Friday, July 30, 2021

Quote of the Week: I Don't Know What I Want But I Want It Now

Steve is troubled by a lot of things. He is twenty-three, was raised in Virginia, and has the idea that California is the beginning of the end. "I feel it's insane," he says, and his voice drops. "This chick tells me there's no meaning to life but it doesn't matter, we'll just flow right out. There've been times I felt like packing up and taking off for the East Coast again, at least there I had a target. At least there you expect that it's going to happen." He lights a cigarette for me and his hands shake. "Here you know it's not going to."

I ask what it is that is supposed to happen.

"I don't know," he says. "Something. Anything."

 - Joan Didion, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, pp.76-77

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

We all have books that we think we should have read already. If we read a lot, paradoxically, that list is much longer than that of people who read only a few books. If you read mostly Nora Roberts, you might be behind on a series or two. If you worked in SF publishing and got an English degree, there are entire sub-genres with big shelves of books that you haven't managed to touch yet, and a few dozen more authors you think of as just "being a little behind on."

So I'm not apologizing for finally reading Joan Didion's famous 1968 first collection of essays and journalism, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I've had it on the shelf - as part of the Everyman's Library compendium We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, along with her next six nonfiction books - for fifteen years, and managed to read the first seven essays once before. This time I got to the end: I'm happy about that, and hope to get to The White Album (or maybe Play It As It Lays) sooner than fifteen years from now.

Didion is the master of New Journalism who didn't turn into a self-parody, who didn't become a persona rather than a writer, the one who kept writing and saying important things. I know that much, even if the only other book of hers I've read is The Year of Magical Thinking. But, either way, this book is the beginning: the stories she wrote for magazines, apparently mostly The Saturday Evening Post of all things, in the mid-60s. These were her first years in California, the years right after her marriage to John Gregory Dunne, the years when her only daughter was born. They were also years when the culture was changing, and Slouching is famously one of the books about that changing culture: Didion was in her early thirties, which feels ancient in the middle of youth culture, and the still-inchoate rebellion and drug culture and anti-capitalism and anti-war and anti-"straight life" world was massively a youth culture, made up of Boomers barely in their late teens.

This is not a book that will give you a history or an outline. It's made up of magazine articles written at the time, each one a story about a thing in a place, commissioned by some editor who thought his (almost certainly his, in those years) readers would be interested in that. But Didion was in Los Angeles, and came from Sacramento, and traveled more widely in California and elsewhere: she was in the right places to talk to the right people, and had the mind to put it into precise, often devastating sentences that make it all as clear as anything can ever be.

Slouching doesn't cover any major events. Didion, at least at this point in her career, wasn't that kind of journalist. She was more of the "go there and report back what it's like to be Joan Didion in this place" kind of writer, and being Joan Didion was a powerful lens to view the world through. It is mostly about California, as a collection of places, as an idea of itself, and as the dream of America. It was written and published before the major tumults we now think of as defining the '60s - those began in the hot summer and brittle fall of 1968 and continued on through about '71, and this book was published by mid-68.

So it's not dated in the ways you might expect. There's nothing of the museum about it. The young people Didion writes about in the title essay say different things than young people in 2021, are worried and incensed about different problems. But their passion and fire are entirely familiar: from now, from then, from our own lives.

I don't know that I agree with anyone's self-aggrandizing mythology of California, even Didion's. But I believe that they believe it, and Didion's mythology is deep and specific and rooted in particular lives, centered on her own experience, and has great explanatory power. I'm also not one to say that any specific book "must be read by everyone," but this is a great book about an important moment in this country: it casts a lot of light very precisely on a lot of things Americans should think about and understand. And it is essential for anyone studying that California dream.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Cave Carson Has an Interstellar Eye by Jon Rivera, Michael Avon Oeming, and Nick Filardi

When you have a superhero adventure comics character whose big thing is that he's a geologist and cave explorer, what do you think is the natural next step after you bring him back in the big phantasmagorical maxiseries and reset him to appeal to those hip millennials?

