30 October 2015

What Is... The Gothic?

This is a question I've been thinking about recently, because I'm reading a book about "Gothic science fiction," but I'm not convinced that I have the world's strongest grasp on what the Gothic is, beyond a genre where vaguely spooky things happen.

That's not quite true. Like many things literary, I was forced to confront its nature by teaching-- though I prepped a discussion on the Gothic that I didn't actually end up teaching, because my class turned out to have plenty of other things to say about Frankenstein, and so we didn't get to it. But on my PowerPoint slides, I wrote stuff like "Elements of the supernatural" and "Wild and desolate landscapes, ruined abbeys, feudal halls, medieval castles with dungeons" and "Refuses to resolve contradictions or settle ambiguities; leaves the contradictory and paradoxical, finding only unresolvable moral and emotional ambiguity" and "Renegotiates the line between 'good' and 'evil'." (I suspect a lot of this is probably derived from The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, which has turned out to be quite a useful investment as a teacher of literature.)

Interestingly, when looking up my Frankenstein slides, I also found where I discussed science fiction, and let me tell you, these two definitions of sf seem a little strange juxtaposed against one another:
“…[L]ess congenial to SF is the fantasy (ghost, horror, Gothic, weird) tale, a genre committed to the interposition of anti-cognitive laws into the empirical environment. …[T]he fantasy is inimical to the empirical world and its laws.” --Darko Suvin
“Science fiction is the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode.” --Brian Aldiss
The emphasis here is mine. There's a very big divide there as regards the interaction between science fiction and the Gothic! Something to ponder in my review of this Gothic science fiction book, perhaps.

Anyway, the real problem is that it's just a genre I haven't read very much of; a look of the top items tagged "gothic" on LibraryThing, for example, reveals a mix of books I haven't read and books I think are more Gothic-influenced than outright Gothic. I've never read The Castle of Otranto or The Monk or any of those V. C. Andrews novels where a woman's face appears through a cutout on the cover. (I think my mom owned a number of these.)

What I have read, though, is comics. Specifically the complete run of The Sinister House of Secret Love, a short-lived DC comics series of Gothic romance tales from the 1970s. It lasted for four bi-monthly double-sized issues from Oct./Nov. 1971 to Apr./May 1972 before being retooled with issue #5 as Secrets of Sinister House. That version actually lasted until issue #18, but from #6 onward it was a pretty generic 1970s horror anthology comic, featuring a number of eight-page stories in each issue. It's those first five issues that are something special:

Such glorious covers! They're real treasures of 1970s comics, with art by heavyweights such as Tony DeZuniga, Dick Giordano, and, best of all, Alex Toth. They all draw such lush imagery, dripping with atmosphere. (And, of course, the ladies are all good-looking, and typically end up experiencing adventures in their flimsy nightgowns.)
from Secret House of Sinister Love #3
script by Frank Robbins, art by Alex Toth & Frank Giacoia
courtesy The Alex Toth Archives
You gotta love those 1970s fashions! (Surprisingly, I think, for the Gothic, I'm pretty sure all the stories are set in the present day, despite the present scarcity of ancient families inhabiting medieval castles.) This is actually the first time I've seen one of these in color; the reprints in Showcase Presents The Secrets of Sinister House were in black and white, and probably all the better for it-- Toth and Giacoia have amazing linework that really stands on its own without the colors.

These Gothic romance comics have very same-y plots: a young woman travels to a distant location, usually on a promise of romance and/or to get a job (typically as a governess). Something sinister is secretly going on-- usually the romantic figure is evil. There are minor variations; for example issue #4 takes place in India, and I have a vague memory that in one of the stories, the innocent girl is actually a reporter who knows a fair bit more than she's letting on. What makes them so worth reading is not the stories, but the artwork. I'd love to own these, but even at its cheapest, a single issue is at least $10, if not $30 (and, of course, the Alex Toth one is nigh-unavailable).
from Secret House of Sinister Love #4
plot by Mary DeZuniga, dialogue by Michael Fleisher, art by Tony DeZuniga
courtesy True Love Comics Tales
Do these stories have "Elements of the supernatural" or "Wild and desolate landscapes, ruined abbeys, feudal halls, medieval castles with dungeons," or do they "Refuse[ ] to resolve contradictions or settle ambiguities; leaves the contradictory and paradoxical, finding only unresolvable moral and emotional ambiguity" or "Renegotiate[ ] the line between 'good' and 'evil'"? Kind of. These definitely have the former of those: all the stories imply the supernatural even when natural causes are revealed in the end. I don't think they really feature the project of the Gothic genre, though, just the features: they're pretty, well, generic.

I was surprised to recently come across an instance of the genre recently, however, in the pages of the 1972-73 Marvel series Night Nurse. Night Nurse was another short-lived, four-issue series, this one about three nurses from diverse backgrounds trying to make it in the big city. It's basically exactly what you'd imagine: lots of melodrama (usually with men telling the nurses they can get married... if the women give up their careers) and hostage crises. In the 2000s, one of the nurses was repurposed as a character running a free night clinic for injured superheroes, which inspired an appearance by Rosario Dawson in a similar capacity on Netflix's Daredevil series.

"This is Daredevil, Matt Murdock. This is serious. We don't have time for jokes!"
I guess because of this, Marvel released a reprint volume containing all four issues of Night Nurse, plus one of the modern issues of Daredevil where the character appeared. Imagine my surprise, though, when after three issues of hospital drama, issue #4 turned out to be a stereotypical Gothic romance comic!

In issue #2, Christine Palmer-- who gave up a life as a Midwestern debutante to be a nurse-- fell in love with a gifted surgeon who turned out to be an alcoholic and was stealing drugs to pay off a debt and committed a hit-and-run on the daughter of his best friend, the police commissioner and botched the surgery that should have save her life. Also her jerk dad turns up and pressures her to come home even though in issue #1 he said he'd let her do her own thing. In issue #3, Chris is nowhere to be seen; one of the other nurses mentions she disappeared after all the brouhaha of issue #2.

