31 January 2019

The Scientist in Victorian Literature: Professor Fontaine, Chemist (Jezebel's Daughter, 1880)

I was about to say today's Unreality SF review (the Gothic audio drama Blind Terror) isn't like today's book review at all, but I guess there is some similarity between Wilkie Collins and Gothic audio drama.

Trade paperback, 266 pages
Published 2016 (originally 1879-80)
Acquired and r
ead January 2019
Jezebel's Daughter by Wilkie Collins
‘I can understand the murderess becoming morally intoxicated with the sense of her own tremendous power. A mere human creature—only a woman, Julie!—armed with the means of secretly dealing death around her, wherever she goes—meeting with strangers who displease her, looking at them quietly, and saying to herself, “I doom you to die, before you are a day older”’ (77)
I read this book afraid it would contain a female scientist. Not only have I previously published a claim that that was first done in a later novel, but that later novel was also by Wilkie Collins; it seems rather embarrassing to overlook one Collins novel in the rush to establish the importance of another. Somehow, I did not hear of this novel until much more recently. I am safe, however. Jezebel's Daughter is about a woman using scientifically created poisons, but she herself did not create them. Madame Fontaine's late husband was a genius chemist, but she can do nothing more than follow the directions for administering and curing poison he left behind; she cannot even create more of them.

Professor Fontaine dies on the first page of the novel, however, meaning that there is nothing here that will really factor into my project on fictional Victorian scientists. What we hear of him, though, bears many traces of the stereotypical scientist. Madame Fontaine at first loved her husband, and pinned her hopes on him having a distinguished career, but even though he was a medical doctor, he gave it up for a life of experimental science, which had much less social possibility. She bemoans to a friend, "you have married a Man! Happy woman! I am married to a Machine" (75). At the height of his ambition, he becomes what she calls an "Animated Mummy," so lean and dirty is he as he neglects almost everything in his pursuit of chemical discoveries (75).

There's also a Hungarian chemist, never named, but described as "the most extraordinary experimental chemist living" and "[t]he new Paracelsus" (74). He's the one who bequeaths the formulas for the poisons to Professor Fontaine, and he's the one who inspires Professor Fontaine to sink his whole career into experimental chemistry. But he commits suicide, seemingly for scientifically logical reasons: "After giving it a fair trial, I find that life is not worth living for. I have decided to destroy myself with a poison of my own discovery. [...] [M]y body is presented as a free gift to the anatomy school. Let a committee of surgeons and analysts examine my remains. I defy them to discover a trace of the drug that has killed me" (76). He feels like a forerunner for Doctor Nathan Benjulia in Heart and Science (1882-83), a vaguely foreign, sinister, Godless presence lurking at the margins of the novel and enabling some of its darkest moments, but not directly involved in the main plot. (Unlike in Heart and Science, where the villainous Mrs. Gallilee admires Benjulia, Madame Fontaine plainly disapproves of the Hungarian.)

This novel also feels like a forerunner for Heart and Science in its exploration of female villainy. Like Mrs. Gallilee, Madame Fontaine is a strange mix of femininity and anti-femininity. She departs from social mores, but one sense the novel doesn't entirely disapprove of her: it's set in 1828, but narrated retrospectively from the time of publication (1879-80), and the narrator occasionally comments that things were different for women then, they had less options. (The narrator's aunt is the director of a trading company that employs many women, and this is figured as unusual.) So when Madame Fontaine poisons people, you can kind of understand where she's coming from in a society often arrayed against women, as the epigraph above reveals, or the following delightfully villainous speech: "Power! […] The power that I have dream of all my life is mine at last! Alone among mortal creatures, I have Life and Death for my servants. […] What a position! I stand here, a dweller in a popular city—and every creature in it, from highest to lowest, is a creature in my power!" (145)

Like Mrs. Gallilee, Madame Fontaine is pursuing motherly ends through un-motherly means. She simply wants her daughter to be happy-- but is willing to stop at nothing to make it happen. But also like Mrs. Gallilee, she's often obsessed with the appearance of propriety over actual propriety; she refuses to moderate her spending when the family coffers begin running low, insisting it is simply not done, and she must live in the manner to which she has become accustomed. It is a monstrous femininity, its strengths and weaknesses all magnified to dangerous proportions. If you've already read Heart and Science, then, Jezebel's Daughter very much comes across as the dry run for it; in a sense, Heart and Science just takes the husband's scientific sensibility and transfers it to his wife; Mrs. Gallilee is everything Madame Fontaine is with the addition of seeing like a scientist.

Jezebel's Daughter is like Heart and Science in one final way: it is very much minor Collins. There's none of the thrills or mysteries of The Woman in White or The Moonstone or No Name to be found here. It has its moments, but Collins can do better.

30 January 2019

Review: Star Wars: Purge by John Ostrander, Alexander Freed, et al.

Comic trade paperback, 124 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 2005-13)
Acquired August 2014 

Read December 2018
Star Wars: Purge

Script: John Ostrander, Haden Blackman, Alexander Freed
Art: Douglas Wheatley, Jim Hall and Alex Lei & Mark McKenna, Chris Scalf, Marco Castiello & Andrea Chella
Colors: Ronda Pattison, Michael Atiyeh
Lettering: Michael David Thomas, Michael Heisler

The contents of this collection-- five issues published across seven years-- overlap chronologically with that of Dark Times, so I read it alongside it. It's okay, but not great, but I doubt it could be great: a series of one-shots about Darth Vader hunting down Jedi after Revenge of the Sith can pretty much only go one way again and again. In each story, some minor Jedi character challenges Vader. Usually, the character has appeared in two previous issues since 1999, or perhaps they've never appeared anywhere before at all. Guess what? They go down. Hard.

Obviously most of the stories are trying to give us emotional insight into Vader after his fall, but there's not a lot to give: Vader is angry, even more so than Palpatine wants. Well, sure. The best story in this regard is the third, "The Hidden Blade" by Haden Blackman and Chris Scalf, where Vader's anger actually causes some conflict, getting in the way of his mission. I also liked the final story, "The Tyrant's Fist" by Alexander Freed, Marco Castiello, and Andrea Chella, because a lot of it was told from the perspective of a young Imperial officer, using her to show how the galaxy is adapting to the lack of the Jedi, as they have to be eradicated not just physically, but from the hearts and minds of the people. So a couple decent stories, a couple okay ones. You could do worse, but most of the people involved in this have done better.

29 January 2019

Review: Doctor Who: Jak and the Wormhole by Justin Richards

While I'm discussing Doctor Who, I am back in action at Unreality SF after a couple weeks off, with a review of the first four episodes of Torchwood series 6: God Among Us 1.

Hardcover, 37 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read July 2018
Doctor Who: Jak and the Wormhole
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

I do like that in this BBC Books prestige product designed to lure in people who like Matt Smith there's a whole book that's just an adaptation of 1979-80's The Horns of Nimon, notoriously one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever made. This is actually a somewhat fun Jack and the Beanstalk riff, and sure, why not end the series with it? I enjoyed it more than most of the volumes.

Next Week: On to a new reading project: I catch up on the Star Trek fiction of the Destiny era!

28 January 2019

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Trade paperback, 359 pages
Published 2018
Acquired July 2018
Read August 2018
Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

The first Wayfarers/Galactic Commons novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, didn't do much for me, as it was aimless and conflict-free, but I did end up enjoying the emotional journey of the second, A Closed and Common Orbit, so I picked up the third, Record of a Spaceborn Few. It's a lot like Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140, in that we follow a group of disparate protagonists as a way into seeing a futuristic society. Unlike New York 2140, though, the connections between strands are slight. A couple of the characters briefly meet during the novel, but there's no unifying plot.

It wants to be a book about the conflict between tradition and modernization: in the future, humanity has abandoned Earth for the Exodus Fleet, but once humanity discovers the Galactic Commons, more and more humans are leaving the Fleet for a more grounded life. So what's the point of the Exodus Fleet and Exodan tradition? But this was closer to the Long Way end of the Becky Chambers spectrum. The individual stories mostly left me cold, though every now and again there'd be a striking scene or moment, such as the Exodan funeral ceremony. I just feel like the characters and the themes don't have the depth needed to make Chambers's slice-of-life style storytelling work. Probably this will be my last Galactic Commons novel unless future installments are Hugo finalists again.

25 January 2019

The Mollmann Call

When I was in grad school, I used to workshop my creative writing with a group of fellow graduate students. I think it was when we were doing my novel about Doctor McCoy, that one of my friends observed, "Doctor McCoy is the quintessential Steve Mollmann protagonist: in love with the world, and in love with complaining about the world." Like so many things people say when critiquing your work, I immediately realized it was true even though I'd never thought of it before; many of the characters in my attempts at original sf could be described along similar lines.

I think this is the location the song was coined, St. Mary's Falls in Colorado.
This is something I picked up from my family. (Though I think maybe I'm more in love with the world than they are.) My mom once changed the lyrics of the camp classic "The Beaver Song" to be about the Mollmanns:
I'm a Mollmann,
You're a Mollmann,
We are Mollmanns all,
And when we get together
We do our Mollmann call:
Whine whine whine whine whine whine
Crab crab crab crab crab
Whine whine whine whine whine whine
Crab crab crab crab crab.
I'm not exactly sure what this can be blamed on. Like, I don't think my father is responsible; I think it used to frustrate him how much we call complained, which we did sort of as a default reaction, not necessarily meaning anything by it. So I guess that means my mother's to blame?

Sometimes I worry that happiness expressed via complaining is just, like much irony, a way of refraining from the danger of earnestness. If you don't directly say what you like, no one can attack you for it. As Augustine St. Clare says in Uncle Tom's Cabin, "I am one of the sort that lives by throwing stones at other people’s glass houses, but I never mean to put up one for them to stone." Sarcasm is, of course, often a defense mechanism, and I find I go overboard on it when I'm nervous about something, like when I first became a student manager at the dining hall, or when I went on a cross-country road trip with someone I'd only known for a couple months. I find that as I've gotten older I've engaged in it a lot less, and it's sometimes jarring to go back home and step into it all over again. I don't think I complain as much as I used to.

Once my brother texted me and asked if he and his fiancée could copy what me and Hayley did for wedding rings. I said, "Sure, but I reserve the right to complain that you copied us." He texted back: "Like a true Mollmann." But I was happy.

#32: What makes you happy?

24 January 2019

The Scientist in Victorian Literature: Michael Graham, Philosopher ("Stella," 1895)

PDF eBook, 177 pages
Published 1895
Read January 2019
Stella and An Unfinished Communication: Studies of the Unseen
by C. H. Hinton
"But I thought, Stella, that the forbidden tree was the tree of knowledge."
     "That was Adam's tree, Hugh! There were two trees in the garden of Eden, a big one for Adam, and a smaller one near it for Eve. Her tree was the tree of being seen and known. When she ate that kind of fruit, she became visible, she was no longer as she was meant to be." (32)
This book contains two novellas by Charles Hinton, a mathematician who coined the word "tesseract." The first, "Stella," is the reason I read it, a story of scientific invisibility that predates H. G. Wells's The Invisible Man (1897). Michael Graham is our man of science, but it's kind of borderline as an inclusion in my project, because 1) we never actually see his point-of-view, as he's dead by the time the story begins, and 2) I don't think he's ever actually described as a scientist or a man of science.

Spoilers head, though this is one of those books you won't see much of a reason to read if you don't know some of them. Graham was actually a philosopher trying to figure out how to create altruistic people; he determined that adults cannot be adapted to new moral codes because their minds formed around old ones, and it's even difficult to raise children because the environment of society will impose itself on them (23). So he decided to raise a child in absolute secret. His theory became that he needed to find out what the soul did when the most fundamental self-regarding impulses were denied (48). For boys, that's taking things, but for girls, that's being seen. It's impossible to stop a boy from wanting things (because then he will die), but it is possible to stop a girl from being seen if you adjust her index of refraction! So he raised a girl named Stella from birth in a state of invisibility.

The book is narrated by Hugh "Steddy" Stedman Churton, a lawyer sent to wind up Graham's affairs. While staying in Graham's old house, he meets and falls in love with Stella; eventually, Stella is kidnapped by a medium looking to use her to enhance his bogus seances.

It's a strange book, but a very enjoyable one. There's a certain weird logic to Graham's ideas, and Hinton is surprisingly good at depicting the tension between different ideas; this isn't one of those Victorian books where someone expounds a theory and you're clearly meant to take their side. Graham's ideas are weird, of course, but Churton's insistence that Stella needs to be visible and marry him feels very small-minded. He's unwilling to open himself up to the strange possibilities that the universe has to offer beyond our dimension, and he clearly doesn't value women when he can't see how attractive they are. Additionally, though the novella is obviously exploring the way women need to be seen, I don't Churton ever recognizes his need to be seen, but he definitely has one too.

The novella is only 107 pages long, and I zipped through it in a couple sittings. I think it helps that Hinton clearly has a sense of humor and of adventure. The joke on p. 105 made me laugh aloud.

There are some other men of science in the book, too. Frank Cornish is Churton's friend and Graham's nephew who gets an M.D., but spends his time researching, not in medical practice; he helps Churton figure out some of the science behind Stella's invisibility. There's also "Professor C——", a chemist who helps Churton track down Stella. Churton gets Professor C—— to help him because of his love of experiments; Churton says, "he possessed in a marked degree that ardour for experiment which becomes a second nature with scientific men" (61). However, there's one point where Churton and Professor C—— probably could have rescued Stella earlier but C—— wastes time asking her questions about coefficients (65).

I don't think it will make it into my project, because the science is mostly, well, invisible, but it will make it onto my list. Thanks to Elizabeth L. Throesch's book on Hinton for alerting me to its existence.

Additionally, the book contains another novella by Hinton, "An Unfinished Communication," about a man who goes to see an "unlearner." It starts out funny, with some good jokes, but quickly becomes ponderous, and I stopped putting the work into figuring out what was going on.

23 January 2019

Review: Star Wars: Dark Times: The Path to Nowhere by Randy Stradley and Douglas Wheatley

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2008 (contents: 2006-07)
Acquired and previously read January 2008
Reread November 2018
Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume One: The Path to Nowhere

Story: Welles Hartley
Script: Mick Harrison
Art: Douglas Wheatley
Colors: Ronda Pattison
Lettering: Michael David Thomas, Michael Heisler

I read the first three volumes of Dark Times-- which chronicles the separate adventures of a couple Jedi, a group of smugglers, and Darth Vader in the months after Revenge of the Sith-- as they came out in the late 2000s, but fell behind after that; the series lasted four more. I finally got to reading volume four, but decided I ought to reread the earlier volumes so I would have some context. (First, I actually reread a two-issue story in Clone Wars, Volume 9 that some of the Dark Times characters debuted in.) First, here's my original review of volume one from February 2008:
I expected to like this new series a lot, spinning off as it did from the very good last volume of the Clone Wars comics, Endgame. Unfortunately, this volume never clicked with me for some reason. There's nothing I can point to, really, but there is a feeling of seen-it-before, with a Jedi on the run in a rag-tag ship, in danger of falling to the dark side-- it's Knights of the Old Republic mixed with Quinlan Vos's arc in Clone Wars, except not as good as either. One review I read online said that the story Endgame set up-- a Jedi leading an army of former Separatists against the Empire-- was more interesting than the one we actually got, and I agree. Still, the art is very, very nice, and the twilight gloom that arrives with the coming of the Empire is well portrayed. I think I'll pick up the second volume and see how I like it then.
On reread, I actually liked it more than the above indicates, maybe because I knew to not have those expectations based on Endgame anymore, and maybe also because since I read it right after Endgame, the continuity of Dass Jennir's character arc was more obvious. Jennir isn't in danger of falling to the Dark Side, as I said above; it's more than in the era of the Empire, the ideals that sustained his entire life just ceased to be applicable. He's not choosing evil, but moving into a world where there is no opportunity to choose good. This is a very dark comic book (slavery and cannibalism are key features!), but it takes good advantage of its setting to tell a unique kind of Star Wars story, and it does so very well, in large part thanks to Douglas Wheatley's exceptional artwork.

(Since the original comic came out, it's been revealed that "Welles Hartley," credited writer of Endgame, and "Mick Harrison," credited writer of volumes 2-4 of Dark Times, are in fact both pen names for editor Randy Stradley, used I guess to disguise how much of Dark Horse's Star Wars output he wrote himself. But for some reason this book credits the story to one of those pseudonyms and the script to the other! In this interview from 2007, artist Wheatley even keeps up the subterfuge by saying it's the first project he's ever worked on with two writers, and it makes for lively conference calls. This has bothered me ever since the Hartley/Harrison revelation, and I want to know why it was done this way.)

22 January 2019

Review: Doctor Who: The Twins in the Wood by Justin Richards

Hardcover, 36 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read July 2018
Doctor Who: The Twins in the Wood
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

I would say this is the worst Time Lord fairy tale yet except I can't reject the possibility that there's a worse one I've purged from my memory. It's completely devoid of incident of interest. A pair of twins is framed by an evil uncle for killing their father, so they are exiled. But while they're gone, a nice guy fixes the problem for them. All they do is wait! They literally never make a single decision in the course of this story. Except, the woods they hide in are on Gallifrey for some reason. Why? Who knows, because it literally has no ramifications on the story. It does let David Wardle draw a nice picture of the Capitol in his woodcut style (as you can see on the cover), I suppose. But Jesus, what a waste of paper and time.

Next Week: It's all finally over! Jak and the Wormhole!

21 January 2019

Review: Otherworld Barbara Vol. 1 by Moto Hagio

Comic hardcover, 378 pages
Published 2016 (contents: 2003)
Borrowed from the library

Read December 2017
Otherworld Barbara Vol. 1
by Moto Hagio
translation by Matt Thorn

I've been meandering through the translated oeuvre of shōjo manga master Moto Hagio for several years now; my latest read is the first half of Otherworld Barbara. It's interesting-- my introduction to her work was a series of short pieces collected in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (1977-2008), and from there each book I've read has been longer than the last: A, A′ (1997) was four short stories, but they were linked; Heart of Thomas (1974) was a single 500-page story.* Otherworld Barbara will run over 700 by its end, I think.

I mention this not (just) because I love trivia, but because it's hard to judge Otherworld Barbara as a story on its first 378 pages. There's a lot going on here: a dreamworld where cannibalism is a normal practice that leads to immortality, a real world where people can dive into dreams, a father estranged from his son, an old woman pining for youth, a conference about the mysteries of Mars, a funeral, a line of robot dolls, an island that appears and disappears. It was a little tough to orient myself at first (not aided by the fact that I still struggle to recognize characters in manga consistently), but once I started to get a handle, I was drawn in. As always, Hagio's storytelling is prone to hugely dramatic emotions, gloomy tragedy, traumatic backstories... and goofy farce. I have no idea how it's all going to integrate, but I'm beginning to grasp the connections, and I'm on the edge of my seat to see how she pulls it off. Bring on vol. 2.

* You will note this is my progression through Hagio, not her progression, as I haven't been reading her work in its order of publication. Note also that I read her short story "They Were Eleven" (1975) between A, A′ and Heart of Thomas, which breaks my supposed pattern.

18 January 2019

My Own Private Book Purge

Coincidentally, as Marie Kondo was inspiring a flurry of discussion about purging books, I was living it.

This past summer, my wife surprised me for my birthday by corralling a number of my friends to install five IKEA Billy bookshelves in my would-be study while I was gone at a conference (as well as assemble a couple shelves we already had). They even put as many books on the shelves as possible. Since then, I've installed three more myself and slowly been organizing them. Over six months later, and I'm not quite done, though I am pretty close. (I basically just have to do my comic books, but that will require at least one more Billy, I suspect.)

I have a lot of books. After the surprise shelving, one of my friends thanked me: "I used to worry I had too many books, but now I know I'll never have as many as you do." As of this writing, I own 2,663 according to my LibraryThing. Getting rid of books has been a major problem for me over the years. I basically refuse to do it. After all, I could reread them all someday! Even though it's pretty unlikely I'll ever want to reread, say, any of my Star Wars YA novels, or even The Silmarillion.

Partly it's a collector thing too. I have a complete run of Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice; I'm not going to just give that up! Sometimes people post on web forums I frequent: "I used to have a complete collection of The New Doctor Who Adventures, but I sold it off years ago to make room. Now I'm hunting them all down again." I view these kind of posts as horror stories, dark visions of my own future. What if I purge Jedi Apprentice but ten years from now am wracked with guilt and want to reassemble it?

Weirdly, it wasn't packing up my books that made me realize there were some I really could do without, but unpacking them. Packing had to go fast, but shelving has been-- as indicated-- a slow, often judicious process. I've had to track down stuff that ended up in different parts of the house, and for my nonfiction in particular, I had to come up with a good shelving system. This caused me wonder about individual books: did I really need each and every one?

There were two main categories of book I became skeptical of. One was duplicates: I have the edition of Nevil Shute's On the Beach I bought in a used bookstore, and I have the more recent edition I got as a desk copy when I taught it. I have The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, but I also have individual volumes of Hamlet, Macbeth, and some others. I have two different editions of The Mill on the Floss, both very beat up 1970s paperbacks (I think both were free). I decided I could bear to part with one of each of these duplicates when I had no compelling reason to hang on to both copies.

(You can see all of my remaining what LibraryThing calls "Work duplicates" here.* I usually held onto two copies when an older one had a sentimental value, but a newer one was useful in some way. Like, I kept the copy of I, Robot my dad gave me, but I have a newer one I used when teaching it.)

I also realized I didn't need so many textbooks. I actually had two I'd been lugging around since high school! I don't know why. I suspect because at first, I felt like I might look something up in them again. But at no point in the past fifteen years have I ever used my high school poetry textbook, and my high school writing handbook is surely woefully out of date. I also had a number from college, mostly education textbooks I hadn't sold back at the time for whatever reasons. But surely I was never going to use my speech textbook from the class I took on how to teach speech, much less my 2004 copy of the Ohio Department of Education's academic content standards for K-12 language arts education.

Also in my early grad school days, I went crazy at the annual "book fair," scooping up as many complimentary copies of textbooks as publishers would let me get away with. Eventually I realized that obtaining free copies of composition anthologies is a curse, not a blessing, because then you have a completely useless, terrible book that technically speaking you're obligated to not resell.

So I packed all these books, plus some other ones that I didn't want for whatever reason, into a box and I actually had about 35 of them. I wish I'd written down a list, or at least taken a picture. I know 35 doesn't sound like a lot-- it's just over 1% of my collection, but for me it was quite a number, surely the most books I've ever gotten rid of. So I've been pretty proud of myself, even though I know I am no Marie Kondo.

I even managed to sell some of them-- I got $15 for some of the non-textbooks at the truly excellent Mojo Books and Records, and $5 for a Broadview anthology I didn't even pay for at a used textbook store. The rest of the non-textbooks I donated to my local library, and the textbook store took my leftover textbooks for donation. (I asked "where do the donated books go?" and the cashier said, "good question." I am skeptical anyone wants even a free copy of The Essay Connection.)

Of course, store credit means you need to buy something, and I bought four books at Mojo (sf was buy 3, get 1 free, how could I not!). I also grabbed a free sf novel from a bin by the door on my way out of the textbook store. But it's still progress, I suppose.

* The list is a little misleading: some of those works are in other collections; I actually own zero copies of Batman: Year One for instance, but I've borrowed it from my friend James and the library, and thus catalogued it twice in my "Read but unowned" collection.

17 January 2019

Review: The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

Trade paperback, 319 pages
Published 2003 (originally 1857)
Acquired December 2018

Read January 2019
The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
I said to myself, [...] 'Look at the sooty smoke in that hollow, and know that there is your post! There you cannot dream, you cannot speculate and theorize – there you shall out and work!' (48)
I read this novel as part of my project to read all the remaining Victorian scientist novels. I actually wasn't sure if the eponymous professor actually was a scientist; the article I had read had been vague and a quick search didn't turn up any specific answers, so I just went and bought the book and read it to find out.

William Crimsworth is at first a clerk (that's when he utters the above) and later in fact a professor of English in Belgium, so no scientist. He only gets the gig because any vaguely educated English-speaking person could do it. But the book is filled with that other thing I am obsessed with in literature: observation. Crimsworth's friend Hunsden the tradesman, in particular, is always watching Crimsworth and drawing conclusions, sometimes right, sometimes wrong. At one point, Crimsworth observes Hunsden observing him, though he gets it wrong (255); Hunsden is not as perceptive as Crimsworth had perceived. And as a teacher Crimsworth must observe his class, which only gets harder once he picks up a job at a girls' school, full of hot young teenagers.

I didn't think there was much of a story here to be honest. Crimsworth falls in love with a would-be governess sitting in on his classes; they marry and live highly successful lives. A couple temptations are thrown in Crimsworth's way, but he overcomes them all with ease, so there's not much in the way of compelling struggle. He does kind of start from misery, but his ascent out of it is relatively unbroken.

I mostly think the book is an excuse for Brontë (as in Villette) to practice her most annoying writing tic: dialogue in untranslated French. Thank God for the end notes, but sometimes I got too tired to flip to the end and read them. I don't think I missed much.

15 January 2019

Review: Doctor Who: The Scruffy Piper by Justin Richards

I haven't caught up to the present in my recent catch-up listen-through of Bernice Summerfield stories (which I began back in July!), but I have caught up to the most recent one that I own. Read my review of Treausury, and soon I'll return my attention to catching up on Torchwood, Big Finish Originals, The Seventh Doctor: The New Adventures, UNIT, and more!

Hardcover, 36 pages
Published 2016 (originally 2015)

Acquired February 2017
Read June 2018
Doctor Who: The Scruffy Piper
by Justin Richards
illustrated by David Wardle

After I moderately enjoyed The Grief Collector, the Time Lord fairy tales are back to the same-old-same-old. You can guess how this story is going to go from page 1, and it does so without a single surprise. The second Doctor uses his recorder to lure away a group of Cybermats from a space station, and saves the day. Why bother riffing on "The Pied Piper of Hamlin" and use only the most basic part of its idea? Work with the creepiness of the concept, don't sanitize it!

Next Week: An extra helping of mediocrity in Twins in the Wood!

14 January 2019

Review: Star Trek: Discovery: The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack

Trade paperback, 276 pages
Published 2019

Acquired and read January 2019
Star Trek: Discovery: The Way to the Stars
by Una McCormack

The Way to the Stars is the backstory novel for Sylvia Tilly, chronicling Tilly's life at age 16. This means it kind of reads like a young adult novel, but that's no complaint. It might be more accurate, though, to say that this is a bildungsroman, or at least part of one; this is how Sylvia Tilly struggles to fit herself into society but then discovers the place where she belongs. Tilly is harangued by her mother, goes to space boarding school, tries to succeed in academics and extracurriculars, struggles to make friends, and eventually makes a momentous decision. That's the point where the book-- which had always been good-- becomes great. The Way to the Stars takes Tilly further than she's ever gone before, as she meets a variety of people who accept her and shape her and help her to grow. It's really heart-warming without being saccharine, optimistic without being blinkered. It's just a really good book about growing up and finding your place.

I enjoyed every page of it, zipping through it in just over a day. There's a lot of nice side characters, like Tilly's grandmother and her grandmother's husband, plus a crotchety space mechanic, even just random bureaucrats. I particularly enjoyed the USS Dorothy Garrod and its captain. It's cool to see a dedicated science vessel in Star Trek in something other the role of victim. (Do we think it's Oberth-class? I think it would fit what we're told. One thing I didn't buy was that the engineers were the only non-scientists aboard; what about helm and security?)

Una McCormack totally gets Tilly (who is a favorite in our household), the awkward overachiever who wants to be a space captain, and the character at her best is on display here. McCormack has always been one of my favorite Star Trek writers because she understands character, and how to represent it on the page. It's not just capturing the dialogue of the actors, but embodying a way of thinking in the action of the story. Tilly makes some wrongheaded choices here, but the reader understands exactly why she does it even as they know she shouldn't be.

It's also successful as a prequel. I mean, there are obvious ways for it to be so: Tilly mentions her mother on screen in one Discovery episode, and she appears briefly in Short Treks, and Tilly's mother is a good extrapolation of those bits. But there's a deeper, better way for a prequel to work, which is when you're watching the original again, you experience resonances in things that worked fine on their own the first time around. Like, Tilly's father tells her there's something of her mother Siobhan in her, in the way Siobhan can command a room. Tilly doesn't believe him. But she must have realized he was right when she had to pretend to be her mirror counterpart. After reading The Way to the Stars, it's easy to imagine that she's drawing on her mother in those scenes, even if she herself doesn't realize. It's moments like that that make a good prequel into a great one, and this is the most enjoyable Discovery novel thus far.

