Current Projects

I thought I would complement my look back at the blog posts I wrote last year with a list of my ongoing or planned projects – some of which generate posts here, some of which don’t. The stalled and planned sections of the list aren’t really comprehensive, they’re more the things on my mind at the moment out of the great sea of possibilities.

This blog: Ongoing. First on the list, as it probably takes up most of my project related time. I’ve got a few things left on my to-do list for how the site functions and looks, but mostly I’m at the stage of just keeping on writing.

Read All the Fiction: Ongoing. This has gone slower than I expected, but the only way to speed it up would be to stop reading anything else and that would be a shame.

Chapter by Chapter: Ongoing. I’m not sure if I’ve slowed down my reading of non-fiction too much by doing this, but I’m definitely getting more out of the books I’m reading by doing it this way so I think it works out OK.

Listening to all our music: Ongoing. I’ve known for a while that I’ve completely lost track of what music we own and what we don’t – we have around 27,500 tracks by around 2700 different artists, so there’s a lot of stuff there. And J buys most of it so it’s not like I remember why I chose something from the name of it because I didn’t do the choosing. So I’m listening through in alphabetical order (by artist, and machine alphabetised). I was writing about it on facebook & G+ but I stopped because I was struggling to come up with new things to say, so I figured it must be getting boring. Still listening tho, and I’m up to An in the alphabet so there’s a long way to go yet!

Courses on Future Learn: Ongoing. I occasionally look at Open University courses, wondering about something humanities based as that’s where my interests are these days but they’re pretty expensive for a whim. So I decided I should look for free alternatives and found Future Learn. I signed up for a course on Hamlet that started a couple of weeks ago, and so far it’s been interesting and different. I’ve signed up for another couple of courses (one on more Shakespeare, one on Richard III’s era of English history) that are going to run later in the year. So far so good, but I’m not yet sure if it’s going to end up taking too much of my time away from other things.

Photography: Ongoing. I’ve a huge backlog of photos that need to be processed from various trips, so I feel a little dissatisfied with this. And it would be nice if I could get myself to the point where my blog photo of the week was a photo I’d actually taken that week. I also have some more arty sub-projects under this that haven’t really gone anywhere.

Genealogy: Ongoing. I have been looking into mine & J’s family history off and on for years now – I think I’ve still only scratched the surface of what’s possible to find out, there are whole branches I’ve not even touched. I have a database and also paper copies of most of the info in the database, but I’m not that fond of the machine generated reports from the programme I’m using (Gramps). I either need to learn python and write some “better” reports or I need to figure out a consistent style and then write them myself. But then that takes away from doing the research, so I normally put off thinking about it. The last few months of last year I’d got good at ring fencing some time to work on this each week, but that’s slipped again – I think I need to shake up my to-do lists in general and add projects to defined periods. And I need to do a bit of project planning for this in a written down fashion.

Weather Data: Stalled. I have about 30 years of data that first me & my brother and later my parents have gathered of the weather at my parents’ house. It’s not professional quality data (obviously), and I’m not even sure it’s entirely internally consistent (changing thermometers across the period for instance), but it’s still potentially interesting. I have entered some of it into the computer (a year, perhaps?) and I have a perl script that does some basic analysis and graph generation from the data. Realistically I don’t have time for this right now, but I think the first step needs to be to write up a proper to-do list. I know I need to design the webpages for the output and also think carefully about what analysis I can do and how I should display that. I also need to do the data entry. Data’s not going anywhere tho, so it’s on hold for now.

Embroidery: Stalled, oh so very stalled. I’ve got two pieces of embroidery in an unfinished state and I don’t think I’ve done any sewing in over 5 years. I do enjoy it when I do it, but it’s pretty low down the list of my priorities.

Learning to play the bass: Stalled. We have a bass guitar, we have Rocksmith for the PS3 – I just need to ring fence some time to practice every week (preferably every day but once a week would be a start).

Reading Shakespeare: Planned. I have a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, as published by the RSC, and I’m aware that really I only know the plays that were in our copy of Lambs Tales from Shakespeare that I read as a child. So I know a few plots, and would like to get to know the rest. I have a vague plan of reading through each play and writing a post about each scene or act. This is unlikely to get off the ground in the near future, and would be best left till after I’ve done the Future Learn course on Shakespeare and his world, which will hopefully give me more insight into the plays.

