Space Helmet for a Cow 2: The Mad, True Story of Doctor Who (1990-2013)

By Paul Kirkley

Rating: 3 stars

The second volume of Space Helmet for a Cow takes up the story from where the first volume leaves off: Doctor Who has been cancelled and that looks like that. Talking us through the Wilderness Years, to its triumphant return and beyond, Kirkley retains the informal, chatty style from the first book that makes this as easy to read as that volume.

There is, however, a major issue with this volume, which Kirkley acknowledges in the introduction, is that this is all still comparatively recently. Doctor Who returned in 2005, that’s just twelve years ago, at the time of this review. There hasn’t been time for things to come out in the wash yet, so we still don’t have the full story behind Christopher Eccleston’s short time in the Tardis, or why Freema Agyeman left after just one year. And that just gets worse, the closer to the present day that we get. By the time we’re up to Eleven’s last series (and the afterword, that discusses Twelve’s first couple of seasons), it’s become just a glorified episode guide, with a ratings count. That’s not to take anything away from the work that Kirkley has put in, but I’d be much more interested in the second edition of Space Helmet Vol 2, that emerges in another couple of decades.

There’s still some good stories behind the scenes, and some running gags at the expense of former BBC director general Michael Grade (and Adric. I would say poor Adric, but, well, it’s Adric). But it’s not as essential a volume as its predecessor. And it could still do with an index.

Book details

ISBN: 9781935234210
Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press

The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 4 stars

Written following the US election in 2016, this short piece sees Valente return to Fairyland as she turns her darker thoughts after the worst came to pass into art. It’s Dark and bitter, but does offer some hope in the form of Defiance, of saying No and saying Yes and continuing to be kind in the face of despair.

Book details

Year of publication: 2016

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland, #2)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 4 stars

September returns to Fairyland after a year away to find it changed. But it’s not just it that has changed, she too has changed. As part of growing up, she has gained a young heart, and is no longer the heartless girl who left Nebraska without a backwards glance, and she now has to face the joys that a heart can bring, and also learn that it can be broken.

This book takes us to Fairyland-Below, where September must try to fix something that broke because of her actions, even if it wasn’t her fault. There she has new adventures, meets new friends as well as old ones (sort of) and learns that even if you destroy the signs, rules can’t be broken that easily.

I liked this book a lot, moreso than The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I don’t know if that was because I was more familiar with the tone and rhythm and knew what to expect. I also liked September more this time round too, as she is starting to grow up and learn about consequences. We see different sides to both A-Through-L and Saturday, and, despite being named for one of the more deplorable vegetables, I adored Aubergine, the Night-Dodo, and would love to see more of her.

After finishing the first book I was tepid on picking up the next one. After this one, I’m very much more looking forward to reading more of September’s adventures.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472108104
Publisher: Constable & Robinson
Year of publication: 2012

Grandville Noël (Grandville, #4)

By Bryan Talbot

Rating: 4 stars

The fourth instalment of DI Archie LeBrock’s adventures takes place around Christmas, and has his pal DS Ratzi off to see the in-laws, while his landlady asks him to find her missing niece. Shorn of his usual sidekick, LeBrock takes the case that, as all roads do, leads him to Grandville, and a charismatic cult leader, as well as an agent of the Pinkerton detective agency.

This book delves a bit into the mythology of the Grandville series, including the persecution of humans and their growing calls for equal rights and the history of Christianity, with a search for some “lost Gospels” also in the mix. Billie gets more to do this time round as well and throws a bombshell at the end that looks like it will affect events to come. Although Roderick Ratzi is mostly absent from this volume, LeBrock does find an alternative sidekick in the form of American Pinkerton detective Chance Lucas who is also after the leader of the cult that LeBrock is investigating. It’s the first time that we’ve had a lead character who is a doughface human but alas, he does mostly just take the Ratzi role and doesn’t get to do an awful lot in his own right.

The theme this time round is religion and cults, including how charismatic leaders can rise and lead people into saying and doing horrific things. Something which is all too relevant today. But amongst this grimness, Talbot throws in a reasonable amount of humour as well, both visual and textual. It makes for a very entertaining read.

The art is still gorgeous but previous warnings still apply: despite the cartoony style, this is adult, and often violent, stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9780224098069
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Year of publication: 2014

Agent to the Stars

By John Scalzi

Rating: 4 stars

I was slightly dismayed when I read the author’s note at the start of this novel which said that this was written as a “practice novel” with no intention of selling it, and then a series of events happened (one of which, I suspect, was that he wrote some some stuff which sold very well) that involved this being published. I’m not sure if I was more or less dismayed at the end when it was clear that not only was this his first, practice, not for sale, novel, but that it was actually pretty good!

Tom Stein is a Hollywood agent, low ranking, but rising, when suddenly he get the client of a lifetime: an alien species that wants to initiate first contact with Earth but doesn’t want to cause panic.

That’s a decent premise for a story, and I like the idea of how you would do first contact without causing a worldwide panic, stock market crashes etc etc. I liked the fact that most people in the book, despite being very much Hollywood people, are mostly likeable as well, up to, and including, the head of the agency that Tom works for (described as one of the most powerful men on half a continent).

Sure, it’s not as polished as some of Scalzi’s later work, but it’s very readable, it’s well written and, damn, it makes me jealous! Although the characters don’t get a vast amount of fleshing out, there’s enough to them that you do care about them (even poor, dumb Michelle, the actress that Tom’s representing).

So not just of interest to Scalzi fans, this is definitely worth reading for its own sake.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765357007
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
Year of publication: 2004

Powered by WordPress