Ereaders with Buttons?

Does anyone know of a currently-available ereader which meets the following criteria?
Actual eink ereader, not a cheap tablet
Not made by Amazon
Has buttons
Ideally under £100

I’m currently using a recent Kobo, but I’ll be passing that on to Holly as her ereader’s broken, and I’m wanting to buy a replacement for myself. The Kobo, however, is infuriating, as it *only* has a touchscreen interface, no buttons. This is a real problem when it comes to reading books with footnotes, as the action for viewing a footnote (tap your finger on the screen where the footnote is) is the same action as bringing up the menu or turning the page.

I’ve been unable to find any ereaders other than Kindles, currently in production, with any physical buttons. I don’t want a Kindle because I don’t want to encourage Amazon’s monopoly/monopsony on the ebook market.
Any suggestions? (NB if you bought your ereader more than a year or so ago, it’s probably not on the market any more…)

ETA — for those also looking, I eventually bought one of these. The built-in bookstore and dictionaries aren’t in English, but I don’t use those features anyway, and the rest of it seems precisely what I want.

Corbyn Explained For Foreigners

A couple of people have asked me to talk about Jeremy Corbyn here, to explain his election as Labour leader for people who aren’t in the UK. I’ve so far resisted doing so, because I have a lot of friends who think he’s the Messiah, and a lot who think he’s Satan, and almost all of those people take any disagreement with their stance as being a personal attack (if you’re not one of those people, then I’m not talking about you). But I’m going to try to explain here what’s been going on for those of you who are very confused by references you’ve seen on Twitter and so on.

To get my own biases out of the way first: I am a member of a political party other than Corbyn’s. I think that the Labour Party, of which he is now leader, is a fundamentally corrupt, irredeemable, organisation, but that he himself is a principled man. I don’t share all his principles, but he is closer to me on many issues than the other people who were leadership candidates for his party. I think him being leader of Labour might end up being good for my party in electoral terms, and almost certainly will end up being good for the country’s political culture, in that it will shift the Overton window to the left, which it needs. But fundamentally, he’s the leader of a party I disagree with, and their leadership election is not my fight. That said, now the explanation:

Jeremy Corbyn is the latest example of what Charles Stross has been referring to as the “Scottish political singularity”, although really it’s a British-wide constitutional crisis. Britain’s constitution, its electoral system, and its parties, are all proving increasingly unfit for purpose, and it’s becoming very apparent that centrist triangulation, which had been the principal electoral strategy for the last few decades, is not what a plurality of the voters want,

Any political story you’ve heard from Britain for at least the last decade is a variant on this — people want something other than centre-right authoritarian politics, but we have a system (both an electoral system and the systems in individual parties) which produces that no matter what the voters’ wishes. The rise of UKIP in the polls, the huge gains by the Lib Dems up to 2005, followed by the coalition and the Lib Dems’ huge losses this year, the AV referendum (which we lost, but still got a higher percentage of the vote than any party has in decades…), the Scottish Nationalists getting nearly every seat in Scotland, the recent Scottish independence referendum, and the forthcoming EU referendum, all come down to this. No matter who you vote for, you get a government that supports cuts to the welfare state, tax cuts for businesses, government surveillance of everyone at all times, and so on.

My own party, the Liberal Democrats, is, hopefully, moving away from that consensus again (it always disagreed with it, but the previous leadership tried to compromise with it as much as possible, with disastrous results in the most recent election). But both Labour and the Conservatives have remained firmly committed to it, with only very slight details of emphasis.

The next thing you need to know is that the Prime Minister, in Britain, is not a directly elected position. Rather, it goes to any MP who can get a majority of the House of Commons to support them — usually this will be the leader of the largest party, so at the moment David Cameron is leader of the Conservatives, who have a majority in the Commons, so he is Prime Minister. This is important — we do not directly vote for the head of Government, and actually the only people who have a say over it are MPs.

Different parties handle the choice of the leader in different ways. The Conservatives, I believe, still leave the choice just to their MPs. The Lib Dems and Greens have a democratic vote among their members. Labour have tried various different ways of choosing their leader, but last time the election caused such controversy that they instituted a new system this time. Any member, or registered supporter who paid £3 (about $5), could vote for the leader. However, to stand, the candidate had to get nominated by a significant number of the Labour MPs, to make sure the leader would actually have the support of the party in the Commons too.

Three centre-right bland authoritarians all stood — Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall. These are all people who are absolute standard identikit politicians, and it was widely considered that the contest was really between Cooper and Burnham.

But while Labour is currently a centre-right authoritarian party, it *used* to be a socialist one, and several of its older members joined when it was. These socialist members take it in turns to stand for the leadership, not expecting or even wanting to win, just as an attempt to push their party slightly to the left — these are the equivalents of the candidates who stand for the Presidency just to get in the debates and push their one or two policies.

This time it was the turn of Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn has been an MP for thirty-two years, but has never before stood for, or even considered, any other role within Parliamentary politics. He has served his constituents well from the back benches, and spends much of his energy on things like the Stop the War campaign.

His candidacy was seen as a joke by much of the party, especially the Parliamentary party. He didn’t even actually have the support of the MPs who nominated him — many did so while saying they didn’t support him, but “wanted to see a proper debate”. The idea was that Burnham or Cooper, with their smart suits and hairstyles and government experience, would easily defeat a sixty-six-year-old bloke with a grey beard, and in doing so would show that centre-right authoritarianism is still best.

But they hadn’t reckoned with the fact that this time, unlike the others, it would be the choice of the members and supporters, not the MPs, that would decide matters, and that after two massive election losses when led by a centre-right authoritarian the members were quite keen to vote for something that wasn’t that.

MASSIVE numbers of people joined Labour or registered as supporters, making it (at the moment) a truly mass movement for the first time in decades (I suspect that many of them will let their membership lapse, but who knows? At the moment predicting anything is impossible…). Fifty-nine percent of the voters in the leadership election voted for Corbyn.

So what we have now is an interesting, completely unpredictable, situation. Labour now has a leader who has said that Karl Marx had a lot of interesting things to say, thinks it might be appropriate to try Tony Blair as a war criminal, wants to get rid of nuclear weapons and leave NATO, wants to nationalise major industries, chairs the Stop the War Coalition, has expressed support for terrorists who have attacked Britain because they’re fighting colonial oppression, and once signed an early day motion looking forward to the extinction of the human race because of its cruelty to pigeons.*

That leader has the massive, overwhelming support of the party membership and active supporter base, but many political commentators are arguing — maybe correctly, who knows? — that those are the only people who’d support a party led by him, and that the other one or the other one or the other one, with their distinctive policies of all being exactly like each other, would have been more popular. Maybe so — certainly I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the electorate at all.

But he doesn’t have the support of any of the MPs in his party, who mostly supported the war in Iraq, support continued privatisation and marketisation of public services, and in general are in agreement with the right-authoritarian consensus. He can’t even appeal to party unity, because he’s spent the last thirty-plus years sat at the back attacking his own leadership on every issue.

So Labour now has a leader who can’t lead their MPs, and whose MPs don’t want to follow him anyway, but who is massively popular among the people who do the door-knocking, leaflet-delivering, ground activity on which any political party actually depends for its survival. But *many* of those people are people who’ve only recently joined, who have spent time in several other parties (as an example, Cory Doctorow recently talked on BoingBoing about how he may join Labour as a result of Corbyn being elected leader. Doctorow has been in the Lib Dems and the Greens previously.) — those people may not be reliable in the long term.

So, interesting times. There is literally no way to predict anything in British politics any more, except that strange things will continue to happen, because we have a system at the point of catastrophic failure.

Frankly, the whole political singularity is making me ill from stress, and I wish that people of every party would see sense and introduce elections by STV, which would fix about half the problems and mitigate many of the others. But until they do, politics will remain chaotic, in the mathematical sense, and Corbyn’s election as leader is just the latest example of that.

*These things are cherry-picked examples of Mr Corbyn’s more extreme views — some of which I agree with myself — to point out the distance between him and his party. They’re not meant to be taken as me mocking him, for the most part.

