July 21st, 2013


Links I found interesting for 21-07-2013


Other people's Hugo votes

It's much more difficult to find online discussion of the Hugo nominees now than it was ten years ago. That doesn't mean it's not happening - I'm sure it is. But I suspect that the gardens of the internet are regaining their walls, which is a bit sad. Even two years ago (admittedly two days before the voting deadline, rather than ten) I found a lot more to work on.

Anyway, there are a few brave souls who have posted their likely votes on the fiction categories in places where I was able to find them. There were a number of others who had listed the nominees but didn't give me a clear enough idea of their rankings to include below; please shout if you feel unjustly excluded. If I am able, I may post an update as the voting deadline nears.

In two categories there is a pretty clear front-runner, and in the other two the votes seem more dispersed. This, of course, doesn't represent anything even approximating to an opinion poll: it is very far from a random sample, and I can entirely believe that there are fans of particular authors who will vote for their works but don't feel the need to blog about it, or even necessarily to read the competition. But it's interesting to read the analysis of people who have read the same stories and taken very different things from them.

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So, there we are. When I did the same exercise two years ago, the blogging consensus did not pick a single one of the eventual four winners.

Needless to say, if any of those linked to feel that I have mischaracterised them (or even worse, mis-identified them) in any way, please get in touch.


July Books 11) Vanishing Point, by Steve Cole

‘You’ve had your child kidnapped by a madman, have you?’ Etty snapped.
‘Oh, yes,’ the Doctor said quietly. He stared off vacantly into space, the memory clearly tugging at him. ‘And I got her out, too.’
‘And superb.’ He grinned.
A pretty solid Eighth Doctor Adventure, with Doctor, Fitz and Anji pitching up on a planet where the powers that be are engaged in dark manipulations of genetics with a religious cover for their activities. Much more detailed and thoughtful than Cole's base-under-siege stories (which are generally pretty good anyway). Loses a couple of points for inconsistency of setting between blasted heath and robot city. Mercifully free of tedious Doctor amnesia.

July Books 12) Fantastic Voyage, by Isaac Asimov

"In principle we can reduce a man to the size of a bacterium, of a virus, of an atom. There is no theoretical limit to the amount of miniaturization. We can shrink an army with all its men and equipment to a size that will fit in a match-box. Ideally, we could then ship that match-box where it is needed and put the army into business after restoring it to full size. You see the significance?"
The story of a mission ministurised and injected into the bloodstream of an ailing scientist to cure him, the protagonists being four men and a woman who, this being an Asimov story, is the centre of some dubious sexual politics. The whole thing is very much in the Cold War context, the miniaturisation technology being fairly blatantly a parallel of nuclear technology.

Although I am aware of the general course of Asimov's career, I hadn't previously known some of the details of this book - that it was intended to be the novelisation of the film, but because Asimov finished faster than the studio it was actually published several months before the film was released; that he tweaked various details to make it more plausible than the film script; that the story it was based on was actually set in the nineteenth century. Asimov did his best with some tricky material; basically to keep the film plot going for the full 100 minutes there has to be an unexpected and implausible problem every few chapters which sets our team back. But this is not his greatest work.

July Books 13) And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

Sir Thomas Legge said: “Damn it all, Maine, somebody must have killed 'em.”
“That's just our problem, sir.”
“Nothing helpful in the doctor's report?”
“No, sir.”
I'm getting a bit bored with Lovejoy as my bedtime reading and might give Agatha Christie a try, working scientifically through her books in order of popularity until I get tired.

I went through an Agatha Christie phase when I was about 13 and had read And Then There Were None at that time. It's quite far from the normal format of murder mystery: ten people on an isolated island (whose name varies with the edition of the book), all invited because of a fatal incident in their personal past, are bumped off one by one. One of the ten must be the murderer; but who? The solution is just barely credible in the context of the story (requires some impressive good luck from the murderer, and failure to observe some obvious clues from his victims). But it is tautly constructed, and must have been very appealing when first published in late 1939 - no mention of the imminent war, but the previous war's shadow lies across all the characters.

The book is of course notorious for the racism of its original title. It's interesting that the two characters, who become the (largely sympathetic) viewpoint for the climax of the story proper, are also the most obviously racist - one of them has explicitly carried out a racist multiple murder as a colonial officer in Africa, the other is the only person to defend him. But it's also interesting that the murder confesses to inflicting "prolonged mental strain and fear" on "the more cold-blooded offenders" who die last, so the author's message is ambiguous. There's a much less ambigous anti-Semitism directed at a minor character, which is not queried in the same way.

I shall persevere with this project. Murder on the Orient Express is next, and I haven't read it or seen any of the screen adaptations (though, thanks to the spoilers generally abounding in popular culture, I do know whodunnit).