Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Sunday Review

TV this week:

  • Gotham: "A Legion of Horribles" - This is really winding up for a massive season finale. One question - is that Clayface or False Face? It seems like it could be either. Ok, good stuff. The return of Fish, which we were expecting. Lucius Fox being intelligent. Selina's street smarts working in her favor. Nygma's sheer joy at being bad. I also like Ethel, Hugo's assistant. The Court of Owls? Is that who the big bad is? I'm impressed by the number of cliffhangers this episode seems to have, and it will be very interesting to see what happens in the season finale next Monday.

  • The Flash: "Invincible" - Poor Barry didn't get it. The Speed Force wasn't just helping him handle his past grief, it was trying to prepare him for a big loss to come. I love how the team comes together in this episode to try to help Barry tone down his feelings of superiority. I also enjoyed how Cisco is finally coming into his powers. The fact that he was able to protect himself with his abilities was interesting. But that final bit of the show, where everyone is gathered and the truth came out to at least one confused young man... that was impressive. The finale of Zoom was painful, but the Speed Force practically told Barry it was going to happen - he just wasn't listening.

  • Arrow: "Lost in the Flood" - While there are some repercussions on the news about the nuke, I'm thinking there would be a heckuva lot more outrage, fear and panic. Then again, we're only seeing one angle. For all the viewers know, the rest of the world could be running around screaming. The remainder of the episode was so-so. Felicity's parents are amusing, but not my favorite parts of the show. Seeing Curtis again was good. But mostly I just want this plotline to finish.

  • Legends of Tomorrow: "Legendary" - Well, that was quite a finale. I didn't actually expect them to finish off Savage. I'm more than a little confused about how they did it, and what it did to the timeline, but I gather it was all happening in a paradox anyway. So my own personal pet theory (MOPPeT) is gung gur gvzryvar jnfa'g npghnyyl nssrpgrq ol gur qrnguf bs gur cnfg Fnintrf, fvapr gurl jrer vafvqr gur cnenqbk (urapr jnvgvat sbe gur tybjvat ovgf gb tybj). Gur bayl Fnintr jub "qvrq" jnf gur "pheerag" bar, jub unq nyernql zheqrerq Evc'f snzvyl. The cliffhanger was fun enough... I like me a bit of JSA. The next season ought to be good.

Here are reviews of the DCBS comic books that I've gotten around to reading and reviewing, sorted by the original shipping date:
  • Apr 20th
  • Aquaman #51 - After capturing Dead Water, its human form is kept in a near-waterless containment. Turns out the human form has a name and a life, and is completely unaware of what he's been doing, remembering only his last employer... The Scavenger. The art on this is fantastic, with just the right mix of scenes to drive the action home. There's much less humor in this issue, but when Aquaman is basically torturing a guy to keep him from turning into a monster and killing everyone, it kind of gets everyone down a bit, I think. Mera had a good role to play, but that stupid outfit is not winning me over. Seriously, she's her own woman. She hardly needs to dress like Aquaman to earn respect. Beyond that nitpick, I quite enjoyed this issue and I'm reallly looking forward to the next one. I'm liking the team of Abnett and Cifuentes, and hope they stick with the book for awhile.
  • Titans Hunt #7 - The threat is so great that destroying the potential pawns is the only way to stop it? What about knocking them all unconscious until you can get a handle on the problem and stop it, rather than slaughtering people? Oh well, you don't expect an organization called Diablo to be friendly. The pair of Diablo agents with big letters on their chests made me think of Team Rocket from Pokemon. Silly. They weren't quite as silly in action, but terribly hokey and stilted. There wasn't really enough of Aqualad in this issue for me. While the lead trio is nice, I just want a bit more from them than walking up a staircase. Again, the issue seemed to be padded out a bit more than needed. I think this entire mini-series could have been done in half the length.
  • Teen Titans Go #15 - The first story, with the scaredy-pants, was mildly amusing except for the major plot hole (he put them on over his tights, so taking them off shouldn't have "pants" him). The second tale featured a little bit of Aqualad, although I see Raven and Starfire no longer have little hearts whenever they look at him, and Raven seemed to even be ug-ing at him. Amusing issue, but only just ok.
  • Astro City #34 - There must be a lot of ex-supervillains in the Astro City universe, and the big bad definitely takes advantage of that. Carl is a good person at his heart, and this issue was kind of an "aw shucks" finish to a somewhat scary tale. He helped his friends and stopped a villain, but also showed how human he was while he was at it. A great little story.
  • Back to the Future #7 - Marty is sure into the adventure, but it's really not good news for Doc. Things get more and more mysterious as the issue plods along... the reveal of Doc's "car" was a little extended. The final bit, a contest between Needles and Marty, is just dumb. As I've said before, I prefer the stories set before the movie that fill in the background of the characters. This story hasn't really gripped me.
  • Dirk Gently: A Spoon Too Short #3 - From the hairstyle, it's got to be Dirk as a child, right? Beyond that, I'm not sure what to say about this. It defies any logical description, and laughs at attempts to explain the plot. You almost have to read it to get it. I'm not a huge fan of this character, but this isn't a bad series so far.
  • Huck #6 - I really enjoyed this book. It's a fairly simple tale of people who didn't deserve the pain they suffered. I particularly like how smart Huck and his mother actually are, and how humble they decide to be about it. Huck's desire to help people makes him a hero to look up to, and his mother's ability... well, that's something terrible and wonderful, especially when combined with Huck. The final page was nicely brutal and a good contrast to Huck's forgiving nature. A lovely series, well worth reading. Get the collection, folks, if you missed the individual issues.
  • Legends of Oz Tik-Tok And Kalidah #1 - Old West Oz is a fun universe and this is an intriguing addition. I'm curious about why Tik-Tok would be hanging out with a Kalidah in the first place. The design of Tik-Tok is unique as far as I can tell, with an owlish look I wasn't expecting. The fighting style is pretty neat, and it amuses me that he suffers from the same weakness every version of Tik-Tok has... hence he must have a traveling companion of some sort. The Kalidah is obviously an equal based on certain events. Beyond the team-up itself, we have the plot, which involves a treasure. I wonder exactly how that's going to play out? A decent start. Let's see where it goes from here.
  • Doctor Who 4th #2 - Ooh, now it feels like a fourth Doctor adventure, with some bumbling in and pretending to be stupid only to prove he's very smart. Fun so far, but what's on the other side of that gateway? I am very curious if it's something we've seen before, something entirely new, or something from myth (as the cyclops suggest) made real. With a decent cliffhanger, this one promises more fun before it's over. The art is a tiny bit uneven, possibly it's just the coloring. It can be hard to distinguish Carstairs before her incident with the gateway versus after... and just what happened to her. There's obvious clues, but I'm hoping the answer isn't completely obvious once we see it.
  • Doctor Who 11th #2.8 - Too many characters crowding the TARDIS, and both River and the Doctor seem... out of character. I really need to know what happened to The Squire and what she really is. Absalom was a nice kick in this one, with his calm talk after beating up a bunch of fellow thugs. But the Doctor is extra manipulative and extra cruel in this. I don't know... I kind of what the story to hurry up and finish. It seems wrong, and I'd like to see a new story to replace it.

Aeronaut's Windlass
My library book this week was The Cinder Spires: the Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher.

Well, what do you know? A Butcher book I enjoyed. Perhaps I just need to come at his series from the beginning in the future.

Anyway, this is the story of... well, it's complicated because there are four or five main characters and the book never really settles on which one is the main story, so the reader can take it from many different angles. My biggest complaint is probably that no one character was given quite enough time to develop beyond a set of stereotypes into something more, although a couple of characters nearly made the jump.

The book itself rumbles along at a decent pace, and the world-building is excellent. I'm curious to know more about the Spires and how they were built (and why) and what the surface actually is. I enjoyed the airships and the concept, expressed by one character, of living her entire life within a confined space to the degree that merely seeing the sky gave her vertigo.

My favorite character would have to be the minor noble, Bridget, who goes to serve in the military as a duty. She probably came closest to breaking out of the stereotype set for her: large, strong girl who is a reluctant warrior at best. The way she deals with both Folly and her goofy talking cat, Rowl, made her the most interesting of the bunch.

Folly is another promising character, with a pure psychological quirk that makes her far more interesting than the rest of the cast. However, the book definitely left me wanting in regard to her and her abilities. That's not a flaw, necessarily, in an ongoing series.

The elephant in the room is the cat in the story. There will be a lot of people who really don't like Rowl and the other cats, but I thought they were handled well for the most part. There was slightly more of them that I really wanted to read, but since those bits almost always propelled the story forward, I won't complain. And, as a person owned by a cat, I can vouch for some of the behavior, although as far as I know my cat hasn't evolved enough to talk.

Overall, this was a fun romp, a good little tale. It's not going to be considered high art, and it didn't make me rethink the fantasy genre. It's certainly a good story, but I read it because it's on the Hugo finalist list. And as good as it is, I don't think it really belongs on that list.

Fortean Times #35
Fortean Times #35 (Summer 1981). The cover is... odd. Somewhat hard to discern what's happening without the "blazing bodies" headline. Yup, this issue visits the subject of Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) with an article by Peter Christie that looks at a well-known case by hunting down as many primary sources as possible on the incident. In particular, there's a very early account of the death of Grace Pett that just has to be quoted: "her bone chiefly calcined and ye whole so farr reduced to ashes as to be put in ye Coffin with a Shovel". Yikes. It should be noted that this woman died in her kitchen, apparently by fire, and the wood floor and a paper screen next to her did not burn. SHC is a really really weird phenomemon, and has been documented enough times to be something real, if not understood completely. From what little I've read of the cases, however, most (if not all) of them appear to involve the consumption of liquor and open flame near the person who died. Continuing the theme is a Notes section on fires that reports on a number of SHC cases, including a couple of survivals.

