Category Archives: Reading

Femmes fatale: books read

THE MANY LIVES OF CATWOMAN: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale by Tim Hanley makes the interesting point that Catwoman has become a successful, long-running DC character despite never having had a single, iconic look the way the Joker or Penguin (or for that matter Batman have), as witness the renditions by J. Winslow Mortimer, Carmine Infantino and Darwyn Cooke below

She’s also never had a single, consistent characterization: she’s been antihero, hero, gang boss, jewel thief, supervillain, love interest and man-hating dominatrix. It wasn’t until the Bronze Age that she became a serious love interest for Batman rather than a sexy bad girl. Nevertheless she’s immensely popular both as a character and as Batman’s lover (even during a period DC retconned out all romance between them, the Bat and the Cat wound up together in several Elseworlds.

While I knew a lot of her history, Hanley covers a lot of stuff I wasn’t aware of, including tracking the long stretches she vanished from comics for one reason or another. He points out, for instance, that while the pre-Crisis Huntress was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, she sees herself entirely as Batman’s heir — her mother apparently had no influence on her at all, other than getting killed to inspire Helena to turn hero. Despite a couple of minor errors, very good.

FEMME FATALE: Love, Lies and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari by Pat Shipman looks at how teenage Dutch girl Margaretha Zelle went to colonial Indonesia with her much older husband, then returned to Europe, divorced him (two promiscuous people with zero money-management skills proved a bad recipe for marriage) and reinvented herself as the exotic dancer Mata Hari (claiming her dances were sacred mystic temple rites let her elevate near-nudity to serious art). Unfortunately, when WW I began, Zelle became a target: traveling across Europe and having many lovers in multiple countries made it easy for French security officials to frame her as a spy; Shipman suggests a mixture of contempt for her casual affairs and the need to justify their jobs by a big score gave them an incentive to ignore her innocence and claim her evil schemes had sent 50,000 Frenchmen to their deaths! As Mata Hari is one of those figures I know of but not about, this was most interesting

Despite putting Cleopatra first in the title, CLEOPATRA AND ANTONY: Power, Love and Politics in the Ancient World by Diana Preston doesn’t focus on Egypt’s queen as much or as well as Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s Cleopatra. That said, Preston does an excellent job of putting her in context, covering the Ptolemaic dynasty’s history in Egypt, the Roman imperial ambitions and power struggles that brought first Caesar, then Antony to her door (in this era Egypt was both an agricultural and cultural superstar) and the internecine Roman power struggles that led to Octavian becoming the first Roman emperor. Dry, but satisfying.

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First superheroes, then the Middle East then Mr. Sammler’s Planet: reading

While I have most of Hawkman’s Silver Age run in either originals or reprints, a used copy of SHOWCASE PRESENTS HAWKMAN Vol. 1 by Gardner Fox, Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert did give me a chance to get the two issues I’ve never read. And Joe Kubert’s art on the early stories actually looks a little more impressive in black and white. As the series progresses, though, the stories lose some of their early pulp feel and become (as Murphy Anderson complained in The Hawkman Companion) not that different from the kind of crimes Batman tackled in the Silver Age (with plenty of exceptions, such as the wild alien world of Hawkman #6). Still I’m glad to finally have everything.

FAITH: The Faithless by Jody Houser and multiple artists was the last of Faith’s original series (previous volumes covered here and here), wherein her small rogue’s gallery gathers together with the intent to exact revenge. Can Faith stop them when they’ve convinced LA she’s gone rogue? This is fun, as usual, but the ending felt a little like Houser just had to wrap it up before the book folded. Some great moments, even so.

THE ATTACK by Loic Dauvillier, Glen Charpon and Yasmina Khadra has a Palestinian Arab working as an Israeli surgeon, convinced he and his beloved wife fit in perfectly — until she commits a suicide bombing. Obsessed with understanding how he didn’t understand her, the doctor questions his friends and family, the police, the terrorists in hopes of getting an answer. This does a good job capturing the tangled Arab/Jew politics inside Israel but I wish we’d gotten the protagonist’s view of things (the radicals think he’s an Uncle Tom, but how does he see things?). And the ending was frustratingly trite.