Crusader Kings II Stories: Planned. The game Crusader Kings II is a mix of roleplay and strategy with a medieval history base. I have a plan of one day using a play through of the game to generate the plot for a series of little stories, but have never got round to starting it.

I suspect I’m not using my time optimally at the moment – a sit down with my calendar and my to-do lists and re-shuffling things might help with that. I’m very much a creature of habit, so if I can set up some routines where I get round to doing things on a more regular basis then I’ll get more done of everything.

I’m also half-looking for a project that gives me an excuse to buy a notebook (or two or …), I always lust after the Paper Blanks ones when I go into Waterstones or Smiths because they have such gorgeous covers. The only project with a “lab book” is the genealogy one and that’s both utilitarian and is less than half used, so it’s not providing me with an excuse for a book. But I don’t need any more projects πŸ˜‰

2013 Roundup: Everything Else

This is the final part of my roundup of 2013 blog posts – I’ve managed to get it all done before January is over, which feels like a victory of sorts πŸ™‚ There are a few categories on the sidebar that aren’t covered here. Admin is mostly indexes for each month, rather dull and somewhat recursive to index the indexes, so I haven’t. The others had no posts last year, some of which are rather surprising, some of which are not. I’ve played a lot of computer games over the last year, but apparently not written about anything – I should change that this year. We’ve not done any proper long walks with geocaching for ages, so that category is also empty. I also haven’t read any papers, nor have I done anything that fits in the Sport category (which exists to hold the photos of the Tour of Britain that I took in 2012 (post). And Whimsy is a new category this year for a piece of creative writing for the Shakespeare course I’m doing on Future Learn.


As you can tell, I don’t really see many films.


Most Sunday mornings we listen to a radio programme while we eat breakfast, most of these are from the In Our Time series. This covers a wide range of topics, and each episode has 3 experts in the field that’s being discussed sharing lay-person level explanations of the current state of knowledge in the field. They’re pretty much always fascinating. We’ve also listened to a couple of series about current affairs in the Middle East, which provide a historical perspective for the situation.

I’m not sure I can pick a favourite – I’ve just spent a while looking at the list of titles and for pretty much all of them I’ve thought “oh, that one was really good”. An interesting note is that my write up of the one about Japan’s Sakoku period got picked up by a site called OMG Facts so I think it’s been the most read post on my blog.

  • Absolute Zero. In Our Time episode about absolute zero, both what it is and the history of the scientists trying to achieve it in the laboratory.
  • The Amazons. In Our Time episode about the Amazons of Greek myth.
  • Bertrand Russell. In Our Time episode about the life & work of Bertrand Russell.
  • The Borgias. In Our Time episode about the Borgia family in Renaissance Italy.
  • The Book of Common Prayer. In Our Time episode about the history & contents of the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Comets. In Our Time episode about comets.
  • The Corn Laws. In Our Time episode about the Corn Laws of the early 19th Century.
  • Crystallography. In Our Time episode about x-ray crystallography.
  • The Cult of Mithras. In Our Time episode about the Roman cult of Mithras.
  • Epicureanism. In Our Time episode about the philosophy of Epicurus.
  • Exoplanets. In Our Time episode about planets in other solar systems to our own.
  • Galen. In Our Time episode about Galen, the 2nd Century AD Greek physician.
  • Gnosticism. In Our Time episode about Gnosticism.
  • Ice Ages. In Our Time episode about ice ages.
  • Icelandic Sagas. In Our Time episode about Icelandic Sagas.
  • Japan’s Sakoku Period. In Our Time episode about the period of Japan’s history where it pursued a policy of isolation from the rest of the world.
  • The Mamluks. In Our Time episode about the Mamluks, who were a slave army who ruled Egypt between the 13th & 16th Centuries AD.
  • The Making of the Modern Arab World. Four part Radio 4 series about the modern history of the Middle East.
  • Le Morte d’Arthur. In Our Time episode about Malory’s version of the Arthurian legend.
  • Pascal. In Our Time episode about the life & work of Blaise Pascal.
  • Pitt-Rivers. In Our Time episode about Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, the man whose collection forms the basis of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford.
  • The Putney Debates. In Our Time episode about the context of & discussions in the Putney Debates (held in 1647 after the end of the first part of the Civil Wars).
  • Queen Zenobia. In Our Time episode about the Palmyran Queen who rebelled against Rome & founded a short-lived empire in the Middle East around 270AD.
  • Relativity. In Our Time episode about Einstein’s theories of relativity.
  • Romulus and Remus. In Our Time episode about Rome’s founding myth.
  • Shahnameh of Ferdowsi. In Our Time episode about the epic Persian poem the Shahnameh.
  • South Sea Bubble. In Our Time episode about the South Sea Bubble.
  • Turkey: The New Ottomans. A three part series putting modern Turkey in a historical context, and looking at its relationships with the Arab World & the West.
  • The Upanishads. In Our Time episode about one of the groups of sacred texts of the Hindu religion.
  • The War of 1812. In Our Time episode about the war between Britain & the US which started in 1812.
  • Water. In Our Time episode about the chemical nature of water.


