Saturday, December 30, 2017

Book Blogger Hop December 29th - January 4th: U-235 Is the Uranium Isotope That Was Used to Make Little Boy

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What character or characters would you not mind sharing a New Year’s kiss with?

In books, I'm not sure. Heinlein had a lot of possible prospects in his books, but given that so many of them were basically thinly veiled versions of his wife, that might be a little weird. I suppose that Chani or Irulan from Dune would be good choices, or possibly Eowyn or Arwen from the Lord of the Rings. Now that I think about it, Eilonwy from the Chronicles of Prydain would be a good choice as well.

In other media, I'd be happy to share a New Year's kiss with Amy Pond, or possibly Nyssa. I'd definitely kiss Princess Leia. Or Rey. Or Doctor Crusher. Louise Banks would also be high on my list, although given that the linearity of time is meaningless to her, celebrating a moment in time with her might be awkward.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 234 Is the Country Code for Nigeria

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review - Bitch Planet, Book Two: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine de Landro, and Taki Soma

Short review: Meiko Maki is dead, and the reverberations resulting from that event echo through the lives of pretty much everyone. Also, a President everyone thought was dead is not so dead, and the women of the world appear to have had enough of the Fathers.

First, a brutal rape
Then, quests seeking out loved ones
Last, revolution

Full review: President Bitch is a brutal, intense, and amazing installment in a series that was already brutal, intense, and amazing. Set in the same patriarchal dystopian nightmare world as the first volume, where women who have been deemed "Non-Compliant" by virtue of being not submissive enough, or insufficiently attentive to their husband's needs, or being interested in women, or just being unattractive or obese, are shipped off to a prison planet dubbed "Bitch Planet" where they are supposed to be reeducated into good little women. In reality, the women in the "Bitch Planet" prison system are treated brutally, and in the first volume, some were assembled into a sports team intended to compete against male teams as an political exhibition, but instead everything went wrong for them and one member of the team ended up dead.

With the stage thus set, President Bitch sets about expanding the world and increasing the depth of the story. This volume opens up with what amounts to a flashback involving Meiko Maki, the woman killed at the end of the first volume, and how she ended up an "non-compliant" condemned to imprisonment on Bitch Planet. This sequence is harrowing - showing the length that parents will go to try to give their daughters a better life than the one allowed by the Patriarchs, and also showing the inherent corruption in the system that permits a man with a creepy fetish for young Asian girls to try to pressure those parents into handing one of their daughters over to him. The ultimate act that puts Meiko into prison is brutal and vicious, and entirely appropriate given the provocations that led to it. But what is striking about this portion of the book is the array of little background details about the world that crop up, from a mother being refused access to her daughter in a hospital, to the implications made about what is considered appropriate (and inappropriate) education for girls. Every aspect of the book serves to give the reader a view into the lives of the people who live in the dystopian society of the book, and the picture is stark and bleak.

Much of the book flows from Meiko's murder in book one. Meiko's father, not knowing Meiko is dead, agrees to travel to Bitch Planet to build a sports arena in the hopes that he can see her. His attempts to locate his daughter result in complete chaos for the administration, and allow much of what happens in the second half of the book to take place. Whitney, the former operative of the Specials Division finds herself removed from the staff and sent into the prison as an inmate - discovering that as a member of the oppressed class, her higher status was conditional and at the sufferance of the oppressors. Penny blames herself for Meiko's death. All of these threads become important plot elements as the story moves forward, serving as catalysts for other events that push the world to a larger scale and push the story further along. Although the story has not yet fully paid off on this score, Meiko's death seems to be the event that sets all other events into motion that ultimately results in fundamental change - in a sense, she seems destined to become the martyr that sparks the revolution.

Alongside those stories driven by Meiko's death is Kam's quest to locate her sister Morowa, also consigned to imprisonment on Bitch Planet, although her crime was gender falsification - in short, Morowa is a transwoman kept in the compound reserved for other transwomen. The story provides a sequence showing Morowa's incarceration, and the brutal, open transmisogyny that accompanies it, as well as the ways in which the inmates hold each other up in the face of the indignities heaped upon them. This sequence does make one wonder what the compound with the transmen would look like, as I cannot imagine that the Patriarchs would not imprison them as well. One suspects that there might be a revelation concerning such a collection of inmates at some point in a future volume. In any event, Kam's single-minded dedication to locating her sister is brings together all of the threads resulting from Meiko's death, and serves as the unifying force that drives the plot forward. But this story line also serves to highlight the pervasive nature of the prejudices that underpin dystopian society within which Bitch Planet exists. Whitney, knowing Morowa's status, repeatedly misgenders her when speaking with Kam, in part to needle Kam, but also it seems clear, because she simply cannot conceive of a transwoman being a woman. When the populations of the two compounds find themselves in contact with one another, the women don't see their fellow inmates as women, but rather men trying to take something away from them. Even the oppressed buy into the way the world is framed by the oppressors.

As compelling as the main story is, where this book really hits home are the small touches that fill the interstitial spaces between the featured characters. Elements like a coffee mug with a sexist joke on it, or a group of men in a meeting complaining that there are no women to get them coffee and laughing about the idea that women might learn construction-related skills, or the casual assertion that serve to highlight that the world depicted in Bitch Planet is not that far removed from or own. Little interludes like the corporate response to a trio of young men trespassing to take a short cut across private property feel almost as if they could be real. The real terror in Bitch Planet comes from the realization that there are people for whom the society it depicts is their fondest desire. Not people living far away, or in some other place, but people living in one's own communities, some of whom have their hands on the levers of power. Bitch Planet is powerful, in part, because it is a dystopian future that sits just on the edge of reality.

As if to hammer this point home, Eleanor Doane - the President Bitch of the title - enters the story to show that the world the characters inhabit was once not so very unlike ours. While her direct impact on the story, and the impact the followers she inspires, is readily apparent, her presence also serves to show that the state of the world as it is depicted in the "present" of the books is relatively new, having been imposed not just within living memory, but within the span of a single politician's career. The true horror of the world of Bitch Planet becomes clear when one realizes that most of the women struggling to live under the constraints imposed upon them by the regime grew up in a world in which their actions, their dreams, and their horizons were not so limited. Doane is not merely an agent opposed to those in power, she is a symbol that demonstrates that the government is not merely unjust, but is also illegitimate.

Bitch Planet: President Bitch is a harrowing volume in a harrowing series. Even when it takes a mildly hopeful turn, the series drenches it with brutality and violence. This is not the story of docile women living submissively under a misogynistic regime, but rather a story about rage and anger that is bottled up and vented in an almost indiscriminate manner. The pages of this volume are full of fury, but it is a justified fury that feels both unsettling and entirely satisfying at the same time. From the main plot, to the subtext, to the little background details, and even to the fictitious ads that pop up from time to time, every piece of this book serves as a powerful thread that are all woven together masterfully by DeConnick to yield a story that feels like a punch to the throat in the best possible way.

