December 27th, 2010

politics

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tardis

Whoniversaries 27 December: Noel Johnson, Christopher Benjamin

i) births and deaths

27 December 1916: birth of Noel Johnson who played King Thous in The Underwater Menace (1967) and Sir Charles Grover in Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974)

27 December 1934: birth of Christopher Benjamin, who played Sir Keith Gold in Inferno (1970), Henry Gordon Jago in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977) and the Big Finish Jago and Litefoot stories since 2009, and Colonel Hugh Curbishley in The Unicorn and the Wasp (2008) as well as Tardelli in the 2008 Eighth Doctor audio Grand Theft Cosmos.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

None. This is the last such day in the calendar year; the next 177 days (178 if leading into a leap year) all have broadcast Whoniversaries, until 22 June ends the run.
buzz

December Books 17) The Space Race, by Deborah Cadbury

I didn't see the TV series that this book accompanies (a four-part drama-documentary filmed in Romania) but it's a good read anyway, framing the 1950's and 1960's competition between the USA and USSR as essentially a competition between two men, Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev, who never met but sent each other (and their countries) effective messages by rocket. The Wikipedia page objects that Cadbury is too harsh about Korolev's internal rival Glushko, but otherwise it seems to me an admirable piece of historical reconstruction, paring down the wealth of material available on the American side to match the smaller and more recently revealed archives from the Russian side.

Like most people I suppose I was more familiar with the von Braun story - from building the V2 with slave labour to chief architect of the Saturn V - and Cadbury devotes a lot of the early book to showing how the two men's different experiences of mid-twentieth century totalitarianism shaped their lives; von Braun successfully surrendered to the Americans with most of his team as the Nazi regime collapsed, Korolev imprisoned in the gulag for a decade. It is interesting that von Braun, rather than Korolev, was hampered by internal political constraints, largely because his face didn't fit and through the late 1950s various arms of the US government tried to find other, more American, engineers who would put stuff in space quicker (and they failed).

Having said that, Korolev had to go right to the top, one dispute between him and Glushko being personally resolved by Krushchev. Korolev was also fortunate in that the failures of his programme could be hushed up. But he seems to have had a lucky touch as well; he took a number of chances with the Soviet space programme, including with the lives of the astronauts, which fortunately succeeded (and intimidated the Americans), and after his death in 1966 the wheels came off - Vladimir Komarov killed on re-entry in 1967, the failure of the N1 rocket, the deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew; all problems that might easily have happened on Korolev's watch but somehow didn't.

Unlike a lot of space histories, this one runs out of steam when we get to the moon landing, having lost the central dynamic of the rivalry between the two chief engineers. But there's plenty to think about anyway.
earthsea

December Books 18) Fair Play, by Tove Jansson

This is a lovely lovely book about two women who live together yet separately, work separately but together, and discuss (or don't discuss) the deep and meaningful things of life with each other, and with friends, relatives and strangers, in that laconic, efficient and profound way that the Finns have. The romantic reader will want to believe that Mari and Jonna in the book are basically Tove Jansson herself and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä, be that as it may, you will reach the last page cheering for any long-term relationship or marriage as intimate and successful as the one depicted here.
questions

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earthsea

December Books 19) Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe (vol. 5) by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Penultimate volume of this tremendously entertaining series. The next two evil ex-boyfriends turn out to be very tall Japanese twin brothers. (They appear on page 11 so this is hardly a spoiler.) But what of Scott's relationship with Ramona, with her cat, and indeed with reality? I guess we will find out in the next and final book.