September 2023 books

Non-fiction 6 (YTD 64)
Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality, by Jaron Lanier
The Night of the Doctor, by James Cooray Smith
Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars, by Catherine Clinton
The Day of the Doctor, by Alasdair Stuart
Dispatches from Chengdu, by Abdel LeRoy
Charmed in Chengdu, by Michael O’Neal (did not finish)

Non-genre 4 (YTD 21)
Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver
Keats and Chapman Wryed Again, by Steven A. Jent
Letters from Klara, by Tove Jansson
Death Notice, by Zhou Haohui

SF 7 (YTD 146)
The Bruising of Qilwa, by Naseem Jamnia
Ocean’s Echo, by Everina Maxwell
The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd
Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Rupetta, by N.A. Sulway
Shorefall, by Robert Jackson Bennett
What Not: A Prophetic Comedy, by Rose Macaulay

Doctor Who 2 (YTD 27)
Extraction Point, by MG Harris
Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat

Comics 2 (YTD 23)
War of the Gods, by Nick Abadzis et al
A Doctor in the House?, by Jody Houser et al

5,600 pages (YTD 70,500)
11/21 (YTD 126/288) by non-male writers  (Clinton, Kingsolver, Jansson, Jamnia, Maxwell, Shepherd, Sulway, Macaulay, Harris, illustrators of War of the Gods, author and illustrators of A Doctor in the House?)
3/21 (YTD 39/288) by a non-white writer (Zhou, Jamnia, Shepherd)
1 reread (Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor)

352 books currently tagged unread – down 7 from last month.

Reading now
Nine Black Doves – Volume 5: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny
Living with the Gods, by Neil MacGregor
Leave Me Alone, by Murong Xuecun

Coming soon (perhaps)
Breakfast at Tyranny’s, by Nick Abadzis et al
About Time 9, by Tat Wood
Doctor Who: Earthshock, by Ian Marter
Earthshock, by Brian J. Moss
The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos, by James F. McGrath
A Life of My Own, by Claire Tomalin
2024, by Robert Durward
No, But I Saw the Movie, ed. David Wheeler
Politics: Between The Extremes, by Nick Clegg
The Road to Amber — Volume 6: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny
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
Life Ceremony, by Sayaka Murata
Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones
Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, by Nick Montfort
My Real Children, by Jo Walton
One Foot in Laos, by Dervla Murphy
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
Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne
The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women, by Elizabeth Norton

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

Second paragraph of third chapter:

We were moved around in buses a lot. I looked out through rows of slanted windows, lined in shoddy chrome, to see sand and cactus swirling subtly in the distance as we made our way up mountain roads. I imagined being a photon, my path perturbed by desert thermals.

I think I got this for F ages ago, and it wasn’t an especially good choice by me for him; it’s by one of the evangelists of virtual reality, and his life story up to the early 1990s, so twenty-five years before the book was actually published in 2017. I have no special interest in VR; my most intense experience of it was three years ago with F in Paris, where Ubisoft, the makers of Assassin’s Creed, had set up a headset for you to experience Notre Dame as it would have been in 1789 (the real Notre Dame still being under repair then and now). And I’ve dabbled a bit in Second Life and the like, but that’s not quite the same.

Like a lot of online reviewers, I found it much more interesting to read about the author’s journey from rural Arizona to Silicon Valley, the tragic family circumstances, difficult educational and business decisions, and mostly failed romances and friendships that got him to the point of selling his startup at a huge profit that has enabled him to do what he likes for the rest of his life. His ideas are less interesting than his story, but it’s easy to skip the more technical (and visionary) chapters.

I still wouldn’t especially recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already have a deep fascination with the social and economic dynamics of innovation; it is an important topic but this is n0ot the way into it. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is another autobiography, A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin.

Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Stoner is the name he went by, and if he said nice things to Mom, she was all ears. By now she’s been sober long enough to keep her Walmart job through all restocks of the seasonal aisles: Halloween costumes, Santa crap, Valentines, Easter candy, folding lawn chairs. She’s up on the rent and has her drawer full of sobriety chips that she takes out late at night and looks over like a dragon sitting on its treasure. That much I remember. Mom getting home from work and into her cutoffs, cracking open a Mello Yello, sitting on our deck smoking with her feet up on the rail and her legs stretched out trying for the free version of a tan, yelling at Maggot and me down in the creek not to get our eyes put out from running with sticks. Life is great, in other words.

This is Barbara Kingsolver’s rewriting of David Copperfield to today’s Appalachia. I mistakenly got it as a cheerful Christmas present for Anne, and in fact it is crashingly grim reading. Dickens’ whimsy is replaced by gritty reportage of the poverty trap that has hit West Virginia (and many other places); in particular the opioid crisis is depicted in a human and humane and also horrifying way, much more effectively than I have seen in any reportage. It’s totally engrossing but not a cheerful read. Recommended all the same. You can get it here.

This hit the top of three of my piles at once – top unread book acquired last year, top unread book by a woman, and top unread non-genre book. Next on the first of those piles is A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes, by Adam Rutherford, and on the other two it’s Winter, by Ali Smith.

The Daleks, ed. Marcus Hearn

Second frame of third story:

This is a collection of the Dalek comic strips from the magazine TV Century 21, published between 1965 and 1967, a page a week about everyone’s favourite evil metallic pepperpots and the obstacles that get thrown up in their plans to dominate the universe. I found it an unexpected pleasure. There are about a dozen storylines across the run, each reasonably self-contained in the structure of needing each page to have a beginning, middle and end. There are not a lot of women – a slave princess in an early story, a little girl who gets into trouble in a later one – but there aren’t in fact a lot of humans, as the main dynamic in the stories is between the Daleks themselves.

There’s also a dozen pages of introduction setting the scene for the series and printing a 1986 interview with one of the main artists. The only two women mentioned are both fictional – Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds and Maria from Metropolis, but no doubt this reflects the reality.

I must say that this greatly exceeded my expectations, and it seems a lot more mature than the contemporary First and Second Doctor strips that I have seen. Hugely recommended. Sadly it’s out of print, but I’d keep an eye out for it if I were you.

This was my top unread English-language comic. Next on that pile is Land of the Blind, by Scott Gray et al.

The Return of Eva Perón with the Killings in Trinidad, by V. S. Naipaul

I picked this book up from the Little Free Library beside one of the Cubes of Herne in January, and read it on the ferry coming back from Ireland (a month ago now, I have a substantial backlog in my bookblog). It consists of four essays from the Nobel Laureate; it is notable that although the first and the longest of the pieces is about Trinidad, it is Eva Perón who is given top billing in the book’s title and cover. It’s an important book and I will describe each of the four essays briefly.

The second paragraph of the third section of “Michael X and the Black Power Killings in Trinidad” is:

Trinidad in 1971 was his perfect setting. Trinidad, with its oil economy, was rich, with a standard of living equalled in South America only by Venezuela and Argentina. Every consumer comfort was at hand, and Malik was soon pleasantly settled in the country town of Arima, in a newish house with a large garden. But Trinidad was far away. In London, Chicago and Toronto, fund-raising centres, Trinidad could pass as an impoverished island where a black leader, fleeing persecution, and also reacting against ‘the industrialized complex’, might settle down, in a ‘commune’, to constructive work with despairing blacks, who needed only this leadership, and little gifts of money, to get started in black agriculture, black fruit-growing. And, later, even a little black fishing: a trawler (obtainable through ‘contractual relationships with … Schichting-Werft shipyard, Travemuende’) would cost £18,000, but ‘initial feasibility studies indicate that the profits … would exceed £30,000 a month’. Remote Trinidad held this kind of possibility for its enthralled blacks; all that was needed was the leadership.

I was not familiar with this grim story: Michael X, a political activist and effectively a cult leader who had ended up back in his native Trinidad after developing his activist career in London, had two of his followers brutally killed in 1971, and was eventually arrested, convicted and executed for the crimes. Naipaul goes into the rhetoric of Michael X’s particular version of Black Power in detail, which helps us understand why his followers (and others including John Lennon) took him so seriously. Naipaul doesn’t make the connection with Charles Manson, but I must say that I also saw similarities with other homicidal cult leaders before and since.

The third section of “The Return of Eva Perón” is actually about Uruguay rather than Argentina; its second paragraph is:

Now it is a little less frenzied. The Tupamaros — there were about five thousand of them, mainly townspeople from impoverished middle-class families — have been destroyed. The army — essentially rural, lower middle-class is in control and rules by decree. Interest rates have dropped to around 42 per cent, with the taxes; and inflation this year has been kept down to 6o per cent. ‘Prices here don’t just rise every day,’ the businessman said. ‘They also rise every night.’

This is a lyrical and detailed essay about the extraordinary story of Juan and Eva Perón, and how Argentina (and Uruguay) descended into economic and political hell despite being blessed with natural resources and reasonably skilled populations. From the mid-1970s, when Naipaul was writing, it did all look pretty awful; now things look a bit better, but still fragile. He makes the point that Eva Perón would only have been in her fifties, and presumably still dominating the country’s politics, if she still been alive in 1977. He pulls in fellow writer Jorge Luis Borges for some interesting and disturbing observations.

The last two essays are both about the country then known as Zaire and now as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The first, “A New King for the Congo: Mobutu and the Nihilism of Africa”, is about the Mobutu regime, which had then been in power for over a decade and had another twenty years to go. The second paragraph of the third section is a report frmo a newly appointed district commissioner:

At the very entrance to the canal [according to the official report in Elima], thousands of mosquitoes cover you from head to ankles, compelling you to move about all the time … After a whole night of insomnia on the Lubengo canal, or rather the ‘calvary’ of Lubengo, where we had very often to get out in the water and make a superhuman effort to help the paddlers free the pirogue from mud or wood snags, we got to the end of the canal at nine in the morning (we had entered it at 9.3o the previous evening), and so at last we arrived at Bomongo at 12.30, in a state that would have softened the hardest hearts. If we have spoken at some length about the Lubengo canal, it isn’t because we want to discourage people from visiting Bomongo by the canal route, but rather to stress one of the main reasons why this place is isolated and seldom visited.

The Mobutu regime eventually collapsed in a war that drew in all nine of the neighbouring countries at one time or another, and in the meantime other African regimes had followed it down the path of brutality and corruption. Naipaul’s analysis of the weaponisation of the cult of personality and the meagre but sufficient resources of state power is brief and forensic.

The final essay, “Conrad’s Darkness”, looks at Conrad’s work as a whole, but at Heart of Darkness in particular. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Most imaginative writers discover themselves, and their world, through their work. Conrad, when he settled down to write, was, as he wrote to the publisher William Blackwood, a man whose character had been formed. He knew his world, and had reflected on his experience. Solitariness, passion, the abyss : the themes are constant in Conrad. There is a unity in .a writer’s work; but the Conrad who wrote Victory, though easier and more direct in style, was no more experienced and wise than the Conrad who, twenty years before, had written Almayer’s Folly. His uncertainties in the early days seem to have been mainly literary, a trying out of subjects and moods. In 18496, the year after the publication of Almayer’s Folly, he could break off from the romantic turgidities of The Rescue and write not only ‘The Lagoon’, but also begin ‘An Outpost of Progress’. These stories, which stand at the opposite ends, as it were, of my comprehension of Conrad, one story so romantic, one so brisk and tough, were written almost at the same time.

