iLobby.eu, by Caroline de Cock

Second paragraph of third chapter:

In order to ensure that you adopt the most effective strategy, it is therefore critical to understand and master the EU legislative process. It is part of your 3Ps (People-Power-Procedures) and I have known several brilliant lobbying strategies failing because the intricacies of procedure were poorly addressed.

This is a book about lobbying in Brussels, published in 2010. As such it is somewhat out of date; the institutional rules have not changed much in that time, but the way things really operate has moved on a bit; and about a quarter of the book is dedicated to kindly explaining that social media actually matters and giving guidance on how you might dip your toe into it. Those were innocent days, in retrospect! (My good friend Jon Worth is mentioned, in the context of the doomed Citzalia project.)

I’m not sure why I got it when I did; I once had aspirations to write such a book myself, but I must say that seeing how quickly such a project could be overcome by events is a bit of a disincentive. Still, the description of the legislative and policy-making process is accurate and useful, and made me realise how much of it I have internalised in my 25 years working here. You can still get the book here.

This was the shorter of the two remaining books on my shelves acquired in 2017. Next is the last of those books, Rule of Law: A Memoir, by Glynnis Breytenbach. This was also the last book that I finished in 2023, so I’m two and a half weeks behind at the moment.

Marking Time, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Second paragraph of third chapter (a very long ‘un):

‘Look after Zoë for me,’ he had said the night before he went, which really was a funny way round. After all, who was the stepmother? But sh couldn’t imagine him saying, ‘Look after Clary for me.’ She rather doubted whether Zoe had ever been asked to look after anybody. It might be a good idea to give an only medium-demanding animal for her next birthday to get her started on looking after something – or else her baby was in for a rather rotten time. (Of course, it was Ellen who really looked after all of them.) At Sports Day at his school, Neville had even pretended he hardly knew her. ‘You’ve hurt her feelings, you fool,’ Clary had hissed at Neville when they were meant to be getting plates of strawberries for the grown-ups in the tea tent. ‘Well, she hurt mine wearing that silly fur fox round her neck. If you ak me, that’s what feelings are for,’ he added while he skilfully transferred some better strawberries to the plate he had chosen. He had grown a lot, but his front teeth looked far too large for him and he had spent a lot of the Christmas holidays up trees that Lydia was afraid to climb. He didn’t seem to make any great friends at his school and he loathed games. His asthma was much better, but the night before Dad went, he quarrelled with everyone, drank what Emily said was the best part of her bottle of cooking sherry, unpacked his father’s suitcase, threw everything into the bath and turned on both taps. Dad found him and they had a sort of fight but in the end he was crying so much that Dad just carried him off to his room and they spent a long time alone together. He had asthma all that night, and Ellen stayed up with him because Dad had to be with Zoë because she was so upset. took after Nev, won’t you,’ he’d said to Clary next morning. ‘He kept saying last night that now he’d have nobody, and I kept telling him he had you.’ He’d looked so grey and tired, that she couldn’t say how much she minded his going, couldn’t say, ‘And who do you think I’ll have?’ or anything selfish like that because she could see that some kinds of love simply wore him out, so she just made her face smile and said ‘Yes, I will.’ He smiled back at her and said, ‘That’s my Clary,’ and asked her to come to the station with him. ‘Zoë doesn’t feel up to it,’ he said. Neville had gone to school as usual, and Tonbridge had driven them to Battle; she’d waited on the platform with Dad with nothing left to say and the train coming in was a relief. ‘Don’t wear any of those wet vests,’ she’d said as the most grown-up thing she could think of, at the end. ‘No, no. I’ll make His Majesty dry them for me personally,’ he’d said, bent to kiss her and got onto the train. He waved until he was out of sight and she’d walked slowly back to the car where Tonbridge was waiting, and got into the back and sat stiffly upright. Once, she saw Tonbridge looking at her in the driving mirror, and in Battle he stopped and went into a shop and came out with a bar of milk chocolate which he gave her, and although she loathed milk chocolate, this was a considerable kindness. She started to thank him and then had to pretend that she had a bad cough. He drove her back to Home Place without talking, but when she got out of the car, he said, ‘You’re a little soldier, you are,’ and smiled, so that she could see his black tooth next to his gold one.

I’m very much enjoying Howard’s Cazalet books, so much so that I’ve promoted them into a to-read list of their own for the New Year. Marking Time is the second of the series, set a year after the first, and concentrating very much on three teenage Cazalet girls, whose fathers are brothers. But it’s now war time – the book starts in September 1939 and ends with Pearl Harbour in December 1941, so it covers a long and crucial period of the girls’ lives; Louise, an aspiring actress, whose father is abusive; Clary, an aspiring writer, whose father goes missing after Dunkirk; and sensitive Polly, whose mother is very ill though nobody will admit it. Between the lines (and not only there) is a thoughtful reflection on the roles of women in English society of the time.

The cast of characters is huge – the family tree at the start lists eighteen living Cazalet relatives, and there are a half dozen more who get at least some viewpoint time – lovers, servants, in-laws. But Howard keeps them all under control, and although we know that parts of this are based on her own life, it doesn’t come across didactically. There is a minor twist at the end of the book which made me gasp, but in any case I would have been impatient for the next instalment; some very tempting plot lines have been set up. I’ll get to it soon enough! Meanwhile you can get Marking Time here.

I should say also that I am hugely enjoying the BBC Radio 4 dramatisation from 2012-2014, narrated by Penelope Wilton (Prime Minister Harriet Jones in Doctor Who). But annoyingly when I clicked through to the relevant page on the BBC website I got a couple of big spoilers for later volumes in the series, so I should have stuck with the audiobook on its own. You can get all twelve and a half hours here.

This was my top unread book by a woman and my top unread non-genre book. Both of those lists have now been drastically inflated by Christmas presents, and the next on each are Babel, by R.F. Huang, and Yellowface, also by R.F. Huang. But I’ve split off the Cazalets into their own stream.

Emotional Chemistry, by Simon Forward

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Even in retreat. Chased by the chuff and crack of a line of French muskets.

This is an Eighth Doctor novel which I read back in 2015, at a time when I was slacking on my bookblogging and didn’t get around to writing it up. I came back to it last month because part of it is set in the year 2024 in Russia, where the Doctor’s companion Fitz Kreiner finds himself isolated while the Doctor and the other companion Trix McMillan zoom off to the year 5000 and to 1812 respectively. To be honest there is little here to differentiate the Russia of 2024 from the Russia of 2002 when the book was written, and if it weren’t for the back cover explicitly mentioning 2024 you would tend to think it was set in or very soon after the year of publication. I’m afraid I was not terribly excited by the plot, with a McGuffin and a time-travelling entity looking for it, but there are some pleasing references to Magnus Greel from The Talons of Weng-Chiang. You can get it here.

The New Machiavelli, by H. G. Wells

Second paragraph of third chapter:

School became a large part of the world to me, absorbing my time and interest, and I never acquired that detailed and intimate knowledge of Penge and the hilly villadom round about, that I have of the town and outskirts of Bromstead.

I’m gradually working my way through the novels of H.G. Wells, from the most famous to the most obscure, and am now about half-way. This is one of his longer works, whose protagonist emerges from the heart of the middle classes to a Cambridge education, election as a young Liberal MP in the 1906 landslide, and then defects to the Conservatives as a radical new thinker, and also abandons his long-suffering wife for a younger and keener admirer. That last bit, if not the rest, is very clearly drawn from Wells’ own experience, and the emotional passages are poignantly drawn, even if we can’t always sympathise much with the choices made by Wells’ hero.

The political parts, however, are crashingly dull in places; the world has moved on a lot from the hot topics of political debate in 1910, and I can’t believe that Wells’ writing on this was a really attractive feature of the book when it first came out. Of the political issues that we do remember from that time, the suffragette movement is mentioned only as background colour, and Ireland not at all. Wells may perhaps have been hoping to shift the political debate with his fiction, but contemporary reaction seems to have concentrated on the scandalous sex in this novel. (Which as usual is discreetly off-stage.) There’s also a frankly nasty portrait of Beatrice and Sydney Webb, which must have annoyed their many mutual friends.

You can get it here. Next in my sequence of Wells reading is The Wheels of Chance.

In Xanadu, by Lavie Tidhar

Second paragraph of third section:

‘Nila? Nila!’

A very short story submitted to the 2020 Hugo packet by Jonathan Strahan as part of his contribution for Best Editor, Short Form. A vivid vignette of a soldier defending her position, protecting exiled AI’s on Titan. I guess my only complaint is that it is very short indeed. It’s a pity that Tidhar has not written any more in this setting. (So far.) But you can get it here.

Lunar Descent, by Allen Steele

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Two strokes of lightning split the black night sky above Boston simultaneously. One hit somewhere in Dorchester, in the no-man’s-land where even the street gangs had fled from the thunderbolts and the cold, driving rain, taking shelter in the doorways of barricaded stores and housing projects; the other was its reflection, mirrored in the titanic glass wall of the Sony Tower, rising three hundred stories above the uptown streets, a black megalith that dwarfed the architectural Brahmins of yesteryear, the Hancock Building and the Pru.