It's clearly sending him off into space chasing his previously-never-mentioned best friend and professional collaborator the rock star, right? Chasing through a succession of mostly ships and habitats, landing on actual planets only rarely and tunneling beneath them never? Living inside his mysterious alien eye much of the time since he doesn't actually have a, whadayacallit, spaceship handy?

If you answered "Hell Yes," congratulations! You are qualified to run circa-2018 DC Comics. You could have greenlighted Cave Carson Has an Interstellar Eye, written this time by Jon Rivera alone (Gerard Way was apparently sufficiently distracted not to demand equal credit) but with an intact art team of Michael Avon Oeming (lines) and Nick Filardi (colors).

The first series was silly, absolutely - see my post on it, which I will link again - but it was silly in hey-here's-an-old-DC-character, his-thing-is-caves, let's-do-some-crazy-cave-shit way. This one is silly in a...um, less definable way. It reads as if Rivera had a file of random story ideas, couldn't decide on any of them, ignored the people that pointed out that most of them aren't really Cave Carson ideas to begin with, and then just did them all in quick succession and high speed.

You can tell even DC had no idea how to handle this when their blurb prominently features the phrase "spelunking in a black hole," because, one, that totally sounds like an Urban Dictionary entry you do not want to look up, and B, it's not a black hole and he doesn't do any spelunking (then or at any other time in this story). There is a certain whiff of desperation that may have emerged when they realized they had Cave Carson in a deranged Space Cabbie story.

So, anyway, Cave and his teenage daughter Chloe and his rescued friend Marc Bartow (dead from suicide in Cave's world, plucked from an alternate world where he was not) are off to see their old friend Star Adam, who is basically if Bootsy Collins were Prince and also actually from space. But, alas! Adam is growing, Baldanders-style, and is already room-sized. For some poorly explicated reason, his growth will soon make him implode, which will kill everyone around him. So our heroes agree to truck him away from the civilized habitat where he lives off to the space equivalent of an empty field to let him die and wreck the local surroundings in relative peace.

As you do.

Due to poor planning, the implosion happens faster than expected, with unpleasant results for Cave and team. They do survive, as mentioned above, by fleeing into a pocket dimension manifested by Cave's (these days detachable) cybernetic eye, where they hole up in their normal vehicle, the tunneling Mighty Mole, which apparently is space-flight capable enough to get them to Adam's place and away just fine but now might not be up to interstellar flight?

Anyway, the eye eventually crash-lands on a planet, where two groups are having a conflict. Cave and friends solve this conflict, and go on their way to several other conflicts, which turn out to be (very, very loosely) linked and somewhat connected to the scattered remnants of Adam, who also turns out to be not quite as dead as "scattered remnants of" would have you believe.

Again, this is silly and bizarre and fast-moving and full of goofy details, as if Rivera was narrating it on some really good designer stimulants directly to us. It does not make a hell of a lot of sense, but it is flashy and exciting and a lot fewer people die than in the first series (well, except for the first planet, but those are mostly the villains sudden-and-inevitably-betraying each other, and played for laughs). I still do not recommend the Cave Carson books. I possibly recommend this one even less than the first story, which at least was a clearly hipster take on a cave dude doing cave-dude things.

But Oeming's art is lovely and lush, well-supported by Filardi's colors. And the story is...well, there's a lot of it, he said brightly! And some of it nearly makes sense! It will definitely not bore you, is what I'm saying.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Walt Disney's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Vol. 1 by Don Rosa

So I am not one of your fanatic Carl Barks fans. I've seen some of his stories, here and there - I think I even came across a few of them as a kid, as one was supposed to - and appreciate his skill and ability without going all nutty about what have always stuck me as decent comics adventure stories for kids. I've never made an effort to dig into his work seriously; it's been reprinted a bunch of times in my reading life but those seem to have been evenly split between cheap and random collections (for kids) and huge hardcover compendia (for people with more fanaticism than budgetary restrictions). I fit into neither of those categories.

