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 5000 books that I have written up here.

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.

And I'm in the middle of a run of marking daily Doctor Who anniversaries, from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.

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.

Whoniversaries 13 April

i) births and deaths

13 April 1929: birth of David Fisher, writer of The Stones of Blood (Fourth Doctor, 1978), The Androids of Tara (Fourth Doctor, 1978), The Creature from the Pit (Fourth Doctor, 1979) and The Leisure Hive (Fourth Doctor, 1980).

13 April 1941: birth of Christopher Tranchell, who played Roger Colbert in The Massacre (1966), Steven Jenkins in The Faceless Ones (1967), and Andred in The Invasion of Time (1978). Happy 80th birthday, Chris!

13 April 1951: birth of Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor from 1982 to 1984, and subsequently. Happy 70th birthday, Peter!

13 April 1967: birth of Simon Paisley Day, who played the Steward in The End of the World (Ninth Doctor, 2005) and Rump in Face the Raven (Twelfth Doctor, 2015).

13 April 1984: death of Richard Hurndall, who played the First Doctor in The Five Doctors (1983).

13 April 2015: death of Rex Robinson, who played Dr Tyler in The Three Doctors (Third Doctor plus guests, 1972), Gebek in The Monster of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1974) and Dr Carter in The Hand of Fear (Fourth Doctor, 1977). All three of his appearances were directed by Lennie Mayne.

13 April 2017: death of Eric Pringle, writer of The Awakening (Fifth Doctor, 1984).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

13 April 1968: broadcast of fifth episode of Fury from the Deep. Weed and foam spread throughout the refinery.

13 April 1974: broadcast of fourth episode of The Monster of Peladon. The Pels unite against the Ice Warriors, but the Doctor is unable to prevent Ettis from firing the sonic lance.

13 April 2013: broadcast of Cold War. In 1983, the tensest point of the Cold War, a Soviet submarine discovers a strange creature frozen in the ice of the Arctic. When one of the Firebird's crew breaks it free, it starts attacking...

Kaleidoscope: diverse YA science fiction and fantasy stories, eds. Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

Second paragraph of third story (“The Legend Trap”, by Sean Williams):
It’s the oldest story in the world. Some dumb kid always wants to put it to the test. “It” could be any number of things. Jumping when the d-mat process starts to see if it makes you taller. Spinning in a circle anticlockwise in the hope of being switched from left to right. Squeezing thirteen people in at once just in case the one with the guiltiest secret disappears.
Often when I am auditing my library against the list of books I know I have acquired in a previous year, I find some of them have gone missing. This is a different case - I realised that I had contributed to the Kickstarter for the book's publication in 2014, and never got around to downloading it! Anyway, that was easy enough to remedy once I realised my mistake.

I thought this was a tremendously strong anthology, and my money was well spent. One of the stories, Amal El-Mohtar's “The Truth About Owls”, went on to win the Locus Award, and several others were shortlisted elsewhere or included in various Year's Best volumes. All of them were goos and some of them were really stick-in-the-mind good; to pick just two, Jim Hines' tale of the Chupacabra, and John Chu's about the time-travelling skater. The stories are all written with diversity as an axiom, ie none of them is about cishet white men (like me); but the point is the story in each case, and the strength of the narrative, which is considerable. Strongly recommended for those of you with YA readers, or indeed who just like stories. You can get it here.

This was the most popular unread book acquired in 2014 (for certain values of "acquire") on my shelves. Next on that pile is The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, ed. Alex Dally MacFarlane.

December 2010 books, and 2010 books roundup

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 (though this one is very soon after the previous one, which was late) 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.

No travel, and a significant non-development in my professional life in December 2010: I applied for a job leading one of the Brussels political thinktanks, and did not get it. I must say I think they chose the right person; in due course he left, and both of his successors were and are friends of mine. I realised that thinktankery was not going to be a big part of my future.

I am still cursing the crappy HTC Desire phone that I was then using. I was lucky enough to attend a Northern Ireland event with Peter Robinson and Martin mcGuinness, then First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, but my photos were all pretty crappy. (Peter Robinson astonished me by saying that fans of Tottenham Hotspurs like himself could well adopt Martin's slogan, "Tiocfaidh ár lá!")

