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Next in sequence of the Virgin Bernice Summerfield novels, this time featuring a voyage by sea with an alien species whose life cycle and religious beliefs are worked out in interesting detail, of course largely driving the plot. I thought this was an above average book in this series, with convincing characters among both the humans and non-humans and a compassionate take on the conflict between them.

I am struck, though, that the standard mode of a Bernice Sumemrfield novel seems to involve her being sent on mission rather than staying at home. My memory of the audios is that a lot more of them have her dealing with problems at home base. (Though of course she has been on mission for the last few of those as well.)

Next up: Jim Mortimore's Sword of Forever.

The Story of Ireland, by Brendan O'Brien

A lovely illustrated short history of Ireland for younger readers, starting with prehistory and running up to (almost) the present day. Hits most of the highlights that you would expect in less than 100 pages, and I think does it in a way that would encourage kids to find out more and to relate to other things they knew about. A nice winner from my old friends at O'Brien Press.

Episode 3: Get A Movie On
First shown: 26 September 1970 (US), 15 January 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writers: Harry Booth and Melvyn Hayes
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert the Street Cleaner
Norman Vaughan as the TV Compere


The gang decide to enter a film-making competition, using Doughnut's new camera, with Scooper directing, Doughnut starring and Albert as the stunt man in a Western. Brains screws up the editing process and it looks disastrous when it is shown. But they are given a consolation prize for being funny.


"Good Day at Yellowrock", by Ivor Slaney and Michael Begg, performed by the main cast.
Three episodes in and we get the first song of the series, a good-humoured dance number which is supposed to be part of the Western. Later songs shift gradually to being Billie and her backing singers, but here she takes roughly equal credit with Spring and Scopper, with the others not far behind.

Glorious moments

I don't have a lot to say about this one because it's just fun to watch.

Three episodes in and we get the first song of the series, a good-humoured dance number which is supposed to be part of the Western that the gang are making. Later songs shift gradually to being Billie and her backing singers, but here she takes roughly equal credit with Spring and Scooper, with the others not far behind.

Again there are some well done slapstick scenes, and one's sympathy for Melvyn Hayes as Albert should be tempered with the realisation that he actually co-wrote the script.

The badly edited final cut of the film is also rather glorious, and the kids' expressions are approriately mortified. NB that after two episodes where Brains has managed pretty spectacular inventions, the editing screw-up here is very definitely all his fault and nobody else's.

Less glorious moments

Sticks rather blatantly converts £5,000 to $12,000 dollars in his head, for the benefit of the American audience. (That is a pretty large prize for a children's amateur contest; one online inflation calculators gives £5,000 in 1970 as equal to £74,000 today, and another intriguingly gives $12,000 as equal to $74,000 today. Either way it's a lot.)

What's all this then?

Not for the last time, we get a show-within-a-show, which (as with the Ring of Gyges) goes back at least to Plato. If you've got kids who are actually attending stage school, then getting them to do a performance about performing is a fairly obvious thing to do - see basically every single episode of Fame! (and its more recent cousins).

It's odd to look back at the 1960s now and realise just how ubiquitous Westerns were. Three of the top 20 Westerns of all time in this list came out in 1969 alone (The Wild Bunch, True Grit and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); the decade started with The Magnificent Seven and also included the Dollars Trilogy, Cat Ballou and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Perhaps more importantly, Rawhide and Gunsmoke had both been extraordinarily successful on both British and American TV. So it was an easy and familiar set of tropes to hang a story on. (NB that even Doctor Who did a Western story - a musical no less - in 1966.)

Doughnut's request for milk at the bar is a clear reference to the Milky Bar Kid, who'd been around since 1961. I'm not a big expert on Westerns; I'm someone more familiar with the genre than me would have a lot of fun spotting the references here.

The compere is addressed as "Mr Andrews", if my ears do not deceive me. Is Eamonn Andrews intended?

Where's that?

All filmed in studio.

Who's that?

Here Come The Double Deckers was the peak of the acting career of Michael Audreson, who plays Brains. He was one of two survivors from the first two series of The Magnificant Six and a Half, a set of cinema short films which were made by much the same crew as Double Deckers. He had a handful more TV appearances in the 1970s, inclduing in two 1978 episodes of The Tomorrow People. Since then he has been mainly running a medical foundation, but has made a couple of films as director and writer.

Norman Vaughan (the compere) had made his name as compere of Sunday Night at the London Palladium in the early 1960s, and had also had his own TV show, so he was an obvious choice for this role. He went on to invent the darts/quiz game show Bullseye, and died aged 79 in 2002. During the second world war he appeared in army shows with Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, who went on to the Goon Show.

See you next week...

...for Starstruck.

BSFA Best Non-Fiction Award

There are 25 candidates on the BSFA Best Non-Fiction long list (the shortest of the four long lists); I nominated three of them myself - Space Helmet for a Cow, Letters to Tiptree and Companion Piece. (My fourth nomination, The Story of Kullervo, appears to have been disqualified.) Of the other 21, ten are available online (nine blog posts/articles and one collection of articles), one is an article in a magazine I don't subscribe to (Interzone), and the remaining eleven are books. I had already read one of these (Rave and Let Die); I confess that I took a mercenary attitude and just bought the three others whose titles interested me most, those being Lois McMaster Bujold, by Edward James; "Perilous And Fair: Women in the Works and Life of JRR Tolkien", eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan; and Baptism of Fire: the Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I, ed. Janet Brennan Croft. I make no apology for this; my time is limited and I'd rather read stuff that I am interested in.

About the blog postsCollapse )

The three non-fiction nominees which I bought for the purpose of this exercise were all academic works, one a monograph and the other two themed collections of essays.

Lois McMaster BujoldCollapse )

Perilous and FairCollapse )

Baptism of FireCollapse )


In past years, I have sometimes expressed disappointment with the quality and relevance of shortlisted works for the BSFA award for Best Non-Fiction. If the shift to a two-round process for the BSFA awards is to prove its value, this is one category where I would hope to see a positive impact demonstrated fairly readily. I think in fact it has done so. I'm still deciding which four books I will nominate in the second round, but a short list with one or two of Space Helmet for a Cow, Letters to Tiptree, Companion Piece, Rave and Let Die, Lois McMaster Bujold, Perilous and Fair and Baptism of Fire will be a decently strong short list. And I'm considering all of these as Hugo nominations for Best Related Work.

Bételgeuse, v 3 : L'Expédition, by Leo

Continues Kim's exploration of the planet of Betelgeuse, as the young head of a fractious team which disintegrates over the course of the story. The art as usual is gorgeous, and we have a couple of asides to other places where the extended plot is happening. Having said that, it is very much a middle book whose purpose is to get Kim from place A to place B.

Friday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
Dry Pilgrimage, by Paul Leonard and Nick Walters
Touch, by Claire North

Last books finished
Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand
Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why, by G. Willow Wilson
Travelling Light, by Tove Jansson
Lois McMaster Bujold, by Edward James
Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Relative Dementias, by Mark Michalowski
Bételgeuse, tome 3 : L'Expédition by Leo
Thor Volume 1: Goddess of Thunder, by Jason Aaron
Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien, eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan
Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I, ed. Janet Brennan Croft
The Story of Ireland by Brendan O'Brien

Last week's audios
[Second Doctor] The Black Hole, by Simon Guerrier
[Torchwood] Fall to Earth, by James Goss
[Torchwood] Forgotten Lives, by Emma Reeves
[UNIT - Extinction] Vanguard, by Matt Fitton
[UNIT - Extinction] Earthfall, by Andrew Smith
[UNIT - Extinction] Bridgehead, by Andrew Smith

Next books
Streetlethal by Steven Barnes
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

Books acquired in last week
The Double Deckers, by Glyn Jones
Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I, ed. Janet Brennan Croft
Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien, eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan

Relative Dementias, by Mark Michalowski

There are no Doctor Who books, other than novelisations of the TV stories, featuring the Seventh Doctor and Mel Bush. (Though there are eight Big Finish audios starring McCoy and Langford.) I think Season 24 is the only season of the entire history of the show with no spinoff novel set within its continuity.

So my internal chronology order reading of the PDAs and Telos novellas featuring the Seventh Doctor starts with this 2002 novel, set immediately after Battlefield, involving alien invasions, UNIT and an old people's home. There is a decently complex alien behind it all, and a nifty bit of timey-wimey manoeuvring at the end, but I felt it was fairly average. The Seventh Doctor / Ace relationship is nicely reset to the Season 25 status, this after years of development through the Virgin New Adventures. It was Michalowski's first novel - I've enjoyed his later work more.

Oddly enough I was reading this at the same time as listening to the new Torchwood audio, Forgotten Lives by Emma Reeves, which is also set in an old people's home but is much better.

