29 September 2017

"Touch it, stroke it, and undress it": Diamonds Are Forever

"Gotta get that lunar rover on the poster.
That scene was pivotal."
My continued subjection of my wife to James Bond films has brought us as far back as we've ever gone, to Sean Connery's final film, but our first one with him: Diamonds Are Forever. When reading the novel, I felt that everything felt very grimy and low-key: diamond-smuggling doesn't seem to quite have the stakes that a James Bond plot ought to, and it didn't feel like anything really mattered for the first two-thirds of the book. Like, who cares about horse racing? (Seriously, why is there horse racing?)

Diamonds Are Forever solves this in a couple ways. Well, sort of. Attempts to solve, at least. The first is what is apparently a key ingredient of the 1970s Bond films: terrible car chases. One has Bond in a lunar rover driving around the Nevada desert, which is pretty goofy. The second is him fleeing from cops in Las Vegas; the cop cars increasingly pile up. This thing will be echoed in Live and Let Die, but really it just reminded me of The Blues Brothers. Except there it was supposed to be funny.

Do they really cremate corpses when they're still in the coffin? It seems inefficient.

The second big alteration is making the entire thing a plot by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Near the end of the film, you learn the diamonds are a key component in (of course) an orbital super-laser that he's going to use to hold the world to ransom. I should note that Blofeld is an old foe of Bond by this point, but this is in the fact the first time we've seen him watching in book order, so even though Blofeld appears in the traditional pre-titles sequence, making him the surprise mastermind doesn't quite have the impact it ought. Though I suspect it wouldn't be a big deal regardless: it just feels tacked on and arbitrary, the most generic of Bond villain plots. I did quite like the one long scene Bond shares with Blofeld, where Bond figures out which of two Blofelds is the real one by hurting his cat, and then a third one turns up anyway, who then mocks the spy genre's convention of the very conversation they're having.

Not many supervillains are comfortable enough in their sexuality to disguise themselves as old ladies to sneak out of casinos.

There is one really good action sequence: early in the film, Bond has a fight with the diamond smuggler he's impersonating, most of which is confined to the space of a slow-moving elevator. It's neat to see a fight play out in such a small space, given the extravagant sizes of many Bond action sequences, and at times it gets a bit brutal. It reminded me of some of the more grounded action set-pieces of the early Daniel Craig films.

Like I said, this is our first Sean Connery film. Not many thoughts so far-- this film doesn't give him many opportunities to strut his stuff. I did notice that his Scottish accent flares up more whenever he flirts. Tiffany Case, played by Jill St. John, might be among the better Bond girls so far: she comes across as genuinely interested in Bond and vice versa. On the other hand, Plenty O'Toole has a terrible name and the actress was obviously not hired for anything to do with her acting abilities at all.

Yes, this scene is somehow pivotal to the film's climax.


Other Notes:
  • Q's appearance is one again pretty minor, and it doesn't come until most of the way through, when he turns up at the casino secretly run by Blofeld.
  • For some reason, the guy who plays Felix Leiter comes across more as Bond's dad than Bond's counterpart. He's very much a fuddy-duddy, which seems really bad casting. My initial excitement at seeing Felix (I really like Felix) quickly gave way to disappointment every time he turned up.
  • Wint and Kidd (the gay assassins) aren't as creepy as I imagined they would be on screen.
Film Rankings (So Far):
  1. Casino Royale
  2. Moonraker
  3. Live and Let Die 
  4. Diamonds Are Forever

28 September 2017

Voice and Genre in Young Adult Literature: The Outsiders (1967)

As I often do when I read books in order to teach them, I'm going to write up the novels I taught in my young adult literature course in the context of how I approached them as a teacher. This (mostly) biweekly feature will run from now through March 2018. I taught the class in the Spring 2017 semester at the University of Connecticut, and began writing up the novels that summer.

Trade paperback, 180 pages
Published 2012 (originally 1967)
Acquired November 2016

Read January 2017
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

I actually never read The Outsiders before I taught it in my young adult literature class; I somehow missed this classic of young adult literature. And when I say classic, I mean it: The Outsiders is widely considered by critics to have created a genre. The teenager had really only just been invented after World War II by marketers and advertisers who needed to name this demographic so that they could target it. Thomas Hines, in The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, argues that what defines teenagers is their awareness of the world connected to their powerlessness: "[teens] are exposed to all the violence and economic insecurity of the society at large, but, unlike their predecessors, they have few avenues for bearing real responsibility to improve their situation." Previously, this had not been the case: when you discovered society's insecurity it was because you were an adult and thus you were able to do something about it.

Hinton, so the story goes, noticed that there were no books that addressed the world the way she experienced it as a teenager-- and so she wrote one, the book she wanted and needed. Fascinatingly, this is as true within the text as it is outside of it; within The Outsiders, the novel itself is Ponyboy's homework for English class, written for "boys going down under street lights because they were mean and tough and hated the world, and it was too late to tell them that there was still good in it, and they wouldn't believe you if you did. It was too vast a problem to be just a personal thing. There should be some help, someone should tell them before it was too late. Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand them and wouldn't be son quick to judge a boy by the amount of hair oil he wore" (179). The book is for teenagers in a way that previous books were not, designed to help them through the problems of their lives that were uniquely teenage, and speaking to them through a distinctly teenage voice, from a distinctly teenage perspective. This is a world of sex and violence, where advice from adults is either nonexistent or completely useless. (The adults, after all, were never teenagers themselves, as teenagers hadn't been invented yet.) And the book has to signal that is by-a-teen-for-a-teen within the text of the novel because that hadn't been done before.

Young adult literature is a tricky genre to define, which is why it fascinates me. Is there any other genre defined so much by audience and marketing? What unites The Outsiders with Twilight other than the age of its protagonist? Yet age is insufficient, because you can have a novel about a young adult that is still not young adult literature. In considering what teenagerhood (teenagerdom? teenagerness? teenagerity?) is like, I think, we begin to discover an answer. Young adult fiction is preoccupied with the questions of teenagers.

I have a friend who criticizes people who identify with The Outsiders: most teenagers, he says, do not have friends who get killed in fights, experience social divisions that lead to murder. And I guess this is true. But The Outsiders captures what being a teenager feels like, that violence that you are so sure is simmering underneath everything. And maybe, most importantly, the uselessness of adults. The Outsiders literalizes this by making Ponyboy and his brother orphans, and having Ponyboy's older brother Darry act as a parent. You have no one who can give you the guidance you need and/or the people who give you advice actually don't know much more than you do. It's a teenager utopian dream, I think, to imagine a world without adults, but The Outsiders depicts that as a dystopia, a horrible hellscape where teenagers prey on each other without oversight. Because, if you're a teenager, that's what teenagerhood feels like, even if an adult (like my friend) would know better. The Outsiders doesn't know better (though Ponyboy begins to have glimpses that this isn't true as the book goes on, so this might just be a pose on the novel's part), and that's what makes it young adult literature.

