30 May 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Jessica Jones, Part VI: The Pulse: Fear

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2006 (contents: 2005-06)
Borrowed from the library
Read May 2012
The Pulse: Fear

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist (for "Fear"): Michael Gaydos
Penciler (for New Avengers Annual #1): Olivier Coipel
Inkers (for New Avengers Annual #1): Drew Geraci, Drew Hennessy, Livesay, Rick Magyar, Danny Miki, Mark Morales, Mike Perkins & Tim Townsend
Colorists: Matt Hollingsworth, June Chung, Richard Isanove & Jose Villarrubia
Letterers: Cory Petit & Albert Deschesne

Now this is more like it! Michael Gaydos is back, but it's not just that that makes Fear the best volume of The Pulse by far.  It gets off to a rocky start, as Jessica visits the Baxter Building and meets three-quarters of the Fantastic Four. Nothing wrong with its execution; I'm just opposed to any moments where Jessica Jones has a genuine, full interaction with a superhero, as she stops being Jessica Jones at that moment.

But then Jessica has lunch with Sue Richards and Carol Danvers, and finally The Pulse revisits those themes that made Alias work so well: powerlessness.  Jessica is a superhero probably having a superbaby, but the powerlessness that that makes her feel-- how will the kid turn out? will she survive?-- is the powerlessness that all mothers feel. (Or so I imagine, having not been a mother myself. And hopefully not going to be one.) This is really driven home when Jessica asks Carol about her own superpregnancy. Ms. Marvel was impregnanted by an alien from another dimension: this hasn't happened to Jessica, but that's what it sometimes feels like to her.

There's one too many splash pages featuring the Avengers for my comfort, but other than that, this is a great Jessica Jones story.  The best part is the last issue, where we finally see a snippet from Jessica's brief career as "Knightress" and her first meeting with Luke Cage.  It's a lovely little vignette that's utterly consistent with everything we know about Jessica, but also makes sense of her love for Luke and her passion for motherhood that The Pulse has been lacking up to this point. The dialogue is finally written like it was in Alias, too. I kinda wish that we could have had this story sooner, but I also hafta admit that it's perfectly places here.

I also enjoyed the joke about how Jessica used to have much more foul language. Indeed, there were a number of good jokes.

In addition to this being a good Jessica Jones story, it's also finally a good Pulse story; while Jessica is giving birth, Ben Urich is tracking down D-Man, a homeless superhero inspired by Daredevil. It's a great little story that is eminently suited for the setup of The Pulse, unlike any of the stories told in it thus far, as it's actually about investigative reporting and also gives us a different angle on superheroes. Poor, hilarious D-Man.  Good jokes, here, too, but it's also oddly touching.

The book is closed out with the issue of New Avengers where Jessica and Luke get married. Olivier Coipel doesn't draw Jessica any better than anyone else who's not Gaydos, and though his art is nice, his storytelling isn't always great. Aside from the Jessica/Luke moments-- which are actually pretty good-- it's a pretty standard superhero throwdown. (Spider-Man makes a fun team member.) As I've said ad nauseam, I think having Jessica interact with the Avengers dilutes the premise a little too much, but if it's gotta happen, this is pretty good.

How come the teenage fanboy from Alias wasn't invited to the wedding, though? I mean, what happened to him at all? Poor guy. Dropped like he never even mattered.

Next issue: whatever happened to Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Cupid anyway? I don't care, but I'm going to find out regardless!

29 May 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Jessica Jones, Part V: Young Avengers

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2008 (contents: 2005-06)
Borrowed from the library
Read April 2012
Young Avengers

Writer: Allan Heinberg
Pencilers: Jim Cheung, Andrea Divito
Inkers: John Dell, Mark Morales, Drew Geraci, Dave Miekis, Rob Stull, Dexter Vines, Livesay, Jay Leisten, Matt Ryan, Jaime Mendoza, Jim Cheung
Other Artists: Michael Gaydos, Neal Adams, Gene Ha, Jae Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Pasqual Ferry
Colorists: Jose Villarrubia, Justin Ponsor, Art Lyon, June Chung, Dave McCaig
Letterer: Cory Petit

My previous experience with the Young Avengers was Paul Cornell's Dark Reign tie-in. It was okay. I didn't pick up this volume for any of its intrinsic qualities, however; I picked it up because it includes Jessica Jones.  Now, I imagine she pops up in a lot of Marvel stories nowadays, but she's the viewpoint character for much of the story.  Even better: Michael Gaydos returns to do the art for some of her bits.

It's nice that Jessica Jones finally looks like Jessica Jones again; making the right kind of faces goes a long way to making her dialogue seem right. Allan Heinberg writes a pretty good Jessica Jones on the whole.  She spends more time palling around (and seems a little too familiar with) Captain America and Iron Man for my liking, but within the confines of how Bendis changed the character for The Pulse, it works.  Jim Cheung draws the majority of the book, and his Jessica is a little too smooth-faced and skinny and demure and just overall young-looking. It is neat to see her in her Jewel costume again, though.

As for the non-Jessica Jones components of the book: I was surprised by how much I liked them.  Heinberg and Cheung create an instantly-likeable group of teenage protagonists here, with good backstories and good banter.  The first arc especially kept me completely engrossed, and the story never stops moving. (From a narrative standpoint, anyone. From a physical one, they stand around a whole lot in the middle.) My favorite characters were probably the girls. Hawkeye has all the sass, and Stature has all the insecurity. Oh, and poor Iron Lad!  What a dilemma. But they're all good characters, and I already plan to someday do a readthrough of their adventures now.

28 May 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Jessica Jones, Part IV: The Pulse: Secret War

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2004-05)
Borrowed from the library
Read April 2012
The Pulse: Secret War

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Brent Anderson & Michael Lark
Inker: Stefano Gaudiano
Colorist: Peter Pantazis
Letterer: Cory Petit

I was excited to see that Michael Lark was one of the artists working on the second volume of The Pulse; he was the principal artist on Gotham Central, and judging by that series, his sensibilities ought to match that of Jessica Jones better than Mark Bagley's ever did. And indeed it does, though he's still not Michael Gaydos. (Not really his fault, admittedly.)

