August 2023 books

Non-fiction 10 (YTD 58)
Representatives of the People?: Parliamentarians and Constituents in Modern Democracies, ed. Vernon Bogdanor
Falling to Earth, by Al Worden
Gifted Amateurs and Other Essays, by David Bratman
Autism Spectrum Disorders Through the Lifespan, by Digby Tantam 
The Stones of Blood, by Katrin Thier 
Arachnids in the UK, by Sam Maleski
Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, by Kyle Buchanan (did not finish)
Will We Ever Speak Dolphin?, ed. Mick O’Hare
Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir, by Wil Wheaton
The Return of Eva Perón with the Killings in Trinidad, by V. S. Naipaul

Non-genre 4 (YTD 18)
Love and Mr Lewisham, by H.G. Wells
The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman
The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman: Including the Brother, by Flann O’Brien
Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver

SF 17 (YTD 139)
A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle
Akata Woman, by Nnedi Okorafor
The Outcast, by Louise Cooper
Bloodmarked, by Tracy Deonn (did not finish)
Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, by Charlie Jane Anders
Collision Course, by Robert Silverberg / Nemesis from Terra, by Leigh Brackett
Nettle and Bone, by “T. Kingfisher”
Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods, by Catherynne M. Valente
What Moves the Dead, by “T. Kingfisher”
A Mirror Mended, by Alix E. Harrow
A Rumor of Angels, by Dale Bailey
Into the Riverlands, by Nghi Vo
Even Though I Knew the End, by C.L. Polk
Where the Drowned Girls Go, by Seanan McGuire
“Beggars in Spain”, by Nancy Kress
Nona the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 25)
The Shadow Man, by Sharon Bidwell
Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion, by Peter Harness
Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who – The Stones of Blood, by David Fisher

Comics 7 (YTD 21)
Sins of the Father, by Nick Abadzis et al
Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, by Tom King, Bilquis Evely and Matheus Lopes
Cyberpunk 2077: Big City Dreams, by Bartosz Sztybor, Filipe Andrade, Alessio Fioriniello, Roman Titov, and Krzysztof Ostrowski
Monstress vol. 7: Devourer, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Major Matt Mason: Moon Mission, by George S. Elrick
DUNE: The Official Movie Graphic Novel, by Lilah Sturges, Drew Johnson, and Zid
Daleks, ed. Marcus Hearn

10,000 pages (YTD 64,900)
21/42 (YTD 115/267) by non-male writers (Thier, Kingsolver, L’Engle, Okorafor, Deonn, Anders, Brackett, 2x “Kingfisher”, Valente, Harrow, Vo, Polk, McGuire, Kress, Muir, Tidwell, illustrators of Sins of the Father, Evely, Liu/Takeda, Sturges)
6/42 (YTD 36/267) by a non-white writer (Naipaul, Okorafor, Deonn, Vo, Polk, Liu/Takeda)
6 rereads (The Various Lives of Keats and ChapmanA Wind in the DoorNemesis from Terra, “Beggars in Spain”, Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood, Doctor Who – The Stones of Blood)

359 books currently tagged unread – down 1 from last month, with purchases and other acquisitions balancing books cleared off the piles.

Reading now
Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality, by Jaron Lanier

Coming soon (perhaps)
War of the Gods, by Nick Abadzis et al
Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara, by David Fisher
The Night of the Doctor, by James Cooray Smith
Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat
The Day of the Doctor, by Alasdair Stuart
A Life of My Own, by Claire Tomalin
Keats and Chapman Wryed Again, by Steven A. Jent
Letters from Klara, by Tove Jansson
A Brief History of the Hobbit, by John D. Rateliff
Nine Black Doves – Volume 5: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny
The Cartographers
, by Peng Shepherd
Rupetta, by N.A. Sulway
Living with the Gods, by Neil MacGregor
What Not: A Prophetic Comedy, by Rose Macaulay
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford
“Even the Queen” by Connie Wilis
Winter, by Ali Smith
Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett
Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, by Nick Montfort
Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
Jaren van de olifant, by Willy Linthout
A Long Day in Lychford, by Paul Cornell
The New Machiavelli, by H. G. Wells
Land of the Blind, by Scott Gray et al

Outcast by Louise Carey (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The first thing Tanta does when she gets outside is check on the rest of her unit. They’re still shaken by Porter’s death, but they’ve recovered well from their initial panic. Wright has assumed command of the team and is doing a decent job of keeping up morale; he has established a security perimeter around the building and has the rest of the guardians super-vising the cleaning crews who have arrived to sweep up the debris.The guardians are also holding back an increasingly vocal throng of onlookers.The crowd is fractious, shouting questions at Wright and the team and trying to push past the perimeter they’ve created. Not an ideal situation, but at least it gives her harried colleagues something to focus on besides the explosion. Once she’s sure that Wright has everything under control, Tanta takes herself across the road from the Needle and waits.

Sequel to a book I hadn’t read, failed to grab me. You can get it here.

Collision Course, by Robert Silverberg / Nemesis from Terra, by Leigh Brackett

This was an Ace Double from 1961, combining a Robert Silverberg novel (expanded from an earlier version published in 1959) with the Leigh Brackett novel that won the 1945 Retro Hugo. Of the latter, I wrote at the time:

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Mayo McCall watched the men running back and forth below. Quite calmly she reached out and closed the switch that controlled her testing beam — the ray that spanned the head of the drift and checked every carload of dull red rock for Fallonite content, the chemically amorphous substance that was already beginning to revolutionize the Terran plastic industry.

Fairly standard but well executed pulp planetary romance / space opera, with desert Mars, swampy Venus and our hero overcoming evil Earth industrialists and perhaps a bit of commentary on colonialism as well. Brackett is one of two women in this category, and the only one to get a solo listing. You can get the original pulp version here and buy a later book version here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Collision Course is:

Bernard lay sprawled in his vibrochair, cradling a volume of Yeats on his lap while the shoulder-lamp wriggled unhappily in its attempt to keep the beam focussed on the page no matter how Bernard might alter his position. A flask of rare brandy, twenty years old, imported from one of the Procyon worlds, was within easy reach. Bernard had his drink, his music, his poetry, his warmth. What better way, he asked himself, to relax after spending two hours trying to pound the essentials of sociometrics into the heads of an obtuse clump of sophomores?

It’s early but very competent Silverberg, a new wrinkle on the Cosmic Duel theme where humanity and one group of aliens are competing for control of our galaxy and a godlike force intervenes to force a settlement. Particularly entertaining in that the humans in Team Earth don’t get on with each other at all. Needless to say, no women characters appear except in flashbacks.

You can get Collision Course separately here, and the Ace Double here.

This was the SF book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is Major Matt Mason: Moon Mission by George S. Elrick (if I can find it).

The Shadow Man, by Sharon Bidwell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Surprise stopped Anne midway across the living room. Granted the room wasn’t huge, but a pair of two-seater sofas, separate miss-matched chairs, a coffee table, sideboard and bookcase, left plenty of room to walk between the furniture. A sense of Madeleine’s apology extending far beyond the limits of her home unsettled Anne, though she struggled to understand why. Before she could enquire, Madeleine pushed them into a whirlwind tour, cutting their greeting short.

Second in the Bloodlines sub-series of Lethbridge-Stewart books, in which Anne Travers and her husband Bill visit France to investigate sinister gangs-on and body-horror in a laboratory. The story is decently enough told, but the connection with Doctor Who so weak that I think I may clear this sequence from my reading list in future. You can get it here.

Hangdog Souls by Marc Joan (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

We race to the inner fort, Devadarshan and I. We seem safer here from missiles; yet the people are more tense and fearful. Perhaps it is because they are not sepoys, but women, children and old folk. They have not the release of action; they can only wait for their fate to be made known to them.

Didn’t like it much. You can get it here.

Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut’s Journey to the Moon, by Al Worden

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Pam and I had married so that we could be together during my training. We had already decided to spend our lives together, and we didn’t want that commitment interrupted. Why wait, we reasoned? We’d been dating long enough that marriage seemed like a natural step.

Another of the astronaut autobiographies which I saw recommended in this blog post in 2020 (via File 770). I enjoyed Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire so much that I made it my book of 2021. Like Collins, Worden got to circle the Moon while his colleagues went and landed on it; unlike Collins, his career had a hard crash immediately afterwards, as a result of a scandal involving the sale for profit of commemorative stamps that the astronauts had brought to the lunar surface and back. Worden stayed loyal to his commander, David Scott, when the whole story broke, but nearing the end of his life clearly felt that he needed to tell his side and clarify Scott’s overall responsibility. (He died at 88 in March 2020; Scott, now 91, is the last remaining Apollo commander.)

On the technological side, Worden’s account tallies with Collins, though it’s less funny; it’s rather delightful though to read of him developing a passion for lunar geology, and manically photographing every possible inch of the moon’s surface while in orbit. Worden’s personal life was more complex, as he and his first wife divorced while he was undergoing his astronaut training, and one also senses that he was politically less astute than Collins – he notes of a dinner that the Apollo 15 team had with President Nixon and Vice-President Agnew that all five of them underwent public disgrace soon afterwards, but there is not much introspection as to how this happened.

The part of the story I found most shocking in fact was the serious health issue endured by the third man on the mission, James Irwin, whose heart underwent serious stress in the final stages of the lunar excursion. Irwin had a heart attack less than two years after their mission, aged only 43, and was the first of the twelve who walked on the moon to die, aged 61 in 1991. NASA failed to communicate Irwin’s health situation clearly to the three astronauts, and Scott, decided that they should keep working, an error as it turned out, but based on incomplete information. Both the stamps scandal and Irwin’s overwork were mistaken decisions made by Scott, but in a framework established by NASA that made these mistakes very easy to make.

(Irwin became an evangelical Christian after he returned from the moon and went on expeditions to find Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, asserting that the Book of Genesis was literally true. His grandparents were from Pomeroy, Co Tyrone, and he described himself as the first Irishman on the Moon.)

Space is exciting stuff and although I think Michael Collins’s book is superior, this is still an entertaining read. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2020. Next is A Long Day in Lychford, by Paul Cornell.

The Quickening, by Talulah Riley (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I wake to the familiar sound of the key, turning gently in the lock, a three-phase sound, scrape-scrape-click. It is a brass key tied with a pink silk tassel, carried by a member of our domestic staff. She knocks discreetly at my door and says, ‘Good morning, Arthur,’ without any emotion. She doesn’t enter the room. I know what the key looks like because she wears it at all times on her belt. It hangs there sweetly, next to her electroshock gun.

Very crude feminist satire (or something). Didn’t like it much. You can get it here.

Sunday reading

Current
Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver
Nona the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality, by Jaron Lanier

Last books finished
Even Though I Knew the End, by C.L. Polk
Arachnids in the UK, by Sam Maleski
Where the Drowned Girls Go, by Seanan McGuire
The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman: Including the Brother, by Flann O’Brien
Monstress vol. 7: Devourer, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, by Kyle Buchanan (did not finish)
“Beggars in Spain”, by Nancy Kress
Will We Ever Speak Dolphin?, ed. Mick O’Hare
Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir, by Wil Wheaton
Major Matt Mason: Moon Mission, by George S. Elrick
The Return of Eva Perón with the Killings in Trinidad, by V. S. Naipaul
DUNE: The Official Movie Graphic Novel, by Lilah Sturges, Drew Johnson, and Zid

Next books
War of the Gods, by Nick Abadzis et al
Keats and Chapman Wryed Again, by Steven A. Jent
The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd

Hugos 2023: Best Related Work

This is one of my favourite categories for the Hugos, and this year I think there is a clear winner.

6) Buffalito World Outreach Project, by Lawrence M. Schoen

Second paragraph of third chapter (the Bengali translation):

প্রবেশ ফটকে লেখা ছিল,The marquee out front read
“বিস্ময়কর কনরয়,
মহান সম্মোহনগুরু”
THE AMAZING CONROY,
MASTER HYPNOTIST
লোকদের নজর কাড়ার এক সংকোচহীন এবং আতিরক্তপ্রচেষ্টা। সেটি অবশ্য কাজেও দিয়েছিল। আমার শো’য়ের দর্শক যেদিন তুলনামূলক অল্প হতো, সেদিনও পর্যাপ্ত সংখ্যাক লোক হতো, আর দর্শক বেশি হলে তো রা জায়গা ভরে যেত। জিব্রান্ত্রর মতো ভেনুগুলোতে যেকোনো ধরণের চাহিদা নিরন্তর, আর সেখানে একজন মঞ্চ সম্মোহকারী ভালো উপার্জন করতে পারে।and cycled through a googol of colorful hues in a blatant attempt to remain eye-catching. It worked. My smallest audiences were decent, and the large ones packed the place. Venues like Gibrahl are always hungry for any kind of entertainment, and a stage hypnotist can make a good buck.

A single short story translated into into thirty languages, including “Croation” [sic] and two varieties of Spanish. I absolutely support its eligibility for the category – to be eligible, a nominee “if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and … is not eligible in any other category.” The story “Buffalo Dogs” itself was first published in 2001, so it is not eligible for this year’s Best Short Story or Best Novelette categories (at 7800 words it’s on the cusp between them). And the whole point of Buffalito World Outreach Project is that it’s noteworthy not for the primary text but because of the translations. You can get it here.

