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After Europe, Ivan Krastev

I've been blogging political book reviews this week, but don't worry, it will be back to the regular science fiction diet soon. Today and tomorrow I am reviewing two books by writers who I consider friends, both seriously concerned about the state of Europe and the EU, with different but compatible analyses.

Second paragraph of conclusion (after two main chapters) of After Europe, by Ivan Krastev:
For Europeans, the European Union was such a natural world. It is not anymore. The year 1917 was one that turned European history on its head. It started the great civil war in Europe that ended only in 1989. The year 2017 may end up being just as consequential. Pivotal elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany, and most likely Italy, may escalate the process of European disintegration. Greece may opt to leave the eurozone in 2017. Major terrorist attacks in a European capital, or armed conflict and a new wave of refugees on Europe's periphery, could easily bring the union to the edge of collapse. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have upended future predictions of Europe's survival—and not in Europe's favor. If the disintegration of the EU was only recently considered unthinkable, after Brexit it seems (in the eyes of many) almost inevitable. Europe has been shattered by the rise of populist parties across the continent, just as the migration crisis has transformed the nature of liberal democratic regimes.
This is the book that everyone is quoting in the Brussels bubble at the moment. Fortunately Ivan’s worst predictions about 2017 did not come to pass, but we are not out of the woods yet. He gave an updated version of his perspective at a conference I attended earlier this year, starting at 2:22:30 in this video. He combines deep intellectual rigour with a typical Bulgarian sense of humour; give it a watch:

There are a number of key elements here. Krastev believes that the EU is in serious crisis, and may even be on the point of disintegration (though he admits that that will only happen if France or Germany decides to pull the plug). His perspective is an Eastern European one, concerned that the migration crisis has critically weakened the the political left, the credibility of human rights issues, and the discourse of compassion and tolerance. This has had a negative impact on democracy; he looks at three other referendums that tookl place in 2016 to examine the paradoxes of the democratic process. He is full of good one-liners:
“The right to be governed wisely can contradict a citizen’s right to vote. This is what has always made liberals anxious about democracy.”

“The new populist majorities perceive elections not as an opportunity to choose between policy options but as a revolt against privileged minorities[.]”

“A decade ago, the British polling agency YouGov undertook a comparative study between a group of political junkies and a similar cohort of young people who actively participated in the Big Brother reality show. The distressing finding of the study was that British citizens felt better represented in the Big Brother house. It was easier for them to identify themselves with the characters and ideas being discussed. They found it more open, transparent, and representative of people like them. Reality show formats made them feel empowered in the way that democratic elections are supposed to make them feel but don’t.”

“What makes meritocrats so insufferable, especially in the minds of those who don’t come out on top in the socioeconomic competition, is less their academic credentials than their insistence that they have succeeded because they worked harder than others, were more qualified, and passed exams that others failed.”
It’s clear that the book is to a certain extent in dialogue with David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere, which I reviewed yesterday - the two quote each other, and their diagnoses are not so far apart. Yet I find Krastev much more palatable, I guess because he is sad rather than smug, and doesn’t rant inaccurately about the euro.

In the conclusion to the book, he somewhat pulls his punches, noting that if the EU can demonstrate enough flexibility to meet the challenges from within, disintegration is not inevitable.
Flexibility—not rigidity—is what may yet save Europe. While most observers ask how populism can be vanquished, in my view the more apposite question is how to respond to its venality. What will increase the likelihood of the European Union surviving is the spirit of compromise. Making room for conciliation should be the major priority of those who care for the union. The EU should not try to defeat its numerous enemies but try to exhaust them, along the way adopting some of their policies (including the demand for well-protected external borders) and even some of their attitudes (free trade is not necessarily a win-win game). Progress is linear only in bad history textbooks.
It’s a decently short book, only 120 pages, and well worth getting.


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The Road to Somewhere, by David Goodhart

Second paragraph of third chapter:
We were talking about the rise of European populism over the past fifteen years and how 2002 was the year that changed everything. Political systems dominated by competition between a main party of the centre-left and the centre-right had been slowly fraying in much of continental Europe in the last decades of the twentieth century, with proportional representation making it easier for small parties to eat into the voter base of the big ones.
I had an unnerving experience one evening in February. I was chatting with a friend (from Montenegro) about politics, and she asked me if I had read this book. I was about to say that I hadn't, when my phone buzzed with a WhatsApp message from another friend (from Hong Kong) asking me exactly the same question. Clearly it was fate.