The Monkees at Hammersmith

So along with being ill and trying (and largely failing) to finish up California Dreaming (though that will be done Real Soon Now — it really is just a matter of pulling stuff together, and it’s a matter of days, not weeks, of work) the big thing that kept me away from this blog last week was traveling first to That London and then to Birmingham to see the Monkees.

Well, two of them, anyway. Seeing Davy is sadly no longer a possibility, while Michael Nesmith, after touring with the band through 2012, 2013, and 2014 — his longest period with them since the 60s, by a very long way — has declined to be part of the tour this year; annoyingly, none of those tours came to the UK, but we can hope he’ll reconsider for the fiftieth anniversary this year.

No matter which combination of members is present, though, the Monkees have an affection from their audience that I’ve never seen with any other band. I’ve seen bigger crowds, and more obsessive ones, but never crowds that are so happy to be there. Sat outside the Hammersmith Apollo, waiting for the doors to open, I saw dozens of people taking photographs of themselves below the marquee, just wanting a record of themselves going to a Monkees show. That’s something I’ve not seen before, and suggests a kind of love for the band that is not at all common.

After the opening music (a mixture of solo Monkees obscurities and covers of Monkees songs by other artists) and montage of video clips, the band that came onto the stage was much smaller than the band I saw in 2011. Not only was there (obviously) no Davy, but there were far fewer backing musicians — no horns, just one guitar, bass, drums (only one kit — Micky didn’t play drums on this tour) and keyboards, plus Micky’s sister Coco Dolenz on backing vocals and hand percussion. That, plus Peter Tork switching between guitar and keyboards, and Micky occasionally playing acoustic guitar, was the entire band.

This makes sense in a lot of ways. Davy’s “Broadway rock” stuff was the only music that they did that really needed the horns, and they’d always detracted from, rather than added to, the other music — Pleasant Valley Sunday isn’t improved by sounding like it’s being played by the studio band from a US late-night talk show.

But the combination of this, along with the lack of Davy as a frontman (and the concomitant lack of dance routines and much smaller number of old music-hall jokes) gave the show a completely different feel to that from 2011. Where the earlier show, even before they walked on stage, felt showbiz, this felt rock and roll. The earlier show was, for me at least, watching three of the stars of one of my favourite TV programmes from when I was a child, whereas this was watching the band who made some of the records I’ve loved the most in my thirties.

This meant that even the parts of the show that were most similar — Micky singing I’m A Believer or Porpoise Song — felt different, and like they were being asked to be judged by a different standard. Luckily, as a rock and roll show, the new Monkees (not to be confused, thankfully, with the New Monkees) are as good as any out there.

One could argue that the Monkees, as a quartet, were each a quarter of the perfect entertainer — Davy the frontman, Micky the singer, Michael the songwriter, and Peter the instrumentalist. Given that they still play many of Nesmith’s songs, the lack of the other two in musical terms is fairly minimal on the songs they do play.

The main way the lack affects the show is that the setlist chosen has almost no songs that originally had lead vocals by either Davy or Michael, with only two of each — A Little Bit Me and Daydream Believer in Davy’s case, and Papa Gene’s Blues and Listen To The Band in Michael’s. Everything else was something that had originally been sung by Micky or Peter.

This made for a truly odd setlist. Previous Monkees setlists have largely been ones anyone could write — take any Best Of The Monkees collection, add in a couple of extra songs that Peter can sing, and the job’s done. But while Dolenz sings almost every one of the massive hits (Clarksville, Steppin’ Stone, I’m A Believer, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Randy Scouse Git, She) and several of the more recognisable non-hits (Goin’ Down, Porpoise Song, Girl I Knew Somewhere), having a show where only Micky and Peter are singing means that many well-known non-hit songs (Daddy’s Song, Cuddly Toy, You Just May Be The One and so on) are out of bounds, and the setlist mixes the famous songs in with songs that are not completely familiar even to a dedicated fan like myself.

For the first, shorter, set, Dolenz utterly dominated proceedings. While Peter got two leads (Your Aunty Grizelda and For Pete’s Sake), took a part of the lead on No Time, duetted on Words, and was as good a visual clown as ever (and the man is an absolutely remarkable mime — he could have been Harpo Marx good if he’d gone in that direction), the bulk of songs were all Micky leads, and all utterly familiar to anyone who knows the Monkees at all — Clarksville, A Little Bit Me, Girl I Knew Somewhere, Mary Mary, Randy Scouse Git, She — songs that anyone who ever owned a Monkees Greatest Hits compilation, or watched the TV show, knows like they know their own mother.