Heading back to the start of the issue, the editorial apologizes again for a long delay in the issue. There's also a note that the crossword in the previous issue was missing a clue, for which the answer was "pyre". But the rest of the crossword answers are not given. Argh!

The first article in this issue is by John Michell and calls Darwinism a myth. Reading it, I can't help but wonder at the definition of Darwinism he's using. It almost seems to me that he's set up a strawman version of Darwin's theory and is whacking joyfully away at it, not paying attention to the real theory behind it. But I'm not sure. I have a sense that I'm missing something. Perhaps it is because some 35 years on we have a better grasp of the flaws of the theory while still being willing to accept the overall theme of it. I don't know. It just seems a little over-the-top and attacking the wrong target to me.

The article on the Runamo Runes is about believing something to be true so deeply that you lose all sense of perspective. In short, there is a vein of rock that wanders along a forest in Sweden and has a lot of cracks in it that resemble runes. The resemblance is enough that a whole lot of people really believed them to have been carved, and one Icelandic professor "translated" them in 1834, after working out that they were in code. Other scientists figured out what the cracks really were, although the professor defended his work until his death. They are now widely considered a natural feature, cracks in the rock, and not something someone carved. This article was republished, revised and expanded, in Fortean Times 177, the 30th Anniversary Special.

Another feature in this issue is a bunch of reports of fortean events from a correspondent in Malaysia. As often happens, the reports are eerily similar to reports from every other country, often with local twists, but equally as often with details that match UFO/strange animal/falling thing reports from around the world and across time. Strange things happen. They always have, and they always will.

I've finally found something in Fortean Times that I really don't want to read in the America Mystica column. It's nearly incomprehensible. It's like reading the worst conspiracy theorist possible trying to link things that have nothing to do with one another through a variety of silly and often contradictory ideas. I got through the first column a couple of issues ago and read one of his very poor reviews... but at this point I don't want to read any more.

Getting back to the fun stuff, On The Trail by Loren Coleman has some advice for Fortean travelers on how to find the best places to visit to find the wierd and wonderful. In the internet age, it's much easier to find the kind of information he talks about, but back in 1981 it wasn't as easy to find such specialized data. I would guess this piece was well received by the audience. I'd love to see a nice online version for my neck of the woods curated by someone like Coleman, actually.

While I'm not really warmed up to Doc Sheils yet, I loved the opening lines of this issue's "Words from the Wizard".
If Nessie happens to be an organic, flesh and blood plesiosaur, then she is no more interesting than a coelacanth: and if Bigfoot is, simply, a type of North American anthropoid ape, he is really no more interesting than a gorilla. No less interesting, certainly, but, equally certainly, no more.
He goes on to say that he finds impossible animals, like Owlman, "...a winged thing with an owl's face, a man's body and feet like a crab's claws..." to be far more interesting because it is impossible. Then he goes into a discussion of how he invokes the impossible through shamanistic rituals, and he loses me. Oh well.

Notes from the Trashkashic Records is about television. And there's something deeply odd and satisfying about reading an article that discusses television from 1981... about the time I really started getting interested in what shows were on. As an aside, I discovered quickly that I really didn't care for most shows, but I loved the theme songs to some of them and would watch them only to hear it. There were a few shows my parents wouldn't let me watch, but they'd tolerate (with rolled eyes) me watching the theme songs. The rest of the show? Bah. Anyway, back to the column, author Bob Tarte argues that television was changing the collective value of the culture by expanding what was allowed to be shown on television.
As viewers become bored with TV-reality, it enlarges slightly to accommodate more startling images. Yet these are surprising solely in the context of the medium; 'I didn't think they could show that on TV!' is the classic viewer response to something new.
Throughout the piece he namechecks a number of shows, from Ozzie and Harriet, Three's Company, I Love Lucy to Fantasy Island and Cosmos. Honestly, reading this column was a kick in the pants and a lovely walk back through time, as well.

Steve Moore has another report of strange doings from the Eastern side of the world, and there's a goofy report of a pecan tree in Alabama that was whining. There's also some updates on people who tried to solve teh energy crisis with perpetual motion machines. There's a neat page of Antiquities, which reports on a bunch of statues, some wrecked ships and some lost cities. I love these kind of reports. There's also a good set of reports in "Heavens Above" about who discovered Neptune and Jupiter and that Pluto is a double-planet. Another report looks at recent falls of strange things, including frogs and stones. There are more reports of out-of-place big cats, as well.

Phenomenomix is another two-pager in this issue, The Borders of Buffoonery Part 2, in which our bopped-on-the-head hero learns more things that man was not meant to know and gets bopped on the head more times. That's the only comic in this issue, but there is a picture of a twisted chimney under the title "Curiosa".

The letters were the usual mix, with one about winged cats and a bit on an article in the previous issue that I found incomprehensible being a spoof. Huh. The reviews make me want to visit a used bookshop with a list. All around fun issue with a lot to think about. I really enjoyed this one, despite the disturbing theme of the cover article.

Fortean Times Wishlist: FT1-FT24, FT40-FT163, FT194-FT211, FT219-FT222, FT229-FT238