Links I found interesting for 06-08-2014


Links I found interesting for 04-08-2014

Things are pretty black. Germany is now in active war with both Russia and France and the Germans have violated the neutrality of Luxembourg. We are waiting to know whether they are going to do the same with Belgium. I had a visit at breakfast from Lichnowsky, who was very émotionné and implored me not to side with France. He said that Germany, with her army cut in two between France and Russia, was far more likely to be crushed than France. He was very agitated, poor man, and wept. I told him that we had no desire to intervene, and that it rested largely with Germany to make intervention impossible if she would (1) not invade Belgium and (2) not send her fleet into the Channel to attack the unprotected north coast of France. He was bitter about the policy of his Government in not restraining Austria and seemed quite heart-broken.
Then we had a long Cabinet from 11 till nearly 2, which very soon revealed that we are on the brink of a split. We agreed at last with some difficulty that Grey should be authorized to tell Cambon that our fleet would not allow the German fleet to make the Channel a base of hostile operations. John Burns at once resigned, but was persuaded to hold on at any rate till the evening when we meet again. There is a strong party against any kind of intervention in any event. Grey, of course, will never consent to this and I shall not separate myself from him. Crewe, McKenna and Samuel are a modifying intermediate body. Bonar Law writes that the Opposition will back us up in any measure we may take for the support of France and Russia. I suppose a good number of our own party in the House of Commons are for absolute non-interference. It will be a shocking thing if at such a moment we break up.
Happily I am quite clear in my own mind as to what is right and what is wrong. (1) We have no obligation of any kind either to France or Russia to give them military or naval help. (2) The dispatch of the Expeditionary Force to help France at this moment is out of the question and would serve no object. (3) We must not forget the ties created by our long-standing and intimate friendship with France. (4) It is against British interests that France should be wiped out as a Great Power. (5) We cannot allow Germany to use the Channel as a hostile base. (6) We have obligations to Belgium to prevent it being utilized and absorbed by Germany.

[These posts were a series of extracts from the first chapter of the second volume of Extracts from Memories and Reflections, 1852-1927, by the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (1928), and we have now reached the end of it. Asquith describes the material as follows: "I have not myself, except for a brief period, kept what is technically called a "Diary", but I have been in the habit of jotting down irregularly my impressions of noteworthy persons and incidents while they were still fresh in my memory. I believe this to be an innocent and even a useful practice, for though I have on the whole a serviceable working memory; experience has shown me that no faculty is more subject to lapses, particularly when it is a question of preserving the ipsissima verba of a conversation. For the period I now approach I have drawn freely upon such of these contemporary notes as were accessible, and also upon letters to a few intimate friends, which they have been good enough to place at my disposal." Most of the material is apparently from his correspondence with Venetia Stanley.]

Asquith's notes, 1 August 1914

When most of them had left, Sir W. Tyrrell arrived with a long message from Berlin to the effect that the German Ambassador's efforts for peace had been suddenly arrested and frustrated by the Tsar's decree for a complete Russian mobilisation. We all set to work, Tyrrell, Bongie [Sir Maurice Bonham Carter, the author's private secretary - HHA], [Eric] Drummond and myself, to draft a direct personal appeal from the King to the Tsar. When we had settled it I called a taxi, and, in company with Tyrell, drove to Buckingham Palace at about 1.30 a.m. The King was hauled out of his bed, and one of my strangest experiences was sitting with him, clad in a dressing gown, while I read the message and the proposed answer.

There was really no fresh news this morning. Lloyd George, all for peace, is more sensible and statesmanlike for keeping the position still open. Grey declares that if an out-and-out and uncompromising policy of non-intervention at all costs is adopted he will go. Winston [Churchill] very bellicose and demanding immediate mobilization. The main controversy pivots upon Belgium and its neutrality. We parted in fairly amicable mood and are to sit again at 11 o'clock tomorrow, Sunday. I am still not quite hopeless about peace, though far from hopeful, but if it comes to war I feel sure that we shall have a split in the Cabinet. Of course if Grey went I should go and the whole thing would break up. On the other hand, we may have to contemplate, with such equanimity as we can command, the loss of [Viscount (John)] Morley and possibly, though I do not think it, of [Sir John]Simon.

[See also Economist article of this date:]

Asquith's notes, 31 July 1914

We had a Cabinet at 11 and a very interesting discussion, especially about the neutrality of Belgium and the point upon which everything will ultimately turn - are we to go in or stand aside? Of course everybody longs to stand aside, but I need not say that France, through Cambon, is pressing strongly for a reassuring declaration. Edward Grey had an interview with him this afternoon which he told me was rather painful. He had, of course, to tell Cambon, for we are under no obligation that we could give no pledges and that our actions must depend upon the course of events, including the Belgian question and the direction of public opinion here.