However, to adapt Dr Johnson, this is a case of being impressed that the thing has been done at all, rather than wondering if it has been done well. I am glad that this has been done, but the other five finalists are more worthy winners.

(Also, although Lawrence M. Schoen is the finalist, what about the thirty or so people who did the translating?)

5) Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, by Kyle Buchanan

Second paragraph of third chapter:

So, would Mad Max work just as well if it were a TV show?

A detailed account of the making of Mad Max: Fury Road, featuring interviews with many many people from the cast and crew. It’s the unabashed writing of a super-fan (and top NYT reporter), who holds both the film and the director/producer George Miller in the highest regard. I was not so blown away by the film myself, and I confess I lasted only fifty pages into an intense book about a subject which doesn’t interest me all that much. You can get it here.

4) Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir, by Wil Wheaton

Second paragraph of third chapter, with footnote:

In addition to the things we Star Trek people usually do at conventions (signing autographs, posing for pictures, answering questions, and saying “Engage!”), I took a group of people from the ACME Comedy Theatre with me to perform a sketch comedy show. The entire convention experience is chronicled in “The Saga of SpongeBob Vega$Pants,” which is the centerpiece of my first collection of essays, Dancing Barefoot.*

* I’m so proud of this little book. I often look back at my early writing and cringe (you’ve probably cringed with me a few times just in this text) but Barefoot is nothing but joyful memories and the very best I could do at the time. I don’t encounter copies of it very often (its entire run was less than five thousand), but it is where I started, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.

Again, a book on a subject that I am not all that invested in (Wil Wheaton), written by an author who is deeply and passionately committed to that subject (Wil Wheaton). In fact this is an update of an autobiographical book first published in 2004, with explanatory footnotes telling us how his life and attitudes changed between then and 2021, with Star Trek: The Next Generation probably the single topic with most coverage but plenty else as well (for instance, there’s a gruelling account of a family medical emergency).

I found the result is a bit unsatisfactory; the structure is choppy, as most of the content is recycled from Wheaton’s blog, and some of the content is repeated, usually more than once, especially the question of how lousy his parents were. And there is a running joke, which gets old rather fast, about how much he hates his editor for the crime of, er, editing. But I give a couple of plus points for actually having the footnotes at the bottom of each page rather than the end of the book. You can get it here.

3) Ghost of Workshops Past: How Communism, Conservatism, and the Cold War Still Mold Our Paths Into SFF Writing, by S.L. Huang

Second to fourth paragraphs of third section:

Milford, I was told.
Milford.
And again Milford

I generally prefer my Best Related Work nominees and finalists to be books, but I am still rating this blog post ahead of two serious non-fiction monographs. It’s a straightforward analysis of how the standard model of writer training workshops among the sf community emerged from the Cold War, and how it doesn’t really work all that well for non-white aspiring writers. This is an important topic, but not a huge one, and the blog post deals with it efficiently and succinctly. You can read it here.

2) Chinese Science Fiction: An Oral History, Vol 1, ed. Yang Feng

Second paragraph of English introduction to third chapter (an interview with Liu Shahe [1932-2019], who is much better known as a poet and calligrapher than an sf fan):

Liu Shahe was not trained in the humanities; he studied agriculture at Sichuan University. Amongst the older generation of Sichuanese writers, he was one of the rare people with a profound interest in natural science. He was also curious about the unknown. When Shi Bo, the editor-in-chief of The Journal of UFO Research visited him in Chengdu, he had an entire speech about dozens of examples of humans encountering UFOs, convinced that extraterrestrial civilizations existed.

English-speakers have been given enough information through the Hugo packet to make it clear that this is a major and important compendium of interviews with seven crucial people in the history of the development of science fiction in China. Unfortunately only one is a woman (Yang Xiao), but this is clearly a work in progress. Not easily available outside China, other than through the Hugo packet.

1) Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes, by Rob Wilkins

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Granny Pratchett, Terry’s paternal grandmother, rolled her own cigarettes. Then, having smoked them, she would take the butts from the ashtray, pick the paper apart and return any strands of unburnt tobacco to the tin where she kept her supply. Waste not, want not. As Terry wrote in a short essay about her in 2004, ‘As a child this fascinated me, because you didn’t need to be a mathematician to see that this meant there must have been some shreds of tobacco she’d been smoking for decades, if not longer.’

As I wrote when this was up for the BSFA Award (which it won), this is a very good book about a very important subject. A lot of us know parts of the Terry Pratchett story – I first heard him speak in public in Cambridge in, I think, 1987, and last saw him at the 2010 Discworld Convention, and spoke to him a couple of times in between. It’s lovely to have it all between two covers, with the laughs and the tears, and with Rob also explaining the complicated nature of his relationship with Terry over the years, beginning as amanuensis and ending as nurse. I am voting for it and I expect that others will do so as well. You can get it here.

Here is a nice photo that I took of Rob Wilkins with Aliette de Bodard, the evening that they both won BSFA Awards in April. (The two winners who I myself voted for.)

2023 Hugos:
Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Related Work | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar Award for Best YA Book | Astounding Award for Best New Writer

Hugos 2023: Lodestar Award for Best YA Book

I griped previously about the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category having too many finalists where you needed to know the rest of the series to really understand them, and the same goes for the Lodestar Award; two of the six are sequels, two more are threequels, as it were, and one is the fourth in a sequence. It is great that people enjoy these series so much, and that’s why we have the Best Series category (which has only one overlap here). But it makes it more difficult for voters who may not have read previous instalments to assess the success of the latest volume. I don’t think it is worthwhile to tweak the rules in any way on this, I’m just saying that I wish voters would nominate books that stand better on their own. Having said that, some of these stand better on their own than others.

6) Bloodmarked, by Tracy Deonn

Second paragraph of third chapter:

To my left, William glances at the kneeling sorcerers, then back to me. Right. Now is the time to use the protocol I’ve studied. I clear my throat. “Rise, Mage Seneschal Varelian of the High Council and noble members of the Round Table Mageguard.”

I thought that the notion of the Round Table turning up in Chapel Hill as a phenomenon among university students was a load of rubbish when I read the first volume in 2021, and I think so still. I gave this 50 pages before tossing it aside.