Reflections is the category where I put articles that aren’t just about one thing, but are instead me reflecting on a group of posts or things. In 2013 that only includes the two posts I wrote about the books I read while I was reading those filed on my bookshelf under A.


Most of the talks we go to are at the Essex Egyptology Group meetings, so there is a strong Egyptian flavour to this section. There are also a couple of trips organised by the EEG, and one talk from a British Museum Members’ Open Evening (which is the sole non-Egyptian one here). I think my absolute favourite was Diane Johnson’s talk about meteoric iron in Ancient Egypt because it was a subject I knew nothing about before and the electron microscopy of the iron beads was particularly interesting. But they were all interesting talks.

2013 Roundup: Photos, Trips, Museums and Concerts

This part of my roundup of 2013 posts includes categories that involve photos or me going somewhere (and in many cases both).


I don’t think we go to as many gigs as we used to – this feels like a short list of “big” concerts or events. Having said that, I think there’s a couple we went to that I haven’t written up – I’m sure we went to some Furry Live events early last year and those are not on the list. Picking a favourite is difficult – the Marillion Weekends are always special for instance and a social event for us too (7 of us in the group who went this year!). But I think that for me the Stone Roses gig has to win out – despite the unpleasantness of big-outdoor-gig crowds – although not a one-off this is only the second time we’ve seen them play and there’s no saying there’ll be another chance. That gig wins out over the Roger Waters one for me, because heathen that I am I’ve never really been that into Pink Floyd – so seeing The Wall live was a cool show but not a special event.


It’s been a good year for visits to museums and exhibitions! There’s even a few I’ve not written about (yet?) – including the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and the London Museum. And a couple in Turin too. It’s processing photos that holds up these posts, and that’s something I need to work on getting better at just sitting down and doing. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I think the Ice Age Art one might be it – the stuff we saw there was so very old, yet still evocative as art.


The photos of the week that I post are mostly self-consciously chosen to be a bit “arty” and I’ve gradually started to title them with something that isn’t straightforwardly what the subject of the photo is. I can’t really choose a favourite, this is one of the only things on my blog that is my work as opposed to me talking about other people’s work, so they’re all either my babies or horrid (or both) depending on my frame of mind. I will mention that both Gathering and Tattered hit the “Popular” list on 500px on the day they were posted. That means something to me because I don’t do any promotion of my photos on 500px, I just post them and see what happens – so a significant handful of random strangers chanced across those and liked them πŸ™‚


You’ll spot our Turin trip is missing from this list, the photos are part processed and I need to get on with it! I shan’t rank the two trips that are here, they’re different sorts of thing – one was a holiday and one a day out.