[NB that the French ambassadors in London and Berlin were brothers.]
Both last year and in 2011 I did a survey of how bloggers had declared that they would vote for the four written fiction categories of the Hugo awards. I have done a similar survey for this year, presented below. I make the following excuses and caveats:
  1. I'm sorry if I omitted your blog post. I did my best to be comprehensive using Google, but it doesn't get everywhere and it will miss things. (I note that it failed to pick up my own posts on this Livejournal!) But I also deliberately skipped over posts where no clear order of preference was expressed.
  2. I'm sorry if I misinterpreted your first preference, or more importantly if I used the wrong handle for you. Please let me know and I will correct it.
  3. Both in 2011 and in 2013, not a single blogger in my initial survey admitted to voting for the actual winner of the Best Novel category. There were loads of Willis and Scalzi voters who simply weren't recording their preferences anywhere I could see them. The same may be happening this year (though not for WIllis or Scalzi, neither of whom is a finalist).
Having said that, there are two very clear front-runners in two of the fiction categories, so that can be taken as a fairly strong indication.

Best Novel

16 votes for Ancillary Justice (Elliotte Rusty Harold, D.L. of GoodReads, Kat of GoodReads, mgbino of Mobilereads, Pete731 of Mobilereads, Kate Nepveu, Rebecca Demarest, Martin Wisse, Joe Sherry, ReadingSFF, Richard Kettlewell, Rachel Coleman, Steven Halter, Stormsewer, Chris Gerrib and Nicholas Whyte)

4 votes for Neptune's Brood (Andrew Hickey, Timo Pietilä, Kaedrin and Ron Corral)
2 votes for The Wheel of Time (Diabolical Plots and Jack Vickeredge)
1 vote for Parasite (Jeff of GoodReads)
1 vote for No Award (Martin Petto)
1 vote for Warbound (Vox Day)

Comment: Not at all surprising that there is a front-runner here, considering how awards have gone so far this year. On transfers, Parasite rather easily overtakes The Wheel of Time for third place, and No Award passes both The Wheel of Time and Warbound for fourth place. I imagine that The Wheel Of Time will do a bit better than fifth in reality.

Best Novella

6 votes for "Equoid" (Jon Grantham, Steven Halter, Ron Corral, Diabolical Plots, Pete731 of Mobilereads and Timo Pietilä)
6 votes for Six-Gun Snow White (Nicholas Whyte, Stormsewer, Andrew Hickey, Richard Kettlewell, ReadingSFF and Kat of GoodReads)
5 votes for "The Chaplain's Legacy" (Chris Gerrib, Vox Day, Kaedrin, Jeff of GoodReads and Pancakeloach)

3 votes for The Butcher of Khardov (Justin Alexander, Alan Heuer and Rebecca Demarest)
2 votes for "Wakulla Springs" (secritcrush and Tompe of Mobilereads)
1 vote for No Award (Martin Petto)

Comment: Essentially a dead heat with six votes each for the top two stories, and five for the one in third place. When I looked at transfers they didn't resolve the tie between the top two, though they also didn't lift the third-placed story any. Assuming that "Equoid" and Six-Gun Snow White take the top two places, third place goes to "Wakulla Springs" on transfers; fourth to "The Chaplain's Legacy"; and fifth to The Butcher of Khardov, with No Award putting in a strong showing in the final stages.

Best Novelette

9 votes for "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" (Jeff of GoodReads, Nicholas Whyte, Alan Heuer, Richard Kettlewell, Kaedrin, Rebecca Demarest, Justin Alexander, Jon Grantham and Stormsewer)
7 votes for "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" (Andrew Hickey, Steven Halter, Ron Corral, Timo Pietilä, ReadingSFF, Pete731 of Mobilereads and Chris Gerrib)

5 votes for "The Waiting Stars" (Liv Diabolical Plots, Martin Wisse, Kate Nepveu and Kat of GoodReads)

1 vote for "The Exchange Officers" (Pancakeloach)
1 vote for "Opera Vita Aeterna" (Vox Day)
1 vote for No Award (Martin Petto)

Comment: Another close race here, though with a clearer ranking among the top three stories. If Chiang takes the top spot, I make it still very close for the second place between de Bodard and Kowal, with Kowal perhaps in the lead. After that we get into interesting territory, with many putting No Award head of "The Exchange Officers", and most putting it ahead of "Opera Vita Aeterna".

