01 December 2012

Reading Roundup Wrapup: November 2012

I'm getting further and further behind in my book reviews all the time. Gotta step it up! In the meantime, though, exam reading continues apace.

Pick of the month: Delirium's Party: A Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson. Okay, so it it only took me fifteen minutes to read this to my wife, but they were an enjoyable fifteen minutes-- and she hasn't ever even read another Sandman story!

All books read:
1. The Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
2. What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George
3. English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture by Francis Galton
4. Of the Plurality of Worlds: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1853; Plus Previously Unpublished Material Excised by the Author Just Before the Book Went to Press; and Whewell's Dialogue Rebutting His Critics, Reprinted from the Second Edition by William Whewell
5. Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences: Being an Exposition of the Principles of the Cours de Philosophie Positive of Auguste Comte by G. H. Lewes
6. Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850-1930 by Stefan Collini
7. George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Science: The Make-Believe of a Beginning by Sally Shuttleworth
8. The Victorian Scientist: The Growth of a Profession by Jack Meadows
9. Cousin Phillis and Other Stories by Elizabeth Gaskell
10. The Doctor in the Victorian Novel: Family Practices by Tabitha Sparks
11. Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?: The Deluxe Edition, With other tales of the Dark Knight by Neil Gaiman
12. Dr Thorne by Anthony Trollope
13. Delirium’s Party: A Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson
14. The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould
15. The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby by Charles Kingsley

All books acquired:
1. The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby by Charles Kingsley
2. Star Wars: Tales from the Clone Wars: Webcomic Collection, Season 1 by Pablo Hidalgo
3. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Enemy Within by Jeremy Barlow
4. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Starcrusher Trap by Mike W. Barr
5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Strange Allies by Ryder Windham
6. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Sith Hunters by Henry Gilroy and Steven Melching
7. Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume Four: Blue Harvest by Mick Harrison
8. Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History by Christopher L. Bennett
9. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack
10. Ahistory: An Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe (3rd edition) by Lance Parkin & Lars Pearson
11. The Ministry of Fear: An Entertainment by Graham Greene
12. One Human Minute by Stanislaw Lem
13. Star Trek: Burden of Knowledge by Scott & David Tipton
14. Under the Management of Mr. Charles Dickens: His Production of "The Frozen Deep" by Wilkie Collins, edited by Robert Louis Brannan
15. The Annotated Sandman, Volume Two: The Sandman #21-39 by Neil Gaiman, edited by Leslie Klinger
16. Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography by James D. Hudnall
17. Quinx, or The Ripper's Tale by Lawrence Durrell
18. Captain Britain by Alan Davis and Jamie Delano with Steve Craddock and Mike Collins
19. Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 12 by Jim Shooter, Cary Bates, and Paul Levitz
20. Star Trek, Volume 1 by Mike Johnson
21. The New Adventures: Walking to Babylon by Kate Orman
22. Doctor Who: The Age of Chaos by Colin Baker
23. Star Wars Omnibus: Quinlan Vos: Jedi in Darkness by John Ostrander with Pat Mills
24. New Grub Street by George Gissing
25. The Beetle by Richard Marsh

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 469

23 November 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XXVII: The Dream Hunters

Comic hardcover, 126 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 2008-09)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2012
The Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Original words by Neil Gaiman
Graphicplay and art by P. Craig Russell
Coloring by Lovern Kindzierski
Lettering by Todd Klein

I expected to love The Dream Hunters, P. Craig Russell's comic adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano's The Dream Hunters. After all, the original was excellent, and Russell's last adaptation of a Gaiman prose original, Murder Mysteries, had also been excellent. But The Dream Hunters somehow, despite typically strong artwork from Russell, never takes off. Perhaps it's that after Amano's amazing imagery, even P. Craig Russell pales in comparison? This isn't bad, but it's not sufficiently better or different than the original to justify its own existence, sadly. But maybe I went in with too-high expectations-- it's had to imagine what a work as good as The Dream Hunters original and Murder Mysteries combined would have been like.

21 November 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XXVI: The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny

Comic trade paperback, 156 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2007-08)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2012
The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny

Writer: Mark Waid
Pencillers: George Pérez, Jerry Ordway
Inkers: Bob Wiacek, Scott Koblish
Colorist: Tom Smith
Letterer: Rob Leigh

The connections to The Sandman are even more tenuous in the second volume of The Brave and the Bold than in the first, though this is a direct sequel to The Lords of Luck. The Challengers of the Unknown spend much of the book puzzling over the Book of Destiny, but Destiny of the Endless does not actually appear.

What we get are a number of superhero teamups, as usual: Power Girl and Wonder Woman, the Flash and the Doom Patrol, Superman and the Silent Knight, and so on. They're good, but there's a spark in The Lords of Luck that's not quite present here. Is it that the connections between the stories here feel a little more forced? The Lords of Luck managed to balance the needs of done-in-one stories with an overall arc, whereas The Book of Destiny feels like a series of one-shots jammed together with an arbitrary villain. The fact that although the Challengers are the focus, they never really pop as characters (all I could remember was that "Red" was the redhead and June was the woman), which undermines the story somewhat, especially the final issue.

Still, if you focus on the individual stories and the artwork (George Pérez is joined in this volume by the almost-as-good Jerry Ordway), you have here a fun set of superhero stories. I might not ever know why what's-his-face was travelling through time and space, but I got to watch the Boy Commandos team up with the Blackhawks, and that's good enough for me.