26 September 2017

Review: Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming

Every four months, I read another James Bond novel, and starting this week, I'll be catching up on my reviews of them for a bit, starting with #4:

Mass market paperback, 290 pages
Published 2006 (originally 1956)
Acquired and read March 2016
Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming

Possible they get worse after this, of course, but thus far this is definitely my least favorite James Bond novel. It's just unpleasant on a number of levels. First is that the whole thing is grotty: Bond is sent to America to find the end of a diamond-smuggling pipeline, but he seems to be sneering about everything in the whole country. I mean, Bond is often kind of a classist jerk, but he usually does things that classist jerks like doing and enjoys them; here, he's always grumbling about how much he doesn't like America, doesn't like horse-racing, doesn't like Vegas. It's not very fun to read about.

Second, the bad guys never convince as being in his league given what he's faced down in the last three books. Diamond smugglers? Hardly a threat to king and country. Fleming lays it on a bit thick with a briefing scene early on where M tells Bond how dangerous these American gangs on, which is 1) really over done and 2) kind of weird, given that Bond fought some American gangs two books ago. What Bond goes on to do doesn't seem very 00-agent worthy (the horseracing diversion is particularly pointless), and the pipeline unravels extraordinarily easily. When shortly before his confrontation with the villain, Bond observes that he's "thoroughly bored" and you have to wonder why Fleming wrote that in, since this reader just wanted to agree with him.

Lastly, Bond sinks to new lows in terms of racism and homophobia. I assume Fleming must have taken some flack for Live and Let Die because this book has a scene where Bond 1) explains how much he loves black people, honestly some of his best friends are black people and 2) complains that you can't say the n-word like you used to, because some people just get so offended.* Seriously, Fleming has the audacity to follow a scene where Bond cringes at the very thought of being massaged by a black man with the line, "Bond had a natural affection for coloured people." Like, just own the racism if you're gonna do it! Later on we get a pair of killers, Kidd and Wint, about which Bond's American counterpart (formerly, anyway, as following Live and Let Die, he's gone freelance) Felix Leiter says, "[Kidd] [p]robably shacks up with Wint. Some of these homos make the worst killers." Whoa.

All that said, Fleming can still do good work when it comes to the creation of tension and suspense. The idea that one of the gang leaders is so into Westerns he built his own ghost town, where Bond ends up confronting him, feels like something the movies would do, but it pays off in terms of a harrowing desert escape for Bond and his current love interest, Tiffany Case. I did like the idea of an assassin so terrified of travel he lists his blood group on his luggage (I've no idea what Fleming is on about with a "blood group F," though.)

Bond's interactions with Case make her one of the better "Bond girls" thus far: you can feel the two of them seducing the other as the novel goes, and we once again see (as in Casino Royale) that Bond yearns for a traditional English domesticity he can never have as long as he fights to protect it for others. A funny artifact of reading this 1956 novel exactly sixty years later is that "Tiffany" is supposed to be a weird name (she's named after the jewelers). In the decade I was born, "Tiffany" was in the Top 20 Girl Names in America, so I've always known women named Tiffany. But back in 1956, it wasn't even in the Top 1,000! Apparently it's a pretty recent invention as a first name (inspired by the film Breakfast at Tiffany's), but I had no idea.

Next Week: Hopefully it's a better James Bond novel than this one: From Russia with Love!

* This is told in the form of a flashback to Live and Let Die, actually, but it is original to this novel.

25 September 2017

Review: Doctor Who: Talkback, Volume Three: The Eighties edited by Stephen James Walker

Speaking of Doctor Who (though not the 1980s), I have a review up of a Short Trip, "How to Win Planets and Influence People" by James Goss, starring Rufus Hound as the Meddling Monk.

Trade paperback, 201 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 1979-2007)

Acquired November 2016
Read December 2016
Talkback: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Doctor Who Interview Book, Volume Three: The Eighties
edited by Stephen James Walker

Like in volume two, the strength of volume three is probably in its in-depth conversations with Doctor Who's script editors. Though there's no interview with Christopher Hamilton Bidmead (responsible for my favorite season of classic Doctor Who) or Eric Saward (probably the show's most controversial script editor, who quit mid-season in 1986, taking the script for the finale to The Trial of a Time Lord with him), the book does does cover Antony Root (1982) and Andrew Cartmel (1987-89). Root is a figure I can't recall ever reading a single word about before; he was an interim script editor who only did part of a season. He's one of the few 1970s-80s Doctor Who script editors to not actually write for the programme, and here he says he views it as a script editor's job to edit, not write, providing a nice little window in Season Nineteen. The interview with Andrew Cartmel is excellent: it's almost thirty pages long, and it covers every story Cartmel edited, from Time and the Rani to Survival, in exhaustive detail. Cartmel shows the intelligence and insight that made the period he presided over one of Doctor Who's best, as he recruited new writers and pushed them to their limits, giving us classics like Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric. (I was amused by the number of things Cartmel said made his era strong that he totally disregarded when recreating it for the Big Finish "Lost Stories" two decades later.)

Other highlights include a baffling Tom Baker interview, a long interview with director and writer Terence Dudley, an interview with Peter Davison from early in his time in the role, an interview with Nicola Bryant that focuses on her pre-Who life in detail I'd never seen before (she got into drama school by turning even her self into a performance, figuring out what kind of women the school tended to admit!), and a number of features about the special effects of the late 1980s stories. Often, the best pieces are the ones right from the time of production or shortly thereafter, before years of retrospective fandom and memory solidify these times into postdetermined fact: 1983's Peter Davison is a different person from 2016's, but of course Doctor Who Magazine these days can only talk to the latter.

Lowlights include some of the fans writing up these interviews, inexperienced writers who mistake banal detail for interesting scene-setting, or their personal neuroses and/or social insights for  something I care about; the Tom Baker interview was particularly bad in this regard. Just give me what the man said-- your triumph at scoring imaginary points against the Australian Broadcasting Company rep is not worth noting!