This is the first novel by Allen Steele that I have read in full – I read the two sections of Coyote that were Hugo finalists, but never sat down to read the full thing. I confess that I got it purely because it is set in 2024, 33 years after the publication date of 1991. The world is not so different from the present day except that there is a functioning lunar industrial colony, churning out special components for Earth’s booming electronics industry. The colony is badly run, and our protagonist, a disgraced former astronaut with addiction problems, is sent to sort things out. He is joined by a tough female NASA security agent and a hacking genius who specialises in undetectable electronic crime. It’s rather a good romp, inevitably reminiscent of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but from a rather more obviously left-wing point of view (and I’m not saying that is a bad thing). You can get it here.

Bee Quest, by Dave Goulson

Second paragraph of third chapter:

It seemed to me that the changes that have occurred to the landscape in Britain are so profound that, even in the relatively unspoiled fragments of habitat, perhaps all that remains is a pale shadow of their former natural glory. It is hard to know for sure. Without a time machine, we can never really know what it would have been like to be a naturalist rambling through the British countryside in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, other than by reading their books and notes. We might infer from the fact that there are old recipes for cowslip wine – which require as the first step the collecting of two buckets full of cowslip flowers – that they were once much more common than they are now, but we can’t know how common, or how abundant the bees were that visited them, or how numerous the worms that burrowed beneath their roots. This said, it occurred to me that there might be a way of gaining an insight into what Britain used to be like – by going to Eastern Europe. I had heard that in parts of Eastern Europe agricultural systems remained little changed, having escaped the drive for increased yield that afflicted Britain from the Second World War onwards, and which was subsequently driven throughout Western Europe by the Common Agricultural Policy’s labyrinthine and often perverse system of subsidies for farm ‘improvement’.

A heartfelt and passionate book about bumble bees, and how the destruction of the traditional landscape in the name of agricultural productivity has made us all poorer. Goulson is dedicated to the study of bees, and goes all over the world to find them (there’s a particularly vivid section in Argentina). He conveys well the frustrations of research on small, fragile and often hostile invertebrates, and the grim situation of species disappearing from the face of the planet before they have been recorded. Now that he mentions it, isn’t it weird that bats are strongly protected by the law when other animals (less cute perhaps) are not? This is an eloquent call for more thought about and care of our natural heritage, and you can get it here.

I’m glad to say that we have a wildlife-friendly garden here, and we do see bumble bees buzzing around in the summer. I’ll take a closer look this year.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017, and the non-fiction book which had lingered longest on my shelves. Next on both of those piles, and last in my 2017 intake, is Rule of Law by Glynis Breitenbach; one more to go before that.

A Long Day in Lychford, by Paul Cornell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Marcin had been yelling questions at her, only about half of them in English. What were they running from? It hurt! He got to the point of actually fighting her off, and so, finally, she’d been forced to drop him. Now here they were, on a slight rise among some close trees, which Autumn hoped might give her some idea of when the thing approached. Marcin was lying on the ground screaming insults at her in Polish, and she was looking around, trying to watch out of the corner of her eyes. Which was really pretty bloody difficult. It kept making you want to just keep turning your head.

Third in the series of Lychford books by Paul Cornell, this is a rare case of a fantasy novel addressing Brexit. The magical women of Lychford are dealing with the internal consequences of the referendum, prejudice against foreigners and people of colour, and at the same time an eruption of danger from the much older inhabitants of their space. I see a lot of Lychford fans were not wowed by it, but I found it a thoughtful reflection on difficult political circumstances. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2020. Next on that list is The Dawnhounds, by Sasha Stronach.

The Haunting of Villa Diodati, by Philip Purser-Hallard

I was lucky enough to watch this episode at Gallifrey One in 2020, and wrote then:

I’ll always remember The Haunting of Villa Diodati for the circumstances in which I first saw it, packed into the biggest hall in the Los Angeles airport Marriott with a thousand other fans, whose reactions were so voluble (and positive) that I needed to watch it again when I got home. It’s not the first Who story with Mary Shelley and a Cyberman, which is a really obvious pairing. But it looked good, sounded good, and more or less made sense both times I watched it. See John Connors here and Darren Mooney here.

Rewatching again for this post, I wasn’t quite so sure if it all made sense; it felt like there was a lot of act-ING and not a lot of character development, and the plot was a fairly standard alien intrusion tale. But perhaps that’s because my standards had been raised by the return of RTD and the Fourteenth Doctor (I was watching in the middle of last month, before the Christmas episode). Anyway, it still evokes happy memories of February 2020, just before the world changed.

Philip Purser-Hallard has produced a longish Black Archive on the story, and I am not sure if it is entirely to the point. The introduction says that the themes he will look at are darkness and light, the Frankenstein story and parenthood.

The first chapter, “‘This Night, June 1816′” looks at other fictional treatments of the writing of Frankenstein, and other historical Doctor Who stories. Purser-Hallard makes the interesting point that “The Haunting of Villa Diodati is unique in Doctor Who to date, in that every speaking (or crying) character who does not also appear in other episodes is based on a historical person”.

The second and longest chapter, “‘I Detest All Gossip, You Understand'”, looks in considerable detail at the family backgrounds of every single historical character in the story. It is here where I became uneasy; a Doctor Who episode is not a history lesson, it is an entertainment, and it seems to me a categorical error to grade THoVD against historical accuracy, especially since we know that it consciously diverges (in that the Frankenstein story is not actually written by Mary Shelly “on time”).

The third and shortest chapter, “‘Save the Poet, Save the Universe'”, looks at the use of Percy Shelley’s poetry in the episode to characterise Ashad the Cyberman, and Byron’s to characterise the Doctor. Its second paragraph is:

Many of Percy’s poems were profoundly political, and have been taken as inspiration by radical movements from the Chartists to the Arab Spring, by way of Tiananmen Square2. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s opposition at the time of the episode’s writing, filming and broadcast, was fond of quoting his response to the Peterloo Massacre, ‘The Masque of Anarchy’ (written in 1819 but not published until 1832) at Labour Party rallies, and the line ‘Ye are many, they are few’ was credited with inspiring the party’s 2017 election slogan, ‘For the many, not the few’3. While it might be extreme to state, as the Doctor goes on to, that Ryan, Yaz and Graham ‘will not exist’ if Percy’s writings after June 1816 are erased from history, their world would indeed be detectably different if they were. As she insists, ‘Words matter.”
2 Mulhallen, Jacqueline, ‘For the Many, Not the Few: Jeremy Corbyn and Percy Bysshe Shelley’.
3 Londoner, The, ‘Londoner’s Diary: Jeremy Corbyn’s Romantic Notions Traced Back to Percy Shelley’; Shelley P, Selected Poems and Prose, p368.

The fourth chapter, “‘Something to Awaken Thrilling Horror'”, looks at the Gothic in Doctor Who. invoking Buffy and several previous Black Archives.

The fifth chapter, “‘That Writing Thing'”, looks at the parallels between Ashad and the monster in Frankenstein, and tries to illuminate this with the concepts of creation and parenthood.

The sixth and last chapter, “‘This World Doesn’t End in 1816′”, looks at darkness, light and the apocalypse in this story and in Chibnall-era Doctor Who.

Appendices illustrate the family trees of the Byrons, Godwin and Shelleys, and the historical timeline of events.

It will be apparent that I didn’t get as much out of this Black Archive as I have from some in the series. I don’t feel that the story can quite bear the analytical weight that is placed on it here, and I’m not comfortable with an interpretation that suggests that a deep knowledge of the shifting relationships in the Byron/Shelley/Clairmont household is necessary for a full appreciation of the story. But others may find it more useful. 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 Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: 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) | 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)

Into the Unknown, eds. Laura Clarke and Patrick Gyger

Second paragraph of third chapter (“Children of Utopia”, by Andy Sawyer):

In science fiction, [Thomas] More’s island becomes another planet whose inhabitants are rewritten as aliens from other worlds; his criticism more secular in imagining a possible, if not probable, future. Although More did not invent the concept of the better world – isolated, ‘perfect’ societies are found in Chinese fables such as the 5th century Peach Blossom Spring, or the medieval European Land of Cockaigne where all material pleasures can be found – he gave us a word to articulate this concept. ‘Utopia’ means good place, but the pun in More’s Greek tells us that it means no place1. It exists in our imagination. Should we try and create it? Politicians and science fiction writers alike, being what they are, often end up creating a ‘bad place’: dystopia. The best science fiction addresses this tension: our desires for something different and better compete with fears of something much, much worse.
1 More’s invention of the word ‘Utopia’ is based on the Greek ou ‘not’+ typos ‘place’.

This is the souvenir book of an exhibition about science fiction in the Barbican in London which I went to in June 2017, and don’t seem to have written up at the time. It’s a really wonderful collection of sf art, mainly book covers with some magazine covers, comics and stills from films or TV, combined with some decent essays by the likes of Andy Sawyer, Tade Thompson, Susan Stepney and Bruce Sterling. I particularly appreciated the piece on Soviet science fiction by Alyona Sokolnikova. I’m afraid it is out of print, so no purchase link today.

