A belated farewell to science fiction giant Harry Harrison. From The Stainless Steel Rat through The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted, to The Technicolor Time Machine, A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!, the West of Eden trilogy, and Make Room! Make Room!, I had a great time reading his stuff as a teenager. And unlike some SF authors’ work, I hung onto them all through many moves, which says a lot about how indispensable they all felt. An endlessly entertaining writer.

28 August 2012

Goldilocks and the Multiple Identities

Once upon a time, which was in fact last week, I was reading around on fairy-tales after the widely-reported discovery of five hundred new (old) ones in a German archive, following links this way and that, when what should I come across but a Page in the Forest which revealed that Goldilocks, that much-loved tale, wasn’t from the Brothers Grimm as I’d always assumed, but was (a) English, (b) not called Goldilocks until the twentieth century, and (c) not even originally in the story.

Read More · 11 March 2012

I almost forgot two further ironies of our volcano story. The first was that when our flight was cancelled because of the ash I was in the middle of reading The Black Swan: The Impacts of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Read More · 28 February 2012

Now to deal with the different methods of catching Rats. The best way, in my opinion, is,


Via Mefi.

8 February 2012

Before Christmas I took advantage of a promotional deal to score a couple of free audiobooks, seeing as I’d done okay with an abridged audiobook of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a couple of years ago. (The Martin Wenner reading. From one discussion I’ve read about Stieg Larsson’s authorial digressions, it sounds as if the abridged version was the right way to have gone. It also sounds as if the excellent trailer of the David Fincher film version is enough to watch in that case, too.) Audiobooks have the key advantage of fitting into gaps in the day when you’re commuting or working in the kitchen or whatever, and avoid that slightly oppressive sense of having to sit down and devote quality time to them, which books too often have for me these days. I used to do most of my reading for pleasure before going to sleep, but that window has shrunk to about five minutes a day, and not many books can stand up to being read in five-minute instalments.

So, as they were free, I ended up choosing two audiobooks that I’d already bought in hardback over the past couple of years, but wasn’t likely to read any time soon.

Read More · 13 January 2012


Black-headed gulls hanging in the wind at Cramond, Edinburgh, on Christmas Eve. With the black dots behind their eyes, they looked like they were painted by Picasso. It took longer than usual to identify these with Google, because they look so different in summer (guess how), but the RSPB came to the rescue.

Read More · 2 January 2012


Some years ago I wrote a piece called The Fade, about the impact a shelf-full of faded book spines had on my feelings about home. I should write a sequel, because it’s happened again—not because a tree was chopped down this time, but because I built bookshelves right next to the window of our top-floor Edinburgh flat when we moved in four years ago. You wouldn’t think there’d be enough sunlight in Scotland to fade anything, but there is, and even some books I bought here in the past decade have suffered. So I did some research on anti-UV window film, ordered some a month ago, and this morning finally installed it. Cutting the stuff to size was tricky, and squeegying bubbles out with a credit card was trickier, so the results are annoyingly imperfect; but I think I value the books more than a few air bubbles and plastic wrinkles on the double-glazing.

Read More · 2 January 2012

Books in 2010