Well, it's a rather annoying book, frankly. Part of this is Goodhart’s tendency to unnecessarily resort to ad hominem remarks. In the first chapter he reports on a conversation with Gus O’Donnell, then the UK’s most senior civil servant, and Mark Thompson, then the Director-General of the BBC, in which both expressed the view that global welfare matters more than national welfare. Goodhart obviously disagrees, which is fair enough, but then he says that both men’s views “may reflect their moderately devout Catholic upbringings”. Yep, Catholics, the enemy within. In a more recent review he said that for another writer, understanding the concerns of populists “may be hard for the grandson of a Holocaust survivor raised in Germany surrounded by the ghosts of the past”; and subsequently showed no comprehension at all for how offensive this was. Well, I guess that’s all you can expect from an Old Etonian who is the son of a Conservative MP.

Goodhart divides the world (well, really, white English people, because nobody else much matters) into Anywheres and Somewheres. The Brexit vote is the clear cleavage between them. Anywheres are smug intellectual cosmopolitan elites like me; Somewheres are salt of the earth types, loyal to their particular locality, who have been left behind by globalisation. The fact that along with most of my cosmopolitan friends and colleagues, I remain strongly loyal to my origins in various ways, is not relevant; the fact that Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, not notably places where local sentiment is weak, are strongly pro-EU is also ignored. But I do have to admit that the most telling piece of evidence from the Brexit referendum, one which I have cited myself in several lectures and presentations, gives some support for Goodhart: this is Lord Ashcroft's June 2016 poll of how those who feel strongly one way or the other on certain grand global issues had split between Leave and Remain.

I'm clearly on the Anywhere side of Goodhart's divide (or would be if I were English; since I'm not, I don't count), and it's difficult to read a book that fundamentally accuses me and my friends of being not just wrong on the arguments, but on the ethics of how society should be run. For me, opposition to immigration, multiculturalism, and feminism go beyond mere political disagreement and cross a moral line, one where I'm not terribly interested in understanding the position of the other side. However, I did my best to put those feeling on hold and to assess Goodhart's book as a whole.

There is one section that he gets completely and woefully wrong. This is his analysis of the EU itself, just before the middle of the book, which completely swallows and regurgitates British Eurosceptic propaganda: in short, the euro is a failure which is tearing the EU apart. In the rest of the EU, the fact that the euro survived the 2008 crisis, with more countries queuing to join, is seen as proof of concept; and it is generally recognised that the crises in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus all had rather different and largely indigenous causes and indeed largely different solutions, whereas British mythology has it that the euro and its fictionally one-size-fits-all policies were responsible in each case. I don't think the poor quality of British reporting on this was the crucial factor in the referendum outcome, but it can't have helped.

One the other hand, I have to admit that there was one section that completely convinced me. This was on the awful conequences of the decision two decades ago to reform vocational education by taking it out of the hands of local authorities (1988) and converting all colleges to universities (1992). By removing the vocational educational track, the UK has made it much more difficult for those who aren't up to university level to get meaningful qualifications which will help them in their careers. I was in student politics at the time that this reform was instituted, and remember wondering how we could measure success. The German apprenticeship system is often invoked as an international comparison (though not by Goodhart, who isn't terribly interested in learning from other countries here); in Belgium we also still have polytechnics and vocational colleges, without the temptation to merge them all into sprawling institutions with university status. It is, alas, telling that although Goodhart happily criticises the 1997-2010 Labour governments on numerous occasions, he does not blame the Conservatives for this particular policy screw-up.

Goodhart claims that his motivation for writing the book is to get the Anywheres in leadership (implicitly in the Conservative Party) to wake up, smell the coffee, and strike a new settlement with the Somewheres for the sake of national stability. I think he's wrong; the most important point I get from the book is that the UK has failed on social mobility as well as on social equality, and that those two failures drive the rise of Goodhart’s Somewhere mentality; so perhaps the Anywheres in leadership might do well to shape policies that increase social mobility and decrease social inequality, and see if that increases affection for the state and decreases the resort to populism caused by other political avenues failing to deliver? Of course, that was more or less what Theresa May said she would do when she took office. Well, that doesn't seem to have worked out so far...

Anyway, I’m grateful to my friends for alerting me to this; I did learn some things from it (mainly that it’s not good for my blood pressure to read too much Conservative political analysis). If you want to get it, you can do so here.

