Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Not-So-Dark Mystery of Time and Space

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 8.02

Title: Invaders From Mars
Written By: Mark Gatiss
Team TARDIS: Eighth Doctor, Charley Pollard
Adversary: The Laiderplacker, Cosmo Devine
Originally Released: January 2002
Range and Number: Big Finish Main Range, #28

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -

Hallowe'en 1938. A month after a mysterious meteorite lit up the skies of New York State, Martian invaders laid waste to the nation. At least, according to soon-to-be infamous Orson Welles they did. But what if some of the panicked listeners to the legendary The War of the Worlds broadcast weren't just imagining things?

Attempting to deliver Charley to her rendezvous in Singapore 1930, the Eighth Doctor overshoots a little, arriving in Manhattan just in time to find a dead private detective. Indulging his gumshoe fantasies, the Doctor is soon embroiled in the hunt for a missing Russian scientist whilst Charley finds herself at the mercy of a very dubious Fifth Columnist.

With some genuinely out of this world 'merchandise' at stake, the TARDIS crew are forced into an alliance with a sultry dame called Glory Bee, Orson Welles himself and a mobster with half a nose known as 'The Phantom'.

And slowly and surely, something is drawing plans against them. Just not very good ones...

My Review:

Oh Big Finish. I’ve already sung your praises for giving the Sixth Doctor a new lease on life. And now, I get to gush about your extensive line of Eighth Doctor audios. It’s like Christmas and my birthday have come all at once! (except I don’t have to listen to my dad whinge about how I’m not married or listen to the airheaded goofballs my brother brings home. So, really, it’s nothing like my birthday or Christmas).

So, the TV Movie didn’t quite work out as a pilot for a rebooted Doctor Who series (I’m certain that there’s an entire blog post about the whys and wherefores of that). But the Eighth Doctor Adventure novels continued under BBC Books’ licensing and the Eighth Doctor features in the comics as well. Which is all well and good - but a huge part of the persona of the Doctor comes from the actor playing him. Even when I read a Doctor Who novel, I still would like to be able to picture that particular actor’s performance as I read (that was partially my problem with “Ten Little Aliens” - the Doctor, Ben and Polly were not at all how they would be played on TV). We have the TV Movie, yes, but Whovians are insatiable (well, most of us are. Some still can’t get over the fact that Tom Baker is no longer playing the Doctor on TV) and we want MOAR, dammit!

And there, Big Finish enters the stage.

The geniuses behind the behind-the-scenes documentaries on the Classic Who DVD range recently produced a series called "Doctor Forever" in which different aspects of the Doctor Who franchise outside of television are discussed. "The Apocalypse Element" is the the installment on Big Finish and Doctor Who audios in general (it's available on the Special Edition of "The Visitation") and is very much worth your time and money (hell, the entire DVD is worth your time and money).  This documentary goes over the genesis of Big Finish, in that there were a group of dedicated fans who thought Doctor Who could have a home on audio. At first, Paul McGann’s agency said he wouldn’t be interested, but when McGann himself actually heard about it, he was excited and gung-ho for the idea (according to people like Gary Russell and Nicholas Briggs - and I assume that those guys ought to know about things like this, so I’m taking it as gospel truth).

And thus, Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor got a new lease on life. It’s not the TV series that some of us want for Eight, but it’s pretty damn close.

I haven’t listened to the separate Eighth Doctor Adventures series with Lucie Miller, nor have I had the pleasure of listening to “Dark Eyes,” but I often hear fans whose judgment I trust expound upon the virtues of those stories and I can’t wait to listen to them when I finally get the chance.  But I can talk about the start of Eight’s Big Finish run, which is pretty solid. “Storm Warning” is consistently considered a pretty good first outing and “Sword of Orion” is quite notable as well. “The Chimes of Midnight” is touted as a masterpiece and I can’t say I disagree. But one that I always, always, always enjoy - for vastly different reasons - is “Invaders From Mars.”

(And I didn’t realize that Mark Gatiss had written it until I looked it up on TARDIS Wikia. So, there is that).

“Invaders From Mars” is Eight’s “The Kingmaker” - it’s fun and quirky and rompy. And it’s got a crapton of American Nostalgia, which is a little odd for a British institution like Doctor Who to tackle. But I figure if it’s done right and not too much, it can be quite fun (and it’s appropriate for an audio adventure to celebrate the Golden Age of Radio).  I don't even mind the goofy American accents because, well, to someone from the American West, people back East (particularly in New York and points northward) sound pretentious and funny anyway.

The time period this is set in is the famous Halloween broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" that sent everyone into a panic, thinking Martians were invading Earth. Most historical events Doctor Who has tackled have been super-serious things, like World War II or the French Revolution or the eruption of Mount Vesuvius over Pompeii. But this historical event has an element of lightheartedness and humor at the center of it, which lends itself to the lightheartedness and humor in this story.  Even the actual aliens that are threatening to invade are kind of clownish and silly, but that's perfectly okay because the rest of the story is a bit silly too.  Even down to the classic, old-timey "Ba-da-dum-dum-DUMMMM!" audio cue that plays throughout the story during scene changes and at cliffhangers (which is even blended into the traditional Doctor Who end credit sting that Big Finish continues to utilize in their stories).  This story succeeds because it doesn't take itself seriously, so even the over-the-top exaggerated caricatures (which might annoy some fans) aren't that bothersome.  Best of all, it allows Paul McGann and India Fisher to indulge more in the fun side of the Doctor and Charley's personalities - which they both do beautifully.

Recently, I've been going over the Eighth Doctor's Divergent Universe arc which gets downright dark and gritty.  Some aspects of that I like, but most of the time it gets very heavy and I want to find something more light.  Even in the early Eighth Doctor Big Finish, there is a sense of weight that foreshadows how dark and heavy the writers are willing to go with this.  But I like that they allowed themselves a break from that heaviness and were able to step back for a breath before diving into the head-spinny-and-very-serious "The Chimes of Midnight" (which is one I very much enjoy, don't get me wrong).  It's good to take things seriously, but don't discount the fluffy stories just because they're fluffy.  Certainly, fans cannot live on fluff alone, but neither can we subsist on a diet of nitty-gritty, grim-and-dark, soulsucking horror.

This story is a neat little tribute to classic 1930s radio and "The War of the Worlds."  It's fun and enjoyable and definitely worth a stop before heading into the next story in the Eighth Doctor's timeline - "The Chimes of Midnight."

It's interesting that this particular promotion came up while I was writing this review.  Paul McGann chose his favorite Eighth Doctor Big Finish plays and people can vote on their favorites from that list and whichever ones gets the most votes, Big Finish will offer them at a discount.  Most of them are from the Lucie Miller range (plus the "Dark Eyes" boxed set), so I haven't heard them myself, but it's still a neat little list.  Give it a look and a vote if you feel so inclined.

Also - seeing as this is the last Big Finish review this project with undertake *sad tear* I'd like to plug "The Minister of Chance" audio drama that both Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy are in.  Taking the plunge into Big Finish Doctor Who has given me an appreciation for audio stories and I wanted to branch out into other audios and see how I liked it.  And after listening to the first episode, I quite like it!  So, check them out too.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 8.03 - Big Finish helped keep Eight alive - but the novels got there first.

Previously -
Review 8.01 - Mostly Dead is Slightly Alive

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Throwback Thursday - "Incarceron" and "Sapphique" by Catherine Fisher

Note: Apologies for being MIA last week, but I had some personal things to deal with and that meant Throwback Thursday got pushed to the back burner. But I'm back with another... well... okay recommendation.

**Originally posted on cj's bookshelf on June 10, 2011**

Title: Incarceron, Sapphique
Author: Catherine Fisher
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication Dates: Incarceron: January 2010; Sapphique: December 2010
Reading Level: 14 and up

Incarceron Synopsis: (from Goodreads) -
Incarceron -- a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology -- a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber -- chains, great halls, dungeons. A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here. In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison -- a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists. But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device -- a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn's escape is born.

