The second paragraph from the third section of the Völsungakviða en Nýja:
Long ruled Sigmund,One (well, actually two) of Tolkien's works that he never expecetd to see published - a translation into modern English, but using ancient metre, of highlights and interpolations from the Poetic Edda, much of which was also used by Wagner for his operas. I found the story-telling a bit dense - it is not always totally clear what is going on - but the language rather beautiful, with occasional moments where the two do come together rather well. Interesting to spot elements which were later borrowed for the Silmarillion and LotR.
sire and uncle;
at his side proudly.
There towered the tree,
tall and ancient,
birds in the branches
were blithe again.
The Turing Test, by Simon Guerrier
Solitary, by Nigel Fairs
Counterfeit, by Peter Anghelides
Big Finish had a special offer on last month for the first three sets of Blake's 7 audios, which after a little reflection I decided to go for. I didn't quite know what to expect; what I got was three Companion Chronicles-style narrated stories, the first with Paul darrow being Avon with a little Michael Keating as Vila, the second with Michael Keating as Vila and an Athnoy Howell as a new chaacter, and the third with Gareth Thomas as the man himself, plus a bit of Paul Darrow as Vila.
All three are set in early Season One, with Cygnus Alpha still a recent memory. I liked the first best - Darrow doing a brilliant Avon, undergoing something of a moral and ethical quandary in the course of the story. The other two were good solid stories which would have made decent enough TV episodes, both with twists that work better on audio than would have been possible on video. Gareth Thomas's voice has noticeably changed since the 1980s; Michael Keating's voice notably hasn't, Paul Darrow in between. Look forward to the other two sets of plays now.
Murray Leinster, whose real name was William Fitzgerald Jenkins, was one of the major figures of mid-twentieth century science fiction. His story "Exploation Team" (1956) won the second ever Hugo for Best Novella; his "First Contact" (1945) established a humorous twist on humans-meeting-aliens; his "A Logic Named Joe" (1946) foresaw computers in every household, communicating with each other; his story "Sidewise in Time" (1934) gave its name to the awards for alternate history.
Justly forgotten (until now) is his 1960 story "Attention Saint Patrick", in which a planet which has been settled by the Irish government (both planet and government confusingly referred to as "Eire") has a reptile problem which is solved by a smart girl visiting from earth. You can download it in various formats from Project Gutenberg here. The opening paragraph, just in case you had not yet decided if you wanted to read it:
President O'Hanrahan of the planetary government of Eire listened unhappily to his official guest. He had to, because Sean O'Donohue was chairman of the Dail—of Eire on Earth—Committee on the Condition of the Planet Eire. He could cut off all support from the still-struggling colony if he chose. He was short and opinionated, he had sharp, gimlet eyes, he had bristling white hair that once had been red, and he was the grandfather of Moira O'Donohue, who'd traveled to Eire with him on a very uncomfortable spaceship. That last was a mark in his favor, but now he stood four-square upon the sagging porch of the presidential mansion of Eire, and laid down the law.And the last paragraph:
"Ah," said the chief justice. "Some way will turn up to handle the matter. Like Sean O'Donohue was sayin' to me yesterday, at the very bottom of a bottle, we Erse can always depend on St. Patrick to take care of things!"Erse, indeed. Or something like that.
They fed from the ship’s structure in the boot-cupboards, and played dice with the universe in the cloisters. Creations, phantasms, aberrations...My peculiar reading sequence means that I read this about a month after The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, rather than five years earlier; so I can see it as clearly Miles' first novel, with all the elements that he would later use, but not yet in their mature form. The 1799 in America environment was interesting, but ran slightly off the rails at times, the Tardis/Gallifrey bits fairly incomprehensible, but at least Roz got some good sequences despite a generally dodgy line on gender and race. Some commentators whose opinions I generally respect are huge fans of Miles; I am not yet there myself.
... why be coy? Monsters. They were monsters, that was all.
One point that was made in discussion of my previous post was that the number of marriages between relatives must surely slow down the overall rate at which one's ancestors increase going back in time, or descendants increase going forward. Examples were given such as the Grand Dauphin, who had only four great-grandparents rather than the usual eight, his parents being first cousins and his grand-parents being two pairs of siblings. But these cases are very unusual. I revisited the Victoria and Albert data, and found that while indeed about a quarter of their living descendants can trace more than one line of descent back to them, this ratio has not increased much over the last forty years. This graph shows the overall trend in multiply-descended individuals as a percentage of all individuals descended from Victoria and Albert since the birth of Prince Waldemar of Prussia in 1889:
As you can see, it starts rather low, then zooms from about 5% in 1933 to about 23% in 1970, rising rather more gradually in the decades since - actually falling at the end of the last century, before picking up to the current 27%. I note that in my previous post, I had the average rate of annual increase of descendants at 2.6%, but the rate since 1970 at around 1.9% only, as if a quarter of the overall rate of increase had disappeared; it's interesting that this decrease is close to the overall ratio of multiply-descended individuals. The 900-odd current descendants of Victoria and Albert may represent up to 1200 possible lines of descent.
I suspect that the ratio will never again rise as quickly as it did from the 1930s to 1970. The era of such dynastic intermarriages is basically over. There have been 21 marriages between descendants of Victoria and Albert, including Liz and Phil, and the king and queen of Spain, but the most recent was in 1981 (Prince Andreas of Leiningen and Princess Alexandra of Hanover). Only two others have taken place in the last fifty years (King Constantine II of Greece and Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark in 1964, Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia and Grand Duchess Marie of Russia in 1976). This compares to seven such marriages in the 1930s, when the overall pool of descendants was only one-seventh its current size.
Just as the Grand Dauphin is a bit of an outlier among dynastic practices, the inter-war royals were much more likely to intermarry than their post-war children and grandchildren, and I suspect much more likely to intermarry than the general population at any time. Given that the intermarriage factor has failed to slow down the growth in the total number of V&A descendants by much, despite the flurry of marriages between cousins in the 1930s, I think it's pretty clear that this does very little to change the likely date of a most recent common ancestor for Europeans, or indeed for humanity as a whole.
The second paragraph from Chapter 3:
Spencer Perceval was not the first member of his family to die a violent death. On 5 June 1677 an ancestor of Perceval's fell victim to a murderer's knife. This young man, Robert Perceval, who was about 20 years of age, was in London studying law unde his uncle, Sir Robert Southwell. Ironically, he had told his uncle some days earlier about a bloody premonition of his death that he had experienced in his sleep. Robert was, it seems, not averse to conflict, as he had already been involved in, and survived, nineteen duels. On the night of his murder Robert noticed that he was being followed from place to place as he went around town on his night's entertainment. At each establishment he visited, he saw the same man waiting in the porch for him to emerge. He decided to approach the stranger and ask him what he wanted, only to be told by the man that he was attending to his own business. When Robert informed his friends bout this, they wanted to send a footman to accompany him, but he declined the offer [and was found stabbed to death in the Strand later than night; the murder was never solved].This short book caught my eye at the Boekenfestijn down the road from us the other day, retailing at a mere €2.99, which is about right; it's a workmanlike retelling of all the contemporary historical details of how John Bellingham, blaming the government for failing to come to his aid when a business dispute landed him in a Russian prison for several years, decided that he would kill the British Prime Minister to make his point; and duly did so. He was arrested at the scene, and tried, convicted and executed only a few days later.
There's not a lot to write about an incident which lasted only a few seconds, even if it ended two men's lives. Hanrahan does his best and gives us all that is known about both assassin and victim. Perceval was a rather rigid anti-Catholic politician, who had however shown some skill in navigating the implementation of the Regency, and had also backed Wellesley/Wellington to the hilt during the crucial phases of the Peninsular War. (My father, who was a historian, once remarked that had it not been for the manner of his untimely end, Spencer Perceval would probably be the most forgotten of British prime ministers; as it is he must compete with Viscount Goderich and Bonar Law.) Perceval, who was 49, left twelve children, six boys and six girls, most of whom survived to adulthood; Bellingham, who was 35, had three children who have disappeared from history.
