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01 September 2019 | 08:14 pm

About half of this journal is friends-only: my reviews of books, comics, and audio dramas are available for public consumption, as is the occasional comment about my research.  Anything more personal than that (though it rarely gets more personal than me talking about restaurants I ate at) is locked.  Comment to be added (you'll need a LiveJournal account to do this).


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Reading Roundup Update: March 2012

31 March 2012 | 07:15 pm

I know, I know.  No life blogging, but many reviews-- and many more queued up so that I can get through the rest of the semester with ease:

DC Comics:
Lucifer: Crux by Mike Carey
Lucifer: Morningstar by Mike Carey
Lucifer: Evensong by Mike Carey
Superman by George Lowther

Other comic books:
Watchmen by Alan Moore
American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar and More American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar by Harvey Pekar with Joyce Brabner
The Smartest Kid on Earth, Jimmy Corrigan: An Improvisatory Romance, Pictographically Configured by Chris Ware
The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Black Jack, Volume 1 by Osamu Tezuka
Miracleman: The Golden Age by Neil Gaiman

Doctor Who:
Professor Bernice Summerfield #6: The Big Hunt by Lance Parkin
Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles #6.05: The First Wave by Simon Guerrier
Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles #6.07: The Anachronauts by Simon Guerrier

Other science fiction:
Taft 2012 by Jason Heller

Read about my record-breaking reading month at my other blog...


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A Book!

25 March 2012 | 11:40 am

It got lost somewhere across the Atlantic and had to be resent, but here it is at last:

Yup, it's Wildthyme in Purple, which features my at-long-last contribution to Obverse Books, with "Frank Reade Jr.'s Electric Time Canoe; or, The Search for the Origins of Steampunk: A Remarkable Journey in Time and Empire."  There are also many other delectable stories within.


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Reading Roundup Update: February 2012

01 March 2012 | 06:31 pm

Despite it being a short, busy month, I got a fair few reviews written:

19th-century literature:
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
Wessex Tales: That Is to Say, The Three Strangers, A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four, The Melancholy Hussar, The Withered Arm, Fellow-townsmen, Interlopers at the Knap, The Distracted Preacher by Thomas Hardy
The Man who would be King and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling
That Lass o' Lowrie's by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Haworth's by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Fair Barbarian by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Doctor Who:
Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Poison Seas by David Bailey
Professor Bernice Summerfield III: Life During Wartime edited by Paul Cornell
The Minister of Chance, Prologue: The Pointed Hand by Dan Freeman
The Minister of Chance, Episode 1: The Broken World by Dan Freeman
The Minister of Chance, Episode 2: The Forest Shakes by Dan Freeman
Doctor Who #156: The Curse of Davros by Jonathan Morris

Star Wars:
Star Wars: Legacy, Volume Seven: Storms by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Star Wars: Legacy, Volume Eight: Tatooine by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Star Wars: Legacy, Volume Nine: Monster by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Star Wars: Legacy, Volume Ten: Extremes by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Star Wars: Legacy, Volume Eleven: War by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema

Other fantasy and science fiction:
Journey Into Space: The Red Planet by Charles Chilton
The Scarifyers: The Magic Circle by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

Comic books:
Lucifer: Mansions of the Silence by Mike Carey
Lucifer: Exodus by Mike Carey
Lucifer: The Wolf Beneath the Tree by Mike Carey

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter

See the full deets on my readings and writings at my other blog.


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Reading Roundup Update: January 2012

01 February 2012 | 09:43 pm

Another month, another set of reviews published:

Doctor Who:
Professor Bernice Summerfield II: A Life of Surprises edited by Paul Cornell
Doctor Who: Short Trips #22: The Ghosts of Christmas edited by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright
Doctor Who #153: The Silver Turk by Marc Platt
Doctor Who #154: The Witch from the Well by Rick Briggs
Doctor Who #155: Army of Death by Jason Arnopp
Doctor Who: Short Trips #18: Time Signature edited by Simon Guerrier

Other science fiction:
Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber
The 1988 Annual World's Best SF edited by Donald A. Wollheim
Psychohistorical Crisis by Donald Kingsbury

80!: Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin edited by Karen Joy Fowler & Debbie Notkin

A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead by Bert V. Royal

Comic books:
Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga: The Deluxe Edition by Paul Levitz
Legion of Super-Heroes: The Curse: The Deluxe Edition by Paul Levitz with Keith Giffen
Lucifer: A Dalliance with the Damned by Mike Carey
Lucifer: The Divine Comedy by Mike Carey
Lucifer: Inferno by Mike Carey

You can find the full deets on the month of January 2012, including my Pick of the Month, all books read, and all books acquired, in my reading roundup wrapup.


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Reading Roundup Update: December 2011

01 January 2012 | 02:08 pm

The month of December saw me get the time to write some new reviews for Science's Less Accurate Grandmother, thanks to the end of the semester:

Comic books:
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Seymour Chwast
Starslip Crisis, Volume 1 by Kristofer Straub
Starslip Crisis, Volume 2 by Kristofer Straub
Starslip Crisis, Volume 3 by Kristofer Straub
Starslip: A Completely Accurate Portrayal of the Future by Kris Straub
Neil Gaiman's Murder Mysteries by P. Craig Russell
Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway by Mike Carey
Lucifer: Children and Monsters by Mike Carey

Doctor Who:
Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Bellotron Incident by Mike Tucker
Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Draconian Rage by Trevor Baxendale
About Time 4: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1975-1979 / Seasons 12 to 17 by Lawrence Miles & Tat Wood
Doctor Who: The King's Dragon by Una McCormack

Victorian literature:
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
Heart and Science: A Story of the Present Time by Wilkie Collins

You can get the full skinny on the month of December 2011, including my Pick of the Month, all books read, and all books acquired, in my reading roundup wrapup.


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Reading Roundup Wrapup: November 2011

01 December 2011 | 10:36 pm

Pick of the month: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. Not as good as Adam Bede, but that just means it's not in the Top Ten of books written in English.  (What are the other nine? Good question.)  A Vision of Modern Science was my pick for up until 30 minutes ago, but I leaned toward Deronda most of the time.  Some of the most magnificent writing, though I think it all peters off near the end.  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Heart and Science were the other standouts-- a good month all around.

All books read:
1. About Time 4: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1975-1979 / Seasons 12 to 17 by Lawrence Miles & Tat Wood
2. Mary Jane by Judith O'Brien
3. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
4. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
5. Doctor Who: The King's Dragon by Una McCormack
6. Heart and Science: A Story of the Present Time by Wilkie Collins
7. Mary Jane 2 by Judith O'Brien
8. The 1988 Annual World's Best SF edited by Donald A. Wollheim
9. A Vision of Modern Science: John Tyndall and the Role of the Scientist in Victorian Culture by Ursula DeYoung
10. The Man who would be King and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling
11. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Seymour Chwast

A decent number, especially consider Thanksgiving break and seminar paper season make November tough.  And Deronda was a three-week behemoth.

