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I got this having hugely enjoyed Culbard's graphic novel version of At the Mountains of Madness a few years ago. I'm sorry to say that this didn't work for me so well; it's not as visual a story, and the central characters (Charles Dexter Ward, the narrator Willett and the ancient necromancer Curwen) are not especially interesting characters. It's interesting that Lovecraft himself thought this was not one of his best efforts, and the original story remained unpublished until 1941, several years after he had died. Still, if you want to, you can get it here.

This was the top unread graphic story on my shelves. Next is Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, by Abel Lanzac.

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Islandia, by Austen Tappan Wright

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Breakfast was not a meal to linger over. There was too much to be seen, and in two hours the anchor would be dropped. Because I needed advice and also liked and trusted him, when M. Perier appeared on deck, I confided my feelings about Dorn to him; and he, like Islata Soma, advised me to write at once and not to worry about our different views. There was something very friendly in his manner, and my cup of gratitude was full when he offered to take me in hand when we went ashore, suggesting that I present my credentials in his company that afternoon and then come home with him for dinner.
This is one of the Retro Hugo finalists for 1943 this year, having been published in 1942; it is as long as the other five combined, and was published years after the author's death from his assembled notes by his daughter (who probably should get cover creds, but of course doesn't).

It's set in the first decade of the last century. Our protagonist has a bromance at Harvard with a scion of the ruling elite of Islandia, a mysterious country on a mysterious continent in the southern hemisphere (more likely the Atlantic than the Pacific, from the hints we are given). After graduation, he pulls some family political strings and gets sent there as the American Consul. And he falls in love, with several of the young women of Islandia, but most of all with the country itself, whose relaxed social and sexual attitudes are a stark contrast with the rather repressed American culture of the Gilded Age. It's a great work of world-building, with a series of romantic plots overlaid (and some politics, but really not all that much). The pace is fairly gentle, but I did find myself caught up in the story, especially the awkwardness of the narrator's relationships with the women of both Islandia and the USA. It's a long read, but worth it. You can get it here (paper only, not electronic).

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A couple of spinoff short story collections published recently, featuring two of the strong female characters of the Moffat era.

The Missy Chronicles, by James Goss, Cavan Scott, Paul Magrs, Peter Anghelides, Jacqueline Rayner and Richard Dinnick

Second para of third story ("Teddy Sparkles Must Die", by Paul Magrs):
Jack spared his younger sister a scornful glance. ‘I’m not scared of her. She’s only a servant.’
Six stories here, and reading through other people's reviews I am struck by how different everyone's take is. However, most people single out "Girl Power!" by Jacqueline Rayner as a favourite, and I agree - it's set during Missy's years of imprisonment in the Vault, in the style of internet chat between her and famous women of history as she tries to develop a cunning plan for escape and domination but ends up getting changed herself.

The opening story, "Dismemberment" by James Goss, was a (very) rare miss for me from this writer; I simply found it too violent. However I go against fannish consensus in rather enjoying "The Liar, the Glitch and the War Zone" by Peter Anghelides, which features the first appearance of the Thirteenth Doctor in written fiction. I am more with the mainstream in having enjoyed Richard Dinnick's "Alit in Underland", set between the TV episodes "World Enough and Time" and "The Doctor Falls", and exploring what Missy and the John Simm Master got up to on the Mondasian colony ship. Well worth getting.

The Legends of River Song, by Jenny T. Colgan, Jacqueline Rayner, Steve Lyons, Guy Adams and Andrew Lane

Second para of third story ("A Gamble With Time", by Steve Lyons):
That's on Earth, in case I haven't mentioned it before.
Again I think Jacqueline Rayner has the best story here, "Suspicious Minds" featuring an Auton version of Elvis and a bunch of hints at River's own past. I also liked Jenny Colgan's "Picnic at Asgard", which fills in that particular gap in continuity, and "River of Time" by Andrew Lane which actually has River functioning as an archaeologist.

I think this collection works better than The Missy Chronicles, basically because River Song is a more interesting and more complex character. You can get it here.

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Following on from my post on the long list, here are the Goodreads and LibraryThing ownership and ratings stats for the shortlist.
Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
American War — Omar El Akkad 70396 3.83 632 3.86
Borne — Jeff VanderMeer 50713 3.91 565 3.9
Gather the Daughters — Jennie Melamed 16643 3.66 130 3.48
Spaceman of Bohemia — Jaroslav Kalfař 9580 3.87 122 4.1
Sea of Rust — C. Robert Cargill 8563 4.14 113 4.14
Dreams Before the Start of Time — Anne Charnock 816 3.51 24 3.3

The one that I really didn't see coming was Dreams Before the Start of Time, which I really liked (though I liked the other three BSFA finalists more).

Note the high reader ratings for Sea of Rust, though it's also worth saying that it's tough to maintain high average ratings as the number of readers goes up, so Borne is doing well too.


I found the top spot very easy to place here. I'm not so certain of my other rankings, but here’s where I am right now.

6) “Asylum,” by A.E. van Vogt

Second paragraph of third section:
He dismissed that particular problem as temporarily insoluble, and because actually—it struck him abruptly—this girl's size was unimportant. She had long, black lashes and dark eyes that glowed at him from a proud, almost haughty face. And that was it; quite definitely that was the essence of her blazing, powerful personality.
Wasn’t really convinced by this (and turns out it is the first part of what ultimately became a novel, Supermind). Space vampires and superhuman intelligences are overseeing New York, and the Great Galactic’s agent in our midst is revealed.

5) “Hell is Forever,” by Alfred Bester

Second paragraph of third section:
She went through the veil sharp on Finchley's heels, that short, slender, dark woman; and she found herself in the dungeon passage of Sutton Castle. For a moment she was startled out of her prayer, half disappointed at not finding a land of mists and dreams. Then, with a bitter smile, she recalled the reality she wanted.
Five protagonists accidentally summon a god who condemns each to an individual hell. They are not very nice people in the first place, and there are some unfortunate stereotypes.

4) “Waldo,” by Robert A. Heinlein

Second paragraph of third section:
Harkness said, “Really, Dr Stevens—”
I liked this much less than I remember doing when I first read it. Waldo’s not a terribly attractive protagonist, and his arc is rather improbable.

3) “The Compleat Werewolf,” by Anthony Boucher

Second paragraph of third section:
The two men next to them began singing "My Wild Irish Rose," but trailed off disconsolately. “What we need,” said the one with the derby, “is a tenor.”
Much more entertaining, though the gender attitudes have not aged well; chap discovers that he can get the girl and foil Nazi spies by turning into a wolf.

2) “Nerves,” by Lester del Rey

Second paragraph of third section:
“Verry ssorry, Dr Ferrel, to bother you. Verry ssorry. No ether pleasse!”
I found this really fascinating - it's the story of a nuclear accident in a near future America, where the Japanese are allies again, and political interference in the accident has potentially catastrophic consequences. We now know that nuclear engineering has worked out very differently, but I really liked this attempt to read the future into what little was known in 1942.

1) “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag,” by Robert A. Heinlein

Second paragraph of third section:
He continued to hold the Tribune in front of his face as if reading it. “I see him,” he said quietly. “Control yourself. Yuh'd think you had never tailed a man before. Easy does it.”
I really liked this when I first read it 30 years ago, and it hadn't lost much in the intervening decades - Heinlein in fantasy mode, approaching Philip K. Dick in some ways, with the young couple at the centre of the narrative discovering that our world is very different from what they thought. Gets my top vote, and I am sure it will win.

2018 Hugos: Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Graphic Story
1943 Retro Hugos: Novella | Novelette | Short Story

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May Day in Vissenaken

I hadn't seen B for a while, so visited this morning to take advantage of the good weather, and took her out on a walk in the Rozendaalbeek valley around Vissenaken, about a quarter of an hour's drive from where she lives. It's quite nicely laid out; you start in the car park of the St Maartenskerk (an 18th century building replacing a place of ancient pilgrimage; the cult of St Martin is of course an interesting medieval topic in its own right).

Spring has firmly taken root and summer is not too far off, despite the weekend's cold and rain, and B had a spring in her step.

We encountered a couple of surprising religious pieces of art as we walked. The first is the Holy Well of St Hymelinus, constructed in 1817.

