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 5000 books that I have written up here.

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.

And I'm in the middle of a run of marking daily Doctor Who anniversaries, from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.

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.

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Whoniversaries 24 January

i) births and deaths

24 January 1930: birth of Terence Bayler, who played Yendom, a doomed human slave, in The Ark (First Doctor, 1966) and mesmerised soldier Major Barrington in The War Games (Second Doctor, 1969).

24 January 1942: birth of Robert Sidaway, who played Avon (no relation) in The Savages (First Doctor, 1966) and Captain Turner in The Invasion (Second Doctor, 1968).

24 January 1987: birth of Ruth Bradley, who played the only Irish regular Who character in any medium, Molly O'Sullivan in Big Finish's Eight Doctor Dark Eyes audios.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

24 January 1970: broadcast of fourth episode of Spearhead from Space. The Doctor and Liz defeat and expel the Nestene Consciousness, and the Doctor accepts the Brigadier's proposal that he become UNIT's Scientific Adviser.

24 January 1976: broadcast of fourth episode of The Brain of Morbius. Morbius arises; the Doctor defeats him in a mind-bending contest; and the Sisterhood force the Morbius monster over a cliff, but restore the Doctor's life.

24 January 1981: broadcast of fourth episode of Warrior's Gate, last appearance of Romana II and of K9 Mark II on TV. Rorvik blows up his own ship, inadvertently freeing the Tharils and allowing the Doctor and Adric back into N-Space; but Romana and K9 stay behind. (Three years and five days after Lalla Ward's first appearance.)

(Compare and contrast these three stories, each of four episodes, broadcast on exactly the same dates in three different years.)


Platoon won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1986, and also three others, Best Director (Oliver Stone), Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Stone lost for Best Original Screenplay and two of the actors lost for Best Supporting Actor to Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters; it was also unsuccessfully nominated for Best Cinematography. That year’s Hugo winner, Aliens, got seven Oscar nominations (one fewer than Platoon) and won two (Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects).

That year's other Best Picture nominees were Children of a Lesser God, which I have not seen, and Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission and A Room with a View, which I have. I liked all three of them more than Platoon. IMDB users are more forgiving, putting it 2nd on one ranking (after Aliens) and 8th on the other.

I have seen no less than fifteen films from 1986, a record so far, no doubt reflecting the fact that it was the year I started university and had a steady girlfriend. In rough IMDB order, they are: Aliens, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Platoon itself, Highlander (there should have been only one!!!), Blue Velvet, The Name of the Rose, Crocodile Dundee, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Little Shop of Horrors, Hannah and her Sisters, The Mission, Betty Blue, Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources (I had not realised that those two came out almost simultaneously), SpaceCamp and Clockwise. I would rate Platoon below all the others; I did not like it at all. Here is a trailer.

I'm not going to waste much time on this. There are no returning actors from previous Oscar-winners or Hugo/Nebula-winners, and no crossovers with Doctor Who. I found the entire film depressingly violent, depicting the horrific abuses by and of the American soldiers in Vietnam while barely scratching the important questions of why they were there in the first place and what the local population felt about the rape and destruction that they brought. I felt no empathy with any of the protagonists at any stage. There is no named female character, and although the soldiers are not all white, I was reminded of a scene from Not Another Teen Movie:

And Barber's bloody Adagio for Strings, all the bloody time - bludgeoning the viewer's ears with what they are supposed to be feeling, and not even used all that well.

Mostly it looks quite good, and the scenery is used effectively; I certainly can't tell the Philippines from Vietnam. But that isn't going to stop me putting Platoon right at the bottom of my list, below even The Great Ziegfeld, which at least had one interesting character (not Ziegfeld).

There are a lot of war films in the list of Oscar winners, and I actually do like some of them - All Quiet on the Western Front and The Bridge on the River Kwai, for instance. This somehow ticked very few of my boxes.

Next up is The Last Emperor, but I'll do The Princess Bride first.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can't Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman's Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King's Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986)
21st century: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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Whoniversaries 23 January

i) births and deaths

23 January 2015: death of Barrie Ingham, who played Alydon in the Cushing!Doctor film Dr Who and the Daleks and Paris in the story we now call The Myth Makers (First Doctor, 1965).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

23 January 1965: broadcast of "All Roads Lead to Rome", second episode of the story we now call The Romans. The Doctor and Vicki meet Nero, the Doctor pretending to be the murdered musician Petullian. Barbara is sold as a handmaiden to the Empress, Ian is shipwrecked.

23 January 1971: broadcast of fourth episode of Terror of the Autons. The Doctor persuades the Master that the Nestenes will go for him too, and together they repel the invasion. The Master escapes.

23 January 2008: broadcast of Sleeper (Torchwood), the one with homicidal aliens disguised as humans. (That doesn't help you remember which one it is? Really?)

