Monday, August 23, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of 8/23/95

I'm doing this a week ahead, since I already have something scheduled for this coming Monday (a week ago, as you read this), and so I'm taking a calculated risk that nothing will arrive in the mail during the next week.

Why? Because I try to do two blog posts each Saturday and Sunday, and I can only write about a book if I've finished a book. I just wrote about the book I read last Sunday, and that was it in the hopper.

So, instead here's what I read this week back in 1995. Let's see if I remember anything interesting:

Robert B. Parker, Thin Air (8/17)

Yes, I seem to end up with weeks full of mysteries more often than not when I do these "Reading into the Past" posts - maybe I just read mysteries for pleasure all the damn time back then? (I thought it was more a week or two here or there, but the random sampling does not support that hypothesis.)

Anyway, this was the new book in Parker's series about Spenser, the big lug of a Boston-based PI. In this book, he looked for the missing wife of a cop contact, who turned out to have been kidnapped. I don't remember it at all, but I have no clear memories of any of the Spenser books, so that's not surprising. These are all OK for that mid-century male-PI thing, and writers in particular could get interesting insights from late Parker about how he stripped down his writing style so far.

Joe Gores, Dead Skip (8/18)

This was the first of the DKA novels, about a relatively realistic private detective firm called Dan Kearney Associates in San Francisco - "realistic" enough that their work was primarily repossessing cars, and that formed the backbone of a lot of the plots. This one was from the '70s, and started with a repo, but the DKA guy ended up in a coma, so his colleagues had to do some actual investigating to figure out how and why and whether it was deliberate. (Answer: it's a mystery novel, so of course bad things happened because people did them.)

It's a short series, and not like anything else. No one else really followed Gores's lead: it was too hard to fit a normal mystery plot into what the real-world people really did with their time. I recommend it, especially for people who like quirkier mysteries and books that do try to fit real life into genre strictures. Also, this particular book is the one that "crosses over" with one of Richard Stark's Parker books: there's a scene where the DKA crew encounter Parker.

Karen Kijewski, Alley Cat Blues (8/19)

Looks like this was the new book at the time, too. I read this series as long as it lasted, which pretty much matched the '90s. (A lot of writers, like a lot of bands, have careers that last around ten years: it's sad but true.) I liked them, but I think I mix them up with Linda Barnes (another writer of a female PI, from the other side of the country) a bit in my head.

This is the one that pissed off Mormons, I'm reminded as I glance at the Amazon reviews. I don't remember anything specific about it, or much about the series: liked it at the time, kept reading it happily with each new book, but didn't take huge notice when they stopped coming.

Janet Evanovich, One for the Money (8/20)

At some point, I became the first reader for this series, and wrote reader's reports for a number of them. (I've lost my copies, in the 2011 flood, so I can't trace how increasingly annoyed I became by the series' reset button and utter lack of growth on the part of the main character.) But it looks like I got to the first one after publication, probably because I was trying to read more books by women in those days, especially about female PIs.

Stephanie Plum wasn't exactly a "female PI," not in the actually-professional and -competent sense (and that's what soured me on the series before too long), but it looked that way to start. And certainly a huge number of people who aren't me loved the series and its media extensions. So I doubt you need me to tall you about it. But I will say I thought they were really funny, and enjoyed the humor right up to the point where I couldn't stand how stupid and incompetent Stephanie was.

Julian May, Magnificat (typescript, 8/20)

This was the third of the Galactic Millieu trilogy; I read it for work. (And, I think, I bought it as a SFBC Selection not long after this: May was quite popular at the time.) I have the feeling that May has entirely fallen out of the SF conversation, maybe because her focus on psionic powers feels like a relic from a prior generation or maybe because her plots were so long and baroque.

I'd read the Saga of Pliocene Exile first, or instead of, this series - it's a late extension/prequel to a series that didn't actually need that. But my memory if that they were decent books, so there's more May if you read the Pliocene books and want more.

Marcia Muller, A Wild and Lonely Place (bound galleys, 8/21)

Again, this was the new book that year. I don't think I read it for the Mystery Guild; I only did a few reports for them (mostly authors I really loved and wanted to grab, like Lawrence Block). But I working in publishing, and the galleys flowed through the office like water. It was a great time for someone who read a lot of books: new books were on every side, and you just had to reach out your hand and grab them.

I've written a bit about this series in previous "Reading into the Past" posts; I stopped the series once the cast got too large and cumbersome and the plots started being more about the cast's soap-opera relationships than on the PI work series heroine Sharon McCone did. But I can't speak to the contents of any specific book in the series at this point; I haven't read any of them in twenty years.

Stuart M. Kaminsky, Tomorrow Is Another Day (bound galleys, 8/21)

I read a couple of books in this series -- this might have been the first one, actually - and books in another series or two by Kaminsky, but nothing really clicked with me. (And that's fine: not every writer is for every reader, and vice versa.)

This series is about Toby Peters, a Hollywood detective in the 1940s - I don't remember if he was totally private, or attached to a particular studio. In this one, I read now on Amazon, he investigates a possible murder during the filming of Gone With the Wind a few years later, and it looks like Clark Gable is the prime suspect. I suspect I wasn't enough of an old-Hollywood buff to care that much.

Stanley Asimov, editor, Yours, Isaac Asimov: A Lifetime of Letters (bound galleys, 8/22)

This is exactly what it looks like: the usual posthumous collection of letters by a famous person, edited by someone close to them (his brother, in this case), so that there can be another book with the dead person's name on it. Oh, and probably also it will be somewhat useful to scholarship, though anything really incriminating or hot won't make it into the books.

Asimov wrote a lot - books and letters and ephemera. This book doesn't even include full letters; it's entirely excerpts from longer letters, maybe because Stanley was trying to get as much of his brother's voice and thoughts between two covers as possible.

I doubt anyone reads this nowadays. If you're an Asimov scholar, I hope the letters themselves are accessible in an archive somewhere. And Asimov fans have nearly five hundred books he wrote in his life to read - the vast majority nonfiction admittedly, and most of those now massively out of date.

Philip Nowlan and Dick Calkins, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (pamphlet, 8/22)

I think this was the first storyline from the original newspaper strips, reprinted in a quick (giveaway?) edition to promote whatever the current Buck Rogers franchise item was at the time (a potential TV show? maybe a RPG?).

I have no memory of it, and I lost the physical object long ago: maybe even before the flood in 2011. And I haven't gone back to the strip since then: as I recall, it was decent pulpy sci-fi (and I use that last term very deliberately).

Byron Preiss, John Betancourt, and Keith R.A. DeCandido, editors, The Ultimate Dragon (bound galleys, 8/23)

The Ultimate books were solid original anthologies, packaged by Preiss's outfit and published by Dell (he said, pretty sure that was correct). I don't remember any of the stories in any of the books, but the series were all attractive, full of stories by well-known authors, and I think well-illustrated. Exactly the kind of thing a good book-packaging operation could do well, and thrive creating. (I suspect the market niche for books like that has definitively closed, but a lot of market niches are like that - they only last for a decade or three, so it can be hard to have a career entirely tied to one of them.)

Matt Feazell, Ert!: Not Available Comics (8/23)

The then-new collection of comics - I think originally mini-comics - by Feazell, centering on his character Cynicalman, but including lots of others. Feazell is funny and great: one of the best, most consistent makers of comics over the past three or four decades. Yes, he works in stick figures and typically either mini-comics or strips in minor local papers. (He's from Hamtramck, if I remember right.)

This book would be very hard to find now. Someone should do a big magisterial collection of Feazell comics, and I hope it happens while he's still around to enjoy it.

I kept reading at a two-book-a-day pace for the next six days, finishing up with three books on the last day of August (admittedly, two of them were Valiant comics collections). I read nine more novels and fifteen total books that week, including Endymion. Yes, many of us were more productive before the Internet: I have the records.

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