St Hymelinus is the local saint of Vissenaken, unknown anywhere else. He is reported to have visited very briefly in 681, on his way back to his native land from a pilgrimage to Rome. He is described as a Scot, which at that date probably means that he was Irish. Passing by the well, he asked a local girl for a drink from it. She warned him that there was plague in the water, but he insisted and the water that she gave him was miraculously transformed into wine. Sadly, St Hymelinus died a few days later of plague anyway. When he died, the church bells rang spontaneously, and the ground miraculously opened to provide his grave. It takes all sorts.

Heading back to the church, we came across this rather impressive piece:

It's a chunky big shrine to Our Lady of Sorrow, created in 1938 by the sculptor Albert Poels, whose best-known work is the statue of the Lange Wapper in his native Antwerp. It looks very 1930s (I'm not sure if you can see that here).

Not that B cares particularly; but she seemed to have enjoyed the walk.

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April Books

Non-fiction: 1 (YTD 17)
The God Instinct, by Jesse Bering



Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 13)
Mrs Miniver, by Jan Struther
Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller



sf (non-Who): 7 (YTD 35)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson
La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, by Robert A. Heinlein
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells
Islandia, by Austen Tappan Wright
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor



Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 14)
Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2010
Genius Loci, by Ben Aaronovitch
Rose, by Russell T. Davies
The Christmas Invasion, by Jenny T. Colgan



Comics: 8 (YTD 14)
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by H.P. Lovecraft and Ian Culbard
Torchwood: Rift War, by Ian Edgington et al.
Black Bolt, Volume 1: Hard Time, written by Saladin Ahmed, illustrated by Christian Ward, lettered by Clayton Cowles
Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Saga, Volume 7, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Clayton Cowles
Paper Girls, Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher
My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris



~6,000 pages (YTD ~25,900)
10/22 (YTD 37/94) by women (Struther, Doller, Jones, Wells, Okorafor, Colgan, Liu/Takeda, Staples, DeConinck, Ferris))
5/22 (YTD 11/94) by PoC (Okorafor, Ahmed, Liu/Takeda, Staples, Chiang)
0/22 (YTD 6/94) reread

Reading now
The Road to Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead
Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith
Luminescent Threads, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal
The Day of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat

Coming soon (perhaps):
Contes Fantastiques Complets, by Guy de Maupassant
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
Looking For JJ, by Anne Cassidy
Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, by James Finn Garner
Moominvalley in November, by Tove Jansson
Gemini, by Dorothy Dunnett
Virgins, Weeders and Queens, by Twigs Way
Robot Visions by Isaac Asimov
Le Mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Your Code Name is Jonah, by Edward Packard
Anno Mortis, by Rebecca Levene
“Slow Sculpture”, by Theodore Sturgeon
The Aeneid, by Virgil
Rose de Paris, by Gilles Schlesser
The Flood, by Scott Gray and Gareth Roberts
Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, by Abel Lanzac
Maigret Loses His Temper, by Georges Simenon
Up Jim River, by Michael Flynn
The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer
Aztec Century, by Christopher Evans
Collected Works, ed. Nick Wallace

Monday reading

Current
The Road to Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead
Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith
Luminescent Threads, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal
The Day of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat

Last books finished
Islandia, by Austen Tappan Wright
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor

Next books
Contes Fantastiques Complets, by Guy de Maupassant
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
Looking For JJ, by Anne Cassidy

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The 2018 Hugo finalists for Best Novelette

Only brief notes here - been rather busy.

6) “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer

Second paragraph of third section:
The pest also appeared to have a taste for the insulation on comm cables and other not normally edible parts of the ship.
Sorry, this fails my “I hate cute robots” test. The heroic robot carries a disabled older robot around with him on his quest before saving the day by being cute. It’s not you, author, it’s me; don’t worry.

5) “A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Second paragraph of third section:
It’s not expulsion if you leave before you get kicked out, she tells herself, but even she can tell that’s a lie.
A funny (and sinister) story about synthetic meat.

4) “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard

Second pargraph of third section:
And, as he walked, he became aware he wasn’t alone.
Dragon on a mission in the same world as House of Shattered Wings.

