December 12th, 2007


December Books 4) Time And Relative Dissertations In Space

4) Time And Relative Dissertations In Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who, edited by David Butler

This is a brilliant collection of seventeen scholarly essays on Doctor Who. It is based on contributions to a conference held in Manchester in July 2004, some of which have been updated to reflect the 2005 revival of the programme, but mostly concentrating on the initial run of the classic series from 1963 to 1989. It amply fulfills what I look for in books like this: it gives me a new appreciation of the factors which shaped the series, embedded in a deeper structure of analysis which fills out my own frame of reference for thinking about the stuff I enjoy.

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Although some of these essays are not as good as the others, none of them is dull and none is incomprehensible, and it's perhaps the first multi-authored collection of scholarly pieces on science fiction which I have read of which I can say that. Some will be disappointed that there is a relative emphasis on the Sixties and correspondingly little on the Eighties, but I will take what I can get. Any serious Who fan (for values of "serious" meaning "treating Who as more than mere entertainment") needs to have this on their shelves, and I think it will be a good read for anyone with a general interest in sf media as literature.

December Books 5) At Swim-Two-Birds

5) At Swim-Two-Birds, by Flann O'Brien

Generally thought of as O'Brien's masterwork, though personally I prefer the more structured lunacy of The Third Policeman. It must be the third time at least that I've read it, but only the first time that I've tried to write down what I think it's about.

There is a lot more sex in it than I remembered, but women are barely visible except as seen by men - there's only one speaking human female character (plus a cow plus perhaps the Good Fairy). Oddly enough the cover of this edition is a picture of a man and a woman by Jack B. Yeats, with the two separated by the spine of the book so that they are apart rather than together as the artist intended.

One can imagine the origins of the book as being a series of fantasies told in the pub, especially the all-male Dublin pub environment of the 1930s. It's about telling stories and the tellers of stories; it's about confronting the epic with the demotic; it's about the supernatural encountering the familiar; it's about a student, a hotel full of characters and Sweeny the wanderer. It's quite hard work to read as well.

I still like The Third Policeman more, but I can see why people get obsessed with At Swim-Two-Birds.

December Books 6) Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2008

6) Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2008

A great gift for the eight-year-old (or, cough, older) fan in your life this Christmas. Includes two comic strips by Davey Moore and a prose story by Jusrtin Richards (both featuring the Tenth Doctor and Martha), plus numerous random facts about both science and Who lore. The Krynoid from The Seeds of Doom is the one Old Who monster featured which has not appeared in New Who - will we see it make a comeback in 2008? The most interesting bit I thought was the two-page spread on the Master (though the bit on the Daleks was rather good too).

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