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Last night was the monthly BSFA meeting, this month featuring Sean McMullen. Not an author I've ever read (or, to be honest, even heard of), but after hearing tales of how he built a model of a wind-powered submarine to check that it would work, and being filled in about the computer made of librarians, I'm inclined to pick up one of his books. Anyone got any advice as to where to start?

Most disconcerting moment of the night: learning that third row fandom has been chinese whispered into page 3 fandom. I don't think I'm speaking out of turn if I assure everyone that rumours of a 2005 calendar are greatly exaggerated.

Everyone and their mother has already linked to the Guardian science fiction supplement, but another hit won't hurt. It's slightly disconcerting to realise how much of a stranglehold the old authors have over peoples' opinions of the genre (as compared to what I read). Correct me if I'm wrong, but of their ten best authors only Clarke, Bradbury and Le Guin are still alive, and only Le Guin seems to still be producing important work. I'm also slightly surprised at the high showing for Fred Hoyle.

The Booker longlist is out; three cheers for the presence of David Mitchell and Susanna Clarke. There' s some discussion on instant_fanzine, but it mostly consists of us wondering who the other people on the list are. If anyone out there can help out, please do!

The Agony Column has an interview with Ian McDonald. Best quote: " I've always thought of River of Gods (from an overheard at a UK Eastercon) as 'Khyber-punk'. Khyberpunk being to cyberpunk what Bollywood is to Hollywood..."

If I had more time I'd write a full post in response to this discussion about humour on white_hart's journal. But I don't, so I'll just say that I think she's nailed some things about my sense of humour that I hadn't quite realised myself.

Paul Brazier is setting up a new online magazine, Quercus SF. His approach is ... interesting. I can see the merits of the workshop side - pro authors can submit as normal; new authors can submit for a five pound fee, but get a full crit whether or not their story is accepted - and I like the idea that the fiction will be published first on the web, then collected into books twice a year. However ... sixty pounds is a hefty subscription fee for any magazine, much less a brand-new one. I certainly can't afford it.

fba was just here and finally got me watching some Doctor Who: the Peter Davison-starring 'Caves of Androzani'. I'm right there with them on the concept, really I am, but ... well, I have a theory about special effects, which is that the level to which you are exposed as a child is the lowest level from which you can suspend your disbelief. 'The Caves of Androzani' fell just below that level for me, so although the warring-factions backstabbing-mayhem was quite nicely done (no good guys here), I kept being jarred out of the story somewhat. It didn't help that Sharaz Jek came off as somewhere between the Phantom of the Opera and a poor man's Scorpius (and I can start to believe pikelet when he talks about the books being better than the tv series). Still, like I say, I think the concept is strong, and I'm interested to see where Russell T Davies takes the franchise.
Nasty visions of a WI-style calendar, nuaghty bits strategically obscured by copies of Interzone...
Geneva's refused. It's up to you, Lyndsey and Ruth.
Who said it would be women's bits obscured with magazines?
You did say "WI-style". Women's bits were implied.
Women's bits were implied.

If I was Tim, I think I'd make a tasteless joke at this point. [1]

Since I'm me, I'll point out that any (HYPOTHETICAL) calendar would surely be equal-opportunities.

[1] He promised me a comment on why the bad guy in 'The Caves of Androzani' is not a poor man's Scorpius. In the absence of such a comment, I mock him.
You have no respect for the sanctity of Page 3!
Because it's Page 3. If it we were Page 7, I'd obviously volunteer.
Ah, but you see, it's not a general survey of people who read sf, it's a survey of top scientists. What I think they believed was that the writing and appreciation of sf goes hand-in-hand with scientific research, a line Isaac Asimov used to peddle, and therefore these were the people to turn to to get the inside word. However, if the Asimov line ever was true, it's not now, so what they got was a survey group largely consisting of people who read a lot of sf (and mostly traditional hard sf) when they were students in the 60s and 70s, but have read very little since. Hence the preponderance of dead writers, writers past their prime, hard sf writers, and writers who were also scientists, such as Hoyle.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure Lem's still alive.
Ah, but you see, it's not a general survey of people who read sf, it's a survey of top scientists.

True. I wonder who they'll get on the list when they repeat the exercise in forty years? I'm thinking Greg Egan ... :)

However, if the Asimov line ever was true,

It was (and still is, I think) true for a certain kind of science fiction. A kind which I quite like, actually. But yeah, there's a lot more to it than that.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure Lem's still alive.

Looking around, you seem to be right. Whoops; not sure how I got that impression!
Also: the scientists' choice of authors is apparently 'dorky'. Unfortunately, I think he meant it as a criticism. [g]
Still, that page has a nice link to a demolition of the Daily Mail, which I enjoyed.
(Deleted comment)
I'm sure some of the list will have kept up their interest. Gregory Benford, for instance, I suspect is not ignorant of the current sf scene.

But if more than 50% of the people consulted have read more than two sf books published in the last ten years by authors not active before 1980, I'd be quite surprised.
Aha, an Aussie author !

(coincidentally, rwrylsin and I had dinner with Sean and Trish while at the Discworld Con ... )

Anyway, I can recommend the Greatwinter trilogy - Souls in the Great Machine , The Miocene Arrow , and Eyes of the Calculor . It's like a hard SF version of alternate-history fantasy. Sean does lots of research for his books (e.g. trekking across Australian deserts wearing mediaeval armour and carrying all of his survival needs).

This link has an interview with Sean and more information on some of his books.
My Who-loving days are long behind me, but Peter Davison and Tom Baker were my favourite Doctors, and Caves of Androzani was one of my favourite Davison stories. I still have a great fondness for that era of the show, and the story has a lot of things to recommend it. Special effects are not one of them. :-)

To enjoy Doctor Who you either watch it as hilarious camp, which I think is (most of the time) unfair, or you just tune out the faults as best you can. Most of the time this works quite well. Occasionally it's damn near impossible. Like most British television SF, the terminally low budget and chronic uncertainty about the age of the target audience mean that you have to work unusually hard as a viewer to pick out the good bits from the bad.

