30 January 2012

Dr Who and the Time Signature

Doctor Who: Short Trips #18: Time Signature
edited by Simon Guerrier

When Time Signature was announced, I almost decided not to get it.  Its back cover doesn't raise a whole lot of interest, sounding like a really generic retread of Repercussions.  But eventually I learned it was nothing like Repercussions at all, and in fact it begins with the story "An Overture Too Early," which originally appeared in The Muses, being one of the better stories in that book.  "An Overture Too Early" sees the third Doctor encounter a companion from his future, a companion who has a snatch of music that can pierce into the time vortex itself.  But the Doctor can't do anything to help poor Isaac, and the Time Lords prevent him from investigating further.

Simon Guerrier wrote that story, and he takes on editing duties here, orchestrating (you see what I did there?) something that's more than an anthology.  Back when I read The Centenarian, I praised it for being (in theory) the best sort of tie-in fiction, the sort that tells a story that could only be told as a tie-in because of the way that it uses the history of the series.  Time Signature is the same, except that it delivers on its promise.  All the stories here stand on their own just fine, but as we move from story to story, we jump backward and forward in the Doctor's history, seeing different pieces of the puzzle slot into place.

It's astonishingly well done.  We move backward to the first Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara discovering a planet literally out of time in Philip Purser-Hallard's "The Ruins of Time," then forward to the sixth Doctor taking a new companion fishing in "Gone Fishing" by Ben Aaronovitch, then back again to the second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe hanging out at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in Eddie Robson's "The Avant Guardian."  Each story adds a new piece to the unfolding puzzle, until we finally can see the entire story.  Time Signature is more like a novel than a collection in that regard, telling one tale, but out-of-sequence.  Though that's appropriate, as the Doctor encounters it that way too.

Maybe none of the stories here are amazing ("The Avant Guardian" is really, really good, though, but maybe I'm just a sucker for the early BBC), but almost all of them hit very well.  "The Ruins of Time" is atmospheric, and characterizes the first TARDIS crew spot on.  I also really enjoyed Ben Woodhams's "Resonance," where the fifth Doctor meets Isaac not long before he dies; it's kinda depressing in that way so many Season 21 stories were.

The only really weak entry here is Andrew Cartmel's "Certificate of Destruction," which has all the problems any listener of his Lost Stories would expect (i.e., comedy aliens, ineffective Doctor, stupidity), but even it, like all the stories here, is raised by its presence here, acquiring a bit of poignancy.  Time Signature has a clever conceit, but more importantly, it's a collection of strong stories that make an interesting mystery as they unfold.  Or rather, a single story written by ten different authors.

27 January 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Lucifer, Part VI: Inferno

Lucifer: Inferno

Writer: Mike Carey
Artists: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, Dean Ormston, Craig Hamilton
Colorist: Daniel Vozzo

I should have known it couldn't be sustained.  Though it's by no means bad, Inferno is probably the weakest volume of Lucifer yet.  I think it's better than the first two, but by virtue of the two excellent volumes between Children and Monsters and this, it feels comparatively weak.  "Inferno" picks up right where "Purgatorio" in The Divine Comedy left off: after his battle with the Basanos, Lucifer is weak, but he still must fight his scheduled duel with Amenadiel, a throne who he ticked off in an earlier volume.

Unfortunately, far too much of "Inferno" is buildup, and buildup concerning the politics of Effrul again.  Even though I liked that kinda stuff in A Dalliance with the Damned, it feels like filler here, when I know there are bigger issues to engage with.  Still, Lucifer once again feels like he's actually in danger-- and as Mazikeen goes out in search of Lucifer's missing wings, seeds are laid for something very interesting that I suspect will have major repercussions to come.

The side stories in Inferno are some of the weaker ones in Lucifer so far.  "Bearing Gifts" was okay (great Gaudium cameo!), but I'm not sure what it had to do with anything.  "Come to Judgement" has some interesting revelations, but is also confusing.  But, you know, more Gaudium!

26 January 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Lucifer, Part V: The Divine Comedy

Lucifer: The Divine Comedy

Writer: Mike Carey
Artists: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, Dean Ormston
Colorist: Daniel Vozzo

Now that Lucifer has his own universe, it turns out that everyone wants a piece of it. Most notably, the Basanos, the living deck of magical cards that created a prophecy for Lucifer briefly in Devil in the Gateway, want to strike out on their own... and they have the power to do it. The bulk of The Divine Comedy is the knock-em-down, drag-em-out fight between Lucifer and the Basanos. This is the best conflict in Lucifer so far: not only is there a genuine, warranted sense of peril in the battle, there's also something at stake for Lucifer that's far more interesting than his survival. The Basanos want to set themselves up as gods in the new universe, and that violates the only commandment that Lucifer has set for his new realm.

Prominently displayed on the back cover of The Divine Comedy is an image of Death, big sister of Dream of the Endless. I wondered if this was a gimmicky cameo to appeal to Sandman fans. And when Lucifer is dying, Death turns up to talk to him, and I was kinda thinking yes. But then... well... gimmick is far from it. I should have known that when Death turns up, she's for real. Man, what a killer moment.

Elsewhere, Elaine Belloc is getting up to her usual hijinks, which are enlivened by the introduction of the greatest comedy side character since Merv Pumpkinhead: Gaudium the Fallen Cherub. Hardly the most imposing of demons, the little guy talks big, but is unable to back it up, and talks tough, but turns out to be pretty nice: "God? Oh shit, yeah. We used to be big, big friends of his. Yeah, really big. This was when the firmament above and the firmament below hadn't been divided yet. In fact, now that I think back, it was me who gave him the idea for that." He's initially Elaine's bodyguard, but he eventually gets his own side story, a quest into the realm of a dangerous god... only neither he nor his sister are really prepared for what they have to do. Hilarious, even if does spin out of some rather dark events.

There's also a great sidestory about a centaur girl who tries to do the right thing by Lucifer and gets exactly what you'd expect for her troubles.

Lucifer is definitely firing on all cylinders on this point; now I need to find out what happens next. Like right away.