However, the story of Secret War might be better than that of Thin Air, but it still doesn't feel right. We get here The Pulse's perspective on a strange series of attacks across New York, and Jessica Jones is desperate when Luke Cage is kidnapped. If I bought into their relationship, I might care more. A lot of details here are purposefully withheld-- the reporters at The Pulse never find out what's going on, and so neither do we. While this fits the powerless ethos of the Alias stories, something about this never quite clicks. Maybe it's because Jessica is too close to the center of the superhero universe? Wolverine shows up for some reason.

The Pulse has a potentially interesting premise, but it keeps on squandering it. These are neither good superhero stories nor good inversions of superhero stories, leaving you with pretty much nothing.

25 May 2012

One! Hundred! Demons!

Comic trade paperback, 216 pages
Published 2002 (content: 2000)
Acquired January 2012

Read April 2012
One Hundred Demons
by Lynda Barry

I think I would like this more had I not also read The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Fun Home, and Persepolis of late; I think I'm done with semiautobiographical female comics memoir for the time being. I'm not saying One Hundred Demons is like the others completely-- it has a sense of humor that none of those books do-- but after reading them (not to mention American Splendor, Jimmy Corrigan, and Ghost World), I get it. The literary establishment likes its comics to be literary memoirs of tortured people. Now can we do something else? Why don't we like literary fiction at least? Thankfully Barry is less tortured than most. (Though in the seminar I read this in, at least one person criticized Barry for not being tortured enough. She demanded to know why race was more explicitly discussed. Maybe because nonwhite writers are allowed to write about things other than their own nonwhiteness?)

23 May 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Prose Fiction #2: Batman vs. Three Villains of Doom

Normally, I'd review the next three volumes of Jessica Jones next, but ILL is taking its time with getting the last of those to me, so I'm stepping out of sequence next to witness another exciting encounter in prose:

Mass market paperback, 128 pages
Published 1966
Borrowed from the library

Read May 2012
Batman vs. Three Villains of Doom
by Winston Lyon

Nearly thirty years after Superman received his first novel, Batman receives his... and it's based on the Adam West TV show! So not exactly laced with psychological realism, then. What can you say about a book whose premise is that the Penguin, the Joker, and Catwoman take turns fighting Batman in a tiebreaker for the "Tommy" Award, for the best criminal of the decade (it is a gold-plated tommy gun)?  Nothing, except that it does exactly what it wants to.

There's one bit where Batman explains to Robin how he predicted the Penguin's last crime:
"The Penguin's clues are obscurely planted, Robin. You have to put yourself into his evilly twisted mind to figure out what he means."

"Is that how you knew he would strike at the auction gallery?"

"It wasn't hard to figure out that an emerald statuette shaped in the form of an ancient bird, the ibis, would be a natural target for the Penguin."

"That's one thing you said back there that did surprise me, Batman. How did you know the tear gas bomb would be planted in the autioneer's hammer?"

Batman shrugged. "That was easy, Robin. The news item mentioned that the statuette of Thoth would be put up for auction--and the auctioneer would use a yellow hammer that been used in the days of Louis Quatorze. The yellowhammer is a kind of bird. It was an irresistible pun pattern for the Penguin."

"Holy hummingbird," Robin exclaimed. "The Penguin substituted his own yellow hammer, complete with gas bomb, for the original."

"Precisely."

Robin looked at the newspaper. "And the front page of this paper has another clue, you say? Let me see . . . 'Famous Mimic to Appear at Universe Room' . . . That seems the only possible item that would be of any interest, yet how . . . ?"

"Remember, Robin, you must try to think like the Penguin. He sees bird analogies in some unlikely places."

Robin frowned. "A mimic . . . hmm. What does a mimic do? He imitates other people's voices. . . . In a way, he might be said to mock them. Can that be it? A mockingbird?"

"Exactly, Robin."

"But what possibility for profitable crime does a mimic have to offer? There has to be something else," Robin persisted.

Batman nodded. "Elsewhere on the front page there's a notice of a gold shipment that will be carried by blimp from a bank in Gotham City to Fort Knox."

"But is that a bird clue?"

"A blimp is called a Dodo by Air Force pilots--because the dodo was a wingless bird. That's the Penguin's target. And there's still a further irony to whet the Penguin's villainous appetite for bird-puns."

This time Robin got the point at once. "Both items appear on the same page of the Gotham Daily Eagle. Right, Batman?"

"You're thinking on sixteen cylinders, Robin. I'm proud of you."
If you're okay with that, you're okay with the book. If you're not, then at 128 pages, you haven't exactly wasted a lot of time.

Next issue: I find out whatever happened to Jessica Jones! (for real!)

21 May 2012

Audio Catchup: Professor Bernice Summerfield Season 5

written by Jacqueline Rayner
directed by Gary Russell
released July 2004

starring
Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield
Stephen Fewell as Jason Kane
Steven Wickham as Joseph the Porter
Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Grel Escape (#5.1)

After the harrowing events of Life During Wartime and Death and the Daleks, it’s apparently time for some lighthearted events in the life of Bernice Summerfield. And so Jacqueline Rayner makes a welcome return to the range, having previously penned most of the (almost) uniformly excellent adaptations in the first season, not to mention the novels The Squire’s Crystal and The Mirror Effect. And even better, it brings back the Grel!

The Grel originally appeared in Paul Cornell’s New Adventures novel Oh No It Isn’t!, but truly obtained life in Rayner’s audio adaptation of that novel. They’ve been chronically underused since, though they are the only (I am pretty sure) monster to originate in a spin-off and make it into the parent series, having fought the Doctor and Charley in The Doomwood Curse. They’re simply a delight to listen to (so good choices for audio, then) as they travel the universe looking for facts. “Find facts! Find facts! Find facts!” It’s a nice change of pace to the run of four “monster stories” that preceded this one; we have a monster from Bernice’s own history, rather than an attempt to boost sales by pulling in something from the parent show.

( Read more... )



written by Simon A. Forward
directed by Edward Salt
released August 2004

starring
Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield
Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Bone of Contention (#5.2)

Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Bone of Contention is the sixth Bernice Summerfield audio drama in a row to feature a “monster,” but like The Grel Escape before it, Bone of Contention switches things up by not featuring a monster that appeared in the classic Doctor Who television series. Rather, The Bone of Contention features one of the alien races Big Finish created itself: the Galyari, who previously appeared in The Sandman with the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn. Bone of Contention is even written by Simon A. Forward, who created the Galyari for The Sandman.