The same applies to Blake's 7, which alternates between interesting and reasonably sophisticated character drama and hilariously naive space opera on a regular basis - sometimes within the same episode. Quite a bizarre mixture.
hi Niall,

I was just wondering - do you post much friends-only? I know you mentionned not that long ago to me that you couldn't really get into that mindset, but still. Anyway, if so, I don't suppose you could add me, could you? It's always good to keep up with your news! Especially since you've got into that nasty habit of forgetting (that's how I choose to interpret it!) to reply to my emails.

Hope to hear from you soon,

Victoria x x x
do you post much friends-only?

No. The occasional thing but trust me, you haven't been missing much. And I would have added you before if I'd realised ms_anon was you - you should have said something! :)

(Also, I didn't realise I owed you an email. Er, sorry. Am away in London sunday/monday; prod me tuesday and I'll send you a life update, although there's not much to tell...)
I just did say something! Anyway, I was retaining an aura of mystery. And, I don't intend to post much, or anything. Unless I get extremely bored in the lab - and it doesn't sound like there's going to be much chance of that! I'll drop you an email tomorrow if I don't hear from you first - consider yourself prodded!

Hope you had a good weekend ...
I'll post what I know...

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus
- This one was up for the Orange Prize, and along the way had some positive reviews and good word of mouth.

Nadeem Aslam, Maps for Lost Lovers
- No idea, but the book sold reasonably well and people were asking for it, so it had some word-of-mouth.

Nicola Barker, Clear: A Transparent Novel [I don't think this is out yet]
- Barker is, according to one of my friends, very good; but he wrote a review of her last novel for the LRB, and so many simply have been displaying a reviewers enthusiasm. This snippet of his review may give you a taste:
Nicola Barker usually stages her plots in suburbs or on islands. Behindlings is set on Canvey, a suburban island. The protagonist, Wesley, is either the leader or the target of what may or may not be a cult, depending on how you read things. He sleeps rough, eats gulls, makes his own shaving foam, and is pursued by between two and a dozen stalkers, whom he calls the Behindlings. They are people whose lives Wesley has rearranged, whose partners he has slept with, whose children have died stalking him, or whose childhoods were destroyed by a rumour he has carelessly circulated. It's not clear if they want to catch him or not, or if he truly wishes to escape them. What matters is the entanglement, and the pursuit."
John Bemrose The Island Walkers

Ronan Bennett, Havoc, in its Third Year
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Neil Cross, Always the Sun
- I thought his Christendom was excellent, and my boss enjoyed this one; but I'm surprised to see him on a Booker list. He won't make the shortlist. (This one came out as a trade.)

Achmat Dangor, Bitter Fruit
- Not heard of this one, and so probably isn't out.

Louise Dean, Becoming Strangers
Lewis Desoto, A Blade of Grass
- I've heard of neither of these... I wonder how many novels there are with "of Grass" in the title.

Sarah Hall, The Electric Michelangelo
- I thought this went straight to paperback, and I don't think it'll make the shortlist. It did sell, a bit.

James Hamilton Paterson, Cooking with Fernet Branca
- He wrote a good-ish article for a recent issue of Granta. I keep wanting to put a hypen in his name.

Justin Haythe, The Honeymoon
- This had a terrible jacket. I read some reviews of it - sounded average.

Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire
- This one won the National Book Award in the States and was on the Orange shortlist. I think it could make the shortlist. Possibly.

Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
- Surely will make shortlist; lots of word-of-mouth; potential winner?

Gail Jones, Sixty Lights
- Never heard of it, or her.

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
- Will make shortlist, probably won't win. ;o)

Sam North, The Unnumbered
- I've read some good reviews for this. It might be a surprise entry on the shortlist.

Nicholas Shakespeare, Snowleg
- Lovely, lovely jacket; positive reviews; sounds intriguing; Shakespeare wrote an acclaimed biography of Bruce Chatwin; could well make shortlist; would like to see win, if only because it has a lovely, lovely jacket.

Matt Thorne, Cherry
- woodnymph_ogger enjoys Thorne, but rates him as an amusing scribbler, not a literary scribe; would be surprised if he made the shortlist. And it isn't out yet. (Surely you've at least heard of Thorne??

Colm Tóibín, The Master
- Of all the books, this one has had the most universally positive reviews. It is, in short, about Henry James; or, to be a bit more detailed, about a very specific moment in the life of Henry James. From what I've read, Tóibín captures James very well. Positive reviews don't mean it will win, but it does mean it will be in the top three - at a guess. And it could win. And of the whole list, this is the book I most want to read.
Gerard Woodward I'll go to Bed at Noon Chatto & Windus
Gerard Woodward, I'll go to Bed at Noon
- Just missed that one. It's just come out, I think, and has a great title. Beyond that, I have no idea.
Missed a few:

John Bemrose The Island Walkers
Ronan Bennett, Havoc, in its Third Year
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

I've not heard of any of these.

(And in my last post it should, at one point, be "reviewer's".)
I've got a funny feeling that these will definitely be in the shortlist:

Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Colm Tóibín, The Master

And if they're going for a more credible, literary list, these might also appear:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus
Nicholas Shakespeare, Snowleg

The sixth book might be Nicola Barker, or maybe someone completely different.

And don't be cruel about Caves of Androzani - you've just got to tune out the bad, and tune into the good, for that is the Doctor Who way. If it helps, close your eyes at select moments. (Didn't you enjoy the cliffhangers? I seem to recall that they're very good in that story.)