02 August 2021

Reading Roundup Wrapup: July 2021

Pick of the month: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho. This was a solid month with a number of standouts; in another month, A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, for example, would have won quite handily. But I think this book will stick with me the longest, a collection of fantasy stories with Malaysian influences.

All books read:
1. Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
2. Nemesis of the Daleks: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine by Richard Alan, John Tomlinson, Lee Sullivan, John Ridgway, et al.
3. Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands by Una McCormack
4. Doctor Who: The Third Doctor, Vol 1: Heralds of Destruction by Paul Cornell and Christopher Jones
5. Spirits Abroad: Stories by Zen Cho
6. Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor, Vol 6: Sonic Boom by Robbie Morrison, Mariano Laclaustra, Rachael Stott, et al.
7. Between Earth and Sky, Book One: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
8. Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor: Ghost Stories by George Mann, Ivan Rodriguez, Pasquale Qualano & Dennis Calero
9. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
10. A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler by Lynell George
11. Death’s Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent by Simon Furman, Walter Simonson, Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, John Higgins, Liam Sharp, et al.
12. The Expanse: Origins by James S.A. Corey, Hallie Lambert, Georgia Lee, and Huang Danlan
13. Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor: The Sapling, Vol 1: Growth by Rob Williams, Alex Paknadel, I. N. J. Culbard, Simon Fraser, Leandro Casco, and Wellington Diaz
14. The Annotated Wizard of Oz: Centennial Edition by L. Frank Baum, pictures by W. W. Denslow, edited by Michael Patrick Hearn
15. Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor: Facing Fate, Vol 1: Breakfast at Tyranny’s by Nick Abadzis, Giorgia Sposito, & Valeria Favoccia
16. The Iron Heel by Jack London
17. Blindsight by Peter Watts
18. The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
19. Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor, Vol 4: Sin Eaters by Cavan Scott, Adriana Melo, and Cris Bolson
20. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher 

I was worried at first-- Walkaway took some time-- but I quickly racked up an impressive month due to a combination of factors: vacation, Hugo novellas, lots of Doctor Who comics. This is my best month since January 2019! We'll see how much momentum I maintain now that the school year is imminent, though.

All books acquired:
1. Kindred / Fledgling / Collected Stories by Octavia E. Butler
2. We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker
3. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
4. Doctor Who: EarthWorld by Jacqueline Rayner
5. The Marvelous Land of Oz: Being an account of the further adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman and also the strange experiences of the Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Animated Saw-Horse, and the Gump; the story being A Sequel to The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, pictured by John R. Neill
6. The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer
7. A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
8. The Kairos Novels: The Wrinkle in Time Quartet: A Wrinkle in Time / A Wind in the Door / A Swiftly Tilting Planet / Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
9. The Kairos Novels: The Polly O'Keefe Quartet: The Arm of the Starfish / Dragons in the Waters / A House Like a Lotus / An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle

#1-3 and 8-9 were birthday presents. (I am racking up quite the collection of Library of America editions of sf novels.)

All books remaining on "To be read" list: 671 (up 3)

28 July 2021

Review: Doctor Who: The Malignant Truth by Si Spurrier, Rob Williams, I. N. J. Culbard, and Simon Fraser

Collection published: 2017
Contents originally published: 2016
Acquired: March 2020
Read: May 2021

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol 6: The Malignant Truth

Writers: Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Artists:
I. N. J. Culbard & Simon Fraser
Colorists: Marcio Menys & Gary Caldwell
 
Letters: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

"Year Two" of The Eleventh Doctor comes to an end. I will admit that I did not entirely understand how this all fit together; maybe if I had read this story arc all at once instead of spread out across six months. (But then, it originally appeared across an entire year!) But, to be honest, I didn't really care. This is great stuff: great character moments for the eleventh Doctor, for Alice, for the Master, for the War Doctor, for the Squire, even for Abslom Daak! And great, weird concepts. I think more than any other Doctor Who tie-in creators, the writers and artists of this series have captured the weirdness and the horror of the Time War. Some genuine creepy bits-- counterbalanced by some genuine punch-the-air moments. I look foward to seeing where this comic goes in "Year Three"; indeed, it may be the only Titan ongoing I actually do follow into Year Three.

I read an issue of Titan's Doctor Who comic every day (except when I have hard-copy comics to read). Next up in sequence: Supremacy of the Cybermen

26 July 2021

A Cold Day in Hell! (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 12)

After a brief respite, I'm back to catching up on reviews of Doctor Who books. I guess I have just read a lot of them a late! So for the next few weeks, it will be various bits and bobs from the Doctor Who universe, starting with...

Collection published: 2009
Contents originally published: 1987-89
Acquired: June 2009
Read: May 2021

A Cold Day in Hell!: Collected Comic Strips from the Pages of Doctor Who Magazine
by Simon Furman, John Ridgway, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, Grant Morrison, Geoff Senior, John Higgins, Alan Grant, Dan Abnett, Mike Collins, et al.