Best Short Story

12 votes for "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" (Kaedrin, Timo Pietilä, Rebecca Demarest, DrNefario of Mobilereads, Chris Gerrib, Nicholas Whyte, Andrew Hickey, Steven Halter, Rachel Coleman, Diabolical Plots, Joe Sherry and Liv)

7 votes for "Selkie Stories are for Losers" (ReadingSFF, Martin Wisse, Kat of GoodReads, Justin Alexander, Jon Grantham, Martin Petto and Richard Kettlewell)

4 votes for "If You Were a Dinosaur My Love" (Kate Nepveu, Stormsewer, Jeff of GoodReads and Ron Corral)
2 votes for No Award (Pancakeloach and Vox Day)
1 vote for "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" (Pete731 of Mobilereads)

A clear front-runner here, if not as overwhelmingly as in the Best Novel category. Second place goes just as clearly to "Selkie Stories Are For Losers", and third to "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love"; and there are enough transfers to pull "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" decently ahead of No award for fourth place despite its poor performance on first preferences.

I should add that I have no privileged information about how voting is actually going. The above numbers represent only those votes I was able to tabulate fairly quickly from a quick google search, and past experience shows that this is only the roughest of guides to who will actually win the awards.

If you are a member of Loncon 3, you can vote for the 2014 Hugos here and for the 1939 Retro Hugos here.


Wednesday reading

With The Light... vol 7, by Keiko Tobe
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre
The Life of John Buncle, Esq: Containing Various Observations and Reflections, Made in Several Parts of the World, and Many Extraordinary Relations, by Thomas Amory

Last books finished
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell
Rogue Queen, by L. Sprague de Camp
Billionaire Boy, by David Walliams
334, by Thomas M Disch
The Essence of Christianity, by Ludwig Feuerbach (not fnished)
The Journals of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1806 (not finished)
The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

Last week's audios
[Bernice Summerfield] The Revolution, by Nev Fountain
[Bernice Summerfield] Good Night, Sweet Ladies, by Una McCormack
[Bernice Summerfield] Random Ghosts, by Guy Adams
current: [Bernice Summerfield] The Lights of Skaro, by James Goss

Next books
The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Brontomek!, by Michael Coney
A Guide to Tolkien, by David Day
Tomb of Valdemar, by Simon Messingham

Two books I won't finish

not happy
I tried both of these on the ferry on Sunday, and bounced off both less than 20 pages in.

July Books 18) The Essence of Christianity, by Ludwig Feuerbach

Writing about a subject I am only vaguely interested in terms which I cannot be bothered to try and understand.

July Books 19) The Journals of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1806

Detailed, repetitive, poorly spelt even allowing for the standards of the day, unselfconscious, depressing, even if there had been maps showing where they were going I don't think I could have stuck it out.
pointless, repression
A book for kids about a boy whose father is a billionaire due to inventing a new type of toilet paper, and how difficult it is to find normality. Shockingly misogynistic - there isn't a single sympathetic female character - and all the kids appear to be white. Lots of poo jokes as well, for those who like poo jokes.

Asquith's notes, 30 July 1914

We had another turn of the kaleidoscope today. I was sitting in the Cabinet room with a map of Ulster and a lot of statistics about populations and religions, endeavouring to get into something like shape my speech on the Amending Bill, when a telephone message came from Bonar Law to ask me to go and see him and Carson at his Kensington abode. He had sent his motor, which I boarded, and in due time arrived at my destination. I found the two gentlemen there, and Bonar Law proceeded to propose in the interests of the international situation that we should postpone for the time being the second reading of the Amending Bill. He thought that to advertise our domestic dissensions at this moment would weaken our influence in the world for peace. Carson said that at first he had thought it impossible to agree, as it would strain still further the well-known and much tried patience of his Ulstermen, but he had come to see that it was now a patriotic duty. I, of course, welcomed their attitude, but said I would consult my colleagues before giving a definite answer. When I got back I saw Lloyd George and Grey and we agreed that it was right to close with the offer. Redmond, whom I saw afterwards, thought it an excellent chance of putting off the Amending Bill. The City, which is in a terrible state of depression and paralysis, is for the time being all against English intervention. The prospect is very black.
A planet where human beings, for some reason, have started to behave like bees (as far as this is convenient for what the author wants to do with the plot): rival queens duel to the death in naked single combat, non-working males are brutally killed off, and the female workers who really keep things going are kept on a low-protein diet to prevent them from becoming fertile. Our subversive and intelligent heroine meets an expedition from Earth, eats meat for the first time and thus becomes a Real Woman; and society collapses into monogamy and nuclear families. I think there is some great analysis waiting to be done here.

I got this ages back from Arc Manor, who send a free ebook monthly to subscribers. I realised pretty early on that I would never have time to read them so I think this is the only one I have downloaded.
A short but intense book about family histories echoing and suddenly climaxing across the decades, with Esme and her great-niece Iris suddenly discovering each other's existence and forced to navigate two different generations' poisoned sibling relationships. Esme is a particularly fascinating creation, institutionalised for no good reason for sixty years, then forced to come to terms with a new world - and finding this a reason to explore her own past in more detail. A very short book that packs a heck of a punch.
The magisterial work on late 16th century Ireland, originally published in 1885-90 and now available from iTunes (vol 1, vol2, vol 3). I've already read a lot of the later literature on the period, so it's interesting to look at this as a somewhat flawed foundation stone for everything that came later. I was pleasantly surprised that the author's supposed Unionist sympathies were not more obvious; but he does rather concentrate on the internal dynamics of the Dublin government, rather than engaging with what the Irish chieftains might have been thinking, and also rather more on Munster than on Leinster, Connacht or Ulster. I don't much mind the former, as I too am trying to track the relations between Dublin Castle and London, but the latter is a bit annoying, especially given the rather uninformative maps in the volume, which are essentially outline sketches of the whole island with a few regions offhandedly shaded in. The first section, which takes the story to the reign of Henry VIII (his father is dealt with in a single chapter), is also quite informative. But I was struck by the extent to which Bagwell rather glides over the military denouements which are the cornerstone of later narrative - the Battle of Kinsale being the most obvious example. The term "Nine Years' War" is not used at all.

Plenty of quotes from Sir Nicholas White, though he fades out of the story without explanation at the point of Sir John Perrot's imprisonment and death.

Asquith's notes, 29 July 1914


The Amending Bill and the whole Irish business are, of course, put into the shade by the coming war, for it now seems as if nothing but a miracle will avert it. After dinner I went across to E[dward] Grey and sat with him and Haldane till 1 a.m.; talking over the situation and trying to discover bridges and outlets. It is one of the ironies of the case that we, being the only Power who has made so much as a constructive suggestion in the direction of peace, are blamed by both Russia and Germany for causing the outbreak of war.

July Books 12) Crash, by J.G. Ballard


Gosh. Difficult to know where to start or finish with this very disturbing book about a group of people who are brought together by their sexual interest in car crashes. It's very grittily and credibly set in West London; the car crash scenes are somewhat more erotic than the sex scenes, which are full of somewhat disgusting detail; and the whole is awfully well done, but I'm not sure I would want to read it again, or that I would necessarily recommend it to anyone else.


A rather impressive little ebook from the BBC, downloadable from here - free to people in the UK until 31 July, the rest of us have to pay. Gavin Collinson has assembled the usual material, complete with video clips from both Old and New Who, about the Cybermen, and Joe Lidster supplies a suitably creepy story. Aimed at the 6-12s, but I was pretty satisfied with it myself. Apparently this is by way of being a pilot project to see if there is take-up for it; I hope there will be more.

A novel set in a near future, in a city supposedly on the Pacific coast of America but in fact closely based on Belfast (neighbourhoods called the Queen's Quarter, Titanic, the Village, Tomb Street), where mobsters and programmers recreate Jesus, who has been largely forgotten, as an AI. It didn't really work for me; I think if you bring a recreated Jesus into a story you need more robust underpinning, including a better explanation of why he has been forgotten so quickly, particularly in a story whose setting is based on a city so heavily impacted by people claiming to follow him.
doctor who

I thought this was a rather good Eighth Doctor adventure, with Team Tardis getting caught up in a complex struggle between time travellers seeking the eponymous artefact, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji each being subjected to separate but entertainingly appropriate adventures. Apparently this was a point when the series was winding down, but there seems to have been a bit of an uptick in quality.

Asquith's notes, 26 July 1914

No one can say what is going to happen in the East of Europe. The news this morning is that Servia has capitulated on the main point, but it is very doubtful if any reservation will be accepted by Austria, who is resolved upon a complete and final humiliation. The curious thing is that on many, if not most, of the points Austria has a good and Servia a very bad case, but the Austrians are quite the stupidest people in Europe. There is a brutality about their mode of procedure which will make most people think that this is a case of a big Power wantonly bullying a little one. Anyhow, it is the most dangerous situation of the last forty years. It may incidentally have the effect of throwing into the background the lurid pictures of civil war in Ulster.
A collection of fifteen short comic strip stories about Brussels, funded by the Flemish Independent Guild of Comic Strips (yes, it exists) and the Flemish Brussels Cultural Cell (yes, it exists too) and edited by Marc Verhaegen (who we have met before). The stories are all told by an old man sitting in the corner of a contemporary cafe, but all take place in the medieval period (and we are to understand that he has somehow survived from that day to this). None of them is terribly deep; there are three different origin myths for the Mannekin Pis. My favourite was probably the second one, about Saint Guido, supposedly the patron saint of taxi drivers, written by Lük Bey and subversively illsutrated by Reinhart Croon. The point of the book is of course that it's there and it's in Dutch.

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