Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Retired email signature

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." (Robert Heinlein)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Peter Mendelsund

One thing about working in a bookstore (and shopping in bookstores and obsessively browsing book websites) is that I see a lot of book covers. Most of course are pretty blah, maybe effective at indicating the type of book but little else. (And maybe not always then - a few months back a customer asked for a recommendation and Cathleen Schine's books sounded exactly like what she wanted. Only when we pulled out the books the covers made them look like fuzzy Picoult-ish romance novels and the customer passed.) It wasn't until I stumbled across this post about designer Peter Mendelsund that I realized that many of my favorite current covers were done by the same person. This must be how a lot of the early auteurists felt when discovering that their favorite films were done by the same directors, except in my defense the cover designer name is always tucked away so if you're not actively looking for it you won't find it.

There's not much stylistically that connects Mendelsund's covers but many of these stood out - the Dostoevsky editions, Tezuka's Dororo, Carey's Peter & Oliver, the cloth of Mr Peanut (paper cover is different) and more - it's not on this page but he also did the new Foucault and Benjamin designs. I'd never seen the cloth of Anatomy of Fascism but it's a much better cover than the too-literal paperback (which I have). I will confess though that I never liked the Larsson cover - too vague but also too busy. So it's interesting to read in a profile that Mendelsund originally had different proposals that the publisher rejected. (There's another good 2008 interview here and a more recent one focusing on Kafka.) (And really by now shouldn't there be a better way to indicate a link than just "here"? I'm too lazy to figure it out.)

Mendelsund's domain-named website is down but he has a blog at http://jacketmechanical.blogspot.com/ that also has other samples of his work. And of course he Twitters but who doesn't?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


As Mike Sterling tweets: It's almost criminal that now, of all times, the DC blog does not allow comments. We are being deprived of some spectacular entertainment.


Yeah, guess I really should be parsing Catullus or tracing the development of bridge imagery in the High Modernists but it's DC's reboot/relaunch/revamp that's been most interesting lately. In case you don't know in September DC is releasing 52 new series all at #1 and apparently with revised or simplified continuity. It's a big move and naturally generated a lot of discussion which after all is much of the point. I don't have anything particularly interesting to say but:

* 52 new series but I'm betting at least half will be gone in a year.

* Looking at an almost-compete list there are maybe a dozen I'll actually buy - the four Batman titles, Batwoman, DC Universe Presents (at least the Deadman story), Justice League, Justice League Dark, Demon Knights, Swamp Thing, Sgt Rock and All-Star Western. But it's hard to tell. Sgt Rock could be really dumb and that first issue more than enough.

* Others look interesting such as Azzarello on Wonder Woman but even Brubaker couldn't do much with that character. Frankenstein, I Vampire, Resurrection Man, Hawk & Dove, Legion Lost, Suicide Squad and some of these other second-tier titles have the potential to be really strong just because there's so much possibility but more likely they'll just fade into wandering stories with unfocused characters. Normally I'd love the idea of a Blackhawk series but this modernized version sounds like they're copying GI Joe. The rest will just have to wait. Did we really need an Aquaman book? Red Lanterns? Firestorm? I stopped reading Titans years ago but the cover of the new issue looks absolutely horrible. And don't all those Justice League variations sound like DC is trying to copy Marvel's Avengers strategy?

* It's nice to see Azzarello, Lemire and Milligan here but DC really missed a chance to bring in fresher or indie creators. Why not make Bizarro an ongoing? Or another Wednesday Comics? But really it looks like DC is trying to make it seem new while following the old approaches, nothing too strange thank you very much.

* Several people have commented on how this was a chance for DC to bring the Wildstorm characters into the DCU but I'm not sure why they would bother. (And notice there's no Authority.) Perhaps more to the point is the rumors we've been hearing for a couple of years about DC exploring the possibility of its own Ultimate line apparently were true - it's just that they did this with all their books (excepting Vertigo of course but now some of that's being pulled into DCnU as well).

* I was disappointed to hear Barbara Gordon would become Batgirl, apparently being either healed or reverted to a pre-shooting status. (Maybe they're just going to retcon away all Alan Moore stories - bye bye Mogo.) There are already two more-than-servicable Batgirl possibilities and as Oracle Gordon has consistently been one of the most fully realized characters in mainstream comics. But Jill Pantozzi at Newsarama makes an even stronger case that DC is really not living up to its claims of diversity.

* Guess if you're going to do it then go all the way but it's sad to hear Detective and probably Action will lose their original numbering. Still that too may be back in a year. At least DC isn't as bad about this as Marvel who at times might as well just number every issue of every series #1.