There was a massive snowfall just before Christmas. Our visitors included my sister and little S, our old friend H, and little U's favourite uncle and aunt R and V.

I am particularly pleased with the piece I wrote for Tor on the Fourth Doctor. “I think there are worse places to rest your moral compass than the TARDIS console.”

I read 23 books that month.

Non-fiction: 8 (total 74)
Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by Thomas McCarthy
The I.R.A., by Tim Pat Coogan
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science, by Mary Roach
I, Who: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels, by Lars Pearson
I, Who 2: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios, by Lars Pearson
I, Who 3: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios, by Lars Pearson

The Space Race, by Deborah Cadbury
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English, by John McWhorter

Fiction (non-sf) 2 (total 47)
The Falls, by Ian Rankin
Fair Play, by Tove Jansson

SF (non-Who) 5 (total 73)
Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Mirror Dance, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper
The Space Opera Renaissance, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

Doctor Who 5 (total 69, 79 counting comics and non-fiction)
The Hollow Men, by Keith Topping and Martin Day
Revenge of the Judoon, by Terrance Dicks
Short Trips: Destination Prague, ed. Stephen Savile
Vanderdeken's Children, by Christopher Bulis
Doctor Who Annual 1978

Comics 3 (total 20)
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 1, by Fumi Yoshinaga
Scott Pigrim vs. The Universe (volume 5) by Bryan Lee O'Malley
With the Light... / 光とともに..., vol 3, by Keiko Tobe

7,600 pages (total 91,000)
8/23 by women: Roach, Bujoldx2, Cooper, Yoshinaga, Jansson, Cramer, Tobe (total 65/287)
4/23 by PoC: Yoshinaga, O'Malley, McWhorter, Tobe (total 24/287)

The best of these were Tove Jansson's Fair Play, which you can get here, and Bujold's Cryoburn, which you can get here. None of them was too awful, but Coogan's The I.R.A. is overrated; you can get it here.

2010 books roundup

I did this at the time, but am now reformatting to my current system. 287 books for the year was a lot lower than the two previous years, but ahead of most years since. 91,000 pages is my third highest ever. 23% by women was my highest percentage to date, though I have exceeded it every year but one since. 9% by PoC was also my highest percentage to date, and I have exceeded it only in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

1) Science Fiction and Fantasy (excluding Doctor Who)

\2020/ \2019/ \2018/ \2017/ \2016/ \2015/ \2014/ \2013/ \2012/ \2011/ \2010/ \2009/ \2008/ \2007/ \2006/ \2005/ \2004/
114 77 108 68 80 130 124 65 62 78 73 78 54 75 68 79 76
43% 33% 41% 29% 38% 45% 43% 27% 24% 26% 26% 23% 15% 32% 33% 55% 51%

Well below average - fifth lowest for both numbers and percentages.

Top sf book of the year:
Ian McDonald's The Dervish House. My review; get it here.

Also excellent and read for the first time:
Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men. My review; get it here.
Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia. My review; get it here.
Lois McMaster Bujold's Cryoburn. My review; get it here.

The one you have't head of: Chris Beckett, The Turing Test (short story collection). My review; get it here.

The one I bounced off: Colin Greenland's Mother of Plenty. My review; get it here.

2) Non-fiction

\2020/ \2019/ \2018/ \2017/ \2016/ \2015/ \2014/ \2013/ \2012/ \2011/ \2010/ \2009/ \2008/ \2007/ \2006/ \2005/ \2004/
50 49 50 57 37 47 48 46 53 69 66 94 70 78 70 42 42
19% 21% 19% 24% 17% 16% 16% 19% 20% 23% 24% 27% 19% 33% 34% 29% 28%

Above average in both absolute numbers and percentages.

Top non-fiction book of the year:
Bloody Sunday Report, whose 5000 pages I read over the course of late June, July and early August. A tremendous and necessary enterprise. More below.

Also excellent in category:
Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. My review; get it here.
Ursula K. Le Guin's The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. My review; get it here.
Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (vols 1 and 2 of the original, vol 1 of the Penguin edition). My review; get it here.
Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook, Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter. My review; get it here.
Thomas More, Utopia. My review; get it here.

