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The Prisoner of Brenda, by [Colin] Bateman

Second paragraph of third chapter:
As we finally drove away, Alison, looking back at Jeff waving Page's little hand from the front door, had tears in her eyes. 'He looks so sad,' she said.
One of Bateman's mystery novels, set in Belfast, the protagonist being the proprietor of the No Alibis bookshop on Botanic Avenue, investigating the murder of a well-known gangster in the course of which he spends some time in Purdysburn, Belfast's mental hospital. I really enjoyed the sense of place; I think I could locate almost every scene on the map. I also enjoyed the effective way Bateman captures the black humour of Belfast. But the actual plot was too convoluted to be credible, and the ending (which apparently closes off the prospect of any more books in this four-book series) felt ungraceful and out of harmony with what had come before. I'm told that the earlier books in the series are better; I got this one signed by the author at a book fair in Brussels some years ago. You can get it here.

This was the non-genre book that had been on my unread shelf for longest. Next in that pile is Gallimaufry, a collection of short stories by Colin "Sixth Doctor" Baker.
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Whoniversaries 18 January: @chbid, Daleks#5, Krotons#4, Robot#4, Four to Doomsday#1, Snakedance#1

i) births and deaths

18 January 1941: birth of Christopher H. Bidmead, script editor for Season 18 (the last Fourth Doctor season) and writer of Logopolis (Fourth Doctor, 1981), Castrovalva (Fifth Doctor, 1982) and Terminus (Fifth Doctor, 1984) and the novelisations Happy 80th birthday, sir!

ii) broadcast anniversaries

18 January 1964: broadcast of "The Expedition", fifth episode of the story we now call The Daleks. The Thals agree to attack the Dalek city. Ian and Barbara accompany one group through the jungle and the Lake of Mutations.

18 January 1969: broadcast of fourth episode of The Krotons. The Doctor makes up some sulphuric acid; Zoe uses it to poison off the Krotons, and Jamie uses it to destroy the Dynotrope.

18 January 1975: broadcast of fourth episode of Robot, which is the first I remember watching all the way through. The robot starts disintegrating people, but the Doctor manages to destroy it with metal-eating virus.

18 January 1982: broadcast of first episode of Four to Doomsday (the first Fifth Doctor story filmed, as opposed to shown). Rather than Heathrow, the Tardis lands on a spaceship controlled by Monarch and inhabited by humans from four different eras of history.

18 January 1983: broadcast of first episode of Snakedance. Rather than Earth, the Tardis lands on Manussa, home of the Mara; Tegan is possessed by it and gets away from the Doctor and Nyssa.
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The BSFA Best Novel long-list: Goodreads/LibraryThing rankings

The BSFA Long List is out. Here are the 56 (!) Best Novel nominees, ranked by the product of their number of owners on Goodreads and LibraryThing.

Goodreads LibraryThing
reviewers av rating owners av rating
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke 27,961 4.34 1,033 4.26
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin 24,512 4.01 990 4.08
Network Effect by Martha Wells 22,649 4.43 729 4.42
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones 15,259 3.8 486 4.06
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir 13,520 4.3 465 4.21
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini 10,990 3.9 411 4.26
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell 9,187 4.04 464 4.08
The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty 13,803 4.53 279 4.32
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow 9,894 4.15 374 4.16
Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis 9,418 3.89 271 3.6
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin 7,136 3.65 189 3.56
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook 5,260 3.8 171 3.81
Burn by Patrick Ness 4,401 3.82 196 3.98
The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey 3,744 4.11 207 4.03
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata 4,323 3.62 166 3.63
The Silence by Don DeLillo 3,824 2.8 184 2.86
The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal 3,075 4.45 187 4.49
The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez 2,626 4.11 172 3.94
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson 1,725 4.02 211 4.02
Afterland by Lauren Beukes 2,208 3.31 142 3.47
The God Game by Danny Tobey 2,758 3.74 113 3.68
Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack 2,236 4.07 93 3.93
Saints of Salvation by Peter F Hamilton 2,509 4.46 63 4.32
The Last Human by Zack Jordan 1,473 3.71 99 3.54
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky 1,581 3.92 82 4.39
Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott 932 4.03 116 4.08
88 Names by Matt Ruff 1,046 3.44 66 3.21
Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow 736 4.11 73 4.13
Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang 574 3.43 83 3.5
Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell 847 3.95 56 3.65
Beneath The Rising by Premee Mohamed 437 3.68 60 3.67
The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison 308 3.75 57 3.56
Mordew by Alex Pheby 220 3.92 54 3.4
Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston 183 3.75 58 3.5
Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock 274 3.58 27 3.44
Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen 245 3.85 29 3.17
War of the Maps by Paul McAuley 194 3.8 35 3.5
Space Station Down by Ben Bova & Doug Beason 270 3.39 18 3.33
Ghost Species by James Bradley 330 3.84 11 3.75
Comet Weather by Liz Williams 81 4.46 38 4.25
Noumenon Ultra by Marina J. Lostetter 164 3.94 11 -
Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu 143 3.73 5 4.25
Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught 87 4.01 8 -
Liquid Crystal Nightingale by Eeleen Lee 39 3.56 17 4.25
The Breach by M.T. Hill 86 3.52 7 3.25
People of the Canyons by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear 71 4.13 8 -
The Evidence by Christopher Priest 49 3.37 11 5
Threading the Labyrinth by Tiffani Angus 47 4.04 10 5
Fearless by Allen Stroud 51 4.04 7 4.25
Dark Angels Rising by Ian Whates 35 3.86 9 4.33
King of the Rising by Kacen Callender 75 3.59 3 -
Greensmith by Aliya Whiteley 23 4.13 6 3.5
Analogue/Virtual by Lavanya Lakshminarayan 13 4.31 7 -
Water Must Fall by Nick Wood 8 4.25 8 1.75
Ivory’s Story by Eugen Bacon 7 4.29 6 4.67
Club Ded by Nikhil Singh 3 4.67 2 -

