29 December 2017

Exploring the Universe with the DC Super-Stars of Space: Adam Strange, Captain Comet, Space Ranger, and more!

My recent reading of all sorts of DC space comics has taken me to the 1970s DC Comics anthology DC Super-Stars. This ran from March 1976 to January/February 1978, and mixed issues of new material with reprints, in an oversize format (issues were around fifty pages). Four issues in the run had the cover title of "DC Super-Stars OF SPACE," and reprinted material from DC's Silver Age space comics.

The main feature across all four issues was Adam Strange, the man of two worlds. Adam Strange is a human archaeologist who travels to Rann in the Alpha Centauri system by being in the right place at the right time to be hit by zeta beams, which transport him across space. On Rann, he fights evil and romances the beautiful Alanna, but once the zeta radiation in his body dissipates, he returns to Earth, meaning he can never make a home or a family on this distant world. I've read some of the modern takes on Adam, and I own the Adam Strange Silver Age Omnibus, but I haven't gotten around to reading it, so this was my first real exposure to the original adventures of Adam and Alanna.

I enjoyed reading them a lot, more than I anticipated, which I guess bodes well for my eventual reading of the Silver Age omnibus. They're kind of dopey in the typical Silver Age way at times (one has a bad guy threatening Rann with monuments stolen from Earth, including a lake?), but Gardner Fox clearly read a science textbook at some point, and even though the science is fanciful, using concepts like the Roche limit makes it feel "real" in a way Superman's science does not.

The basic set-up of Adam Strange also has a pathos that puts it above other stories of its era: Adam has found his place, but he can never keep it, and even in just these four stories, Fox provides permutations on it so it never gets stale. Alanna is pretty awesome, too: she's not an equal co-star with Adam, but she is smart and cool, and works to get herself out of trouble as often as Adam does. These were fun, and I look forward to rereading them (with better printing) and reading the others.

Other features (most just appearing once) included:
  • The Atomic Knights. After a nuclear apocalypse, a group of survivors uses medieval armor to battle would-be warlords. This was okay, nothing special, and a little contrived even by its own standards.
  • Knights of the Galaxy. Futuristic space knights. Pretty bad, to be honest, with a weird dose of sexism.
  • Space Ranger. Pretty generic stuff, with the usual Silver Age wackiness you'd expect of a subpar Legion story. (Space zoos and shit. Like if a guy can hypnotize all animals, surely he can come up with a better way to make money than this.)
  • Captain Comet. I think my enjoyment of these stories (such as it was) is more due to retcons: the post-Crisis DC universe had the Golden Age heroes out of commission by the 1950s, but the Silver Age ones not in place for some time, leaving "throwforward" Captain Comet as one of Earth's only defenders in the 1950s, which gives a little frisson to the loneliness of a man born too early.
  • Tommy Tomorrow. The way DC kept tweaking this character over time sounds fascinating, but going by this one story he wasn't a very skilled crimefighter. I'd love to read an omnibus of all his adventures, but it seems unlikely.
  • Space Cabby. Funner than I expected.
  • Star Rovers. The actual story here was poor, but I loved the basic premise of the Star Rovers: three highly competent people who meet up only to brag to each other and argue. Karel Sorenson is great; you can see why Howard Chaykin made her into a space goddess.
There are some other nice touches, like an in-character letter from Captain Comet in issue #2 (actually by assistant editor Jack C. Harris). The editorial in issue #8 includes promises about what will come in the next issue, #10, but #8 was actually the last DC Super-Stars of Space installment, as the alternating plan went away, and #10 was actually "Strange Sports Stories." Finally in issue #16, we got another science fiction story with the first installment of Star Hunters, but as that launched a series of its own, I'll cover it in another post.

DC Super-Stars of Space appeared in issues #2, 4, 6, and 8 of DC Super-Stars (Apr.-Oct. 1976). The original stories were published in various comics from 1951 to 1964, and were written by Gardner Fox, John Broome, Bob Kanigher, and Otto Binder; penciled by Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, Jim Mooney, Bernard Sachs, Bob Brown, and Sid Greene; and inked by Murphy Anderson, Joe Giella, Jim Mooney, Sid Greene, Bernard Sachs, and Bob Brown. The reprints were edited by E. Nelson Bridwell.

28 December 2017

Voice and Genre in Young Adult Literature: Two Boys Kissing (2013)

Trade paperback, 200 pages
Published 2015 (originally 2013)
Acquired November 2016

Read March 2017
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

It has been argued that YA literature is all about voice: that it can be about anything if it signals the voice of a teenager and an audience of teenagers. (I discussed this in my commentaries on The Outsiders and Forever..., among others.) I find Two Boys Kissing fascinating, therefore, because it doesn't have the voice of a teenager. Covering a period of about twenty-four hours, the book centers on two gay teens trying to set the record for world's longest kiss, but they're just two of many characters in the novel, which takes in a mosaic of different gay teens during the same time span. But the narrator of the book is a first-person plural of gay men who died of AIDS, commenting on the differences between their generation and the next.

It's an interesting move, and I'm still not sure what I think of it. It seems like the kind of thing that's aimed at adults who read YA more than actual young adults; I'd be curious to know how a gay teen boy received the novel. But the only experience I can directly access is my own, so I will explore the question here in a couple different ways. How can a novel be narrated by such a voice but still claim to be YA literature?

Partially, it allows the novel to deal with issues of representation. At this point it's a commonplace of YA fiction that we need diverse books.  But even when a "diverse book" is published, it often bears a burden of representation: its protagonist's experience is the gay experience, or the black experience, or the Muslim experience, or whatever. Taking in a diversity of characters like Two Boys Kissing allows Levithan to represent the diversity of experience within the community: we have boys who are accepted by their parents, and boys who are not; we have boys who form solid relationships, and boys who fall into self-destructive ones; we have boys who are cis, and boys who are trans. This is irrefutably "a gay story" but it does not have one gay story. You might be bullied, and so you can see yourself reflected here, but you might also not be bullied, and why should every gay story be about that? So that's here too. The multiplicity of voices enables and enhances this.

