What's this all about, then?

This is my blog on Livejournal, which I have been running since the spring of 2003. Since late 2003, I've also been using it as a record of (almost) every book that I have read; I read a lot (in non-plague times, I have a long commute) and wanted to keep a good note of what I read. At 200-300 books a year, that's over 5000 books that I have written up here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

310 days of plague: the way back

The numbers today are not a lot better than ten days ago - 1937 (down from 1955) in hospital, 336 (down from 371) in ICU and a daily average fatality rate of 48.6 for 11-17 January (down from 53.4 for 1-7 January). But several things are combining to put me in a better mood. The first is that the numbers are not worse - there was a serious risk of wobble over the last week or so, as people who had travelled over the new year returned (the Belgian press has been full of one particular ill-fated ski trip). But we seem to be back on the downward trend again. Also worth noting that our municipality currently has the ninth lowest incidence rate of any in Belgium (4 in the last 14 days, converting to 36 per 100,000).

The second is just that the weather and daylight are improving. I think it was easier to keep spirits up in the spring and summer, as the nights got shorter and the days got warmer. Getting through winter, without the usual seasonal comforts of good company and group celebration, was pretty tough. Now we're through the (literally) darkest period, there's a sense that things are on the mend. (Little comfort to those farther south of course.)

And the third, which really does make a huge difference overall, is the end of the Trump era and the inauguration of President Biden. I was not actually wowed by the ceremony - in particular I thought Biden's own speech was rather fluffy and cliched - but it's such a huge improvement on what came before that I am not complaining much. There's a new normal coming to US politics and also international politics, and not before time.

Feeling in a better mood, I've returned to the scene of my first video from last year with an update.
See you next time.

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Whoniversaries 21 January

i) births and deaths

21 January 1978: death of Geoffrey Orme, who wrote The Underwater Menace (Second Doctor, 1967).

21 January 1980: birth of Sarah Dollard, who wrote Face the Raven (Twelfth Doctor, 2015) and Thin Ice (Twelfth Doctor, 2017).

21 January 1993: death of David Blake Kelly, who played the captain of the Mary Celeste in The Chase (First Doctor, 1965) and innkeeper Jacob Kewper in The Smugglers (First Doctor, 1966).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

21 January 1967: broadcast of second episode of The Underwater Menace. The Doctor causes a power cut and Ara rescues Polly. Zaroff explains that he intends to destroy the Earth.

21 January 1978: broadcast of third episode of Underworld. The Trogs rebel against the Guardians; the Doctor and Leela prepare to infiltrate the Citadel.

(Two particularly duff episodes today, in my opinion.)

iii) date specified in canon

21 January 1941: the Doctor and Rose trace a mauve alert to London and meet Captain Jack Harkness, as seen in The Empty Child (2005). Meanwhile the real Captain Jack Harkness is killed in combat. (Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness, 2007)

The Prisoner: A Day in the Life, by Hank Stine

Second paragraph of third chapter:
He lay quietly for a while and listened to the rain. It was a good sound, clean and substantial: above suspicion. The weather was (save himself) the only thing he could trust.
This was the first book I finished in 2021 (I've already written up two others, because they fitted with other projects). It's one of three original spinoff novels from everyone's favourite enigmatic TV show; I've read one of the others and must look out for the third. (There are a few other later ones as well.)

Perhaps I am easily pleased, but I rather enjoyed this. The Prisoner is made a prisoner even within the confined circumstances of The Village; he flirts with Number 7, plays chess with the Admiral, assassinates a few people in London and life goes back to normal. The level of mind-bending is about average for one of the TV episodes. I would find it difficult to describe anything that actually happened in the story, but I enjoyed reading it. You can get it here.

This was the first book that I finished reading in 2021 (I have already blogged a couple that I finished after I had read this). It was also the shortest unread book that I had acquired in 2014. Next on that list is The Autumn Land, by Clifford D. Simak.

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shocked and surprised

Whoniversaries 20 January

i) births and deaths

20 January 1934: They don't come much bigger than this - birth of Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor from 1974 to 1981 and has reprised the role on occasion since. For me he remains the definitive Doctor. Happy birthday, Tom!

20 January 1936: birth of Ralph Watson, who played an unnamed generator scientist in The Underwater Menace (Second Doctor, 1967), Captain Knight in The Web of Fear (Second Doctor, 1968), the miners' leader Ettis in The Monster of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1974) and principal lighthouse keeper Travers in Horror of Fang Rock (Fourth Doctor, 1977).