Sapphique Synopsis: (from Goodreads) -
Finn has escaped from the terrible living Prison of Incarceron, but its memory torments him, because his brother Keiro is still inside. Outside, Claudia insists he must be king, but Finn doubts even his own identity. Is he the lost prince Giles? Or are his memories no more than another construct of his imprisonment? And can you be free if your friends are still captive? Can you be free if your world is frozen in time? Can you be free if you don't even know who you are? Inside Incarceron, has the crazy sorcerer Rix really found the Glove of Sapphique, the only man the Prison ever loved. Sapphique, whose image fires Incarceron with the desire to escape its own nature. If Keiro steals the glove, will he bring destruction to the world? Inside. Outside. All seeking freedom. Like Sapphique.

My Review: 
I tried.  I really, really tried.  But the fact remains that - other than around chapter 27 when things REALLY started getting going - I just didn't care about these characters.  I've said in other reviews that if I don't care about the characters or the plot, then there's really no point in continuing to read (or watch, as the case may be).  I have very little context for what's going on in these books - I don't know why they chose to instate Protocol or trap everyone in the Regency Era, I don't know how Incarceron came about, I don't know if this is science or magic (or some combination of both - but to what extent?), I don't know how the Warden came into power, I don't know where Queen Sia came from or how her sorcery works, I don't know who the Sapienti are or even why they are important!  How were people selected to be Prisoners of Incarceron?  Where did Sapphique come from - was he even a real person or was he just a legend that the Prisoners invented?  Who in the world is King Endor or Lord Calliston and why are we getting excerpts from their writings at the beginning of each chapter?  Why did the Warden take Claudia from the Prison as a baby and raise her to be Queen? Why does he need his daughter to be Queen?  What does the Warden do all day, anyway?

These are things I think about.  And I certainly can't be the only one. 

For two whole books, I expected there to be a satisfactory explanation of how this world works and I never got it.  Because I didn't have any context for the world, I didn't know why these characters were doing these things and it didn't make any sense.  It would be safe to say that I got more out of the summaries on the book jackets than I did out of the actual story.

The narrative takes a lot for granted.  No, I should say that it assumed too much.  It assumed that readers would simply fill in the blanks on their own and left waaaay too much out.  I wanted to care about Finn and Keiro (even though I thought Keiro was a twerp - oh, that's another question: How did Finn and Keiro become oathbrothers? What does that even mean?), but I couldn't.  I wanted to care about Attia - but she was more or less window dressing in the first book, so I ignored her.  But then she became inexplicably important in "Sapphique" and I didn't know why.

See, this is a difficult review for me to write because all I have are questions.  Of course, by the end of "Sapphique," I knew that the end goal was to end Protocol, but I wasn't sure why or even how they did it.  And was Claudia's life so terrible under Protocol?  Who were the Steel Wolves? What was their purpose?

I can see that this review is just all questions and no answers and I suppose that's all you really need to know.  But I feel terrible because some of my students told me they loved this book and they couldn't put it down (one kid in particular isn't much of a reader and he said he liked it a lot).  I'm sure this would appeal to a certain kind of reader - but I was so confused by this story that I couldn't tell you who exactly would enjoy it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mostly Dead is Slightly Alive

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 8.01

Title: Doctor Who the Movie
Written By: Matthew Jacobs
Team TARDIS: Eighth Doctor, Grace Holloway
Adversary: The Master
Originally Aired: May 14, 1996
Number of Episodes: 1

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
The Seventh Doctor is charged with transporting the remains of his fellow Time Lord, the Master, back to their home planet. But he is surprised to discover that his old enemy is not quite dead. The arrival of the Master not only costs the Doctor a life, but it spells near disaster for the Earth. Only the new Doctor can stop the Master and save the planet.

Side Note: 
Apologies for the lateness of this review. Real life last week was pretty awful for me and my fun geeky life had to take a backseat. But a certain little convention recharged my battery and I'm back and ready to rock and roll!

My Review:
Miracle Max: It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What's that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.
  - from The Princess Bride (clip)

Well... if I want to find anything new to talk about with this one... I am so screwed. I don’t know how much discussion I can add to the myriad of reviews and analyses already out there. After all, if you want an Eighth Doctor TV story - this is pretty much it. But it doesn't mean that it’s generally well-liked, even though it has come up higher in fan esteem in recent years.

For a New Series baby like me, the TV Movie is more of a “bridge” between Classic Who and New Who. I suppose it’s considered part of Classic Who, so I can say that this was the second Classic Who story I ever saw (the first one was a version of “The Five Doctors” on YouTube that a fan had inserted New Series music cues into, as well as snippets of “The End of Time.” Not sure if that really counts, now that I think about it, but it was responsible for piquing my interest in Classic Who. Whatever gets you there, I guess). Most of the scuttlebutt I’d heard about the TV Movie prior to watching it was that it was utter and total crap, but Paul McGann was brilliant regardless, so I was a bit nervous going into it. Like my previous reviews of “Timelash” and “Silver Nemesis” - I came away from the TV Movie thinking “What were those fans smoking?”

Perhaps it’s nostalgia talking (all three years of nostalgia, in my case), but I think fondly of the TV Movie. I adore Grace Holloway - she’s a companion in the tradition of Liz Shaw and Barbara Wright and Sarah Jane Smith (on Tumblr, I actually said she's joined the "Dr. Liz Shaw Chapter of Awesome Female Scientist Companions"). Grace is an intelligent, accomplished woman with a career and a reputation within her field - and it’s clear how she got there. She has a determination and a tenacity that sets her apart from the other characters and it is her scientific curiosity that propels her into the events of this story, even though reason constantly tells her to run the other way. And she can do heart surgery in a beautifully flouncy opera gown - tell me that doesn't smack of badass.

I wish, I wish, I SO wish that Big Finish could get the rights to the character because it would be so fun to see Grace travel with the Eighth Doctor in a full-time capacity (even though she initially declined his offer to travel - well, so did Donna at first. Grace could TOTALLY come back and be a full-time companion! Big Finish could totally retcon this!) And Daphne Ashbrook is such an amazing actress and has such an enthusiasm for Doctor Who.  Daphne has been in Big Finish audios as other characters (there’s one where she flirts endlessly with the Eighth Doctor and another couple of Companion Chronicles where she plays a UNIT archivist along with Yee Jee Tso - also of the TV Movie. I've only listened to one of those Companion Chronicles - and there may-or-may-not be a review of that one forthcoming, so I’ll save that for later *tease*). I had the great pleasure of meeting Daphne at Gallifrey One and she has this immensely infectious personality that you just can't help but love.  I cannot say enough good things about her (other than go follow her Tumblr because it's a riot - you want to talk about "One Of Us"...  Unrelatedly - you should also follow Web Dalek as well)

Also - it almost goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway - Paul McGann is so damn amazing! He plays the Doctor with such a spark and a twinkle.  Much has been said of the "These Shoes!" scene and I get giggly and joyful over that - but even before that when he's trying to remember who he is and wandering around the hospital with the morgue tag still stuck on his toe and invading Grace's personal space is really neat.  The Doctor's wanderings in the hospital (and I'm talking about the part after the whole "Who Am I?" thing) puts me in mind of the Fifth Doctor's regeneration in "Castrovalva" when he's wandering aimlessly around the TARDIS and leaving his companions to figure out how to fly out of a Event One.  He not quite the Doctor you know, but the principle is the same.  He's "restarting" - as it were.  He's a blank slate and his personality is arranging itself.  Of course, this being Doctor Who, there has to be some kind of crisis going on where the Doctor is needed, but he isn't quite up for the task.

No, the TV Movie is not perfect. But looking back, it was the perfect TV story for the so-called "Wilderness Years" and even paved the way for the 2005 revival. At the end of the 1980s, the people who wanted to keep Doctor Who alive really didn't know how to do it anymore. They did the best they could with what they had (and with tons of opposition coming at them, I might add). Ultimately, it got canceled and the show became a bit of a joke, but it was out of the public consciousness, except for the dedicated cohort of fans going to conventions and putting out fanzines and writers producing novels and comics and (later) audios. So, when the opportunity to make the TV Movie came along, everyone wanted everything in this sucker - and they kind of got it.  I can't fault them, really.  This was probably seen as the last opportunity to bring Doctor Who back to TV, so they figured that they had to throw everything upon everything into the story, which rarely ends well. And it turned out a bit wobbly, though Paul McGann was a very good Doctor - so much so that BBC Books continued the novels range, but with a new Doctor. And, Big Finish eventually got the license to produce audio stories with the Classic Doctors, including Paul McGann (which are pretty good).

