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Saturday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Drama and Delight: The Life of Verity Lambert, by Richard Marson
The Host, by Peter Emshwiller

Last books finished
Holes, by Louis Sachar
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexievich
Tove Jansson: Work and Love, by Tuula Karjalainen
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Next books
Ghastly Beyond Belief, eds. Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman
Merchanter's Luck, by C.J. Cherryh
Short Trips: Seven Deadly Sins, ed. David Bailey

Not recorded above, but I have also been catching up with a backlog of Doctor Who Magazines, in particular the glorious Tom Baker interviews in Issue 501.
Lethbridge-Stewart: Beast of Fang Rock, by Andy Frankham-Allan

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Hamilton pulled in a few favours and Fang Rock was once again off-limits for all but essential personnel and Owain, who Lethbridge-Stewart had asked to remain at the lighthouse, along with the BBC cameraman, one James Ratcliffe Saunders. Meanwhile a D-Notice 05, covering United Kingdom Security & Intelligence Special Services, was given to BBC-3. All those on the rock, including the keepers and the chap from Trinity House, had been held for a few hours while statements were taken; they were all released with a stron warning to keep their silence on what they'd seen. Hamilton had made calls to the Royal Navy, and HMS Warspite had been pulled from her usual duties and sent to comb the waters surrounding Fang Rock for any sign of the UFO.
Allow me once again to boost this series of novels about the life of Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in the year(s) between his encounter with Yeti in the underground and the foundation of UNIT in time to deal with the Cyberman invasion. Here he and Ann Travers are sent to investigate strange goings-on at Fang Rock, the lighthouse which saw a set of mysterious deaths at the turn of the century which themselves followed previous odd happenings decades earlier. It turns out that the Travers family has a connection to events, and that the timelines of the three periods are intertwined in unexpected ways.

It's very daring of Frankham-Allan to take this approach, with the Brigadier and Ann turning into the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Horror of Fang Rock (with the important difference that they were not actually in the original story). But he pulls it off, giving depth and background to the lighthouse, the Rutans and the human protagonists. These books are going to become hidden gems of Who lore. The one problem with this one is that Frankham-Allan, as both author and editor of the series as a whole, seems not to have proofed it as closely as other volumes - I caught a number of silly slips, including a South American llama in Tibet.
Tales from the Secret Annexe, by Anne Frank

Second paragraph of third story ("Eve's Dream"):
"Same to you, Mum."
Quite a short book of the brief stories written by Anne Frank while in hiding, bulked out a little by prose set-pieces from her diary. To be honest they are more interesting as further enlightenment about the state of mind of the writer than as literature in themselves; not very surprisingly, the themes of being enclosed or trapped, and parental and family relations, recur in most of the pieces. Still, I doubt if my own scribblings at the age of fourteen or fifteen would stand up to scrutiny as these do.

This hit three of my lists simultaneously: top unread book acquired last year, top unread book by a woman, and top unread non-genre fiction book. Next in each of those lists, respectively, are A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay; Merchanters Luck, by C.J. Cherryh; and The Beggar Maid, by Alice Munro.
Second paragraph of third story ("Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your crisis", by Kate Wilhelm):
They were in the mountains. That was good. Lotte liked it when they chose mountains. A stocky man was sliding down a slope, feet out before him, legs stiff - too conscious of the camera, though. Lotte couldn't tell if he had meant to slide, but he did not look happy. She turned her attention to the others.
This is an anthology of stories and writers which supposedly straddle the boundary between mainstream fiction and sf. I confess that I didn't really see the point of the question ("What if sf didn't exist as a genre, but was being written anyway?") but I did enjoy most of the stories. One or two I already knew ("The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", "Salvador") but the one I particularly enjoyed, contra my own expectations (also contra other reviewers who I've read) was "Ziggurat", an interesting and convoluted short by Gene Wolfe, who I've tended to bounce off in the past.

This was the most popular remaining book on my unread shelf which I had acquired in 2009. Next are two more collections, Vols 3 and 4 of the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny.

