Sunday, May 01, 2016

A Sunday Review

TV this week:

  • The Flash: "Back to Normal" - Barry has to deal with what happened in the previous episode, while Harrison hunts for his daughter. This episode is about heroism and doing what is right, and it pulls together a lot of plot points to find the souls of a couple of our characters. Barry will always be a hero. Harrison will always try to trick and lie to get around problems. It's just how this world works. Add in the other side, with Zoom, and there's something even more interesting going on. Zoom has needs, and it's not clear how he's going to fill those needs. The freak-of-the-week was a sad little story, as well. Put together, it was a solid episode.

  • Arrow: "Canary Cry" - Lots of flashbacks in this episode, but none to the island, thank goodness. With comics, death is really hard to take seriously, as we've already learned in this show. And nothing at all made that more clear than Lance's certainty that this death could be reversed. Also interesting was the mayor's attempt to get killed. What was she playing at? Clearly there's an endgame that Ollie can't see. The show has set up impossible odds to overcome, so it's going to be a strange ride to find out how this storyline plays out.

  • Legends of Tomorrow: "Leviathan" - This had the feel of a final episode, not the fourth-to-last episode. The crew is running out of time thanks to their removal of themselves from the timestream, and so they go after Savage in the one place he's absolutely certain to be. And they fail. Well, that's yet to be completely determined, but yeah, they don't quite succeed, which is why there are three more episodes. Highlights of this one? The giant robot battle, which frankly was so silly it worked. Snart being all Snarty. Seriously, I think I'm falling in love with this version of Captain Cold. Rory's remarks. The way they weaponize the bracelet. What didn't work... why didn't the refugees simply flee the ship? Why didn't she tell Savage "they took the bracelet from me as soon as they captured me", which was the truth, instead of lying? And how, exactly, did Savage pull that mind-trick? It doesn't make sense to me. So, not bad, but not entirely satisfying, either.

Here are reviews of the DCBS comic books that I've gotten around to reading and reviewing, sorted by the original shipping date:
  • Mar 23rd
  • Doctor Who 4th #1 - This issue immediately had the feel of a Sarah Jane Adventures to me... but with it's own twists, obviously. I love the Doctor's response to the professor's big revelation. I wonder if the professor will get a chance to really travel in time? There's not been enough story to really judge this yet, but so far it's promising.
  • Doctor Who 10th #2.7 - Ah, a conclusion of sorts with a massive secret that is carried on to the next issue. Lovely. My biggest complaint with this issue, and the book in general recently, has been the expansion of the cast. I can't keep track of all the characters, which has been annoying. Even so, the book managed to hold together well and keep me going. I like the Doctor sneaking away with his companions at the end. Very like him. So, yeah, a good issue.
  • Doctor Who 11th #2.7 - Breaking into jail, breaking out of jail... I really want to know what The Squire is now. She's not what she thinks she is, but she's totally awesome, so where did she come from and what is her future? Abslom is pretty funny in this one, but he's going to need to be let loose on the bad guys soon, or the Doctor is going to regret it.
  • Mar 30th
  • Aquaman #50 - This is a very different Garth than the hip kid who grew up with Robin in the Teen Titans and went to school in Scotland. I have some issues with him being that clueless, especially as Titans Hunt reveals he was a member of that group once... but then again, maybe the memory wipe took out everything he knew about the surface world. A bit odd, nonetheless. As for Mera, her comment about ridiculous garments made them a little easier to handle for me. Originally I was very upset that she was dressing up as Aquaman, but I guess if it's a media persona thing I might be able to endure it. The federal agents were a nice, funny touch to the story. The capture was... wow. A puddle. Very cool. And the press conference was fine, I guess. But how do you handle a man who will transform into a monster with a little water added? Instant Monster, just add water.
  • Justice League of America #8 - On the one hand, yay Aquaman with his trident. On the other hand, boo for Rao for killing lots of innocents by using up their life forces. Wonder Woman's frustration at not being able to finish him was interesting too. I'll never be able to hear "Great Rao!" again without thinking about this storyline.
  • Back to the Future #6 - First part of a multi-parter that takes place after all the movies. I'm not surprised Marty is a little bored after all his adventures, but I am a little surprised at the plot twist that wakes him up and gets him going. I think I've enjoyed the prequel stories more, but this isn't a bad little tale.

