Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: Texas Gothic, by Rosemary Clement-Moore

I snatched this up after The Book Smugglers alerted me to the fact that it was like a cross between Nancy Drew and Scooby-Doo. Texas Gothic sounded perfect for Friday night reading, in between helping guests at the historic building where I work as a history docent. While I love the serious and thoughtful portrayals of real-life issues that YA authors provide, sometimes, I just want to read about colorful characters bumbling around and getting knocked on the head.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying that either Amy Goodnight, or her sister Phin, are incompetent -- they're very competent in their own areas of specialization. Phin is an amateur paranormal scientist; Amy, who's the featured protagonist, is learning that her area of specialization is holding things together. But they're also very realistic college-age characters, rushing from one thing to another, thinking ahead, but not quite thinking of everything.

Nancy Drew and Scooby-Doo are entertaining in part because they're ensemble works, full of characters who each have their own foibles, and Clement-Moore excels at creating a similar ensemble here, made up of the Goodnight family, their neighbors, and a group of archaeology grad students. Everyone is briefly and concisely sketched out; they're distinctive enough that there's no chance of mixing them up; and their quirks are what advance the plot. It's very smooth.

My one criticism is that it was far too easy to tell exactly who one of the eventual villains would be, and the other one was only half-surprising: I knew that s/he would be a member of a particular group, and s/he was. That said, I would be utterly delighted to see more novels featuring the other members of the Goodnight family, or in which we learn more about Amy, as she develops her understanding of what it means to be the one that holds it all together.

Oh, and +10 for the reference to The Mystery of Udolpho.

Read if: you like wisecracks about Nancy Drew, you enjoy books that want to alternate between suspenseful and wacky, and you like reading about hijinks more than disturbing suspense.

Avoid if: you're looking for creep-factor more than fun, you want a really challenging mystery, or if you're looking for a story that digs deeply into magic, rather than just a pair of kids solving mysteries who happen to be magical.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thoughts on HP 7.2 (minor spoilers)

I remember vividly that I found the very first film rigid and dull, and joked afterwards that it would have been much more entertaining had I been gently buzzed on Oban. When did I start to like the films? I certainly thought that HP2 was an improvement. Nos. 1 and 4 remain my least favorite. Having seen the final film, I would like to go back and watch all the others in a row.

I can't sort out at all how much my reaction to the final film is based on the film itself, and how much based on having watched a large group of children grow up, and then to see them fighting for their lives. (of course, not really fighting for their lives; but it's as Dumbledore says: "of course it's happening in your head-- that doesn't make it any less real" -- and that's certainly true of watching Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Fred, George, and Ginny-- and Luna, too.

Things that made me tear up: exit, on dragonback (and the dragon's quiet cry of relief? Joy?), and the sight of Thames-threaded London. Professor McGonigal readying Hogwarts; Snape; and Neville. and Fred and George. It's unusual for a film to provoke that sort of response in me.

I wished that it had been longer-- or no, perhaps that's not right , because I thought it well cut. I suppose I mean that I wish I had watched the first part directly before the second part. I was hoping that theaters would do a double feature, showing part 1 at 9p.m. and part 2 at midnight. Though I've never been a midnight showing person, that would have gotten me into the theatre.

I was delighted with Neville Longbottom's featured moment in the spotlight, though it made me sad that his status, as explained in the books, did not make it into the films.

The Snape/Dumbledore confrontation was wonderful. Was it just me, or was the edit of Dumbledore amplified so that he was an even darker figure than he had been in the books? Speaking of which, Harold Bloom and A.S. Byatt can kvetch all they like: I used to half agree with them, but the developments and revelations surrounding Dumbledore and his relationship with Harry, and Grindelwald elevate the series into a far more adult storyline. Though Rowling handles the dark complexity more subtly than the YA authors who were mentioned in last month's Wall Street Journal scrimmage, she's dealing with equally difficult, and important, territory.

Scattered questions and observations:

And was there a rather unexpected development in Neville's feelings for another character? I had thought that Rowling established something else as canon, but I was delighted by the line, if I heard it correctly.

It's a little strange watching a film where characters can and are dying, when at the same time I'm watching Torchwood: Miracle Day, which is about a world in which people stop dying.

And speaking of not dying, I've been thinking all afternoon about Hermione's decision to simply leave her family-of-origin behind. I don't want to complain that it's under explored, exactly-- on the contrary, Hermione is the character with whom I can most easily identify, and her relationship with her family is part of that. I do think, however, that in a series that is ALL about family, that her actions go strangely unremarked upon. But perhaps the HP academic essayists have discussed it, and I simply haven't found the essay?

