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The Devil in Amber, by Mark Gatiss

Second paragraph of third chapter:
I'd had an uneasy night — once my eyes closed — caught in a nightmarish New York of the future, all sky-scraping apartment blocks and rocket ships, as in those unpleasant German films. The dream-me, wearing only queerly tight underwear with President Coolidge's name embroidered about the waist, sauntered past the Algonquin, the pavement transformed into a howling white tunnel of cocaine. Overhead, Hubbard the Cupboard was performing dazzling aerobatics like Lucky Lindy, but the smoke trailing from his rocket-ship transformed into narcotics too, falling on my shoulders like snow. As his machine roared past, I distinctly saw bright rivulets of blood pouring from the aviator's nostrils and the dead man laughing at me, fit to burst.
Sequel to The Vesuvius Club, which I haven’t read. Painter and occasional spy Lucifer Box gets mixed up in improbable occult conspiracies involving weird politics in 1920s New York and England. I didn’t get much out of this; I felt that Box was a little too pleased with himself, and the conspiracy both too implausibly complex and not sufficiently connected with the real history of the time to be very satisfying. I’ve liked most of Gatiss’s Doctor Who books, but didn’t get much out of this. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017. Next on that list is The Last Days of New Paris, by China Miéville.

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Tuesday reading

In Ethiopia with a Mule, by Dervla Murphy
A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire
Cycling in Victorian Ireland, by Brian Griffin

Last books finished
De Bourgondiërs, by Bart Van Loo
In Time, ed. Xanna Eve Chown
Anthropological Studies of Religion: An Introductory Text, by Brian Morris
How To Be Both, by Ali Smith
The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Havoc Files, ed. Shaun Russell

Next books
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

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Terrance Dicks, 1935-2019

The sad news of the passing of Terrance Dicks broke two weeks ago, and I posted my own little tribute to him on Twitter:

Obviously this is a rather small subset of the books by him that I own; I think I have read more books by him than by any other writer.

The novelisations of past Doctor Who stories which I read before I was a teenager were hugely important in an age where TV existed to be watched once and then lost forever except in memory. But even more important was The Making of Doctor Who, the one and only book about the show, which for the first time made me realise that you can write about stories as well as writing stories. (I was 9.) It was an early part of the process that moved me from just being a reader to being a fan.

A lot of people have reflected on his personal kindness. There’s a collection of anecdotes published as a freebie by Candy Jar which you can download here, some of which are very moving, even the ones that are not all that personal.

My own Terrance Dicks story is brief but important to me. I met him only once. One afternoon in 1980 or 1981 (I remember his grimace at mention of the then recent Nightmare of Eden) my brother (aged 12) and I (aged 13 or 14) got wind that he was speaking in, of all places, Suffolk library, a mile or so from where we lived. I am pretty sure that it was the first time I had ever met a celebrity, let alone a Doctor Who celebrity. (Little did I know that my little cousin Brian, then aged two, would grow up to be the producer of the show.)

I don’t remember much about what he said (I asked why Nicholas Courtney wasn’t in The Android Invasion, he said that it was probably due to other acting commitments). But I do remember that he was very pleasant to and patient with a crowd of excited young Belfast fans, and set a standard of behaviour that I still expect from celebrities dealing with the public (or with me); and I deal with a lot more celebrities now than I would have ever expected back then.

A little kindness can go a long way, and Terrance Dicks showed a lot of people a lot of kindness in his life, and not only through his writing. An example to follow.

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The oldest shop at Finaghy crossroads

I recently discovered a Facebook group sharing old pictures of Finaghy, the Belfast suburb where I grew up. Two pictures caught my eye, of the same building, taken in the early twentieth century from the look of it.

In the first picture, it is labelled “Finaghy Cash Stores” with advertisements for cocoa (Finaghy is unusual among Irish settlements for having no pubs, due to the landowner’s strong views about alcohol). I guess the woman in the doorway is the owner of the store, with a little girl looking at the camera in bemusement. Only fields are visible in the background. The photograph is not attributed, but I wonder of it is part of the Welch collection? (I’m not going to scroll through all 4115 of his photos to see if I can spot it.)

The second picture is clearly from a few years later, taken from further away by Alan Coon of Moira. There are a lot more buildings visible. Finaghy was developed as a suburb in the 1920s and 1930s, and I would put this at the midpoint of that period. Unfortunately we can’t read the signs on the store, apart from the word Finaghy.

I thought it was quite a striking building, and wondered if it is still there?

Delightfully, the answer is yes. Here are two pictures from Google Maps, taken from more or less the same vantage points as the early twentieth century photographs (here and here).

On the western corner of Finaghy crossroads, 155 Upper Lisburn Road, as it now is, has acquired a close neighbour at no. 157 - they even appear to share a roof - replacing the smaller building in the second of the older pictures, and I am sure that most passers-by don’t consider the possibility that one of the two buildings is much older than the other. I must have passed it thousands of times in my childhood, but I cannot remember now what shop was there in the 1970s and 1980s. Checking the online trail, I find that it was Brown’s, a tobacconist, in 1960, but most recently has been a variety of different take-away restaurants.

Incidentally the building to the right in the second of the older pictures seems to have been replaced by the more recent bank (now decommissioned and converted to offices). The bank’s address is 2-4 Finaghy Road North, which suggests that it replaced two semi-detached houses on the corner site.

The Ordnance Survey maps are not detailed enough as to time and date to be a lot of use, and seem to show the future 155 Upper Lisburn Road as a bit wider than it appears in the photographs. (Unless 157 Upper Lisburn Road had already been built, I guess.) Here’s the most recent map:

The older available maps are from early and mid twentieth century, and do show the change in development of the area.

Again, it’s obvious if you know the area and think about it, but it’s interesting that the southern corner of the crossroads was the last to be developed. In the mid-century map it’s still a greenfield site; in my day, it had a cinema (excitingly bombed in the late 70s, as was the post office across the road), a branch of Stewarts supermarkets (now Iceland), and the first purpose-built National Health Service clinic in the United Kingdom.

Interesting that the schoolhouse to the east was much nearer the crossroads than the current Finaghy Primary School; it’s now 135B Upper Lisburn Road, most recently Joe’s Bistro.

Interesting also that Finaghy Park North, South and Central were originally called First Avenue, Second Avenue and Central Avenue. I think the developers must have wisely concluded that they could not convincingly channel the spirit of New York.

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There's a new novelisation out of the Fifth Doctor story Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward, which prompted me to go back and rewatch the original 1984 story on which it was based, and also to reread the fan novelisation published some years ago by Paul Scoones.

