22 February 2019

"Noble and Umblemished Happiness": Shelving My Books

As previously mentioned, I've been organizing my books. I own a lot of them. 2,667 as of this writing according to my LibraryThing account. So many that I didn't have space for them to all be shelved when my wife and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Connecticut. I had hoped I could shelve them all when we moved in, but by the time we acquired the extra shelves needed, my book collection's size had grown even more.

I'm not sure what the last time was that all my books were shelved. I know when I lived in my own apartment 2008-10, pre-marriage, there was no point all my books were shelved; I didn't have anywhere near enough shelf space then, and my Star Trek books remained boxed the entire time. So it must have been before I moved out of my parents, but I know the last couple years of living there was a struggle to find the space. At least. So I don't know when all my books were last shelved, but it must have been since before 2007. March 2007 was when I finished logging all my books into LibraryThing; I had about 1,030 at the time.

When my wife and I were house-hunting, we knew we wanted a house with three or four bedrooms. One for us, one for guests, one to be her craft room, one to be my study. But even though we moved in in August 2017, things kept us pretty busy, and setting up house was a slow process (we didn't have a tv until January 2018, for example), and my study wasn't a priority. So most of my books languished in piles of boxes in my study until July 2018, when Hayley surprised me by organizing friends to assemble IKEA shelves while I was at a conference.

Since then, I've been shelving in fits and starts, working my way through my massive collection. I got a little bit done most weekends, and some weeknights when possible, extracting books from boxes and alphabetizing. In Connecticut, I'd segregated literary fiction from science fiction and fantasy; I decided to not do that here, which required more work. I started at A (specifically, with Daniel Abbott's How the Wizard Came to Oz) and kept going until I hit Z (Jack Zipes's The Great Fairy Tale Tradition). I would continuously find pockets of books I'd missed that required me to rearrange what I'd already done.

From there, it was on to tie-in fiction and nonfiction, then shared universe graphic novels (another change I introduced was folding standalone graphic novels into my main collection). My wife had bought five Billy bookshelves from IKEA; I ended up buying four more to house it all, alongside utilizing a couple bookcases we'd brought with it. Eight of the bookshelves are in my study (plus a little one), with two in the dining room, and two in our bedroom.

The moment where I shelved my very last books (DC comics too big to fit with my other DC comics, specifically Superman: Sunday Classics and the four volumes of The Annotated Sandman) was profoundly satisfying. For the first time in at least a decade, every book I owned had a place and it was in that place! It had only taken me seven months of slow and steady work.

I even managed to build in some slack, having a little bit of space at the end of every row, and even some blank rows here and there. I worked out that in my main shelving area, I have room for about 90 more books. Over the past year I acquired 72 books, but of course many of those were comics or Star Trek or for research, so they wouldn't go in that main area, meaning I should be set for a couple years at least.

I still wander among the shelves and just marvel at how nice it is to have everything in its proper place. The study is actually a good room for walking in circles while I shush Julian, and looking at the spines gives me something to focus on.

Hayley has requested I organize hers, though, so soon I will have more work to do.

* * *

This is the first set of "literature" shelves in my study, going from A to S. Like I said above, this mixes together literary fiction, sf&f, and comic books that don't fit into shared universes. I did this because it was beginning to feel silly that some of my, say, Doris Lessing novels would be on one shelf, and the rest on another. I also mixed in nonfiction if I bought it because the author wrote fiction I also owned. Like, I own M. T. Anderson's Symphony for the City of the Dead because it's by him, not because I care about the siege of Leningrad, so it seems like it belongs with my other Anderson books, not on my history shelf between Supergods and BBC VFX. I stored some mass market paperbacks sideways if it was more space-efficient.

The other side of the study finishes off my fiction, authors S-Z.

The rest of the shelves are filled with tie-in mass market paperbacks. (IKEA's Billy shelves are basically perfect for MMPBs if you buy two extra shelves per case.) The tie-ins go Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, with miscellaneous ones shoved in on the last shelf on the bottom right (e.g., Babylon 5, Ghost in the Shell, Stargate). I did shelve some tie-ins in with my main collection if I didn't have very many; for example, I only have one Babylon 5 comic so I just put it under its writer. Within each set of tie-ins, I broke it down into subseries, and then publication order within the subseries.

Finally the little shelf by my desk has reference books (e.g., the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology) and large academic anthologies (e.g., the Riverside Chaucer, my various Nortons and Longmans), as well as the five volumes of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (because I couldn't think of where else to put them). Underneath them goes extra complimentary copies of my own fiction.

The dining room is a mix. The left side shelf starts with Penguin Classics, which I organized by author birth date (right now that's from Giovanni Boccaccio, 1313 to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, 1938). I have a friend who organizes her entire collection that way, which seems neat but too much work, but doing Penguins that way seemed both worthwhile and doable. Clearly George Eliot belongs next to Herman Melville in some sense. After that comes nonfiction. First, biographies, memoirs, and other books focused on a single person, organized by subject birth date (from Hypatia, c. 350 to Ishmael Beah, 1980); that idea was inspired by the author birth date thing. Then history books, organized by date of subject (from Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts, c. 3,000 B.C.E. to Bringing Down Gaddafi, 2011). Other nonfiction is organized alphabetically by author, and then science books by Library of Congress catalog section. Some books are stored sideways because they're too tall. Plus there's some leftover nonfiction too big to fit anywhere else.

The right shelf is Star Trek hardcovers and trade paperbacks. I used to shelve these by series and release date, but I decided that wasn't worth the effort anymore; Star Trek mass markets had consistent spine designs that make publication order aesthetically pleasing, but that was rarely true for the larger format books. So now I'm shelving alphabetically by title (ignoring the words "Star Trek"). Then Doctor Who hardcovers, Doctor Who-adjacent books (e.g., Bernice Summerfield, Iris Wildthyme), and lastly, nonfiction about Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Star Wars.

The first bedroom shelf starts with Star Wars trade paperbacks and hardcovers, then Star Wars comics, Star Trek comics, DC trade paperbacks, Marvel trade paperbacks, and miscellaneous shared universe comics (e.g., Miracleman, Top 10). All of these are sorted by title.

The last bedroom shelf has most of my comics hardcovers, and other large comics. DC hardcovers, then Marvel hardcovers, then Doctor Who comics, and finally Avatar: The Last Airbender. I have to say these look very nice-- I don't think I've ever had more than a few of them shelved before-- but if this shelf falls over in the night, I might die.

* * *

When I posted about this on facebook, my brother observed, "I'm going to buy you a book but not give it to you." I replied that would be great, actually, because I would own the book but it would take up any space. He retorted, "It's going to blow your mind when you learn about libraries." I don't use libraries as much as I ought. Part of that is sort of a collectormania you clearly see evinced in this post: I like owning things, because then I can put the things that I own in neat little rows.

I used to get lots of books from the library, in fact. But while there was a point in my life I could read every book as soon as I got it, I eventually fell behind on reading the books I owned. (I don't know exactly when this was, but I created a file to track my "To read" list in August 2008.) When you own unread books, it's hard to justifying borrowing books to read them-- and I think I actually fell into a trap as a result. Because if I wanted to read a book, I couldn't justify borrowing it from the library. But that meant if I was going to actually read a book, I had to buy it. And so the ballooning of my collection began!

I own 2,667 books. But according to LibraryThing, 627 of the books in my personal library are also in my "To read" collection, so just under a quarter of my collection I haven't even read. I have a long way to go before I clear that backlog, but at least for now, I can see every one of those books.
It saddens me to think that I shall have to die with thousands of books unread that would have given me noble and unblemished happiness.
The Haunted Bookshop (1919) by Christopher Morley

21 February 2019

The Scientist in Victorian Literature: Sir Dunstan Gryme, Toxicologist (The Azrael of Anarchy, 1894)

Trade paperback, 173 pages
Published unknown (originally 1894)

Borrowed from the library
ead January 2019
The Azrael of Anarchy by Gustave Linbach
[H]e seized the invalid's wrist, and bluntly demanded his letters, putting into the contact of his fingers and the glance of his eye all the hypnotic force he could command.
     For a second or two Lady Ellice passively resisted the influence; then she succumbed.
     Before he left he administered a dose of medicine to Lady Ellice with his own hands, winning the nurse's admiration for his care.
     That night the Lady Ellice Bruce-Smith died. (76-7)
This short work of proto-science fiction is somewhat inaccurately described by John Clute in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: the main character is Sir Dunstan Gryme, M.D., the son of an English army-surgeon and an Indian princess. Raised by his mother to hate England, he mixes European medical training with "Asiatic ingenuity," training as both a physician and an occultist (20). He can hypnotize people, and he has also devised an array of deadly poisons. He belongs to a group of anarchists, but unlike the scientists in the anarchists of George Griffith, he's not there because he believes in the cause, but because he sees an opportunity: when they topple the government, he will become Dictator of the Empire.

Mostly the book follows Sir Dunstan as he constantly bamboozles everyone around him, serving as personal physician to royalty, helping commit anarchist bombings, raping sick women with his hypnotic powers. When a cholera epidemic hits England, Sir Dunstan is appointed Special Royal Commissioner for fighting it, and uses this as an opportunity to spread the disease; suddenly the novel lurches from an occult thriller into an apocalyptic one.

It's not a great book, and probably not even a good one, but it is above average for this sort of thing ("this sort of thing" being somewhat wretched in general, in my experience). Sir Dunstan doesn't really qualify as a scientist, though; the emphasis of the narrator is definitely on his occult, "Asiatic" aspects. Racial crossing turns out to be dangerous because Hindoo nefariousness ends up mixed with European competence. He doesn't really see the world scientifically, only as a self-interested seeker of vengeance on an entire society.

Most sources (including the SFE) say Gustave Linbach is a pseudonym for an unknown author, but I discovered a 27 Nov. 1895 article from The Sketch digitized in Google Books that reveals the book was a collaboration between Henry Edlin, a librettist, and Charles L. Carson, editor of The Stage, a theatrical periodical.  Truly I have solved a great literary mystery here.

(Google Books also reveals that Sir Dunstan appears in a Kim Newman novel, Angels of Music, alongside a number of other nefarious fin de siècle characters like L. T. Meade's Madame Sara, but Newman consistently misspells his name "Sir Dunston." I suspect this is because Jess Nevins misspells the name the same way in the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, so I guess we can conclude Newman did not actually read Azrael of Anarchy. To be fair, the only way to do so is an extortionately priced print-on-demand reprint from the British Library; I got my university library to buy a copy.)

20 February 2019

Review: Star Wars: Dark Times: Out of the Wilderness by Randy Stradley and Douglas Wheatley

Comic trade paperback, 134 pages
Published 2011 (contents: 2011-12)
Acquired April 2014

Read January 2019
Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume Five: Out of the Wilderness

Script: Randy Stradley
Art: Douglas Wheatley
Colors: Dan Jackson
Lettering: Michael Heisler

Darth Vader has been a background presence throughout Dark Times, rarely directly interacting with Our Heroes, but lurking off somewhere else, sometimes as frustrated as they are with the new state of the galaxy. In this volume, Dass Jennir sets off to return Ember, the brothel manager he met in the last volume, to her home planet, only to end up crash-landing. The two must work together to survive while being hunted by a bounty hunter, and while the Uhumele crew searches for Jennir with the aid of a Verpine Jedi. It's not the best volume of Dark Times, but it is enjoyable enough.

I'm not entirely convinced by the Jennir/Ember romance, which mostly seems to be based on her being female and willing and him being lonely and needy, but the basic premise of the story is sound. I like Jennir's pretty consistent "hero" moments; it's a good demonstration of the constant commitment to goodness in difficult circumstances that the Jedi life requires, and for Jennir, the Dark Times seem to be providing some clarity that his earlier life lacked. The galaxy might be worse off, but he seems to be more himself than he ever was. There's a good twist as regards the bounty hunter, too. I do wish it didn't seem like Bomo Greenbark was fading into the background, though; his ordinariness was one of the original drivers of the series, but he's just kind of becoming yet another member of the Uhumele crew.

I like Wheatley's artwork, but I liked his art better in the earlier volumes of this series. It was more rounded and 3-D then, to good effect.

19 February 2019

Star Trek: The Destiny Era Prelude: The Rings of Time

Mass market paperback, 374 pages
Published 2012

Acquired December 2012
Read August 2017
Star Trek: The Rings of Time
by Greg Cox

2020 / 2270
The novel follows two parallel chronological tracks: the first manned mission to Saturn in the far future year of 2020, and the Enterprise coming to the aid of a beleaguered Federation colony 250 years later. The 2270 plotline takes a little while to become interesting, but the 2020 one is pretty good right from the off. I think it pushes belief that a vlogger could smuggle herself onto a NASA mission, but once you accept that, it's a reasonable near-future realistic space story along the lines of The Martian or whatever. There are some obvious connections between the two time periods, with both concerning gas giants with strange hexagonal disturbances at their poles where the rings begins destabilizing.

The book kicks up a gear at the one-third mark, when Captain Kirk switches places in time with Shaun Geoffrey Christopher, commander of the Lewis & Clark. This is done Quantum Leap-style, so physically, the crews of both ships do not see a difference. I had fun imagining this on screen-- I bet Shatner would be hammy in just the right way as Kirk pretending to be an astronaut. (Though you'd probably also want to imagine Shatner as Christopher pretending to be Kirk, which isn't terribly consistent.) Captain Kirk having to blend in in the past always yields good comedy (e.g., "The City on the Edge of Forever," The Voyage Home), and Cox milks that well here. I laughed when Kirk tries to remember what the computer network of the 21st century was called and comes up with "the Interweb."

At first I thought it was a little much that there are two female guest characters in this book and they both have the hots for Colonel Christopher, but when the swap happened, I got it. Nothing is quite as good as Captain Kirk being in the dilemma of there being two sexually available women but he doesn't know which one to sleep with because he might destroy the timeline if he makes the wrong choice.

The plot here is kind of like whatever. It's not bad; it's just a structure to hang time travel hijinks and risky EVAs off of. It's all a bit The Martian like I said, but when Cox wrote this (presumably) in 2011, The Martian was just an above-average self-publishing phenomenon, and probably not on Cox's radar. Cox captures the original Star Trek crew well, and writes brisk action; I breezed through this thing in about two nights and had lots of fun in the process. That the Human Extinction League could have such an effect did seem a little hard to believe, but of course their comeuppance at the hand of the Enterprise crew was pleasing.

The only thing I didn't like is the revelation of what/who caused the time travel phenomenon, which felt like a cheat and a non-answer.

Continuity Notes:
  • There are some callbacks to Cox's The Eugenics Wars novels: Christopher was supposed to pilot a DY-100 sleeper ship back in the 1990s, but someone (i.e., Khan and company) stole it from him.
  • Cox also does a good job setting this in the early 21st century, blending references to our real world Great Recession with the sanctuary districts of Deep Space Nine's "Past Tense" (set in 2024).
  • I do have one quibble here: the Earth-Saturn probe doesn't feel as significant as Spock made it sound in "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." It's hard to imagine the future of human spaceflight being thrown off course without Colonel Christopher's presence. This should feel as monumental as the Apollo missions! Of course, in the real early 21st century, it's hard to imagine any manned space missions happening at all, alas.

Other Notes:
  • If I'm not mistaken, The Rings of Time was the second-last original series novel published without "The Original Series" branding on the cover and title page, the last being Dayton Ward's That Which Divides. Allegiance in Exile was actually the first to have it. I'm not a fan. (The 50th anniversary Legacies trilogy also didn't have it, actually; I assume because Star Trek: The Original Series: Legacies: [Actual Title] is a bit on the clunky side. Though this is the line of books that used to give us titles like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Gateways, Book Four of Seven: Demons of Air and Darkness, so what exactly could be too clunky?)

18 February 2019

Review: Ms. Marvel Omnibus, Vol. 1 by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Jacob Wyatt, Elmo Bondoc, et al.

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2016 (contents: 2014-15)

Borrowed from my wife
Read September 2018
Ms. Marvel Omnibus, Vol. 1

Writers: G. Willow Wilson, Mark Waid and Dan Slott & Christos Gage
Artists: Adrian Alphona, Jacob Wyatt, Elmo Bondoc, Takeshi Miyazawa, Humberto Ramos & Victor Olazaba and Giuseppe Camuncoli & Cam Smith
Color Artists: Ian Herring, Edgar Delgado & Antonio Fabela
Letterers: Joe Caramagna & Chris Eliopoulos

Since vol. 3, issue #1 in April 2014, my wife and I have bought Ms. Marvel month by month at the comic book store in single-issue format. The series recently hit fifty issues, definitely the longest I have stuck with a monthly comic. (In fact, it's one of two monthly comics I buy as of this writing, and the other is about to come to an end, so I'll be down to just Ms. Marvel.) Because we own all the single issues, we haven't bought any of the collected editions, but the prospect of a Marvel Omnibus collecting the entirety of vol. 3 was too good to pass up, and I took the opportunity to reread them all in quick succession, as opposed to stretched out over almost two years. Plus, the book collects some related issues I hadn't already read, though annoyingly it places them all at the back, rather than in order.*

Adrian Alphona has a tendency to draw weirdos into his crowd scenes.
from Ms. Marvel vol. 3 #5 (script by G. Willow Wilson, art by Adrian Alphona)

Anyway, Ms. Marvel is still in its fiftieth issue one of the best comic books, and these nineteen issues have almost no duds among them. Kamala Khan's origin story is excellent, a strong origin story doing all the things a teen superhero origin story should do. (Indeed, one of my reasons for rereading this book when I did is that I taught issues #1-5, No Normal, in my YA literature class.) Kamala is real and human, and book is grounded. This is a refinement of the model that made DC's Blue Beetle vol. 8 work so well, which I guess was in turn a refinement of Marvel's original Spider-Man model. Kamala has relatable everyday problems, and she's surrounded by a very real-feeling friends and family. I like Kamala, I like her parents, I like her brother's determination to be normal in the face of it all.

I kind of feel sorry for Sheik Abdullah here.
from Ms. Marvel vol. 3 #3 (script by G. Willow Wilson, art by Adrian Alphona)

But she also gets to interact with the fantastic and the amazing. The Inventor is a fun villain, and her encounters with Wolverine and Loki are in particular excellent and hilarious. (By contrast, I didn't find her team-ups with Spider-Man or S.H.I.E.L.D. particularly well done, and the Inhumans will always be the least interesting thing Marvel does. Aside from Lockjaw, of course.) In classic Scott McCloud fashion, Kamala is relatable enough to be your vessel into an amazing world, but unlike his theory, she doesn't have to sacrifice her uniqueness to attain her universality.

"Pictagram" is kind of lame. Is there really a reason they can't say "Instagram"?
from Ms. Marvel vol. 3 #7 (script by G. Willow Wilson, art by Jacob Wyatt)

I like comic books because of their chronological span. I like seeing a character and a concept be worked up and develop over time. That Ms. Marvel has worked in this regard is demonstrated in the book's final story arc, Last Days, where the world is ending. Writer G. Willow Wilson draws all its various threads together in one heart-warming storyline. Everything comes together here, and it's one of those works of fiction that makes you feel good about the world, because this book has earned its warm fuzzies. The characters are on point, the community of Jersey City unites, the jokes are excellent, Kamala is the best hero she can be, and she finally meets her hero as the inescapable doom of Earth arrives.

An issue-ending one-page panel that gave me chills!
from Ms. Marvel vol. 3 #16 (script by G. Willow Wilson, art by Adrian Alphona)

Also I can't believe I haven't mentioned him yet, but Adrian Alphona, who draws 14 of the 23 issues collected here, is seriously one of the best comic book artists there is. He has an enormous command of character, facial expressions, and humor, essential for a grounded comic book like this one, but he's also strong with the action sequences. I don't think Ms. Marvel would be Ms. Marvel without him, and he defines Kamala and her world. It's a shame that in vol. 4 his involvement diminishes, but what's here is excellent. Shout out too to Takeshi Miyazawa, who I've loved since his Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane days, and who does work almost as good as Alphona's here.

I feel like other writers just don't quite get how to calibrate Kamala's bubbliness without making it OTT. But maybe I just think that because Chris Eliopoulos's all-caps lettering makes it seem like she's shouting.
from The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 3 #8 (plot by Dan Slott, script by Christos Gage, art by Giuseppe Camuncoli & Cam Smith)

If you like superheroes and you like YA fiction, Ms. Marvel is the best take on the genre there is. Why has there been no Ms. Marvel Omnibus, Vol. 2 yet? This volume collects 23 issues, and there's been at least 34 issues since, so there's definitely enough content. Make it, Marvel, and I will buy it!

Like I said, Lockjaw is the only good Inhuman.
from Ms. Marvel vol. 3 #10 (script by G. Willow Wilson, art by Adrian Alphona)
* If you want to read the book in chronological order, it goes: Ms. Marvel #1-5, All New Marvel NOW! Point One #1, Ms. Marvel #6-11, Amazing Spider-Man #7-8, S.H.I.E.L.D. #2, Ms. Marvel #12-19.

15 February 2019

Federation Standard Becomes Standard

There are things that you just know as a fan of something, things you picked up from fan cultural osmosis: Spock was the first Vulcan in Starfleet, Uhura's first name is Nyota, transwarp drive failed after The Search for Spock, Captain Pike commanded two five-year missions on the Enterprise. I don't know where I picked these things up from, but somehow I knew them.

People call these things fanon: "fan canon." Though given the adjective form of canon is canonical, surely they should call them fanonical... no? Okay.

Fanon is often contradicted, and then people get mad about it. Spock being the first Vulcan in Starfleet was contradicted by the appearance of T'Pol 110 years earlier on Enterprise, though she only joined Starfleet in season four. But you can squint and argue that she only joined the Earth Starfleet, not the Federation one that came later. But what you should really note is that:
  1. No one on the original series ever actually described Spock as the first Vulcan in Starfleet.
  2. Circumstantial evidence is against it. In "The Immunity Syndrome," we learn of (though we do not see) the USS Intrepid, a starship with an entirely Vulcan crew, numbering 400. It seems somewhat unlikely that all 400 Vulcans could have joined Starfleet after Spock, especially given at least one would need to be of higher rank.
Sometime, though, fanon is confirmed. Uhura's first name was given as Nyota in a 1982 book, and used in most books since then. However, it was not used on screen until 2009, in the first reboot film!

Recently this happened again, and I was surprised to realize that the thing to become canon was not in fact already canon. Season 2, episode of Star Trek: Discovery, "New Eden," mentions "Federation Standard" as the language the main characters are speaking. Something I did not realize until logging onto the Internet after watching was that it was the first canonical reference to Federation Standard. But I just knew-- had always known-- that the language was called Federation Standard.

A little bit of research, and I'm still not exactly sure where the term came from. It was being used in novels in the 1980s, which is probably how come I assimilated it.

What I wonder, though, is if the writers of Discovery actually knew what they were doing when they used the term. Did they know they were "canonizing" a long-standing piece of fanon at long last? Or did writers Vaun Wilmott and Sean Cochran think, like me, that the term already was canon, and thus inadvertently made it so?

14 February 2019

The Scientist in Victorian Literature: Hypatia, Mathematician (Hypatia, 1853)

Hardcover, 438 pages
Published 1968 (originally 1852-53)
Acquired and r
ead January 2019
Hypatia by Charles Kingsley
"Have I not an intellect, a taste, a reason? I could appreciate what she said.—Why should not my faculties be educated? Why am I only to be shut out from knowledge? There is a Christian Gnosis as well as a heathen one. [...] Is not my very craving for knowledge a sign that I am capable of it?" (131)
Hypatia, the late Roman-era Alexandrian mathematician, is often called an early female scientist, so it seemed like it behooved me to read the novel about her by Charles Kingsley, a man who did write two proper "scientist novels" (Two Years Ago and The Water-Babies). In terms of my project on Victorian scientists, I needn't've bothered. Hypatia as Kingsley tells it might be a mathematician and a philosopher, but she is no scientist-- she is never shown observing the world or engaging in experiment. Mostly the focus is (as in the above quotation, from a young Christian monk who wants to study under her) on her moral instruction.

In terms of reading a good book, I needn't've bothered, either. It was supposedly Queen Victoria's favorite Kingsley novel, which surely correlates to why I dislike it: it's boring and rambly and Kingsley never really makes anyone who doesn't care about hating Catholics care about what's going on. There are a couple good jokes (I don't know why he threw a gang of murderous Vikings into the mix, but I love it), but on the whole, it's one of those books where masses of pages go by and you don't know what's printed on them because you don't care to. This could be the material for a good novel, but alas, it is not.

13 February 2019

Review: Star Wars: Dark Times: Blue Harvest by Randy Stradley and Douglas Wheatley

Comic trade paperback, 134 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 2009-10)
Acquired November 2012

Read January 2019
Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume Four: Blue Harvest

Script: Mick Harrison
Art: Douglas Wheatley
Colors: Dave McCaig, Chris Chuckry, Dan Jackson
Lettering: Michael Heisler

With this volume of Dark Times, I hit the point where I fell behind as the series was coming out, so everything from here onwards is new to me. Blue Harvest shifts the focus away from the crew of the Uhumele and Darth Vader (who both appear for just a couple pages), back to ex-Jedi Dass Jennir, who we last saw in volume one. It's okay stuff, but predictable, reminding me a little bit of a western, a little bit of noir.

Jennir is asked by a woman to help clear her town of gangs; of course it's a set-up (though not one I entirely understood), but also of course he manages it anyway. It doesn't have the painful darkness that made some of the earlier volumes of Dark Times work. You don't feel that Jennir is being pushed to the limit of his morality as he has been in the past. Still, I enjoyed it; it has nice touches, like Jennir inheriting the droid of a man he killed, so the droid is always grumbling at him about it, and the local fisherman named simply "Fish" who loyally aids Jennir. I'm over halfway through Dark Times now, so hopefully the series ends on a high note.

However: is it called "Blue Harvest" just because Jennir meets two different groups of blue aliens? And what's the "harvest"? That's a pretty far reach for a reference.

12 February 2019

Star Trek: The Destiny Era Prelude: Allegiance in Exile

Mass market paperback, 375 pages
Published 2013

Acquired January 2017
Read August 2017
Star Trek: The Original Series: Allegiance in Exile
by David R. George III

David R. George III is/was one my favorite Star Trek novelists. The 34th Rule was a strong debut, and I also enjoyed works such as Twilight, McCoy: Provenance of Shadows, and Serpents Among the Ruins. But I didn't get much out of Kirk: The Star to Every Wandering, which maybe should have thrown up some flags before proceeding into another Kirk-focused story. The thing is, that George can write very character-driven stories, but he has a sort of pattern he uses a lot, which is someone morosely obsessed with some singular event in their backstory. This works perfectly with Deep Space Nine, where basically every character has some traumatic backstory event that informs their present day actions. It even worked for the original series in Provenance of Shadows because McCoy is the one classic Star Trek character to have that kind of backstory.

It just doesn't work for James T. Kirk. I'm not saying Kirk isn't introspective (I think he's very introspective), and that he doesn't occasionally brood over the past. But Kirk usually presses his doubts into actions, he keeps moving forward. He doesn't (in what is a bit of a George writing tic) fall into a reverie in the middle of a scene where he rues over three pages of backstory between two lines of dialogue. I definitely buy that Kirk would begin to feel uncertain as he nears the end of the five-year mission. I don't buy that it would be this kind of uncertain. George kind of piles on the uncertainties, too. When the novel opens, Kirk ruminates over a lot of random old mistakes; later in the book, a seemingly routine mission goes horribly wrong so that Kirk can obsess over that for the rest of the book.

Other than Kirk, the book's big focus is Sulu, who goes through a whole whirlwind of events here. He falls in love (with a woman who has a deep trauma in her backstory she's morosely obsessed with), she gets horribly injured, he gets mad at Captain Kirk and transfers to another ship, he comes back to the Enterprise. Again, I didn't buy it. Sulu is sort of relentlessly cheerful and optimistic, and it was hard for me to imagine him reacting toward Kirk the way he did here. Which isn't to say he ought to be Mr. Cheerful all the time, especially in the kind of circumstances we see in this book, but he comes across as petulant in a way that's hard to believe of a trained officer. A Sulu who throws himself into his hobbies as a means of distraction I could buy; ditto a Sulu who's friendly to everyone but lets no one get close. A Sulu who sits in his quarters all night every night is less plausible. I also don't think George adequately sold the relationship between Sulu and Trinh, so how angry he was over it wasn't quite believable.

The first third or so of the book was the best part. The exploration of the abandoned colony on the planet the Enterprise crew nicknames Ağdam was well done and creepy (it reminded me of, um, A Choice of Catastrophes), and the way those events climaxed was harrowing. But the novel lost its energy and focus after that; I'd've liked to have seen the Enterprise actively investigate the powers behind Ağdam rather than stumble into them repeatedly. I also don't get the purpose of the Lori Ciana subplot-- George doesn't sell the flirtation, and it doesn't resonate with the themes elsewhere in the book.

So it'll be interesting to see if the 24th-century books pick up on this book's revelations, though there's not much to them (more on that in a second), but on its own, I didn't get a whole lot out of this.

Continuity Notes:
  • As alluded to above, Kirk meet Vice Admiral Lori Ciana for the first time. In Roddenberry's Motion Picture novelization, she's Kirk's ex-wife who dies in the transporter accident at the beginning of the film. (With whom he split up amicably, as I recall; in Roddenberry's book but not really elsewhere in Star Trek, people can enter into short-term marriage contracts. The Lost Years tetralogy expanded on a lot of this backstory. It's been too long since I've read those for me to know if The Lost Years is consistent with Allegiance in Exile.)
  • The Enterprise makes first contact with the Bajorans. Is it too small universe for Captain Kirk to make this significant first contact? It does make you think that Kira ought to have known who Captain Kirk was a little bit more than she did in "Crossover." I was a bit bummed these colonists didn't call themselves the "Bajora"; if they had, then Picard's use of the old-fashioned collective noun could have had a subtle explanation. The Ascendants also play a role, but not a huge one, and not one that tells us much about them beyond that they don't like Bajorans. (To be honest, I don't really remember anything about the Ascendants at this point, given it's been over a decade since the relevant Deep Space Nine relaunch novels.) It's kind of neat but ultimately pointless.
  • Is Wesley returning to Starfleet after his time as a planetary governor in "One of Our Planet Is Missing" a pre-established thing? The whole conversation Kirk and Wesley have about how Wesley became a governor as part of a Starfleet Intelligence plot seemed very random.

Other Notes:
  • This book is the first time I can remember seeing the word "olio" (a reliable feature of the LA Times crossword puzzle) used in the wild. I might have squealed.
  • Now that I have a doctorate, whenever I encounter a character in fiction with two doctorates (used as a shorthand to show someone is so smart), I just roll my eyes. Getting a second doctorate is about the dumbest thing I can imagine doing with my life.
  • Despite the best efforts of some folks on the TrekBBS, I have no idea what the title is meant to mean.

11 February 2019

Hugos 1955: The Forever Machine by Mark Clifton & Frank Riley

Mass market paperback, 250 pages
Published 1992 (contents: 1953-54)
Acquired and read August 2018
The Forever Machine by Mark Clifton & Frank Riley

If you're going to read The Forever Machine a.k.a. They'd Rather Be Right, I highly recommend picking up the 1992 "Masters of Science Fiction" edition from Caroll & Graf. The original 1954 serial novel was actually a sequel to two short stories, "Crazy Joey" and "Hide! Hide! Witch!" by Mark Clifton & Alex Apostolides, and they're incorporated into the text here as Part I, "Crazy Joey" (though Apostolides is uncredited). The two provide somewhat helpful backstory, but more importantly, the original "Crazy Joey" is actually the best part of the book. Joey is a telepathic kid whose weirdnesses make him the object of hate of both his classmates and his father. His mother takes him to a psychiatrist, who figures out he's telepathic, but Joey picks this up and so begins downplaying his abilities, and there's a neat sort of cat-and-mouse game between Joey and the psychiatrist as Joey tries to not do what the psychiatrist wants him to do, and the psychiatrist tries to let mentally slip what Joey ought to do. It's kind of affecting, and kind of neat.

The rest of the book (the second half of Part I, which was originally "Hide! Hide! Witch!", and Part II, the original 1954 novel They'd Rather Be Right, called "'Bossy'" in this edition) is about how Joe's powers are used to construct a telepathic supercomputer at the behest of a totalitarian government. Joe and company dismantle the computer and go on the run; the computer is then reassembled and it grants a burnt-out old prostitute eternal youth. It's one of those books that goes on a bit, but when you think back you're not sure why, because surely the characters couldn't have just sat in a warehouse and talked about nothing for a hundred pages, yet clearly, somehow, they did. I feel like any description I can make of it doesn't do it justice, in that it's somehow more boring than it sounds. It's one of those sf books that seems to miss the interesting aspect of its novum; I like the idea that immortality requires one to abandon one's preconceptions of the universe, so there are some people who cannot become immortal because, well, they'd rather be right. So a billionaire industrialist can't become immortal, because he has a high level of certainty about how he thinks the world works, and cannot admit to being wrong about that. But the book doesn't really explore this idea; it just offers it to you and in the meantime you read about uninteresting people doing uninteresting things. So if you're going to read it, read this edition, but probably don't actually read it.

I note that this book shares with its predecessor as Hugo Award for Best Novel winner The Demolished Man an interest in the power of marketing. In both novels, marketing can do incredible things in the way it shapes public opinion. I guess this is a thing people were just becoming aware of in the 1950s, and thus 1950s sf was extrapolating it into the future. (A quick spot of Wikipedia research seems to indicate marketing really took off as a thing in the 1930s, so that makes sense.)