This is the first DWM graphic novel (in strip order) that has bonus features beyond an archival interview; it contains a new introduction by Richard Starkings (the strip's editor for much of this era) and a set of interviews with the writers and artists put together by John Freeman (the magazine's editor for much of this era). This means I have more insight into the production decisions behind the strip than in previous eras.

The big difference between this run and previous ones is that it has neither a consistent writer (as the strip did from #1 to #110) nor a consistent artist (as the strip did from #1 to 69 and #88 to 133). Starkings explains the decision: "it had often occurred to me that the strip should reflect the series and feature a different writer and director for each story" (p. 6). But I think this neglects a way in which television is a different medium than tv. On screen, the writer and director might always change, but the performance stays the same. Every episode has got Sylvester McCoy in. But in a comic, the artist isn't just the director, they're also every actor. This means that even when the strips are good, there's no throughline, and the lack of consistency leaves it all feeling like less than the sum of its parts. From #70 to 87, you had a consistent tone and style from Steve Parkhouse even if the art was always different; from #111 to 133 you had a consistent tone and style from John Ridgway even if the writing was always different. Here you have neither. And no companion! (The strip was last companion free from #49 to 77.) I cannot think of any other ongoing non-anthology comic that took an approach like this.

from Doctor Who Magazine #133
Now, this might all be rubbish, because I read this all in one go, whereas it would have come out across two years. Maybe it reads fine when you have a month gap every time the creative team changes? But this is how I read it!

