THE TALE OF THE DUELING NEUROSURGEONS: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery by Sam Kean argues (and makes a good case) that neurology is one of the few places in science where personal histories and anecdotes still have value. Kean traces the growth of neurological knowledge through stories of paralysis, ghost limbs, Capgras syndrome, amnesia, left-side blindness and aphasia and the researchers who worked on them to figure out what was going on. Good, though the underlying assumption that all the answers are in the neurons occasionally annoyed me—while I understand a book on neuroscience isn’t going to cover psychology, Kean really does underestimate it. Seriously, “our feelings are triggered by different things than we think” and “memory isn’t reliable,” are not anything we needed neuroscience to prove.
WEIRD HEROES Vol 2 was the second Byron Preiss collection of modern-day pulp adventures (I read the first back in July) and overall very good. The standouts are comics writer Elliott Maggin’s “SPV 166” about a three-woman police task force that rides around in a modified subway car (it’s much weirder than that synopsis makes it sound) and Steve Englehart’s “Viva,” about a jaded hooker dropped in a tropical jungle where she finds herself beginning to live again (it’s one of the few which really doesn’t need a follow-up, as Viva’s emotional arc wraps up quite nicely). Ted White’s “Doc Phoenix” is an acknowledged Doc Savage variant, with the protagonist venturing into human mindscapes to cure them (this got a later follow-up, the novel-length Oz Encounter). Philip Jose Farmer’s second Greatheart Silver story is a vast improvement on the first, so the weakest in the book is Harlan Ellison’s “The New York Review of Byrd,” a heavy-handed satire which turns his Cordwainer Bird synonym into a literary crimefighter (an idea Farmer come up with), largely ignoring Preiss’s Our Heroes Don’t Kill formulation. Overall, a good lineup.
SOMEWHERE IN TIME by Richard Matheson (AKA Bid Time Return) was the basis for the Reeve/Seymour film, which Matheson adapted, so it’s interesting to see some of his changes (an encounter that the protagonist remembered from years earlier in the book is what leads off the movie). Mostly the two stay close together except that the protagonist is terminally ill when he sees an actress’ photograph from 60 years earlier and finds himself falling instantly in love. With the narrator’s eye view, this doesn’t feel as stalkery as I found Reeve in the film, and Matheson does a good job giving an alien feel to a man walking into another time (and without wallowing in nostalgia as Jack Finney’s time travel fiction often does). It loses something as I knew from the start how the romance would play out, but still a good read.