My point in bringing this up is the the TV Movie served as a pre-reboot, restart button. Now that the Powers That Be know what not to do, they could learn from those mistakes and when the time was ripe for a revival, they were able to get the right people in the right jobs. It was a way to wash away all the jokes and bad feelings and preconceived notions that had been clinging to the franchise and preventing it from coming back properly.  But once they got all the fanboy wank out of their system (or something), things could calm down and set the stage for Doctor Who to return in 2005 - not only return, but to be a success (do you all realize that people like Neil Gaiman are already talking Series 9?? (scroll down a bit) 24 didn't get that many seasons!)  So, to all those nay-sayers who thought Doctor Who was dead, we say this.

And I read over those paragraphs and realize how negative that sounds. And I don’t want to be negative about this at all! There is plenty to love about the TV movie and it deserves plenty of praise for the behind-the-scenes things it contributed to the Doctor Who franchise as a whole.  And Paul McGann is flipping gorgeous and I love him to bits and if he gets even a short cameo in the 50th Anniversary Special, I will be ever-so pleased.

(Barring that, I can't figure out why Steven Moffat or Mark Gatiss or somebody can't work in a "The Two Doctors: Redux" special of some sort.  Even a short mini-series spin-off, just to give the Eighth Doctor a few more televised episodes or something).

Back in June, Daphne Ashbrook put together RegenerEIGHT - an epic (excuse me, EPIC) global rewatch of the TV Movie (of which your humble correspondent was a participant).  I thought it would be fitting to include the commentary from that event with this review, which also included Yee Jee Tso (Chang Lee), Gary Russell (author of several Doctor Who novels - one of which is my absolute favorite and I will be reviewing later) and Ken Deep (Head Chief in Charge of the Long Island Who convention in November). You can listen to the commentary with your DVD copy of the TV Movie, or just listen to it on its own.  Enjoy!

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 8.02 - All the universe of Big Finish... where do you want to start?

Previously -
Review 7.03 - Respecting the Past, Moving on into the Future

The ToshoCON Report

Welcome to ToshoCON!
Last Saturday was ToshoCON, Salt Lake County Library's anime convention for teens.  This was the first year we held this convention and it gave me a lot of insight about running a con, as opposed to simply attending one.  It also gave me a chance to talk to the kids that I see off and on, being a substitute librarian, and actually getting to know some of them beyond the limited interaction that I get with them in my day job.

Now, I have a pretty baseline knowledge of anime, but I haven't been into it all that much in recent years.  I have my favorite animes from childhood (Sailor Moon, InuYasha, Fruits Basket, Fushigi Yugi - okay, those are more from my college years, but I'm so far removed from college that it might as well be from my childhood), but I don't really know what's new and cool today.  So when stuff like Hetalia and Black Butler and Homestuck showed up at ToshoCON - well... I just went along with it all (and I FINALLY found out what those flower crowns on Tumblr were from. Turns out they aren't from anything. Just hipsters making crap up.  At least, according to the one teen source I consulted with at the con).

Paper cranes at the ToshoCON photo booth
I was helping staff the convention, so I didn't get to see all the panels and what-have-you, so this won't be too much about that kind of stuff.  But I can talk about some behind-the-scenes goings-on and the kids I got to meet.

I did get a few pictures of the cosplay the kids had, but there were some issues with adults taking pictures of the kids at the con, so I'm a little leery about posting those. The Salt Lake Tribune had an article about ToshoCON and they have a decent-enough gallery, so you can get a good idea of what was featured. I did cosplay a little bit as the 10th Doctor - I didn't do too much because the staff was still supposed to look professional - which I did (and it was a zillion degrees inside and I was roasting enough as it was, so left the suit coat in the car).  But I had my sonic screwdriver handy so people could get what I was supposed to be. I did get some pictures of my own cosplay and I have zero qualms about posting those -

A dressed-down version of my Tenth Doctor cosplay.
At the Rocky Mountain Muggles booth - Davie's a Library Assistant for the system as well as a member of RMM and he had the great idea of doing a Harry Potter/Doctor Who crossover pic and this was the result.

By the end of the con, I had turned into Raggedy Doctor and was ready to regenerate.
First of all - we got some fantastic vendors! For a first-time, non-profit, library-run anime convention, we got some great local businesses to come run our Anime Marketplace. Anime Banzai was there promoting their convention in October and taking registration. Fongo Bongo Games has always been a great supporter of anything our library system does.  Plus, there were some local artists and crafters selling things they've made.

A shot of the Anime Marketplace from the hallway
The first part of the morning, I was in the gaming room where Epic Games ran a Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament.  It was sort of slow there because the gamers all knew what they were doing and they really didn't need so much supervision.  I ended up wandering out to the amphitheater where we had the Manga Swap.  There, I met Sydney and Paul - two of our fantastic youth volunteers and it turned out they were fellow Whovians!

Me with Sydney and Paul at the Manga Swap after we had to move it inside.
We spent some time geeking out over Doctor Who in general (Sydney got this really goofy grin on her face when I said my favorite Doctor was Peter Davison) and talking about how excited we were for Peter Capaldi and theorizing about what would be coming up in the 50th Anniversary.  The geekier our conversations got, the more Whovians we attracted to our discussion!  This also led to finding out who was on Tumblr and that spread out into geeking out over Sherlock and Marvel Comics and various other things (there were a couple of girls who dressed up as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson - and even acted the part too!)

Speaking of the Manga Swap - we did have to fight the elements a bit - there were plenty of storm clouds coming in and they were blowing the tablecloths and manga around.  Then it started to rain and we all had to scramble to get the manga in the building (there was room in the gaming area, so we just relocated the Manga Swap in there.  The gamers didn't mind - they were all deeply into their tournament).

The Manga Swap before the wind and rain rolled in - but plenty of dark clouds hovering over us.
The main part of my day was the craft room.  Early on in the planning stages, I ended up in charge of the crafts and we decided to make plushies, origami and soot sprites.

Don't ask me to make that Pikachu again because it was a beast.
Turned out that the crafts were a bigger hit than I anticipated because even when the dance was going on - the kids still wanted to come make plushies! The other librarian I was working with had to do a last-minute run for more felt because we ran out! The craft room was actually supposed to be closed down at 8:00, but there were so many kids still making things that it stayed open until it was time to close down the con.

It was funny for me - this convention was primarily for teens and designed with teens in mind.  So, the majority of people at the con were so much younger than me.  But every time I got to talking to these kids about our common interests, it didn't feel like there was that big of an age gap between us.  I don't know what that says about my sense of professionalism and being a super-dignified librarian and take my adult responsibilities seriously - but I rather enjoyed it.  Honestly, these kinds of programs are what I love best about being a youth services librarian.  When I'm slogging through a busy day at the reference desk and patrons are mad about not getting their computer reservations or their holds not coming in or their fines or whatever the Angry Library Gods have decided is going to be the Problem of the Week - I think of these kids and how much fun they have and that I get the chance to work with them.

Anime Art Contest entries
A peek in at the dance. There were tons more people out in the lobby and hallway. 
This was the lobby crowd after the con was supposed to be over. Sort of wished I didn't have to break it up.
This is why I love the teens - while I do feel a responsibility to enforce the rules and things like that, I feel like I can connect to them on their level.  I'd rather treat teens like they're adults - so long as they show that they are deserving of that distinction.  And I'm not above squeeing over the latest Tumblr trend or whatever we feels like getting excited about.  Because it's fun.  And the library isn't just about rules and fines and limits - it's about having fun in a good, safe, positive environment.  So many of these kids don't have that - and even the ones that do, they need a place where they can cut loose and have fun once in a while.  That's my goal in my career and that's what I loved the most about ToshoCON.  Even when it was 10:00 and we were shutting things down and the Homestuck cosplayers were still out in the lobby dancing to someone's iPod - I really hated to tell them that they needed to pack it in and go home (didn't stop me from actually doing it - but it wasn't my most favorite thing of the day).