In issue #4 you find out what she did: answered an ad for a live-in nurse at a creepy seaside manor! She has to walk there in a storm because none of the locals will come close; there's a sexy heir in a wheelchair, a creepy aunt, and a creepier butler; mysterious lights blink at night; and did that seaside railing just happen to collapse... or is someone trying to kill her!? It has very little to do with nursing, but is a perfect example of the Gothic romance comic. (Though Winslow Mortimer is not quite the right artist for the project. It's hardly his fault; his clean linework and straightforward style was really well-suited for the naturalistic tone of issues #1-3. He does manage to work in the obligatory gratuitous nightgown shot.)
from Night Nurse #4
script by Jean Thomas & Linda Fite, art by Winslow Mortimer
courtesy Sequential Crush
I don't know why this issue exists. Was it a desperate attempt to save a sinking series? Night Nurse #4 came out in May 1973, long after the retooling of The Secret House of Sinister Love ought to have shown there really wasn't a market for this kind of thing! And would sales figures for issue #1 even have been in before production of issue #4 began? Maybe scripters Jean Thomas and Linda Fite just really liked Gothic comics and thought they were a logical inclusion in a series about urban nurses?

If anything, it's even more generic than those issues of Secret House of Sinister Love, but its very incongruity contributes to it being a delight. The other Gothic romance comics I know of have never been collected: DC's The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love (1971-72) and Charlton's Haunted Love (1973-75). I hope that happens, and I hope I come across other Gothic tales as unlikely as that of Night Nurse.

Also I hope I figure out exactly what the Gothic actually is someday.

29 October 2015

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: 6,000 Tons of Gold by H. R. Chamberlain

Hardcover, 349 pages
Published 1894
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
6,000 Tons of Gold by H. R. Chamberlain

This book definitely has the most awesome cover of all the ones I read in the Eaton Collection.

In it, Robert Brent, a young American man, comes into a vast fortune of Indian gold through very complicated circumstances that the novel goes through great pains to make morally above-board. The gold is worth $3,600,000,000, which is $95,000,000,000 in 2013! He wants to use the money to make the world a better place, beginning with stopping a stock market crash. H. R. Chamberlain was a journalist (a financial one, I think) and you can tell, because the mechanics of this are rendered in tediously complete detail.

What else he does with the money is pretty random: investing in aerial navigation (we don't see this come to fruition), building a super-fast ship (he sells it to the British to use only as a deterrent... apparently Britain can be trusted with it, but not France and Russia), and donating it to women's colleges as it goes to the branches "which best fitted woman for the domestic circle." I thought some terrible discussions of women's roles were about to come up, but it turns out that this can mean anything in the advanced year of 1895! The best way a women can become "best fitted" is to have all the advantages of a man.

Robert can't go too far, though, because his massive concentration of wealth threatens to destabilize the entire global economy. After a lot of lengthy and dull discussions of bimetallism and economic policy, he a group of finance ministers from all over the world dump the bulk of his gold in the bottom of the ocean.

28 October 2015

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XIII: Absolute Batman: The Long Halloween

Comic hardcover, 399 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 1996-97)

Borrowed from the library
Read December 2014
Absolute Batman: The Long Halloween

Storytellers: Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Colors: Gregory Wright
Letters: Richard Starkings

Year Two, June - October
I've reviewed this one before, but man, was I in a bad day then or what? Or maybe I was just in the wrong mode. This is Batman at his best: a vehicle for madcap adventures in darkness. Tim Sale's artwork captures the grotesque nature of Batman's villains so well; I just love that scene of Batman battling the Joker in a biplane on Christmas, made even better by the dimensions and quality of the oversized Absolute Edition. My old review decries Batman's lack of characterization, but that's utterly untrue; this is a Batman in love with Gotham, doing what he has to to save the soul of his precious city. Of three men doing that, actually: I really like the Batman, Gordon, and Harvey Dent team, three honest men in a city of crooks. I don't really get how the mystery is supposed to work here, but that doesn't bother me, what matters is the exceptional beauty of the journey.

I do have one criticism, but it's more of the other books I've read so far than this one per se. The whole point of Harvey Dent is that he's Batman's friend and colleague who went bad... but we almost never see him good. He plays a decent role in Year One, but there's been a good ten Batman stories chronologically between that one and this one in which, if Harvey's been in them at all, he's done so little I don't remember it (with the exception of Snow). Why does no one take advantage of this aspect of Batman's early days? It seems a wasted opportunity to make what happens in The Long Halloween even more poignant.

Next Week: Sure, we've already read the origins of Scarecrow and Two-Face... but why not read them again!?

27 October 2015

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 13 by Paul Levitz, Jack Abel, et al.

Every six months, I read another volume of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and now it's time to catch up:

Comic hardcover, 251 pages
Published 2012 (contents: 1977)
Acquired November 2013
Read September 2014
Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 13

Writers: James Shooter, Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway
Pencils: Mike Grell, James T. Sherman, Mike Nasser, Joe Staton, Arvell Jones, Ric Estrada
Inks: Bob Wiacek, Jack Abel, Bob Layton

This feels like a transitional set of Legion tales: these come from Paul Levitz's first run, and are definitely mostly weird throwaways in the 1970s style, rather than the complex, character-driven plots he would perfect with Keith Giffen later on. Mike Grell also eases out of the title during this volume, and no one artist really takes over for him, though Jack Abel does ink a lot. As a result, neither the writing nor the art are very consistent. Flipping back through the volume to write this review, nothing really stands out for me, though Saturn Girl and Dream Girl remain my favorite Legionnaires, and Wildfire is a nice addition to the team-- he breaks up the cliquishness of the longtime members.

Next Week: Back to the beginning of the Legion of the Super-Heroes, with a celebration of 1,050 Years of the Future!

26 October 2015

Review: American Splendor presents Bob & Harv's Comics by Harvey Pekar & R. Crumb

I embark on Series Four of Big Finish's Fourth Doctor Adventures with The Darkness of Glass over at Unreality SF. What's that, you say? I've skipped Nick Briggs's series opener? Surely not. Why would I do that?

Comic hardcover, 86 pages
Published 1996 (contents: 1976-88) 

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2015
American Splendor presents Bob & Harv's Comics

Stories by Harvey Pekar
Art by R. Crumb

It's been a long time since I've read a volume of American Splendor, longer than I would've liked, and if I'd known better, I wouldn't have read this one. Not that it's bad-- far from it-- but it mostly, if not entirely collects comics I've already read. (There were a couple I didn't recognize, but that might just be because I forgot them.) This dips through the entire American Splendor series to pick up the ones illustrated by R. Crumb, thus reprinting comics that already appeared in American Splendor and More American Splendor and The New American Splendor.

