Sunday, September 29, 2013

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (Story 78)

starring Tom Baker as the Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan, and Michael Wisher as Davros.

The Doctor (fourth incarnation), traveling by transmat beam with Sarah and Harry in tow, is intercepted and redirected to the distant past of the planet Skaro, where the long war of attrition between the Kaleds and the Thals is just about to lead to the creation of the Daleks by the Kaled chief scientist Davros, who considers them the only hope for the ultimate survival of his race. A mysterious Time Lord instructs the Doctor to prevent the Daleks from ever coming into existence, or failing that, to introduce changes into their programming in order to make them less aggressive creatures.

The Time Lord considers this a service to the future, preventing the carnage and destruction of the many Dalek wars and conquests. The Doctor calls it genocide, and accepts the assignment under duress, having no way to get back to the TARDIS except by the time ring he is offered in exchange for completing the mission.

Of course, the real creator of the Daleks was on hand here as well, since Terry Nation wrote this six-part serial to anchor Tom Baker's first season as the Doctor. It was also the first season with Philip Hinchcliffe as producer and Bob Holmes as script editor, and they wasted no time in trying to take the show in a darker, grittier, more grownup direction; this particular story is unremittingly grim.  It's a thoroughgoing retcon of the Daleks' origin; Davros had never before been alluded to, much less named, and the humanoid race that gave rise to the Daleks had previously been called the Dals, not the Kaleds.

As always with a six-parter, there's a bit of stretching to fill the time, elaborate escape attempts that go absolutely nowhere, and so on.  But Davros is a brilliant creation, and it was inspired casting to have him portrayed by Michael Wisher, who had provided Dalek voices in a couple of previous serials. He's genuinely frightening, and never more so than when he's calmly contemplating the intellectual exercise of whether, having created a virus that would destroy all life, he would then use it. (Spoiler: He would.)

I am pleased that the library where I work has started to get some of these classic Doctor Who serials. Mostly 4th Doctor so far, with a little bit of the 5th Doctor for good measure; I'll have to suggest some good 3rd Doctor stories next.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WWW Wednesday (1)

W...W...W...Wednesday is a meme is from shouldbereading. To play along, just answer three questions:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you'll read next?

So here goes:

What are you currently reading? Good Man Friday, by Barbara Hambly. I've had it out from the library for a while now, and I don't want to renew it again, but I really don't want to take it back unread. So I finally picked it up this week, and it's going pretty quickly, as books in this excellent series tend to do.

What did you recently finish reading? Star Wars: Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller. Star Wars is a very flexible setting, accommodating every kind of story from zombie horror to detective noir; this one, clearly, is a Western.

What do you think you'll read next? The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England, just because it's time for a little nonfiction. I tried to read this once before and didn't get very far into it, though, so there's always the possibility that I'll switch to Harvest of Time, the Doctor Who novel by Alastair Reynolds.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Wilder Rose

by Susan Wittig Albert.

While working on the manuscript for By the Shores of Silver Lake at her home in Connecticut, Rose Wilder Lane relates to a young friend how she went home to the family farm in Missouri just as the Great Depression was beginning and encouraged her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, to write the memoir of pioneer life that ultimately became the Little House series--and how their complicated relationship led Rose both to become deeply involved in shaping the successive manuscripts into publishable form and to disguise the fact that her editing almost amounts to ghostwriting.

To this day, the only name on the Little House books is that of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and for some fans of the series the extent of Rose Wilder Lane's contribution to the work is still debatable. Laura has many defenders, who point to her experience as a columnist for the Missouri Ruralist and her evocative letters to her husband Almanzo from San Francisco (eventually published as West from Home) as evidence that she was the sole author of all the books, and Rose did no more than clean up the spelling and grammar as she was typing the manuscripts, and perhaps give her mother a little inside advice on the publishing process and an introduction to her own agent. Rose's published fiction, some of it based on the same family stories that went into her mother's books, is very different in tone and style, they say; it's immediately obvious that the same person could not have been responsible for both Little House on the Prairie and Let the Hurricane Roar.

Others take the position (supported by William Holtz's biography of Rose, The Ghost in the Little House) that Laura's original manuscript was little more than a collection of anecdotes, needing a lot of work to become a publishable narrative--work that Laura wouldn't have known how to do, but Rose, already a professional writer for twenty years, certainly did. Adherents of this view point to The First Four Years, now usually published as the last of the Little House books but obviously not as polished as the other entries in the series, as evidence that it was Rose's work on the other eight books--reordering events to impose plot and structure on the loose family stories, inserting dialogue and dramatic tension--that made them the classics that they are, and Rose deserves credit as a co-author: credit her manipulative mother, accustomed to getting her own way, denied her.

Albert's novel leans towards the latter version of the story. But if Rose was Laura's ghostwriter--and the evidence of Rose's diaries and Laura's letters tends to support this interpretation--she must also have been complicit in the deception involved. She and her mother had the same agent, and Rose knew many people in the New York publishing industry; she would have had to go to some trouble to keep the depth of her involvement a secret, but a secret it remained. 

The exploration of why Rose might have gone to so much trouble is the best part of this subtle, insightful novel. She and her mother had a troubled, complex relationship, and if Laura was used to getting her own way, so was Rose. Compassion, obligation, resentment, and yes, manipulation--on both sides--all went into the mix, as they tend to do between many mothers and daughters. This is a fascinating, well-written story, and I plan to do my best to see to it that the library where I work buys multiple copies; my only concern is that as a self-published title, it doesn't appear to be available from our usual wholesaler, but there are ways around that!

A Wilder Rose, by Susan Wittig Albert, was published as an e-book and in paperback on September 1, 2013, and will be out in hardcover on October 1. Thanks to Perservero Press (that is, to the author) and NetGalley for making advance copies available.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (1)

Top Ten Tuesday is a blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week's suggested theme is:

Top Ten Books (or Series) I Would Love to See on the Screen

The caveat, of course, is that this would be in an ideal world where movies and TV shows don't routinely butcher the books we love, and that's why my first pick is a series that's actually already been on TV for about half a season:

10. The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. 
The SciFi Channel (not yet moronically rebranded as Syfy) gave it a shot, and didn't do as badly as I was afraid they might. Some of the changes they introduced even made sense as necessary adaptations for a visual medium, like making Bob the Skull into a ghost (so that there would be an actor to look at instead of a cheap special effect) or giving Harry a vintage Jeep to drive instead of the venerable Blue Beetle (so that they could actually fit a camera inside a vehicle with the 6'3" actor). But this series still counts as a huge missed opportunity for a great urban fantasy TV show. Bring back Harry Dresden!

9. A is for Alibi, by Sue Grafton. 
I would actually like to see the whole alphabet series as a weekly TV show, and I think it would work really well as one; the handful of Kinsey Millhone short stories read like really good episodes. This will never happen, because Sue Grafton is determined that it won't, but a girl can dream, right?
8. Song of the Lioness, by Tamora Pierce.
I think the recent success of female-led fantasy/adventure movies like Snow White and the Huntsman just goes to show that the world is now ready for a cinematic treatment of the story of Alanna the Lady Knight.

7. Circle of Five, by Dolores Stewart Riccio.
Another mystery series tailor-made for a TV show, this one centers on a Wiccan circle in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They have a light touch, the mysteries are actually pretty mysterious, and the Wicca is refreshingly not sensationalized very much. It'd be a great vehicle for an ensemble cast of actresses of assorted ages.

6. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

It's been a long time since I read it, but I loved this book when I was younger. I suspect that if I went back to it now, I would find it's been visited by the Sexism Fairy since the last time I checked in, and there are some points that would have to be tweaked to be palatable to modern audiences, but I'd still love to see the dragons on a big screen now that the technology is there to render them well.

5. A Free Man of Color, by Barbara Hambly.

This would probably be a tough sell: a historical mystery about a free black man in pre-Civil War New Orleans. But the books are so fabulous I'd love to see somebody try it.

4. Retief's War, by Keith Laumer

Just because there's a distinct lack of smart science fiction on the screen. These combine intrigue, action, mystery and humor in extremely entertaining ways.

3. Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman.

I know this is the one of my choices that doesn't really go with the others: a work of nonfiction. But I like movies that are based on true stories as well (though I never make the mistake of thinking the true story makes it to the screen unscathed), and I've felt for a long time that Nellie Bly would be a fantastic candidate for a biopic.

2. ElfQuest, by Wendy and Richard Pini.

These ain't yer haute elves, as Richard Pini himself has been known to point out. There's an astonishingly beautiful fan-made trailer out there showing just how amazing this could look in live-action, but of course the origin of the material in comic books would lend itself pretty well to an animated movie too. Given the violence and sexual content of the story, live action might be better, just so nobody makes the mistake of thinking that because it's a cartoon it's, you know, for kids.

1. Busman's Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers.
 There was a movie made of it a long time ago, and the original play has been revived at least once that I know of fairly recently, but I would really like to see a movie or a TV miniseries that treats the subject seriously. Most of my objections to the movie Haunted Honeymoon boil down to the fact that the producers apparently wanted the next Nick and Nora, and tried to turn the story into a screwball comedy instead of a love story (albeit with detective interruptions). It is a damned shame that Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter weren't allowed to add this one to the three Wimsey and Vane stories they filmed for the BBC in the 1980s, but I'd be happy to see a modern version.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (30)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.  So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Dangerous Women, an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin (Tor Books, December 3, 2013).

Writes Gardner Dozois in his Introduction, "Here you'll find no hapless victims who stand by whimpering in dread while the male hero fights the monster or clashes swords with the villain, and if you want to tie these women to the railroad tracks, you'll find you have a real fight on your hands.  Instead, you will find sword-wielding women warriors, intrepid women fighter pilots and far-ranging spacewomen, deadly female serial killers, formidable female superheroes, sly and seductive femmes fatale, female wizards, hard-living Bad Girls, female bandits and rebels, embattled survivors in Post-Apocalyptic futures, female Private Investigators, stern female hanging judges, haughty queens who rule nations and whose jealousies and ambitions send thousands to grisly deaths, daring dragonriders, and many more."

Can't go wrong with that. I probably would have picked this up just from the description, but I happen to know that this contains a Dresden Files story by Jim Butcher (telling what happened to Molly in her Ragged Lady phase) and a Westeros story by George R. R. Martin (the history of the Dance of the Dragons, a civil war in the distant backstory of his Song of Ice and Fire series), so I'll definitely be getting hold of this as soon as I can.