3) “Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee

Second paragraph of third section:
The usual commander of the troop introduced herself as Churioi Haval, not her real name. She was portly, had a squint, and wore gaudy gilt jewelry, all excellent ways to convince people that she was an ordinary merchant and not, say, Kel special ops. It hadn’t escaped his attention that she frowned ever so slightly when she spotted his sidearm, a Patterner 52, which wasn’t standard Kel issue. “You’re not bringing that, are you?” she said.
Another man on a mission, in an entertainingly diverse future.

2) “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara

Second paragraph of third section:
Andreas’s venom curdles any food left in my stomach. He deposits me in the bathroom the instant before I vomit. I clutch the toilet bowl until my knuckles whiten and the whiteness spreads through my hands and I can feel it in my face. Until I can only dry heave.
Interesting exploration of the concept of a transgender vampire.

1) “Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker

Third section in full:
Wind Will Rove
Instrumental in D (alternate tuning DDAD)
Harriet Barrie, Music Historian:
The fiddler Olivia Vandiver and her father, Charley Vandiver, came up with this tune in the wee hours of a session in 1974. Charley was trying to remember a traditional tune he had heard as a boy in Nova Scotia, believed to be "Windy Grove." No recordings of the original "Windy Grove" were ever catalogued, on ship or on Earth. "Wind Will Rove" is treated as traditional in most circles, even though it's relatively recent, because it is the lost tune's closest known relative.
A generation starship that has lost its collective cultural memory, and has to make do. Several interesting themes combined (history, politics, culture) and it gets my vote.

2018 Hugos: Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Graphic Story
1943 Retro Hugos: Novella | Novelette | Short Story

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Musical anniversaries for 26 April

Fugue in A by Adam Falckenhagen, who was born on this day in 1697.


Deep Moaning Blues, by Ma Rainey, born on this day in 1886.


Theme from “Love Story”, by Francis Lai, born on this day in 1932.


“Ghost Riders in the Sky”, by Duane Eddy, born on this day in 1938.


“Touch Myself” by T-Boz, born on this day in 1970.


“A Night Like This”, by Carlo Emerald, born on this day in 1981.


“Dy-Na-My-Tee”, by Ms. Dynamite, also born on this day in 1981.


Happy birthday to all of them. And to me.

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Second paragraph of third chapter:
The journey was very long and we had to travel for two days and nights. Sister Firmina, who acted as the boarders’ ‘mother’, had told us to be good girls and not give any trouble to our dear Uncle Hermann, Papa’s youngest brother, who still lived with Grandmother and who would take us from Vienna to Uj-Moldova. Papa would take us as far as Vienna.
I got this several years ago because I thought it was about the state of Moldova, which I know and love; but in fact it is a post-Habsburg memoir by a woman who was brought up in the Hungarian town of Uj-Moldova in the Banat, now Moldova Nouă in south-west Romania, and whose childhood was interrupted by the first world war, at the end of which she and her parents found themselves non-Czechs living in the new Czechoslovakia, and having to make what accommodation they could with the new state of affairs. Physical return to Uj-Moldova was difficult, but became possible as tensions reduced; but you can never go back to the past. Coming to it so soon after Stefan Zweig was interesting; obviously Anna’s family were small-town bourgeoisie rather than Jewish intellectuals, but that simply meant that the disintegration of the old system hit them in a somewhat different way. Anna lived to see her homeland taken over by Communism, and her family expelled as Sudeten Germans, but got out in time (and got her parents out) by marrying Mr Robertson. Despite the tension of the times, she retains an eye for the humorous and for telling details. The book was published in 1989, just as the world was changing again; you can get it here.

This was both the non-fiction book that had lingered longest on my unread shelves, and the shortest unread book that I acquired in 2010. Next on those piles respectively are Virgins, Weeders and Queens, by Twigs Way, and The Flood, by Scott Gray and Gareth Roberts.

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Back to Hugo blogging again, with the Graphic Story category for 2018. Interesting to note that this year we have two Prison Break stories, three Fantastic Voyages, and one that isn’t really sfnal at all. I did not find it hard to make my ranking (with one exception); but I am also conscious that my choices here are even more subjective than usual.