That said, it's nice to see Pekar and Crumb at the top of their game: this set includes classics like "The Harvey Pekar Name Story" (four pages of Pekar just telling you about his name), "Standing Behind Old Jewish Ladies in Supermarket Lines" (exactly what it sounds like), "Freddy Visits for the Weekend" (Pekar is visited by a friend trying to scam meals off him), and "American Splendor Assaults the Media" (Pekar is asked by a magazine to submit writing and they don't print it, resulting in three-page screed). It struck me that there was much less, well, serious content in these stories: Pekar can really dig into the emotions and tribulations of his private life sometimes, but there's little of that here, no stories about Pekar's sickness or his romantic relationships.

Rather, his collaborations with Crumb focus on the encounters Pekar has with various strange characters that populate his life, especially the staff of the VA hospital where Pekar works as a file clerk. There are a lot of two- or one- or even half-page tales here, quick encounters with people dispensing weird life advice, or being rude, or selling pickled okra, or whatever. As always, Pekar's eye for the everyday and Crumb's deliberately shabby art conspire to make these fun little gems of an ordinary life well observed.

There's also a pair of forewords, one by Pekar about Crumb, and one by Crumb about Pekar. I don't think I've read them before, so they were nice to read.

23 October 2015

Ongoing Comics I've Been Reading: L.E.G.I.O.N.

This is the time period Lobo becomes popular, so he's on the cover a lot. But I feel like the interiors are always making fun of him!
Since sometime in June, I think, I've been reading the DC Comics series L.E.G.I.O.N. (Or, rather, succession of series, technically. There's L.E.G.I.O.N. '89, which has issues #1-10, L.E.G.I.O.N. '90, which has issues #11-22, and so on. I don't know why they decided to do this, except that I guess it makes it clear that unlike its famous cousin Legion of Super-Heroes, this does not take place in the future.) L.E.G.I.O.N. is about an interstellar police force-for-hire founded by Vril Dox, the son of Brainiac. His team initially consists of a group of characters he was imprisoned with in Invasion!, and the initial plot of the book is them, post-escape, trying to return to their homes. But Dox is a crafty fellow, and he soon uses them to take over both the criminal operations and the police forces of the world of Cairn, reforming them all into the Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network, which offers police protection to planets that can't protect themselves (except Earth, because everyone in space hates Earth).

The core team is soon supplemented by an army of cops, and there are also a number of characters who come and go, giving the book a rather sprawling cast. They're a rather diverse lot, with different reasons for doing what they do, and different perspectives on how it ought to be done. Subplots weave in and out of the book over time, as different aspects rise and fall in prominence gradually.

Lobo, Lyrissa Mallor, Stealth, Garryn Bek, Strata, and Vril Dox. Three of the six core members are women, which was a bit surprising, especially as Strata is not traditionally feminine.
So, of course I loved it. Ensemble casts of disparate personalities are my ideal form of ongoing story, especially when as well-balanced as they are here. Some periods of the series are better than others-- with 70 monthly issues, plus 5 annuals, and a couple crossovers, there's a lot of variation, and the creative teams shift gradually over time. But of course, that level of variation is part of what makes ongoing comics so enjoyable to me as a medium; I love the way in which things change gradually, in which concepts are slowly retooled, sometimes for good (as in L.E.G.I.O.N.), sometimes for bad (Alpha Flight), the ways in which you see the same concept refracted through the creative vision of a number of different creators.

And L.E.G.I.O.N.'s transition of creators in more interesting than most. Leaving out fill-ins, you have a number of distinct creative eras: [there's rarely consistent inkers, so I've omitted them here]
  1. #1-12: Keith Giffen (plots and breakdowns), Alan Grant (scripts), Barry Kitson (pencils)
  2. #13-18: Alan Grant (plots and scripts), Barry Kitson (plot and pencils)
  3. #19-24: Alan Grant (plots and scripts), Jim Fern (pencils)
  4. #25-39: Alan Grant (plots and scripts), Barry Kitson (plots and pencils)
  5. #40-48: Barry Kitson (plots, scripts, and pencils)
  6. #49-60: Barry Kitson (plots and pencils), Mark Waid (scripts)
  7. #61-70: Tom "Tennessee" Peyer (plots and scripts), Arnie Jorgensen (pencils)
The best part about this fight is that Captain Marvel is so gosh-darn nice that he turns out to be nearly impossible for even Lobo to provoke.
As you can see, the comic transforms gradually over time. It starts out driven by Keith Giffen, but Barry Kitson goes from penciling according to Giffen's breakdowns, to co-plotting the series with Alan Grant, to writing and drawing it. Some artist-turned-writer transformations in comics can be nightmares, but this one is excellent. I don't think Kitson had drawn any monthly book before L.E.G.I.O.N., but eventually he was doing almost all the work!

And indeed, the real peak of the book is the second Grant/Kitson period and the Kitson solo period (issues #25-48), where it the book "grows the beard." This is where they finally nail all the characters, and where they learn to balance subplots against the overarching plots. (In the first eighteen issues, it felt like each issue often saw eight different subplots advance in a minuscule fashion.) In these issues, Lobo fights Captain Marvel, a set of R.E.C.R.U.I.T.S. is introduced, a new villain starts to dismantle L.E.G.I.O.N. from the inside, the core team has to go on the run from their own troops, the L.E.G.I.O.N. discovers it's propping up a genocidal regime on one of its client worlds, and Green Lantern gets in a fight with Lobo.

To top it all off, Kitson is just a great artist, especially when paired with a good inker (Mark McKenna, on issues #4-18, was probably my favorite): he does excellent facial expressions, which aids immeasurably in making the characters come to life, and his storytelling is always clear.

The last ten issues I'm a little skeptical of. Tom Peyer doesn't quite "get" some of the characters, reducing some of the complicated relationship dynamics into melodrama. There's a twist I'm unsure about-- but we'll see, as issue #70 was not the end in a conventional sense. Rather, it leads straight into a successor series, R.E.B.E.L.S., so the story he began isn't over yet. If it all works out, I'm on board, but I can also imagine ways it could go horribly wrong!

22 October 2015

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: The Year of Miracle: A Tale of the year One Thousand Nine Hundred by Fergus Hume

Hardcover, 187 pages
Published 1891
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
The Year of Miracle: A Tale of the year One Thousand Nine Hundred
by Fergus Hume

This is one of a large number of early science fiction texts I read this winter at the Eaton Collection at the University of California Riverside, thanks to a Mullen Fellowship that defrayed my travel and lodging expenses. My focus was on novels about future revolution in the period from 1890 to 1910, especially those featuring air-ships and/or scientists. Partly this ties into my dissertation, and partly this will feature into whatever I do after that.

