Drop me a comment; I'll ask you five questions; you do same on your LJ, if you like.
1. What consistently drives you nuts when you see it in a sf/f novel or short story? I have several pet hates.
- One of them, which is widely shared by most readers, is when the characterisation is so weak that the reader utters the Eight Deadly Words first forumlated by Dorothy Heydt: "I don't care WHAT happens to these people!" I'm actually fairly tolerant on this one, and it doesn't usually prevent me from finishing the book; though I do remember thinking, at the end of Larry Niven's The Integral Trees, as the enemy closed in on our heroes, that I was rather glad there was no third volume in the series.
- Another peeve which I suspect is less widely shared is some kind of linguistic credibility. It doesn't have to be up to Tolkienian levels of complexity - George R.R. Martin or Juliet E. McKenna satisfy me perfectly well on this score. Robert Jordan, in his awful Wheel of Time series, does not.
- One type of story that irritates the hell out of me, and I think I must be unusual in this regard, is the "cute robot" story. The classic of this genre is Asimov's The Bicentennial Man, deconstructed by me here; there was also a Hugo nominee last year along the same lines, which I thought completely crap. I would admit that Chris Beckett's The Holy Machine managed to subvert the theme to my satisfaction.
2. Where would you like to visit that you haven't been to already, and why? This time next week I should be in Albania for the first time in my life, which will fill in a space on my personal map. The only other European countries I haven't yet visited are Belarus, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Turkey and Ukraine, and I'm scheduled to go to Ukraine in November. Reasons for going there: to fill in gaps on the map.
However there are several other countries that attract me just because of their exotic aura. Uzbekistan, to see Tashkent and Samarkand. Brazil/Argentina, for the Iguaçu Falls. Egypt, for everything - Pyramids, Alexandria, Sinai, Nile, Sphinx, temples, etc. Nepal, for the Himalayas (just to look at them - no ambitions to actually climb). Pitcairn Island, because of its bizarre and disturbing human story.
Sorry, was I meant to pick only one?
3. What one area of international politics would you recommend a skimmer-of-news focus on, right now? Before I answer the specific question, I have to say that the best tool for skimming news is the Google Alert system. I hardly have to tell you that the international news available through mainstream media is pretty crap, especially in the USA. At least with Google you can get what there is on your country of interest. That and the Economist.
I'm in the unusual position that I'm so heavily dug into the countries I work on that if I hear something important from the mainstream media first, that means my other information sources have screwed up, so my perspective is a bit skewed. Having said that, I believe that the single international issue that is under-reported today and has the biggest potential knock-on for us all is the question of Russia's changing foreign policy - they may no longer be a superpower, but they are still the big kids on the block. If you want to follow this, as well as Google's service, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty do a free daily emailed bulletin (alas, with little deeper analysis and often reflecting their own Cold War roots) and Transitions On-Line do several good pieces each week (though you have to pay for some of them). Also for an often horrifying and dispiriting look at daily life in Russia, check the eXile, updated fortnightly.
4. How did you become interested in medieval history? Probably since I was thirteen and trying to work out for myself the truth behind King Arthur - I guess I have Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave to thank for that. Also at around the same age I read a friend's copy of E. L. Konigsburg's superb young adult novel, A Proud Taste For Scarlet And Miniver, which gave me a life-long fascination with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Another, much later formative influence was W.L. Warren's biography of her second husband, Henry II of England.
It remained pretty much an occasional reading topic until I found myself doing an M Phil in History and Philosophy of Science, and one of the lecturers in the Department offered me his transcription of a medieval astrology text to try and make sense of. I was given Richard of Wallingford's 14th century astronomical clock as a sort of trial piece, and enjoyed it. I knew enough about both astronomy and astrology to at least work out what the author in the lecturer's transcript was getting at in a technical sense; and read myself into the deeper reaches of the medieval stuff. To my astonishment, I realised that part of the manuscript I was looking at included a birthchart for Eleanor of Aquitaine, for 14 December 1122 or 1123. At the time the scholarly consensus was that she was born in 1122, but that has now shifted to 1124 as a result of a contemporary account's statement that she was thirteen when her father died at Easter 1137, shortly before her first marriage. (That of course fits a December 1123 birth equally well if not better than most dates in 1124.)
Since then my career has taken me away from that area, but once you've handled medieval manuscripts you can never lose the bug. In the garage I still have photographic copies of three of the four surviving manuscripts of Roger of Hereford's theorica planetarum, and if I ever have four months with nothing to do I'll try transcribing them. History of science isn't so much pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge as more accurately mapping where they used to be; if I could afford to I'd be back at it like a shot.
5. Where do you think George R.R. Martin is going with the SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, since I am A Feast for Crows-deprived? Jeepers, aren't we all? I reckon that Jon is Eddard's nephew, not his son; and in the end will fall in love with Daenerys and quite possibly rule the kingdom with her - let's face it, the death rate among other potential claimants is pretty rapid. Stannis is destined for some heroic end. This leaves the surviving Stark siblings with at least a chance of living to serve a renewed kingdom... of course, they may not all survive. I think that's as far as I can go without massive spoiler warnings. A Feast for Crows is the only book for which I have a confirmed pre-publication order from Amazon, made in July 2002. I see the current publication date is next September. We can but hope.