LORE OF THE WITCH WORLD is a collection of short stories from various anthologies so they’re almost all stand-alones; “Sword of Unbelief”brings back Elys and Jervon from Spell of the Witch World and “Toads of Grimmerdale” got a sequel written especially for this volume. The character dynamic is familiar from earlier Witch World books (outcast woman paired up with not-quite-as-outcast man) and the stories are enjoyable, more so for being slightly outside the core story arcs. That makes the Witch World a place where anyone can have amazing adventures, not just the Tregarths or Kerovan (of Crystal Gryphon). Good if you’re into Norton.
MAGIC BY THE LAKE brings back the family from Edward Eager’s Half Magic, now vacationing at a lakeside cottage with their new stepfather when they accidentally make a wish that turns the entire lake to magic. Before long they’re dealing with pirates, mermaids, teenage Romeos, the Forty Thieves and hungry cannibals (unpleasantly racist characters, but watching them see through the kids’ efforts to impress them with modern technology is pretty funny). This was even more in the style of E. Nesbit than the previous book, with the grumpy turtle assisting the kids very much in the mold of Nesbit’s magical mentors. Rereading these is proving a good decision.
THE MIGHTY SWORDSMEN was a 1970 anthology of sword and sorcery ranging from very good (one of John Brunner’s Traveler in Black tales and Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River,”) to the mediocre, in the form of a non-Howard Conan yarn by Bjorn Nyberg and one of Lin Carter’s Thongor stories. While it wouldn’t have bothered me at the time, the heroes are all men and the cast mostly so; the women who do get noticeable roles are smothered by sexism (why is the hot girl penetrating a forbidden castle to find her brother foolish while Thongor doing the same from curiosity is heroid?).
WORLD OF TROUBLE: The Last Policeman Book III follows Countdown City to wrap up Ben Winters’ trilogy. At the end of the last book, Hank had settled in with his new girlfriend to spend the end of the world in comfort. Now, though, he heads out to find his missing sister: has her secret organization found a way to avert the asteroid impact after all? If not, just what are they up to? It turns out things have not being going well to Nora, pushing Hank back into cop mode. With only a few days to the impact though, can he get to the bottom of things? A downbeat but satisfactory finish.
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THE RKO STORY by Richard B. Jewell is one of a series of coffee-table studio histories that came out several decades ago, giving the behind-the-scenes stuff along with a year-by-year, film-by-film account of production. Those films includes King Kong, Bringing up Baby, The Best Years of Lives and the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals, along with the Saint film series and far more forgettable series (comic duo Wheeler and Woolsey, Dr. Christian and the homespun philosopher Scattergood). Behind the scenes was constant turmoil with studio and production heads moving in and out, then Howard Hughes taking over the studio. This proved a disaster as Hughes demanded absolute micromanagement of everything but was never available when a quick decision had to be made, leading to RKO expiring in the 1950s. A fun book to browse, and easier if I were doing research than trying to work through IMDB or Wikipedia.
VISIONS OF THE MAID: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture by Robin Blaetz is more limited than I expected, with a focus on the 20th century from WW I through the 1950s; Blaetz’ interest is how America handled the iconography of a woman warrior in a time when women weren’t supposed to be fighters (she does discuss movies up through the end of the century and the appendix looks at the previous several centuries of Joan’s legend). In WW I Joan was held up as a symbol of patriotism and heroic self-sacrifice, but as women exerted more independence in the world she became a warning against female independence or a vague template for movies such as Joan of Paris and Joan of Arkansas. Blaetz does a good job showing how Joan’s remarkable life story makes it possible to celebrate her as Catholic martyr, anti-Catholic rebel, anti-English martyr French national icon, delusional lunatic, mighty hero and naive innocent. Interesting.
HALF-MAGIC was the first of seven delightful children’s fantasies by Edward Eager, writing in the 1950s in the spirit of the British writer E. Nesbit (whom the children mention as a favorite in an early chapter). Four kids in the 1920s discover a magical wishing talisman which grants half of anything you ask for: they wish for the cat to talk but it babbles nonsense, they wish to visit a desert island and end up in the desert, etc. Despite which everything works out well for them and their widowed mother in a tale as charming as I remember it (though the stereotypical Evil Arab in one scene I could have done without).
PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall was a local book clubs selection for September, explaining how geopolitics is really just geography: Russia is aggressively expansionist to shore up the weak spot in the terrain walling it off, China covets Tibet as a vulnerable spot, American geography makes it natural to build one nation where European natural features made them fragmented. Unfortunately I don’t think this makes a lick of sense; if the U.S. is one nation because of geography, why didn’t it have the same effect of uniting the hundreds of Native tribes? Why does Marshall spend so much time covering religion in the Middle East, or China’s aggressive military posture, neither of which really relate to the topic? A waste of time that I wound up skimming in several spots.
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