I missed Resurrection of the Daleks when first broadcast. When I watched it in 2007, I wrote:
In keeping with my practice of watching the later Davros stories backwards (see Revelation of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks), I tried the Fifth Doctor's only encounter with his chief foe, from 1984. Well, it did explain the plot line about there being two different factions of Daleks, which had passed me by completely. Apart from that the story makes little sense. It is memorable for lots of big name actors - Leslie Grantham in his first TV role, apparently - all getting shot (apparently this has the largest number of on-screen violent deaths of any Doctor Who story) and running around for no apparent reason. When Turlough reappears in the middle of it I was taken by surprise as I had forgotten he was in it. I did like Rodney Bewes' performance. (And Sneh Gupta.)

There's some dire Doctor/Davros dialogue (note alliteration) but some good Davison moments too, like when he remembers the previous companions and incarnations, and his reaction to Tegan's farewell (and she's been laid out horizontal for most of the story and so missed most of the gore). Basically, this is one for completists. (But if you're reading this, you probably are a completist.)
When I rewatched it in 2011, I wrote:
Resurrection of the Daleks is the first time we have seen the malignant pepperpots since Romana regenerated, four and a half years ago. It looks fantastic - tremendous moody shots of Docklands and studio sets, action scenes with much mayhem (the highest on-screen death toll of any Who story, I believe, making Tegan's desire to get the hell out entirely comprehensible), and decent performances from an extraordinary array of guest stars, Rodney Bewes, Rula Lenska, Chloe Ashcroft, the glowering Leslie Grantham in his first TV role, Terry Molloy doing Davros for the first time.

It's a shame therefore that the story doesn't make a lot of sense. Every time I think I understand what the various factions (human and Dalek) are up to, there is another twist and I lose track. Viruses? Assassinating the Time Lords? I give up. There are some good set-pieces - Rodney Bewes' character's redemption, the confrontation between two sets of Daleks in the middle of episode 2 - but some weak bits as well, including in particular the Doctor's rather contrived decision to execute Davros and his failure to then carry through this decision.
Coming back to it again, I found myself even more annoyed than previously at just how little sense the plot makes. It's never clear exactly what is going on, and it's difficult to care. I also find it difficult to forgive the inconsistent characterisation of the Fifth Doctor - not just with other stories, but within the same story. And Turlough's invisibility and Tegan's immobility are a peculiar approach to the regular cast. Rodney Bewes is indeed the standout guest performance, but again his behaviour is not really consistent with that of a Dalek agent. I do recommend TV Tropes' dissection of the story.

Having said all that, I can't agree with Eric Saward, who himself described Resurrection of the Daleks as "the worst Doctor Who story ever written". The Twin Dilemma, two stories later, is for my money by far the worst Doctor Who TV story. (See my write-ups here and here. There are several worse Who stories in other media.)

Thirty-five years on, Saward has produced an official novelisation of Resurrection of the Daleks. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
In another part of the room, lounging in front of the deep space scanner, was Senior Ensign 'Baz' Seaton. Seeming to spend endless hours staring blankly at the machine before him, it was difficult to appreciate precisely what he was registering. To some of the crew he was considered one of the dimmest people aboard. That was until a recent computer glitch had mistakenly caused the crew's personnel files to be published. This revealed, much to some people's irritation, that Seaton not only had the highest IQ of the crew, but also had a PhD in astrophysics and another entitled 'Dark Matter contra the Time-Space Continuum'. To make things even worse, Seaton was also an inspired cook and his pop-up dinner parties were now famous. In spite of all this, the reasons for him being in such a lowly position aboard the prison ship remained a secret.
Just as The Twin Dilemma is my least favourite TV story, its novelisation is my least favourite novelisation of a TV story, though not in fact my least favourite book by Eric Saward. The new novelisation is not great, but it's not as bad as either of those. Saward has done his best to fill out the incidental characters with some background, particularly the crew of the battlecruiser (which is named the Vipod Mor and therefore should be identified with the ship in Saward's audio story Slipback). He still slips into trying to channel Douglas Adams a bit too often, his writing is surprisingly unpolished in places for someone of his track record, and the story itself remains a complete mess which he (perhaps wisely) doesn't attempt to untangle. I think it's still one for completists only.

I compared and contrasted it with the 2000 Paul Scoones unofficial novelisation, the second paragraph of whose third chapter is as follows:
Tegan scrambled across the floor to assist the stunned Turlough. ‘You all right?’ she asked him. He nodded groggily.
I noted when I first read it in 2008 that it is:
a decent effort, drawing in some of the background material invented by David Aaronovitch for his novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks but otherwise sticking fairly closely to the story as broadcast, including the humungous body count.
I think I stand by that assessment; Scoones doesn't do a lot more than write what appeared on the screen, though he does do a bit more, and his writing style is confident and competent, without Saward's excesses or Saward's flaws. As a sample, here's the way the two treat the cliffhanger between the two episodes:

The Doctor was suspicious when, in spite of the TARDIS having been yanked along the Dalek's time corridor, their arrival on the battlecruiser was surprisingly without incident.

‘Trap or not, I need to find Turlough,' he announced.

Switching on the scanner screen, he saw the reception area was empty. He cautiously opened the door, peered out of the TARDIS and, surprisingly followed by a fully composed Stien, entered the reception area.

After looking around for a moment, the Doctor called Turlough's name.

No response.

Stealthily he moved to the entrance of the corridor.

He called again.

This time, there was a response, not from his companion, but from a member of Lytton's Elite Guard. With his weapon raised, the soldier moved towards the Doctor. The Time Lord reacted quickly, grabbing the barrel of the weapon, twisting it to break the attacker's grip and sending the Trooper tumbling over an outstretched leg.

The Doctor saw Stien removing a weapon from a rack of machine pistols. ‘Quickly,' he urged him. ‘Back into the TARDIS.’

Stien didn't move. Instead he pointed the gun at the Time Lord.

‘This is madness!’ said the Doctor. ‘The Daleks won't thank you for capturing me, they’ll kill you.’

Stien moved towards him. ‘I didn’t quite tell you the truth,’ he said. ‘I serve the Daleks. I'm a Dalek agent.’

No sooner had he said this, than Daleks and Troopers poured into the area and advanced towards a distraught Doctor.

Lytton strode in and joined Stien to watch as a Dalek pressed the Doctor hard against the wall.

‘I am the Alpha Dalek.’

Alpha Dalek! That's a new title, thought the Doctor.

‘You will obey me,’ it continued to rasp. ‘You will bend to the power of the Dalek race.’

Inside his head, the Time Lord smiled. The title might be new, but the rhetoric was just as jaded.

‘You will follow me, Doctor. If you try to escape you will be exterminated!’

Although the Doctor had been threatened by the Daleks many times before, his rude health attested to their wanton lack of success. Unfortunately, the tone of this Dalek suggested it might be the one to succeed.

‘You will not resist. You will be taken to the Duplication Chamber,’ the Alpha Dalek snorted as it prodded the Doctor across the reception area.

Lytton and Stien continued to watch as the Time Lord entered an adjacent corridor and was gone.

‘Impulsive, aren’t they?’ said Stien eventually.

As soon as the central column juddered to a halt, the Doctor operated the scanner control. The screen showed that they had arrived in the time corridor reception area, just to one side of the terminal entrance.

