What's this all about, then?

This is my blog on Livejournal, which I have been running since the spring of 2003. Since late 2003, I've also been using it as a record of (almost) every book that I have read; I read a lot (in non-plague times, I have a long commute) and wanted to keep a good note of what I read. At 200-300 books a year, that's over 4000 books that I have written up here. (These are the most recent.)

As the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging comes closer, I've also been revisiting each month of reviews every six days or so, so you'll see some less recent reviews mentioned.

As well as books, I have been going through the films that won the Oscar for Best Picture in sequence and the films that won the Hugo or Nebula for Best Dramatic Presentation or equivalent.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, I've been trying to keep discipline and write something about it every ten days.

Also used for occasional commentary on other stuff, but you'll find my Facebook and Twitter are more live.

I am sticking with Livejournal for now out of inertia. Dreamwidth is similar (and I'm mirroring this there) but it lacks some of the key features I like here (post-dating posts, decent image management). Some day I will bite the bullet and go with Wordpress.

Comments welcome, though sometimes quicker to email me at nicholas dot whyte at gmail dot com.

Times Squared, by Rick Cross

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Kramer had respectfully offered Lethbridge-Stewart the front passenger seat. She sat in the back with Sally and Owain, pointing out landmarks and catching up on the latest about the wedding plans and Sally’s new appointment to Edinburgh. Lethbridge-Stewart had to admit to himself that he was mildly pleased – at first – by Kramer’s deference. Then the driver somehow managed to slalom across four lanes of traffic, whipping into a taxi-only lane and braking with a screech of tires as he joined the long line of exhaust-belching vehicles headed for the Queensboro Bridge. Only then, removing both white-knuckled hands from where he’d planted them firmly on the dashboard – to keep from being thrown headlong into it – did Lethbridge-Stewart understand that Kramer had done him no favour at all in offering up the front seat.
As previously mentioned, I'm returning to the Lethbridge-Stewart series of books published by Candy Jar, looking at the career of the Brigadier before he became the Brigadier. In a previous review I unfairly accused the author of this novel, Rick Cross, of being a pseudonym; in fact he's NASA's senior media writer in the Marshall Space Flight Centre, and this is his first novel.

And it's pretty good. Lieutenant Adrienne Kramer, who later in her own timeline appears in the early Eighth Doctor novel Vampire Science, is Lethbridge-Stewart's liaison in New York where there are basically Yeti in the Metro. But it's a bit more than Web of Fear transplanted to the Big Apple: Lethbridge-Stewart is travelling with his fiancee and nephew, the latter already having a strange connection with the Great Intelligence, and there's a time-travelled version of Professor Travers in the mix as well. Well-written, respectful of its source material and true to its setting; it's a little too closely linked to the first novel in this sequence, The Forgotten Son, to work entirely on its own, but apart from that a good read. You can get it here.

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“Stories for Men” (J Kessel), Light (MJ Harrison), The Separation (C Priest)

Latest in my series of posts about successive winners of the Tiptree, Clarke and BSFA Best Novel awards.

Second paragraph of third part of “Stories for Men”, by John Kessel:
He washed his face, applied personal hygiene bacteria, threw on his embroidered jumpsuit, and rushed out of the apartment.
I remember being hugely impressed by this story when it was a Nebula finalist back in 2003. Hugo voters weren’t, and it finished in tenth place at nominations stage, both Hugo and Nebula voters going instead for Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. On rereading I still think it is a classic, and well done to the Tiptree jury for recognising it. It's a story of a matriarchal society of human colonists on the Moon, where men have largely been disempowered for the common good; it's neither utopia nor dystopia, but a complex society which may or may not be able to anser its own questions, and where politics and violence have an uneasy and widely denied coexistence. Eighteen years on, it still resonated for me. I own it in the Gardner Dozois annual collection, which you can get here or here; you can also get it in this John Kessel collection and in this anthology of lunar sf.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Light, by M. John Harrison:
He was a typical New Man, tall, white-faced, with that characteristic shock of orange hair that makes them look constantly surprised by life. The tank farm was too far up Pierpoint to do much trade. It was in the high 700s, where the banking district gave out into garments, tailoring, cheap chopshop operations franchising out-of-date cultivars and sentient tattoos.
When I first read this in 2004, I wrote:
I didn't like it. I thought the sex was sordid, the characters unpleasant, and the plot barely comprehensible.
Seventeen years on, I don’t feel the need to revise my opinion much. For the Tiptree jury, which honoured this jointly with “Stories for Men”, the unpleasantness of the male characters was part of the point, but I really bounced off it. You can get it here.