Previous Book in the Series: Bitch Planet, Book One: Extraordinary Machine

Kelly Sue DeConnick     Valentine de Landro     Taki Soma     Book Reviews A-Z


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Review - Sex Criminals, Volume Three: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Short review: Jon and Suzie enter an uneasy alliance with Kincaid to look for others with their abilities to oppose the Sex Police, with unexpected and dangerous results. Myrtle uses her sexual prowess to try to get information out of Jon's psychiatrist.

Let's break the fourth wall,
And put writer and artist
In the book as well

Full review: Three the Hard Way is the third volume in the Sex Criminals series, and while one would think that a story about people who stop time when they orgasm would already be far enough out on the edge that they couldn't make it much odder, Fraction and Zdarsky manage to do exactly that. In this volume the universe that Suzie and Jon inhabit expands even further, as characters with even stranger relationships with what Suzie the "Quiet" are introduced, but the book also takes a metatextual turn, as the author and artist play with the art form they are using to tell the story, even explicitly introducing themselves into the narrative at one point. To a certain extent, this volume is "more of the same" - at one point even repeating a visual motif used in all the way back in volume one - but it also takes the story in strange, unexpected, and entirely entertaining directions.

After a brief interlude to introduce an entirely new (and fairly creepy) character, the story mostly picks up where volume two left off, with Suzie and Jon now allied with sex researcher and former porn actress Jazmine Kincaid hunting through the stolen records of the Sex Police to try to find other people who share their strange ability. While this plot development leads in some interesting directions insomuch as it introduces some quirky new characters to the secret Sex Criminals universe, it doesn't really seem to be going anywhere in particular. The Sex Police are still hunting for Jon and Suzie (and by extension Kincaid), but the reason for their relentless pursuit is as yet completely unexplained. Jon and Suzie are trying to fend off their pursuers, but given that Suzie decides they should stop robbing banks, there doesn't seem to be any real reason for their conflict with the Sex Police any more, and their embryonic goal of assembling like-minded individuals to fight against the Sex Police seems somewhat counterproductive at this point. The plot, such as it is, in this volume, is pretty much the weakest part of this book, as the characters seem to be pushing forward with agendas without much reason for them to do so.

Where the book shines, though, is in the development of the characters and the weird world they inhabit. In their hunt for allies, Jon and Suzie locate others who can access the "Quiet", and who display even stranger powers than those that have thus far shown up in the series. Douglas D. Douglas turns into a sex ghost in a manner similar to that of Kincaid, but with the added twist that his personal fetishes turn him into an anime Lolita sex ghost who speaks in what appear to be unintelligible phrases and hides a dangerous secret. Alix is asexual, has a weird thing about Carl Sagan, and enters the "Quiet" by jumping off buildings. Their personal stories are interesting, giving a glimpse into the somewhat out of the mainstream lives that led them to where they are when they show up in the story, but neither of them really add much to the book otherwise, as they more of less just show up for a bit and then the larger story moves on without them. I suppose they might show up again in a later volume, but at this point, they are just some interesting background material to expand the fictional universe the protagonists live in.

Another character who gets some serious character development is Myrtle, the leader of the Sex Police, who has entered into a sexual relationship with Jon's psychiatrist in order to try to find information about Jon. The number of boundaries that Myrtle crosses in this hunt for Jon and Suzie is evidence of her Ahab-like obsession with catching them, but due to the fact that her motivation for this obsessive quest is thus far unexplained, she seems bizarrely creepy rather than ominous. The fact that her two minions are almost buffoonishly stupid is somewhat disappointing, as it makes Myrtle really the only member of the Sex Police who is even remotely interesting. The fact that they are spend most of their time openly ogling her while she whips them into actually working is a kind of unexpected wrinkle that makes their whole relationship seem even more warped than one might have originally thought, but this doesn't really amount to much more than a quirk. Everything about the plot-line involving Myrtle and her minions serves to illustrate that the book is largely composed of quirky little moments highlighted for the reader, and while this works really well some times, by the end of this volume I was really hoping for something a little more significant.

One of the running themes established in the previous volume is that despite the fact that the various individuals in the story share a common ability, they are often not particularly compatible with one another otherwise. The foundation of Suzie and Jon's relationship is their shared ability to enter the "Quiet" post-orgasm, but time and again, the cracks engendered by their almost comical incompatibility show up. They both work with Kincaid, but the academic holds both Jon and Suzie in barely concealed contempt, at one point exploding into anger when she discovers what the pair use their abilities to do. The interaction between Kincaid and Jon also serves to put an additional strain upon Jon and Suzie's relationship, as Kincaid essentially ignores Suzie and talks only to Jon, while Jon behaves like an adoring fan of the former porn performer. On the other side of the metaphorical street, Myrtle clearly loathes the pair of henchmen who serve as the muscle in her Sex Police activities, and they regard her with poorly hidden lust. Even Douglas and Alix have a relationship of sorts, and it is just as dysfunctional as all the others portrayed in the book. Time and again Sex Criminals highlights just how emotionally broken the characters that inhabit its world are, and how this has twisted and warped their ability to interact with other people to such an extent that even when they find someone who shares their ability, they often struggle to make their relationships function.

What really sets this story apart from the norm is its copious amounts of metatextual material. Sex Criminals has dabbled in metatextual elements from the first volume in which the lyrics to Fat Bottomed Girls were replaced by post-it notes over the speech bubbles explaining what would have been in them but for copyright issues, or scenes in which one character or another breaks the fourth wall to explain something directly to the reader. But while earlier volumes have included metatextual material, Three the Hard Way positively revels in it. Some scenes are entirely omitted in favor of black panels with text explaining what would have been happening. Some of these skips are of trivial scenes, such as a character shopping at an Asian market, while others involve substantive sequences involving characters resolving their differences. Most of the tricks used in previous volumes show up again, including the post-it notes, although this time with a note explaining that they know they are reusing the device. At one point, the book includes an extended sequence in which Fraction and Zdarsky themselves appear in the book to discuss the author's struggles in coming up with a way to advance a particular scene. Some of these metatextual elements work better than others, but what makes them all so interesting is that they amount to telling the story in a manner that would be impossible with any other medium and that is what sets this book apart from many other graphic stories. For any other flaws it might have, Sex Criminals is a story that simply could not exist as anything other than a graphic novel.

Three volumes in, Sex Criminals is a sprawling, ramshackle story told in a quirky and offbeat manner. Full of odd characters - many of whom one would never want to actually meet or interact with - and with a plot that seems to wander almost aimlessly at times, this is a book that simply should not work. However, despite these flaws, or perhaps because of them, this book is eminently readable, and at times compelling. Coming into this volume, Sex Criminals was an odd series about odd people told in odd ways, and by the end it had become an odder series about odder people told in even odder ways. This volume is, in the end, a glorious, albeit slightly unfocused and more exuberant continuation of the story and anyone who enjoyed the first two is likely to find this enchanting in its weirdness.

