1.05.2016

Reviews and Overviews (Books and Short Stories)


Ah, New Year's. That time of year when we make our resolutions (drink less, exercise more, use fewer clich├ęs) and then sit down and plot out the year's blogging.

Not your family tradition?
What's that? Not even my family tradition? I see. Well, let's carry on just the same.

I enjoy making these Table-of-Contents sort of posts. They're very useful for me personally, though I don't know how many other people actually use them. I'm not a smart-phone / Droid / tablet user, and I don't believe Blogger is optimized for mobile viewing. Which means the Table of Contents posts (under "Favorite Posts" on the top right of the page) might not even be visible for those readers who look at this on their handheld. Is that the case? Who knows. Either way, it's all good in my book. Who knows how long Google will even host these things, anyway? As a certain Starfleet captain once said, "Gentlemen - we're debating in a vacuum." Blogging, like life, and spore-induced euphoria, is an all-too-ephemeral affair.

Anyway, I decided rather than just the usual list of things I intend to get to in the year ahead (and a couple of things already gotten to), I'd offer up an annotated version. I usually prefer a "clean" Table of Contents look. I figure if people were to click on something called "Reviews and Overviews (Books and Short Stories)" I want them to find their way to what they want to look at with as few asides and obstructions as possible. But hey! Special occasion. Consider the champagne uncorked and my tour-guide-cap sitting crooked upon my brow.
I'll likely delete a good deal of this preamble once all the links are active.

I still have some posts to finish for my From Novel to Film and Friday Night Film Noir series as well as some for Comics and practically all of the Film overviews. Hell, the TV Tomb series, too. Might as well list them all. All hyperlinks will be active by today's date, 2017.


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The Adventures of Richard Blade in Dimension X


Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3

Who? Richard Blade, special-agent-supreme of MI6-A, teleported for dubious objectives at the beginning of each novel into Dimension X, an umbrella-term for a multiverse of random alternate realities that all resemble sword-and-sorcery versions of medieval England (mainly). Blade always has absurdly explicit sex at least twice, sometimes more, and kills dozens of people, before he's whisked back to Home Dimension at novel's end.

What? A series of 37 adult pulp fantasy novels published by Pinnacle Books between 1969 and 1984.

Why? Well, my older brother had a few of these when I was growing up, so that's how they got on my radar. But the real reason they're on this list is a longer story. When my buddy AJ Klum caught the last train out in 2014, a friend and I were talking about how MTV-documentary-esque much of the social media reaction was for that unhappy occasion. It was easy to picture everyone delivering their memories of him right to the camera, intercut with all these pictures and grainy footage over Dawson's Creek-type music. 

Now, AJ was not the kind of person to be moved by such things. Too-immediate appeals to sentimentality provoked a different sort of reaction from him: an urge to puncture the sanctity of the occasion with something inappropriate. We had this in common, actually.

We both observed a Scale of Puncturing Effectivness. On one end was something like farting or something at a funeral - the broadest possible interpretation. Towards the other is something that kept occurring to me in the month after his death: what if my interview in this imaginary tribute had a bookshelf in the background lined with the paperback adventures of Richard Blade? There I'd be in the foreground, red-eyed and wearing black, with my name along the bottom, and on either side of my head would be The Killer Plants of Binnark and such. Extra points if I really dragged it out, forcing the viewer to focus attention on the weird books behind my head. It struck me as the kind of thing AJ would have appreciated immediately, even not knowing the Blade books and in spite of it undermining his own memorial. (I say undermined but I mean "enhanced.")

So I started looking around for the Blade books. They're long out of print, so a complete set was too pricey. Not unreasonably so, just more than I was willing to spend for a joke for a fake documentary. But I already owned a few, so I picked up a few more, and I'll be reviewing those. I'd like to say it's all a tribute of some kind, but there's really nothing in them that reminds me of Klum. At least so far. But to honor my Klingon ancestors and his, I need to see this joke through, however dubiously related, in my own fashion.

I figured I'd put this stuff up on here, since when I get to the books there's not going to be any room for anything but observations of the "Did Blade actually just bang the queen of the centaurs again?" variety.
~
American Science-Fiction: 9 Classic Novels of the 1950s


Not much to this one, I've just been looking at them unread on the shelf too long. The books anthologized are: 

The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth - More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon - The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett - The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson - Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein - The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester - A Case of Conscience by James Blish - Who? by Algis Budrys - The Big Time by Fritz Leiber.

For years I've said "I'll get to it right after I read The Space Merchants" when people have recommended something I don't want to look at. (If you've never heard that response, then please keep up the good work.) I guess at some point in 2016 I'll have to give that one up.

~
Bond... James Bond


I'll put together a Table of Contents post for all the Bond stuff, too, just waiting to finish the Raymond Bensons before doing so. When that happens, I'll replace all of this verbiage with a single link.


There might be more. I'm on the fence about reading the Young Bonds and The Moneypenny Diaries. 

~
Deities and Demigods 
by James M. Ward with Robert J. Kuntz


I'm unsatisfied with the overviews of this I've seen online. Maybe I just haven't seen the right ones. But even though my only active Dungeons and Dragons period was back in the Reagan/Bush-the-First era (minus one return to the game which ended in complete disaster in 2004) I've been reading and admiring this book as its own separate entity since I got it as a Christmas present in the early 80s.

Some might scoff at the idea of reviewing what is essentially a game accessory and rulebook as its own piece of media, but those people probably don't collect Boy Scouts Manuals of different eras, either. Maybe I'll go ahead and blog all of those up, as well. Try and stop me!

~  
Elric by Michael Moorcock


"And then it leapt from the Earth and went spearing upwards, 
its wild voice laughing mockery at the Cosmic Balance; 
filling the universe with its unholy joy."

~
Garrison Keillor


When Garrison Keillor is discussed, it's almost always exclusively via Prairie Home Companion. Understandable, that, but what about the books shown above? Most of the folks I meet don't seem aware of his career as a novelist nor his long tenure at The New Yorker, where he helped shape the literary taste of the very crowd that ignores his work. As this is the year he retires from PHC, I felt it a prudent time for a tip of the ol' blogging cap. I'll look at all of it, as well as my theories as to why he's not revered as one of America's greatest living writers. 

~
 Short Stories

Someone once referred to James Michener  - whose work I very much enjoy. I considered him for this stuff-I'll-be-rereading-in-2016 list but his page counts are incompatible with my commute. Unless I re-bought everything I already have for the Kindle or something, which I'm not going to do. Anyway - someone once referred to him as the author of "Grandfather Clock" books. I think it was meant disparagingly, but I think it's actually pretty accurate. Grandfather clocks are intricately designed (with some of the mechanics on display through the glass), hard to move, timeless, and beautiful.

I also like this description because I always think of short stories as wristwatches. And just as wristwatches come in many varieties and price ranges, short stories can range from the cheap, breezy, and fun (that Batman-swatch you got at the mall), to perfectly serviceable (that Timex for J. Crew your aunt got you) to expensive portraits of perfection (the Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 Moonwatch).  


We'll cover a little bit of everything as I pay tribute to some collections from my personal library. You won't be getting a story-by-story breakdown of any of the below, just some thoughts and remarks on my favorite ones and any memorable quotes I remembered to write down.

Brian Aldiss, Supertoys Last All Summer Long (2001) - Margaret Atwood, Wilderness Tips (1991) - Clive Barker, Books of Blood (1984 - 1986) - Robert Boone, Forest High (2011) - Pierre Boulle, Time Out of Mind (1966) - Octavia E. Butler, Bloodchild (1995) - Robert Chambers, The King in Yellow (1895) - Dan Chaon, Among the Missing (2001) - Guy de Maupassant, Selected Short Stories (Penguin ed., 1971) - Harlan Ellison, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1969) - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Pat Hobby Stories (1962) - Nadine Gordimer, Jump and Other Stories (1962) - Charles L. Harness, The Rose (1966) - Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Great Stone Face and Other Tales of the White Mountains (1889) - M.R. James, Collected Ghost Stories (1931) - Owen King - We're All in This Together (2005) - Rudyard Kipling, Collected Stories (1994) - Juhmpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies (1999) - Ursula K. LeGuin, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1995) - Doris Lessing, Stories (1978) - Bobbie Ann Mason, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), Zigzagging Down the Trail (2001) - Michael Moorcock, Dying for Tomorrow (1978) - Lorrie Moore, Anagrams (1986) - Breece D'J Pancake, The Stories of... (1984) - Stacey Richter, My Date with Satan (1999) - Voltaire, Micromegas and Other Short Fictions (Penguin ed. 2002) - Tobias Wolff, The Night in Question (1996)
 
