Books read in April 2013

April was a shite month for books, and I don’t apologise for that.  I’ve been busy with Continuum stuff, I’ve been doing overtime at work, I’ve been busy.  (And I’m recording this to remind Future Liz, when she comes to look over her year’s reading, that there’s a very good reason for only reading seven books!)

Avatar: the Last Airbender: The Search (part 1) Gene Luen Yang TV tie-in graphic novel
Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation(2) (volume 2) Scott and David Tipton TV tie-in graphic novel
The Thief Megan Whalen Turner YA
The Queen of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner YA
JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner Richard Marson Biography
Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays on themes, characters, history and fandom 1963 – 2012 Gillian I. Leitch (ed)
The King of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner YA

Round-up!

“The Search” is the latest in Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novels set after the finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender.  They are deeply unpopular in fandom, imho because they don’t contain much fanservice, but I really love his treatment of the Fire Nation characters and their complex psychology.  In fact, I love it so much that I don’t really care when the rest falls flat, as it occasionally does.

Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who – Assimilation(2) volume 2, aside from having a mouthful of a title, was pretty flat storywise.  (Plot-driven crossovers often are, in my experience, even in fan fiction.  Crossovers where characters get drunk and hang out are much more fun.)  But I bought it for the artwork, which is glorious.

Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series is like the Vorkosigan Saga, the Mary Russell novels and the Lord Peter Wimsey series: a set of books around a brilliant, unreliable protagonist that I re-read over and over again.  (Turner based her hero on Miles Vorkosigan; Lois McMaster Bujold and Laurie R. King drew inspiration from Lord Peter for Miles Vorkosigan and Mary Russell respectively, and so the circle is closed.)

This time through — not quite through, actually, I still have A Conspiracy of Kings to go, but I find that oddly hard to read for some reason, even though I really enjoy it — I was amazed that any of these books after the first were classified as middle grade novels.  The hero is maimed (by the heroine!) at the beginning of the second book (not a spoiler; it’s on the back cover), is married by the end, and the third book is about politics and marriage, from the perspective of a lowly guardsman.  Whenever someone tells me you can’t do _________ in YA, I’m going to think of Megan Whalen Turner.

Richard Marson’s biography of Doctor Who producer Jon Nathan-Turner was compelling yet awful, like a nerdy version of Heat! magazine.  Turner was a complex person, in a committed relationship for most of his adult life, yet he and his partner were quite open about sexually exploiting fans.  (In the case of the partner, this included attempts at outright sexual assault, including one on the author.)

Turner’s tenure was the most turbulent time in Doctor Who‘s history, some of which was caused by circumstances beyond his control.  Other parts … you know, there’s a reason why Russell T Davies never engaged with fandom, and why Steven Moffat should never have tried Twitter.  Doctor Who fandom can be toxic, and if you have the ego it takes to survive in the entertainment industry, you’re going to wind up being equally toxic back.  And not just to the fans:  there’s a really ugly account of JN-T spitting in actress Nicola Bryant’s face after she joked about sleeping with a gay man he fancied.

The information in this biography would make fascinating entries in, say, a history of the culture of the BBC (which I would totally read), but as an account of an individual’s life, much of it felt prurient.  But then, one suspects JN-T would have appreciated that.

Doctor Who in Time and Space is a recent collection of essays about … you know.  The JN-T book made me curious about the fanzines of the ’80s, and Google Books threw this up as a result.

I am … disappointed.  There are a few good essays here, including an outstanding piece by J. M. Frey called “Whose Doctor?”, about Sydney Newman and Doctor Who‘s ties to Canada, and colonialism and cultural cringe.  That alone was worth the $16 I paid for the Kindle edition.

A lot of the essays, though, just made me cranky.  For example, “Nostalgia for Empire, 1963-1974” by Maura Grady and Cassie Hemstrom is based on the premise that Doctor Who had no political stories after 1974.  Even if you narrow “political” down to “about imperialism”, which is the authors’ particular area if interest, that’s nonsense.  Robert Holmes wrote a whole lot of Tom Baker stories about imperialism’s first cousin, colonialism, albeit not always with grace.  But then, he wasn’t exactly subtle, either.  And if we take a wider view of “political”, the McCoy era was basically one big critique of Thatcherism, racism, consumerism, etc.

But the essay that particularly annoyed me was “A Country Made From Metal? The “Britishness” of Human-Machine Marriage in Series 31″ by Kate Flynn.  This is ostensibly an examination of the Pond-Williams marriage, only it seems to take the premise that Rory is the only person that counts in that relationship.  For example, Leadworth is described as “Rory’s home town”, when it was also Amy’s.  Additionally, at different points the author describes Amy as “for the dads”, “hypersexualised” and “shrew”.  (There’s a whole section about how Rory is emasculated by women who don’t appreciate him.)  It’s a shame, because there were a lot of interesting ideas in this essay, that could be further applied to series 7 and the Ponds’ departure, but the misogyny was just disappointing, especially coming from a woman.  (I shouldn’t be surprised, but I always am.)

Finally, I just didn’t find the collection hugely well edited.  Unless “the wizard Gandolph” is a figure in some media I haven’t yet encountered.

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

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