“The Cage”: Star Trek’s Awesome Awful Pilot

I’ve got a new series about Star Trek on Comparative Geeks!

Comparative Geeks

Hey there Star Trek fans, and welcome to a new post series! I’ve started a massive watch/rewatch of all six Trek shows at one episode per day, and thanks to our generous admins here on Comparative Geeks, I’ll be posting about Star Trek every first Saturday. Perma-spoiler warning, and screenshots are my own.


Star Trek The Cage screenshot

If you go to Netflix to watch the original Star Trek, the first thing you see is not the successful pilot, and neither is it the first episode seen on television. It is instead Star Trek‘s first pilot, “The Cage,” with an almost entirely different cast and very different feel from the show that followed after it. Usually when people watch it, they make endless jokes about its inexplicable rejection in favor of the second version we know and love.

View original post 540 more words

Museum Visit: Wren’s Nest (Atlanta, GA)

The Wren’s Nest is one of Atlanta’s historic attractions — the house of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus stories! I visited over Christmas break and was very impressed indeed. (Apologies for the bad Kindle pics, it’s dark in there!) Wren’s Nest promotional materials emphasize that while Uncle Remus can be a racist symbol in the modern day, this is mostly because of the Disney adaptation. The stories actually offered some pretty subversive content at the time. The house tour only addresses this briefly in a pre-tour speech about how Harris, as an illegitimate child, was raised by slaves.

IMG_20151229_130648

Props from the movie premier!

Our docent was still a fast talker at 83 years of age, but she was knowledgeable and friendly. This was my first house museum, and I will say it’s disconcerting to be babysat the whole way through, but her tour was very thorough. The house became a museum in 1913 after Joel Chandler Harris’s death in 1908, so there are an impressive number of totally original artifacts in their exact original locations. The tour offers strategically-placed pictures from about 1900 to prove it! They’re understandably proud of each item that’s still in its exact place. His bedroom is untouched and visitors can’t even go in, although they can look.

IMG_20151229_133300

His bedroom, with an inadvertent glimpse of our docent.

IMG_20151229_132303

Some delightful exact-reproduction wallpaper from their family room.

As you can tell from the wallpaper above, this was quite a fancy house for the time — a Victorian with three floors by the time he was finished. (Harris built onto an existing house, adding several rooms on a second story. His daughters also convinced him to add an indoor bathroom at some point, although he refused to use it himself). They had both gas and electric lighting, even providing individual reading lights over the daughters’ bed. As the docent said, they were “only a LITTLE BIT spoiled.”

IMG_20151229_132620

Other features include a vast number of books, mostly locked in cases now because they’re so old. Apparently he insisted the six children read all of them in their entirety. The museum also has a complete collection of Harris’s own books, including all the uninteresting ones he wrote before the Uncle Remus stories. Br’er Rabbit memorabilia takes up a lot of space, too.

Given the marvelous verisimilitude of the open portions of the house, I just wish we could’ve visited more. It already takes a while to go through, but the two rooms on the second floor aren’t open (for fire-safety and structural-integrity reasons), the wife’s bedroom was turned into the office, and at some point there was at least a kitchen downstairs, although I think the family moved it upstairs. It’s just tantalizing to see so much and have these last few rooms withheld!

IMG_20160131_165453There’s a small gift shop on the way out with a few logo items and a nice selection of books, including books of stories written by students in the house’s writing programs. I came away with a medium-sized Uncle Remus collection containing the essential stories (in dialect) and original illustrations, but there are several varieties, from a huge complete edition to a small pocket-sized one, in dialect and in mainstream translation.

Verdict: Recommended!

#LazyLambs Book Club: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow

Book club is back! We’ve moved from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest for this discussion, with The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow.

Girl Who Fell From the SkyThis debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

(CN: Child abuse/neglect, various discussions of suicide.)

How it works is that book club members each post a question, answer it, and make the rounds to answer the others’ questions. (All it takes to join is to say “Hey, I’d like to read that book!”) Here’s my question:

What’s the best way to write an “issues” book, and how does Girl Who Fell stack up?

I’ve always said I don’t want to be hit over the head with a sermon. However, I’m starting to realize that I’m okay with very clear messages and lessons, I even prefer them, as long as they complement the book’s characters, story, and themes instead of replacing them. I want the story to be a story, but I’d like to actually understand the story’s meaning. That goes double for a book specifically written to address real-world social issues, as this one seems to be.

