20 January 2017

It's like I've gone crazy and woken up in a new, darker universe.

I speak, of course, of the way the first series of ITV sci-fi show Primeval comes to an end.

My wife is making me watch this through with her; I think it's payback for subjecting her to seven seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She has an innate bias toward it, as it's about a crack team of evolutionary biologists, which I guess is not a thing you see on television very much. (She's an evolutionary biologist.) The basic premise is that portals have opened up in contemporary England, linking it to times and places all along Earth's past and future-- and giant extinct animals are coming through, hungry for human flesh. Seriously, every animal across history apparently thinks humans are the best to eat.

I'm not sure I've ever met a postdoc this badass.
I'm not an evolutionary biologist, but as an academic, I still do appreciate that the core team is made up of a professor, his postdoc, an undergraduate, and a zoo attendant (I'd guess she must have a Master's, though no one says that). There are not many tv shows with postdocs in them, so I get a kick out of this, though the show often raises questions for me that it will never answer, like how does a postdoc afford an apartment that nice, and is the government paying for the professor's course release so that he can go hunt dinosaurs, and will the professor's wife have to go up before the university ethics board for having a sexual relationship with the postdoc back when he was a graduate student? I've also hung out with enough research biologists to know they really wouldn't give a shit about saving the life of a single ancient animal / making sure it got back to its own time. They'd want to dissect the thing, or at least study it!

Apparently being able to quote Star Trek II
is all the skill you need to be on a top-
secret government team.
The first series ranges from dumb to silly. Basically every episode is set in a different location, and the whole thrill of the show is seeing an ancient life-form where it doesn't belong. At the point I'm up to we've seen forest/suburbs, the London Underground, underwater, a kitchen, a country club, a zoo, a mall, a skyscraper, an amusement park, underwater (again), a housing estate, and a motorway. Are there enough visually interesting locations in England to sustain three more series? I mean, they squandered the Underground in episode two!

It has a very procedural feel (each episode begins with a random jerk who gets eaten to prove the situation is serious), and the characters are written with all the subtlety of a brick to the head: there's the scientist one (because he's a professor, he knows all sciences, including physics), the attractive male action one, the nerdy one, and the girl one (the show contrives to get her into her pants in most episodes of the first series). There's also the boss one, who I feel like I should like, but mostly he just stands there. At the end of the first series, I wasn't exactly enthused.

Would you give this man tenure?
(I've met worse-dressed professors of
The second series makes a couple interesting move: during Professor Nick Cutter's trip into the past at the end of series one, he accidentally changes history, which is both a really clever way to have a couple status quo changes (I spent the whole first series saying the team should have an SGC-esque base; in the new timeline, they just have one, no moving necessary) and to kill a character off without killing her off. She just never existed, and only Cutter remembers her. (This doesn't really go anywhere in the end.) There's also a conspiracy introduced around the same time, which connects a background threat to each monster-of-the-week, which really works to raise the stakes and make the episodes feel more consequential. I also think the direction gets better-- it feels very lightweight and corny (in a bad way) in series one.

It all falls apart in the finale, though, because the conspiracy turns out to be dumb, the bad guy revealing himself for absolutely no benefit, and his plan not really making any sense. Also Cutter's wife goes from havining-a-possibly-mysterious-yet-interesting-agenda to always-performing-the-most-evil-action-for-no-readily-apparent-reason-but-with-cleavage. The characters are still very simple, though I assume the guy playing the professor said his favorite emotion to play was "haunted" because he spends the whole series freaking out and yelling at people because the timeline change threw him off so much.

But seriously, why isn't there a physicist on the team?