11 January 2019

Watching the Elmore Leonard Cinematic Universe

A couple years ago, I wrote a post about how David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990) and Álex de la Iglesia's Dance with the Devil (1997) adapted novels in the same series, but with completely different casts. I began that article with an anecdote about a situation where that went differently, about adaptations of two different Elmore Leonard novels. After I posted the article to facebook, my friends Christiana and Dean told me I ought to watch those Elmore Leonard movies. So my wife and I did, with one extra film.

The core of what we might call the "Elmore Leonard Cinematic Universe" is Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997) and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998), which adapt the Leonard novels Rum Punch (1992) and Out of Sight (1996). Both films include the character of Ray Nicolet played by Michael Keaton. Then you have the movie Life of Crime (2013) by Daniel Schechter, which adapts The Switch (1978). Rum Punch was a sequel to The Switch, so Life of Crime is essentially a prequel to Jackie Brown, showing the characters of Ordell Robbie, Louis Gara, and Melanie Ralston twenty years younger.

Jackie Brown is about a flight attendant and occasional drug smuggler (Pam Grier's Jackie Brown) who gets pulled into an ATF sting operation against career criminal Ordell Robbie (Samuel Jackson). Michael Keaton's Ray Nicolet is one of the law enforcement officers pressuring Jackie to do this, a kind of goofy guy who's always moving around and sitting in odd positions:

Ray Nicolet reappears in Out of Sight, now working for the FBI, in a romantic relationship with the film's female protagonist, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). Ray is married, but Karen is going out with him anyway, much to her father's disappointment. It doesn't last long, though, because Karen soon falls for bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney). Ray's definitely the same kind of goofy guy; my favorite scene is when Karen's dad makes a sarcastic comment about the subtlety of his "FBI" t-shirt, asking if he has one that says "undercover" too.

Ray doesn't get it, just going "huh?"

It's not a big connection, but it is a nice one, I think. Keaton made the appearance in Out of Sight uncredited; he was apparently very enthused about it: "I thought that was the coolest idea [...]. I said, 'I'll do it. But you have to do one thing: You have to make sure he is that guy.' There has to be something in the wardrobe that you go, Oh, there he is again! 'Cause I wanted the people to be sitting in the theatre going, 'Oh, I might see him at the Dairy Queen later, like he's a real guy out there wandering around in life. Then he might pop up in another movie. He might be down at the mall!'"

Jackie Brown might not know Karen Sisco, but you know they both could meet, because they both met Ray Nicolet. It's like how before The Avengers came out, Iron Man might not have met Thor, but you knew they could meet because both men knew Agent Coulson. (A little confusingly, though, Samuel Jackson also appears in both films, but as a different character in Out of Sight than Jackie Brown.)

Life of Crime came out fifteen years after Jackie Brown, but is set twenty years earlier. The two films aren't officially connected, but the books they're based on are. Mos Def plays the young Ordell, John Hawkes the young Louis (Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown), and Isla Fisher the young Melanie (Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown). Ordell and Louis are criminals who kidnap Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) to extract ransom money from her husband.

I actually think Mos Def was doing a little bit of Samuel Jackson with his voice. It's not an imitation or anything, but it would come through on occasion. You can definitely see how 1970s Ordell would become 1990s Ordell. He's already a little ruthless in Life of Crime, though it seems like he hasn't actually killed anyone before. He has big aspirations, however, and of the two men, he's the one more inclined to go through with them. With twenty years of success, Mos Def's more reserved character could evolve into Jackson's more over-the-top one.

Louis was an old criminal friend of Ordell's who had just gotten out of jail at the beginning of Jackie Brown. In Life of Crime, he's a criminal, but definitely naïve. At the beginning of Life of Crime, he gets robbed in a bar restroom; later in the film, he falls for his kidnap victim. Other than Mickey, he's the character you sympathize with the most in Life of Crime, and thus there's an extra layer of tragedy if you've seen Jackie Brown, because you know he's going to end up burnt out, hopeless, with severe anger issues. Given how likeable Louis is, it gives a little bit of frisson to his sporadic attempts to do the right thing in Life of Crime.

The transition between Isla Fisher and Bridget Fonda as Melanie is the hardest to buy. She's Mickey's husband's mistress in Life of Crime, and one of Ordell's girlfriends in Jackie Brown (though she hooks up with Louis). The ages don't line up, as Fonda is too young to have been an adult in 1978 (she would have been just fourteen*). Fonda's Melanie is stoned and disaffected; Fisher's Melanie is more active and conniving. Though both have the apparent catchphrase of "Wanna fuck?" It's hard to believe Melanie would end up with Ordell after the events of Life of Crime, or that Louis would want to have sex with her, though I guess it goes down that way in the books.

I guess there are twenty years between the two films, even if Melanie somehow de-ages by four. But it's pretty clear in Jackie Brown that Louis and Melanie have never met before.

What unites the three films is more than a continuity of character, though. All three films, even though they're from different directors, have a similar tone, with bizarre, eccentric characters committing crime badly, and a pleasing mix of violence and comedy. There's always something to laugh at-- but there's always someone to root for too, on both sides of the law. We want to see Jackie Brown, Tom Foley, and Louis Gara get away with it. Plus there's awful people to root against. (I was a big fan of the neo-Nazi in Life of Crime for that reason. What happens to him in the end is glorious.) I suspect if you hadn't been told, and Ray wasn't in the films, you could still work out that Jackie Brown and Out of Sight came from similar source material. (I'm less sure about Life of Crime; it is less sharply directed than the other two.)

We enjoyed all three, though Jackie Brown felt like it could have been tightened, and I don't think Life of Crime was as funny as the other two. (It did have an absolutely amazing ending, though.) But Out of Sight was excellent, with a strong-as-always performance from George Clooney, and the best performance I've seen Jennifer Lopez give. The scene where they have drinks together is something else.

Recently, a YouTube video did the rounds where the maker claims that certain historical movies work well together if you view them as a "cinematic universe" à la Marvel. It's not as bad as most YouTube-based criticism; I liked his overall point that there's something neat about seeing the same events and the same characters filtered through the sensibilities of different directors and the conventions of different genres. What's interesting about the Elmore Leonard Cinematic Universe is that you kind of get both. These are similar novels filtered through distinct directors to come out with something similar again. A nice little unofficial trilogy.

* Actually, there's a scene in Jackie Brown where Louis looks at a 1976 photo of Melanie, and she says she's fourteen in it.

