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Moon Blink, by Sadie Miller

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Bland’s appearance befitted his name to the letter. He was tall and fair with ice-blue eyes and a bone structure that was singularly without peak or trough, giving him an oddly flat, even face. Bullied as a youngster both at home and at school, Bland had vowed to never again experience the same powerlessness as an adult that he had had to endure as a child. Bland was a corporate man with the ear of President Nixon, or Dickie as Bland called him. Everyone was afraid of Bland, and no one stepped out of line at the Laboratory now that he was in charge.
I've worked my way through almost every Doctor Who novel that actually features the Doctor, and am now delving deep into spinoff lines: this is the first of a "second season" of books from Candy Jar about Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart in the months between The Web of Fear and The Invasion, and for extra recursive Who-ness, its author is the daughter of Brian Miller, who appeared in Old Who as Dugdale in Snakedance (1983) and in New Who as Barney the tramp in Peter Capaldi's first episode, Deep Breath (2014). Oh yeah, her mother was Elisabeth Sladen, who appeared in Doctor Who once or twice as well.

This is a decent first novel. There's lots of Whovian fan-service, including to the Sarah Jane universe (a very peculiar origin story for Brendan Richards of K9 and Company); but the focus is on Anne Travers much more than Lethbridge-Stewart himself (which is refreshing). All the bits are there - moon-landings, drugs, babies - and they combine pleasantly enough. I hope Miller keeps on writing.

Net in this series is The Showstoppers by Jonathan Cooper. You can get Moon Blink here.

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Tuesday reading

Current
1913: The World before the Great War, by Charles Emmerson
Terror Moon, by Trevor Baxendale
Better Than Sex, by Hunter S. Thompson

Last books finished
Night of the Kraken, by Jonathan Green
Gateways, ed. Elizabeth Anne Hull
The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty
Plastic Man #1, by Jack Cole
Adorable Illusion, by Gary Russell
The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, by Paul Bew

Next books
Het Amusement, by Brecht Evens
The Ghosts of Heaven, by Marcus Sedgwick

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Goat Song, by Poul Anderson

Third paragraph:
Elsewhere the ridges around me are wooded, alive with scarlets and brasses and bronzes. The sky is huge, the westering sun wanbright. The valley is filling with a deeper blue, a haze whose slight smokiness touches my nostrils. This is Indian summer, the funeral pyre of the year.
I wrote about this story back in 2004:

"Goat Song" is at first sight a retelling of the Orpheus myth (the title is a literal translation of the Greek phrase which became the English word "tragedy"). The narrator is a singer of old songs from Earth's distant past; his lover has died; the world is controlled by the computer known as SUM, which communicates with its inhabitants via a beautiful spokeswoman, and which also stores the personalities of the deceased in preparation for a future resurrection. Our hero seduces the spokeswoman and is allowed to enter the castle where SUM is located to ask for the return of his woman. His request is granted, subject to the condition that he must not look back as he leaves the castle. He looks back; and loses her. On his return to the outside world, he preaches revolution against the machines, and finally sacrifices himself to the female followers of a primitivist cult.

Anderson is quite a difficult author to grasp. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes that "With dozens of novels and hundreds of stories to his credit -- all written with a resolute professionalism and widening range, though also with a marked disparity between copious storytelling skills and a certain banality in the creation of characters -- [Anderson] is still not as well defined a figure in the pantheon of US sf as writers (like Isaac Asimov from the Golden Age of SF and Frank Herbert from a decade later) of about the same age and certainly no greater skill." Part of the problem for me is the way he packed so much material into all of his stories. For instance, There Will Be Time, published the same year as "Goat Song", is mainly about time travel, has a substantial subplot in Byzantine history, and features Anderson himself as an off-screen character. It's sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees. Yet only Joe Haldeman and Fritz Leiber have equalled his feat of winning both Hugo and Nebula for the same story three times, and only Connie Willis has exceeded it, with the likes of Le Guin, Clarke, Ellison, Asimov, managing the feat only twice.