19 January 2017

Review: His Wisdom the Defender by Simon Newcomb

Hardcover, 329 pages
Published 1975 (originally 1900)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2013
His Wisdom the Defender by Simon Newcomb

Simon Newcomb was a Canadian-born U.S. astronomer; H. G. Wells actually references him in The Time Machine to justify that book's depiction of time as another dimension. His Wisdom the Defender, Newcomb's own stab into scientific fiction, is much more typical of fin-de-siècle attempts at the genre than Wells's exemplary work. Basically, in the 1940s, a Harvard physics professor named Archibald Campbell invents the air-ship and decides to use it to impose his law on the world: that there should be no more war. It's a sort of typical position of the era, peace through brute force. Newcomb engages with some of the philosophical ramifications of this ("He who would wield the power of a god must bear the responsibility of a god"), but most of the book is pretty plodding, to be honest. When he's finally forced to use his air-ships ("motes") in combat, Campbell knows that what he is doing is intellectually sound, but can't shake the feeling that it's just murder-- so he's got more of a conscience than any George Griffith protagonist at least. (This is damning with faint praise.)

Thankfully and somewhat improbably, the problem of one man imposing his will on the world through overwhelming destructive force does not backfire, because Campbell is such a swell guy he eventually becomes known as "His Wisdom." Everyone comes to like Campbell's rule and there are no problems of any sort in international relations ever again, thanks to Campbell's arbitration. Who knew a physics professor would have it in him? This is the sort of novel that Wells would skewer in The War in the Air, and rightfully so.

18 January 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LX: Flashpoint

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2011 (contents: 2011)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2016

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Andy Kubert
Inkers: Sandra Hope, Jesse Delperdang
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano

After five thick volumes of build-up-- not to mention my own extradiegetic knowledge of how this book changed DC's continuity-- did Flashpoint live up to it all? Not really. The Flash wakes up in a world that I already knew the basics of, having read all the World of Flashpoint tie-ins (the Wonder Woman and Batman ones were probably the most relevant in the end). He spends a lot of time being baffled why he doesn't have powers and why his mom is still alive, he goes to talk to Batman, he electrocutes himself, he blames Professor Zoom the Reverse Flash for it all but discovers it's his own work, and he fixes his mistake. Given the large, complicated world the tie-ins introduced, the events of the main story are distressingly straightforward. (And some of them never really tied in at all, like Kid Flash's role in the Flash volume.)

C'mon, Barry, it's an alternate universe. You're a superhero, you should be used to this crap.
from Flashpoint vol. 2 #1 (art by Andy Kubert & Sandra Hope)

There's some potential in the idea that the Flash blames his enemy for messing with time, but it turns out to be his own work, but Geoff Johns doesn't really exploit that here. It should send your world shuddering to a halt, instead it just feels like a minor road bump on the way to the climax. That Barry Allen, not just the fastest man alive but often the nicest, could create a world so horrific seems worth delving into, but Johns doesn't. That he did it in his sleep, apparently, is a big copout. There's a good story about parents and expectations somewhere in here, given that the biggest character other than the Flash is a version of Batman who is a Thomas Wayne that watched his son die, but Johns doesn't do anything with these themes or ideas. Even at five issues (compare to Crisis on Infinite Earth's twelve-plus!), this story feels stretched out, with Barry electrocuting himself to regain his powers twice for no obvious narrative reason.

I wish I remembered.
from Flashpoint vol. 2 #5 (art by Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope & Jesse Delperdang)

Crisis on Infinite Earths is a good metric here: Marv Wolfman and George Perez made something epic. Then, when Wolfman novelized it and told it from the perspective of Barry Allen, it became something impressively personal. Flashpoint is neither as epic nor as personal as it wants to be.

Including Grifter in the same tier of heroes as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman makes the presence of Cyborg look positively reasonable.
from Flashpoint vol. 2 #5 (art by Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope & Jesse Delperdang)

Next Week: What's this new DC universe like? I go back to the beginning to find out, to the days of the Zero Year!