Short story reviews:
  • "The Birth Will Take Place on a Mutually Acceptable Research Vessel" by Matthew Bailey (Lightspeed Magazine Apr. 2016). It takes a little while to figure out what, exactly, is happening. Not too long. Putting aside the obvious problems with a cross-species birth of any sort, this story gets down into the nitty-gritty of what it might be like to be the first in a dangerous new situation. It's a lovely little story, ultimately happy. Not a bad read at all.
  • "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise" by Ken Scholes (Lightspeed Magazine Apr. 2016). My first thought after reading this was that I hoped he'd written more about this universe. Turns out, yup, this is his universe. I'm going to go seek out the novels now, since this is a great little introduction to this world. I'm curious to see what will happen to the characters and how the story evolves. However, this also works very well as a standalone story of a man making decisions to try to save as much as possible after a disaster. Definitely worth checking out.
  • "Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands" by Seanan McGuire (Uncanny Magazine Issue 10). Wow, this is a really depressing story. Even more depressing when you realize just how stupid the mistake was and how easily it could be fixed by someone just asking the right questions or clarifying. I disagree that this is about actions having consequences... it's more about making sure you understand before you take action. I'm afraid this one will probably give me nightmares. Yikes.
  • "The Sound of Salt and Sea" by Kat Howard (Uncanny Magazine Issue 10) - That's one fantastic world there, where the dead come back to walk among the living and the living both endure and enjoy it. This story set up a nice conflict, with the funeral customs and the need for a person to make sure the dead go back where they belong. What I think I'm trying to say is the world-building is excellent. Beyond that, it's a solid story with a satisfying beginning and end, and I enjoyed it a lot. Recommended.

Fortean Times #338
Fortean Times #338 (March 2016). I've never been a huge David Bowie fan, nor have I ever disliked him. Until recently, he was only on the edge of my radar, not a major figure in my life or thoughts. Then a character based on him was introduced in the Doctor Who comic, and I started to look a little deeper, only to learn about his new album... then his death. That said, the cover of this issue has almost no impact on me except that I find it to be slightly creepy, but the subject otherwise is one I'm mildly interested in. The article itself covers a lot of ground, talking about his occult interests and how UFOs affected his ideas. I definitely get the sense that he was a complicated person, trying to reinvent himself constantly, but always willing to go back and re-examine. I just hope he found peace somewhere in all that madness.

The second feature article of the magazine is about a series of strange UFO reports. The Magonia Exchange, a group on online researchers using archived newspapers to hunt for interesting stories, uncovered this case and use it in the article as a way of explaining how the work of hunting down the origins of these stories happens. I love the detective work that goes into it, and I admit I ache to join them. If only I were independently wealthy and could spend my days as I wished!

The third feature is about the X-Files, a show I never watched in its original run, although I'm open to binge-watching it if I ever do become independently wealthy. The final article is about a Chilean island upon which a group of witches took control during that uncomfortable gap between self-rule and colonial attention.

Strangedays starts out with tales of Japanese taxi drivers picking up disappearing fares in the tsunami-devastated areas. There's a great photo of an "ancient Greek laptop" in a sculpture. I'd like a view from the top... is there a keyboard? Maybe then I'd think there was something to it. There's a nice round-up of stupid criminals and a report of people who can talk via whistling to communicate over long distances.

A few neat photos of cats grace the pages of strangedays, but I sincerely doubt the cats with the split coloring on their faces are chimaeras... If they are, there are a lot of them out there. I met one just like those photos just the other day here in town. There's also a bit on flat-earthers, who exist around the globe. Ha. And there's a round up of reports of people injured by meteor fragments.

The Conspirasphere has a scientific attempt to show how many people can keep a secret for how long, to prove that many/most of the more lunatic conspiracies can't possibly be true. As Noel Rooney points out, it's not going to convince anyone who already believes the world is ruled by lizards. Alien Zoo has a report on where the Loch Ness Monster might hide when people are scanning the loch. Um... right. There's also some very large worms and a bleached giraffe.

Ghostwatch is basically a review that rips apart a recent TV drama about Harry Price, then explains what it got wrong and why it's so horrible to his memory and to the concept of ghost hunters in general. Mythconceptions takes on the concept of body language, and how to tell if people are lying by the way their eyes move. Fairies and Folklore is about Bogey Beasts. The UFO Files continues to look at Rendlesham Forest.

Strange Statesmen goes over the wall and into the realm of the utterly insane. I'm not really sure what to think of this one. The Illustrated Police News is about a man who fasted for a living. Yeah, that's right, he stopped eating while on display and drew crowds and made a bunch of money. Until it fell out of favor with the masses. Phenomenomix is about, surprise, David Bowie.

