VANISHED KINGDOMS: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations by Norman Davies looks at nations that were once world powers (Aragon, Burgundy and the Lithuania-Poland axis, plus the USSR), mixed in with nations that only existed as the result of Great Power geopolitics (Galicia), the one-day republic of Carpatho-Ukraine and Montenegro which died at the end of WW I (absorbed into what eventually became Yugoslavia) but now lives again.Davies’ general theme is that we tend to look at history in terms of today’s Great Powers and assume some sort of manifest destiny (or in the case of Germany, imagine a direct route from Prussian militarism to the Third Reich), when in reality Burgundy or Poland could just as easily have wound up in the winner’s circle. Davies also sees this as a warning for the future, arguing that it’s only a matter of time before the UK completely splinters (he doesn’t seem optimistic about Italy either, seeing it as almost as artificial a country as Galicia). Interesting though very dry—even at 700 pages, covering so much time and geography reduces long stretches of this to the strings of names and dates that make people recoil from history class.
THE YEAR’S FINEST FANTASY by Terry Carr shows the shift in Big Names between his 1960s NEW WORLDS OF FANTASY and this late seventies volume, which doesn’t have RA Lafferty or Robert Sheckley but does have Stephen King, Robert Aickman, Harlan Ellison and Howard Waldrop (though both collections include Roger Zelazny, and this also has Jack Vance, a Name in both eras). A good collection regardless as a bored businessman makes love to Emma Bovary, a probability storm engulfs a bar, a mother reluctantly admits that her children are growing very, very large (“Growing Boys” is one of the few Aickman stories that really worked for me when I first read it, mostly because the boys aren’t any more horrible than the protagonist’s generally dysfunctional family) and a young boy finds the secret of perpetual youth. Show<s Carr still had the touch.
In the seventh Barsoom book, A FIGHTING MAN OF MARS tells Edgar Rice Burroughs (like Patchwork Girl of Oz the book uses radio to explain how the author can get the story without Dorothy Gale or John Carter visiting in person) how his desperate efforts to free the kidnapped, snobbish aristocrat he loves led him to discover a plot to conquer all Barsoom with disintegrator weapons (I think it shows the pre-Hiroshima era that this is presented as a crime against military honor rather than a general horror at civilian death). Alongside him is a tomboyish young woman who becomes his best and closest friend—seriously, why else would he feel he’d rather die than let her come to harm (three guesses who he ends up with, not that you’ll need them). A good one, showing Burroughs’ eye for detail (ancient Barsoomian buildings are recognizable because they don’t have flat space on the roof for flyers to land) and a tougher heroine than I’d expect (though her devotion to the hero gets a little much).
CHAMBER OF HORRORS is a collection of mostly straight mysteries by Robert Bloch, nicely written but too heavy on the twist endings (most of which have an Of Course feel to them—not to mention the same twist gets used twice). The best in the book is the elaborate hypnosis scheme “The Screaming People” (which strikes me as right in line with the brainwashing fixations of the 1950s) and the creepy “Frozen Fear.’ Minor Bloch, at best, though way better written than his early Lovecraft knockoffs.


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3 responses to “Books

  1. Pingback: Jeffty is Five | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Blood will tell, but sometimes I wish it didn’t | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Jeffty Is Five ... and I'm Sixty-Three ⋆ Atomic Junk Shop

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