‘We're on the Dalek ship,’ observed Stien, and watched through a haze of pain as the Doctor moved around the console and operated the door opening mechanism. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked.

‘I must find Turlough,’ the Time Lord replied. ‘You wait here.’

Stien started after the Doctor, but as he approached the exit, the aching pain in his head was suddenly and abruptly washed away. At once he could see and think clearly. He knew what he had to do. With a new determination he strode confidently out of the TARDIS.

Outside, the Doctor was looking around, calling ‘Turlough! Turlough!’

The Time Lord didn't notice as Stien closed the TARDIS door and went over to a wall locker. Stien pulled out a machine pistol, one of the weapons that Lytton had brought back from Earth earlier.

‘Foolish boy,’ the Doctor muttered, peering off down one of the corridors.

Without warning, a trooper rushed into the chamber, blaster raised, but the Doctor was on his guard, and skilfully wrenched the weapon from the man's grasp as he passed. The Doctor pushed him to the floor and covered the trooper with the weapon.

‘Quickly!’ he called to Stien, ‘Let's get out of here.’

‘No, Doctor,’ Stien replied, now standing right beside him.

The Doctor turned, and saw that Stien was pointing the machine gun at him.

‘This is madness!’ insisted the Doctor. ‘The Daleks won't thank you for capturing me. They'll kill you!’

‘I didn't quite tell you the truth,’ Stien replied, with an unfamiliar cold tone entering his voice. ‘I serve the Daleks. I'm a Dalek agent.’

Before the Time Lord could reply, three Daleks entered the reception area. The ambushed trooper got to his feet and recovered his weapon from the Time Lord's unresisting grasp as the Daleks moved in, shouting in unison. ‘Exterminate the Doctor! Exterminate! Exterminate!’

Commander Lytton saved the Doctor from certain death. ‘Wait!’ he ordered, hurrying into the reception area.

One of the trio of Daleks spun round on Lytton. ‘He is an enemy of the Daleks. He must be exterminated!’

‘He must be duplicated first,’ Lytton persisted. ‘Confirm with the Supreme Dalek.’

The Dalek turned away and engaged in an silent exchange with the Supreme. It turned back. ‘Supreme Dalek confirms the order. We must take the prisoner to the Duplication Chamber. Proceed.’

The Doctor glared silently at Lytton and Stien as the three Daleks surrounded him and herded him away down a passage.

‘Impulsive, aren't they?’ said Stien, once the two men were alone in the chamber.
Saward's style is just that bit worse, isn't it? The repetition of "surprisingly" early on, dropping Stien's dramatic "No, Doctor" (the climax of the first of the two TV episodes), and the awkwardness of "a distraught Doctor", "jaded" and "wanton", not to mention a general jerkiness, are all pretty awful. On the other hand, he's taken the opportunity to rewrite it to make a bit more sense - the TV version (and Scoones' novelisation) has the Daleks threaten to exterminate the Doctor and then change their mind, which sits rather oddly with Stien describing them as "impulsive"; Saward makes them more consistent and also brings in his new character, the Alpha Dalek.

Anyway, as I think is clear, in my view it's all a bit of a mess. You can get the DVD of the original TV story here, Saward's novelisation here, and the Paul Scoones version here.

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Pigs in Heaven, by Barbara Kingsolver

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Cardboard boxes crowd the linoleum floor like little barges bristling with their cargo: pots and pans, Mason jars, oven mitts, steak knives, more stuff than Alice can imagine she ever needed. The mood she's in, she's ready to turn out the cookstove. She doubts Harland would notice if she stopped cooking altogether. When she met him he was heating up unopened cans of Campbell's soup in a big pot of water every night. It amazed her to see the cans rolling around like logs in the boiling water. "Don't they bust?" she asked him, and he shyly put his hand on hers and allowed as how sometimes they did. His idea of a home-cooked meal is when you open the can first and pour it in a saucepan. Alice has been wasting her talents.
This is a sequel to The Bean Trees, which I very much enjoyed last year. I enjoyed this as well; the previous book ends with a dodgy adoption ceremony, which Pigs in Heaven then needs to resolve between Tennessee and Oklahoma. It's a nice, quirky journey to get there, and although the happy ending is maybe a little too convenient, it put me in a good mood so I was prepared to be forgiving. You can get it here.

This was the top unread book by a woman and the top unread non-genre fiction book on my shelves. Next on the first of those piles is The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard; next on the second is The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak.

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Second paragraph of third chapter of Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Campaign, by Julieann Campbell:
Coinciding with the twentieth anniversary was the launch of Eamonn McCann's book, Bloody Sunday: What Happened in Derry, commissioned by the Sunday Initiative (BSI) and published by Brandon Books. Regarded as one of the seminal books on the issue, McCann's book helped to renew interest in Bloody Sunday and contained a background analysis of the events leading up to the killings. Most remarkable was the series of interviews with relatives and friends, conducted by Maureen Shiels and Bridie Hannigan of the local Women's Living History Circle. In these, family members talked candidly about the lives of the killed and wounded men and boys, painting a personal portrait of each and giving an identity to names.
Second paragraph of third chapter of Bloody Sunday: Truth, Lies and the Saville Enquiry, by Douglas Murray:
Hovering in that clear blue sky was an army helicopter. And in it was a young surveillance officer known to the Saville Inquiry as INQ 2030. From this vantage point he could see over the whole of the Bogside. Years later he recorded what events looked like from up there. ‘I can recall seeing lots and lots of people on the ground, perhaps as many as five or ten thousand. They appeared to be congregating in one particular spot. All of a sudden, there was a burst of activity. People began running in all directions and the crowd effectively scattered. I can think of no better way to describe it than the effect that dropping a stone on an ants’ nest would have. It was almost as if the people on the ground had disappeared although I could see them hiding behind walls and buildings.’
Two very different books about the same awful event, both of which are at least as much about the Saville Inquiry as they are about the events of 30 January 1972. I have actually read the complete Bloody Sunday report, and reviewed it at some length on this blog back in 2010 (Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V, Volume VI, Volume VII, Volume VIII, Volume IX and Volume X and conclusions). In the last couple of months it has been announced that just one of the soldiers who killed 14 innocent people will be prosecuted, and that prompted me to refresh my recollection and also to look into the perspectives of two rather different commentators.

Julieann Campbell never knew her uncle, Jackie Duddy, who was killed at the age of 17 on Bloody Sunday, the first person to be shot dead by the Paras. (Specifically, by Private R.) She was born four years later, and grew up to be a journalist and the press officer for the Bloody Sunday families during the inquiry. She does not put herself into the narrative, however, telling instead the story of how the campaign developed from being a fringe concern and distraction from the overall political picture to a major political issue which Tony Blair felt compelled to yield on in order to facilitate the peace process. It was a terribly hard slog for the families to reach the point where they could be heard, and the early days of finding sympathetic lawyers who were prepared to go hunt for the archival evidence in order to write yet another paper which would be ritually ignored by the authorities were very tough. One person who comes in for considerable praise, to a certain extent against expectations, is John Bruton in his role as Taoiseach from 1995-97, elevating the issue to the point where his successor could not let it drop. It's a one-sided narrative, but it's the side whose story was suppressed by the authorities for many years, and it deserved to be told. The book won the Ewart-Biggs Prize, very deservedly.

