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No Official Umbrella, by Glyn Jones

Glyn Jones was an actor, writer and director, who was born in South Africa in 1931 and died in Crete in 2014. This 700-page autobiography is worth reading if you are interested in that sort of thingCollapse )

Mathematical limericks

A Dozen, a Gross, and a Score,
plus three times the square root of four,
divided by seven,
plus five times eleven,
is nine squared and not a bit more.

A second one, from nmg (requires "zee" rather than "zed" for the last letter of the alphabet):

Integral z-squared dz
from 1 to the cube root of 3
times the cosine
of three pi over 9
equals log of the cube root of e.

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And so the awards season starts in earnest. Official BSFA press release here. Congrats to all concerned. In particular, I think the non-fiction short list is a lot better than in previous years.

The Goodreads / LibraryThing stats for the shortlisted novels are as follows. Ranking is consistent between the two (except that there is a tie st the end for LibraryThing). I've read three and must now get the other two.

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard 6,981 3.49 150 3.84
Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald 5,506 4.04 110 3.98
Mother of Eden, by Chris Beckett 1,894 3.77 65 3.59
Glorious Angels, by Justina Robson 633 3.44 31 3.11
Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson 407 4.26 31 3.88

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

A classic of nineteenth century sf, where the story is told by an inhabitant of a two-dimensional universe who has become aware that a third dimension exists. As a teenager I had read Martin Gardner's extended review of this book and similar writings, and to be honest it was better than the original source material, which is laden with assumptions about what the reader would find funny which rather grate on today's sensitivities particularly with regard to gender but also class and race; it has not aged well. But at the same time the core message, challenging the reader to conceive of a conceptual breakthrough where our universe is just one aspect of a higher dimensional reality, is well executed - and of course the concept of other dimensions has become much more operational since 1884.

This came to the top of my TBR pile as the most popular sf book in my LibraryThing that I had not yet read. Next on that list is Walking on Glass, by Iain M. Banks.
May have just been the mood I was in at the time, but this failed to grab me; I didn't understand the setting, or what the characters were trying to do. I love the way de Bodard writes in general, so for me this was a rare miss.

The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

Another superb book of short stories by the Canadian Nobel Prize winner. The two that particularly grabbed me were the very first, "The Love of a Good Woman", about the mysterious death of an optician, and "Before the Change", about the daughter of a small-town abortionist. But they are all pretty good.

No screenshots this time, I'm afraid - my picture quality for this episode is rather poor.

Episode 5: Happy Haunting
First shown: 10 October 1970 (US), 28 January 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writers: Harry Booth and Glyn Jones
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert the Street Cleaner
Clive Dunn as Hodge
Pat Coombs as Doris
Frederick Peisley as The Duke
Ruth Kettlewell as The Duchess

Read more...Collapse )

2016 Read Harder Challenge List

Not quite sure where this came from, but it's an interesting list of books to aim to read this year.

The 2016 Read Harder Challenge List
(annotated where I've read books in the relevant category in January 2016)
  • Read a horror book
  • Read a nonfiction book about science
  • Read a collection of essays
         Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I, ed. Janet Brennan Croft
         Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien, eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan
  • Read a book aloud to someone else
  • Read a middle grade novel [ie aimed at 8-12]
  • Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)
  • Read a dystopian and post-apocalyptic novel
         Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes
  • Read a book originally published in decade you were born [the 1960s]
  • Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award
  • Read a book over 500 pages long
         No Official Umbrella, by Glyn Jones (710)
  • Read a book under 100 pages
         The Story of Ireland, by Brendan O'Brien (96)
         Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott (96)
         Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef, by Cassandra Khaw (95)
         A Day In Deep Freeze, by Lisa Shapter (74)
         Bételgeuse v 3: L'Expédition, by Leo (48)
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
  • Read a book that is set in the Middle East
  • Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia
         Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef, by Cassandra Khaw (from Malaysia)
         Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho (also from Malaysia)
  • Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900
  • Read the first book in a series by a person of colour
         again, Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes
         again, Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho
  • Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
         I think Saga counts? Though perhaps the spirit of the challenge is to find a new one. Thanks to drplokta for clarification.
  • Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie and discuss which is better
  • Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes
         again, Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien, eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan
  • Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction
         possibly Jews vs Aliens, ed. Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene
  • Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a food memoir
  • Read a play
  • Read a book with a main character with a mental illness
Most of these are represented on my reading list already. I would not have thought to look at the Audie awards, but a quick skim of their website looks very encouraging. The biggest challenge will be finding someone who is willing for me to read an entire book to them. I may have to borrow a small child.