We're hoping to make this an annual thing and I hope the Powers That Be at library administration are sufficiently impressed by this first go-round that we get to do it again.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Paying Respect to the Past, Moving On Into the Future

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 7.03

Title: Remembrance of the Daleks
Written By: Ben Aaronovitch
Team TARDIS: Seventh Doctor, Ace
Adversary: The Daleks
Originally Released: June 1990
Range and Number: Target Novelization #148

Synopsis: (from TARDIS Wikia) -
1990 Target Edition
Shoreditch, London, 1963. Two teachers follow an unnervingly knowledgeable schoolgirl to her home - a blue police telephone box in the middle of a 76 Totter's Lane. The old man whom the girl calls 'grandfather' is annoyed at the intrusion: there is something he has to do, and he has a premonition that he will be delayed for some time...

Six regenerations later the Doctor returns; and Ace, his travelling companion, sees London as it was before the Sixties started swinging - and long before she was born.

But a Grey Dalek is lurking in Foreman's Yard; Imperial Daleks are appearing in the basement of Coal Hill School; and both factions want the Hand of Omega, the remote stellar manipulator that the Doctor has left behind. Has the Doctor arrived in time to deprive the Daleks of the secret of time travel?

2013 BBC Books Edition
With unfinished business to attend to, the Seventh Doctor returns to where it all began: Coal Hill School in London in 1963. Last time he was here, the Doctor left something behind – a powerful Time Lord artefact that could unlock the secrets of time travel. Can the Doctor retrieve it before two rival factions of Daleks track it down? And even if he can, how will the Doctor prevent the whole of London becoming a war zone as the Daleks meet in explosive confrontation?

My Review:
[Note: This review is an amalgamation of three separate reviews that I nearly scrapped entirely before selecting what I thought were the best bits of each one and putting them all together into this review.  If this whole thing seems discombobulated, that's why (I need an editor).]

Initially, the point of novelizing the Doctor Who TV stories was because back in Ye Olden Tymes, there was no such thing as reruns or videotape recording. In the introduction for the 50th Anniversary edition of this book, Ben Aaronovitch says that he was asked by producer John Nathan-Turner to keep the novel as close to the actual TV serial as he could (and if the object here is to provide fans with something to relive the story without having a way to rebroadcast the episodes, that’s understandable). At the same time, he says that he also wanted to put in some extra details that wouldn't have translated on television, but work marvelously for the book - and besides, you can’t write a novelization simply by reproducing the TV script and just putting “he said” “she said” at the end of the dialogue.

Most people (myself included) consider “Remembrance of the Daleks” to be a classic.  Personally, I've seen it multiple times and own the DVD. So, I thought reviewing the novelization would be a cakewalk. But the more notes I took, the more I found myself rehashing everything that had been said about this story in the TV format. And, as I've said before, I’m not interested in rehashing what has already been said. Not for this blogging project, at least. So - what can I say that has not already been said?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

Let's start with the continuity callbacks this story provides us with.  This story is considered to be the unofficial 25th Anniversary story (I may have enjoyed "Silver Nemesis," but I do agree that it didn't do the Anniversary-story thing very well - not like "Remembrance" does).  While Doctor Who had anniversary specials like "The Five Doctors," where everything is just pure fanwank (very, very effective fanwank, I might add - "The Five Doctors" was my gateway into Classic Who, I'll have you know) - "Remembrance of the Daleks" combined fanwank with a fairly compelling story.  And the novelization does not stray from that at all.  Here are a just a few mentions from continuity that I noticed:

- The Prologue of the novel is a retread of the last moments of “An Unearthly Child” when the TARDIS takes off from Foreman’s Scrapyard, but it mentions that the Doctor still has some unfinished business and he feels that it’s going to be some time until he can get back and finish it - referencing the matter of the Hand of Omega that the Seventh Doctor finally gets around to dealing with in “Remembrance.”

- References made to fictional accounts of the “Shoreditch Incident” (as these events are later referred to), as well as confirmation (of sorts) that the Counter Measures Group is an early forerunner to UNIT - from a volume penned by one Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, a UNIT historian in 2006.

- There’s also a brief reference to the events of “The Daleks” with the Doctor remembering what it was like to first step foot on Skaro and meet the deranged pepper pots. Kind of a neat little nod, since the Daleks (A) are a huge reason that Doctor Who gained such popularity and (B) have their own birthday about a month after the the show does (the first episode of the “The Daleks” aired on December 21, 1963 - they actually made an on-screen appearance a week later, so it’s their anniversary too).

There are other little gems for fans to find, but I’m going to let you, Dear Reader, pick them out for yourself. Because there are some more serious things to point out in this story.

While this story features the Daleks most prominently, this story at its core is really a Davros story. And while Davros and the Daleks are often used as a vehicle to discuss Why Racism Is Wrong (and pages and pages of essays have been devoted to such topics) - I noticed something else while I read this novel. And maybe I’m finally getting a grip on how dark the Seventh Doctor really is (more on that in a moment), but this really drove home how much the Doctor is afraid (for lack of a better term) of Davros and the Daleks.

Whenever Davros shows up, it’s amazing how fast the Doctor dives headlong into GRIM-AND-DARK-Doctor territory when he shows up. No one pushes the Doctor’s Berserk Button faster than Davros himself (it’s a mix of Berserk Button and Heroic Blue Screen of Death - time suck warning on both those links, by the way). It happened in “Resurrection of the Daleks” when normally-nice-and- sweet Fivey pulls a ray gun on Davros and it happens here when the heretofore clownish and silly Seventh Doctor blows up Skaro’s sun (I can’t remember all the details of “Revelation of the Daleks,” so I’ll leave that analysis for another time). But where the Fifth Doctor had Tegan calling him out on the whole “People died because of you!” thing, the Seventh Doctor has Ace blowing things up left and right and being the snot out of a Dalek with a baseball bat. And I don’t know which scenario I would rather see, to be honest. Admittedly, it’s satisfying to watch Ace positively wail on the Evilest Scum in the Universe... but do I want to see the Doctor head down this much darker path?

I suppose we’ll see what a super-dark Doctor looks like when we get the 50th Anniversary with its promise of the mysterious not-Doctor - why that incarnation gave up the right to the name and why he did whatever it is that he did. Was he already on this road to Perdition in “Remembrance of the Daleks?” (it has been said that the events of this story marks the first shots of the Time War and there has been speculation that the not-Doctor is the incarnation that took part in the Time War so... who knows?) It is interesting that this story is considered the unofficial 25th Anniversary story and it hearkens back to the very first Doctor Who story and we may be getting further answers in the 50th Anniversary this year (everything cycles back to Shoreditch and Coal Hill School and Totter’s Lane and November 23, 1963, apparently. It’s one of those special fixed-points around which the universe revolves).

Speaking of the Big Five-Oh looming on the horizon (three and a half months at the time of this post), there have been plenty of fans hoping for certain callbacks and elements.  I don't have a wishlist, as such, but I do have a prediction.  Since we're 99.9% certain this isn't going to be "The Eleven Doctors,"  I'm hoping for a "Remembrance of the Daleks"-style special, where we get tidbits and cameos from the past, but progress the Doctor's story further.  We've already had a sampling of those fan-pleasing appearances (and in spectacular fashion, I might add), so it stands to reason that we'll get more in the 50th Anniversary Special (and could we please get an actual title for this story?  Saying "50th Anniversary Special" is a bit of a mouthful).

And beyond that? Well, stay tuned!

Bonus Topic -

As I was writing up my review, I went into a separate path for a little while.  While it doesn't connect directly into "Remembrance of the Daleks," it does connect into the Seventh Doctor and how I feel about his era as a whole (also considering some of the Big Finish stuff and the New Adventures novels - which I haven't read much of, but this is a cursory assessment).  I didn't know how to fit it in the review itself, but I was okay with putting it as a bonus section, since it was something I thought of while reading this book.

While I was discovering all these darker nuances and underlying themes in "Remembrance of the Daleks" (and possible connections to future episodes that I hadn't thought of before) - I also realized some things about the Seventh Doctor that hadn't twigged for me before this. And since I’m evidently on an unexpected path to self-discovery with this blogging project, I might as well go into it here (and make this review twice as long. Well, I never claimed to be immune to Diarrhea of the Keyboard).