17 January 2017

Review: The Transformers: For All Mankind by Mike Costa and Don Figueroa

Comic PDF eBook, 136 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 2009-10)
Acquired August 2014
Read August 2016
The Transformers, Volume 1: For All Mankind

Writer: Mike Costa
Art: Don Figueroa
Colors: J. Brown
Lettering: Chris Mowry & Robbie Robbins

This volume didn't move me much either way. It introduces a new, post-All Hail Megatron status quo: the Autobots are on Earth, protecting humanity from the scattered Decepticons abandoned there during the Decepticon retreat after Megatron was defeated by Optimus. Only the Autobots are perceived as being as much of a threat as the Decepticons are, so the Autobots have to protect the humans while staying hidden from them, causing some moral dilemmas for them. Albeit, not very interesting ones; this is the sort of overly angsty Optimus Prime that doesn't do much for me. Like a lot of these comics, I think it partially suffered from me not knowing the characters: what's Ironhide to him, or he to Ironhide, that he would weep for him?

I mean, he may be evil, but he's got a point.
from The Transformers vol. 1 #2

What did work was a subplot about Hot Rod deciding that this whole conflict was bogus and working together with a group of Autobots and Decepticons to just be rid of the whole thing. Thanks to the manipulations of the Decepticon Swindle, he begins to see himself as a savior of an independent group-- hearkening back to his original stance in the Great War as the leader of a local community that just wanted to stay out of it all, as per Autocracy. Swindle begins calling him "Rodimus Prime," a very different origin story than in the Generation One cartoon! I felt Costa pulled back from the potential here, though, as in the end Swindle is just, well, swindling Hot Rod. But the seeds sown here would bear fruit in More than Meets the Eye, by which Hot Rod is legitimately called Rodimus, and more idealistic than ever.

Next Week: Meanwhile, in space, it's the Last Stand of the Wreckers!

16 January 2017

Review: The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2OO1: A Space Odyssey by Piers Bizony

In reviews news, I have covered a Doctor Who: Short Trip at USF: the Eighth Doctor and Charley feature in The Man Who Wasn't There.

Hardcover, 562 pages
Published 2014

Acquired December 2015
Read July 2016
The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2OO1: A Space Odyssey
by Piers Bizony

This is definitely a fancy book, a making-of for 2001: A Space Odyssey formatted in the dimensions of the famous monolith. (I always remember from the novel by Arthur C. Clarke that the proportions are 1:4:9, the squares of the first three integers, though I have no idea if that was actually true of the film prop.) This looks pretty cool, but sometimes makes for inconvenient reading. The cover you see here is actually just a slip cover; the volume underneath is all black with four original graphics meant to evoke visual motifs from the film.

Bizony's history is pretty comprehensive, as far as I could tell, covering Kubrick's early career up until he decided to do a science fiction film in a broad overview, and then going into detail on Kubrick's collaboration with Arthur Clarke, the evolution of the script, the selection of actors, the filming of the special effects sequences, and so on. Sometime it's organized a bit weirdly (I don't know why the section on the music comes after the recounting of the film's release and reception), but overall it's packed with interesting details if you're into the mechanics of filmmaking, such as how that centrifuge set worked. Bizony sources his information from new interviews, archival interviews, and the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts London, and it all seems quite thorough. Lots of good anecdotes, and I feel like most any question I've ever had about the making of the film was answered somewhere in here. (I wasn't sure at first about the chapter about whether extraterrestrial life really exists, but by its end, I decided I'd learned enough to make it worth reading.)

It would be a good book with just the text, but the real star of the book are the illustrations, which consist of large, high-quality images, taking in film stills, publicity photographs, concept art, set close-ups, pictures of the filming models, spaceship diagrams, and so on. The pictures are gorgeous, showing just how much thought went into every little aspect of the film. Few movies have such a unified aesthetic as 2001; it's hard to imagine wanting to pore over close-ups of control panels from many other films, but 2001 sustains such interest. Almost every image is beautiful, and the book has a large number of gatefolds that really show off the details at a large scale. Some are disrupted by the book's spine, but those are in a minority; what's more annoying is the sometimes random placement. Most of the time the images are near where relevant events are discussed in the text, but at times, it gets weird, with the images of the polka-dot alien Kubrick experimented with being housed in a totally different chapter than where the experiments are details, for example. But that's a small quibble; you could reread the book just for the images, I think, and have an amazing visual narrative to experience.