A special report focuses on John Dee's library, an exhibit at the Royal College of Physicians in London. I'd love to go check it out, but I think that's a bit beyond my means. The Forum starts with a tale of what might possibly be considered mass hysteria by a bunch of boys at a church camp. The much more interesting piece, however, is the story of trying to figure out how big a cat was in some video... the results surprised the researchers, who definitely learned a lesson about judging size from what you see without much context on a video screen.

Reviews has more than one book I want to read, starting with a book about redheads and moving on to a book on Tesla. I'm also kind of interested in the Hitchcock interview documentary. The letters are lovely, and there's a full page of trees that looks like faces. I'm also happy with It Happened to Me, which has a piece that reminds me of the phantom footsteps I heard on a sleepover with my best friend as a child. Not much to say about that experience, except we thought it was her brother sneaking up on us, but when we turned on the lights, no one was there.

This was a pretty good issue of my favorite magazine. If you have an open mind and a very odd sense of humor, this is definitely the magazine for you.

Misquoting Jesus
My library book this week was Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman. This is an intriguing look at the scholarship of the New Testament, and what was changed by scribes over the years. The author even gives some reasoning why those changes might have been made. The scholarship within the book is fascinating and engaging, explaining changes without passing judgement on them. However, Ehrman apparently insulted a lot of people with his personal preface and the final thoughts, in which he declares that he believes the New Testament could not have been divinely inspired because if it was, it would have been divinely preserved instead of being allowed to be corrupted. It's a valid opinion, but one that enrages people who have spent their entire lives believing in a divinely inspired Book, meaning a lot of people have attempted to discredit Ehrman's entire book because of his opinion. Which is silly. The vast majority of the book is simply an explanation of Biblical scholarship.

Leaving off whether or not I agree with Ehrman's conclusions, the explanations are top-notch. This is how a writer needs to explain a complicated problem to a normal person. Ehrman excels at grabbing a specific example and using it to carefully peel away the layers of mistakes or misquotes to find what might have been the original text. He explains the different types of mistakes that scribes make, and notes that the vast majority of changes were unintentional - misspellings and the like. But they are changes nonetheless, and for a guy who came up through the born-again-every-word-in-the-Bible-is-divinely-inspired world, Ehrman says finding even typos in the Bible was an eye opening experience for him. As I come from a tradition that says the Bible has been altered significantly over the centuries, the notion had far less of an impact on me. I expect to see differences and changes, so much of Ehrman's book cemented my own understanding of the New Testament.

I was a little taken aback by some of the ideas, particularly about how to determine if a source is closer to the original. A lot of those bits were things I hadn't really thought about, so some of it was strange to me. Then there's the idea of hunting down original manuscripts. It actually puts the Dead Sea Scrolls into a much clearer context for me. Any earlier source of documents of the New Testament is a good thing, as it brings us closer to the originals.

There's also a good section on the different forces within early Christianity that made scribes remove or add bits to support their own theories and beliefs. From heretic groups within the religion to people who hated Christianity from without, the writings themselves sometimes reflected the problems of the times through the alterations. Ehrman makes some interesting cases for things that are and aren't original to the texts of various scriptures. He also makes a good case that the first four books are presenting entirely different stories of Jesus, based on their author's own beliefs and intents, and that reading all four testaments as if they agree with one another is a false reading. I definitely see where he's coming from on that notion.

Ehrman also has a theory about reading, which is the finale of his book. His notion is that every reader brings themself into any work. Every existing work is interpreted differently by different people simply due to our own experiences. Thus, no single reading is correct and no single reading is wrong. It reminds me of Bujold's essay on loving early Star Trek, and how the viewers of the original show worked to bring their own interpretation to it. People watching plays fill in the bits that can't be seen on stage. People reading a text fill in gaps and descriptions from what they already know and have experienced. It's how we enjoy works. And because of that, people read the same thing and get different meanings from it. The result in the time of the early scribes is that sometimes the scribe wrote what they thought the text meant instead of copying it exactly. Which should have been a no-no, but it wasn't always intentional change. It still resulted in something different being passed down than the original author meant.

If you are a person who believes the Bible is the un-alterable Word of God, then you are probably going to be either offended or depressed by this book. Considering the impact of the Bible on the Western World, anyone else should find it a very interesting look at how the New Testament came to be. I recommend it.