All books acquired:
1. Heart and Science: A Story of the Present Time by Wilkie Collins
2. Faction Paradox: A Romance in Twelve Parts edited by Stuart Douglas & Lawrence Miles
3. (The Best of) Shooty Dog Thing by Paul Castle and… Jon Arnold, Elizabeth Burak, Lawrence Burton, Lee Catigen-Cooper, Danielle Ellison, Terry Francis, James Gent, Angela Giblin, Stephen Gray, James Hadwen, Tim Hirst, Arfie Mansfield, Iain Martin, Nick Mellish, Patrick Mulready, Wesley Osam, Richard Parker, Erik Pollitt, and James Powell
4. Iris Wildthyme: The Panda Book of Horror edited by Stuart Douglas and Paul Magrs
5. Enter Wildthyme by Paul Magrs
6. Star Trek: Seven Deadly Sins by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, David A. McIntee, James Swallow, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Britta Burdett Dennison, Marc D. Giller, and Greg Cox
7. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr
8. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
9. Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane
10. The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould
11. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
12. Narbonic: The Perfect Collection: Book One by Shaenon K. Garrity
13. Narbonic: The Perfect Collection: Book Two by Shaenon K. Garrity
14. The Annotated Wizard of Oz: Centennial Edition by L. Frank Baum, edited by Michael Patrick Hearn
15. News from Nowhere, or An Epoch of Rest, Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance by William Morris
16. The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris
17. Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger!: A Pals in Peril Tale by M. T. Anderson
18. The Norumbegan Quartet, Volume 2: The Suburb Beyond the Stars by M. T. Anderson
19. Thirsty by M. T. Anderson

This actually brings me back to even on "reading balance," so I can't get any books this month (theoretically), but I'm not in the negative.  #1-6 were what I got for having a positive balance last month.  #7-11 and 14-16 were all free stuff from the publishing reps at the Freshman English Book Fair.  (And how awesome is #14!)  And #17-19 I bought when seeing M. T. Anderson two nights ago.

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 363

Actually, from now on, the only reading updates you'll see on this blog are these wrapups; I'm splitting reviews off into their own blog, so I can have two blogs no one reads.  Hopefully this blog can go back to more essay-ish and life-ish stuff, then.  Though who really reads LiveJournal these days?  (nwhyte has nicely added an LJ feed you can use to continue to follow the book reviews here: less_akrit_gma.)


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M. T. Anderson and Reading Widely: Half of a Manifesto, Maybe

01 December 2011 | 12:31 am

So last night, I saw one of my favorite authors, M. T. Anderson, speak at Eastern Connecticut State University here in Willimantic.  Anderson is a children's/YA writer, but he's absolutely one of my favorites, maybe in my top five ever.  (Who else is in that top five?  Good question.)  I saw him speak at UConn back in 2008, but I couldn't pass up another opportunity, and I convinced Hayley to go along with me.  (Hayley actually really likes him too, so I just needed to tip the scales against going to her Tuesday evening class.) 

One of the things I like about him is his diversity of voice-- this is a guy who can write all sorts of things.  My introduction to him was Whales on Stilts, the first book in the Pals in Peril series, a satire on formula series fiction, aimed at 10-12 year olds.  But he's also written Feed, a gorgeous if slightly problematic dystopia aimed at teenagers, and the Octavian Nothing duology, set during the Revolutionary War and really capturing the prose style of the era (maybe too well) in what almost seems like a dark fantasy, but turns out to be something very different.  And he has other stuff I've yet to read, but even within the Pals in Peril books he shows a diversity of style.  But he's not just diverse-- he's very very good.  Feed is moving at the same time it satirizes contemporary consumer culture; it contains an extraordinary passage that recreates the drama, the facileness, and the beauty of teenage love.  (I actually taught Feed to my Freshman English class this summer, and some of them even liked it, but I completely forgot to pass on the announcement to them.  Whoops.)

He spoke for about 45 minutes and then took questions.  Some of what he said, I knew already, but that was fine.  Much of what he said was funny, and that was good.  He's also clearly very intelligent, and very imaginative, in the best of ways, able to take idle wonderings and transform them into universal sentiments.  Even Whales on Stilts, where mind-controlled whales on mechanical stilts with laser eyes invaded the continental United States, has one of my favorite statements on friendship.  He's had a good career, and he's one of those rare authors I just don't like or love; in some ways, I wish I could have written his books.  Hayley and I brought two books to be signed, and bought three more there.  While he signed all five to both of us (after a debate over whose books they were), Hayley talked with him about the beauty of Linnaeus's scientific writing while I tried to be cool and name-dropped Erasmus Darwin ineffectively.

One of the things he said that impressed me most, even though I've heard it elsewhere before, is that one of the best things an author can do is read widely.  I did like how he said it though, which was different: (paraphrasing from memory here) "Go into the bookstore and look.  Every book there is someone's favorite.  Read it and find out why.  If you don't like science fiction, read a science fiction book.  Read a romance novel.  If there's How to Play the Tuba, that's someone's favorite book.  Why is that?  What speaks to them?"

I think this is what irks me about some of the genre and tie-in fiction I read-- it reads like it's written by someone who only reads other genre and/or tie-in fiction.  (And one Shakespeare play, a Dan Brown novel, and a book of profound quotations.)  M. T. Anderson's work doesn't.  It's enmeshes in a large, complicated world, and this is shown in overt and subtle ways.  The third thrilling Pals in Peril tale, Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, is not just a send-up of children's books about people on adventures in dinosaur-infested "exotic" lands in Africa/South America, but it also exposes (subtly but very effectively) the way that European travel fiction can render the "other" and make a "foreign" landscape into something to be dominated by a colonial observer.  And then it makes fun of people who know about all these problems and try to seek an "authentic" experience in foreign countries!  He's not only read his Richard Burton, Frank Reade Jr., and Edward Said, he's read his Stuff White People Like, and he's engaged with all of the above in interesting ways.  Even if you don't recognize the references, I think you still absorb something.  And even if you don't, there's still a fight scene where pacifist monks defeat an army of gangsters with haikus.

I try to read widely myself, as best I can.  I can't say I read How to Play the Tuba or Harlequin romances, but this month I read:
- a cultural criticism Doctor Who episode guide
- two YA Spider-Man novels
- two Victorian writers, George Eliot and Wilkie Collins
- a Doctor Who tie-in based in part on Beowulf (someone else has read widely)
- a 1988 sf anthology
- a critical analysis of the philosophy of a Victorian scientist
- a Rudyard Kipling collection
- a graphic novel adaptation of The Canterbury Tales

Obviously some of this reading is more wide than others, and the requirements of coursework and my fetish for Doctor Who and serialized comic books conspire to constrain me somewhat, but I try pretty hard.  When I was writing the acknowledgements page for A Choice of Catastrophes, I briefly considered listing every author whose book I had read while working on it (I thought better fairly rapidly) because I knew and could point to ways in which David N. Wilson, Barry Unsworth, Jim Starlin, Doris Lessing, Margaret Wander Bonanno, Paul Cornell, and Geoff Ryman had all influenced what I had come up, large and small, positive and negative.  (Of course, it's a book in which Captain Kirk gets into a fist fight with an octopus, and a continuity conundrum about Mister Leslie's name is resolved by referencing a 1975 Peter Pan record, so let's not get too grandiose.)

One of my friends got to chat with M. T. Anderson for ten minutes about Cotton Mather and was invited to e-mail him, of which I suspect I will be eternally jealous.  But I forgot my copies of Burger Wuss and Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, so I will be seeking him down again for sure.  And you know, he might read Edward Said, but he's also the man who the Governor of Delaware called "buster" in formal correspondence.