But I always figured I'd read more of that stuff when I could: it was one of the great comics achievements of the twentieth century, right? (People I respected said so, at least.) And I'm at least vaguely interested in similar material.

Enter Don Rosa, who is, I gather, the closest modern equivalent to Barks, with the advantage that these days creators are actually allowed to have their names on stories most of the time. Thirty years ago, he did a big series of Scrooge stories to retell that skinflint's life history, based on random background details and minor plot points across all of Barks's work. (It was a very faanish endeavor, which is why, as Rosa explains in his introduction, it was first done in prose by a fan as a fan project...though that fan, amusingly enough, was Jack Chalker.)

Rosa's project stretched across twelve chapters, mostly about fifteen pages long, and those appeared in various Disney comics worldwide (the Disney comics are aggressively global; it's an impressive example of the power of aggregation) from 1991 through 1993. The stories have appeared in various reprints since then: what looks like the most recent edition was from Fantagraphics two years ago, in two volumes.

I got, from my local library, what I thought was the whole thing but was actually the Boom! Kids 2008 edition of Walt Disney's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Vol.1, collecting the first six stories and leaving Scrooge at the end still barely in his teens and not yet rich. It has extensive notes from Rosa, both the introduction I mentioned above and individual story afterwords detailing where he found many of the details in Barks's work.

This is extensively researched, carefully assembled, deeply considered, and well-presented - and Rosa also went through at least one editor (and probably many) on the Disney side as he was creating these stories. (Sharecropping is never done in isolation.) So this is as definitive as anything can be: this is, until some more important Disney personage sees a way to make more money with a flashy DuckTales prequel movie, the official version of Scrooge's life.

But they're also light adventure stories for children about a cartoon duck in a world of cartoon animals. That's inherently minor and light-weight, particularly since these are all prequels to other stories, and the whole point is that we know Scrooge will get fabulously wealthy and successful. So the years of struggle are already baked in. And a lot of the fun, presumably, is in seeing the callbacks to Barks stories - I caught "square eggs," because I am not an idiot, but only a few others, and I'm sure I missed most.

We begin with Scrooge at the age of ten in 1877 Glasgow, where he earns that famous first dime. The next three chapters send him to America, to be a riverboat pilot, cattlehand, and prospector, after which he returns to Scotland to save the ancestral pile and then set off on his first gold-hunting expedition, in South Africa. Various characters seen in Barks stories, such as the ubiquitous Beagle Boys, turn up, mostly to provide conflict and villainy. All of those stories are zippy and full of age-appropriate adventure: about what you would expect from a Disney product.

So this is nice and fun and pleasant but mostly for people who are not me. Those people are either not me because they care about this deeply, or not me because they're much younger and looking for just Tintin-esque adventure stories their parents won't complain about. If you are in one of those categories, or requisition reading material for someone who is, you are more likely to find this exciting and wonderful.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/26/21

So this is weird: I'm typing this a week early. I was on vacation the week of Independence Day, and decided to put up some extra posts while I had time on my hands. So I wrote a couple of Reading Into the Past posts, dated for the next two Mondays, and one of those is dated July 19.

Because of the nature of those posts, I can't move them: they're based on a specific date. Instead, I'm holding the one book that just came in the mail for another week. I may end up getting more books before this post actually publishes; if so, there will be a paragraph immediately under this one saying, in slightly more elevated language, psyke!

The Escapement is the new novel by Lavie Tidhar, coming in paperback on September 21 from Tachyon. I am not a Tidhar expert, though I've actually read a couple of his novels (rare these days for any active SFF writer; I'm reading very slowly this decade) -- Central Station and The Violent Century. My sense is that he writes across genres pretty freely: Station was a Mahfouz-style fixup about a space elevator and Century was a superhero epic across multiple decades. So Escapement should not be a surprise in general outline, though the particular elements may be: it's a surrealist fantasy Western, more or less, with a hero called the Stranger and some level of circus imagery and/or details. That sounds deeply weird, and I'm on board for it.