Here’s a walkthrough of the exhibition in case you missed it:

I remember that at the exhibition itself I was particularly grabbed by Palestinian film-maker Larissa Sansour’s In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, which explores the intersection between sf, archaeology and politics, three subjects that greatly interest me. The full film (30 mins) is here, and this is a trailer:

This was the shortest unread book on my shelves acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is iLobby.eu, by Caroline de Cock.

Jaren van de olifant, by Willy Linthout

Second frame of third chapter:

An apartment block. A man is looking down from the roof at the outline of a human figure drawn outside the front door.

First published in 2009, this picked up the hat-trick of the three major prizes for comics in the Dutch-speaking world, the Bronze Adhemar, the Stripschapprijs and the Pix St-Michel (Dutch category). It’s an intense and moving portrait of a man coming to terms with his son’s suicide; his struggles with his marriage, his work, therapy, drugs, and his fantasies about his son’s survival.

Linthout has now expanded the original edition with two extra chapters (for a total of ten), and my hardcover copy also includes, as an appendix, an interview with the author and his therapist. One of the new chapters very consciously erodes the barriers between protagonist and author (they were slim anyway). It’s a gruelling read in places, but also has shafts of grim humour (there’s a particularly poignant scene around a book launch). Really recommended. You can get it here.

An Atlas of Irish History, by Ruth Dudley Edwards; and in search of W.H. Bromage

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The major engagements of the medieval period are. however, those of defenders against invaders. Most of them were fought in an attempt to prevent further Norman penetration of the country. The fact that the Irish succeeded in preventing the Normans from completely overrunning the country was due not only to their stout resistance, but also to the isolation of the invaders from their homeland and the impossibility of gaining sufficient reinforcements to maintain and consolidate their position. Additionally, the importation by the Irish of Scots mercenary soldiers called gallowglas (from gall óglach – foreign warrior) from the thirteenth century onwards, was to strengthen their resistance considerably. At first confined to Ulster, galloglas later spread throughout Ireland in the service of the great families. These mercenaries prolonged the life of the independent Gaelic kingdoms for more than two centuries after the defeat of Edward Bruce (14). Four centuries after the conquest the O’Neills and O’Donnells were still ruling most of Ulster according to the customs of their ancestors. It was not until their defeat in the Nine Years War (15) in 1603, that all of Gaelic Ireland finally fell to the invaders.

Here are the two maps, by W.H. Bromage, referred to above. I will have a lot more to say about the artist below.

I have known Ruth Dudley Edwards since 1989 or so; she was at school with one of my aunts, as it turns out, and her father was the historian Robin Dudley Edwards. I regret to say that I have stopped following her on social media; she is entitled to express her hardline conservative views, but I do not feel compelled to read them.

This book dates from half a century ago, when the world was a different place and Irish history was a different discipline. It’s a breezy summary of the main points of Irish history to date, concentrating on the medieval and early modern periods, and the maps, even though they would have been a bit old-fashioned even in 1973, illustrate the narrative.

But there are some odd omissions. After independence, Northern Ireland largely disappears from the narrative. (It gets seven pages in the second last chapter, and the Troubles get one line.) From my political perspective, it would have been interesting to see more mapping of election results across the whole period. The chapter on social change completely misses the elephant in the room, the role of the Catholic church in society.

There is a much newer edition, published in 2005 with contributions from Bridget Hourican, where I believe that these issues have all been addressed. I see reviewers complaining, however, that Bromage’s maps were retained despite not really being with the Zeitgeist; as I said, they look old-fashioned for 1973, let alone 2005 (or 2024). But you can get it here.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is Bee Quest, by Dave Goulson.

W.H. Bromage, who drew the maps, is credited with the illustrations for a number of similar books of the period, mostly published by Methuen, some by pretty big names: The Archaeology of Crete: an Introduction, by John D. Pendlebury (1939); The War in Burma, by Roy McKelvie (1948); Introducing Spain, by Cedric Salter (1954); In Search of London, by H.V. Morton (1956); An Atlas of World Affairs, by Andrew Boyd (1957); Frontiers and Wars, by Winston S. Churchill (1962); Pan-Africanism, by Colin Legum (1962); Survey of the Moon, by Patrick Moore (1963); The Sword-Bearers: Supreme Command in the First World War, by Corelli Barnett (1963); The American West, by John A. Hawgood (1967); An Atlas of African Affairs, by Andrew Boyd and Patrick van Rensburg (1970); and The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, by George MacDonald Fraser (1971). An Atlas of Irish History (1973) is the last book that I have found which credits him.

Roy McKelvie, writing in 1948, describes him as “Mr W.H. Bromage of the News Chronicle“. I’ve found a number of maps of the changing front lines of WW2 published by the News Chronicle and credited to “William Bromage”…

…and also a rather nice illustrated text of the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child, signed by Eisenhower, Montgomery and Churchill and dated 1945.

A William Bromage is also credited with the maps in Small Boat Through France (1964) and Small Boat on the Thames (1966), both by Roger Pilkington. This must be the same person. That’s literally the only other certain information I have about him. Illustrating fourteen books in 34 years would hardly make you a living, so he must have been full-time with the News Chronicle until it was absorbed by the Daily Mail in 1960, and maybe stayed on after that.

Ancestry.com gives me half a dozen people called W.H. Bromage, with the W.H. short for “William Henry” in all cases, born in England in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The surname is concentrated in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. He could, of course, easily have been born somewhere else entirely. I find a Detroit journalist of that name in the 1920s and 1930s, who could conceivably be the same person though it’s a bit of a shift. I also find a San Francisco journalist of the same name in the 1890s, and a reference in 1919 to “the renowned Anglo-Catholic artist, W.H. Bromage”, but neither of these can have been illustrating An Atlas of Irish History in 1973.

It is frustrating that I know almost nothing else about Bromage: he was clearly a man of talent, who captured the market in drawing maps for books about history and current affairs. It could be that this is a problem of Internet research, and that if I had access to a decent reference library in the UK I would find his biographical details really quickly. Or not; you never know what will survive.

2023 books in review

I read 351 books this year, the second highest of the twenty years that I have been keeping count. (The highest was 2008, when I read all of the Doctor Who novelisations and most of Shakespeare.) My page count was 86,900, which is only 6th out of 20, though the highest since 2014. Both tallies include a fair number of Clarke Award submissions which I ruthlessly set aside at the 50 page mark. I’ve also been reading some shorter books, notably Doctor Who comics and the Black Archives.

148 (42%) of those book were by non-male writers, which is a record in both cases (this year’s 42.2% is a smidgen above 2021’s 41.9%). 42 were by non-white writers, which is joint equal with 2021’s record, though the percentage (12%) is lower than three of the last four years.

Science Fiction

164 (47%) of these books were SF, not counting Doctor Who novels. That’s the highest number in 20 years, and the highest percentage since 2005.

Top sf books of the year:
I’m really proud of the Arthur C. Clarke shortlist:
Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman (Review; get it here)
The Coral Bones by E.J. Swift (Review; get it here)
The Anomaly by Hervé le Tellier (Review; get it here)
Plutoshine by Lucy Kissick (Review; get it here)
Metronome by Tom Watson (Review; get it here)
The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard (Review; get it here)

Honorable mentions to:
The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo; a re-telling of The Great Gatsby with a queer fantasy twist. (Review; get it here)
All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva; tremendous collection of short stories. (Review; get it here)

Welcome rereads:
Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones; first in the Dalemark Quartet series of YA fantasy novels, a very moral but exciting tale. (Review; get it here)
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie; second in the series of Raadch novels, with a fierce core of justice and a protagonist who is more than human. (Review; get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:
Appliance, by J.O. Morgan; set of short stories about the transformation of society caused by the invention of a teleporter. (Review; get it here)

The ones to avoid:
(from the Clarke slush pile)
The Hunt – for Allies, by David Geoffrey Adams; badly written and incomprehensible. (Review; get it here)
Harpan’s Worlds: Worlds Apart, by Terry Jackman; MilSF rubbish. (Review; get it here)

Non-fiction

86 (25%) of these books were non-fiction, the third highest number in twenty years (after last year and 2009) and 7th highest percentage. It’s boosted by the Black Archives, which I am reading at the rate of two every month. (I’ll catch up to current publication in the summer.)

Top non-fiction book of the year:
The January 6 report, by a special committee of the House of Representatives. Outlines in awful detail what happened on the day that Donald Trump incited his supporters to attempt to overthrow American democracy. A warning for what could lie ahead of us in 2024. (Review; get it here)

Honorable mentions to:
Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes, by Rob Wilkins; winner of the BSFA Award and the Hugo, a humane and detailed account of Pratchett’s life and writing style. (Review; get it here)
Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars, by Catherine Clinton; the best biography I have yet read of the fascinating nineteenth century actor, writer and activist. (Review; get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:
Gifted Amateurs and Other Essays, by David Bratman; a lovely collection of thoughtful pieces on Tolkien, the Inklings and fantasy more generally. (Review; get it here)

The ones to avoid:
Dispatches from Chengdu, by Abdiel Leroy, and Charmed in Chengdu, by Michael O’Neal; two dreadful books in which American expats show their white asses while working in China. (Review; get them here and here)

Doctor Who

I read 37 Doctor Who fiction books this year (11%), which is the 12th highest number and 16th highest percentage of the last twenty years. But broadening out to include non-fiction and comics, the number goes up to 79 (23%), the 5th highest number and 10th highest percentage since I started keeping track. Again, the Black Archives add to the latter total.

