23 May 2017

Hugos 2017 [Prelude]: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Quick cross-link: my review of the Doctor Who spin-off The New Counter Measures: Series One was posted to USF today.

Trade paperback, 498 pages
Published 2015

Acquired and read May 2017
The Broken Earth, Book One: The Fifth Season
by N. K. Jemisin

Like last week's Saga, Book One, I'm reading this not because it's nominated for the 2017 Hugos (in fact, it won the 2016 Hugo for Best Novel), but because a follow-up volume in the same series is nominated. A lot of this year's Hugo nominees are later volumes in series, which leaves me with a lot to read!

In Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn coins a corollary to Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently immersive fantasy is indistinguishable from science fiction" (62). The Broken Earth is definitely an embodiment of that idea. Taking place on a world with a dangerously active geology (volcanic eruptions potent enough to cause a "fifth season," i.e., a winter of more than six months, occur every couple centuries, meaning no civilization lasts very long) and where orogenes (think earthbenders from Avatar) are both feared and needed for their power to manipulate Father Earth, Jemisin takes these seemingly fantastic premises and follows them through to their logical conclusions. The worldbuilding is the real strength of this novel-- from language to culture, the Stillness (the ironic name of the continent) feels like a real place, with a politics and history and racial dynamics all its own. There's so much packed in here, so many cool but also dark ideas about how orogenes would be perceived, and how society would evolve to protect itself from the threat of fifth seasons.

It's beautifully told, too, an elevated style that sometimes gets oddly casual, but Jemisin pulls it off. The book follows three parallel narratives, the journeys of three different orogenes, each reacting to titanic events. Jemisin's handling of language is her handling of character, and also her handling of cruelty: in many ways, the apocalyptic world of The Fifth Season is just our own, in all the worse ways. Sometimes, though I got a little lost in the style, having to reread significant passages for comprehension a little too much, and I was a little frustrated that The Fifth Season doesn't stand alone in any sense. The Broken Earth is definitely not multiple stories in a series, but one big story; the end of the book doesn't resolve anything, but introduces more complications. Still, I am excited to read book two, The Obelisk Gate, in a few weeks, and the end portends much.

Next Week: The most rational of futures discovers a miracle in Too Like the Lightning!

22 May 2017

Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Trade paperback, 302 pages
Published 2012 (originally 2010)

Acquired January 2017
Read March 2017
Among Others by Jo Walton

I've been telling everyone about this book since I started reading it, and I don't normally promote books like that. But if you like genre fiction and if you had a childhood love of reading and if you ever felt like an outsider, I think you will love this book, a fantasy novel about a science fiction lover set in 1979-80. A really truthful book about loss, the pains of growing up, love, the Welsh countryside, and reading-- with fairies thrown in! Walton's conception of magic is really compelling, and the narrative voice is excellent. A lot packed into this: I'd love to teach it someday, actually!

19 May 2017

Russell T Davies: Still Television's Greatest Writer (Cucumber and Banana)

Obviously everyone can have different opinions about things, and I respect that. I think Thor 2 is the cinematic triumph of the age and you do not; you think Blake's 7 is well written, and I do not. So what? Tastes differ. One opinion I can never understand, though, is that Russell T Davies is not a great writer, nor even a good writer. His five-year run on Doctor Who (2005-10) is probably unparalleled for quality in the show's history, and that is a fact.

I will always be thankful for Doctor Who for introducing me to him as a writer. I went from Doctor Who to Davies's two television programmes featuring future Doctor Whos: Christopher Eccleston in The Second Coming (2003) and David Tennant in Casanova (2005), and then from there to his trailblazing LGBT work in Queer as Folk (1999-2000) and Bob & Rose (2001). I actually haven't gone further back than that, but someday I'm sure I'll watch The Grand (1997-98), Revelations (1994-95), Century Falls (1993), and Dark Season (1991). What I love about Davies is his ability to write characters, the way he writes people who feel completely and totally like they are real people, people who you love not despite their faults, nor even for their faults, but for the complete and total package of which their faults are an inseparable component. I know a lot of people didn't come around on Rose's mom Jackie until late in series 2 of Doctor Who with "Love & Monsters," but I enjoyed her from the very beginning of her first appearance in "Rose" when she demands Rose go to the council for compensation because she both felt very real to me and was very funny.

Bob & Rose is probably my favorite thing he's written. It's about a gay man who falls in love with a woman, and two things stick out at me about it-- one that is that I always tear up at the end of episode 4, when Penelope Wilton chains herself to a bus along with an entire crowd of demonstrators, and the other is that there's a character who makes a series of inarguably morally wrong decisions, and yet you completely understand her and even sympathize with her, like when a friend of yours does something boneheaded yet you love him anything.

Cucumber and Banana (both 2015) were Davies's return to mimetic television (i.e., not sci-fi/fantasy) following his runs on Doctor Who and its various spin-offs. If Queer as Folk, written when Davies was a young gay man, was about the experience of being young and gay, then Cucumber, written when Davies was a middle-aged gay man, is about the experience of being middle-aged and gay. Cucumber starts with a couple, Henry and Lance, who end up separating after an argument, and both wondering if they've wasted their lives with each other. Henry moves in with a bunch of twenty-somethings, pursuing something he will never let himself have, while Lance ends up going after a co-worker who insists he's straight, but keeps giving signals that he's interested in something more.

It's a weird show, to be honest, and it might be my least favorite thing that Davies has written. Which is not to say it's not well-written: it's as chockful of Davies's trademark attention to characterization and moments of humor as ever, and it actually has some genuinely great montages. But there are times it feels very aimless, and Henry is hard guy to like. I understood him, but I wasn't always rooting for him. Or rather, the things I was rooting for him to do were things I had no interest in him doing. The end of the show brought things into perspective, though, and I'd be curious to see how the revelations of the last conversation Henry has would impact my rewatching of the show-- while at the same time it feels like the Davies show I'm least likely to actually want to rewatch.

But still, some parts of it are so impressive: Henry's inadvertent creation of a "porn empire" that he both loves and despises, especially because of his discomfort about how the newest generation does not experience discomfort over being gay; or the part where Henry gets out of sex by inadvertently pretending he's just delaying sex to make the other guy want it more; or the sixth episode which is almost impossible to discuss if you're trying to be vaguely spoiler free (and I am); or a bit in episode 7 where three of the main characters drive around trying to triangulate the location of a Welshman based on distances given on Grindr, but end up trapped in a car in the middle of a rainstorm and sharing deeper parts of themselves for the first time ever (well, except for Dean, because there is no deepness to Dean).