Combine this book with Peter Krämer's BFI Film Classics entry on the film, and you will have a pretty thorough take on the film as a whole, both background and interpretation. (Krämer gives some common pitfalls of 2001 discussion, and I was pleased to note that Bizony fell into none of them.) Now I just need to rewatch the movie-- it's been almost a decade since I last saw it, and I've no doubt these two books will give me a renewed appreciation for it.

13 January 2017


This week I visited the University of Tampa, which was originally the Tampa Bay Hotel, now called Plant Hall, after Henry B. Plant, the sort of guy you call a railroad magnate. He seems like an interesting fellow, and I am sure I could go on about him at length, so I'll discuss him in the future, probably.

In the meantime, while walking around campus, I came across this stone:
courtesy Wikimedia Commons

It's hard to read in full, so I'll transcribe it:


Gravity-- how does it work?

Roger Babson was a rich, mid-20th century eccentric; he made his money applying Newtonian principles to the stock market, founded three colleges, and ran for president in 1940 (he came in fourth, with 0.12% of the popular vote). His sister and grandson both drowned, for which he blamed gravity and resolved to defeat it:
from Babson's essay, "Gravity: Our Enemy Number One"

Babson rejects your notion of "drowning"-- gravity knows what it did! His writing refers to life rings as "practical anti-gravity aids," which feels like a slight exaggeration of what life rings can do, but I'm not a physicist, so what do I know? He also blamed gravity for bad air circulation, causing people to "drown" in poor air; this discussion culminates in the following claim:
When a fire gets underway, super-heated combustion gases ranging from 800 to 1,000 degrees in temperature defy Gravity and quickly flood the upper halls of a house, hotel or office building. These lethal gases enter bed- and other upper rooms through open doors and transoms and asphyxiate the occupants. This means that Gravity can work against us in two opposite ways. 
It doesn't really seem fair or logical that you can blame gravity for things going up as well as down.

He wanted to defeat gravity with an anti-gravity insulator. This just makes me think he read too much H. G. Wells when he was a kid. (He also wanted to train people to not feel bothered when air was blown on their faces by electric fans. I guess that's useful... but dude, not gravity related!)

He created a gravity research foundation and sponsored prizes and that kind of thing, but part of his anti-gravity initiative was to pay colleges with stocks to install these stones. Over fifty years later, and it would seem that these blessings are still forthcoming, but a number of colleges still have the stones, including UT. Others include Colby College in Maine, Tufts in Massachusetts, and Emory in Atlanta. (Most of them are East Coast states.) Some are worded differently, ending with an intent "to remind students of the blessings forthcoming when a semi-insulator is discovered in order to harness gravity as a free power and reduce airplane accidents."

This blogger suspects he is the only living person to have visited all the New England gravity stones. I kinda want to outdo him and visit all of them, but so far I've only done one. (And I didn't even take a picture!)

12 January 2017

Review: The Brontës Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson

Trade paperback, 188 pages
Published 2010 (originally 1931)

Acquired March 2010
Previously read May 2010

Reread October 2014
The Brontës Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson
What I can never get my editors to realise is that every soul who is alive is ‘modern,’ and that when they use the word they privily mean depraved or racketty. (12)
When I was assigned to teach The Modern Novel, I absolutely knew I wanted to teach this book, even though it's not exactly canonical, as I would argue that it takes the narrative techniques of modernism-- stream of consciousness, fragmentation, and so on-- but deploys them to make jokes. Jesse Matz, in his book The Modern Novel: A Short Introduction, argues that "whereas writers of the past might have thought they could take a certain 'reality' for granted and get right to the work of writing, modern writers had to pause at the outset and self-consciously ask: what is 'reality,' exactly – and how do we know it?" (32). This is exactly what's going on in The Brontës Went to Woolworths, except it's got jokes in it. (There aren't a lot of jokes in Mrs. Dalloway as I recall.) The whole book is about the complications that ensue for three sisters and their mother who have a menagerie of imaginary friends, but Ferguson deliberately writes it so that it's difficult for the reader to tell who's real and who's not.

