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Tuesday reading

Current
Bland Ambition, by Steve Tally
The Bridge on the River Kwai, by Pierre Boulle
Gather, Darkness!, by Fritz Leiber

Last books finished
The Slender-fingered Cats of Bubastis, by Xanna Eve Chown
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente
Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2019, by Paul Lang
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Nebula Awards Showcase 2011, ed. Kevin J. Anderson
Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber, Jr

Next books
Sovereign by R.M. Meluch
Will Supervillains Be On The Final?, by Naomi Novik, art by Yishan Li

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How I'm voting today

It is election time again! Hooray! And I will be commenting on the @APCOBXLInsider Twitter feed this evening, and on the Northern Ireland counts tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow evening.

I made up my mind some time ago on how I would vote in the European Parliament elections. In terms of how Europe is going to work in the future, the two main European parties, the European People's Party (EPP) and Party of European Socialists (PES) have wedded themselves to the concept of the Spitzenkandidat, where a vote for either of them is a vote for the new European Parliament to force the chosen candidate of the EPP (or PES, if they win more seats, which they won't) onto the EU as the new President of the European Commission. Franklin Dehousse explains here why this is a bad idea in principle (see also Denis MacShane). I'll add that it's a bad idea in practice, as the EPP candidate is the rather unimpressive Manfred Weber, who has never run anything more than the EPP group in the European Parliament. I actually went to the EPP Congress in Helsinki in November to campaign for Weber's opponent:



The liberal ALDE party are running a team of potential EU leaders, a majority of them women, and starring the impressive Margrethe Vestager as well as the incredible Emma Bonino. I'm not especially a fan of former Belgian Prime Minister, now ALDE group leader, Guy Verhofstadt, but a vote for his party in the EU election is a vote against the Spitzenkandidat system and also a vote for Vestager - yes, I'm aware that's contradictory, but both statements are still true.

In Belgium we have open lists so you get to choose the candidate as well as the party. Scanning down the Open VLD list, I came across Stéphanie Anseeuw, from the far west of Belgium; the Open VLD profile doesn't mention it, but she uses a wheelchair, and during her term as senator successfully brought in legislation to enable swifter official recognition of disability. She gets my vote for Europe, though I'm under no illusions that she stands much chance, in 8th place on a list where her party is generally expected to drop at least one of their three seats.

That still leaves the Belgian federal and Flemish regional elections, in which I must vote today, since I have been a Belgian citizen since 2008 and voting is compulsory here. Rather to my surprise, I have to report that we have received election literature at this house from all parties except Open VLD, for whom I actually voted in the municipal election in October and who as noted above are getting my support at European level today. I'm certainly not voting for the anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang (formerly Vlaams Blok), and nor am I voting for the right-wing NVA, who collapsed the previous government over their refusal to sign the UN Marrakesh Global Compact on Migration. Otherwise I'm really rather at sea on this, and fortunately every media outlet has its own online survey - stemtest in Dutch - to help you decide which party fits your views best.

One issue that I care rather passionately about is migration, where I am a leftie libertarian - I want movement between countries to be as easy as possible and I hate it when my adopted country is nasty to people who have already gone through hell. (It's really telling that one of the questions you are invited to answer is "should the children of unsuccessful applicants for asylum be locked up?") Het Nieuwsblad has broken its stemtest into three different policy areas, and on migration I am basically a Trotskyist, aligned with the far-left PvdA.

On economic issues, however, I'm more centrist, with the Christian Democrats just ahead of the Left, and the Right further behind. I suspect that we are rather unusual among higher income earners in that our family gets a lot more value back from the Belgian state than we pay in taxes.
I must say I was deeply unmoved by most of the economic questions. "Should inheritance tax be lowered?" - I have no idea what the level of inheritance tax is at present. "Should the port of Antwerp be expanded?" - I have no idea. "Should unemployment benefits be cut off after a fixed period?" - ah, that one is much easier; I don't think you help people to escape poverty by making them poorer.

On climate, the Christian Democrats are level-pegging with the Greens at the top of the chart. I suspect the Greens would have scored better if it weren't for my instincts on keeping nuclear power plants open for a bit longer. Open VLD and SP.A score particularly poorly here.

De Morgen has had the idea of doing a stemtest that actually checks the past voting records of the parties against your policy preferences. I found this particularly interesting precisely because it's not actually all that helpful; it unwittingly emphasises how close the parties are - of the 22 questions I cared enough about to answer, two parties (the centre-left SP.A and centre-right liberal Open VLD) both agreed with me on 14, and the Christian Democrats and Greens agreed with me on 13; which the far-left PvdA are with me on 8/13 questions relevant to the federal level which is the only one they are contesting. Even the rabid right are only a couple of questions further away from me, on 11 each.