Naipaul spent a lot more time thinking about Conrad than I have, but comes out in the same place: Heart of Darkness is a masterpiece and the rest of his work is remarkably good.

This was my top unread book by a non-white writer, and you can get it here. Next on that pile is The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd.

April 2023 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.

Only a few more of these posts to go; I’ll need to find another topic for regular non-book-blogging, but it’s been fun.

Quite a lot of travel this month, starting with a work trip to Geneva along with my colleague R:

Then Eastercon in Birmingham with Anne, Cambridge for a couple of days, and the a WorldCon planning meeting in Glasgow. I have not mentioned it previously, but on the last night of Eastercon I was struck by a bad IBS attack, I think triggered by the very creamy risotto that I had for dinner at Zizzi, and was incapacitated for the whole of the Monday. The rest of the week was fine, though, with a glimpse of the elusive planet Mercury as I cross Clare Bridge in Cambridge:

And a great picture of the Armadillo that I’m very pleased with.

In Brussels the following weekend, the normally closed Pavilion of the Human Passions was opened up for a couple of days:

I also attended a conference at the Economy Ministry in Paris.

And Anne and I finished the month elsewhere in France, but more on that anon.

My most significant blog post was on a 1933 aeroplane bombing, but I also read 32 books, many of them at the tail end of the Clarke submissions pile and which I therefore didn’t persevere with I felt that they were not science fiction, or just not very good.

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 27)
The Cyprus Crisis and the Cold War, by Makarios Drousiotis
My Family And Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell
The Silurians, by Robert Smith?
When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation, by Paula Fredriksen
The Underwater Menace, by James Cooray Smith

SF 23 (YTD 87)
Scary Monsters, by Michelle de Kretser
Galactic Girl, by Fiona Richmond
Stars and Bones, by Gareth L. Powell
City of Last Chances, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (did not finish)
The Shadow Glass, by Josh Winning (did not finish)
Redwood and Wildfire, by Andrea Hairston
The Ends, by James Smythe
The Coral Bones, by E.J. Swift
The Mars Migration, by Wayne M. Bailey (did not finish)
New Brighton, by Helen Trevorrow (did not finish)
Beyond the Burn Line, by Paul McAuley
The Last Storm, by Tim Lebbon
The Quickening, by Talulah Riley (did not finish)
Hangdog Souls, by Marc Joan (did not finish)
A Fractured Infinity, by Nathan Tavares (did not finish)
Equinox, by David Towsey (did not finish)
Outcast, by Louise Carey (did not finish)
Stringers, by Chris Panatier (did not finish)
The Thousand Earths, by Stephen Baxter
36 Streets, by T.R. Napper (did not finish)
HellSans, by Ever Dundas (did not finish)
A Sh*tload of Crazy Powers, by Jackson Ford (did not finish)
Plutoshine, by Lucy Kissick

Doctor Who 3 (YTD 13)
Erasing Sherlock, by Kelly Hale
Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters, by Malcolm Hulke
Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace, by Nigel Robinson

Comics 1 (YTD 8)
The Weeping Angels of Mons, by Robbie Morrison, Daniel Indro and Eleonora Carlini

6,500 pages (YTD 32,700)
11/32 (YTD 57/142) by non-male writers (Fredriksen, de Kretser, Richmond, Hairston, Swift, Trevorrow, Riley, Carey, Hale, Dundas, χ4)
2/32 (YTD 23/142) by a non-white writer (de Kretser, Hairston)

In among the less impressive Clarke submissions were two of the six excellent books that we ended up shortlisting, The Coral Bones by E.J. Swift, which you can get here, and Plutoshine by Lucy Kissick, which you can get here. I also particularly enjoyed Makarios Drousiotis’ book on Cyprus, which you can get here. I’ll draw a veil over the less good…

Sunday reading

Nine Black Doves – Volume 5: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny
Living with the Gods, by Neil MacGregor
Shorefall, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Last books finished
Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars, by Catherine Clinton
Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat
Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Day of the Doctor, by Alasdair Stuart
Rupetta, by N.A. Sulway
Death Notice, by Zhou Haohui

Next books
Facing Fate: Breakfast at Tyranny’s, by Nick Abadzis et al
A Life of My Own, by Claire Tomalin
What Not: A Prophetic Comedy, by Rose Macaulay

The fate of the Post-Industrial Pagodas

As previously mentioned, last Christmas I got F a book about the craziest places of Belgium, liberally scattered around the kingdom, and not that many of them within easy reach. I did find one not too far away: the Post-Industrial Pagodas.

Photograph from 2005 by B. Frippiat

These 36 towers were built in 1999, from industrial cable spools, by singer, actor and artist Julos Beaucarne, to channel positive energy into the new millennium. They embodied a poem he had written in the early 1990s, for his album Tours, Temples & Pagodes Post-Industriels:

Le constructeur de pagodes veut toucher le ciel
Planter des antennes immenses pour capter les messages
Qui viennent du fin fond de la nuit et du bout du jour
Il veut que le voyageur s’arrête et regarde soudain se déplier tous les plis de son âme
The pagoda builder wants to touch the sky
Plant huge antennas to capture messages
Which come from the depths of the night and the end of the day
He wants the traveler to stop and suddenly watch all the creases of his soul unfold
Il veut pénétrer la matière même de l’univers
Il veut faire signe à toutes les planètes, à toutes les galaxies
Il veut lancer des messages, jeter des ponts entre tous les êtres, entre tout le vivant
Le constructeur de pagodes, de temples et de tours médite sur la verticalité
He wants to penetrate the very matter of the universe
He wants to signal to all the planets, to all the galaxies
He wants to send messages, build bridges between all beings, between all living things
The builder of pagodas, temples and towers meditates on verticality
Il récupère les matériaux usés dont plus personne ne veut
Il les empile à la manière des enfants
Petit Poucet, il sème sur son passage des repères géants
Et ce faisant, il signe éperdument le paysage post-industriel
He recovers used materials that no one wants anymore
He stacks them like children do
Like Hop-o’-My-Thumb, he sows giant landmarks along his path
And in doing so, he indelibly marks the post-industrial landscape

As the years wore on, the pagodas became increasingly dilapidated, as was always the artist’s intention.

Undated photograph by Marie-Anne Pauwels
Photograph from a 2021 blog post by Ann Vandenbergh

The site of the pagodas is the farm of Wahenge, which has a pleasant but coincidental euphony with Stonehenge, near Beauvechain which is mainly famous for its air base.

It’s not too far off my route to and from the girls in Tienen, so I went to look for it last weekend, and was astonished to discover that the Post-Industrial Pagodas had simply vanished.

taken by me on 17 September 2023

It turned out that there was a simple explanation. In January 2021, eight months before Beaucarne’s death, he agreed with the landowner and the municipality that they would simply burn down the pagodas, leaving only a patch of scorched grass. One mysterious capsule and one surviving spool mark the scene.

But apart from that, the Post-Industrial Pagodas are marked by their absence. Consider yourselves duly informed.

Major Matt Mason: Moon Mission, by George S Elrick

Second paragraph of third chapter (with illustration):

“Squeak, Squeak, where are you?” murmured the girl, nervously biting on her lower lip. She slowly pivoted in midair and stared at the distant earth, a hazy blue globe dangling in an ebony sky. Her brother might never walk on that friendly dirt again. The slender young flight doctor shuddered, de-spite the controlled warmth of her space suit. There was no friendly soil on the moon—nothing but sterile, gray-brown dust, monotonous craters, and saw-toothed mountains the color of rust.

I had picked this up somewhere along with one of my sets of Doctor Who e-books. I didn’t have the Major Matt Mason toy when I was a kid, so missed out on all the fandom around the Mattel astronauts; here we have Major Matt coming to the rescue of a fellow astronaut, whose sister is also on the team as the medic. It turns out that giant space rabbits are Behind It All. You’re welcome. The art is rather nice though. You can get it (for free) here.

This was the sf book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is the Roger Zelazny collection, Nine Black Doves.

Will We Ever Speak Dolphin?, ed. Mick O’Hare

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The main function of most birdsong is long-distance communication, either to mark territory or to be sociable. As such it is largely intraspecific; blackbirds sing to impress blackbirds, not buntings. In contrast, social vocalisation, such as coordinating group activity, largely occurs at short range during active flight or foraging, or when settling down for the night or preparing to take flight as a flock.

Following on from Does Anything Eat Wasps? and Why Can’t Elephants Jump?, here are 101 more questions asked by New Scientist readers with answers also supplied by New Scientist readers. There is a whole chapter on why one might want one’s martini to be shaken, not stirred, with accounts from readers of direct experimentation on the options. Otherwise lots of wholesome science stuff. (And no, we won’t ever speak Dolphin; they don’t really have language to the same level that we do.) You can get it here.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest on my unread shelf. Next was going to be A Brief History of the Hobbit, by John D. Rateliff, but I realised it was actually a condensation of his two books that I have already read, so in fact next will be Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars, by Catherine Clinton.

“Beggars in Spain”, by Nancy Kress

The second paragraph of the third section of “Beggars in Spain” is:

She had studied the theory of cold fusion at school, and her global studies teacher had traced the changes in the world resulting from Yagai’s patented, low-cost applications of what had, until him, been unworkable theory: the rising prosperity of the Third World; the death throes of the old communistic systems; the decline of the oil states; the renewed economic power of the United States. Her study group had written a news script, filmed with the school’s professional-quality equipment, about how a 1985 American family lived with expensive energy costs and a belief in tax-supported help, while a 2019 family lived with cheap energy and a belief in the contract as the basis of civilization. Parts of her own research puzzled Leisha.

Back when I was first attempting to work through the joint winners of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, more than twenty years ago, I had the silly idea of doing them in alphabetical order by title, which meant that this was the second I got to after “Bears Discover Fire” (at that point, American Gods, Among Others, Ancillary Justice and All Systems Red all lay in the future). In 2001 I wrote the following (links have been updated):

I think this was the first work by Kress that I ever read, just around the time that my own daughter was born in 1997. The story begins with the planned conception of a genetically modified child, Leisha Camden, and her “normal” twin sister, Alice, and follows them until their early twenties, so as a new father myself I was gripped from the start. All parents know that their child is the most marvellous creature in the world, of course, and part of the monstrosity of Roger Camden is that he barely acknowledges the existence of the ordinary Alice and concentrates his affection on the augmented Leisha. The dysfunctional family of Camden, his wife who gradually disintegrates, the geneticist who Camden subsequently marries, and the girls themselves, is all too credible and painfully (if sparsely) portrayed; likewise Leisha’s discovery of a new community with the other children born with the same modification that she has. However it is not the main point of the story.