22 September 2017

Steve and Hayley Watch Farscape: Season 1, Episode 21 – Season 2, Episode 2

1x21: “Bone to Be Wild”

  • HAYLEY: Oh dear. After the previous two-parter was arguably the best story of Season One so far, we get… this. It’s all about botany, which means that I should love it.
  • STEVE: It’s about how BOTANISTS ARE EVIL!
  • H: You know, I could get behind a good evil botanist. I mean, mad scientists can’t all be chemists and physicists.
  • S: “She's a Delvian. I have lived over 200 cycles-- consumed by my life's work as a botanist! Until today, I could only dream of sampling such an incredible species!”
  • H: Okay. So Zhaan is a plant. I guess that’s okay, in some sci-fi hand-wavey way. But we’ve seen her eating food. Just for fun? She’s blue because of her blue chloroplasts, which I can buy. She also says the gold parts of her skin are stomata, which… doesn’t make any sense.
  • S: I don’t know what stomata are, but I could sense your disapproval as soon as she said it.
  • H: Stomata are just pores.
  • S: Also this makes the fact that all the other Delvians have hair even more confusing.
  • H: It also makes me really wonder about those sacred trees the Delvians were trying to plant…. So this is supposed to explain why Zhaan went all orgasmic in the light in “Till the Blood Runs Clear,” and I don’t really think that fits, either. Overall, I just don’t think this was very well thought out in advance. But what about the plot? What did you think of the back-and-forth with Crichton, Zhaan, and D’Argo trying to parse out who was the evil one, Br’Nee or M’Lee?
  • S: I thought it was messy and a little contrived. Like, there’s a bit where everyone’s like, ‘Crichton you stay here we’ll come back for you later.’ And I’m like, why? Except that the characters need to be split up for the story to work. I did like the moral complexity of the Br’Nee-M’Lee dispute-- both were clearly in the wrong-- but the set-up was contrived. If Br’Nee’s people seeded all life on the asteroid, why were there animals there to begin with? If they needed a predator to kill all the animals, why did that predator need to be sapient? How did M’Lee’s people even sustain themselves as long as they did given how much she needs to eat?
  • H: And if M’Lee’s people eat bones, why were there no insects or invertebrate animals on the asteroid? Don’t Br’Nee’s people know that plants need a functioning ecosystem in order to survive? WHO WAS POLLINATING THEM??? These are the important questions.
  • S: I much more enjoyed the B- and C-plots in this episode. All the stuff with Aeryn and Moya’s baby was great. It was a nice and appropriate touch that Pilot could only trust her to talk the baby round.
  • H: Claudia Black did a good job in the scenes when she was in the offspring ship; she’s basically just standing in a room by herself, but she manages to convey a calm excitement and genuine concern and care towards the baby.
  • S: And her reaction when Pilot tells her Moya wants her to name the baby is genuinely heartwarming. Aeryn had like no emotion or sentiment in her life pre-Moya, so these moments mean a lot to her, and Black communicates that well.
  • H: In the other subplot, Scorpius continues to degrade Crais, as they search the asteroid field for Moya aboard Crais’s ship.
  • S: I almost feel bad for Crais at this point. Except that Scorpius is 100% right. Crais has not done a very good job.
  • H: We also learn that Scorpius has-- I would say a dark side, but all of his sides are dark. When Crais cracks and attacks him, Scorpius reveals his super-strength and his voice changes to be much deeper. And he’s angry at Crais for making him break his composure. Which, I think, makes his normal calm demeanor and voice all the more frightening.
  • S: Yeah, at first when Crais snapped and started wailing on Scorpius I thought Scorpius was about to receive turnabout for goading Crais so much; I didn’t expect Scorpius to be mentally and physically superior.
  • H: So, D’Argo convinces M’Lee to hold out for the arrival of the Peacekeepers, so she can board their ship and have her fill. I’m not really sure that D’Argo was doing her a kindness here. Surely the Peacekeepers will soon figure out that she’s eating them and just kill her?
  • S: Yeah, there are thousands of Peacekeepers on a command carrier, right? She can’t win. But, I’m sure she will get the drop on and eat Scorpius, and our crew will never be bothered by him again.
  • H: Sure. Oh, we forgot to talk about one thing. Zhaan inexplicably can turn invisible. Because that’s a thing that plants can do. Wouldn’t this have been useful in, oh, just about every episode so far?
  • S: Also how does she turn her robes invisible? (And is she still wearing her priestess vestments following on from “Through the Looking Glass”? Her non-religious phase was short.)
  • H: I’m not sure. She’s got her outer robe back on, but not the sash-thing she put on in “Through the Looking Glass.” I guess we still have a lot of unanswered questions about Zhaan, and I hope the show can handle them in a satisfying way after this episode took her race so far off the rails.
  • S: One other thing while we’re discussing Zhaan, which I keep meaning to mention. I really like the relationship between Zhaan and D’Argo. More than any other pairing on the show, they feel like real friends in the way that they talk to and support each other. There are nice moments between them in this episode (at the end), but also their mission together in “The Hidden Memory” for example. They almost feel like the “mom” and “dad” of Moya’s crew at times, the only two characters who consistently act like adults. (Most of the time.)

1x22: “Family Ties”