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Free Radical, by Vince Cable

Second paragraph of third chapter:
I did, however, have one major advantage. In an institution as ferociously competitive as Cambridge was — and almost certainly still is — there is considerable merit in starting at the bottom, unburdened by high expectations. A 'NatSci' at Fitz from an obscure north-country grammar school and digs miles from the centre of town was as low as it was possible to get. My new college friends and I felt lucky to have scraped into the university at all, and were proud to ride around in our gowns and entertain awestruck relatives by walking them round the old colleges. We developed a camaraderie based on affected yobbishness, exaggerating our provincial accents and proletarian ancestry. Our main aim was to survive, which sounds more challenging than it was, since outright exam failure was extremely rare. (Two of my friends managed it, however, one succumbing to a breakdown, another departing bewildered and in tears back to Accrington.)
I've actually had this on the shelves since before the 2010 election, which brought Cable to power as Business Secretary in the Cameron/Clegg coalition government, but have only now got around to reading it. Cable then was one of the Lib Dems' star performers, who crashed out of parliament in 2015, but in 2017 returned and was almost immediately elected leader of the party unopposed. (I noted with amusement that the current Conservative and Labour leaders, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, are each referred to precisely once in Cable's book, and both of their names are misspelt.) He was 65 when this book was written and he is 74 now.

His personal and political journey is indeed an interesting one. I too was a Cambridge NatSci from an unfashionable part of the UK, and I too was an election candidate in my late twenties, but otherwise our paths have diverged somewhat. Cable gravitated from academe to a brief spell in government in the late 1970s, and then worked for Shell, reaching the rank of Chief Economist, until he got elected to Parliament for the first time in 1997. (This was after unsuccessful runs for Glasgow Hillhead in 1970 and York in 1983 and 1987). Few politicians come to politics with his level of economic expertise, let alone combined with practical experience of industry. He then was fortunate enough to be able to make the running in critiquing the Brown government's economic policy as the Great Recession started to bite, and the book is in a sense a victory lap for what was generally perceived as an outstanding political performance in the 2007-2009 period.

There is also the moving story of his marriage to his first wife, Olympia Rebelo, a Goan from Kenya. I think Cable is the only leader of a major British political party to have had a non-white spouse. Both families were very doubtful about the match, the Cables out of sheer racism, the Rebelos out of snobbishness. But by Cable's account, they were mostly happy, and he was clearly devastated when she died after a long illness, just a few days after he retained his seat in the 2001 election. Her presence resonates in the background of most of the book. (Oddly enough I knew someone at Cambridge with the same unusual surname as Cable's second wife; presumably a niece or cousin.)

Nine years on, I'm not completely convinced by Cable. The one time I saw him speak in Brussels, in January 2015, I was a bit underwhelmed (of course, this was in the dying days of the coalition, so he can perhaps be excused). Just as I was reading this book last month, he screwed up a meeting with European liberal leaders pretty massively. I'm also not sure of the wisdom of instrumentalising the Lib Dems as "the party that will stop Brexit"; if Brexit is stopped, which I think now vanishingly unlikely, it will be because of a change of mind by the Conservatives (which is why I think it vanishingly unlikely), and if it isn't, the party that promised to stop it will have failed to deliver. But at the same time, I'm glad that there remains a centre party in British politics (I think I am still a member myself), and the book gives me a good understanding of why Cable is leading it in the way that he does. You can get it here.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next in that list was No Going Back to Moldova, by Anna Robertson, which I have since read and will write up next week.

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Monday reading

Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
Islandia, by Austen Tappan Wright
The God Instinct, by Jesse Bering

Last books finished
La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
Saga, Volume 7, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Clayton Cowles
Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller
Paper Girls, Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher
Genius Loci, by Ben Aaronovitch
My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris

Next books
Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith
Contes Fantastiques Complets, by Guy de Maupassant
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

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There have been a lot of reflective or celebratory comments in the last week about the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. It’s an anniversary that I found it quite difficult to write about.

The achievement of the Good Friday Agreement is of course of huge importance. It drew a line under thirty years of political violence, and established the principles by which Northern Ireland can be governed, and the framework of future relations between the United Kingdom and the Irish state. The commemorations rightly called attention to those achievements.

But I hesitated to write too much about it because my own involvement was peripheral; for the first six months of the talks in 1996, I was a staffer for the one of the smaller party negotiaing teams, but then I left Northern Ireland for the international career that has sustained me since then. I actually attended an anniversary event on Tuesday, the day itself, in the European Parliament, organised by Sinn Féin; in fairness, they avoided making it too much of a self-promotion event, and among the others in attendance were MEPs from the Conservative Party and Fine Gael, and a former leading member of the UUP.

I was also thrilled to to attend a dinner with George Mitchell on Thursday night in Oxford. He is 84, but still sharp, witty and humble. I certainly talked to him more on Thursday than I had managed to during the the time in 1996 when our engagement overlapped.

There was one incident from the talks that has stayed with me. Late one evening, I had been left to mind the phones in the office while everyone else was in the petulant negotiating chamber. (You may have forgotten, but the Mitchell talks spent literally the first year talking about process rather than substance, before Sinn Féin joined and the DUP left.) The phone rang, and I answered it; an American voice asked to speak to the party leader. I explained that he was upstairs negotiating.

“This is Tony Lake, the National Security Adviser to President Clinton. Can you give me a general update on what is going on?”

We mythologise the intelligence-gathering capacity of the American system, but sometimes the National Security Adviser is just cold-calling offices in foreign cities to see who answers the phone.

I have two other reasons for hesitation, and it has taken me until the weekend to organise my thoughts properly.

The first, rather more obviously, is that the process is in such a mess. The power-sharing government in Northern Ireland collapsed last year, and London does not seem to be seriously interested in putting the pieces back together. Given how little serious attention London has given to Brexit, it’s in character for the current British government of course, but the added complication is that the Conservatives depend on the DUP for their majority and therefore are not in a position to exert pressure if it were necessary. The Americans, whose presence via George Mitchell was so crucial in 1998, are also now missing in action. So I don’t see any immediate cause for optimism. The gap between the two sides is not huge - certainly much less than in 1998 - but at present the leader seem more interested in mutual recrimination rather than any serious attempt at movement.

The second is much more personal. That morning of 10 April 1997 I was working in Bosnia, but staying closely in touch with my former colleagues back home (my friend Kate Fearon has vividly recounted her party’s experiences of the last day of the talks), and eventually the news came through that the Agreement had in fact been reached.

I called Anne in our apartment and told her. She in turn gave me the momentous news that B, aged nine months and a bit, had successfully fed herself with a spoon. (At least, intent and outcome were both clear, even if there was some spillage.) This of course is relatively early, and otherwise B hit her milestones more or less on schedule; she started walking the week before her first birthday, and was saying a few words not long after. Here she is a bit later in 1998.

And then she lost most of it, in the second half of 1999 just after her second birthday, and now cannot talk at all. She still has no problem with motor skills, particularly when it comes to food; these pictures were taken on an outing a year ago.

When your child achieves somthing new, even if it’s only eating with a spoon, it’s a pleasant pointer to the future. But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, and it’s difficult to write about, particularly when anniversaries come around. So I’m writing about the fact that it is difficult to write about, and will have to leave it there.

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Several classics here, three of which I had read before. NB that both “The Weapon Shop” and “There Shall Be Darkness” have female human or human-ish characters. (“The Star Mouse” has a non-human and non-speaking female character.) NB also that the protagonist of “The Weapon Shop” shares the name “Fara” with a secondary character in “Bridle and Saddle” and “Foundation”.

6) “The Weapon Shop,” by A.E. van Vogt

Second paragraph of third section:
Fara sniffed once more at the meaning of the slogan, then forgot the simple thing. There was another sign in the window, which read:
I know this is a classic, but I really don't understand what the point is. Particularly in today's atmosphere of Second Amendment debates, it reads very weirdly.

5) “The Star Mouse,” by Fredric Brown

Second paragraph of third section:
"Eggscape velocity, Mitkey! Chust barely, it adds up to eggscape velocity. Maybe. There are yet unknown facgtors, Mitkey, in der ubper atmosphere, der troposphere, der stratosphere. Ve think ve know eggsactly how mudch air there iss to calculate resistance against, but are ve absolutely sure? No, Mitkey, ve are not. Ve haff not been there. Und der marchin iss so narrow that so mudch as an air current might affect idt."
If it weren't for the comic accent of the scientist, this slightly reverse version of Flowers for Algernon would be rather cute and original. However, the scientist has a comic accent, so I'm putting it second last.

4) “Bridle and Saddle,” by Isaac Asimov

Second paragraph of third section:
The fame of Anacreon had withered to nothing with the decay of the times. The Viceregal Palace was a drafty mass of ruins except for the wing that Foundation workmen had restored. And no Emperor had been seen or heard of in Anacreon for two hundred years.
This is the third element of the collection we know as Foundation, where our smart, elderly hero Salvor Hardin outwits both domestic opposition and the local warlord, partly by retaining control of scientific knowledge among his own loyalists. It’s not as good as the other part of the story.

3) “Foundation,” by Isaac Asimov

Second paragraph of third section:
"On us? Are you forgetting that we are under the direct control of the Emperor himself? We are not part of the Prefect of Anacreon or of any other prefect. Memorize that! We are part of the Emperor's personal domain, and no one touches us. The Empire can protect its own."
This is the story where Salvor Hardin manages to wrest control of his world from the Encyclopedists, by the operation of clever politics and inevitable history. It is a nice study of a bloodless coup, planned decades in advance.

2) “Goldfish Bowl,” by Anson MacDonald (Robert A. Heinlein)

Second paragraph of third section:
Already in the boat were the coxswain, the engineman, the boat officer, Graves and Eisenberg. With them, forward in the boat, was a breaker of water rations, two fifty-gallon drums of gasoline &emdash; and a hogshead. It contained not only a carefully packed crate of eggs but also a jury-rigged smoke-signal device, armed three ways &emdash; delayed action net for eight, nine and ten hours; radio relay triggered from the ship; and simple saltwater penetration to complete an electrical circuit. The torpedo gunner in charge of diving hoped that one of them might work and thereby aid in locating the hogshead. He was busy trying to devise more nearly foolproof gear for the bathysphere.
Gosh, an early Heinlein I didn’t know, about a Big Dumb Object which is a bridge to another world. Rare for Heinlein to write a story which leaned quite so heavily on his naval experiences. A pleasing find.

1) “There Shall Be Darkness,” by C.L. Moore

Second paragraph of third section:
The lifting crags that rushed straight up a thousand feet into the clouds were shocking to Earth eyes even after a lifetime on Venus, but Quanna scarcely noticed the familiar sheer cliffs of purple rock hanging like doom itself above her as she climbed. She had been born among these cliffs, but she did not mean to die here. If she had her way, she would die on another planet and be buried under the smooth green soil of Earth, where sunlight and starlight and moonlight changed in a clear sky, she could not quite imagine, for all the tales she had heard.
Much the best prose of any of the stories, as the above extract illustrates. It’s an interesting treatment of colonial and gender issues; Quanna is a Venusian princess (or equivalent) in love with a dashing Earthman, who however is leaving as part of a post-imperial retreat. (Interesting to see this as a theme already in 1942; I guess that the Indian independence movement was well known, and C.L. Moore would have remembered Irish independence too.) The story maybe doesn’t go where a writer of today would take it, but before things can become cliches they have to be told in the first place. A clear first preference from me.

2018 Hugos: Short Story
1943 Retro Hugos: Novelette | Short Story

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Second paragraph of third chapter:
The atmosphere in the Trout was subdued for some days afterwards. Malcolm went to school, did his homework, fetched and carried in the inn, and read over and over again the secret message in the acorn. It wasn’t an easy time; everything just then seemed hung about with an unhappy air of suspicion and fear, quite unlike the normal world, as Malcolm thought of it, the place he was used to living in, where everything was interesting and happy.
This is the first of the WSFS YA finalists that I have read; also the longest of the six. It’s a prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy, with Lyra as a baby being protected by the teenage Malcolm, son of the landlord of the pub across the road from the convent where Lyra’s father has placed her for refuge. Malcolm teams up with both a smart young woman and a nice neighbour girl against the baddies, in particular when their world is devastated by a catastrophic flood that seems to overflow the boundaries of reality. A lot of great description and subtle characterisation, and I think this will be a tough one to beat. You can get it here.

For next year’s Worldcon, it’s worth noting that the venue in Dublin shares the same initials as the secret church police in Pullman’s world.
“Malcolm didn’t know much about it, but he knew the sense of sickening terror the CCD could produce” (p.30)

“That was the way of things with the CCD; it was better not to ask, better not to think about it.” (p.42)

“‘Malcolm,’ said the man, ‘get your boat further in the trees, quick. Bring the baby in here out the way. That’s the CCD down there. Come on!’” (p.384)

“Mr Boatwright sat down and stirred the fire up before lighting a pipe. ‘What’d they say after I vanished, eh?’ he said. ‘Anyone guess where I’d gone?’ ‘No,’ said Malcolm. ‘They all said you were the only person that had ever got away from the CCD.” (p.395)
Well, it made me smile.

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Julian the Apostate is one of those great historical characters who I came to relatively late in life, from Chapters XXII, XXIII and XXIV of Gibbon. I then quite by accident came across Ken Broeders' seven-part graphic biography, and read the first six parts in late 2016. Now it is time to look at Gore Vidal's 1964 novelisation, and incidentally finish off the Broeders version.

Julian, by Gore Vidal

Second paragraph of third chapter:
"He's dead. The Bishop's dead. In the church. He died. Just like that!"
This was helped make its author's reputation back in 1964, with the timely irreverence for Christians ("Galileans") and churches ("charnel-houses") and the depiction of a potential turning point in world history that in the end was not taken. The vibrancy of the fourth-century Roman empire, and the uncertainty of life at the top, are very well depicted, and there is a nice narrative frame of two of Julian's friends providing commentary on his memoirs. It's quite a long book but the story (whose facts don't need a lot of embellishment) holds very well. The one weak point is that Julian's own ideas aren't really expressed particularly well, other than that he hated Christianity; I understand that the real emperor left a much more convincing body of writing. You can get it here.

This was at the top of my list of unread non-genre books. Next on that list was The Bean Trees, which however popped to the top of another list simultaneously. Next after that is Gemini, by Dorothy Dunnett.