The next Seventh Doctor book in internal chronology is The Hollow Men by Keith Topping and Martin Day, but I read it in 2010, so I will skip ahead to Dave Stone's Telos novella Citadel of Dreams.
Another graphic novel that I bought as a potential Hugo nominee, in particular given that it's a first volume and had attracted some commentary when it first came out. It didn't really grab me, I'm afraid; I'm not hugely invested in the concept of Thor in the first place, and so am not that bothered if Thor is male or female, especially if all he or he does is go around biffing things.

Links I found interesting for 14-01-2016

Another comic which is the 2015 volume of a series which was nominated for last year's Hugos, this one about Jon and Suzy who have discovered that time stands still for them when they orgasm. Actually I really enjoyed this (though I cringed at the title); in the world of the story, there are sinister police, rival activists and personal ghosts to deal with. My biggest complaint is that it ends on a cliff-hanger, and so isn't a complete story. But I am keeping it on my list of potential Best Graphic Story nominations.

Travelling Light, by Tove Jansson

A collection of short stories by the great Finnish writer, a surprising number of which are about psychological manipulation and trauma - something I picked up also in her novel, The True Deceiver; the most memorable here is "The Woman Who Borrowed Memories", itself the title of another collection, whose central character returns to visit an old friend to find that her past has been ruthlessly appropriated. There are other lovely pieces too, the opening story, "An Eightieth Birthday" about a young woman taking her new-ish boyfriend to a family party, and the heartbreaking "Correspondence", supposedly letters to Jansson from a Japanese fan, which closes the collection. This would be a good starter pack for people who otherwise only know the Moomins.
I voted for the first volume of this series for last year's Hugos, along with 1728 others, so I had reasonably high hopes for this which weren't quite realised. In particular, once we've got past the rather different background of Kamala Khan as superhero, we're down to fairly standard sorts of adventure in the sewers and streetscapes of New Jersey, and a crossover adventure with Wolverine (well-known, but not to me). I also found the shift between two different artists mid-story very jarring. I still liked it well enough, and it will probably get one of my Hugo nominations, but I'm still much more likely to vote for either The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage or The Sculptor.

Double Deckers in Bristol, 24 January

Any friends in or near Bristol able to go to a Here Come The Double Deckers event on Sunday morning, 24 January, with Gill Bush-Bailey (Billie) and Debbie Russ (Tiger)?

I would be very interested to hear reports!
Prime Ministers
1921 Sir James Craig (later Lord Craigavon), age 50
1940 J.M. Andrews, age 69
1943 Sir Basil Brooke (later Lord Brookeborough), age 54
1963 Terence O'Neill, age 48
1969 James Chichester-Clark, age 46
1971 Brian Faulkner, age 50

First Ministers
1998 David Trimble, age 53
2007 Ian Paisley, age 81
2008 Peter Robinson, age 59
2016 Arlene Foster, age 45

Only one of the 19 Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland was appointed at a younger age than Arlene Foster is today - the incumbent, Teresa Villiers, who was 44 when she was appointed in 2012. Peter Mandelson was her youngest predecessor, appointed ten days before his 46th birthday in 1999.
Reading Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien, eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan, I came across this fascinating snippet in John D. Rateliffe's essay, "The Missing Women: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lifelong Support for Women’s Higher Education":

The exact quote is that Renault's card was "perhaps the piece of 'Fan-mail' that gives me most pleasure". Considering how much fa mail he must have had, that is a very strong statement indeed.
I first read both of these two years ago, before publication, and am duly acknowledged in the afterwords; I have read them both again, now that they are eligible for this year's Hugos (and The Just City is also on the BSFA long list). I had been wondering whether the two might together be a single nomination, as with the Connie Willis Blackout / All Clear duo which won both Hugo and Nebula. But on reflection, I don't think they are; The Philosopher Kings is set twenty years after The Just City, with a slightly different set of characters and a completely different set of problems. So I shall treat the two books separately for award voting purposes.

The Just City is about time-travellers attempting to set up a society modelled along the lines of Plato's Republic by taking children whose destiny otherwise would have been slavery to a purpos-built city on Thera before the explosion. This is a world where the Greek gods (and others) exist, and one of the viewpoint characters is a secretly incarnate Apollo. The basic concept is of course brilliant, and I think this is the most detailed version I've seen of it. The grand plan is disturbed by many things, including the gadfly questions of Socrates, and the rise of the city's robots, from off their knees, disturbing the narrative in a manner very slightly reminiscent of the Mule's disruption of Seldon's Plan. The intellectual problem and the emotional arcs of the main characters - particularly the very tricky case of Apollo - are very nicely done, and the denouement is satisfying while also creating space for the sequel.