Cucumber was accompanied by Banana an eight-episode anthology series whose episodes alternate with those of Cucumber (i.e., you watch Cucumber episode 1, then Banana episode 1, then Cucumber 2, then Banana 2, and so on). The main character of each episode of Banana is a side character of some varying level of importance in Cucumber. The main character of episode 1, for example is a main character in all of Cucumber, while the main character of episode 5 appears in only a single scene of Cucumber, and the main character of episode 4 hasn't even appeared in Cucumber at the time you see her in Banana. Davies himself writes episodes 1, 2, and 8, while the other ones are all by new, young, queer writers.

Like any anthology, Banana is highly variable, but when it's good, it's good. Davies's writing, for obvious reasons, tends to focus on white gay men, but Banana runs the whole gamut-- anything that involves queer relationships is essentially fair game. So we have stories about lesbians living with a romantic partner for the first time, and about a trans woman who has a well-meaning family she can't quite connect with post-transition, and about a gay guy who goes to the big city for university and disapproves of his best friend from back home's impending wedding, and about a woman with obsessive-compulsive disorder who can't have anything nice because she always fantasizes about things going wrong.

My favorites were 2, 4, and 6, but they're all good, and they're greater than the sum of their parts. Like one of the best things about Banana is that even though each episode of it stands alone (episode 4, the one about the trans woman, is well worth watching, for example), its diversity as a whole is one of its strengths. There is no single relationship narrative, or even queer romance narrative, and Banana captures so many different facets of human existence in eight 25-minute chunks. Watching it in alternation with Cucumber is fun, because when background characters have had an episode of Banana to themselves, their reappearances in Cucumber carry hidden depths. The fact that Davies used his current cachet to promote new queer voices seems amazingly admirable, too: I was particularly impressed with the work of Charlie Covell, who wrote episodes 4 and 6 and starred in episode 6. Hopefully she goes far as a writer and an actor, because she deserves too.

Oh, and the ending of episode 8 is just delightfully, darkly humorous. My wife and I were like, "Did they really???" And they did.

Cucumber was good, but it's definitely over-- when you get to the end, you know it's said everything it wanted to say. Banana, though... there deserves to be more Banana in the world, and hopefully some way is found to make it happen.

Bonus Link Section
I found the following particularly insightful when watching the show / writing this:
Each AV Club review has spoilers for the episode in question, and the Radio Times interview has big spoilers for the first five episodes specifically, so read cautiously if you're going to watch the shows. The overall reviews are pretty safe.

18 May 2017

Review: Bombing the People by Thomas Hippler

Hardcover, 285 pages
Published 2013
Borrowed from the library
Read July 2016
Bombing the People: Giulio Douhet and the Foundations of Air-Power Strategy, 1884-1939
by Thomas Hippler

I came to this book looking for a discussion of bombing civilian populations during air war and the ethics thereof. As its subtitle indicates, Bombing the People is really about the thinking of one particular air-power strategist, the Italian general Giulio Douhet. Douhet was an advocate for total war, and Hippler provides a comprehensive intellectual history of his thought-- if I recall correctly, many of the works Hippler examines had previously not been translated into English, leading to misrepresenation of Douhet's actual belief. Douhet's intellectual evolution is actually kind of fascinating and worth recounting in full.

Hippler argues that early on, Douhet actually considered the bombing of civilians unconscionable;  during World War I, he advocated for a World State that would abolish war. As someone who reads a lot of science fiction from 1880-1915, I find this a very familiar dream: H. G. Wells wanted this to happen, but so did many other proto-sf writers, like George Griffith and Louis Tracy, and Hippler reports that Douhet actually cites Wells. But Douhet went from seeing military forces as the only legitimate targets of aerial bombing in 1911 to call for strategic bombing of urban centers in 1915. How did this happen?

It's actually a pretty compelling chain of logic. Relationships between nations are essentially anarchic; if you want there to be civilization between states, not just within them, you need international police and international courts. Only such an organization could successfully ban war. Thus, a nation that carries out war anyway is not an enemy nation, but a criminal nation, and we believe that criminals must be punished for their misdeeds, partly to discourage other criminals from carrying out misdeeds. So if war is unjust, and we want to stop war, we actually need aerial bombing as a punitive measure, because there's no other way to effectively punish a state for its misdeeds. If the leadership is responsible, the people will eventually rise up and change the leadership, ending the war, and thus leaders will be discouraged from starting wars. If you attack the enemy's population center from their air and break their will, there will actually be fewer casualties than in a long, drawn-out war. It's an amazing argument, I think, and one that recognizes that all civilization is fundamentally based on violence; the last bit even presages ways that President Truman allegedly rationalized using the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II. But that makes sense, if you keep in mind that in the 1910s, all-out air war was perceived as being as apocalyptic as nuclear war would be in the 1950s.

Douehet actually wrote his own future-war novel in 1919, Come finì la grande Guerra, where he got to put some of his ideas into practice. I must seek it out. Thanks to Hippler for covering in detail this important strategic thinker, tangling with in reality the same ideas I see pored over in fiction from the same era.

17 May 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: All-New All-Different DC, Part X: The All New Atom: Future/Past

Comic trade paperback, 127 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2007)
Borrowed from the library
Read March 2017
The All New Atom: Future/Past

Writer: Gail Simone
Pencils: Mike Norton, Eddy Barrows
Inks: Andy Owens, Trevor Scott
Letters: Pat Brosseau, Travis Lanham
Colors: Alex Bleyaert

Like the previous volume, Future/Past doesn't deliver on the potential that I see in the "all new" Atom, Ryan Choi. What makes him interesting is his academic background (okay, maybe as a college instructor I'm a little biased there) and the setting of Ivy Town, a place where so much mad science has been practiced that "normal" is a meaningless term. And I liked the cast of characters Gail Simone and John Byrne set up in volume one, Ryan's eccentric fellow professors who all play poker together.

This guy's research credentials had better be amazing, given how awful a teacher he is. Here I am slaving away in adjunct-land, and this awful guy has a tenure-track position at an Ivy!
from The All New Atom #7 (art by Mike Norton & Andy Owens)

The first story collected here, "The Man Who Swallowed Eternity," promises time-travel shenanigans, but is really depressingly straightforward. Ryan is told by a Linear Man* to turn in a guy if he asks Ryan for help, the guy appears and Ryan doesn't turn him in, the Linear Man comes back and Ryan persuades him to not kill the guy anyway. That's it, but somehow it takes two issues to play out. The fact that the Linear Man sends cowboys after Ryan, or that Ryan and the fugitive end up in a dystopian future Ivy Town, are just irrelevant side-shows. Neat ideas in this story, but nothing neat is done with them.