5) The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I expect ordinarily it was a grand, dramatic space. There was a tiled mosaic floor beneath our feet, and statues lining up alongside a pool running the length of the room with a fountain at one end and a skylight overhead. There should have been an illusion of sky up there, made more believable by looking at it in the rippling water, but instead it was only the blank empty void, and the pool was still and pitch-dark, with nothing to reflect. The fountain spout was still letting a few drops fall occasionally like a leaking faucet, every unpredictable drop too-loud and echoing. This had to be the oldest part of the enclave, the one that had been built when London itself was just lurching its way towards becoming a city, and it was clearly meant to make you think of the glory that was Rome. Instead it felt like Pompeii just before the flames, a thin blanket of ash already laid down and more coming.

I was colossally disappointed with this, the third in the Scholomance series (which is also up in Best Series). I had put the first volume top of my ballot in 2021, and the second volume second last year. But I felt it would have been better left as a two-parter. Our heroine traipses around the world, through different magical enclaves which are completely indistinguishable whether in Portugal or China, and engages in a quest to rescue the man she loves while also dealing with other emotional entanglements. Compared with the previous two books, I felt it completely lost focus.

4) Akata Woman, by Nnedi Okorafor

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Please, please, please,” Sunny had said last week to her frowning parents. They knew about her and Orlu, but that didn’t mean they were open to it. “It’s just dinner. Nowhere else.”

I am sorry to keep sounding grumpy. But this was a case where I had quite enjoyed the second book, when I read it way back in 2018, having missed the first; and this seemed to me a rather unspectacular magical training school story, if set in a slightly different culture.

3) Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, by Charlie Jane Anders

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Her barge descends past a dozen towers, blaring with candy-colored lights. Holographic gameplay swirls around the rooftops and cartoon icons run around under a skyline dominated by the crimson curlicues of the nearby Royal Space Academy. Even with Rachael’s Joiner set to “maximum introvert” mode, the shouts of a half-million players and spectators still ring out, and she can smell the fried Scanthian parsnips and bottles of snah-snah juice that everybody uses to fuel marathon gaming sessions.

Getting less grumpy now, as this sequel seemed to me independently enjoyable even if you haven’t read (or can’t remember) last year’s Victories Greater than Death. Six teens turn out to be vital to the future of humanity, and must confront various potentially fatal challenges for high stakes while dealing with the usual agonies of relationships and (interestingly) creativity.

2) In the Serpent’s Wake, by Rachel Hartman

Already reviewed.

1) Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods, by Catherynne M. Valente

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Even at an hour before midnight in Littlebridge, even with shadows as thick as coat sleeves hanging all round. You could still see the red leaves fluttering on the trees. And the red glass in the fancy windows and the red sheen on the moon reflected in the deep black water. The riverbanks ran over with red leaves, red rose hips, red zinnias, red squashes growing wild for anyone to take.

Fantasy of a boy called to save his people with a bunch of unlikely allies, which charmed me with Valente’s approach to integrating folklore with her own narrative, with vivid descriptions of people and places, and also just by not being a sequel. Gets my vote this year.

In general I have felt that the Lodestar Award has delivered more quality to the ballot, and on a good year the finalists en bloc are competitive with the Best Novel Hugo. I did not feel that this was an especially good year.

2023 Hugos:
Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Related Work | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar Award for Best YA Book | Astounding Award for Best New Writer

November 2022 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging at the end of October 2023. Every six-ish days, I’ve been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I’ve found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

This is the twelfth last of these posts; the last will be the October 2023 update.

My only trip outside Belgium in November 2022 was a work outing to London, which I have not otherwise recorded, but I had two interesting day trips; one with F to the sculptures at Borgloon:

And one with U to the Picasso exhibition in Brussels.

At work, I was honoured to greet a courageous woman:

I read 32 books that month.

Non-fiction 9 (YTD 92)
The First World War Diary of Noël Drury, 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers: Gallipoli, Salonika, The Middle East and the Western Front, ed. Richard Grayson
An Eloquent Soldier: The Peninsular War Journals of Lieutenant Charles Crowe of the Inniskillings, 1812-14, ed. Gareth Glover
Rauf Denktaş, a Private Portrait, by Yvonne Çerkez
Moon Boots and Dinner Suits, by Jon Pertwee
The Caucasus: an Introduction, by Thomas de Waal
The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon, by John Toon
The Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Jonathan Morris
Faith in Politics, by John Bruton
The Road To Kosovo: A Balkan Diary, by Greg Campbell

Non-genre 1 (YTD 15)
Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman

Poetry 1 (YTD 2)
Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney

SF 16 (YTD 105)
The End of the Day, by Claire North
The Harem of Aman Akbar, by Elizabeth Scarborough
Hyperspace Demons, by Jonathan Moeller
The Men, by Sandra Newman
The World We Make, by N. K. Jemisin
To Rule in Amber, by John Betancourt
The Flight of the Aphrodite, by S J Morden
August Kitko and the Mechas from Space, by Alex White (did not finish)
Momenticon, by Andrew Caldecott (did not finish)
Azura Ghost, by Essa Hansen (did not finish)
Prophets of the Red Night, by Sophie McKeand (did not finish)
Mickey⁷, by Edward Ashton
Revelations of the Dead-alive aka London and Its Eccentricities in the Year 2023, by John Banim
Deep Dive, by Ron Walters
The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell
Song of Time, by Ian R. MacLeod

Doctor Who 3 (YTD 31)
The Danger Men, by Nick Walter
Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Terrance Dicks
Dr Who: Dalek Invasion Earth 2150AD, by “Alan Smithee”

Comics 2 (YTD 18)
Doctormania, by Cavan Scott et al
The Clockwise War, by Scott Gray

7,400 pages (YTD 69,400)
9/32 (YTD 100/268) by non-male writers (Çerkez, Alderman, North, Scarborough, Newman, Jemisin, White, Hansen, McKeand)
2/32 (YTD 35/268) by a non-white writer (Jemisin, Hansen)

Four books that I really enjoyed this month:

  • Death of a Naturalist, the classic poetry collection by Seamus Heaney; you can get it here.
  • The Caucasus: An Introduction, by Tom de Waal, unfortunately out of date since the recent war but fantastic to understand the region; you can get it here.
  • Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman, a gripping study of an isolated culture in London. You can get it here.
  • The Flight of the Aphrodite, a hard sf Clarke submission that really grabbed me; you can get it here.

Several of the other Clarke submissions this month were frankly unreadable; specifically Momenticon, Azura Ghost and Prophets of the Red Night. You can get them here, here and here.

