Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Someone lifted Serapio’s head, and liquid touched his lips.

In personal news, I am taking six weeks off work, starting today, a kind of mini-sabbatical (I’ve been at my current job for almost exactly ten years) and one of my resolutions is to spend less effort on books that don’t manage to grab me in the first 100 pages or so. This is one of those books, sadly; a perfectly decent fantasy novel, middle book of a trilogy, world based on pre-1492 Americas, but the setting and characters just didn’t quite engage me enough to keep reading. One of the books that I had put aside from last year’s Clarke submissions list because it clearly wasn’t science fiction but also clearly wasn’t bad. But it just wasn’t for me. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book by a writer of colour. Next on that pile is Glory, by NoViolet Bulawayo.

The best known books set in each country: Egypt

See here for methodology, though now I am restricting the table to books actually set in Egypt.

Death on the NileAgatha Christie265,6929,033
Cleopatra: A LifeStacy Schiff 118,0054,427
Crocodile on the Sandbank Elizabeth Peters74,9544,623
Mummies in the MorningMary Pope Osborne23,3499,152
River GodWilbur Smith41,1533,208
NefertitiMichelle Moran 39,3231,882
The Curse of the PharaohsElizabeth Peters24,5422,753
Palace WalkNaguib Mahfouz20,2662822

Egypt has obviously been a source of fascination to Western writers for centuries, though not always in a good way. Death on the Nile is entirely set in Egypt, but not a single Egyptian character is actually named. Elizabeth Peters has done well out of our collective obsession with the country. At least an actual Egyptian writer makes the top eight, with Palace Walk, by Nobel laureate Mahfouz.

Disqualified because less than half of the book is set in Egypt: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (which I hated); The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire, by Rick Riordan; The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty (which I loved); and The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

Next up: the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Getting down to business at the 2024 WSFS Business Meeting

The agenda for this year’s WSFS Business Meeting, to take place next month at Worldcon in Glasgow, has been published. It is probably the longest on record. It has been an immense amount of work for the dedicated Business Meeting team to pull together, especially considering the problems that a couple of proposed resolutions raised with regards to local law.

Often I publish my own commentary on the entire order of business once it is available. I may yet do so this year, but here are my preliminary thoughts. I should emphasise that I’m not really involved with the organisation and administration of the Business Meeting, despite my other roles, apart from lubricating its links with other parts of the convention; inside the room, I am just one more voter.

If I am in the room, I will probably vote against even starting to discuss any new business which is not directly related to sorting out the deficiencies in the system made apparent in Chengdu. I say this with some regret. There are a couple of things that I would have liked to propose myself in a quieter year: changing the ridiculous Mark Protection Committee election system, for instance. Or sorting out the Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist categories, which has long been a bugbear of mine. But this year needs to be a reckoning for what went wrong and for the damage done to the Hugos and to the community.

To be really specific about a couple of things: there are two separate proposals regarding the Retro Hugos, one to abolish them entirely, one shifting them to a ten-yearly timetable. I don’t especially like the Retro Hugos myself, and will advise against and vote against running them in any Worldcon that I may be involved with in future. But whatever else may have been problematic with Chengdu, the Retro Hugos were not part of the problem, and this debate should be deferred to a less busy and fraught year.

The same goes for the proposal to institute a popular vote of WSFS members on constitutional amendments. Again, the cumbersome mode of WSFS constitutional amendment is a problem for WSFS and Worldcons, but was not part of what went wrong at Chengdu, so it can wait. My preferred option would be to kick the ‘popular ratification’ question to a specific subcommittee tasked with putting together a proposal for next year’s Business Meeting in Seattle. I’d be happy to serve on such a subcommittee.

There is a more specific reason to defer discussion of this idea, which is that we at Glasgow 2024 are actually trying it out this year, as a consultative process, in the couple of weeks between the close of Hugo voting (today) and the opening of the convention. Our experiment and the currently proposed amendment differ from each other on a number of points (notably, the time frame of the ballot, but there are other issues too). I am sure that there will be important learnings from this year’s experiment, and I am equally sure that we will not have time to write them up in detail in time for this year’s Business Meeting to consider; and hashing out the details should be bumped to a committee.

I don’t think that every single one of the Chengdu-related resolutions and constitutional amendments is good or needed. (One that I feel is not needed, for instance – the creation of yet more standing committees to oversee the software and the administration.) But I do think that they need to be the focus of the Business Meeting this year. The one that I feel most strongly about is the Standing Orders change proposed by Jesi Lipp, to repeal Rule 7.9 which prohibits virtual participation in the Business Meeting. Rule 7.9 was sneaked through last year in my absence on the first day of the Chengdu Business Meeting, and my attempt to reverse it on the following day failed by 6 votes to 4. (I regret losing my temper during that debate.) The Business Meeting needs to move with the times and open up to all of our membership.

Finally on a totally different point – obviously as well as cleaning up after Chengdu, the Business Meeting still also needs to look at eligibility extensions for films that were not widely distributed in 2023, and in general I am inclined to generosity in these cases; but I don’t think this generosity applies to either The Boy and the Heron or Godzilla Minus One, both of which had theatrical releases in the USA in early December 2023 and should therefore have had a fair chance at the nominations stage. I will vote against eligibility extensions for them, if I am in the room.

Frontiers of the Roman Empire: The Lower German Limes, by David J. Breeze

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The man who did the most to define the edges of the Roman state was its first emperor, Augustus (27 BC-AD 14). Towards the turn of the Era he completed the conquest of the Alps and Spain, defined the eastern boundary by treaty with the Parthians, sent expeditions up the Nile and into the Sahara Desert, and brought Roman arms to the Danube and the Elbe. He famously gave advice to keep the empire within its present boundaries; advice conspicuously ignored by many of his successors, though their achievements were much less than his.

De man die het meest heeft gedaan voor het vastleggen van de grenzen van het Romeinse Rijk was de eerste keizer, Augustus, die regerrede van 27 voor tot 14 na Christus. Rondom het begin van de jaartelling had hij de Alpen en Spanje veroverd, legde hij de grens in het oosten vast door en verdrag met de Parthnen, zond expedities naar de Nijl en de Sahara and trok hij militair op naar de Donau en de Elbe. Het is bekend dat hij adviseerde het rijk binnen deze grenzen te houden. Dit advies is door veel van zijn opvolgers in de wind geslagen, hoewel zij op minder successen konden bogen dan hij.

Der Mann, der am meisten für die Festlegung der Grenzen des römischen Staates getan hat, war der erste Kaiser, Augustus (27 v.-14 n. Chr.) Um die Zeitenwende schloss er die Eroberung der Alpen und Spaniens ab, bestimmte in einem Vertrag mit den Parthern die Ostgrenze, sandte Expeditionen auf den Nil und in die Sahara und brachte römische Heere and die Donau und die Elbe. Er ist berühmt für seinen letzten Rat, das Reich innerhalb der damaligen Grenzen zu halten; einen Rat, den viele seiner Nachfolger offenkundig ignorierten, obwohl ihre Leistungen viel geringer waren als seine.

This is a lovely wee book, produced by the team publicising the recent recognition by UNESCO of the Roman frontier on the lower Rhine as a World Heritage Site. It is lavishly illustrated with photos, charts and maps of the Roman Empire’s frontiers, not only of the lower Rhine but also from Hadrian’s Wall, the Sahara and everywhere in between. The text is in three languages, all impressively squeezed together to fit the photographs.

The authors make the points that the Roman frontier on the Lower Rhine stayed pretty much in the same place for the lifespan of the Empire, and that the soil and social conditions have allowed a lot of archaeological sites to remain in a good state of preservation. I picked up a hard copy of the book at the summer party held by the Brussels office of North Rhineland-Westphalia, which is in the same building as my own workplace, but you can download it for free here.

The one photo that particularly grabbed me was not from Germany or the Netherlands, but from England, the “Staffordshire Pan“, a copper bowl which appears to be a Roman-era souvenir of Hadrian’s Wall. It is decorated with mock Celtic motifs and has the names of the four westernmost forts on the Wall written below the rim, along with the name ‘Aelius Draco’, who might have been the maker or (I think more likely) the person for whom it was commissioned. Originally there would have been a handle, though it looks too beautiful to actually cook with. It was found in Staffordshire in 2003 and is now on display in Carlisle.

The Malignant Truth, by Si Spurrier et al

Second frame of third issue:

There’s a lot thrown in here: the Doctor, the new comics companions Alice and the Quire, Abslom Daak the Dalek hunter, River Song, the War Doctor, an unexpected incarnation of the Master, and a complex storyline told over the previous two volumes and concluded here. I didn’t think it was quite as good as the middle volume, but I came away satisfied anyway. You can get it here.