A Cold Day in Hell! / Redemption!, from Doctor Who Magazine #130-34 (Nov. 1987–Mar. 1988)
stories by Simon Furman, pencils by John Ridgway and Kev Hopgood, inks by Tim Perkins, letters by Zed
These two strips transition out of the trappings of the sixth Doctor era: Frobisher departs the Doctor; when he leaves, new companion Olla is introduced, but she's gone within one more strip herself! The actual stories here are so-so, the Doctor running around after Ice Warriors and such, and doing a lot of goofy stuff that makes you suspect all Simon Furman had to go off was the script for Time and the Rani. Frobisher's writing-out is pretty perfunctory, as is Olla's.
from Doctor Who Magazine #135
The Crossroads of Time, from Doctor Who Magazine #135 (Apr. 1988)
story by Simon Furman, art by Geoff Senior, letters by Zed
So I've been reading the Marvel UK Transformers comics in parallel with the DWM strips, all because here they collide. At the end of the Transformers story "The Legacy of Unicron!" (in Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five), the robot mercenary Death's Head is tossed into a malfunctioning time portal; here we find out where he went, as he emerges in the Doctor Who universe. I don't object to this on principle; indeed, it strikes me as one of the USPs of reading the strip, and I was curious to see how this whole crossover thing would shake out. 
Alas, in practice, it's freaking terrible. Death's Head, who in Transformers was a "principled" freelance peacekeeping agent in that he killed for money-- and not for pleasure-- here attacks the Doctor for no real good reason, just an accidental collision in the Time Vortex. The Doctor fights him with lethal force! It doesn't kill Death's Head, but he doesn't know that; I get that Death's Head had to be shrunk down to human scale if he was going to interact with other Marvel UK characters, but maybe the Doctor could have done it on purpose? And then the Doctor sends this homicidal bounty hunter to Earth in the year 8162 and is just like, "Ah, oh well, I'm sure it'll be fine." I think there could have been a great story about a clash of values between the Doctor and Death's Head... but this is manifestly not it. I can only hope that Death's Head's solo feature, which I plan on following him into, is better than this.
from Doctor Who Magazine #138
Claws of the Klathi!, from Doctor Who Magazine #136-38 (May-July 1988)
story by Mike Collins, art by Kev Hopgood and Dave Hine, letters by Zed
This is a decent piece of Victoriana by stalwart DWM contributor Michael Collins. It feels to me like it has a bit too much going for its three parts: a freakshow escapee, a pair of alien refugees, a giant robot, a gathering of men of science, and the Crystal Palace struggle for space. The men of science, for example, kind of feel pointless. But it's certainly the best story in this volume thus far, and Kev Hopgood is one of DWM's better post-Ridgway artists.
Culture Shock! / Keepsake / Planet of the Dead / Echoes of the Mogor! / Time and Tide, from Doctor Who Magazine #139-46 (Aug. 1988–Mar. 1989)
stories by Grant Morrison, Simon Furman, John Freeman, Dan Abnett, and Richard Alan & John Carnell; art by Bryan Hitch, John Higgins, Lee Sullivan, John Ridgway, and Dougie Braithwaite & Dave Elliott; letters by Zed, Annie Halfacree, and Tom Orzechowski
This run of strips reminded me a lot of Steve Moore and Steve Parkhouse's run from #46 to 60: it's all one- and two-part stories, often hinging on some kind of highbrow science fictional concept taken to a depressing conclusion. In Culture Shock!, the Doctor discovers a sentient race of bacteria who need his help; in Keepsake he (accidentally?) bullies a mercenary into helping him out; in Echoes of the Mogor!, he finds a long-dead species who embody their memories in crystal; in Time and Tide, he comes upon a dying species on a water planet. They are all varying degrees of fine, and the artists all have varying degrees of command over Sylvester McCoy's likeness. Culture Shock! had a cool hook, but I didn't really buy the Doctor's depression; I liked the idea of Keepsake but thought the humor didn't quite come off; Time and Tide was crazy depressing, and am not convinced it really fits the character of the Doctor. (There's a lot of standing around watching people die!) 
Planet of the Dead has the Doctor encountering first dead companions, and then his own previous selves. I didn't think John Freeman really captured the voices of the companions and Doctors enough to pull this off, but Lee Sullivan was an excellent choice for illustrating it.
from Doctor Who Magazine #147
Follow That TARDIS!, from Doctor Who Magazine #147 (Apr. 1989)
story by John Carnell, art by Andy Lanning, John Higgins, Kev Hopgood, Dougie Braithwaite, & Dave Elliott, letters by Bambos
The Doctor is forced by the Sleeze Brothers, a pair of private investigators, to chase the Monk's TARDIS throughout a series of historical disasters. I am convinced this could be funny, but I did not think the joke actually came off.
Invaders from Gantac!, from Doctor Who Magazine #148-50 (May-July 1989)
story by Alan Grant, art by Martin Griffiths and Cam Smith, letters by Gordon Robson
Going into this, I was like, "Oh no... another comedy story." But it turned out to be the best story in the whole volume! The Doctor lands on Earth in the far future year of 1992 to find out that it's been taken over by aliens, and his only ally is a homeless man named Leapy. In its mix of big events and light comedy, it very much felt like something I could imagine Russell T Davies putting on screen as a big, bright two-parter in the Aliens of London/Rise of the Cybermen/Daleks Take Manhattan/The Sontaran Stratagem slot. There's some good comedy, but also a serious edge: more than any other story, I could imagine McCoy doing this on screen. It's pacey and twisty, and the only thing I didn't like was the kind of perfunctory ending. That said, Griffiths and Smith don't exactly nail McCoy's likeness. (But then, who does!?)
from Doctor Who Magazine #140
Stray Observations:
  • If you were a hypothetical reader who never watched the show, I think you would imagine that after The World Shapers, the sixth Doctor, Frobisher, and Peri all went on an adventure where Peri left with Yrcanos and the Doctor regenerated. There's no indication here that, say, Frobisher was dropped off or anything.
  • I read The Age of Chaos, even though it was written many years later, between The World Shapers and A Cold Day in Hell! Doing so revealed an inconsistency; the way Frobisher mopes over Peri in Cold Day makes it clear he hasn't been visiting her and her descendants as Age of Chaos established, and wound of her departure is obviously quite raw. But if you wanted to get quite convoluted, I think you could solve it by imagining that for Frobisher, Age of Chaos takes place after A Cold Day in Hell!! The sixth Doctor and Peri drop off Frobisher and experience the events of Trial of a Time Lord. Frobisher is then picked up by the seventh Doctor, who tells him what happened, and then he gets dropped off again on A-Lux. Then he gets picked up by the sixth Doctor, who takes him to Krontep and meet Peri again, along with the kids. Easy!
  • Poor Olla: I am reasonably sure she is the only DWM-original companion to never appear or even be mentioned again. The Doctor doesn't call her up for help in The Stockbridge Showdown!
  • I did notice that in A Cold Day in Hell!, Furman did something he also does in his Transformers strips: so that reading the recap isn't dull, it usually also includes new information. But that means if you only skim the recap, you might miss the new information! However, I am used to it now, and it doesn't throw me as much.
  • Richard Starkings says the first thing he did when taking over as editor was fire John Ridgway because he cost so much... but back in the introduction to Voyager, Ridgway said he quit when the strip switched to McCoy so that he could focus on the steadier income from drawing DC's Hellblazer.
  • Fun fact: In The Crossroads of Time, the Doctor sends Death's Head to the year 8162. This is because that was the setting of Marvel UK's Dragon's Claws series, but because Dogbolter showed up in the Death's Head solo series that span out of Dragon's Claws, that means a significant chunk of the DWM mythos must also date to the 82nd century. If that's when Dogbolter is from, it must also be when Frobisher is from; we know the Free-Fall Warriors are from the same era as Dogbolter; and we know Ivan Asimoff is also from that era. It also seems likely that Olla is from the era. Abel's Story and War-Game also go in this era. Much much later, The Stockbridge Showdown would place Sharon's new home era in the same time as all the others as well. All because Marvel UK wanted to spin Death's Head into his own series! Plus, this means Dragon's Claws takes place in the Doctor Who universe...
  • Claws of the Klathi! commits one of my neo-Victorian pet peeves: there is no way a man of means who dabbled in science would call himself a "scientist" in 1851 as the gentlemen do here. It sounds like a job one might have!
  • Culture Shock! was the last Doctor Who Magazine contribution from Grant Morrison, who is arguably the most famous person to have worked on the strip other than Dave Gibbons. (Alan Moore only wrote for the back-ups.) He would write creator-owned stuff like We3 (Homeward Bound with killer cyborgs) later on, but I know him best as a prolific DC contributor, writing things like JLA, Seven Soldiers of Victory, All-Star Superman, 52, Final Crisis, and The Multiversity.
  • Bryan Hitch illustrates just one strip, but still gets cover credit; he would do some genre-redefining work in the 2000s on The Ultimates for Marvel and The Authority for Wildstorm.
  • Doctor Who tie-ins often like to do a thing where the Doctor remembers his companions who died while travelling with him, but are hamstrung in this by the fact that on screen, that amounts to unmemorable and/or terrible ones like Katarina, Sara, and Adric. So DWM gains a slight boost from the events of The World Shapers in that stories like Planet of the Dead can now use Jamie, a dead companion who is both good and memorable.
  • Echoes of the Mogor! is the first story to establish that the Doctor is trying to get to the planet Maruthea; in Invaders from Gantac! we learn he's attempting to attend the birthday of someone called Bonjaxx, but he doesn't make it within the confines of this volume.
  • It also introduces the Foreign Hazard Duty team, a sort of future space police; evidently we will see them in future volumes.
  • "Richard Alan" is a pseudonym for strip editor Richard Starkings; so is "Zed."
  • Follow That TARDIS! is, I believe, the only DWM contribution of Andy Lanning, who would become a prolific contributor to Marvel and DC in the 2000s. My favorite work of his is a run on Legion of Super-Heroes, but he also contributes to basically every DC event, including Infinite Crisis, 52, and Flashpoint. He strikes me as one of those guys who is capable of great work, but will also happily contribute to drek if that's what you need.
  • So far the Master has never appeared in a DWM strip; the Meddling Monk has appeared twice. Who is the real Time Lord nemesis of the Doctor?
  • This volume contains the only Doctor Who Magazine contributions of Kev Hopgood, but he must have made a good impression on someone for his Sylvester McCoy likeness, as twenty-five years later he returned to Doctor Who to illustrate the seventh Doctor segment of Prisoners of Time! I liked his art here, but in my review of that volume I called it "stiff."
  • The Sleeze Brothers went on to have their own comic series from Marvel. The Tardis wiki doesn't count it as part of the Doctor Who universe, but who knows why. Their rules for "inclusion" are typically pretty asinine, anyway. You can get it pretty cheap on the secondary market, but I am not sure I am motivated to do so...
  • from Doctor Who Magazine #148
    Alan Grant never contributed to DWM again, and hilariously he doesn't even remember that he did this strip. I know him best as the co-writer of L.E.G.I.O.N. from DC, with fellow Marvel UK contributor Barry Kitson. But of course his greatest contribution to comics was the seminal and influential Bob the Galactic Bum.
  • Yes, that's a lot of "where are they now?" updates in this one! If your comic collection has twenty-one individual contributors (not counting letterers), I guess odds are a lot of them will go on to be famous.