The Year of Miracle is about a young medical doctor improbably named Francis Rebelspear trying to make it. It frequently invokes evolutionary rhetoric, such as when the narrator says of his ailing practice, "Here was a brilliant illustration of the Darwinian theory concerning the survival of the fittest. Question: Was Rebelspear one of the fittest who would survive? Answer: Entirely depends upon his capacity for holding out, or the public’s giving in." Francis has a friend improbably named Julian Delicker, one of those idlers who loaf around Victorian fiction launching verbal barbs but not contributing to society, who suggests that a plague would be awesome: "if all the weak, the sick, and the revolutionary were killed off, think of how much smoother things would go" (!).

You might not be surprised to learn that a plague does happen. A Prophet of Doom brings a deadly vial back from the Middle East and drops it in London to cleanse it (and, not incidentally, to get revenge on the guy who stole his wife). This Prophet uses both Darwinian justifications for his actions and preaches against the uselessness of science, so he's not very consistent. Also the narrator justifies the fact that the guy who stole his wife had plague-death coming, completely glossing over the thousands-- hundreds of thousands?-- of other people who died in the plague. The narrator too sneers at the science believed in by Rebelspear and Delicker but also uses Darwinism to argue that the apocalyptic ending is totally hopeful: "A great number of those poorer classes had been swept away, and in this case of the survival of the fittest those left in England to rebuild London and the social life of the British people were mostly either physically or mentally strong. The brain workers aided the physically strong in the work of rebuilding a new England out of the ruins of the old, and the twentieth century began its career under the happiest auspices."

Um, happy? Yay, plague! Also I want to suggest that Fergus Hume doesn't have the firmest grasp of the actual causes of poverty. Delicker converts to Christianity, though, so I guess it's all worth it.

21 October 2015

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XII: Batman: Snow

Comic trade paperback, 125 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2005)

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2015
Batman: Snow

Story: J. H. Williams III, Dan Curtis Johnson
Script & Dialogue: Dan Curtis Johnson
Art: Seth Fisher
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Phil Balsman

Year Two, April
I picked this book up because it tells the origin of Mr. Freeze, probably the most prominent of Batman's villains to not have an origin detailed in anything else I've read in my Batman readthrough so far (the Joker got The Man Who Laughs, Catwoman had a significant subplot in Batman: Year One, Two-Face will very shortly get The Long Halloween, and then of course there's Four of a Kind for Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, and Man-Bat). To my surprise, that turned out to be the least interesting part of this story; I don't think Mr. Freeze's story really adds anything to the book. It lacks the tragedy I recall from the 1990s Batman cartoon, and it doesn't really resonate with the other material in this book. It's very nearly an irrelevant side-plot!

The main function of Mr. Freeze is to be a supervillain of a type Batman has never seen before: one with hi-tech weaponry, and thus threatening on a scale that, say, Catwoman or the Joker is not. This is because the story is really about Batman's attempt to put together a crime-fighting team, able to help him do what he's coming to realize he can't do alone, and what Gordon and Dent and Alfred can't help him with. Of course I loved it: Batman assembled a scrappy gang of misfits who have to learn how to work together, and learn that they're strong as part of a team even if they are unfulfilled and often powerless outside of it. They're a fun bunch, and I loved the scenes of them working together, as well as the scenes of them out in the field-- and as it does in these kinds of stories, things turn sour, and that works really well, too. I suspect these guys appear nowhere else in the Batman canon, but I sure wish they did.

Writer Dan Curtis Johnson captures Batman's voice really well. By which I mean, I could imagine Kevin Conroy saying his lines! But seriously, this story really gets Batman and what makes him tick: Batman is not a loner, but a man who needs a family to keep going, and this story is the key one where he identifies that. It's about a year before Batman gains a Robin, but (as the final page drives home perhaps a little too heavy-handedly) this is where the emotional process starts. I also really liked Seth Fisher's artwork, which is cartoony but detailed in a way I find hard to articulate but really enjoyed looking at. Hopefully I come across more of his work someday.

Next Week: Batman's best pal Harvey Dent turn to EVIL in The Long Halloween! Y'know, Harvey Dent? Batman hangs out with that guy all the time? I swear he does, even though you never see it. (Actually, Dent does pop up in Snow, but I feel like it's the first time we've seen him since Year One. Can that possibly be right?)

20 October 2015

Review: Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Volume 3 by Scott & David Tipton et al.

Comic PDF eBook, 92 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 2013)
Acquired May 2014
Read December 2014
Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Volume 3

Written by Scott & David Tipton
Art by David Messina with Giorgia Sposito, Elena Casagrande, Matthew Dow Smith, and Kelly Yates
Colors by Arianna Florean with Azzura M. Florean and Charlie Kirchoff
Letters by Tom B. Long

I found the ninth Doctor story here completely forgettable, but the tenth Doctor one is decently fun: Quarks and Dominators!

The eleventh Doctor one is where it all goes to shit. That's where the Doctor takes on Adam directly-- Adam the short-lived ninth Doctor companion who's been kidnapping the Doctor's companions systematically at the end of each of these chapters. Adam as a villain just being a hilariously fannish idea in the worst way. It just all gets terribly convoluted and uninteresting, and there are too many characters, and too much space-filling. And the last two pages are just genuinely awful in a way that's completely bizarre; like, how could anyone think this was a reasonable emotional resolution? Prisoners of Time had its high points, but this volume does not include many of them.

Next Week: On to my next reading project... a couple weeks of catching up with the Legion of Super-Heroes!

19 October 2015

Review: Science: A Four Thousand Year History by Patricia Fara

I have a review up at USF, of The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 4. This volume brings the series into new territory: audio adaptations of episodes where the scripts no longer exist, and thus have to be reconstructed from circumstantial evidence!

Trade paperback, 482 pages
Published 2010 (originally 2009)
Acquired December 2014
Read October 2015
Science: A Four Thousand Year History
by Patricia Fara

This book has an ambitious title and an ambitious project: it's here to cover the development of "science" from 2000 B.C.E. to 2000 C.E. (more or less). It's not a history of scientific discoveries, or scientific biographies, but a history of science as a process, a history of what it has meant throughout history to do science, to think like a scientist, to see like a scientist. Patricia Fara begins with the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, and Greeks, and works her way forward, pointing out how many people we now retroactively think of as scientists were not really doing anything in accord with the modern scientific process. Or indeed, how modern science is usually not as dispassionate as we think it ought to be, pointing out the sexist, capitalist, or imperialist pressures that move and warp the direction of science throughout time.