20 January 1978: birth of Jami Reid-Quarrell, who played Davros' servant Colony Sarff in The Magician's Apprentice (Twelfth Doctor, 2015), the faceless Veil in Heaven Sent (also Twelfth Doctor, 2015), the Cloister Wraiths in Hell Bent (also Twelfth Doctor, 2015) and the Robot Inspector in The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo (Class, 2016).

20 January 1990: death of John Maxim/John Wills, who played the Frankenstein monster in The Chase (1965) and a Cyberman in The Moonbase (1967). I was friendly with his son, the year below me at Clare College.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

20 January 1968: broadcast of fifth episode of The Enemy of the World. Bruce has switched sides and starts to help the opposition to salamander. Meanwhile the scientists trapped underground are getting restive.

20 January 1973: broadcast of fourth episode of The Three Doctors. The Second and Third Doctors persuade Omega to return the others to Earth, and then destroy him with the Second Doctor's recorder. The Three Doctors are restored to their own timestreams.

20 January 1978: broadcast of first episode of The Armageddon Factor; first appearance of Lalla Ward (though as Princess Astra, not Romana). Atrios and Zeos are locked in war. The Doctor and Romana are captured by the Marshal but escape; Princess Astra is captured by a bloke in a cloak.

20 January 1984: broadcast of second episode of The Awakening. The Malus attempts to manifest by draining energy from the villagers and the Tardis, but the Doctor defeats it.

20 January 1996: broadcast of first episode of The Ghosts of N-Space on BBC radio. The Brigadier is visiting his Sicilian uncle whose castle is under threat from modern mobsters and ancient ghosts. Er, yeah.

iii) dates specified in canon

20 January 1920: birth of Toshiko Sato's grandfather in Japan. (She mentions at the start of the 2007 Torchwood story, Captain Jack Harkness, that she is on her way to his 88th birthday party.)

20 January 1941: Toshiko Sato and Jack meet the real Captain Jack Harkness (also in the 2007 Torchwood story, Captain Jack Harkness).

Tales of Terror (Doctor Who anthology)

Second paragraph of third story ("The Monster in the Woods", by Paul Magrs):
Ange was upstairs in her bedroom painting her younger brother's face for Hallowe'en. Terry was ten and amazingly patient as she finished off his David Bowie lightning flash.
This is a set of twelve Doctor Who short stories for YA readers, themed around Halloween, each of them featuring a different Doctor, usually with an old enemy (the Celestial Toymaker appears twice). The six authors are all well established - Jacqueline Rayner, Mike Tucker, Paul Magrs, Richard Dungworth, Scott Handcock and Craig Donaghy (was not sure of the last, but he has a long track record scripting comics for DWM). Rayner's Sixth Story, "Trick or Treat", is the standout of the collection, though Magrs' Third Doctor story, "The Monster in the Woods", is good too and none of them is actively bad. If it's still available next Halloween (or the one after) you could get it for a young Who fan. You can get it here.

This was the last book I finished in 2020, and the last I will write up - I missed some, when they were Hugo finalists and I was on the Hugo team. I had expected not to have that problem in 2021, but there you go.

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Whoniversaries 19 January

i) births and deaths

19 January 1957: birth of Roger Ashton-Griffiths, who played Mr Garret, Eugene's teacher, in Random Shoes (Torchwood, 2006) and Master Quayle in Robot of Sherwood (Twelfth Doctor, 2014)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

19 January 1974: broadcast of second episode of Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The Doctor and Sarah coordinate with the Brigadier, not realising that Mike Yates is part of the conspiracy. Once again the Doctor is threatened by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

19 January 1982: broadcast of second episode of Four to Doomsday. The Tardis crew discover more about the plans of Monarch and the Urbankans; the humans they have met turn out to be androids.

19 January 1983: broadcast of second episode of Snakedance. The Doctor and Nyssa find more clues to the Mara in the caves; meanwhile Tegan and Lon are under its power.

19 January 1984: broadcast of first episode of The Awakening. The Doctor and Turlough, bringing Tegan to meet her grandfather, are surprised to find his village infested with Civil War soldiers and a monster in the church wall.

19 January 1985: broadcast of first episode of Vengeance on Varos. The sinister Sil persecutes the Governor, and the Doctor and Peri rescue Jondar from torture, live on television.

19 January 2020: broadcast of Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror. Tesla's grand ideas for revolutionising electricity and communication are proving to be a hard sell to the public. His business rival, Thomas Edison, may not want him to succeed, but surely even he cannot be behind the sudden appearance of hostile alien scavengers?