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Thursday reading

TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 6: Peter Davison and Colin Baker, by Philip Sandifer
The Arabian Nights, ed. Muhsin Mahdi, tr. Hussein Haddawy
The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us: Or Why You Have No Idea How Your Mind Works, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Last books finished
Jacaranda, by Cherie Priest
Forsaken, by Kelley Armstrong (did not finish)
Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
Galactic North, by Alastair Reynolds

Last week's audios
Fractures [Blake's 7], by Justin Richards
Prisoners of the Lake [Third Doctor], by Justin Richards
The Havoc of Empires [Third Doctor], by Andy Lane

Next books
A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to "Faerie", by Verlyn Flieger
A Star Chamber Court in Ireland: The Court of Castle Chamber, 1571-1641, by Jon G. Crawford
Business Unusual, by Gary Russell

Books acquired in last week
TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 6: Peter Davison and Colin Baker, by Philip Sandifer

Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald

Second paragraph of third chapter:
When you apply to go to the moon the LDC insists on a DNA test. If you plan on staying, if you plan on raising children, the LDC doesn’t want chronic genetic conditions showing up in later life, or in your descendants. My DNA is from all over Earth. Old World, New World ; Africa, eastern Mediterranean, western Mediterranean, Tupi, Japanese, Norwegian. I’m a planet in one woman.
This is a novel about near-future colonisation of the Moon by corporate clans (or clannish corporations) and their internal struggles over political power and resources. It starts with half a dozen young people running naked over the lunar surface, and goes on from there. I loved it: I like McDonald's lush prose style anyway, but I thought here he has managed both exuberance and discipline simultaneously, and also has tied the story in with traditional sf interpretations of lunar colonisation in a very gratifying way. I'm pretty sure I'm adding it to my Hugo nominations list for next year. (Also: looking forward to the TV series.)
Rising Damp by UA Fanthorpe.

‘A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether.’
(Paper to the Auctioneers’ Institute, 1907)

At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.

There are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.

They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.

They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They inflitrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.

Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
Will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.
Second paragraph of third chapter:
I seemed to be looking at an enormous illuminated painting, lit both by the unsettled water and by a deep light transmitted through the body of the cavern. What surprised me, as I pushed the cabin door against the current, was the intense clarity of every detail. In front of me, above its sloping lawn, was the half-timbered Tudor mansion. A number of people were watching me, like figures posed by the artist in a formal landscape. None of them moved, as if frozen by the burning aircraft that had burst out of the afternoon sky and fallen into the water at their feet.
For all that the BSFA Best Novel award has its faults (notably, that the first thirty recipients included twenty-nine men and one woman), it has often looked to more inventive, if less enduring, works than the Hugo or Nebula. This is a case in point - a year when the two US-based awards both went to The Fountains of Paradise, a book that I love but which is hardly ground-breaking in its description of the engineering challenges of constructing a space elevator, with a couple of sideswipes at organised religion. By contrast, The Unlimited Dream Company is about a bloke who may or may not be killed in a plane crash at the end of the second chapter, and emerges to become the magical ruler of Shepperton (which is of course the Surrey gateway to other worlds, thanks to the film and TV studios located there, as I will discuss when I finally do my reviews of Here Come the Double Deckers). It's vivid, erotic, lush, surprisingly readable, and rather out of date even in 1979. It seems a much better fit for the sf of ten years earlier, though perhaps it is informed by the disappointments of the 1970s. It's very interesting that it won an award when it did.

