably by qualified majority in Parliament or a electoral college, though I’ll take a popular vote if that’s what’s on offer. Liz Truss was right in 1994 (I was in the room when this happened).

But of course it is a massive crunch to lose a physical link with the past. Very few people can remember a time before the late Queen’s reign. Without really knowing much about her, everyone felt connected to her. Monarchy is bad for the royals, but she managed to persuade her subjects that it is good for the country, without ever having to say so directly.

I watched the ceremony this morning and then walked from Trafalgar Square over the Golden Jubilee Bridge to Waterloo station. Lots of people were standing silently, staring in the direction of Westminster. You can see the massed crowds in the distance in the photo I took of Parliament with its flag at half mast.

It takes 45 minutes to get to Brookwood from Waterloo by train. Today being (of course) a public holiday, the cemetery offices were closed, but I had done a bit of research. My grandmother rests with two of her aunts, her uncle by marriage, and her maternal grandmother. (Her uncle and aunt had no children of their own, but informally adopted my grandmother after her own mother’s early death.) Her uncle, Sir Robert Hadfield, was rich and famous, so I guessed that he might be in one of the posher parts of the cemetery according to a map I found in an academic paper on the social stratification of burials at Brookwood.

But before I get there, I have to say that I was really impressed by the way that Brookwood was designed as, and has remained, a resting place for those of many faiths from the start – Muslims, Zoroastrians, Ismailis, all have space reserved. (I guess that Jews and Hindus have their own arrangements?) It was a bit of a contrast with the very Christian ceremony that I had watched before catching the train, and seemed to me more reflective of England as it really is.

I wandered around the three poshest sections of the southern (Anglican) part of the cemetery, but found no Hadfields. The weather was pleasant this afternoon, fortunately, and I detoured over to the Orthodox shrine of St Edward the Martyr, King of England, who was murdered in 978, a thousand and one years before my grandmother died. After a series of improbable events, he now rests in Brookwood, the longest dead of anyone known to be there, the earliest ruler of England with an identified resting place.

Father Niphon is camera shy, but gave me a tour of the shrine and then a cup of tea. The monks have a sense of humour.

Father Niphon then unearthed a book by John Clark listing famous graves in Brookwood. (On the wall he has a photograph of John Clark presenting him with the book.) To my delight, Sir Robert Hadfield, my great-great-uncle, is among those listed. So I headed straight off to Plot 34, the D-shaped plot east of the small circular plot that is the focus of the southern part of the cemetery, to look for him, his wife, his mother-in-law, his sister-in-law and his niece. I felt a bit like Tuco at the end of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and I confess that I was whistling “The Ecstasy of Gold”, startling a young deer which was the only other large living animal around.

Plot 34 is quite big, and I was (unwisely, as it transpired) guided by a four-decades-ago memory of a gravesite near the path, with arch-shaped headstones. I toured Plot 34 twice looking for such graves with Wickersham / Hadfield / Whyte inscriptions, and was on the point of giving up when I returned to John Clark’s book, and realised that he had left an important clue in the description.

There are really not a lot of conifer-hedged allotments in Brookwood at all, never mind in Plot 34. 

And at the entrance to the enclosure I found her, with the others close by.

My memory was completely wrong; it is about as far from the path as you can get in Plot 34, and there are no headstones at all – the memorials are all at ground level. It’s in pretty good shape, though several hours later I am still brushing conifer twiglets out of my hair and clothes.

I remember my grandmother best when she was already frail, but it has been good to renew my acquaintance with her from her memoirs. Here she tells of how her grandmother died when they were on holiday in Italy together at Lake Como. My grandmother had just turned thirteen, a little older than I was when she in turn died.

Triumphantly I returned to the metropolis. As I crossed back north of the river towards Charing Cross, a busker was playing a tuba which belched flames in tune with an Abba recording. Which Abba song? Which do you think!

England, never change.

Family research and family reunion in Massachusetts

I had a very good morning of research in the Massachusetts Historical Society at the end of last month. My grandmother’s cousin Henry Seaver (a noted architect, probably named after my great-grandfather Henry Hibbard, and the father of writer Elizabeth Helfman) had carried out a lot of research of his own, including interviewing several of his surviving relatives; his daughter then lodged his papers with the MHS in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I’m going to salute the approachability of the Massachusetts Historical Society. They were very helpful in how best to deal with archival material (I have handled twelfth-century manuscripts in the past, but they could not have known that), and crucially they allow photography of everything, provided that you do not use a flash. This basically meant that rather than spend hours copying someone else’s unreadable handwriting into my own unreadable handwriting, as I have done in my previous archival work decades ago, I was able to instantly capture everything for later analysis.

The most glorious find was in fact an 1889 letter from Henry Seaver’s uncle, my great-great-uncle Thomas Hibbard, to Henry’s mother, my great-great-aunt Susan Seaver, saying that he had been doing research in the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New England Genealogical Society on the origins of the Hibbard family. I failed to leave a message at the MHS for my own great-great-nephew or -niece to find in the year 2145.

Last Tuesday I visited the rooms of the Mass[achusetts] Historical Society, and the N[ew] E[ngland] Genealogical Society to try to find out something about this Rob[er]t Hibbard of Salem. I only found that he was a salt maker in S[alem] 1639 and afterwards removed to Windham Conn[ecticut]. Could not find his name in the emigration list to tell what vessel he came in or when. Perhaps the genealogy will tell and I am anxious to see it completed.

There was plenty more. I have written before about the mysterious origins of my great-great-grandmother. She was Henry Seaver’s grandmother, and he wrote a memo in his notebooks which totally contradicts my speculations about her maternal ancestry:

On Mar 2 1908 my mother [Susan Seaver, my g-g-aunt, who died the following year] wrote me as follows about her mother’s family: “On my mother’s side, her father died when she was 11 yrs. old. He was a sailor and was impressed about 1812, imprisoned at Dartmoor, and there contracted the consumption from which he finally died. His name was John Smith and hailed from Portsmouth, N.H. I think, or Dover, N.H. as my mother was born there. My mother knew very little about her ancestors as no one cared much about such things in her day. I tried once to hunt up Judith Locke my mother’s grandmother. She was born at Barnstead N.H.. I found out by her burial certificate that her father’s name was James and mother’s was Sarah but no last name was given. She died in 1852 at the age of 91 (I think, haven’t time now to look it up in the Bible). She wa a little girl at the time of the Revolution and held me in her arms when I as an infant. She died out here in the old house, then a new one.” (West Roxbury)

Other notes on Smith family written by my mother told her by her mother: “Dr Smith was a Scotch physician who came to this country with his son John Smith, but not liking the country he returned. That is all she knew of her family on her father’s side.:

John Smith b. Scotland Nov 14 1784
died Dec 6 1827 married Jan 23 1812
Sally Lock they had
3rd child Sarah Ann Smith
my [Henry Seaver’s] grandmother [my great-great-grandmother]

The dearth of information about the Smiths is a bit frustrating, but made less so by the very clear DNA evidence that Sarah Ann Smith’s biological father, and my 3xgreat-grandfather, was not her mother’s husband John Smith but Benjamin Cleveland of Otsego, New York, whose family is very well documented.

I am tremendously grateful to Patrick Nielsen Hayden for leading me to the genealogical trail which connects me through the original Cleveland settler, Moses Cleveland, to my sixth cousin three times removed President Grover Cleveland, to my ninth cousin, sf writer Fritz Leiber, to Leiber’s third cousin, also my ninth cousin, Shirley Temple, and to my Worldcon colleague and seventh cousin twice removed Jesi Lipp.

Having sorted out Sarah’s paternity to my own satisfaction, her mother’s lineage is the biggest trailing thread of my American ancestry. Henry Seaver wrote another note summarising what he knew, which was not much.

Judith Lock born Barnstead N.H. Jan 1 1762 d. West Roxbury Mass Nov 30 1852
married (not known) Lock
her maiden name not known, her father was James, mother Sarah ?
Sally Lock b. July 27 1793 d. Jan 28 1870
Ann Burbank Lock b. May 18 1796 d. Nov 29 1845 m. Jos. Akarman

Sally Lock married John Smith Jan 23 1810
John Smith, Dover family
Sarah Ann Smith b Ap 3 1815 d Nov 18 1891
Susan Watkins Smith Heath whose oil portrait we have [what happened to it?]
(4 other children)
Sarah Ann Smith married William C Hibbard Apr 3 1849 and the descendants are the Seaver ancestors in this book.
[later note] and Mary J. who married John Deming of St Louis a Union pilot on the Mississippi River in the War.

This completely kills my previous theory that Sally Lock was the daughter of Joseph Locke and Tirzah Arms of the Connecticut Valley in western Massachusetts; what we have points only to New Hampshire, and my genetic links to Joseph and Tirzah must be from another route. The 75 years since Henry Seaver died in 1947 don’t seem to have added very much to this, but I will keep digging.