Godkiller, by Hannah Kaner

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Bread was a living thing: pleasant and true to itself. The warmth of the oven, open to release some heat, breathed on his cheeks, stirring the yeast-dusted air to life. It was the end of a brisk spring day, and his bakery in the western lowlands of Middren had made good coin.

One of the novels in the Astounding Award folder of this year’s Hugo packet. A secondary world fantasy with some interesting wrinkles – one of the protagonists has a prosthetic leg, another has a secret career as a baker. Gods and magic and stuff. It is enjoyable enough but I’m coming to the realisation that when I’m not really enjoying a fantasy like this, I should just put it aside. Anyway, you can get it here.

Tuesday reading

How to be Invisible: Lyrics, by Kate Bush
The Sol Majestic, by Ferrett Steinmetz

Last books finished
Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse (did not finish)
The Book Eaters, by Sunyi Dean
“Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”, by Mike Resnick
The Ultimate Treasure, by Christopher Bulis
Hallelujah: The Story of a Musical Genius & the City That Brought His Masterpiece, by Jonathan Bardon

Next books
The Waters of Mars, by Phil Ford
Comparing Democracies: Elections and Voting in Global Perspective, eds. Lawrence Leduc, Richard G. Niemi, Pippa Norris
Who Runs the World?, by Virginia Bergin

Family history expedition in Maryland

Tying up a different strand of my American ancestry, and taking advantage of a few days in Washington DC, I spent last Sunday exploring distant parts of Maryland which I have never been to before. I got to the car rental office bright and early, only to find that it did not open until 9; and when I came back at 9, I was at the back of a long queue, and did not manage to get on the road until 10. It was a sweltering hot day with the exception of a rainstorm in Annapolis.

Loch Raven

My first stop was the reservoir of Loch Raven north of Baltimore. My interest had been sparked by this advertisement in the Federal Gazette and Baltimore Daily Advertiser for 18 December 1807.

Mrs Catherine Belt (1764-1830) was my 4x great-grandmother, my grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother. The advertisement was placed by her son Richard Grafton Belt (1784-1865), who seems to have left an ambiguous genetic legacy. Richard Key Heath was clearly a close family friend, because his sister married Richard Grafton Belt’s brother six years later, in 1813, and his niece married Richard Grafton Belt himself in 1831. Catherine Belt, nee Dulany, has many descendants, and her great-granddaughter, also named Catherine Dulany Belt (1851-1923) broke the news of my great-grandmother’s death to my grandmother in 1905.

I put some effort into trying to find the location of the older Catherine Belt’s Epping estate, and worked out that a) it was one of three estates carved out for the three daughters of Walter Dulany, Rebecca, Catherine and Mary, after they managed to partially reverse the confiscation of his lands for being on the wrong side of the War of Independence; and b) Epping is now mostly under the Loch Raven reservoir, north of Baltimore. This brought me into correspondence with Ann Blouse of the Historical Society of Baltimore County, and she shared with me her research on what had happened to the lands. Most thrilling for me, she is certain that Catherine ended up buried on the land owned by her sister Mary Dulany Fitzhugh. And she and the current land-owners kindly consented for me to visit the estate on Sunday.

Our rendezvous was a bit late because of the aforementioned issues with the rental car, but we co-ordinated successfully in the end, and fought through undergrowth to find the family burying ground behind the site of the Fitzhugh House (replaced in the 1920s by a much more modern building).

Catherine Dulany is not named on any of the surviving stones, but her sister Mary is; and I’d like to believe Ann Blouse’s theory that the family found a last resting place for her with her relatives.

It was a sweltering hot day, but I felt very glad to find fellow enthusiasts.

The cousins

I was intrigued to learn that there is still a portrait of the older Catherine Belt in existence.

It turns out that it is still in the possession of her descendants, and I had some good-natured correspondence with several of my fifth cousins, who like me are her 4x great-grandchildren. One of them, L, came to meet me after my trip to the burying ground and we went for lunch at MacDonald’s. I must say that (as sometimes happens in these cases) I felt an instant shock of recognition on seeing her, as if my father’s and grandmother’s features had been melded and changed, but were still recognisable. We stupidly failed to take a photograph together, but L later sent me a shot of herself with three of her siblings (she is front left). Judge for yourself; but I do feel that there is a family look to the cousins, and perhaps also a detectable resemblance to Catherine Belt, two centuries ago.

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum

Since I was in Baltimore I thought I would try and visit the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. It was open, but you have to book in advance and it was all booked up. So much for that. On a day when I was not doing anything much else, I would have looked into walking around Fort McHenry, but did not really have time.

St Anne’s Church, Annapolis

Catherine Belt’s grandfather, therefore my 6x great grandfather was Daniel Dulany the Elder (1685-1753), who was born near Castletown in Co Laois, emigrated to Maryland as a teenager, and made his way up from being an indentured youth to become a prominent lawyer and politician. He married three times, but is buried with his second wife, Rebecca Smith (1696-1737), in Annapolis, in the grounds of St Anne’s Church (which has been demolished and rebuilt twice since then).

I hit Annapolis in the middle of a torrential rain storm, and parked for a few minutes across the road from a mural celebrating Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Marshall was from Baltimore, but I am not aware of any local connections of RBG.

Once the rain was definitely over, I circled the church several times and eventually realised that the largest of the monuments outside it was the one I was looking for. (A kind passer-by helped the photography.)

Here lies the remains of Rebecca, late wife of Daniel Dulany of Annapolis, Esquire and Fourth Daughter of Colonel Walter Smith, she Faithfully and Diligently discharged her Duty in all Relations of a Daughter a Wife a Mother a Friend and she was Virtuous and Charitable without Affection She lived an Unblemished life and died Universally Lamented the 18 of March 1737.
Here lies also the remains of The Honourable Daniel Dulany Esquire Commissary General of the Province one of his Lordships Council of State and Recorder of this city who died 5 December 1753 in the LXVIII of his age

There must have been many more monuments in the churchyard at one point. But I was glad that Rebecca and Daniel have been given a place of honour.

I took a brief walk around Annapolis after – a pleasant seaside town. Another of Walter Dulany’s properties is now the U.S. Naval Academy.

Christ Church, Chaptico

Compared to Connecticut, very few of my ancestors’ graves can be identified in Maryland, and in fact Daniel and Rebecca are the only ones whose name is on their tombstone. But following a different line, I had identified the resting place of Philip Key (1697-1764) and his wife Susanna Barton Gardner (1705-1742), way off to the south in Chaptico, a small town on the Potomac estuary. They were my 7x great grandparents. Philip migrated from England, and Susanna was the daughter of immigrants. They were closely involved with funding and building Christ Church, whose bell tower is twentieth century, but the rest is as Philip and Susanna would have known it when it was finished in 1736.

Philip specified in his will that he wanted Susanna’s coffin to be laid on top of his own in the Key vault, which is at the back of the church. Reputedly, six generations of Keys rest there. There is no inscription, just a coat of arms.

The church, the graveyard and the Key vault were horribly desecrated by British troops in July 1814, during the inaccurately named War of 1812. In August, the British briefly occupied Washington and burned the White House. In September, Philip Key’s great-grandson, watching the attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore, wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner”. I wonder if he was also aware of the violence that had been done to his dead relatives, 120 km to the south?

Charging the electric car

As was the case in December, my rental car was an electric vehicle, and was only 20% charged when I picked it up. By the time I got to Baltimore it was almost depleted, and I had to find a place to charge it before my unsuccessful attempt to visit the Edgar Allan Poe museum. It would have taken half an hour to fully charge and I would have been fine for the rest of the day; but I was in a hurry, and inevitably found that I needed another top-up on the way from Annapolis to Chaptico. (And I found a charging station in Upper Marlboro.) It is a somewhat different rhythm of driving than I am used to, but one can adapt, and at least the car had a fully informative display telling me how much battery charge I could expect to have remaining at my next destination, and where I could charge it en route.

The Combined Election (Northern Ireland, 2001)

Second paragraph of Chapter 3:

A total of 926 respondents completed and returned the presiding officer questionnaire in the pre-paid envelope provided. This represented a response rate of 77%.

I picked this up remaindered in a Belfast bookshop, with hopes from the title: The Combined Election: an analysis of the combined Parliamentary and District Council elections in Northern Ireland on 7th June 2001, by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. I had expected some statistical and in depth analysis of the actual election results – the Westminster and local government elections were held simultaneously that year, with two different electoral systems, Westminster using the primitive first-past-the-post system and the Northern Irish local councils elected by Single Transferable Vote.

In fact the book is not an analysis of the election results, but of a survey carried out among the general public, polling staff and polling station presiding officers, basically asking what went right, what went wrong and how things could be done better in future. The conclusions are that there are things that could be done better and things that don’t need to be changed. I have to say it was not as exciting as I had hoped! It’s well out of print, so you can’t get it unless you look very hard.