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Reading Roundup: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

22 November 2011 | 05:00 pm

This past spring, I taught my students Paul Auster's "City of Glass" (I forced them to apply Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics to it, defying all reason), instilling in me a desire to 1) reread the graphic novel adaptation and 2) reread the rest of The New York Trilogy.  So, ages later, I finally did both:

City of Glass by Paul Auster, adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli
New York: Picador, 2004 (1994). Comic trade paperback, 134 pages. Used bookstore purchase, August 2006.  Previously read, October 2006. 

I like Paul Auster, but I find his brilliance difficult to put into words; with this graphic adaptation of the first volume of The New York Trilogy, the problem is even more difficult.  All of this is appropriate, of course, for a story where the main theme is the inability (or unreliability) of language to capture truth.  When I first read this comic back in 2006, I hadn't yet read the prose novel; upon reading the prose novel some months later, I could not find anything in it that had been subtracted for the comic.  Furthermore, the addition of a visual dimension meant that there was a whole new layer of meaning.

All I can do, then, is praise Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli's artwork; their simple, stark style suits the narrative perfectly, and their use of transitions between panels is astounding, showing a complete mastery of the comics medium.  City of Glass is heavy with meaning in the best of ways.
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
New York: Penguin, 2006 (1985-86). Trade paperback, 400 pages. New bookstore purchase, January 2007. Previously read, November 2007.

The stories in here are, I think, increasingly less successful, but they're all very good.  "City of Glass" is the first and the best: a riveting tale of a man losing identity with an ending that makes you think you can almost put the whole thing together, though you never quite manage it. (Thankfully.) "Ghosts" is also quite good, the tale of a private detective with a strange assignment to simply watch someone else, which leads to the disintegration of his own identity.  This one is fun in a morose way, if that makes any sense.  "The Locked Room" is the least interesting, perhaps because it's the most grounded, and consequently, it's not possible to project yourself onto the characters to the same extent as the others.  Still, it has its moments-- and what moments they are.

It's easy to complain about Paul Auster that he doesn't make any sense, but that misses the point entirely: these are stories about a world that doesn't make any sense, and there's no other way to confront it.


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Reading Roundup: Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft by Michael Piller

21 November 2011 | 10:30 pm

Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft: The Writing of Star Trek: Insurrection by Michael Piller
N.p.: TrekCore, 2010. Word document, 271 pages.  Downloaded from TrekCore.

This is, as far as I know, one of the most honest and straightforward books published about the making of Star Trek, especially from the productions of the last couple decades.  (I was going to write "last few years," but then I realized that Insurrection came out thirteen years ago!)  Piller, the sole screenwriter for Insurrection, takes the reader through the process of writing the ninth Star Trek film, from the moment Rick Berman called him and asked him if he wanted the job, to the moment he watched the film premiere on screen.  Insurrection is one of three problematic The Next Generation films, and for that reason, its creation makes for an interesting read.  Piller includes a lot of treatments and dialogue extracts to show how the story changed over time.  Even from the beginning, the story never quite worked, and it seems like lots of people know this... but no one knows how to solve it.

The problem, I think, ultimately comes down to the central conflict.  The hook of the film is that Picard must figure out what made Data go rogue.  Or rather, this should be the hook.  It can't be the hook, though, because it ends up having a really dull answer: he malfunctioned.  If Piller and company had been willing to pursue this more and create a Picard/Data conflict that had some actual teeth to it, we would have had a much more interesting story.  Butting up against this, though, is the desire to make Insurrection more lighthearted, a return to The Voyage Home style of Star Trek... only no one can figure out how to actually make it funny, or make the humor work with the content.  A lot of the book is Piller receiving notes from various people: producer Rick Berman, the actors (especially Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner), the Paramount execs.  It's very noticeable that everyone is thoroughly committed to making a quality film, and indeed, most of the comments Piller gets are spot on... but the fixes he comes up with feel more like patches than solutions.  Everyone agrees that the Fountain of Youth idea doesn't really work, but rather than toss it, Piller just tweaks it.  Insurrection has a good idea at its heart, but the story needed a fundamental reworking that it never got.  Piller praises Berman and company for never taking the film out of his hands, letting it ultimately remain the work of a single writer, but what you end up wondering is if the whole thing could have benefited from someone else doing a strong rewrite.  But then poor Piller, who clearly gives his utmost to the project.

There are a lot of nice moments we never got to see, including the people of the Federation itself showing up at the end to protect its ideals, a moment of Gene Roddenberry utopianism that I think would have really shined if there had been a way to make it work within the context of the script as a whole.

That said, Fade In is an enjoyable insight into the writing process, nearly the Star Trek version of the Doctor Who tell-all The Writer's Tale.  Piller fills the book with interesting anecdotes and insights into what make the writing process work, especially in a place as fraught with competing interests as Hollywood.  The book is no longer available from TrekCore, but I recommend getting hold of an e-copy if you're interested in how Star Trek does get or has gotten made.


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Faster than a DC Bullet #35: Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane (Part II)

13 November 2011 | 08:22 pm

I wrap up my quick sidetrip into the Marvel universe with not just the last two volumes of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, but a sidesidetrip as well; shortly before the Mary Jane series, Marvel dabbled with novels with a similar conceit (the Spider-Man story from Mary Jane's perspective), though otherwise there's no connection.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, Vol. 2
Writer: Sean McKeever
Art: Valentine De Landro, Takeshi Miyazawa, David Hahn, with Rick Mays
Colors: Christina Strain
Letters: Dave Sharpe

Issues Originally Published: 2006-07

This picks up right where Super Crush left off, with the arrival of new girl Gwen Stacey at the exact moment that Mary Jane Watson decides to tell Peter Parker that she has feelings for him. But first, events are interrupted by a two-part story called "The Origin Thing," where MJ discusses the events of a year ago with Liz Allan, the events that led to her losing her carefree attitude. The flashback format lets regular artist Takeshi Miyazawa take a break while Valentine De Landro fills in. The story of the flashback is kinda weird-- MJ is dumped, so she turns goth, but then she decides that she's not a goth, so she just goes back to normal-- but De Landro's presence makes the whole thing terrible. Putting characters in the hands of a different artist is like recasting characters on a television show: even though the dialogue is the same, the delivery is completely different. Things just don't sound right coming out of these characters' mouths. It doesn't help that De Landro draws some ferociously ugly art... especially at moments where the characters are supposed to be smiling and attractive!

Thankfully, things are soon back to normal, with Mary Jane, Gwen, Liz, Peter, Flash, Harry, and Spider-Man rotating affections in their usual complicated dance; by the end of this volume I'm pretty sure we've seen every possible permutation of male/female pairings. I feel like it shouldn't work, but it does; just flipping through the pages now to remind myself of what happened, I have a strong sense of affection for the story-- and those heartbreak moments (like where MJ sees Gwen kissing Peter) are always killer. There's more Spider-Man in this volume than in the previous ones, too, especially his ongoing battle with the prosaically named "the Looter," the climax to which was hilarious and fantastic. The issue where Gwen relates a Spider-Man/Sandman battle in flashback is also great, even if we have to put up with another fill-in artist: McKeever puts Gwen's rendition of the dialogue in the balloons, such as, "Hi, I'm Peter Parker? And I act like I like you? But now I'm totally gonna ditch you without warning for no reason whatsoever."