All in all, I think I'm looking forward to Pottermore...perhaps more than I was earlier.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 26, 2011

DRSI, Day 1 Thoughts and Questions

I'm very lucky to be a Fellow in the UW Simpson Center for the Humanities Digital Research Summer Institute, led by my recently graduated colleague from the English Department, Jentery Sayers. The other Fellows are from a range of different fields: genetics, social work, anthropology, comp lit, women's studies, and musicology.

The DRSI is a pilot program, so what each of us will take away from it is uncertain (though I have no doubt that it'll be useful). One of the points that came up in that first meeting is that reflective writing and documenting process is valuable -- not a new insight, but it's good for me to be reminded of it.

There are a few useful questions that I thought were raised just in the first session, and that I want to hang onto.

Neena's Sindhi Voices Project is working to provide an archive for narratives from Sindhi elders (defined as "individuals that, after the 1947 partition of India, left Sindh, stayed in Sindh, migrated from India into Sindh, and those that received emigrant Sindhis"), and a field kit, available in multiple languages, to help people gather those stories. The archive is ubiquitous in literary and historical studies, so I was thinking of the project as an archive, but on reflection, 24 hours later, I think I'm wrong to do that -- the field kit, and other materials like it, that the SVP produces, are central, rather than just being apparatuses that allow the archive to be created. I say this thinking of Neena's comment that one of the responses to the project is excitement from young women who have helped gather stories, because the project is helping them gain primary experience in what journalism is. However, as she herself acknowledged, one of the challenges of the SVP is finding a way to bring the stories to the elders themselves, and that will probably involve something like a traveling exhibit, or other hybrid version.

The question that this raises, for me, is how does the digital facilitate and support the nondigital?

Mary's Georgian in Seattle website is also what I think of as a community cultural site, bringing together stories, and eventually film and music. Its title ties it directly to the population in Seattle, while its eventual goal (if I understand correctly) is to present Georgian culture that informs users both about what Georgia is, and its conflict with Russia. Listening to Mary speak, I was struck by her emphasis on how many people assume that Georgian means "a subset of Russian" (-- in fact I made the same sort of careless mistake in thinking that Velimir Khlebnikov was Georgian because he'd been associated with the Futurist movement in Tbilisi). In one sense, then, the website is meant to be a repository of art that might help outsiders get a clearer sense of what it means to be Georgian. Emphasizing both Seattle and Georgia prompts me to think about the relationship between the local and the global, because the local will never go away, at least; I doubt it will in my lifetime. Can a local area become a satellite of advocacy/culture for a different local area, or for a place to which it's only connected through the technology of globalization? In regards to Mary's website, this is a geopolitical question; however, it has ramifications for the development of digital humanities resources, specifically digital humanities centers, as the landscape of academia shifts towards distance learning.

The other thing I heard, however, was how small the Georgian community in Seattle is: everyone knows everyone. And what I hear in her presentation, and see in her website, is the importance of creating a digital homestead, and I hear in that the echo of the excitement of Geocities neighborhoods, back in the late 90's. Her site, I think, will have a different meaning (and serve a different purpose) for those people who produce it, than for those who read it. When we evaluate the worth of a site, we need to look at its value for both producers and users. Sometimes those will be the same group of people -- but not always.

I'm still thinking about this, because near the end of the day, we were reading Sharon Daniel's narrative of her Public Secrets project in her article "Hybrid Practices," which appeared in Cinema Journal 48.2, as part of a thematic section on digital scholarship and pedagogy. In the article, Daniels writes that "the women who have participated in Public Secrets are highly politicized and are seriously committed to this endeavor. They are quite literally historians and theorists who speak out in an effort of collective resistance" (157). I reacted poorly to that statement, because Daniel was defining historian as someone who had undergone a particular experience, rather than someone who had completed a specific program of formal studies. It's the problem of evaluating the authority of primary vs. secondary sources -- and it's not a new problem to be sure, but it feels perilous when I think about it in terms of digital humanities projects, because the goal of so many technologies is to create the illusion of unmediated, raw, data. The intro to Public Secrets, in which Daniel provides the context for the project, is accompanied by a button in the lower righthand corner of the screen, inviting users to "skip sequence," as though the "real" substance of the project.