6) Black Bolt, Volume 1: Hard Time, by Saladin Ahmed, Christian Ward, & Clayton Cowles

I'm not into Marvel mythology, but this seems to be an origin myth for the superhero Black Bolt, tricked out of his rightful kingship and imprisoned in deep space along with various other hard cases (most with their own super powers). He makes allies with his fellow inmates and breaks free. There is a certain amount of social commentary on the US prison system (though perhaps slightly pulling its punches). I think I would have needed to be more invested in the overall Marvel universe to really appreciate this. You can get it here.

5) My Favourite Thing is Monsters, Part One, by Emil Ferris

Make no mistake, this is a tremendous piece of work, one of the great graphic novels of the century so far. It’s about a young girl in Chicago in 1968, obsessed with monsters, whose upstairs neighbour is mysteriously shot; and her investigations take her to some very dark places in the past and present, notably the experience of Jews in Nazi Germany.

However I can’t really accept this as sf. Karen, the protagonist and viewpoint character, is almost always portrayed as a troll; but it’s clear that this is her own self-image, and in fact she is an entirely human kid. None of the plot requires sfnal elements to work.

I think that this is the first time this issue has come up in this particular category, but it’s not unusual - back in 2014, both “Wakulla Springs”, in the Best Novella category, and more notoriously “If You Were A Dinosaur My Love” in the Best Short Story category, were finalists despite a real lack of sfnal content. Hugo administrators must of course balance the choices of nominators against the rigour of definitions, and the last book to be disqualified on grounds of content despite receiving enough nominations to be a finalist was L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, vol XVII, back in 2002, judged to have insufficient non-fiction content to qualify for Best Related Book. It’s generally up to voters to exercise their choices, and I choose not to give high preferences to fiction that isn’t really sf or fantasy. It’s still well worth getting.

4) Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Clayton Cowles

This is another Prison Break story, but with the extra wrinkles of gender, sexuality and politics woven into the essential narrative of tragic arrest and detention on spurious grounds in a deeply corrupt system. I felt I cared a bit more about the characters here than I did with Black Bolt. Get it here.

3) Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda

The first volume of this story won last year, and here our protagonists take a trip to the mysterious Isle of Bones, to resolve past issues and maybe gain future strength. Once again it’s gorgeously illustrated and tightly plotted; once again I find myself a bit squicked by the violence, and dropping it maybe a place or two for that rather subjective reason. You can get it here.

2) Paper Girls, Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher

I had read the first volume soon after it came out, and greatly enjoyed it, but missed the second volume, and wondered if I would feel able to pick up the plot having missed half of it. In fact it worked out fine. Our heroines are trapped many thousands of years in the past, getting mixed up with the local indigenous inhabitants, other time travellers and the mysterious alien presence which seems to be Behind It All, meanwhile each grappling with her own set of issues which can’t be left behind. I’ll probably fill in the gap and get the second volume. Meanwhile you can get vol 3 here.

1) Saga, Volume 7, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

Sometimes it’s nice to get back to familiarity. I read all of these during a slightly stressful week or so, and there was somthing very comforting about sliding back into the familiar world of Saga - even though a favourite character appears to get brutally written out. I suppose that Vaughan and Staples have an end in mind for this story, but I am not in any hurry for them to get there; I am really enjoying the journey. It gets my vote, and you can get it here.




2018 Hugos: Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Graphic Story
1943 Retro Hugos: Novella | Novelette | Short Story

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Monday reading

Current
Islandia, by Austen Tappan Wright
The Road to Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead
Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith

Last books finished
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
Rose, by Russell T. Davies
The God Instinct, by Jesse Bering
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, by Robert A. Heinlein
The Christmas Invasion, by Jenny T. Colgan
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Next books
Contes Fantastiques Complets, by Guy de Maupassant
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
Looking For JJ, by Anne Cassidy

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An extraordinary story over the last few days from Belgium, which I have not seen covered in the international press at all.

Antwerp has the most visible Jewish community in Belgium. Many belong to the Hasidic (or at least Haredic) tradition; they are particularly associated with the diamond trade, where Antwerp is literally a world leader - about 85% of the world's rough diamonds, 50% of cut diamonds, and 40% of industrial diamonds are traded in Antwerp each year. There are 18,000 Jews in Antwerp, of whom around half are estimated to be members of the Orthodox traditions (as they are generally referred to). The eruv in Antwerp includes the entire city centre.