That said, Mike Norton does good, slick, action-filled artwork. Wish he was the primary artist for the series...
from The All New Atom #7 (art by Mike Norton & Andy Owens)

The second story, "Jia," feels like a misstep for the book at this stage: a girl Ryan loved from afar asks him to come back to Hong Kong to help deal with an abusive husband, who used to bully Ryan... only she neglected to mention that the husband is already dead but still angry! Ryan's bullied-nerd background is dull and stereotypical, and Jia's portrayal as a woman being fought over by two men is pretty surprising coming from the writer who coined the term "Women in Refrigerators," especially given the last twist in the story. The three-issue detour back to Hong Kong is mistimed for a book that's barely done much with its actual setting thus far. Let's see more of Ivy Town! Most of the book's recurring cast doesn't even appear in this volume, unfortunately. Establish your world, then take a break from it.

...as opposed to Eddy Barrows, who is terrible at drawing Asian faces. (Or maybe just faces.)
from The All New Atom #10 (art by Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott)

So far The All New Atom isn't really delivering on its potential. Hopefully this happens in the third volume... because we're running out of volumes, as it only lasted four!

Next Week: Blue Beetle has to Reach for the Stars!

* Since when are the Linear Men murderous jerks, anyway?

16 May 2017

Hugos 2017 [Prelude]: Saga, Book One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Comic hardcover, 504 pages
Published 2014 (contents: 2012-14)

Acquired December 2014
Read April 2017
Saga, Book One

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Lettering+Design: Fonografiks

For years now I've been claiming I was going to vote in the Hugos, the fan award for the best in science fiction and fantasy. I'm almost never up-to-date in the field, and the Hugos seem like a fun way to find out what's at the top these days. Plus, you get to make lists! Ever year I find some kind of excuse: too busy, too many racists in the finalists, and so on. But this year, I resolved I would finally do it. I'll be chronicling my Hugo journey here on this blog, as I try to read all the finalists for Best Novel, Best Graphic Story, Best Related Work, Best Short Story, Best Novella, and Best Novelette prior to the July 15th deadline.

Saga, Book One isn't a finalist for the Hugos this year, but Volume 6 is, which gives me the impetus to finally read Book One, which collects Volumes 1-3, and which I've had for a few years now. I've heard Saga compared to an adult version of Star Wars, and it really is in a way that few space operas are. Like, you could call Battlestar Galactica or The Expanse "adult" versions of Star Wars, but they're not really-- they're too "grounded." Star Wars isn't really science fiction (in some senses of sf, anyway), it's space fantasy: it's got ghosts and magic and bizarre, implausible aliens. Saga has these in spades: its aliens are humans with animal parts, or maybe even just animals, and its robots look like humans with tvs for heads, and one of the main characters is a ghost, and there's a cat who says "LYING" whenever it hears someone lie. But it's adult: there's swearing and viscera and sex and all the gory details of pregnancy and prostitution.

Yet it's not the immature kind of "adult": the sex and violence and so one give the story weight and heft, and elevate it into something fully itself. Saga may remind you of Star Wars or Romeo and Juliet or Battlestar Galactica in some ways, but it's not trying to be any of them. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have created something really unique, with star-crossed romance (the main characters are from the opposite sides of a deadly war), pathos (there's a bit with Lying Cat that was just heart-wrenching), and the right amount of kookiness (the main characters bond over a cheap paperback romance novel that turns out to have a deeper meaning).

Despite the darkness of it, it's beautiful: Fiona Staples I don't think had done much before Saga, but as in Y: The Last Man, Brian Vaughan has found the perfect artistic collaborator for the story he's telling. Horrifying creatures, human emotion, forbidding vistas, beautiful emptiness, all are rendered perfectly by Staples. A lot of depth comes from the narration, which hits the balance between corniness and insight, and is hand-written by Staples herself, the perfect finishing touch. Everything about the book is beautifully done, down to the page and font design by Fonografiks. (The deluxe hardcover has a very in-depth making-of feature, which I really enjoyed. Both Vaughan and Staples have fascinating processes.)

The sprawling story (seriously, there's not just our main characters, and their daughter, but also the parents of one of them, and a ghost, and the bounty hunter chasing them and his companions, and a robot prince, and a pair of investigative journalists, and probably others I'm forgetting) moves in genuinely inventive and surprising ways across in first eighteen issues, and I finished it eager to see where it would go next.

Next Week: Visiting a Broken Earth, in N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season!

15 May 2017

Review: The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

Before we begin, I want to point out that my last-ever review of The Avengers: The Lost Episodes has gone up at Unreality SF. I've really enjoyed this series, and I will miss it. A beautifully written, performed, and produced slice of the 1960s here in the 2010s. Like I said in this review, it captured everything I enjoyed about the old black-and-white 30-minute Danger Mans back in the day.

Hardcover, 990 pages
Published 1994 (contents: 1841-1994)

Acquired March 2008
Read March 2017
The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF
edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

A thousand-page anthology devoted to a subgenre feels like an argument to me. A shorter book would claim to be nothing more than a sampling, while even a thousand-page book devoted to whole genre of science fiction couldn't rightly claim comprehensiveness. But with one thousand pages and over sixty stories from a single subgenre, The Ascent of Wonder can claim to be defining that subgenre's entire form and purpose. Unfortunately, it gets off to a rough start: I found the introductions (there are three!) by Gregory Benford and Kathryn Cramer more befuddling than illuminating, but I keyed in on a passage from David Hartwell's introduction: "Hard sf is about the beauty of truth. It is a metaphorical or symbolic representation of the wonder at the perception of truth that is experienced at the moment of scientific discovery" (30). I don't know that I entirely agree, but it's an intriguing formulation that explains why Hartwell and Cramer picked the stories they did for this anthology.

Judging by the stories included here, Hartwell and Cramer's definition of hard sf is a lot more capacious than my own. I love Cordwainer Smith, and "No, No, Not Rogov!" is indeed about the "perception of truth that is experienced at the moment of scientific discovery," but the inclusion of stories like this make me think that definition isn't specific enough-- I don't think Smith cares about science except as a source of beautiful imagery and fantastic ideas, and if sf is to be "hard" I feel like it needs something more than that. It's not that Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" or Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore's "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" or Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question" are bad stories, or even stories uninterested in science, but it's that they're not invested in following the implications of actual science in a way that, say, Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" is-- a story that despite its flaws (or maybe because of them) epitomized the hard sf ethos of logic over all else. There are times I found myself wishing Hartwell and Cramer had included some kind of counterpoint story: if "Nine Lives" by Ursula K. Le Guin (a story that has clones in it, but no science behind them) or "The Very Slow Time Machine" by Ian Watson (which has a neat concept at its heart, but not as far as I can tell, one from actual science) or "The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told" by Arthur C. Clarke (which is an unfunny joke about unfunny jokes) are all hard sf, then what isn't? Show me the other side of the subgenre so I can see its edges more clearly.

That said, with over 150 years of stories to pick from, Cramer and Hartwell assembled an excellent collection of stories, and despite some dubious enclosures, I do feel I understand the parameters and possibilities of hard sf more than I did before reading. Some were by authors I knew and loved already: James Blish's "Beep" has a clever and interesting conceit that would make Steven Moffat's head spin. Donald Kingsbury's "To Bring in the Steel" was a surprising tale of a Paris Hilton-esque media floozy discovering a new side of herself on an asteroid mine; after enjoying Psychohistorical Crisis so much, I ought to seek out more of his work. "Waterclap" was an interesting Isaac Asimov story I hadn't read before, but let down by the fact that Asimov can imagine a moon colony and an underwater colony, but can't imagine a woman having any role in either outside of childbearing... in 1970! Le Guin's "The Author of the Acacia Seeds" wasn't a story, but had neat enough ideas (about ant language!) to succeed regardless. And I'm always happy to reread James Blish's "Surface Tension," which is in my sci-fi top five. David Brin's "What Continues, What Fails..." shows science fiction at its best as well, combining future reproduction with black hole physics to deliver a testimony for the human need to reproduce and leave a mark on the universe. (I did appreciate that unlike most anthologists, they included the contextual material with Rudyard Kipling's "With the Night Mail," though I wish they hadn't dumped it all at the end, after the actual story.)

There was the occasional outright bad one: Rudy Rucker's "Message Found in a Copy of Flatland" was sort of a non-story, not doing anything that Flatland didn't do itself; I got the feeling that it was in the book because being a novel, Flatland itself couldn't be. And James P. Hogan's "Making Light" is an unfunny joke stretched out way too long with dubious claims to be science fiction, much less hard sf. I think it's only in here because Hogan didn't write much short fiction, so Cramer and Hartwell had limited options (his novel Inherit the Stars is probably one of the best examples of the subgenre).

I was kind of a sucker for stories involving academia, I guess for obvious reasons. "Davy Jones' Ambassador" by Raymond Z. Gallun was surprisingly interesting, a tale of a professor (who's married to a dean) chasing a giant leviathan. I particularly loved Katherine Maclean's "The Snowball Effect," a rare sociological hard sf tale about a sociology department head defending his program against budget cuts by an overeager administrator by accidentally transforming a local knitting club into a global power. Michael F. Flynn's "Mammy Morgan Played the Organ; Her Daddy Beat the Drum" was surprisingly moving tale of a physics professor hunting ghosts as he destroys his academic career.

This review just scratches the surface of the good stuff contained within. (I want to read more Bob Shaw and Gordon R. Dickson now, for example, and I was very glad to see H. G. Wells's "The Land Ironclads" in this context.) Presumably no anthology is perfect, but I suspect this one comes closer than most: it's probably a better sf anthology than any I've read outside of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame series. I discovered a lot of new stories, developed a new appreciation for a subgenre I've thought little about, and have some new authors to look up.

12 May 2017

Remembering As I Go: First and Last Days

I turned in my last set of final grades at the University of Connecticut this week. I'm leaving after nine years there-- I don't think I've done anything for nine years before in my whole life. These two classes marked my nineteenth and twentieth at that institution. People keep saying "goodbye" to me, but I'm actually not going anywhere for a little bit; we won't move until July, and I have an article I need to write, and I work better on campus than my couch, so I'll still keep coming to campus even though my official reasons to be there are slowly fading away.

I guess it feels appropriate to fade away instead of disappearing in a clean break, because as I nostalgically think back to my arrival at UConn in August 2008, it's much more of a fading in than a sudden arrival. What surprises me is how much I don't remember of my coming to UConn, just bits and fragments of what was surely at the time a hugely momentous change. I'm sure I could comb back through facebook and my old LiveJournal(!) to remind myself, but there's so much at this moment that's just vagueness. What was my first week of teaching like? My first graduate seminar? My first encounters with all the people who became some of the closest friends I ever made?

I remember the party the English Department held for incoming graduate students, in the backyard of the graduate director's house. Mostly I remember having a conversation with an M.A. student a year ahead of me about Stanislaw Lem. A year later, he wasn't readmitted to the Ph.D. and he left. I think that was the only conversation we ever had.

I remember the next day, a Friday, where all the new graduate students were oriented on how to be graduate students. The only thing I remember from that day was talking to one of my fellow new students about his living situation-- he had a weird roommate he'd only just met the night before who did nothing other than play videogames. He was sure it was going to be fine. When I talked to him on Monday, he'd broken the lease and moved out.

I remember the week-long orientation for new teaching assistants, the first of eight I would attend. (The other seven would be on staff, though.) I remember feeling pretty good and pretty set about teaching my own class for the first time the following week-- until Wednesday, when we spent all day at the library learning about information literacy. It was terrible, all the worst parts of my B.S. in high school education distilled into discussions of scaffolding and psychological development. At the end of the day, we were given time in a computer lab to write assignment prompts incorporating information literacy, and that was when I realized I couldn't write an assignment prompt incorporating information literacy because I had no idea how to write an assignment prompt of any sort, and I couldn't write an assignment prompt because I had no idea what my course was going to be about, and I couldn't design my course because I hadn't written a syllabus and schedule, and I couldn't write a syllabus and schedule because three days into orientation, I had absolutely no idea about what was expected of us.

I remember taking Chaucer as my first graduate seminar, with no idea that "medieval studies" was, like, its own thing with its own hardcore devotees, and here was me coming in, having not even remembered/realized that all the readings with be in a different language.

I remember assigning my students to read the first chapter of John Berger's Ways of Seeing because it was one of the only things in the Freshman English textbook I'd ever read before. Nine years later, I still teach it almost every semester that I do what is now called "First-Year Writing," and I suspect I will continue to do so. I remember assigning Susan Bordo's "Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body" later that semester, and the overjoyed reaction of the bro in class-- finally, someone talking about the visual expectations placed on men!

I remember that our research methods class, on how to be a graduate student, met late afternoon on Thursdays, and how all of us harrowed first-year graduate students would adjourn from the class straight to the bar afterwards.

I remember that one of the assignments I gave in my Freshman English class was this weird, cobbled together thing of texts about "journeys" I liked: a quarter of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, a story from Ursula K. Le Guin's Four Ways to Forgiveness, and Lost in Translation. A woman in class said, "I didn't really get all the sci-fi stuff in Four Ways to Forgiveness at first and then I remembered Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century and I got it and I was fine."

I remember the weird trajectory of my teaching methods class, which began with one professor who had her baby prematurely and so got merged with another class taught by a professor with a very different affect and approach, one maybe not altogether suited to first-year teachers. A group of students from my section started secretly drinking mimosas in the class. There was one graduate student who bought donuts for the whole class every week. One week our new professor was gone for a conference, but he tapped another professor to sub for us, and class devolved into a bitching session. The next week, our normal professor came back and was completely on the defensive about the way he taught our class, as we'd been ratted out by the substitute. He became my advisor in the end, and the "snitch" professor a good friend of mine. (The pregnant professor ended up on my committee.)

I remember not going to the graduate student Halloween party because I became incapacitated by indecision over putting a costume together. I ate half the Skyline dip I'd assembled myself that night. The next day, however, I went with a group of other graduate students on the first of many pilgrimages to the Mohegan Sun Casino breakfast buffet.

I remember wearing a Santa hat to the final I was required to give, as inappropriate as it was for a writing class. "Santa T.A.," said one of my students-- I'm pretty sure the same one who had started calling me "T.A. Steve" in class.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, friendships began to emerge and evolve, as did my last relationship with the department as a whole. That stuff I don't really remember, I'm sort of surprised to realize, I just know that as of a year or two later, it just was and it continued to grow.

It's all coming to end now. I think if I'd left a year or two ago, I'd be more sad about it. But of that cohort of friends I made over my first two years in the program, I'm the only one left-- everyone else I like has already got their jobs and moved on to different places. Now when I eat lunch in the graduate student lounge (which they thankfully still let me do) and attempt the crossword, I'm surrounded by people who are all doing what I was doing 3-8 years ago. I feel like a relic of a bygone age, constantly sounding like a grandfather who goes, "BACK IN MY DAY..." When I leave, it won't feel like leaving, because my UConn already left me.

11 May 2017

Review: Hartmann the Anarchist by E. Douglas Fawcett

In August 2015, with a pile of over 165 unreviewed books, some of which I'd read as far back as December 2012, I began "Backlog Thursdays," picking out a book from that massive pile to finally review, starting with Richard Meier & Partners. Now my pile of unreviewed books is down to a mere 50, and while in 2015, I often struggled to have a book review up in time for "New Book Mondays," I've been so prolific a reader over the past year that now my buffer for Mondays extends out to May 2018! With last week's review of The Wasp Factory, all the books left in my to-review pile are academic books, by which I mean books I read for the purposes of teaching or scholarship. To rebalance things somewhat, I'm retiring Backlog Thursdays in favor of "Academic Thursdays": from now on, on Thursdays I'll review a book I read for the purposes of teaching or scholarship, alternating between books I've read recently and books from before August 2015. Hopefully I'll clear out that backlog yet! I begin with a book of dubious literary merit from the Victorian era,

Hardcover, 214 pages
Published 1975 (originally 1893)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2013
Hartmann the Anarchist; or, The Doom of the Great City
by E. Douglas Fawcett
illustrated by Fred T. Jane

1893 was a dangerous year to be in London. There were at least four novels that I know of where revolutionaries destroyed significant chunks of London with air-ships as their weapons: George Griffith's Angel of the Revolution, Mr. Dick's James Ingleton, W. Graham Moffat and John White's What's the World Coming To?, and this book, E. Douglas Fawcett's Hartmann the Anarchist.

Set in 1920, Hartmann is told from the perspective of Stanley, a socialist who favors a peaceful transition of British society-- unlike many of his friends and associates in the movement, who call for violence as the only means of truly creating reform. Stanley begins hearing rumors that Rudolf Hartmann, an anarchist and engineer believed killed in 1910 after an abortive attempt to assassinate the German Crown Prince, is actually alive and has successfully solved the problem of heavier-than-air flight. Stanley ends up entangled with one of Hartmann's associates, a bomber named Burnett, and on the run from the police, only to be saved by Hartmann himself, via his aeronëf, the Attila. Hartmann, assisted by a German named Schwartz, begins laying waste to London with dynamite, burning down half the city including several major landmarks, but Stanley discovers that Hartmann's bombing killed his own mother and passes that information back to Hartmann, who in his grief and guilt, destroys the Attila. However, the destruction still paves the way for reform and modernization, the country rebuilding better than it was before and finally addressing the problems of the labor movement.

A lot of the revolutionary science fiction of the 1890s struggles with whether or not violence in the name of social change is justified. In Hartmann the Anarchist, Stanley-- and the reader-- are left repulsed at Hartmann's indiscriminate violence. Those of you who want violence, the novel seems to say, this is terrible future you are imagining. But Hartmann can escape the terrible nature of revolutionary change through the air-ship: because of his distance, it is easier for him to view the deaths he causes as theoretical necessities. Hartmann's training as an engineer gives him both physical and emotional distance from violence. Stanley's narration ends up decrying Hartmann for his perspective once Hartmann's mother dies: "You felt not for the thousands sacrificed for a theory; feel now for the report of your plans wrecked beyond the hope of repair. Feel, too, for a loved mother, the sole creature you ever cared for, but whom your reckless and futile savagery has immolated!" (210)

But Hartmann the Anarchist can have its revolutionary cake and eat it too. As in so many of the future-war and -revolution stories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, I observe what you might call "the Independence Day effect": part of the pleasure of this tale is seeing familiar landmarks destroyed. (Complete, in this case, with illustrations from Fred T. Jane of Jane's Fighting Ships fame.) The reader is mean to be horrified at the human cost, but delight in the pleasures of destruction as well.* Moreover, Hartmann's destructive reign leads to the exact reforms Stanley believed needed to come through gradual evolution. After the destruction of the Attila, Stanley informs the reader, "You know… how order was once more completely reestablished, how the wreckage of that fell twenty-four hours was slowly replaced by modern buildings, how gradually the Empire recovered from the shock, and how dominant henceforth became the great problems of labour" (213). In the fashion of what James Scott would call "authoritarian high modernism," even the architecture must be knocked down in order to be built up again, and destruction having been wrought, reform can follow. Conveniently, though, Hartmann the Anarchist lets the socialist displace the blame for the "necessary" violence onto other parties.

* Wells, of course, would subvert this pleasure in The War of the Worlds and The War in the Air.

10 May 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: All-New All-Different DC, Part IX: Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2007 (contents: 2006-07)
Borrowed from the library
Read February 2017
Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Colorist: Patricia Mulvihill
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

This quirky volume unites a number of has-been DC characters: Infectious Lass of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, Anthro the First Boy, Captain Fear the pirate, Doctor 13 the Ghost Breaker, Traci 13 his sorceress daughter, I... Vampire!, Genius Jones who can answer any question if you pay him a dime, the ghost of Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart, and Julius the talking Nazi gorilla of the Primate Patrol. What brings them together is that, after Infinite Crisis, all of them are going to be deleted from continuity by the writers of 52, as they clean up the DC universe and streamline out some of its weirdness or forgotten components.

And they never appeared in an adventure again.
from Tales of the Unexpected vol. 2 #8

I don't mean this metaphorically, I mean this literally. This book is about Doctor 13 and company fighting Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, and Greg Rucka.

09 May 2017

Review: The Transformers: Dark Cybertron, Volume 2 by John Barber, James Roberts, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2014 (contents: 2014)
Acquired March 2015
Read May 2017
The Transformers: Dark Cybertron, Volume 2

Written by: John Barber and James Roberts
Art by: James Raiz, Atilio Rojo, Livio Ramondelli, Andrew Griffith, Alex Milne, Brendan Cahill, Brian Shearer, and Phil Jimenez
Colors by: Josh Perez and Livio Ramondelli
Letters by: Tom B. Long

This reminds me of nothing so much as DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths (see here and here for my takes on that story): a giant crossover premised on a universal threat that dwarfs investment in or by any particular character, which shifts in such a way that it feels like its vamping to fill up space. After volume 1 spent way too long on the Necrotitan threatening Iacon, the evil zombie city robot is destroyed in this volume, then everyone stands around for a while, then Shockwave reveals his real plan of merging the universe's time and space into a single point. It reminded me a whole lot of the lurching plotting of Crisis, where the Anti-Monitor would be doing one thing, then a different thing, then no thing, then traveling back in time to undo time itself! Only as skilled as they are, John Barber and James Roberts are no Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. And I mean that in the kindest of ways: Wolfman and Pérez could never do the stuff that Barber and Roberts do in the Transformers ongoings, but similarly, Barber and Roberts's skills don't lend themselves to omniversal destruction-style storytelling.

A girl!?!
from The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #26 (art by James Raiz)

When Dark Cybertron does shine, it's in the character moments, though sometimes these are crushed under the weight of the story, and I'm more interested for what implications these character moments will have in More than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise than for what's done with them here. Despite having twelve issues to play with, too many of Dark Cybertron's story arcs move too quickly; what happens with Bumblebee and Megatron, for example, feels underdeveloped, as does Orion Pax's decision to reclaim the mantle of Optimus Prime. On the other hand, I look forward to seeing what happens to Megatron and Rodimus and Prowl based on events here.

from The Transformers: Dark Cybertron Finale (art by Phil Jimenez, Brendan Cahill, and Brian Shearer)
Next Week: After a whole seven months (I started writing these up last October!), I'm all caught up on my Transformers comics reviews-- I'm still reading volume 6 of More than Meets the Eye-- so it's time to cycle onwards to a new "reading project." In this case, my attempt to read all of the finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards!

08 May 2017

Review: On the Government of the Living by Michel Foucault

Hardcover, 365 pages
Published 2014 (contents: 1980)

Acquired September 2014
Read May 2017
On the Government of the Living: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1979-1980
by Michel Foucault

At the beginning of this series of lectures (God, I hope I'm revered enough a professor someday for my lectures to be recorded, transcribed, and published, though mine will have many more Doctor Who jokes than Foucault's), Foucault promises something that I thought would be very interesting. He tells the story of Septimius Severus, a Roman emperor who ostensibly presided in an audience hall whose ceiling was painted with the stars in the sky at the moment of his birth. This is because, Foucault, asserts, there is an intrinsic relationship between power and knowledge: "it would [...] be very difficult to find an example of a power that is exercised without being accompanied, one way or another, by a manifestation of truth" (4). Not necessarily utilitarian knowledge (because surely astrology does not make Severus a better emperor), but just that power requires "a ritual of manifestation of the truth" (6). To me this sounded fascinating: one of my recurrent interests is the way scientific knowledge is deployed to justify violence, and there seems to be a connection there in that so often (in fiction at least) it matters less that actual science has been utilized, and more that someone has said that science is at work.

It seems a potent idea (for example, Roger Green discusses alethurgy, Foucault's term for the way we make something true, in the context of President Trump), but as I feel often happens with Foucault, the book I imagined based on his stated project is nowhere near as interesting as the one I got. Which, to be fair, could be my fault and not his, but On the Government of the Living mostly consists of detailed readings of Oedipus Rex and early Christian practices of repentance. These were not interesting to me at all. Near the end of the lecture series he gets to the idea that the way Christianity requires one to know oneself in order to repent is a precondition for power: "the need to drag interiority from itself, to bring it out in order to display it in a relationship of exteriority and obedience" (308). But this insight comes at the end of three hundred pages of monotony, and it was too little, too late.

(Also: never trust an academic who says they have "limited" their critical apparatus to the necessities, as the general editors of this series claim (xv). Most of the twelve lectures here have at least sixty end notes, some as many as ninety, drowning the text in incomprehensible detail. One shudders to think what the unlimited critical apparatus looks like!)

05 May 2017

Review: The Children's Crusade by Neil Gaiman et al.

Last year, I read DC's long-time-coming collection of the 1990s Vertigo crossover The Children's Crusade. At the time, I remarked that it actually made me more likely to want to pick up the original issues, not less, as the collection replaced the middle five of the seven issues with newly written content, to provide a smoother reading experience. So what was the original like, if it seemingly necessitated such a reworking?

The answer is that it's actually not that bad. I mean, these stories don't cohere tremendously, or seem to have much of a point, but I'd argue that's no different from many of DC's 1990s annual crossovers, like Eclipso: The Darkness Within, Armageddon 2001, or Bloodlines. Though, I suppose DC hasn't collected any of those, so maybe that tells us something. In my comments here I'll focus on the issues not collected in Free Country collection, as I covered the bookends pretty well in my original review.

In first bookend, The Children's Crusade #1, we learn that children are disappearing, spirited away to a mysterious realm known as Free Country, and that five special children are being targeted next: the children principal characters in five Vertigo ongoings of the early 1990s (Suzy from Black Orchid, Maxine from Animal Man, Tefé from Swamp Thing, Dorothy from Doom Patrol, and Tim from The Books of Magic). Edwin and Charles, the dead boy detectives, set out to find and protect these five children. You might expect that these stories would be pretty formulaic, with an agent of Free Country coming and taking each character in turn, but they're actually reasonably distinct from each other.

The Black Orchid story, for example, inserts an agent of Free Country into the history of the series, showing that the mini-Black Orchid known as Suzy has actually met Junkin Buckley repeatedly before, and that he was responsible for some of her decisions (unbeknownst to the readers at the time). Then he returns for Suzy one last time, recruiting her to Free Country. On the other hand, the Animal Man story is mostly part of the ongoing events of that series (somewhat confusingly; there are lots of characters who are never clearly introduced to the new reader), but at the very end, when Maxine ends up in a tight spot, Jack Rabbit convinces her to escape with him to Free Country. (And to leave a clone of herself behind, an occurrence that would be expanded upon in The Children's Crusade #2. I don't know if this ended up playing into the events of the Animal Man ongoing.)

At this point, I figured each annual would end with a child recruited into Free Country, ready to play their part in the big crossover, so I was surprised when in the Swamp Thing tale, Tefé goes to Free Country on page 8, and most of the issue (they're all about 58 pages long) concerns her adventures in Free Country with Maxine, and ends with her leaving Free Country, clearing up a point that confused me in the Free Country collection. The way Free Country is depicted here doesn't really line up with what we see in the bookends, but then again, much of it seems to be an illusion created for the benefit of Tefé and Maxine.

The Doom Patrol story is a lot like the Swamp Thing one, showing both Dorothy's recruitment and the events that drive her back home, only of all of these, this one made the least sense to someone not reading the relevant ongoing. Like, why does Dorothy normally hang out with feral children who live in the woods?

Finally, the Books of Magic story shakes things up again, but in a way that's baffling: it has two parallel stories, one about Tim being kidnapped into a mystery realm by a mystery assassin, none of which is ever explained, and one about the Free Country agent sent to recruit him wandering London, which was actually pretty cute. I guess maybe the kidnap plot is a set-up for something that happens in Tim's ongoing series? But I don't even get how he escapes, he just does.

In my review of the collected edition, I complained that in the middle chapter, the dead boy detectives just pointlessly turn up too late to help Maxine and that's about it, but in the original it's actually worse. Their quest having been set up in the first bookend, they don't even appear in the first two middle chapters-- then in the third, they claim they got to both recruitments a moment too late even though we never saw them. It's a little goofy, and of course they fail to accomplish anything in the chapters in which they do appear-- but such, I suppose, is the very nature of the crossover, whose design requires they can't make it to Free Country until the final issue. Amusingly, we see Tim travel into Free Country in both the Books of Magic issue and in The Children's Crusade #2, and the dead boy detectives are shown to be there in the second instance, when they clearly weren't in the first!

The final part isn't really rendered any more enjoyable by reading the middle issues. Some parts of it make more sense because we've seen them dramatized, but other ones make less sense, because the collection fleshed them out. It's still kind of a disappointment, because the dead boy detectives are set up as the main characters, yet Tim Hunter saves the day-- and it's still a disappointment even if you focus on Tim because he doesn't actually do anything, he saves it by accident! Still, Gaiman and his co-writers on the final issue provide some good jokes at least. Actually, they're probably the best part.

So, overall, this is a weird story, and not one I can particularly recommend-- you probably really are better off reading the Free Country collection with its new middle chapter. The original issues are much more part of their ongoing series than they are parts of The Children's Crusade, as they almost all read just fine without the bookends, but not vice versa.

The Children's Crusade originally appeared in The Children's Crusade #1-2, Black Orchid Annual #1, Animal Man Annual vol. 1 #1, Swamp Thing Annual vol. 2 #7, Doom Patrol Annual #2, and Arcana: The Books of Magic Annual #1 (Dec. 1993–Jan. 1994). The story was written by Neil Gaiman, Dick Foreman, Jamie Delano, Nancy A. Collins, Rachel Pollack, John Ney Rieber, and Alisa Kwitney. It was illustrated by Chris Bachalo, Mike Barreiro, Gary Amaro, Jason Minor, Charlie Adlard, Phillip Hester, Bruce McCorkindale, Russell Braun, Tom Sutton, Rafael Kayanan, Mark Buckingham, Dennis Cramer, Kim DeMulder, Mark Wheatley, Peter Gross, and Peter Snejbjerg. Colors were provided by Daniel Vozzo, George Freeman, Tatjana Wood, and Suart Chaifetz, and the issues were lettered by John Costanza, Clem Robins, Tim Harkins, John Workman, and Richard Starkings. The crossover was edited by Stuart Moore, Tom Peyer, and Tom Stathis.

04 May 2017

Review: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Trade paperback, 184 pages
Published 1998 (originally 1984)
Acquired March 2008

Read January 2015
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Were books about unpleasant children doing unpleasant things in vogue in the 1980s? This made me think of Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy, and I feel like I've read other similar books. In any case, though the ending revelation went some way to alleviating/explaining some of my quibbles with the book, I overall found this to be a very well written evocation of something I had no desire to read about. So, kudos to Iain Banks I guess, but I won't be rushing to reread or recommend this.

03 May 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: All-New All-Different DC, Part VIII: Blue Beetle: Road Trip

Comic trade paperback, 143 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2006-07)
Borrowed from the library
Read February 2017
Blue Beetle: Road Trip

Writers: John Rogers & Keith Giffen
Artists: Cully Hamner, Rafael Albuquerque, Duncan Rouleau, Casey Jones
Colorist: Guy Major 
Letterers: Phil Balsman, Pat Brosseau, Jared K. Fletcher

This book is still a blast. Co-writer Keith Giffen departs halfway through the volume, but John Rogers is so good on his own you wouldn't even notice. The book opens up with a semi-flashback issue that clarifies exactly what happened to Jaime leading up to the One Year Later gap for those who didn't read Infinite Crisis (or those of us whose memories are vague). As always, some of the best bits are the jokes:
This book made me realize that I miss these versions of these characters.
from Blue Beetle vol. 8 #7 (script by John Rogers, art by Cully Hamner)

That's not the only trip into the past here, as soon Jaime and Brenda are on the road with mysterious-gruff-and-lovable mercenary the Peacemaker to find out about the history of the Blue Beetle from Danielle Garrett, granddaughter of the original Blue Beetle. The book is good about dolling out both solutions and mysteries-- everything Jaime learns about the mysterious scarab fused to his spine only leaves him with more to learn.

02 May 2017

Review: The Transformers: Dark Cybertron, Volume 1 by John Barber, James Roberts, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2014 (contents: 2013-14)
Acquired March 2015
Read April 2017
The Transformers: Dark Cybertron, Volume 1

Written by: John Barber and James Roberts
Art by: Brendan Cahill, Phil Jimenez, Andrew Griffith, Atilio Rojo, James Raiz, Livio Ramondelli, Nick Roche, and Robert Gill
Colors by: J. P. Bove, Josh Perez, Livio Ramondelli, and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Letters by: Tom B. Long and Gilberto Lazcazno

Between Dark Prelude and the potential frisson of two series I enjoy meeting up, I was really looking forward to Dark Cybertron. But six issues in, and it hasn't really gone very far. The two casts haven't even really met yet, except that Orion Pax, normally a recurring in Robots in Disguise, has gone off on an away mission with a couple characters from More than Meets the Eye. Oh, and I guess the completely nondescript friends of Orion are temporarily in the crew of the Lost Light. But most of the Robots in Disguise characters are still doing their own thing on Cybertron, while the More than Meets the Eye characters are off doing their own thing out in space. (All three groups are, of course, responding to actions initiated by Shockwave in the previous volume of Robots in Disguise, but exactly how what's going on in More than Meets the Eye links in hasn't yet been made clear.)

Worse than that, the story has the feel of one artificially stretched out to twelve issues, instead of a story so big it needed twelve issues to be told. Shockwave reanimates a dead Titan and... then it just stands around in the wilderness a lot while Autobots and Decepticons shoot at it, but don't really get anywhere. Orion, Rodimus, Cyclonus, and the other characters in the Dead Universe move through it looking for Shockwave... very slowly... The Lost Light crew doesn't even appear in some issues! In the last two issues, things start happening, but it sure took a long time for those things to come along. It doesn't help that some of the many artists are poor at choreographing action when it does happen. (Or that Starscream and Bumblebee have radically new head designs that are just wrong.)

Like, how can you take a guy whose whole shtick is being yellow and give him a blue head? Also Prowl is awful mean given most of Bumblebee's leadership "failures" were his fault.
from The Transformers: Robots in Disguise vol. 1 #23 (art by Atilio Rojo)

It has it moments. The clash between Orion's staid crew and the Lost Light losers is of course good fun:
The ringtone is actually shown in use in volume 2.
from The Transformers: Dark Cybertron #1 (art by Phil Jimenez & Andrew Griffith)

Or that fact that Rodimus has a ship that looks like his head (why? no one ever explains this), or the Lost Light crew going on a mission inside the body of a giant Titan, or some of the grace notes of the characterization of Arcee and the Dinobots and such (which Barber is always good at). But mostly this feels like six issues of build-up and gratuitous action; hopefully volume 2 pulls it together in a way that makes volume 1 retroactively more compelling.

Next Week: More darkness! More Cybertron! Volume 2!

01 May 2017

Reading Roundup Wrapup: April 2017

Pick of the Month: The Lost Embassy by Adam Fergusson. This was another tough one; I read a few very good books but none that tipped over into outright greatness. So really, I was making a nearly random choice between The Lost Embassy, Saga, Book One, and Hot Death, Cold Soup. I went with The Lost Embassy in the end (review coming next month), a surprisingly delightful combination of farce and tragedy.

All books read:
1. The Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Volume 5 by John Barber
2. Hot Death, Cold Soup: Twelve Short Stories by Manjula Padmanabhan
3. Doctor Who: Snow White and the Seven Keys to Doomsday by Justin Richards
4. The All New Atom: The Hunt For Ray Palmer! by Gail Simone with Roger Stern
5. The Transformers: Dark Cybertron, Volume 1 by John Barber and James Roberts
6. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
7. The Lost Embassy by Adam Fergusson
8. Wiped!: Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes by Richard Molesworth
9. Spider-Man: The Lizard Sanction by Diane Duane
10. The Book of Gin by Richard Barnett
11. The Multiversity by Grant Morrison
12. Convergence: Crisis, Book 1 by Stuart Moore, David Gallaher, Marc Andreyko, Marv Wolfman, and Jeff Parker
13. Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover
14. Saga, Book One by Brian K. Vaughan

All books acquired:
1. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson
2. Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations, Book I: The Persistence of Memory by David Mack
3. The Multiversity by Grant Morrison

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 649 (down 2)
Books remaining on "To review" list: 44 (down 3)

Also please note that I have a review of Doctor Who: The Sontarans, where the first Doctor, Steven, and Sara face the clone armies, up on USF.

28 April 2017

This Sporting Life

I think my father wanted a different son.

Not that he was unhappy with the son he received, but that when he envisioned himself as a father he envisioned himself throwing pitches in the front yard while his son learned how to keep his eye on the ball. Alas, he got me, who as a child was too distracted to keep his eye on anything for long. We used to play ghost baseball with bases made out of wood. (I helpfully wrote on them all in marker, so that no one would confuse first base with third.) I am pretty sure his ghost runners always outscored mine.

This stock photo batter has about my skill level.
As a child, my parents enrolled me in a couple different sports: tee-ball and soccer. Tee-ball, I seem to recall, never went particularly well. At a certain point, the tee went away and it just became softball, and then it went even worse. I have trophies, of course, because I grew up in the "participation trophy" era, but even these have bad memories associated with them, because of course my last name is spelled wrong on all of them.

Soccer I was moderately more successful at, playing up until the sixth grade, I think. In the first year I played soccer, our team was a juggernaut, going 10-0 in regular season play and also 5-0 in two different tournaments. (Somewhere my mother has a newspaper article trumpeting our 20-0 record.) For the first game of the post-season tournament, our coach rented a limousine, and it deposited us on the field to cheering from our families.

We lost that game, and were eliminated from the tournament.

Coach Cornelius was an interesting character. A local home builder, he had no boy on the team, though his daughter was in my class at school. He once argued with a ref so vigorously, the ref ejected him from the game. I guess what I'm saying is, he took winning very seriously. In this level of soccer you are obligated to take anyone who wants to play, and obligated to play them for a minimum of two quarters.

So does this stock photo goalie.
Coach Cornelius always played me for two quarters and no more, and he always kept me at fullback (occasionally goalie), a position where the skill of our team meant I could be safely assured of never having contact with the ball. It's hard to blame him, since I am pretty sure I didn't really pay much attention to the game when I was in it. There was simply too much else going on on and around the soccer field.

Later, I ended up on a team coached by one Coach Parkinson, and I will say this for him: he honest-to-God tried with me. He placed me in a number of different positions-- I remember doing a lot of halfback with him-- and even tried to get me in a position to score. Bless him. I did come very close at least one time, but the enemy goalie was sufficiently good to stop me.

Both of my younger siblings ended up much more successful in their athletic endeavors; I remember going to their soccer games, and my parents would reward them financially for each goal. (I don't think they even got to the point of making me such an offer.)

"You know," I'd say as though it were a significant accomplishment, "I almost scored a goal once."