Previous volume in the series: Sex Criminals, Volume Two: Two Worlds, One Cop

Matt Fraction     Chip Zdarsky     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, December 25, 2017

Musical Monday - Christmas Eve/Sarajevo by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

My Christmas involved one infant daughter, one lovely redhead, thirteen nieces and nephews, five sisters-in-law (okay, one of them is a pending sister-in-law), five brothers-in-law, one mother-in-law, lots of gifts and then lots of discarded wrapping paper, dinner with turkey and ham, a game of Scattergories, a game of Taboo, watching A Christmas Story in bits and pieces, helping build two Lego sets, and now the John Wayne movie Rio Bravo.

I ended up with a Star Wars RPG. The Redhead got Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails and the Sentinels of the Multiverse RPG. Together we got a case of wine, a set of wine glasses, a copy of Randall Munroe's Thing Explainer, a toaster oven, and a copy of Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Littlest Starship Captain got a copy of Alethea Kontis' Wonderland Alphabet, Scientist Barbie, bath letters, and a new high chair.

So, my Christmas has been good. Have you had a good day?

Previous Musical Monday: Alabama by Neil Young
Subsequent Musical Monday: Talking with My Father by Dougie MacLean

Trans-Siberian Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Book Blogger Hop December 22nd - December 28th: 234 Is the Country Code for Nigeria

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever asked co-workers to give you a book or B&N gift card if they got your name for a Secret Santa gift exchange? If so, did you get what you asked for?

At my current place of employment we don't really do a Secret Santa gift exchange that would make such requests viable. Our general format is essentially a blind gift exchange in which no one knows who will get the gift they have provided. So asking for something specific is simply not something that will work.

I did once work for a small firm that did a Secret Santa thing, although that was almost two decades ago. As I recall I did ask for a book, and I think I got a copy of Asimov's Foundation. That's the only time I can recall that I got a book or anything book-related in a work-related gift exchange.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 233 Is a Fibonacci Prime

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, December 18, 2017

Musical Monday - Alabama by Neil Young

The current political climate moves so fast that it seems almost forever since Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in the Alabama special election for the Senate, but the reality is that it was only last Tuesday. In a normal world, the results from this election (and Moore's obstinate and childish refusal to concede in the face of an obvious defeat) would dominate the news. In the current political climate, there have been a half dozen big stories since then that have pushed these election results off the public's radar.

And yet, it is a huge story. In 2016, Trump won Alabama 62 - 34. This race should not have even been close. The GOP should have won this seat in a landslide. The Republicans didn't help themselves much by nominating Moore as their candidate - he was an awful candidate for a myriad of reasons, although the fact that he was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to follow the law and his thinly veiled racism and sexism were all probably selling points in his favor for a lot of GOP stalwarts. Even so, Moore should have won this election by a wide margin. And he didn't. This says a lot about both the political backlash the Trump administration has engendered, and the changing face of the Alabama (and by extension, national) electorate.

In 1972, when Neil Young released this song on the Harvest album, this outcome would have been nearly unthinkable. Not only would Moore have been a perfectly acceptable candidate, he might have been thought of as being a little bit too liberal. At the time, George Wallace was governor of Alabama (in their response to both this song and Young's previously released song Southern Man, Lynyrd Skynyrd released Sweet Home Alabama - Wallace is the governor Skynryd is referring to as being loved in Birmingham), and had run for President of the United States three times on an explicitly racist platform. I maintain that Young's Alabama, while definitely bitter and angry in parts, is also a hopeful song, looking forward to a future in which the worst excesses of the day had been shed - and I think that this past Tuesday is evidence that this may be the case. Or at least evidence that things are changing.

I'm not going to say that racism won't sell in Alabama (and many other places in the U.S.) any more based on the results of the recent election. After all, Jones barely squeaked out a win against an opponent who was so morally reprehensible that he should probably be shunned by all civilized society. But things do seem to be getting better. In 1972, Alabamans routinely elected reprehensible people to high office. This time, at least, they didn't. It isn't a high bar to clear, but the voters in Alabama managed to clear it. That's progress. Plus, I have always liked this song, and I don't know if there will ever be another set of events that transpires in such a ways as to give me the opportunity to feature it on Musical Monday.

Previous Musical Monday: Christmas Canon Rock by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Subsequent Musical Monday: Christmas Eve/Sarajevo by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Neil Young     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Book Blogger Hop December 15th - December 21st: 233 Is a Fibonacci Prime

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Which book(s) would you like Santa to bring you this year?

The top book I am looking forward to getting is Persepolis Rising, the seventh book in James S.A. Corey's Expanse series. I would also be quite happy to get a copy of Cat Valente's Space Opera. I would also like to get the last three books in Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings series, although the last one isn't due to be translated into English until next year, so I guess I'd like the fifth and sixth books in the series.

There are a pile of graphic novels I'd like to get from Santa. The third volume of Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, the third volume of Paper Girls, volume four of Sex Criminals, some more volumes of The Wicked + the Divine, and a bunch of others.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 234 Is the Country Code for Nigeria

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Review - Paper Girls, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Short review: Three of the four paper girls find themselves in 2016 where Erin Teng meets two versions of herself. They have to figure out when to go to in order to find the missing fourth paper girl.

An old Erin Teng
Also a cloned Erin Teng
Erin must choose one

Full review: Paper Girls 2 starts literally seconds after Paper Girls 1 ended carrying our adolescent heroines deeper into a confusing time travel story that has them meet alternate versions of themselves, learn things about their own future, try to puzzle out how time travel works on the fly, and figure out which side in what appears to be an intergenerational war they should align with. In this volume, Erin, MacKenzie, and Tiffany spend most of their time trying to figure out what happened to fellow paper girl KJ, and along the way find themselves forced to decide between two different versions of Erin from the future while running from giant-sized microbial monsters and the religious zealots from a future timeline who seem dead set on capturing the three girls for some unknown purpose. The story is inventive, beautifully drawn and colored, and full of characters that seem both approachable and heroic, and yet the whole remains just as baffling at the end of this volume as it did at the end of the first. Paper Girls is a story full of motion and action that, thus far, seems to be intentionally mystifying.

