Tag Archives: Lord Dunsany

The kitchen, the home and more: books read(#SFWApro)

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SPICES AND HERBS: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World by Padma Lakshmi doesn’t really qualify as “culinary reference” for me (I’m happy with whatever spices the cookbook tells me to use) but it is interesting as an exhaustive look at many spices unknown to me (nigella, galat dagga) and information about many I do use (I had no idea mace was taken from the outer wrappings of nutmeg seeds). Interesting to browse, if nothing else.

THE WOMAN’S OWN BOOK OF THE HOME was more fun, a 1931 book on home management that I assume belonged to my Granny back in England. Want to know how to make brains on toast? First, wash the brains to get off blood clots and loose skin. Did you know boiled mashed parsnips are a poultice for abscesses (I rather doubt that’s true)? Or that when you serve calf’s head (not a metaphor) you can cook brain sauce by mixing cooked calf brain with a pint of melted butter plus some salt and cayenne? Or that cannabis is a wonderful garden plant, very easy to grow? The publisher apparently wanted a one-size-fits-all book, as it ranges from the upper-class (have your servants entertain your friends’ chauffeurs during visits) to things like making axle grease, which I assume would be something only farm families needed to know. There are some bread and pie recipes I wouldn’t mind trying but this dates to days when ovens didn’t have temperature gauges so the instructions are “bake in a moderate oven until browned.” That might not work so well. Still, it’s a cool read that makes me wish I were writing something that could use all the cool real world world-building.

OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY was Ballantine Adult Fantasy‘s final Lord Dunsany collection (the line itself would put out only a couple more books before Ballantine became Del Rey Books and did away with it), and more varied than either At The Edge of the World or Beyond the Fields We Know. In addition to several of his secondary-world fantasies we have some set in London, a couple of Dunsany’s plays (he was better known in his lifetime as a playwright than a fantasist) and four of his stories about Jorkens, a clubman who trades outrageous tales for a free whiskey. Some of them, such as Unpasturable Fields are just fluff, but there’s more than enough good stories to be worth reading. I’m particularly fond of Where the Tides Ebb and Flow, which I used in speech contests in high school. Cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights to image remain with current holder.

THE NINE-POUND HAMMER: Book One of the Clockwork Dark by John Claude Bemis is a Y/A historical fantasy (late 1800s) in which a young boy finds himself and the Barnumesque sideshow he’s traveling with caught up in a battle between the anti-life Gog and the heroic Ramblers (portraying the clash as Civilization vs. Frontier Spirit didn’t work for me, but it’s a minor problem) which involves a siren, a pirate queen, and the son of John Henry. Fun enough I’ll pick up Vol. 2 eventually.

The same cannot be said for STRANGE PRACTICE: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw as I didn’t even finish this volume. This is an urban fantasy about a London doctor treating supernatural patients, then helping them against a cult of anti-magic fanatics. Nothing in this was particularly fresh, and the vampires were generic — they could as easily have been in Vampire: the Masquerade.

 

 

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Worlds and Names: second Imaginary Worlds post (#SFWApro)

Lin Carter offering writing advice in Imaginary Worlds (cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights remain with current holder) has drawn a visceral reaction from some of the reviews I’ve seen online: a hack whose best known series, Thongor, was an uninspidred Conan knockoff, is telling other people how to write and about the importance of using language well? But just as Carter’s editorial skills were way better than his writing skills, his advice is, I think, useful.

Some of it is definitely useful, assuming you’re writing in a secondary world. Carter points out that worldbuilding requires an understanding of basic geography — rain forests and deserts do not normally sit side by side — and politics. There are lots of historical types of government (to say nothing of what might happen in fantasy), so it doesn’t have to be all kings and empires. And if it is a kingdom, it can be one with a powerful king, a king constrained by his parliament, locked in struggle with the church, etc.

Another useful piece is how tiny little details can really enhance the quality of the world-building and the story. Not just details you have to add, but stuff like the reference in one Lord Dunsany story to a city’s ivory gate carved out of a single tusk.

