June 7th, 2010


June Books 4) Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm, by Kaja and Phil Foglio

This is the ninth volume in the Foglios' Girl Genius saga, originally published online, but now available as part of the Hugo Voters' Packet; it's not a series I know other than having read Volume Eight last year when it too was up for the Hugos. I liked this one more; perhaps it is that I am now even a little more familiar with the characters, but also the storylines seemed a little less opaque, with the intelligent castle particularly memorable as playing its own game with Agatha, its ostensible owner (at one point it muses that it would quite like to be reconstructed as a yurt, so that it could go and visit exotic places). As ever, the Foglios' artwork is gorgeous and distinctive. I don't think they will score a second successive Hugo - Neil Gaiman is sure to win for Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? - but I will rank this volume higher than I did last year's.

June Books 5) The Time Travellers, by Simon Guerrier

A very neatly put together novel of the First Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara, set between Planet of Giants and The Dalek Invasion of Earth in a dystopian and devastated London of an alternative 2006, facing invasion from a South African army and disintegration as a result of the local boffins' time experiments; the last quarter of the book takes us back to 1972 (but a 1972 where WOTAN won, though only briefly) to try and put things right. Apart from the grimness of his militarised and failing future society, Guerrier has a lovely take on the Ian / Barbara relationship, and while his First Doctor isn't quite as consistent he still fills out some of the gaps in the character rather well (less so poor Susan, whose main characteristics are her skills in time-keeping and cooking). The time-paradox plot is not resolved with mathematical rigour, but is satisfying all the same. Good stuff.

June Books 6) Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, by Kathryn Harrison

I really didn't know much about St Thérèse of Lisieux, other than that her relics have been the centre of much religious enthusiasm in the various countries to which they have been brought. After reading this book, I don't feel that I know much more than I did. She was one of eight children, the youngest of four surviving sisters, who all became nuns in the same convent (Thérèse having personally petitioned the Pope to be allowed to join at the age of fifteen); she basically dedicated herself to a consuming, borderline erotic vision of union with Christ, and expired of tuberculosis at the age of 24 in 1897. Despite having grown up in the Irish Catholic tradition myself, I found a lot of the story pretty repellent, and if I'd been Thérèse's spiritual director I fear I would have instructed her rather firmly to get a grip. Having said that, I think her intense devotion to her personal conception of Christ is an extrapolation of the extreme loyalties I sometimes see expressed in media fandom communities. Perhaps I should get hold of her Story of a Soul but I am not really inclined to after reading this.

June Books 7) This Is Me, Jack Vance (Or, More Properly, This Is 'I'), by Jack Vance

I haven't read a lot of Vance's work - just The Dying Earth and The Last Castle - but I've enjoyed what I've read, and considering the fascinating material that 90-year-old Frederik Pohl is putting on his blog these days, I was rather looking forward to reading this volume of reminiscences by Vance, who is a couple of years older.

Unfortunately it's just not a very interesting book. The best bit is the early material about growing up during the Depression (Vance was born in 1916), but apart from that it's a sequence of dinners, holidays, parties, jazz concerts, enumerated in detail without much reflection. To give one example, I have seen the story of the Jack Vance / Frank Herbert / Poul Anderson houseboat told in several other places, and told better. To give another, Vance has been blind for the last twenty years (including when writing all his later books starting with Lyonesse), and while I shall bear in mind his extensive listing of mystery genre wriiters whose whork he enjoys listening to on audio, it would have been interesting to read something more profound about the effect of the loss of one of the five senses on the writer. A line about the distinctive smell of Irish peat is used twice. We really don't learn much about Vance the man, and even less about Vance the writer; and those like me who really only know him through his writing won't feel any the wiser after reading this.

I usually like biography/autobiography as a genre, but between this and St Thérèse I have not been lucky this week!