The EUandI survey, developed internationally, has (it claims) a standard set of questions which apply across the EU. It thinks I am a leftie, balanced between Groen and SP.A:

VRT's youth stemtest, hosted by the MNM ("Music And More") radio station, thinks I should vote Green:

So does VRT's stemtest for non-young people, at both federal and Flemish levels:

Finally, Het Laatste Nieuws has a nice gimmick where it tells you which candidate you are supposedly most aligned with - of course, this is really a proxy for the party whose list they lead, but it humanises the process a bit. HLN thinks that I am closest to the Green politician Stijn Bex, who I cannot vote for because he is a candidate for the Brussels regional parliament. Interestingly, they seem to have omitted Open VLD - perhaps they too didn't get any election literature?


Anyway, taking all of the above into aggregate and running a quick and dirty Condorcet count on the various options, it was pretty obvious which way I would vote. This time.

PS - and then it turns out that an old friend is on the Green list of substitutes for the Flemish parlimanet, so I happily gave her a preference.

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The Ginger Man, by J. P. Donleavy

Second paragraph of third chapter:
A wet salty wind. And tomorrow Marion comes back. And the two of us sit here wagging our American legs. Marion, stay away a little longer, please. Don’t want the pincers on me just yet. Greasy dishes or baby’s dirty bottom, I just want to watch them sailing. We need a nurse for baby to wheel her around some public park where I can’t hear the squeals. Or maybe the two of you will get killed in a train wreck and your father foot the bill for burial. Well-bred people never fight over the price of death. And it’s not cheap these days. Just look a bit glassy eyed for a month and take off for Paris. Some nice quiet hotel in Rue de Seine and float fresh fruit in a basin of cool water. Your long winter body lying naked on the slate and what would I be thinking if I touched your dead breast. Must get a half crown out of O’Keefe before he goes. I wonder what makes him so tight with money.
I bought this after Donleavy died, as I'm always interested in books set in Dublin from the external perspective. The time is roughly 1948, the place more or less Trinity College and the Dublin of student accommodation; Sebastian Dangerfield, Donleavy's protagonist, runs between women and beds, drinking ruinously, stealing to survive as he has already spent his inheritance. He's a thoroughly unpleasant character and I didn't much enjoy reading about him. I appreciated the literary salutes to other writers, particularly Joyce of course, but after a while they got rather laboured and the humour of the book is painful and dated. Not really recommended, but if you want, you can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017. Next on that list is Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

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Feersum Endjinn, by Iain M Banks

Second paragraph of third chapter:
The other ground vehicles were all-drive holster-buggies, armoured scree-cars, one- or two-gun landromonds and the huge multi-turreted tanks known as bassinals. The struggling convoy accounted for a good sixth of the King’s military transport, and represented either a brilliant flanking manoeuvre to supply the beleaguered garrison of troops guarding the workings in the fifth-floor south-western solar, or a desperate and probably forlorn gamble to win a war that was not only unwinnable but anyway pointless; Sessine had still to decide which.
For such a celebrated writer, Banks won rather few awards - this and Excession both won the BSFA, two years apart, and that was it. I had read this ages ago soon after it came out, and to be honest didn't remember much about it. The notable character is Bascule, who narrates his chapters semi-phonetically:
     O yes, I sed, which woznt stricktly tru, in fact which woz pretti strikly untru, trufe btold, but I cude always do them while we woz travelin.
      Wots in that thare box yoor holdin? he asks.
      Itz a ant, I sez, waven thi box @ his face.
Bascule's is only one of four different plot strands following different key characters through the landscape of a post-singularity society where most people live in a vast structure called Serehfa, and also interact with a virtual space called the Crypt. What appear to be not just different stories but different worlds eventually fit together and add up to more than the sum of their parts. But I wasn't quite convinced by it all, and there's a reason that this is not generally listed in the top ten of Banks's works. You can get it here.

Feersum Endjinn won the BSFA Award for 1994. The other shortlisted novels were Engineman, by Eric Brown, which I have not read; and Necroville, by Ian McDonald, North Wind, by Gwyneth Jones and Permutation City, by Greg Egan, all of which I have read. I don't retain clear memories of any to be honest, but I think I enjoyed Permutation City more than the others. The Clarke Award was won by Pat Cadigan's Fools, and the Tiptree by Nancy Springer's Larque on the Wing, with Moving Mars winning the Nebula for Best Novel and Mirror Dance the Hugo.

