500 days of plague

So, back when I started these ten-day updates in March last year, I had no idea I'd still be at it half a thousand days later. (I did skip the updates between 100 and 220 days in; that was the lull of summer last year.) I will keep at it for now; we're not exactly back to normal yet.

We're a lot closer than we were. Today, for the first time in a month, the weekly average of new infections in BElgium was less than the previous reported day - and since that's a seven-day average of the period from three to nine days ago, that means we are probably over the hump. The number of cases has risen a lot from its dip in June, but is still lower than at any time since mid-September 2020, more than nine months ago. And although hospitalisations and ICU occupancy have risen, they are many times less than the levels last time we had infection rates this high. There were six days in July when no COVID deaths at all were reported in Belgium, for the first time since 10 July last year.

So I'm on the optimistic side at the moment. I'll be going back to work in the office five days a week, starting next Monday, 2 August. There are not a lot of people around during the holiday season - this week, I was in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I don't think there were more than six others present on any of those days, in an office whose capacity is around 50. I have an actual physical meeting planned in London on 12 August, and I've also booked some time off to go to Ireland, now that that is possible again.

Apart from that, we celebrated F's 22nd birthday with cake last Sunday.

And shopping in Leuven, I came across a band playing "Ciao Bella", not sure exactly why.

Irish friends will have noted that the retired politician Desmond O'Malley died, aged 82. He famously challenged the church's role in Irish politics in a speech during a parliamentary debate on legalising contraception in 1985, which ended with the famous phrase, "I stand by the Republic":blockquote>The politics of this would be very easy. The politics would be, to be one of the lads, the safest way in Ireland. But I do not believe that the interests of this State, or our Constitution and of this Republic, would be served by putting politics before conscience in regard to this. There is a choice of a kind that can only be answered by saying that I stand by the Republic and accordingly I will not oppose this Bill. A friend pinged me to remind me (and I am not sure if I had ever realised it) that O'Malley had actually cited my father at some length earlier in the speech:
I took the opportunity over the last weekend to read some of the chapters in J. H. Whyte's book on Church and State in Modern Ireland. To read, perhaps in full for the first time myself, the whole mother and child controversy of 1951, as it was called, is unbelievable. It is incredible that Members of this House and of the Government of the day could be as cravan and supine as they were, as we look back on them now. It shows how much the atmosphere has changed. Then one has to ask oneself “Has the atmosphere changed?”. Because when the chips are down is it going to be any different?

It was interesting to read the so-called mother and child scheme. There were ten provisions for women in it relating to ante-natal and post-natal care and care of the children when they were born. One of the provisions was for free dental treatment for pregnant women. The most tremendous objection was taken to that at that time. I recall only a couple of weeks ago, the Minister for Finance reading that out here in the budget speech and there was a howl of laughter all round the House. How could anyone seriously object to something like that? How could anyone seriously object to anything in it, as one looks back on it now? Look at the effect it has had on this island. We have to bear in mind that this is 1985, and whatever excuses one could make for people in 1951, those excuses are not valid today for us.
We are 36 years on from 1985, which was 34 years on from 1951, and Ireland has come a lot further in the last 36 years than in the previous 34.

Friday reading

Fish Tails, by Sheri S. Tepper
Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction, ed. Hayden Trenholm
Thirteen, by Steve Cavanagh
The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies, Commonly Called Mother Ross on Campaign with the Duke of Marlborough by Daniel Defoe

Last books finished
Le dernier Atlas, tome 2, by Fabien Vehlmann, Gwen De Bonneval and Fred Blanchard
The History of Mr Polly, by H.G. Wells
The Dragon Republic, by R.F. Kuang

Next books
The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams
The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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June 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.

Lots of travel with my Georgian client that month, but no time for photographs: starting with a site visit in Tbilisi, and then to Geneva to lobby the UN, and Strasbourg to lobby the Council of Europe.

In my reading world, a group of us were working our way through War and Peace and happened to hit the precise 200th anniversary of the French invasion of Russia while reading it, which was an interesting synchronicity.

In external news that I don't really care about, Queen Elizabeth II marked fifty years on the throne. (The actual anniversary is in February but they celebrate in June.) I imagine that she will make it to sixty next year.

I read 29 books that month.

Non-fiction 6 (YTD 28)
The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
Jar Jar Binks Must Die, by Dan Kimmel
The Flowering of New England 1815-1865, by Van Wyck Brooks
The Steampunk Bible, by Jeff VanderMeer with S.J. Chambers et al.
The Young Elizabeth, by Alison Plowden
Danger to Elizabeth, by Alison Plowden

Fiction (non-sf) 3 (YTD 14)
Hard Times, by Charles Dickens
A Good Hanging and Other Stories, by Ian Rankin
Lust, Caution and Other Stories, by Eileen Chang

sf (non-Who) 7 (YTD 39)
Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, by Selma Lagerlöf
The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, edited by Terry Carr
Sphere, by Michael Crichton
Waking the Moon, by Elizabeth Hand
Sauron Defeated, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 37)
Autonomy, by Daniel Blythe
The House That Jack Built, by Guy Adams
Dying in the Sun, by Jon de Burgh Miller
Falls The Shadow, by Daniel O'Mahony

Comics 9 (YTD 12)
Habibi, by Craig Thompson
The Unwritten, vols 3-4, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Digger vols 1-6, by Ursula Vernon

Running totals:
~8,000 pages (YTD 38,800)
14/29 (YTD 39/130) by women (Chambers, Plowden x2, Chang, Lord, Lagerlöf, Hand, Butler, Vernon x6)
3/29 (YTD 5/130) by PoC (Chang, Lord, Butler)

The best of these was Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler, though it was a reread; you can get it here. Also really liked the Ian Rankin anthology, which you can get here; Waking the Moon, which you can get here; Redemption in Indigo, which you can get here; and Digger, which you can get here.
Really didn't like either Sphere, which you can get here, or Dying in the Sun, which you can get here.

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2021 Hugos: The Lodestar Award

Obligatory bit of throat-clearing: I opposed the creation of the YA award because I am keenly aware of the extra burden every new category places on the Hugo administrators. But I have to admit that pound for pound, the YA and now Lodestar finalists are on par with the Best Novel finalists for the Hugos, and the extra degree of quality added to the awards as a whole justifies the extra resources required. (I do not feel the same way about Best Series, but we'll get to that.) Having said that, this year's finalists are a bit weaker

6) Legendborn, by Tracy Deonn. Second paragraph of third chapter:
Lights flash blue and red against the night sky, and dread, heavy and sour, fills my stomach. A Durham County Sheriff patrol car has pulled into the lot, and my friends are standing beside it talking to a deputy holding a notepad.
Dear God, King Arthur and the Round Table turn up in Chapel Hill as university students. I'm sorry, I know the writer was also saying important things about race and class, but I can't get past the silliness of importing a very specifically English/Welsh legend to North Carolina. Did not finish. You can get it here.

5) Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas. Second paragraph of third chapter:
They passed by some brujx still looking for Miguel.
Similarly failed to grab me. Again, I know that the writer was saying important things about gender identity and Latinx culture, but the plot turned out to be complete cliché. (Though this time I did keep reading to the end, in the hope that it wouldn't be.) You can get it here.

4) Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko. Second paragraph of third chapter:
“I told you travelling by lodestone was a bad idea,” Kathleen snapped at Woo In as she emptied my sick bowl out the window. “We should have taken camels. Lodestones are nasty powerful. She's never been exposed to magic before.”
Deeply imagined world with clear roots in West Africa; our protagonist is an unwilling part of a dynastic magical plot by her (frankly awful) mother, set up to kill the young ruler who she is also advising, and struggles to escape her destiny. All nicely put together but I wasn't totally convinced by some elements of the world-building - is there a means of replacement if one of the ruling magical Council dies or resigns, for instance? And the magic seemed (as so often) to be just sufficiently strong for the plot point it was supporting. You can get it here.

3) Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badger. Second paragraph of third chapter:
Kirby hopped off the bed. He’d been curled at her feet all night, entertained by who-knows-what. When ghosts fell asleep, they went back to the underworld, so he clearly didn’t dream. Maybe Kirby contemplated squirrels and cheese for seven hours.
I quite liked the set-up - an alternate USA timeline where the supernatural is an accepted part of life and our Apache protagonist has brought her own dog back from the dead as a ghost; and they confront ancient evil in a Texas town. However there's quite a lot of infodumping throughout, and I felt the author lost the run of herself in the concluding chase through the evil haunted mansion. You can get it here.

2) Really difficult to choose between the top two; I thought that they were both excellent. However, you have to put one second and one first, so my #2 vote goes to A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, by "T. Kingfisher" [Ursula Vernon]. Second paragraph of third chapter:
There was a new man in the bakery, and he didn’t look like he was interested in tea or sweet buns. He was wearing dark purple robes past his ankles, and the hems weren’t dusty at all. The street sweepers do a good job, once the snow’s melted, but not that good. He definitely hadn’t walked here.
Well thought out if slightly silly fantasy world where those who have magic can only manifest it in a particular way, and our protagonist manifests hers through magical baking, through which she is called on to save her home city, all the other magicians being conveniently unavailable (or traitors). As usual with this author, a cracking pace that keeps you engaged. You can get it here.

1) And my top vote this year goes to A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik. Second paragraph of third chapter:
The next morning Aadhya knocked to get me for showers and breakfast company, which was nice of her. I wondered why. A drill was valuable, but not that valuable. Thanks to her company, I was able to take my first shower in a week and refill my water jug before we headed to the cafeteria. She didn’t even try to charge me for it, except watching in turnabout while she did it, too.
I mean, in general the wizardly boarding school setting was already a bit of a cliché even when Ursula Le Guin did it, never mind J.K. Rowling. But Novik takes a couple of interesting new turns. First, the school is infested by evil magical creatures which in a normal year eat or otherwise kill a large percentage of the students. Second, our protagonist is deeply cynical, rude to everyone, and doesn't even try to be a good girl, just alive. Third, the brutal outworkings of the class system in determining who lives and who dies are a crucial element of the plot. On top of this there's the usual plot of classroom politics and teenage angst, and one slightly wonders about all the parents who send their kids to a boarding school where their chances of survival are so low, but I liked it a lot. You can get it here.


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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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