Douglas Murray is a right-wing journalist, and his book partly reflects that perspective; it's a series of snapshots of individuals who gave evidence (or should have) to the Saville enquiry. This is not always successful. The chapters on Edward Heath, Bernadette McAliskey and Martin McGuinness don't really tell us much about them; each stonewalled the enquiry in different ways, and it's quite difficult to tell a story about people not talking. The chapter on the British intelligence source codenamed "Infliction" gets way too mesmerised by the supposed glamour of intelligence-gathering. His chapter on the IRA is mainly gossip which confuses the Officials and Provisionals, though there is one amusing detail, that a leading Official IRA member, who Saville would have liked to hear from, was actually selling cigarette lighters at a stall outside the Guildhall until he died in 2003.

But there are three very good chapters here, and they are all about the soldiers who carried out the shooting on Bloody Sunday. One tantalising suggestion is that Soldier G, who is known to be now dead and was Soldier F's partner in murder on the day, ended up as one of the mercenaries killed with Costas Georgiou, "Colonel Callan", in Angola in 1976. Murray hints that Soldier G may actually have been Georgiou himself, though I think it's a bit too good to be true.

There is a brutal chapter on Colonel Derek Wilford, whose blind defence of his men in the teeth of the evidence is remarkable. Some extracts are given from Wilford's ill-advised media interviews, including this jewel of an exchange with Jim Naughtie on the Today Programme (back in 1999 when it was still worth listening to):
DW: I have to ask: what about Bloody Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and every day of the week? What about Bloody Omagh, what about Bloody Warrenpoint, Enniskillen, Hyde Park, Bloody Aldershot and Brighton? Bloody everything the IRA ever touch?
JN: Colonel Wilford, I think you would find it hard to argue that the IRA had had a good press in Britain.

[Michael McKinney, whose brother was killed on Bloody Sunday, is brought into the conversation]

DW: He may represent his dead brother and a very, very tragic situation it is, but I do not accept that he merely represents him. He represents the Republican organisation and we are naive to the point of idiocy to believe otherwise.
JN: Well, can I, Colonel Wilford, I must interrupt you there because Mr McKinney, as you know, is sitting across from me…
DW: No, I didn’t know he was sitting across from you.
JN: Well, he is, I did say he was in the studio. He was shaking his head rather vigorously and I must ask him just on this question. Colonel Wilford has said that you represent a particular strain of Republicanism. Now I just want to put that to you because you’re still here.
MM: Well, that’s totally untrue. I’ve been involved in the Bloody Sunday issue, the Bloody Sunday campaign these past seven years. I’m one of the founder members of that, myself and a number of other relatives are involved in that and we have no links with any Republican organisation at all.
JN: Right. Colonel Wilford, I mean, that’s been said, do you accept it?
DW: No, of course I don’t accept it.
JN: Why not?
DW: Well, because they will all say that, won’t they.
But Murray's book begins and ends with two brutal chapters on Soldier F, who together with the late Soldier G killed between five and seven of those who died on Bloody Sunday. The first chapter graphically describes F's murder of Bernard McGuigan, the last person to be killed on Bloody Sunday, and reflects on how memories of such a horrific event can cheat (there is a very gruesome detail involving a detached body part which I won't describe further). In the second last chapter, Murray looks at how Soldier F's story that he had fired only at rioters who were attacking him fell apart within hours of Bloody Sunday, and recounts how the inquiry got through his defences and forced him to admit at least some responsibility. Murray doesn't quote it, but this is the crucial dialogue:
Q. Before your evidence concludes, I think I ought to summarise for you the accusations and allegations that have been raised and which the Tribunal will have to consider and determine.
The allegations are, firstly, that you killed up to four people, possibly even more. Firstly Michael Kelly, and we know, do we not, that you killed him because of the forensic evidence that a bullet from your gun was found in his body?
A. That is correct.
Q. Secondly, you have accepted, in answering questions from Mr Mansfield behind me, that you shot Barry McGuigan, whose photograph, in a pool of blood, you have seen; do you remember that?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you also accept that you shot Patrick Doherty on whose behalf you were asked questions this afternoon by Ms McDermott?
A. Yes.
Q. As I have put to you, there is evidence that might lead to the conclusion that you shot William McKinney in Glenfada Park; do you follow?
A. Yes.
Q. What is alleged in relation to each of those four people is that you shot them without justification, that is to say, that you murdered them; do you follow?
A. I follow, it is not correct, but I follow, yes.
Q. And you say that it is not correct, because?
A. Because, as I refer to my statements, the people I shot were either petrol bombers or a person who had a weapon.
Q. I also put to you that you may have wounded Joe Mahon, the boy whose body is on the ground behind William McKinney's in Glenfada Park. The suggestion is also that you may have wounded the two others who were wounded below the Rossville Flats; do you follow?
A. Yes.
Q. Is there anything that you can say about that or would wish to say about that?
A. No.
Soldier F, as we know, is to now be prosecuted for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney, and for the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell, all of which took place in Glenfada Park North. The Public Prosecution Service issued an unusually detailed statement about why they have in the end chosen to initiate proceedings against only one of the Bloody Sunday soldiers, and why for only a few of the deaths and injuries that he may have caused. It is worth a read. My own concern is that the PPS have chosen not to prosecute Soldier F for the deaths and injuries that Saville thinks he definitely caused (Michael Kelly, Bernard McGuigan and Patrick Doherty, all killed; Patrick Campbell and Daniel McGowan, both injured), and instead have chosen to prosecute him for deaths and injuries for which Saville found much weaker evidence. Of course Bloody Sunday has now been reinvestigated from first principles by the PSNI, with no reference to Saville and its details. Perhaps they found better evidence for the Glenfada Park North shooting than Saville was able to.

Anyway, both books are well worth reading (the good bits of Murray definitely outweigh the less good bits). You can get them here and here.

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This is a collection of three short manga-style graphic stories, by three Dutch artists/writers.

Second frame of third page of "Distortia", by Renee Rienties:
Rene Rienties kicks off with a story about a young psychic woman who is called in by the chap in the beard here to investigate what has happened to his brother Robby. There's an animated version of the first part of the story here.

Second frame of third page of "Yokai, Last of the Guardians", by Coco Ouwerkerk:
This one is about little Kayo, who enjoys her grandmother's stories about Yokai (monsters) until they start to turn out to be real.

First three frames of third page of "Deadly Deals", by Kimberley Legito Geelen (to be read right to left, of course)
This is a really short story about a vampire woman stealing souls.