Other things are silly, though, like a subplot about the football players considering wrecking the school play. And of course MJ continues to be the best at everything ever without even trying; the entire male population of the school falls in love with her after her play performance. The bit where a writer for the school paper tries to get Harry and MJ to explain why they are such big flirts is also weird, though it has some nice moments. I do like that the MJ-is-so-popular subplot gives us some moments of vulnerability from our often-invulnerable heroine.

Things go as they do for most of the book, until the last third, when Miyazawa departs permanently, David Hahn taking over. Hahn is okay. I suffered from the dialogue-just-sounded-wrong problem again, but since he's there for five issues, I was able to get used to it eventually. (Except for his weird eyes.) Firestar comes back, which is one of the best plots in the whole series: she attempts to put the moves on Spider-Man, not Peter Parker, at a moment where he's feeling particularly vulnerable. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn is receiving advice from his evil father on how to win MJ to himself forever; he alternates between seeming manipulative and seeming like he genuinely wants to be with MJ. The Felicia Hardy subplot isn't so great, but on the whole, the end of the book comes together very nicely, just in time for Sean McKeever to jump ship too!
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx
Writer: Terry Moore
Art: Craig Rousseau
Colors: Guillem Mari
Letters: Dave Sharpe

Issues Originally Published: 2008-09

From its first page, Sophomore Jinx has a different tone and voice than the previous volumes of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane; new writer Terry Moore introduces the device of Mary Jane narrating the book. The whole thing instantly feels different. Not in a bad way... but it's not what drew me to the series to begin with. The transition isn't assisted by the myriad discontinuities between volumes. Mary Jane and company were at least sophomores before, if not juniors; now they're starting sophomore year. Flash Thompson was star quarterback; now we're told he warmed the benches all last year. Mary Jane had a job in a clothing store (among many other places); now she's never had one. All of the recurring characters have vanished. Worst of all, the series left off in November or so; now it's the following August, yet the characters' emotional lives don't seem to have changed at all.

The main plot of the book, MJ discovering that someone's made a website devoted to mocking her, is no worse than any of the goofy plots that ran under McKeever's pen, but without his fun dialogue and Miyazawa's fun art, there's nothing to sell it, and so it falls flat. Plus, five issues go by and MJ and Peter's relationship hardly changes. (Under McKeever, it'd've changed five times.) I can see why the series cut off at this point. It's all right, but it's got nowhere near the charm that it used to. The McKeever/Miyazawa run is good enough for me.
Mary Jane
by Judith O'Brien, illustrations by Mike Mayhew
New York: Marvel, 2003. Hardcover, 215 pages. Borrowed from the library (ILL).

A friend of mine who studies children's and YA literature mentioned the term "teen issue novel" the other day (while bemoaning them), which is an apt description for this book. We see the very beginning of the Spider-Man saga through Mary Jane's eyes-- while Mary Jane also deals with anorexia, an absent father, and a semi-abusive mother's boyfriend. All that plus she's starting a new school and Harry Osborn is coming onto her and she's been reunited with Peter Parker, who was her lab partner in fourth grade, long ago. It's too much, and it doesn't fit together tonally all the time: a subplot about evil energy drinks just jars with the more serious material. Plus, the serious material isn't always handled well: Mary Jane's descent into anorexia feels plausible to me, but the way it stops definitely isn't. There's definitely some stuff to like in this book, especially the depiction of Peter and MJ meeting as kids, and again as high schoolers, but this conceit was executed much better in Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane than it is here. (Mike Mayhew's pictures are gorgeous, though.)
Mary Jane 2
by Judith O'Brien, illustrations by Mike Mayhew
New York: Marvel, 2004. Hardcover, 218 pages. Borrowed from the library (ILL).

Even though Gwen Stacy preceded Mary Jane Watson in the original Spider-Man comics, it seems to be a law of Spider-Man adaptations that Gwen only shows up once Mary Jane and Peter Parker are ready to get together, as that's how it happens here, in the Sam Raimi films, and in Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Of course, Gwen's arrival makes our already insecure Mary Jane even more insecure, one of many subplots struggling for dominance in this unfocused novel. Unfortunately, the most prominent plotline is also the most contrived, with the narrative dumping on MJ unbelievably hard-- and then resolving that problem unbelievably easily. I liked the first book okay, but struggled to enjoy this one. (Even the pictures aren't as good; clearly no one told Mike Mayhew that 1) Peter's not wearing his glasses anymore and 2) the book takes place during the winter.)

Next issue: back to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, with its other other spin-off, Lucifer

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Reading Roundup: Sapphire and Steel by P. J. Hammond

07 November 2011 | 10:09 pm

Sapphire and Steel by P. J. Hammond
London: Virgin, 1992 (1979). Mass market paperback, 135 pages.  Used bookstore purchase (online), October 2010.

The spookiness of Sapphire & Steel came from the visuals and mood more than anything else, and so Peter Hammond is at a disadvantage in this novelisation of the first television story, given that he's not exactly the world's greatest prose stylist.  It's still good, though-- the first story was always the best Sapphire & Steel tale-- and Hammond is able to make up for the lack of visual and auditory cues by entirely filtering the story through the perspective of Rob, the young boy whose parents have been swallowed up by Time.  Never since have Sapphire and Steel been so utterly unknowable.


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Reading Roundup: A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories by Robin McKinley

01 November 2011 | 05:51 pm

A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories by Robin McKinley
New York: Greenwillow, 1994 (1982-94). Hardcover, 195 pages.  Borrowed from the library (ILL).

Last summer I read Robin McKinley's two novels of Damar, The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, and I enjoyed the former a lot, though I was ambivalent about the latter.  The "About the Author" blurb of The Blue Sword promises that it is the first of many novels about Damar, but in fact, no more ever appeared.  There is, however, this collection of five short stories, four of which take place in Damar, or at least on the same fantasy world.  (One character from the novels shows up in two of the stories, though he is not really one of my favorites.)

I feel like I have high standards for children's/YA fantasy with female protagonists; I don't like it when the protagonists seem ineffectual or incidental, or if they're empowered in a way I find over simplistic, or if too much emphasis is placed on their relationships to men. (All of these are my problems with Tamora Pierce's Tortall novels.) I don't think I have these same standards for YA fantasy about boys, but then, I don't think I read much of that, either.  Anyway, this is a long way of saying that three of the five stories in A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories fail those standards, and so I don't like them, but I don't know if ideology is a good reason to dislike a story.  But I'd like to think that these are just bad stories.  Bizarrely, obnoxiously bad.

The first two stories, "The Healer" and "The Stagman" are almost the same.  The protagonist is a girl in difficulty ("The Healer" features a mute; "The Stagman" a princess about to murdered by her uncle), then the girl is rescued by something/one supernatural (a traveling mage; a stagman), then the girl is taken to the realm of Luthe (who also appeared in The Hero and the Crown), then the girl hangs out there for a while, then she goes home and gets married to a man she met while hanging out with Luthe.  That's it?  Neither character overcomes any danger or obstacle herself; in fact, in "The Stagman," the army to overthrow her uncle is raised by her soon-to-be-husband while she is content to do nothing!  The girl in "The Healer" is healed by Luthe with no risk to herself, preempting what could be a potentially interesting story about someone who's never spoken learning to speak, while the overthrow of the uncle happens in passing in "The Stagman,"  I don't find either very inspiring or interesting.