Partially, it's a way of signalling that this book is being told by the community it depicts. Jacqueline Woodson writes in her essay "Who Can Tell My Story?" that "[a]s publishers (finally!) scurry to be a part of the move to represent the myriad cultures once absent from mainstream literature, it is not without some skepticism that I peruse the masses of books written about people of color by white people. [...] This movement isn’t about white people, it’s about people of color. We want the chance to tell our own stories, to tell them honestly and openly. We don’t want publishers to say, 'Well, we already published a book about that,' and then find that it was a book that did not speak the truth about us" (38). She's talking about race, but I think it can be applied to the LGBT experience as well. With its gay narrators, you get the sense that this is the gay male community itself getting to "tell [their] own stories, to tell them open and honestly." The way the narrators speak emphasizes both the tragedy and the triumph of gay life, and implicit in the novel's celebratory picture of 2013 gay life is a tragic narrative of how things used to be, and that honesty makes the celebrations more celebratory.

Partially, it allows the book to teach its readers. This is always a wonky proposition in YA literature. The genre's foundational text in The Outsiders is all about not having lessons from adults to teenagers. It's a teenager telling a story about life as it is (supposedly), where you learn something from seeing yourself represented, but no one, especially no adult, turns up to give you a moral about good behavior. Mike Cadden (who I cited in my discussion of Forever...) worries about that, though: "the YA novelist often intentionally communicates to the immature reader a single and limited awareness of the world that the novelist knows to be incomplete and insufficient" (146). He likes narrators who are distinct from the characters within the novel: they help YA readers "identify[ ] potentially debilitating world views in the text" (153). Well, the narrators in Two Boys Kissing do that to excess, especially with the story of Cooper, a suicidal gay teen rejected from his parents. While he's doing his thing and having his horrific adventures, the narrators are constantly railing against his choices: (apologies for the long quotation, but I think I need it to get my point across)
Love, he thinks, is a lie that people tell each other in order to make the world bearable. He is not up for that lie anymore. And nobody is going to lie to him like that, anyway. He's not even worth a lie.
     We want him to take a census of the future. We want him to consider that love does make the world bearable, but that does not make it a lie. We want him to see the time when he will feel it, truly feel it, for the first time. But the future is something he is no longer considering.
     In his mind, the future is a theory that has already been proven false.

What a powerful word, future. Of all the abstractions we can articulate to ourselves, of all the concepts we have here that other animals do not, how extraordinary the ability to consider a time that's never been experienced. And how tragic not to consider it. It galls us, we with such a limited future, to see someone brush it aside as meaningless, when it has an endless capacity for meaning, and an endless number of meanings that can be found within it. (154-55)
On the one hand, I understand why Levithan does this, but on the other hand, I'm like, Enough already! I get it! Be optimistic! Whoo, future! I would think one doesn't read YA fiction to be preached at by adults, yet in some senses, this book is one long homily. And honestly, though the story of Cooper is one of the book's most effective, I wonder if it would be more effective if we just stayed inside his head the whole time and saw what he was thinking directly, instead of having someone constantly railing against him for what he was thinking-- which the climax of the novel already does more than enough to dispel.

Partially, I think this works better when the novel is call to positive action instead of negative action, when it's suggesting what you ought to do instead of what you ought not do. The book highlights (as I've said) how 2013's gay teens have it better than those who died of AIDS, but it also points out that things can be even better if the reader acts to make it so: "If you play your cards right, the next generation will have so much more than you did" (195). The first half of the book is pretty upbeat, but the second half gets darker, showing that as far as we've come since the 1980s, there's still a lot of work to do. Levithan came to fame for writing Boy Meets Boy (2003), which takes place in a high school where all forms of queerness are completely accepted. Of it, he once said, "I basically set out to write the book that I dreamed of getting as an editor – a book about gay teens that doesn’t conform to the old norms about gay teens in literature (i.e. it has to be about a gay uncle, or a teen who gets beaten up for being gay, or about outcasts who come out and find they’re still outcasts, albeit outcasts with their outcastedness in common.) I’m often asked if the book is a work of fantasy or a work of reality, and the answer is right down the middle – it’s about where we’re going, and where we should be." Two Boys Kissing feels like it falls between reality and fantasy; it's a book about how we are getting to where Boy Meets Boy was.

Partially, I'm just thankful that the book recognizes its own limitations with this self-aware sentence: "The minute you stop talking about individuals and start talking about a group, your judgment has a flaw in it. We made this mistake often enough" (128). Two Boys Kissing lets us see the individuals within the group, even if the group over-dominates at times.

26 December 2017

Return to Oz: Little Wizard Stories of Oz by L. Frank Baum

My review of the second-most-recent Survivors tale is up at Unreality SF. Series six represents a new approach for the range, and one which is most welcome.

Trade paperback, 144 pages
Published 2011 (contents:
Acquired July 2013

Reread December 2016
Little Wizard Stories of Oz by L. Frank Baum
illustrated by John R. Neill

This quasi-canonical (i.e., not part of the "Famous Forty" but still by one of the official "Royal Historians") Oz book is necessary for completists, but unlikely to be anyone's favorite. Baum provides six short stories, each about a different pair of Oz characters: the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger, Dorothy and Toto, Tik-Tok and the Nome King, Ozma and the Wizard, Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse, and the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. Some read like interludes from an Oz novel, the sort of random encounter a character might have on the way from point a to point b that has nothing to do with the overall plot. Some are pretty unimpressive (Ozma seems particularly foolish in her tale, and the Dorothy story has an unconvincing moral), but some are good fun. I like the Lion and the Tiger one, as the Tiger tries to go through with his long-held desire to eat a baby but can't manage it, and the interplay between the implacable Tik-Tok and the easily roused Nome King is delightful. (The Nome steward Kaliko once again shows himself to be the only sensible and competent person in the whole Nome Kingdom.)

In Two Weeks: A short break from Oz, to cover 2017's Doctor Who Christmas read, Twelve Doctors of Christmas!

22 December 2017

Review: IronWolf by Howard Chaykin, Denny O'Neil, et al.

When I read Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda's The Omega Men (2015-16, review forthcoming), you might have thought that I had reached the present of the DC Comics space heroes, and thus the end of my quest to read them all. But, this is not to be: I've circled back around to pick up some of the Bronze Age pre-Crisis space comics I hadn't already read, as my journey originally began with the original Omega Men in 1983. There's always stuff it turns out that you've missed! So now I'm filling in the blanks, beginning with IronWolf (1973-74), which appeared in three issues of Weird Worlds.

