Reading habits change…

For years after finishing university, I read fiction books nearly exclusively, likely for a brain vacation after years of skeletal analysis and so many different kinds of theory. Since having children, I notice that I am much more likely to have non-fiction books in the queue – perhaps they suffer less from interruptions? When reviewing my to-read pile for the CBR, there only a few novels (most partly finished and then abandoned), interspersed with non-fiction and the graphic novels I have been picking up lately. Is it having less time, something to do with spending more time on the internet and having a lesser attention span?

My coming soon list now includes finishing Matthew Flinder’s Cat by Bryce Courtenay. I was about 1/4 of the way through this interesting novel, and then it was abandoned last spring. No more abandoning books! (I wish the anniversary edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum could count as a review; what a strange, disturbing and complex graphic novel)

Fascinating update:  it seems my reading list is somewhat at the mercy of the library. My reserved copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is finally in, so I guess that is next on the list.

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llp/gentlyfalling’s CBR III Review 3: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

I have always been fascinated by space exploration, and it has always been my biggest dream to fly into space. That dream is equal parts unlikely and common, but it has held true for over twenty years. When my son was three, he told me he wanted to be an astronaut and gave me a sticker with a rocket ship on it, in case we needed a ticket to get on the ship. It is still stuck to my bedside lamp shade, and every day it reminds me not only of how sweet he is, but also how going into space is an adventure that excites the imagination.

Mary Roach has written an number of books about interesting topics that aren’t generally produced for the general reading public, including death (Stiff), sex (Bonk), and the afterlife (Spook). She seems to follow her intellectual curiousity into researching these subjects, and then writes accessible science-based books with a really wry sense of humour. Packing for Mars is written in the same format, and is enjoyable and compelling. It is one of the few non-fiction books I have ever read that make me want to go and read the source materials, particularly the oral histories given by astronauts.

When Roach was doing publicity for the book, much of the discussion revolved around the (admittedly interesting and funny) topic of going to the bathroom in space. I clearly remember her discussing “escapees” with Jon Stewart; imagine his delight in talking about turds floating around the cabin of a spaceship. Her appreciation for the absurdities of spaceflight is wonderful, but I am more impressed with the palpable sense of awe that she conveys when writing about the science of spaceflight and the magic of actually being in space. I also appreciate her admiration for the hard work and dedication of the astronauts, engineers, volunteers and others involved in launching people into space; Roach really focuses on the human elements of the whole process, including the nobility of the endeavour and how it is worth the enormous expense.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void is interesting, funny, and helps to remind me of why space exploration is such a wonderful and inspiring experiment, worth both risk and expense.

llp/gentlyfalling’s CBR III Review 2: Star Trek Key Collection, Volume 1

This collection of the earliest Star Trek comics is published by the Checker Book Publishing Group, which specializes in printing out of print newspaper strips, including Dick Tracy and Beetle Bailey, but also early previously uncollected work by artists such as Alan Moore. This particular series collects Star Trek comics, which were first published in 1967, the year after the television series debuted.

The brief introduction to the first volume notes that there are errors in the book when compared to the canon, and describes the comics as “comics kitsch,” which really is an apt description. It also notes that the production values and the colouring was off, but they are reprinted in all their original glory. Not being familiar with comics from this era, I am not sure if the production values of these are especially low, or if that was just the standard at the time.

There are no writing credits for these first issues, but the first two issues were illustrated by  Nevio Zaccara, and the final six by Alberto Giolitti. Wikipedia tells me both these artists were living in Italy, and Giolitti at least had never seen the series. I suspect that Zaccara had seen the series or at least some photographs, because his depictions of Kirk and Spock are actually quite good, while Giolitti’s characters are largely unrecognizable, except that the tips of Spock’s ears nearly reach the top of his head. The action largely focuses on Kirk and Spock, although Scotty, McCoy and Rand are included a few times. Given the quality of the writing, obviously Spock’s character is the least like the television/movie version of the character, with the comic version touching other crew members and using expletives.

The story and dialogue in the comics does not very closely match that of the series either, from what I can recall of the television program. It is so off base that it is rather enjoyable. The transporter isn’t referred to as such until the fifth issue, instead being called  a teleportation chamber; characters, including Mr. Spock, use phrases such as “phases of Pluto!” and refer to other crew members as idiots; and in the book the ship is powered by rockets with flames coming out behind, and are able to enter the atmosphere of planets. The Prime Directive is non-existent, with the crew trying to destroy entire planets and populations for the good of the galaxies they travel through. Virtually all of the dialogue ends in exclamation marks, and many panels have an explanation of the action. Every time I read the explanations, it was like the narrator from the Superfriends cartoon was reading it in my mind, complete with sound effects, which was really kind of excellent.

One of the best parts of the comic was what the writers thought future space explorers would have at their disposal for tools.In the book, the crew did not have universal translators, but instead used the universal language of Esperanta, which really dates these books; how long has it been since somebody thought Esperanta would be the language of the future? The comic version of the Enterprise was equipped with a laser beam destruct ray, the crew could look at events on the planet below with their TV scanner, communicated with TV-radio, record information on film with their telescopic viewing and photographing, and use an infra-red space periscope. It is like a satire of science fiction, with the writers just using the word “space” before units of time and distance so that it all seems so futuristic.

All the criticism aside, the collection is fun to read, although would probably be infuriating to people who are really passionate about canon. I am most definitely not, so this nerdiest of graphic novels was a good random selection from my library’s tiny graphic novel shelf.

Coming soon…

As I am feeling both ambitious AND accomplished after successfully posting a review, I am committing in writing to my next few book reviews:

Packing for Mars, Mary Roach

Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The Paper Garden, Molly Peacock

Star Trek comic collection, The Key Collection (maybe – I have to review the criteria around including graphic novels, but these are dense for a comic book and so inadvertently funny it would be a shame not to share…)

Review 1: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Do you remember the most recent instance of Carrie Fisher outing John Travolta? And how every time someone on Pajiba mentions Carrie Fisher, they also mention how good her Wishful Drinking live show is? Only I remember that? *crickets* Oh well.

In any case, it reminded me to pick the book up at the library and finally read it. It is a fairly short book, and very quickly paced. The entire time I was reading it, I was thinking about how this would make an excellent performance piece. For the majority of the chapters, it feels as though Fisher has transcribed the show verbatim for the book. The only chapter that felt slightly more fleshed out is the seventh, “Sadness Squared,”  which provides details around her drug addiction and how it affected her life. It is one of the few chapters where the paragraphs do not begin with “So, I said/so, you see/so, I’m told…”, slightly less conversational in tone.

Wishful Drinking is certainly a fun book to read; how could it not be, with the interesting life Fisher has had? She was married to Paul Simon; married and had a child with a man who later told her he was gay; had a friend (a Republican party organizer, no less) die in her bed; is the daughter and step-daughter of interesting Hollywood personalities; was counselled on her drug problems by Cary Grant, etc. It is a generally jokey summary of a few of the major events of her life, but seems a bit superficial, as if she were just hinting about some of the stories that she could tell given the right opportunity. I wonder if this is because, as she mentions at the beginning of the book, the electric shock therapy has really wiped out swaths of her memory, or if she is demonstrating restraint out of respect for the privacy of her friends and family.

Overall, this is a fun and light read, and would be perfect for times when you are likely to be distracted or don’t want to have to tax your brain.