This difficulty of grasping Anderson is demonstrated in his own account of the genesis of both "Goat Song" in his autobiographical collection, Going For Infinity, which turns out to be much more a story about Harlan Ellison's Hugo-winning story "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" . At the Milford Science Fiction Writers' Conference in 1966, attended by "the likes of Gordon Dickson, Richard McKenna, James Blish, John Brunner, Anne McCaffrey, Alan Nourse, Ted Cogswell, Phyllis Gotlieb", amidst the "smoky, boozy, noisy, cheery turmoil", Harlan Ellison got inspired, took his typewriter into an empty room, and began writing. "I remember he asked me about a point in Norse mythology, and, caught off guard, I gave him a not-quite-correct answer; but no matter." (This presumably explains why the giant bird "from Norse mythology" in the Ellison story is described as "this Huergelmir" - almost but not quite like a name from the sagas.)

The story, the memory of the party and of Jean Cocteau's film Orpheus crystallised in Anderson's mind to produce "Goat Song". "About the only similarity between the two science fiction tales is the concept of human personalities preserved after death as data in a giant, probably quantum-mechanical computer system, for eventual resurrection either into virtual reality or as downloads into new bodies. Harlan didn't have a patent on it, but it was pretty new at the time, and I thought it proper to request his okay, which he graciously gave." Because of problems with the original buyer (a "well-paying magazine" which almost immediately folded - presumably Worlds of Tomorrow, whose editor, Frederik Pohl, is not mentioned even once in Going for Infinity) "Goat Song" didn't see the light of day until published in Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1972.

Added January 2005: Ellison's account confirms Anderson's: "Poul Anderson dropped me a note several months ago explaining that he had just written a story he was about to send out to market when he realised it paralleled the theme of a story [of mine] he had read at a writers' conference we had both attended, just a month or so before. He added that his story was only vaguely similar to mine, but he wanted to apprise me of the resemblance so there would be no question later. It was a rhetorical letter: I'm arrogant, but not arrogant enough to believe that Poul Anderson needs to crib from me." (Dangerous Visions, Ellison's preface to "A Toy For Juliette" by Robert Bloch.)

Anderson was wrong to think that the idea of personality storage in computers for potential later reincarnation was all that new. A number of stories had already been published which used this concept - most notably, Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars, first published in 1956; also Jack Vance's novel To Live Forever, likewise first published in 1956 and re-issued in early 1966 by Ballantine; and in Roger Zelazny's short story "For A Breath I Tarry", first published in spring 1966, the story is the other way round - his computer protagonist decides to become incarnated as a human. Zelazny came back to this theme several times - the human hero of his 1967 novel Lord of Light goes through the process of recording and reincarnation that the narrator of "Goat Song" seeks for his beloved; and the Recall process in Zelazny's novel Isle of the Dead, published in 1969, is almost identical to the resurrection process in "Goat Song" (except that it runs via skull plates rather than bracelets). It also crops up in another 1969 novel, Robert Silverberg's To Live Again.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction gives me the following cross-references for sf treatments of Orpheus: Samuel R Delany's The Einstein Intersection, Constantine Fitzgibbon's The Golden Age, Charles Harness's Wolfhead, Russell Hoban's The Medusa Frequency, Tim Powers' Dinner at Deviant's Palace, and in particular Patricia A. McKillop's Fool's Run. To that list one would now have to add Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet and of course Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Out of this list I've read only Powers and Gaiman, but I suspect it doesn't matter too much, because "Goat Song" relies at least as much on the Jean Cocteau film (see review by Roger Ebert) than on the original legend; in particular, the beautiful woman in a remarkable vehicle who is a mysterious intermediary with Death is a direct lift from Cocteau. Orpheus in the film is a poet rather than a bard, and in Anderson's story quotes other people's poetry, rather than (as in the legend) composing his own music. And in both cases, Death (or its representation as the computer SUM) is much more of an actor than in the classical myth.

And in any case, the story is more a libertarian parable than a retelling of classical myth - perhaps Ellison's "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" is more relevant than "I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream". I refer back to Clarke's The City and the Stars, where (as in "Goat Song") a young man from a mechanised, unchanging city finds a new meaning for his life in a rural setting. But whereas Clarke's Lys is a civilised country town, Anderson's wilderness is very wild indeed, a place where ordinary laws do not hold; and where Clarke's hero discovers a spaceship and goes off to find the meaning of life, leaving his home city to adjust to the discoveries he has made, Anderson's hero comes back from his life-changing experiences determined to smash the system, in a rage against the tyranny that humans have imposed on themselves by handing themselves over to SUM. His final self-sacrifice at the hands of his fellow humans and indeed the earlier promise of a physical resurrection are both (probably deliberately) reminiscent of Christianity.

Several other striking things need to be mentioned about the story. The only two named characters are Thrakia, the woman who eventually kills the narrator, and SUM, the computer he plots to destroy. The narrator himself is never named, and the two other women, the Eurydice character and the Dark Queen, are given epithets but no names. This gives the whole story a mythical, almost archetypal feel. The other point, mentioned earlier, is that the narrator does not compose his own songs, but quotes from Swinburne, Brooke, Dunbar, Arnold, Wolfe, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, the Psalter, and "Tom O'Bedlam". This is partly to illustrate the way in which the mechanised city culture has cut its inhabitants off from their own cultural heritage. It's also a bit of a relief in that many other authors have succumbed to the fatal temptation to try and compose their own verse to fit in with the plot. (Are you listening, A.S. Byatt?)
Coming back to it now, the only point I feel I missed in 2004 was Anderson's really inventive use of language - in the quote above, we have "the westering sun wanbright"; later we have "true wood of different comely grains", and "Hoarfrost is gray on the steel shapes". It's a story that would sound well when read aloud.

"Goat Song" won the 1972 Nebula and 1973 Hugo for Best Novelette. In both cases it beat "Patron of the Arts", by William Rotsler, "Basilisk", by Harlan Ellison and "A Kingdom by the Sea", by Gardner Dozois. The other Hugo finalist was "Painwise", by James Tiptree, Jr.; the other Nebula finalists were "The Animal Fair", by Alfred Bester; "The Funeral", by Kate Wilhelm; and "In the Deadlands", by David Gerrold. The only one of these I can remember reading is "Painwise".

The other short fiction winners that year were: "The Word for World is Forest", by Ursula K. Le Guin (Hugo, best novella); "The Meeting" by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, and "Eurema's Dam", by R. A. Lafferty" (Hugo, best short story, joint winners - the only time that has ever happened in this category); "A Meeting with Medusa", by Arthur C. Clarke (Nebula, best novella); and "When It Changed", by Joanna Russ (Nebula, best short story)

That was the year that Asimov's The Gods Themselves won Best Novel for both awards. I'm not going to go back and reread that because of how hard I bounced off it last time I tried. So the next in this series of reviews will be The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin. 

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Since it's that time of decade again, let's remember my distant relative, Chevalier James F.X. Whyte (also referred to as Comte Whyte de Malleville), who was one of the seven prisoners liberated from the Bastille on this day in 1789. To quote one website:
Whyte was a private prisoner.  He was of Irish Jacobite descent.  He was born in Dublin in 1730  and had served during the Seven Years War, first as a cornet in the Soubise Volunteers then a captain in Lally Tollendal's Franco-Irish regiment.  In 1781 he had suffered some kind of mental breakdown and been confined in Vincennes at the expense of his family.  When Vincennes was closed as a prison in 1784 he was transferred with the marquis de Sade to the Bastille.  In March 1789 he had been declared interdit and control of his property transferred to his two daughters.

Whyte was paraded around the Palais-royal in the evening of 14th and on the 15th taken to the Hôtel de Ville and thence to the prison-asylum at Charenton. On July 31st 1795 he was finally transferred to the asylum of Petites Maisons.  He was described as completely deranged in an almost comically stereotypical fashion,  imagining himself to be Julius Caesar, St Louis and occasionally the Almightly himself...

Whyte was of striking appearance, with a massively long unkempt beard. The English doctor Edward Rigby, who was in Paris at the time of the fall of the Bastille describes in his journal for 15th July a prisoner who is clearly Whyte:  "He was draped in a greasy reddish Cloak - his beard was very long & his Hair which had not been combed during this long Period was grown very long - closely matted together - was divided into two Parts & reached lower than is Knees".  In a letter of Sunday 19th,  Rigby's companion Samuel Boddington notes:  "His beard was of great length and his hair which appeared never to have been combed was entangled in large nets as if it have been wove.  It was parted into two long parts and coming over his shoulders reached below his knees.  His face was ...quite pale, and he looked about him as one should conceive a man to do who for the first time had the use of his eyes."
[George Cadogan Morgan, Travels in Revolutionary France ed. by Mary-Ann Constantine  (University of Wales, 2012), p.17-18.
With his beard, Whyte is a central figure in several illustrations of the taking of the Bastille:


L'Heure Première de la Liberté, L. Carpantier (1789)


Scene dans l'interieur de la Bastille, Klooger/Hardener (c. 1790)


Prise de la Bastille, H. Jannin (probably mid-19th century)


Prisoner Sprung, from the Hulton archive (no attribution given).
Thanks to the History of Maunsell, I think I have worked out the family connection.

