30 June 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XXII: Villains United

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2005)
Borrowed from the library
Read April 2014
Villains United

Writer: Gail Simone
Pencillers: Dale Eaglesham, Val Semekis
Inkers: Wade Von Grawbadger, Prentis Rollins
Letterers: Jared K. Fletcher, Pat Brosseau

As Lex Luthor unites the villains of the world into a new Secret Society, only six villains remain outside of his organization: Catman (who I remember from Green Arrow where he got eaten by an alien portal or something), Cheshire (a recurrent enemy in Birds of Prey), Ragdoll (son of the villain from Starman), Scandal (daughter of Vandal), Deadshot (I think he's a Batman villain?), and Parademon (a parademon from Apokolips). Like the old Secret Six, they're working for a mysterious Mockingbird whose true identity and agenda remain an enigma to them.

Simone, as anyone who read Birds of Prey knows, is good at writing teams, and it is in the character dynamics that this book shines. There's a lot of fun to be had in this group of people: shame about Parademon, actually, and I was surprised by the extent to which I immediately came to like Scandal. Someday, I suppose, I'll read the Secret Six spin-off and find it's as good as everyone says it is.

Where this book becomes less interesting is in the machinations that tie more directly into the impending Infinite Crisis: half of the Secret Society's leadership is actually comprised of lame villains (I am opposed to every story which tries to convince me Deathstroke the Terminator is legit, but this group throws in "Doctor Psycho" too whose power is I think being short), and then there's some stuff about Firestorm that's not really clear; I guess I am supposed to be reading his book. (I don't know why Firestorm always has a key role in these big crossovers, but it's a tradition that has roots going all the way back to 1982's "Crisis on Earth-Prime!" See also Crisis on Infinite Earths, Legends, Millennium, and Identity Crisis. He died in that last one, and he's still back for this one! I look forward to seeing him in Final Crisis.) I must admit, though, that the Mockingbird revelation is really quite neat. I wish I hadn't known about it ahead of time.

26 June 2014

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XIV: Conquest by Greg Keyes

Mass market paperback, 291 pages
Published 2001

Acquired 2001(?)
Reread May 2014
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Edge of Victory I: Conquest
by Greg Keyes

Year Two of the Invasion (Month 2)
This book gets off to another rough start, where the man who blew up the Death Star tries to convince you that taking action against aggressors could somehow lead to the Dark Side. But roll your eyes and get on to the next scene, because after that this book is brilliant. Seriously, Top 5 Star Wars books, easy. Greg Keyes completely inhabits and understands Star Wars in a way the previous New Jedi Order writers haven't. No, I'm not saying he knows his continuity (though he does and I'll get to that in a minute), I'm saying he knows what makes Star Wars work and he's able to replicate it without making a slavish copy of the original films. (We should note that this is a skill that even George Lucas lost sometime after 1983. Probably the only other writers to possess it are Matt Stover and John Jackson Miller.) This book gives us a young man, uncertain about his place in the universe, and plunges him into a desperate adventure with group of unlikely comrades. Okay, that seems obvious, you say, but if that's obvious then why do most Star Wars writers insist on giving us "political" "thrillers"?

Young Anakin Solo disobeys Master Luke Skywalker's order to go to the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4 because he insists it's under threat from the Yuuzahn Vong. A couple of awesome action sequences later, and he's crashed in the forest with a criminal, a crazy former TIE pilot, and two kids for company, trying to rescue someone important to him. Along the way he demonstrates his basic goodness, learns some valuable moral lessons, meets more awesome characters (some of whom die), listens to mystical prophecies, and saves the day with style. It does not get any better than this!

Extra points should be given for the fact that this is the first book where the Yuuzhan Vong feel like a real civilization. A lot of this is due to Vua Rapuung, the former warrior who befriends Anakin, and is poignant, hardcore, and hilariously deadpan all at once. But there's also the various Shamed Ones and our glimpses into the mind of Nen Yim, the young heretic shaper. This book transforms the war against an unstoppable aggressor into something more meaningful and difficult.