This was the shortest unread book acquired in 2018 on my shelves. Next on that pile is How to be Invisible: Lyrics, by Kate Bush.

The best known books set in each country: Ethiopia

See here for methodology.

Cutting for StoneAbraham Verghese393,4339,625
Brideshead RevisitedEvelyn Waugh115,79812,706
What Is the WhatDave Eggers85,1576,838
InfidelAyaan Hirsi Ali90,4024,612
A Long Walk to WaterLinda Sue Park90,3253,872
The Covenant of WaterAbraham Verghese 183,2211,664
Say You’re One of ThemUwem Akpan16,0332,204
The Shadow of the SunRyszard Kapuściński15,1782,099

I may have to change my approach from here on. Up until now, I have been listing the top 8 books in each country which are tagged with that country’s name on Goodreads or LibraryThing. But it seems that the users of online catalogues don’t always check which book is set in which country. Brideshead Revisited is set in England. What is the What is about South Sudan. Infidel is about Somalia. A Long Walk to Water is also about South Sudan. The Covenant of Water is set in India. And Say You’re One of Them is a short story collection of which only one story is set in Ethiopia. So I think for future posts in this series I will not record disqualified books in the main table, but will note them in the commentary.

The two survivors are worthy. Cutting for Stone‘s protagonists identify as Indian, but spend most of their lives in Ethiopia. And The Shadow of the Sun is classic journalism.

The top book by an Ethiopian author set in Ethiopia is The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste.

Next up: Egypt. (And I should really have done Ethiopia a few weeks back – it has a larger population than Japan or the Philippines.)

Another DNA connection

Sometime you have the experience of staring at a jumble of shapes and then realising that they actually make a bird, or a rabbit, or a person. Genealogy research can be like that too.

When you get your DNA results, you get notified of clusters of people who share particular DNA fragments with you. I’ve chased down a number of these over the last few years, often finding to my frustration that the records run into the sand at just the moment where I could have worked out how they were related to me. For instance, there are two different groups of African Americans who share bits of my genetic heritage, and I have half a clue how one of those groups may be related to me, but no clue at all about the other.

I did manage to resolve one such cluster of contacts recently, to my own satisfaction. There are a bunch of Ancestry users who are related to each other, and to me, and they are all descended from a Canadian couple, Patrick Morrissey, born on Prince Edward Island in 1856, died in Nova Scotia 1930, and Annie Flynn, born in 1865 and died in 1920, both on Prince Edward Island. The DNA links are sufficiently close that one of Patrick or Annie must be the first cousin of one of my grandparents.

As it happens, I knew that one of my grandparents had an uncle who was stationed in Canada as an Irish element of the British garrison there from 1858 to 1870. This is too late for him to be Patrick’s father, but exactly right for Annie. He married in 1863, moved back to Ireland in 1870, had two children with his first wife there and three more by his second wife after his first wife died. I am in touch with his Irish-line descendants. I have no documentary evidence placing him on Prince Edward Island; he seems to have spent most of his time in Ontario.

Annie Flynn’s mother, Johanna Pendergast, married James Flynn in 1862. She was 23; he was 37. They had four children, all of whom were recorded of course as being the children of Johanna and James. But it looks very likely that Annie at least was not James Flynn’s biological child, but the result of a liaison between Johanna and my great-great-uncle. Her grandchildren score matching DNA with me at the third cousin level, suggesting that we have common great-great-grandparents, which would fit the hypothesis. And most crucially, I cannot place any of my other great-grandparents’ many siblings in Canada at any point in their lives, let alone in 1864.

When Annie Flynn was born in June 1865, her mother, Johanna (born in 1840), had been married to James Flynn since October 1862, and her likely father (born in 1839) to his first wife since November 1863. We’ll never know how two relatively recently married people in their mid twenties came together in the autumn of 1865 and produced Annie. Perhaps he was visiting Charlottetown from Ontario as part of his army duties; we don’t know if it was romantic, transactional, or something else. But thanks to the DNA that I share with Annie’s descendants, we can be pretty certain that it did happen. You will have to use your imagination for the rest.

The Virgin in the Garden, by A.S. Byatt

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Outside this trim anonymity was a piece of wasteland, once an Officers’ Training Camp, where there was a semi-circle of battered Nissen huts on splitting tarmac; through long cracks in the surface willowherb and groundsel poked weak, tenacious stems. There was no flagpole in the concrete slot: no cars in the designated car park: the place appeared, not recently, to have undergone a successful siege. The huts let out, through dangling doors, a strong smell of stale urine. In one, a long row of basins and urinals had been deliberately shattered and fouled. The regulars, Alexander saw, were there. A circle of grubby boys lifted their heads from the cupped glow of matches as he passed. In a doorway a gaggle of girls whispered and shrilled, leaning together, arm in arm. The largest, skinny and provocative, thirteen maybe, stared boldly. She wore a drooping flowered dress in artificial silk, and a startling red latticed snood. A cigarette stub glowed and faded in one corner of her pointed mouth. Alexander made a rushed and incompetent gesture of salutation. He imagined they knew very well why he, why anyone, went there.

I see a lot of online reviews complaining that this book is dense and incomprehensible. I loved it actually. It’s the story of Frederica Potter, turning 18 in the summer of 1953, and her crazy academic family and the English town where they live. A lot of it is about a pageant celebrating the life of Elizabeth I, with the coronation of Elizabeth II running in the background. A lot of it is about sex and love. There are some vivid set-pieces, and some well observed bits of humanity. I found Frederica’s father, dominant in his own family until his children grow up and away from him, a particularly interesting character.

This is the first of four books in a sequence, and I read and really didn’t enjoy the fourth Babel Tower, when I was living in Bosnia in 1997. I wonder if it would have made more sense if I had read the previous three? I’m certainly willing to give it a try.

You can get The Virgin in the Garden here.

This was my top unread book by a woman. Next on that pile is The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones.

The Myth Makers, by Ian Z. Potter (and Donald Cotton)

When I first listened to the audio of this lost story, with linking dialogue read by Peter Purves, in 2007, I wrote:

The Myth Makers was the four-part story between the single-episode, Doctor-less Mission to the Unknown and the twelve-part epic The Daleks’ Master Plan, bringing the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki to ancient Troy. Vicki here becomes the second regular to be written out after developing a love interest; the Doctor is mistaken for Zeus and helps Odysseus construct the wooden horse, though is somewhat obsessed with its fetlocks “no safety margin at all… if only you would have allowed me another day to fit shock absorbers!”

I liked the creative reinterpretation of the characters from the Greek legend. Priam takes a shine to Vicki, renames her Cressida and won’t hear a word against her. Both Paris and Menelaus are incompetent, the former a coward and the latter drunk, making one wonder what Helen ever saw in either of them. (Menelaus: “I was heartily glad to see the back of her!” Paris: “I think this whole business has been carried just a little bit too far. I mean, that Helen thing was just a misunderstanding.”) Helen herself never appears in person, the BBC beauty budget presumably not reaching that far. The interpretation of the story that will always remain with me, I think, is Roger Lancelyn Green’s The Luck of Troy, but this will do as an sfnal version.

As with all the “lost” stories, one never knows what one missed, though I can make a couple of guesses – Frances White (Julia in I CLAVDIVS) as Cassandra, or Vicki in her dress. But Peter Purves’ narration is, as ever, great, even though of the three regular characters his has the least to do. We end with a real acceleration of pace towards the next story; Vicki and the Doctor say their goodbyes off-screen, while Cassandra’s handmaiden Katarina accompanies a wounded Steven aboard the Tardis as a new (but very short-lived) companion.

When I came back to it for my Great Rewatch in 2010, I watched the Loose Cannon reconstruction and wrote:

The first three episodes of The Myth Makers are tremendous fun, rather in the spirit of Carry On Cleo which came out a few months earlier. The switch to epic drama and tragedy in the last episode is rather effective and sets the tone for the next story better than I had remembered. Donald Cotton presumes that the audience will have sufficient familiarity with the Trojan legends to appreciate the paradox of the various heroes being vain, cowardly, stupid, greedy or alcoholic.

I wonder also if he deliberately reversed the events of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, where Cressida leaves Troilus for Diomede rather than the other way round. I know that the received wisdom is against me on this, but mention two further, admittedly weak, hints at a deberate reversal: Vicki arrives in Troy while Shakespeare’s Cressida leaves the city; and Hector is killed at the end of the Shakespeare play but the beginning of the Who story. Also, though this may not count, Troilus kills Achilles here, whereas Shakespeare has Achilles triumphant and alive at the end.

The lore is that Hartnell was in bad form while this was being made, but he seems to me to greatly enjoy his banter with Ivor Salter as Odysseus. Mind you, I felt a bit sad when I realised that John Wiles’ name had replaced Verity Lambert’s in the credits, and I am sure Hartnell must have started wondering how much longer he would last as the sole survivor of the original cast and crew. (Another year, as it turned out.)

Watching the reconstruction again, the striking thing is how little the Doctor and companions do; Vicki and Stephen spend most of the story imprisoned, and the Doctor just does the horse (though admittedly that’s a big part of the plot). I did like the dynamics among the Trojan ruling family. Barrie Ingham, who plays Paris, had also just played Alydon in the first Peter Cushing film, Dr Who and the Daleks. You can find the recon online, and get the Purves narration here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Donald Cotton’s novelisation of his own script, written twenty years after it was broadcast, is:

Mind you, we Greeks are constantly expecting the materialisation of some god or other, agog to intervene in human affairs. Well, no – to be honest – not really expecting. Put it this way, our religious education has prepared us to accept it, should it occur. But that is by no means to say we anticipate it as a common phenomenon. It’s the sort of thing that happens to other people, perhaps; but hardly before one’s own eyes in the middle of everyday affairs, such as the present formalistic blood-letting. Certainly not. No – but, as I say, the church has warned us of the possibility, however remote.

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

Once again, Cotton produces a memorable Who novel through a first person narrative: this time he has the poet Homer telling the story of how he witnessed the Doctor and friends interfering with the outcome of the siege of Troy. Homer didn’t appear at all in the story as broadcast (though Cotton has him absorb the silent role of the Cyclops played by Tutte Lemkow); constricting the whole narrative to a single viewpoint character does create some difficulties in telling the story, but basically it is a really good story anyway, and while it’s not Cotton at the utter peak of his form, it is surely one of the top ten novelisations. Cotton has taken the opportunity to restore as chapter titles some of the punning episode titles scrapped by the production team (eg “Doctor in the Horse”).

Coming back to it now, I still very much enjoyed it, including the anachronistic asides, especially as I have read a few more novels loosely based on the period, and also recently read the Wilson translation of the Odyssey. You can get it here.

Before I get onto Ian Potter’s Black Archive, which (spoiler) is one of the best in the series, I have been doing a little research myself into the BBC’s previous treatments of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. The first broadcast version was on the National [radio] Programme in 1935, and a couple of names leap out, most notably that Menelaus was played by Francis De Wolff, who would play Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon on Doctor Who thirty years later. It was an early break for Jack Hawkins and Anthony Quayle as well.

Francis De Wolff was in another radio production on the Third Programme in 1946, this time playing Ajax, and here Pandarus was played by Max Adrian, who of course was Priam in Doctor Who. Other Whovian names that jumped out at me were Valentine Dyall as Hector, Leonard Sachs as Paris and Laurence Payne as Troilus. Cresside was played by Belle Chrystall.

Belle Chrystall and Valentine Dyall returned in the same roles for a 1952 Third Programme production, in which Troilus was played by Marius Goring. Grizelda Hervey, who had been Helen in 1946, was Cassandra this time.

The first TV version in 1954 featured Donald Eccles as Priam, eighteen years before he played the High priest of Atlantis on Doctor Who. John Fraser was Troilus, Geoffrey Toone was Achilles, and Timothy Bateson and James Culliford also had small parts.

Familiar names again in a Third Programme production in 1959, with Francis de Wolff returning as Ajax and Valentine Dyall as Hector; Achilles is Trevor Martin, who much later played the Doctor on stage.

Another Third Programme production in 1964 is very star heavy – no crossover with The Myth Makers this time, but many actors who went on to star in Who, with Michael Kilgarriff doing the prologue and Margarelon, Julian Glover playing Hector, Stephen Thorne as Aeneas, Cyril Cusack as Pandarus, Maurice Denham as Ulysses and Peter Pratt as Ajax.

A televised National Youth Theatre production in 1966, a year after The Myth Makers, featured a young Timothy Dalton as Diomedes and also Derek Seaton, later to play Hilred in The Deadly Assassin, as Ulysses. The director was Bernard Hepton who went on to star in Secret Army.

Most entertaining of all, The Listener‘s review of a Radio 3 production in 1980 tells us that “Maureen O’Brien beautifully played Cressida as a squeaky sex kitten – a wanton from the start, with come-hitherish inflections.” Other familiar names include Gabriel Woolf as Agamemnon, Sheila Grant as Cassandra and Terence Hardiman as Hector.

The following year the BBC Television Shakespeare has less crossover with Doctor Who, with Vernon Dobtcheff as Agamemnon the only name I spotted. I thought it was interesting.

The only production since then is a 2005 Radio 3 version, where the only Who-related name I spotted was Toby Jones as Thersites.

In the 47 years between 1935 and 1981 there were seven BBC radio productions and two on TV of Troilus and Cressida, not to mention several productions of William Walton’s opera which I have not listed above. In the 43 years since 1981, there has been just one.

There are two points that occur to me from this. One is that obviously expectations of how much Shakespeare you should expect to get on the BBC have shifted quite a lot since 1965. The other is that viewers of The Myth Makers when it was broadcast would have had a much better background knowledge of the Troilus and Cressida story than most viewers today.

Ian Potter’s Black Archive monograph is unashamedly longer than usual, but (spoiler) one of the best Black Archives I’ve read recently. He begins with a short note on the spelling of character names, and then a prologue explaining the good and bad points of the story (highlights – Good: it’s funny; Bad: it screws up Vicki’s departure).

The very brief first chapter, “Foundational Myths”, briefly surveys the limited archaeological evidence for Troy, a metaphor (this is not stated) for the limited evidence we have about the lost Doctor Who story.

The second chapter, “Source Texts”, looks at the Iliad and Troilus and Cressida, and frames an argument for how and why The Myth Makers differs from both.

The third chapter, “The Engaging Mr Cotton”, looks in great detail at the life and career of Donald Cotton, who wrote The Myth Makers. He wrote a lot for stage, and had written several previous treatments of Greek myth. He had a complex love life as well. (The only mistake I’ve spotted by Potter is in the name of Cotton’s protégée towards the end of his career – it was Tamsin Hickling, not Tamsin Wickling.) Its third paragraph is:

Donald Henry Cotton was born near3 Nottingham on 26 April 1928, the son of Professor Harry Cotton, the distinguished and respected head of Electrical Engineering at Nottingham University and a mother described by Cotton’s wife Hilary Wright as `neurotic and over possessive’4. According to Wright, Cotton’s father, while a popular and gregarious figure, was stand-offish with his son, and the boy seems to have grown up a solitary, guarded child. Cotton went to the local Southwell Minster Grammar School, a school which, having historically trained boy choristers, retained a strong music tradition. Reading his school’s annual magazine, Cotton seems to have made no special impact during his time there, unlike his father, who as the school’s governor regularly appears in its pages.
3 According to Cotton’s 1969 biography in the programme of My Dear Gilbert at the Worthing Connaught Theatre. His father’s address is given as Mapperley Street in Nottingham in the mid-193os, but local press places him in Gunthorpe, a small village near Nottingham, in 1952, so this may well be where Cotton grew up.
4 Testro, Lucas, ‘Man Out of Time’, DWM #58i, p25. More detail on Professor Cotton’s career can be found in Crewe, ME, ‘The Met Office Grows Up: In War and Peace’.

The fourth chapter “The Unravelling Texts”, is one of the longest I’ve seen in any Black Archive. Potter takes the extant versions of the script and traces its development from Cotton’s original hand-written notes to camera script and screen. This can be done badly or well, and here it is done very well. The most interesting conclusion (of many interesting points) is that Donald Tosh, the script editor, rewrote most of the fourth episode to take account of Vicki’s departure and the installation of Katarina as the new companion.

The fifth chapter, “What Did It Look Like?”, considers the limited evidence available, and also the reputation of director Michael Leeston-Smith, concluding that the horse itself must have been a fine thing.

The sixth chapter, “The Many Wiles”, is also long by Black Archive standards, and examines in detail the career of Doctor Who’s second producer after Verity Lambert, John Wiles. I have often given my view that the Wiles period showed a road not taken, a grittier show where companions might die and comedy mixed with tragedy, not so very different from New Who in fact. Wiles was South African, left in protest at apartheid, crashed out of his first big TV job (Doctor Who), and continued a career as a minor theatre writer and novelist. Potter has gone deeply into Wiles’ body of work, and emerged with a fascinating picture of the man, which would have been worth the cover price of this Black Archive on its own. In particular, he addresses Wiles’ attitude to racism (where he finds little case to answer) and underage sex (where the evidence is more troubling). But the crucial point is that Wiles mishandled the writing out of Maureen O’Brien and lost the confidence of William Hartnell, who was then able to get him fired (though he seems to have jumped before he was pushed).