20 November 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XXV: God Save the Queen

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2007
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2012
God Save the Queen

Written by Mike Carey
Painted by John Bolton
Lettering by Todd Klein

When I remarked to my wife (who has not read any of The Sandman, but has patiently listened to me gab about it for over two years now) that the faerie elements of The Sandman had never been among my favorite, she said that must be true, for she'd never heard me mention them at all. And it was then that I realized how little I cared for Titania, Auberon, and the rest. Gaiman's original jaunt into this realm (the one with Shakespeare) hadn't done much for me, World Fantasy Award nonwithstanding, and neither had its various reapperances. I like Nualla, but it's her separation from Faerie that keeps her interesting, and if I like Cluracan, it's mostly because of a vague feeling that I ought to like characters like him.

So it turns out that not even Mike Carey and John Bolton, who previously came together for the excellent Sandman spin-off The Furies, can make Faerie very interesting. Though there's some good artwork here, the Faerie politics are a big fat load of "who cares?" I don't care if Titania or Mab rules Faerie, and the climax is a big load of nonsense. There's some okay stuff about a teenage girl acting out, and Bolton's art is good when it's not being exploitative, but for this story to be interesting would have required more than the 96 pages it was given; everything has to be sped through too fast to be interesting. The best part, as in so many Sandman spin-offs, is the brief jaunt into the Dreaming, not the actual story.

16 November 2012

Review: Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman

Acquired October 2011
Read September 2012
Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical
by Robert Shearman

I should have known that a book of love stories by Rob Shearman would be depressing. These are very depressing.

But that's okay. It's the kind of pain that lets you know you're still alive, and you feel joy for feeling it, and maybe you even laugh inappropriately. The stories are bizarre and macabre and imaginative and quite frequently gross, but they always work. Even when a story about a woman having the world's most awkward affair is for some reason also about running over a strange and hideous creature in the middle of the night. Or especially.

I think my favorite was the one about the people who literally gave other people their hearts when they fell in love. Or maybe the one where it turns out they can measure exactly how much you love someone. Or the one where a woman is haunted by her ghost cat her entire life.

The one where Satan tries to make it as a novelist wasn't my favorite, but it was still good.

14 November 2012

Review: Campaign: An Adventure In Time And Space by Jim Mortimore

PDF eBook, 360 pages
Published 2008 (originally 2000)

Read July 2012
Campaign: An Adventure In Time And Space
by Jim Mortimore

This was not the book it was meant to be, which was already a kind of weird adventure for the original and best TARDIS team (the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan) featuring Alexander the Great. Rather's it's a meditation on that TARDIS team... and the universe. Time is coming unraveled after a trip to Alexander's era, and who the Doctor's companions are keeps on shifting. Barbara is dead... or is Ian?

Big Finish's Companion Chronicles have reignited my love for the first few seasons of Doctor Who, when the show really could go anywhere and do anything. If they had done original tie-in novels back then, and allowed them to be as inventive as the parent show, one would imagine they'd come out something like this: it's like a literary version of The Edge of Destruction mashed with The Aztecs. And about as amazing as that sounds. The ideas are inventive, the prose is clever, and even though it takes place in a multitude of alternate realities, Mortimore gets the voices and personalities of the original TARDIS team completely perfect. You feel them as real people (an approach I'm not convinced a lot of post-1964 TARDIS teams could even support); the only other work to handle them with such deftness being, I suspect, Daniel O'Mahony's "Nothing at the End of the Lane" in Short Trips and Side Steps.

The ending's a bit nonsensical, and the essays at the end are far too long, but I suppose you can't have everything. Is this the best Doctor Who novel ever? Probably not, but it's the best one I've read in a long time.

12 November 2012

Review: Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2004 (originally 1863)

Read July 2012
Utilitarianism
by John Stuart Mill

I didn't expect to like this very much. To my surprise, following on from Bentham's An Introduction to the Priciples of Morals and Legislation, I am liking Victorian philosophy. And while I admired Bentham's work, I loved Mill's. Is the Victorian period the last point where philosophers write things they expect laymen to read and enjoy reading? I don't know enough to answer that question, actually, but Mill certainly writes in such a way. I found myself fairly well-convinced by utilitarianism as an ethical and moral approach.

Much of Utilitarianism is an attempt to justify and execute a "scientific" approach to morals. From reading A System of Logic later, I would learn that this is about induction and deduction for Mill, but though he mentions them here, I don't think they're a key part of his argument. Rather, he clarifies what utilitarianism actually is, and attempt to reclaim it against charges of being centered on immediate physical pleasures, proposing that the quality of pleasure is more important to the greatest-happiness principle than the quantity. I don't know how true it is, but I want it to be true, and I think that this observation is even more true now than in 1863: "In a world in which there is so much to interest, so much to enjoy, and so much also to correct and improve, every one who has this moderate amount of moral and intellectual requisites is capable of an existence which may be called enviable..."

Of course the supposed danger of "rational" systems of morality is coldness, as Mill points out: "It is often affirmed that utilitarianism renders men cold and unsympathizing; that it chills their moral feelings towards individuals; that it makes them regard only the dry and hard consideration of the consequences of actions, not taking into their moral estimate the qualities from which those actions emanate." But as always, he's got a comeback at the ready: "this is a complaint not against utilitarianism, but against having any standard of morality at all"! And when you might complain that he's breaking happiness down into a bunch of smaller things that aren't happiness (the Victorians were really into the idea that science was about breaking things into smaller things), he shoots back, "Happiness is not an abstract idea, but a concrete whole." Oh yeah, I guess it is. Let's all try to increase everyone's happiness!

What's less convincing is the last chapter, which is almost 40% of the book. Mill works really hard to show that utilitarianism doesn't have to be unjust, and though I want him to be right, I'm not sure that he's right for these reasons.

