July 18th, 2009

tardis

July Books 19) Verdigris, by Paul Magrs

A novel featuring the Third Doctor, Jo Grant, UNIT and Magrs' own invention, Iris Wildthyme, a renegade Time Lady whose Tardis is shaped like a double decker bus and who claims to be the Doctor's on-off girlfriend. Magrs recycled a lot of the jokes and some of the plot from this book for the Big Finish audio Excelis Dawn, with Iris (as per usual) played by Katy Manning. But Verdigris is an amusing sideways look at the Third Doctor era, with the bad guys in one scene trying to convince Jo that it is all a cruel hoax: "Think about every alen artifact or creature you have ever seen. Weren't they always surrounded by a nimbus of blue light? Didn't they sometimes look a little ... unconvincing?" And Mike Yates gets reduced to a two-dimensional cardboard cutout, so not much change there then. It's not terribly substantial, with some promising elements (eg Iris' companion, Tommy) left unexplored, but quite good fun.

(I've also been listening to The Magician's Oath from Big Finish, also set in this period; Verdigris is better.)
earthsea

July Books 20) Dalek I Loved You, by Nick Griffiths

I enjoyed tremendously Griffiths' more recent book, Who Goes There?, so thought I should read his earlier memoir about growing up as a Doctor Who fan. It's amusing enough. Griffiths had a slightly but not very unusual childhood (much older parents, few close friends), and since then has had his fair share of career setbacks and failed relationships; he writes about it all with self-deprecating humour which could perhaps have been spiced up with a bit more passion. I imagine that people who like me and Griffiths were children in the UK in the mid-70s will enjoy this, but I think his other book has wider appeal.
manga-me

It's not what you first thought it was...

...trawling eBay for Whovian bargains, my eye was caught by an entry which ran as follows:
Blood and Justice: The 17th Century Parisian Doctor Who
Sounds interesting - another bit of canon that I had been unaware of, I thought. But then I checked out the full listing:
The 17th Century Parisian doctor who made blood transfusion history...

In 1667 a Parisian doctor by the name of Jean-Baptiste Denis performed an operation that had never previously been attempted - he transfused blood into another human being.
Ah well, that explains it. (That phrase "made blood transfusion history" is odd, isn't it? Makes it sound like he had it abolished!)
tardis

Big Finish catchup

It's ten years this month since Big Finish put the first of their audio Doctor Who plays on sale. I have just about caught up with the complete range (though not quite with all the spinoffs) and am mulling a big Big Finish post to explain it all to those of you (probably at least 90%) who haven't listened to any BF plays. Meanwhile these are the ten I caught up with most recently, in order of internal continuity rather than of when I listened to them or of release (apart from the new Three Companions episodes which go with the discs they came on).

Collapse )
Collapse )
Collapse )

Collapse )
Collapse )
Collapse )

Collapse )
Collapse )
Collapse )
Collapse )

So, of all of these, my only really strong recommendation goes to The Mahogany Murderers, which is also rather oddly the only one of the stories without an appearance from the Doctor or any of his companions. Most of the others can be skipped
war

July Books 21) Chronicle in Stone, by Ismail Kadarë

Kadarë's classic account of growing up in his home city of Gjirokastër during the second world war. I've never been there though a friend of mine is one of the local MPs, a minister in the outgoing Albanian government. Another local, nameschecked here as "Enver, the Hoxha boy", ended up running the country for four decades until his death in 1985.

Reading it so soon after Survival in Auschwitz made for an interesting contrast: Kadarë depicts an ancient society unwillingly dragged into modernity by the occupying Italians, Greeks and Germans, and by the British bombs dropped on the city. Our narrator tries to make sens of all this, by reading Macbeth and observing the weirdnesses of his neighbours and relatives.

The partisans are portrayed in a way as a brutal internal response - I am surprised that Kadarë got away with showing them as he did, in 1971; Hoxha's Albania was obviously very different from North Korea. And the war also terminates human relationships - directly, through death, and indirectly, through the destruction of the old customs of courtship and marriage - one of the most memorable characters is Kako Pino, who makes up the brides of Gjirokastër on their wedding days.

The truth is sometimes a bit difficult to pin down, and so is the exact text: the cover of the book says that the translation is by David Bellos, but Bellos in a very good introduction explains that the translation is mostly by Albanian dissident Arshi Pipa, who fell out with the original publisher and demanded that his name be removed. Bellos doesn't make it entirely clear if the English text here actually corresponds to any Albanian version of Kronikë në gur. For all that, it's Kadarë's least weird novel, of those that I have read, and perhaps his most approachable.
fergal

July Books 22) How to Make School Make Sense, by Clare Lawrence

This book is a very good set of explanations and ideas for helping one's child with Asperger's cope with the school environment: how to work the system as far as it is possible. Much of it seemed to me like plain common sense, but I realise that comes from years of dealing with our own situation, and also must concede that I don't recall seeing any of it written down anywhere previously. One very important point that Lawrence makes is that experience with and knowledge of Asperger's will dwindle as you go up the school hierarchy - the part-time teaching assistant assigned to the class may well know more than the class teacher, who in turn will probably know more than the principal. Although she is writing for a British audience I think most of what she says applies here too (though I'm pretty sure our services are better in general). I do regret, however, that she chose to use masculine pronouns for the Asperger's children and feminine pronouns for the teachers and other educators; it's a bit odd that a book trying to fight stereotypes in one area reinforces them in another.
earthsea

July Books 23) Fables vol 5: The Mean Seasons, by Bill Willingham

More excellent development in this very enjoyable series. Most of the book concerns the first year in the life of Snow White's children by Bigby Wolf, also the first year of the rule of Prince Charming after his displacement of Old King Cole. As usual, when I summarise it that way it seems absurd that I actually read it, but Willingham has made the survival of the Fable characters in today's New York, escaping their Adversary, very readable and grown-up.