January 20th, 2008


January Books 5) The City of the Dead

5) The City of the Dead, by Lloyd Rose

I got this simply because it is the highest-rated Doctor Who novel of any epoch by LibraryThing users, and I wanted a) to assess whether LibraryThing ratings can be considered a reasonable guide to quality and b) if it is worth giving the BBC series of Eighth Doctor Adventures another go, having been underwhelmed by my previous samplings.

Well, the answer to both questions seems to be a reasonably firm Yes. The setting of the story in Who continuity is unfamiliar to me - the Doctor is suffering from partial amnesia for some reason, and I have read nothing else with either of the two companions, Fitz and Anji. But the portrayal of the Eighth Doctor (amnesia apart) is consistent with the Big Finish audios, and I thought Anji came across well as an interesting character (Fitz rather less so).

I also felt initially suspicious about the setting, among occultists in New Orleans. Indeed, there is no scientific hand-waving anywhere in the book to explain away the magic - spells and summonings work, and elementals are real. Yet in the end I was satisfied; there are plenty of sf stories (indeed, many Doctor Who stories!) where there is detailed technobabble to explain what is going on, but the means and motivation of the bad guys remain unconvincing, and this is not one of them. Also the New Orleans setting was well sketched out (I suppose - I've never been there), and the plot had some genuine surprises - Lloyd Rose clearly has a good knack of misdirection. Plus the Doctor actually, possibly, maybe, has an intimate encounter, discreetly described.

I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd read more of this series, but if this is the best then some of the others must be pretty decent too.
dancing cyberman

Doing something interesting with the Cybermen

As ever, I'm a bit behind with my Who-blogging - in particular I want to do a decent write-up of the I, Davros series which I listened to commuting last week - but two of the recent batch had something interesting in common.

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Neither of these is as good as the greatest Cyberman story ever, which is Spare Parts, but they both take the Cyberman concept to places it has not gone on TV, where the only original Cyberman story after their first appearance is Tomb of the Cybermen - sad to say, the most interesting thing a Cyberman does in their 2006 incarnation is the fooling around on the gag reel of the DVDs which is the source for my icon (thanks again to bohemiancoast).

January Books 6) Endgame in Ireland

6) Endgame in Ireland, by Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick

This is basically a chronological account of the peace process, starting really from the Brighton bomb in 1984 and finishing in the depressing summer of 2001 when everything appeared to be stalemated. Mallie and McKittrick have used the archives of the four-part BBC series of the same name, which I haven't seen, but which I imagine covers much the same points in much the same way. I didn't really learn a lot from this, except that (as ever) my perceptions of what was happening through the media at the time were only loosely linked with the reality of behind the scenes; and the tale of the internal wranglings of the Ulster Unionist Party are now an incidental detail of history - the real story is now the shift in the DUP approach over the last few years. It's well-written and thorough but has now been overtaken by events.

Blue flags on LibraryThing

Looking through my reviews on LibraryThing I found to my alarm that seven of them have been flagged as "not a review". I had no idea that this system was in operation, and no idea until I checked that my reviews had been flagged in this way; in addition, I would defend each of the flagged reviews as being very definitely a review - one of them is actually pretty substantial:

Actually *is* a review!


Links to a review on my site or my blog!


It seems to me that the blue flagging system adds no value whatsoever to LibraryThing; the fact that you aren't told when your review has been flagged and that there is no apparent way of unflagging incorrectly flagged reviews makes it even worse. It should simply be scrapped.

Edited to add: Well, you can now undo a blue flag, which is better than nothing!

Interviews on a Sunday night

It's the return of the interview meme! Some of these questions date from a while back - I have tracked down a number of you to whom I already owe five questions, and will try and deal with those tomorrow.

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I respond by asking you five questions so I can get to know you better.
3. You will either update your LJ with the answers to the questions or post them here.
4. If you repost you will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the post; if you answer here, then any of my friends (or me) can do a set of follow up questions, but you get to ask them stuff too.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you can ask them five questions.
6. Or you can just ask me five question in comments here if you prefer.

Questions from mountainkiss:

  1. How did you get into your line of work? Collapse )
  2. What do you find most rewarding about what you do, and what would you change if you could? Collapse )
  3. You seem extraordinarily sociable, you read a lot of difficult books and write thoughtful commentary, you do demanding work that involves travel and you are clearly devoted to your family. How do you find the time for all this, and what are the challenges associated with work/life balance for you? Collapse )
  4. If you were in charge of the political system, what would you change to make it work better? Collapse )
  5. What are the policy areas that are most important to you and why? Collapse )
From chickenfeet2003:

  1. I've spent a fair amount of time over the years in the Free State but I've never visited NI. What do you see as the biggest differences? Collapse )
  2. I just don't get the appeal of Dr. Who. Enlighten me! Collapse )
  3. If the lemur and I were to visit SE Europe where should we go? Collapse )
  4. You have travelled more than most. Given a free choice where would you choose to live and why? Collapse )
  5. You describe yourself as a 'lapsed medievalist'. Who among medievalists do you most admire? Collapse )
altariel asks:

  1. We share a great admiration for Bujold. Which other female authors do you admire? Collapse )
  2. You started out as a scientist and became a historian. How did your scientific training inform your historical imagination? How did your historical training influence your understanding of science? Collapse )
  3. What poetry do you like? Collapse )
  4. From my uninformed position, the future of Northern Ireland looks brighter than it has throughout my lifetime. Do you agree? To what do you attribute the successes so far? Collapse )
  5. Which five fictional characters would you most like to shag? Collapse )

From applez:

  1. For work and fiction, how many different languages do you most frequently read in? Collapse )
  2. Roughly what are the percentages? (e.g. is English still the reading you do in the main? Not edged out by French?) Collapse )
  3. Regarding memory: how often have you encountered a multi-lingual group where there isn't a shared third language between the group, and you find yourself doing simultaneous translation? Add-on: how often has it gone pear-shaped and you've given the correct narrative in the wrong language to the given group/individual? Collapse )
  4. Regarding memory: remembering past conversations, dreams, of the written word - do you remember it in the language it was first absorbed in, or does the language melt away to the remembered meaning, or is it all translated to your mother-tongue? Collapse )