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Casting around for something to watch that wasn't all boys all the time, I googled for lists of feminist anime a while back, and this was one of the recommended series. As a book person, the title jumped out at me. Having finally had a chance to check it out, I can now say that it's mostly quite good.

"Read or Die" started out as a series of pulp novels, then became a manga series, with a second spin off "Read or Dream" manga series set in the same universe, and finally got made into a direct to video miniseries, followed by a 26 episode TV series. The novels have never been translated into English, and I have not read the manga. But I have now watched both the miniseries and the TV series. Knowledge of the manga or novels is not necessary to enjoy either anime, but the extensive print based backstory appears in small unexplained details and lends the anime series a lot more texture and depth than it would have if it was a totally original creation. Also refreshingly, nobody brings the story to a halt to explain what is going on, yet at the same time, it's perfectly possible to figure out everything you need to know (Hollywood scriptwriters could learn a lot from this series).

Set in an alternate universe in which rare old books containing esoteric knowledge are the key to global power politics, Read or Die follows the adventures of the agents of the Special Operations Division of the British Library as they guard the UK against biblio-based threats. Like Mission Impossible meets the Avengers, as imagined by bibliophiles, with James Bond movie style villians.

The miniseries, mostly spoiler free )

The TV series is in some ways superior to the miniseries. There's less fanservice (a few moments every few episodes instead of every episode), the characterizations are sharper, and 26 episodes gives room for a bigger, more varied story. again, not many spoilers )

All in all, It's a very nice melding of sisterhood and girl power with high stakes spy action. I'm very glad to have watched both series, and I might even try to read the manga someday.
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After watching the first couple episodes of the new Cosmos, I decided to check out the original and compare them. Sagan's Cosmos )

The new Cosmos, in contrast, is a lot more polished and slick... and a lot more cringe-inducing. Tyson vs Sagan )
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I remember being intensely disappointed by "The L-Word" - it was too fluffy, not very well written, it was set in the alien universe of LA-LA land, and its roots were in comedy and soap opera and I much prefer drama. I remember thinking that I really wished someone would make a lesbian version of "Queer as Folk," with good writing, good acting, and drama rather than soap. A cast who actually looked more or less like lesbians, instead of members of the Hollywood species Models Who Have Never Eaten a Meal in Their Lives, would be a nice bonus.

Well, someone at the BBC was listening to my wishes, and they made Lip Service. We watched the first episode the other evening, and it rocked.

Lip service is set in Glasgow, and follows the lives of a group of lesbian and bisexual friends. While very much a relationship based show, so far it doesn't have any of the stigmata of soap opera (contrived situations, and the feeling that the characters must be unnaturally stupid to be acting the way they are). So, drama, check.

To date, the cast consists of Frankie (back in Glasgow after two years in New York because the aunt who raised her has died, still has a thing for Cat but has issues with committing to long term relationships), Cat (had her heart broken by Frankie two years ago and is only now re-entering the dating scene), and Tess (aspiring actress, friend to both Cat and Frankie, on the rebound after a bad breakup). All of them are out lesbians. Cat's brother Ed and her work colleague and university chum Jay are the token men on the show. So, lack of annoying "Jenny" characters who make you want to travel out to the production location specifically so you can drown them, check.

Things I particularly liked:
1. They're totally using the "gays are everywhere" paradigm pioneered by Queer as Folk.
2. Frankie is in many ways a female version of Stuart/Brian in Queer As Folk. She meets women who are attracted to women everywhere she goes, but it's always just sex without commitment for her. I always regarded Stuart's antihero stance that "commitment is for suckers" stance as one of the least likable things about him, and Frankie's behaviour isn't much more likable. However, with Frankie, we get the feeling that she acts this way because of dark things in her past, which means she might someday grow beyond it.
3. While none of the people so far (with one exception) are notably butch, the show doesn't seem quite as scared of butches as the L-word was. I was actually able to tell who landed more on the butch side and who more on the femme side (distinctly different vibes for Frankie and Cat, as well as for Tess and her ex), which is a huge step forward from the L Word, where everyone wore lipstick and nail gloss.
4. These are ordinary people with ordinary jobs and ordinary income levels, not inhabitants of the Hollywood Fiscal Reality Distortion Bubble.

Airing on BBC 3 in the UK, it's been picked up by Showcase in Canada. Sadly, I have no idea when or if it is airing in the US. However, the first 6 episode season is already available on DVD from amazon.co.uk, and a second season has been scheduled. And for those who wish to "check it out from the library," all six episodes can be downloaded from torrent sites like the pirate bay or thebox.bz.

edited to clarify my point comparing Frankie and Stuart; also to remove a point about nudity that doesn't apply past the first episode.
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Being a review of William Patterson's "Robert A. Heinlein In dialogue with his century: Vol 1, Learning curve."

I didn't have high expectations for this book -- after reading Jo Walton's critique of its poor fact-checking (and saw the author arguing with the reviewer in the comments of that post, which did not leave me a good impression of him), I knew it wasn't going to be great. Sadly, it failed to even be good. TL:DR version: incredibly poor scholarship is incredibly poor )

These failings aren't academic esoterica, but very basic issues of scholarship that anyone trying to write a serious biography really needs to have mastered. And they wouldn't stand out so much if the biography was an interesting and insightful account of Heinlein's life... but it isn't. TL:DR version: it's somehow simultaneously boringly overlong and breezily superficial )

Right from the first page of the introduction, we learn that this book is going to be hagiographical to a fault, when Patterson, with a straight face, claims that the day Heinlein died was comparable to such events as the Challenger disaster, the Kennedy assassination, or September 11, 2001.

As best I can tell, the only reason it was not rejected by the publisher is that Heinlein has a massive following of rabid fans who do see him as a saint, if not a god, and that it is an "authorized" biography that benefited from extensive interviews with Mrs Heinlein before her death.

As a massive compilation of notes and source materials for a biography, this book is great. As a biography, it's piss poor. If you are a Heinlein fan and want to know the story of his life, do your wallet a favour and check it out from the library -- and then be prepared to do a lot of skimming.

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