07 November 2012

Review: Mumbai Noir edited by Altaf Tyrewala

Trade paperback, 279 pages
Published 2012
Acquired April 2012

Read July 2012
Mumbai Noir
edited by Altaf Tyrewala

It's been a while since I read Mumbai Noir, so I don't have the level of specific memories that an anthology review probably needs, but I remember being frustrated by a number of the stories-- but now all that stick out to me are the ones that I liked. I was more taken by the idea of a set of noir stories set in India before I realized that it is part of a series of books set in different cities that Akashic Books essentially churns out, but it still is set in a part of the world that I honestly don't read much about.  Devashish Makhija's "By Two" is the one that I remember the most clearly, about a pair of twins, one of which hides a deadly secret.  Editor Tyrewala's "The Watchman" also left an overall positive impression, about a watchman at a housing development who knows a death is coming, as did Namita Devidayal's "The Egg," about a woman in a vegetarian housing situation who just can't take it anymore.

Perhaps most intriguing was Ahmed Bunglowala's "Nagpada Blues," one of the few outright detective stories in the book. Apparently the detective (one Shorty Gomes) is from other fiction Bunglowala has published; I'll have to check it out.

Most of the weak stories have flitted away, as I said, but Kalpish Ratna's "At Leopold Café" was the most disappointing, in that it had an interesting premise, flitting between the 19th century and the present, reflecting on the changes, but I was completely unable to make sense of it.

05 November 2012

Review: Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot by Philip Henry Gosse

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2012 (originally 1857)

Read July 2012
Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot
by Philip Henry Gosse

Omphalos is famous for being the book that said God put fossils on the Earth to test our faith. It turns out to have a hypothesis not quite that bad, and I was intrigued and surprised to find myself enjoying it somewhat, as long as I skipped over the bits where Gosse describes a bunch of plants in exhausting detail.

The argument he devises is actually very compelling, if you buy his two initial premises: 1) all matter must be created ex nihilo at some point and 2) species are all unique, i.e. they cannot transmutate into one another. He also says everyone accepts that all life is circular: an adult has a baby grows up into an adult has a baby...

If you buy those two premises (which are nuts for us, but acceptable for a Victorian, even if already outside the scientific mainstream pre-Darwin), then it logically follows that all species must have popped into existence in such a way that implies past existence. When God magically creates a tree, you would be unable to discern it from a tree that had grown out of a seed. Simply analogize this to a planetary level, and you get the fact that though the Earth seems to be millions of years old, if its existence is circular, then it had to pop into existence at some point in the cycle, which would imply previous existence even if it was untrue. And all other things being equal, if you accept the Earth magically popping into existence, you may as well go with the Biblical account, of course.

All very well reasoned from completely wrong premises. It reminds me of that statement in Doctor Who that logic merely allows one to be wrong with authority. Philip Henry Gosse had authority in spades; the book's second and third chapters are actually a very good explanation of cutting-edge geological and natural historical thought. Shame that his apparently prodigious intellect was wasted so much; the book ruined him, and probably his relationship with his son, too.

Still almost a good read, though; I bet that as long as Evenings at the Microscope, or Researches among the Minuter Organs and Forms of Animal Life avoids the cod-evolutionary theory, it is pretty good.

02 November 2012

Review: Mission to Minerva by James P. Hogan

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2005
Acquired June 2012

Read July 2012
Mission to Minerva
by James P. Hogan

I loved Inherit the Stars but haven't been loving its sequels; one of my problems has been that the original novel sets up this great image of humanity clinging on beyond all hope and managing to survive when they home planet of Minerva is destroyed, the survivors riding it out on Minerva's moon as it is flung into orbit of Earth. The later novels have ignored this image, focusing on the Ganymeans, who were really only in Inherit the Stars to explain how humanity could both originate on Minerva and also share characteristics with other Earth animals. When they did focus on it, they undermined it; we've been told since that the Ganymeans scooped up the Minervans and deposited them on Earth, which is nowhere near as cool.

I was excited, then, to see that the last book in the Minervan series, Mission to Minerva would return us to that original, captivating piece of mythology. Charlie and Koriel, and all that.

Well, I should have expected that Mission to Minerva would just be the most recent disappointing sequel, the worst book in the series in fact. The first half of the book is spent working out Hogan's own hard scientific ideas for time travel, which could perhaps be possible to someone who hasn't read decades of sf that takes both time travel and alternate universes as a part of the landscape.

Hogan could maybe get away with this if it was interesting... but it's not. Not remotely. The first book made scientific problem-solving accessible and exciting; this one makes it into dull gibberish.  Here's a key moment in the novel:
"Standing waves." She turned her head back and focused on him. "Defining a structure distributed through a volume of space. That's the way to halt a test object! It propagates as a longitudinal M-wave function. If we project an interference function to create a standing wave in resonance with the normal transverse solution, it will lock into the target universe. It would force the object to materialize there."
But of course! How could I not have figured it out myself? It was obvious!

Once the characters do travel back in time to Minerva, the book doesn't really get any better. Even the original breakdown of Minervan relations turns out to go back to Jevlenese crazies-- can't humans ever do anything terrible for themselves? It doesn't help that Hogan is unable to write villainous characters without making them one-note and brutish. Complex politics are certainly not his forte.  Also, there's not even a sign of Charlie and Koriel!

When I read Entoverse, I complained about Hogan's reactionary politics. I should have counted my blessings; Mission to Minerva has characters explaining how a new glorious age is going to come into existence ad nauseam. When he shows this instead of telling it, it almost works: the book's closing image of Earthers, Jevlenese, Ganymeans, and Minervans united in a common cause is almost uplifting. But that's one moment in an overlong novel.

Inherit the Stars will always remain a favorite novel of mine. But the only one of the sequels that has even been vaguely worth my time is Giants' Star; this is definitely a case where I should have quite while I was ahead.

01 November 2012

Reading Roundup Wrapup: October 2012

I slowed down my exam reading this month to revise an article I'm trying to place (it's about air-ships!), so it's a little lower than normal, but not too bad.

