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Short Trips: 2040, ed. John Binns

Second paragraph of third story ("Thinking Warrior", by Huw Wilkins):
I chamber a smoke round and fire it up into the air to obscure the sniper's view, then sweep the blank-fronted tower block with the microwave radar.
Another of the Big Finish collections of Doctor Who short stories, this time all set in the year 2040 (an anagram of the year of writing, 2004, though the link is also made with the Doctor's TARDIS being a Type 40). I didn't think this was one of the more successful collections, with the linking narrative between the stories (about the invasion of Earth by an entity called the Ethereal) seeming to get in the way a bit. But there were a couple that I really enjoyed - "Artificial Intelligence" by Andy Campbell, a retake of Flowers for Algernon, and "Anteus" by Rebecca Levene featuring a fractured future London which seemed all too much in tune with this month's events.

Next in sequence is Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury, edited by Paul Cornell. I have realised that because I'm reading these at one a month rather than the original publication rate, I'll be reaching several Christmassy volumes at non-Christmassy times of the year.

Interesting Links for 28-06-2016

I made only one nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) for the 1941 Retro Hugos. It was:
Weltraumschiff 1 startet

Despite what it says on YouTube, this was apparently made in 1940, not 1937. I doubt that many others nominated it though.

I also nominated Pinocchio in Long Form. It's 88 minutes long, which is just under the cutoff, but I (and several other voters whose votes were posted on File 770) felt that it belonged in the Long Form category. The Hugo administrators took a different view, so it's my one nominee on the Short Form final ballot.

My vote is as follows:
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) for 1941 Retro Hugos: The Invisible Man ReturnsCollapse )

My nominations for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) for the 2016 Hugos were unashamedly one-sided. They were:

Doctor Who: Face The Raven
Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died
Doctor Who: Heaven Sent
Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song
Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion

One of these made the final ballot, which is about my average.

I've tallied results from the File 770 straw poll, which showed the following as favoured nominations in this category by those who contributed:

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent (8)
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile (8)
Person of Interest: If-Then-Else (8)
The Expanse: CQB (8)
Kung Fury (5)
Uncanny Valley (5)
Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song (4)
Game of Thrones: Hardhome (4)
Marvel's Agent Carter: Snafu (4)
Sense8: What's Going On (4)
Welcome to Night Vale: Triptych (4)
Archer: Drastic Voyage 1+2 (3)
Rick and Monty: Total Rickall (3)
Welcome to Night Vale: The Librarians (3)
11 more with 2 votes, another 79 with 1 vote not listed hereCollapse )

Two of the top four in the File 770 list did indeed make it to the final ballot. The other three finalists are slate nominations, none of which got a single nomination from the File 770 readers who responded to the straw poll. I think it's pretty likely that both Person of Interest: If-Then-Else and The Expanse: CQB, as well as some other worthy candidate, were pushed off the ballot by slating.

My own vote is as follows:

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) for 2016 Hugos: Doctor Who: Heaven SentCollapse )

Anyway, some worthy nominees there and I hope also a couple of worthy winners.

Best Novel (1941/2016) / Best Novella (1941/2016) / Best Novelette (1941/2016) / Best Short Story (1941/2016) / Best Related Work (2016) / Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (1941/2016) / Art categories (1941/2016) / John W. Campbell Award

Interesting Links for 27-06-2016

The Unicorn Hunt, by Dorothy Dunnett

Second paragraph of third chapter:
‘So where, you fortunate man, is your charming wife Gelis?’ asked Anselm Adorne, seating himself two places from Nicholas at Master Lamb’s table shortly afterwards. Behind them, Albany’s trumpeter let off a blast, and Julius, in the middle, began cheerfully to cut up his meat.
Fifth in the series of eight novels about Dunnett's fifteenth-century hero Claes van der Poele, now rebranded Nicolas de Fleury, on a canvas that takes us from a long first section in Scotland at the court of the young James III, to Cyprus, Alexandria and the monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai. I must confess that I felt Dunnett was not fully in control of her material here. The core of the narrative is the feuding between Claes on the one hand and his estranged wife Gelis and his secret father Simon de St. Pol on the other. I was not convinced by Gelis's means or motivation; her end game is not at all obvious, and she seems to have almost supernatural means of keeping Claes apart from his son and his treasure (and at one point his liberty in a gruesome torture scene). Claes meantime has acquired his own supernatural powers of divining the location of sought objects and people by pendulum - though this only works as effectively as the plot needs it to. The attention to local historical and geographical detail is still very worthwhile and engaging, but I hope the next book (which I have ordered, naturally) is more coherent.