Antwerp is the largest city in Flanders, and at the last municipal election, the populist right-wing New Flemish Alliance, N-VA, became by far the largest party on the council, and governs in coalition with the Christian Democrats (CD&V) and Liberals (Open VLD), the same coalition as in Flanders as a whole and indeed in Belgium (the latter with the addition of the Francophone Liberals, the MR). The NV-A leader, Bart De Wever, has been the mayor of Antwerp since they won in 2012 - the first non-socialist to be elected mayor since 1932. In 2007, he had infamously criticised his predecessor’s apology for the complicity of Antwerp municipal authorities in the Holocaust, in which two-thirds of the city’s Jews were killed.

The elections are coming up again this September, and the Christian Democrats came up with what must have seemed a neat idea: Aron Berger, a 42-year-old poultry trader from the Orthodox Jewish community, was announced with great fanfare as a candidate on the CD&V list. The CD&V currently have only three members on Antwerp Council, so putting Berger in the ninth place on the list meant that he would have needed a lot of individual votes to get elected (Belgium has an open list system). But his photograph would have appeared on all of the party literature, sending an important message about diversity.

Too diverse, it turned out. Berger’s candidacy flamed out within days, almost within hours, as his attitudes to sex, gender and sexuality were probed. In fairness, he had made some very odd statements in the past, which deserved (and received) scrutiny. But the sticking point turned out to be the question of whether or not he would shake hands with a woman, contrary to his own tradition. It transpired that the CD&V had made this a condition of his continued candidacy and that the rabbinic authorities had actually authorised Berger to do it if necessary. But Berger himself decided to withdraw at this point, saying that a photograph of him shaking hands with a woman would lose the party 2,500 votes. In an interview yesterday, CD&V leader Wouter Beke confirmed that the handshake that never happened was the deal-breaker.

It’s all a bit of a mess. Berger reflected that Antwerp is not yet ready to elect a Jew to the city council. (It also turns out that there is a skeleton in his closet regarding his management of the property of a dying neighbour several years ago.) To me the whole thing indicates a couple of more worrying problems.

There is a general point about needlessly enforcing Belgian-style secularism in the name of universal values onto cultural practices and traditions that actually do no harm, the burka ban being another example. Most Belgians do shake hands with each other, and indeed kiss each other in greeting, much more often than the British, or the Americans, or the Orthodox Jews. In some Asian cultures (represented in Antwerp’s population) a respectful bow is normal. Why are we drawing lines for the necessary level of physical contact to give to business acquaintances and political activists before you can qualify as a candidate? Surely citizenship should be enough, as long as your behaviour is not harmful? Is British reserve acceptable, but Hasidic reticence not? It seems so.

And there is a specific point about anti-Semitism. When you tell a particular group that the rights they should have as citizens (such as standing for election) are in fact conditional on fitting in to the dominant traditions of society and not looking or behaving differently, and that their civic loyalty is suspect because of their origins, you are on a very slippery slope; and that is the message that was sent to Aron Berger and his community this week by the CD&V, and indeed the entire Flemish political establishment (including the N-VA, whose minister for equality gleefully jumped into the debate). I don’t think this has been a proud moment for Belgian democracy.

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Mrs Miniver, film and book

Mrs Miniver won the Oscar for Outstanding Motion Picture in 1942. It got a total of twelve Oscar nominations, and apart from Outstanding Motion Picture also won in Best Director, Best Actress (Greer Garson in the title role), Best Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright as Carol), and Best Black-and-White Cinematography, a total of six. The only other 1942 film that I am sure I have seen is Casablanca, which counts as 1943 for Oscar purposes, though I may also have seen Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon. My knowledge is about to improve, however, as this year's Retro Hugos include six films from 1942 among the finalists. (Since you asked: Bambi, Cat People, The Ghost of Frankenstein, I Married a Witch, Invisible Agent and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.)