And the voices of the women who contributed are the substance of the project -- and they are historians and theorists, and anyone who says otherwise, including me, probably needs to check their privilege. I'm still struck, though, by Daniel's self identification as a "context provider" (her phrase), when the most overtly visible sign of her contextualizing is something that people are invited to skip. Every aspect of the site is part of the context that Daniel is providing, of course -- but it's a graphical context, and easy to dismiss as presentation, rather than as part of the research.

On the one hand, this reminds me of scholarly editions whose editors have attempted to minimize, or erase entirely, their editorial presence, as though they made no decisions, and came as close as possible to traveling back in time to bring you the original texts. I find these efforts disingenuous, even when having a seemingly pristine edition seems useful: the Editor(s) made decisions in producing it; and chances are, the Editor(s) got the privilege of making those decisions by exerting their authority and knowledge in overt ways, i.e., by demonstrating their comprehensive scholarship regarding the author and text.

No one has said, "oh, digital humanities is all about producing primary sources and getting rid of those nasty pedantic scholars," at least, not to my knowledge -- but in thinking about Public Secrets, and how Daniel herself presents it, I realize that it needs to be. (ETA: Or rather, I'm acutely aware that it makes me feel highly vulnerable as a young academic to describe myself as a context provider, in terms of how people might interpret that role, and its connection to the years I've spent in a formal uni program. And I'd like to feel less vulnerable, or figure out why I'm feeling vulnerable and what I can do about it.) Digital humanities methodologies are attractive because they facilitate making primary sources accessible -- but how do these same methodologies affect our standards for good secondary criticism?

This last question is probably the one that has the most relevance for my own project (link coming soon!), which involves specific mentions of prices in a wide range of different types of documents: partially, because my project, like so many, can give the illusion of magically summoning prices together, untouched, from their source texts, for users to compare -- and also, because the project develops directly from an argument that I'm making about the grounds for literary economic criticism. However, I think that needs to be its own post. Suffice it to say, DRSI is going to be a really interesting workshop, and I think I'll get a lot out of it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Magic gadget: a review of the iPad 2 after one week of using it.

As soon as rumors started buzzing about the iPad, before it even had a name, I started thinking about how well it would work for me to be able to type on a tablet. The iPhone wasn't awful for typing, but it wasn't great, and I was sure that years of playing piano would make it easy for me to adapt to the shape of the onscreen keyboard of a tablet, if only the whole thing were larger than 3x5.

But I didn't buy one when they first came out, because my iPhone was still under contract, and what I really wanted was a device that would allow me to videochat with people. When the iPhone 4 came out, I was excited, but only in the hope that it meant that future iPads would have videochat capability.

I wanted three things:
1) the ability to be online without being dependent on wifi
2) videochat
3) a device that would allow me to do this without a contract, and without having to pay a monthly cellular minutes plan.

Even when the iPad 2 was announced, and it sounded perfect, I didn't line up the first day to get one (though I wish now that I had). I did line up at my local Apple Store a couple of times, always thwarted; and almost ordered from the website, despite having heard stories of horrendous wait times. In the end, my university bookstore, which had my name on a waitlist, called me to say that they finally had received a few internationally-compatible 3G models, and did I still want one? I did indeed.

I wavered between choosing capacity, ending up with a 32gig model. I might have gone for a 64, but it turned out that none of those had come in. I could have kept waiting -- but my 3.5 year old iPhone has been more and more glitchy; and since I use my connection both for facilitating transportation, and for checking food ingredients to deal with celiac disease, I didn't want to wait any longer.

As of this morning, I've had the iPad for exactly one week. Here's what I love, so far:

Working with PDFs: Since I'm an 18th/19th century lit/history scholar, I spend a great deal of time in Gale's Eighteenth Century Collections Online. While ECCO makes accessibility so much easier than, well, having to travel to libraries and archives, its interface is a little cumbersome: you have to click one place to turn the page, click in a separate table to scroll through the page, click another button to turn the page again...and you can't actually mark up the document. If you download it (if your school has a license for such things, as mine does), then if you have Acrobat Reader Professional, then life gets easier -- you can OCR the book, and highlight, and annotate to your heart's content -- except that Acrobat isn't really made for the landscape screen, and if you get near the bottom of one page, and click in the wrong place, then suddenly you've switched to the next page without knowing it, and .... well, it's frustrating.