IronWolf is different than many of the DC space stories I've read so far: it takes place in the far future (the sixty-first century, I think), and it might not even fit into the "main" DC timeline (The Multiversity Guidebook, for example, places it on Earth-37). It's kind of a proto-Star Wars, about a band of space rebels fighting to take down a tyrannical galactic empire, though it lacks Star Wars's clear-cut wish-fulfillment adventuring spirit. Our hero is Lord IronWolf,* an officer and a nobleman in the military of the Empire Galaktika. IronWolf's planet of Ilium supplies the "anti-gravity wood" from which Earth's spaceships are made-- and indeed, IronWolf's spaceship the Limerick Rake is made of wood with brass detailing. The empress, Erika Klein-Hernandez, orders IronWolf to share the anti-gravity wood with "barbarian" aliens, so that they might be the empire's allies in a coming war, but IronWolf believes that this will just make the empire helpless in the face of a potential barbarian attack.

That's about all the astropolitical background we get. Who the Empire Galaktika might be facing in the coming war is unsaid, and in fact, the coming war is never mentioned again after the first issue. The "barbarians" are never named, either, and they disappear after the first issue.

The first issue gave me the impression of having been written to run in installments of seven pages or so, as it positively rockets through events. By page 2, IronWolf has slapped the empress for flirting with him to induce him to give up the anti-gravity wood; by page 4, a female performer in a visiting mime troupe (!) has saved IronWolf's life and gone on the run with him; by page 7, IronWolf's crew has joined him in rebellion, shooting down imperial fighters; by page 8, the Limerick Rake is playing pirate, systematically undermining the imperial war fleet and its supply ships; by page 13, IronWolf's brother has turned traitor and handed the anti-gravity wood trees over to the vampires (they're on the empress's side, another indication of her degeneracy); by page 14, IronWolf has burned down the forests; by page 19, IronWolf has saved the life of a female democratic revolutionary (the improbably named Shebaba O'Neal) in the Sargasso Sea of Space; by page 20, he's decided he'd rather be a revolutionary than an outlaw and thrown in with her. Phew. In another writer's hands, that could have been three different issues at least. (The later issues of IronWolf don't move that fast, either.)

It kind of works, it kind of doesn't. Howard Chaykin would later come into fame, and his early work is still quality stuff. He both plots and draws, with Denny O'Neil writing the actual script. The men are manly, the women are leggy, and the story pulses with energy, with great dynamic action-- which, I guess, is really what one wants from this sort of thing. Chaykin and O'Neil hint at a big, lived-in, somewhat grotty future without actually giving a lot of exposition or backstory, the kind of thing Star Wars would do better just three years after this came out. Sometimes O'Neil's narration is a bit pompous: "Yes, they [IronWolf's men] are everywhere-- and always they are led by a man with stern visage, limitless courage, and incredible strength- the Lord IronWolf!"

Sometimes the speed is fun, but often you wish you knew just a tad more: what kind of man decides to betray his noble oath in a page? And the female performer who aids IronWolf's escape from the empress's palace doesn't even get a name until the second issue! Sometimes the cramming in of story comes at the expense of clarity of action and/or setting. (When IronWolf is attacked by an assassin in an inn on a frontier planet, you'd only know where he is because of O'Neil's caption: in a five-panel sequence, only one even has a background.) But when Chaykin has the space to give something, it's gorgeous, like the Limerick Rake hovering over the Grand Canyon, and he knows how to guide your eye over a crowded comics page.

The second and third chapters decompress, each with a fourteen-page story where less happens than in seven pages of the first issue. In the case of the second, this works: IronWolf and Missy (the no longer anonymous performer) return to Earth to infiltrate the empress's court as players putting on a performance of Hamlet. Of course, the plan can't work or else the series would be over, and Missy dies while Lord IronWolf barely escapes with his life. Thankfully, Shebaba O'Neal is a badass and brings the Limerick Rake to the rescue. It's a fun story, a sort of Star Wars-y subterfuge caper that I always enjoy, though Missy's death feels needlessly cruel, and I kind of wish anyone on the Limerick Rake had a name or personality other than Shebaba.

The third issue, though, goes off-premise, with the Limerick Rake putting in at Shebaba's uncle's planet for repair and resupply, only to discover that the uncle sells drugs, and one of his sons had become a hulked-out monster because of the drugs he sells. Meh. It feels like Chaykin and O'Neil are already floundering for ideas, and the series isn't living up to the potential of the first issue's energy and thrills-- perhaps because Chaykin and O'Neil already burned through so much of the story at record speed. I don't know what they had planned next for the series, but IronWolf tells Shebaba that he's learned "both sides are corrupt! The empire and the outworlds! ... They're two sides of the same filthy coin!" Shebaba tells him that he has himself and his dream: "call it a dream of peace...of decency! You won't admit that you're a dreamer... you are, though! And I won't fault you! A dreamer who can fight-- not a bad kind of person to be!"

I don't know where this idea that IronWolf is a man of peace and decency came from; he comes across much more as a savage playing at nobleman; let us not forget he slapped the empress when she flirted with him, and had nothing better to do than turn pirate. It was Shebaba who gave him a dream, which he seemed to adopt mostly for the lack of anything better to do. And what happened to her ambitions beyond being his second-in-command? She was a feisty revolutionary in her own right two issues ago. The narration of the last panel describes him as "A man caught in the middle," so it seems like Chaykin and O'Neil would have pursued some kind of outsider path for him if the feature had continued. But, thanks to the cancellation of Weird Worlds, it came to an end.

I read IronWolf in a one-shot collecting all three parts of the story, published in 1986 with (I think) new coloring and improved printing, but I still picked up the original Weird Worlds #9 and 10 because they contained Tales of the House of IronWolf, a back-up strip plotted by Chaykin that hasn't been collected elsewhere. Set two millennia before the main series, during an era where technology and civilization have regressed so that interplanetary travel is forgotten, John Warner and Vicente Alcazar's story concerns two brothers, Patrick Obrian Keats and Burton Scott Keats (yes, really!), both British forest lords competing for the affections of Lady Vanessa Dubiel Shelly. The narration in issue #9 says that from them, "2000 years later, would descend two sworn enemies... IronWolf and the Empress Erika!"