Leisha has been genetically modified so that she does not need to sleep. Along with this most obvious change come other benefits: the Sleepless (for she is among the first of many such children) are more intelligent, more capable, and more content than the Sleepers (as we normal humans become known). As the Sleepless progress to maturity they have to deal with the prejudices that many display against them. The story of prejudice against children who are not just different but who are feared to be superior is an old SF trope, going back at least to 1911 and J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder. Kress’ triumph here is that she displays a certain compassion for both the ordinary humans who are terrified by the emergence of the Sleepless, and indeed for the isolationists among the Sleepless who want to build a new society for themselves, leaving cut off the rest of humanity. Howwever we are in no doubt that her sympathies lie with those including Leisha Camden who want to maintain a single human society including both Sleepers and Sleepless.

Dealing with prejudice is a hall-mark of Kress’ best work; it is the main theme of her Nebula-winning “Out of All Them Bright Stars” and prominent also in her other Nebula-winning novella, “The Flowers of Aulit Prison”. Her understanding is that many, perhaps even most, will be prejudiced against those who seem insufficiently “human”, but those of us who do not feel that way must stand up and be counted against such bigotry, even if it seems that the odds are stacked against us. It’s a powerful and profound argument. But that too is not the main point of this particular story.

The main theme of the story concerns the responsibilities of those who have favourable positions in society towards those who are less fortunate. The intellectual underpinning of the argument here is a fictional philosopher/scientist called Kenzo Yagai, who has not only invented cheap energy but propounds a moral code based on these principles: “That spiritual dignity comes from supporting one’s life through one’s own efforts, and from trading the results of those efforts in mutual cooperation throughout the society. That the symbol of this is the contract. And that we need each other for the fullest, most beneficial trade.” In a crucial passage where Leisha debates this issue with Tony, an embittered fellow Sleepless, later martyred, he introduces the metaphor of the story’s title:

“What if you walk down a street in Spain and a hundred beggars each want a dollar and you say no and they have nothing to trade you but they’re so rotten with anger about what you have that they knock you down and grab it and then beat you out of sheer envy and despair?”
Leisha didn’t answer.
“Are you going to say that’s not a human scenario, Leisha? That it never happens?”
“It happens,” Leisha said evenly. “But not all that often.”
“Bullshit. Read more history. Read more newspapers. But the point is: what do you owe the beggars then? What does a good Yagaiist who believes in mutually beneficial contracts do with people who have nothing to trade and can only take?”
“You’re not–“
What, Leisha? In the most objective terms you can manage, what do we owe the grasping and nonproductive needy?”
“What I said originally. Kindness. Compassion.”
“Even if they don’t trade it back? Why?”
“Because…” She stopped.
“Why? Why do law-abiding and productive human beings owe anything to those who neither produce very much nor abide by just laws? What philosophical or economic or spiritual justification is there for owing them anything? Be as honest as I know you are.”
Leisha put her head between her knees. The question gaped beneath her, but she didn’t try to evade it. “I don’t know. I just know we do.”

Kress’ source for Yagaiism is quite explicitly the philosophy of Ayn Rand, as expressed in her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged (famously mocked as Telemachus Sneezed by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson in the Illuminatus! trilogy). In one interview, Kress says of Rand: “although there’s something very appealing about her emphasis on individual responsibility, that you should not evade reality, you should not evade responsibility, you should not assume that it’s up to the next person to provide you with your life, with what it is that you need, whether that’s emotional, or physical… [it] lacks all compassion, and even more fundamental, it lacks recognition of the fact that we are a social species and that our society does not exist of a group of people only striving for their own ends, which is what she shows, but groups of people co-operating for mutual ends, and this means that you don’t always get what you want and your work does not always benefit you directly.”

She goes on to draw another contrast in the other direction, between the society she depicts in her own fiction and the society of Anarres in Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, but I guess this must have more relevance to the expanded, novel version of Beggars in Spain which I have not read. There is an interesting discussion of both Rand and Kress on the discussion site. [And it’s still there, almost a quarter of a century later!] The central message of “Beggars in Spain” is that our humanity as individuals is bound up in our obligations to the rest of humanity, and if we forget that, we become less human.

It would be easy to write a didactic and boring story about how we all ought to be nice to each other, even including the two subsidiary themes identified above. “Beggars in Spain” is not that story. We have vivid characterisations of Leisha and her sister Alice, their stepmother the geneticist, and several of the other Sleepless (perhaps the father is a little too monstrous here). Also Kress has a very strong sense of place, with the Camdens’ mansion by Lake Michigan, Leisha’s student environment in Harvard, and the middle America through which she and Alice eventually flee having rescued a Sleepless child from abuse, all depicted convincingly. And there are a couple of beautiful vignettes; a scene where Leisha confronts a pregnant Alice, slightly (deliberately?) reminiscent of the end of Lolita; an earlier scene where the Sleepless kids try a drug that will make them sleep for the first time, with their sense of anticipation – and then disappointment when they all wake up hung over – wickedly portrayed. This story is strongly recommended.

I stand by pretty much all of that from 22 years ago. Two new points jumped out at me. First, the Sleepless kids’ communication, presented as a deeply clever and privileged way of staying in touch across computer networks, is basically a WhatsApp group or a private Telegram channel; the fact that everyone would have access to that sort of networked communication in the future was unthinkable in 2001.

Second, the scene with Alice barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen in the Appalachians resonates backward with Lolita, but also forward with Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead (review coming soon). Having said that, I do wonder how the daughter of a Chicago millionaire managed to get into a (not very) romantic relationship with an older man from the sticks?

Anyway, I’m glad to say that it has retained its power, a classic case of sf being not just “What if…?” but “My God! What if…?” You can get it here as a standalone novella.

That year Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold won the Hugo for Best Novel, and Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick won the Nebula. For Novelette, the Hugo went to “Gold” by Isaac Asimov, who had just died, and the Nebula to “Guide Dog” by Mike Conner; and for Short Story, the Hugo went to “A Walk in the Sun” by Geoffrey Landis, and the Nebula to “Ma Qui” by Alan Brennert. I remember reading the two shorter Hugo winners but not the Nebula winners. The Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Ray Bradbury Award both went to Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Next up in this sequence is a Connie Willis double: the short story “Even the Queen” and the novel Doomsday Book.

March 2023 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 had two nights away from Belgium that month, a Clarke meeting in London and a work meeting in The Hague. I also enjoyed a massive St Patrick’s Day whammy of Irish Embassy Reception on the evening of the 16th, Northern Ireland representation breakfast on the 17th and the Irish College in Leuven, where it all started, on the evening of the 17th. A couple of days later I attended the screening of a film about Lyra McKee.

Here are two journalists, both with the same first name, at the Irish embassy reception.

With the Clarke deadline closing in, I read 37 books that month, though again I did not finish those that seemed insufficiently science fictional (or insufficiently good) to have a chance of winning.

Non-fiction 9 (YTD 22)
Madam Secretary, by Madeleine Albright
Management Lessons from Game of Thrones: Organization Theory and Strategy in Westeros, by Fiona Moore
Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes, by Rob Wilkins
Wordsworth’s French Daughter, by George McLean Harper
Kerblam!, by Naomi Jacobs and Thomas L. Rodebaugh
William Wordsworth and Annette Vallon, by Émile Legouis
The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords, by James Mortimer
The Kosova Liberation Army, by James Pettifer
The Face of Britain, by Simon Schama

Non-genre 1 (YTD 4)
Ratlines, by Stuart Neville

SF 23 (YTD 64)
The Key to Fury, by Kristin Cast (did not finish)
Lost In Time, by A.G. Riddle (did not finish)
The Visitors, by Owen W Knight (did not finish)
Thrust, by Lidia Yuknavitch
Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel
Neom, by Lavie Tidhar
The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd (did not finish)
Luca, by Or Luca
Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances, by Aliette de Bodard
Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel
Ogres, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pod by Laline Paull
The Best of Ian McDonald
Trouble the Waters: Tales from the Deep Blue, eds. Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morigan and Troy L. Wiggins
The Anomaly, by Hervé le Tellier
Glitterati, by Oliver K. Langmead
The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan
Off-Target, by Eve Smith
Children of Memory, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Venomous Lumpsucker, by Ned Beauman
Last Exit, by Max Gladstone (did not finish)
Speaking Bones, by Ken Liu (did not finish)
Ricky’s Hand, by David Quantick
The Moonday Letters, by Emmi Itäranta

Doctor Who 2 (YTD 10)
Warring States, by Mags Halliday
The HAVOC Files: The Laughing Gnome, ed ???

Comics 2 (YTD 7)
Revolutions of Terror, by Nick Abadzis, Elena Casagrande and Arianna Florean
The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel

10,100 pages (YTD 26,200)
17/37 (YTD 46/110) by non-male writers (Albright, Moore, Jacobs, Cast, Yuknavitch, St. John Mandel, Shepherd, Luca, de Bodard, Paull, Thomas/Morigan, Egan, Smith, Itäranta, Halliday, Casagrande/Florean, Bechdel)
7/37 (YTD 21/110) by a non-white writer (Cast, Shepherd, Luca, de Bodard, Paull, Thomas/Wiggins, Liu)

Some really good books this month. From the Clarke submissions, Venomous Lumpsucker (get it here), The Anomaly (get it here), Off Target (get it here) and Children of Memory (get it here) were all excellent. Several good biographies too: Rob Wilkins on Terry Pratchett (get it here), Madeleine Albright on herself (get it here), Alison Bechdel on herself in graphic format (get it here). See also Simon Schama on British portraits (get it here) and the Best of Ian McDonald‘s short fiction (get it here). I don’t need to cover the less good ones, I think.

The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman: Including the Brother, by Flann O’Brien

Second paragraph of third joke:

‘I like to sit with my back to the engine,’ he explained.

I had read this as a teenager, which I went through my Flann O’Brien phase, and approached re-reading it with some trepidation; would the Suck Fairy have visited this collection of excruciating puns based around a totally fictional friendship between John Keats (1795-1821) and George Chapman (1559-1634)?

I’m afraid so. I am sure that over the table in a bar, Flann O’Brien would have told these with gusto, his face barely twitching as he reached the end and his friends collapsed with hilarity. But culture has moved on since his time, especially in Ireland, and a lot of the stories are laboured journeys to an uninspiring punchline. Here is one of the less aged ones:

One winter’s evening Keats looked up to find Chapman regarding him closely. He naturally enquired the reason for this scrutiny.

‘I was thinking about those warts on your face,’ Chapman said. ‘

What about them?’ the poet said testily. ‘

Oh, nothing,’ Chapman said. ‘It just occurred to me that you might like to have them removed.’

‘They are there for years,’ Keats said, ‘and I don’t see any particular reason for getting worried about them now.’

‘But they are rather a blemish,’ Chapman persisted. ‘I wouldn’t mind one – but four fairly close together, that’s rather—’

‘Four?’ Keats cried. ‘There were only three there this morning!’

