McGann to Eccleston

SECRET WEAPON

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).

Steve
McGann to Eccleston

Reading Roundup Update: March 2012

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...

Steve
McGann to Eccleston

A Book!

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.

Steve
McGann to Eccleston

Reading Roundup Update: February 2012

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

Nonfiction:
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.

Steve
McGann to Eccleston

Reading Roundup Update: January 2012

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

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

Mystery:
A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George

Drama:
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.

Steve
McGann to Eccleston

Reading Roundup Update: December 2011

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.

Steve
McGann to Eccleston

Reading Roundup Wrapup: November 2011

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.)

Steve
McGann to Eccleston

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

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.

Steve
McGann to Eccleston

Reading Roundup: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

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.

Steve
Jacobi as Hamlet

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

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.

Steve