Bone of Conention sees Bernice hired by the Perlorans to visit the Clutch, a convoy of ships traversing interstellar space, on their behalf to recover a precious artefact from the Galyari. Of course, the Galyari claim to not have the artefact, and Bernice soon ends up sidetracked by Griko, the deformed son of Commander Korschal of the Security Directorate. In a move that surprises no one that has ever experienced another Bernice Summerfield story, the plight of Griko turns out to be related to the artefact, and Bernice is quickly brought into conflict with the Galyari.

( Read more... )



written by Stephen Cole
directed by Edward Salt
released November 2004

starring
Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield
Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Relics of Jegg-Sau (#5.3)

Okay, so this season, Benny has faced two monsters from the spin-off media: the Grel and the Galyari. For the third release of the fifth season, it’s a monster from the parent show, but perhaps not one you’d expect: K-1, a.k.a. the Giant Robot. Appearing in just Tom Baker’s debut Robot, the titular character was not one of a race of evil conquerors, but a lone and lonely creation, destroyed at the story’s end. Nevertheless, Stephen Cole brought back the Robot for Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Relics of Jegg-Sau, where she runs afoul of one after crash-landing on an alien planet.

Despite its seemingly-goofy premise — the Robot’s limp wrists and skinny legs didn’t exactly put it at the top of the monster pantheon — The Relics of Jegg-Sau is actually a fairly grim story. It opens with Bernice imprisoned by the Robot, as she tells the story through flashbacks. And those flashbacks begin with her crashing on an alien planet, rescued by two very strange people: the explorer Kalwell and his daughter Elise. Despite have been trapped on the planet for years, neither is in a hurry to be rescued.




written by Stewart Sheargold
directed by John Ainsworth
released March 2005

starring
Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield
Harry Myers as Adrian Wall
Professor Bernice Summerfield in the Masquerade of Death (#5.4)

“You can’t have a good climax without some effective shouting!”

Bernice and Adrian are in Spring, where there’s been a murder. Only the Queen of Spring can’t quite tell who’s been murdered. Also Bernice and Adrian are sleeping together. And a mysterious Player has decided to dissect Bernice to prove to everyone that’s she’s fictional. And the dialogue is strange.

The last instalment of Professor Bernice Summerfield’s fifth season, Professor Bernice Summerfield in the Masquerade of Death by Stewart Sheargold, includes not a single returning monster and makes up for it by being one of the most original releases in the series ever. Unfortunately, “original” seems to largely translate into “completely baffling”. I mean, you eventually find out what’s going on on a macro level, but there are lines of dialogue and whole scenes even that still don’t seem to mean anything by the time you get to the end. I don’t mind working to enjoy something, but I do want to know why I’m working, and I don’t think The Masquerade of Death ever gives me a reason.

Large-Scale Star Wars

Trade paperback, 373 pages
Published 2011
Acquired March 2012
Read May 2012
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis
by James Luceno

Darth Plagueis was mentioned in a parable in Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith told by Chancellor Palpatine. Though not directly stated, it was implied that Plagueis was actually Palpatine's own Sith master, killed by his apprentice. In the wake of Episode III, a Plagueis novel by Luceno was announced-- and then cancelled.  I was thankful for this, because I had my doubts that any novel about young Palpatine and his master could be as cool as my imagination.

Well, it was uncancelled, and here it is.  Darth Plagueis begins with the death of Plagueis's own Sith master, and covers the next several decades, as Plagueis recruits an apprentice and plots the downfall of the Republic and the Jedi.  Palpatine is recruited to be Darth Sidious fairly early in the book, and it moves between the perspectives of the two Sith as they both learn about being a Sith Lord and manipulate galactic affairs.

Maybe I was set up for it by my own biases, but I was disappointed. Some of it is definitely Luceno making choices that I wouldn't make.  According to this take on events, Plagueis is active well beyond the point where I would have thought, meaning that Palpatine is but an apprentice during the vast majority of the time the groundwork for the prequel films is being laid.  As someone who considers Palpatine (at least as depicted in Episodes I, II, and VI and Dark Empire) one of the coolest villains of all time, this is completely lame!  Palpatine should be the top man, not some guy's lackey.

Furthermore, the book weaves in and out of established Star Wars events too much. We see Jedi Council: Acts of War, Darth Maul, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, Cloak of Deception, and much more told from the Sith point-of-view, but without seeing the actual events, meaning far too much of the action happens out-of-sight. Having the Sith say that cool things are happening somewhere else is not terribly interesting in and of itself. Also, Lucenopedia overload! Also, they're usually fighting mooks, which stops you from being impressed; outmanipulating Nute Gunray is not exactly the act of a genius, and even potentially intelligent characters like Chancellor Valroum come across as a bit thick.

Worst of all, though, is that the book doesn't really communicate what it is to be Darth Plagueis or Palpatine, at least not in a way that's really satisfying.   Luceno has never exactly had a gift for character, and though we see a lot of what the two Sith Lords think, we never get to experience what they feel for the most part... and when we do, it's kinda lame.  "Oh, I just hate the Jedi so much!" We see them make decisions, but I don't feel like I understand why they do what they do, or how it is for them to do it.  Even manipulating Dooku's fall, which should be completely fascinating (I love Dooku), turns out to be deadly dull.  Going by this book, being a Sith Lord is actually fairly blasé.

18 May 2012

Small-Scale Star Wars

Comic digest, 76 pages
Published 2010
Acquired January 2011
Read April 2012
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Deadly Hands of Shon-Ju

Script: Jeremy Barlow
Art: Brian Koschak
Colors: Ronda Pattinson
Lettering: Michael Heisler

This is an okay little story featuring Aalya Secura coming into contact with a Force cult that has forgone the lightsaber in favor of using their Force-amplified hands in combat: they punch rocks to break them, and so on.  A neat idea, but not fully explored because in a twist that will surprise no one, this non-Jedi group is EVIL.  As are all the bad guys, actually, none of whom who do things for reasons beyond getting their EVIL on.  Barlow has done better.