Friday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

Last books finished
No Official Umbrella, by Glyn Jones
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
On The Way To Diplomacy, by Costas Constantinou
A People's Peace for Cyprus, by Alexander Lordos, Erol Kaymak and Nathalie Tocci 
Tik-Tok by John Sladek
Short Trips: The Muses, ed. Jacqueline Rayner
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson
Citadel of Dreams by Dave Stone

Next books
Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson
The Magic Cup, by Andrew M. Greeley
The Sword of Forever by Jim Mortimore

Books acquired in last week
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin
I will be in London next Monday (8 February) for work meetings, and wondered if anyone might be up for dinner that evening? Unfortunately my favourite Georgian restaurant is closed on Mondays, but I'm open to other suggestions. I'm staying on Lincoln's Inn Fields and would prefer to eat somewhere moderately convenient to there, without too much background noise given my middle-aged ears.

Also I'm going to take a couple of hours off on Tuesday morning, 9 February, and go see the Lost Library of Dr John Dee in the Royal College of Physicians (off Albany St, near Great Portland St and Regent's Park tube stations). I would want to get there promptly for 9 am, and probably stay for a couple of hours before going back to work. Company very welcome.

January Books

I'm on the road this weekend, so no time to finalise my write-up of Happy Haunting, I'm afraid. Instead, please enjoy these extracts from No Official Umbrella, the 700-page autobiography of Glyn Jones, who was the script editor of Here Come The Double Deckers and also wrote or co-wrote many of the episodes.

pages from the bookCollapse )

There is also a little about Doctor Who - along with Mark Gatiss and Victor Pemberton, Jones is one of the few people to have both written a Who story (The Space Museum) and appeared in one (The Sontaran Experiment) - but I'll save that for when I write the book up properly.

Interesting Links for 30-01-2016


Friday reading

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
No Official Umbrella, by Glyn Jones
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson

Last books finished
Touch, by Claire North
Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

Last week's audios

Next books
On The Way To Diplomacy, by Costas Constantinou
Tik-Tok by John Sladek

Books acquired in last week
Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson
Faith in Politics, by John Bruton
Les Lumières de l'Amalou, by Claire Wendling
Hardwired, by Walter Jon Williams
A Darker Shade, ed. Jon-Henri Holmberg


Encouraged by rosefox here and rmc28 here, I bit the bullet and forked out €15 (the first time I've bought a music album for myself for over a decade) for the Broadway cast recording of Hamilton, the musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, based on the Ron Chernow biography which I read in 2006, and starring a mainly black cast.

Gosh. It hooked me less than two minutes in:
Well, the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man”
Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland
“Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came, and
The world is gonna know your name. What’s your name, man?”

Alexander Hamilton
My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait...
And then I couldn't stop listening. I'd loaded up the iPod with the album, and casually thought I'd listen to it on a long walk after a day of travel. But I found I just had to get back to the computer and read through the annotated lyrics right through to the end. It is fantastic.

I love the clever wordplay, including the repeated use of "satisfaction" and "time" and "I will not throw away my ... shot" hurtling towards the awful conclusion; I loved the many nods to Les Miserables; I loved the Schuyler sisters as Destiny's Child; I loved the successful attempt to set cabinet meetings to music; I loved the epilogue sung by Eliza about her fifty years of widowhood. This is one of the most amazing musicals I have experienced, and if I get a chance I will try to see it on stage in New York.

Here is Lin-Manuel Miranda performing the opening song at the White House in 2009.

What I find interesting is that the audience, including the President of the United States and the First Lady, think it's rather funny that anyone should try and write a hip-hop opera about the only one of the Founding Fathers who didn't become President because he got shot dead by the sitting Vice-President in 1804. I don't think they're laughing now.

For more info here's a short documentary about it.

Go get it, listen to it.


Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

A book set in a magical nineteenth-century England, with strong shades of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and also Mary Robinette Kowal, and of course pastiche of Jane Austen if she had been interested in scientific magic; but by bringing in the rest of the world, and making her central character an African orphan who unexpectedly becomes Sorcerer Royal, to the dismay of Society, Zen Cho turns a lot of those tropes sideways, and then injects a dose of Faerie and smart young woman with dragons as well. I really liked this and will be considering it seriously for my Hugo nominations and BSFA second round vote (due on Sunday).

Interesting Links for 27-01-2016

Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes

I'd read several of Barnes' collaborations with Larry Niven, but this was my first time reading a solo novel by him - also I think his own first solo novel, published in 1983. It's a decent techno thriller set in a degenerated California in about 2020, the protagonists a zero-gravity MMA fighter and a dancer, both black in a world that is still ruled by racism. Gangs, dubious technology and medicine, and self-realisation all feature large in the narrative. I have the sequel and will read it.