The one you haven't heard of:
Too Many Agreements Dishonoured, by Abel Alier. My review; get it here.

The one to avoid:
Timeless Adventures: How Doctor Who Conquered TV, by Brian J. Robb; a total ripoff. My review; get it here.

3) Doctor Who
Novels, collections of shorter fiction, etc excluding comics
\2020/ \2019/ \2018/ \2017/ \2016/ \2015/ \2014/ \2013/ \2012/ \2011/ \2010/ \2009/ \2008/ \2007/ \2006/ \2005/ \2004/
18 32 32 51 39 43 59 72 75 80 71 71 179 27 28 5 1
7% 14% 12% 21% 18% 15% 20% 30% 29% 27% 26% 21% 48% 11% 14% 3% 1%

All Who books including comics and non-fiction
\2020/ \2019/ \2018/ \2017/ \2016/ \2015/ \2014/ \2013/ \2012/ \2011/ \2010/ \2009/ \2008/ \2007/ \2006/ \2005/ \2004/
25 43 42 55 42 54 68 81 75 87 79 81 180 49 32 5 1
9% 18% 16% 23% 20% 19% 23% 34% 29% 29% 28% 23% 49% 21% 15% 3% 1%

One of the stronger years, though not as strong as 2008.

Top Doctor Who (audio)book of the year:
James Goss, Dead Air (audiobook); the very last Tenth Doctor story to be released. My review; get it here.

Other decent efforts in the Whoniverse:
Best 11th Doctor story (other than the ones on TV): Stephen Cole, Ring of Steel. My review; get it here.
Best New Series Adventure: Dale Smith, The Many Hands. My review; get it here.
Best EDA: John Peel, Legacy of the Daleks. My review; get it here.
Best Virgin New Adventure: Mark Gatiss, Nightshade. My review; get it here.
Best Missing/Past Doctor Adventure: Jonathan Morris, Festival of Death. My review; get it here.
Best Doctor Who annual (probably also the one you haven't heard of): 1971. My review; get it here.
Best other Whoniverse story: Joseph Lidster, In the Shadows (Torchwood audiobook). My review; get it here.
Best non-fiction: as above, Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook, Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter. My review; get it here.
Best comics: see below.

The one to avoid:
Again, Timeless Adventures: How Doctor Who Conquered TV, by Brian J. Robb. My review; get it here.

4) Non-genre fiction

\2020/ \2019/ \2018/ \2017/ \2016/ \2015/ \2014/ \2013/ \2012/ \2011/ \2010/ \2009/ \2008/ \2007/ \2006/ \2005/ \2004/
40 45 36 26 28 42 41 44 48 48 50 59 24 33 35 9 19
15% 19% 14% 11% 13% 14% 14% 19% 19% 16% 18% 17% 6% 14% 17% 6% 13%

Top non-genre book of the year:
Tove Jansson's Fair Play. My review; get it here.

Also excellent in category:
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises. My review; get it here.
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms. My review; get it here.
James Joyce, The Dubliners. My review; get it here.
Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice. My review; get it here.
Leifur Eiricksson, Njal's Saga. My review; get it here.

The one you haven't heard of: Unauthorised Departure, by Maureen O'Brien. My review; get it here.

Worst, but so bad it's good:
Rookwood, by William Harrison Ainsworth. My review; get it here.

5) Comics

\2020/ \2019/ \2018/ \2017/ \2016/ \2015/ \2014/ \2013/ \2012/ \2011/ \2010/ \2009/ \2008/ \2007/ \2006/ \2005/ \2004/
45 31 28 29 27 18 19 30 21 27 18 28 6 20 6 8 8
17% 13% 11% 12% 13% 6% 7% 13% 8% 9% 6% 8% 2% 8% 3% 6% 5%

Lowest of any year since 2008.

Top comic / graphic novel of the year
I voted without hesitation for Neil Gaiman's Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? for the Hugo. It didn't win. My review; get it here.