I enjoyed The Philosopher Kings as well, but not quite as much. There's a great riff on the adaptation of Christianity to a Platonic society, mirroring the adaptation of Plato to Christianity in our timeline; the ending is also a good conclusion for both books. But we lose a favourite character at the beginning of the book, and another engages in a pretty horrific act in the middle of the story (though in fairness it is well-rooted in mythology); also the whole plot is based on the notion that the traumatic events of the end of the first book would have resulted in a complete loss of contact between some key characters for two decades, which given the geography seemed improbable to me.

So I think The Just City is likely to make my Hugo list, but The Philosopher Kings is not; however I still recommend them both.

BSFA Best Art award

Thanks to the new two-round system of nominations for the British Science Fiction Association's awards, we have a long list of 30 pieces of art from which we can nominate up to four to create the eventual shortlist of five. There were a couple that didn't really seem to me to belong - there isn't a BSFA award for graphic stories, and not much point in pretending that there is - but the others all seemed legitimate and attractive to me. With some difficulty, and my usual doubt in my own taste, I've drilled down to my personal shortlist of four, in rough order of preference (top to bottom):

Vlada Monakhova, illustration for "Utrechtenaar" in Strange Horizons

Vincent Sammy, illustration for "Songbird" in Interzone

Jeffrey Alan Love, cover for Fabulous Beasts

Jim Burns, cover of Pelquin's Comet

As usual, I found it very difficult to choose between very different styles of art, and I expect that others will find the same.


BSFA short fiction and Hugo nominations

Thanks to the BSFA's new two-round nomination system, we have a long list of 41 stories in the Best Short Fiction category, from we we can choose four to be aggregated into the eventual shortlist of five. This is actually quite tough, because four of the stories of the 41 are there because I nominated them, and so I am reading the others in competition with the vote I cast in the first round. Of course, these are all also eligible for the Hugos, so I also read with a view to augmenting my Hugo nominations for this year.

I was able to get almost all of the stories - not quite dedicated enough to buy back issues of Interzone or anthologies with only one entry of interest, but the rest I was able to access reasonably easily. In contrast to some of the other categories, I didn't detect much gratuitous log-rolling (compare the Best Novel contenders with zero following on Goodreads or LibraryThing). And my conclusion is Read more...Collapse )

Episode 2: The Case of the Missing Doughnut
First shown: 19 September 1970 (US), 8 January 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writer: Peter Miller
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert the Street Cleaner
Julian Orchard as the Toy Shop Owner
Roy Evans as the Baker
Jack Haig as Harvey the Toy Shop Assistant


Brains is working on a new experimental gloop. Doughnut, who has just been chucked out of the neighbourhood toyshop and the bakery, eats it and becomes invisible. He takes his revenge on the toy shop owner and assistant, and the baker, but the gang trick him by pretending that he is still invisible after it wears off and watching in glee as he returns to the toyshop one last time. And then he wakes up; for it was all a dream.

Glorious moments

Let's face it, this is probably the single episode of Here Come The Double Deckers
which has weathered the test of time least well. Still, Bruce Clark as Sticks gets a very good shock-horror reaction to Doughnut's apparent invisibility; the special effects of the invisble boy are good; and the second scene in the bakery is almost the definition of slapstick.

Also another great Brains/Tiger exchange:

Brains: Skepticism didn't get the Americans to the moon, now did it?
Tiger: No. It was a rocket!

Less glorious moments

Er, most of it.

What's all this then?

The story of a person who becomes invisible and uses that power for evil goes all the way back to Plato's fable of the Ring of Gyges, in which he argues that the man who uses the ring to become invisible will use that power to satisfy his appetites because he does not have to worry about the consequences. OK, seducing the queen, killing the king and usurping the throne isn't quite the same as disrupting a toy shop and a bakery, but you see what I'm getting at. I will admit that a more likely influence was the 1957 film The Invisible Boy, in which the eponymous boy uses his power to play tricks such as interrupting his parents embracing in their bedroom. (Not to mention H.G. Wells, or the 1959-59 ITV series starring Deborah Watling as the invisible man's niece.)

There's also a little more (though only a little more) to Doughnut's role as the show's clown than meets the eye. Clowns are often linked to magic, as were medieval jesters before them, and so if you are going to make one character invisible, it may as well be the clown. A Clown is also a Fool, and the Fool's role is often wish fulfilment for the audience, who may well want to have a free run of local toy shops and bakeries, or more generally to defy authority without consequence.

Where's that?

All filmed in studio.

Who's that?

