My books of 2022, including my book of the year

I read 298 books in 2022, two more than in 2021, the fourth highest of the nineteen years that I have been keeping track, and the highest since 2011.

Page count for the year: 76,500, ninth highest of the nineteen years I have recorded, almost in the middle; there are some very short books in there.

Books by non-male writers in 2022: 109 (37%), second highest tally and fourth highest percentage of the years I have been counting.

Books by PoC in 2021: 39 (13%), second highest tally and third highest percentage since I started counting.

Most-read author this year: it’s a tie between two previous winners, Terrance Dicks and Kieron Gillen, with five each. The Dicks novelisations were all re-reads.

(previous winners: Neil Gaiman in 2021, Kieron Gillen in 2020, Brian K. Vaughan in 2019, Tove Jansson and Marcel Proust in 2018, Colin Brake and Leo in 2017, 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, Neil Gaiman and Catherine Asaro in 2004).

1) Science Fiction and Fantasy (excluding Doctor Who)

122 books (41%) – 4th highest total, 8th highest percentage.

Top SF book of the year:

I have to be a little coy here, because there are some very good Clarke nominees coming through the mix that I don’t yet feel free to discuss. Apart from that, I’m going to give a joint award to two books which were in the Hugo packet:

Honourable mentions to:

Welcome rereads:

The one you don’t have:

The one to avoid:

2) Non-fiction

95 books (32%) – highest ever number, third highest percentage. I think this has been driven upwards by the excellent Black Archive series of short books about Doctor Who stories, but that’s not the only factor.

Top non-fiction book of the year:

Honourable mentions to:

The one you haven’t heard of:

The one to avoid:

  • Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five, by Neil Gaiman, early stuff from a writer who went on to much better things; out of print.

3) Doctor Who

Fiction other than comics: 39 books (13%), 10th highest total (dead in the middle) of the last nineteen years and highest since 2017, 13th highest percentage

Including non-fiction and comics: 72 (24%), 7th highest total and 6th highest percentage, both highest since 2013

Top Doctor Who book of the year:

Honorable mentions to:

The one you haven’t heard of:

The one to avoid:

4) Comics

20 (7%), 11th highest total and 12th highest percentage, both lowest since 2015.

Top comic of the year:

Honourable mentions:

  • Snotgirl Volume 1: Green Hair Don’t Care, by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Lesley Hung, an encouraging start to a new series; get it here
  • Once and Future vol 3: The Parliament of Magpies and vol 4: Monarchies in the UK, by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain, continues to delightfully and brutally subvert Arthuriana; get them here and here

The one you haven’t heard of:

The one to avoid:

5) Non-genre fiction

18 (6%); second lowest tally and lowest ever percentage of the nineteen years that I have been keeping track. Not quite sure why this is; perhaps as I work through the unread bookshelves more ruthlessly, I am getting through loads of previously unread sf, where I had already got to most of the non-genre fiction I had bought on a whim.

Top non-genre fiction of the year – joint honours to two very different books:

Honourable mention:

The one you haven’t heard of:

  • A Ship is Dying, by Brian Callison, gripping account of a maritime accident in the North Sea; get it here

Nothing that was so awful that I would recommend avoidance.

6) Others: poetry and scripts

I read two excellent poetry collections by Northern Irish writers, Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney (get it here) and The Sun Is Open by Gail McConnell (get it here). I also read a very odd play, Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar (get it here), which was the basis for the much better film Beasts of the Southern Wild.

My Book of the Year

This year’s winner of the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize was, for the first time, a book of poetry, The Sun is Open, by QUB-based writer Gail McConnell. In fact the 119 pages of text are one long poem broken into chunks, playing with text and with font colour, processing the writer’s reaction to going through a box of her father’s things, long after he died in 1984 at 35, shot dead by the IRA while checking under his car for bombs, in front of his wife and his then three-year-old daughter.

Gail McConnell barely remembers her father and has no memory of that awful day, but of course it has affected her whole life, and the poetry captures that disruption and the effect of engaging with her father through a box of personal souvenirs, most notably a diary and a Students Union handbook from his own time at QUB. There is some imaginative playing with structure – quotations from the box are in grey text, documents are quoted in fragments to let us fill in the blanks, at one point the page fills with vertical bars to symbolise the prison where her father worked. It’s provocative and unsettling, and meant to be. 

I thought it was incredible and it’s my book of the year for 2022. You can get it here.

Previous Books of the Year:

2003 (2 months): The Separation, by Christopher Priest (review; get it here)
2004: (reread) The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (review; get it here)
– Best new read: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin (review; get it here)
2005: The Island at the Centre of the World, by Russell Shorto (review; get it here)
2006: Lost 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 (review; get it here)
2007: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel (review; get it here)
2008: (reread) The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank (review; get it here)
– Best new read: Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray (review; get it here)
2009: (had seen it on stage previously) Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (review; get it here)
– Best new read: Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (first volume just pipped by Samuel Pepys in 2004) (review; get it here)
2010: The Bloody Sunday Report, by Lord Savile et al. (review of vol I; get it here)
2011: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon (started in 2009!) (review; get it here)
2012: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë (review; get it here)
2013: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf (review; get it here)
2014: Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell (review; get it here)
2015: collectively, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, in particular the winner, Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel (get it here). 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 (review; get it here)
2016: Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot (review; get it here)
2017: Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light (review; get it here)
2018: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling (review; get it here)
2019: Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo (review; get it here)
2020: From A Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb, by Timothy Knatchbull (review; get it here)
2021: Carrying the Fire, by Michael Collins (review; get it here)

Saturday reading and December books

Current
Metamorphoses, by Ovid
Tales from Ovid, by Ted Hughes
γ2
Fugue for a Darkening Island, by Christopher Priest
All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva

Last books finished
The Free Lunch, by Spider Robinson
A Ship is Dying, by Brian Callison
What If? by Randall Munroe
On Black Sisters’ Street, by Chika Unigwe
Sewer, Gas and Electric, by Matt Ruff

December 2022 books

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 97)
Warriors’ Gate, by Frank Collins
Zink, by David Van Reybrouck
The Romans, by Jacob Edwards
The Ahtisaari Legacy, ed. Nina Suomalainen and Jyrki Karvinen
What If? by Randall Munroe

Non-genre 3 (YTD 18)
A Darker Shade, ed. John-Henri Holmberg
A Ship is Dying, by Brian Callison
On Black Sisters’ Street, by Chika Unigwe

SF 17 (YTD 122)
φ1
χ1 (did not finish)
Filter House, by Nisi Shawl
ψ1
Looking Further Backward, by Arthur Dudley Vinton
ω1
Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, by Lawrence M. Schoen
α2
“Schrödinger’s Kitten”, by George Alec Effinger
The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison with Marvin Minsky
The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness
“The Last of the Winnebagos”, by Connie Willis
Shadows of Amber, by John Betancourt
β2
Killing Time, by Caleb Carr
The Free Lunch, by Spider Robinson
Sewer, Gas and Electric, by Matt Ruff

Doctor Who 3 (YTD 34)
Doctor Who: Origin Stories (ed. ?Dave Rudden?)
Doctor Who and Warriors’ Gate, by John Lydecker
Doctor Who: The Romans, by Donald Cotton

Comics 2 (YTD 20)
Official Secrets, by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson and Marco Lesko
The Carnival of Immortals, by Enki Bilal

7,100 pages (YTD 66,500)
9/30 (YTD 109/298) by non-male writers (Suomalainen, Unigwe, φ1, Shawl, ψ1α2, Willis, β2, Melo)
4/30 (YTD 39/298) by a non-white writer (Unigwe, Shawl,ω1β2)

384 books currently tagged “unread”, 11 less than last month, with more Clarke Award submissions read than received and some work done on the 2016 backlog.

Annual roundup in the next post.

Coming soon (perhaps)

Sin Eaters, by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson and Marco Lesko
Rise of the Dominator, by Robert Mammone
The Fires of Pompeii, by James Moran
Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock. by Terrance Dicks
Horror of Fang Rock, by Matthew Guerrieri
Doctor Who: Battlefield, by Marc Platt
Battlefield, by Philip Purser-Hallard
God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity, by Rupert Shortt
Diary of a Witchcraft Shop 2, by Trevor Jones and Liz Williams
Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, by Frank McGuinness
At The Edge Of The World, by Lord Dunsany
Death Draws Five, by John J. Miller
“The Mountains of Mourning” by Lois McMaster Bujold
Alternating Current, by Jody Houser et al
The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo
Neptune – Épisode 1 by Leo
Penric’s Progress, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, by Dubravka Ugrešić
Complexity: A Very Short Introduction, by John H. Holland
The World Set Free: A Fantasia of the Future, by H.G. Wells
Roadside Picnic, by Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov
Madam Secretary, by Madeleine Albright
Tales from Planet Earth, by Arthur C Clarke
Ratlines, by Stuart Neville
My Family And Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
The Revolution Trade, by Charles Stross
The Cider House Rules, by John Irving

A final book set in 2023: Sewer, Gas & Electric, by Matt Ruff #BooksSetIn2023

Second paragraph of third chapter:

New York finally started importing its water, first by aqueduct from Westchester, and later, when the immigrant population explosion had taxed that supply to its limit, from dams in the faraway Catskill Mountains. Publie Works engineers and laborers (many of them only recently arrived from Italy) dug a tunnel from the Catskills to the Hill View Reservoir in Yonkers, then bored south through the bedrock under the Harlem River to bring the water into the city proper. The last segment of the tunnel was blasted open on January 11, 1914, and an incidental consequence of its completion was that it made possible one of the most peculiar marathons in city history: an underground hike of a hundred and twenty miles, from the Catskill Mountains to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

Originally published in 1997, this is a satire channeling the sprits of Neal Stephenson’s early work and the Illuminatus! trilogy. It’s set in October and November 2023, focussed on New York. The Empire State Building was destroyed in 2006 when a Boeing 747 accidentally crashed into it, but the Twin Towers are still standing. Donald Trump died in 2013 when the spaceship in which he planned to travel to Mars blew up on the launchpad, but Queen Elizabeth II is still alive and well, and personally directing military strikes against her enemies. There’s a mutant great white shark in the sewers, Ayn Rand resurrected as an AI personality, a 181-year-old civil war veteran, Walt Disney’s chief engineer and a billionaire and his ex-wife at the heart of the story.

So far so good. But there is a massive problem with the set-up: a recent pandemic, which turns out to have been bio-engineered, has killed all the African and African-descended people in the world, leaving the rest of us to get on with it. This fails on biology – it would really be much much easier to design a plague that only kills us genetically homogenous white folks, rather than targetting the super-diverse population of Africa and its diaspora – and on good taste – this is really not a sensitive or sensible way to address the future of racism, especially since African-Americans are then economically replaced by robots called “Electric Negroes”. Ruff has paid his dues to an extent with Lovecraft Country, but I can’t quite believe that this was thought acceptable in 1997.

I greatly enjoyed Ruff’s later Set This House in Order, which I actually rated as my top sf book of 2021, but I only finished this so that I could complete my project of reading books set in 2023. Apart from the racist plague, which is a major negative, there is not enough structure or characterisation and there are too many straw man debates with the reincarnation of Ayn Rand. But you can get it here.

Books set in 2023:
Revelations of the Dead-alive (aka London and Its Eccentricities in the Year 2023), by John Banim (1824)
Looking Further Backward, by Arthur Dudley Vinton (1890)
The Bedlam of Immortals, by Enki Bilal (1980)
Islands in the Net, by Bruce Sterling (1988)
The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison with Marvin Minsky (1992)
Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, by Matt Ruff (1997)
Killing Time, by Caleb Carr (2000)
The Free Lunch, by Spider Robinson (2001)

July 2019 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 late 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.

July 2019 started with a personal milestone on the first day of the month, as I reached Level 40 of Pokemon Go. I have not played it since. I visited London briefly with F, my only trip abroad that month.

I foolishly voted for Jo Swinson in the Lib Dem leadership contest, and contributed to the history of Karl Marx in Brussels. The Irish Times published one of the most important things I have written about Northern Ireland:

I also wrote about the family connection with the fall of the Bastille, and was delighted to reconnect with the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra as they toured Belgium.

On the hottest day ever recorded in Belgium, I caught up with an old friend from Ireland who I had not seen in thirty years. (Bright sun in my eyes, I think.)

On the night of the 31st, as the Hugo nominations closed, I went and threw axes with my colleagues from work.

In the real world, Ursula von der Leyen was chosen as President of the European Commission, and Boris Johnson was elected Prime Minister of the UK.

I read 25 books that month.

Non-fiction: 10 (YTD 29)
Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, by Dennis O’Driscoll
Becoming, by Michelle Obama
First Generation, by Mary Tamm
The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, by Paul Bew
Better Than Sex, by Hunter S. Thompson
1913: The World Before the Great War, by Charles Emmerson
For the Love of a Mother: The Black Children of Ulster, by Annie Yellowe Palma
The Secret Lives of a Secret Agent, by Tim Crook
Under the Molehill: An Elizabethan Spy Story, by John Bossy
Small Wonder, by Barbara Kingsolver

Fiction (non-sf): 3 (YTD 19)
Gigi, by Colette
The Cat, by Colette

A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr

sf (non-Who): 5 (YTD 56)
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
Gateways, ed. Elizabeth Anne Hull
The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty
The Ghosts of Heaven, by Marcus Sedgwick
The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 17)
Night of the Kraken, by Jonathan Green
Adorable Illusion, by Gary Russell
Terror Moon, by Trevor Baxendale
The Showstoppers, by Jonathan Cooper

Comics 3 (YTD 15)
Plastic Man #1, by Jack Cole
Het Amusement, by Brecht Evens
The Story of Garth the Strong, by Stephen Dowling

6,900 pages (YTD 38,400)
9/25 (YTD 60/137) by non-male writers (Obama, Tamm, Yellowe Palma, Kingsolver, Colette x2, Kuang, Hull, Chakraborty)
4/25 (YTD 22/137) by PoC (Obama, Yellowe Palma, Kuang, Chakraborty)

Four good books here, and two that were especially disappointing. The good ones first:

Less happy with:

  • For the Love of a Mother: The Black Children of Ulster, by Annie Yellowe Palma – grim stuff, poorly edited, but you can get it here.
  • The Secret Lives of a Secret Agent: The Mysterious Life and Times of Alexander Wilson, by Tim Crook – historical account of the story behind the TV mini-series Mrs Wilson, but again very poorly edited; you can get it here.

An additional book set in 2023: The Free Lunch, by Spider Robinson #BooksSetIn2023

Second, third and fourth paragraphs of third chapter:

And then, even more quickly, he was awake again. Wide awake, instantly aware of who and where he was, motionless in bed, reaching out with all his senses for whatever it was that had wakened him. He couldn’t identify it. But neither could he escape the conviction that something was…well, not wrong exactly, Annie was sleeping soundly beside him, so probably nothing could be seriously wrong. But something was definitely…
…different…
…happening…

I know that there are a lot of Spider Robinson fans out there, but I’m not hugely convinced on the basis of this, “Stardance” (co-written with his wife) and Variable Star (finishing a discarded Heinlein manuscript). It’s not the worst of the books that I have been reading which are set in 2023, but I’m afraid that is not saying much.

The setting is an American theme park in 2023, where our twelve-year-old protagonist decides to establish himself as a runaway from desperate circumstances. He befriends a woman who has been living undercover in the park since before he was born, and then both need to deal with the ongoing threat posed to them by park security, and also incidentally the time travellers from a doomed future who have started appearing in the park’s midst.

The future technology here is entirely to do with surveillance systems and how to evade them, and the weapons used by the various goons. It’s not very exciting, really, and misses the key point that could have been made about the political dominance of the entertainment induistry. The story offensively romanticises homelessness and disability. Too much of the plot depends on just happening to be in the right place at the right time for it to be believable even on its own terms. It’s difficult also to see who the intended audience are – the protagonist is twelve, as mentioned above, but the violence is pretty squicky for a YA book. But if you want to, you can get it here.

Books set in 2023:
Revelations of the Dead-alive (aka London and Its Eccentricities in the Year 2023), by John Banim (1824)
Looking Further Backward, by Arthur Dudley Vinton (1890)
The Bedlam of Immortals, by Enki Bilal (1980)
Islands in the Net, by Bruce Sterling (1988)
The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison with Marvin Minsky (1992)
Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, by Matt Ruff (1997)
Killing Time, by Caleb Carr (2000)
The Free Lunch, by Spider Robinson (2001)

One more book set in 2023: Killing Time, by Caleb Carr

Second paragraph of third chapter:

On the screen in front of us was the by then deathly familiar scene of three years earlier: the podium in the hotel ballroom in Chicago; the impressive figure of President Emily Forrester striding up, wiping a few beads of sweat from her forehead and preparing to accept the nomination of her party for a second term; and, in the distance, the face, the assassin’s face that had been enlarged and made familiar to every man, woman, and child in the country since the discovery just a year ago of the private digicam images taken by some still anonymous person in the crowd. It was a face that, after only a two-month search, had been given a name: Tariq Khaldun, minor functionary in the Afghan consulate in Chicago. Justice had been swift: Khaldun, constantly and pathetically shouting his innocence, had been convicted within months and had recently begun serving a life sentence in a maximum-security facility outside Kansas City. As a result, diplomatic relations between the United States and Afghanistan, always fragile, had been strained almost to the breaking point.

Written in 2000, this novel forecasts that the year 2023 will have seen a global financial crisis in 2007, the USA at war with Afghanistan because of a terrorist attack, and the whole world recovering from the effects of a global pandemic. A shadowy group of people are undermining democratic political systems in the West by spreading false information and conspiracy theories on the Internet. Which all sounds pretty impressive in terms of foresight..

Unfortunately it’s just not a very good book. I have not read The Alienist by the same author, but I know it has been widely praised; here, the protagonist, a mild-mannered law professor and behavioral scientist, gets rescued from the Feds by the crew of an invisible airship, led by two siblings, the brother a stereotypical mad-scientist-in-a-wheelchair, the sister becoming our protagonist’s love interest. Infodump follows infodump and our hero eventually evades certain death to wander around central Africa, finishing up in 2024 where in a twist ending it turns out that time travel is possible and history can be altered. From online reviews I can see that most people don’t read that far into it. If you want to try, you can get it here.

Books set in 2023:
Revelations of the Dead-alive (aka London and Its Eccentricities in the Year 2023), by John Banim (1824)
Looking Further Backward, by Arthur Dudley Vinton (1890)
The Bedlam of Immortals, by Enki Bilal (1980)
Islands in the Net, by Bruce Sterling (1988)
The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison with Marvin Minsky (1992)
Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, by Matt Ruff (1997)
Killing Time, by Caleb Carr (2000)
The Free Lunch, by Spider Robinson (2001)

Yet another book set in 2023: The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison with Marvin Minsky #BooksSetIn2023

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Snaresbrook looked relaxed, efficient. Discussing the approaching operation with the anesthesiologist and the nurses, then supervising the careful placement of the projector. “Here is where I am going to work,” she said, tapping the hologram screen. “And this is where you are going to cut.”

Another book set next year, though published in 1992, three decades ago. The first chapter is dated 8 February 2023; the first 18 are set then and later in the year, the next 25 are set in 2024 and the last two in 2026.) I’m going to focus only on the parts set in 2023 here, but I’ll make one general observation: I found the prose to be rather clunky in a number of places, much more so than Harrison at his best, and wondered if Minsky, who was a well known artificial intelligence theoretician rather than a fiction writer, had possibly had more to do with the text than the cover credits suggest.

The narrative thrust of the book is about the development of artificial intelligence in computers, but in fact for most of the first half of it, that theme takes second place to the surgical problems of restoring human brain damage with advanced biological and technological techniques. This is described in immense and frankly excessive detail, though it is interesting that we are now starting to get close to this sort of cybernetic enhancement in real life.

