Category Archives: Reading

This week’s reading material involves all sorts of women

AT THE DARK END OF THE STREET: Black Women, Rape and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire argues that a driving force for black women in the civil rights movement (sometimes working within it, sometimes alongside it) was to push back against the long history or white-on-black rape and harassment, with most victims staying silent and the few who stood up getting justice. McGuire makes a good (and unsurprising) case that women’s roles in the movement have been neglected in favor of heroic men, and that the movement itself was often divided about the more prominent cases, fearing the consequences if the victim wasn’t spotless in her respectability. Thus the book closes with the 1970s Joan Little case (a petty crook who killed a guard trying to rape her) to show that despite being not at all respectable, Little was able to win her self-defense case and generate extensive public support.

This is good, but coming out in 2010, the ending is depressingly optimistic: the author and one black rape victim watch Michelle Obama at her husband’s inauguration, feeling the worst is finally behind them. I also wish McGuire had put white-on-black rape in the context of general rape culture; it’s not as if the tactics used to discredit black victims aren’t standard defenses in white-on-white cases.

After two good TPBs of JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS I was disappointed in the follow-up, Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell. Here it turns out the supercomputer Synergy has developed a dark side, Silica, that plans to use the Holograms to spread its mind-controlling music and turn everyone into Goths (judging by the visuals). Not well executed (Silica’s defeat at the end is anticlimactic) and not the sort of story I buy this series for.

CATWOMAN: Copycats by Joelle Jones is well drawn (I’ll have to try her indie book Lady Killer sometime) but unsatisfying in the story. After her wedding to Bruce falls apart (I’ve no idea of the details), Selina relocates to a corrupt, Gotham-light city where her comatose sister is being cared for. The local power family warns her against interfering in their affairs; she tells them not to interfere with hers, and suddenly it’s a fairly pointless war between them. And one that ends listlessly, with formidable adversaries suddenly going over like dominoes. I like Catwoman enough I’ll try V2 at some point though.

THE BANKS by Roxane Gay and Ming Doyle has an investment counselor recruit her mother and grandmom — both professional thieves — to help take down a rich client who’s also involved with the crimelord who murdered the protagonist’s father. This is a good heist/family drama but the abrupt shift of direction at the end didn’t work for me.

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

 

 

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The week that dropped out of time

As far as writing goes, this was a waste of a week.

For starters, I’d forgotten I had my six month medical checkup Monday morning, so there went all that writing time. On the plus side, everything checks out good, so that’s a win.

As TYG wrapped up her last week at her old job (as I mentioned this mornning), the amount of work she put into prepping her team ramped up. So more doggy care and running errands (if they had to be run) devolved to me. Which is fair — she did as much for me when I was wrapping up The Aliens Are Here — but still exhausting. Even when I had time to write, I felt too drained to get much done.

And I had to rewrite one of the Accounting Seed articles I’d done earlier this month. Perfectly reasonable, but that much more time.

I did get a good deal further in rewriting Southern Discomfort, though nowhere near as far as I’d expected. I also rewrote Adventure of the Red Leech and read it to the writer’s group on Tuesday. They really liked it, but did have a couple of suggestions how to improve things. For example, give more of Watson’s perspective on Holmes, which is, of course, a major part of the original stories. They also spotted one point where the logic didn’t hold up, but it’s fixable.

I’d thought I might make up a little time today but we had a thunderstorm this morning so Plushie was freaking. While he hid under the coffee table some of the time (as in this photo from a couple of weeks back), he also decided to climb up with me and demand cuddles for security. Cuddling a 20 pound dog is not compatible with work but obviously I wasn’t going to refuse.

This is how things go pearshaped, of course. A day here, a day there and suddenly everything’s behind. But TYG has started a new and better job and that’s a great thing.

#SFWApro. Cover by Irwin Hasen, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Personal, Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing

Covers for Tuesday

I’d hoped to do something more substantial today but life is not cooperating. So …

One by Johnny Bruck.This uncredited cover has me curious to read it and learn how unicorns and Nazis mesh together.This uncredit cover really doesn’t scream “mafia” to me though it does fit into the Sex Sells school of paperback art.And finally one by H.W. McCauley. Despite the lurid cover copy, the image intrigues me.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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From Groot to middle-school, it’s a graphic novels post!

GROOT by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger has Groot and Rocket heading to Earth to take in the sights when pirates kidnap the sentient tree (he has the bigger bounty, by far). An outraged Rocket sets out to rescue his friend, leading to encounters with the Silver Surfer, Skrulls and eventually the X-Men. Fluffy fun, but that was the goal and the creative team accomplished it well.

SUPERHERO GIRLS: Hits and Myths by Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat has Diana preparing to take her schoolchums to Themyscira for a slumber party only it turns out the Batplane Batgirl was going to fly them inn has been stolen. Hunting the missing plane involves descending into hell to confront Trigon and Raven (“Saving you will teach Dad a lesson — I’m tired of being homeschooled so that I can’t be expoesd to goodness.”) and Miss Martian having a Battle of the Bands with Black Canary and Silver Banshee. Fun, and I really love this origin for Etrigan, a demon whose encounter with human poetry inspired him to reform.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Strange Magic by Kelly Thompson and David Lopez was a disappointment after the previous two volumes. Terrified that in the fuure, the magus Ove will kill everyone she loves, Captain Marvel sets out to learn magic, eventually turning in desperation to the Enchantress. This was amusing enough, but it’s too heavy on the “hot mess” cliches showing Carol may be a hero but her personal life is in constant freefall.