When writers try to tell stories involving central characters facing unknown foes who have unknown goals, they face the difficult task of keeping the reader engaged while also keeping the forces arrayed against the heroes mysterious and enigmatic. In Paper Girls, the four titular heroines are confronted with not one, but two time traveling factions, both of which thus far seem either unwilling or unable to explain who they are and what they are up to, and the end result is that there is really no way for the reader to get a handle on what either side wants, or even have any real idea of what is at stake in the conflict. This sort of hiding the ball storytelling can work, but at this point Vaughan is two volumes into the story and the reader pretty much has as little information about the two warring factions now as they had when they were first introduced in part one. To a certain extent, the reader can be pulled into the story due to the fact that the four youthful paper girls at the heart of the story are trying to survive amidst the chaos that swirls about them and navigate their way home, but that can only carry the narrative for so long. Without some information about who the large scale antagonists are and what they want, the story risks devolving into just a series of chase scenes punctuated by unexpected and unexplained things happening in the interstitial spaces between them.

Despite the annoyingly vague nature of the threats looming around them, the three paper girls at the core of this story are interesting enough as characters and are place in interesting enough situations to carry the book. There are two different alternate versions of Erin Teng in this volume - one from 2016 where Erin, MacKenzie, and Tiffany time-traveled to, and another from some presumably fat-future time sent back ostensibly to try to help the trio get to where they need to go. The 2016 Erin Teng is a grown woman, but one who is underemployed, single, and generally unhappy with her life. The interaction between the preteen Teng and the adult Teng fuels much of the story, as the adult Teng simultaneously wallows in regret and tries to put on a brave face for her younger iteration - with a lot of the tension arising as the older Teng tries to actually be an adult authority figure to the three younger girls. The far-future Teng is enigmatic through her entire appearance in the book even though she expresses herself in pretty much the most straightforward and direct manner one could every time she interacts with anyone else. As she is apparently from one of the two warring factions, she is fairly circumspect at actually passing on useful information, although it is revealed that she is a clone and that time travel somehow can be miscalibrated in such a way as to cause microscopic creatures to grow to Godzilla-like size. Much of the tension in the story revolves around a cryptic message that is presumably from the missing K.J., as the three papergirls trapped in 2016 must figure out who to trust and what course of action to take.

One of the more interesting subplots in the book involves MacKenzie, who separates from Erin Teng and older Erin Teng with Tiffany and sets out to find her own older self. When she arrives at her familiar childhood home, she is informed by the current residents that the previous occupants's daughter died from leukemia as a teenager. This, somewhat naturally, sets MacKenzie back a bit, as she assumes that this means she only has a few years to live. She cites back to the time-travelling teenagers of the first volume who said that no matter what twists and turns time-travel takes you on, when you reach your end, that's your end. The interesting thing about this subplot is that there are several assumptions in MacKenzie's line of thought that are not necessarily true: The time-travelers may not have been giving accurate information, either intentionally or inadvertently, there may have been another set of occupants in the house between 1988 and 2016, so the "daughter" referenced may not be MacKenzie, and so on. In the face of these various ambiguities, MacKenzie's certainty seems out of place, and for better or for worse the story telegraphs that MacKenzie's conclusions are almost certainly going to be shown to be incorrect.

As with the first volume, Paper Girls, Volume 2 is a visually stunning book. The artwork is quite good, but what really sets it apart from the pack is the coloring by Matt Wilson. While the color scheme is a bit more diverse than the CYMK palette used in the first volume, perhaps to reflect the fact that most of the action takes place in 2016 rather than 1988, the range of colors used is still fairly restricted, and this paradoxically makes the entire volume feel vibrant and lush.

At this point, Paper Girls is a flawed but still intriguing and ultimately promising series. The characters at the center of the story are all engaging, and their direct adventures are all exciting and interesting, but the seemingly intentional lack of explanation of the larger context in which their story is taking place is starting to become a drag on the ability of the story to hold a reader's interest. I remain hopeful that future volumes will rectify this situation, but unless Vaughan becomes a little less stingy with the background details and starts to fill in the larger canvas, this series runs the risk of devolving into nothing more than a series of disjointed-feeling chase scenes. The good parts of Paper Girls are very good, often borderline brilliant, and make the book worth reading, with the only caveat being that there seem to still be some missing colors in the painting.

Previous book in the series: Paper Girls, Volume 1

Brian K. Vaughan     Cliff Chiang     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, December 11, 2017

Musical Monday - Christmas Canon Rock by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Pachelbel's Canon in D wasn't a Christmas song. Well, okay, that's not technically completely accurate, since no one really knows why Canon in D was originally written, especially as it fell into obscurity for centuries and was only really rediscovered by the general public in the late 1960s. So it may have been written as a Christmas song, but we don't really know and have no evidence that would actually support that conclusion.

But the Trans-Siberian Orchestra got hold of the song, added some lyrics and some amplifiers and turned out this version of the song and probably cemented it in people's heads as a Christmas song forevermore. Although it used to be used for a lot of weddings and funerals, now it is holiday music, which seems odd. Repurposing non-holiday music as holiday music seems to happen every now and then - relatively recently the song My Favorite Things became a "Christmas song", an association it didn't have for its first fortyish years of existence.

I have to question the need to do this sort of annexation of non-Christmas songs by the Christmas season. I mean, we already have a lot of Christmas songs that were specifically written as such, and more are produced every year (although many, such as Last Christmas, are terrible). Does the ever-growing octopus of Christmas need to engulf non-Christmas songs as well?

Previous Musical Monday: There Won't Be No Country Music by C.W. McCall
Subsequent Musical Monday: Alabama by Neil Young

Trans-Siberian Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Book Blogger Hop December 8th - December 14th: Heracias Became the First Bishop of Alexandria to Use the Title "Pope" in 232 A.D.

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: If you celebrate Christmas, do you feel the need to stop reading anything but Christmas-themed romances as the holiday season starts?

No. I don't usually do a whole lot of themed holiday-related reading. Most years I am in the middle of an annual reading crunch as I try to get through as many of the year's science fiction and fantasy works before the deadline to nominate for the Hugo Awards arrives.

On a side note, I'm not doing the whole Hugo-nominating and voting thing this year. The arrival of the future star captain four months ago made me dice to take this year off from Hugo voting, mostly because I don't have the kind of time that I would need to really do it right, but I'll be getting back into it next time around.

But even though I'm not immersed in trying to consume as much Hugo-eligible material as possible, I'm still not going to be doing much Holiday-theme reading this year. I have a few books I go back to, such as Letters from Father Christmas, which I mentioned last week, and Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, but my holiday reading list is quite limited. Most of the entertainment that I associate with the holiday season consists of movies and television programs - White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and so on and so forth. In my head music and color are so a part and parcel of the season that visual media is always going to dominate.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 233 Is a Fibonacci Prime

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Friday, December 8, 2017

1989 Hugo Longlist

The 1989 Hugo Longlist is the result of the work of a dedicated fan (who has, the last time I checked, asked to remain anonymous) going through the pages of decades-old fanzines and digging up posts from Usenet news groups and compiling the resulting data into a usable form. This is a form of fannish archaeology that makes things like the Hugo Longlist Project possible, and fondom is forever indebted to the people who do these sorts of tedious and thankless tasks for no reason other than a desire to contribute to the sum total of knowledge regarding fannish history.

In most cases, the Longlist reveals facts about history beyond just the names of the people and works that had just missed making it onto the list of finalists. The deep dive into the data that resulted in the longlist also revealed a couple of works that would have made it onto the list of finalists if they had not been disqualified. In the Best Related Work category, Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time received enough votes to qualify for the final ballot, but was either declared ineligible or withdrawn. In the fanzine category, Aboriginal SF received enough votes to be a finalist, but was ineligible as it did not publish any issues in 1988. Finally, both Elizabeth Moon and Daniel Keys Moran received sufficient votes to be Campbell Finalists, but were both ineligible as they had their first professional publication in 1986 and 1982, respectively. These facts were omitted from the official published Hugo data until they were unearthed by diligent fan research.

A larger revelation contained in the overall shape of the information provided in the longlist is simply how difficult many fans seem to have found determining eligibility in the pre-internet era. Most of the non-fiction categories had at least one ineligible nominee show up either on the longlist or the list of finalists. The prevalence of ineligible nominees is especially notable in the Campbell Award, where there were not only two ineligible authors would received sufficient votes that they would have been finalists otherwise, but three more ineligible authors on the longlist. The salient detail to be drawn from this data is that prior to the internet making the details of publishing transparent to a wider spectrum of the public interested in such things, Hugo voters seem to have spent a fair amount of time figuratively groping in the dark over eligibility issues.

Best Novel

Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh [winner]
Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Guardsman by P.J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton [nomination deleted]
Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card

Longlisted Nominees:
Alternities by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
Deserted Cities of the Heart by Lewis Shiner
Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey
The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson
Hellspark by Janet Kagan
Ivory by Mike Resnick
Orphan of Creation by Roger MacBride Allen
The Paladin by C.J. Cherryh
Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Best Novella

The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians by Bradley Denton
Journals of the Plague Years by Norman Spinrad
The Last of the Winnebagos by Connie Willis [winner]
The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter by Lucius Shepard
Surfacing by Walter Jon Williams

Longlisted Nominees:
Backward Turn Backward by James Tiptree, Jr.
The Blabber by Vernor Vinge
The Color of Neanderthal Eyes by James Tiptree, Jr.
The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
Fatal Statistics by Pauline Ashwell
The Flies of Memory by Ian Watson
Nomans Land by Lucius Shepard
The Skin Trade by George R.R. Martin
Trapping Run by Harry Turtledove
Waiting for the Olympians by Frederik Pohl
We Are for the Dark by Robert Silverberg
Wires by F. Paul Wilson

Best Novelette

Do Ya, Do Ya, Wanna Dance? by Howard Waldrop
The Function of Dream Sleep by Harlan Ellison
Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus by Neal Barrett, Jr.
Peaches for Mad Molly by Steven Gould
Schrödinger's Kitten by George Alec Effinger [winner]

Longlisted Nominees
The Earth Doth Like a Snake Renew by James Tiptree, Jr.
Glacier by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Lunatics by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Hob by Judith Moffett
Sanctuary by James White
Two by Pat Cadigan

Best Short Story

The Fort Moxie Branch by Jack McDevitt
The Giving Plague by David Brin
Our Neural Chernobyl by Bruce Sterling
Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick [winner]
Ripples in the Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis
Stable Strategies for Middle Management by Eileen Gunn

Longlisted Nominees
Eidolons by Harlan Ellison
Mrs. Shummel Exits a Winner by John Kessel
On a Phantom Tide by William F. Wu
Slow, Slow Burn by George Alec Effinger

Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work

A Biographical Dictionary of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists by Robert Weinberg
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen W. Hawking [unclear whether this was ineligible or withdrawn]
First Maitz by Don Maitz
The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village 1957-1965 by Samuel R. Delany [winner]
The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by James E. Gunn
Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror: 1987 by Charles N. Brown and William G. Contento

Longlisted Nominees:
Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard by Russell Miller [ineligible]
Bio of an Ogre: The Autobiography of Piers Anthony by Piers Anthony
Imagination: The Art & Technique of David A. Cherry by David A. Cherry [ineligible]
The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution by Dougal Dixon
Strokes: Essays and Reviews 1966-1986 by John Clute
Women of Vision: Essays by Women Writing Science Fiction by Denise Du Pont

Best Dramatic Presentation

Alien Nation
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? [winner]

Longlisted Nominees:
Lair of the White Worm
The Lady in White
The Land Before Time
Nolacon II Gripe Session [ineligible]
Star Trek - The Next Generation: Elementary, Dear Data
They Live

Best Professional Editor

Gardner Dozois [winner]
Edward L. Ferman
David G. Hartwell
Charles C. Ryan
Stanley Schmidt

Longlisted Nominees:
Lou Aronica
Jim Baen
Ellen Datlow
George R.R. Martin
Beth Meacham
Shawna McCarthy
Elizabeth "Betsy" Mitchell
Price, ? (it is unclear whether this is Patrick Lucien Price of Amazing Stories or Robert M. Price of Crypt of Cthulhu)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Brian Thomsen

Best Professional Artist

Thomas Canty
David A. Cherry
Bob Eggleton
Todd Cameron Hamilton [nomination deleted]
Don Maitz
Michael Whelan [winner]

Longlisted Nominees:
Janet Aulisio
Jim Burns
Vincent Di Fate
Phil Foglio
James Gurney
Tom Kidd
Carl Lundgren
David B. Mattingly
J.K. Potter
Barclay Shaw

Best Semi-Prozine

Aboriginal SF edited by Charles C. Ryan [ineligible]
Interzone edited by David Pringle and Simon Ounsley
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown [winner]
The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Susan Palwick, and Kathryn Cramer
Science Fiction Chronicle edited by Andrew I. Porter
Thrust edited by D. Douglas Fratz

Longlisted Nominees:
Argos: Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine edited by Ross Emry [ineligible]
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer [placed in the fanzine category]
Horror Show edited by David B. Silva
New Pathways Into Science Fiction And Fantasy edited by Michael G. Adkisson
Pulphouse edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch [ineligible]
Science Fiction Eye edited by by Stephen P. Brown and Dan Steffan
Weird Tales edited by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer, and John Gregory Betancourt

Best Fanzine

File 770 edited by Mike Glyer [winner]
FOSFAX edited by Timothy Lane
Lan's Lantern edited by George "Lan" Laskowski
Niekas edited by Edmund R. Meskys, Mike Bastraw, and Anne Braude
OtherRealms edited by Chuq Von Rospach

Longlisted Nominees:
Delineator edited by Alan White
Jane's Fighting SMOFs edited by Jane Dennis and Scott Dennis
Nova Express edited by Lawrence Person
Pirate Jenny edited by Pat Mueller [ineligible]
Pulp edited by Avedon Carol, Rob Hansen, John Harvey and Vincent Clarke
Pulsar! edited by Arlan Andrews
Science Fiction Randomly edited by Hawk and Steve Antczak
Texas SF Enquirer edited by Pat Mueller
Trap Door edited by Robert Lichtman
YHOS edited by Art Widner

Best Fan Writer

Avedon Carol
Mike Glyer
Arthur D. Hlavaty
Dave Langford [winner]
Guy H. Lillian, III
Chuq Von Rospach

Longlisted Nominees:
T.L. Bohman
Richard Brandt
Jeanne Gomoll
Andrew Hooper
Susan Landerman
George Laskowski
Joseph T. Major
Pat Mueller
Leslie Turek [ineligible]
Harry Warner, Jr.
Owen Whiteoak

Best Fan Artist

Brad W. Foster [winner]
Teddy Harvia
Merle Insinga
Stu Shiffman
Taral Wayne
Diana Gallagher Wu [winner]

Longlisted Nominees:
Steve Fox
Alexis Gilliland
Jeanne Gomoll
Jon “Lang” Langford
Joe Mayhew
Ingrid Neilson
Diana Harlan Stein
Arthur Thomson (aka ATom)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

P.J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton
Christopher Hinz
Elizabeth Moon [ineligible]
Daniel Keys Moran [ineligible]
Melanie Rawn
Michaela Roessner [winner]
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
William Sanders
Delia Sherman

Longlisted Nominees:
Andrea I. Alton
Richard Kadrey [ineligible]
Ian McDonald [ineligible]
Loren J. McGregor
Rebecca Ore [ineligible]
Matt Ruff
Mary Stanton

Go to previous year's longlist: 1984
Go to subsequent year's longlist: 2001

Go to 1989 Hugo Finalists and Winners

Hugo Longlist Project     Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, December 4, 2017

Musical Monday - There Won't Be No Country Music by C.W. McCall

I think about my paternal grandfather a lot these days.

When he was young, fresh out of college, having returned from serving in World War II and gotten married, he moved to Montana. This was long before I was born, before even my father was born, but I've seen pictures of him and my grandmother there. He fell in love with Montana, fell in love with the American West, a love that stayed with him for the rest of his life. I still have some of the Charlie Russell prints that his house was decorated with. He loved the wild open spaces. He loved the natural beauty of the unspoiled places of the world. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from camping trips I went on with him in the Rocky Mountains or the Shenandoah, fishing in cold streams or hiking just to see what there was to see.

My grandfather was a fairly conservative man. He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, went to college after he returned, worked as a civilian for a while, and then reentered the service for the Korean War. He was one of the pilots who was in Florida ready to fly over Cuba as part of an anticipated invasion during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he flew during Vietnam. All of my memories of him were of him as an Air Force officer or a retired Air Force officer. I have it on good authority that he wasn't real fond of John F. Kennedy, and voted for conservative politicians on a regular basis. Anyone who would think of him as a bleeding heart liberal is simply dead wrong. He simply came from a generation in which conservative thought wasn't incompatible with preserving some part of the country as unspoiled wilderness to be passed on to later generations.

My grandfather is long gone now, and to be perfectly honest, I'm glad for his sake that he didn't live long enough to see the conservative movement in the U.S. turn into what it has turned into now. I'm glad he isn't around to see the GOP set about dismantling the protections that were put in place to preserve the American West that he loved - that were put into place to preserve the wild and free places all over the country. The rapacious political cabal that has seized control of our government is trading away our descendants' inheritance for some transitory commercial gain, and that is an intergenerational crime of epic proportions. Once these places are mined and exploited, what made them a source of wonder is probably never coming back. I'm glad he was spared the realization that while he was able to share these places with his grandchildren, the way things are going, I will never be able to share them with mine.

I miss him every day. And yet I'm glad he didn't live to see what is happening now.

Previous Musical Monday: O Holy Night by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Previous Musical Monday: Christmas Canon Rock by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

C.W. McCall     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Book Blogger Hop December 1st - December 7th: Radium-231 has a Half-Life of Just Over a Minute and a Half

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What is your favourite Christmas-themed read?

My favorite Christmas-themed read is J.R.R. Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas. Like most children, Tolkien's children wrote letters to Father Christmas (or as most Americans would know the character, Santa Claus). The only difference for Tolkien's children is that Father Christmas wrote back, sending letters complete with stories about what he had been up to during the year, color illustrations, and a cast of characters that included a somewhat clumsy polar bear and evil elves. Letters from Father Christmas is a compilation that includes all of the letters, as well as commentary putting them into context. The letters are funny, beautiful, and touching. The whole book amounts to an extended love letter from a father to his children using a figure of modern folklore as the focus. I read it every year.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review - Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Two by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chris Sprouse

Short review: The complex web of political intrigue set up in the first volume turns into a punching match and a journey through a dreamscape.

A complex story
But let's set that stuff aside
And get to punching

Full review: Book Two of A Nation Under Our Feet picks up more or less where Book One left off, and shows much the same promise of brilliance and suffers from much the same flaws as the first volume. It is clear that Coates wants to write a story about the morality of power - who gets to wield it and how it may be used in a just manner - but he keeps stumbling over the inherent contradictions of a world in which hereditary rulers with powers that make them literally superhuman are the heroes and they are opposed by (among others) people advocating for representative government. It seems that in this installment of the story Coates has recognized this paradox, and has tried to work around it, but it still seems like the world the story is set in is simply getting in the way of the story Coates wants to tell. This isn't to say that this is a bad book, but it is rather an attempt to do something that may be bigger than the genre it takes place in can allow, and as a result, it struggles against these constraints. Ultimately, Coates resolves this issue by mostly abandoning the nuance of the first volume in favor of paring the story down to T'Challa against a collection of over-the-top villains who can be punched into submission.

The political situation at the opening of this book is essentially the same as it was at the end of the last. The shaman Tatu, assisted by the mind-controlling witch Zenzi is fomenting a rebellion he calls "the People" among the Wakandan people with the aim of wresting control of the country away from T'Challa. The disaffected dora milaje Aneka and Ayo are off in a corner of the country seemingly intent on setting up a woman-controlled enclave. Changamire is still preaching the benefits of representative government and denouncing what he sees as T'Challa's dictatorial control over Wakanda. Against this, T'Challa is trying to regain control of the nation he rules, navigating a political situation in which the ability to punch one's enemies into submission is not always all that useful. T'Challa also continues to deal with the fact that his sister Shuri is locked in a prolonged coma from which he is unable to wake her. With all the pieces in place from the first volume, Coates proceeds to move them about the board, showing the various back and forth machinations as "the People" try to make inroads against T'Challa's power and T'Challa, in response, tries to locate his enemies and bring them to heel, using the teleportation capabilities of his ally Manifold to hop around the country to do so.