25 January 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Lucifer, Part IV: A Dalliance with the Damned

Lucifer: A Dalliance with the Damned

Writer: Mike Carey
Artists: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, Dean Ormston
Colorist: Daniel Vozzo

So at the end of the second volume of Lucifer, Children and Monsters, I was already beginning to weary of the format (Lucifer goes somewhere, seems to be in trouble, turns out to have known everything all along), but there was a nugget of an idea that demonstrated promise for a future installment: Lucifer had borrowed the demiurgic power of his brother Michael to create a new universe. Woah. It seemed as though this wasn't going to be a series about a Mean Wizard beating Meaner Wizards; Lucifer was going to be about something.

A Dalliance with the Damned delivers on the promise of those final moments of Children and Monsters. The highlight here is undoubtedly the sequence where Lucifer creates a garden with a man and a woman in it, and gives them only one commandment: "Bow down to no one. Worship no one. Not even me." Of course, there's a snake in the garden, there always is. The snake in this case is an angel from our universe, who tells the man and the woman that if their maker will not give them strictures, they should make their own. And so it ends badly. But unlike the Lord, Lucifer admits that there must have been a flaw in his design, and so does away with them. Here is the true potential of a story about Lord Lucifer leaving Hell. If Lucifer decides not to rule in our universe anymore, what is the kind of place he would consider acceptable? Carey plays with some great ideas here, and comes up with answers that were new to me, at least.

The rest of A Dalliance with the Damned is good, too, thankfully. While Lucifer is trying to arrange his garden, young Elaine Belloc discovers that she has more powers than she thought in an encounter with Brute and Glob of Simon/Kirby fame. Elaine ends up in Hell, but gets out; she's a good character, and provides a much-needed human anchor in the cosmic struggled that beset this series.

The bulk of the book is taken up by the story "A Dalliance with the Damned" itself, which is largely Lucifer-free, detailing political machinations in Effrul, a domain in Hell. What shakes things up in Effrul is that Lady Lys, the daughter of Lord Arux, the demon archduke of Effrul, brings a human up from the damned to be her sexual plaything. Christopher Rudd is a great character, a man who killed an innocent boy in a moment of anger three hundred years ago, and so has suffered ever since. Lady Lys even turns out to be a good character, which I did not anticipate at first, as she begins to take too much of an interest in her plaything. Complicated politics are the order of the day, but they're interesting politics, with good ideas backing them, and some pretty unexpected outcomes. I wouldn't have thought that a sidestep like this would work, but it does completely.

If Lucifer can keep this level of quality up, it will be a great series indeed.

23 January 2012

The Legion After Darkseid

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Curse: The Deluxe Edition

Writer/Plotter: Paul Levitz
Penciller/Plotter: Keith Giffen
Inker: Larry Mahlstedt
Guest Artists: Kurt Schaffenberger, Howard Bender, Frank Giacoia, Curt Swan, Dan Adkins, Dave Cockrum, James Sherman, Joe Staton, Dick Giordano, Dave Gibbons, George Tuska, Pat Broderick, Mike DeCarlo, Gene Colan, Karl Kesel, Romeo Tanghal
Letterers: John Costanza, Adam Kubert, Todd Klein
Colorist: Carl Gafford

For some reason, I ordered The Curse before I'd even read The Great Darkness Saga, so it's a good thing I turned out to like The Great Darkness Saga so much. Even better, I liked The Curse even more than I liked the previous volume. I don't know if this is because Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen really hit their stride, or maybe I finally hit my stride, absorbing enough Legion backstory for everything to hang together at last. Though The Curse contains no standout epics like The Great Darkness Saga does, it is more consistently successful, offering up a series of excellent character-based twists and turns as the Legion chugs ever dutifully into the future.

Unfortunately, The Curse opens with a rare misfire, when Cosmic Boy learns that his family was attacked in a firebombing at the end of the previous volume. This in itself is fine, but after this one story, it never seems to have a substantial effect on Cos's characterization (inasmuch as he seems to have any). On the other hand, Giffen's artwork really shines here, with a number of great panels showcasing Cos's grief and anger and powers.

From there, things unfold pretty interestingly. As some of the Legion fights revenge-seeking Khunds, Element Lad and Shvaughn Erin investigate the strange behavior of one of the Legion's own, and Invisible Kid is stranded in a strange dimension where he encounters both his predecessor (driven mad!) and Wildfire. Wildfire was, of course, transformed into a being of antimatter energy by a strange accident, but in this dimension, he has physical form again. There are some great moments as Invisible Kid forces Wildfire to come back with him. And also Chamelon Boy goes on a quest to his homeworld to regain his shapeshifting powers, finally reconciling with his estranged father. Phew! Life in the Legion is never boring, especially as Levitz and Giffen masterfully run all these plots alongside one another, making sure to always be starting and ending them at the same time, to continuously pull you through the book. Other highlights include the story where Weber's World (the United Planets' bureaucratic headquarters) is taken over, and Brainiac must work with his old crush Supergirl to stop it from colliding with another planet.

Indications of my emotional attachment to these characters began to appear with the subplot about Wildfire's relationship with Dawnstar. Without a physical form, Wildfire can never touch the woman he loves-- and her people must go into space when they turn eighteen to discover their husbands. There's a great bit where he's so upset over this, he purposefully explodes his containment suit. Ouch! Another great subplot is the discovery that one of the Legion was replaced by an impostor... especially when it's clear that the replacement happened before the impostor entered into a relationship with another Legionnaire. Ouch again!

One of my complaints about the previous volume was the group of characters I never figured out who they were, but that was alleviated in part by a recurring subplot about Star Boy, lover of Legion leader Dream Girl. That Star Boy is not front-and-center turns out to be an integral part of this characterization; he feels neglected by Dream Girl, but is too quiet to say anything about it. There's a great issue where, during a Legion election, he and Wildfire sit on the roof of Legion HQ under the stars watching the results come in, and Star Boy recounts his exceedingly unlucky past. It's nicely done, giving some depth, but also some awesomeness, to a Legionnaire who needs it.

I didn't much care for the four-part story about the Omen and the Prophet or whatever it was-- it never really made a lot of sense, and Giffen's art was unusually confusing when he got too creative with his layouts-- but even this had some nice subplots, such as when Colossal Boy takes his new wife home to meet his mother in a very cute story.

Finally, there's a tense multipart story about a traitor within the Science Police itself, giving some focus to these perennial side characters, and showing that events don't have to be enormously cosmic to be dangerous to our heroes. The fact that I love Shvaughn Erin probably helps keep me interested! The book wraps up with a short coda about a new birth in the Legion and an attempt to resurrect the sorcerer Mordru. This was okay, but the final two pages-- where we learn what the curse Darkseid placed on the Legion at the end of The Great Darkness Saga actually was-- made it all worth it.

