March 19th, 2016


My BSFA vote for Best Non-Fiction

Now that Nina Allan's essay is available in electronic form (for a price), I feel able to rank the BSFA Non-Fiction shortlist. (I am still thinking about Best Short Fiction, and still finishing one of the novels.)

5) “Time Pieces: Doctor Change or Doctor Die”, by Nina Allan. I don't particularly mind one way or the other if a future incarnation of the Doctor is female, though clearly other feel much more strongly than I do - the first person to suggest it, as far as I know, was Tom Baker in his valedictory press conference in 1980. But I don't think A.L. Kennedy is a key figure in the debate; she has written precisely one Doctor Who book, admittedly a good one, twice (first in short form and then expanded to full length). It would have been more enlightening to parse the cryptic hints dropped now and then by the show-runners, on and off the record, about the Doctor's possible future gender identity.

4) “From Annihilation to Acceptance: a writer’s surreal journey”, by Jeff Vandermeer. A frustrating essay for me. I often enjoy accounts of how-the-book-was-writ and how-the-show-was-made, and I quite enjoyed the Southern Reach trilogy when I read it for the Clarke Award (though not enough to shortlist it). However this piece didn't bridge the gaps between creative effort and working life sufficiently to interest me.

3) “What Price, Your Critical Agency?”, by Jonathan McCalmont. Now we're getting into the stuff I really did enjoy. This is an interesting examination of the unwritten Faustian deal between publisher and reviewer, and raises very interesting questions. (I should make it clear that I have usually paid for the books I review here.) It's a longish blog post with one good idea, developed in detail.

2) Rave and Let Die: The SF and Fantasy of 2014, by Adam Roberts. I enjoyed this when I read it for the BSFA long list, and I stand by that judgement. Probably none of the individual essays is as strong as the Jonathan McCalmont piece I am ranking below it, but the cumulative effect is greater and, as far as I am concerned, more award-worthy. I can live with non-fiction awards occasionally going to blog posts, but most work is improved by going through the refining fire of the publication process.

1) Letters to Tiptree, eds Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce. I got this more or less the day it was published, and hugely enjoyed it. It's a lovely, original, stimulating, tragic take on a hugely important figure in the history of the genre, including also some moving correspondence from Sheldon herself. As soon as I read it, I suspected I would end up giving it my vote; and I will.

I've complained tediously in past years that the BSFA Non-Fiction category was not really delivering a usable shortlist. This year, the two-stage nomination process has clearly made a difference in this case. None of these nominees is bad; two of them didn't appeal to me, but I can understand how they might appeal to others; and any one of them is better than any of the finalists for Best Related Work that Brad Torgersen and Vox Day put on last year's Hugo ballot.

It will be interesting to hear the reflections of those most closely involved as to whether the (considerable) extra effort that the new method requires of a volunteer staff is justified by an improved output. But I think the output in the Non-Fiction category has definitely improved.

Incidentally, the BSFA award for Non-Fiction has been awarded a total of 11 times - to twelve men and one woman (she and one of the men have won twice). Does that really reflect the state of commentary on the genre?
double deckers

A Helping Hound: Episode 11 of Here Come The Double Deckers

Episode 11: A Helping Hound
First shown: 21 November 1970 (US), 19 March 1971 (UK)
Director: Jeremy Summers
Writer: Jan Butlin
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert

Graham Stark as Mr. Brimble the Landlord
Nora Nicholson as Mrs. Vickers
Nicholas Phipps as the Garden Owner
Jennifer Daniel as Snowflake's Owner
(Snowflake doesn't seem to get credited)


The gang's friend Mrs Vickers risks eviction by her landlord because of the condition of her house. The gang try to fix it up, but screw up; they try to earn money to fix it up, but screw up; meanwhile Tiger, who has been told to go away because she is too little, gets a reward for finding a dog and uses it to pay for repairs to Mrs Vickers' house.

Glorious Moments

Not actually one of the great episodes, but there are three brilliant slapstick sequences: the two house repair scenes, and the garden work scene.

The most memorable moment is Albert and Billy skating together through the wallpaper paste.

Also Tiger gets some nice scenes with the dog.

Less glorious moments

Scooper puts his finger on it a few minutes in, when he protests that "the landlord is responsible for structural [problems]". The entire plot depends on a complete inversion of landlord/tenant law. (I'm not an expert on this, but my wife actually is, and two chaps who I knew in Belfast, one of whom subsequently became First Minister of Northern Ireland, literally wrote the book on Northern Ireland Housing Law.) If the gang had consulted a lawyer in the first place, they would have been advised to tell Mr Brimble that it was his job, not Mrs Vickers', to sort out the dodgy walls, doors and floors.