A lot of this story has been told before, and Hanrahan misses some turns where a fresh eye might have turned up new material - what, for instance, do today's Russian historians make of Bellingham's travails in St Petersburg? What actually happened to Bellingham's wife and children? (Hanrahan has her reverting to her maiden name, but Wikipedia says she remarried.) There is a lovely new theory that Bellingham was unwittingly put up to the crime by two merchants who wanted to be able to resume trade wth the continent by getting the restrictive Orders in Council withdrawn (as indeed they were after Perceval's death). None of that here. Hanrahan also incorrectly abbreviates Sir Francis Burdett to "Sir Burdett" and Sr James Mansfield to "Sir Mansfield".
The most interesting intellectual discussion is of the attempt of Bellingham's defence lawyers to plead insanity and avert his execution. It is obvious in any case that Bellingham did not get a fair trial - his defence lawyers were appointed the night before, and did not get a proper chance to talk to him before the trial began; two defence witnesses arrived only after the trial was over; the judge, summing up for the jury, wept openly as he spoke of his own friendship with the victim - but even with the most impartial of proceedings, could Bellingham possibly have been saved from execution for a crime which he freely admitted (though pleading not guilty) and which was committed in front of dozens of witnesses? Bellingham clearly sincerely believed that as a result of his killing the Prime Minister, his grievances against the government would be redressed. He was wrong, of course; but does that make him deluded? And if deluded on that one point, but sane on all others (as he really appears to have been) is that sufficient to excuse him from criminal responsibility for murder?
I had always thought that a useful standard was that proposed by Robertson Davies' narrator, David Staunton, in his wonderful novel The Manticore (the middle chunk of the Deptford Trilogy: "If a policeman had been standing at your elbow, would you have acted as you did?" (But I can't find that anywhere else, so I guess Davies made it up.) Clearly Bellingham's answer (unlike Staunton's in the novel) would have been "yes"; even though there were no policemen as such in England at the time, there were a lot of people with equivalent roles right beside him when he fired the fatal shot. But I'm not at all sure that that is what the law says; and I'm really not sure what the law ought to say. The law on these questions was poorly developed in 1812, and I suspect that it is not a lot better now.
1) Kevin Tong's poster for Metropolis uses greyscale and ominous red highlighting to hint at the story within: the transformation of robot to Maria and back is hinted at in the main image, and vignettes convey both the industrial hell of the undercity and the isolation of the towering homes of the elite. I think it says a lot and does so very economically, and it has my vote.
2) Richard Wagner's illustration for "The Angel at the Heart of the Rain", from Interzone. The figure of the angel itself is pretty striking: Asian angels are rare in art, so the viewer immediately has to question why this is, and why it matters. Yet the bystander, perhaps a commuter waiting for a bus, is looking the other way as far as we can tell; for him or her it's a perfectly normal part of the world. If, that is, the angel is visible at all from the commuter's viewpoint; I felt not entirely happy with the perspective between the angel's plinth and the bus shelter - the visual cues are a bit confusing as to their relative scale, height and distance, and this marked it down for me.
3) Finally, Joey Hi-Fi's cover for Tony Ballantyne's Dream London. Like Kevin Tong's Metropolis poster, greyscale with red highlights; a red-coated man on a wooden jetty looks away from us, across the Thames to a jumble of tall buildings from London and elsewhere, some of which are ornamented by ominous red tentacular things (plants? dragons? Can't really see clearly). I am sure that there is good reason for jamming all these buildings together away from their geographical homes, but it jars my sense of location; the human figure seems a bit clichéd; and I'm putting this last. I note also that reviews suggest that in the book, London is reverting in some ways to the Victorian era; this is not really signalled by the cover, but I think we should judge it in itself as a work of art.
Non-fiction coming soon.
What struck me most on this reading is Orwell's deep sympathy for the ideals of equality and community. His scorn is not directed at socialism as such, but at the Soviet leaders for perverting it to their own profit, to the point where in the final confrontation between pig and man, "it was impossible to say which was which". The awful thing is that he offers no solution; the animals have been duped and betrayed, and are now worse off than they were. (Did he write any books with happy endings?)
And I wonder what happened to the cat?
And it was all so unfair. He’d ["he" = Billy Grebber, who will be bumped off soon] always tried to keep his nose clean. Well, more or less. What was the point of making a pile of dosh, if you were looking over your shoulder all the time for the fuzz – or worse? And as for duffing up the opposition, or having a ruck with every geezer who tried it on, well, leave it out. Look at Tel, who’d ended up splattered all over a car park in Bethnal Green for coming the old soldier with that tearaway from Brum. Or Tel’s brother for that matter, going slowly crazy in Parkhurst.I actually thought that I had read all of the Target novelisations, but I had forgotten about this, the last of them, published in 1994 just after the broadcast of the Pertwee/Sladen/Courtney radio series on which it was based. I thought the original story was pretty poor; the novelisation brings out its strengths and reduces some of its weaknesses. It still feels like a lot of half-thought-out scenarios jumbled together, but there is a better consistency of tone. Letts did a lot for Who, but writing plots that actually made much sense was not really one of his strong points.
Belgian: 16 (36%)
German: 10 (23%)
Italian: 6 (14%)
French: 5 (11%)
Dutch: 3 (7%)
Austrian: 2 (5%)
Spanish: 2 (5%)
(the last time that I set foot in a euro zone country outside Belgium was Germany, in November.)
Essays on Time-based Linguistic Analysis, by Charles-James N. Bailey
[Doctor Who] Mad Dogs and Englishmen, by Paul Magrs
Last books finished
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Assassination of the Prime Minister: John Bellingham and the Murder of Spencer Perceval, by David Hanrahan
[Doctor Who] Christmas on a Rational Planet, by Lawrence Miles
Sigurd and Gudrún, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Big Finish Companion v1, by Richard Dinnick
The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
Last week's audios
[Doctor Who] The Sleeping City, by Ian Potter
[Blake's 7] The Turing Test, by Simon Guerrier
[Blake's 7] Solitary, by Nigel Fairs
Current: [Blake's 7] Counterfeit, by Peter Anghelides
Brick Lane, by Monica Ali
Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie
[Doctor Who] Tales of Trenzalore, by Justin Richards, George Mann, Paul Finch and Mark Morris
Books acquired in last week
[Doctor Who] Salt of the Earth, by Trudi Canavan
The Redbreast, by Jo Nesbø
The Assassination of the Prime Minister: John Bellingham and the Murder of Spencer Perceval, by David Hanrahan
The Last Man, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Family Britain, 1951-1957, by David Kynaston
Spin, by Nina Allan
Unearthed, eds. John J. Johnston and Jared Shurin
The second paragraph from Chapter 3:Hitler Wins" sub-sub-genre of stories: quite a well-imagined defeated England in 1952, with Lord Beaverbrook leading a collaborationist government with Enoch Powell and Pswald Mosley, Adai Stevenson about to take over from the two-term Taft jr across the water, and Hitler on his deathbed. The actual plot concerns some resistance fighters and other activists (led the elderly Churchill in hiding and uncomfortably allied with the Communists) who get caught up in the struggle to prevent a nuclear weapons secret, which has been accidentally obtained by a mad scientist in Birmingham, from falling into Nazi hands. The details are meticulously realised, but the actual McGuffin didn't really convince me, and the ending was a bit too pat as well. Still, interesting to see an author with Sansom's profile dabbling in alternate history.
In your country, if you are not scared enough already, you can go to watch a horror film. Afterward you can go out of the cinema into the night and for a little while there is horror in everything. Perhaps there are murderers lying in wait for you at home. You think this because there is a light on in your house that you are certain you did not leave on. And when you remove your makeup in the mirror last thing, you see a strange look in your own eyes. It is not you. For one hour you are haunted, and you do not trust anybody, and then the feeling fades away. Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it.A book about the intersecting lives of a young woman from Nigeria, who flees the violent destruction of her village and family, and the English woman whose life gets intertwined with hers. There are some graphic and moving descriptions of the horrors of Little Bee's life in a British refugee detention centre; I think the story goes a bit astray in equating the problems of the English protagonist with those of her Nigerian counterpart, but I suppose its heart is in the right place.
Interesting to read this at the same time as Dominion by C.J. Sansom; both novels feature Englishwomen in rocky marriages whose young sons are called Charlie; in both cases their world is upset before the start of the story by a death caused by falling.
