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Wild Seed by Octavia E Butler (books, 2015, 5)

Halfway through the year and only five books in? This is shocking behaviour!

I’m glad I read this, and I sort of enjoyed it, but I wasn’t entirely happy with it.

There are two main characters, both of whom appear to be functionally immortal, though with different mechanisms for keeping them alive. The shapeshifting, self-healing (and healer of others) Anyanwu is an African woman in the seventeenth century when we meet her. She is already two or three hundred years old.

The male immortal, Doro, is even older. For perhaps thousands of years he has survived by stealing bodies. His consciousness hops from his current one to another when the latter threatens him, or just when he chooses it. The personality of his destination body is of course destroyed in the hop, and the body he leaves also dies. Anyanwu is attracted to his power and the fact that they are apparently the only such long-lived people on Earth, but is repelled by the mechanism of his survival.

As she is by his long-term (really long-term) project to try to breed people with special abilities — many of the subjects of which are, or may be, distant descendants of her, or of his original people (most of whom he killed in panic when he first “died” and found himself in a new body).

I was annoyed at Anyanwu as a character at times, by the way she didn’t resist Doro when he had her do things she didn’t want to do. But he is an expert manipulator and is willing to threaten her kids to bend her to his will. And I guess that cleverly evokes the reality of women’s situation often in history, and certainly at that time.

This is the start of the Seed to Harvest series, and I’m keen to see where it goes.

The Phantom Menace

Just who (or what) is the menacing phantom?

Following on from my On things never seen post, yesterday was Father’s Day, and we watched The Phantom Menace.

It is not as bad – not nearly as bad – as nearly everyone makes out.

It starts badly, oddly enough. Not just the dull scroll about the Trade Federation, but then you have the Japanese-sounding guys in charge of the blockade and invasion, who are voiced by people who seemingly can’t act. Their dialogue is frankly embarrassing.

But much of it is fine. Sure, there are holes in the logic, places where it doesn’t exactly make sense; but what film doesn’t have instances like that?

Even – and I realise I’m committing a kind of geek sacrilege as I write this – even Jar-Jar Binks isn’t that annoying. Could the plot have worked without him, or with him not being a comedic figure? Of course. But having him as he is, does no harm.

But hey: I liked Wesley Crusher, too.

And that’s about as much as I’m going to say about it for now.

The Tories want to reintroduce the Lord Chamberlain

From The Guardian:
David Cameron has backed plans to give Ofcom stronger powers to prevent the broadcast of “extremist messages” despite concerns from one of his own cabinet ministers that this could amount to state censorship. The prime minister appeared to support Theresa May, the home secretary, after the Guardian revealed a split in the cabinet over her counter-extremism measures.

Let’s return to the days when creations had to be authorised by a state censor, says Cameron.

The night after, and shame

Well how the hell did that happen?

There are two questions there:

  1. How could the opinion polls be so wrong? and
  2. Why did all those people make such bad choices?

On the radio they were talking about “shy Tories” as an answer to 1. That’s a term that was coined after the 1992 election, apparently, to describe all those people who voted Tory but who had never let anyone know that that was what they were planning. I remember the aftermath of that one, and the thing that struck me was all those people I worked with who read the Telegraph “for the sport”; and how smug they looked that morning.

I became wise to that. But nowadays no-one comes into work with a paper any more, so it’s harder to tell such things. And how would it help, even if they did and you could?

The thing is, the pre-election polls must have been deceived.

Of course, no-one is obliged to tell the truth to a pollster. No-one is obliged to even answer their questions. But if you do agree to answer their questions: why would you lie?

I can think of only two possible reasons. Maybe you want to deliberately skew the poll results. But that seems unlikely. Sure, some people will feel like that; a few. But not lots. Not enough to actually have a deceptive effect.

And the other reason why, if you answered, you might lie; the only other reason I can think that might make people lie to a pollster.

Because you’re embarrassed about your answer. Or stronger: because you’re ashamed of it.

Shame can be a powerful influencer.

And it makes sense that people would be ashamed of voting Tory. Most of us were brought up to know that we shouldn’t be selfish; that sharing is best, and just being out for yourself is bad. We learn that at our mother’s knee, generally.

This tweet from Irvine Welsh sums up what I think is a good approach;

If you’re reasonably comfortably off, and you’re voting for the party that you think is going to make you better off — no matter how wrong you might be;1 and if you’re doing it mainly because you think that — then you are selfish and ought to be ashamed of yourself.

And in that attempt to answer the first question, I appear to have answered the second one as well. Why did all those Tory voters make such bad choices?


It’ll hurt us all.

  1. And that’s a whole nother discussion. 

On things never seen

There’s a programme on Radio 4 from time to time (and it has made the transition to TV) called I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. In it Marcus Brigstocke gets a guest to try things that they have never tired before. Conversation ensues, and it can be amusing.

