14 December 2018

Review: Marvel Rising by Devin Grayson, et al.

Marvel Rising is a five-part story that confusingly runs through one #0 issue and four #1s; it's hard for me to imagine someone outside the comic book faithful being able to figure this out. I mean, what's the different between Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl & Ms. Marvel #1 and Marvel Rising: Ms. Marvel & Squirrel Girl #1, and why do they contain parts 2 and 3 of an ongoing story, which also has a part 0? The story unites Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, America Chavez, and some guy called (for real) Dante Inferno who I never heard of; despite the covers, Captain Marvel, Falcon, Spider-Gwen, and whoever the girl wearing purple with purple hair is never put in appearances.

Since the closure of ComicsAlliance, I barely consume comic book news anymore, so I wouldn't have known this comic even existed if my local comic shop owner hadn't stuck Marvel Rising: Alpha #1 in my pull list on the basis that I read Ms. Marvel. He's always doing stuff like this, and I'm forever telling him that no, I don't want any Transformers comic that's not Lost Light, but this time I was happy to go for it, since Marvel Rising is partially co-written by G. Willow Wilson, writer of Ms. Marvel.

It's a fun enough story, and I'm glad I read it. The best parts are probably the first couple installments. In her civilian identity of Doreen Green, Squirrel Girl is volunteering at a coding camp for high schoolers, which Ms. Marvel is attending in her civilian identity of Kamala Khan. It turns out that one of the other classmates is a budding supervillain, with the ability to make things in computer games come to life.

Thus we get a lot of secret identity hijinks, as Kamala must fight back without her teachers figuring out she's Ms. Marvel, and Doreen must fight back without her students figuring out she's Squirrel Girl. Writer Devin Grayson is good at capturing the charming side of both characters, and it's especially well done when in part 2, Ryan North and G. Willow Wilson step in to write the segments featuring their own characters themselves. In part 3, there are lots of good jokes about videogames, and Kamala's enthusiasm for them. Also, North's comedic captions are super-fun, and you have to love the way having the powers of a squirrel is taken semi-seriously.

Additionally, I really like the artwork of Irene Strychalski, who draws the North-penned Squirrel Girl segments in parts 2 and 3; it has some nice cartoony energy to it, and I'd read an ongoing comic about any of these characters drawn by her. (Cover-wise, the covers by Gurihiru, who I primarily know from their work on Avatar: The Last Airbender are excellent, particularly the video-game themed ones, but my favorite of all the covers was the one by Elsa Charretier on part 3, which is the one I've emphasized at the top of this page. I wasn't previously familiar with her work, but it's clearly excellent. I'm less enamored with the variants by Rian Gonzalez, but thankfully I only ended up with his work on part 4.)

Unfortunately, the last couple parts don't quite deliver on the potential of the first couple. The characters spend much of the second half trapped in a videogame world; this concept has been done worse than this, but it's still somewhat flat. I did like that the story focused less on "if-you-die-in-the-game-you-die-in-real-life!" perils, and more on the attempts of the group to break the parameters of the game in order to escape, but the rules still came across as arbitrary. Also, in part 2, there's this whole subplot about how the villain can't create matter, just borrow it and change its characteristics, but by parts 3 and 4, this clearly is not the case, and none of the ideas referenced in part 2 ever come up again, so I'm not sure why they were included to begin with.

Being a miniseries outside of the characters' main series means that this can never have the impact that a "real" Ms. Marvel comic has, and it has less of her civilian life too, but it still captures what I like about her and by extension the rest of its cast of characters. This is a fun comic that's worth your time if you have an interest in any of the four central characters, just 1) don't be fooled by the characters on the covers, and 2) don't be confused by the bizarre numbering.

Marvel Rising was originally published in Marvel Rising #0, Marvel Rising: Alpha #1, Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl & Ms. Marvel #1, Marvel Rising: Ms. Marvel & Squirrel Girl #1, and Marvel Rising: Omega #1 (June-Nov. 2018). The story was written by Devin Grayson (parts 0-4), Ryan North (parts 2-3), and G. Willow Wilson (parts 2-3); illustrated by Marco Failla (part 0), Georges Duarte (parts 1 & 4), Irene Strychalski (parts 2-3), Ramón Bachs (parts 2-3), and Roberto Di Salvo (part 4); colored by Rachelle Rosenberg; lettered by Clayton Cowles; and edited by Heather Antos and Sarah Brunstad.