16 May 2012

Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Trilogy of Novellas

Hardcover, 212 pages
Published 2004
Acquired January 2012
Read April 2012
Professor Bernice Summerfield V: A Life in Pieces
by Dave Stone, Paul Sutton & Joseph Lidster

Not yet satisfied by her domination of audio dramas, novels, and collections of short stories, Bernice Summerfield now moves into a new format: the trilogy of novellas. A Life in Pieces is made up of three novellas that interlink to make a complete story.  Given the series's success with the interlinked short story format in Life During Wartime and A Life Worth Living, I was looking forward to this, but I actually ended up being somewhat disappointed.  Nothing is bad, but the book never forms a cohesive whole, either.  It doesn't have to, of course... but I think it might want to.

The first story is by Dave Stone, who I always remember as writing the weird stuff.  That's as true as ever here: Bernice and Jason go on vacation... only it turns out they're secretly on reality television?  There's not so much a plot here as a series of jokes, some of which are funny.  Not all of them, unfortunately, and maybe not even most of them, but there were a couple good ones, and one belter. (When Bernice figures out how to circumvent the reality TV cameras, if you're interested.) As a story, it's kinda there: it wants you to laugh, but you don't want to, so everyone is just standing around awkwardly most of the time.

The next is by Paul Sutton, one of my favorite Big Finish writers, as he's penned Arrangements for War, Thicker Than Water, and No More Lies.  His contribution here is very different from those big, emotional stories, but it's still very character-driven.  It follows Adrian Wall, Bev Tarrant, Irving Braxiatel, a couple cops, and a host of criminals on Earth as everyone tries to get their hands on the Purpura Pawn, a valuable artifact from an alien planet that's recently been stolen... by Jason Kane?  It's a dark, tangled story, but Sutton's knack for character strikes; it's perhaps the most insightful story about Adrian and Bev we've ever had, and there's other good stuff, too, especially with the cop character.  Dark and ominous; I'd call it noir if I knew enough about the genre to feel confident enough to make such an assessment.

Finally, there comes a story by Joseph Lidster about Jason's trial for stealing the Purpura Pawn.  It's the flipside of the events in Sutton's tale, told as a series of reconstructed documents a couple generations later. It's an interesting idea, and I like the narrator of the piece, a very likable and driven fellow who is completely and utterly wrong. The thing is, I think I'd prefer to get into Bernice and especially Jason's heads more than the format allows.  Intellectually admirable, and with some good stuff to say about how we try to uncover truth, but it left me kinda cold in the end.

The three stories are all decent at least, but the book feels lopsided. Stone's story is so goofy compared to the other two dark ones, and its tale is completely irrelevant to the later ones, making it feel like it doesn't even belong in the same book.  I like the idea of the book, and I liked the book itself more than I didn't, but I feel like it could have been done better.

15 May 2012

Professor Bernice Summerfield in an exciting adventure with some Academics

Hardcover, 183 pages
Published 2004
Acquired January 2012

Read April 2012
Professor Bernice Summerfield IV: A Life Worth Living
edited by Simon Guerrier

This is the fourth Bernice Summerfield anthology, but it's the first to be edited by Simon Guerrier instead of the usual mainstay, Paul Cornell.  But just like all of Cornell's anthologies (bar the first one), it's an intelligent, charming, literate, thoughtful collection of sf stories.

The premise of A Life Worth Living is that, in order to help obscure the memory of the Fifth Axis Occupation from the minds of the Collection, Braxiatel opens it up to students-- and then asks Bernice to not go offworld for a year so she can live up to her teaching and other academic duties.  Of course I would be sold on it right away: it has to be the only sf book I've ever read that revolves entirely around the doings of academia!  But there's more than that.  Though the book involves a lot of academia, it could involve a lot of anything. It's a book about picking up the pieces, figuring out what you're doing and who you are, and getting back to work. Because even if giant, awful things have happened to you, life really does go on.

This is set up right from the beginning with Paul Cornell's lovely "Misplaced Spring," which is a series of moments across the Collection as the new students arrive and Bernice tries to remember what it's like to be in love again.  There are a lot of stories about relationships, actually, and most of them are quite good: "Welcome to the Machine" by the improbably-named Sin Deniz is about a desperately lonely woman being stalked, and it feels all too real. "A Summer Affair" is a charming but dark tale by (of course) Joseph Lidster that gives another romance to Ms. Jones. Man, that "woman of a certain age" gets around!

Probably the most fun of all these was Philip Purser-Hallard's "Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants," where Bernice discovers that not only has Jason taken up writing xenoporn again, but that it's attracting rather a lot of academic criticism!  Hilarity ensues, of course.  I also enjoyed "Against Gardens," an Eddie Robson story about Hass the new Martian (not an Ice Warrior, honest!) gardener on the Collection, who turns out to be rather a fascinating character.

My favorite story, though, has to be "Final Draft" by Cameron Mason.  Here, Bernice has to write a keynote address for a conference in three hours when Hass tells her she's made a basic mistake.  And the closer the conference comes, the worse the situation gets.  Funny and it includes nice character moments for every member of the cast, what else could you want?

There's only one flat-out bad story in the collection, Richard Salter's goofy and far-fetched "Nothing up my Sleeve," where Bernice squares off against the Brotherhood of Magicians.  Good joke if you've seen Tomb of the Cybermen (I have, unfortunately), but little else.  Also, I think the Collection plays host to three conferences in the course of the book, which seems rather a lot for an institution that small.

Honestly, though I'd miss Lisa Bowerman, I wouldn't be upset if Big Finish chucked the novels and the audio dramas and just did Bernice as a series of anthologies. These are where the characters and writers really get their chance to shine.