Of course, awards are hit and miss. This was the only book by Ballard to win a major SF award. (Empire of the Sun, which is not SF, won a couple.) We know now that the best-selling and possibly also most influential sf novel of 1979 was The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Unlimited Dream Company now looks more like a last gasp of the New Wave (which was almost twenty years old by then) than a pointer to the future of the genre. Brian Aldiss, whose earlier work was more in line with Ballard, was about to shift decisively towards harder SF with Helliconia. Christopher Priest perhaps has stayed closest to the Ballardian path, but I don't think any of his writing is quite as, well, gonzo as this. Michael Moorcock still writes books like Michael Moorcock, at least. I'm glad that the sf community did eventually honour Ballard for his contribution to the genre, both in content and visibility; it's just a bit surprising that it took so long.
Seond paragraph of third section:
That, Mr. Pond, is no ordinary milk-float. That float has been rendered spaceworthy! As you said, what we are lacking in space travel today is a viable means of propulsion, and even then we are limited by the speed of light. But there is one substance which can travel faster than light —boiling milk, when it thinks you’re not looking!"
This was one of the many Neil Gaiman works made available a couple of weeks ago in the most successful Humble Bundle ever. Gaiman describes it as "my worst short story ever... It misfires in so many ways." The above paragraph, as it happens, captures the punchline of the story. It really isn't very good, is it?

At the controls: the inside of the Tardis

Whose hand is steering the Tardis?

The frightening truth: an unqualified driver is at the helm:

To explain. I have a cousin who works here:

And the weekend before last, he very kindly took a group of relatives around the studios, including me. I can't say much about what we saw, but we were allowed to take pictures of the interior of the Tardis itself (positioned right next to a square in ancient Athens for the forthcoming Midsummer Night's Dream).

It's a really big space. The set has the full 360° walls, which can be opened up if necessary, but fundamentally it's a very large circular room on several levels (and scary drops between them). The lights were not on, so all pictures are illustrated by my iPhone flash (apart from the first two in this post, which were taken more professionally by an uncle). But here's a view of the console from the gallery, my mother and most of an aunt dimly visible behind:

Down below the console is a further floor level, with the Tardis innards spilling out:

I was fascinated by the console itself, which is as elaborate as you would hope:

But even more fascinated by the gallery, whose elaborate designs are barely hinted at on-screen. What does the Doctor listen to and read on his travels?

What memories does he carry of past adventures?

And what is to come?


Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Aisha and Halima told her what they wanted—General Tso’s Chicken Very Spicy, Chicken Wings, Orange Chicken—with the quick ease of people saying what they said every day.
You need to know more about Nigeria. It is the seventh most populous country in the world (after China, India, the USA, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan) and is becoming a middle-income country (wealth per capita a little ahead of Moldova, a little behind Armenia). It has the largest population and the largest economy in Africa, the 20th largest GDP in the world (just behind Australia, just ahead of Thailand). One in six Africans is Nigerian, and soon it will be one in five.

I went to Nigeria for 48 hours in July, and a couple of colleagues strongly recommended this book to me as a pathway to understanding the country. It was a good recommendation on their part. There are three major themes to the book: exile, race and hair. As an expatriate migrant myself, I have thought a lot about exile and distance from the country where you grew up, and the sense of betrayal at leaving it behind. Adichie's protagonist Ifemelu eventually returns home voluntarily from the USA; her lost love Odinze is humiliatingly deported from the UK; and both find that while you can never completely leave, you can never completely go back either.

The book is sharpest in contrasting American (and to a lesser extent British) attitudes to race with the experience of people who have grown up in societies where it simply isn't an issue because there are no (or hardly any) white people. Ifemelu achieves (slightly anonymous) fame as a blogger on race, with the rise of Obama as political backdrop to her years in America. She shocks her black friends as well as her white friends and colleagues in a very good way. She shocks me as well.

As for the hair question: I had no idea. Really.

Excellent book. Go and get it.
I wrote a few weeks back of my determination to be a good Hugo nominator next year, and in particular to read the entire 2015 output of those sources which have given me most of my personal first choices in recent years - Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Asimov's, and Subterranean Press - plus also Strange Horizons as I'm a long-term supporter. Once I've established a baseline from those five sources, I'll look around what other people are recommending as well; there should be time enough for that.