Top Doctor Who book of the year:
Doctor Who: The Giggle, by James Goss; inventive and imaginative adaptation of the last David Tennant episode for the printed page. (Review; get it here)

Honorable mentions to:
(Black Archive) The Deadly Assassin, by Andrew Orton; almost all of the Black Archive monographs are very very good, but I think this was my favourite of the year, shedding more light onto my favourite story of Old Who. (Review; get it here)
(comics) The Weeping Angels of Mons, by Robbie Morrison et al; there have been a number of treatments of Doctor Who and the First World War, but this is one of the best for my money, featuring the Tenth Doctor. (Review; get it here)
(another novelisation) Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara, by David Fisher; brings a lot more to his TV script than we had previously seen. (Review; get it here)
(Faction Paradox) Erasing Sherlock, by Kelly Hale; I had already given up on the Faction Paradox sequence by the time I got around to reading this, but to my surprise it worked very well for me. (Review; get it here)

Welcome re-reads:
Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, by Malcolm Hulke; one of the best Old Who adaptations, the novel version of the Pertwee story Doctor Who and the Silurians. (Review; get it here)
Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat; adaptation of the two stories that closed off the Eleventh Doctor era, tightening up and filling out the story we saw on screen. (Review; get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:
The Daleks, collection of strips from TV Century 21 magazine from 1965-67, told from the point of view of the malevolent pepperpots and really very enjoyable. (Review; out of print)

The one to avoid:
Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor, by Philip Martin. Apparently the book of a video which I haven’t seen, and don’t really want to. (Review; get it here)

Non-genre

I read 29 non-genre fiction books this year (8%), the 14th highest number and 16th highest percentage of twenty years. My selection procedure tends to favour Doctor Who and other sf these days.

Top non-genre book of the year:
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin; a well-told, gripping and moving story about two friends from California who end up writing computer games together. (Review; get it here)

Honorable mentions to:
Winter, by Ali Smith; a short but very intense novel about a family Christmas in England, the recent political past, and questions of identity. (Review; get it here)
The Cider House Rules, by John Irving; I had not read this before, but it’s a heart-breaking saga of a New England orphanage in the mid-twentieth century, situating abortion in its human context. (Review; get it here)

Welcome re-reads:
Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers; the first of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, one of the best known books still in circulation from 1923, and still a great read. (Review; get it here)
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; short but very effective character study of the central character and of a whole society in New York State just after the First World War. (Review; get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:
Jill, by Amy Dillwyn; of the half-dozen novels written in the 1880s by my distant cousin, a prominent Welsh feminist, this is the best, taking her title character all around Europe in search of female comfort and enlightenment. (Review; get it here)

The one to avoid:
Keats and Chapman Wryed Again, by Steven A. Jent; an attempt to write more Myles na Gopaleen-style anecdotes about the poet and the writer. Why? (Review; get it here)

Comics

A relatively low year for comics reading also, with 28 in total (8%), the 6th highest number and 12th highest percentage in my records.

More than half of those were Doctor Who comics, covered above. Of the other 13:

Top comic of the year:
Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, by Tom King, Bilquis Evely and Matheus Lopes; I’m not hugely invested in the Supergirl / Superman mythos, but I thought this did great things with great characters. (Review; get it here)

Honorable mentions to:
The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel; reflections on fitness, literature and love. (Review; get it here)
Jaren van de Olifant, by Willy Linthout; dealing with a family member’s suicide, expanded by 25% from the first edition. (Not yet reviewed; get it here)

The one you haven’t heard of:
Neptune, vols 1 and 2, by Leo; a nice two-part taster for the work of the great Brazilian-French artist and writer, carrying on the story of Kim from the Aldébaran Cycle. (Review; get it here and here in French, here and here in English)

The one to avoid:
Cyberpunk 2077: Big City Dreams, by Bartosz Sztybor, Filipe Andrade, Alessio Fioriniello, Roman Titov, and Krzysztof Ostrowski; won the Hugo, clearly vey popular in China, but I could not make head nor tail of it. (Review; get it here)

Others

I read four works of poetry, and one play. They are all very good. In the order that I read them:

Book of the year

This is actually a fairly easy choice. The Arthur C. Clarke Award judging process is one of the most pleasurable sf-related activities I have engaged in (stop looking at me like that) and I’m very happy with the shortlist. I will be honest; I personally went back and forth between E.J. Swift’s the Coral Bones and the eventual winner, but on reflection I’m happy to name my book of 2023 as the glorious satire on environmental destruction, Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman, to which we gave the award. Here is my write-up, and you can get it here.

Previous Books of the Year:

2003 (2 months): The Separation, by Christopher Priest (reviewget it here)
2004: (reread) The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (reviewget it here)
– Best new read: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin (reviewget it here)
2005: The Island at the Centre of the World, by Russell Shorto (reviewget it here)
2006: Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea (reviewget it here)
2007: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel (reviewget it here)
2008: (reread) The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank (reviewget it here)
– Best new read: Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray (reviewget it here)
2009: (had seen it on stage previously) Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (reviewget it here)
– Best new read: Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (first volume just pipped by Samuel Pepys in 2004) (reviewget it here)
2010: The Bloody Sunday Report, by Lord Savile et al. (review of vol Iget it here)
2011: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon (started in 2009!) (reviewget it here)
2012: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë (reviewget it here)
2013: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf (reviewget it here)
2014: Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell (reviewget it here)
2015: collectively, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, in particular the winner, Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel (review; get it here).
– Best book I actually blogged about in 2015: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, by Claire Tomalin (reviewget it here)
2016: Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot (reviewget it here)
2017: Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light (reviewget it here)
2018: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling (reviewget it here)
2019: Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo (reviewget it here)
2020: From A Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb, by Timothy Knatchbull (reviewget it here)
2021: Carrying the Fire, by Michael Collins (reviewget it here)
2022: The Sun is Open, by Gail McConnell (review; get it here)

Sunday and December books

Sunday books

(This will shift to Mondays as of tomorrow week)

Last books finished
Bee Quest, by Dave Goulson
Lunar Descent, by Allen Steele
In Xanadu, by Lavie Tidhar
The New Machiavelli, by H. G. Wells
Emotional Chemistry, by Simon Forward
Marking Time, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
iLobby.eu, by Caroline de Cock

December Reading

Non-fiction 7 (YTD 86)
Recollections of Virginia Woolf by Her Contemporaries, by Joan Russell Noble
Invasion of the Dinosaurs, by Jon Arnold
Atlas of Irish History, by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Into the Unknown, eds. Laura Clarke and Patrick Gyger
The Haunting of Villa Diodati, by Philip Purser-Hallard
Bee Quest, by Dave Goulson
iLobby.eu, by Caroline de Cock

Non-genre 2 (YTD 29)
The New Machiavelli, by H. G. Wells
Marking Time, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

SF 5 (YTD 164)
Giants at the End of the World, eds. Johanna Sinisalo & Toni Jerrmann
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
A Long Day in Lychford, by Paul Cornell
Lunar Descent, by Allen Steele
In Xanadu, by Lavie Tidhar

Doctor Who 5 (YTD 37)
Doctor Who: The Star Beast, by Gary Russell
Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, by Malcolm Hulke
Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder, by Mark Morris
Doctor Who: The Giggle, by James Goss
Emotional Chemistry, by Simon Forward

Comics 2 (YTD 28)
Facing Fate: The Good Companion, by Nick Abadzis et al
Jaren van de olifant, by Willy Linthout

4,900 pages (YTD 86,900)
7/21 (YTD 148/351) by non-male writers (Edwards, Clarke, de Cock, Howard, Sinisalo, St John Mandel, illustrators of The Good Companion)
None (YTD 42/351) by a non-white writer
3 rereads (Station Eleven, Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, Emotional Chemistry)

312 books currently tagged unread – down 26 from last month after some reorganising

Reading now

The Future, by Naomi Alderman
Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne

Coming soon (perhaps)

After Life, by Al Ewing et al
Blackpool Revisited, by John Collier
Vincent and the Doctor, by Paul Driscoll
Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang, by Terrance Dicks
The Talons of Weng-Chiang, by Dale Smith
Rule of Law, by Glynis Breitenbach
The Beautifull Cassandra, by Jane Austen
Attack on Thebes, by M.D. Cooper
Three Plays, by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
A Life in Questions, by Jeremy Paxman
Strawberry and the Soul Reapers, by Tite Kubo
The Dawnhounds, by Sasha Stronach
Yellowface, by R.F. Kuang
“The New Mother”, by Eugene Fischer
“Georgia on my Mind”, by Charles Sheffield
Tintin au Pays de l’Or Noir, by Hergé
Notes from the Burning Age, by Claire North
The Wheels of Chance, by H.G. Wells
Confusion, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
Babel, by R.F. Kuancg
Foxglove Summer, by Ben Aaronovitch
The Pragmatic Programmer, by David thomas and Andrew Hunt
The Unsettled Dust, by Robert Aickman
Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak

Annual roundup to come shortly.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Frank lived in a glass tower on the south edge of the city, overlooking the lake. Jeevan left the park and waited awhile on the sidewalk, jumping up and down for warmth, boarded a streetcar that floated like a ship out of the night and leaned his forehead on the window as it inched along Carlton Street, back the way he had come. The storm was almost a whiteout now, the streetcar moving at a walking pace. His hands ached from compressing Arthur’s unwilling heart. The sadness of it, memories of photographing Arthur in Hollywood all those years ago. He was thinking of the little girl, Kirsten Raymonde, bright in her stage makeup; the cardiologist kneeling in his gray suit; the lines of Arthur’s face, his last words—“The wren …”—and this made him think of birds, Frank with his binoculars the few times they’d been bird-watching together, Laura’s favorite summer dress which was blue with a storm of yellow parrots, Laura, what would become of them? It was still possible that he might go home later, or that at any moment she might call and apologize. He was almost back where he’d started now, the theater closed up and darkened a few blocks to the south. The streetcar stopped just short of Yonge Street, and he saw that a car had spun out in the middle of the tracks, three people pushing while its tires spun in the snow. His phone vibrated again in his pocket, but this time it wasn’t Laura.