10 January 2019

The Scientist in Victorian Edwardian Literature: George Ponderevo, Chemist and Engineer (Tono-Bungay, 1909)

Trade paperback, 414 pages
Published 2005 (originally 1908-09)
Acquired December 2018

Read January 2019
Tono-Bungay by H. G. Wells
'I believe the time has come for flying to be possible. Real flying!'
     'Up in the air. Aeronautics! Machine heavier than air. It can be done. And I want to do it.'
     'Is there money in it, George?'
     'I don't know nor care! But that's what I'm going to to do.' (203)
One could write a whole book just on H. G. Wells novels featuring scientists who are married, I suspect. Though Tono-Bungay is probably a good book, it has little to offer the dedicated H. G. Wells reader. I saw elements of many of Wells's domestic novels in it: Love and Mr Lewisham (1899-1900), Ann Veronica (1909), The History of Mr Polly (1910), The New Machiavelli (1910), and Marriage (1911-12). Not to mention aspects of Wells's own life, as well as resonances with The Time Machine (1895), The First Men in the Moon (1900-01), and The War in the Air (1908). Like so many of Wells's other domestic novels, a man from a lower-class background seeks a scientific career, has an affair during a disintegrating marriage, and has his career aspirations derailed by the social exigencies of modern England. To be fair to Wells, though, all of the domestic novels I listed above (except for Mr Lewisham) were written later; I just happened to have read them first. The angle of Tono-Bungay itself does yield something new, and the scenes between George Pondervo and his uncle were usually the best parts.

George Ponderevo ends up apprenticed to his uncle, who is a chemist (in the sense of being a pharmacist). Edward Ponderevo is always trying to sell people things they don't need, because the difficulty of being a chemist is that people only need stuff when they're sick. He comes up with the quack tonic Tono-Bungay (Edward Mendelson's introduction says it's basically Coca-Cola), which soon becomes a huge success. George doesn't contribute to the drink, but he runs his uncle's manufacturing concerns, keeping the production line efficient with his analytical mind. As the Ponderevos expand the commercial empire more and more, becoming more and more successful, George gets married, has a marriage disintegrate, throws himself into his work, takes up inventing heavier-than-air flight, and goes on an expedition to an African island seeking radioactive minerals. It is, perhaps, more capacious than most of Wells's domestic novels, with the effect that it doesn't quite cohere. I like many of the parts, but the whole left me cold.

George has a scientific mind, as the novel reminds us on several occasions, but like a lot of Wells's protagonists, he struggles to apply it. He has a (supposedly) scientific theory of society but I'm not sure what good it does; he never gets the science degree he wanted because he gets demoralizes and basically flunks out before he goes to work for his uncle; his flying machine is of limited success; he ends his career helping design battleships that the British government doesn't want to buy. And, of course, the world is too complicated to apply science to it in any real useful way, something I think Wells eventually forgot: "The perplexing thing about life is the irresoluble complexity of reality, of things and relations alike" (195).

George occasionally glimpses truths, though; I found a section where George compares the radioactive decay of "quap" to the potential end of the world really effective: "I am haunted by a grotesque fancy of the ultimate eating away and dry rotting and dispersal of all our world. [...] I do not believe this can be the end; no human soul can believe in such an end and go on living, but to it science points as a possible thing, science and reason alike" (329-30).

The scene where George, without any emotion at all, kills a native on the quap island to keep his expedition's presence a secret, is also really interesting. George himself doesn't understand the importance of the moment, but he clearly knows it is important, because he included it in his account of his life. To me it points toward a fundamental theme throughout Tono-Bungay (and Wells's other fiction, domestic and sf alike): the alienating nature of modernity. We meet these people so different to us from fantastic places, and all we can think to do is kill them to make ourselves richer. We have this wonderful chemical sciences, and what we invent with them is a "medicine" that no one actually needs. We can almost build flying machines, but no government will fund their development. We know so much about sex, but we teach none of it to our men and women.

Uncle Edward is a great character, too, and the ever-increasing accounts of his ridiculous ambitions (he tries to buy the British Medical Journal at one point, so that it will run articles favorable to Tono-Bungay) are just good fun to read about even as they appall. I loved that his never-finished mansion included a billiards room with a glass ceiling placed beneath the ornamental lake. Some, like Adam Roberts, say he is a Dickensian character, and I agree.

Adam Roberts calls Tono-Bungay a "rich and brilliant novel" and I don't know if I can quite bring myself to agree-- maybe I would have thought so if I'd read it where it belonged in Wells's own development as a writer, as he did-- but like the best Wells, it speaks to both its own moment and to our moment. But it's ambitious and interesting and I think helps make the case (as my colleague Cari Hovanec sometimes does) for H. G. Wells as a modernist writer.

09 January 2019

Review: Bernice Summerfield: Filthy Lucre by James Parsons and Alexander Stirling-Brown

Hardcover, 231 pages
Published 2013
Acquired July 2018
Read December 2018
Bernice Summerfield: Filthy Lucre
by James Parsons and Alexander Stirling-Brown

The novels haven't exactly been a highlight of Bernice Summerfield's "Legion era," though this one isn't terrible. It's not as good as The Slender-Fingered Cats of Bubastis, though I did find more to interest me here than in The Weather on Versimmon. This is a mostly standalone adventure for Benny, Ruth, and Jack (with small parts for Peter and Irving), set during the New Frontiers box set (between episodes 1 and 2, specifically). In parallel plotlines, the trio meet a chip tycoon who's very interested in archaeology and rescue a disabled cargo ship.

The book is well written and interesting enough. The writers have a good grasp on the main characters' voices, and know how to write an interesting action sequence. Moving between the two parallel plotlines maintains the reader's interest; it actually takes a long time to figure out how the two plots actually fit together. Once you figure it out, though, it's a bit underwhelming, and one suspects the novel was structured this way because doing it chronologically would reveal how little it actually has going on. If the crashed ship story was inserted where it goes chronologically, it would be a long, irrelevant diversion from the book's main plot. The main plot isn't much: a wealthy person is sponsoring archaeology, but he turns out to have a hidden agenda. A man is sexually interested in Bernice, but he's just taking advantage of her. These are surely clichés of Benny's solo adventures at this point. It would be more of a twist if it turned out everything was aboveboard. And the bit where he comes back at the end to torture her once the main story is over feels like padding when the authors realized they were thirty pages short; it goes nowhere and does nothing.

For those keeping score, this book features the third popular resort planet within easy flight of Legion, the supposed most distant planet in the galaxy (after ones in Road Trip and The Slender-Fingered Cats). More than that, Benny is popping back and forth between Legion and worlds of significance all the time in this book, rather undermining the setting of the Legion era.

08 January 2019

Doctor Who at Christmas: The Christmas Invasion

In other Doctor Who Christmas news, my review of the Bernice Summerfield box set that takes place during Space Christmas, New Frontiers, is up at Unreality SF. It was released in April originally for some reason, though.

Mass market paperback, 169 pages
Published 2018

Acquired and read December 2018
Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion
by Jenny T. Colgan

I keep thinking I've read all the Doctor Who Christmas books, and BBC Books keeps releasing more just in the nick of time; in 2018, they published novelisations of two different Christmas specials, and thus I read The Christmas Invasion for this year. (Twice Upon a Time will wait for 2019.)

It's exactly what a novelisation should be, I reckon, a pretty straight retelling of the television episode that reminds you why you liked it so much. Actually, "The Christmas Invasion" isn't one of my favorites, but like all Russell T Davies stories, it's chock-ful of brilliant moments, which Colgan usually captures. Jackie Tyler gets all the best lines, and I love the way everyone in the universe reacts to Harriet Jones. Some moments, like a swordfight or an evil Christmas tree, aren't really suited to prose, but she makes up for it by fleshing out the characters. By the end of the book, I really liked Sally Jacobs, the secretary at UNIT I probably wouldn't have even remembered before opening the book. Colgan gives us some nice moments with her, especially the night as the Sycorax ship approaches. Now I want to know when she will reappear in Big Finish's UNIT audios! The fleshing out of Major Blake (surely the shortest lived UNIT-UK commanding officer) was nice too.

Colgan also has a good handle on the regulars. There's a great moment at the book's end, where this new Doctor realizes what's changed about his relationship with Rose Tyler, and he's excited and frightened all at once. It's a good piece of characterization, and some nice foreshadowing of "Doomsday" all at once.

"The Christmas Invasion" isn't a very Christmassy story to be honest; most of the seasonal flavor on screen comes from visuals and music, which don't replicate well on the page. But I liked how Colgan used apt Christmas carols for chapter titles (e.g., "Do You Hear What I Hear?" when Mickey and Jackie hear the TARDIS land), and the closing Christmas dinner is a highlight of mixed emotion, like Christmas dinners so often are. Like the best Doctor Who Christmas books, a nice way to get into the spirit of the season.

(This is the first of the 21st-century Target novels I've read; it's a very nice little retro package. I particularly liked the "CHANGING FACE OF DOCTOR WHO" blurb for the tenth Doctor.)

Next Week: Back to the Time Lord Fairy Tales, with The Scruffy Piper!

07 January 2019

Review: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Trade paperback, 244 pages
Published 2009 (originally 1956)
Acquired August 2017
Read October 2017
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Everyone has their instance of "the Mandela effect," I suppose. For me, it's a belief that when working at Kroger as a cashier in the early 2000s, one of the songs that frequently rotated on corporate radio (along with the inferior Counting Crows cover of "Big Yellow Taxi") included the lyrics "deep space is my dwelling place / the stars my destination." I'm pretty sure this isn't actually true now because no evidence exists, but by God I remember it. How those lines from a poem in a 1950s sf novel would have otherwise ended up in my consciousness, though, I don't know, because I didn't read the book until fifteen years later. I probably first heard of Alfred Bester in the mid-2000s, reading episode guides for Babylon 5 and the terrible 1970s British children's telefantasy programme The Tomorrow People. The former named a character after him; the latter reused the term jaunte from this novel to describe mental teleportation.

All this is to say, the book was a long time coming for me. I finally felt moved to read it when I read Bester's other big sf novel, The Demolished Man, because it won the 1953 Hugo Award for Best Novel. There was no 1957 Hugo Award for Best Novel, but if there had been, The Stars My Destination might have won it.

But I found the novel disappointing. I would say it failed to grab me, but it actually did grab me: the opening is great, with Gully Foyle stranded on a spaceship and doing his damndest to survive, going from ordinary man to extraordinary. I love the exploration of how jaunting would change our culture's conceptions of privacy and security. Gully's adventures in prison and such are clever and interesting. However, somewhere around the midpoint of the novel, once Gully embarked on his ripped-from-Count-of-Monte-Cristo campaign of anonymous revenge, I found that my interest had evaporated. The set-up is great, and Bester's prose is miles above his sf contemporaries, but he just doesn't do anything particularly interesting with it all, and like Demolished Man, things get all mindtrippingly weird in the last few chapters, and not in a good way.

Also I think it's weird that the back cover of my Gollancz SF Masterworks edition trumpets an introduction by minor sf critic Graham Sleight, but fails to mention at all the presence of an afterword by Neil Gaiman!

04 January 2019

The End of Hawkworld: John Ostrander's Run on Hawkman vol. 3

When I reviewed the Hawkworld ongoing, I noted that the lack of commentary on what succeeded it* was conspicuous: "I don't have much of a sense what Hawkman vol. 3 is like. You can find a lot of write-ups on the Internet about the Hawkworld ongoing, but Hawkman vol. 3 is usually only mentioned for the bare fact of its existence." I didn't find this article until later, but it's basically all I could find. Just skimming the covers and issue descriptions, though, made me think that reading Hawkman vol. 3 in its entirety wasn't going to be for me; it was clear that the series moved away from the science fiction elements that attracted me to the original Hawkworld in the first place.

So I ended up limiting myself to the issues of Hawkman vol. 3 written by Hawkworld writer John Ostrander (#1-6, Annual #1) or that sounded otherwise interesting, which ended up being its "Year One" story (Annual #2) and a Shayera Thal focal issue cover-branded with the title Hawkwoman (#16).

Ostrander's run picks up a few months on from the end of Hawkworld: Hawkwoman (Shayera Thal) is presumed dead, Hawkman (Katar Hol) is missing following a battle, and there's a new Hawkman out there, willing to cross a line the old Hawkman wouldn't. The first issue builds up a lot of mystery as to who this new Hawkman is; the second reveals it's Katar Hol again, so I don't know what the point of that was.

He's essentially a completely different character, though. In issue #6, it's revealed that in the months between Hawkworld #32 and Hawkman #1, Katar discovered his secret past: when his father Paran Katar visited Earth in the Justice Society era, he fell in love with a Native American woman and fathered a child with her; he took them both back to Thanagar with him, though eventually the woman got tired of space life and was returned to Earth. This retcon stretches plausibility even further than the myriad ones during Hawkworld vol. 2 already did. The original introduction of the Paran-Katar-on-Earth retcon made it clear the JSA Hawkman and Hawkgirl didn't know Paran was from space; this version shows they did.

It's clear the point of this is to reduce Hawkman's science fiction elements and increase his tie to Earth. Like all retcons, I judge it on the standard of: is the new thing, if not more interesting, at least equal in interest to the thing it's replacing? Here, the answer is a clear no. The Thanagar introduced by Tim Truman in Hawkworld vol. 1 was a fertile ground for telling interesting stories, and John Ostrander took it some interesting places in vol. 2. Now, Hawkman is yet another angry 1990s superhero.

The main upshot seems to be to give Hawkman "Native American powers"; he can commune with animals (of course he can). Also, now, when he flies into a place, it makes a noise that sounds like the wind. Only this is comics, so this gimmick can only be communicated by having people go, "What's that? It sounds like a tremendous wind only the leaves on the trees aren't moving!" I made up that dialogue, but it's not far off the real thing.

In short, it's mediocre, and I'm sure the post-John Ostrander issues, even if they aren't actually bad, will be devoid of what drew me to the character in the first place, and reading Hawkman Annual #2 validated this, as it's a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about Hawk spirits and reincarnation. The writing out of Shayera is a real shame, too, as she was essentially co-lead in Hawkworld vol. 2, but the trajectory here makes it clear that Hawkman vol. 3 will be focused on just Hawkman. I did enjoy her starring role in issue #16; she's as awesome as ever even if the story isn't that good. More angry vigilantes.

Man, the mid-1990s were a dark time in comics.

* Hawkman is a little tricky to follow through publishing chronology thanks to the changing names of his series. It goes: Hawkman vol. 1 (1964-68), The Atom and Hawkman (1968-69), The Shadow War of Hawkman (1985), Hawkman vol. 2 (1986-87), Hawkworld vol. 1 (1989), Hawkworld vol. 2 (1990-93), Hawkman vol. 3 (1993-96), Legend of the Hawkman (2000), Hawkman vol. 4 (2002-06), Hawkgirl (2006-07), The Savage Hawkman (2011-13), Death of Hawkman (2016-17), Hawkman vol. 5 (2018-present).