And the there’s the discussion of names. Names for things — rocks, gems, flowers that don’t exist in our world — for people and for places. Carter’s points include that a)a name should just sound right, subjective a standard though this is; b)if you’re using or adapting names from the real world, they shouldn’t be instantly recognizable, and they should have the right connotations. For example, if your god of evil is named Ahriman, I assume the setting is an analog to Persia rather than, say, medieval Kiev. If your character’s name is Brunhilde, that implies a Viking setting. Of course you can also have cosmopolitan settings in which different cultures mingle — even in ancient times the world wasn’t as monocultural as we think — but if the name comes with baggage, don’t ignore the baggage. If it’s the kind of name nobody knows, you have more flexibility. I should add that Carter’s reaction to John Jakes’ evil deity Yob-Haggoth — OMG, it’s so obviously Loecraftian! — really dates the book. These days everyone borrows from Lovecraft.

One of the things Carter faults Robert E. Howard for is that he sloppily borrows names that are instantly recognizable, such as Asgalun for the ancient city of Ascalon. Which as I’ve never heard of it leaves me wondering how recognizable it really is. Or why Carter assumes that his converting ancient Palymra (again, somewhere I haven’t heard of) to Palmyrium is better (Carter sees Howard as much more slapdash and less of a craftsman than I do). But that, like “what’s realistic?” is a judgment call. Even if I disagree where Carter draws the line, I certainly agree with the principle (having a city called Rome or a nation called Prussia that’s nothing like the real world ones would grate on my nerves).

And I’m in complete agreement with Carter that dropping modern terms into historical/secondary world settings (like “parsec” in an old west fantasy).

So despite Carter’s limits, the advice is worth reading (insert obvious caveat as to how experienced you are and what sort of book you’re writing). But he’s definitely a do-as-he-says, not as he does kind of adviser.

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One book, plus several comics in trade paperback (#SFWApro)

After the original 1940s Captain Marvel stopped publishing, a British comics company filled the gap by creating Marvelman (who transformed from kid Mickey Moran when he said the word “Kimota!”), Kid Marvelman and Marvelman Jr. (corresponding to Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr.). Then in the 1980s, Alan Moore helmed a revival which is now out in TPB form, starting with MIRACLEMAN: A Dream of Flying by Moore (who opted to be credited as “the original writer” after learning when he was working on it the publisher probably didn’t have copyright) and multiple artists. The concept—Mickey is pushing forty, has these odd dreams about his past as a super-hero, then one day transforms again—is better than any of DC’s grim-and-gritty reboots of Captain Marvel, but Moore’s deconstruction of the super-hero is way too heavy-handed (this was very early in his career). I was underwhelmed when I read it from Eclipse in the late 1980s (they reprinted the earlier strips) and it hasn’t improved much (the end half of the volume, involving the alien Warpsmiths, lost me completely).

SUPERMAN: Back in Action by Kurt Busiek and Pete Woods is set during the One Year Later period right after Superman returns from being depowered and inactive. Now he has to prove to the world and the other heroes that it’s really him (in contrast to the multiple imposters who showed up in the 1990s after the Death of Superman) and stop the alien Auctioneer from stealing Earth’s heroes. It’s good but not great, and even though I remember that period the various character reboots of the time (such as an All New Aquaman) now feel very WTF? The backups are several team-ups from the Super-team-up book DC Comics Presents, with various authors and Jose Garcia-Lopez as the artist.

BPRD: Metamorphosis by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and various artists spotlights Johann: in his ghostly state, is he losing touch with humanity and the vulnerability of the other BPRD agents? Would he be more effective if he puts on the armor of the WW II hero Sledgehammer? This is more interesting than the monster battles have been in the previous few volumes; I’ll have it added to the Hellboy Chronology later today.

THE NEXUS ARCHIVES by Mike Baron and Steve Rude focuses less on Nexus’s missions of execution and more on his relationship with Sundra and the growing changes in Ylum, which forms its first government in one story. We’re also getting hints as to the origin of Nexus’ powers and missions, which I already know, but it’s still interesting to watch. One big setting, the Bowl Shaped World, didn’t really grab me, but overall this series holds up well.

DON RODRIGUEZ: Chronicles of Shadow Valley was Lord Dunsany’s first novel, chronicling the somewhat picaresque adventures of a 33aSpanish nobleman’s son as he sets out with a Sancho Panza-ish servant to find a war where he can make his name. The tone here is almost closer to Dunsany’s Jorkens stories than King of Elfland’s Daughter, Dunsany at times sounds like he’s mocking his own writing style (observations he’s trimmed the florid language the characters really said to suit the conservative taste of the time). Not Dunsany’s best work, but charming and there are several outstanding bits (I particularly liked the author comparing a wizard showing off his great secrets to a collector who insists on showing you his best pieces and detailing the stories behind them). Cover by Bob Pepper, all rights with current holder.