I reckon that Chevalier James F.X. Whyte, who is said to have been born in 1730, was a younger son of John White, killed at the Battle of Culloden in 1745; John White's father was another James White, killed at the battle of Villa Viciosa, 1710 (the similarity of names is suggestive); that James White's father was Sir Ignatius Whyte, who was James II's ambassador to The Hague (until the Dutch ruler invaded England and overthrew his boss) and died in 1694; they were not closely related to our side of the family (the mutual male-line ancestor is six generations further back from Ignatius, though there's a cousin marriage in between) but they were socially close, and when Ignatius was proclaimed a traitor at the Tholsel in Dublin in 1691, my 6x great-grandfather Charles White was named along with him (but apparently got the attainder reversed by invoking the Holy Roman Emperor). That side of the family used the title "Marquis d'Albeville", which is pretty close to the reported "Seigneur de Malleville" if you are an 18th-century reporter in a hurry.

Needless to say, French reports describe the prisoner of the Bastille as English, while English reports describe him as Irish.

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Star-gazing

When I was young I wanted to be an astronomer. At 16 I proudly got myself elected as the Secretary of the Irish Astronomical Association, which still exists and meets in Belfast. (It had originally been founded in 1946 as the Belfast branch of the Irish Astronomical Society, but had split off in 1974, retaining an all-Ireland perspective.) At 17 I wrote my one and only scientific publication, a review of a book by Patrick Moore (not actually published until two years later).

At 18 I spent a few months working at the Armagh Observatory. The duties imposed on me were minimal, but I showed Halley's Comet to visitors through the Grubb telescope.

At Cambridge I read Natural Sciences, specialising in my third year in Physics with Astrophysics. I spent the summer before that at the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux, as one of the very last generation of its summer students, where again the duties imposed on me were minimal. It was here that the precarious career structure of the astronomer became clear to me. (Only two of my fellow summer students did become astronomers.)

I read a lot of back issues of the Journal for the History of Astronomy, and realised that I found people more interesting than stars; my academic career diverted into the history of science, and my overall interests veered more and more towards politics.

But I'm glad to have had the astronomical perspective early in my life, and to have been able to scratch that itch.

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So, I had an article in the Irish Times yesterday:

It was a topic that had been on my mind for a while - the massive expansion in the non-aligned vote, and what that means for the calculations of both sides on a potential future united Ireland. I'm glad to say I've had a lot of positive commentary on the piece, and the few negative remarks were generally directed at things that were not in the article.

And I woke this morning to the tragic news that Noel Whelan, who I wrote a book with back in 2003, has died after a short illness. Writing The Tallyman’s Guide to the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections 2003 was a fun, creative, co-authorship process, made a little more difficult by the fact that we both had the habit of indicating which bits we wrote/were writing using our initials - and we had the same initials, NW. We had not been in touch much in recent years, but I continued to enjoy reading his analysis. Our collaboration was a cheerful episode which I must now look back on with some sadness. Here are pictures from the Belfast launch (with John Alderdice) and the Dublin launch (with Brian Cowen, who I understand is also in poor health):


This put me in apocalyptic mood at lunchtime, when I attended the Brussels presentation of the interim report of the "Alternative Arrangements Commission", a group of British Conservatives who are trying to find a way to wriggle out of the UK's commitment to the backstop. Their ideas are not completely awful, but do require the Irish government to collude in imposing Brexit on the island; a heavy lift, given that the Republic was not asked about Brexit and Northern Ireland voted against - and that's before we start looking at the contemptuous attitude shown by the British government to both parts of Ireland in the last few years. I'm afraid my rage blunted the force of my question to the group, but you can see it here at 38:25 in:

Anyway, better to get it out of my system.