I took the opportunity to meet up with the descendants of Sarah Ann Smith and her husband William Charlton Hibbard. The day before I met in Plymouth with W, one of my third cousins through my great-grandfather’s older brother Thomas (who wrote the letter quoted at the top of this post); we had met in February but failed to take photos.

The following day I met for the first time with a bunch of third cousins, and the younger of the two surviving members of the generation above us, and we paid our respects at the graves of our great-great-grandparents in West Roxbury.

Left to right:
L1, the younger of the two surviving great-grandchildren of Sarah and William Hibbard
J, L’s nephew, my third cousin
L2, L1’s niece and J’s brother, also my third cousin
P, daughter of the baby in the park, also my third cousin, second cousin of J and L2, first cousin of W

This came after a great fish lunch in Dedham – can you call it a family reunion when many of those present had never met before? My brother WW came to the lunch, but was not able to come to the graveyard; the other W, who I had seen two days before, was not able to come at all, but sent his wife and mother-in-law to represent his part of the family.

Left to right:
R, W’s mother-in-law
WW, my brother
N, W’s wife

This was not the first such family excursion. In 1934, my great-grandfather Henry Hibbard together with his brother Thomas Hibbard, great-grandfather of J, L2, P and W, and grandfather of L1 in the photos above, led a family gathering to New Hampshire to the home of their great-grandfather. There were 23 of them on that occasion, 88 years ago. We only had eight attendees; maybe we’ll have more next time.

Saturday reading

Black Man, by Richard Morgan
Complete Short Stories: the 1950s, by Brian Aldiss

Last books finished
Jocasta, by Brian Aldiss
Fear of the Web, by Alyson Leeds
Doctor Who – The Movie, by Gary Russell
Doctor Who (1996), by Paul Driscoll

Next books
Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
Empire Of Sand, by Tasha Suri

The Artist

The Artist won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2011 and four others, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score. There were eight other films in contention for Best Picture; I have seen Hugo, which was also confusingly a Hugo finalist, but not The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life or War Horse.

The Hugo that year went to the first series of Game of Thrones (I was an early adopter of this idea) but I watched the film finalists as well: Hugo (as previously noted), Captain America: The First Avenger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 and Source Code. The other four films that I remember seeing from that year are The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, The Iron Lady, Coriolanus, and half of the Iranian film A Separation.

IMDB users rate The Artist a lowly 43rd on one system and a dismal 125th on the other, compared against other 2011 films. We’ve had several others that were in the low 40’s on one ranking, but were much higher on the other – Cavalcade, Shakespeare in Love, Million Dollar Baby and Crash, I think. The 125th place ranking is by far the lowest we have had on either metric, and it’s not even like 2011 was a remarkably good year for films. I too was not hugely impressed by it.

Here’s a trailer.

I counted a couple of actors who had been in Hugo-winning films, and one who had been in a previous Oscar-winner (no crossovers with Doctor Who). The first is Malcolm McDowell, credited here as “the butler” (though his role is actually someone waiting for an audition) and the star of A Clockwork Orange 39 years ago.

Missy Pyle is the mistreated co-star Constance here, and eleven years ago was Lailari the Thermian in Galaxy Quest.

Finally, Beth Grant, Peppy’s unnamed maid here, was the equally unnamed Woman At The Farm House in Rain Man in 1988.

The Artist is entirely in black and white, and almost entirely “silent”, ie the sound track is mostly incidental music, becoming diegetic briefly about 31 minutes in and then for a longer spell at the very end. The last largely black and white film to win the Oscar was Schindler’s List (1993), and the last entirely black and white film to do so was The Apartment (1960, more than fifty years earlier). The only other silent film to win was the very first, Wings, way back in 1927.

The Artist is also generally cited as the only French film to have won an Oscar, but as a patriotic Belgian, I have to point out that the Belgian company uFilm were one of the co-producing companies, utilising a Belgian tax scheme, and the music was recorded in Flagey by the Brussels Philharmonic and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. French Wikipedia calls it “une comédie romantique muette et en noir et blanc franco-belgo-américain” (surely “-américaine”?).

It is about two actors in the early days of sound in the movies; Paul Valentin, who is on his way down because (as we discover at the end) he can’t get hired for the talkies because of his French accent and because he’s generally an asshole, and Peppy Miller, on her way up as she catches the Zeitgeist. He falls on hard times, and she rescues him and finds him some redemption. He also has a cute dog.

I was not very impressed. Before I get to the specifics of plot and cinematography, it’s the most shockingly racist Oscar winner for years. Everyone is white, even in the crowd scenes, apart from some African warriors who turn up on a film set and later in Paul’s delusions. This really is not representative for Hollywood in 1930, or even for France in 2011 when the film was made.

Most of the plot elements have been done before and better (most notably in Singin’ in the Rain and All About Eve). I found it derivative and pastiche rather than integrated. The good bits were not new and the new bits were not very good. Paul is such an unpleasant person at the beginning that it’s difficult to be very pleased by his redemption at the end.

Another point that really grated is that although a lot of attention was paid to make-up for Jean Dujardin as Paul, and for the main women actresses, it wasn’t really done for the extras and it looks like what it is, a lot of twenty-first century people pretending that they are in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Two of the first five Oscar winners in the list below (The Broadway Melody and The Grand Hotel) are actually set in that time period because it was when they were made, and The Artist just sits wrong.

A further complaint is that Bérénice Bejo as Peppi is frankly too old for the part. As written, Peppy is clearly in her mid-20s at most; Bejo was 35 when the film was made. For the record, I have complained on this score in the past about men as well as women playing roles that were the wrong age (Laurence Olivier in Rebecca, Leslie Howard in Gone with the Wind; also Mary McDonnell in Dances with Wolves.) Bejo is a good performer in the role, but again it just sits wrong.

Despite not feeling attracted to the character, I did think that Dujardin gave a convincing portrayal of Paul.

And the dog is very cute.

Finally, as a patriotic Belgian, I did like the music.

I’m putting this a long way down my list of Oscar-winners, just outside the bottom ten, below No Country for Old Men, whose protagonist was more awful but more compelling, and above American Beauty which was much more skeevy.

Next up, from 2012: The Avengers (Hugo winner), Argo (Oscar winner), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Bradbury winner).

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)

February 2018 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 with a trip to Istanbul to give a lecture on Brexit, and also had work trips to London and Sofia.

In Sofia

I read 21 books that month.

Non-fiction: 5 (YTD 8)
Europe Reset, by Richard Youngs
Who Is The Doctor, by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?
A Preface to Paradise Lost, by C.S. Lewis
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, by Edith Hamilton (first 100 pages)
Seventeen Equations that Changed the World, by Ian Stewart

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 8)
Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

sf (non-Who): 9 (YTD 19)
A Tangle Of Fates, by Leslie Ann Moore
The Universe Between, by Alan E Nourse
He, She and It, by Marge Piercy
The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North
The Uninvited, by Dorothy Macardle
Grand Canyon, by Vita Sackville-West
Dreams Before the Start of Time, by Anne Charnock
The Rift, by Nina Allan

Doctor Who, etc: 2 (YTD 6)
Parallel Lives, by Rebecca Levene, Stewart Sheargold, Dave Stone and Simon Guerrier
From Wildthyme with Love, by Paul Magrs

Comics: 3 (YTD 5)
Hoger dan de bergen en dieper dan de zee: kroniek van een migrant, by Laïla Koubaa and Laura Janssens
Four Doctors, by Paul Cornell and Neil Edwards
Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament, by Arthur Ranson, Donald Rooum, Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore, Hunt Emerson, Neil Gaiman, Mike Matthews, Julie Hollings, Carol Bennett, Peter Rigg and Dave McKean

~6,200 pages (YTD ~13,500)
13/21 (YTD 20/47) by women (Hamilton, Mitchell, du Maurier, Moore, Piercy, North, Macardle, Sackville-West, Charnock, Allan, Levene, Koubaa/Janssens, Hollings/Bennett)
2/21 (YTD 3/47) by PoC (Moore, Koubaa)

I’m going to be nice and just mention the three that I liked most here:

  • Claire North’s The Sudden Appearance of Hope is typically inventive and fascinating; you can get it here.
  • Richard Youngs’ Europe Reset: New Directions for the EU has some great analysis and ideas; you can get it here.
  • Nina Allan’s The Rift takes family dynamics and parallel worlds and adds innovative narrative style and good story-telling; you can get it here.

The Traders’ War, by Charles Stross

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Sometimes, when he was extremely tired, he’d lose his sense of smell. It was as if the part of his brain that dealt with scents and stinks and stuff gave up trying to make sense of the world and went to sleep without him. At other times it would come back extra strong, and any passing scent might dredge up a slew of distracting memories. It was a weird kind of borderline synaesthesia, and it reminded him uncomfortably of a time a couple of years ago when he’d been on assignment in some scummy mosquito-ridden swamp down in Florida. The hippie asshole he was staking out had made the tail, and instead of doing the usual number with a Mac-10 or running, had spiked his drink with acid. He’d spent a quarter of an hour in the bathroom of his hotel room staring at the amazing colors in the handle of his toothbrush, marveling at the texture of his spearmint dental gel, until he’d thrown up. And now he was so tired it was all coming back to him in unwelcome hallucinatory detail.

Compilation of the third and fourth volumes of the Merchant Princes series, in which our protagonist and her ex-boyfriend are entangled in dynastic feuds in a family who have the ability to walk between parallel universes; our own, and two others, one more feudal, one more eighteenth-century, the action in all cases set in what we call the northeastern USA, most of whose population are descended from settlers across the ocean. The first compilation volume was The Bloodline Feud.

Stross’s heroine makes an early mistake here, trying to bring her know-how from our world to gain power and status in the feudal society of her origin, but over-reaching and then having to deal with the consequences of dynastic displeasure, while the dance of intelligence services around one another between the worlds gets steadily more intricate and nasty. The pace continues to be intense and well constructed. Great stuff. You can get it here.

(By odd coincidence, the day I finished reading this, I later bumped into the author in the bar in Chicago and had a long chat.)

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is the next in this series, The Revolution Trade.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, by Svetlana Alexievich, tr. Bela Shalyevich

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Может быть, через пятьдесят или сто лет о той нашей жизни, которая называлась социализмом, будут писать объективно. Без слез и проклятий. Начнут раскапывать, как древнюю Трою. Недавно вообще хорошо сказать о социализме было нельзя. На Западе после крушения СССР поняли, что марксистские идеи не кончились, их надо развивать. Не молиться на них. Маркс не был там идолом, как у нас. Святым! Сначала мы его боготворили, а потом предали анафеме. Все перечеркнули. Наука тоже принесла человечеству неисчислимые бедствия. Давайте тогда истреблять ученых! Проклянем отцов атомной бомбы, а еще лучше – начнем с тех, кто порох изобрел! С них… Разве я не права? (Я не успеваю ответить на ее вопрос.) Правильно… правильно, что из Москвы выбрались. В Россию, можно сказать, приехали. По Москве когда гуляешь, кажется, что и мы Европа: роскошные машины, рестораны… Золотые купола блестят! А вы послушайте, о чем у нас люди говорят в провинции… Россия – это не Москва, Россия – это Самара, Тольятти, Челябинск… жопинск какой-нибудь… Что на московских кухнях можно узнать о России? На тусовках? Бла-бла-бла… Москва – столица какого-то другого государства, а не того, что за кольцевой дорогой. Туристический рай. Москве не верьте…Perhaps fifty or a hundred years from now they’ll be able to write objectively about the way of life we called socialism. Without all the tears and obscenities. They’ll unearth it like ancient Troy. Until recently, you weren’t allowed to say anything good about socialism. In the West, after the fall of the Soviet Union, they realized that Marxism wasn’t really over, it still needed to be developed. Without being worshiped. Over there, he wasn’t an idol like he’d been for us. A saint! First we worshiped him, then we anathematized him. Crossed it all out. But science has also caused immeasurable suffering—should we eliminate scientists? Curse the fathers of the atom bomb, or better yet, start with the ones who invented gunpowder? Yes, start with them…Am I wrong? [She doesn’t give me a chance to answer her question.] You’re on the right track, leaving Moscow. You could say that you’ve come to the real Russia. Walking around Moscow, you might get the impression that we’re a European country: the luxury cars, the restaurants…those golden cupolas gleaming! But listen to what the people talk about in the provinces… Russia isn’t Moscow, Russia is Samara, Tolyatti, Chelyabinsk—some Bumblepinsk…How much can you really learn about Russia from sitting around in a Moscow kitchen? Going to parties. Blah, blah, blah… Moscow is the capital of some other nation, not the country beyond the ring road.* A tourist paradise. Don’t believe Moscow…
* The ring road is a major freeway encircling Moscow which served as Moscow’s administrative border until the 1980s.

Another in the grim sequence of Nobel Prize winner Alexievich’s accounts of her country’s history (I have previously read Voices from Chernobyl and Boys in Zinc). Here she takes on the lived experience of the break-up of the Soviet Union, mainly (though not only) as it affected Russians, simply told through their own testimony. There was good in the old system, in the sense of social solidarity and a sense of common purpose, but it was outweighed by the grinding poverty and brutal oppression. The subsequent collapse of Russian society, except for the super-privileged, has lent the Soviet years some undeserved retrospective legitimacy. There is some grim reading about personal hardships, the worst of them from the Communist era. It’s not a chronological history, it’s a report from the past, with all the caveats that that requires. Especially at the current time, it’s really useful to have a window into what makes Russia and Russians tick. Important and gripping reading. You can get it here.

I was interested to note that the original Russian title of the book, Время сэконд хэнд, uses the English words “second hand”.

This was my top unread book acquired this year, and also my top unread book by a woman. Next on those piles respectively are Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov, and Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman.

The Light Fantastic, by Terry Pratchett

Second paragraph of third section:

That statement is not really true.

I think this was the first book I read by Terry Pratchett, and it was a delight to come back to it. The jokes are still funny, if no longer unexpected; the Luggage remains one of the greatest ever characters with no dialogue; and the overall plot of the world ending, or rather finding new birth, with the spell in Rincewind’s head key to the resolution, remains engaging. Perhaps now that I am 55 rather than a teenager, Cohen the Barbarian is not quite as funny a character.

The one joke that really made me laugh this time, and compelled me to read it out to my long-suffering spouse, was this:

He read that the Great Pyramid of Tsort, now long vanished, was made of one million, three thousand and ten limestone blocks. He read that ten thousand slaves had been worked to death in its building. He learned that it was a maze of secret passages, their walls reputedly decorated with the distilled wisdom of ancient Tsort. He read that its height plus its length divided by half its width equalled exactly 1.67563, or precisely 1,237.98712567 times the difference between the distance to the sun and the weight of a small orange. He learned that sixty years had been devoted entirely to its construction.

It all seemed, he thought, to be rather a lot of trouble to go to just to sharpen a razor blade.

You can get it here.

This was the top book by Terry Pratchett which I had not yet reviewed online. Since I am taking them in popularity order (as measured by LibraryThing), the next is Guards! Guards!.

Here’s the full original 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

January 2018 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 very busy month. I went to Sofia twice to work with Bulgaria’s EU Presidency, and also to Strasbourg for the same reason; at the end of the month, Anne and I went to London to see Hamilton, and emerged to discover that Ursula Le Guin had died. I was also really captivated by the National Gallery portrait of Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart:

I read 26 books that month.

Non-fiction: 3
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, by Jane Hirshfield
Patrick Troughton: The Biography of the Second Doctor Who, by Michael Troughton
Watching the English, by Kate Fox

Fiction (non-sf): 6
L’Équation Africaine, by Yasmina Khadra
War and Turpentine, by Stefan Hermans
Quoth the Raven, by Jane Haddam
Rather Be The Devil, by Ian Rankin
Five Escape Brexit Island, by Bruno Vincent
The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

Theatre: 1
You Can’t Take It With You, by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

sf (non-Who): 10
It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf
“Gonna Roll the Bones” by Fritz Leiber
An Old Captivity, by Nevil Shute
The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog, by Doris Lessing
The Island Of Doctor Moreau, by H. G. Wells
Daystar and Shadow, by James B. Johnson
Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy

Doctor Who, etc: 4
Who Killed Kennedy: The Shocking Secret Linking a Time Lord and a President, by “James Stevens” and David Bishop
The Talons of Weng-Chiang, script by Robert Holmes
The Tree of Life, by Mark Michalowski
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen, by Douglas Adams and James Goss

Comics: 2
Ys de Legende: v 1 Verraad, by Jean-Luc Istin and Dejan Nenadov
Providence, Act 1, by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

~7,300 pages
7/26 by women (Hirshfield, Fox, Haddam, Setterfield, Woolf, Lessing, Piercy)
1/26 by PoC (Khadra)

Favourite book of the month: Watching the English, by Kate Fox; get it here.

Runner-up: Talons of Weng-Chiang, the script; get it here.

Worst: Five Escape Brexit Island, not so much a one-joke book as a no-joke book; get it here.

Chicon 8, the 2022 Hugos and the Business Meeting

Chicago was the first city in the USA that I ever set foot in, aged 5 in 1972, on a family visit to my father’s old friend Emmet Larkin. My only previous visit as an adult was in 2016 for SMOFCon, when I also saw Hamilton. In 2016 we were out by the airport for most of the time; this year we were in the Hyatt Regency, right beside the meeting of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

May be an image of skyscraper

This is actually an extraordinary feat of engineering. In the late nineteenth century, the river channel was re-shaped and a connecting canal built with the Des Plaines River, leading to the Illinois River and the Mississippi River basin, so that the Chicago River now flows out of the lake rather than into it. Most of the water in the picture will go all the way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, 1500 km to the south. Though I suppose some of it will go the other way, through Lake Huron and Lake Erie, over Niagara Falls, through Lake Ontario and into the Atlantic via Canada, which is 1600 km as the crow flies but a little further as the river flows.