Apostata vol VII: Niets Meer Dan Een Wolk, by Ken Broeders
Second frame of third page:

Julian: Ye gods... I fell asleep... and when I still have so much work to do! Thank you, Alexander!*

Tomorrow I must ask the admiral how things are with the fleet. According to my
calculations we still need more river boats. The army mustn't run out of supplies...

*Julian means that Alexander the Great used this method: as soon as he nodded off,
his grip on the ball weakened, and it fell noisily into the dish... and shocked him awake.
This is the climax of the six previous books, with Julian's hubris leading him to the final confrontation in Persia, initial genius in attack thwarted by the failure to maintain supply lines and his eventual death by friendly (or rather, unfriendly) fire. Lots of sex, violence and death, but all done convincingly and coherently. This is one of the classic cases of Flemish/Dutch comics which are crying out for an English translation. My fees are reasonable. You can get it here in the original Dutch.

This was my top non-English language comic. Next on that pile is Rose de Paris, by M. Leroy.

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These are evenly divided between SF and fantasy (Nagata, Roanhorse, and Prasad clearly SF, and Wilde, Yoachim and Vernon clearly fantasy). Again, I did not find it too difficult to rank them; there was only one that I really bounced off. (See JJ's list for access to all of the 2018 short fiction finalists, and much more, online.)

6) “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde

Third paragraph:
No one wants to be pinned between an entrance and an exit, unless you’re part of the show.
Lyrically written, appears to be about being swallowed. I did not really get it.

5) “Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim

Third paragraph:
“Take me to the zoo tomorrow?” The zoo on the far side of the closet had lions that did backflips and elephants that balanced on brightly colored balls.
I liked all the rest of the stories. This is a fantasy about love and loss among people who need to be wound up every day and whose springs eventually break. Nicely done, though my curious mind wanted more information about the setting.

4) “The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata

Third paragraph:
But there were still things to do in the long, slow decline; final gestures to make. Susannah Li-Langford had spent seventeen years working on her own offering-for-the-ages, with another six and half years to go before the Martian Obelisk reached completion. Only when the last tile was locked into place in the obelisk’s pyramidal cap, would she yield.
Elegiac story about art, obsession, survival and ultimately hope. Not totally sure about the twist ending but generally liked it.

3) “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Third paragraph:
“Our last name’s not Trueblood,” she complains when you tell her about your nom de rêve.
Protagonist makes his living by performing as a part of an immersive entertainment fantasy. The problem with being fake is that sometimes there are people who can fake it better.

2) “Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Third paragraph:
After fifty milliseconds, Computron checks the countdown page again.
I hate cute robot stories, but this is about a robot that itself becomes obsessed with cute robot stories, and for once I was charmed.

1) “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon

Third paragraph:
“No, nor do you deserve it,” she snapped at him. She was a fierce old woman with a nose like a hawk’s beak and skin falling away in folds from her cheekbones. “You’re a farmer, not a warrior. They’ll help you.”
What happens when a young farmer inherits a sword inhabited by three warrior spirits? Charming story with not a word wasted.

2018 Hugos: Novelette | Short Story
1943 Retro Hugos: Short Story

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I found the ranking pretty easy, though hesitated between the top two. See also my guide to getting hold of them - unfortunately the direct link for “Mimic,” by Donald A. Wollheim is no longer working. NB that there is precisely one speaking female human character in these six stories (not surprisingly, in the one story which has a female co-author).

Normally I give the second paragraph of the third section as a taster; none of these stories is subdivided, so I'm just giving the third paragraph in each case.

6) “Etaoin Shrdlu,” by Fredric Brown

Third paragraph:
I admitted my identity. and he said, "Glad to know you, Mr. Merold. I'm—" and he gave me his name, but I can't remember now what it was. I'm usually good at remembering names.
This is a Tall Tale about a printing machine that becomes animated by a mysterious intelligence. That's about it.

5) “Runaround,” by Isaac Asimov

Third paragraph:
"Yaaaah," snarled Donovan, feverishly. "What have you been doing in the sublevels all day?" He took a deep breath and blurted out, "Speedy never returned."
I hope that by now it's well recorded that I hate cute robot stories. The Asimov Laws of Robotics stories are a particularly pointless exercise, with the author setting up rather silly laws purely to hang rather silly plots on them. In the case in point, a robot is torn between loyalty to its human master's orders and self-preservation, and ends up running around a pool of molten metal on Mercury singing Gilbert and Sullivan.

