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Saturday reading

Current
The Collected Stories Of Arthur C. Clarke
Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack

Last books finished
In The Blood, by Jenny Colgan
A History of the World in Twelve Maps, by Jerry Brotton

Last week's audios
Aquitaine, by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

Next books
Nemesis, by Philip Roth
The Dinner, by Herman Koch
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in honour of Jack Vance, by George R. R. Martin

Books acquired in last week
Toch Een Geluk, by Barbara Stok

Interesting Links for 24-09-2016

Second frame of third chapter ("In With the Tide", art by Mike Collins):
One of the 50th anniversary publications that I had missed, this is a great romp of a plot line across the timestreams of the first eleven Doctors, with due homage to the characterisations and in particular bringing back a slightly forgotten but entirely appropriate character to ask what the role of the Doctor's companions actually is. These multi-Doctor adventures (of which there are now quite a number in different media) are always a bit dangerous to do, but the format of giving each Doctor an adventure for their own voice to be heard before bringing them together at the end works very well. The Tiptons obviously get it.

Rather bravely IDW have used different artists for each episode (full list: Simon Fraser, Lee Sullivan, Mike Collins, Gary Erskine, Philip Bond, John Ridgway, Kev Hopgood, Roger Langridge, David Messina, Elena Casagrande, Matthew Dow Smith and Kelly Yates). Even more remarkably - I thought he had completely disappeared - several of the covers were drawn by Dave Sim, of Cerebus fame; and they are good pieces too, including the cover for the book as a whole. (I see Sim is reviving Cerebus for a short run; one shudders in anticipation.) I wan't completely convinced by Philip Bond's art for the Fifth Doctor (and especially Adric), and several of the others struggled with the companions. But I particularly liked the Sarah Jane Smith / Liz Shaw matchup by Mike Collins above, and Matthew Dow Smith is great drawing his near namesake. Generally very good fun.

Interesting Links for 23-09-2016

Cauldron, by Jack McDevitt

Second paragraph of third chapter:
"Hutch." Ed Jesperson, up front. A medical researcher. "My understanding is that we know where the omega clouds come from. Is that right?"
There was a time when each year's Jack McDevitt book appeared on that year's Nebula shortlist, and just as reliably failed to win (with one exception). This one was beaten by Powers, which I felt was a rather minor Le Guin. Cauldron turns out to be the last in a series none of the rest of which I have read, which maybe accounts for a somewhat elegiac tone. I thought it was competent enough hard sf; in a relatively near future earth, a new space drive is discovered and our protagonists set off on a quest to solve a cosmic mystery, stopping off at several planets along the way (rather brave to make the non-human civilisation a bit dull). If you want a bit more spice in your genre (and I usually do) this doesn't really push the boundaries - what's really striking is how little difference there is between McDevitt's imagined future human society a couple of centuries hence, and the year 2000 - and there were at least three better books on the Nebula shortlist that year. (Little Brother, Brasyl, and Making Money.)

This was my top unread book acquired in 2010. Next on that pile is The Star Rover, by Jack London.
Second paragraph of third chapter:
"Look, I'm sorry to simply drop it on you like that," Bernice Summerfield was saying, a little more back-pedal hurriedly than I think she'd meant, "but you had to know. I mean, psychologically speaking, it's the best way to -"
Getting towards the end of the first run of Bernice Summerfield novels; this one is told from the point of view of an agent who doesn't realise his own nature, investigating a murder which in fact he may have committed himself, and becoming entangled with the attempts of the seriously ill Bernice Summerfield to protect the planet Dellah from encountering yet more calamity. I see fan opinion is divided on whether this is a work of genius or utterly awful; I liked the interesting situation of the protagonist, but got a bit lost with some of the rest of the plot.