Back in March 2020, as the pandemic was closing in and I was one of the Deputy Hugo Administrators wrestling with that year’s Hugo nominations, I reached out to Kat Jones, who was also on the Hugo team that year, and said that, if Glasgow were to win the 2024 Worldcon bid, I would likely become the WSFS Division Head, and if so, would she consider being that year’s Hugo Administrator? Kat replied with a provisional yes, much to my relief.

A few months later, in October 2020, Kat reached out to me in turn. She had just been appointed the Hugo Administrator for 2022, and wondered if I would consider joining the team as her deputy? At this stage of course we had no guarantee that there would be an in-person Worldcon ever again – CoNZealand had had their disastrous virtual ceremony two months before. But I agreed anyway, in hope that we would be able to attend, and so it proved.

We had a great team this year, with the committee also including WSFS Division Heads Jesi Lipp and Brian Nisbet. I have known Brian for twenty years, but this was the first time I had really worked with Jesi. We discovered that we are actually seventh cousins twice removed, sharing ancestry with Grover Cleveland, Fritz Leiber and Shirley Temple. It’s a small world.

All in all, this was definitely the smoothest of the four and a half Hugo processes that I have been involved with. (2017, 2019, 2020, part of 2021, and this year; not having a global pandemic does help). We now have robust software solutions for tallying nomination votes and counting the final ballot; we have a good eligibility verification process; we generally (with inevitable glitches) had good communications with the rest of the convention and with finalists; and there was no big screw-up on the events side. Many small screw-ups on many smaller things, of course, but that is normal.

BK Ellison’s trophy was the first time I had been involved with a base design which includes a stand. (The others were all more plinth-ish, if that is a word.) We all fell in love with it as soon as he presented his initial design: it nicely captures the Chicago flag and the convention theme, “Take To The Stars”.

The Sekrit Hugo Cupboard was very close to the main hall where the ceremony was taking place, which made things a lot easier, though it was also right beside Registration, which made us a lot more cautious. Walking between the two on ceremony day with the envelopes containing the winners, I happened to bump into a bunch of finalists who turned a little pale when they realised what I was holding. I was very pleased to meet Arkady Martine at the reception beforehand, knowing (though she did not) that she had won Best Novel for A Desolation Called Peace (the only one of the three winners who I had voted for who was actually present). Concealing the awards from curious eyes backstage before the ceremony took a little McGyver-style ingenuity, but we managed it.

The ceremony, conducted by Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz, was efficient, funny and professional. (As James Nicoll put it, “almost as [if] the the ghost of a ceremony neither fast-paced nor entertaining was on people’s minds”.) It was slightly awkward that the presenters themselves won in two categories, but of course they had been selected long before the nominations opened, and other presenters were brought in for the relevant bits. (And they did not know in advance that they had won.)

I’ve written up my take on the results already, so just to repeat, this worked out very well; credit to the entire team, most of all Kat Jones, also Jesi Lipp and Brian Nisbet; Cassidy and their deputy Theresa Hahn for finalist liaison; David Matthewman and Chris Rose (and ultimately Eemeli Aro) for software and tech; Terry Neill on Help Desk and much else; Chris Ragan and Jed Hartman on the Voter Packet; Alissa Wales on eligibility; BK Ellison for the Hugo base and Sara Felix for the Lodestar trophy; John Brown and team for the ceremony, and Helen Montgomery for running the convention.

One other point. Best Editor, Long Form looks like the weakest of the current categories, with the highest vote for No Award and with no less than five nominees either turning out to be ineligible or withdrawing for other reasons. I will have more to say on this in due course.

The Business Meeting

Most of this post is going to be about the 2022 WSFS Business Meeting, because after the Hugos that was my biggest concern. I do not love the Business Meeting. It is tremendously demanding of participants’ time, especially when you have other commitments (like, for instance, running the Hugo Awards). There are some participants who appear to delight in finding procedural devices to simply use up time without achieving anything, which frustrates those of us less familiar with the rules who actually do want to achieve things. In a professional environment, the Business Meeting’s persistent failure to keep to its own time commitments would not be tolerated. I do not know if it is the fault of Roberts’ Rules of Order, or of the particular sub-culture of the WSFS Business Meeting, or both, that such behaviour is rewarded and not deterred, but surely there is a better way. For now, we are stuck with it.

Having said that, I personally had a good Business Meeting in 2022. Jared Dashoff and Jesi Lipp as presiding officers did their best to keep things on track, despite the difficulties imposed by structure and culture, and succeeded as often as not. And mostly the things I wanted to happen (or not) did happen (or didn’t).

Before the convention I had published some commentary on the Hugo Awards Study Committee and its proposals (here on File 770, mirrored from here) starting with the proposition that the Committee itself should be abolished. This took up half an hour of the preliminary business meeting on the Friday (from 1:17 on the video). The outgoing Chair of the Committee made his report; I made my speech opposing the renewal of the committee; and rather surprisingly, there were no more speeches in favour of either continuation or abolition – the remaining time was filled with procedural wrangles which I found difficult to follow, including a proposal that the cameras should be turned off. (Why? I had already said my piece. Were they planning to say Dark Things about me? Did they think that my non-existent allies and minions were primed to say Dark Things about them?) As the vote was called, I accepted that I would probably lose by a small margin. To my surprise, I won by about three to one, and the Committee was dissolved. (For more detail on the Friday see Alex Acks and Kevin Standlee.)

Much less to say about Saturday (more from Alex Acks and Kevin Standlee). In my absence (I had an actual program item to go to) the Business Meeting passed resolutions condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine and the GoH status of writer Sergei Lukanienko at next year’s Worldcon. The most important thing for me personally was getting elected to the Mark Protection Committee, which works to preserve the intellectual property of the terms WSFS, Hugo, Lodestar, etc. Several years ago I helped the MPC in a dispute with the Flemish broadcaster which planned to set up its own Hugo Awards in memory of the great writer Hugo Claus. In the end VRT backed down and decided to call the awards the “Hugo Claus Awards”. I am not sure if they ever got around to awarding them. I’ve also had my differences with the MPC over some recent issues, and felt it would be better to be on the inside. Also, the E Pluribus Hugo voting system, which faced a potential sunset clause, was reratified with permanent effect.

Sunday started very happily with the declaration of the Site Selection vote for 2024. Glasgow won by a huge margin (as the only candidate). Here’s the promotion video – I am briefly visible at 3:06, but the whole thing is a joy.

An attempt to suspend standing orders in order to yell at Chengdu 2023 was rapidly quashed. Then, at last, we were onto constitutional amendments. The first of these dealt with the conditions under which a Hugo category might be won by “No Award” if the number of votes for finalists is less than 25% of the Hugo total. The Study Committee had proposed a further refinement, but Olav Rokne and others very sensibly had proposed instead simply to abolish that provision of the constitution, and after a half hour of debate they won, as I had hoped. There are still two remaining ways in which a category can be No Awarded, but I hope that they will be rare.

At this point I had to leave to do Hugo wrangling, just as the bit I cared most about hit the agenda: the amendment to clarify the definitions of the Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist Hugos, which is the single most urgent issue facing Hugo administrators. The wording put to the meeting was largely mine, but I am happy to admit that it was not perfect, and it was referred to a new committee chaired by actual artists, exactly the sort of specialist consultation which helped the Best Game category over the line. As long as we end up with definitions which are more inclusive and less work for administrators, I will be happy, but it will take at least another year. The proposed new Best Game category was passed with nine minutes of debate and a large majority; of course those nine minutes were the culmination of years of intense discussion in the wider community. It now needs to be ratified in Chengdu. (Fuller reports, again, from Alex Acks and Kevin Standlee.)

The final session of the Business Meeting on the Monday considered the last three amendments proposed by the Hugo Awards Study Committee. All of these were bad ideas; one was kicked to a committee and the other two defeated. The first was the attempt to hardwire definitions of Fan and Pro into the Constitution, a proposal which the HASC leadership themselves admitted was not really ready for ratification and which had been proposed to the Business Meeting without the knowledge of most of the Committee members. To my frustration, this was referred to the same committee which had been set up the previous day to refine the Artist categories; they may or may not choose to do anything with it, but I felt shades of 2017, when my proposal to set up a committee to look at the Artist categories was transformed into the Hugo Awards Study Committee as it came to be. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

I stood up and proposed that the Business Meeting’s recommendations to the Artist committee on this point should include consideration of whether a global change is necessary at all, or whether a category-by-category approach might be better.

To my surprise there was a passionate but incomprehensible speech against my proposal, followed equally surprisingly by Dave McCarty (at 42:32): “Everybody note the time! I am about to say that, in general, I agree [on this issue] with Nicholas Whyte, and that’s really freaking rare.” The meeting included a fair amount of sensible stuff in its recommendations to the committee, and one or two silly things, so that’s that. (They are detailed by Kevin Standlee; Alex Acks had gone home by now.)