November 2009 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.

November 2009 was an extraordinary month of travel for me. As previously noted, I woke up on the morning of 1 November in Juba, Southern Sudan (now South Sudan), my first morning in Africa; wandered down to the riverside terrace for breakfast and noted fuzzily that there was a ripe mango under one of the chairs. I wondered who might have thrown it or dropped it there; and then looked up and realised that no human agency was involved.

Here's me by the Nile on my first morning.

My two travelling companions, Gérard Prunier and Sigurd Illing, were both Africa experts, but it was my first time on the continent.

I flew from Juba to New York via Nairobi and Istanbul, three continents in almost exactly 24 hours (some like to pointlessly argue about which continent Istanbul is in, but it's certainly not the same continent as Juba/Nairobi or New York), sitting beside Gérard while reading his book.

I stayed in New York for most of a week on work business, but then went to a fantastic conference on Elizabeth I and Ireland held in Connecticut, before returning home. I wish I had had more time to devote to this subject in the last ten years. (But I guess Worldcons have absorbed a lot of my time.)

This was also the month that the BBC in Belfast got in touch to invite me as a TV pundit for the next election, at that point scheduled for the spring of 2010. There were a couple of hoops to jump through, but I accepted.

I read 24 books in November 2009, mainly while sitting around in Juba waiting for meetings to happen.

Non-fiction 6 (YTD 90)
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, by Jared Diamond
From Genocide to Continental War, by Gérard Prunier
King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild
A History of the Middle East, by Peter Mansfield (second edition, revised and updated by Nicholas Pelham)
Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong

Non-genre 5 (YTD 56)
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
The Black Book, by Ian Rankin
Notre Dame de Paris, by Victor Hugo
Nature Girl, by Carl Hiaasen
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

Scripts 1 (YTD 21)
Medea, by Euripides

SF 5 (YTD 76)
Queen City Jazz, by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
The Pollinators of Eden, by John Boyd
Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm
The Swoop, or How Clarence Saved England, by P.G. Wodehouse

Doctor Who 6 (YTD 66)
Border Princes, by Dan Abnett
Beyond The Sun, by Matthew Jones
Time Of Your Life, by Steve Lyons
Millennial Rites, by Craig Hinton
Spiral Scratch, by Gary Russell

Farewell Great Macedon, by Moris Farhi

Comics 1 (YTD 26)
Summer Blonde, by Adrian Tomine

~7,300 pages (YTD 96,200)
4 (YTD 64/329) by women (Morrison, Goonan, Wilhelm, Armstrong)
1 (YTD 17/329) by PoC (Tomine)

The best of these were Hiaasen's Nature Girl, which you can get here, and Diamond's Collapse, which you can get here. The worst was John Boyd's woeful sf tale The Pollinators of Eden, which you can get here.


Friday reading

Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake
T.K. Whitaker, by Anne Chambers
Watling Street, by John Higgs
Greybeard, by Brian Aldiss

Last books finished
The Lowest Heaven, eds Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin
Endgames: Political Cartoons and Other Stuff, 2015-2020, by Martyn Turner
The Food of the Gods: And How It Came to Earth, by H. G. Wells

Next books
Koko Takes a Holiday, by Kieran Shea
The Kappa Child, by Hiromi Goto

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Whoniversaries 22 January

i) births and deaths

22 January 1940: birth of Sir John Hurt, who played the War Doctor (The Day of the Doctor, 2013).

22 January 1950: birth of Pamela Salem, who played Toos in The Robots of Death (Fourth Doctor, 1977) and Rachel Jensen in Remembrance of the Daleks (Seventh Doctor, 1988).

22 January 1993: birth of Tommy Knight, who played Sarah Jane Smith's adopted son Luke in the Sarah Jane Adventures.

22 January 2008: death of Kevin Stoney, who played Mavic Chen in the story we now call The Daleks' Master Plan (First Doctor, 1965-66), Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion (Second Doctor, 1968), and Tyrum in Revenge of the Cybermen (Fourth Doctor, 1975).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

22 January 1966: broadcast of "The Abandoned Planet", eleventh episode of the story we now call The Daleks' Master Plan. The Doctor, Sara and Steven arrive on Kembel and release the Daleks' prisoners; but Mavic Chen takes them captive. The episode is lost; this is the front page of Rick Lundeen's glorious comics adaptation.

22 January 1971: broadcast of fourth episode of Day of the Daleks. The Controller lets the Doctor and Jo return to the twentieth century, and Shura blows up Styles' house with the Daleks in it.

22 January 1977: broadcast of fourth episode of The Face of Evil. Xoanon becomes sane and the Tesh and Sevateem agree to live in peace; Leela leaves with the Doctor.