  • STEVE: Season One finale! It’s been not quite three months, and we’re already a quarter of the way through Farscape.
  • HAYLEY: I don’t like thinking about the fact that there are only four seasons! This episode starts off with an abrupt betrayal by Rygel, and although this move fits in with his character, I was definitely disappointed and somewhat shocked by his decision. This ain’t Star Trek.
  • S: It seems to all be there to set up a character transformation though, because when he comes back to Moya, Crichton and him have a heart-to-heart about how what matters is doing the right thing first, not when all other options fail. It was still shocking, though, but like all things Rygel, it was also mined for comedy, as Rygel delays providing useful information to Scorpius and Crais until he has a bath and fills all three stomachs.
  • H: I was also surprised to learn that Rygel can fly a Leviathan transport pod. When did he pick that skill up?
  • S: Maybe they’re very user-friendly. So the main premise of this episode is about Moya hiding in the asteroid field, trying to protect Moya’s baby (now named Talyn) from the Peacekeepers. Crichton and company spin various plans about how to defeat the Peacekeeper command carrier, now under Scorpius’s control, mostly involving explosives, while Crais himself defects. But the real core of this episode is a series of one-on-one conversations: D’Argo and Chiana, John and Zhaan, Pilot and Aeryn, John and Aeryn, Aeryn and D’Argo, John and Crais, John and Chiana, Rygel and John, John and his dad (kind of), and finally, John and D’Argo trapped in space.
  • H: Huh. I guess I didn’t even pick up that essentially every conversation was between only two people.
  • S: Well, I’m cutting out all the group conversations where they plot strategy or whatever.
  • H: But this was a tense episode, with a lot of emotion packaged into the characters weighing the options involved in carrying out their plan(s), and I’m sure all those one-on-one moments helped make the atmosphere of the episode feel both very close and very serious.
  • S: I really enjoyed it. The conversations really highlight how far all these characters have come: just to pick out some moments almost at random, I really liked Pilot and Aeryn talking about their unique trust, and the discussion of Aeryn’s parents, and John and D’Argo’s bro banter. Compare all this to the way they were not even in the premiere, but “DNA Mad Scientist” or “Till the Blood Runs Clear” or even “Through the Looking Glass.” They’ve come a long way as friends and almost family. And yeah, that makes all the suspenseful will-they-escape? stuff carry some weight. Because they care about each other, and we know as viewers how much work that took, we don’t want to see them torn apart. It’s an effective example of how to do real character-based storytelling.
  • H: I especially liked one of the scenes you picked out-- the discussion of Aeryn’s parents, between her and John. I like to imagine that after John offered it to her, she did say something into his tape recorder, either for his dad or for her own parents. And I like that Farscape takes the opportunity to use the season finale to slow down and consider all of these relationships, and have the characters consider the ramifications of their actions before diving into their plan. It’s an unusual move, since most shows would use a finale to focus just on the action that takes place in the final five minutes or so of the episode.
  • S: (Although, not to oversell, recall that Deep Space Nine had a season finale that was two-thirds about Sisko being annoyed Quark was crashing his camping trip.)
  • H: When the characters do finally initiate their plan, it’s not completely obvious what the entire plan is right away. (Or at least it wasn’t to me, but maybe I just wasn’t following when they explained it earlier.) D’Argo and Crichton set off in a transport pod, heavily armed with explosives. It’s a suicide mission-- or at least it would be, if Aeryn wasn’t following in her prowler. (She blends in with all of the prowlers from the command carrier.) Rather than fly the explosives at the command carrier itself, John and D’Argo instead take it all the way to the moon that the Gammak Base is located on. And then, they eject themselves from the pod, and allow it to complete its flight right into the moon-- completely destroying the entire base. I don’t know about you, but my jaw dropped when I realized what they had done.
  • S: They don’t kill anyone in the process, though.
  • H: They don’t?!
  • S: When Scorpius figures out what they’re up to, he says, “If he ignites the oil surface of that moon, we will have to abandon our research and evacuate the base.” So it seems like the base is destroyed, but its personnel have time to evacuate.
  • H: Oh. Hmm. Well, I’m glad of that, because I thought it was a pretty un-Crichton-like move. This seems much more in line with one of his plans, then. The move ultimately works-- Moya is able to starbust away-- but Aeryn was not able to rescue John and D’Argo before she did, leaving them separated from the ship and the rest of the crew.
  • S: Plus, Crais steals Talyn! That was literally the only thing I remembered from seeing this episode before.
  • H: So we’re left a pretty dramatic cliffhanger to end the season. The crew is split up, Moya has lost her baby, Crais has a powerful weapons ship-- and D’Argo and John are drifting in space together, unsure if Aeryn will even be able to rescue them before one or both suffocates.
  • S: Yeah. Crichton and D’Argo drifting above a burning moon is a hell of an ending.
  • H: And as if that weren’t enough, the ring that John’s dad gave him as a good luck charm drifts from his fingers into the void of space.
  • S: If this was 2000, you’d have to wait three months to find out how this turns out. Thankfully, we only had to wait three days.

2x01: “Mind the Baby”

  • HAYLEY: Season Two starts about as strong as Season One ended, I’d say. There’s tension, and plot twists, and character moments here. Plus jokes.
  • STEVE: My favorite: “Right, and how many times have you and I been close?” “Just the once.” “Uh, nonono, not that kind of close.” “Oh. Um. FRIEND CLOSE. Um, er, more than once.”
  • H: Ha. I love when Aeryn glances awkwardly at D’Argo during that exchange! It’s maybe a slight cop-out that, after the crew was scattered, Moya just decides to turn around after she realizes that Talyn didn’t come with her. But I can easily forgive that, because it does seem like something she would do, and there could have been much more contrived ways for the crew to all get back together again.
  • S: On the one hand, I like that the situation from the previous episode isn’t very easy to get out of, but on the other hand, I was a little disappointed that they end up almost exactly where they were: Moya trying to hide from the command carrier in the asteroid field, while Crais steals Talyn. It made the cliffhanger not quite as consequential as it ought to be. Though, to be fair, much of the “easiness” of it all comes from Aeryn making a deal with the devil between seasons.
  • H: Yeah, they almost end up worse off than before they enacted the plan to escape the asteroid field in the first place. Although at the end Moya does starburst away, they’ve not only lost the transport pod that they sent into the moon, but they’ve lost Talyn, and the command carrier is still in pursuit. I liked that Crais was playing both sides-- and that both sides knew full well that ultimately, Crais was only out for Crais.
  • S: Crais was one of the real high points of this episode. I really liked that conversation between him and D’Argo, where he tells D’Argo his miscegenation disgusts him, but he also has to question that disgust, because it was taught to him by the Peacekeepers.
  • H: Crais has regained much of the confidence he lost throughout Season One-- as evidenced by his formerly disheveled hair being nice and smoothly braided again.
  • S: Oh, nice catch. Lani Tupu is really good, I think, and I like Crais (as a character, not a person) more every episode. So weird to think he also voices Pilot! I’m not sure what I think of Crais’s “conversion” yet. There’s a really nice conversation at the end, between Aeryn and John, where she asks “you do believe people can change, don't you?” but Aeryn changed because Crais’s actions revealed that the Peacekeepers just saw her as a disposable cog in the machine. However, Crais caused his own downfall by disobeying the machine, and he knew it, he just thought he could get away with it. The Peacekeepers didn’t actually betray him until he betrayed them.
  • H: That was my favorite scene. I loved the way John and Aeryn were cuddling together in Pilot’s chamber.
  • S: I hope Pilot is okay with PDA.
  • H: It was G-rated!
  • S: I guess given he seems to listen in most of the time, he’s seen much worse. What did you think of Talyn electing to go off with Crais, after how much work they put into protecting Talyn the last three episodes?
  • H: I think it totally makes sense, though I didn’t see it coming. Talyn is no longer a baby; he’s an adolescent straining against his mother’s overprotectiveness, and he probably ended up spending more time with Crais “in command” of him than Aeryn. It’s a reckless adolescent decision, and I’m curious to see where Talyn and Crais both end up going as characters.
  • S: Is Crais the Zuko of Farscape? He’s the guy chasing Our Heroes who goes rogue from his people.
  • H: I can see the parallel. Let’s see if he ends up completely redeemed, and starts training Crichton in the ways of firebending. But first, he’s got to have some angsty moments. Actually, I could go for some angsty Crais.