On the whole, this was an excellent book of comics, and great value. I'd happily pick up more of these Legion of Super-Heroes deluxe editions if they were released. Are you listening, DC?

(Note that I did not do my own scanning because I am lazy; I found these on the Internet, presumably taken from the original issues. The quality of paper and color in the actual deluxe edition is much better.)

20 January 2012

Darkseid Forever

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga: The Deluxe Edition

Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: Keith Giffen
Inker: Larry Mahlstedt
Additional Pencillers: Pat Broderick, Howard Bender, Carmine Infantino
Additional Inkers: Bruce D. Patterson, Rodin Rodriguez, Dave Hunt
Colorists: Carl Gafford, Gene D'Angelo
Letterers: John Costanza, Bruce D. Patterson, Ben Oda, Adam Kubert, Annette Kawecki, Todd Klein, Janice Chiang

I don't remember where I first heard about The Great Darkness Saga. It may have been Scott Tipton's Comics 101, the blog that is in a major way responsible for getting me into comic books to begin with, but I can't find the post now if so. In any case, I was drawn to the book because it was described as being the ultimate Darkseid story. Now, Darkseid is the best supervillain who's not Lex Luthor, so of course I was intrigued. That fact sat in the back of my head for many years, until DC decided to release a "deluxe edition" of the saga, containing fourteen issues. And I sprang for it.

Whoever told me that, they were right. When Jack Kirby created Darkseid, he created a great villain, but it can be argued that he never used Darkseid to his full potential. The Great Darkness Saga clearly does. In a way, it's a shame that I knew this was the ultimate Darkseid story, because as originally presented, it's a surprise. There's a mysterious figure who appears in a number of issues, and it's not until you're relatively close to the end that it's revealed this figure is Darkseid. But perhaps knowing makes it better: there are these small glimpses of a malevolent force that is going to intersect the Legionnaires' lives, and every time it gave me this little thrill. Darkseid was coming.

And when he appeared for real: oh, how amazing. I think I like Darkseid because he so completely devotes himself to what he is (evil), but never acts inconsistently or stupidly or insanely, and because his sheer power means he can do some amazing stuff. The Darkseid of The Great Darkness Saga is depleted by a battle in the distant past, but he's still a force to be reckoned with.
"As you wish, Darkseid, so shall it be done."
"Of course. There is no other possibility."
What he does to the planet is Daxam is utterly amazing and so perfect. (Don't get spoiled on this one; it's much better discovered for yourself.) Of course, Darkseid loses, but the showdown is excellent, and he goes out the only way you can imagine Darkseid justifiably going out. Bam!

All that said, The Great Darkness Saga itself occupies only six issues of this fourteen-issue collection. Is what else is here worthwhile?

It is one of my greatest regrets that I did not come to comics until late. Though I started reading Star Wars and Star Trek comics in high school, it wasn't until college that I finally read a superhero comic book. Legion of Super-Heroes is one of those things that makes me most regret this part of my life. For though I like the title now, I know I would have loved it when I was a kid. Legion mixes personal drama (there's a cast of over twenty!) and epic scale in the same way as my favorite television shows of my teen years, Babylon 5 and Beast Wars/Beast Machines. The stories here are the kind I would make up when babysitting to entertain my charges: lots of twists and turns, detailed continuity, subplots that rumble in the background for ages.

Sure, the characterization is never exactly subtle, and there are so many characters that it took me the entire book to figure out who Ultra Boy even was, but as time went on, I started to figure out who these people were and the whole thing began to click. The beginning is rough, because I think Levitz assumes you know who these people are and what's been happening with them. It also helps that he seems to find his groove, with each issue usually containing one story complete unto itself, but fragments of others that unfold as it goes.

It started to come together when, Chameleon Boy, upset at his father's continual attempts to get back into his life, takes the Legion Espionage Team on a desparate mission into Khund space. I didn't quite get this-- the jump from "I hate you dad!" to "I'm gonna get my friends killed!" is not clearly made-- but its aftereffects are great. Timber Wolf is among those on the espionage mission, and his distraught girlfriend, Light Lass, begs Saturn Girl to lobby for a rescue mission. (Saturn Girl is married to Legion leader Lightning Lad. Yes, it's complicated.) Saturn Girl is telepathic, and when she looks into Light Lass's mind, she experiences a complete and devoted love that she herself does not feel for her own husband. So when Lightning Lad won't authorize a rescue mission, Saturn Girl charges off on a rescue mission herself-- which is itself shot down. Then there's a couple good issues with the group of Legionnaires stranded on an icy asteroid, and Saturn Girl finds herself drawn to Timber Wolf... because of feelings that are literally not her own. A neat sci-fi idea and relationship drama. Huzzah!

The best single issue in the collection, however, was the oversized "Monster in a Little Girl's Mind!" This story sees Science Police (love that term) liason Shvaughn Erin (so cute!) reporting for duty at Legion headquarters on the same day that Brainiac Five tries to cure the mind of a little girl by connecting it to computer, which unleashes his mad creation, the computer program "Computo." Despite its ridiculous name, Computo is a dangerous opponent, turning the Legion's HQ against the Legion in a tense tale that rotates between the various Legionnaires in and outside of the building. Every member gets their moment, and there's even a set of blueprints of Legion HQ-- which are not only informative, but part of the story! The best part is the short text message at the top of each page, notes transmitted from Shvaughn to the chief of the Science Police detailing the deteriorating situation. It's the sort of thing that could only be done in comics, and it fills in gaps in the story at the same time it communicates the gravity of their plight. All in all, it's good comics.

Also: Blok. Blok is great. Of course I love Blok; he's a well-intentioned rock who does what's right but thinks humans are kinda weird.

The writing that I've been praising is the work of Paul Levitz, but I should also praise Keith Giffen, who draws most of the stories. In addition to drawing some absolutely killer layouts, the scripts included in the back of this edition make it clear how big of an influence he had on Legion. Levitz starts out by writing a page-by-page breakdown of the first issue of the Saga, describing each page in a paragraph; the whole thing runs about six pages. For the final, bonus-sized issue, Levitz just writes two pages of what needs to happen, leaving it to Giffen to do it however he likes. And do it he does; these issues look amazing. Good fights and good storytelling.

(Note that I did not do my own scanning because I am lazy; I found these on the Internet, presumably taken from the original issues. The quality of paper and color in the actual deluxe edition is much better.)

18 January 2012

Audio Catchup: The Eighth Doctor and Mary Shelley

Over the past couple months, I've listened to the eighth Doctor's triumphant return to Big Finish Productions' monthly Doctor Who range, alongside new companion Mary.  I'd been anticipating these immensely, and on the whole, I found them quite enjoyable...

Doctor Who #153: The Silver Turk
written by Marc Platt
directed by Barnaby Edwards
starring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Julie Cox as Mary
released October 2011

Paul McGann! Nothing gets me excited like a new start for the Eighth Doctor, even if it’s a new old start. The Silver Turk takes us back to the Eighth Doctor’s early days, before Charley Pollard, to his travels with Mary Shelley, picking up from the end of The Company of Friends. So I was pretty jazzed to get ahold of it at long last.

In The Company of Friends, the Doctor left Samson and Gemma in Vienna to answer a distress signal, so here, the Doctor tries to get back to the duo with his new friend Mary. Alas, adventures with the trio of Samson, Gemma, and Mary are not to be, for the Doctor gets the time wrong, accidentally landing in Vienna some 57 years into the future, where Alfred Stahlbaum is showing off his brand new invention, the automaton known as the “Silver Turk.” Only it’s not an invention at all, as the Silver Turk is quite clearly a Cyberman…

( Read more... )

Doctor Who #154: The Witch from the Well
written by Rick Briggs
directed by Barnaby Edwards
starring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Julie Cox as Mary
released November 2011

In their third adventure together, the Doctor and Mary land in the 21st century, where they are promptly attacked by a witch. Along with a pair of human twins they’ve met, they travel back to the 17th century to find out where the witch comes from. But something’s not as it seems (of course) and soon Mary finds herself back in the 21st century, fighting the same threat as the Doctor in the 17th. Such is the premise of The Witch from the Well, the second audio drama from Rick Briggs, who previously penned The Entropy Composition on The Demons of Red Lodge and other stories.

Briggs writes a nice story. I mean The Witch from the Well will never be called a classic of the genre, but it’s one of those Doctor Who stories with a couple monsters, a nice idea, and a lot of running around that never really flags, and never bungles things up. What could be a bog-standard runaround is saved by the use of the two different time periods. In these days of wibbley-wobbly Moffaty-sophistry, it’s nothing new or impressive… but the story doesn’t ask us to be impressed, either. It’s a new layer or complication added into the plot, a bit of colour that actually does quite a bit to energise the story.

( Read more... )

Doctor Who #155: Army of Death
written by Jason Arnopp
directed by Barnaby Edwards
starring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Julie Cox as Mary
released December 2011

The previous Mary Shelley Doctor Who adventures have taken Mary to only her near-future and her past; the furthest afield they’ve gone was Space Year 2011, and even then, Mary spent most her time running around a historic mansion. This has thankfully dodged a problem I predicted ever since it was announced that Mary would be the companion for these three stories: Mary can’t go to the future.

The reason is Mary Shelley’s “other” science fiction novel, The Last Man. Oh yes, everyone knows Frankenstein, and that story’s themes have suffused this run of plays to great effect. Mary has been sympathetic to the “monsters” she’s come across, but there’s always an undercurrent of repulsion, as in Frankenstein itself, where the narrative seems to never quite admit that the creature deserves our pity. But Shelley also wrote The Last Man in 1826, about England in the far-off 2090s… a time where the only changes have been the abolition of the monarchy and the use of balloons for travel. (But only in one scene. Shelley seems to otherwise forget this.) There’s even a subplot about the creation of a national portrait gallery, England having been unable to even manage that. How, then could Big Finish convince me that Mary Shelley had ever been to the future when her own ability to predict it had been so meagre?

( Read more... )

It's a Troubled Adolescence, Charlie Brown

I heard of this play probably three years ago, and got it from the library right away. In cleaning out my study in October, I found it, so I decided to finally read it...

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
by Bert V. Royal

This play is an unauthorized take on Peanuts.  The names aren't quite right, but it's obvious enough, and the dialogue minimizes the use of the weird names so that you can pretty much keep the "real" characters in mind.  They're all in high school now, and it's pretty rough.  Snoopy went rabid and killed Woodstock, and had to be put down.  Charlie Brown throws a funeral but no one comes.  Sally is a goth, but last week she was a hippie, and next week she'll be something else.  Pig Pen is a neat freak who bullies the other boys and molests the women.  Schroeder is eternally harassed and no longer friends with the gang.  Not that there's a lot of friendship to go around.  Marcie and Peppermint Patty are gossiping floozies.  Lucy is in prison!

Some of it's funny.  It's dark humor mostly, but I like the jokes about Snoopy's funeral and Lucy's prison sentence.  It's kinda fun to see how these character would turn out older.  I know there are tons of imaginings of how Calvin and Hobbes end up later on out there on the Internet, and I suspect the same probably exists for Peanuts, though I'm not familiar with it myself.  The problem with Dog Sees God is that it goes too far, sometimes; some of the things Charlie Brown does here make him unrecognizable.  He and Pig Pen supposedly physically bully Schroeder, and I just don't buy it; ditto the way Linus, Marcie, and Peppermint Patty are portrayed.  The two girls, especially, seem to do shocking things for the sake of shock.

Charlie Brown visits Lucy in prison.
If the story is meant to uproot our Peanuts preconceptions with an explosion of darkness, then that would be fine, but there are obviously points where it wants to be touching, too.  But to be touching means it needs my preexisting affection for the characters from reading Peanuts all those years, because there's nothing here to generate affection for these characters.  But if that's so, then Charlie Brown has to actually be close enough to the Charlie Brown that I remember.  Dog Sees God tries to be both shocking and touching, and I don't think it manages that mix right; the "shocking" stuff stops my affection for these characters from fully engaging, and thus I don't buy the "touching" moments.  If there even is a way to manage that mix right.

That said, some of those touching moments really do work.  In a good stage production, that last scene could especially hit really hard.  Dog Sees God remains an interesting experiment, but ultimately a flawed one.

(I was surprised to discover from Wikipedia that Bert V. Royal went on to be the screenwriter of the acclaimed 2010 teen film Easy A.  Also, there was apparently a production of Dogs Sees God with Eliza Dushku as Lucy!)

16 January 2012

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Book 12

After my marathon readthrough of three Inspector Lynley books this summer, which were my first entries in the series for five years, I decided that I was going to finish the series off.  So every four months I'll be picking up another one and giving it a go...

A Place of Hiding
by Elizabeth George

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that Elizabeth George does not understand what I like about the Inspector Lynley mysteries.  The thing that makes the series shine is Lynley and Havers.  In the past three books we've had Havers on her own, Lynley and Havers on different cases, and Lynley and Havers working together but barely in the book.  Why did she come up with two characters who go great together and then either not put them together, or minimize their appearances?  A Place of Hiding contributes to this problem by having no Havers and barely any Lynley; the detective for this story is Simon St. James, Lynley's good friend.  George overestimates the extent to which I am interested in St. James.  In theory, he's a different character (and certainly people in the story keep on saying he is), but I would be hard-pressed to name a difference between how St. James and Lynley conduct their investigations.

All that grumbling aside, this is a pretty good mystery on its own merits.  It's really slow to get started (also par for the course for the last few books), but around halfway through, it began to accelerate, and at the three-quarter mark, it was rocketing.  The last quarter was excellent: great stuff.  George knows how to assemble a puzzle, and how to make not one, but many revelations that shock you as things come to a climax.  Once again, though, I completely failed to guess the culprit.  I think I will have to admit that I am just rubbish at mysteries, even though I enjoy them.

12 January 2012

Darth of the Dead

Star Wars: Death Troopers
by Joe Schreiber

I can't say I'm into horror really, but I am in favor of a tie-in line that branches out and tries something new and different, so I was excited when Death Troopers was announced.  Zombies in Star Wars aren't new-- the Vector miniseries included something very similar-- but the explicit horror focus is.  I mean, look at that amazing cover!

Unfortunately, this is a case of the idea being better than the execution.  The cover is amazing... but it's pretty much the most amazing part of the book.  It starts off so sloooooow, though once the zombies show up, it never stops moving, and it Schreiber's good enough that it carried me through in only a couple sittings.  The characters are flat and pretty cliché (though I liked the medical droid).  Despite being "horror" there's only one scene I thought was scary... though it was very chilling.  There's also a surprise appearance that I think could have made me groan quite easily, but worked very well in execution.  So not great, and maybe not even good, but worth the brief amount of time it took to read, and praiseworthy in concept if nothing else.

10 January 2012

Last Foundation

Psychohistorical Crisis
by Donald Kingsbury

The dust jacket of Psychohistorical Crisis claims that Donald Kingsbury is following in Isaac Asimov's footsteps by just reusing psychohistory in the same way another sf author might reuse "the starship, the robot, the time machine."  Indeed, the blurb goes on to indicate that Psychohistorical Crisis is about a man named Eron Osa trying to discover what crime he committed could be so heinous that he no longer remembers it.  Nothing too Asimovian there, it would seem (or even psychohistorical).

But this is nothing more than marketing spin, probably designed to avoid the wrath of the Asimov Estate.  Psychohistorical Crisis is, in fact, a very close sequel to Asimov's Foundation novels-- his original Foundation novels, as Psychohistorical Crisis ignores Gaia and the robots and anything else Asimov introduced in Foundation's Edge or later works. (Well, ignores them except for a couple jokes at their expense.) The book dodges copyright by substitution: "Splendid Wisdom" for Trantor, "Faraway" for Terminus, "Cloun-the-Stubborn" for the Mule, "Founder" for Hari Seldon, and so on.  Once you get used to it, this actually works very well; it's easy to imagine that "Trantor" actually means "splendid wisdom," or that Terminus's name shifted in the two millennia since we last went there.  It was the less clever ones that threw me out of the story every time they cropped up, like "Lakgan" for Kalgan.  Really?  That's not even trying.

Ignoring the copyright dodge, Psychohistorical Crisis is certainly the best Foundation novel to be published since Second Foundation.  In fact, it's probably the best Foundation novel full stop.  Asimov was great at introducing concepts, and he was great at scale, but Psychohistorical Crisis demonstrates that Asimov never really fully exploited psychohistory.  For Asimov, psychohistory was primarily an avenue for his typical hard sf puzzle stories: given this social circumstance, what way would Hari Seldon have seen out of it?  Later, this got more complicated: given psychohistory, what could knock it off track? what could you do to get it back on track?  But fundamentally, the original trilogy, and to a lesser extent Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth, are all puzzle stories, not strongly interested in the how or why of psychohistory, just the what.

What occurred to me while reading Psychohistorical Crisis is that, weirdly, the Foundation stories were never all that interested in history.  History is sketchy in those stories, and given that the Galactic Empire has been around for 12,000 years (and humanity has been in space for 50,000), there's actually not been that much of it.  Psychohistorical Crisis is replete with history; references to fragments of past events abound, and history directly influences the decisions of almost every major character in readily explicable way.  There's not just one galactic history, either, but Kingsbury draws attention to how different groups have their own histories, that may or may not connect to reality or other histories.
There were too many conflicting histories, a quantum ripple of alternate pasts. There were too many wars and too many intrigues and too many stars and too vast a span of time for one human... to comprehend. (374)
Asimov is often praised for his scale, but I think Kingsbury accomplishes more with it here than he ever did.  Kingsbury is very interested in how we process and understand our own history.  There's a repeated joke about how the characters are always getting the history of pre-spaceflight Earth wrong, which sometimes got on my nerves because I think that kinda thing's been done to death (we're told that Lincoln wrote the Ten Commandments, and that Dickens's London was Neolithic), but it fits into the project of the book as a whole.  To my surprise, I was utterly captivated by chapters solely about how it is impossible by physical law to know all of history, or about how the Egyptians developed the measurement of time. (The appendix on this topic, however, is much less interesting.)

The key to what Kingsbury did, I think, lies in a passing reference to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: "I've been plotting galactic patterns of scholarship. It is always the same curve. Flat, then a sharp increase, then flat again when knowledge matures. During the explosion, scholars always think the explosion will go on forever. They do not value what is known.  Their pleasure is to seek new discoveries. During the mature phase, scholars always think that everything is known and see scholarship as the art of applying the known" (382).  This pretty clearly maps onto Kuhn's ideas of "normal science" and "revolutionary science."

Kingsbury's genius lies in finding a "psychohistorical crisis."  This is not a "crisis" in the Asimovian sense-- one predicted by psychohistory-- but in the Kuhnian sense-- the discovery of a point where a scientific paradigm no longer applies.  Kingsbury found a point where psychohistory would break down, not because of external forces like a telepath or a hive-mind, but because of the tenets of psychohistory itself.  And it's not even a real science!  It is a puzzle story in that sense, I suppose, but it's one that's interested in what makes psychohistory work in a way that Asimov never was, I don't think.

In addition, Psychohistorical Crisis gives us interesting characters, a twisty plot, and fantastic worldbuilding.  It's everything one could want out of a science fiction novel, and it deserves to be much more widely known.  Both as a part of Asimov's universe (I can't believe it took me ten years to read it when I read stuff like Foundation's Fear right off because it was "authorized") and as an excellent work of science fiction in general.

09 January 2012

The Best Science Fiction of 1987?

Donald A. Wollheim presents
The 1988 Annual World's Best SF

For some reason, I've always been a bit suspicious of "year's best" sci-fi anthologies.  So much so, in fact, that I am fairly certain that I have never actually read one.  I can't really explain or justify this.  Is the cynic in me simply unable to believe that there were ten truly worthy sci-fi stories published in one year?  Especially if that year is 1987?  That doesn't really make any sense now that I think about it.  Anyway, a couple years ago, I ended up getting a set of year's best anthologies for 1983, 1987, 1989, 1998, and 2000 basically for free.  So, here I am, ready to give the science fiction of 1987 a try.

I'm going to try an arbitrary metric this time out: thumbs up means the story feels like it belongs in a "year's best" book, thumbs down means it most definitely does not, and thumbs sideways means I'm essentially neutral on the issue.

"The Pardoner's Tale" by Robert Silverberg
In the future, aliens have taken over the world, occupying the cities.  Our main character is a pardoner, who hacks the systems to let people get out of the cities, in exchange for tons of money.  He's a bit of a smug protagonist, but this was a decent little story, with a few good ideas.  Thumbs sideways.

"Rachel in Love" by Pat Murphy
A man transplants the brain of his dead daughter into a chimpanzee, but when he himself dies, she's left alone in the world.  An okay presmise livened by very immersive writing-- Murphy explores the perspective of Rachel better than I would have thought possible.  The only thing more confusing than being a teenager is being a teenager in a body you clearly weren't made for.  Sad and depressing, but in the right ways.  The ending is great.  Thumbs sideways.

"America" by Orson Scott Card
There's a frame story here about a collapsing America in the far future, being invaded by long-dispossessed inhabitants of Latin America.  This isn't so interesting.  It frames, however, an essentially not-sf tale about a boy goes to a remote native village in Brazil with his father on medical missionary work.  I liked this story a lot, even if the story occasionally did dance into essentializing the natives as possessors of "magical" truths.  I was intrigued enough that I'd like to read Folk of the Fringe, which collects all of Card's stories set in this millieu.  Thumbs up.

"Crying in the Rain" by Tanith Lee
Yet another postapocalyptic story.  I would say that we weren't very positive about the future in 1987, but by all accounts, we're not very positive now, either.  A haunting story about what a mother has to do to give her daughter a better life in this bleak future.  Thumbs up.

"The Sun Spider" by Lucius Shepard
This was, without a doubt, my favorite story in the book.  There's a complex relationship between a strange scientist and his wife, some interesting sci-fi stuff, great worldbuilding, lyrical writing.  I was not expecting something this good when I picked up the book, and certainly not from an author I've never even heard of.  Wollheim's introduction indicates that Shepard usually writes about "near-future wars in backwards lands," which is disappointing, as I'd love to read more gorgeous space stuff from here.  Thumbs up, for sure.

"Angel" by Pat Cadigan
I never even figured out what was going on here.  I'm sure I could have, but nothing made me care enough to want to.  Thumbs down. 

"Forever Yours, Anna" by Kate Wilhelm
A handwriting expert named Gordon has to find a woman named Anna, wanted in connection with an experiment gone wrong.  It has a very neat idea, but does not do much with it.  Thumbs sideways. 

"Second Going" by James Tiptree, Jr.
Aliens come to the Earth, but turn out to be rather different than anyone expected.  Their telepathy gives them extraordinary abilities to prevent problems, but what proves really intriguing is their gods.  A pretty good story, borderline, but ultimately thumbs sideways. 

"Dinosaurs" by Walter Jon Williams
This was my other favorite story in the book, about humans of the future who have subdivided their functions into different specializations-- and are utterly unable to communicate fully with members of species who haven't.  Humanity's terraformers are destroying the planets of intelligent races, but because the terraformers weren't designed with human intelligence, there's no good way to get them to stop.  So naturally those intelligent races declare war... but it's a war they can never win.  Great ideas, and great writing.  Thumbs up. 

"All Fall Down" by Don Sakers
Apparently I read this story but I don't remember a thing about it.  Thumbs down.

That's not that bad.  Only two stories that I flat out didn't like.  There were perhaps more thumbs sideways stories than one might wish (four), but that's equaled by the number of very good stories, two of which I thought were excellent.  I look forward to discovering what the best sci-fi stories of 1989 were whenever I get there.

There's no table of contents in this book, by the way.  Who does that?  Also, Wollheim writes little paragraph-long introductions to each story.  He needs to not do that.  When they aren't disposable, they give away parts of the story!

05 January 2012

From the Ekumen to Earthsea

80!: Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin
edited by Karen Joy Fowler & Debbie Notkin

Ursula K. Le Guin, some seven years after I fell in love with her by reading half of The Left Hand of Darkness in one terrible night, remains one of my favorite authors. And I'm barely into her oeuvre, having read just the Hainish novels and scattered short stories. But I couldn't resist picking up this, a festschrift published in honor of her 80th birthday. It's a mix of essays, both personal and more academic, fiction, and poetry. It's taken me a bit to get around to writing this review, unfortunately, so my memory is fading, but I'll do my best.

The personal essays are kinda mixed, but inevitably so. Many of them are about people hanging out, ho-hum, and then bam! Ursula K. Le Guin shows them a whole different kind of sci-fi and/or fantasy. Now, I can empathize because this was my own experience (she is probably the sf writer I wish I could write like more than any other), but to read this repeatedly got a little repetitive. But there are still some gems sprinkled into these essays, such as how Kim Stanley Robinson took her class, or Brian Atterby's very interesting tale of how he, Le Guin, and Karen Joy Fowler edited The Norton Book of Science Fiction. (I've had that thing in my library for years, and it honestly doesn't look too great, but now I'm very curious about it.)

Of the less personal essays, Jo Walton's "A New Island of Stability: Annals of the Western Shore" made me really interested in reading those books someday (my wife liked them), as did Una McCormack's "The Exercise of Vital Powers," which discusses the role of history in Le Guin's work. (I've always found this an interesting theme; I loved the line from Four Ways to Forgiveness that ends with "There is a great river, and it flows through this land, and we have named it History.") And Julie Phillips's mini-biography is excellent, though it makes me want a full one! (I imagine there is one out there, actually; I should go looking.)

There's five stories, four from members of a "wimmin's" collective called "Beyon'Dusa," who apparently deem Le Guin an inspiration. Tributes in this form get tricky, I think. The Asimov festschrift, Foundation's Friends, did by having the writers set their stories in Asimov's different fictional universes, but none of these stories take that form; rather, they ostensibly "honor a great artist who has sustained and transformed a tradition by adding to it." But this tradition just seems to be sf/fantasy stories about women, because that's about as Le Guinian as most of them feel. Andrea Hairston's "Will Do Magic For Small Change," the first chapter of a novel, is interesting, but unfulfilling for obvious reasons. Neither Sheree Renée Thomas's "Touch" nor Ama Patterson's "Seamonsters" interested me; when picking up a book on Le Guin, I just didn't want to be reading some stories that virtually had nothing to do with her that I could see.

I did really like the last one, though, Pan Morigan's "The Heart of the Song," a fantasy myth with an interest in storytelling that resonated with many of the themes Le Guin has employed. (The only non-Beyon'Dusa story, "The Closet" by John Kessel, doesn't even come close to feeling like a Le Guin story, and would be trite even if it wasn't in this book.)

The bibliography is excellently thorough, too. I have lots to read yet, is what I realized. Which is good, as this book reminded me (though I shouldn't've needed reminding) about what was great about Le Guin, and that reading her is always worthwhile.

There's also poems.

03 January 2012

Dr Who and the Ghosts of Christmas

Every now and then, I encounter a Short Trip on my reading list, but it feels right to read Christmas-themed ones at Christmastime, so I let this one jump the queue a bit:

Doctor Who: Short Trips #22: The Ghosts of Christmas
edited by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright

Hardcover, 278 pages. Published 2007. Acquired May 2009. Read December 2011.

Paul Cornell's A Christmas Treasury, Big Finish's first Christmas anthology, remains a high watermark for me-- not just in terms of the Christmas books, but Short Trips in general. On the other hand, their second one, The History of Christmas was kinda disappointing. Still, Doctor Who and Christmas just go together in a way that's right, something I think Paul Cornell realized before even Russell T Davies did, and so I was happily looking forward to this book.

It didn't disappoint. Even at its weakest, it still has a sense of joy about it. It's divided into three section, for Christmases Past, Present, and Future, which correspond to when the stories are set. The title and the blurb implies an element of spookiness or horror, and thankfully that's minimal, because in the few cases where it's tried, it doesn't really work. "24 Crawford Street" by Ian Farrington feels more arbitrary than spooky, while Xanna Eve Chown's "Do You Believe in the Krampus?" takes a great premise (the Alpine legend of a demon that eats naughty children) but is completely boring. "The Stars Our Contamination" by Steven Savile is a zombie story that doesn't really click. Most disappointing is Peter Angelhides's "The Somerton Fetch," a saccharine muddle of a story about a character I don't really care about.

But on the whole, the stories really work. This collection includes such joys as:
  • "For the Man Who Has Everything" by Dan Abnett: A private secretary to a Cabinet minister spends Christmas with the eighth Doctor after the two of them save the world together.
  • "Tell Me You Love Me" by Scott Matthewman: The best TARDIS crew ever (the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan) experience Christmas in the London Blitz. Ian and Barbara are both sharply captured in this ominous tale.
  • "Do You Dream in Colour?" by Gary Russell: No Doctor, but Ben and Polly after their time in the TARDIS. The story avoids the obvious route of having them romantically involved, and is all the better for it. It's nice to see some post-TARDIS companions who aren't depressed or traumatized, but the Doctor has clearly made his mark.
  • "The Nobility of Faith" by Jonathan Clements: A Christmas pantomime where the Doctor meets "Ala Urd-Din."
  • "Dear Great Uncle Peter" by Neil Corry: A little boy discovers that he's forgotten his Christmas day! How terrible! Thankfully the Doctor and Leela can set it right. Maybe trying too hard to get the voice of a small child, but fun and worthy of its position in Re:Collections.
  • "They Fell" by Scott Handcock: Charley Pollard! What else do you need?
  • "The Christmas Presence" by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris: The writers of The Scarifyers tackling Doctor Who? I hadn't even suspected that the world could be this kind.
  • "Snowman in Manhattan" by John Binns: Worth it just for the image of the first Doctor as a department store Santa, but it turns out to be a good story beyond that, too.
  • "The Crackers" by Richard Salter: Evelyn Smythe discovers that her Christmas memories live within the TARDIS itself.
  • "Dr Cadabra" by Trevor Baxendale: The sixth Doctor is mistaken for a clown at an office Christmas party. Naturally.
  • "Keeping it Real" by Joseph Lidster: As in The Gathering, Lidster demonstrates that he knows why Tegan is one of the best companions.
  • "Christmas Everyday" by Mark Magrs: It's Christmas once a week in a future where the United Kingdom is one giant shopping center.
I also enjoyed "Faithful Friends" by the editors, a three-part story about the Doctor and the Brigadier at Christmas. Something about the Brigadier and Charley being reunited at Christmas just makes me smile.

My favorite was definitely "Far Away in a Manger" by Iain McLaughlin, a quiet tale with no monsters or villains. The Doctor, Peri, and Erimem land on an Earth colony during a snowstorm and help the colonists through their various problems. It's a charming story, clearly meant to be read on a long night during a snowstorm, helping hold back the cold just like a fire in the hearth.

I love Doctor Who, and I love Christmas. Any book with one of those things is good, but this one has both. How can it not be great? Every book should be a Doctor Who Christmas book. Except that that much Christmas would be saccharine, and that's something this book avoids nicely. Not as good as A Christmas Treasury, but that's no black mark; it's still one of the best books the Short Trips series has done.

This collection is also noteworthy for featuring three sequential stories using the term "bobble hat," which I had not previously been aware of.

02 January 2012

Ten Years of Bernice Summerfield

Since the beginning of 2010 or so, I've decided to finally get back into Professor Bernice Summerfield, many years after I listened to the first two seasons of the audio dramas and read the early novels. I've been listening to an audio every now and then, but it occurred to me that I should be intermixing the books that go with them. (Bernice has a complicated storyline that constantly switches between prose and audio.) A Life of Surprises actually came out during Season 3, and now I'm on Season 4, so I've jumped back to fill in this gap:

Professor Bernice Summerfield II: A Life of Surprises
edited by Paul Cornell

Hardcover, 166 pages. Published 2002Acquired and read December 2011.

A Life of Surprises was published ten years after Benny debuted in Paul Cornell's Love and War, and the book claims to celebrate the full extent of her life, though for obvious reasons none of the stories feature her traveling with the Doctor, and most are set during her time working for the Braxiatel Collection.  It's a very nice anthology, with a lot of stories that tend to the more "literary" end of things, in terms of prose style and experimentation, which isn't a thing there's usually a lot of room for in tie-in fiction.  The looser nature of Bernice Summerfield works to its advantage here, I think-- there's no "franchise" or anything for it to be bound to, and so the authors are free to take the quite-varied tone of Bernice stories and spread their wings.

Most notable along these lines was "Kill the Mouse!" by the not-published-enough Daniel O'Mahony.  I mean, I don't fully get what happened or why, but it's an excellent look at Bernice under pressure, and it's dark without feeling overly so.  Paul Ebbs's "Something Broken" is similar, but less effective, maybe because Bernice is rarely so directly political as she is here. (I mean, I know she hates cruelty, but I feel that Beyond the Sun handled this more aptly.)  "Cuckoo" by Stephen Fewell was also a favorite; unlike many stories, it's set at a defintive point in the chronology (soon after Benny gives birth in The Glass Prison) and deals with the issue of Bernice's motherhood in a deeper way that we've seen in the audio series up until this point.

There are also weird or funny stories, such as "Alien Planets and You" by Dave Stone, which is written like an article about travel, with endnotes that explain what specifically happened to Benny. (For some reason, though, the endnotes are in a dark gray box, making them nearly illegible.) "The Collection" by Peter Anghelides is a strange time-travel adventure, but it works more than it doesn't, mostly thanks to the humor (though there's one bit that seems somewhat forced).  Steve Lyons's "Taken by the Muses" has a race of alien robots who must rhyme, and is worth it entirely for that joke.  "Time's Team" by David McIntee is also a fun romp, but surely the most humorous story in the book is Nev Fountain's "Beedlemania," features the Knyy'ds, a race compelled to use any pointed object once unsheathed before it is sheathed again.  Initially referring to swords, their honor code cause them to extend it to pens (they must write their mothers a letter) and more.

And then there's some continuity-pleasing ones (at least in theory), like Terrance Dicks's "A Mutual Friend," which takes a great premise (Bernice meets Sarah Jane) and manages to turn it into a complete non-event.  Mark Stevens's "Setting Stone" sees Bernice encountering the aftereffects of an adventure she had with the Doctor, but it didn't really come together to me-- perhaps because it's forced to be vague by its very nature.  "The Spartacus Syndrome" by Jonathan Morris is set during the old Virgin adventures, when Benny was based on Dellah, and is also disorienting but fun.  Lance Parkin's "Paydirt" is a nice tribute to Bernice (and her contradictory nature), but the best of these stories was "Dear Friend" by Jim Sangster, a simple letter from Bernice to the Doctor thanking him for what he's done for her.

There are a few stories I didn't mention, but most of those are dull at worst, not bad.  I have very mixed memories of Big Finish's previous Bernice Summerfield anthology, The Dead Men Diaries, but thankfully by this point, Big Finish had stopped pushing Bernice Summerfield as a series of sub-Indiana Jones adventures set in outer space, and let Benny return to the more literary and emotional tone of the Virgin stories.  A good celebration for a worthy character.

01 January 2012

Reading Roundup Wrapup: December 2011

Pick of the month: Neil Gaiman's Murder Mysteries by P. Craig Russell. I already reviewed this one.  Basically, it's being punched in the face by theology.  One of the best Gaiman(ish) books I've read?  Probably.

All books read:
1. Neil Gaiman's Murder Mysteries by P. Craig Russell
2. Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway by Mike Carey
3. Professor Bernice Summerfield II: A Life of Surprises edited by Paul Cornell
4. Lucifer: Children and Monsters by Mike Carey
5. Doctor Who: Short Trips #22: The Ghosts of Christmas edited by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright
6. Lucifer: A Dalliance with the Damned by Mike Carey
7. Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber
8. A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George

All books acquired:
1. Professor Bernice Summerfield II: A Life of Surprises edited by Paul Cornell
2. Professor Bernice Summerfield III: Life During Wartime edited by Paul Cornell
3. Miss Wildthyme and Friends Investigate by Stuart Douglas, Cody Schell, Jim Smith & Nick Wallace
4. Iris: Abroad edited by Paul Magrs and Stuart Douglas
5. The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb
6. Star Wars: Legacy, Volume Nine: Monster by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
7. Star Wars: Legacy, Volume Ten: Extremes by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
8. A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George
9. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
10. Top 10: Collected Edition, Book 1 by Alan Moore
11. Ares Express by Ian McDonald
12. chainsawsuit by Kris Straub
13. chainsawsuit 2 by Kris Straub
14. chainsawsuit3 by Kris Straub
15. the chainsawsuit initiative by Kris Straub
16. chainsawsuit for everyone by Kris Straub

#9-11 were my excellent-looking haul from LibraryThing's usual SantaThing celebration.  I always supply a list of authors, but forgot to put Ishiguro on the list, so I was impressed when my Santa picked Never Let Me Go, which I have been meaning to get for ages.  I asked for very few books for Christmas this year-- just the chainsawsuit 5-book pack, which Hayley nicely got for me, and Goblin Market, which Catherine assures me is on its way to Connecticut. 

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 375