London Meeting: Not Robert Holdstock

The guest at tonight’s BSFA meeting is Robert Holdstock, author of Mythago Wood (winner of the BSFA Best Novel Award in 1984) and, more recently, the three books of the Merlin Codex. He will be interviewed by Paul Kincaid.

Breaking news:

Rob Holdstock is sick and sends his apologies (he really, really did want to be with us tonight).

At short notice Paul Kincaid has agreed to lead a discussion of this year’s BSFA and Clarke Award lists, so this is your chance to air your views.

Looks like I’ll be lurking at the back keeping very quiet for this one, then.

The meeting is open to any and all who might be interested, and will be held in the upstairs room of the Star Tavern in Belgravia (map here). The interview starts at 7.00, but there are likely to be people hanging around in the bar from 5.30 or so.

Nebula Final Ballot

I’m not even going to attempt to explain the eligibility criteria for the Nebula Awards, or why one of the shortlisted novelettes was published two years ago. You can go here and puzzle it all out for yourself. But the final ballot is out.


The Privilege of the Sword – Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra, Jul06)
Seeker – Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov05)
The Girl in the Glass – Jeffrey Ford (Dark Alley, Aug05)
Farthing – Jo Walton (Tor Books, Jul06)
From the Files of the Time Rangers – Richard Bowes (Golden Gryphon Press, Sep05)
To Crush the Moon – Wil McCarthy (Bantam Spectra, May05)

I have to admit, I’ve read none of these; so although I suspect that David Marusek’s Counting Heads, which fell by the wayside, is better than all of them, I can’t say for sure. It’s not an uninteresting list, although it looks distinctly odd as a representation of the best sf of the past couple of years. The jury addition is Farthing.


Burn – James Patrick Kelly (Tachyon Publications, Dec05)
“Sanctuary” – Michael A. Burstein (Analog, Sep05)
The Walls of the Universe” – Paul Melko (Asimov’s, Apr/May06)
Inclination” – William Shunn (Asimov’s, Apr/May06)

Again, I’ve not read enough of the category to really have an opinion, here, but I’ve heard good things about the Melko and Shunn; then again, I’d heard good things about the Kelly, and that turned out to be tedious and overlong.


The Language of Moths” – Chris Barzak (Realms of Fantasy, Apr05)
Walpurgis Afternoon” – Delia Sherman (F&SF, Dec05)
Journey into the Kingdom” – M. Rickert (F&SF, May06)
Two Hearts” – Peter S. Beagle (F&SF, Oct/Nov05)
Little Faces” – Vonda N. McIntyre (SCI FICTION, 23 Feb05)

I’ve read four out of five of these (I’m missing the Sherman), and I’m disappointed. The Beagle and Barzak do nothing for me; the Rickert is good but not near her best; and the McIntyre is striking, but let down by its plot. I’d have liked to see “Second Person, Present Tense” make the ballot.

Short Story

Echo” – Elizabeth Hand (F&SF, Oct/Nov05)
Helen Remembers the Stork Club” – Esther M. Friesner (F&SF, Nov05)
The Woman in Schrodinger’s Wave Equations” – Eugene Mirabelli (F&SF, Aug05)
“Henry James, This One’s For You” – Jack McDevitt (Subterranean #2, Nov05)
“An End To All Things” – Karina Sumner-Smith (Children of Magic, Daw Books, Jun06)
Pip and the Fairies” – Theodora Goss (Strange Horizons, 3 Oct05)

This is more like it. It’s a crying shame that M. Rickert’s “Anyway” didn’t make it, but the Goss is delightful, the Hand is excellent, and I have good if vague memories of the Mirabelli. I haven’t read the McDevitt, or the Sumner-Smith (the latter is a jury addition).


Batman Begins – Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer (Warner Bros., released 17 Jun05)
Howl’s Moving Castle – Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, and Donald H. Hewitt (Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Pictures, U.S. Premier 10 Jun05. Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.)
“Unfinished Business” – Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica, Dec06)
“The Girl in the Fireplace” – Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, BBC/The Sci-Fi Channel, Oct06 (broadcast 10 Oct06))

I admit I did a double-take when I saw this category. The Galactica episode is a jury addition, and I could not believe — still can’t believe — that anyone would choose to recognise it over, oh, I don’t know, The Prestige, or any of a dozen other worthy contenders from last year. What gets me most of all is that even if you want to recognise Galactica, this is surely the wrong episode to pick, because the reasons “Unfinished Business” sucks are reasons specific to the script: the structure is way off, focusing on the wrong emotional climax, and the flashbacks have nothing like the grace or the economy of, say, Firefly‘s “Out of Gas”. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but the Doctor Who episode looks like the most deserving entry on the ballot.

Also awarded by SFWA: Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Magic or Madness – Justine Larbalestier (Penguin Razorbill, May05)
Devilish – Maureen Johnson, Razorbill (Penguin Young Readers Group, Sep06)
The King of Attolia – Megan Whalen Turner, Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins, 2006)
Midnighters #2: Touching Darkness – Scott Westerfeld (Eos, Mar05)
Peeps – Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Razorbill, Sep05)
Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, Oct06)

Again, not read any, though I’ve been meaning to pick up the Pfeffer for a while. Charles Coleman Finlay posted the official statement of the Norton jury here.

Shuteye for the Linkbroker


A little while ago, Paul semi-tagged me with the ‘five reasons why I blog’ meme that’s been doing the rounds of some parts of the blogosphere. It’s taken me a while to get around to answering, in part for the usual real-life reasons that usually get in the way of blogging, and in part because I’ve had to think about what the answer is.

For starters, for me at least there’s both the question of why I blog, and why I blog here. Torque Control isn’t set up as “Niall Harrison’s blog”, it’s set up as “the Vector editorial blog”, and in the back of my head there’s always been the hope that when I step down as editor, whoever takes over from me will take over here as well. Part of the reason Torque Control exists, at least in theory, is to promote Vector and the BSFA, and ideally to provide some sort of forum for BSFA members. How well this is working, I have no idea — not well enough to get Vector into the drop-down list for the “Best Magazine” category in the Locus poll, at least, though Foundation makes it; on the other hand, there have been some good discussions here over the past couple of months, and the website gets a healthy number of inbound links.

On another level, of course, Torque Control is “Niall Harrison’s blog” — I have a livejournal, but deliberately don’t use it for any kind of formal blogging any more — and on that level, several of the reasons Paul cites for why he blogs apply to me too. I also like sharing cool stuff with other people (for somewhat idiosyncratic values of “cool stuff”); I too see blogging as a way of engaging with the wider sf community, and have made a number of good friends along the way; and, yes, it’s nice to have an audience. I like thinking out loud, or at least have got into the habit of thinking out loud, and I like thrashing out ideas in the comments section. Quite often, if I just post a quote, it’s because something in that quote has piqued my interest, but I haven’t quite pinned down why yet; seeing other peoples’ responses to the quote helps me to think more clearly about my own. Paul’s point about using blogging to maintain a writing discipline sort of applies to me, too. As with the comments, it’s all an aid to thinking; writing about things I’ve read or seen or done helps me to work out what I think of them (not to mention helps with remembering what I think of them, and why) — although now I’m shading into a separate post about why I write reviews.

Thinking about this, though, has made me wonder exactly where “Niall Harrison’s blog” stops and “Torque Control” begins, or vice versa. Matt Cheney made a post recently about how and why he uses The Mumpsimus in the way that he does. Some of what he says doesn’t apply to me — I do feel some pressure to be consistent in my thoughts, for the more “formal” posts to be quite fully worked-through before I post them; I feel more comfortable writing through that filter, rather than writing more directly, as in this post — but quite a lot of it sounds familiar, particularly the part about posting frequency, and the effect of other writing commitments on that. I try to aim for at least one “content” post a week, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

And I like Matt’s point about finding connections, “talking about sf, but not only sf.” To date I’ve resisted posting about non-sf as much as I can, because Torque Control is what it is; but I think I’m going to start waiving that rule, because I suspect it strikes everyone else as completely pointless. This is not to say that you’re going to suddenly see a flood of posts about, for example, ten-pin bowling (on which topic I can be surprisingly boring). This will still be a blog about things I read and watch, and most of what I read and watch is still sf, and even for those parts that aren’t I can still usually find a way to bring an sf reader’s eye to the proceedings. But hopefully you’ll see a little bit more diversity over the next few months.

Are there five reasons why I blog in there? I think there are, somewhere.

Ever wanted to glorify terrorism?

Now’s your chance: Paul at Velcro City has a spare copy up for grabs.

Roll up, roll up, for VCTB’s first ever competition giveaway! As regular readers may have noted, I ended up with two copies of the just-released Glorifying Terrorism anthology from Rackstraw Press – one I bought for myself, and one that I got sent as a review copy. So, I thought – why not give one away to my readers?


I want you to follow in the footsteps of Charlie Stross, Ken MacLeod, Gwyneth Jones, Adam Roberts and the other great authors who have contributed to this book, and write your own story that might be considered to be glorifying terrorism.

Entries should be no more than 100 words long, and the closing date is 11th March; there are more details in the full post.

Heroes Hits the UK

Two contrasting views in the Times, keeping up the standard we expect. Caitlin Moran is (slightly incoherently) for:

Many of my acquaintances have been “fat-piping” this off the net for weeks — mainly, I thought, for the thrill of being 43 years old and otherwise fairly respectable, but then being able to say “Whoo-wee, I’ve been fat-piping Heroes off the net” and making it sound like hot drugs or something. But, of course, Heroes is drugs. The tape I was sent had the first two episodes on, and even though I had had four hours’ sleep the night before, and didn’t finish watching the first episode until 1am, I didn’t hesitate for a moment before putting on episode two. Frankly, if they’d sent me the whole series, you’d be sitting here looking at a blank page, and my emaciated children would now be in care.


But the big news is that this is big news. Heroes is going to ruin your life (and if not now, then certainly when it comes to BBC Two in a couple of months).

You have now been chosen.

You’re going to find yourself interlinked with a shadowy brother-ship of “special” people across the world — geeks with fat tubes. You could be Heroes, just for the next couple of years.

Kevin Maher is (snarkily, and in the end somewhat tiresomely) against:

Holy creative inertia, Batman! Not more crypto-fascist fantasies of omnipotence disguised as mainstream entertainment and peddled by an increasingly decrepit and, frankly, comic book-obsessed popular culture! If anything, the much-hyped Heroes (Sci-Fi Channel) proved conclusively that, given the right flashy production values and cod-philosophical Weltschmertz, there are no subjects and no areas of modern life that cannot be infected by the inane juvenilia of comic-book lore.

Here the set-up was achingly familiar. A group of anodyne mostly white American catalogue models discovered that they had hitherto unexplored superpowers. “Tiny variations in man’s genetic code are taking place at rapid rates,” explained the show’s Indian, and thus quasi-spiritual, narrator Sendhil Ramamurthy before introducing us to a quintet of protagonists who could variously walk on air, stop time and live for ever — although noble-hearted internet stripper Niki (Ali Larter) clearly drew the short straw here by being lumbered, it seemed, only with the ability to see a sneering, slightly smug version of herself every time she looked in the mirror.

Naturally, ever keen to reveal its own genetic heritage, Heroes repeatedly treated us to scenes of characters reading comic books, painting giant comic-book pictures, and discussing comic-book stories — you just know you’re in a Geek Tragedy when X-Men and Star Trek are referenced in the same line of dialogue. Which might, in theory, have been fine if Heroes had stayed within the kitschy world of fantastical narratives established by the likes of X-Men and The Fantastic Four. But, no, this show had bigger thematic fish to fry.

Hence, before the first 20 minutes were up Heroes had invoked the political crisis in the Middle East, bus bombings in Israel and, of course, September 11. All of which were going to be solved, the show announced in its opening title crawl, by a handful of modern mutants with special abilities.

Now, personally, I find it both morally and artistically repugnant that the most urgent political crisis of our time, one that’s currently claiming thousands of lives every month, can be denuded of all context and cheerily coopted by the wish-fulfilment fantasies of some insular adolescent jerks. It is, surely, a sign of growing American political apathy when the cultural response to the Iraq crisis is simply to send Magneto into Baghdad. What’s next? Spider-Man for president? Wonder Woman at the UN? Or would that just be silly?

Posted in TV. 13 Comments »


A short links post before I head out to Picocon.