Empire of Mud, by J.D. Dickey

Second paragraph of third chapter:
In August 1814, in one of the last acts of the futile and misnamed War of 1812, British forces dropped anchor at Benedict, Maryland, some forty-five miles southeast of the District. Avenging the American army's devastation of the Canadian city of York, the British marched to Bladensburg, where they routed a force of capital militia. From there they attacked Washington City from the north, only to find it abandoned by its defenders. The British torched the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and other public buildings before finding a fully prepared meal laid out for guests at the Executive Mansion, which they gobbled down before burning that building too.
I love going to Washington, and indeed spent three days there two weeks ago, in the course of which I bought this book at Busboys and Poets meeting britzkrieg for dinner, and then read it on my flight westwards. It's a nice little micro-history of Washington City during its lifetime as an independent governmental entity from 1802 to 1871, with appropriate consideration of what happened before, after, and in the neighbourhood - considering also how the city's peculiar relationship with the nation, ruling and ruled by the United States but not part of any of them, constrained its development.

One of my favourite songs in Hamilton deals with the choice of site for the new nation's capital:
[BURR] Congress is fighting over where to put the capital—
[Company screams in chaos]
[BURR] It isn’t pretty
Then Jefferson approaches with a dinner and invite
And Madison responds with Virginian insight:
[MADISON] Maybe we can solve one problem with another and win a victory for the Southerners, in other words—
[MADISON] A quid pro quo
[JEFFERSON] I suppose
[MADISON] Wouldn’t you like to work a little closer to home?
[JEFFERSON] Actually, I would
[MADISON] Well, I propose the Potomac
[JEFFERSON] And you’ll provide him his votes?
[MADISON] Well, we’ll see how it goes
Dickey goes into this in some detail, and there is more back-story than is in the musical. From Alexander Hamilton's side, he was concerned at the vulnerability of a government located in Philadelphia, or any pre-existing city, to mob pressure. George Washington, who was empowered by Congress to choose the site for the new government, chose partly due to military defensibility (from naval attack - he did not anticipate that the British would land elsewhere and march in from the northeast) but also with an eye to his own personal interests - his own home, Mount Vernon, was a couple of dozen miles away, and he also had investments in local infrastructure, particularly a failed attempt to build a canal linking the capital to the North East. But by 1802, when the city government was established, Washington was dead, Hamilton's career was over, and there was nobody to champion the interests of Washington City; until the Civil War successive administrations and Congresses were suspicious of a powerful central government and therefore unwilling to invest much in its seat. So the Capitol, the White House and a few other buildings existed as islands of decent architecture in a grubby network of streets which still honoured L'Enfant's original design, but the city as a whole was dilapidated and geographically isolated until the railways came. (One little detail - I was fascinated to learn that before the Pentagon there was the Octagon, a six-sided building which still stands near the White House, where slaves worked in the cellars for the Tayloe family and where President Monroe ran the country for a few months in 1814 while the White House was being repaired.)

Dickey goes into the physical and human geography of Washington City - not just the elites, but the slaves, the prostitutes, the small traders, the elites. There are many fascinating snippets: The Supreme Court judges all rented rooms in the same house up to the 1840s. The area between the White House and the Capitol, now the glistening Federal Triangle, was previously known as Murder Bay and was a haven of liminal activity. Mary Ann Hall ran a successful brothel for decades on the site of what is now the National Museum of the American Indian, and rests under an impressive monument in the Congressional cemetery, no doubt close to many of her clients. The Washington Monument remained an embarrassing half-built stump for twenty-five years, due to wrangling over costs and control.

The story shifts gear dramatically with the Civil War, which made Washington City a key defensive asset and also a target for attack. Montgomery Meigs, the army engineer who had already brought in fresh water and renovated the Capitol, tends to be remembered for his role in establishing Arlington Cemetery during the war, but actually put a lot more effort into making the city fit for purpose as a military base. By the time the war was over, the District of Columbia's population had soared and its political image had changed completely; Meigs' efforts led directly to the abolition of the independence of Georgetown and Washington City and the institution of congressional rule over the Dictrit of Columbia in 1871. That's pretty much where his story ends, and he gets a little too caught up in the detail of what was going on with Boss Shepherd, who carried out further city development to personal profit and huge cost in the early 1870s.

The book is lavishly illustrated with maps, photographs, and occasional portraits, and is also reasonably digestible at 245 pages of the main text. I think even readers who don't share my fascination with its subject would enjoy it.

Dead Romance, by Lawrence Miles

Second paragraph of third chapter:
If you‘d asked me that at the time, I probably would have answered by staring at you. Blankly. Well, why shouldn't I have been there? That was the way we were, before the end. Me, and Cal, and Dorian, and all the others. No job, no routine, just starting my fourth year at an art college I'd actually been to only once. (My family had been middleclass for only a couple of decades, in case you were wondering, and none of them had ever even seen London. They didn't have a clue how higher education worked, which is why I could get away with telling them that it could take me anything up to ten years to get my diploma, and why they kept sending the money for whatever it was that art students were supposed to need. Yes, it worked. Really.) The point is, I didn't have any reason to be anywhere. I was a goddess of the new bohemian age, remember?
I don't quite get the immense reverence shown to Lawrence Miles and the Faction Paradox concept by the more literary end of Whovian fandom; on the other hand I thoroughly enjoyed this, even though it is a book in the series of Bernice Summerfield novels where she doesn't appear at all except as a personality of the far future, the Doctor appears only in distorted form, and the one continuity character is Chris Cwej. Paradoxically, this makes it a rare case of a Who book that one can readily recommend to non-Whovian readers because it is so very detached from the main narrative - indeed, Miles stresses that it should be considered as taking place in a pocket universe detached from the main timeline of the Whoniverse.

That's all beside the most important point, which is that it's a really good read. Christine Summerfield, the slightly reliable narrator, fills up numerous notebooks writing about how the world ended in October 1970; there are many many references to the pop culture of the late 1960s, in a slightly different timeline to our own; the Time Lords are restored to their original position of dubious god-like beings, manipulating the physical forms of their allies (that's a new one) and much else; the whole universe is a grim place, and yet I found myself immersed in it. It's a rare example of a diary-format novel where the narrator actually survives; but to what end? I found it a complex, multi-layered story, but one that did at least keep me reading with satisfaction to the final page.

Next in this sequence is Tears of the Oracle, by Justin Richards.

Boy, by Roald Dahl

Second paragraph of third chapter:
But here again, I can remember very little about the two years I attended Llandaff Cathedral School, between the age of seven and nine. Only two moments remain clearly in my mind. The first lasted not more than five seconds but I will never forget it.
A rather charming short autobiography of Roald Dahl's childhood: he was the son of a Norwegian immigrants to Wales; his father died when he was only three; he attended boarding school from the age of nine to eighteen; and the book ends with him getting a job with Shell and going to Africa. It's not a particularly remarkable childhood, but the background of grim uncertain interwar Britain is conveyed very well, and there are some memorable passage about sweets (including the inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and the horrible environment at Repton School in Derbyshire, where physical beatings were administered by the headmaster, a future Archbishop of Canterbury. It's a reflective but also humorous and passionate short book, intended for the younger reader, and will be appreciated by them I think.

This was the most recently acquired book that I hadn't particularly tagged when adding it to my catalogue but on reflection looked worth a try. Next up on that list is a bit different: the Dictionary of Methodism by John A. Vickers.

Feels different this time: the 2016 Hugos

I picked up a tweet from a Puppy supporter the other day complaining that there is a media blackout of the Hugo Awards this year "because they can't smear Chuck Tingle like they did Brad Torgersen". Of course, to those who had not heard of the Hugos before last year, it seems odd that there is less coverage this year; in fact things are pretty much back to normal or perhaps a little above normal - my survey of bloggers on 21 July this year found roughly half as many as last year on 18 July, but roughly twice as many as on 21 July 2013. (My 2014 and 2011 surveys were done much closer to the deadline.)

The big difference, of course, has been that while the slate organisation has been even more obviously politicised this year, the slate candidates themselves have been less so. Last year we had repeated stirring of the pot by Brad Torgersen (his own worst advocate) and Larry Correia; this year, both have largely quit the field and left it to the somewhat incoherent Kate Paulk and to Vox Day, for whom this is not a top priority. Last year we had one of their nominees making death threats, and another trying to get a critic fired from his day job and even trying to call the police to Worldcon itself to move against one of the Guests of Honour, and others fulminating in the most offensive manner possible; we had George R.R. Martin and Eric Flint weighing in repeatedly. This year I've seen around half of the slated nominees openly repudiate their slate support, including every single one of the Best Novella finalists. Last year, four finalists withdrew, a process that took a couple of weeks of drama. This year, two withdrew the day after the final ballot was announced, and then it was over. It has simply been less dramatic.

My own sense is that "No Award" is likely to win in Best Related Work, Best Professional Artist, and Best Fancast, which are completely dominated by slate nominations which would have been unlikely to make it without slate support; that's three categories ratehr than five last year. It's quite possible that Best Novelette, Best Graphic Story, Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form), Best Semiprozine, Best Fanzine and the Campbell Award will go to finalists who had slate support, but who probably would have made it to the ballot anyway. And in the other categories, I'd be surprised to see the slated candidates win. It's not exactly global domination.

This all has an effect on how future ballots should be approached. I've put my name to two amendments to be discussed at this year's WSFS Business Meeting in Kansas City (which I will not be able to attend). The most extensive discussion of these amendments (plus others) is on File 770, and I'd encourage you to comment there rather than here on the substance. The two amendments which I am supporting are:

1) To move the deadline for eligibility for nominations back a month, from 31 January of the year of the convention to 31 December of the year before. Apart from the obvious points about making the process easier to manage (particularly if other amendments are adopted which will add further complexity to the process), it just struck me as incongruous that 31 January is the only calendar date mentioned in the entire WSFS constitution.

2) To introduce a qualification stage, to allow Worldcon members to to reject candidates that they believe have benefited from inappropriate promotion. The argument is discussed at some length on File 770. I'll summarise my own position by saying that this was pitched to me last year by someone who did not know what they were talking about, including running tallies for the top 20 nominees (which is completely unimplementable), and I was very sceptical. But two things changed my mind. First, the BSFA Awards introduced an extra stage of the nomination process this year, and I felt that it materially improved the outcome, particularly in the Best Non-Fiction category. The second was that WSFS veteran Kevin Standlee came up with a version that I thought could work to improve not only the robustness of the system against slates, but also several other issues, and I signed on in support as soon as I saw his proposal. Slightly refined, that is what is going to the WSFS Business Meeting next month.

I am the 2017 Hugo Administrator, and I'm not expressing a view on any of the changes approved last year and going to this year's WSFS Business Meeting for ratification, other than to repeat that I'll be ready to implement any or all of them. And please don't read too much into my non-support of the other proposed amendments going to this year's WSFS Business Meeting; life is too short to express an opinion on absolutely everything.

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

Second paragraph of third chapter:
"Half and half, ma'am."
Weirdly, I had never actually read this (though thought I had). I got an electronic copy as part of a humble bundle in February, and then found I had a paper copy on the shelf, with a business-class boarding pass for a plane flight from Zagreb to Frankfurt on October 30 of an unspecified year stuck in the back cover. I was a bit puzzled - I have flown business-class seldom enough that I can still remember almost every occasion that it's happened - and checking back through my records I realised that it must have been when I was guest speaker at an OSCE conference in Zagreb on 29-30 October 2003; I dimly recall a late night with old friends at the hotel bar, wondering fuzzily why we couldn't see the towering Intercontinental from the top floor of our hotel (embarrassingly, this turned out to be because we were actually staying in the Intercontinental which had meantime changed names to the Opera; it's now the Westin) and a sleepy journey home in the course of which I must have had the book on my lap unopened save for tucking the boarding pass into it. In that case, it must have been literally the last book I acquired before I started book-blogging on Livejournal in November 2003.

It's far ahead of its time (which was 1957). Bester is sometimes described as the fore-runner of cyberpunk; but he also reaches back to The Count of Monte Cristo, and to various other tropes. Gully Foyle's story is a compelling push for revenge, in a society where the availability of instant transportation to everyone has actually reinforced the control of resources and society by the rich and powerful. The prose is effervescent and intestinal. It's a great piece of writing, but Gully Foyle is a deeply unpleasant protagonist and a rapist - that last point being probably the single element that has dated most badly. Still, I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

This turned out to be the most popular unread book I had acquired so far this year, and also the most popular unread sf book. Next on those lists respectively are The Dinner, by Herman Koch (recommended by Lisa from work), and Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke.

Interesting Links for 24-07-2016


Saturday reading

Erm, a couple of long flights and sleepless nights here.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)

Last books finished
Lethbridge-Stewart: Beast of Fang Rock, by Andy Frankham-Allan
Gráinne, by Keith Roberts
Corona, by Greg Bear
Islands in the Sky, by Arthur C. Clarke
Between structure and No-thing: An annotated reader in Social and Cultural Anthropology, ed. Patrick J. Devlieger
The Sands of Mars, by Arthur C. Clarke
Bétélgeuse v.5: L'Autre, by Leo
Earthlight, by Arthur C Clarke
Galileo's Dream, by Kim Stanley Robinson
A Delicate Truth, by John le Carré

Last week's audios
Torchwood: Ghost Mission, James Goss

Next books
Holes, by Louis Sachar
The Host, by Peter Emshwiller
Ghastly Beyond Belief, eds. Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman

The Algebra of Ice, by Lloyd Rose

Second paragraph of third chapter:
‘Not our usual line, is it, sir?’ said Ramsey. ‘Hoaxes and all that.’ His tone was curious rather than dismissive.
Next in the internal sequence of Seventh Doctor novels outside the New Adventures (only four left after this, actually). Lloyd Rose is a particularly good Who writer, who has published no other written fiction as far as I can tell (she has a non-fiction piece in a 2013 Sherlock Holmes anthology, and a couple of TV scripts). This is the last of her works that I have come to, having already greatly enjoyed The City of the Dead and Camera Obscura (and her audio play Caerdroia). I'm glad to say that I really enjoyed this as well; it starts with the death of Edgar Allan Poe, and from then on there are a lot of balls in the air: crop circles, weird ice, the Brigadier, the Riemann hypothesis, Ace having a fling with a brilliant mathematician, the Doctor as a partlially successful manipulator; also the flavours of both the last TV seasons and the first New Adventure novels inform the narrative and combine for a very tasty treat. I'm not completely certain that I can really tell you what the book was about, but it satisfied me on a lot of levels.

Next in this sequence is Atom Bomb Blues, by Andrew Cartmel.

Interesting Links for 23-07-2016

Second paragraph of third chapter:
These were excellent questions, and Ron Chernow wished that he knew how to answer them. Soon after Lin returned from his vacation to Mexico (having folded down many page-corners in Chernow's book, having called out many ideas to Vanessa as they popped into his brain), he reached out to the author of the biography that had seized his imagination. A friend's father supplied Ron's email address, and Lin invited him to see In the Heights.
Since January, I've been thoroughly addicted to Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton (based on the Ron Chernow biography). The first song, the title number, grabbed me viscerally as I walked from my hotel to the old town of Dubrovnik one winter afternoon, and has not let go since. I was actually in New York last week, and for a mad moment briefly considered paying hundreds of dollars to get a ticket for the Tuesday evening performance. The fact that I had a breakfast meeting in Washington on Wednesday, and more importantly the confirmed news that Hamilton will come to London in October next year, deterred me, probably for the best.

I got myself the book-of-the-musical as a birthday present, but have only got around to reading it this month. The real book-of-the-musical, of course, is Chernow's biography, but this is a great insight into how the show came to be the way it was; it includes the lyrics for one first-act song which is in the show but isn't included in the album, and a couple of others that were dropped - a third cabinet battle about slavery, a longer version of Hamilton's attack on John Adams. A lot of the notes on specific songs will be familiar to fellow addicts of the annotated lyrics. But the books strength is its stories about how the show came to be written - a couple of the songs squeezed out almost at the last moment, others chopped and changed far beyond their original form - and how the various creators were inspired and implemented their visions for the show, not just Miranda but the many collaborators who brought it to life. It's a book that will be of little interest to those who are not already fans, but of great interest to those of us who are. Unfortunately my copy was missing the first quire, so I'll need to find another. It stiall has almost all the good bits.

Hamilton: The Revolution reached the top of my list as the most popular book in my unread pile by a non-white author (ie Miranda). Next on that list is Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Second paragraph of November chapter in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons:
I do feel a little bad, because it looked like it was gonna take a long tin to clean up. But on the bright side, Gramma is retired, so she probably didn't have anything planned for today anyway.
Second paragraph of November chapter in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules:
Rodrick was upstairs in my room bugging me, and Dad went into the bathroom. A couple seconds later, he said something that made Rodrick stop cold.
Young F was really into these books a few years ago, and I finally sampled the first two in the series. They're entertaining but not great literature; Greg is disarmingly innocent, and occasionally tells more than he realises; the story of school friendships and family relationships being tested by events is one that will never really get old, and the pictures do illustrate the story nicely. But girls are rather absent from the narrative, and non-white kids barely visble. So I feel I can skip the other nine volumes we have in our house and not feel I've missed much.

I picked up the first two volumes because a later one (which I did not read) had somehow got to the top of my list of unread books acquired in 2013. Next on that list, in rather a swerve, is the Complete Plays of Christopher Marlowe.
In 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2011 I carried out a survey of how bloggers were declaring their Hugo votes in the written fiction categories. This has got a bit more accurate over time - in 2011, I didn't spot any of the winners in advance; in 2013, I didn't find a single blogger voting for the Best Novel winner (Redshirts); in the last two years, I had the winner in first or second place in each of the four categories, though one of those second places was a long way behind.