The Outcast, by Louise Cooper

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The shock had caught him off guard, but now he was rallying his composure – although it took considerable effort in the face of what had happened. No human being should be capable of breaking through the barrier which held this Castle frozen in a Timeless limbo. His own power, great as it was, couldn’t penetrate the formless, dimensionless yet appallingly real warp of time and space that had trapped him here in his last, desperate attempt to save his life and his soul; and whatever he psychic talents, Cyllan was no true sorceress. Yet she was here, as real as he was…

Second in Cooper’s Time Master trilogy, almost entirely set in and around the castle where her protagonist is being held captive and from which he is trying to escape. The really subversive bit is that the protagonist is very clearly the Bad Guy, and his freedom could lead to disaster for the rest of the fantasy world; Cooper shows this pretty clearly, but also engages our sympathy very successfully on behalf of the villain. A very strong story. You can get it here.

This was my top unread sf book. Next on that pile is The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd.

The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

He paid no attention, because he had spent so much time and effort making this place his own, and it was too precious to lose. Yet he had always known that rain would be his downfall.

Interesting and horrifying;I felt that the protagonist’s super powers were magical rather than sfnal. Perhaps it belongs on the same shelf as The Stand. You can get it here.

Representatives of the People?: Parliamentarians and Constituents in Modern Democracies, ed. Vernon Bogdanor

Second paragraph of third chapter (“MPs and their Constituents in Britain: How Strong are the Links?”, by Ivor Crewe):

This argument has made an impact in recent years. According to a June 1983 Gallup poll, a 62 to 26 per cent majority support proportional representation in principle, but half the sympathisers would become less favourable if the change involved ‘merging several existing constituencies into a much larger constituency which would have more than one MP’.1 Reformers share these misgivings. In 1976 a Hansard Society Commission on the electoral system, chaired by Lord Blake, in deference to strong feeling for the single-member constituency, broke with a long tradition of electoral reform agitation and rejected STV in favour of an AM system.2 Conservative Action for Electoral Reform, a Conservative Party ginger group, takes the same line for the same reasons.3 Even the Liberal Party has been affected, as the emphasis and phrasing of the 1982 Report on Constitutional Reform by the Joint Liberal/SDP Alliance Commission revealed.4 In an attempt to reconcile the Liberal Party’s long established commitment to STV with its latter-day tradition of community politics, it proposed ‘Community Proportional Representation’, which retains STV but in multi-member constituencies whose size varies markedly in order to encompass `natural communities’ such as shire counties and major cities.
1 Gallup survey conducted on behalf of Sunday Telegraph and Channel 4’s A Week in Politics, 18-21 June 1983, Table 6.
2 Hansard Society, Report of Commission on Electoral Reform (chaired by Lord Blake), 1976.
3 See, for example, Anthony Wigram (Chairman of CAER), ‘Electoral Reform: Cure for economic ills and a cause for Conservatives’, The Times, 6 December 1974.
4 Electoral Reform: Fairer Voting in Natural Communities, First Report of the Joint Liberal/SDP Commission on Constitutional Reform (London, Poland Street Publications, 1982).

The last of the books about election systems that I got back in 2016, apart from several which I cannot now find. This list of authors is a who’s who of British political science of the early 1980s, 15 men and one woman, with 13 of the 15 men based in the UK (one in Ireland, one in Austria, and the woman contributor is Australian). The editor, Vernon Bogdanor, used to be generally respected as an authority on the British constitution, such as it is, but has gone very Brexity recently. That was all far in the future in 1985, of course.

The book starts with two chapters on the UK, and then goes in sequence through the USA, Australia, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Scandinavia, Switzerland and Ireland, before finishing with a couple of chapters on the theory of representation. I must say I found it a bit frustrating. I would have put the two theoretical chapters up front, to contextualise the specific information about each country; I would have put Ireland, whose political culture is much closer to the UK’s than any of the others, much earlier than last in the sequence.

In general I found the authors far too ready to accept uncritically the British paradigm of MPs as constituency representatives, and inclined to rate other countries positively or negatively depending on how well they approached the ideal. The two exceptions here are the cheaper on Ireland, written by Brian Farrell and quoting the likes of John Bruton, Michael D. Higgins and John Whyte and drawing on deep analysis of theory and practice over sixty years of independence; and a completely bonkers and hilarious chapter on Switzerland by Christopher Hughes, who had already retired as Professor of Politics at Leicester but lived another twenty years.

As usual, Malta, which has had both proportional representation on a similar basis to Ireland since 1921 and a rigid two-party system since 1966, doesn’t exist as far as the writers of this book are concerned.

Several writers approvingly quote Burke’s Address to the Electors of Bristol:

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament

It is worth pointing out (as only one of the authors quoting him does) that when Burke made this speech, he had just been safely elected, so it was not an argument that he actually put to floating voters; and when he defended his Bristol seat at the next election, he came dead last with only 18 votes.

I think that the question of relations between members and constituents is one which would be treated very differently today. The representation of women and minorities is barely addressed here; also in 1985 we had no idea of the intense democratisation that was about to hit central and Eastern Europe, or the devolution settlements of the late 1990s in the UK. And there had been only two elections to the European Parliament, which was still a curiosity rather than a feature. So it’s a book of its time, perhaps telling a surprising amount through its omissions as well as its content. You can still get it here.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves, and the shortest book (at 320 pages) that I had acquired in 2016 but not got around to. Next on the first pile is Autism Spectrum Disorders Through the Life Span, by Digby Bantam, and next on the second is the Ace Double of Collision Course, by Robert Silverberg / Nemesis from Terra, by Leigh Brackett, which I found after thinking I had lost it for good.

New Brighton by Helen Trevorrow (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Within moments I am soaked through again. I keep my hair out of my face with one hand, while the other holds my jacket across my chest. A large piece of board tears across the street, missing me by a couple of feet. People’s bins have been blown over and household waste is strewn all down the road. Empty food packets flip across the pavement. A large, unruffled seagull flays ham from a plastic container.

Really failed to grab me. You can get it here.

Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, by Tom King, Bilquis Evely and Matheus Lopes

Second frame of third chapter:

Working through this year’s Hugo finalists, I came to this without any expectations, and was thoroughly won over. I’m not especially familiar with the mythology of Superman, still less Supergirl, and in any case I suspect that this off-earth adventure of cosmic vengeance may not be a typical Supergirl story. But I thought it was brilliant: a super script and plot, gorgeous art making the most of the potential of the comics format, and a thoroughly satisfactory characterisation of Supergirl and her pal Ruth. The two Hugo-shortlisted comics I had already read were both new instalments in favourite series of mine, but I felt that Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is head and shoulders above both. I’ll read the other finalists but I’ll be surprised if I like any of them more than this. You can get it here.