This is the first book in the series to make me care about Anakin Solo as a character. Keyes does this partly through just being better at writing than Salvatore, Stackpole, Luceno, and Tyers, but also he's obviously the only NJO writer to actually have read the Junior Jedi Knights books. Keyes threads Conquest with characters from this series, giving Anakin's life an emotional depth-- but just like the original Star Wars works if you haven't met Luke and his adoptive parents before, so too does Conquest (I only read the first JJK book). Is Master Ikrit the greatest Jedi Master of all time? Signs point to yes. Is Anakin/Tahiri one of the few ships I could ever admit to having? Um... I guess so. (I don't think the book quite succeeds in rationalizing why we haven't seen Tahiri and Ikrit since the NJO began, though-- Anakin has been back to Yavin 4 multiple times since the death of Chewbacca, yet he's never talked to Tahiri about it? We've never even seen him avoiding her? But that's more a critique of the other NJO novels than this one; it's amazing how this book reveals the extent to which Anakin was a blank cipher in the other books.)

I remember being this the point, seven books in, where The New Jedi Order finally clicked for me, the point where it started to work and cemented itself as something worth reading. Though I am enjoying my experiment in rereading the series with all the ancillary material included, it does exacerbate the early difficulties of the NJO-- this is the fourteenth installment! If Conquest hadn't been as good as I remembered, I might have given up here, but thankfully it was excellent, and for the first time in this reread, I am avidly anticipating going onwards.

Let's close by quoting this adorable but keenly insightful bit where Anakin is watching Tahiri as she falls asleep, reflecting on the fact that he's not seen his best friend in a year and something... something is different:
By the faint orange light of the gas giant outside, he could make out traces of her features, so familiar and yet somehow different. It was as if, below the girl's face he had always known, something else was pushing up, like mountains rising, driven by the deep internal heat of a planet.
     Something you couldn't stop even if you wanted to. It made him want to hang on and run away at the same time, and in a mild epiphany he realized he had felt that way for some time.
     As children they had been best friends. But neither of them was a child anymore, not exactly.
     His arm had gone numb from her weight, but he couldn't bring himself to shift, for fear of waking her.

25 June 2014

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XIII: Recovery by Troy Denning

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2001

Acquired April 2014
Reread May 2014
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Recovery
by Troy Denning

Year One of the Invasion (Month 12)
I read this supplementary eBook at some point in the past (it's collected in the paperback of Star by Star, and I think I borrowed it off someone) but not where it falls in the chronological sequence of The New Jedi Order, shortly after the events of Balance Point. This book reminded me of how Troy Denning is one of my favorite Star Wars authors, and why-- because he can write fun. Han and Leia are trying to make their way from Duro back to Coruscant, only all sorts of unsavory types are after them following Balance Point. There's fun stuff here: Han trying to con bounty hunters into thinking he's a doctor, a mysterious passenger on the Falcon, a new subfaction of Jedi, complicated plans and deceptions, and best of all, Han and Leia's rapprochement. This is good, fun, real Star Wars in a way that The New Jedi Order has lacked up until now.

24 June 2014

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XII: Balance Point by Kathy Tyers

Hardcover, 333 pages
Published 2000

Acquired 2000(?)
Reread May 2014
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Balance Point
by Kathy Tyers

Year One of the Invasion (Months 11-12)
I didn't have particularly fond memories of this book, but to my surprise, it turned out to be the best installment of The New Jedi Order (barring the third volume of Invasion) since Vector Prime. Tyers's book is much more focused than Stackpole and Luceno's duologies, and all the better for it: most of the actions take place on Duro, where Leia is coordinating the refugee crisis and Han is running a resettlement camp-- except communication is so bad that they're unaware of each others' presence. The Solo kids are there, too, Jacen and Anakin dealing with the fallout of Jedi Eclipse and Jaina recovering from injuries received with Rogue Squadron. The book has a strong, central plot, but even better, it has characters: in a lot of major and minor ways, Tyers really focuses on them as people, especially in their interactions with one another. It feels like damning with faint praise to say something like this, but after two volumes of the non-writing of James Luceno, Balance Point really feels like a breath of fresh air. The Han/Leia relationship is probably the centerpiece of the book, and Tyers nails that one especially perfectly.