The third story, "Tauk's House," is no better.  A witch takes a newborn girl from a poor family as payment, she raises the girl alongside her half-troll son (who is seventeen years older!), the girl grows up and walks to a far-off kingdom where she heals a prince, and then she walks back and marries the troll.  So what?  Is there even a plot?  I don't know if it's because McKinley is trying to work in a fairy tale aesthetic, but in fact, fairy tales do not conform to contemporary notions of plotting, and neither do these boring tales.

Thankfully, things picked up with the fourth story, "Buttercups," which is where the beautiful cover image comes from.  It's about a hardworking farmer and the woman he marries and the strange force residing beneath a hill on their farm.  The characters are engaging, the themes are interesting, the prose is excellent, and the magic is lurking-- I really liked this one.  The story kind of just stops at one point, but in a literary way that makes you think you've learned something.  (I am pretty sure that that is true.)

The last story is, unusually, set in the 1990s, when it was written.  "A Knot in the Grain" is the tale of a girl moving across the state and adjusting.  It's full of nice details, showing the thoughts and feelings of someone adjusting to change and the coming of adulthood.  I particularly liked how McKinley used the books the protagonist was reading to tell us stuff; she reads Diana Wynn Jones, The Last Unicorn, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Charles Dickens, and even Mistress Masham's Repose.   It could be a piece of nongenre fiction, almost, but there is magic, which is subtle, but disconcerting and powerful.  Again, the ending is kinda off, but overall I liked it a lot.

I'm glad to have read both "Buttercups" and "A Knot in the Grain," but frustrated at the rest of the stories here.  I don't know that I'll be reading more McKinley after this; my experiences have been too mixed, and I'm not really interested by all the fairy tale retellings anyway.


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Reading Roundup Wrapup: October 2011

31 October 2011 | 05:59 pm

Pick of the month: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I don't think it's as good as The Woman in White (the ostensible leads are dead boring), but it's still Wilkie Collins.

All books read:
1. "These Sad But Glorious Days": Dispatches From Europe, 1846-1850 by Margaret Fuller
2. Starslip Crisis, Volume 1 by Kristofer Straub
3. Starslip Crisis, Volume 2 by Kristofer Straub
4. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Super Crush by Sean McKeever
5. Starslip Crisis, Volume 3 by Kristofer Straub
6. Starslip: A Completely Accurate Portrayal of the Future by Kris Straub
7. City of Glass by Paul Auster, adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli
8. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
9. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
10. Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960 by William Boyd
11. 80!: Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin edited by Karen Joy Fowler & Debbie Notkin
12. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, Vol. 2 by Sean McKeever
13. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx by Terry Moore
14. A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories by Robin McKinley

All books acquired:
1. Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity, and Policy by Sandra D. Mitchell
2. The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution by Elisabeth A. Lloyd
3. The Obverse Quarterly, Book Two: Señor 105 and the Elements of Danger edited by Cody Quijano-Schell
4. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Seymour Chwast
5. Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman
6. Caustic Comedies: Plays For The Stage by Robert Shearman
7. Legion of Super-Heroes: The Curse: The Deluxe Edition by Paul Levitz with Keith Giffen
Books remaining on "To be read" list: 348


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Reading Roundup: Victorian Controversies, 1837-50

15 October 2011 | 09:07 am

This semester, I'm taking a class called "Victorian Controversies," where we're reading works of Victorian fiction alongside primary and secondary sources that relate to them: stuff about the Poor Law with Oliver Twist, religion with In Memoriam, dinosaurs with The Origin of Species, and so on.  I'm finding it enjoyable, as you might imagine, and here's two of the books we read, alongside a contemporary work I coincidentally read now too, in chronological order:

Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy's Progress by Charles Dickens
London: Penguin, 2003 (1837-38). Trade paperback, 554 pages. Amazon.com purchase, July 2011.

Like Hard Times, this comes across as one of Dickens's "message" novels, and it's only a little better than that.  Oliver is an astoundingly personality-less hero, and most of the other "good" characters a little better.  I didn't even like Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and the gang of thieves as much as exposure to them in popular culture had led me to expect. (No, really, what is it people find interesting about the Dodger? He does very little dodging, and has very little good dialogue. Someone must like him; the Doctor Who folks based both Adric and Thomas Brewster on him, though maybe how those characters turned out is indicative of something.)  The best character was Mister Bumble, the creepy and self-serving beadle; I found most of his scenes hilarious.  Mister Grimwig was great, too.  "I'll eat my head!"

That said, Dickens can write a good scene when he wants to: the book's end where Oliver is shot after the robbery is great, and the chase scene at the end is a masterpiece, as is the last night in jail before the execution.  Unfortunately, the novel also contains a dull-as-dishwater romantic plot and, astonishingly for a serial plot, very little momentum.
"These Sad But Glorious Days": Dispatches From Europe, 1846-50 by Margaret Fuller
New Haven: Yale UP, 1991 (1846-50). Trade paperback, 338 pages. Used bookstore purchase (online), August 2008.

"These Sad But Glorious Days" is a series of columns published in the New-York Tribune, collected together. This book isn't really Victorian, as Margaret Fuller is an American touring Europe, and she spends most of her time in Italy, but she does spend some time in England, and some of that is preoccupied with the plight of the poor.  The bits where she was in England were among the more interesting, as she relates a first-person, outsider perspective on many of the issues that I study.  Her time in France is okay, but the book really picks up when she gets to Italy, since revolution is brewing.  Again, the first-person perspective is great, especially once Rome comes under attack.  On the other hand, she prints too many long speeches which I just skipped over.

The book's introduction, by editors Larry J. Reynolds and Susan Belasco Smith, annoyed me.  No, it's not a crime against literature to republish something in a new context, and you don't need to apologize for it.
In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
New York: Norton, 2004 (1850). Trade paperback, 252 pages. Amazon.com purchase, July 2011.

I've read bits of In Memoriam before, but never the whole thing.  It's very good.  I liked the bits to do with evolution ("Nature, red in tooth and claw") the most, of course (the epilogue contains some very powerful imagery, and also he mentions dragons at one point!), but my favorite bit was a little bit of business about hands.  First, in Canto LXXX we get:
His credit thus shall set me free;
And, influence-rich to soothe and save,
Unused example from the grave
Reach out dead hands to comfort me.
Tennyson's talking about how if he had died and Hallam had lived, Hallam would have handled it much better, and that morbid hypothetical should be his example.  But what a chilling image! "Dead hands to comfort me"? But later, in Canto CXIX, he manages to make this reassuring:
And bless thee, for thy lips are bland,
And bright the friendship of thine eye;
And in my thoughts with scarce a sigh
I take the pressure of thine hand.
Now Hallam's image is a source of comfort and pleasure for him, even if he can never let him go.  The whole book is filled with brilliant intersecting imagery like that.


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Reading Roundup: Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960 by William Boyd

13 October 2011 | 06:14 pm

Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960 by William Boyd
New York:Bloomsbury, 2011 (1998). Trade paperback, 67 pages. Complimentary publisher copy (EarlyReviewer), July 2011.