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  • Tue, 12:12: RT @kevinhorourke: It would be good to see Dublin acknowledge that the logical corollary of “the backstop is needed to avoid a border” is “…
  • Tue, 12:56: RT @dmcbfs: For all you history buffs, the entire debate between Haughey/Fitzgerald in 1982 is now online https://t.co/2DGlO0SRiv
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  • Tue, 16:05: RT @AnnaJerzewska: Much on free ports /zones over the last couple of days. The only thing you really need to know about them is that they h…
  • Tue, 16:33: RT @hilarybennmp: The WTO Director General says that in the event of a No Deal Brexit, Article XXIV of GATT would not apply. In other word…
  • Tue, 17:11: As if it were possible to bring them into disrepute!!! https://t.co/GCI6TMPKt5
  • Tue, 17:49: RT @pmdfoster: Indeed. Notes only - "significant" negative impact on NI economy - "Disruption" in N-South trade because of tarriffs/regs…
  • Tue, 17:49: RT @JP_Biz: Ireland's revised no deal is plan out. It's not very different from what's been out before & doesn't, as per earlier, reports b…
  • Tue, 18:33: RT @peterwalker99: Wow! Same sex marriage extended to NI by a massive 383 to 73 vote! Many congrats to @ConorMcGinn - who has battled for t…
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Tuesday reading

Current
Gateways, ed. Elizabeth Anne Hull
The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty
1913: The World before the Great War, by Charles Emmerson

Last books finished
Gigi, by Colette
The Cat, by Colette
First Generation, by Mary Tamm

Next books
The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, by Paul Bew
Better Than Sex, by Hunter S. Thompson

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Karl Marx in Brussels

Here's a nice little research project which I was able to pull together fairly quickly, a Communist plotting if you will:

This map shows the seven places where Karl Marx and his family lived in Brussels, 1845-48, plus his favourite cafe, plus the venue of the 1868 Third Congress of the First International.

Going top to bottom, the wee house symbols are:
- the sites of the Hotel de la Gare and Hotel de Saxe, where the Marx family spent their first few days in Brussels in 1845, now the INNO department store
- Rue Pacheco 35, where they lived briefly in 1845
- Rue de l'Alliance 5, where they lived from 1845-46, with Engels next door
- the Hotel du Bois Sauvage, now the site of the National Bank, where they lived briefly in 1845 and again briefly before getting thrown out of Belgium in 1848
- Place du Petit Sablon 24, where again they lived briefly in 1845
- Rue d'Orleans 42, now Rue Jean d'Ardenne 50, the only one of the Marx residences with a commemorative plaque; the family lived here 1846-1848 and their son Edgar was born here in 1847.

All of those buildings have long since been demolished. So has the Theatre du Cirque, at top left, where the International Workingmen's Association held their Third Congress in 1868.

But the Maison du Cygne in the Grand' Place, where Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, is still there in all its glory, and if you check inside you will find Marx's portrait and a small plaque indicating where the two men (possibly) sat.

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Gigi won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture of 1958, and picked up another eight, Best Director (Vincente Minnelli), Best Adapted Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner), Best Art Direction - Set Decoration, Best Cinematography (color) (Joseph Ruttenberg), Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton), Best Film Editing (Adrienne Fazan, a rare woman winning one of the off-screen categories), Best Musical Score (André Previn) and Best Original Song ("Gigi" by Lerner and Loewe). Winning nine Oscars was a new record at the time (eight had been won by From Here To Eternity, On The Waterfront, The Best Years of Our Lives, Going My Way and Gone With the Wind), but this record was broken by Ben-Hur the following year. It should be noted that although none of the cast were nominated in the acting categories, Maurice Chevalier got a special award from the Academy.