Psyke! I did get more books in the mail. Two of them, in face, and these are them:

OK, I think the correct order of the title elements of the next book (which is not how they read on the cover) is I Survived: The Attacks of September 11, 2001: The Graphic Novel. This is a line extension of the long-running "I Survived" series of middle-grade non-fiction books, each of which tells the (somewhat fictionalized) story of a kid  who lived through something dangerous and/or of historical importance. Lauren Tarshis originated and has written all of the prose books in the series; she's top-billed on this one as well. The cover mentions that Corey Egbert drew the graphic novel; creators' bios in the end also include Georgia Ball (a writer of comics; my assumption is that she put Tarshis's original 2012 9/11 book into a comics script and possibly was the one who worked with the artist) and Chi Ngo (another artist; maybe a finisher or inker or colorist, or some combination of all of them).

Now, this is one of my pet peeves. Graphic novels should be at least generally clear about what the people involved in them did - and that goes double for books for young readers. Thousands of kids who like to write or draw will read this book. Knowing that Ball and Ngo got jobs doing...whatever, specifically, they did...could be useful to those kids as they plan their lives. That should be called out here.

The story itself follows a boy named Lucas, who was visiting his father and Uncle Benny - they both work at a firehouse in Manhattan - on the day in question. My guess is that even though the title gives away that Lucas survives, I would not expect the same for both dad and Benny. It also looks like this is a pure adaptation of Tarshis's original book, so fans of the series should expect color and comics format but not otherwise something new.

This is coming from Scholastic and will be available on August 3. (I'm glad to see they resisted the temptation to publish on the day itself.)

And the last book I have to tell you about this week - unless something arrives unexpectedly in today's mail - is a new SF novel by Alex J. Cavanaugh, published by Dancing Lemur Press in April. I will do my best not to make fun of the capitalization in the title, which I'm sure is for a good in-story reason: CassaDarK.

This is a MilSF novel, and the front matter mentions three other books with titles that start "Cassa," so my finely-tuned editor's brain detects a series here. CassaStar is listed first, so my guess is that would be the best place to start. It looks like the series hero is a guy named Bassan, who commands spaceships or something like that, whose father is a higher-level commander now about to retire, who has saved the galaxy at least once, and who is afraid of public speaking. This time out, he speaks at a conference and then goes to a prison planet - the description is slightly coy about what status he has there.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Quote of the Week: Life Paths

Eustace "Fingers" Fogelheimer  had grown up with your usual disadvantaged background leading so often to crime, as it had done in this particular instance as well. That his father was a drunk was Fingers' first clue to his probable future, and his mother's improbable sweetness, endless patience, and voluminous bromides served as a strong confirmation. Still, Fingers hoped he might yet be the exception that proved the rule - as his mother might have put it - until that fateful day when he'd come home to discover his brother had become a priest. From that moment, Fingers Folgelheimer knew his doom was sealed: the very next day, he went and joined the Flatbush-Canarsie mob.

 - Donald E. Westlake, Comfort Station, 6:15 PM chapter

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 9: Squirrels Fall Like Dominoes by North, Charm, & Renzi

The ninth volume collecting The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl collects five issues from early 2018 and came out in late 2018, with yet another lightly modified "funny" song lyric for a title: Squirrels Fall Like Dominoes.

As usual, I got to it three years late, after the series ended. (See my post on Vol. 8 for similar tardiness, and links back to even earlier tardiness.)

This time out, regular series writer Ryan North and colorist Rico Renzi are joined by a new artist: Derek Charm, replacing Erica Henderson. Henderson had drawn the first thirty-one issues of the series, the short previous series, and an original Graphic Novel, which were probably as many Squirrel Girl pages as all previous artists put together. (She defined the look and style of SG for this era, at the very least, and seemed to work very closely with North on stories & plots, too.) So this was kind of a big deal, especially since the SG audience was proverbially heavily pre-teen and female, which as an audience is often not happy with change.