Pick of the month: Objectivity by Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison. This is the best academic work I've read in a long time. Genuinely insightful about a very difficult topic, but also immediately and obviously useful. I can't wait to tangle with some of its implications.

All books read:
1. The Dead Boy Detectives by Jill Thompson
2. The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
3. Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
4. The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin
5. JSA: Mixed Signals by Geoff Johns and Keith Champagne
6. Objectivity by Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison
7. The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck by Mark Waid
8. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin
9. God Save the Queen by Mike Carey
10. Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation by James A. Secord
11. Tancred; or, The New Crusade by the Earl of Beaconsfield
12. Science on Stage: From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen by Kirsten Shepherd-Barr
13. Victorian Empiricism: Self, Knowledge, and Reality in Ruskin, Bain, Lewes, Spencer, and George Eliot by Peter Garratt
14. The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny by Mark Waid
15. The Obverse Quarterly, Book Three: The Diamond Lens and Other Stories by Fitz-James O’Brien

All books acquired:
1. Objectivity by Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison
2. Science on Stage: From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen by Kirsten Shepherd-Barr
3. Middlemarch by George Eliot
4. A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
5. In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
6. The Half Sisters by Geraldine Jewsbury
7. Zoe: The History of Two Lives by Geraldine Jewsbury
8. The Doings of Raffles Haw by A. Conan Doyle
9. Star Trek: Titan: Fallen Gods by Michael A. Martin
10. Star Trek: The Rings of Time by Greg Cox
11. Two on a Tower: A Romance by Thomas Hardy
12. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin
13. The Obverse Quarterly: Year Two, Book Two: Lady Stardust edited by Art Critic Panda

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 453

Review: The Two Worlds: Two Giants Novels by James P. Hogan

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2007 (contents: 1981-91)
Acquired June 2012

Read July 2012
The Two Worlds: Two Giants Novels
by James P. Hogan

This book collects the third and fourth Minervan novels, Giants' Star and Entoverse; I already read and reviewed Giants' Star as part of The Minervan Experiment, so I'm just going to review Entoverse here.

Like Inherit the Stars before it, Entoverse sets up a scientific problem for its characters to solve. Like all of Hogan's attempts to recreate the dynamics of that original story, The Two Worlds fails at it because its premise is at once too obvious and too impossible. The answer to why many Jevlenese are radical militarists (which I felt was sufficiently answered by them being, well, people) turns out to be that the Jevlenese computer, JEVEX, is so complicated that it's actually a universe on the inside, whose properties have given arise to emergent life whose consciousnesses sometimes leaps out of the computer and into the brains of the Jevlenese, and these folks are unable to deal with their new reality.

Oh, of course. It's not exactly the elegant simplicity of Minerva in the first novel, is it?

At the same time the problem seems so bizarre, it's also super-obvious, because Hogan crosscuts the narrative between attempts to solve the mystery on Jevlen and what's going on inside the Entoverse, so the reader quickly figures it out, and spends the whole book waiting for the characters to catch up.  The Entoverse is a great idea, but it feels like an awkward graft on the Minervan novels, which haven't really dealt with this kind of science before. I like these books for their secret history of humanity!

Though this book does give plenty of that-- it's just stupid. Apparently all the terrible people of Earth history are Entoverse-escaped Jevlenese. There's also a lot of ranting by the main characters that the Ganymeans really messed up in assuming that humans were like them, since humans are intrinsically selfish and violent, and the best political systems channel this rather than ignore it. This has two problems: 1) I don't buy it and 2) the novel itself has told us that the worst humans are Jevelenese!

There's also yet another love interest for Hunt; at least this one has a vocation beyond "Hunt's girlfriend," but she barely contributes to the plot, and is pretty stupid for a supposedly experienced journalist.

I was pleased to note that my supposition that Hogan had read Kuhn was proved correct; there are two very explicit references in Entoverse.

30 October 2012

Review: Two Years Ago—Vol. II by Charles Kingsley

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2004 (originally 1857)

Read July 2012
Two Years Ago—Vol. II
by Charles Kingsley

The impending cholera epidemic felt like a game-changing storm at the end of the first volume of Two Years Ago, so it's disappointing when it actually hits and turns out to be a few people getting sick (except for one). What does cast a long shadow over the rest of Two Years Ago is the Crimean War. I think that this is the first Victorian novel I've read to actually deal with this in a substantive way; almost all the characters end up serving in the war in some way, shape, or form. (Though it's not as hard-hitting as something like Master Georgie, that's for sure.) Beyond that, there's just a lot of moralizing here, both from the narrator and Tom's father, but don't you worry: Tom soon learns that his keen scientific gaze can be used in the service of God and not just money (even he was functionally kinda doing this already). It turns out that atheistic cunning is best as tying itself up!

It's not quite so one-note as I'm making it sound, as there's a minister who learns from Tom that sitting around thinking about dogma isn't terrible useful; this novel led to the coining of the term "muscular Christianity" and it shows.

29 October 2012

Review: Two Years Ago—Vol. I by Charles Kingsley

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2004 (originally 1857)

Read July 2012
Two Years Ago—Vol. I
by Charles Kingsley

Two Years Ago is the story of Tom Thurnall, the son of a doctor, and himself a physician-- and, like many physicians of his period, an amateur naturalist. So of course I was obligated to read it for my exams. Kingsley's big emphasis on what makes Tom as a scientist different from the people around him is his method of observation: he sees well. He doesn't conform to the stereotype of the scientist as socially clueless; rather, he's the sort of person who sees others very, very keenly. But not quite well enough: "He had watched human nature under every disguise, from the pomp of the ambassador to the war-paint of the savage, and formed his own clear, hard, shallow, practical estimate thereof." He understands people very well, especially their weaknesses... but is often unable to see their strengths. He can manipulate them, but not love them.

