May 14th, 2015


The Affirmation, by Christopher Priest

I had a chat with Chris Priest at Eastercon, and asked him which of his books I should read that I had not read - I am familiar with both his early and his most recent work, but less clear on the middle. Without hesitation, he said that The Affirmation, published in 1981, is the book that his earlier novels lead to and his later works reflect on. A kind spouse got it for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and I devoured it this weekend in post-election haze.

I can see why Priest himself thinks of it as central to his œuvre. The book is about a binary existence, a writer based in England writing about his own life in a fictional archipelago where he can gain eternal life at the cost of his own memory; while his doppelgänger in the archipelago is writing about his life A strange place called England. Families, lovers, writing all intersect across the two strands of reality and we cannot be certain which, if either, is the more real. A number of his earlier books are about a clash between realities, but we readers are usually left less uncertain than we are here about which is "real". And a lot of his later books pick up themes from The Affirmation and take them further, or in a different direction. Certainly I feel that now I have read it, I appreciate better what Priest was doing in The Islanders and The Adjacent. It's a bit surprising that the only award it picked up was the Australian Ditmar (though I suppose there were just fewer aware in 1981; it lost the BSFA award to The Shadow of the Torturer). But the 2011 Gollancz SF Masterworks edition features a helpful introduction by Graham Sleight.
doctor who

His Last Bow - Roger Delgado's final TV appearance

A brilliant piece of detective work from David A. McIntee, originally posted by him at lonemagpie at His Last Bow
Heads up, Dr Who fans - You know how Roger Delgado was killed in a car crash “while filming a movie in Turkey, called the Bell Of Tibet”? Well, actually, it wasn’t a movie. He was guest starring in an episode of a French TV series by that name, *and* he’d actually finished shooting. And here it is - Delgado’s last performance.


Doctor Who and the Communist, by Michael Herbert

This is a very short pamphlet on the career of Malcolm Hulke, who wrote several Doctor Who TV stories and novelisations in the late 1960s and 1970s before his death in 1979 at the age of 54. I named him at an Eastercon panel last year as one of the first political science fiction writers who I can remember reading; certainly Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters still packs a punch. I was aware that he had been a Communist Party member, though in fact Herbert finds little documentary evidence for this and speculates that Hulke joined in idealism during the war and left over the invasion of Hungary in 1956. More important, he was very much involved with the left-wing Unity Theatre project, along with other big names such as Bob Hoskins, Lionel Bart, Warren Mitchell and Michael Gambon. 

Hulke's main writing partnership was with Eric Paice; their first TV play was a 1958 piece about an IRA man on the run starring Patrick McGoohan. They then wrote four TV SF series, Target Luna, Pathfinders in Space, Pathfinders to Mars and Pathfinders to Venus in 1960-61; I haven't checked to see if any of that survives. Hulke then wrote nine episodes of The Avengers, four of them with his lodger, one Terrance Dicks, who then brought him into Doctor Who. He later wrote seven episodes of Crossroads and several spinoff novels for that series. In non-fiction, he wrote most of the first edition of The Making of Doctor Who and a very good book on Writing for Television which I read many years ago.

Herbert makes the obvious point about the general compassionate approach and specifically anti-authoritarian streak of Hulke's Doctor Who work, but it's a shame that he didn't also look for this theme in, say, his Avengers scripts or indeed the earlier Pathfinders work. (I suspect that the Crossroads material may be less promising in that regard.) I'm also still intrigued by his apparent obsession with reptiles. Still, I am very grateful to Andrew M. Butler for getting this for me from the publisher.

Thursday Reading

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Mating, by Norman Rush

Last books finished
Down, by Lawrence Miles
The Affirmation, by Christopher Priest
Doctor Who and the Communist, by Michael Herbert
Islands In The Stream, by Ernest Hemingway
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

Last week's audios
Gallifrey: Intervention Earth, by Scott Handcock & David Llewellyn

Next books
The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari
The Painted Man/The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

Books acquired in last week
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
Neither Unionist nor Nationalist: The 10th (Irish) Division in the Great War, by Stephen Sandford