Charm is a cartoonier artist than Henderson, which is a nice change-up. SG is a bit cartoony story-wise (if that makes any sense), so it's appropriate and gives a different energy to the pages. I'm sure some people hated it; some people hate everything. But it works for me.

As always, we have an epic four-part story and a single-issue story in this volume. The epic story has possibly the lamest villain in SG history, on purpose, but is mostly a Kraven the Hunter story about redemption and what it means to be a good person. (Well, it aims at that, but it's about a comics character whose characterization is dependent on the needs of random stories and editors over the course of multiple decades, so I don't actually buy any of it.) Also: the Power of Friendship!

The single-issue piece is mostly-silent, an exercise in North writing something the youngest end of the SG audience can entirely read themselves. It's fine, too.

Squirrel Girl is, as always, relentlessly positive, so the fact that the trade paperbacks are pretty slim is appropriate: a bigger dose of this would be too much. I also have to admit that my eternal favorite character is the mildly nihilistic Brain Drain, not the perky Doreen or any of the others. This is still very good at what it does, and what it does is still a good thing to have in the world: the transition to Charm gave it a different look, but the essentials stayed exactly the same.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Black Hammer, Vol. 2: The Event by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, David Rubin, and Dave Stewart

The thrilling pastiche continues! Everyone who cares read this series four years ago: I think I'm just catching up now because I'm a fan of Lemire's indy work and (possibly incorrectly) classified this as such.

Black Hammer: The Event collects another six issues [1] of the then-ongoing series Black Hammer, written by Lemire with art mostly by Dean Ormston. David Rubin draws one issue for a change of pace, and Dave Stewart colors it all in what I think of as the Dark Horse house palette.

This is all the same thing as the first volume: the story doesn't actually move forward at all. A shocking moment that was completely obvious and that I called out in my post on Vol. 1 actually finally happens on the last page of this book, which presumably will allow the actual story to start moving in the next volume.

What we do get, instead, are flashbacks. Flashbacks to the big fight with Darkseid the Anti-God, flashbacks to random eras in our heroes' lives, flashbacks to Black Hammer's career, flashbacks to things we saw in the first volume. We learn that Black Hammer is basically Thor as a member of the New Gods (Black Racer, more or less, I guess), to continue to show that every single character here is deeply unoriginal. We learn that Gail had a fulfilling sexual relationship with her super-nemesis, which is nice for her, I guess. We get Talky Walky's origin, and get it confirmed that Barbarlien is gay. (Well, that he prefers human men, I suppose - are sexual preferences necessarily consistent across different sapient races?)

It has become clear that "the event" was the Crisis-equivalent for this superhero universe, so that happened in the mid-80s and it's "now" the mid-90s. None of that is actually important to the story; it's all for being-like-the-source-material reasons. I am also amused that its name is the incredibly generic "the event," as if an overworked team of assistant editors couldn't be assed to think of anything better.

Maybe in the next book we will learn why two of the team members are keeping Shocking Secrets! from the rest, and maybe if they are actually keeping the same Shocking Secrets! as each other, too. (It will be funnier if they are keeping totally different Shocking Secrets!, since they seem to not talk clearly to each other, but I don't hold out much hope for that.) I'm sure it will turn out to have been ostensibly for everyone's own good, but that the secret-keepers will have been wrong for some subtle superheroic reason.

This is perfectly cromulent superhero yardgoods. If you're looking for vaguely '80s DC stories, and have already read all of the ones actually from DC in the '80s and/or prefer those vaguely '80s DC stories to be told in moody art and a modern, non-cringey writing style, this is very much up your street.

For anyone else, it looks a hell of a lot like masturbation.


[1] Seven to eleven, and then thirteen. My guess is that twelve is even more of a flashback and/or even more of a fill-in issue than Rubin's contribution here. I think it turns up in a later volume.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Comfort Station by Donald E. Westlake

Sometimes a parody can work even if you don't know the original, or don't know it all that well. If the parody is good enough, and the thing parodied was culturally important or major enough in its day that the reader has vague ideas about it through general osmosis, that can be plenty of common ground.