I mentioned in my “Silver Nemesis” review that the Seventh Doctor was one that kind of flew under the radar for me, but I wasn't sure why. As far as characters and stories go, a lot of people seem to like it (and a lot of people also seem to hate it for various reasons). For my part, Seven was just sort of there. But as I read “Remembrance of the Daleks” - I started to figure out why this was the case. It has nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the characters - because these characters and stories are really quite good, once you get down to it. But I end up with this strange kind of disconnect that keeps me from enjoying this era fully. I don’t hate it... but I can take it or leave it.

But reading this novel, I think I figured it out. And while it bothers me on one level, on another level it’s kind of exhilarating to realize this is how I feel about the whole thing.

Let me put it this way - Torchwood: Children of Earth is the pinnacle of television for a lot of people. I tried watching the first two seasons of Torchwood and, quite frankly, hated the show’s stinking guts (I explain why in this blog post). I even said as much to some friends and they all countered “Oh, but you must watch “Children of Earth” because it is so amazing!” So, I did watch “Children of Earth.” And, while the writing and acting and everything else is superb and top-notch and beautifully crafted, I have zero desire - nay, less than zero desire - for those five episodes to EVER darken my television screen again (which kind of sucks, given that Peter Capaldi puts in a fantastic performance in that series and lots of people are scrambling to re-watch “Children of Earth” just to see him in something Doctor Who-related before he officially takes over the TARDIS. Personally, I could watch “The Fires of Pompeii” on loop until then and be quite happy, thank you very much). “Children of Earth” is not a terrible story - but it is horrific and bleak and why would you willingly choose to watch something like that??? Then again, people read true crime books about people who've chopped up their spouses and hid the pieces in the freezer. For entertainment! (I honestly don’t get society sometimes).

While the Seventh Doctor never reaches Torchwood levels of bleakness, it feels like the writers sometimes are trying to do just that. Not so much on TV, but the novels have that feel to them. I suppose the late-80s was the beginning of science fiction in general trying to become grim and edgy and dark and have that stench of cynical-humanist-academic bullshit that, quite frankly, is a huge turn-off to many corners of sci-fi fandom (seriously, who are you people trying to kid here?) I’m no Pollyanna - but I do like to think that there is some hope and goodness and trust out there in the universe. When sci-fi goes all bleak and cynical... well, that’s when I go find something more cheerful to partake in (like the 10:00 news - at least there’s a chance of seeing a water-skiing penguin at the end of the news report).

I hope I'm wrong.  I hope that as I continue to play catch-up with Classic Who and I get to devote more time to the Seventh Doctor, I will understand the Whys and Wherefores of this conscious shift in direction and change my mind about the whole thing.  But where I'm sitting right now... well, it's a little bit different for me.  Then again, I didn't have to endure the so-called "Wilderness Years" where that darkness was all that was available (and I hope I won't have to).

Then again, maybe this was a good thing.  Because that means I got to include Torchwood in this blogging project without having to devote a full post to it.  Thank goodness for small mercies.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 8.01 - Gee, I wonder what this one's going to be...

Previously -
Review 7.02 - Taking "Delete, Delete" To a Whole New Level

Friday, August 9, 2013

Keep Calm and Fangirl On!

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.”
                   - Tyrion Lannister, from A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

You know, I should be writing up my review of the “Remembrance of the Daleks” novelization for Librarian in the TARDIS. But because the world is populated with dimwits, I have to do this instead.

*slides wooden crate marked "SOAP" out from behind the desk, dusts it off, and steps up*

Earlier in the week, I was dismissing the whole “ooh - fangirls won’t like the new Doctor ‘cuz he’s not young and hot” crap as something entirely made-up because I identify as a young(ish) fangirl and I was over the moon about Peter Capaldi (still am, so there). But I was at work on Tuesday and the library branch I was working at that day has a few staff members who are Doctor Who fans and I wanted to hear their reactions. Both female - one around my age, one older - the one my age had that whole “he's old and not hot and I don't like that” attitude and that had me facepalming all day (which, I could argue Peter Capaldi's attractiveness all the live-long day, but I kind of like older guys anyway. To be fair - the other lady I was working with took more of the attitude of "I want to wait and see what he does because I’m not that familiar with him").

I share this only to illustrate that, yes, such shallow pettiness is alive and well in my neck of the woods. At the same time, there was plenty of shallow pettiness to go around within fandom - especially on Twitter. Today, a fairly well-known fansite sent out a tweet decrying the attitude that I have just described with the hashtag #WeHateFangirls (I’m not going to mention the fansite’s name here because mentions on my blog are for classy people. Like Jesus). And, boy howdy, did the excrement hit the rotating cooling device! Plenty of Tweeps went up in arms - particularly Deb Stanish of the Verity! podcast (among other things) leading the charge against such incendiary and narrow-minded comments (there were others, but Deb was the first person I saw tweeting about it). The fansite didn't back down from their stupidity, which only got more people upset and resulted in more calls for the fansite to apologize - or at least acknowledge the wrongness of what they said.

While I am glad that People of Actual Intelligence responded as they did - I have to wonder. Why did the nameless fansite think that those kinds of comments were okay in the first place?  And why am I seeing such pinheaded attitudes all over the place?  As much as the "OMG the new Doctor is old!" thing annoys me - I don't know that the "Get out of my fandom, you airheaded fangirl!" thing is any better.  Both are shallow and petty and both need a good kick in the shins (and both, very sadly, exist).

Look, I’m a fangirl. It even says so on my business cards (that I have designed, but haven’t printed up yet) - “The Fangirl Librarian.”  And since it seems that we have to hand out our fan credentials in order to prove our fan-worthiness, here are mine: I squee and yell and cry over movies and TV shows. I study and research canon and continuity (and oftentimes throw canon and continuity out the window because I like the story anyway). I write reviews on my blog - which aren't “reviews” as much as they are a chance for me to be happy and joyful over the things I liked in a particular story (I also point out flaws and failings, but I don’t dwell on them because there’s no fun in poking at warts). I've cosplayed and gone to conventions and bought autographs and gone totally tongue-tied at meeting people who've brought my favorite characters and stories to life because these things mean so much to me and I want to express that to the people responsible for all of this without making a total idiot of myself (and I do anyway, so never mind). I've camped out for midnight release parties and stayed up to all hours of the night reading a book or watching a movie in theaters just to say I did it (and to avoid spoilers). I've mainlined TV shows and made fan videos and I've been working on a cross-stitch Dalek for the better part of two years. I've spent money I didn't have on DVDs and books and action figures because I was having a bad day and that was the only thing that was going to cheer me up. I have a Twitter, a Tumblr, a LiveJournal and I annoy my Facebook friends with my fangirly ways (well, they annoy me with their wedding announcements and babies* and recipes and dieting and vacation-y stuff, so it goes both ways). And, yes, I have my 'ships and OTPs and I’m a sucker for fluffy romantic fanfic.

In short - I like being a fangirl. And I’m not the only one. The Verity! podcast is but one instance of female fans gathering together to be fans of something (you also have websites like The Mary Sue and Geeka Chicas and probably a host of others I’m not familiar with yet - if you, Dear Reader, know of others, please leave them in the comments section). Female fans also mix with male fans to discuss the things we love because fandom ought not to be divided by gender boundaries (I've never seen a reason for that to be the case). One of my favorite things about going to Gallifrey One was meeting my friends from Traveling the Vortex and being invited on the podcast to talk about the wonderful things we’d experienced at the convention.

Truly, fangirls are not the problem. Idiots are.

The thing is - what do we do about it? We can blog and vlog and podcast about it and try to appeal to people’s better natures - but some people just don’t have better natures. They aren't as interested in being nice to others as they are interested in being total assholes. That’s truly why I became a fangirl in the first place - because I was 100% done with those people (this happened clear back in kindergarten - ask me to tell you about it sometime. Suffice it to say that no one’s ever told me how to be a fan. Well, they may have told me, but all I ever heard was “meh-meh-meh-meh-meh”).