The other contenders for Best Motion Picture were Auntie Mame, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones and Separate Tables. On the IMDB rankings, Gigi places 18th and 9th, with Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Blob and The Fly ahead of it on both lists. Hugo voters chose "No Award", the first year this ever happened, ahead of Dracula, The Fly and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. (This was also the year they No-Awarded Brian Aldiss for Best New Writer.) I have seen absolutely none of these; in fact the only other film I'm sure I have seen from 1958 is Jacque Tati's Mon Oncle.
It's a musical romance set in Paris in 1900. Gigi is a young girl who is being educated to be a rich man's female companion by her grandmother and aunt. She grapples with her relationship with young Gaston, whose uncle Honoré is an old flame of her grandmother's. It's the third consecutive Oscar-winner based on a story first written in French (after Around The World in 80 Days and Bridge on the River Kwai, two films that are very different from each other and from this). It's also the first musical we've had since An American in Paris, though there are a few more coming up. Here's the Oscar-winning title song (with Spanish sub-titles, sorry), the moment when Gaston realises that she has grown up and he loves her.
As usual, starting with the bits I didn't like so much, and as usual that list begins with whitewashing: there is not a single non-white face to be seen in the film, although Paris in 1899 was already pretty multi-ethnic (Severiano de Heredia served as the equivalent of Mayor of Paris in 1879-80 and as a minister in the French government in 1887) and Paris in 1958, when the film was made, even more so.

Apart from that, there's not a lot to dislike. The story is actually somewhat subversive of gender politics; Gigi and her older relatives are navigating a world ruled by men, sure, but doing it at their own pace and according to their own rules; the climax is where Gigi puts Gaston in the position where he must ask her grandmother for permission to marry her. It's not quite as in-your-face as the original - once again, Hollywood removes feminism from the text - but the fact that sex outside marriage is portrayed from the very beginning as a cheerfully accepted relationship choice is startling for 1958. I wrote previously that in both Wings and All Quiet on the Western Front, France is a place of wartime fascination and moral hazard, and the same is true for Casablanca, another war film. The Life of Emile Zola is set almost entirely in Paris, a place of superior achievement, the centre of the cultural world, with its own drama and internal dynamics which the audience is expected to recognise and relate to. The Paris of An American in Paris is much more wholesome, if also spectacular. But here we're back to a combination of Zola's colourful city with the divergent morality of the war films.
The two male leads are a little weaker (and this is another of the rare Best Movie winners where none of the cast were nominated in the acting categories) - Louis Jourdan is a bit underwhelming as Gaston, and Maurice Chevalier, a grand old man of stage and screen, distinctly over the top as Honoré. My heart sank a bit when I realised that he opens the film singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" - though in fact it's a much less creepy song than the title suggests in these less innocent times.
The music in general is fine. The only other Lerner and Loewe musical I know is My Fair Lady (which we'll be getting to in a bit) and basically it has more memorable songs. One of them is not "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight", originally written for Eliza Doolittle but removed and given instead to Gigi. Here's Leslie Caron singing it, with a heavily drugged cat. (This is a reconstruction - Betty Wand dubbed for Leslie Caron's voice in the film.)
The three leading women are all adorable and watchable - Isabel Jeans as Aunt Alicia, Hermione Gingold as grandma Madame Alvarez, and especially Leslie Caron in the title role, at 26 convincingly playing a character ten years younger.
The women are poorly served by the score - there are twelve songs, eight of which are sung by men only and another three by Betty Wand dubbing Leslie Caron. But the one song which actually features one of the female leads in her own voice is I think the film's most memorable, the duet between Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier, "I Remember It Well".
I have been in love with Leslie Caron even since I first saw An American in Paris (also directed by Vincent Minnelli from a script by Alan J. Lerner), and hugely enjoyed her cameos in Damage (1992) and Chocolat (2000). I think she dominates the film, despite being the youngest of the lead performers.









Let me just remind you that she umpired a cricket match as Countess Mavrokordati in The Durrells only two years ago.

I liked Gigi and I'm putting it 14th out of 31 films so far, behind It Happened One Night but ahead of Marty. You can get it here.


Next up is Ben-Hur.

