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Sunday reading

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
The Other Islam, by Stephen Schwartz
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore

Last books finished
Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
See How Much I Love You, by Luis Leante
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet, by Douglas Adams and James Goss
Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Rip Tide, by Louise Cooper
Penric's Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Colour Of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
Monstress Volume 1: Awakening, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
The Dead Men Diaries, ed. Paul Cornell

Next books
The Humans, by Matt Haig
The Rapture of the Nerds, by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross
To Lie with Lions, by Dorothy Dunnett

Interesting Links for 22-01-2017


Interesting Links for 21-01-2017

The Palace of Dreams, by Ismail Kadare

Second paragraph of third chapter:
As he went along the corridor he was assailed by all sorts of doubts and surmises. Could he have made some mistake in his work? Could someone have appeared from the depths of the Empire and come knocking at every door, going from office to office and vizier to vizier, claiming that his valuable dream had been thrown in the wastepaper-basket? Mark-Alem tried to remember the dreams he'd rejected recently, but couldn't recall any of them. Perhaps that wasn't it, though. Perhaps he'd been summoned because of something else. It was nearly always like that: when you were sent for, it was almost invariably for some reason you could never have dreamed of. Was it something to do with breaking the secrecy rule? But he hadn't seen any of his friends since he'd started working here. As he asked his way through the corridors he felt more and more strongly that he'd been in this part of the Palace before. He thought for a while this might be because all the corridors were identical, but when he finally found himself in the room with the brazier, where the square-faced man sat with his eyes glued to the door, he realised it had been the Director-General's office he had knocked on his very first day in the Tabur Sarrail. He'd been so absorbed in his work since then that he'd forgotten it even existed, and even now he had no idea what the square-faced man's job was in the Palace of Dreams. Was he one of the many assistant directors, or the Director-General himself?
This was the novel that got Albania's greatest writer, Ismail Kadare, into trouble with the Communist authorities when it was written and sneakily published in 1980 and 1981. Our protagonist, Mark-Alem of the ancient Quprili family, is recruited to the Palace of Dreams in the capital of the Empire, where feuding bureaucrats together analyse and report on the portents opened up to the Imperial rulers through the dreams of the populace. You don't have to be very smart to see this as a rather clear analogy of the Sigurimi under the Hoxha regime, gathering information neurotically and monitoring the loyalty of the population closely, yet also vulnerable at the top to the whims of the man at the very centre of the state.

The Writers' Plenum which condemned the book showed only that they could not appreciate the talent they had amongst them. As well as being rather like a Kafka story told by an insider, Kadare adopts a lot of Latin American-style magical realism in the story (there is a particularly bizarre and vivid police raid on a dinner party). My linguistic instincts are sharp enough also to spot that there is something going on with the protagonist's name: Qubrili, we are told, is linked with the word for "bridge", in modern Turkish "köprü"; but of course the standard Albania word for bridge these days is "urë", and what it anyway made me think of was the novel by Ivo Andrić of the old Yugoslavia, Na Drini ćuprija, The Bridge on the Drina (the modern word is "most" rather than "ćuprija"). It would be interesting for someone to do an annotated edition of this some time.

This was the most popular book on my shelves acquired in 2010. Next in that ranking is a Dutch translation of an Italian children's book, De piraten van de Zilveren Kattenklauw, supposedly by the heroic mouse protagonist Geronimo Stilton, which has already popped up this month.

The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

Second paragraph of third story ("The Other Foot")
In her kitchen Hattie Johnson covered the boiling soup, wiped her fingers on a cloth, and walked carefully to the back porch.
The mid-point of the century was an extraordinary moment of creativity for Ray Bradbury. One of these stories was published in 1947, another in 1948 and the rest in 1949, 1950 and 1951. You can see his genius in applying the writing style of the mainstream to sf tropes - the end of the world, Mars, alien contact. He was ahead of his time as well: the very first story is about parents worrying that their children are spending too much time in virtual reality (first published in the Saturday Evening Post); the third story is set on a Mars settled by African Americans who are then begged for forgiveness by the white men who have screwed up the Earth (first published here).

The stories don't have the same continuity of theme that The Martian Chronicles do, so it makes sense for them to be linked by a narrative of moving tattoos on the ever-flexing skin of the Illustrated Man. And a lot of them are allegories on mid-century America, dressed up as SF tropes, and perhaps a little odd in the pulps where most of them were first published. I did once meet someone who wondered if Ray Bradbury could really be counted as an sf writer because he is so literary in approach. Bradbury hinmself, however, had no doubt.