Anyway, the title clearly derives from how unlikely it is that anyone (of a certain generation or three, at least) will not have seen it.

In case you’re worrying, I saw the original — back when it was just called Star Wars, without the Episode IV: A New Hope subtitle — in the cinema (probably second run, not first, but still). And the second and third, of course.

But then there was the prequel trilogy. To be honest, when The Phantom Menace came out, I don’t think I was all that interested. I had known from early on that Lucas had planned the original as part of the middle trilogy of three. But by the time the prequels started, it had been so long that it just didn’t seem very important, you know?

And more importantly, in 1999 when it came out, I had a small child. We weren’t going to many films that weren’t aimed at like two-year olds. And after that, there was always something more interesting, more pressing to see…

I mislead you slightly, here. I did, in fact, see The Phantom Menace, after a fashion: on a shonky old VHS, with a three-year old sweetly chattering on the sofa next to me throughout. It hardly counts. And I definitely haven’t seen the others.

And I know everyone says, “Don’t bother, don’t waste your time, they’re terrible;” but they can only say that because they’ve seen them. And now — now there’s a new one coming down the line. Episode VII, The Force Awakens is due out in December, and I’ll certainly want to see it. Of course, it will follow on from Return of the Jedi, and it probably won’t matter if you haven’t seen episodes I-III; but it just wouldn’t feel right to not see them.

So I intend to watch the prequel trilogy. I was going to start today — the fourth of May be with you, and all that — but events got in the way. Still, over the next few weeks I’ll watch all three, and report back here.

Wish me luck.

Neither tempestuous nor particularly challenging

I’m taking the Tempest Challenge.

I was somewhere in the middle of the third book I read this year when I heard of it, and I realised that all my reading so far was books by women, and so why not?

The idea of the challenge, in case you haven’t clicked through, is to:

take One Year off from reading fiction by straight, white, cisgender male authors and instead read fiction by authors who come from minority or marginalized groups. This includes women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ authors along with a wide variety of other marginalized identities from which to create a reading list: people with disabilities; poor and working class authors; writers with non-Christian religious or spiritual beliefs; and for Americans, even reading books in translation by authors of any background will open up new viewpoints.

Which, when you list as many categories of author as that, sounds pretty easy. And so it is.

So far, as you’ll have seen from my published notes to date, I’ve just read books by women. No trouble there. I’m currently reading Wild Seed by Octavia E Butler, which also adds African-American to the mix.

The only problem — and it is, let’s face it, a very minor one — is when I see a book on my shelves that I think, “Oh, I must read that;” and then I think, “but not this year.” (Though it occurs that if I were to take “writers with non-Christian religious or spiritual beliefs” at face value, then I could, for example, carry on my Iain Banks re-read; but such writers — atheist writers, at least — are far from marginalised in Britain. And it wouldn’t really be in the spirit.)

I’m making two exceptions: one is a book I started last year, about the music scene in New York in the 70s. It’s important preparation for our trip to New York in the summer, so I intend to finish that.

The other is if Robert Galbraith has a new book out this year. :-) And in getting that link I discover that it’s due out in the autumn, which is pleasing to hear.

Apparently some people are offended by the very existence of this kind of challenge. Mostly straight white men, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear. It’s “censorship”, apparently. I mean, what?

You’ll read all about my reading adventures here.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Books 2015, 4)

I won this in the raffle at a BSFA meeting several months ago (actually over a year: October 2013), when Mary Robinette Kowal was the guest. From her talk, it sounded like it would be a lot of fun, and now that I get round to reading it, it lives up to that expectation.

We are in Regency times, except this is not exactly the Regency of our own past; in this one, magic exists. At least in a limited form: “Glamour” allows people to form illusions by manipulating folds of the ether. Most people can do this to some degree, and well-brought-up young ladies are taught the art along with music and painting. But there are those who are more talented.

Our heroine, Jane, is one such. But as the novel opens, and for most of it, she is more concerned about the fact that, unmarried at 28, she seems destined to become (or already is) an “old maid”. Her prettier sister, Melody, is more likely to make a good “match”.

There are, of course, balls, officers, heartbreaks, and more. If you enjoy Austen, and fantasy, you’ll like this, I predict. It’s the first in a series, and I look forward to reading more.

One thing slightly puzzled me. When Kowal was at the BSFA meeting, I recall her saying that she is a Doctor Who fan, and that she likes to slip a mysterious traveller into each of her books. If she slipped him into this one, she did it so subtly that I didn’t notice it, even though I was expecting him. There is a brief appearance from the local surgeon, a Dr Smythe, so I guess that’s him. Oh yes. In fact, she says in that piece, “if you [notice him], then I’ve done it wrong.” So, nicely done.

But anyway, well worth a read, though I daresay the purist would say you should read all of Austen first (which I haven’t; only Pride and Prejudice).