December 26th, 2010


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Whoniversary 26 December

broadcast anniversary

26 December 1964: broadcast of "Flashpoint", the sixth episode of the story we now call The Dalek Invasion of Earth; final regular appearance of Carole Ann Ford as Susan. The Doctor and friends defeat the Daleks, but he decides that Susan should stay on Earth to marry David, the first ever departure of one of the regular cast.
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December Books 12) Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science, by Mary Roach

This is a book that I found very difficult to put down once I had unwrapped it yesterday. Mary Roach has written a hilarious account of scientists carrying out research on one of the most fundamental of human activities. It's something that most of us spend a lot of time (perhaps too much) thinking about anyway, but the stories of those who are researching it for a living are, well, stimulating. The biggest problem with the book is that you have to be slightly careful about the company you are in when tempted to read the most glorious passages out loud. I must also add that, like the author's husband apparently, I crossed my legs instinctively when reading about surgical interventions to fix male erectile dysfunction. But that discomfort is more than made up for by the breezy, sympathetic and witty descriptions of the whole topic. Very strongly recommended, and I'll look out eagerly for her other books.
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December Books 13) Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 1, by Fumi Yoshinaga

Like a lot of people, I suspect, I was intrigued and surprised when this year's James Tiptree Jr Award was shared between Cloud and Ashes by Greer Gilman (who I once had dinner with in Boston, though she will have forgotten) and this manga by Fumi Yoshinaga. I was sufficiently intrigued at any rate to put it on my Christmas list, and my kind sister got it for me (and in time to avoid the last few days' delivery problems).

It is an alternate history, set in a world where a gender-sensitive plague killed most of Japan's menfolk in the mid-17th century; the story itself is set a couple of generations later, in the early 18th century, in an era when men are prized as potential breeding stock but excluded from the levers of formal power. The first three of four issues collected here follow the story of Mizuno Yunoshin, a poor but good-looking boy who joins the Ōoku, essentially the harem of the shōgun, at a time of political change. (The fourth issue has the new shōgun looking into the archives and presumably setting up a framing narrative for historical flashbacks the next volume.)

It's a fascinating construction. This is a path that a couple of other writershave previously trodden, most notably John Wyndham in his story "Consider Her Ways" (where all men, rather than most, have become extinct). Apart from the information that men now become commodities to be traded on the marriage market, and that the plague has not affected other countries, most of this first volume simply looks at the inversion of gender relationships as applied to the shōgun's ōoku in our world. There's an extraordinary moment when the shōgun speaks to a visiting Dutch delegation from behind a curtain, so that they will not realise that she is a woman; and she then commands a historical exploration of why patriarchal nomenclature continues to be used. Indeed, although Mizuno Yonushin is the ostensible viewpoint figure of the first three issues, I found the new shōgun, Yoshitsune, much the most interesting character.

Anyway, I shall try and get hold of the remaining volumes - I see that the next three are available in English translation. Good for the Tiptree Award, for calling attention to fascinating works like this one.

December Books 14-16) I, Who; I, Who 2; and I, Who 3, by Lars Pearson

December Books 14) I, Who: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels, by Lars Pearson
December Books 15) I, Who 2: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios, by Lars Pearson
December Books 16) I, Who 3: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios, by Lars Pearson

I managed to pick these three up cheap off eBay a bit over a year ago, and though a little dated they were well worth adding to my Who reference library. Dating respectively from 1999, 2001 and 2003, they attempt to bring the reader up to date with the state of Who spinoff literature in the year of publication. I did my best to read only the pages dealing with books I have already read and audios I have already heard, which means a bit under half of the total page count. The first volume covers the complete Virgin range of New Adventures and Missing Adventures, and the early run of BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures; the second continues the EDA's and PDA's and also includes the first couple of years of Big Finish audios, but also dips back to give summaries of the first few years of Bernice Summerfield novels and Target companion stories and brings in a few more apocrypha (Death Comes To Time, The Curse of Fatal Death, The Masters of Luxor, Campaign); and the third continues the run of EDA's and PDA's, including now also Bernice Summerfield audios and books and Big Finish's first Dalek Empire sequence of audios.

I hadn't really thought about it, but Who spinoff fiction is actually rather poorly served in the reference literature, compared with the televised stories for which you can find many books listing every broadcast episode  in order of preference transmission. I think there is at least one other guide (or series of guides) to the Big Finish audios; I don't know of any other guide to the spinoff novels. There are of course also a couple of websites which provide the same service, but it's nice to be able to hold Pearson's hard copy in your hand and browse through it.

About 80% of the time I find myself largely in agreement with Pearson in his occasionally brutal assessments of the various stories under discussion, and where we disagree it is usually because I didn't like a story that he approves of (or else that I simply can't remember much about it). He is rather more positive about, say, Keith Topping than I would be; he's also very strong on Paul Cornell, and looking at, say, Timewyrm: Revelation or Goth Opera or Love and War in their historical context I can see why.

I have a couple of quibbles about the presentation. Pearson has ordered his reviews in (presumed) order of internal continuity rather than chronological publication; I have some sympathy with this approach (and will use it myself in my books of 2010 poll later this week) but it does badly disjoint some of the story arcs within both the Virgin and BBC ranges (particularly the Lawrence Miles sequence of Virgin novels), and also I query his decision to lump multi-Doctor stories with the latest rather than the earliest Doctor involved. It also seems odd that he omits the Tom Baker and Pertwee audios, other than by reference to their novelisations, and likewise the various BBV etc productions that were floating around at the time. And the audio reviews could have used a more systematic presentation of cast and crew in each case.

More troubling for me, I wonder if I have been taking the right approach in reading the novels myself. I switched at the start of this year from browsing the most popular of the NAs and EDAs to reading through them in order, skipping the ones I've already read; but I'm realising now that the narrative arc of both series is such that I will have to reread the previously perused books in sequence to get the full effect. I'm thinking also that I may tackle those of the Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures which I have not read in publication order as well. (And that will also apply to New Who novels.)

The I, Who series of books was produced at a time when it seemed that the audio and spinoff novel sequences where the only future of Who, and it's not hugely surprising that Pearson stopped producing them once New Who became a real prospect. He then went on to edit the About Time sequence of reference books to the TC stories (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and apparently a new series of reference guides called Fluid Links is planned, of which the first two will tackle the Eighth Doctor Adventures. I'm not even a quarter of the way through that series, but I'll get Pearson's next book on Who as soon as it comes out, whatever the subject.

The Shakespeare scene from "Time Flies" (1944)

This is a little curio. In the 1944 Tommy Handley film Time Flies, Handley and a couple of New York entertainers played by the wonderful Evelyn Dall and George Moon get zapped back to the Elizabethan era in a time machine that surely inspired the Tardis nineteen years later. I'd love to show you the time-travel scene (where our travellers collapse, incapacitated, as it takes off) but unfortunately I no longer have the technical means to do so. I can however bring you the two superb scenes where Evelyn Dall's character helps Shakespeare write Romeo and Juliet, and then (it being a musical comedy) she and the George Moon character burst into song to throw their pursuers off the scent, Shakespeare looking on approvingly, and the lead violinist being the young Stéphane Grappelli. I think this will cheer you up. (There's no Tommy Handley in this extract, which is frankly a bonus.)

Shakespeare here is played by John Salew, who also has small parts in Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob.