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Tolkien reading day
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Umberto Eco & why he is wonderful
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The Iliad
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The narrative significance of Dickens' death
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Clovelly
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Valgvake Storbritannia
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Shaw's manslaughter plan

Lately, I have been spending my days alternately at the British Library and the Dickens Museum, and my evenings at the British Newspaper Archive, looking up this and that. Suffice to say, I have read my share of old newspapers, magazines, journals, reviews, gazettes, couriers, and heralds.

On Friday I found something interesting: a newspaper notice that seemed to have travelled back in time. Which made me rather excited.

But first some background.

As you may know, Charles Dickens left The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished when he died in 1870, and I wrote my PhD on the many people who have tried to figure out where it would have ended had he lived (and those who tried to complete it for him -- with or without posthumous help).

Now, by 1914, this had developed into quite a phenomenon, and the last decade had involved not only some of the Britain's finest magazines and newspapers, but some of its most famous names and most active writers in the attempt to figure out once and for all the mysteries of Dickens' novel (and make some money for charity in the process).

At the heart of the matter there is, as the title suggests, the mystery of Edwin Drood -- namely, what has happened to him. Has he, as the text would seem to suggest, been murdered by his uncle, John Jasper? Or has he, in preparation for a fantastic reveal, survived the attempt? And this is not the only question to be ...
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The Default She: Power Inversion in Feminist Science Fiction


This is a public talk I gave at Litteraturhuset in Trondheim in connection with the Starmus Festival, on the 20th of June.

Science fiction, to some extent, is about the future and the far away, but the future and how we think about the future and the far away is generally informed by the here and now. And how we think about the future and the far away can also impact how we are able to think about the here and now. That is the basic premise of this talk.

In 1905, in what would later become Bangladesh, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein, often called Begum Rokeya, wrote “Sultana’s Dream”, where the narrator is transported to a land where humanity controls the elements. Water is gathered directly from the sky, so there are no floods or storms, but plenty of water should you want it. The sun’s heat is stored and used for all your energy needs, so there is no smoke or pollution. All travel is done by walking through streets filled with flowers rather than paving stones, or by riding in flying cars which fly by having large hydrogen balls attached to either end of it.

Oh, and all the men have been locked up in men-only spaces inside each house – while women rule the land.

The narrator, much like Begum Rokeya herself, has grown up in the seclusion of the women’s space, the zenana, which means that she does not leave the house uncovered or unchaperoned ...
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Playful allusion and undiscerning critics

Mark Gatiss started the year with a lovely bit of Sherlockian snark. Faced with criticism that the show was getting rather too action packed, he answered with a poem titled "To An Undiscerning Critic". It was not so much the argument of the poem which got me, but the title had me musing weakly on the delights of reference and appropriation as I lay dying on the sofa after unwittingly having contracted a vicious bug over the holidays. I am better now.

The first thing I did when I got to the NLS this afternoon was call up Vincent Starret's 1937 publication of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 poem. Starret, the originator of the lines
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.
published the reprint as just one folded sheet of paper (quality paper, though) because he had come across it in Lincoln Springfield's "Some Picquant People" (1924), could not find it anywhere else1, and did not think the world should be deprived of it.
To An Undiscerning Critic

Sure there are times when one cries with acidity,
'Where are the limits of human stupidity?'
Here is a critic who says as a platitude
That I am guilty because 'in ingratitude
Sherlock, the sleuth-hound, with motives ulterior,
Sneers at Poe's Dupin as very "inferior."'
Have you not learned, my esteemed commentator,
That the created is not the creator?
As the creator I've praised to satiety
Poe's Monsieur ...
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Reading in dark times

I am starting to fear the news.