This was the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015, my first year as a judge (my second year was this year). We had considered, but not shortlisted, the winners of the Tiptree Award (The Girl in the Road and My Real Children), the BSFA Award (Ancillary Sword) and the Nebula Award (Annihilation) but not the Hugo (The Three-Body Problem). The other shortlisted books were The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North; Memory of Water, by Emmi Itälanta; The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey; The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber; and Europe in Autumn, by Dave Hutchinson. I liked them all, but I liked Station Eleven best.

The Clarke vow of secrecy means that I can’t say anything about the judging process, but I can, I think, share what I wrote to the other judges after first reading it. I said:

I thought this was very good – loyal to numerous post-disaster predecessors (definite Earth Abides, possibly After London, nods also to Heinlein I think) but cooking something new and very effective from the old ingredients.

I stand by that. I found it a very fresh read now, with a couple of interesting plot lines played out against a generally horrible and fascinating background, and a close examination of how the end of the world might affect you. It’s a grim story, of course, with lots of death, but it really keeps you reading, and I feel that we got it right. I still like it more than any of the other award winners of that year.

Of course the Station Eleven I read in 2015 is not the Station Eleven you will read in 2023 or 2024. It has been turned into a pretty successful TV series (which I haven’t seen), which means that the popular culture perception of the story is now on the screen rather than on the page. But rather more importantly, we have all now lived through a global pandemic, which was not quite as devastating as the one portrayed in Station Eleven, though this was not immediately apparent in March and April 2020.

I think that Station Eleven survived the pandemic better than Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book. Sometimes sf tells us about the future; more often about the present; and sometimes about the past, Station Eleven now does all three, in a way that it didn’t on first publication. You can get it here.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs, by Jon Arnold (and Malcolm Hulke)

When I first watched Invasion of the Dinosaurs in 2007, I wrote:

Notoriously, the first episode of Invasion of the Dinosaurs exists only in black and white, while the other five are in colour (it would all have been in colour when shown in January/February 1974). Also notoriously, the actual dinosaurs themselves are absolutely terrible as special effects. There are no two ways about it: they are embarrassing puppets pasted onto their scenes by unconvincing CSO.

If you can ignore the awfulness of the dinosaurs, it’s not such a bad story; like many Pertwee tales, it is a bit too long, but the two basic bits of plot – conspiracy at the highest levels of government to Take Over/Destroy England, and the people who think they are on a spaceship to colonise the nearest star – are both rather good and well enough worked out, with their motives a bit of a reprise of The Green Death but with the environmentalists now the bad guys. The cliff-hanger where Sarah is told that she’s been in space for three months, and the scene where she proves she isn’t by walking out of the airlock, are both real jewels.

The main plot twist involving the regular cast, however, is a slightly different matter. Captain Yates, the Brigadier’s deputy since Terror of the Autons, turns out to be in league with the bad guys, yet can’t quite bring himself to do the Doctor harm. The scene where we discover his betrayal is handled with no dramatic tension whatever, and his motivations are not really explored at all. The Brigadier and Benton get all the good lines, but there’s interesting narrative tension among the villains as well.

If it hadn’t been for the dinosaurs, this would probably be remembered as one of the great Pertwee stories despite the not-quite-connected plot. As it is, you just have to close your eyes when they are on-screen; but it’s still way ahead of, say, The Mutants. (I wonder if an audio version of this, with linking narrative by Elisabeth Sladen or Nicholas Courtney, might work a bit better?)

When I came back to it for my Great Rewatch in 2010, I wrote:

Invasion of the Dinosaurs was Malcolm Hulke’s last story for Doctor Who, and it must be said that with the rather central exception of the dinosaurs it is rather good. It is a shame about the dinosaurs, especially the tyrannosaurus / brontosaurus fight in episode 6 which is a real low point. The assembly of talent among the guest cast is excellent – Martin Jarvis, Peter Miles, Carmen Silvera, John Bennett, Noel Johnson, all had been on Who before and/or would be again, and all take it seriously (I guess they couldn’t see the dinosaurs for the most part).

Hulke takes it seriously too; his sympathies are of course with the New Earth folks, but his message is one of working for revolution and change within the system. Mike Yates’ treachery is the most interesting thing that has been done with a regular character since Katarina and Sara were killed off. It’s a shame that Richard Franklin never quite rises to the challenge, but it twists Hulke’s narrative from being a relatively safe tale of rooting out the dodgy bits of the establishment to a nasty one where your own household may turn against you.

Sarah and the Doctor are awfully cuddly now, especially in their exchange about Florana at the end! NB that this is the second story in a row about bad guys using time travel to transport their innocent pawns between different periods of Earth history.

All the above points occurred to me again as I rewatched it this time. I would also add that the London setting is used effectively, especially in the devastated and empty street scenes of the first couple of episodes, and the sense of enclosure and subterfuge in the Minister’s office later on. (Though the starship passengers look like real idiots for not smelling a rat sooner.) And Elisabeth Sladen is on particularly good form.

I knew Hulke’s novelisation (of his own script) well as a kid. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

‘The signal’s very faint, sir.’ The radio operator turned up the volume control on his console to ‘full’. ‘It’s no good, sir. They’ve faded out altogether.’

When I reread it in 2008 I wrote:

I am not sure if this is the best of this run of novels (and I’m certain it’s not the best of the Season 11 novels, as Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders clearly takes that trophy) but it is certainly the most interesting. As commenters to my last entry noted, it starts with a lovely vignette of a Scot in London for the football who becomes a victim of the dinosaurs; there are other little bits of depth added as well, Professor Whitaker becoming very camp, and a couple of odd extra details – the Doctor is described as having “a mop of curly hair” (shurely shome mishtake?) and he talks about the Mary Celeste again as he did in Doctor Who and the Sea Devils. Also, of course, the book loses the appalling visual effects of the original programme – these dinosaurs are flesh and blood, not rubber!

Yet at the same time it is a bit too over-earnest, not quite as mature as Hulke’s better novels (Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters and Doctor Who and the Green Death), so it doesn’t quite get its fourth star from me.

It is interesting that both this and the previous story are about the bad guys shunting people (and in this case dinosaurs) between the present and the past.

The viewpoint character in the opening chapter is from Glasgow, a point I missed when compiling my list of mentions of the city in Doctor Who last month. One other detail added by Hulke for the novelisation is that Butler, the character played by Martin Jarvis, has a large facial scar, and is also made more complex, doubting the wisdom of the grand plan at an earlier stage. You can get it here.

Jon Arnold, who has previously delivered solid analysis of Rose, Scream of the Shalka and The Eleventh Hour in the Black Archive series, has delivered another decent and readable piece of work here.

A short introduction reflects on the context of the story, with the end of the Pertwee era coinciding with unusual political instability in the UK.

The first chapter, “London Falling”, looks at the way in which London has been portrayed in Doctor Who overall, especially in this story.

The second chapter, “The Politics of the Dinosaurs”. looks in detail at the political disarray of early 1970s Britain and its reflections in Doctor Who.

The third chapter, “The Golden Age”, looks at similar iterations of the Golden Age narrative, including the 2005 reality TV show Space Cadets and Douglas Adams’ Golgafrinchams. The second paragraph, with quote and footnotes, is:

The earliest known mention of a golden age occurs in Hesiod’s poem Works and Days (c700 BCE). In this poem, the author outlined his five Ages of Man: the golden age, the silver age, the bronze age, the heroic age and the iron age, with the last of these being Hesiod’s own time4. The names of Hesiod’s ages are derived from the materials from which he believed Zeus constructed humanity (with the heroic age being one of demigods, perhaps an early indication that Hesiod’s metaphor did not quite cover the scheme of society he wished to use – an early example of golden ages being a let-down). The conception of the golden age as an idealised lost nirvana is clear from his description:

“The race of men that the immortals who dwell on Olympus made first of all was of gold […] they lived like gods, with carefree heart, remote from toil and misery. Wretched old age did not affect them either, but with hands and feet ever unchanged they enjoyed themselves in feasting, beyond all ills, and they died as if overcome by sleep. All good things were theirs, and the grain-giving soil bore its fruits of its own accord in unstinted plenty, while they at their leisure harvested their fields in contentment amid abundance.’5

4 Believed to be around the last third of the eighth century BCE. West, ML, ed, Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, p10.
5 Hesiod, Works and Days, p87.