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Books (#SFWApro)

Where the first Year’s Best Fantasy Stories was heavily sword and sorcery, THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY STORIES 2 tends more to Lord Dunsany’s poetic style of fantasy. Editor Lin Carter still gives himself two short stories (though I really liked “The City in the Jewel”) but we also have brand new authors Tanith Lee and C.A. Cador (whose “Payment in Kind” is very good, but he or she hasn’t done much else since). Like the first volume, the introduction is very much a time capsule: Carter’s still waiting on The Silmarillion to come out, and the Conan books were in limbo (Lancer, which had published the paperbacks I read as a teen, was out of business leaving the copyrights tangled up).
LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by Colum McCann is a novel of New York in the Seventies using Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers to tie together the stories of a hooker, an Irish radical priest, the grieving mother of a Vietnam KIA and others. McCann is an excellent stylist, but the broad sprawling panorama didn’t grab me.
THE DORRINGTON DEED BOX by Arthur Morrison has a young Australian hunted by the Camorra fall in with London private investigator Dorrington, who generously offers to pose as him to lure the killers off his trail—oh, and will you give me all your letters of introduction and those valuable deeds so I can put them into a safe place? After the scam fails to come off, the Aussie then gets to tell us the history of the unscrupulous Dorrington, who’s just as happy to use his profession for murder or blackmail as for legitimate gigs. Much better than Morrison’s Martin Hewitt stories, though the Victorians preferred the former.
LAST CALL: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent starts in the 19th century as the Prohibition movement gathers steam and eventually morphs into its most formidable manifestation, the Anti-Saloon League. The ASL used the then novel tactics of picking off “wet” politicians to build a legislative majority and embracing bedfellows ranging from suffragettes (assuming women who vote would vote dry) to the KKK (which like many nativist Americans linked booze to Germans, Italians and other foreigners). As the saying goes, what’s shocking isn’t the illegal response to Prohibition but what was legal, the Volstead Act having loopholes you could drive a beer truck through including medicinal use, sacramental wine, wine for Jewish Sabbath drinking and just-over-the-border bars. While Okrent argues Prohibition had a huge impact on the way and how we drink (respectable women now becoming barflies, for instance, rather than guzzling gin at home) he also argues that some of the supposed effects were due to the impact of the Great War (“You can’t blame Prohibition for the nightclub scene in Berlin or London.”) instead. This also covers lots of once famous figures ranging from hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation through ASL head Wayne Wheeler and Martha Willebrandt, the Department of Justice official who ran Volstead prosecutions. A very good job and nicely written.
FLAMING CARROT: Inappropriate Behavior by Bob Burden collects the five issue series he did at Image where his goofball super-hero battled a haunted house, a scheming reporter (“Don’t you know the Flaming Carrot is the man the liberal media most want to destroy?”), a pocket thief and an outlaw eight-foot long hot wing. Typically absurd fun so I hope it’s not the Carrot’s last appearance.

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Movies and Books: Not their A-game

For starters, three that disappointed me.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) is the Coen Brothers’ cult hit in which aging radical (“I wrote the Port Huron statement—the original, not the later compromise draft.”) turned stoner bowler “Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) attempts to get compensation for his ruined rug (“It pulled together the room.”) which leads him into the noirish schemes of “Big” Lebowski (Jeffrey Huddleston), booklicker Philip Seymour Hoffman and eccentric artist Julianne Moore. The result is neo-noir filtered through the Coens’ comedic style (it’s like Harold and Kumar wandered onto the set of Blood Simple), but rewatching this, it didn’t work well for me. As Leonard Maltin says, it’s a shaggy dog story—nothing the Dude does changes anything, nor does it change him, which gives it a kind of pointless feel (and makes cowboy Sam Elliott’s assertion the Dude was the man we needed at this moment pointless too). John Goodman plays a psycho Vietnam vet (I think they’re trying to parody that cliche but it doesn’t work), and Steve Buscemi is a bad-luck bowling buddy. Ruthless People would double-bill well as they both involve convoluted kidnap schemes, or Burn After Reading, which did noir comedy better. “So my only hope is that the Big Lebowski kills me before the Germans cut my balls off.”

