Rogues, long-distance lovers and UFOs: books read

After publishing Eyes of the Overworld in 1966, Jack Vance authorized a sequel, The Search for Simbilis, by Michael Shea. Then in 1983 he released a sequel of his own, CUGEL’S SAGA, picking up directly from the end of Overworld, at the point where Cugel’s revenge on the Laughing Magician has instead dumped the rogue on the far side of the world. Determined to make it home, Cugel sets out across the dying Earth, scamming everyone he meets except when they scam him first — though at least this time, his defeats are due to dumb luck rather than his own stupidity.

I enjoyed this but not as much as the first two Dying Earth books. At 300 pages, the picaresque formula wears thinner, and sexism is still a problem. Women are either unpleasant battle axes to be thwarted or sexpots to be seduced or betrayed; the seventeen virgins Cugel seduces (or rapes?) in one story never even appear on stage. So despite its appeal, severely flawed.

The graphic novel LONG DISTANCE by Thom Zaler starts with protagonist Carter telling a family at the airport that he used to be in a long-distance relationship, then flashes back to show how he and Lee (the other protagonist) met cute in another airport and began a long-distance relationship. Despite being perfect for each other, they’re both attached to their jobs, and that leaves them stuck in Columbus and Chicago, respectively; can they make it work?

This is cute and funny (as I’d expect from the creator of Love and Capes) though despite having met TYG long-distance it didn’t strike a chord as much as I’d expected. Probably because Lee and Carter are uncertain about where the relationship is going where TYG and I agreed up front we’d get married if things worked out. But that’s not a flaw in the book.

I read HOW UFOS CONQUERED THE WORLD: The History of a Modern Myth by David Clarke as background for Alien Visitors but it works well in its own right. A former UFO believer, Clarke details how a chance sighting by one pilot in 1947 kicked off America’s flying saucer obsession (though the pilot never said the ships he saw were saucer shaped), though the book also covers some of the earlier Things In The Sky incidents (a mystery airship at the end of the 19th century, the “foo fighters” of WW II). He then dissects the evidence that even trained observers aren’t reliable eyewitnesses, goes inside Britain’s government UFO tracking group (regrettably as Clarke’s English there’s less on U.S. research) to dismiss the stories of men in black and discusses how much pop culture influences UFO beliefs as well as vice versa. For instance one theory, that the U.S. is flying planes incorporating alien tech, originated on X-Files, the passed into UFOlogy. The best of my research reading to date.

As I’ve read and liked several of Raymond F. Jones’ short stories I picked up RAYMOND F. JONES RESURRECTED: Selected Science Fiction Stories of Raymond F. Jones to read a few more. The focus of Jones’ SF stories is often science itself. In “Noise Level” a group of physicists learn someone has invented antigravity and try to duplicate it; “Tools of the Trade” has Earth engineers struggling to repair an alien technology; “The Unlearned” debates whether Earth should give up independent research in return for learning the secrets of the universe for a more advanced race. Jones is clearly a fan of thinking outside the box as all three stories hinge on breaking away from conventional paradigms. It appears he’s also one of those writers who aren’t big on villains, preferring antagonists who are simply misguided. I was convinced the aliens in “The Unlearned” must be up to some scheme for instance but no, it turns out they’re simply wrong. I enjoyed this enough to dig out the one collection of Jones’ stuff I already have.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Gaughan, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Comics, Reading

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