So I'm here to tell you that you don't need to be a connoisseur of the '60s and '70s potboilers of Arthur Hailey (Airport, Hotel, and so on) to find Comfort Station incredibly funny. I've never read Hailey - and that's unsurprising, since I'd estimate no one has read Hailey in twenty years, and not many did in the '90s when he was still cranking out his last couple of novels, either. (I was working in the field in those years, for a company that had exactly the Hailey audience, and a minute ago is when I first heard he had any novels published during those years.)

But, in 1973, Hailey was coming off HotelAirport, and Wheels - all #1 Times bestsellers - and his brand of dull endless details about ordinary people doing boring things until disaster strikes was already becoming a cliché. The movie of Airport had come out in 1970 and was a huge hit, and both Hollywood and New York publishing were churning out similar stuff, trying to replicate that success with the-same-but-different.

Donald Westlake, as usual, didn't want to do the same but different. He wanted to make fun of the whole silly thing. And so he wrote a quickie short paperback parody, originally published under the name J. Morgan Cunningham - billed in the book itself as the author of such tomes as Carport and Waiting Room and Big Liner and Hot Shaft (get your mind out of the gutter; it was about a stuck elevator). This was it: Comfort Station.

Hailey had casts of dozens working at a hotel or airport or auto manufacturer; Westlake had eight people whose lives intersected in the Bryant Park Comfort Station - the public bathroom for men behind the Main Library in NYC. He tells their intersecting stories in deliberately turgid prose, full of repetition and thuddingly obvious detail, writing right on that line to show the writing is bad but also is bad in a precise, deeply funny way on purpose.

And those eight people, as described on the first page, were:

FRED DINGBAT–omnibus operative, proud of his position in interurban transit. Too proud?

MO MOWGLI–custodian of the Comfort Station. What was it about his past that haunted him? 

ARGOGAST SMITH–plainclothes patrolman. In responsibility he found anodyne–and the testing of his strength

HERBERT Q. LUMINOUS–bookkeeper on the run. What happened to him was almost a cliché. 

CAROLINA WEISS–onetime Russian countess now A & E mechanic. In the arms of another man she sought forgetfulness.

GENERAL RAMON SAN MARTINEZ TORTILLA–deposed dictator. What was it he wanted to get off his chest?

FINGERS FOGELHEIMER–mobster. Out of the thrilling days of yesteryear, he returns for vengeance. 

LANCE CAVENDISH–Black. With him and thirty-five cents you can take the subway.

They are clichés. They do cliché things. Westlake runs them through their paces in chapters following the hours of the day, from 6 AM through early evening, in prose ever-so-slightly overheated and just that bit dumb-bestseller flatfooted. It is all very silly, and I found it laugh-out-loud funny multiple times.

Now, I've been to the Bryant Park Comfort Station, though, so maybe it's just that I know the territory and am simpatico to Westlake's aims. (Though the BPCS I've utilized is not the same one Westlake rhapsodizes about here - the one in the novel closed down before I was born and the current one was built twenty years later.) If you have no personal knowledge of Bryant Park, this may perhaps be less funny, in some odd way.

I do have one complaint: the cover. It is important to the novel, and part of the actual truth of the real world that tedious bestsellers like this spend a lot of time emphasizing, that the Comfort Station for men is the locus of this action, and a similar venue for women is on the other side of the park and forms no part of our mise en scene. So the image chosen for this recent reissue seems OK, but is deeply wrong. Oh, well.