Enter iAnnotate for the iPad, which automatically OCRs documents, and has a better, less buggy and more intuitive set of controls for marking them up. The pages glide by easily and smoothly, no jumping around. Working with an ECCO document on the iPad is the closest that I've come to reproducing the experience of looking at it in the BL without actually being there. NB: of course, the iPad can't replace that, nor should it -- there's a wealth of data that's only possible to access via the actual, physical copy. But it feels amazing to me that I can enhance the online experience of working with a document by viewing it in a way that feels closer to turning pages, and even reproducing the posture and angles of reading a physical book. I'm a great fan of muscle memory as a significant part of the reading experience.

ETA: Actually, iAnnotate can only enable underlining/highlighting/search functions if you've already OCR'd an ECCO document previously -- so you still need Acrobat Pro. For me, this is a tiny extra step that doesn't bother me in the least; not when I can have all six volumes of Dodsley's Poems By Several Hands in a format that permits markup.

I also have been using iAnnotate to comment on student papers; highlighting, underlining, commenting, and occasionally marking up sentences (rarely a priority for me). I can save a document, and send it back to the student -- in fact, iAnnotate and the iPad streamline this for me, because there's a button in the app that I can use to pull up an email, that has the document already attached. I'm using Dropbox, which I haven't used before, and it's made it easy for me to access essays that I commented on using my laptop, too. This last week, both my classes had student conferences. On the first day of those conferences, I brought my laptop, not having been entirely confident that I had access to everything I needed and that I'd configured everything properly. I didn't need it. And the rest of the week, I didn't bring it.*

Typing: I thought I might need to buy one of the separate keyboards and docking systems. I don't. In landscape orientation, there's not that much difference between typing on a full-sized keyboard -- or at least, I don't feel that much difference. Adapting was easy, and by my second day of working with the iPad, I wrote several students responding to paper proposals using it, without a noticeable delay in work speed. It's wonderful how much easier it is for me to type on an iPad than on a netbook like the Acer Eee PC. And of course, I'm not having to deal with the buggy mouse controls, either.

This is enough to say for now, though I'll post more as I use the iPad more. My only other significant first impression is that because the iPad has better functionality for me in terms of typing and annotating PDFs, I'm far more likely to use it for those things when I'm in transit, whereas with the iPhone, I was more likely to surf the web out of boredom or habit. I actually marked up two papers yesterday on my busride downtown! It was great!

*: The inCase backpack I've had for the last 4 or 5 years has been excellent: it's protected my laptop, and has lots of room for carrying other stuff. The problem is that I tend to fill it up; and my laptop already ways about 6.5 pounds. Last summer, the S.E.L. couldn't believe how much I hauled around with me on a daily basis. He tried to talk me into a wheelie-bag, but I didn't ever find one that met my requirements. And if I carry my laptop, I inevitably find that I fill up the rest of the backpack, too. One of the wonderful things about having the iPad is that because it's smaller, I don't bring the backpack -- and I don't fill it up. And it's wonderful being less tired from hauling it around. Strictly speaking, this is a behavior issue as much as it is a hardware issue: I *could* just decide not to carry around so many books. But it's an advantage, all the same.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente

I really wish I'd had more time for blogging lately, but between my own class, and taking on a friend's class for the rest of the quarter, as she has a gorgeous new baby -- well, time is a precious commodity. I hope to be blogging more soon; and I do have a couple more reviews to get out this week.

One thing I'm pleased about: I've learned that I'm more productive when I take time for pleasure reading throughout the quarter, rather than as a vacation. Learning that meant that I read Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making two weeks ago, when it was briefly offered as a free download from the publisher's website. Last week, I rushed out in the middle of a very busy Wednesday, just so that I could buy it in print.

I'm already reading it through a second time. Some day, I need to post about that: how my new reading behavior involves reading the same books several times in succession. I'm not sure why, though stress and lack of time probably has something to do with it.