Much as I admire the late Steven Jay Gould’s science writing, I wound up skimming lots of AN URCHIN IN THE STORM: Essays About Books and Ideas. I think my big problem is that these essays were written for the New York Review of Books rather than his Nature column, so he’s recycling a lot of material on sociobiology and science history I’ve already read. He does an impressive job shredding anti-genengineering activist Jeremy Rifkin for scientific ignorance (while sharing some of his reservations), but overall unsatisfying and occasionally (as inevitable with prolific science writing) embarrassing, such as his dismissal of apes learning language as an obvious trick.
As an even bigger fan of Lord Dunsany’s fantasy, THE FOOD OF DEATH: Fifty-One Tales was a bigger disappointment. As I’ve mentioned before, Dunsany writes a lot about how we are all dust in the wind, but in a story such as “In the Land of Time” there’s much more going on. In these flash-fiction pieces, Time Destroys All is the whole point, and he insists on making it over and over and over, occasionally varying it to bewail how Commerce and Industry are destroying England, or combining themes to remind us that Time will eventually replace polluted, commercial London with green fields (while I’m quite happy criticizing commerce and industry, as you now, I’ve never thought Back to the Land was the solution—but of course I’m not a wealthy British aristocrat with vast country estates). All that being said, “Charon” is an excellent story and so are some of the others, such as “The Food of Death and “How the Enemy Came to Thlunrana.” Overall, though, weak.

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Nothing happened: The setting story

“Ralph Mellish, a file clerk at an insurance company, was on his way to work as usual when… (da dum!) Nothing happened!”(from Monty Python’s Adventures of Ralph Mellish)
Of Orson Scott Card’s four story types, I think setting-centric stories are the toughest.
A “setting” story focuses on the milieu, not the characters or the plot (though presumably it has both). The protagonist enters the setting, spends some time there as the writer shows off the world, then leaves. Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland, police procedurals and “slice of life” stories are all examples.
It’s tough because sitting back and watching the world go by works against dramatic tension. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice tales, Alice has no personal dilemma to work through, and she’s not trying to achieve any goals. The story is about what weird thing Carroll’s crazy worlds will throw at her next.
Likewise, in police procedurals (John Creasey’s Gideon novels or Hill Street Blues and similar TV shows) the characters are usually juggling several plot threads at once. Some will have a happy ending. Some a downer. Some just trail off inconclusively. The purpose is to create a lifelike feel, but in return you lose some of the dramatic payoff.
For another example, my short story Learning Curve, which came out some years ago in Byzarium, is set in a world where maggots do generate spontaneously in rotten meat and the four humors control our emotions. My protagonist is a science teacher and we follow her through one week in school, coping with uninterested students and annoying bureaucrats.
Nothing’s really resolved. At the end of the week, the protagonist’s problems haven’t changed, she hasn’t changed either. The story just looks at what science and culture are like, given the underlying premise.
To pick a more famous example, there’s Lord Dunsany’s Idle Days on the Yann. The narrator enters the dreamworld and pays for a boat to take him down the river Yann to the sea. There’s no conflict, no opposition, no obstacles to overcome, just the world to explore. We pass a city where rituals have been unchanged for centuries in hopes of binding Time himself, and Perdondaris, where the city’s ivory gate is carved from the single tusk of an unknown behemoth. No conflict, no character development could add up to a dull story, but Dunsany makes it fascinating.
For an even more extreme example, there’s Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel, which hardly has any plot at all. The story consists of the librarian protagonist describing the seemingly infinite library in which he works and the significance of the endless shelves of apparently meaningless books. We don’t even get an underlying rationale (who built this place? Where does the food come from? Where do new librarians come from?), let alone a narrative thread.
But it works, wonderfully, because Borges’ little world is so fascinating. Which is why he’s a Nobel-prize winning author and most of us aren’t.
I know Learning Curve isn’t in the same league though it was interesting enough to sell. But coming up with a world that’s interesting enough to focus on, then writing it interestingly enough to work is a tough challenge indeed.

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Books

AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is an early seventies collection of Lord Dunsany, emphasizing his secondary world stories more than Gods, Men and Ghosts did and providing lots of biographical detail and story background (several of the later ones were written after artist Sidney Sime came up with the illustration instead of first).Sime01
The stories show that even within secondary worlds, Dunsany had a lot of range (from a traditional epic such as “The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth” to a fantasy boat ride in “Idle Days on the Yann”) though certain themes, such as the endless destruction by Time and futile quests, did crop up over and over (“In the Land of Time” and “Carcassonne” have much in common with the prince’s doomed search in King of Elfland’s Daughter). In any case, a charming collection.
WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD collects Patricia McKillip stories from multiple themed anthologies (Christmas fantasy, Wizard stories, fairy stories) and I must say I don’t find her as good at short length as full (that may reflect that these are mostly real-world fantasies rather than the secondary worlds of her longer works). The best ones are “The Kelpie,” in which 19th century artists find their competition for a beautiful fellow painter complicated by the title bear, and “Twelve Dancing Princesses” for a rather dark take on the tale; the worst is from the Borderlands anthology, which really doesn’t work away from the source.
A MARGINAL JEW: Rethinking the Historical Jesus—Volume One, The Roots of the Problem and the Person in which John P. Meier covers the basics for studying Jesus as a historical figure (which he notes is not the same as the Jesus of Faith) such as the lack of source material (“But David and Solomon aren’t mentioned at all outside the Old Testament and nobody questions their existence.”), Jesus’ relationship to the Essenes (not much he concludes, given their strict adherence to the law has little in common with Jesus’ more freewheeling approach), the mystery of Jesus’ Hidden Years (“It’s possible the Gospels don’t say anything because nothing important happened.”) and the challenge of putting dates on Gospel events (he concludes that the evidence makes the Last Supper almost certainly not a Passover meal). Interesting, particularly for giving a pre-Da Vinci Code discussion of Jesus’ celibacy or marriage (Meier concluding that the former is more likely, though not certain). Very good.
THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea by L. Sprague Decamp and Fletcher Pratt collects three adventures of Harold Shea, a young psychologist who figures out how to shift his perception of reality so as to enter into parallel worlds where, as he discovers, magic works (the weakest part of the book is the technobabble at the start explaining all this—fortunately it gets better). In The Roaring Trumpet, he arrives in Norse myth shortly before Ragnarok and has to help the gods recover their lost weapons before the final battle. In Mathematics of Magic, he and his mentor Reed visit the world of the Elizabethan fantasy The Faerie Queen, become better mages and meet their respective dream girls (these two were later released as one book). In Castle of Iron, the rather selfish Reed yanks Harold and Belphebe into the Orlando Furioso, where Belphebe gets amnesia and Harold has to win her back while negotiating a path between belligerent Muslim and Christian warriors. The stories (except for that first part) are solidly entertaining and well done—and much closer to deCamp’s solo fantasy in light-hearted tone than Pratt stories such as The Blue Star.

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Movies and Books

WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956) is an excellent newspaper drama in which news-media heir Vincent Price offers the company’s top job to whichever of his people tracks down the “lipstick killer” murdering women, leading to frequent power plays and schemes between George Sanders, Dana Andrews and Ida Lupino. A good film, noteworthy in that pretty much everyone is using women to their own ends——even Andrews is willing to use his girlfriend (Virginia Mayo) as bait for the killer. Slightly amusing though in its then trendy pop-psychology analysis of the killer (driven to murder by his overbearing mother and too many crime comic books!). “The love you should eel for your mother has been twisted into hate for her and all of her sex.”
NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (1968) stars Rod Steiger as another killer who decorates his female victims with lipstick, and also makes mocking phone calls to George Segal as the cop on the case. A showcase for Steiger as the chameleonic killer, this also works as a romance, with Segal falling for eyewitness Lee Remick. With David Doyle and Doris Roberts as supporting characters “Don’t I remind you of Maurice Chevalier?”
SERIAL MOM (1994) is John Waters’ serial-killer satire, starring Kathleen Turner as the wholesome Baltimore mum who hacks up people for not recycling and makes obscene calls to the woman who stole her parking space. Not as strong as Hairspray or Cry-Baby which may reflect the nominally contemporary setting (nominal in that it feels very anachronistically fifties in many ways). With Sam Waterston and Rikki Lake as family members, Mink Stole as a neighbor, and Suzanne Sommers as herself (“I only hope I can portray this feminist heroine with the dignity she deserves.”). “Jesus said nothing against capital punishment when he was hanging on the cross——and if it was a sin, wouldn’t that have been the time to mention it?”

THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER by Lord Dunsany is the story of a small village that wants to become known for magic, so it’s lord’s son sets off to win the princess of Elfland and bring her home, only to discover after he does that mixed marriages are harder than fairy-tales tell us … Dunsany’s polished style doesn’t work as well here as in his short stories, but it’s still evocative, and the story itself draws me in magically. Several bits that rise above the rest (Alveric’s search for the retreating borders of Elfland, Ziroonderel finding thunderbolts among her cabbages and trolls marveling at the way time passes in the mortal world) but it’s all good; it’s also striking how much Dunsany mentions nature (thistledown, ducks, crows, particular flowers) in a way I don’t usually see (possibly reflecting that he spent a lot of time enjoying the outdoors).
UNWRITTEN: Inside Man is the second collection of DC’s Unwritten (I read the first collection last month) in which Tommy Taylor goes to prison for the murders committed in the first book, leading to him getting a sidekick (a reporter recounting his travails for a gossip site) and becoming a target for the mysterious villains. Encountering Roland and Frankenstein’s monster, then escaping into the world of an old Jewish novel, he begins to get a glimpse of his destiny (the implication at this point is that he is indeed the fictional Tommy Taylor from his father’s beloved children’s books, somehow brought to light). Nicely done.

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Movies and Books

ABOUT LAST NIGHT (1986) is a very loose adaptation of a David Mamet play (the opening straight-from-Mamet dialog sounds quite different from anything else in the script) wherein Rob Lowe and Demi Moore follow up a one-night stand with a tentative relationship while their respective best friends Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins bitch about being neglected. This worked better back when I was in the same age range and single, but still quite watchable——though I wonder if time won’t make it look as quaint to future generations as some old movie such as The Clock do to me today. “We all have to make sacrifices in our personal lives.”
COWBOYS VS. ALIENS (2011) is the SF Western that has amnesiac outlaw Daniel Craig finding himself locking horns with local boss-man Harrison Ford only to have an attack by gold-mining aliens force them to join forces, along with pretty stranger Olivia Wilde. Enjoyable, though it could have done with more SF and less mundane western-ness.
“Your mind controls it——stop thinking.”

ON THE GRID: A Plot of Land, An Average Neighborhood and the Systems That Make Our World Work by Raleigh NC resident Scott Huler is a look at the various forms of infrastructure——electrical, gas, sewage, water, roads——it takes to keep him (and most of the rest of us) secure in our modern lifestyles, what it takes in cash and technology to keep them operating and some specific history on their development within Raleigh. A good primer on aspects of modern life we often take for granted and quite informative (even given some of this is familiar to me from my past reporting and reading).
THE RITES AND WRONGS OF JANICE WILLS by Joanna Pearson is a Y/A novel about a young girl coping with coming-of-age in her small North Carolina town by adopting an anthropological perspective on her community’s goings on, only to discover she’s neither as detached or as unbiased an observer as she imagines. Departs from the usual clichés of Shy Geek Finds Love (though I did peg who Janice would wind up with) but I’ve read better in the Young-adult romance department.
DMZ: Body of a Journalist is the second TPB of the comics series, in which Matty discovers the US is trying to turn the Free Stater’s kidnapping of another journalist into a casus belli to justify an all out push into Manhattan, and intervenes to prevent his friends getting caught in a crossfire. This volume gives the backstory on the war, which typically for future-war stories is a Warning! about where we’re going (our involvement in overseas wars enables right-wing militias to sweep across the country). Good.
CROSSING MIDNIGHT: The Sword in the Soul wraps up the comics series as the amnesiac Toshi unwittingly hunts down her brother Kai on the orders of the evil sword-king Aratsu, then rallies Aratsu’s troops when Kai leads his own army to take down the evil one. I imagine had the original series lasted, the ending herein (which I won’t spoil) would have kicked off a new arc——still, a better finish than I expected for something that cut off earlier (I assume) than planned.
GODS, MEN AND GHOSTS: The Best Supernatural Fiction of Lord Dunsany, collects some of the best work by one of the seminal 20th century fantasists. The collection includes the kinds of lyrical fantasies Dunsany is best known for (“Idle Days on the Yann,” “Bethmoora” and “Horde of the Gibbelins” among them) plus some more whimsical contemporary fantasies such as “The Three Sailors Gambit” and “The Three Infernal Jokes.” It’s a pleasure to see that years after last reading Dunsany, I love him just as much.

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