This is a deeply silly book, conceived and created entirely as a piss-take, and I use that term very deliberately. Westlake was an expert funny writer, and he gives us some of his best stuff here. Comfort Station is hugely of its time and place, a goofy soufflé made for a specific, really pointless purpose. But that's just fine as long as it's still funny: and it is.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of 7/19/05

No new books, so let the winds of randomness waft us back to 2005. Here's what I was reading that week:

Kage Baker, Mother Aegypt (7/14)

This was a miscellaneous story collection - as I recall, it did have a Company story or three, but that wasn't the point of it - from one of my favorite writers of the Aughts, whose career was cut vastly shorter than it should have been. According to ISFDB, it (appropriately) has a baker's dozen stories in it, and according to Amazon, it's still available. Baker wrote great novels, but her short fiction, especially her novellas, are even better. (Many people, including me, have said that's the hallmark of the best speculative fiction writers: that they write great novellas.) So I recommend this, or The Best of Kage Baker, or any other story collection published during her too-short career.

Suzanne Lloyd, Harold Lloyd's Hollywood Nudes in 3-D! (7/15)

Holy crap! What a title, and what a book to forget it entirely existed! Yes, the Harold Lloyd, the silent film star. Yes, classy large nude photographs of young ladies - happy ones, as I recall, well-paid for the work - from the '40s through the '60s. And, yes, in 3-D, with glasses and all. And, to top it all off, yes, edited and assembled by his granddaughter, who has also produced a documentary on his more-famous pursuits. I don't remember it, and it was lost in the flood, which is a shame - this is something I would run over and pull out right now if I still owned it.

Bill Willingham, et. al., Fables, Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons (7/16)

In this era, I was really bad at listing the full credits on comics, even though that "et. al." mostly means "Mark Buckingham." I mean there are the James Jean covers, and I'm sure someone colored it, but the Amazon listing is just Willingham/Buckingham, so why couldn't I have done the same? Truly, our past selves contrive to disappoint us again and again.

This was fairly early in the fantasy-characters-in-the-real-world series, and followed up the prior book's major attack on Fabletown (the NYC pocket neighborhood where most of the characters lived at that point) with a couple of flashback stories to "Bigby" Wolf during WWII. I'm getting this from other people's plot synopses, mind you: those details are vaguely familiar once I see them, but I couldn't tell you unaided what happened in, say, Vol. 7.

Allen M. Steele, Coyote Frontier (7/17)

Third in an alien-world trilogy by a dependably meat-and-potatoes SF writer. Is that faint praise? I thought Steele was always readable, usually a lot of fun, and occasionally - especially in some of his better short fiction - really strong. There were dozens of writers whose work I read semi-regularly in the SFBC days that I would not give that much praise to.

I don't remember this series well, but I enjoyed it at the time. I think it had the inherent trilogy problems: the first book was the best and most original, and the latter books mostly worked up variations on the American-frontier-in-SPAAAACE! idea.

Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood (7/19)

Not sure why I was reading this: possibly as a potential Special Collector's Issue book for SFBC (we did two magazines of all "classics" twice a year in those days, and I put "classics" in quotes because we made up the definition as best suited us at that moment, though it usually did include some decade-old stuff) or possibly just for my own entertainment and to read backward in the field. Mythago was a winner of the World Fantasy Award for Novel in 1985, and I do periodically threaten to read all of those, so that could be it.

This is a well-known, excellent novel that starts somewhat thornily and has an odd central conceit: there's this one ancient wood, somewhere in Britain, and all the mythic stuff that matters comes from there and lives there. I liked it, but it didn't send me to read more Holdstock, so perhaps I didn't like it as much as I might have.

I will note that I was tempted to start this list a day early, since on the 12th I read the utterly unlikely combo of Tom Perrotta's story collection Bad Haircut and Toni Bentley's paen to being taken anally, The Surrender. But I don't think I actually have anything to say about either of them: I was running through all of Perrotta, and don't remember that book at all. And the Bentley was a big deal that year, selling very well for the clubs, and I am not without prurient interest, particularly when said prurient interest is lying about the office in stacks of bound copies.

The latter did eventually lead to a very early post on this blog. That past self is also mildly disappointing, though the post is not quite as cringeworthy as I thought it would be.