2x02: “Vitas Mortis”

  • STEVE: In this episode, the Enterprise arrives at a remote planet where a Klingon mystic lays dying. Worf must enter into a dangerous ritual that will help her pass into the next life… or endanger the whole crew. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that this one felt like a warmed over Star Trek plot, and not in a good way.
  • HAYLEY: How so?
  • S: I feel like it’s just some generic weird-alien-ritual episode, that doesn’t tell us anything interesting about D’Argo or Luxans.
  • H: True. This is the very first Luxan other than D’Argo that we’ve seen, and all we really know now that we didn’t before is (1) some Luxans are priestesses with magical powers, and (2) there’s clearly some sexual dimorphism among Luxans, as Nilaam lacks a chin-flap-thingy.
  • S: Leave it to you to find some biology of interest here.
  • H: I actually really liked that Nilaam’s appearance was so different from D’Argo’s, showing that there is some diversity among the species. (That’s something Star Trek often lacks.) But I was less impressed when she de-aged, and it turned out her original pale hair was only due to age, and the younger version had the same color hair as D’Argo. But as a character, she didn’t do much for me.
  • S: I mean, once you realize there’s a connection between Nilaam and what’s happening to Moya, the whole thing plays out pretty predictably. You know Moya won’t die, so you know Nilaam has to go from selfish to selfless. And she’s not interesting enough to be tragic, because she’s basically selfish the whole time. (Or sexy.)
  • H: The most interesting scene, I thought, was when D’Argo admitted to Crichton that he knew what needed to be done. Anthony Simcoe did a good job in conveying the desperate emotion he felt there, even if the plot itself didn’t do much to convince the viewer that Nilaam needing to die was tragic.
  • S: Yeah, he is good. But writing-wise, this felt like a reversion to the pre-“DNA Mad Scientist” D’Argo overall, back when he was always coming under mental influences.
  • H: The B-plot wasn’t that interesting, either; it was obvious right away what the root of the problem was with Moya, so seeing the crew trying to puzzle it out and free Chiana from where she was stuck wasn’t that interesting. Rygel gets played for laughs again, as he manages to seal a hull breach with his body.
  • S: With his butt!
  • H: Well, with the entire lower part of his body. Which means that his butt and his legs were exposed to the vacuum of space, with apparently no negative effects.
  • S: Judging by D’Argo, Rygel should have got a tan.
  • H: Ha! Speaking of which, D’Argo’s not the only one who has some changes to his appearance.
  • S: Yeah, I feel like we spent most of this episode analyzing everyone’s new duds.
  • H: Zhaan has a new outfit, with some sparkly jewels and a high collar, but it’s otherwise her basic flowy blue robe/dress.
  • S: I really like the jewels, actually, but I’m not too keen on the collar. Aeryn and John are both wearing all leather all the time.
  • H: Which I like for Aeryn, but I’m not sold on for John. Especially the long coat that looks like something Neo from The Matrix might wear.
  • S: Oh man, it totally is. I guess it was 1999!
  • H: And his hair is sometimes spiky, which is also very 1999.
  • S: The hair is spiky in a way that just makes it look like he forgot to comb it. It does not work for me.
  • H: I suppose both the coat and the hair are trying to give him an edge that he lacked in Season One. I’m not sure either really succeed.
  • S: No more khaki pants or IASA flight suits, I guess. He’s a cool space man now! Even D’Argo has a new… I think it’s a poncho? Only Rygel and Chiana don’t rate new clothes (though we do see Rygel’s pyjamas). And I’ve only just realized that Pilot is naked.
  • H: Who needs clothes when you’re wearing an entire spaceship?
  • S: One last complaint: the title is nonsense Latin! Mortis means “death,” sure, but vitas is the accusative plural of vita, which means “life.” You can’t just jam random letters on the end of Latin words! -as means it’s a plural direct object, which makes no sense in context.
  • H: If you say so.
  • [A five-minute discussion of direct objects and the accusative case in Latin as compared to Spanish has been omitted.]
  • H: To steal something you often say: “I may be none the wiser, but I daresay I’m better informed.”
All screencaps courtesy FarscapeCaps.com.

21 September 2017

Review: The Creed of Science by William Graham

I'm trying to catch up on my audio drama reviews at Unreality SF. I finally plug in Q4 2016's last Big Finish trilogy, a set of adventures for the sixth Doctor and Constance Clarke: Order of the Daleks, Absolute Power, and Quicksilver.

PDF eBook, 412 pages
Published 1881
Read December 2012
The Creed of Science: Religious, Moral, and Social
by William Graham

Graham, a Victorian philosopher, lecturer in mathematics, and professor of political economy, thought that the adherents of science-- among them, heroes of this blog Thomas Henry Huxley and John Tyndall-- viewed science as a creed, a creed about which he was skeptical. The Creed of Science is thus his philosophical and epistemological investigation of the accuracy and the ethics of science.

His introduction lays out his general thesis pretty ably: while you can trust scientists on things like the nebular hypothesis and evolution by natural selection, "when we come to mental, moral, and social questions, neither physicists nor naturalists are any longer authorities, however little some of them seem disposed to concede the point" (xiv). Graham published this book in 1881, a year after Huxley gave his famous address "Science and Culture" where he argued that seeing like a scientist was essential for participants in democracy and the creation of social progress. But Graham was skeptical that scientific training illuminated human behavior quite so easily: "[The physicist's] special studies of the invariable behaviour of matter or of the settled consequences of physical phenomena prepare him very imperfectly for the investigation of the widely different phenomena presented by human conduct; [...] [the naturalist's] infinitely wider subject of plant and animal life forbids the due concentration of regard upon the special human subject" (xiv). In his singling out of naturalist and physicist, it's hard for me to not see Huxley and Tyndall as implied targets, coming as this book did one year after "Science and Culture" and seven years after Tyndall's infamous Belfast Address.

Graham was also skeptical of the explicitly human-focused sciences, however, feeling that the anthropologist could not be trusted "at least until he has a little more systematized the miscellaneous mass of facts referring to man in all times and climes which at present forms the subject-matter of his study" (xiv).