* And the announcement that Ambush Bug won't be involved in any of this means I may just skip the whole thing. Hey as long as that overpriced Sugar & Spike archive isn't delayed....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ending BSG (spoilers of course)

There were a few rough patches at the start but the real cracks in Battlestar Galactica started to show (just as they implausibly would later in the diegetic ship) in season three. More and more emphasis was placed on destiny and prophecy and dream visions until the show started to slip out of science fiction. Heavy-handed stories didn't help. They re-made the Babylon 5 episode about a doctor who decides to override a religious group's objection to medical care only this time with a clear-cut distinction of the doctor being a flat-out murderer while B5's doctor made a decision with tragic results but it was a decision that most of us would also have made. (And I suppose some people might argue that this wasn't deliberately a remake but really religious refusal to accept medical care is so extremely rare that it's far more likely the BSG writers got the idea from B5 than it is they got it from real life.)

But the ending was jaw-dropping. Two angels standing in the middle of our (mine, yours) modern-day NYC discussing God's plans while viewers are treated to supposedly threatening but actually quite innocuous images of robots? Seriously - angels? Toy robots? And Kara turning out to be a ghost more or less? Which also makes that undamaged ship she flew back at the start of season four a ghost ship despite having a physical existence. God apparently programmed the co-ordinates into the ship. (I really wish I was kidding about all this.)

Even without that we're treated to the spectacle of the last remaining humans (oh wait, there are some already on the planet - again God's plan) deciding to destroy all their technology on the idea that this can "break the cycle of violence". How not having tools and shelter will do that - even not having weapons - is quite unclear. Having fertile soil and lots of game doesn't guarantee survival - just look at the history of settlers in the Americas and the BSG people are deliberately going to technology centuries earlier than that. And spreading the remaining 38K people around the planet? There has to be some population density for a birth rate high enough for the group to expand though I suppose there's always those tribespeople wandering around. I understand why Chief might want to go live alone but why does Adama? The show writers messed around for a couple of seasons then had to rush everything.

Really it was too much to expect the show to end well. Season four continued most of the fantasy elements from the previous season but added quite clumsy storytelling, the kind of mistakes that usually only happen with beginners. For instance, one episode about two-thirds through devotes almost half its time to one of the most shameless exposition dumps I've ever seen. Two characters, one who has regained his memory and the other returned from...well let's just say she also regained her memory, those two characters give monologues of backstory so we know how the Final Five and the Cylons came to be. That's right, it sounds like they're reading out of the show bible for twenty minutes. It still doesn't make any sense. (Why does everybody call them the Final Five? They're really only final from our position as viewers.) And then there's the episode where Kara talks with a piano player for an entire episode and who, gasp, turns out to be imaginary though most viewers will have much earlier figured this out. Or the kind of fake lesson that mortality makes us human - the kind of dumb stuff the original Star Trek pushed but that we could easily ignore then because it's only a minute or two instead of BSG agonizing over it for hours. It's false because mortality has no more bearing on us being human than our chemistry being carbon-based - we can't change it and in any case share this with pretty much every other living creature.

Or filling the final two episodes with completely pointless flashbacks - the only remotely logical reason I can see for these is that the BSG writers thought this was "character development". Folks, you're about to end the entire show - if the characters aren't developed or revealed or explored or expanded by now then none of this helps. We already know that Lee and Kara were attracted to each other, that Gaius claimed to love Blondie (I have no idea what we're supposed to call her), that Ellen and Saul actually do love each other and so forth. If anything Admiral Adama needed this focus since he had become the fuzziest, most pooorly planned of the major characters. I'm far more intrigued by the revelation that their culture had strip clubs but then BSG was a show that avoided being science fiction as much as possible. "Keep It Familiar" must have been posted on the writer's office walls. Much of the final episodes revolve around the importance of Hera but clearly everything would have worked out the same even if she had died.

Which is the other oddity about BSG. As the show went along there's so much discussion about the Cylons being machines but there's not much that marks them as machines. Apparently they're medically identical to humans and display no superior intelligence or physical abilities. So what makes them machines? Is this the point that they eventually become human?

Not many (or actually any as far as I can find) people commented about how authoritarian the show became. The mutiny was easily the highlight of season four, the kind of clear storytelling the show had earlier where people get caught up in events and sometimes make wrong decisions. And it's built on the entirely reasonable resistance to working with Cylons that you would expect from people who watched them nearly wipe out all of humanity. But once the mutiny is down then the Admiral and President get to make the decisions, no more democracy. Not that we saw much democracy earlier but maybe this was the point of that half-baked section The Razor that told us sometimes leaders have to make hard decisions and we're expected to follow orders. (The Razor lost most of its point by having the captain explain herself - I guess so that we don't think she's insane - and by having the lead character ask for redemption at the end instead of owning up to her actions.) This authoritarian bent is also why the President increasingly sides with the military until it seems like there's no real distinction, in sharp contrast to the show's first season which was built around the conflict between military and civilian authority. But hey that must all be God's plan as well.