So this book was originally published as a hoax, the biography of an artist that never existed.  William Boyd was trying to prank the art world, getting a bunch of critics to show up to a party where none of them would admit they'd never heard of the fellow before.  It's been republished now for some reason.

I read it right after rereading Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy, which was appropriate as it added to the experience of feeling like I was tracking someone who may or may not have actually existed. (This is doubly appropriate, as Paul Auster was at the original 1998 launch party for the biography.) The use of photographs in the book is kinda Lemony Snicket-esque; all of the photos of "Tate" are of people whose face you can't see, much like the pictures in Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography.  The book has this weird feeling of not-quite-parody throughout, with exchanges like this:
She recognized the Hart Crane debt in Tate's powerful, intense drawings and was immediately captivated. 'That Crane fellow ought to pay you a commission,' Franz Kline once jokingly observed to Nat when he later became a succès fou. 'Hart is dead,' Nat replied, flatly, 'so it doesn't matter.' Kline denied this heatedly and fiercely until he was advised they were talking about Hart -- not Art. (27)
It's almost funny, but more just off-putting, like you've entered a Kafkaesque world where everyone is doing strange things, but there's no seeming purpose to it, and the book is filled with moments like it.  Which makes it hard to make something of it. 

Would I have found it funny if I knew something about the New York art scene of the the 1950s? (Franz Kline was apparently a real abstract expressionist painter, for example.)  Maybe, which speaks to my major complaint that the book needs some kind of apparatus-- an introduction or appendix talking about what was done and why, an explanation of the references, an account of the launch party, and an account of the discovery that Nate Tate wasn't.  Without that, it's just an odd little curiosity that doesn't really have a reason to exist, lingering in the world long after it should have vanished from existence.


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Audio Reviews: The Last of Sarah Jane Smith

12 October 2011 | 08:27 am

A momentary lull in my acquisition of new audio dramas (waiting for that new Paul McGann season with companion Mary Shelley!) has let me catch up on some old stuff: the last three installments in 2002-06's Sarah Jane Smith series.

  • Sarah Jane Smith VII: Snow Blind. Man, what a gorgeous cover.  I've been listening to these as (legal) downloads, because my physical copies got lost in the mail (or "the post" as the Brits say), and I'm disappointed that I don't get to see this cover in its actuality!  The story itself isn't bad either.
  • Sarah Jane Smith VIII: Fatal Consequences. This story feels like David Bishop's attempt to recreate the success of his first-season story Test of Nerve, what with big, world-shattering events as a backdrop for intense personal experiences for Sarah and company.  Not quite as good, but it still works.  Servalan off Blake's 7 is in it, which is both good and bad. (Only Jacqueline Pearce could play this character, but whenever you have written a character that only Jacqueline Pearce can play, you have done something wrong.)
  • Sarah Jane Smith IX: Dreamland. Is this the best Sarah Jane Smith audio ever? Yes it is.  And amazingly, it's a perfect lead-in to Sarah's appearances in "School Reunion" and "Invasion of the Bane."

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Faster than a DC Bullet #34: Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane (Part I)

09 October 2011 | 09:46 pm

I've read a lot of DC series so far in Faster than a DC Bullet, and not all of them were even DC universe: Green Arrow, The Sandman, Gotham Central, Y: The Last Man... But something I haven't done yet is read a single series produced by a different publisher. This is appropriate, given the series title I suppose, but other publishers do make stuff, even if they're not as good as the Distinguished Competition...
Mary Jane: Circle of Friends
Writer: Sean McKeever
Penciler: Takeshi Miyazawa
Inker: Norman Lee
Colorist: Christina Strain
Letterers: Randy Gentile & Dave Sharpe

Issues Originally Published: 2004

The (Spider-Man Loves) Mary Jane series retells the Spider-Man story from future Spider-Spouse Mary Jane's perspective. Plus it transposes all the action to high school, as Peter Parker didn't meet Mary Jane or Harry Osborn until college, bringing it more in line with the films than the original comics. It also uses some manga stylings, both in terms of the art and the stories. (I have to trust the Internet on the latter one, 'cause I can't claim to have read much of this kind of manga myself. There is a word for it, but my mind has momentarily lost it.) The big conceit of the series is that since MJ does not yet know that Peter Parker is not Spider-Man, there is no on-panel acknowledgement of the fact... though of course the series has a lot of fun with the fact every reader obviously knows about this connection.

Mary Jane is pretty popular and also attractive and a rich guy wants to be her boyfriend, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have problems. She feels alone sometimes, despite it all, and she's also in love with a masked superhero she's never even met. And her lower-class background means that she feels like her relationship with Harry Osborn, the richest guy in high school, feels one-sided to her, so she overworks herself to make some money. We actually don't see a lot of MJ or Harry's home lives, though; it's all about the high school drama. MJ's best friend Liz Allan thinks that her boyfriend Flash Thompson likes some other girl, while meanwhile MJ can't figure out if she wants a relationship with Harry or not. Oh drama, oh angst! It's all here a-plenty, and it's pretty standard situations. But it all works. Let me tell you why:

1) Jokes. Well, of course. Flash Thompson is kind of a stereotype, but he is hilarious. Also I like it when MJ gets fired from tons of jobs.

2) The Art. Takeshi Miyazawa is not Japanese (he is actually Canadian), but her captures the manga style very well. More importantly, though, he does some of the best facial expressions I have ever seen. Comics can be pretty bad about this given it is a visual medium sometimes, but in Miyazawa's skillful hands, you can always tell what characters are thinking or feeling. It's his artwork that really sells some of the more potentially-trite moments, like when Liz thinks Flash is cheating on her with MJ; you can read the shock and despair right on Liz's face. Miyazawa is ably aided by Christina Strain's colors; the manga-ish red cheek thing is deployed to good effect fairly often.

3) Spider-Man. The best parts of the story are the ones the capitalize on the fact that this is not just a high school relationship story, but one with Spider-Man in it. Mary Jane has two conversations with Spider-Man, one when she catches him sneaking out of high school, and they are both great. Conversely, the brief appearance of Peter Parker works well, too, because on the surface he is just there to prove that Harry is a good guy (he sticks up for Peter to Flash, though admittedly only once Peter has walked off), but you the reader know he has much more importance than that.

Okay, not all of it is perfect (the bullying plotline is silly), but it is fun and funny, and on the other hand, devastating when it needs to be. And Miyazawa's covers are just gorgeous!
Mary Jane: Homecoming
Writer: Sean McKeever
Art: Takeshi Miyazawa
Colors: Christina Strain
Letters: Dave Sharpe

Issues Originally Published: 2005

Homecoming sees Homecoming, as you might imagine, come to Midtown High. As you might imagine. But on the way, there's more problems afoot in the world of Mary Jane, when she discovers that her boyfriend Harry is pressuring nerdy Peter Parker to help him cheat. This actually didn't work for me a whole lot, as I might have preferred Harry and Peter to have a better relationship than that. In the meantime, Liz Allan thinks her boyfriend Flash is cheating on her with MJ, which is untrue... except that Flash wants to be with Mary Jane! So there are lots of problems around. Homecoming doesn't work quite as well as its predecessor, which is because 1) the cheating thing doesn't ring true to the characters to me and 2) Mary Jane wins Homecoming Queen as a write-in over Liz, which pushes the "everyone loves Mary Jane and she is always great" thing a little bit too far. But McKeever and Miyazawa still excel at those emotional moments, big or small, that sell the book as "true," especially a quiet conversation between Mary Jane and Peter late at night and that excellent last page.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Super Crush
Writer: Sean McKeever
Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa
Colors: Christina Strain
Letters: Dave Sharpe

Issues Originally Published: 2005-06

Perhaps because his name is in the title now, Spider-Man, along with his alter ego, Peter Parker, is in Super Crush much more than the previous volumes of the series. This is a good thing, since it is his presence that stops this from being a typical high school relationship drama. After the devastating events of Homecoming, Mary Jane has distanced herself from her friends, which means she's hanging out much more with nerdy Peter Parker, who's been tutoring her. Ahem. Also she's joined the drama club, and guess what? She's the best at drama ever. Okay, I get it, MJ is wonderful, let's let her have some flaws beyond her inability to cope with her own wonderfulness.

