What's this all about, then?

This is my blog on Livejournal, which I have been running since the spring of 2003. Since late 2003, I've also been using it as a record of (almost) every book that I have read; I read a lot (in non-plague times, I have a long commute) and wanted to keep a good note of what I read. At 200-300 books a year, that's over 4000 books that I have written up here. (These are the most recent.)

As the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging comes closer, I've also been revisiting each month of reviews every six days or so, so you'll see some less recent reviews mentioned.

As well as books, I have been going through the films that won the Oscar for Best Picture in sequence and the films that won the Hugo or Nebula for Best Dramatic Presentation or equivalent.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, I've been trying to keep discipline and write something about it every ten days.

Also used for occasional commentary on other stuff, but you'll find my Facebook and Twitter are more live.

I am sticking with Livejournal for now out of inertia. Dreamwidth is similar (and I'm mirroring this there) but it lacks some of the key features I like here (post-dating posts, decent image management). Some day I will bite the bullet and go with Wordpress.

Comments welcome, though sometimes quicker to email me at nicholas dot whyte at gmail dot com.

580 days of plague

I have been wondering how much longer I would keep doing these ten-day updates. I had hoped to round them off with the abolition of all restrictions a la Denmark and Sweden, but the Belgian numbers are surging a bit at the moment so it seems unlikely. (And we have lost Colin Powell to COVID now.)

But we're a lot closer to normal than before. Masks in some circumstances, but shops and bars are all open again, and we have bought a new sofa; I had work lunches every day last week and today (though nothing in the calendar for tomorrow or Wednesday); and the USA is finally opening up to Europeans, so I should be OK for Gallifrey One in February.

Brexit has continued to be a complete shitshow. I did not mention it in my last post, but I was invited earlier that day to a briefing by British officials on the next steps to be taken, in effect soft-sounding me and some more important people from the Brussels bubble four days in advance of Lord Frost's speech last Tuesday to see how we would react to the likely lines he would take. It's safe to say that we were none of us convinced by the diplomats' line that the UK was trying really hard to reach a deal but was being blocked by the pesky Europeans. In the event, the speech was even worse than I had anticipated from the briefings, and I amplified my statements in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Wednesday:

On a more positive note, here in Dutch is a presentation of the place where our daughters live - in fact featuring both of their living units, though neither seems to have been caught by the camera (they can move fast when they want to). It's actually a recruitment video - I hope it works.

In science fiction news, the faltering bid to host the 2023 Worldcon in Memphis officially folded this morning. This means that it will be either in Canada (Winnipeg) or China (Chengdu). My money is on Winnipeg; I don't think this is China's year.

That's it for now. I think I'll do two more of these, taking me up to 600 days (though there was a big gap last year), and then call it a day, unless things get bad again.

Doctor Who spinoffs: Prime Imperative, Xmas Files, Mind of Stone

Three spinoff books this evening, one featuring Erimem and two from the Lethbridge-Stewart sequence.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Prime Imperative, by Julianne Todd:
‘Well?’ Alan demanded. ‘What did they say?’
I think I've reached the end of my patience with the books featuring Erimem, the Fifth Doctor's audio companion; they just aren't really very special. This one is a space adventure in which our heroes end up on an endangered ship; various implausible navigational and management decisions are made and a lot of people get eaten by fungus. It would have been an unoriginal plot in the 1930s (except that some of the astronauts are girls). I think I may turn my attention to the Faction Paradox series which some of you have spoken highly of.

Second paragraph of third story in The Xmas Files ("Home for Christmas", by the collective Lethbridge-Stewart authors):
‘Is that for me?’ his mother called from the hallway.
Three short and punchy short stories, which landed slightly wrong for me because I should have read them after the next novel in the sequence, Mind of Stone, which they are set after rather than before. (I read the anthology first because it was published first. Silly me.)