One brother saves the the other and Lady Vanessa from a wolf attack, but loses his hand in the process; Lady Vanessa goes with the uninjured one, inspiring the injured one to replaced his lost hand with an iron hook, kill the wolf, wear it as a headdress, and live in the forest harassing his brother's supply shipments. (Apparently harassing supply shipments is how the family deals with rejection.) There's also a French fencing-master everyone makes fun of. That's basically it; how we get from this to an IronWolf dynasty on an alien planet with anti-gravity trees two thousand years later is left to the imagination of the reader. These are okay stories, focused more on atmosphere and creepiness than the action-driven main IronWolf feature. I mean, they're only six pages a pop, so not a lot can happen.

IronWolf has two codas of sort. One is that in the 1990s, Chaykin revisited the character in Fires of the Revolution, a graphic novel I will shortly read. I'm curious to see how the story can be polished with a known endpoint and a quarter-century of creative development on Chaykin's part. But the other is much more significant: when I said IronWolf was a pre-Star Wars, I wasn't the only one who thought so. Because he read IronWolf, George Lucas specifically requested that Chaykin illustrate the Marvel Comics adaptation of Star Wars in 1977. Chaykin drew not only that (issues #1-6 of Marvel's original Star Wars series) but he also illustrated issues #7-10 (and co-wrote #7, 8, and 10). These were the first non-adaptation Star Wars comics, and some of the first "Expanded Universe" stories full stop. Without IronWolf, the voluminous numbers of Star Wars comics that both Marvel and Dark Horse have produced could have been very different!

IronWolf originally appeared in issues #8-10 of Weird Worlds vol. 1 (Nov./Dec. 1973–Oct./Nov. 1974). The story was created, plotted, and drawn by Howard Chaykin; scripted and edited by Denny O'Neil; and lettered by Walt Simonson (#8). It was reprinted in IronWolf #1 (1986), which was colored by Liz Berube and edited by Mike Gold.

Tales of the House of IronWolf originally appeared in issues #9-10 of Weird Worlds vol. 1 (Jan./Feb.-Oct./Nov. 1974). The story was plotted by Howard Chaykin and John Warner, scripted by John Warner, illustrated by Vicente Alcazar, and edited by Denny O'Neil.

* The cover to issue #8 of Weird Worlds actually says "Iron-Wolf" and in the lettercol in issue #9, editor Denny O'Neil uses "Ironwolf." But in the text pieces from the 1986 reprint special, both Howard Chaykin and Mike Gold use "IronWolf," and I'm going with that as their latest word on the subject. The all-caps lettering of comic book of course makes it impossible to tell from the stories themselves, as it's always just "IRONWOLF."

21 December 2017

Review: News from Nowhere by William Morris

Trade paperback, 356 pages
Published 2003 (originally 1891)
Acquired November 2011
Read January 2013
News from Nowhere, or An Epoch of Rest, Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance
by William Morris

You couldn't move in the nineteenth century for the sequels, prequels, ripoffs, and rebuttals of Looking Backward. Wikipedia claims there were over 150, and I know of some that aren't on that list. Most of what I've read myself is terrible; Morris is one of the few writers to attempt to write one who came up with something halfway decent. Unfortunately, a halfway decent Victorian utopian tract is still a Victorian utopian tract; this is one of those books where some fellows walks around an ideal society being told how ideal it is. (Wells, of course, skewered the whole subgenre in The Sleeper Awakes.) Morris being Morris, everyone in the future loves arts and crafts. One thing I must praise him for, though, is his understanding that social change means revolution and revolution means violence; the narrator's guide says that of course it wasn't a peaceful transition to utopia because the world hadn't been peaceful before utopia: "what peace was there among those poor confused wretches of the nineteenth century? It was war from beginning to end: bitter war, till hope and pleasure put an end to it" (148-49). We're cushioned from the violence, though, because it's all told to us in a history lesson. No dead bodies on the page in this revolution!

19 December 2017

Return to Oz: The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Trade paperback, 340 pages
Published 1990 (originally 1913)

Reread September 2016
The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum
illustrated by John R. Neill

I had fond memories of this book, which I remembered as being my favorite of Baum's original fourteen Oz novels, and so when the Shanower/Young Marvel Oz comics ended one shy of it, I went on to it anyway. This is probably Baum's best plotted Oz novel since Marvelous Land, and best plotted journey-focused one since Wonderful Wizard itself, or maybe ever. Baum invents a new protagonist for the first time since Marvelous Land, and it does wonders: Ojo is a person in trouble in a way we haven't seen in these books in a long time, and it does well to create empathy for him, and thus energy for the story. Ojo's journeys across Oz are all motivated by attempting to cure his uncle of being a statue, and it makes things matter in a way they didn't for Dorothy in Road and Emerald City.

Plus, I've always loved Scraps the Patchwork Girl, and she delighted no less on this reread than any other. While Ojo is somber with responsibility beyond his years, Scraps is one of Baum's most childish characters, and that's what makes her fun-- everything is incredibly dramatic for her, as she pouts petulantly and bounds for joy in equal measure. Plus you get Oz's first real romance with her and the Scarecrow! Too bad Skottie Young never got to draw her (or the Woozy, or the Glass Cat, or the living phonograph) as I'm sure he would have done brilliantly, but you can't really go wrong with John R. Neill in any case. My 1990 Dover edition is in black and white, but is otherwise a pretty close facsimile of the original 1913 Reilly & Britton edition of the novel.

Next Week: Little adventures for little people, in Little Wizard Stories of Oz!

18 December 2017

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

Comic hardcover, 236 pages
Published 2017 (contents: 2016-17)
Borrowed from my wife
Read November 2017
Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South

Script: Gene Luen Yang
Art: Gurihiru
Lettering: Michael Heisler

This is the last of the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru; up until this point, I've found the Zuko-focused ones more successful than the other ones, leaving one wondering if Yang and Gurihiru can really do "typical" Avatar adventures, or if they really only soar when given they have the angst and epicness of Zuko to work with. This would be shame if so, because Avatar's success as a tv show included Zuko, but went so much beyond him.