This was the top book on my non-genre poll from the end of last year. Next on that list is A Delicate Truth, by John Le Carré.

Interesting Links for 26-06-2016

Saturday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Peter & Max, by Bill Willingham
The Mary-Sue Extrusion, by Dave Stone
The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss

Last books finished
Loving the Alien, by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry
Frankenstein Unbound, by Brian W. Aldiss

Next books
The Unwritten Vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, by Mike Carey
Fanny Kemble and the Lovely land, by Constance Wright
Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury, edited by Paul Cornell

Books acquired in last week
American Gridlock: The Sources, Character, and Impact of Political Polarization, by James A. Thurber

Interesting Links for 25-06-2016

EU Referendum Reaction

I'm too heartbroken to write something original. This is what my colleague Theo and I put together earlier today. Comment there or here.

The UK’s vote to leave the EU will have a number of implications, although the specific, detailed consequences of this unprecedented choice are uncertain. For some it is a brave new world, for others the end of the world, but for all it is terra incognita.

What happens next, from the perspective of Brussels and the wider EU? Even before the vote there were very clear signals from significant European leaders that out would mean out. From early soundings here in Brussels, itself caught in an almost complete (and perhaps symbolic) public transport strike, there is zero appetite to try and renegotiate another deal that might tempt the British back again.

The Council Will be Key

The European Council is the key player in the departure that now seems inevitable. The collected leaders of the EU’s member states, headed by Donald Tusk, hold the reins. There is a meeting of the Council scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, in Brussels. Spaces left in the early draft conclusions of this meeting will need to be filled by something relating to Thursday's referendum but the question is by what? In part this will be determined by the UK’s actions in the next few hours and over the weekend. The UK will need to bring around governments that may feel threatened by what the result means for their own domestic political futures and it will need to manage the almost inevitable demand that Britain not be allowed to have an easy ride. The realities of the assurances by Leave campaigners that Europe will have to be reasonable will be put to the test within as little as 72 hours. If nothing else the British Prime Minister (or whoever replaces him), possibly bereft of existing relationships with other European leaders, will have to overcome the anger of those on the Council who spent considerable energy and political capital in creating the deal David Cameron brought back, and which the UK has rejected. More likely, and more troubling, is the real feeling in Brussels that Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Hollande of France, both having elections next year, will not profit politically by “being nice” to the British, and that other major countries such as Italy and Spain will not hold themselves back either (notably Gibraltar could be a flash point for Madrid).

Uncertainty in the European Parliament

For British Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) the future is currently uncertain. The expectation is that they will serve out their time but there are no real precedents to fall back on. The Parliament is always keen to show its relevance (and power, such as it is), and in the absence of a clear role in the Brexit negotiations that the Council will lead, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that some MEPs will be moved to ensure they don’t see Nigel Farage and UKIP sitting across from them for much longer. This could take the form of UK MEPs losing their committee posts and other roles in the mid-term reallocation, due later this year. What is certain is that the political parties within the Parliament will consolidate around the existing power blocks of the EPP, ALDE and S&D. The right of centre EPP will swallow some of what will remain of the British Conservative-led ECR, whilst the UKIP-led EFD might dissolve itself or otherwise break up, in light of its own success, allowing for a realignment of anti-EU MEPs, possibly around Marine Le Pen’s ENF. It seems the current tendency to “grand coalition” solutions and to de fact “back room deals” will go on, and the German perspective will remain the most influential force in the Parliament, by virtue of its strong position in both the EPP and the S&D.

Which Way Out?

The process of exit will hang on when and/or if the UK invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty or, as some have suggested, tries some other route out of the EU. The two-year time limit of Article 50 is very short. When Greenland left the then EEC, it took five years from referendum to exit. Two years might well be long enough to disentangle the UK from the EU institutions, but quite possibly not from the single market or trade arrangements. (Apart from anything else, no UK government official has negotiated a trade agreement since the 1970s.) The departure of the UK also adds a further headache to leaders already wrestling with migration, Greece (still), the fate of the Euro and the dearth of economic growth. Whilst there are certainly medium-term opportunities in relation to lure businesses out of the UK and into the EU, these will take time to realise. One EU official yesterday estimated that the full process of resolving the Brexit will be a huge drain on the time and energy of Europe and the UK for a full decade.