11 December 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Three Brothers Gruff by Justin Richards

Hardcover, 37 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read March 2018
Doctor Who: The Three Brothers Gruff
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

This book isn't even a riff on a fairy tale, it's just The Sontaran Experiment all over again with three brothers. Like, it's basically a blow-by-blow rip-off of what wasn't a very good story. Jesus Christ, Justin Richards, make it stop.

Next Week: A creepy man comes to town in The Grief Collector!

10 December 2018

Review: The Expanse: Gods of Risk by James S.A. Corey

Kindle eBook, 68 pages
Published 2012

Acquired and read October 2018
Gods of Risk: An Expanse Novella
by James S.A. Corey

Gods of Risk picks up the story of Bobbie Draper, Martian ex-marine, after the events of Caliban's War, though it's entirely told from the perspective of her nephew. (Bobbie is staying with her brother; the nephew has a side hustle making drugs that lands him in trouble.) It's okay. Bobbie is great, of course, but everything else here is pretty generic stuff. The story doesn't really make use of its setting, so it barely even feels sfnal. It could really be set anywhere, not necessarily on future Mars, and that makes it disappointing. I'd like to see these shorts expand the universe of The Expanse, but that's not happening here.

07 December 2018

U.S. 20 in 20

Some people, I think, are born yearning for a road trip, born with the desire to hit the open road and discover America. Though I went on my fair share as a child, I don't think that I ever tapped into that particular quintessential Americanism myself. Journeys are all about where you end up, of course, and maybe reading a book in the back seat. ("Look out the window!" my father used to shout, perhaps the only man in America whose children liked reading too much.)

Moving to Connecticut gave me a greater appreciation for America's vast network of highways, as I drove between Ohio and Connecticut some two through four times per year. I became familiar with the ascending lift of I-71, the never-ending straightness of I-80, the mountainous wiggling of I-81, and the treacherous turns and left exits of I-84. I began to delight in plotting out courses, in figuring out weird and off-beat ways of getting where I wanted to go, that shaved off one minute or took me through an interesting sight. After so many years of the 84-81-80-71 cycle, I began to switch it up, taking the Merritt Parkway out of Connecticut, and plunging the mysterious depths of the Delaware Water Gap on I-80.

(I realized that Ben Wyatt was my Parks and Rec character in the episode "How a Bill Becomes a Law" when he excitedly tries to explain the alternate route he made up to April, and she doesn't care a bit. I didn't even realize I was part of a type.)

I'm not sure exactly when my desire to drive U.S. 20 began to emerge, but I think it was because in relatively quick succession I ended up driving on U.S. 20 in the Cleveland area (it passes within three miles of my father-in-law's house) and in the Boston area (use it right, and you can get out of Cambridge without paying any tolls). Separated by six miles, but the same road. And like all the 0-ending U.S. highways, it just keeps going west, out to Newport, Oregon.

Looking at the map, I started to realize it actually went some neat places-- Chicago, the Nebraska Sandhills, Yellowstone National Park, Craters of the Moon. And somehow I got it my head that I should drive. In 20 days. (Why? I mean, obviously it sounds good, that's why.) U.S. 20 is the longest U.S. numbered highway, and in travelling it, I could discover America. I worked it out years ago already, dividing it into 20 segments of 150-200 miles apiece.

This is the road trip I want to make. God knows when I actually will. Well, if I actually will.

#498: What would your fantasy road trip be like?