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Fanboys - do you like the stereotype of being an overweight Cheeto-eating loser still living in your mother’s basement and playing video games and can’t get a girlfriend? I guess the more pertinent question is does that image bother you? Or do you just let it fall by the wayside as a harmless-yet-stupid punchline on late-night TV? Because I’m more than willing to let the screaming-preteen-fangirl stereotype fall by the wayside and just chalk it up to the stupid things that jerks do because they’re jerks (and because there are some people who were the “popular kids” in high school and could never let go of that sense of power. And, really, who wants to live the rest of their life in high school? Not me, that’s for damn sure. I dealt with that crap in the Harry Potter fandom and I'll be damned if I'm going to put up with it in Doctor Who fandom).

I suppose it boils down to this: There will always be jerks who think they can stand above you and dictate how you should wear your fandom colors (or, indeed, if you should wear them at all). It doesn't matter if these come from your family, friends, the media, other fans or any other subgroup that has set itself up to be the Grand Master of the Fandom who sets up the rules and regulations which all other fans must abide (Praise Our Wondrous Overlords!) Just expect it to come your way. Those kinds of people didn't stop teasing you in ninth grade just because you asked nicely and they’re certainly not going to stop now. But you also don’t have to let them get under your skin.  Keep calm and fangirl (or fanboy) on!

And if you are one of those entitled jerks I've been describing? Well then...

**Malcolm Tucker lurks in your interwebs, judging you, you petty f***er.
Thank you for your consideration.

*steps off soapbox, slides it back under the desk and sits patiently for hate mail to come in*

*When I say “babies” in this list of things that annoy me on Facebook, I’m excluding my niece from that statement because she is the cutest damn thing in the world and if my sister ever stops posting photos of her, I will be extremely upset.

**I did consider putting one of those uber-sweary Malcolm Tucker gifs here (Tumblr was more than willing to oblige), but then I thought “What if my mother reads this?” But you can pretend he's silently swearing up a barrage of F-bombs in his head, if you like.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Throwback Thursday: "Pure" by Terra Elan McVoy

**Originally posted on cj's bookshelf on June 3, 2011**

Title: Pure
Author: Terra Elan McVoy
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Date of Publication: 2009
Reading Level: Ages 14 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) –

Tabitha and her four best friends all wear purity rings, symbols of the virginity-until-marriage pledge they made years ago. Now Tab is fifteen, and her ring has come to mean so much more. It's a symbol of who she is and what she believes—a reminder of her promises to herself, and her bond to her friends. But when Tab meets a boy whose kisses make her knees go weak, everything suddenly seems a lot more complicated. Tab's best friend, Morgan, is far from supportive, and for the first time, Tabitha is forced to keep secrets from the one person with whom she's always shared everything. When one of those secrets breaks to the surface, Tab finds herself at the center of an unthinkable betrayal that splits her friends apart. As Tab's entire world comes crashing down around her, she's forced to re-examine her friendships, her faith, and what exactly it means to be pure.

My Review:
This was a very interesting read. I’m not a real fan of Christian fiction in general because the authors are sometimes a bit heavy-handed about the point they’re trying to make and that gets in the way of the actual story. Even though I consider myself a religious person, I sometimes feel like the characters and the stories in religious fiction are often blown out of proportion. The genre is not how I would want religious people to be portrayed, but that’s what the stereotype has become. So, I was a little nervous about reading this book, but it turned out not to be the typical Christian fiction.

When they were twelve, Tabitha, Cara, Morgan, Naeomi and Priah all made promises to themselves and to God to keep themselves pure and abstain from sex until marriage. They all wear purity rings to symbolize this promise. Three years after making that promise, things have changed in each girl’s life, but they are still committed to their promise. However, when Cara breaks her promise and has sex with her boyfriend, Michael, that’s when things spiral out of control.

Tabitha is the narrator of the book and she is easily my favorite character. Tabitha finds great strength in her faith and loves going to church, even though her parents are overly religious, though they still support her. Her relationship with God is a very personal one and she doesn't like to make a big deal about her faith in public. When Cara tells Tabitha that she broke her promise, Tabitha is the one that’s the most supportive and caring toward Cara. Morgan and Naeomi completely shun Cara for her actions to the point where Morgan (whom Tabitha describes as her very best friend) even shuns Tabitha for still being friends with Cara. In the meantime, Tabitha meets Jake at a church function and they start dating and their relationship starts getting really serious. It makes her take a look at her own promise and what she’s going to do about it.

There is a lot to love about this book and I could probably gush about it on and on, but I want to focus on one scene in particular – after Morgan finds out about Cara, she starts protesting outside the school and calling for prayer circles in defense of purity. Tabitha is completely embarrassed for Morgan because Morgan’s display is very over-the-top and people start laughing at her. Other groups start to protest for various reasons (some for a joke, but some are actually serious) and it gets so out of hand that the principal has to ban all protesting in front of the school because it disrupts regular school activities. Later, Tabitha’s dad starts ranting about how there’s no place for conservative Christian views in public school, which Tabitha does not take kindly to. She gives one of the best lines in the book when she says:

“…[T]hey made her [Morgan] stop. Made everybody stop. And besides, it didn’t work. You don’t have to worry. The world is still safe from too many stupid Jesus freaks. There are still plenty of nonbelievers out there. Your ability to have an intelligent conversation with someone is still intact… I know what you think, Dad. That people who believe in God are just idiot brainwashed zombies. But to some of us, it actually does mean something: Something really special and important we can’t talk about except in certain places and with certain people, because otherwise everyone thinks we’re freaks who’re all out to recruit more zombies into our coven. So go ahead and call the school… but when you do, thank them. Because in spite of what Morgan tried to do, she got stopped. She can’t do it anymore. And neither, for that matter, can anybody else, whether they believe in Allah or the Purple Donkey from Kathmandu… Now nobody can talk about religion at school at all.”

I love Tabitha’s response because it is so realistic in that she stands up to her dad when he starts insulting her faith. Tabitha is a great representation of how most Christian teens really are. She struggles with her own faith, the choices her friends make, how other people (including her parents) react to her faith and she does it in a very non-preachy way. In fact, religion in this story is treated as just one more aspect of Tabitha’s life – it’s not the only thing that she does. God is referred to in a very matter-of-fact way – without the subject being overblown. The story makes it quite clear that being judgmental of other people because of their choices is not right, but that it is good to stand up for your own beliefs. Tabitha continues to love Cara and Morgan even though she doesn't agree with what they've done. In the course of the story, Tabitha grows in her relationship with God and learns a great deal about herself and what she wants in her own life.

This is a fantastic book for any Christian teen no matter the denomination. Tabitha especially sticks up for her beliefs, but she is not the caricature of the prudish and holier-than-thou Christian teen that gets mocked in popular culture. The story takes a realistic look at what it’s like to be a person of faith and hold on to those beliefs when people around you aren't and, especially, how to get along with everyone no matter their convictions. This is a very refreshing take on the subject and it’s something I think many teens would benefit from reading.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Preemptive Critic: "Thor: The Dark World"

I love Thor, I love all the Marvel movies, I preemptively love Thor: The Dark World.

*fangirl squee*

As you were.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Clock is Striking Twelve...

Before I turn in for the night, I just wanted to get my thoughts down on the announcement that Peter Capaldi has been cast as the Twelfth Doctor.  I've been posting, reblogging, tweeting and retweeting my thoughts everywhere today, but I need them somewhere I can be put-together and coherent (somewhat).  First, here's the initial announcement and interview -

You know when you first meet someone and you instantly know you're going to be friends? Or (this I only know from other people telling me about it) how some couples talk about the first time they met and they knew that they'd found The One? Well, that's how I felt about Peter Capaldi. Right when they said his name and he walked out on the stage, I just kept thinking "That's the Doctor." (I didn't even notice his little Hartnell-esque lapel-clutch until later, but that was magic).

Whenever it was that his name first came out (in a loooooong list of potential Twelfth Doctors) - last week or something - I actually had a little nudge in the back of my mind think "He'd be a good Doctor."  Now, I've kept out of the crazed frenzy to fantasy cast the Doctor because (A) I don't know enough about most British actors and actresses (outside of Doctor Who or Harry Potter) and (B) I just don't feel comfortable speculating about this stuff.  I know lots of people had their wishlists - a woman, a person of color, a redhead, a purple wallaby - but I just don't get into wishlists.  I trust Steven Moffat and the top BBC brass to make the right decision and I decided early-on to welcome the new person with open arms because I knew there would be a ton of other people slinging crap about it, no matter who they cast, and I didn't want to contribute to that mess.  But last week, Peter Capaldi's name surfaced out of nowhere and I just couldn't get the idea out of my head.  And the more I thought about it, the more I liked it and the more I got my heart set on him (and this morning, I even thought - "I might be a little upset if it's not him."  Hypocrisy, thy name is me).