Next in this series: The Joy Device, by Justin Richards.
Second sentence of third chapter:
Of course, she couldn’t allow herself to get carried away with emotion. Tawny had a lead foot wired directly to her amygdala, but she had to be careful these days. No taking chances with even a speeding ticket anymore, not since she quit contracting with DARPA. She missed her sporty MacLaren F1, but it, along with the Victorian manor she’d been converting into a kind of Batcave, and all her social media accounts, had been sacrificed on the altar of anonymity once she made that first discovery with the virtual photons. Avoiding attention from the government was a top priority now—she’d almost canceled her plans for this reunion at the last minute, then thought better of it. Secrecy was a top priority, not the top priority. This reunion might be her last good chance to reconnect with Beth. And if the NSA already had informants at her old sorority house, the game was pretty much over anyway.
I picked this up after reading about the great time the authors had at this year's Worldcon, and because I tend to have a weird enjoyment of time-travel romances and also have a minor fascination with the Tudor period. Though this isn't exactly a romance, more comic erotica; our heroines, historian Beth and scientist Tawny, decide that they have had enough of their boring twenty-first century thirty-something lives and go back in time to the court of King Henry VIII in order to shag him, with frankly hilarious consequences. I found this really funny and enjoyable - my favourite chapter title is Chapter Ten, "In Which Beth Explains The Retrospectively Obvious Hazard Of Substituting TV Dramas For Research", but there also a handy index of erotic scenes at the beginning for those misguided readers who want to skip the bits in between the sex. The authors obviously had a great time writing it, and I was very entertained which is the main point.

Interesting Links for 20-09-2016

Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin

Second paragraph of third chapter:
And besides, he was no longer a cop.
Latest in the post-retirement stories of John Rebus, Edinburgh detective - this time combining his old gangland foes with new rivals, and an ancient political sex scandal (borrowed from the real-life Kincora scandal in Belfast) combined with the legacy of more recent conflicts, mixed up with colleagues of dubious loyalty, and of course death. I felt that the internal police wiring didn't quite link up here, but the rest of it made a lot of sense and the resolution was very satisfying.

This was the top non-sf fiction book left on the list recommended by you guys last year. Next on that list is Kings of the North, by Cecilia Holland.

Interesting Links for 19-09-2016

Independence Day, by Peter Darvill-Evans

Second paragraph of third chapter:
He kept his head lowered at first, and saw little apart from the soldiers' boots. Under the dust and dried mud they still shone like polished jet. He could see the muzzles of the soldiers' long guns.
A story about the Doctor and Ace visiting twin planets and freeing the population of one of them enslaved by the other. All fairly standard, though there is some gruesome offstage violence, torture and sexual assault. Ace gets to have a little fun but both she and the Doctor are thinly drawn. I see other reviewers on the net complaining that this was a disaster; not really fair, it's just a little below average.

Coming to the end of the Seventh Doctor spinoff literature: next and penultimate is the Telos novella Companion Piece, by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker.

Saturday reading

Current
The Collected Stories Of Arthur C. Clarke
In The Blood, by Jenny Colgan
A History of the World in Twelve Maps, by Jerry Brotton

Last books finished
Return to the Fractured Planet, by Dave Stone
Cauldron, by Jack McDevitt
Prisoners of Time, by Scott and David Tipton
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce

Next books
Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack
Nemesis, by Philip Roth
The Dinner, by Herman Koch

Books acquired in last week
Woman on the edge of Time, by Marge Piercy
In The Blood, by Jenny Colgan
Franco-Irish Relations, 1500-1610, by Mary-Ann Lyons

Interesting Links for 17-09-2016

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Lower part of first page of third chapter:

I've been very much enjoying Saga, also by Vaughan but with a different artist; not quite sure where I picked up the fact that this might be worth reading, but I got it when in Portland and read it a week or so ago. The setting is small-town America in a fully detailed 1988, with four twelve-year-olds diverted from their early morning newspaper delivery run to deal with - time travellers? aliens? both? The period detail for 1988 is well realised, and it's also clear in a Buffy-like way that the sfnal goings-on are far from the only problems in the protagonists' lives. Chiang captures personality and horror equally well; I do still miss Fiona Staples' art from Saga, but this will do for now.

This was both the top unread comic and the top unread book by a PoC (Chiang) on my unread shelves. The next in the former list is V for Vendetta, recently acquired but never read; the next in the latter is the AfroSF anthology edited by Ivor Hartmann.
Second paragraph of third story ("Undercurrents", by Gary Merchant):
He [Jamie] looked up though half-closed eyes. 'Zoe? What's the matter? It's the middle of the night.'
Another in the generally good series of anthologies by Big Finish, this one leaning a lot more on Big Finish's own continuity and thus a bit less on TV Who (though Nev Fountain's "The Five O’Clock Shadow" bridges the TV and comics versions of the First Doctor, with the Cushing Doctor Who thrown in as well). I did not really understand what the theme was here, except perhaps that all the stories take place at different times of day, and the last one appeared to loop back to the first. The two that really stood out for me were Richard Salter's "Waiting for Jeremy", where the First Doctor demonstrates to Steven that rewriting time is not straightforward or even desirable, and the romp "Morphology" by Phil Pascoe, in the Third Doctor and Jo, along with a UNIT soldier called Osgood, become entangled in a situation where all vowels except 'o' are removed from the universe. (Pascoe's only other Who writing credit is the similarly linguistic early Big Finish audio ...ish.)

Next in this sequence: Short Trips: The Solar System, edited by Gary Russell.

Second speech of third episode:
Rembrandt: "Vessels of the stars. Not my usual line of work, but she was willing to pay and I was unwilling to starve."
I listened to this for the first time back in March, on a day when other matters broke my concentration, so returned to it with the intention of taking careful notes. But you know, I was just enjoying it too much. It's a Fifth Doctor adventure, set immediately after Arc of Infinity (which ends with the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa still in Amsterdam); the two plot lines concern the team's discovery of a Rijksmuseum display of some eerily accurate spaceship blueprints drawn by none other than Rembrandt van Rijn, and Tegan's ex-boyfriend (from the months between Time Flight and Arc of Infinity - what, you thought she sat around in Heathrow?) who turns up and attempts to win her heart back. Of course the Doctor goes back to Rembrandt's time to investigate; of course the two plot-lines turn out to be inextricably entangled.

The alien behind it all is played by Elizabeth Morton, who you can see in the middle of this picture between her husband and a starstruck fan (picture taken by John O'Halloran at the pre-Hugo reception in 2014, where said husband was up as director and writer of one of the Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form finalists; shortly after this picture was taken, her phone rang, and it was their son-in-law who had got lost looking for the reception, so I went and escorted him and his wife into the building).


Janet Fielding is especially on form here, Tegan having been given a good bit of back-story and some excellent lines; but everyone is good, including particularly guest star Richard James as Rembrandt (hadn't heard of him before; IMDB says he has had supporting roles in various kids' prgrammes which I have not seen). Jonathan Morris when on form is excellent, and he's on form here; it may also be worth noting that this is the first Big Finish audio directed by Jamie Anderson, the son of Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds.

Anyway, well worth a second listen.

Brother and Sister, by Joanna Trollope

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Ralph thought of all those weekends spent cajoling David to help him in the garden.
A novel about grownup siblings who have always known that they were adopted, and decide to find out about their birth parents, upending existing relationships with their adopted family and their spouses. I don't have personal experience of adoption myself, and I wonder whether Trollope really does either; the plot had no surprises and I didn't feel that the characters' reactions to their new self-knowledge rose much above cliche.

It's a long time since I read any Joanna Trollope, and in fact it looks like I haven't read any of her novels since I started bookblogging in 2003. My memory is that they were mostly better than this.

This was the most popular book by a woman on my unread shelves. I've now acquired Mary Beard's SPQR which is next on that particular list.

As someone once said, it's always hard to make predictions, especially about the future. This year I tracked several possible indicators of who might win this year's Hugos - the Goodreads/LibraryThing statistics, the views of bloggers, and the instincts of two commentators (one of them me).

Goodreads/LibraryThing statistics

This turned out to be the least reliable indicator this year. The 2016 Best Novel Hugo winner was fourth out of five by ownership on both Goodreads and LibraryThing, and the 1941 Best Novel Retro Hugo winner was second on both, but a very long way behind. Having said that, both winners had the highest average rating from readers on both systems.

Bloggers

For the first time in the years I have been tracking these things, the consensus among bloggers called all four written fiction categories correctly. It's never been more than two out of four before.

Gut instinct

Both Steve Davidson and I myself took the reputational risk of predicting who would win every single category. I got three wrong (Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form; Best Editor, Short Form; Best Professional Artist) though in two of those three cases my second guess was right. Steve called only nine of the seventeen categories correctly. He and I were both caught out by Abigail Larson's win for Best Professional Artist, and we also both expected Doctor Who to beat Jessica Jones.

What this shows

is that the Hugos remain capable of surprising us, and even though this was a year where the written fiction winners were relatively easy to foresee, many of the categories were very difficult to call. I loom forward to other peoples' commentaries next year.

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Second paragraph of third story ("The Gift of Touch", by Chinelo Onwualu):
Bringing passengers on board always set him on edge; they had a tendency to poke about in places they didn’t belong. But running a haulage freighter doesn’t pay much when there isn’t much to haul. Now that the technology for instant matter transportation had improved movement between the five planets of the star system, work was becoming rarer. Bruno needed the money and he had to know that his ship, The Lady’s Gift, was in perfect shape.
I got this at the end of last year, when I had vain hopes that I might be able to read enough short sff to make a reasoned and helpful contribution to this year's Hugo nominations process, but didn't get around to reading it until now. As I expected, it's a collection of mostly excellent short stories by non-native English speakers; the two that particularly grabbed me by the brain were the very first one, "The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family" by Usman T. Malik, and "How My Father Became a God" by Dilman Dila, both of which might have made it to my Hugo short list if I had read them in time (also assuming that they had no disqualifying previous publication, which I haven't checked). It also includes Thomas Olde Heuvelt's "The Boy Who Cast No Shadow" which was already a Hugo nominee in 2013. Glad I got it, sorry I didn't read it sooner.

This was the top book on my list edited or written by a non-white writer. Next up is vol 1 of Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang.

Saturday reading

Current
Cauldron, by Jack McDevitt
Return to the Fractured Planet, by Dave Stone
The Collected Stories Of Arthur C. Clarke

Last books finished
Short Trips: A Day In The Life, ed. Ian Farrington
Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Independence Day, by Peter Darville-Evans
Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin
One Does Not Simply Walk into Tudor, by Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague

Next books
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack
A History of the World in Twelve Maps, by Jerry Brotton

Books acquired in last week
One Does Not Simply Walk into Tudor, by Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague
Doctor Who: Night of the Kraken, by Jonathan Green
Vurt, by Jeff Noon

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Second paragraph of third chapter:
It was evening once more and Hazel and Fiver were feeding outside the wood with two friends. Blackberry, the rabbit with tipped ears who had been startled by Fiver the night before, had listened carefully to Hazel’s description of the notice board, remarking that he had always felt sure that men left these things about to act as signs or messages of some kind, in the same way that rabbits left marks on runs and gaps. It was another neighbor, Dandelion, who had now brought the talk back to the Threarah and his indifference to Fiver’s fear.
This was a group reread masterminded by rmc28 over on her Dreamwidth journal. At 52 chapters, it would have been ideal to get through at a chapter a week in a calendar year, and that was indeed the original intent when we started in January 2015; but Real Life intervened, and we finished on August 31. I want to just take a moment to advocate this sort of group re-read - I've done two successful Tolstoys (War and Peace and Anna Karenina) on Facebook, and now Watership Down on LJ/DW. It's a great incentive to take a favourite or a classic slowly and also discuss with friends. (On the other hand, I have to say that collectively we completely bounced off the Romance of the Three Kingdoms when we tried it.)

I must have first read Watership Down when I was about nine, and then saw the notorious film when it came out a couple of years later. I was captivated then, and I am captivated now, four decades on. It's a great epic on a small scale, with Hazel leading a breakaway faction from a doomed warren, escaping many enemies, and then winning a conflict with the Efrafran rabbits led by the fearsome General Woundwort, to earn a just retirement. There is a lot of back-story mythology as well, centring around the trickster rabbit king and hero, El-Ahrairah. It has some beautiful descriptive passages:
The sun, risen behind the copse, threw long shadows from the trees southwestward across the field. The wet grass glittered and nearby a nut tree sparkled iridescent, winking and gleaming as its branches moved in the light wind. The brook was swollen and Hazel’s ears could distinguish the deeper, smoother sound, changed since the day before. Between the copse and the brook, the slope was covered with pale lilac lady’s-smocks, each standing separately in the grass, a frail stalk of bloom above a spread of cressy leaves. The breeze dropped and the little valley lay completely still, held in long beams of light and enclosed on either side by the lines of the woods. Upon this clear stillness, like feathers on the surface of a pool, fell the calling of a cuckoo.
Of course, now that I am older I'm more sensitive to the background of the story, which reflects Adams' wartime experience (especially Operation Market Garden) in the same way that Tolkien's work reflects the earlier war. As a child, I found chapter 31, The Story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé, very very creepy indeed; as an adult, I was immensely moved by the ending in which the war veterans return to the warren they have saved, to find that their sacrifice has simply been forgotten by the next generation. There are some off-notes (the does come into the story rather late; there is a racist remark about Irish people; what is up with the sculptures and poetry in Cowslip's warren?) but in general it has kept its charm, and I'm immensely grateful to rmc28 for bringing me back to it.

(And of course I am classifying it as sff. It has talking rabbits, birds, cats and mice; and one of the rabbits is psychic.)

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