Perhaps predictably, for me the book really came alive when it got to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when institutionalized and professionalized and disciplinarized science really comes into existence, all important to what we modern folk think of when we think of "science." She talks about that Enlightenment drive to systematize (which we see in things like Linnaeus's taxonomy, or the various racial classification schemes, or fictionally, in Causabon's Key to All Mythologies), and then that Victorian drive to discover underlying laws that explain the systems: "the goal of nineteenth-century scientists was to unify and discipline the world by finding simple laws that described the behaviour of everything-- people as well as things, minds as well as bodies" (233). And, of course, this all has dark implications, as the "numerical concept of normality enabled subjective judgements to creep right back in again. It was only a short step from describing to prescribing, from social mapping to social engineering. [Francis] Galton was just one of many Victorian scientists who believed that measuring physical characteristics would yield unbiased knowledge of people's mental abilities, psychological tendencies, and racial origins" (262-3). Though Fara can, perhaps, over-emphasize the unsavory and negative aspects of science, I think she does so with thoroughness and fairness; despite its wide span, this is a well-researched and detailed book, and I think it is hard to argue with the conclusions she draws.

This is one of those books where one's biggest complaint upon reading it is that one didn't read it before! It sounds like damning with faint praise, but in addition to being intellectual thorough, it's just very readable. Mimicking the way the ancients tried to arrange the universe, Fara divides her book into seven sections of seven chapters apiece, which means that at 8 pages apiece, each chapter is short and focused, which makes it easy to move through, and also easy to go back to and cite; I am sure this book will find its way into my dissertation. It would also make pieces of it easy to assign to students-- in that far off day when I get to teach a "science and literature" class, I am sure a couple chapters of this book will be in it. And you can't say that about very many academic books!

16 October 2015

On [Metaphors]

Not much time this week, so this'll be a quick entry. Last Thursday, I took a ten-hour drive. This trip is part of the reason I don't have much time time week, but since I did the drive out, it meant I was able to do a lot of catchup listening on my iPod: four Doctor Who audio dramas, two episodes of On the Media, two episodes of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!, and two short episodes of Radiolab.

On the Media is a good little podcast/public radio program that I don't think gets its due among the Serials and This American Lifes and Invisibiliae of the world. It appeals to the academic in me: it's not a news podcast, it's a podcast about the news. For example, I once used this story about Edward Snowden in class, because I felt it modeled academic discourse well: rather than take a side as to Snowden's actions, they explored the rhetoric people used to discuss him.

Both of the episodes I listened to this past week were good; the 2015-09-25 one discussed the rhetoric around the Pope's recent visit (especially the kneejerk reaction of the American media to work him into the Republican/Democrat president race narrative), the AP stylebook's switch from "climate change denier" or "skeptic" to "climate change doubter" or "those who reject mainstream climate science" (co-host Bob Garfield actually gets into an argument with an AP science reporter), and a discussion of while abortion turns out to be a more complex issue than most polling reveals.

But the 2015-10-02 episode was even better. It was actually a rerun from earlier this year, but I'd missed the original airing, so that was fine. "The Cancer Show" was a set of stories about the way we discuss cancer, including a history of cancer, an analysis that shows how people don't know which cancers are actually the most common, and a moving piece by literary critic Susan Gubar (of Gilbert & Gubar fame) about the language of cancer treatment.

Most interesting to me was a discussion of metaphor. Cancer and the fight against it is often described with metaphors of war and battle and survival. But these metaphors have very real effects on the way we think about cancer; co-host Brooke Gladstone interviews David J. Hauser, a University of Michigan graduate student (how come I'm not on NPR!?), who did a study demonstrating that people who think of cancer as a battle are actually less likely to engage in preventative strategies, because they just don't fit into the war metaphor:
When you metaphorically frame something, it forces you to think about that concept in terms of another, easier to understand concept. So whenever we metaphorically frame cancer as an enemy, then that causes people to bring attributes of how to deal with enemies onto their ideas about how to deal with cancer. And a major part of dealing with enemies involves active engagement and attacking at all costs. In contrast to that, it de-emphasizes self-limitation and behavioral restraint. [...] [S]imple exposure to these enemy metaphors for cancer were actually dampening people's thoughts of limitation and restraint because that's just not how you fight enemies.
Of course, this reminded me of Lakoff & Johnson's Metaphors We Live By, which I read (part of) back at the beginning of my graduate career, and also my current work, about how science is often understood as a way of seeing. Sometimes I wonder if it really is a way of seeing, or if sight is just a convenient metaphor for understanding science. But it might be a difference that makes no difference.

15 October 2015

Review: Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: An Oral History by Preston Neal Jones

Acquired December 2014
Read April 2015
Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: An Oral History
by Preston Neal Jones

This book collects transcripts from innumerable people involved in the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, weaving them together into a narrative. Everyone is here: Gene Roddenberry, director Robert Wise, the whole cast from William Shatner to Stephen Collins, even science advisor Isaac Asimov and the guys who created the lighting effect used in the warp core. Their narratives chronicle the complete development of the film, from the days when it was the pilot for the new television series Star Trek II up to the last-minute delivery of the special effects and premiere.

I don't know if any other film has ever had 672 tightly packed pages written about it before, but surely this must be unparalleled. The preproduction, filming, and postproduction are covered in exhaustive detail. The original 1979 film is often criticized, but on reading this, you can tell that everyone involved was trying to create the best film that they were capable of creating, and much of went wrong was down to time... despite the film having an inordinate amount of time spent on it! Drafts volleyed back and forth even during filming, and character throughlines were left on the cutting room floor.

The amount of thought and effort that went into this film is mind-boggling, down to a determination that none of the video feeds for the bridge monitors repeat between different scenes! There was a real effort to build a plausible, functional future. My favorite fact, though, is that for the wormhole sequence, the actors dubbed their dialogue speaking slooooowlyyyyy, no effects were used to slow the voices. "Phoooootooooon tooooorpeeeeeedooooooes aaaaawaaaaay!"