23 June 2014

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XI: Jedi Eclipse by James Luceno

Mass market paperback, 348 pages
Published 2000

Acquired 2000(?)
Reread May 2014
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse
by James Luceno

Year One of the Invasion (Month 9)
Like in Luceno last's New Jedi Order tedium-fest, there's some potential here: Han and Droma trying to find Droma's family in the midst of the galaxy's refugee crisis. This plot is actually a lot of fun, with the usual hijinks you expect Han Solo to get into. Unfortunately, the rest of this novel consists of military and political posturing with absolutely no character hook to hang on-- it's just people with titles talking to/about other people with titles.

Even when there is potential for more in the politics, it is squandered: Leia goes to Hapes to convince them to join the fight on the side of the New Republic, but then just stands around while male characters fight over her. (Somehow, women can be marginalized even in the matriarchal society of Hapes.) Then, she has a vague vision of badness again and again, but does nothing about it... then something bad happens! Man, riveting. And, for the two people out there who considered the Corellian Trilogy the high point of Star Wars fiction, Luceno peppers the book with characters from that series so you don't have to miss them anymore.

20 June 2014

Review: Darwin's Plots by Gillian Beer

Trade paperback, 294 pages
Published 2009 (originally 1983)
Previously read January 2010
Acquired and reread December 2012
Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction
by Gillian Beer

Early in my graduate school career I read the first edition of this; now I read the third for my generals. (There are no differences of substance, just a new preface for the second edition and a bonus essay for the third.) It's an excellent (dare I say seminal?) piece of literary criticism, forming a triumvirate with the works of Levine and Shuttleworth (though it's perhaps the one of three least directly relevant to my own research). The thing Beer does really well and importantly is treat Darwin's own writings as something worthy of literary study, not just historical documents.

18 June 2014

Review: Ghost-Seers, Detectives, and Spiritualists by Srdjan Smajić

Hardcover, 262 pages
Published 2010
Borrowed from the library
Read December 2012
Ghost-Seers, Detectives, and Spiritualists: Theories of Vision in Victorian Literature and Science
by Srdjan Smajić

Smajić traces connections between ghost-seers in fact and fiction in the Victorian age. I had a vague memory that I struggled with the book, but reviewing my notes (eighteen months old; I am very behind on writing up my reviews!), I see that I took extensive notes on the fifth chapter, "Visual learning: sight and Victorian epistemology," about the ways that our sight can be interfered with and the ways it can interfere with our other senses. In contrast to earlier periods, the problem with sight in Victorian philosophy and fiction is usually not the visual organ itself, but the ways we draw inferences from our optics-- Watson sees the same things as Holmes, but Holmes understands them better. There's some connections be drawn with the story Daston and Galison tell of scientific objectivity, how scientist moved from fearing that the world would overwhelm their observations to fearing they would overwhelm their own observations. I found some of the discussion of occult fiction less interesting that that of detective fiction, but it became useful when Smajić traced the intersection of the two in occult detective fiction.

16 June 2014

Review: Dead Romance by Lawrence Miles

Trade paperback, 321 pages
Published 2004 (contents: 1999-2001)
Previously read May 2005
Reread May 2014
Dead Romance
by Lawrence Miles

For this Bernice Summerfield novel, I have the 2004 reprint, not the original 1999 publication. It's the third book in the "Gods" arc, and the first to offer real explanations (or at least hypotheses) as to who the Gods are and what they want. The scale of their threat is reinforced a lot here; back in Where Angels Fear, the Time Lords recalled Braxiatel's TARDIS, but here we see them sending Chris Cwej to negotiate treaties with the Daleks and the People, allowing them to possess the technology of time travel. Things are getting serious.