4) “The Sunken Land,” by Fritz Leiber

Third paragraph:
To begin with, he did not like the huge, salty ocean, and only Fafhrd's bold enthusiasm and his own longing for the land of Lankhmar had impelled him to embark on this long, admittedly risky voyage homeward across uncharted deeps. He did not like the fact that a school of fish was making the water boil at such a great distance from any land. It seemed unnatural. Even the uniformly stormless weather and favorable winds disturbed him, seeming to indicate correspondingly great misfortunes held in store, like a growing thundercloud in quiet air. Too much good luck was always dangerous. And now this ring, acquired without effort by an astonishingly lucky chance—
Now we're getting better. This is a nice bit of writing in which poor Fafhrd gets kidnapped by a sinister boatsman who is raiding an even more sinister island. Lots of atmospherics but doesn't quite get anywhere.

3) “The Twonky,” by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner)

Third paragraph:
Drunk? Lloyd, in his capacity as foreman, couldn't permit that. He flipped away his cigarette, walked forward, and sniffed. No, it wasn't liquor. He peered at the badge on the man's overalls.
This is basically the same story as “Etaoin Shrdlu,” but better written and (as noted above) with an actual speaking female character. In this case the machine is a phonograph/radio rather than a printer, so it has the added frisson of the latest communications technology.

2) “Mimic,” by Martin Pearson (Donald A. Wollheim)

Third paragraph:
We know little or nothing. Some of the most startling things are unknown to us. When they are discovered they may shock us to the bone.
Very close between the first two stories for me; both are about Hidden Secrets, and in this case it's non-human creatures masquerading as humans in contemporary New York. Several chilling images. A bit closer to horror than my usual tastes, but well done.

1) “Proof,” by Hal Clement

Third paragraph:
Kron could "see" all this as easily as a human being in an airplane can see New York; but no human eyes could have perceived this city, even if a man could have existed anywhere near it. The city, buildings and all, glowed a savage, white heat: and about and beyond it—a part of it, to human eyes—raged the equally dazzling, incandescent gazes of the solar photosphere.
In the end my vote goes to this story of inhabitants of the Sun, and other stars, exploring the universe in their own terms, in complete ignorance of planets, let alone Earth, never mind humanity - making for utter mutual incomprehension when they do encounter one of us. The writing is a little clunkier than some of the others, but I'm giving it top marks for ideas.

That's got me off to a reasonably good start.

2018 Hugos: Short Story
1943 Retro Hugos: Novelette | Short Story

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Monday reading

Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller
La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
Genius Loci, by Ben Aaronovitch

Last books finished
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by H.P. Lovecraft and Ian Culbard
Torchwood: Rift War, by Ian Edgington et al.
Mrs Miniver, by Jan Struther
Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2010
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Black Bolt, Volume 1: Hard Time, written by Saladin Ahmed, illustrated by Christian Ward, lettered by Clayton Cowles
Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda

(All of these except New York 2140 are really short.)

Next books
Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith
Contes Fantastiques Complets, by Guy de Maupassant
The God Instinct, by Jesse Bering

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Due to new info coming in from Carla (thanks Carla!), I've had to split the Short Stories onto their own page! Hooray! See Novellas here, and Novelettes here.

the Short StoriesCollapse )

I haven't counted, but that's well over 100 links. I hope that they are useful!
See Novellas here and Short Stories here - thanks to Carla for supplying details of the original publications.

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The eighteen finalists in the three short fiction categories are:

Best Novella
* “Asylum,” by A.E. van Vogt
* “The Compleat Werewolf,” by Anthony Boucher
* “Hell is Forever,” by Alfred Bester
* “Nerves,” by Lester del Rey
* “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag,” by Robert A. Heinlein
* “Waldo,” by Robert A. Heinlein
Best Novelette
* “Bridle and Saddle,” by Isaac Asimov
* “Foundation,” by Isaac Asimov
* “Goldfish Bowl,” by Robert A. Heinlein
* “The Star Mouse,” by Fredric Brown
* “There Shall Be Darkness,” by C.L. Moore
* “The Weapon Shop,” by A.E. van Vogt
Best Short Story
* “Etaoin Shrdlu,” by Fredric Brown
* “Mimic,” by Donald A. Wollheim
* “Proof,” by Hal Clement
* “Runaround,” by Isaac Asimov
* “The Sunken Land,” by Fritz Leiber
* “The Twonky,” by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

Information from Carla has supplemented Cat's earlier list of those that are easy to find online. We now have free access to every single one of the short fiction finalist, but I also list below the books in which each finalist has been published, mostly out of print but accessible by the usual means - the Novellas in this post, and Novelettes here and Short Stories here.

NB also that five of the six finalists for Best Novel are available online:
Beyond This Horizon, by Anson MacDonald (Robert A. Heinlein): original Astounding publication, Part One, Part Two.
Darkness and the Light, by Olaf Stapledon, online for free at University of Adelaide.
Donovan's Brain by Curt Siodmak, Available for free on Scribd, if you can bear the annoying interface and if it's available in your country (it isn't in mine)
Second Stage Lensmen, by E. E. “Doc” Smith: original Astounding publication, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.
The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle, Available for free on Scribd, if you can bear the annoying interface.