Europe is scrambling rightwards. The Middle East is caught between the fire of Daesh and the hot place of tyrants and their supporters. Russia is gleefully making the most of it. The world is overheating, and people seem intent on stoking the flames. I went to bed confident that Brexit would never happen, and had an unpleasant morning trying to drink enough coffee to wake me up enough to make the whole thing go away. I was innocently drinking a cocktail when my phone informed me that not only had Theresa May become Prime Minister in the UK, she had appointed Boris Johnson as her Foreign Secretary. A man whose main achievement is a colour no orange would dream of aspiring to is moments from getting his fingers on the big red button that signals a global Apocalypse. And a vicious rhetoric of hate has become mainstream: Bashing foreigners or anyone who might conceivably be foreign, homosexuals and women as somehow subhuman, or just plain shooting black men, seems to be about to become elevated to the national sport of several self-proclaimed liberal democracies. I have been rooting for a woman who is so far to the right of my politics I can barely see her. And that failed. If things deteriorate in France, the heads of state behind the UN Security Council are likely to be Donald Trump, Theresa May, Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

There are consequently three ...
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The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

I love this book.
I have a weakness for Victorians, footnotes full of fascinating facts, a particular style of drawing, geeky in-jokes, and mathematical genius. When I first came across Ada Lovelace -- the Origin I was smitten. And so I have remained.

The opening story of the book;
an early version available here.
It is the perfect marriage of science and literature, academic irreverence, odd asides, style, verve, panache, erudition and cats.

Ideally I would just show you page after page of the comic, say "isn't it wonderful" and then send you off with one of my copies and don't come back until you've read it (this is generally my strategy offline), but I suspect I might get in trouble if I were to simply reproduce the entire book here. And so I am left trying to spell it all out in words.1

Ada, Countess of Lovelace, creator of the first computer program and originator of the idea that you can use an analytical engine for something other than numbers, mathematical daughter of Lord Byron, eccentric gambler, and generally cool cookie, makes a stellar protagonist. If she has somehow escaped your notice, you are not alone, but you should still remedy that immediately. Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine (but not quite builder of either), enemy of street music, friend of all the cool Victorians and yet somehow still weirdly socially tone deaf when sciencing, likewise. I will confess, however, that ...
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Tolkien reading day

Today is Tolkien reading day.

"What?" I can hear you ask, "Isn't every day Tolkien reading day?" and I concede that you may have a point. But it is the way of our people to set aside some days of the year for things of great importance.

Tolkien reading day has been celebrated for over a decade (ah, the murky depths of time), with the date of 25th of March chosen because it is the date of the Fall of Barad-Dûr and the downfall of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, which seems as good a date to celebrate as any. All the more so this year, perhaps, as the Tolkien Society's theme for this year's reading day is "Life, Death and Immortality", in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, where Tolkien fought and (unlike many others) lived.

It is hard to escape Tolkien's connection to war writing. Gandalf's "You shall not pass!" aside, the creation of the world started during the First World War, and the trilogy was published shortly after the end of the Second. And when Tolkien writes that
as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.1
it becomes all the harder to discount the Great War as ...
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Umberto Eco & why he is wonderful

And on the advice of Marsilius, who had taken a liking to me, they decided to place me under the direction of a learned Franciscan, Brother William of Baskerville, about to undertake a mission that would lead him to famous cities and ancient abbeys.
This is where Umberto Eco caught me. I was 11 or 12 and had struggled through the introduction and the beginning of Adso's story, but Baskerville was a name which resonated.

In some ways, I was far too young when I first encountered Eco. The library in my home town had just moved, and the grown-up section was no longer separated from the children's section with an impassable barrier (or a terrifying staircase, as the case may be). I had seized the opportunity to read Sherlock Holmes (and Wodehouse and Dickens). And then, The Name of the Rose.

