May 23rd, 2009


May Books 21) Fall Out, by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore

I knew the names of Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore from their excellent essays on Doctor Who, so I hoped very much that this book, subtitled "the Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to The Prisoner", would be up to the same standards. I'm glad to say it's the best of the four books I've read about the show, with decent analytical essays about each story (which run out of steam slightly around episode 10, but get their second wind by episode 13). They also have good pieces on the origin and sources, including a measured take on the different stories of how it was made garnered from participants, and a decent explanation of Danger Man. The Carrazé/Oswald book looks nicer but this is much more interesting.

And I have to give Telos, the publishers, fair credit; I have no complaints about the production and editing of this volume, unlike some of their other efforts.

May Books 22) EU Accession Dynamics and Conflict Resolution, by Nathalie Tocci

The title of this book sounds rather general, but it has a much more specific subtitle: "Catalysing Peace or Consolidating Partition in Cyprus?" The second of those options, at least from the perspective of late 2004 when the book was published, seems to have been the outcome. I know the author very well, and we have collaborated on Cyprus in the past, so a lot of what is in the book is exactly what I would expect her to write; in summary, it's a very good, lucid explanation of how it was that the EU manage to screw this one up, to the point that the accession process actually encouraged Greek Cypriots to reject the peace plan in the April 2004 referendum.

Even so, there were a couple of interesting points that hadn't occurred to me before. The first was Tocci's analysis of the dysfunctionality of EU institutions. Within the EU, Greece pushed Greek Cypriot interests, and the Commission worked on Greek Cypriot accession (as this was the mandate it had received from member states, at Greek insistence). Nobody in the EU actually had conflict resolution as their goal - certainly nobody who was a significant actor within the system. There was also a lack of information inside the EU about what was really going on in Cyprus, but I feel that even if (as I do) EU officials had had subscriptions to the daily headlines from the Cypriot press, that still wouldn't have provided the necessary motivation. The EU is good at resolving conflicts among its own members, but much less so along its borderlands.

The second point which jumped out at me is not Tocci's, but her summary of John Burton's general theory of conflict: that it arises when certain basic human needs (physical security, justice, recognition of one's identity) are frustrated. These are non-negotiable; the ways in which they can be satisfied ("satisfiers", eg local autonomy) however are negotiable. Secession is not an end in itself: the real desires are for security and self-determination. The introductory chapter summarises other writers such as Zartman and Galtung, but this was the point that really struck a chord with me. I'll need to hunt out Burton's work, and also any critiques that are out there.

May Books 23) Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, by John Scalzi

This is a compilation of Scalzi's writing from his blog, essentially a set of rants and thought pieces on various subjects. I only became aware of his blog when I featured on it myself, but his writing is entertaining (more than his fiction, for my taste). Some of his pieces are very memorable - my favourites were his funny pieces on Scooby Doo and cheese (sadly neither is archived online), and his more thoughtful pieces on poverty and Richard Dawkins. (Links provided so that you can decide if you want to read any more, given that I thought these were the best.) I expect this will win the Hugo Award for Best Related Book this year, though as I've said my own vote will be going elsewhere.