Apart from the gruesome mistake of law, it takes the Double Deckers far from the usual comfort zone of brushing into authority which is then won over by ἀγάπη. Instead they get involved in a nasty civil dispute which they actually make worse. Tiger and Spring get some good lines, and Billie and Albert get to dance, but otherwise none of the characters does anything much, including particularly the guests.

And god bless Tiger, using the reward money that she has earned despite being snubbed by the rest to boost the gang's plan to save Mrs Vickers.

What's all this then?

Glyn Jones, the script editor, recalls that when he solicited stories for the show, "I received half a dozen ideas of which there was only one I could commission. It was disappointing to say the least. Even the one commissioned had to have a virtual rewrite." I suspect that may have been this episode.

In the "Double Deckers Memories" feature on the DVD, Michael Audreson (Brains) reflects (rather inaudibly - his microphone seems to have been turned off) that there were only three plots in Here Come The Double Deckers. "I would invent something which would go wrong, we would meet some hapless adult whose life was in such a mess that they resorted to the help of a bunch of kids, and we would go on an outing somewhere with hilarious results." This is a slightly warped version of the second combined with the third: the hapless adult, rather than being a charming pop singer, is a little old lady to whom the gang decide to do a Good Turn.

The evil landlord is a stock farce character, though even farces tended to get basic points of law right.

Where's that?

Mrs Vicker's house is 8 Malden Road, Borehamwood, and it is still there.
The garden that the gang try to fix up looks to me like the same one used in Robbie the Robot. It was in the studio in Borehamwood, now demolished.
Snowflake's owner presumably also lived in Borehamwood.

Who's that?

Graham Stark (Mr. Brimble the Landlord), born in 1922, could be considered the fifth Goon, standing in for Spike Milligan on the radio show when he was ill and later appearing in several Pink Panther films. His forte was supporting comedic roles like this, though he did get his own TV show briefly in 1964. He died in 2013.

Nora Nicholson (Mrs. Vickers), born in 1892, had been playing frail ladylike characters on TV for decades. She was given a wider range as a stage actress. This was one of her last roles; she died in 1973.

Nicholas Phipps (the Garden Owner), born in 1913, who tended to play stiff-upper-lip types was perhaps better known as a writer than an actor and adapted Richard Gordon's book Doctor in the House for the screen in 1954, as well as its sequels. He seems to have stopped writing in 1963 and this is his last credited acting role. He died in 1980.

Jennifer Daniel (Snowflake's Owner) was born in 1939 (IMDB) or 1936 (Wikipedia). At this point she was best known as the female lead in 1960s horror films such as The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and The Reptile (1966). She went on to a fairly standard career of supporting roles in TV and drama, of which the most recent bigone was Mrs Linton in the 1992 Wuthering Heights with Juliette Binoche as Cathy.

Jan Butlin (writer) had at this point been better known as an actress, especially as one of the girls on the Benny Hill Show. But from here on she became a writer with five sitcoms to her credit, Life Begins at Forty (1978-1980), That Beryl Marston...! (1981), Third Time Lucky (1982), Hell's Bells (1986) and No Strings (1989), three of which starred Derek Nimmo. She was born in 1940, and died in 1998.

Jeremy Summers (director) might not have been quite as high-powered as Charles Crichton, the director of last week's episode, but he still had a pretty impressive record, mostly with TV detective shows (seven episodes of the original Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Riptide, The Vengeance of Fu Manchu). Later in his career he settled down and directed soaps, most recently a 2001 episode of Brookside. He was born in 1931 and may well still be with us.

See you next week...

...for Invaders from Space.
big n

Saturday reading

I've taken a bit of a sabbatical from the usual reading this week.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Glorious Angels, by Justina Robson
Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey
Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker 

Last books finished
The Road to Ruin: how Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government, by Niki Savva
The Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman
House Party, by Rachael Smith

Last week's audios
Welcome to Night Vale, episodes 81-83

Next books
Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park
Another Girl, Another Planet by Martin Day

Books acquired in last week
The Road to Ruin: how Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government, by Niki Savva
The Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman
House Party, by Rachael Smith
Adolf, an Exile in Japan, by Osamu Tezuka
Easter 1916: selected archive pieces from the New Statesman