An epilogue apologises (quite unnecessarily in my view) for the length of the book.

As I said up front, this is a standout in the usually very good Black Archive series, and you can get it here.

Next: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, by Dale Smith (and Stephen Wyatt).

Glimmer of Hope, Glimmer of Flame, by Ag Apolloni

Third paragraph (there are no separate sections in this 169 page book):

The works are lost, but the author remains. The most wonderful and the most woeful, tragediographic and tragic.

(English translateion by Robert Wilton)

I got this last month when the author launched it at a Kosovo Embassy event in Brussels, a short novel that was declared Kosovo’s Novel of the Year in 2020. It’s a quick but tough read, written in something of a stream-of-consciousness style, linking the stories of two women who lost most of their families in the 1999 conflict with the ancient Greek myths, most notably the story of Niobe as told in the lost play by Aeschylus (and Lemonnier’s 1772 vision of that story graces the front cover). The descriptions of the violence done to civilians by Serbian police and paramilitaries are visceral and vivid, and unapologetically (and rightly) one-sided. It takes a bit of patience to follow the twists between the interlinked stories, but I felt that my patience was rewarded. You can get it here.

Tuesday reading

Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse
The Book Eaters, by Sunyi Dean
Hallelujah: The Story of a Musical Genius & the City That Brought His Masterpiece, by Jonathan Bardon
The Ultimate Treasure, by Christopher Bulis

Last books finished
The Combined 2001 Election, by NISRA
Godkiller, by Hannah Kaner
The Malignant Earth, by Si Spurrier et al
Frontiers of the Roman Empire: The Lower German Limes, by David J. Breeze, Sonja Jill, Erik P. Graafstal, Willem J.H. Willems and Steve Bödecker

Next books
The Waters of Mars, by Phil Ford
How to be Invisible: Lyrics, by Kate Bush
“Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”, by Mike Resnick

Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood, by Keith Temple

When Planet of the Ood was first broadcast in 2008, I wrote:

Russell T Davies was 15 months old when the first episode of The Sensorites was broadcast in June 1964, but it obviously made a deep impression on him – we had two explicit references to Susan’s description of her and the Doctor’s home planet last season, and now we have it confirmed that the Ood are close neighbours to the Sense-Sphere. I think The Sensorites is positively the worst First Doctor story, so to me it is a slightly weird choice, but I’m aware that this is not a universal view.

[My brother] pointed out at the time that evolving to the stage where you have to carry part of your own brain around in your hand doesn’t seem terribly viable. But that apart, I thought that the music was great, the parable about slavery and society decent enough, and Tim McInerny’s performance (and also Ayesha Dharker’s) really excellent.

I rewatched it prior to tackling the recently published novelisation, and I didn’t like it quite as much as the first time. The heavily armed guards seem to have considerable difficulty in hitting the unarmed Ood, and the company’s OpSec in general is pretty poor. But the chemistry between the various actors is good, and of course now we know that there is foreshadowing of the Tenth Doctor’s approaching end.

I noted that one of the reps is played by Tariq Jordan, the brother of Yasmin Paige of the Sarah Jane Adventures.

It seems to me an odd choice of episode to put into book form, given the wide range of available choices, but I guess that when it was published a year ago the BBC were going back to the Ten/Donna pairing in anticipation of the Fourteenth Doctor stories.

The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

A powerful, cutting wind whipped and howled around her, and her lungs hurt every time she inhaled. It was so cold. And it was snowing. Giant icy flakes settled on her cheeks and eyes, burning her skin with their sharp coldness. She wrapped her arms around herself and stomped her feet to stay warm.

It’s a perfectly serviceable novelisation, stretching the story a little bit and giving a bit more depth to the characters and even bringing in a new one (a senior rep). If you liked the TV story you’ll like this, and if you were not so keen on it, it won’t change your feelings. You can get it here.

I’m working through the new novelisations as they come to my attention; looking forward to the ones to be published this summer, but otherwise the next will be The Waters of Mars, by Phil Ford.

The best known books set in each country: The Philippines

See here for methodology.

CryptonomiconNeal Stephenson 112,82917,036
Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue MissionHampton Sides36,9682,735
Arsenic and AdoboMia P. Manansala68,089876
The FarmJoanne Ramos38,712759
American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964William Manchester13,6211,810
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United StatesDaniel Immerwahr14,7821,147
Avenue of MysteriesJohn Irving13,5581,173
TrashAndy Mulligan13,9911,043

So, the top book most often tagged “Philippines” on Goodreads is Neal Stephenson’s epic Cryptonomicon. I am of course disqualifying it as considerably less than half of the 900+ pages are set in the country, though it does play a crucial role in the narrative.

More than any other country so far, the USA’s historical involvement with the Philippines dominates this list, with the top LibraryThing book with the Philippines tag being a historical account of a military operation during the second world war, a successful American raid on a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Arsenic and Adobo appears to be set entirely in Chicago, and The Farm in upstate New York, so neither qualifies. I’m disqualifying American Caesar and How to Hide an Empire for the same reason as Cryptonomicon, that less than half of either book deals with the Philippines, though the country is crucial to both narratives. Likewise Avenue of Mysteries, which at least goes to the Philippines, though for less than half of the book.

I’m stretching a point and allowing Trash by Andy Mulligan, because although the setting is not specified, most reviewers seem to think that it is Manila.

The top book set in the Philippines by a Filipino writer is Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal, which ranked only 13th on my list, behind many stories of expat Filipinos and in-country white saviours.

Well, that was a bit depressing. Next up is Ethiopia (actually I should probably have done it two countries ago, before Japan).

Best Novelette Hugo 2024

“Ivy, Angelica, Bay” by C. L. Polk

Second paragraph of third section:

“Jael Brown.”

“The Year Without Sunshine” by Naomi Kritzer

Second paragraph of third section:

“Maybe someone in the suburbs has an electric tiller they’d trade,”
Lem said. We’d started tearing up yards with spades, and it was slow
going, although at least we weren’t putting buried utility lines at risk.

I AM AI by Ai Jiang

Second paragraph of third section:

Atop the entrance of the café are the flickering neon aqua letters of Mao Tou Ying and the wired image of an orange owl sitting on top of “Tou” as though perched on a tree, the wavering colour making it seem like it’s on fire. Sometimes only the “Ying” is lit, and without the tonal accent, no one can tell whether it is the “ying” in owl or the “ying” in shadow. Ironically, both fit the establishment.荧光绿色的“Mao Tou Ying”在咖啡店入口上方闪烁,一只紧张不安的橙色猫头鹰踩着“Tou”,仿佛栖息在树上,摇曳的色彩令它看似在燃烧。有时候只有“Ying”被点亮,没有声调,没人能区分它表示猫头鹰的鹰还是阴影的影。讽刺的是,二者都挺适合这家店铺。

“Introduction to 2181 Overture, Second Edition”, Gu Shi

Third paragraph of original Chinese text, with English translation by Emily Jin:

这次改变人类生死观和时间观的革命,只用了三十多年就完成了,现在想来真是令人觉得不可思议。其间当然会有种种议论的声音,反对者、甚至是以恐怖行径来威胁的人,亦为数不少。尤其是当冬眠技术不再是一个问题,其安全性也不再令人怀疑之后,反对的声浪却愈演愈烈,几乎上升到宗教和哲学的层面。当然如今回头去看,这些人不过是各说各话罢了,To be or not to be ,这是一个问题,却永远不会有统一的答案。本书最为可贵之处,就在于作者采用了中立、客观的立场,在对“冬眠”这一议题进行了长期追踪后,她找出那些最关键的、足以改变历史方向的人物,和最特殊的、让人深入思考的案例,再平和地向读者展示出来。It’s incredible that three mere decades were enough for the revolution that reshaped the human perception of life, death, and time. Just like every other revolution, the cryosleep revolution was a hotbed of controversies. Heated debates, opposing voices, terrorists that threatened to end the cryosleep project with violence . . . the war of values only became more heated when the reliability of cryosleep technology and relevant safety measures were no longer questioned by the public. Challengers took the discussion to the level of religion and philosophy. Of course, looking back, most of the debates were merely pundits babbling to their respective echo chamber. To be or not to be is a question impossible to elicit a uniform answer. Therefore, in my humble opinion, the greatest achievement of this book is that the author maintains an impartial stance. Industriously tracking the topic of cryosleep through a series of interviews conducted over an extended period; she pinpoints the most crucial figures who had altered the course of history and the most exceptional and thought-provoking case studies. Then, she delivers the information and her analysis to her readers with a voice
that’s objective and calm.