Well, North and South has Yang and Gurihiru exiting the series on a strong note, with a highly entertaining adventure about Sokka and Katara returning to the South Pole to find that you never can go home again because it changes and so do you. Like a lot of Yang's Avatar comics (and also Legend of Korra), this deals with issues of modernization and industrialization and globalization, exploring the tensions that arise in a society under such circumstances, in a surprisingly nuanced way. Lots of good jokes, nice moments for all the characters but especially my favorite, Sokka, and tying up of some loose ends from the television show. I really enjoyed this, and I hope the new creative team's first volume is able to pick up the baton. (I also hope that first Korra comic comes out in a collected edition soon!)

15 December 2017

Women of Science in Punch: Collecting Ferns, Eels, Cuttle-Fish, and Spiders

This summer I wrote an essay about the Wilkie Collins scientist novel Heart and Science; I'm currently working on revisions and the article will appear in the Wilkie Collins Journal early next year. Heart and Science is, so far as I can tell, the first British novel to feature a female scientist character. Which has always seemed weird to me, because the actual nineteenth century was full of scientific women (my favorite is Mary Anning, the famed fossil finder of Lyme Regis), but it takes until 1882 before a fictional one appears. (It takes even longer before a non-villainous one appears; the honor goes to Ann Veronica Stanley in H. G. Wells's 1909 novel Ann Veronica.)*

While researching the history of women and science, I read an article by Suzanne Le-May Sheffield, "The 'Empty-Headed Beauty' and the 'Sweet Girl Graduate': Women's Science Education in Punch, 1860-90."† As you can infer from the title, it analyzes the depiction of scientific women in Punch cartoons in the late nineteenth century. I ended up not citing it in my essay, but I enjoyed it. The essay includes a few of the actual cartoons, but I wanted more, so I spent some of my summer research time tracking down some of the referenced cartoons, and here are the fruits of my labors.

Many women of science in the nineteenth century were interested in botany, often seen as the most appropriate science for a lady. A good botanist needs to go collecting, often to the disgruntlement of their menfolk:
HERE'S SPORT, INDEED!"—Shakspeare.
Cousin Jack (on a Visit from London) is told by the Girls that "Ferning" is the most "Awf'ly Jolly Fun in the World." Cousin Jack has his own Opinion on the Subject!!!

from Punch's Almanack for 1872, [p. vii]
(all of these, you can click to enlarge to see the details; I took pretty high-res scans)
Oh, those ladies and their ferns. Gotta love that triple exclamation mark, not to mention just how angry Cousin Jack looks:
Look at those crease lines around the monocle! If I had a monocle, this is an accurate depiction of how I would look when my wife and I are going on a hike, and I'm trying to keep going, and she keeps stopping to look at a plant.

But some women were into more than just ferns. Get a load of this old lady's aquarium:
 Bursting of old Mrs. Twaddle's aqua-vivarium. The old lady may be observed endeavouring to pick up her favourite eel with the tongs, a work requiring some address.

from John Leech's Pictures of Life and Character (1842-64), vol. 2, p. 177‡
Even the dog is scared of the eels, but nothing slows Mrs. Twaddle down when it comes to eel collecting.

That said, not all women were quite so at ease with live specimens, as show in this constrasting cartoon:
Tom (who has had a very successful day) presents his sisters with a fine specimen of the cuttle-fish (Octopus vulgaris).

from John Leech's Pictures of Life and Character (1842-64), vol. 3, p. 75
Love how disgusted the sister looks. You gotta be more like Mrs. Twaddle, lady! Embrace science!

The best, though isn't a cartoon itself, but the poem that appears on this page, one of three reworkings of classic nursery rhymes to be about "modern" women:
from Punch, vol. 68, 13 Mar. 1875, p. 115

     Little Miss 'Muffet
     Sat on a tuffet,
Reading the news of the day;
     There came a big spider
     And sat down beside her,
Inducing Miss Muffet to say:

     "Don't think you alarm me,
     Indeed, no!—you charm me;
There's nothing to which I bring more
     Unrestricted attention,
     And keen comprehension,
Than entomological lore."
This reminds me of some of the female entomologists I knew in graduate school (not to mention my own wife), who were much more calm and collected with giant spiders than I would be! I guess there's a lineage from these mocked enthusiasts to the professional women scientists of today.

* Gentle reader, if you know of any earlier examples that would prove me wrong, please let me know!
† From Culture and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Media, edited by Louise Henson, et al., Ashgate, 2004, pp. 15-28.
‡ John Leech was a cartoonist for Punch, who published his collected cartoons in a three-volume set. This is how Le-May Sheffield cites them, so this is how I found them, so I don't know when exactly they originally appeared. Probably some enterprising researcher could figure it out with a digital archive of Punch.

14 December 2017

Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

My public demanded it! Here's my review of Big Finish's UNIT adventure Assembled at Unreality SF. Kate Stewart, Osgood, and company meet the old UNIT: Jo Grant, Mike Yates, and Sergeant Benton.

Hardcover, 277 pages
Published 2005
Borrowed from the library
Read February 2017
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

I read this because a student in my YA literature class asked to do an Honors conversion, and selected this novel as the basis for her supplementary research project. She ended up opting to not complete the research project. I wish she had, partially for the selfish reason that maybe it could have convinced me there was something more to this book. The fundamental idea is okay: when you go to the afterlife, you live there as you age backwards until you're a baby again, and then you get dispatched back to the real world to begin a new life. Zevin's afterlife is weirdly conventional, and conventionally contemporary America at that: people have jobs and drive on highways and stuff. But on the other hand, animals talk? A mundane afterlife could work, but in Elsewhere I felt like it was more a lack of imagination than anything else-- there's no coherent logic that backs this up. Like, where does money even come from? Why is everything like middle-class 21st-century America? Where are all the dead Chinese and Indian people, who surely would make up the majority of the residents of Elsewhere? A good book could get away with leaving out this kind of detail, but this book isn't that good. It's not terribly tedious or anything, but it sure takes its time with things. The sparse style is going for literary, I think, but it mostly comes across as underwritten.

12 December 2017

Return to Oz: Sky Island by L. Frank Baum

Captain Jack is back! My review of Big Finish's new box set about missing adventures in the life of Jack Harkness is up at USF.