Between boyfriends, Mary Jane resolves to pursue Spider-Man more doggedly than ever, not that Peter thinks this is a good idea. There's some silly stuff about a jealous girl in drama club, but that leads to some excellent scenes where Peter and Liz team up to help Mary Jane without letting her know she's being helped. It all culminates in a frankly devastating scene where Mary Jane, on her way to her long-awaited date with Spider-Man, brushes right past Peter holding a rose and declaring his affection. Ouch. You feel for MJ because she can't get what she want, and you feel for Peter because he has the girl he wants, but he can't get her! Of course, the comic's ending makes it look like things are coming together... and then there's another wrinkle. Whoops, and I guess I gotta get the next volume ASAP.

As always, Miyazawa's art is great, and there is humor aplenty. My favorite was when Mary Jane recounts something Spider-Man said to a female superhero that she overheard: "...and then he's all, like, 'ooh, Heat Girl, you're so hot!"


Next issue: some more installments of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane... if the ILL folks ever get their act together...

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Reading Roundup: The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

03 October 2011 | 05:57 pm

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
Mineola: Dover, 1992 (1912). Trade paperback, 121 pages. New bookstore purchase (online), February 2010.

Bertrand Russell sets out to explain why philosophy is important. He's probably right, but I didn't find it very interesting. Relatively accessible, but there are times where he states that we can take for granted something I wasn't so sure we could, but maybe that's because I know about postmodernism.  He also has a tendency to be a bit dismissive of positions as obviously mistaken just after he's told you someone presumably quite smart holds that position.  There's quite a lot of discussions of tables. (The thing you put your dinner on, not the math kind.)


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Reading Roundup Wrapup: September 2011

01 October 2011 | 11:02 pm

Pick of the month: Fade In by Michael Piller.  It's sort of like the Star Trek version of Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale.  Who knew that the making of a problematic film could be so interesting?

All books read:
1. Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy’s Progress by Charles Dickens
2. Wessex Tales: That Is to Say, The Three Strangers, A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four, The Melancholy Hussar, The Withered Arm, Fellow-townsmen, Interlopers at the Knap, The Distracted Preacher by Thomas Hardy
3. Sapphire and Steel by P. J. Hammond
4. In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
5. Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft: The Writing of Star Trek: Insurrection by Michael Piller
6. Mary Jane: Circle of Friends by Sean McKeever
7. Mary Jane: Homecoming by Sean McKeever

All books acquired:
1. The Philosophy of Science edited by David Papineau
2. The Scientific Image by Bas C. van Fraassen
3. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
4. The Wild Girls plus "Staying Awake While We Read" and "A Lovely Art": Outspoken Interview by Ursula K. Le Guin
5. Sapphire & Steel Annual 1981 by Peter J. Hammond
Books remaining on "To be read" list: 344


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Audio Reviews: Buried Secrets; The Rocket Men; Earth Aid

25 September 2011 | 07:06 pm

I've squeezed in a bit more listening of late, and a bit more reviews-- on the other hand I've fallen behind on book reviews since posting them onto LiveJournal is an awful pain.  This simple post is bad enough:

  • Sarah Jane Smith VI: Buried Secrets. Ages ago, I bought and listened to the first season of Big Finish's Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas.  Now, finally, it's the second one!  The first was inconsistent, but the second season is entirely written by the best writer of the first, which hopefully bodes well...
  • Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles #6.02: The Rocket Men. The recent string of successes that Big Finish has had with other first Doctor companions Sara Kingdom and Steven Taylor pulled me into getting this Ian Chesterton Companion Chronicle, and though it's not as good as those, it's still good, thanks in no small part to William Russell.  Can't believe he's still going strong.
  • Doctor Who: The Lost Stories #2.6: Earth Aid. Okay, this review is little more than a rant.  But the story deserves it.

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Reading Roundup: The Inspector Lynley Mysteries by Elizabeth George, Books 9-11

17 September 2011 | 05:59 pm

Years ago I read the first eight Inspector Lynley novels, about an aristocratic detective at Scotland Yard and his working-class partner. I used to read one or two every six months or so, but fell out of the habit. So I threw myself back into them this summer, reading one right after another, which may have been a mistake. They're kinda long. But here's what I thouht of them:

Deception on His Mind by Elizabeth George
New York: Bantam, 1997. Hardcover, 616 pages. Gift from my aunt, December 2007.

This picks up not long after the end of the previous installment, In the Presence of the Enemy, with Havers injured and Lynley getting married. As a result, the book features a lot of Havers on her own, which works against one of the main joys of the series: the interplay between Lynley and Havers. Neither character is as interesting when by themself. As a result, Deception on His Mind is a fairly standard mystery novel, with the usual twists and turns and false leads. It is annoying that the characters spend a lot of time chasing down a lead the reader knows is clearly false from the prologue. Also, there's a lot about racial tensions between the "English" and some Pakistani immigrants in a seaside town, and the novel seems to want to be a hard-hitting examination of racism, but it doesn't really succeed, since all of the racist characters are just all around awful people. I did quite like the character of Azhar, though, and Barbara gets a great moment in the story's climax, which really worked for me.
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George
New York: Bantam, 1999. Hardcover, 596 pages. Gift from my aunt, December 2007.

As a mystery, this book feels like it cheats to me, since most sideways of references to what turns out to be the motive for murder doesn't come up until around page 300, halfway through the book. But this only bothered me intellectually (my guess for the murderer was flat-out wrong, of course), since the novel itself was gripping enough that I was emotionally involved the entire time. (And, of course, 300 pages with that motive in play is longer than many whole novels.) Like the best of George's Lynley novels, In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner is as much an investigation into the murdered as the murderer, a character that everybody knew but no one knew. The constant peeling back really worked, and though Lynley and Havers's relationship here is fractious, it's back in the book. My favorite of the three Lynley novels I read this summer by far. (But why does Elizabeth George think that "role" has a circumflex over the o? Every time I read "rôle" I'm knocked right out of the story as I rôll my eyes.)
A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George
New York: Bantam, 2002 (2001). Mass market paperback, 1009 pages. Gift from my brother, December 2010.

I wanted to like this book. It's two very good books jammed together into one subpar book. At over a thousand pages, this in the longest Inspector Lynley novel yet-- and Lynley himself doesn't show up until around page 64, which is okay, but doesn't do anything on the case until page 140! The pacing is atrocious because the investigation alternates with the first-person diaries of Gideon, a musical prodigy whose murky past is central to the case. The investigation is interesting, and Gideon is interesting, but each slows the other down, meaning the book moves at a slow slow crawl. Had George written a traditional detective novel, I'd have been happy, and had George written a literary narrative about Gideon, I'd have been happy, but as it is, I got neither and both parts felt underdeveloped. The whole thing was a slog.