Douglas Simmonds, who played Doughnut, did one other TV appearance in 1971 and then became a real scientist, working in medicine, physics and computing. He died suddenly in 2011, aged only 52.

Julian Orchard (the Toy Shop Owner) was one of the typical rep actors doing vaguely posh or stuck-up comedy parts. At the time this was made, he was regularly appearing as sidekick to Harry Secombe in The Harry Secombe Show, Jimmy Edwards in Whack-O!, and Spike Milligan in The World of Beachcomber. He died in 1979, aged only 49.

Roy Evans (the Baker) was another actor who turned up in the background of everything - he was in Doctor Who three times, most notably as Trantis in The Daleks' Master Plan (1965-66) but also as Bert in The Green Death (1973) and another unnamed miner in The Beast of Peladon (1974). He was born in 1930 and appears to have last worked in 2004, which is fair enough.

Jack Haig (Harvey the Toyshop Assistant) was already in his late 50s, and had done many comedy support roles for many years without quite hitting the big time. His heyday was yet to come: from 1982 until shortly before his death aged 76 in 1989, he played Roger LeClerc in 'Allo! 'Allo!, memorable for his catchphrase, "It is I, LeClerc!"

Peter Miller wrote four Double Deckers episodes; the other three are all better than this. His biggest hit before this was a sitcom about a vicar called Our Man at St Marks, which ran for four seasons in 1963-66, starring first Leslie Phillips and then Donald Sinden along with Joan Hickman; he wrote all 46 episodes. After Double Deckers he became a producer on the revisionist 1972-73 series Arthur of the Britons, and both produced and wrote a short-lived 1980 sitcom called The Square Leopard. His credits peter out in the mid-1980s.

See you next week...

...for Let's Get A Movie On.

Celebrity, and England of the welcomes

I had a quick visit to London last week, and unusually flew to Heathrow because the Belgian trains were on strike and Eurostar was going only as far as Lille. The flight over was very slow boarding; a lot of passengers were clearly transferring from an African flight, and their visa status was being checked with what seemed to several of them to be deliberate lack of speed.

I was hailed in the queue by a fellow passenger, an Ulsterman living in Slough, who recognised me from my BBC election broadcasts. He was returning to England with his Ugandan wife from Christmas with her family. It seems that there is no longer a direct flight from Heathrow to Entebbe (which I find extraordinary) so the best way is to take the Brussels flight that starts in Kigali and takes on more passengers after a short hop east.

We chatted about Northern Irish politics (I imagine he doesn't find many fellow enthusiasts for that subject in Slough, let alone Uganda) and then parted company as we boarded; he had to wait for the rest of his family to get through. At the end of the short flight, we were told that the UK Border Agency would be waiting for us at the door and would check every passenger's passport as we disembarked. They did not check mine, and it was fairly obvious why not.


Friday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Travelling Light, by Tove Jansson
Relative Dementias, by Mark Michalowski
Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why, by G. Willow Wilson
Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand

Last books finished
Saga vol 5, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Zodiac ed Jacqueline Rayner
Jews vs Aliens, eds Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene
A Day In Deep Freeze, by Lisa Shapter
Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef, by Cassandra Khaw
The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton

Last week's audios
The Yes Men, by Simon Guerrier
The Forsaken, by Justin Richards
The Black Hole, by Simon Guerrier

Next books
Dry Pilgrimage by Paul Leonard
Bételgeuse, tome 3 : L'Expédition by Leo

Books acquired in last week
Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand
Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef, by Cassandra Khaw
A Day In Deep Freeze, by Lisa Shapter
This was the first of 29 anthologies of stories featuring the first eight Doctors published by Big Finish between 2002 and 2009. This takes the dubious proposition that astrology as developed on Earth might somehow be relevant to Gallifrey, and asks twelve writers to write stories based on signs of the Zodiac. The results are variable; the one that particularly grabbed me was Ian Potter's Third Doctor / Brigadier / Liz Shaw story "Still Lives", though I did not really see its relevance to the sign of the Crab which it supposedly represents. Also noted for one of my other lists, Joseph Lidster's "I Was a Monster!!!", representing Capricorn, which is set in Dublin.

I'll be reading these in order, but skipping those I have previously read, including the next two in the series which I read back in 2006.
Latest in the excellent and entertaining series by Vaughan and Staples, though I feel a bit less enthused than by some previous volumes - most of the fun characters have now been introduced, some have been removed from the scene, and there is a bit of shuffling the pieces around the story board to get them into the right place. It will probably get one of my Hugo nominations, but probably not my vote.

Links I found interesting for 08-01-2016

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