My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed / when he finds out I publish first

J.K. Rowling is being sued (again) for alleged plagiarism. In this case the estate of the now-deceased author of the 30pp self-published Adventures of Willy the Wizard(published 1987) claims (a) that by some miracle Rowling became aware of this opus and nicked bits of it for Goblet of Fire, because (b) it is inconceivable, inconceivable I tell you that anyone else could possibly imagine a society of wizards taking everyday life as we know it (sports competitions, chess, trains) and adding their own magical twist to it. QED.

Prognostications for the plaintiff are not good and this may well be the last you hear of it.

If you want a case that just might have merit, however, tune into BBC1 on 10 April (and make sure you do because I’m calling you all as witnesses), which is when “The Beast Below”, the second episode of the new Dr Who series will be shown. According to the Beeb’s publicity lords:

“The Doctor takes Amy to the distant future, where she finds Britain in space. Starship UK houses the future of the British people, as they search the stars for a new home.”

Sound of screeching brakes. Now, hold on just a minute! Starship UK? Starship UK?? Why, that’s almost exactly the same as:

“UK-1 … the largest spaceship ever built – seventeen massive wheels in space spinning around a common axis. The last redoubt of the exiled House of Windsor.” (His Majesty’s Starship, 1998)

Note that even though HMSS was published in 1998, I sent it to my agent in early 1995. Later in 1995 I spoke on the phone to Steven Moffat, then a mere script writer a decade before he would achieve the status of Hugo-winning Dr Who Deity with “The Empty Child” and 15 years before he would take over series production from Russell T. Davies. Now, my memories of the conversation are mainly that we coordinated ideas for our forthcoming stories in the Decalog 3 collection: but I put it to you, is it entirely impossible that the conversation could have gone:
[Gentle Scottish burr] “So, Ben, what else have you written?”
[Crisp, eager, slightly naive English accent] “Well, I’ve just turned in my first novel, which includes the UK in space, based on a giant spaceship and ruled by the guy who would be king if Britain was still a monarchy.”
[Slightly more acquisitive Scottish burr] “Fascinating! Tell me more …”
Not at all impossible, I’m sure you’ll agree. The fact that I don’t remember it is obviously because I dismissed it as unimportant. The phone call was about our stories, after all, not my novel, and anyway, I trusted the man, trusted, I tell you.
I will hold my horses for the time being. I have still to watch this episode, and I’ll wait for Willy the Wizard vs Rowling‘s inevitable dismissal, because I wouldn’t want my chances affected by any perceived similarity to such an obviously futile, money-grabbing case.

Except you become as students …

I hadn’t realised how old I’m getting until I realised how long it’s been since I had a decently silly theological conversation.

I had made the offer of transferring my collection of Dr Who videos to Middle Godson’s family. Middle Godson’s father and I were at uni together. At one point the discussion of the terms of the transfer, conducted devant une des enfants but phrased to avoid arousing excitement until a conclusion was reached, lapsed into New Testament Greek. The years just fell away.

MG’s vicar father has also developed the Christingle concept for other festivals where the quotient of unchurched punters on pews might be higher than usual: Eastingle (chocolate eggs instead of oranges) and Harvestingle. This is an idea that could run and run. The higher forms of church could pick it up too. I propose Annuncitingle. Children could all clutch a parthenogenetically grown fruit on which they have drawn a very surprised face. Stick a cross in it, hold it upside down and you’ve got a ♀ .

I wonder if the student Richard Dawkins and his friends ever lapsed deliberately into really bad science just for the fun of it?

Medical mirth

To make the long winter evenings at InsanelyRun fly by, I very unprofessionally started to keep a file that I called Cheap Giggles: turns of phrase from our books that got passed around the office to crack the occasional smile on the face of the hard worked, badly managed staff. Here are some of them …

  • “Difficulty in extracting prostatic fluid experienced by practitioners as well as the undesired infelicitous mode of the massage also led to its ill-starred fate.”
    – an author laments the sad decline of the science of prostate massage
  • “I made an effort, when not taking Nystatin, to correlate my balanitisoutbreaks with sexual contacts and my wife’s vaginal yeast infections.”
    – from a book on prostatitis. Everyone should have a hobby, eh?
  • “I have been on medical leave of absence and was unable to obtain another good set of stained prostatic fluid.”
    – ibid. What a disappointing break it must have been.
  • “Does your bladder problem make you feel depressed?”
    – from a questionnaire in a book on urogynaecology. (our Production Manager’s answer: “no, I’m pissing myself”)
  • “Urine loss during provocation can be significantly decreased by crossing the legs.”
    – ibid.
  • “The loss of anal contents during intimate times can adversely affect a woman’s quality of life.”
    – ibid, chapter on faecal incontinence. I feel an expression featuring negative faecal content and Mr Holmes would be very appropriate at this point.
  • “In geographical terms, Australia is the driest continent on Earth. Regrettably the same cannot be said for the state of its inhabitants.”
    – ibid, chapter on the prevalence of urinary incontinence in Australia
  • “The appearances of internal sphincter can be described as being analogous to the white meat of chicken breast as opposed to the red meat appearance of the external sphincter.”
    – ibid. Never let this man carve your chicken.
  • “Stripping of veins is very stimulating”
    – book on anaesthesia.
  • “… patients who do not like to sit on public toilets and hover instead …”
    – yet another book on incontinence
  • “Antigen-pulsed DCs are capable of stimulating a response simply by injection into naive mice.”
    – book on prostate cancer. Presumably clued-up mice refuse to be injected.
  • “I would suggest that Figure 2 was seen as an alternative to Figure 3, although Figure 5 could perhaps appear in addition to Table 4 which contains additional data not reproduced in that table.”
    – covering letter for a submitted chapter on prostate cancer, just making everything clear.
  • “… the higher incidence of prostate cancer in blacks may partly be due to the lower age of first sexual intercourse and the higher number of sexual partners, both of which are thought to be associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer.”
    – our contribution to racial awareness, from the first edition of a book on prostatic diseases that predated me. We cut it from the second edition.
  • “Many of the authors in this book were pioneers in endoscopic techniques and had to boldly go where no endoscopist had gone before”
    – introduction to book on endoscopy.
  • “Art illustration of best positions for colonic examination”
    – legend for figure in ibid.
  • “Vaginal hysterectomy was successfully performed — it provided relief to the patient and was an exhilarating experience for the operator.”
    – book on hysterectomy
  • “Vaginal hysterectomy is the least invasive route after all, one is using the portal designed by God.”
    – ibid.

Another cheap, easy target form of humour was devising insults based on actual medical terms:

  • You imperforate anus!
  • You capacious vagina!
  • You pancreatic pseudocyst!
  • You incompetent cervix!
  • You pathologic clot!

And finally, some interesting organisations that really do exist (or did, 10 years ago):

  • Erectile Dysfunction Alliance
  • Serious Hazards In Transfusions
  • Superficial Bladder Cancer Working Party
  • The Hospital Infection Society