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DECEMBER WORLDS

The second book I read this year was In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood, a collection of essays about SF and more. I've never read any of Atwood's famous novels; I always intended to but after reading this collection, I think I need to try and get to one this year. In these essays she makes the case for a breadth of reading - highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow - and the joys that can be found in all sorts of books. Sure, it may be preaching to the choir in my case but she makes some lovely points. Even more, she made me interested in some of the books she repeatedly mentioned, such as H. Rider Haggard's She (I read this book for Bookrageous's book club and they were intrigued by She too, so much so that it's their next book club pick). A smart collection by a smart writer that I will become better acquainted with.

The fourth book I read (we'll get to #3 in a moment) was the new story collection by George Saunders, Tenth of December. I've been a fan of Saunders for quite a few years at this point, so I was eagerly anticipating this book, especially since I hadn't read any of the stories within. I was not disappointed. "Escape from Spiderhead" is a standout, a story about drug testing in an alternative to prison that is by turns funny, horrific, and heartbreaking. "The Semplica Girl Diaries" uses the fantastical element of women from Third World countries being used as lawn ornaments in a story about a struggling family that points to a class divide. "Home" is a very poignant story about a soldier home from the war and thrown back into the chaos of "real life." This is an excellent set of stories and I highly recommend it.

STAR WARSY

I used to read Star Trek novels when I was in high school but I eventually burned out on them. Burned out on the whole concept of tie-ins in other media, actually; decided if it wasn't canon I didn't care anymore. I've softened on that stance over the years (ah, youth - defining yourself as much as what you don't like as what you do), though I haven't made such things a staple of my pop culture diet. A recent confluence of circumstances has lead me to the Star Wars franchise over the past few weeks.

First was a new novel set after the events in the very first movie (or Episode IV, if you prefer) by Timothy Zahn - Star Wars: Scoundrels. Zahn is praised for his previous novels in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, novels I'd never read but that my son enjoyed, so I thought I'd give this one a shot. It features Han Solo putting together a team to steal credits from a gangster with ties to the Black Sun (the intergalactic mob, basically). It reads like Ocean's 11 in the Star Wars universe and is a lot of fun. Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian are part of the group, in addition to an interesting set of new characters. There are twists and turns and action and humor and it's simply a good time.

There is a new comic set within the same time frame as well; in fact, it picks up just a month or two after the destruction of the Death Star. The first issue has Luke and Leia flying X-wings on a scouting missions to find a new base for the rebels and checks in with all the major characters, including Darth Vader. Brian Wood does a good job with the characterization and Carlos D'Anda ably renders the familiar characters without doing a straight photo reference. The series is off to an entertaining start and I look forward to more.

Speaking of Star Wars (and Star Trek), the news that J.J. Abrams will be directing the upcoming 7th movie in the franchise fills me with optimism. Plenty could go wrong, of course, but a solid vision and a good script will certainly help. Guess we'll all find out how it turns out in 2 years, won't we?

SUPERIOR AGENT X

Speaking of comics, I decided to jump into Superior Spider-Man without having read the Amazing Spider-Man issues leading up to it. I'd heard the premise [SPOILERS] - that Doctor Octopus had switched bodies with Peter Parker and Doc's body had died with Peter inside. That means Doc Ock is now Spider and decides he will be a superior Spider-Man. The first issue sees him running up against a new Sinister Six but takes a completely different approach in handling them. He is arrogant, stares at MJ's chest on a date, drinks before web-slinging, and doesn't sound like Peter. There is an interesting twist at the end, though one that is expected. I thought Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman did a great job setting up the premise and want to stick around to see where they go from here.

I recently got caught up on All-New X-Men, the new series that brings the original five X-Men from the past to the present day to see what has become of them and their world. Brian Michael Bendis does a really good job showing why all the male X-Men are infatuated with Jean Grey - not only is she beautiful but also tough and resourceful. Kitty Pride stands out as well. Stuart Immonen draws the hell out of the book too.

In fact, I liked my time with the X-Men so much that I went back and read the first few issues of Wolverine and the X-Men, written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Chris Bachalo. Wolverine has rebuilt the school in Connecticut, this time called the Jean Grey Institute for Higher Learning. Kitty Pride, Beast, Iceman and more are there to usher in a new group of students and the comic is a ton of fun. I have the next five issues and hope to get to them soon.

A short while ago I finally finished Fear Agent Library Vol. 1. It's a hefty 500 plus page book, so it's not like I was dragging my heels. I thought the art switch from Tony Moore on the "Re-Ignition" storyline to Jerome Opena on the "My War" storyline was fairly seamless and then Moore was back for "The Last Goodbye." Time travel, aliens, betrayals, death, and emotional beats are just part of the package. I love the world that Rick Remender has created and the art looks amazing at the large size. It's a great comic.

JANUARY SOUNDS

Back when I was reading Bruce, I listened to his albums in order. I then read an article proclaiming Elvis Costello's best 10 albums and decided to listen to his music in order as well, just to see what I thought. That project is still ongoing, as is listening to The Walkmen's albums in order. I like the immersion.

Speaking of immersion, I can not get enough of Teenage Fanclub's Songs From Northern Britain, which I got for Christmas. It is chock full of melodic rock/power pop with great harmonies and lyrics that stick. I can't believe I haven't been listening to this album since it came out in 1997 but I'm certainly making up for lost time.

SMALL SCREEN

I'm very happy that Justified is back. The first three episodes have given us a mystery, Patton Oswalt's Constable Bob, the phrase "marshal stiffie," and so much more.

My wife and I started catching up on 30 Rock episodes from this season, though we're still behind. The show ends this coming week and they appear to be going out on a high note. It's always been a really good show but they are giving us joke after joke on their way out.

Speaking of endings, I will miss Fringe. The good news, though, is that I still have the first three season to catch up on. Yay!

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