In over 400 pages, Graham investigates various topics such as "On the Creation and God," "On Human Nature and Its Capacities for Virtue," "On Immortality," and "On the Materialism of Atoms and Forces." It's not light reading, but it is a great window into Victorian thinking on a topic very near to my heart, the ways that science was making claims for ethical and moral guidance, and it really ought to infuse my book on the Victorian scientist more than it does.

19 September 2017

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 4 by Edmond Hamilton, John Forte, et al.

Comic hardcover, 222 pages
Published 1994 (contents: 1965)
Acquired December 2014
Read June 2017
Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 4

Writers: Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Otto Binder
Artists: Jim Mooney, John Forte, George Klein, Sheldon Moldoff, George Papp
Letterers: David Huffine, Milton Snapinn, Vivian Berg

The beginning of this volume actually sets up three ongoing mysteries for the Legion:
In the introduction, KC Carlson (who edited the Legion in the 1990s) calls the flight rings "bane of Legion artists and editors," but I don't know why. Surely it beats the flying belt anyday! Interesting to note that the flight ring does not yet incorporate the Legion symbol; I wonder when that comes about.
from Adventure Comics vol. 1 #329 (script by Jerry Siegel, art by Jim Mooney)

As far as I know, this is the first mention of the "vanishing world" and the "hardened space criminals reforming," but the Time Trapper bedeviled the Legion multiple times in volume 3. The Time Trapper ends up being the only one of these elements to come up again; if multiple recurring plots were being set up, they didn't pay off within the next year despite Saturn Girl's intentions.

Not that intentions count for much. The Legion doesn't finally defeat the Time Trapper because of anything they do here (or any of the preparations they undertook in the previous volume), but because he decides to attack them by sending a minion with a de-aging weapon, from which they are saved by the most contrived of circumstances:

18 September 2017

Review: Doctor Who: Talkback, Volume Two: The Seventies edited by Stephen James Walker

Trade paperback, 225 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 1977-2006)

Acquired August 2008
Read November 2016
Talkback: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Doctor Who Interview Book, Volume Two: The Seventies
edited by Stephen James Walker

There are definitely interviews here with some old standbys: Terrance Dicks (script editor, 1968-74), Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who, 1970-74), Barry Letts (producer, 1970-74), Tom Baker (Doctor Who, 1974-81), and Philip Hinchcliffe (producer, 1974-77). Each interview, however, manages to be informative and interesting: I enjoyed reading about Pertwee's appearance on This Is Your Life, for example, and the Tom Baker one is somehow able to have anecdotes I hadn't heard before.

But it's also good to hear from folks who weren't/aren't often interviewed, especially the trio of late 1970s script editors: Robert Holmes (1974-78), Anthony Read (1978-79), and Douglas Adams (1979-80). Holmes has gone on to be quite lauded as both a script editor and a writer, but he died in 1986, meaning few interviews with him exist. Anthony Read I can't recall ever reading anything about at all before. And obviously Douglas Adams is quite famous, but this interview was done back in 1978, before any story he'd script-edited had even gone out, and before Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy had gone further than a few episodes on the radio. All three provide great insight into the day-to-day script-writing of their era, which tended to lurch from crisis to crisis but produce excellence regardless. (Holmes, especially, was always rewriting failed scripts and producing greatness as a result.)

I was also surprisingly interested by the interviews with Pennant Roberts (who directed several serials from 1977 to 1985) and Peter Logan (visual effects on various serials from 1977 to 1982). Roberts's provides a detailed look into the making of The Sun Makers and The Pirate Planet in particular, explaining how he makes the production choices he makes, while Logan's is a detailed dissection of the effects of Destiny of the Daleks. One learns where to find a Plutonian dystopia in Bristol, why the flying spanner in Pirate Planet looks rubbish but couldn't look otherwise, and how Dalek props were loaned out to basically anyone between episodes and ended up in terrible shape as a result. The Roberts interview, especially, is a candid look into the decisions that result in what you see on screen. I don't rate Roberts very highly as a director, but he was clearly a thoughtful guy.

A solid collection of interesting anecdotes. Who knew that Jon Pertwee encouraged the creation of a rival Doctor Who fan club because he felt the official one too focused on Patrick Troughton? Or that Tom Baker personally paid for the postage of the Doctor Who Fan Club when the BBC refused to do so anymore!

15 September 2017

How Do You Batten Down the Hatches When You Don't Have Any Hatches? (and what does "batten" mean anyway?)

When you move, people always ask you how the old place is versus the new place, and so you find yourself (or at least I do) developing some consistent responses. "I won't miss Connecticut winters but I will miss Connecticut fall" is something I've found myself saying far too often. Sometimes a follow-up will engender that I will miss snow days, and then me fumbling into the idea that Florida might have "hurricane days," haha.

Well, it turns out it does. My first hurricane turned out to be (Wikipedia informs me) the most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the United States since 2005, and the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since 2005. Well, whoops.

Initial projections had Hurricane Irma going up the east coast of Florida, whereas we're on the gulf coast, so we decided to hunker down. I first really started taking its intensity seriously last Wednesday, when the University of Tampa cancelled classes for Thursday through Monday. Less, I think, because they were convinced UT was going to be a disaster zone, and more because the students were already bailing. Each of my three sections (of 17-22 students) was already missing four or so students on Wednesday, as worried parents pulled their children out of the state and back home to Chicago or wherever, and conversations with my students indicated the rest of them were on their way out soon. (At least three-quarters of my students are not from Florida.) By Friday there probably wouldn't be enough people left to make viable class sessions.

I attempted to busy myself with hurricane prep, but mostly I just ended up busying myself with reading articles on Reddit and elsewhere about my imminent demise. We tried to keep our ears to the ground and figure out what locals were doing, though, and most didn't seem to be freaking out, so we figured out where our local pet-friendly shelter was, and bought some canned goods (all that was left was canned French onion soup and canned lobster chowder... I'm sure they're great) and bottled water (I know we could just bottle our tap water... but we actually don't have any large bottles!). Hillsborough County has five pre-set evacuation zones based on flood risk, and our house wasn't in any of them, so wind was the primary thing we had to worry about. We moved stuff way from windows (easy because much of our possessions are still boxed), cleared our backyard of loose objects, but we couldn't board up our windows-- all the plywood was sold out at all the stores!

We had confirmed early on with our friends Jared and Angela in Columbia, South Carolina, that we could head up there if we needed refuge, and as the projected track of Irma shifted west we began considering it more and more. Finally, on Saturday morning (about 36 hours pre-Irma), with the eye track now running right through our town, we decided to get out. Sheltering in an interior room seemed a lot less fun if our windows had a good chance of being blown out! All our out-of-state friends and family seemed quite relieved at the decision. Our cats, though, were less than thrilled. (One poops about an hour into any extended car trip... it's great. Especially when you forgot to pack plastic bags.)