Well, I guess The Greater Cosmos was preparing me for change because I couldn't stop shouting my surprise - not that it was Peter Capaldi, but that I was actually right.  And while I was so happy and so excited, the instant that sold me on this man being the Doctor was the part where he talked about how it's the fans that have made Doctor Who what it is and that the show belongs to us all (and he even included himself in that statement - since he's been a fan since age 9) and I remember thinking "This show could not be in better hands."

I said this to some extent over on Tumblr, but I'm going to repeat it here - I love Matt Smith.  I love what he's done with the role and what he's given to this show that I've grown to love so very much.  I'm going to miss him - but I'm already in love with Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor (and we haven't even properly seen him yet!)  It's like at the end of "The End of Time" - the Tenth Doctor has said his goodbyes and I was a sobbing mess and I didn't want him to leave.  And then he regenerates and I have no idea how the universe is going to continue without him.  But then there's Eleven - and he's babbling on about arms, hands, legs, "I'm a girl!" and "still not ginger!" - and I am suddenly laughing through my tears.  So many people say that "The Eleventh Hour" is what cemented Matt Smith for them - but for me, it was those final minutes of "The End of Time" (also, I was mainlining the show and had "The Eleventh Hour" ready to go immediately after the regeneration scene).  And I have no doubt that's how this is going to go down at Christmas - Eleven will be turning into that yellow-regeneration-sparkly-energy stuff, I'll be bawling, Clara will possibly be bawling (though she's probably the most prepared out of any companion to witness a regeneration) and - BOOM - there's Twelve, looking around like he's just gotten up from a bad fall, but ready to go sprinting off into the cosmos and I'm right there with him.

I sometimes don't understand why this show means so much to me - that it's so important that these things succeed and go right.  I try to explain it to other people (and myself) and I'm realizing that it's not meant to be explained.  It's something that I understand, but nobody else has to, so I can't really ever put into words what days like this truly, truly mean.  Watching the announcement, tweeting along, the subsequent response from fans - it was a remarkable moment.  Even more remarkable was that my Twitter feed was full of people saying how happy they were with the decision and how much they were looking forward to seeing the Twelfth Doctor and praise and admiration for Peter Capaldi's work - not one cross word or complaint in those first few hours.  Oh, the malcontents surfaced eventually (they always do), but they had been soundly drowned out by the many many fans who were as excited as I am about it.  Some of us even organized an impromptu Tweet-Along rewatch of "The Fires of Pompeii" - the episode back in Series 4 that Peter Capaldi was in (he was also in "Torchwood: Children of Earth," which is a very well-crafted piece of television, but something I just can't bring myself to rewatch because it disturbed me so much when I saw it).  Definitely adding today to the pile of good things (which is good because so many of my memories of past Augusts have been total trainwrecks - I need something to balance out the crap I've dealt with in the past).

I guess this means we can get Craig Ferguson on Doctor Who as a one-off character.  I didn't know this before today, but he and Peter are good friends and how great would it be to have them on an episode together?  It's been one of my dearest hopes that Craig could be on Doctor Who, but the chances of it are slim-to-none.  Now... well, the chances are still slim-to-none, but it's even more fun to think about (but probably without the acid - this is still a family show, after all).

What else is there left to say?  Only this -

Yes, you are. You are the Doctor. Welcome to the family.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review: The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everything you expect from an awesome Brandon Sanderson novel (but I repeat myself) is in this book. I was thrilled when I found out he was writing a novel for young adults because I loved his Alcatraz series and Mistborn - and this fits perfectly in for that middle ground of teen readers who have come to expect fantastic storytelling from things like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. I love the scientific magic (or magical science - take your pick) of Rithmatics. I never was too fond of math and geometry, but you put in the concept of chalklings and strategy with it - I might have paid more attention in my high school math classes.

The characters are superb and the story is so well-written. There's even a mystery/crime novel aspect to this for the forensics nuts out there. This book has a something for everyone to enjoy! I can't wait for the next installment (even though I should probably go start "The Way of Kings" now - that sequel's coming out soon).

View all my reviews

ETA: Oh, hey - that actually worked! Now I can review stuff on Goodreads and it'll get posted here. Sweet!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Throwback Thursday - The "Uglies" Series by Scott Westerfeld

**Originally posted on cj's bookshelf on May 20, 2011**

Note: This review will cover the entire series.  Well, as much of the series as I could get through, anyway.  As a result, this review will be longer than usual.  And it also contains SPOILERS.

Note The Second: If you enjoyed this series, be warned that I did not.  And I will review accordingly.  I look forward to your emails.

Titles: Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: February 2005 (Uglies)
Recommended for Ages: 16 and up (if you absolutely must read it)

Synopsis: (h/t Goodreads) - This arc of Scott Westerfeld's UGLIES trilogy follows the high-tech adventures of Tally Youngblood. As an ugly, then a pretty, and finally a special, Tally works to take down a society created to function with perfect-looking people who never have a chance to think for themselves.

My Review: Oh, Uglies.  What can I say about Uglies?  The short answer to that question would be that it's a your basic "bait-and-switch" story.  You think you're getting one thing, but end up with something completely different.  And that can sometimes be a good thing, but this is a case where it goes horribly, horribly wrong.

In this world, people are taken when they are sixteen and made "pretty" - that is, they are subjected to radical surgery to make them look extraordinarily attractive.  Bones are lengthened, faces are re-shaped, skin is even reconstituted to do away with acne and other skin problems.  The trade-off in all this (I guess you could call it a trade-off) is that New Pretties (as they are called soon after the surgery) are incredibly stupid.  Their sense of logic and common sense gets taken out of them during the operation.  The biggest decision any of them ever has to make is what color feather boa to wear to a costume party (the pink one's out because you wore that to last night's costume party).  "Fun" for pretties involves jumping off buildings and ice-skating on hovering ice rinks.  The government provides safety equipment like bungee jackets and crash bracelets to prevent major injury and any minor scrapes and bruises can easily be fixed by an easy surge - because any kind of scar or blemish is "totally bogus" (Gladly, "bogus" doesn't get used in the narrative until Pretties otherwise I would have found everything intolerable.  Even more than I already did).

At the start of Uglies, Tally Youngblood is the last one in her age group to get the operation.  Her best friend, Peris, has recently gone through the operation and is now living in New Pretty Town.  Tally misses Peris and sneaks into New Pretty Town to see him and she is taken aback by how much he's changed.  Tally later meets a fellow ugly-waiting-to-turn-pretty, Shay.  Shay introduces Tally to the Smoke, which is an underground rebellion of sorts.  These people have run away from the pretty operation because they find out that it's nothing more than government-sponsored mind control - the operation includes putting "lesions" on the brain to make the Pretties more stupid and, thus, easier to control (I question the use of the term "lesions" in that it's an instance of You Keep Using That Word. Then again, I'm not a brain surgeon).  Tally, however, winds up being recruited as a spy by Dr. Cable in the Special Circumstances division.  Tally is tasked with infiltrating the Smoke and giving it up to the Specials so the government can put down any rebellion.  To make a long story short, Tally finds the Smoke, falls in love with David (their leader), goes through the classic "Should I? Shouldn't I?" debate with herself.  The Specials come in, raid the Smoke, Shay gets captured and turned into a Pretty and Tally gives herself up to the operation in order to save Shay.

That's the gist of Uglies and that's the best the series gets.  Questionable government policies designed to keep the general populace down?  Main character thrown in the middle of a rebellion?  Potential love interest?  Infiltrating the enemy camp to save your friends?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

Unfortunately, it never gets off the ground.

