29 June 2018

The Eagle Has Landed

My microwave died this past week.

In its honor, I'm rerunning this classic post from my old LiveJournal; it was originally posted on 25 March 2010, during my bachelor days.

When in Cincinnati for spring break, I happened to mention to my father that my microwave (which attentive readers will recall has been having problems almost since I got it) had finally ceased working beyond my capacity to repair it. "You should buy one on Craigslist!" he replied. He's been on a bit of a Craiglist kick of late. Within seconds he was on his laptop, searching "microwave" in the Cincinnati area to demonstrate how easy it was.

Before I knew it, he was proclaiming that he was going to buy a microwave: he'd discovered the same one that he already owns for a good price. The cabinets in the kitchen have a slot built to precisely accommodate this microwave, so he can't replace it with a different model, and what would he do if his broke and the model had been discontinued? For $25, he could chance a used replacement to keep in reserve.

A couple hours later, he owned the microwave. But, my mother told him "no": it didn't have the turntable. He wanted to sell it to me. My mother told him "no" again: "just give it to him." Actually, he wanted to charge me a markup for travel expenses. That's my dad for you.

While we were doing something else (changing my car's oil, I'll be bound), he related to me the following story of buying the microwave:

When he went to pick it up, the guy whose microwave it was asked it my dad had had any trouble finding the place. No, my dad answered, because it was near where he used to work at GE.

Oh, said the guy, and asked if my dad knew some people whose names he rattled off.

My dad did know them, sort of: they had all been company bigwigs back in the day. He asked the guy how he had known them.

The guy explained that his dad had done some consulting work for GE back in the day, coming along to help close hard deals and such. He'd been an aeronautics professor at the University of Cincinnati in the 1980s.

Who was your dad? asked my father, thinking that as he'd attended UC for mechanical engineering (and had done jet engine stuff), he probably knew this guy's dad.

"Oh," said the guy, "my dad was Neil Armstrong."

I now own the microwave of the son of Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong probably ate a Hot Pocket out of my microwave!

I've named it the Eagle.

Well, the Eagle has landed for the last time. Godspeed, Neil Armstrong's son's microwave.

28 June 2018

Review: Marriage by H. G. Wells

Trade paperback, 376 pages
Published 1986 (originally 1911-12)
Acquired and read June 2017
Marriage by H. G. Wells
He spoke slowly, as though he traced things carefully. "Before I met her I suppose I wasn't half alive. No! Yet I don't remember. I felt particularly incomplete. Women were interesting, of course; they excited me at times, that girl at Yonkers!—H'm. I stuck to my work. It was fine work, I forget half of it now, the half-concealed intimations, I mean—queer how one forgets!—but I know I felt my way to wide, deep things. It was like exploring caves—monstrous, limitless caves. Such caves! . . . Very still—underground. Wonderful and beautiful. . . . They're lying there now for other men to seek. Other men will find them. . . . Then she came, as though she was taking possession. The beauty of her, oh! the life and bright eagerness, and the incompatibility! That's the riddle! I've loved her always. When she came to my arms it seemed to me the crown of life. Caves indeed! Old caves! Nothing else seemed to matter." (342)
I thought the title of this novel was odd from the moment I picked it up, because what made Wells think this novel should be called "Marriage" in particular? Every one of Wells's literary novels I've read could have this title without any dissonance: Ann Veronica, The History of Mr Polly, The New Machiavelli. (And, of course, Wells wrote many other non-sf novels that I haven't read but know also to substantively be about marriage.) But upon reading it, I came to see what sets this book apart from those others-- the three previous "marriage novels" all feature the disintegration of a marriage, a man who throws over his wife for another woman. And since all these novels are by H. G. Wells, who did this to two different wives himself, these men are of course all justified in doing so.

However, Marriage might be about a failing marriage, but it is not about a failed one. The marriage of Richard A.G. Trafford (professor of molecular physics) and Marjorie Pope has some down periods, but no one ever cheats on anyone else, and the marriage is saved by the end of the novel. The title, then, I think originates from a bit of Wellsian prescriptivism at the end: as opposed to his other marriage novels, where the marriages collapsed, this is how marriage ought to work. Unfortunately, to a modern reader (but also, I suspect, to many 1910s ones) the end is profoundly unsatisfying. Having established that part of the problem of contemporary society is that women get educated better than ever before and treated like whole people, but then they get married and are given no outlet for themselves other than purchasing consumer goods, the solution Trafford and Marjorie ("Rag" and "Madge") come up with is that Marjorie will completely devote herself to her husband's intellectual interests!

What had been a pretty enjoyable novel comes crashing down at that point. Wells is usually good with the subtle comedy of social life, and Marriage has that in spades, and his portrayal of how a marriage can both be formed through and disintegrate under social pressures has the verisimilitude you might expect from someone who got married twice and had affairs both times (though Trafford never has an affair, because he never had any premarital sex to give him a taste for sex outside the confines of marriage). The opening third of the novel is the best part, but I also really enjoyed the last sixth or so, where Trafford and Marjorie go to the Canadian wilderness and live in a cabin hundred of miles away from anyone else in order to find themselves. Marjorie turns out to be a total badass, and saves Trafford's life after a botched hunting expedition when he thinks himself doomed.

During his recovery, he finally has the time to think (the passage I've quoted above is part of him working out the principles of a good life and a good marriage), and Marjorie responds to his decision that he needs to bring his scientific vision to solving the problems of society with a decision of her own, about the role of women in marriage: "It isn't that we can make you or guide you—I'm not pretending to be an inspiration—but—but we can release you. We needn't press upon you; we can save you from the instincts and passions that try to waste you altogether on us. . . . Yes, I'm beginning to understand. [...] I've begun to see what it is to be a woman. For the first time in my life. We're the responsible sex" (347). Despite Wells's hopes, I feel like this says more about Wells's marriage in particular (his second wife Jane basically did devote herself to His Great Man's Work), and it is especially underwhelming when you realize what Trafford is going to do is write books with titles like From Realism to Reality and The Limits of Language as a Means of Expression.