The wounded computer scientist is Irish, which unfortunately allows Harrison to indulge in some stereotyping – Mary Robinson had been elected in 1990 and 1992 saw the X case, so it was clear to anyone who cared to look that the life experience of an Irish person born in 1999 (as his protagonist is) would be pretty different from the de Valera years. And there’s this passage on free movement:

“I have studied the relevant data bases. The European Economic Community forms a customs union. A passport is needed to enter any member country from outside the community. After that there is no need to show it again. However, Switzerland is not a member of this group. I thought that this problem might be postponed until we reached that country’s border.”

I’m cheating a bit because that’s from one of the 2024 chapters. But in fact we’ve had passport-free travel with Switzerland since 2009; and, sadly, we no longer have it with the UK. But this is a book about technological speculation, not future geopolitics. (The word “China” does not appear even once)

I can’t honestly recommend it except as a snapshot of Minsky’s thought at a particular moment, and frankly he said and did more interesting things later in his career. But if you want to, you can get it here.

Books set in 2023:
Revelations of the Dead-alive (aka London and Its Eccentricities in the Year 2023), by John Banim (1824)
Looking Further Backward, by Arthur Dudley Vinton (1890)
The Bedlam of Immortals, by Enki Bilal (1980)
Islands in the Net, by Bruce Sterling (1988)
The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison with Marvin Minsky (1992)
Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, by Matt Ruff (1997)
Killing Time, by Caleb Carr (2000)
The Free Lunch, by Spider Robinson (2001)

Another book set in 2023: Looking Further Backward, by Arthur Dudley Vinton #BooksSetIn2023

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“After breakfast,” writes Professor West, “Edith informed me that she had put in a requisition for a young man and a young woman from our ward-house, and that she purposed, with their assistance, to devote the first half of the day to putting my study in order. This I took as a notice to absent myself until dinner time; and accordingly having seen that my more important papers were securely locked up, where they could not be disarranged, I wended my way to the college buildings. I found my lecture-room all newly-swept, and smelling somewhat of fresh paint and varnish, so after chatting a little while with such of the other professors as happened to be in the building, I went to the library and spent the rest of the morning there.[“]

I’m going to round out the year with a series of reviews of books set in 2023, though this only barely qualifies: the framing narrative is of a lecture series given in 2023 by Won Lung Li, a Chinese professor of recent history at an American university, but in fact almost all of the story takes place in 2020. Published in 1890, it is a direct riposte to Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. Because America (and also incidentally France) have adopted cuddly utopian principles, the Chinese are basically able to walk in and take control with very little resistance. Julian West, the protagonist of Looking Backward, is the only person in America who knows about fighting wars, but he is doomed and his surviving papers supply Won Lung with lecturing material. There are some good bits with West and his family escaping occupied Boston on a railway handcart in the middle of the night, but otherwise it’s not a very good book; the Yellow Peril trope is out in full force, combined with Awful Warnings about the Dangers of Socialism. Mercifully short at least. You can get it here.

(See also: Revelations of the Dead-alive (aka London and Its Eccentricities in the Year 2023), by John Banim and The Bedlam of Immortals, by Enki Bilal)

My top social media and blog posts of the year

Both Twitter and Facebook have made it much more difficult to extract the data about how successful my own posts of my own material have been. A bit of manual number-crunching leads me to the conclusion that my top post on Facebook for the year, with the most likes and the most comments, was my birthday celebration at work (in fact, three days after my actual birthday).

The second highest number of likes was on a photo with my half-first-cousin-twice-removed:

And the third highest number of likes was on a virtue-signalling post about getting vaccinated.

The second highest number of comments was on a post about trans people in sports, which unfortunately turned very nasty; I was disappointed in a number of people who contributed to it, and won’t link from here.

The third highest number of comments was on a post commemorating another calendar milestone, when I turned 20,000 days old.

In previous years I was able to state for certain what Facebook posts of mine had been shared most. This year I note that the following were shared three times, but I am not sure if that was the most. One is about my family connection with the death of Rasputin, one about rescuing your data from Twitter.

And as for Twitter; well. I used to be able to extract all kinds of information about what sort of content had worked well. But they have now restricted that data to posts published in the last ten months, which is not much use if you want to do a twelve month retrospective. At least we can still check engagements and impressions from the Twitter Analytics page, from which it is clear that my top tweets in general were during and after the May 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly elections. The tweet with the most impressions was this:

https://twitter.com/nwbrux/status/1522630242308956161

And the tweet with the most engagements – people disputing whether particular groups or individuals could be counted as Nationalists or Unionists – was this:

https://twitter.com/nwbrux/status/1522654308646412288

I remain an occasional visitor to Instagram. As with Facebook, my top post of the year related to my birthday.

And as with Twitter, my second most successful post was related to the Assembly elections, a week later.

My third best post by likes was the same COVID-related virtue signalling that did well on Facebook:

The Instagram video with most plays was a little bit of art for Ascension Day brought home from school by U, here put into action by her mother:

LinkedIn is getting better at showing how successful your posts are. You can easily see how many impressions and likes you have received. My top post by impressions was a job advertisement (which gives you an idea of how the algorithm works):

My top post (again by impressions) with content by me was a Guardian piece that quoted me:

And my top post by likes was a piece on this month’s elections in Tunisia – in which I totally failed to foresee the main headline, that the turnout was so pathetically low as to cast the credibility of the whole process into question.

One of the many advantages of having moved this blog from Livejournal to WordPress is that I now have much more satisfactory statistics for user engagement. So the three top posts on here since I moved in March are, in third place:

In second place (now updated with the actual results):

And in first place, by a long long way:

See you next year!

Saturday reading

Last regular update of the year – next week will be a bumper review of the books of 2022.

Current
What If? by Randall Munroe
Metamorphoses, by Ovid, tr. Stephanie McCarter
Tales from Ovid, by Ted Hughes
γ2
A Ship is Dying, by Brian Callison

Last books finished
Zink, by David Van Reybrouck
The Romans, by Jacob Edwards
“Schrödinger’s Kitten”, by George Alec Effinger
The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison with Marvin Minsky
The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness
“The Last of the Winnebagos”, by Connie Willis
Shadows of Amber, by John Betancourt
β2
The Ahtisaari Legacy, ed. Nina Suomalainen and Jyrki Karvinen
Killing Time, by Caleb Carr
Doctor Who and Warrior’s Gate (expanded audiobook edition) by Steve Gallagher and John Lydecker

Next books
Fugue for a Darkening Island, by Christopher Priest
All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva

June 2019 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 late 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 historic walk around Leuven, including a visit to the replica Kangxi-Verbiest celestial sphere.

The following weekend I was in Bratislava, and went to see the ballet with H and her friend A.

More travel the following weekend, in Rome with Anne, where a diplomat friend took us to the back garden of the Vatican.

The day after we got back was B’s 22nd birthday.

In the last weekend of the month we visited my cousins in Luxembourg again – left to right, L, my son F, little N, big N (me), S and my first cousin J. Our spouses were also present!

With so much European travel, I managed to read 35 books that month. Some of them were short.

Non-fiction: 1 (YTD 19)
Robert Holmes: a Life in Words, by Richard Molesworth
1845830911.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_[1].jpg

Fiction (non-sf): 3 (YTD 16)
Five Women Who Loved Love, by Ihara Saikaku
The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters
In Another Light, by Andrew Greig
20079fdcea26315597377376b67437641506f41[1].jpg 0349004609.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg 0753820072.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg

sf (non-Who): 16 (YTD 51)
Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson
Sovereign by R.M. Meluch
The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton
Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor
Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis
Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells
Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire
The Weapon Makers, by A.E. van Vogt
Earth’s Last Citadel, by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner
The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark
The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard
Bedknobs and Broomsticks, by Mary Norton
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H.P. Lovecraft
“Goat Song”, by Poul Anderson
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
1d309b7b307ca4f597a4e515a77437641506f41.jpg B071XNWRHC.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg 4d58d40dd23a871596a65646f77437641506f41.jpg e734572fe8f8ce4597754545451437641506f41.jpg d984481ec9e1096596f6f537041437641506f41.jpg 8ec3c0372a72ffe5970464d7067437641506f41.jpg B00H8CKJKO.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg c983e6ed3b9037b596a45517341437641506f41.jpg 303a7814c8e63d0596e4d4b7241437641506f41.jpg f29212c9afb22c55968544e7141437641506f41.jpg 1e952ef9cfdf2ac596837596a77437641506f41.jpg 0156528207.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg 150052686X.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (YTD 13)
The Secret Lives of Monsters, by Justin Richards
Filthy Lucre, by James Parsons and Andrew Sterling-Brown
Moon Blink, by Sadie Miller
1849907706.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg B00COP1CJ2.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg 0993519202.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_[1].jpg

Comics 6 (YTD 12)
Will Supervillains Be On The Final?, by Naomi Novik, art by Yishan Li
Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda
Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and Aaron Covington, art by André Lima Araújo, Mario Del Pennino and Tana Ford
Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami Kivelä, colours by Jason Wordie, letters by Jim Campbell
Paper Girls, Volume 4, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible, by Stan Lee, Peter David and Colleen Doran
0345516567.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_[1].jpg 1534306919.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg 1302905384.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg 1684152453.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg 1534305106.01._SX175_SY250_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg

6,300 pages (YTD 31,500)
15/29 (YTD 51/112) by non-male writers (Waters, Robson, Meluch, Clayton, Okorafor x2, Wells, McGuire, Moore, de Bodard, Norton, Miller, Novik/Li, Liu/Takeda, Doran)
10/29 (YTD 18/112) by PoC (Saikaku, Clayton, Okorafor x2, Clark, de Bodard, Novik/Li, Liu/Takeda, Ahmed, Chiang)

A lot of good books this month; along with several welcome re-reads, the two best new ones were The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard, which you can get here, and The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters, which you can get here. I know that (different) people love them, but I bounced hard off both Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells, which you can get here, and The Weapon Makers, by A.E. van Vogt, which you can get here.

Doctor Who: Origin Stories (ed. ?Dave Rudden?)

Second paragraph of third story (“The Myriapod Mutiny”, by Emma Norry):

When the Great Freeze descended, they buried themselves deeper still and made a pact – to ensure, above all else, their mutual survival. Come what may. Yet neither foresaw the Great Collision which obliterated not only their planet, but their plans for survival too …

An anthology of eleven short stories about Doctor Who characters before their first appearances on TV Doctor Who. No editor’s name is given, but I am assuming it was Dave Rudden because three of the stories are by him (featuring Kate Stewart, Castra and Jenny, and the Master/Missy); whoever did edit it, it is a shame that they are not given credit.

Two of the other stories are by the actors who actually played the respective companions on screen – Sophie Aldred (Ace) and Katy Manning (Jo Grant), both rather interesting takes on their own characters’ back-stories, Sophie Aldred’s being a good start to the collection as a whole (and available here).

Five of the other six are by women of colour who haven’t previously written for the Whoniverse but have strong writing credentials elsewhere – oh, OK, I’ll name them: Emma Norry (Yaz and Ryan meet the Second Doctor); Temi Oh (Davros); Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Martha Jones meets the Ninth Doctor); Nikita Gill (Amy and Rory as kids); and Jasbinder Bilan (Clara pre-meets the Eleventh Doctor). The other is by Mark Griffiths (Sarah Jane Smith meeting the Fourth Doctor as a schoolgirl). One of them is not very good, but the rest are all excellent, and I can recommend this to anyone with a vague awareness of the series. You can get it here.

A Darker Shade, ed. John-Henri Holmberg

Second paragraph of third story (“Never in Real Life” / “Aldrig i verkligheten”, by Åke Edwardson):

Hon läste kartan. Hon var faktiskt bra på det. De kom längre och längre bort från civilisationen men hon missade inte en avtagsväg.She read the map. She was actually good at it. They drove farther and farther away from civilization, but she never missed a turn.

I got this in advance of Worldcon 75 because John-Henri Holmberg was one of the guests of honour in Helsinki. I know him vaguely because we have ended up on panels together at all three European Worldcons this century, but this was my chance to get into his work. Which I then failed to do in advance of the convention – who knew that running the Hugo Awards takes up quite a lot of one’s spare time???

It’s an anthology of seventeen short stories by Swedish writers, all of them about crime and detection rather than sf or fantasy. Authors include a couple I had heard of, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, and lots more whose names were new to me. Good gender balance. Almost all the stories are set in Sweden, which has been on my mind recently because it is about to assume the EU presidency.

Brief parenthesis: I’ve been to Sweden precisely four times in my life, three of them with my sister. We passed through Stockholm by train in 1990 to and from a visit to Finland, and then I happened to coincide with her when I attended a conference there in April 2006. A year before that, in May 2005, I attended a NATO conference in the skiing resort of Åre, without my sister but with several foreign ministers, and panelled with the stars.

Left to right:
James Elles, MEP
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, foreign minister of Croatia and later President of Croatia
Pierre Lellouche, member of the French National Assembly, later trade minister and EU minister
Dimitrij Rupel, foreign minister of Slovenia
Nicholas Burns, then Under Secretary for Political Affairs in the US State Department, now US ambassador to China
Kastriot Islami, foreign minister of Albania
me

Going back to the anthology, the weakest story is unfortunately the one by Stieg Larsson, later famous for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, but he was only 17 when he wrote it (and would probably have blocked its publication if he had still been alive). But the rest are generally good, some very good. At short length you can’t fit in a lot of detection, so more often than not the stories are from the perpetrator’s point of view, but with some interesting twists. The cold revenge of the protagonist of Inger Frimansson’s “In Our Darkened House” will linger with me. A good read. You can get it here.

Official Secrets, by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson and Marco Lesko

Second frame from third issue of title story:

Next in the sequence of Ninth Doctor graphic novels from Titan Books. There are two stories here; the titular “Official Secrets”, which brings Nine, Rose and Jack into the middle of a UNIT investigation led by a curiously un-aged Harry Sullivan with support from Benton, and the more interesting if less fan-servicey “Slaver’s Song” then brings Team TARDIS, augmented by new UNIT character Tara Mishra, to Brazil in 1682 where there are ancient mermaid-like monsters and hints of Jack’s secret past as a Catholic priest. I especially like artist Adriana Melo’s characterisation of Tara, ad wonder who the model was.

You can get it here.

Song of Time, by Iain R. MacLeod

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Does it represent a failure of will that I’ve brought him here? Certainly, it would be nice, to leave a little mystery, and possibly even a small scandal, behind me. Famous violinist found dead with anonymous male—as if people still cared about such things. I should report him now—alert the waymarks. Perhaps he’s dangerous. He could be a compendium of every worst fear, the bearer of some deadly new virus far worse than the antique plagues which afflicted my childhood, or the human bomb, the patient torturer, the rapist, the robber, the hostage-taker, the madman. But he looks so vulnerable—so deliciously helpless…

This is the next book in my sequence of winners of the Tiptree/Otherwise, BSFA and Clarke Awards; I’m going back to blogging the award winners individually for two reasons – I think the all-in-one posts were too long, and my memory of the books was fading after reading them.

The only other book I’ve read by this author is his best known work, The Light Ages, which I felt ambivalent about. But I really enjoyed this, and it has incentivised me to look out for his other books. It’s a story in two timelines: the very near future collapse of western civilisation due to plague and unrest, and the slightly further future timeline putting it all back together again. The narrator is a world-famous violinist from Birmingham with Irish and Indian heritage; her marriage to a world-famous conductor reflects the integration and disintegration of their world, as she retells the story years later to a mysterious visitor to her Cornwall cottage. Really good, and you can get it here.

Song of Time won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2009, beating Anathem by Neal Stephenson, House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds, The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper, Martin Martin’s on the Other Side by Mark Wernham and The Quiet War by Paul McAuley. I’ve only read one of those, and I prefer Song of Time. It also won the “other” Campbell Award, jointly with Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, again beating Anathem.

The Hugo that year went to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, the Nebula to Powers by Ursula Le Guin, the BSFA Award to The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod, and the Tiptree Award went jointly to Filter House by Nisi Shawl and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Filter House is up next.

Also set in 2023: The Bedlam of Immortals, by Enki Bilal

Second frame of third chapter, in original French and in English translation by Edward Gauvin:

Another of the science fiction books set in 2023, this is the best known work of the French comics writer and artist Enki Bilal, born in Belgrade to Czech and Bosnian parents. It’s the first volume of a trilogy, the other two parts being set in 2025 (so I’ll get to them two years from now).

Published as La Foire aux immortels in 1980, this is set in a near-future Paris which is basically independent, France having collapsed as a state, and run by the fascist mayor Choublanc (Bunglieri in my translation) who is now facing re-election. The suburbs are decaying and run by local gangs. Everyone reads their own preferred news bulletins and information is therefore politically fragmented – an accurate anticipation in some ways.

Less accurately (probably – but who knows?), a giant floating pyramid inhabited by the gods of ancient Egypt has materialised over central Paris, and won’t go away unless supplied with fuel. Meanwhile Alcide Nikopol, a former astronaut who has spent thirty years frozen in suspended animation in orbit, returns to the city. His leg breaks off but is repaired in a rush job by the Horus, who allies with him against his fellow deities to shake up the politics of Paris in 2023.

It’s political and passionate, and fits in with the other lefty French-language 1980s comics which I read a few years back, Les Chroniques du Fin du Siècle by Santi-Bucquoy (Autonomes, Mourir à Creys-Malville, Chooz). It’s less ideological, but similar in the sense of the corruption and decay of the ruling classes, and the need for revolutionary action to bring about a better state of affairs. And the art is riveting.

Though also worth noting that the ice hockey team from Bratislava all speak Russian and their uniforms carry the initials ЧССР – not only did Czechoslovakia stay together in this version of 2023, it was also apparently annexed by the Soviet Union, which is still going strong. Bilal’s mother was Czech, so he knows perfectly well that Russian is not spoken much in Bratislava, nor is the Cyrillic alphabet used much there. (There would have been more of it in 1980 than now, but that’s not saying a lot.)

You can get the English translation of the trilogy by Edward Gauvin here, and the French original here.

Books set in 2023:
Revelations of the Dead-alive (aka London and Its Eccentricities in the Year 2023), by John Banim (1824)
Looking Further Backward, by Arthur Dudley Vinton (1890)
The Bedlam of Immortals, by Enki Bilal (1980)
Islands in the Net, by Bruce Sterling (1988)
The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison with Marvin Minsky (1992)
Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, by Matt Ruff (1997)
Killing Time, by Caleb Carr (2000)
The Free Lunch, by Spider Robinson (2001)

May 2019 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 late 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 visit to Ireland for the Northern Irish local council elections…

…visiting my 102-year-old great-aunt…

…and more planning for the Dublin Worldcon.

To England again for our old friend K’s wedding to another K:

I voted in the European and national elections:

And then it was back to Northern Ireland for coverage of the European election count in Magherafelt. (Here with partner in crime Mark Devenport and former Justice Minister and Alliance leader David Ford, who kindly brought us both tea.)

I was very pleased with this picture of the three newly elected MEPs. I had already taken one with them all looking in different directions, but then Martina Anderson (in the middle) called out my name and Diane Dodds (left) and Naomi Long (right) both turned to look at me – funny thing really as I do not know Martina as well as I know the other two.

Anne and I finished a busy month with an Ascension Thursday trip to Utrecht. Here, Anne is a human sundial.

I read 25 books that month.

Non-fiction: 4 (YTD 18)
Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon
The TARDIS Handbook, by Steve Tribe
The Big Finish Companion, vol. 2, by Kenny Smith
Bland Ambition, by Steve Tally

Fiction (non-sf): 4 (YTD 13)
A Sunless Sea by Anne Perry
Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
The Ginger Man, by J. P. Donleavy
The Bridge on the River Kwai, by Pierre Boulle

sf (non-Who): 13 (YTD 35)
The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black
Dark Lord of Derkholm, by Diana Wynne Jones
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Infomocracy, by Malka Older
Feersum Endjinn, by Iain M Banks
The Invasion, by Peadar O Guilin
Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers
Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Nebula Awards Showcase 2011, ed. Kevin J. Anderson
Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber, Jr
Gather, Darkness!, by Fritz Leiber, Jr

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (YTD 10)
The Good Doctor, by Juno Dawson
The Slender-fingered Cats of Bubastis, by Xanna Eve Chown
Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2019, by Paul Lang

Comics 1 (YTD 6)
Animate Europe Plus, by David Shaw, Marta Okrasko, Juliana Penkova, Bruno Cordoba and Paul Rietzl

7,500 pages (YTD 25,200)
13/25 (YTD 36/83) by non-male writers (Le Guin, Perry, Black, Wynne Jones, Kowal, Older, Chambers, McGuire, Valente, Roanhorse, Dawson, Chown, Okrasko/Penkova)
1/25 (YTD 8/83) by PoC (Roanhorse)

I liked most Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, which you can get here, and Record of a Spaceborn Few, which you can get here. I was hugely disappointed with the 2019 Doctor Who annual, but you can get it here.

Saturday reading

Current
The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

Last books finished
Looking Further Backward, by Arthur Dudley Vinton
Doctor Who: Origin Stories (ed. ?Dave Rudden?)
ω1
Doctor Who and Warriors’ Gate, by John Lydecker
Warriors’ Gate, by Frank Collins
Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, by Lawrence M. Schoen
α2
Doctor Who: The Romans, by Donald Cotton

Next books
Zink, by David Van Reybrouck
“Schrödinger’s Kitten”, by George Alec Effinger

The Martian, and more recent Hugo and Bradbury Award winning films, with a full table of winners

The Martian won both the Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, in 2016, but not the Bradbury Award which went to Mad Max: Fury Road. It was way ahead at the nominations stage, and comfortably ahead on the final ballot, with Mad Max: Fury Road in second place, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens third, Ex Machina fourth and The Avengers: Age of Ultron fifth in both final ballot order and nominations. This was the last year that there were only five finalists in each Hugo category.

This is one of the most star-heavy Hugo winners that is not based on The Lord of the Rings. All of the returning actors are men. Matt Damon, in the lead, was Colin, the organised crime mole within the police in The Departed, ten years before.

Jeff Daniels, here NASA chief Ted Sanders, was Debra Winger’s husband Flap Horton thirty-two years ago in Terms of Endearment.

Michael Peña, astronaut Rick Martinez here, was in back-to-back Oscar winners a decade before, as Daniel the locksmith in Crash (almost the only interesting character in the film) and was also (with more hair) Omar in Million Dollar Baby.

Sean Bean, Mitch Henderson here, was of course Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Chiwetel Ojiafor, here Vincent Kapoor, was the protagonist in 12 Years a Slave and the antagonist in Serenity.

Farther down the credits, Enzo Cilenti, Mike Watkins here, is barely visible in Guardians of the Galaxy as a guard. Gruffudd Glynn, Jack here, had a small part in the Doctor Who episode The Woman Who Lived. Brian Caspe, the timer controller here, had a small part in Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror. I can’t be bothered to get photographs, I’m afraid.

I went to see this in the cinema with F when it came out, and wrote then:

F and I went to see The Martian last night. I had read the book for the Clarke Award, and enjoyed it very much (though obviously not quite as much as the ones we shortlisted); it was by far the most widely owned of all the books submitted on both LibraryThing and Goodreads. The film did what I hoped it would do, and included almost all of the set piece scenes from the book, making them at least as good as they had been in my head. I’m not going to claim that it’s Great Art, but I do think it’s Hugo-worthy and I expect it will be on my list for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) – the only other film I’ve seen in the cinema this year was The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which came out in 2014 and so would have been eligible for this year’s Hugos (but didn’t even make the top 15).

I enjoyed it on rewatching as well – the effects are fantastic and it is very well paced, but was a struck by a couple of negatives. First off, the acting isn’t all that brilliant actually. Jeff Daniels in particular, as the director of NASA, seems to have only one expression on his face.

Second, it’s another case of ethnic erasure I’m afraid. Chiwetel Ojiafor’s character, Vincent Kapoor, is clearly Asian (Venkat Kapoor) in the book, as is Mackenzie Davis’s character, Mindy Park. Another Asian actor playing one of the NASA controllers had all of her speaking scenes cut out in editing. Ridley Scott is entitled to make his own editing decisions, but the rest of us are also entitled to point out when several of them go in the same direction.

I still enjoyed it enough to put it in the top of half of my table of Hugo, Nebula and Bradbury winners, ahead of Stardust but behind The Truman Show.

As previously mentioned, I’m going to draw a close to this sequence of film reviews now. The subsequent winners are:

2017 Hugo and Bradbury: Arrival. It was convincingly ahead of the field in both Hugo nominations and the final ballot, and I certainly voted for it myself (I was also the Hugo administrator that year). I’m putting it in my top ten, below Terminator 2: Judgement Day but above Galaxy Quest.

2018 Bradbury: Get Out. I wrote of it:

I thought Get Out was brilliant – taking an old sf trope, injecting it with the dynamic of the current debate about race, and Josh Lyman from The West Wing as a genial but completely mad scientist. Daniel Kaluuya is particularly good as the protagonist. Maybe a bit too close to the horror side of the genre for my personal taste.

I still ranked it only half way down my Hugo ballot that year, and I’m doing the same with my overall rankings.

2018 Hugo: Wonder Woman. I saw it in the cinema, and wrote:

I went to see Wonder Woman last weekend in my local cinema. I haven’t been following the DC movies recently — the last I saw was The Dark Knight Rises five years ago — and went into it pretty unspoiled with no expectations. I really enjoyed it, and heartily recommend it to everyone.

Spoiler alert!

I had no idea that the film is largely set during the closing weeks of the first world war, in November 1918, with almost all of the second half set in a fictionalised Belgium. Although we Belgians have contributed greatly to the comics tradition, we’re not used to seeing our country in superhero movies.

The fictional Belgian village of Veld, typically for Flanders of the time, has shop signs in French but the villagers mainly speak Flemish to each other — and a frisson went around the movie hall as Wonder Woman spoke to them in their own language. Later in the film, the audience went very quiet at one point.

The resonances were pretty strong. The cinema I was sitting in (which committed a major faux pas on the film’s opening night) was built on the site of buildings destroyed during the invasion of August 1914, close to the monument to the 272 civilians in our town killed during that terrible month. The movie’s interrogation of the rationale for war hit very close to home.

And although it is (rightly) being noted that the portrayal of chemical weapons in Wonder Woman has an eerie similarity to what is happening in Syria right now, it remains the case that the Belgian military Service for the Removal and Destruction of Explosive material — which is based in the woods in our home village — is still finding 150-200 tons of first world war munitions every year, 5-10% of which is toxic, with no sign of that abating.

I’m glad to say that the century-old chemical weapons don’t come near our local headquarters, but are kept in Poelkapelle, 150 km west of here. They are currently working through a significant backlog with their new disposal chamber, which started working only last April after the previous one got blown up in 2012.

Coming from where I do, I’m used to writers taking my own cultural heritage and mangling it horribly. I think Wonder Woman very successfully avoided this trap as far as Belgium goes (though the castle where the military gala ball takes place appears to be in a very un-Belgian landscape). (And I did wonder about Themiscyra apparently being within a day or so of both Turkey and London.)

It’s fundamentally a funny, witty action film with a light approach to actual history; but it does the serious bits very well. As I said, strongly recommended.

On reflection, I was giving it a lot of bonus points for being set in Belgium, and I think I’d actually rank it below Get Out today, but still near the middle of the table.

2019: Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (both Hugo and Bradbury). I was the Hugo administrator again this year, so did not write this up at the time. I enjoyed it a lot, and it (just) gets into the top half of the table of winners. This was the most recent film to win the Bradbury Award – it went to TV episodes in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

2020: The Hugo went to a TV series and the Bradbury Award to and episode of the same TV series, so no entry in the list. (I was deputy Hugo administrator that year.)

2021: The Old Guard (Hugo). I was involved with the process throughout the nominations stage, but left shortly after votes on the final ballot started coming in, and wrote:

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

I found this film incomprehensible, and am ranking it right at the end of the table, ahead of only The Sixth Sense and some of the sillier Retro Hugo winners.

2022: Dune (Hugo). I was deputy Hugo administrator again this year, and Dune was an early favourite. I went to see it when it came out, and wrote:

Well, well, well – I had not realised that Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune is not yet out in the UK or America. My British and American (and I guess also Irish) friends, you have a treat in store.

F and I went to see it yesterday in the IMAX near the Heysel stadium. I think in retrospect I’d have gone for the 3-D experience rather than the IMAX; it is such a huge film that one rather gets lost in the perspective.

You have surely read the book, so the only important thing to say about the plot is that we get only halfway – although the film is being advertised as Dune, tout court, it’s actually only the first half, up to the point where Paul and Jessica are adopted by the Fremen. So assuming that the opening night in the US in October is successful (and I think it will be), there’ll be a part 2 next year, or in 2023.

What to say: it looks fantastic. Sets, effects, planets, big buildings, big bangs, ornithopters you can almost believe in, and of course the sandworms. (F wondered if the film-makers had drawn inspiration from SpongeBob’s Alaskan bull worm; it’s pretty clear that SpongeBob in this instance was inspired by Frank Herbert.) Here’s the trailer which gives you some idea (though you really have to see it on the big screen).

So, other things to comment on. The casting is good. I want to particularly note Rebecca Ferguson, who despite her name is Swedish, as Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother. She is less hard-edged than the character in the book, but I think deeper for it. Charlotte Rampling basically just gets one scene as the Reverend Mother, but steals it completely. Javier Bardem is Stilgar, leader of the indigenous Fremen, and is superb – the first scene where he brings the “gift of water” sets the tone. (I helped him with an event in the European Parliament in 2012 – see here at 0:37.) Jason Momoa is great as Duncan Idaho. Slightly less convinced by Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck. The nobles – Oscar Isaac as the Duke, Stellan Skarsgård as the Baron – are fine. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who I last saw as Daniel’s friend and Edith’s girlfriend Fran in Russsell T. Davies’ Years and Years (which I don’t seem to have written up), plays a genderflipped Liet Kynes. The two young leads, Timothée Chalamet as Paul and Zendaya as Chani, are good to look at and manage to carry off the freighting of youth combined with destiny very well. There is justifiable commentary that although the Fremen are ethnically diverse, none of them are actually played by actors whose ethnicity comes from the desert.

But the casting is secondary just to the staging and cinematography. All the key moments are there; some of them look as good as I had hoped, most of them look far better than I’d hoped. The music is just right too, though I was a little sorry that the Pink Floyd from one of the trailers didn’t make it to the big screen:

So, it will get one of my Hugo nominations for next year. I think I may still vote for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ahead of it, though.

I still think it’s pretty good, and am putting it also in my top ten, just behind Arrival.

So, here is my definitive list of the films that have won the Hugo, Nebula and Ray Bradbury Awards, in reverse order, starting with the bottom half of the table:

64) The Canterville Ghost (Retro Short, 1945) 48) The Princess Bride (1987)
63) Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Retro Short, 1944)47) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
62) Curse of the Cat People (Retro Short, 1945)46) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1990)
61) The Sixth Sense (Nebula, 1999)45) Fantasia (Retro Long Form, 1941)
60) Heaven Can Wait (Retro Long, 1944)44) Return of the Jedi (1982)
59) The Incredible Shrinking Man (Outstanding Movie, 1958)43) Edward Scissorhands (1990)
58) The Old Guard (2021)42) Bambi (Retro, 1943)
57) A Boy and His Dog (1976)41) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
56) Pinocchio (Retro Short Form, 1941)40) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
55) Destination Moon (Retro, 1951)39) WALL-E (2009)
54) Slaughterhouse-Five (1973)38) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
53) The War of the Worlds (Retro, 1954)37) Howl’s Moving Castle (Nebula 2006)
52) Sleeper (Hugo/Nebula 1974)36) Moon (2010)
51) The Incredibles (Hugo 2004) 35) Young Frankenstein (Hugo/Nebula 1975)
50) The Avengers (2013)34) Soylent Green (Nebula 1973)
49) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)33) The Picture of Dorian Gray (Retro, 1946)

And the top half:

32) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)16) Superman (1978)
31) Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018) 15) Inception (2011)
30) District 9 (Bradbury 2010)14) Contact (1997)
29) Wonder Woman (Hugo 2018)13) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Hugo/Nebula 2001)
28) Serenity (Hugo/Nebula 2005)12) Beasts of the Southern Wild (Bradbury 2012)
27) Stardust (2008)11) Galaxy Quest (Hugo/Nebula 2000)
26) The Martian (2015)10) Dune (2022)
25) The Truman Show (1998)9) Arrival (2017)
24) Get Out (Bradbury 2018)8) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
23) Gravity (2014)7) Blade Runner (1983)
22) Aliens (1986)6) Back to the Future (1985)
21) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)5) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
20) Dr Strangelove (1965)4) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
19) Jurassic Park (1993)3) Star Wars (Hugo/Nebula 1978/77)
18) Pan’s Labyrinth (2007)2) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
17) A Clockwork Orange (1972)1) Alien (1979)

The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

That day she also took Communion in the Nine Lives old people’s home, and attended the rehearsal for the crib service. This involved the junior school and nursery children, so Lizzie had to put on an especially big smile when she saw Jamie Dunning in the audience. She was even called upon, as she ran the children through their parts, to put a doll in the manger. It turned out to be relatively easy not to think about what would happen the next time Jamie was in this building. There was, since Arthur had said those words to her in a different voice while Autumn was away, now something in her head to let her deal with all that. She wasn’t compelled to hurt her hands, and that was a great relief. She could barely hear that small part of herself that was still free, screaming inside a distant room in her head. The actual crib service, since it was scheduled after the wedding on Christmas Eve, would of course never come to pass. But there was no point in letting the cat out of the bag about that.

I voted for the first of this series for the BSFA Awards, and bought the next three at Gallifrey One in 2020 just before the pandemic. I really enjoyed this as well – the village of Lychford becomes the focus of dark forces seeking to destroy the world through a small local child, and the Witches of the first story need to prevent it. Humanely told, as usual with Cornell. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2020. Next on that pile is Penric’s Progress, by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Locating the planets, December 2022

May be an image of sky and twilight

I hope you can see a small point of light high in the sky here? It is the planet Jupiter, taken from Het Torenvalk, our local nature lookout point, at 5pm this afternoon, half an hour after sunset.

This month is a great opportunity to see all five of the classical planets in the early evening. Jupiter is bright and high a bit east of south; Mars also bright, red and glowering in the east. Saturn is a bit dimmer, but still brighter than most other things in the sky, a bit west of Jupiter.

For Venus and especially Mercury, you’ll have to be lucky with clear horizons and clear skies in the 30-60 minutes after sunset, in the southwest. This evening both had dipped below the treeline at Het Torenvalk by the time it was dark enough for either to be visible. But as the month wears on they will become less difficult to find. On Christmas Eve, 24 December, the crescent moon will be very close to both of them – so if that is a clear evening where you are, pop outside a bit after sunset and have a look.

(Also NB despite summer brightness there will be a better view in the Southern Hemisphere as the planets are at a better angle to the horizon.)

(Also a good astronomy app will help. I’ve been using the free versions of SkyView, Night Sky and Sky Guide, but there may well be better options out there.)

The Road To Kosovo: A Balkan Diary, by Greg Campbell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

He was right to warn me: beyond Zagreb the autobahn fed right into the type of road I was doomed to travel for the remainder of the journey: a narrow ribbon of crumbling asphalt that was barely wide enough for two cars abreast, much less the dense traffic of cargo trucks that are constructed more of lumber than of steel, buses that look like something that was just pried off the Titanic, and horse-drawn wagons carrying four-story haystacks. Of course, there are other obstacles, such as steep mountains, shoulders seeded with PMA-2 antipersonnel land mines, random police checkpoints that always seem to be located at the end of a patch of road-top gravel on a blind curve, sudden narrow business districts springing from the hillsides as if from a children’s pop-up book, and a motley collection of pedestrians in various stages of fatigue-induced dementia staggering in the roadway … usually leading a herd of goats and hens and carrying a stack of 2-by~4s. All this is navigated at breakneck speeds and a thorough disregard for safety and curves.

Returning to the Balkans, I had a good read of this book by a Colorado journalist, sent to the Balkans by the Boulder Weekly and immediately immersed in a conflict that he struggled to understand. Of course, he is writing for the well-meaning Colorado reader who wants to be thrilled and informed, and not for me; I found the breathlessness a bit exasperating at times. (Though I did cheer on the couple of occasions when people who I know personally appeared on the page.)

I’ve read a lot of Balkan war stories over the years, and this one stands out for two paradoxical reasons. First, Campbell totally absorbs and regurgitates the collective narrative of the Balkan press corps at any given time – so he accurately reflects the media consensus without especially critiquing it. But second, he has a good eye for human detail, even if he doesn’t always put two and two together. His chapters on Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 are particularly good on incidental observation. So I was duly entertained by it, if not always in the way the author had intended.

You can get it here.

The overnights meme, updated

Since 2005 I’ve been keeping a tally of the number of different places I have spent a night away from home in the course of the calendar year, and more recently also tallying the number of countries that I set foot in whether or not I stayed overnight. I have no further travel planned for 2022, so it’s going to end with a relatively modest total of 14 places in 10 countries, the second lowest of any non-pandemic year. Places (well, just the one place this year) where I spent multiple non-consecutive nights are marked with an asterisk. Edited to add: and in fact I did have one more trip to Amsterdam, so that’s 15 places.

Los Angeles, CA
Snohomish, WA
*London, UK
Geneva, Switzerland
Podgorica, Montenegro
Berlin, Germany
Sofia, Bulgaria
Otterlo, Netherlands
Loughbrickland, UK
Belgrade, Serbia
Natick, MA
Chicago, IL
Cambridge, UK
Trier, Germany
Edited to add: Amsterdam, Netherlands

I also changed planes in Canada and Austria and visited both France and Luxembourg without staying overnight, so, not counting Belgium, my country tally for the year is also 14, the third lowest of the thirteen years I have been counting. I expect that next year will be a little higher, as travel returns to normal post-COVID and assuming that work keeps me as busy as in previous years.

YearOvernightsCountries
202214 1514
202175
2020811
20192314
20182320
20172015
20162923
20152821
20141515
20131711
20121614
201111
201025
200914
20081716
20072417
200625
200521

The Clockwise War, by Scott Gray

Second frame of third story (“A Religious Experience”, by Tim Quinn and John Ridgeway):

I had bought this in hard copy ages ago, and had not appreciated that the title story, a Twelfth Doctor / Bill Potts adventure, is a direct follow-on from the previous Twelfth Doctor volume, The Phantom Piper, which I have not read yet. The arc also depends quite heavily on continuity from earlier stories in Doctor Who magazine, most of which I had read but long ago.

But I got over it and very much enjoyed the title story and the collection as a whole. There is a whole arc about Cybermen, which comes close to making them interesting. There is a First Doctor story, a couple of Fourth Doctor stories, and a Fifth Doctor story by Paul Cornell. There are some interesting endnotes by the writers and artists, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, and why. I still wish I had got the previous volume but I don’t regret reading this. You can get it here.

This was my top unread English-language comic. Next in that pile is Alternating Current by Jody Houser et al, a Thirteenth Doctor volume, but I may have to reassess my approach.

April 2019 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 late 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 April 2019 in Dublin, finalising the launch of the Hugo final ballot video. A group of us gathered to watch it.

The following weekend, I struggled into Brussels for a tour of the city as Charlotte and Emily Bronte would have known it. Totally fascinating.

And it being Easter, we had Eastercon at Heathrow which once again I thoroughly enjoyed, counting the BSFA votes among other things. I finished the month ready to fly to Ireland once again; but more of that anon.

I read 22 books that month.

Non-fiction: 7 (YTD 14)
Publishing and the Science Fiction Canon: The Case of Scientific Romance, by Adam Roberts
Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson and Sam Witwer
On the Waterfront, by Malcolm Johnson
The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan
Doctor Who Episode Guide, by Mark Campbell
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, ed. Catherine McIlwaine
Alarums and Excursions: Improvising Politics on the European Stage, by Luuk van Middelaar

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 9)
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot

sf (non-Who): 7 (YTD 22)
Time Was, by Ian McDonald
The Land of Somewhere Safe, by Hal Duncan
Embers of War, by Gareth Powell
Phosphorus, by Liz Williams
Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland

Doctor Who, etc: 3 (YTD 7)
Combat Magicks, by Steve Cole
The Day She Saved the Doctor, by Jacqueline Rayner, Jenny T. Colgan, Susan Calman and Dorothy Koomson
The Weather on Versimmon, by Matthew Griffiths

Comics 3 (YTD 5)
On A Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden
Troll Bridge, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran
De Terugkeer van de Wespendief, by Aimée de Jongh

6,700 pages (YTD 17,700)
11/22 (YTD 23/58) by non-male writers (McIlwaine, Yanagihara, “Eliot”, Williams, Wells, Novik, Ireland, Rayner et al, Walden, Doran, de Jongh)
3/22 (YTD 7/58) by PoC (Yanagihara, Ireland, Koomson)

A lot of really good books this month. I think I will single out Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, which you can get here; Time Was, by Ian McDonald, which you can get here; and Alarums and Excursions, by Luuk van Middelaar, which you can get here. On the other hand I completely bounced off The Land of Somewhere Safe, by Hal Duncan; you can get it here.

Recent Big Finish: Tenth Doctor, Fourth Doctor, Martha Jones

So, I’m rather far behind with writing up my recent Big Finish listening – last time I mentioned it was in July. Three boxed sets of audio plays to cover quickly in summary here.

My favourite of these is a set of three stories with the Tenth Doctor and Classic Companions. All three bring David Tennant together with John Leeson as K9. The first, Splinters by John Dorney, features Louise Jameson as Leela; the second, The Stuntman by Lizzie Hopley, has Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and the third, Quantum of Axos by Roy Gill, has Sophie Aldred as Ace. All three stories have fantastic chemistry between Tennant and the others – the arrivals of Leela and K9 are the first changes to the regular cast he remembers as a young fan, and clearly everyone is thrilled to bits to be performing with each other. It was also interesting that all three stories play with themes of identity, memory and nostalgia, which always appeal to me too. Dorney, Hopley and Gill are among Big Finish’s more reliable writers, and they have delivered here. Strongly recommended. Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite.

Another New Who spinoff comes in the form of The Year of Martha Jones, set during the year that Martha travels the world while the aged-up Doctor is the Master’s prisoner. We’ve already had a print anthology set in this period; this however is better, getting off to an excellent start in The Last Diner by the always reliable James Goss, a more Western-y The Silver Medal by Tim Foley, and a well-executed climax in Deceived by Matt Fitton. Martha is joined by Adjoa Andoh playing her mother Francine, who has apparently escaped the Master, and Serin Ibrahim as old friend Holly. (Also Clare Louise Connolly plays the Toclafance in all three stories.) Guest stars include Marina Sirtis, best known as Deanna Troi in Star Trek, in the first episode.

The fifth set of Ninth Doctor adventures, Back to Earth, sees Christopher Ecclestone’s time as the Doctor on audio overtaking his record on TV. To be honest I was less wowed by this trilogy than by some of the others, but these are all decent enough stories. Station to Station by Robert Valentine has the Doctor helping a young woman (Indigo Griffiths) out of a strange predicament in a deserted railway station. The False Dimitry by Sarah Grochala brings a Whovian spin to a corner of Russian history, the title character playedby Alexander Arnold. And Auld Lang Syne, another one by Time Foley, has a spooky New Year’s Eve party where all is not what it seems; veteran Wendy Craig makes an appearance as the great-aunt. I got the sense that Big Finish is trying out younger writers and actors in this range, which is fine. Here, again is a trailer.

I’m also way behind on noting the Fourth Doctor box sets that I have been listening to, but I think I’ll save those for another post – the above three are all worth getting anyway.

Saturday reading

Current
Doctor Who: Origin Stories (ed. ?Dave Rudden?)
Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, by Lawrence M. Schoen
ω1
The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

Last books finished
A Darker Shade, ed. John-Henri Holmberg
Official Secrets, by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson and Marco Lesko
φ1
The Bedlam of Immortals, by Enki Bilal
χ1 (did not finish)
Filter House, by Nisi Shawl
ψ1

Next books
Rise of the Dominator, by Robert Mammone
Zink, by David Van Reybrouck
“Schrödinger’s Kitten”, by George Alec Effinger

Sandman, Wakanda Forever, Firefly

Time to catch up briefly on some other media that I’ve been consuming of late. (Like, over the last few months.)

Literally the first book blog entries that I wrote, back in 2003, were my first reading of the Sandman comics. My wife and son have never read them, but Neil Gaiman’s name carries credibility and we had a good few hours watching this year’s TV series. Some very interesting casting, making the characters much more diverse, which I did not have a problem with at all. The best single episode was “The Sound of Her Wings”, with Kirby Howell-Baptiste excelling as Death; I had completely forgotten that she was also in The Good Place as Chidi’s girlfriend Simone. But most of the others were good too – Tom Sturridge manages to avoid going over the top as the title character, Vivienne Acheampong and Vanesu Samunyai are great as Lucienne and Rose Walker, credible dynamic between Derek Jacobi and Arthur Darville in the Calliope episode, Gwendolyn Christie watchable as ever, nice cameos from Stephen Fry, Charles Dance and Ian McNiece. Not totally convinced by Jenna Coleman, I’m afraid, but otherwise I though it was a good example of taking a story from one medium and adapting it to a new one. I’ll be nominating “The Sound of Her Wings” for the Hugos.

I wasn’t able to tempt either wife or son to Wakanda Forever in the cinema. It was pretty courageous to make a superhero film sequel which starts with the death of the main character from the previous film, but it certainly came out right – no doubt they could have recast T’Challa, and told a completely different story, but fans would have had difficulty with any new male lead and the film ended up as a story led by Black women, which carries its own power; I could watch Letita Wright, Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett all day. I felt a little adrift at a couple of points which I suspect depended on knowledge of the wider MCU mythology – were we supposed to know who Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) is? Were we supposed to know why Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is in Haiti? But apart from that it was really thrilling to see a film subverting a lot of traditional political themes through the action trope, with the Namor / Talokan plot supplying an extra dimension to that.

More traditionally, we went back and rewatched Firefly, which we had first seen in November 2005, three years after it was broadcast. Young F was six years old then, and too young, we felt, to appreciate it; now he is 23 and enjoyed it as much as we did. The setup makes no sense astronomically or economically, Inara’s business model doesn’t hold water, the occasional graphic violence is squicky, and we now know what an asshole Joss Whedon is in real life, but on the other hand the scripts and acting are generally top notch. My favourite episode, I think, is Jaynestown, but there are other strong contenders. Sometimes it’s worth going back to scenes of previous enjoyment.

So, should we watch Andor?

Faith in Politics, by John Bruton

Second paragraph of third essay:

As he approached the end of his life, Ian Paisley really wanted to be the man who was seen to have brought an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In the last few years I’ve become friendly with John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU ambassador to the United States, and he kindly gave me this volume of his collected writings a few years back. Most of the pieces first saw the light of day as blog posts, newspaper articles or lectures, so it is all very digestible. Little will come as any surprise to readers who have followed Bruton’s career; he’s defensive of Ireland’s record as a nation (especially when he was in office, starting in 1973); he’s a convinced European, but troubled at the difficulty of herding cats (he has been at both ends of this dynamic, as a national leader and a senior EU representative); he takes economics seriously but is not obsessed by it.

A couple of points jumped out at me. First, his controversial but well-argued point that if there had been no Easter Rising, by 1930 or so Ireland would probably have ended up in the same place as in our time-line – a Home Rule government would have pushed for full independence and London would have been compelled to concede in the context of Canada, Australia and New Zealand getting similar powers.

I’m not so sure; part of the motivation for 1916 was the Nationalist perception that the UK had consistently failed to keep its promises to Ireland and the known risk that a post-war Conservative and Unionist government might revoke Home Rule before it was implemented, and this perception has some basis in reality. But Bruton makes a fair point that the achievement of Redmond in getting Home Rule onto the statute book in the first place deserves greater recognition.

Secondly, I was struck by the essays in his last section about Christianity and politics. It’s all fairly sensible stuff, arguing the need for an ethical framework to politics and government, and advocating the virtues of a faith background. He does not mention abortion or same-sex marriage. If church leaders were to follow his example and talk more about ethics in the broadest sense, they would have more credibility.

You can get it here. This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. (Sorry, John!) Next on that list is The Ahtisaari Legacy, edited by Nina Suomalainen.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Jonathan Morris (and Terry Nation, Terrance Dicks and “Alan Smithee”)

When I first watched The Dalek Invasion of Earth in 2006, I wrote:

Bought this in London last week. Excellent value – six Hartnell epsiodes of classic story, plus various mini-documentaries, including a short silent film shot by Carole Ann Ford on her last day as Susan (featuring William Hartnell with no wig and looking ten years younger).