If you guess that this results in the novel being about Tom learning to see the goodness within people, you'd be right. But though the narrator always has time to stop and drop a moral judgment on Tom ("the possession of power, sought at first from self-interest, has become a passion, a species of sporting, which he follows for its own sake"), Tom is actually a very good scientist and a very good person, bringing a number of positive changes to the town where he takes up residence, and handling tricky situations in a way to fair to all-- even the terrible people! A lot of the last chapter is about his fear of an approaching cholera epidemic, and he does a lot to stop it from hurting anyone.

Running alongside his hijinks is a subplot about his love for Grace, who is (surprise) a religious woman. She loves him, too, but he suspects her of theft, and she can't tell him what she thinks did happen, so separate they shall remain. A lot of the novel's threads come together at the climax at the end of the first volume... but the cholera is still on its way and no one can stop it. Thankfully there's a whole second volume to drag his reformation out through.

26 October 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XXIV: The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck

Comic hardcover, 152 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2007)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2012
The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck

Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: George Pérez
Inkers: Bob Wiacek, Scott Koblish
Colorist: Tom Smith
Letterer: Rob Leigh

The first volume of the 2000s revival of The Brave and the Bold has some tenuous ties to Gaiman's Sandman: Destiny of the Endless appears here (though he was the one Endless who had been established before Gaiman came along). Destiny has subsequently appeared in his own spin-off, gotten a story of his own in Endless Nights, and even popped up in Lucifer.

Before I get to Destiny's role, though, I want to talk about The Lords of Luck as a whole. It's fun. It's amazingly fun. I wouldn't say that all superhero comics should be all fun all the time, but given their subject matter, there's often a surprising lack of the stuff. Well, not here: Mark Waid manages to give us a story that takes in the length and breadth of the DC universe, showing off just how awesome it is in almost all regards. The old Brave and the Bold comics was, I believe, one-and-done superhero team-ups; Waid hits the perfect middleground between that and the sprawling six-plus-part stories of the modern day by making The Lords of Luck a succession of team-ups that are all one story, meaning characters come and go from the story in rapidfire fashion. But Waid's a smart writer, and I was rarely confused, unlike with the deep levels of referencing going on in JSA: Mixed Signals.

We start with a team-up between Batman and Green Lantern, who discover that something powerful is after two weapons, and they split up to pursue each weapon. Green Lantern and Supergirl head to a casino planet following one. This is my first exposure to the 2000s Supergirl after Jeph Loeb's mediocre introduction of her, and (perhaps obviously) Waid writes her a heckuva a lot better; she's smart but seventeen, and wins you over even when she does stupid stuff. Then we get Batman teaming up with Blue Beetle, Supergirl teaming up with Lobo(!), and Batman teaming up with the Legion of Super-Heroes (!!).

Each of these is more awesome than the last. I always enjoy a bit of Lobo, and the banter between him and Supergirl never stops being entertaining. Even better, though, is watching Batman one-up the Legion of Super-Heroes; one should never give Batman a flight ring, apparently. I was laughing all the way through. It's a very real love letter to the DC universe and all the marvelous strangeness it contains. This is how you use continuity to your advantage. It helps that Waid treats his characters like people with personalities, not datapoints with histories.

It helps even more that Waid is paired with the legendary George Pérez on art.  Pérez's art is always great; he has storytelling skills that are rarely matched in modern comics. His pages are dense and eventful in the best way, and his splash pages have real impact. His characters are as fun-looking as the story, and he even manages to restrict himself to just one Supergirl panty-shot. (Sigh.)

Destiny himself is not exactly the imperturbable Endless we usually see; here, he's distracted and amnesiac, having given up control of the Book of Destiny that contains all history. He seems a little less inscrutable when he talks to Lobo and Supergirl as opposed to Dream and Lucifer, but watching Lobo drive his motorcycle through Destiny's garden is worth the price of admission.

The Brave and the Bold is kind of comic I'd wish I'd read when I was a kid, and that I hope my kids will read one day. I'm going to read the next volume because it too has some Sandman connections, but I'm looking forward even more to my eventual readthrough of the whole series. Cool stuff.

25 October 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XXIII: JSA: Mixed Signals

Comic trade paperback, 136 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2005-06)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2012
JSA: Mixed Signals

Writers: Geoff Johns, Keith Champagne
Pencillers: Don Kramer, Dale Eaglesham, Jim Fern, David Lopez
Inkers: Keith Champagne, Art Thibert, Mick Gray, Fernando Blanco
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Rob Leigh

This is the last JSA collection with a Sandman connection, taking place amidst the chaos of the Infinite Crisis. Apparently, in the previous volume (Black Vengeance, which I skipped) my favorites Hector and Lyta Hall, parents of the second Dream of the Endless, were transported into Hell for defying Nabu, the Lord of Order.

I didn't understand much of what was happening in this book; heroes and locations are thrown at you like mad, and no one takes the time to explain who they are. Hal Jordan and Alan Scott chase Air Wave (a superhero who is apparently Hal's cousin), being driven mad by strange transmissions, into space, and end up at the source of the signals. "New Cronus," exclaims Air Wave upon seeing a planet, as though it explains everything. But what's New Cronus? Then Wonder Girl appears, and takes Air Wave with her. Why? Much of the book is just as confusing.

But since I was there for just Hector and Lyta, that was all right: they had no more idea what was going on than I did. Every chapter of Mixed Signals gives a couple more pages to them, as they travel through a desolate mountain range, under assault by demons for reasons they don't understand. In the end, Lyta has a dream that she's talked to their son, and they travel through a portal into the Dreaming, finally safe.