The book by the great French feminist writer Colette is very short. Here is the second paragraph of the third section:
– Tu as l’air d’un singe savant, lui dit Lachaille. Je t’aimais mieux dans ta robe écossaise. Avec ce col qui te gêne, tu ressembles à une poule qui a avalé du maïs trop gros. Regarde-toi. ‘You remind me of a performing monkey,’ Lachaille said to her. ‘I liked you much better in your old tartan dress. In that uncomfortable collar you look just like a hen with a full crop. Take a peep at yourself!’
It's recognisably the same story, with some of the same jokes and lines, though there is no Honoré - completely invented for the film, and I guess to an extent for Chevalier. Gigi is explicitly not yet sixteen years old; obviously Hollywood could not go near there. Gigi's mother, completely invisible in the film, makes a few appearances in the book (the father has been long absent):
As for her features, no one could yet predict their final mould. A large mouth, which showed beautiful strong white teeth when she laughed, no chin to speak of, and, between high cheekbones, a nose – ‘Heavens, where did she get that button?’ whispered her mother under her breath. ‘If you can’t answer that question, my girl, who can?’ retorted Madame Alvarez.
It's a succinct sketch of Paris in 1899 from the point of view of women trying to get by in a man's world.

I got it in combinations with a slightly longer book by Colette, La Chatte/The Cat, about a young woman who discovers that her new husband loves his cat more than he loves her. Here's the second paragraph of the third chapter:
Avec précaution, il tourna la tête, entrouvrit les yeux et vit, tantôt blanche et tantôt bleu clair selon qu’elle baignait dans l’étroit ruisseau de soleil ou qu’elle regagnait la pénombre, une jeune femme nue, un peigne à la main, la cigarette aux lèvres, qui fredonnait. « C’est du toupet », pensa-t-il. « Toute nue ? Où se croit-elle ? » He turned his head cautiously and opened his eyes a trifle wider. He saw someone moving about, now white, now pale blue according to whether she was in the narrow strip of sunlight or the shadow. It was a naked young woman with a comb in her hand and a cigarette between her lips, wandering about the room and humming. ‘What impudence,’ he thought. ‘Completely naked! Where does she think she is?’
It's a bad sign when a newlywed husband is irritated at the sight of his wife naked. None of the characters in this story is pleasant, including the cat, but it's well told, and reminiscent of a notorious recent Reddit thread.

You can get Gigi and the Cat here.

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

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It’s the time of year when people start to think about ways in which the Hugo process can be improved. I have two small tweaks to propose, one of which is really technical and the other intended to make the award a bit more special. If I can get a co-sponsor or co-sponsors for either of them (needs to b a member, but not necessarily an attending member, of Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon) I will put them forward to the WSFS Business Meeting this year; if passed there, they will still need to be ratified at next year’s Worldcon, CoNZealand, before coming into force.

I have not yet got co-sponsors for either; expressions of interest very welcome.

1) No deadline for nominations eligibility

Proposal: remove the struck-through words in the Constitution.
3.7.1: The Worldcon Committee shall conduct a poll to select the finalists for the Award voting. Each member of the administering Worldcon or the immediately preceding Worldcon as of the end of the previous calendar year shall be allowed to make up to five (5) equally weighted nominations in every category.
Explanation: At present, those who want to nominate for the Hugos must either be members of the previous year’s Worldcon, or have joined the current Worldcon before 31 December of the previous year.

Until recently, the deadline was 31 January. The move to make it a month earlier (proposed by Nicholas Whyte and Kathryn Duval in 2017, ratified in 2018) was partly prompted to fit with the then proposed three-stage nominations process (which did not pass) and partly inspired by tidiness (no other date is in the constitution).

In practice, it has led to some frustration among members who join after 31 December and who did not realise that there was a deadline.

From the administrator’s point of view, it is actually much easier to give new members nominating rights, up to the deadline, than to exclude them.

This does carry a certain risk of entryism, with people joining at the last minute as part of a campaign. The deterrent here is social: Hugo voters have now demonstrated that they will react strongly against any such moves by voting for No Award ahead of finalists who have reached the ballot as a result of such campaigns.

2) Five and five

Proposal: to amend the Constitution thus:
3.8.1: Except as provided below, the final Award ballots shall list in each category the six five eligible nominees receiving the most nominations as determined by the process described in Section 3.9.
Explanation: “Five and six” was one of the reforms made in 2015-16 to minimise the future effects of block voting. It already has a 2022 sunset clause and a provision that any business meeting may suspend its operation for the following year’s Hugos.

After three years, we now have enough information to be clear: EPH does make a difference to deter bad actors, “Five and six” rather less. On the other hand, having 20% more finalists does significantly increase the administrative and financial burden on each year’s Worldcon, as anyone who has been to a recent pre-Hugo reception can testify.