I haven't read any of Valente's novels before, though Palimpsest is on my to-read list, and will be bumped up now; and I even have a copy from my Hugo Voter's Packet conveniently available. What I loved about Fairyland; what made me want to take the book to bed with me for reasons entirely separate from the marvelous portrayal of feminine ingenuity and strength, was how much it reminded me of the Oz books, both those by L. Frank Baum and by Ruth Plumly Thomson. I haven't had a chance to read about Valente's own history with the Oz books; but Fairyland is clearly a descendant of them: you travel there by wind, you must pass through a perilous sea (instead of a deadly desert), and there is an established society, with a ruling monarch. But it wasn't those things that made me seek out every Oz book I could lay my hands on when I was growing up: it was the delightful weirdness of them, and the Ozian inhabitants. As soon as Dorothy, or Betsy Bobbin, or Trot, or whomever sets out to explore, for whatever reason, they're sure to encounter people who are paper dolls, or sentient rabbits, or living pastries; or whatever else the author could dream up. I wish I had time to write about the oddity of the politics in Oz: I don't tonight. I can barely articulate what it is that made me love the series so much, except that I found it absolutely believable, as a child, that all these strange kingdoms would exist, and give rise to the political squabbling that more often than not, drives the main plots of the novels.

Valente reinvents and reinvigorates that same odd and whimsical imaginative voice in this novel, and to better effect than Baum or Thomson. As I've read the columns by Mari Ness on the Oz books, over at; I've been rather dismayed to realize what I was reading. Ozma, for all that she started out in the series as a boy, and should have been the basis for a wonderfully queer existence, doesn't live up. Fairyland, however, lives up in spades.

There are lots of reasons for buying this book: because you like coming of age stories, stories about strong female characters; stories featuring creative interpretations of what dryads can be -- but for me, what dominated even beyond all those features was how much it felt like reading an Oz book -- but one that had been written for me, and for the 21st century today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Teaching, and making mistakes, and learning from them

What I'm learning about teaching this quarter is how to work with a non-ideal situation, or rather, that engagement is something that you can't necessarily teach. It's really challenging; in fact, it feels, a lot of the time, like I'm failing. Not all of my five students come to class for each meeting. Two are in the habit of coming late. I've had classes where two have shown up, and where only one student has shown up. It's tricky to know how to adapt, on the day you'd planned to teach counterarguments and the use of textual evidence, when the four students who need the most help (based on their drafts) aren't there. I tend to teach using a library of handouts, which I upload to a course website after the class is done, but I've been a little reluctant to upload them the same way, lately, feeling that to do so just makes it easier for students to skip class.

This morning was a class group conference -- our first. I'd done a round of individual conferences with students previously, to give them a good framework. One student was absent because of a medical emergency; the other was simply absent, and had not bothered to upload a paper draft, to contact me, or respond to an email from his/her peer reviewer.

The conference went well anyway, but at the end, one of the students asked whether the others were still enrolled. I turned this, clumsily, I think, into a reminder about how writing is adaptive, and something we do in a group -- we work with the people we have -- but it was a hard question to answer.

I think that one of the benefits of this class is that it is demonstrating to the current students the importance of their participation: that the class really is a combination of their efforts and mine. It's demonstrating that the hard way, mind you, because there have been times where the energy is pretty flat. One student asked whether we could work on the papers for the linked lecture course. "We can," I replied, "but if we're going to do that, then we need to have more regular and timely attendance." To their credit, they all looked embarrassed.

I'm still worried that I'm going to get slaughtered in evals. The most challenging part of this has been handling preparation: the 3 students who attend most regularly are reticent to contribute, and see the readings as largely irrelevant. Ideally, I'd like to teach a very adaptive tutorial course, but it's tricky to do so with very quiet class members. The alternative is preparing material according to what I think they ought to know, and need to work on. This is what I do -- and then I adapt as they ask questions -- but it still ends up a bit flat. I feel like I'm moving between responding to their questions, teaching them things that they need to know, and talking with them about the material in an attempt to help them find a way into it (while acknowledging to them that part of being a student, and a reader, is committing to find a way to make something interesting, even if it doesn't seem that way.

What am I learning? I am learning that I have a knee-jerk reaction of thinking that because there are fewer students, I should be able to teach them more effectively. That's not true: having fewer students makes the differences between their experience levels all the more stark.

I'm learning that I need to make sure I keep my explanations and examples of practices brief, and become more sensitive about when to stay the course with a difficult example, and when to change tactics.*

I am learning that I need to foreground working together, and that I don't have a pedagogy that effectively does this. I'm not totally flatfooted: I provide detailed instructions for peer review, examples of what to do and what not to do; I emphasize the importance of being specific, rather than general. What I don't have is an effective pedagogy (or any formal method at all) of teaching reading and engagement as vitally collaborative skills. My syllabi include language about how writing and academic discourse are both collaborative activities -- but crikey, it's hard to turn that into activities within the classroom: to find a rich and compelling set of reasons for why it matters to think about what you are contributing to a classroom, and how you're engaging with the other people in it.

