SF, England and graphic novels: this week’s reading

THE GINGER STAR was Leigh Brackett’s 1970s reboot of her Eric John Stark, showing him as an interstellar rather than an interplanetary adventurer. After Stark’s closest friend disappears on the dying backwater world of Skaith, Stark goes there to hunt for him despite opposition from the cults and gen-engineered races dominating the planet. This makes it something of a Greatest Hits mashup, taking Stark and adding in a dying world like Brackett’s Mars, the genetic engineering of Sword of Rhiannon and the prophecy element of Nemesis From Terra. Lower key than some of the earlier Stark novels, but still good.

Andre Norton’s SPELL OF THE WITCH WORLD was the first book from then-rookie publisher DAW, consisting of three short stories set in the Dales before, during and after the war referenced in Year of the Unicorn. Dragonscale Silver feels like Norton’s reworking earlier witch-world books (psi-linked siblings, a woman of Estcarp blood being raised in the Dales) but it works, and gives us a female warrior mage for the protagonist (she and her lover Jervon show up in a couple more stories, IIRC). Dream Smith has a scarfaced metalworker creating a dream kingdom where he and his deformed lover can live away from the world’s eyes, but it’s way too disability-cliche for me. Amber Out of Quayth is the best story, a Gothic romance like Year of the Unicorn: a woman marries into a sinister family of amber dealers and discovers almost too late they have Dark Secrets. The Dales would remain the setting for the next two or three books.

A SOCIAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND by Asa Briggs suffers the usual problems that any survey of 2,000-plus years is going to have to skim a lot of material. With that limitation, a good overview of the social influences facing Britain such as class, race, money, trade, sex and technology constantly shifting England’s social landscape.Very dry, but informative.

THE FOX: Freak Magnet by Dean Haspiel, Mark Waid and J. M. DeMatteis has had lot of good reviews (from the MLJ Companion, for instance) but I was less than impressed. The protagonist is the son of a Golden Age hero who donned the suit to draw out villains and become a Peter Parker-style photographer of super-action. Unfortunately, even though his career is settled and he’s happily married, the bad guys just keep coming … This premise reminded me of DC’s Blue Devil (ordinary guy plunged into weirdness) but it was nowhere near as entertaining. And the climax, in which the Fox is trapped in WW II and has to ally with the U.S. Shield, Japan’s Hachiman and German’s Master Race, is really weak: the idea that era was driven by a blood lust alien to our own time doesn’t hold up.

FATALE: West of Hell is the third volume in a series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips so I’m not surprised I didn’t understand everything going on. I was surprised how little I cared: the stories of femme fatales in multiple eras obviously all tie together, but I have no interest in reading V 1 and 2 and exploring how it all makes sense.

#SFWApro. Cover by James Steranko, all rights remain with current holder.

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