While the reading experience is smooth, and certain parts will stay with me, I didn’t find this book to be making a clear statement. It contains issues, but it does not confront them. It mentions hard things, but doesn’t connect me to them. I already know racism is “inconvenient,” but that’s about all I got out of this. I KNOW racism is much harder to deal with than an inconvenience, but I didn’t really feel anything for this book, and it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already. Maybe I just wasn’t the audience it was meant to reach. I’ll be interested to hear what others thought of the book,  or how to approach an issues book in general.

If you wanna join book club, our next selection is We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, our first nonfiction book. We’ll be posting around the end of March!

More posts: Diana at Part Time Monster, Alli at Eclectic Alli

Semester Review: Historiography Book List

I went back and forth on doing a semester review for last fall. Two of the classes (Museum Administration and History of American Architecture) would be difficult to sum up and not terribly helpful for anyone else. I have had people ask me for grad school book recommendations though, so I finally decided to just do one, in the form of a book list, for my favorite class: Historiography! The history of history, study of methodologies and theory, that sort of thing. We read an important history book each week and discussed it in detail, covering the type of history, the book’s audience, the historian’s approach, and how effective the book was at achieving its goal. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was a crash course in learning how to skim historical monographs.

Additional assignments:

  • Brief written responses to a question the professor posed about each book.
  • A 3- to 4-page written book review, chosen from any of the first six weeks’ readings.
  • An oral book review on a book related to that week’s reading. These were listed in the syllabus and we volunteered for the set of books we wanted to discuss.
  • An 8- to 10-page historiographical essay, describing and analyzing the history of scholarship on a topic of our choosing. Mine was about queer Southern history, and is posted here.

The book list, with comments:

Continue reading

Museum Visit: Center for Civil and Human Rights (Atlanta, GA)

Back in old-timey days — ie over Thanksgiving break — some friends and I paid a visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a pretty new attraction, and it’s been on my list to visit since it opened in 2014. (We were told in the lobby that it’s “Not a museum,” and I found that to be true, but it’s in the same kind of cultural category). They’re still figuring out how to fill their space, I think, but it’s already well worth the visit. There are several sections, presented in the order I visited them, with a bit of summary at the end of the post. It took me a while to get this together, but I wanted to make sure it happened, because this place is awesome.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia


Voice to the Voiceless: The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection

Downstairs, they display a substantial collection of Martin Luther King, Jr. papers. This section is more like a typical museum, presenting objects with limited interpretation inside object labels. In this case, the objects are papers, a few pictures, and I believe a few books. All very nice. This is a rotating exhibit, focused on the Nobel Prize when I visited, but always about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Forward Together: A Look at Atlanta’s LGBT History Since Stonewall

IMG_20151124_125824

This display sits in the downstairs lobby, outside the MLK exhibit room. I’d seen it on the website and was really excited about this segment, but in person it was underwhelming — a series of panels in a timeline, showing the progression of LGBT history by decade. I think it’s probably very good, but since I’d just glanced at it online and thought it was part of something bigger, I was just a little disappointed.

IMG_20151124_131652Spark of Conviction: The Global Human Rights Movement

Upstairs, there’s a big open space devoted to worldwide human rights. This is where I started getting impressed. This gallery is state-of-the-art, full of interactive technology designed to engage your emotions, convey a few select stories, and back it all up with facts and statistics. The entryway sets the tone for the experience — fully mirrored, so first you see yourself, but the mirrors are also interactive screens. You can choose a label, like “LGBT” or “disabled,” and watch a life-size video of that person telling their story.

Once you pass through the mirrors, there’s a hall of villains and hall of heroes, bridged by life-size stand-ups with stories similar to those in the mirrors, telling about modern activists and what they do. Behind that there are cool pods where you can stand and watch videos, some static displays about trade ethics and stats, and some Iron Man digital tables with even more. You can select the issue you want to know more about and access information on the screens.

IMG_20151124_132140

Having been involved with Amnesty International for several years, most of the content wasn’t news to me. It’s designed to grab people and give them a base of knowledge along with the emotional push to get involved. It was impressive, though, and well-balanced. I think they’re still streamlining and improving, but it’s already working at a high level, and I appreciated the level of inclusion. It’s a global perspective, covering race, religion, gender and sexuality, disability, and more.

Rolls Down Like Water: The American Civil Rights Movement

I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to do this first, but instead of going up into the human rights gallery, we went down from it, and did the Civil Rights Movement gallery backwards, but it didn’t hurt anything. This was my favorite gallery, and it would’ve been worth the price of admission by itself!

