September 27th, 2006


Further to my previous theory...

...some of you may be aware of my thesis that authors born between 1942 and 1951 (inclusive) have won a surprisingly large number of Hugo and Nebula awards. I have done a bit more number-crunching on this question.

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In summary: authors born between 1942 and 1951 have won almost twice as many Hugos and Nebulas as might be expected, comparing them with all Hugo and Nebula winners.
shocked and surprised

Various things

I've been at home feeling flu-ridden since noon yesterday, which explains the peculiar tone of some recent posts.

It also means I don't have the energy to pursue several strange and fascinating links I have seen, noted here for future reference for when I feel better:
My great-grandfather's metallurgy textbook
The Online Etymology Dictionary (thanks to daegaer, I think)
The 1990 Douglas Adams/Tom Baker documentary on the future of computers, from nmg
Essay on Amber in Strange Horizons
While I'm thinking of Strange Horizons and my piece on Houellebecq's Lovecraft which I owe them, here is princeofcairo's response, via rfmcdpei several months ago

Also, someone posted in a locked entry that they had attended a wedding which "had a number of peculiarities, apparently as a result of the groom's eccentricities/strange sense of humour - it not only featured the 1662 wedding service, but also an absolutely frightful old hymn he'd discovered via the Flashman books about converting the heathen, with particular and inexplicable reference to Greenland." The hymn itself is apparently here. (WARNING! MUSIC!)

September Books 20) The God of Small Things, 21) Beloved

20) The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
21) Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Further to my previous post, these two books turned out to be a pretty effective paired reading, though rather morbid if you are lying in bed trying to forget about feeling ill.

Both are about poor and oppressed families in difficult circumstances - a down-at-heel Syrian Orthodox family in Kerala in the mid-twentieth century for Arundhati Roy, former slaves and their children in Cincinnati in the mid-nineteenth century for Toni Morrison. Both books are about the horrible death of a child which turnout not to be all that it seems. Both are told in a narrative that flips back and forth between the time of the death, the family history leading up to it, and the early adulthood of other children who were around at the time. Both, oddly enough, feature old women called Baby.

Frankly the Arundhati Roy book was much more enjoyable. It is a fascinating portrait of different parts of a diverse society, attractively quirky characters, even shafts of actual humour in among the grimness of the main plot strand. Toni Morrison's world seemed much more starkly black and white (in several senses); the violence was more horrific, the situation worse, the resolution (for my tired and somewhat ill brain) rather more confusing. But I wouldn't really recommend either to a friend I was trying to cheer up.

September Books 22) The Prince

22) The Prince, by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

As part of my newly self-inflicted reading programme, this was a merciful relief in that it is a) very short and b) a non-fiction essay about a subject that I am very interested in. Also I read it electronically, thanks to the excellent FictionWise. No trees died for this review.

I found it very thought-provoking. The style is a little reminiscent of Sun Tzu's The Art of War - less staccato, of course, and with rather too many references to events contemporary to Machiavelli which I have only dimly heard of, if at all. Machiavelli's strictures on statecraft for the autocratic ruler are not hugely relevant for Western democracies, where the executive's freedom to do what they want is (thank God!) hemmed in by many legal and political restrictions.

But for a number of the countries that I take an interest in, which have democratic form but not content, his analysis is actually a much better explanation of their rulers' behaviour, and a useful metric for predicting whether they will succeed or fail, than any appeal to democratic theory. To take one example that is no longer contemporary, I read the passage on a Civil Principality, "where a leading citizen becomes the prince of his country, not by wickedness or any intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow citizens", and thought of Eduard Shevardnadze and his downfall.

And indeed some of his strictures have a wider application than merely to autocratic rulers' domestic policies. His observation that while you may have to choose being feared over being loved, you must avoid at all costs being hated, has obvious read-through to external as well as internal interventions in any country's politics.

The last few chapters - on choosing the right person to be your right-hand man, while at the same time avoiding the attentions of flatterers - are obviously (as matgb commented) to be seen in the light of the entire book being a job application; but they are none the less important observations on the psychology of leaders and their advisers.

So yeah, an excellent read. The next on the list will take me a bit longer, I think...