This was the top sf book recommended by you in my poll at the end of last year. Next on that list is Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I will read but not review online until its fate in this year's Hugos has become clear.

Rhyme Stew, by Roald Dahl

Second verse of third poem:
I was running the tombola
At our church bazaar today
And doing it with gusto
In my usual jolly way...
...and shortly afterward the narrator gets groped by the vicar, because sexual assault is funny.

A collection of poems by Dahl, ostensibly for children. The longer poems, which are subversions of well-known stories - Dick Whittington, the Tortoise and the Hare, the Emperor's New Clothes, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Hansel and Gretel and Aladdin - are generally much better than the short ones which seem too often to be doggerel encoding a club-room joke, usually missing the mark of good taste (let alone appeal to the target audience). It is perhaps a product of a different time (though published in 1989 when things were surely already changing).

This was the shortest book on my shelves acquired in 2010. Next in that ranking is a Dutch translation of an Italian children's book, De piraten van de Zilveren Kattenklauw, supposedly by the heroic mouse protagonist Geronimo Stilton.

Second frame of third page:

(a bird steals a biscuit from Jeremiah's bag)
I asked a friend some time back which Flemish comic series he would recommend, and without too much hesitation he name Jeremiah, an extended story about the odyssey of Jeremiah and his buddy Kurdy through a post-apocalyptic America. So I got this volume, whose title translates as "The Rifle in the Water" and then lost it for several years, finding it only the other day in a big household cleanup.

I have to say I wasn't hugely impressed. Jeremiah and Kurdy encounter an extended family in the swamps, all of them pretty awful people with a secret to hide (there's a rifle in the water, and more besides). Lots of shooting and conspiring, but it didn't hugely engage me. I should possibly have tried the story from the beginning - or else just skipped it entirely.

This was my top unread non-English comic, and will be followed by another.

Interesting Links for 17-01-2017

Second paragraph of third story ("The Bad Guy", by Stephen Fewell):
‘Whenever I think of you,’ she said, ‘I’ll always remember you with fondness —’ She’d been trembling as she took my hand, her rings clustered cold against my fingers.
Another of the Big Finish anthologies, unusually taking the first eight Doctors in chronological sequence with stories about saying goodbye. A strong start and end, with the First Doctor taking Ian and Barbara along Route 66 and the Eighth Doctor re-enacting The Wicker Man with contemporary garden furniture (one for strangecomplex, I think), by Gareth Wigmore and Paul Magrs respectively. The others that grabbed me were an elegiac Fourth Doctor story, "Into the Silent Land" by Steven A. Roman, and a grim Sicth Doctor story by Joe Lidster, "Curtain Call". In general 2006 seems to have been a good year for the Short trips anthologies, as it was for New Who in general.

Next in sequence of these anthologies is Short Trips: The Centenarian, edited by Ian Farrington, but I read it back in 2010, so I'll move on to Short Trips: Time Signature, edited by Simon Guerrier.

Sunday reading

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet, by Douglas Adams and James Goss
See How Much I Love You, by Luis Leante
Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Last books finished
Jeremiah: Een Geweer in het Water, by Hermann
Rhyme Stew, by Roald Dahl
The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
The Palace of Dreams, by Ismail Kadarë

Next books
The Colour Of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
The Other Islam, by Stephen Schwartz
Rip Tide, by Louise Cooper

Books acquired in last week
Five Go On A Strategy Away Day, by Bruno Vincent
Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars, by Catherine Clinton
The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Monstress Volume 1: Awakening, by Marjorie Liu
The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric's Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Second paragraph of third chapter, with bonus Akkadian fable:
The names of civilisations that arose in the ancient Near East now ring with the note of remote antiquity. Three dozen and more are known that flourished in the three millennia from the start of records c.3300 BC until the invasion of Alexander in 330 BC, among them such powers as Babylon, Assyria, Phoenicia, Lydia and Persia. They bring to mind visions of oriental absolutism, breathtaking ruthlessness and gaudy magnificence. Despite their many pretensions, their cultural fertility and sometimes truly universal power, they have left no heirs. Something of this was foreseen by at least one of their own writers:
arad mitanguranni
         annû bēlī annû
umma usātu ana mātia luppuš kimi
         epuš bēlī epuš
         amēlu ša usātam ana mātišu ipuš
         šakna usātu-šu in kippat ša marduk
e arad anāku usātamma ana mātia ul epuš
         la teppuš bēlī la teppuš
         ilīma ina muḫḫi tillāni labīrūti itallak
         amur gulgullē ša arkûti u pānûti
         ayyu bēl lemuttima ayu bēl usāti