I read this after Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Bone of Contention, which was the release order, but it appears that it actually goes before that story. This means that the order of the past few Bernice stories is:
  • Audio 4.3. The Poison Seas: Bernice is summoned back to the Collection.
  • Anthology III. Life During Wartime: Bernice returns to find the Collection occupied.
  • Audio 4.4. Death and the Daleks: The Collection is liberated.
  • Novel #6. The Big Hunt. Bernice takes a vacation after the recent stress.
  • Audio 5.1. The Grel Escape: Bernice comes home to find that while Jason has been watching Peter, he's been playing with the Time Rings.
  • Anthology IV. A Life Worth Living: Bernice spends a year on the Collection without leaving.
  • Audio 5.2. The Bone of Contention: Bernice takes her first offworld trip in a year, to the Clutch.
  • Anthology V. A Life in Pieces: Jason persuades Benny that they should take a trip together, as they have each had one of their own recently.
  • Audio 5.3. The Relics of Jegg-Sau: You tell me, I'm only halfway through it!
I enjoy the fact that this series crosses media, but it can be tricky to stay on top of without a central numbering system!

14 May 2012

Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Hardboiled Detective Novel

It's been fifteen months since I read Ghost Devices.  My catch-up-on-the-Bernice-New-Adventures plan is not exactly working out, is it? (It's okay; I've got a new one!)

Mass market paperback, 248 pages
Published 1997
Acquired January 2011

Read April 2012
The New Adventures: Mean Streets
by Terrance Dicks

Well, I suppose Justin Richard is glad a book came along to dethrone Dragons' Wrath from its status as worst Bernice Summerfield New Adventure.  The dialogue is bad, the plot is dumb, the characterization is not even trying.  At least the bits where the book is narrated in the first person by an Ogron private eye are fun, but we're talking like a dozen pages in an interminable novel...

12 May 2012

Before the War with Burnett

Hardcover, 374 pages
Published 1922
Acquired March 2012

Read April 2012
The Head of the House of Coombe
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Head of the House of Coombe was one of Burnett's last novels. It opens with a girl nicknamed "Feather," as flighty as her name implies who marries young-- and then her husband dies, leaving her with a baby she's never interacted with. Poor Robin grows up entirely separately from her mother, and indeed, from anyone, until she finally makes friends with a boy named Donal. Who is then torn away from her, of course.

What is perhaps most interesting about this novel is that it was written after the Great War, but set before. As such, there's a sense of imminent apocalypse to the whole thing. One sees this in science fiction written before the war (such as Griffith's Angel of the Revolution and Wells's The War in the Air), but it was striking in a literary novel set after the war. The apocalyptic tone makes sense given the scale of the catastrophe that was the war, but The Head of the House of Coombe also has, like much apocalyptic fiction, a vaguely utopian feeling. The world will be utterly destroyed... but something new will emerge from that. It's not what I expected-- surely that's the optimistic attitude of someone who's not yet had to live through a war? The novel ends with a great scene where Robin is finally reunited with Donal, but it's the same day that Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated. Whoops.

The other good bit is when Robin goes to take a job as a lady's companion and falls straight into a German plot! In this sequence, as in A Lady of Quality and The Shuttle, Burnett shows her mastery of the "sensation" genre. I, for one, was in a panic!

Other than those bits, this is one of Burnett's duller novels. It's certainly not as bad as That Lass o' Lowrie's, Haworth's, or Little Lord Fauntleroy, but it's not as engaging as the best of her later work, either.

11 May 2012

Across the Atlantic with Burnett

Trade paperback, 476 pages
Published 2008 (originally 1907)
Acquired and read March 2012
The Shuttle
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What what what!? I enjoyed Burnett's Through One Administration, but I actually loved this! Who knew that Burnett could write this well? The Shuttle begins with Rosalie Vanderpoel, an American heiress, being married off to an English lord, Nigel Anstruthers. But Lord Nigel, whose estate is rapidly deteriorating in this modern world, doesn't get the access to the Vanderpoel fortune that he anticipated. The novel, which begins with some comedy about capitalist Americans and "the good Early Victorian days when 'a nice little woman to fetch your slippers for you' figured in certain circles as domestic bliss," quickly turns dark at that point, as Lord Nigel and his mother heap verbal abuse on Rosalie and cut her off from her family. (Later, more of this time is filled in through flashback, and it is similarly emotionally harrowing.) Rosalie is a bit of a milksop, but Burnett gets you into her head such that you feel what she's feeling quite intensely.

The main action picks up many years later, when Rosalie's younger sister, Betty, comes of age and decides to go spend her time in England to find out what happened to Rosalie. She finds a sister oppressed, a son deformed, and an estate neglected. What makes The Shuttle great is Betty: she's a no-nonsense girl of a type I can't remember ever having seen in turn-of-the-century fiction before. She looks at people and sizes up their value... but the narrative doesn't portray that as a problem. She wants to increase her assets, and one of those assets is happiness. So she uses her money to make herself and everyone around her happy. Looking at an amazing garden in decay, she comments, "it is all too beautiful-- to beautiful and too valuable to be allowed to lose its value and its beauty. It is a throwing away of capital." It's a very positive depiction of capitalism, and quite entertaining. Betty is a character who knows what she wants and takes it, and isn't a villain for doing that.

There's also G. Selden, an American typewriter salesman on vacation in America, and Mount Dunstan, the sarcastic-but-reliable aristocrat who lives next door to the Anstruthers estate. Selden is fun, as he pluckily attempts to sell people typewriters-- because what can solve your problems better than a typewriter? I'd read a spin-off about "G. Selden, Roving Typewriter Salesman" in a heartbeat. Mount Dunstan isn't too bad, and I suspect he's the only male redhead portrayed as sexually attractive in all of fiction.

But it's not just all happiness, light, and forthright American competence. Betty can do all this because Lord Nigel is out of town-- and when he returns, the situation turns dark very quickly. I read most of the last third in a cafe sitting next to a friend who had already read it herself, and she experienced the full gamut of my emotional reactions: shock, tension, horror, elation. I was completely and utterly emotionally absorbed in the story, to an extent that I rarely am. I don't want to say too much about it all, because it would spoil it when you go and read it (which you obviously will be doing), but it's completely gripping. Having opened the book with the joke about certain men just wanting a wife to fetch slippers, Burnett inverts it by revealing the ultimate outcome of that attitude as completely monstrous.

My only reservation about the novel is that my edition (a very classy-looking Persephone Books edition) is abridged. I suspect this is for the best-- Burnett is often long-winded, and I'm sure many navel-gazing passages were struck in favor of the exciting stuff-- but I would have liked to have made an informed choice. It is not even indicated on the Persephone Books website that the book is abridged; I did not know it until I got the book and saw it on the copyright page. The abridgment is not mentioned in Anne Sebba's preface, either, and there is absolutely no indication of what kind of content was cut or how the decisions to cut were made. A disappointing component to an otherwise very attractive edition.