Impact on Other European Countries

For the Republic of Ireland the UK’s departure is an immediate blow. If border control is to be at the heart of the new UK, the land border on the island of Ireland will be its most noticeable manifestation. The psychological as well as commercial impact could be profound. However, in the medium term the fact is that Dublin, already home to many international companies, will be the largest Anglophone city in the EU with a skilled workforce, competitive tax rates and a proven ability to overcome economic crisis. Paris may find it harder to compete for bankers than it thinks.

It will be particularly interesting to see how the EU handles Switzerland in light of the Leave vote. Since 2014’s referendum on limiting immigration, including the newest EU member state of Croatia, the Swiss have been on a collision course with Brussels. The issue was largely put on ice ahead of the UK’s referendum but will Brussels, driven by worries of seeming weak, now be harsh with Switzerland, or will the consequences of another relationship breakdown seem too much to bear?

Long-Term Outlook

Looking at the longer term, the shape of the European Union is going to change considerably in the coming years. Those pro-business member states, focused on jobs and growth in a competitive global marketplace, have lost their champion. The UK’s role as a brake on centralisation and federalisation will vanish, and the natural inclination of certain parts of the European Project to see “more Europe” as the answer to every crisis will be unchecked. Increasingly common budgets, harmonised tax regimes, perhaps even a European army will be quicker to emerge and their implementation deeper and broader. At the same time there are calls for reform of the EU, a restructuring that will somehow lance the rising boil of nationalism and Euroscepticism that isn’t simply confined to one side of the Channel. What form this will take is uncertain, especially as many of the less committed member states were rather hoping the UK would be leading part of this process (not least through its planned but now unlikely Presidency of the European Council in 2017).

Amongst some commentators here in Brussels the referendum has been seen as an odd moment on a somewhat fixed course. Remain would have put the UK back in the EU but not at its heart; as other member states came closer together, the UK would probably have worked hard to stay as it is, effectively becoming an "associate" member of the EU in the coming decades. With a Leave win, the UK may well spend the next few decades slowly reincorporating itself with the EU, if only to access the single market in the only way the EU will allow, thereby becoming in effect an "associate" as well. The difference is of course, that the Remain vote would have kept the UK on the inside of the EU decision-making that will inevitably effect it.

An Uncertain Future

For the leaders of other would be anti-EU referenda, and for their opponents in governments across Europe, the lesson of Thursday 23rd June is that the economic harm of leaving the EU is not the most powerful argument available. It can be countered by driving emotional responses, using issues such as immigration. This clash was characterised as "Project Fear" vs. “Project Hate" in the UK. How this will manifest itself in other states is yet to be seen. President of the European Council Donald Tusk has stated of Brexit “What does not kill us makes us stronger”. He may be right but at the moment in Brussels it is hard to say that the EU is stronger for what has just happened.


Selected Stories, by Alice Munro

Second paragraph of third story ("Postcard"):
It being Wednesday the wickets in the Post Office were closed, but I had my key. I unlocked our box and took out the Jubilee paper, in Momma’s name, the phone bill, and a postcard I very nearly missed. I looked at the picture on it first and it showed me palm trees, a hot blue sky, the front of a motel with a sign out front in the shape of a big husky blond creature, lit up with neon I suppose at night. She was saying Sleep at my place— that is, a balloon with those words in it came out of her mouth. I turned it over and read, I didn’t sleep at her place though it was too expensive. Weather could not be better. Mid-seventies. How is the winter treating you in Jubilee? Not bad I hope. Be a good girl. Clare. The date was ten days back. Well, sometimes postcards are slow, but I bet what happened was he carried this around in his pocket a few days before he remembered to mail it. It was my only card since he left for Florida three weeks ago, and here I was expecting him back in person Friday or Saturday. He made this trip every winter with his sister Porky and her husband, Harold, who lived in Windsor. I had the feeling they didn’t like me, but Clare said it was my imagination. Whenever I had to talk to Porky I would make some mistake like saying something was irrevelant to me when I know the word irrelevant, and she never let on but I thought about it afterwards and burned. Though I know it serves me right for trying to talk the way I never would normally talk in Jubilee. Trying to impress her because she’s a MacQuarrie, after all my lecturing Momma that we’re as good as them.
You may have noticed that I've been on a bit of an Alice Munro binge over the last year, generated in the first place by enthusiasm from my wife. These are selected stories from her output in 1968-1994, and they are all good, some of them brillinat, observation of life in southern Ontario (particularly for women) over the decades. "Postcard", from which I've taken an excerpt above, is a particularly good one told by a woman in a doomed relationship that everyone else, including the reader, can see isn't happening. "Carried Away" is an intricate tale of a librarian, a soldier, and a decapitation. "Dance of the Happy Shades" features the discomfort afflicting the comfortable resulting from a musical performance by children with special needs. In "Fits", a woman finds her neighbours' bodies after a murder/suicide pact, but the real story is how the details become known to her community and her husband. All take you into the moment; all recommended.

This came to the top of my reading list as both the most popular non-sf fiction book and the most popular book by a woman on my unread shelves. Next in both categories is another short story collection, Tales from the Secret Annexe by Anne Frank.

Poem for today

No man is an island entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
each man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.


Interesting Links for 23-06-2016


Not the Chilcot Report, by Peter Oborne

Second paragraph of Chapter 3:
Some well-placed observers believe that this meeting in Crawford, at the start of April 2002 and nearly a full year ahead of the actual invasion, marked the moment at which Tony Blair began to commit Britain to invasion. The hold that the prime minister made a binding, though private pledge.²
²The former British ambassador in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, told the Chilcot Inquiry he was 'not entirely clear what degree of convergence was... signed in blood, at the Crawford ranch' but pointed to the 'clues in the speech that Tony Blair gave the next day' in which he mentioned 'regime change', Meyer thought, for the first time in public. http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/40453/20091126am-final.pdf, p. 29
In Not the Chilcot Report, Peter Oborne gives a succinct and passionate analysis of the evidence presented to the Chilcot Inquiry, which is now expected to report in July. His findings won't surprise anyonewho has kept their eyes open. Tony Blair and his government lied about what intelligence reports said about the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (my former colleague Carne Ross is quoted at length). Published intelligence dossiers were manipulated to support the case for war, which legally was pretty much non-existent. I slightly differ from Oborne on the flexibility of the French position immediately pre-war - my recollection of a conversation with a senior French diplomat at the time is that Chirac seemed pretty rigid. But otherwise it seems pretty sound to me.

Oborne makes several further interesting points which I don't think I'd seen before. He asserts that the British army basically got its ass kicked in both Basra and Helmand, Afghanistan, for the sake of helping the Americans who as it turned out didn't really want to be helped; that MI5 accurately foresaw that one inevitable result of war in Iraq would be increased homegrown Islamic radicalisation; and that although Blair is probably guilty of war crimes for waging a war of aggression, the fact is that the UK's veto on the UN Security Council will ensure that he remains safe from prosecution.

He starts and finishes very gloomily. He does not expect the Chilcot report, which apparently runs to over 2 million words, to land any punches, which is why he has written his own analysis of the evidence presented to it. He sees the current UK government as fully on board with the neoconservative project (and repeating the mistakes of Iraq in Libya). Meanwhile the intelligence services have been subverted to the will of the executive, which retains and exploits the monarchical powers acquired by Britain's unwritten constitution.

What's particularly interesting is that Oborne is no leftie. He's the former chief political commentator of the Telegraph, from which post he spectacularly resigned last year, and is associate editor of the Spectator and writes a column for the Daily Mail. I'm well aware of his rabid Euroscepticism and other off-the-wall right-wing views. Yet in this book he refrains from Labour bashing - in fact he has nothing but good things to say of the Labour left-wingers who criticised the rush to war (though omits the Lib Dems who also got it right). If anything that rather strengthens the case he makes. We'll see what Chilcot has to say.

APCO’s Guide to Referendum Night

See my guide to how Referendum night could play out, area by area, hour by hour, now available for download. Enjoy!


Interesting Links for 22-06-2016

Chooz, by Santi-Bucquoy

Second frame of third page:

Tomorrow we'll have the third round of the presidential election. Schmoll out.
I thought that this was the third in Chroniques de Fin de Siècle, a series of graphic novels by Jacques Santi and Jan Bucquoy which started with Autonomes in 1985 and continued with Mourir à Creys-Malville in 1986. But in fact this is belied by the back cover, which lists Autonomes and Mourir à Creys-Malville as fourth and fifth of a five-book series, Chooz (published in 1988) as third and gives the first two books in the series as Campe de Reforme B and No Man's Land. To add further confusion, while I do find that Campe de Reforme B is available, there seems to be no book called No Man's Land by Santi and Bucquoy; instead, the other book available from them is called Au Dolle Mol. A number of on-line sources list Campe de Reforme B and Au Dolle Mol, both published in 1982, as the only two volumes of the adventures of subversive hero Gérard Craan (the chap making a clandestine broadcast in the picture above). The fact is that Chooz features further adventures of Gérard Craan rather than of Gérard Mordant, the hero of Autonomes and Mourir à Creys-Malville. I speculate that Chooz was never meant to be part of the Chroniques de Fin de Siècle sequence but a third volume of the Gerard Craan adventures. The internal chronology doesn't fit the Chroniques de Fin de Siècle at all - Wallonia has not been annexed by France, and several plot elements are simply repeated. So basically, it's a bit of a mess.

I can't recommend it at all. Gérard Craan is a deeply unpleasant chap who enjoys nothing more than a good punchup combined with smashing the system. He allies with an even more unpleasant gang leader whose girlfriend takes a fancy to Gérard and ends up pregnant with twins by both of them (see front cover, below). They attempt to bring the system to its knees by sabotaging the Chooz nuclear reactor to prevent it further poisoning Wallonia. But there is no liberating politics other than overthrowing the caricatures of Chirac and Le Pen who rule this version of 1990s France, and one doubts that the followers of Craan and his allies are any better off for having followed them; those who are still alive at the end of the book, that is. The book was published as co-author Santi was dying in 1988; I wonder if there is a story behind that.
My nominations for the John W. Campbell Award were:

Andy Weir (finalist)
Kelly Robson
L.S. Johnson
Iona Sharma
Sunil Patel

Those who topped the File 770 straw poll were:

Becky Chambers (22)
Andy Weir (22)
Natasha Pulley (16)
Scott Hawkins (10)
Kelly Robson (10)
Alyssa Wong (10)

with nobody else getting more than five. Sebastien de Castell and Pierce Brown were each nominated by one File 770 responder, and Brian Niemeier by none. All of the finalists apart from Alyssa Wong were on the slate; it's reasonably to assume that Weir would have made it without slate assistance, but Becky Chambers' exclusion is a travesty.

John W. Campbell Award: Andy WeirCollapse )

Best Novel (1941/2016) / Best Novella (1941/2016) / Best Novelette (1941/2016) / Best Short Story (1941/2016) / Best Related Work (2016) / Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (1941/2016) / Art categories (1941/2016) / John W. Campbell Award


To my British friends

As you may know, I was born in Belfast. I grew up in a country which was not at peace. I sat in the back row during the first six months of the 1996-98 talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. Peace in Northern Ireland would simply not have been possible without the European dimension, which transformed the relations between the UK and Ireland from a zero-sum game over sovereignty and loyalty, to a co-operative project of shared growth.

I see the Leave campaign asserting that nothing would change between Northern Ireland and the Republic if Britain left the European Union. I can’t reconcile this with their commitment to regain control of Britain’s borders. At the very least, there would need to be customs posts if the UK is no longer in the EU customs union. (And if nothing is going to change, what is Thursday’s vote actually for?)

On similar lines, I recently had a very interesting chat with leading members of the government of Gibraltar, who are very concerned that their delicate relationship with Spain will be critically undermined if the UK votes to leave. Northern Ireland and Gibraltar are both likely to deliver strong votes for Remain on Thursday; these are the people who face the sharp end of the sovereignty question, and perhaps their views matter.

I've worked in other troubled parts of the world. I contributed to the 2001 EU-brokered Macedonian peace agreement. I advised Croatia's negotiators on their EU accession, and Montenegro and Kosovo on how to anchor their independent status in the European framework. In the Balkans, the governments and peoples that were at war with each other in the 1990s are now committed to working out their differences peacefully, in the framework of joining the EU.

I have also advised the Turkish Cypriot leadership and the Moldovan government. In both cases, the attraction of the EU is proving to be crucial in overcoming the deep divisions that have previously erupted into conflict. These are imperfect processes – what process is perfect? – but the shared factor is clear. Compare these two situations, inching forward, with other frozen conflicts in the neighbourhood (Israel/Palestine being the most obvious) which remain intractable and coincidentally have no prospect of European integration.

Britain may well choose to walk away from the project of making and keeping peace in Europe by building a common future. But that will certainly weaken the mission as a whole, increasing the risk of new conflict. I hope it doesn’t happen.

Just two other points, if I may. First, I’m really saddened by the vicious rhetoric about migration that has characterised the campaign. I take it personally. I am a migrant, as are several of my closest relatives. It seems to me, from afar, that if public services in Britain are under stress, that is because of a broader problem with the funding model. Blaming migrants, particularly considering how much they actually contribute to delivery of those services, is a distraction.

I also want to say that, contrary to some perceptions, I find the Brussels policy machinery very open to external input. It’s not surprising that this is the case, given that a broad consensus from business, unions, consumers and citizens is needed to persuade a sufficient majority of elected governments and elected MEPs to agree to any particular proposal. I may have been fortunate – I work on a fairly narrow range of issues – but I really think that this is the single aspect that has been most maliciously reported by the UK media. I’m happy to talk more about this if you have any questions.

Of course, Brexit will be a bonanza for public affairs consultants like me. The process itself will include lots of moving parts to report on and to try and influence; the end result will be more decisions taken in London, where lobbying is barely scrutinised, rather than Brussels, where the demands of transparency are getting tougher. But my pocket does not always rule my head.

Anyway, I’ll be up all night on Thursday, hoping for the best. Good luck.

(Sent to a large number of people this evening - not quite as large as I'd have liked, as Gmail has a limit to the number of messages you can send!)


Second paragraph of third chapter:
After a residence of about a year at Ullswater, Adrian visited London, and came back full of plans for our benefit. You must begin life, he said: you are seventeen, and longer delay would render the necessary apprenticeship more and more irksome. He foresaw that his own life would be one of struggle, and I must partake his labours with him. The better to fit me for this task, we must now separate. He found my name a good passport to preferment, and he had procured for me the situation of private secretary to the Ambassador at Vienna, where I should enter on my career under the best auspices. In two years, I should return to my country, with a name well known and a reputation already founded.
This is in some ways a slightly silly book, but in other ways profoundly interesting. The first half of it is dominated by the debate about the best way forward for Art, and for England, between Adrian - a thinly disguised Percy Bysshe Shelley, who happens to be the displaced heir to the recently abolished British throne - and his more ebullient friend Lord Raymond, who (apologies for the spoiler) eventually dies fighting for the Greeks against the Turks; can you imagine who he might be based on? In the year 2073 there has been no advance on technology since 1826, but our chums can just live in Windsor Castle and pop down to London now and then for a spot of governing. But given the importance of the relationship between Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley to literature and especially to sf, it is fascinating to have an insight, even if a fictionalised insight, from one of the protagonists. However the interpersonal relationships bit is not as exciting as I would have liked.

The second half, when a great plague comes and wipes out humanity, is better executed but perhaps not quite as interesting. I recently read The Last Man (aka No Other Man) by Alfred Noyes, written over a century later but, I now realise, leaning a bit on Shelley; in both cases, the surviving central characters flee the post-holocaust England through a devastated France to find refuge in Italy. There are some great descriptions of places Shelley must herself have known quite well, and she doesn't shirk the awfulness of death by disease (which she had far too much personal experience of). Romantic ideals fail through death of the gallant protagonists. (Adrian, the Shelley character, drowns in a boating accident, in case you were wondering.)

There's a nice framing narrative of Shelley herself finding the text of the story in prophecy in the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl near Naples. And in general, it's very interesting as an early example of post-apocalyptic fiction. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in knowing what happened to the author after Frankenstein - which was written 200 years ago this summer.

This came to the top of my pile as the most popular unread book that I acquired in 2014. Next on that list is Earthlight by Arthur C.Clarke - one I have in fact read before, but not for decades.
Last Man
Episode 17: A Hit For A Miss
First shown: 2 January 1971 (US), 2 April 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writers: Glyn Jones and Harry Booth
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Georgina Simpson as Miss Petit
Damaris Hayman as Miss Finch
Brian Hayes as the Head Master
John Clive, Lucy Griffiths and Bryan Hunt as amdram members


Billie and Tiger are jealous of the boys' attraction to Miss Pettit, the new teacher. But they are won over by working together on a show to help an old people's home.


The boys alone sing "With A Little Bit Of Love", by Ivor Slaney and Glyn Jones. It's one of Jones' better songs, but the performance is a bit ragged especially on the higher notes, and we definitely miss Billie's voice keeping them in line.

The climax of the episode, and thus of the entire series, is everyone except Tiger singing "Fat Ladies", by Ivor Slaney and Michael Begg, the boys in drag. The kindest thing to say is that not all aspects of Double Deckers have aged well.

Glorious Moments

The sequence of the boys attempting to clear up the den is a good bit of slapstick. (NB that the vacuum cleaner doesn't seem to be plugged in.)

The first song is well-choreographed (shame about the singing).

Less glorious moments

It is a bit jarring to be honest. The scenes where each of the kids sees Miss Pettit as their own fantasy are well dodgy - for Springer she's a Hawaiian maiden (wrong ocean, folks); for Sticks a Calamity Jane type.

The old people's home for which they are supposedly raising money is also conspicuous by its absence.

And the "Fat Ladies" song... a very disappointing last note for the show.

What's all this then?

This episode opens up new areas to explore. It's the first time we've seen the gang at school. The boys' attraction to Miss Pettit, and Billie's jealousy of her, is the first real acknowledgement of grown-up things like relationships; it's all bee pretty chaste up till now. If there had been a second series, this might have been fertile ground for plot development. (Or, in fairness, it might just have been excruciating; this episode is a little embarrassing as it is.)

The Hot Teacher trope is one of the oldest in the book, and the usual outcome is, as here, that it's a learning experience for the pupils without the relationship being consummated (even though we tend to remember the minority where it does lead to mutual romance). It's rarer though for the boys to have a crush on a young woman teacher; one recent movie which could have fed into this (rather indirectly) might be The Graduate (1967).

Who's That?

Georgina Simpson (Miss Pettit), born in 1946, had a pretty brief acting career between 1967 and 1972, of which the high point was playing Blanche (one of Lucy's posh Belgian pupils) in a BBC adaptation of Villette earlier in 1970. She married the actor/director Anthony Andrews in 1971. Her family owned Simpsons of Piccadilly, the inspiration for Are You Being Served? - the building now houses the big Waterstone's.

Damaris Hayman (Miss Pike) is revered by Doctor Who fans as the white witch Miss Hawthorne in The Dæmons (1971). Born in 1929, she appeared in a string of minor character parts from 1953 to 1995. (Doctor Who seems to have been the best known thing she did, but I remember her also in The Small World of Samuel Tweet, a short-lived BBC kids sitcom from 1974.)

Brian Hayes (the Headmaster), born in 1912, has the same name as a member of the European Parliament who I know. His biggest role seems to have been the stationmaster in the 1968 TV version of The Railway Children, which starred Jenny Agutter as Roberta and Gillian "Billie" Bailey as Phyllis. He died in 1983.

John Clive (one of the amdrams), born in 1933, got a couple of leading roles in chldrens shows later in the 1970s - the titular Robert in Roberts Robots (1973), and Rosko in the 1974 show Perils of Pendragon - and then turned to writing from 1977. He died in 2012.

Lucy Griffiths (another amdram), born in 1919, played minor roles of spinsters and then little old ladies from 1952 until 1981; she died in 1982.

Bryan Hunt (third amdram) has six credited roles in IMDB from 1964 to 1971. (There's also one given for 1999, but I think this must be someone with the same name, as the part is "Young Toby".)

Where's that?

The school is St Teresa's Catholic Primary School on Brook Road in Borehamwood, around the corner from the studio. Another scene is shot on Barton Way, ten minutes' walk from the school.

See you next week...

...well, I'm afraid not. Although the gang cheerfully sing the closing line at the end, this is the final episode. But I will do a roundup post in due course.

Saturday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Loving the Alien, by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry
Frankenstein Unbound, by Brian W. Aldiss
Peter & Max, by Bill Willingham

Last books finished
Nethereal, by Brian Niemeyer (did not finish)
Traitor's Blade, by Sebastien de Castell
The Unicorn Hunt, by Dorothy Dunnett
Short Trips: 2040, ed. John Binns
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
The Hidden War, by Michael Armstrong (did not finish)

Last week's audios
Tenth Doctor/ Donna 1.1 Technophobia by Matt Fitton
Tenth Doctor/ Donna 1.2 Time Reaver by Jenny T Colgan
Tenth Doctor/ Donna 1.3 Death and the Queen by James Goss

Next books
The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss
The Unwritten Vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, by Mike Carey
The Mary-Sue Extrusion, by Dave Stone

Books acquired in last week
The Deep State of Europe: Welcome to Hell, by Basil Coronakis
Britain and Europe: A new settlement?, by Stephen Wall, David Hannay, David Edward, Peter Goldsmith, Robert Cooper, Heather Grabbe, Fraser Cameron, Graham Avery, Malcolm Harbour, Quentin Peel, Kirsty Hughes, Caroline Lucas, Brendan Donnelly and Andrew Duff
The Cyprus Crisis and the Cold War: USSR Duplicity versus US Realpolitik (1974-1977), by Makarios Drousiotis

Quantico, by Greg Bear

Second paragraph of third chapter:
"Gerber's a good fellow," Botnik said. "But he hates being kept in the dar. So tell me - why are we keeping him in the dark?" Botnik was a big man with a deep voice, a tight stomach, farmer's hands, and sandy hair - attractive, had she the energy to think about such things. Ten years younger than her, she guessed, but neither inexperienced nor a dummy.
This is quite a long way down the list of well-known works by Greg Bear, fifteenth on LibraryThing and twentieth on Goodreads. Published in 2006, set around now, it features the FBI trying to get to grips with a domestic terrorism conspiracy that plans to carry out biological warfare attacks against both American targets and Mecca, to take revenge on Islam; the FBI agents use all kinds of technical stuff to try and prevent them. It's competently enough written from the technical side, and the characters of some of the FBI agents were interesting, but the plot as such barely hangs together.

This was top of my list of unread books acquired in 2012. Next is another Greg Bear novel, the Star Trek tie-in Corona.

Interesting Links for 17-06-2016

Second frames of the third pages of part I and part II:

(First frame: Sofie's mother says, "AHA! Madam is home!")
I'm always on the lookout for good Flemish graphic novels, given that Belgium's tradition is generally strong and not entirely Francophone, and I think this counts as a decent find. De maagd en de neger comes in two parts, the first telling the story from the point of view of the father of Flemish student Sofie of his unhappy accommodation to her relationship with Togolese refugee Abou, and the second with Sofie, years later, telling her side of the same story to Leentje, her daughter by a later relationship. Of course, it's a white-people-talking-about-black-people story, but it's tenderly observed for all that. Sofie's father's personal journey is particularly affecting, and I always like stories where the same events are viewed from two different perspectives, getting two very different answers.

This came to the top of my list of unread graphic novels in a language other than English. Next on that list is De Mexicaan met twee hoofden, by Joann Sfarr, which I should really have got in the original French.
Maagd en Neger
My nominations for Best Novelette for the 1941 Retro Hugos were:

"It!", by Theodore Sturgeon (finalist)
"Farewell to the Master", by Harry Bates (finalist)
"New York Fights the Termanites", by Bertrand L. Shurtleff
"Into the Darkness", by Ross Rocklynne
"The Sea Thing", by A.E. van Vogt

I admit that I deliberately avoided Heinlein in my pre-nomination reading; I knew he would need little help from me, and indeed he got two stories on the final ballot in this category as well as three in Best Novella.

My own vote is as follows:

Best Novelette for 1941 Retro Hugos: Farewell to the MasterCollapse )

My nominations for Best Novelette for the 2016 Hugos were:

"Red Legacy", by Eneasz Brodski
"Utrechtenaar", by Paul Evanby
"So Much Cooking", by Naomi Kritzer
"Our Lady of the Open Road", by Sarah Pinsker
“English Wildlife”, by Alan Smale

None of these were finalists.

Two of the finalists - “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”, by Brooke Bolander, and “Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang - did moderately well in the File 770 straw poll, whose top nominated stories were:

“So Much Cooking”, by Naomi Kritzer (18)
“Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan”, by Ian McDonald (14)
“Another Word for World”, by Ann Leckie (13)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”, by Brooke Bolander (11)
“Entanglements”, by David Gerrold (8)
“Our Lady of the Open Road”, by Sarah Pinsker (8)
“Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (7)
“The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild”, by Catherynne M. Valente (7)

Two other finalists, “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke and "Obits" by Stephen King, were each nominated by one of File 770's respondents; “Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai was nominated by nonoe of them. It is reasonable to suppose that these three owe their position on the final ballot entirely to the slate - despite King's prominence as a writer, the nominated story is horror rather than sf or fantasy,. (NB that the one non-Rabid Puppy nominee on the ballot was supported by the Sad Puppies.)

Best Novelette for 2016 Hugos: Folding BeijingCollapse )

One of the categories where even a relatively weak 1941 ballot is markedly better than the 2016 one.

Best Novel (1941/2016) / Best Novella (1941/2016) / Best Novelette (1941/2016) / Best Short Story (1941/2016) / Best Related Work (2016) / Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (1941/2016) / Art categories (1941/2016) / John W. Campbell Award

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