I discovered when reading Marriage that Wells's literary novels form a little "shared universe"; I'd known that Ann Veronica of Ann Veronica (now Mrs. Godwin Capes) reappears in Marriage, but there's also a passing reference to the events of The New Machiavelli, and Google shows me there's at least one more connection, with a character shared between Marriage and the later The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman. Victoria Glendinning discusses these connections' significance in the introduction to my Hogarth edition of the novel, but what strikes me is how similar Marriage is to Ann Veronica. Ann Veronica is about a young woman with a scientific education, somewhat interested in suffragism, who marries a science educator, and so is Marriage, though many of the particulars vary. Ann Veronica almost ends where Marriage takes up: in Ann Veronica, we see none of the actual marriage of Ann Veronica and Capes (whose first name, Godwin, is one of Trafford's middle names*), except in a brief epilogue. Ann Veronica has a very ambivalent ending: you feel that Ann Veronica and Capes ought to conquer the world together, but in that epilogue, she's pregnant and he's given up his scientific career as they bow to domestic convention. This ambivalence becomes outright negativity with Ann Veronica's appearance in Marriage, where she's "subsided from an early romance [...] into a markedly correct and exclusive mother of daughters" (294). Capes himself doesn't appear in Marriage, but we're told he cranks out formulaic plays to make money for his family.

Marriage functions as a pseudo-sequel to Ann Veronica, in that it shows how Capes and Ann Veronica could save their marriage, how they could come back from the brink of conventionalism and do the Great Work that Ann Veronica glimpses during Ann Veronica but couldn't realize. Why not then just actually make Ann Veronica and Capes the protagonists of Marriage? My guess is that their romance in Ann Veronica was too much unconventional. They ended up marginalized because Capes got a divorce in order to marry Ann Veronica, limiting both of their career prospects. Marriage shows that you can (mostly) do everything right, but still be trapped in the rut of convention and unable to realize your potential.

Except, of course, if you follow Wells's marriage advice. There's a one-star review of Marriage on Amazon that complains it's not a self-help book:
Before I read the novel I thought this guy got it wrong because Marriage is obviously not a self-help book, it's a novel. Now that I've read it, I know he's wrong because it actually is a self-help book. If I were rating it solely on the basis of the advice it gives, though, I'd also give it one star.

* Actually, Capes doesn't even get a first name until Marriage. Oddly, we end Ann Veronica only knowing that it begins with "G"!

27 June 2018

Hugos 2018: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

Trade paperback, 355 pages
Published 2017

Acquired April 2018
Read June 2018
Machineries of Empire, Book Two: Raven Stratagem
by Yoon Ha Lee

I completely bounced off Ninefox Gambit, the book to which this is a sequel, and picked it up with a feeling of undertaking a dreaded duty when it was revealed as a finalist for the 2018 Hugo Awards. Well, I don't know if it was me or the book, but as I read it, I found myself enjoying it more and more, and then once a nice twist came along around the two-thirds mark, I was definitely on board. Raven Stratagem picks up only loosely from the end of Ninefox Gambit: basically the dead genocidal general Shuos Jedao has taken over the body of naval captain Kel Charis, and outside of "them," no other characters recur between the two books. (As far as I noticed anyway; my memories of Ninefox are a little vague.) Jedao is never a viewpoint character; the focal characters of Raven are the general of the fleet Jedao takes over, a personnel officer from that fleet who defies his takeover, and the leader of the Shuos faction.

Whereas I felt Ninefox focused on space combat that might as well be magic, Raven focuses much more on character and politics. I especially really liked Kel Brezan, the personnel officer. The Kel, the military faction of the hexarchate, are all ingrained with "formation instinct," which causes them to obey any order given. But Brezan is a "crashhawk," a Kel whose formation instinct is very weak. So on the one hand, he can defy the unlawful orders of Jedao, but on the other hand, in doing so, he reveals himself as a failure of a Kel. Dutiful and loyal, but self-deprecating for not being dutiful and loyal enough: that's my kind of character. The flashbacks peppered throughout to the various characters' training are especially interesting, as they reveal both personality and the rules and customs of the six factions of the hexarchate.

There are two things I wish for more of: I like the idea that belief in an exotic math system allows you to use it to devastating effect (shades of Christopher H. Bidmead's block transfer computation there), but why belief in a math system is dependent on using a particular calendar remains frustratingly obscure. Though maybe spelling it out would be even less convincing! And also once the twist comes two-thirds of the way in, things proceed a little too perfunctorily; the ending wasn't quite climactic enough to live up to the twist. But still, I enjoyed it.

If you didn't like Ninefox Gambit, I recommend still giving Raven Stratagem a try. I don't know if Raven is actually better than Ninefox, or if I just acclimated to the world more. Or if maybe reading Ninefox near the end of my 2017 Hugos reading just meant I was burnt out by the time I got to it. I'd be curious to reread Ninefox now in any case, but I will also be ordering Revenant Gun to finish off the Machineries of Empire trilogy.

26 June 2018

Review: The Transformers, Volume 9 by John Barber, Sara Pitre-Durocher, and Andrew Griffith

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2016 (contents: 2015-16)
Acquired October 2016
Read January 2018
The Transformers, Volume 9

Written by John Barber
Art by Sara Pitre-Durocher and Andrew Griffith
Colors by Josh Perez
Additional Colors by Josh Burcham
Letters by Tom B. Long

I just cannot get into this series's post-Dark Cybertron change of direction. At least Prowl is gone now, thanks to the events of Sins of the Wreckers (though I'm not sure there's actually a continuity gap where Arcee and Kup could have gone off and done the things they did in that series, at least not yet), but the premise isn't very interesting (fighting over ancient Cybertronian mysteries), and it just doesn't go anywhere. I am pretty sure that Spike and Blackrock have a conversation in a jail cell that lasts for all four issues collected here. Meanwhile, there are too many Combiners, and too little focus on that characters and situations unique to this book.

One of the issues is told from the perspective of a dog and a nonverbal diagnostic drone. It's kind of cute, but it's been done better elsewhere.

Panels with gray borders depict how the dog, Buster, hears things. I like the way the dialogue is done, with most of it jumbled, but occasional fragments a dog would understand in the clear. (And of course a dog's first question to someone he doesn't already know would be "Do you have food?")
from Transformers vol. 2 #48 (art by Andrew Griffith)

This is the last volume of the series formerly known as Robots in Disguise that was contained in the Humble Bundles that are my primary source of Transformers comics. I've already bought volume 10 in a comiXology sale so that I can wrap the series up, but it will have to be very good to convince me to carry on into the post-Titans Return/Revolution relaunch of this series as Optimus Prime.

Also this sequence is pretty good. Go Buster!
from Transformers vol. 2 #48 (art by Andrew Griffith)
Next Week: Meanwhile, throughout the galaxy... it's time for some Christmas cheer in the Transformers Holiday Special!

25 June 2018

Review: Twilight by Howard Chaykin and José Luis García-López

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2014 (contents: 1990-91)

Acquired and read August 2017

Writer: Howard Chaykin
Artist: José Luis García-López
Color Artist: Steve Oliff
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the done thing was to take moribund DC properties and release a miniseries of three double-length issues featuring a darker take on them. Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, Adam Strange: The Man of Two Worlds, Hawkworld, and Twilight were all instances of this move. But while my first three examples all feel like set-ups for ongoings (even if, such as in the case of Adam Strange, those ongoings didn't always actually happen), Twilight was different: this isn't an engine for an ongoing series, but a complete epic in itself, charting the rise and fall of a number of different DC space characters across a vast temporal and spatial canvas. All those guys who haven't amounted to much since the 1960s (but Keith Giffen also revived for Threshold twenty years later), they're all here: Tommy Tomorrow, the Star Rovers, Manhunter 2070, Star Hawkins and Ilda, even Space Cabbie.

Of course, I don't remember Space Cabbie being quite like this.
from Twilight #3

Howard Chaykin's story, though, is a dark one of manifest destiny in outer space. When Twilight opens, humanity is wrapping up a genocide of sapient animals that it itself is responsible for creating, at the same time it chases down the remnants of an alien race who it also wiped out-- but may hold the secret to eternal life. These characters' heroic personas are all the creation of PR by Homer Glint, one of the Star Rovers, covering up their worst aspects. Soon the last of the Methuseloids are dead, gifting humanity immortality, but of course it's a curse, as humankind is split between warring factions of fascists and religious fanatics. It's a dark story, brutal and full of depravity, but not without humor, mostly in the form of the narration by Glint, and his interactions with his seeing-eye cat. (Raised to sapience, the cat is named F'Tatateeta, in what I assume is a tribute to Cordwainer Smith's naming system for elevated animals, like C'Mell. The "C" in "C'Mell" stands for "cat"; presumably Chaykin's "F" stands for "feline.")

Truth in comics.
from Twilight #2

It's a difficult story to read and to love. José Luis García-López's art is technically accomplished as always. It's interesting to see him draw something like this; I associate him with more straightforward superheroics, I guess because of how good he was at drawing Superman. The beginning, though, is tough going, as Chaykin and García-López dump a huge cast of characters on you without much scaffolding, and it took me most of the first issue to figure out who all the players were and how they related (and, to be honest, there are a couple bits I'm still uncertain about). The story covers a vast canvas, which is a strength and a weakness. We see so many centuries where humanity screws up, clearly playing into a theme for Chaykin, but because of the time skips needed, it seems like these big social movements that dominate the story appear and disappear arbitrarily, sort of undermining that theme. How does Tommy Tomorrow become a worshipped space fascist god? Who knows exactly.

I think the aesthetic of Twilight is a good example of what Darren Franich calls "all-encompassing techno-fascism."
from Twilight #1

The key to the book is to be found in Homer's statement that when he thought it was the end of the story (the collapse of civilization), it was actually the middle. According to Twilight, human history has been and will be a history of atrocity and violence, and not even transcendence will change that.

Too good for her own good.
from Twilight #2

Brenda Tomorrow is pretty great, though. Everything you could want out of a badass space woman. Well, except that her actions doomed the human race, but I guess you can't have everything.

22 June 2018

Punctuated Equilibrium and Gradualist Evolution in Television (Especially Parks and Rec)

One of the things I like about tv shows is monitoring their evolution, thinking about the ways they mutate over time, as the writing staff adds and adjusts and edits the concept, the character dynamics, the worldbuilding to make it better. I like how in those early Star Trek episodes, things we now take for granted aren't fully formed. In the twelfth episode McCoy implies that the Vulcans were conquered; even in the third season, Kirk indicates that he and Spock wouldn't be "brothers" if not for a peace mission carried out when he was a cadet. Both of these things point at a much more recently formed Federation and perhaps more violently formed one than The Next Generation and Enterprise would indicate. More recently, the early episodes of Star Trek: Discovery had this thing about officers on board with mysterious black badges... which were 1) clearly seeding something, and 2) never mentioned again.

Me to my wife about once per episode: "But what about the BLACK BADGES!?"

Sometimes you can blame the transformations on character development. But not always. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's early episodes, Jadzia Dax is portrayed as a serene ancient, above worldly things. By season three, she's a party girl. She didn't change into a party girl; she always was one. The writers figured out what worked with the actor and the ensemble, and leaned into it.

TVTropes of course has a name for this: "Early Installment Weirdness," though I don't think that covers the entirety of it, as these things can keep on changing throughout an entire show. For example, each season of Blackadder is subtly different from the previous one, as Blackadder gets cleverer and cleverer, and the people surrounding him get dumber and dumber. Blake's 7 is a good example of this: the first two seasons are basically of a piece, but season 3 is very different from season 2, and then season 4 is different again from season 3. To the extent that the last two seasons don't even include Blake!

Probably the best example of this is Doctor Who, which has evolved considerably over its thirty-six television seasons and continues to do so, sometimes slowly (witness the way the Doctor's character is slowly redefined across the first two seasons, or how "regeneration" isn't said until eleven years in, and not really implied to be a standard thing until seventeen! Other times, it would evolve very quickly, reminding me of what biologists call "punctuated equlibrium": at the beginning of season seven, the Doctor is suddenly an Earthbound scientific advisor to a military alien-fighting organization, which would remain the status quo for the next few years.

(Most of the shows I've talked about above retool/evolve to good effect, but some shows do it to no effect. I even enjoy reading about this kind of thing in shows I've never actually will never watch: this AV Club article about the mediocre-to-awful sitcom 'Til Death is fascinating.)

All of this is a long wind-up to the fact that Hayley and I are watching Parks and Recreation. We're now in the fourth season, and I've found the show's slow evolution really interesting. A lot of people say to skip the first season, and just start with the second, and that the first is almost a different show, but I don't think is quite true. The first season is really of a piece with the early second; the changes bed in pretty slowly with a couple exceptions.*

The most abrupt change is the character of Mark Brendanawicz. You can make a lot out of the fact that Brendanawicz vanishes at the end of season two-- he takes a private industry job and is promptly never heard from again (literally never even mentioned), even though you think he might, say, drop in to his old pals at the Harvest Festival, or come to April and Andy's wedding. (Maybe he's there, just off screen.) But even between seasons one and two he's retooled slightly; in season one, he's a member of the "boy's club" of City Hall, he's the guy who knows everyone and can get things done, and is maybe a little slimy. This is all completely gone in season two, where he's just "Ann's boyfriend." The show attempts to make something of the idea that he's never been in a committed relationship before, but it doesn't go anywhere.

Actually, Ann is a good example of this too. "Andy's girlfriend" in season one, "Mark's girlfriend" in season two, "Chris's girlfriend" in early season three, and then the show just cuts her loose, letting her exist on her own terms and figuring out who she is, becoming slightly weird, a little too nice, something of a pushover who begins to stand up for herself on occasion.

One of the most striking changes is in Leslie Knope herself, who in the first season is well-meaning but essentially ineffective. She's never even ran a subcommittee before she becomes the chair of the one to turn the Pit into a park, and in "The Banquet" she's a total nonentity when trying to interact with characters from other sections of the government. By season three, not only is she highly competent to the extent that the department falls apart if she takes one day off, but everyone across the whole government knows who she is. And this isn't character development-- we're clearly meant to believe she's always been this way. Similarly, her relationship with Ron evolves over time. Season one Ron is unpleasant and wants her to fail; by season four, they have a charming, understated friendship that I really enjoy.

We're only partway through season four, so I'm not sure how this will all play out-- I am sure there is more to come. (Jerry and Donna keep being given more and more to do, for example, to the extent that Jerry actually had a subplot of his own this season.) I also kind of feel like the show was pushing a subtle retcon when Ben Wyatt (not from Pawnee, unlike most of the cast) pointed out that the city was full of weird people who got passionate about strange things. Earlier seasons, I think, were mostly implying that local government is like this. This hasn't been developed much of late, though, so who knows.

But what I do know is that it all paid off. The last five or so episode of season two felt like a real step up for the series, as the ensemble and characters start to click in ways they haven't, and the show starts to lean into niceness. Plus a real sense of threat emerges when two auditors arrive from the state.

As much as late season two feels like a lift up, the beginning of season three comes and the show suddenly gets super-enjoyable. I mean, I never hated it, but the season one and early season two episodes were often just kind of mildly amusing. This often happens during season breaks, as the writers use their summers "off" to regroup and figure out what works and how to tweak before diving into the next. For example, I know a lot of people claim Star Trek: Deep Space Nine suddenly got good in season three, but they're wrong, it actually suddenly got good with the opening three-parter of season two. The ensemble just clicks in that story, as the writers have figured out all the characters and their places in the world. So too with the opening of season three of Parks and Rec.

Except that, astoundingly, the first six episodes of season three were actually written and filmed with season two, so that the production break could accommodate Amy Poehler's pregnancy.† So while for its original viewers the show got better after taking eight months off, in reality, it literally got better overnight.

* I should also point out, however, that the TVTropes entry for Parks and Recreation's "Early Installment Weirdness" is filled with things that I don't think are actually true.

† Fun fact I learned from Wikipedia: "Time Capsule" was the third episode aired in this batch, but actually the last produced, as it featured the most objects Poehler could stand behind to disguise how pregnant she was.

21 June 2018

Review: The War of the Worlds: From H. G. Wells to Orson Welles, Jeff Wayne, Steven Spielberg and Beyond by Peter Beck

Some more catching up on my reviews of audio dramas at Unreality SF: the most recent UNIT box set, Cyber-Reality, featuring Kate Stewart, Osgood, the Cybermen, and Derek Jacobi as the Master; the most recent Torchwood adventure, We Always Get Out Alive, featuring Gwen, Rhys, and a car; and the final Jago & Litefoot adventure, Jago & Litefoot Forever.

Acquired September 2017
Read May 2018
The War of the Worlds: From H. G. Wells to Orson Welles, Jeff Wayne, Steven Spielberg and Beyond
by Peter J. Beck

I should begin with some personal disclosures. As long-time readers, colleagues, and friends will know, I am low-key obsessed with H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. I teach it whenever I can; I published on its 1898 American rip-offs in the journal English Literature in Transition; I have presented on Marvel's Killraven, a schlocky 1970s sequel; I will argue this summer at a conference that M. T. Anderson's Landscape with Invisible Hand is an adaptation of it; and I have read and watched far, far too many versions of it. One of my dream book projects is to cover its various versions and iterations. So you can imagine my sadness and disappointment when I realized Peter J. Beck had beat me to the punch with a book from Bloomsbury Academic.

All of this is to forewarn you that when I say I don't like this book, I might just be biased because 1) I wanted to write this book, but also 2) it's not how I would have written it. Beck is a historian, and the book strongly emphasizes the history of The War of the Worlds. There's a lot of thorough, interesting background on where the book was written and when, both in terms of society/culture and in terms of Wells's personal life. About the first half of the book is given over to this. The weak part of the first half is Beck's handle on the novel itself; his interpretation of the book (in a chapter called "The War of the Worlds: Storyline and Methodology") is pretty short and pretty formulaic, to the point you wonder why he bothered. A lot of this I knew already, but then I'm pretty deep in the (red) weeds on Wells, so many readers will probably get more out of this than me. It's a lucid account of the book's writing and publication, even if it doesn't say much about the novel qua novel.

The discussion of the novel's "multimedia afterlife" covers a lot of ground very quickly, and sometimes the focus is odd. Comics and graphic novels get a mere two pages! There is a chapter on the 1898 American version, which I was happy to see draws heavily on my ELT article. (It also draws heavily on a LiveJournal post I made in 2009 during my first year of graduate school; never thought I'd see that incorporated into my citation count!)

There's a very thorough chapter on the 1938 Orson Welles version, and a much more superficial one on other radio versions of the novel. The discussions of the two major film versions (George Pal's 1953 and Steven Spielberg's 2005) are also pretty quick. The problem in these, as in much of the book, is Beck's historian mindset. He's interested in how these things got made, and somewhat interested in reactions to them, but there's not much analyses of the actual adaptations. If I were writing this book, I'd be focusing on the way the stories took Wellsian ideas and imagery and reworked them in different times and places.

Beck is really interested in Woking, the London suburb where Wells wrote the novel, and where much of the novel takes place. This helps the early parts of the novel, but diminishes its later parts, because I feel like Beck is too quick to dismiss adaptations that move the story out of Victorian Woking. The Spielberg film, for example, feels criticized for the fact that Spielberg didn't want to make a period piece. I don't like this attitude (as I've written about before), because it neglects that Wells was not writing a period piece. Wells was writing a story about aliens disrupting our complacency in the here and now. An adaptation that maintains the Victorian setting isn't doing what Wells was doing, it's doing something completely different. Now, Beck doesn't have to share this approach, but I wish he was more sympathetic to the motives of adapters that relocate the setting.

Relatedly, I also wish he was less sympathetic to Jeff Wayne's mediocre disco musical version of the novel, an adaptation whose valorization I will never understand except for reasons of kitsch. But for some reason it gets more than twice as much space as the Spielberg film despite being substantially less interesting from a literary and adaptative perspective.

There are also some oddities of structure. There are a couple chapters that lay things out in really brief detail that get covered more comprehensively later on, in a way that feels redundant. The second-last chapter for some reason includes a catalogue of the places Wells lived while writing the novel, the information from which really ought to have been folded into the first half of the book.

All that said, I'm worried that I'm biased because I'm jealous. But on the other hand, I'm kind of glad it's not the book I would have written-- because that means when I finally try to write my book, there will still be a gap in the world that it can squeeze into.

20 June 2018

Hugos 2018: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Trade paperback, 333 pages
Published 2017

Acquired April 2018
Read May 2018
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

This is the second John Scalzi novel I've read after Redshirts, and if anything, it's somehow even worse. The main problem with The Collapsing Empire is that the main characters are all the same: relentless quippers. It's like reading the script for a Joss Whedon show, except even Joss Whedon knows you have to have real human emotion sometime to balance it out. I read a review of the book that claimed, "Scalzi’s characters have always been great—funny, dynamic, and easy to identify with—but over the years he’s improved in the way he frames and builds each individual personality. Cardenia, Marce, and Kiva all come from drastically different origins, and their reactions to the future are specific to their own perspective." Admittedly this review was on the blog of the publisher so of course it's a little slanted, but I found it inexplicable because all of these characters sounded exactly the same. They all quip and banter their way through every situation. The complete lack of earnest emotional response grew wearying, exacerbated by the fact that even the narrator gets in on the quipping! Like, if the narrator can't react like these things matter, why should I?

It also doesn't help that there seems to be a direct correlation between quippiness and moral worth. All the good characters are great at quipping; all the evil characters are humorless planks. It's way too obvious and too simple, like the Interdependency is not actually a monarchy or a theocracy, but a quiptocracy, where the most sarcastic person is placed in charge. And one of the characters in particular irritated me, Cardenia, whose sexual antics I found squicky in that her pressuring other people, including subordinates, into sex is presented in a ha-ha-she's-so-empowered-isn't-it-funny light.

Outside of the characters, there's just not much to this novel. The political set-up feels derivative of Dune and not particularly interestingly so: an interstellar empire where "guilds" and "houses" play significant roles. (I know Dune didn't originate this, but Collapsing Empire doesn't do anything unique with it except in superficial ways.) The main plot of the series is contrived. The "Flow" is the alternate dimension ships can move into to travel faster-than-light, a lot like the depiction of hyperspace in things like Babylon 5, but it's collapsing, meaning the end of the Interdependency. But somehow in a vast interstellar empire predicated on the existence of the Flow, there are literally two scientists who study it? And it seems kind of silly that the one who's predicted it's going to collapse figures this out about a week before it begins to happen. Like, what's the point? (Scalzi also seems to think that peer review is another person checking your sums.) The book does have the occasional surprising moment, but on the whole it moves in pretty predictable directions.

19 June 2018

Review: Transformers: Redemption by John Barber and Livio Ramondelli

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2015
Acquired and read December 2017
Transformers: Redemption

Written by John Barber
Art by Livio Ramondelli
Letters by Tom B. Long

This follows on from the events of Punishment by the same creative team; after the events of that book, the Dinobots find themselves at a loose end before being hired to do some underhanded stuff by a Decepticon and some Camiens. Well, suffice it to say they find what's promised by the title. There's some interesting stuff (a romance between a Decepticon and a Camien demonstrates the increasing nuance of the post-Great War reintegrated Cybertronian society), but man if five different Dinobots (who have really generic robot modes) and a bunch of other robots too is too much for me to keep track of. That's over a dozen character models I need to distinguish! And all the Dinobots have the same personalities. I can't do this stuff, John Barber, you gotta make it easier on me.

This book probably features Livio Ramondelli's prettiest art, though.
Next Week: Meanwhile, on Earth... G. B. Blackrock is up to the same old shit with those Robots in Disguise!

18 June 2018

Review: Star Raiders by Elliot S! Maggin and José Luis García López

I think I've neglected to cross-post my reviews of audio dramas here for a while, so here are some recent ones: Doctor Who: Ghost Walk, Doctor Who: Serpent in the Silver Mask, Doctor Who: Short Trips: "Erasure", and ATA Girl. That last review I'm particularly proud of, so if you only read one, read it. It's a four-story set about female pilots during World War II.

Perfect-bound comic, n.pag.
Published 1983

Acquired and read August 2017
Star Raiders

Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Artist: José Luis García López
Letterer: Orzecody

Strictly speaking this isn't a DC Comics space story-- it's a graphic novel published by DC, but it's not set in the DC universe, as it's a licensed story based on Atari videogames! As you might expect of a space adventure story from 1983, it's very Star Wars: it opens with a space battle over a desert planet, there's a hotshot pilot, a wise old man, an evil empire, a heroic resistance, and cute alien animals. The basic premise is that the insectoid Zylons control the galaxy; the pilot (Jed) and navigator (Tomorrow "Tommy" Hardtack) of a star cruiser come to a devastated planet where they find an immortal librarian (Zeke) and an old spaceship, the Star Raider. Jed and Tommy repair the Star Raider with Zeke's guidance, recruit more rebels, and have a couple run-ins with the Zylons. (There's also a bit of Battlestar Galactica in it, I guess.)

It's fun enough. Jed arguing with Zeke is a little overdone, and everyone goes off half-cocked and has to be rescued by someone else at some point. I liked Tommy (a riff in name if nothing else on the DC character Tommy Tomorrow of the Planeteers) the most; she's sublimely 1980s-- just look at those shoulderpads and that hair band-- and feels the least like a Star Wars character. The beautiful art by José Luis García López is probably the real selling point of this book; this story didn't deserve art this good, but it got it anyway! The only thing to not like about it is that Jed and Tommy's original ship has a confusingly similar design to the Star Raider. (But I would guess this has something to do with the original videogame on which the graphic novel is based.)

The set-up is good, but the ending feels rushed-- a significant connection between a minor character and the Zylon queen comes out of nowhere, allowing everything to be wrapped up easily. It felt like Maggin was setting up an ongoing series (there are a number of characters introduced who end up not doing much) and had to swerve to wrap everything up in twenty pages at the last minute. Still, if you want some 1980s spectacular space action, this is a quick, enjoyable read. Too bad there's no more adventures for these characters, because I'd read them.

15 June 2018

"But I like being sarcastic.": Liv Chenka, Companion from a Real World

I just got home from a car trip from Tampa to Cincinnati to Cleveland and back, and my wife and I spent much of the time listening to Big Finish's Doctor Who miniseries Doom Coalition. (Not as much as we should have, mind. Thirty-six hours in the car isn't enough to get through a sixteen-hour story if your wife keeps falling asleep.)

Anyway, this means I have spent thirteen hours in the company of and thinking about Liv Chenka. Liv is one of my favorite audio companions-- she's no Charley Pollard, but she's up there-- and I think she exemplifies a certain type of companion I like.

I reckon there are fundamentally two types of Doctor Who companions (you will shortly think of an exception to this, but let's go with it for now). The first is the companion whose life is empty and pointless until the Doctor comes along. The major archetype for this on screen is Rose; it's what "Rose" is all about. If she didn't meet the Doctor, literally nothing would ever happen to her. Other examples of this type include Donna, Bill, Jo Grant, Tegan, Ben and Polly, Izzy, and Helen. These companions need the Doctor, not just to give themselves something to do, but to define who they are as people. What kind of person would Rose even be without the Doctor? Not one who takes a stand. Would Jo have become a social crusader without his influence? Doubtful. They can live full lives after meeting the Doctor, but not before.

The other type is the companion who exists as a fully fledged person without him, having adventures on their own. For me, the archetype of this is Bernice Summerfield, from the novels and audios. I'm currently listening to the audiobook of Human Nature, and one thing that strikes me is how fully-formed Benny is. She had a life and purpose and voice before she met the Doctor; the Doctor just helps her access these things better. Other example of this include Sara Kingdom, Sarah Jane, Harry Sullivan, Romana, Klein, Captain Aristedes, and of course the original companions, Ian and Barbara. I say "adventures," but that should be broadly construed. Benny may have been doing space archaeology and Sara space policing, but Harry, Ian, and Barbara's "adventures" before the Doctor were much more mundane, doing medicine and marking. But the story doesn't position this pre-Doctor life as empty.

Ian and Barbara especially feel like real people who happened to meet the Doctor rather than people who only became real by meeting him.

Though many of my favorite companions come from the first list, I have a soft spot for solidly executed examples of the second type. They can add a level of deepness and complexity to their stories, in that they have more of an existence than to reflect and refract the ideas and desires of the Doctor.

Liv fits into this pattern quite well, partially thanks to the way she's introduced. When we first meet Liv in Robophobia, she's already an experienced medical technician on a long-haul space freighter. I don't think Liv's age is ever given, but Nicola Walker was about forty when the story was recorded. Liv doesn't join the Doctor in that story, and by the time we next hear from her in Dark Eyes: The Traitor, she's been trapped on a planet under Dalek occupation and ended up in the awkward position of being supported by the Daleks while doing medical relief work. She still doesn't join the Doctor at that point, but (as we learn in Dark Eyes: Time's Horizon), she evacuates from the planet in a cargo ship and her metabolism is fatally damaged by radiation. As a result, she enlists on a long-range deep-sleep exploration mission to the edge of the universe. And then she meets the Doctor again and finally begins traveling with him.

Of course, backstory isn't character, but all of this does inform Liv's characterization, most notably in Doom Coalition: Ship in a Bottle, where we see that Liv has been through so much shit and still come out okay that there's no way she'll ever give up hope ever again. The Doctor and Helen both lose hope in that adventure, but having lost hope once before and run away from the entire universe and still ended up okay, Liv's faith is now unshakeable.

Aside from all that backstory, though, Liv still feels real. She's a person trying to do her best in an uncaring universe that muddles through by using sarcasm to limit her engagement with earnest emotion. But deep beneath it all she really does care. That could be cliché, of course, but Nicola Walker elevates every bit of material she is given, with the amazing subtlety of her voice. You just don't feel Liv's desperation and sadness in (say) Doom Coalition: Absent Friends, you feel that Liv is desperately trying to stop you from feeling her desperation and sadness. Now that's acting. (On the CD extras to one of the Doom Coalition sets, I forget which, Walker says that Liv is like a duck: calm on the surface, but paddling furiously underneath.)

Liv also comes across as deeply competent in a way that few Doctor Who companions do, I think because she's often entrusted with her own life during her travels with the Doctor, even. Like I said, it's not until her third story that she really becomes a companion, but even then, she keeps getting dropped off on her own throughout the Dark Eyes saga. In the story after Time's Horizon, Eyes of the Master, the Doctor ends up leaving her on her own in the 1970s with Molly while he goes into space to pit the Daleks against the Eminence. She's there for a couple months, I think, during which she even has her own adventure without him (Short Trips: The Wood beyond the World).

Liv Chenka, trapped in nothingness.
art by Johannes VIII

When we next catch up to her in Dark Eyes: The Reviled, she's working on her own as a medic on a planet on the fringes of the Eminence War, laying the groundwork for the Doctor's ongoing efforts. She's clearly been there some time; then in the next story, Masterplan, her and the Doctor are separated, and then in Rule of the Eminence, the Master has been using her as a physician for months while he rules the Earth. So her early travel with the Doctor are in fact characterized by a lack of travelling, by the fact that she stays in the same place for long periods of time, and she gets things done. She keeps her head down and does her job. By the end of Dark Eyes, she's scarcely done the proper companion thing at all. (No wonder that Doom Coalition  established that she travelled with the Doctor for years between the two sagas, to give Liv time to actually become a "proper" companion.)

And that's the key to making a Doctor Who companion feel real. One of the keys, anyway, for companions of the second type. So many companions have reasons to travel with the Doctor, but Liv Chenka has a reason and purpose to not travel. She has a reality she comes from, and carries with her in all her stories.

14 June 2018

Review: New & Old Wars by Mary Kaldor

Trade paperback, 268 pages
Published 2012 (1st ed.: 1998)
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2017
New & Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era
by Mary Kaldor

Kaldor describes the phenomenon of what she calls "new wars," perhaps best explained via contrast to old wars. An old war is the war we imagine when we think of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, the Napoleonic Wars and World War II, "war involving states in which battle is the decisive encounter" (vi). Old war is fought by states, with a goal of conquest through military encounter.

By contrast, new war has different goals and different means. It is fought by a mix of state and non-state actors: regular armed forces, criminal groups, and paramilitary organizations. Its goals are population control and its ideologies are identity politics: a revolutionary wants to build a new society, but new wars are about labels, so the main goal is to purge undesirable labels. Mass relocation of civilians and ethnic cleansing becomes a goal, not a by-product. In some ways they're more rational than old wars-- many of their tactics are war crimes, but these new actors are unfettered by that: "These wars are rational in the sense that they apply rational thinking to the aims of war and refuse normative constraints" (106). New war is more like a social condition than old war, and thus new war breeds new war, like an infection, as areas collapse, they set up conditions that cause adjacent areas to collapse. New war is also globalized: modern communications technology means that a war in one country can be supported by a financial infrastructure stretching over the whole world.

Kaldor primarily explains the concept via the Bosnian War (1992-95), where she was an observer, and the contemporary wars in Afghanistan (2001-14) and Iraq (2003-11), but as you read, you can easily see how the wars of the Islamic State (which came to prominence two years after this edition was published) are an example of the phenomenon she describes in almost perfect detail. There are times the book gets into a level of detail that's more than is desired by the non-political scientist, I suspect, but I found it a compelling and useful thesis, making clear something I had not exactly seen before. I had hoped for some connections with my own (literary) interests in political violence, and I don't think there was much of that here, but it was still a worthwhile read for understanding the modern political landscape.

13 June 2018

Hugos 2018: Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Trade paperback, 164 pages
Published 2017

Borrowed from my wife
Read May 2018
Binti: Home
by Nnedi Okorafor

The sequel to Binti is really the first half of a larger story. The first half of Home itself is about Binti's return to her home after a year at space university, her friend who is also a warrior alien jellyfish in tow. It's kind of your normal thing in a story of this sort: she's changed both physically and emotionally, so has her family, and resentment simmers on every side. Then in the second half, she participates in a coming-of-age ritual of her people, and soon discovers she's even more special than the first book made her seem. Then things end on a cliffhanger, so I guess I'll need to pick up Binti: The Night Masquerade.

It's all right. Like with the first volume, it some times feels contrived. The family stuff is well done, if a bit clichéd. Clichés are often true, of course, but I rarely felt things rose to that level. To be honest, I wish we'd had a book of her actually at space university before we got a book of her coming back home. The second half has a lot of exposition about Binti's hidden heritage; I reserve judgment on this until I see how it plays out in Night Masquerade, but that leaves me without much to say about this volume in itself.

12 June 2018

Review: Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 9 by James Roberts, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2016 (contents: 2015-16)
Acquired October 2016
Read December 2017
Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 9

Written by James Roberts
Art by Alex Milne, Brendan Cahill, and Hayato Sakamoto
Inks by Brian Shearer, Alex Milne, John Livesay, John Wycough, Brendan Cahill, and Hayato Sakamoto
Colors by Joana Lafuente
Letters by Tom B. Long and Chris Mowry

The post-Chaos era of IDW's Transformers comics used to be very easy to follow, alternating between collections of More than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise. Since Dark Cybertron, though, it's gotten much more complicated, with a proliferation of limited series and one-shots and crossovers and even a new ongoing in Windblade. The gap between volumes 8 and 9 of More than Meets the Eye was the longest yet, with a full six different collections stuffed into it, taking four months at my own personal Transformers pace.

It's almost like he knew I was away, because James Roberts brought me back with the More than Meets the Eyeest bit of More than Meets the Eye thus far on the very first page, a recap of what the group of Decepticons called the Scavengers have been up to since we last saw them way back in volume 2:
from Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #47 (art by Alex Milne & Brian Shearer, photography by Maziar Shahsafdari)

This launches us into a story of the Scavengers meeting Fortress Maximus, who became the duly appointed enforcer of the Tyrest Accords in volume 5. I do really like the Scavengers in principle, and the story is a good one, but in practice I struggle with reading about this many unfamiliar robot characters. I just can't keep five guys I haven't seen in literally a year straight, and this undermines a lot of the story's effectiveness. Heck, I didn't recognize Fortress Maximus at first, and he used to be a main character in MtMtE!

Thankfully, we're back on more familiar ground with the volume's second story, a big development in the lives of Cyclonus and Tailgate, who have perhaps faded into the background in the Megatron-focused post-Dark Cybertron era of More than Meets the Eye. Well, this story more than makes up for it, as it's another heartrender from the pen of James Roberts, as you plead and plead with Tailgate not to do something that seems like a grand romantic gesture from the naïve Transformer's perspective, but will in fact lead to ruination, and plead with Cyclonus to not bottle himself up so much-- and to not finally let out his feelings to the exact wrong person. It's a perfect demonstration of how much Roberts has succeeded in making the reader emotionally connected to these robots.

Some really effective use of silent panels here.
from Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #47 (art by Brendan Cahill)

The only complaint I have is in how its intense cliffhanger is resolved, almost off-handedly in the book's final story, one which delves into the past of Rung, everyone's favorite nondescript psychiatrist. It's a clever, well-plotted story, with a lot of cool twists and clever reveals, punctuated by a last-page revelation that promises a lot for the next... and final... volume of this still-excellent series. Would be that all ongoing comics could move me as often as this one does.

Also: would be that they had as many jokes.
from Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #49 (art by Hayato Sakamoto)
Next Week: Meanwhile, on Cybertron... the Dinobots head into the wilderness looking for Redemption!