06 December 2018

Review: Femininity, Mathematics and Science, 1880-1914 by Claire G. Jones

Hardcover, 264 pages
Published 2009
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2018
Femininity, Mathematics and Science, 1880-1914
by Claire G. Jones

Claire Jones's monograph looks at the opportunities and cultural transformations that affected women in science and mathematics around the end of the nineteenth century. This was the era of professionalization and institutionalization, processes which made it harder for women to practice science and mathematics: for example, there were (proportionally) more women researched in mathematics in the late nineteenth century than in the 1960s. Jones explores these questions primarily by following the trajectory of two different female researchers: the electrical engineer Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923, stepmother of the author of The Call, which follows a fictional female chemist before and during the Great War) and the mathematician Grace Chisholm Young (1868-1914). Jones places Ayrton's and Young's work at opposite ends of a spectrum from one another, with Young performing the purely intellectual work of mathematics, and Ayrton in the hands-on world of engineering.

Jones is good at exploring the complexities of these issue and not oversimplifying. At the same time mathematics was seen as more feminine because of its passivity and disconnection from the world (4-5, 18), it was also seen as being too intellectually rigorous for the female capacity (9-10, 18). You might not encounter anything inappropriate as a woman studying mathematics (unlike in history!) but studying it might also sap your vital energy (18).

Grace Young refused to get married because she thought celibacy was needed to make it as a career woman (43), but two decades later, she argued that women needed the superior minds of men (36). She wrote a book called Mother Nature's Girl about how women served the nation by being mothers...* but she left the raising of her own children to her sister-in-law (52)! This is because she was serving her husband; he was trying to make it as a "genius" essentially, and he would could up with the big ideas, and she would do the mathematical gruntwork require to prove them (44, 106). Most of his publications were their joint work, but because he was the one with more professional opportunities thanks to his sex, her name was often omitted (96, 109-10).

Men ought to have practical goals in science, but Hertha Ayrton was criticized as being too practical; women were supposed to love science for its own sake (89). Much of the issue was that science was professionalizing, which meant demonstrating a certain level of seriousness: but the inclusion of middle-class women connoted amateurism (83) and domesticity (112). Women were able to participate in the laboratory when it was in the home, but as science moved out of the home and into the professional apace, "women were marooned in the domestic sphere" (118), left behind in a location where either their science would not be taken seriously, or where it could not be done at all. Ayrton lost access to professional laboratories when her husband (a professor) died; she had just been using the laboratories at Central Technical College, where he worked (130).

This just scratches the surface of what Jones uses the experience of Ayrton and Young to reveal. There are times the book feels like it leans too heavily into minutiae, but overall, it provides a complicated, fascinating, interesting, and useful portrait of important aspects of a key transitional moment in the history of science. I look forward to using it as a lens to supplement my interpretation of the small range of novels from this period that feature women of science; I can definitely see its applications to both Wells's Ann Veronica (which Jones mentions) and Collins's Heart and Science (which she does not).

* She was, in fact, an admirer of Sarah Grand, and a proponent of eugenic feminism.

04 December 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Three Little Sontarans by Justin Richards

Hardcover, 36 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read January 2018
Doctor Who: The Three Little Sontarans
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

The only two things I remember about this book is that 1) Sontarans are in it, because of the title, and 2) it's not actually worth remembering, none of these books are. Why am I doing this to myself? These books are such wastes of a beautiful premise.

Next Week: More triads: The Three Brothers Gruff!

03 December 2018

Reading Roundup Wrapup: November 2018

Pick of the month: The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. I mean, it's arguable that I read better books this month in the sense that I read books that completely set out to do what they do. (The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, for example, or little me.) But when it comes to ambition and complexity, nothing I read this month rivals the second Baru Cormorant book, and certainly nothing will stick with me as long.

All books read:
1. The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson
2. The New Doctor Who Adventures: Zamper by Gareth Roberts
3. Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
4. Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor by John Byrne
5. Bernice Summerfield: The Weather On Versimmon by Matthew Griffiths
6. little me: My autobiography by Matt Lucas
7. The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
8. Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume One: The Path to Nowhere by Welles Hartley and Mick Harrison
9. Femininity, Mathematics and Science, 1880-1914 by Claire G. Jones
10. Black Bolt: Home Free by Saladin Ahmed

Numbers are up slightly. Yay!