The fourth and longest chapter, “The Immortal Hulke”, looks at the career and beliefs of Malcolm Hulke, who of course was a Communist at one point in his life and also left a legacy of writing about television. It does not explain Hulke’s obsession with reptiles.

The first of three appendices, “20 Years Before Jurassic Park“, makes a case that the dinosaurs are not really all that awful by 1970s standards. It’s difficult to make this a very strong case, hwoever.

The second appendix, “KKLAK!”, looks in detail at the changes Hulke made to the story when adapting it as a novel.

The third appendix, “‘Ullo Jon! Got a New Motor?'” looks at the origin and fate of the Whomobile.

I would have liked to read some analysis of one more topic – the treachery of Mike Yates, which is briefly referred to in passing, but which as I said earlier was the most interesting thing that has been done with a regular character since Katarina and Sara were killed off eight years earlier.

Apart from that, it’s generally a satisfactory and sympathetic piece of work, looking at a flawed but fondly remembered story and explaining where it came from. Normally I like to get a bit more of the behind-the-scenes gossip, but I’m happy with what we get here.

Anyway, 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 Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: 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) | 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)

Recollections of Virginia Woolf by her Contemporaries, edited by Joan Russell Noble

Second paragraph of third sontribution (from John Lehmann):

By that time the Press, though comparatively small and run on the simplest lines, had become a successful and well-known publishing centre. It had four extremely valuable advantages. It had always published Virginia Woolf’s works since the First World War, but after the success of Orlando in 1928 Virginia was no longer a highly thought of experimental novelist of limited appeal, but a best-seller. Her friend Vita Sackville-West – Mrs Harold Nicolson – had had several books of travel published by the Press, but in 1930 she had produced a novel called The Edwardians, which had one of the greatest successes in the history of the Press. The third advantage it had was the International Psycho- Analytical Library, which included the works of Sigmund Freud. At the suggestion of Lytton Strachey’s brother James, a keen student of psychoanalysis, Leonard, with great shrewdness, and against the advice of some distinguished old hands in the publishing world, had taken on the English-speaking rights of the Library in the early ‘twenties. It flourished exceedingly. The fourth advantage was, of course, Leonard and Virginia’s own names as leaders of what was known as the Bloomsbury Group. Among intellectuals it was a much coveted prize to be accepted for publication by the Hogarth Press. It had begun its work in the tiniest way possible in 1917, and by the end of 1919 had published only five books; but one of them was T. S. Eliot’s Poems, another was Virginia’s own first experimental attempt, Kew Gardens, and a third was Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude. Two of them had been printed and bound by Leonard and Virginia themselves.

First published in 1972, thirty years after her death, this pulls together 27 short sketches of Virginia Woolf by friends, relatives and colleagues, some previously published and some new contributions. It provoked me to think how little we can really know of anyone; each of these people saw a slightly different side of her, often through a mutual involvement with the Hogarth Press, and there is much less about her inner life than you would get, for instance, in Hermione Lee’s biography. We get the same anecdotes told from different perspectives; we get different takes on her behaviour and attitudes; we get a sense of someone who was loved by many but not really understood by anyone. I particularly noticed the varying accounts of her interactions with children and younger women; she was capable of showing immense sympathetic curiosity, but also of brutal rudeness. I suppose most of us are like that.

A couple of these pieces are surprisingly weak – Rebecca West admits that she didn’t really know her very well, and T.S. Eliot writes a short encomium which actually has very little content. But most of them are interesting and rewarding. One of the longest and most interesting is by William Plomer, who I confess I had not heard of but whose books I will now look out for. There’s also a moving contribution by Louie Mayer, the Woolfs’ housekeeper who was probably the last person to speak to her before her death. I think even if you’re not a big fan of Woolf’s writing, it’s a very interesting exercise to get a couple of dozen different personal perspectives on their memories of a particular individual; and if you are a fan of Woolf’s writing, it certainly adds to the appreciation of her work. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is Bee Quest, by Dave Goulson.

The Fourteenth Doctor novelisations: The Star Beast (Gary Russell), Wild Blue Yonder (Mark Morris), The Giggle (James Goss)

You wait five years for a new Doctor, and then two of them come along one after the other…

While we recover from the Fifteenth Doctor’s proper debut yesterday, you can relive the Fourteenth Doctor’s brief tenure in the three novelisations of his three stories, The Star Beast, Wild Blue Yonder and The Giggle, each published electronically a few days after the respective episodes were shown, and available in paper form next month. Spoilers: One of them is likely to be my Doctor Who book of the year when I do my roundup of my 2023 reading on Sunday. I’ve also had a listen to a relevant Big Finish audio adaptation.

Doctor Who: The Star Beast is Gary Russell’s second novelisation of a Doctor Who TV story, his first being of the TV Movie from 1996, 27 years ago. (He also did four Sarah Jane novelisations, and much else.) The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Best thing to do, Doctor, he thought, is not get caught.

This is a good start to the new regime. (One of my personal complaints about the Chibnall era is that little attention was paid to the spinoff publications.) As well as faithfully transferring the on-screen action to the page, we get more characterisation for the minor characters, especially Sylvia and Rose, and some delightful tips of the hat to the comic strip on which the story was based – the steelworks is called Millson Wagner, in a tribute to the original writers, and the original new companion, Sharon, makes an offstage appearance as Fudge’s friend. Basically it’s what you want from a novelisation. You can get it here.

The Fourteenth Doctor TV story was not in fact the first adaptation of the original Star Beast comic. In 2019 Big Finish released audio versions of this and The Iron Legion, the first of the Doctor Who magazine strips, both starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, and for completeness I listened to both. They are quite long; The Iron Legion is almost two hours, The Star Beast 1h49m, and then there’s an hour of behind-the-scenes, and the material isn’t quite strong enough to bear the weight of it. But it is fun enough, a look at two old stories from a new angle, with some tidying up of loose ends in the plots.

NB in particular from The Iron Legion, Christine Kavanagh (who had a small part in The Diplomat) as June / Magog, the lead baddy, and Big Finish regulars Toby Longworth and Joseph Kloska as the robot Vesuvius and Morris; and from The Star Beast, Rhianne Starbuck as Sharon (she seems to have paused her acting career, which is a shame), Bethan Dixon Bate as Beep the Meep, and in a surprise twist, 1970s news reader Angela Rippon as herself. You can get it here.

The novelisation of Wild Blue Yonder is by Marc Morris, who has done a bunch of other Doctor Who books and plays, some of which I liked more than others. The second paragraph of the third chapter (“Brate”) is:

There was no indication anything had been disturbed. The hover-buggy remained where they’d parked it; nothing had fallen over; nothing had become detached from the walls or roof and crashed to the ground.

Wild Blue Yonder was such a visual story, depending both on superb special effects and on twists in the plot, that the book version needs to be either a faithful screen-to-page adaptation or to take a completely different approach. Morris has (perhaps sensibly) gone for the first option, and the result is a workmanlike book that completists like me will want to have, but won’t be a gateway drug for anyone else. You can get it here.

It’s no secret that I rate James Goss as one of the best Doctor Who writers currently in business (eg here, here and here), so I awaited his novelisation of The Giggle with eager anticipation. The second paragraph of the third chapter (“Move 3”) is:

London burned. Flames poked out of windows. People stood on roofs, howling. Cars smashed into each other over and over. Double-decker buses lay toppled in the streets, people thronged the bridges, sometimes diving off, sometimes falling off, sometimes pushed off. She watched two boats down there in the Thames, playing a slow and stupid game of chicken. Neither boat blinked.

I have to say that my high expectations were more than exceeded. Goss tells the story from the perspective of the Toymaker (first-person Doctor Who books are very rare and not always successful), smooths off the edges, throws in some extra pinches of emotion and also some shifts of genre and format – at one point the book becomes a choose-your-own-adventure for Donna, and there are other puzzles throughout. I suspect that the paper version will be even nicer and it’s the only one of the three that I plan to get in hard copy. It’s a real tour de force, and you can get it here. I enjoyed this so much that I made it my very first post on Threads:

Post by @nwbrux
View on Threads

So, a good closing out of the brief Fourteenth Doctor era. (Though I haven’t yet read the DWM comic strip.)

Giants at the End of the World: A Showcase of Finnish Weird, eds. Johanna Sinisalo and Toni Jerrman

Second paragraph of third story (“Snowfall” by Tiina Raevaara):

Kohotan katseeni. Aurinko on ehtinyt täyteen kirkkau-teensa, jäiset puut kimaltelevat. Talon takana metsästä työn-tyvä kallio kiiltelee huurteisena sekin. Kallion takia kuk-kapenkeissä on turha yrittää kasvattaa mitään: kesällä se piilottaa auringon taaksensa, heittää pihalle valtavan varjon. Nyt maa on jo jäässä.I look up. The sun has reached its full brightness, the icy trees are glittering. The rock pushing out from the forest behind the house is also glimmering with frost. Because of this rock, it’s useless to try to grow anything in the flowerbeds: in the summer it hides the sun behind it and throws a huge shadow into the garden. Now the ground is frozen already.
Translated by Sara Norja

This was given as a freebie to all attenders of Worldcon 75 in Helsinki back in 2017, to boost the visibility of Finnish writers among attendees. To be honest the stories are skewed a little more towards horror than is my usual taste, but I really enjoyed the first one, “The Haunted House on Rockville Street” by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, and one in the very middle, “The Bearer of the Bone Harp”, by Emmi Itäranta. You can read it on the Internet Archive.

This was both the shortest unread book that I had acquired in 2017, and the sf book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on those piles respectively are Recollections of Virginia Woolf by her Contemporaries, ed. Joan Noble Russell, and Attack on Thebes by M.D. Cooper.

Facing Fate: The Good Companion, by Nick Abadzis et al

Second frame from third part:

The culmination of the series of IDW Tenth Doctor comic albums that I’ve been reading since March, here all the various companion plotlines come together and there is a very satisfactory ending to the character arc for Gabby Gonzalez, the comics-only companion from New York. Really this whole series deserves the same recognition that the early DWM strips have; it’s beautifully done. It was especially evocative to read it at the same time as the Doctor / Donna story unfolded on TV. You can get it here.

This was the first book that I finished reading in December, so I’m three weeks off more or less. This gap will probably only widen over the break!

Many Grains of Sand, by Liz Castro

Second paragraph of third chapter:

AMI is a cross-party organisation that grew out of three initiatives: the group of city governments which passed motions declaring themselves “morally excluded” from the Spanish Constitution to express theirc omplete frustration with the Constitutional Court ruling against the Catalan Statute of Autonomy on June 28, 2010, the popular “consultations” that were held in more than 500 municipalities between 2009 and 2011, ad the spirit of the demonstration of July 10, 2010 itself, which represented a broad swath of the population which supports the Catalan right to decide.

A beautifully illustrated book, given to me by the author, listing numerous campaign tactics used by the proponents of independence for Catalonia in the heady years from the 2006 Statute of Autonomy to the botched independence declaration in 2017. A lot of this is genuinely inspiring activism: the people who went to all 50 US state capitals to present their case to the governors; the human towers and works of permanent and less permanent art; the integration with sports.

A lot of this could in fact be copied elsewhere in a society with a reasonable amount of freedom of expression, though there’s not many places with both a strong independence movement and an open society. You can get it here.

The Catalan debate is moving onto another plane now, with the Spanish government attempting to draw a line under 2017 and move on, while being subjected to attempted sabotage by the Right both at home and abroad. My personal suspicion is that a fairly held official referendum on independence in Catalonia would deliver a majority for continued participation in the Spanish state, and would kill serious talk of independence for a generation. (If it had not been for Brexit, this would have been the medium-term outcome in Scotland.) Those who say that it’s against the law and the constitution need to remember that in the end, the law and the constitution are shaped by popular sentiment and not vice versa.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next in that pile is Atlas of Irish History, by Ruth Dudley Edwards.

The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women: A Social History, by Elizabeth Norton

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Infancy was also the stage of experimentation and play, universal for children of all social classes, which could begin in earnest when the swaddling was finally removed. It was Cecily Burbage who was responsible for taking Princess Elizabeth out of her cradle to play,4 and it was she who, when Elizabeth was around a month old, released her hands from the swaddling bands, after which her arms were covered by loose little sleeves.5 This was the first freedom of movement Tudor babies enjoyed, allowing them to ‘use and stir’ their hands.
4 Harrison, op. cit., f34v.
5 Guillimeau, op. cit., p.22

An interesting look at the experience of half of the English people during the reigns of the five Tudor monarchs, going from top to bottom – linking the lives and deaths of princesses and queens to what is known of the rest of the population. The framework is around Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, taken as applying to all of us, so from infancy to old age and the various options between.

There are some very good bits here; the chapters on crime and religion in particular are fertile ground for the imagination. It’s also interesting to learn of Katherine Fenkyll, a multiply married businesswoman in the City of London. As usual with this sort of book, sadly, the word “Ireland” is missing from the index, and there’s not even much about Wales. But it’s good to come at a well-known subject – life in Tudor England – from a different direction, and I certainly learned as much as I had hoped from it. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2018. Next on that pile is The Unsettled Dust by Robert Aickman.

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

Second paragraph of third chapter:

She arrived at my quarters still unsettled. The collar of her jacket was slightly askew—none of her Bos were awake to see to her, and she had dressed in nervous haste, dropping things, fumbling at fastenings that should have been simple. I met her standing, and I didn’t dismiss Kalr Five, who lingered, ostensibly busy but hoping to see or hear something interesting.

I wasn’t originally planning to re-read this, but then I thought since I was re-reading the Tiptree and Clarke winners from 2015 I should go and look again at the BSFA winner. I actually voted for it for both the BSFA and the Hugos, and wrote then:

I actually liked it more than the first book in the series; it’s self-contained and fuelled by righteous anger, forensically directed at planetary and sexual politics. It’s several months since I read it as one of the Clarke submissions, but I think I still like it best of the three. [The other two non-Puppy novels being The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison [Sarah Monette], and The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, which of course won.]

Re-reading it this time, I found the first 20-30% slightly hard going with the density of description of a human society from a slightly non-human perspective; and then the book suddenly catches fire after an act of violence, and the narrator, an artificial intelligence incarnated into a human body, must navigate entrenched societal structures to reach something resembling justice without causing complete disintegration. It’s tremendously tightly done, and took my breath away once again while I was reading it. You can get it here.

There were eight novels on the BSFA Best Novel ballot that year, more than any other year except 2020. The others were Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North, both of which we shortlisted for the Clarke Award; Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge; Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor; The Moon King, by Neil Williamson; The Race, by Nina Allan; and Wolves, by Simon Ings. I stand by the decisions we made as the Clarke jury, but there were some very good novels out that year.

On to the Clarke winner, Station Eleven.

Under the Yoke, by Ivan Vazov

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Преди няколко години тая стара ограда се гордееше с исполински бор, който със своята рунтава шапка, дето пееха хиляди птичи гнезда, заслоняваше старовремската черкова. Но бурята катури бора, а игуменът – черковата и съгради нова. Сега тя, със своя висок, по новото зодчество издигнат купол, странно противоречи с осталите стари постройки, паметници на миналото, и даже грози като къс нова хартия, залепена на стар пергамент. Старата черкова и старият бор паднаха под ударите на съдбата и оттогава манастирът затъмня, не весели вече окото с гигантското дърво до облаците; не възвишават благочестиво душата зографисаните по стените образи на светци, архангели, преподобни отци н мъченици с изчовъркани очи от кърджалии и делибашии.Some years before, the old building had rejoiced in a gigantic pine-tree, which sheltered the church with its high- spreading branches—the home of a thousand feathered songsters. But a storm had uprooted the pine and the church tower, and a new tower, which had been erected in its place, with a lofty new-fashioned cupola, made a strange contrast to the dilapidated old remains of a past age: it gave one the same shock that is produced by a piece of fresh white paper stuck on a time-worn parchment. The old church and tower have fallen under the assaults of time and destiny, and henceforth the monastery has become sombre: the eye no longer follows the towering pine to the clouds: the soul no longer draws pious inspirations from the paintings on the walls representing saints, archangels, holy fathers, and martyrs, defiled and with their eyes put out by the Kirjalis and Delibashis.
translated by William Morfill

A classic of nineteenth-century Bulgarian literature, a mercifully short novel about the 1876 uprising against Turkish rule. I must admit that I was surprised by how well it reads, given that I have read any number of much worse-written books about Ireland (or England, or the United States) at the same period. Vazov’s revolutionaries, all men, are outnumbered, outgunned and fight valiantly to the end; his women are in fact also three-dimensional characters; you can’t really say the same for the Turks, and it’s a rather black and white novel, but still it’s a good and digestible insight into that particular part of Europe at that particular time. You can get it here.

This was the non-genre fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is a collection of Three Plays by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, but it will have to wait until I have read all the other unread books acquired in 2017.

One Foot in Laos, by Dervla Murphy

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Clouds of mosquitoes were tormenting the four passengers already aboard and I hastily applied repellent to my bare parts before passing the bottle around. But it is a fallacy that clothes protect one; soon this swarm was feasting off my thighs and buttocks. Happily Vientiane is not malarial, at least in winter; dengue fever, borne by a soundless daytime mosquito, is more of a hazard. It kills many children and ‘break-bone’ fever debilitates adults for weeks, causing agonising pain; there is neither a prophylactic nor a cure. Perhaps its worst symptom – certainly the most alarming, from the patient’s associates’ point of view – is psychological: dengue violence. A mild-mannered elderly expat told me that while fevered she hit her gardener over the head with a trowel. When she had fully recovered the young man suggested their going to the wat together, to sit in silence in front of the Lord Buddha and be reconciled. In our world, he’d have sued her.

The late great Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy, who I worked with briefly and at long distance back in 1991, travelled around Laos in late 1997 and early 1998, and produced one of her typically empathy-filled accounts of the country and its people, along with the difficulties of getting around on a bicycle. (The title of the book refers to the fact that she injured a foot quite early in the trip, which also hampered her mobility.) It becomes gradually clear that this is a society in deep trauma after the American bombed it to smithereens in an unreported sideshow to the Vietnam War. Murphy generally enjoys and learns from her interactions with the locals; other foreigners are a different matter (to her annoyance, she finds that a fellow passenger on a ferry boat has brought along a copy of one of her earlier books).

Murphy was anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist, and deeply hostile to western interventions in the developing world. That’s not quite where I am coming from, but I really appreciate her candid and unflinching commentary on the consequences, intended or unintended, of economic transition. But I must say that I appreciate even more her description of the glorious landscapes through which she travels, cycling along uncertain roads through the middle of the Laotian mountains. The one thing that the book lacks is a proper map; when I tried to identify some of the spots where she travelled, I was astonished at the distance she covered. I foolishly thought that crossing Bosnia on bombed-out roads in 1997 in our Belfast-bought Skoda was a bit of an adventure, but really there’s no comparison. It’s a fascinating read, and you can get it here.

We got this book because, as a regular Oxfam donor, Anne was invited to Laos in late 2019, twenty-two years on from Dervla Murphy, to see what the NGO money is being spent on. It’s her story to tell, not mine, but they made a promotional video about the trip which features her several times (starting at 0:19, and you can hear her speaking Dutch at 5:06).

This was my top book acquired in 2019. Next on that pile is The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless.

The J.R.R. Tolkien Miscellany, by Robert S. Blackham

Second paragraph of third chapter:

By the time Tolkien was at Exeter College, he was a committed smoker, mostly smoking a pipe but sometimes cigarettes. Smoking was socially acceptable back then and a lot cheaper than it is today, and Tolkien was most happy when with his fellow students talking and smoking late into the evening.

One of those books of Tolkieniana that I picked up ages ago for a pound on the remainder shelves. Aspects of Tolkien’s life and writing (but mainly his life) are packaged into short, thematic, well-illustrated chapters, though the presentation confusingly alternates between the roughly chronological and the more broadly cultural. There wasn’t much here that was new to me, but it might do for the sort of reader who doesn’t want to tackle Carpenter or one of the other biographies. You can get it here.

This was the shortest book that I had acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is Giants at the End of the World, by Johanna Sinisalo.

The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Who are you?” I say.

This was joint winner of the Tiptree Award in 2015, along with My Real Children by Jo Walton. It’s set in near-future Asia and Africa, with two different timelines converging on Djibouti from the east (across the ocean) and the west (across the continent). I really liked the two timelines, and was kept guessing until quite near the end as to how they actually meshed together. I was not sure about the ending, where 1) both time lines end up with fatal love triangles and 2) the resolution of the earlier of the two timelines struck me as medically improbable, even with future technology. But I really loved the central images of the two roads, one across the ocean (though why ending in Djibouti rather than Bossasso?) and the other across the Sahel. You can get it here.

The Tiptree honor list also included three other books that I have read, Kaleidoscope, eds Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios, Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor and Memory of Water by Emmi Itärantal; three books that I have not read, Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi, The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley and Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett; and four shorter pieces, “In Her Eyes” by Seth Chambers, “The Lightness of the Movement” by Pat MacEwen, “Neither Witch nor Fairy” by Nghi Vo and “A Woman Out of Time”, Kim Curran.

On to Ancillary Sword.

All Things Made New, by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Second paragraph of third chapter (“The Virgin Mary and Protestant Reformers”):

The scandal of Cranmer on the Lady altar tells us a good deal about the ambiguous feelings of the Reformers for Our Lady. On the one hand they saw it as a major work of piety to demolish and demystify the cultic and devotional world of which she was the centrepiece. On the other, they needed her as a bastion to defend the Catholic faith against the more militant forces which the Reformation had unleashed. They wished her to play her part in the biblical narrative which they were proclaiming to the world, and which they felt was threatened from the two opposed forces of papistry and radicalism. But in the ambiguity of their feelings towards Mary, they were being true to what they found in the biblical text: here was a story of Mary which not only was restricted in scope but also contained elements of both praise and reserve. The Reformers’ task was one of restoration as much as destruction.

I hugely enjoyed MacCulloch’s massive History of Christianity when I read it in 2012; this is a shorter collection of essays on different aspects of the Reformation. I found most of it very interesting, though I must admit I had not heard of Richard Hooker and am little the wiser now. But in general, it’s a set of please for English Reformation history to be understood as a specifically English historical experience, but also one that was linked to developments on the European continent and which also had reverberations in America. (I wish there had been more on Scotland and Ireland, or indeed Wales, but this is a collection of pieces mainly published elsewhere so it’s unreasonable to expect global coverage.)

MacCulloch comes back to the question of English religious texts several times, and explains why on the one hand the King James Version (and he unpacks that name) is used for most of the Anglican services, but on the other the Psalms are generally Myles Coverdale’s version. There’s also an interesting short piece on the Bay Psalm Book, the first book in English known to have been published in America (in Boston, in 1640). I like that sort of thing myself, though of course we have to be aware that we tend to focus on the artefacts that survive from history which can lead to a lack of perspective on less tangible things.

Anyway, apart from Hooker I enjoyed this and learned from it, and you can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is Recollections of Virginia Woolf by Her Contemporaries, ed. Joan Russell Noble.

November 2023 books

Travel this month: Oslo, Paris, London, and tonight in Natick, MA, via Copenhagen.

Non-fiction 8 (YTD 79)
Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost
The Hand of Fear, by Simon Bucher-Jones
Dalek, by Billy Sequire
All Things Made New, by Diarmaid MacCulloch
The J.R.R. Tolkien Miscellany, by Robert S. Blackham
One Foot in Laos, by Dervla Murphy 
The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women, by Elizabeth Norton
Many Grains of Sand, by Liz Castro

Non-genre 2 (YTD 27)
The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope
Under the Yoke, by Ivan Vazov

SF 5 (YTD 159)
The Road to Amber, by Roger Zelazny
My Real Children, by Jo Walton 
The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 32)
Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara, by David Fisher
Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who: Dalek, by Rob Shearman

Comics 2 (YTD 26)
Facing Fate: Vortex Butterflies, by Nick Abadzis et al
Eldrad Must Live! by Bob Baker, Stephen B. Scott,  Andrew Orton and Colin Brockhurst

4,400 pages (YTD 82,000)
7/21 (YTD 141/330) by non-male writers (Murphy, Norton, Castro, Walton, Byrne, Leckie, illustrators of Vortex Butterflies)
None (YTD 42/330) by a non-white writer
9 rereads (The Prisoner of Zenda, My Real Children, The Girl in the Road, Ancillary Sword, The Metamorphosis, Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara, Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara, Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear, Doctor Who: Dalek)

338 books currently tagged unread – down 6 from last month.

Reading now
None – typing this up just after I finished The Metamorphosis on the plane.

Coming soon (perhaps)
Facing Fate: The Good Companion, by Nick Abadzis et al
Doctor Who: The Star Beast, by Gary Russell
Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, by Terrance Dicks
Invasion of the Dinosaurs, by Jon Arnold
The Haunting of the Villa Diodati, by Philip Purser-Hallard
Giants at the End of the World, by Johanna Sinisalo
Recollections of Virginia Woolf by Her Contemporaries, by Joan Russell Noble
Atlas of Irish History, by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Jaren van de olifant, by Willy Linthout
Marking Time, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
A Long Day in Lychford, by Paul Cornell
The New Machiavelli, by H. G. Wells
Our Share of Night, by Mariana Enriquez
Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Notes from the Burning Age, by Claire North
Land of the Blind, by Scott Gray et al
Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne
How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
The Pragmatic Programmer, by David Thomas
“Georgia On My Mind”, by Charles Sheffield
Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless
The Unsettled Dust, by Robert Aickman
Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak

My Real Children, by Jo Walton

Second paragraph of third chapter:

In due course Oswald left his minor public school at seventeen, and went straight into the RAF, where he ended up in Bomber Command. He was killed in the autumn of 1943 flying a raid over Germany. Patty went home to Twickenham that Christmas, all heartiness and perpetual appetite, in the middle of a late growth spurt. She found her mother trying to be proud of her heroic son but succeeding only in being desolate. Her father looked ten years older. She knew she was no compensation to them for Oswald’s loss, and did not try. Her own loss was constantly with her.

A novel of a woman whose life bifurcates when she accepts – or rejects – her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in the 1940s; we follow her through two different timelines of England (mostly) in the late twentieth century, with neither timeline being the same as ours – one is a little more hopeful, with colonies on the moon; one less so, with war and conflict. I enjoyed it and was moved by it, but not as much as by Walton’s previous Among Others. I found the biographical details of the main character’s parallel lives a bit staccato in places, especially towards the end, and I wasn’t at all convinced that her early decision was a plausible jonbar point for the two histories – though that appears to be the point of the story. However the depiction of how differently family dynamics can play out under varied circumstances is compassionate and convincing.

It was one of the novels submitted for that year’s Clarke Award, when I was one of the judges, but in the end we didn’t even shortlist it. It did, however, jointly win the Tiptree Award (along with The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne), and was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award and a bunch of others. You can get it here.