January 30th, 2012


The answer to the question

The story about the failure of e-government was slightly adapted from one of my favourite political gossip columns, Tales from the Coffee Shop, which appears weekly in the English-language Cyprus Mail. But I think it is invidious to single out that particular government; there are a number of other places that it could equally well have been, as your answers illustrated.
Lib Dem, libdem

How should British vacancies in the European parliament be filled?

The fuss over replacing Diana Wallis as MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber appears to have died down, with her husband, Stewart Arnold, who was the second-placed candidate on the list, announcing that he will not take up the seat; it was then offered to third-placed candidate Rebecca Taylor, who has accepted it.

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The normally sane and sensible Mark Pack proposes that in the event of a vacancy, party activists should select from those originally nominated, re-ranking the remaining candidates on the list. The only advantage of this is that it could be put into effect by internal party rules without a change in the law. Otherwise, it risks failing because the number of candidates will be very few. As I reported previously, nine candidates were on the ballot for the six list spots in Yorkshire and the Humber last time round. Under Pack's proposal, members would now choose not between those nine, but between the remnants of the six who were chosen in 2008, one of whom has just resigned the seat, one of whom has just refused to take it, and one of whom I understand has since left the Lib Dems. I'm not sure that a new ranking of the remaining three candidates by party members is a terribly meaningful exercise of democracy. It would be much preferable to widen the pool, either by a list of registered substitutes as we have here in Belgium, or by simply allowing the party leader to approve whoever local party structures nominate, as is done in Northern Ireland. That would require a change in the law, of course, but it was a change that all Northern Ireland's political parties were able to agree to; perhaps they could bring their experience of consensus politics across the water where it is obviously needed.

The Curse of Davros

I have been known to get unreasonably excited about Doctor Who stories set in Belgium, and I must admit that I was thrilled when it became clear that Big Finish's latest audio takes shape-shifting Daleks to the Battle of Waterloo, trying to engineer a French victory. When we first moved to this country we lived in the next town north of Waterloo and I would occasionally go there on Sundays looking for the English papers, there being a thriving expat community there. And parts of this story are set in Wavre which I pass through more often than not during my morning commute.

To be honest, though, the Belgianness of this story is a bit disappointing. As with the last Belgian Who story I encountered, we are merely a place where a battle between other tribes of humans is interfered with by non-humans and there isn't a single Belgian character in the play. (And yes, I know we didn't become independent until 1830, but the characters here are English, French, Daleks, Davros and the Doctor.) And geography is rather telescoped - one gets the feeling that Wavre is just around the corner from Waterloo, whereas it's a good half-hour's drive even on today's roads.

This is mere technical quibbling and whining of course. This is really one of the better aliens-will-change-Earth-history stories. It's also unusual for a Dalek story to try and take us inside the minds of the creatures. Colin Baker and Terry Molloy get called upon to deliver a lot more than usual as the Doctor and Davros, and rise to the challenge very entertainingly. And new companion Flip, played by Lisa Greenwood, is a great contrast both with Baker, who she seems to have an instant rapport with, and with the unspoken presence of Billie Piper's Rose, who shares a number of narrative points with her. She also has a good exchange with Molloy about Davros and disability, which is a strong sub-theme of the piece. It's rather a delight to hear her in action, though a bit sobering to reflect that as far as I can tell she had not yet been born when Colin Baker was the Doctor on TV.

I see that Terrance Dicks brought the Second Doctor to Waterloo as part of Season 6B, and look forward to getting to grips with that too. But for now, while this story may not completely satisfy Belgian perfectionists, it's rather a good new lease of life for the Sixth Doctor.

BSFA awards 2011 - best novel - intro

I haven't read any of the nominees for Best Novel in this year's BSFA wards, and will start scrambling to make up that deficiency (especially if I can do so before the Hugo nomination deadline at end of March). But I thought I would check up the vital statistics of the contenders on various websites:

LibraryThingGoodreadsAmazon.co.uk (hard copy)Amazon.co.uk (Kindle)
Embassytown by China Mieville732 owners2,237 ratingsSales rank 1,810Sales rank 4,089
Islanders by Christopher Priest25 owners32 ratingsSales rank 38,592Sales rank 13,721
By Light Alone by Adam Roberts25 owners25 ratingsSales rank 14,014Sales rank 30,423
Osama by Lavie Tidhar14 owners6 ratingsSales rank 454,785Sales rank 77,426
Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith6 owners5 ratingsSales rank 1,882,739Sales rank 10,556

There are some interesting features there (Cyber Circus clearly doing far better on Kindle sales than otherwise) but it's pretty clear who must be considered the favourite this year. Now I just need to decide if I think that is justified....