But much as I was awash in a sea of references that I could not hope to catch, the description of Brother William gave me one of my first conscious experiences of literary allusion (tall, thin, with penetrating eyes and a beaky nose!), and once it was pointed out that the man could solve mysteries, I was safely on firm ground. With that as my guideline, I could observe (and absorb) references to people and places I had never heard of (yet), and with them a feeling of complexity and depth that I think I've been looking for in books ever since. The plethora of ...
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The Abominable Bride

Being at heart a Holmesian, and by education a Victorianist, I was looking forward to the Sherlock special with trepidation and delight. Here be SPOILERS GALORE but in short: I am generally happy with "The Abominable Bride". It is not a purist's Holmes; for that Gatiss and Moffat are too fond of the plethora of other adaptations. But that is one of its strengths.
I read on the internet that people are confused. I find this claim somewhat baffling, as to me it seemed perfectly straight-forward: It seemed to begin as a retelling of Gatiss/Moffat Sherlock set back in the Victorian period. Throughout the first part, however, there were numerous indications that that was not the case, increasing in frequency as the episode progresses. The first, and probably least immediately obvious, is the beautiful Chekov's gun of Holmes' conversation with Watson early on,
Holmes: "The stage is set. The curtain rises. We are ready to begin. Sometimes, to solve a new case, one must first solve another."
Watson: "We have a case then? A new one?"
Holmes: "An old case. Very old. I shall have to go deep."
Watson: "Into what?"
Holmes: "Myself.",
which neatly summarises the basic structure of the episode: Everything but the scenes on the plane take place in Sherlock's drug-fuelled imagination, which draws on elements from the universe constructed by Gatiss & Moffat in order to construct an imaginary Victorian setting in which he can try to work out how Moriarty might ...
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Liveblogg nyttårsaften 2015

GODT NYTT ÅR!

02.30 Camilla vant (mwahahah) og Tor er bitter fordi hans poengsum knapt kom opp i 2 siffer.

Vi har dessverre ingen pepperkakehus å knuse i år, men vi erklærer kvelden en stor suksess. Men nå går vi og legger oss! God natt.

01.45: Karoline varsler veldig, veldig, veldig, så innmari dårlig stemning rundt bordet. Man antar det har noe å gjøre med valget av kort.

Det hører med til historien at Karoline må REISE SEG hver gang hun skal trekke kort/sette tog.

Hun erklærer på at ingen må kaste seg på neon sverd for hennes skyld.
Marie legger umiddelbart tog i sentral-Europa.

Vi ler.

01.00: Silje har forlatt oss. Vi er triste og leie, selvsagt. Men trøster oss med brettspill og cocktails. Marie påpeker at det er et strategispill og lurer på om en del av strategien er det å skjenke nye deltagere. Hun får ingen svar.

00.50: Fyrverkeri er FORTSATT noe herk. Himmel og hav. Har ikke folk noe bedre å ta seg til.

Vi forbereder samtidig kveldens tredje brettspill: Ticket to Ride, mens Silje har begynt å mumle noe om å dra hjem. Av hensyn til sjåføren.

00.20: Vi har sendt Karoline og Marie for å lage mer white ladies. 1 del sitronsaft, 1 del gin og 1 del cointreau. Burde gå greit. Håper de ikke mister tellingen.


00.15: Silje løper bort fra smellene som en skvetten gaselle (delvis fordi Karoline i tillegg ropte "bø!" opptil flere ganger ...
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Reading intersectionally

Two years ago, I had a long, hard look at how, and who, I read. I was rather disappointed. Reading is at the heart of my identity, both in that I am, to my core, someone who reads, but also in that the books I have read have had a major impact on how I see the world. Alongside this, I have identified as a feminist since I was a kid. Finding out that I fairly consistently read only 20% women was therefore both surprising and dismaying. To make matters worse, the same percentages were present both in my library as a whole and in my list of books to read. Clearly something needed doing.

Last year, at this time, I had spent a year reading 50% women, an experiment which would have been a tremendous success, were it not for the fact that nearly all the women (and men, for that matter) on my list were distinctly of the white & Western persuasion. I resolved to do better.


I decided to keep reading 50% women while also reading 50% non-western authors. I limited "non-western" to the world outside of Europe & the Americas, and likewise excluded authors of Western descent (so no Coetzee, Camus or Kipling in this group).1 The purpose was to break out of my rather insular way of reading. I believe in literature as a political agent, and the choice to have my world described and shaped almost exclusively by Western European voices is one ...
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