Other comics / graphic novels particularly enjoyed:
Charles Burns, Black Hole. My review; get it here.
Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim vols 1 (review), 2 (review) and especially 4 (review); less so 3 (review) and 5 (review; get) though still good. (Get the whole lot here.)
Fumi Yoshinaga, Ooku: The Inner Chamber, Volume 1. My review; get it here.
Keiko Tobe, With the Light... Vol. 3. My review; get it here.
Gareth Roberts, The Betrothal of Sontar (Tenth Doctor) (also probably the one you haven't heard of). My review; get it here.
Justin Richards, The Only Good Dalek (Eleventh Doctor). My review; get it here.

The one to avoid:
As before with this series, I thoroughly bounced off Schlock Mercenary: Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, by Howard Tayler. My review; you can get it here.

6) Poetry, plays and religious literature

Only four of these, all read in April; recommend The Emperor's Babe by Bernardine Evaristo (review; get) and The Crucible by Arthur Miller (review; get).

Most read author of the year: Ian Rankin (7 books) unless you count the ten volumes by Lord Savile of Newdigate and his colleagues. Also-rans in this category: Lois McMaster Bujold, Justin Richards and Brian Lee O'Malley with 5 each.

My Book of the Year for 2010

Certainly the one I spent longest reading, and wrote and thought most about: The Bloody Sunday Report. My write ups of each part: Volume I | Volume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX | Volume X and conclusions. The best place to get it is off the UK government archive website, but you can also get individual volumes here.

My tweets

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Whoniversaries 12 April

i) births and deaths

12 April 1989: death of Gerald Flood, who played Kamelion in 1983 and 1984, and also King John in The King's Demons (1983)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

12 April 1969: broadcast of sixth episode of The Space Pirates. Caven is defeated and captured; the Space Pirates are neutralised.

12 April 1975: broadcast of sixth episode of Genesis of the Daleks. The Daleks take over the bunker, killing everyone including (apparently) Davros; but the Thals bury them for centuries.

(Intersting that the six episodes of The Space Pirates and Genesis of the Daleks were broadcast on exatly the same dates, six years apart. It is safe to say that most people have a rather different judgement of the two.)

12 April 2003: webcast of "No Child of Earth, part 3", tenth episode of Death Comes to Time.

12 April 2008: broadcast of The Fires of Pompeii, first apearance of future regulars Karen Gillan and Peter Capaldi. The Doctor adn Donna are in Pompeii; and it's Volcano Day.

12 April 2010: broadcast of The Last Oak Tree, fourteenth episode of the Australian K9 series. Panic ensues when a museum exhibit is stolen. K9, Starkey, Darius and Jorjie are on the trail of the culprit. They find a giant menace hiding in London's abandoned sewers. Is the alien the threat or is Drake the real evil? Starkey and K9 face annihilation as they try to rescue the alien's hatchlings before a bomb destroys them all.

390 days of plague

To start with, a stunning visualisation of the last year. It loses a bit by treating France (and Belarus and Serbia) as single blocs, but it shows the three waves clearly.

The Belgian infection numbers have turned the corner and are starting to drop again, hospitalisations are teetering, the ICU numbers are flattening and sadly the death rate, the most lagging of the indicators, is still spiking. But most important, vaccination rates are soaring. Robin de Nooij's daily updates on vaccination rates (@cygie on Twitter) always include a projected future date for at-the-current-rate-everyone-will-have-been-vaccinated-by then. For the first time, today the projected date for first jabs for the whole of Belgium is this calendar year. Last Sunday it was 10 February 2022, the Sunday before it was 25 March, the Sunday before that it was in the summer of next year.

And personal news for me: I got a note from the doctor that I'm getting priority for vaccination, presumably because of my high blood pressure. So I would not be surprised if I get my first vaccine this month, and my second four weeks later.

I'm in reflective mood (trying out a new biryani recipe from Mridula Baljekar's book and writing this while it's in the oven) so here are some other pieces that made me think about this over the last few days.

The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work — Are We Ready? by Jared Spataro. Microsoft has some fascinating research on how people are experiencing work. Flexible work is here to stay. Many business leaders are faring better than their employees. High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce. Sixty percent of those between the ages of 18 and 25 say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling right now. Shrinking networks are endangering innovation. Work has become more human. People no longer have to leave their desk, house or community to expand their career. Read it.

