30 August 2012

Review: Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

Comic hardcover, 256 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 1977-2008)
Borrowed from the library

Read June 2012
Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
translated by Matt Thorn

I read a couple stories from this collection of short-form shōjo manga in a class on graphic novels that I was taking, and I was sufficiently intrigued to track down the whole book. My previous experience with shōjo was pretty slight, and I imagined it as an entire genre of awkward high school relationships-- we can probably blame this on my experience reading Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Hagio, who was one of the founders of shōjo, showed me with "Iguana Girl" that this was entirely untrue: "shōjo" simply means "girl," and these stories are simply stories designed to appeal to girls, which seems to basically mean that they have high emotional content.

"Iguana Girl" is one of the most touching stories I have ever read. It's about a girl who is born an iguana-- but only she and her mother can tell, to everyone else she looks human. She spends her life constantly ridiculed by her mother and her sister, and Hagio makes the story hurt. Rika's pain is every child's pain, the pain of the daughter who's never quite what her mother wanted. We follow Rika as she grows up and finally comes to understand her mother, though it's not enough of course. This was one of three stories excerpted for our class, making me want to read the book-- and on reading the whole thing, it's definitely the best one.

But this is praising with faint damn. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories collects ten stories spanning Hagio's career. I found the material from the middle of her career the strongest. Her early 1970s stuff is perhaps a little too slight and overly saccharine-- but though I say that now, flipping back through "Girl on Porch with Puppy," I recall the deep emotional shock of its ending, so maybe that's a lie to make myself feel superior to this deeply emotional and melancholic work.

Her stories become stronger in the 1980s, which includes "A Drunken Dream," a strange gender-bending sci-fi story about reincarnation and the cruelty of destiny. This is where Hagio begins including more fantasy motifs into her stories, which heightens their power. "Hanshin: Half-God," about a pair of conjoined twins, is another highlight. So many of these stories I felt like I shouldn't like-- "Angel Mimic" is about a college girl falling for her professor and has a bunch of cod-evolutionary theory-- but I did anyway. Hagio's writing is lyrical, not in her dialogue (which has, after all, been ably translated by Matt Thorn) but also in her beautiful illustrations, which put emptiness to amazing effect. Even when I didn't want to be moved, I always was.

I borrowed this from the library, but I want to buy it now-- and I definitely want to pick up more classic manga, both stuff written by Moto Hagio and stuff translated by Matt Thorn. Even better when it's both of them together again!

28 August 2012

Review: Doctor Who Storybook 2007 edited by Clayton Hickman

Hardcover, 76 pages
Published 2006
Acquired August 2011

Read June 2012
Doctor Who Storybook 2007
edited by Clayton Hickman

I picked this book up because my wife and I had just listened to Patient Zero and Blue Forgotten Planet, two Big Finish appearances of the Viyrans, and she was curious about them; the story "No One Died" by Nicholas Briggs contains their only appearance in prose. It's an okay story-- there are some good ideas, but the resolution obnoxiously leaves a central mystery dangling!

The rest of the stories are fine: there are no particular standouts, positive or negative. Part of the problem stems, I think, from the fact that most of the writers try to tell a "typical" Doctor Who story in a few pages, not reworking the format to the shorter length as the Short Trips usually do. Still, some are fun, such as Gareth Roberts's "The Cat Came Back," about a strange civilization discovered by the Doctor and Rose. (Martin Geraghty's illustrations are great.) Robert Shearman's "Untitled" has some good ideas-- a picture coming to life-- but the best part of it are the Brian Williamson illustrations it engenders.

I did find Justin Richards's "Gravestone House" sacrificed logic for poorly done "scares," and Jonathan Morris's comic strip "Opera of Doom" is kinda disappointing as well.

On the other hand, Steven Moffat's "Corner of the Eye"-- told in the form of an implausibly detailed instant messenger conversation-- is hella creepy.