The Tiptree jury also had three novels, four short stories and an anthology on their Honor Roll. I have read only one of the three novels, and bounced off it too. The short fiction included Karen Joy Fowler’s “What I Didn't See”, which won the Nebula in its category, two more Nebula finalists - Gregory Frost’s “Madonna of the Maquiladora” and Eleanor Arnason’s “Knapsack Poems” - and Ted Chiang’s “Liking What You See: A Documentary”, which is a favourite of mine.

That year the BSFA voters and Clarke jury chose the same book: Christopher Priest’s The Separation. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:
I hope you will remember me: I came to interview you in Antananarivo some eight years ago, about your experiences flying with the USAAF in the Chinese and Manchurian campaigns in 1942-3. You were kind enough to give me several hours of your time. From these conversations I extracted some excellent material about the fire-bomb missions in which you took part: the raids on the Japanese strongholds at Nanking and Ichang. I used most of that in my history of the campaign called The Silver Dragons: the 9th US Army Air Force in China. I recall that at the time I asked my publishers to send you a complimentary copy of the book. I realize that I never heard from you afterwards, so in case you did not receive the earlier copy I am enclosing one from the recently reissued paperback edition. As in the earlier editions, your interview features prominently in the first few chapters.
This was one of the very first books I wrote up when I started bookblogging regularly in November 2003. My review was succinct:
[E]xcellent stuff, dopplegangers, altered timelines and the second world war, as if Philip K Dick had been English and sober.
Again, I don't feel the need to revise my opinion much, especially since I've now read a few more alternate-WW2 novels. (Good ones: The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, Jo Walton's trilogy Farthing, Ha'penny and Half a Crown; so-so: Timewyrm: Exodus, by Terrance Dicks, Dominion, by C.J. Sansom; less good: The Sound of his Horn, by Sarban, SS-GB, by Len Deighton.) I think it's a really well put together exploration of several different timelines, involving the crucial choices of a pair of identical twins, one in the RAF, the other a pacifist, and the possibility of an early end to the war with a Jewish homeland in Madagascar. There aren't any clear answers, even the questions may not be all that clear, but it really keeps one reading; the alternate-WW2 novel to end all others. Great stuff. You can get it here.

As mentioned above, The Separation won both Clarke and BSFA Best Novel awards. Light, discussed above, was on both shortlists, as were The Scar by China Miéville and The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson. BSFA voters also had the options of Castles Made of Sand, by Gwyneth Jones and Effendi, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Clarke judges also shortlisted Kil'n People, by David Brin, and the following year’s Nebula winner, Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon. I think I’ve read all of those books and they are two very solid shortlists. Apart from Elizabeth Moon, there was no other crossover with the Nebula ballot for either that year or the next. Kil’n People, The Scar and The Years of Rice and Salt were also on the Hugo ballot, but voters at the Canadian Worldcon chose local boy Robert Sawyer’s awful book, Hominids.

Next in this sequence: 2003: Set This House In Order: A Romance Of Souls by Matt Ruff; Felaheen by Jon Courtenay Grimwood; and (gulp) Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson.

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May 2012 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023. Every six-ish days, I've been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I've found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

In the outside world, the big news was the French Presidential election, in which François Hollande destroyed the incumbent with the killer line, "Ce n'est jamais de votre faute!" If only his presidency had been as good as his debate performance.

One of my aunts had a big birthday party; as usual for this era, my best photo is not of her but of various cousins, another aunt, an uncle and an ex-aunt on the front doorstep. Sadly this was to be the last picture I would take of Denise, my youngest aunt, at the front of the group.

I also had a nice trip to Paris with the Georgians, including a meeting with mid-level diplomats at the Quai d'Orsay literally at the moment that the newly appointed foreign minister arrived in the building for the first time. And I was touched by greatness (at 0:37) as Javier Bardem put the case of the Saharawis to the European Parliament.