Whenever some said "Irmageddon," I thought
of the superhero of that name from Top 10.
We weren't the only people to book it out on Saturday; the interstates were pretty busy, though not really the gridlock that some media reports had made them sound. Taking I-4 east out of Tampa towards Orlando, we noted that signs had been activated that allowed driving on the median... but no one actually was, so we held off.

Eventually we ended up in a standstill, and then a few cars zipped by us on the shoulder, we decided we'd follow them, zooming past the stopped cars. This made a few of the drivers of parked cars very, very angry-- one gave us the finger, another did the thing where you pull halfway into the shoulder, though he backed off eventually. I saw his face as we passed him, and man he was just pissed beyond all belief. Little did they know, we said, that what we were doing was actually legal!

Only I started to realize that I hadn't seen one of those you-can-drive-on-the-median signs for quite some time... certainly not since I started driving on the median. So, uh, I slipped into the left lane at the next available opening. Whoops.

Our other big road adventure was stopping for food and gas in the town of Pooler outside Savannah. Hayley had insisted we get Chick-fil-A, which took about forty minutes of driving. But on arriving, we discovered the Chick-fil-A was closed... and so was the McDonald's, and the Arby's, and the Five Guys, and basically every fast food restaurant at the whole exit except for a Sonic. The Sonic was drive-thru only, and the drive-thru line wrapped around the whole building! My Google Timeline tells me we spent forty minutes in Pooler between driving up to a bunch of closed restaurants, and waiting in line at the Sonic. (It was, I believe, my first time ever getting anything other than a shake at a Sonic.)

We made it to Columbia without further incident. We ended up mostly just hanging out with Jared and Angela: though Irma was by this point projected to go up through Georgia, there was enough wind and rain heading for Columbia that basically everything was closed. (Our friend Angela works at Publix, and she reported that everyone bought bread and ice cream in preparation for the storm. Like, ice cream? Do you get how storms work?) So we just watched a lot of tv: four episodes of Futurama, three of Rick and Morty (my first-ever episodes, fact fans), and all three Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg action comedies. and pored over the livestreams. Hayley watched the local news; I just kept looking at a webcam pointed at the UT campus.

Irma made landfall in Florida Sunday night, but wasn't supposed to hit Tampa until 1am, and neither of us could stay up that late. Even by the time we went to bed, though, it was clear Irma was a lot weaker and less close to Tampa than predicted. My glimpses of the UT webcam were just not terribly interesting. Monday, there was lots of wind and rain in Columbia, though nothing too bad where we were.

So, on Tuesday with no information about our home (would it have windows still? a roof? power? would the pool have flooded into my living room? would a looter have stolen all my Doctor Who audio dramas?), we headed back to Florida (via Augusta, Georgia, where another friend of ours resides). The drive home was much less smooth: for the last forty miles of I-95 S in Georgia, every exit was barricaded by the state highway patrol, sometimes supplemented by the armed forces! As far as I could tell, there was no advance warning of this. Thankfully we'd gassed up in Augusta despite having over half a tank, or we might have been in some trouble. We later found out that the entire county was basically without power, so they just kept all the returning refugees on the interstates. (As was the first rest stop in Florida, meaning we had to use port-a-potties.) It was a little creepy at first, like something out of a post-apocalyptic television programme.

Getting off the interstate in our town was a little worrisome, as there were clearly a lot of power outages. But when we arrived in our subdivision, all the lights were on-- and when we got inside our home, everything was fine. No windows broken, the roof was still on, the power had recently come back up, and no one had stolen my copies of Zagreus and Renaissance of the Daleks. The only damage is that some of the screen segments on our pool enclosure were torn (several already were).

Things are slowly returning to normal here, though I'm excited for every extra day where they don't charge on the toll highways. UT reopened yesterday, though I anticipate a significant fraction of my students will still be missing from class today, as they work their ways back to Tampa as the transportation infrastructure revitalizes. (A guy I talked to in the faculty lounge yesterday said only half his students were in class.) My wife ended up with the whole week off; she won't go back until Monday. Some of my colleagues are still without power, though I haven't talked to anyone who's suffered major damage yet, thankfully.

We were definitely lucky. We've got to get some plywood and prep window boards ahead of time once supplies come back. Anyone know the best way to board up your windows when your exterior is made of stucco?

14 September 2017

Review: The Sorceress of the Strand and Other Stories by L. T. Meade

Trade paperback, 311 pages
Published 2015 (contents: 1895-1903)
Acquired April 2016

Read August 2016
The Sorceress of the Strand and Other Stories by L. T. Meade
"There is no doubt that she is very clever. She knows a little bit of everything, and has wonderful recipes with regard to medicines, surgery, and dentistry. She is a most lovely woman herself, very fair, with blue eyes, an innocent, childlike manner, and quantities of rippling gold hair. [...] This woman deals in all sorts of curious, secrets, but principally in cosmetics. Her shop in the Strand could, I fancy, tell many a strange history. Her clients go there, and she does what is necessary for them." (120)
L. T. Meade was a force to be reckoned with in the British magazines of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She wrote many recurring features, kind of like Sherlock Holmes. This Broadview edition collects single installments from Stories from the Diary of a Doctor (1893-95), The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (1898), and The Heart of a Mystery (1901), as well as all six installments of The Sorceress of the Strand (1902-03). There's a lot of medicine and/por science in the stories collected here: Stories from the Diary of a Doctor is about the weird crimes a doctor discovers in the course of his medical duties, while the villain of The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings is an evil, female Italian chemist who works for a secret society, while The Sorceress of the Strand is about an amateur chemist who works doing insurance investigations who ends up repeatedly encountering one Madame Sara, an evil surgeon/physician/dentist (described in the above quotation). Ostensibly these stories are about science, but science in the world of L. T. Meade has a very occult register: there's a lot of hypnotism and gothic overtones in these stories.

They're fun enough, but not terribly amazing. A little repetitive in that Madame Sara always has some incredibly convoluted plot-- in one, she makes a woman metal teeth so she can attack someone but people will think it was a wolf-- for which there often seems to be a supernatural explanation, but the dogged investigations of Dixon (the insurance investigator) and his friend Vandeleur (a police surgeon) always make it clear it's Madame Sara's tricks at the root of it all. Sara has scientific powers, but is no scientist, I would say-- the title "sorceress" given to her by the serial's title is much more appropriate. I couldn't help but feel, though, that The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings sounded more interesting than The Sorceress of the Strand, and wished we'd got the former in its entirety and just an excerpt of the latter. Still, thank goodness that Broadview opted to reprint even just a limited selection of these long-forgotten tales.