The three stories are nice and vivid, but really very short; we've barely got started and then it's over. The art is nicely done, and I'd look out for more from any of the three. You can get it here. Apparently a second volume with the same authors is planned.

This was (incorrectly) in my pile of non-English language comics (as you can see, it's very definitely in English). Next in that pile is the two volume Frédégonde, la sanguinaire by Virginie Greiner and Alessia de Vincenzi.

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Tuesday reading

De Bourgondiërs, by Bart Van Loo
Anthropological Studies of Religion: An Introductory Text, by Brian Morris
How To Be Both, by Ali Smith

Last books finished
Resurrection of the Daleks, by Eric Saward
Resurrection of the Daleks, by Paul Scoones
The Devil in Amber, by Mark Gatiss
Make Out With Murder, by Lawrence Block
The Topless Tulip Caper, by Lawrence Block
Doctor Who: 365 Days of Memorable Moments and Impossible Things, by Justin Richards

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The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire

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Cat Country, by Lao She

Second paragraph of third chapter:
再一睁眼,我已靠在一个小屋的一角坐着呢;不是小屋,小洞更真实一点;没有窗户,没有门;四块似乎是墙的东西围着一块连草还没铲去的地,顶棚是一小块银灰色的天。我的手已自由了,可是腰中多了一根粗绳,这一头缠着我的腰,虽然我并不需要这么根腰带,那一头我看不见,或者是在墙外拴着;我必定是从天而降的被系下来的。怀中的手枪还在,奇怪! When I woke up again, I found myself propped into a sitting position in the corner of a small room. No, it really wasn’t a small room; it was more like a little cave. There were no windows and no doors. Four wall-like pieces of something or other surrounded a bit of ground from which the grass hadn’t even been weeded. The roof was a small bit of gunmetal sky. My hands were free, but now there was a thick rope around my waist. I couldn’t see the other end of it. Maybe it was tied to something on the other side of the wall. Perhaps since I’d descended from the sky, they thought that it would be a good idea to anchor me to the ground. How odd–the pistol was still in my shirt!
About a year ago, my old friend Rana Mitter recommended this to me as an early example of the Chinese science fiction tradition which we're now seeing in the works of Cixin Liu and Hao Jingfang (and others, but those are the recent Hugo winners). It's a short read, a very very direct satire on China of the 1930s, portrayed as a country on the planet Mars inhabited by cat people. The narrator is an earthling who arrives in a crashed spaceship just before the story begins and gets away slightly murkily as it ends. I thought it was really interesting to note that the trope of people going to Mars and encountering talking non-humans was already well enough established for a Chinese writer writing in Chinese in 1930s China to just pick it up and run with it. The works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were circulating in translation, but neither of them has humans landing on Mars.

The satire is so direct that I wondered if Pierre Boulle might have been partly inspired by this for Monkey Planet/Planet of the Apes. The dates however don't seem to check out - according to ISFDB, Cat Country seems to have been translated into English only in 1970, and to French only in 1981, too late for Boulle's book which was published in 1963. Our unnamed protagonist comes to terms with a fragmented Cat Country, full of weak patriarchal local warlords who are exploited by rich and cynical foreigners, and undermined by subversive students who follow the philosophy taught by Uncle Karl which led to the overthrow of the emperor in the neighbouring country. As satire goes, it's not all that subtle. But it's effectively written, and I found William A. Lyell's translation lucid. You can get it here.

Despite his obvious satire of Communism, Lao She survived and kept writing until 1968, when he committed suicide after being purged and persecuted during the Cultural Revolution.

This was my top book by a non-white writer. Next up is Paper Girls vol 2 (where Cliff Chiang is the artist), though as previously noted I think I'll reread all five volumes.

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The 2019 Hugos, part one

In 2017 I was the Administrator of the Hugo Awards for Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, an experience I wrote about here and here. I repeated the experience for last month's Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon.

I was an early if passive supporter of the Dublin Worldcon campaign. James Bacon, who I have known since I really joined fandom in 2002, had announced the Dublin bid before the 2014 London Worldcon, and gradually made it an inevitability which won the vote in Helsinki without opposition. I had much earlier expressed my interest in taking on the role to Vince Docherty, the WSFS division head for Dublin (and twice a former Worldcon chair), and he accepted my offer in time for my name to appear on the first published list of the Dublin 2019 Committee - unlike in 2017, I was also one of two deputy heads of the WSFS Division, the other being Mark Meenan. (The three of us were not very geographically diverse, with me being Irish and the other two Scots.) I initially appointed Niall Harrison as Deputy Hugo Administrator; he had to drop out due to work commitments, so Sanna Lopperi-Vihinen came on the team to replace him.

I did a few things for Dublin 2019 which were largely unrelated to the Hugos. I wrote a couple of blog posts on the Telescope That Disproved Liberalism (here and here), one on Fantasy and the Easter Rising, and another on Doctor Who in Ireland. In August 2018, I found myself on a mission to Áras an Uachtaráin with young F, to negotiate details of a message of welcome to Dublin 2019 participants from President Michael D. Higgins.

As history records, our mission was successful. We supplied the President's team with a short draft note; he personally expanded it to about four times the length of our draft, and made clear his very real interest in the genre.

(click to embiggen)

Going back to the Hugos, the very first decision that had to be made was the timetable, specifically the deadlines for close of nominations and close of voting. In 2017 those had been 17 March and 15 July, driven by the relatively early date of Worldcon 75 (and by caution on my part at not having done this before). Dublin 2019 effectively started a week later in August, so that meant that we could allow voting to extend to 31 July as is traditional, and in my view preferable. I feel that it's desirable to allow as much time as possible to read the works on the final ballot, so once again the second Friday in March (the 15th) looked best for the close of nominations, giving voters sixteen days more than they had had in 2017.

In retrospect I wonder if even mid-March is unnecessarily late. In 2008 and 2009, nominations closed on 1 March and 28 February, reflecting the much earlier Worldcon dates of those years (both started on 6 August). Do nominators really need an extra two weeks? The nominating votes cast in 2008 were more or less at the average level for that period, and the 799 cast in 2009 were the largest number ever, in retrospect the first step in the 2009-2016 surge of participation that seems now to have plateau'd.

We also had to decide quite early whether or not to carry out the Retro Hugos for 1944, with Worldcon 76 in San Jose having already decided to do the 1943 Retro Hugos in 2018. I was instinctively in favour - I felt that The Little Prince would be a strong runner for Best Novelette, and Perelandra for Best Novel, and that it would give us one more thing about sf to celebrate. One member of the Dublin team chided me for wanting to diminish partying time, but as a whole the committee agreed and we made a joint announcement with San Jose just before the 2017 Smofcon. Having done it once, I now feel more ambivalent about the Retro Hugos; more on that in another post.

