Election Debates: Maybe Better Left

I watched the election debate between Corbyn and Johnson on ITV. It was unedifying, and not very revealing. Corbyn was, predictably, calmer, more sensible, and less blustering. He needed to answer the “What way would you campaign in a second referendum” question that Johnson kept going back to, but otherwise he handled it pretty well.

Johnson, of course, is the epitome of bluster, barely gave a straight answer to anything, and went over his allotted time on every question, as well as his opening and closing statements.

I criticise him for that since he was violating the agreed-upon format. But the time-limited questions may have been the worst part of the event. The purpose is to limit bloviation, I suppose, but it seemed like often the chair was cutting the speaker off while they were still trying to make a point. I saw a tweet while it was going on, to the effect that part of the problem in politics is that everything is reduced to soundbites, with no opportunity to go into details. I’m inclined to agree.

However, much more interesting, and a bettter format, was the interviews, an hour later, with the leaders of the some of the other parties: Jo Swinson, Nicola Sturgeon, Siân Berry of the Greens, and, unfortunately, Nigel Farage.

One interviewer, one interviewee at a time, and it was all much more sensible. That is, in part, because of the people involved, of course. The three women were all good, especially Wee Nicola, as we like to call her. But perhaps it wouldn’t have worked so well if Johnson had been in the interviewee’s chair. He’d have been havering and talking over the interviewer, no doubt. Though to be fair, Farage managed not to do that, so who knows.

But overall, I think that the debate format is not the best way to present your ideas.

Election Debates: Maybe Better Left

Kieron’s Comic, Brontë’s Book

One of the comics I read is Kieron Gillen’s1 Die, which is about a group of people who get sucked into a fantasy world. The world is based on a role-playing game — or at least, it seems to be at first. The other night I started the latest issue, 9. Unexpectedly — but not surprisingly — Charlotte Brontë turned up as a character (or maybe not, but let’s run with it). The story was about how she and her siblings had created complex fantasy worlds in part as stories for their toy soldiers. And maybe the world of Die is based in part on those.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke the next day to hear on the radio news that a tiny book — “no bigger than a matchbox” — written by Charlotte, was being auctioned in France. It is filled with stories of the fantasy worlds created by her and her siblings.

The book has been bought by the Brontë Society. It will be kept in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where it was created.

Two completely unrelated events, of course, but interesting how things collide.


  1. He seems not to have website of his own, bizarrely, but he has a Tumblr, and a newsletter
Kieron’s Comic, Brontë’s Book

His Dark Materials on TV

Minor spoilers ahead.

I am loving what they’re doing with HDM1 in the BBC/HBO adaptation. It has just enough variation from the books to keep it interesting (especially since I re-read them recently). Yet it manages not to distort the story in the way that so upset my then-ten-year-old son in the film version of (part of) the first book.

Bringing in the scenes of Lord Boreal crossing to “our” Oxford, and finding out about who Grumman is, is inspired. It will have the effect of making more sense of the inciting incident for Will, when he turns up. In the book it was never entirely clear who the people who searched his house were sent by, and why the authorities were interested in him. This way, it will.

I’m looking forward to next week’s arrival of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby.2 And we’ll get Iorek Byrnison, too. That’ll be a big test of the CGI.

Which leads me to the only thing that slightly lets it down: Pantalaimon’s default form as an ermine. It looks a little too fake and plasticky to me. Most of the other daemons look fine, so I don’t know why the lead one should be so poor. Maybe it’s because he’s the only one that gets much screen time where he talks.

On that note, two points about Mrs Coulter’s daemon, one which struck me on my recent reread, and the other just tonight. We never learn its name. Nearly every other daemon that gets a mention, gets a name. And it never speaks. Certainly not so far in the TV version, and I’m fairly sure it never does in the books, either.

Which no doubt tells us something about the character of the woman.


  1. As I imagine no-one calls it. 
  2. Pity it isn’t a singing part. 
His Dark Materials on TV

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (Books 2019, 21)

I like to reread this from time to time, and right now I’m considering watching the TV version that’s currently on. It’s HBO, which means Sky over here, which would traditionally have ruled it out on ethical grounds. But times and corporate ownerships have changed. The Murdochs no longer own Sky TV, so I can let myself watch it.

But then we have the other ethical question, about Watchmen in particular. Which is to say, since Alan Moore feels that he was cheated by DC over the ownership of the creative work, and repudiates all derivative works, shouldn’t we avoid them too? I saw the movie version, but I didn’t get the Before Watchmen spin-offs.