This post is the twelfth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers part 1 of Death's Head: Freelance Peacekeeping Agent. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. The Iron Legion
  2. Dragon's Claw 
  3. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume One
  4. The Tides of Time
  5. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Two
  6. Voyager
  7. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three
  8. The World Shapers
  9. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Four
  10. The Age of Chaos
  11. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five

23 July 2021

My Time Lord Victorious Order

2020-21 saw the release of Time Lord Victorious, a giant Doctor Who event encompassing audio dramas, novels, toys, comic books, escape rooms, and more. It involves the eighth, ninth, and tenth Doctors in substantial ways, with cameos from other Doctors, as well as stories with no Doctor at all. The BBC released an official "story order," and Blogtor Who did a pretty neat set of interlocking paths, allowing you to see the event from the perspective of Eight, Nine, Ten, the Kotturuh, the Daleks, and Brian the Ood.

Both are pretty complicated, of course, and while the storyline has 25-plus installments, I imagine most people won't be experiencing most of those. I myself limited myself to two things:

  • stories featuring the eighth Doctor
  • stories released by Big Finish

In practice, this is basically just Big Finish stories, plus the novel All Flesh is Grass. (In the future, I will read the Doctor Who Magazine and Titan Comics contributions to the series, but I will read them in those contexts, not the TLV one.) So what's the best way to experience those particular stories?

