August 5th, 2012


August Books 2) Dark Horizons, by J.T. Colgan

This is another welcome manifestation of the new BBC policy of commissioning Doctor Who books from authors who are well known outside the sub-genre. Colgan is the author of a dozen or more chick-lit novels (I think I actually have read her first, Amanda's Wedding), but here she has served up a tense and well-written story of Eleven-on-his-own landing in the tenth century in the north of what we now call Scotland, and encountering a fiery alien menace as well as Vikings. There are some brilliantly vivid descriptive passages and some nice character moments for the Doctor, as well as a decently handled romantic subplot which is not allowed to take over the story. In general the new run of Who books by other authors is proving pretty successful.

August Books 3) The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong

I was really impressed by this historical account of religious fundamentalism (well, of Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism) over the centuries up to 1999. I have not always been convinced by Armstrong's approach of parallelling changes in different cultures that happened at the same time, but this worked really well for me, disposing breezily with the importance of balancing logos and mythos, tracking the different religions' responses to the Enlightenment and modernisation, and then exploring the parallel rise of hardline fundamentalist reaction in all three traditions during the late twentieth century. For the most recent period, Armstrong also restricts her geographical focus down to the USA for Christianity, Israel for Judaism, and Egypt and Iran for Islam, which means of course that all kinds of interesting material from elsewhere is simply omitted. But those are all fascinating countries, and I found her analyses of the religious politics of Israel and Iran particularly illuminating.

Writing in 1999, Armstrong thought that fundamentalism was establishing a new equilibrium after a period when it had appeared insurgent and had then suffered a series of defeats in the 1980s and 1990s. I think she would now agree that we have seen a distinct rise in the strength of fundamentalism in all three traditions in the years since. In the last few pages she looks at how the rest of us should deal with fundamentalism. Repression does not work, she points out, and indeed makes these movements stronger; we must remember that they are based on fear and incomprehension. Rather we should challenge fundamentalists on their own ground, on their lack of compassion for their fellow human beings; this is where they miss a crucial core value to all three of the religious traditions. Definitely worth reading if you are interested in understanding the extremists.

August Books 4) Spectrum IV, ed. Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest

A collection of 14 sf short stories, published in 1965; all of them are by men, and most are from the early sixties, but the two standout pieces, "The Marching Morons" by Cyril Kornbluth and "Barrier" by Anthony Boucher, are both a bit older (1951 and 1942 respectively). It may just be the editors' taste, but an awful lot of these seemed to be set in future dystopias with a strong distrust and dislike of the common herd. The collection is prefaced by an interview with C.S. Lewis conducted by Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss.