31 December 2018

Review: Doctor Who: Time Trips by Jenny T. Colgan et al.

Hardcover, 382 pages
Published 2015 (contents: 2013-15)

Acquired October 2016
Read February 2017
Doctor Who: Time Trips
by A. L. Kennedy, Jenny T. Colgan, Nick Harkaway, Trudi Canavan, Jake Arnott, Cecelia Ahern, Joanne Harris, and Stella Duffy

On the heels of 2013's 11 Doctors, 11 Stories, BBC Books deployed another monthly e-book series, the fruits of which are collected here in print format. Time Trips was less structured than 11 Stories, with just eight stories for a random assortment of Doctors: one for Two, two for Three, one for Four, one for Six, two for Ten, and one for Eleven. Like with 11 Doctors, the writers are popular successful writers outside of Doctor Who and that definitely works to the book's benefit: these are unique voices, not the same old folks who turn up in every Big Finish and every Short Trip. And, amazingly, six of the eight are women! Despite Doctor Who's huge female fanbase, few women seem to write for the tie-ins, but BBC Books shows it can be done.

Like any anthology, it contains both strengths and weaknesses. I really liked the opener, A. L. Kennedy's "The Death Pit," filled with droll witticisms and good characterization of a solo fourth Doctor and just-off-normal happenings. I appreciated Jenny Colgan's "Into the Nowhere" for being set after "The Name of the Doctor" and thus actually doing something character-wise with Clara's knowledge of the Doctor's timestream, but the actual story left me kind of cold. Two standouts featured the third Doctor written by women, which surprised me: Trudi Canavan's "Salt of the Earth" was a surprisingly atmospheric tale set in future Australia, while Joanne Harris's "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller" focuses on him trying to make it back to UNIT HQ as he comes close to regeneration, being somewhat moving on its last page. They're both different sides to Jon Pertwee's incarnation than we usually get and all the better for it.

Weaker tales include the two tenth Doctor stories, Nick Harkaway's "Keeping up with the Joneses," a dull series of surreal events, and Cecelia Ahern's "The Bog Warrior," where I could just never bring myself to care about the characters.

The book as a whole is enlivened by the fact that each story has a title illustration by Ben Morris, and the inclusion of a bonus story, "A Long Way Down" written by Jenny Colgan and illustrated by Ben Morris, that starts on the back cover, moves to the back flap, and then mostly takes place on the reverse side of the dust jacket! A cute tale of the twelfth Doctor falling out of the TARDIS, amplified by Morris's illustrations and the way you have to keep rotating the dust jacket, giving you the same vertiginous feeling as the Doctor and Clara!

It's a shame that 11 Doctors, 11 Stories and Time Trips seem to be it for e-book novellas from BBC Books, as I've found all of them to be worth the time and effort of bringing new voices into Doctor Who prose fiction.

28 December 2018

People Do Go Back, but They Don't Survive

Subotai steps out of the airport and braces himself instinctively, but there's nothing to brace himself for. It's not cold, but it's not hot either, the air is just there. He's wearing a coat, though, so he quickly shrugs off his backpack while he takes his coat off and folds it over his arm. He's forgotten what it's like somehow. Maybe the Christmas decorations in the terminal lulled him into a false sense of winter.

He identifies his location and texts it to his mother. He hasn't been back to Tampa since he started grad school. It's been five years of graduate school, in Connecticut winters, five years of parking bans, and five years of snow that lays on the ground through spring break at the earliest.

He sees his mother's car pull up to the terminal, a bright red Toyota Yaris. He feels like it's a little too flashy for her, somehow.

A hug that goes on for a while, an "I love you," and a quick loading of his suitcase into the trunk, and they're on the road, out to the suburbs of his birth. His mother is talking, about his father mostly, and he's kind of listening, his eyes taking in the world both familiar and unfamiliar. The highways are the same, but the buildings are different. He doesn't remember there being so many condo complexes in downtown as they drive by. The Tampa of his memories is more barren.

His mother is littler than he remembers, and her once red hair, latterly brown, is now starting to gray. He had a good reason for not coming back the first year of grad school, and the second, and the third, and now it's been five.

"Your dad will be happy," she says, and he looks at her as the sunlight catches the silver in her hair, and he wonders if he even knows her anymore. It's been a rough couple of years for her, he knows, and listening to someone on the phone is never the same as being around them on a regular basis.

* * *

Subotai slouches over the computer in the physics lab, setting another simulation to run. It is Christmas Eve Eve, and he wants to be home, but he promised his advisor that he'd have results by the first, and it's now or never, he thinks.

His phone buzzes, it's a text from his husband, Christopher. When is he going to be home? His mother is starting to drive him up the wall, rambling about Christmases gone past.

He sighs. But he's right. He should come home. This simulation will work or it won't, and even if it doesn't, he won't gain anything from sitting here for another two hours to witness another failure.

He puts on his boots and his coat and heads out into the Connecticut cold. He's lived in Connecticut for five years, but he's never gotten used to the cold after growing up in Florida. It snowed last week, and campus looked pretty then, but now it's a sort of gray sludge everywhere. He still finds the crunch-crunch of moving through the snow pleasing.

He and his husband have never hosted family at Christmas time before. But now they have a baby at home, and the grandparents were not to be denied. He's not sure how five years went by without seeing his family at Christmas, but somehow the years slipped by and here he is.

He breathes out and watches his breath condense. Two days before Christmas, campus is completely deserted. It's peaceful, his footsteps echoing across the quad. There are a couple lights on in the science building, other graduate students striving to meet impossible deadlines, he presumes.

Home is an impossible deadline, he thinks, and he's not sure where home is. Connecticut is an alien land still, and slush and snow is the devil's creation, but he can't imagine himself in Tampa again. He's changed so much and home has not.

* * *

Home isn't what he remembers. The memory cheats, of course, but it's literally changed. His dad has knocked out the wall between the kitchen and the living room-- and in the kitchen, all the countertops are marble now. "Marble, really?" he asks.

"You can't sell a house these days without marble countertops," says his dad. "Well, I guess you can't sell one with them, either." He dimly remembers his dad telling him about new countertops now. His parents tried to sell the house and move into a smaller place (he's not sure why; in a four bedroom his father already doesn't have enough room for his books), but the Tampa housing market slumped a little bit this summer and they couldn't get what they were asking.

The Christmas tree is in its customary place in the living room, though. After five years of Connecticut life, where he and his boyfriend used to cut down their own Christmas tree on a Christmas tree farm, having a real Christmas tree in Florida seems incongruous. It keeps getting warmer; now it's 81. Can you have a Christmas tree up when it's 81 out? Bing Crosby croons with David Bowie on the sound system. He wonders if his father's musical tastes will ever change.

He sits at the marble countertop while his parents bustle around the kitchen, getting ready for some Christmas Eve party they are dragging him to. His father keeps putting him to work. He doesn't mind helping, but he does mind the way in which he's asked to help, which hasn't really changed since he was ten: questions phrased as though he's negligent for not having already hoped. It was annoying as a kid. It's even more annoying in adulthood.

"I'm so glad you're here," his mother says for the umpteenth time. "Did I tell you your sister won't even tell me what to get Jackson?" She starts rambling again about Christmases past. His little sister had been the favored child, he always felt, the one who got better grades and was capable of socializing like a normal human, up until she got married and then seemed to ghost the entire family. She still talked to Subotai, but it seemed like his mother only knew what his sister was up to thanks to facebook.

"Of course, Michael's family is over there all the time." She starts to tear up.

Maybe this is why he doesn't come home. Suddenly his phone vibrates. He convinced one of the lab postdocs to run a simulation for him while he was gone, and now it's finished. He pulls up the results.

* * *

Subotai feels like an outsider in his own home. His mother is watching the baby, his father is (he has somehow decided this is the most essential task) organizing Subotai's piles of MechWarrior and Warhammer 40,000 novels, and his husband is cooking. Subotai can't cook anything other than pasta or stir fry so he stays out of the way and watches. Bing Crosby is crooning with David Bowie on the sound system; he assumes his father brought his own iPod and plugged it into the sound system before anyone else could get to it. It is kind of nice to hear Bing again; usually his husband picks out the Christmas music and he always puts on this version of "Jingle Bells" that is "sung" by barking dogs.

He looks at the Christmas tree mournfully. In past years, he and Christopher cut their own down, but with the hectic life of having a baby, they settled for an artificial one this year. His father has been complaining about it since their parents got there.

His mother's hair is graying these days, he realizes as he watches her hold the baby. "Thanks for letting us come this year," she says for the umpteenth time as she gently rocks the baby up and down. "Your sister won't have us over if Michael's parents are there, so we'd be sitting home yet again."

His husband catches Subotai's eye; he shrugs.

Suddenly his phone vibrates; he pulls it out of his pocket. His simulation has finished running. He opens up the results and reads.

* * *

Multiple realities are one of those mainstays of science fiction. Subotai can remember watching the evil "mirror universe" on Star Trek with his dad. It seems like every show his dad watched had them in it at some point: Doctor Who, Stargate SG-1, Quantum Leap, probably even Transformers. He's pretty sure he talked about this in his Ph.D. applications (he's too embarrassed to check), and it's a good, popular touchstone for the quantum research he does.

There are two things wrong with this. The first is that the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is much less sexy than you'd think by watching mirror Kira kiss mirror Dax on Deep Space Nine; the other universes aren't going to be "evil" universes or "Communist" universes or what have you.

The second problem is that this motivation is a lie. His father was a science fiction fan, of course (the effect of this on Subotai has primarily been his deep abiding obsession with series of profoundly un-literary sci-fi novels), but first and foremost, his father was a professor of English, and Subotai grew up hearing about stories. "Stories," his father might say in a particularly pompous moment, "let us imagine others different to us. And thus they allow us to imagine ourselves as other than we are." Sometimes when high school was cancelled and his parents couldn't arrange childcare he'd end up sitting in on his father's lectures on "The Modern Novel" and hearing about Graham Greene, Toni Morrison, Jeanette Winterson, Rachel Ferguson, and Lawrence Durrell.

So many of these books were about imagining yourself as different than you were. Could author of cheap paperbacks Rollo Martins be a real detective and/or a real literary writer? Could Pecola Breedlove be the kind of beautiful child her mother would love? Could Jeanette be who her mother wanted her to be? Could the Carne sisters leave behind their elaborate fantasy worlds and survive in the real one? Could Darley uncover the real Justine underneath all the layers of stories? So many stories about stories, about how people constructed themselves out of other versions of themselves, left an impression on Subotai.

Would he have been a different person if his parents hadn't named him after a general of Genghis Khan? If his father had taken a tenure-track job in West Virginia and not Florida? If his mother hadn't put her own science research career on hold and become a high school teacher instead?

Even now, he still wondered. What if he had gone home every Christmas instead of working through break? What if that one night with Christopher had gone differently? Physics lets us imagine this, and science fiction literalizes the physics, but underlying both was the stuff of story, the original alternate universe. Subotai had no aptitude for telling or interpreting stories (hence his complete collection of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda tie-in novels), but he could do math, and thus access those other worlds in his own way.

* * *

The results pop up and Subotai is thrown for a loop. The simulation has worked. The results pour down the screen of his smartphone. Suddenly he sees it all. What if he had gone home for Christmas every year? What if he had never left home? All those worlds, all those stories are within his reach  now.

At dinner, he tries to explain it to his parents. His father points out that the timing couldn't be more appropriate. "Arguably the first alternate reality story was also a Christmas story," he says, between popping little smokies into his mouth. "Ebenezer Scrooge is shown the regrets of the past and a dark future, but also given the ability to change it."

After dinner, Subotai goes back to the results. Was it all worth it? he wonders. Home changes and home does not, he changes and he does not, the world changes and the world does not. Christmas is the time of year we are confronted with this more than any other, because whether we go home or not, we are confronted with home in some form.

You sacrifice for your family or you sacrifice your family, but all the same something gets sacrificed. That's all the other stories that you'll tell but you'll never live, all the homes you'll remember but never visit.

* * *

What if he switched with one of those other hims? Two realities claiming him at once. You can always wonder this, and maybe you can even know. You can see how things would have changed if you had been different. At Christmas, the barriers between stories thin, allowing other stories to leak through; that's where you get your A Christmas Carols and your It's a Wonderful Lifes and your One Magic Christmases from.

He tweaks the math and he falls through the barriers between stories, switches places with one of those other selves, having the Christmas he isn't having and cannot have. His family is different but also the same; he is different but also the same. A family who thinks he's different, but refuses to recognize the difference inasmuch as he refuses to recognize theirs.

* * *

Of course that bit didn't happen; this isn't that kind of story. Subotai is good at math, but not that good; good at hearing stories, but not that good at telling them.

Christmas morning he sits down with his parents next to the tree. "I'm sorry I don't come home and I'm sorry I don't call more, but I'm glad I'm with you now," he says, knowing now with mathematical certainty-- even if he always knew with literary certainty-- that there's another world where he's done worse and another world where he's done better, and another world where he changes his behavior now, and another world where he doesn't. All those stories piled on top of each other at Christmas, continuing to change as much as they always have change, coming to an end as they begin.

"God bless us," his father says, "every one of us." The misquotation is appropriate in context, Subotai realizes, thinking of those other Subotais and those other Christmases and those other stories.

Snow doesn't fall.

* * *

People do go back, but they don't survive, because two realities are claiming them at the same time. [...] Going back after a long time will make you mad, because the people that you left behind do not like to think of you changed, will treat you as they always did, accuse you of being indifferent when you are only different.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson 

* * *

Some other story of Christmas.

27 December 2018

The Scientist in Victorian Literature: Professor Eric Grant, Physiologist (The Professor's Wife, 1881)

PDF eBook, 167 pages
Published 1881
Read December 2018
The Professor's Wife: A Story
by Leonard Graham
"What are you talking about, Eric? What can you mean? Have I vexed you?"
     "No, my darling. I am a wretched actor, Beatrice. I ought not to let you see—I am—out of temper tonight," finished Eric, trying to laugh, holding her close to him in a hunger of love, as he accused himself. (112)
This short novel (novella?) mostly focuses on Beatrice Egerton, a young orphan raised by her uncle. While visiting her cousins, Beatrice meets two men of science: the pugnacious, musical, cold, humanitarian Eric Grant and the sensitive Bertram D'Eyencourt. Both men are physiologists, but they take very different approaches to their subject. Grant is the "arch-vivisector," reviled by anti-vivisectionist reformers for the cruelties her pursues in the name of science. Bertram has no ability for practical work; all of his science comes in the form of observation and theorizing. Yet the two men are great friends (Grant saved Bertram's life) and work together, and both men fall in love with Beatrice. Beatrice previously knows of Grant from a book he wrote about his wartime medical humanitarian work, and she accepts his proposal, becoming the "professor's wife" of the title.

Much of the novel is taken up by Grant defending his vivisection; he tells Bertram, "Life is not made up of strawberry cream. Someone must do the painful part of progress" (26). He refuses to tell Beatrice exactly what the study of physiology entails, even once they're married, because she is too pure to know about the horrors of vivisection. So far, so familiar-- it's not too far off others anti-vivisection/scientist novels I've looked at, like Heart and Science and The Beth Book. It also reminds me of Hardy's The Woodlanders.

But there are some important differences that make it really interesting. One is that its vivisectionist genuinely loves his wife. Yes, Grant won't tell her what he does because he knows she'll disapprove, but bound up in it is a real (if patriarchal) desire to protect her. He really struggles with the decision to essentially live a lie: "There was no one to see him in the hour of his fierce struggle between his passion for knowledge and his love. No voice poke audible words of counsel or of warning. The powers of good and evil strove with him in silence" (73). Evil ends up winning.

Some of his intellectual beliefs are sympathetic, too, at least to a modern reader; Grant is a Darwinist (54), and he's more of a feminist than any other character in the book, telling a skeptical Beatrice, "you will see the disabilities of women removed, and the professions thrown open to them; as they ought to be" (37). I don't know enough about Leonard Graham to know if we're meant to sympathize with Grant or Beatrice in these debates (according to At the Circulating Library, no one knows anything about him at all, even whether or not "Leonard Graham" was his real name), but even if we're meant to side with Beatrice (which seems likely), Grant's perspective is rendered with intellectual honesty; he's no strawman.

Unlike some other literary vivisectors, he's not a hypocrite; he really does believe he's doing good by vivisecting, and he doesn't just want to cause pain. As the novel goes on, Beatrice learns more and more about what he does behind the closed door of the laboratory, but Grant won't confirm anything outright, even as she keeps meeting more and more anti-vivisectionists.

Don't read on if you think you'll actually read this book, because its best part was a surprise. (But there's little danger of you reading it, I suspect.) Beatrice comes down with some kind of nervous disease, only vaguely described, and Grant hides it from her, which is where my epigraph comes from. He despairs that the science he's studied his own life cannot do anything for her: "What is our science worth?" (111)

She ends up dying, but after she dies, Bertram discovers that in her final days of life, Grant experimented on her! Not vivisection, but he "induc[ed] abnormal sensibility and play[ed] upon it" (154), because the opportunity represented by her condition was too good to pass up (156). He didn't cause the illness or anything, but with his typical pragmatism, decided that if she was ill, he couldn't miss the opportunity to learn more about the human nervous system!

Bertram breaks off their friendship, becoming a committed antivivisectionist, and Grant ends up spending the rest of his life alone, with nothing but science. The novel's final lines are, "After his wife’s funeral, he resumed his classes and delivered his lectures as usual. The only change visible in him was a growing hardness and indifference, which there was nothing in his inner or outer life to soften. He had buried his one year’s love, and his one friend had left him. From henceforth, his powers were concentrated on science" (158).

So probably not a great book, but a surprisingly interesting one because of how multi-faceted its depiction of a vivisectionist is. I think I'll need to incorporate it into my book.

24 December 2018

Review: Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North

Before we get started, here's my most recent Bernice Summerfield review: Legion.

Acquired June 2016
Read March 2018
Romeo and/or Juliet: a chooseable-path adventure by Ryan North and William Shakespeare and You because you decide what happens next not to mention all the Artists who made some great illustrations so really there's a lot of credit to go around here and that doesn't even mention the editors, designers, and typesetters all of whom do important work that goes unacknowledged all too often

I was effusive in my praise for Ryan North's previous William Shakespeare chooseable-path adventure, To Be or Not To Be. I was much less into Romeo and/or Juliet. What I don't know exactly is why. Romeo and/or Juliet was interesting and fun, but it felt more like work and less like joy than To Be or Not To Be. Was I in the wrong mood? Did the gag wear thin? Or is Hamlet just that much more bonkers than Romeo and Juliet, and thus a better target for Ryan North's irreverent reverence? Two teens so in love that after one day and one fuck they decide to commit double suicide seems bonkers, and North plays with a lot of the story's contrivances, but the book's bizarreness felt staid compared to the previous volume. Also some of the jokes are overused-- okay, breakfast, haha, yes I too love brunch. And while the chooseable-path-adventure-within-a-chooseable-path-adventure of The Murder of Gonzago was completely appropriate for Hamlet, the inclusion of three different ones here felt like irrelevant padding. (They're based on Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the latter has Pyramus and Thisbe nestled within it.)

That said, there's plenty of fun to be had. My favorite part was the secret character; if you "beat" the "game," you get to play as Rosaline, the woman Romeo is in love with before he meets Juliet. Rosaline's narrative is a first-person hard-bitten noir pastiche, trying to solve the mystery of why Romeo's mother conveniently died offstage just before the final scene, and it is fantastic.

I did diagram the novel again, and it did make me appreciate intellectually the work North put into the book, even if aesthetically I was less intrigued by it this time around.

21 December 2018

The Companions of Doctor Who: Graham, Yaz, and Ryan

A couple weeks ago, the eleventh series of the new* Doctor Who came to an end. Lots of takes have been written on it; I've been enjoying Andrew Ellard's "Tweet Notes," which do a great job of analyzing the way the stories are constructed, and often broadly agree with my own takes. (Worst episode: "The Ghost Monument," best episode: "It Takes You Away.")

But I'm not hear to review the series or even Jodie Whittaker's performance; I want to discuss what I think is the most significant format change, which is executive producer Chris Chibnall's increase to three companions.

from 11x03: "Rosa"

New Doctor Who has typically relied on a model of a single companion: Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, Clara. Bill. Even when there are two companions, one is clearly the "main" companion and the other an ancillary figure: Rose and Jack, Rose and Mickey, Martha and Jack, Donna and Martha, Amy and Rory, Bill and Nardole. In each of those pairs, the former has the closer relationship with the Doctor, and is more aligned with the audience; one of Russell T Davies's innovations in the Doctor Who format in 2005 was to re-emphasize the companion as an audience surrogate in a way the show hadn't done since 1973, or arguably 1963. Jack, UNIT-era Martha, and Nardole are all sci-fi characters in a way that Rose, original Martha, Donna, Amy, and Bill aren't. Mickey and Rory might be romantic partners to the female companion, but they are an outsider to her relationship with the Doctor.

The new show's emotions have usually been anchored in the interaction between the Doctor and an individual woman companion.

The classic show stuck with a single companion the majority of the time as well; it's true for for fifteen seasons† (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26). Most of the remaining seasons have two companions most of the time (3, 5, 6, 12, 18, 20, 21). Only four seasons had three companions: the original trio of Susan, Ian, and Barbara (seasons 1-2); Ian, Barbara, and Vicki (2); Ben, Polly, and Jamie (4); and Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa (19).

Three companions makes sense for the programme's original format: you had the mysterious Doctor, his mysterious granddaughter, and then two audience identification figures that also helped fulfill the show's educational mandate, as one knew history and the other science. When Susan left, Vicki replaced her as the "teenage one," but even though she was from the future, she was closer to an audience identification figure. I think when Ian and Barbara left, the production staff realized you don't really need three audience identification figures to make the show's format work, and so from then on it was usually one male and one female companion, until the format was stripped down even more with season 7 in 1970.

from 18x27: Logopolis, Part Three
The main exception is season 19, which was conceived by producer John Nathan-Turner as a self-conscious return to the program's 1960s basics, following the out-thereness of the late Tom Baker era. A less all-knowing Doctor, more explicit links between the end of one story and the beginning of the next, and three companions.

Which, finally, leads me into series 11, because it seem like Chris Chibnall has similar motivations to Nathan-Turner: a return to the programme's basics. A more stripped down title sequence, no complicated story arcs (the hallmark of Steven Moffat's producership), a less all-knowing Doctor... and three companions.

Even in 1982, where most of the stories were 100 minutes long, though, the writers clearly struggled with four main characters. Often one of the companions was substantially sidelined: Adric is captured by the Master for most of Castrovalva, Nyssa sleeps through most of Kinda, none of the companions get much to do in The Visitation, Nyssa keeps being left in the TARDIS in Earthshock.

Series 11 doesn't sideline them so obviously; most of the time all three companions are right in the thick of the action with the Doctor. But that's the problem: all three of them are right there. The Doctor doesn't need three people to stand there and go "what's that, Doctor?" One of the most inexplicable parts of "The Ghost Monument" is that it's about a race through space, and the Doctor and Yaz fall in with one racer, and Graham and Ryan the other... but within minutes all six characters are back together, co-operating! It removes all sense of urgency from the race, but also means that we've missed an opportunity to see how the Doctor and Yaz relate, and how Ryan and Graham relate.

Without distinct subplots (as most ensemble shows do to let their casts pop), you're left hoping for little moments to get to know these characters better. This has worked for some better than others. In order of favorite to least:


from 11x04: "Arachnids in the UK"
Graham is a big favorite in the Mollmann household. He's something different for the new show, an older male companion. More importantly, Bradley Walsh's performance is consistently strong; he does great with both the emotional moments and the comic ones-- and the writers seem to have noticed this, as they give him both emotional moments and comic ones. More than the other two companions, in those bits where all three stand there and prompt the Doctor to deliver exposition, he manages to do so in a characterful way. Often by being faintly amused or put off by the whole thing. In that regard he's like Nardole from series 10; he obviously likes the Doctor a lot, but he's less willing to take her seriously.

Graham's two modes of success were demonstrated well in the penultimate episode, "It Takes You Away." Near the beginning, the TARDIS encounter a kid who's been on her own for a while; Graham pulls a cheese-and-pickle sandwich out of his pocket:

It's a characterful moment that shows off Graham's practicality and also skewers 55 years of Doctor Who; as far as I know, no previous companion has ever complained about how infrequently they must eat on adventures.

But in the same episode, we see Graham's melancholy side. I don't want to spoil it, but there's this bit where you realize something that's going to happen to him just moments ahead, and I think I actually gasped when I realized, so much have I come to like Graham.


from 11x02: "The Ghost Monument"
I like the idea of Yaz. A young, female, Pakistani police officer, not taken seriously by her colleagues, but wanting to do good in the world. Unfortunately, it seems like the writers continuously forget this! In "Arachnids in the UK," a man is waving around an illegal firearm, and Yaz doesn't react any differently than her middle-aged middle-manager mother. Like, she should have trained for this. Oddly, this episode was written by Chris Chibnall... the man who invented the character. This seems to happen a lot to Yaz; in "The Tsuranga Conundrum," it's Graham who notices someone is stealing supplies and confronts him over it. These moments seem tailor-made for Yaz to show us her stuff, but she just stands there.

When her character is communicated, it's in really awful exposition; in "The Ghost Monument," she just specifies her family situation for the benefit of the audience: "You're making me miss my family. That's quite some achievement, considering my dad drives me bananas and my sister's trying to get me to move out so she can have my bedroom. And I only saw them yesterday."

Which is a shame, because Mandip Gill does a good job when the writing does give her something to do. "It Takes You Away" has a nice moment where she calms a kid down relying on her police training; her and Ryan share a quiet moment discussing racial discrimination in "Rosa." In "The Witchfinders," she's actually sent off to talk to a witness about a death! I also like how she seems to have bonded with the Doctor the most of the three companions, though too often this takes the form of the Doctor spewing exposition at her.


from 11x01: "The Woman Who Fell to Earth"
I feel like Ryan is meant to be the Rose/Bill companion archetype, the person who's had a humdrum life to whom the Doctor reveals the possibilities of the universe. The first episode is framed by him; he's our audience identification figure.

Nothing that he actually does on screen in later episodes nails this; usually he's just there. Rose would experience awe at the universe, allowing you to understand why she travelled with the doctor, but Ryan isn't given any moments like this. "Kerblam!" is probably his best episode, because when the characters all go undercover at Space Amazon, we get an indication of how humdrum his pre-Doctor life was. But most of the time he's just there, and when his character does emerge, it's primarily in relation to Graham, his step-grandfather. More than the other two, I don't get why he's there or what he's meant to contribute. Some have criticized Tosin Cole's acting, but I'm not sure he's given something to act often enough to know. (Like everyone else, he had great moments in "It Takes You Away.")

The Fam

from 11x09: "It Takes You Away"
Some have suggested that the problem of three companions is one of running time. Doctor Who used to have 45 minutes and two main characters; now it has 50 minutes and four main characters. But I'm not entirely convinced. In season 19, the show couldn't manage four main characters in 100 minutes. The problem wasn't running time; the problem was a showrunner for whom characterization was never a particular skill. I think the same is true here, too.

Not to turn this into an "it was better in the old days" thing, but give Russell T Davies 50 minutes and four characters, and you would know every single one of them by the end of the first episode. The man is a master of writing real people whose dialogue communicates plot and character at the same time, because for Davies, plot is character. Chibnall is one of those writers for who plot and character feel separate, like they get in the way of one another. Can't do character now, because the plot has got to move along; okay, stop the plot, so someone can say something about their backstory. Compare the elegance of Rose's second episode, "The End of the World," with the awkward construction of the the fam's second episode, "The Ghost Monument."

It's telling that a lot of the best moments for this cast have come in non-Chibnall episodes: "Kerblam!", "The Witchfinders," and "It Takes You Away" were probably my three favorite episodes of the series, and they all had the most for those characters to do, and did the best job of working the character into the plot.

from 11x07: "Kerblam!"
It's also telling that the characters don't all seem to relate to each other. I feel like we have Doctor-Yaz, Doctor-Graham, and Graham-Ryan. The first couple episodes set up Yaz-Ryan. But there's no Yaz-Graham (they don't even talk until "Demons of the Punjab," episode 6) or Doctor-Ryan. In an ensemble of four, it's criminal to have some cross relationships so poorly defined.

A good ensemble can be a great thing, and after ten series of Doctor Who as a buddy show, I'm interested to see how it can be done as an ensemble show. But the key to a good ensemble is a set of strong characters who interact with each other in interesting ways, and so far Doctor Who is not delivering on that as often as it ought.

* Thirteen years new, in fact!
† I'm going to follow a common fan convention here and use "season" for the classic programme and "series" for the new one.

20 December 2018

The Scientist in Victorian Literature: Archibald Thorpe, Geologist (Wooers and Winners, 1879)

PDF eBook, 310 pages
Published 1880 (originally 1879)
Read December 2018
Wooers and Winners; or, Under the Scars: A Yorkshire Story, Vols. I–III
by Mrs. G. Linnæus Banks
Allan's letter had set the scientific enthusiast thinking for the time being; but the lines of thought crossed and diverged, and soon his fears for his stepson were lost in the reminder of his other promise to Honest John, and in the gathering up of ideas and the marshalling of facts for the lectures to be written. (1: 226-27)
I've set a goal for myself this winter break of reading all the Victorian scientist novels I've never got around to, or discovered after reading for my exams and dissertation, because my aim is to submit a book proposal soon, and I want to make sure I haven't missed anything important before I do my revisions. That leads me to this clunkily titled novel, which was serialized in 1879 and published in three volumes in 1880.

Mostly it's a tale of a cluster of connected characters with, as the use of "wooers" indicates, some emphasis on who is engaged to whom. One character, Mr. Archibald Thorpe, is a man of science, specifically an amateur geologist; he's not a focal character, but his children and step-children are (he's the "scientific enthusiast" in the above quotation). To be honest, it's all terribly tedious. I didn't care about any of these characters or who they married or who they stole from or where they went to school. Like a lot of mediocre novelists, Banks manages to spin very little incident out into hundred of pages.

My own interests didn't even find very much to work with, because Mr. Thorpe's scientific perceptions very rarely entered into the book at first, until all of a sudden at the end of the first volume, where someone tells him something about his stepson Allan he really ought to have noticed before: "Mr. Thorpe, who had more knowledge of plants and stones than of humanity, opened his eyes in amazement" (1: 219). The narrator later amplifies this by saying, "why should a man, pondering the occult secrets of creation, be expected to note the actions or development of young people, even though one should be his own? The fossilized past had a more intelligent voice for him than had the human present" (1: 301). Like Swithin St. Cleeve in Hardy's Two on a Tower (published three years later), Thorpe's focus on cosmic immensities makes it difficult for his vision to alight upon particularities, only in this case, it's deep time, not deep space, that has trained his vision.

Mr. Thorpe is kind of your typical abstracted scientist who cares little for day-to-day matters (his stepdaughter basically has to raise his daughter for him when his wife / their mother dies), though when he's recruited to give geological lessons to the general public, he actually acquits himself fairly well. (Unlike Margaret Hale's father in the television version of North and South, also set in the North.) But speaking to and understanding the general public is a very different thing from his own children: "intent on the enlightenment of the masses, his mental vision had so wide and comprehensive a range, it is small wonder the inconsiderable individual on his own hearthstone were overlooked" (1: 301-02). So three hundred pages and nearly one volume in, I finally got excited by the book.

PDF eBook, 300 pages
Published 1880 (originally 1879)
Read December 2018
Unfortunately, that's pretty much it for interesting things done by Archibald Thorpe. He largely sits out the second volume, which focuses on his boring children and stepchildren. He does pop up at its end again to be chastised by his stepdaughter for the fact that he is a bad candidate for sitting vigil at the bedside of his dying stepson: "Your mind would be lost among the stalactites and stalagmites of our caverns… in search of something rare and fresh for your collection, when Allan might want his pillow eased, or his shoulders covered, or his physic administered" (2: 205). But that's about it, and don't we know how bad men of science are at dealing with people by now?

Allan's near death (he's about to be buried when his sister realizes he's still breathing, very faintly) is the highlight of volume II, but again it's a small chuck of a large stretch. Volume III is the dullest part of the whole novel, focusing more than any other volume on "wooing" (I'm not sure where "winning" comes in), though we do learn than a man of science makes a better mine owner than someone trained in classical literature, because as Martin (Mr. Thorpe's ward) tells us, literature "foster[s] the romance in my nature" too much (3: 108).

PDF eBook, 286 pages
Published 1880 (originally 1879)
Read December 2018
By this point, Mr. Thorpe himself has pretty much vanished. And then he does so literally; one day he goes off on a geological expedition into a cave he's discovered, and he just never comes back! (3: 242-43) This seems like it could be exciting-- how far will a man's devotion to science take him?-- but it's told to us in retrospect without any detail. So much for a guy who had been a principal character.

So, all in all, not a particularly good novel, and from my perspective, not a particularly interesting one, either. Archibald Thorpe definitely fits into my general theory of the vision of the Victorian scientist, but he's so generic that he doesn't tell us anything new that we couldn't find in better novels by better authors.

19 December 2018

Review: Bernice Summerfield: The Slender-Fingered Cats of Bubastis by Xanna Eve Chown

Hardcover, 239 pages
Published 2012
Acquired July 2018
Read December 2018
Bernice Summerfield: The Slender-Fingered Cats of Bubastis
by Xanna Eve Chown

One feels a little churlish when one criticizes a book for not being something it never claimed it wanted to be, but The Slender-Fingered Cats of Bubastis is an enormous missed opportunity for Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield range. The third box set, Legion, sees the series bedding into a new status quo, with Benny and Ruth joining Irving Braxiatel, the mysterious Jack (from Epoch), and Benny's son Peter on the frontier planet of Legion. Only the new set-up is kind of sketchy, with the relationships between the characters only vaguely defined.

Given that, a novel seems like an ideal opportunity. During the later part of the range's Braxiatel Collection era, it was the prose works that really made that set-up work. Series five through eight really benefited from running in parallel with books like A Life Worth Living, A Life in Pieces, Parallel Lives, Collected Works, and Nobody's Children that could flesh out the people and places of the Braxiatel Collection. Obviously I liked the audios a lot, but I don't think Bev Tarrant would be half the character she was without the novellas; I don't think I'd have any sense of what the Collection was like as a place to live without the day-to-day stuff that's much better captured in print than on audio.

It's strange, then, that the tie-in novel for the Legion box set (all of which takes place in or near Legion) takes Benny off Legion, on Yet Another Generic Space Archaeology Adventure. Benny's travelling companions aside, this novel could take place during any era of the character. But at this point, I want to know what makes this era tick. It's especially noticeable in the novel's opening scenes: I get why Ruth goes with Benny on her "mission," but why is Jack even there? Benny first met Jack as a mysterious interloper in the Epoch scenarios in Epoch; then he popped up working in Braxiatel's bar when Benny got to Legion. But why is Jack on Legion? And what is he to Benny? Slender-Fingered Cats informs us that Benny "had become so used to being around Jack that she hardly noticed his eyes any more" (13), but from my perspective, they've spent barely any time together. This novel could have showed the beginnings of their relations with one another, but instead it starts with one already existing. Why does Braxiatel's bartender join Benny and Ruth on their archaeological exploits? No explanation is provided in this novel (nor in the Legion audios). He just does.

I feel that what this novel ought to have been is an adventure on Legion itself (like in its tie-in audio set), allowing the range to flesh out that milieu and its characters so that they can serve as the basis for the ongoing series. Then send Benny off-world to do whatever.

It's a shame, because this is actually a decent novel. Not a great book, but an enjoyable one. Chown crams it full of ideas and concepts (sometimes too many; not sure what the library of books from the future really added), and keeps things light without making them insubstantial. There are some good jokes I actually laughed aloud at. Chown's also great at capturing the voices of all three main characters: I could hear Lisa Bowerman, Ayesha Antoine, and David Ames saying these lines. In fact, this is the first Bernice Summerfield story to give Jack a meaningful role, and I found myself warming to him; he provides a new kind of dynamic for Benny to play off. The end of the book kind of wraps things up without much of an actual role for Benny, but otherwise it was enjoyable.

It's just not the book the range needed at this time.

(Also, between this story and "Paradise Frost" in Road Trip, supposed most distant planet in the galaxy is a short cruise from not one, but two popular space resorts.)

((Though, the dust jacket is a matte finish, instead of glossy, which had me inordinately excited. I love matte finish, but Big Finish have never used it before or since.))

18 December 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Grief Collector by Justin Richards

Hardcover, 36 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read March 2018
Doctor Who: The Grief Collector
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

I... actually kind of liked this? It's a short, creepy tale that mixes a fairy tale devil's bargain type story with a Doctor Who-ish alien maguffin. Not amazing, but it does exactly what I wanted the stories in this series to do in the first place, but which it so rarely has accomplished. Huzzah, I guess.

In Three Weeks: A side-step for Christmas, in fact it's The Christmas Invasion!

17 December 2018

Review: Little Me by Matt Lucas

Speaking of Doctor Who, my most recent reviews are up at USF: Hour of the Cybermen, featuring the return of David Banks, the greatest Cyber Leader! Road Trip, featuring Bernice Summerfield, on a quest to find her son! Red Planets, featuring Mel, enthusiastic booster for communism! And The Quantum Possibility Engine, featuring the long-awaited return of Toby Longworth as Josiah W. Dogbolter, once a blustering business mogul, now president of the solar system!

Trade paperback, 321 pages
Published 2018 (originally 2017)

Acquired and read November 2018
little me: My autobiography
by Matt Lucas

This is the autobiography of Matt Lucas, who I primarily know as Nardole, the Doctor's companion in series 10 of Doctor Who. This book covers most of his life as a comedian and actor. It's told in a series of lettered chapters (e.g., B for "Baldy!", H for "Haberdashers' Aske's Boy's School," T for "The TARDIS") and you can read them in any order (I read "The TARDIS" first, naturally), but they work best as written, because Lucas references earlier chapters in later ones, even when he doesn't go in strict chronological order.

It's pretty interesting and pretty charming. I found the chapters about the evolution of Lucas's comedy career the most interesting, as he went from having a weird character as a stand-up act to being the brains behind Little Britain, an absolute national sensation. I like this kind of show business story, the kind that give me insight into a world I know nothing of (British stand-up), and Lucas peppers it with great anecdotes. I suppose I really must watch Little Britain now. The story of Lucas's youth is good, as is his discussion of his homosexuality. Also some of the stuff about how he went bald as a child is hilarious.

I didn't think the chapter "Idiot" did quite what he wanted to it; Lucas is really rather awful to an innocent hotel manager in it, and doesn't seem to have self-awareness about it. And maybe the chapter about food goes into a bit more detail than one really cares to hear.

The Doctor Who chapter is among the best, not because he gives any particular insight into the show (though I did learn a little), but because it's the most he discusses his partner Kevin, to whom he was married only eighteen month before Kevin left him for someone he met in rehab... and then eighteen months after that, Kevin committed suicide. Kevin was a massive Doctor Who fan, and the show meant so much to him-- and thus to Matt. Despite the misstep of "Idiot," the overall impression Lucas gives of himself is of a hard-working charming man whose successes are deserved, even if occasionally his ego gets the better of him. It was a quick read, and a highly enjoyable one.

14 December 2018

Review: Marvel Rising by Devin Grayson, et al.

Marvel Rising is a five-part story that confusingly runs through one #0 issue and four #1s; it's hard for me to imagine someone outside the comic book faithful being able to figure this out. I mean, what's the different between Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl & Ms. Marvel #1 and Marvel Rising: Ms. Marvel & Squirrel Girl #1, and why do they contain parts 2 and 3 of an ongoing story, which also has a part 0? The story unites Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, America Chavez, and some guy called (for real) Dante Inferno who I never heard of; despite the covers, Captain Marvel, Falcon, Spider-Gwen, and whoever the girl wearing purple with purple hair is never put in appearances.

Since the closure of ComicsAlliance, I barely consume comic book news anymore, so I wouldn't have known this comic even existed if my local comic shop owner hadn't stuck Marvel Rising: Alpha #1 in my pull list on the basis that I read Ms. Marvel. He's always doing stuff like this, and I'm forever telling him that no, I don't want any Transformers comic that's not Lost Light, but this time I was happy to go for it, since Marvel Rising is partially co-written by G. Willow Wilson, writer of Ms. Marvel.

It's a fun enough story, and I'm glad I read it. The best parts are probably the first couple installments. In her civilian identity of Doreen Green, Squirrel Girl is volunteering at a coding camp for high schoolers, which Ms. Marvel is attending in her civilian identity of Kamala Khan. It turns out that one of the other classmates is a budding supervillain, with the ability to make things in computer games come to life.

Thus we get a lot of secret identity hijinks, as Kamala must fight back without her teachers figuring out she's Ms. Marvel, and Doreen must fight back without her students figuring out she's Squirrel Girl. Writer Devin Grayson is good at capturing the charming side of both characters, and it's especially well done when in part 2, Ryan North and G. Willow Wilson step in to write the segments featuring their own characters themselves. In part 3, there are lots of good jokes about videogames, and Kamala's enthusiasm for them. Also, North's comedic captions are super-fun, and you have to love the way having the powers of a squirrel is taken semi-seriously.

Additionally, I really like the artwork of Irene Strychalski, who draws the North-penned Squirrel Girl segments in parts 2 and 3; it has some nice cartoony energy to it, and I'd read an ongoing comic about any of these characters drawn by her. (Cover-wise, the covers by Gurihiru, who I primarily know from their work on Avatar: The Last Airbender are excellent, particularly the video-game themed ones, but my favorite of all the covers was the one by Elsa Charretier on part 3, which is the one I've emphasized at the top of this page. I wasn't previously familiar with her work, but it's clearly excellent. I'm less enamored with the variants by Rian Gonzalez, but thankfully I only ended up with his work on part 4.)

Unfortunately, the last couple parts don't quite deliver on the potential of the first couple. The characters spend much of the second half trapped in a videogame world; this concept has been done worse than this, but it's still somewhat flat. I did like that the story focused less on "if-you-die-in-the-game-you-die-in-real-life!" perils, and more on the attempts of the group to break the parameters of the game in order to escape, but the rules still came across as arbitrary. Also, in part 2, there's this whole subplot about how the villain can't create matter, just borrow it and change its characteristics, but by parts 3 and 4, this clearly is not the case, and none of the ideas referenced in part 2 ever come up again, so I'm not sure why they were included to begin with.

Being a miniseries outside of the characters' main series means that this can never have the impact that a "real" Ms. Marvel comic has, and it has less of her civilian life too, but it still captures what I like about her and by extension the rest of its cast of characters. This is a fun comic that's worth your time if you have an interest in any of the four central characters, just 1) don't be fooled by the characters on the covers, and 2) don't be confused by the bizarre numbering.

Marvel Rising was originally published in Marvel Rising #0, Marvel Rising: Alpha #1, Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl & Ms. Marvel #1, Marvel Rising: Ms. Marvel & Squirrel Girl #1, and Marvel Rising: Omega #1 (June-Nov. 2018). The story was written by Devin Grayson (parts 0-4), Ryan North (parts 2-3), and G. Willow Wilson (parts 2-3); illustrated by Marco Failla (part 0), Georges Duarte (parts 1 & 4), Irene Strychalski (parts 2-3), Ramón Bachs (parts 2-3), and Roberto Di Salvo (part 4); colored by Rachelle Rosenberg; lettered by Clayton Cowles; and edited by Heather Antos and Sarah Brunstad.

11 December 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Three Brothers Gruff by Justin Richards

Hardcover, 37 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read March 2018
Doctor Who: The Three Brothers Gruff
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

This book isn't even a riff on a fairy tale, it's just The Sontaran Experiment all over again with three brothers. Like, it's basically a blow-by-blow rip-off of what wasn't a very good story. Jesus Christ, Justin Richards, make it stop.

Next Week: A creepy man comes to town in The Grief Collector!

10 December 2018

Review: The Expanse: Gods of Risk by James S.A. Corey

Kindle eBook, 68 pages
Published 2012

Acquired and read October 2018
Gods of Risk: An Expanse Novella
by James S.A. Corey

Gods of Risk picks up the story of Bobbie Draper, Martian ex-marine, after the events of Caliban's War, though it's entirely told from the perspective of her nephew. (Bobbie is staying with her brother; the nephew has a side hustle making drugs that lands him in trouble.) It's okay. Bobbie is great, of course, but everything else here is pretty generic stuff. The story doesn't really make use of its setting, so it barely even feels sfnal. It could really be set anywhere, not necessarily on future Mars, and that makes it disappointing. I'd like to see these shorts expand the universe of The Expanse, but that's not happening here.

07 December 2018

U.S. 20 in 20

Some people, I think, are born yearning for a road trip, born with the desire to hit the open road and discover America. Though I went on my fair share as a child, I don't think that I ever tapped into that particular quintessential Americanism myself. Journeys are all about where you end up, of course, and maybe reading a book in the back seat. ("Look out the window!" my father used to shout, perhaps the only man in America whose children liked reading too much.)

Moving to Connecticut gave me a greater appreciation for America's vast network of highways, as I drove between Ohio and Connecticut some two through four times per year. I became familiar with the ascending lift of I-71, the never-ending straightness of I-80, the mountainous wiggling of I-81, and the treacherous turns and left exits of I-84. I began to delight in plotting out courses, in figuring out weird and off-beat ways of getting where I wanted to go, that shaved off one minute or took me through an interesting sight. After so many years of the 84-81-80-71 cycle, I began to switch it up, taking the Merritt Parkway out of Connecticut, and plunging the mysterious depths of the Delaware Water Gap on I-80.

(I realized that Ben Wyatt was my Parks and Rec character in the episode "How a Bill Becomes a Law" when he excitedly tries to explain the alternate route he made up to April, and she doesn't care a bit. I didn't even realize I was part of a type.)

I'm not sure exactly when my desire to drive U.S. 20 began to emerge, but I think it was because in relatively quick succession I ended up driving on U.S. 20 in the Cleveland area (it passes within three miles of my father-in-law's house) and in the Boston area (use it right, and you can get out of Cambridge without paying any tolls). Separated by six miles, but the same road. And like all the 0-ending U.S. highways, it just keeps going west, out to Newport, Oregon.

Looking at the map, I started to realize it actually went some neat places-- Chicago, the Nebraska Sandhills, Yellowstone National Park, Craters of the Moon. And somehow I got it my head that I should drive. In 20 days. (Why? I mean, obviously it sounds good, that's why.) U.S. 20 is the longest U.S. numbered highway, and in travelling it, I could discover America. I worked it out years ago already, dividing it into 20 segments of 150-200 miles apiece.

This is the road trip I want to make. God knows when I actually will. Well, if I actually will.

#498: What would your fantasy road trip be like?

06 December 2018

Review: Femininity, Mathematics and Science, 1880-1914 by Claire G. Jones

Hardcover, 264 pages
Published 2009
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2018
Femininity, Mathematics and Science, 1880-1914
by Claire G. Jones

Claire Jones's monograph looks at the opportunities and cultural transformations that affected women in science and mathematics around the end of the nineteenth century. This was the era of professionalization and institutionalization, processes which made it harder for women to practice science and mathematics: for example, there were (proportionally) more women researched in mathematics in the late nineteenth century than in the 1960s. Jones explores these questions primarily by following the trajectory of two different female researchers: the electrical engineer Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923, stepmother of the author of The Call, which follows a fictional female chemist before and during the Great War) and the mathematician Grace Chisholm Young (1868-1914). Jones places Ayrton's and Young's work at opposite ends of a spectrum from one another, with Young performing the purely intellectual work of mathematics, and Ayrton in the hands-on world of engineering.

Jones is good at exploring the complexities of these issue and not oversimplifying. At the same time mathematics was seen as more feminine because of its passivity and disconnection from the world (4-5, 18), it was also seen as being too intellectually rigorous for the female capacity (9-10, 18). You might not encounter anything inappropriate as a woman studying mathematics (unlike in history!) but studying it might also sap your vital energy (18).

Grace Young refused to get married because she thought celibacy was needed to make it as a career woman (43), but two decades later, she argued that women needed the superior minds of men (36). She wrote a book called Mother Nature's Girl about how women served the nation by being mothers...* but she left the raising of her own children to her sister-in-law (52)! This is because she was serving her husband; he was trying to make it as a "genius" essentially, and he would could up with the big ideas, and she would do the mathematical gruntwork require to prove them (44, 106). Most of his publications were their joint work, but because he was the one with more professional opportunities thanks to his sex, her name was often omitted (96, 109-10).

Men ought to have practical goals in science, but Hertha Ayrton was criticized as being too practical; women were supposed to love science for its own sake (89). Much of the issue was that science was professionalizing, which meant demonstrating a certain level of seriousness: but the inclusion of middle-class women connoted amateurism (83) and domesticity (112). Women were able to participate in the laboratory when it was in the home, but as science moved out of the home and into the professional apace, "women were marooned in the domestic sphere" (118), left behind in a location where either their science would not be taken seriously, or where it could not be done at all. Ayrton lost access to professional laboratories when her husband (a professor) died; she had just been using the laboratories at Central Technical College, where he worked (130).

This just scratches the surface of what Jones uses the experience of Ayrton and Young to reveal. There are times the book feels like it leans too heavily into minutiae, but overall, it provides a complicated, fascinating, interesting, and useful portrait of important aspects of a key transitional moment in the history of science. I look forward to using it as a lens to supplement my interpretation of the small range of novels from this period that feature women of science; I can definitely see its applications to both Wells's Ann Veronica (which Jones mentions) and Collins's Heart and Science (which she does not).

* She was, in fact, an admirer of Sarah Grand, and a proponent of eugenic feminism.

04 December 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Three Little Sontarans by Justin Richards

Hardcover, 36 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read January 2018
Doctor Who: The Three Little Sontarans
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

The only two things I remember about this book is that 1) Sontarans are in it, because of the title, and 2) it's not actually worth remembering, none of these books are. Why am I doing this to myself? These books are such wastes of a beautiful premise.

Next Week: More triads: The Three Brothers Gruff!

03 December 2018

Reading Roundup Wrapup: November 2018

Pick of the month: The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. I mean, it's arguable that I read better books this month in the sense that I read books that completely set out to do what they do. (The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, for example, or little me.) But when it comes to ambition and complexity, nothing I read this month rivals the second Baru Cormorant book, and certainly nothing will stick with me as long.

All books read:
1. The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson
2. The New Doctor Who Adventures: Zamper by Gareth Roberts
3. Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
4. Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor by John Byrne
5. Bernice Summerfield: The Weather On Versimmon by Matthew Griffiths
6. little me: My autobiography by Matt Lucas
7. The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
8. Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume One: The Path to Nowhere by Welles Hartley and Mick Harrison
9. Femininity, Mathematics and Science, 1880-1914 by Claire G. Jones
10. Black Bolt: Home Free by Saladin Ahmed

Numbers are up slightly. Yay!

All books acquired:
1. Deucalion, also, The King of the Golden River, The Eagle's Nest, Arrows of the Chace by John Ruskin
2. little me: My autobiography by Matt Lucas
3. Machineries of Empire, Book Three: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
4. The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming with Vivienne Michel

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 653 (down 3)
Books remaining on "To review" list: 15 (up 5)