Another crucial early decision was software. We decided to re-use and adapt the open source system developed by Eemeli Aro for Helsinki; this meant a certain amount of upgrading to the interface, most particularly to cope with the Retros. My old friend David Matthewman, who I've known since we were students at Cambridge more than thirty years ago, came on board to help with the coding along with Dublin's IT head Arnaud Koebel. To test the software in October and November, we got the Committee to submit dummy nominations (rather than the public testing we did in 2016). That worked well and I'd recommend that process to future Worldcons. The Helsinki software is very useful for administering the nominations count, a complex process which requires matching differently expressed names across categories. It has other drawbacks, though, particularly in managing the various levels of voting eligibility among nominators and members, and I understand that New Zealand is developing its own software for 2020.

Another question was whether or not to have a special category Hugo this year. I allowed myself to be persuaded that this could be an opportunity to test the proposed Hugo for Best Art Book; I've already written about this, but in summary I'm not convinced that it should be adopted as a permanent category, though I was very glad that it was won by Charles Vess and Ursula K. Le Guin.

And finally, we had to decide a clear strategy for the Hugo bases for Dublin. We decided fairly early that the artist(s) should be Irish, and that we would commission them rather than run a competition. The theme for 1944 would be "Other Worlds", and for 2019 "Ireland". After exploring a couple of other options, we asked the legendary Jim Fitzpatrick to design the 2019 base. He was already a Featured Artist for the convention, and he and George R.R. Martin were probably the best known personalities we had on board. I must say that when explaining to my professional contacts what this Worldcon stuff was all about, Jim Fitzpatrick's name would usually guarantee a startled acknowledgement that this was serious stuff.

For the 1944 base, I proposed (and the powers that be accepted) a childhood friend, Eleanor Wheeler, who I have known as long as I can remember (we later discovered evidence that I had attended her second birthday party, which would have been a few weeks before my own), but had not been directly in touch with for over thirty years. Eleanor is a professional ceramic sculptor whose usual commissions are large public works of art; here, for instance, is her work outside the SSE Arena in Belfast, incorporating drawings by schoolchindren and commemorating the four quarters of Belfast. When we went to see it, another group of passers-by were looking for their relative's name and picture.

Jim, who specialises in two dimensions rather than three, gave us some beautiful designs for the 2019 which we then needed to turn into a three-dimensional base, and we turned to Eleanor again to produce a homage to Newgrange incorporating Jim's designs. We were pretty satisfied with the outcome.
We also commissioned Sara Felix to make the first ever Lodestar Award, drawing on her work for the 2018 WSFS Award for Best YA Book. She also made finalist pins for the Lodestar, and Spring Schoenhuth made pins for the Campbell finalists.

Back to the voting. The single most tedious part of the Hugo process is the inclusion of members of the previous year's Worldcon as nominating voters (but not final ballot voters) for the current year. There is no easy way to do this. Basically I sat down with a spreadsheet including both the list of voters from San Jose, and the Dublin membership as it stood in December, and eliminated duplicates by eye. (This also meant eliminating voters who did not have a name, eg "Guest of" or "Friend of" or unnamed club memberships.) At least I had only two Worldcon lists to deal with, thanks to a rule change which took members of the following year's Worldcon out of the equation.

A further complication was that rather than being able to add all of 2018's voters in one go, several hundred of them came through in dribs and drabs. Due to the EU's new GDPR regulation, San Jose were only allowed to pass us the list of those members who had ticked a box allowing Worldcon 76 to share their information with us. (The GDPR requires an opt-in system; the WSFS Business Meeting's expressed preference for an opt-out system is legally irrelevant.) There were 4900 of them - which still left 2800 who had been San Jose members and were entitled to cast nominating votes, but whose data we were not allowed to have. A fair number of those would have been Dublin members anyway, but many were not. We developed a legally sound workaround involving an email sent by San Jose in my name to the missing 2800 inviting them to allow San Jose to give us their details. The key movers here were Kevin Roche and Kathryn Duval for San Jose and Colette Fozard on our side. This picked up only 360 or so by mid-January, and another couple of dozen came through later. It created much extra work for Lea Farr and the rest of our registration team, and also for the Hugo helpdesk team, Rebecca Hewett, Brent Smart and Terry Neill.

Nominations opened on 16 January, a little later than I had hoped (mainly because of the GDPR problem). I am not a gaelgeoir, but I felt that official communications from me should acknowledge the Irishness of the convention, so most of my emails to voters and finalists in my capacity as Hugo administrator started with the greeting "a chara" or "a chairde", depending on the number of people being addressed, and I usually signed off with "le gach dea-ghuí", "with all best wishes", or in some cases "go raibh maith agat", "thank you". One other tweak to the template became necessary when Sanna got married and changed her surname.

Once again we set up a Hugo Research team to test eligibility for nominees as they came in. The team were Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer. The process was this: in early February I gave them lists of the top dozen or so nominees in each category, in alphabetical order, and asked them to verify if they fitted the constitutional criteria; and then updated those lists as late risers emerged. (I also asked the research team to get contact details where they were publicly available.) Looking back now, I see that about two thirds of the eventual finalists were already in the top six for their categories by 19 January, three days into voting; a week before the deadline, 90% of the eventual finalists were there, but that still means that 10% were boosted by late votes. (One kind person actually gave me a nominating vote for Best Fan Writer; of course, as Hugo administrator I was not eligible.)

Hugo administrators only need to make rulings on those nominees who receive enough votes to qualify for the final ballot, but there were several cases where such a decision did have to be made, as already noted in my write-ups of the 1944 Retros and 2019 Hugos. I should also note that my comments on the eligibility of a couple of the unsuccessful Best Art Book nominees, which had copyright dates of 2017, has been challenged by suggestions that those books were not "really" published until 2018. If they'd had enough votes for it to be an issue, we'd have investigated more thoroughly before making a ruling.

One case that I haven't previously mentioned, but that I think points to future eligibility issues, was the case of Bandersnatch, an interactive episode of the TV show Black Mirror where viewers were able to choose paths for the narrative. It received a number of nominations in both Best Dramatic Presentation categories, and so at nominations stage we needed to decide, did it count as Short Form or Long Form? (There is also a question about whether it counts as a Dramatic Presentation at all, but that would only need to be asked if it qualified on the numbers, and anyway the answer is pretty obviously in the affirmative.)

The average length of "play" for Bandersnatch is 90 minutes, which is precisely the boundary between the Short Form and Long Form categories. In the end, we felt that the constitution required us to consider the “complete running time” of a Dramatic Presentation, which suggested that we should count all the 150 minutes of Bandersnatch footage that exist, not just the 90 minutes mean path. (NB also that in 2016, the Puppies got enough votes for two games to qualify for Short Form, but both were ruled way too long for the category.) And in fact Bandersnatch did not get enough votes to qualify in either category, even when nominations were transferred from one to the other, so no official ruling was needed.

I had an unexpected business trip to Nashville, Tennessee on the day that nominations closed, and was finalising the ballot while very jetlagged during a layover in Schiphol airport on the Sunday. (Paper ballots, and there were not many of them, went to Colette Fozard in Maryland and were input as soon as the deadline had passed.) Inevitably, with 38 categories, errors were made, and in particular I regret not spotting that we had incorrectly amalgamated the Retro Fanzine nominations for Fantasy News, edited by William Sykora, with those for Guteto, edited by Myrtle Johnson (Morojo). This came to light only as we put together the detailed nomination results in mid-July, though that was still before the vast majority of votes had been cast in that category.

Thanks to careful preparation, I was able to alert almost all finalists that they had qualified for the ballot early on Monday 18 March, less than three days after the ballot closed. (As usual, the difficulties were mostly in the Dramatic Presentation categories, where can be very difficult to find out who to contact.) Martha Wells immediately declined nominations for two of the three Murderbot novellas that had enough votes to qualify, and Mike Glyer likewise immediately declined for File 770, and I was able to notify the next nominees in line without delay.

I have already written about how the final ballot was announced. One aspect that I have not previously mentioned in public: we had originally (and ambitiously) targeted 30 March as the date for the announcement - all well and good, but then Vince Docherty pointed out that Brexit was due to happen the previous day (as we then thought) and we would certainly get lost in the media shitstorm. Of course, as we now know, history worked out differently. It would have been impossible for James Shields, Fionna O’Sullivan and Mark Slater to produce such a lovely video at shorter notice, anyway. Just to remind you, here it is again:

Although on the two occasions where I have been directly involved, the calendar has been against an Easter announcement, personally I am in the school of thought that would prefer the Hugo final ballots to be announced at a convention over the Easter weekend. I do not buy the argument that we miss out on mainstream media by not making the announcement on a weekday. Outside the puppy years, we have not got and will not get a lot of mainstream media coverage anyway, and when we did get it, it was for the wrong reasons.

When I started writing this, I thought it would end up being shorter than my 2017 write-up. But I've now reached only the announcement of the final ballot, and I'm already 2500 words in, so I think I will leave the rest for next weekend.

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The Apartment (1960)

The Apartment won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture of 1960, and picked up another four: Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Original Screenplay (Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond), Best Editing (Daniel Mandell) and Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration, Black and White. Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Jack Kruschen were all nominated in the acting categories, but lost.

The other films that were nominated for Best Motion Picture were The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers and The Sundowners; I have seen none of them. The Apartment ranks second on one IMDB rating of 1960 films and fifth on the other, with Psycho firmly at the top of both lists and the two other films I have seen from 1960, The Time Machine and Pollyanna, below but not too far below. This seems fair to me. Here is a trailer, which rather daringly starts with the final scene of the film:

It’s a comedy by Billy Wilder, but a comedy with some quite dark edges. (I was about to say that it was the only Wilder film to win the Best Picture Oscar; but I had forgotten about The Lost Weekend, which is not a comedy at all.) Our hero, played by Jack Lemmon, rents out his apartment to senior executives in his company for them to meet their lovers; he starts to fall in love with one of the lift operators, but it turns out that she is already having an affair with his new boss (and using his apartment). Hilarity ensues, but it is uncomfortable and sometimes painful, an very well observed. Rather to my surprise, it’s a black and white film - the last to win Best Picture in the twentieth century. It’s a bit surprising to me that black and white lasted so long - colour films have been winning the Oscar off and on since Gone With The Wind in 1939.

I also want to note that this is the first Oscar-winning film to refer to not one but two of its predecessors; at one point Grand Hotel is on television, and there's a passing reference to Wilder's own The Lost Weekend.

We have a few returning actors here who’ve been in previous Oscar winners; Joan Shawlee is Sylvia here, and was an extra seven years ago in From Here to Eternity; Johnny Seven, the brother-in-law who punches Jack Lemmon's character, was one of the longshoremen in On the Waterfront the following year; around the same time, Jack Kruschen, who plays the Jewish doctor in the neighbouring apartment here, was the Hispanic earthling who is the first to be exterminated in The War of the Worlds. While we're on sf, Ray Walston, one of the executives who regularly uses the apartment, went on to become My Favourite Martian. But retuning to Oscar winners, and most notably of all, Shirley MacLaine, who was David Niven's arm candy four years ago in Around the World in Eighty Days, is just fantastic here as the romantic co-lead to Lemmon.

But I am getting ahead of myself. What didn't I like about the film? As usual, I'm afraid, it's whitewashing. There are no African-American speaking parts, in a film set in New York in 1959-60. The only black person we see up close is the boss's shoe-polisher.

After much scrutiny I did spot a few non-white faces in the Christmas party scene; that's as visible as they get.

There is at least a Chinese restaurant with actual Chinese people running it, including playing the music.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed the film. There's a single musical theme, "Jealous Lover", which pops up over and over:
The office environment is brilliantly portrayed as a dehumanised settlement descending into debauchery at festival time (human sacrifices are discussed)

The story itself is an eternal one. I remember once lending my student room in Cambridge to a local friend who wanted to entertain her boyfriend from out of town for an afternoon without her family finding out. (Though I don't think either of them was married to anyone else at the time.) I'm sure many people have had similar experiences, on one side of the equation or the other. The farce element of the plot is entirely generated by Jack Lemmon as Bud, most notably when he takes the blame himself for upsetting Fran to the point of attempting suicide. (As I said before, it's pretty dark.)

Of the lead performances, Jack Kruschen is the most stereotyped as the doctor who despairs of his neighbour's activities. But given the information he has, he is right to be angry; and he carries also a righteous rage against all men who mistreat women.

Still, I was surprised that he got the Best Supporting Actor nomination and not Frank McMurray as Sheldrake the boss, whose cool betrayal of his wife and casual exploitation of Fran (and, it turns out, of many other women) is spine-chilling.

The killer moment is when he offers Fran $100 as a "Christmas present".

Jack Lemmon is always watchable, but he's brilliant here as Bud, the downtrodden bureaucrat who has managed to get ahead by offering a special personal service to his bosses, and is then confronted with the ethical implications of what he has done.

But for my money, the show is stolen by Shirley MacLaine, whose Fran is an adult woman, entirely in charge of her own sexual destiny, who knows perfectly well that she is being exploited by Sheldrake and is working through the consequences for herself. For a comedy, it's a heart-jerking performace. I think it's a lovely touch that the closing scene sees her and Bud edging towards a relationship rather than deeply in lurve.

As I have said, I rather liked this, and I'm putting it well up the list, just ahead of last year's Ben-Hur and behind All About Eve. You can get it here.

For the first time since 1952, eight years ago, this is an original screenplay rather than being based on a book or teleplay. Next up is West Side Story.

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)
21st century: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)


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  • Fri, 12:56: What Happens Next With Brexit, Explained For People Who Are Confused https://t.co/asKEHFXx8E with help from Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • Fri, 14:51: RT @WestYorksPolice: Statement from West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable John Robins on yesterday's Ministerial visit. https://t.co/63HoRX
  • Fri, 17:08: RT @PeterGrantMP: In non legal terms. The government were invited to make a statement, sworn on oath and with a penalty of perjury if it wa…
  • Fri, 18:15: Smallworld, by Dominic Green https://t.co/m0VTjbDn0y
  • Fri, 19:30: RT @chrisgreybrexit: Often see a tipping point after which everything goes 'wrong' for a politician (Kinnock's 'awright', Hague's baseball…
  • Fri, 19:33: RT @SamCoatesSky: Exclusive - Sky News reveal what Boris Johnson said about David Cameron in private cabinet papers after obtaining an unre…
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  • Sat, 08:31: Dear lazyweb, 263*263 = 69169. Are there any other 5-digit square numbers whose digits go xyzxy?
  • Sat, 11:45: RT @davidallengreen: If Johnson and/or his aides are indeed conspiring to deliberately break the law in respect of Article 50 extension, it…


Smallworld, by Dominic Green

Second paragraph of third chapter:
New Ararat had been quiet all through the Fifth Harvest Festival; the nearby gas giant Naphil put out more heat than it received from 23 Kranii, and Naphil's orbit around its star was very close to circular, so harvest happened all year round. Shun-Company had decided on a rotating schedule of Harvest Festivals, where the children, who had little else to do but sweep floors, herd goats, weed herb patches, fettle agricultural machinery, tend the comms station in the Best Parlour, and clear the South Field of meteors, could weave little dolls of potato leaves that could be pinned to makeshift crosses in the Town Square and ritually burnt, whilst the family danced around semi-nude and gaily painted with char-coal. The local interpretation of Christianity on Mount Ararat was ecumenical.
Dominic Green was a friend of mine at Cambridge; we haven't seen each other in 30 years, but I've followed his writing career, including his second place for Best Short Story in the 2006 Hugos. This was I think his first novel, published in 2010, the year after Interzone published a special issue featuring him and his work.

Smallworld isn't Great Literature, but it's entertaining enough, a set of connected stories set on a very small and weirdly shaped asteroid which nonetheless has a breathable atmosphere thanks to a lump of neutronium at its core, and whose inhabitants include a creatively fundamentalist family, a robotic devil, a prison and a health spa. The folks of New Ararat are subjected to various incursions, which are resisted with varying degrees of success. It's all good fun, and I enjoyed it.

I did find that the particular san serif font used was a bit difficult to read, and impeded my concentration. My eyes are getting middle-aged. If you want to give it a try, you can get it here.

This was the sf book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that list is Being Human: Bad Blood, by James Goss.

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The Berlin Trilogy, by Jason Lutes

Second frame of third chapter, Berlin: City of Stones:

Second frame of third chapter, Berlin: City of Smoke:

Second frame of third chapter, Berlin: City of Light:

I have been waiting for ten years for the third book of Lutes' Berlin Trilogy to come out, and took the opportunity to reread the first two volumes. Of the first one, I wrote back in 2004:
This is another from the Time list of 25 must-read graphic novels. Once again, fantastic. Very much in the Will Eisner tradition, following a set of characters through a richly imagined historical background; for instance the Potsdamerplatz, in the early episodes, seems to almost have a life of its own. But unlike Will Eisner, we know that there is a historical catastrophe coming; each episode takes place in one of the months from September 1928 to May Day 1929, with different characters experiencing different aspects of the gathering storm. Berlin has always fascinated me, and this book has further whetted my appetite. The most disappointing thing about it is that it's only the first part of a trilogy and the next two bits aren't out yet.
And of the second, I wrote in 2008:
I really enjoyed the first volume of this series, and I really enjoyed this one as well. Covering the period from June 1929 to September 1930, it doesn't have the same narrative climax (May Day 1929) as the previous book, but it does have a strong set of internal plot arcs. Marthe and Kurt delve deeper into the heart of what makes the city tick, but at the cost of their own relationship; Kid Hogan, an African American jazz clarinettist, finds love and corruption in the city's music halls; and the marginalised, the exploited, the Jews, the Communists, the unemployed, all have their stories at least illuminated if not necessarily told. I'm only sorry that, first, we will presumably have to wait another four years for the next and final volume, and second, that it will presumably only take us to the Nazi seizure of power. But this is strongly recommended.
Well, we had to wait more than ten years, and the third volume is shorter than the other two (149 pages compared to 207 and 210), but it was well worth it. Despite the shorter length, it covers a longer time period, from late 1930 up to Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in January 1933; but the main story isn't the high politics of parliamentary manœuvre, it's the ongoing story of the little people, Marthe and Kurt, the non-fictional journalist Carl von Ossietzky, the children of Gudrun who was killed by state violence at the end of the first volume, the Jews seeking to get out before it is too late, Marthe's trans lover, random insights into the thoughts of passers-by. It's a reflection of how ordinary people get caught up in extraordinary events, and in these times of Trump and Brexit it feels an awful lot more relevant than it did ten years ago. The ending of the story is, inevitably, sad but satisfying.

I should say something about Lutes' style, explicitly inspired by Hergé's ligne claire. In the first volume I sometimes found it difficult to differentiate between characters (some of the adult women in particular were a bit too similar in appearance) but I did not find this a problem later on. In fact, I felt that the immediacy of the style made it easier to relate to the characters as real people in a real city, rather than incidental players in a grand historical tragedy. It's a great example of what the graphic medium can be - as I said previously, in the Eisner style, but reflecting also on Hergé and the Drawn and Quarterly tradition.

You can get volume 1 here, volume 2 here, volume 3 here, and (my recommendation) the whole lot here.

This was my top unread comic in English. Next on that list is the second volume of Paper Girls, but again I think I'll reread the lot.

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Second paragraph of third chapter:
‘Do you think you should, Mr Chorley?’ the landlord asked. ‘You’ve been acting a bit… odd lately. And my name’s not Joe, it’s Thomas.’
Another rollicking good yarn in the recent series of spinoff books about the life of Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart between the events of The Web of Fear and The Invasion. Peel is an old hand at this, having written the very first in the Virgin New Adventures series of spinoffs, almost thirty years ago. This story invokes Triffids, The Seeds of Doom and Fury from the Deep and boils up the elements to make a Brigadier story that is derivative but great fun. Continuing to enjoy this series. (Reference also to the DS9 pesticide from Planet of Giants.) You can get this one here.

Though I must grumble about one technical point - at the start of Chapter Three, Chorley buys two shots of whiskey with a couple of pound notes. The story (indeed, the chapter) is clearly dated to 10 September 1975 by mention of the IRA bombing of the Hilton five days before. I am trawling the internet for evidence of booze prices in 1975, and haven't yet come up with a firm answer, but I get the impression that there's no way a single shot of whisky would have cost as much as 50p back then, in which case a single pound note would have been enough. Perhaps Chorley was ordering doubles, which would of course further justify the landlord's concern.

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