June 28th, 2009

tardis

June Books 29) About Time: The Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who, 1970-1974, 2nd edition, by Tat Wood

I read the first edition of this two years ago, since when it has been sitting on the shelf with the other volumes of this superb series of handbooks to Doctor Who, looking a bit thin in comparison with its fellows. This second edition is massively expanded from the first, with most of the new material simply being more of the same excellent analysis of the programme's context (in this case the early 1970s) plus a lot more analytical essays and 147 endnotes (which is 142 more than in the first edition; though I repeat my complaint about them being endnotes rather than footnotes). There is loads more information about what was going on behind the scenes, most of which is very interesting; my own recent back problems make me very sympathetic to Jon Pertwee. A welcome shift in Wood's attitude has him attempting to incorporate New Who continuity into Old Who analysis, rather than the invective he was previously lapsing into; this offers him room for writing such essays as "All Right, Then... Where Were Torchwood?" and additional evidence for "When are the Unit Stories Set?" There are a couple of other standout pieces, "Why Did We Countdown to TV Action?" on the early 1970s Doctor Who comics, and "Why Didn't Plaid Cymru Lynch Barry Letts?" which ostensibly attempts to explain Wales to Americans but actually has a lot of good points to make.

When I read the first edition of this I hadn't yet seen all the Pertwee stories, and tended to go and look them up in Wood and Miles after I had finished watching them. Now I want to watch several of them again to see the things I missed first time around. An excellent handbook, and I am very glad that Wood is planning a seventh volume to cover the first years of New Who.
earthsea

June Books 30) Girl Genius 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, by Phil and Kaja Foglio

Agatha Heterodyne is struggling with the legacy of her family castle, which has a mind of its own (or several minds, as it turns out); meanwhile Gilgamesh Wulfenbach is trying to break into the castle and rescue her, against the wishes of his father the baron. The Foglio art style is distinctive (and a bit of googling revealed why I thought it looked familiar); the plotting and scrioting decent enough. It's a fun romp, but difficult to appreciate without having read the first seven volumes. Unlike the other Hugo nominees this hasn't yet been published in a single edition, so you have to read it off the website; no doubt the eventual dead trees version will have some explanatory front matter.

I have now read all six nominees for the Best Graphic Novel category in this year's Hugo awards. Two observations strike me. First, some of them are not particularly good. This is often the case with Hugo nominations, with the Best Short Story list usually containing one or two total clunkers. I notice that not a lot of nominations were actually received in this category, and will be interested to see what the cutoff to get on the shortlist actually was. For all that, I hope that future WorldCons keep this as a Hugo category; comics are an important part of the sfnal world, and really this award should have been instituted decades ago.

Second, a lot of graphic novel series are pretty damn impenetrable if you jump in in the middle. The only two nominees which I really unequivocally liked were a) one based on a TV show which I loved and b) a standalone book (also based in a non-comics continuity). The other four included two climaxes to ongoing sagas (one of which I already knew, and the other of which I didn't) and two volumes in ongoing stories where much of the humour rests in established characters with whom I am unfamiliar. I wonder to what extent Schlock Mercenary and Y fans will vote for these particular books as if they represent the entire series, without really reflecting on how they stack up compared to the Serenity or Dresden Files nominees as stories in their own right. Of course, this is a problem that exists in other Hugo categories as well, notably (but not only) the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) award, and again is no reason not to choose a Best Graphic Novel.

My votes are pretty clear in my mind, as follows:
  1. Serenity: Better Days
  2. The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle
  3. Fables: War and Pieces
  4. Girl Genius 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones
  5. Y: The Last Man: Whys and Wherefores
  6. Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic

earthsea

June Books 32) The Vorkosigan Companion, edited by Lilian Stewart Carl and John Helfers

It will be fairly obvious that I spent most of the weekend sitting in the garden reading in the wonderful weather we have been having; my back is still not completely right so I have been taking it easy. I am relieved to report that this book brings me to the end of my Hugo reading, as the only other nominee in its category is an art book which I am not going to buy. (Though if anyone wants to send me a review copy...)

It feels a bit elegiac, and if anything belated, to look at a handbook to Bujold's Vorkosigan universe. It is five years since the latest story of the cycle was published, and the most recent novel came out in 2001. Bujold continues to publish, but has switched to fantasy these days, and her silence about the likelihood of a return to the world of Miles and his family is increasingly deafening edited to add see thette and papersky's comments below for the latest on this.

I must say we do a brisk trade in this house of lending the books out to visitors, who usually return them gratefully, asking for more and complimenting us on our taste; and they are favourites to reread as well.

The Companion is rather thin for its price. It starts with several interesting bits from Bujold herself, but then has some not very inspiring essays on various aspects of her works. The best by far is Marna Nightingale's description of Bujold fandom; I'll shout out also to Doug Muir for his introduction to The Warrior's Apprentice. But I couldn't really recommend the book to anyone who is not a Bujold completist, and I'm afraid it goes fourth on my Hugo ballot for Best Related Book, which therefore looks like this:
  1. Rhetorics of Fantasy
  2. What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction
  3. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded
  4. The Vorkosigan Companion