10 May 2012

On Stage with Burnett

Google eBook, 60 pages
Published 1913 (originally 1889) 

Read March 2012
Little Lord Fauntleroy: A Drama in Three Acts, Founded on the Story of the Same Name by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I wasn't exactly a fan of the novel this play was based on, and this adaptation is an unimpressive work, having to shift material to conform to stage conventions in a way that loses the effect of the original but gains no new effectiveness. Giving the villain a larger role without changing the plot only foregrounds what a terrible, unthreatening plan she had to begin with. 
I did like the gag in the third act about everyone coming in through the window, though.

08 May 2012

Paradigm Shift: Shift Harder

Hardcover, 149 pages
Published 2009
Acquired October 2011

Read April 2012
Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity, and Policy
by Sandra D. Mitchell

Sandra Mitchell's book is a volley against Thomas Kuhn, against the idea that all mature sciences operate under a single paradigm where problems can be solved against a master idea.  Mitchell argues that some sciences-- psychology and ecology, for example-- will never be reduced so easily, that we'll never be able to say, "This is the cause of depression" because depression is caused by an array of complex factors and two people can have all the same factors and yet still only one of them will have depression.  We should not disparage this irreducible complexity, but embrace, she says.

I am pretty sure she is arguing against what the Victorians would call "scientific materialism," or what we would now call "monism."  And when I first picked up the book, I was all ready to believe her.  Despite the fact that I really liked The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, I could also see how there was an alternative.  Indeed, Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach left me primed to believe in emergence, which is Mitchell's main argument against monism.  But then I started reading-- and I'll admit that maybe this is just my comprehension skills at fault, because Mitchell gets very science-y very fast-- and the more I read, the less I believed in emergence.  When I read Hofstadter, I believed that ant colonies could have properties not represented in ants, or that consciousness could have properties not represented in neurons.  But every example Mitchell gave showed how the high-level properties very clearly came out of low-level properties.  Is that emergence at all?  The depression example was good, and I feel like ecology examples could be good, but she spent a lot of time talking about genetics in ant colonies.

So I wanted to believe her, and I accept her point that focusing on simplicity disadvantages our society's ability to make decisions based on complex scientific principles, but nothing in this book actually leads me to believe in her.

07 May 2012

Paradigm Shift: In Action

Trade paperback, 311 pages
Published 2006 (originally 2005)
Acquired October 2011

Read January 2012
The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution
by Elisabeth A. Lloyd

Elisabeth Lloyd's book explains what she sees as a series of missteps in the study of female orgasm by adaptationists.  Many theories have been advanced to explain the existence of the female orgasm, and according to Lloyd, none of them-- not even the one generally accepted by the scientific community-- stands up to scrutiny of the evidence or the methodology.  But this one has gone largely unaccepted.

Though much of the book consists of Lloyd nitpicking people's explanations for female organsm (she is clearly not familiar with Joseph Harris's suggestion that academic writers be generous, but then many philosophers don't seem to be), it's a fascinating case study of the scientific method in action.  The middle chapters get pretty dull (and her tone gets very tiresome), but both the beginning, where she lays out her background, and the conclusion, where she explains what has happened and what should be done, are interesting.  And, admittedly, her explanation of why everyone else is wrong was pretty compelling to this layman.

In the conclusion, Lloyd lays out a challenge to evolutionary biologists, suggesting that "The history of evolutionary explanations of female orgasm is a history of missteps, misuse of evidence, and missed references. The case is still open, and it is ripe for some good scientific work" (257). Lloyd identifies the primary problem in this case as "bias," which she equates to the background assumptions made by the scientists working on the "problem" of female orgasm. I think, though, that this is not the giant flaw that Lloyd thinks it is, but a casebook example of Thomas Kuhn's paradigmatic science in action.

Lloyd identifies four problematic background assumptions in the work on female orgasm. The first of these is adaptationism, which is her term for "the presupposition that a trait that evolved served a particular adaptive function for the organism, and that is why it is present in the population" (229). The others are less obvious and more dangerous for that: androcentrism, which Lloyd defines as believing that male patterns also hold for females; procreative focus, the assumption that only procreative sex is evolutionarily significant; and the assumption of human uniqueness.

Lloyd's description of the problems of this background assumption of adaptationism is reminiscent of Kuhn's description of "normal science" in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. According to Lloyd, all researchers studying the female orgasm "routinely assume that the female orgasm is in fact an adaptation, because they are operating within a theoretical framework in which the most interesting traits are assumed to be adaptations" (230); according to her reading, Symons's byproduct account (which she favors out of all current theories, based on the current evidence) was rejected solely because it did not view the female orgasm as an adaptation. Lloyd's comment echoes Kuhn's description of the way scientists operating under a paradigm perceive the object of their research: "What a man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual-conceptual experience has taught him to see" (113). Lloyd's adaptationists see adaptationism because that is the paradigm under which they are operating.

It is fairly clear that for most of the scientists Lloyd discusses, the female orgasm is a case of what Kuhn would call "puzzle-solving." The question these scientists have asked is always "how exactly female orgasm does increase reproductive success"; whether or not it does is largely unquestioned. Because the female orgasm researchers are operating in an adaptationist paradigm, they perceive themselves as already "knowing" that female orgasm is an adaptation; they need only to solve the puzzle of how that is so, and alternative lines of research are discouraged. This worldview, however, leads to the biases that Lloyd states cause scientists to ignore factual evidence if it does not fit their background assumptions.

It is important to understand that the case of the female orgasm is an example of Kuhnian normal science, because that very fact presents the resolution to Lloyd's problem. In discussing how paradigms shift, Kuhn says that "Initially, only the anticipated and usual are experienced even under circumstances where the anomaly is later observed" (64). Awareness of an anomaly in the course of normal science takes time, but it does happen. After the awareness of an anomaly, where a scientist discovers that a theory does not fit observed facts, there is an exploration of an anomaly, and then a paradigm change so that the anomalous is expected. This is the process that will happen with research into the female orgasm-- and Lloyd herself has helped it along with the publication of The Case of the Female Orgasm. But change does not happen instantaneously, and Lloyd's book is only a step in that direction.

What makes Lloyd’s analysis of the case of the female orgasm particularly worth reading, however, is where it leads us to go beyond Kuhn, in the conception of what a paradigm is. According to Kuhn, a paradigm consists of "law, theory, application, and instrumentation together" (10). For Kuhn, "nonscientific" considerations do not seem to enter into paradigms. Despite a passing reference in the original text that factors such as autobiography, personality, and nationality can play a role in theory choice (153), Kuhn does not consider the kinds of values that Lloyd would call "social biases" to be part of a scientific paradigm

But it is clear from Lloyd's analysis that the social bias of androcentrism has had at least as much of an effect on the case of the female orgasm as the scientific background assumption of adaptationism. Just as anomalies generated by adaptationism will have to be noticed and accounted for to trigger a paradigm change, so too will the anomalies generated by androcentrism. This suggests that social biases can be part of a scientific paradigm, and that they too can blind scientists to data that does not fit their expectations as they go about puzzle-solving. Hopefully it also suggests that those anomalies can and will be accounted for by a new paradigm as soon as someone notices them-- which Lloyd has already done. There's a lot of nitpicking and disingenous comments, but even if I didn't enjoy reading all of it, it ought to help some scientist somewhere solve this "problem" in a better way.

All that said, I really hope to never read the phrase "uterine upsuck" ever again.  Gross.

04 May 2012

Paradigm Shift: The Biggest One of All

Hardcover, 270 pages
Published 2011
Borrowed from the library

Read November 2011
A Vision of Modern Science: John Tyndall and the Role of the Scientist in Victorian Culture
by Ursula DeYoung

The book studies John Tyndall, a Victorian physicist, but it is not a biography. Rather, DeYoung’s goal is to "demonstrate Tyndall’s enormous impact on the Victorian concept of science and on the public image of the scientist as a figure of authority in British society" (1), an impact that DeYoung argues has been previously neglected, both by the Victorians themselves and by contemporary critics. The biographical details are only sketched in through intermittent dribs and drabs and only as they are relevant to Tyndall's approach to science.

Tyndall came to prominence at the transition between amateur and professional science, a transition that DeYoung acknowledges was not smooth or immediate (11), and he spent much of his career advocating for the alteration of the role of the sciences in culture. The main strength of A Vision of Modern Science lies in the way that DeYoung connects Tyndall's ideas to the larger debates happening in Victorian culture at the time. This is great, because one thing I've really struggled with in my research on Victorian science so far is good overview of how the processes of science as a whole were viewed-- you can find what people thought about biology, or geology, or physiognomy, but what did people think of "science"?  DeYoung answers that question.

Tyndall was one of the key participants in the debate over the roles of theology and science in society. Tyndall himself was antagonistic to organized religion, especially Catholicism: he believed wholeheartedly in religion's use for an inner emotional life, but he did not believe that theology should guide public decisions, nor that it could purport to deliver truths about the observable world. DeYoung points out that the debate was not so one-sided as "religion vs. science"; there were many different components. There were debates over how effective prayer was, debates over whether or not science could claim to deliver truth, debates over whether or not theology could count as a science, and debates over what was the role of science in society. Tyndall had a position on all of these issues, and in relating his position, DeYoung explicates the controversies in general. She uses a lot of primary source documents-- lectures, pamphlets, periodical publications, cartoons, and more-- and in doing so, allows the reader to obtain a quick understanding of what was at stake in any one of these multiple debates.

Particularly instructive is her discussion of the 1874 Belfast Address, where Tyndall (in his role as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science) argued that only science could exert authority over the organic world. Tyndall was reacted against quite negatively, but DeYoung shows that many of his critics misunderstood his position; Tyndall was not one of the "scientific materialists," who believed that science could answer all questions, but rather a "transcendental materialist," who agreed that science could not follow the chain completely from molecules to consciousness; it still had its limits. In making his address, Tyndall was seen as exceeding the bounds of the authority of the scientist, which as DeYoung points out, indicates that bounds for the scientist had indeed been set, where they had not earlier in Tyndall's career.

In marking the changing reactions to the Belfast Address over time, DeYoung traces how societal attitudes also changed; eventually the debate was about not whether it was appropriate for a scientist to make public commentary, but what was the appropriate venue for doing so. DeYoung's final chapter, which examines the positions of three post-Tyndall scientist, is particularly useful in revealing societal attitudes and controversies about science, as it demonstrates how Tyndall gradually became irrelevant: some of his positions had been adopted by society at large, so his advocacy was unimportant (such as the presence of science degrees at universities), while others were lost completely (scientists as social commentators), and others were simply not meaningful anymore (popularization of science became more difficult as the disciplines became more specialized). By the end of Tyndall's career, university laboratories had gone from being a dream to being a reality. In examining Tyndall specifically, DeYoung explicates a wide variety of perspectives on science and the scientist that can prove a boon to any scholar of the history of science or of the Victorian period.

The book does have some shortcomings, though. It analyzes Tyndall's ideas fairly thoroughly, but sometimes the thoroughness is redundant; for example, "The Aims and Benefits of a Scientific Education" is not very distinct from "Scientific Method as the Foundation of Education." On the other hand, despite Tyndall's ideas feeling overexplained, it's sometimes hard to obtain a grasp on what some of them actually were. In her discussion of the influence of Carlyle on Tyndall, and in many other sections, DeYoung explains that Tyndall and his scientist cabal, the X Club (what an awesome name!), wanted scientists to take on an important role within society, but DeYoung never adequately explains what that important role would be, beyond the fact that Tyndall once grew frustrated when a committee he sat on refused to adopt his plan for the generation of light in lighthouses.  I am sure there was more to it than that!

In the book's conclusion, DeYoung briefly mentions the attempt of Tyndall and the X Club to intervene in the "Irish Question" (213), but it comes too late, and even here it is not clear how Tyndall's position was (ostensibly) derived from the scientific method. It may be that DeYoung cannot articulate exactly what the scientist's role in society was to be because Tyndall himself never fully did, but in that case I would have liked to have seen that failure explored. Similarly, the education chapter repeatedly states that Tyndall saw the scientific method as the beginning of all education, but supplies no examples of what this would mean in practice.

In the book's final chapter and conclusion, DeYoung emphasizes the fact that Tyndall was perceived more as a popularizer of science than as a practitioner, and argues that this is unfair. But it is a crime that A Vision of Modern Science is itself guilty of; the section on Tyndall's own discoveries (in areas as diverse as heat physics, glaciology, and bacteriology) is one of the least interesting parts of the book. But if Tyndall had only made a series of interesting discoveries, then Ursula DeYoung would not have undertaken to write a book about him. John Tyndall's foremost contribution to science came in his philosophy, his popularization, and his participation in the Victorian debates on science, and through these activities, DeYoung is able to explore much about Victorian science as a whole. His scientific contributions, though undoubtedly important, take a necessary backseat to this longer-lasting and more influential work, and rightly so.

03 May 2012

Paradigm Shift

For my classes last semester I had to read four different books about various aspects of science, and I've finally finished all of them, so the next four entries I'm going to spend detailing those books...

Trade paperback, 212 pages
Published 1996 (originally 1962)
Acquired September 2011

Read November 2011
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
by Thomas S. Kuhn

I first heard the term "paradigm shift" and was detailed on the concept of the scientific revolution my freshman year of high school in "World Cultures" class.  The idea has since lurked in my mind-- much as it has in culture, I think.  But it took twelve years and a philosophy of science seminar to get around to reading it.

Kuhn's work is immediately incredible.  Though it's probably not always right, it's not always right in the way that most big ideas are, because it's so big that there can't not be tons of little exceptions to what he says and how he says it. His model of science, as a series of paradigms that shift but don't necessarily become more truthful, just more useful, is immediately persuasive.  I especially liked what he said about the action of "normal science," the science that happens between paradigms.  Despite the fact that scientists know that major theories are overturned throughout history and will be overturned again, they all proceed as though science has been settled and do these small tiny experiments. 

I also liked his concept of "paradigm vision" (I don't think he calls it this exactly, but I do), that scientists see the world through the lens of their paradigms, and indeed, often find it impossible to bridge the gap between paradigms because it affects the language they uses.  I thought of the Pluto-is-a-planet thing when reading this section; some people cannot believe that Pluto is not a planet because they see the world in such a way that the word "planet" means something that includes Pluto.  How could they possibly accept that it is not a planet?

Of course, Kuhn's ideas are more applicable to physics than other sciences, and rejecting the sciences they don't fit as "immature" is probably not the right solution, but that doesn't stop it from being interesting.  I am kinda disgruntled that Kuhn added an afterword in 1969 to deal with criticisms that had been lobbed at it, instead of actually integrating the criticisms into the main text.  But on the other hand, I'm glad that his response to that criticism can be safely contained in one chapter because the criticisms are all such nitpicky philosophy of science bullshit.

02 May 2012

Audio Catchup: Doctor Who: The Lost Stories: The Fourth Doctor Box Set

written by Robert Banks Stewart & John Dorney
and Philip Hinchcliffe & Jonathan Morris
directed by Ken Bentley
released January 2012

starring
Tom Baker as the Doctor
Louise Jameson as Leela
Doctor Who: The Lost Stories: The Fourth Doctor Box Set

The third season of Doctor Who: The Lost Stories takes a breather for The Fourth Doctor Box Set, which contains two unmade Tom Baker adventures: Robert Banks Stewart’s The Foe from the Future, completed by John Dorney, and Philip Hinchcliffe’s The Valley of Death, completed by Jonathan Morris. With a six-parter and a four-parter, that’s a whopping ten episodes across six discs! (There is, of course, the traditional egregious disc of extras.)

I’m not the biggest fan of Robert Banks Stewart’s televised Doctor Who stories. Terror of the Zygons left me cold, and though I thought the first two episodes of The Seeds of Doom were terrific, some of the best base-under-siege the show has ever done, then they go to England and it all gets a bit silly. The Foe from the Future is a storyline that Stewart submitted, but it ended up not being made and the seminal The Talons of Weng-Chiang was made instead. The only real similarity The Foe from the Future has to Talons is the one in its title: the bad guy is from the future. It’s set in 1977, and the Doctor and Leela discover that people are disappearing near a mysterious mansion…

01 May 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Jessica Jones, Part III: The Pulse: Thin Air

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2004 (contents: 2004)
Borrowed from the library
Read April 2012
The Pulse: Thin Air

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Scott Hanna
Colorists: Peter Pantazis with Brian Reber
Letterer: Cory Petit

The end of Alias wasn't the end of Jessica Jones; she soon became one of the central characters of another Brian Michael Bendis series, The Pulse, about the writers at the Daily Bugle, especially those in a special section focusing on superheroes.  (Jessica is there to investigate, though not write.)  This volume sees the Daily Bugle staff investigating the death of one of their own.

It's not very interesting.  I don't quite know why, but nothing the characters did ever grabbed me.  The mystery is pathetic.  There's no resonance to this.  Whereas Alias used the question "What would the Marvel Universe look like to a private investigator?" to say something very interesting about powerlessness, The Pulse asks "What would the Marvel Universe look like to newspaper reporters?" and discovers that the answer is "Exactly the same."  The subversion of the genre tells us nothing of interest.

And the reason I picked up the book, Jessica Jones herself, is weirdly off.  I don't think it's the dialogue, as the same guy wrote both Alias and The Pulse, but it might be, as The Pulse is paced much more like a conventional superhero comic; there's no awkward six-page halting conversations here.  It probably doesn't help that, now that she's pregnant, all Jessica does is worry about her unborn child.  I don't doubt that being pregnant would change her, but it's basically her only personality attribute here.  Worse, Michael Gaydos has been replaced by Mark Bagley, who has what is probably a decent style for a superhero comic, but is a complete mismatch for one about Jessica Jones.  As when Takeshi Miyazawa left Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, her body language is just wrong, and it makes all the dialogue seem off; she doesn't move the way Jessica moves or make the faces that Jessica makes.  Given time I might get used to it, but with only five issues collected in this thin volume, it's time I don't have.