After reading the book, I rewatched the "director's cut" of the film on DVD. I already had a fondness for the film, but this book solidified my feeling that though other Star Trek films might be more exciting, there's something about Star Trek that no other incarnation of it has ever captured as well as this one, a feeling of exploration, that knowing the universe will ultimately lead to us knowing ourselves. It's a great book about the making of a great film-- certainly the only Star Trek film that would hold up to this kind of treatment.

The human adventure is just beginning.

14 October 2015

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XI: Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity

Comic hardcover, 198 pages
Published 2004 (contents: 2003)

Borrowed from the library
Read December 2014
Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity

Writer & Artist: Matt Wagner
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Sean Konot

Not in Continuity*
This is my third all-Matt Wagner comic in the course of this readthrough... and I want to like every one of them more than I do. Wagner's art is great, it's expressive, and he really captures the characters' personalities. I like the contrasts between Metropolis and Gotham and Paradise Island. I like how he mixes and matches villains between the three heroes here.

But his stories always seem to fail to coalesce. I think it's because they're maybe too ambitious. If this was just a superhero punch-up, it would be fine. But it wants to be something more, it wants to be first meeting between the three most important heroes of the DC universe, and it wants to say something about them as people, and about their ideals. What that statement is, however, gets lost in the muddle that is the plot, and I'm left dissastisfied, having glimpsed from a distance an excellent story that I haven't been allowed to read. This is good, but it's hard to shake the feeling that it ought to have been great.

* This readthrough of Batman stories is supposed to be of in-continuity (continuity being that of the 1985-2011 iteration of the DC universe) ones, but I didn't realize that Trinity didn't fit into continuity until I read it. There's no point in time where Superman and Batman would have met each other, but not Wonder Woman, and Batman has already been joined by Robin, as Robin's debut comes after the formation of the Justice League. I think.

Next Week: It gets a little cold outside, as Batman faces Mr. Freeze for the first time. Plus: his first attempt at a "Bat-Family" in Snow!

13 October 2015

Review: Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Volume 2 by Scott & David Tipton et al.

Comic PDF eBook, 98 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 2013)
Acquired May 2014
Read December 2014
Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Volume 2

Written by Scott & David Tipton
Art by Philip Bond, John Ridgway, Kev Hopgood, and Roger Langridge
Colors by Charlie Kirchoff
Letters by Tom B. Long

I had actually bought two of the installments of this volume in single-issue format: #6 because I couldn't believe that IDW had actually got 1980s Doctor Who Magazine stalwart John Ridgway back, and #8 because Paul McGann is my Doctor. Plus it had art by the unsurpassable Roger Langridge, another DWM stalwart.

Maybe because of that, these two stories are the most memorable. The sixth Doctor adventure makes good use of Frobisher in a tale involving the Master. It doesn't always make good use of Ridgway; there's a couple pages where the Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher just talk in front of a blank background! The Tiptons' decompression at its worst, and what a waste of Ridgway's talent. The eighth Doctor tale is good fun, with the Doctor picking up Grace Halloway for another go at being a companion; I think you can imagine this slots in between the TV movie and Grace's appearances in DWM. Langridge is a great fit for Doctor Who, he's so imaginative, and it's nice to see him get something other than the "comedy" tales DWM often throws his way.

The fifth Doctor tale is not amazing, but it's nice to see my fave TARDIS team (Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan) in action, and Philip Bond's artwork is solid and fun. The seventh Doctor tale is definitely the weakest in this volume, with an overcomplicated plot from the Master, and stiff artwork from Kev Hopgood.

Next Week: The end of Prisoners of Time... and the end of IDW! Freedom awaits.

12 October 2015

Review: Possession: A Romance by A. S. Byatt

Trade paperback, 555 pages
Published 1991 (originally 1990)
Acquired March 2010
Read June 2015
Possession: A Romance
by A. S. Byatt

Never has literary research been so exciting. That sounds flip, but I mean it. Obviously Byatt has a bit of advantage in depicting a group of people doing archival work-- close readings would maybe be a little less dramatic!-- but this book really captures that drive to understand written text that underlies literary criticism, a drive that I myself share.

I was enjoying it all along, but at the end it totally clicked for me-- became almost like a heist tale, maybe? It's just a really uplifting ending, the way everything and everyone comes together and unites to do what's right. Made me tingle a little bit. This is a really good book, and my words are inadequate to express why, if I'm honest. (But then, aren't they all? And don't we try anyway?)

Pages 510-12 are just the most amazing description of what it means to read that I have ever read. If I felt like I could get away with it and if I had the patience, I'd quote the whole two pages here, but I'll just leave you with this: "the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other. True, the writer may have been alone also with Spenser's golden apples in The Faerie Queen.... He was alone when he wrote and he was not alone then, all those voices sang, the same words, golden apples, different words in different places..." I want to quote more, but I want you to read it for yourself, and see the joy of reading expressed, to make that connection between minds, the isolation that is always building bridges. This is a book about the joys of reading, about making connections when we are at our most lonely, about never being alone. Read it alone for yourself.

09 October 2015

Possession (2002 film): Not Much of a Romance

A few months ago, I read A. S. Byatt's excellent novel Possession, and so I watched the film this past week. My review of the book will go up on Monday, making this a little back-asswards, but right now it's the only idea I've got for a blog entry, so here you go.

Byatt's novel is about reading, and the pleasures of reading, and the investigation of reading. What does it mean to encounter a text, and what does it mean to perform research on a text. You might be surprised, then, that someone would decide to turn it into a film, but in 2002, Neil LaBute directed an adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart. But it's not just possible for the film to be about what the book was about: the scene at the beginning where we see Aaron Eckhart in a montage of book-reading is almost comic in its attempt to depict visually a very non-visual experience, and wisely, the film never attempts such a thing again. Part of the title refers to, I think, how you can be "possessed" by what you read, and the film just doesn't communicate that.

Which might be okay: films do different things than books, and part of the process of viewing an adaptation is coming to accept that. But man, if LaBute just totally fails to come up with something interesting to replace it. The novel is about a pair of literary critics investigating an historical romance between two Victorian poets, and the film unspools their investigation in parallel with the romance of the poets. The stuff from the past is quite nice, even if the shorter nature of film means it doesn't quite have the complexity of the relationship in the book. But the film turns the present day story into a romance, too, which it might get away with it if it wasn't incredibly dumb. Seriously, there are some less convincing romances in the history of film (I'm looking at you, Attack of the Clones), but probably not a lot.

First off, Gwyneth Paltrow's character:
Uptight ladies... has anyone ever told you that you would look better with your hair down? Seriously, what is your deal and why do you wear your hair in buns? Also: loosen up! What's the point of being a female if you don't look nice for the men?