Servant, listen to me!
         Yes, master, yes.
I will benefit my country
         So do, master, do.
         The man who benefits his country
         has his good deeds set down in the record of Marduk.
No, servant, I will not benefit my country.
         Do not do it, master, do not.
         Go up to the ancient ruin heaps and walk around.
         See the skulls of the lowly and the great.
         Which belongs to one who did evil, and which to one who did good?
from "the Dialogue of Pessimism", Akkadian.
This fascinating book turned out to be very interesting as paired reading with The Horse, the Wheel and Language. It looks at the history of those languages which have become dominant for a while in areas far from their origins - Sumerian, Akkadian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic, Egyptian, Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Nahuatl, Quechua, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Russian, and English (plus a few others of course) - and asks how this process happens, and also how such languages get displaced by their successors.

He starts with the Middle East, and I probably learned more from this section than from any other. I would have found it difficult to distinguish between the Akkadians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians; now I appreciate the lovely continuity between Akkadian, Aramaic and Arabic, all fairly closely related and the lingua franca of Mesopotamia and far beyond for centuries. The Greek chapter also pulls apart the roles of the different Greek dialects in both literature and politics; again, information that I had been vaguely aware of but packaged here comprehensibly. And it had not occurred to me that Ancient Egyptian survived as Coptic until a few centuries ago.

I particularly appreciated was the account of the linguistic shifts of the Chinese languages. I've found it very difficult to get to grips with Chinese history in the past - the names mean nothing to me and I don't have a good sense of the geography; and I've sensed some writers steering away from the question of internal cultural or ethnic differences in China. Of course, if you approach it through the lens of language, it is impossible to ignore the cultural and ethnic aspects, and equipped with those tools I suddenly found a lot of what I had previous read fitting together much better in my mind. And it's important for understanding how our world will work in the future - Mandarin has about the same number of speakers as the second, third and fourth languages in the world combined (Spanish, English and Hindi/Urdu), and the other Chinese languages are level pegging with major European languages like French and Italian.

The linguistic approach also offers a somewhat different perspective on imperialism and colonisation. It's actually rather rare in historical terms for a language to jump tracks and become a widely spoken mother tongue in places far from its origin. Most of the ancient languages discussed were languages of commerce, religion and/or administration which took a very long time to percolate into the population as a whole; apart from settler colonies, the same is true in more modern times - Dutch is not spoken in Indonesia (and barely in the Caribbean); English may be the national language of India but it is spoken by only 10% of the population. It is relatively unusual for the colonisers' language to completely displace the previous incumbents. English has been lucky twice: when Germanic tribes conquered the Western Roman Empire, Britain was the only province where their language stuck, everywhere else either retaining Latin (or Basque, which had been around for even longer) or switching from Aramaic to Arabic when the time came. Surviving a narrow brush with Norman French, it then became the core language of European settlement in North America. In both cases, depopulation of the indigenous population by plague, helped by ethnic cleansing, appears to have been a crucial factor, as with Spanish in Latin America. (Simple conquest is not enough; cf German and Japanese.) Similarly, Portuguese has Brazil, but none of the other ex-colonies is really lusophone in the same way; as for French, there is no country apart from France where it has a majority of native speakers - not Belgium (38%), not even Monaco (45%).

But Ostler is very far from being an anglophone triumphalist, and takes his last chapter to look ahead at the eventual fall of English as a world language, and to speculate about what might replace it. One would have to bet on Chinese, already an official language or an unofficial language of commerce all round the South China Sea. He makes the point that Chinese, English and Malay/Indonesian have all been helped in their success by rather simple internal structures which make them relatively easier to learn to speak. Chinese, however, is hampered by its writing system which is much more difficult to grasp. I must say I can see English clinging on for centuries to come, as a lingua franca for humanity, even with a relatively decreasing share of native speakers.

(Note for self: I would love to understand why it is that the parts of moldova which were actually in the Roman Empire are precisely the areas where the non-Romance-speaking minorities, the Bulgarians and Gagauz, are concentrated.)

Anyway, very much worth reading, full of detail and connections which I had not thought of before.

The BSFA longlist was published last weekend, and as ever I'm running the books through Goodreas and LibraryThing, to track both number of owners on each system (you have to dig into Goodreads a bit for that, but it is there) and the average rating of each book.