The following year, the Tiptree Award was jointly won by Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand and The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak, the Clarke Award by Paul J. McAuley's Fairyland, all of which I have written up here in recent years. That leaves the BSFA winner, Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships, which I haven't previously written up here, though I did read it soon after it came out.

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The TARDIS Handbook, by Steve Tribe

Second paragraph of third chapter:
I'm not always enthused by the various Who spinoff publications, BBC or otherwise, but this one is a real winner (and I should say that in general I've been more than satisfied with Steve Tribe's work). Here we have the TARDIS examined from all angles, its non-fictional inspiration in the drafts of C.E. "Bunny" Webber, the designs of Peter Brachacki and his successors, and the various ways it has been used in the show, from both in-universe and external perspectives. It was published in 2010, just nicely in time for The Doctor's Wife the following year. It's fully but not obsessively detailed and gorgeously illustrated. I'm sorry I missed it on first publication (actually got it at a remaindered books fair in March). Here's a nice video review by someone else. You can get it here.

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Second frame of third entry ("Something is Missing", by Juliana Penkova):
Every two years since 2013, the Brussels office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation has run a competition for EU-themed comics. This year's award ceremony was held at the end of last month, and as usual was a nice collection of stories by five artists, one German, one Argentine/German, one Bulgarian/German, one Polish and one from Northern Ireland, David Shaw (now resident in Dublin). I'm glad to say that David Shaw's story, a short narrative about a gay couple driving north across the Irish border and reflecting on the impact of the EU, won the award on the night.
I assume that the whole book will be made available soon (ISBN is 978-3-95937-012-7), or at least the Friedrich Naumann Foundation will probably give you a copy if you ask them nicely.

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Tuesday reading

Current
Nebula Awards Showcase 2011, ed. Kevin J. Anderson
Bland Ambition, by Steve Tally
The Slender-fingered Cats of Bubastis, by Xanna Eve Chown
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente

Last books finished
Feersum Endjinn, by Iain M Banks
The Ginger Man, by J. P. Donleavy
The Invasion, by Peadar O Guilin
Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers
The Big Finish Companion, vol. 2, by Kenny Smith
Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire

Next books
Sovereign by R.M. Meluch
Will Supervillains Be On The Final?, by Naomi Novik, art by Yishan Li

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The Good Doctor, by Juno Dawson

Second paragraph of third chapter:
‘Oh I think it just might be.’ The Doctor paused for a moment. She hopped from foot to foot. Ryan knew this dance too. It was the do we run away from this or towards it dance. And he knew exactly which she’d choose. ‘Come on, let’s take a little look. There’s only two things I don’t believe in, and one’s coincidence.’
Apparently the first published of the three recent Thirteenth Doctor books, by Juno Dawson (possibly the first out trans writer to contribute to the official Whoniverse; she also did a couple of Torchwood audios for Big Finish in 2017). It's really rather good - the story starts at the end of an adventure, following which the Doctor and friends return to the same planet centuries later, to discover that their first visit has become the founding myth of the dominant oppressive religious cult, with Graham remembered as the Doctor, the Doctor herself largely forgotten, and their own past used to justify slavery. It is very well done and packs a lot of action and thought into 227 pages. Recommended. You can get it here.

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Around The World in 80 Days won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture of 1956, and picked up another four, Best Cinematography, Color (Lionel Lindon), Best Film Editing (Gene Ruggiero and Paul Weatherwax), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Victor Young) and Best Writing, Best Screenplay, Adapted (John Farrow, S. J. Perelman, and James Poe). It was also nominated in Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; and Best Director. Interestingly, none of the actors was nominated despite the all-star cast. The other contenders for Best Motion Picture that year were The King and I (which I have of course seen) and Friendly Persuasion, Giant, and The Ten Commandments (which I haven't).


IMDB users rank Around The World in 80 Days 14th or 10th of the films of 1956. Ranked ahead of it in both cases are: The Ten Commandments; The Killing; The Searchers; The King and I; The Man Who Knew Too Much; Forbidden Planet; Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and Giant. Of those, apart from The King and I, I have also seen Forbidden Planet. The only other 1956 film I think I have seen is Moby Dick. It's a pretty good year; I liked all of them. Here's a contemporary trailer.