Well, it’s been a long time; Moore and Gibbons must have known what they were signing up for, even if things didn’t go quite as they expected. I recall seeing Moore at a convention in Glasgow in 1985 or 86, where he said, “DC are utter vermin.” Yet he went on to work with them often after that.

Plus, I’m already reading Doomsday Clock, which brings the Watchmen universe into the DC multiverse, so personally, that ship has sailed.

How does the story stand up today? It’s still excellent, I would say. With the obvious weakness of the ending. Though thinking about that, what’s weak is how preposterous Veidt’s plan is. Accepting that, that part of the story is well executed.

It’s still one of my favourite comics.

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (Books 2019, 21)

Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (Books 2019, 18, 19 & 20)

His Dark Materials, as I said.

Holy hell, this trilogy is good! I think I’d forgotten just how good it is.

In the first book we meet Lyra, a wild orphan who lives in fabled Jordan College in a parallel Oxford. Plots and adventures quickly ensue.

The second volume starts with Will, a boy who lives in our world, and who has to run from his home because he has killed someone. How will his story connect to Lyra’s?

And the third builds on everything that has gone before, and a whole lot more.

There are armoured bears, angels, daemons, airships, witches, harpies, the dead, and much else. The fate of worlds hangs in the balance.

If you haven’t read it, you should. You could start watching the TV series instead, but I expect there’ll be a long wait between the seasons, and the books are right there.

Of course, I’m going to find myself in a similar position with the sequels. It was eighteen months ago that I read part 1, so presumably we won’t get the conclusion till some time in 2021.

I like what they’re doing with the TV series so far. Enough changes to keep it interesting, not enough to spoil it.

Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (Books 2019, 18, 19 & 20)

Election Blues

I don’t fully understand the rationale of the Lib Dems and SNP pushing for an election at this point. No-deal is still firmly on the table, it seems to me, and if the Tories get a big majority — or even just an actual majority — then we remainers are done for.

Yet Ian Dunt at politics.co.uk describes it at as “one last chance” for remainers. He makes a compelling case. If he hadn’t gone for the election, Johnson could likely have got the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) through parliament. This way, at least there’s a chance. A hung parliament, a coalition that gives us a second referendum.

A new Remain campaign that is successful.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” and we lose everything if any one of them goes the wrong way.

And Carole Cadwalladr reminds us that the illegality and foreign money in the referendum have never been addressed.

Another “if”: if Johnson could have got the deal through parliament, why did he back down and go for the election? Maybe it’s just be that he expects to get a majority, and thereby make it easier to get the WAB through in a new parliament. But I can’t help thinking that he’s up to something. That he and Dominic Cummings have some plan that will get around parliament somehow.

Hard to see what that could be, but how far would you trust those proven liars and crooks?

Election Blues

On Pausing Stories

Almost exactly a year ago I started reading a novel, then put it on hold. This year I’ve done the same, for different reasons.

I started The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers in October of last year. I quickly put it aside as November approached. I realised that it — or at least its start — was much too similar to the novel that I planned to start for NaNoWriMo.

I haven’t got back to it yet.

This year it was the new Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust Vol 2: The Secret Commonwealth

Now, you’ll recall that I said I might do this after I read the first of the new trilogy. Other things got in the way of that, though.

So I read a chapter or two of the new one, and realised I needed to refresh my memories. There’s a whole thing that we learn about at once that I don’t remember. Or at least don’t remember how it happened.

There’s also a TV series coming. I was aware it was in development, but not of how soon it was going to be. Turns out it’ll be on in a week or two.

So now I’m worried that watching it is going to be a bit like the recent Good Omens series was for me; really well done, I appreciated it… but I had re-read the book too soon before watching it, meaning it was all just a bit too recent in my memory for maximum enjoyment. But we’ll cross that ice bridge to another world when we come it it. The trailers look great, anyway.

The difference with this year’s pause will be that, while I will get back to the Chambers eventually, I’m obviously not in any hurry to do so. Whereas I fully expect to restart The Secret Commonwealth as soon as I’ve recovered from the ending of The Amber Spyglass. Which I’ll probably be starting quite soon.

On Pausing Stories

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith (Books 2019, 17)

No, it’s me, not London Below: this has also faded quickly from my mind, despite the fact that I love MMS, and I really enjoyed this as I read it.

Still, it’s very good. Hannah is an ordinary girl living in present-day California with her dad and (maybe) mum (sorry, mom).

Until the devil turns up, and her grandfather turns out to be his engineer. And he knew Bach.

Inevitably, the world needs to be saved.

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith (Books 2019, 17)