Finally came the Hugo Awards Study Committee proposals to further restrict eligibility for Best Series by over-riding the wishes of voters and making administrators’ lives more difficult. I spoke against the second of these (at 1:14:14), but it was clear from an early stage that the Business Meeting as a whole had lost patience with the HASC, and both proposals were defeated by substantial margins.

Apart from getting itself abolished, the HASC overall managed to get only two amendments passed (Best Game, which had originated elsewhere, and another very technical one on low-participation Hugo categories), with three rejected outright and another two referred to committee. The HASC had lost internal support from its own members, including me, and then failed to move the Business Meeting. As I said above, it had seemed like a good idea at the time, but it did not work out.

Other stuff

I spoke at one panel, and attended another and a couple of Table Talks (Kaffeeklatsches without the coffee). The panel which I spoke at became somewhat chaotic – we had received mixed messages as to whether it was meant to be in hybrid format, tried that out and failed, ultimately splitting into a virtual and a physical panel. I very much enjoyed talking to Olav Rokne and L.D. Lewis about award culture, but wished we could have had more from Farah Mendlesohn and especially Mame Bougouma Diene. I am not impressed with Airmeet, and would have preferred to stick to Zoom, which we are all familiar with. The Table Talks that I attended (virtually with Neon Yang, physically with Fiona Moore and Jason Aukerman) were great fun but a bit sparse; I was 50% of the audience for the first two, and 100% for the last. I very much enjoyed the panel discussion of Titus Groan where I said a few things from the audience.

The space for hanging out was generally fine, and I enjoyed the parties that I went to. I found the background noise in the Big Bar generally too much for my middle-aged ears, but there were alternatives, and Dell Magazines kindly took Kat and me outside for a drink one evening to discuss the Astounding Award and other matters. Kat and I also dined on the north side of the river and got thoroughly lost in the scary northshore car parks on our way back, eventually reaching safety by way of the Sheraton Hotel basement. To be honest, most of my time was spent dealing with the Hugos, and after all that’s what I had signed up for, but I had many chats and a few meals with old friends (and some new friends).

I had originally planned to participate in Chengdu next year as a senior adviser, but something else has come up which will absorb most of my fannish energy (announcement soon) and I’ve stepped back from Chengdu and do not expect to attend. So I’ll hope to see you in Glasgow in 2024, where I will be WSFS Division Head and Kat Jones will again be the Hugo Administrator. Join up, if you haven’t already.

Saturday reading

Black Man, by Richard Morgan
Jocasta, by Brian Aldiss

Last books finished
A Matter of Life and Death, by George Mann, Emma Vieceli and Hi Fi
Brasyl, by Ian McDonald
Mr Britling Sees It Through, by H.G. Wells
Matt Smith: The Biography, by Emily Herbert

Next books
Speaker for the Dead,by Orson Scott Card
Empire Of Sand, by Tasha Suri

George VI’s last appearance; and The King’s Speech

I had planned to publish this post today anyway, after watching the film two weeks ago, but Thursday’s news makes it all the more appropriate. I’m not especially a royalist – I decided not to renew my British passport in 2017 – but there are some parts of the story that fascinate me on a human level. For instance, let me take you to the other end of the late Queen’s reign: here is the determinedly upbeat newsreel reporting the departure of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip for Kenya on 31 January 1952, the start of a world tour that was intended to last for months.

This was the last public appearance of King George VI. He looks, frankly, in awful shape. He had turned 56 the previous month, and lost a lung earlier in the previous year. There is dark apprehension on his face throughout the entire three minutes of the newsreel, culminating in his bleak gaze at the plane taking his daughter away from him at the end. His death less than a week later may have come as a shock to the wider world, but watching the film, and knowing what we do now, it’s difficult to avoid the impression that he himself was aware at some level that he would never see Elizabeth again.

My project of watching the Oscar-winning films in sequence takes us from the historical closure of George VI’s reign to the fictional treatment of its beginning, The King’s Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2010 and three others, Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler), tying with Inception for four statuettes on the night. There were nine other films in contention for Best Picture; I have seen Hugo finalists Inception and Toy Story 3, but none of the others, which were 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, True Grit, and Winter’s Bone. In fact, apart from the Hugo finalists, I don’t think I have seen any other films made in 2010.

IMDB users rank it 8th on one system but only 41st on the other. I must say that I love it, and, to cut to the chase, I am putting it right at the top of my personal ranking of Oscar winners, in third place, after The Sound of Music and Casablanca, but before An American in Paris. I like it much more than Inception, or any of the year’s other Hugo finalists.

There are several actors returning from previous Oscar winners. Colin Firth, the King here, was Kirstin Scott Thomas’s husband Geoffrey Clifton in The English Patient.

The other male lead, Geoffrey Rush, playing Lionel Logue here, was Philip Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love.

Guy Pearce is George VI’s brother Edward VIII here, and last year was Thompson, they guy who gets blown up at the start of The Hurt Locker.

The royal parents, George V and Queen Mary, both appeared in Doctor Who episodes that same year, 2010. Claire Bloom played the mysterious character in The End of Time, David Tennant’s swan song shown on Christmas Day 2009 and New Year’s Day 2010, who is identified by Russell T. Davies as the Doctor’s mother.

Michael Gambon, George V here, played the bad guy in Matt Smith’s first Christmas special, A Christmas Carol, shown at the end of 2010. He was also doing a lot of Dumbledoring around this time.

The only actor here to have managed both Doctor Who and another Oscar-winning film is Derek Jacobi, here Archbishop Lang, previously Senator Gracchus in Gladiator, and Professor Yana and briefly the Master in Doctor Who.

There’s a few more Doctor Who crossovers (Andrew Havill, David Bamber, Patrick Ryecart, possibly others) but let’s move on.

The film is about the relationship between Bertie, Duke of York, who had a difficult speech impediment, and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, an unqualified Australian. Bertie unexpectedly becomes King George VI when his brother abdicates after their father’s death, and overcomes his stammer to unite Britain and the Empire in the face of Nazi Germany and the Second World War. It is loosely (see below) based on historical events, with the flow of history interrupted by the channels of artistic licence.

I love most of this film, but I don’t love Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill. In real life Churchill was not prime minister until after the film ends and was out of government for most of the period it covers; there is no way that he would have been at most of the events and conversations he is depicted as having here. Yeah, yeah, I know, you can’t make a movie about the (origins of the) Second World War without somewhat over-Churchilling it. But I felt that this went a bit far. On top of that, Spall’s depiction is pretty much caricature, compared even to Ian McNiece in that year’s Doctor Who, let alone John Lithgow more recently in The Crown.

My historian’s soul twitches at other truncations of history. Most obviously, the film starts in 1925 and ends in 1939, yet the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret do not age, and in general you feel that it is set over a period of weeks and months rather than years. As I discovered from reading the book, the relationship between the Duke/King and Logue was much smoother going in real life, with most of the tension between them invented for the screen. Of course, the makers of fictional drama do need to insert drama somewhere.

And Myrtle Logue knew about it all along, which means the single best and funniest scene of the film, when she comes home early to find the queen of England in her living room, is completely fictional. In reality the Logues started to attend palace events from 1928; by the time this scene is set, in 1937, she would have known the new queen for almost a decade.

Logue did attend and assist King George VI for his radio broadcasts during the war, so the climactic final speech at the start of the war on 3 September 1939, accompanied by the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, with Logue conducting his articulation, is a bit closer to history. In fact the Director-General of the BBC was there too – those were the days when a DG knew how to fix a mike – but the music probably was not.

And that takes me to two of the things I particularly love about the film, the music and the cast. I am easily pleased by respectful and appropriate use of some of my favourite classical pieces; Beethoven’s Seventh has been mentioned, also his Emperor Concerto, Mozart’s Overture for the Marriage of Figaro and his Clarinet Concerto (though cutting off just before you get to the clarinet). Purists may sneer that these are just exactly the classical pieces that you would put into a film to easily please the crowds, but I am not ashamed of being pleased.

I’ve identified most of the key cast above, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and so on, and they are all brilliant (with one exception, which has been noted). But the one I haven’t mentioned so far is Helena Bonham-Carter, whose great-grandfather was the prime minister who appointed Winston Churchill to his first cabinet job. She’s one of my favourite actresses anyway (not quite at the level of Juliette Binoche, but who could be?) and I think this is one of her absolute top performances, as the Duchess of York / Queen Elizabeth. Helena Bonham-Carter is less than a year older than me, so must remember the real Queen Mother well – she lived to 2002 – and has done a fantastic job of catching her mannerisms and investing them with more depth and character, if I dare say it, that the original may have had. (Freya Wilson as the young Princess Elizabeth is delightful too.)

Incidentally, Helena Bonham-Carter and Juliette Binoche appear never to have acted in the same film. Spooky or what?

I’ve saved the thing I like most about the film until last, because it’s much more personal to me. There is a big gulf between the disabilities in my own immediate family and the speech impediment suffered by George VI. But I have become acquainted with speech therapists, and I love the fact that the film makers didn’t tell a story about a man being “cured”; they told the story of him learning to live with disability, and getting on with his life, and coping with it as an extra burden when circumstances called on him to do extraordinary things. Sure, he was immensely privileged, but the film makes it very clear that that is not sufficient. Yes, I’m sometimes a sucker for sentimentality.

I read the book on which the film was loosely based less than ten years ago, so I’m not going to reread it this time. Its title is The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy, which ever-so-slightly overpromises. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

It was only by chance — and another of the spontaneous decisions that shaped his life — that Logue, by then employed as an instructor in elocution at the Perth Technical School, had found himself aboard the Hobsons Bay. He and a doctor friend had planned to take their families away for a holiday together. The Logue family’s bags were packed and their car ready to go when the telephone rang: it was the doctor.

In 2015, I wrote:

A nice little book to go with the film, though this is not a novelisation but a biography of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue by his grandson (who never knew him) and a Sunday Times journalist. It’s a fascinating and intricate story of reverse migration – at a time when Australia was still absorbing newcomers from Britain, Logue and his family went in the opposite driection, to try and carve out a career in a new field for which he had no professional qualifications; and he succeeded, and what’s more, he made a lot of people’s lives better, one of whom unexpectedly became King of England.

The film, of course, telescoped the time line and injected dramatic elements to the story where they were needed. One of the most cheering things to find out was that Logue and the Duke of York were friends pretty much from the start; the plotline of the duke needing to be convinced that Logue’s therapy was worth trying was more or less invented for dramatic licence. It is, however, true that Logue was in attendance for the new king’s first radio speeches from Sandringham. It was also rather heartwarming to read their continued warm correspondence even after the king no longer needed Logue’s professional services.

I thought I spotted a Northern Ireland link, but it turned out to be bogus: in the mid-1920s the comptroller of the Duke of York’s household was one Captain Basil Brooke. Was this, I wondered, the future Prime Minister of Northern Ireland? Wikipedia seemed to indicate a gap in his political career in the mid-1920s which was just the right fit; also his highest military rank, achieved in 1920, was Captain. However, further digging revealed that the comptroller was a navy man (and in fairness an exalted naval captain is a more likely candidate for uch a post than a humble army captain), who was Rear Admiral Sir Basil Brooke by 1928. Wikipedia lists two Royal Navy officers of that name and roughly the right age, one born in 1882 and one born in 1895, but neither of them seemed quite right – certainly neither was a Rear Admiral in 1928. It turns out that the royal official was yet another naval Basil Brooke, the first cousin once removed of the future Northern Ireland Prime Minister, born in 1876 and living until 1945. His wife Olave is the subject of a painting by Australian artist George W. Lambert, The Red Shawl.

Next up in this sequence is the Oscar-winning film The Artist; the Hugo and Bradbury awards both went to 2011 TV shows rather than films (Game of Thrones and The Doctor’s Wife) so I’ll be skipping them.

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)

The Light Years, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Second paragraph of third chapter (and these are long chapters):

He was back again, standing in the bedroom doorway, waiting with exaggerated patience for her to shut her suitcase. He always insisted upon loading the car for her, which was a sort of coals-of-fire kindness. As a matter of fact, even with the roof rack it took a bit of doing for five of them, but he made a regimented meal of it – insisting upon everybody’s luggage being stacked on the pavement beside the car before he would begin.

This was slightly an impulse purchase for Anne’s birthday when I saw it in the local bookshop. I am sorry to say that all I knew about the writer was that she had been married to Kingsley Amis; I guess I was vaguely aware that she was a writer in her won right, but I had not realised that she was so good. (I was also unaware that her first brief marriage was to the naturalist Peter Scott.)

It is the first book in a series about the Cazalets, a wealthy English family in the international timber trade (like Howard’s own). This one is set just before the second world war, and introduces us to the Cazalet family: three brothers and a sister, the women who are their lovers, their children and their parents, and a couple of other family connections as well. Everyone gets a couple of sections to themselves, the tight-third narrative moving from person to person to highlight the differences and similarities in perspective between the various relatives. The shadow of the first war lies heavily on all of them as they try and avoid thinking about the next one.

It’s a leisurely opening for an epic, and you couldn’t really call it a novel because the story does not end at the end of the book. There are a couple of pretty dark moments as well, setting up more narrative threads for future volumes. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. You can get it here.

The Kosovo Indictment, by Michael O’Reilly

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Several children and a pregnant woman were among the 24 people killed in these two actions, most of them from just two families – Ahmeti and Sejdiu. Both families were associated with the KLA and the evidence suggests that both attempted to resist the Serb attack but were quickly overwhelmed.

I know the author of this book, and I know the subject, and I know many people mentioned in the book (including Søren Jessen-Petersen, who wrote the foreword). It’s an account of the war crimes trial of Ramush Haradinaj, briefly Prime Minister of Kosovo, written by a leading member of his defence team. There is a lot of well-crystallised historical information about the roots of the Kosovo conflict and Haradinaj’s role in it, and also a lot of excoriating analysis of the weakness of the prosecution case (Haradinaj was in the end acquitted, twice). I did not spot any errors in the former, and so am more inclined to trust the author on the latter.

The core argument of the book is a strong case that the prosecution of Haradinaj and others was launched as a political sop to the government of Serbia in order to encourage Belgrade to cooperate with the international tribunal. The facts are that the final batch of indictments by ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) included seven high-ranking non-Serbs, every one of whom was ultimately acquitted; but Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić, the two highest-ranking Bosnian Serb fugitives, were handed over by Serbia shortly after the indictments were issued. One may draw one’s own conclusions. You can get the book here.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves (sorry Michael). Next on that pile is Political Animals, by Bev Laing.

That Damn’d Thing Called “Honour”: Duelling in Ireland, 1570-1860, by James Kelly

Second paragraph of third chapter, with table:

Many factors contributed to the growth in enthusiasm for duelling in Ireland in the late 1760s and 1770s. The social and attitudinal effects of economic prosperity, already referred to,’ were at work a fortiori by the end of the 1760s; while the disinclination of the authorities to use the law to confine the enthusiasm for duelling meant that there was little by way of legal obstacles in their path. Table 2.6, which summarises the response of the law to the recorded duelling incidents that constitute our sample for the years 1716-70, indicates that there was an identifiable decline in the proportion of duellists taken to court in the mid-eighteenth century. By the 1760s the authorities no longer prosecuted duellists as a matter of course, even in cases in which there were fatalities, if the duel was deemed to have been conducted within the code of honour, because judges and juries routinely returned verdicts of manslaughter in self-defence which ensured the defendant’s prompt release.

I got this because I remain very intrigued by the reported incident of about 1723 when one of my 5x great-grandfathers, John Ryan Glas of Inch, Co Tipperary, was killed in a duel in Dublin by another of my 5x great-grandfathers, John White of Leixlip, Co Kildare, in a property dispute that escalated. Kelly doesn’t refer to that in his book, but it’s still a very interesting analysis of socially sanctioned extrajudicial violence in a society which was going through many transitions.

Although the dates given are 1570 to 1860, most of the recorded duels are from the eighteenth century. I do have a family connection with one of the earliest of them, however, the 1583 trial by combat between two of the O’Conors of Uí Failge (Offaly, as we now call it), held in the yard of Dublin castle at the command of my ancestor Sir Nicholas White, Master of the Rolls.

But basically the formal duel came into its own in the aftermath of the Williamite settlement, when the rule of law was weak but the concept of honour remained strong, and intensified in the later part of the century as political change began to build. Indeed it’s striking just how many of the leading politicians of the day were involved with duelling, right up to Grattan and Flood, and the young Daniel O’Connell.

I also realised that I had forgotten whatever I once knew about the complexity of eighteenth-century Irish politics, with the corrupt but stable “undertaker” system during the mid-century upset by the Castle v Patriot dynamic towards the end, which led to autonomy from 1782, failed rebellion in 1798 and Union in 1801. These political struggles were not only carried out verbally. But at the same time, quite a lot of duels were resolved without either combatant being killed, and no major figure lost his life in that way (unlike Alexander Hamilton).

So, plenty to chew on. You can get it here.

2022 Hugo statistics

The full statistics document for this year, mainly by me, is available here.


2235 final ballots and 1368 nominating ballots were received, consistent with 2020 and 2021, less than the 2014-2020 period, more than any year before 2014.

No particularly close results for the top spot. Best Editor Long Form was decided by a margin of 26 votes, and Best Semiprozine by a margin of 27. 

At lower placings, there was a tie for 5th place in the Best Fanzine category, and 5th place in the Best Fancast category was decided by a margin of one vote.

In 16 categories out of 19, the finalist with most first preferences won. Two rose from second place and one from third. 

  • Five nominees declined nomination or were not eligible in Best Editor Long Form.
  • Two nominees declined nomination or were not eligible in Best Professional Artist.
  • One nominee declined nomination in each of Best Novella and Best Fan Writer.
  • One nominee was disqualified in each of Best Graphic Story or Comic and Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. 

