Monday, February 20, 2017

A quick note on the Hugo nominations

As it's featured heavily on the blog these past few years: yes, I'm nominating for the 2017 Hugo Award shortlist (deadline mid-March) as a paid-up voter from last year. 

I'll be interested in seeing the final shortlist and may well sign on again as a voter so that I can experience some of the year's best work in fantasy and SF for myself.

And fingers crossed, it looks as if the last couple of years of controversy and gamesmanship has subsided amid exhaustion, reforms to the Hugo voting system and real world distractions.

Here's hoping... 


- The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch
- The Nightmare Stacks, Charles Stross
- All The Birds In The Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
- The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

Dramatic Presentation Long (i.e. Best Film, more or less):

- 10 Cloverfield Lane
- The Girl With All The Gifts
- Ghostbusters
- Arrival
- A Monster Calls

Fanzine (or online equivalent):

- File 770
- Pornokitsch
- Eruditorium Press

Fan Writer:

- Camestros Felapton
- Phil Sandifer


- Rivers Of London series, Ben Aaronovitch

New Writer:

- Natasha Pulley, The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Paul, the Liverpool South Parkway station cat

On my way home from a work event I met a friendly cat claiming a railway station as his territory and accepting the greetings, head scritches and acclaim of passengers as his rightful due.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Michael Fabricant is right

From last week's Lichfield Mercury: our local MP Michael Fabricant on Trump:

"Whatever we might think of President Donald Trump, the United States is a democracy and our strongest ally both economically and militarily,"

"And with our leaving the European Union, our global friendships are even more important."

His analysis is right up to a point, but it also raises more questions than it answers.

The unfolding logic of Brexit points the UK towards deepening our other political and trading relationships. All other things being equal, this means moving closer towards our American friends, partly from long-standing custom and habit (as Fabricant suggests) but also because leaving the EU seemingly leaves us little choice in the matter.

Under normal circumstances, say a Bush or an Obama administration, this would have probably implied a minor variation on business as usual, but not a massive change. Depending on your politics, you might or might not have liked what that shift meant, but it wouldn't have radically affected circumstances here in the UK

I'm no mind-reader, but I think this is the image of America my MP is invoking here.

The thing is, though, that circumstances are decidely not normal in the US right now. On immigration, on trade, on law, on climate and more, the Trump administration is already venturing beyond existing American political norms into unknown territory.

As you can probably tell, I'm couching my commentary here in neutral terms as I'm not looking to make a partisan point. You can add your own here if you wish or re-read your commentator of choice. :)

In any case, wherever we stand on the political spectrum or on Brexit we should be wise to ask ourselves what an increased dependency on the US at this time - to be drawn closer into the orbit of the Trump administration - might mean for the UK before we commit ourselves further by default.

Because we do have a choice about the kind of future we want - there is no deterministic iron law of Brexit that says it has to be this way. 

And if I've drawn one conclusion from the last nine months or so of (to paraphrase my old colleague John Kell) 'history moving quickly' it's that creative solutions are needed right now rather than resorting to the autopilot.

Dracula: Mullet Of The Damned


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thoughts from Oatcake Country

A four-tweet Lichfield manifesto. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Health-geekery February 2017

I can't always get the health and social care links I want, but sometimes if I try repeatedly, I can get the health and social care links that I need.

As ever, inclusion in the list doesn't signify agreement, merely that I've found something to be interesting.


Belatedly, here's a series of essays hosted by the Kings' Fund imagining What If scenarios for the future of the NHS.

Even further back into the past, here's a very handy briefing by the Neurological Alliance on issues affecting neurology services from April last year.

Returning to the present, things do seem to have gone (temporarily no doubt) quiet on sustainability and transformation plans in the English NHS. However, Health Campaigns Together have produced some activist resources in the meantime, which may be useful whether you agree with their take on STP's or not.

Social care

New research from Scope finds that fewer than one in five people with disabilities (18 per cent) get the right social care, which [editorial voice intruding] is frankly gobsmacking.

Most councils unconvinced that increasing social care precept to 3% will resolve care crisis (ITV)

Local services by local people

New report from Locality calls for locally-commissioned and delivered public services which would provide "substantially better outcomes and value than standardised, one-size-fits-all services."


Changes to staffing on Southern Trains risks affecting accessible transport for people with disabilities. (Guardian)

Northern Ireland

Scope NI interview with NICVA Chair Seamus McAleavey has some interesting comments on health and health reform in light on renewed political instability.


News from the Wales Rare Disease Implementation Group as Rare Disease Day approaches on 28 February.

And a link to Wales' Digital Health Strategy, just because.

It's that man again...

Theresa May doesn't rule health out of any trade deal agreed with the US (Independent)
Caroline Molloy of Our NHS fires back


Presentations and related resources from National Voices annual conference.

And finally

An American patient in London - comedian Rob Delaney talks about his contrasting experiences of UK and US healthcare.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pulp fiction meets Sid Meier's Civilisation - Eric Flint's 1632

I'm not surprised I liked Eric Flint's 1632. I am surprised how much I took from it.

The basic concept is a real doozy, for starters, stranding a turn-of-the-second-millenium West Virginian mining town in seventeenth century Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years War. Our intrepid time-travellers then (of course) attempt to start the American Revolution a hundred and forty years or so earlier than scheduled.

We Brits tend, I think, not to know a great deal about the Thirty Years War; our ancestors were mostly distracted by domestic quarrels. But we missed out on an unholy mess of rebellion, foreign intervention and religious strife that makes our own Civil War look like a barroom brawl. A worse indictment of monarchy, aristocracy and church could scarce be found in early modern Europe.

Against this backdrop, Flint is able to juxtapose the values of the Founding Fathers and the civic virtues of America (tolerance, inclusion, democracy, practicality, informality) to their full advantage, without the need to include a corresponding critique. His own background as a union organiser also brings the American tradition of equality into full focus alongside the more familiar call to liberty. 

Effectively, the story itself is a pulp exercise in nation-building. As much consideration is given to generating power, to trade, logistics and constitutional theory as to the lives of its protagonists, or the battles that interrupt a narrative that would otherwise resemble a game of Sid Meier's Civilisation.

Not that I'd complain about a novel that was pure Civ fan-fic. Just saying.

I call 1632 pulp fiction because it is - the good characters are uncomplicatedly so, the villains mostly likewise, and Flint creates ample opportunities for the reader to cheer at one cliche and jeer the other. That doesn't mean it isn't clever at the same time: he uses the road-map of American civics to make some interesting points about religious and racial tolerance and women serving in the reconstituted US army.

It being modern US pulp SF, there's a truckload - heck, several truckloads - of guns: how else are displaced West Virginians going to achieve military superiority? On the plus side, Flint doesn't turn combat into a video game; on the debit side, he lingers rather too much on the brutal impact of modern firearms to my British taste.

As to why I got more from 1632 than expected - well, wherever you come from politically, it's quite refreshing to find a book that doesn't just suggest that the status quo can be changed, but is quite clear than no change is not an option.We don't live in the midst of the Thirty Years War, but at the present time the thought of working together to build a new and better polity - a better world, even - sounds like an ever more attractive idea.