This is of limited predictive value, but does give a sense of how far these books have penetrated the wider market.

Three books are in the upper quartile of all four metrics - Piranesi, Network Effect and The Empire of Gold. Striking how poorly The Silence seems to have landed with readers.

Last year's winner was 5th out of 46 in the equivalent table, which is rather better than 16th out of 45 on the corresponding ranking of the 2018 long list; 27th out of 48 in 2017, and 26th out of 34 in 2016, So this table is of limited predictive value.
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DisCon III, the Hugos and me

This year's Worldcon, DisCon III, to be held in Washington DC, has had a difficult few days, with a number of people leaving the team.

I have been appointed the new Division Head of the WSFS Division, which is the part of the Worldcon that admininsters the Hugo Awards, the Business Meeting which reviews the rules, and the Site Selection process for the 2023 Worldcon (currently contested between Chengdu, China and Memphis, Tennessee) - the three obligatory things that every Worldcon must do.

I was previously the Administrator of the Hugo Awards in 2017 and 2019, and one of the deputy administrators last year; and also Division Head for Promotions at the London Worldcon in 2014. I had not anticipated having any executive role this year, but life does not always work out as we expect.

The Hugos have had some reputational issues to deal with. Having fought off direct assault by ill-wishers in 2015 and 2016, some pretty significant mistakes were made more recently. Many of those were outside the immediate responsibility of the Hugo Administrators, including most notably the awful botching of last year's Hugo ceremony and the Hugo Losers Party in 2019, and the hostile response from some in the community to the winners of the award for Best Related Work in both of those years (cases where I very much stand by the eligibility decisions that were made by teams that I was a part of).

I have made mistakes as well, and I hope that I have learned from them. In particular, it's clear, not least from the problems that arose in the last few days, that the Hugos as a whole need to be less siloed and need to improve communication in both directions with the rest of the Worldcon and with the wider stakeholder community (as my work colleagues would put it). DisCon III had already started putting structures in place that would improve this side of things, and I look forward to working with those and building on them.

The 2021 WSFS team structure currently has a lot of gaps, including the Site Selection Administrator and many of the supporting roles in Hugo Administration and the Business Meeting. Worldcon and the Hugos are entirely run by volunteers, and cannot survive without active support from fans. I do have some people in mind already, but nothing is set in stone and I would welcome (private) expressions of interest, to go please to wsfs at discon3 dot org rather than any of my other addresses.

And I cannot make any comment on what the physical arrangements for this year's Worldcon will actualy be, given the global situation. But it will happen, and there will be Hugo Awards, and I am glad to play my part.
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Whoniversaries 17 January

broadcast anniversaries

17 January 1970: broadcast of third episode of Spearhead from Space. Meg Seeley brings the swarm leader to the Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier; meanwhile General Scobie is confronted by his own double.

17 January 1974: publication by Target Books of Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks and Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke, based on the 1970 stories Spearhead from Space and Doctor Who and the Silurians, kicking off the Target novelisations which remain the single biggest sequence of Doctor Who books.

17 January 1976: broadcast of third episode of The Brain of Morbius. The Doctor restores the Sisters' flame, and Solon forces Sarah to help him operate on Morbius.

17 January 1981: broadcast of third episode of Warriors' Gate. Romana is rescued by the Tharils and brought to join the Doctor at a feast on the other side of the Gate. K9's condition continues to deteriorate.

