October 1st, 2011


September Books

I've spent most of last week in the peculiar alternate reality that is a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, so am behind with bookblogging (and much else). But anyway, here is my roundup for September; where necessary, links will be added later.

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September Books 19) Tragedy Day, by Gareth Roberts

I read this with some interest given that we had an episode by Roberts on TV last weekend, but there's not much connection between them; this is a satire on media culture, with some particularly vicious digs at cult tv and charity fund-raising, with plot elements including an evil child genius, celebrity androids and voracious genetically engineered monsters. Points for having a gay character without making a big deal of it.

September Books 20) The Return of the Shadow, by J.R.R. Tolkien

My decision to read the whole History of Middle Earth came as a result of getting a boxed set of this and the next couple of books in the series, which all deal with the writing of The Lord of the Rings, at a book fair a couple of years ago; but of course it is actually the sixth in the series, the first five dealing with what became The Silmarillion. Here we have three-ish drafts of The Lord of the Rings up to the exploration of Moria. It is striking how quickly Tolkien shifted tone from the young-reader-ish style of The Hobbit, which surivives in the very first draft of the first chapter, but really no further, to adopt a more mature voice. But it's also interesting to see the evolution of the character who became Strider, at first a mysterious hobbit called Trotter who turns out to be a long-lost cousin of Bilbo's called Peregrine. The names and characters of Frodo and his friends changed very substantially between rewrites (though the dialogue between them was surprisingly constant). The original Fellowship includes the four hobbits from the Shire, Troter, Gandalf and Boromir but no dwarf or elf. At one point the editor quotes his father's marginal note "Christopher wants Odo kept" but admits that he is unable now to remember why (Odo ends up party Frodo and partly Pippin). The geography and distances between Bree and Rivendell are chopped about a bit, leaving some inconsistency in the published book. It's a fascinating insight into how revising a text can make it stronger, and how sometimes bits in the middle come right almost immediately while you are still tinkering with the beginning.

September Books 21) The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole

Oxford World's Classics edition, with grrr endnotes. mid-eighteenth century Gothic novel which is widely seen as one of the fore-runners of the genre. An aristocratic wedding is interrupted by ghostly apparitions which crush the intended bridegroom and ultimately reveal the true heir. I was interested to find that the morality play of marriage and inheritance rather overshadows the supernatural stuff, but I'm afraid I wasn't really grabbed by it as a whole.

September Books 22) Unnatural History, by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman

This year's Who has taken a lot of liberties with Amy and her personal timeine - more than I can remember being taken with any previous TV companion, apart from some of the things that happened to Sarah Jane Smith in the SJA - so it's interesting to read an earlier example of this approach, with Sam Jones, the Doctor's companion for most of the 22 previous EDAs, suddenly transformed into a dark-haired version of herself who never left London. Meanwhile in San Francisco the Doctor and Fitz are dealing with the mysterious Faction Paradox, helped by an enigmatic Time Lord calling himself Daniel Joyce, and trying to set things back on track. gorgeously written in places, and managed to keep me very intrigued as to how the authors could possibly resolve the story in a satisfactory way. (They did.)

September Books 23) Federal Union Now, by Andrew Duff

Andrew Duff MEP is a fervent federalist, and published this pamphlet last month arguing for the EU - or at least those countries within it which are willing - to move to a genuine federal economic government structure to better coordinate fiscal and monetary policy in a way which the markets and voters will find credible. He also proposes a new form of associate membership for those countries (such as, probably, the UK) that might not want to participate in the new federal structures, an inevitable consequence of one of his other proposals which is that the EU Treaties ought to be easier to amend. Andrew is in the avant-garde in these discussions in most of the EU (and the British debate on this largely takes place on another planet) but his proposals are in fact entirely sensible. I've spent the last week in Strasbourg working on an unrelated project with Andrew; in the end we didn't get the votes but it was worth trying.

September Books 24) The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson

Having hugely enjoyed the first in the series, despite the hype, I am glad to report that I thought The Girl Who Played With Fire was even better; what at first appears to be a tense but ultimately private and tragic tale of revenge for past abuse turns into a thriller with national and international complications; it's like the best of the Rebus novels, but with more attractive characters and much nastier sex. Very highly recommended; reading the first book first isn't necessary but is desirable.

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Autograph identification

I'm glad to say that I possess a copy of the Other Edens anthology, edited by Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock, which has been autographed by the cover artist and all but two of the authors.

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The authors are, in order of inclusion in the contents, Tanith Lee, Christopher Evans, M. John Harrison, Ian Watson, Brian Aldiss, Graham Charnock, Robert Holdstock, Michael Moorcock, Garry Kilworth, R. M. Lamming, David S. Garnett, David Langford, Keith Roberts, and Lisa Tuttle, and the cover art is by Jim Burns. It's pretty clear that Burns' signature is on the inside front cover, and the title page has been signed by twelve people. Most of the signatures are more or less clear enough for me to read them; two I am not sure of (though I think they are Robert Holdstock and Tanith Lee), and that means there must be two authors missing (probably Ian Watson and Keith Roberts).

Tanith Lee?

Robert Holdstock?

I guess that some of you may have books signed by the doubtful or missing authors; please enlighten me!