August 23rd, 2013

tardis

August Books 20) The Best of Tardis Eruditorum, by Philip Sandifer

All of Sandifer's essays are available on his blog, and all of them will eventually be available in book form as well; but for people like me who find the blog pieces a bit long to digest in the usual format, and want to find the good bits, this is a very useful selection - with each essay prefaced by some introductory thoughts about how they fit into the project and into his life.

This basically has two essays for each of the first eight Doctors, and one each for Nine and Ten. The latter two, on Rose and School Reunion, are among the best in the book (though the rhetorical impact of the Rose piece is stronger if you know Sandifer's style); the other pieces which were new to me and caught my attention specially were the ones on The Movie and Mary Whitehouse.

The full list of essays here (and I won't link to them all) is The Web Planet, The Tenth Planet, The Enemy of the World, The Mind Robber, The Claws of Axos, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, The Brain of Morbius, Mary Whitehouse, City of Death, Earthshock, Terminus, Attack of the Cybermen, Doctor in Distress, Paradise Towers, The Curse of Fenric, White Darkness, The Movie, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, Rose and School Reunion. Worth noting that this includes three Cybermen stories, no Dalek stories, two novels, two pieces on music and an excellent attack on conservatism. I don't know if this will be available again in future but I'm glad to have snagged it while it was going.
tardis

August Books 21) The Dalek Project, by Justin Richards, ill. Mike Collins

A rather decent standalone Eleventh Doctor adventure, in which he gets drawn back to the First World War where the basic concept of Victory of the Daleks is brought into an arms race plot where the evil pepperpots have persuaded arms manufacturers on both sides to construct the great new fighting machines; shades also of three great Troughton stories, The War Games and the two Dalek ones, repackaged for a new generation with Justin Richards' lucid prose and Collins' superb art. It doesn't take the Doctor anywhere terribly new but retreads old ground with confidence.
agatha

August Books 22) The A.B.C. Murders, by Agatha Christie

I have to say that after The Mysterious Affair at Styles, I was getting a bit dismayed by the Christie formula, and wondering how many more genteel tales of homicide I could take. But The A.B.C. Murders is a cut above any of the other Christies I have recently read, apart from the superlative Ackroyd.

There are several very attractive points to the book. First, the case takes Poirot and Hastings out of their usual socio-economic comfort zone: three of the four murders are in lower middle class or working class settings, and Christie largely reverses her usual view of the universe where poor people are normally invisible. Second, the fact that the villain sets the story up as a battle of wits with Poirot from the start of the book gives it a completely different dynamic: it's not a case of Poirot inserting himself into someone else's tragedy, instead he is dragged into a nefarious plot from the very beginning, and it is a little gratifying to see him lose the initiative (though of course we cheer when he regains it). And finally, the speculation on the mind-set of the serial killer, in a novel written and set in the mid 1930s, reminds us that this is a topic of horrified fascination that has been around for a long time. Oh yes, and the plot is well constructed and the solution reasonably fair.

This was one of the ones I had read as a teenager and had fond memories of; and I was not disappointed to return to it.
gebealogy, genealogy

August Books 23) Eleanor, Countess of Desmond, by Anne Chambers

I think this may have been Chambers' first book, before her best selling biography of Grainne O'Malley, the pirate queen. It is journeyman stuff; there is no very clear differentiation between other people's research, Chambers' own findings, and her speculation about Eleanor's mind-set as she witnessed the collapse of her husband's mini-kingdom in south-west Ireland and the political shape of the island was changed forever. I could have done with a bit more on the bigger picture, and perhaps also some reflection of the plentiful research that has been done on women in sixteenth-century Ireland.

Eleanor was a contemporary of my ancestor Sir Nicholas White, and I was hoping that he might put in an appearance. He is just offscreen twice - they came within spitting distance of each other on 17 June 1580, White being part of the punitive expedition sent deep into Desmond territory that summer; and in 1592-93, Eleanor was tending to her sickly son held captive in the Tower of London while White was slowly dying there. they must have met up on the battlements occasionally to discuss old times, not that it did either of them much good. Chambers doesn't mention him anyway, which is fair enough.
earthsea

August Books 24) Tell My Horse, by Zora Neale Hurston

Strongly recommended to me by sashajwolf, and very much worth reading. Hurston combines the research instincts of the anthropologist with the communication skills of a born story-teller, and looks in detail at local cult practices, especially regarding the undead, in Jamaica and especially in Haiti. It was especially interesting to reread this the week that Doonesbury reran the plot sequence where Duke becomes a zombie in the service of Baby Doc Duvalier, written fifty years later. Whether or not Gary Trudeau was aware of Hurston's research, she has fundamentally informed the English speaking world's take on zombies. Quite apart from that, it is a fantastic book, perhaps a little optimistic in the description of the status of American women, but otherwise very much taking Jamaica and Haiti on their own terms and in their own words. There are about twenty pages of musical transcriptions of traditional Haitian chants to the various deities.

Really it's worth remembering that the supposedly well-ordered pantheons of European and Asian theologies all were in practice probably a lot more like the chaotic deities of Haiti which Hurston chronicles so well. What strengthens people's belief isn't really the intellectual coherence of their religious practice, it is how well it works to channel communal and social experiences which are difficult to deal with otherwise, and to give a sense of reassurance that the grottiness of this world may not be all that there is. Hurston conveys the Haitian experience of religion and belief very well.

I have to again complain about the presentation of the P.S. edition. The table of contents promises a foreword; there is none. There is an afterword by Henry Louis Gates, and then an after-afterword by Ishmael Reed which I suspect is the foreword misplaced. But the publishers really ought to have ensured that the contents page actually coincided with what is in the book.
tardis

August Books 25) Spore, by Alex Scarrow

Just published today, this is the latest of the short Who ebooks published by Puffin for the 50th anniversary. It being August, it is the Eighth Doctor's turn, in a brief but effective tale of body horror: a flesh-absorbing alien attacks a small American town, and the Doctor and a hastily acquired Asian-American companion must deal with it. Decently constructed and with sufficient callbacks to The Movie to reassure that this is meant to be part of the same continuity. (No detectable callbacks to the other Eighth Doctor books/comics/audios though.) Scarrow is apparently a rising YA writer, and on this basis I would look for more of his work.