What have we learned? Lessons from the pandemic, by Ian Leslie. A selection of very interesting links, culminating with this observation:
Whew, that was close. Imagine if this virus had emerged two decades ago - perfectly plausible, and nothing in historical terms. Scientists would have not have had the wherewithal to crack the code of the virus or to share it globally and instantaneously. Office workers, in firms and in governments, would not have been able to meet over video, businesses would have not been able to reinvent themselves. Friends and family would have even less connection with the outside world than before. Food and other essential goods and indeed non-essential goods would have not have remained accessible to nearly so many people. Neighbours wouldn’t have been able to look after each other as easily. Governments, health services and businesses wouldn’t have been able to gather data or share information nearly so efficiently. A huge part of the reason we were able to adapt as we have is down to technologies that didn’t exist or were not in widespread use twenty or even ten years ago. It’s enough to make you believe in progress.
One of his links is to his own essay for the BBC, Why your ‘weak-tie’ friendships may mean more than you think, a really interesting piece reinforcing what we already knew, that it's not your best friends but your wider acquaintances who will help your career most.

And a different perspective from Laurie Penny, A Report from the After Times: Normal is never coming back. We’ve got to be gentle with each other.
I’m furious because it didn’t have to be like this. None of it was necessary. Every horrendous, inhuman choice over decades of political consensus that prioritized profit over people, every failure to protect healthcare and welfare and human rights and Black lives, and all of it was deadly, for someone, somewhere. For millions of people who might have coped with a crisis like COVID if they hadn’t already hanging on to bare life by their fingernails.
I guess the only thing I can really be sure of is that it's impossible to be sure of what will come next.

With a couple of exceptions. This year's Worldcon has been postponed to December, and the Hugo final ballot will be announced on Tuesday. I'm pretty certain of both of those.

My tweets


Whoniversaries 11 April

i) births and deaths

11 April 1940: birth of Sheila Dunn, who played Blossom Lefavre in The Daleks' Master Plan (First Doctor, 1965), the computer voice of the Electromatic company in The Invasion (Second Doctor, 1968), and Petra Williams in Inferno (Third Doctor, 1970). She was married to Douglas Camfield, who directed all three of those stories.

11 April 2005: death of John Bennett, who played General Finch in Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974) and (shamefully in yellowface) Li H'sen Chang in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977).

11 April 2010: death of Richard Shaw, who played Governor Lobos in The Space Museum (First Doctor, 1965), treacherous prisoner Cross in Frontier in Space (Third Doctor, 1973) and also Lakh, one of the imperviously helmeted Seers in Underworld (Fourth Doctor, 1978).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

11 April 1964: broadcast of "The Sea of Death", first episode of the story we now call The Keys of Marinus. Arbitan, Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, sends the Tardis crew to find the lost keys of the machine.

11 April 1970: broadcast of fourth episode of The Ambassadors of Death. The aliens go on the rampage at the Space Centre.

11 April 2009: broadcast of Planet of the Dead. A London bus is transported to a desert planet via a wormhole, its passengers including the Doctor and high-class thief Christina de Souza.

11 April 2020: release of Rory's Story.

The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1991, and four others: Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally). It lost Best Film Editing and Best Sound, the latter to Hugo winner Terminator 2: Judgement Day. So far it is the third and last film to win Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay, after It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

That year's other Best Picture nominees were Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK and The Prince of Tides. I have not seen any of them, and had not seen the winner before either, the first year since 1970 for which that is the case. I have seen thirteen other films made that year, listed here roughly in IMDB order: Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Cape Fear, Thelma & Louise, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, The Fisher King (actually only got part way through this one), The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear, The Commitments, Highlander II: The Quickening (there should have been only one!), Soapdish, Operation Condor (a Jackie Chan film which I watched because the female co-lead, Eva Cobo, is my twin), Enchanted April and Prospero's Books. I liked all of these except The Fisher King and Highlander II, but I think The Silence of the Lambs is a worthy Oscar winner in that company.