This year, the leaders in the three short fiction categories all score more than 50% of my pool of reviewers, and the leader in Best Novel is also quite far in front. So I take this as a fairly strong set of indicators. On the other hand, it could be completely wrong. We'll find out in a month.

Best Short Story

This is the only category where I found anyone voting No Award (I am one of them).

“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer: 15½ Read more...Collapse )
No Award: 4 Read more...Collapse )
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle: 1 Read more...Collapse )
“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon: 1 Read more...Collapse )
“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao: ½ Read more...Collapse )
“If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris: 0

Best Novelette

“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu: 10½ Read more...Collapse )
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander: 4½ Read more...Collapse )
“Obits” by Stephen King: 4 Read more...Collapse )
“Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai: 0
“What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke: 0

Best Novella

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: 10 Read more...Collapse )
Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold: 5 Read more...Collapse )
Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson: 3 Read more...Collapse )
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds: 1 Read more...Collapse )
The Builders by Daniel Polansky: 0

Best Novel

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: 6⅓ Read more...Collapse )
Uprooted by Naomi Novik: 3⅓ Read more...Collapse )
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: 2⅓ Read more...Collapse )
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson: 2 Read more...Collapse )


Interesting Links for 21-07-2016

Why Corbyn must go

I'm not deeply invested in the fortunes of Britain's Labour Party. (I accidentally rejoined the Lib Dems last year, but haven't paid any subscription this year so possibly am no longer a member.) But I am very interested in questions of political leadership, and in the quality of democracy in a political system.

In this context, I found very interesting three pieces published online in the last week by Labour Party activists (none of whom I had ever heard of before, which must show my disconnect from UK politics). Two of them are women MPs of about the same age as me, Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) and Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South). The third is the somewhat older Richard Murphy, part-time Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University London. They all made similar criticisms of the leadership style of Jeremy Corbyn, sufficient to convince me that the Labour Party will make a huge mistake if it fails to remove him as its leader.

To take it from the top. Thangam Debbonaire tells a grim story of a botched appointment to shadow culture policy, followed by lack of communication from the leader, followed by hassle on social media from Corbyn supporters when she was ill, followed by her disillusionment with Corbyn's post-referendum stance on Brexit and his reluctance to talk about winning elections. It's got a lot of coverage, but actually it's the weakest of the three - in some ways the most telling, though; there is crucially no mention of Corbyn commiserating with her on her illness. A good leader ensures that the foot-soldiers remain loyal to the ranks, even those who might have liked a different general.

Also a former shadow minister, though on transport rather than culture, Lilian Greenwood recounts three crucial moments of betrayal by her own leader. One was perhaps just about excusable - a long-planned policy announcement knocked off the media agenda by a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. Of course the Shadow Cabinet gets reshuffled from time to time, but there are elements of sequencing which a wise leader would respect. The other two, however, are cases of Corbyn actually contradicting, on personal whim, careful policy positions worked out by Greewood with full participation of his own staff. For Greenwood also, Corbyn's post-referendum stance on Brexit was the final straw - after several betrayals on the issues she somewhat wonkishly cared about. I am a wonk myself. I accept that sometimes our feelings get ruffled. But when our expert advice is not only given, but sought, and then over-ruled without explanation, we wonks get upset. And a good leader does not upset the wonks without telling us why.

Most damningly of all, Richard Murphy reports how his economic ideas were adopted by Corbyn for the leadership election, and then simply abandoned. The killer passage for me was this:
The leadership wasn’t confusing as much as just silent. There was no policy direction, no messaging, no direction, no co-ordination, no nothing. Shadow ministers appeared to have been left with no direction as to what to do. It was shambolic. The leadership usually couldn’t even get a press release out on time to meet print media deadlines and then complained they got no coverage.
This to me is really serious. Murphy's disillusionment is perhaps all the more powerful because he did not hold any official position in the party. A good leader doesn't just spout ideas to sound clever during the leadership election, a good leader takes steps to push them forward as a key theme of their leadership.

This all goes some way to explaining the extraordinary 80% vote of no confidence in Corbyn's leadership from the people who work most closely with him and who would theoretically populate a Corbyn-led government. It's not convincing to argue that the parliamentary party was against him from the start. As leader of a parliamentary party with a membership of more than, say, three, you have massive tools of persuasion and patronage at your disposal to engender loyalty where previously there might have been none. But Corbyn has not decided to play the game by different rules; he has chosen not to play it at all, preferring to sit on the sidelines. As Alexander Hamilton sings in the musical,
you don’t get a win unless you play in the game
Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it
You get nothing if you
Wait for it, wait for it!
Of course, if you're not actually interested in winning, it doesn't matter. But this apathy is having real consequences. The Conservative government has a wafer-thin majority and has just had one of the most bizarre and bruising leadership contests in living memory. A competent opposition leader would be snapping at their heels and making their lives utterly miserable. On 20 July 2011, the despised Ed Miliband's Labour Party sat at 44% in the polls. Today Corbyn's Labour Party is at 29%. As Martin McGrath commented on Twitter, if his project is to replicate the "success" of movements like Syriza (polling 23% in Greece) and Podemos (21% in Spain), he's nearly there. This is no help whatsoever to the people Labour normally claims to represent or, if you like, lead.

If the UK is to have a coherent opposition which actually holds the government to account, Labour is going to have to find a leader who is actually interested in leading. The introduction of leadership elections by members only, at the same time as broadening the membership base rather dramatically, has made this much more difficult and in fact has enabled a fatal disconnect between the membership and the elected representatives. The process of resolving this disconnect is going to be very messy indeed, with many stupid and reprehensible things done on both sides. But it is an urgently needed catharsis.

NB I've said very little about the actual content of policy here. I don't regard analysing policy debates within a party that is stuck in opposition as a terrific use of my time. My argument is entirely about the execution of the policy decisions that are made, and even more so about leadership of a team to deliver those decisions. That's where I see Corbyn failing worst, and unforgiveably so.
Second paragraph of third chapter:
Today, these accelerators are obsolete—their mega-electron volt energies long surpassed by giga-electron volt particle colliders. They're no longer winning Nobel prizes, but physicists and graduate students still wait six months for time on an accelerator beamline. After all, our accelerators are fine for studying exotic nuclear particles and searching out new forms of matter, with esoteric names like quark-gluon plasmas or pion condensates. And when the physicists aren't using them, the beams are used for biomedical research, including cancer therapy.
The 1980s were more innocent times than ours. This is the first-person account of how Stoll, an astrophysics graduate turned sysadmin at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, spotted unauthorised access to the departmental VAX one day in 1986 and set off on a detective trail that eventually led to Cold War hacking and espionage. One has to admire his forensic attention to detail, in the face of apathy from the USA's own intelligence and security services and the constant threat of being told to get on with his day job by his bosses; but it's also extraordinary to reflect on how things have changed, in that there would be no difficulty now in getting a government agency to pay attention to hacking on this scale; there would be no legal difficulty in bringing a prosecution; the technical tools to track down hackers are much better developed; and the big international threat to cybersecurity is not in Russia but further east. Still, it's a great book.

We actually came across it because Stoll's day job now is to make Klein bottles, and we got young F a woolly one for Christmas. But a little further investigation turned up this book which also looked like a good bet; and indeed it was.

This came to the top of three of my lists simultaneously: the most popular unread book on my shelves acquired in 2015, the most popular non-fiction book on my shelves, and the top recommendation from you guys. Next respectively in those sequences are Tales from the Secret Annexe, by Anne Frank; Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexievich; and Tove Jansson: Work and Love, by Tuula Karjalainen.

Interesting Links for 19-07-2016

Second stanza of the poem that is the third chapter ('In the TARDIS: Christmas Day' by Val Douglas):
`We must have a Christmas pudding,'
The Doctor said at last
As he searched through all the cupboards
For relics of Christmas past.
`Aha!' he cried in triumph
And held up a mouldy goo.
`A present from Mrs Beeton
`In eighteen umpty-two.'
These themed anthologies of Who stories are sometimes more miss than hit, and I fear this is largely in the former category - perhaps not helped by my reading it at the height of summer rather than in the Christmas season for which it was intended when published in 2004, with New Who looming round the corner. Perhaps appropriately, the two stories I enjoyed most are reflexive vignettes where the TV show becomes part of the narrative, "Christmas Special" by Marc Platt and even more so "All Our Christmases" by Steve Lyons. Otherwise I think this is best enjoyed with mulled win in one's hand and a seasonal mood in one's brain.

Nest in sequence: Short Trips: Seven Deadly Sins, ed. David Bailey.

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