‘There are four there now,’ Chapman said.

‘That’s a new one on me,’ Keats said.

You see what I mean?

The book also includes the script of Eamon Morrissey’s one-man show based on O’Brien’s work, “The Brother”, where the punchline is that although many claim to have died for Ireland, the barman was born for Ireland (in that his mother distracted a hostile British soldier at just the right moment to save the narrator). It’s a cringeworthy set-up, but it also sparks the interesting thought that there has been very little writing about gender-based violence during the Irish conflicts of the early 1920s. Can there really have been none at all?

This is minor stuff compared with The Third Policeman or At Swim-Two-Birds. But you can get it here.

This was the non-genre book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves (I don’t think the stories are very sfnal, even if Keats and Chapman lived two centuries apart in real life, and most of the stories are set long after Keats’ time, never mind Chapman’s). Next on that pile is a rather different matter, Letters from Klara, by Tove Jansson.

Sunday reading

Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars, by Catherine Clinton
Rupetta, by N.A. Sulway
Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat

Last books finished
Letters from Klara, by Tove Jansson
Ocean’s Echo, by Everina Maxwell
The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd
Extraction Point, by MG Harris
The Night of the Doctor, by James Cooray Smith

Next books
The Day of the Doctor, by Alasdair Stuart
Nine Black Doves – Volume 5: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny
Living with the Gods, by Neil MacGregor

Chengdon’t: two ghastly books about living in Chengdu that you can skip in good conscience.

The 81st World Science Fiction Convention opens in Chengdu a month from tomorrow, and I’ve been looking for books about the city to set the scene. A couple that I saw on Amazon looked cheap and interesting and I bought them without too much investigation. Both are memoirs by Americans about their time teaching in Chengdu. Both are, frankly, terrible.

Dispatches from Chengdu, by Abdiel LeRoy, is a consolidation of his emailed newsletters home to friends and family from 2005. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

In China, foreign visitors are relentlessly assaulted with bizarre arrangements of English words—symptomatic of a country growing faster than its competence. Among my favorites was a sign above a men’s room saying, ‘Toilet of Man’. More recently, I came across this promotional copy from a bed manufacturer: “Whenever the time that night come, grow to have the Yalisi mattress sweet concomitant, let you fallen asleep safely in the quite night [sic].”

I am afraid this is symptomatic. The author wanders through Chengdu (and in later books, other parts of China) getting fired from teaching jobs because he is basically an asshole with no self-awareness, and zero empathy for the culture in which he has chosen to embed himself. Its only merit is that it is quite short.

Charmed in Chengdu, by Michael O’Neal, dates from a few years later, 2012-13. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

“Michael, what will you do tomorrow? We’d like to take you into town!”

This is actually even worse; the books starts by mocking the stewardesses on his flight to China from Seattle for the crime of being over 50, and continues in the nastiest possible tone of snide at the country and the people he meets and teaches. I couldn’t finish it.

Sometimes when people show you who they are, you should believe them, and these two authors show rather more of who they are than I wanted to see. I’m not going to do my usual trick of supplying links to buy these books, because I don’t encourage anyone to buy them.

I do have three other books set in Chengdu on my shelf, all by Chinese writers, which I think will make a difference. Two are the first two books in a promised crime trilogy, Death Notice and Fate by Zhou Haohui; the other is Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu, by Murong Xuecun. I’m not sure if I will get to writing them up here before Chengdu Worldcon, but I’m totally sure that they will be a lot better than either of these offensive piles of rubbish.

Hugos 2023: The Astounding Award for Best New Writer

I’ve often observed of past ballots in this category (now the Astounding Award, previously the John W. Campbell Award) that we voters are given apples and oranges to choose between; this year tennis balls have been added to the mix, as one of the finalists has submitted no work in English at all to the Hugo voter packet, and another has submitted one translated piece and one longer piece that is not translated.

Of course it is crucially important that the Hugos become more open to non-English-speaking cultures and submissions, and it’s also important to note that there is nothing in the constitution about the Hugo voter packet; as I have observed before, it is a privilege and not a right. The keen voter (like me) will run a non-English-language work through one or more of the many free online translators and will attempt to form a fair impression. Future Hugo administrators could think about ways of lowering the barriers to entry and reading here – perhaps the administering WorldCon could support professional translations, though that has costs in time as well as money.

(And if you are about to tell me how cool it would be to get fans to crowdsource translations of Hugo packet stories and other important WSFS documents for free, I have just three things to say to you: No. No. And no.)

Anyway, I’ve done my best to form a fair opinion of the two Chinese-language finalists here, and am casting my vote as follows:

6) 刘麦加 / Liu Maijia. Has submitted a short story with English translation ,《左⼿边》/ “LEFT”, and a short novel without English translation, 麦克斯先生很好》/ “Maxwell”.

I read “LEFT” with interest. The second paragraph of its second section is:

“从知道她存在的第一天开始,就很累……” 我自然知道自己现在是什么样子。不记得多少天没有睡过一个整觉,每天靠咖啡度日,身上的睡袍已经快一个月没有脱下。蒋老师的身子稍稍往旁边撤了点,我怀疑他是闻到了我两个星期没洗澡而发出的味道。“From the day I found out about her existence, it has been exhausting…” I naturally knew what I looked like now. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a full night’s sleep. I survived each day on coffee, and it had been almost a month since I took off my robe. Professor Jiang moved slightly away from me, which I suspected he had caught a whiff of my two-week-old unwashed scent.
Translation supplied in packet

It’s a story about moving away from western concepts of science using the Chinese language as a basis for understanding, a notion which I also remember T.H. White using in The Master long long ago. Breaking the monopoly of English is of course an important question in the wider scheme of things. I didn’t feel it was all that well executed, though; the emotional punch is missing, the wise old professor has a cute-not-cute obsession with Western hard liquor, and although the scenes set in Boston are given a little local colour, I don’t think we find out where exactly in China the scenes set there are meant to be.

I started “Maxwell” as well. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

从城市外三百公里开始,一直向南延伸到海岸线,是斯格林的世界。Beginning three hundred kilometers outside of the city and stretching south to the coastline is the world of Skrin.
DeepL translation

We’re given a summary, which says:

After experiencing a precipitous deterioration of the Earth’s environment and the era of advanced technology, humanity won the AI-war. At the same time, the technocracy went into a cul-de-sac. Overnight, all cyborg humans became “Robotic Skeletons “devoid of citizenship rights. The war with AI nearly destroyed all power facilities. Earth’s resources continued to diminish. Citizens were forced to settle in four 3D cities, awaiting a miraculous invention from the Cloud that would reshape human civilization with unlimited energy.
In 2115, a new round of federal presidential elections was underway. The support rate for the obscure mayoral candidate, Yino Feng, was far from optimistic. Citizen Seven, in order to witness the desired conclusion of their favorite anime, ventured on the edge of federal law. Meanwhile, outside of the city, a young Skeletons boy finally had the opportunity to join the survival battle for the power generator……

It doesn’t sound much like my kind of thing, and after running the first couple of chapters through translation, it still didn’t feel much like my kind of thing.

Liu seems to have published two earlier novels and two short story collections, but as far as I can tell they are not science fiction, so would not affect her Astounding eligibility.

5) Everina Maxwell. Was on the ballot last year and submitted her first novel, Winter’s Orbit, for the packet then; I reviewed it here. This year she has submitted a second novel, Ocean’s Echo. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

He was an army officer, stocky, with a bald head and an evidently lofty rank—Tennal couldn’t read rank tabs, but he felt a stab of apprehension from the miles of gold braid encrusting his uniform. But the officer’s nominal rank didn’t matter. The moment he stepped in the room, a vivid glare of light flooded Tennal’s head, drowning out even the pounding of the engines. Tennal couldn’t see. He couldn’t think.

It’s another queer space opera romance, where the super politically connected Bad Boy is thrown together with the Good Boy trying to overcome his controversial family heritage, in a world where mind-control skills are just sufficiently developed for the plot, and you can see where it’s going from the third chapter. I liked it more than the previous book though. You can get it here.

4) Travis Baldree. As already mentioned separately and under Best Novel, the author is a well-known gaming figure and he has submitted Legends and Lattes, his Best Novel contender, also as his contribution to the Astounding folder of the packet, which makes perfect sense. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

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

It 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.

3) Naseem Jamnia. Has submitted a short novel, The Bruising of Qilwa, the second paragraph of whose third section (“Year Three”) is:

“I thought she didn’t even like Kofi.” Afsoneh wore a rose-patterned scarf around her hair, which she’d decided to cut short into a bob and not regrow.

This is a story in an alternate history Persia, dealing with the consequences of Arab invasions which worked out differently than in our timeline, with magical medicine and a very liberal take on gender. It’s pretty heavily loaded with colonial and other tropes, but I think it does manage to carry that burden with a very believable protagonist. The Persian contribution to the Islamic Golden Age is a topic that has long fascinated me, and this is a worthy fictional treatment of it. You can get it here.

(I also salute all of these authors for submitting submit shorter work rather than 750-page novels to the packet in this category. The longest submission this year is Maxwell’s, at less than 500 pages.)

2) Xin Weimu. Has supplied three stories in Chinese with no translation. I ran them all through the online translators and was rather impressed, starting with the shortest of them, 哈农练指法 / “Hanon’s exercises” – a pianist who has found a tech enhancement to drastically improve his performance but at a terrible cost. It’s Faust, of course, but from a fresh angle. The second paragraph of the third section is:

每天邵彬都会搞错什么节奏。正在备战利盖蒂大奖赛的大四女生在他第五次打断演奏的时候哭了出来:“可您说得太快了,我来不及消化!”音乐鉴赏专栏的编辑收到他的新稿呆了半晌,客客气气地回复说:“稿子当然无可挑剔,不过我们说好的截稿时间是两个月后,我知道您平时忙,不用写那么急的。”他换了身行头出去跑步,才稍稍压下了那种晕车似的恶心感觉,但不知不觉跑到30公里,还是平地绊了一跤,喘得被路人围上来询问,才慢慢平复了呼吸。Every day Shao Bin got something wrong. A senior girl preparing for the Ligeti Grand Prix cried out, when he interrupted her for the fifth time: “But you’re talking too fast, I can’t take it in!” The editor of the Music Appreciation column was dumbfounded when he received Shao Bin’s new article and replied politely, “Of course it’s impeccable, but our agreed deadline is not for another two months, and I know you’re usually busy, so you don’t have to write so urgently.” He changed his clothes and went out for a run, slightly suppressing his nauseous motion sickness; but he unwittingly ran for 30 kilometers, and then tripped flat on the ground, gasping for breath and surrounded by inquiring passers-by, before slowly calming down his breathing.
my translation

The second story, 明天就出发 / “Leaving Tomorrow”, concerns time-travellers from two centuries after the bulk of humanity decided to leave Earth, uneasily interacting with the Holocaust. This is tricky ground, but I thought that Xin navigated it well, and there is quite a lot between the lines if you look for it. The second paragraph of the third section is:

时空学院将这座星球上的人分成了两半。一半人能倒着背出三大本管控时空旅行的法律,一说起什么“祖父悖论”、“希特勒悖论”就引经据典、头头是道,一聊到出差或休假,就是天马行空地任意挑选。另一半人则和发明时空旅行以前的祖先那样,日复一日缓慢向前。他们有的仿佛忘了时空旅行的存在,有的则成了时空旅行题材的新闻、学术著作、文艺作品最忠实的受众。The Time Academy divides the people of this planet into two halves. Half of them can recite the three major laws governing time travel backwards, and when it comes to the “Grandfather Paradox” or the “Hitler Paradox”, they can quote from the classics, and when it comes to business trips or vacations, they can pick and choose whatever they want. The other half, like their ancestors before the invention of time travel, move slowly from day to day. Some of them seem to have forgotten about the existence of time travel, while others have become the most faithful recipients of time-travel-themed news, academic writings, and literary works.
DeepL translation

The third story, 血肉之锤 / “Hammer of Flesh”, is a really inventive story of Chinese workers in 1880s America whose experiments with robotics fail to preserve them from racism. One of the non-robot characters is also non-binary. There’s a lot here and I hope someone gives it a professional translation soon. The second paragraph of the third section is:

五金店的顾客络绎不绝,从买剪刀锤头、润滑钟表,到替换搅拌机齿轮、改装蒸汽车轮胎,傅九对任何要求都欣然答允。他的精湛技艺全都写在粗粝的双手上——出生在广东台山的工匠世家,去村里秀才家念书,都是靠给对方修房子作为学费,直到十八岁出洋闯荡,不知何时就传出“什么都能造”的美名。单身的金山客少有能在异国成家的,他却颇为顺利地结了婚,赶上太平洋铁路招募技术工人,便暂别怀着孕的妻子,去华工苦力聚集的路段奔波。There was an endless stream of customers in the hardware store. From buying scissors and hammer heads, lubricating clocks, to replacing mixer gears and modifying steam vehicle tires, Fu Jiu readily agreed to any request. His superb skills were all written on his rough hands – he was born in a family of craftsmen in Taishan, Guangdong. He went to the village scholar’s home to study, and built houses for them as tuition fees. He was known as “the one who can make everything” until he moved abroad at the age on eighteen. It is rare for anyone from Jinshan to start a family in a foreign country, but he got married soon and well. When the Pacific Railway was recruiting skilled workers, he left his pregnant wife for a while and went to the section where Chinese laborers gathered.
My translation

I am not blaming anyone, because I am very well aware of the limited resources of time, money and goodwill available to the Hugo team in any year, but it is really unfortunate that no translation was provided for Xin’s work – I think voters who do not take the effort to deploy the available online tools will miss a treat.

1) Isabel J. Kim. Has supplied a booklet of ten short stories published in 2021 and 2022. They are all really good. Most of them are about death. Most of them are about multiple or shared identities. Several of them combine the themes of death and multiple or shared identities. Several of them reflect the author’s Korean background. The second paragraph of the third story, “You, Me, Her, You, Her, I”, is:

“It’s what you would have wanted, right, Val?” her father had said, looking at the arm you are currently controlling.

Some of these stories made me uncomfortable, but all of them made me think. I expect that Travis Baldree, who has a lot of name recognition, will win this category, but if voters actually read the packet, I think they will incline towards Kim, whose work is really way ahead of the others.

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

Arachnids in the UK, by Sam Maleski

A Black Archive on the recently concluded 13th Doctor era, like Kerblam! looking at one of the more unsatisfactory Chibnall/Whittaker stories. After it was first broadcast, I wrote:

A very obvious riff on The Green Death, my favourite Third Doctor story, which also had some great return-to-Sheffield characterisation moments, and really impressive special effects, but completely muffed the ending. (What happens to the bad guy? Is it really more compassionate to lock the spiders up until they die?)

Rewatching it this time, all the same points occurred to me; the other thing is that the production was very obviously saving money by not having many extras – I mean, what American billionaire would go anywhere without at least half a dozen aides?

Some Black Archive books on similarly problematic stories try gamely to make us see the best in them. Sam Maleski here is frank about Arachnids‘ shortcomings as well as its thematic beats, and doesn’t go on too long about either, turning in a decent analysis of an inferior script.

The first (and longest) chapter, “Doctor Who and the Spiders from Sheffield”, starts by admitting that the story begins and ends on very different notes, but then goes into an in-depth analysis of giant spiders (and other creepy-crawlies) in science fiction film and in Doctor Who in particular. He omits Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s not really looking at print.

The second chapter (almost as long), “Yorkshire Gothis”, looks at the ways in which the story is Gothic – a theme in several of the Black Archives I have read recently – and at the importance fo the setting in Yorkshire, and of the shadow of Donald Trump.

The second paragraph of the third chapter, “Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with Muddled Politics”, is:

But while the aesthetics of the episode are deeply and incandescently political, it seems rather unclear as to what course the characters, and by extension the viewers, should pursue as a response. It’s an episode marred by contradictions: these sometimes enrich its text, and other times simply prove frustrating. In order to demonstrate this, this chapter focuses on three focal points that the episode uses to signal its political nature: science, minority identities and the influence of political music.

It looks at how the story opens up, and then basically squanders, engagement with the politics of science, race and gender, and music. These points are particularly well made.

The fourth and final chapter, “Absence, or Clearing the Cobwebs”, argues that even though the story fails to answer a lot of the interesting questions it raises (including also what “family” means, for the Doctor and for us), that should not stop us from thinking further about them.

Sam Maleski took on a tricky assignment here, and I think did a good job as far as that can be done. 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)

A Rumor of Angels, by Dale Bailey

Second paragraph of third section:

Hunger snaked him through the maze. He clambered over the tailgate and dropped to the ground. A fire snapped somewhere invisibly, bronzing the side of a neighboring truck, packed likewise with a teetering mass of household goods. Down the flickering alleyway between them—Tom could have stretched out his arms and lay his hands flat against either vehicle—he glimpsed a temporary encampment: two or three wagons and half again as many beat-up trucks and cars, parked nose in among a scattered grove of towering cottonwood and oak. In the rough circle between, a handful of children chased each other in some game impervious to adult logic, their clamor flitting in the dark. Their fathers here and there hunkered in circles, lean and grim, peering out from under their hats as they drew sticks through the dust or smoked hand-rolled cigarettes.chased each other in some game impervious to adult logic, their clamor flitting in the dark. Their fathers here and there hunkered in circles, lean and grim, peering out from under their hats as they drew sticks through the dust or smoked hand-rolled cigarettes.

I am not sure why I got this back in 2017, but I am sure that it’s a shame I left it so long until reading it; a very short novella about a quest for angels during the Dustbowl, a sort of John Steinbeck meets Ray Bradbury, as one reviewer put it. I don’t think I have read much else by this writer but perhaps I need to correct that. You can get it here.

This was the shortest unread book that I had acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is Keats and Chapman Wryed Again, by Steven A. Jent.

February 2023 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.

The highlight of February this year was my visit to Gallifrey One in Los Angeles again:

With a side excursion to Hollywood afterwards:

More locally we went to a fantastic exhibition of alabaster sculpture in Leuven:

And visited by my sister and her daughter, we re-enacted the gestures of the statues in the forest.

I read 28 books that month, though a number were Clarke nominees where I read only 50 pages either because I didn’t think they were very good or because I didn’t think they were science fiction, or both.

Non-fiction 4 (YTD 13)
The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life, by Marcus Du Sautoy
Timelash, by Phil Pascoe
Listen, by Dewi Small
Elizabeth I and Ireland, ed. Brendan Kane and Valerie McGowan-Doyle

Non-genre 1 (YTD 3)
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

SF 19 (YTD 41)
To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara
The Women Could Fly, by Megan Giddings (did not finish)
How High We Go in the Dark, by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Roadside Picnic, by Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky
The Furrows, by Namwali Serpell
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Wild Cards: Deuces Down, ed. John J. Miller
Vagabonds!, by Eloghosa Osunde (did not finish)
Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse (did not finish)
Until the Last of Me, by Sylvain Neuvel(did not finish)
Glory, by NoViolet Bulawayo (did not finish)
The Leviathan, by Rosie Andrews (did not finish)
Peculiar Lives, by Philip Purser Hallard
Eyes of the Void, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Metronome, by Tom Watson
Leech, by Hiron Ennes (did not finish)
Harpan’s Worlds: Worlds Apart, by Terry Jackman (did not finish)
Tales from Planet Earth, by Arthur C Clarke
Oval, by Elvia Wilk

Doctor Who 3 (YTD 8)
Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light, by Rona Munro
Lucy Wilson & the Bledoe Cadets, by Tim Gambrell
Doctor Who: Timelash, by Glen McCoy

Comics 1 (YTD 5)
Agent Provocateur, by Gary Russell et al

6,100 pages (YTD 16,000)
12/28 (YTD 29/73) by non-male writers (McGowan-Doyle, Giddings, Nagamatsu, Serpell, Moreno-Garcia, Osunde, Roanhorse, Bulawayo, Andrews, Ennes, Munro, Wilk)
9/28 (YTD 14/73) by a non-white writer (Yanagihara, Giddings, Nagamatsu, Serpell, Moreno-Garcia, Osunde, Roanhorse, Bulawayo, McCoy)

The best of these were two of the Clarke submissions, Metronome, by Tom Watson (which we eventually shortlisted; get it here) and The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (a Hugo finalist; get it here). I’ll draw a veil over the worst of them.

The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Perhaps a fire, but where no one gets hurt? Just flames and fire engines. We can all stand around watching, with flasks, and Ron can shout advice to the firefighters. Or an affair, that would be fun. Preferably mine, but I’m not greedy, so long as there’s a bit of scandal, like a big age difference, or someone suddenly needing a replacement hip. Perhaps a gay affair? We haven’t had one of those at Coopers Chase yet, and I think everyone would enjoy it. Maybe someone’s grandson could go to prison? Or a flood that doesn’t affect us? You know the sort of thing I mean.

I know Richard Osman of course as a TV quiz show personality; this is the second in a series of murder mysteries solved by a group of retirees in a coastal town in the south of England. The mystery is unrealistically complex, but the character interactions are great fun, and although the tone in general is comedic, there’s also a serious and realistic emotional freight. You can get it here.

This was my top unread non-genre novel, and my top unread book acquired last year. Next on those piles respectively are Winter, by Ali Smith, and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford.

Autism Spectrum Disorders Through the Lifespan, by Digby Tantam

Second paragraph of third chapter:

A variety of brain areas implicated in ASD were considered in Chapters 1 and 2, but no focus in the brain emerged as commonly causing ASD. There is no autism producing lesion. The lesion approach to communication disorders had already been challenged by Geschwind2 who resurrected the connectionist approaches of the nineteenth century. He argued that symptoms occurred not because of an area of brain damage, but because brain areas were disconnected. A connectionist, or network, approach to ASD is now widely accepted, as is the brain’s interaction with the environment. This new network model, and the evidence for it, is considered in the second part of this chapter.
2 Geschwind, 1970

This is a hefty volume on autism spectrum disorders, meant for a more expert and knowledgeable audience than me, but which I’m glad we have as a convenient reference point.

(Incidentally, I was stunned and appalled a couple of years ago when I received an email from a person who had put as part of their signature that they knew the cause of autism: “aged sperm”. My daughters were born when I was 30 and 35; my sperm was not all that aged, I think. This person was just casually putting out offensive misinformation in their email signature, to friends and strangers alike! Mind-blowingly inappropriate!)

The book is pretty comprehensive, looking at the rather slim information we have on physical neurological changes in autistic people – this research is very much a work in progress – and in much more detail at the developmental phenomena and educational and health support that are needed; biased of course towards the US system, but with due note being taken of experiences from elsewhere.

The one topic I would have liked to se a bit more on is autistic regression. Our oldest was developing normally until about 2 years old, then lost much of her ability including her speech. One can speculate that in such a case, the brain is somehow overwhelmed – and permanently damaged – by the need to process all the stimuli that a developing child becomes aware of. But it is mere speculation.

On the other hand, I felt very comfortable with the description of the vast amount of research activity that is going on. As consumers, if I can put it that way, we see only the outputs and the occasional tests that we are invited to participate in ourselves. It’s helpful to know that there is a big academic infrastructure behind it all.

One interesting point that I will have to ponder: do we talk to ourselves mentally when we think? And what does this mean for the cognitive abilities of people who don’t have language?

Anyway, you can get it here.

This was the very last book acquired in 2016 that I got around to reading, and I actually finished it last month, nine months after I finished the last book that I acquired in 2015, so I am speeding up.

Last book acquired in 2016, read in August 2023 (Autism Spectrum Disorders Through the Lifespan)
Last book acquired in 2015, read in November 2022 (Rauf Denktaş, a Private Portrait)
Last books acquired in 2014, read in October 2021 (The Empire of Time and Crashland)
Last book acquired in 2013, read in October 2020 (Helen Waddell)
Last book acquired in 2012, read in May 2020 (A Sacred Cause: The Inter-Congolese dialogue 2000-2003)
Last book acquired in 2011, read in October 2019 (Luck and the Irish)
Last book acquired in 2010, read in January 2019 (Heartspell)
Last book acquired in 2009, read in December 2016 (Last Exit to Babylon)

The unread pile from 2017 is a lot smaller than the 2016 unread pile was last November, so I’ll hope to be expanding the above list again before too long.

That opens up the 2017 books:

  • Shortest unread book acquired in 2017: A Rumor of Angels, by Dale Bailey
  • Non-genre longest on the unread shelf: The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman: Including the Brother, by Flann O’Brien
  • Non-fiction longest on the unread shelf: Will We Ever Speak Dolphin?, ed. Mick O’Hare
  • SF longest on the unread shelf: Major Matt Mason: Moon Mission, by George S. Elrick
  • Top unread book acquired in 2017: Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality, by Jaron Lanier

Sunday reading

The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd
Extraction Point, by MG Harris
Ocean’s Echo, by Everina Maxwell
Letters from Klara, by Tove Jansson

Last books finished
Keats and Chapman Wryed Again, by Steven A. Jent
A Doctor in the House?, by Jody Houser et al
The Bruising of Qilwa, by Naseem Jamnia

Next books
The Night of the Doctor, by James Cooray Smith
A Brief History of The Hobbit, by John D. Rateliff
Rupetta, by N.A. Sulway

Hugos 2023: Best Short Story

Of the fiction categories, this has the most Chinese-language finalists; they are all recognisably sfnal, in the same genre, if perhaps a little old-fashioned compared to the English-language finalists. Each of these has one cool idea, which drives the story, and they are all decent pieces of work. My personal ranking is as follows:

6) 白色悬崖,鲁般 / “The White Cliff”, by Lu Ban

岩里说完,原本一直保持笔直的上半身渐渐放松了下来,重新躺回长椅的靠背上。After Yanli finished speaking, he gradually relaxed his upper body from its upright position and lay back on the backrest of the bench.
(my translation)

Perhaps here I felt the cultural gap at its greatest. The topic of the story is death with dignity, of producing a simulated virtual environment for those who are about to go; in Belgium, where we’ve had legal euthanasia since 2002, we think about these things in a different way and the story’s big idea doesn’t quite land right; it didn’t also have the emotional punch that I anticipated for this topic.

(And on a technicality, the English translation provided is rather poor, but you can see what is meant without too much effort.)

5) 还魂,任青 / “Resurrection”, by Ren Qing 

Second paragraph of third section:

还魂尸坐在桌边,连吃了三碗,雪白的背部一耸一耸。吃完饭,他抱着膝盖,蜷缩在椅子上,不言不语。The synthetic sat at the table and ate three bowls in a row, his pale back shrugging with each bite. After dinner, he curled up in a chair, hugging his knees, saying nothing.
(translated by Blake Stone-Banks)

Another story about death, but here there’s a whole industry of bringing people back, partially alive, for a second go. Nothing terribly wrong with it, but Silverberg’s “Born with the Dead” did it better back in 1974.

4) “DIY”, by John Wiswell 

Second paragraph of third section:

It was midafternoon. Noah was in his bedroom with the blinds drawn like an appropriately pissy teenager, hunched over his concentrator rig. A concentrator is one of those “baby’s first levitation” kits, a series of glass rods with minor magical charge that can float briefly in the air. Noah repurposed the kit to draw water from the air itself. After a week of tedious experiments, he had a cup one quarter full of water. Or was that three-quarters empty?

A story of kids using bulletin boards and magic. I felt it rather uneasily merged two different kinds of world-building, and did not quite work for me.

3) 命悬一线,江波 / “On the Razor’s Edge”, by Jiang Bo

Second paragraph of third section (in Chinese, the supplied English translation has different line breaks):

通讯恢复了。Communication was restored.
(translation supplied by author.)

A Chinese space mission comes to the rescue of the Americans and Russians in the International Space Station, and you kinda know what’s going to happen as soon as it becomes clear that one of the Americans is a cute woman; and yet the narrative pace, even in translation, is tremendous and I found myself getting really invested in it as we got to the climax. Perhaps the most old-fashioned of the stories in this category, but rather well done.

2) 火星上的祝融,王侃瑜 / “Zhurong on Mars”, Regina Kanyu Wang

Second paragraph of third section:

祝融发现,人类虽然消耗了资源、增加了熵值,让周遭环境变得更混乱,却也使火星更有趣。某种程度上,祝融也在做同样的事情,伊利用人类走后无人利用的资源,让整座奥林帕斯山的熵值大大增加,那么伊是否可以算作生命?Zhurong realized that, although life consumed resources, increased entropy, and caused the environment to become more chaotic, they also made Mars more interesting. To a certain degree, Zhurong was doing the same thing. E used the resources left behind by humans and greatly increased the entropy of Olympus Mons. Did that mean e was a form of life?
(translation by S. Qiouyi Lu. The original Chinese text uses a literary gender-neutral third-person pronoun 伊yī for Zhurong, translated here using the neopronoun e. Zhurong is the god of fire in Chinese mythology.)

This is also a story which uses an old trope – the AIs who are left behind after humanity has quit the scene, familiar from Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tarry” and Aldiss’s “But Who Can Replace a Man?”, but this time set on Mars, with call-outs to Chinese mythology. It’s rather deep for such a short piece, and I enjoyed it a lot.

1) “Rabbit Test”, Samantha Mills

Second paragraph of third section:

Grace doesn’t know, and doesn’t care, and certainly isn’t laughing. She waits for Sal at the coffee shop, and every sip of spark makes her stomach roil with nerves.

I thought this was tremendous – a story about a near-future USA where abortion rights have been gruesomely restricted, a scenario which unfortunately seems less and less unrealistic, interleaved with well-researched historical reflections. An angry and timely piece that has my vote.

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: Best Novelette

6) “The Difference Between Love and Time“, by Catherynne M. Valente

Second paragraph of third section:

I’ve seen them everywhere. Still do. The space/time continuum gets around.

I’m afraid that these abstract tales of romance involving ineffable archetypes don’t do much for me. It will probably win the award.

5) 时空画师,海漄 / “The Space-Time Painter”, by Hai Ya

Second paragraph of third section:

功夫不负有心人,此后周宁又数次目击鬼影。鬼影形成的原因仍然笼罩在一团迷雾之中。它随机出现在地库附近,预示着之前的推测不无道理。周宁单枪匹马,举步维艰地摸索着真相,明明已经锁定了它的轮廓,却又无法更进一步,他渐渐开始焦躁起来。因此,当这晚再次遇见鬼影,并与它捉迷藏似的追逐了好一阵之后,周宁终于爆发了。眼看着它即将再次没入墙面,周宁抢先一步,试图将其拦截。这本是他情急之下的条件反射,自然也不可能有什么效果,鬼影很快便消失不见了。His hard work paid off, and Zhou Ning saw the ghost several times after that. The reason for its appearance remained murky. It randomly appeared near the basement, indicating that the previous speculation was not unreasonable. Zhou Ning groped for the truth alone, and with difficulty. He had already established its outline, but he couldn’t go any further. He gradually became anxious. So one night, after what seemed to be a long game of hide and seek with it, Zhou Ning finally exploded into action. Seeing that it was about to disappear into the wall once again, Zhou Ning attempted to cut ahead of it and stop it. This was a conditioned desperate reflex, and naturally, it had no effect, and the ghost quickly disappeared.
(My translation)

Great that we have a Chinese-language story in the top six in this category, but this is a fairly standard haunted museum tale, with some nice local Beijing colour which however doesn’t elevate it past fifth place for me. (No translation was provided, but it’s easy enough to run the text through the online resources.)

4) “A Dream of Electric Mothers”, by Wole Talabi

Third paragraph (there are no sections):

“Are you okay?” I ask my colleague, the honorable minister of information and culture, who is fiddling with his bronze-framed spectacles nervously as we exit the white-walled womb of the secure ministerial conference room. He was one of only two dissenting votes in the cabinet and the only cabinet member I have ever engaged with more than a professional politeness since I was appointed by the Alaafin three months ago. This is the first consultation I will be a part of, but the records show that he voted against the previous four as well. I have come to like him, but I find his apparent resistance to the consultation curious, especially since he is the one that will be responsible for the report and official broadcast once we are done.

Interesting speculation of combining ancient wisdom with information technology in an alternative history West Africa.

3) “If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You“, by John Chu

Second paragraph of third section:

He always fights as though his only hope is to win on points. That doesn’t matter so much. One time, someone lands a lucky punch and breaks his hand on Tom of Finland Guy’s body. The guy’s face is flushed. He winces and howls in pain. Everyone backs away from him then runs away. The punch itself doesn’t even register on Tom of Finland Guy. He just stares at his midsection.

