April 30th, 2009

prisoner

April Books 21) The Prisoner, by Robert Fairclough

I'm laid up in bed with a stinking cold today, so getting through my to-read pile at a sedate (and sedated) rate.

I followed up my recently renewed enthusiasm for The Prisoner by getting hold of several of the books about it, and this seemed the best starting point: 135 pages of The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV series, by Robert Fairclough, with a (rather incoherent) foreword by Kenneth Griffith in the absence of McGoohan. It's a good basic guide to how The Prisoner came to be made, six pages of info on each episode, and then some follow-up chapters on its impact at the time and later influence, both on popular culture in general and on Portmeirion in particular. It certainly made me want to go back and re-watch a couple of the episodes which I didn't properly appreciate last time I saw them.

The story that isn't told, but which I imagine I'll find elsewhere, is how and when relations between McGoohan and his sponsors deteriorated to the point where the plug was pulled, with only 17 of the planned 26+ episodes being made. Likewise, some pulling together of how McGoohan drove the creative team (including himself) insane would have been usefully illustrative. (And why did the very first Number Two, Guy Doleman, unexpectedly leave the filming several days early?)

I was also interested to note that The Prisoner was shown over all of England and Scotland, but not Wales or Northern Ireland, in its first 1967-8 run. I wonder if there was any particular reason for that?
earthsea

April Books 22) Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

Well, I've ploughed through the almost 900 pages of novel (plus 20-page glossary, plus 25 pages of supplementary material), and I reckon this gets my Hugo vote. (I've read all the other nominees except Zoe's Tale, but given my track record with Scalzi's writing I'm unlikely to put it at the top of my list.)

At first I thought this was going to be some sort of combination of The Tombs of Atuan, The Name of the Rose and philosophy of science; our hero is a trainee scholar in a rigidly ritualistic academic culture which covers his entire world. But then it turns out that this is a First Contact story, and we have the build-up to a brilliantly described commando raid in deep space. And our hero resolves the problems in his love-life, so the romantic in me was satisfied too.

I particularly enjoyed Stephenson's playing with words: the honorific "Saunt" drawing on both savant and saint, the "Concent" combining the characteristics of a convent with undertones of concentration and concepts, our hero's name "Erasmas" echoing most obviously Erasmus but perhaps also Rasselas and others with similar names. There are a lot of neat and witty allusions to well-known concepts in the history and philosophy of science. Erasmas' home, the Concent of Saunt Edhar, is located at 51.3° north, the same latitude as London, or Greenwich, or indeed Bath where Herschel discovered the planet Uranus.

Stephenson loses marks on a couple of technical points, though. I mentioned last week that he has his polar orbits wrong. Also, like Asimov in The Gods Themselves, he has matter brought into universes where the nuclear forces don't operate in quite the same way, in which case I would expect the atoms to either collapse or explode, though I suppose there could be some handwaving explanation (or perhaps I've misunderstood what "newmatter" is supposed to be).

I expect it will be a tight race between Anathem and The Graveyard Book for the Hugo this year. My vote goes to Anathem.
earthsea

April Books 23) Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy

I don't believe I'd read a word of Hardy before I started this book. It's not as bad as I feared, though it moves awfully slowly, is annoyingly condescending to people with funny accents, and fails to really challenge gender narratives for today's reader. Hardy no doubt meant well and perhaps even intended to be a bit feminist in his presentation of Tess's story, but it doesn't really work; one wishes that he had let her be more of an actor (before the crime at the end of the book) and that he had shown the men who treat her so badly in a more unforgiving light. I'm not wild about Hardy after reading this, but I won't spurn him either if his books come up in my reading.

One of the delights of Bookmooch is that, if you are not too fussy, you can get books that have acquired some character from their previous owner. My copy came to me from a young woman in Florida, who has conducted a spirited conversation with Hardy by highlighter on the text and ballpoint pen in the margin, her disagreements with him being similar to mine. At the bottom of one page, she has written that she "♡'s Dan Eckstein". Lucky Dan.