Trade paperback, 288 pages
Published 2002 (originally 1912)

Acquired February 2017
Read March 2017
Sky Island: Being the Further Exciting Adventures of Trot and Cap'n Bill after Their Visit to the Sea Fairies
by L. Frank Baum
illustrated by John R. Neill

Like The Sea Fairies, I hadn’t read this until prompted to do so by the folks at the Oz blog Burzee; unlike The Sea Fairies, I really enjoyed the experience. It feels more planned than a lot of Baum’s novels; so many of his books are about getting from Point A to Point B, and even when they’re technically not about trying to get somewhere they sort of work that in there anyway, like the excursion to the outside world in Marvelous Land or the tour of Oz in Emerald City or the various searches in Lost Princess. (Some of these do it better than others; I enjoy Marvelous Land, whereas in Emerald City the travel stuff is just a diversion from the invasion plot.) But Sky Island is very much about the governments and people of Sky Island in a way that makes it more focused than almost any other of Baum’s fantasies I can recollect. It’s also tremendous fun—Baum is inventive and clever and whimsical and suspenseful in just the right proportions, and what Trot has to do here actually matters, both to her group and to the people of the island.

I agree with Nick and Sarah at Burzee that Baum’s doing something political here, but I too don't know what, and I actually like that it’s hard to map on something specific; Baum’s attempts at social commentary can be heavy-handed at times, but this one is engaging. I really liked the stuff about democracy and poverty and such, and it was thought-provoking even if I didn’t quite know what he was trying to say.

I enjoyed Cap’n Bill in this one a lot, even if he was somewhat ineffectual; the way he takes charge of the military is fun even if he does end up captured ASAP. Baum always seems to have it out for militaries! (This reminded me a lot of some of the stuff in Ozma of Oz.)

The Dover edition of this book does have the color plates, for which I’m very grateful—this feels like some of Neill’s best work to me! But maybe I just think that because I actually don’t have very many Oz books that include color illustrations, so of course this one stands out. The cloud journey on the umbrella looks great, and I always like the way Neill draws Polychrome.

Next Week: Back to Oz, as we meet Scraps, The Patchwork Girl of Oz!

11 December 2017

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

Comic hardcover, 236 pages
Published 2016 (contents: 2015-16)
Borrowed from my wife
Read December 2016
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow

Script: Gene Luen Yang
Art: Gurihiru
Lettering: Michael Heisler

The Avatar television series always had the most emotional heft when dealing with Prince Zuko and his family, and thus far, the same seem to be true of the comic books, as the two Zuko-focused ones, The Search and Smoke and Shadow, have felt more substantive than the two Aang-focused ones, The Promise and The Rift. Smoke and Shadow shows what Zuko was doing during The Rift, as Zuko contends with factions in the Fire Nation dissatisfied with his leadership, factions led by Zuko's girlfriend's Mai's father. Yang and Gurihiru invent a new faction of the Fire Nation, the mysterious Kemurikage, who may or may not be spirits. There's also some surprisingly touching stuff about Zuko's long-lost mom trying to reintegrate into the life she lost and the nation she left behind even as her own daughter pulls away from her.

It's fun at the same time that it's serious: Mai has a new boyfriend, and that causes a lot of friction and a lot of jokes; it's great to see Mai uncharacteristically call him "babe," and even better to see Aang irritated by it. (I do hope that what happens with the new boyfriend at the end is just misdirection, because it seems like a misstep if not.) Plus, Uncle Iroh gets all the best jokes, including one about how Zuko has an angsty wave. There's also a good part-two cliffhanger. Overall, this is just a really solid, well-done Avatar adventure, recapturing what made the television series so enjoyable, the best of the comics so far other than The Search. I'm definitely looking forward to North and South.

08 December 2017

50 Miles to Eternity

As a high school senior, I applied to exactly four colleges: Miami University, Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Dayton. These universities are 19 miles, 20 miles, 21 miles, and 50 miles from where I grew up. There's an obvious trend there, and an obvious outlier. I did not want to go anywhere far away. In fact, my mother forced me to apply to the University of Dayton, and I refused to seriously consider it.

At this distance I remember surprisingly little about my college application process, why I picked Miami over the others. It does have the nicest campus of the four. The main other thing that I remember is because UC's academic calendar ran much later than Miami's, I was getting e-mails in early September telling me it was not too late to enroll at UC. Reading them in my dorm room at Miami, I was like, "Uh, I'm pretty sure it is." (I'd guess my mother remembers more of this than me.) The main thing I do remember about the whole process is that I really did not want to go far away from home. The hour drive to Dayton seemed like it would be an eternity!

It's such a contrast to being at the University of Tampa now. I could pop home for the weekend or even the evening as an undergraduate. There was a period where I still went back on Tuesday nights to fulfill my obligations as an Assistant Scoutmaster in my old Boy Scout troop! Most of my students here are from out of state; going home means an eight-hour car ride at best, more usually a plane trip. I couldn't countenance going far; they couldn't imagine staying close to home. (Though some of them have turned out to be more homebodies than they imagined. I filled out data on a transfer application for one, and that prompted a pre-class conversation that caused others to bemoan how far away they'd gone.)

After I graduated, though, I lived at home with my parents for a year, and then when I was applying to M.A. programs, I couldn't wait to get further afield. I remember applying to Indiana University and worrying it was too close at 120 miles away. So I suppose I ended up going through what my UT students went through, just five years later. (Sometimes I think my emotional development was five years behind the average.) I guess I needn't've worried, as I ended 800 miles away, and now I'm over 900!

And 120 miles would be delightful.

#430: What are your sources for information about colleges and universities?

07 December 2017

Review: Father and Son by Edmund Gosse

Mass market paperback, 270 pages
Published 1986 (originally 1907)
Acquired June 2010
Read January 2013
Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments
by Edmund Gosse

Not a Victorian scientist novel... but a novel about a Victorian scientist. Well, a memoir told novelistically at any rate. You may know Edmund Gosse's father as Philip Henry Gosse, the man who did not say that God put the fossils there to test our faith, but whom everyone thought said that. Father and Son is a great read, but it had less to say about science and seeing scientifically than I had expected. If anything makes Philip Gosse a terrible dad (and he sure is, at least as Edmund tells it) it was his religious piety, which Edmund said left only "what is harsh and void and negative" (248). Philip was a self-denying emotionless man, but because he thought that was spiritually correct, not because of scientific training. A far cry from the mix of Christianity and science employed by Philip's friend Charles Kingsley.