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is good – in fact, the first three episodes are excellent, with the Dalek coming out of the river at the end of episode one, and episode three a real high point, with the scenes of the Daleks in London, wandering past Westminster, congregating in Trafalgar Square, and patrolling the Albert Memorial (having obviously somehow got up the steps) particularly effective. That is also the episode where Susan tells David of her feeling of dislocation: “I never felt that there was any time or place that I belonged to. I’ve never had any real identity.” And the incidental music is great – I hadn’t heard of the composer Francis Chagrin before but he was apparently a well known film composer; shall look out for his other work. There is a real feeling of occupied Europe resisting the Nazis (and I write this in a village which experienced that directly rather than just in the cinema).

It is a bit let down by episode four, with no Doctor in sight and the rather rubber-suited Slyther, and the Daleks’ actual plan when revealed stretches our suspension of disbelief. But the pace is kept up (especially by Jacqueline Hill as Barbara).

And finally the departure of Susan. Beautifully done, the first time that a member of the regular cast had left the show. “Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine,” says the Doctor, promising to return, but we know he never will.

When I rewatched it in sequence four years later, I wrote:

After a couple of frankly ropey sf stories (The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites) we have a very marked improvement with The Dalek Invasion of Earth. As with Planet of Giants, we are on familiar English territory, but this time warped by the passage of time rather than perspectives of scale. There are lots of brilliant moments here, and the whole is for once equal to the sum of its parts. The impact of the Dalek emerging from the Thames at the end of the first episode is slightly lost if we know what the name of the whole story is, but several people who saw it first time round in 1964 have picked this as the most memorable moment in all of Old Who. Myself, I just love the sequence of Barbara, Jenny and Dortmun dodging Daleks across London to Chagrin’s haunting tortured incidental music in the middle of episode 3; I could watch that again and again. And at long last, as she leaves, Carole Ann Ford is called upon to do some acting, and rises to the challenge. Susan’s departure scene is really rather moving, especially watching it (as I now have done, and as original viewers had to do) as the 51st episode in sequence rather than the last of a vintage 6-part DVD. One point lost on 1964’s viewers that strikes one forcibly today is Peter Fraser’s eerie resemblance, as David Campbell, to David Tennant (who of course was not born until 1971).

Since then of course I’ve also watched the great 1970s TV series Secret Army, which is about the German occupation of Belgium; it’s possible that Gerald Glaister watched Doctor Who in 1964, but both stories are drawing from a common well of war narratives. I enjoyed watching it again, and the scene of evading the Daleks in the third episode is thrilling every time.

Terrance Dicks’ novelisation was, I think, the very first Doctor Who book I bought for myself, shortly after it came out in 1977, at the Blackpool exhibition. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

When he’d grabbed Barbara at the steps, he’d released her almost at once, saying he’d just wanted to make sure she didn’t scream. ‘They’ had their patrols everywhere, and he’d already carried Susan to shelter so she wouldn’t be spotted.

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth leans a bit on the Peter Cushing film as well as on the originally broadcast story. Its most remarkable innovation, and improvement on the screen version, is the Daleks’ pet monster, the Slyther, which is much more terrifying on the page. But unfortunately a lot of the good bits of the TV story – the desperate chase across a deserted London in episode 3, and even the Doctor’s farewell to Susan at the end – are truncated and lose their effect. It’s still a good story but this comes across rather in spite of than because of Dicks’ efforts.

I was not entirely fair here. The opening paragraph is one of Dicks’ real crackers:

Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man. His clothes were tattered and grimy, his skin blotched and diseased over wasted flesh. On his head was a gleaming metal helmet. He walked with the stiff, jerky movements of a robot—which was exactly what he had become.

And the prose is taut as 150 minutes of screen time are condensed into 142 pages. The cover is fantastic too (and unrealistically raised my ten-year-old expectations for the look of the original TV series). You can get it here.

This is one of only two Doctor Who stories to have been converted to the big screen, as a film starring Peter Cushing as the human scientist Doctor Who, Bernard Cribbins as policeman Tom Campbell, and Roberta Tovey and Jill Curzon as Dr Who’s granddaughter Susan and niece Louise. I had seen it on TV as a kid; when I rewatched it in 2010, I wrote:

It is much inferior both to the original six-part TV Dalek Invasion of Earth and to its own predecessor which I reviewed earlier. Somehow where the TV series succeeded in making the sets appear a realistic future occupied England, the big screen fails to do so; the sequences around the mines are particularly striking, where the original show achieved five times the effect for perhaps a tenth of the money. The music is often terrible, though of course the TV version had some of the best incidental music ever to feature in Who. Peter Cushing and Roberta Tovey, returning from the previous film, are much less effective; the more striking performances are Jill Curzon as Dr. Who’s niece Louise, Philip Madoc as a short-lived black marketeer, Andrew Keir as a Scottish freedom fighter, and particularly Bernard Cribbins as Tom Campbell, a 1960s policeman who accidentally enters Tardis thinking it is a police box and gets swept forward to 2150.

I have some suggestions as to why this film manifestly fails where its predecessor did not, and where the TV story succeeded. First off, the TV series has an ensemble of regular characters with established relationships; the film loses time and momentum setting that up (and also has no particularly good reason for it). Second, the switching round of the narrative strands fails to work in the film’s favour. Here, Tom and Louise, rather than Ian and a local, head up to Derbyshire in the Dalek saucer; and Dr. Who and granddaughter Susie travel by land separately rather than together. (Susie follows roughly the route of Barbara on TV, accompanied by Weir’s Scottish resistance fighter.) Opportunities are missed to generate much spark between Tom and Louise, let along their terrestrially travelling friends. Of the good scenes from the TV story, only Dortmun’s last stand and the treacherous women in the woods survive, and are done less well. (The women are played by Eileen Way and Sheila Steafel.) Finally, the geology of the Daleks’ plan actually – and this is difficult to believe – makes less sense than the original TV version.

Rewatching again, the changes to the narrative annoyed me even more. But on the other hand I appreciated the thrill of seeing Doctor Who in colour, years before the TV show got there (in 1970).

Along with the Black Archive sequence, Obverse Books have produced four “novelisations” of films starring the Peter Cushing Doctor, only two of which were actually made of course. The author is the pseudonymous Alan Smithee. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

‘Run,’ Dr Who whispered under his breath. ‘Run!’ he said again, far more forcibly this time.

The mysterious “Smithee” has done well here, adding quite a lot of background detail about a number of the human characters and how their lives were affected by the Dalek invasion – something that I now realise is missing from the Dicks novelisation (unlike his books with more contemporary settings). You can get it and the other three here.

Before I get to the main business, I’m also going to mention the recent Big Finish play, After the Daleks, which I listened to recently and will write up properly Real Soon Now. It’s set in the aftermath of the Dalek defeat, and features Susan and friends attempting to reconstruct society. Some monsters are human in shape. You can get it here. Edited to add: Silly me! I had already written it up.

LibraryThing tells me that I have 42 books and audio plays by Jonathan Morris, and I know I have not been diligent about logging my audio collection there, so the real total is a bit higher. I really loved his early Big Finish play Bloodtide and his Fourth Doctor novel Festival of Death, but this Black Archive monograph on The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the first non-fiction that I have read by him.

Unlike most of the other Black Archives, this concentrates largely on the development of the script and the story in its various iterations. Morris does enlarge on something I had learned from the DVD commentary. Originally the character of Jenny, played by Ann Davies (whose husband was Richard Briers), was to be a much younger Anglo-Indian girl, played by Pamela Franklin, who was then only 14, and would have ended the story replacing Susan by stowing away on the TARDIS. But the BBC bureaucracy screwed up on the contracts, and it didn’t work out.

On the one hand, it would have been great to have a non-white companion forty years before Martha Jones. On the other, we may have dodged a bullet: my impression is that Pamela Franklin, though born in Japan, has exclusively European ancestry, so she would have needed make-up for the role, which would have been very dubious indeed. She hit the big time a few years later as one of the pupils in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The books has the following chapters, all fairly short:

  • An introduction where, like me, Morris reveals that the novelisation was the first Doctor Who book he ever bought (he was seven, I was ten)
  • Chapter 1, “The Return of the Daleks”, looking at the instability around the show and its place in the BBC in mid-1964, and the role of the Daleks in securing its future;
  • Chapter 2, “Doctor Who and the Daleks’, looks at the roots of the story in war stories, H.G. Wells and Earth vs the Flying Saucers;
  • Chapter 3, “The Invaders”, looks in detail at Terry Nation’s original script. The second paragraph, and the quote it introduces, are:

Nation’s delivery date for his draft scripts was 19 June. The existing paperwork doesn’t record when he delivered them, but it seems reasonable to assume that he didn’t deliver them before that date. Interviewed in 1973 2, Nation recalled:
‘I was in demand from all sides, besieged by offers to write comedies, plays, science fiction. We worked out that there was some work of mine shown on television for 40 weeks out of 52 that year. Fortunately I work very fast, and work best under pressure. The [Doctor Who] scripts became my Saturday job. They were written one a week, each Saturday.
2 For the Radio Times Special celebrating the series’ 10th anniversary.

  • Chapter 4, “Serial K”, looks in detail at the changes made by David Whitaker to the script;
  • Chapter 5, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, looks at the changes to Whitaker’s script made by director Richard Martin and others as it was being filmed;
  • Chapter 6, “The Daleks are here!”, briefly looks at the way the story was marketed;
  • Chapter 7, “Daleks Invade Earth”, looks at Milton Subotsky’s original draft of the film script;
  • Chapter 8, “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD“, looks at how the shooting script differed from Subotsky’s original draft;
  • Chapter 9, “Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth“, looks at Terrance Dicks’ novelisation;
  • and Chapter 10, “Legacy of the Daleks”, looks at how this story more than almost any other has been referenced explicitly and implicitly in later Doctor Who stories, both on and off screen. The book was written before the 2021 Big Finish play After the Daleks, but references among others Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman?, a BBC play in which she returns to our time and becomes a European Commissioner.

So, all meaty stuff, and you can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)