THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY STORIES IV confirms my feeling editor Lin Carter didn’t knock himself out finding material for this series, as four of the stories are taken from the Swords Against Darkness anthologies coming out at this time. They’re good (particularly Poul Anderson’s The Tale of Hauk and Tanith Lee’s Odds Against the Gods), but I find it hard to believe there weren’t equally good stories elsewhere. This also includes one story by Carter (as usual) and another under a pseudonym (Grain Undwin) which makes me wonder if his using two stories of his in past issues annoyed readers.
References to Sirius Black and Grindelwald in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE show J.K. Rowling did indeed map out a lot of her future series from the start. Much like the first time I read it, this book strikes me as a conventional British school story (Enid Blyton’s St. Claire’s and Mallory Towers stories for instance) in a lot of ways, but the addition of magic to the mix makes it something special. Not the best in the series by far, but entertaining to reread except for the Dursleys—seriously, Dumbledore leaving Harry with them is the kind of bad call that gets child-services workers fired. Cover art by Mary GrandPré, rights with current holder.
The idea that the James Bond books (and movies) were a counterweight to Britain’s post-WW II decline is one I’ve mentioned before. I thought a book devoted to the topic would be interesting but THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond by Simon Winder is definitely not the book. The book is drawn-out querulous moan as Winder uses the premise to vent about British government, Bond actors (talentless!), Bond films (he reluctantly concedes the first four have some merit) and even moans about how affected Ian Fleming is for using a cigarette holder. A bigger problem is that his analysis hinges on tying the films to unique British qualities that really aren’t unique—a fear of immigrants changing the way things are done, a fixation on World War II—and asserts the only reason Americans like Bond is because they see him as a comic figure. After all, everyone watching You Only Live Twice would have known British intelligence would never be invited to a high-level Soviet/US conference and so must have been laughing hysterically at Brit presumption (after all, if this side of the Atlantic likes the Bond films as fun adventures, that blows the uniquely British angle). Reading this one was a real waste of time.
HELL AND EARTH by Elizabeth Bear is set in an Elizabethan age when poetry and theater can tap magic to support the monarchy (or undercut it), which makes Shakespeare and Ben Johnson reluctant pawns in the power struggles around the throne, while Christopher Marlowe negotiates his new role as an agent for the Faerie Queen. I found this a very dull book, as nobody reacts emotionally, they just seem to sit and ponder and think deep thoughts; after about 150 pages, I gave up (if they don’t care about what’s happening, why should I?).
WHY DOES BATMAN CARRY SHARK REPELLENT? And Other Amazing Comic-Book Trivia by comics web-columnist Brian Cronin is a Book of Lists-type collection covering topics such as Ten Strange Items in the Utility Belt, Six Weird Powers of Superman, Five Weird 1950s comic-book ads and Six Heroes Wolverine Has Stabbed, plus lists of Greatest Comics Artists/Characters/etc. compiled by polls or noted creators. Like most books of this sort, fluffy fun, though with a few striking pieces. Greg Pak’s discussion of how J. Jonah Jameson’s right-hand man Robbie Robertson being black impressed him as a kid is memorable, for instance.