06 December 2017

Reading Roundup Wrapup: November 2017

Pick of the month: “The Busiest Man in England”: A Life of Joseph Paxton, Gardener, Architect & Victorian Visionary by Kate Colquhoun. This was an excellent biography that brought together a number of my interests: the Crystal Palace, Victorian science, the sheer enthusiasm Victorians had for anything and everything. My only disappointment is how long it took me to get around to reading it! It was a month of good reading quality in general: Sins of the Wreckers was a strong Transformers comic, For Your Eyes Only was an above average James Bond book, and North and South was one of the better Avatar comics.

All books read:
1. Transformers: Sins of the Wreckers by Nick Roche
2. The Broken Earth, Book Three: The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
3. For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming
4. Doctor Who: The Garden of Statues by Justin Richards
5. Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South by Gene Luen Yang
6. “The Busiest Man in England”: A Life of Joseph Paxton, Gardener, Architect & Victorian Visionary by Kate Colquhoun
7. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III
8. Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock by Christopher L. Bennett

A slightly down month. I'm still adjusting how to keep at my pleasure reading with my new workload, and also it took me about half the month just to get through The Stone Sky. But Thanksgiving Break provided a nice opportunity for a late save; I read #3-7 during Thanksgiving week, and nearly all of #6-7 in particular while flying.

All books acquired:
1. For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming
2. Bernice Summerfield: Adorable Illusion by Gary Russell
3. Faction Paradox: Against Nature by Lawrence Burton
4. Faction Paradox: The Brakespeare Voyage, or The Fourth Wave Boys’ Book of Whaling for Universes by Simon Bucher-Jones and Jonathan Dennis
5. Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 5: Mobilization by Yoshiki Tanaka
6. Terra Ignota, Volume II: Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 644 (down 2)
Books remaining on "To review" list: 20 (down 2)

05 December 2017

Return to Oz: The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum

Two more Unreality reviews in the past couple days: the eighth Doctor begins fighting the Time War, and the tenth Doctor and Rose make their glorious comeback.

Trade paperback, 240 pages
Published 1998 (originally 1911)

Acquired and read February 2017
The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum
illustrated by John R. Neill

I’ve been reading a blog called Burzee of late, which is about a pair of Oz fans working their way through the canonical Oz works, plus related stories. Thus far, every novel they’ve done has been one I’ve read before, but when they hit the two Trot and Cap’n Bill books that L. Frank Baum wrote during the Great Hiatus between Emerald City and Patchwork Girl, I decided to read along with them, as I’d never read them before. So the commentary that follows is mostly a response to Sarah and Nick’s commentary at Burzee.

I’m not even sure I knew The Sea Fairies existed when I was a kid; while I owned some of the other Baum fantasies that tied into Oz, like Queen Zixi of Ix and Dot and Tot of Merryland, I kind of remember being perplexed as how Trot and Cap’n Bill knew Button Bright already in The Scarecrow of Oz, which would seem to indicate I wasn’t even aware of a book that would plug the gap.

I didn’t like this very much. It wasn’t terrible, but I did find it dead boring. I have a friend who really likes children’s fantasy but can’t get into the Oz novels because they’re so plotless—so many of them are about getting from point A to point B, with just a series of visits in between, like Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz, and so on. This doesn’t bother me if the places are interesting and there’s some kind of urgency to the quest (I like Dorothy and the Wizard a lot, Road less so), but Sea Fairies is like one of those novels except no one is going from anywhere to anywhere! There’s no goal or purpose to anything that happens in the first half of the novel, it’s just a travelogue without the actual travel. Sarah and Nick connect it to The Twinkle Tales, a series of short fantasies for younger readers, but I found that pretty hit-or-miss, which I guess corresponds to my reaction to this book. Nick says the book eventually clicked for him… but it never did for me! (I guess there were some good bad puns, though.)

The arrival of a villain in the character of Zog halfway through wasn’t a “merciful release” for me as it was for Nick, though, because by the time the plot turned up, I was so disinterested that I didn’t care what evil he did. And the powers of the mermaids are so amazing and absolute that it’s hard to feel like anyone is ever actually in real danger.

I did like Trot and Can’n Bill more than Nick and Sarah did—they both have a nice practicality to them. Bill sort of veers between out of his depth (heh) to the only person on top of things, but I guess it depends on how closely he can connect his fairyland experiences to a real world one. (He does a pretty good job leading the troops in Sky Island, I feel.) Having an adult along is interesting, and something Baum didn’t do a whole lot: the Wizard in Dorothy and the Wizard and the Shaggy Man in Road, and Rinkitink in, well Rinkitink in Oz seem to be principle ones.

My Dover edition’s illustrations aren’t very high-quality reproductions, and it omits the color plates, sadly. I don’t think there’s a reprint that has them. As a result, the illustrations didn’t make much of an impact on me. I’m glad I read this at last, but I have to agree that it’s hard to imagine giving this to a kid now. I was starting to wonder if Baum was a terrible writer, and I only liked his other books because I was nostalgic for them! Thankfully Sky Island was much much better.

Sarah connects Sea Fairies to Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies, and I did too, but in the context of the 1978 film, which maybe gives an indication of what a 1980s adaptation of The Sea Fairies (which was supposedly planned) would have been like. Having seen the film I can easily imagine an adaptation of Sea Fairies in the vein of The Water Babies, which features Jon Pertwee as a singing Scottish cartoon lobster. (Actually, there are some elements of The Water Babies film that are closer to Baum’s novel than Kingsley’s!)

Next Week: Trot and Cap’n Bill return, but this time go up instead of down, to Sky Island!

04 December 2017

Review: Black Canary: New Killer Star by Brenden Fletcher, Sandy Jarrell, Moritat, Annie Wu, et al.