The last place on the ballot in the following categories was decided by a single vote: Best Graphic Story or Comic; Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form; Best Editor Long Form; Best Semiprozine; and Best Fan Artist.

The last place on the ballot in the following categories was decided by a margin of two votes: Best Novelette; Best Short Story; Best Series; Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form; Best Professional Artist; and Best Fan Writer.

Best Novel

A Desolation Called Peace was only 14 votes ahead of Light from Uncommon Stars in the first round but finished with a margin of 128. Light From Uncommon Stars came second, A Master of Djinn third, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within fourth and She Who Became the Sun fifth, by just seven votes; Project Hail Mary came sixth despite having the third highest number of first preferences.

At nominations stage, A Desolation Called Peace was also way ahead. Perhaps the Stars, by Ada Palmer, would have qualified with five more bullet votes. 

One of three categories where I voted for the winner myself.

Best Novella

A Psalm for the Wild-Built started with a lead of 70 over Elder Race and finished with a decisive lead of 236. Elder Race came second, The Past Is Red third, A Spindle Splintered fourth, Across the Green Grass Fields fifth and Fireheart Tiger sixth, also exactly the order by number of first preferences.

Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells, topped the nominations poll, but she declined, bringing Elder Race onto the ballot. Comfort Me with Apples, by Cat Valente, and Remote Control, by Nnedi Okorafor, both missed nomination by 9 votes.

Another category where I voted for the winner.

Best Novelette

“Bots of the Lost Ark” won by a substantial margin, a first round lead of 103 over L’Esprit de L’Escalier extending to a final count lead of 275. “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd” came second (I voted for it myself), “Colors of the Immortal Palette” third, “That Story isn’t the Story” fourth, L’Esprit de l’Escalier fifth despite having the second highest number of first preferences, and “O2 Arena” sixth. 

The nominations count was very different, with “That Story Isn’t the Story” topping the poll and the eventual winner in fourth place. “Mulberry and Owl”, by Aliette de Bodard, missed nomination by two votes, one of six categories where this was the case.

Best Short Story

“Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” started with a lead of 51 over “Mr Death” and finished with a lead of 69. “Mr Death” came second, “Unknown Number” (my own choice) third, “Proof by Induction” fourth, “The Sin of America” fifth by. Three-vote margin and “Tangles” sixth.

“Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” was also ahead at nominations. This was another category where the last spot was decided by a margin of two votes, the loser this time being “The Cold Calculations”, by Aimee Ogden.

Best Series

Wayward Children started 236 votes ahead of The World of the White Rat, and finished 276 votes ahead, the biggest winning margin of the night. The World of the White Rat came second, The Green Bone Saga third, Terra Ignotafourth, The Kingston Cycle fifth and Merchant Princes (my own choice) sixth.

Wayward Children was also far ahead at nominations stage. We had some head-scratching with the vote tally, as we are not allowed to tally votes for a sub-series together with votes for that series, But the numbers came together for World of the White Rat to take the final place, and Seanan McGuire missed a second place on the ballot for Incryptidby just two votes. 

Best Graphic Story or Comic

Far Sector started with a 105 vote lead over Monstress v6 and extended it to 120 on the final count. Monstress v6 came second, Lore Olympus third, Die v4 fourth, Once and Future v3 fifth and Strange Adventures sixth.

Seanan McGuire topped the nominations poll with Ghost Spider: Party People, but our research indicated clearly that it had been published in 2020 so was not eligible. That brought Strange Adventures onto the ballot. The Girl From the Sea, by Molly Ostertag, missed that place by one vote, one of five categories where this was the case.

Myself I love Once and Future, and voted for it, and also did not understand the lack of love for Strange Adventures, which I quite enjoyed without necessarily considering it a masterpiece.

Best Related Work

Being Seen started 30 votes ahead of Never Say You Can’t Survive, but performed poorly on transfers, ending 53 votes behind. Being Seen then took second place, “How Twitter Can Ruin a Life” came third, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds (my own choice) fourth, The Complete Debarkle fifth and True Believer sixth. 

It was a different story at nominations, with The Complete Debarkle topping the poll and the eventual winner Never Say You Can’t Survive third. F. Brett Cox’s Roger Zelazny missed the ballot by four votes.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Dune started 176 votes ahead of WandaVision and finished with a diminished margin of 141. WandaVison came second, Encanto third, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (my own choice) fourth, The Green Knight fifth and Space Sweepers sixth.

Dune was also way ahead at nominations stage. Spiderman: No Way Home missed the ballot by two votes.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Expanse: Nemesis Games started 81 votes ahead of Loki: The Nexus Event and finished 76 votes ahead. The Nexus Event came second; Star Trek Lower Decks: wej Duj (which I voted for) came third; For All Mankind: The Grey came fourth, The Wheel of Time: The Flame of Tar Valon fifth and Arcane: The Monster You Created sixth.

Nemesis Games also topped the poll at nominations stage. Second place went to the WandaVision episode Previously On, but the whole WandaVision series also had enough votes to qualify for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, so we disqualified the episode (which had only 32 nominations, compared to 104 for the series) allowing wej Duj to take its place on the ballot. The Loki episode Journey Into Mystery missed that spot by a single vote.

Best Editor Short Form

Neil Clarke started eight votes behind Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, but picked up transfers to finish 41 ahead. Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki took second place by 7 votes ahead of Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, who then came third. Sheree Renée Thomas came fourth, Jonathan Strahan fifth and Sheila Williams sixth.

Neil Clarke topped the poll at nominations stage. Scott Andrews would have needed 6 more bullet votes to qualify.

Best Editor Long Form

Ruoxi Chen started on 155 votes to 168 for Navah Wolfe and 160 for Patrick Nielsen Hayden, but picked up transfers to finish 26 votes in front of Navah Wolfe, the closest result of the night (not all that close in fact). Navah Wolfe came second, Patrick Nielsen Hayden third, Sarah Guan fourth, Nivia Evans fifth and Brit Hvide sixth. 

Ruoxi Chen had also topped the poll at nominations stage; but we had an extraordinary situation where one of the top six nominees declined and two of the others told us that they were not eligible. Two more of the next five nominees also told us that they were not eligible, so the sixth place on the ballot went to voters’ eleventh preference. Three nominees, K.B. Spangler, Carl Engle-Laird and Oliver Johnson, could have got that last place with one more vote.

This category had the highest proportion of votes for No Award. I have Thoughts about this, which I will develop in due course.

Best Professional Artist

Rovina Cai started 16 votes ahead of Maurizio Manzieri but finished with a margin of 110. Alyssa Winans came second, Tommy Arnold third, Ashley Mackenzie fourth, Maurizio Manzieri fifth despite having the second highest number of first preferences (including mine) and Will Staehle sixth.

Things were very different at nominations stage. Alyssa Winans topped the poll, and the eventual winner, Rovina Cai, had the equal third highest number of first preferences and came fifth on the EPH ranking. We also had John Picacio declining nomination and Galen Dara informing us that she was not eligible; their places were taken by Will Staehle and Tommy Arnold. Iris Compiet would have qualified with two more votes.

Best Semiprozine

Uncanny was 58 votes ahead of FIYAH on the first count, reduced to 27 at the end, the second closest result of the night. FIYAH came second, Strange Horizons third, Escape Pod fourth, Beneath Ceaseless Skies fifth and PodCastle sixth, the same as the order by first preferences.

This was also almost exactly the same order as the nominations ranking, except that Escape Pod was fourth and Beneath Ceaseless Skies fifth. Mermaids Monthly missed the ballot by one vote.

Best Fanzine

Small Gods had a lead of 108 on the first count over the Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog, and ended with a margin of 56. The Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog came second, Journey Planet third, Galactic Journey fourth, and The Full Lid and Quick Sip Reviews tied for fifth place, the only tie anywhere this year.

Nominations were very different, with the Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog  way in the lead and the eventual winner, Small Gods, getting the fewest number of nominating votes among finalists, though ending up fourth under EPH ranking. Black Nerd Problems would  have qualified with three more votes.

Best Fancast

Our Opinions Are Correct, hosted by the MCs of the Hugo ceremony, was 88 votes ahead of Hugo, Girl! on the first count and won by 136 votes. Worldbuilding for Masochists got a lot of OOAC transfers and came second by three votes over Hugo, Girl!Hugo, Girl! came third, The Coode Street Podcast fourth, Octothorpe fifth by a single vote and Be The Serpent sixth.

Nominations were very different with The Coode Street Podcast top and Our Opinions Are Correct fifth. The Skiffy and Fanty Show would have qualified with 4 more votes.

Best Fan Writer 

Cora Buhlert had a lead of 32 votes (one of them mine – thi was the third category where I voted for the winner) over Bitter Karella on the first round, but ended 102 votes ahead of Jason Sanford on the last round. Jason Sanford came second, Paul Weimer third and Bitter Karella fourth despite having the second highest number of first preferences. Chris Barkley came fifth and Alex Brown sixth.