Nothing trite about the memoir PERSEPOLIS: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, chronicling her growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran and then the Iran-Iraq War, before being sent out of the country to relatives in France. What makes it stand out is the kind of quirky details American portrayals of the Middle East would rarely think of, such as Satrapi fantasizing herself as Iran’s Che Guevera or hoping she’ll become the Twelfth Imam (a Muslim analog to the Second Coming) so she can heal her grandmother’s aging knees). Not as cute as that makes it sound (Satrapi doesn’t sugar coat the blood and oppression of that era), but very good.

I’d always assumed my parents’ copy of MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET was an SF novel by that Saul Bellow literary guy (hey, Kurt Vonnegut wrote SF!) so when I saw it in the library recently, I checked it out on impulse. And put it down after 30 pages of Sammler reflecting on his life, all the people in it and how violent New York is getting in one long internal monologue (the planet, in short, is Earth, or Earth as Sammler interprets it). Precisely the kind of literary fiction I don’t read — though that’s very much a matter of personal taste.

#SFWApro. Cover by Murphy Anderson, all rights to image remain with current holder.

 

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Is our writers learning? The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

THE FUTURE OF ANOTHER TIMELINE by Annalee Newitz is very much a curate’s egg for me: parts of it are awesome, but I skimmed about half of it. Though that’s more from personal taste than finding flaws (caution: spoilers follow).

The setting is the present, but in a world where ginormous ancient time machines have been found around the world. For centuries people have been popping back and forth through time which has led to some changes: women got the vote in the 1800s, Harriet Tubman became a senator but thanks to the odious anti-sex activist Anthony Comstock, abortion has never been legal in the United States.

The protagonists, Tess, is one of the self-proclaimed Daughters of Harriet working to edit the timeline for women’s good. Early on they discover a group of men’s rights activists and Comstock admirers pushing in the other direction: they want to establish male supremacy (I don’t know if “Full reproductive access!” is actually an online misogynist phrase but it fits perfectly), then smash the machines so that their edits can’t be undone.

As you can tell, this book is decidedly political, which is its great strength. It’s what I thought Weighing Shadows would be and wasn’t. And I find the alternate timeline tends to be more complex than Naomi Alderman’s The Power. It’s an improvement in lots of ways, but not utopian, even for women (no abortion), nor are all the women on the side of good. And as they note at the end it’s always possible someone could edit their gains away (their win over the Comstockers is more muted than I’d have liked, though given our current politics I can understand the feeling). I do think a world where people are constantly making edits would be a lot weirder and more confused (much like R.A. Lafferty’s short story Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne), but that would probably get in the way of the story.

And I really like the academic dickering over just how much change is possible: is the great man theory of history just a myth (you kill Genghis Khan or Comstock and nothing changes)? Is gradual social change the only option? One character notes that these academic theories seem to go in and out of fashion in cycles. Newitz herself seems to be advocating for both individual action and collective movements; happily the politics never feels like it’s turning the book into a Western Union.

So what didn’t I like? Well, the sections set back in the 19th century dragged for me; I’m not much of a fan of historical fiction and this got much more into that vein than “time traveler in the past” (possibly I’m parsing too finely but that’s how my taste runs). And then there was … Beth.

Beth is the other half of the book, a rebellious 1990s teen with a psycho best friend, Lizzy, who kills people (which felt like a bad knockoff of the film River’s Edge). Tess shows up and tries to walk Beth away from the madness but Beth doesn’t want to give up her friends. It looks like Tess is Future Beth but it turns out she’s Future Lizzy: Beth killed herself after getting an abortion which radically changed Lizzy’s perspective on everything. Tess came back to steer her away from suicide and succeeds, but as a consequence finds her mind snapping under the weight of new, radically different memories (something handled better here than in most time-travel films).

This bored me silly. I was in my thirties in the 1990s; I have no nostalgia for the era’s teen life and teen life is something I get less interested in as I get older. So it may just be a mismatch with my personal taste — I don’t think a 1990s teen setting is any worse an idea than me putting Southern Discomfort in the 1970s for instance. Though that said, I pegged that Beth’s father molested her at least 100 pages before the big reveal (any time someone refers to that Terrible Unstated Thing Daddy Did, it’s a safe bet).

Despite my lack of interest in Beth, the good stuff made this a satisfying read.

#SFWApro. Cover design Will Staehle, all rights to image remain with current holders.

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Once again, science links and science-fiction comics covers

Wow, that’s alarming. Scammers are using computer voice-fakes to impersonate people and swindle businesses by phone.

How the anti-vaccine movement got so big.

Baby Tyrannosaurus rexes were covered with down, like chickens.

Scientist David Shiffman writes about dealing with anti-Semitism in science.

A blogger suggests creationists attend science conferences, if only to know what the science is.

Turtle tracks vs. creationists.

Pseudoscience about racial differences still shapes medicine today.

An extinct bird has re-evolved. It’s not as miraculous as it sounds: there’s an island where a flightless rail has been wiped out repeatedly, but rails continue to land there, repopulate and lose their wings once again. Still pretty cool, though.

My fellow Atomic Junkshop blogger Jim MacQuarrie on how our visions of SF future have changed for the worse.

Evidence for the twin primes hypothesis.

Scientific evidence our dogs love us.

Women in science vs. stereotypes.

Earth’s magnetic poles swap positions more frequently than we thought.

The impact of climate change on French wine.#SFWApro. Covers, top to bottom, by Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, Kane, Kane, Anderson, Anderson, Kane, Kane, Anderson. All rights remain with current holders.

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Two legends of the 1960s, and more: books read

JFK AND THE MASCULINE MYSTIQUE: Sex and Power on the New Frontier by Steven Watts, hooked me with its introductory chapter discussing the 1950s’ fears that corporate conformism was emasculating men (Watts sees this as a twisted image of the housewife’s frustrated life in The Feminine Mystique) while wives dominated husbands and working women were taking over business! JFK seemed the perfect antidote: a handsome war hero, charismatic politician, the embodiment of masculine vigor and a world-class ladies man — who cares what his policies were? And JFK’s own desire for manliness shaped his view of Vietnam, the CIA (and his fondness for James Bond) and the Cold War.

Unfortunately the book from there turns into multiple profiles of the era’s various macho men and womanizers such as Hugh Hefner, Frank Sinatra, Norman Mailer and Ian Fleming himself, included based on whether Watts can claim some sort of tie-in with JFK (Sinatra and the Rat Pack yes, but Kirk Douglas and Tony curtis are a stretch). While he shows how each man represented an alternative to suburban/corporate drone life, the broader question of masculinity in crisis takes second place to the biographies — and it doesn’t help that Watts’ idea of masculinity in revolt seems to be sleeping around a lot. This also needs more context: America had been fretting about masculinity before the 1950s just as it frets about it now (Women Taking Over and the End of Men are still rallying cries for sexists). Nor do I buy his conclusion that this style of predatory womanizing was so much worse than old-school patriarchy, it helped prompt the woman’s movement. Despite some good sections, this was overall a thumbs-down for me.

THE SILVER AGE FLASH OMNIBUS: Vol. 2 by (mostly) John Broome and Carmine Infantino collects the run of Flash (pun intentional) from #133 to #163. The Scarlet Speedster battles his Rogue’s Gallery, tackles alien invaders, copes with Iris’ constant carping (what would have been stock relationship stuff in fiction then looks a lot more shrewish now), teams up with Kid Flash, Jay Garric and the Elongated Man and loses his powers a couple of times. While I have most of this era in comics, it’s good to fill in the few gaps, and Infantino’s art is absolutely breathtaking in this format. Like most Silver Age comics, not for everyone, but definitely for me.

While it’s targeted at a much younger age range than me, I really enjoy DC SUPER-HERO GIRLS, the online cartoon that imagines DC’s heroes (and a few antiheroes) as teenagers attending high school under principal Amanda Waller and Vice-Principal Gorilla Grodd. In Finals Crisis by Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat, someone’s kidnapping the school’s top female students, but why? And can they pool their abilities to break free? This was light-hearted fun, and I do enjoy some of the results of mixing characters together, like having Katana and Beast Boy as sparring partners (he’s fast, agile and unpredictable so Katana finds him a great adversary).

THE LIBRARY OF THE LOST AND FOUND by Phaedra Patrick has a self-sacrificing librarian discovers a book holding a collection of her childhood writings, and autographed by her supposedly dead grandmother; investigating, the librarian gets to reboot her life and unearth a boatload of family secrets. I have real trouble with the protagonist: she’s endlessly put upon (I can understand caring for her sick parents, but washing and ironing her coworkers’ clothes?) and miserable throughout (if sacrifice sparked joy, that would be different — this is like my problems with Heroine Complex only worse) and at the end she’s way too forgiving of her family (even her emotionally abusive father was doing the best he could!) for my taste.

THE CRYSTAL GRYPHON is Andre Norton’s prequel to Year of the Unicorn, set in the Dales during the early years of the war against Alizon (the story seems to show Alizon was so successful because they used Kolder technology). Kerovan is a nobleman cursed from birth with cloven hooves and golden eyes (a minor plot weakness is that we’re alternately told his face is unearthly and that with his hooves covered he looks quite normal), betrothed in childhood in a political match to Joisan. Their meeting and wedding get postponed by the war, but inevitably their respective struggles draw them into each other’s orbit. That, in turn, pits them against a scheme by Kerovan’s mother (in a nice touch we learn she shunned him not because she thinks he’s a monster but because he’s not the demon-possessed child she wanted to create) to raise Dark Powers and take control of the Dales herself. While Kerovan/Joisan has a lot in common with Gillan/Herrel in Unicorn, Joisan’s a distinctive character, strong-willed and good-hearted but with no qualms about political marriage being one of her duties. Unfortunately, the ending gets very deus ex as the magic the good guys have tapped pretty much does the work for them.

THE EVOLUTION OF USEFUL THINGS: How Everyday Artifacts — From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers — Came To Be As They Are by Henry Petroski argues that in designing every day items it’s not “form follows function but “form follows failure” — thus utensil design in each generation is a response to what the older forks and knives can’t do (plus the sheer range of potential designs means there’s no one form for each function). Petroski applies this analysis to forks, paperclips, hammers (how many specialty hammers do we need?) and zippers, noting as he did in Small Things Considered that no design is ever perfected as we don’t know what might be done with them in the future. Good, and many of these details would be useful for fiction (broad-bladed knives in some eras were tools for putting food in our mouths; before the 19th century invention of the paperclip, packets of paper were often pinned together).

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

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Style and Substance: the Stuff That Screams Are Made Of

Rereading Robert Bloch’s collection The Stuff That Screams Are Made Of gave me fresh appreciation for Bloch’s ability to write with style.

It’s his narrative voice that particularly stands out: it changes from story to story, and quiet effectively. In The Big Kick, for example, we have the voice of the sleazy Beatnik rapist Mitch (“Sure he’s got the hots for you but he’s too sick to make move one. Too sick for the big kick.”) vs. the more intellectual (but just as nasty) Kenny (“An immature in-group’s set of catch phrases used to dramatize irresponsibility.”). Then there’s the poor whites of A Case in the Stubborns (“That porch was like a bake-oven in the devil’s own kitchen.”) and the deadpan government-report voice of Talent (“We have little information on Andrew Benson’s growth and development between the summer of 1950 and the autumn of 1955.”) and the Damon Runyonesque tone of Luck Is No Lady (“What made her think he’d go back to being a working stiff now that he had all that dough in his kick?”).

The Pin doesn’t have as much of a distinctive voice but in showing Death at work, Bloch does convey the scope of what’s going on: “How many others had died today, in how many cities, towns, hamlets, crossroads, culverts, prisons, hospitals, huts, kraals, trenches, tents igloos?”

It’s all the more impressive given Bloch started writing with painfully bad imitations of HP Lovecraft’s style (admittedly something lots of us, myself included, have tried to imitate). He worked hard, was extremely prolific, and improved steadily.

For me, style doesn’t count for much if the underlying story isn’t good. While I like Bloch a lot, this collection is a mixed bag. I loved The Pin and the Lovecraftian The Unspeakable Betrothal (not his choice of title), enjoyed most, but The Big Kick and Life In Our Time fall into the same Kids Get Off My Lawn mode as the stories in Fear Today — Gone Tomorrow. The stories sometimes feel misogynistic, as the woman are mostly there to die. Of course, so are the men, but at least they get to be the protagonist before the axe falls (Unspeakable Betrothal and The Weird Tailor are exceptions). The Big Kick is the worst, casually tossing off that Mitch raped his girlfriend Judy as if it were no big thing (back in 1959 that was a common sentiment, but that doesn’t make me like it better.

Heavens, having started rereading my handful of Bloch books back in 2011, but then getting distracted, I think I’m almost done.

#SFWApro. Cover by Howard Koslow, all rights remain with current holder.

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From Riverdale to Skaith to a blacked-out New York: books read

ARCHIE MEETS BATMAN ’66 by Jeff Parker, Michael Moreci and Dan Parent has the United Underworld (Riddler, Joker, Penguin, Catwoman) decide rather than keep losing to Batman, they’ll take over some small, middle-American town and use that as the basis for their crime empire. Suddenly, Archie and his gang notice everyone from Pops at the malt shop to Mr. Lodge acting peculiar, and there are these two new students, Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, who seem to have a secret … This was fun, and it even manages to work in a Jorge Luis Borges joke in one scene.

ED THE HAPPY CLOWN by Chester Brown is a cheerfully insane story about Ed, who’s actually rather miserable as he deals with vampires, pygmies, sinister government agencies and having Ronald Reagan’s head on the tip of his penis. This takes a while to get going (partly because the first two chapters weren’t conceived as parts of an overall work) but when it does it’s gloriously whacko. Not to everyone’s taste, though, I’m sure.

Like Northwest Smith, CL Moore’s stories of JIREL OF JOIRY follow a consistent formula, starting with the first story, Black God’s Kiss: Jirel enters or is dragged into some unearthly alien hellscape struggles to stay alive and returns. However as there are only five stories (not counting her crossover with Smith), the worlds she enters are so weird and Jirel herself is such a striking character (even though she usually doesn’t get to do much beside provide us with an eyewitness to the weird) that they work much better. However the romantic element of Black God’s Kiss (he slaps her, he dominates her, how can she not love him?) hasn’t aged well.

THE HOUNDS OF SKAITH was Leigh Brackett’s sequel to Ginger Star in which Stark, having rescued his friend Simon from the Lords Protector of Skaith, must journey back to the planet’s spaceport before the ruling Wandsmen shut it down. Even with the psionic Northhounds as his allies, can he do it? This is a good page turner, though I’m curious what Brackett will do for the final volume as the fight seems to be won here.

THE GHOST AND THE FEMME FATALE: A Haunted Bookshop Mystery by Alice Kimberlyis the fourth in a series wherein Penelope, a bookstore owner, teams up with the ghost of a hardboiled PI who haunts her shop. When Penelope attends a film noir festival, it looks like a legendary B-movie Bad Girl has been targeted for murder, but as people around her drop like flies, Pen and her partner wonder if she’s the real target. Even if I were a cozy fan, I don’t know I’d like this (though I might dislike it less): The ghost’s hardboiled dialog gets tiresome and some of the characters snipe at each other like they were in a bad sitcom.

