June 4th, 2011


June Books 2) Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

It must be around thirty years since I read this book, which came towards the end of Dickens' career (followed only by Our Mutual Friend and Edwin Drood). For today's reader, the portrayal of the poor as either comic or villainous grates somewhat, redeemed a bit by Magwitch's personal history when we eventually find out about it; and few of the middle-class characters are very nice people either (particularly the women). It seems a somehow mean-spirited book, holding a slightly distorting mirror up to society without really digging into the wider causes of human misery. Wikipedia has the original ending, where it is clear that Pip has lost Estrella for ever, and that seems actually a rather more appropriate send-off than the revised version's reunion.

June Books 3) The Taint, by Michael Collier

Nineteen adventures into the Eighth Doctor series, and he finally gets a new companion in the shape of Fitz Kreiner (I have seen a claim somewhere that there are more stories with Fitz than for any other companion), picked up on a visit to 1963 in which his mother is killed by the gruesomely horrible Taine, leech-like internal parasites feeding on brainwaves. The writing is decent enough; I was a bit startled by Fitz's unreconstructed early Sixties predatory masculinity directed to Sam, having only read later stories in the range; presumably he mellows out in the course of the series.

June Books 4) The Unwritten, Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, by Mike Carey

Volume 2 of this series has been nominated for the Hugo this year, but I though I should start at the beginning; I must say if Volume 2 is half as good as this it will probably be getting my vote. Four of the five issues compiled here are the story of Tommy Taylor, son of the vanished writer Wilson Taylor who has immortalised him as the hero of a series of Harry Potter-like books; a series of revelations leads to a confrontation at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland, interrogating the boundaries between genres and between literature and real life. I thought it was witty and horrific, and really enjoyed it. The fifth issue is a secret history of Rudyard Kipling's life as an unwilling tool of the secret masters of world literature. I hadn't read anything by Mike Carey before, as far as I remember, and I've obviously been missing out.

Birthday coincidence

I just realised, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, that both my oldest first cousin and my youngest first cousin have birthdays today. The one is about 40 and the other about 20. My mother is the oldest of nine children, and I am the oldest of my grandfather's grandchildren (he was married twice). Altogether there are 22 of us, with I think about 17 in the next generation so far (my own three children, my two nieces, and a dozen offspring of our other cousins). I don't think we have ever all been in the same place at the same time, and there's at least one I haven't seen in twenty-five years.

My father, on the other hand, had only one sister who had no children. Funny how families vary.

June Books 5) Blackout, by Connie Willis

First half of the two-volume novel which won the Nebula last month and has been nominated for the Hugo. We are back in the time travel world of Fire Watch, Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, where near-future historians at Oxford send graduate students back to key points of British history (though their research methodology is never adequately explained).

The portrayal of wartime Britain is relentless and in the end wearyingly sentimentalised, the history students too busy being caught up in the moment to reflect on what they are doing there and what they might learn. There is an awful lot of running around and missed communication, and then the book ends in mid-story, without even the dignity of a decent cliffhanger, the publisher expecting you to buy the next volume to see how it ends. I will, but will wait until it is available as a second-hand paperback.

I was interested to note however that some of the errors of detail mercilessly catalogued by drplokta here and here seem to have been fixed - in particular, I was looking out for references to the Victoria and Jubilee lines and didn't spot either. The version I have is the free ebook supplied to Hugo voters, so perhaps it has been revised in the year or so since his notes.

Of the time travel stories, this doesn't annoy me as much as Fire Watch, whose errors of setting make it almost unreadable for me, but it is much less enjoyable than To Say Nothing of the Dog and a far less good novel (at least so far) than Doomsday Book. I shall do a post ranking the Hugo nominated novels tomorrow but you can safely assume that this will not be top of my list.