I started watching Doctor Who about 2 years ago. It was a vivid awakening for me. I had been very dimly aware that the show existed but had never been exposed to it. Once I started watching it, I loved it but I always wanted to know more about it. It is a story with a rich and complex history. One that I knew nothing about it.
One can, of course, try using Google to do research. With something as complex as Doctor Who, the results are rather … confusing. So, I just suffered in ignorance, merely enjoying what was on TV in front of me.
Last week, randomly, I became aware that a new book had just been published through Amazon. It was a collection of essays from the blog TARDIS Eruditorum: A Psychochronography in Blue. Up until this point, I hadn’t even known that the blog existed. But, I clicked over and decided to take a look.
This is the story of a story that can never end. This is the story of how a daft idea from the bowels of the BBC in the 1960s changed everything. This is the story of an impossible man, and his magic box, and everything that happened after.
Because there’s something you’d better understand about me. Because it’s important, and one day, your life may depend on it.
I am definitely a mad man with a blog.
Okay, so Philip Sandifer (“a hopeless geek with a PhD in English focusing on media studies”) is an entertaining writer. After a few hours of reading through blog entries, I was also convinced that he knew Doctor Who, he knew British culture, and he knew literary criticism. So I bought the book.
From the book’s description:
TARDIS Eruditorum is a sprawling and very possibly completely mad critical history of Doctor Who from its first episode in 1963 to the present. In this first volume, we look at topics like how acid-fueled occultism influenced the development of the Cybermen, whether The Celestial Toymaker is irredeemably racist, and whether Barbara Wright was the greatest companion of all time. This book aims to be the most staggeringly thorough look at the evolution of Doctor Who, Great Britain, and the world from 1963 to 1966 ever published.
Revised and expanded versions of every entry from the acclaimed blog TARDIS Eruditorum from the start to finish of William Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor.
It was utterly fascinating and has already given me a lot of insight into the show and how it works. I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of future volumes and have every intention of purchasing them as they’re released. Why not? I’m a sucker for really good literary criticism and a sucker for Doctor Who.
This was an interesting book. It's not my normal affair. In fact, for much of it, I complained that not much was happening and that I was on the verge...moreThis was an interesting book. It's not my normal affair. In fact, for much of it, I complained that not much was happening and that I was on the verge of being bored. But I never quite fell into boredom and I'll forgive much for the sake of the last sentence.
This book felt very much like a Regency novel, with the same kind of flair, observations, and events that I'd normally associate with a Jane Austen novel. Only, it involved an England with a real magical past. An England formerly ruled over, hundreds of years ago, by John Uskglass, the Raven King. It's now the 19th century and the Raven King is long gone. With him, all of England's magic. Oh, there are still magicians, to be sure. But they're all theoretical magicians. They read books about magic and talk about magic, but no one actually does any magic. Enter Mr. Norrell. He's England's only practicing magician. Enter, later, Jonathan Strange, his sometimes pupil, sometimes adversary. Together, they begin to bring some level of practicing magic back to England.
The first 80% of the book meanders through descriptions of various day to day events in the lives of various characters. The story jumps back and forth between them, almost randomly. It's initially hard to figure out what each character brings to the story, why we should care, what the central point of the story is—or even if it's really a story at all. I feel like the point was simply to float through the lives of these characters, observing, without any broader aim than observation.
It does finally come together into a grand conflict and many formerly inexplicable characters turn out to actually have a point and a role. The last 20% of the book is fantastic and does, I think, make up for the proceeding 80%. But I still find myself wishing that it had been shorter and that the opening material had been a bit less comprehensive.(less)
This was a light and overall entertaining history of how Gatorade was developed and marketed. Along the way, it looks at Michael Jordan's involvement...moreThis was a light and overall entertaining history of how Gatorade was developed and marketed. Along the way, it looks at Michael Jordan's involvement with the brand, the battles with POWERade, and more. It wasn't deep writing, but it didn't need to me. I learned a lot about the brand.(less)
In 1997, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory developed a device that could generate a persistent, spherical force field of arbitrary size and project it almost anywhere. The resulting “bobble” will completely cut off whatever is inside the field from the rest of the world. These scientists quickly act to use the bobble to encase nuclear weapons, military bases, cities, and governments. They declare themselves the Peace Authority and enforce peace by threatening to bobble anyone who rejects their authority.
The Peace War starts 51 years later, in 2048. The world has been at peace for as long as most people can remember. Not everyone is happy with the Peace Authority’s limitations on technology and freedom. Small bands of Tinkers have been clandestinely developing new technologies, in an attempt to overcome the Peace. And the original inventor of the Bobbler is still alive, a Tinker himself, and working hard to defeat the scientists who took his invention and used it to enslave the world.
Vernor Vinge does exactly what a good SF author should do: he poses a new technology and examines how it might change the world, for good and bad. I liked his depictions of how American society would change after the last year and enforced peace. I liked his depictions of how technology would progress in the face of severe restrictions against innovation. And I liked his depictions of how an insurrection might work when facing an enemy that not only had superior firepower but also had the ability to completely take pieces off of the map.
This was a very imaginative book and a great example of what “hard science fiction” should be. I highly recommend it.
I never thought I'd think of a biography as a page turner. With this book, I did. It was absolutely enthralling. Robert Caro graphically describes lif...moreI never thought I'd think of a biography as a page turner. With this book, I did. It was absolutely enthralling. Robert Caro graphically describes life in the Hill Country of Texas, painting a vivid country of the land and the people that produced Lyndon Johnson. His descriptions of Johnson himself are equally vivid.
Lyndon Johnson is one of the most repellent people I've ever read about. He was a consummate politician—that is, liar—and his life reflects that. Robert Caro's book was so well written that I was able to thoroughly enjoy it, in spite of the Lyndon Johnson's own flaws.
Caro's research was meticulous, allowing him to paint a very detailed portrait of Johnson's early years: home life, college life, as a driven Congressional secretary, and as a Congressman himself. It's a fascinating, fascinating picture that's told as a story, not as a dry recitation of facts. I highly recommend it.(less)
I loved the first volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power. I’d ever read a better biography. I’ve still never read a better one but I’ve now read one that’s just as good.
This book really succeeds because it’s essentially four stories in one book.
Chapters 1–5 are the story of Johnson’s later years in Congress and what he did during World War II. (Johnson spent most of the war avoid danger and then flew into danger, literally, at the last minute in order to have some record to present to his increasingly restless constituents.) This first section of the book is crucial. It portrays the absolute desperation that Johnson felt both to get out of the House and to gain wealth.
I feel that this section of the book is the slowest and repeats the most information from The Path to Power. (Sometimes entire paragraphs are listed from the previous book.) Caro did this to remind the reader of crucial aspects of Johnson’s character but, when reading the books back to bad, it really feels repetitive and slows the pace.
Chapter 6 is a terrific look at crony capitalism. This is where the book really begins to pick up, in my opinion. It’s the story of how Lyndon Johnson acquired the KTBC radio station. He used the power of politics to turn a money-losing business into an insanely profitable business practically overnight. If you’ve ever wondered how crony capitalism works or how a politician can become wealthy just from “serving” in Congress, this is your chapter. After reading it, I don’t think I’ll ever look at the intersection of business and politics the same way again.
Chapter 8 is an utterly fascinating mini-biography of Coke Stevens, a forgotten figure in Texas politics. Prior to the 1948 Senate race, he was a living legend. During the race, Johnson and his partisans slimed him mercilessly. Today, he’s remembered only as another reactionary conservative in a long-line of reactionary conservatives.
Robert Caro corrects the historical record and shows a man who lived an incredible life as a self-taught lawyer, accountant, architect, and rancher. He ran a one-man “freight line” when he was just 17, transporting goods in and out of the most inhospitable regions of Texas. He drove the horses during the day and taught himself law at night, by firelight. He scrimped and saved to buy his own books, always saving a a tiny amount for the ranch that he wanted to one day buy.
When he did finally start to buy land for his ranch, he did all of his own branding and shearing. He taught himself architecture so that he could build single handedly build his ranch house. He dug his own post holes and set his own fence posts. He nearly singlehandedly built the entire ranch, from the ground up.
He was a politician only reluctantly but was the most successful politician in Texas history. In his second gubernatorial election, he received 85 percent of the vote (the highest ever total in a contested Texas primary) and won all 254 Texas counties. “He was also the only man in the state’s history who had held all three of the top political posts in state government: Speaker, Lieutenant Governor, Governor.” And he served an unprecedented two consecutive terms as Speaker: the only man in Texas to ever succeed himself as Speaker.
This mini-biography alone is nearly worth the entire purchase of the entire book.