I found it pretty easy to rank the nominees this year, in this order:
The second paragraph from Chapter 3 of Ancillary Justice:
I unrolled the bundle of clothes I had bought for her— insulated underclothes, quilted shirt and trousers, undercoat and hooded overcoat, gloves— and laid them out. Then I took her chin and turned her head toward me. “Can you hear me?”This book draws from a lot of sources - the quoted paragraph makes it clear that there is a debt to The Left Hand of Darkness, but I felt there was a lot of Iain M. Banks and some C.J. Cherryh there too - but really takes it all to a whole different level. Lots of big ideas here, of which the two biggest are that almost all characters are referred to by female pronouns, reflecting the narrator's perception, and that the narrator herself is one remaining human-shaped unit of a former spaceship-sized collective consciousness which controlled dozens of mentally conjoined bodies. There's stuff here about love, and colonialism, and some vivid set-piece descriptions of planets and incidents. I love
It has already won the Golden Tentacle award for best first novel from the Kitschies, and certainly my vote will be one of those supporting it for the BSFA Award; and I don't think that will be the end of it.
Deutscher's approach to linguistic change was all new to me and quite fascinating. It is a given that people writing about their own language at every point of recorded history bemoan the fact that in modern days it's not spoken or written as well as it used to be; also linguistic reconstructions of extinct languages always seem to generate the impression that they were better ordered and more complex than their descendants today. Yet we also see new linguistic structures developing at the same time - he looks for instance at the future tense in French, at the use of "gonna" and "got" in English, and in considerable depth at the historical development of tense markers in Semitic verbs - mainly Arabic, but also Hebrew which has changed a lot in only the last century. In the end he makes a very good case that there is basically an equilibrium between language speakers unconsciously eroding old grammatical structures out of sheer laziness, but then being compelled to invent new elements to cover nuances of meaning that are needed - and these new elements emerge only gradually, so that "going to" shifts quite imperceptibly from only indicating movement to becoming an equivalent marker for "shall/will".
This was voted top of the non-fiction section of my 2014 unread books poll by you guys. Good call.
Four How to Train Your Dragon books, by Cressida Cowell
Three Hugo nomiees for Best novella
Blackout, by "Mira Grant"
Magic of the Angels, by Jacqueline Rayner
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
EarthWorld, by Jacqueline Rayner
Something Borrowed, by Richelle Mead
The Ripple Effect, by Malorie Blackman
Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
Far North, by Sara Maitland
The Crown of Dalemark, by Diana Wynne Jones
Royal Assassin, by Robin Hobb
The Queen's Bastard, by C.E. Murphy
The Year of Intelligent Tigers, by Kate Orman
Returning My Sister's Face, by Eugie Foster
Mortal Clay, Stone Heart, by Eugie Foster
SLEEPY, by Kate Orman
Long Time Dead, by Sarah Pinborough
Two unpublished novels
Patternmaster, by Octavia Butler
City of the Dead, by Lloyd Rose
Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines, by Suzy McKee Charnas
Grimm Reality, by Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale
The Death Pit, by A.L. Kennedy
God's War, by Kameron Hurley
Into the Nowhere, by Jenny T. Colgan
Ancillary Justice, by Anne Leckie
(Combining the themes of International Women's Day today and World Book Day yesterday.)
It didn't quite come off for me. There are a lot of good ideas here, but the Islamic Republic is a bad one; and I had hoped for some actual plot resolution at the end, rather than juyst being expected to admire the pretty pattern of the bits of story put next too each other. (Oddly enough, The Islanders, on its face a more discontinuous text, worked better in that regard.) So I fear that my vote will put it at the end of what is a very good shortlist.
I did wonder a bit about the ideology of reporting. Adie claims firmly to aspire to be partly a conduit conveying what is happening on the ground to the viewer, and also a first emotional responder as it were, giving the viewers her own reaction. Yet that's a little to modest; her emotional response inevitably shapes the viewer's response, it's not that they have a range of different options to choose from; and the stories that she finds, or is allowed to find, shape the popular narrative for the events that she is describing. I would have liked a little reflection on the role of the journalist as creator rather than mere reporter.
But basically the sheer thrill and horror of experiencing these events, be it desperate attempts to find anything reportable in the Durham countryside or flight through the back streets of Beijing under live fire, makes for a very readable book.