BLACKOUT by James Goodman looks at the 1977 New York power blackout which led to a night variously composed of looting, casual sex, helpfulness (two blind students at Columbia University led their class out of the blacked-out building; lots of people volunteered to direct traffic at intersections), looting, fear (“I can’t identify Son of Sam in the dark!”), jubilation, overwhelmed police, and looting. The morning-after follow-up led to intense debate on both Con Edison’s failure to keep the juice flowing and why this blackout saw looting when 1965 didn’t (Goodman points out that any analysis now should look at the similar lack of looting in the later outage of 2003). Goodman’s slice of life approach (random vignettes rather than following a few individuals) works for me, though not everyone, and his choice to identify most people  by labels — “the social critic,” “the columnist,” “the city councilor” — gets annoying.  Overall a good book though.

#SFWApro. Covers by Chester Brown (top) and Margaret Brundage. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Gods and demigods in comics, plus a book on religion

RAGNAROK: Last God Standing by Walt Simonson is set in the aftermath of Ragnarok, which contrary to legend destroyed the gods of Asgard and their allies but did not wipe out the forces of evil. When an elven assassin attempts to eliminate one dead god once and for all, she only wakes him up; picking up his hammer, Thor sets out to see what’s happened to Asgard and take revenge on those responsible. Not as fun as Simonson’s classic run on Marvel’s Thor, but a good, novel take on the Norse myths.

I’d heard a lot of good things about ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG (by Fred van Lente and Clayton Henry) and the first TPB, The Michelangelo Code, lives up to the press clippings. Obadiah Archer is a devoutly dedicated assassin trained by his parents’ right-wing Christian cult to serve God by destroying an ancient, immortal hero for his crimes and recovering the mysterious McGuffin he hid. Armstrong is the boozing, party animal who knows Armstrong’s parents are up to no good and that it’s better if nobody recovers the artifact. Can two unlikely good guys find common ground? Yes, that kind of straight man/wild man team up is familiar, but it’s really fun here, as are the constant jokes about Armstrong’s immortal experiences. I look forward to getting V2.

HEIRS TO FORGOTTEN KINGDOMS: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East by British diplomat Gerard Russell looks at the lifestyle, traditions and religious beliefs of Copts, Zoroastrians, Alewites, Mandaeans, Yazdis, Druze, Samaritans and other fringe faiths that after years of survival are struggling not only with Islamic extremism (a lot of the issues the minorities are dealing with reminded me of Invisible Countries’ discussion of how ethnostates are made) but the loss of countless members of the faith to immigration (writing in 2014, Russell’s tentative optimism about the progress some of them were making in the U.S. looks depressingly dated now). On top of which some of them eschew written texts or keep the Great Truth hidden from all but initiates, making it even harder to preserve the faith. The book mixes historical detail with Russell’s personal encounters with believers and doesn’t always get the balance right (at times it’s pure travelog) but overall interesting.

#SFWApro. Cover by Mico Suayan, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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A quick post of cover art

No work this week because I’ve been on vacation (details to follow in a later post). So only one post today, and it’s going to be cover art.

Now there’s a grabber of a cover!

Here’s another attention-getting thriller cover.Next, a joint image of Bob Pepper’s covers for the Gormenghast trilogy (combined image courtesy of The Literary Chick)Funny how many SF covers of the 1950s and 1960s had women in what look like chorus-girl outfits.

And of course, a Powers cover.To wrap up, here’s a Bob Brown cover from the comics. Like Mongo said, we’re just pawns in the game of life.#SFWApro. Cover art is uncredited if I didn’t give the name. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Not your typical Doc Savage: The Terrible Stork, King Joe Cay and The Wee Ones

While I’m used to Lester Dent writing Doc as an average guy in his 1940s adventures, and even making him fallible, THE TERRIBLE STORK just takes it too far.