First, here's my recommended order:

  1. Short Trips: Master Thief / Lesser Evils [narrated Big Finish audio]
  2. He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not [Eighth Doctor BFA]
  3. The Enemy of My Enemy [Eighth Doctor BFA]
  4. All Flesh is Grass [BBC Books novel]
  5. Mutually Assured Destruction [Eighth Doctor BFA]
  6. Genetics of the Daleks [Fourth Doctor BFA]
  7. Echoes of Extinction [Tenth/Eighth Doctor BFA]

Here's why:

  • The easy thing is #2-5-- that's the order those four stories take place for the eighth Doctor, and each basically follows directly on from the previous one.
  • #1, the two Short Trips featuring the Master, both don't have the Doctor in. But they make a good prelude; "Lesser Evils" sets up the Kotturuh, who play a big role in All Flesh is Grass, and if you skipped the other novel (as I did), they don't get much introduction otherwise. ("Master Thief" actually has a small link that means it follows on from The Enemy of My Enemy, so I guess you could listen to it later if you like.
  • #6 may feature the fourth Doctor and thus go first on this timeline in a sense, but for the Daleks, its events follow on pretty closely from Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • Echoes of Extension has a 30-minute episode each for the eighth Doctor, from before He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not, and tenth, from after All Flesh is Grass. You could split it up, but after listening to it, I felt like they went better together; I also felt that the Ten story was less interesting if heard second, even though it takes place second. There's a good justification, then, in the sense that for Ten, Echoes follows on from All Flesh, and then you loop back around to the beginning for Eight's perspective, knowing that He Kills Me comes next.

Here's my complicated pictorial way of depicting it:

  • DOUBLE LINE: my recommended path*
  • RED: Doctor's perspective
  • GRAY: Master's perspective
  • BLUE: Kotturuh perspective
  • YELLOW: Wrax perspective
  • GREEN: Daleks' perspective
  • PURPLE: Oriv perspective

* Put this way, you can better see that really, MAD/Genetics and Echoes are two parallel tracks emerging from All Flesh.
Of course, this is complicated by the fact that All Flesh is experienced by Eight, Nine, and Ten.
The Daleks are travelling with the eighth Doctor from Enemy of My Enemy to MAD, too.

Wow, that was something. Maybe I will come back to this post and make it even more complicated once I have read Defender of the Daleks (the Titan comics TLV tie-in) and Monstrous Beauty (the DWM comics TLV tie-in)!

21 July 2021

Review: Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands by Una McCormack

Published: 2021
Acquired: May 2021
Read: July 2021

Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands
by Una McCormack

This Discovery novel isn't a prequel per se, but it does plug a gap; there's one year between the first and second episodes of Discovery season three, where Michael Burnham is stranded on her own in the 32nd century, after "the Burn" caused the collapse of the Federation and much other interstellar civilization. She must acclimate herself to a new time and place, one where the ideals she adhered to might not quite apply anymore because no one else believes in them but her.

It's by Una McCormack, so it's better than the third season of Discovery really deserves. I enjoyed S3 at first, actually, but like a lot of seasons of Discovery it lost me somewhere in the middle (in fact, I would say the much-derided S1 is the one I thought worked well the longest), with its overreliance on unearned sappy emotional moments. McCormack focuses on what worked well in the early parts of the season: the idea that the Discovery crew were special because they remembered the Federation at its height, and thus lived its ideals in a way no others did. She works some of Burnham's history in as effective grace notes in her characterization, and also lays some groundwork as to how the Federation collapsed so easily: even before the Burn, things were strained, thanks to the Temporal Wars and then an unprecedented, rapid expansion of the Federation. Pleasingly, we get a lot more of Sahil, the guy who waited decades for a Starfleet officer, but was seemingly forgotten by Discovery S3 after its first episode until its very last.

It's a good book but it doesn't really stand on its own because it feels like the first act of a longer story; this is about how Burnham is rebuilt in preparation for something else-- but the something else is on the tv show, not here is this book. It might get away with this if the tv show went somewhere worth going, but in fact the strength of this novel made me more aware of how S3 fumbled its landing. There's a big emphasis here on how Burnham carries ideals everyone else has forgotten about, and that also pervaded the first several episodes of S3. So, one might expect that what allows Discovery to succeed in the end of the season is something to do with that. But in fact, when Burnham is made captain at season's end, the Admiral praises her for disobeying her orders... something she did not because of her classic Federation idealism. The Discovery as a whole doesn't succeed because they believe in the Federation, but just because they do better in the big action sequences than the bad guys. (And on top of that, they are mostly pretty dumb action sequences.) Oh, and because the Discovery crew comes up with such a good idea for tracking the source of the Burn it beggars belief that no one else thought of it in a century.

None of this is the novel's fault, of course. But reading it did make me realize we were robbed of a better story than the one we were told; it's a better ste-up novel than the season's poor pay-off warrants.

(Also: I did kinda wonder about the title going in, but it turned out to be a good choice. As we learned back in S1, one of Burnham's defining books was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and of course she's "through the rabbit hole" here, in a world all topsy-turvy and without logic. Additionally, Burnham remembers a piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry she once read about "a man walking through the ruins that the Romans left behind. This ruin is a wonder . . ." What bothers me here is that upon Googling, the only hit I can find for the poetry is Wonderlands itself. What is she quoting!?)

((Also also: I liked how a number of minor characters were named after early women Star Trek novelists.))

19 July 2021

Review: Doctor Who: All Flesh is Grass by Una McCormack

Published: 2020
Acquired: March 2021
Read: May 2021

Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious: All Flesh is Grass
by Una McCormack

My interest in the Time Lord Victorious "multi-platform event" is mostly based around the eighth Doctor, so I picked up the second novel-- in which he is a protagonist-- and not the first-- in which he only cameos. Plus the second book is by Una McCormack, and the first is by Steve Cole, so, you know. Instead, I came at it from the eighth Doctor's perspective, reading it between the second and third Time Lord Victorious audio from Big Finish. (More about my TLV order in Friday's post.) The premise is basically that in the first book, the tenth Doctor decided he was going to stop death from every coming into existence, and in this book, the eighth Doctor teams up with Daleks and the ninth with vampires to stop him.

It was fine. It doesn't quite feel right, like it was written in a hurry, or written to be expanded, and never was. On the one hand, I liked the moments where the three Doctor interacted; McCormack as always has a great handle on character voice and motivation. The gag about the potted plant that was a companion was great, and I liked the interactions with the vampire leader. Plus there are some neat ideas here (which I won't spoil). On the other hand, thematically it didn't really cohere-- if the tenth Doctor was supposed to learn something about himself, I'm not sure when it actually happened. It's like he's "bad" and then he's not. The book breathlessly skips from plot to plot: at first it's about stopping the tenth Doctor, then it's about battling Daleks, then it's about something else entirely. By the end, it feels like the climax comes from a different story than you started reading, and it's not really satisfying as a result. Which is a shame, because, you know, this is by Una. But it didn't really work for me.

16 July 2021

Pod and Wod: Toddler Linguistics

Yet he still calls this his "pineapple shirt," hm...
A couple weeks ago, I was putting Son One to bed when he began demanding wod. "What are you talking about?" I asked. "I'm talking about wod," he replied, in his usual helpful way. Eventually I figured out that he was meant "water." A day or two later, when he was sitting on the potty, he informed me, "I call it pod."

This makes a certain amount of sense. Lots of things have a -y suffix at the end when you're a little kid, but which grown-ups don't actually use among themselves. It's "mom," not "mommy"; "dad," not "daddy"; "dog," not "doggy"; "flip-flops," not "flippy-floppies." Growing up is getting rid of these.

A couple days after this, he was eating strawberries, and informed me, "I call them strawbears." They keep accumulating. They don't all follow the -y logic, but many of them do.

There's a good discussion of the origin of the -y diminutive (or hypocorism) here, reprinted from the journal Studia Anglica Posnaniensia. Kenneth Shields argues that "caretaker speech" (the tendency of caretakers to modify their speech to mimic children's and thus enable language acquisition) caused parents to turn "babe" into "baby," and rebracketing led people to parse the -y as a diminutive suffix and thus apply it to other words. Shields even says, "Of course, pre-extant forms terminating in -y, -ie were [...] unaffected by the appearance of the new suffix (e.g., berry < OE berige)," but Son One has proved him wrong!

A current list of known Son One shortenings:

  • wod for "water"
  • pod for "potty"
  • strawbear for "strawberry"
  • pine for "pineapple"
  • baig for "bagel"
  • cand for "candy" 
  • ties for "tiles"
  • dupes for "Duplos"
  • blank for "blanket"
  • mar for "mama"
  • dad for "daddy" (he piped up with this one himself when Hayley and I were trying to remember them all, so he thinks it counts)

14 July 2021

The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 11)

Collection published: 2014
Contents originally published: 1988
Read: April 2021

The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five
editorial notes and assistance by James Roberts

Written by Simon Furman, Ian Rimmer, and Richard Alan
Pencils by Geoff Senior, Dan Reed, Jeff Anderson, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, and Robin Smith
Inks by Geoff Senior, Dan Reed, Jeff Anderson, Bryan Hitch, Stephen Baskerville, Lee Sullivan, Dave Elliott, and Robin Smith
Colors by Steve White and Euan Peters
Letters by Annie Halfacree, Richard Starkings, Gary Gilbert, Tom Frame, Gordon Robson, and Steve Parkhouse

This volume opens with its biggest story. "The Legacy of Unicron!" is an epic entirely set in the future timeline (though the future characters are battling over a time portal, so it is about a threat to the present day, even if we never actually go there. Like a lot of Furman's epics, it's a pile-up of conflicting factions and motivations: the Autobots, the Decepticons, Death's Head, and Unicron all have their own aims, and alliances shift throughout. It's a thing he's got quite good at by this point, and this is no exception. I don't think it's the best of these, but it is the kind of thing I enjoy-- and the kind of thing I wish I'd read when I was fourteen, because I would have enjoyed it even more then.

Also, these days, faux-mythic stuff in Transformers leaves me cold, but I would have ate it up then. Crazy to think that Furman's ideas here had an influence reaching all the way to Michael Bay!
from The Transformers #150 (script by Simon Furman, art by Jeff Anderson & Stephen Baskerville)

Notably, this story features my whole excuse for reading these Transformers stories as part of a Doctor Who Magazine comics marathon: at its climax, Death's Head falls into a time portal and disappears. He will never again appear in a Transformers story, but the next installment on my list will reveal where he went... (Cyclonus and Scourge are sent back in time, explaining how come in the UK stories they are created by Galvatron in the year 2006, but in the US stories they work for Scorponock in the 1980s. I'll be honest: I hadn't noticed. The way Furman handles it, it even makes sense that it hadn't previously come up that they were from the future.)

