From and subsequently :
Look at your LJ “interests” list. If you have fewer than 50 interests, pick every fifth one. If you have between fifty and seventy-five interests, pick every seventh one. If you have over seventy-five interests, pick every tenth one. If you have fewer than ten, pick all of ’em. List them on your LJ, and tell everyone exactly what it is about these things that interests you so much.
A funny result this: seven writers (five female, two male); three works of literature; two places; and two closely linked leisure activities. It would be interesting to try this again, with 14 interests picked at random. But anyway, here we are:
Azerbaijan – little-known country in the south Caucasus, bordering the Black Sea. Oil and natural gas ooze from the ground, to the point that the flames are said to have inspired the prophet Zoroaster. I work professionally on the political situation there, both internally – some very interesting elections coming up in November, in a region where there have been three revolutions in the last two years – and in terms of its relations with Armenia due to the unfinished aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Fascinating politics. Also the setting for much of the great romantic novel Ali and Nino by Kurban Said. See my Azerbaijan entries.
Brussels – the city where I work (though not where I live). Also shorthand for the entire EU and NATO policy environment in which I swim; over in the European quarter it’s the Commission, the Council Secretariat, the European Parliament, and the various diplomatic missions of the 25 member states and the other countries that I deal with; up the road at NATO it’s all people of a different tribe, the military, much less interested in politics (for NATO takes policy rather than making it) but more interested in getting things done once it has been decided that they must be done. All multinational, multilingual, multicultural, and theoretically dedicated to making the world a better place. Added to that, there are the non-work aspects of the city – the beer, Mini Europe, the museums, the occasional ljer (, , visitors). But mainly I’m here for the professional environment.
Connie Willis – science fiction writer; winner of more Hugo and Nebula awards for fiction than any other writer ever; not in fact a particular favourite of mine, but I like some of her stuff (Doomsday Book, “Even The Queen”, To Say Nothing of the Dog) and find other things she has written leave me less impressed (“Fire Watch”, “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know”, Passage). A significant sf writer who cannot be ignored by anyone who claims to know about sf.
Dodie Smith – a writer who I knew only for her two children’s novels, The Hundred and One Dalmatians and its much more mystical sequel, The Starlight Barking, until I found I Capture the Castle had appeared on the BBC Big Read list. Intrigued, I went and bought it, and really loved it – a romance and Bildungsroman set in the 1930s, when it was written. So I’m vaguely on the lookout for any more of her books, or indeed for the film of I Capture the Castle which apparently stars Riley from Buffy and Elliot from E.T. as the two Americans.
Father Ted – a comedy series which ran from 1995 to 1998, featuring three priests (Father Dougal who is young and very stupid, Father Jack who is old and very drunk, and Father Ted, who is in some ways the straight man) and their housekeeper on a fictional island off the coast of Ireland. It coincided with one of the big periods of change in my own life, when I was most heavily involved with the Northern Ireland peace process and then when I moved to Bosnia, so will always have those associations for me. (In particular, we young irreverent types decided that Father Jack was exactly like Conor Cruise O’Brien, an ancient Irish politician who was attending the talks as a representative of one of the smaller Unionist groups.) But it’s also very funny. (My favoruite scene: “These cows are small. Those are far away.”) See the IMDB quotes page.
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman’s brilliant fantasy for young adults, consisting of Northern Lights (aka The Golden Compass), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Also on the BBC Big Read list. Very profound and haunting; we start off in a parallel Oxford where we are introduced to Lyra, our heroine; Will, from our world, comes in in the second book; and they make their way through a multiverse of angels, witches and most of all dæmons. Will certainly be as revered in the 21st century as C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books (which these are at least partly a hostile response to).
Jacqueline Carey – I only know this author from her sensual fantasy trilogy, Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen and Kushiel’s Avatar. Again, a parallel world, this time a lushly described alternate France and Western Europe (though the last book travels as far afield as Ethiopia and Azerbaijan). Our heroine, Phèdre nó Delaunay, is a sacred courtesan, doomed to experience pain as pleasure, up to her neck (and other parts) in political intrigue. I can’t claim that the books are profound, but I found them hugely entertaining, and also enjoyed the only other story I’ve read by her.
Les Miserables – the musical rather than the book, though I very much enjoyed the book as well (which contains a great description fo the Battle of Waterloo – just possibly more accurate than the account in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell). My flat-mate in my final year as an undergraduate used to play it and that hooked me; and shortly after my finals I went to see the stage show with in the Palace Theatre in London. I had a treasured tape of it that got me through much of my M Phil in my last year in Cambridge, and then kept me company for the years back in Belfast and the long drives through Bosnia. The tape itself is now lost, but it remains a stong 1990s memory for me; I think I still know every word of the finale of the first act, “One Day More“. Those who only know the stage show should note that Gavroche in the book is the Thenardiers’ son, and therefore Eponine’s brother; and that Thenardier senior has a bizarre encounter with Marius’ father at Waterloo. A great story of redemption and grace, though of course very nineteenth-century. The book famously provoked the shortest exchange of telegrams in history, when Victor Hugo sent the message “?” to his agent, to ask how it was selling, and got the reply “!”
Mary Gentle – here almost entirely because of Ash: A Secret History, another alternate history of a medieval France – or to be more exact, Burgundy. But there is a framing narrative of early 21st century researchers, who become increasingly concerned as the alternate universe starts to seep into ours. A fantastic story, which gave me very strange dreams when I first read it. I also enjoyed her short story collection Cartomancy – still owe someone a review of that. Was intrigued though less impressed by both The Architecture of Desire and 1610: A Sundial in a Grave. Will be looking out for her next book, which is apparently somehow set in the same world as Ash.
Nancy Mitford – author of, well, yeah, it’s fluff, but good fluff; The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred are funny but also effective, like P.G. Wodehouse but with deaths and divorces. The ending to Love in a Cold Climate was surely a bit shocking for 1949. Anyway, if I see anyt of her books in the second-hand shop I’ll snap them up. Oddly enough I got to know the present head of the Mitford family, Rupert, the 6th Baron Redesdale, through politics (he’s the same age as I am and is an active Lib Dem) and he came and stayed with us once in Belfast.
Peter Dickinson – sf author of whom I would like to have read more; his books were fixtures on Jackanory, but I think I’ve only read Tulku, Annerton Pit and The Green Gene. I sent him a note about my review of The Green GeneReviews – I do a lot of these, as readers of this livejournal or visitors to my website may have noticed. I think the first reviews I put on line were for the Hugo nominees in 2000SF Fandom – someone (I think ) asked me where I fit in in sf fandom. Tricky to asnwer. I was very much into the postal Diplomacy hobby for a number of years, which has certain crossover features (and members) with sf fandom, and yet despite being an avid sf reader never made the transition. I was briefly the CUSFS librarian in 1987, and did the odd stint at the CUSFS library off and on (also attended the Thursday nights in New Hall bar, simplified by the fact that I had a girlfriend there for much of that time) yet didn’t take the bait of the second Brighton WorldCon. I made my first appearance at an sf con in 1990, speaking on a panel with Ian Watson at UniConze, having had my arm twisted by , and then didn’t attend another until MeCon V in 2002. I seem to have made my first post to rasfw in 1995, and as noted above started putting book reviews on line in 2000. I think the two things that may have given me some prominence are my checklist of Irish sf and fantasy, which largely by coincidence was completed just before my appearance at MeCon V, and also my recent practice of reading all the Hugo nominees before most others have got through them and putting the reviews on-line. I like hanging about, physically or through other means of communication, with other people who like the same things I do, and find sf fandom a very comfortable environment.
Tolkien – surely there can’t be anyone reading this who hasn’t read The Lord of the Rings and seen the films? What more can be said, really? I’m building up a small library of secondary literature on him, and you can judge my interest from my past entries on the subject.
Enlightened? I hope so.