Bernice, of course, is not in this novel-- the main character is Christine Summerfield, a young woman from the 1970 London of a bottle universe. There are some who hail this as the greatest Doctor Who novel, but I don't see it. It's a decent novel, with amazing ideas and an intense apocalyptic mood but nothing much seems to actually happen, and what does happen is a distraction. It stands out from its surroundings, sure, but being better than The Medusa Effect or Dry Pilgrimage is not enough to trumpet, exactly. I remember enjoying it when I first read it, but the subsequent nine years of trumpeting by Miles fandom led me to expect more than I found on this reread. (The back cover proclaims it as "novelist Lawrence Miles' greatest work," as if that is somehow significant.)

The Gods arc really has given the New Adventures some energy and focus, but I look forward to seeing that actually imparted to Bernice, as this is the second novel she's been (largely) absent from. Hopefully she's more of a presence in Tears of the Oracle.

13 June 2014

Review: The Frozen Deep by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins

Hardcover, 173 pages
Published 1966 (contents: 1857)
Acquired November 2012
Read December 2012
Under the Management of Mr. Charles Dickens: his production of "The Frozen Deep"
by Wilkie Collins, edited by Robert Louis Brannan

Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens worked together on an "amateur" theatrical called The Frozen Deep in 1857, later turned by Collins into a novella. This is the only accessible printing of the script that I could find, an edition which does not mention Collins as the writer on the cover or title page, even though he was the solely credited writer on the original playbill! Did people just not care about Collins as much as they did Dickens when this edition was published in the 1960s?

Anyway, this is about a group of stranded Arctic explorers. I can see the potential in such a premise for gripping drama, but on the page at least, there's nothing engaging to be found. Pretty forgettable, even if Queen Victoria was moved to tears.

11 June 2014

Review: Doctor Who in Time and Space edited by Gillian I. Leitch

Acquired July 2013
Read May 2014
Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy, 39: Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays on Themes, Characters, History and Fandom, 1963-2012
edited by Gillian I. Leitch

Back in the day, I read and reviewed Time And Relative Dissertations In Space, which was (I think) the first critical anthology on Doctor Who. Seven years later, you can't move for the glut of them. TARDIS's weak point was, in retrospect, its lack of focus: topics covered all twenty-six years of the old show, plus some of the tie-ins. The full title of Doctor Who in Time and Space should make its biggest weakness very apparent: there's absolutely no cohesion or throughline to the sixteen essays in this volume, beyond Doctor Who itself. Around half of the essays are about the 2005+ revival, which means the ones on 1963-89 are particularly scattershot.

1. "Event TV: Fan Consumption of Televised Doctor Who in Britain (1963-Present)" by Andrew O'Day
This article covers the way Doctor Who has been watched as an "event"-- the most interesting aspect of this for me was the big viewings of Doctor Who stories at conventions, back in the days when there were no home video productions for folks to watch. I wish O'Day had more to say about these events, though; this didn't have the level of argument I'd expect from an academic piece.

2. "Social Spaces: British Fandom to the Present" by Andrew O'Day
Rather capaciously, this essay attempts to provide a history of all aspects of Doctor Who fandom in fifteen pages. As you might imagine, there's just not the space to do the job. It uses its offered space weirdly-- there's page upon page about post-2005 fanzines, surely far past the point at which fanzines ceased to be relevant, while I don't think Tumblr and/or Pinterest even rate a mention. Also, for some reason O'Day feels compelled to inform the reader that social media is having a huge impact, "even though there are harmful uses of such sites such as the presence of pedophiles" (30). Huh the what now?

3. "Don't Call It a Comeback" by Aaron Gulyas
Guylas tries to characterize fan reaction both to the 1996 telemovie and the 2005 revival, largely based on Internet forum postings. One thing I found amusing: the day before I read this chapter, I was reading about the proper use of sic and how it's usually needless pedantry. So I enjoyed it when after using "[sic]" repeatedly to indicate misspellings in forum postings, Guylas's interpolated brackets introduced their own errors, such as that venerable Doctor Who writer, Terrence Dicks (52). Maybe he should take care of the splinter in his own eye first?

