Monday, June 11, 2018

Summer Reading List 2018: Spacefaring Kitten

Summer is horrible, horrible time. It's too hot, your fingers get sweaty, the pages of the books you read get sticky, sunlight makes it hard to read from a screen (and don't get me started on how sticky the screens get), plus reading with shades feels weird and sun cream makes everything even more sticky. However, good books have the power to alleviate summer discomfort slightly, and very good books can almost make a summer bearable, so reading is what I plan to do.

Here's some stuff I look forward to reading.

1. Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay That Became The Classic Star Trek Episode

Growing up, I was always more of a Star Wars than a Star Trek kitten, and I have watched ST only here and there rather unorthodoxically -- like only random episodes of Deep Space Nine and now Discovery. Lately I've began to think that if I can be a fan of hippiefied Jesus myths, it can't be too hard to get into an über-humanist space utopia as well. I also have an unhealthy affection for fannish melodrama and outrage, and therefore Harlan Ellison's original teleplay for the award-winning Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever seems like a good entry point.

It's one of the most memorable episodes of the original 1960's series (or that's what I'm told), won a Hugo Award, and made Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Ellison hate each other's guts for the rest of their lives. Ellison's script was rewritten several times by Roddenberry and others, and the angry writer reportedly even threw William Shatner out of his house when the lead actor was sent to appease him.

The edition I have in hand contains Ellison's bombastic introductory essay which is almost as long as the teleplay itself, plus shorter recollections of other people involved with the show. I hope it delivers some enjoyable roast as well as insights into what producing science fiction for TV was like 60 years ago.

2. The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine

Even though science fiction is supposed to tell us about the future and be ahead of its time, historically it (and the surrounding community) have been only of their time -- if not outright  change-averse and outdated -- when it comes to hard social questions. This is what I expect to learn from Justine Larbalestier's book-lenght study on femininity, masculinity, sex and sexuality in science fiction between the first issue of Amazing Stories in 1926 and James-Tiptree-Jr.-gate in 1970s.

3. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I've heard N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy -- concluded last year with The Stone Sky -- is good. That's probably putting it mildly, because it has won all the awards there are (including two Hugos in a row), and whenever I happen to read something about it, it sounds like my favorite fantasy series: sociologically complex world, racial tensions, dark mysteries, and sort of superpowers. There's a good chance my pleasure buttons will be pushed, or else I'm in for a massive disappointment.

4. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

Do you know the feeling: an essential author dies and you feel bad for not having read a great and respected book of theirs that you should have in order to understand the magnitude of them not being around anymore? The Left Hand of Darkness is on a far too long list that includes works like J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, Iain M. Banks's Feersum Endjinn, Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, and dozens of others. Let's just hope Michael Moorcock and Gene Wolfe eat healthy and remember to exercise.

5. A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

Tom King is one of the most interesting writers working in mainstream comics at the moment, and I still haven't managed to read his debut novel A Once Crowded Sky. The book is going to be six years old this July, and there's not much else superhero stuff on my TBR pile, so I guess it's a good time to finally take a look.

The Vision and The Sheriff of Babylon (not to mention The Batman/Elmer Fudd Special) are wonderful works but it will be interesting to see whether King can write a readable ungraphic novel. As far as I know, the book takes advantage of some self-referential superhero riffs (and which superhero novel doesn't?), so my expectations are somewhere between Watchmen and Astro City. Sounds good in theory, but the ground has been covered by so many others that pulling off something memorable is not easy.

6.  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill

The Tempest, the last six-issue installment of writer Alan Moore and illustrator Kevin O'Neill's saga The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will start coming out in the summer. League is many things: the series started as a thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful steampunk superhero romp with established literary characters (Volumes I-II) before diving into crazy experimentation ranging from faux Shakespeare plays and Orwellian porn comics (Black Dossier) to outré musical performances in comics form (Volume III: Century), and finally resurfacing as a mainstream-ish nazi-bashing adventure (Nemo trilogy) -- nazis being the followers of Adenoid Hynkel from Chaplin's The Great Dictator in this case.

There's a fuzzy line between becoming frustrated with Moore and O'Neill's obsessive meta-commentary and obscure references, and being blown away by the creators' weird ambitions and inventions. Often, it's hard to say which of these is one's primary state of mind when reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but at least it's always interesting in some way. The work of so convoluted that a reread of the earlier comics is perhaps in order before tackling the final series. I happened to watch the extremely unfortunate movie adaptation with Sean Connery a while ago and I now have to get that out of my system.

POSTED BY: Spacefaring Kitten, an extradimensional fan of speculative fiction, comics, and general weirdness. Contributor since 2018.