Matz argues that after the advent of modernism, "Reality now becomes not a thing, but a process. It is not something out there, for sure, that the novelist must describe. It is a process of engagement, a set of subjective acts, a psychological performance, something always ongoing" (36). But unlike in other modernist texts I've read, this book's attitude seems to be that the breakdown of our conventional ways of knowing the world creates the possibility of fun. Matz says, "Questioning reality transformed realism in the modern novel, producing a new realism based strangely on doubts about reality itself" (33), but I can't recall any other modernist text where the doubts about reality were used as an excuse for game-playing. Or perhaps not an excuse-- maybe the only choice in the face of the collapse of epistemology is to play games. Except you can't acknowledge they're games; you have to commit to them as being part of reality because you no longer have yardstick for distinguishing objective and subjective realities from one another.

Anyway, like with a lot of my more esoteric teaching choices, some of my students had trouble with it, and we spent one whole 50-minute class session just working out what had happened and what hadn't. But for me as a teacher, that's a feature not a bug.

11 January 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LIX: The World of Flashpoint featuring the Flash

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2011)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2016
The World of Flashpoint featuring the Flash

Writers: Scott Kolins, Adam Glass, Sean Ryan, Sterling Gates
Artists: Joel Gomez, Scott Kolins, Rodney Buchemi & José Marzán Jr., Ig Guara & Ruy José, Oliver Nome & Trevor Scott
Colorists: Brian Buccellato, Mike Atiyeh, Artur Fujita, Stefani Rennee
Letterers: Sal Cipriano, Dave Sharpe, Carlos M. Mangual, Dezi Sienty

It seemed to me that the volume of The World of Flashpoint featuring the Flash would have the most to do with Flashpoint proper given that it features the Flash, which I think is why I read it last. Actually, it doesn't really shed that much light on Flashpoint. (I don't think so, anyway-- keep in mind I actually haven't read Flashpoint yet!) There's a short "Reverse Flash" story written by Scott Kolins (a longtime collaborator with Geoff Johns on The Flash) which seems to be laying some groundwork for what will come in Flashpoint, but also is somewhat redundant with the Reverse Flash story contained in The Road to Flashpoint (which was illustrated by Kolins). I'm not well-versed enough in Flash lore to know how much of what is contained here-- the Reverse Flash manipulates the Flash's childhood a little bit-- is new information, and how much is a reminder of old information. I did quite like Joel Gomez's artwork, however; it reminds me of Kolins, as well as other frequent Johns collaborator Francis Manapul, and the stuff featuring kid Barry Allen is especially cute.

You can't change history. Not one line! Except when you can.
from Flashpoint: Reverse Flash #1 (script by Scott Kolins, art by Joel Gomez)

The other story that seems to be directly tying into Flashpoint proper is "Kid Flash Lost," about young Bart Allen winding up in a dystopian future ruled by Brainiac alongside Hot Pursuit, who in Road to Flashpoint was an alternate-Earth Barry Allen, but whose equipment and identity has been taken by Patty Spivot, a forensic scientist who also appeared in Road to Flashpoint. This story doesn't take place in the world of Flashpoint like most other World of Flashpoint stories, but rather has Bart jumping through time, trying to find Barry Allen and help him put time back together. It's nothing incredible, but Sterling Gates writes a decent little story of an optimistic little kid maintaining his outlook in the face of a pessimistic universe and doing what he has to do to help his idol put things right, complete with Crisis on Infinite Earths throwback. I assume this will tie into Flashpoint in some way, like Bart shows up at the climax and tosses Barry some speed force. This seems to also be an ending point of Bart Allen, a character I don't know much about, but do know was sorely mishandled in the period between Infinite Crisis and Flashpoint.