There’s more than I can begin to convey — I’m sorry I didn’t take any pictures, I was just too involved — but it combines the interactivity of upstairs with a little of the museum approach from downstairs to create a truly affecting experience. Apparently this gallery was designed by a Broadway playwright and director, which is fascinating, and clearly had the desired effect. The common thread throughout the different areas is combination of film/audio with some kind of immersive element or factual display. There’s a room where you sit in bus seats and watch a video about the Freedom Riders. There’s news coverage of MLK’s assassination, and that was the first point where I started to tear up, because it was so easy to imagine actually hearing that news in that context. 

There’s much, much more, but the most memorable part of the whole museum is the station I almost didn’t visit: The Lunch-Counter Simulator. There are warnings everywhere that it’s not for kids, and a CCHR employee positioned there both to help with the technology and, presumably, to intercede if anything happens, because this is intense. The idea is that you sit at a lunch counter like you’re an integration protester, wearing big headphones, and put your hands on the counter. They play 3D audio threatening you, your stool shakes like it’s being kicked, I swear you can feel breath on the back of your neck. It’s only about a minute and a half, but the challenge is to keep your hands on the counter the whole time. And, you know, not start crying in front of all the other museum visitors. A friend did it first and pressed me to do it too, for which I am eternally grateful. It was awful and incredible and the Center wouldn’t have been the same without it.

IMG_20151124_185758

Contained myself to these! I collect fox plushies, and those “Same Struggle, Different Difference” pins are the bomb.

The Gift Shop

This is just a note to say that I’ve been in museum gift shops, and very rarely do I actually want to buy anything. It’s usually the same run of cheap souvenirs. I wanted EVERYTHING in this gift shop; don’t skip it if you visit!


Verdict: Absolutely worthwhile, both as a visitor and as a public history professional. It’s “not a museum,” it’s an experience… Which is what every museum should want to be. Not every museum can or should offer this experience, or even this kind of production, but every museum should seriously consider what they’re offering to visitors, and give them something that matters.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights was an experience to remember, and just judging from the people there during my visit, it’s appealing to a startlingly broad visitor base. We saw people of all shapes and sizes absorbing the galleries with us, including a legit Buddhist monk, and all the interactive stations are wheelchair-accessible. The Civil Rights Movement gallery was amazing, and the whole center is an innovative approach to public engagement on any level. Highly recommended.

2016 Reading Challenges and Book Diversity

I poked away at the reading challenges I decided to try last January, but ended up not finishing them.

I’m confident I read more than the requisite number of LGBT+ Challenge books, but I only reviewed a few of the books I read, and reviews are part of the deal. Pretty much dropped off the map for this one after about April. (This challenge was hosted by Niji Feels. It won’t be continuing next year, but it’s possible another blog will decide to host it, and if so I’ll give it another go. I kind of just forgot about it.)

53300790I read a few books for the Under the Covers Romance Roundabout Challenge, but I’ll be honest, the tone of the Goodreads group was off-putting and I didn’t keep going back. I am still using their list of romance genres though, and carrying over the few I read last year in a general attempt to read romance more widely on my own.

For 2016, the main-slash-only one I’m doing is the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, and I’m pretty excited about it! I’ve also got a few book clubs I’m sort of in, (i.e. I’m usually lagging behind), so that’s it commitment-wise. Related, but not exactly a book challenge, is my project to watch (an average of) one Star Trek episode a day for about two years until I’ve watched all the Star Trek there is. This doubles as an attempt to remain calm in graduate school, so not a challenge that’s going to take a lot of time or effort, but something I’ve wanted to do for a long time to fill in my gaps in the later versions.

Finally, last year I made a rough tally of that year’s book diversity. While this year’s count is a bit iffy — I was trying to do it as I read, and lost track like a million times — I did do it again this year, and it’s much higher than last year.

2014:

  • Total books read: 165(ish)
  • Women: 33 female protagonists and 46 female authors
  • POC: 21 books of racial diversity (author or protagonist)
  • LGBT+: 10 books
  • Disability: 2 books

2015 (counted only once each, for author, protagonist, or prominent theme):

  • Total books read: 319
  • Women: 70 female protagonists and 103 female authors
  • POC: 48 books
  • Queer: 58 books
  • Disability: 13 books

Again, it’s a rough estimate, and I’m not sure what can be drawn from it since the total number of books was so much higher. (The explanation being that I read an awful lot of graphic novels and picture books this year). However, I think increased attention also played a role. If nothing else, keeping this count has stopped me from skipping over diverse books because I didn’t think I was the target audience — something I didn’t even realize I was doing before 2015.

Happy New Year, everyone, and happy reading!

2015 Book Survey

2015-end-of-year-book-survey-1024x984-900x865

Welcome to the 2015 book survey, designed and hosted by Perpetual Page-Turner! It was super fun last year and allows me to recall the books I read in a more meaningful way, so I’m doing it again. The survey is open to everyone, and there’s a linky in her post. (The graphics also come from that post.)

Links go to my reviews here — brief reviews of most other books on Goodreads.

reading-stats-2015-1024x278-900x244

Number Of Books You Read: 319 (which is DOUBLE LAST YEAR OMG HOW DID THAT HAPPEN)

Number of Re-Reads: 22

Genre You Read The Most From: Graphic novels and picture books, with 119 and 113, respectively. I guess that’s how I doubled last year’s count… Heh. Nonfiction came a distant third, with 32.

best-YA-books-2014-900x244

  1. Best Book You Read In 2015?

We have official permission to break this down by genre. (We don’t have official permission to pick two in a category, but come on, MORE THAN A HUNDRED EACH FOR THE TOP TWO GENRES…)

  • Graphic novel: The Wicked & The Divine Vol. 1 by Kieron Gillen ANNNNNND Young Avengers Omnibus also by Kieron Gillen.
  • Picture book: Hug Machine by Scott Campbell AAAAND Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
  • Children’s/Middle Grade/YA: Artemis Fowl books 3-6 by Eoin Colfer AAANNNNDDDD the Keepers series by Lian Tanner
  • Adult fiction: Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig.
  • Nonfiction: Men Like That: A Southern Queer History by John Howard

There’s no “worst book” slot in the survey, but I feel it should be there for completeness. There were only two books I rated one star this year: In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce and Justice League Dark Vol. 4 by J.M DeMatteis.

  1. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Continue reading

Doctor Who Review: The Husbands of River Song

Husbands of River Song

This was an Eleven-style episode, all “zany antics.” I’d kind of hoped River Song would be different, in a Twelve-style episode. Still, it was nice to have a bit of levity for the Christmas special, particularly after the sadness of the three-part season finale. I don’t have much else to say about the plot etc., except that on a ship of that size and funding, they ought to be able to detect a full-on meteor shower with more than a five-second warning. And why was River looking for the Doctor in the town? That was totally dropped.

I remain conflicted about River Song as a character and narrative device. Sometimes I love her, sometimes she’s just irritating, and she was both here. It’s a personal pet peeve when characters treat everyone and everything like their personal entertainment. However, I’m glad we got to see a bit of her life outside the Doctor, and start to distance her from the “crazy stalker” role she’d been nudged into. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that by giving her a life outside of him, this episode achieved two achingly romantic sequences and a passel of hilarious archaeologist jokes. And of course, I appreciate FINALLY getting some onscreen confirmation that she’s bisexual, because Moffat said she was years ago and then never put it onscreen at all.

At the same time, in practice, I find River Song to be a heteronormative and cissexist character. See: “Are you thinking? Stop it, you’re a man, it looks weird.” And while she MENTIONS being married to a woman, twice in the episode, the title is still “The Husbands of River Song.” Two mentions of women, three ONSCREEN husbands, when there’s literally no reason one or two of them couldn’t have been women. To me, especially in this episode, she reeks of “girl power written by a man.” Emphasizing female power by putting men down, acting like women have some magical mysterious powers, and generally being both rude and condescending, WHILE spending most of her time obsessed with stereotypically female pursuits like men and diamonds.

Still. I’ve loved her in other episodes, and I frequently loved her in this one. It was fun, and romantic, and suitably Christmas-y without being so holiday-focused that rewatches would be torturous.

Doctor Who Review: Face the Raven, Heaven Sent, and Hell Bent

doctor_who_face_the_raven

First, “Face the Raven.” It was a bit rushed, but they pulled off the death scene, which seems to have been the only real significance of this episode. (“Lady Me is selling you to some aliens” would’ve fit in an opening scene.) The death scene, though. I’m not gonna lie, I cried, and I resent it because I’ve been so looking forward to Clara leaving. But still — the Doctor’s face. The fact that for once, she really does know him and what he’s feeling, and the fact that this whole season has been showing her as a risk-seeking person. I appreciate the fact that she brought the death on herself, accident though it was, and that she chose to meet it herself. She didn’t deserve to die — but one of the hundreds of scrapes they got into finally got one over on her. It was an appropriate, fitting, and dignified death.

Doctor Who Heaven Sent

Then, oh gods, “Heaven Sent.” This one will stand as my favorite episode of the season — maybe of New Who altogether. I’ve said before I could watch Peter Capaldi’s face for hours, and here’s the proof. That, and the pacing. I could cry the pacing is so good. It’s like the perfect short story — obviously it’s crucial to the rest of the arc, but it could be watched alone, and you’d get all the information you need. The Doctor’s best friend is dead, and he’s come home an avenging angel. Just gah, so good. The mystery, the reveals, Capaldi’s face…

Doctor Who Hell Bent

And finally, “Hell Bent.” Wow. If “Heaven Sent” is my favorite episode, and it is, “Hell Bent” may be my favorite season finale. I mean, I hate to jump the gun on that, because frequently I love the season finales in the moment but later realize they were terrible and full of holes. I don’t know. Right now I love it. This was a better sendoff for Clara than I ever expected. I didn’t want to see the Doctor spiral again, have the same reaction to a death he always has… This was such a heartbreaking way to finally make an end and a new beginning all at the same time. To tease a “timestream falls apart” finale, but actually give us something very different and new. The reveals peeked out in all the right places, and for once we were shown the meaningful moments instead of told. Mesmerizing.

This wasn’t a perfect season by any means, but it was a very good one. The experiment with two-part episodes worked magnificently. While there were a few episodes that fell down, the writing was overall much stronger and more coherent than it has been in years. Capaldi and Coleman, both splendid actors, were given good material and made it great, delivering the kind of intensity and commitment we were always told the Doctor and Clara had but never had a chance to see. I look forward to the Christmas special, and what I hope will be another excellent run next season.

Christmas Books Y’all Recommended Last Year (with bonuses!)

After last year’s post on Christmas books, y’all left some wonderful recommendations and I read some fun Christmas book reviews on other blogs. This year I’ve read all the books recommended last year, so I thought it’d be fun to do a follow-up! Adult fiction, picture books, graphic novels and short stories all included.

The books:

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore (recommended by Diana of Part Time Monster). An irreverent Christmas novel for adults, featuring characters from several of Moore’s other books. I didn’t like the previous Moore book I’d tried, but I loved this one, which led to #LazyLambs Book Club on Twitter and WordPress. It read Moore books for a bit, and is reading The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow this quarter!

Winter-themed books by Jan Brett (recommended by Sabina of Victim to Charm). The internet provides again! I recalled these books from my days straightening the picture books in the library, but hadn’t read any of them. The one I was able to check out as an ebook is quite new I believe,  but it was called The Animals’ Santa and it’s lovely! The plot is slow and gentle, very wintery, with old-school detailed illustrations. Also there’s a fox in it, so of course I liked it. ;)

Santa Mouse by Michael Brown (recommended by Nerd in the Brain). An old-school picture book full of charm, and an adorable mousey. I couldn’t get the library to send me a copy in time for this post, but the internet provides! In this case, it provides a Reading Rainbow-style Youtube video:

The Larfleeze Christmas Special of 2010 by Geoff Johns (reviewed on Modern Mythologies). You may or may not be familiar with the current Green Lantern mythos, but Larfleeze is one of my all-time favorite comic characters! Green light represents willpower, but orange light represents greed… And Larfleeze is, understandably, the only orange lantern. In this story, Green Lantern attempts to show him that the true meaning of Christmas is giving, not receiving. Hehe. Available on Comixology.

Bonus recommendations:

Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig. I absolutely adore Willig’s romances. Some of the standalones are very serious, but the Pink Carnation books are absolutely hilarious. A whole series of historical romances based in a Scarlet Pimpernel setting. This Christmas installment is set about halfway through the series, but I’m told quite a few people got into the series by reading this book. It can stand alone, but the characters appear in plenty of the other books if you like it. This is actually my favorite one so far (I haven’t finished the series yet) because the hero, Turnip Fitzhugh, is so stinkin’ adorable.

Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas by Julia Rawlinson. The Animals’ Santa had a fox in it, but this one’s actually ABOUT a fox, so there. Heehee.

And finally, a short story:  “No Planets Strike” by Gene Wolfe, which I found in The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Fiftieth Anniversary Anthology (but has been collected elsewhere too). It’s fairies and aliens and talking animals and Christmas and shouldn’t work but it does.

Happy holidays, and leave your festive and wintry recommendations in the comments! Feel free to include movies, because I’m getting a “secular holiday movies” list together for next year.