4. "Whose Doctor?" by J. M. Frey
This essay attempts to claim that Doctor Who is prejudiced against Canadians, despite the key role that Canadians played in its creation. (Sydney Newman was Canadian, for example, and the early seasons of the 2005 revival were co-funded by the CBC.) It's hard to take seriously, with poorly applied postcolonial theory (I don't know of any that would count the white settlers of Canada as the colonized) and comments such as that "Owen Harper metaphorically rapes a pair of subalterns" (73) in the pilot episode of Torchwood (such a broadening of the term "subaltern" as to render it meaningless).

5. "In and Out of Time" by Kieran Tranter
Confusing essay that tries to link Doctor Who to some philosophical conceptions of time. Bafflingly implies that Scotland is not part of the British Isles: "while the Doctor was allowed to leave BBC enunciation behind with McCoy, subsequent Doctors [...] have kept the accent located within the British Isles" (87).

6. "Effecting the Cause: Time Travel Narratives" by Paul Booth
I think this essay is trying to argue that the more fragmented use of time in the 2005 revival is indicative of our more fragment postmodern condition?

7. "Narrative Conflict and the Portrayal of the Media, Public Relations and Marketing in the New Doctor Who" by Racheline Maltese
I enjoyed this essay-- it's a nice look at the way the media, especially the news media, has been depicted since the 2005 revival, where it's played a pretty big role in a number of stories.

8. "Nostalgia for Empire, 1963-1974" by Maura Grady and Cassie Hemstrom
A decent rendering of the role of imperialism in the early classic series, though one feels the argument could have been drawn out a little better.

9. "A Needle Through the Heart: Violence and Tragedy as a Narrative Device" by Lindsay Coleman
I feel like this one is arguing that violent things happen in Doctor Who a lot. Surely it's saying something more than that?

10. "Everything Dies: The Message of Mortality in the Eccleston and Tennant Years" by Kristine Larsen
This one irritated me right from the title. I get why a fan might say "Tennant years," but an academic has no excuse or reason. Fan discourse often ignores or downplays the creators of stories, but an academic should be diligent in this kind of thing. (One of the things I like about Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood's About Time books is the way they group by production, so the last Tom Baker season is in the same book as the Peter Davison ones.) It's the Russell T Davies years-- he's the one who wrote most of the scripts and edited all the others; if there's a common theme, it's because of him, not the actors in the role of the Doctor! Like many essays, the writers and directors of the episodes are never mentioned. This is even more annoying when novels are cited-- do you know what David Tennant had to do with SnowGlobe 7? Well, his picture was on the cover.

Also at one point she refers to the Master's plan in The End of Time as "a rather ingenious yet obviously immoral way [...] to in effect commit mass genocide" (164). Are there moral ways?

11. "'Ready to outsit eternity': Human Responses to the Apocalypse" by Andrew Crome
I wanted to like this more than I did, but Crome spends too little time theorizing what this all means; he doesn't really make anything of it.

12. "A Country Made from Metal? The 'Britishness' of Human-Machine Marriage in Series 31" by Kate Flynn
First off, "series 31" is one of the worst kinds of useless pedantry, second only to insisting the third Doctor Who story was called Inside the Spaceship. But this is a weird essay aside from that, trying to set up a dichotomy between Amy's Scottishness and Rory's Britishness without ever really defining them, and then trying to connect in Rory's "cyborg" nature. Yeah, I don't know.

13. "'Whatever you do, don't blink!': Gothic Horror and the Weeping Angels Trilogy" by David Whitt
In the crowded competition for worst essay, this is the foremost contender: it spends two pages explaining what Gothic horror is and then over six synopsizing "Blink," "The Time of Angels," and "Flesh and Stone before just four on "discussion," which basically concludes, "Well, these stories sure are Gothic!" No implications at all, just observation. Identifying motifs does not an argument make!

14. "Doctor Who's Women and His Little Blue Box: Time Travel as a Heroic Journey of Self-Discovery for Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Donna Noble" by Antoinette F. Winstead
Decent explication of the "heroine's journey" of our female protagonists, but again, too much time matching up tropes and motifs.

15. "Spoiled for Another Life: Sarah Jane Smith's Adventures With and Without Doctor Who" by Sherry Ginn
Just explains how Sarah Jane is a great example of an idea from developmental psychology. C'mon, so what!?

16. "Chasing Amy: The Evolution of the Doctor's Female Companion in the New Who" by Lynette Porter
Could be an okay essay, I think, but it suffers from the fact that it was clearly written in 2010, before the character of Amy was even halfway through her time on the show.

I found, too, that many of the essays were riddled with typos and misprints, especially in the names of production personnel and stories. There were also some baffling citation practices-- the text will mention something happened in "Nightmare of Eden," there'll be an endnote, you'll flip to and read just "Nightmare of Eden." Such helpful information! Another essay, for some reason, puts the three-digit story number after each title (i.e., "The Aztecs" (006)). But only that one.

There's just no sense of argument to this book, either in its individual essays or in its holistic self. What does Gillian Leitch want you to take away about Doctor Who? With no consistency of topic or approach, I have no way to tell you. Seven years after Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, not to mention books like Triumph of a Time Lord, we can do better than this.

09 June 2014

Review: Zoe: A History of Two Lives Geraldine Jewsbury

Trade paperback, 431 pages
Published 1989 (contents: 1845)
Acquired October 2012
Read May 2014
Zoe: A History of Two Lives
by Geraldine Jewsbury

This book has a killer premise: a father in the eighteenth century gives his daughter a classical education, like a man would receive, and as a result she ends up unable to fit into either the world of man or woman. You wouldn't know it, though, because it barely does anything with that premise; we're mostly just told that it's true, but we never really see Zoe move through society or try to find her place in the world, except when she decides to get married, and though she has her occasional regrets after that, they're not developed substantively or interestingly.

One can't help but feeling that if Elizabeth Gaskell or George Eliot had turned their hands to this premise, you would have got a book with keener insight. The narrator comes out with these sweeping generalizations about women, and it's like, where did you even get this from? Aren't you a woman? Be smart for a second! "A true woman always blames herself, and it is a point on which her lover, to do him justice, never contradicts her" (387)? Really? But I guess it's mean to blame Jewsbury for the fact that no one had come along and invented Realism yet. (Mary Barton was three years away, and that's where I would peg it.)

Also there is a story about a doubting priest named Everhard (the second of the subtitle's "two lives"). Like Zoe's story, this one starts interesting but soon meanders into nothingness, and then we end up pondering whether Zoe's stepdaughter Clotilde will marry the right man, which isn't really what any of us came here for. The Everhard subplot does yield, however, the book's funniest moment, an apology from the narrator:
It is very troublesome to have to deal with a hero of seventeen! A girl of seventeen, fortune favouring, may be made into a very interesting heroine; people will believe all that can be said of her beauty, wit, and wisdom, and will patiently read through three or even six volumes full of her adventures, and find themselves much edified with the perusal. But a lad of seventeen! merciful heaven! to make a hero of him would require a suspension of the laws of nature! All his graces of childhood have run to seed, and the victims of manhood have not yet replaced them; he is no longer the chubby darling [...] but an unfinished, uneasy biped, a plague to every body within his reach, and with whose doings and sufferings, nobody, not absolutely obliged, wishes to have the least concern. (40)
I think that if the whole novel had been that fun, well, it would have maintained my interest much more.

06 June 2014

Review: Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest by Adrian Desmond

Hardcover, 820 pages
Published 1997 (contents: 1994)
Borrowed from the library
Read December 2012
Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest
by Adrian Desmond

Though not the earliest professional scientist by far (Owen, for example, sustained himself through his scientific work, and he was from the previous generation), Huxley is more on the professional side of the amateur-professional transition than not. As a young man who wanted to pursue science, Huxley faced a dilemma. In the early part of the century, few direct opportunities were available to the man of science. In 1838, when Huxley decided that he wanted to study “natural philosophy” as a boy of thirteen, he had to pursue a surgical apprenticeship because he had no money available to him. Adrian Desmond reports that Huxley wrote in his diary, “Philosophy can bake no bread; but it can procure for us God freedom & immortality. Which is now the more practical Philosophy or Economy?” (9). Huxley was later forced to join the Royal Navy as surgeon’s mate to avoid debt.

Huxley (along with his friend Tyndall) wanted to reshape science, wanted to make it a legitimate part of the everyday life of Britain. This required both a change in scientific education and scientific practice. For starters, “Science required factory discipline, ‘steady punctual uninterrupted work’. His scientific-artisan lineage was being forged, a work-bench mentality far from the leisured aristocratic ideal” (198). Education was one of Huxley's biggest fights (he famously exchanged words with Arnold on it), and he was very frustrated by the level of knowledge available in Britain. He once observed that a Roman centurion’s son in a contemporary university “would not meet with a single unfamiliar line of thought” (275).

According to Desmond, Huxley foresaw a science-led society being governed by “only knowledge well organized and well tested. And that made Nature’s own education the best guide… the only way forward was a competitive, technocratic society, with the science professionals at the helm” (210-11). But such an arrangement of society privileges those who master the profession of science, and means that advancing within science becomes advancing within society, making the desire for scientific knowledge something other than just a desire to discover unknown truths.

As Ursula DeYoung observes in her intellectual biography of Tyndall (A Vision of Modern Science), the outcome of Tyndall and company’s drive to professionalization was eventually a model of science that rejected the kind of science Tyndall had done; remembrances of him published after his death depict him as a necessary transitional figure in the development of science, not someone to be remembered for his own scientific work. The new science had been constructed along the vision of Huxley; Desmond mentions biology professors who claimed their whole discipline and vocation had been created by Huxley and then describes the changes of the century: “Huxley’s professionals in their ‘knowledge factories’ would become ‘pioneers in the exploration and settlement of new regions’” (627). But the employment of the factory metaphor pushes away from a pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, the type of neutrality that Tyndall claimed for science in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (1871). If the laboratory is a factory, then knowledge becomes a product—and making product becomes a means for promotion. The privileging of scientific knowledge means both that knowledge is no longer acquired for its own sake.

Tyndall’s transcendental materialism did not meet the requirements of the laboratory science era, which Desmond describes as having “a deadroom air… a dead, desiccated nature” (628). Huxley and Tyndall succeeded too well, in the end. In establishing science as a legitimate, professional pursuit, complete with various specializations, they carved it into its own sphere, removing it from the realm of “society,” and thus ultimately denying its ability to comment on the world.

04 June 2014

Review: Darwin and the Novelists by George Levine

Hardcover, 319 pages
Published 1988
Borrowed from my advisor
Read December 2012
Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction
by George Levine

Levine is my academic grandfather-- that is to say, he was my dissertation director's dissertation director. But he also is one of the critics responsible (the others are Gillian Beer and Sally Shuttleworth) for creating the subfield of Victorian literature and science back in the 1980s, and so I owe him a lot. Like Beer, Levine mentions Darwin in his title, but he's less interested in evolutionary patterns than her: Darwin and the Novelists focuses more on the task of science, on science as a way of thinking and interacting with the world.

For example, his discussion of Austen's Mansfield Park argues that Fanny enacts a pre-Darwinian ideal of scientific observation: "Austen's heroines learn to see clearly by curbing their desires, and by so doing they can then see those desires more clearly" (62). As he points out, there's some hypocrisy in this approach, which is perhaps easier to see in the context of novel than in science itself. Darwin, though, did not believe in this disinterested approach: "Darwin complained about the view that geologists should observe and not theorize. 'How odd it is,' he remarks, 'that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service'" (101).

How to carry out effective observation is the key problem of science, but it becomes even more pressing when the domain of observation is the realm of the human. This problem (I think Levine would argue and, if not, I definitely would) is tackled by the realist novel. Darwin's project (and problem) was "to transform his peculiar subject, organic life, including-- especially-- human life, into material for scientific observation and investigation. The power science exercised over nature, by virtue of its extension of knowledge, was to extend over human beings themselves.... [T]he human subject becomes equivalent to the planetary or the geological" (211). It is this attempt to extend science into the human realm that the nineteenth century sees as either so liberating or so threatening, and which novelists like Gaskell, Eliot, Collins, Hardy, Wells, Griffith, and more I'm sure attempt to grapple, both directly and indirectly. Levine's work brilliantly opens up a path for discussion that many (including myself) are still attempting to follow.

02 June 2014

Review: The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley

Trade paperback, 198 pages
Published 2008 (originally 1863)

Previously read July 2009
Acquired and reread November 2012
The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby
by Charles Kingsley

Kingsley was an interesting fellow-- a proponent of "muscular Christianity" but also a believer in the potential of science. Before reading the Origin, he wrote Darwin to say he would go in unbiased: "From two common superstitions, at least, I shall be free, while judging of your book. 1) I have long since [...] learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species. 2). I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore & pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of inter-vention to supply the lacunas wh he himself had made" (Darwin Correspondence Database, Entry 2534). On the other hand, he also wrote Darwin to say that he had found "species intermediate between man & the ape. It has come home to me with much force, that while we deny the existence of any such, the legends of most nations are full of them. Fauns, Satyrs, Inui, Elves, Dwarfs—we call them one minute mythological personages, the next conquered inferior races" (DCD 3426).

So it's probably not surprising to learn that The Water-Babies merges scientific fact with fantastic whimsy, usually favoring the whimsy. Perhaps best, it contains a passage where Kingsley explains that dragons do exist, scientists just call them a different name so they can feel more dignified: "Did not learned men, too, hold, till within the last twenty-five years, that a flying dragon was an impossible monster? And do we not now know that there are hundreds of them found fossil up and down the world? People call them Pterodactyles: but that is only because they are ashamed to call them flying dragons, after denying so long that flying dragons could exist" (40).

My primary reason for (re)reading the book was, of course, its scientist character, the delightfully named Professor Ptthmallnsprts (Richard Beards, who edited the edition I am reading, suggests he is possibly based on Huxley). Ptthmallnsprts is a Professor of Necrobioneopalæonthydrochthonanthropopithekology at a university in the Cannibal Islands, and he is obsessed with being the first to discover worms (and, if you tell him he's not, he'll tell you it's not a worm, so he can still be right about something). Furthermore, he knows, because he once heard a paper on it, that there are no mythological creatures; therefore, he refuses to believe in water-babies even when he has one right in his hands. Oh, those scientists and their limited worldviews and lack of imagination!

But it's all in good fun, and our little water-baby Tom, upon becoming human again, even becomes "a great man of science, and can plan railroads, and steam-engines, and electric telegraphs, and rifled guns, and so forth; and knows everything about everything, except why a hen's egg don't turn into a crocodile, and two or three other little things" (188). The moral of the story is, of course, be nice to efts.

01 June 2014

Reading Roundup Wrapup: May 2014

Pick of the month: Conquest by Greg Keyes. I stand by everything I said here-- but there's even more to like about it than that! Top 5 Star Wars novel, easy. Anyone who tells you James Luceno's New Jedi Order stuff is superior is a liar.

All books read:
1. Rann-Thanagar War by Dave Gibbons
2. Zoe: The History of Two Lives by Geraldine Jewsbury
3. Dead Romance by Lawrence Miles
4. Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy, 39: Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays on Themes, Characters, History and Fandom, 1963-2012 edited by Gillian I. Leitch
5. Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse by James Luceno
6. Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Balance Point by Kathy Tyers
7. Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Recovery by Troy Denning
8. Moral Authority, Men of Science, and the Victorian Novel by Anne DeWitt
9. Political Future Fiction: Speculative and Counter-Factual Politics in Edwardian Fiction, Volume 1: The Empire of the Future edited by Richard Bleiler
10. Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Edge of Victory I: Conquest by Greg Keyes

All books acquired:
1. Rann-Thanagar War by Dave Gibbons
2. Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume Six: Fire Carrier by Randy Stradley
3. Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks
4. Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Book One: Force Storm by John Ostrander
5. Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void by Tim Lebbon
6. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
7. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
8. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini
9. Miracleman, Book One: A Dream of Flying by The Original Writer with Mick Anglo

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 537