What I have come up with so farCollapse )

Allen M. Steele, "The Long Wait" (Asimov's, Jan 2015)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch "Inhuman Garbage" (Asimov#39;s, Mar 2015)
Lois McMaster Bujold, Penric's Demon (Spectrum)

Eneasz Brodski, "Red Legacy" (Asimov's, Feb 2015)

Short Stories
L.S. Johnson, "Vacui Magia" (Strange Horizons, Jan 2015)
Kelly Robson, "The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill" (Clarkesworld, Feb 2015)
Nino Ciprio, "The Shape of My Name" (Tor.com, Mar 2015)

And on to the second quarter, April, May and June.


Links I found interesting for 02-10-2015

Thursday reading

Mistakenly posted the September books list as "Thursday reading" yesterday, which was actually Wednesday. This entry really is my reading since last week.

Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
Galactic North, by Alastair Reynolds

Last books finished
The Unlimited Dream Company, by J. G. Ballard
Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald
Jacaranda, by Cherie Priest

Next books
The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us: Or Why You Have No Idea How Your Mind Works, by Christopher Chabris
Business Unusual, by Gary Russell

Books acquired in last week
Whispers Underground, by Ben Aaronovitch
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Schizoid Earth, by David R. McIntee

Thursday reading

Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald
The Unlimited Dream Company, by J. G. Ballard

Last books finished
Who's Next?, by Derrick Sherwin
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Manuscript Found in a Milk Bottle, by Neil Gaiman

Next books
Galactic North, by Alastair Reynolds
The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us: Or Why You Have No Idea How Your Mind Works, by Christopher Chabris

Books acquired in last week
Gráinne, by Keith Roberts
The Sea and Summer, by George Turner
Deep Time, by Trevor Baxendale
Big Bang Generation, by Gary Russell 
Royal Blood, by Una McCormack 
A Fall of Stardust, by Neil Gaiman with Charles Vess
A Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff, by Neil Gaiman
An Honest Answer & Other Stories, by Neil Gaiman
Angels & Visitations, by Neil Gaiman
Being An Account of the Life and Death of the Emperor Heliogabalus, by Neil Gaiman
Blood Monster, by Neil Gaiman with Marlene N. O'Connor
Day of the Dead, by Neil Gaiman
Duran Duran, by Neil Gaiman
Feeders & Eaters & Other Stories, by Neil Gaiman
Free Speeches, by Neil Gaiman
Ghastly Beyond Belief, by Neil Gaiman
Gods & Tulips, by Neil Gaiman
Love, Fishie, by Neil Gaiman
Manuscript Found in a Milk Bottle, by Neil Gaiman
Neil Dreams, by Neil Gaiman
Outrageous Tales From The Old Testament, by Neil Gaiman
Sculpture Stories, by Neil Gaiman with Lisa Snellings
Seven Deadly Sins, by Neil Gaiman
Sweeney Todd & Other Stories, by Neil Gaiman
Ian S. Forrester: A Scot Without Borders - Liber Amicorum, 2 vols, eds Sir David Edward, Jacquelyn MacKennan & Assimakis Komminos

Links I found interesting for 24-09-2015

Links I found interesting for 21-09-2015

Who's Next?, by Derrick Sherwin

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Now, with time on my hands, the relationship [with first wife Jane] blossomed as I worked hard at my career as an actor and supplemented my income by working as a stage hand with the London Festival Ballet, at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. With my knowledge of scenery I was put in charge of the 'flies' - the area directly above the stage where the backcloths and other scenery are stored on counter-weighted pulleys and lowered or raised as required. This was physically demanding but required little other than the discipline of following an ordered sequence. Changing sets from one ballet to another again required long nights of arduous work, but this was something I was used to from my years in weekly rep.
On paper, Derrick Sherwin was producer of Doctor Who for only two stories and 14 episodes, the shortest tenure of anyone in the old regime. In fact he was the man who rescued the programme from collapse in Seasons 5 and 6 (as script editor and de facto assistant producer), invented UNIT and the Time Lords, and successfully rebooted the show in colour with a new Doctor in 1970. He also wrote, uncredited, one of the best single episodes of the entire original run, the first part of The Mind Robber. This is his autobiography, written pretty blatantly with the intent of cashing in on the 50th anniversary of the programme, published by Fantom as one of their large biographical range with a Whovian bias.

Less than 30 pages of over 200 are about Doctor Who, which is not terribly surprising as it was just two years in the life of an author now in his late seventies. Sherwin is frank but also very sympathetic about the difficulties of Patrick Troughton's difficult relations with the BBC and the show, and frank but less sympathetic about some of his other colleagues. His career in television lasted only a few years after Doctor Who; after various failed experiments (and relationships) he moved to Thailand, and more than half of the book is taken up with the details of his efforts to make a decent expat living there, mainly catering to tourists through hospitality and bungee jumping.

To be honest, this book would have been well served with a bit more editorial input; there is a sense that it was rushed out for November 2013. The first part is rather over-supplied with exclamation marks, and the long Thai section could perhaps have cut down on the detail of every single failed project and relationship that Sherwin started over three decades. I was really shocked to find a blatantly anti-Semitic remark on page 81. I can't warmly recommend it as an example of the showbiz autobiographical genre, but Whovian completists like me will want it on the shelves.

Constitutional trivia question

What do the Twelfth, Twenty-second, Twenty-fourth, Twenty-fifth and Thirty-second amendments to the Irish constitution have in common?

They don't exist.

Windows 10 irritations

Windows 10 irritation #1: Every time I open Chrome after restarting, it tells me Chrome is not the default web browser and asks if I want it to be. I say yes every time. And then it happens again.

Windows 10 irritation #2: iTunes has disappeared from the apps menu and the icon has disappeared from the desktop. I can still open it by finding a file associated with it and opening that. But that is not exactly efficient.


Second paragraph of third essay:
I'm going to look at Barbara and Ian not only as televisual companions to the Doctor, but as icons within the wider worlds of Doctor Who. Who were they, why were they key to the success of the series, and why do we still keep returning to them over 50 years after Ian was the first person to say "but it was just a police box"?
This is the sixth of the Geek Girl Chronicles, and the third of them to collect essays by women about Doctor Who (following on from Chicks Dig Time Lords and Chicks Unravel Time). Published earlier this year, it is eligible for next year's Hugo nominations as Best Related Work; the first in the series won that category in 2011, and Mad Norwegian Press has had three more nominations since (Chicks Unravel Time, Chicks Dig Gaming and Queers Dig Time Lords).

Obviously this is mainly going to appeal to Who fans with a decent knowledge of both Old and New Who, but I commend it to the rest of you anyway. I think the weakest essay here is better than the weakest ones in the two previous volumes; I think that there are a couple of really standout pieces (the para I quote above is from "Scheherazade and Galahad in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks", by Mags L. Halliday, which was one of my favourites); and I think that the best of them relate the ongoing story of Doctor Who to wider cultural and literary trends in a way that should be relevant to anyone with an interest in the genre.

It's quite likely to get one of my nomination slots next spring. But this is the one category where my shortlist is already overpopulated, and mostly with Whoviana at that. I'll leave you with the opening para of the final chapter, Amal El-Mohtar on "A Question of Emphasis: The Doctor as Companion":

Links I found interesting for 18-09-2015

Thursday reading

Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Who's Next?, by Derrick Sherwin

Last books finished
The Ancient Languages of Europe, by Roger D. Woodard
Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Companion Piece, eds. L.M. Myles and Liz Barr

Next books
The Unlimited Dream Company, by J. G. Ballard
Galactic North, by Alastair Reynolds

Books acquired in last week
The Apex Book of World SF 4, eds Lavie Tidhar and Mahvesh Murad
Forsaken, by Kelley Armstrong
Jacaranda, by Cherie Priest
Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald

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