Awww. It's a great moment, and a great ending for these long-suffering characters, though to my knowledge they don't pop up in the Dreaming in any later stories. Their corpses lie on the ground after they travel through the portal-- was it all just a dream of Lyta's? But even it was, would that matter in the Dreaming? From the Silver Scarab to Brute and Glob to the Furies to Nabu, Hector and Lyta have always lost control of their lives to supernatural entities, and it's fantastic for them to finally get some peace. Thanks, Keith Champagne.

24 October 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XXII: The Dead Boy Detectives

Comic digest, 124 pages
Published 2005
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2012
The Dead Boy Detectives
by Jill Thompson

The Dead Boy Detectives is the second solo outing for the two ghosts who previously appeared in The Sandman Presents: The Dead Boy Detectives-- yeah, that's not confusing at all. This volume sees Jill Thompson (of The Little Endless Storybook fame) take over for Ed Brubaker and Bryan Talbot, and convert the whole thing into a manga style. While Thompson's previous attempt at the manga-conversion in At Death's Door didn't really work for me, I ended up enjoying this one a lot. 

The premise of two ghosts who only other kids can see is played for laughs, much as it ought to be I think, and this is only heightened by the manga-style hijinks: Charles and Edmund have to go undercover at an elite all-girl boarding school in Chicago to find a missing student. Wackiness is basically the order of the day, and that's just fine. Their fish-out-of-water status is utilized more than it was in Brubaker's story. 

Thompson's art is also suitably cute, with the manga styling put to good use. Though I had difficulty distinguishing the female students from each other sometimes, I typically enjoyed it. I'd read more adventures of the Dead Boy Detectives if she wrote them, though after seven years that seems a bit unlikely.

09 October 2012

Back to Burnett: In the Closed Room

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2002 (originally 1904)

Read July 2012
In the Closed Room
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A novelette originally released as a super-fancy standalone book, In the Closed Room is more Burnett creepiness along the lines of her later The White People. In the Closed Room is more effective, though I think it still moves a little bit too slow. I think I'd better not say much more about it; I suspect my enjoyment was diminished by knowing about the ending before I began reading.

08 October 2012

Back to Burnett: His Grace of Osmonde

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2005 (originally 1897)

Read July 2012
His Grace of Osmonde: Being the portions of that nobleman's life omitted in the relation of his Lady's story presented to the World of Fashion under the title of A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Lady of Quality wasn't my favorite book by Frances Hodgson Burnett-- it's no Through One Administration or The Shuttle-- but it's still a pretty good read, so I was looking forward to reading this book, which retells the events of Lady of Quality from that book's protagonist's husband's perspective. Is the first sidequel in literature? Probably not, but 1897 does seem kinda early for this kind of thing.

Unfortunately, His Grace of Osmonde adds nothing to A Lady of Quality other than creepiness; you learn that Osmonde knew of Clorinda long before she knew of him. I don't really know what this is meant to add, but we learn nothing about Osmonde beyond the fact that he is your typical Burnett male: a fine specimen of manhood with no personality. There could be some potential with Osmonde's knowledge that Clorinda murdered her first lover, but it's completely unrealized. Utterly pointless in every way, and it actually dampened my appreciation of Lady of Quality in retrospect.

07 October 2012

Audio Catchup: Three First Doctor Stories featuring William Russell

What if William Russell read every Big Finish story, whether he was in it or not? The world would be a better place, that's what.  Recently I listened to:
  • Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles #7.01: The Time Museum by James Goss
  • Doctor Who: The Lost Stories #3.7: The Masters of Luxor by Anthony Coburn (adapted by Nigel Robinson)
Though both are good looks back at the earliest Doctor Who on the eve of its 50th anniversary, The Masters of Luxor is great a perfect recreation of the 1963/64 era, yet something new and different... which is quite an accomplishment for a story from that time! On the other hand, The Time Museum manages to present an oft-referenced onscreen moment in an entirely new and interesting light, which I was not expecting.

05 October 2012

Review: From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature by Roslynn D. Haynes

Hardcover, 417 pages
Published 1994
Borrowed from the library

Read July 2012
From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature
by Roslynn D. Haynes

Haynes's book charts the depiction of the scientist in literature, as one might imagine from the title, going all the way back to medieval alchemical texts and up to contemporary science fiction films. This is the book that when I discovered it, I wish I had written it myself. Fortunately for me, I suppose, its breadth is both a blessing and a curse. It covers so much material that it's guaranteed to be useful for anyone starting to look into scientists in literature-- goodness knows that a number of books on my exam reading lists came straight out of here-- but it's not able to talk about any one time period in more than vague generalities.

Haynes has a very historicized reading of the literature she discusses, often linking the way scientists were depicted in a period's literature to what scientists were actually up to at the time; this is most prominent in her discussion of scientists in post-World War II fiction, where she connects a growing negative response to science's roles in the Holocaust, atomic weaponry, and environmental pollution. In my own research, I'm more interested in the epistemologies at stake in these kinds of texts (I think a lot of how people react to scientists has nothing to do with what scientists do, or even with what we imagine scientists to do, but how we imagine scientists to think), and so it would have been nice to see more of that in play. Philosophically, she also seems to think that some of the anti-science sentiment of the past few decades is justified, which is a position I've never had much time for.