2013 Roundup: Other TV

And this is the final list of TV programmes we watched over the last year. I’ve sorted them into categories, but possibly in many cases this tells you a bit more about the inside of my mind than the programme itself. For instance I put the current affairs programmes like the Panorama programme about North Korea into the same category as travelogues because some of those (like Simon Reeve’s programmes) also have a theme how the world’s fucked up and it’s all our fault. But also in there are some nature programmes (like Wild Arabia) that are much more about the beauty of the world than the problems in it. And some nature programmes belong with science. Oh, and “Fiction & Related” should possibly be called “Doctor Who”…

I don’t think I can pick a favourite or a least favourite of these, it’s far too varied. And some programmes were good to have watched, but not particularly enjoyable (see Depressing Current Affairs as a category). So without further ado, the list:

Depressing Current Affairs & Travelogues

Culture & Biography

Fiction & Related


2013 Roundup: Modern History TV

The joke in our household is that if you mention some historical event of, say, the Anglo-Saxons or the Vikings or some such then J will say “oh that’s practically modern!” because he’s used to thinking of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Pharaohs (who stop with the famous Cleopatra) as being the “most recent”. Skews your perspective a bit.

If J’s thing is Ancient Egypt, then mine is Tudor England (spreading outwards round the world from there, and back and forth in time). And the BBC did a Tudor season relatively recently, so there were several programmes to my tastes (although I don’t think we ended up watching all of them). Again I drew the cut-off between Ancient and Modern as the fall of Rome, and some serieses straddle that boundary so have appeared on both lists. I’ve shunted some of the truly modern stuff (like Dan Snow’s recent histories of Syria and the Congo) into the next list as I think of them more as current affairs, somewhat arbitrarily!

This is still a pretty long list – 42 programmes or serieses in all. Picking high and low points is hard – there’s not a stand out “why did we ever watch that” like there was in the ancient history list, but I think the weakest was Janina Ramirez’s programme about the Viking sagas. In part because I expect better from her programmes, and from that subject. Games Britannia also deserves a mention, the one episode we watched was OK but I was left with the impression that the later episodes would’ve had me rolling my eyes somewhat.

Best is incredibly difficult to pick, even picking a shortlist of half a dozen seems difficult! But I think the one I shall pick out specially is The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. It stands out not only because it’s obviously slap bang in the middle of my interests but also because it’s a slightly different format to the standard sort of history programme. It didn’t just present one interpretation and call that the truth, instead there were seven different historians or novelists who talked about four different theories about what actually happened. So we got to see more of the complexity of the issue.

2013 Roundup: Ancient History TV

The amount of different TV that we’ve watched over the last year is why I split the roundup of the year into sections – and the non-fiction TV is split into three or so parts (vagueness because I’ve not written them all yet so I don’t know if it’ll stick to the plan!). This gathers together all the “ancient history” serieses or programmes we’ve watched over the year – 30 in all. I’ve drawn the boundary at roughly the fall of Rome, and as you might expect the list includes a lot of programmes about Ancient Egypt (given J’s obsession with the subject). Some programmes & serieses extend beyond that but if they’ve a significant chunk from before the cut off they’ll be in both lists. I’ve included in the list the ones that we watched but I didn’t really write about without links, most posts will have multiple programmes in them so you might have to scroll down and several serieses are split across multiple posts.

Picking a least favourite is easy – there was a dreadful documentary about Akhenaten called Sun Pharaoh where the narrator couldn’t even pronounce the name Akhenaten properly. Picking a favourite is harder! Ancient Egypt – Life and Death in the Valley of the Kings is one possibility, Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time another. And I did like Mary Beard’s Caligula one. There’s also Story of the Jews and Simon Sebag Montefiore’s one about Rome to add to the shortlist. I think I’ll go with the Ancient Egypt one as top. Tho I might change my mind tomorrow!

2013 Roundup: Non-fiction Books

This is a much shorter list than the fiction list! I’ve read three and a half non-fiction books over the last year. Three of these I’ve written a short essay after each section about what it said – one thing I need to get better at is editing these to be shorter and more on point (and then perhaps including more of the book in each post). The first two of these books are about China – a broad sweep of the whole history up to the end of the Empire, and a narrower look at the art & culture of 18th century Qing dynasty China. My current project book is about Plantagenet England, I’m a little under halfway through, I think. And I also managed to fit in a book about the Arab Spring, which I reviewed rather than recapped.

2013 Roundup: Fiction Books

I wrote reviews of 42 fiction books during 2013, of which 17 were in my great re-read of all the fiction I own. There’s also a small handful of books I didn’t write about because I read them in the library and didn’t bring them home – so say 45 for a round number of books read. Of these both my favourite of the year and least favourite were library books, both written by women and one published this year and one last. Over on my librarything I do give books star ratings, and I’m organising the rest of this post using them. Even tho the difference between any two adjacent star ratings is dependent on my mood at the time I rated the books, there’s a clear difference between 5* and 3* and 1* books.