Cora Buhlert was also way ahead at nominations, and second-placed Camestros Felapton withdrew, bringing Jason Sanford onto the ballot. Amanda Cherry would have needed two more bullet votes for that slot.

Best Fan Artist

Lee Moyer had proportionally the best first preference result of any finalist, starting 106 ahead of Sara Felix and finishing 43 ahead of her. Sara Felix came second, Nilah Magruder third, Iain Clark fourth, Lorelei Esther fifth and Ariel Housman sixth.

At nominations, Iain Clark had the most votes and Sara Felix ranked top under EPH, with Lee Moyer, the winner, third. Richard Man would have qualified with one more vote.

Lodestar Award

The Last Graduate started 80 votes ahead of Iron Widow and finished 55 votes ahead. Iron Widow came second, Chaos on Catnet (my own choice) third, Victories Greater than Death fourth, A Snake Falls to Earth fifth and Redemptor sixth.

At nominations, Iron Widow had the most votes, but The Last Graduate was top under EPH. Along the Saltwise Sea, by A. Deborah Blake, was 14 votes adrift, the biggest gap in any category between finalists and non-finalists.

Astounding Award

Shelley Parker-Chan started 36 votes aehad of Micaiah Johnson and finished with a lead of 7. Micaiah Johnson came second, Xiran Jay Zhao third, Tracy Deonn fourth, A.K. Larkwood (my own chice) fifth and Everine Maxwell sixth.

Shelley Parker-Chan was also far ahead at nominations. Gautam Bhatia missed the last spot on the ballot by four votes.

We decided to include a bunch more statistics at the end, including showing how many categories voters engaged with, and how many nominations and final ballot preferences were given by voters in each category. I’d welcome feedback about what else could be included, without risking confidentiality.

December 2017 books, and 2017 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.

December 2017 started with a trip to Amsterdam, where I found the apartment where Anne Frank and her family had lived before going into hiding.

I went to London twice, the second time for the office party with a James Bond theme:

I also had a day trip to Milan.

H joined us for Christmas, as so often.

I also answered the classic question, which lines of latitude and longitude pass through the most countries?

I had spent nights away from home in 20 places in 11 countries, and tansited another four in the course of the year.

I read 22 books that month:

Non-fiction: 8 (2017 total 57)
Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: Notes on Science Fiction and Culture in the Year of Angry Dogs
, by Philip Sandifer
The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham
Alexander the Corrector: The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden’s Concordance Unwrote the Bible by Julia Keay
The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig
A History of the Future: Prophets of Progress from H.G. Wells to Isaac Asimov, by Peter J. Bowler
Zola and his time; the history of his martial career in letters: With an account of his circle of friends, his remarkable enemies, cyclopean labors, public campaigns, trials and ultimate glorification by Matthew Josephson
Democracy and its Deficits: The path towards becoming European-style democracies in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, by Ghia Nodia with Denis Cenușă and Mikhail Minakov
The Story of English in 100 Words, by David Crystal

Fiction (non-sf): 3 (2017 total 26)
The Lies Of Fair Ladies
, by Jonathan Gash
Men Against The Sea, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Pitcairn’s Island, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

sf (non-Who): 3 (2017 total 68)
, by Nisi Shawl
Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories, ed. John Joseph Adams
The Power, by Naomi Alderman

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (2017 total 51)
Re: Collections
, ed. Xanna Eve Chown
Fear Itself, by Nick Wallace
A Life in Pieces, by Dave Stone, Paul Sutton & Joseph Lidster

Comics 5 (2017 total 29)
, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vol 3, by Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino, art by Carlos Gomez
Het genootschap van Socrates by Yves Leclercq and Stéphanie Heurteau
The Autumnlands, Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw, by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey
Aliénor: La Légende Noire, vol 4, by Arnaud Delalande and Simona Mogavino, art by Carlos Gomez

6,900 pages (2017 total 60,500)
7/22 (2017 total 64/238) by women (Keay, Shawl, Alderman, Mogavino x 2, Heurteau)
1/22 (2017 total 17/238) by PoC (Shawl)

Top book of the month: Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (reread). Get it here.
Top new book of the month: The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig. Get it here.
Nothing too awful.

2017 books roundup

Total books: 238, 11th highest of the years that I have counted.

Total page count: ~60,500, lowest of any year since 2005.

64/238, 27% by women, a bit below previous and subsequent years.
17/238, 7% by PoC, exceeded every years since.

Most books by a single author: Colin Brake and Leo, both with 5 (previous winners: Christopher Marlowe in 2016, 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 (68)

Back to the levels of pre-2014. (I was a Clarke Award judge in 2014-15, and then deliberately cast my sf reading net wider in 2016 as part of the anti-Puppy campaign.)

Best non-Who sff read in 2016: All The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (review with other Hugo novels) – by a long way my top choice for the Hugos, a magical contemporary Bildungsroman.

Runner-up: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead (review with other non-Hugo novels)) – fascinating steampunk alternate history of slavery in America.

The one you might not heard of: The Deepest Sea, by Charles Barnitz (review) – much better than usual Celtic fantasy, marred however by a dodgy map.

Welcome rereads: The Illustrated Man (review), The Colour of Magic (review), Dune (review).

The one to skip: The Red Leaguers, by Shan F. Bullock (review) – Irish war of independence in 1904 goes wrong, flawed and unpleasant protagonist.

Non-fiction (57)

This was my highest non-fiction total since 2011, and my highest percentage for non-fiction since I started tallying categories separately in 2009. I think this was partly birthday presents, which were biased towards non-fiction; partly that non-fiction books have been moving to the top of my various piles; and partly a genuine shift in my own reading tastes.

Best non-fiction read in 2017: Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light (review) – lovely micro-history of four lines of ancestry in the recent history of England.

Runner-up: Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (review)- great insight into how we think the way we do, and why we are wrong in what we think about it.

The one you might not heard of, if you’re not in the Dublin or Brussels bubbles: Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response, by Tony Connelly (review) – essential reading on both the behind the scenes diplomacy and the stakes for the country most affected by Brexit.

Welcome reread: In Xanadu (review)

The one to skip: 1434: The Year a Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance, by Gavin Menzies (review) – such a bad rewriting of history that I wondered what its purpose really was.

Doctor Who (and spinoff) fiction (51)

Picking up a bit from the dip of the last couple of years.

Best Who book read in 2016: The Pirate Planet, by Douglas Adams and James Goss (review) – Goss has ironed off the corners and made this a much smoother story, as usual a delight to read, and also includes bonus material on how Adams developed the plot.

Runner-up: Rip Tide, by Louise Cooper (review) – one of the good Telos novellas, taking the Eighth Doctor to a seaside resort to investigate mysterious goings on.

Worth flagging up for Whovians: Based On The Popular TV Serial, by Paul Smith (review) – a guide to the Target novelisations.

The ones you won’t have heard of: The three novels based on short-lived spin-off Class (review), by Guy AdamsA.K. Benedict and especially (again) James Goss.

Comics (29)

Best graphic story read in 2016: Antarès, by Leo – excellent futuristic yarn. I read it in the original French but it has been translated into English (123456)

Runner-up: The Vision vol 1: Little Worse Than A Man, by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta (review) – I (somewhat reluctantly) really liked this story of an inhuman family trying to fit in.

Welcome reread: Watchmen (review).

The one you won’t have heard of: Re-#AnimateEurope: International Comics Competition 2017, ed. Hans H.Stein, by Jordana Globerman, Stefan “Schlorian” Haller, Štepánka Jislová, Noëlle Kröger, Magdalena Kaszuba, Davide Pascutti and Paul Rietzl (review) – nicely applying the medium of the graphic novel to the problems of Europe today.

Non-sfnal fiction (26)

A historic low for non-sf fiction reading, mainly I think because I had read almost all all the well-known books of that kind on my shelves, which were (and are) still heaving with unread sf and non-fiction.

Best non-sff fiction read in 2016: A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth (review) – brilliant huge story of India just after independence.

Runner-up: Children are Civilians Too, by Heinrich Böll (review) – gripping short stories from Germany of about the same period.

The one you might not heard of: Five Go On A Strategy Away Day, by Bruno Vincent (review) – quite a funny parody of the grownup Famous Five in competition with the Secret Seven.

Welcome reread: Robinson Crusoe (review).

The one to skip: The Angel Maker, by Stefan Brijs (review) – really horrible story set on the Belgian frontier with Germany.

Plays (5)

There were only five of these. The only one I’d really really like to see on the stage, having seen the film that was based on it, is Cavalcade, by Noël Coward (review including also the Oscar-winning film).

Poetry (2)

Just two. Catullus is better than Roald Dahl.

Book of the year

Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light

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
2016Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot
2017: See above
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.

Saturday reading

Brasyl, by Ian McDonald
Mr Britling Sees It Through, by H.G. Wells
A Matter of Life and Death, by George Mann, Emma Vieceli and Hi Fi

Last books finished
The Traders’ War, by Charles Stross
Political Animals, by Bev Laing

Next books
Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
Empire Of Sand, by Tasha Suri