I’ve been meaning to reread THE MISMEASURE OF WOMAN: Why Women are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex or the Opposite Sex by Carol Tavris as research for Undead Sexist Cliches and finally did so. Tavris looks critically at the assumptions men are the default normal setting for homo sapiens, and that women are a defective copy, so when women do it differently, they’re doing it wrong. Tavris doesn’t deny women and men are different, but sees the differences as rooted in different life experiences rather than fundamental biology, and she shows how the explanations shift constantly; brain science, for example, “proves” men are superior because their brains are bigger, or more specialized, or particular parts of the brain are bigger, depending which theory is currently popular. Despite coming out in 1992, still timely; even though sociobiology seems to have vanished into the trash can of science, evolutionary psychology has filled the same place.
THIEF AT THE END OF THE WORLD: Rubber, Power and the Seeds of Empire, by Joe Jackson, shows why several Doc Savage novels such as The Flaming Falcons revolved around the USA getting its own rubber supply. Starting in the 19th century, rubber became as vital as oil would be to the 20th: waterproofing, insulation, molding into plastics, and as a cushion wherever mechanical parts in engines had to smash up against each other. The only source was South America, in part of the Amazon, until a Brit named Henry Wickham smuggled some seeds out, a shining triumph in an otherwise unsuccessful life. Complicating his efforts were Brazilian authorities interested in stopping such acts of biopiracy, and the classism and bureaucracy of the British government (collectors such as Wickham were considered lower-class, less scientists than gardeners). Overall, very good.
CITY OF LOST FORTUNES by Bryan Camp caught my attention because of his discussion on John Scalzi’s blog of the roles luck and trickster figures play in the novel. In practice, it’s a fairly standard urban fantasy set in New Orleans and being the demigod son of some Trickster doesn’t make the protagonist any snarkier or more anti-authoritarian than, say, Harry Dresden. So not for me, but if you like urban fantasy more than I do … One thing I do notice is that the power level is notably higher than most urban fantasies I’ve read; Dresden took a lot longer to actually start squaring off against gods.
THE HITCHCOCK ROMANCE: Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films by Lesley Brill argues that far from being cynical, Hitch’s films hold up love and marriage as the ideal end game for his protagonists, though not necessarily an attainable one. Brill divides much of Hitchcock’s output into Romances (true love triumphs over past tragedy [Marnie] or current obstacles [North by Northwest]) and Ironic which uses the same tropes and elements, but the lovers are dragged down (Vertigo). Heavy academese made this a slow read, but Brill’s persuasive enough I’ll keep it handy if I ever go through a Hitchcock rewatching cycle.
THE FIFTY GREATEST CARTOONS offers a nice range of viewing between #1 (What’s Opera Doc?) and #50 (Felix in Hollywood), including UA, Warner Brothers, Tex Avery, Disney and assorted indies. The picks (based on a survey of professional animators) include the landmark Gertie the Dinosaur, the unconventional The Old Mill, Tex Avery’s classic Northwest Hounded Police (“Don’t look now/use your noodle/You’re being followed/by Sgt. McPoodle.”) and weirdies such as Bambi Meets Godzilla. I’m not sure this list is one for the ages — would anyone my niece’s age get the parody elements of The Dover Boys and does it work without them? — but I still enjoyed this. The book includes a listing of various collections containing the ‘toons, but it’s a 1990s book so they’re all videotapes.
#SFWApro. Cover by James Bama, all rights to image remain with current holder.