December 29th, 2016


Interesting Links for 29-12-2016


Last Exit to Babylon, by Roger Zelazny

Second paragraph of third story ("Home is the Hangman"):
I sat in a chair turned sidewise from the table to face the door. A tool kit rested on the floor to my left. The helmet stood on the table, a lopsided basket of metal, quartz, porcelain, and glass. If I heard the click of a microswitch followed by a humming sound from within it, then a faint light would come on beneath the meshing near to its forward edge and begin to blink rapidly. If these things occurred, there was a very strong possibility that I was going to die.
Very glad to start this write-up with a quote from a favourite story, the Hugo and Nebula-winning climax of the three stories of a nameless protagonist which make up My Name is Legion. The later 1970s were a productive and fertile time for Zelazny's imagination; the one problem with this volume, the fourth of six collecting his short fiction, is that I have read it all before - My Name is Legion, Dilvish, the Damned, Unicorn Variations - I even have a copy of The Illustrated Roger Zelazny with the Jack of Shadows prequel "Shadowjack". Still, there is plenty of explanatory material outlining how each story came to be written, and a useful afterword linking the short fiction and poetry to Zelazny's novels and other life events (notably the births of his children). For a Zelazny completist like me, it's indispensable; but it adds less than previous volumes did.

This was the last book left on my shelves bought in 2009. That now opens up all my 2010 lists: non-fiction (The Other Islam, by Stephen Schwartz), non-genre (See How Much I Love You, by Luis Leante), sf (Argonautica, by Valerius Flaccus), short books (De Piraten van de Zilveren Kattenklauw, by "Geronimo Stilton"), and most popular (The Palace of Dreams, by Ismail Kadarë).


My year on social media - Facebook

This is my first time posting to Dreamwidth! Hopefully it will also crosspost to Livejournal seamlessly.

Facebook has increasingly become my most used channel of interaction online. Most of my content is not expecially original - I repost links to a lot of articles, and to my own Livejournal entries (now Dreamwidth), and sometimes I repost pictures that I have found on Twitter or Instagram.

My most shared Facebook post of the year was a case in point - a fun picture of Bill and Hillary Clinton as students, that I probably saw on Twitter, saved to my phone and posted to Facebook. It clearly hist the Zeitgeist, three weeks before the election. My own posting got 492 likes (fourth highest for any of my 2016 post)s, of which I thnk fewer than half were from friends of mine; and it was shared an astonishing 5,521 times. I checked, and these were definitly all reflections of my original post. I just wish it had been my original material!

My most liked Facebook post of 2016, also the second most widely shared, was original content: my last-minute plea to British voters to vote Remain in the referendum on EU membership (also posted to LiveJournal, and mailed to about 1300 people who I knew living in the UK). Obviously it did not have the desired effect, but there was little else I could do, and I am glad I did it. The 522 shares indicate that it went far and wide.

My most commented-on Facebook post of 2016, also the second most liked, was also original content, but very much shorter. Facebook has become an important channel of letting people know that you have survived whatever disaster may have happened in your town. On the morning of 22 March, unusually, I drove into work (I normally take the train), and even more unusually, my phone was not working and I was effectively out of contact for the two hours between leaving home at 8.30 and arriving at the office through inexplicably apocalyptic traffic at 1030. Once I arrived, I discovered that two bomb attacks in Brussels had killed dozens, and posted this announcement as soon as I had made the most urgent phone calls to my family.
I'm still alive and well, and now posting to Dreamwidth.

I've switched my primary blog to Dreamwidth. Feel free to comment here or there, but I will see it more quickly there.

My year on social media - Twitter

Most retweeted, a massive 412, well ahead of the field - and original content too! - was a comment on the Hugo awards, picked up particularly by Vann R. Newkirk II (@fivefifths), The Grugq (@thegrugq), Cindy Gallop (@cindygallop) and Harper Reed (@harper) which put it on a cumulated 650,000 potential impressions, the second highest for the year, and also got the most replied:

Second most retweeted: my comment on a Guardian report on British foreign policy in the new age of expert-free policy-making:

Third most retweeted, definitely not my original content unfortunately, but very funny:

Fourth highest, but with the most potential impressions (771,000) entirely due to being picked up by Graham Linehan (@glinner) was also not original content but a very interesting story about Chuck Tingle (to which I added a one-word comment):

The highest number of replies was 15, to two posts: the Boris Johnson piece already mentioned above, and my 22 March post.

Still alive.

I've switched my primary blog to Dreamwidth. Feel free to comment here or there, but I will see it more quickly there.

My year on social media - Instagram

Instagram is just lovely. I wish I remembered to use it more often. The default behaviour is to be nice to people and say how much you like their picture. It's much more difficult to work up the energy to be nasty to people on Instagram. Everyone should use it. (Except nasty people, of course.)

Chances are if you're reading this that you've already added me on Instagram, but if not, please do; I am @nwbrux there as I am on Twitter.