Unusually, IMDB users rate the film top on both systems. (The last film to top both lists was Alien, from 1979; the other Oscar-winners to top both lists were One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975, Casablanca back in 1943 and All Quiet on the Western Front way way back in 1929/30.)

Here's a trailer.

None of the cast had been in Hugo-winning films or in Doctor Who. There is a surprise crossover with a previous Oscar-winner: Roger Corman, much much better known as a director and producer. Here he plays the Director of the FBI; seventeen years ago, in The Godfather, Part II, he was one of the senators ineffectively quizzing the Corleones. He turned 95 last Monday. (Trivia: the office where he is filmed as FBI Director was at the time the real-life office of Elizabeth Dole, the U.S. Secretary of Labor.)

This is a film about the relationship between novice FBI Agent Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, and imprisoned serial killer Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins. The actual plot is barely relevant, but it concerns Starling's pursuit, advised by Lecter, of another serial killer, and Lecter's concurrent escape from custody. We had four Oscar-winners in a row in the 1970s which were about crime and law enforcement (The French Connection, The Godfather, The Sting and The Godfather, Part II), but this is the first one since then.

I really liked it. Thrillers are not my genre in general. I find screen violence very icky. There are some other problems which I will get to below. But its's well-made, well-paced and looks and sounds utterly convincing. I'm putting it in tenth place in my overall league table of Oscar winners, ahead of Rain Man (which has a less convincing plot) and behind One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which is a little less icky).

Having said that, there are problems. Trans (and indeed queer) people can justifiably feel aggrieved that the killer who Starling is chasing is depicted as a man trying to become a woman. The script mumbles that real trans people are not like that at all, but I fear that point will be lost on most viewers. (The book is a lot clearer on this.) However, as I said before, the actual hunt for the serial killer is background to the central business of Starling and Lecter.

All the main characters are white, but there are a sprinkling of black actors, most notably Kasi Simmons as Starling's best friend Ardelia Mapp. Simmons has gone on to a very successful career as a director.

I thought Howard Shore's music was pretty good. We will be hearing from him again when I get to The Lord of the Rings.

The supporting actors are all good - I've called out Kasi Lemmons above, but also worth noting Scott Glenn as Clarice's boss Jack Crawford, Anthony Heald as Lecter's banal guardian Chilton, and Brooke Smith as potential victim Catherine Martin.

But the film is utterly made by the dynamic between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in the four (only four!) scenes that they have together. Hopkins is a convincing monster, always several steps ahead of the game, compellingly horrible. (More trivia: with twenty-four minutes and fifty-two seconds of screen time, Hopkins' performance in this movie is the second shortest to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, with David Niven in Separate Tables (1958) beating him, at twenty-three minutes and thirty-nine seconds.)

And Jodie Foster is impossible to take your eyes off as Starling. A neat directorial trick: when characters are talking to her, they often talk directly to the camera, but when she is talking to them, she is always looking slightly off-camera, meaning that we directly experience her point-of-view, but not theirs, hence encouraging us to more readily identify with her. She carries the weight of the narrative; we learn lots about her and perhaps also reflect about how we would react when put into a similarly stressful situation. She is completely fascinating.

The film's key moments are the four conversations between the two, which are just masterpieces of acting and cinematography. This is the last of them.

I had not seen this film before, but it's been one of the better discoveries of this project.

As usual, I read the book as well. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
Dr. Hannibal Lecter himself reclined on his bunk, perusing the Italian edition of Vogue. He held the loose pages in his right hand and put them beside him one by one with his left. Dr. Lecter has six fingers on his left hand.
It's impossible to read the book now without seeing Foster and Hopkins in your mind's eye, but this is not necessarily a bad thing of course. A couple of plot points which are really important did not make it to the screen - the illness and death of Crawford's wife, much of Starling's back story, Lecter's pun on the colouring agent for feces, and the explanation of the serial killer's psychology and strategy. Starling is if anything an even more three-dimensional character on the page. It's just as well paced, and if anything it's even better than the film. You can get it here.

Next up is that year's Hugo winner, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can't Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman's Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King's Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
21st century: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)