Voodoo, archeology, a dying world and a suicide slum: books read

MAMA LOLA: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn grew out of author Karen McCarthy Brown’s doctoral thesis but expanded as she became friends with the eponymous Haitian American priestess, participating in vodou rituals and even undertaking spirit marriage to Damballah. Brown manages to bounce between Mama Lola’s (though she refers to her mostly by her regular name of Ahlourdes) life, the Haitian culture and worldview (“There’s no Heaven in Vodou — the spirits constantly complain of how cold and hungry the afterlife is.”), the nature of the spirits and the various religious rituals without losing the book’s unity, which isn’t always the case; not what I expected, but most interesting.

A SHORT HISTORY OF ARCHAEOLOGY by Glyn Daniel was part of a series of archeological books. Daniel traces the beginnings of archeology back to the 1500s-1700s as the idea developed that ancient sites could be studied, not just as looted for pretty items, though some found that concept pretty implausible (Samuel Johnson scoffed that a few ruins couldn’t possibly tell us what the great writers of the past hadn’t said). Unfortunately this is very dry, mostly a list of Great Names and Their Discoveries, though I don’t know if there’s a better way to cover the topic.

I wondered how Leigh Brackett would wrap up her Skaith trilogy when Stark appeared to have won in Hounds of Skaith. In the opening of REAVERS OF SKAITH, we learn the space captain taking Stark and his father-figure Simon home to civilization sold them back to their enemies on Skaith, then began looting the planet. Now Stark has to escape, cross the world again and find a means to communicate with the Galactic Union or he and Simon will be stuck on the dying planet.

While Skaith has been introduced as a dying planet from the first, now the death-throes of the world are in full swing, as a final ice age begins inching across the planet. All the cults and races must either prepare for the end or try to join Stark in emigrating. The exception are the Lords Protector who are confident that after most of the population dies, they can rebuild their society without any major changes. The brooding mood made this less effective than Hounds but even second-string Brackett is pretty cool.

After launching Captain America at Marvel, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon moved to DC for a successful run (their Boy Commandos was only a little short of Superman and Batman in sales). THE NEWSBOY LEGION, Volume One collects one of their creations, the story of four homeless, orphaned newsboys (Scrapper, Tommy, Big Words and Gabby) struggling to survive in the grinding poverty of the Suicide Slum neighborhood. Jim Harper, the new cop in the slum, is finding it just as hard to accomplish anything until he adopts the masked identity of the Guardian. As the kids have an uncanny knack for stumbling onto crimes and Nazi plots, it’s just as well Harper has their back in both his identities, though it sure frustrates the kids that they can never quite prove Harper’s the man under the mask.

The stories have a goofy charm and Kirby’s usual visual energy, as you can see from the cover here. Like a lot of Golden Age stuff, YMMV but I definitely enjoyed them.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

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