Sins of the Father, by Nick Abadzis, Giorgia Sposito, Eleonora Carlini and Arianna Florean

Second frame of third story (“The Long Con”):

More adventures of the Tenth Doctor with comics-only companions Gabby Gonzalez and Cindy Wu. The first of the three stories here features another sound monster taking advantage of the Jazz era in New Orleans; the second is the opening part of the conclusive adventure in this sequence of comics, bringing back the Osirans and Sutekh; and the third is a neat little multi-Doctor adventure with Ten, Eleven and Twelve. I am consistently impressed by the quality of this series, though it has now reached the stage where you’d need to have been reading it from the beginning. You can get this volume here.

Seamus Heaney, Free Derry and the Grianan of Aileach

F expressed the desire to see a bit more of Ireland than he has previously managed, so at the weekend we went on an expedition to the north west, starting with a loop round the southern end of Lough Neagh to go up to the Seamus Heaney HomePlace at Bellaghy.

(I remember once talking to someone from continental Europe about the geography of Northern Ireland. She said, “And there’s that big lake right in the middle! I’m sure it is really beautiful!” I replied, “Er, no, not really…”)

The Seamus Heaney HomePlace is a two-floor building, largely linking Heaney’s poetry to the countryside where he grew up, and to his friends and family. I must say it helped me to appreciate the well of inspiration that he drew on. A small video display allows you to select celebrities reading his poetry out loud, including Bill Clinton, Mary Robinson and King Charles III.

Upstairs there are more direct memorabilia, including a lovely video montage of the furore around his winning the Nobel Prize in 1995, when as you may remember he was on holiday in Greece and his family were unable to contact him with the news. F had barely heard of Heaney before going, and I think I would not recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already know his work, but as a decades-long fan I found it interesting and even a little inspiring.

On then to the Maiden City, where we went to the Museum of Free Derry. F was actually much more impressed by it than he looks in this photo.

I was impressed too. It’s a very well put together narrative of the decades of neglect and misgovernment that led to the Battle of the Bogside and ultimately to Bloody Sunday. And the building itself is right at the core of events – this is the map from the Guardian that I marked up to show the locations of victims of the fatal shootings, with the museum added. The flats across Rossville Street have long since been demolished, but a lot of the rest of the buildings are still there. It’s a surprisingly small space for the drama of the day.

I have written before about the case of Soldier F, who is to be prosecuted for a number of the casualties in Glenfada Park North (ie on the doorstep of the museum). I had missed the welcome news that the Public Prosecution Service’s decision not to pursue the case after all was overturned by the Court of Appeal a year ago, and the case is continuing. It still bothers me that he is not being prosecuted for the crimes that the Savile enquiry found he had certainly committed (the murders of Michael Kelly, Bernard McGuigan and Patrick Doherty, and the attempted murders of Patrick Campbell and Daniel McGowan) but for others for which Savile found only weak evidence that Soldier F was the shooter (the murder of William McKinney, and the attempted murders of Joseph Friel and Joe Mahon) or indeed where Savile thinks that other soldiers fired the shots (the murder of Jim Wray and attempted murders of Michael Quinn and Patrick O’Donnell). Even half a century later, it would be nice to see some justice done here.

We explored the city and paid the obligatory homage to the most recent cultural icons.

Finally, we went across the border to the spectacular Grianan of Aileach, an Iron Age fort (reconstructed in the nineteenth century) overlooking the Inishowen peninsula, with incredible views over Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. It was very windy, but very much worth seeing.

Beyond the Burn Line, by Paul McAuley (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Master Able had first won fame while he had still been a pupil of Master Hopestart, the natural philosopher who advanced the theory of selective change, which explained that the vast variety of plants and animals had developed from simpler organisms by the slow, cumulative acquisition of new characteristics. It had been denounced as heresy by priests and philosophers who claimed that because the form of every species was a perfect realisation of the Mother’s will, no change was possible unless She desired it, and those changes were always accompanied by global catastrophe. The great flood which had destroyed the terror lizards; the cleansing fire which had put an end to the wickedness of ogres and left the narrow line of char found in sites all across the Union and United Territories; the plague which had turned bears into crazed beasts after they strayed from the right path. Master Able had been at the forefront of debates which had overturned those old beliefs, explaining the principles of selective change with devasting [sic] clarity, mocking the chop-logic of its detractors and famously saying that just as natural philosophy should not seek an explanation for the Mother, so religion had no business measuring the world. He had reinforced his status with his work on comparative anatomy, including studies of selective change in bears and the ancestors of people, but by the time Pilgrim became his secretary his reputation was greatly diminished, his health was failing and he had fallen out with many of his colleagues because of his interest in sightings of the visitors.

I liked a lot about this – non-human sentient species on post-apocalypse Earth, frustrations of unfunded academic work in a corrupt society, the massive shift of perspective half way through. Not totally sure I got the ending. You can get it here.

One Bible Many Voices: Different Approaches to Biblical Studies, by S.E. Gillingham

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Two factors determined the eventual recognition by different communities of a fixed collection of Old Testament writings. One was the crisis facing the Jewish community from outside their faith, and the other, the sects and factions which developed within it.

One of Anne’s textbooks, but a subject that I am interested in too; what is the Bible for? How did it come to be? How should we read it? There’s a very lucid explanation of what people have found in the Bible and how this particular collection of sacred writings assumed its current form. No special notes, just a general feeling of, well, this seems to make sense. It won’t really engage anyone who is not already interested in the subject, but I think it is useful for those who are. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2019 which was not by H.G. Wells. Next on that pile: What Not, by Rose Macaulay.

The Ends, by James Smythe (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I do not often walk, these days. I do not often leave the house, as I can’t make it too far. My legs ache, my bones ache. Birdie once said, ‘You keep acting like it’s a symbiotic relationship or something. It’s not you and the disease, it’s you, and then the disease has latched onto you. It’s a fucking assault, is what it is. It’s a terrorist, holding you hostage while it tortures you to death.’

I quite liked it, and in particular it’s a rare case of the fourth book in a series where I didn’t feel it mattered too much that I had not read the other three. You can get it here.

Sunday reading

Current
Arachnids in the UK, by Sam Maleski
Even Though I Know the End, by C.L. Polk

Last books finished
Doctor Who – The Stones of Blood, by David Fisher
Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods, by Catherynne M. Valente
What Moves the Dead, by “T. Kingfisher”
Autism Spectrum Disorders Through the Lifespan, by Digby Tantam 
A Mirror Mended, by Alix E. Harrow
The Stones of Blood, by Katrin Thier 
The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman
Cyberpunk 2077: Big City Dreams, by Bartosz Sztybor, Filipe Andrade, Alessio Fioriniello, Roman Titov, and Krzysztof Ostrowski
A Rumor of Angels, by Dale Bailey
Into the Riverlands, by Nghi Vo

Next books
The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman: Including the Brother, by Flann O’Brien
Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver
“Beggars in Spain”, by Nancy Kress

October 2022 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging at the end of October 2023. Every six-ish days, I’ve been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I’ve found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

I started October last year in London at a Glasgow 2024 Worldcon planning meeting; I don’t know who took this photograph but it catches the spirit well.