First some overall stats:

Gender split (f:m) = 14:13
Dates (2013:rest) = 8:34
Ownership (library:owned(new) ) = 24:18(1)
Series (standalone:series) = 11:31

(Counting authors once each, but not going into details about authors of short stories just using the editors. Also counting a book as standalone even if it’s in the same universe as others by that author but not directly related by plot or characters. If a book was owned when I read it it counts as owned even if it was given away afterwards.)

I’m noting these for a variety of reasons. Gender split is because that’s part of the ongoing conversation in SFF fandom over the last year – or at least in the parts that I read. One strand of that is that books by women are reviewed disproportionally less than books by men, and as one of the ways I pick up new books to read is by reading reviews I wanted to see if that affected what I was reading. But it looks like I’ve got a fairly even split, although that’s a slightly disingenuous way to count it – each author once – because I read a dozen Asimov related books which I think might skew it more male if I counted each book separately.

The next two stats are because I was interested in how my re-read was skewing what I was reading. But I’m still reading a substantial amount of new-to-me fiction (mostly from the library), and a reasonable amount of actually new fiction. The last stat is because I noticed that of my 5* books two were new instalments in on-going series that I’m already invested in. And three more were the start of serieses, only one was standalone. Which seemed very skewed so I wondered how it played out across the rest of what I read last year – the answer is skewed towards series books, but not at at 5:1 ratio like my favourites. I don’t know if that means anything, but it was interesting to me πŸ™‚

5* Books

Gender split (f:m) = 4:3
Dates (2013:rest) = 4:2
Ownership (library:owned(new) ) = 5:1(1)
Series (standalone:series) = 1:5

Of these I’d pick out “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson as the top book I read in 2013, I really liked the exploration of how the events of someone’s life shape them and yet they’re still themselves despite the differences.

4* Books

Gender split (f:m) = 4:5
Dates (2013:rest) = 1:11
Ownership (library:owned(new) ) = 8:4(0)
Series (standalone:series) = 3:9

3* Books

Gender split (f:m) = 3:6
Dates (2013:rest) = 2:15
Ownership (library:owned(new) ) = 6:11
Series (standalone:series) = 4:13

2* Books

Gender split (f:m) = 3:2
Dates (2013:rest) = 1:4
Ownership (library:owned(new) ) = 4:1(0)
Series (standalone:series) = 2:3

1* Books

Gender split (f:m) = 1:0
Dates (2013:rest) = 0:1
Ownership (library:owned(new) ) = 1:0
Series (standalone:series) = 0:1

If I manage to finish a book it generally doesn’t get 1*, but this was a rare instance of a book where the more I thought about it the less I liked it. The worst book I read last year.


Gender split (f:m) = 0:1
Dates (2013:rest) = 0:1
Ownership (library:owned(new) ) = 0:1(0)
Series (standalone:series) = 1:0

I didn’t know how to rate this one, so I didn’t!

The Other Things I Read While Reading the As

The thirteen books filed under A on the shelf weren’t all the fiction I’ve read over the last six months – there were also fourteen books from the library. While I was putting together the stats for the books on the shelf (post) I also looked at these other books.

The books were as follows (links go to posts):

graphs of statistics for other books read while I read those filed under A on the bookshelf

(You can click on the graph for a slightly bigger version where the text is a little easier to read.)

When I started thinking about looking at the stats for what I’ve been reading in posts like these I thought to myself that whilst the books filed under A might have very male-skewed authors “obviously it’ll be 50% or more women for the other books”. Er, no. Fourteen authors, 9 male … still just 36% female. Not much better than the ‘main’ author stats for the As. So that’s rather disappointing. In terms of nationality it’s still a very US dominated list, and only one author was neither UK nor US (Maurice Druon is French and his book was originally in French (I read it in translation)).

Genre-wise they skew towards fantasy and historical novels. Eight books fall into some category of fantasy, seven books are in some way historical (they overlap). Perhaps a reaction against all the early science fiction I was otherwise reading? Certainly nothing deliberate in the choice.

