Devil dogs, Welshmen and more: books read

Despite the cover copy, THE HAVEN by Graham Diamond is actually a post-apocalyptic (though we don’t learn that until late in the book) fantasy adventure. The Haven is the city that rules over a human empire surrounded by a vast, seemingly endless forest (one character waxes rhapsodic about how vast the Haven’s domain is — OMG, twenty miles across!) populated with talking beasts: birds (human allies), feral dogs (enemies), wolves (neutral) and venomous bats (enemies). Now a supreme dog overlord has arisen, plotting to sweep all humanity away: can the Haven survive? Can Lord Nigel succeed in his quest to find land outside the forest (something the Havenites aren’t sure exists)?

This blew me away when I first read it in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Not so much now — not that it’s bad, I’ve just read so much more and it’s harder to impress me. I did enjoy rereading it though, but I do think the post-apocalyptic aspect should have been seeded better (it turns out there’s at least some awareness among the learned in Haven, but this never comes up until near the end).

THE REVOLT OF OWAIN GLYN DWR by R.R. Davies does a good job on one of those historical figures I know Of but not About — though Davies notes there’s really very little anyone now knows about Glyn Dwr (best known to most people as Shakespeare’s braggart rebel Owen Glendower) besides his revolt (in contrast to many historians who face that problem, Davies admirably restrains himself from padding his book by speculating). What we can reasonably guess is that conflicts with an English neighboring landowner mixed with longstanding Welsh resentment at English dominance led Glyn Dwr set himself in revolt against Henry IV, a war that benefited from Wales lack of a strong administrative English state, pressure on England from France, Scotland and Ireland, as well as internal English unrest (resolving these various problems led to the revolt’s collapse, though contrary to Shakespeare Glyn Dwr was a much more formidable foe than Hotspur). Reminiscent of History in Three Keys, Davies shows that Glyn Dwr’s memory endured because he could be adapted to multiple agenda: the English stereotype of the hotblooded Welshman, the mystic who calls spirits from the vasty deep (Glyn Dwr never claimed magical powers, but did invoke Merlin’s prophecies as justifying his revolt) and later the heroic father of Welsh nationalism. Good job, though very dense (Davies covers Welsh life and culture at the time in great detail).

WELCOME TO MARS: Politics, Pop Culture and Weird Science in 1950s America by Ken Hollings was my second unsatisfying reference-read for my McFarland Alien Invader book (though it’s head and shoulders above Them or Us). Going year by year through the decade, Hollings argues that the 1950s were as open to weird and unconventional ideas as the two decades that follows: UFOs appeared and obsessed America, the CIA dabbled with LSD, the Bridey Murphy story made people think about reincarnation and technology took the first step into space. Unfortunately the execution is a mess, Hollings never being as clever as he thinks he is (like an early argument we can think of the United States as the lost continent of Lemuria — as Lemuria isn’t imaginary, can’t it be anywhere?). The movie reviews aren’t very good either; Hollings’ review of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers focuses more on snarking about suburbia (sure the pod people are placid and complacent, but that’s because they’ve moved into such a nice suburb!) than anything substantial.

GREEN LANTERN: Intergalactic Lawman by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp has Hal trying to stop God from kidnapping the Earth, battling the sinister Blackstars and going undercover on a mission for the Guardians, but it doesn’t really click with me. Part of that is that like a lot of 21st century comics writers, Morrison’s fond of cosmic technobabble (“The Ubomb will condense and bind all matter in the universe to a quark core, instantaneously.”) which feels more Babble to me than Cosmic; part of it’s just that the story felt really choppy, nor does Hal’s character come across strongly.

#SFWApro. Cover by Wayne McLoughlin, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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