All books acquired:
1. Deucalion, also, The King of the Golden River, The Eagle's Nest, Arrows of the Chace by John Ruskin
2. little me: My autobiography by Matt Lucas
3. Machineries of Empire, Book Three: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
4. The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming with Vivienne Michel

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 653 (down 3)
Books remaining on "To review" list: 15 (up 5)

30 November 2018

Review: Transformers: Lost Light: Crucible by James Roberts, Jack Lawrence, Brendan Cahill, et al.

The Lost Light might have accomplished the goal of their quest (kind of) in The Everlasting Voices, but that doesn't mean the story was over. There's still the mysterious Grand Architect out there, and what were Drift's visions of, and hey, doesn't Getaway still control the Lost Light? All that and more needs to be reckoned with in Crucible, which at six parts is I think the longest story in the history of More than Meets the Eye/Lost Light.

It's one of those stories that at times becomes too epic for its own good. The best MtMtE storylines turned on the characters: okay, so Overlord was in the basement and wasn't that neat, but what really made his attack noteworthy was the way all the characters reacted to it, and the emotions that engendered in the reader. Crucible is pretty epic, and it has a lot of answers to provide, but the questions weren't ones I was particularly burning to know. Like who is the Grand Architect? It turns out I didn't particularly care; the characters are what carried me through all these issues, not the mythology.

So the best moments of Crucible are those based on character. Rodimus finally getting his showdown with Getaway, but then stepping into the flames to rescue him and being restored to his original paintjob in the process was an awesome moment. Megatron making his comeback from the Functionist universe, having spent centuries trying to redeem himself but still feeling unredeemed was a perfect use of the character, especially when he reconciles with Rodimus and Ultra Magnus (who previously thought Megatron bailed on them).

The second-best moment of the whole story was probably when the crew splits up, and a whole group of different characters each have to open the Matrix of Leadership, which is morality locked. The group of characters selected to do this is great (Swerve, Tailgate, Ratchet, Nautica with Brainstorm, and so on), and the speech Rodimus gives to enable them to make the final pulls is heartwarming. I've grown to love these characters, and this was an excellent way for James Roberts to highlight that.

The best moment is the true revelation of what's the deal with Rung, but I won't spoil that for you here.

So those character moments are great, and there are some epic sequences, but I found the explanations behind the Grand Architect, the Warren, and all that jazz much less compelling than the character stuff it enabled. But compare this to some of the classic MtMtE stories, and I think the ratio of character-to-plot was better in those, probably because Roberts just had to get through so much plot in six issues. (I think Lost Light was originally supposed to last twice as long?)

There's also the final Lost Light story, "How To Say Goodbye and Mean It: Part 2." This is hard to talk about without spoiling, but I thought it was mostly spectacular. The story is set many years after Crucible, with the Lost Light crew reunited for the funeral of a friend. In dialogue and flashbacks, we learn what all the main characters have been up to in the intervening time: Rodimus and Minimus Ambus and Megatron and Brainwave and Nautica and Whirl and so on.

I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, and James Roberts does it very well, giving a mix of happy and tragic afterlives for these characters. This has been, after all, a series about damaged people, and "How To Say Goodbye" doesn't shy away from that. Some of these people never did get over the psychological effects of the war. There are tons of "awwwww....." moments here.

At the same time, I'm a sucker for those kind of endings that don't end, the kind of endings that just tell us "and the adventure continues!" The best part of this issue is that James Roberts comes up with a way to do that too. The story ends, but the story never ends.

On the day Lost Light #25 finally came out, I told my class I couldn't hang around after class because I had to get to the comic book store. "What are you going to do there?" one asked. "Buy comic books!" I answered. "So you don't have to get there," one said. I explained that I did because the final issue of a comic book series I really liked was coming out. They asked what it was, and I replied that it was a Transformers comic... and that I seriously, without sarcasm, believed it was one of the best comic books ever written.