In the SF world, I picked my first but not my last pointless fight with Brad Torgersen.

And the Russian Eurovision entry was half in English and half in Udmurt.

I read only 17 books that month.

Non-fiction 6 (YTD 22)
The Word in the Desert, by Douglas Burton-Christie
The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Sharpen Pencils, by David Rees
The Great O'Neill, by Sean O'Faolain
Tickling the English, by Dara O'Briain
History & Hope: the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (then unpublished), by Brian Eggins

sf (non-Who) 7 (YTD 32)
Leviathan Wakes, by "James S.A. Corey"
Deadline, by "Mira Grant"
The Moon and the Sun, by Vonda McIntyre
Countdown, by "Mira Grant"
Silently and Very Fast, by Catherine M. Valente
Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks
Hiding Under the Light (unpublished) by Ruth Coleman-Taylor

Doctor Who 5 (YTD 33)
The Taking of Chelsea 426, by David Llewellyn
Bay of the Dead, by Marc Morris
Invasion of the Cat-People, by Gary Russell
St Anthony's Fire, by Mark Gatiss
Shadows of Avalon, by Paul Cornell

Running totals:
~5,700 pages (YTD 30,800)
5/17 (YTD 25/101) by women ("Grant"x2, McIntyre, Valente, Coleman-Taylor)
1/17 (YTD 2/101) by PoC (Thich Nhat Hanh)

My top new book of the month was Tickling the English; you can get it here. Unusually I'm going to call out three that appealed to me less: The Taking of Chelsea 426, which you can get here, Invasion of the Cat-People, which you can get here, and Countdown, which you can get here.


Hugos 2021: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

I found it pretty easy to rank these.

6) Tenet, written and directed by Christopher Nolan
Nasty violence, incomprehensible time-travel plot and Kenneth Branagh does a very silly Eastern European accent.

5) The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Charlize Theron and her co-stars are very cute immortal fighters in today's world, and do a lot of biffing, for no reason that I could really detect.

4) Soul, screenplay by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, directed by Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers, produced by Dana Murray
In case you were worrying, I liked all the others, including this. Soul is a fun story of a man whose soul is separated from his body just before he was going to get his big musical break, and then becomes incarnated as a cat. Features Graham Norton in a supporting role.

3) Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara, directed by Max Barbakow
A reshaping of the concept of Groundhog Day where the repeated day is someone else's wedding. I thought this was sweet and funny and kept up the pacing well, but then realised when I came to write this post that I couldn't remember all that much about it.

2) Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, written by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele, directed by David Dobkin
We had some complaints after the final Hugo ballot was published from people who thought that this film anout the Icelandic entry for the Eurovision Song Contest was not sfnal. I'm tired of explaining that the subject criteria for the Dramatic Presentation categories are not as restrictive as they are for other categories, but anyway this film features several appearances by the ghost of a character who is killed early on, and one of the other characters is killed by invisible elves, which seems pretty sfnal to me. It also features Graham Norton (whose life goals probably did not include appearing in two Hugo finalist films in the same year). As my regular reader knows, I love Eurovision, and I really liked this film, including Pierce Brosnan as the protagonist's grumpy father. My one quibble is that Will Ferrell is a little too old to credibly be in the central part (though this is lampshaded in the script). There's a particularly glorious scene where Ferrell and Rachel McAdams participate in a singalong of Eurovision classics with some of the previous winners and contestants.

1) Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), written by Christina Hodson, directed by Cathy Yan
I know, totally inconsistent of me to mark down Tenet and The Old Guard for the cartoonish violence and then give my top vote to a movie that is all about cartoonish violence. But, even for someone like me who has almost no familiarity with the Harley Quinn comics and did not always enjoy previous DC movies, this has an internal integrity and an amazing level of energy that lifts it above the other contenders this year for me. We know exactly who our protagonists are, and why they are doing what they are doing, because the film tells us; and yet it also has a cleverly fragmented timeline (like Tenet and Palm Springs) which of course echoes the fragmented nature of Harley Quinn's mind. It's funny and witty, and beautifully put together, and it gets my top vote. Rock on, Margot Robbie.

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