Between The Bookends 11/16: Star Wars, Secret Agendas, & Electric Sheep

Reading Time: 12 minutes
Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown

The last few weeks have been emotionally draining for us all, no matter where we fell on the political spectrum. The GeekMoms have been helping themselves by escaping into some great books – although given the political nature of several titles this month, perhaps they weren’t quite the escape we hoped for?!

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Image: Del Rey
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Image: Del Rey

When Mel Rininger heard about Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling, she was motivated to finally read Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep — the inspiration for one of her favorite Sci-Fi movies, Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard.

Empathy: Humans have empathy which separates them from the androids (andys or AI)–an interesting motif that echoes throughout Dick’s novel, from the first page until the last. Similar to the movie, the andys are a symptom threatening the diminishing humanity of 2021.

There are several major themes that the book touches on that are missing from the movie, which raises some questions on whether Ridley Scott and director Denis Villeneuve will address in the new Blade Runner.

For example, the threat of extinction of animals, the concept of herd mentality and unimpaired group instinct for survival (predator vs. prey), and a blurred boundary between AI and human–a concept that reminds me of the Turing test and a book called The Most Human Human by Brian Christian that discusses what really defines us as human.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was an interesting and entertaining read for Mel Rininger. This was her first Philip K. Dick novel, but will probably not be her last now that she discovered Dick’s thrilling writing style.

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Secret Agendas, Image: IDW Publishing
Secret Agendas, Image: IDW Publishing

Over Halloween, Sophie picked up Secret Agendas, the third volume of X-Files short prose from IDW Publishing that once again includes a varied mix of tales that range from the good to the very, very bad. This collection focuses mostly on stories set during the early years of the original TV series run but does include one modern tale set in 2015. Some of the dates given struggle to fit into the established timeline of the show, but given that previous collections have contained clear AU stories, the canon status of these collections has always been in doubt.

Sophie was particularly taken by “Stryzga”, which had Mulder and Scully investigating a strange death at a secluded summer camp in the woods and did a great job of twisting the story in an unexpected, but very X-Files way. “An Eye for an Eye” pulled off a classic gross-out horror tale, even if the investigation was a little easy to accept, while “Perithecia” succeeded in telling a brand new conspiracy tale without overcomplicating matters. “Love Lost” is a very strange story that brings in a few old favorites including Marita Covarrubias and Alex Krycek (all the stranger, given that this is the 2015 case), and introduces us to Scully’s high school boyfriend Marcus. The story explores the older Scully’s emotions at his reappearance after so many years, making it one of the most interesting and touching in the collection, yet Sophie couldn’t help feeling that Marcus’s story was just too contrived to fully engage with.

On the other hand, “A Scandal in Moreauvia, or: The Adventure of The Empty Heart” which saw Mulder and Scully jetting off to England to investigate a Sherlockian style case was hilarious for all the wrong reasons, and “All Choked Up” succeeded in repeatedly dragging Sophie from her comfortable suspension of disbelief thanks to Skinner’s insistence on calling the agents Fox & Dana, Scully’s bizarre ninja fighting moves against the Smoking Man, and a revelation about what lies below the J. Edgar Hoover Building that belongs more in a National Treasure movie than The X-Files. Sophie also has to admit that “Thanks and Praise” was the first story from all three volumes that she simply gave up on.

As with the previous two X-Files short story collections, Trust No One and The Truth Is Out There, Secret Agendas provides a wide range of both storytelling and quality. However, where it is let down, there is always something to pull it back up and it is wonderful to once again join Mulder and Scully in yet more forays into the bizarre happenings of small town America – even if you might occasionally find yourself laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

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The Complete X-Files Revised and Updated Edition, Image: Insight Editions
The Complete X-Files Revised and Updated Edition, Image: Insight Editions

Sophie also read the newly revised and updated second edition of The Complete X-Files. The original version of the book spanned the entire history of the show, from its inception through to the release of I Want to Believe in 2008, and was filled with photos, behind the scenes information, quotes, and reminiscences from the people involved with the show including Gillian, David, Chris, and countless writers, directors, producers and more. Although known to be riddled with typos, the book remained an interesting and beautiful book for Philes who wanted to revisit the show.

For the vast majority of its 272 pages (up from 248), the New and Revised Edition is utterly identical to its predecessor, minus a few minor formatting changes and a new introduction from Chris Carter. It is only when you reach the end that the new content really appears, with the addition of a sixth chapter: ‘The Truth Is Still Out There’. This chapter covers season ten in detail, from the initial discussions which convinced the cast and crew to bring the show back to our screens, through to broadcast and hopes for yet more X-Files to come. There is an episode-by-episode look through the mini-series, behind the scenes notes, and thoughts from three of the biggest season 10 guest stars – Joel McHale, Rhys Darby, and Kumail Nanjiani.

For Sophie, the decision to replace all the photos on both the front and rear covers with shots from season 10 doesn’t sit right, given that the book is still about the X-Files as a whole, not just the latest episodes. She also found herself wondering how many people will buy this edition when rumours are already abounding regarding an eleventh season, which will presumably result in yet another revised edition in the future? She was disappointed to note that the extras included with the original edition – a replica Lone Gunmen newspaper, script cards, and posters – were not included with this new edition, and that many of the mistakes in the original have not been corrected. For example, the episode “Emily” is still missing from the guide to season five episodes.

For those who don’t already own a copy of the original, this new edition of The Complete X-Files is worth the money. It remains a beautiful book for Philes, with plenty of interesting and amusing anecdotes despite its many minor mistakes. For those already in possession of a copy, the 24 extra pages don’t really seem worth the cost of buying the book all over again, especially given the possibility of more editions on the future.

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Nessie, Image: Llewellyn Publications
Nessie, Image: Llewellyn Publications

Continuing with a paranormal theme, Sophie picked up Nessie: Exploring the Supernatural Origins of the Loch Ness Monster by Nick Redfern. Despite having a lifelong interest in the paranormal, Sophie has never managed to make the journey up to Loch Ness from her home in England – nor has she forgiven her mother and sister for visiting it together while she was away on a school trip!

This latest book on the mysterious lake monster explores a slightly more unusual theory regarding her origins than most. Rather than suggesting she is a surviving plesiosaur or other large, unidentified creature, as most current theories do, it instead explores the idea that the Nessies (plural) are in fact paranormal, shape-shifting beings more akin to kelpies – an idea which dates back hundreds of years. The book, which is written in a tabloid style and frequently addresses the reader directly as if letting them in on a secret, gets to this conclusion via an insanely varied collection of stories related to the loch throughout history, many of which barely qualify as anecdotes. Across its pages, Nessie manages to bring UFOs, Men in Black, demons and exorcisms, vampires, specters, government psychic spies, werewolves, alien big cats, spirit guardians, and witchcraft into the discussion. Apparently, Loch Ness is home to almost every type of supernatural experience imaginable!

While Sophie found the book interesting, the condescending and even pitying tone of the author toward anyone even mildly skeptical of Nessie’s existence was off-putting, as was the reliance on scientific proof only when it suited the cause. She found certain facts quite eye-opening, such as the sudden upswing in Nessie sightings in 1933 taking place just as a new road was constructed along its banks opening the water to the sight of tourists, however, too many were thrown into question when tested by a simple Google search. This is a very different take on the Loch Ness mystery for sure, but Sophie can’t imagine it swaying many to its cause who weren’t believers already. It has encouraged her to begin researching a birthday monster-hunting trip though…

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Bloodline, Image: Random House Books
Bloodline, Image: Random House Books

Wandering the library while her sons were working on a Boy Scout merit badge, Patricia came across a copy of Claudia Gray’s Star Wars novel Bloodline among the “New Releases.” Believe it or not, she had never read any of the Star Wars fiction other than the book adaptations of the original trilogy films. She had heard good things about Bloodline, which is one of the five books from Del Rey Publishing approved by Lucasfilm to fill in the gaps between Episodes VI and VII in the film saga. Bloodline is less an action-filled story and more an exploration of the underlying politics that results in the births of both the First Order and the Resistance, which we see in action in The Force Awakens.

In the years following the Battle of Endor, Leia Organa established herself as one of the most-experienced Populist senators in the Galactic Senate, which had been struggling to maintain relevance in a period of increasing tension between the Populist and Centrist parties. Young up-and-coming Centrist senator Ransolm Casterfo struggles to do the right thing by his party, and is thrown together with Leia on a series of fact-finding missions. While the two develop a good friendship, their respective party loyalties, along with hints of the rise of the New Order, cause strains and tensions. There are a few fun action scenes, and an introduction of new characters that I hope we can cross paths with again in future novels and perhaps even future Star Wars saga films.

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The Girl On The Train, Image: Riverhead Books
The Girl On The Train, Image: Riverhead Books

As soon as Patricia finished Bloodline, she was able to finally read the thriller The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. This book was on her “I’ll read it when I can” list for nearly a year, and it didn’t disappoint. Rachel is a middle-aged woman who had suffered some hard times in recent years, including divorce, loss of her job, and alcoholism. She continued to take the train into and out of London from her suburban community to give the impression her life was still normal. As Rachel would look out the window at one of the communities along the route day-after-day, she would witness events that turn out to be critical to a missing woman investigation.

Similar to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train uses numerous points of view to tell the same plot points, leaving it to the reader to try to figure out who is correct, who is losing his/her mind, and who is guilty. Patricia found the story pretty thrilling, and the author’s details in describing settings, from the train ride to the houses seen from the train to the weather (the weather is very poor in the four most-recent weeks of the story), kept her attention. The movie adaptation of the book was released in October, and Patricia intends to see it as soon as it’s available for home viewing.

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Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, Image: HarperCollins
Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, Image: HarperCollins

Currently, Patricia is working on a short biography about Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group. Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, by Duncan Clark, details the incredible series of events, most of which are considered fortunate coincidences, that has turned Jack Ma into the second-richest man in China, and the 33rd wealthiest person in the world. Perhaps you hadn’t heard of Alibaba? Well, if you haven’t Patricia predicts you soon will: The Alibaba Group consists of what’s known as an “Iron Triangle” of Chinese e-commerce entities (commerce, logistics, and finance), most of which are primarily meant to serve Chinese citizens. Websites such as taobao.com and tmall.com feature models of e-commerce storefronts run by anyone who has wares to sell (like eBay). Alibaba hosts those sites for free, taking advantage of advertising revenue to earn money (like Google). In addition, Alibaba has invested in its own contracted logistics infrastructure in China to ensure the fastest, most efficient, most cost-effective delivery methods (like Amazon). Finally, with Alipay (similar to Apple Pay or Android Pay), the company has dominated the cashless payment market in China.

While reading the book, Patricia thought to herself, “This is very similar to what Amazon, Google, and eBay all do.” But in China, this is all being done by one company, and that company is revolutionizing e-commerce in a country that is at least a decade behind the western world in these technologies. Author Duncan Clark, a close friend, advisor, and colleague of Ma, makes a point to emphasize the unique things that make Alibaba flourish (when compared to western commerce) when up against a state-controlled commerce system. Through a delicate tightrope walk, it’s a breath of fresh air to read about capitalism succeeding in China. Patricia saw Alipay at cash registers throughout Hong Kong, and was very surprised to see it available at the airport on her layover in San Francisco. Also, if you’re a fan of recent films such as Star Trek: Beyond and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, it might interest you that Alibaba Films provided substantial funding for those projects. The book is fascinating and offers a glimpse into China’s up-and-coming economy.”

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Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in The Galaxy, Image: Harper Design
Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in The Galaxy, Image: Harper Design

After waiting for it to come out for several months, Lisa finally picked up Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy, by Pablo Hidalgo. As a history lover, the idea of fictional propaganda has always been fascinating to her. The Star Wars universe, especially, has put out some amazing (and believable) campaigns over the years, from both the Empire and Rebel forces, as well as the from Jedi Order themselves. This book compiles several of these impressive designs by different artists, but it is Hidalgo’s text, written from an actual historic perspective, rather than as an art book, which makes it fun to read as well. That’s not something that can often be said about “Art of” books. As a bonus, there are ten collectible pin-up size posters of some of the best work.

Lisa recommends this book for those looking for gifts for both Star Wars and military history lovers. “This is the Star Wars art book you’re looking for.”

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Double Cup Love, Image: Spiegel & Grau
Double Cup Love, Image: Spiegel & Grau

Rebecca Angel has many, many books to read. She has a pile in her home, a list on GoodReads, and a list of recommendations from friends on her phone. Yet, while at the library, she perused the new books section anyway, taking home the memoir Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China By Eddie Huang. She had never heard of Eddie Huang but found out that Eddie is the owner-chef of a successful New York City restaurant called Baohaus, TV star of Huang’s World, and his previous memoir Fresh Off the Boat was a best-seller and the basis for a popular TV sitcom. In Double Cup Love, Eddie is not basking in his success. In fact, he’s struggling with his love life, seeing serious problems with his business partner brother, questioning his status as a Chinese-American, and floundering creatively as a chef. He decides to go to China and cook.

This is a story of finding yourself in the midst of bouncing off other people. Eddie takes his two brothers with him to Chengdu with the plan to immerse himself in traditional Chinese food and culture, then cook for the natives and find out if he could make it as a Chinese chef in actual China. He meets lots of people who help him understand what his life might have been like if his parents had not immigrated to America. In the midst of this family and food adventure, he decides he’s going to propose to his Italian-American girlfriend and flies her out to China too.

The style of writing is informal and flows easily; it’s a quick read. The in-your-face and hilarious conversations within Eddie’s crowd had me giggling. And the reflective mental musings on his struggles for worth as a son, brother, possible husband, and chef make him stand out as more than just a funny writer.

It is obvious the man is passionate about food and is a gifted chef. He explores the cuisine of modern-day China, which ebbs and flows in its flavors just like any region. Eddie’s writing goes into the most detail when he is describing the textures and flavors of a dish, whether he is experiencing someone else’s cooking or explaining his own methods. He takes what he thinks is the strongest points of the dish, then puts his own spin on it to serve it back to the populace. And they like it. He only fumbles once, and that’s because he is upset – he knows well not to cook while angry, but customers are waiting. His brother Evan is both the cause and the saving grace for the evening’s food.

Overall it was a quick, entertaining read. Double Cup Love has some good insights on family, business, and understanding culture, and yourself, through food.

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GeekMom received copies of some titles for review purposes.

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