The net result of all this motion is mostly anticlimactic and almost disappointingly predictable. Tatu tries to recruit Changamire to his cause, but Changamire refuses, pointing out that Tatu's vision is little more than replacing T'Challa's monarchical rule with his own. This serves to more or less take Changamire out of the "rebellion" part of the story, and sidelines him for the rest of the book. When T'Challa sends soldiers to try to subdue the wayward dora milaje, Tatu shows up with Zenzi to mind control the Wakandan troops, but his attempts to take over Aneka and Ayo's forces is rebuffed and he settles for something of a tacit alliance. In these sequences, Coates seems to be taking T'Challa's various morally "grey" opponents off of the board one by one, clearing the board for a showdown between a heroic Black Panther and a villainous evil shaman. As if to drive the point home just a little harder, the story reveals that Tatu's efforts are funded by the duplicitous Zeke Stane, and has the rebellion engage in some underhanded deceptive video editing to make T'Challa look bad.

The conflict in this volume comes to a head when T'Challa flips the script on his opponents, engaging in a little subterfuge of his own so he can record them making a damning confession and then calling in Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Storm -collectively called "the Crew" - to help him brawl with Stane and his team of super-villains. Despite the complex machinations that created a multi-faction civil war, this book reduces the conflict to little more than Black Panther having a throw-down with an unscrupulous foreign interloper who is motivated almost entirely by the prospect of monetary gain. All of the philosophical questions concerning the nature of government raised by Changamire or concerning the role of women raised by Aneka and Ayo are set aside so the story can be simplified to a good and evil punching match with a few guest stars involved in the fracas. After the build-up in the first volume, this sequence almost feels like little more than filler, and to a certain extent undercuts the rest of the story even more. The story was already kind of floundering due to the fact that the rebellion was being sparked by Zenzi's mind-control powers, calling into question whether "the People" actually had any kind of legitimate grievance, and now the fact that it is funded by Stane for purely mercenary reasons opens up even more questions about the legitimacy of the rebel faction. Instead of posing hard questions about the nature of power and who has the right to wield it, the story descends into a simplistic tale of white hats against black hats.

The volume is intercut with sequences in which Shuri explores what amounts to a dream-like version of Wakanada, guided by an ancestral spirit as she navigates the history and folklore of her nation. Each vignette illustrates some lesson about Wakandan culture and the proper use of authority. In a way, it seems like Coates is trying to rehabilitate the notion of rule by a hereditary monarch through the application of mystical wisdom from beyond the grave. This section feels like an attempt to back away from the hard questions posed earlier in the story about the nature of Black Panther's role as the unelected ruler of a nation and make it palatable for T'Challa to emerge victorious in the end. Oddly, despite being isolated from the rest of the narrative (or perhaps because of it), Shuri's story ends up being the most interesting part of this book, filling in Wakandan history and fleshing out her character more fully than just about any other in the volume. This story ends just as T'Challa and Manifold appear to have found their way into the dream world where Shuri is, presumably setting up Shuri passing on these lessons in rulership to her brother.

As with the first volume, this book has a "throwback" story, this time the opening of the 1973 Don McGregor story Panther's Rage, featuring Killmonger and Venomm as antagonists. In the first section, Black Panthers tracks down Killmonger and unsuccessfully faces off against him, with Killmonger assuming the hero is dead following their encounter. In the second, section, the reader is introduced to Killmonger's ally Venomm, who then learns to his dismay that Black Panther is not actually dead, leading to a confrontation between the two. The super-hero stuff in this part of the book is pretty standard stuff: Villains do bad stuff, Black Panther tracks them down, they fight. What is interesting about this selection is the background - T'Challa has apparently been away from Wakanda for a while, and his subjects repeatedly chastise him for ignoring his responsibility to protect the people of Wakanda. The question that looms large in McGregor's piece is simply this: Can someone serve as a super-hero and be a responsible leader for a nation? This sentiment is echoed in the Coates' authored portion of the book, where one of T'Challa's advisors says that T'Challa doesn't want to rule, but rather wants to be a hero. The tension engendered by T'Challa being both the Black Panther and the King of Wakanda readily apparent in McGregor's story, which, in a way, serves as a precursor to Coates' story. The McGregor work contained in this volume is not the complete run of Panther's Rage, but it is so good that it makes me want to dig out a copy and read it in full.

Book Two of A Nation under Our Feet is, as Book One was, a tantalizing but flawed book. The difference is that it is flawed in completely different ways, While Volume One tried to fit a complex political story of competing philosophies of government into a super-hero story, Book Two more or less abandons most of the nuance that had been present in the story to focus on some punching. While the first installment in this series seemed overly ambitious, this volume reveals the cracks in the patina, and simply feels vaguely unsatisfying. That may be due to the fact that this is neither the beginning nor the end of the overall story, and thus kind of has to avoid any real substantive resolution, but even so, the direction the story appears to be going as revealed in this volume feels somewhat disappointing. One can't really conclusively call this a bad story, at least not yet, but one can't really call it a good story yet either. I suppose the most accurate description would be "ambitious and potentially great, but kind of adrift and unfocused at this point".

Subsequent volume in the series: Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Three by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze

Ta-Nehisi Coates     Chris Sprouse     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, November 27, 2017

Musical Monday - O Holy Night by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I have a confession to make: Once I hear a Trans-Siberian Orchestra version of a traditional Christmas song, all other versions are pretty much ruined for me. I mean, I used to really like, for example, Josh Groban's version of O Holy Night, but now when I listen to it, the song just seems so slow and flat. I keep expecting a lead guitar to cut in and drive the song forward. I'm not really sure what this means other than I apparently prefer my Christmas season with lots of electric guitars, but there it is.

Previous Musical Monday: The Pumpkin Spice Lament by Molly Lewis
Subsequent Musical Monday: There Won't Be No Country Music by C.W. McCall

Trans-Siberian Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Blogger Hop November 24th - November 30th: 47 U.S.C. § 230 Provides for Protection of Private Blocking and Screening of Offensive Material on the Internet

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What's your immediate feeling when entering a bookstore, as compared to how you feel when entering a department store?

I don't really go to department stores all that often, although I have walked through them on the way to other things in a mall - most commonly a food court. On those occasions that I do go to a department store, I am usually there to get something specific, and my aim is to get into the store, find the thing I came in to get, pay for it and leave in as short a time frame as possible. I suppose the feeling I get when I enter a department store is basically "let's try to get this over with as quickly as we can".

When I walk into a bookstore, especially a used bookstore, I might be intent on getting something specific, but even if I am, I will usually spend some time perusing the shelves. I am apt to spend an hour or two in a bookstore if I am left to my own devices. I can't stand browsing for things like clothes or most other items, but I'll happily spend extended periods of time hunting through stacks of books, looking for that out of print book I had been wanting to find, or locating something unexpected, like a book that I didn't know existed by one of my favorite authors. The best description I can come up with for the feeling I get when I enter a book store is "anticipation".