Second paragraph of third chapter of Mind of Stone, by Iain McLaughlin:
So they would be coming for him. The question was when.
My heart sank a little bit here because McLaughlin has been one of the lead writers of the Erimem series. But in fact it's a well put together story; Lethbridge-Stewart goes undercover in Wormwood Scrubs, posing as a prisoner (with rigged judicial process to put him there), and deals with an alien threat which is turning people to stone (like in the last novel, but different). As usual for this series, a solid piece of work.

Next up: I think I'll take both the third Havoc Files anthology and the next novel, Night of the Intelligence, next month.

My tweets

  • Sun, 12:56: RT @AliVaez: I've followed the nuclear negotiations across 3 US & 3 Iranian administrations, been on the ground at multiple negotiation rou…
  • Sun, 15:13: Gerard Valentine Ryan, 5 November 1922 - 17 October 1944
  • Sun, 18:13: July 2013 books
  • Mon, 09:11: RT @MemphisIn2023: It is with great sadness that we let you know that the Memphis in 2023 bid has folded. We thank you for all of the suppo…
  • Mon, 10:45: And this is a genuine Goscinny story left unfinished at his early death in 1977. I hope they publish, as Hergé’s estate did with Tintin and Alph-Art, or indeed Dickens and Edwin Drood. It may not be finished, it may not even be good, but it would be nice to have.

July 2013 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023 Every six-ish days, I've been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I've found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

The month started on a high note with the accession of Croatia to the EU, something I had helped with a bit (though many others did more).

Otherwise work continued to be pretty wretched. I did not travel outside Belgium, though did have some nice gatherings; here are my two (then) favourite foreign ministers, Natalia Gherman of Moldova and Maia Panjikidze of Georgia, sharing a panel:

I held one of my regular gatherings of current and former interns (Colombian L, Estonian L, Belarusian M, Anglo-American M, and Belarusian N, who I am due to have lunch with on Thursday; picture taken by slemslempike):

South Sudan invited me to their independence day party:

Preparations for the 2014 Worldcon continued apace. Albert II, the King of the Belgians, abdicated and was replaced by his son, Philippe. My brake cables were chewed by beech martens.

I read 24 books that month.

Non-fiction 3 (YTD 22)
A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
Shakespeare's Handwriting: A Study, by Edward Maunde Thompson
Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress, by Jeannette Lucraft

Fiction (non-sf) 9 (YTD 23)
The Complete Stories of Zora Neale Hurston
Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol
Desert, by J.M.G. Le Clézio
Confessions of Zeno, by Italo Svevo
The Last Empress, by Anchee Min
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
Spend Game, by Jonathan Gash
Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens

SF (non-Who) 4 (YTD 40)
The Jagged Orbit, by John Brunner
Fantastic Voyage, by Isaac Asimov
Kiss of the Butterfly, by James Lyon
Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Doctor Who 5 (YTD 37)
Harvest of Time, by Alastair Reynolds
The Also People, by Ben Aaronovitch
Vanishing Point, by Steve Cole
Plague of the Cybermen, by Justin Richards
The Ripple Effect, by Malorie Blackman

Comics 3 (YTD 19)
Misschien, by Kristof Spaey and Marc Legendre
Nooit, by Kristof Spaey and Marc Legendre
Ooit, by Kristof Spaey and Marc Legendre

~6,600 pages (YTD 37,100)
8/24 (YTD 38/141) by women (Woolf, Lucraft, Hurston, Min, Christiex2, Collins, Blackman)
3/24 (YTD 7/141) by PoC (Hurston, Min, Blackman)

The best of these was A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf, which you can get here, closely followed by what were then the Complete Stories of Zora Neale Hurston (since supplemented), which you can get here. Nothing particularly awful.

gebealogy, genealogy

Gerard Valentine Ryan, 5 November 1922 - 17 October 1944

Sometimes in my browsing of family history I hit grimly interesting coincidences or anniversaries, and so it was this morning, when I realised that today is the 77th anniversary of the death of my second cousin once removed Gerard Ryan, aged 21, fighting in the Netherlands during the Second World War. His mother, Aileen Ryan née Grehan, lived to an old age; I don't know when she died, but she was born in 1890 and I remember her as an occasional presence at family gatherings in the 1970s. Her sister Magda married my great-uncle George (they were distantly related) and her niece Bunty Simonds was one of my father's closest relatives.