Her main argument in the chapter on Victorian scientists is that though the portrayals of scientist are unusually positive at the beginning of the period compared to those of the Romantics, they become increasingly bleak over the course of the century, as geological, astronomical, and evolutionary discoveries lead to the image of the scientist rendered unfeeling by his discovery of his place in the universe. She connects this both to the Romantic stereotype of emotionally deficiency in scientists and the twentieth-century one of unfeeling and indifferent to the consequences of his research. This, she says is representative of a paradox in depictions of science: it is assumed to be both more powerful than humanity, because it can explain its place in the universe, but also subject to humanity, who hopes to use it for his own needs (127). Haynes suggests that "realistic portrayals of nineteenth-century medical researchers are, almost without exception, complimentary to the point of eulogy" (109). In general, she says, natural scientists in late Victorian fiction were idealized as crusaders for knowledge, working without desire for profit or persona gain, in works by authors such as Charles Kingsley-- himself an amateur scientist. The Faustian taint, she says, had been totally removed by this point. There is no Faustian taint, that's true, but to say that scientists were idealized in, for example, Kingsley, undersells the extent to which Kinglsey satirizes scientists in The Water-Babies as people arguing over trivialities and rejecting the obvious, and also ignores the fact that the scientist-protagonist of Kingsley's Two Years Ago is an excellent scientist, but needs to become a Christian before he can become an excellent person.

She then moves on to professional scientists, depicted in novels such as Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters and George Eliot's Middlemarch (111-3). These figures are much more realistic depiction of the scientist, experiencing the financial difficulties of working in this new field, made possible through the authors’ real-life associations with scientists: Roger Hamley in Wives and Daughters is modeled on Charles Darwin, while Eliot extensively consulted actual medical researchers. I think some more idealization seeps through than Haynes fully admits (Roger's trajectory in Wives and Daughters is largely one of his scientific education being vindicated over his brother’s classical one), and she also does not fully draw out the extent to which Roger's power of observation serve him positively, which ought to be presented as a sharp contrast to other Victorian scientists, who are typically either made impotent or morally deficient because of their observational skills, whereas Roger is both moral and observant. (Except when it comes to Cynthia Kirkpatrick.)

The other work that she discusses that I've thought about a lot myself is Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders, which she gives one brief paragraph, where she emphasizes Doctor Fitzpiers's "detached view of humanity," and says that he is similar to Faustus and Frankenstein in studying at a German university, but dissimilar in that he is more of an "intellectual dilettante" with to commitment to the search for truth, merely passing curiosities that he flits between inconsistently (126). Haynes concludes that "he is a cold and calculating personality, and it would seem clear that… Hardy intends to associate such traits with a scientific training." Perhaps the most interesting facet of Fitzpiers that Haynes raises is in an endnote, where she says that "in his scientific determinism and in his belief that marriage is merely a civil contract" he actually strongly resembled Hardy himself (347n60)! I'm not quite sure what to make of that, but I'm sure there's something

As well as with Kingsley, I had some issues with what she said of postwar sf writers like Isaac Asimov and James P. Hogan. The fact that the areas I know best (Victorian literature and mid-century sf) don't fully convince me makes me a little suspicious about the rest of the book, but that doesn't blunt the effectiveness of her exhaustive catalog. Or the very useful classification system she sets up in the book's introduction, which I would have liked to see her make more of.

03 October 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, XXI: JSA: Lost

Comic trade paperback, 199 pages
Published 2005 (contents: 2004-05)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2012
JSA: Lost

Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencillers: Dave Gibbons, Don Kramer, Tom Mandrake, Jerry Ordway, Sean Phillips
Inkers: Keith Champagne, Wayne Faucher, James Hodgkins, Tom Mandrake, Sean Phillips, Prentis Rollins
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterers: Jared K. Fletcher, Rob Leigh, Ken Lopez

There are a couple Sandman elements in this volume of JSA, mostly stemming from the presence of Hector Hall (a.k.a. Doctor Fate f.k.a. the Sandman f.k.a. the Silver Scarab) and Lyta Hall (a.k.a. Fury) on the team. First off is a brief cameo from their son Daniel, the new Dream, who intervenes to keep the JSA's nemesis Per Degaton (what kind of name is that!?) off their back with a quiet word of warning. You don't actually get to see Daniel, which is okay, but what is not okay is that letterer Jared K. Fletcher completely fails to carry over the distinctive lettering style that usually accompanies Dream's dialogue. Without it, his words just lack... gravitas. (So does Ken Lopez, in a later sequence.)

The more involved Sandman-related subplot is about Sanderson Hawkins, former sidekick to Wesley Dodds. Just as the former minions of Dream, Brute and Glob, once tried to turn Hector into a replacement Dream in a replacement Dreaming while Dream was captured, they attempt to do the same here with poor Sanderson. While some members of the Justice Society track down his physical body, others must travel into his mind, including Hector and Lyta. This gives the two of them a chance to figure out what Brute and Glob did to them back in the day (apparently their memories are rather fuzzy) and get their own back. Go Lyta! I was excited to see her back in fighting form as Fury; she deserves it after the long series of traumas she received at the hands of Roy Thomas, Neil Gaiman, and Mike Carey.

I was even amused when Geoff Johns explains why Lyta never interacted with the superhero community while she was in Vertigo titles: Nabu "cast a blinding spell so that [she] might not ever see the world of costumed heroes around [her]." This is either grossly stupid or utter genius, and I'm not sure which. But other than seeming to not even know they have a son, much less that he is Dream, Lyta and Hector seem to have finally got the happy ending they deserve, and Geoff Johns deserves plenty of kudos for that.
"The last few years, I barely remember anything. It was like a nightmare. Images of strange creatures, beings I couldn't understand. I always see myself running. My whole life started that way. When I was first adopted, I used to run away at least once a week. I'd race to the beach. Looking out over the water. Wondering if I could swim to Themyscira. If I could find it on my own. I spent my summers training under Hippolyta. Learning how to use my strength and speed. Learning how to fight. How to run. But I'm tired of running."

02 October 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XX: JSA: Black Reign

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2003-04)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2012
JSA: Black Reign

Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencillers: Rags Morales, Don Kramer
Inkers: Michael Bair, Keith Champagne
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Ken Lopez

This is surely stretching the definition of The Sandman spin-off, but here I am. When we last saw Lyta "Fury" Hall, she was deciding to move on with her life-- since her run-in with the Furies in Greece, she seems to have been captured by a Lord of Order named Nabu. Her husband, the former Sandman, now Dr. Fate, Hector Hall has been looking for her, and he finally finds her, trapped inside his own mind (or something I didn't really understand completely). Lyta is my third-favorite Sandman character, and it's great to see her back in action... but we see here lasts for only a moment. Hopefully there's more of her in JSA going forward.

01 October 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XIX: Thessaly: Witch for Hire

Comic trade paperback, 95 pages
Published 2005 (contents: 2005)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2012
The Sandman Presents: Thessaly: Witch for Hire

Written by Bill Willingham
Illustrated by Sean McManus
Colored by Pamela Rambo
Lettered by Nick J. Napolitano, Rob Leigh, Phil Balsman

Thessaly: Witch for Hire is a sequel to Willigham's own "The Thessaliad," a story in The Sandman Presents: Taller Tales. Looking back, I found that story okay: some great ideas but "the characterization was a little too straightforward" is what I wrote at the time. Well, Witch for Hire is a completely disappointing story. The plot is basically a straight line: Thessaly finds out she's going to die, Thessaly follows a number of fruitless lines to solve the problem, Thessaly wins anyway. Sure, Willigham makes an ironic joke about it by ending the third chapter with "NEXT: No More Talking Heads. It's All Monsters From Here On Out," but it's not the lack of monsters that's the problem, it's the lack of impactful incident. The last chapter is no better for having a giant flaming demon stomping through it.

Thessaly was cool in A Game of You because she seemed like a shy, withdrawn, plain girl, but she was actually a completely ruthless murderer (she pulls the skin off a guy's skull, hangs it on the wall with a nail, and reanimates it to get the information she needs!), and Willingham and McManus completely fail to get that. Their Thessaly is pushed around, unassertive, and spends all her time showing off her pouting lips, big butt, and midriff. Can you picture this woman having a relationship with Dream himself? I sure can't.

30 September 2012

Reading Roundup Wrapup: September 2012

And so the next "reading year" begins, with a pretty nice first haul...

Pick of the month: Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman. Perhaps, as someone who is both shy and cynical, I was predisposed to like this book. As someone who is a Rob Shearman fan, however, I was predisposed to love it. Never have a more horrifying and disgusting group of love stories been gathered together, and I cannot remotely complain about that fact.

All books read:
1. A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy by John F.W. Herschel
2. Scott Pilgrim in his Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley
3. Sapphire & Steel Annual 1981 by Peter J. Hammond
4. Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1830-1864 by Mary Poovey
5. A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation by John Stuart Mill
6. Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman
7. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens
8. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
9. Barry Gifford’s Perdita Durango by Bob Callahan
10. The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe edited by Harold Beaver
11. Armadale by Wilkie Collins
12. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
13. The Sandman Presents: Thessaly: Witch for Hire by Bill Willingham
14. Space and the ‘March of Mind’: Literature and the Physical Sciences in Britain, 1815-1850 by Alice Jenkins
15. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
16. JSA: Black Reign by Geoff Johns
17. Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn
18. Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
19. JSA: Lost by Geoff Johns
20. On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle

All books acquired:
1. The Lifted Veil, Brother Jacob by George Eliot
2. Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles; Or, Pirates of the Second Aether!! by Michael Moorcock
3. Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin
4. Armadale by Wilkie Collins
5. Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2011 edited by Clayton Hickman
6. Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2012 edited by Clayton Hickman
7. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III
8. Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations by Christopher L. Bennett
9. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Seize the Fire by Michael A. Martin
10. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game by Dayton Ward
11. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Paths of Disharmony by Dayton Ward
12. Star Trek: The Next Generation: Indistinguishable from Magic by David A. McIntee
13. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night by David R. George III
14. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Raise the Dawn by David R. George III
15. Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor by John Byrne
16. "This is NPR" by Noah Adams, John Ydstie, Renée Montagne, and Ari Shapiro
17. About Looking by John Berger
18. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by Eric Shanower
19. The Flash Omnibus by Geoff Johns, Volume Three by Geoff Johns with Greg Rucka
20. The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
21. What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George
22. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George
23. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
24. Star Trek: The Prisoner of Vega by Sharon Lerner and Christopher Cerf

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 447

28 September 2012

Review: The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment by Amanda Anderson

Trade paperback, 196 pages
Published 2001
Acquired April 2012

Read July 2012
The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment
by Amanda Anderson

Anderson looks at the concept of "detachment" in a range of Victorian texts, both literary and critical, especially those by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, and Oscar Wilde. One of the best parts of the book is perhaps here mere coinage of the term detachment to "encompass not only science, critical reason, disinterestedness, and realism, but also a set of practices of the self, ranging from stoicism to cosmopolitanism to dandyism" (7). Her emphasis is not on science itself, but it easily applies to it.

Anderson makes a couple good critical moves that make this book very worthwhile. One is that she takes the authors she studies and turn their concepts back on themselves, pointing out that though Dickens may lambast certain forms of detachment in his novels, his novels are just as detached in ways that have more in common more than they differ.

Secondly, she's not afraid to advance a position: The Powers of Distance doesn't just analyze detachment, it attempts to reclaim the practice from the bad reputation that (she argues) it has unjustly received in modern critical circles. (I largely agree with her on this point.) She points out that modern critics love irony, which is another form of detachment of course, but also that irony is cheap: you can critique one thing without having to embrace another. Stop being afraid of commitment! Detachment is acceptable, and the fact that it occasionally or even always fails doesn't stop aspiring to it from being worthwhile.