27 August 2012

Review: Doctor Who Annual 2006 edited by Clayton Hickman

Hardcover, 62 pages
Published 2005
Acquired August 2009

Read June 2012
Doctor Who Annual 2006
edited by Clayton Hickman

This set of stories are some of the scant few adventures to feature Christopher Eccleston's ninth Doctor: aside from this book, there's just six novels and a slim collection of Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. Despite being written by luminaries such as Paul Cornell and Rob Shearman, they're mostly just okay. Nothing terrible, but Gareth Roberts's "Doctor vs Doctor" just seemed too convoluted, and I never engaged with Cornell's perhaps-too-alien "The Masks of Makassar."  Shearman's was a bit better, with "Pitter-patter" giving us some nice creepy moments, and Daryl Joyce turning in some excellent illustrations.

The best stories are definitely the fun little comic strip ("Mr Nobody") by DWM stalwart Scott Gray and illustrator John Ross and "What I Did On My Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow" by Steven Moffat, which went on to become the television story "Blink," but is a fun Moffat adventure in its own right. (I actually bought this book to get this story, so that I could assign my students to write a short paper on that adaptation!)

There's also some puzzles and behind-the-scenes stuff which is utterly disposable, with the exception of the volume's highlight: "Meet the Doctor" and "Meet Rose," both written by Russell T Davies. There's nothing quite like seeing how the characters are viewed by their creator himself.

20 August 2012

Review: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Mass market paperback, 272 pages
Published 2004 (contents: 1940-50)
Acquired and read September 2009

Reread June 2012
I, Robot
by Isaac Asimov

I taught this book for the second time this summer; I don't think it went as well as it did last time, but I can't really point at a reason for that. My students did cause me to reevaluate the ostensibly triumphal ending of "Robbie" to an extent that I had not done prior. On the other hand, rereading it to teach it has consolidated my belief that "The Evitable Conflict" is one of Asimov's best stories, and indeed, one of the best sf short stories ever published. An underrated inclusion in a book of standouts.

12 August 2012

Reading Roundup Wrapup: July 2012

I've been gone, faithful blog-readers! But now I'm back. (I was on a bona fide vacation.) And though I haven't been writing up my books, I have been reading them...

Pick of the month: Campaign: An Adventure In Time And Space by Jim Mortimore. This might not be the best Doctor Who novel ever published, but it's certainly close. And best of all, you can download it for free, since strictly speaking, it's a piece of fanfiction. But written by a professional author.

1. The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment by Amanda Anderson
2. Star Wars: Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning
3. Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy by Mike Baron with Timothy Zahn
4. Batman vs. the Fearsome Foursome by Winston Lyon
5. From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature by Roslynn D. Haynes
6. His Grace of Osmonde: Being the portions of that nobleman's life omitted in the relation of his Lady’s story presented to the World of Fashion under the title of A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett
7. Two Years Ago—Vol. I by Charles Kingsley
8. Dark Currents edited by Ian Whates
9. Asimov’s Science Fiction July 2011 edited by Sheila Williams
10. Two Years Ago—Vol. II by Charles Kingsley
11. In the Closed Room by Frances Hodgson Burnett
12. Voices from the Past edited by Scott Harrison and Lee Harris
13. Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot by Philip Henry Gosse
14. Mumbai Noir edited by Altaf Tyrewala
15. The Two Worlds: Two Giants Novels by James P. Hogan
16. Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill
17. Mission to Minerva by James P. Hogan
18. Campaign: An Adventure In Time And Space by Jim Mortimore
19. Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet by David Bishop
20. Doctor Who and the City of Death by David Lawrence
21. Doctor Who and Shada by Paul Scoones

All books acquired:
1. Star Wars: Invasion 2: Rescues by Tom Taylor
2. Star Wars: Invasion 3: Revelations by Tom Taylor
3. Star Trek: Alien Spotlight, Volume 2 by Arne Schmidt & Andy Schmidt, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Tipton & David Tipton, Ian Edginton, and Stuart Moore
4. Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago..., Volume 1 by Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…, Volume 1 by Roy Thomas , Don Glut, Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont, and Mary Jo Duffy
5. Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…, Volume Two by Archie Goodwin with Chris Claremont, Wally Lombego, Larry Hama, and Mike W. Barr
6. Star Wars Omnibus: Boba Fett by John Wagner, Mike Kennedy, Ron Marz, Thomas Andrews, Andy Mangels, and John Ostrander
7. Dostoevsky: A Screenplay by Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher / King Dog: A Screenplay by Ursula K. Le Guin

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 418