Chapters 9–16 chronicle the 1948 Senate election. Caro definitely investigates allegations that Johnson stole the election—and finds them to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. The fraud was breathtaking in both its sheer audacity and scope.
More than that though, he chronicles the entire election. Johnson, a mediocre vote getter, was running against Coke Stevenson, the most successful vote getter in Texas history. Johnson had very little hope of beating Stevenson in a fair fight. So, he did the only thing he could: he relentlessly slimed his opponent. He used an unlimited fund of money, coming from crony capitalists dependent on him, to blanket the radio airwaves, to cover newspapers, and to stuff voter mailboxes with dishonest rhetoric and accusations. It was the most rotten and contemptible form of campaigning imaginable and Caro reports on every aspect of it.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It was a fascinating and enlightening look at modern American politics and a pivotal player in them.
This is the second book in Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series. After the events of the first book, PI Harry Dresden has found it hard to drum up work. Actually, it’s been impossible. The police don’t trust him and the underworld isn’t certain it wants to work with him. That’s true up until dead bodies start showing up. Dead bodies that look suspiciously like the result of werewolf killings.
This was a pretty solid follow-up to Storm Front. The first book in the series dealt the magic side of the supernatural world. This book dealt with the hairier side of the supernatural world. It was well written but I didn’t think that it had as much tongue-in-cheek humor as the first book. I missed that.
Butcher incorporated many different variants of the werewolf legends. It made for a more complex story, as it involved a mix of characters, each with different motives, abilities, and weaknesses. On the other hand, it made the story more complex and I’m not entirely sure that that was such a good thing.
Overall, this was a solid, but not a great, follow-up to Storm Front. Dresden remains interesting as a character and his relationships with the people around him continue to evolve. Ultimately, any story is about people and this story, whatever minor flaws it may have, succeeded in making me continue to care about Dresden and to cheer the progress he’s making in his relationships.
I really should know better than to underestimate John Scalzi. After all, I still think Old Man’s War was one of the best books I’ve read in the past 7 years. But, I did. I didn’t expect Fuzzy Nation to be all that good.
I had my reasons too. Fuzzy Nation is a remake of H. Beam Piper’s book Little Fuzzy. Movies are remade all of the time in Hollywood. And most of those remakes are poor imitations of the original. How often are books remade? Never? I should have taken a clue from Tyler Cowen and realized if something is done that’s never done, that’s likely to mean it’s of higher than average quality. And, boy, is that ever true here.
Scalzi has take a good but dated 1950’s story and updated it into a very good, and fresh, story for 2010’s. The broad, general, structure of the original is still here. Jack Holloway is a prospector working on Zarathustra XXXIII, looking for sunstone gems. He discovers an immense cache of them, enough to make his fortune several times over. Then he meets a small, fuzzy (of course), cute creature. Then he meets the creature’s family. Soon, he’s involved in determining whether these cute creatures are super smart animals or sentient people.
Scalzi modifies a good bit too. His book is every bit as much of a page turner as the original was, just in different ways. He manages to make a series of court cases far more interesting than the original did. But I find the most interesting changes to be the way that the story revolves around Jack Holloway.
Holloway is what Scalzi’s story is really about. The fuzzy’s are there and central to that story, but Holloway is the focus. He’s a complex character and Scalzi progressively reveals him to us. Is he merely the galaxy’s biggest jerk? Or is there more to him than that? Scalzi continually gives us more insight into him as the story moves along, but still manages to keep his character ambiguous until the end. It’s not character development, exactly, but it’s character revelation, which I find just as interesting.
After reading this book, I’ve very definitely moved from “I’ll read it because it’s from Scalzi” to “I’d definitely recommend this book”. If you’re looking for an entertaining read, pick this up. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
This was a fascinating look at life in Iraq during General Petraeus's surge. Michael Totten spent a lot of time in Iraq, interviewing both Iraqi's and...moreThis was a fascinating look at life in Iraq during General Petraeus's surge. Michael Totten spent a lot of time in Iraq, interviewing both Iraqi's and American soldiers about what was going on. He lets the subjects speak for themselves in long chunks and reports what he saw and heard accurately, regardless of viewpoint or ideology. From the Kurds in northern Iraq to the Arabs in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, this is a revealing look at Iraqi attitudes and desires.
This book is compiled from essays that Michael Totten originally wrote for Reason.com, City Magazine, his own blog, and other news organizations. It's been edited to remove repetitive sections, but otherwise stands as a very informative look at a very confusing country.(less)