11 June 2018

Review: The Serpentine Wall by Jim DeBrosse

Hardcover, 327 pages
Published 1988

Acquired December 2016
Read June 2017
The Serpentine Wall by Jim DeBrosse

My ongoing mission to read books set in my hometown of Cincinnati has not always yielded good literature or good local color. A lot of the books feel like they were written by someone who had never set foot in Cincinnati, even if the writer actually had! Delightfully, though, The Serpentine Wall is brimming over with local color, from the title on down. DeBrosse really captures my hometown with lots of details and jokes. The book begins with a fire on an Ohio River steamboat by the local landmark of the Serpentine Wall! The fact that Cincinnati has two major daily newspapers (though not anymore) is a key point, and there are characters seemingly derived from Larry Flynt and a combination of Simon Leis and Charles Keating (a major subplot is about pornography distribution, appropriate for Cincinnati's very moralistic climate). I don't know that it was a terribly good mystery (the villain is pretty obvious), but I loved reading it, getting that frisson of excitement every time a place or idea I knew appeared, something people who live in New York City or Los Angeles must be numb to, but which I rarely get to experience.

08 June 2018

The Breaking of the Fellowship: Stranger Things 2, Characters in Combination, and the Serialized Streaming Narrative

I recently finished Stranger Things 2 (I'm a very slow binger), and my main complaint is about the handling of characters. Which isn't to say that the characters were mishandled per se, but that the show features them in different combinations than I would wish.

The best part about Stranger Things is the cast chemistry, especially that between the core four boys, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will. Most of their time together in season one is actually sans Will, but the group works without him, and also works well with him. One of my favorite episodes of season two is the first one, and that's because I just like the wacky nerd hijinks this fouresome gets up to playing arcade games (or playing D&D, or going trick-or-treating as the Ghostbusters, or whatever). The supernatural plot is secondary to the character chemistry.

While the first season kept the core four together (aside from Will, but adding Eleven), the second season disperses them. Mike and Will end up with Hopper and Joyce, while Dustin and Lucas work with Steve and new character Max, and Eleven is off doing her own thing.* So the gang is barely together except in the first couple episodes and the last one, and that disappoints me. Why have a cast with this kind of chemistry-- I don't know if they are a real group of friends but they sure seem like one-- and not utilize it?

When I've expressed this to friends, they've pointed out that not mixing the characters up would miss us out on what was probably the season's best moments, the interactions between Steve and Dustin. Last season, Steve was in the Jonathan/Nancy plot, but this season they're off on their own, with Steve joining in with Dustin, Lucas, and Max. And indeed, the interaction between Steve and Dustin is amazing, as Steve ends up dispensing romantic and fashion advice to the younger kid. Steve turns out to have great camaraderie with the younger kids (as also seen in the finale), and I would have been sad to miss out on that.

I think this relates to a thing I've complained about with streaming shows before. The way they're (usually) built around single stories that span 8-13 episodes means they get locked into particular stories across whole seasons. If Stranger Things was more lightly serialized, you could have a couple episodes about the core four, and an episode where Steve and Dustin hang out as well. I like ensemble television a lot, and some of the best stuff in ensemble television happens when characters who don't normally interact spend some time interacting, and you discover new areas of possibility. For example, my wife and I are watching Parks and Recreation these days, and Ben is usually paired with Lesley Knope, and that's obviously his natural place, chemistry-wise and story-wise. But every now and then the show will do an episode that pairs him with, say, Andy and April, or Tom Haverford, and those moments yield gold as well.

Stranger Things can't do this. Its commitment to season-long stories mean that characters get put into groups that they're basically committed to for the entire season. Once Mike and Will are off with Joyce and Hopper, they have to stay that way until the climax. There are times this can work-- like I said, Steve and the kids turned out to be a great combination-- but there are times it doesn't work. Mike, for example, feels kind of useless when he's with adults the entire season. A more lightly serialized ensemble show can experiment with different combinations of characters on occasion, while still usually using them in the default combination.

I know Stranger Things 3 won't give me what I want, but I think a lot of season two's problems would actually be rectified with a more light touch to serialization. I could get to see the core cast of the boys, Eleven, and Max interact, while the show could still experiment with interesting and unusual combinations.

* I don't focus on it much in this post, but I was also bummed how little time Eleven spent with any of the characters. But this is because the Duffer Brothers have written themselves into a corner, I think. Eleven, at the end of season one, was revealed as so powerful that she can stop any threat. This means she had to be kept isolated from all the other characters until the season's climax.

07 June 2018

Review: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Trade paperback, 654 pages
Published 2001 (originally 1794)
Acquired December 2017

Read May 2018
The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance
by Ann Radcliffe
Emily continued to urge her father the truth, which himself had impressed upon her mind.
     'Besides, my dear sire, poverty cannot deprive us of intellectual delights. It cannot deprive you of the comfort of affording me examples of fortitude and benevolence; nor me of the delight of consoling a beloved parent. It cannot deaden our taste for the grand, and the beautiful, or deny us the means of indulging it; for the scenes of nature – those sublime spectacles, so infinitely superior to all artificial luxuries! are open to enjoyment of the poor, as well as the rich. [...] We retain, then, the sublime luxuries of nature, and lose only the frivolous ones of art.' (59-60)
I read this book in search of pre-1882 fictional female scientists. Emily St Aubert approximates one in some ways-- she is trained in reason, and she is able to control her emotions better than many of the men she encounters, she looks at plants-- but as I believe the above quotation shows, she is not one. Emily enjoys grand vistas, and her father is a botanist, but neither of them study nature in the way that we would now call scientifically. They appreciate it aesthetically; they are not out there to objectively analyze it, or to catalogue it in that way a Victorian might. Similarly, Emily might have a handle on her emotions, but it's not because of any kind of scientific training, more a general kind of intellectual training. Now, I think all of this derives from the same Age of Enlightenment set of values that, at the time The Mysteries of Udolpho was written, was giving birth to what we now call science, but it is not quite the same thing as science, and so therefore Emily is no scientist or woman of science; perhaps her father is a naturalist at best.

Also, can I say that I have now read two of Ann Radcliffe's Gothic novels, and both were exceedingly dull? I know the past is another country and all, that's what I've devoted my life to explicating, but how anyone found this book suspenseful is beyond me. The occasional snatch of spooky music is not enough to carry one through hundreds of pages of tedium before someone finally gets probably murdered over three hundred pages in. By that point, the eternally virtuous Emily had caused me to completely check out. I did dutifully plow through to the end, but by the end, the skimming was highly aggressive.