This has by far the best title of anything nominated in any category for this year’s Hugos. It’s a fun and passionate story about having a crush on the guy in the gym, who turns out to have divine superpowers.

2) “We Built This City“, by Marie Vibbert

Second paragraph of third section:

Her mother bursts into the room the second she arrives, a tiny tornado with a gray buzz cut. “Are you okay? Did anyone get violent?”

It’s odd how little sf we get that addresses the future of labour relations. This is a nicely observed vignette of a dystopian future city on the edge of nowhere, where the maintenance workers are in conflict with the management.

1) “Murder By Pixel: Crime and Responsibility in the Digital Darkness“, by SL Huang

Second paragraph of third section:

Only, at the same time “Sylvie” was driving Ron Harrison into a panic, someone named Sylvie was sending very similar messages to a hedge fund manager in Connecticut, a museum curator in British Columbia, and a political consultant in Florida, along with thirteen other men identified so far. Millions of messages over dozens of services, spanning across a full decade.

I thought this was very good, a reflection on the current state of AI, told in the authentic voice of an investigative journalist, getting in a few digs of social commentary as well, with hyperlinks to genuine media articles. It gets my vote.

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: Best Novella

I do generally like the novella category, which often unleashes some corking good fiction at digestible length. As usual, this year has some great stuff, and I found it difficult to rank them. But rank them I must.

6) A Mirror Mended, by Alix E. Harrow.

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I knock my head ungently against the wall and order myself to get it together. Luckily, or unluckily, I’ve been in enough perilous situations by now that I don’t waste too much time panicking or regretting my life choices or shouting SHITSHITSHIT in all caps. I’ve developed a simple system.

Characters are fairy-tale archetypes exploring the possibility of different destinies. It’s a neat idea, but was a bit fresher last year, and I found the violence a bit squicky. You can get it here.

5) Where the Drowned Girls Go, by Seanan McGuire

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Eleanor herself smiled warmly at Cora as she walked around the bulk of her desk and settled in her leather-backed chair, gesturing for Cora to sit in one of the more modest chairs on the other side of the desk. Cora settled without a word of complaint, her still-damp nightgown sticking to her skin, while her hair sent rivulets of water down her back. The upholstery might get wet, but Eleanor wouldn’t care about that. Caring about things getting wet wasn’t very nonsensical, and Eleanor’s devotion to the Nonsense still waiting for her on the other side of her own door was one of the school’s few true constants.

Next in the sequence of the Wayward Children stories, where it turns out that there is another, much nastier school for the children who have slipped between worlds. I enjoyed but wondered a bit about the longevity of the schools within the premise, and felt it was getting a bit too entangled with its own mythology. You can get it here.

4) Into the Riverlands, by Nghi Vo

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“The Hollow Hand,” Khanh said, his voice remarkably calm, and Lao Bingyi scowled.

A very nicely done story drawing from the wuxia tradition, a travel narrative with lots of sub-narratives. There’s a particularly good discussion of heroic women who are not also beautiful. I could practically smell the landscape. You can get it here.

3) Ogres, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Second paragraph of third section:

Stunned silence from them. And then… a medley of reactions; quite the range, now you think back on it. Because some still have that core in them, hammered there by church and village life before they did whatever each one did to make them outlaw. Some are shocked that you could even lift a hand against the Masters, let alone shed so much of that vast reservoir of blood that it might kill one. Taboos like that, beat into you from earliest childhood, they don’t get shaken free so easily. Garett, the oldest of them, is pale and shaking his head, and Nell Wilso sucks at her toothless gums. But some of the others, their eyes are lit up. They’re the ones whose crimes were against the property, not of humans but of ogres. They lost that reverence, and maybe they’ve dreamed of doing just what you did every night since. And right then you’re in no position to appreciate it, lost in a welter of guilt and panic, but it’s the first time people look at you like that. Not fond, not exasperated. You’re not the prodigal son or the lovable rogue right then. You’re the hero who slays the monster.

As previously reported, dystopian agricultural future where an elite minority of big people (the ‘ogres’ of the title) holds the majority of humanity in brutal slavery, and our protagonist discovers the awful truth and begins the overthrow of the system. You can get it here.

2) Even Though I Knew the End, by C.L. Polk

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I knocked the right rhythm — not shave and a haircut but close. I stood still as the peephole opened and a light flashed in my eyes. The wall opened, and Sylvia let me onto the landing before a long flight of stairs leading down into the earth.

Really inventive story of lesbian love in magic-infested noir Chicago, and the price of your soul. Vivid plotting and description. You can get it here.

1) What Moves the Dead, by T. Kingfisher

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Did Denton insult you?” he asked, once we were out of earshot of the parlor. I could tell he was genuinely worried. “He’s a good man, but you know they don’t have sworn soldiers in America. I’ll have a word with him if he did.”

I thought this was tremendous – a rewriting of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” with a lot more background and indeed plot. I’m not familiar with the original story, but nonetheless this grabbed my attention and gets my vote. You can get it here.

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: Best Novel

6) Nona the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Nona didn’t want to be just good-looking and dumb; she wanted to be useful. She was dimly aware that she was not what anyone had wanted. This was why she had gone out and got herself a job, even though it wasn’t a paying one.

I completely bounced off the previous two books in this series, both of which were Hugo finalists. But to my surprise, I started off really enjoying this one, as the title character tries to put together her lost memories in a dangerous and violent society not too far from our own. But it lost me again at the end; once she returns to the world of Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, it became boring and confusing, and also there’s a parallel narrative thread which wasn’t integrated into the plot at all, as far as I could see. You can get it here.

5) The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The offices for KPS the name of the organization on the card Tom gave me were on Thirty-seventh, in the same building as the Costa Rican consulate, on the fifth floor. The office apparently shared a waiting room with a small medical practice. I had been in the waiting room for less than a minute when Avella came to get me to take me to her personal office. There was no one else in the KPS office. I guess they, like most everyone else, were working from home.

Very readable and engaging story which I read to the end, a parallel universe with Godzillas; but as usual with Scalzi, all of the characters sound exactly the same (and indeed exactly like Scalzi himself in real life) and the social commentary is paper thin. You can get it here.

4) Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree

Second paragraph of third chapter:

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

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.

3) The Spare Man, Mary Robinette Kowal

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Her grandmother had taught her that, when Tesla’s rage turned a room incandescent red, the best thing to do was to stay very, very still. The time her elementary school science teacher had marked her correct answer anout the most recent supernova as wrong “because it wasn’t in the textbook” had impressed in Tesla’s mind how effective that stillness could be. It was also the first time she used any version of “I want to speak to the manager” when she asked to go to the principal’s office in a voice that was, in hindsight, too cold and flat for a ten-year-old.

This was very interesting – a detective novel set on an Earth to Mars space cruise. Intricate plotting, lots of good stuff about gender diversity and invisible disabilities, and a very cute dog. And cocktail recipes. I was not quite sure about the ending, though. You can get it here.

2) Nettle and Bone, T. Kingfisher

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“I saw you,” said the voice. She squinted against the light and saw the speaker. A man. Perfectly ordinary looking, in the gray-brown garb that everyone wore, here on the edge of the desert. There was nothing that stood out about him, except that he was shouting at her.

As usual with Ursula Vernon, a cracking good read: it’s about a discarded princess who goes on an epic fantasy quest with a gang of unlikely henchbeings. Lots of funny lines and social commentary. Very enjoyable. You can get it here.

1) The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Melquiades claimed the mere thought such a thing might be possible was sacrilege: holiness could not reside in a flower or a drop of rain. Offerings to spirits were the devil’s work.

I thought this was really interesting, a reframing of H.G. Wells in the context of the historical Maya resistance to Mexican rule in the Yucatan. There was a twist three quarters of the way through that I should have seen coming, but didn’t. Not especially excited about any of these, but this one gets my vote. You can get it here.

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 Stones of Blood, by Katrin Thier (and David Fisher, and Terrance Dicks)

I remember watching and hugely enjoying The Stones of Blood when it was first broadcast in 1978. I’ve come back to it several times and it retains its charm. When I came back to it in 2008, I wrote:

The Stones of Blood was one that I remembered fondly from first time round, and I liked it again on re-watching three decades later. Perhaps, now that puberty is behind me rather than yet to come, I appreciate Mary Tamm’s costumes as Romana all the more. But of course I also have a fascination with megaliths, and this is the only broadcast story that really uses them (though see also the SJA story The Thirteenth Stone). And of the three stories featuring an ancient cult in England within a few years of 1980, this is the only one that really pulls it off well (the other two being Image of the Fendahl and K9 and Company).

When I came back a couple of years later for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

We are back on firmer ground [after The Pirate Planet] with The Stones of Blood. This just shows the difference that a decent plot (as opposed to a decent script, which Adams was capable of doing) and good casting and direction can make, though unfortunately we are now slipping into Romana as screamy girl rather than smart aleck, which is a shame, especially as the story has two excellent female leads in Beatrix Lehmann and Susan Engel. (I must also add that the viewing experience on DVD is greatly enhanced by the extras, which include a documentary with Mary Tamm exploring the Rollright Stones where it was filmed.) 

It’s a story of two halves, Satanic cults (as previously seen in Image of the Fendahl and The Masque of Mandragora) and then the abandoned prison spaceship with the ruthlessly homicidal justice machines. The story wobbles a bit at times – Beatrix Lehmann, who died a few months after filming, is notably shaky on some of her lines – but stays just the right side of the quality divide. The location filming around the stones is particularly memorable, (including particularly K9 on one of his few field outings) and well blended in with the studio scenes. I am really looking forward to the new novelisation by David Fisher, the author of the original script; the original Terrance Dicks novelisation is workmanlike but not terribly memorable, but Fisher’s two previous novelisations of his own stories – The Creature from the Pit and The Leisure Hive – are particularly good, among the best Fourth Doctor books and certainly better than the TV originals.

Rewatching it again, I liked it a bit more if anything; it clearly too Beatrix Lehmann a couple of scenes to get comfortable with the situation but once she gets in the swing, she is great. And the monstrous Ogri are depicted as pretty horrifying even though we see very little of what they actually do to people (apart from the unfortunate lady camper). I also liked the clues that the segment is around somewhere nearby, which I picked up on more than on previous watches.

Unusually, though not uniquely, there are two different Target novelisations of the story, the first being a rather workmanlike effort by Terrance Dicks. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

Romana straightened up, releasing her end of the tape. A sudden loud cawing sound made her jump. A big black bird was perched on the stone above her head. Romana jumped back. ‘What’s that?’

A longer novelisation by the story’s original author, David Fisher, was released on audio a few years back and is now available in book form. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

The figures pushed back their hoods, revealing themselves to be Mr de Vries, a plump man sporting a wisp of a beard on his chin, and Martha Vickers, a middle-aged lady with the face of a discontented bulldog. She was a resident of the nearby village of Bodcombe Parva, and a member of the local Women’s Institute. Her fellow members would have been astonished to see her there, because she was known to be non-religious and only sang ‘Jerusalem’ under protest. In fact, ever since meeting Mr de Vries a couple of years ago, she had been a pillar of his Druid circle, gradually initiated into the inner mysteries of the BIDS. She used to hunt in her younger days, and unlike some of the other group members was not disturbed by the sight of blood. Hence her presence at all the sacrifices.