The next weekend we celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary with a weekend in Trier, Germany, stopping off in Luxembourg on the way back.

The most hilarious news story of the month was the resignation of Liz Truss as UK Prime Minister less than two months into the job. I can reveal now that on the morning it happened, I texted a member of her team who I knew that I hoped he might have a better day at the office than the previous day (which saw the chaotic House of Commons vote that sealed her fate). My friend, who must have already known that she had decided to resign overnight, replied “Doubt it but thanks for the thought!”

I read 24 books that month:

Non-fiction 7 (YTD 83)
Doctor Who: A British Alien?
, by Danny Nicol
The Bad Christian’s Manifesto, by Dave Tomlinson (did not finish)
Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northrup
The Face of Evil, by Thomas L Rodebaugh
Love and Monsters, by Niki Haringsma
Welcome to the Doomsphere: Sad Puppies, Hugos, and Politics, by Matthew M. Foster
The Bordley and Belt Families, Based on Letters Written by Family Members, assembled and annotated by Edward Wickersham Hoffman
      

Plays 1
Juicy and Delicious
, by Lucy Alibar

SF 12 (YTD 89)
Lambda
, by David Musgrave
Empire Of Sand
, by Tasha Suri
Complete Short Stories: the 1950s, by Brian Aldiss
Tell Me an Ending, by Jo Harkin
Expect Me Tomorrow
, by Christopher Priest
La Femme
, ed. Ian Whates
Eversion, by Alastair Reynolds
Goliath
, by Tochi Onyebuchi
The This, by Adam Roberts
Mindwalker
, by Kate Dylan
Scattered All Over the Earth
, by Yōko Tawada, tr. Margaret Mitsutani
Life Ceremony
, by Sayaka Murata (did not finish)
   

Doctor Who 2 (YTD 28)
Lineage
, ed. Shaun Russell
Doctor Who and the Face of Evil, by Terrance Dicks
 

Comics 2 (YTD 16)
Voorbij de grenzen van de ernst
, by Kamagurka
Weapons of Past Destruction, by Cavan Scott, Blair Shedd, Rachel Stott and Anand Setyawan
 

6,500 pages (YTD 62,000)
7/24 (YTD 91/236) by non-male writers (Alibar, Suri, Harkin, Dylan, Tawada, Murata, Stott)
6/24 (YTD 33/236) by a non-white writer (Northrup, Suri, Onyebuchi, Tawada, Murata, Setyawan)

I’m going to be nice and celebrate three very good books I read that month, and refrain from calling out any bad ones.

Hugos 2023: Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

I took advantage of downtime during this holiday to watch the finalists for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) that I had not already seen. The experience has given me pause for thought about the category as a whole, which I will write up some other time, but anyway here are my votes:

6) The Expanse: “Babylon’s Ashes”

This is the last episode of the sixth series of an TV show, itself based on a series of novels. I have read only the first of the novels and sen only the episodes which were previous Hugo finalists (two of which won). I found the plot and characters completely incomprehensible. I am sure that it made for a satisfying climax for those who followed it from the beginning, but it made no sense to me at all. (And what was the deal with the weird kids?) I did like Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata.

5) Andor: “Rix Road”

I actually did watch the whole of Andor, and enjoyed it, but again I think that the final episode of the series will be pretty incomprehensible to anyone who has not seen the previous eleven. Fiona Shaw is great in everything, of course.

4) Stranger Things: “Chapter Four: Dear Billy”

This was the middle episode of the seven in the fourth series of Stranger Things, which as with Andor I generally enjoyed, but with reservations; my middle-aged brain found the plot difficult to follow, and the episodes are very long – this one is 78 minutes, and the finale was almost 100. But the imagery, cinematography and especially the use of Kate Bush made this an impressive watching experience. Well done to Sadie Sink, still in her teens when this was filmed, for carrying off the central performance.

3) Andor: “One Way Out”

This was my favourite episode of Andor, and I don’t think I was alone. It’s the story of a prison break, which imposes its own dramatic tension on the characters and keeps you on the edge of your seat for forty minutes, with some spectacular filming and special effects as well. Unlike the season final, I think this does stand on its own as a drama. Great stuff.

2) She-Hulk: Attorney at Law: “Whose Show Is This?”

Another series finale, again of a show where I had not seen any of the other episodes, but I really enjoyed this. There are only two things you really need to know about the title character, and they are both conveniently in the title of the series, so there’s not too much to catch up on. But what makes this episode really entertaining is that the protagonists breaks the fourth wall and intimidates the Marvel writers into changing the ending of the episode. Tatiana Maslany was great in Orphan Black, Jameela Jamil was great in The Good Place, and they are both great here.

1) For All Mankind: “Stranger in a Strange Land”

The only episode I had previously seen of this alternate history of space exploration was last year’s Hugo finalist, “The Grey”, which kills off two important characters, so you know you are playing for high stakes. This year’s episode is yet another series finale, but I found it much easier to get into than The Expanse (or even Andor); it’s absolutely clear who everyone is – here’s a North Korean astronaut stranded on Mars; here’s an American astronaut who is stranded and pregnant; here’s a senior NASA official who’s been secretly helping the Russians; here is the president of the United States coming out as a lesbian; here’s a shocking act of domestic terrorism (actually I found this a little implausible, I would have thought that security at important government buildings would be tougher). Great stuff and perhaps I’ll watch the rest some time. For all my griping about incomprehensible series finales, I have to concede that they got my top two as well as my bottom two votes this year.

As I said, I have Thoughts about this category as a whole, but that is for another day.

2023 Hugos:
Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Related Work | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar Award for Best YA Book | Astounding Award for Best New Writer

The Awakening, by David Evans-Powell (and Eric Pringle)

I am not sure if I caught The Awakening on first broadcast – I think I did see the second episode but not the first. When I came to it in 2008, I wrote:

Fandom seems to be generally fond of The Awakening; it didn’t really grab me. Tegan’s relatives have worse luck with alien invaders than those of any other companion pre-Rose. I found the Malus utterly unconvincing, and as so often its means and motivation made little sense. I did like Polly James as Jane though.

When I came back to it three years later, for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

Hey, it’s another two-part story with roots in a past period of English history! For the second time in four stories, and the third in three seasons. For once, the fundamentals are fairly sound, but the execution a bit haphazard – most notably, the Malus itself rather fails to be scary despite smoke machines and dramatic music, there is an awful lot of infodumping for little emotional payoff, and we have yet another Tardis invasion of both bystanders and the Malus somehow penetrating it. Polly James does her best but it’s not really convincing. 