Seriously, this is the most cliched and uninteresting angle on romance I can think of at present.

Secondly, Aaron Eckhart's character:
The third time that, completely unprompted, this guy told someone that he just didn't do relationships, my wife and I started to laugh. Like seriously, dude, no one even asked. He spends the whole film  finagling the topic of relationships into conversation so that he can explain that he doesn't do them. "They're just not for me," he says ruefully, staring off dramatically into the distance.

This could almost kinda work, I think, if there was some attempt to explain it, but nope, halfway through he just decided he likes Gwyneth Paltrow and his supposed hatred of relationships is never mentioned again. While Paltrow's half of this plot is completely cliche, it is impossible for me to even imagine what this half of the story was even going for. Like, what was his deal? Why was he surprised that Paltrow didn't want to date him given he spent the whole movie pointedly dropping into conversation the fact that he didn't want to date anyone. Who knows! He's too busy brooding his manly feelings.

Unfortunately, this film makes the present-day romance most of its point (seriously, the climax is almost perfunctory, while in the novel it's a brilliant, exhilarating feel-good moment).

Um, well the Victorian stuff was nice, though. Has Jeremy Northam ever been in anything good? He's one of those people who looks like he was born to act in a period drama.

I couldn't find a picture of him in his hat on Google Images, but he had an awesome hat, too.

08 October 2015

Review: In Darkest England, and The Way Out by General Booth

Hardcover, 285 pages
Published 1890
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2013
In Darkest England, and The Way Out
by General Booth

If you know who General William Booth is, it's because he's the founder of the Salvation Army-- his general title comes from being the head of a large philanthropic organization, not from fighting in any battles. He founded the East London Christian Mission in 1865, reorganized it into the Salvation Army in 1878, and wrote In Darkest England in 1890. I read In Darkest England while trying to read widely in late Victorian apocalyptic and utopian fiction. In Darkest England isn't either, as it's a manifesto for what Booth thinks is wrong with England, and how it can be fixed, but it gives you some feeling for how Victorian culture was thinking about these issues outside of fiction. (Though Henry Lazarus's 1894 proto-science fiction novel The English Revolution of the Twentieth Century is about a takeover of England organized by the Salvation Army!)

Booth is quick to dismiss the idea that this book is utopian, claiming that it's all actually achievable. The reason for this is essentially twofold. First, General Booth has statistics on his side. Secondly, everything he wants to do is completely practical. His big thing is to attack the actual causes of social maladies, something I think the Victorians in general were becoming more and more aware of. For example, he argues, the reason women become prostitutes isn't because they have low moral character, but because other people take advantage of women who have no other recourse. Similarly, alcohol isn't the cause of a problem, but a symptom of one.

He is also opposed to revolutionaries because their schemes of impossible hope make it difficult for him to recruit, and anyway the issue isn't some Bellamy-style top-down reorganization of society, but of changing individual behaviors to be more ethical; at one point he refers to his work as "revolutionising the character of those whose faults are the reason for their destitution" (252). It's sort of an interesting mix between increasing both social responsibility and individual responsibility. But it's all up to the Salvation Army to take the lead, because neither government nor society nor individuals are going to step up on their own.

Anyway, the most interesting parts of the book to a modern reader (or me, at least) are those where he articulates whys of his approach. In the rest of the book, there's a lot of hows, and they're very specific to both his time and place and his way of seeing the world. For example, he wants to establish New Britain, The Colony Over-Sea, which he calls "the unmooring of a little piece of England" (152), which has that usual nineteenth-century implication that all the continents that aren't Europe don't actually have people already living there. The schemes and data are also relayed in exhaustive detail.

07 October 2015

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part X: Batman: Rules of Engagement

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2007 (contents: 2007)

Borrowed from the library
Read December 2014
Batman: Rules of Engagement

Writer: Andy Diggle
Penciller: Whilce Portacio
Inker: Richard Friend
Colorist: David Baron
Letterers: Travis Lanham, Rob Leigh

Year Two, April
It seems natural that Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor should come into conflict: each is an international businessman who works in technical industries, each of them with a secret agenda, only one does so for good... and the other for evil. Andy Diggle, Whilce Portacio, and Richard Friend pit the two against each other in this tale of their first meeting, but it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. I don't think the book adequately digs into the philosophical distinctions between the two men that ought to exist despite their seeming similarities. Each man wants to save the world, each man has raised himself to be a form of human perfection, and yet despite Bruce Wayne's wallowing in the darkness and Lex Luthor's seeming magnanimousness, Bruce is fundamentally optimistic, and Lex fundamentally cynical. I don't see that really depicted here, and it seems like Batman's early days ought to be especially fertile ground for this, as Bruce Wayne builds himself into the man he wants to be. There is some of it-- the end of the story sees Bruce (re?)establish the Wayne Foundation-- but most of the book is somewhat generic superheroics, let down by Whilce Portacio's confusing, jumpy storytelling.

Next Week: Batman teams up with Superman and Wonder Woman for the first time in Trinity! Only it's impossible to place in continuity, so it doesn't count! Seriously, Robin's in it and that makes no sense!

06 October 2015

Review: Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Volume 1 by Scott & David Tipton et al.

Comic PDF eBook, 98 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 2013)
Acquired May 2014
Read December 2014
Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Volume 1

Written by Scott & David Tipton
Art by Simon Fraser, Lee Sullivan, Mike Collins, and Gary Erskine
Colors by Gary Caldwell, Phil Elliott, and Charlie Kirchoff
Letters by Tom B. Long

One of the things to like about the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was how well the timing worked out. There were twelve months and eleven Doctors, which meant a number of different media celebrated by giving each Doctor in turn across the months: audios, prose, and, indeed, comics. Only it's coming from Scott & David Tipton, and though their Star Trek comics can be good, one might suspect that after Assimilation² they shouldn't be allowed anywhere near Doctor Who ever again.

Prisoners of Time isn't quite that bad, but it's not altogether good, either. Volume 1 collects stories featuring the first through fourth Doctors, which sometimes get the feel of the eras, and sometimes do not. The first Doctor one, though, has the laughably basic mistake of the Doctor being able to steer the TARDIS correctly while traveling with Ian and Barbara. (Also, Barbara and Vicki are stared at when they attend a lecture by Thomas Henry Huxley, because women are supposedly an unusual sight in a science class... but that just would not have been true in 1868, I think. Women would be outnumbered, but they wouldn't be absent-- science hadn't been professionalized yet!) The second Doctor one is a pretty solid pastiche of its era, and I liked that the third Doctor one united Sarah Jane Smith and Liz Shaw, though it didn't really do anything with that combination behind have them run around behind the Doctor. The fourth Doctor one has him fighting the Judoon, but isn't as fun as one might hope from that.