This selection is mostly fairly recent books, probably because I reserved most of them after reading reviews or excerpts. The outliers are the Asimov (reserved because I don’t own book 1 of the Foundation trilogy and it seemed a shame to skip it) and the Druon which was recently reviewed on because George R. R. Martin has cited it as an influence on his Song of Ice & Fire series. Both of those were published in the 50s.

The mean star rating was 3.6 as compared to 3.1 for the As, with the mode being 4 rather than 3. Again influenced by reading reviews/excerpts before reading the book because I could weed out most things that weren’t going to be to my tastes before reading them*. Not flawlessly tho! The three books that were my least favourite included one I’d read before (the Asimov), one that I read & liked an excerpt from (the Cole) and one I read a very positive review for (the Whitfield). I’d say that the Cole was probably my biggest disappointment, the type of story I thought it was going to tell is a type I particularly like so it was sad not to get it.

*Whereas the stuff on the shelf included a lot of things I bought more than 20 years ago and my tastes have changed.

Those that were my favourites were all liked for different reasons and oddly I’d only recommend them to other people with caveats. A Memory of Light was a very satisfying conclusion to a series I’ve been reading for something like half my life, but you definitely couldn’t start with that one & the series as a whole does get bogged down in the middle so I could understand not wanting to read it all. The Atkinson gets better every time I think about it, and I think it’s got something interesting to say about environment, culture & personality and how those affect your life & your sense of self (both more & less than you’d expect). But I think you’ve got to be happy reading something very non-linear to enjoy the book, and it doesn’t have a plot per se. And lastly the Wendig is a vivid & intense urban fantasy/thriller crossover … but it’s pretty gruesome in places & if you’re easily offended by swear words you’re not going to enjoy it at all.

Filed Under A

I’ve reached the end of the first letter of the alphabet in my great re-read of all the fiction on my shelves, so I thought this would be a good point for a retrospective on what I’ve read so far. I’m fond of stats & graphs, so that’s where we’ll start πŸ™‚

The books are as follows (links go to my posts):

Authors of the short stories in the anthologies were: Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, John W. Campbell, John D. Clark, Arthur C. Clarke, J. J. Coupling, Chan Davis, Raymond Z. Gallun, Martin Gardner, Martin H. Greenberg, Edward Grendon, Edmond Hamilton, Henry Hasse, Neil R Jones, Henry Kuttner (including writing as Lewis Padgett), Murray Leinster, John D. MacDonald, Laurence Manning, Capt. S. P. Meek, Judith Merril, P. Schuyler Miller, C. L. Moore (writing as Lewis Padgett), Peter Phillips, H. Beam Piper, Ross Rocklynne, Eric Frank Russell, Nat Schachner, T. L. Sherred, Wilmar H. Shiras, Clifford D. Simak, Leslie Frances Stone, Theodore Sturgeon, Charles R. Tanner, William Tenn, A. E. van Vogt, Donald Wandrei, Stanley G. Weinbaum and Jack Williamson.

graphs of statistics for books filed under A on the bookshelf

(You can click on the graph for a slightly bigger version where the text is a little easier to read.)

So out of the 13 books I read most were firmly in the “OK” territory (I’ve not put ratings in my blog posts, but I do put a star rating on them on my librarything). The outliers were the Armstrong book at 2 stars (which I think of as “meh”), and the Asher & Asimov’s “Nemesis” at 4 stars (“cool”). And that corresponds pretty much to what’s staying on the shelf and what’s going – although “Nemesis” is going into a box to keep it with the rest of the Asimovs.

For the gender ratio & publication stats I’ve added in the data for the individual short stories. In terms of gender split – it’s pretty poor. Even if I just count the three main authors there’s only one woman & she’s the one who wrote the book that’s leaving the house. When you add in the short stories the percentage gets worse, which can probably be explained by looking at the publication date breakdown. The anthologies are all old stuff – 1930s & 1940s fiction for the multi-author ones, 40s & 50s for the Asimov ones.