I am learning that I have to set my own standards for success, and that these standards are somewhere between "I can tell I'm teaching successfully because I'm seeing improvements from students in these specific areas" and "I believe I'm being successful because I know that this is an important aspect of writing and reading, whether or not I manage to convince the students of this." This is the hardest part, in some ways, because it's so easy to think "they're not getting it! I must need to teach it differently!" and to feel despondent. I'll be honest: I'm feeling this plenty, because teaching such a small group feels very different: if I teach informally, it feels like I risk leaving out important stuff; if I teach formally, it feels like I'm teaching too impersonally, and failing to take advantage of the intimacy of the small group.

The classroom is a collaborative environment. I've always believed that, but I haven't understood it as I'm coming to understand it this quarter. I feel like I've made mistakes, but then, so have my students. We have 4.5 weeks left, in which they'll write 3 papers (two for their linked lecture course, one more for me). From that perspective (3 papers, instead of 4.5 weeks), we have a chance to do really productive work. I'm nervous, but I hope that articulating where I am now will help me use my classtime effectively; and perhaps even more importantly, will help me remain focused and thoughtful about my teaching, even when I'm working with students who are not as actively engaged as I would like.

* To some degree, I think this is my inner perfectionist telling me "be better, be smarter, be more perfect!" -- but I think that it's good for me to think about the value of brevity.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night

Several of Barbara Hambly's novels have been released in eBook format recently; and I didn't hesitate to offer to review a couple in exchange for a free copy. I haven't read any of Hambly's novels, but I've been hearing about them for years, so I was excited to have a reason to put them onto my official to-do list.

Those Who Hunt the Night is the story of Oxford don James Asher, a one-time player in the Great Game (can you ever really leave?); and the circumstances that lead to his being coerced to investigate a series of murders among the vampire population of London in 1907. I say coerced because Asher is no paranormal enthusiast; he has to be convinced by Don Simon Ysidro, the vampire who is certain that only a human can help -- and who does not scruple to threaten Asher's wife Lydia, in order to provide motivation.

Certain aspects of this novel are exactly what you would expect: Don Simon is elegant and arrogant; Asher is thoughtful and poised as befits a member of Oxford's New College; his wife Lydia is courageous and intelligent and beautiful.

But Barbara Hambly is not a lazy writer, and so she doesn't stop with what you would expect. I especially appreciated how much thought had gone into the complexity of vampire society, mores, and existence -- and how important the worldbuilding was to the central mystery itself. I have problems with authors who characterize all vampires as arrogant and predatory; problems, too, with authors who are content to characterize all vampires as old and world-weary just to dazzle readers with the prospect of a 926-year-old being whose perspective we can barely imagine. I have never thought as much about vampires, and what questions might arise from their existence as I did while reading Those Who Hunt the Night, and last night I went to bed shuddering at the scenario that had been presented.

Truly, I can't remember the last time I actually contemplated vampires as frightening, rather than dark/tortured/sexy.

I found James Asher, the chief protagonist, a little dull in comparison. He's very appealing in that he's intelligent and capable without being an alpha male, and that his affection, respect, and admiration for his wife Lydia are an important part of his characterization, rather than just trimmings. He has a backstory that I'd like to know more about (maybe it will be explored in the other two James Asher books?), but which doesn't surprise me. Hambly is careful, I think, to write him so as to be appealing, but to not make him so progressive as to be terribly anachronistic.

Lydia Asher is more interesting -- though really, she and her husband are both secondary to the details of the vampires. I didn't mind that at all, given that the vampire plot was so interesting. What we learn about Lydia is integral to the main mystery plot, and I had enough of an introduction to her to want me read about her in more books. She is somewhat myopic, and I was delighted that the novel takes into account the stigma against wearing spectacles in the early 20th century; also that her choice to study medicine (and the controversy that such a choice entails for a woman) is treated frankly, and without being overdramatized as a narrative of Enlightenment For Teh Wimminz.

In short, Those Who Hunt the Night is that rare phenomenon: a cracking great mystery which you can enjoy without having to bite your tongue at thoughtless writing, or social hierarchies that make you wince in displeasure.

And this is an especially great time for it to be reborn as an e-book -- it's the perfect story to read if you're playing Echo Bazaar -- in fact, as I was reading it, I thought that it could well have been part of the inspiration for Fallen London, since the atmospheres in the game and novel are wonderfully congenial.