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Audio Reviews: Animal; Ghost Light; Recorded Time and other stories

17 September 2011 | 01:45 pm

I fell a little behind on these, mostly because seven-hour audiobooks turn out to take quite a while when you listen to stories in fifteen-minute spurts while cooking, cleaning, or walking to the coffeeshop.  But here we go, three more reviews for Unreality.

  • Doctor Who: The Lost Stories #2.5: Animal. Amazingly, each seventh Doctor Lost Story is worse than the one before it.  I can't wait for Earth Aid so this whole mess is over.  Not even Brigadier Bambera could save this.
  • Doctor Who: Ghost Light. Thankfully, this story exists to remind me when the seventh Doctor and Ace were well-written characters participating in well-written adventures.  The novel of Ghost Light isn't as striking as its television counterpart, but it is still pretty good, even if I don't think I have the stamina for audiobooks.  I could have read this in a quarter of the time!
  • Doctor Who #150: Recorded Time and other stories. I really like Big Finish's occasional releases that contain four one-part stories, but unfortunately this is the weakest yet.  Doubly unfortunate, given that this is the historic 150th release.  But hey, 150!  And this one has Thomas Hardy jokes.

P.S. LiveJournal, the new text editor still sucks.  Only laziness is keeping me here at this point.

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Faster than a DC Bullet #33: The Sandman Spin-Offs (Part V)

05 September 2011 | 12:43 am

There's plenty more spin-offs of The Sandman to come, but I've read fourteen in a row now, and that's enough for anyone, so it's two more and then a break. Both of these works take us into the lighter side of Gaiman's universe:

The Sandman Presents: Taller Tales
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Mark Buckingham, Zander Cannon, Duncan Fegredo, Peter Gross, Niko Henrichon, Adam Hughes, Phil Jimenez, Michael Kaluta, Marc Laming, Jason Little, Shawn McManus, Linda Medley, Albert Monteys, Kevin Nowlan, Andrew Pepoy, Paul Pope, John Stokes, Daniel Torres, Bill Willingham
Colorists: Lee Loughridge, Daniel Vozzo
Letterers: John Costanza, Todd Klein

Issues Originally Published: 2000-02

This collection brings together a disparate set of stories by Bill Willingham, who I guess is kind of a big deal because he wrote Fables or something? I don't know, I never read it. (Should I?) As Willingham himself points out, all of the stories here are about the telling of stories, but that's appropriate; this is the Dreaming, after all.

First off is "Merv Pumpkinhead, Agent of D.R.E.A.M. I've said it before, but Merv, the Dreaming's janitor, is my second-favorite Sandman character, and this story is every bit as good as you'd expect a James Bond story featuring a man with a pumpkinhead to be, dirty sex jokes and all. The idea of a world-level threat doesn't feel very Sandmanesque, but on the other hand, I thought the car that could move out of people's dreams and even become a matchbox car when need was awesome. (But why is Matthew the Raven, my favorite character, now white?)

"The Further Adventures of Danny Nod, Heroic Library Assistant" is all right. The premise is okay-- it doesn't really do anything new or interesting with the idea of wandering into different stories-- but the art sells it, as each couple pages is illustrated by someone else, Danny himself remaining the only visual constant in the story. There are fun bits. Nice to see Goldie again. (But didn't he leave the Dreaming?) "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dreams... But Were Afraid to Ask" takes a similar point, with a bunch of two-page vignettes all illustrated by different teams. My favorite stories were the ones explaining why dreams can be sexual (it's because Merv is a bit of a sleaze) and whether dreams have dreams (they do and it's weird).

The bulk of the book is "The Thessaliad," about Thessaly, the last of the Thessalian witches, who featured in the Sandman story "A Game of You." There's some great ideas here, such as the fact that if Thessaly just reenacts the tropes of a quest story, she'll automatically end up wherever she wants to be, and I liked the interplay with her "fetch," but sometimes the characterization was a little too straightforward, and the difficulties a little too easily escaped. The end sets up some mysteries; I hope these are solved somewhere. (There's a lot of comments about Lucifer being up to something; I guess this is a reference to the concurrent Lucifer spin-off?)
The Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson
New York: DC, 2004 (2001). Hardcover, n. pag. Borrowed from the library (ILL).

Despite having the usual Vertigo "Recommended for mature readers" warning on the back, this is essentially a children's picture book, about Barnabas, puppy of Delirium, the craziest of the Endless. With Delirium missing, Barnabas must journey between the realms of the different Endless in an attempt to locate her. Basically the whole thing is an excuse to see Jill Thompson draw all the Endless in her manga-esque style. It works. I liked her Destruction the best. (Surprisingly, the whole thing feels like it fits into continuity just fine, after "Brief Lives" but before "The Kindly Ones." Is there actually a break there?) It does show up how underdeveloped the realms of all the other Endless are compared to Dream's, though; all the other Endless seem to hang out by themselves!


Next issue: I start my first ongoing Marvel project, with Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane!

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Reading Roundup Wrapup: August 2011

01 September 2011 | 09:15 pm

Pick of the month: Feed by M. T. Anderson.  Feed is great, but it was a reread, so I kinda wanted to pick something else this month.  But though I read some good stuff (The Furies, The Little Endless Storybook), Feed is great and easily stands above everything else here. (This is the second time Anderson has received this most prestigious award.)

All books read:
1. The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell 
2. Feed by M. T. Anderson
3. JLA: Strength in Numbers by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Christopher Priest
4. The Sandman Presents: The Furies by Mike Carey
5. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Krypton Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison
6. JSA: Justice Be Done by James Robinson and David S. Goyer
7. Shine: An Anthology of Near-future, Optimistic Science Fiction edited by Jetse de Vries
8. The Sandman Presents: Taller Tales by Bill Willingham
9. Star Trek: A Choice of Catastrophes by Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann
10. The Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson

All books acquired:
1. The Annotated Snark: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll’s Great Nonsense Epic The Hunting of the Snark and the original illustrations by Henry Holiday edited by Martin Gardner
2. The Prince, 1640: A Scolar Press Facsimile by Niccolo Machiavelli*
3. Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction edited by Leigh Ronald Grossman
4. The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey
5. Doctor Who Storybook 2007 edited by Clayton Hickman
6. Star Trek: A Choice of Catastrophes by Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann
7. Starslip Crisis, Volume 2 by Kristofer Straub
8. Starslip Crisis, Volume 3 by Kristofer Straub
9. Starslip: A Completely Accurate Portrayal of the Future by Kris Straub
* This is a facsimile edition of the original translation of The Prince into English.  The cover reproduces the title page of the original book, which is alas not the title page of my edition.  The full title of the book in all its glory is Nicholas Machiavel's Prince. Also, The life of Caſtruccio Caſtracani of Lucca. And The meanes Duke Valentine us'd to put to death Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto of Fermo, Paul, and the Duke of Gravina. Tranſlated out of Italian into Engliſh; By E. D. With ſome Animadverſions noting and taxing his errours.  God, I wish I could justfy putting that into my LibraryThing!

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 343


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