I’ve not done a graph for genre breakdown, genre boundaries & definitions are always fuzzy and I figured it makes more sense to talk about it than diagram it. Given this shelf was dominated by Asimov & Asimov-related stuff it’s dominated by science fiction. I’ve also got the bulk of the 1930s & 1940s stuff categorised under “science fiction” as an umbrella term – some of it would probably be better put as fantasy and some of it would be fantasy if published now but was still possibly science fiction back then (like the shrinking men stories). And that’s why it’s easier to talk about than to diagram! There’s only two non-Asimov related books – the Armstrong is urban fantasy and the Asher is science fiction (sub-category space opera). I think the main reason I was “meh” about the Armstrong is that I went through a phase of reading a lot of UF a few years ago and got tired of the clichΓ©s, and there’s nothing about “Bitten” that makes it rise above that to my eyes.

I’d wanted to see how the authors I’ve read here break down by ethnic identity, sexuality or other cultural groupings (like religion), but that sort of info appears to be hard to figure out. From the ISFDB and links from there (mostly wikipedia) I could normally figure out nationality (and that’s where I double checked gender) – but other info was notably lacking. I guess I could assume “white & straight unless otherwise specified” as that’s often the way things work out in places like wikipedia but that doesn’t seem right, so I’ll skip any conclusions here. In terms of nationality it was a predominantly US list, with a few Canadians & a few Brits – 33 of the 42 authors listed born in the US and while some moved away others moved in, the percentage of around 80% US is probably right. I’ve not done a graph because again it gets fuzzy – for instance does a British born man who moves to the US in childhood & stays there count as US or UK or both? Does it depend when he moves?

Something interesting I noticed while researching this – two authors that are US-born move to Canada in the 60s because of their politics. Chan Davis moved in the early 60s after he’d spent time in jail in the US because he was a member of the Communist Party of America. Judith Merril was first a Marxist then a Trotskyist (& also a Zionist in her youth), she moved in the late 60s in the Vietnam War era. She’s also referred to as a “genderbender” on the webpage for her but I’m not clear on how the phrase is being used there.

That’s the stats, what about the books? For Armstrong & Asher there’s only a single book apiece so I’ve nothing to add to the original posts. The various anthologies are interesting to me mostly as something historical – some of the individual stories were good, but the world & audience they were written for is almost as alien to me as the worlds they were written about. Particularly noticeable for the 30s stories, which also included a sub-genre that seems to’ve vanished – the “Lone Male Scientist & his Invention have Adventures” ones, think of H. G. Well’s “The Time Machine” as the archetype for this.

I’ve got a broader sweep for Asimov, but it’s an oddly skewed one. What I bought in the late 80s were books my mother didn’t already own – why buy things that were already in the house, after all? Of course now I don’t have easy access to those but I still don’t own them (with the exception of the two parts of the Foundation Trilogy that J bought back in the late 80s or early 90s). So I’ve only read 4 of Asimov’s novels here (plus a fifth as a library book). I much prefer his novels to his short stories, and Foundation (post) was the weakest of the novels for me and also the most obviously a fix-up of previous short stories. This is down to the lack of characterisation – it feels to me that Asimov didn’t bother making his characters into people in his short stories, but in a novel there was enough space for them to grow into more distinctive individuals. I preferred his (very few) female characters, I think he did a better job making them memorably distinct rather than names slapped on a stereotype. Having re-read the stories in Nightfall One I also wish he’d written more aliens in his career – I remember enjoying the alien section of The Gods Themselves years ago as well (another book Mum has that I don’t). My guess would be that in the case of both aliens & women he had put them in the story for a purpose & needed to take some time over thinking about their role, but men were his default & he was lazier about it. I.e. that he felt he needed an answer to the question of “why a woman?” but men were just the furniture for the story idea he was trying to show you.

For me, Asimov isn’t ageing well. The stuff I liked so much in my teens seems pedestrian now – I’ve read better books since, and even the one of his I liked best here didn’t rise up as high as the “awesome” category. Which seems a very odd thing to say about a man who’s held up as one of the Great Science Fiction Authors, but for me you need more than a good idea to make a good book you need some properly fleshed out characters & something more to the story. Sacrilege to some, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t recommend the Foundation trilogy to anyone unless they were interested in the history of the genre.

I’ll have another one of these round-up posts soon, about the other books I read while reading the ‘A’s. We’ll see how the stats on that balance up.