Poor Aileen. Her husband Joss Ryan was killed in a polo accident in India in 1927; their daughter Molly died suddenly of a cerebral aneurysm in 1933, a month before her ninth birthday; and Gerard's death left her on her own. As I said, she remained loved by her extended family, but she had lost those closest to her.

Gerard had been the godfather of his not much younger cousin Peter Ryan, born in 1939, and Aileen took on the role of proxy godmother. Peter died earlier this year; he was a science journalist who wrote Invasion of the Moon, 1969: The Story of Apollo 11.

Gerard was killed during the British advance on the Dutch town of Venray, part of the Battle of Overloon during the Allied advance through Dutch Limburg to Germany in late 1944, a colossal tank engagement in which nearly 2000 Allied soldiers and an unknown number of Germans died. He is buried in Venray Military Cemetery.

My tweets


Felaheen; Set This House in Order; Quicksilver

These are the three books that won the BSFA Award, the James Tiptree Jr (now Otherwise) Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2004 for work published in 2003. I had read Felaheen and Quicksilver before, but Set This House in Order was new to me (though I largely enjoyed the TV series Lovecraft Country, based on another book by the same author). To start with the shortest, also the least popular on Librarything:

Second paragraph of third chapter of Felaheen, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood:
He called again. Just in case either guard was within hearing and then turned his attention back to the snake. Death was always going to come. That it chose to manifest as a slithering viper was unexpected but not impossible. Although, if the elderly Emir had been forced to bet (a vice he deplored), he'd have selected a fat-tailed scorpion as being more likely.
When I first read this in 2004, I wrote:
The third in Grimwood's Ashraf Bey trilogy, set in an early 21st century North Africa where the Ottoman and German Empires never fell (though Russia is nonetheless soviet) and which is otherwise not very different from our own time-line (to the extent of having the same computer operating systems). Apart from the alternate history aspect, other sf elements include the hero's electronic alter ego and the fact that Tunis is under international sanctions for unauthorised genetic manipulation experiments. I like this series as much for the sultry, sensual prose as for the intricate plot and striking characterisations. This one didn't disappoint. However now that Ashraf Bey has reached a certain point in his political career I hope his creator will move on to other things - as long as they are as enjoyable as this.
I'm sorry to say that I found it much more difficult to get into this time round, perhaps because I am more separated from the earlier books in the trilogy, perhaps I was just tired. I guess it's good that just a couple of years after 9/11, UK fans were ready to celebrate a book that engages positively with the Arab world by giving it the BSFA Award ahead of some other good candidates. You can get it here and the whole trilogy here.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, by Matt Ruff:
On the morning I met Penny Driver, I hiked to work across the canal bridge, following the same path I’d first taken with Julie Sivik two years before. The Reality Factory was located on a half-acre lot alongside East Bridge Street’s last stretch of asphalt. My father thought the lot had originally been a truck depot—there was an old fuel island with rusted-out diesel pumps at one end of the property—but for several years before Julie took out her lease it had been a storage facility. The main building, the one that became the Factory, was a long, concrete-walled shed. Shed anyway is what Julie called it, although it was huge, as big as Bit Warehouse inside, with nothing but a double row of support columns to break up the space.
This on the other hand I thought was brilliant; barely SFnal in that the viewpoint characters both have forms of multiple personality disorder, and the extent to which their different personalities have reality can be interpreted to different extents; but I found the Seattle setting thoroughly convincing, the characterisation engaging, and the gradual reveal of the twist ending very satisfying. I did wonder for the first half of the book how precisely it fulfilled the Tiptree Award mandate of exploring gender, but it all became clear on page 237. A worthy winner. You can get it here.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson:
Enoch takes advantage of the lull to make other observations and try to judge empirically whether Daniel’s as unsound as the faculty of Harvard College would have him believe. From the Doctors’ jibes on the ferry-ride, Enoch had expected nothing but cranks and gears. And indeed Waterhouse does have a mechanic’s shop in a corner of the—how will Enoch characterize this structure to the Royal Society? “Log cabin,” while technically correct, calls to mind wild men in skins. “Sturdy, serviceable, and in no way extravagant laboratory making ingenious use of indigenous building materials.” There. But anyway, most of it is given over not to the hard ware of gears, but to softer matters: cards. They are stacked in slender columns that would totter in the breeze from a moth’s wings if the columns had not been jammed together into banks, stairways, and terraces, the whole formation built on a layer of loose tiles on the dirt floor to (Enoch guesses) prevent the card-stacks from wicking up the copious ground-water. Edging farther into the room and peering round a bulwark of card-stacks, Enoch finds a writing-desk stocked with blank cards. Ragged gray quills project from inkpots, bent and broken ones crosshatch the floor, bits of down and fluff and cartilage and other bird-wreckage form a dandruffy layer on everything.
This seems to have been the very last book that I read before I started bookblogging in November 2003. (I was near the end on 29 October.) I must say I was dismayed as I contemplated the 916 pages, but it actually flew past rather well; the narrative, rambling between the late 17th century in Europe and the early 18th century in America, pulls in all kinds of intellectually stimulating thoughts about the geopolitics, economics and scientific theories of the day, with flashes of nerdy humour. Now that I'm a bit more of a Samuel Pepys fan than when I first read it, I wished we'd heard more from him, but you can't have everything. By glorious coincidence, as I reached the final chapters I was spending a weekend in The Hague, staying a stone's throw from the Huygens House (now demolished) and the Binnenhof (very much still there) where a substantial part of the story is set. It's rather a borderline call as to whether it's really SF (indeed, it may not even be clearly a novel), but the Clarke jury seems to have been satisfied. You can get it here.

One book was on all three shortlists, Maul, by Tricia Sullivan, which I rather bounced off I'm afraid. Midnight Lamp, by Gwyneth Jones, and Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson, were on both Clarke and BSFA shortlists. The Clarke list also included Coalescent by Stephen Baxter and Darwin's Children by Greg Bear. The BSFA list also included Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds and Natural History by Justina Robson, both of which I thought I had read but I find no record of having done so. The Tiptree list included Maul, three other novels and six short stories, none of which I have read.

Next in this sequence: joint Tiptree winners Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo and Camouflage by Joe Haldeman; Clarke winner Iron Council by China Miéville; and BSFA winner River of Gods by Ian McDonald.


My tweets


Two Gaiman shorts: Gods and Tulips; and Love, Fishie

Two more of the collection of short Neil Gaiman books which I picked up years ago in a Humble Bundle. Though in fact one of them is mainly by his daughter.

Second para of third lecture in Gods and Tulips:
And while events unfortunately proved me right, I really didn't think that I'd get away with repeating that speech today.
A collection of three speeches given by Gaiman in the early 1990s, expressing his concern that the then boom in the comics industry (to which of course he had contributed via Sandman) would ultimately prove bad for the genre. I guess the jury is still out. You can get it here.

Third poem in Love, Fishie, plus tree:
There once was a bat who was trapped in a hat,
all on an Xmas Eve.
He pushed and he squirmed,
and he found a cute worm.
The bat said to him,
"Is your name Kim?"
The worm said, "Good guess!
It certainly is, yes!"
Along came the cat,
who sat on the hat
that the bat and the worm were in!
The cat came right over and he said,
"Oh my, somebody in that cat bed,
what are you doing, oh my little friends?
Would you like to come out of there and never end?"
Just then there was a bump and a rumble and what do you know?
Someone was on the roof saying, "Ho, Ho, Ho!"
The bat cried, "Oooooh, there's Santa Claus!"
(The cat said, "Hmm, I bet I have sharper claws than him!")
And they danced and had cookies with the guy who had Claus (named Santa).
This is mostly a collection of poems by Gaiman's daughter Maddy, then aged eight, with some proud parental commentary. They're about as good as you would expect from an eight-year-old in a literary household. It is not easy to get.