My most liked picture on Instagram this year was taken in a Brussels pub, London Calling on Place de Londres, in November. It followed the announcements that the Brussels blogosphere Superhero, Captain Europe, was retiring and hanging up his cape for good; and that the Vice-President of the European Commission, Kristalina Georgieva, was resigning to take up a new job at the World bank. The Commissioner responded positively to an invitation posted in public on Twitter, and loads of people showed up, including me, to witness the meeting of two departing icons (who had never met before).

My second most liked Instagram picture was from just a few days ago - the evening of 24 December, to be precise.

The third most liked was also a seasonal picture, of me and some of my colleagues wearing a T-shirt supplied by Stow Shirts. We are an international crowd: the countries represented are, left to right, England, Italy, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Poland, Ireland, Slovenia, Romania/Hungary, and, kneeling, Italy again and Greece.

I'm already discovering the limitations of Dreamwidth. The Instagram embed code doesn't seem to work, and there doesn't seem to be an equivalent of the LJ Scrapbook (which I must now download and archive).

I've switched my primary blog to Dreamwidth. Feel free to comment here or there, but I will see it more quickly there.

The Listener, by Tove Jansson & Christmas Days, by Jeanette Winterson

By sheer coincidence, my Christmas goodies included two collections of short stories by two different lesbian authors, and I think it makes a neat pair to review together. Not, mind you, that the two collections have anything much more in common with each other than two collections both by straight men would have; it's more that the two of them have approched the craft of writing in interestingly different ways.

The Listener, by Tove Jansson

Second paragraph of third story ("The Birthday Party"):
"Couldn't you wait with that?" said Vera Häger. "They'll be here any moment. I think we should greet them together. I'm not used to..."
This is the most recent of Jansson's story collections to be translated into English, but it was the first collection of Tove Jansson's short stories to be published in her native Swedish (apart from the semi-autobiographical The Scupltor's Daughter). They show her already at the top of her form, quietly understated observation, sometimes brief vignettes, sometimes mapping out a brief section of a character arc that you can extrapolate further if you want. The two that particularly jumped out at me are both about a third of the way in, "Black-White", a tribute to Edward Gorey, about an illustrator who becomes consumed by his work, and "Letters to an Idol", no doubt inspired by her own experiences on both ends of the fannish dynamic, about obsession, communication and acceptance. But they are all good, and give a real feeling of life in Jansson's Bohemian urban and rural spaces.

Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days, by Jeanette Winterson

Second paragraph of third story ("Dark Christmas"):
Highfallen House stood on an eminence overlooking the sea. It was a square Victorian gentleman's residence. The large bay windows looked down through the pines towards the shore. Six stone steps led the visitor up to the double front door where a Gothic bell-pull released a loud mournful clang deep into the distances of the house.
This is much more intense stuff, a collection of stories with a Christmassy theme (nine or ten of the twelve have supernatural elements, so I'm putting it in my sf basket). The stories are interspersed with reminiscences about Winterson's own life, and people who she has loved - deceased friends, such as Ruth Rendell and Kathy Acker; her parents; her wife Susie Orbach; and also Christmassy recipes. None of the recipes is particularly original or startling, but it's a nice extra set of content to put alongside the stories themselves. I had not read any of Winterson's fiction before, and I honestly did not expect the stories to be so funny.

The two authors are coming from very different places - Jansson from a well-off city backgrouod, with liberal parents and friends and connections to her country's elite from an early age; Winterson from a small town and an oppressive household dominatred by religious ideology, from which she has negotiated escape on her own terms. Both collections are great, in very different ways.

On another topic entirely, I think this will be the last post I put directly onto Livejournal. There has been no resolution of the bugginess of the last couple of days, and the news that the servers have all physically been transferred to Russia may not be unrelated. I will post to Dreamwidth, cross-posted to here for now; I don't promise to check my friends page here regularly, and unfortunately the Japanese spam problem that Imentioned last year has started to overwhelm my comment notifications, so posting a comment here is unlikely to be an efficient way of getting my attention. Sad, but there you go.
not happy

Livejournal, you are reprieved - for now

Well, my resolution to shift to Dreamwidth has lasted less than a day. Several things changed my mind, of which the most important is that Livejournal seems to have started working again. But also Dreamwidth is really lacking in a number of the good features that LJ has built on in the last few years - there is no image hosting as far as I can see, the embedding of media from other sites is clunky and unrealiable, and there is no way to schedule a post in advance (for the last year or so I've been writing the coming week's book reviews the previous weekend and scheduling them to come out each day). On top of that, to reflect posts to Facebook and Twitter, you have to cross-post to LJ as DW doesn't have that capability. It's basically where LJ was five years ago. So I am returning to LJ for now.

But LJ is on notice. The system is clearly under financial and political pressure, and I am preparing backup options. A kind friend has hosted a Wordpress backup for several years now, and I will probably go that way eventually. But I will plan it carefully, and ensure that I have set up all the necessary bells and whistles. A lot of my public life is in this blog, and I want to preserve it securely.