BITTER ROOT: Rage and Redemption by David Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene was a hard story to follow due to a multiplicity of flashbacks and a large cast involved in several plotlines. What’s significant is the Sangerye family discovering much of what they know as a new breed of demon shows up on Earth instead of the Jinoo they were fighting in V1. That said, I love that this establishes other American minorities — Chinese, Jewish, Irish, Mexican — have their own monster-hunting families (logical enough as the Jinoo are born of white prejudice) and they all have their own monster-slaying traditions and names for things. I’ll be back for V3 eventually.

SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, is a memoir of the author’s middle-school years after she fell and knocked out her two front teeth. Result: braces! Shame! Self-consciousness! Will the guy she likes ever notice her now? This one didn’t work for me.

#SFWApro. Cover by Greene, all rights remain with current holders.

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In a shocking twist, this week’s cover post is on Wednesday!

First an uncredited Sex Sells cover from 1965.Sex sold in 1954 too. Though the dark background makes this feel more like a witches’ sabbath to me than whatever orgy or wild party it’s meant to be.From the days of double novels, here’s one mystery cover I like——and here’s the other novel.#SFWApro.

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Robin Hood and the evil rich

“In times of economic downturns, in times of tyranny and oppression, and in times of political upheaval, the hero Robin Hood makes his timely call.” — from a history of Robin Hood discussing why the legend stays strong, even attaching itself to other people. For instance, the article notes, Jesse James was often portrayed as a Robin Hood figure who’d help out the poor — though I’ve read elsewhere that was a conscious Southern effort to hold him up as the enemy of Northern banking interests after the Civil War.

Part of that, perhaps is that the image of the corrupt rich, trampling are rights, is just as eternal as Robin of Sherwood. As the TV series Leverage put it, “The rich and powerful take what they want — we steal it back for you.” The series showed a team of crooks using their skills as modern-day Robins, providig the poor and pushed-around with “leverage” against the oppressor.

Go back 100 years and George Allen England’s The Air Trust isn’t that different. A grasping millionaire, bummed out that he’s gotten his hands on everything possible, thinks of something he doesn’t own yet — air. He establishes a series of oxygen extraction factories that provide pure, bottled oxygen for people who want it to pep them up. Nobody’s going to realize the amount of oxygen he’s extracting will eventually make air unbreathable — at which point we’ll have to pay any price for his oxygenators if we want to survive. It’s a great concept though heavy socialist exposition undercuts it (there’s even socialist poetry!).

Move to the 1940s and Leading Comics #5 (author unknnown, art by Ed Dobrotka) gives us the heartwarming story of “The Miracles Money Can’t Buy.” That is, I thought it would be heartwarming (“With all my money what I really want is love — a miracle money can’t buy.”) but the miracles in this case are things like the world’s largest diamond and the world’s greatest racehorse. The Skull, world’s wealthiest man, can’t buy them simply because the owners won’t sell. His solution is to bust five criminals off death row and send them out to bring in those wonder items. You could update that one easily, just give the Skull a made-up name — hmm, how does Elon Bezos sound?

Jump forward to the Silver Age and we have another timeless rich dude, Gregory Gideon (whom I wrote about recently at Atomic Junkshop). Gideon is a gazillionaire on the brink of total control of the world’s economy. When his three closest competitors beat back his takeover attempt he proposes a wager: set him any task and when he succeeds, they sell out. The trio come back with something they imagine not even Gideon can achieve — destroy the Fantastic Four! Gideon comes closer than you might expect (details at the link) before learning that yes, the best miracles are those money can’t buy, like the love of his son. Schmaltzy, yes, but Lee and Kirby make it work.

The idea of the rich screwing us over has lasting power because it’s so often true. So it’s not surprising we fantasize someone — the FF, the Seven Soldiers, Robin Hood — who can give us that leverage.

#SFWApro. Covers by Mort Meskin (top) and Jack Kirby.

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Titans, pseudo-romans and Rasputin: books read this week

After reading Mary Shelley’s life in Romantic Outlaws I checked Percy Shelley’s PROMETHEUS UNBOUND out of the library. This was a sequel to the partially lost Greek drama Prometheus Bound though Shelley acknowledges he’s taking the theme, involving Prometheus’  freedom and its effect on the tyrant-god Zeus, in a different direction. Unfortunately the poem deals with less with that theme than Romantic paeans to the beauty of nature; while any one page of that was a joy to read, at 100-plus pages it palled on me.

I picked up the Y/A fantasy AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir because I’m fascinated by the Roman Empire and this was supposedly set in an alt.Rome. I don’t find it very Roman other than the names and some ranks (centurion, augur) but it kept me reading nonetheless. One protagonist is Elias, an imperial warrior about to qualify as a Mask (a kind of ninja) only to be dragged into the struggle for imperial succession; the other is Laia, resident of s subjugated land and reluctant ally of the resistance in the hope they can help her free her brother. Need I say that their paths cross?

I could have done without all the sexual tension between Elias and his BFF Helene, but that’s just personal taste. I have a bigger problem with the amount of rape and rape threats; while I can buy Laia, who’s posing as a slave being on the receiving end of that shit (though as this review points out, it’s presented more as She’s So Beautiful than about power and dominance), there’s no reason to have Helene, a fellow Mask, treated that way (especially given women have apparently been Masks for centuries). No, “realism” doesn’t excuse it — underage male slaves would have been fair game in ancient Rome but we don’t see any male/male assault.

And I really hated the names of the various cultures — the Martial Empire, the Scholastic Empire, the Tribals living in the neighboring deserts. Those aren’t names, they’re classifications. But since I kept reading even when I was pressed for time, Tahir must have done something right.

RASPUTIN: The Road to the Winter Palace by Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo is a boring retelling of the story of the sinister priest (if you want the facts, I highly recommend Radzinsky’s The Rasputin Files). I really could have done without making him a Child of Abuse, which is very much a cliche for villains these days.

Case in point, it’s also the origin of the Absorbing Man in Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s BLACK BOLT: Hard Time. It’s good, and, surprisingly different in tone from Ahmed’s Miles Morales stories. Black Bolt’s evil brother Maximus has trapped him in an interplanetary prison and taken his form. Nobody’s coming to rescue him. His powers are gone. The Jailer is a parasite who feeds on suffering, to the point of killing  and resurrecting prisoners for more power. And Crusher Creel, AKA the Absorbing Man, is happy to show Black Bolt why he’s the toughest con on the cell block. Despite my reservation on Creel’s backstory, Ahmed’s writing is good; however the art is a murky mess.

#SFWApro. Portrait of Shelley writing his poem is by Joseph Severn, courtesy of wikimedia.

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Paperback covers out of time

First, this gloriously psychedelic Charles Moll cover from 1972.

Another cover from that decade, considerably less psychedelic, by Josh Kirby (presumably no relation to the time warrior).

Then an uncredited cover from 1958 showing the decade’s terror of Youth Running Wild.And finally a Mark Zuckerberg cover from 1964, the era when the Berlin Wall had made the city endlessly fascinating to spy novelists. If you’re curious about Chester Drum, here’s the lowdown.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Museums, comic books and Andre Norton: books read

I was puzzled why a theater historian would write WEIRD AND WONDERFUL: The Dime Museum in America, but Andrea Stulman Dennett’s book reveals that theater was a very large part of the 19th century dime-museum industry. As she details, early attempts by American museums — mostly collectors showing off their cabinet of curiosities to the public — to charge admission flopped. P.T. Barnum, however, found the magic formula, a mix of science, freak show and humbug, all carefully packaged to be family friendly (which brought in a female audience as it was a safe place women could go together).

Museums turned to adding theater because they could swap a new play in much faster than replacing a midget or a dog-faced boy; over time, they also added waxworks, novelty acts and even short film, making them the launching pad for vaudeville, cinemas and carnival sideshows. While the offspring outlasted the parent, Dennett points out that Ripley’s Believe It Or Not appealed to the same sense of wonder that had audiences flocking to Barnum and others, and ran well into the late 20th century.

AMERICAN COMICS: A History by Jeremy Dauber does a good job discussing how sequential art goes back a long way (do William Hogarth’s prints such as A Rake’s Progress constitute the first comic strip?). Dauber then traces the history from political cartoons through comic strips to the Golden Age of comic books … and after that everything became familiar so I stopped.

That is not the author’s fault but I did find some extremely bad errors. Luke Cage was not Power Man when he started out (see the Billy Graham cover here) and the Barbara Gordon Batgirl was a separate character from the one who appeared a few years earlier (if that’s not what Dauber meant, he wrote it poorly). So I’m even happier that I didn’t bother to go through it all.

GARAN THE ETERNAL is an oddball Andre Norton collection that includes two Witch World shorts; her first published story, “People of the Crater”; and it’s prequel, written years later, “Garin of Yu-Lac.” Comparing the two Garin stories shows how much Norton improved as a writer. The first one is an A. Merritt-style Lost World story but while Norton knows the elements it should include, she can’t make it sing. The second story is bigger and better but the characters are still stick figures.

The short story “One Spell Wizard,” by contrast, is a fun story about a shapeshift matching wits with a mage. It’s odd in that the magic seems like real magic rather than the more psi-oriented powers of the series. Still, it’s fun, and the other yarn, “Legacy of Sorn Fen,” is pretty good.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

 

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James Bama died last week

Which will mean nothing to most people. But James Bama was the definitive Doc Savage paperback cover artist, and as far as I’m concerned the definitive cover artist period. So here are a few of my favorite of his covers for the Man of Bronze.If you want my take on the books, you can work through my Doc Savage reviews or use the search box to look for the specific titles. And Brian Cronin has a little more information on Bama’s career.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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