Books (#SFWApro)

THE MAN WHO LOVED BOOKS TOO MUCH: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett is the account of John Gilkey, a compulsive thief and scam artist with a long history of stealing rare first editions and autographed books, and cheerfully rationalizing it when caught (dealers are crooks, it’s not his fault they charge too much for him to buy legitimately, etc.). Bartlett also looks at Ken Sanders, a bookseller who aggressively pushes for more vigilance against thieves in the field, and more generally at the world of collectors and dealers and the obsession that fuels them (one she concludes she can’t quite get). Good, though Island of Lost Maps was a better account of rare-book theft.
STEEL AND OTHER STORIES is a Richard Matheson collection that includes (obviously) “Steel,” the Twilight Zone and movie-adapted tale of a fight promoter who steps into the ring when his robot boxer breaks down. Most of the stories are from the 1950s, with the high points being the skeptical “Traveler” visiting the Crucifixion, the extremely funny “Splendid Source” about a man hunting the origin of all the dirty jokes (“They’re everywhere, yet no-one takes credit for them.”) and the 2010 “Window of Time,” a very TZ-ish piece about a man traveling back to his childhood that feels like Matheson was deliberately trying to avoid any of the usual cliches (he succeeds, though the effect is to make the ending anticlimactic). A slight majority of the stories didn’t work for me, but the good ones are very good.
OTHER KINGDOMS was Richard Matheson’s last work, in which a hack horror writer enters his flashback booth to recall how at the end of the Great War he visited a Brit friend’s small village to report on his death, only to find both a witch and a fae competing for his heart—or does one of them have a hidden agenda? This starts well but grows weaker as it progresses, partly because Matheson slides into the same metaphysics that took up so much of What Dreams May Come (as he wrote a book on the subject, I assume he’s a true believer). And while Matheson identifies witchcraft as a religion here, he still employs the stock horror stereotypes of evil black-magic witches (also I don’t believe “wicca” was a word back in 1918), something I talk about here.

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