Both IMDB ratings put Casablanca top, and Mrs Miniver in the top dozen but not the top half-dozen - 7th on one system, 11th on the other. Bambi, Saboteur and To Be or Not To Be are also ahead of Mrs Miniver on both systems. Here's a contemporary trailer:


I enjoyed it. I can see why it went down well at the time. It's a heartfelt, uplifting, warm story of ordinary upper-middle-class English folk caught up in the Second World War. In the midst of everything, the Minivers' son Vincent falls in love with the grand-daughter of the lady of the manor; and, in an unexpected twist,spoilerCollapse ). Garson and Wright deserved their Oscars.

Least favourite bit: Walter Pigeon, as Mrs Miniver’s husband Clem, and Teresa Wright, as the granddaughter of the manor (and in due course the Minivers’ daughter-in-law) are not really trying very hard to do English accents. Clem of course might have been a Canadian immigrant, but Carol is supposed to be English aristocracy.

Also not great: the lower classes are there for comic relief. The American audience is expected to empathise with the minivers but giggle at the villagers and servants. (Having said which, Henry Travers got a nomination for his role as Mr Ballard the station-master and amateur rose grower.)

Odd social point: the Minivers sleep in separate beds. Was that as far as the film makers thought they could get away with, in terms of suggesting a marital relationship?

There are three great set pieces in the film, which is generally tightly written and filmed. The first is a long sequence in the middle where Mrs Miniver finds a stranded German airman in her kitchen; Clem is away on a mission (helping with the Dunkirk evacuation as it turns out) and she must use her wits to prevail. It's electrifying. (The German is played by Helmut Dantine who pops up again in Casablanca.)

The second is shortly after, Mrs Miniver's confrontation with Lady Beldon (played by Dame May Whitty, who also got an Oscar nomination but lost out to her screen granddaughter) over the suitability of the potential marriage of Vin and Carol. Social anxiety about the next generation's marriages is of course a universal, but this is well done.

And the final scene, in which the vicar (Henry Wilcoxon) preaches defiance of the enemy in a ruined church, is a pinnacle moment of propaganda - never mind that if the church was so badly structurally damaged, the congregation would certainly have met to worship elsewhere. Here it is with Spanish subtitles.

Off-screen note: Greer Garson married Richard Ney, who plays her screen son here, the following year. It didn't last.

In conclusion: It's a wholesome enough film, whose propaganda elements are perhaps a little too obvious to ignore 75 years later. I'm ranking it just ahead of How Green Was My Valley, last year's winner, and just below Grand Hotel, which has a slightly stronger (and more numerous) ensemble and does more interesting things with them. You can get it here.

The film varies much more from the book than any other adaptation I have seen so far in this series. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
The Miniver family had a passion for fireworks; and a fireworks display in a small London garden is an emasculate thing, hampered at every turn by such considerations as the neighbours, the police, and the fragility of glass and slate. So on Saturday morning they picked up Vin at Eton and drove across country to Starlings. Mrs. Miniver was relieved to find that public school had not made him too grand to enjoy playing road competitions with the two younger children. He was, like his father, a timeless person, uninfluenced by his own age and unconscious of other people's. Judy was quite different. She was as typically nine now as she had been typically six, and three. Age, to her, was an important and exciting quality: she was never quite at ease with other children until she had asked them how old they were. As for Toby, he remained, in this as in most other matters, unfathomable.
The book is a series of brief newspaper sketches about the Miniver family, who are slightly better off than in the film (a house in London as well as in Kent, and a holiday place in Scotland). Most of the book takes place before the war (whereas most of the film is set after it breaks out). Vin is at Eton rather than Oxford. One or two incidents from the book survive into the film but the screenplay is generally new material.

It's actually rather charming, somewhat reminiscent of Mrs Dalloway (which had been out for over a decade and must have been known to the author, Jan Struther, real name Joyce Anstruther). There is no plot to speak of, but there are some lovely observations of parenthood and marriage, and some less deep reflections on English society (as you would expect from a column in The Times). I think this was the author's only prose fiction; she also wrote humorous poetry and essays. Despite being an agnostic, she wrote several hymns including Lord of All Hopefulness. It's free here or you can get a hard copy here.



Next up in this series is Casablanca. But I need to get through the Hugo and Retro Hugo finalists first.

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