The results are as follows (ranked by geometrical average of number of owners), the top nine of the 34 entries in each column indicated in bold:
Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
Colson Whitehead - The Underground Railroad 161127 4.07 1052 4.14
N K Jemisin - The Fifth Season 73486 4.32 755 4.28
Charlie Jane Anders - All The Birds In The Sky 55332 3.59 567 3.67
V E Schwab - A Gathering Of Shadows 69915 4.35 408 4.19
Cixin Liu - Death's End 14362 4.51 160 4.26
Alan Moore - Jerusalem 8052 3.98 188 4.13
Claire North - The Sudden Appearance of Hope 13191 3.62 112 3.59
Yoon Ha Lee - Ninefox Gambit 8858 4.02 151 4.06
Becky Chambers - A Closed and Common Orbit 10489 4.43 105 4.43
Charles Stross - The Nightmare Stacks 5132 4.22 162 4.06
Lavie Tidhar - Central Station 4127 3.59 107 3.73
Johanna Sinisalo - The Core of the Sun 3792 3.89 91 3.77
Alastair Reynolds - Revenger 5942 3.91 57 3.5
Peter Tieryas - United States of Japan 5159 3.55 62 3.65
Stephen Baxter & Alastair Reynolds - The Medusa Chronicles 3394 3.82 67 3.21
Naomi Alderman - The Power 4570 4.17 43 3.75
Elizabeth Bonesteel - The Cold Between 2690 3.65 58 3.17
Adrian Tchaikovsky - The Tiger and the Wolf 1760 4.02 22 3
Daniel Godfrey - New Pompeii 1372 3.33 26 3.17
Christopher Priest - The Gradual 1090 3.78 29 3.4
Matthew de Abaitua - The Destructives 964 3.8 26 2.5
Stephen Aryan - Bloodmage 1154 3.86 16 3.5
Tricia Sullivan - Occupy Me 691 3.4 21 3.81
Simon Kurt Unsworth - The Devil's Evidence 881 4.15 16 4.33
Paul McAuley - Into Everywhere 616 4.09 15 3.7
Dave Hutchinson - Europe in Winter 284 4.19 28 3.71
Matt Hill - Graft 1325 3.36 4 3
Chris Beckett - Daughter of Eden 394 4.19 9 4.25
Nick Wood - Azanian Bridges 180 3.67 18 3.13
Mark de Jager - Infernal 341 4.04 3 4
Ren Warom - Escapology 798 3.73 1 -
Gavin Chait - Lament for the Fallen 173 3.62 4 4
Steph Swainston - Fair Rebel 70 4.5 7 4
Al Robertson - Waking Hell 68 3.74 5 -

Some may be surprised to see last year's Hugo winner, The Fifth Season, on the list; but its UK publication was not until 2016. It is one of three books to finish in the top quartile of all four measures, for what that is worth, the other two being A Gathering Of Shadows and Death's End.

This of course tells us nothing more than the popularity of these 34 books among users of Goodreads and LibraryThing; the BSFA voters may have a very different set of views.
Second paragraph of third section:
Somewhere nearby, he could hear the metronomic left-right-left of the 2: 47 P.M. shift, entering the Timkin roller-bearing plant in their sneakers. A minute later, precisely, he heard the softer right-left-right of the 5: 00 A.M. formation, going home.
Since I can't comment on any potential Hugo nominees this year, I'm going back to the start, and looking at all the works that have won both Hugo and Nebula, in order. (Many years ago I started a similar project but working through them in alphabetical order. This eventually stalled when too many new winners had early alphabetical names.)

"Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" won both the 1966 Hugo for Best Short Fiction, and the 1965 Nebula for Best Short Story. Fellow Hugo finalists were "Day of the Great Shout", by Philip José Farmer; "Marque and Reprisal", by Poul Anderson; "Stardock", by Fritz Leiber; and "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth", by Roger Zelazny. None of those four is on the long list of 30 stories also nominated for the Nebula. Of the Hugo final ballot, I have read only "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" (which won the Nebula for Best Novella, the categories being not yet set in stone). Dune won the Nebula for Best Novel, and tied with "...And Call Me Conrad" (now better known as Lord of Light) for the Hugo. The Nebulas had a tie for Best Novella: “He Who Shapes”, by Roger Zelazny, and “The Saliva Tree”, by Brian Aldiss. The Hugos also made an award for Best All-Time Series, which was won by Isaac Asimov's Foundation stories. The concept of a Hugo for Best Series then went dormant for half a century, and is now returning this year - though only series which include a volume published in 2016 will be eligible.