17 January 2012: broadcast of second part of K9's Question Time, which as noted yesterday is one of the three episodes here:
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Two Thirteenth Doctor comics by women: A New Beginning and Hidden Human History

The creators of Doctor Who comics were for a long time the most male of the various parts of the Whoniverse. I noted in a history of the 1964-79 strips that the first mention of women in a creative capacity was on page 570 of a 603-page book, on work done in the 1990s. The first woman credited in the main Doctor Who Magazine comics series was Annie Halfacree (now Annie Parkhouse), who did lettering for the Sixth Doctor strips starting in 1984. The first woman to write a Doctor Who comic appears to have been Kate Orman, with a Third Doctor adventure, "Change of Mind", published in Doctor Who Magazine in 1994. Her novel, The Left-Handed Hummingbird, published the previous year, was the first original Doctor Who novel by a woman.

By contrast, the first show-runner of the TV show was a woman, Verity Lambert, the first woman director was Paddy Russell for the 1966 story we now call The Massacre, and the first credited woman writer was Leslie Scott, for the following story which we now call The Ark - though it is disputed as to whether she actually worked on the script, whose other credited writer was her husband Paul Erickson. The next credited woman, adn the first with a solo credit, to write for the TV show was Barbara Clegg, for Enlightenment in 1983, and nobody disputes that. (She will turn 95 this year.)

(I did a complete roundup of women who had written for Who in 2012; if I updated it now, I think the list would be a good deal longer. NB that a couple of earlier stories which I classified there as comics are more properly described as illustrated prose.)

Anyway, it's not exactly premature and entirely appropriate that Titan have commissioned an all-woman team for their current run of Thirteenth Doctor comics, written by Jody Houser with art by Rachael Stott, Roberta Ingranata, Giorgia Sposito and Enrica Aren Angiolini. I have not seen the publishers make a big thing about this, but the connoisseur will spot it quickly if they don't already know, and the casual buyer probably won't care.

Second frame of third part of A New Beginning:

The art in both books is gorgeous, and the brisk and charming script captures the nuances of the four lead characters rather well, especially Jodie Whittaker's Doctor. The story of A New Beginning is frankly a bit dull. It follows on from incidents in earlier Titan comics which I haven't read, with the TARDIS crew pursing a mysterious portal from which a hand emerges, beckoning. We get from A to B to C with some time-travelling incidental characters. More or less satisfying, but not very deep. I wondereed if the team's creativity was a bit stifled by having to round off an existing platline. Anyway, you can get it here.

Second frame of the third part of Hidden Human History:

The second volume, on the other hand, I thought a lot better. The companions are given a bit more inner life than usual, as it turns out that they are all fans of a podcast about obscure historical events (which sound plausible, though I have not checked to see how many of them are real). The alien enemy becomes humanised through contact with the Doctor, and we end up with a story where everyone wins, told across a set of neatly portrayed historical scenes. To be honest, I'd recommend starting with this one. You can get it here.

These both bubbled successively to the top of my pile of unread comics in English, one towards the end of last month and the other earlier this month, so I'm giving this post two bookblog year tags. The next is volume 3 in the series, Old Friends.
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Aliens (1986)

Aliens won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1987, beating in order Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, The Fly, Little Shop of Horrors and Labyrinth, in that order - a year when all the contenders were cinematic. Weirdly, I'm not entirely sure that I have seen Star Trek IV; I have definitely seen Little Shop of Horrors though. IMDB users rate Aliens ahead of the other contenders, top of the year on one ranking and fourth on the other. I'd certainly rate it ahead of Little Shop.

Two returnees from Hugo or Oscar-winning films. Most obviously, Sigourney Weaver is back from Alien as Ellen Ripley, having also briefly appeared at the end of Annie Hall as Woody Allen's latest girlfriend.


And Alan Polonsky, the unnamed insurance attorney in an early scene in Aliens, apparently played Paxton in Chariots of Fire; but I have been unable to work out who Paxton is in the earlier film. Here he is in Aliens.

This film does only one thing, but it does it very very well for two hours and seventeen minutes. It's not quite as good as the original - few sequels are - but the whole thing comes together on a single trajectory to a very gratifying conclusion. It looks good, it sounds good, and it very nearly smells appropriately disgusting. I'm not a big fan of military fiction in general, or of MilSF in particular, so I find the early scenes of the marines getting it together irritating rather than entertaining. But then their discipline and experience turn out to be worth very little against the implacable xenomorphs. In case you have forgotten about it, here's the trailer.

A lot has been made of the film's approach to womanhood and motherhood. Others have gone into this in greater detail, for instance here. I must say I haven't given it a great deal of conscious thought, but the resonances certainly enhance the viewing experience, compared to the average action/horror film where the heroic men protect the wimminfolk. I have watched very few horror films, and not read a lot of the genre; the best counterpart I can think of where the horror is continually ratcheted up until almost the final page is H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. The final sequence in particular is a masterpiece of tension.

I'm putting this in my top ten Hugo-winning films. There's not a lot more to write about it - as I said, it only does one thing - but I'm putting it ahead of The Empire Strikes Back and behind Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Next in this sequence: The Princess Bride.
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