And Dangerous Visions (1967) edited by Harlan Ellison and Dead Reckoning: Tales of the Great Explorers 1800-1900 (2005) edited by Helen Whybrow

~
Stephen King


From May of 2012 to February of 2013, I made my way through (almost all of) Stephen King's work and blogged the journey in a series I called "King's Highway." Here's how it all broke down. 

This already has its own Table of Contents/ Favorite Posts entry, but I figure it belongs on this list as well. 

~
The Three Investigators


When I was a kid in then-West-Germany, I was fascinated with these books in the library of my elementary school on Rhein Main AFB. My friend Charlie and I read them all over the course of two summers and for a while there in 4th grade, The Secret of Terror Castle was my Best Book Forever. I could never figure out, though, why the ones in the library featured the Three Investigators working for Alfred Hitchcock while the ones I could order through Scholastic Book Service featured some guy called Hector Sebastian. Had this not been the pre-internet days, I could have just found the answer at a site like this; instead, it was an unsolved mystery for me for over 20 years.

Flash forward to a couple of years ago and I catch half of The Three Investigators and the Secret of Terror Castle on Disney XD. What? When did they start making movies of these things? Turns out they never stopped being popular over in Germany, and StudioHamburg has put out two English-language versions. Neither of which are easily available in the US, unfortunately. 

Anyway, I'm always on the lookout for these things - the original editions, that is. (Long story short - after Hitchcock's death, they lost the right to use his likeness/ fictional avatar, so they wrote him out of the reprintings altogether. This started a succession of reboots that significantly confused the brand identity, at least in the US.) I don't have a complete set, but I've toyed with the idea of reviewing a few of them here on the Omnibus. And lucky you! 2016's the year I'm pulling the trigger.

And speaking of Boys Adventure Stories:


~
Travis McGee by John D. MacDonald

"There was a preponderance of poodles. This is the most desperate breed there is. They are just a little too bright for the servile role of dogdom. So their loneliness is a little more excruciating, their welcomes more frantic, their desire to please a little more intense. That's what they try to talk about. One day there will appear a super-poodle, and he will figure it out. He will suddenly realize his loneliness is merely a by-product of his being used to ease the loneliness of his owner. He'll tell the others. He'll leave messages. And some dark night they'll all start chewing throats."


A by-product of the King's Highway project was tracking down all the Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald, an author King always speaks highly of. It's easy to see why once you start reading him. I'm not familiar with the non-McGee parts of his catalog, but I have all 21 of his "disposable paperback adventures." I finished reading all of these a couple of years ago and figured I'd do something on the blog with them somewhere down the line, so I've got all the pages dog-eared (so to speak) already. 

~
Author of the 2050 Trilogy


"What ails us? Attachment to our Desire. The grip, the hold, the pursuit, the anxiety, all of it is exhausting and it gives rise to behaviors meant to mitigate the situation but only make it worse, like excessive smoking, drinking, eating, shopping, gaming, and any and all addictive cycles. This is not a moral argument—all of these behaviors are neither good nor bad, but practicing any one or more with an eye towards oblivion is deadly."


~
Last Edited 1/23/2016

4 comments:

  1. Looking forward to these, the John D. MacDonald particularly.

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  2. This is a very interesting list. I'm looking forward to reading your blog in 2016!

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  3. Thanks, folks - hope you enjoy.

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  4. Those Richard Blade books sound incredible. How is it I've never heard of them? Have I been living life that poorly? Jeez.

    Lots of great stuff to look forward to here, from the sound of it.

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