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New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Too much time to give to this question, the super being so sullen and slow. New York parking! One can do nothing but practice patience. Eventually the zoomer was mine to step into, off the boathouse dock and then out the doorway onto the shadowed surface of the Madison Square bacino. Nice day, crisp and clear, sunlight pouring down the building canyons from the east.
This year I am reading the books which are Hugo and Retro Hugo and WSFS YA finalists in order of decreasing total page count. That ranking is, if you are curious:
Islandia, by Austen Tappan Wright (1943 Retro Hugo Novel)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (2018 Hugo Novel)
La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman (2018 WSFS Young Adult)
Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor (2018 WSFS Young Adult)

The Stone Sky, by N. K. Jemisin (2018 Hugo Novel)
A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison, by Nat Segaloff (2018 Hugo Best Related)
Provenance, by Ann Leckie (2018 Hugo Novel)
Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, by Rasha Abdulhadi (2018 Hugo Best Related)
A Skinful of Shadows, by Frances Hardinge (2018 WSFS Young Adult)
In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan (2018 WSFS Young Adult)

Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (2018 Hugo Novel)
The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller (2018 WSFS Young Adult)
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (2018 Hugo Novel)
The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (2018 Hugo Novel)

Sleeping with Monsters, by Liz Bourke (2018 Hugo Best Related)
Second-Stage Lensmen, by E. E. 'Doc' Smith (1943 Retro Hugo Novel)
Summer in Orcus, by T. Kingfisher (2018 WSFS Young Adult)
Beyond This Horizon, by Robert A. Heinlein (1943 Retro Hugo Novel)
The Uninvited, by Dorothy Macardle (1943 Retro Hugo Novel)
No Time to Spare, by Ursula K. Le Guin (2018 Hugo Best Related)
The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (2018 Hugo Novella)
Crash Override, by Zoe Quinn (2018 Hugo Best Related)
Iain M. Banks, by Paul Kincaid (2018 Hugo Best Related)

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (2018 Hugo Novella)
Donovan's Brain, by Kurt Siodmak (1943 Retro Hugo Novel)
Darkness and the Light, by Olaf Stapledon (1943 Retro Hugo Novel)
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (2018 Hugo Novella)
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (2018 Hugo Novella)
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (2018 Hugo Novella)
That’s a lot of reading between now and mid-July, and I haven’t even accounted for the Best Series finalists. (There is one novella finalist that hasn’t been published separately, but don’t worry, I will get to it; it seems shorter than the others at first glance. Also I haven’t included the Best Graphic Story finalists in the list above; they are all shorter in pagecount than All Systems Red. But I am reading them now anyway.)

I’m still waiting for a hardcopy of Islandia, so I started with New York 2140 (and am now on La Belle Sauvage). It’s obviously a refutation of the bizarre assertion that sf is not concerned with climate change; the scene is New York in 2140, after a couple more economica and climatic crises; the sea level worldwide has risen by 16 metres, and most of our numerous viewpoint characters live in and around the MetLife building, whose base is submerged but which has become accommodation for about two thoiusand people. As with the Mars books, the different points of view add up to make a whole; as it turns out, the viewpoint characters all end up on pretty much the same side, which is to bring about the fall of capitalism in America.

I felt the first part of the book, which builds to a couple of satisfying plot climaxes at about the half-way mark, was better than the second, where the fall of capitalism is plotted but mostly happens off stage, boosted by a natural disaster whose emotional impact comes across as somewhat blunted. It will be obvious by now that it’s a very political book, but it is more wonkish than angry, which is my own personal style as well, but doesn’t necessarily make for great drama. There’s also a frankly silly sub-plot about a young woman who broadcasts nude from an airship and attempts to transplant polar bears to Antarctica. If that all appeals, you can get it here.

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Jade City, by Fonda Lee

Second paragraph of third chapter:
He resisted. At the age of thirty-five he was supposed to be in the prime of his health and at the peak of his power. It was why his grandfather had finally consented to cede leadership to him, why the rest of No Peak accepted that the mantle had passed from the legendary but old and ailing Kaul Seningtun to his grandson. If word got out that the Pillar of the clan was suffering health problems, it would not reflect well on him. Even something as mundane as insomnia might arouse speculation. Was he mentally unstable? Unable to carry his jade? Being perceived as weak could be fatal.
I didn't like this as much as I had hoped. It's basically a story about brutal gang warfare in a world where some people are particularly sensitive to jade, which gives them psychic powers; and yet the technology is jarringly similar to that of our 21st-century world, and to be honest I didn't care very much for any of the characters or sympathise with what they were trying to do. If you want to try it, it is here.

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