It starts well: Doc, Monk and Ham slip into an auction room to get some relief from the heat and witness an insane bidding war over a cheap metal figure of a stork. One of the losers then resorts to gun play. Doc winds up in possession of the stork which seems to be completely ordinary, except for the legion of people trying to get hold of it. It turns out there’s a guy who’s been hiding gold and jewels belonging to members of the German government, so their wealth will be safe if Germany loses. Now the guy is dead, but the stork holds the key to the location of the goodies.

It’s a decent set-up but the good guys have been hit with the idiot stick. Doc opens a container of tear gas to confirm its contents, then suddenly realizes it might have been poison gas! Oops. Later he spots a sign someone has hidden a clue, but just ignores it. When assigns Ham to research one of the players and Ham seems to find the assignment baffling. Monk sounds like a dumb mook when he talks.

KING JOE CAY follows The Freckled Shark and The Lost Giant in having Doc undercover as a rogue and troublemaker for much of the book. Unlike them, Doc’s playing a lone hand, with his five friends all absent (a first for the series).

We open with tough guy “Clark” on a train with some crooks, trying to finagle a McGuffin from an attractive woman named Trudy. Doc succeeds in stealing her purse but can’t find the goods, so he, then strikes up a flirtation with Trudy. She, however, is not fooled (though she doesn’t know who he really is) and gets him busted by the cops when they get off in Florida. He chases her while crooks Tom Ittle and Brigham Pope chase them both. Doc at first thinks of Pope as nothing but a cheesy actor up to some dirty work, then notices how he terrifies everyone involved. He realizes it’s not that Pope’s an actor by profession, it’s that he’s acting, playing a man much less dangerous than he really is.

Doc got involved in all this at the request of Charlotte D’Alaza, a grasping millionairess he met years ago (Chronology of Bronze speculates she could have been involved with Clark Savage Sr.). However she refuses to tell him the McGuffin everyone’s after. For good reason. It turns out the secret is several documents concerning the disposal of Jewish property taken by the Nazis; Fleish, the man who took control of the assets, sold it off to Charlotte for pennies on the dollar. If her involvement in that sort of scheme is exposed, Congress will destroy her plan to build an airline monopoly.

This is another Ordinary Doc Savage story, but more entertaining, and Charlotte’s a great supporting character.d

THE WEE ONES does a good job concealing its true nature: it’s a straight mystery plot but looks like a pulp SF story. The hook is a mysterious dwarf, two feet high, running across the small town of Hammond City, terrifying the populace with savage attacks. For Doc Savage, that’s Tuesday: he’s faced similar creatures before in The Goblins and The Gold Ogre, though in this case he’s skeptical, quipping that “nothing is impossible, but many things are ridiculous.” Hammond’s residents are a lot more worried as accounts of the dwarf — identical to Lys, the missing lab assistant of John Fain, who runs an electrical company — attacking people with a knife spread through town. Men working at Fain’s company decide to stay home to protect their wives, which could interfere with the company’s war work; is this an Axis plot? Curiously the previous two books read as if the war is over (they were written at the end of 1944, but came out in the summer of 1945) but this one (from January of ’45) shows it’s ongoing.

Nope. It turns out Mrs. Fain married her hubby without divorcing her first husband (they don’t specify, but it appears to be part of a scam to get Fain’s money and assets). The truth is about to come out so they’ve been doping Fain, who already had a nervous breakdown a while back, to make him unstable. He thinks the dwarf was born from some lab experiment of his, so news that fear is shutting down the town will push him over the edge, freeing his wife to take over his affairs. To fake the dwarf attacks, they simply spread stories around town to stir things up.

If not A-list Doc Savage, it’s still a solid read. Contrary to the cover, the dog plays almost no role in the story. Trivia point: this reveals that despite his competence at everything else, Doc is a terrible cook.

#SFWApro. Covers by Modest Stein, all rights to covers remain with current holder.

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