By the time I write this caption, I have read Flashpoint. This has nothing to do with anything. I guess it happens between panels.
from Flashpoint: Kid Flash Lost #3 (script by Sterling Gates, art by Oliver Nome & Trevor Scott)

The other three stories here are mostly just more glimpses of the alternate world of Flashpoint, and I didn't find any of them terribly interesting. "Citizen Cold" shows us that in a world without the Flash, Captain Cold is instead "Citizen Cold," hero of Central City, but despite some quality Scott Kolins art (he also writes the story), the story doesn't really say anything interesting: the alternate Cold is still an asshole who is cruel to women.

The Hero of Central City.
from Flashpoint: Citizen Cold #1 (script & art by Scott Kolins)

Even more unpleasant to read is "Legion of Doom," one of those World of Flashpoint stories that's basically just about how cruel people are in the world of Flashpoint. Like, do I really need three issues of this gross shit? It is nice to get a glimpse at how heroic Cyborg is in this world (he's been a side character in tons of these stories, but this is the closest he gets to the spotlight), but other than that this tale produces little of value.

The same goes for "Grodd of War," where we learn Grodd's gorillas control all of Africa in the Flashpoint timeline. It's most more gratuitous, uninteresting violence.

So, in the end, the balance of this collection is a little odd: two stories (four issues) that might or might not add something to our understanding of Flashpoint, three stories (seven issues) that seemingly don't, and none of them are really standouts. At this point, though, I just want to get to the real deal!

Next Week: Finally! The main event is upon us! A race against time to solve the mystery of the Flashpoint!

10 January 2017

Review: The Transformers: All Hail Megatron, Volume 4: Coda by Mike Costa, Chee Yang Ong, et al.

Short Trips triple threat! This weekend I posted reviews of three Doctor Who short stories to USF: "Damascus" featuring the third Doctor and Prime Minister Jeremy, "A Full Life" featuring the fourth Doctor and Adric, and "The Toy" featuring the fifth Doctor and Nyssa. Of course the one with Adric was best.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2010 (contents: 2009)
Acquired August 2014
Read August 2016
The Transformers: All Hail Megatron, Volume 4: Coda

Written by Simon Furman, Mike Costa, Shane McCarthy, Andy Schmidt, Nick Roche, Denton J. Tipton, Zander Cannon
Art by Don Figueroa, Chee Yang Ong, Emiliano Santalucia, Andrew Griffith, Nick Roche, Casey Coller, Guido Guidi
Colors by James Brown, Moose Baumann, Josh Burcham, Kris Carter, Joana Lafuente
Letters by Chris Mowry

Most, though not all, of the eight stories collected in this volume are codas to the main saga of All Hail Megatron, moving the pieces into position for what comes next in the ongoing series written by Mike Costa (of which I have only read the first volume). The eight stories are by seven different writers and seven different artists, many of them old IDW standbys like Simon Furman and Nick Roche.

A few promised something really interesting to come, like "Uneasy Lies the Head." Starscream, following the events of volume 2 of All Hail Megatron, is now the leader of the Decepticons. Yet with the Decepticons sent packing from Earth, he can only lead them into failure, and the lesson he learned in All Hail Megatron was that he didn't deserve to be leader except if he took power by force; that is the Decepticon philosophy. So what is he to do? He uses the fact that he possesses the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to rally everyone to his side while Megatron recuperates... but outside of that he has no idea:
"Having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."
from The Transformers: All Hail Megatron #13 (script by Mike Costa, art by Chee Yang Ong)

Some are clearly doing set-up work, like "The Man of Steel," where Spike Witwicky is put in charge of a Transformers-hunting unit and given more of a personal reason to hate the Transformers, when he's brutally injured by Ravage. (I'm not sure why this was needed, given that the Transformers killed billions in All Hail Megatron, but I guess that wasn't personal enough.)

Some didn't do much for me, like "Old Ways," where Ironhide wants to retire but doesn't. I can't tell Ironhide apart from all the other robots still, and Figueroa's redesigns make everyone look hella creepy. Some draw on earlier continuity that I didn't know anything about, like "Rebirth," about what Galvatron is doing in space or something. Or there's "Replay," which exists only to retcon Devastation so that Sunstreaker's actions in All Hail Megatron seem more justified.