13 September 2017

Reading Roundup Year in Review, 2016/17

Another September, another year in reading for me to evaluate. (I first logged my month's reading in September 2003 as a fresh-faced college freshman, so my reading year runs September through August.)


Last year I observed, "The past three years have been remarkably consistent. Apparently a book every 2.5 days is the pace I will always have no matter what." Little did I know I would set a new record for books read the next year! One every 1.8 days! My previous high of 195 was set during the year I read for exams, where I read a book every two days essentially for work. I would not have guessed that I would surpass it! Obviously the Hugos are partially to be credited here (I read 25 in May and 26 in June), but that alone wouldn't push me to these heights.

Here's what I've been reading this year: (I broke out series/authors only if I read more than one book of that series/author)

SERIES/GENRE/AUTHOR # OF BOOKS BOOKS/ MONTH % OF ALL BOOKS
Doctor Who 21 1.8 10.5%
Star Trek 6.5 0.5 3.3%
Other Tie-Ins 2 0.2 1.0%
Media Tie-In Subtotal 29.5 2.5 14.8%




L. Frank Baum / Oz 13 1.1 6.5%
H. G. Wells1 3 0.3 1.5%
Hyperion Cantos 3 0.3 1.5%
M. T. Anderson 2 0.2 1.0%
Other SF&F 30 2.5 15.0%
General SF&F Subtotal 51 4.3 25.5%




The Transformers 22.5 1.9 11.3%
DC Crisis Crossovers 9 0.8 4.5%
Manhunter 5 0.4 2.5%
Blue Beetle 3 0.3 1.5%
The Atom 3 0.3 1.5%
Legion of Super-Heroes 3 0.3 1.5%
Other DCU Comics 19 1.6 9.5%
Thor 2 0.2 1.0%
Spider-Man2 2 0.2 1.0%
Other Marvel Comics 3 0.3 1.5%
Top Ten 3 0.3 1.5%
Calvin and Hobbes 2 0.2 1.0%
Saga 2 0.2 1.0%
Other Comics3 7 0.6 3.5%
Comics Subtotal 85.5 7.1 42.8%




Victorian Literature 5 0.4 2.5%
James Bond by Ian Fleming 2 0.2 1.0%
Other Literature 14 1.2 7.0%
General Literature Subtotal 21 1.8 10.5%




Other Nonfiction4 13 1.1 6.5%

1. This actually includes both science fiction and literature by Wells, but I can't be bothered to separate them back out for the purposes of this report.
2. This also include novels about these comics-originated characters/premises.
3. Comics based on a particular series (e.g., Star Trek or Oz) are included with that series's count.
4. Nonfiction connected to a particular series or author (e.g., Doctor Who or H. G. Wells) is included in that series or author's count.


Comic books went up slightly over last year in absolute terms (from 73 to 85.5), but their proportion of my overall reading fell somewhat (from 49.0% to 42.8%). General science fiction and fantasy saw the biggest shift year-to-year, from 11.4% to 25.5%. Certainly that can be blamed on the Hugos.

As usual, I picked a book every month as the "Pick of the Month." Often I complain it would be impossible to rank the Picks themselves, but this year I used Preference Revealer to do it. Here they are, from twelfth-best to best:

12. Star Trek: The Rings of Time by Greg Cox
11. The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 1 by James Roberts, Nick Roche, Alex Milne, et al.
10. The Transformers: More then Meets the Eye, Volume 3 by James Roberts, Alex Milne, et al.
9. Doctor Who: Exodus by Terrance Dicks
8. The Lost Embassy by Adam Fergusson
7. The Marvelous Land of Oz by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young
6. Blue Beetle: Shellshocked by Keith Giffen, John Rogers, Cully Hamner, et al.
5. This Census-Taker by China Miéville
4. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
3. The Vision: Little Worse than a Man by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta
2. The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 4 by James Roberts, Alex Milne, et al.

and, the Pick of the Year:
1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Note that isn't the twelve best books of the year because I could have read a book that was the second-best of one month that would have been the best with different competition. The full list of "Picks" going back seven years is here.

Finally, here's my usual graph of my reading trends over time:

Will 2017/18 be as productive? Now that I don't ride the bus any more, it seems doubtful, but driving every day means more podcasts, I guess.

You can compare this to previous years if you're interested: 2007/08, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16. (I didn't do ones for 2010/11 and 2013/14.)

12 September 2017

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 3 by Edmond Hamilton, Jerry Siegel, John Forte, et al.

Having reached the most recent unread Legion of Super-Heroes collection in my possession, it's time to loop back around to the earliest:

Comic hardcover, 222 pages
Published 1993 (contents: 1964-65)
Acquired December 2014
Read November 2016
Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 3

Writers: Edmond Hamilton, Jerry Siegel
Artists: John Forte, George Papp, Al Plastino, Sheldon Moldoff, George Klein, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney
Letterers: Milton Snapinn, Joe Letterese, Vivian Berg, David Huffine

Whenever I dip back into the pre-Great Darkness Saga adventures of the Legion of Super-Heroes, I'm like, this is what people look back on so fondly? Even by the standards of 1960s superhero comics, I would argue, most of these stories are dismal and dull and daft.

A subtle critique of 30th-century gender roles.
from Adventure Comics vol. 1 #326 (script by Jerry Siegel, art by John Forte & George Klein)

The dominant writers of the period, Edmond Hamilton and Jerry Siegel, are obsessed with plots where it seems like the Legionnaires have turned against one another: the stories collected in this volume include leader Sun Boy* going nuts from space fatigue and the Legion having to take him down, the Legion imprisoning Lightning Lad for revealing their secrets to their enemies, the female Legionnaires seducing and eliminating the men under the influence of evil women from the planet (I shit you not) Femnaz, five Legionnaires traveling back in time solely to screw over Superboy by revealing his secret identity, and short-lived member Command Kid turning the Legionnaires against each other. Each plot is more contrived than the previous, and the Femnaz one is ridiculously awful: the women of Femnaz destroy their planet's men because the men try to clamp down on violent arena games and won't let them shoot rockets at the moon. They see the error of their ways when they crack their moon in half with some of their rockets, and the male Legionnaires put it back together for them. Uh huh.