“On the Fox Roads” by Nghi Vo

Second paragraph of section III:

Driving one-handed, Jack skimmed out of his jacket and passed it back to me. I wrapped his jacket thick around my arm and knocked out the shards of glass from the frame, pushing them out onto the road behind us where they glittered briefly before they were lost to the darkness.

If Found Return to Hell / The Death I Gave Him, by Em X. Liu

Second paragraph of “Third Court” in If Found, Return to Hell:

Oh, absolutely,” Nathaniel says. She snaps one last photo of the talisman, then pulls out a small, glass orb.

Second paragraph of Chapter Three of The Death I Gave Him:

There had been a murder.

Two short pieces in the Hugo Packet by Astounding finalist Em X. Liu. If Found, Return to Hell is a tale of an intern in a wizardly call centre who gets sucked into one particular client’s problems; you can get it here. The Death I Gave Him is a retelling of Hamlet as a murder in a family-run technology company; you can get it here. I enjoyed them both.

The 2024 Westminster election in Northern Ireland

Scores on the doors

SF 210,891 (27.0%, +4.2%) 7 seats
DUP 172,058 (22.1%, -8.5%) 5 seats (-3)
Alliance 117,191 (15.0%, -1.8%) 1 seat
UUP 94,779 (12.2%, +0.5%) 1 seat
SDLP 86,861 (11.1%, -3.8%) 2 seats
TUV 48,685 (8.2%) 1 seat
Ind U 20,913 (2.7%) 1 seat
Green 8,692 (1.1%, +0.9%)
PBP 8,438 (1.1%, -0.1%)
Aontu 7,466 (1.0%, -0.2%)
CCLA 624 (0.1%)
Cons 553 (0.1%, -0.6%)
Inds 2,789 (0.4%)

This was a very good election for Sinn Fein, if without the breakthrough successes of previous years. They were comfortably the largest party, held all their seats with increased votes, and came close to pulling off an upset in East Londonderry.

This was a terrible election for the DUP, coming after the accusations against former leader Jeffrey Donaldson, but also after a confused approach to post-Brexit governance. They lost seats to Alliance, the UUP and the TUV.

This was not as good an election for Alliance as some had expected. They picked up Lagan Valley from the DUP, but lost North Down to independent Unionist Alex Easton, and also failed to make headway in East Belfast. Their vote share was slightly down.

This was a reassuring election for the UUP. Their vote share increased slightly but most importantly they regained South Antrim. There is a big difference between having no MPs, and having even just one.

This was not as good as it looks for the SDLP. They held their two seats with reduced majorities, but fell back badly elsewhere.

This was a good election for the TUV, who claimed the scalp of Ian Paisley in North Antrim. Their vote was solid in most constituencies, though usually not quite at the level to challenge for an Assembly seat.

This was a good election for Alex Easton, who having topped the poll in North Down at the last five Assembly elections now gets to represent the constituency at Westminster.

This was not much good for any of the others.

I list the seats below in order of marginality, and it’s extraordinary that East Londonderry is at the top of that list.

East Londonderry

Gregory Campbell (DUP) 11,506 (27.9%, -12.2%)
Kathleen McGurk (SF) 11,327 (27.4%, +12.0%)
Cara Hunter (SDLP) 5,260 (12.7%, -3.7%)
Allister Kyle (TUV) 4,363 (10.6%)
Richard Stewart (Alliance) 3,734 (9.1%, -5.5%)
Glen Miller (UUP) 3,412 (8.3%, -0.9%)
Gemma Brolly (Aontú) 1,043 (2.5%)
Jen McCahon (Green) 445 (1.1%)
Claire Scull (Con) 187 (0.5%)

DUP majority 179

Electorate 75,707; total vote 41,430 (54.7%); valid vote 41,277; invalid 153 (0.3%)

An unexpected squeaker for the DUP, who held their seat by 179 votes, the tightest majority in Northern Ireland. 

If cast in a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would get the DUP two seats and probably SF two and the SDLP one, though there might be a third Unionist seat in there somewhere.

North Antrim

Jim Allister (TUV) 11,642 (28.3%)
Ian Paisley (DUP) 11,192 (27.2%, -23.7%)
Philip McGuigan (SF) 7,714 (18.7%, +7.4%)
Sian Mulholland (Alliance) 4,488 (10.9%, -3.4%)
Jackson Minford (UUP) 3,901 (9.5%, -7.5%)
Helen Maher (SDLP) 1,661 (4.0%, -1.9%)
Ráichéal Mhic Niocaill (Aontú) 451 (1.1%)
Tristan Morrow (Ind) 136 (0.3%)

Electorate 74,697; total vote 41,361 (55.4%); valid vote 41,185; invalid 176 (0.4%)

East Antrim

Sammy Wilson (DUP) 11,462 (28.9%, -13.0%)
Danny Donnelly (Alliance) 10,156 (25.6%, -0.4%)
John Stewart (UUP) 9,476 (23.9%, +7.3%)
Matthew Warwick (TUV) 4,135 (10.4%)
Oliver McMullan (SF) 2,986 (7.5%, -0.2%)
Margaret McKillop (SDLP) 892 (2.3%, -1.3%)
Mark Bailey (Green) 568 (1.4%, -0.3%)

Electorate 72,917; total vote 42,890 (58.8%); valid vote 42,706; invalid 184 (0.4%)

A narrow squeak for the DUP, one of several in previously safe seats. The top three candidates were within 2,000 votes of each other.

In a five seat STV election, these votes would probably give the DUP and Alliance two seats each, and the UUP one, which was in fact the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

East Belfast

Gavin Robinson (DUP) 19,894 (46.6%, -1.3%)
Naomi Long (Alliance) 17,218 (40.3%, -1.8%)
John Ross (TUV) 1,918 (4.5%)
Ryan Warren (UUP) 1,818 (4.3%, -1.5%)
Brian Smyth (Green) 1,077 (2.5%)
Séamas de Faoite (SDLP) 619 (1.5%, -2.8%)
Ryan North (Ind) 162 (0.4%)

Electorate: 72,917; total vote 42,890 (58.8%); valid vote 42,706; invalid 184 (0.4%)

After much speculation, in the end the result was similar to 2019 with both leading candidates slipping a bit.

In a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would give the DUP three seats and Alliance two.

Lagan Valley

Sorcha-Lucy Eastwood (Alliance) 18,618 (37.9%, +10.9%)
Jonathan Buckley (DUP) 15,659 (31.9% -11.5%)
Robbie Butler (UUP) 11,157 (22.7%, +4.2%)
Lorna Smyth (TUV) 2,186 (4.5%)
Simon Lee (SDLP) 1,028 (2.1%, -2%)
Patricia Denvir (Green) 433 (0.9%)

Total vote 49,243 (59.9%); total valid vote 49,081; invalid 162 (0.3%)

An exceptional result for the Alliance Party, in the wake of Jeffrey Donaldson and his wife facing criminal charges of historical sex abuse.


Colum Eastwood (SDLP) 15,647 (40.8%, -17.5%)
Sandra Duffy (SF) 11,481 (29.9%, +8.8%)
Gary Middleton (DUP) 3,915 (10.2%, +1.5%)
Shaun Harkin (PBP) 2,444 (6.4%)
Anne McCloskey (Ind) 1,519 (4.0%)
Janice Montgomery (UUP) 1,422 (3.7%, +1.7%)
Rachael Ferguson (Alliance) 1,268 (3.3%, +0.6%)
John Boyle (Aontú) 662 (1.7%)

Electorate: 73,496; total vote 38,765 (52.7%); valid vote 38,358; invalid 407 (1%)

The SDLP slipped back significantly from their impressive 2019 result, but are still safe. Incidentally this had the highest proportion of spoiled votes in Northern Ireland.

If cast in an Assembly election, these votes would probably get the SDLP and SF two seats each, and the DUP one, which was also the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Pat Cullen (SF) 24,844 (48.6%, +6.1%)
Diana Armstrong (UUP) 20,273 (39.7%, -1.9%)
Eddie Roofe (Alliance) 2,420 (4.7%, -0.6%)
Paul Blake (SDLP) 2,386 (4.7%, -2.5%)
Gerry Cullen (CCLA) 624 (1.2%)
Carl Duffy (Aontú) 529 (1.0%)

Electorate 77,828; total vote 51,340 (66.0%), valid vote 51,076; invalid 264 (0.5%)

Much excited chatter on election night suggested that SF might be in trouble, but in the end (as with all of their seats) they consolidated their position.

If cast in a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would give SF three seats and the UUP two.