03 January 2019

The Scientist in Victorian Literature: Doctor Gabriel Lamb, Medical Psychologist (The Octave of Claudius, 1897)

PDF eBook, 324 pages
Published 1897
Read December 2018
The Octave of Claudius by Barry Pain
"I want to know how this research is going on, and how it will end."
     "It will go on and end in the service of humanity. If I gave you the details, I think that you would regard me rather as a quack than as a doctor—a quack with the restless ambitions of a mad man." (101)
The characters speaking in my epigraph above are the two central figures of this novel: Claudius Sandell, a would-be novelist, and Gabriel Lamb, a doctor who's ended his private practice to devote himself purely to research. Claudius's life has reached a low point, and he almost dies on the street, penniless and homeless, but for the ministrations of Lamb. Claudius is initially willing to do anything for Lamb, and ends up promising to serve him the rest of his life in exchange for eight days of freedom: eight days where Lamb will give Claudius £1,000 per day to use as he pleases.

You might guess that Lamb has nefarious motives, otherwise there wouldn't be a plot, and you'd be right. Lamb is clearly intended as a critique of the motivations and practices of vivisectionists, who claimed to be causing pain for the greater good of humanity. Sometimes, anti-vivisection novels criticized this as a self-serving lie; these men are just out to cause pain and/or for their own self-interest, and vivisection furthers those goals (e.g., Heart and Science, The Beth Book). Sometimes, anti-vivisection novels were willing to believe this was true, but explored the harm it causes regardless (e.g., The Professor's Wife).

It's hard to put Lamb in The Octave of Claudius in either category. He definitely sees the world differently than other people; in one scene, he looks out his window at London: "Each man of them is nothing as an individual. Charles Peace and William Shakespeare were both accidents" (101). When he explains why he gave up his practice, he says, "I asked myself if that kind of thing [helping an individual patient] was science as I loved it—if it really assisted the great cause of humanity for which alone I live. I gave up my practice. I study the individual man only when he is likely to throw light on the aggregate. I never work on behalf of the individual" (22-3). If it was just down to his conversations with Claudius, I'd be inclined to believe him. He's going to have to leave the country to do what he wants to Claudius; he'll never get acclaim for what he learns within his lifetime, but he's okay with this if it helps humanity in the long run: "I certainly have my reward. You have noticed, perhaps, that only people with imagination lay down wine. The old man in his cellar, storing the vintage that he knows he cannot live to drink, tastes in that moment all its unborn perfections that one day his grandson overhead will praise" (100).

But one of the other key characters in the novel is Lamb's wife, Hilda. They used to have a good marriage, but it fell apart at some point, apparently after the death of their only child; now Lamb tells her, "My interest in you is largely scientific" (33). But when Hilda gets hysterical at one point, he beats her with a whip, literalizing the metaphorical connection between vivisection and domestic abuse I've noticed in The Beth Book and Lynton Abbott's Children. Lamb claims to take no pleasure in what he does to Claudius, but it's impossible to read what he says and does to Hilda and not believe that he doesn't derive satisfaction from it. So he might genuinely be doing terrible things to further the human race... but he clearly also has failed as a husband, which thus means he's failed in one of his most basic ethical obligations according to the Victorians.

Like a lot of these anti-vivisection books, it's not great-- basically everything Claudius does when Lamb is not present is dead boring, especially his dull romance-- but it contains fascinating nuggets of how science and scientists were seen in the late Victorian period. I'm very glad I took the time to read it, and I feel like it ought to make it into my book.

02 January 2019

Reading Roundup Wrapup: December 2018

Pick of the month: Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey. This is one of those months where though I read a decent amount of strong stuff, nothing in particular rose to the top (also I read a decent amount of mediocre stuff). But the third Expanse novel was a good one, giving me exactly what I want out of the series: good sci-fi action in an interesting milieu. Other good books were The Christmas Invasion, Paper Girls 5, and The Spy Who Loved Me, any of whom on a slightly different day might have taken this.

All books read:
1. Star Wars: Purge by John Ostrander and Alexander Freed, with Haden Blackman
2. Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume Two: Parallels by Mick Harrison
3. Wooers and Winners; or, Under the Scars: A Yorkshire Story, Vol. I by Mrs. G. Linnæus Banks
4. Machineries of Empire, Book Three: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
5. Wooers and Winners; or, Under the Scars: A Yorkshire Story, Vol. II by Mrs. G. Linnæus Banks
6. The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming with Vivienne Michel
7. Bernice Summerfield: The Slender-Fingered Cats of Bubastis by Xanna Eve Chown
8. Wooers and Winners; or, Under the Scars: A Yorkshire Story, Vol. III by Mrs. G. Linnæus Banks
9. Paper Girls 4 by Brian K. Vaughan
10. Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan
11. Paper Girls 5 by Brian K. Vaughan
12. The Professor’s Wife: A Story by Leonard Graham
13. The Octave of Claudius by Barry Pain
14. Star Trek: Titan: Fallen Gods by Michael A. Martin
15. Time Capsule by Lalla Ward with Paul W.T. Ballard
16. Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within by Christopher L. Bennett
17. Abaddon’s Gate: Book Three of The Expanse by James S.A. Corey
18. Bernice Summerfield: Filthy Lucre by James Parsons and Alexander-Stirling Brown
19. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Quite a good show-- my best since June 2017, in fact!

All books acquired:
1. Ahistory: An Unauthorized History of the Doctor Who Universe: 4th Edition, Volume 1 by Lance Parkin & Lars Pearson
2. Ahistory: An Unauthorized History of the Doctor Who Universe: 4th Edition, Volume 2 by Lars Pearson & Lance Parkin
3. Paper Girls 5 by Brian K. Vaughan
4. Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan
5. Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 8: Desolation by Yoshiki Tanaka
6. Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Omnibus by Mark Waid with Karl Kesel
7. The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
8. Tono-Bungay by H. G. Wells
9. Collected Seventh Doctor Comic Strips, Volume 5: Emperor of the Daleks: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine by Dan Abnett, Warwick Gray, Paul Cornell with John Freeman and Richard Alan
10. Collected Multi Doctor Comic Strips, Volume 1: Land of the Blind: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine by Dan Abnett, Gareth Roberts, Nick Briggs, Kate Orman, and Warwick Scott Gray
11. Collected Twelfth Doctor Comic Strips, Volume 4: The Phantom Piper: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine by Scott Gray
12. The Massacre of Mankind: Sequel to The War of the Worlds by Stephen Baxter
13. The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs by Ursula K. Le Guin
14. Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry
15. The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
16. The Gap of Time: The Winter's Tale retold by Jeanette Winterson
17. Red or Dead by David Peace

Christmas always nets me a lot of books, of course; in fact, I think it's the only time each year I really get new ones in a substantive amount anymore! #9-14 were presents from family, while #16-17 I got from LibraryThing's SantaThing event. #15 I found on a cart of free books in a mall in northeast Ohio, so that was nice.

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 656 (up 3)
Books remaining on "To review" list: 15 (no change)

These days, even in months where I read a lot of books, they don't necessarily come off my "To be read" list, thanks to the quirks of my weird system. But this month was a good month for reading stuff off the list; #1, 7, 14-19 in my first list above all came off it! In any other month that would allow me to gain some ground, but I got so many books this month, that I actually lost ground. Oh well. Maybe I can maintain this into January.