In addition, the burden placed by the Hugo process on diligent readers has also increased in recent years, with the addition of a new category of novels (the Lodestar) and especially of the Best Series category. In 2019 there are 31 categories in the Hugo Awards, a record. It would be a kindness to voters to reduce the required reading from six finalists per category back to five.

Although there is a 2022 sunset clause for “Five and Six”, realistically we already have enough information to repeal it now, and to make life a little easier for Hugo administrators and voters in 2021 and 2022.

The losers will be those who had placed sixth in recent years. There is only one case of a sixth-placed finalist at nominations stage going on to win the Hugo in the last three years (the rather odd situation of Best Fan Artist in 2017, where two finalists were disqualified). On the other hand, a reduced pool of finalists increases the cachet of being among that number.

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Art and family in Luxembourg

We went to Luxembourg last weekend, to visit my cousin J and her family (husband D, children . We took the opportunity to explore the rather charming capital, where my attention was caught by a couple of instances of public art. This fascinating sculpture, with somewhat feminine curves, sits just to the south of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
There is no plaque explaining what it is called or why it is there. I appealed to social media for help in identifying it, and it did not take nmg very long to Establish both artist and title: it is “La Grande Isis”, by Maggy Stein (1931-1999), commissioned by the government of Luxembourg as a monumental sculpture in 1978. (Luxembourgish Wikipedia gives her age of birth as 1934, but this seems unlikely from the other information given, and this article says 1931.) I find it a fascinating piece. This exhibition brochure says more, in French and German:
As a woman, a mother, a divorcee, an artist and a sculptor, she faced constant resistance. She was largely denied the prizes and public commissions which her work deserved. Probably her most important public work is the sculpture near the cathedral in the center of the city of Luxembourg: it is the only one of its kind.
At a completely different level, down in the valley of the river Alzette as it flows past the walls of the old city, we found wire and paper sculptures of insects and various other creatures. It looks like a temporary display, but we have no idea why.

Quite close to J and D’s house, a 1930s shrine to St Martin gives the saint a nice view over the valley:

In fact he is guarding a mysterious old inscribed stone, the “Hellegesteen”, which marks the spot where he apparently had a vision while travelling to (or maybe from) Trier.

It’s always interesting to track younger relatives as they grow up. Here is F with his second cousin L, taken in 2019 (19 and 7), 2014 (15 and 2) and 2012 (12 and very small).

And this is me with my near-namesake, L’s brother N, in 2019 and 2014 (he was not available in 2012):

A fun weekend.

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Swinson v Davey - I think I'll @JoinJo

I'm only very loosely engaged with the Lib Dems these days, but apparently I am engaged enough to get a vote in this month's leadership election - as I did in 2006, 2007 and 2015. There really seems very little to choose between the two candidates on policy grounds. They have similar sets of supporters, of whom I know roughly the same number in both camps. The Lib Dems are on a roll at present and seem to me likely to have a jolly good election result and a chance of participation in another coalition government under either potential candidate.

And for me that last point is crucial. The Lib Dems failed to differentiate themselves sufficiently from the Conservatives in government in 2010-15, and rightly paid the price for that. Of the two candidates, I see Jo Swinson has having had a better record during the coalition in that she staked out and defended policy territory that was distinctive to the Lib Dems. It's also a matter of fact that she has simply got more press coverage. (See Google Trends chart below; she is ahead of Ed Davey in 98 months out of 178, while he leads in 58 months; just looking at the coalition period, the lead is narrower but still there.) The coalition's record is one of the few clear dividing lines between them: Jo Swinson is clear that the party needs to "own the failures" of its time in government. "We lost too many arguments. When they fought dirty, we were too nice." Ed Davey on the other hand seems to think that the cratering of the party's reputation in government was a mere PR problem. It was much worse.

It's not just a matter of who will get the party into government after the next election; it's a matter of who is more likely to preserve it from the voters' wrath at the election after. So I think I'll #JoinJo.

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Tuesday reading

Current
Gateways, ed. Elizabeth Anne Hull
First Generation, by Mary Tamm

Last books finished
“Goat Song”, by Poul Anderson
Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible, by Stan Lee, Peter David and Colleen Doran
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, by Dennis O'Driscoll
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Next books
1913: The World before the Great War, by Charles Emmerson
The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, by Paul Bew

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