Jim Shannon (DUP) 15,559 (40.0%, -0.5%)
Michelle Guy (Alliance) 10,428 (26.8%, +0.6%)
Richard Smart (UUP) 3,941 (10.1%, +0.9%)
Ron McDowell (TUV) 3,143 (8.1%)
Noel Sands (SF) 2,793 (7.2%, -0.4%)
Will Polland (SDLP) 1,783 (4.6%, -5.5%)
Alexandra Braidner (Green) 703 (1.8%)
Garreth Falls (Ind) 256 (0.7%)
Gareth Burns (Ind) 157 (0.4%)
Barry Hetherington (Con) 146 (0.4%, -3%)

Electorate 74,525; total vote 39,046 (52.4%); valid vote 38,909; invalid 137 (0.4%)

Early excited reports on election night were that the DUP might be in trouble here, but in fact the vote shares for the leading parties barely changed. But contra my expectations, it was the Unionist vote overall that increased here rather than the Nationalists.

In a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would give the DUP and Alliance two seats each, and the UUP one, which was also the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

North Belfast

John Finucane (SF) 17,674 (43.7%, -4.4%)
Phillip Brett (DUP) 12,062 (29.8%, -10.5%)
Nuala McAllister (Alliance) 4,274 (10.6%, nc)
David Clarke (TUV) 2,877 (7.1%)
Carl Whyte (SDLP) 1,413 (3.5%)
Mal O’Hara (Green) 1,206 (3.0%)
Fiona Ferguson (PBP) 946 (2.3%)

With more candidates in the mix, both of the leading parties lost vote share, but the DUP lost more.

In a five-seat Assembly election, this would give SF and the DUP two seats each and Alliance one, which was in fact the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

North Down

Alex Easton (Ind U) 20,913 (48.3%)
Stephen Farry (Alliance) 13,608 (31.4%, -13.4%)
Tim Collins (UUP) 6,754 (15.6%, +3.7%)
Barry McKee (Green) 1,247 (2.9%)
Déirdre Vaughan (SDLP) 657 (1.5%)
Chris Carter (Ind) 117 (0.3%)

Electorate: 73,885; total vote 43,464 (58.8%); valid vote 43,296; invalid 168 (0.4%)

Impressive performance by Alex Easton, who had topped the last five Assembly polls here, but this time running as an independent; he clearly took votes from Alliance as well as from other Unionists.

If these votes were cast in a five-seat Assembly election (which they wouldn’t be), Easton would win three of them and Alliance two.

Upper Bann

Carla Lockhart (DUP) 21,642 (45.7%, +4.9%)
Catherine Nelson (SF) 14,236 (30.1%, +5.4%)
Eoin Tennyson (Alliance) 6,322 (13.4%, +0.7%)
Kate Evans (UUP) 3,662 (7.7%, -4.7%)
Malachy Quinn (SDLP) 1,496 (3.2%, -6.2%)

47,595 total votes (58.6%), 47,358 valid, 237 invalid (0.5%)

Consolidation for the top two candidates doing a tactical squeeze on those lower down.

In a five-seat STV election, the DUP and SF should both win two, and Alliance one.

South Antrim

Robin Swann (UUP) 16,311 (38.0%, +9.0%)
Paul Girvan (DUP) 8,799 (20.5%, -15.7%)
Declan Kearney (SF) 8,034 (18.7%, +7.3%)
John Blair (Alliance) 4,574 (10.7%, -7.7%)
Mel Lucas (TUV) 2,693 (6.3%)
Roisin Lynch (SDLP) 1,589 (3.7%, -1.2%)
Lesley Veronica (Green) 541 (1.3%)
Siobhán McErlean (Aontú) 367 (0.9%)

Electorate 77,058; total vote 43,089 (55.9%); valid vote 42,908; invalid 181 (0.4%)

An impressive victory for the UUP, one of several seats where the DUP suffered unexpected reverses.

If cast in a five-seat Assembly election, the UUP would win two seats and the DUP, SF and Alliance one each.

South Down

Chris Hazzard (SF) 19,698 (43.5%, +12.7%)
Colin McGrath (SDLP) 10,418 (23.0%, -4.2%)
Diane Forsythe (DUP) 7,349 (16.2%, -1.9%)
Andrew McMurray (Alliance) 3,187 (7.0%, -6.8%)
Jim Wells (TUV) 1,893 (4.2%)
Michael O’Loan (UUP) 1,411 (3.1%, -4.6%)
Rosemary McGlone (Aontú) 797 (1.8%)
Declan Walsh (Green) 444 (1.0%)
Hannah Westropp (Con) 46 (0.1%)

Electorate 76,248; total vote 45,472 (59.6%); valid votes 45,243; invalid 229 (0.5%)

Some SDLP optimists thought that they had a chance here, but in fact SF increased their majority, as in all of the seats that they held.

In a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would probably get SF three seats and the SDLP and DUP one each.

South Belfast

Claire Hanna (SDLP) 21,345 (49.1%, -4.2%)
Kate Nicholl (Alliance) 8,839 (20.3%, +4.9%)
Tracy Kelly (DUP) 6,859 (15.8%, -9.6%)
Michael Henderson (UUP) 2,653 (6.1%, +2.5%)
Dan Boucher (TUV) 2,218 (5.1%)
Áine Groogan (Green) 1,577 (3.6%, +3.5%)

Electorate 74,749; turnout 43,757 (58.5%); valid votes 43,491; invalid 266 (0.6%)

SDLP vote down slightly but still a solid result.

In a five-seat Assembly election, this would give the SDLP three seats, and Alliance and the DUP one each.

Mid Ulster

Cathal Mallaghan (SF) 24,085 (53.0%, +7.3%)
Keith Buchanan (DUP) 9,162 (20.2%, -3.6%)
Denise Johnston (SDLP) 3,722 (8.2%, -5.7%)
Glenn Moore (TUV) 2,978 (6.6%)
Jay Basra (UUP) 2,269 (5.0%, -2.5%)
Padraic Farrell (Alliance) 2,001 (4.4%, -3.2%)
Alixandra Halliday (Aontú) 1,047 (2.3%)
John Kelly (Ind) 181 (0.4%)

Electorate 74,000; turnout 45,691 (61.7%)    45,445    246

Consolidation from SF (which was the story of the night in their seats generally).

In a five-seat Assembly election these votes would give SF three seats, the DUP one and probably the TUV one – Unionists are closer to a second quota than Nationalists.

Newry and Armagh

Dáire Hughes (SF) 22,299 (48.5%, +7.5%)
Pete Byrne (SDLP) 6,806 (14.8%, -4.6%)
Gareth Wilson (DUP) 5,900 (12.8%, -7.4%)
Keith Ratcliffe (TUV) 4,099 (8.9%)
Sam Nicholson (UUP) 3,175 (6.9%, -0.8%)
Helena Young (Alliance) 2,692 (5.9%, -2.5%)
Liam Reichenberg (Aontú) 888 (1.9%)
Samantha Rayner (Con) 83 (0.2%)

Electorate 78,244; total vote 46,236 (59.1%); valid vote 45,942; invalid 294 (0.6%)

A strong defence by SF, as in all of the seats that they held.

If cast in a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would give SF three seats and the SDLP and DUP one each; which was also the result of the 2022 Assembly election.

West Tyrone

Orfhlaith Begley (SF) 22,711 (52.0%, +11.9%)
Tom Buchanan (DUP) 6,794 (15.6%, -6.2%)
Daniel McCrossan (SDLP) 5,821 (13.3%, -5.1%)
Matthew Bell (UUP) 2,683  (6.1%, -0.4%)
Stevan Patterson (TUV) 2,530 (5.8%)
Stephen Donnelly (Alliance) 2,287 (5.2%, -4.3%)
Leza Houston (Aontú) 778 (1.8%)
Stephen Lynch (Con) 91 (0.2%)

Electorate 74,269; total vote 43,935 (59.2%); valid vote 43,695; invalid 240 (0.5%)

As usual in this election, a consolidation for SF in a strong area for them.

In a five-seat election, these votes would get SF three seats and the SDLP and DUP one each, which was also the result of the 2022 election.

West Belfast

Paul Maskey (SF) 21,009 (52.9%, +4.4%)
Gerry Carroll (PBP) 5,048 (12.7%, -1.4%)
Paul Doherty (SDLP) 4,318 (10.9%, +3.4%)
Frank McCoubrey (DUP) 4,304 (10.8%, -7.3%)
Ann McClure (TUV) 2,010 (5.1%)
Eoin Millar (Alliance) 1,077 (2.7%, -4.4%)
Gerard Herdman (Aontú) 904 (2.3%)
Ben Sharkey (UUP) 461 (1.2%, +0.3%)
Ash Jones (Green) 451 (1.1%)
Tony Mallon (Ind) 161 (0.4%)

Electorate 75,346; total vote 40,003 (53.1%); valid vote 39,743; invalid 260 (0.6%)

As with all of SF’s constituencies, a consolidation of an already strong position.

In a five-seat Assembly election, these votes would probably give SF three and PBP and the DUP one each.

Fear of the Dark, by Trevor Baxendale

Second paragraph of thrid chapter:

‘Ordinarily, no,’ agreed the Doctor. He regarded Nyssa with a look of consternation. ‘But in this case, I think it could be something rather extraordinary. Tell me about the dream again.’

Back at the start of the 2010s, I read through all of the New Adventures, Missing Adventures, Eighth Doctor Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures at the rate of two or three a month, and wrote them up here as I went – except that at the end of 2014 and the first part of 2015, I was so overwhelmed with Arthur C. Clarke Award reading and other things that I just never got around to blogging them. So I’m going back to the missing entries now, in order of internal chronology, and that means starting with this novel of the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa, set immediately after Arc of Infinity.

Trevor Baxendale is usually reliable as a Who writer (see in particular The Janus Conjunction and Prisoner of the Daleks), and I think this is one of his better books too. The TARDIS lands on a moon where the team encounters a crew of archaeologists (or are they?) and an ancient evil is unleashed from the depths. Lots of very creepy description and good characterisation, and a couple of welcome shout-outs to Old Who. A good start to this mini-project. You can get it here.

Next up: The Ultimate Treasure, by Christopher Bulis.

Linghun by Ai Jiang

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Why are there people on the lawns?” I ask.

A novella by one of this year’s Astounding finalists, which didn’t make its way into the Hugo packet but which I picked up on spec at the Lovecraft Arts and Sciences bookstore in Providence last December. It’s short and powerful, an examination of grief as augmented by near-future technology, and the different ways that there are of coming to terms with loss. My copy has several very short stories at the end and a foreword by Yi Izzy Yu. You can get it here.

Tuesday reading

Godkiller, by Hannah Kaner
The Malignant Earth, by Si Spurrier et al

Last books finished
The Death I Gave Him, by Em X. Liu
Glimmer of Hope, Glimmer of Flame, by Ag Apolloni
The Myth Makers, by Ian Potter
Dangerous Waters, by Juliet E. McKenna
The Virgin In The Garden, by A.S. Byatt

Next books
The Ultimate Treasure, by Christopher Bulis
The Combined 2001 Election, by NISRA
Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Best Graphic Story or Comic Hugo 2024

Bea Wolf, written by Zach Weinersmith, art by Boulet

Second frame of Fitt 3:

The Three Body Problem, Part One, by SFCF Studio

Second frame of part 3:

The Witches of World War 2 written by Paul Cornell, art by Valeria Burzo

Second frame of Chapter 3:

Saga, Vol. 11 written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples

Second frame of Chapter Sixty-three (third chapter in thjs volume):

Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, art by Phil Jimenez, Gene Ha and Nicola Scott

Second frame of Book Three:

Shubeik Lubeik / Your Wish Is My Command, by Deena Mohamed

Second frame of Part III:

Northern Ireland: The Forgotten Election

As pundits speculate wildly about the scale of the coming Labour landslide and Conservative collapse in England, Scotland and Wales next Thursday, let’s remember that 18 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons are elected by voters in Northern Ireland.

This became briefly important in 2017, when the Democratic Unionist Party’s MPs propped up Theresa May’s government for the two agonising years before its collapse. There were also utterly rumours that Sinn Féin might take its seats in order to thwart or ameliorate Brexit. (This was never going to happen.)

In the 2019 election, the DUP got the most votes, but slipped back badly and lost two seats, finishing with eight MPs. This was one more than Sinn Féin, whose vote also slipped but who compensated one lost seat with a gain from the DUP. The SDLP, previously the dominant Nationalist party, came back from a wipeout in 2017 by regaining two seats from both the DUP and Sinn Fein. And the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland won the seat left vacant by a veteran independent Unionist.

Five years on, in 2024, the DUP face further losses, with half of their seats potentially at risk from other parties. Sinn Féin’s seven look safer, though a couple are wobbly. So do the SDLP’s two. The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland could end up with anything from zero to three seats (some optimists even see a fourth potential gain). The Ulster Unionist Party, which ran Northern Ireland as a one-party state from 1921 to 1972, but has been locked out of Westminster for the last few years, see two potential gains. And there is an independent Unionist in the running as well. Unionism as a whole could win anything between six and ten seats of the eighteen. 

Nine of the eighteen seats can be regarded as pretty safe for the incumbent parties. East Antrim, North Antrim, East Londonderry and Upper Bann are solidly DUP these days, and West Belfast, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh and West Tyrone are even more solidly strongholds of Sinn Féin. Foyle was lost by the SDLP in particular circumstances in 2017, but regained with a massive majority in 2019, and can be safely tallied in their column again.

Three, or possibly four, of the DUP’s eight seats are vulnerable. South Antrim sees a strong challenge from the Ulster Unionist Party. In two other seats, the DUP faces fierce opposition from the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. The exit from politics of the DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, after he was arrested on historic sex crime charges, has left his Lagan Valley seat more open than it has been since its creation in 1987; and his successor as party leader, Gavin Robinson, faces a tough challenge from Alliance’s leader, Naomi Long, in East Belfast – a rather rare case where the leaders of two significant political parties are candidates in the same constituency. Alliance optimists add neighbouring Strangford to the list of potential gains, but it is a longer shot.

Three of Sinn Féin’s seven seats are at risk on paper, though my gut feeling is that they will keep all three. In 2019 North Belfast was gained from the DUP after 130 years of Unionist dominance, and while in theory the margin is not irreversible, in practice the DUP will be putting their resources into defending East Belfast. Fermanagh and South Tyrone, normally a knife-edge seat, was regained by SF from the UUP in 2019, but I hear grumblings from local Unionists that they are further behind this time. And some SDLP optimists see grounds for hope in South Down, which SF have held since 2010; again, it is a long shot.

I noted Foyle as safe for the SDLP above; their other seat, South Belfast and Mid Down (formerly just South Belfast), is probably also pretty safe, given that SF are not standing against them and the incumbent MP, Claire Hanna has positioned herself well. (Her father was my landlord when I moved back to Belfast in 1992; it’s a small world.) The weird thing about South Belfast is that the Alliance Party got more votes than anyone else in two of the last three elections, including the SDLP. But South Belfast voters are volatile.

The most fascinating seat, and the least typical, is the Alliance Party’s current patch of yellow on the map, North Down. Here, Stephen Farry, Alliance’s deputy leader, faces a challenge from local independent Unionist Alex Easton, who has the support of the DUP despite having parted company with them acrimoniously in 2021, and also from the colourful retired British army officer Tim Collins, selected as the UUP’s candidate. To do justice to this very odd campaign would take more space than is reasonable, so I’ll leave it there.

One last point to make is that the Boundary Commission’s changes to the Northern Ireland seats were pretty minimal. They were also difficult to calculate because of the lack of co-terminosity between the different electoral units involved. I myself supplied the projections of the 2019 results onto the 2024 boundaries in Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher’s Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies. On the Northern Ireland politics blog Slugger O’Toole, Michael Hehir has been providing his own projections, which I am glad to say differ little from mine. We come to the same conclusion: that in this election, it will be voters, not boundary changes, that determine the results.

Ruby Red, by Georgia Cook

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘I’m sorry,’ said Ran. ‘I didn’t expect them to come after me.’

One of my disappointments about the Chibnall era of Doctor Who is that there was so little good quality spinoff material apart from the TV show itself. By contrast, Russell T. Davies has hit the ground running as usual, with one novelisation out already and another three coming later in the year, as well as two spinoff novels last month and another scheduled for November.

This is the first of the spinoff novels, taking the Fifteenth Doctor and Ruby to an obscure part of European history, the Battle on the Ice in 1242, fought between Russians and Estonians (to use anachronistic and brutal shorthand) on the frozen surface of Lake Peipus. My extensive and detailed research suggests that this is the only Who story in any medium which has an Estonian setting.

Being a Doctor Who story, there are of course external incursions into the real history of what happened – three interstellar Valkyrie sisters, managing a rite of passage for the youngest of them, and an alien hive mind under the ice. On top of that the TARDIS is behaving oddly, in a foreshadowing of what we found out about its extra passenger in the recent season finale.

These sfnal trimmings are also the basis for much banter between the Doctor and Ruby, and that of course is what people will buy the book for. Given that it’s Cook’s first novel, and it must have been written before any of the recent season was shown, she catches Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor really well. The plot doesn’t gel completely perfectly (the climax in particular is lower-key than I had anticipated) but it’s a good start to the new era on paper. You can get it here.

Next up: Caged, by Una McCormack.