Interesting Links for 26-01-2016

Touch, by Claire North

I greatly enjoyed last year's The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Harry August has an unusual experience of consciousness: every time he dies, he is reborn again and has the chance to re-live his life from the beginning. It really blew me away, with its alternate histories intersecting with some harsh questions of how much difference one person could make to the development of science and society in the twentieth century, and whether that would be a good thing. I thought it very well handled, and told with a strong emotional voice. I didn't blog about it here when I read it (in December 2014) because I was one of the Clarke judges and was maintaining radio silence on submissions; but we shortlisted it, it also made the BSFA shortlist, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Touch also features a narrator who experiences consciousness differently, through having the ability to take possession of someone else's body simply through skin contact. Set in our contemporary world, there is a whole sub-culture and underground economy of people renting out their bodies to such "ghosts", along with "estate agents" who broker those arrangements. But there are also those who want to stamp out the ghosts - or at least our narrator - whatever the collateral damage, and unravelling the conspiracy while staying alive is the key driver of the plot. The book begins with an assassination in Istanbul, and climaxes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, taking in various parts of Europe en route, all well sketched with a good sense of location and culture. I really liked it and I suspect it will be on my Hugo nomination list and my BSFA second round vote.
As posted on Twitter, by several people who were there:
tweetsCollapse )

Hooray! And thanks to those who posted from the event.

Interesting Links for 25-01-2016

In 2014 for the 1939 Retro Hugos, we did not have a Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category because there were not enough nominations to make the category viable. (I confess I had not heard of most of the possible nominees.) The Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category included four Orson Welles radio plays and a TV adaptation of R.U.R. (which cannot have been seen by very many of those nominating). The War of the Worlds scored a crushing victory, with 813 first preference votes out of 1058. But there was no cinematic representation on the final ballot - The Brave Little Tailor missed being a finalist by a single vote, and Porky in Wackyland by two.

This year it's a different matter. There are a number of viable and interesting films which could be considered by voters for the 1941 Retro Hugos. The big problem is that most of them are less than 90 minutes, which is the current boundary between the Short Form and Long Form categories. There is wiggle room of 20% either way; a lot of them could be shifted to Long Form as they are 72 minutes or more in length; or alternatively, all but Fantasia and the serials could be classed as Short Form, being less than 108 minutes in length. I guess this year's Hugo administrators will decide pragmatically, on the pattern of nominations. (We won't have this particular problem next year - there will be no Retro Hugos for 1942 because there was no Worldcon in that year.)

Steve Davidson has done us all a service by listing some potential nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation from 1940, here and here. I've been doing a little browsing and have adapted his list, in order of popularity on IMDB, as follows:

PinocchioCollapse )

FantasiaCollapse )

The Thief of BagdadCollapse )

Dr. CyclopsCollapse )

The Blue BirdCollapse )

One Million B.C.Collapse )

The Ghost BreakersCollapse )

Beyond TomorrowCollapse )

The Mummys HandCollapse )

Flash Gordon Conquers the UniverseCollapse )

The Invisible Man ReturnsCollapse )

The Invisible WomanCollapse )

The Green HornetCollapse )

Black FridayCollapse )

The Fatal HourCollapse )

The ApeCollapse )

Doomed to DieCollapse )

Before I HangCollapse )

Mysterious Doctor SatanCollapse )

SonCollapse )

Weltraumschiff 1 startetCollapse )

As you know, Bob, online links to full-length films tend to have a short lifespan. I'd recommend that you have a quick look at these now, and ensure that you are able to watch the ones that interest you at your leisure. I'd be surprised if we are not able to fill out both categories of Best Dramatic Presentation this year. If you are a member of last year's Sasquan, this year's MidAmeriCon II, or next year's Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, you can nominate as long as you join by 31 January, which is a week from today; Worldcon 75's rates go up from that day too, so what are you waiting for?

Royal Blood, by Una McCormack

Possibly the last Twelfth Doctor / Clara novel, or at least the last we'll have for a while, this has the TARDIS arriving in a medieval-style society where knights have lasers. It's good fun, particularly the invocation of the Holy Grail quest, an interesting viewpoint character among the knights, and Clara's lines in general; there's perhaps not enough Doctor in it (though he too is well caught), and I wasn't quite sure in the end how the Glamour here fitted in with its other appearances. But a worthy addition to the shelves.

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