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2016 (contents: 2016)

Acquired November 2016
Read December 2016
Black Canary, Volume 2: New Killer Star

Written by Brenden Fletcher, Matthew Rosenberg, Julie Benson & Shawna Benson
Art by Sandy Jarrell, Moritat, Annie Wu, Wayne Faucher, Claire Roe
Color by Lee Loughridge, Serge LaPointe, Allen Passalaqua
Letters by Steve Wands, Marilyn Patrizio

New Killer Star just isn't as good as Kicking and Screaming. Part of this is that it's kind of a hodgepodge: one four-issue story arc, one side story of the band visiting Gotham Academy, one flashback story (set before Kicking and Screaming), and one part of a story about Dinah being (re)united with Batgirl and Huntress to (re)form the Birds of Prey.

And part of that is that none of these components are particularly satisfying. The main four-part story is about Dinah being kidnapped by a ninja clan or something who want to know the martial art secret previously known only to Dinah's mother. There's a lot of backstory invoked here, some of it new (I don't think the New 52 Birds of Prey ever said a thing about Dinah's parents) and some of it old, but all of it isn't very illuminating to the Dinah of the present. I want to read about the band having wacky martial arts adventures on the road! But mostly the band is separated from Dinah during this adventure, and the story feels like it's ignoring the premise of the book more than it's using it.

It's kind of weird how this reinserts Dinah's post-Crisis backstory into the New 52, kind of, after Birds of Prey spent so much time developing her orphan backstory.
from Black Canary vol. 4 #10 (script by Brenden Fletcher, art by Sandy Jarrell)

The art, too, is disappointing. Sandy Jarrell isn't a bad artist, and neither is Moritat, but neither of their work compares to that of Annie Wu, the primary artist on volume 1 of Black Canary, who only draws two issues here-- they just lack the dynamism, fun, and sexiness that Wu brings. I know Wu did some well-received Kate Bishop Hawkeye comics for Marvel, but I don't know what else. She's clearly an up-and-coming dynamo (or ought to be), so I'll have to keep on top of her work.

01 December 2017

Thanksgiving No-Ways with My Cousins

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Thanksgiving-- it is my favorite holiday. Significantly, this is because of how I celebrate it every year; the Mollmann family going up through my grandparents' generation always rents a large lodge or several cabins adjacent to a state park somewhere for Wednesday through Saturday or Sunday. These days, as my cousins marry off and reproduce, that's rather a lot of people.

Before we even got engaged, I told Hayley that we were always doing Thanksgiving with my family; that was my one nonnegotiable condition for marriage. Since when we were both at UConn we got a whole week off for Thanksgiving, we usually did something like the Saturday through Tuesday before Thanksgiving with her families in Cleveland, and then headed down to join mine for the actual day itself. Well, negotiation happened anyway, and back in 2014 we actually did Thanksgiving dinner with her families in Cleveland, booking it down to Hocking Hills Thanksgiving night to at least spend Friday through Sunday with my family.

photo by me
This year, circumstances created another compromise. Her little brother is a member of Ohio University's Marching 110, and this year they were invited to march in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Now the parade is not something I've ever particularly cared about, but getting to see my wife's brother in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity trumped even my nonnegotiables.

It was a hectic couple days. We flew in and out of Newark on a budget airline; Hayley's dad and family were staying in Brooklyn in the apartment of one of Hayley's cousins (out of town for Thanksgiving himself-- thanks Luis!). All in all, we left home at 5:30am and made it to the apartment at 2:30pm after driving an hour to Orlando, taking a parking shuttle, making the actual flight, riding the airport train, riding a New Jersey Transit train, and taking the subway. We were up early the next day, too: the parade itself starts at 9am, but you have to get to the parade route early to secure a good spot.

photo by Hayley
We awoke at 5am and got to the route around 6:30am, and the front row was already filled up along the entire route. We ended up settling in behind an older man and his adult daughter who had laid out some towels to claim a stretch of sidewalk for the rest of their family who were coming later. Our theory was that since they would be sitting on the towels, we would have a pretty good view of the parade over them.

It was a long and cold wait for the parade to start. It has been a long time since all I had to do was stand in one place and wait for something to happen. It was in the high thirties; coming straight to this from November in Florida was a particular shock. Hayley's other brother went and got me a coffee and her a hot chocolate mostly so he could go to the bathroom; I really needed that coffee but was terrified it would make me need to go to the bathroom. (Amazingly, I was fine.)

When the rest of the family in front of us finally turned up, it turned out they didn't need as much space as they had claimed, so they pulled up one of their towels and invited us into the vacated area. So getting there at 6:30am actually paid off!

photo by Hayley's older brother
I hadn't really known what to expect, since I've never paid the parade much attention, but basically it rotates between the big balloons (mostly, but not all, of licensed characters), elaborate floats with celebrities atop them (I didn't know very many of them, but I did know a few, including celebrity chef/Enterprise guest actress/Salman Rushdie's ex-wife Padma Lakshmi, and pop stars Sabrina Carpenter and Olivia Holt), clowns dressed up (usually in a way that co-ordinates with a float), and a number of marching bands (mostly high school, actually, but in addition to OU, there was also Prairie View A&M, as well as the Air Force Marching Band).

It actually was really fun. The floats were impressive, though I don't get why they bring in a bunch of celebrities, mostly singers, who don't do any actual singing. The clowns were entertaining, and the balloons really are cool to see in person. The marching bands were all really good. There was a tremendous energy to the whole thing-- the clowns threw confetti!-- and I loved shouting and chanting at the floats and balloons. It was cold, but the skies were clear; you couldn't have asked for a nicer day, to be honest.

This was followed up later by a Thanksgiving dinner cruise for the Marching 110 and family, which was itself gorgeous:
photo by Hayley

Friday and Saturday morning we spent sightseeing; Friday with Hayley's family, and Saturday on our own after they left. The Grand Central Station Holiday Train Display was massively disappointing compared to the Union Terminal one in Cincinnati, but Central Park is always cool, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Cool plants, cool layout, and I enjoyed noting a few significant-to-me Brooklynites immortalized on the path of Brooklyn greats:
photos by me

So, in the end, I had an enjoyable trip, but I feel like I would never do it again. It's hard to imagine that this experience of it could be topped. And missing getting to spend time with the Mollmanns has been tougher and weirder than I imagined. But I am really happy I got to do it. Thanks to Hayley's dad and family for the opportunity, and for everything you provided during the trip!

Bonus Unexpected Victorian Literature Reference

photo by me
it's a rose in the Cranford(!) Rose Garden in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden