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Second line of third episode:
Hargreaves: Yes, Miss?
Another audio story with the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa, written by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris (who wrote the brilliant Scarifyers, starring Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy, a few years back). It's a nice isolated space ship story: the TARDIS arrives to find the human crew mysteriously absent, and the genteel but strangely forgetful robot Hargreaves (played charmingly by Matthew Cottle, who I remember from Game On twenty years ago) more or less in charge. The captain, when she eventually turns up, is played by Nina Sosanya who was brilliant in a very different role as Trish in the TV episode Fear Her, and is also good here though with less opportunity to show it. The plot is decently intricate, with parallel time lines and false memories, though some of the black hole stuff doe not stand up to scientific analysis. Of the regulars, Sarah Sutton is given some particularly good material to work with and does it well.

However, my inner linguistic pedant winced a couple of times - in his first scene, Cottle as Hargreaves mangles "Sangiovese" (as in the wine) out of all recognition, and the mad Russian scientist played by Harry Myers does not seem to have learned Russian from anyone who had ever heard a native speaker.

Still, it's good fun with some very chilling moments.

Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack

Second paragraph of third chapter:
After the liberation of Vera Cruz, Miracle Of The Green Earth (in beauty and truth lives his name forever) saw that the people needed to break with the past. He sent each one a dream in which a yellow dog whispered, 'Break down the storehouses, burn the food, the world begins today.' When the people woke up they piled all their food in the streets and burned it. Then they ran to destroy groceries, silos, even the crops waiting in the fields. When they had finished they stood swaying in the morning rain, listening to the wind blowing through their empty stomachs.
I thought this was great. It's set in a near-future world where spiritual forces have taken over, for good and ill, and Jenny from Poughkeepsie becomes pregnant from a dream. It is somewhere between Philip K. Dick and Ted Chiang, though closer to Dick, with a distinct slant of feminist spirituality. There is a lot of vivid language and exploration of the underlying myths (which may be real) of Jenny's world. It's not at all the sort of thing one associates with Arthur C. Clarke's writing (on which more soon) but it is definitely in line with his intellectual interests in later years, and I can see how the judges might have decided to give it the nod.

Unquenchable Fire won the third Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1989 (after The Handmaid's Tale and The Sea and Summer). Of the other shortlisted books, I have read only Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard, which can't remember much about though I think it was not quite as good as this. (Life During Wartime and another shortlisted novel were also on the BSFA shortluist that year; one of the other shortlisted books won the Kurd Laßwitz Preis; another won a prize for books about vampires; none was a finalist for the Hugo or Nebula, won respectively by Cyteen and Falling Free.) Pollack's most extensive writing has been not sf but on the Tarot; she also wrote 24 issues of the comic book Doom Patrol.

My next prize-winning novel will be that year's BSFA winner - Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock.

Second paragraph of third chapter (on the Hereford Mappamundi):
[Archbishop of Canterbury John] Pecham was particularly concerned about bringing the Welsh clergy into line on the issue of pluralism. This was as much a political as a religious matter. Throughout the 1270s and 1280s King Edward [I] was involved in a long and bitter conflict with independent Welsh rulers in an attempt to incorporate the realm within England. Situated in the Marches (border regions) between England and Wales, the diocese of Hereford represented the furthest extent of English political and ecclesiastical authority, and Pecham was keen to ensure it abided by his reforms. While [Bishop of Hereford Thomas] Cantilupe remained loyal to King Edward on political matters, he rejected Pecham's attempts to challenge pluralism and other practices deeply embedded in English religious life, and resisted the archbishop's attempts at reforming his diocese. Matters came to a head in February 1282, when the Archbishop dramatically excommunicated Cantilupe at Lambeth Palace. The disgraced bishop went into exile in France, and by March 1282 was heading to Rome, to make a direct appeal to Pope Martin IV against his excommunication.
This is the sort of history of science that I very much approve of, taking twelve well-known historical maps and weaving around them the story of how cartography has changed in line with political needs and technological developments.

There are actually thirteen maps discussed in detail rather than twelve (though The Atlantic's review has a good overview of the twelve):
  1. The oldest known map, a cuneiform tablet from Babylon
  2. Ptolemy's Geography
  3. Al-Idrīsī's Tabula Rogeriana
  4. the Hereford Mappamundi
  5. the Korean Kangnido
  6. Martin Waldseemüller's map, the first to use the word "America"
  7. Diogo Ribeiro's world map, which helped Spain to claim the moluccas
  8. Mercator's world map
  9. Blaeu's Atlas
  10. the Cassini dynasty's mapping of France
  11. Halford Mackinder's geopolitical thesis
  12. the Peters Projection
  13. and Google Earth.
It's arguable that this represents only a partial snapshot of the history of the world - geographically, most of these are from within the European/Middle Eastern space, and chronologically three are from the sixteenth century and another two from the centuries immediately before and after. But I think it's legitimate for a London-based Professor of Renaissance Studies to write about what he knows, while pointing out that there are also other times and places which the interested reader can go and find out more about.

Brotton is particularly good at unpicking the ideological choices made by mapmakers at all periods, explaining how the demands of the reader / viewer / customer / patron impact on what is actually shown, and chiseling away at any concept of a perfectly representative map. For those of us who were exposed to the sociology of knowledge at an impressionable age, it's a good bit of re-education. His deconstruction of the more distant cultures in time and space sets him up nicely for brutal dissections of Halford Mackinder and the Peters Projection, and also sets the scene for the last chapter's interrogation of Google Earth. What we see on the map is what the map-maker has chosen to show us - not what is actually there.

This was the top non-fiction book recommended by you guys last year. Next on that list is Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, by David Kynaston.

Interesting Links for 02-10-2016

In The Blood, by Jenny T. Colgan

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Donna dropped her suitcase and opened her arms. Hettie was standing in her pristine Chiswick doorway. She lived in one of the posh houses, down by the riverside.
Jenny Colgan is clearly among those who regard the Tenth Doctor / Donna pairing as one of the high points of New Who; as well as this novel, she wrote a Big Finish audio starring Tennant and Tate earlier this year. This is both rollicking sparking adventure with the two protagonists rubbing along beautifully (plus of course Donna's grandfather Wilf), and also a sombre reflection on why everyone is so nasty to each other online these days; finding the answer takes the Tardis crew to Korea and Brazil (incidentally places where Doctor Who has cult status) to track down the alien force responsible (if only it were just aliens rather than human nature). I was fortunate to read a particularly scary chapter set on a plane immediately after disembarking from a tediously delayed flight rather than during it. But this is glorious stuff. (I see some reviewers chiding that internet trolling was not as bad in 2008 as it is now, and some specific name-checks are anachronistic; but I can live with that - there are many bigger anachronisms in the Whoniverse.)

Saturday reading

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in honour of Jack Vance, eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Winter Song, by Colin Harvey
SPQR, by Mary Beard
Short Trips: The Solar System, ed. Gary Russell

Last books finished
Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack
The Collected Stories Of Arthur C. Clarke
Nemesis, by Philip Roth
Toch Een Geluk, by Barbara Stok
The Dinner, by Herman Koch

Last week's audios
The Peterloo Massacre, by Paul Magrs

Next books
AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, ed. Nnedi Okorafor
Angels & Visitations: A Miscellany, by Neil Gaiman
Companion Piece, by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker

Interesting Links for 01-10-2016

Interesting Links for 30-09-2016

Second paragraph of third chapter, plus ensuing dialogue:
It would be a gloomy secret night. After early nightfall the yellow lamps would light up, here and there, the squalid quarter of the brothels. He would follow a devious course up and down the streets, circling always nearer and nearer in a tremor of fear and joy, until his feet led him suddenly round a dark corner. The whores would be just coming out of their houses making ready for the night, yawning lazily after their sleep and settling the hairpins in their clusters of hair. He would pass by them calmly waiting for a sudden movement of his own will or a sudden call to his sin-loving soul from their soft perfumed flesh. Yet as he prowled in quest of that call, his senses, stultified only by his desire, would note keenly all that wounded or shamed them; his eyes, a ring of porter froth on a clothless table or a photograph of two soldiers standing to attention or a gaudy playbill; his ears, the drawling jargon of greeting:
—Hello, Bertie, any good in your mind?
—Is that you, pigeon?
—Number ten. Fresh Nelly is waiting on you.
—Good night, husband! Coming in to have a short time?
Ireland has changed a lot since Joyce was a lad - indeed, it's changed a lot since I was a lad. I found myself re-reading this on a recent trip which included 24 hours in Dublin, where due to having a bad back I limited myself to the space between Pearse Street and St Stephen's Green, cutting several times through Trinity which Stephen Daedalus sees as "set heavily in the city's ignorance like a dull stone set in a cumbrous ring", and mused on how on the one hand Trinity is now much better integrated with its city surroundings than it was back in Joyce's day, and how on the other Dublin has raised its intellectual and cultural game even in my lifetime, as modernity hit Ireland with a thump. I guess the turning point was somewhere in the late 1980s, with the failure of the first divorce referendum and the success of the Eighth Amendment proving in fact to be the last gasp of the old order, defeated electorally in 1990 by Mary Robinson and morally in 1992 by Bishop Casey (who of course turned out merely to be the tip of the iceberg of ecclesiastical scandal and disgrace); last year's equal marriage referendum demonstrated how far Ireland has now come.

I was brought up in Catholic Belfast, my education still tinged with a lot of the dogmatic approach that Joyce experienced (though my school was run by nuns, which I think already made a difference), so A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when I first read it as a teenager was a hostile mapping of a close but unfamiliar corner of my own world. (Except that there were no prostitutes in my world, as far as I knew.) Many in the post-Vatican II church attempted to get away from the rhetoric of hellfire and mortal sin, but it was always there under the surface, tied in with the practices around confession and indulgences, and buttressing social conservatism generally. The weakest bit of Portrait for me is the lengthy sermon on hell in Chapter 3, but I suppose the point is well made.

What I missed on first reading, and see now, is that Joyce is also writing about the cultural constraints of the Ireland he grew up in - largely self-imposed, rather than engineered by British rule. It's not only the constraints of dogmatic religion; it's the difficulty in thinking outside the box. Joyce seems to me to have a deep distrust of narrow Irish nationalism - the most unpleasant character in Ulysses by far is the Citizen,based on Gaelic League founder Michael Cusack; the dinner time debate about Parnell turns surprisingly nasty. A lot of his contemporaries saw the revival of Irish cultural identity as an emancipatory moment; Joyce seems to see it as a blind alley, when there is a wider more interesting world out there, which is what he eventually chooses.

And of course the writing style of the book is very engaging (apart from having too much hellfire, and not really enough about girls, though again I suppose that's part of the point). We may sometimes wonder just where the boundary between Joyce and Daedalus is, but we have a good idea of where Daedalus is coming from and why, and eventually of where he wants to go. It's also mercifully short; I don't think I will ever try the original 913-page manuscript of Stephen Hero...

This was the most popular book on my shelves that I had not already reviewed on-line. Next in that list is The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett.

Saturday reading

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.

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