March 16th, 2006

earthsea

March Books 6) Different Kinds of Darkness

6) Different Kinds of Darkness, by David Langford

This is a collection of all Langford's short fiction not collected elsewhere (and also some that is). About half of it consists of his sf stories, ranging from decent to excellent in quality, including the brilliant "A Game of Consequences". Though I was struck that several of them revolved around a nuclear war and post-Holoocaust Britain; I guess we have different nightmares now.

Rather to my surprise the quality of the four pure fantasy stories in the collection is markedly inferior; I found them all somewhat formulaic. Again, rather to my surprise, I enjoyed almost all of the nine horror stories that followed, a genre I don't normally think of myself as liking much.

But the crowning glory of the collection is the sequence of "BLIT" stories. Langford has taken the idea of the drawings that kill you when you look at them and riffed it four different ways - police procedural ("BLIT"), academic politics ("What Happened at Cambridge IV"), usenet document ("comp.basilisk FAQ") and schoolboy yarn ("Different Kinds of Darkness", which won a Hugo). The third of these actually gives a genealogy of the concept including Fred Hoyle's The Black Cloud, J.B. Priestley's The Shapes of Sleep, Piers Anthony's Macroscope, William Gibson's Neuromancer, and Monty Python's sketch about the deadly effects of the World's Funniest Joke. I would add to these H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out Of Space" and the experiments of Policeman MacCruiskeen in Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. But I have made that point before.
doctor who

March Books 7) The Discontinuity Guide

7) The Discontinuity Guide: The Definitive Guide to the Worlds and Times of Doctor Who, by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping

Yeah, yeah, I know that almost all of the text is also available on-line. But there's nothing like dead trees (especially if you are in the middle of a long plane flight). This is a great compilation of odd facts about the series, including most particularly an attempt to introduce consistency to such matters as the Doctor's age, his academic qualifications, the histories of the Cybermen and of the Daleks, and Mars. Interesting to see the foreshadowing of two of the Ninth Doctor's more memorable lines - "Hairdryer!" ("The Web Planet") and "Run!" (Second Doctor, passim). And there's a certain amount of "Yeah, that was my favourite bit".

Speaking of favourite bits, I asked my co-panellists at P-Con what their favourite bits of Doctor Who were, both old series and new. Colin Greenland voted for an end-of-episode shot of a Dalek emerging into view (which I reckon was the end of episode 1 of "The Chase"; Juliet McKenna for the Doctor and Jo down the mine in "The Green Death"; and Paul Cornell for the start of life on earth in "City of Death". From the new series Colin voted for "Are you my mummy?", surely one of the most impressive Who moments ever, and Juliet confessed to liking the Dalek in chains.

Part of my agenda of course is to improve my knowledge of the best stories, especially those that were first broadcast outside the time period when I was watching most closely (late Third Doctor to early Sixth, then Ninth and Tenth). Apart from Season 7, the other entire season that drew the praise of the Discontinuity Guide's authors was the very last of the old run, Season 26 with Sylvester McCoy ("Battlefield", "Ghost Light", "The Curse of Fenric" and "Survival"). Other stories to look out for which I hadn't previously had flagged up to me include particularly the First Doctor's "The Massacre", but also a bunch of others from the end of Troughton's second season.

I've made efforts in this direction before, but found this book much more helpful. (I should start reading this blog as well I suspect.)