February 25th, 2012



I've been entertaining myself o the commute for the last couple of weeks with episodes of the mid-noughties BBC sf sitcom Hyperdrive, which managed two series of six episodes in 2006 and 2007. The only core cast member who I was familiar with was Miranda Hart, whose own sitcom I have caught occasionally; the star is Nick Frost as Commander Henderson, charged with protecting British interests in a changing galaxy through his command of the spaceship H.M.S. Camden Lock, and somewhat reminiscent of David Brent of The Office except nicer (and therefore less interesting).

I can see why no third series was commissioned and am a bit surprised that it managed a second. The two best episodes are in the middle of the first series. The third episode, "Weekend Off", breaks with the usual sitcom format to explore the relationships between the characters, and by this stage one has started to learn enough about them to care. Of course, everything has to be reset at the end of the half-hour, but it was fun while it lasted. And in the fifth episode, "Clare", the crew encounter a woman who is travelling single-handed round the galaxy, Ellen MacArthur-style, played with fantastic carpet-chewing psychotic energy by Sally Phillips, who completely steals the show. Other guest stars worth noting include Geoffrey McGivern, the original Ford Prefect, who plays an alien warlord, and Paterson Joseph as the Space Marshal who is Henderson's boss. But in general I felt that a decent enough cast weren't given terribly oromising material to work with, and the results will be quickly forgotten.

February Books 15) Year's Best SF 24, ed. Gardner Dozois

I used to get the Dozois anthology every year and read it immediately, but this habit faded out a few years back, so I am now reading his 2007 collection of the best stories of 2006 for the first time. Most of these stories were indeed fresh for me; four (I think) were Hugo nominees, and I'd read a couple of others in other collections (or possibly even in the original magazine publication). As usual, Dozois shows excellent taste, though my 2007 records are not in good enough shape to tell me if I think he got a better or worse result than the Hugo or Nebula nomination system. The story that stood out for me as a new discovery was Carolyn Ives Gilman's "Okanoggan Falls", a disturbing tale of alien occupation and human resistance. I may get back into the Dozois habit.

February Books 16) My Traitor's Heart, by Rian Malan

A truly powerful memoir, partly telling Malan's own story as a lefty journalist of hardline Afrikaner stock, and partly also an introduction to the dialect and grammar of South African political violence, particularly of the 1980s (the book came out in 1990, when it was clear that change was coming to South Africa but not at all clear what it would be or even how it would come).

The accounts of the various atrocities carried out by South Africans on each other are pretty stark, but Malan's message is clear: this was a racial problem, not a class war (of course, he was writing before the fall of Communism), and the only ultimate choice for the Afrikaners and for South Afrtica's other whites was to surrender to majority rule, with all the risks and dangers it entailed - not for strategic reasons (though the security situation was not viable in the medium or long term) but for moral reasons.

Back in my student days, I had a couple of right-wing acquaintances who would mutter that Mandela was actually guilty or that the death rate from black-on-black violence was much greater than the death rate from whites killing blacks. These points might have been true but Malan makes it clear that they were irrelevant, in a system constructed by the people he calls "the mad architects of apartheid". It was noticeable that these views tended to come from Tories rather than white South Africans, who generally wished it could all be over soon.

Anyway, I learned a lot from this book, and will stew gently on the implications for similar situations elsewhere.