The one exception was the interesting choice of I’ll Be Back On My Feet, an album track that had never been performed live before this year. Oddly, this rather muzaky song has become quite funky in the live arrangement — with a smaller band, the song has a real groove to it, in a way it doesn’t on record.

After an intermission, during which commercials featuring the Monkees were played (a nice idea of Andrew Sandoval’s), interspersed with videos of songs that wouldn’t be played live this time (largely Nesmith ones), the band came on for a semi-acoustic set, with Dolenz and Tork down the front on acoustic guitars. A brief snippet of Tork’s song Tear The Top Right Off My Head was followed by a rearranged version of Clarksville, done as a blues number with Tork on lead. This was followed by two Carole King numbers — Take A Giant Step and Sometime in the Morning — both rearranged by Tork to emphasise his finger-picked, almost ragtime, guitar style. Both of these were highlights, Take A Giant Step for Tork’s wonderful playing (and his singing — the pitching problems which he had in earlier decades are now gone, and he sounds almost like Willie Nelson), and Sometime In The Morning for Mick’s vocal. On the 2011 tour he almost bellowed this one, rather destroying the beauty of it — he has a tendency nowadays to project more than he did in the 60s, and this sometimes is at the expense of subtlety — but here, with a softer backing with which he didn’t have to compete, he sounded lovely.

These were followed by acoustic versions of Midnight Train (with Coco Dolenz brought up to join them) and Papa Gene’s Blues. Coco Dolenz is a far more important addition to the show than people might imagine, despite being “only” a backing vocalist, for the simple reason that she has *the exact same voice* as her brother. This makes the harmonies sound quite wonderful — and indeed this version of the band has astounding vocal harmonies all round, as a surprise a capella break at the end of The Girl I Knew Somewhere showed.

Papa Gene’s Blues was interesting as well, because both nights of the UK tour it was introduced with effusive praise for both the song and its writer, Michael Nesmith (both Tork and Dolenz said it was their favourite of his songs “except Rio”). With the fiftieth anniversary next year, they’re clearly trying to be as publicly complimentary toward him as possible so as not to burn bridges, and many times mentioned just how great a songwriter he is. This stands in contrast to Davy, who was only mentioned once, in the list of songwriters who’d written for the band — were it not for the video footage of him, one could be forgiven for thinking Davy was never in the band at all.

We then had two songs from Head — Porpoise Song and Long Title (though not, oddly, Tork’s other usual lead, Can You Dig It?), and a giant rush through the hits, interrupted only for solo spots for each Monkee (a torch-blues version of Sugar Sugar for Micky and Saved By The Blues, a song originally by Tork’s band Shoe Suede Blues, for Peter). During Goin’ Down, Micky made the lifetime of Iain Lee (yes, “TV’s Iain Lee” — he’s one of the biggest Monkees fans in the world, and a big fan of LA 60s pop stuff generally, and a very nice bloke) by passing him the mic to sing a verse from the audience.

There were flaws to the show — mostly because of the acoustics of the hall (the sound balance didn’t seem quite right in the first set, though it was spot on for the much longer second set) — but the show was about as good a representation of the Monkees’ music, and of why that music stands up completely outside the context of the TV series, as one could hope for.

Sunday’s show at Moseley was also special, in a rather different way, and I’ll talk about that tonight or tomorrow…

Caldream and Podcasts Update

Just to let people know what’s going on.
I now have ten days off work. I intend to use four of them — Monday through Thursday next week — to get the final touches done to the book, after taking a couple of days’ break from everything today and tomorrow.
With luck, I’ll get the ebooks out to Kickstarter and Patreon backers on Friday morning, before heading off to the Monkees show in London.
After a few days to get feedback, I’ll post a revised version of the ebooks to Patreon and Kickstarter, and that will also be the text used in the print copies. I expect to put the print version and revised ebook up for sale within a couple of weeks.
I also intend to get the backlog of podcasts done on Monday. Again, sorry for the incredibly light month this month (though I tried to make it up to Patreons with the most recent Patreon-only post) — I should be getting the results of my blood tests a week on Monday, and then I’ll know what the cause of my fatigue for the last month has been, and have some idea of how to treat it.

The Shepherd’s Crown

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It could have been a lot worse.
As Rob Wilkins explains in the afterword, Terry Pratchett hadn’t actually finished writing this when he died. Pratchett’s working methods, as described by Wilkins, involved writing scenes and piecing them together, finding the story, and then rewriting and adding scenes. Here we have something that isn’t quite the end process of that. We have something that can be read, coherently, from beginning to end as a narrative, but is not quite formed.
There is, as Wilkins says, a beginning, middle, and end. But some of it has clearly been worked on rather more than other bits. There’s some absolutely atrocious writing in the first few chapters — Terrance Dicks-on-autopilot level simple sentences and “as you know, your father, the king” dialogue, with no hint of characterisation (not helped by some shoddy copyediting). This worried me at first, as given that Pratchett died of Alzheimer’s, I was beginning to think that his faculties had declined so much in his last months that the writer who I loved so much had gone before writing this.
But somewhere around page sixty or seventy, the writing style starts to improve dramatically, and it’s apparent that Pratchett *wasn’t* failing as a writer — the writing in the first few chapters is obviously a sketch of what would have been there, a skeleton onto which he would have added characterisation and prose style if he’d been able to do any further drafts.
And there are other signs that the book was unfinished, too. There’s a subplot — involving Geoffrey and the old men — that has a couple of scenes, but which clearly would have been filled out much more if Pratchett could have finished the book in the way he wanted to. The climax is rushed, and rather unsatisfying.
But the middle two hundred and fifty pages or so of the book is up to the standards of the other Tiffany Aching books, and that’s saying something. It’s clearly a “last Witches book” — everyone returns for one last time, including some unexpected cameos, and it’s a book about death. Pratchett hadn’t included Death, who had appeared in every Discworld novel up until his diagnosis, in the last couple of books, understandably, but here he returns, and entirely appropriately.
The Geoffrey subplot, sketched in though it is, clearly provides a reflection of the very first witches book, Equal Rites, closing the story where it began, but there are echoes here of many other books. The character growth of one villainous character is very like that of one in Thief of Time. Lords and Ladies and (to a lesser extent) Raising Steam are also present in between the words.
It’s a book about death, but also about new life. Tiffany Aching has always been a character in the shadow of her dead grandmother, but one who has been growing into her own power, and that’s continued here. We say goodbye here to favourite characters, and to an entire world, but it will live on without us.
It’s also a sombre book — there are very few laugh-out-loud jokes in here, but a lot that’s thought-provoking, and moving.
It’s very, very hard to judge this objectively. I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for a quarter of a century, since as an eleven-year-old I read Sourcery and assumed that “Terry Pratchett” must be a pseudonym for Douglas Adams, because who else could write like that?
Now, of course, I know the difference. Adams was a cynic — a very funny writer, but a shallow one, able to see the world only through a filter of anger and despair. He was a great comedy writer, but limited.
Pratchett, on the other hand, was wise, and kinder-spirited. Pratchett, like Adams, could get enraged at the world’s follies, but he could see that there were other things in the world. Temperamentally, I’m closer to Adams, but I like to think something of Pratchett has rubbed off.
And this is the thing. This is the last work of someone who has influenced my thought, and my life, in ways I can’t begin to sum up sensibly. Without Pratchett, I wouldn’t have the friends I have, wouldn’t think the things I do, wouldn’t be the person I am.
So yes, this is a first draft, a sketch of the proper book it should have been. But the book it’s a sketch of might have been his best, and even in this state it’s a far more fitting capstone to the Discworld and to Pterry’s career than Raising Steam, which may have been his worst.
Goodbye, Pterry, and thank you.

View all my reviews


I met a traveler from the manosphere
Who said: “Two vast and pointless walls of text
Stand on a website. near them there appears,
An author promo photograph, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that the camera well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Vox Day, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The empty awards shelves stretch far away

(Oh, and unlike John C Wright, I can spell Shelley)