It's a very Sixties piece, about a future dystopic society where life is regimented to the last second, the sinister Ticktockman being in charge. One dissident calling himself the Harlequin becomes a chaos agent, playing pranks on both the rulers and the ruled; he is pursued, captured and re-educated a` la Winston Smith (this parallel is explicitly made), but at the end the Ticktockman himself is starting to slack.

The good bit is the writing, which is intense stream-of-consciousness and conveys vivid images. However, the story's classic status cannot disguise the fact that it has not aged all that well; in the end, the Harlequin isn't challenging anything very much, and his means remain somewhat unexplained - where do you get $150,000 worth of jelly beans? Algis Budrys commented when it was first published that it is s "primitive statement ... about [the] solidly acceptable idea [that] regimentation is bad." I was also struck by the sexism of the story. The Harlequin's first reported activity is directed explicitly at women:
He skimmed over a slidewalk, purposely dropping a few feet to crease the tassels of the ladies of fashion, and— inserting thumbs in large ears— he stuck out his tongue, rolled his eyes and went wugga-wugga-wugga. It was a minor diversion. One pedestrian skittered and tumbled, sending parcels everywhichway, another wet herself, a third keeled slantwise, and the walk was stopped automatically by the servitors till she could be resuscitated. It was a minor diversion.
Hmm, triggering incontinence and temporary death is a minor diversion? If your victims are female, I suppose. Back to the Marx Brothers, I guess. Note also the not very equal relationship between the Harlequin and his girlfriend Pretty Alice, who also presses him to conform like a good spouse should; the Ticktockman later alleges that she turned him in, and one can see why she might have done.

So, that's the first in the chronological list of joint Hugo and Nebula winners. Next is Dune, by Frank Herbert.

Interesting Links for 11-01-2017

Second stanza of third section ("Song of the Little Hairy Man"):
And when the night's all thundering
I shall not fear the thunder
Nor fear the mammoth's blundering,
nor bandits and their plundering
-- For "How much, we was wondering?"
I'll walk the wide world under.
This was part of the Neil Gaiman Humble Bundle, only 14 pages, published in 1999 and illustrated by Charles Vess. Most of it is a very short coming of age story about a girl and the significance of magpies; there are also three poems. The third poem is rather neat but the other two (including the one excerpted above) are rather slight.

This was left over from your recommendations for last year. Next on that list is The Habit of Loving, by Doris Lessing.
Second paragraph of third chapter:
This chapter concentrates on the death date, the date after which>/i> Proto-Indo-European must have ceased to exist. But it helps to begin by considering how long a period probably preceded that. Given that the time between the birth and death dates of Proto-Indo-European could not have been infinite, precisely how long a time was it? Do languages, which are living, changing things, have life expectancies?
My attention was drawn to this by a very positive review from none other than Lois McMaster Bujold back in 2009 on her Myspace blog (the review is now lost, alas, due to Myspace deleting it).

It is a very detailed presentation of evidence supporting a theory that I have known about for a long time: that Proto-Indo-European, the long-lost language from which most European languages, most Indian languages and others (notably Farsi) are descended, was originally spoken by tribes living on the steppe between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, around 3500 BC. There's a well-known set of arguments for this which starts from the vocabulary which can be reconstructed: their language had words for birch, otter, beaver, lynx, bear, horse and bee and honey (these last significant because apparently you don't get bees east of the Urals). The fact that they had a whole vocabulary dealing with wheeled vehicles, and also sheep with wool (woolly sheep only appear after 4000 BC, whether due to mutation, artificial selection or both) also sets an archaeological time horizon.

Anthony turns this linguistic evidence into a sequenced story of technological innovation: the domestication of sheep and cattle, then horses, then the development of agriculture and towns, and then the invention of wagons and war-chariots. This was enough to give the people of the steppes using this technology a decisive edge as they settled the fertile but hiterto unfarmed uplands and valleys of Europe and Southwest Asia. This is supported by a wealth of archaeological evidence from excavations in Russia over the last few decades, several conducted by Anthony himself. (I confess I skimmed the detail of the digs; I worked on two archaology sites in 1984-85, which was enough to scratch my itch for life.)

