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Site Update

As you might notice if you look around here, I’ve made some changes to the layout and presentation of the site. Nothing very dramatic, but the header and sidebar look a bit different.

I’m open to — and seeking — constructive criticism. How does it look? Is anything misaligned, or confusingly laid out, or hard to find?

Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter.

The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert A Heinlein (Books 2020, 11)

A set of linked short stories, this, all part of Heinlein’s Future History. In these days of companies launching rockets to the International Space Station, the title story seems slightly relevant. In it, businessman DD Harriman attempts to launch the first mission to the moon — it was written in the 40s, long before Apollo.

They’re all decent enough stories. But we are in a very masculine world. The dodgy sexual politics of the last one are largely ignored by the almost complete absence of women. Except in ‘Let There Be Light,’ in which a women is effectively co-inventor of solar power panels.

Heinlein’s writing of women characters is generally considered to be poor, and I’m sure that’s true. But it’s interesting to think how he developed from these early stories to the later novels, where at least there are women, and they are major characters.

What Must Be Said

I hope I don’t need to say this. But silence is complicity, so:

Black Lives Matter.

My daughter went to the London demo on Wednesday (note: there was no riot, contrary to some bullshit hashtag that was trending yesterday morning). I am so proud of her. Her whole generation seem so thoughtful, so engaged.

Why didn’t I go? To be honest, it’s because I was scared. Not of the demo, or anything that might have happened there. I was scared of the virus. Of the close contact that was sure to happen.

I gave her a lift to her friend’s house. They walked for two and a half hours to Hyde Park. I picked her up in Camden afterwards. But part of me wishes I’d gone myself. She said it was a much younger crowd than the Trump or Brexit demos. sure, it was a weekday, but more of us olds — me included — should have been there.

Peel Sessions

Warren Ellis draws our attention to this incredible listing of links to Peel Sessions. They’re on YouTube, so there’s always the chance that any of them will go away, but in the meantime, what a resource.

Got to ask, why doesn’t the BBC make this available officially?

I have only one complaint about that page: it needs use stop-words in its sorting, or otherwise deal with bands called ‘The’ Something. I scrolled down to the ‘F’ section and thought, ‘Well there’s a bit of a large gap here, surely?’ Until I scrolled down to ‘T’, where we find The Fall.

Also, it would be even better if we had Peelie’s introductions, but I guess those aren’t in the released versions.

I’m listening to Dolly Mixture as I write. Who remembers them? Well, hardly even me, to be honest. But they introduce themselves in their very first track.

Beyond This Horizon by Robert A Heinlein (Books 2020, 10)

I like these short books you can read in a day.

A reread, of course. I read most or all of Heinlein from my early days of reading SF. But I read the blurb on the back of this and didn’t recognise it at all. Started reading, and it still wasn’t familiar.

Then as I got closer to the end, it did start to seem familiar. Did I read the last quarter of it recently? Or is there a short-story version of part of it that I read not long ago? I don’t know, but it’s often strange how memory works.

Anyway, the first point about this: the sexual politics are horrific. It’s a future society where men go armed routinely — and so it is a ‘polite’ society. It may be where the phrase ‘an armed society is a polite society’ comes from. I wonder what Heinlein (assuming that to be his actual view) would think of today’s armed society in America.

Women, on the other hand, do not go armed, or do much else apart from be decorative and have babies. Mostly. One woman character wears a sidearm, but the protagonist does not exactly treat her with the respect he gives to other men.

Men can choose not to go armed, in which case they have to wear the ‘Brassard of peace,’ and are treated as second-class citizens by the armed ‘braves.’

But it’s not mainly about any of that. It’s about eugenics, and how and whether it’s possible to improve the human race ethically.

In story terms it’s OK. It’s interesting enough that you want to know what happens, but it feels like its main purpose in existing is to examine the philosophical questions around eugenics. I note that it was published in 1942, so before the Nazis’ experiments were known about.

Boiling a Frog by Christoper Brookmyre (Books 2020, 8)

The last Brookmyre I read was Pandaemonium, in 2010. Before that, his first, Quite Ugly One Morning, before I started writing here. The second of those introduced campaigning journalist Jack Parlabane. There’s another one before this, but you don’t need to read them in order. There are also a stack more.1

Anyway, what’s it like? No bad, as we say in Scotland. It starts off with Parlabane in prison. Part of the story, including how he ended up there, is told in flashback. It’s all set in the early days of the new Scottish Pariliament, around 2000, 2001.

It’s a decent page turner, I can’t deny. My main criticism in writerly terms is about the old ‘show, don’t tell,’ thing, which we’ve discussed here before.

In at least one of those pieces I counsel against setting that injunction in stone. But it’s notable how much of this novel violates or ignores it. For large chunks of the flashbacks we’re told what happens. It’s fine. The writing style flows and it doesn’t feel like infodumps, but I was certainly aware of it.

Worth reading. I’ll probably read more of him, eventually. Still looking for a sequel to Pandaemonium, though.


  1. Apparently I’ve also read Be My Enemy. I don’t remember anything about that one, and I only mentioned it in passing there.