I stand by that. Between them, More than Meets the Eye and Lost Light provided (arguably) one hundred issues of entertainment. In terms of building characters, creating tragedies, and telling jokes, I have never read a comic book series this good. It made me cry more than once, and made me laugh an absurd amount, too. It wasn't perfect, but I loved almost every issue of it. The whole reason I started reading IDW's Transformers comics was to get to More than Meets the Eye, because everything I had read about it told me I would like it. I did like it, and it was work well worth out.

This was a fitting ending, and I look forward to rereading the series at some point; I suspect it will be even better now that I'm better at reading Transformers comics, and now that I can understand all the hints about where it will go.

Next Week: Nothing! Be back whenever I get around to reviewing the digital collection of Unicron, which isn't out until March.

Crucible originally appeared in issues #19-24 of Transformers: Lost Light (June-Sept. 2018). The story was written by James Roberts; illustrated by E. J. Su (#19), Casey W. Coller (#20), Jack Lawrence (#21, 23), and Brendan Cahill (#22, 24); colored by Joana Lafuente; lettered by Tom B. Long; and edited by David Mariotte.

"How To Say Goodbye and Mean It: Part 2" originally appeared in issue #25 of Transformers: Lost Light (Oct. 2018). The story was written by James Roberts, illustrated by Jack Lawrence, colored by Joana Lafuente, lettered by Tom B. Long, and edited by David Mariotte.

27 November 2018

Review: Doctor Who: Frozen Beauty by Justin Richards

Almost forgot to post this one, but I've reviewed Big Finish's most recent The Avengers audio, Too Many Targets, for Unreality SF.

Hardcover, 37 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read December 2017
Doctor Who: Frozen Beauty
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

Subtract the reference embedded in the title, and there's nothing remotely fairy tale-ish about this at all; it's just a generic space action story about humans-versus-Wirrn, like The Ark in Space without all the good bits. I've come to the beliefs that 1) hiring the unimaginative Justin Richards to write all of these was a mistake, as maybe he had one or two ideas for good "Time Lord fairy tales" but he sure didn't have sixteen, and 2) releasing them in a fancy box set just like 12 Doctors, 12 Stories gave a misleading impression of their quality and interest. Why didn't BBC Books do a box set for Time Trips or Twelve Doctors of Christmas instead? Oh well, only six of these to go...

Next Week: Hopefully there are at least some good jokes in The Three Little Sontarans!

26 November 2018

Review: The Expanse: Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey

Trade paperback, 611 pages
Published 2012

Acquired October 2016
Read August 2018
Caliban's War: Book Two of The Expanse
by James S.A. Corey

This book's events correspond to the second half of the television show's second season and the first half of the third. At the time I read it, I was one episode into season three, so the first half of the book was a new take on familiar events, while the second was all new to me. As always, I'm fascinated by the process of adaptation: in the show, Prax makes it off Ganymede before he runs into Holden and company, who take him back, while in the book he never leaves. In the show, Bobbie Draper has to make a daring escape from the Martian embassy on Earth to see what the planet is like; in the book, she just walks out the front door. Also I'm sort of fascinated by the number of ethnic characters in the book who become white guys in the tv show... yet maintain their ethnic names.

Anyway, I enjoyed this. Chrisjen Avasarala is a delight on screen as played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, the takes-no-crap grandmotherly Deputy Undersecretary for Executive Administration. On the show, she's there all along, but in the books, she turns up for the first time here, broadening the books' array of point-of-view characters. She's just as much a delight on the page as on the screen, taking no crap and getting all the best lines. The first book had two POV characters, and the shit hit the fan when they met; this one has four, but pulls a similar trick. At first they join into two groups, and then those groups unite as well. It's interesting to see Chrisjen's perspective on Holden and company and vice versa, and I look forward to seeing this play out on screen; I think I must be just one or two episodes away from it.

The plot is pretty standard action-adventure stuff, I think, but it has the occasional dark twist as well as the occasional optimistic one; both liven things up. If you want space opera, The Expanse gives it to you in a way that feels familiar, but also very rooted. I like these characters (Amos and Alex are particularly fun, though I suspect that's partially because I import the tv performances to the page), I like the universe they inhabit, and I like the deepening mystery. I look forward to finishing season three and to reading book three.