December 27th, 2016


Interesting Links for 27-12-2016


Twilight of the Gods, by Mark Clapham and John de Burgh Miller

Second paragraph of third chapter:
She woke in a sweat, her cotton nightshirt soaked and clammy. Her mouth was dry. Light streamed through the window, and there was the sound of raised voices outside. Morning. So much for a good night‟s sleep. Draining the glass of water by her bedside, she stumbled to the bathroom for a long, long soak. When she returned, she pulled on fresh clothes and towelled her hair, feeling far more human. The noises could still be heard outside, so she walked to the window and pulled open the curtains.
This is the very last of the Bernice Summerfield Virgin New Adventures, closing a series of 23 novels which I think is the longest sequence for any one companion (there are only 19 Torchwood books). It's decent enough but not great; it winds up the Gods storyline established earlier in the sequence, without really tying much into the books in between. Benny, Jason and Irving Braxiatel get some good moments, and there is a crazed cult bent on human sacrifice. The series doesn't really end with a bang, but it's not a whimper either.

That may be the end of the Virgin New Adventures, but there are a load more Bernice Sunmmerfield books published by Big Finish, starting with The Dead Men Diaries, an anthology edited by Paul Cornell.


Tolstoy, by Henri Troyat

Second paragraph of third chapter:
One hundred and thirty miles - a surface of packed, crusted snow going across barren plains and through frail birch groves. At every relay they drank scalding tea at the inn, hung thick with the smell of smoke, leather and cabbage. Grandmother's coach was in the lead, hoisted up on its high wheels, as comfortable as a house. There was food inside to last for ten days, a medicine kit, dressing case, and a night commode, so that the passengers might relieve themselves without getting out of the coach. Frozen by the wind, footmen clung to jutting platforms on either side of the box. The carriage was so monumentally big that it could not get through the archway of the post-house at Serpukhov, but apart from that, the trip went off without incident. They slept in the upstairs rooms of the inns, which were cold and full of bedbugs. The next morning - for the last lap of the journey - Papa invited each of his sons in turn to sit with him in his sledge. It was at his father's side that Leo entered Moscow at last, after a four-day voyage.
Having immensely appreciated both War and Peace and Anna Karenina in recent years, I picked this book up to try and get acquainted with the great author.

Oh dear.

Tolstoy was a truly awful person. Having had a couple of (extraordinary) literary successes, he set himself up as a political prophet and became the centre of a cult following which does not appear to have embarrassed him in the slightest. His disciples were in constant conflict with his wife and family as to who controlled access to the great man and who could profit from his literary endeavours. He was entirely capable of writing an essay on how important it is to put sex aside only to then immediately go and impregnate poor Sonya for the umpteenth time. The story of the last few years of his life is a tedious tit-for-tat in his entourage, enlivened by the occasional bit of actual writing.

Henri Troyat (real name Lev Tarasov) ducks almost all of these issues. The biography relies too heavily on the copious written materials left by Tolsty and his family and fans, and never steps back to consider where we have come from. One telling example: in the account of Tolstoy's wedding to Sonya, Troyat lets slip that the great man had already had a son with Axinya, one of the serfs on the family estate - and there is no further examination of this, apart from its effect on Sonya's state of mind (already somewhat perturbed by reading Tolstoy's secret diaries, a detail later written into Anna Karenina).

I am sure that better biographies of Tolstoy have since been written. But I'm not sure I would want to read them.

This was the top unread book on my shelves acquired in 2013. Next on that list is The Rapture of the Nerds, by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross.

BSFA Awards - nominations close 31 December

Nominations are open for the first round of the BSFA Awards, until 31 December. You can nominate up to four works in each category (Best Novel, Best Short Fiction, Best Art, Best Non-Fiction) and you can do it here. You can also see some of what has been nominated by others so far here. (Both Best Artwork and Best Non-Fiction currently look a little underpopulated.) You do have to be a member of the BSFA to vote.

The shortlists in each of the four categories will then be selected during January by further online vote of the BSFA mambership - but only works nominated in the first round will be eligible. So this is the moment to ensure that work you enjoyed is not overlooked. The winners will then be chosen from the shortlists emerging from the January vote, by ballot of the BSFA membership and Eastercon attendees.

Apart from being a voter and occasional commentator (though commenting less this year due to my other commitments), I am particularly interested in seeing how this works out, because I am one of the co-sponsors of a proposal to move the Hugo Awards to a three-stage rather than two-stage process - though it is very different in detail to what the BSFA are doing this year and next. (For the detail, see here pages 3-5; for the rationale and debate, see here page 101-103 and 109-114.)

Our proposal was passed by the WSFS Business Meeting at MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City last August, and to come into effect must be ratified by the next WSFS Business Meeting in Helsinki at Worldcon 75 next August. There are a lot of other changes to the Hugos this year, particularly regarding the nominations process (see my summary here), and the outworkings of these changes will probably be the main elements of the debate on whether to take the proposed three-stage voting process forward. But the experiences of the BSFA's three-stage ballot will also be very relevant.