I wrote up both novelisations when the audio of Fisher’s version came out in 2011:

Earlier this year the BBC released a new novelisation of an Old Who story – David Fisher, who wrote the original TV story The Stones of Blood, has now converted it not to a print novel but to audiobook format, read with great gusto by Susan Engel (who played the villain of the piece on screen) with John Leeson doing K9’s lines. I had been looking forward to this with hopeful enthusiasm, as Fisher’s novelisations of his other two stories are among the best of the Target range.

I am very glad to say that I was not disappointed. The audio is about twice as long as the original series (four hour-long CDs), and Fisher has bulked out the material with lots more character background and atmosphere than was possible on screen – the full story of the campers gruesomely slain by the Ogri, for example, and various brazen but humorous infodumps. There are lots of decent sound effects as well. Very highly recommended.

I also went back and reread Terrance Dicks’ original novelisation of the story for comparison. It must be a lot shorter than Fisher’s new text. I noted of it three years ago that it is “a standard Dicks write-what’s-on-the-screen treatment, somewhat flattening a rather good story” and I found no reason to change my views. I did think Dicks handled the climax of the story with some finesse, but the rest it pretty thin.

The print version is topped and tailed by some lovely personal reminiscences about Fisher by his son Nick Fisher and by the BBC Audio commissioning editor Michael Stevens. It remains a good read.

As my regular reader knows, I myself am pretty interested in megalithic sites and in their mythology. Katrin Thier, the author of this monograph, apparently shares my interest and has given us a good chunky read with no less than seven chapters, not counting introduction and afterword. There’s plenty to say about this story and where it fits in British popular culture.

An introduction sets out Thier’s stall, reviewing the previous careers of writer, director and guest cast and describing the ‘folk horror’ and Gothic modes, and making a link to Irish independence,

Chapter 1, “The Stones”, starts with the bold proposition that “the main guest stars in The Stones of Blood are the King’s Men at Little Rollright in Oxfordshire, playing the Nine Travellers.” Thier reviews the cult of medievalism, especially around the Rollright Stones themselves, and looks at the origin of the Ogri.

Chapter 2, “The Druids”, reviews what is really known about the Druids and the Gorsedds.

Chapter 3, “Megalithic Afterlives”, looks at the scientific investigation of megalithic monuments and how it has been reflected in popular culture (including The Goodies episode “Wacky Wales”, which features Jon Pertwee as a homicidal cultist). Its second paragraph is:

When the Doctor explains to Romana that the circle is a ‘megalithic temple-cum-observatory’, he expresses an interpretation widespread in the 1970s, suggesting that the prehistoric builders of these monuments were not simple undeveloped countryfolk, but were in fact highly sophisticated, maintaining a class of scientists to rival those of the ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. The evidence for this was seen in the way many of these monuments seemed to be laid out to allow astronomical calculations. The study of this idea now called archaeo-astronomy (although ‘astro-archaeology’ is also sometimes found, reflecting the different emphasis assumed by different scholars). The idea arose partly out of the well-established observations that some of the major monuments interact with points on the sun’s annual circuit, especially the solstices, and a simple explanation for this is that the monument points to the event it is used to celebrate.

Chapter 4, “The Women”, explores the fact that the two main guest stars are women and that Romana rather than the Doctor carries a lot of the plot. This ties into Graves and Mallory, of course. A nice note – although on screen, Beatrix Lehmann is older than Susan Engel who in turn is older than Mary Tamm, Professor Rumford is the youngest of the three characters, a mere 70ish, whereas Romana is in the first half of her second century and Cessair of Diplos is thousands of years old. (Cessair is a genuine if obscure Celtic figure, but should of course be pronounced with a hard ‘c’.)

Chapter 5, “‘To Wit, a Celtic Goddess'”, looks more deeply at the goddesses – the Morrigan, Nemetona, the Cailleach, Ceridwen and the origin of the Great Seal.

Chapter 6, “Mere Mortals”, looks at the origins of Vivien Fay / Cessair’s other identities. I love this coincidence: the site of the Nine Travellers was supposedly owned at one time by the Little Sisters of St Gudula. St Gudula of course is the patron saint of Brussels, but is also the name of a key character in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, who in the BBC’s 1966 TV adaptation was played by… Beatrix Lehmann!

Chapter 7, “Leaving Earth”, looks at hyperspace, slightly jarring with the themes of the previous six chapters (as indeed the hyperspace parts of the story jar with the rest).

An afterword, “Reithian Gothic?”, points out that the story is really quite informative about megalithic sites and lore, and would have sent the curious viewer off to find out more. It certainly fed my own interest, both on first watching at eleven and since.

This is a good analysis of a good story, even if it’s light on the production details which I usually enjoy hearing about. 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)

The Hunt – For Allies by David Geoffrey Adams (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Anders Johannsen, captain of the first human starship, tossed and turned in bed trying to find the sleep he so desperately needed, after days of insomnia and stress. Losing the battle as the shouts of his bridge crew reverberated through his mind.

Third in a self-published series. Badly written and incomprehensible. You can get it here.

January 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.

Only one trip outside Belgium at the start of this year, to London where unexpectedly I saw Noises Off. Within Belgium, F and I had a great excursion to the Cubes of Herne:

I blogged about my cousins the Seavers, the Oberkassel puppy, and science fiction’s predictions for 2023.

I managed a colossal 45 books that month:

Non-fiction 9
God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity, by Rupert Shortt
Diary of a Witchcraft Shop 2, by Trevor Jones and Liz Williams
Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol
Horror of Fang Rock, by Matthew Guerrieri
Battlefield, by Philip Purser-Hallard
The Karmic Curve, by Mary I. Williams
Juggle and Hide, by Sharon van Ivan
Representing Europeans, by Richard Rose
Complexity: A Very Short Introduction, by John H. Holland

Non-genre 2
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin (did not finish)

Plays 1
Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, by Frank McGuinness

Poetry 2
Metamorphoses, by Ovid tr. Stephanie McCarter
Tales from Ovid, by Ted Hughes

SF 22
The Circus Infinite, by Khan Wong
Fugue for a Darkening Island, by Christopher Priest
All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva
“The Mountains of Mourning” by Lois McMaster Bujold
Full Immersion, by Gemma Amor
The Stars Undying, by Emery Robin (did not finish)
The Chosen Twelve, by James Breakwell
Our Share of Night, by Mariana Enriquez (did not finish)
Mercury Rising, by R.W.W. Greene (did not finish)
The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo
At The Edge Of The World, by Lord Dunsany
The Immortality Thief, by Taran Hunt
Wormhole, by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
Death Draws Five, by John J. Miller
Appliance, by J.O. Morgan
The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi
The Transfer Problem, by Adam Saint (did not finish)
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, by Dubravka Ugrešić
Upgrade, by Blake Crouch
The Perfect Assassin, by K.A. Doore
Stray Pilot, by Douglas Thompson (did not finish)
The World Set Free: A Fantasia of the Future, by H.G. Wells

Doctor Who 5
Doctor Who: Galaxy Four, by William Emms
Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii, by James Moran
Rise of the Dominator, by Robert Mammone
Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who: Battlefield, by Marc Platt

Comics 4
Alternating Current, by Jody Houser et al.
Sin Eaters, by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson and Marco Lesko
Neptune – Épisode 1 by Leo
Neptune – Épisode 2 by Leo

9,900 pages
17/45 by non-male writers (Williams, Cheney/Lofgren/Murphy/Luria, “Williams”, van Ivan, Zevin, McCarter, Sachdeva, Bujold, Amor, Robin, Enriquez, Vo, Hunt, Ugrešić, Doore, Houser et al, Melo)
5/45 by a non-white writer (Thompson/Aguilar/Murphy, Zevin, Wong, Sachdeva, Vo)

With 45 books this month, there were some very good ones to mention and I will skip over the less good. From this month’s Clarke submissions, I really liked Appliance, which you can get here, and The Immortality Thief, which you can get here. Otherwise, I was blown away by Anjali Sachdeva’s short stories, which you can get here, and by Nghi Vo’s retelling of Gatsby, which you can get here; I hugely enjoyed Ovid, who you can get here and here; and I was duly appalled by the report of the 6 January Commission, which you can get here. And Matthew Guerreri’s analysis of Horror of Fang Rock is an excellent entry in a good series; you can get it here.

Where it Rains in Color by Denise Crittendon (brief note that got longer)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Malik watched. “You address me as Ataba and yet you disrespect my rules,” he said.

It just seemed to me a slightly above average YA novel, and we never learn the basis for the colourful rain. You can get it here.

More detail: I’m all for Afrofuturism, but IMHO this just isn’t a very good book. It’s a coming-of-age story where a young black woman overcomes (some of) the sources of her people’s historic oppression and learns many important things about life. Mostly in the last fifty pages.

The worldbuilding is vestigial – I got more info from the back cover about the set-up than I did in the first hundred pages. I can see where the author is going with the notion that this is a culture where the blacker your skin is, the more beautiful you are considered to be, but it seems to me that this misses an important point about not judging people by beauty in the first place; and the protagonist’s struggle to overcome disfiguring scars is rather problematic.

In addition, on page 103, eight high-profile prisoners escape by simply walking out of a room in plain sight of their captors and stealing a nearby spaceship. I’m sorry, this is ridiculous.

In addition, I am bothered by the uses of “Mecca”. The crucial serum is given this name by a character who says (p 101) that “It’s a term I heard in a viewer show about Earth. It means the promise of something good.” Well, it doesn’t really, but I’d have been happy to let that slip if we didn’t have the (white) Toth race presented on p. 163 with the comment “they allowed expatriates and had turned their world into an interplanetary mecca”. This bothered me for a couple of reasons:

1) it’s jarring that the characters in the book have only the haziest idea about the real Mecca, but the omniscient narrator knows all about it as a metaphor.

2) having said that, if you describe a place as a “Mecca”, in general you reference a common activity or interest for the people visiting there (“The Vanilla Bar in Manchester is the Lesbian Mecca of the North”, Ta-Nehisi Coates says “my only Mecca was, is, and shall always be Howard University”). But here we are given no such sense of the Toth world being a centre of anything other than travel.

In addition, the asteroid where much of the second half of the book takes place is equipped with a mild atmosphere and running water, like the asteroids in Le Petit Prince. In reality, asteroids have vestigial or no atmosphere and very low gravity. Again, if it was a better book overall I’d stretch a point here, but I’m not feeling merciful.

In addition,”A plea gushed from her mouth” (p. 201). Oh come on.

I appreciate that it’s the author’s first novel, and having read up on her background I can see where she is coming from and why she made some of the choices that she did. I don’t think it’s taking the piss. But I don’t feel that Where it Rains in Color really is up to the mark.