Tegan’s grandfather is about the same age as her late aunt, but I suppose that’s not out of the question.

Nice for the team to get a break and relax after it’s all over. NB that The Awakening is the first story since Black Orchid, almost two seasons before, not to feature a returning villain or companion.

I particularly endorse the first paragraph here. The means and motivation of the baddies are (as so often) not well explained.

As mentioned, Frederick Hall, who played Tegan’s grandfather, was only five years older then Delore Whiteman, who had played her aunt three years before; and he was only thirty years older than Janet Fielding, his on-screen granddaughter. One can think of plenty of ways to resolve this, of course.

I also reread the novelisation by Eric Pringle, who wrote the TV story. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

She dived around the comer of a barn, and stopped. she was gasping for breath and leaned against the barn wall for support, beside its open doorway. The bricks, warmed by the sun, burned against her back.

In 2008, I wrote:

Often the novelisations of two-part stories bring new material and imagination to the narrative, and I thought at first that this was going to be one of those, with good introductory description (especially of Jane Hampden, one of the great companions who never was). However, the pace isn’t really sustained, and the plot sinks under its own flaws; notably, Pringle misses the opportunity to make something more of the Malus’s physical appearance on the page, and the whole thing ends up essentially as a cut-down version of The Dæmons.

One extra point is that Jane Hampden, played by Polly James who turned 43 in the year of broadcast, is described as “young” in the book. Pringle was six years older than her; it’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. You can get the book here.

David Evans-Powell has done his best here to find depth in what is honestly not a spectacularly good story. The introduction to his Black Archive monograph sets out his stall: that The Awakening is a mediation between 1970s folk horror, and 1980s heritage drama.

The first chapter, ‘Unexpected Aura for a Quiet English Village’, briefly looks at villages in literature and culture as outposts of traditional values under threat from modernity.

The second chapter, ‘There Will Be No Visitors to the Village”, looks at Little Hodcombe as an uncanny landscape, ending up inevitably with the Wicker Man.

The third and longest chapter, ‘We’re in the Wrong Century!’, looks at The Awakening as a ghost story and a time slip drama, ending up with Sapphire and Steel and Quatermass and the Pit. The second paragraph is:

One of the working titles associated with the serial was ‘Poltergeist’1, and this alleged form of haunting is witnessed by the characters alongside more traditional ghostly manifestations. German for ‘noisy spirit’, poltergeists are a particular form of ghostly phenomena in which objects appear to move, appear and disappear without human intervention and where unexplained sensations (such as sudden cold or heat, smells, sounds and noises, and gusts of wind) are experienced. These phenomena have been attributed to psychic abilities, usually telekinesis (the power to move objects with the mind), manifested by those going through emotional or physiological change, such as during puberty2. This association between apparently ghostly activity and psychic ability is a critical aspect of the serial.
1 Doctor Who: The Complete History #38, p63.
2  Dagnall, Neil, and Ken Drinkwater, ‘Eight Things You Need to Know about poltergeists”

The fourth chapter, ‘But That’s a Representation of the Devil!’, looks at the Malus’s roots in the Green Man and M.R. James, and the ancient Greek Gorgons.

The fifth chapter, ‘Think of it as the Resurrection of an Old Tradition’, comes back to the question of folk horror vs heritage drama, and comes down on the heritage side.

The sixth and final chapter, ‘You Must Join in Our Games’, looks at re-enactment in general and at how it is portrayed here in particular.

A coda, ’20th-century Men Playing a Particularly Nasty Game’, looks briefly at how civil wars are remembered, mentioning Northern Ireland and briefly looking at Spain.

I generally prefer the Black Archives where the production itself is described; those that concentrate on trying to find the meaning behind the story sometimes run adrift because there is not much there there, and I’m afraid this is one of them. A good effort, but I was not wholly convinced. You can get it here.

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

Neglected megaliths of Loughbrickland

All of sixteen years ago, I wrote a blog post about visiting three megalithic sites near Loughbrickland: a standing stone (menhir) at Lisnabrague on the Poyntzpass road, the so-called Three Sisters of Greenan on a hill near the lake, and another standing stone beside the northern shore of the lake, in Drumnahare townland.

They’re all laid out on this map, though the Three Sisters are mysteriously placed a hundred metres to the east of their actual location.

I returned to visit all three this week, and to be honest I was a bit dismayed. Going west to east, the opposite order to last time, I found that the field containing the Lisnabrague stone is currently planted with maize which is taller than me. The farmer gave me permission to go look for it, commenting that I was the first person he had ever encountered who showed any interest; he added resentfuly that he is not allowed to build within five hundred metres of it, which does seem a bit excessive.

Using GPS I was able to navigate to the stone through the maize, and found that it sits in a sort of glade among the triffid-like crops.

But it feels isolated and neglected, compared to when I visited in 2007.

At least it was accessible. The Three Sisters lie in a hedge beside a lane; the hedge has been allowed to grow thick over them in the last sixteen years, and you can no longer see them from the lane at all. The field in which they lie has been completely fenced off; you can photograph the two upright Sisters through or over the fence, but you cannot reach or even see the third of the three stones, which is completely submerged in the hedge.

A neighbour told me that the owner had had a lot of hassle with treasure-hunters – not metal-detectorists, but people doing organised guided quests, who had failed to observe the usual etiquette of the countryside. It’s a shame. In 2007 you could go right up to them, and see the recumbent Sister as well.

The standing stone by the lake remains easy enough to visit, but the Orange Order who own the field have put up a massive flagpole right beside it, which really impacts your experience of the site. (There’s also a flag flying on the crannóg in the middle of the lake, but I carefully positioned the flagpole to block it out.)

Sixteen years ago I was able to get a lovely shot of the crannóg framed by the cut in the top of the stone, which has mysterious cup-like markings.

I came away feeling that the relationship between the state and the landowner in respect of ancient monuments seems to be deteriorating. It would be nice to see a new partnership established based on dialogue and mutual respect of each other’s interests. But that would probably require a restoration of devolved government.

Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The hob hauled in his box of tools and placed it inside the big doorway.

First of the Best Novel finalists for this year’s Hugos that I have read since the ballot was announced (three of the six were Clarke submissions which I’ve already written up, rather briefly). By a well-known gaming figure, this is about an Orc warrior who decides that she will set up a coffee shop in a fantasy city. There are hilarious capers as she encounters jealous enemies, magical interference with the brewing process (both positive and negative) and love. I honestly don’t think it’s very deep but it’s good fun. You can get it here.