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Ad Astra Review - C3PO by Ef Deal

What Is It? Chopped vegetables, pineapple, and pecans in cream cheese.

Cream cheese and peppers
Pineapple, onion, pecans
It's C3PO

Review: C3PO is a pretty simple recipe. It more or less consists of a can of crushed pineapple with chopped bell pepper, onion, and pecans all mixed into a pile of cream cheese. That is basically it. The only change I made from the text of the recipe was that I used a red bell pepper instead of a green bell pepper, mostly because I had a red bell pepper on hand. The end result is a spread than can be used on crackers or fresh vegetables. The end result is also delicious.

I must admit, I was a little bit apprehensive about this recipe, mostly because it is so very simple. There are no spices or anything else added to the mixture to flavor it up. Despite my misgivings, this recipe turned out to be quite flavorful, with the sweetness of the pineapple combining with the sweetness of the bell pepper to give the whole a fresh taste that was tempered just enough by the onion so that the whole wasn't cloying. The only element that really kind of disappeared were the pecans, which I really couldn't taste and didn't seem to provide much additional crunch. The dip is a bit chunky, as all of the ingredients are basically just diced and mixed with the cream cheese, so if one wanted something smoother I suppose you could run it through a food processor or blend it with a stick mixer, but there is not really a need to do so other than personal preference.

I made this as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, and we had it with crackers and an assortment of vegetables. It went over well with everyone, with the redhead going so far as to declare it to be the best recipe from Ad Astra thus far.

One final note on the name, for anyone who doesn't get it: It is an acronym that results in a Star Wars reference. It is cream cheese for the "C", pineapple, pepper, and pecans for the "3P"'s and onion for the "O". Sadly, the recipe doesn't actually look like a golden robot, which would have been cool. It is quite tasty nonetheless.

Previous recipe in Ad Astra: Big Bang Brussels Sprouts by Sean Williams
Next recipe in Ad Astra: "Chilly" Sauce by Nancy Springer

Ef Deal     Ad Astra Cooking Project     Home

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review - Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary

Short review: Henry is an ordinary boy who lives on an ordinary street who finds an ordinary stray dog and has adorable ordinary adventures.

A boy and a dog
Living on Klickitat Street
In six fun chapters

Full review: Henry Huggins was Beverly Cleary's first book, written after she spent years as a librarian struggling to find books to recommend to young boys. The book recounts the adventures of Henry Huggins, an eight year old boy living in an unnamed town in the Pacific Northwest as he, among other things, finds a dog, has an unexpected fish explosion, catches worms to pay off a debt, and tries to clean up his messy pet for a dog show. This book doesn't chronicle big events that change the world or recount pivotal moments in people's lives. It is simply stories about an ordinary boy with an ordinary dog living on an ordinary suburban street doing ordinary things. It is also wonderful.

The format of the book is fairly straightforward. There are six chapters. In each chapter, Henry finds himself confronted with a problem that might plausibly face an eight-year-old boy living on Klickitat Street and he solves it in a reasonably plausible yet humorous manner using little boy logic. Sometimes he gets a little help from his friends, and other times he gets a little help from his parents. Each chapter is more or less self-contained - this book isn't really a novel, but is rather a series of sequential short stories that use many of the characters and the same setting but are only loosely connected otherwise.

The six chapters are: Henry and Ribs, where Henry finds a stray dog and has to figure out how to get him home from his trip downtown on the municipal bus. The complication is that the municipal bus doesn't allow dogs and Henry has to get home before dinner. In chapter two, Gallons of Guppies, Henry buys a pair of guppies that soon turn into a half dozen guppies, and eventually hundreds, ultimately occupying pretty much all of the jars Henry's mother intended to use for canning fruits and vegetables. Pretty soon produce comes into season and Henry has to figure out what to do with hundreds of guppies now that his mother needs her jars back. In chapter three, Henry and the Night Crawlers, Henry loses his neighbor's football and has to figure out how to get the money to get him a new one, and sets about industriously capturing worms for another neighbor who wants to go on a fishing trip.

One interesting element to the book is that Ribsy becomes more important to the stories the further one gets into it. He's the focus of the first chapter, but in the second and third chapters he's not really all that important to the story. In the fourth chapter, The Green Christmas, Ribsy is responsible for the accident that gets Henry out of an unwanted role in Henry's school's annual Christmas pageant. The fifth and sixth chapters - The Pale Pink Dog and Finders Keepers - are pretty much all about Ribsy. In The Pale Pink Dog, Henry enters Ribsy in a dog show and after Ribsy gets dirty in the middle of the show, Henry resorts to some rather humorous means of trying to cover up the mud. In Finders Keepers an older boy shows up, having seen Ribsy in a picture from the dog show of the previous chapter, and says that Ribsy is actually named Dizzy and that before Henry found him in the drugstore in the first chapter, he had belonged to the boy and he had come to get him back. Essentially, as the book progresses, Ribsy becomes a more integral part of each chapter, which serves as a subtle means of showing how the dog becomes progressively more ingrained in Henry's life.

The other notable element of this book is that it now serves as a somewhat unintentional snapshot of the world of 1950 America, which made it more interesting for me, but may serve to make it somewhat less than engaging for younger readers. The most obvious marker is the technology in the book - early in the book Henry must make a telephone call to his mother using a pay phone and he has to stand on a telephone so he can speak into the wall-mounted transmitter, a situation that would probably be almost entirely alien to any child born in the last decade. The other plot element that makes the stories show their age is the comparatively extreme freedom that Henry is given by his parents. In the opening chapter, the eight-year-old Henry has taken the municipal bus downtown after school so he could swim at the YMCA and has stopped off to buy himself an ice cream cone before he takes the bus back home. Henry makes this expedition on his own, and the reader is informed that this is a weekly practice for him. While tweens using a bus to get around is probably still commonplace, children as young as Henry is supposed to be almost certainly do not any more. Throughout the book, Henry's parents practice what can more or less be described as benign neglect when it comes to supervising Henry, allowing him the freedom to get himself into trouble on a regular basis, and then expecting him to solve whatever problem he has created for himself pretty much on his own. It is almost impossible to imagine that any suburban middle-class American child of today being given as much free reign, as much responsibility, and as much leeway to work his way out of difficulties as Henry is given in this book.

Despite its somewhat dated nature, or possibly because of this, Henry Huggins remains a delightful book. Originally intended as a book about an ordinary boy doing ordinary boy things and written for ordinary boys to read, age has made it into a snapshot of the Americana of a bygone era as idealized by time and distance. Regardless of its unintentional time capsule status, this book remains a perfect way to introduce children to Beverly Cleary's world of books, and is an almost must read for a complete childhood.

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