You're never gonna live the good life, dude. Just accept it.
from The Transformers #146 (script by Simon Furman, art by Geoff Senior)

After that, we're back to the present day, with stories that do the usual Transformers UK thing of weaving in and out of US tales.* A few focus on Galvatron manipulating the Decepticons; others let us know what is happening on Cybertron. I mostly enjoyed these. These are some of the better Galvatron stories-- when he has BIG PLANS you know they are going to fail because otherwise the universe is doomed, but when his plans are smaller scale, he can demonstrate his intelligence and cunning by outmaneuvering Shockwave.

You don't mess with Galvatron because he is always messing with you.
from The Transformers #152 (script by Simon Furman, art by Jeff Anderson & Stephen Baskerville)

We also have undead zombies on Cybertron, which is fun stuff, though alas, the Wrecker leader Springer is often improbably indecisive. But it's nice to see Ultra Magnus cut loose, even if he somehow wasn't able to find the Ark in two years(!) of traveling across America. And then he's back to Earth for a showdown with Galvatron, building up to something bigger. (That evidently never actually happened!)

How did Emirate Xaaron get to be the leader of the Autobots with a face that dumb-looking?
from The Transformers #167 (script by Simon Furman, art by Jeff Anderson and Dave Elliott)

We also have a couple stories from the 1989 Annual. I will admit I zoned out during "Prime Bomb!" (Ian Rimmer is not a great prose stylist, I guess), but I did enjoy Richard Starkings and Robin Smith's "Peace," set in the far future, when the Autobots have finally won... and are so used to war that peace only lasts a day before hostilities restart. It's mind-boggling to contemplate, but the Transformers have been at war for four million years. How could they ever adjust to peace after that? It's a theme that James Roberts and John Barber took up to good effect in their IDW runs, but it's nice to see a bleaker take on it here.

Hey, kids! Comics!
from The Transformers #169 (script by Simon Furman, art by Robin Smith)

My big complaint about this volume is not really its fault per se: it's the last one! In his editorial notes, James Roberts often mentions the forthcoming volume six, but seven years later, it has never come to pass. I am sure there are valid financial reasons for this, but it's depressing; this was a high quality reprint series, and the UK stories are pretty tricky to access otherwise. Titan did collect many of them, and I will track those down eventually, but these were beautiful volumes and Roberts's interviews and commentary were amazing.

* The chronology for this volume is a bit smoother than that of the previous volume. (Allowing for the fact that it overlaps with the previous volume, but I'll ignore that here). Mostly these stories overlap with ones collected in the US Classics, Vol. 4. My suggested sequence is: UK #146-53; US #37-39; UK #160-61; US #40; UK #164-73; US #41-42, 44.

This post is the eleventh in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers A Cold Day in Hell! Previous installments are listed below:

  1. The Iron Legion
  2. Dragon's Claw 
  3. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume One
  4. The Tides of Time
  5. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Two
  6. Voyager
  7. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three
  8. The World Shapers
  9. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Four
  10. The Age of Chaos

12 July 2021

The Age of Chaos (From Stockbridge to Segonus: A Doctor Who Magazine Comics Marathon, Part 10)

Published: 1994
Acquired: November 2012
Read: March 2021

Doctor Who: The Age of Chaos

Words: Colin Baker
Pencils: John M. Burns and Barrie Mitchell
Colours: Steve Whitaker
Letters:
Jane Smale and Amer Anwar

Why yes, I am cheating a bit, reading this in chronological order between The World Shapers and A Cold Day in Hell! rather than publication order between Emperor of the Daleks and Land of the Blind. But I bought this a decade ago, and by the time I get to Emperor of the Daleks/Land of the Blind, the new Age of Chaos collection will likely be out, so why would I read this then? If I don't read it now, I don't have a reason to read it ever because it will be superseded!

It works pretty well here. When we last saw the Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher, they were travelling together having fought the Cybermen on Planet 14; evidently in the interim, The Trial of a Time Lord happened (without Frobisher, maybe he went fishing), and now Frobisher and the Doctor periodically check in on Peri on Krontep, the planet where she settled down with King Yrcanos after Trial. Assume the Doctor regenerates off-panel (as he always does in DWM-land), and this leads right into A Cold Day in Hell!

C'mon, Cerf is awesome.
(art by Barrie Mitchell)
 
So how's the story-- written by none other than Colin Baker (the first Doctor to write licensed fiction; Tom Baker became the second twenty-five years later with Scratchman)? Well, it's fun. None too deep, but fun. Krontep is in a time of crisis when a solo Doctor visits; Peri's granddaughter Actis asks the Doctor to get Frobisher and help. The Doctor, Frobisher, and Carf (a Krontep warrior) go on a quest to figure out what ails the land, then they go on another to find Actis when she goes missing. There's a bit too much gubbins at times-- what is up with the alien the Doctor meets?-- but if your idea of a good time is a quest story where the participants are the Doctor, a talking penguin, and a giant bearded warrior who shouts "VROOMNIK" a lot, then you will have one. Mine is, and I particularly enjoyed their forays into the underground cult. The Doctor's ultimate foe being a hallucination that he is on This Is Your Life is delightfully bonkers.

We get a VWORP VWRORP (either Colin paid attention or his editor did), but this is not one of DWM's better time vortex renditions.
(art by John M. Burns)

The first quarter is drawn by John M. Burns; the remaining parts by Barrie Mitchell. Both are good artists, working well with the story's epic nature. I did have the impression, though, that Barrie Mitchell wasn't drawing Colin Baker so much as the steel-jawed hero of a men's 1950s adventure comic wearing a Colin Baker wig. And of course the sixth Doctor was made for color!

Maybe Ptou is the best new character here, actually.
(art by Barrie Mitchell)

It's not all good. Somehow though the Doctor and Frobisher have visited Krontep and Peri's family a lot over the years, Actis knows them but her older brothers don't! The resolution of the political subplot is rushed and sudden, too. But on the whole, I enjoyed this, a weird slice of Doctor Who history that plugs a hole in the tv show but does something uniquely DWM at the same time.

Stray Observations:
  • I like the idea that the Doctor periodically drops in on Peri and her family and gives them odd presents. I didn't like that part 14 of Trial undid Peri's death, but if she was to live, I don't like the idea that the Doctor never looked in on her, and I find this take on her future preferable to that offered by Nev Fountain over in the audio dramas.
  • Speaking of which, this would be a good one for Big Finish's stillborn range of audio adaptations of DWM comics. Colin Baker and Robert Jezek would crush this!
  • It's rather nice and unexpected that upon getting to write a Doctor Who story, Colin Baker picks as his Doctor's companion a character he never actually appeared opposite on screen! I guess he likes Steven Parkhouse and John Ridgway as much as the rest of us. It is a bit odd that a black-and-white companion was chosen for DWM's first (I think) full-length color endeavor, however!
  • I didn't need to read the Tardis wiki to know that this was originally written and drawn as a four-issue miniseries; it was obvious when on the 22nd page, there was suddenly a splash panel on a dramatic moment, and then the 23rd page was the same moment again, and this repeated two more times.
  • On the other hand, the Tardis wiki claims this volume "nearly doubled the number of comic panels that had been devoted to [Baker's] incarnation of the Doctor." There are 88 story pages here; the two DWM graphic novels of sixth Doctor strips total about 350 pages. For Age of Chaos to nearly double the number of panels those 350 pages contained, this would have to have over three times as many panels per page! It doesn't seem likely.
This post is the tenth in a series about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and Marvel UK. The next installment covers The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Five. Previous installments are listed below:
  1. The Iron Legion
  2. Dragon's Claw 
  3. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume One
  4. The Tides of Time
  5. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Two
  6. Voyager
  7. The Transformers Classics UK, Volume Three
  8. The World Shapers
  9. The Tramsformers Classics UK, Volume Four

09 July 2021

A Week Away from It All

My parents and family often convene at their place in Tennessee for the Fourth of July weekend; I think this year is our third year in a row of making it, which puts this firmly in the category of "tradition." In addition to us and the kids, and my parents, it's also my sister Cat and my brother Andy and his wife, and my grandmother ("GG"). This year, Hayley's mom and her husband were able to join us for a couple days too-- enabling them to meet their new grandchild for the first time.

It has been a nicely low-key week: boating, swimming, eating ice cream, other people watching the kids, dinner being cooked for me. The lake here is somehow as warm as my pool, which I kind of resent. I really appreciate the chance to spend time with my family, and to get away from it all. I even got some work done on my eternally in progress book revision. (Rounded off a chapter section, mostly anyway, and read half of Jack London's The Iron Heel.) I have also been a very productive reader, finishing off six books in the past week and being well into a seventh. We did a nice dinner at the local barbecue place (thanks GG); my mother requested a nice photo ahead of time, and we surprised her by all wearing purple for it. Or we would have, if my sister hadn't been on speakerphone when telling my dad the plan.

I like seeing the kids spend time with their family; one of the definite downsides of the academic life is how you don't grow up within twenty minutes of the majority of your extended family like I did. My brother took Son One on the paddleboard; my sister put Son One to bed a couple nights; everyone had a lot of time holding the baby! Son One is a big fan of boating and swimming, less so my mother's dog. The first couple days he didn't like to be more than an inch from being held in the water, but now he will happily paddle back and forth between me and the dock at several feet. (He's wearing a life jacket.) Though any day he swims he also extends bedtime an hour by eating extra food because of how hungry he is! He still says the dog is a "scary animal" but also now claims he's his friend, and is always trying to sneak him food.

Today we begin our return journey (albeit with a side trip), and I am ready to be back in my own house, but I will miss getting the chance to just be with my family, though with things (hopefully) going in the direction of normal, we will get to have a Mollmann Thanksgiving this year.