Optimus Prime is going to eat your soul.
from The Transformers: All Hail Megatron #13 (script by Simon Furman, art by Don Figueroa)

It was with the stories "Everything in Its Right Place" and "Lost & Found" that the IDW continuity began to click into place for me, where I began to be able to see how these characters moved from story to story and changed and developed. In "Everything in Its Right Place," Autobot scientist Perceptor joins Kup's team to monitor him, since Kup has gone insane but cannot spared, and Perceptor's cure requires constant monitoring. From there, Perceptor appears in the Drift story in volume 3 of All Hail Megatron, where he's badly injured. Then he appears back in this volume, in "Lost & Found," where he decides to upgrade himself to be more of a fighter than a scientist. "Lost & Found" leads directly into volume 1 of All Hail Megatron, where Kup's team crashlands on Cybertron, and the Autobots already on Cybertron are flabbergasted by what a badass sharpshooter Perceptor is now. And Perceptor will go on to play a key role in the excellent Last Stand of the Wreckers. It's tangled, obviously, but once I decoded that tangle with the help of the Transformers wiki, I was impressed, and the massive ongoing story of the IDW Transformers tales began to come into focus.

Blaster's always gotta complain about something. (That's Blaster, right?)
from The Transformers: All Hail Megatron #15 (script by Denton J. Tipton, art by Casey Coller)

Next Week: Optimus Prime discovers how hard it is to stick it out on Earth, even when you've decided to dedicated yourself to service For All Mankind!

09 January 2017

Review: The Road to Armageddon by Cecil Degrotte Eby

Hardcover, 280 pages
Published 1988
Borrowed from the library
Read July 2016
The Road to Armageddon: The Martial Spirit in English Popular Literature, 1870-1914
by Cecil Degrotte Eby

Eby's book charts English popular culture about war from The Battle of Dorking to the Great War: in invasion fiction, in H. G. Wells, in the Boy Scouts, in public schools, in sports (especially cricket), on the stage, in Rudyard Kipling, in Arthur Conan Doyle, and in material published during the Great War itself. It's one of those books that sort of lives or dies on your own interests, I think-- so I was really interested in Eby's accounts of invasion fiction and of Boy Scouts, less interested in what he had to say about public schools and sports, though it was still interesting enough to obtain some insight into the turn-of-the-century conception of manhood. The discussion of invasion fiction was nicely congruent with Gannon's Rumors of War, which I read around the same time. Gannon spends more time on invasion fiction, while Eby only spends one chapter on it-- but the myriad other chapters give it more of a cultural context than Gannon does, so the books go together nicely.

I did quite like Eby's stats: he reveals that between 1871 and 1914, there were 60-plus invasion narratives published in book or pamphlet form (so that's not counting ones published in periodicals). Germany was the aggressor in 41 of them, France 18 times, Russia 8 times, and then China, Japan, the U.S., and Mars all had one or so goes. No wonder Britain was so pumped for World War I when it finally happened! I was a little disappointed that it seemed like Eby hadn't read George Griffith-- some of his statements about the genre seemed to come from someone who hadn't read Angel of the Revolution (1893), which I would argue is the apex of the invasion genre, and as important a precursor to science fiction as H. G. Wells's work.

As a former Boy Scout (is one always a Boy Scout?) I found the chapter on the early days of Scouting fascinating: Baden-Powell was a magnificently reprehensible bastard. We've heard the stories of World War I going on pause and the combatants playing sports, but when the Boers asked Baden-Powell for a Sunday reprieve to play cricked, Baden-Powell turned them down because the English were winning the only war that mattered, the battle itself. For Baden-Powell, the Boer War was a jolly caper and a place for him to commit atrocities, and he went back to England to transform its weakling city boys into something more like Boer boys he had seen in South Africa, training his young Boy Scouts to defend their home country at all costs. Empire was the only important game.