Monday, May 30, 2022

Reading Into the Past: Week of May 30, 2004

This post will go live on Memorial Day, so excuse me if I'm hoping for a week with just a couple of books; I'm not expecting  a whole lot of eyeballs on this. (Not that anyone cares in the best of times; I do these to have something to post on Mondays and because it amuses me.)

This time, let's see what books I was reading "this" week in the fabulous year 2004:

James Alan Gardner, Radiant (typescript, 5/25)

This was one of his "League of Peoples" books, which were smart and well-written and interesting and fun to read and though-provoking and which I hear he will never, ever write any more of. (And I wonder how happy his publishing experience was; sales clearly did not grow as people who liked those books - me, for example - might have hoped.) I think I made every single book in the series a SFBC Selection, and wrote personal blurbs for several, so I like to think I did what I could.

But which was this one? Let me check.

OK, it was the seventh and last, which somewhat wrapped up the series, but not really. (It was a very loose series to begin with - all the same galactic setting, a character or two that showed up again in the background, but almost always completely different stories.)

Read this series, if you find it. Good, entertaining, fun SF that might even make you think.

Terry Brooks, Tanequil (bound galleys, skimmed, 5/25)

I'm afraid I don't remember exactly what this is; I'm sure it was a piece of some Shannara series, but I read a lot of epic fantasy in those days, and I read most of it at speed. (When I was writing reports, I read with a notepad at hand to write down names of people and places and then cryptic notations like "MG & DW to Fal to find Sword of R, fight with forces of Ma." The rest of the time, I read the first fifty and last fifty pages pretty closely but tended to go at great speed through the middle.)

This is the middle book of the "High Druid of Shannara" series, crammed in between the equally-entertainingly-named Jarka Ruus and Straken. I try not to pick on Terry Brooks, since by all accounts he's a nice guy, he's been telling the stories he wants to for decades, and lots of readers love his stuff. But I've found his work perhaps just a tad on the standard side.

Robert Siegel, editor, The Onion: Dispatches from the Tenth Circle (5/26)

This was a collection of articles from The Onion, back when that existed on paper, was a force to be reckoned with, and collections of periodicals were still a thing that could exist in the world. The Internet has destroyed all of that; The Onion is owned by someone else now - I want to say a bunch of osteopaths from Oshkosh, or something equally horrible - and it's entirely an online thing where it's difficult to say if any material is new. I also get the sense all of the writers from their classic days are long gone, not that it was ever a place for bylines: The Onion was all about that very specific tone and point of view.

You probably had to be there. I see newer reviews of this book tend to use the phrase "not politically correct," which is entirely backwards in an attempt to coopt what was largely very angry lefty humor for right-wing ends. Onion jokes cut very close to the bone, but they always punched up.

Robert Benchley, Benchley Lost and Found (5/27)

I've read bits and pieces of Benchley here and there, but never dug into reading all his work the way I did with Perelman. (For that matter, I don't think I even did a concerted effort to read Thurber: it was Perelman, of the great humorists of that era, that I imprinted on.)

This particular book was a posthumous "hey! this stuff was never collected! we can make some money off it!" collection, or at least that's my cynical take on it. I remember precisely nothing about this book in particular.

Anonymous, editor, Playboy 50 Years: The Cartoons (5/28)

Playboy was always great for cartoons. Sure, most of the time they had to be "sexy," and it was a particular mid-century view of what was both "sexy" and "funny," but every market has its idiosyncrasies. Playboy ran a lot of cartoons, they ran a lot of cartoons large (many full-pagers for most of their run), they paid really well, and they had a bunch of regulars who were in every or nearly-every issue.

Only the New Yorker is in the same rough category: they trade off money for prestige, and might be roughly equal in number of cartoons. (And the "who is more circumscribed by tradition" debate could run for years without answer.)

This was published when Playboy was on the downward trend, but only gently: the Internet hadn't entirely revolutionized porn or murdered magazines yet. And it was a gigantic celebratory book for the 50th anniversary of the magazine, featuring lots of great cartoons and lots of cartoons with lovingly depicted naked female flesh, with those two things sometimes but not always being the same.

Andi Watson, Love Fights, Vol. 1 (5/29)

A great book by a great creator, though only half of the full story, as the title implies.

I've re-read it more recently, and wrote about it then, so let me just say go to that link instead of trying to remember the book here.

Peter Robinson, Playing With Fire (5/30)

I'm going to guess that this was part of his series about a police detective - in Yorkshire? I want to say somewhere in the North of England, but I could be massively wrong - but I can't tell you more without looking it up. So I will.

OK, the main character is Inspector Alan Banks, this was the fourteenth book, and there have been thirteen more since then, so it's exactly the middle of the series at the moment.

This is the one about an arsonist, as the title implies. And I may have failed to keep up with Robinson for the last decade or so, but all of the books of his I read were really impressive: he's one of those police-procedural writers who is a novelist first, so they're compelling, well-written books about people in complicated, dangerous situations, not just puzzle-books.

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