Before I go on to Pretties, I have to make special mention of the scenes of the Smoke in Uglies.  The Smoke is AMAZING!  Westerfeld takes so much time to describe the Smoke and how things work in that society that the reader is led to believe that a significant portion of our time will be spent there.  And I am completely okay with that.  But (and it's a big BUT!) in the course of two chapters the Specials zoom in and, like a hoard of Vikings, pillage and plunder the place and it's gone.  We never see the Smoke again.  Which is very disheartening, considering (A) How long it took Tally to get there, (B) How quickly she starts to feel at home and (C) The most interesting characters we meet in this entire series are in the Smoke.  Why spend so much time on something that's never going to be that important later on?

So next - Pretties -

The beginning of Pretties is so jarring and not at all what Uglies was.  My main problem with Pretties is that Tally and Shay became so unbearably stupid and I didn't care about them anymore.  Not the way that I cared about them in Uglies.  And I just could not get into the pretties' air-headed vocabulary, which is saturated in the narrative.  Words like "bogus" and "bubbly" mean nothing to me, further advancing the idea that I really have no need to care about this story (and can we please go one page without using a phrase like "ugly-making" or "nervous-making"?  That was just irritating).

Westerfeld spends the first half of the book establishing who the Pretties are and how their world works and - to quote Mr. Butler - frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.  It was well-established in Uglies that being Pretty is not a desirable trait (at least, to people who actually know what it involves.  The people who become Pretty are too brain-dead to care) and what the government does to these people is wrong.  I really don't want to be in New Pretty Town with absolutely nothing happening to advance the plot.  Let's move on to the part where Tally overthrows the government and Dr. Cable goes slunking back to the sewer where she crawled out of.

Well, if I have to be stuck in New Pretty Town, I might as well talk about Zane.  Zane is... well, Zane is the fictional-character equivalent of this gif:

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

Zane comes out of nowhere, he suddenly becomes Tally's "OMG BESTEST BEST BFF!" and the third (or fourth, depending on who you ask) piece of a mostly useless love triangle. Again, we are given no reason to care about him, but it's expected that we should.  He has no motivation other than to follow Tally around like a lost puppy (for reasons that I have yet to hear about) and just generally be annoying. My question is this: You had Peris established as Tally's very best friend in the first chapter of Uglies. Why in the name of sanity would you introduce this useless lump in the second book? Zane's role could easily have been moved to Peris, thus justifying the latter's existence and leaving me with one less headache (however, I was cheering for Zane's anti-gravity bungee jacket to fail as he fell off the floating ice rink.  Tears were shed when that didn't happen).

Noticeably absent from Pretties is David.  Oh, he gets a courtesy mention here and there, but the supposed leader of the opposition that's also the main character's love interest (the one that's actually interesting) doesn't really show up at all.  It's like this plot is allergic to well-rounded, exciting characters.  Even Tally, who was interesting and thoughtful in the first book, has been demoted to the characterization of moldy chunk of cheese.  And when she starts to fight the pretty-induced idiocy, she doesn't get beyond Bella Swan (aka Pants) territory in terms of how interesting her character is.  I have lost the will to care.

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

Pretties ends with Tally getting caught (again!) - this time by Shay, who has been recruited by Special Circumstances and been turned - well - Special.  Now, the Specials are people who've had an operation that makes the pretty-operation look like a haricut.  Specials are designed to be killers - they have (among other things) quicker reflexes, they have sharp hearing, they have extremely sharp teeth and they have this "Skintenna" which allows them to communicate with each other via thoughts. This is probably as close as any science-fiction story will get to acknowledging fantasy characters such as faeries and Tolkien-esque elves.  Specials should be cool, no?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

The answer to that is - if you haven't guessed by now - a resounding NO!  If anything, it gets worse.

As Specials, Tally and Shay have a new set of vocabulary (of course they do) that we readers have to get used to all over again.  I will give Westerfeld some credit - at least it makes sense to call Pretties "bubble-heads."  But there's also the same manufactured drama that's been going on for two books already and I was left feeling like there was no point in going through everything all over again.  Every time Tally got a new "brain" (twice - once when she became Pretty and once when she became Special) she had to reassert herself as a character and it fell flat every time.  I was left pining for the curious, intriguing and compelling cute little Ugly that Tally was in the first book.  But that version Tally was essentially erased from the narrative - which, I can see how that would be an effective plot device.  But it leaves me feeling like I've missed something because by this point I have lost all desire and ability to care about Tally or Shay or David (where the hell has he been this whole time?) or even Butt-Monkey Zane.  I'm hoping a stray comet comes in a pummels everyone to death so I don't have to deal with the whining anymore.

This brings me to the ending of Specials.  Oh, the ending... I have a special place for you (no pun intended) -

So, it's been established that the government of this world pretty much sucks.  It takes people and promises something fantastic and brilliant (i.e. the gift of being gorgeous and popular and all those things we wanted to be in middle school) and give it to them while also taking away their ability to make intelligent decisions and exercise free will on their own.  This is SERIOUS BUSINESS and needs to be dealt with accordingly.  However, when Dr. Cable (who is the stand-in for the government in this story) is caught, Tally takes pity on her because - this is when I chucked the book across the room - Dr. Cable created the Specials and it would devastate the dear doctor's heart to have all her work destroyed.

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

And this only gets better - I haven't yet mentioned the Rusties in this review (which is amazing since Tally thought of them EVERY OTHER STINKING SENTENCE!) In a nutshell, the Rusties are us. At least, the planet-raping, oil-drinking, car-driving, tree-cutting-down, nasty-people-who-don't-recycle version you only see in shows like "Captain Planet."  The Rusties were destroyed when a virus that replicates in oil got loose and killed everyone and now all the Rusty cities are just ruined shells and serve as a reminder of what happens when you don't use those silly curly-bob lightbulbs (OH THE HUMANITY!!!1!!!)  At first, I just thought the Rusty mythology was there to explain why this world exists - the government had to step in and save people from themselves.  Which meant turning them all into mindless drones that could easily be controlled by plastic surgery and drunken parties (Yes, that's soooo much better).  Anyway, the Rusties really don't have anything to do with the plot at large other than one of their ruined cities serves as a hideout for the New Smokies and it's a good place to have covert planning sessions (not that we get to see any of that subversive coolness going down, anyway).

Once Tally and company take down Dr. Cable and the government at large, Tally realizes something terrible that, duh, stupid reader - you should have seen this coming.  What, you didn't???  Well, aren't you just an idiot.  The government's policy of brain control was actually HELPING people.  God forbid we let people think for themselves!  Because free will = freedom of thought = potential for mistakes = potential for stupidity = people get hurt and Bad Things Happen (and baby seals get eaten by mean, mean tankers in the ocean spreading fear and harm and industry throughout the world. OH NOES!)

So, what does Tally do?  She finds David (who finally can be arsed up to make an appearance - at the end of the whole story) and they run off to the wilds to be free and fight off the evilness of regular people who have had their their freedom to choose restored to them... which is something I thought they were actually fighting for in the whole series?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

At this point, I was so pissed off with the whole series - not just for it's hidden "Green Aesop" nonsense, but because it actually becomes a Broken Aesop (while we're linking to TV Tropes...) If you want to tell a "Save the Planet" kind of story, then do it!   But make sure your audience knows what it's getting. Don't hide behind the promise of a thrilling dystopian adventure and then pull the rug out from under them towards the end. The one thing that makes me distrust writers the most is when I think I'm getting one thing, but I wind up with something completely different. I'm okay with being surprised within the plot, but I am not okay with switching genres and/or motivation partway through the story.

Suffice it to say that at this point, I had no desire to finish the series.  Extras will not be joining the rest of these novels because I just don't want to read it anymore.  And the sad thing is that, while I was reading Uglies, I started reading Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, which I plowed through at a pace comparable to how fast I read Harry Potter.  And I actually enjoyed those books, so I know Westerfeld can write compelling characters and plots.  For some reason, he just didn't do it here.  And he threw in a fake-out ending as a bonus.

Bottom Line: This series could have been so much better.  The sad fact is that it wasn't.  A combination of flat characters and the long absence of characters that were actually interesting coupled with a preachy "Moral of the Story" that ultimately had nothing to do with any of the preceding plot makes for something that I just could not care less about.  Stories are meant to be engaging and enjoyable.  The Uglies series was neither.