I thought this was generally very good fun. In case you didn't know, it's the story of a chap called Phileas Fogg in 1872, who bets his London clubmates that he can travel around the world in eighty days. He brings with him his recently hired manservant, Passepartout, and also acquires en route an Indian princess who he saves from suttee and a detective who suspects him of bank robbery. The journey gives the excuse for lots of brief portrayals of exotic settings, both in the original 1872 book and spectacularly in the 1956 film. It's not a deep film, but it's very entertaining. I'm a bit of a fan of David Niven anyway, having greatly enjoyed his two autobiographies which I read as a teenager. I've also loved the book since I was a child.
As usual I'll start with the bits of the film I didn't like so much.

Whitewashing: as usual, I'm afraid. The lead female role is the Indian princess Aouda, played by the thoroughly Caucasian Shirley MacLaine (aged 22, in her third film). Though, of course, even in the original book we are told on first seeing her that Aouda is "as fair as a European".

The film can hardly avoid Asian characters in the Indian, Chinese and Japanese segments - though of the credited actors, Robert Cabal, of European and Polynesian heritage, plays the unnamed Indian elephant driver; Philip Ahn, a Korean, plays a passer-by in Hong Kong). But there isn't a single sub-Saharan African or African-American visible anywhere. (It is implied that Achmed Abdullah, whose  is North African; he is played by the Mexican Gilbert Roland.) It's striking that in the scenes set in San Francisco, there is not a single non-white face to be seen - not in the election parade that starts this section of the film, not in Clancy's saloon. The book, on the other hand, singles out Chinatown as one of the sights of San Francisco, and mentions that the hotel waiters were "negroes of darkest hue" - which is not brilliant, but in the film they are not there at all.


Stereotypes: Of course this is a film which relies on stereotypes for the humour of its (Oscar-winning) script, as indeed did the book. The French of the 1870s and the Americans of the 1950s are alike in finding English reserve and snobbery alien and mockable (and an excuse to look at someone else's failings). I found it striking just how closely the film stuck to the book in this regard (with a couple of big additions, which I will get to, and the deletion of the scene with the Mormon preacher, which would have been less funny for 1950s Americans than for 1870s French readers). Oddly enough the weak point here is David Niven, who was a naturally warm and slightly vulnerable actor, and could not really carry off the impervious, on-the-spectrum Phileas Fogg.


The film does lampshade this, of course. In the closing seconds, Aouda appears at the Reform Club.
Fogg: My dear, I must ask you to leave these precincts at once. No woman has ever set foot in the club.
Aouda: Why not?
Fogg: Because that could spell the end of the British Empire.
(various crashes as Passepartout arrives through the window.)
The Governor of the Bank of England [Robert Morley]: This is the end.
(closing titles.)

Music: It's inoffensive (though Oscar-winning) stuff, the catchy theme tune being a minor hit with the instrumental version from the film on the A side and Bing Crosby crooning it on the B side. Rule Britannia is of course the theme for the British sections, but I was very amused that the French sections raid Gershwin's An American in Paris - no doubt from the film that had won the Best Picture Oscar only five years before.

Cast: There are 1302 named actors here. The number of cameos is breathtaking. You may have already spotted Marlene Dietrich running the San Francisco saloon. Here's Noel Coward (who wrote the 1932-33 Best Picture) and John Gielgud as the head of an employment agency and Phileas Fogg's recently sacked manservant.

Here's Frank Sinatra playing the piano in Marlene Dietrich's bar.

Here's Buster Keaton as the train conductor in the Wild West.

I am not enough of a film buff to really appreciate them all, but it's a remarkable array.

I think it's also unfair that none of the cast were nominated in any of the acting categories. Cantinflas in particular shines as Passepartout (and was apparently given top billing, ahead of Niven, in Spanish-speaking countries where he was better known).

I do I'm afraid have my issues with Robert Newton, who is a bit too chunky for the cadaverous Inspector Fix (and of course died of alcoholism several months before the film was actually released).

Spectacle: The whole thing looks fantastic. The two early inserted sequences, not in the original book, are the balloon out of Paris and the bullfight. The balloon is utterly gratuitous to the plot, but allows the film to be in Paris and to have some amazingly well contructed shots. It's a gorgeous sequence. (Of course, real balloonists would have needed to be more warmly dressed.)

Bullfighting is of course a terrible thing, but the point was that Cantinflas had actually been a bullfighter and was able to pull it off.

I've mentioned the establishment shot of San Francisco already. Everywhere is convincingly portrayed, the American bits best obviously. Passepartout is rescued from the Indians off-screen in the book but on-screen in the film:

And I had totally forgotten about the wind-propelled railcar in the book, which again looks great on screen.