As is often the case with IDW's Doctor Who comics, the art is inconsistent. There are no individual art credits in my collected edition, but I'm going to assume that the well-drawn second and third Doctor chapters were by Lee Sullivan and Mike Collins, stalwarts of Doctor Who Magazine who know how to do Who in comic form-- I don't know why IDW waited so long to tap them! The second Doctor chapter is particularly nice, with the characters looking on-model without being overly referenced, and a lot of varied background aliens livening it up.

The first Doctor story is really let down by some awful likenesses, especially as it introduces the recurring threat through this series: an unknown enemy kidnapping the Doctor's companions. This enemy looks at pictures of the Doctor's companions, and you can barely tell which one is which! Or in some cases, I have no clue at all. Thomas Brewster might even be in there (I think), but surely the Doctor would be grateful if he was kidnapped?

Next Week: Five, Six, Seven, Eight! More Prisoners of Time!

05 October 2015

Review: The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Happy Monday, humans! Take a look at my review of Series 4 of the 1960s audio spy drama Counter Measures (or, if you're my editor, Counter-Measures) over at Unreality SF.

Trade paperback, 911 pages
Published 1968 (originally 1749)
Acquired October 2008
Read September 2015
The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

I read tons of nineteenth-century novels these days, and have pretty much totally adapted to their style of storytelling. Apparently that does not extend back to the eighteenth century, because I found this allegedly humorous book tedious in the extreme. It just goes on and on and on but nothing ever seems to actually happen. If someone told you what happened in this book, you would laugh, but actually reading it, you do not. Maybe this makes me a Philistine, but if so, then I'm a Philistine who loves Adam Bede, and I'm content with that.

There are two things I did like: Fielding's chapter titles ("Containing curious, but not unprecedented Matter", "A little Chapter, in which is contained a little Incident", "Short and sweet") and Fielding's prologues to each of the eighteen books, where he lays out his theories on critics, drama, comedy, and even prologues (that one was, of course, my favorite).

The endnotes of my Penguin English Library edition (apparently back in the 1960s, "Penguin Classics" were only works in translation, i.e., actual classics, so this series contained their editions of English literature) would have been much more useful if they'd been marked in text.

02 October 2015

Things I Know Very Little About: The Crimean War

This week, I'm still working on my dissertation chapter about Charles Kingsley's Two Years Ago. It's driven home to me that, considering I'm a Victorianist, I know surprisingly little about the most significant war of my chosen time period. Like, a list of things I know about it would go:
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade happened.
  • Florence Nightingale carried her lamp around and invented nursing.
  • Beryl Bainbridge's 1998 novel Master Georgie is set during the war, but though I remember liking it, I don't remember a thing about it.
  • Um... I think that's it.
  • Sebastopol? That's a thing, right?
Part of this is, I believe, that I'm a literary scholar. The Crimean War had surprisingly little literary impact in England: in Two Years Ago, a number of characters go off and fight (or nurse) in the war, but that mostly happens "off-stage," as it were. Other than that, the number of Victorian novels set during the war is minimal. Stefanie Markovits's monograph The Crimean War in the British Imagination lists a few more. George W. M. Reynolds (who was basically terrible) wrote a book Omar: A Tale of the War during the actual war, with the effect that he caught up to the real war and then had to vamp a lot while he waited for something to happen. George Whyte-Melville wrote The Interpreter: A Tale of the War; I've never heard of him or the book, but Markovits reports that he's the only Crimean War novelist to actually have served in the war (as a volunteer with the Turkish cavalry). Markovits also suggest Kingsley's Westward Ho! (set in Elizabethan times, but an allegory for the war), Henry Kingsley's Ravenshoe (I had no idea Charles had a brother who was also a novelist), and Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South (!).

Map of the Jaws of Death.

Of course, the most famous literary production of the war is Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade," a tale of heroism and tragedy we still recollect today:
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
     Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
     Rode the six hundred.
The full poem is here. Amazingly, you can hear Tennyson reading the poem himself in this 1890 wax cylinder recording:

It always throws me for a loop when what I sometimes think of as distantly historical figures manifest in such a modern format.

Markovits suggests (and she's not alone) that the Crimean War was the first "media war," the first war that the media demanded exist and covered extensively, and that the contemporary need for war writing was met by journalism as a result: Dickens's journal Household Words covered the war in fact, but Dickens wrote barely anything about it in fiction.

Despite its seeming lack of literary impact, the war was an important one, and Orlando Figes's The Crimean War: A History (2010) seems to be the only comprehensive historical study of the war in English. Maybe someday I'll get around to reading it and figuring out exactly how impactful the war really was.

ALSO: Did you know cardigans come out of the Crimean War?

My Google Image Search for "earl of cardigan wearing a cardigan" turned up no such thing, but I did find this image of the current Earl of Cardigan wearing a pullover, which is pretty close. Courtesy The Daily Mail.
Well, kind of. James Brudenell, the Seventh Earl of Cardigan is actually the guy who led the Charge of the Light Brigade, and he may or may not have been kind of a screw-up, one of those folks whose noble birth was probably not sufficient reason to make him a leader of men. Before people figured that out, though, his knitted waistcoat became famous.

01 October 2015

Reading Roundup Wrapup: September 2015

Pick of the month: The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson. This is one of those months where making the choice is tough because though I read some decent books, I didn't read any that felt like they rose above the rest to any significant degree. But this was a solid, well-done ninth Doctor tale in a world with too few of those, and so it gets my vote.

All books read:
1. Countdown by Greg Cox
2. The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
3. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #11: Day of Honor: Honor Bound by Diana G. Gallagher
4. Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor: The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson
5. Batman: Four of a Kind by Chuck Dixon with Alan Grant and Doug Moench
6. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics edited by Mike Madrid
7. Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: The Final Prophecy by Greg Keyes
8. Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: The Unifying Force by James Luceno

All books acquired:
1. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation by E. H. Gombrich
2. Moonraker by Ian Fleming

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 614 (up 3)
Books remaining on "To review" list: 148 (down 16)