I've always found the idea of reconstructing a dead language romantic and fascinating, but this book really scores by making firm arguments based on archeaology and documentation (such as the Rig Veda) which all support the conclusion. He also looks at when and where the daughter languages might have plausibly split off to form their own groups, though not in detail. The early history of Germanic languagues is still a bit mysterious. But it's a fascinating book, which left me with admiration for what we can find out, but also awareness of how little we can ever know about the lives of our ancestors thousands of years ago.

Sunday reading

New year, new day for my weekly roundups.

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, by Nicholas Ostler
Short Trips: Farewells, ed. Jacqueline Rayner

Last books finished
Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution, ed. Margarette Lincoln
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, by David W. Anthony
A Fall of Stardust, by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess
"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman, by Harlan Ellison

Last week's audios

Next books
Jeremiah: Een Geweer in het Water, by Hermann
Rhyme Stew, by Roald Dahl
Rip Tide, by Louise Cooper

Books acquired in last week
Moomin: The Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip
Torchwood: Rift War, by Ian Edgington
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet, by Douglas Adams and James Goss
Class: What She Does Next Will Astound You, by James Goss
Class: Joyride, by Guy Adams (?)
The Stone House, by A.K. Benedict
1,411 QI Facts to Knock You Sideways, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
Five on Brexit Island, by Bruno Vincent
A Brief History of the Hobbit, by John D. Rateliff
Second paragraph of third chapter ("Samuel Pepys: A Scholar and a Gentleman", by M.E.J. Hughes):
The reasons for educational patronage were various. Piety and devotion were important; but there was also a pragmatic element. Society was in a state of transformation. The governance of towns and cities, the management of the professions such as law and medicine, the pursuit of science and the day-to-day functioning of the army and navy were all routinely placed in the hands of professional bureaucrats, often from the urban lower and middle classes. This created a real incentive to educate bright but poor city boys such as Pepys.
I went to the exhibition about Pepys in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich just before Eastercon last year, and this is the book-of-the-exhibition. I was actually a little disappointed that the exhibition did not have the diary except in electronic replica, but otherwise it was a very good display of artifacts illustrating Pepys' life and times. I found the book a lot more satisfying, oddly enough. As well as explanatory illustrations of the material that was on display in the exhibition, it has sixteen substantial essays by academic researchers on different aspects of Pepys. One might have thought that there was little to add to Claire Tomalin, but there's always something to be gained from new perspective. I found the chapters on Tangier and Islam (by the book's editor, Margarette Lincoln) and on religion (by Clare Jackson) particularly interesting, but they are all good, and I hope that the book will get a deserved long run of life among Pepys fans.

This was the first book I finished in 2017!!! It was also the top non-fiction book on my unread shelf recommended by you. Next in that list is Europe In The Sixteenth Century by H. G. Koenigsberger and George L. Mosse.

Adventures in Moominland

I went this morning with my older godson D (as opposed to my younger godson E), his other half S and their new baby L (the youngest of our grandfather's 24 great-grandchildren) to the Adventures in Moominland experience at the Southbank Centre. S is actually Finnish, so was particularly good company for this outing. You can't take pictures inside, but you can take them outside.

You have to book in advance for a specific slot for the 50-minute visit; we had unfortunately booked different slots, but they were commendably flexible and found enough space for us all to do it together.

I won't say too much about the experience itself to avoid spoilers, but it is particularly aimed at grownups who want to revisit the Moomins, though I think children over seven will not be bored. One three-year-old in the group before us had had enough after ten minutes and was extracted early. Little L (almost four months old, and wearing her Moomin sleepsuit for the occasion) enjoyed the different sensory stimulations, entertaining everyone by giggling madly at one point, and dropped off into a satisfied sleep at the end. (Some people will need to be aware that there are flashing lights and scary bits.) Each visit is led by a docent, supplemented with cheery voiceovers by Sandy Toksvig. (The docent kept looking at me when the subject of Hemulens came up. I don't know why.)

I will give away one spoiler (well, two): particular attention is given to how Tove Jansson's relationship with the first woman she loved is played out in the story of Thingumy and Bob in Finn Family Moomintroll, and to how the love of her life, Tuulikki Pietilä, inspired Too-Ticky in Moominland Midwinter. (Our docent asked S to correct his pronunciation of "Tuulikki Pietilä", which he knew was wrong.) It's impossible to tell Tove Jansson's story without including her love life, and full marks to the organisers for embracing the opportunity.

Upstairs there is a small free exhibition of some of the Moomin comic strips, both as drawn and as published, which are suitably surreal.

I bought a couple of mugs as well as one of the comic strip collections.

And my godson D made a new best friend.

Interesting Links for 07-01-2017

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