This was very enjoyable. I'm putting it a quarter of the way down my list, just below All About Eve and above From Here To Eternity. You can get it here.


Next up is Bridge on the River Kwai, which is also based on a novel originally written in French but is a lot less funny.

This is of course not the only adaptation of Verne's novel for the screen, though it is probably the best. You may remember the 2004 version with Jackie Chan getting top billing as Passepartout and Steve Coogan in second place as Fogg, also featuring Jim Broadbent as a villainous Lord Kelvin and Arnold Schwarzenegger as an Oriental prince. It varies just a little further from the book than the 1956 version did. Here's a trailer:


Those of you who go back as far as I do may recall an Australian animated series in which Fogg is proving himself worthy of the love of Belinda, and Fix is an agent of his potential father-in-law. This opening sequence may jog your memory.


Back to the original novel, then. Second paragraph of third chapter:
Phileas Fogg se rendit aussitôt à la salle à manger, dont les neuf fenêtres s’ouvraient sur un beau jardin aux arbres déjà dorés par l’automne. Là, il prit place à la table habituelle où son couvert l’attendait. Son déjeuner se composait d’un hors-d’œuvre, d’un poisson bouilli relevé d’une « reading sauce » de premier choix, d’un roastbeef écarlate agrémenté de condiments « mushroom », d’un gâteau farci de tiges de rhubarbe et de groseilles vertes, d’un morceau de chester, — le tout arrosé de quelques tasses de cet excellent thé, spécialement recueilli pour l’office du Reform-Club. He repaired at once to the dining-room, the nine windows of which open upon a tasteful garden, where the trees were already gilded with an autumn colouring; and took his place at the habitual table, the cover of which had already been laid for him. His breakfast consisted of a side-dish, a broiled fish with Reading sauce, a scarlet slice of roast beef garnished with mushrooms, a rhubarb and gooseberry tart, and a morsel of Cheshire cheese, the whole being washed down with several cups of tea, for which the Reform is famous.
It's striking that both "Reading sauce" and "mushrooms" are in English in the original French text. I can understand there not being a French equivalent for the former, but what's wrong with "champignons"?

I last re-read the book in 2004, fifteen years ago, and wrote this:
After watching the dismal Steve Coogan/Jackie Chan film on the plane a couple of weeks ago, I realised I had the novel on my PDA and decided to re-read it. And, well, it's good. There's a little bit of the nerdishness recently satirised here, in that every means of transport is described in total detail. There are one and a half total implausibilities in the plot. But basically, this is a story of its time, full of the new wonders available in 1872 - the Suez Canal had been open for only three years, so had the rail link across the United States,and of course the whole point of the book is that the railway across India opened only that year. And this is an India only fifteen years on from the 1857 Mutiny - as far as we are from the fall of Communism; a Japan that has just experienced the Meiji restoration; a United States recovering from the Civil War, and doing its best to deal with the Mormons. And of course this is written by an author whose own native France has been devastated by a catastrophic military defeat the previous year, and is a determined attempt to look outwards and forwards.

The half implausibility I mentioned above is this. The whole basis of the story is that as a result of the trans-Indian railway being completed, our hero, Phileas Fogg, makes a bet that he can go around the world in eighty days. Well, when he gets to India, it turns out the railway hasn't been completed; and he has to complete the rest of the journey by elephant, rescuing the beautiful Aouda on the way. Now come on; the whole basis of the bet was that the railway was there, and surely the gap between Kholby and Allahabad is sufficient cause to call the bet off?

The complete and total implausibility is the punchline of the entire book, where we are asked to believe that in the course of 26 days travel between the International Date Line and London, none of our leading characters had actually checked the date and realised that they were a day ahead of themselves. So they saw no newspapers and experienced no weekends in America or between Cork and Dublin or Liverpool and London; and the schedule of steamers in New York and railways in Ireland and England was utterly insensitive to the day of the week? Come off it! Of course the plot simply doesn't work unless you are prepared to overlook this gaping hole in it, and most people do.

And how come all the bells in London strike at ten to nine anyway? Philip José Farmer had an explanation of this in The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, an otherwise completely forgettable effort. Apart from the points noted above, this is really fun and everyone should read it.
Re-reading it now I was even more struck by the cutting-edge aspects of the text. "Bungalows" are exotic buildings found only in India. The (American) Indian raid on the railway train is a cliche of the Western genre which had only recently come into existence (the dime novels Malaeska and Seth Jones both first appeared in mass circulation in 1860). I guess balloons out of Paris were still a painfully recent memory, or Verne would probably have put one in. It's a short book with lots of fun spectacle. You can get it here.


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)
21st century: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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Second paragraph of third chapter:
The two of them preceded Querida and Barnabas up the straight drive (for, despite working until after midnight, Derk had not found room to make the drive wander as he wanted) and to the enormous terrace, where they politely bowed the two wizards up the steps. It was perhaps unfortunate that the moving around of the garden had resulted in the clump of man-eating orchids arriving at a bed just beside these steps. They made a dart at Querida as she passed, all several dozen yellow blooms at once. Querida turned and looked at them. The orchids drew back hastily.
This came to me strongly recommended as a superior example of the great Diana Wynne Jones' work. It didn't completely grab me, but I still quite liked it. The setting is a fantasy world which has been taken over by a commercial tour company from a world like ours; inhabitants are expected to dress up and engage in mock fantasy activities for the benefit of the tourists, and the unfortunate Derk is appointed Dark Lord of Derkholm in an effort to lead his world's response to the problem, which at the same time dealing with some complicated teenage family dynamics where not all of the teenagers are human.

DWJ was always particularly deft and sympathetic at portraying family relations (perhaps The Ogre Downstairs is her high point) and that's certainly the strength of this book, where quite a lot is shown rather than told. My difficulty was with the fantasy setting, where on the one hand we are invited to dislike the tourists from "our" world who don't take it seriously (or take it too seriously), and yet the characters veer a little too closely to early Pratchett in their own appreciation of their setting. In Farah Mendlesohn's terminology, it veers between several different rhetorics - liminal, immersive and portal (and possibly a kind of reverse intrusive) - without really settling on any of them. It's also rather longer than the story really deserves. As mentioned above, I still quite liked it. You can get it here.

This was the top unread sf book on my shelves (excluding previous award winners and current Hugo finalists). Next on that list is Grimm Tales, by Philip Pullman.

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A Sunless Sea, by Anne Perry

Second paragraph of third chapter:
A group of men passed him, trudging along the road towards the docks. A vegetable cart passed the other way, piled with carrots and greens of one sort or another, and a few ripe apples.
Honestly not sure why I picked this up. It turns out to be 18th in s series of 24 (so far) novels about a Victorian detective, William Monk, who here gets sucked into an 1864 London murder, linked to the government's involvement in the opium trade. I bounced off a number of points. The nicer characters have much too sympathetic political views for their time (for comparison, there is an awful chapter in the otherwise not too bad The Next Generation, by John Francis Maguire MP, published in 1871, about the Chinese and opium). The middle-class women of the book seemed to me rather more politically emancipated than could really have been expected in 1864. The actual murder plot was a bit improbable, and the motivation of the suspect who is first arrested for the crime seemed incomprehensible to me. On the other hand, there is a good and sensitive appreciation of London's geography. And on doing a bit more digging, I discovered that the author knows at first hand what it's like to be a woman on trial for murder. However, I don't think I will look out for more of her work based on A Sunless Sea. If you want, you can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2015. Next on that list is The Ghosts of Heaven, by Marcus Sedgwick.

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Second paragraph of third chapter:
Hordenza started. She’d been engrossed in the icefield analysis and hadn’t realised the signal from Versimmon was getting through. ‘Ah – Minister Hordenza here,’ she said. ‘Over?’
This is a novel in the Bernice Summerfield continuity, set during the Road Trip audio sequence (not that you'd really notice). It's a short book set on a world with no native animals, entirely ruled by trees; Bernice and three other women from the human colonising power have to make sense of it all. Another reviewer compared it favourably with Ann Leckie; I wouldn't go that far, but I thought the setting and language were a lot more original and imaginative than I'm used to from this series, and although the action was a bit confusing to begin with, it resolves reasonably quickly and anyway does not go on too long. Unusually, I think it would be a satisfactory read for someone who was not familiar with Benny's wider story. You can get it here.

Next in this sequence is The Slender-fingered Cats of Bubastis, by Xanna Eve Chown.

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Tuesday reading

Current
Feersum Endjinn, by Iain M Banks
The Ginger Man, by J. P. Donleavy
The Big Finish Companion, vol. 2, by Kenny Smith

Last books finished
The TARDIS Handbook, by Steve Tribe
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
Infomocracy, by Malka Older

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Bland Ambition, by Steve Tally
Nebula Awards Showcase 2011, ed. Kevin J. Anderson

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